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Shot in the head by an unknown assailant, San Francisco private eye Sharon McCone finds herself trapped by locked-in syndrome: almost total paralysis but an alert, conscious mind. Since the late-night attack occurred at her agency's offices, the natural conclusion was that it was connected to one of the firm's cases. As Sharon lies in her hospital bed, furiously trying to break out of her body's prison and discover her attacker's identity, all the members of her agency fan out to find the reason why she was assaulted. Meanwhile, Sharon becomes a locked-in detective, evaluating the clues from her staff's separate investigations and discovering unsettling truths that could put her life in jeopardy again.
As the case draws to a surprising and even shocking conclusion, Sharon's husband, Hy, must decide whether or not to surrender to his own violent past and exact fatal vengeance when the person responsible is identified.
SHARON MCCONE MYSTERIES
BY MARCIA MULLER
THE EVER-RUNNING MAN
THE DANGEROUS HOUR
LISTEN TO THE SILENCE
A WALK THROUGH THE FIRE
WHILE OTHER PEOPLE SLEEP
BOTH ENDS OF THE NIGHT
THE BROKEN PROMISE LAND
A WILD AND LONELY PLACE
TILL THE BUTCHERS CUT HIM DOWN
WOLF IN THE SHADOWS
PENNIES ON A DEAD WOMAN'S EYES
WHERE ECHOES LIVE
TROPHIES AND DEAD THINGS
THE SHAPE OF DREAD
THERE'S SOMETHING IN A SUNDAY
EYE OF THE STORM
THERE'S NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF
DOUBLE (With Bill Pronzini)
LEAVE A MESSAGE FOR WILLIE
GAMES TO KEEP THE DARK AWAY
THE CHESHIRE CAT'S EYE
ASK THE CARDS A QUESTION
EDWIN OF THE IRON SHOES
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by Pronzini-Muller Family Trust
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: October 2009
Grand Central Publishing is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
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For Bette Golden Lamb,
with many thanks from her honorary medical person
for a story that started out as a joke
MONDAY, JULY 7
A typical July night in San Francisco. Mist swirling off the bay, a foghorn bellowing every thirty seconds out at the Golden Gate. Lights along the Embarcadero dimmed, and the sidewalks and the streets mostly empty at a few minutes after nine. Sounds of traffic on the Bay Bridge curiously muted. In contrast, my boot heels tapped loudly on the pavement.
Ahead of me lay Pier 24½. Three long blocks behind me my vintage MG sat in a no-parking zone, out of gas.
Way to go, McCone. When you fly, you're meticulous about fueling. But with the car, you resist stopping at a station till the damn thing's running on fumes.
Just my luck—the fumes had given out short of my destination tonight.
Pilot error—on the ground.
A sudden blast of wind came off the water, and I gripped my woolen hat, pulled it lower on my forehead. Something to my right was banging, metal on metal: I glanced over and saw a NO TRESPASSING sign loosely attached to a chain-link fence barring access to one of the old piers scheduled for demolition.
This is my workday neighborhood. I walk this lovely, palm-lined boulevard all the time. I shouldn't allow sounds to spook me.
Another moan from the foghorn. Why did it sometimes seem melancholy, at other times strident, and at still others like the scream of a victim in pain?
Now I was passing a derelict shed on the far side of the doomed pier. A heap of rags lay on its loading dock. No, not rags—a human being seeking shelter from the inclement weather. Another member of San Francisco's homeless population.
One of many things wrong with this damned city—too few resources, too little compassion.
I had a love-hate relationship with the town I'd made my home. But I knew, no matter how bad the urban situation became, I'd never leave.
Ahead the security lights of Pier 24½ glowed through the mist. I quickened my steps.
The city's port commission had tried to raise the tenants' rental rates last fall—a first step toward also demolishing this pier—but an influential attorney friend of mine had prevailed upon them to maintain the status quo. For a while, anyway.
Where, I wondered now, would I find a comparable rate and space for an agency that was growing quickly? Profits were up, yes, but salaries and the cost of employee benefits were also escalating. Maybe…
I put my worries aside and concentrated on my original purpose: retrieve the cell phone that I'd accidentally left on my desk before going out to dinner with one of my friends and operatives, Julia Rafael. The phone whose absence had prevented me from calling Triple A when the car ran out of gas. If I contacted them from the office, they'd be there by the time I walked back to the MG—
A hand touched my forearm. I jerked away, moving into a defensive stance. A dark figure had loomed out of the mist.
"Lady, can you spare a dollar?"
Jesus, he was panhandling in a nearly deserted area in this weather? Better to fort up in the shelter of one of the sheds, like the person I'd glimpsed earlier.
He waited, arms loose at his sides, shoulders slumped. I couldn't see his features, but the wind whipped at his jacket and I saw it was thin and had a ragged tear.
I reached into the pocket of my peacoat and found some bills that I'd left there whenever I last wore it. Held them out to him. He hesitated before taking them, as if he couldn't believe his good fortune.
"Thank you, lady. God bless."
He disappeared into the fog as swiftly as he'd appeared.
I pulled the collar of my coat more tightly around my neck and went on toward the pier.
The powers that be say you shouldn't give money to the homeless; they'll only spend it on drugs and liquor. What was that slogan they made up? Care, not cash. All shiny and idealistic, but the truth is, some people slip through the cracks in the care department, and cash for a bottle or a fix is what they need to get themselves through a cold, damp night like this one.
I thrust my hands deeper into my pockets, but a chill had invaded me that couldn't be touched by the warmth of wool and lining.
The fog seemed thicker now. It played tricks on my vision. Someone was coming at me from the bayside.… No, advancing toward me on the left… No, there was nobody—
A shriek echoed over the boulevard, high-pitched tones bouncing off the surrounding buildings.
I stopped, peered hard through the churning mist.
Laughter, and the sound of running feet over at Hills Brothers Plaza. More laughter, fading into the distance along with the footsteps. People clowning around after leaving one of the restaurants.
The security grille had been pulled down over the yawning, arched entrance to the pier. My opener was back in the MG. I grasped the cold bars and called out to Lewis, the guard we tenants collectively employed.
Well, sure. He was probably drinking in the far recesses of the cavernous structure. Or already passed out. A nice guy, Lewis, but a serious alcoholic. At the last tenants' meeting we'd talked about firing him, but none of us had taken the initiative to find a replacement. I should have—
That's not your bailiwick any more, McCone. You've got Adah to take care of things like that now.
Adah Joslyn, formerly of the SFPD's homicide detail, now my executive administrator. Last winter I'd stepped back from the day-to-day running of the agency so I could concentrate on cases that really interested me. There hadn't been many, and in the meantime I'd started giving self-defense classes at a women's shelter in my neighborhood and working their emergency hotline during the day when most of their volunteers were out earning a living. I'd been able to spend more time at Touchstone, Hy's and my seaside home in Mendocino County, and at our ranch in the high desert country with our horses, King Lear and Sidekick.
I shouted again for Lewis.
Still no answer.
Damn. I'd have to use my security code to open the door to the right of the pier's entrance. But I'd just changed it, as we did every month, and I wasn't sure.…
Favorite canned chili. Right. I punched in 6255397—the numerical equivalent of NALLEYS on the keypad—and gained entry.
Usually there were cars belonging to tenants parked on the pier's floor at any time of day or night: employees of my agency, the architectural firm and desktop publisher on the opposite catwalk, and the various small businesses running along either side of the downstairs worked long and irregular hours. Tonight I was surprised to find no vehicles and no light leaking around doorways. The desk where Lewis was supposed to be stationed was deserted.
That does it. We're firing your ass tomorrow.
I crossed the floor to the stairs to our catwalk, footsteps echoing off the walls and high corrugated iron roof, then clanging on the metal as I climbed up and went toward my office at the bayside end. God, this place was spooky at night with nobody around.
As I passed the space occupied by my office manager, Ted Smalley, and his assistant, Kendra Williams, I thought I saw a flicker of light.
So somebody was there after all. Maybe Ted had left his car on the street; if so, he could give me a ride back to the MG. Kendra took public transit; she could keep me company while I waited for Triple A, and then I'd drive her home. I went to the door, calling out to them. No response. I rattled the knob. Locked.
I'd imagined the light. Or it had been a reflection off the high north-facing windows.
I went along to my office, slid the key into its dead-bolt lock. When I turned it, the bolt clicked into place. Now that was wrong; I'd locked it when I left the office. We all made a point to do so because we had so many sensitive files in cabinets and on our computers.
I turned the key again and shoved the door open. Stepped inside and reached for the light switch.
Motion in the darkness, more sensed than heard.
My fingertips touched the switch but before I could flip it, a dark figure appeared only a few feet away and then barreled into me, knocked me against the wall. My head bounced off the Sheet-rock hard enough to blur my vision. In the next second I reeled backward through the door, spun around, and was down on my knees on the hard iron catwalk. As I tried to scramble away, push up and regain my footing, one of my groping hands brushed over some other kind of metal—
Sudden flash, loud pop.
Rush of pain.
Oh my God, I've been shot—
THURSDAY, JULY 17
A thin bright line. Widening. Slowly.
My eyes began to focus.
A ceiling. I'm on my back looking at an unfamiliar ceiling.
A tube was thrust into my mouth, and from somewhere nearby came a rhythmic breathing sound. In my peripheral vision were other tubes, snaking in many directions. Metal bars to either side, like a baby's crib.
I couldn't move my head either to the left or to the right.
Straight ahead, a curtain. Beige and green—a leafy pattern.
Rhythmic beeping sounds from behind me.
Hospital room. I'm in a hospital!
But where… ? What… ? How… ?
The light dimmed, narrowed—
The light returned, softer now.
Rustling noises and then, in profile, a face.
Nurse? Must be. Blue scrubs and a gentle, placid expression. Asian, probably Filipina.
She moved away.
Come back! I need to ask you—
Everything dimmed again.
* * *
Dark now, but a shaft of light slanting across the ceiling. Must be coming from a doorway. Faint sounds of men and women talking. No, one man and two women. Who… ?
Hospital staff. A friend had once told me hospitals were noisy at night; no cessation of activity then. Nurses gave medications, responded to emergency situations and the ring of patients' call buttons.
It would be within easy reach. All I had to do was feel around for it—
My right arm wouldn't move.
My calves and feet hurt, an ache that went straight to the bones. I couldn't move them either.
No, that can't be.
Frantically I willed some part of me to move—a finger, a toe, anything.
A scream rose in my throat. A scream without voice.
I couldn't make a sound.
What's happening to me?
Cold, foggy night along the Embarcadero… Derelict coming out of the mist… Deserted pier… My office… Shadowy figure slamming into me… Flash, pop, pain…
Panic shot through me. The scream rose to a high, shrill pitch, but only in my mind.
"… Appears comatose. As you know, it took quite an effort to stabilize her." A stranger's voice, grave. "But her blood pressure is finally in hand, essentially normal, she's taking nourishment through the feeding tube, and is able to breathe well on her own since we began taking her off the ventilator yesterday."
"Do you have a definite diagnosis yet?"
Hy! But what—?
"Traumatic brain injury, of course, but beyond that we can't yet say. The CT scan shows the bullet entered the occipital lobe of her brain, carrying along with it bone fragments. A clot formed from internal bleeding, creating pressure."
"And the prognosis?" Hy's voice was tightly controlled, but I knew he was quaking inside.
"Too early to tell. It's—if you'll excuse my wording—a mess in there, which is why we can't attempt surgery. She appears comatose and completely paralyzed, but the scan we took yesterday shows she has good brain wave activity."
"So she'll come out of this?"
A pause. "I do think you may have to face some hard decisions about your wife's quality of life." Rustling of paper. "I see here that you have her advance directive giving you medical power of attorney. Have the two of you discussed her wishes?"
"Yes." Curt. He wasn't ready to go there yet.
I'd been listening to the conversation dispassionately, as if they were talking about somebody else. Now my defenses crumbled, and I gave in to panic. The silent scream rose again.
The doctor said, "Have you given any further thought to transferring her to the Brandt Neurological Institute?"
"I spoke with them this morning. They have a room available and will admit her as soon as you give the go-ahead." Hy hesitated. "Isn't this the equivalent of giving up on her?"
"Not at all." The doctor's voice was too upbeat. "It's an excellent acute rehabilitation center. Dr. Ralph Saxnay, who will be her attending neurosurgeon, is one of the best. In addition, it's very quiet and private. No one needs to know she's there." A pause. "You must realize we've had difficulty with the media here. Your wife has made quite a name for herself in this city."
Hy didn't respond to the doctor's comment. "I'll make the final arrangements with the institute."
Final arragements. It sounds as if he's planning my funeral.
The doctor said a few more things in low tones, and then I heard him leave the room. Hy was still there, standing back and to the right of me; I couldn't see him.
I tried to say something, to move something again. Couldn't do anything. Paralyzed.
But not in a coma as the doctor had said.
Hy doesn't know. I can't communicate with him, even though I can hear every word he says.
Hy sighed heavily and placed his hand on my forehead. "Oh, McCone, I don't know if you even realize I'm here." His voice was twisted with pain.
Look at me! Look into my eyes! You'll see I'm with you.
"If you can hear me, remember that I love you. Hold to that thought, and we'll get through this together. Just like we always have."
I love you too, Ripinsky.
He stepped out into the parking lot of San Francisco General Hospital and turned up his collar against the fog. Walked toward where he'd left his silver-blue 1966 Mustang, fumbling in his pocket for the keys. When he got to the classic machine, he had to curb a violent desire to kick it. This was not the time to give way to impotent rage.
Not yet, anyway.
Inside the car, he took out his cell phone and called the Brandt Neurological Institute's admitting office. He told the clerk he'd arranged for his wife's transfer, then set up a meeting with Dr. Ralph Saxnay, the neurosurgeon, for eleven the next morning. After he ended the call, he just sat there, staring out at the gathering mist.
Nothing more to be done today. Shar would be in good hands tomorrow. Not that there was anything wrong with SF General's trauma unit—they'd saved her life with all the odds against her—or ICU; they were both excellent, but they'd done all they could and weren't set up to handle a patient with a long-term… condition.
His thoughts flashed back to his first wife, Julie, now many years dead of multiple sclerosis. Toward the end she'd also been unmoving and silent, but there'd been an absence about her, as if her essence had already left her body. Not so with McCone; he still felt the psychic connection that had bound them together since almost the first time they met. If she was beyond all hope, would that connection exist?
No, he refused to believe it.
The past ten days were a jumble in his memory. His shock when the call came to his hotel in Seattle from Ted Smalley, who had been summoned along with the police and paramedics when the half-drunk security guard found McCone shortly after hearing the shot. The frantic and reckless flight to San Francisco piloting Ripinsky International's jet. Heart-pounding drive from the airport, where two days before he'd left the Mustang inside the jet's hangar, to the hospital. Then the waiting, a three-day and -night vigil.
We've established a good oxygen supply… Blood flow and pressure returning to normal… A setback, blood pressure crashing… BP edging toward normal… She's responding to the medications… Another setback, incompatibility with the medication… Have to be very careful with meds in cases of traumatic brain injury… No, we can't operate at this point; chances of her survival would be very slim.…
Why don't you get some rest. Mr. Ripinsky? Really, you'll be no good to your wife if you don't rest.
Of course, he hadn't rested. Had sat by her bedside, alert for any change, any sign. And later, when they'd said she was stabilized, he'd stayed with her in the ICU except for brief trips home to shower and change and field phone calls from her family and friends.
Her adoptive mother near San Diego had collapsed upon hearing the news and been placed under sedation, according to Sharon's stepfather. Sister Charlene and her husband, Vic, were in the city, in spite of Sharon's not being allowed visitors. Calls came daily from her birth mother in Boise, Idaho; from her birth father on the Flathead Reservation in Montana; from her half sister Robin in Berkeley; from her sister Patsy in Sonoma. Brother John arrived from San Diego and installed himself in Sharon and Hy's guest room.
The people at the agency knew better than to bother Hy. They had established a rapport with two of the floor nurses who kept them posted.
Hy leaned forward and grasped the steering wheel, weariness and helplessness diluting his earlier rage. When he'd first heard the news of McCone's shooting, the rage had been dominant: he'd flown the jet recklessly, driven erratically, burst into the hospital like the proverbial storm. Now he was wearing down, the only bright spot on the horizon being the slim hope that the Brandt Neurological Institute promised.
Life without her—
No, for God's sake, don't go there!
He straightened, grasped the wheel.
So what to do to pass the long evening? Go home, where everything was a reminder of Shar, and their cats stared at her favorite chair with bewildered eyes? Where her brother John would rekindle his rage with endless discussions about "getting the bastard that did this"? Go to the RI office, catch up on paperwork in the hope it would numb his mind enough to let him sleep on the sofa there? Impose his presence upon friends who had already done more than he could ever repay?
None of the above.
He started the car and drove toward Pier 24½.
Cars were parked on the pier's floor—so many that he had trouble slotting the Mustang. Odd, this late in the afternoon. Some of the offices on the first story were closed, but lights blazed upstairs at McCone Investigations, and he sensed tension and activity. As he climbed the stairway to the catwalk, he heard voices coming from the conference room.
When he appeared in the doorway, silence fell. Adah Joslyn, Sharon's executive administrator, broke it by saying to Hy, "Is there—"
"No news. She's being transferred to an acute care facility tomorrow."
A collective sigh of disappointment mixed with relief. No news was bad news; no news was good news.
"Am I interrupting something?" he asked.
"No, no, of course not. Come in."
He did, taking a chair against the wall, since there were no places left at the round oak table.
Adah was standing: an elegant, slim woman in a well tailored navy blue suit, with a honey-tan complexion and beautifully corn-rowed black hair. The perfect image for an increasingly successful agency, just as she'd been the perfect image for the SFPD's campaign to promote women and minorities—not only because she was female, but because she was also half black and half Jewish. The perfect image until working the homicide detail had taken its toll and Shar had made her an offer she couldn't refuse. In spite of Adah's tightly controlled exterior, Hy knew her to be funny, generous, and a thoroughly staunch friend.
The silence stretched out. He said, "Go on with whatever you were discussing, please."
Looks were exchanged around the table. Adah said, "Actually, we should have invited you to this meeting, Hy. It's kind of… a tribal war council."
"We're Sharon's tribe… family… whatever—"
"And we're pissed off, going to find out who shot her," said Sharon's nephew Mick Savage.
Hy turned his gaze to Mick. The petulant, spoiled son of a country-music superstar had matured into a stand-up man in the years he'd known him. Hard to grow up in the shadow of his father, but Mick had managed—in spite of being a tall, blond version of handsome Ricky Savage, but without his father's musical talent, ambition, or ruthless drive. Mick had found both his present and his future in computers and, owing to the revolutionary software programs he was currently creating with fellow operative Derek Ford, would someday rival Ricky in fortune, if not in fame.
Hy said, "So how do you intend to nail this person?"
The operative who replied surprised him: Julia Rafael. She and his wife had had dinner at a Mission district tacqueria before Shar had returned to the pier to pick up her forgotten cell phone. Julia was something of an engima to Hy. She'd worked the streets of the Mission district from age twelve, selling herself and drugs. Arrests, abortions, and the birth of a son whose father she couldn't begin to name had followed. The boy had given Julia a purpose; after her final release from the California Youth Authority, she'd turned her life around.
On LOCKED IN:
"Throughout her many McCone novels, Muller has displayed a knack both for keeping the series fresh and for allowing her character to grow. She accomplishes both goals this time by taking McCone out of the spotlight but giving her fans a chance to root for her to recover. After all these years, Muller's series remains a gold standard for female detective stories."—Kirkus, starred review
- "Top-notch mystery and more from one of the genre's Grand Masters."—Library Journal
- On Sale
- Oct 1, 2010
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Grand Central Publishing