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While Other People Sleep
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With her agency going great guns, Sharon McCone is known as one of the best detectives in the business…until her reputation is threatened by an impostor. The woman’s resemblance to McCone is uncanny. Her knowledge of McCone’s life is chilling. And with lover Hy Ripinsky away on business, McCone is alone as the double insidiously sabotages McCone’s career, invades her home, and leads her into a deadly game of cat and mouse through San Francisco’s underworld. Now, with professional detachment giving way to blinding rage, McCone is fighting for her life. But her very essence is also at stake…as a hunger for personal justice overrides her fiercely held ethics and lets loose a primeval urge for revenge.
This is book 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, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
If you purchase this book without a cover you should be aware that this book may have been stolen property and reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher. In such case neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1998 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Diane Luger
Cover illustration by Tony Greco
Hand lettering by David Gatti
Warner Books, Inc.
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroup.com
A Time Warner Company
The Warner Books name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
First eBook Edition: May 1999
SHARON MCCONE MYSTERIES BY MARCIA MULLER
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
At 11:37 P.M. the interior of Pier 24½ lay in darkness broken only by a few badly placed security lights. The air was cold and damp, redolent of brine and creosote. Rain hammered the flat roof, and directly above it on the span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, a truck's gears ground. Another vehicle backfired, sounding like gunshots.
I paused on the iron catwalk outside my office, watching and listening, my senses sharpened as they always were when I worked alone here at night. The old pier's security was easily breached, there were many places for an intruder to hide, and the waterfront, while undergoing a renaissance these days, was still a potentially dangerous place. Given the right combination of circumstances, most places in this city could be dangerous.
No one was visible on the catwalks that crossed over to the opposite suites of offices; no light seeped through the cracks around the doors. The ironwork threw an intricate pattern of shadows on the concrete floor below, where we tenants parked our cars. After a moment I moved along the catwalk toward the office of Ted Smalley, the efficient and somewhat dictatorial man who keeps both my agency and Altman & Zahn, Attorneys-at-Law, functioning smoothly. The sound of my footsteps echoed off the high ceiling and exposed girders. A sudden rush of air, and something flew at my head. Reflexively I threw up an arm; my fingers grazed thin membrane and bone.
Jesus Christ, a bat!
Heart pounding, I ran into Ted's office, slammed the door, and leaned against it, clutching the files I carried.
"McCone," I gasped aloud, "you've faced down armed criminals without blinking. Why the hell're you running from a little bat that's probably cowering in the rafters by now?"
I knew the answer, of course: the encounter with the bat had tapped into my old phobia of birds—one I thought I'd long before conquered. Apparently not, though, at least not when I was already nursing a low-level depression and edginess, brought on by the wet and stormy weather that had persisted with scarcely a break since the day after Christmas.
A low-wattage lamp burned on Ted's desk. I used its light to scribble a note, which I then stuffed under the rubber band holding the files together. They contained job applications, background checks, and turndown letters for three candidates I'd recently interviewed. Two of the applicants had been excellent, and my note to Ted asked that he keep the files active, but early last week my friend Craig Morland had finally accepted the position I'd offered him last December. Craig, a former FBI field agent, was just the man McCone Investigations needed; his connections from fifteen-plus years with the Bureau had already proved invaluable to me.
Back on the catwalk, I strode fearlessly toward the stairway. No bat was going to intimidate me.
I froze at the top of the stairway, trying to pinpoint the source of the shout, then dropped down behind the railing and peered through it.
"Hey, Sharon, how come you're hiding from me?"
I let my breath out slowly, recognizing the Australian accent of Glenna Stanleigh, a documentary filmmaker who rented the ground-floor suite next to the pier's entrance. Feeling both foolish and angry, I straightened.
"For God's sake, Glenna! I damn near died of fright."
"You? No way." She came out from behind her Ford Bronco—a petite woman with long, light brown curls and huge, lamplike gray eyes. "Seriously, I am sorry. I wasn't thinking."
"No permanent harm done." I started down.
"I wouldn't've shouted like that," Glenna added, "but I've been anxious to see you. To tell you about a bizarre experience I had last weekend."
She nodded, looking exceptionally solemn for one with a perpetually sunny disposition. When I first met Glenna, I'd found her cheeriness suspect; nobody could possibly be that upbeat—to say nothing of that nice—all the time. But as I got to know her better I realized how genuine she was, and we became friends of a sort. I often sought her out when I was feeling low, and this past rainy month I'd spent a fair amount of time drinking tea with her in her office.
She said, "It's kind of a long story, but I think the sooner you know, the better. Would you like some brandy? I've a leftover Christmas bottle in my desk."
Brandy sounded perfect. "Lead me to it."
While Glenna searched her editing room for glasses, I sat in one of the low-slung canvas chairs in her office and listened to the rain splatter against the high arched window overlooking the Embarcadero. Across the waterfront boulevard, Hills Plaza—a former coffee mill converted to residential and commercial use—was largely dark; the globes of the old-fashioned streetlights along the Muni tracks glowed, highlighting the fronds of the recently planted palm trees. I caught my own reflection in the glass and glanced away, thinking I looked tired.
There was a smashing noise in the editing room, and Glenna exclaimed, "Damn!"
"You all right?"
"I am, but that brandy snifter isn't."
I smiled. The glass had probably been perched precariously, if the editing room contained as much chaos as the office. Framed posters for Glenna's documentaries, on such diverse subjects as Appalachian folk medicine and the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef, leaned at intervals along the walls, where they'd been waiting to be hung for as long as I'd known her.
Glenna returned, a trifle flushed and carrying two plastic tumblers. She poured the brandy, handed one to me, and sat in the matching chair. "Yes, it's a mess in there too," she said, "which is why I broke the last of my snifters. I plan to do something about it one of these days. Or years."
"More likely years."
"You know me—I'm hopeless." But she grinned cheerfully, quite content with her slothfulness. "So what're you doing here this late?"
I shrugged, sipping the brandy. "Paperwork."
"You can't find time for it during business hours?"
"Not unless I chain myself to the desk—and I established the agency to keep from being confined to the office. Besides, I spent most of the afternoon helping Ted sort out what brand of new copier to buy. Leave it to him to suffer a totally uncharacteristic fit of indecision when I have a full in-box. He's been acting weird; it's hell when you can't rely on your most dependable employee."
"Lord, you sound like me: be your own boss and end up working harder and longer than you ever did for anybody else."
"Right." Still, I didn't regret the decision. McCone Investigations was turning a profit and growing; we were steadily earning a reputation for solid, intelligent, reliable work.
"So," I said to Glenna, "what's this bizarre experience you want to tell me about?"
Her small face grew solemn again. "Well, you know that I'm on the board of the Bay Area Film Council?"
"Saturday night we held this positively smashing fundraiser at the Russian Hill penthouse of one of our patrons. Cocktail party for hundreds. The big money came out in droves. Heavy security, of course, and special name tags so none of the riffraff could sneak in. I networked madly, talking up that Hawaiian documentary I want to do, and somebody told me that a member of the Dillingham family—they're big in construction in the Islands—was in the room where they'd got the buffet set up. So I took myself there and came face to face with a woman wearing a familiar name tag." Glenna paused dramatically.
"Who was it?"
"I am not kidding, Sharon. A woman I'd never seen before in my life was wearing a tag that said 'Sharon McCone.' "
"My God. Did you speak with her?"
"Yes. I went over and asked her if she was the well-known private investigator. She said she was, so I decided to play along for a while, see what I could find out. She knew a lot about you."
I felt a prickle of unease. "Such as?"
"Mainly professional stuff. Nothing she couldn't have gotten from the papers or from that interview in People after the Diplo-bomber case."
Agreeing to the People interview was one of my worst mistakes; the reporter had made me sound more macho than Dirty Harry, and in the accompanying photograph I looked like someone Harry himself wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.
"But," Glenna added, "she also knew things that I don't recall seeing in print. Such as what kind of plane you fly, who it belongs to, and what he is to you."
"She knew about Ripinsky?" Hy Ripinsky, my very significant other and the owner of Citabria 77289.
"She did. And she mentioned your cottage. She called it a name … Touchstone?"
I nodded, very uneasy now. The small stone cottage on the Mendocino coast, which Hy and I jointly owned, was our refuge when the world became too much for us. We rarely spoke of it by name to others, and we invited only close friends there.
"Did she say anything about the house we're going to build on the property?"
"Then her information's not completely up to date. So you played along for a while …"
"And then called her on it. I told her I had my office here in the pier and knew you. At first she didn't believe me and tried to bluff her way out of it. Then she admitted that she'd been given a ticket to the benefit by a friend who couldn't attend, and she felt outclassed by all the big names and rich people. So she decided to make herself important by impersonating you."
"If impersonating me is her way of achieving importance, the woman's in serious need of a life."
"In serious need of something. Her curiosity about you struck me as unnatural. She peppered me with questions which, of course, I declined to answer. And then the camerawoman I generally use came up and said a potential backer for the Hawaiian project wanted to meet me, and I never saw the bogus McCone again."
"I don't like this one bit. What if she'd gotten drunk and made a spectacle of herself? I have a hard enough time not making a spectacle of my self—cold sober."
"Well, if it'll ease your mind any, she was well behaved and attractive. Your reputation's untarnished, at least in the film community."
"What did she look like?"
"Your body type. Nice features, the most distinctive being large eyes and a mouth that tipped down at the corners. Black hair like yours, in a very similar shoulder-length style. Expensive dress—teal-blue silk knit, clingy."
"And I don't suppose you were able to get her real name?"
"I asked; she sidestepped the question. What d' you think of this?"
"A silly prank, probably nothing more than what she said it was. No harm done, and yet…"
"Yes," Glenna said, "and yet. That's exactly why I thought you should know about her."
The red digits on my clock radio told me that only six minutes had passed since I last checked the time. I pulled my down comforter higher, snuggled my head deep into the pillows, and shut my eyes. In seconds they popped open. I stared at the ceiling; as a last resort, I'd bore myself to sleep.
Cold tonight, and the sheets had felt damp when I first crawled into bed. Into an empty bed, as Hy was at his ranch in Mono County. He'd vowed not to budge from there until he finished briefing himself for an upcoming fact-finding trip to various South American clients of Renshaw and Kessell International, the corporate security firm in which he was a partner. Or until Valentine's Day, Friday.
Not that either of us was sentimental about February 14. In fact, we agreed that it was chiefly a conspiracy among the purveyors of greeting cards, candy, and flowers. The first year we were together we'd felt honor bound to observe the day, and had ended up giving each other the exact same risqué card. The next year he'd been out of the country and sent flowers—coals to Newcastle, since a single rose from him had arrived without fail at my office every Tuesday morning since we'd met. Finally we gave up and took to exchanging cards and gifts whenever the spirit moved us, rather than confining romance to a single day.
However, my friend and operative Rae Kelleher and my former brother-in-law Ricky Savage were still in the throes of romantic delirium, having only been together since the previous summer, and they were celebrating their first Valentine's Day in style. They'd invited a bunch of us to an evening that would begin with cocktails at Palomino in Hills Plaza, progress to one of the city's newest and best restaurants for dinner, and culminate in a flurry of nightclubbing all over town. Dressing up and riding in a limo and ordering extravagantly—all of it on Ricky's credit card, where it wouldn't so much as make a dent in the country-and-western superstar's finances—was more than even Hy and I could resist. And then we'd have the weekend to recuperate before he left for South America on Sunday night.
I tried to concentrate on the weekend's prospects, but my earlier conversation with Glenna Stanleigh kept overriding all other thoughts. A woman had impersonated me at a party. A woman who knew private details of my life, who exhibited an unnatural interest in me.
Who was she?
Determinedly I channeled my mind to work. Two new cases today, both of them premaritals—singles wanting to investigate the people they were seeing. I'd noticed an upsurge in that type of job over the past year, and while I wasn't completely comfortable with many of the cases, I couldn't afford to pass up the business.
The first client, Jeffrey Stoddard, said that his "old lady" took a lot of business trips, and he was pretty sure she was playing around on him while on the road; they were supposed to get married next month, but if what he suspected was true, the wedding would be off. The second client, Bea Allen, a stockbroker, was seriously considering a marriage proposal, but before she said yes, she wanted a complete background workup on her suitor; he claimed to be heir to a fortune, but he was so cheap that she found the claim suspect. He might be after her money, in which case she'd probably marry him anyway but insist on a prenuptial agreement.
Every week we were hired for at least one premarital—and no wonder, considering the paranoid nature of contemporary society. Sadly, in many situations the paranoia is justified; negotiating the tricky maze of human relationships is at best a scary business. We prey on each other: for money, status, power, and sex. We lie to those closest to us: about our backgrounds, prospects, dreams, and sexual histories. The latter is the most frightening of all; with the spread of AIDS, one evening of carelessness can destroy our lives.
So in the end we eavesdrop and follow—or we hire agencies like mine to do our dirty work.
Yeah, McCone, that's what's making you stare at the ceiling at—now—4:34 in the morning. Paranoia about a woman at a party whose name tag claimed she was you.
Catch!" I tossed the file on the Bea Allen investigation at Mick Savage.
My tall blond nephew reached up from where he lounged in his swivel chair, feet propped on the wastebasket, and made a great one-handed catch.
"You've missed your calling as an outfielder," I told him.
"Nah, I put the talent to use in better ways." He was making an off-color allusion to his relationship with Charlotte Keim, another of my operatives.
I didn't respond to his conversational gambit, just got down to business. "I need a preliminary background check on this subject ASAP."
He opened the file and scanned the sheets stapled inside. "How soon is ASAP?"
"You call it."
"Fifty-five minutes, in your office."
"See you there."
"If I'm early, you spring for lunch."
What had begun as a game with us—him naming the amount of time it would take him to come up with what I needed, and me making concessions if he finished the work in a shorter period—had proved to be a particularly effective way of motivating him.
I left his office—which was also a storage room for the books, files, and spare furniture that neither I nor Anne-Marie Altman and Hank Zahn could find room for—and went along to the more spacious one occupied by Rae Kelleher and Charlotte Keim. Rae was in the field on a retail-pilfering job, but Charlotte sat at her computer, gazing fixedly at the screen as she moved the mouse. She didn't hear me come in, and when I got closer I saw she was playing solitaire.
"Put the eight of hearts on the seven of spades," I said.
She jumped and swiveled around, face coloring as she realized I'd caught her. Keim was a petite, curly-haired brunette in her mid-twenties—too worldly for nineteen-year-old Mick, some would say, if they didn't know my precocious nephew. But Mick had been raised in a showbiz milieu and sometimes made me feel like an innocent; he was more than a match for Charlotte.
She tried to cover by going on the offensive. "So you've finally got something for me. Good thing, because I've been goosey as hell." Whenever she was excited or embarrassed, the Texas accent she'd worked to lose ever since leaving Archer City surfaced—as well as what I'd come to think of as her Texas-isms.
"Yeah, it's a premarital." I handed her the folder. "And it involves some traveling."
"Subject's leaving this afternoon for L.A. Don't worry, though; it's only an overnight trip, so you'll be back here for Valentine's Day. If you get something concrete there, we'll wrap it up. If not, you'll be going to Chicago on Monday."
She nodded, studying the file.
I headed for my office and another stack of paperwork, envying her.
Mick sat down across the desk from me in fifty minutes, laden with a stack of downloaded documents, and prepared to give me an oral report.
"I want to have lunch at Miranda's," he announced, referring to our favorite waterfront diner. "A burger and some onion rings don't sound too bad."
"We didn't set a dollar limit; how come you're not after a more upscale place?"
"I like Miranda's. Plus we're gonna get enough upscale with Dad and Rae on Friday."
"True. So what've you got for me?"
"Well, this was the original no-brainer. The dude is so rich and old-money that he's probably got a closet full of tuxes and a garage full of Mercedeses. The bucks go back to Gold Rush days, when his great-great-granddaddy and some other robber barons got together and decided to rip off practically everybody. It's all there in that stuff from Forbes and the Journal of California History."
I paged through it, nodded. "Go on."
"Okay, real estate is his thing. Office parks, shopping centers, condo complexes, and a big chunk of land smack in the middle of the Nevada desert that ain't never gonna be worth nothin' nohow. The deal is, the guy's got so much money it'll never run out, but he's unlucky as hell."
"I'll give you one example, you can read about the rest. He's got this office park in Milpitas. About a year ago one of his tenants, a Nigerian cab company, declared war on the Arab sanitary-supply service and the Cuban package-delivery firm. Seems they were tossing their trash in the Nigerians' Dumpster. Insults were exchanged, trash was dumped at each other's doors, and it all ended up in a shoot-out in the parking lot. The Nigerians won, but then they got busted, and the guy was out three tenants."
"International intrigue, no less."
"You got it. Anyway, from here on out the news gets worse. Dude's done time in the bin—nice private hospital for the outrageously insane. What put him there was holding his ex-wife out a seventeenth-story window at the Beverly Wilshire and threatening to drop her unless she gave him custody of the kids. An LAPD negotiating team put a stop to that caper. And there're indications that lunacy goes at a fast trot throughout the entire family."
"Poor Bea Allen!"
"Yeah. If you want my opinion, the client should either marry him and keep the knives locked up or run like hell. Whatever, she should definitely stay out of the parking lots at his office parks."
At four-thirty I was sitting in the armchair by the arching window at the end of the pier, watching the bay vista grow increasingly gloomy as the rain pelted down. A sudden heavier spate thundered onto the roof, and I glanced up, looking for leaks. None so far.
A tap at the door. I looked around and saw Neal Osborn standing there. Neal was Ted Smalley's significant other: a tweedy, rumpled, bearded, bespectacled secondhand bookseller whose thinning ginger-colored hair frequently stood up in peaks because he finger-combed it while perusing the tomes in his Polk Street store. Neal had once confessed to me that he would rather crawl through somebody's dusty garage or attic in pursuit of a rare first edition than do almost anything else on earth; frequently Ted, also a book lover, joined him on those forays.
"Hey, there," I said. "If you're looking for Ted, he left early for a dental appointment."
Neal came all the way into the office. "I know. Actually, it's you I'm looking for."
"Oh? Well, pull up a chair."
He moved one over by mine and sat.
"So what's on your mind?" I asked.
"I need to talk to you about Ted. Have you noticed that he's been behaving strangely the past few weeks?"
"I have, and it's getting worse. Yesterday he worked himself into a state of complete indecision over which model of copier to buy. He insisted on my help, even though I can't change the toner in our old one, and went on and on about this feature versus that feature. We'd get it all decided, and then he'd say, 'But maybe we should reconsider …' It wasn't like him at all."
"Well, he's been distracted and very short with everybody. On Monday, Rae told him he was being bitchy, and he said, 'Why don't you just come right out and call me a bitchy fag?' None of us knows where that was coming from; nobody's sexuality has ever been an issue around here."
"D' you have any idea what's causing this behavior?"
I shook my head. "One day, maybe three or four weeks ago, he came in here with some letters for my signature, and I sensed he wanted to talk to me about something but didn't quite know how to get started. I'm afraid I wasn't encouraging, either; I was in the middle of a complicated report that the client was picking up within the hour, so I put him off, told myself I'd talk with him later. But then I forgot, and by the time I thought to approach him, he put me off."
"Those're the same kinds of things I've noticed. I've asked him what's wrong several times, and he denies there's a problem. But there is: Most of the time it's as if he's thinking of something other than what we're talking about. And he's taken to calling me at the store for no particular reason—four or five times a day, yet. A lot of the time he's not where he says he's going to be, or when."
I reviewed the possibilities. "Do you think he's cheating on you? Or that he thinks you're cheating on him?"
"No. In either case, he'd bring something like that right out in the open. It's the nature of our relationship."
"What about drugs? When a person's as irritable as Ted, you've got to consider the possibility."
"I've considered it, as well as other physical problems."
We both fell silent, our eyes meeting. The unspeakable lay between us: AIDS.
"No," Neal said after a moment, "that's one thing we can rule out. He'd tell me immediately, so I could get tested."
Yes, he would. Nothing angered Ted more than infected people who put others at risk. "Well, maybe it's just … some weird phase he's going through."
"I wish I could believe that, but I can't." He hesitated. "What I was wondering, Shar … Could you look into it, on an informal basis?"
"You want me to investigate Ted ?" It seemed an extreme solution to what was, after all, a purely personal problem.
"Not really, but maybe you could observe him, try to talk with him. You know what to look for, how to ask questions."
"I don't know, Neal. Ted's watched me operate for a lot of years; he might guess what I was doing, and that would put a strain on our friendship."
Neal ran long fingers through his unruly hair. "I understand what you're saying, but … Okay, there's more. Ted's not just short-tempered and strange. He's afraid."
"Yeah, I can feel it. Sometimes I wake up at night and … You know how you can lie in the dark and know the other person's awake, even if he breathes regularly?"
"Well, almost every night I wake up and realize Ted's awake too. But if I say something, he pretends not to be. He's thinking, thinking hard, and there's a feeling of fear in the room."
I was silent, remembering times when I'd felt that kind of fear in a dark room.
"Has anything unusual happened to Ted recently that might account for this?" I asked.
"Not that he's told me. Up to now, ours has been a somewhat staid and boring household—not that that's necessarily a bad thing. You get into your forties and you start to appreciate a life where the biggest event is a signal-jumper almost running you down in the crosswalk."
"Ted was almost run down?"
- On Sale
- May 1, 1999
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Grand Central Publishing