Read Night work Online

Authors: Laurie R. King

Night work

Night Work
Laurie R King



THE IMAGE ON THE wall was enough to give a man nightmares. It showed
a woman of sorts, but a woman who would have made a playboy shrivel,
given pause to the most ardent feminist, and had Freud scrambling to
retract his plaintive query concerning what women wanted.

What this lady wanted was blood.

Her skin was dark, so deep a blue it seemed black against the crisp,
bright, bloodred waves that splashed against her muscular calves.
Around her hips she wore a belt strung with human hands that had been
hacked off at the wrist; her neck was looped with a necklace of skulls.
Her wild black hair made a matted tangle from which serpents peeped,
and from her right ear hung a cluster of dry bones. Four arms emerged
from her strong shoulders, in the manner of Hindu deities and the
half-joking fantasy of busy mothers the world around, and all twenty of
her dagger-long fingernails were red, the same bloodred as the sea
around her. In her lower right hand she held a cast-iron skillet,
wielding it like a weapon; her upper left grasped the freshly severed
head of a man.

The expression on the lady's face was at once beautiful and
terrible, the Mona Lisa's evil sister. Her stance and the set of
her shoulders shouted out her triumph and exultation as she showed her
tongue and bared her sharp white teeth in pleasure, glorying at the
clear blue sky above her, at the pensive vulture in a nearby tree, at
the curling smoke from the pyres of the cremation grounds on the hill
nearby, at the drained, bearded, staring object swinging from the end
of her arm.

She looked drunk on the pleasure of killing, burning with ecstasy at the deep hot lake of shed blood she was wading through.

And she looked far from finished with the slaughter.

She was Kali, whose name means black, the Indian goddess of
destruction and creation. Kali, who kills in joy and in rage, Kali the
undefeatable, Kali the mother who turns on her faithless children, Kali
the destroyer, Kali the creator, whose slaughter brings life, whose
energies stimulate Shiva to perform his final dance, a dance that will
bring about the end of all creation, all time, all life.


Chapter 1

KATE MARTINELLI SAT IN her uncomfortable metal folding chair and watched the world come to an end.

It ended quite nicely, in fact, considering the resources at hand
and the skill of the participants, with an eye-searing flash and a
startling crack, a swirl of colors, then abrupt darkness.

And giggles.

The lights went up again, parents and friends rose to applaud
wildly, and twenty-three brightly costumed and painted children
gathered on the stage to receive their praise.

The reason for Kate's presence stood third from the end, a
mop-headed child with skin the color of milky coffee, a smile that
lacked a pair of front teeth, and black eyes that glittered with
excitement and pride.

Kate leaned over to speak into the ear of the woman at her side. "Your goddaughter makes a fine monkey."

Lee Cooper laughed. "Mina's been driving Roz and Maj
nuts practicing her part--she wore one tail out completely and
broke a leg off the sofa jumping onto it. Last week she decided she
wasn't going to eat anything but bananas, until Roz got a book
that listed what monkeys actually eat."

"I hope she didn't then go around picking bugs out of tree trunks."

"I think Roz read selectively."

"Never trust a minister. Do you know--" Kate
stopped, her face changing. She reached into her pocket and pulled out
a vibrating pager, looked up at Lee, and shrugged in apology before
digging the cell phone out of her pocket and beginning to push her way
toward the exit and relative quiet. She was back in a couple of
minutes, slipping the phone away as she walked up to the man who had
been sitting on her other side during the performance and who was now
standing at Lee's elbow, watchful and ready to offer a supporting
hand in the crowd. Lee's caregiver spoke before Kate could open
her mouth.

"What a pity, you're going to miss the fruit punch and cookies."

She rolled her eyes and said low into Jon's ear, "Why it couldn't have come an hour ago..."

"Poor dear," he said, sounding not in the least
sympathetic. " 'A policeman's lot is not a happy
one." "

"If I find you a ride, would you take her home?"

"Happy to. I'll be going out later, though."

"She'll be fine." Now for the difficult part.
"Lee," Kate began. "Sweetheart?" but groveling
did not prove necessary.

"I'm sorry."

"Liar," said Lee cheerfully. "But you've
been a very brave honorary godmother, so now you can go and play with
your friends. That was Al, I assume?"

Kate and her partner, Al Hawkin, were on call tonight, and in a city
the size of San Francisco, a homicide was no rare thing. She nodded,
hesitated, and kissed Lee briefly on the cheek. Lee looked more pleased
than surprised, which Kate took as a sign that she was doing something
right, and Kate in turn felt gratified beyond the scope of her
lover's reaction--their relationship had been more than a
little touchy in recent months, and small signs loomed large. She
stepped away carefully, looking down to be sure she didn't knock
into Lee's cuffed crutches, and walked around the arranged
folding chairs to congratulate Mina's adoptive parents. They were
surrounded by others bent on the same purpose--or rather, Roz was
surrounded by a circle of admirers, this tall, brown-haired, slightly
freckled woman who was glowing and laughing and giving off warmth like
(as one article in the Sunday
had put it) a fireplace of the soul.

When she had read that phrase, Kate had wondered to herself if the
reporter really meant that Roz was hot. She was, in fact, one of the
most unconsciously sexy women Kate knew.

Kate hadn't seen Roz in a couple of weeks, but she knew just
looking at her, the way she gestured and leaned toward her audience,
the way her laugh came and her eyes flashed, that Roz was involved in
some passionate quest or other: She seemed to have grown a couple of
inches and lost ten years, a look Kate had seen her wear often enough.
Or it could have been from the fulsome praise being heaped on her by
the other parents--all of whom, it seemed, had seen a television
program Roz had been on the night before and were eager to tell her how
great it had been, how great she had been. Roz threw one arm around the
school principal and laughed with honest self-deprecation, and while
Kate waited to get a word in, she studied the side of that animated
face with the slightly uncomfortable affection a person invariably
feels toward someone in whose debt she is and always will be, an
ever-so-slightly servile discomfort that in Kate's case was
magnified by the knowledge that her own lover had once slept with this
woman. She liked Roz (how could she not?) and respected her enormously,
but she could never be completely comfortable with her.

Roz's partner, Maj Freiling, stood slightly to one side,
taking all this in while she spoke with a woman Kate vaguely remembered
having met at one of their parties. Maj was short, black-haired,
and--incongruously--Swedish; her name therefore was
pronounced "my," forming the source of endless puns from
Roz. Most people who knew Roz assumed that her quiet partner was a
nonentity whose job was to keep house, to produce brilliant meals at
the drop of Roz's hat, and to laugh politely at Roz's
jokes. Most people were wrong. Just because Maj spoke little did not
mean she had nothing to say. She was the holder of several degrees in
an area of brain research so arcane only half a dozen people in San
Francisco had ever heard of it, and they in turn were not of the sort
to be found in Roz's company of politicians and reformers. It
seemed to Kate a case of complete incompatibility leading to a
rock-solid marriage, just one more thing she didn't understand
about Roz Hall.

Kate looked from one woman to the other, and gave up on the attempt
to reach Roz. Maj smiled at Kate in complicity as Kate approached. Kate
found herself grinning in return as she reached out to squeeze
Maj's arm.

"Thanks for inviting me," she said. "I was going
to come to the party afterward, but I got a call, and have to go.
Sorry. Be sure to tell Mina she was the best monkey I've ever

"I will tell her. And don't worry, your avoidance of our
potluck desserts is in good company." Maj glanced over
Kate's shoulder toward the door. Kate turned and saw a
distinctively tailored and hatted figure sweeping out of the school
cafeteria. The moment the door swung shut behind him, someone's
voice rose above the Babel with a remark about the Ladies of Perpetual
Disgruntlement, the group of feminist vigilantes who had in recent
weeks set the city on its ear with a series of creative and, Kate had
to admit privately, funny acts of revenge. Just that morning the mayor
had issued a statement to the press saying, in effect, "We are
not amused."

Kate smiled absently at the overheard remark and turned back to Maj. "That was the mayor, wasn't it?"

Maj shrugged and gave her a crooked smile as if to apologize for a flashy display.

"I wondered whose car that was. Very impressive," Kate
told her. "Look, Maj, could you find someone who might be able to
take Lee and Jon home? We only brought the one car."

"We, on the other hand, always bring two, because Roz
invariably finds someone she just has to talk to. I'd be happy to
give them a ride, if they don't mind waiting for Mina to stuff
herself with cookies first."

"I'm sure they won't mind. Jon secretly adores
Oreo cookies and-- what are those Jell-O things called?"

"Jigglers," Maj pronounced with fastidious disapproval,
giving the word three syllables. Kate laughed and reached out again to
pat Maj's shoulder in thanks, waved to Lee, and hurried out of
the school hall in the footsteps of Hizzoner to her own, lesser vehicle.

The western sky was still faintly light ahead of her as Kate drove
down Lombard Street in the recently acquired and thoroughly broken-in
Honda, which on the first warm day she owned it had declared itself to
be the former property of a pizza delivery boy. She rolled down the
window to let in the air of this April evening, clear and sweet after
the drizzle earlier in the day, and wished she hadn't let Lee
bully her into giving up the motorcycle.

Kate loved San Francisco best at night. During the day it was an
interesting city, decorative and lively and every bit as anonymous as a
villain, or a cop, could ask for. But at night the city closed in and
became intimate, a cluster of hills and valleys with the sea curled up
against three sides of it. Sometimes, beneath the stars and the hum of
traffic and the collective breathing of three-quarters of a million
people, Kate imagined she could hear the city's song.

The imagined song was a flight of fancy unlike Kate--or rather,
unlike the image Kate had of herself--and a thing she had never
mentioned to anyone, even to Lee. (Perhaps especially not Lee, an
analytical therapist who tended to read far too much into small
imaginings.) Like an old tune that had been recorded in a hundred ways,
the song of the City could be smooth and sexy from the throat of a
torch singer or ornate in
a cappella,
coolly instrumental or
raunchy in rock. The city's complex melody was never the same on
two nights or in two places: Here it had a salsa beat, there the drive
of rap held it, elsewhere it was transformed by the plink and slither
of Chinese instruments and harmonies, in another part of town it had
the raga complexity of Indian music. During those "only in San
Francisco" times when the latest outrageous excess of the City by
the Bay made the final, tongue-in-cheek segment on the national
news--since the Ladies of Perpetual Disgruntlement had come on the
scene, for example--the song occasionally took on comic overtones,
like a movie score preparing the audience for a pratfall. No matter the
setting, though, it was the same song, the night song of the City of
St. Francis, and it kept Kate Martinelli company as she crossed its
streets to the scene of a crime.

Lombard Street's garish blast of motel and cocktail lounge
lights cut off abruptly at the wide gate that marked the entrance to
the Presidio, and the clutter of buildings and phone lines gave way to
trees and dignified officers' housing. The Army was in the
process of withdrawing from the base it had built here, the most
gorgeous piece of open land left in San Francisco, but so far the
untidy life of civilian San Francisco had been kept at bay, and
Kate's headlights picked out neatly trimmed lawn and ranks of
dark barracks. Following the directions she had been given, she kept to
the right. The road passed along the edge of a parking lot so huge it
might have been a parade grounds, with three cars in it, before
narrowing further to become a single lane between a wooden building and
the madly busy but oddly removed freeway that led to the Golden Gate
Bridge, and then Kate saw the gates to the military cemetery and a
police car across the adjoining road, turning cars back. She showed the
uniform her identification and drove on, headlights playing now across
rows of gleaming white gravestones that stretched up the hill to her
left, and then the City's song took on a discordant note, like
the warning of a minor chord in a suspense movie, with the appearance
of a brilliant blue-white light thrown against the undersides of the
trees around the next turn.

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