Chapter 1

I don't often go to meet potential clients, since I don't work enough, or care enough about making money, to make it worth my while. I've got money enough to retire on, and I'm just 42 – going on 43, but that won't be for a little bit yet. I work whenever I take a notion, and when I don't take a notion I don't work. I don't go into the office every day, and when I do I'm as liable to read a book, or look out the window at the Sandia Mountains, as I am to work on a case.

But when I got the call I took a notion, and agreed to drive over. I knew the place by its name, though the name the caller – a receptionist – had given me didn't ring any bells. As I drove east on Montgomery I pondered the notion I'd taken. It wasn't like me to easily agree to meet people who stand for things I abhor. On the other hand I've never been real worried about being foolishly consistent. Yeah, there are things where it's necessary to be consistent, and my morality is one of 'em, but I don't think anyone who knows the actual quote would ever accuse me of having a small mind.

Not being real introspective or analytical, I shelved the wonderment, and looked at the day. It was clear in Albuquerque, but cold, for winter at 5,000 feet isn't a warm thing. It doesn't snow a lot in Albuquerque, though on the eastern slope of the Sandias there's a ski resort, but it does get cold. The winter comes down from Canada, and the earth's tilt on its axis means we get less solar energy, and I bundle up lest I freeze solid. Of all the ways I might like to die, freezing isn't one of 'em.

The cold air, though, was as clear as so much vacuum. Albuquerque's air pollution – which was just an occasional winter "brown cloud" when I moved here in 1992, but is pretty much permanent now – had blown away on a fairly stiff breeze, and it almost seemed like I could see individual grains of mineral in the granite face of the Sandias. I knew that wasn't true, of course – I couldn't even make out the Great Unconformity which divides the granite from its limestone caprock – but such clarity of air makes you think such things. I know about clear air, for growing up in the Mojave Desert I'd seen it every day of my life till I moved to Oklahoma in 1986.

I turned off Montgomery into a shopping center at Wyoming. I found the suite I was looking for, but there weren't any parking places in front, which I hadn't expected and which was fine with me. Now that I knew where I was going, I found an open spot in the midst of a swarm of open spots further out in the lot. I like to park where I don't have to turn sideways to squeeze between cars, and I like to walk, so walking 50 yards or so from my Blazer to the door wasn't a bother at all. Most people won't walk 50 inches if they can help it, and so they park all crammed up next to each other – and whine when a scratch the size of an ameba appears on the paint, too. I once knew a guy who got into a royal tizzy over a dent in the hood, as though all the forces of the universe were conspiring against him. My theory is that if you buy a new car you might as well relax about dings and dents, 'cause they're gonna happen no matter what you do.

With that thought in my mind I got to the door. The lettering on the glass said Planned Pregnancy Center. I mentally sneered at it. Even if I hadn't known what the place did, I'd have been able to tell from the name. But I'd come voluntarily, so I kept the sneer mental as I opened the door.

Inside there was a small waiting room, with standard plastic waiting room chairs, and the standard sign-in counter to my right. I stepped up, where a receptionist in Donald Duck scrubs looked up at me. "I've got an appointment with Dr. Bernard," I told her.

She got on the phone, apparently talked to Dr. Bernard, and asked someone standing around behind her to show me back. I followed the man – his scrubs plain institutional green – back through the hallways, out of the realm of examining rooms, and into a short corridor with wood paneling instead of flat white paint. At least it looked like wood to me; probably it was actually veneer or even vinyl, but Cecelia wasn't with me to set me straight. My wife knows more than I do about more subjects, but one thing she has absolutely no interest in is detective work.

We came to a door, my guide knocked, and at a voice we stepped in. "Dr. Bernard," he said, "Darvin Carpenter's here to see you."

As the guide left, shutting the door behind him, I examined the woman who wanted to hire me. She was perhaps 45, a little older than me, with iron gray hair chopped off short – longer toward the front than the back, in what I can't help thinking of as a "liberal haircut." I don't know why women of a particular political persuasion do their hair like that, unless they want to look unattractive, for I can't think of a more unattractive hairstyle. As far as I could tell she didn't have on any makeup, not that I'm good at that sort of thing. Her eyes were gray, her skin pasty as though she never got out in the sun, and as far as I could tell under her suit and white lab coat she was dumpy and doughy. I wonder, also, why women of a particular political persuasion so often have a particular body type.

"I'm Dr. Patricia Bernard," she said, rising and extending her hand.

"Darvin Carpenter," I said, shaking. "If you don't mind my asking, doctor of what?"

"I have a Ph.D. in political science."

"I would have thought," I said as she sat again behind her desk and I took one of the chairs facing her, "that you'd have a medical degree."

"I am an administrator. There is a chief physician who oversees the medical portion of the operation."

I nodded. "I don't guess it matters a whole lot, though. You didn't ask me here 'cause I know anything about medical or political matters either one. What can I do you for?"

It seemed to me that she was concealing an expression of distaste. My English sometimes has that effect, but I'm a casual guy by nature, and sometimes I get so galled by people's self-conscious conformity to group expectations that I give it a free rein – probably Cecelia would say it's too free a rein. Dr. Bernard's voice didn't contain any distaste, though. "I am in need of protection – this clinic is, for that matter."

"Sounds like you need a security firm, not a PI," I told her.

"We have a security firm on retainer. They have dismissed my fears."

I had to ask. "What makes you think I won't dismiss 'em?"

"Willis Sampson recommended you. He says that you are a compassionate, intelligent man."

"Even though I sound like a ignernt idiot?" I asked with a grin.

"He didn't mention your speech in our conversation. He just told me that if you accepted the commission, you would do good work for a reasonable price. We cannot afford to pay an outrageous fee."

"No, I don't charge outrageously – at least not unless a client makes it a point to be a royal pain."

"I have no such intention."

"That's good." I grinned again. "Why don't you tell me what you know about the deal, an' then I can tell you if I wanna take the case."

She took a deep breath. "I have received threats by mail. They come to me, but they threaten the clinic."

"Do they have your name on the envelope?"

"No, just my title – director."

"What are the threats?"

"There have been threats of fire, of personal harm. The threats have been insulting and abusive. There was one threat of driving a car into the front of the building. There have been others of a more ... personally harmful nature."

"Someone's been watching TV," I said. Over the past two or three years there'd been a few instances of vandals, thieves, and drunks driving into the fronts of buildings around town. One woman drove into the front of a clinic up in Rio Rancho and a couple of people died of it. "I'll wanna see the letters."

"Very well. There have also been threats by phone. Since the first few we've installed a taping system, and we have recorded most of them."

I grinned yet again. "Illegally, of course, since of course this punk wouldn't give permission even if y'all asked. I'm glad y'all did it, though. Probably it won't help me find whoever this is, but it can't hurt. I'll wanna hear the tapes too."

"You speak as though you've decided to take the case."

"I do that sometimes. I walked in here half minded to turn y'all down, and here I am, asking for information that I won't need unless I take it. My mind's funny thataway." I set my bullrider hat, which I'd been holding all this time, in the chair next to me. I dress like a cowboy – I once was a cowboy – and that means a hat.

"I suppose," Dr. Bernard said, "that you'll want me to sign a contract and provide a retainer."

"Yeah." I often don't ask for a retainer, but from an abortionist I would. "How soon could y'all have the letters and the tapes ready for me?"

"They're ready now. I knew that you would need them."

"Why did y'all save 'em, anyway?"

"I have worked in other clinics which received threats, and learned that investigators need as much evidence as they can get."

"You'd think that'd be obvious," I muttered. More loudly, I said, "Cool. Now I need to get all sorts of info from you. Some of my questions are going to sound impertinent and intrusive, but you probably know from that past experience how that is."

"I do, and I'll provide answers to the best of my ability. But before we finalize our association, I must ask you what your feelings are on the subject of abortion."

"Repugnance, disgust, nausea – the same as they are at any other murder. But that it's murder is my opinion – based on ample and conclusive evidence. The other is my feelings."

"Yet you're willing to work for me?"

"Dr. Bernard," I said, "I loathe what y'all do here. I think this place is engaged in legalized, systematic murder. You and people like you have made Hitter's Holocaust look like a pink tea party. In the first 12 years of legalized abortion you killed three times as many innocent human beings as he killed Jews during the duration of the Nazi regime. But just because you're slaughtering the innocent in wholesale lots doesn't mean someone else has the right to threaten or harm you. Don't ask me why I'm taking this case, but I am. There are plenty of other people in trouble I could help. But I'm taking this case. And whoever's doing this, I'm gonna catch. End of sermon."

She stared at me as though I were the Hydra. Perhaps to her I was something that loathsome. But finally she nodded her head. "Cooperative enmity I can live with, since you appear to be competent. Ask your questions."

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Story tagged with:
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