A Darcy Lott Mystery
Last month, we launched our occasional “By the Book” series with the initial paragraphs of Susan Dunlap’s latest thriller, Power Slide: A Darcy Lott Mystery. Dunlap, the Albany-based author of 24 mostly local mysteries to date, opens Power Slide with heroine Darcy Lott—a sleuth who’s also a stunt double—on location at the Port of Oakland. Poised to perform a potentially lethal trick that involves falling off a bike and sliding under an 18-wheeler, she’s thrown into a psychological tailspin when her stunt partner (and sometime paramour), Damon Guthrie, fails to show up on time. Below, we bring you the conclusion of Chapter 1—which raises, in classic mystery style, as many questions as it answers.
For inside info about Albany author Susan Dunlap, check out Dunlap’s website, susandunlapmysteries.com, and our May 2007 profile, “Berkeley Bard,” at themonthly.com. For our last month’s installment of the Power Slide click here.
Enormous metal cranes stand at this end of the Port of Oakland loading docks as if ready to take the Bay in three steps and devour San Francisco. I’d see them when I drove the Bay Bridge; I thought of them as Trojan birds, though the last thing they could have done was hide anything in their bellies. They hadn’t eaten the city, but they’d made a meal of its port. Now San Francisco piers held shops and restaurants, while lowly Oakland sported the fifth-largest container port in the country.
My ride, an old fat-wheel bicycle, was lying at the tip of the dock where the last scene had ended. I balanced astride it, let my eyes go blank, and felt the wind snapping my hair, icing my bare neck. I heard the slap of the Bay, the whoosh of water as distant boats cut through the briny smell. For a moment I didn’t name the sounds or smells, merely met them, as I’d do on the cushion in the zendo. There, it wasn’t a centering technique but an outcome of zazen, for no purpose but itself. Here, though, it shifted my focus away from Guthrie—away from Guthrie and me—to the gag.
It was a timing gag. Easy. Guthrie and I had done this kind of thing together three or four times before, made it look deadly. Then celebrated after. And the next morning before dawn, one of us would be gone.
I glanced down the dock, at the massive ship alongside, the boarding slips, the train tracks and, above it all, the giant gantry cranes. Twenty-two stories tall, with one guy in the cab up there grabbing and plunking down containers, thirty to the hour. From a distance they’d been Trojan birds. Now, from the ground, all I saw was two huge white metal slabs twenty-five feet long and the same distance apart.
I’d already done the first part of this sequence in two sections—jumping on the bike, going across the tracks, and riding up to and around the base of the crane. It had taken four days—an hour or so for four afternoons. Today I’d redo that ride, but only as lead-in for the payoff, the straight shot from the crane to the truck and the power slide underneath. I would have felt a lot better if I could have eyeballed the truck.
The first part was in the can. Still, I needed to visualize the whole thing. I put down the bike, stood against a pillar, let my eyes close, and pictured—at first pictured, but almost instantly felt—myself at the starting point five yards behind the bike. Me doing a shamble run to simulate the desperate heroine, then a mini-pause, a glance behind, a stumble-and-save, before the double take at the sight of the bike. I felt myself lunging, grabbing the handlebars, yanking up the bike, running to get momentum to fling my leg high over the bar. Next my legs were pumping the pedals, my head down apparently oblivious to the crane, the bike weaving, me looking over my shoulder, tires catching in the track, making the save. Suddenly, the reversal: a major double take when I saw the crane, a quick cut to the left to skirt the crane, dropping my shoulders in an exaggerated “Whew!” Now right the bike, lean hard forward into all-out speed position. I could “see” Guthrie’s truck rounding the corner, feel my gaze drop to spot the track, see Guthrie jackknife, feel my shoulders thrust left to catch the tire on the track. I’d fall off the bike, shooting it left as I shoved right to land in the middle of a pad that would be a yard from the truck. As if it were happening, I felt my hands grab the raised back edge of the pad and push off, sending me straight ahead under the truck and midway between the tires. The entire business would take less than a minute, the portion we were shooting twenty seconds.
I did another mental run-through but wasn’t reassured. Stunt work is illusion, relative safety masquerading as danger. But it only works that way with meticulous preparation. I’d done mine; I wanted Guthrie here to do his. If he blew it, he’d be sorry.
I’d be dead.
“Can’t even see San Fran any more.” Mo was staring across the Bay at the thick white cover hiding everything but the tops of a couple of high-rises and the tip of the Transamerica Building. “What do you figure? Fifteen minutes?”
Together we started back toward the crane.
We heard the cheer before we saw Guthrie’s truck.
A second later he jumped down from the cab, looking like he always did. And all the doubts of the last half hour might never have existed.
Excerpted from Power Slide: A Darcy Lott Mystery by Susan Dunlap, © 2010. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint.
Susan Dunlap, the author of 24 mostly local mysteries to date—fans have come to expect a new fix every year—was once dubbed “The Bard of Berkeley.” Actually, though, Dunlap—a former social worker, a Zen Buddhist, and a full-on Peet’s Holiday Blend addict—lives just across the border in Albany. For more inside info about this prolific local treasure and her haunts, check out Dunlap’s website, susandunlapmysteries.com, and our May 2007 profile, “Berkeley Bard,” at themonthly.com.
Susan Dunlap reads from Power Slide on Thursday, Aug. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary & Garden Arts, 2904 College Ave., Berkeley. For info: (510) 704-8222 or mrsdalloways.com.