(Note: this is one of three openings I’ve written for the “next” Ironwood novel.–jrs)
Bucket’s nose in my ear woke me up. I cracked open an eye. It was still dark. I reached out, ruffled his soft ears, and tapped the top of my clock so the dial would light. It was 5:30. Bucket wanted out. I could hear a respectable rain drumming against the roof and outside deck of my houseboat. I might have groaned.
Still soggy with sleep, I pulled on some Gortex pants and a thin rain jacket. I contemplated coffee, but Bucket’s lean look and high, white-tipped tail spoke of his need. I didn’t argue.
We 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. The river level was more ominous than I’d ever seen it.
Bucket bumped his head against my knee and I muttered something about sleep and rain. The truth was, we needed the work. 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. I was waking up and had to admit that life was pretty good.
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 much drier 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.
Bucket and I found an eat-up-the-miles rhythm quickly, as we always did, and ran out 17th towards 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 river. This was some really serious water. I was confident that the houseboat 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 some kind of formidable flotsam 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 tangled up in a whole dogwood tree 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 house 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 back at the sprawling structure 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 in the neighborhood 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. It reads: “Mike Ironwood – Discreet Investigations and Salvage Consulting.” The salvage consulting bit is from the Travis McGee novels I’d loved when I was younger. I’d read all of them during my two Special Forces tours in Nam and continued with the series until it stopped in 1985, when John D. McDonald died. I still grieve that there are no new ones forthcoming. The whole notion just resonates with me. I could do far worse than having McGee as a hero. Sure, he’s just fiction, but my experience has shown me that many people are mostly fiction, especially to themselves.
At the top of the stairs, Bucket stopped and growled from deep in his broad chest. My .40 caliber Ruger appeared in my hand without any conscious direction. 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. Someone was 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 right cheek, another in my left eye, and a small blue hole in the center of my forehead. I did not look at all well.