All he wanted from life right now was just one day he could sleep in.
Instead, once again, her damn dog was on the bed.
Beside him, Lisa groaned and pulled the edge of the comforter over her head. Maybe if the dog couldn’t see her, she seemed to think, it would move on to something else. Jason tried pretending he was still asleep. Hector, Lisa’s little dust mop, wasn’t buying either ploy. He tap danced across Jason’s feet and lower legs, then tried a soft shoe over Lisa’s. In case that hadn’t gotten their attention, he barked twice, if you could call it that. His bark wasn’t exactly guard-dog quality. Hector was Pomeranian, ten pounds of long beige fur, attitude and little else. He was what Jason’s dad, who’d had a series of labs, retrievers, and setters over the years, would call a yip-yip dog.
“Hector, go back to sleep,” Lisa groaned. “Leave us alone.”
Hector yipped again and improvised another tap dance across their legs.
A claw dug into Jason’s ankle like a tiny little knife. “Ow!” He jerked the injured leg away. “Damn it!”
Hector celebrated his success by performing doggy calisthenics over their legs and yipping nonstop. He had them now and he knew it.
Lisa turned over and snuggled up against Jason’s back. “He needs to go outside. Can you take him?”
“Why me? He’s your dog. Or whatever he is.”
He felt her stiffen beside him.
“Fine.” She tossed the comforter aside and sat up on the edge of her side of the bed. “Come here, Hector, my good boy. Mommy will take you outside in a minute. Don’t listen to Mr. Grumpy Pants.”
Mr. Grumpy Pants? What was this? Kindergarten?
Jason tried to tune them out and go back to sleep.
“Oh crap! Crap, crap crap!”
Jason sighed. Sleep obviously wasn’t going to happen. Not today. “What now?”
He felt her abruptly leave the bed. When he raised his head Lisa was already hunched over the dresser in the tee and panties she’d slept in, frantically pulling clothing out of a drawer. “The alarm didn’t go off! We’re late!”
“Shit . . .” Jason glanced over at the alarm on Lisa’s night stand. It read 7:37. The alarm was supposed to wake them more than an hour ago.
“I’m supposed to be teaching 121 at 8:30!”
Lisa ran to the closet, gathering a ski sweater to add to her load of underwear and jeans. Hector hovered near her feet, barking nonstop with the sudden excitement and running in tight little circles.
“Jason, honey, could you please take Hector out while I jump in the shower?”
“Sure,” he sighed. “I’d love to.”
More than anything.
His sarcasm was wasted. Lisa had already disappeared into the bathroom. A second later, the shower started up.
He rubbed the sleep off his face and climbed out of the nice warm bed, found yesterday’s pair of jeans, and slipped them on. Hector, the impatient little fur ball, yipped nonstop and bounced between Jason’s feet and the bedroom doorway.
“I’m coming, you overgrown rat.”
Hector darted out into the living room ahead of him. He paused to sniff at the empty cartons from last night’s Chinese on the coffee table. Jason was a couple of steps behind him. “Don’t even think about it.”
Hector turned away and scurried to the sliding glass door leading to the back patio.
Jason paused over the empty food cartons. A single piece of barbecued pork clung to one side, It was no bigger than a fingernail. He picked it off the cardboard and crouched down in front of Hector. “Don’t tell your mom, okay?”
Hector accepted the tidbit, downed it and thanked him with a quick lick of the fingers.
Jason stood, unlocked the sliding door and pushed it open. Hector bounded over the little patio and onto the lawn like he was beginning a great adventure.
Jason shivered and closed the door against the morning chill. It was October and it was Seattle, which meant it was cold and wet and would be cold and wet pretty much until spring. It wasn’t actually raining now, but everything was still glistening wet. A low, soiled-looking overcast clamped down just above the tops of the neighborhood firs. Even the light seemed weak as if filtered by heavy curtains.
Upstairs, the shower went off. Lisa would be putting on her face in a moment.
Outside, Hector had found the perfect patch of grass and squatted down to do his business.
Jason sighed and kicked himself for letting her talk him into staying over again last night.
It being Monday morning and all, a multi-car accident on I-5 just south of 40th Street had transformed all four southbound lanes into a parking lot. Seattle’s notorious rush hour had just become a nightmare. According to the local news radio, traffic was backed up as far as Everett. Highway 99, the other major north/south route, was nearly as bad because of the overflow.
The city itself was a natural bottleneck. Seattle was built on a strip of land about twenty-five miles long north to south, but only six or seven miles wide. Several million people commuted to the city every day, almost all of them either from the north or the south. All it took was one little hitch in the flow and everything ground to a halt.
Jason turned east on 45th Street, away from the Interstate, cruised through light traffic for a mile and a half, before turning south on Mountlake Boulevard toward the University. Lisa had probably steered her little Civic on the exact same route thirty minutes before. Maybe she’d missed the worst of the traffic.
Within a block and a half he was back in bumper to bumper traffic, but that was normal. Like most colleges, the University of Washington had not been designed for auto traffic and he usually avoided the area if he could, but at least it was moving. He could probably walk faster, but it was moving.
No sooner had he formed the thought than both lanes of traffic ground to a halt. To their left the massive facade of Husky Stadium hulked across barren parking lots. To the right, students in raincoats or the protection of umbrellas scurried around red brick buildings toward their morning classes. The overcast seemed to have lowered and grown darker. In the distance, he could just see the steel gray surface of Lake Washington.
He glanced over at the powder blue minivan idling beside him. A woman with long dark hair was talking on her cell phone and gesturing with her free hand. Behind him, a man with a mustache that matched the dark color of his SUV grimly sipped coffee from a Starbucks cup.
One afternoon, several years before, while sitting at a traffic light, he’d glanced over to the car next to him and recognized the prominent Pastor of an area mega church. The good Pastor had been spending his down time at the traffic light getting friendly with a blond woman in the passenger seat. Jason had suspected the blond was not his wife. He’d snapped a quick photo with his cell phone, done some investigating and confirmed that the good Pastor was indeed breaking the Seventh Commandment.
His story had ended up on the front page, below the fold, but the front page. You never knew where the next story would come from.
But not today.
His cell burped that he’d received a text. He fished the phone from his jacket pocket and glanced at the display. Lisa. He opened the phone and the message.
Made it, she’d written. CU 2nite? Luv u.
His phone asked him if he wanted to reply.
He wasn’t sure.
He wasn’t sure about a lot of things when it came to Lisa. Oh, he liked her. He liked her a lot. There was no doubt about that. She was kind and smart and funny in a goofy sort of way. She was working on her Masters in American History at the University and could spend an evening discussing the nuances of the nineteenth Century political climate and then without any kind of transition be on the floor wrestling with Hector like a little girl.
She collected teddy bears, for God’s sake.
He truly enjoyed being with her. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that she was beginning to make long term plans. As in lifetime plans. He wasn’t sure he was ready for that. They had to have a serious talk, but he didn’t know how to go about it. He didn’t want to break up; he didn’t want to see other people; he just wanted to slow down a bit. He just didn’t know how to tell her without hurting her.
He decided to avoid the whole issue for now, saved her text, and instead called the newsroom. Marcia, the receptionist, answered on the second ring, only a touch of frazzle to her voice. He told her about the traffic situation and that he’d be late.
“Oh we’ve heard,” she told him. “Believe me, we’ve heard. Half the newsroom is running late. Miles is not a happy man.”
Miles Condiff was City Editor and Jason’s boss.
“Miles wouldn’t be happy if Jesus came down to personally hand him a Pulitzer.”
Marcia laughed. She had a nice throaty laugh.
“Besides, it’s Seattle. He ought to be used to it by now.”
“You know Miles. ‘We’ve got a paper to get out!’”
“Tell him not to have a coronary. I’m on my way.”
Marcia said she would relay the message. “By the way, I really liked your story yesterday.”
He smiled and thanked her. It still made his heart glow when someone liked his writing. They said their goodbyes and he closed his cell phone.
Reminded by Marcia’s compliment, he ejected the CD from his car’s stereo. The radio was already tuned to one of the all news channels. He viewed most of his colleagues in broadcasting with barely concealed contempt. How could you take seriously a medium in which an in-depth report lasted two minutes?
But he wanted to hear whether anyone else picked up his story.
With the help of an inside source, he had uncovered a scam involving a contractor who was providing inferior asphalt to the City Roads Department, but charging for top-of-the line product. It was no wonder the city’s streets were always in such sad shape. Not only was the contractor essentially doubling his profits at taxpayer expense, but he’d been doing it for nearly ten years. Coincidentally, that was almost exactly how long the contractor’s father, Harold Stevenson, had been on the City Council.
There was no mention of it on the radio, but it was late in the rotation and they were talking about the Huskies win over Cal last Saturday and whether they had a shot at upsetting the Oregon Ducks on Saturday. (Jason wouldn’t bet on it. The Ducks were very good.) The headlines would come at the hour and half-hour. He checked his watch. He had ten minutes.
The double column of vehicles ahead of him began to move forward. He slipped his car into gear and followed the taillights of the Camry in front of him for about a hundred yards before the procession again came to a stop. Now though, he could see the traffic signals ahead. He figured he’d get through the intersection on the next cycle.
A few raindrops splattered against his windshield, then thickened to a light rain.
“Perfect,” he sighed.
He opened his cell phone again and dialed his home phone number. No one was there, of course. No one had been there since Friday morning, which is why he needed to check his messages. When it switched over to voice mail, he punched in the access code and waited as the computers did their thing.
The spooky computerized woman told him he had twelve new messages.
He told the computer to play the messages.
The first three were computer-generated sales pitches offering to refinance his mortgage (he rented) eliminate his credit card debt (it was reasonable, thank you) and save him money on his auto insurance. He quickly erased all three. Next up was a man’s voice: “Hey, it’s Charlie. Listen, I met this gorgeous woman, but she won’t go out unless I find a guy to go out with her roommate. What are you doing tonight?” Jason had no idea who the guy was. Charlie? He didn’t think he knew anyone named Charlie. Besides, the message had been left on Saturday night, so it was too late now. He deleted the message.
He quickly deleted five more messages that were either sales calls or hang-ups, then a man’s voice caught his attention. For one thing, it was a real man, not a computerized imitation. The voice also had a tone that grabbed his attention, somber. “This is Detective (the name was unclear), of the King County Sheriff’s Department. I’m trying to reach Mr. Jason Reynolds. It is very important that I speak to him as soon as possible.” He repeated that it was very important and left a call-back number. The voice mail said the message had been left Saturday afternoon.
Jason frowned, wondering what that was all about and hit the button to save the message.