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Friday, October 6
Things look different when you're scared. And I'm scared now. Little Chryssie's scareder than she's been her whole life. Jude told me I'd never get away with it, but I thought I had, and then somebody saw me up there in all those trees, and now this damn Mercedes is dead on the coast highway where my cell phone won't work. God, I'm in trouble. Making Jude right. Again. Always.
Yeah, things look different. On the drive up from where I stayed outside San Francisco last night-not a lot of miles, but over four hours on these twisty roads-the sea was pretty, sparkly, deep blue. Made me feel good. Still is pretty, but now I don't want to look at it. All I can think is that people drown in there. And the pines in the canyon-walking through them, I felt like a little girl in church. Then the memories came back, and I felt like a little girl, all right. But not in church. No way.
Jesus, this is an awful place to break down. Turnout, but it's on a blind curve, and I could just barely get the car off the road before it conked out for good. Middle of nowhere, nothing on the bluff but pampas grass and burned trees from when they must've had a forest fire. Nothing but more trees on the other side of the highway. Dead-looking truck over by the fence.
Lots of traffic, but nobody'll stop to help me. Hood's up, they can see I'm broke down, but does anybody give a shit? No. They just keep zooming by in their sports cars and campers and SUVs, having a good time. Acting like I don't exist.
Sheriff 's car. Woman driving. For sure she'll stop. Nope. She's around the curve already. Gone. Our tax dollars at work, like Leo used to say. Well, not my tax bucks. Little Chryssie don't pay no taxes in California.
So what do I do now? I'm a great big target sitting here by the highway. Whoever saw me in the canyon knows what I look like, maybe what the car looks like, but I didn't see them. They could drive right up and I wouldn't know who they were or what hit me. I could be dead before-
Damn this car! Damn it!
Okay, come on, calm down, think now. You're not playing this smart.
Maybe they didn't see me clear up there. Or see what I was doing. And even if they did, it might not've meant anything to them. Just because somebody hollers at you...
Two choices. Stay by the car and take my chances. Walk away and maybe take a bigger chance. Two choices, but either way the first thing to do is lose the evidence. Lose it good like it was before.
So what've we got here? Pampas grass, big clump of it. Stuff just takes over, specially along this part of the coast. What did Jude always say about that? Something to do with the plants being scouts for an alien life-form, staking out the edge of the continent for the arrival of the mother ship. God, she could be weird sometimes! She said she did it on purpose to drive us crazy, but I think it might've been the dope talking.
Well, aliens got no use for what I'm gonna hide here. This pampas grass is fine for what I got in mind.
Somebody coming! Cover it fast. There, that's good, real good. Where the hell are they? Oh, over there by the cliff. Oriental guy and a white girl, climbing up the slope with a big cooler between them. They're fighting. Wind's blowing this way, I can hear every word. She says he's paranoid about Fish and Game. He tells her to shut up. She says she used to think things weren't working out between them because of their cultural differences, but now she knows it's because he's an asshole. Jesus, they sound like Jude and Leo.
I could hide here till they're gone, but maybe they'll call a tow truck for me. Leave a message for Jude that I got in and out okay, too. That way I wouldn't have to take my chances hitching on the highway. If they ask, I'll tell them I came down here to take a pee.
It's getting cold, even inside the car with the windows rolled up. Better dig that sweater outta the trunk. Jesus, I wish the tow truck would come.
Keep on wishin'. Pretty woman with the weird Oriental guy said it might take two hours. Don't they have Triple A garages up here in the boonies? Don't their cars ever break down? That old pickup of theirs looked like it was ready to.
Oriental guy sure acted spooky. Wonder if he saw what I was really doing in that clump of pampas grass. Nah, they were too far away, dragging that big cooler. Bet they had something illegal in there. Drugs off some boat outta Mexico? Nah, nobody'd make a drop while it's still light. Didn't the girl say something about Fish and Game? I read someplace there's a lot of abalone poaching going on up here. Bet that's what they were doing. Take more than the limit, sell it to some restaurant, make big bucks.
That's okay, though. None of my business. What matters is they said they'd make my calls. Meantime the evidence is gone till I can come back for it. And little Chryssie's just a dumb tourist with car trouble.
Dumb, anyway. Real dumb.
A pickup, and it's slowing down. Old man driving. Slowing down some more... yeah, to stare at my ass while I'm leaning into the trunk. I don't believe it! See anything you like, buddy? Now he's speeding up. Old fool doesn't know I'd be happy to give him a piece if he'd help me.
Wish I'd packed warmer clothes, but how could I know it'd be so fuckin' cold on the coast? Was even warm in San Francisco. Lucky I dragged this old sweater of Leo's along.
There, that's better. I love this sweater. Hangs all the way down to my knees. I'll crawl in the car, lock the door, wait.
Weird how the fog blows south, curls around the point, heads back north at me. Ugly, dirty-looking stuff. Makes me feel lonesome. Well, what's new about that, Chryssie? When haven't you felt lonesome?
At least I'm warm now, even though I'm scareder than ever. It's the dark coming on that's spooking me. The dark and the fog and every set of headlights that flashes round the bend. There's no radio reception and I forgot to bring any tapes along and I sure as hell don't want to think about the stuff I remembered in the canyon.
An unexamined life is not worth living, Chrystal.
Jude's voice. It's like she came along inside my head. She was always nagging at me with lines like that, but I never noticed her doing any deep thinking of her own. And besides the canyon, what is there to think about? Leo, long dead and all I've got of him is this ratty sweater? Jude, sick and needing me like I never needed her? Dave, who's into bondage, or John, who talks about killing his parents, or Timothy, who always cries? Sean, who seriously likes to hurt women? The other pathetic middle-of-the-night voices?
No, thanks. I'd rather count cars on the highway.
Camper, going north. SUV tailgating it. Sports car hugging the southbound curve and disappearing in the fog. Big white pickup, jacked up on oversized tires, a bar of lights on top of the cab. Got a lotta those here in redneck country. I've seen at least ten just like it. Another camper. Another. Got a lotta them too....
Fifty cars later, and I can't keep from thinking. About that last night in the canyon. About Jude and Leo, too. Him I miss in a weird way, but her-God, she's been a pain in the ass. Some people die graceful, but not Jude, oh no. Bitch, whine, erase the few good memories I had of her.
And that canyon... What was it Jude said? Oh yeah: "We all have a place that our minds return to long after it's been altered by time and its inhabitants are gone. The canyon is mine."
I oughta remember, she said it three times Saturday night. Real proud of herself for thinking of it, even if she was in a bad way. Still claims she's a poet. Poet, my ass!
It's been almost two hours now, and no tow truck. He's gotta be coming soon. I can't stay in the car much longer. I'm so scared my skin feels tight, and it's hard to breathe. I'll stand outside for a while, duck down if anybody but the tow truck stops.
Funny, now I'm more scared of what's inside of me than what might be outside in the dark.
Pickup, turn signal on, slowing down. Help, or-?
No help. No nothing. It's speeding up and the signal's off. Man and a woman inside, heading south. They saw me, I didn't duck in time.
Jesus, do I look that scary? I mean, I'd never pass for no Girl Scout, but I don't look like an escaped con either. And this Mercedes sports car is about as respectable as cars get.
I'm starting to hate this place. Really hate it. What's wrong with the people here?
God, it's dark, except when a car comes along. I hate the dark, always sleep with a light on-
Something coming. Get ready to duck. But wait a minute- It's the tow truck! About time, dammit.
Lights shining in my eyes. Come to Chryssie. And don't make no excuses about how long it took. Just get me outta this miserable hole.
He's climbing down, walking over here. Big and slow and probably stupid. He's not saying anything and he's not looking under the hood. He's-
Oh no! No!
Oh my God not this!
Copyright (c) by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I'm a fan of Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone series. This is a new character Deputy Rhoda Swift and it takes place just outside of SAn Francisco in an small town.
As the anonymous review on this site says, "The context is built up lovingly through eerie scenes, action by the characters, and flashbacks. To this, Ms. Muller has added two powerful situations, a mass murder that occurred 13 years earlier that still haunts the town and a young woman stranded with a broken down car." In addition, there are two missing people. There is narration by the two main characters, Rhoda and Guy, and there are flashbacks from many of the victims of the mass murder, plus the woman stranded in the car and the two missing people. All in all, there's too much going on here, and it's confusing because of all the narrative flashbacks. While I appreciate a complicated intense plot, of, say Robert Ludlum, this is just muddled. It was a disappointment after the McCone series.
Review Summary: Point Deception is a strong novel, built around a superb sense of place. The context is built up lovingly through eerie scenes, action by the characters, and flashbacks. To this, Ms. Muller has added two powerful situations, a mass murder that occurred 13 years earlier that still haunts the town and a young woman stranded with a broken down car while passers-by ignore her. The action revolves around the parallel investigations of current and past events by the local sheriff's department and county detectives and an expose writer looking to create his next book. The main character, Deputy Sheriff Rhoda (Rho) Swift, will inevitably be compared to Sharon McCone, Ms. Muller's most famous fictional character. I found Ms. Swift to be less quirky and less humorous, but just as appealing and feisty. Ms. Muller is talented in setting up a book about having one or two characters take on a whole town, and Point Deception is her best work in that style. Review: In the best mystery stories, the place sometimes becomes the center of the story. Think about The Hound of the Baskervilles. Rarely do mystery novelists have the skill and the patience to build that element properly. Marcia Muller has done so in Point Deception, and you will feel very rewarded by this richly located story. Ms. Muller always employs place well in her stories, but I think this is her best work in that regard. Many will inevitably compare this book to Bitterroot. Point Deception is much better done in every way, from handling of the place to unfolding the plot to the development of the characters. Signal Port, California is a small town with a past that it doesn't like to talk about. In the fall of 1987, two families and a friend were gunned down on their rural property. The investigation was muffed, in part by not calling in the FBI and in part by some misplaced blood samples. Almost everyone who lived in the town then has seen their lives changed by the event . . . for the worse. As a result, they've withdrawn, taken to more drink, and become mean to each other. Five days before the 13th anniversary of the killings, three women disappear. Could there be a connection to the previous massacre? Point Deception is a brilliantly symbolic name for this novel, because everyone in the book has several major deceptions going on . . . including self-deceptions in some cases. The story opens powerfully with a frantic woman next to a broken down car, anxious to get help. Cars whiz by, including a sheriff's vehicle, but no one helps her. The fog builds, the temperature drops, and she grows frightened. That situation draws you powerfully into the story, and never lets go. That story line continues with flashbacks throughout the book. The main story is built around the daily activities of Rho Swift as she goes about her sheriff's deputy duties. She has seen the woman who was stranded, but was called away by a shooting just as she was about to stop and help. Early in the book, she meets stranger Guy Newberry, who is a best selling author from New York who specializes in writing exposes on small towns. The locals don't want him around, but cannot get rid of him. Rho and Guy develop a wary relationship that contributes to solving the mystery. One of the pleasures of this book is that you can arrive with new characters without any preconceptions. In a long-running series, you have expectations. I hope that Ms. Muller will continue with these characters, and leave them open to changes in their lives, work styles, and characters. In this book, people do change . . . or they are harmed in the process of trying to remain the same. With such a rich beginning, this series could become Ms. Muller's best. After you finish enjoying this fine novel, I suggest you think about how you can be sure that you do not ignore people in trouble. The lesson here seems to be that we should assume that no one else will help unless we do. Seek out ways to help!
Almost thirteen years ago, Rhoda Swift¿s career in law enforcement seemed over before it started. She was a rookie when she was the first officer to arrive at the site of the massacre of two families including children. However, the blood samples needed to potentially identify the killer were somehow lost and the first year cop took the blame though she knew she was innocent. Hard work has helped her overcome some of her loss of credibility with the Soledad County, California deputy sheriff department. Five days before the anniversary that started Rhoda¿s nightmares, journalist Guy Newberry arrives to write the definitive true story about the crime. October would have been enough to raise fears, but with the New Yorker mucking around followed by a new murder, apprehensions attain dangerous levels, as no one in the county trusts anyone else. POINT DECEPTION is an exciting police procedural that centers on collective guilt and redemption. The townsfolk still feel culpable for the deaths of the two families and the recent homicide while Rhoda sees a second chance to prove her worthiness as a detective. The story line is cleverly designed to highlight emotions and reactions and Guy brings in the right mix of romance and cynicism that strengthens those feelings. However, most Marcia Muller fans will keep expecting for the great Sharon McCone to show up at High Noon. Rhoda is a good protagonist, but readers know McCone, and consider McCone a friend, and Rhoda is definitely no McCone. Harriet Klausner