Read The Poison Sky Online

Authors: John Shannon

The Poison Sky

Praise for the novels of John Shannon

“Tough and engaging …
Concrete River
is my kind of L.A. novel—hard as nails with a soft spot in the middle.”

—Michael Connelly

“Shannon is a fine writer. Make no mistake, this is the real L.A., real people, some of them you cross the street to avoid, looking everywhere but at them. Take a walk with Jack Liffey, a brave and decent man.”

—Kent Anderson, author of
Night Dogs

“A fine, interesting read.”

—James Crumley, author of
Bordersnakes

“Like Graham Greene—and there are other admirable resemblances—he is an explorer of that shadowy area in which, as spurs to positive action, abstract idealism and personal psychology merge. The author has achieved one of the most stimulating of the form's uncountable possibilities.” —
Sunday Times
(London)

“A serious adventure … [that] draws much of its strength from a clear presentation of social and political tensions.” —
Times Literary Supplement
(London)

“Fast and exciting action.”

—
Daily Telegraph
(London)

“The best L.A. earthquake scenes ever, the best private-detective-making-love-to-an-old-movie-star moments ever, the most-bearable private-detective-driving-a-beat-up-car scenes ever, the hands-down winner in the long-running ‘Where is the next Raymond Chandler coming from?' sweepstakes—all these honors belong to … John Shannon.”

—
Chicago Tribune

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ELENA JARVIS MYSTERIES:
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TIME BOMBS
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FREDDIE O'NEAL, P.I., MYSTERIES:
You can bet that this appealing Reno private investigator will get her man … “A winner.”—Linda Grant

by Catherine Dain
 
LAY IT ON THE LINE
SING A SONG OF DEATH
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BENNI HARPER MYSTERIES:
Meet Benni Harper—a quilter and folk-art expert with an eye for murderous designs …

by Earlene Fowler
 
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HANNAH BARLOW MYSTERIES:
For ex-cop and law student Hannah Barlow, justice isn't just a word in a textbook. Sometimes, it's a matter of life and death …

by Carroll Lachnit
 
MURDER IN BRIEF
A BLESSED DEATH
AKIN TO DEATH
JANIE'S LAW

PEACHES DANN MYSTERIES:
Peaches has never had a very good memory. But she's learned to cope with it over the years … Fortunately, though, when it comes to murder, this absentminded amateur sleuth doesn't forgive and forget!

by Elizabeth Daniels Squire
 
WHO KILLED WHAT'S-HER-NAME?
WHOSE DEATH IS IT ANYWAY?
MEMORY CAN BE MURDER
WHERE THERE'S A WILL
IS THERE A DEAD MAN IN THE HOUSE?
FORGET ABOUT MURDER
REMEMBER THE ALIBI
 

THE
POISON SKY

J
OHN
S
HANNON

BERKLEY PRIME CRIME, NEW YORK

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

THE POISON SKY

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

PRINTING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / April 2000

All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2000 by John Shannon.

This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is
http://www.penguinputnam.com

ISBN: 0-425-17424-7

Berkley Prime Crime Books are published

by The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

The name BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the BERKLEY PRIME CRIME design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Bob Coe

Thanks to Robert Stone for the crows on page 189, and to David MacDougall for the lard.

“He would not satirize them as Hogarth or Daumier might, nor would he pity them. He would paint their fury with respect, appreciating its awful, anarchic power and aware that they had it in them to destroy civilization.”

—
NATHANAEL WEST

1

A HEROIC DIMENSION

T
HE SOURCE OF THE STOP–AND–GO SEEMED TO BE A BIG
dead Guernsey bull that lay against the center divider with a flash red Mercedes accordioned up against it like a matador who'd gone a little crazy. Neither looked like they were going to make it to any more bullfights, and he wondered what on earth the animal had been doing on the northbound 405 just short of Mulholland Drive.

He was anxious to get past the jam-up because the woman on the phone that morning had mentioned a missing boy and offered actual, spendable money, which he needed pretty bad. His child support was still touch and go, and Kathy was threatening to cut off his visits for good. It ate at something elemental in you when you failed a daughter.

His old car coughed a couple of times as it fought its way past the bull and then over the crest of the Sepulveda Pass. Down below he could see a thin blue smoke settled around the taller buildings like the fumes off battery acid. Go Directly to the Valley, he thought—the Big Penalty in a faddish board game of the 1970s called Beverly Hills that had been loosely based on Monopoly. This summer morning, however, he could still make out the hills across the San Fernando Valley at Sylmar, and that made it a very good day in the Valley.

Then he saw the real root of the problem: an immense cattle truck was stove in and sideways across three lanes, delaying the Big Penalty for all the northbound traffic. As he inched up to the truck, there was a terrible bellowing and a sudden ripple of the latticed metal siding.

Sometimes you just had to look away. Instead of thinking about the suffering animal inside, he entertained a fantasy of himself as Philip Marlowe in a sweat-stained homburg, driving his '38 Dodge over this very spot on the old Sepulveda Highway to answer a summons from some rich old man who spent his afternoons in a greenhouse behind a broad smooth lawn. He'd be asked to hunt down a wayward daughter, or take care of her gambling debts, and the butler would give him a check for a retainer. Jack Liffey had only had a client like that once. Usually his clients lived in stucco boxes, welshed on his fees, and the lawns ran to crabgrass.

Before long the traffic picked up and he barreled down to Victory and off into Van Nuys. The house was easy to find on a small cross street improbably named Sultanate Avenue. It was the damnedest-looking tract house he'd seen in a long time. The scalloped eaves of a gable extended across the stucco face of the house and then dipped some more, so it blocked half the entry alcove, just at waist level. It forced you to sashay to one side coming up the walk and a fridge would have had to go in the back door. There was simply no limit to the ludicrous things they had built in the early sixties.

A washing machine was running somewhere inside. Since it was ten in the morning he didn't expect a man, but a man answered. He was mid-fortyish, wore a black polo neck, and had tidy swept-back graying hair. A pipe was clenched in his teeth like an icon of fifties conventionality, and he carried a large paperback book.

“Mardesich?” Jack Liffey inquired.

The man frowned and rescued the pipe from his teeth but didn't seem inclined to answer.

“I'm Jack Liffey.”

“Faye,” the man hollered over his shoulder. “This whole situation is absolutely too reductive for me.” He reverted to a kind of musing drawl, as if speaking to the pipe in his fist. “The boy … I just can't bear irreversible actions. Oh, come in, come in. I'm sure that's closer to the form of discourse you expected.”

“On most of the inhabited planets,” Jack Liffey said softly as the man walked away.

It took him a moment to figure out what he was looking at in the room, and then he still wasn't sure. He'd grown used to swimming against a certain current of the unusual in his life, but just now he was having a little trouble touching bottom. There were big white
X
s marked out on the carpet with tape of some kind, and scattered randomly through the rest of the room there were two coat trees, a metal Christmas tree stand, an upended milk crate, two wastebaskets, an upright vacuum, and a chest-high stack of books. It reminded him of a classroom he'd been in once where a naval historian had tried to mark out the Battle of Jutland. The man with the pipe had sidestepped away through the markers on a languid broken field run. There was also a heavy exhalation of Lysol in the air, as if someone had just made a stab at covering over something worse.

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