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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Hamilton Steve
 

«A Cold Day in Paradise», Steve Hamilton

CHAPTER ONE

There is a bullet in my chest, less than a centimeter from my heart. I don’t think about it much anymore. It’s just a part of me now. But every once in a while, on a certain kind of night, I remember that bullet. I can feel the weight of it inside me. I can feel its metallic hardness. And even though that bullet has been warming inside my body for fourteen years, on a night like this when it is dark enough and the wind is blowing, that bullet feels as cold as the night itself.

It was a Halloween night, which always makes me think about my days on the force. There’s nothing like being a policeman in Detroit on Halloween night. The kids wear masks, but instead of trick-or-treating they burn down houses. The next day there might be forty or fifty houses reduced to black skeletons, still smoking. Every cop is out on the streets, looking for kids with gasoline cans and calling in the fires before they rage out of control. The only thing worse than being a Detroit policeman on Halloween night is being a Detroit fireman.

But that was a long time ago. Fourteen years since I took that bullet, fourteen years and a good three hundred miles away, due south. It might as well have been on another planet, in another lifetime.

Paradise, Michigan, is a little town in the Upper Peninsula, on the shores of Lake Superior, across Whitefish Bay from Sault Ste. Marie, or “the Soo,” as the locals call it. On a Halloween night in Paradise, you might see a few paper ghosts in the trees, whipped by the wind off the lake. Or you might see a car filled with costumed children on their way to a party, witches and pirates looking out the back window at you as you wait at the one blinking red light in the center of town. Maybe Jackie will be standing behind the bar wearing his gorilla mask when you step into the place. The running joke is that you wait until he takes the mask off to scream.

Aside from that, a Halloween night doesn’t look much different from any other October night in Paradise. It’s mostly just pine trees, and clouds, and the first hint of snow in the air. And the largest, coldest, deepest lake in the world, waiting to turn into a November monster.

I pulled the truck into the Glasgow Inn parking lot. All the regulars would already be there. It was poker night. I was a good two hours late, so I was sure they had started without me. I had spent the entire evening in a trailer park over in Rosedale, knocking on doors. A local contractor had been setting a new mobile home when it tipped over and crushed the legs of one of the workers. He wasn’t in the hospital more than an hour before Mr. Lane Uttley, Esquire, was at his side, offering the best legal services that a fifty-percent cut could buy. It would probably be a quick out of court settlement, he told me on the phone, but it was always nice to have a witness just in case they try to beat the suit. Somebody to testify that no, the guy wasn’t stone drunk and he wasn’t showing off by trying to balance five tons of mobile home on his nose.

I started at the scene of the accident. It was a strange sight, the mobile home still tipped over, one corner crumpled into the ground. I worked my way down the line as the sun set behind the trees. I wasn’t having much luck, just a few doors slammed in my face and one dog who took a nice sample of fabric out of my pant leg. I’d been giving the private investigator thing a try for about six months. It wasn’t working out too well.

Finally, I found one woman who would admit to seeing what happened. After she described what she had seen, she asked me if there might be a few bucks in it for her. I told her she would have to take up that matter with Mr. Uttley. I left her his card. “Lane Uttley, Attorney at Law, specializing in personal injury, workers’ compensation, automobile accidents, slip and fall, medical malpractice, defective products, alcohol-related accidents, criminal defense.” With his address in the Soo and his phone number. She squinted at the tiny letters, all those words on one little business card. “I’ll call him first thing in the morning,” she said. I didn’t feel like driving all the way back to Lane’s office to drop off my report, so she’d probably call him before he even knew who she was. Which would confuse the hell out of him, but I was cold and tired, much in need of a drink, and already late for my poker game.

The Glasgow Inn is supposed to have a touch of Scotland to it. So instead of sitting on a stool and staring at your own face in the mirror behind the bar, you sit in an overstuffed chair in front of the fireplace. If that’s the way it works in Scotland, I’d like to move there after I retire. For now, I’ll take the Glasgow Inn. It was like a second home to me.

When I walked into the place, the guys were at the table and already into the game, like I figured. Jackie, the owner of the place, was in his usual chair with his feet by the fire. He nodded at me and then at the bar. There stood Leon Prudell, one hand on the bar, the other wrapped around a shotglass. From the looks of him, it was not his first.

“Well, well,” he said. “If it isn’t Mr. Alex McKnight.” Prudell was a big man, two-fifty at least. But he carried most of it around his middle. His hair was bright red and was always sticking out in some direction. One look at the guy, with the plaid flannel shirt and the hundred-dollar hunting boots, you knew he had lived in the Upper Peninsula all his life.

The five men at the poker table stopped in midhand to watch us.

“Mr. McKnight, Private Eye,” he said. “Mr. Bigshot, himself, ay?” With that distinctive “yooper” twang, that little rise in his voice that made him sound almost Canadian.

There might have been a dozen other men in the place, besides the players at the table. The room fell silent as they all turned one by one to look at us, like we were a couple of gunslingers ready to draw.

“What brings you all the way out to Paradise, Prudell?” I asked.

He looked at me for a long moment. A log on the fire gave a sudden pop like a gunshot. He drained the rest of his glass and then put it on the bar. “Why don’t we discuss this outside?” he said.

“Prudell,” I said. “It’s cold outside. I’ve had a long day.”

“I really think we need to discuss this matter outside, McKnight.”


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