Chapter 1

Bucket’s nose in my ear woke me up. I cracked an eye open. It was still dark. I reached out, ruffled Bucket’s ears, and tapped the top of my clock so the dial would light. It was 5:30 a.m. Bucket wanted to run. I could hear a respectable rain drumming against the top of the huge tent my brother Daniel and I had erected on the new floating dock that would eventually hold my new house. I might have groaned.

Willimina Hayes, my bride of three months, was probably contemplating getting out of bed too, but she was, as the eagle flew, a hundred twenty miles distant. I felt a brief warm flare on the horizon of my heart. She was in Central Oregon’s Ochoco Mountains in her house on her ranch, the H-Bar-H. I was held fast on a rain and snowmelt swollen Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. The river was several feet past flood-stage and it was probably crazy for me to be where I was, but I am nothing if not stubborn.

Bucket and I made it down the gangway. “Down” was the operative word here. On most every day for the last twenty years, leaving the houseboat had been a walk up to the shore. My original houseboat and nearly all of its contents had been burned into oblivion by an asshole named Howard Deems and his right-hand man Jesus Chavez. I’d killed Chavez last November. I’d almost killed Deems too, but he was currently in some kind of federal custody, recovering from what I’d done to him. I was very uncomfortable with that, but there was nothing I could do about it. As a former senior DEA agent, he was probably still a poker chip in some esoteric federal game of No Peekie.

Bucket bumped his head against my knee and I muttered something about sleep and rain and, maybe, coffee. The truth was, I needed the work. My torso had finally healed, mostly, and my head was still ringing from the whacks it had taken during the adventures Willy and I had gone through on our way to matrimony. But my overall fitness had suffered greatly during my convalescence. We made it to the grass at the end of the gangway and squished up through Oaks Park to the pavement that marked the Sellwood neighborhood.

We ran. We worked on Bucket’s hand signals. I put him through command sequences. He responded well every time and earned the little tasty rewards I gave him. He was having a fine time. The effects of our three-week separation last November were completely gone.

The streetlights lit the rays of water that inexorably dove into the ground as gravity wrote the script. Bucket and I moved through it like fish through a current. We were closer to dolphins than we were to other mammals. It was a river we ran through, an incessant downpour that only Northwestern people living on the west side of the Cascades can understand. We see it all too often from November to June. It is who we are. I’d grown up on the east side of the mountains, but had embraced the weather like, well, the proverbial duck. If you want to visit, come in the summer. Don’t bother with the winter. We hate whiners.

I wondered how Elina, the young Apache girl Willy, Daniel, and I had brought to Oregon from Arizona, would respond to all this wet. She was of the desert. It was wired into her. She was a stoic by nature, but she also had a wicked sense of humor and an appreciation of irony that belied her mere ten years.

Bucket and I found a rhythm quickly, as we always did, and ran out 17th toward Waverly Country Club, an old-money Portland golf course with a great history. We cut across the first fairway and ran down to where the river surged up into the property. It was a real flood. As the sky lightened weakly it showed us the chocolate mass of the Willamette River as I’d never seen it before. People had been talking of the Hundred Year Flood and I was starting to believe it.

We ran haphazardly along the irregular track that followed the river until we got back to pavement that we recognized. I was having second thoughts about staying on the floating dock. This was some really serious water. I was confident that the dock would stay on its pilings, but looking at the stuff coming downriver I was beginning to worry about what might slam into it. Taking a hit from something large and formidable was looking almost likely as I studied the debris in the water. As if to prove my point, the bloated body of a brown and white cow bobbed past us as we slogged along above the surge.

The main current of the river usually flowed well off my porch, but the sheer volume and velocity of the flood had changed everything. Bucket and I got back to the new dock where I dried him off, grabbed all of my clothes, my guns, and what little else I owned these days, and put everything in the cab of my mostly restored 1950 Chevy pickup. There was almost room for Bucket and me too. At the top of the driveway, which was mostly underwater, I looked at the big hunting tent and hoped it would survive.

We drove across the Sellwood Bridge. My thought was to take a shower at the gym I belonged to, but the river was high enough to make that a bad idea. Frustrated, I drove over to my office in Multnomah Village. A cat bath in the sink would have to get me though the day.

My office is on the second floor of a row of storefronts. There is a non-descript door next to the Chubtown Café that opens to a stairway. At the top of the stairway and slightly to the left is the door to my office. At Willy’s insistence, the door was newly painted. It read: Mike Ironwood – Discreet Investigations and Salvage Consulting.

At the top of the stairs, Bucket stopped and growled from deep in his broad chest. My .40 caliber pistol materialized in my hand. I stood at my office door, listening. I heard nothing. Bucket stopped his growl, looked at me and whined. I think he was trying to tell me that whatever had visited my office was no longer a danger. I pushed on the door. To my surprise it moved inward. The lock had been sprung. I nudged the door so that it swung slowly open. There was someone sitting at my desk. My pistol covered him while I switched on the overhead light.

The man sitting in my chair was me. Sadly, there was a gunshot wound in my left cheek, one in my right eye, and a small blue hole in the center of my forehead. I did not look at all well.



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