Read The Upright Man Online

Authors: Michael Marshall

The Upright Man

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


The Upright Man


Book / published by arrangement with the author


All rights reserved.

Copyright ©
Michael Marshall Smith

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Electronic edition: March, 2004

For my father


A big thank you to my editors, Susan Allison and Jane Johnson, for their patience and guidance, and to my literary agents Ralph Vicinanza and Jonny Geller for more of the same. Thanks to my publishers for their great support; to Lavie and Ariel for hard work on the net; to Nick Marston and Bob Bookman in film; and to Phyllis Siefker, Frank Joseph, Melanie Nixon, and Ella Clark, whose nonfiction provided snippets of background or inspiration (apologies for what I’ve done with it).

Finally, and as always, love and thanks to Paula for putting up with me while I’m writing. And especially when I’m not.


. Yakima is a small city in central Washington State. It’s a city in the sense that it calls itself one; it has a mall in that you can go indoors and shop without views of the outside reminding you where you are. In three hours only two people had entered the mall. Both were teenagers wearing football shirts. Neither looked as if they had the hard cash to turn the place’s fortunes around. They came out later, carrying nothing. Huge canvas signs around the third story advertised retail space at knockdown rates. The big corner spot at street level was vacant, which is never a good sign.

I sat in the car drinking Americanos I fetched from a Seattle’s Best across the way. The coffee shop was the only business on the avenue that appeared to believe in itself: the rest looked like they’d stashed the For Lease sign from last time, looking to save a few bucks come the inevitable. While I waited I believed I could almost hear the sound of a mayor sitting someplace, drumming his fingers on a big shiny desk, quietly losing his mind as he felt the town snooze around him. It would survive—even this dead zone needed somewhere to host a Les Schwab or two and make up the national Burger King quota—but it was unlikely to make anyone really rich again. That was what you had in
mind, you’d go up to Seattle, or down to Portland. What you did in Yakima I had no idea.

When John Zandt arrived he was driving a big red GMC, dirty and none too new. The passenger side looked like a bunch of cows had rammed it and nearly won. He pulled around the small lot until he was level with my pristine Ford Generic. We wound our windows down. The air was cold.

“Hey, Ward. You ask them for that at the desk?” he said. “Should’ve got them to spray ‘Not From Around Here’ across the hood.”

“You’re unbelievably late,” I said. “So fuck you. My place wasn’t running a shit-kicker’s special. Evidently you got lucky.”

“Stole it from the airport lot,” he admitted. “So let’s go.”

I got out of my car, leaving the keys in the ignition. I figured Hertz could absorb the loss. They had before. Neither they nor anyone else could trace me from the I.D. I had used in Spokane. When I climbed in the pickup I saw two handguns lying on the floor. I picked one up, looked it over, put it in a pocket.

“How far is it?”

“About an hour,” Zandt said. “And then we have to walk.”

He pulled out of the lot and headed down the avenue, past the gray new mall, which had helped put the curse on the one I’d been watching without looking any too prosperous itself. Took a right to follow 82 down through the sprawl that became Union Gap, then buildings by a road, and then just a road. At Toppenish he took 97’s abrupt swerve to the southwest. There were no more towns now until an eight-point burg called Goldendale, fifty miles away. Below that, it was another twenty miles to one of the Columbia River’s least attractive stretches, upstream of The Dalles Dam. I’d spent time with a talkative barman the night before, as I sat drinking in Rooney’s Lounge, the excuse for a bar offered by Yakima’s biggest hotel. I knew we were now in the Yakama Reservation and that there was nothing for eighty miles either side of the truck, the
indigenous population having clumped together in a couple of small, battered settlements in the north. I knew that the place called Union Gap had once been called Yakima instead, until the rail company forced the Indians to move their capital a few miles north, reluctance worn down by the offer of free land, bribes dividing the tribe in a way hunger or cold winters never had. I knew also that just upriver from The Dalles was a spot where once had thundered the Celilo Falls, a raging and sacred shelf of water where men had harvested salmon for ten thousand years. It was now silent, buried beneath the bloated waters of the dam. Money had changed hands, some time before, but the Yakama were still waiting for their loss to be recognized in more meaningful ways. It seemed likely they’d be waiting awhile longer, possibly until the end of time.

Like most people, I didn’t really know what to do with this information. The barman was Native American but had short blond hair spiked like a 1980s pop star, and was wearing quite a lot of makeup. I hadn’t known what to make of that either.

Zandt had a map taped to the dashboard. The edges were ragged and there were smears of grease down the front. It looked like it had spent a long time in pockets and someone’s grimy hand. A small cross had been marked in the center of a big empty patch, near a wandering blue line called Dry Creek.

“Where did this come from?”

“A call logged on one of the Rat-a-Friend lines. The note was heading for the trash—the guy was very drunk and didn’t make much sense—but Nina picked it up out of the slush pile.”


“Because it sounded a long way outside normal and she knows that doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

“So how’d you find him?”

“Those 800 numbers aren’t quite as anonymous as the FBI makes out. Nina had the call reverse-traced to a bar in South Dakota. I went there and waited until the right person showed up again. It was not sudden.”


“The informant’s name is Joseph. Grew up in Harrah, a bump a few miles west of Yakima. You know this is reservation land?”

“Too bleak to be anything else. We were so generous to these guys, it’s weird they don’t love us to bits.”

“This is where they lived, Ward. Not our fault it looks like the moon. Joseph was visiting family and took a walk in the wilds here a week ago. A long walk. He ended up being out a few nights. I should note that his appearance suggests Joseph drinks a great deal on a regular basis. The insides of his elbows look bad too. But he was definite about where he’d been.”

“Why didn’t he tell the regular law?”

“I don’t think he’s had a good time with the local police. That’s why he was in South Dakota.”

“But he saw your cute new goatee and decided to trust you right there and then?”

Zandt looked away. “Hoped you hadn’t noticed.”

“Man, I noticed. And I haven’t even
ripping the piss out of it.”

“Nina likes it.”

“Probably likes leather purses too. Doesn’t mean you got to wear one on your head. So where is this Joseph guy now?”

“Gone. He has two hundred dollars in his pocket and I don’t think he’ll be talking to anyone. He was spooked enough already. He thought he’d seen a spirit or something.” Zandt shook his head, as if he found that kind of thing too stupid for words.

I looked away before he could see the expression on my face.


indeed have been on another planet. Maybe once there had been a reason to come here. There wasn’t now. There were no trees, only sharp hills and shallow canyons and small
bushes and grasses pale among the remnants of last week’s snow. The rocks were gray and flat brown and looked like an icy watercolor hung in someone else’s hallway. The sky had gone a deeper gray and clouds lay on the hills and in valleys like white moss. The only thing that drew the eye was the road.

Zandt kept his eyes on the clock. After another ten miles he started driving more slowly and watching along the side. Eventually he saw what he was looking for and pulled over.

“This is as close as we’re going to get.”

He drove straight over the hard shoulder and down onto a track I hadn’t even noticed. We bumped along this as it led down the side of a hill until it was beneath the level of the road, and then climbed around the side of an outcrop. It didn’t look like anyone had come this way in a very long time. Within half a mile the grade was getting steep in all directions, and I was hanging on to my seat with both hands.

Zandt checked that we weren’t visible from the road and stopped the truck. He got out, and I did too. It was very quiet.

I looked around. “This is it?”

“No, but we’re going to have to walk the rest.”

“Never been much of a hiker.”

“Why am I not surprised?” He pulled something out of his jacket that looked like a personal organizer with a fat slug lying on the top.


He nodded. “I want to be able to find our way back.”

He logged the car’s position and pointed up the rise. The view was the same as we’d had all afternoon, except now there was no road. “Let’s get going.”

We followed the remainder of the track until it petered out around the back of the hill, and then walked out into nothing. Behind the hill was another, the far slope of which led down into a shallow canyon. We made our way down, mist settling around us, and up out the other side. Then it was pretty flat for quite a while. There were no trees. The
ground was hard and rocky and bare except for tufts of the yellowish grass and more of the pale blue-green ground shrubs. Walking made a sound like someone eating Doritos with their mouth shut.

Zandt kicked at a plant. “What is this stuff?”

“Sagebrush, I’m assuming. Though to be honest I know shit about high plains flora.”

“Fucking pain in the ass to walk through.”

“It surely is.”

We kept on walking, clouds gathering around us until we couldn’t see more than thirty yards in any direction. John consulted his satellite positioning gadget every now and then, but this didn’t feel like a place that had destinations. It was dry and cold, not bitter, but with the kind of steady chill that makes it hard to remember being any other way. I tried to imagine people living out here once, and couldn’t. It must have been long ago. The land felt like it didn’t want anyone bothering it anymore.

After a good while I looked at my watch. It was after four o’clock, and the light was beginning to turn. A sly wind began to pick up. The sun was a silver coin in the mist, hazy and starting to tarnish.

“I know,” John said, before I’d even spoken. “The mark on the map is all I have. We’re there, or thereabouts.”

“We’re aren’t anywhere,” I said. “I’ve never seen a place that is so not somewhere in my entire life.”

We kept on walking nonetheless. The mist got thicker, sometimes a gray blanket, every now and then suddenly hollowing out to form a hidden inner channel that caused the sun to make it glow from within like a golden vision. We found ourselves walking along a low crest, the foot of another hill rising like a gray-green sand dune ten yards to the right; the lip of a canyon over on the left.

We didn’t seem to be making much progress but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have anywhere else to be.



“This is bullshit,” he said. He was pissed. I didn’t blame
him, but he seemed edgy too, restlessly angry underneath. The dark smudges under his eyes didn’t speak of someone who’d been sleeping well. I hoped his contact would have the sense not to go back to the bar in South Dakota for a while.

“Your gizmo got a backlight?”

“Of course.”

“So we’ve got more time yet.” I started off again.

He stayed put. “Ward, I don’t think it’s worth it. Even in a straight line we’re forty minutes off the road, maybe more. We’ve circled around the entire area covered by the mark.”

I turned. “And where did he make that cross? Where was he?”

“In the bar.” From only a few yards away, Zandt’s voice sounded as if it had to fight its way through the mist.

“Right. A week and many hundred miles from when he was here, in other words. How drunk was he at the time?”

“He said he was sure.”

“He’s probably sure he can handle his drink too. You take a witness’s word for anything back when you were a cop?”

“Of course not,” he snapped. He pulled out his cell phone and glared at it. “No signal. We’re a long way off the map out here, Ward.”

“In every possible way. But . . .” I stopped talking, as the world seemed to take a sidestep. “What the fuck is that?”

He came level with me and we stood shoulder to shoulder for a moment. Then he saw it. “Holy shit.”

A man was walking across the ground a little way ahead of us, just far enough that his edges were blurred by the mist. He was dressed in a gray business suit and black office shoes that were inappropriate for the environment. You could just hear the sound of his jacket flapping in the wind. The set of his stride was purposeful, as if he had somewhere to be. Despite this, he wasn’t moving.

I took a step forward, stopped. Reached for my gun, and then left it. Thought again, and got it out anyway.

Separating slightly, we approached the walking man.

He looked to be in his late fifties. He had gray hair that had recently been well cut. It was now plastered down over his head. His hands and face were an unattractive color. Once white, now a variable palette of blue and harsh pink, shading in places toward some purple-brown color I couldn’t name. A jagged cut gouged across his neck as far up as his left ear: the knife had taken off a section, giving him a curiously lopsided appearance. His upper lip was also missing. There was a smell coming off him, but it wasn’t unbearable. It had been very cold, and dry.

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