Seattle burned to the ground in 1889 and a new city was built on top of the old. A century later, the original Seattle remains: empty streets, crumbling sidewalks, and pitch-black passageways, twelve feet beneath the modern metropolis.
When a stickup goes horribly wrong, Hilton “Rabbit” Babcock and his eight-year-old hostage, Ali, tumble through the rotten floor of an abandoned warehouse and into the subterranean city. They are not alone. Strange, desperate characters lurk in the shadows of old Seattle, and they don’t take kindly to visitors. But with the cops and the ruthless drug queen he’s in debt to waiting aboveground, Rabbit has little choice but to plunge deeper into the dark, dragging Ali along with him. To bring her out, the Seattle PD turns to a Vietnam vet who spent his war years flushing the Viet Cong from their jungle tunnels. Is Lewis ready to face his demons and go underground again? Ali’s life might just depend on it.
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By Robert Ryan
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Rob Ryan
All rights reserved.
The Paul Allen Athletic Club, Seattle, Washington. October. Friday 7.10 pm. Now.
Lewis had often complained about the public address system. Why, in the midst of a game of racquetball, should he have to listen to the fact that a lost child was at the reception desk, that tickets for the Mariners or the Seahawks were on special at reception, that Microsoft was proud to sponsor this year's Fringe Theater Festival?
Most of the time he managed to block it out, ignore the mundanities echoing around the court walls. Now he was two strides and a backhand away from victory when he heard the name. He had not been aware of the run-up to it, nor did the roar in his ears allow him to catch much of the second part of the sentence. All he really heard was 'Mr Dodo'.
Then the court lights seemed to dim, and he had to clench hard—then harder—his anal sphincter and his buttocks to prevent him soiling the polished wooden floor. The pucker effect they used to call it—some weird muscle that contracted and tried to pull your asshole inside-out. For a second he thought he was going to faint, but then the lights came up again. His forehead prickled as if his body was pumping pure hydrochloric acid out of its pores.
'Ha-ha'. While Lewis struggled to keep his bearings, Tenniel leapt in—or perhaps merely fell—scooped up the missed ball and hammered it against the wall with all the ferocity a fat cop can manage. They both watched it dribble feebly into the back corner. But it was Tenniel's point. He beamed with the pleasure of a man who can tell his wife how well the new fitness regime was going.
Lewis lost that one and managed another perfunctory game, sweating a quantity of fluid completely out of proportion to his exertion, before accepting defeat. 'What's the matter?' asked Tenniel. 'You're playing like you need a crap or something.'
'Sorry, John. You just outplayed me, I guess. Haven't got the stamina.' He managed a weak best-man-won smile.
Tenniel flashed his teeth back, ignoring for once the grating that he felt when Lewis's prissy New England vowels strangled stamina into stemina. 'Well, it had to happen sometime. You sure you're OK?'
Lewis knew that Tenniel was waiting for something to take the edge off the victory, such as Lewis revealing he had a hernia operation three hours earlier and it had blunted his speed, but he didn't have the heart. Or the excuse. He had been playing the cop for three, four months now, and the strain of trying to keep at least a pretence of equality in the scores was getting to him. But not tonight. 'Absolutely fine.'
As they ambled back to the changing room, Tenniel puffing a happy wheeze from his overheated alveoli, Lewis thought about Mr Dodo. A coincidence? Maybe unlike the bird, the surname never died out. But something made him sure this was a message for him, something in the way his left hand suddenly ached for the first time in three, four years. Something in the pucker effect.
In the changing room he batted off Tenniel's insistence on a drink. The cop had some time to kill before his shift, and was mildly pissed at Lewis: he wanted to celebrate the great victory over the fitter man (he would conveniently forget that Lewis was also a little older, shorter and that technically it had been a draw—to Tenniel this would go down as The Night Lewis Played As If He Needed A Crap). Lewis showered so fast it was a disgrace to the notion of personal hygiene and was out the door before Tenniel had squeezed into his bad suit. He just raised a hand as the policeman said with renewed enthusiasm: 'Same time next week?'
In the entrance hall he leant over the reception desk. 'Tammy, what was that message for—' he cleared his throat, frightened it would come out as a squeak—'Mr Dodo?'
'Hold on, Mr Lewis.' He noticed that Tammy used everybody else's first name—it would no doubt be 'Goodnight, John' when the portly Tenniel swept by—but had trouble with his. Well, she wouldn't be the first to be phased by a white man hurtling towards fifty called Carl Lewis. The other one had kind of cornered the market in the title. Which was a little unfair, because he had had it first.
'It said: "Mr Rivers will meet Mr Dodo in the parking lot." We don't have a Mr Dodo as a member, Mr Lewis, or one signed in as a guest, but the man insisted on the announcement.'
Lewis nodded. 'Yeah, I ...' Unsure of how to explain his interest he blurted: 'Can you book us the same time next week?'
Tammy looked puzzled. He and Tenniel had a rolling slot; there was no need to reconfirm. 'Sure, Mr Lewis, it's already down.'
Another rainshower had started, this one a welcome-to-the-weekend drizzle. Lewis stood framed in the doorway, unsure of whether to sprint to his car and get out of there and not look back, or wait for developments. But if Mr Rivers could track him down to his health club ... He stepped out and scanned the scene around him. It would be dark soon. Floodlights already illuminated the great walls of the bulk of the stadium behind him, the workers now hammering day and night to get it completed before they moved into the penalty period. Well, at least they got the sports club opened. Ahead of him, over the roofs of the parked cars, was a second freshly minted complex, the Mariners' new home, sitting smug and pretty, finished well ahead of schedule.
Headlights flashed from across the lot. A quick blink aimed at him, he had no doubt. Lewis took a deep breath and walked across, reluctantly passing his own car, onto the Mercury that had given him the come-on. The passenger door swung open, and he tossed his bag over the back and slid into the seat. The interior light stayed on long enough for him to get a good look at Mr Rivers, and analyse what a quarter of century down the line had done to him. He knew Rivera—his real name—was doing the same.
The light clicked off. Lewis could smell the driver, the scent of rain on a new woollen coat, an almost feline odour. But the cat in question was distinctly alley-bred.
'Mr Dodo. Howyadoin'?'
He thought he detected sarcasm and superiority coexisting in the words, but Lewis took the hand anyway. It seemed churlish not to. Actually, what seemed entirely reasonable right now would be to grab this man by his throat, bang his head against the wheel a dozen times, put him in the trunk and dump him out near the Everett Field. That might just—just—convey how unwelcome he was.
Instead, all he said was: 'Willie.'
'You look good.'
'You smell like shit. Where did you get that coat from?'
'Still got the nose, huh? I been in town three days, I get wet every time I step onto a sidewalk, the coat hasn't had a chance to dry out. I swear, it's rotting on my back.'
'It's Seattle, Willie. Haven't you heard the jokes? Haven't you ever watched Frasier? A raincoat is what you need. Not a skunk-skin overcoat.'
There was an awkward pause. Willie started first. 'Shall we ...?'
'How did you find me?'
'Well ... I saw one of your pictures in a magazine. Great shot up a mountain it was, real Ansel whatsit.'
'Adams.' This was not the time to tell him he despised Ansel Adams, and hated being compared to him.
'Anyways, it had a list of contributors and these pictures and fuck me if I didn't see right away it was my old friend ...' He swivelled to face him. 'Carl Lewis. So I called your agent.'
'And he said, hey, he plays racquetball every Friday with a cop called Tenniel at the Athletic Club. Yeah, very professional.' Come to think of it, he realised, that did sound like the sort of thing his agent Michael would do—never let a client or a potential client slip away, nail them there and then.
'No, well, not exactly. Look, it wasn't hard, OK? I called your wife—'
'She's not my wife.'
'Well she sounded like your wife. She wasn't the maid, I figured that much. Anyway, I said I had special delivery UPS you had to sign for. She told me where you were. It's not like you've got anything to hide, is it? It's not racquetball with a big blonde, is it? No. Look, you wanna go for a drink? I checked a bar out while I was waiting. Just down the street.'
At that moment they both picked up the once-familiar whine of a starter motor pushing reluctant helicopter blades into making the first tentative swipes in the air. They listened as the pitch increased, and the turbine kicked in, and a deeper note, a whup, whup sound came into the mix as they fired up and the blades whisked and thickened the air beneath them. The fittings on the Mercury vibrated in sympathy, like teeth rattling in loose sockets, and the rear-view mirror started slowly to turn itself out of alignment.
From the roof of a former cold storage plant across the street on Occidental two mechanical locusts lifted into the air, illuminating the stadium complex parking lot with their nose lights. They wafted straight up to a hundred, a hundred and fifty feet, two hundred feet, then assumed the familiar slightly nose-down forward motion. Lewis could just make out men in fatigues and caps through one open hatchway, clutching their weapons; he knew that the new rapid reaction force—they had some acronym he could never remember—for the entire greater Seattle area was billeted next to the new Seahawks' football development. But what kind of incident needed two fully loaded slicks?
The Mercury rocked spasmodically as the double rotor wash hit them, and then the noise quickly diminished, fading to a low whistle as the pair turned east and disappeared behind the elevated concrete freeways of the I-5 interchange.
There was nothing to be said, but Willie said it anyway: 'Takes you back, huh?'
Lewis thought they would be heading for the cavernous F X McRory's, but Willie had the good sense to have picked out Chipper's opposite the main gate of the near-complete Seahawks' venue. It was reasonably full, although nothing like as if the Mariners had been playing ball down the road. The thirty-five TV screens were showing re-runs of the '97 season, when the guys could do no wrong. Nothing had seemed to click once they moved into the new space across Brougham Way. This last season, just finishing, had sucked. Nice stadium, shame about the team everyone said. Their last motto: 'You gotta love these guys' seemed a little hollow right now. Sports fans don't have to love anyone who isn't winning.
Lewis led them upstairs, where the screens were playing to just half a dozen people, and slotted them into a table well away from the others.
Now he could see Willie Rivera properly. The years hadn't been too bad to him. He was still small, wiry, although now with a little loose skin around his jowls and throat. Those bright-as-a-button eyes hadn't clouded too much. His Puerto Rican skin was still unmarked and smooth for the most part, except for a small scar at the corner of his mouth, which looked to be of relatively recent vintage.
Yes, the bits were intact, but there was some odd translucence to him, as if he was somehow less substantial than when Lewis knew him as a buddy. Time was making the man transparent, ethereal. He wondered if he looked like that. Maybe they all looked like that. Christ, they were almost old men now. Soon they'd be dribbling in wheelchairs, trying to get someone to listen to their great adventure, like World War Two Marines.
'You put on some bulk, man,' Willie said, as if to quash the notion.
Lewis shrugged. He had gained some muscle—and fat—since he had been a skinny young man serving with Willie. He liked it that way.
'How's the hand?' Lewis was suddenly aware he was fingering the scar on his palm, which was itching intensely. 'Sorry about that. Did I ever say sorry?'
Lewis raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. No worries. Saved a life. A little scar was nothing. They ordered drinks, a seven and seven for Willie, an Amber Ale for Lewis. 'Hungry?' asked Lewis.
Willie wobbled his head in a so-so manner. 'How's the chili?' The nod convinced him and he added a bowl of red to the order. Then they sparred for five minutes or so, until Willie found the perfect way to bring the subject up. The movies.
'Yeah—and did you see Apocalypse Now? The Horror, the Horror? I mean, fuck, we seen a better quality of horror than that, didn't we? And what about the Russian roulette in The Deerhunter? I never heard of anything like that.'
Lewis snorted. 'What about opening a trapdoor to see if anyone is waiting on the other side to blow your head off?'
'I guess. Yeah, maybe. I can see that.'
'Willie. Why are we sitting in some asshole bar talking about Vietnam movies?' What he really meant was: what the fuck are you doing here in my life, calling up my agent, my non-wife and ruining my fucking game of racquetball? He noticed that even his mental language was quickly slipping back to army doggerel—every sentence doubled in length because of the weight of profanities it supported, but, thanks to the limited choice available, the repetition lending it a staccato rhythm.
Willie leant forward. 'Yeah, I was forgetting, Mr Dodo, huh? Straight to the point, eh?'
The stupid nickname made him flinch.
Lewis shook his head. 'What have you been doing, Willie?'
'After I got back? I joined a band.' Ah, yes, Willie had been a trumpet player. 'Still do it now and then. Weddings, dances. We got to play SOBs, once. You know it?'
'Sons of Bitches? What's that, a punk club?'
Willie laughed. 'You know what it is. Sounds of Brazil. You been to New York yet? Well, we supported Gato Barbieri. You heard of him, at least?'
'Last Tango in Paris?'
'Right, yeah, Last Tango in Paris.'
'So you make a living out of playing?'
'A living? A living ... no. Some money. I sold cars for my brother—he's a timbales player, but he knows cars. The Mercury is one of his. I still do that, too. Let's see, I got married.' He grinned. 'Three times now. I'll get it right soon.'
'And now you're looking up your old buddies?'
'Well, I tell you, Mr Do—'
'Don't call me that. Don't.'
'Sorry. Been a long time, and ... the truth is, there ain't many of us left. Out of the eight, there is me, you and the Bat. And I tell you, the Bat is bats these days.'
'You've seen him?'
'He lives with his mother in Queens. She says he just don't go out any more. Stays in his room with the drapes closed. Wouldn't let me see him. Said it would upset him.'
'You're upsetting me, Willie. That didn't stop you coming here.' Lewis ordered another round of drinks. It was past eight; he would have to leave soon. The soundtrack changed to Miles. It was the Laswell remixes, bassier and spacier, more reverb than the original he remembered, but at the core was still that haunting, half-blown sound, the acoustic trumpet lonely and stranded in a wash of electronics. They're playing our song, Lewis thought involuntarily. Odd, he had never heard anything but En Vogue and Madonna in here before.
The bowl of chili arrived and Willie tucked in, fanning his mouth appreciatively. 'Good. Anyhow, the others? Wayland was killed in an auto smash. Joey Averne, killed himself. Yeah, I know. Cut his wrists. Couldn't use a knife in 'Nam to save his life. Managed to find the knack to end it, though. I couldn't trace Arnold. Went to South Carolina and everything. They said he just never came back after his discharge. Hobbs? Last seen in '71 throwing his medals onto the White House lawn. Had become a Black Muslim. Well, we saw that comin', huh?'
Lewis counted. Someone was missing. Oh yeah.
'Why bother with them all, Willie? Why bother with me? It was a long time ago.'
'Look, I need some money.' Willie could see what he was thinking. You had money. 'Three ex-wives eat into your savings pretty damn quick.'
So all this was a simple hit? Trailing him around town to hustle some cash? That didn't add up. 'Well, you must have spent enough on gas chasing after me to feed you for a month. New York to Seattle ... how many miles is that?'
'Not gas-money money. Stake-money money. Like ten grand. I got some of my own, mind, I got four. Well, when I sell the Mercury I will have four.' Willie mopped a trickle of chili from his chin with the napkin and signalled for another drink.
Lewis started gulping the beer. He didn't want to hear much more. Somehow a Willie strapped for cash with just a battered Mercury and a Cohn B flat to his name worried him. Lots of things about this worried him ... he found he had been staring at the bank of television monitors, watching the play without registering.
Excerpted from Underdogs by Robert Ryan. Copyright © 1999 Rob Ryan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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