Bill Pronzini: Shackles

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Bill Pronzini Shackles
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Shackles: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Abducted by a shadowy figure he never sees, chloroformed and taken to a remote mountain cabin, the Nameless Detective is told by that figure before he is deserted, that the mission is one of revenge. Nameless has destroyed his mysterious abductor’s life and now his life in turn will be destroyed. Chained with a limited supply of food and water and just enough room in the shackles to allow him to feed himself, Nameless knows that the abductor must be a component of one of his old cases… someone who he has tracked and caught for the police, someone who has served prison time and, released, wants Nameless to suffer in turn. But the detective cannot deduce who that abductor may be and, as his ordeal begins, he understands that his efforts must be more directed toward survival and escape; if he does not find a way free of the shackles he will die. Freeing himself of the shackles will involve more than an act of physical escape; Nameless must come to understand the entirety of his own life and the nature of a profession which has caused him and those he loves risk at the highest level. Through the Walpurgisnacht of that confinement and escape, Nameless does indeed come to understand himself and in a shocking, complex, surprising but inevitable ending, Nameless comes to understand as well the nature of entrapment and purgation, and how a rite of passage must crucially take place internally as well as externally. The denouement of the novel is resonant and shattering: it is unforgettable.

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Bill Pronzini


Book 16 in the Nameless Detective series, 1988


The Last Night

Eberhardt’s new girlfriend was named Barbara Jean Addison, though she preferred to be called Bobbie Jean. She was from Charleston, South Carolina, she had been divorced twice, and she worked as a secretary to a real estate broker in San Rafael, and one of her hobbies was skeet shooting. All of which, given Eberhardt’s recent taste in female companions, built up an image of her in my mind as blowsy, bawdy, bottle-blond, bubble-headed, and the possessor of both a large chest and a drawl so thick you could use it to make a peach parfait. A sort of southern-fried version of Wanda Jaworski, the pride of Macy’s downtown footwear department, whom Eberhardt had almost married not long ago while in the grip of temporary insanity.

Despite his protestations that she was “a sweetheart, nothing like Wanda,” I persisted in carrying my image of Bobbie Jean Addison right up until the night I met her, a month or so after they’d started dating. The meeting took place in Eb’s house in Noe Valley-the first leg of a planned evening of drinks and then dinner across the bay in Jack London Square. I had been dreading it for three days, ever since I finally weakened and let him talk me into it. So had Kerry, as she had told me often and voluably during those three days. Kerry also had a Wandalike mental image of Bobbie Jean, not to mention memories even more painful than mine of a dinner at San Francisco’s worst Italian restaurant; that was because the dinner had culminated in Kerry, more than slightly squiffed on white wine, decorating Wanda’s empty head and stuffed bosom with a bowlful of something resembling spaghetti in marinara sauce. Still, as a favor to me-“Misery loves company,” was the way she’d put it-she had agreed to come along. Underneath, I think she was as curious as I was to see just what sort of freak Eberhardt had hooked up with this time.

Well, Bobbie Jean was no freak. That was the first surprise. The second was that, after spending twenty minutes in her company, I found my previously low opinion of Eberhardt’s taste and mental health climbing several notches to hover around normal. The third surprise was that by the time we left in my car for the East Bay, Kerry and Bobbie Jean were not only getting along but on their way to becoming fast friends.

Bobbie Jean resembled Wanda Jaworski in no way whatsoever. She was in her late forties, slender, attractive in an unflashy way. She had shag-cut brown hair lightly dusted with gray, and a normal-sized chest, one that would not support a couple of midgets performing an Irish jig. She was quiet, intelligent, frank. She owned a nice wry sense of humor and spoke with only the faintest of Carolina accents. And she did not paw Eberhardt in public as Wanda had done, or refer to him as “Ebbie” or “Sugar Buns.”

If she had any flaw, it was the one she shared with him: Up until now she had shown poor judgment in her dealings with the opposite sex. Her first husband, whom she’d married at age eighteen, had left her after fourteen months and gone off to Texas, where he intended to fulfill a lifelong dream of making big money as a laborer on the Galveston docks. (“He had a head this big,” Bobbie Jean said at one point, holding her hands about six inches apart. “My God, even as young as I was, how could I have married a man with a head the size of a cantaloupe?”) A few years later she’d met and married an electronics engineer, and eventually moved out to the Silicon Valley with him and her two young daughters. The marriage had been rocky all along, but she probably would have stuck it out for the sake of her daughters, she said, if she hadn’t found out that hubby was having an affair with one of his co-workers-one of his male coworkers. By this time the older daughter had married and moved north to Marin County, so Bobbie Jean took the other girl and came north to live with the married one until she could find a job and a place of her own. She’d had the job and the place two years now, the second daughter was eighteen and out on her own, and by Bobbie Jean’s own admission she was “reasonably content” with her new life as a middle-aged single woman. “Single till I die,” she said. “I’ve learned my lesson. As far as I’m concerned, marriage is a dirty word.”

That comment endeared her to Kerry, if not to Eberhardt. He scowled when she said it; he thought marriage was a sacred institution, one that everybody should be locked up in, and had been looking to be recommitted ever since his divorce from Dana a few years back. Kerry and Bobbie Jean yakked about the evils of marriage all the way to Jack London Square. Eberhardt didn’t have much to say and neither did I. I didn’t necessarily agree with his attitude toward marriage, but on the other hand I was hardly a militant opponent. I wouldn’t have minded being institutionalized with Kerry; I had even proposed to her a couple of times. But she’d had a pretty bad marriage herself. In fact, her ex-husband was a certifiable lunatic. He’d recently discovered fundamentalist religion (after first discovering Eastern religion and living in a commune), was now a member of the Right Reverend Clyde T. Daybreak’s Church of the Holy Mission in San Jose, and as of a few weeks ago had been hassling Kerry to renew their old vows and join him in his weekly fireside chats with God. He seemed to have given up on that last quest as a result of a little talk Kerry had had with the Right Reverend Clyde T., but with a wacko like Ray Dunston you couldn’t take anything for granted.

So it was no wonder Kerry was sour on marriage. I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to tie the knot again, especially with an overweight private detective who was more than a dozen years her senior and who wore his poor lovesick heart on his sleeve most of the time. But there were times-tonight, for instance, while I listened to her and Bobbie Jean verbally abusing the concept of matrimony-when I still wished I could talk her into legalizing our relationship.

We had dinner at a place called the Rusty Scupper, just off the Square. Margaritas for the ladies, Beck’s Dark for Eberhardt and me. Seafood and sourdough French bread all around. The restaurant was built on pilings out over the Inner Harbor, and we had a window table. It was one of those cold, clear December evenings when the stars seemed to burn like icefire and all the night shapes stand out in bold relief against the hard black of the sky. The water sparkled with reflected lights from the ships anchored across the harbor at the Alameda Naval Supply Center, and from the pleasure boats down at the Pacific Marina and the Alameda Yacht Harbor. The ambience was one of the reasons we were all enjoying ourselves; the other was the company. The fare was good, but we could have been eating junk food and it wouldn’t have mattered a bit.

We were having coffee when Kerry and Bobbie Jean got up and went off in tandem to the powder room, the way women do. When they were out of sight Eberhardt leaned across the table and said, “Well? What do you think?”

“I think she’s too good for you.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said seriously. “I told you she was a sweetheart, didn’t I? Isn’t she a sweetheart?”

“She is, and I apologize for doubting you.”

“Yeah.” He drank some of his coffee. “Damn,” he said then.


“She makes me nervous, a little. Like a damn kid.”

“How so?”

“I dunno. She just does. We haven’t been to bed yet.”

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