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A Wild and Lonely Place
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The bestselling author of Till the Butchers Cut Him Down presents her latest mystery starring Saron McCone. Investigating a terrorist bombing at the Consulate of an Arab Emirate, Sharon is thinking only of the million-dollar-reward–until she meets the consul general’s daughter. When the girl disappears, Sharon risks everything to save her.
Copyright © 1995 by Marcia Muller
All rights reserved.
Originally published in hardcover by Mysterious Press
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.
The Grand Central Publishing name and logo are registered trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
First eBook Edition: April 2009
I had just left Adah Joslyn's office at the Diplo-bomber Task Force headquarters when I ran into Gage Renshaw.
As I walked toward the elevator of the decrepit Federal Building annex on Eddy Street, I spotted him turning away from the drinking fountain and brushing at some water drops on his rumpled blue tie. There was a dark stain on the lapel of his equally rumpled gray suit that might also have been water but could just as well be the remains of some long-past meal eaten on the run. Gage had the ability to go for days without noticing such things, but of course he noticed me instantly. His dark eyebrows quirked up and his mouth widened in a smile that gave him a distinctly satanic look.
"Well, Sharon McCone," he said. "What brings you here—as if I couldn't guess?"
"Hello, Gage." I nodded pleasantly enough and kept walking. The conversation with Joslyn that I'd just concluded had disturbed me, and I was in no mood to spar with an old adversary—even one whom I'd forgiven most of his transgressions.
Renshaw stepped in front of me and placed his hand over the elevator's call buttons. "Visiting the SFPD's representative on the task force?"
I looked pointedly at my watch. It was only a little after one, and I had a long gap in my schedule, but I hoped Renshaw would take the hint.
"Hear anything interesting while you were in there?" he asked.
"Only that the TV special last night brought out the usual nut cases." I peeled his hand off the call buttons and punched Down. The single elevator was absurdly slow; I leaned against the wall and crossed my arms, prepared to suffer Renshaw's curiosity until it came.
He regarded me through his dark-rimmed glasses, cool gray eyes amused. The dim light from the fixture above our heads cast shadows on the bony planes of his face and made him look like a middle-aged Abe Lincoln. He said, "Of course, you wouldn't tell me if you had—heard anything interesting, I mean."
"Of course. And if I were to ask you why you're here, you wouldn't tell me, either."
"I think our motives are fairly obvious, and similar. Every investigator in town is whoring after the million-dollar reward the feds've posted for information leading to the bomber."
Now there was a false note if I'd ever heard one. Gage's firm, Renshaw and Kessell International, specialized in corporate security and counter-terrorism services, and a million dollars was nothing to them, compared to the handsome retainers they collected. His very presence in San Francisco was suspect, as he worked out of RKI's world headquarters in La Jolla.
I didn't comment, though, just raised my guard an inch or two and waited to see where this conversation was going.
Renshaw came over and leaned against the wall next to me. His white forelock—startling in contrast to his shaggy dark mane—flopped onto his brow; he tossed it back with a practiced twist of his head. "The figure one million does have a nice ring, Sharon."
"Not much chance of one individual claiming it, though."
"In my experience, an investigation like this requires teamwork."
"Meaning you might be better off joining forces with an organization that has greater resources than yours."
"An organization such as RKI."
"We've got capabilities you've only dreamed of."
"Then why on earth would you want to co-opt me?"
"Well, there is your connection with the task force. You can't convince me that Inspector Joslyn hasn't been feeding you information."
She had, but Renshaw didn't need to know that. I pushed away from the wall and punched the call button again.
"Besides," Renshaw added, "you and I have worked well together in the past."
I stared at him, astonished. "Worked together? You tried to use me to get a lead on Ripinsky—so you could kill him!"
"And you used our money to save him. Touché. Anyway"—he waved his hand dismissively—"all that's in the past. Ripinsky's a partner in the firm now. He, Kessell, and I have reached an understanding. You and he are…well, whatever you are to each other. That makes us practically family."
"You and I are not family. We will never be family. And McCone Investigations doesn't enter into cooperative arrangements with firms whose practices are…incompatible with ours."
Renshaw tried to look wounded at my thinly veiled slur upon RKI's professional ethics, but the effort was lost on me. I'd long before learned that he was incapable of being insulted. If anything, he took pride in his dubious transactions and extralegal shortcuts.
"Okay," he said after a moment, "let me make you a proposition. Come back to the shop with me, take a look at what we're got on these bombings. If it intrigues you, you share what you've got with us, and we work together. If you're still not interested, the subject is closed."
The elevator finally creaked to a stop, its doors wheezing ominously as they opened. I stepped on, and Renshaw followed.
"Why such largess, Gage?"
"Oh, let's say for old times' sake."
"Don't give me that. You must need my connection to the task force very badly. And it isn't because, as you put it, you're whoring after a million-dollar reward."
He hesitated. "Okay, it's not. But come back to the shop anyway. What've you got to lose?"
"Only my self-respect."
"Thanks a lot." But already he'd intrigued me. I said, "I can be there in half an hour. But remember—I don't owe you a thing."
"Not yet, anyway."
* * *
As I drove to RKI's building on Green Street between the foot of Telegraph Hill and the Embarcadero, I thought about my earlier conversation with Adah Joslyn.
My friend was slumped behind her littered desk when I entered her office, a pencil skewered through her thick dark curls, a scowl creasing her honey-tan face. Even on what was obviously a bad day, she managed to look elegant. Her beautifully tailored jacket and pants had something to do with that, but I'd seen her look the same in sweats. Adah's elegance stemmed from a combination of inner qualities: composure, confidence, assertiveness, her way of meeting the world with a level, honest gaze.
A fifteen-year veteran of the SFPD, Joslyn had been the answer to the prayers of a former chief beset by complaints that the composition of departmental personnel did not reflect that of the community they served. In order to get the media, the mayor, and various citizen-watchdog groups off his back, he'd cast around for a minority figure to award with a high-visibility promotion, and in Joslyn he found her. She was not only half African-American and half Jewish, but also a decorated, talented cop. When she took her place on the elite Homicide detail, she quickly proved that she wasn't there as mere political window dressing and soon won the admiration and respect of her most serious detractors.
A month ago Joslyn had been tapped as one of the department's two full-time representatives on the newly formed Diplo-bomber Task Force. There she joined agents of the FBI, the ATF, and the Postal Service in the search for the individual who had bombed two Washington, D.C., embassies, two cars belonging to foreign diplomats, two homes of delegates to the United Nations, and two consular offices here in San Francisco. In the past five years the bomber had killed three people and badly injured three others. Pressure for his capture from both our own government and foreign powers was enormous.
The pressure must have really been on today; Adah's scowl didn't soften when she saw me. She waved her hand at her desk and said, "Do you believe all this shit?"
I eyed the stacks of message slips, each a different color. "Phone tips?"
"Damn eight-hundred hot line's jammed. One of the callers told the operator he'd been on hold for fifty minutes."
"Anything useful there?"
"Who knows?" She pointed to the largest stack—blue, weighted down by a stapler. "Those're the real whackoid callers—the ones who claim the bomber's an extraterrestrial or Elvis or the ghost of their dead mother-in-law who hated foreigners. The pink pile's tips from folks who sound like they're out to cause somebody trouble—the ones who accuse their boss or a family member or the next-door neighbor. Still, they've got to be checked out. These white ones"— she poked a third pile—"are from what you might call theorists. They're cool, logical, persuasive; they've got it all figured out. Usually they're wrong, but every now and then you spot a glimmer of truth that can lead to a breakthrough. And this yellow bunch're from people whose memories may have been jogged by the TV special—folks who may have noticed something significant at some time and forgotten about it till now."
"And these green ones?"
"First priority. Suspicious callers. Our interviewers have been trained to pick up on certain things; sometimes it's as subtle as a change in vocal tone, other times the person knows one of the details we haven't made public."
"And how soon are you supposed to finish checking them?"
"By my calculations, about an hour ago."
I was silent, overwhelmed by the size of her task.
Joslyn pushed back from the desk, stretched her long legs out in front of her, and sighed. "You know," she said, "I never used to envy you. The long hours you put in, the way the partners in that law firm ragged you, the shit you'd have to take off sleazes—none of that seemed worth the salary you drew. I'd tell myself, 'Hey, compared to McCone's, my life's not so bad. I've got official status, the respect of the community, a good salary and all kinds of benefits.' Woman on the way up, I was, maybe make captain someday."
I leaned on a corner of her desk. "Well, you're still a woman on the way up. And I'm still doing all those things you don't envy me for."
"No, you're not. You've got your own agency now, you call the shots. And me…well, the shield has gotten kind of tarnished."
I frowned questioningly.
"No, nothing like that. I'm still an honest cop. But the shine's definitely off the metal. Official status? Doesn't mean squat. Respect of the community? Forget it. Salary and benefits? I can think of a hundred jobs where I'd do better. And I'm not a woman on the way up anymore."
"I'm pushing forty and still an inspector; that wasn't in my game plan. And after Bart Wallace moved to Vice, I never got a new partner. Somebody's on sick leave, they send in Joslyn to pinch-hit for a while. Somebody's new on the squad, they're temporarily teamed with me. But then the regular partner comes off leave or the new guy learns the ropes and gets assigned to somebody else, and I'm back to operating solo."
"But what about your appointment to this task force? That was a coup."
"Hah!" Her hand swept across the desk, stirring the message slips. "What I got here is paper-shuffling, and what I am is a goddamn clerk for a bunch of federal agents who think they're too good to share their ideas with me. No, the Department stuck me on the task force because years ago they trotted me out as their poster girl, and now they don't know what to do with me. You see, in their hurry to revamp their image, they forgot to look closely at my background check; if they had, they'd've thought twice about promoting a girl from Red Hill." Red Hill was what Adah called Bernal Heights; according to her, it had once been a hotbed of communists.
"You're not saying that Barbara and Rupert—"
"I'm not saying my crazy parents have hurt my career, but they sure haven't helped. You know them. She still goes to her Marxist study group every Wednesday night, and you'll find her on the front line of every lunatic-fringe protest. And he still turns up at every open meeting at City Hall to tell them who and what he doesn't like in local government—which is everybody and everything. I love them and I wouldn't change them, but they're not exactly assets."
I doubted the situation was as grim as she painted it, but it wasn't good, either. "So that's why you asked me for help on this investigation," I said. "You want to crack the case and show them all up."
"I want to hand them the bomber, say 'fuck you,' turn around, and walk away. You help me do that and, like I promised, I'll recommend you for the reward."
Again I was silent. For two weeks now Joslyn had been acting in direct violation of policy. She'd given me copies of reports and files, briefed me on the progress of the investigation. Together we'd brainstormed till both our heads ached. I wanted to crack the case, too—and not only because of the reward or for Adah's sake—but now I wondered if I hadn't been abetting her in a risky and potentially ruinous course of action. Maybe I should back off.
She must have sensed what I was thinking. "McCone, dont't listen to me," she said quickly. "I'm having a bad day, that's all."
"You know that's not all. We need to talk."
"Talk? We've been talking." She hitched her chair up to the desk and glared at me. "I'm out of time for you. Get the hell out of here and let me work. I'll call you when I've got something interesting."
I nodded dubiously and left her along.
Maybe, I thought, it was only the stress of the assignment that was getting to Joslyn. After all, a message was being sent to the task force from local and state government; from SFPD, ATF, FBI, and Postal Service headquarters; from Congress; from the White House itself: the Diplo-bomber is making international relations very iffy; get your asses in gear and find him.
* * *
After circling the surrounding blocks for some fifteen minutes, I finally found a parking space near the looming cliff face of Tel Hill and walked past decorator showrooms and antique shops and small cafés to RKI's renovated brick warehouse. On the sidewalk I paused, however, reluctant to go inside. Even being on the premises made me uneasy.
My feelings weren't due to the type of business they conducted; counter-terrorism contingency planning and hostage-recovery services were necessary for corporations Operating in today's high-risk environment, and if RKI's methods were somewhat unorthodox, they usually worked. Nor were the feelings due to the fact that most of RKI's principals and operatives had murky pasts; my lover, Hy Ripinsky, owned a past that crisscrossed those of Gage Renshaw and Dan Kessell, and now that he'd told me about it, I understood both the forces and the mistakes that had driven him. The potential for violence that I sensed in RKI's people didn't concern me; I'd long ago been forced to recognize the same potential within myself. And as for ethical considerations—well, I paid them a lot of lip service, but as recently as last fall I'd availed myself of the firm's help on a difficult case.
No, what really bothered me was that I might be becoming too much like those people.
There was a time when I'd viewed everyone—both victim and perpetrator—through idealistic, compassionate eyes. No longer. There was a time when I'd gone strictly by the book, but then I'd found that the book was something that a lot of people in my business talked about but few had read. Toward the beginning of my career, remorse over having killed a man in order to save a friend's life had dogged me for years. But last spring I'd cold-bloodedly shot another man and called it justice. I wasn't sure that I liked the woman I was becoming, but she was formed of life experiences I couldn't eradicate. You work with what you are, I often told myself on those dark, lonely nights when my misdeeds caught up with me.
I told myself that now, crossed the sidewalk, and pushed through the building's lobby entrance. The armed guard at the desk looked up from his closed-circuit TV monitors, surprised. "Mr. Ripinsky's not in the office this week, Ms. McCone."
I set my bag and briefcase on the desk and went over to the security gate. "I'm here to see Mr. Renshaw."
"Sorry, he didn't tell me he was expecting you." He made a cursory check of my things, then buzzed me in. Let me get your badge."
Since Hy had struck his deal with Renshaw and Kessell last winter, they'd kept my photo I.D. on file with those belonging to frequent visitors to the San Francisco offices. Not that I used it all that much; Hy seldom used any of RKI's facilities, preferring to work out of his ranch in Mono County or the cottage we jointly owned on the Mendocino coast. He was, in fact, at the cottage right now, and I planned to join him on the weekend.
The guard handed me the badge, and I attached it to my lapel. "Mr. Renshaw's in the projection room," he told me. "You know the way?"
I nodded and went through an unmarked door and down a long white corridor.
Renshaw was waiting for me in the last row of padded chairs, his feet propped on the one in front of it like a teenager at a double feature. I half expected him to be clutching a grease-stained bag of buttered popcorn. Wordlessly he indicated I should sit beside him, then fiddled with the buttons on the console between us. The lights dimmed and the projection screen shimmered.
I'd sat here before, in this exact place, the day he told me he intended to kill Hy.
"Do you mind if we go over the chronology of these bombings?" he asked.
"That wouldn't hurt."
A slide flashed onto the screen: a large, austere building, its windows blown out. Glass and rubble littered the foreground, and a military guard stared down at it as if he wondered where it had come from.
Renshaw said, "Brazilian Embassy, Washington, D.C. March, nineteen ninety. The bomb was in a package delivered by mail, postmarked D.C. No fatalities, but the clerk who opened it was disabled."
A second slide replaced the first, showing a plain sheet of paper that bore a single sentence: VENGEANCE IS MINE. The letters were Italic—Palatino Italic, to be exact. Joslyn had told me they were a brand of rub-on lettering commonly sold in art and office-supply stores from coast to coast.
"His message isn't very original," Renshaw commented, "but he makes his point. This was also postmarked D.C., arrived at the embassy the day after the bombing. No fingerprints, nothing distinctive about the paper or the envelope."
"As was the case with what they recovered of the packaging the bomb came in."
The next slide showed a black Lincoln Continental standing in front of a restaurant called Fino. The car's doors had been blown off, and a body in a dark suit lay twisted on the backseat, legs extending toward the bloody pavement.
I said, "Also D.C. August of ninety. The car belonged to the Saudi Arabian ambassador. He and some of his attachés were inside the restaurant. The package was on the backseat; apparently the driver noticed it and investigated. The same message, in the same typeface, on the same stationery stock, was delivered to the embassy the following day. Again postmarked D.C."
Renshaw clicked slowly through the next few slides. "He hit the office wing of the Pakistani Embassy in November of that year. No fatalities, same message the next day. Now we move to New York City."
Another slide: a torn-up living room. Large mirrors on its walls were shattered; their shards reflected a jumble of ruined furnishings. A primitive wood carving stood in the foreground, decapitated.
I said, "Co-op apartment in the east eighties belonging to an official of Ghana's United Nations delegation. The bomb was inside a florist's box delivered by messenger. The messenger was never identified, and all the florist's personnel were checked out and eliminated as suspects. No fatalities, but the maid who accepted delivery was badly injured."
Renshaw said, "January of ninety-one, right?"
"Right. The usual message arrived at Ghana's U.N. offices the following day, postmarked midtown Manhattan."
Renshaw kept advancing the slides. "The bomber really had it in for the U.N. He blew up the head of the Yemeni delegation's car in June of ninety-one, severely crippling the son of a minor official. In February of ninety-two the Mexican ambassador's apartment was hit. A lot of destruction, but no fatalities or injuries there. In December of ninety-two the entire Panamanian delegation was at a Christmas banquet at a midtown restaurant. A messenger with a package for them seemed overly eager to leave; restaurant management got suspicious and called the bomb squad, but the man got away and was never I.D.'d. Of course, the usual message arrived after each incident."
"And then he took a couple of years off."
"Until last December."
The next slide showed the bombed-out facade of the storefront offices of the Libyan Trade Commission on Howard Street here in the city.
"One fatality," I said, "again, the clerk who opened the package. It was mailed from the main post office, as was the message that followed."
Another slide: an office with furnishings knocked helter-skelter. There was a big hole in the rear wall, and on the floor chalk marks outlined where a body had fallen.
Renshaw said, "Belgian consular offices. Last month. Bomb and message both mailed from the Lombard Street substation. One fatality."
He left the slide on the screen, and we contemplated the destruction silently. I couldn't imagine what he was thinking, but I was entertaining emotions, rather than intellectual concepts.
Somewhere in this city was a person who methodically plotted and carried out monstrous crimes. A person who'd gotten away with them time and again. He could be any nationality, could come from any walk of life. Could look as ordinary and harmless as the wrappings that concealed the bombs. Could kill or maim again at any moment. The thought of such a creature walking the same streets as the people I cared about chilled me through and through.
Renshaw had only guessed at part of my interest in the Diplo-bomber case. I wasn't sure if even Joslyn was aware of it. Yes, a million-dollar reward was attractive; I'd be a fool if I didn't want to claim it. But there was more.
Last August a hired killer had blown up a house that had stood on the Mendocino coast property that now belonged to Hy and me. I had been his target, but someone else had died in my place, and other lives had been ripped apart as a result. Time had passed, people had healed, the rubble had been cleared from the cliff top; the place seemed beautiful and serene once more. But often at night I could sense violent ripples beneath the surface of that serenity, could hear the echoes of grief and loss in the waves and sea breeze. The aftershocks of that bombing would never be stilled.
I couldn't do anything about the tragedy in Mendocino County, but I sure as hell could take steps to prevent any more bombings in San Francisco. I was, as Adah told me when she asked me to help, "a flat-out fine investigator, if sometimes a pain in the butt."
I turned to Renshaw. "Okay, Gage, we've reviewed what's public knowledge. Now show me something new."
He smiled thinly and advanced the slide.
An imposing house: creamy white plastered brick, with a mansard roof and heavy cornices. The arched windows were elaborately ornamented, and carved pillars rose beside the massive front door. Yew trees stood like sentinels at its corners. I'd seen it before but couldn't place it.
Renshaw said, "Azadi Consulate, Jackson Street near Octavia."
"Azad—isn't that one of those oil-rich emirates?"
"Right. Oil rich, progressive, and politically stable. They've maintained the consulate since the late sixties, do a high volume of business with our West Coast oil companies."
"But they haven't been—"
"The target of a bombing? No."
The next slide showed another sheet of plain paper lettered in Palatino Italic: BE FOREWARNED. Below a sentence was taped, obviously a headline clipped from a newspaper: BRAZILIAN EMBASSY BOMBED.
I asked, "The Azadis received this after the first D.C. bombing?"
"Yes. And again after each subsequent one." He showed slides of the messages in quick succession.
Odd. According to Joslyn's files, none of the other diplomatic missions who had been bombed had reported receiving such warnings. But then, neither had Azad. "Did these come to the consulate, or to other Azadi delegations as well?"
"Only the consulate here." Renshaw switched the projector off and the screen went blank.
"Okay," I said, "what's RKI's connection to Azad?"
"We handle their security in San Francisco, D.C., and New York."
"How'd that happen?"
"They were impressed with how we dealt with a situation for an American company operating out of their capital in the late eighties. When these messages started arriving, they decided to beef up their protective measures at all three of their U.S. locations and contacted us."
- On Sale
- May 30, 2009
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Grand Central Publishing