CRAIS: THE WATCHMAN
The girl was moody getting out of the car, making a
sour face to let him know she hated
the shabby house and sun-scorched
street smelling of chili and episote.
To him, this anonymous house would
serve. He searched the surrounding
houses for threats as he waited for
her, clearing the area the way
another man might clear his throat.
He felt obvious wearing the
long-sleeved shirt. The Los Angeles
sun was too hot for the sleeves, but
he had little choice. He moved
carefully to hide what was under the
She said, “People who live in houses like this have
deformed children. I can’t stay
“Lower your voice.”
“I haven’t eaten all day. I didn’t eat yesterday and
now this smell is making me feel
“We’ll eat when we’re safe.”
The house opened as the girl joined him, and the woman
Bud told him to expect appeared: a
squat woman with large white teeth
and friendly eyes named Imelda
Arcano. Mrs. Arcano managed several
apartment houses and single-family
rentals in Eagle Rock, and Bud’s
office had dealt with her before.
He hoped she wouldn’t notice the four neat holes that
had been punched into their fender
the night before.
He turned his back to the house to speak with the girl.
“The attitude makes you memorable. Lose it. You want to
“Why don’t I wait in the car?”
Leaving her was unthinkable.
“Let me handle her.”
The girl laughed.
“That would be you all over it. I want to see that, you
handling her. I want to see
you charm her.”
He took the girl’s arm and headed toward the house. To
her credit, the girl fell in beside
him without making a scene,
slouching to change her posture the
way he had shown her. Even with her
wearing the oversize sunglasses and
Dodgers cap, he wanted her inside
and out of sight as quickly as
Mrs. Arcano smiled wider as they reached the front
door, welcoming them.
“It’s so hot today, isn’t it? It’s cool inside. The air
conditioner works very well. I’m
After the nightmare in Malibu, Bud’s office had
arranged the new house on the
fly—dropped the cash and told Mrs.
Arcano whatever she needed to hear,
which probably wasn’t much. This
would be easy money, no questions
part of the deal, low-profile
tenants who would be gone in a week.
Mrs. Arcano probably wouldn’t even
report the rental to the absentee
owner; just pocket Bud’s cash and
call it a day. They were to meet
Mrs. Arcano only so she could give
them the keys.
Imelda Arcano beckoned them inside. The man hesitated
long enough to glance back at the
street. It was narrow and treeless,
which was good. He could see well in
both directions, though the small
homes were set close together, which
was bad. The narrow alleys would
fill with shadows at dusk.
He wanted Mrs. Arcano out of the way as quickly as
possible, but Mrs. Arcano latched
onto the girl—one of those
female-to-female things—and gave
them the tour, leading them through
the two tiny bedrooms and bath, the
microscopic living room and kitchen,
the grassless backyard. He glanced
at the neighboring houses from each
window, and out the back door at the
rusty chain-link fence that
separated this house from the one
behind it. A beige and white pit
bull was chained to an iron post in
the neighboring yard. It lay with
its chin on its paws, but it was not
sleeping. He was pleased when he saw
the pit bull.
The girl said, “Does the TV work?”
“Oh, yes, you have cable. You have lights, water, and
gas—everything you need, but there
is no telephone. You understand
that? There really is no point in
having the phone company create a
line for such a short stay.”
He had told the girl not to say anything, but now they
were having a conversation. He cut
“We have cell phones. You can hand over the keys and be
on your way.”
Mrs. Arcano stiffened, indicating she was offended.
“When will you be moving in?”
“Now. We’ll take the keys.”
Mrs. Arcano peeled two keys from her key ring, then
left. For the first and only time
that day he left the girl alone. He
walked Mrs. Arcano to her car
because he wanted to bring their
gear into the house as quickly as
possible. He wanted to call Bud. He
wanted to find out what in hell
happened the night before, but
mostly he wanted to make sure the
girl was safe.
He lingered at his car until Mrs. Arcano drove away,
then looked up and down the street
again—both ways, the houses, between
the houses—and everything seemed
fine. He brought his and the girl’s
duffels into the house, along with
the bag they had grabbed at the Rite
The television was on, the girl hopping through the
local stations for news. When he
walked in, she laughed, then
mimicked him, lowering and
flattening her voice.
“ ‘Hand over the keys and be on your way.’ Oh,
that charmed her. That certainly
made you forgettable.”
He turned off the television and held out the Rite Aid
bag. She didn’t take it, pissed
about him turning off the set, so he
let it drop to the floor.
“Do your hair. We’ll get something to eat when you’re
“I wanted to see if we’re on the news.”
“Can’t hear with the TV. We want to hear. Maybe later.”
“I can turn off the sound.”
“Do the hair.”
He peeled off his shirt and tossed it onto the floor by
the front door. If he went out again
or someone came to the door he would
pull it on. He was wearing a Kimber
.45 semiautomatic pushed into the
waist of his pants. He opened his
duffel and took out a clip holster
for the Kimber and a second gun,
this one already holstered, a Colt
Python .357 Magnum with the
four-inch barrel. He clipped the
Kimber onto the front of his pants
in the cross-draw position and the
Python on his right side. He hadn’t
chanced the holsters with Mrs.
Arcano, but he hadn’t wanted to take
the chance of being without a gun,
He took a roll of duct tape from his bag and went to
Behind him, the girl said, “Asshole.”
He made sure the back door was locked, then moved to
the tiny back bedroom, locked the
windows, and pulled the shades. This
done, he tore off strips of duct
tape and sealed the shades over the
windows. He taped the bottoms and
sides to the sills and jambs, all
the way around each shade. If anyone
managed to raise a window they would
make noise tearing the shade from
the wall and he would hear. When the
shades were taped, he took out his
Randall knife and made a three-inch
vertical slit in each shade, just
enough so he could see the
approaches to the house. He was
cutting the shades when he heard her
go into the bathroom. Finally
cooperating. He knew she was scared,
both of him and of what was
happening, so he was surprised she
had been trying as hard as she had.
And pleased, thinking maybe they
would stay alive a little while
On his way to the front bedroom he passed the bath. She
was in front of the mirror, cutting
away her rich copper hair. She held
the hair between her fingers,
pulling it straight from her head to
hack it away with the cheap Rite Aid
scissors, leaving two inches of
jagged spikes. Boxes of Clairol hair
color, also fresh from the Rite Aid,
lined the sink. She saw him in the
mirror and glared.
“I hate this. I’m going to look so Melrose.”
She had peeled down to her bra but left the door open.
He guessed she wanted him to see.
The five-hundred-dollar jeans rode
low on her hips below a smiling
dolphin jumping between the dimples
on the small of her back. Her bra
was light blue and sheer, and the
perfect color against her olive
skin. Looking at him, she played
with her hair, which now stuck out
in uneven spikes. She fluffed the
spikes, shaped them, then considered
them. The sink and floor were
covered with the hair she had cut
She said, “What about white? I could go white. Would
that make you happy?”
“I could go blue. Blue might be fun.”
She turned to pose her body.
“Would you love it? Retropunk? So totally Melrose? Tell
me you love it.”
He continued on to the front bedroom without answering.
She hadn’t bought blue. She probably
thought he hadn’t been paying
attention, but he paid attention to
everything. She had bought blond,
brown, and black. He locked and
taped the front bedroom windows as
he had done in the rest of the
house, then returned to the
bathroom. Now the water was running
and she was leaning over the sink,
wearing clear plastic gloves,
massaging color into her hair.
Black. He wondered how long it would
take for the red to be hidden. He
took out his cell phone, calling Bud
Flynn as he watched.
He said, “We’re in place. What happened last night?”
“I’m still trying to find out. I got no idea. Is the
new house okay?”
“They had our location, Bud. I want to know how.”
“I’m working on it. Is she okay?”
“I want to know how.”
“Jesus, I’m working on it. Do you need anything?”
“I need to know how.”
He closed the phone as she stood, water running down
the trough of her spine to the
dolphin until she wrapped her hair
in a towel. Only then did she find
him in the mirror again and smile.
“You’re looking at my ass.”
The pit bull barked.
He did not hesitate. He drew the Python and ran to the
She said, “Joe! Damnit.”
In the back bedroom, he fingered open a slit in the
shade as the girl hurried up behind
him. The dog was on its feet,
squinting at something he could not
She said, “What is it?”
The pit was trying to see something to their left, the
flat top of its head furrowed and
its nubby ears perked, no longer
barking as it tested the air.
Pike watched through the slit, listening hard as the
pit was listening.
The girl whispered, “What?”
The pit exploded with frenzied barking as it jumped
against its chain.
Pike spoke fast over his shoulder
even as the first man came around
the end of the garage. It was
“Front of the house, but don’t open the door. Go.
The towel fell from her head as he pushed her forward.
He hooked their duffels over his
shoulder, guiding her to the door.
He checked the slit in the front
window shade. A single man was
walking up the drive as another
moved across the yard toward the
house. Pike didn’t know how many
more were outside or where they
were, but he and the girl would not
survive if he fought from within the
He cupped her face and forced her to see him. She had
to see past her fear. Her eyes met
his and he knew they were together.
“Watch me. Don’t look at them or anything else. Watch
me until I motion for you, then run
for the car as fast as you can.”
Once more, he did not hesitate.
He jerked open the door, set up fast on the man in the
drive, and fired the Colt twice. He
reset on the man coming across the
yard. Pike doubled on each man’s
center of mass so quickly the four
shots sounded like two—baboombaboom—then
he ran to the center of the front
yard. He saw no more men, so he
waved out the girl.
She ran as hard as she could, he had to hand it to her.
Pike fell in behind her, running
backwards the way cornerbacks fade
to cover a receiver, staying close
to shield her body with his because
the pit bull was still barking. More
men were coming.
When Pike reached the bodies, he dropped to a knee and
checked their pockets by touch. He
was hoping for a wallet or some form
of ID, but their pockets were empty.
A third man came around the corner of the house into
the drive, saw Pike, then dove
backwards. Pike fired his last two
shots. Wood and stucco exploded from
the edge of the house, but the man
had made cover and the Python was
dry. The third man popped back
almost at once and fired three
but hitting his Jeep like a
ball-peen hammer. Pike didn’t have
time to holster the Python. He
dropped it to jerk free the Kimber,
pounded out two more shots and
dropped the man at the edge of the
house. Pike ran for the car. The
girl had the driver’s door open, but
was just standing there.
Pike shouted, “Get in. In.”
Another man appeared at the edge of the house, snapping
out shots as fast as he could. Pike
fired, but the man had already taken
Pike pushed the girl across the console, jammed the key
into the ignition and gunned his
Jeep to the corner. He four-wheeled
the turn, buried the accelerator,
then glanced at the girl.
“You good? Are you hurt?”
She stared straight ahead, her eyes red and wet. She
was crying again.
She said, “Those men are dead.”
Pike placed his hand on her thigh.
“Larkin, look at me.”
She clenched her eyes and kneaded her hands.
“Three men just died. Three more men.”
He made his deep voice soft.
“I won’t let anything happen to you. Do you hear me?”
She still didn’t look.
“Do you believe me?”
Pike swerved through an intersection. He slowed only
enough to avoid a collision, then
accelerated onto the freeway.
They had been at the house in Eagle Rock for
twenty-eight minutes. He had killed
three more men, and now they were
He was sorry he lost the Colt. It was a good gun. It
had saved them last night in Malibu,
but now it might get them killed.
© 2007 by Robert Crais