Cold Pursuit


By T. Jefferson Parker

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From the Edgar Award-winning author of Silent Joe, a new hard-hitting thriller of murder, vengeance, and secret passions that will keep readers spellbound.

Homicide cop Tom McMichael is on the rotation when an 84-year-old city patriarch named Pete Braga is found bludgeoned to death. Not good news, especially since the Irish McMichaels and the Portuguese Bragas share a violent family history dating back three generations. Years ago Braga shot McMichael’s grandfather in a dispute over a paycheck; soon thereafter Braga’s son was severely beaten behind a waterfront bar–legend has it that it was an act of revenge by McMichael’s father.

McMichael must put aside the old family blood feud, and find the truth about Pete Braga’s death. Braga’s beautiful nurse is a suspect–she says she stepped out for some firewood, but key evidence suggests otherwise. The investigation soon expands to include Braga’s business, his family, the Catholic diocese, a multi-million dollar Indian casino, a prostitute, a cop, and, of course, the McMichael family. Cold Pursuit is the novel that T. Jefferson Parker fans have been waiting for.






That night the wind came hard off the Pacific, an El Niào event that would blow three inches of rain onto the roofs of San Diego. It was the first big storm of the season, early January and overdue. Palm fronds lifted with a plastic hiss and slapped against the windows of McMichael’s apartment. The digitized chirp of his phone sounded ridiculous against the steady wind outside.

“Somebody killed Pete Braga about an hour ago,” said McMichael’s lieutenant. “You’re up on the wheel of fortune, but I’ll give it to Team Two if you want.”

It was a question McMichael could think about for a long time but didn’t.

“We’ll take it.”

“Somebody bludgeoned Pete in his house, Tommy,” said the lieutenant. “Blood and brains all over the place. Patrol’s holding the cleaning lady or some such thing.”

It took McMichael a moment to transfer Pete Braga from the roster of the living to the ranks of the dead. Murder was always a surprise. Especially if it was someone like Pete, who seemed like he’d live forever.

“We’ll take it,” he said again.

A brief pause. “You’re sure about this, Tom?”

“I’m sure.”

“The Irish are a stubborn people. About as stubborn as the Portuguese. Okay, then. Pete Braga’s yours.”

Eighty-something years old, thought McMichael. It wouldn’t take a gladiator to crush the old man’s skull. A local badass hero, done in by the cleaning lady.

“I’ll make the calls, Tommy. You get moving. Need the address?”

“I know it.”

Pete Braga’s estate was on the bay side of Point Loma, right down on the water. Three levels of weathered redwood and plate glass descended to the sand. The glass caught the wind-fractured lights of Shelter Island and the city across the bay.

The driveway gate was open and McMichael could see three San Diego PD patrol cars, two slick-back Fords, a paramedic truck and a red Beetle parked in the sweeping brick drive. A small crowd had gathered at the crime scene tape that ran across the driveway. They looked like carolers between songs, McMichael thought, uncertain and self-conscious, coats and scarves and hair riled by the wind. He lowered a window and badged a uniform. The officer untied one end of the tape and it shot from his hand toward the water.

McMichael followed the walkway to the front door. The path was lined with bronze light fixtures shaped like leaping tuna. Behind the lights a stand of Norfolk Island pines swayed against a faint moon wrapped in clouds.

At the front door an officer T. Sterling handed McMichael an entry log. Before looking at it McMichael studied the outside doorknob, the jamb and frame.

“Shoot,” he said, scanning down the log.

“We were first on scene, sir,” said the officer. “Slow night, maybe because of the storm coming in. Then the watch commander dropped a possible one-eighty-seven on us. We got here in seven minutes. The nurse who made the nine-one-one call let us in. I noticed substantial amounts of blood on her hands, face and clothing. The old man was in his trophy room, or whatever you’d call it, by the fireplace. His head was caved in. The nurse was upset and not really cooperative, so Traynor took her into the dining room. I ran a warrants check on her and she came back clean.”

McMichael signed the log and looked into T. Sterling’s eager gray eyes.

“A nurse, not a cleaning lady.”

“That’s what she said.”

McMichael gave the log back to Sterling. “The blood on her clothes, was it smears or spatters?”

“I’m not sure. Mostly smears, I believe.”

“What about her face?”

“I think smears too.”

“You didn’t let her wash up, did you?”

“I don’t think Traynor was going to.”

Another officer led the detective to the scene. The trophy room was down a long hallway, then to the right. McMichael felt the coldness of the house in his shins. The hall was wide and well lit by recessed ceiling lights. There were paintings hung museum style, with individual viewing lights fastened above the frames: all ocean scenes—ships and waves in violent moments, the grandeur of catastrophe at sea. One light was trained on nothing, just blank wall with a hanger still nailed to the plaster.

He stepped down into the trophy room, smelling blood and feces and cigar smoke. Two small bundles of firewood lay at his feet. Above him was a cavernous cross-beam ceiling with heavy-duty shop lamps hung in two rows of six. The lamps washed the room in a strong incandescent glow.

McMichael pulled the little tape recorder from the pocket of his bomber’s jacket, checked the tape and turned it on. He spoke into it, setting the time and date and location, then narrating what he saw.

Ahead of him was a wall of glass facing the water and the city. Beyond the glass, windblown leaves swirled through the deck lights and a quick blizzard of sand rose toward San Diego Bay. A navy destroyer sat moored to the east, irrationally large amidst the tenders and pleasure craft.

To McMichael’s right was a cedar-paneled wall festooned with Pacific trophy fish—tuna, yellowtail, dorado, swordfish, sailfish and sharks. In the lower right corner of the wall hung some of the gear used to catch them—rods, reels, gaffs and fighting belts.

His eye went to the two empty hangers, like he’d seen in the hallway. One amidst the fish, one in the gear.

The main attraction was a white shark that looked to be three times the length of a man. It was obscenely thick. Rows of teeth glistening, its huge head swung outward in the posture of attack. McMichael noted that the taxidermist had gotten the eyes right, rolled back into the head for protection. He remembered that Pete Braga had made TV and the papers with that one.

To his left was a large fireplace with no fire and two handsome leather chairs facing it. On either side of the hearth stood enormous saltwater aquariums teeming with tropical fish. McMichael stepped past the bundled firewood. Between the chairs was a small table and a lamp with two shades, two bulbs and two brass pull chains. Both bulbs were on. Two half-filled glasses of what looked like red wine sat on the table.

He walked over and looked down on the body of Pete Braga, slouched almost out of the right-hand chair. Braga was wearing a smoke-gray satin robe. He had slid down, legs buckling on the floor, his back and head flat on the chair seat. His arms dangled over the rests, hands relaxed. His head was bathed in blood and the top crushed in the middle—skin and hair and bone seeming to fall in upon themselves. His face was a bloody mask of surprise and confusion, eyes open and still reflecting light. On the hardwood floor to the left of the chair stood a pond of blood littered with pale debris and a short club with a leather loop at the end of the handle. McMichael felt the hair on his neck stand up.

Requiescat in pace, he thought, thirty-plus years of Catholic funeral Latin imprinted in his mind. What a way to get your last ticket punched.

He remembered Braga as a tuna fleet captain, way back in ’70. McMichael had been five years old. He remembered him as a Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealer a few years after the tuna industry collapsed—Pete’s robust, gray-haired face smiling down at you from freeway billboards on the 5 and the 8, and the 163 and along Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. Remembered him as a mayor and a port commissioner and a city booster, always tossing out the first pitch at a Padres game, smiling while a champagne bottle cracked against a hull, touring the latest opening or disaster.

But easiest of all McMichael remembered Pete as the grandfather of Patricia Braga, the first girl he’d fallen in love with. They were children then, back before they fully understood that the McMichaels and Bragas had spilled each other’s blood and that they were supposed to hate each other.

Forensic specialists Bob Harley and Erik Fiore stepped down into the room, toting their bags of tricks. Behind them was the Team Three sergeant Mark Hatter and Detective Barbara Givens.

“Jesus,” said Givens.

“Woah,” said Harley. “Reminds me of that guy—what, Appleby or something? With the pipe.”

Erik whistled low, the sound falling off at the end like something going over a cliff. “Cool aquaria.”

Sergeant Hatter said nothing. He was in charge of Homicide Team Three by rank, but McMichael was up for lead on this one, purely a matter of rotation and chance. Wheel of fortune, thought McMichael—whose fortune?

Harley set down his forensic case and brought out a digital still camera, which he looped around his neck, and a Polaroid, which he checked for film.

McMichael told Erik to shoot the video, then start the measurements and sketches. “Get the club first,” he said. “Then fish it out of the blood. I want Polaroids of those firewood bundles, close up as you can get. Barbara, do a quick-and-dirty theft check on the rest of the house—see if anything obvious has been lifted. Look for forced entry.”

“Got it.”

“Then take a look at the VW Beetle out there, but don’t go into it yet. After that, I’d like you to handle the press and media. Tell them what we know.”

A moment later the medical examiner’s team quietly entered. Then Hector Paz, McMichael’s closest partner within the team, barreled in behind them like a wrecking ball.

McMichael nodded to Paz and backed away from what used to be Pete Braga and was now San Diego PD case #03-114-M. He checked the trophy wall where the fishing equipment was displayed and found the empty hook between a large gaff and a fighting belt.

“Shoot this hook, Bob.”

“There’s nothing on it.”

“Looks like a good place to hang a club.”


The nurse was young, dirty blonde and tall. She turned from a dining room window when McMichael and Paz walked in: hair up in a loose nest, a blood-smeared cream turtleneck, a blood-smeared fuchsia cardigan, bloody jeans and short-heeled black boots. McMichael studied her as he approached—blood on her face, neck and hands. Her eyes were very dark brown.

“I’m Detective Tom McMichael. This is Hector Paz.”

“I want to wash up.”

He looked down at her boots and saw the dark drops in relief against the leather. “Do you mind if we take a few pictures of you first?”

“I mind.”

The nurse stared at Paz with a sullen blankness.

“What’s your name?” asked McMichael.

“Sally Rainwater.”

“What’s in the pockets?” asked Paz.

Sally Rainwater looked down and extracted one black leather glove from each of the cardigan’s side pockets.

“You can just set them on the table,” said McMichael. “And the cardigan, too, if you don’t mind.”

She dropped the gloves on the dining table, then unbuttoned the sweater. She dropped it on the table, too, and fixed her dark brown eyes on him. Her pupils looked normal and her eyes were primitively wild, set off by her face and the blood.

“You can wash up,” said McMichael. “I’m going to have a female investigator accompany you.”

She strode out and McMichael nodded to Traynor. “Get Barbara.”

Hector watched them go. “You going to ask her for the boots?”

“I will.”

Hector looked at McMichael with his typical expression of suspicion and latent good humor. “She’ll clean up nicely.”

“I think so.”

McMichael then briefed Paz on what Sterling had told him. Paz was a stocky, muscular man about McMichael’s age. Like McMichael, he was only three years in Homicide. They were placed on Team Three because of different temperaments. Tom McMichael was tall and quiet and sometimes sly, Hector Paz bullish and aggressive. The homicide captain called them Calm and Heckle. The Team Three case cancellation rate was highest in the unit.

McMichael pulled out two of the dining set chairs, then turned the chandelier lights over the table all the way up. He took the bay view for himself, not for the scenery but to make the nurse look at him while she talked. He used a pen to nudge her gloves a little closer to where she would sit. The blood on them gave off a duller reflection than the leather and left a faint smudge on the cherrywood lacquer.

“Just hover,” said McMichael. “Break in when you want to.”

“I can hover. Should we Mirandize her?”

“Let’s wait. It looked like transfer blood on her. No mist or droplets, except on her boots.”

“Except on her boots.”

Five minutes later Sally Rainwater walked back in. Barbara looked in at McMichael, shrugged with an undecided arch of eyebrows, then headed back down the hall.

McMichael was writing in a small notebook, which he closed and placed on the table next to his tape recorder. Hector stood in front of a bronze sculpture of a leaping tuna that dominated one corner of the room.

“Please sit down,” said McMichael.

She looked at the ready chair, the gloves, then at him. Her face and hands were clean now, her hair in a strict ponytail. No jewelry, no ring. Her clothes were the same blood-splattered mess. She turned the chair toward the picture window and sat so she wouldn’t be facing either of them, so all McMichael could see was profile. He studied the high curve of forehead, straight small nose, her good chin and lips.

“You don’t mind talking to us, do you, Ms. Rainwater?”

“I’ll talk.”

“Thank you. I’m going to tape-record this.”

She said nothing as McMichael flipped the tape over and turned the machine on. He had her spell her name and give her home address and phone number.

“Tell me what you saw tonight.”

“I went out at about nine-twenty for firewood. I came back a few minutes after ten. I went into the fish room and saw Pete dangling over the side of his chair. The sliding door was open and the wind was coming in. Someone was running across the sand toward the bay. He jumped the wall and disappeared. I saw Pete’s head and the blood and the Fish Whack’r and called nine-one-one, then tried to bring him back. I couldn’t.”

Sally Rainwater turned and looked at him, then back to the bay. Hector faced them now, leaning against the picture window.

“Fish Whack’r?” he asked.

“That’s what the club is called,” she said.

“Describe the person you saw,” said McMichael.

“Black running suit, and a dark cap pulled down. It could have been a man or a woman, but it ran like a man. Average build and height. He blended in with the darkness, just jumped the wall and disappeared.”

“Just disappeared,” said Paz.

McMichael looked at him, then out to where the sand blew across the beach.

Hector found a light switch and hit the outside floodlights. All three of them watched as the wind softened the scores of footprints going all directions in the public sand. McMichael thought of beachcombers, joggers, walkers, swimmers, kayakers, paddleboarders, you name it. Even in winter, San Diegans loved their beaches.

“Was Pete dead when you found him?”

“Yes. I did CPR anyway, until the cops and paramedics got here.”

“Did you kill him?” asked Hector.

“No,” she said quietly.

McMichael watched her and let the seconds stretch. “Did you move him?”

“Yes.” Her voice was soft but clear and, McMichael thought, a little distant now. “He was hanging over the left side when I walked in. I wrestled him up straight and he slid down like that. I figured that was as good a place as any, so I started the CPR.”

“But nothing.”

“Nothing but blood all over me.”

“What work did you do here?”

“I’m a registered nursing aid, but for Pete, most of what I did was just domestic. Cooking, laundry, light cleaning. Some shopping. Sometimes I’d drive him.”

“Where?” asked McMichael.

“Errands. He liked to ride.”

“How come he didn’t go with you for the firewood?” asked Hector.

“The cold weather made him stiff. He liked the fish room when it was cold. Because of the fireplace. But we didn’t have any wood.”

“We,” said Hector. “You two get along pretty good?”

“Yes. Sure. Seven months, I got to like him.”

“So you were like, friends.”

“We were friends.”

“Friends,” said Hector with a smile.

McMichael watched her watch Paz. “How was Pete tonight?”

“Fine. He was always fine. Alert. Strong for his age. Healthy.”

“Pete ever talk about being in danger, having enemies?”

“He disliked a lot of people. And a lot of people disliked him. I’m sure you know that.”

“Any recent threats that you know of?”


McMichael watched her reflection in the picture window and saw that she was watching his. The first small drops of rain skidded down the glass. “Did that club come from the wall?”

“I think so. It looked like the one that used to be there.”

“We’ll get prints off the handle,” said Paz. “Unless the creep was wearing gloves, or wiped it down.”

She stared out at the storm-swept bay, but said nothing.

“Did you wear your gloves when you tried to revive him?” McMichael asked.

She looked at him again and shook her head, a minor motion that seemed intended mostly for herself. “No. Well, at first I touched his head, the sides of his face, to see his eyes. The gloves were on when I did that. Then I went to the phone and took them off to dial. When I straightened him in the chair and tried the CPR, no, I didn’t have them on.”

“Did you touch the club tonight?”


“Did you touch it recently?”

“No. Why?” She turned and looked at him, and for the first time he saw confusion in her unhappy brown eyes.

“In case we find two sets of prints on it.”

“And what if you find just one?”

“That person is in deep shit,” said Hector.

When she turned to look at Paz her ponytail shifted and McMichael saw the tattoo high on her neck, an inch below the hairline, right side, a small red flame with two points lapping at her pale skin. Or maybe it was a red tulip.

“It would help us quite a lot if we could have your boots for blood samples,” he said.

“You can take the gloves and sweater, but I’m not walking around tonight in my socks.”

“Ms. Rainwater, do you plan to be in town for the next few days?”

She answered yes without looking at him.

“Can I see your driver’s license?”

“My purse is in the kitchen. I’ll go—”

“I’ll get it,” said Hector. He was already moving toward the French doors. “Stay put, Ms. Rainwater. You’ve had a hard night.”

Paz came back into the room with a black purse in one hand and a stainless steel derringer in the other. He held the gun between thumb and forefinger, at the bottom of the grip, the short barrel dangling down.

“Sorry, Ms. Rainwater, but the strap snagged, the purse tipped over, and out came your piece. I’ll just put it back in. It’s yours, isn’t it?”

“It’s mine and it’s registered.”

“You got a permit to go with it?”

“Yes. Give me my purse.”

She set the purse on the table, dug out a wallet from which she handed McMichael a CDL and a San Diego County Concealed Carry Permit.

He took out his notebook and wrote down her date of birth and the license and CCP numbers.

Hector had glommed Fiore’s camera during his purse retrieval, and now used it to shoot pictures of Sally Rainwater’s boots.

She took back her documents, slung the purse over her shoulder and started out.

“Ms. Rainwater,” said McMichael. “Where did you go for the firewood? Which store?”

“Ralph’s on Rosecrans,” she said, and kept on walking.

“Did you lock the door when you left?”

“Yes. And it was locked when I came back.”

They watched her go, McMichael unable to keep from checking her shape in the jeans. Excellent indeed.

When she was gone, Hector smiled at McMichael and shook his head. “Odds?”

McMichael switched off his tape recorder, hit rewind. “Ninety-ten no. So far, I believe her. And if she did it, she’d bash, grab what she wanted and drive away. She wouldn’t call us.”

“I got sixty-forty yes. She bashes, stashes the goods in her Beetle out there, calls us, gives a story and sticks to it. Fucking gloves, man. Convenient. And she knows the name of that club, but she’s never touched it? Come on.”

“So she’s driving away with stolen property right now?”

“Sixty-forty she is,” said Hector.

“Pull her over and ask her if you can look in her car.”

“She’d say no. She’s not dumb.”

“Then beat her home and see what she unloads.”

McMichael hit the play button on his little tape recorder, wrote Sally Rainwater’s address in his notebook, snapped the sheet out and handed it to Paz.


It took McMichael three calls to get Patricia Hansen’s home phone number and tell her what had happened to her grandfather. She’d been sleeping and her voice was thick and dull but McMichael recognized it immediately. He could hear her husband, Garland, interrogatively grumbling in the background. She said thirty minutes and hung up.

Besides the painting missing from the hallway, Detective Barbara Givens had found for McMichael two more blank spots—with the lights illuminating nothing—in an upstairs bedroom. And another painting gone from the dining room. Another from one of the downstairs baths.

“Nothing else obvious,” she said. “We could use someone who knows the house.”

“The granddaughter’s coming over.”

“Good. The press is out in force. Local celebrity hour.”

“Tell them no arrests. I let the nurse go home, Barbara. Leave her out of your statements if you can.”

“They already know she made the call,” said Givens. She was stout and broad-shouldered, with short blonde hair and quick blue eyes that often noticed what others missed. McMichael thought of her as optimistic and he trusted her completely. “Her car looked fine from the outside, Tom. Nothing interesting. Wouldn’t mind lifting that trunk, though. And I listened to both the messages on the answering machine in the kitchen—a health insurance solicitation and a call from a man named Victor. No last name and no message.”

Victor Braga, thought McMichael: Pete’s son. A sixty-three year-old man with the mind of a ten-year-old. Living proof of the hatred between the McMichaels and the Bragas.

“Try the neighbors on each side, and across the street,” he said.

“My next stop. What do you make of the nurse?”


On Sale
Apr 2, 2003
Page Count
384 pages
Hachette Books

T. Jefferson Parker

About the Author

T. Jefferson Parker‘s bestselling works have won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and two Edgar Awards. He is author of twenty-three novels, most recently Crazy Blood. He lives in Southern California.

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