"Do the police have any leads?"
"Nada. I guess nobody saw anything when it happened. Melvin said they're checking all the body shops, but nothing's turned up." She met my eyes and held them, her eyes beseeching. "Could you just take a look? It's been over a month. I know you work pro bono here, but I can pay you."
I should have said no. After all, what could I bring to a garden variety hit-and-run case? But the thought that someone was walking around free out there, someone who had taken this young woman's mother from her in such a brutal way, stuck in my craw. "Okay, I'll make some inquiries, but I can't promise a thing." I pointed in the direction of the waiting room. "It's probably filling up out there. Give me your contact information. I'll want to talk to you again in more detail, but that can wait. I'll be in touch."
She jotted down her cell phone number and e-mail address and left, but not before shaking my hand and giving Archie a hug. With the door to the waiting room closed, I leaned back in my chair with my fingers laced behind my head for a few moments. Angela's story was familiar, I realized, because a decade earlier a young man came to me with a similar request. The death of his mother was a cold case, but it heated up in a hurry. Would something similar happen here? I had no way of knowing, of course, but a feeling just short of a premonition stirred in my gut that it might.
I looked over at Archie, who stood looking at me with his head cocked. "What?" I asked him. "Things are slow right now, so no big deal." He blinked a couple of times, and shot me a look, the one that says, Yeah, heard that one before.
I kept a small studio apartment above my office at Caffeine Central, but that Friday night I opted to return home—an old farmhouse up in the Red Hills above Dundee, a small burg south of Portland in the heart of Oregon's wine country. My daughter, Claire, had christened the secluded five acres "the Aerie," and it was, at least to me, a fortress on a hill, a place where I could escape and recharge after doing battle down in the world. I fed Arch, scraped together leftovers—a bowl of vegetarian chili, a couple of homemade biscuits, and the last of a bottle of pinot noir—and hit the sack early.
As soon as sunlight torched the Douglas firs out in my yard the next morning, birdsong erupted. It's great that birds happily greet the new day, but do they have to start so early? I heard Arch stir, but I rolled over and tried to squeeze in a little more sleep. It didn't work—it never does—so I got up, got dressed, and followed my dog down the back staircase to the kitchen.
I'd just finished my double cappuccino when I heard a dull thump and felt a shock wave pass under my feet that rattled the glassware on the counter. I'm from L.A., so I knew an earthquake when I felt one. I looked down at Archie, who was making little whimpering sounds. "Easy, Big Boy. Just a tremor." I glanced out the kitchen window and saw a cloud of dust rising from the abandoned gravel quarry that lay on the other side of my south fenceline. "What the hell? That was no earthquake."
I loaded Arch in the car and drove around to the entrance of McCallister Quarry, a narrow, one-hundred-and-fifty-acre swath of rocky terrain running east-west below my property line. The broad gate was wide open, the first time I'd ever seen it without a padlock. I parked next to the gate and just as we got out of the car another thump shook the ground, followed by an even larger plume of dust. Arch pushed his trembling body against my leg. I knelt down and comforted him until the trembling abated. "You stay in the car, Big Boy. I'm going to find out what's going on."
The dust came from the east end of the quarry, where the terrain sloped off sharply. I worked my way through the rusty detritus of the previous mining operation and a scattering of scrawny cedar trees until a couple of pickup trucks and a half-dozen workers in fluorescent orange vests and yellow hard hats came into view. One of the workers saw me, elbowed another, a big man wearing a full beard and an annoyed look. He put up a hand and said, "Whoa, buddy. You need to turn around and leave. We're blasting here."
I kept walking, and when I reached him said, "I'm Cal Claxton." I swung my arm around and pointed in the direction of the Aerie, which was barely visible from that low spot in the quarry. "I live right over there. What the hell's going on? I thought it was an earthquake."
Beard nodded in the direction of the rocky embankment that formed the north boundary of the quarry. Two men were picking through a pile of rocks below a crater that was still belching dust. Another worker was hoisting what looked like a hydraulic drill next to the carved-out section. "Like I said, we're blasting," Beard answered.
"I can see that," I said with anger rising. "Why?"