Sometimes tragedies come in waves. First Eric, irrepressible, indestructible, climbing alone. Second Joey choking, drunk - though not much more so than usual - the night after his great triumph. But then there was the statistician, overdosing on Flatliners he thought were something else. Three is a series, not a coincidence: three men dead, three colleagues with a shared past. A past that is shared by the one person Kellen Stewart would trust with her life, pathologist Lee Adams. Suspect number one.
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Born and brought up in Scotland, Manda Scott is a practising vet. Her first novel, HEN'S TEETH, was shortlisted for the 1997 Orange Prize alongside Annie Proulx, Margaret Atwood and Anne Michaels.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Eric was on the ledge at the top of the fourth pitch, three-quarters of the way up the cliff. It was a good place to be: high and airy with a clear view of the sea and the gulls and the islands, an ideal spot to sit and watch the sun slide down behind the mountains of Jura, or to wait for two climbers on their way up from sea level, aiming for just that point on the ledge. We were not expecting him to be there, had made no arrangements to meet, but Eric was ever one for surprises and there's no reason, even now, to suppose it would have made the climb any faster if we'd known he was there. It certainly wouldn't have made it any easier.
No one said it would be easy. She didn't want it to be easy. All the way through the winter, reading the maps and the tide tables, hanging off abseil ropes in the pouring rain, bribing fishermen to take her closer in to the rock than any sane human being would want to go, Lee Adams was not looking for a climb that was easy. Just one step this side of impossible and no more, otherwise what's the point? And all through winter, sitting at the top of the cliff catching the falls, driving the car to the jetty, going out to buy one more bottle of Scotch for a skipper who needed half a year drying out more than he ever needed another drink, I listened, as we all did, with half an ear to the moves and the holds and the nightmare of a chimney at the base of the crack and I knew that, when the time came for her to choose a partner to climb it with her, she would ask Eric. Of all of us, he was the only one who came close to climbing at the level she climbed. He was the only one who made sense.
But then, Lee doesn't climb to make sense. I was waiting by the car on the jetty at Tarbert on a wind-blown, rain-sodden Saturday afternoon less than a month ago when she made the last boat trip out to the cliff: one final attempt to find a way in to the base of the crack that wasn't going to get her drowned before she ever started the climb up. I remember the sight of her, soaked and scratched and decorated in odd places with algal streaks as she came up the path from the boat. I pulled a rucksack from the boot and passed her a T-shirt as she reached the car. There was no real need to ask how it went--her whole body was alive with the buzz of it, like a horse before a race, fighting the pull of the bit. She sat on the sill of the boot, staring out to sea, her focus on something a long way out of sight.
"And so?' I asked. "Will it go?' It's good, sometimes, to get the details.
"It'll go.' She nodded, chewing her bottom lip. "There's only one place the boat can put in with any chance of getting out again in one piece and it's a real bitch of a traverse from there along to the crack. Sixty foot of blank rock with bugger all to hold on to but the seaweed.' She waited, expectant, as if I was supposed to have some kind of opinion on that.
Traverses are not really my thing. I haven't done enough of them to comment. "I thought there was the ledge?' I said.
"Sort of.' She threw the wrecked remains of her old shirt into the boot and there was a pause as she pulled the fresh one over her head. The dry, laundered smell of it mellowed the ranker smells of rain and sea. "It breaks up in places, but it's better than nothing,' she said. "We'll be fine as long as we time the tide right. Bearing in mind how much you hate the sea, the least I can do is see that you keep your feet dry before we get to the crack.'
There was another gap then, filled by the wind and the flapping of old newspaper on the tarmac of the jetty. I looked out to the sea and back again. She sat on the boot, her head cocked to one side, watching me.
"My feet?' I asked.
"Your feet,' she agreed. Her smile was indulgent; maddeningly so.
"What about Eric? I thought you were going to do it with him?'
"Only if you turn me down.' She stood up, then ducked back into the lee of the boot as a westerly gust threatened to knock us both flat. "We'll find something with more of a challenge in it for him later. This one is for you and me. Unless you're going to tell me now you really don't want to do it?'
Maybe I should have done. I have known Lee Adams for over half my life and I know just where her limits are: a long way past mine in almost everything we do, especially on the rock. But the rain was easing and the wind was fresh and we had spent all winter planning for this one. I thought I knew where the worst bits were. Besides, in that moment, I really did want to do it.
"OK.' I pulled the car keys from my pocket and flipped then the two feet through the air to her waiting hand. "If you're sure I can do it.'
"I'm not sure of anything. I'm not even sure I can do it. That's what we're here to find out.' She tossed the keys high up in the air and caught them again on the downswing. "Just don't forget to trust your feet. If you can hang on to that, you'll be fine.'
You hate the sea. I don't hate it. I am terrified of it. There is a difference. Not normally, in everyday life, I'm not afraid of it then. I can walk along the shore and breathe in the salt and feel the power of it and be inspired with the rest of them. I respect it. I admire it. I wish I could paint it, or photograph it, or do something else to catch the extraordinary, restless beauty of it and take it home. I am not afraid of it. But put me on a two-inch tightrope of sea-greased rock with the water kissing the soles of my climbing shoes, with barnacles the size of walnuts knifing the palms of my hands and leathered ribbons of weed draping themselves like malign bandages over my eyes so that the rock and the sea and the rope are all flashes seen in the darkness, then I can reach a level of terror that knows no bounds.
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Book Description Headline Book Publishing, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110747258813