Michael Prescott: Riptide

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Michael Prescott Riptide
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Riptide: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Some cops appreciated her contribution. Some didn’t. Most, like Roy Draper, utilized her insights while remaining skeptical of her methods. Resistance, she thought, arose mainly because people didn’t want to believe that they revealed themselves with everything they said and wrote. What she did was too much like mind reading-a scary prospect for people who wanted to keep secrets.

And everybody had secrets. She touched her left arm, feeling the scar beneath her sleeve. Everybody.

Her arm began to shake. She watched it, bewildered. Then she became aware that the examination table was shaking, too.

The whole damn room was shaking.

A wrenching jolt slammed the table to the left, knocking the lamp askew. Her chair pivoted under her. Somewhere nearby came the tinkle of breaking glass. Her UV light, which could reveal erasures and scratched-out words, had fallen.

“Hell,” she muttered. The lighting element was expensive and a pain to replace.

The table lurched again with a prolonged burp of its legs against the hardwood floor. Car alarms, jostled by the quake, began a clangor of honks and whoops on the street.

And then it was over. The last of the tremors passed away, rolling underneath the house like a slow comber spending itself on the beach. She sat and listened as the car alarms hit their automatic cutoffs one by one. Then there was stillness.

Slowly she released a breath. Though she had grown up in Los Angeles, she had never gotten used to earthquakes. It wasn’t a fear of being crushed under debris. It was more basic than that.

Whenever she felt the shifting of tectonic plates, she couldn’t escape the feeling that some primordial evil had just shuddered forth from the bowels of the earth.


The house was still standing. Jennifer verified as much with a walk-through of the ground floor.

Her power was on. Ditto her phone. In the living room her collection of sea glass, the product of years of studious beach-combing, had been dislodged from the fireplace mantle, dropping like hailstones onto the flagstone apron. The jars holding her treasures had shattered, but the sea glass itself-broken glassware from shipwrecks, tumbled and sanded smooth by wave action-appeared undamaged.

The photos lining the wall of the stairwell had been jostled from their hooks. They lay scattered on the steps. For an instant she was back in Marilyn Diaz’s bedroom, looking at the framed snapshots on the floor.

From the streets came the distant wail of a siren. Fire engine or ambulance. In quakes, gas mains broke and people had heart attacks. A second siren arose, competing with the first.

Upstairs she found two fallen lamps in the bedroom and a thin but worrisome crack snaking up the plaster wall. The view from the deck revealed a few red roof tiles strewn in the backyard. Her power had failed momentarily, and the display screen of her DVR was blinking.

She went downstairs, tuned the kitchen TV to Channel 4-her cable hadn’t gone out-and watched enough of the coverage to learn that the quake was a relatively minor 5.2 on the Richter scale. Preliminary reports indicated that Venice received the worst of the shaking. The newscasters reminded viewers to check for gas leaks. Jennifer sniffed. No sour smell.

She wondered if she should look in on her neighbors. But she didn’t know any of them.

One thing she could do was call Richard. She was reaching for the phone when she remembered the cellar.

Cellars were rare in southern California, except in older homes. In the early 1900s Venice had been populated largely by transplants from the Midwest, people who grew up with storm cellars and fruit cellars. They wanted the kind of houses they were used to.

The entry to the cellar was a trapdoor in the floor of the pantry, next to the kitchen. Kneeling, she grasped the handle and pulled it open. On the underside of the trapdoor was a dead bolt that could secure the cellar from the inside. She had never understood why anyone would feel the need to do that.

A stairway plunged into darkness. When she flicked the light switch at the top of the stairs, nothing happened. The bulb in the ceiling had burned out. She hadn’t known. The cellar was musty and claustrophobic, and she hadn’t been down there in years.

From the kitchen she retrieved a flashlight, then returned to the trapdoor and angled the beam down the stairs. The cone of light picked out a brick wall wreathed in cobwebs and a concrete floor strewn with dead insects. No damage was visible from this vantage point.

She descended the creaking stairs, inhaling the odor of mildew. At the bottom she let her eyesight adjust to the dimness, then stepped forward into the gloom. Dry beetles crackled under her shoes.

Slowly she fanned the flashlight beam over the grimy walls and along a ceiling crisscrossed with exposed plumbing pipes. The room measured nine by thirteen feet, and the ceiling was uncomfortably low. It occurred to her that an aftershock could take place at any time, and underground would be the worst place to be.

At the center of the cellar, she turned in a slow pivot, her flashlight coming to rest on the wall below the staircase.

Part of the wall had crumbled, the old bricks tumbling out to expose a dark cavity three feet wide.

Here was genuine damage, which she couldn’t afford. Like most Angelenos she had no earthquake insurance, trusting that the Big One would hold off for her lifetime.

She played the beam along the underside of the staircase, wondering if she should be worried about the stairs collapsing under her when she went back up. But they looked secure enough. It was only the wall that had failed, and not much of the wall, at that. Possibly she wasn’t looking at more than a minor repair job.

She moved closer to the wall. Something was inside. Something yellowish, whorled in cobwebs, a strangely complicated assemblage of shapes. Straight lines and curves and acute angles…


That was what she saw. Not the small bones of vermin. These were human remains. A human skeleton, entombed in the wall.

She didn’t react in any particular way. The reality of what she was seeing was too difficult to process.

Her flashlight picked out a jawless skull, the eye sockets strangely white, not hollow, as if cloudy eyeballs still occupied the holes. There were no eyes, of course, only layers of gossamer spinnings from a succession of insects who had cocooned in the sockets.

Eerie, though-how the eyes seemed to watch her. How the milky strands of webbing reflected the flashlight’s glow.

She felt her first twitch of panic. She jerked the flashlight away from the skull, letting the beam fall elsewhere inside the cavity.

Another pair of eyes.

Two skeletons.

Suddenly it seemed important to make no sudden moves. She was on the brink of a precipice. She must tread with care.

She guided the flashlight to the left and came across a third skull and a fourth. Behind those, there were others. How many in all? She couldn’t tell. A half dozen, at least. Interred here, in the cellar under her house.

Somebody had broken a hole in the wall and dug out an earthen cavity about two feet deep, then deposited the remains and sealed them inside. Probably the reconstructed portion hadn’t been as strong as the original, so it had failed when the rest of the cellar had held up.

She counted six skulls. There might be more. She couldn’t be certain. The bones were disarticulated, disarranged. A spoils heap.

The bones were mottled in mold. Some had crumbled into whitish gray powder. They were old. Decades old.

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