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Excerpt for River Rat by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Praise for Doc Macomber’s Previous Books



“Insanely entertaining!”

– Editor, The Skin Game


“Doc understands the seamier side of life.

His characters are complex, loaded with contradictions and wholly believable.”

– Dan Schilling, Former Special Ops Commander,

Co-author, The Battle of Mogadishu


“As addictive and satisfying as my first tattoo ... Wolf’s Remedy left me craving more.”

– Lyle Tuttle, Tattoo Legend and Historian



“Hard men, Wild women, and even a Love-sick

Alligator ... it’s a killer!”

– Retired Marine Capt. W.A. Montgomery



“An intriguing read that will hold your attention as investigators come up against dead ends and lies...where people aren’t always what they seem. A fun read and

something different by a talented author.”

– Murder and Mayhem



River Rat

(A Jason Colefield Mystery)

By

Doc Macomber

Floating Word Press, LLC

Portland, Oregon


**Smashwords Edition**



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Published by Floating Word Press, LLC on Smashwords

Copyright © 2018 by Denny Ray Macomber

COVER DESIGNED BY DIVERSITY DESIGN STUDIOS

Editor: Martha Cowen

Author photograph Copyright © 2014 by Ty Hitzemann

Cover photograph Copyright © 2017 by Doc Haake Productions


ebook ISBN: 978-1-941297-06-3



Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Contents

TITLE

COPYRIGHT

DEDICATION

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

CHAPTER 32

CHAPTER 33

CHAPTER 34

CHAPTER 35

CHAPTER 36

CHAPTER 37

CHAPTER 38

CHAPTER 39

CHAPTER 40

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

DISCOVER OTHER TITLES BY DOC MACOMBER






For my good buds, Brent Stowe & Dave Huitt.

I’ll miss you guys…


Chapter 1


The dream came to him like some dreams do, quirky, rattling, disjointed. This one featured a big fish, a brute of a salmon, which rose out of the depths of the river and swallowed him. He struggled and fought his way free — slimy, fear-struck, damaged yet temporarily safe, or so he thought. Then one of his neighbors shot what sounded like a gun, leaving him fired up and dealing with his PTSD. He forced himself to breathe in slowly before he sprang into action. His VA counselor would be proud.

Before that Deputy Jason Colefield had been trying to enjoy his day off. Staring at the rolling Willamette River, fishing, and musing about how to coax his ex, Jill, back into his life had become a familiar routine.

“Hi there, neighbor!” The voice startled him.

Tall, long-legged and nimble, a smiling woman sauntered across the deck juggling two bottles of beer. Her tank top had the words “Boy Beater” emblazoned across the front. Her shoulder-length dark hair was pulled back. Gold earrings sparkled in the sunlight. As he straightened up, he noticed another bikini clad stranger next door holding a foaming bottle of champagne, whose cork was probably the source of the noise he’d mistaken for a gunshot.

“Hope we’re not disturbing you.”

He arched his brow sarcastically.

She glanced at his fishing rod. “Any luck?”

“Not yet. But that’s the funny thing about luck, it can always change.”

The remark stopped her for a moment. He struggled out of his deck chair and stuck out his hand. “Deputy Jason Colefield at your service.”

She handed off a beer, her broadening grin revealing a slight gap between her front teeth. Colefield found it oddly attractive.

“Doctor Nicole Dafoe. Pleased to meet you, Deputy Colefield.” They clinked bottles. She wasn’t wearing a ring.

“So, you’re my new neighbor?”

“Yes, though at the moment I haven’t a lot of furniture. In fact, I haven’t a lot of anything…”

“Sounds like you’re starting over?”

“Yes, in some ways.” Her smile wandered. She squinted at the sun’s reflection on the blue-gray expanse. “I think everybody deserves a second chance. Don’t you?”

Colefield nodded, his mind drifting to Jill.

Nicole became distracted as a swarm of pesky gnats surrounded them. “It’s this perfume. It was a housewarming gift.” She glanced down and smirked. “As was this tasteful shirt … I wonder which attracted these pests.”

Colefield liked her wit and her spicy scent. Apparently, this meant that he and the bugs had the same taste.

He changed the subject. “So, you must own the gold Mercedes 450 SL convertible in the parking lot?”

She nodded. “A classic and sturdy. I like that in my cars and relationships.”

“I drive a 1974 Ford pickup for the same reason.”

They chit-chatted about various subjects just allowing the conversation to flow. Colefield studied her profile. She was striking in her own unique way. Her voice was soothing. Words floated from her lips like cottonwood puffs drifting by on a summer day.

As the river breeze shifted ashore, Colefield got another whiff of her perfume. She smiled at him but became self-conscious and stepped back.

“I’ve got too much on, don’t I?”

“Are you referring to your cologne?”

“Cute.” She gestured toward the party. “My colleagues are full of surprises. I was counting on housewares: plates, utensils. Instead, they bring me bottles of perfume, a ‘Boy Beater’ top, a book with tips on cooking in the nude, and apparently, they have signed me up for a website called ‘Singledocs.com’.”

“So, what kind of doctor are you?”

“I’m a witch doctor.” She grinned.

“Are you any good at it?”

She laughed. “I’ll cast a spell on you and conjure up fresh fish for dinner.” She finished her beer and glanced over at the fishing rod. “May I?”

“By all means.”

She put her bottle down by her feet and picked up the rod. She held it firmly, examining it like she’d handled a few in her life. “I just moved to Portland. I’m a psychiatrist and work at the VA hospital.”

“Maybe I’ll see you up there sometime.”

“Why? Feeling crazy?”

Colefield could see she regretted the words as soon as they were out. He shrugged. “I’m a Navy veteran in a new program called ‘Shock Talk’ where we learn to control adrenaline stress reactions to situations we witness or intuit. Kind of brain waves meet meditation.”

“Interesting. Humans intuit things constantly. How do you know which ones to ignore?”

“Basic goal is ‘reflect before you react’. Its intention is to help us control our PTSD over memories or circumstances we can’t change.”

Nicole’s irises enlarged. “How long have you been in law enforcement?”

“Ten years.”

Her lips opened as if she wanted to respond then thought better of it.

“Something you wanted to say?”

She glanced down at her empty bottle. “Would you have any tequila?”

“Coming right up.” Colefield took both bottles and set them down by the back door of the houseboat and went inside.

A large bank of windows offered a good view of the deck. Nicole proved to be interesting. She could handle herself. Running out some leaded line from the reel, hooking her small index finger over the filament, she raised the pole, arched her back and made a splendid cast like an old pro toward the center of the river.

Colefield felt a tug at his heart…

The moment didn’t last. Eighty-five-year-old former Marine Captain William A. Montgomery hobbled down the spiral staircase scowling, bare-chested, in sagging jockey shorts. He was packing a M82 sniper rifle.

“What brings you to my humble abode?” Montgomery barked. “Here to pay rent?”

Colefield pointed out the window. Montgomery turned and his disposition immediately improved. He admired the lovely visage of curvaceous flesh fishing off his deck. And then as if on cue, she reeled in the line, back arched, giving both men a full profile of her physique.

“Well, you might want to say hello to our new neighbor after you’ve put on some pants.”

“Our new what?”

Commanding an artillery unit and forty-plus years as an NRA instructor had pretty much destroyed any hope of Montgomery hearing anything less than a mortar round.

“Our new neighbor in slip 13.”

“Is this the mermaid on my deck?”

“Yes.”

“Why is she holding your rod?”

“She’s waiting for Tequila...”

“That’s my kind of woman.”

“Which is why I need to raid your liquor cabinet.” Colefield moved back from the window. He eased the barrel of the sniper rifle aside. “What are you planning on doing with that?”

“Depends.”

“This isn’t about the Mayor again?”

Montgomery glanced at his old Timex watch. “At fifteen-thirty, the little bastard is riding his bicycle across the Sellwood Bridge to meet with park officials. They’re up to no good. Consider it target practice.”

Colefield shook his head in disbelief. “Where do you keep the tequila?

“Who’s Sheila?”

“I said — tequila.”

“It’s beneath the kitchen counter. But it’s locked.”

“You’re locking up your booze now?”

Montgomery put the rifle down by his side. “Got to! Housekeeper’s a lush.”

Colefield made his way over to the cabinet. A heavy-duty chain secured the doors. Both handles fastened by a WWII vintage five-pound padlock that looked like it would dissuade even the most die-hard drunk. Montgomery wore the key around his neck along with his dog tags. Begrudgingly, he removed the cheap chain and handed it to Colefield. After Colefield got the lock open, he removed a half-gallon jug of cut-rate tequila and started to relock the cabinet.

“Hey!” Montgomery shouted. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“Starting happy hour early?”

“Does a bear shit in the woods? Fetch my Pusser’s.”

“I promised your son I’d keep an eye on you.”

“You would profit more keeping an eye on that vivacious dame outside. By the way, do those mammary mountaintops come with a name?”

“Nicole Dafoe. And I believe she’s single.”

“Single begets trouble!”

“She’s also a witch doctor.”

“That begets double trouble! This may be an interesting summer after all. Is she any good with a Glock?”

Colefield reached in and pawed through the liquor bottles until he found the squatty rum bottle with the British navy blue and gold label. He pulled it out and placed it down on the counter beside the tequila.

“I suspect lad, with her marvelous wiles, she could throw us and blow us before we could lick her and dick her.”

Colefield winced. “You want me to lock this?”

“Leave it. It’ll be a test to see how steady my hands are after I take potshots at the Mayor and his buddies.”

Colefield carried the half-gallon bottle of tequila out the back door. Over his shoulder, he noticed Montgomery’s grizzled face pressed against the window watching Nicole.

As he approached his new neighbor with the bottle, she turned and flashed him a smile.

“It’s not top shelf, but it should do.”

“It’s generous. I appreciate it very much,” she said. “Shall we trade?” she held out the fishing rod.

They made the exchange — a fishing pole for a long pull from a half-gallon jug of very cheap tequila. She didn’t flinch a bit downing the rot-gut liquor.

“The owner inside gloating is William A. Montgomery. You have him to thank for the booze. I live in his small houseboat out front — 12A.”

She turned and waved to Montgomery, who pressed his pelvis against the glass and enthusiastically waved back in his jockey shorts.

“He seems like a real gentleman.”

“He is anything but…”

“Well, if it’s not too much trouble I may just have to keep this. Would that be OK? I’ve got some thirsty party guests.”

“Montgomery still has a stockpile from Prohibition. He won’t miss it. But let me take a pull before you abscond with it.”

But before Colefield could take a drink, he saw a tug at the end of the rod. A fish hit. A big fish. He reared back hoping he’d set the hook in time.

Nicole jumped with excitement. “I told you I was a witch doctor.”

He let out some line to keep the fish from snapping the tip of the rod and worked it. Sweat streamed down his face. After a long fight, he reeled a thirty-pound Chinook onto the deck.

He dropped the keeper near their feet and they both hopped back as the tired fish swatted its powerful tail back and forth like a machete. Colefield plucked the half-gallon bottle of tequila from Nicole’s hand before she could object or cover her eyes and in one heavy blow whacked the salmon on the head.

He passed the jug back to his new neighbor like nothing had happened. She smiled and glanced down at the fish again. “Marvelous!”

Perhaps because of the excitement next door, several of Nicole’s guests walked out and stood on the balcony. They looked over and smiled, holding up empty glasses.

Nicole held up the bottle of tequila.

Another woman stepped out onto the deck, spotted her friend and strolled over.

“Grace, meet my neighbor, Deputy Jason Colefield.”

“Hello, deputy.” Grace touched Nicole’s arm. “We’re about to have a toast and we’ve run out of alcohol.”

Nicole nodded and turned to Colefield. “I’ve got to run. Hey — if you’re in the mood to share a salmon dinner later, just say the word.”

“You’re on.”

She jumped over the gap between the two decks then stopped. While her friend wandered off ahead, she faced Colefield.

“You ever do bodyguard work?” she asked quietly.

“Is it for you or somebody else?”

“We’ll chat about it later.” She turned to go. “Thanks again for the tequila.”

Colefield contemplated her request, consciously trying to prevent various violent scenarios from preying on his mind. After the moment passed, he picked up his trophy by the gills, humming the tune “Afternoon Delight.”


Chapter 2


He had just dumped the salmon on the galley counter when he heard a knock on the patio door. He wiped his hands dry and headed toward it.

There was a tall thin man standing on his deck, shirtless, wearing surfer shorts and flip-flops. Colefield noticed some grease smudges on his hands.

“Hey, Bernie, what’s up?”

“Can you give me a hand? Got a little issue with the boat again.”

“Sure.”

He closed the door and followed his neighbor to the slip down on the end. Bernie owned a 1960 Custom Skagit 14' runabout. The turquoise paint alone was enough to make the boat stand out. It also had center console steering with pedestal seating and a canvas fisherman’s top. It was powered by a very finicky Evinrude 2-stroke outboard.

But the boat was not in its slip.

“Where’s your runabout?”

Bernie pointed downstream. The brightly colored boat was tied off to a tree along the riverbank at the end of the moorage.

“What’s it doing there?”

“It died and won’t start.”

“Let’s go take a look.”

They walked up the ramp to the parking lot, walked to the end, and then hiked down to the boat. Someone had removed the engine cover and had pulled off the plug wire.

“Just turns over and over.”

“Does it have gas?”

“Filled the tank yesterday.”

“Is it getting fuel?”

“Smells like it.”

“What’s the plug wire doing off?”

“I was getting ready to pull the plug.”

There was an open toolbox by the stern with a collection of wrenches and screwdrivers. Colefield climbed into the boat. What he thought might just be a quick fix turned into a job that lasted for hours. He was greasy and sweaty. He’d tried every trick in the book. Nothing worked. It had spark and then it didn’t. It’d fire and then it wouldn’t. It had to be electrical. In the end, he had fetched Montgomery’s Boston Whaler and towed the boat back to Bernie’s slip.

As the sky took on a ruby glow, he realized that he’d probably missed a dinner opportunity with Nicole.

“Shit, I got to go, Bernie. I think you need a new coil. Get one tomorrow and I’ll give you a hand with it after work.”

Back at his place, he figured first things first. Deal with the fish on the kitchen counter. Then go see if the girls were still interested in a barbecue.

He entered the galley and after swatting a few flies away from the carcass, he looked through the drawers until he found a suitable knife to fillet the salmon. There was plenty of meat on the bone. Enough to feed Nicole’s guests and then some...

He slid the edge of the sharp blade under the gills and ran it down the length of the body stopping before he reached the tailfin, then gutted it, sliced off the head and set it outside on his galley windowsill for Calico Jack, a feral cat who had adopted him last winter.

He cut the fish into thirds, stowed the works in Ziplocs in the refrigerator next to a partial six-pack of Heineken and cleaned up.

At the moment there wasn’t much he could do to improve his appearance. He felt and looked rough. His Irish-red hair was a mess and his T-shirt and shorts were filthy and wrinkled.

To hell with it, he thought. He was probably too late anyway.

Despite his appearance and stale breath, he walked down the narrow passageway between the two houseboats and banged on their back door. The music had been silenced, as had the laughter and the lights.

He looked in through the glass and didn’t see any movement. He tried again and after no response, he sat down and stared at the city lights downriver, thinking about what to do next.

He thought he caught a scent of Nicole’s perfume lingering in the night air but assumed it was just his imagination. Nonetheless, he felt compelled to check the parking lot for the Mercedes just to be sure.

It was quiet out, the sky clear with a full moon. Up in the parking lot the gold convertible was gone, as he’d predicted.

Since he had nothing else to do, he figured he’d check on Montgomery before returning home. Nicole might have left word with him before leaving. At times, he was a hopeful optimist…

He found Montgomery in the galley, slumped in a wheelchair, holding his sniper rifle across his lap, his snowy white head tilted back, snoring like a trumpeter. On the dining table lay the cap from the bottle of Pusser’s Rum and the bottle looked empty. The sterling silver goblet from which Montgomery liked to drink his daily ration of rum had a dead fly floating in the bottom. There seemed no reason to wake him if he could pry the rifle from his grip, which he did without protest.

Colefield set the rifle aside, pleased that it had not been fired, turned off the overhead lights, and then returned to the tender. As he was walking through his front door he heard his cell phone ring.


* * *


Colefield was still playing the telephone conversation back in his mind as he pulled his old pickup into the darkened parking lot of the Multnomah County River Patrol. He climbed out and headed inside feeling a little dehydrated from the drinks he had earlier that afternoon. Diving in the middle of the night was about the last thing he expected he’d be doing on his day off. Body recovery was never pleasant, day or night.

The door was unlocked and the lights were on. Deputy Bart had already arrived ahead of him. The young deputy was standing by a window with the marine radio microphone in hand, looking out at the river. He wore a grim expression while focusing on the tense voice bellowing through the radio’s tiny speaker.

Colefield had seen that look before. The “kid” as Colefield liked to think of him, had grown up on a dairy farm outside of Eugene and spent most of his time milking cows, not perfecting his poker face. He once told Colefield that keeping all the milking machines running fixated him on two things, mechanics and tits. Colefield didn’t know how the boob fixation was working out, but he was the glue that kept the machines running at the River Patrol. He also brought enthusiasm to internet searches, which drove Colefield crazy. He was a big guy with a good heart. He would go far within the department if he hung in there.

“I’ll get my dive gear,” Colefield told him and started to walk off down the hall.

“Weaver and the Lieutenant are already at the scene. They have a visual on sonar.”

“Where’d the car go in?”

“Near the I-205 Bridge.”

“Any survivors?”

“They don’t know yet.”

“What about witnesses?”

“A security guard from the Port of Portland called it in.”

Colefield grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler in the locker room, chugged it down, and lobbed the empty across the room like launching a small missile. The bottle caught the lip of the trash can and went skidding across the floor. Colefield squelched the feeling that he wasn’t on his game tonight.

After he lugged his dive gear out of the building and down the Gleason Boat Ramp, he slammed open the boathouse door at the end of the dock. Bart was doing what he’d asked — checking the fuel tank in the sled because he couldn’t remember if Weaver had filled it on Tuesday. They’d made a run upriver near the Bonneville Dam in search of a Catalina that reportedly had gone aground east of Camas near Reed Island. They hadn’t topped off the tanks when they returned, because Weaver was running late for his kid’s softball game. Said he’d handle it later. Colefield figured it was prudent to check.

He walked over and dumped his gear in the bow of the jet boat, untied the lines and climbed aboard.

Bart fired up the engine and backed the aluminum boat out of the covered moorage. Time was passing…

He gunned it, dodging flotsam while the sled splashed its way upriver. Colefield knew Bart loved the sway and movement of the boat as it battled current, wind and weather, never happier than when he arrived at a site soaked to the skin. Meanwhile, Colefield focused on organizing his scuba gear. Lieutenant Briggs called on the radio. Where the hell were they?

Despite the circumstances, the breeze off the Columbia River felt invigorating. There was no fog to speak of. And with the exception of a 5-knot east wind kicking up some sand along the jagged shoreline and blowing in a fine mist of invisible grit, the conditions seemed favorable for a dive. And having a full moon would help with visibility.

Sections of the dark island were ablaze in light, as was Government Island farther upriver. Since the Fourth of July was days away, everywhere you looked folks were setting off fireworks early. As the boat passed, someone lit off a bottle rocket that shot out over the river and lit up a section of the water.

The noise and commotion was distracting tonight. Colefield was trying to concentrate on the job ahead. Farther south the control tower lights of Portland International Airport beaconed in the sky.

Colefield could see a police car with lights flashing, mid-point along the shoulder of the I-205 Bridge, and more flashing lights just west of the bridge along the curvy section of Marine Drive.

The officer standing outside his vehicle on the bridge had a spotlight pointed down on a section of the river, a halo of white looming over the dark water. There were more spotlights along the steep embankment leading down to the water. Several personal watercraft were circling the area. Bart flipped on the siren and flashed the sled’s spot on several of the powerboats. They got the message to move.

Colefield spotted the Lieutenant manning the twin screw 32-foot River Patrol boat while Weaver craned his head down toward the water, looking at something in the river. Colefield pointed to Bart to steer in that direction.

The sled glided alongside the other boat. Colefield threw Weaver a line which he caught on the first try and tied off. Already in his dive suit, Weaver looked eager to get this thing underway.

“The wreckage is off our portside!” Weaver shouted.

Colefield stared at the water. The river had too much silt to see anything clearly. He couldn’t get a bearing or tell much from there. And the spotlights weren’t helping. He read the direction of wind and noticed rippling on the water.

“I’ll drop in from the sled and take a cable down. I’ll have Bart radio to kill the shore lights.”

“Your call, buddy. I’ll see you down-under.”

The lieutenant poked his head out of the cabin. “I want you guys to harness up,” he said. “The dam’s open. It’s a rolling tide and this makes for one swift mother-fuckin’ current.”

Colefield studied the shoreline. The embankment where the car had gone over was a good fifty feet or more of vertical drop. Not sheer, but to the person or persons inside the vehicle, it probably wouldn’t have felt that way. If the side sonar was working correctly, then the car had to be traveling at very high speed to make it this far out in the river.

He did some more quick calculations. He looked at the depth finder. It appeared from the green glowing dots on the small screen that the car was resting on a ledge of basalt, twenty-five feet below the surface. He figured given where it was the vehicle could shift from one side to the other. Weaver and he would have to calculate their moves precisely.

Bart gave the word and the patrolmen scouting the shoreline turned off their spotlights. A search and rescue unit pulled along the shoulder and parked, followed by a tow truck, and a second emergency response vehicle.

Yeah, he thought, this wasn’t the best part of the job. He preferred to think about his new neighbor’s gap toothed smile instead.

Colefield put on his scuba tank while Bart cinched up the yellow harness around his waist and handed him an underwater spotlight. Colefield slipped the strap over his shoulder, grabbed the cable and coil of rope and looked over at Weaver who was shoving his regulator into his mouth.

He flashed Weaver thumbs up and disappeared into the murky river.


Chapter 3


The mind plays tricks on you when you cut off sound and light. Colefield equalized the pressure in his ears as he descended into the cold. He moved his gloved finger over the switch of his underwater light, flipped it on, and then kicked his feet back and forth to slow his movements and fight the current pushing against his chest.

Unidentifiable objects appeared and disappeared at random. He tried to slow his descent, searching for a glimmer from above that his dive buddy was coming.

He made out a darkened silhouette gliding down through the muddy haze and kicked out of his descending path, turning his attention now onto the river bottom where reduced visibility prohibited him from seeing beyond a few feet.

Something caught his eye. Colefield saw a large golden blur resting on the river bottom and figured it was the wreckage.

Weaver thudded onto his shoulder. His partner pointed frantically behind him.

Colefield turned just as a dozen jack salmon swam by — the fish so close that either of them could have reached out and snagged one by the tail. The salmon, Colefield figured, were moving upriver to their spawning grounds beyond the locks, forging ahead toward nature’s mystery. And if they were lucky enough to survive, they could fulfill their life’s mission. Colefield wondered what his life’s mission would turn out to be. So far it hadn’t followed any of his planned scripts.

He spotted the wreckage directly below him. The car looked unstable and risky. With the heavy current they were fighting, the vehicle could shift positions at any moment, entangling them in the steel tow cable they had to attach to the undercarriage. Being pinned inside or underneath the chassis was the last thing either of them wanted. But that was not what was troubling him now.

Colefield felt a sense of urgency and swam faster. Using hand-signals he conveyed to his partner to hurry.

A gold Mercedes 450 SL!

Her classic sedan had flipped onto its roof, collapsing the convertible top, shattering the windshield. The driver’s door was ajar but jammed against a rock and he couldn’t pull it open. The window was rolled down but the mangled roof made it impossible to see inside.

The slightest jarring could cause the car to shift position. Yet he had to risk it. He had to know if “she” was in there. He swung his spotlight around and pointed the beam on the torn rear window.

Colefield had looked inside wrecks before and braced himself. He had recovered bodies from lakes, fanning his hands around in zero visibility until he felt something stir in the murky silt. Seeing a phantom head floating around in dirty river water was enough to bring bile to his lips. He had pulled cadavers from rivers that had dragged along the bottom for months before finally surfacing — the stench of decay suffocating. He’d retrieved appendages chopped off by props, found beloved pets that had fallen or been thrown from boats. Last month it had been a child, an accidental drowning on the Sandy River. And, of course, far too many homicide victims, mangled, disfigured and dumped.

Over the years he had unearthed a private place to store the darkest memories and the stench of decay, because nothing prepares a person for absorbing death in all its forms. Nothing.

And it would make it that much more difficult tonight because he was sure this was Nicole’s car.

He shined the beam of light through the opening.

“She” wasn’t there. No one was.


Chapter 4


The sun was just spreading its warming light over the snowcapped peak on Mt. Hood when the recovery team took a break. The Lieutenant told Colefield to take a time out. They’d done their job. The car was ashore. No bodies were found. They could resume their search later.

Weaver had already gone ashore with Bart and had stripped out of his gear and was toweling his hair dry along the riverbank.

Colefield walked toward them unzipping the top half of his wetsuit when someone shouted they’d spotted something.

In a patch of tall reeds, one of the pleasure craft had caught a glimpse of a possible body.

The deputies ran over to look.

It couldn’t have been closer. Along a narrow portion of beach there stood a thick patch of cattails. It was 100 feet upstream so no one had searched it. Colefield was well ahead of Bart and Weaver as he approached where the boat owner was shining a portable spotlight into the grass from the cockpit of his Boston Whaler.

It was next to impossible to see anything lying in the thick willowy cattails — a miracle really that the boat owner had spotted it — just a bare foot sticking out of a soaked blue dress. Colefield stooped down and cleared the grass back from her face. Her wet dark hair was tangled in the reeds. Her body covered in glass shards, no shoes, no necklace, only a pair of dangly gold earrings.

Nicole…

He checked her vitals. The wrist felt cool but there was a faint pulse. He held her hand. The fingers were lifeless.

“Get the paramedics over here!”

Within a matter of moments, the deputies helped the paramedics carry the unconscious doctor up the steep embankment. She had a nasty contusion on her forehead and cuts on her face. The men loaded her into the ambulance. The paramedics told Colefield to step back but he hesitated.

He looked down at her blue evening dress. It had a small tear on the right shoulder, which he assumed happened during the crash.

“Deputy. We’ll do our best.”

The doors closed. The ambulance sped off, sirens wailing. Soon it was just a reddish mirage in the dawn light.

Weaver walked over to Colefield. “It’s a miracle, eh?”

Weaver’s long face was puffy and still red from the tight-fitting dive mask and the frigid water temperature. When Colefield didn’t respond, he frowned.

“I know her.” Colefield was distraught, feeling sick to his stomach. “We met yesterday at the moorage. She’s my new neighbor.”

Weaver just stared at him momentarily, gathering his thoughts. When he spoke, his words sounded awkward. “The consensus is it was an accident. Maybe she underestimated the curves or was texting. If you all had been drinking earlier then maybe she was impaired. It’s late. She could have just dozed off behind the wheel. Hell, she could have swerved to miss a possum or raccoon crossing the road. Take your pick. At this stage, it’s a damn guessing game until we get a statement.”

As Colefield stood there staring off into space, Bart walked over and interrupted. “Lieutenant wants a word.” He held out a handheld radio to Colefield.

“It’s Colefield, sir.”

“Take the guys back to the office. Go get yourself some sleep. We’ll do a follow-up later.”

He stared at Weaver. “Sir I’d like to make another sweep.”

“You have reason to believe we missed something?”

“No, sir. But...”

A plane taking off nearby interfered with their conversation. “Not now, Colefield. Tell me later. Call it quits.”

The Lieutenant signed off. Colefield sighed and handed the radio back to Bart.

“Load up the gear.”

Weaver looked relieved.

While Bart and Weaver carried equipment down to the sled, Colefield climbed up toward the road where one of the officers first on the scene sat in his patrol car, sipping some steaming coffee from a thermos.

Officer Brown rolled down his window, saluted a hello with his coffee cup. “Need some caffeine? I’ve got plenty.”

“Why not...”

The officer set his cup down on the dash, reached across to the passenger seat toward a package of Styrofoam cups. He poured out some steaming liquid and held the cup out to the deputy.

Colefield took a sip. “You run the plates yet?”

“Car is registered to a Nicole Dafoe; address 656 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California. We found a purse in the vehicle that matches this information. A California license issued to a Dr. Nicole Dafoe, same address. At this point we have to assume that she was the sole person in the car since nothing else has turned up.”

“Are there any other addresses for her?”

He put down his coffee, picked up his notebook. “Just that one. DOB 09-17-81. No priors. Looks like it just wasn’t her night.”

“Or maybe it was…”

“I suppose critical beats being dead. We’ll have a better idea of how this went down once the hospital runs her blood work and if she comes around long enough for us to take a statement. Too bad she had to go through that. Car’s too old for an airbag. A damn miracle she made it out alive.”

“Where was the purse?”

“Floorboard, passenger side.”

“What about a cell?”

“Toasted.”

“You check the trunk?”

“There was a suitcase with a few clothing items.”

“Could you read the identification tag?”

“The ink smeared like goose shit. Nothing inside to ID the belongings. It’s all women’s clothing though.”

Colefield just shook his head. “You find skid marks?”

“Skid marks are sketchy now. We’ll take another look when the light’s better.”

Colefield nodded. “Anything else in the trunk?”

“Just the usual stuff; flares, jack, spare.”

“Who reported the accident?”

“A security guard for the Port of Portland. We took his statement and then released him. He was patrolling the airfield at the time. He didn’t see much — just glimpsed the car. By the time he crossed the runway and got here, it had sunk. Good thing he trusted his instincts and called us.”

“Any other witnesses?”

“No one has come forward.”

Colefield looked up. In the distance was the beacon of the airport tower and the surrounding airfield. It was a good half-mile or so away.

All he had to go on was an attractive woman who had showed up on Montgomery’s deck yesterday afternoon. She shared a bit of her life, tossed back a little alcohol and showed skill at fishing. Inquiring about the services of a bodyguard had changed the tone of the conversation. Her asking about protection now took on new meaning. The accident stirred a dozen questions in his mind.

“You got the purse?”

“It’s in the trunk.”

The purse was in an evidence bag sitting upright along with some police gear. Colefield looked at the contents in the glow of the trunk’s dome light. The wallet held a California license, a few credit cards, a few business cards, one from a realtor, another one from a hairdresser in the Pearl, and what looked like a key card from a hotel. He found an ID pass from the VA hospital in Portland with her name on it, which was recently issued.

He put the ID down and unfolded a soggy restaurant receipt stowed away beneath one of the credit cards but he could still make it out. The $36 bar tab was from Jill’s place — the Sextant Bar and Galley on Marine Drive. The date and time of the receipt were from last night. It was about the last thing he ever expected to find.

He stuck the receipt in his pocket and closed the trunk lid.

Officer Brown had gone over to take a final look at the crumpled-up convertible. Colefield joined him.

“Find anything interesting in the purse?”

Colefield shook his head. He could still feel the smudged ink on his fingertips. “Call me later if anything turns up.”

“Maybe she’ll get another shot. You never know…”

Brown turned and gave the signal to the operator. The battered Mercedes chassis creaked skyward as it was hoisted up onto the flatbed, every cable groaning under duress.

Colefield stepped back as a wave of water gushed from the wreckage pooling around his feet. When it was clear, he moved in for a last look. Was the rear bumper damaged? He couldn’t tell with all the sludge.

Brown yawned. “All I see is mud.”


Chapter 5


By 0830, Colefield was done writing up his report. Another shift would take over soon. The Coast Guard had been called in to get eyes from the sky and they were ready to call it quits. They radioed that they would make a final sweep before heading back to their base at Swan Island. No floater had turned up.

At this point, until they heard otherwise, everybody was assuming Nicole Dafoe had been the sole occupant. Until she was conscious, there would be no way to confirm this.

An hour later, Colefield drug his body down the Portland Rowing Club ramp. While he dug around for his keys he heard his landlord’s door creak open.

Montgomery limped out onto the walkway in his tattered bathrobe to get the morning newspaper. The men nodded in passing.

“You look like shit, Deputy!”

“Looks are only half of it.”

“You want me to debrief you?”

“Later, Bill. I need some sleep.”

Montgomery frowned. “Sleep is over-rated. You’ll figure that out when you’re my age.”

“For now, I’ll take what I can get.”

“Well, if you’re up by happy hour, come by for a drink. I’ll pull out another bottle of tequila in case our neighbor is out prancing about in her bikini.”

Colefield almost broke down and spilled the news but that would lead to a very long drawn out story that could wait. “If anyone around here makes any noise, you have my permission to shoot them.” Colefield walked off toward his front door. Montgomery hobbled right behind, two crippled up sailors working their way home.


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