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Who is Claire Gravesend?
So wonders PI Lee Crowe when he finds her dead, in a fine cocktail dress, on top of a Rolls Royce, in the most dangerous neighborhood in San Francisco. Claire’s mother, Olivia, is one of the richest people in California. She doesn’t believe the coroner: her daughter did not kill herself. Olivia hires Crowe, who–having just foiled a federal case against a cartel kingpin–is eager for distraction. But the questions about the Gravesend family pile up fast.
First, the autopsy reveals round scars running down Claire’s spine, old marks Olivia won’t explain. Then, Crowe visits Claire’s Boston townhouse and has to fend off an armed intruder. Is it the Feds out for revenge? Or is this connected to the Gravesends? He leaves Boston afraid, but finds his way to Claire’s secret San Francisco pied-à-terre. It’s there that his questions come to a head. Sleeping in an upstairs bedroom, he finds Claire–her face, her hair, her scars–and as far as he can tell, she’s alive. And Crowe’s back at the start:
Who is Claire Gravesend?
Copyright © 2019 by Jonathan Moore
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to email@example.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Moore, Jonathan, 1977- author.
Title: Blood relations / Jonathan Moore.
Description: Boston ; New York : Mariner Books, 2019. | "A Mariner original."
Identifiers: LCCN 2018033134 (print) | LCCN 2018035448 (ebook) |
ISBN 9781328990211 (ebook) | ISBN 9781328987815 (trade paper)
Subjects: | BISAC: FICTION / Technological. | GSAFD: Mystery Fiction.
Classification: LCC PS3613.O56275 (ebook) | LCC PS3613.O56275 B58 2019 (print) | DDC 813/.6—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018033134
Cover design by Mark R. Robinson
Cover photograph © Cometary / Getty Images
Author photograph © Maria Y. Wang
For my daughter, Sally Mahina Moore Wang
The first time I saw Claire Gravesend she was already dead. She hadn't been that way long. She was lying in front of the Refugio Apartments on Turk Street, still warm, still with color on her cheeks. I put two fingers on the left side of her throat and confirmed what was already obvious. I didn't consider calling 911. The last thing I wanted to do right then was talk to the police. And anyway, it was too late to do her any good.
Even as I watched, the rain was pooling over her open eyes. If there was any part of her that could still see, she was looking up from beneath an ocean. The surface was too far away to reach. She'd taken her last breath and now she was sinking, bringing with her everything she'd ever known.
Of course, I didn't know her name yet. I didn't know what she would do to my life. It could have been a passing encounter. An unfortunate sight on a Tenderloin street that was already inclined toward misfortune. But instead I took out my camera, and ultimately that was what drew me into it. I only saw her in the flesh for a few minutes, and after that it was just photographs. Pieces of her life, hints. The traces were scattered like shards of broken glass.
In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised when that encounter wasn't the end of it. Once you brush against someone like Claire Gravesend, you're marked. Either you begin to turn the wheels, or the gears move on their own. And when the axles start to spin, the motion is self-perpetuating. An eternal cycle, always renewing.
What I can't shake is that image of eternity. Or it could be fate I'm talking about—the idea that your name and the course of your life were set down in stone before the Big Bang's first spark. That you could live forever and not escape the path that had been laid out for you.
But that's only because of what happened later.
Let me back up and explain a few things.
For five weeks that spring, I had been living in the Westchester, a last-stop hotel in the Tenderloin's rotten heart. I'm not wealthy, but I do better than skid row. It was business that brought me there. I was on a job, and so for the entire month of May I'd been living between a semiretired prostitute and an unrepentant needle user. We shared the bathroom down the hall. The building had thin walls, and so we also shared every possible sound. Outwardly, we had some things in common. We all had our reasons to avoid the desk clerk. We wasted no money on laundry. The nightshift man at the nearest liquor store could have picked any of us out from a line-up. But unlike me, my neighbors probably hadn't pried up their floorboards to plant microphones and pinhole cameras on the ceilings of the tenants who lived beneath them. They didn't spend their nights following whispered conversations, writing coded names in a notebook. My neighbors were more honest than that.
In the Westchester, the elevator is out of service and the shaft is full of trash: syringes and liquor bottles, adult diapers and cardboard boxes from Meals on Wheels. The stairs are dark, but they work. They lead down to a wrought-iron gate, which opens to Turk Street. In the mornings, before sunrise, I'd take the stairs and push through the gate, and wander around a few blocks to see if I was being followed. When I was sure that I was alone—and you might be surprised how very alone you can be in the Tenderloin, just before dawn—I'd walk toward the Civic Center. I have a two-room office over there, close to the courthouses. Courthouses draw the kinds of people who need what I sell.
But for five weeks, I'd only had one client. I was running the clock twenty-four hours a day. I'd get to the office early and sort through the mail. I'd check my messages and pay whatever bills needed to be paid. I had to keep up with my life, such as it was. I'd call the man who received my invoices and signed my checks. And then I'd slink back to my listening post in the Westchester before first light.
That's what I was heading to do on the first Tuesday in June when I pushed out of the gate and checked the cars parked on Turk. I was most concerned about windowless vans. They're the easiest to picture: JOE'S PLUMBING stenciled on the doors; a half dozen FBI and DEA agents hiding inside, crouched around video monitors and talking into radios. But if they were there, I didn't see them. I did a loop around the block, and when I was satisfied that all was clear, I turned west, toward Van Ness and my office.
I was halfway into my walk when I saw the car. It was parked on the sidewalk across the street, directly in front of the Refugio Apartments. Not just any car, but a Rolls Royce Wraith. It had recently undergone a transformation from brand new to totally destroyed. I assumed it was an accident and crossed the street to get a better look. Professional curiosity. I was one step removed from the ambulance-chasing business. But drawing closer, I realized my initial impression wasn't quite right. The car hadn't been hit from the front, or from either side.
The car's chrome grille and smoke-gray hood were immaculate. Its roof was caved in as far down as its gold-plated door handles. Lying inside the crumpled indentation was a perfect blonde. She wore a black cocktail dress, sheer and shimmery in the streetlights. I couldn't see any blood except on her left foot, where it had run down the back of her calf and onto her heel. Her hands were folded across her chest, and her eyes were closed. Her hair was spread in a fan across the Wraith's roof. She had an evening bag looped around her right wrist. One foot was bare—maybe she'd lost a shoe on impact. Her toenails were painted white, like the inside of a shell.
I looked around. Across the street, on a bed of flattened boxes, lay a man. He wore a full-body black snowsuit, and he was either asleep or unconscious. He was either asleep or unconscious a lot. Five weeks on Turk Street, and I could smell Snowsuit Man from two blocks away if the wind was right. If the sound of the woman hitting the car had woken him up, it hadn't disturbed him so much that he stayed awake. And he and I were the only people around, at least at street level. There was no way to account for whoever might be watching from a dark window, and I didn't even try.
I stepped closer. The woman wasn't breathing. I reached out, carefully, and put my fingers beneath her chin. I pressed gently against her throat, searching for her carotid. She was warm, but there was no pulse. I looked up and down the sidewalk again, then back at the Refugio.
Fourteen stories. Hundred-year-old brickwork forming arches and columns on the lower two floors. There were no open windows above the car, but there were ledges. She could have inched onto one and then shut the window. Or she could have gone off the roof. But none of that explained her—her patent leather evening bag, her diaphanous dress, and the insanely expensive car she'd crushed when she landed. None of that made sense on Turk Street, in front of the Refugio. Fourteen floors of bedbugs, and false fire alarms. Police cars skidding up in the middle of the night to break up domestics or serve no-knock warrants. It was better than the Westchester, but not by much.
I backed away and crouched on the sidewalk. Smashed windshield glass crunched underfoot, and I thought better of kneeling. I set down my backpack and opened it. When I left the Westchester, I didn't like to leave anything in plain view. The pinpoint cameras and microphones were hidden, and some of the recording equipment could fit under the floorboards. But I never left my laptop in the room, and I never left my camera. I took out the Nikon now and set it up for a night portrait, no flash.
I heard a siren, but in the Tenderloin that could mean anything.
I stood up and snapped five shots of the suicide blonde on her Wraith deathbed. Then I backed up ten paces to get her with the apartment, and the street. You could say my job is taking photographs. Most of the time, no one sees my work except my clients. But if the opportunity presents itself, I'm not above selling a picture to the Chronicle, or any other paying outlet. After the divorce, and especially since coming back here, I've been living between the lines. I take what I can get. When it comes to pictures, I get a lot, because I'm often in the right place.
I saw the man when I lowered the camera. He'd been coming along the sidewalk, rolling a black cart lashed with silver boxes. But he'd come to a full stop, and was staring at the car in openmouthed shock. I couldn't tell whether he could see the girl or not. It took him a while to even notice me, and then he sized me up, looking from me to my camera to the crushed car.
"Who the hell are you?"
"Nobody," I said. "A guy taking a walk. Who are you?"
He didn't answer, but stepped closer. Glass crunched under his running shoes. He was wearing canvas pants and a flannel shirt. A pocket-laden vest over that. His ball cap bore the name of a production company I'd never heard of. For a moment, I thought I'd stumbled onto a movie set. But there were no lights, and no white trailers. No sawhorses blocking off the street parking. And the dead woman was no stage prop.
"What happened?" the man asked when he finally found enough breath to speak.
"Like this when I got here," I said. "Is this your car?"
He shook his head.
"I'm fucked. I'm so completely fucked."
He pulled out his cell phone and began scrolling through its screen. Maybe deciding who to call first.
"Was she with you?" I asked.
I tilted my head toward the car, and the man crept closer. He saw her and turned away quickly.
"You don't know her?"
"I've never seen her before."
I stepped sideways to frame the shot, and when I had the production company guy lined up with the girl and the car behind him, I raised the camera and took his picture.
"Hey!" he said, turning to me. "What the hell?"
"For the papers."
I started down Turk. He didn't call after me, and he didn't follow. At the end of the next block I came on a parked panel truck. The production company's name was painted on the side. There was a college-aged kid in the cargo area, using a flashlight to sort through boxes of video gear. If it was just the two of them, and the loaned-out Wraith, they ran a lean operation. I stepped off the curb and put my hand on the back of the truck.
"Good morning," I said, and the kid finally looked up. "What's with the car?"
"Photo shoot," he said. "Magazine ad."
He turned back to sorting his gear. He'd set aside six white umbrellas and was now probably digging for tripods and remote flash boxes. Just going about his job as though nothing was inherently weird about using Section 8 housing to sell a half-million-dollar car. For all I knew, they were going to drag Snowsuit Man over and use him as a prop.
"You might want to lock this up and go check on your boss," I said. "He's got a problem."
"And bring your cell phone, so you can call 911."
That got him looking up again. I shot his picture, using a flash this time so I could get his face inside the dark truck. Then, for good measure, I got the truck's license plate before continuing on.
The door to my office was up a set of stairs between the entrances to a Vet Center and a credit union. I had a little sign hanging down from the portico.
LELAND CROWE AGENCY
I climbed the stairs and unlocked the door, using my foot to sweep aside the previous day's mail. I went through the reception room—empty, because I had no receptionist—and into my office. I slotted my camera's memory card into my desktop computer and spent ten minutes sorting and editing my photographs. My client could wait for a moment.
The suicide blonde was beautiful, and so were my shots.
The car's roof had caught her and folded partway around her, holding her arms and legs in place. Because she wasn't sprawled on the pavement, she didn't look like a corpse. She was utterly composed. A woman asleep on a bed of steel. I had a range of exposures and angles—shots that caught the blood on her foot and the shattered glass and the curves beneath her dress that might play well in a tabloid if she turned out to be famous, and shots that captured the scene but blurred out the blood, for the family papers.
I got on the phone and started calling photo editors I'd worked with. I wasn't desperate for cash just then. With my summer assignment in the Westchester Hotel, I was as flush as I'd ever been. But just one lean, hungry winter will develop lifelong habits. You don't pass an opportunity; you don't leave any food on the table.
So I called the editors, starting with the ones who had the most cash, and I haggled.
An hour later, I had signed, scanned and emailed a boilerplate contract. My photograph would be online by nine, and on grocery store racks in three days. I'd get a thousand dollars from Just Now!magazine, with a 200 percent kicker if the woman turned out to be a "Person of Consequence"—a carefully defined term on page three that had probably been drafted by a lawyer on Wilshire Boulevard who didn't find that task any stranger than selling a Rolls Royce by parking it on skid row. I could pretend to sneer all I wanted, but I'd cash the check when it came.
With that done, I picked up the phone again and called Jim Gardner, the attorney who'd bought all my time this summer. He answered on the first ring, already at his desk at six fifty in the morning. Of course he was. He'd just started a trial, and the prosecution's star witness was about to take the stand.
"Good morning," I said, jumping in to cut off his routine greeting. "Just in time. I have something."
There was a beat of silence. He was likely considering how he wanted to sound if the FBI had a tap on his line. Which wasn't an entirely remote possibility. Not if the government had any idea what Jim had been paying me to do this summer.
"Are you on the clock, Mr. Crowe?"
When he was in trial mode, Jim Gardner's most mundane questions began to sound leather-bound and consequential. He'd given his opening statement yesterday, so he was in full swing. And he knew he might be playing to a larger audience.
"Yes, counselor," I said. "This call is privileged and confidential."
"Not enough for me. You've had coffee?"
At the Westchester, there was a guy on the third floor who sold crack cocaine out of his room. He bagged it in condoms cadged from the API Wellness Center on Polk Street. That was as close as my hotel got to coffee.
"The concierge recommended I look elsewhere this morning."
I hung up. I didn't need to ask where we were meeting. The place was pre-set.
"Last night we had an in-chamber conference," Jim was saying. "It didn't go the way I'd hoped."
We were sitting on either side of the manager's desk inside an abandoned auto body shop. Cobwebbed glass walls looked out on an oil-stained concrete floor. The only illumination came from a skylight. A pigeon was walking back and forth up there. Tap tap tap, tap tap tap.
Jim had a key to this place because someone in his firm had handled the foreclosure. We met here often enough that I had a key too.
"Nammar's calling DeCanza first thing this morning," Jim said. "He's a good prosecutor, so I thought he'd go all day with him. But he's going to finish at three."
"You'll recess after that?"
Jim swept his hand through his hair. He had gray hair that curled as it grew out. With his deep drawl, his broad shoulders, and his heavy college ring, people probably mistook him for a football coach.
"The judge wants to stick to her schedule. Or she just wants to stick it to me. I don't have a good enough read on her to know which it is. But either way, after Nammar's direct, I have to start my cross. No recess. So I hope you have something."
By stopping at three, Nammar was forcing Jim to split his cross-examination across two days. The jury would hear two hours at the end of the day. Then they'd go home and forget it, and Jim would spend the night wondering whether he needed to hit those points again or call it a loss and move on. I had a solution for that problem.
"Nammar paid a visit last night," I said. "Agent White tagged along. They stayed with DeCanza three and a half hours, coaching him. Threatening him. I've got audio and video—"
"I can't have that. I don't want it. Delete it."
"But tell me all about it, by all means."
"DeCanza's going to bury Lorca."
"Who's Lorca?" Jim asked. "I don't know anyone named Lorca."
"If you say so."
There was no point arguing with him. Jim had picked this abandoned office because it wasn't wired and the feds didn't know about it. But there were lines he wouldn't cross. His client had a story, and Jim's job was to sell it. Anywhere and everywhere.
"Tell me about DeCanza," he said.
"He was high up. Second in command, basically. Lorca—your guy—wasn't just a voice on the phone, or a rumor. He was a face in the room. They worked side by side. So he knows everything. Which you already knew."
I walked Jim through the main points. DeCanza had started the way they all had. A mule, moving packages north across the border. After three trips without getting busted, they trusted him to carry cash. But he was a reader, and a thinker. When the DEA starting using listening stations and ground-penetrating radar to find the border tunnels, DeCanza hired men out of Baja boatyards and set up shop in the desert. Their first submarine was forty-six feet long and sank in the Sea of Cortez. Their second was ninety feet long and made three trips before its crew scuttled it in view of a Coast Guard cutter. But by then, DeCanza and Lorca had suborned so many customs agents, they didn't need submarines. They could load their products onto commercial airliners and fly them straight into New York. They had replaced cash with cryptocurrency, which could be moved invisibly.
If he'd been in an American corporation instead of an international cartel, DeCanza would have an impressive title. Chief Financial Officer, Vice President of Operations—something like that. But the cartel didn't bother with formal titles. Except the one he had now, a title no one wanted: rat.
Without DeCanza, the government's case was entirely circumstantial. It could all be explained away. Jim's client was a San Francisco businessman. The name Lorca wasn't written on his California driver's license. It wasn't written anywhere. Which meant that if DeCanza vanished, so did the government's shot at a conviction. People who rubbed Lorca the wrong way had a history of disappearing. This summer, I had been playing a dangerous game. I'd tracked down a turncoat rat and put eyes and ears in his room. If Lorca had known about the Westchester, the prosecution would be short a star witness. I wasn't looking to become an accessory to murder. So to protect myself, and Jim, I'd only told him what he could afford to know.
"It's a nice roadmap," Jim said. "But you're not lifting my spirits. What do you really have?"
I'd gotten it a week ago. I'd held it back, but I'd always meant to tell him at the right time.
"You wouldn't have wanted it too soon," I told him. "So I kept it, and saved you an ethical dilemma."
"I can sort those out on my own."
"Not your call when I'm involved," I said. "Which means before I give this to you, you've got to agree on how you'll use it."
"Either you put it in today's cross, or you forget I told you. If it's not today, it never gets used. Use it right now—no warning, no heads-up to your client—and it'll give you a shot. If he doesn't know until the government hears it, there won't be any more blood on your hands tomorrow than there is right now."
Of course Jim would agree, even if he didn't know what I was talking about. He needed what I had. And he probably understood that I was offering leverage. He didn't need to be a genius to guess the form it took. There was one currency that traded above all others on the leverage market. Innocent lives. Women were gold, and children were diamonds.
"They've got DeCanza living like a prisoner," I said. "He's their witness, but that doesn't mean they like him."
"Nothing new there."
"He hasn't seen the sky since mid-May. He's in a Tenderloin shithole. Calling it a safe house is a stretch. They bring him his meals twice a day. They check on him every two hours, plus he's wearing a GPS tracker on his ankle. But they'll take it off when he comes to court today—and if you ask, he'll deny it existed. They'll give him immunity, but it's contingent on a conviction. Which means they really have him by the balls—if he testifies the way they want, but your guy walks, there's no deal."
Jim was tapping two fingers on the banged-up desktop.
"I can get into that," he said. "Even if he denies it, claims they're putting him up at the Holiday Inn, it'll chip away at his credibility. But you've got more."
Of course I had more. I'd be embarrassed to send Jim my invoices if I couldn't give him more than that.
"He's been begging for a phone," I said. "For a month, every day, he asks for one."
"What's he want it for?"
"He won't tell them. But he told me, because he talks to himself," I said. "He wants to talk to his wife."
"She's supposed to be dead."
I made Jim wait a bit. I blew on my coffee and sipped it. I checked my phone.
"You're talking about the thing in Mexico City," I said. "The apartment house that blew up."
"Two snitches saw her on the balcony."
"She was on the seventh floor, and they were a couple blocks away. Did you hear about a DNA test?"
Jim stared at me, processing that.
"Does Nammar know?" he finally asked.
"Not a clue."
His fingers stopped tapping.
"How do you know all this?"
"I gave DeCanza what he wanted," I said. "I gave him a phone."
It had been a relatively straightforward operation. Easy, and yet the dirtiest thing I'd ever done.
DeCanza had regular visits from half a dozen FBI agents and three assistant United States attorneys, including Nammar. He'd asked each of his visitors for a phone, and had always been rebuffed. But if one of them broke rank and gave him a phone in secret, there were enough people in and out the door for anonymity and deniability. So I waited until he'd walked down the hall for the toilet, and then I went downstairs, picked his lock with a bump key and a screwdriver, and left a cell phone on his bed.
Back upstairs, I took off my latex gloves and watched from the camera hidden in DeCanza's ceiling. His quarters were as tiny as mine; when he returned from the toilet, it took him all of three seconds to notice the phone. He looked around the room and went to the window. He stood perfectly still for a full minute, his head down. Then he put the phone under his mattress.
Three days later, he still hadn't used it. So I waited until he went for his shower, and I bumped his lock again and left him a fifth of whiskey. Back upstairs, in crisp black-and-white, I watched him find the bottle and inspect the seal. He didn't flush it or hide it, or pace the room in consternation. He cracked it open, took a single sniff, and then started drinking.
Two hours later, he lifted the mattress and pulled out the phone. I watched him turn it in his hands. I watched him switch it on. He stared at it for a long time. And then, from memory, he dialed a number.
Of course it was a trap.
The phone was one half of a pair I'd bought in Chinatown. Over drinks at a booth in the San Lung Lounge, I'd paid a freelance hacker to sync them. He was finished with the job before he was finished with his Mai Tai. I handed him an envelope of twenty-dollar bills, and that was it.
So when DeCanza dialed his wife, I watched and listened in real time.
He should have known better. No long-term survivor of the Witness Protection Program would ever lay hands on a smartphone. He wasn't cut out for this. I was just saving him time and protracted misery.
- On Sale
- Jun 18, 2019
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Hachette Book Group