Dell, a former mercenary, and his wife, Dolly, a former battlefield nurse, believe they have finally found a place of peace in a deceptively idyllic small town on the Oregon coast.
But early one morning, just before daybreak, a body washes up on the town’s pristine beach. The dead man’s shaven skull has been torn open, and his upper body is covered with neo-Nazi tattoos. The police quickly pick up Homer, a “walking wounded” schizophrenic who has been showing off a wristwatch he says God just gave him—a watch engraved with a symbol that exactly matches one of the dead man’s tattoos. Regardless of the fact that Homer could never have inflicted such damage on a man twice his weight and half his age, he is immediately arrested because the D.A. is desperate to close the case before it negatively affects tourism—the town’s only industry. Mack, the director and sole employee of the local mental-health outreach program, is outraged but helpless. He confides in Dolly, who shares his outrage. But with her local connections and her husband’s ruthless skills, Dolly is anything but helpless. As the search for the real killer pulls them deeper into the world of hate groups, Dell is forced to share some of his “dark arts” knowledge with Mack. Together they discover the treasonous fog of evil that hovers not only above their town but also above America itself.
With this latest installment in his new Aftershock series, Andrew Vachss reminds us once again—in his inimitable, visceral prose—that for some, peace comes at a very high price.
It had started with Dolly, a few nights before.
“That damn ocean. I love it, but I’m afraid of it, too. It’s so beautiful, so calming. That must be where ‘Pacific’ came from. But now it’s like something . . . malignant, Dell. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s almost as if someone lobbed a grenade into our lives.”
“It’s only a picture.”
“On the front page of the paper.”
“It’s still a picture, no matter where it’s put.”
“But that . . . body. That’s what they do. Over there. You know.”
Yeah, I knew. Coming across the mutilated body of a soldier from your outfit was supposed to make you fear going any deeper into the jungle. Maybe it did, for some. For those trained as we were, it only served as confirmation that we were where we wanted to be—close to the enemy we’d been hunting.
“Dolly, honey, it came out of the ocean. If a gigantic chunk of concrete could float here all the way from Japan, that body could have been dumped into that same ocean anywhere between Canada and California.”
“It was a fresh kill, Dell.”
I didn’t question how Dolly knew that—anything the local hospital found would be shared with her as soon as one of her nurse pals came on shift. “So—less time to float, sure. But ‘fresh’ doesn’t mean all that much, especially in salt water.”
“But it still feels like an . . . invasion.”
“A dead body isn’t an invasion. It could be a warning to anyone thinking about invading, sure. But who invades the ocean?”
“I know. I know it’s logical, what you’re saying. But you know I don’t spook at shadows, baby. And I have to trust my . . .”
I couldn’t put a name to what I knew my woman had always trusted. “Instincts,” “intuition,” whatever it was, I knew she’d had it—inside her, I mean—before she ever entered that kill-zone where we’d first met. Maybe it was what sent her there.
But all that really mattered was that it hadn’t kept her from trusting me.
It was another ten days before any public info started to emerge.
I read the press release that passes for “news” here to Dolly. The dead man had been ID’ed by his prints: Welter Thom Jordan, born August 21, 1980—so age thirty-five at time of death. White, male, five feet ten inches; two hundred and twelve pounds, hazel eyes. No facial hair, head shaved. Two prior prison terms, both for assault, with the last one flagged as a “hate crime.” The local papers didn’t have much more, other than his “racist tattoos.”
“What kind of name is ‘Welter’?” I asked.
“Probably supposed to be ‘Walter,’ ” my wife said. “You’d be amazed at how many times a birth mother misspells a baby’s name, especially if she’s alone and frantic. Or the hospital itself might have screwed it up.”
For a slice of a second, I wondered what my own birth certificate might have on it. The thought passed almost before I was conscious of it. An instant reflex, the kind you work hard to develop, always narrowing the gap between “see” and “shoot.”
“Hate crime?” I asked my wife.
“Probably the assault was against anyone that fits one of the categories: different skin color, gay, a mixed-race couple. . . .”
“If he did a good jolt on that last one, he’d have been a young man when he was locked up for it. But that kind of crime would carry status with certain people—he wouldn’t have been alone in prison. And that height-weight ratio sounds like he spent a lot of time pushing iron, even if it was only the bars on his cell.”
“All they have so far is what was on file when he was arrested. That was quite a while ago, so the autopsy would be a lot more accurate—he could be anything from muscled up to a flab bucket when he was killed. I haven’t seen the autopsy photos, but I could if you—”
“Dolly . . .”
“What’s this—any of this—got to do with us?”
“His watch. Wristwatch. The police found it on a homeless guy, and they’re holding him for the murder.”
“So Mack says there’s no way the guy they arrested could have done it.”
“The man who works with . . . Well, he works outdoors, mostly, but he has to interface with the hospital, too,” she said, as if repeating something I should have already known.
“It’s still ‘So?,’ Dolly. If it’s not going to touch us, then—”
“It already has. There’s already talk about some crazy homeless man, but it’s just smoke, I think.”
“Why not just let the cops work it out?”
She gave me one of those “Are you for real?” looks she must have picked up from the teenage girls that haunt this house. I’ve only got two places just for myself: that “den” Dolly fixed up for me on the first floor, and the basement. The kids know they can walk into the den if the door’s open . . . and not even to knock if it isn’t.
The basement door is always closed, always locked, and the only way to get to it is down a hall, after a sharp left turn.
Nobody ever follows Dolly down that hall. Rascal’s usually pretty indifferent once Dolly lets anyone in the house, but trying to follow behind Dolly when she walks away will get you a warning growl . . . if it’s your lucky day.
Like I said, rules.
“They may not be investigative geniuses, honey. But . . . I mean, who cares? A dead Nazi, some homeless guy, a nut job—who cares?”
“Dell, I already told you. Mack says—”
“People are probably saying everything.”
“You never met him. Mack, I mean.”
“I don’t need to meet him.”
“Dell . . .”
I sat back in my chair and closed my eyes. I knew that tone.
Excerpted from Shockwave by Andrew Vachss. Copyright © 2014 by Andrew Vachss. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
ANDREW VACHSS is a lawyer who represents children and youths exclusively. His many books include the Burke series and three collections of short stories. His novels have been translated into twenty languages, and his work has appeared in Parade, Antaeus, Esquire, Playboy, and The New York Times, among other publications.
The dedicated website for Andrew Vachss and his work is www.vachss.com.