|Blind Curve Excerpt
BREAKING NEWS: BLIND CURVE wins the Holt Medallion for best romantic suspense novel of 2005!
The night was too damn cold to be out on the streets. But the tall man with the knit cap pulled low over his face just hunched inside his green army jacket and stamped his feet to keep warm. A two-day beard stubbled his face and dark, greasy hair hung beneath the cap. On the street he was known as Turq, short for "turquoise," the color of his deep-set eyes.
Half a block from the west side projects, he stood near a burned out streetlight where an abandoned grocery store hulked on the corner. Hidden in the shadows was the gun he planned to buy.
The seller was late, and Turq cursed silently. His neck bothered him. Two nights ago, he'd been popped in the head during a routine drug sweep in the Dutchmanís Tavern, and the cold was making it ache.
His cell phone vibrated against his hip.
"Yo," Turq said low.
"Whatís up, uncle?" The voice belonged to one of his ghosts, stationed across the street and up the block, but still able to trail his every move.
"My date is late."
"Catch you later, dude," Turq said.
The seller rounded the corner. Fifteen at best, he was scrawny, dressed in hip-hop mode with chains and a track suit hanging on his lanky form. The kid swaggered confidently toward Turq, who groaned under his breath. The young ones were the worst. You never knew what they'd do.
Turq didn't waste time. "You got it?"
The seller eyed him suspiciously. "You got the dead presidents?"
"Two hundred. Cash. That was the deal."
"Yeah, but I don't know you, bro. And I don't do business with peeps I don't know."
Christ. Turq tightened his jaw. First the guy was late, then he started giving attitude. Forcing himself to relax, he stuck out his hand. "Nameís Turq. Ah shit. No, it ainí." He grinned sheepishly. "Itís Danny." He left off Sinofsky, hoping the first name would be enough. "But don't you go telling no one."
Slowly, the seller shook his hand. "Danny, huh. Now thatís about the whitest name I know."
"We friends now?"
The seller shrugged. In the dim moonlight his skin looked creamy and smooth, no trace of beard yet. Danny tasted sadness. Kids killing kids.
"Yeah, okay, Danny," the seller said.
"So where is it?"
"Not here. I got it stashed."
Damn. Changing locations was not a good idea. It meant his ghosts would have to follow in the catch car. If they could follow, and sometimes they couldn't.
Or it could mean a setup. Take the money and run. And he had a lot of money on him.
But an illegal gun was a gun, and already he could smell the steel. "You bring it here, bro. Thatís the deal."
The kid took a step back. "Fuck that shit. Cops all over the place."
"Itís here or no place."
"Then itís no place, dawg." The kid turned around.
Christ. "Hold up!"
Going somewhere else sucked big time, but so was letting another gimme hang on the street where innocent civvies ended up paying the price. The latest vic had been a three-year-old girl.
"Where we going?"
"I'll take you."
"I gotta know where first." If he could alert his ghosts, who were listening on a hidden wire, they had a better chance of keeping tabs.
But the night was not going Dannyís way.
"Itís a sweet little secret spot. I got me a car waiting."
The kid didn't look old enough to drive. Fuck. "Okay. Gotta have that piece."
"Yeah?" The seller led him around the corner to a rusted 1972 Chevy Camaro that was once gold and now looked like faded dirt. "You got a job in mind?"
Danny gave the kid a long look. "Never mind what I got in mind. I got the bills. Thatís all you need to know."
The seller nodded, fifteen going on fifty. "You got that right."
Danny got into the car, fingers tingling, adrenaline pumping. He imagined Parnell popping his cork when he found out. He almost grinned, picturing his lieutenantís face.
The car wheezed down Market Street toward the railroad tracks by the river. A century ago, this was the commercial heart of Sokanan. Barges from Manhattan traveled up the Hudson and off-loaded at the dockside warehouses, filling up with produce from Hudson Valley farms and light manufactured goods. Freight trains did the same, going west.
Now the place was deserted, though the upswing in business from the Renaissance Oil deal, which brought a new boom to the town, had started talk of renovating warehouse row into a shopping mall on the lines of Faneuil Hall in Boston.
But all that was down the pike. Right now the place was dark and dusty.
"So where are we?" Danny asked, feeding clues to his ghosts, "down by warehouse row?"
"You got eyes, don't you?"
The seller pulled off the main drag onto a narrow path heading west toward the Hudson. The car bumped over old cobbles then parked in a dirt yard fronting a derelict warehouse. Moonlight bounced off the river, creating shadows and gloom. Faded yellow letters at the top of the brick building spelled out its name, but Danny could make out only an M and a C.
"McClanahan," Danny murmured.
"What you talking about?"
Danny nodded toward the warehouse. "The building. See the M and the C? I'll bet that was McClanahanís."
"Who gives a shit?"
Danny didn't tell him.
He got out, scanning the area. Murky and abandoned. No way backup could get there without being noticed.
His palms were sweating but he followed the seller toward the looming structure. He did not want to go into that warehouse.
"Where is it?" Danny asked.
Shit. "Go get it. I'll wait here. That place gives me
The warehouse flickered in front of him. For a second he was in complete darkness. He stumbled, almost fell.
What the f
A gunshot cracked above him where his head would have been. Someone grunted and his vision cleared. In that split second he saw the boy down on the ground.
Danny dove behind a Dumpster as another shot chased him.
"Rounds fired!" he shouted into the hidden wire. "I'm behind a dumpster by the old McClanahan warehouse."
His cell vibrated. He grabbed it. "You got the location?"
"We got you, uncle."
Danny looked around. It would take time for the ghosts to get there and less than that to die. The shot had come from the warehouse roof. An excellent position, it gave the shooter coverage of the entire area, while Danny was pinned downno vest, no weapon, just a fistful of cash for protection.
Trapped, he banged the back of his head against the binís metal side in frustration. A shot pinged off the edge and instinctively he ducked.
The young seller lay unmoving facedown on the ground, the soles of his Nikes to the sky. Was the kid carrying? It wouldn't surprise him. In any case, he couldn't leave him out there, wounded and exposed to the shooter.
He crawled to the edge of the blue bin, reached out and got shot at for his trouble.
He snatched back his hand, took a breath, tried again. This time, he managed to latch onto one of the boyís feet. He dragged the body toward him. It jerked as another bullet hit.
When the boy was safe behind the trash container, Danny rolled him over. His eyes were wide open and a black circle decorated the middle of his forehead.
Who the hell was out there?
No time to think about it. He scrabbled over the body and found a fully loaded nine beneath the tracksuit. Wouldn't do much good against the high-powered rifle the shooter had, but it was better than nothing.
He peered around the corner of the dumpster and once again, his vision sputtered out. He blinked as cars squealed into the area, sirens screaming. Doors slammed, shots fired. Bayliss over the bullhorn. "This is the police! Throw the rifle down!"
Then another voice over that. "Sin! Where are you? Sin!"
Hands shook him. "Jesus Christ, what happened?" It was Mike Finelli, his other ghost. "Danny? Sin? You all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Except I can't see a fucking thing."
"Itís called cortical blindness," the neurologist said, her voice so calm and matter-of-fact he wanted to deck her. He didn't know how long he'd been in the hospital, but it felt like years. He'd been shuffled off to doctors and technicians who were a mush of voices with no faces. Now he sat in some kind of armchair; he could feel the shape and the fabric. And from the quiet and lack of movement around him, he sensed he was in a private office. And this doctorChrist, he couldn't even remember her namewas telling him...
"You're kidding. One minute I'm fine and the next minute I'm fucking blind?"
"You had a stroke."
"I'm thirty-two and healthy as a horse. Guys like me don't have strokes."
"I understand you were hit in the head two days ago."
"In my line of work I get hit a lot. What the hell does that have to do with anything?"
"You injured your neck," she said gently. "Tore your vertebral artery. Thatís the one right at the top of your spine. The tear allowed blood to dissectto seepinto the arterial wall. The blood embolized. Clotted. The clot traveled to the top of the basilar artery, the main artery at the back of the head. It went from there to one of the posterior cerebral arteries and fragmented, plugging up your cortex."
"Yeah, but why can't I see?"
"Because the messages from your eyes can't get to the cortex, which is where they're interpreted. Itís called a bilateral occipital stroke."
The words slid over him like so much fog. His heart was thudding wildly, his mouth was dry. He wondered if he'd been shot at the warehouse instead of the seller and this was a coma dream from which he would eventually wake.
"Do you have any other questions?"
He hesitated, feeling lost, adrift. "Am I..." He cleared his throat. "Am I dreaming?"
There was a short pause. "No." She spoke the word quietly, with compassion and complete certainty.
He nodded, dread gripping him. "Any chance this will go away?"
Another short pause. "Itís possible. There have been cases of it clearing up on its own."
"But the damage is extensive. I wouldn't count on it. I'm sorry." He heard the sound of her rising, the swish of clothing, the creak of a chair. "I'm going to set you up with a social worker. She'll get you into rehab. You'll need a mobility instructor."
He sat there, not taking any of this in. A hand touched his shoulder. He flinched.
"How are you getting home?"
He had no idea.
"Are you married?"
He shook his head.
"A girlfriend? Parents, relative?"
His mother was dead, and he didn't want to dump this on his sister, Beth.
"I'll uh, I'll call a friend."
He'd been in and out of his clothes, his eyes and his head poked and prodded, his body x-rayed. But now he was back in his street wearthe ripped jeans and ancient army jacket that belonged to Turq. Fumbling in the huge pockets, he found his cell phone below Turqís knit cap. His fingers searched the buttons for the correct ones, but his hand was shaking.
Gently, someone took the phone from him. "Whatís the number?" Doctor whoever.
He swallowed. His brain had stopped and it took a moment to jumpstart it again. But he remembered it at last and told her. A minute later she handed him the phone.
Mike Finelliís voice came on the line, an anchor of familiarity.
"Itís me," Danny said, desperate to keep the tremor out of his voice.
"Sin. Where are you? I've been at the hospital all day and they keep saying they're doing tests. Whatís going on? Are you okay?"
Not really. But he wasn't ready to get into that. "I need a ride home."
"Bethís here. I think sheís got that covered."
A phone rang and he heard the doctor pick up and speak softly into it.
"What about her kids?" he asked Finelli.
"I don't know. They're not with her."
"All right. I'll call Beth on her cell and tell her where to meet me."
"Sheís right here"
A hand touched his arm. "Hold on," he said to Mike.
"Mr. Sinofsky?" A bright, cheery voice. "I'm Pat Embry. I'll be taking you to the waiting room where your mobility instructor will meet you."
"They're taking me somewhere," he told Mike. "I'll have them call Beth when I get there."
"If you'll just stand for a moment," the cheery voice said. He pictured a plump, big bosomed woman with tightly curled hairan Aunt Bea typebut her hand, which she kept on him while he complied, was bony and smelled of disinfectant.
"Just a few steps," she told him brightly as if he were three. "Hereís your chair."
He felt the leather sides of a wheelchair and something tightened in his chest.
"Thatís right. Good boy. Comfy?"
His hands fisted.
"Okay, here we go."
They'd all warned her about him. Everyone from the supervising social worker to the nurseís aide had given her a sharp-eyed look, a cautionary word.
But she didn't need a warning because she remembered him.
Someone had wheeled him into the patientís lounge and he'd managed to find his way out of the chair. One arm propped against the wall, he faced the window as though drinking in the night.
His jeans were outrageously worn, faded and ripped. After fourteen years and who knew what life had done to him, she would have thought his wardrobe would at least have improved. His black T-shirt was in much better shape. The sleeves strained over well-defined biceps. A manís biceps to match a manís body. Tall and rangy, he had wide shoulders that tapered down to a lean waist and a tight rear. A jungle cat. Strong, healthy. Young.
Looking at him, even from the back, she felt the opposite.
She stepped into the room, and his shoulders stiffened. He'd heard her.
He turned and hit her with the full force of his face. Even prepared, she nearly gasped. Age had given him lines and hollows, hardened him into an adult. But he was still dark and intense with a face born of fantasy. Of dangerous dreams deep in the night.
Far away, deep in the recesses of her soul, something stirred. An echo of an echo, so thin and faint it was easy to pretend she hadn't heard it.
His eyes were deep-set and still piercingly turquoise. Clear and transparent as the Caribbean. And healthy-looking. No injury marred the lids or sockets. Nothing at all to signal they were useless.
"Who wants to know?"
She swallowed, glad he couldn't see the shock and pity she didn't hide fast enough. Would he have recognized her? Half hoping, half dreading, she steeled her voice into the safe rhythms of brisk objectivity. "Martha Crowe." She waited just the merest second to see if her name jarred memories. But he stared expressionlessly at her, and she doused the quick jab of disappointment. "I'm a rehab teacher and an O and M instructorOrientation and Mobility. I'd like to talk to you about your options."
"We can get started with a cane immediately. But there are other things to think about. A dog. Even some electronic devices."
His face, tough and impossibly handsome, even shadowed by stubble, darkened. "Get lost." The expression was eerie because it looked as though he could really see her. "I'm fine."
Not one for false comfort, she opted for bluntness as a way to cut through the anger. "You're not fine. You're blind."
He tensed, coiled, muscles waiting to spring. "Itís temporary."
She looked at his paperwork. Cortical blindness due to a stroke caused by a neck injury. A freak accident but not unheard of. The internal damage had been extensive; there wasn't much hope he'd get back his sight.
"Are you still here?"
She remembered the rough-edged boy with the smile that could break hearts. The man he'd grown into scowled at her.
"I know this has been a shock but"
"I told you to get lost. My eyes are fine. A few days and this will all be a bad dream."
"I hope so but"
He took a threatening step in her direction. Despite his handicap, she instinctively stepped back.
"Something wrong with your hearing? Get the fuck out of here!"
She inhaled a breath, let it out slowly. Sometimes shock therapy was the only way to get through a shock. "You want me to go? Why don't you come over here and make me."
A flash of panic crossed his face, quickly followed by fury.
"I'm right here," she said using her voice to position herself in the room. "Throw me out."
He leaped at her like a caged tiger. But instead of bars, the darkness held him back. He ran into a row of chairs. Bolted to the floor, they didn't budge and he went flying backward, struck a coffee table, spilling the year-old magazines on the floor. Cursing, he cleared the table and banged his head against a post holding a magazine stand. By this time he was completely turned around and would have headed off in the opposite direction, but she ran over, put a hand on his upper arm just above the elbow.
His arm was hard and powerful, intensely masculine. The feel of it beneath her fingers sent a jolt through her system, yet he was the one who flinched. His whole body shuddered with rage.
Quietly, she said, "Even if you're blind for only a day, you should learn to get around without breaking your neck."
"Not likely, but if you'd like to try, my number is 422-2222. Easy to remember. 422-2222."
He shook off her hold as a man hurried into the room. "Sin?"
Danny turned to the sound of the new voice. A lean-faced man with silver hair.
"Itís Bob Parnell." The expression in Parnellís face was carefully controlled, but the taut lines around his mouth and the intense way he observed Danny gave his true feelings away: worry, shock, uncertainty. But none of that was in his voice. "How're you doing?"
"Terrific." Dannyís tone said otherwise.
"Look, can we sit somewhere and talk?"
Panic surged into Dannyís face again. "To your left," Martha said quietly. "Nine o'clock. Three steps over."
His expression hardened, but he followed her instructions and found a seat without mishap.
The new man looked from her to Danny and back again. "I interrupt something?"
She stuck out her hand. "Martha Crowe. I do rehab."
"Bob Parnell. I do police work. I'm Dannyís boss. And his friend."
"Good." She gave his hand a firm, curt shake. "He could use one. We're done for now." She turned to Danny, who sat stone-faced. "422-2222. All twos, detective. Except for that four in the front."
She left him. Half of her hoped he called. The other half hoped he wouldn't.