California was a tinderbox, as anybody who watched the news knew. You think of state parks and suburbs and agricultural fields; cities, though, weren't immune to nature's conflagrations. Shaw believed that one of the worst brush fires in the history of the state had been in Oakland, very near where they were now standing.
"Sometimes, I kick somebody out, they say they'll come back and get even." She added with astonishment, "Even when I caught them stealing forty amps when they paid for twenty. Some people. Really."
He asked, "And you want me to...?"
"I don't know, Mr. Shaw. Just take a look. Could you take a look? lease?"
Shaw squinted through the flora and saw, maybe, motion that wasn't from the breeze. A person walking slowly? And if so did the pace mean that he was moving tactically—that is, with some mischief in mind?
Carole's eyes were on Shaw, regarding him in a particular way.
This happened with some frequency. He was a civilian, never said he was anything else. But he had cop fiber.
Shaw circled to the front of the park and walked on the cracked and uneven sidewalk, then on the grassy shoulder of the unbusy road in this unbusy corner of the city.
Yes, there was a man, in dark jacket, blue jeans and black stocking cap, some twenty yards ahead. He wore boots that could be helpful on a hike through brush and equally helpful to stomp an opponent. And, yes, either he was armed with a gas bomb or he was holding a Corona and a napkin in the same hand. Early for a beer some places; not in this part of Oakland.
Shaw slipped off the shoulder into the foliage to his right and walked more quickly, though with care to stay silent. The needles that had pitched from branch to ground in droves over the past several seasons made stealth easy.
Whoever this might be, vengeful lodger or not, he was well past Carole's cabin. So she wasn't at personal risk. But Shaw wasn't giving the guy a pass just yet.
This felt wrong.
Now the fellow was approaching the part of the RV camp where Shaw's Winnebago was parked, among many other RVs.
Shaw had more than a passing interest in Molotov cocktails.
Several years ago, he'd been searching for a fugitive on the lam for an oil scam in Oklahoma when somebody pitched a gas bomb through the windshield of his camper. The craft burned to the rims in twenty minutes, personal effects saved in the nick. Shaw still carried a distinct and unpleasant scent memory of the air surrounding the metal carcass.
The percentage likelihood that Shaw would be attacked by two Russian-inspired weapons in one lifetime, let alone within several years, had to be pretty small. Shaw put it at five percent. A figure made smaller yet by the fact that he had come to the Oakland/ Berkeley area on personal business, not to ruin a fugitive's life. And while Shaw had committed a transgression yesterday, the remedy for that offense would've been a verbal lashing, a confrontation with a beefy security guard or, at worst, the police. Not a firebomb.
Shaw was now only ten yards behind the man, who was scanning the area—looking into the trailer park as well as up and down the road and at several abandoned buildings across it.
The man was trim, white, with a clean-shaven face. He was about five-eight, Shaw estimated. The man's facial skin was pocked. Under the cap, his brown hair seemed to be cut short. There was a rodent- like quality to his appearance and his movements. In the man's posture Shaw read ex-military. Shaw himself was not, though he had friends and acquaintances who were, and he had spent a portion of his youth in quasi-military training, quizzed regularly on the updated U.S. Army Survival Manual FM 21-76.
And the man was indeed holding a Molotov cocktail. The napkin was stuffed into the neck of the bottle and Shaw could smell gasoline.
Shaw was familiar with revolver, semiautomatic pistol, semiautomatic rifle, bolt-action rifle, shotgun, bow and arrow and slingshot. And he had more than a passing interest in blades. He now withdrew from his pocket the weapon he used most frequently: his mobile, presently an iPhone. He punched some keys and, when the police and fire emergency dispatcher answered, whispered his location and what he was looking at. Then he hung up. He typed a few more commands and slipped the cell into the breast pocket of his dark plaid sport coat. He thought, with chagrin, about his transgression yesterday and wondered if the call would somehow allow the authorities to identify and collar him. This seemed unlikely.
Shaw had decided to wait for the arrival of the pros. Which is when a cigarette lighter appeared in the man's hand with no cigarette to accompany it.
That settled the matter.
Shaw stepped from the bushes and closed the distance. "Morning."