CRAIS: THE WATCHMAN
Blasting north on the 101. Pike gave no warning before
horsing across four lanes of traffic
to the exit ramp. They fell off the
freeway like a brick dropped in
They hit the bottom of the ramp sideways, Pike turning
hard across oncoming lanes. Horns
and tires shrieked as Pike turned
again up the opposite on-ramp, back
the way they had come. The girl was
hugging her legs, hunched into a
knot like they tell you to do when
an airplane is going to crash.
Pike pushed the Jeep to the next exit, then pegged the
brakes at the last moment and fell
off again, checking the rearview
even as they fell.
The girl moaned.
“Stop it. Stop—Jesus, you’re going to get us killed.”
They came out by USC, busy with afternoon traffic. Pike
cut into the Chevron station at the
bottom of the ramp, wheeling around
the pump islands and office, then
jammed to a stop. They sat, engine
running, Pike pushing bullets into
the Kimber’s magazine as he studied
the cars coming down the ramp. This
time of day the ramp filled fast.
Pike studied the passengers in each
vehicle, but none acted like killers
on the hunt.
“Did you recognize the men at the house?”
“This is insane. We’re killing people.”
“The one in the front yard, you passed him. Have you
seen him before?”
“I couldn’t—God, it happened—no.”
Pike let it go. She hadn’t seen the two he killed
earlier, either; just dark smudges
falling. Pike himself had barely
seen them: coarse men in their
twenties or thirties, black T-shirts
and pistols, cut by bars of shadow
Pike’s cell phone vibrated, but he ignored it. He
backed from the end of the building,
then turned away from the freeway,
picking up speed as he grew
confident they weren’t being
Ten blocks later, Pike eased into a strip mall, one of
those places where the stores went
out of business every two months. He
turned past the end of the mall into
a narrow alley and saw nothing but
dumpsters and potholes.
Pike shut the engine, got out, circled the Jeep, and
opened her door.
She didn’t move fast enough, so he pulled her out,
keeping her upright because she
would have fallen.
“Hey! What—stop it!”
“Did you call someone?”
He pinned her against the Jeep with his hip as he
searched her pockets for a cell
phone. She tried to push him away,
but he ignored her.
“Stop that—how could I call? I was with you, you freak.
He snatched her floppy Prada bag from the floorboard
and dumped the contents onto the
“You freak! I don’t have a phone. You took it!”
He searched the pockets in her purse, then pulled her
duffel from the backseat.
“I didn’t call anybody. I don’t have a phone!”
Pike finished going through her
things, then stared at her,
“What? Why are you staring at me?”
“They found us.”
“I don’t know how they found us!”
“Let me see your shoes.”
He pushed her backwards into the Jeep and pulled off
her shoes. This time she didn’t
resist. She sank back onto the seat,
watching him as he lifted her feet.
Pike wondered if they had placed a transponder on her.
Maybe she had been bugged from the
beginning, which was how the U.S.
Marshals and Bud Flynn had almost
lost her. Pike checked the heels of
her shoes, then looked at her belt
and the metal buttons that held her
jeans. She drew a deep breath as he
pulled off her belt.
She said, “Like that?”
Pike ignored her smile. It was nasty and perfect.
“Want me to take off my pants?”
Pike turned to her duffel, and she laughed.
“You are such a freak. These are my things. They
haven’t been out of my sight since I
went with the marshals, you freak!
Why don’t you say something?
Why don’t you talk to me?”
Pike didn’t believe he would find anything, but he had
to check, so he did, ignoring her.
Pike had learned this with the
Marines—the one time a man didn’t
clean his rifle, that’s when it
jammed; the one time you didn’t tape
down a buckle or secure your gear,
the noise it made got you killed.
“Are we just going to stay here? Is it even safe here?
I want to go home.”
“They almost killed you at home.”
“Now I’m with you and they’ve almost killed me twice. I
want to go home.”
Pike took out his cell phone and checked the messages.
The three incoming calls were from
Bud Flynn. Pike hit the send button
to return the calls and wondered if
they were being tracked by his
phone, the signal triangulated
between cell stations. To track him
they would have to know his number,
but Bud had it. Maybe if Bud knew
it, they knew it, too.
Bud answered immediately.
“You scared the hell out of me. I thought you were done
when you didn’t answer.”
“They found us again.”
“Get outta here. Where are you?”
“Listen. She wants to come home.”
Pike was watching the girl when he said it, and she was
Bud didn’t answer right away, but when he did his voice
“Now let’s take it easy. Let’s everybody calm down. Is
she safe? Right now, is everything
“I want to make sure I understand—are you talking about
the Malibu house or the house I just
sent you to, the one in Eagle Rock?”
Bud had sent them to a safe house in Malibu the night
before, then put them onto the Eagle
Rock house when the shooters hit
“Eagle Rock. You gave me two bad houses, Bud.”
“Not possible. They could not have known about this
“Three more men died. Do the feds have me covered on
this or not? I have to know, Bud.”
Bud already knew about the two in Malibu. The feds had
screamed, but promised to cover for
Pike and the girl with the locals.
Now Bud didn’t sound confident.
“I’ll talk to them.”
“Talk fast. I lost one of my guns, the .357. When the
police run the numbers, they’ll have
Bud made a soft hiss that sounded more tired than
angry. Pike didn’t press him. Pike
let him think.
“All right, listen—she wants to come home?”
“Put her on.”
Pike held out the phone. The girl put it to her ear,
but now she seemed uncertain. She
listened for several minutes, and
then she spoke once.
She said, “I’m really scared. Can’t I come home?”
Pike knew the answer even before she gave back the
phone. Here they were in an alley in
southeast Los Angeles, temperature
in the mid-nineties, and this girl
looked cold. She flew over places
like this in her family’s private
Gulfstream, but here she was, all
for being in the wrong place at the
wrong time and, for likely the first
and only time in her life, trying to
do the right thing. And now the
right thing meant being with him.
Pike took back the phone even as a car turned into the
far end of the alley. He immediately
put himself between the girl and the
on-coming car, then saw the driver
was a young Latina, so short she
drove with her head tilted back to
see over the wheel.
Pike lifted the phone.
“Okay, listen—she’s good to stay with you. I think
that’s best and so does her father.
I’ll line up another house—”
“Keep your house. Did you ID the men in Malibu?”
“We have to get you safe. I’ll line up another house—”
“Your houses are bad.”
“They had us twice at your houses. I’ll get us a
“You can’t cut me out like this. How will I know—”
“You gave her to me, Bud. She’s mine.”
Pike shut off his phone. The girl was watching him there in
the angry heat of the alley.
She said, “Now I’m yours? Did you really say that?”
“If you want to go home I’ll take you home. That’s up
to you, not them. That’s all I
meant. I’ll take you back if you
Pike knew she was thinking about it, but then she
Pike helped her into his Jeep, then studied both ends
of the alley. He wanted to start
moving, but his Jeep was now a
liability. The police would
eventually know he was involved
because of his gun, but if a witness
in Eagle Rock had his license plate,
the police might already be looking
for a red Jeep Cherokee. Pike wanted
to avoid the police, but he couldn’t
just sit. When you weren’t moving
you were nothing but someone’s
The alley was clear. Right now, at this moment and in
this place, Pike and the girl were
invisible. If Pike could keep it
that way, the girl would survive.
© 2007 by Robert Crais