The sky showed no hint of morning as his double-bladed oar grabbed the water and pushed the kayak east toward the bright city lights. From the reflection of those lights, he saw the swelling, falling, living surface of the sea. Beneath him the water was black and impenetrable. Only twice had he overturned with the kayak and felt the blinding, cold water envelop him. He had fought frantically the first time to right himself; he had laughed underwater the second.
As he crossed the bay, he carried a battery-powered lantern stowed between his legs to announce his presence to large ships, but he seldom used it. It would do little good anyway. While the kayak could turn quickly and easily, large ships took miles to change course. If the pilots could see him, and they likely could not, they would think he was out of bounds to take so small a craft into their territory. He didn't care. Here on the water, he strayed out of bounds.
Sometimes when the alarm rang longer than normal, he would stare at the ceiling, although there was nothing to see, and would consider taking the car to work and giving himself another thirty minutes of sleep. Discipline, he would tell himself—he was used to talking alone.
Once on the water he would not wish for sleep. He would take the kayak even when the weather was marginal and the water rough, when the kayak would lunge and bounce its way across the surface instead of gliding smoothly and sinuously as it did this morning.
He cut a diagonal line across Elliott Bay and passed the grain terminal where a ship was being loaded. Conveyer belts hummed a chant over the water, and grain dust rose into the work lights like ashes in the wind. He pushed across the last open stretch of water just as the ferry left its Seattle dock at 4:00 A.M. For a few cars and a few sleepy people, the ferry, ablaze in lights and horn shrieking, sent out shock waves from its propellers. He thought it should slip out quietly, compatibly with the hour, instead of making such a fuss. He waited for it to pass, and his kayak rose and fell in its wake. The day was beginning.
A spotlight flashed on him as he approached the dock. He saw the police car on the street above the dock and signaled back by lifting his paddle. The driver's door opened and Murphy got out. She walked down the steps onto the floating dock and stood at the spot where he landed. He tossed her a rope, and she pulled the kayak tightly against the wood planking.
"Good morning, Sam," she said with a bright smile on her face.
He was not sure what to make of this greeting. Murphy and her partner, Bill Hennessey, worked his district on the shift before him.
Several times during the last few weeks, they had met him on the dock and had given him a lift up the hill to the police station. It had always been on the nights when Murphy was driving.
"Did you have a good paddle?" she asked as he steadied himself in the kayak before scooting onto the deck.
"I had a fine paddle," he said, looking up to her. "Busy night?"
"Not busy enough."
He remembered that feeling. Now he approved if Radio chose to leave him alone. It would take a while before she understood. Murphy was one of the new ones. Her leather gear was shiny, and her shirt looked fresh even at the end of her shift. Her face looked bright and fresh, too, and her short brown hair was combed neatly in place. Cops had looked different when he worked nights. He might have stayed if they had looked like Murphy. He worked alone now, the morning shift, the quiet shift.
Her first name was Katherine, but he had begun cutting it short to Kat. Beneath the blue shirt and bulletproof vest and heavy leather holster, there was little room for her. That was irrelevant now, they said, and it was certainly true that he had seen enough big cops make a mess of things. Still, he wondered what would happen if somebody punched her in the nose.
"The week's almost over, Kat," he said to her as he pulled the kayak out of the water and tied it upside down on the deck.
She started for the car, carrying the bag he had tossed onto the dock, and he caught up with her and took it from her hand. She gave him a strange smile as she released the bag, one beyond interpretation, one that flickered so briefly he had no chance to return it.
Hennessey was swearing from the passenger's side when Sam opened the back door. The blue vinyl back seat was loose from its anchors and rocked forward when Sam slid in.
"We got a call at the Donald Hotel," Hennessey said after they closed the doors. "Suspicious circumstances. Occupant hasn't been seen for a while. Odor coming from the room. Probably some old drunk who croaked. Jesus, why couldn't they wait another fifteen minutes?"
"Maybe it's just some rotten food," Sam Wright said.
"Want to bet?"
"No," Sam said. "I'll ride along." He unzipped his bag and pulled out the snub-nosed pistol he kept there together with a towel and emergency dry clothes. He shoved the holstered pistol into his pants and pulled his sweatshirt over it. "I'll handle the paperwork if it comes to that."
"It's not your call," Katherine said. "You haven't even started yet."
"Hey, let's not get too generous here when I'm doing the paper,"
Hennessey said. "Wright can handle it if he wants. He's got all day."
Sam saw the muscles clench in Katherine's jaw as she backed the car into the street and drove silently away. He was reminded why he worked alone.
Excerpted from First Avenue by Lowen Clausen. Copyright 1999 by Lowen Clausen. Reprinted with permission of Silo Press.