/ Language: English / Genre:thriller / Series: Dismas Hardy

The First Law

John Lescroart


John Lescroart

The First Law

"And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept by confused alarums of struggle and flight Where ignorant armies clash by night."

- Matthew Arnold "Dover Beach"

Part One

At a little before two o'clock on a chill and overcast Wednesday afternoon, Moses McGuire pulled his old Ford pickup to a grating stop in front of his sister Frannie's house and honked the horn twice.

He waited, blowing on his hands, which he couldn't get to stay warm. The heater in the truck didn't work worth a damn and the driver-side window was stuck halfway down, but he knew it wasn't the weather. It was nerves. He blew into the cup of his hands again, lay on the horn another time.

The door opened. His brother-in-law, Dismas Hardy, walked briskly, businesslike, down his porch steps and the path that bisected his small lawn. Normally he was good for a smile or some wiseass greeting, but today his face was set, his eyes cast down. He carried a rope-wrapped package under one arm, wore jeans and hiking boots and a heavy coat into the pockets of which he'd stuffed his hands. The coat, McGuire thought, was a good idea, not so much for the cold as to disguise the fact that he was wearing Kevlar, and packing.

Hardy, at fifty-two, was two years younger than McGuire. The two men had known each other for over thirty years, since they'd been in Vietnam. Over there, Hardy had pulled McGuire to cover and safety in the midst of an intense firefight-both of the men had been hit, both awarded the Purple Heart. But Hardy had saved McGuire's life and that bond had held, would always hold.

When Hardy's first pass at adult life fell apart, he'd worked for years at the bar Moses owned, the Little Shamrock, and eventually, when Hardy was ready to risk life and commitment again, he became a quarter partner in the bar.

He'd married McGuire's sister, was godfather to one of McGuire's daughters, as Moses was to his.

Family.

Hardy slid in and dumped the package onto the seat between them. "There's your vest. I did have the extra." Saying it aloud seemed to cost him some energy. He drew a deep breath and took a last look back at his house as the truck moved into gear. Turning back to his brother-in-law, he asked, "What are you carrying?"

McGuire motioned over his shoulder, indicating the truck bed. "I got fifty shells and my over and under wrapped in the tarp back there."

"Twelve gauge?"

"Yeah, and in there"-McGuire pointed to the glove box-"I got my Sig."

"Automatic?"

He caught Hardy's tone of disapproval. "They don't always jam," he said.

"Only takes once."

"I expect I'll be using the shotgun anyway."

The truck turned a couple of corners, the men riding in silence until they were rolling on Geary. McGuire blew on his hands again. Finally, Hardy spoke. "You okay with this?"

McGuire looked across the seat, his dark eyes flat. "Completely. You not?"

Hardy worked his mouth, shook his head. "I don't see another choice."

"That's 'cause there isn't one."

"I know. I know. It's just…"

"There's always another choice?"

"Usually."

"Not this time." McGuire bit it off, impatient. He accelerated angrily through a yellow light. "You already tried all of them."

"Maybe not all. That's what I worry about. This would be a bad time to get pulled over, don't you think?"

McGuire touched the brake, slowed a hair. He slammed his hand on the dashboard. "Come on, heater, kick in. Fuck."

Hardy ignored the outburst. "I just think," he said, "we do this, then what?"

"Then we're alive, how about that? We don't, we're not. It's that simple." The next light was red and he had to stop, took the moment to make eye contact. "How many people do these guys have to kill, Diz? How many have they already killed?"

"Allegedly…"

"Don't give me that. You have any doubt at all, reasonable or otherwise?"

"No."

"So don't give me 'allegedly.' You don't believe it yourself."

"Okay, but maybe Abe could bring in the feds. Him going in alone to arrest these guys now…"

"He's not going to be alone. We're backing him up."

Hardy chewed at his cheek. "We're not the cops."

"Truer words were never said. There's no time to call in the feds, Diz. There's no time to convince any bureaucracy to move. You of all people should know that."

"I'm just saying if we had a little more time…"

McGuire shook his head. "Time's up, Diz. They decide you're next-the good money bet by the way-they pull up to you maybe today, maybe tomorrow; they're not going to care if Frannie's in the car with you, or the kids. You're just gone. Like the others."

"I know. I know you're right."

"Damn straight." The light changed. McGuire hit the gas and lurched ahead. "Listen, you think I want to be here? I don't want to be here."

"I keep thinking the law…"

McGuire snorted. "The law. Your precious fucking law. It's gonna protect you, right? Like it has everybody else?"

"It's my life, Mose. I've pretty much got to believe that, don't I?"

"The law's not your life. It's your job. Your life is something else entirely. The first law is you protect your life and the people you love."

Hardy stared out the window.

McGuire was riding his adrenaline. "These guys don't give a shit, Diz. Isn't that pretty clear by now? They've got the law-the cops in this town anyway-in their pocket. It's unfair and unlikely, okay, but that's what's happened. So now all that's left is they take out you and your meddling friend Abe and it's all over. They win. Life goes back to normal. Except you guys are both dead, and maybe my sister with you, and I'm not willing to take that chance." His eyes ticked across the seat. "You're telling me after all that's gone down, you don't see this? You don't know for a fact this can happen? Is going to happen?"

"No. I see it all right, Mose. I don't know how we got here, that's all. It's so unreal."

"Yeah, well, remember 'Nam. It was unreal, too, until the bullets started flying. The World Trade Center was pretty unreal, too, if you think about it. You think people are reasonable, you think there are rules. But then, guess what? Suddenly there aren't."

"All right. But we're not going in shooting, Mose. We're backing up Abe, and that's all we're doing."

"If you say so."

"Unless something goes wrong."

McGuire threw him another look, couldn't tell if he was serious or not. Hardy would crack wise at his own execution. The truck turned onto the freeway, going south. Hardy pulled a box from his jacket pocket and set it on his lap, then pulled off the lid. Reaching under his arm, he pulled out the massive, blue steel Colt's Police Special that he'd carried when he'd been a cop years before. He snapped open the cylinder, spun it, and began pulling. 357 copper-jacketed hollow-points from the box one at a time, dropping them into their slots.

When the six bullets were in place, he closed up and reholstered the gun, then pulled a second cylinder from his other pocket. Methodically-click, click, click as they fell into the cylinder-he sat filling the speed loader.

1

Ten o'clock, a Wednesday morning in the beginning of July.

John Holiday extended one arm over the back of the couch at his lawyer's Sutter Street office. Today he was comfortably dressed in stonewashed blue jeans, hiking boots, and a white, high-collared shirt so heavily starched that it had creaked when he lowered himself into his slouch. His other hand had come to rest on an oversize silver-and-turquoise belt buckle. His long legs stretched out all the way to the floor, his ankles crossed. Nothing about his posture much suggested his possession of a backbone.

Women had liked him since he'd outgrown his acne. His deep-set eyes seemed the window to a poet's soul, with the stained glass of that window the odd whitish blue of glacier water. Now, close up, those eyes revealed subtle traces of dissolution and loss. There was complexity here, even mystery. With an easy style and pale features-his jaw had the clean definition of a blade-he'd been making female hearts go pitter-patter for so long now that he took it for granted. He didn't much understand it. To him, the prettiness of his face had finally put him off enough that he'd grown a mustache. Full, drooping, and yellow as corn silk, it was two or three shades lighter than the hair on his head and had only made him more handsome. When his face was at rest, Holiday still didn't look thirty, but when he laughed, the lines added a decade, got him up to where he belonged. He still enjoyed a good laugh, though he smiled less than he used to.

He was smiling now, though, at his lawyer, Dismas Hardy, over by the sink throwing water on his face for the third time in ten minutes.

"As though that's gonna help." Holiday's voice carried traces of his father's Tennessee accent and the edges of it caressed like a soft Southern breeze.

"It would help if I could dry off."

"Didn't the first two times."

Hardy had used up the last of the paper towels and now stood facing his cupboards in his business suit, his face dripping over the sink. Holiday shrugged himself up from the couch, dug in the wastebasket by the desk, and came up with a handful of used paper, which he handed over. "Never let it be said I can't be helpful."

"It would never cross my mind." Hardy dried his face. "So where were we?"

"You're due in court in forty-five minutes and you're so hung over you don't remember where we were? If you'd behaved this way when you were my lawyer, I'd have fired you."

Hardy fell into one of his chairs. "I couldn't have behaved this way when I was your lawyer because I didn't know you well enough yet to go out drinking with you. Thank God."

"You're just out of practice. It's like riding a horse. You've got to get right back on when it tosses you."

"I did that last night. Twice."

"Don't look at me. If memory serves, nobody held a gun to your head. Why don't you call and tell them you're sick? Get a what-do-you-call-it…"

"Continuance." Hardy shook his head. "Can't. This is a big case."

"All the more reason if you can't think. But you said it was just dope and some hooker."

"But with elements," Hardy said.

In fact, he hadn't done a hooker case for nearly a decade. In his days as an assistant DA, the occasional prostitution case would cross his desk. Hardy mostly found these morally questionable, politically suspect, and in any case a waste of taxpayer money. Prostitutes, he thought, while rarely saintlike, were mostly victims themselves, so as a prosecutor, he would often try to use the girls' arrests as some kind of leverage to go after their dope connections or pimps, the true predators. Occasionally, it worked. Since he'd been in private practice, because there was little money in defending working girls, he never saw these cases anymore. As a matter of course, the court appointed the public defender's office or private counsel if that office had a conflict.

In this way, Aretha LaBonte's case had been assigned to Gina Roake, a mid-forties career defense attorney. But Gina's caseload had suddenly grown so large it was compromising her ability to handle it effectively. If she wanted to do well by the rest, she had to dump some clients, including Aretha. By chance she mentioned the case to her boyfriend, Hardy's landlord, David Freeman, who'd had a good listen and smelled money. With his ear always to the ground, Freeman had run across some similar cases.

Aretha's arrest had been months ago now. Her case was interesting and from Freeman's perspective potentially lucrative because her arresting officer wasn't a regular San Francisco policeman. Instead, he had been working for a company called WGP, Inc., which provided security services to businesses under a jurisdictional anomaly in San Francisco. In its vigilante heyday a century ago, the city found that its police department couldn't adequately protect the people who did business within its limits. Those folks asked the PD for more patrols, but there was neither budget nor personnel to accommodate them. So the city came up with a unique solution-it created and sold patrol "beats" to individuals who became private security guards for those beats. These beat holders, or Patrol Specials, then and now, were appointed by the police commissioner, trained and licensed by the city. The beat holders could, and did, hire assistants to help them patrol, and in time most Patrol Specials came to control their own autonomous armed force in the middle of the city. On his beat, a Patrol Special tended to be a law unto himself, subject only to the haphazard and indifferent supervision of the San Francisco Police Department. They and their assistants wore uniforms and badges almost exactly like those of the city police; they carried weapons and, like any other citizen, could make arrests.

Aretha LaBonte's arrest had occurred within the twelve-square-block area just south of Union Square known as Beat Thirty-two, or simply Thirty-two. It was one of six beats in the city owned by WGP, the corporate identity of a philanthropic businessman named Wade Panos. He had a total of perhaps ninety assistants on his payroll, and this, along with the amount of physical territory he patrolled, made him a powerful presence in the city.

Aretha's case was not the first misconduct that Freeman had run across in Panos's beats. In fact, Freeman's preliminary and cursory legwork, his "sniff test," revealed widespread allegations of assistant patrol specials' use of excessive force, planting of incriminating evidence, general bullying. If Hardy could get Aretha off on this one assistant patrol special's misconduct, and several of the other "sniff test" cases could be developed and drafted into legal causes of action, he and Freeman could put together a zillion dollar lawsuit against Panos. They could also include the regular police department as a named defendant for allowing these abuses to continue.

But at the moment, Hardy didn't exactly feel primed for the good fight. He brought his hand up and squeezed his temples, then exhaled slowly and completely. "It's not just a hooker case. It's going to get bigger, and delay doesn't help us. There's potentially huge money down the line, but first I've got to rip this witness a new one. If he goes down, we move forward. That's the plan."

"Which gang aft agley, especially if your brain's mush."

"It'll firm up. Pain concentrates the mind wonderfully. And I really want this guy."

"What guy?"

"The prosecution's chief witness. The arresting cop. Nick Sephia."

Suddenly Holiday sat upright. "Nick the Prick?"

"Sounds right."

"What'd he do wrong this time?"

"Planted dope on my girl."

"Let me guess. She wasn't putting out for him or paying for protection, so he set her up."

"You've heard the song before?"

"It's an oldie but goodie, Diz. Everybody knows it."

"Who's everybody?"

A shrug. "The neighborhood. Everybody."

Suddenly Hardy was all business. He knew that Holiday owned a bar, the Ark, smack in the middle of Thirty-two. Knew it, hell, he'd closed the place the night before. But somehow he'd never considered Holiday as any kind of real source for potential complainants in the Panos matter. Now, suddenly, he did. "You got names, John? People who might talk to me? I've talked to a lot of folks in the neighborhood in the last couple of months. People might be unhappy, but nobody's saying anything too specific."

A little snort. "Pussies. They're scared."

"Scared of Wade Panos?"

Holiday pulled at the side of his mustache, and nodded slowly. "Yeah, sure, who else?"

"That's what I'm asking you." Hardy hesitated. "Look, John, this is what Freeman and I have been looking for. We need witnesses who'll say that things like this Sephia bust I'm doing today are part of a pattern that the city's known about and been tolerating for years. If you know some names, I'd love to hear them."

Holiday nodded thoughtfully. "I could get some, maybe a lot," he said. "They're out there, I'll tell you that." His eyes narrowed. "You know Nick's his nephew, don't you? Wade's."

"Panos's? So his own uncle fired him?"

"Moved him out of harm's way is more like it. Now he's working for the Diamond Center."

"And you're keeping tabs on him?"

"We've been known to sit at a table together. Poker."

"Which as your lawyer I must remind you is illegal. You beat him?"

A shrug. "I don't play to lose."

The Wednesday night game had been going on for years now in the back room of Sam Silverman's pawnshop on O'Farrell, a block from Union Square. There were maybe twenty regulars. You reserved your chair by noon Tuesday and Silverman held it to six players on any one night. Nobody pretended that it was casual entertainment among friends. Table stakes makes easy enemies, especially when the buy-in is a thousand dollars. Twenty white chips at ten bucks each, fifteen reds at twenty, and ten blues at fifty made four or five small piles that could go away in a hurry. Sometimes in one hand.

With his neat bourbon in a heavy bar glass, John Holiday sat in the first chair, to Silverman's left, and two chairs beyond him Nick Sephia now smoldered. He'd come in late an hour ago and had taken a seat between his regular companions, Wade's little brother, Roy Panos, and another Diamond Center employee named Julio Rez. The other two players at the table tonight were Fred Waring, a mid-forties black stockbroker, and Mel Fischer, who used to own four Nosh Shop locations around downtown, but was now retired.

At thirty or so, Sephia was the youngest player there. He was also, by far, the biggest-six-three, maybe 220, all of it muscle. While Silverman took the young Greek's money and counted out his chips, Sephia carefully hung the coat of his exquisitely tailored light green suit over the back of his chair. The blood was up in his face, the color in his cheeks raw beef, the scowl a fixture. He'd shaved that morning but his jawline was already blue with shadow. After he sat, he snugged his gold silk tie up under his Adam's apple, rage flowing off him in an aura.

The usual banter dried up. After a few hands during which no one said a word, Roy Panos pushed a cigar over in front of the late arrival. Holiday sipped his bourbon. Eventually Silverman, maybe hoping to ease the tension, called a bathroom break for himself, and Sephia lit up, blowing the smoke out through his nose. Waring and Fischer stood to stretch and pour themselves drinks. Holiday, quietly enjoying Sephia's pain, had a good idea of what was bothering him. Maybe the whiskey was affecting his judgment-it often did-but he couldn't resist. "Bad day, Nick?"

Sephia took a minute deciding whether he was going to talk about it. Finally, he shook his head in disgust. "Fucking lawyers. I spent half the day in court."

"Why? What'd you do?"

"What'd / do?" He blew smoke angrily. "I didn't do dick."

Roy Panos helped him with the explanation. "They suppressed his evidence on some hooker he brought in for dope a couple of months ago. Said he planted it on her."

"So?" Holiday was all sweet reason. "If you didn't, what's the problem?"

Sephia's dark eyes went to slits, his temper ready to flare at any indication that Holiday was having fun at his expense, but he saw no sign of it. "Guy made me look like a fucking liar, is the problem. Like I'm supposed to remember exactly what I did with this one whore? She's got junk in her purse; another one's got it in her handbag. Who gives a shit where it was? Or how it got there? It's there, she's guilty, end of story. Am I right?"

"Fuckin' A." Julio Rez, a medium-built Latino, spoke without any accent. All wires and nerves, he'd probably been a good base stealer in his youth. He'd lost the lower half of his left ear somewhere, but it didn't bother him enough to try to cover it with his hair, which was cropped short. "She goes down."

"But not today. Today they let her go." Panos spoke to Holiday. "They suppress the dope, there's no case."

"Were you down at court, too?"

Panos shook his head. "No, but Wade was. My brother? He is pissed off."

"Not at me, I hope," Sephia said.

Panos patted him on the arm. "No, no. The lawyers. Bastards."

"Why would your brother be mad at Nick?" Holiday sipped again at his tumbler of bourbon.

"He was working for him at the time, that's why. It makes Wade look bad. I mean, Nick's doing patrol for Christ sake. He busts a hooker, she ought to stay busted at least. Now maybe they start looking at the rest of the shop."

"Judge reamed my ass," Sephia said. "This prick lawyer-he had the judge talking perjury, being snotty on the record. 'I find the arresting officer's testimony not credible as to the circumstances surrounding the arrest.' Yeah, well, Mr. Hardy, you can bite me."

Holiday feigned surprise. "Hardy's my lawyer's name. Dismas Hardy?"

Now Sephia's glare was full on. "The fuck I know? But whatever it is, I see him again, he's going to wish I didn't."

"So he must have convinced them you did plant her?"

Rez shot a quick glance at Sephia. But Sephia held Holiday's eyes for a long beat, as though he was figuring something out. "She wasn't paying," he finally said, his voice filled with a calm menace. "Wade wanted her out of the beat. Most of the time that's intensive care. I figured I was doing the bitch a favor."

Dismas Hardy's wife, Frannie, cocked her head in surprise. They'd just sat down at a small Spanish place on Clement, not far from their house on Thirty-fourth Avenue. "You're not having wine?" she asked.

"Not tonight."

"Nothing to drink at all?"

"Just water. Water's good."

"You feel all right?"

"Fine. Sometimes I don't feel like drinking, that's all."

"Oh, that's right. I remember there was that time right after Vincent was born." Their son, Vincent, was now thirteen. She reached her hand across the table and put it over one of his. "Did you hurt yourself last night?"

Half a grin flickered then died out. "I didn't think so at the time. I'm out of shape pounding myself with alcohol."

Frannie squeezed his hand. "Out of shape could be a good thing, you know." But she softened her tone. "How was John?"

"Entertaining, charming, drunk. The usual. Though he came by the office this morning fresh as a daisy. He must have been pouring his drinks in the flowerpots."

"So what time did you finally get in?"

"One-ish? That's a guess. You were asleep, though. I think."

"Aren't you glad you decided to take a cab when you went out?"

"Thrilled. I guess I must have taken a cab back home then, huh?"

"If John didn't drive you."

Hardy pressed two fingers into his temple. "No. I think we can rule that out."

A look of concern. "You really don't remember?"

"No. I remember. I didn't even think I'd hurt myself until this morning when that moose in my mouth wouldn't stop kicking at my brains." He shrugged. "But you know, with John…"

"Maybe you don't have to keep up with him."

"That's what they all say. But then you do."

The waiter came by with a basket of freshly baked bread, some olives, a hard pungent cheese. Frannie ordered her usual Chardonnay. As advertised, Hardy stayed with water. They kept holding hands over the table. The waiter vanished and Hardy picked up where they'd been. "He's more fun than a lot of people," he said, "and more interesting than almost everybody except you."

"What a sweet thing to say. And so sincere." She squeezed his hand. "I don't have a problem with him. Really. Or with you. I don't know if I understand the attraction-if you were a woman, okay-but I don't like to see you hurting."

"I'm not so wild about it either. But you hang out with John Holiday, there's a chance you'll drink too much sometimes. And in spite of all this, by the way, today wasn't a total loss. Maybe I should have a drink, after all. Celebrate."

"What?"

"You know that motion to suppress…"

He told her about his afternoon in the courtroom, getting Nick Sephia's evidence kicked out, which led to Aretha LaBonte's case being dismissed. "Not that it's going to change her life in any meaningful way. She's probably back on the street even as we speak, although if she's smart she's not working one of Wade Panos's beats. But it was nice to serve notice that this stuff isn't flying anymore. When it was over, David even had a little moment of actual drama right there in the Hall of Justice."

The curmudgeonly and unkempt seventy-seven-year-old legal powerhouse that was David Freeman wouldn't give Wade Panos or his hired thug Nick Sephia the satisfaction. Further, he did not believe in revealing pain or weakness under any conditions, but most especially in a professional settling. So even Dismas Hardy, who'd been there, wasn't aware of how badly he'd been hurt. How badly he still hurt. At first, he even tried to fake it with Roake. On her sixth full day of automatic redial, she had finally succeeded in getting dinner reservations for them both at the legendarily swank restaurant, Gary Danko. Freeman wasn't going to whine and ruin the special night she'd so painstakingly orchestrated. So after the successful hearing and the little problem he'd had with Sephia and Panos, he'd forgone any celebration with Hardy and instead had beelined home from the Hall of Justice, hailing a cab as soon as he was out of sight around the corner. In his apartment, he popped a handful of aspirin with a hefty shot of Calvados. Then he ran a hot bath and soaked in it before dragging himself into bed, where he slept for three and a half hours until his alarm jarred his aching body into a disoriented awareness.

It cost him a half hour, laboring mightily through the pain, to get himself dressed. Freeman held fast to a lifelong core belief that juries didn't trust nice clothes, and so of the seven business suits he owned, six were brown and straight off the rack. But the last one was a khaki Canali that Roake had bought him last Christmas. He was wearing that one tonight, with a red silk tie over a rich, ivory, custom-made shirt. His scuffed cordovan wingtips were the only sign of the usual Freeman.

By the time Roake had come by to pick him up at seven o'clock, he had steeled himself and thought he was ready. But then she surprised him, or perhaps his flashy clothes surprised her. In any event, she hung back in the doorway and whistled appreciatively, frankly admiring him for a moment, then took a little skip forward and threw her arms around him, squeezing hard.

A cry escaped before he could stop it.

"What is it? David? Are you all right? What's the matter?"

He was righting for control, his jaw set, brow contracted, blowing quick, short little breaths from his mouth.

Now, two hours later, he awoke again from his third brief doze. He was back in bed, in his pajamas, and Roake was sitting at his side, holding his hand. "You really ought to see a doctor," she said.

But he shook his head. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And nothing's broke."

"But you're hurt."

He started to shrug, then grimaced. "Tomorrow I'll be dancing. You wait." He put a hand to his neck and turned his head slowly from side to side a couple of times, then stopped and fixed her with a sheepish gaze. "I feel like such a fool."

"What for? You didn't ask for this."

"No. But I knew who I was dealing with. I should have been prepared. In the old days, I would have been."

"Prepared for Nick Sephia to knock you over?"

The old man, looking every year of his age, nodded wearily. "They set me up."

"How did they do that?"

"Child's play with a trusting soul like myself." He sighed in disgust. "I'd already had a few words with the elder Mr. Panos after Dismas beat the hell out of Sephia on the stand."

"What in the world prompted you to do that?"

"Hubris, plain and simple." Another sigh. "I couldn't resist the opportunity to crow a little, though I thought I'd done it subtly enough in the guise of giving him a friendly warning of what was coming."

Roake allowed a small smile. "Hence your nickname, Mr. Subtle."

"In any event, it didn't fool him much. So afterwards a bunch of their guys-Dick Kroll's there, too. You know Dick? Sephia's lawyer? And Panos and one of Nick's pals I'd seen in court with him before, some greaser. Anyway, all these guys are having some kind of powwow out in the hall. So Wade sees me come out with Hardy and motions to me over Nick's shoulder. Come on over."

"And you went?"

"What was I gonna do? I tell Diz to wait and give me a minute. I'm thinking no doubt I put the fear of God in Wade and he's talked to Kroll and decided to cave and try to cut some kind of deal right there."

"That hubris thing again."

Freeman raised his shoulders an inch, acknowledging the truth. "Occupational hazard if you happen to be cursed with genius. Anyway, it's here to stay." Another shrug. "So I'm like two steps away when Nick the Prick suddenly whirls around-whoops, late for a bus-and next thing I know I'm flat on my keister, stretched out on the goddamn floor, and there's Nick leaning over me, all 'Sorry, old man, didn't see you.' " Finally, his eyes got some real fire back into them. "Sorry my ass. Wade gave him some kind of sign and he turned on cue. That was his warning back at me-fuck with me and you'll get hurt." He went to straighten up in the bed, but his bones fought him and won. He gave it up, falling back into his pillow.

Roake put her hand on his chest, brought it up to stroke his cheek. "You guys," she said gently. Then, in a minute, "It could have been an accident, after all, couldn't it?"

"No. No chance."

"So now you need to get back at them, is that it?"

He nodded. "In the words of Ol' Blue Eyes, I'll do it my way, but bet your ass I will." Reading her reaction, he added, "That's the only message they hear."

"And how about you? Which one do you hear?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean, you warn them, they attack you, now it's your turn again, and it all escalates, until somebody really gets hurt. Maybe it doesn't always have to be that way."

"With some people, maybe it does. What else do you do when they're pulling shit like today? You fight back, is what."

Roake had her hands back in her lap. "Then you're both still fighting. And what's that prove?"

"When somebody wins, it ends. And I intend to win."

"And that's what it's all about, is it? Who wins?"

"Yep." Defiantly. "What else?" he asked. "What else is there?"

Roake sat with it for a beat. She blew out in frustration. Finally, she looked down at him and stood up. "How very male of you."

"There's worse ways to be, Gina. What else do you want?"

She looked down at him. "I want you to be smart. Don't get drawn into playing their games. This doesn't have to continue being personal, especially if they believe in doing things like today, in actually hurting people. That's all I'm saying. File your papers, keep out of it, and let the law do its work."

"That's exactly my intention. What else would I do?" Freeman patted the bed. "Come, sit back down. I'm not self-destructive, you know. I'm not going to fight anybody physically."

Roake lowered herself down next to him again. "That's what I thought you were saying." She took his gnarled hand in both of hers.

"No, no, no. I'm talking what I do. The law. That'll beat up on 'em good enough. But I will tell you one other thing."

"What's that?"

"Whatever else it might look like, it's going to be personal."

Lieutenant Abraham Glitsky, once the powerful head of San Francisco's homicide detail, was half-black and half-Jewish, and in his job he'd groomed himself to exude a threatening mixture of efficient competence and quiet menace. His infrequent smiles would even more rarely get all the way to his piercing blue eyes. A Semitic hatchet of a nose protruded over a generous mouth, rendered unforgettable by the thick scar that bisected both lips.

Now this fearsome figure stood framed in the doorway to his duplex. He wore neither shoes nor socks and his bare legs showed at the bottom of a dirty kitchen apron. He'd draped a diaper over his right shoulder. It was streaked- recently-with the oranges and greens and off-browns of strained baby food. He held his ten-month-old daughter Rachel in the crook of his left arm. She had somehow wriggled out of one of her pink baby booties, and just as Glitsky opened the door, she'd hooked it over his ear.

"Where's a camera when you really need one?" Hardy asked.

Frannie stepped forward. "Here, Abe. Let me hold her."

In what had become a largely unacknowledged weekly ritual, the Hardys' Wednesday Date Night was ending here again. Since Rachel's birth, Frannie couldn't seem to get enough of holding her. She was turning forty soon and their children were both teenagers. Maybe she and Dismas should have another baby. There was still time. Just. If Dismas wanted one, too. Which he did like he wanted cancer.

He couldn't decide if the visits to hold Rachel were a good thing because it satisfied Frannie's need to hold a baby, or a bad thing because it made her want one of her own even more, but either way, they'd been coming by now regularly enough that there was usually some kind of dessert waiting for them when they got there.

Glitsky shrugged the baby over to Frannie, immediately grabbed at the bootie.

"You ought to leave it," Hardy begged. "It's so you. And that pink goes just perfect with the puke on the diaper."

Glitsky glanced down at his shoulder. "That's not puke. Puke is eaten, regurgitated, expelled matter. This"-he touched the diaper-"is simply food that didn't quite get to the mouth."

"Guys! Guys!" Frannie whisked the diaper over to her own shoulder. She slipped the booty over Rachel's foot, then fixed each of the guys with a look. "Fascinating though these distinctions are, maybe we could leave them just for a minute."

She turned into the living room. Hardy, behind her, didn't want to let the topic go. He could score some valuable points here. "You know, Fran, if you really want another baby, you've got to be ready to deal with puke."

"I can deal with it fine," she said over her shoulder. "I just don't want to talk about it, much less conjugate it."

Hardy took the cue. "I puke, you puke, he she or it pukes…"

Suddenly Treya came around the comer from the kitchen. "Who wants another baby?"

Ten minutes later, they were arranged-coffee for the Hardys, tea for the Glitskys-around the large square table that took up nearly all the space in the tiny kitchen. Rachel was dozing, ready to be laid down in her crib, although neither Frannie nor Treya seemed inclined to move in that direction. The treat tonight was a plate of homemade macaroon cookies, still hot from the oven, all coconut and stick-to-the-teeth sweetness. "These," Hardy said to Treya after his first bite, "are incredible. I didn't know normal people could make macaroons."

"Abe can. Not that he's a normal person exactly."

"Or even approximately," Hardy said. "But if he can make these things, maybe there's still some use for him."

"You're both too kind." Glitsky turned to Hardy. "So where did you think they came from? Macaroons."

"I thought they dropped straight out of heaven, like manna in the desert. In fact, I always imagined that manna had kind of a macaroon flavor. Didn't any of you guys? I'm serious." His face lit up with an idea. "Hey, Manna Macaroons. That wouldn't be a bad brand name. We could market them like Mrs. Fields. Abe's Manna Macaroons. We could all get rich…"

Frannie spoke. "Somebody please stop him."

Glitsky jumped in. "It's a good idea, Diz, but I couldn't do it anyway. I'm going back to work next week. Monday."

Treya gave him a wary look. "You hope."

"All right," he conceded, "I hope."

"Why wouldn't you be?" Hardy asked. "How long's it been, anyway?"

"On Monday, it'll have been thirteen months, two weeks and three days."

"Roughly," Treya added pointedly. "Not that he's been counting."

Glitsky was coming off a bad year, one that had begun with a point-blank gunshot wound to his abdomen. For the first month or so after the initial cleanup, he'd been recovering according to schedule-getting around in a wheelchair, taking things easy-when the first of several medical complications had developed. A secondary infection that finally got diagnosed as peritonitis put him back in the hospital, where he then developed pneumonia. The double whammy had nearly killed him for a second time, and left him weakened and depleted through Rachel's birth last August until late in the fall. Then, suddenly the initial wound itself wouldn't completely heal. It wasn't until February of this year that he'd even been walking regularly at all, and a couple of months after that before he began trying to get back into shape. At the end of May, his doctors finally declared him fit to return to work, but Glitsky's bosses had told him that homicide's interim head-the lieutenant who'd taken Glitsky's place-would need to be reassigned and there wasn't an immediately suitable job befitting his rank and experience.

So Glitsky had waited some more.

Now they were in July and evidently something had finally materialized, but obviously with a wrinkle. "So what's to hope about getting back on Monday?" Hardy asked. "How could it not happen? You walk in, say hi to your troops, go back to your desk and break out the peanuts."

The lieutenant's desk in homicide was famous for its unending stash of goobers in the shell.

Glitsky made a face.

"Apparently," Treya said, "it's not that simple."

Hardy finished a macaroon, sipped some coffee. "What?" he asked. "Somebody from the office saw you in the apron? I bet that's it. We can sue them for discrimination. You should be allowed to wear an apron if you want."

"Dismas, shut up," Frannie said. "What, Abe?"

"Well, the PD will of course welcome me back, but maybe at a different job."

"What job?" Hardy asked. "Maybe they're promoting you."

"I didn't get that impression. They're talking payroll."

"Head of payroll's a sergeant," Hardy said. "Isn't he?"

"Used to be anyway." Glitsky hesitated. "Seems there's been some concern that I was excessively close to my work in homicide."

"Evidently this is a bad thing," Treya added.

"As opposed to what?" Frannie asked. "Bored with it?"

"You haven't even gone to work for a year," Hardy said. "How does that put you excessively close to it?"

Glitsky nodded. "I raised some of the same points myself."

"And?" Hardy asked.

"And in the past few years, as we all know, my daughter was killed, I had a heart attack, and I got shot in the line of duty."

"One of which actually happened because of the job." Treya was frowning deeply. "He also got married and had a baby, as if there's some connection there, too."

Glitsky shrugged. "It's just an excuse. It's really because my extended disability made them put a new guy in homicide for the duration…"

"Gerson, right?" Hardy said.

"That's him. They probably told him it was his permanent gig when they moved him up. And now that I've had the bad grace to get better, they're embarrassed."

"So transfer him," Hardy said. "What does the union say?"

"They say Gerson's been doing okay so far, and it wouldn't be fair to transfer him before he's even really gotten his feet wet. It might look bad for him later. Whereas I've already proved myself."

"And so as a reward, they're moving you out?" Frannie asked. "And down?"

"Not down," Treya said. "He's going to be lieutenant of payroll."

"I don't even know where payroll is," Glitsky said, "much less what they do."

"That's perfect," Hardy said. "You wouldn't want too many people working at jobs they know about."

"God forbid," Glitsky said. "And the great thing, as they so graciously explained to me, is that this is not a punishment. It's an opportunity to improve my resume. I spend maybe a year in payroll; then they promote me to captain at one of the stations. Couple of years there, next thing you know I'm a deputy chief."

"His lifelong dream," Treya added with heavy sarcasm.

Hardy knew what Treya meant. Glitsky had worked fourteen years in the department before he got to inspector sergeant at homicide, and then another eight before they promoted him to lieutenant of the detail. Abe didn't crave varied administrative experience. He wanted to catch murderers.

"Have you talked to Batiste?" Hardy asked. This was Frank Batiste, recently promoted to deputy chief. For many years, as Captain of Inspectors, he had been Glitsky's mentor within the department. "Maybe he could throw some juice."

But Glitsky shook his head. "Who do you think I talked to?"

Hardy frowned. "I thought he was your guy."

"Well…" Glitsky made a face.

Treya knew that her husband wasn't comfortable complaining about a colleague, so she helped him with it. "It seems like Frank's going through some changes himself."

"Like what?" Frannie asked.

"It's not Frank," Glitsky said. He wasn't going to let people bad-mouth another cop, even if there might be something behind it. "He's stuck, too. His wife hasn't sold a house in a year. They got kids in college. Times are not sweet."

"So he makes them bad for you, too? What's that about?"

Again, Glitsky wouldn't rise. "I can't really blame him, Diz. He can't afford to lose his own job to make me happy."

"That wouldn't happen," Treya argued. "He's too connected."

"People might have said the same thing about me last year," Glitsky said. "It's a different world down there lately." He shrugged. "Frank got the word from above; then he got to be the messenger. If he didn't want to deliver it, they'd find somebody else, and then he's not a team player anymore. He had no choice."

But Treya shook her head. "He didn't have to tell you good cops don't go where they choose, they go where they're ordered. That doesn't sound like a friend."

"I could hear me telling one of my troops the same thing." Clearly uncomfortable with the discussion, Glitsky looked around the table. "As for being friends, Frank's my superior officer. He's doing his job."

"So you're really going to payroll?" Frannie asked. "I can't really see you crunching numbers all day long."

The edge of Glitsky's mouth turned up. "I'm sure there'll be lots of hidden satisfactions. In any event, I'll find out on Monday."

"You got a backup plan?" Hardy asked.

Glitsky looked at Treya, tried a smile that didn't quite work. "We've got a new baby," he said. "What else am I going to do?"

2

It was a Thursday evening in early November. Daylight Saving Time had ended on the previous weekend, and consequently it was full night by six o'clock. It was darker even than it might have been because the streetlights on O'Farrell Street between Stockton and Powell had not come on-perhaps they hadn't been set back for the time change.

A fifteen-knot wind was biting and blowing up from off the Bay, pushing before it the occasional large drop of what was to be the first real rainstorm of the season. Although Sam Silverman's pawnshop was located only one block south of the always-congested Union Square neighborhood, tonight-with the awful weather and deep blackness-the street out front was all but deserted.

Silverman had already locked the front door and pulled both sides of the antitheft bars on their tracks. Now all he had to do when he was ready to leave was to unlock the door again for a moment, step outside, and pull the bars so that he could padlock them together. He stood at the door inside an extra second and frowned-that hour of lost daylight always depressed him for the first week or so.

Sighing, he turned and walked back through the center aisle of his shop, reaching out and touching the treasures of other people's lives against which he'd loaned them money-guitars and saxophones and drum kits, silverware, cutlery, fine porcelain china sets, doll collections, televisions, radios, microwave ovens. Much of it bought new in a spirit of hope for the future, now most of it abandoned forever, secondhand junk without a trace of dream left in it.

At the back counter, he stopped again, struck by the display. Jewelry was by far his biggest stock item, and the watches and rings, the necklaces and earrings, though lovely, tonight seemed to hold even more pathos than the other goods. These were mostly gifts-at one time they'd been the carefully chosen expressions of love, of vows taken and lives shared. Now they were locked under the glass in a pawnshop, to be sold for a fraction of their cost, with all the human value in them lost to time and need.

He shook his head to rid himself of these somber thoughts. The start of winter always did this to him, and he'd be damned if he'd give in to it. Maybe he was getting that sickness where you got sad all the time when the weather sucked. But no. He'd lived in San Francisco his whole life, and God knew there had been enough opportunity that he would have caught it before now.

It was just the early darkness.

He glanced back at the front door and saw himself reflected in the glass-a small, somewhat stooped, decently dressed old Jewish man. It was black out there. Time passed during which he didn't move a muscle. When he heard the wind gust, then fade, and drops of rain just beginning to sound slowly onto the skylight overhead, he started, coming suddenly back to where he was. He looked up at the source of the noise-the skylight, covered with bars, was just a dark hole in the ceiling.

The thought crossed his mind that he wished he'd kept up his contract with Wade Panos. It would be nice on a miserable night like tonight to have one of his big and armed assistant patrol specials walk with him the two blocks around the corner to the night deposit box at Bank of America. But he and Sadie had gone over it and decided they couldn't justify the prices anymore, especially since Wade was raising them again.

While it was somewhat comforting to have the private patrol watching out for you-especially on your walks to the bank-it wasn't as though this part of the city was a magnet for violent crime anymore. Nothing like it used to be. The shop hadn't even had a window broken in over twenty years. No, the Patrol Special was a luxury he really didn't need and couldn't afford anymore. And it wasn't as though the city police didn't patrol here, too. Maybe just not as often.

Still, though, he considered calling the station and requesting an officer to walk over to the bank with him. But even if they could spare anyone, he'd have to wait here another hour or so. Maybe he just shouldn't do the errand tonight. But Thursday, after the poker game, was always his deposit night. And last night he'd made one of his biggest hauls.

He flicked on the small night-light in the jewelry cabinet. Enough with maudlin. He'd better get finished here or he'd get soaked on the way to the bank. He considered that maybe this should be the year he and Sadie pack up and buy a condo like the ones they'd looked at last summer in Palm Springs. Maybe even Scottsdale.

Although when they'd gone there in the summer a few years back, it had been way too hot. And leaving his friends here, and his synagogue-did they really want to do that? What did he think he was going to do in Palm Springs without the company of Nat Glitsky, a brother to him all these years? And Nat, with a new baby grandchild, wasn't going anywhere. Sam loved Sadie, but she was a reader-a very solitary and passionate reader-not a games person. Nat, on the other hand, loved all kinds of games-backgammon, dominoes, Scrabble, anything to do with cards. They had tournaments, for God's sake, with trophies. No, Sam didn't really want to move. He just wanted the days to be longer again.

"Fart-knocker," he said aloud to himself, shaking his head. In the back room, he went to a knee, worked the combination, swung open the door to the safe. Lifting out the old maroon leather pouch, he was struck again by the thickness of it. He unzipped the top and ran his thumb over the top edges of the bills, nearly twenty-two thousand dollars in all, more than two months' worth of the shop's earnings, even if he included what he made on his poker fees. It would be the largest deposit he'd made in years.

He zipped it back up and placed it in the inside pocket of his jacket. A last check of the shop, then he grabbed his fedora off the hat rack, pushing it down hard over his crown against the wind he'd encounter when he got outside. He turned out the lights and retraced his steps down the center aisle. Stopping a last time, he looked both ways up the street and saw nothing suspicious.

He reached for the door and pulled it open.

*****

The plan was a simple one. Speed and efficiency. They wore heavy coats, latex gloves, and ski masks to thwart identification. None of them was to say one word before they knocked Silverman out.

The old man was holding his hat down securely on his head with one hand, pulling the door to behind him when the three men came out of hiding in the doorways on either side of his shop windows and, pulling their masks down over their faces, fell upon him. The biggest guy got the door while the other two grabbed him by the arms, covered his mouth, and manhandled him inside and back up the aisle.

In the back room, they turned the light on. But the old man had gotten his mouth free and was starting to make noise now, yelling at them, maybe getting up the nerve to give them some kind of fight, as though he had any kind of chance. But delay would mean a hassle.

And since hassle wasn't part of the plan, the big man pulled a revolver from his pocket. The old geezer was actually making a decent show of resistance, struggling, manipulating his shoulders from side to side, grunting and swearing with the exertion. Because of all the lateral movement, the first swing with the gun glanced off the side of the man's head, but it was enough to stop him, stunned by the blow. The instant was long enough.

The next swing connected with Silverman's skull and dropped him cold. He slumped into dead weight and they lowered him to the ground, where he lay unmoving.

The big man knew just what he was looking for and where it would be. In two seconds, he'd unplugged the surveillance video mounted over the office door. Five seconds later, he had the maroon leather pouch in his hands and was back on his feet. He pulled his ski mask off and threw it to the floor. His accomplices removed theirs and put them in their coat pockets. "Okay," the big man said. "Vamonos."

Leading the way, he doused the shop lights again. He was at the front door, halfway out. Somebody called out, "Guys, wait up."

The gunman stopped and turned. Waiting up wasn't in the plan. The idea was to get the money and then get out, closing the dark shop behind them. When Silverman came to, if he ever did, they'd be long gone.

"The fuck are you doing?"

Their third partner remained in the back of the shop, over the jewelry case, still glowing under its soft night-light. "He's got great stuff here. We can't just leave it."

"Yeah we can. Let's go."

The big man had the door open and was checking the street. He turned back and whispered urgently. "We don't need it. We gotta move move move."

The man in the back moved all right, but in the wrong direction. Now he was behind the counter, pulling at the glass, trying to lift it up. "He's gotta have a key somewhere. Maybe it's on him."

At the door. "Fuck it! Come on, come on."

His partner pulled again at the countertop.

A noise in the street. "Shit. People."

The two men up front ducked to the side below the windows as two couples walked past the shop. Directly in front of the door, they stopped. Their voices filled the shop. Would they never move on? Sweat broke on the big man's forehead and he wiped it with the back of his hand.

He pulled the revolver from his pocket.

Other people joined up with the first group and they all started walking again, laughing.

The big man looked out. The street seemed clear. But at the back counter, his partner was holding something up now-a key?-and fitting it to a lock.

"Jesus Christ! There's no time for-"

When suddenly he was proven right. Whatever it might have been, there wasn't going to be time for it.

Silverman must have come to and had a button he could push in the back room. The whole world lit up with light and the awful, continuous screaming ring of the shop's alarm.

Wide-eyed in the sudden daylike brightness, the big man threw the door all the way open, yelling, "Go, go, go!" This time-the jewelry forgotten in the mad rush out-both his partners went. He was turning himself, breaking for the street, when he caught a movement off to his left. One hand to his head, blood running down his face, Silverman was on his feet, holding the side of the doorway for support.

The big man saw the shock of unmistakable recognition in the pawnbroker's face. "I, I can't believe…" Silverman stammered, then ran out of words.

Shaking his head in frustration and disgust-their good plan was all in tatters now-he stood up slowly and took three steps toward the old man, as though he planned to have a conversation with him. He did speak, but only to say, "Ah, shit, Sam."

Then he raised the gun and shot him twice in the chest.

The streetlights on O'Farrell came on as assistant patrol special Matt Creed, working Thirty-two, came around the corner a long block down on Market. Though Creed had been on the beat less than a year, when he heard the squeal of the burglar alarm and saw the two men breaking out of a storefront ahead of him on a dead run, he knew what he was seeing.

"Hey! Hold on!" he yelled into a gust, over the alarm and the wind. To his surprise, the men actually stopped long enough to look back at him. Creed yelled again and, moving forward now, reached down to clear his jacket and unholster his weapon. But he hadn't gone five steps when-

Crack!

Unmistakably, a gunshot. Brickwork shattered by his head, rained down over him. Creed ducked against the front of the nearest building. Another man broke from the door of Silverman's shop. Less than a half block separated them now, and Creed stood, stepped away from the building into the lamplight, and called again. "Hold it! Stay where you are!"

The figure stopped, whirled toward him and without any hesitation extended his arm. Creed caught a quick glint of shining steel and heard the massive report and another simultaneous ricochet. It was the first time he'd been fired at and for that moment, during which his assailant broke into a run, he half ducked again and froze.

By the time he'd recovered, raised his own weapon, and tried to level it with both shaking hands, the third man had disappeared with the other two, and there was no real opportunity to shoot. Creed broke into a full run and reached the corner in time to get a last glimpse of what seemed to be a lone fleeing shadow turning right at the next corner. Vaguely aware of pedestrians hugging the buildings on both sides of the street, he sprinted the length of the block along the cable car tracks, past the trees that incongruously sprang from the pavement near the end of the Powell Street line.

By the time he got down to the cable car turnaround at Market, it was over. There was no sign of any of them. They'd probably split up and gone in separate directions. But even if they had stayed together, which Creed would have no way of knowing, they could go in any one of six or seven directions from this intersection-streets and alleys within a half block in every direction, each a potential avenue of escape. The turnaround also marked the entrance to the subterranean BART station.

And since Creed hadn't gotten close enough to get a good look at any of them, as soon as his three men stopped running, they would look like anyone else. He had a sense that the man who'd fired at him was bigger than the other two, but that was about it.

A fresh gust of wind brought on its front edge a wall of water as the drizzle became a downpour. Creed heard the insistent keening, still, of Silverman's alarm. He took a last look down Market, but saw nothing worth pursuing. He looked down at his gun, still clenched tight in his right hand. Unexpectedly, all at once, his legs went rubbery under him.

He got to the nearest building and leaned against it. He got his gun back into its holster, buttoned the slicker over his jacket against the rain, began to jog back to Silverman's. It didn't take him a minute.

Still, the alarm pealed; the door yawned open. The shop's interior lights illuminated the street out front. Creed drew his gun again and stood to the side of the door. Raising his voice over the alarm, he called into the shop. "Is anybody in there?" He waited. Then, even louder, "Mr. Silverman?"

Remembering at last, he pulled his radio off his belt and told the dispatcher to get the regular police out here. With his gun drawn, he stepped into the light and noise of the shop. But he saw or heard nothing after catching sight of the body.

The victim might have been napping on the floor, except that the arms were splayed unnaturally out on either side of him. And a stream of brownish-red liquid flowed from under his back and pooled in a depression in the hardwood floor.

The skin on Sergeant Inspector Dan Cuneo's face had an unusual puffiness-almost as though he'd once been very fat-and it gave his features a kind of bloated, empty quality, not exactly enhanced by an undefined, wispy brown mustache that hovered under a blunt thumbprint of a nose. But his jaw was strong, his chin deeply cleft, and he had a marquee smile with perfect teeth. Tonight he wore a black ribbed turtleneck and black dress slacks. He was a professional and experienced investigator with an unfortunate arsenal of nervous habits that were not harmful either to his own or to anyone else's health. They weren't criminal or even, in most cases, socially inappropriate. Yet his partner, Lincoln Russell-a tall, lean African-American professional himself-was finding it increasingly difficult to tolerate them.

Russell worried about it. It reminded him of how he'd gotten to feel about his first wife Monica before he decided he was going to have to divorce her if he wasn't going to be forced to kill her first. She wasn't a bad person or an unsatisfactory mate, but she had this highly pitched laugh that, finally, he simply couldn't endure any longer. She'd end every sentence, every phrase almost, with a little "hee-hee," sometimes "hee-hee-hee," regardless of the topic, as though she was embarrassed at every word, every thought, every goddamned impulse to say anything that passed through her brain.

By the last few weeks of their cohabitation, Russell would often find himself in a high rage before he even got to their front door, merely in anticipation of "Hi, honey, hee-hee," and the chaste little kiss. His fists would clench.

He knew it wasn't fair of him, wasn't right. It wasn't Monica's fault. He'd even told her about how much it bothered him, asked her politely more than several times if she could maybe try to become aware of when she did it, which was all the time. And perhaps try to stop.

"I'll try, Lincoln; I really will. Hee-hee. Oh, I'm sorry. Hee.. ."

One of the things he loved most about Dierdre, his wife now of eleven years, was that she never laughed at anything.

And now his partner of six years, a damn good cop, a nice guy and the other most intimate relationship in his life, was starting to bother him the way Monica had. He thought it possible that this time it could truly drive him to violence if he couldn't get Dan to stop.

Here, on this miserable night, for example, they had been called to a homicide scene just outside the Tenderloin, some poor old bastard beaten up and shot dead. And for what? A few hundred bucks? No sign of forced entry to his shop. Nobody even tampered with the safe. Botched robbery, was Russell's initial take on it. Probably doped-up junkers too loaded to take the stuff they came for. But a tragic scene. It's looking like the guy's married forever- an old lady's picture on the desk. Kids and grandkids on the wall. Awful. Stupid, pointless and awful.

And here's his partner humming "Volare" to beat the band: humming while the young beat guy, Creed, all traumatized, is giving his statement to them; humming as he follows the crime scene photographer around snapping pictures of everything in the store; humming while the coroner's assistant is going over body damage, occasionally breaking into words in both Italian and English. "Volare, whoa-oh, cantare, oh, oh, oh, oh…"

Now it's ten-thirty. They've been here three hours. Somebody is knocking at the door and Cuneo's going over to open it, suddenly breaking into song: "Just like birds of a feather, a rainbow together we'll find."

Suddenly Russell decides he's had enough. "Dan."

"What?" Completely oblivious.

Russell holds out a flat palm, shakes his head. "Background music. Ixnay."

Cuneo looks a question, checks the figure at the door, then gets the message, nods, mercifully shuts up. The sudden silence hits Russell like a vacuum. The rain tattoos the skylight overhead.

"I'm Wade Panos, Patrol Special for this beat."

And no pussycat. Heavyset, an anvil where most people have a forehead, eyebrows like the business side of a barbecue brush. Pure black pupils in his eyes, almost like he's wearing contacts for the effect. "Mind if I come in?"

Under his trenchcoat, Panos was in uniform. In theory, Patrol Specials were supposed to personally walk their beats in uniform every day. Then again, in theory, bumblebees can't fly. But obviously Panos at least went so far as to don the garb. He looked every inch the working cop, and Cuneo opened the door all the way. "Sure."

Panos grunted some kind of thanks. He brushed directly past Cuneo and back to where Silverman's body lay zipped up in a body bag. The coroner's van was out front and in a few more moments they'd be taking the body away, but Panos went and stood by the bag, went down to a knee. "You mind if I…?"

The coroner's assistant looked the question over to Cuneo, who'd followed Panos back to the doorway. The inspector nodded okay, and the assistant zipped the thing open. Panos reached over, pulled the material for a clearer view of Silverman's face. A deep sigh escaped, and he hung his head, shaking it heavily from side to side.

"Did you know him?" Cuneo asked.

Panos didn't answer right away. He sighed again, then pulled himself up. When he turned around, the Patrol Special met Cuneo's gaze with a pained one of his own. "Long time."

To a great degree, Cuneo's nervous habits were a function of his concentration, which was intense. His mind, preoccupied with the immediate details of a crime scene or interview situation, would shift into some other trancelike state and the rest of his behavior would become literally unconscious. And the humming, or whistling, or finger-tapping, would begin.

Now Panos took up space next to Russell in the front of the shop, neither man saying much of anything, although they were standing next to one another. The body had been taken away and the crime scene people were all but finished up, packing away whatever they'd brought. Cuneo was back in the office, doing snippets of Pachelbel's Canon in D while he took another careful look around-he'd already discovered the unplugged video camera, located one of the bullet holes in the wall and extracted the slug, lifted some of his own fingerprints.

Matt Creed had finished his regular beat shift after the preliminary interview he'd had with the inspectors at Silverman's, and now he appeared again in the doorway, this time carrying a cardboard tray of paper coffee cups he'd picked up at an all-night place on Market. He paused at the sight of his boss. "Mr. Panos," he said. "Is everything all right?"

"I'd say not."

"No. I know. That's not how I meant it."

"That's all right, Creed. That coffee up for grabs?"

Creed looked down at his hands. "Yes, sir."

A couple of minutes later, the last of the crime scene people were just gone and Panos, Creed and Russell had gathered at the door to the office, in which Cuneo was now rummaging through the drawers in Silverman's desk, bagging in Ziploc as possible evidence whatever struck his fancy. He had stopped humming, though now at regular intervals he slurped his hot coffee through the hole in the top of the plastic lid, loud and annoying as a kid's last sip of milkshake through a straw.

Suddenly he looked up, the sight of other humans a mild shock. But he recovered, slurped, spoke to Panos. "You said he wasn't your client anymore?"

"No. But he'd been for a long time." Panos boosted himself onto Silverman's desk and blew at his own brew. "I had to raise my rates last summer and he couldn't hack them anymore. But ask Mr. Creed here, we still kept a lookout."

Creed nodded. "Every pass."

Cuneo moved and his folding chair creaked. "Every pass what?"

"Every pass I'd shine a light in."

"No charge," Panos put in. "Just watching out."

"But he-Silverman-wasn't paying you anymore?"

"Right."

"So then"-Cuneo came forward, his elbows on his knees-"why are you here again?"

The question perplexed and perhaps annoyed Panos. He threw his black eyes over and up to Lincoln Russell, who stood with his arms crossed against the doorsill. But Russell just shrugged.

"The incident occurred on Mr. Creed's shift, so he was obviously involved, and he was one of my men. Plus, as I say, I knew Sam, the deceased."

"But this place isn't technically in your beat? Thirty-two, isn't it?" Cuneo sucked again at his coffee.

Panos straightened up his torso and crossed his arms. "Yeah, it's Thirty-two. So what?"

Cuneo sat back in his chair. "So since the deceased is your friend and ex-client, you might know something more about this shop than your average joe off the street, isn't that right? And if you do, what do you think might have happened here?"

Panos grunted. "Let me ask you one. Did either of you or any of the crime scene people find a red leather pouch here? Maybe on Sam?"

"What leather pouch?"

Panos held his hands about eight inches apart. "About this big. Real old, maroon maybe more than red."

Cuneo glanced up and over at Russell, who shook his head. Cuneo spoke. "No pouch. What about it?"

"No pouch makes it open and shut. What this was about, I mean."

Russell spoke from the doorsill. "And what is that?"

"We're listening," Cuneo said.

Panos shifted his weight on the desk. "All right," he said. "First you should know that Thursdays was when Sam took his deposit to the bank."

"Every Thursday?" Russell asked.

Panos nodded. "Clockwork. Everybody who knew him knew that. I used to walk with him myself over to the B of A. He put the cash in this pouch. It's not here now."

"So," Cuneo butted in, "he was going to the bank tonight, and somebody who knew him decided to take the pouch?"

"Three guys," Creed corrected. "One of 'em pretty big."

"Okay, three." Cuneo hummed a long, unwavering note. "Must have been a lot of money, they were going to split it three ways."

"Might have been," Panos said. "I wouldn't know."

Cuneo indicated the surroundings. "This little place did that well?"

Panos shrugged. "Wednesday nights they played poker here."

The two inspectors shared a glance. "Who did?" Russell asked.

"Bunch of guys. It was a regular game for a lot of years. Sam took out ten bucks a hand for himself, except when he played blackjack, when he was the house."

Russell whistled softly. "Every hand?"

Panos nodded. "That was the ante. Per guy. Per hand. Ten bucks."

A silence settled while they did the math. Cuneo hummed another long note. "Big game," he said, pointing. "That's the table then."

"Right."

"We're going to need the players," Russell said. "Did he keep a list?"

"I doubt it," Panos replied. "Knowing Sam, he kept them in his head. But I might be able to find out, and you can take it from there."

"We'd appreciate that." Cuneo was making some notes on his pocket pad. "So they came in masked…"

"They weren't masked," Creed said. "Not when they came out."

"They were when they came in," Cuneo said. "Because Silverman knew them. They knew him and the setup here." He pointed to the hidden video up above. "They knew about that, for example."

Panos stopped him. "How do you know about the masks?"

Cuneo reached into his pocket and pulled out a gallon Ziploc bag into which he'd placed the one ski mask that had fallen to the floor.

"Sons of bitches," Panos said.

"Who? "Cuneo asked.

Panos's jaw was tight, his heavy brow drawn in. "It'd be a better guess once we know who was at the game."

"All right," Cuneo said, "but this is a homicide investigation. What you'll do is give us a list of players at the game and we'll work from that."

Panos nodded. "All right, but I'd appreciate it if you'd keep me in the loop. Whoever killed Sam, any way I can help you, count me in."

3

For several years after the death of his first wife Flo, Glitsky had a live-in housekeeper-a woman born in Jalisco, Mexico, with the German name of Rita Schultz. She had slept in the living room of his duplex behind a shoji screen and had come, in her own way, to be almost one of the family. After the marriage, when Treya and her then sixteen-year-old daughter Raney had come to live with Glitsky and his sixteen-year-old son Orel, Rita wasn't needed anymore and Glitsky, regretfully, had had to let her go.

Now and for the past eight months since Treya had gone back to work at the DA's office, Rita, no longer living in, was again at the Glitskys' five days a week, taking care of the baby. Two months ago, the big kids had both gone off to college-Orel to his dad's alma mater of San Jose State, and Raney all the way across the country to Johns Hopkins, where she'd gotten a full academic scholarship and planned to major in pre-med. The baby Rachel moved out of Abe and Treya's bedroom and into Raney's old room behind the kitchen.

Over the summer, he and Treya had actually fixed up the place a bit. They tore out the old, battle-worn gray berber wall-to-wall carpet in the living room and discovered the original blond hardwood underneath. Over one weekend, they stripped the seventies wallpaper and repainted the walls a soft Tuscan yellow. Then with the fresh new look, they got motivated to go out and buy a modern brown leather couch and matching love seat, some colorful throw rugs, Mission-style coffee and end tables. They put plantation shutters over the front windows.

It wasn't a large place by any means, and Glitsky had lived in it for more than twenty years, but with all the recent changes, he would sometimes come out into the new living room holding Rachel in the dimly lit predawn and wonder where he was. He knew it wasn't just the room. In reality, everything seemed different. The whole world since the terrorist attacks, the new reality perhaps more psychic than physical, but all the more real for that. All his boys now moved out, his old job gone, a new marriage with a young woman, and for the past fourteen months, their baby girl.

At such times-now was one of them-he would stand by the front windows with Rachel in his arms and together they would look out at the familiar street. He'd done the same thing dozens of times with Isaac, Jacob and Orel when they were babies, but now he did it to try and convince himself that he was the same person with Rachel that he'd been to his sons, and that his home was not foreign soil.

He opened the shutters and looked down the street toward its intersection with Lake. The rain had kept up throughout the night, but the wind had finally abated with the first sign of light. Now outside it was all heavy mist under high clouds that would hang on all day if not longer. Glitsky stared out through it, holding his daughter up against him, patting her back gently.

A pedestrian appeared at the intersection and turned into his street. Though he wore a heavy raincoat that hid the shape of his body and had pulled a brimmed hat down over his face, Glitsky knew who it was as soon as he saw him.

"What's grandpa doing here?" he asked his daughter. His own brow clouding-this could only be bad news-he watched his father plod slowly up the street, hands in his pockets, head down. When he was out front, Glitsky moved to the front door and opened it. Nat was already coming up the stairs, the dripping hat in one hand, lifting his feet, one heavy step after the other.

"What?" Glitsky asked.

His father stopped before he got to the landing. He raised his eyes, but something went out of his shoulders. "Abraham." The way he said his son's name made it sound as if just getting to him had been his destination. He let out a breath. "Sam Silverman," he said, shaking his head. "Somebody shot him."

Nat walked the last few steps up and Abe stood aside to let him pass. While Nat hung his coat on the rack by the door, his son went in to wake Trey a and give her the baby. When he came back out, his father was sitting forward on the edge of the new love seat, his hands clasped between his knees. He looked feeble, a very old man.

In fact, he was eighty years old, but on a normal day, no one would guess it. Abe went down on a knee in front of him.

"Did you get any sleep, Dad?"

Nat shook his head no. "Sadie called me about midnight. I went over there."

"How's she holding up?"

His father lifted his shoulders and let them drop. A complete answer. Treya was holding the baby and came up beside them. "How are you holding up, Nat? You want some tea?"

He looked up at her, managed a small smile. "Tea would be good," he said.

Treya moved around her husband and sat down next to Nat. Rachel reached out a tiny hand to touch his face, said "Gapa," and got a small smile out of him. Treya put an arm across his shoulders and rested her head against him for a beat, then kissed the side of his head and stood up again. "We'll be right back."

The men watched them leave. Nat turned to Abe. "Why would somebody do this? To Sam of all people. Sam who wouldn't hurt a fly."

Glitsky had heard the refrain hundreds of times when he'd been in homicide, and the answer was always the same. There was no answer, no why. So Abe didn't try to supply one. Instead, as though knowledge could undo any of it, he asked, "Do you know how it happened?"

"I don't know what you want me to do. I'm not in homicide anymore."

"What, nobody remembers you over there?" The two men were at the kitchen table. Rita had arrived and could be heard reading a children's book in Spanish to Rachel in the living room. Treya was getting dressed for work. Abe had no intention of snapping at his father, but it took some effort. Even after four months on the new job, the topic of his employment with the police department still tended to rile him up. He forced an even tone. "People remember me fine, Dad, but I don't work there. It'll look like I'm meddling."

"So meddle."

"In what way exactly?"

"Just let people know this one is important. People care who shot Sam."

Abe turned his mug. "They're all important, Dad. Most people who get shot have somebody who cares about it."

With his index finger, Nat tapped the table smartly three times. "Don't give me with everybody cares, Abraham. I've heard your stories. Most are what do you call, no humans involved. I know how it is down there. I'm saying go make a difference. What could it hurt?"

"What could it hurt."

"That's what I said."

"I heard you." Abe sighed. "You want me to what exactly?"

"Just keep up on it. Keep them on it." Nat put a hand on his son's arm. "Abraham, listen to me. If they see it's family…"

Abe knew that wouldn't help, not in any meaningful way. The inspectors on the case-and he didn't know who they were yet-were either good at their jobs or they weren't, and that more than anything else would determine whether they succeeded in identifying and arresting Sam Silverman's killer. "Then what?" he asked. "They look harder?" He shook his head. "They'll look as hard as they look, Dad. They'll either find him or not. That's what will happen, period. Me butting in won't make any difference. It might, in fact, actually hurt."

Nat's eyes flared suddenly, with impatience and anger. "So what, then? You can't even try? You let the animals who shot Sam walk away?"

Abe couldn't completely check his own rush of frustration. He bit off the words sharply. "It's not up to me. It's not my job anymore."

"I'm not talking job. I don't care from job! I'm talking what's right." He drew a deep breath, again rested his hand on Abe's arm. "Just so they know. That's all. This one matters."

Abe glanced down at his father's hand. Since he'd started with payroll, he hadn't even shown his face once in homicide, even for a social visit. He realized now that his reluctance with his dad was probably more about his own demons than whether he could actually have any effect in turning the heat up on any given investigation. It might not hurt after all. He put his own hand down over his dad's. "All right," he said. "But no promises."

"No, of course not. Heaven forfend."

The Payroll Detail had four entire rooms, each twelve feet square. Glitsky was the sole occupant of his. He had a standard, city-issue green desk, four wooden chairs, a computer and his own printer (which also served the rest of the detail), and natural light through the windows that made up the back wall. These overlooked the ever-scenic Bryant Street and the rest of the industrial neighborhood to the south. All the free space around the other three walls was taken up with mismatched black, gray, or green filing cabinets, except for one metal floor-to-ceiling bookshelf filled to overflowing with bound computer payroll reports going back four years.

An hour after he got to work, he was talking to Jerry Stiles in his office. Stiles was the lieutenant in charge of narcotics. Before that, he had been in many people's opinion the absolute best narc in the city. Certainly his arrest record backed that up, his seizures of illegal substances. Three years ago, before his promotion, he'd been named "Police Officer of the Year." Stiles was thirty-eight years old.

In spite of his administrative role, he often found an excuse to get back on the street, and today he wore a ratty beard and looked as though he hadn't combed his greasy brown locks since the World Series. In fact, currently he could have been mistaken pretty much exactly for a typical street drunk, but that came with the territory.

Making Glitsky's small, airless office a less than optimal spot to talk to him.

That office was one floor up from homicide, on the fifth floor of the Hall of Justice. Glitsky's normal staff in his new role in payroll included five civil service secretaries, two half-time sergeants of police, and one rotating patrolman-grade gopher. This morning, he'd been planning to check in at his desk, then zip on down to homicide while the motivation held, but instead he found a note from Frank Batiste on his chair telling him to expect Stiles within the hour. Glitsky and Batiste had already discussed Stiles's situation with some heat.

Luckily for Glitsky's peace of mind, since he had no other duties at the present moment, within the hour turned out to be about ten minutes.

He and Stiles made small talk, catching up for a while. They'd worked together on cases before and gotten along. Beyond that, they'd both caught lead in the line of duty, and that put them in the same club. Stiles made a few profane remarks that made it clear he thought Glitsky's latest career move was unjust. Abe didn't comment, though the sentiment did his heart good.

Finally, though, the air got a little ripe and Glitsky decided to get to the point. He went around his desk, tried the windows-both hermetically sealed, no chance-and sat down. "So," he began, "sorry to pull you in after your shift."

"Hey." A shrug. "It's overtime. I'm here anyway. I'm not complaining. What's it about?"

"Well, funny you should mention."

"OT? Is somebody bitchin' about OT again?" Stiles straightened up in his chair, his eyes getting some life in them. "They can kiss my ass."

"Yeah, well…" He let it hang. Of everything Glitsky hated about this new job, this kind of bureaucratic nonsense was first. "I'm just delivering the message, Jerry, and only because I've been requested to. Informally. I'm not keeping any record of this meeting."

"Fuck that. As if I care. Who requested, if you don't mind my asking? Just curious."

"It doesn't matter."

"Right. What do you think's got into Frank lately?"

"I don't know. He must be getting mature." But Glitsky didn't want to discuss Batiste. He pulled a printout from a file in front of him, glanced at it, then turned it around and slid it across the desk.

Stiles, all belligerence now, came forward and snatched it. He raised his voice in the small room. "So what's the message? Tell my guys to go out and risk their lives every night, live with these scum, smell like a sewer, and do it all for free?"

Glitsky had his elbows on the desk. He templed his fingers at his mouth for a moment, then pointed at the paper. "Your unit's OT is about twenty percent over department guidelines." He raised his eyes, met those of his colleague. "I've been asked to bring the matter to your attention." Glitsky tried to avoid profanity, but this was so much bullshit and nothing else that the temptation was almost too great. Instead, he said, "Now I've done that."

"All right. So what?" Stiles stared at the paper for another couple of seconds. "Narcotics works nights, Abe. We catch bad guys and the DA takes them to court during the day. Quite often on a day after a night shift. You know why? We get subpoenaed to show up, that's why. We're the fucking key witnesses. Without us there's no case. Get it? So what do they want us to do?" But Stiles didn't want an answer. He wanted to vent. "The reason we work nights is because that's when these lowlifes crawl out from under their rocks. It's when they buy their shit and make their deals and have their fights. It's when it works]" Stiles turned on his chair, stood up, sat back down, glared across the desk.

Glitsky did his Buddha imitation.

Stiles started again, even louder. "They don't want to pay the guys extra, maybe they can have night court. 'Course then nobody's out on the street doing the job. Or maybe we could just ask these scumbags if maybe they could do all their business between eight and five? Business hours." He half turned again on his chair, ran a hand over his forehead, finally settled a little, shook his head back and forth. "I don't believe this shit."

Glitsky came forward an inch. "You might want to take it up with the chief, Jerry. Either that, or tell your guys they can only work days."

"We'd never bag a soul."

"But your detail would be under budget, and that's the important thing, right? Who cares about crime?" Glitsky gave no sign he was joking.

Stiles sat still a moment. "Abe, we're the police department. What are these clowns thinking?"

When Stiles left, Glitsky didn't give himself any more time to think about it. He stood up, came around his desk, and looked in at the room next door. There, two of his secretaries-Mercedes and Jacqueline-were engrossed at their respective desks in front of their computers. Jacqueline didn't look up when he cleared his throat at the door- she must have been at a really juicy part of her romance novel-but Mercedes, in the middle of her daily crossword puzzle, brightened at the sight of Glitsky's face. "Lieutenant. Nine letters, 'Jackson A.K.A.' Ends in 'L.' "

It took him less than ten seconds. "Stonewall."

"That's it! Stonewall. I was thinking something about Michael, if there was another way to spell it, but normally that's only seven letters. But Stonewall. Andrew, right? You're great, Lieutenant." She looked over to Jacqueline. "Stonewall," she said.

The other woman nodded. "Umm."

Glitsky pointed down the hallway. "I've got an errand. You women okay holding the fort?"

But Mercedes was leaning over her newspaper, carefully filling in her boxes, and didn't respond, or notice as he left.

Down a flight on the internal stairs and in a few more steps he was back where he'd lived for all those years. It brought him up short how physically close the homicide detail was to his current office, where nothing important had or ever would happen. It was probably no more than sixty feet, although the spiritual distance was incalculable.

Standing in the middle of the familiar room, he was surprised by how little it had changed in the near year-and-a-half since he'd been here. As usual on a weekday morning, the place was deserted-some inspectors were out working cases, others might be in court or, increasingly, had not come in at all because of vacation, alleged sickness, special training, or any of a dozen other reasons. Somebody had moved the full-size working stoplight off of Bracco's desk and it now hung from the ceiling. A floor-to-ceiling picture of the World Trade Center at the moment of the second impact was attached to the pillar behind Marcel Lanier's desk, and the old bulletin board on it-formerly reserved only for the grossest, most explicit crime scene photographs-had been done over with an Osama bin Laden motif, mostly email printouts of the terrorist being sexually abused by a variety of weapons and animals.

Otherwise, the decor was the same. So was the smell, but at least Glitsky knew what that was. As usual, the last one out had left the coffee cooking and it had turned to carbon at the bottom of the pot. He automatically walked over, leaned down to make sure, and turned it off.

"Can I help you?"

He straightened up and turned at the voice. The lieutenant had silently come out of his office. Or maybe Glitsky's senses were taken up with his impressions. In any event, for a heartbeat he felt somewhat bushwhacked, although there was no indication that that had been the man's intention.

It was Barry Gerson. Glitsky recognized the face immediately from the newspaper pics, which he'd had occasion to notice when they'd announced the appointment. Ten years Glitsky's junior, but no kid himself, Gerson had gone a bit to paunch and jowl, though he didn't come across as soft or flabby in any way.

Here on his turf, he appeared relaxed and in complete control. The smile was perfunctory, but there wasn't any threat in it. "You're Abe Glitsky."

"Guilty."

"I didn't realize you were back at work."

"Four months now." Glitsky kept it low-key. He pointed at the ceiling, put some humor in his tone. "Payroll, the throbbing pulse of the department."

Gerson, to his credit in Glitsky's view, clucked sympathetically. "They give you that 'varied administrative experience' crap?"

A nod. "It's making me a better cop. I can feel it every day."

"Me, too," he said, then, more seriously. "Sorry I turned out to be the guy."

Glitsky shrugged. "Somebody had to be. Not your fault." He added. "I'm not hearing any complaints, though I can't say I've been in touch."

Gerson cocked his head, as though the comment surprised him. His next smile might have been a bit more genuine. "Not even Lanier?"

This question wasn't a great surprise. Marcel Lanier was a long-time homicide veteran inspector who'd passed the lieutenant's exam well over two years before. It was no secret that he'd craved the appointment to head the detail after Glitsky. He'd even turned down a couple other of the varied administrative experiences he'd been offered, waiting for the homicide plum, only to be disappointed at Gerson's appointment. Like Glitsky, Lanier was homicide through and through. His refusal to take what they offered before he'd even made his bones as a lieutenant had, at least for the time being, doomed him with the brass. But Glitsky hadn't talked to him in six months or more.

"Not a word," he told Gerson. "He making trouble here?"

The lieutenant seemed to consider what he would say for a minute. Then he shook his head. "Naw, he's all right." And suddenly the preliminaries were over. "So how can I help you?"

Three hours after concluding his meeting with Gerson, Glitsky was in another of the payroll rooms, this one internal and hence windowless, and more crowded since it held not only as much paper and other junk, but also two desks to accommodate its two workers. In practice, because the two office residents rarely worked the same days, one desk probably would have sufficed, but nobody ever brought this up, or suggested that the second desk be removed to make more room. That, of course, would mean that neither person working there would have his own desk, and wouldn't that be just an unbearable slight? In any event, pride of desk was typical of a number of similar crucial issues facing the detail.

At this moment, Glitsky was behind the closed door of this office with Deacon Fallon, who it appeared was having continuing problems with Jacqueline, the romance novel fanatic from the office across the hallway. As a sergeant with the police department, Fallon made more money per hour than Jacqueline did. In spite of his part-time status, he had conceived the notion that he somehow outranked her, a mere clerk originally hired from the civil service pool, though by now she'd been working full-time for five years, three more than Fallon.

Fallon was in his early forties. His wife had some honcho job in what he called the private sector. Between the two of them and the police union, they'd brokered a deal with the city whereby Deacon could stay home a lot with the kids. He'd been in the department for twenty years and could have already retired on pension, but the department had a few of these part-time positions, and Deacon could increase his retirement base one year for every two he worked, which he considered a good deal.

Glitsky, propped on the corner of one of the desks, sat back with his arms crossed. His concentration had been wavering in the tedium and now he realized that Fallon- pacing in front of him while he'd been talking-expected some sort of response. "I'm sorry, what?"

Fallon sighed. "Jacqueline. She says she's always taken her lunch between noon and one, though we know that isn't true, and she doesn't have to change now if she doesn't want to. But Cathy and I…"

"Cathy?"

"My wife."

"Okay, right."

"Cathy and I signed up for this incredible six-week course on Website design. I know, I know, but it's the new wave of this net stuff, believe me. It's going to explode. It really is a great business, Abe; you might even want to look into it yourself. The opportunities are just…" Perhaps sensing Glitsky's lack of enthusiasm for the project, he wound down. "Anyway, it's twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, at noon."

"Which happens to be when you're supposed to be here."

"Right. I mean, I get the hour lunch, which is enough time. Each lesson is forty-five minutes." Glitsky knew that what Fallon meant was that by leaving twenty minutes early and getting back half an hour late, then eating lunch at his desk, he could squeeze the class into his "hour" lunch. Nobody would ever say a word about an abuse of free time like this. These were the little perks enjoyed by those ready to lay down their lives for their fellow citizens. "But it's got to be the noon hour, and Jacqueline won't trade."

He looked expectantly at Glitsky, who hadn't moved. His posture was relaxed, his arms still crossed over his chest. He might have appeared to be thinking hard.

"Abe?" No response. "I mean, I don't want to have to go to the union about this." He tried another tack. "Maybe we could both get off at the same time, me and Jacqueline. It's only for six weeks."

Finally, Glitsky took a deep breath. His eyes came into focus. "When I came on here, didn't I read in your file that you decided that you'd like to have lunch from one to two? And didn't Jacqueline agree back then to change to noon so the office would be covered?"

"Yeah." Her earlier scheduling flexibility didn't seem to have made much of an impact on Fallon. "But that was before this class, and I'm the sergeant here after all. Besides, she's not doing anything special, just meeting her regular friends. And hell, it's only six weeks…"

Glitsky later told Treya that the knock at the door probably saved him from at least a charge of aggravated mayhem if not homicide. It was Mercedes, telling him Frank Batiste was on the line and wanted to talk to him immediately. He thanked her, slid off the edge of the desk, and without so much as a glance at Fallon, hurried from the room.

The rain continued unabated, a fine slow drizzle that only seemed heavy to Glitsky because he hadn't supposed he'd be leaving the building and so was in his shirtsleeves. Batiste had been standing, waiting at the head of the hallway that led to his office. When Glitsky got off the elevator, he'd fallen in beside him and without much preamble led the way out the Hall's front entrance to the street.

"Where are we going?" Glitsky asked on the outer steps.

"I thought Lou's. Sound good?" Batiste broke into a jog and Abe had no choice but to follow across Bryant and down to the floor below the bailbondsman's place, where Lou the Greek's had operated continuously as the legal community's primary watering hole for nearly thirty years. The last of the lunch crowd was finishing up and they had no trouble finding a booth under one of the small, elevated windows that, because Lou's was below ground level, opened at about gutter height to the alley outside.

Lou was a hands-on and voluble proprietor who knew everybody who worked at the Hall of Justice by first name. He came by before they'd gotten settled and offered them a once-in-a-lifetime deal on the last couple of servings of one of his wife's inspired culinary inventions, Athenian Special Rice. "Minced pork, scrambled eggs, I think some soy sauce, cucumber and taramosalata. Everybody's raving about it."

"Taramosalata," Glitsky said. "That would be fish roe dip?"

Lou grinned. "I know. I told Chui the same thing, but that's why she's the genius. The taramosalata is like anchovies, just included for flavor. You don't even taste it."

"I bet I would," Glitsky said.

"It sounds terrific, Lou," Batiste said, "but I don't think we're eating. Thanks."

Lou wasn't five steps away, putting in their orders for tea and coffee, when Glitsky spoke. "So this isn't about Jerry Stiles and his department's overtime."

Batiste checked the surrounding area. No one was in earshot, and still he leaned in across the table between them. "I thought it'd be helpful if we had a talk, Abe. Just you and me, man to man, friends like I think we've always been."

Glitsky thought that the friendship they'd always shared would not have allowed one to peremptorily summon the other for a serious discussion of issues during work hours, but he only nodded. "No think about it, Frank."

"Good." Batiste folded his hands on the table between them. "I know you haven't been exactly thrilled with the new job. I sympathize. I spent a year before I got homicide in personnel records, so I know. It's been what now, a couple of months?"

"Four, but the time's just flying by."

A pained look. "That long?" Batiste sighed. "Well, I'm aware of you up there. The rest of the administration is, too. It's not going to last forever."

"I thought it already had." But the comers of Glitsky's mouth turned up, for him a broad smile. He was keeping it light and friendly.

"Well, I'm sure it does seem that way, but I've got my eye out for a chance to get you out of there. Lateral or up, either way. Getting back to homicide isn't even out of the question."

"That's good news, Frank. Thank you."

Lou returned at that moment with their drinks, and it broke their rhythm. When Lou walked away again, a silence fell. At the window by their ear, the rain picked up. Batiste put some sugar into his mug and stirred thoughtfully. Glitsky blew over the surface of his tea.

Finally, Batiste found the thread again. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that it would be well worth your while if you could just hang in there a little while longer. You've got great support across the board, Abe. You've been a hero and now you're putting up with this

… this waste of your talents for the good of the team. Don't think people don't recognize this. Don't think it doesn't matter."

"Well, that's gratifying," Glitsky said.

"I mean it. It should be."

"It is." Glitsky put his mug down, leveled his eyes across the table. "So why am I hearing a 'but'?"

Now Batiste broke a small and formal smile. "Could it be that finely honed and well-deserved reputation for cynicism?"

Glitsky allowed his own expression to match Batiste's. "It could be that, but I'm thinking maybe it's also that Gerson talked to you."

A slight pause, then a nod. "Maybe some of that."

Glitsky let out a heavy breath, turned his mug around on the table. He hated to explain, to be on the defensive, and his jaw went tight. Still, he kept his voice tightly controlled. "Silverman, the victim, was my father's closest friend, Frank. I asked Barry if he could just keep me informed. No press at all."

"That's what I heard, too." Batiste spread his hands, all innocence. "He didn't come to me with it as any kind of complaint. We were just having lunch and it came up."

Glitsky nodded, perhaps somewhat mollified. "All right. But what?"

"I'm talking as your friend. What I said when we got here. This is the kind of thing that's nothing in itself. Hey, one time. Your dad's friend. You want to be inside. Who wouldn't understand?"

"That's all it was. One time. Four months back and I finally stop by homicide once…"

Batiste reached out his hand over the table and touched Glitsky's. "You're listening to me, Abe, but you're not hearing. It wasn't a problem. Really. Not with Barry, not with me." He drew his hand back. "I'm talking about the future, just that you be a little careful, you don't want to have people-and not only Barry-misinterpreting. That's all. People are touchy. You know what I'm talking about."

"I told my dad the same thing this morning."

"There. See?"

"Okay. But then I figured what could it hurt to go to the horse's mouth? I was completely up-front with Barry. I'm not horning in on him or anybody else."

"Nobody's saying you were."

"Lanier, Thieu, Evans"-all homicide inspectors-"any of them would have found out anything I wanted, but I didn't want to go behind Barry's back." The explaining was wearing him out. "I thought if I could, I'd give my dad a little more peace of mind, that's all."

"I hear you, Abe. I do. I also know how badly you want homicide back. And I wouldn't be a friend if I didn't make it crystal clear that this wouldn't be the way to go about getting it."

"That never occurred to me."

"I didn't think it would. But I wanted the air clear between us. I'm trying to fast-track you and it wouldn't help if it looked like you were trying some end run."

Glitsky shook his head. "Not even a double inside reverse, Frank. But just for the record, I truly am ready for another assignment."

"I'm trying, Abe, I really am." He finished his coffee. "Think you can make it another couple of months?"

Glitsky put his own cup down. "If a couple doesn't mean a whole lot more than four," he said.

4

Inspectors Dan Cuneo and Lincoln Russell had pulled a long night that ended near dawn, so they didn't come back to work the next morning until after 10:00 a.m. When they finally checked in, they found they'd miraculously, after only six weeks, received a positive DNA match on one of their outstanding cases-a rape and murder-so their first stop was the video store where Sha-won worked and where they put a pair of handcuffs on him. By the time they finished the arresting folderol and were ready to get back to Wade Panos, less than an hour of daylight remained. Though with the continuing and steady rain, what daylight there was didn't amount to much.

The administrative offices for all of Panos's operations weren't downtown in Thirty-two, but a couple of miles south in a no-man's-land of underutilized piers and semi-abandoned warehouses lining the Bay below China Basin. This neighborhood comprised another beat-Sixty-three. It was light years from the high-end marinas such as McCovey Cove that had sprung up by the Bay Bridge with the Embarcadero upgrades and the draw of PacBell Park.

Cuneo parked at the curb directly in front of the one-story, flat-roofed stucco box and double-checked the address. "I admire a man who doesn't waste his money on overhead," he said. Neither the single glass door nor the large picture window afforded a hint about what was inside-both were tinted black with fitted blinds. On the wall next to the door, gone-to-green brass lettering identified the building as the home of WGP Enterprises, Inc. Cuneo looked across at his partner. "Maybe Roto-Rooter needed the 'r's and stole 'em."

Russell had no idea what he was talking about and wasn't going to ask. He got out of the car and was a step behind Cuneo when they walked in. Inside, the place was much deeper than it looked from without. Several offices opened off the hallway back behind the well-appointed reception area. A pretty, dark-eyed young woman in a heavy cowl-neck white sweater stopped working on her computer and smiled a greeting at them. "Can I help you?"

"Absolutely." Cuneo flashed all his teeth.

All business, Russell stepped around his partner. He had his identification out and showed it to her. "We're with homicide. We talked to Mr. Panos last night at Mr. Silverman's pawnshop. He's expecting us."

"Oh yes. You're the gentlemen who called earlier?"

"Well, one of us is," Cuneo said, then clarified, "a gentleman."

"That's nice to hear. They're getting to be in terribly short supply."

He extended his hand. "Inspector Dan Cuneo. And this is Inspector Russell. First name unnecessary."

She took his hand. "Liz Ballmer. Nice to meet you"- her eyes went to Russell-"both." The smile disappeared and she swallowed nervously. "I'll tell him you're here."

It was an impressive, albeit industrial, office. Glass block served as opaque windows just under the ceiling, and found an echo in the large coffee table in front of the long leather couch against one wall. The rest of the furniture-several chairs and another smaller couch-was all chrome and leather. Framed and mounted photos of Panos with various luminaries-San Francisco's mayor, the police commissioner, both U.S. senators, rock stars and other celebrities-covered most of one entire wall.

"That's who was there," Panos was saying. "All of them."

Cuneo studied the list of the poker players from Silverman's game. He was sitting sideways from Panos's expansive desk drumming the theme from Bonanza with two fingers on the coffee table in front of him. "With addresses yet," he said. "Very nice."

Panos nodded. "I thought I'd save you guys some leg-work." As he had last night, he wore his uniform. Steam curled from a large mug of coffee at his right hand. "One of the guys in the game-Nick Sephia?" He pointed. "You'll see him there-he's my nephew. Used to work for me, in fact."

"Since when has poker gotten legal?" Russell asked.

"You know anybody in vice wants to hassle with it?" Panos asked. "When so many of them play themselves? Anyway, it turns out Nick knows all the guys from Wednesday. Those five, six including him. Which makes this your lucky day."

Cuneo stopped his drumming. "In what way?"

Panos sipped coffee. "In the way that you won't even need to talk to all of them."

Russell came forward to the edge of the couch. "How would we avoid that?"

"You start with John Holiday. You ever heard of him?"

Cuneo raised his head. "Not much since Tombstone. I heard he died." Then, "Why would we have heard of him?"

"He had some legal troubles not too long ago. They made it into the newspapers."

"What'd he do?" Russell asked.

"What he used to do," Panos said, "was run a pharmacy, Holiday Drugs. Ring any bells?"

Cuneo looked the question to Russell, shrugged. "Nada," he said. "So, what?"

"So he got into the habit of filling prescriptions without worrying too much about whether or not they had a doctor's signature on them. When they stung him, they had guys on videotape writing their own scrips at the counter right in front of him."

"When was this exactly?" Russell asked. "I think I did see something about it."

Panos considered briefly. "Year, year and a half ago."

"And he's not still in jail?" Cuneo asked.

"He never went to jail. He got himself a hotshot lawyer who cut some deal with the DA, got the thing reduced to a Business and Professions Code beef. He got some community hours and they took his license, but that's it. Basically, he walked."

Cuneo's fingers started moving again. The William Tell Overture-ta da dum, ta da dum, ta da dum dum dum. "So you think Holiday's the shooter?"

"I'm saying you might save yourselves some trouble if you talk to him first. If you can find him sober." He sipped some coffee. "My brother Roy is working up in Thirty-two now. Maybe he could help you."

"You keep wanting to help us," Cuneo said.

If Cuneo was trying to get some kind of rise out of Panos, he wasn't successful. The Patrol Special took no offense, turned his palms up. "I liked Sam Silverman, Inspector. I liked him a lot. If I've got resources that might help you find his killer, I'm just telling you you're welcome to them. If you're not so inclined, of course that's your decision."

"What's your brother do," Russell asked, "that he might help us?"

"Roy? He's an assistant patroller, same as Mr. Creed last night. He works the beat. He'll know the players."

"In the game, you mean?" Russell asked.

"That, too," Panos said. "But I was talking more generally. The connections."

"Always Thirty-two?"

Panos nodded at Cuneo. "Mostly. He likes the action downtown." A shrug. "He might be able to save you some trouble, that's all. He'll know where you can find Holiday anyway, without a bunch of running around."

Cuneo flicked at the player list. "Why him? Holiday. Other than the old pharmacy beef."

"He lost six thousand dollars at Sam's the night before."

The number jerked Russell's head up. "Six thousand!"

"That's the number Nick gave me."

Cuneo whistled. "He came to this game with six grand in his pocket?"

Russell was on the same page. "Where'd he get that kind of money?"

"He owns a bar, the Ark." He pointed northward. "Again, up in Thirty-two. A real dump, but they must move some booze. Whatever it was, he had the money on Wednesday, and lost it all."

"I know the Ark," Cuneo said. "Maybe your brother could meet us outside, give us what he can. Say a half hour?"

"I'll call him right away," Panos said. "Set it up."

"Six grand?" Russell asked again.

"Yeah, well," Panos said. "The point is he'd be motivated to get it back. Wouldn't you think?"

They were driving back downtown through the dark drizzle. Cuneo was forcing air rapidly back and forth through the gap in his front teeth, keeping a rhythm, tapping the steering wheel to the same beat. After ten blocks of this, Russell finally had to say something. "You ever get tested for like hyperactivity or anything, Dan?"

His partner looked over. "No. Why?"

"Because maybe you don't know it, but you never stop."

"Stop what?"

"Making noise. Humming songs, keeping a beat, whatever."

"I do?" A pause. "Are you kidding me?"

"No. You do. Like right now, you were doing this." Russell showed him. "And hitting the steering wheel to the same beat."

"I was? I was just thinking about these poker guys."

"And last night it was 'Volare.' And back in the office just now with Panos, you were doing the Lone Ranger or Bonanza or something with your fingers." Russell played the beat on the dashboard. "I mean, I don't want to complain, but you've always got something going and I just wondered if it was something you could control."

Cuneo accelerated through an intersection. He looked across at his partner. "All the time?"

Russell considered. "Pretty much."

Cuneo made a face.

"I think, as you say, it's mostly when your mind's on something else," Russell said. "When it's just you and me it's one thing. But around witnesses…"

"Yeah, I hear you." They drove on another few blocks in silence. Finally, Cuneo turned in his seat again. "Maybe we could get some signal, where you tell me when I'm doing it. You pull at your ear or something."

"I could do that."

"And when it's you and me alone, just tell me."

"I don't want to be on your case all the time."

"Hey, be on my case. You're doing me a favor."

"Well, we'll see."

They had gone a few more blocks and were stuck in rain-soaked Friday rush hour gridlock a couple of blocks south of Market when Russell spoke again. "Dan. You're doing it again. 'California Girls.'

Clint Terry knew trouble when he saw it, and this time he recognized it right away. Roy Panos, all by himself, was usually good for some kind of problem, and tonight he had reinforcements. Cops, without a doubt, the smell all over them. Cops were always trouble.

In the bar's mirror, he saw them enter, stop in the doorway, look the room over. They stayed by the front for a moment, talking. Checking out the place, the one good window with its view of the Parisian Touch massage parlor across the street. Plywood over the other one. The stools were bolted to the floor. The bar was pitted and over-lacquered.

Clint Terry went about six feet four, 280. He had been almost famous once as a young man, when his life had breathed with great promise. An All-American linebacker at Michigan State, he then had gone on to play half a season with the Packers before a couple of guys had clipped him, one from each side, and had broken all three major bones in his right leg, which Bob Costas on national TV had conceded was a damn good trick. They still replayed the tape of his last moment in pro ball a couple of times a year, on shows with titles like "Football's Ugliest Moments."

By the time he was twenty-four, his football career over, he came out to the left coast, where nobody knew him, to explore his sexuality. He'd heard there was more tolerance for alternative lifestyles in San Francisco than anywhere else, and that turned out to be true. To support himself, he got a job as a bouncer at the Condor, a strip club in North Beach. For almost three years he did okay, until in a misplaced burst of enthusiasm he bounced one tourist too hard and got charged with manslaughter.

Now, thirty years old and a convicted felon, he'd served his four years at Folsom. He'd had sixteen months to get reaccustomed to living outside of prison walls, and he liked it way better than in. He had a partner he loved, and didn't need much more. This bartending gig was about as good as he thought it was ever going to get, and he didn't want to lose it.

The cops finally made it to an open spot at the rail.

Terry swiped at the bar with his towel, threw down some coasters. As always, when he spoke to law officers, his stomach fluttered high up under his ribs, but he ignored that as best he could and offered up a smile. "Hey, Roy. Help you gentlemen?"

The badges, the flat no-nonsense faces, one black and one white. Homicide inspectors. Then the black guy saying, "We're looking for John Holiday. You know where he is?"

"No, sir. I haven't seen him. He hasn't been in today."

"When's the last time you saw him?" the white guy asked. He'd picked up his coaster, holding it in one hand and flicking it with the fingers of the other.

"Yesterday, I think. He opened up. What's this about?"

Roy Panos moved forward, put his elbows on the bar. "Let's see if you can guess, Clint. We'll make it a quiz. What do you think homicide inspectors would be interested in?"

Terry wiped his hands on his towel, shifted his eyes up and down the bar. He had maybe a dozen drinkers for the twenty stools, and none of them looked ready for a refill.

"You nervous, Clint?" The white guy again, still flicking the damn coaster. He seemed pretty high-strung, maybe nervous himself.

"No." He wiped his bar rag across the gutter. "It's just I'm working…"

"That was the other thing," the black guy said. "We were hoping you could give us a minute, maybe go to the office. You got a room in the back here I assume?"

"Yeah, but as I said." He motioned ambiguously around him. "I mean, look."

The white guy sighed heavily and finally put the coaster back down. "So you won't talk to us?"

Terry wasn't too successful keeping the fear and worry out of his voice. "I'm not saying that. I'm talking to you right now. Tell me what it is you want to know."

"He wants to help, Dan," the black cop said. "We can tell his parole officer he wants to cooperate."

"That's an intelligent response," the cop named Dan replied in a cheery and suddenly frightening tone. "And especially coming from an ex-convict. It gives me confidence that the prisons are doing a good job after all." His eyes never left his partner. "Ask him where he was last night."

"Last night? I was here. The whole night, six to two."

"And I didn't even ask him yet," the black guy said. "See? He's just volunteering everything. Mr. Cooperation."

"Yeah," Dan said, "but you notice he happened to know what hours we'd be asking about?" He came back to Terry. "What about that, Clint?"

"I don't know what you're saying. You asked where I was last night and I told you. I was here."

"So then you couldn't have been up at Silverman's pawnshop?" Dan flashed some teeth at him. "Did you hear about that?"

Terry felt sweat breaking on his forehead. "Yeah. Sure. But I heard that was like a gang."

"No. Just three guys," Dan smiled across at him. "But let me get this straight. You didn't know what we wanted to talk about when we came in here tonight. Even hearing we were from homicide? But you knew about Silverman?"

"I just didn't put that together," Terry said. "And that couldn't have been John." He shook his head, wiped down the gutter again. "John wouldn't have done anything like that."

"That would be the same John Holiday who got arrested last year?" Dan asked.

"That was different," Terry said. "And he got off on that. Besides, that wasn't violent. John wouldn't do anything violent."

"Actually," the black cop said, "it's interesting you brought up Holiday again and mentioned violence, because as it turns out we don't think he was the shooter. He just thought up the idea, is what we hear. Kind of like a white-collar idea that went south."

"Yeah," Dan agreed, jumping right in, giving Terry no time to process this stuff as it came out. "In fact, our best witness was one of Roy's partners here, walking his beat last night. What's his name again, Roy?"

Panos appeared to be enjoying every minute. "Matt Creed. You remember Matt, don't you, Clint?"

He nodded.

"This place used to be one of the beat's clients," Roy explained.

Dan nodded, apparently fascinated with the history lesson. "Well," he said, "Matt says no question it was the big guy of the three who shot Silverman. He was the last one out, the big guy. Big like a football player."

Terry put his hands on the gutter for support. His legs were going to give out under him. "I was here," he said.

"I love a consistent story," Dan announced happily to his two companions. "He's said the same thing three times now, you guys notice that? No deviation at all. Always a sign a guy's telling the truth." Suddenly, he started whistling the theme song from Bridge on the River Kwai. He stopped in midphrase. "Who worked till six?"

One of the customers slammed his glass down on the bar. "Bartend! You sleepin' down there? I need another drink!"

Terry worked the orders for the next few minutes, finally made it back to where the cops sat. They hadn't budged.

"You know, on second thought, I could use a glass of water," Dan said. Then, as Terry was filling it. "So who worked till six last night?"

"Didn't I say that? I told you John opened up."

"So he was here with you when you changed shifts?"

"For a few minutes, yeah. But he had a date."

"A date? With who?"

"I don't know. You've got to ask him that."

"I will when I meet him." Dan drank some water, did another bar or two of River Kwai. He'd taken over the interview now, moved it into high gear. "So was Randy here, too?"

Terry gave Roy a bad look. "What did he tell you?"

"Nothing. Just that you and Randy were an item. You're together a lot."

"That's right."

"You seem a little defensive."

"I'm not defensive. Randy's got nothing to do with this."

"With what?"

"What we're talking about here. Silverman."

"I didn't say anything about Silverman. I asked if Randy was here last night."

"He's got nothing to do with it."

"As opposed to you and Holiday?"

"No. I didn't mean that." Terry ran his whole hand through his hair. "But listen, whatever… it's not Randy."

"But he was here?" Again, the young white guy came quickly forward, pouncing. "Don't be dumb, Clint. If he was here, he's your alibi. Think about it."

"I already told you he was here."

"As a matter of fact, no you didn't. But now you do say he was?"

Terry nodded. "We were alone here after John left for, I don't know, an hour or two. It was a slow night."

As quickly as he'd come forward, Dan leaned back, smiled triumphantly, spread his arms out. "There! Beautiful! That's all we wanted. You, Randy and Holiday here together at six o'clock last night. That wasn't so hard, now, was it?"

"He lives with you, doesn't he? Randy?" The black cop got back in the game. "Is he there now, do you know? Maybe you could give us the address?"

When they came out of the Ark, the two inspectors stopped and stood on the sidewalk in front of the place. Roy Panos had gone to the bathroom, and they were waiting for him to finish up and come outside. "I like this guy Roy," Cuneo said. "His brother was right. He knows the players."

Russell cocked his head back toward the bar. "You think Terry was part of it?"

"I'll tell you one thing-Roy thinks he was."

"That would be pretty easy, wouldn't it? The first guy we talk to?"

Cuneo shrugged. "I've heard it happens."

"Not to us generally."

A grin. "Maybe not yet. First time for everything, right?" The bar door swung open. "Hey, Roy, that went pretty well. Thanks."

"My pleasure. I've got to tell you, it was awesome watching you guys work. Another minute, he would have been crying."

"He did seem a little nervous," Cuneo said.

"I would have been, too."

"Why's that, Roy? You think he did it?" Russell asked. "Terry?"

Roy gave it a second. "Was it true what you guys said about the shooter being a big guy? You didn't just make that up to spook him?"

Russell nodded. "That's what Mr. Creed said. Three of them. One of them big."

Roy looked back and forth at the two inspectors. "Clint's not little," he said.

"No, he's not." Cuneo shot his partner a glance, came back to Roy. "What about this Randy? Clint's boyfriend. He with Holiday, too?"

"They're all buds," Roy said. "Lowlife."

"Would Mr. Creed know Terry?" Cuneo asked.

"On sight. Sure."

"I'm wondering if he could ID him as the shooter. Get him in front of a lineup."

"It'd be worth checking out," Russell said.

"We could find out pretty quick," Roy said. He looked at his watch. "He's on the beat in ten minutes. He'll be at the station checking in now. You want to walk down, I'm on my way there anyhow, to check out. It's like four blocks."

Matt Creed was in fact at the station, signing in to come on for his night's work with the Patrol Special liaison. He greeted Roy perfunctorily, then glanced at the men with him and recognition hit. He spoke first to Roy. "This is Silverman, then, isn't it?" Then to Cuneo, "Are you inspectors having any luck yet?"

"Getting a few ideas," Cuneo said. "Roy here says you might know Clint Terry."

Creed's brow contracted in a question and Roy answered it. "Bartender over at the Ark?"

"Oh, yeah. I got him," Creed said. "Why?"

"You said last night that the shooter was a big man. Mr. Terry's a big man."

The idea played itself across Creed's face. "You think he shot Silverman?"

"We don't know," Russell said. "We're open to the idea. Do you remember seeing Mr. Terry at the Ark last night when you walked your beat?"

Creed shook his head. "I didn't even look in," he said. "They're not on the beat anymore."

"But you passed by the place, right?" Cuneo asked. "Couldn't have been five minutes before you got to Silverman's. Do you remember if it was open?"

The young security guard tried but finally shrugged, frustration all over his face. "The door's closed, the window's boarded up. If they were open, they weren't having a party, but beyond that, I couldn't tell you. I didn't see anybody go in or come out, but I couldn't tell you I really looked." He met Cuneo's eyes. "You really think it might have been Terry?"

"You're the one who chased him. We were hoping maybe you could tell us."

"You said the shooter was big," Russell added. "As big as Terry?"

Creed closed his eyes for a moment. "Maybe. But it happened fast and it was dark. Plus, I was shitting in my pants at the time. I don't think I could pick him out of a lineup, if that's what you mean."

This was disappointing news, and both inspectors showed it. Cuneo, however, bounced right back. "All right. But you wouldn't eliminate him is the point."

"No. I suppose it could have been him."

"There you go," Cuneo said.

"But who were the other guys?" Creed asked. "You must be thinking Randy Wills and John Holiday?"

Cuneo started making a little clicking sound. "I'm thinking it a little more right now," he said. "What made you think of them?"

"They hang out a lot. You see them around together."

"Holiday was at Silverman's poker game," Russell said.

Roy Panos was nodding through a deep scowl. "He lost six grand."

Cuneo was still making the clicking noise. "Anything about the other two guys you saw make it impossible it was them? Holiday and Wills?"

"No. But they didn't stay around to talk. The other two could have been anybody else."

"But it also could have been them. Am I right?" Cuneo didn't want to lose his focus.

"Yeah. Sure. Or them."

The clicking stopped. "Okay, then."

Dismas Hardy was listening to his wife's voice on the speakerphone in his office and taking notes about what he might want to pick up at the grocery store on his way home if he wanted to be the perfect husband and save her a trip. Ordinarily, she would have just walked over herself. The Safeway was only a couple of blocks down around the corner. But now with the rain, she'd have to drive, which meant finding another parking place possibly even farther from their house than the store was. "Not possibly, definitely," Hardy said. "I do a little victory dance whenever I get closer than Safeway. So what's on the list?"

He wrote as she finished reciting. "Coffee, cottage cheese, cherries, Claussen's, celery."

"Goods beginning with 'c,' I got it. Anything else?"

A short silence. Then Frannie said, "Oh, and some copper clappers."

"Got it, Clara. See you in an hour."

Hardy hung up. He moved the newly framed picture of his wife to front and center on his desk and gave it a moment. The planes of his face softened, the edges of his mouth tickling at a smile.

It was a head and shoulders shot he'd taken recently in their home on an Indian summer Saturday morning. For the first time ever, Rebecca and Vincent had both spent the night with separate friends. Frannie was turning away from rearranging the caravan of glass elephants on the mantel over the fireplace in their front room. In the picture, Frannie's eyes were full of mischief, her own smile about to break. The unseen story was that they'd just finished making love on the living room floor, by no means a daily event. The camera had been sitting next to Hardy's reading chair and he'd grabbed it, called her name, and got her.

"Mooning over your wife again?"

Caught in the act. "We are having a bit of a renaissance."

"Good for you." David Freeman stood in the doorway, a large wineglass in each hand. He schlumped his way across the office, put one of the glasses on Hardy's desk, and pushed it across. "Chateauneuf du Pape, Cuvee des Generations, nineteen ninety. It's just too good not to share and the pups downstairs are all working."

"Maybe I'm working, too."

The old man shook his head. "Not likely this time Friday night. I know you. You're done." He had come around behind Hardy. "New picture? That is a good one. Though I'm surprised she's letting you display it in public."

Hardy feigned ignorance. "What are you talking about? Why wouldn't she?"

Freeman gave him a knowing look. "Maybe because under that innocent and pretty face, she's not wearing anything?"

Hardy had long since given up being surprised at Freeman's perspicacity. But even so. "How in the world…?"

"Completely obvious to any serious connoisseur of naked women, one of whom I pride myself on being." Freeman pointed. "Taste the wine. Tell me what you think."

Hardy did as commanded. "It's pretty good and I think you may actually be mythically ugly. And I've only got about five minutes if you're really here on business and the wine is a ploy."

Over at the couch, Freeman lowered himself into a sit. "The wine is genuine largess on my part, but as a matter of fact I did hear from Dick Kroll on the Panos thing."

"I'm starting to love the Panos thing."

"I'm still a little more in the infatuation stage myself. Especially with your recent input."

"That wasn't through much effort on my part, David," Hardy said. "That was Abe and John Holiday."

Freeman made a face.

"Okay, you don't like him. But you've got to admit he's doing us some good."

This was, and both men knew it, quite an understatement. Holiday had come to believe that some of the WGP guards had played undercover roles in his own sting and arrest, and he was out for vengeance. In the past four months or so, he'd brought in no less than seven disgruntled WGP clients and/or victims to Freeman's offices, out of which four were on board with causes of action ranging from fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress to assault and battery. Named defendants in the lawsuit included Wade on all the causes of action, of course, but also his brother, Roy, his nephew Nick Sephia, and nine other WGP current and past employees.

By the same token, common scuttlebutt at the Hall had made Glitsky realize back when he was still in homicide that Panos was a bad egg, his organization fairly corrupt. His "rate increase" of the year before had been nothing more than a thinly disguised protection racket. Glitsky knew that several businesses had at first elected to drop out of Thirty-two only to sign back up after windows had been broken or goods stolen. Two men had been mugged. One storefront cat killed. All of them had filed complaints with the PD, only to drop them. Glitsky, up in payroll, found it entertaining to chase these paper trails and identify potential plaintiffs for his friend Diz. Was he doing anything else worthwhile? Eventually, he had turned all of these names over to Hardy, and most had joined the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Hardy thought it was starting to look pretty solid for the good guys. "So what did Mr. Kroll want?" he asked.

"He wants to talk some more before the next round of depositions."

Hardy shrugged. "Did you tell him that that's what depositions are all about, everybody getting to talk?"

"I believe I did. Told him we could talk all we wanted starting Tuesday, but he wants to put it off, maybe till early next year."

"If I were him, I'd want that, too. What'd you tell him?"

"No, of course." Freeman cleaned out his ear for a minute, his eyes somewhere in the middle distance. He picked up his glass and swirled it, then took a sip. "My gut is he's feeling us out for a separate settlement."

Hardy was about to take a sip himself, but he stopped midway to his mouth, put the glass back down. "We're asking for thirty million dollars, David. Rodney King got six and he was one guy. We've got fourteen plaintiffs. Two million and change each. What could Kroll possibly offer that would get our attention?"

"I think he was having a small problem with that question as well. I got the feeling he'd been chatting with his insurance company, which won't pay for intentional misconduct. To say nothing of punitives, which we'll get to the tune of say six or eight mil, and again there's no coverage. So if we win, Panos is bankrupt."

"Which was the idea."

"And still a good one."

"Did he actually mention a number?"

"Not in so many words."

"But?"

"But he's going to propose we amend the filing so Panos gets named only for negligence, no intentional tort. This leaves his insurance company on the hook for any damages we get awarded."

"And why do we want to do this? To help them out?"

"That's what he wanted to talk about before the depositions. I predict he's going to suggest that he rat out the city, give us chapter and verse on the PD and their criminally negligent supervision of his people, which strengthens our case, and in return he gets insurance coverage on any judgment we get."

"What a sleazeball."

"True. But not stupid," Freeman said. "If we were equally sleazy, it's actually a pretty good trick."

"Let's not be, though. Sleazy. What do you say?"

"I'm with you. But still, it's not bad strategy. And it could be even better if he thinks to suggest settling directly with us for say a quarter mil per plaintiff, which puts three and a half mil in the pot, a third of which comes to you and me, and his insurance pays for all of it. Panos comes out smelling like a rose. We make a bundle. The city's self-insured so they're covered. Everybody wins."

Hardy liked it, but shook his head. "I don't think so, though. His insurance would have to agree, and why would they?"

"Maybe Panos has got it himself. In cash."

"That's not coming out smelling like a rose. That's down three plus mil."

"But at least then he's still in business. We settle, sign a confidentiality statement, he raises his rates, he still wins."

Hardy nodded grimly. "It's so beautiful it almost makes me want to cry. And all we have to do is change a word or two?"

"Correct."

"Just like guilty to not guilty. One word." For a brief instant, Hardy wondered if Freeman were actually considering the proposal, which Kroll had never actually voiced and may not even have thought of. "Are you tempted?" he asked.

Freeman sloshed his wine around, put his nose in the bowl, took it out, and nodded. "Sure. It wouldn't be a worthwhile moral dilemma if I wasn't tempted. But it's half your case and I'm duty bound to admit that I believe it's a solid, pragmatic strategy, and not overtly illegal. If we don't do it, it'll be way harder to win."

Hardy took the cue from Freeman and swirled his own glass for a minute. "So it's my decision, too?"

"Got to be," Freeman admitted.

"Give me a minute," Hardy said. "How much do I clear?"

"Well, Kroll never gave me a specific number. But if I'm even close to what he's thinking at three and half million, say, and I bet I am, you personally bring in close to a half million before taxes."

Silence gathered in the room. "Couple of years work," Hardy said.

"At least."

Hardy's mouth twitched. He blew out heavily. "For the record, I'm officially tempted." He put his glass down, walked to the window, pulled the blinds apart and stared a minute outside at the street. When he turned again, his face was set. "Okay," he said, "now that that's out of the way, fuck these guys."

5

For a wealthy man, Wade Panos kept a relatively low profile.

He didn't need flashy clothes, since he wore a Patrol Special uniform every day at work. The Toyota 4Runner got him wherever he needed to go. The three-bedroom house on Rivera that he shared with Claire blended with the others in the lower Richmond District. He mowed his own lawn every Saturday, took out the garbage, talked over the fence with his neighbors. To all outward appearances, Wade was a regular guy.

He'd started working as an assistant patrol special in Thirty-two when he was just out of high school. It was his father's beat. George ran a tight ship in those days, providing basic security for his two hundred clients, patrolling the beat on foot.

It didn't take Wade long to realize that his father was missing a substantial opportunity-big money could be made in this field. People wanted protection, especially once they came to understand that without it, bad things could happen. More importantly, Wade was adept at identifying enterprises-prostitution, the drug trade, gambling dens-that operated outside the protection of the law. These businesses couldn't survive in his beats without his protection, and rather than roust them out or turn them over to the regular police, he found most of them willing to enter into partnership with him.

By the time Wade was twenty-five, he'd made enough on his own to buy his first beat from the city. Ten years later, when he inherited Thirty-two after his father's death, he had six of them and a payroll of nearly ninety assistants. He was fortunate that his timing was so good. About five years ago, the city had limited the number of beats to three for any one individual, but his holdings were grandfathered and allowed to stand. His books showed that he was pulling down close to a million dollars a year.

Until relatively recently, the actual figure was about twice that. And in the last three years, the profits had become nearly obscene. Not that he was complaining.

Since so much of his income was in cash, Wade had had to become skilled at laundering it, and to this end he formed a holding company that owned four bars in various parts of the city, each of which pulled down a tidy legitimate profit and substantially more in dirty money. Being a good businessman, Wade always kept his eyes open for rundown watering holes that he could scoop up at bargain prices, then renovate to a veneer of respectability. He'd also found that, once a property appealed to him, his connections, associates and business practices could often help a struggling bar along on its journey to bankruptcy.

He'd wanted the Ark now for a couple of years, and since he'd learned of John Holiday's interference with his business in the past four months, he was more motivated than ever to take control of the place. Put the son of a bitch back on the street where he belonged. Because of its central downtown location, with any kind of attractive atmosphere it would draw heavily from the police, legal and financial communities, so it was a natural fit for his operation. But this lawsuit didn't look like it was going away anytime soon-Dick Kroll wasn't having any luck with Freeman and Hardy-and anything Wade could do to cut into their enthusiasm was to the good.

Not incidentally, if he could get his hands on the Ark, it might also finally provide a safe and comfortable living for the son of his little sister Rosie. Nick Sephia had become a trial for all of them. He'd proven his loyalty to Wade on several occasions, true, but his judgment often got him into trouble, as it had with the LaBonte girl. Wade was hoping that with seasoning, age and experience, Nick could become an asset as a bar manager, instead of a liability as muscle- he didn't have the self-discipline that muscle called for.

Also, truth be told, Wade felt guilty about Nick, who'd grown up without a father because of him. Twenty-some-odd years ago, when Wade had realized that Sol was hitting Rosie, he had beaten his brother-in-law to within an inch of his life, then given him the option of leaving town or dying. Nick's father had made the smart choice.

Now, near eight o'clock on this Friday night, Wade was in a tuxedo, waiting for Claire to finish dressing and come downstairs. He sat in a folding chair hunched over a large jigsaw puzzle that he was working on at a card table in the enclosed porch at the back of his house. A light rain still fell just outside the windows.

He usually worked on his puzzles for the half hour before dinner after he got home. It took about two weeks to finish one of these big ones, after which Claire would transfer the completed puzzle to a plywood backing and glue it down. She told him she donated the things to shelters or schools or something, but Wade couldn't really imagine anyone really wanting one of them. He thought it possible that Claire simply threw most of them away and told him the story about giving them to charity to spare his feelings.

Wade didn't really care.

The joy was in the doing of them, and this one was particularly challenging. Twelve hundred pieces. The picture on the front showed nothing but the water in a swimming pool-blues and shadows. He had most of the border now, and was about a third done. Suddenly, a five-piece segment fell into place and he sat back, pleased.

"Claire!"

"Two minutes," she chimed from upstairs.

He frowned. Two meant ten. Standing up, he pulled at his bow tie and walked back to the kitchen, where on one of the stools by the counter the paper lay open to the Metro section. And as so much did-except for his jigsaw puzzles-the story brought him back to business. And again, to Nick.

The article was about the new Russian Kamov Ka-32 helicopter that one of Wade's relatively recently acquired clients, Georgia AAA Diamond, had purchased as a gift for the San Francisco Police Department. The deal was that, in return, the jewelers could use the chopper to transport their gem imports, with police guard, directly to and from the corporate jet at the airport in south San Francisco to the city.

Here was a nice picture of Dmitri Solon, the company's thirty-four-year-old CEO. He was posing by the helicopter with Mayor Washington, Police Chief Dan Rigby, some city supervisors, and members of the California legislature. It was amazing, Wade thought with some pride, that he and Solon had been able to create such a substantial krysha- Russian for "roof"-as protection for Georgia AAA in such a short time.

Wade knew Solon well by now. He was a smooth operator who spoke nearly perfect English. The protege of Severain Grotny, head of the Ministry of Precious Metals and Gems in Russia, Solon had ostensibly come to San Francisco with a twofold mission-to open a state-of-the-art diamond cutting and distribution center and, not incidentally, to make inroads into the international monopoly of the De Beers diamond cartel.

Wade couldn't help smiling as he scanned the platitudes in the article, for he knew the truth about Georgia AAA, and this was that Solon and Grotny were using the business as a front to systematically loot nothing less than the national treasury of Russia. He knew this because about eighteen months ago, before Solon had even opened his doors, Wade had signed him up as a client in another of his beats. It hadn't taken him three months to become suspicious of some of the activity he witnessed, some of the questionable personnel on the periphery of things.

So he set up special surveillance teams and about two months later, he and his nephew Nick found a pretext to stop one of Solon's imported Russian employees as he left the building one evening. He was carrying a bag of uncut diamonds worth, Wade later discovered, approximately fourteen million dollars. Rather than report the incident to San Francisco police, Wade brought him first back to Solon.

The ensuing discussion was more than enlightening. It was breathtaking.

Once it became clear that Wade's agenda was cooperation rather than interference, Solon seemed almost relieved to be able to explain. The financing for Georgia AAA, about $170 million, had come directly from the Russian treasury in the form of diamonds, jewelry and silver, but mostly from gold, five tons of gold-and most of that investment grade commemorative coins from the 1980 Olympics. This had all come under diplomatic pouch, Grotny's pouch, on Lufthansa Airlines. After it had arrived in this country, Solon arranged for its delivery to Premier Metals, the top gold distributor on the West Coast. Premier then melted down the coins and established the Georgia AAA account, based on ounces of gold on deposit with them.

With his $170 million line of credit, Solon had gone a little wild. Although it was on the market for a mere five million dollars, he paid eleven million for the four-story building that would house his new Diamond Center. At about the same time, he spent three million dollars for his rambling mansion in the hills of Kensington; $800,000 for two cigarette boats; more than a million for a Rolls-Royce and two Aston Martins; and around eighteen million for a Gulfstream twin-engine corporate jet. There were other acquisitions as well-condos at Lake Tahoe, a small Napa winery, a chain of Bay Area gas stations. All were intended to bolster the image Solon wanted to convey-he had unlimited money and extraordinary connections.

Wade looked down at the newspaper photograph again. The young Russian entrepreneur had certainly done himself proud.

But he couldn't have done it without Wade Panos, who'd helped him build his krysha, extended Solon's connections through Wade's own to the political elite of the city and even the state. And it had all begun the night that he and Nick had busted the messenger with the bag of diamonds. Wade had asked Solon this simple question: If Georgia AAA was in the business of cutting and selling diamonds, why was he sending fourteen million dollars' worth of them away? The answer was that only a fraction of the diamonds imported from Russia ever made it to the floor of Georgia AAA's high-tech cutting room showcase. Most were sent to a sister Georgia AAA office in Antwerp, where disguised with false invoices from Angola and Zaire, they were then, ironically, sold to De Beers for cash, which was then wired either back to San Francisco or to Grotny in Moscow.

Essentially, it was a money-laundering scheme through which diamonds from the Russian National Treasury could be dumped into the world market and converted to cash. The San Francisco Georgia AAA Diamond Center, for all of its grandeur and visibility, was in fact merely a front to legitimize an immense traffic in unregulated diamonds. And, established in the center of one of his beats, it had fallen into the lap of Wade Panos.

His commission during the past year-essentially to have Nick instead of one of Solon's people carry the diamonds and guard them to and from the airport to the Diamond Center, plus a little muscle and political favor-was a little more than six million dollars, most of which Solon wired directly from the Antwerp office to Wade's account in the Caymans. The rest came back to San Francisco, where Wade used it to keep his own krysha in good repair. He loved the term-the roof that protected you. The people you paid off.

But Nick.

Even with his new job, Nick remained a problem. Because he was young, headstrong and prone to violence, he hadn't worked out at all as an assistant patrol special. Wade had thought the simple job at Georgia AAA would serve two purposes. First, it would keep his nephew out of trouble and, second, Wade would have his own man, and a relative at that, on the inside to protect his position with Solon.

But after a little more than a full year at it, neither part was working out too well. Nick had too much free time, no real job to do, and too much money. He was upping his profile all over town-getting into fights, gambling, throwing his weight around-and this was not good. When it was time for his deliveries, he would show up around the Georgia offices, self-important, well-dressed and surly, and alienate everyone from the cutters to Solon himself.

Even more disturbingly, he had somehow ended up with Julio Rez as his partner on these trips. Wade didn't know Rez well, but thought him capable of shooting Nick and stealing the diamonds they were transporting.

He needed to get Nick out of there, get him a real grownup job, maybe at the Ark, then put his brother Ray in with Solon to protect the relationship. Ray was good with people.

But suddenly he straightened up, tugging hard now at his collar, getting it loosened up. He looked at himself in the mirror on the kitchen wall-his skin color was awful, a flushed ochre that made him look both pale and flushed.

He thought he could feel his blood pressure pushing on his eardrums. He brought a hand up to his nostrils, checked it for blood.

Look at him. What the hell was he doing?

Here he was, Wade Panos, nobody's idea of a lightweight, brooding over individual strategic moves again- and again and again-when the real issue, the big issue, was that these two goddamned lawyers looked like they were going to try to shut him down. They were threatening the entire foundation of his life's work. Okay, he understood they saw their chance to clear a nice chunk of change here. He assumed that they were just businessmen like he was, looking out for opportunities. He didn't blame them for that. And maybe it was true that Wade had been pushing his luck the last couple of years, throwing his weight around too much in the beats, giving them the opening. So okay, the lawsuit was a wake-up call. Maybe he'd rein things in a little with his troops in the future. His dealings with Solon were bringing in the bulk of his income now anyway. But without the beats and Wade's presence in the field as his legitimate power base, even that relationship could erode. And that would be disaster.

So Freeman and Hardy had delivered the message that they were on to him. So he'd tone things down and they'd make a decent pile for their efforts. What more did the greedy bastards want? He'd floated the idea that he was ready to make an offer, settle this thing. He'd even provide evidence to help them fleece the city a bit.

Fuckers.

"What's the matter?" Claire stood in the door to the kitchen. He hadn't heard her come downstairs. "You're frowning," she said. "You look sick. Do you feel all right?"

"Fine." He shook his head. "It's nothing. Just business."

"I thought business was good."

"Business is all right."

"And yet you're frowning."

He shrugged, debating with himself whether he should burden her with his own worries about the lawsuit. But no. The solution came to him full-blown, all at once. He didn't have to do this Kroll's way, according to Hoyle. He wouldn't even tell Kroll. He could end his troubles with the lawsuit, or at least slow things way down, anytime he wanted. He was being reasonable, and if Freeman and Hardy and their spies and stooges didn't choose to be, then what happened after that wouldn't be Wade's fault. They would have asked for it. All of them.

"You know Wade."

He came back to his wife. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to move Nicky again, that's all."

It was her turn to frown. "Maybe you want to move him all the way out."

"I can't," he said. "Rosie-"

She held up a hand, stopping him. "Your poor sister Rosie."

"She's had it rough, Claire."

"Who hasn't? And Nicky's nothing but trouble. He's already cost us and it's going to get worse, you watch."

"He's growing up. He's going to be okay."

She shook her head. "When you were his age you had three beats already, your own business. Trying to help him is just throwing good money after bad. Anyway, where are you going to move him to?"

"I was thinking the Ark."

"Which we don't own, last time I checked."

"Not yet." The seed of an idea had sprung. "But it turns out the owner of the place was with the guys that shot Sam Silverman. After they bring him in, he's going to need all the cash he can get his hands on. I'll pick the place up for a song."

"And then give it to Nicky? There's better people, you know, Wade, even if he's family." She was a short, buxom woman and stared up at him defiantly, her arms crossed over her chest.

After a minute, he leaned down and kissed her, conciliatory, on the cheek. "Nothing's written in stone, Claire." He smiled, took her arm, started to steer her toward the front door. "Now, who are we giving our money to tonight?"

Hardy's daughter Rebecca had at last reached sweet sixteen years old and tonight she was going on her first solo date. She'd been out to the movies and the malls with mixed-gender groups of friends many times before, of course, but this was the homecoming dance and this boy, young man, whatever he was-a seventeen-year-old senior named Darren Scott-had asked her.

Frannie had done herself up somewhat, too, for the occasion. She wasn't exactly Mrs. Cleaver, but she wore a skirt and a light salmon-colored sweater. She'd pulled her red hair back into a tight bun, applied some makeup-mascara and lipstick. Vincent, their fourteen-year-old son, had gone to a football game with some of his friends.

Now Hardy was standing in the kitchen, alone with Frannie, while they awaited the Beck's grand entrance from her bedroom, into which she'd vanished after her shower about a half hour before. He was talking in that half-whisper parents sometimes adopt when their children might be within earshot. "It's just that I'm not exactly thrilled that the sum total of what I know about this guy who's taking out my daughter is his name, Darren Scott. If that's really his name."

Frannie threw a glance back over her shoulder. "Dismas. Of course it's his name. It's all I've been hearing for weeks. Darren Darren Darren."

Hardy was undeterred. "Doesn't mean he didn't make it up. Maybe he and the Beck are in on it together and are planning to run away. If I was making up a name, it would be Darren Scott. I mean it. If he honks from out on the street, she's not going."

"I'll let you tell her that."

"I will, too. Don't think I won't."

"What?" Rebecca looked unimaginably grown-up in basic black, spaghetti shoulder straps, hemline three inches above the knee. Heels and hose. Sometime in the past year or so, she'd pierced her ears and now gold teardrop earrings hung from them, matched by a thin gold necklace Hardy had bought her. Her red hair, like her mother's, was up off her neck and some kind of glitter graced her cheeks and the bare skin beneath the necklace. "What?" she asked again, worry flitting over her brow.

"Nothing," Frannie said, moving toward her. "Just your father being silly. You look beautiful."

She spun in a pirouette, beaming now with her mother's approval. "What do you think, Daddy? "

He found that he couldn't reply for a second, then cleared his throat. "I think this Darren Scott is one lucky guy. I hope we're going to get to meet him."

Mother and daughter shared an amused look, and then Rebecca skipped across and put her arms around her father. "Of course you will. I'd never go out with anybody my favorite daddy didn't know. He should be here any minute."

And as though on cue, the doorbell rang.

"That's him!" The Beck turned back to her mother. "I look all right?"

"It's not your looks…" Frannie began.

"I know, Mom. It's who I am inside. But do I look okay? Really?"

Frannie gave up on the mother lecture and hugged her. "You look perfect."

Meanwhile, Hardy walked down the hallway, geared up to be polite and yet somehow firm and even awe-inspiring. He swiped at his eyes, opened the door, and it was Abe Glitsky.

"Not with my daughter, you don't!" His voice was harsh. "Darren!" And he slammed the door in his friend's face.

A couple of seconds later, he opened it again, grinning at his cleverness. He noticed that a lanky young man in a suit was standing behind Glitsky on the stoop, looking tentatively over Glitsky's shoulder. "Excuse me," he began. He appeared to be sufficiently terrorized to last through the evening. "Is this where Rebecca Hardy lives?"

"He seemed like a nice kid," Glitsky said. "I doubt if he's even got a sheet."

"There's a consoling thought if I've ever heard one. My daughter's dating a guy who's never even been arrested."

They were at the dining room table, Abe with his tea and Hardy and Frannie finishing their wine.

"Dismas has been preparing himself for this, so he wouldn't be too harsh," Frannie said. "Imagine if it had just been sprung on him."

"I thought I was downright civil," Hardy said, "considering. That thing with Abe at the door was meant to be a joke. I had no idea Darrel was there."

"Darren," Frannie corrected him.

"Didn't I say that?"

"That was just bad timing," Abe put in deadpan. "Could've happened to anyone."

"Anyway, it'll give him something to think about later," Hardy said. "When he's wondering whether he should keep the Beck out past eleven-thirty or not."

"I don't think that'll be much of a question," Frannie said. "In fact, I don't think it will even cross his mind, especially not after the six reminders."

"Not six," Hardy said. "Not more than two. Abe was here. He heard. No way was it six, was it, Abe?"

Glitsky sipped at his tea, looked up in all innocence. "I'm sorry," he said. "I wasn't paying close attention."

Glitsky and Hardy had a chessboard set up between them on the dining room table. It wasn't much of a contest. Although Glitsky had won the vast majority of the many games they'd played over the years, they both pretended that they were fairly evenly matched.

Hardy explained his poor record by the fact that since he was more excitable than his friend, he tended to see a move and act precipitously. And it was true that Glitsky was more patient, even methodical, in his play. It was also true that Glitsky never drank alcohol and Hardy would have a beer or two and sometimes, as tonight, an after-dinner cognac or two after he'd already had his wine for dinner. Hardy felt that the mere suggestion that this had any effect on his strategy or play was, of course, ridiculous.

But Glitsky was happy to take advantage of whatever mistakes Hardy made, and he'd already made one that would be conclusive. So Glitsky made his next move, then sat back and relaxed a degree or two. He was already tired, as he'd done the wake-up call for their baby Rachel before dawn. She had a low fever and maybe a tooth was coming in as well, and Treya had basically done him the kindness of kicking him out for the night, freeing him to go talk about his father's demands and his job frustrations with his friend Dismas. It was her turn for baby duty. No need for both of them to suffer.

Hardy studied the board, raised his eyes. "You don't look good."

"Neither do you. So what?" Glitsky let out some air. "But I admit I am a little tired."

"Ha! The excuses begin."

"For what?"

"For when I beat you here."

Glitsky kept all expression out of his face. He picked up his mug of tea. "We'll see. I believe it's your move."

"See? He worries." Hardy lifted his snifter and studied the board. He understood that Glitsky thought he had an advantage, but danged if he could see what it was. After a minute, he looked up. "I'd take a teething daughter over a dating one anytime."

"You want," Glitsky said, "I'll bring Rachel over. We can trade."

"No thanks!" Frannie from the front room where she was reading.

"Okay, we'll leave daughters," Hardy said. "So moving in the other direction, what's the problem with your father? Is he all right?"

Glitsky pushed his chair back far enough from the table so that he could cross a leg. He let out a long breath. "You hear about Sam Silverman?"

Hardy shook his head. "Don't know him. What about him?"

"He was Nat's best friend. He ran a pawnshop by Union Square and somebody shot him last night in his store. It's still your move, by the way, if you don't want to concede, which you should. Anyway, Nat doesn't seem to get it that I'm not in homicide anymore. He asked me if I'd look in on the investigation and make sure they're on track. Like that. So, much against my better judgment, I went downstairs and talked to Gerson today…"

"In homicide? How'd that go over?"

"About like you'd expect. After the parade, the welcome kind of wore off pretty quick. Gerson even found a way to mention it to Batiste. Evidently, in one of those strange coincidences you read so much about, the topic just happened to come up while they were having lunch."

"Imagine that," Hardy said.

"Right. But in any event, Frank called me off. Period. Not that I was on. Are you going to move someday?"

"I'm savoring the anticipation," Hardy said. "So what about Nat?"

"Nothing, really. But I've got to tell him and he's not going to like it. He might even decide he's got to go talk to somebody himself which-no matter what-would be a disaster."

In the kitchen, the telephone rang and Frannie, although she was farther away in the living room, jumped up to answer it. "It might be one of the kids," she said by way of explanation as she passed by them. She got to it and after a short, amiable-sounding talk, she was back in the doorway. "It's John Holiday. He says it's important."

"I bet." Hardy pushed his chair back. "Two minutes," he said to Glitsky.

"You want to move first?"

He paused and pushed a pawn up one square. "You're dead very soon." Then turned toward the kitchen.

Ten minutes later, Hardy came back into the dining room, where Frannie and Abe were sitting side by side at the table. As he'd talked to Holiday, he'd heard the two of them erupt in laughter several times. This, especially from Glitsky, was a rare enough event in itself to warrant comment, but then as soon as Hardy looked, he saw the cause of it and didn't have to ask.

They were going through a stack of birthday cards that Holiday had been randomly sending Hardy now for over a year, whenever he ran across one that was particularly funny or insulting or both. The latest was a lovely, romantically out-of-focus picture of a forest of redwood trees with streams of sunlight shining through them and a gorpy poem extolling their majesty and incredible longevity, "adding to the magnificent beauty of the earth for thousands and thousands of years." When you opened the card, it read "Thanks for planting them."

"These are pretty good," Abe admitted.

Hardy nodded. "I laughed at the first seventeen of them myself."

"I wish I'd thought of this. Hey." He snapped his fingers. "Maybe it's not too late."

"It's way too late," Hardy said.

"Was it important?" Frannie asked.

Another shrug. "Everything's relative." He moved back up to his chair and hovered a moment over the chessboard, raised his eyes quickly to Glitsky. "You moved something."

"Just one little knight. It was my turn."

"That's all you moved?" He stared back down, saw it, swore under his breath.

"Tut-tut." The lieutenant wagged a ringer, then checked his watch and stood up. "But enough of this wild partying. I think I'd better go spell Treya."

"So what did you decide about Nat?" Hardy asked, somewhat unexpectedly, out of context.

The question stopped Glitsky and he considered for a minute. "He'll get used to it, I suppose. I just hate to disappoint him." They'd gotten to the door. Frannie had opened it, and Abe was putting on his jacket.

"You want," Hardy said, "you and I could do a field trip to the crime scene tomorrow. Maybe get a tidbit for your dad, make him feel better, like you're working on it. Maybe we even do some early Christmas shopping."

"I'll check my social schedule," Glitsky said, "but sounds like a good idea. You'd really do that?"

"Sure. What are friends for? Say ten, eleven?"

"I'll let you know."

When he was gone, Frannie closed the door and turned to him. "Maybe do some early Christmas shopping? Since when?"

"It could happen," Hardy said.

"Okay, but what else?"

"But that call from John? It turns out it was pretty important. The police want to talk to him about this guy Silverman's death. Abe's father's friend."

"What about him?"

"Whether he was involved somehow."

"Involved? How could John be involved? In what way?"

"In the way of whether he had something to do with killing him."

6

The sun broke through while Hardy read the morning paper at his kitchen table, waiting for Glitsky's call, which never came. He finally called Abe's and left a message at around eleven. Next he tried Holiday at home-useless-then at the Ark. Nothing.

His own house had been empty now for an hour and a half. Though for years he'd fantasized about the magic day when he and Frannie's lives weren't ruled by the schedules of his children-the lessons and ballgames, the colds and homework and simple stuff that had cluttered his every waking moment for the past sixteen years-now that the time was upon him he wasn't sure how much he liked it.

Frannie was dropping the kids off somewhere and in an ironic turnabout he wasn't sure he fully appreciated, she was seeing one of her clients on a weekend morning. Technically still a student, Frannie had gotten hooked up with a psychologist friend of hers, Jillian Neumann, and was working about twenty accredited apprentice hours a week in family counseling.

So with the day looming empty as his house before him, Hardy went into the kitchen and took his black cast-iron pan down from where it hung off a marlin hook behind the stove. He ran his knuckles across its surface-silk.

Automatically, he threw in a big pinch of salt-Frannie had switched to kosher salt and kept a bowl of it open next to the burners-and turned on the gas. He went to check the refrigerator, grabbed a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from the top shelf, opened it, and drank. In two minutes, he'd cut up garlic and scallions, poured in some olive oil, added leftover rice, a can of sardines, a good shake of red pepper flakes. It occurred to him that he was eating too often at Lou the Greek's if he found himself hankering for this kind of treat, but the smell pushed him onward. Soy sauce, some plain yogurt, and then, finally, an egg to bind it all. When it was done, it looked awful but he almost couldn't wait to get back to the table to dig in. He thought it was even possible that he'd stumbled upon one of Lou's wife Chui's secret recipes such as Athenian Special Rice or even, wonder of wonders, Yeanling Clay Bowl.

First, though, before he sat down to eat, he kept the heat up and threw in more salt. Swiping at the bottom of the pan two or three times with a dish towel, he then dumped the contents into the garbage can. The magic pan was as it had been before he began-black, gleaming, oiled.

As he ate his masterpiece, his thoughts returned-if in fact they'd ever left-to Holiday. To most outside observers, the failed pharmacist was not typical of Hardy's friends. The serious overdrinking, the gambling, the women. Certainly, bartending and trying to keep the bar he'd inherited afloat, he wasn't working on any kind of career. That alone set him apart. Beyond that, Holiday had ignored his earlier friends until he lost them. He'd burned out his parents and the rest of his solidly suburban family, rejected their values and hopes for him.

This was because John Holiday had no real hopes anymore himself. They'd been dashed six years ago when his wife and eight-month-old baby daughter-Emma and Jolie-had been killed by a hit-and-run driver who'd run the red and never even slowed down.

Hardy, too, had lost a child. In another lifetime, he'd had a son, Michael, who'd lived seven months. A couple of years into his first marriage, to Jane Fowler, the child had somehow pulled himself up over the bars of his crib one day, fallen to the hardwood floor. For about ten years after that, his own marriage and fledgling legal career having collapsed under the weight of the grief, Hardy drank Guiness Stout, bartended at the Little Shamrock. Like Holiday, he was glib all the time.

So Hardy knew what made Holiday the way he was. He didn't blame him, wouldn't judge him, didn't expect anybody else to understand the connection. It was what it was.

He was no longer eating. He was considering his friend's life, and wondering if it could now have led him to a murder.

Holiday grew up in a middle-class home in San Mateo. His father, Joseph, ran three independent and successful sporting goods stores until they were bought out by a nationwide chain in the eighties. His mother, Diane, stayed at home with the kids-John, his younger brother Jimmy, and their two sisters, Margie and Mary-until Mary was in kindergarten; then she went back to teaching.

He went to an all-boys Catholic high school, lettered in baseball and track, became the school's "blanket" player- the best all-around athlete whose name went on the blanket that hung in the school's gymnasium. For a time he held the WCAL record in the half mile. Popular with students and faculty alike, he was secretary of the student body his senior year. Academically, he was sixth in his class with a 3.88 GPA, a National Merit and California State Scholarship Finalist, and a lifetime member of the California Scholarship Federation.

These accomplishments were impressive, but said little about Holiday's essence. Evidently between the ages of fifteen, when he lost his virginity, and thirty-one, when he got married, his chief persona was sexual predator. The first time was with Anne Lerner, a neighbor and friend of his mother, who…

It was a warm, windy Saturday afternoon in late spring and he was with his three best buds from school buying sodas at the Safeway where they'd been let off by one of the moms after the ballgame. In the checkout line, Anne Lerner-the youngest and always the foxiest of Mom's married friends, with a really cute bobbed-nose face and a great smile-was her usual friendly self to all of them. Every one of John's pals admitted having the private hots for her- Mrs. Lerner was the only adult who got mentioned when the guys were making one of their frequent lists of the cutest girls, the best breasts, and so on. Today she looked almost like a teenager herself with her long, tan legs, the short white tennis shorts, the ash-blond hair hanging around her shoulders.

She had a cart full of grocery bags and all four of the guys were happy to help her load them into the back of her wagon. Since none of them drove yet and all lived up the hill on her way home, she asked if they wanted a ride and all of them piled in, John in the front where, when she leaned forward to put in the key, he couldn't help but see that the top button on her blouse had come undone. She glanced and caught him looking, gave him a playful, open smile, then buttoned up.

When the last of them but John got out, Mrs. Lerner asked him if he'd mind stopping by her place first-just a few blocks farther up the street-and helping her unload the groceries. Her daughters were both gone on a weekend camping trip with the Girl Scouts and her husband was traveling again and wouldn't be back until midweek. So she was all alone.

He carried the bags inside. It took him four or five trips, and the button came undone again, and then the one under it. Finally, by the time he put the last bag on the counter and turned to face her, only one button remained.

"Thanks, John. Can I offer you something? A glass of water?"

He was mesmerized by the fall of her blouse, but stammered out a no. He had to be getting home.

She took a step toward him. "Are you sure? You can stay a few minutes. Anything?"

He swallowed-his mouth had gone dry-then he looked at her face, which wore a mysterious smile now, an expression unlike any he'd seen before. She closed the gap between them even more; they were so close he smelled the wonderful scent of her-almonds and… and something else. She cocked her head up at him. "What?" she asked playfully. "Tell me."

Following his gaze, she looked down. "Oh, these darn buttons." But slowly, slowly, her eyes never leaving his, her hand went not to any of the open buttons, but to the closed one under them all, which was suddenly open, too. "Oops," she said, laughter in her throat. She took his hands and brought them up to the little snap in the front of her bra, which she helped him open with a practiced ease.

"What a charming story of young love," Hardy said. "She was how old?"

"Thirty-five. Forty. Somewhere in there."

"So if you were fifteen, she raped you."

"Diz, please, rape has such ugly connotations. I infinitely prefer the word seduced. And I promise it did not scar me for life. In fact"-a slow grin lifted Holiday's corn-silk mustache-"I've been known to drop by in the recent past from time to time. And you know what? She is still hot."

"I'm happy for you both. Maybe not so much for the husband."

"Long gone, I'm afraid. I believe his prostate gave out." Holiday kept his grin on, knowing he was pushing Hardy's buttons. They were both sitting on folding chairs in sunshine just outside the propped-open front door of the Ark. Holiday was drinking a Bud Lite from the bottle and had his brown denim workshirt unbuttoned halfway. He was supposed to be bartending, but he owned the place and there weren't any customers.

"Well, fascinated though I am with all this history, it's not why I came down. You talk to any cops yet?"

"I haven't had that pleasure."

"They didn't come by your house?"

"They might have." Holiday tipped up some beer, the sloe-gin eyes twinkling. "I don't believe I slept there last night, so I can't be sure. But I did stop by here and Clint told me what was up, which was when I called you."

"And I'm so happy you did." Hardy squinted up at the bright sky. He moved his chair back into the shade of the doorway. "So what do you think? "

"I think I didn't shoot Sam Silverman or anybody else."

"You pretty sure?"

A nod. "Reasonably. It's the kind of thing I'd remember."

"You got an alibi for when it happened?"

Suddenly, all trace of the grin was gone. "This is starting to remind me of when you were my lawyer last time."

"That didn't turn out so bad. Look at you now. They don't let you drink in prison. Bud Lite or anything else."

"You chumming for business?"

"Hey, you called me. The last thing I want in the world is a murder case. And here's a hint-you don't want one either. If Frannie wasn't working, I'd be having lunch with her right now instead of checking up on your sorry ass. But as you appeared to be seeking advice and counsel-lo, I appear."

"All right." Holiday leaned forward in the folding chair, his elbows on his knees. He had his index ringer in the neck of his beer bottle and spun it in little circles near his feet. "So where were we?"

"On your alibi."

Holiday gave an impression of thought. "What night again?"

Hardy came forward and spoke with some sharpness. "Don't give me that, John. It was the night after your poker game, which makes it Thursday. This is Saturday. I'm thinking even you, two days and who knows how many drinks ago, you might remember."

"Okay, between you and me, I had a date," Holiday said. "Dinner and a movie."

Hardy sat back, spread his hands in victory. "There you go. Was that so hard?" But Holiday's expression was far from relaxed. "What?" Hardy asked.

"Well. Couple of things."

Hardy waited a minute, finally spoke. "Do I guess or are you going to tell me?"

"No. I'm going to tell you." He pulled the bottle off his finger and took another pull at it. "First, the lady in question is married, so she's not going to want to be involved."

"Why am I not surprised? Maybe she's not going to have a choice. So who is she?"

"I can't say. Not even to you. Her husband would…" He let it drop.

"Well. There's a ray of good news. Her husband, then, is still alive, I take it."

"Oh yeah. You'd know him."

"I'd know him? How's that?"

"I mean he's well known, a public figure. She can't come out."

"Great. Swell. You're seeing the wife of a famous guy. Do I dare ask if this is a long-term relationship? Between you and her, I mean, not her and her husband."

"We went out a couple of months, but it looks like it's over now anyway." Holiday shrugged. "It ended Thursday, in fact. Before the movie. Before dinner, if you want to get technical."

"Technical's good. Let's go that way." Hardy barked half a laugh. "So you didn't go out with this unnamed married woman for dinner and a movie after all? And hence you don't have an alibi for the time of the murder? Is that what you're saying? And might I add parenthetically, do you have any idea how much fun I'd be having with you already if you were on the stand in court?"

"But I was with her till at least six-thirty, is what I'm telling you, Diz. By which time Silverman was dead."

Hardy was shaking his head, not sure if he was near despair or enjoying himself. There was no question but that he believed Holiday-who else would go to these lengths to make up something so Byzantine and absurd?-but his predicament vis-a-vis the authorities might become very real if these vital facts couldn't be managed. "I think I could use something to drink, John. You carry any nonalcoholic mixers? Club soda? Cranberry juice?"

While Holiday went searching behind the bar, Hardy brought in the folding chairs, then sat at one of the bolted-down stools. "Just out of curiosity, where do you take the wife of a well-known public person out to dinner for a couple of months and never get recognized?"

Holiday shot club soda from the gun over some ice, squeezed in a lime wedge. "Chinatown," he said. "We all look the same to them. Hey, it's true. It's the next best thing to invisible." He handed the drink across. "Anyway, the point is, Silverman was dead by the time we got to dinner, am I right?"

"I don't know. I haven't got the timetable on it. I gathered from Glitsky it was the end of the day, but five-thirty, six-thirty, I don't know. You want to just tell me privately who the woman was?"

"I could tell you, but so what? She'd just deny it. Especially now. She always had a cover story for her husband anyway, where she was. Look, maybe we won't even need it, okay? Weren't there three guys?"

Again, Hardy had no previous connection to the case and he didn't know.

"Well," Holiday said, "I'm telling you, there were. Clint, my night guy, said the cops were trying to scare him putting the three of us together-me, Clint, and Clint's boyfriend Randy. Clint's gay."

"I guessed," Hardy said. "And they've got alibis? Clint and Randy?"

"They were here together the whole time from six. Clint was behind the bar."

"And customers saw them and would swear to it?"

Holiday shrugged. "Somebody must have."

"Very strong, John, very strong. Does Clint remember any of them, these customers?"

"I'm sure he could come up with somebody."

This answer didn't warm Hardy's heart. He sipped at his club soda, wiped his ringer along the overlacquered bar. "John, remember our first few interviews when they busted you for the bad scrip? When you just couldn't believe anybody really cared about prescription drugs enough to hassle anybody about them?"

"I still can't believe it. Adults ought to be able to get anything they want. If they kill themselves with whatever it is, hey, they're adults."

"It's really special you believe that, and we can have a debate about it later, but maybe right now we can agree that murder is more serious."

Holiday, on the other side of the bar, was filling the garnish trays. He stopped cutting lemon peel and looked up. "I really didn't kill Sam, Diz. The other thing was different since I actually did it."

"Then why'd you call me last night? About this?"

He went back to cutting. "Clint was freaked out about the cops coming by. It got a little contagious."

"But you're over that now?"

A shrug. "I really didn't do it. Clint and Randy certainly didn't do it. They're not going to nail three of us when none of us were there."

Hardy sipped his club soda, said nothing.

Holiday stopped again. "What? What's that look?"

"No look," Hardy said. "I guess I forgot for a minute that nobody's ever been arrested for a crime they didn't commit."

"They're not going to arrest me. They didn't arrest Clint last night and they were right here with him."

"Okay, I'm convinced. You're in no danger. But do me a favor. The cops come by to talk to you, call me first. Don't say one word."

Holiday made a face. "Surely I should say hello. If I don't return their greeting, they become surly. I've done experiments."

"Sure, say hello. Bake 'em a cake if you want." Hardy drained his glass, stood up and walked out the open door without another word.

After he calmed down a little, he called his home from the cell phone in his car, but nobody answered. At Glitsky's, too, he got the answering machine again. This was turning into a rare day, with no work and no family. He considered going home and doing something physical-they had half a cord of wood that needed to be stacked, or he could take a run-but then he decided screw it. He'd go to his own well-run and pleasant bar and talk to someone with a functioning brain.

"The guy's an idiot," he told McGuire, who'd once, when he cared about different things, earned a Ph. D. in philosophy from Cal Berkeley. They were both waiting for the churning foam in Hardy's Guinness to fall out. "I don't know why I waste my time."

"You like him, that's all. I like him, too. He's a firstborn male, right?"

"And this means something?"

McGuire had his standard Macallan poured into a rocks glass that sat in the Shamrock's gutter. He took a bite of a piroshki he was eating from a place around the corner and washed it down with scotch. "You got any close friends that aren't?"

Hardy quickly filed through the litany-McGuire, Freeman, Glitsky, Pico Morales, even Graham Russo, another ex-client. And now Holiday. "That's interesting."

To McGuire, it was an old, self-evident truth, and he shrugged. "It might be that, but don't mistake it for a character reference. He reminds me of everybody we knew when we went to school. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, party all night. You remember."

"Not as much as you'd think. I didn't go to Berkeley."

"You were alive in the sixties, though, if I'm not mistaken."

"Here's an ugly surprise, Mose. I hated the sixties. The only good thing in that decade was the Beatles."

"Come on. The Turtles. Herman's Hermits."

Hardy had to smile. "My point exactly. But I give sixty-eight my vote for the worst year of our lifetime. So saying Holiday brings back those good ol' days isn't what I'd call high praise."

"I'll tell you something, though, and no reference to the sixties." Moses leaned over the bar, his broken-nosed face six inches from his brother-in-law's. He spoke quietly, nearly in a whisper, but with some intensity, possibly even rebuke. "He's just like you were when you worked here. You weren't so hot on all the rules before you got with Frannie and decided it was time to grow up."

This brought Hardy up short, threw him back on himself as McGuire straightened back up and turned to check on the other five customers in the bar. Hardy took a slug of his daytime stout and looked at his face in the back bar mirror.

McGuire was right, he realized. Crippled by grief, loss and guilt over his baby's death and the breakup of his marriage in the wake of that, Hardy had walked the boards behind this very bar for most of another decade. A lawyer without a practice, a thinker without a thought, he hadn't been able to commit to much more than waking up every day, and sometimes that was too much.

Now, with a good marriage, a thriving practice, and teen-aged children, Hardy had a life filled-sometimes overfilled-with meaning, import, details, routine, relationships and responsibility. Holiday's life, his situation, couldn't be more different and more importantly, it hadn't been of his choosing. Hardy, of all people, should remember that Holiday was living day-to-day, waiting for that first flicker of meaning or hope to assert itself. Until then, he'd take his solace from whatever source, a woman or a bottle or easy money at the poker table.

McGuire was back in front of him. He poured another half inch of scotch, dropped in one ice cube and stirred with his finger. "So where were we?"

"At the part where I was being a judgmental old dick."

"There's a sixties concept, the famed value judgment." His brother-in-law reached over and good-naturedly patted his arm. "But you can't qualify for true old dickdom for at least a couple of years."

"The sad thing is, though, Mose, I kind of believe in value judgments nowadays."

McGuire clucked. "Yeah. Well, as you say, most of those sixties ideas-value judgments are bad, dope won't hurt you, fidelity's not important-they haven't exactly stood the test of time. But there's still that old nagging tolerance for different lifestyles."

"And the Beatles," Hardy said. "Don't forget the Beatles."

"Only two of 'em left, though, you notice," Moses said.

7

Hardy didn't talk to Glitsky again until he showed up unannounced late Monday afternoon at his office. His baby's fever hadn't been from teething, and by early Saturday morning it had gotten to 104 degrees and he and Treya were with her at the emergency room. Roseola.

"You should have called me," Hardy said. "The Beck had it, too. I could have diagnosed it over the phone."

"Next time she wakes us up screaming at three a.m., I'll call you first."

"I'll look forward to it." For the past couple of hours, Hardy had been reviewing the technical specifications of a supposedly fully automated truck-washing unit. One of his clients had bought it for a million and a half dollars. It hadn't worked even within the ballpark of the manner promised by the company's brochure from day one. The gap between the gallons of recycled clean water the system could actually process and the gallons guaranteed by the brochure was big enough, Hardy thought, to drive an eighteen-wheeler through. He'd studied the numbers enough to master that fact. He was taking the case to trial in a little over a month.

He could spare his friend some time. "So what's up? Did you take today off?"

Glitsky sometimes wasn't much of a sitter. First he'd crossed over to one of the windows and peered out, now was pulling darts from Hardy's board. "Amazingly enough, I finished all my critical work by," he looked at his watch, "about six hours ago."

"You must be underutilized. I hope at least you looked busy."

Glitsky threw a dart. "I sat behind my door and gnashed my teeth."

"For six hours? That must be hell on your molars."

"I don't care about my molars."

"You would if you cracked one with all that gnashing. But then, you're the guy who chews ice all the time. I bet you grind your teeth at night, too."

Glitsky turned to face him. "How'd you like a dart in the eyeball?"

"You'd probably miss." He stood and came around his desk, strode over to the dartboard, and waited for Glitsky to throw the third dart. "So did you ever get to find out anything else about Silverman?"

"Else implies I found out anything at all." He threw.

"And yet just today you whiled away six perfectly good hours when you could have been detecting."

"Except I'm not a detective anymore."

"Nor much of a dart player." Hardy pulled the darts, walked back to the tape line on the floor. He whirled, paused for an instant setting up, and threw a triple twenty-one of the very difficult shots. "Right now you're probably asking yourself how I can be so good."

"The question fills my every waking moment. Nat tried to find out something, though, about Silverman."

"Without you? How'd he do that?"

Glitsky appeared to be gnashing his teeth again. "When I got busy with Rachel, he told Sadie-Silverman's wife- she might as well go through the normal channels. So she called homicide."

"And?" Hardy's focus was suddenly lost, and his next two darts didn't score at all.

Glitsky pulled the darts for his round. "And nobody called her back all day yesterday or today. Nobody."

"They were probably busy."

"Right. So finally, maybe an hour ago, Nat called me. Again with would I check? So I called Lanier."

"And a fine inspector he is. Are you going to throw or not?"

"Are we playing a game? I'm shooting bull's-eyes, that's all."

"Not too many."

Glitsky pegged a dart, missed his target by three inches. Threw, missed again. Threw the last dart, missed.

"Good round," Hardy said. "So what did Lanier say?"

"He hasn't seen Gerson all day."

"All right. Progress."

Glitsky ignored him, stepped to the side as he came to the line. "But-and you'll love this-the guys working the case, Russell and Cuneo

…"

"Do I know them?"

"I'd be surprised. Anyway, Lanier checked the sign-in and they hadn't been in over the weekend, or today."

Hardy threw a bull's-eye. "They're not out in the field?"

"Lanier didn't think so. They would have checked in. We're big on paperwork nowadays. They don't sign in, they get a nasty letter from payroll. Ask me how I know."

Hardy threw the last two darts in quick succession, leaving all three clustered in the middle of the board. He eased himself back up onto his desk. "They'll probably get to it someday." He paused. "I probably shouldn't tell you this…"

At the dartboard, pulling the darts again, Glitsky turned around, a question.

"They're snooping around one of my ex-clients who, I need hardly add, had nothing to do with it. You remember John Holiday?"

It didn't take Glitsky two seconds. "The drug guy."

"Right. And two of his friends, all of whom have alibis."

The tumblers fell into place. "The call you got Friday night."

Hardy nodded. "It pains me to admit it, but that was why I was willing to go and peruse the crime scene with you on Saturday, and would do the same today if you were so inclined."

For a long moment, Glitsky considered it, then shook his head. "That's what I came by here thinking we might do, to tell you the truth. But what are we going to do there, except get me in trouble? How do we even get in?"

"You're probably right," Hardy said.

"I'll let Gerson call Sadie first, find out for sure what they've got, if anything. At least get some questions of my own I might want to ask. Why do they like your guy?"

"He doesn't know, and in any case he's not worried about it."

"Except that he called you."

Hardy shrugged. "It was early in the process. He's over it. But his bartender's got a sheet and maybe a squishy alibi. John thinks they were just shaking his tree, see if he knew anything at all."

"And did he?"

"He was bartending a couple of blocks away."

Glitsky frowned. "What's squishy about that?"

"It was evidently a slow night. Few if any customers. He and his partner-the other alleged suspect-they alibi each other, but that's about it."

"And what about your guy, Holiday?"

"He was having dinner with a girlfriend. Chinatown," he added.

"So he's out of it."

A tight smile. "Yep."

"Well." Glitsky pursed his lips, thinking. "If they're even shaking this guy's tree, at least they're doing something." He let out a heavy breath. "It's not my job. I keep telling myself. I guess I'm just not so good with being patient."

"You're kidding me," Hardy said. "When did that start?"

Matt Creed had been off the past two nights, but now he was back in the beat, walking with both hands in his pockets. Vapor appeared in front of him with every breath he took. The night, outside the glow of the streetlights, was full dark, as it had been about the same time that things had gotten hairy outside of Silverman's last week. That sequence of events had been an unending tape loop in his mind over the weekend-the first shot and simultaneous ricochet by his ear so much louder than anything he'd ever heard with his earphones on at the range. Even now it reechoed in his memory.

He turned the corner up from Market and on the other side of the street came abreast of the Ark, noticed this time that a dim light emanated from the doorway. Stopping, he tried to force himself to picture, to remember, anything about the previous Thursday. But it was such a nondescript length of street, such an anonymous location, that it had no discrete existence for him at all. There was the plywood in the hole for one window, the tinted blank of the other, the darkened mouth of the doorway. The door itself stood open tonight, but he couldn't for the life of him recall even glancing in the bar's direction when it mattered the most.

Here he was, all dressed up like a cop and really nothing like one. His apparent duty was so far from the reality that it almost made him sick to his stomach. Creed was twenty-two years old and taking courses in criminology at City College during the day. He had taken the assistant patrol special job with WGP Enterprises because it offered decent pay along with the opportunity to attend the Police Academy on, essentially, a Panos scholarship. Creed's plan was to get his AA from City, get training at the PA and experience with Panos, then apply for the regular PD, where he thought he'd have the inside track. His life goal was to become a homicide inspector, and he'd been thinking he was well on his way.

Until last Thursday, when he hadn't seen a damn thing, and of what he'd seen he noticed even less. Although he was the only real witness to any part of the crime, he'd been little enough help, no more than coffee gofer, when Wade Panos-the big boss himself!-had been at Silverman's Thursday night. Even worse, he had a sickening feeling that he'd let himself be manipulated when Roy had come by with the two real-life homicide inspectors. Because he'd so wanted to please them, to be important, he'd picked up the thread of their suspicions and let himself more or less volunteer Randy Wills and Clint Terry as suspects.

Creed had run into Randy Wills a few times in the Ark, but he didn't know him except to nod at. Terry, on the other hand, was a pretty good guy who, back when they'd still been clients in the beat, had often given Creed a free coffee or a Coke when he'd stopped in. In reality, he hadn't seen enough of the two forward runners in his chase last week to say for sure whether or not they were two-headed Martians. And as to the shooter? Sure, he'd seemed like a pretty good-size guy, but again, running away at seventy-five feet in the dark and wearing a heavy coat against the weather, he could have been anybody. Hell, he could have been a she.

But now Creed worried that he might have helped direct the homicide cops to some innocent people. More, because it had been so nonspecific, he didn't know how to undo what he might have done.

Suddenly, he found himself standing inside the Ark. It was Monday night, slow as death, two patrons at the bar, and the huge, really hulking form of Clint Terry stood behind it, right up by him, by the front door. Suddenly, forcefully, it struck him that the shooter surely couldn't have been that big. Creed would have retained that as a positive memory rather than a vague sense.

"Hey, Matt. Checking up on us? You cold?"

"It's not warm, Clint."

"I've got some go-cups. You want one? Two sugars and cream, right?"

"That'd be good, thanks. Everything okay in here?"

"Good." A pause. "Roy was in here the other night with a couple of inspectors from homicide."

"Yeah, they told me. The Silverman thing, huh?"

"That's what he said. I was working here, though, just at that time. You might remember."

"I never crossed over, Clint. Never looked in. Sorry."

"Yeah, well, it probably don't matter. The cops haven't been back, but listen, from now on, you want to poke your head in here when you pass, the coffee's on me."

The cup did warm him up, but neither Clint's hospitality nor the steaming brew made him feel much better. By the time he got to Ellis, he'd pretty much decided he would have to talk to Russell and Cuneo, back off from his earlier stance. And this might be his opportunity now. The lights were on at Silverman's.

When abreast of the door, Creed saw an old man sitting on a chair by the counter, an old woman standing in the center aisle facing the shelves, writing on a clipboard. For a few seconds, he watched them. They appeared relaxed if somewhat subdued, and were having some kind of conversation between the woman's notes. When Creed knocked on the glass, it startled both of them, but then they noticed the uniform and the woman came to the door and unlocked it.

"Can I help you?" she asked. To Creed, she looked to be in her late sixties, early seventies. Her face was sharp-featured, birdlike under her wispy white hair. He would be surprised if she weighed more than a hundred pounds. But there wasn't anything frail or timid about her. Her eyes- no glasses-narrowed down critically at him.

"I was going to ask you the same thing," Creed said.

"How would you be able to help me? You're with WGP, aren't you?" She peered closely at the name tag over his pocket. "Well, Mr. Creed, I'm Sadie Silverman, Sam's wife. We're not with the beat anymore."

"Yes, ma'am, I realize that. I just saw the light and…" He came to an end, shrugged.

Suddenly the man was up with both of them. He put a hand on Sadie's shoulder, pulled the door open, and motioned Creed inside. "I'm Nat Glitsky," he said, extending his hand. "A friend of the family. We thought it would be smart to take an inventory. Were you here the night it happened?" He closed the door, threw the deadbolt.

"Yes, sir. I was the…" Again, he stopped. "I discovered the body," he said.

"Do you know if the police took anything?"

"No. I don't think so. From the shelves, you mean?"

"They haven't told me anything," Sadie snapped. "I can't get anybody to call me back. I just came down here with Nat and opened up myself."

Nat laid a hand on the woman's arm. "All they told Sadie was that Sam had been killed in a robbery attempt. Three men, apparently. Did you see them?"

Creed temporized. "From a distance. One of them shot at me twice. I chased them but couldn't catch up."

"So if you'd come by just a couple of minutes earlier…" Sadie let out a heavy breath. "What about these robbers, these killers? Why did they pick here? Why was it Sam who…"

A small tremor began in her jaw, and Nat put an arm over her shoulders. "It's all right, Sadie; it's all right." He walked her back to the chair he'd been sitting in by the jewelry case, sat her down, then turned and came halfway back down the center aisle, to where Creed was now standing. "It would be nice to know if anybody's interested in what happened here," he said. "That's all. Is anybody looking for who did this?"

"They're looking. The inspectors came by and interviewed me on Friday night."

"And what did you tell them? What did you know?"

"Pretty much what I told you. Three guys. At least one of them with a gun. Mr. Panos thought they probably got away with Mr. Silverman's bank deposit. This old leather pouch he was supposed to be carrying."

"That's what it was," Sadie said. "Thursday was his deposit night."

"Who's Mr. Panos?" Nat asked.

"My boss," Creed said.

Sadie had recovered enough to stand up again. "He owns the security patrol we used to pay. But he raised his rates last summer and we had to drop it."

But Nat wore a confused expression. "Wait a minute. If this guy Panos didn't do security here anymore, why was he here on Thursday?"

"Because I was," Creed said. "The cops asked him the same question. Also, he and Sam knew each other." He turned to Sadie. "He was really upset about this, ma'am. He told the inspectors he'd give them any help he could, and I know he was working with them as of Friday"-he included Nat-"when they interviewed me."

"How do you know that?" Nat asked.

"His brother, Roy-that's Mr. Panos's brother-was with them, interviewing suspects."

"So they have suspects, after all?" Sadie asked.

Creed made a pained face. "They were looking at a few guys who'd been at a poker game. Apparently one of them lost a lot of money the night before, and the thought was he might have come back to get it. Mr. Panos had given the inspectors a list of who'd been there, and that's where they started."

A sharp rapping on the front door made them all turn. A dark, menacing hatchet face scowled through the glass, and Creed reached for his gun. Nat, though, put a hand on his arm, stopping him. "It's my son," he said.

"What are you doing here, Dad?" The intimidating black man took up a lot of room in the cramped aisle. He turned impatiently to Creed and held up a badge. "I'm Glitsky, SFPD. Who are you?" "I'm assistant patrol special Matt Creed, sir."

But Glitsky had already whirled. "Nat, you shouldn't be in the room. "

The old man was unbowed. "Sadie wanted…" He stopped. "We thought it would be a good idea to do an inventory. Nobody's gotten back to her, and she has the key, so we thought we'd let ourselves in, find out what they took. Find out something at least, Abraham, since nobody seems to want to tell us anything."

"I got that much from your message." Shaking his head disgustedly, Glitsky looked around. He walked to the entrance to the back room, glanced down at the brownish stain on the floor, then threw a cursory glance over the jewelry case. Then he was back at his father. "I told you I'd talk to Gerson as soon as I could, Dad, find out what I could. He wasn't in today."

He took a deep breath, focused on Sadie. "Mrs. Silverman," he said, "I know it's very hard to wait to learn anything when at the same time you're trying to deal with your grief. My heart goes out to you, but it would be better if my father wasn't here right now. Nat will tell you, I did this homicide stuff for sixteen years-not just did it, I ran the detail-so believe me, I know. When the police know something, they will tell you. And I really can't have my father involved in this case in any way."

When Creed realized that he had been in the room with Lieutenant Glitsky, formerly head of homicide, he decided that even if it delayed him for a few stops in his rounds, he was going to talk to him after his father and Mrs. Silverman had been sent on their way. Even a low-level connection with someone of Glitsky's rank and experience might translate to a letter of recommendation, or something, later on. He might also get some advice on how to approach Cuneo and Russell about his perhaps-squirrelly identification of Clint Terry.

So as Glitsky left with his father and Silverman's wife, Creed trailed along behind, invisible, while the trio walked down the street and across it into the underground level of the Macy's parking lot.

Hanging back by an overhang until Mrs. Silverman's car had driven away, Creed tried to time his moment. In his best mood, Glitsky didn't exactly invite an easy familiarity, and now-standing with his hands on his hips, looking after the taillights of the Lexus-he positively simmered over a low flame of anger, frustration, maybe fatigue. After a minute, he brought a hand to his forehead and squeezed at his temples.

"Are you all right, sir?"

The return to professional mode was immediate and impressive. "I'm fine, Mr. Creed. I didn't realize you were still with us."

"Yes, sir."

Glitsky was walking and Creed fell into step next to him. "I'm sorry I snapped at you back there at the shop. I was upset with my father. It wasn't your fault."

"Thanks." It seemed to be a chance at an opening. They'd come to the mouth of the garage, up on the street level again. "Crime scene stayed till about four in the morning."

Glitsky stopped and faced him. Between the garage and streetlights, they stood in a pool of visibility. "How do you know that? You stay around, too?"

"I came back after my shift." Creed shrugged. "I'm taking crim courses in school. I'd been the first person on the scene and nobody seemed to mind if I stayed. I wanted to see how it worked in real life."

"And how was that?"

"I thought they were pretty thorough, from what I know, which isn't much."

Glitsky put his hands into his jacket pockets. Several seconds passed. "So what happened that you got there first? Did you get a call?"

"No. Really it was just mostly a coincidence. I was on the block, right over there"-he pointed to a spot across the street-"when the alarm went off at Silverman's. I saw some guys running out the door. So I yelled after them to stop, and one of them shot at me. Twice."

Glitsky's mouth moved, an impulse to smile. "And missed, I see."

"Yes, sir."

"You're lucky." His eyes went to the shop. "Though maybe not so much from that distance. But either way, you don't want to get shot."

"It's never been in my plan."

"Yeah. Well, it was never in mine either. It just goes to show you."

Creed couldn't stop himself. "You got shot?"

It was the wrong question. The lieutenant's face closed up. "Nothing to brag about," he said, clipping the words.

Glitsky was wrestling with himself. He'd only come downtown-fifteen minutes after he'd arrived home-to keep his father from getting him into more trouble. He hadn't even had dinner yet, and knew that Treya would be waiting for him. Rachel was still feverish, and in some low-level but constant way he was worried about that, too. Certainly, he didn't want to stay in any kind of private conversation with this young rent-a-cop, even if he did seem bright, interested and idealistic. These were not traits Glitsky normally associated with Panos's crew, especially since he'd been reviewing the police reports on behalf of Hardy and his pending lawsuit. He'd had innumerable dealings with WGP on his own as well, and few of them had been pleasant.

On the other hand, this boy had been the first person on the scene, had actually been a witness to the crime in progress. Undoubtedly, he had been interviewed by the case inspectors, and Glitsky had no reason to believe that they were less than adequate. He didn't know Cuneo and Russell at all. They'd been brought up in Gerson's watch and might, for all he knew, be the most competent and committed policemen in San Francisco, although most of his recent experience in the department argued against that.

"Nothing to brag about," he said, and realized that he sounded too harsh. "But… so you actually saw these guys?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, Lieutenant, I saw three figures running away from me in the dark. I couldn't identify any of them to save my life."

"That happens. I wouldn't worry too much about it." The open face of the young man took on a troubled look, and Glitsky said "What?"

Creed blew out heavily, a deep sigh. He seemed suddenly ashamed of himself. "Except maybe I was trying too hard to be helpful."

"Helpful's generally good, son. What's the problem?"

A shrug. "I might have given your guys some bad information."

Glitsky had seen enough confessions to know when somebody wanted to talk. He leaned against a parking meter, crossed his arms, met Creed's eyes, waited.

"I had told them-your inspectors-that the person who'd shot at me seemed like he was kind of big. So then they came back the next day and said they were looking at this other guy who works in the neighborhood, a bartender over at the Ark, do I know him? Do I think it could have been him? And I'm thinking, I don't know what I'm thinking, to tell you the truth, probably just wanting to be important, you know? So I give them the impression that, yeah, maybe it was this guy. I mean, I say it could have been, and then I told the inspectors he's got these two friends he hangs with…" The recitation ground down to a stop.

"And now you don't think it was?"

Creed shook his head miserably. "I really don't know. I went by there tonight-the Ark-and he was behind the bar. I mean, it could have been him, I suppose, maybe, but I was a lot stronger than that when I talked with the inspectors. It was like I gave them the impression that I could positively ID him."

"So call them up and tell them," Glitsky said.

"Just like that?"

"Yep. They're probably working half a dozen leads right now. They'll be glad to know sooner rather than later. Believe me, they'll thank you for it."

"And think I'm an idiot."

Glitsky actually broke a smile. "Possibly, but if you're not an idiot next time nobody will remember. But I'm curious. How'd they get on to this guy, the big guy, in the first place? There must have been something."

"Yeah. There was. It was the Ark. The connection there."

"Which is what?"

"This guy John Holiday owns the place. Evidently he was at Silverman's poker game-you know about the poker game? Wednesday nights? Anyway, Holiday was there the night before and lost a lot of money. Mr. Panos knew about it and told the inspectors and they went by the Ark to talk to him-Holiday. But since he wasn't there, they got Clint. The big guy. The bartender. And after that, of course, they came to me."

"Talk to the inspectors," Glitsky said. "Maybe they've got something else on these guys, too."

"I just wouldn't want them to waste their time because of what I told them. And also, I've got to tell you…"

"What's that?"

"These guys. Holiday, Clint and Randy Wills. I think they're pretty harmless. I'd hate to get them in trouble if they had nothing to do with this."

Glitsky chewed on the inside of his cheek, his brain fully engaged. "I wouldn't worry about that," he said. "If they did it, some evidence of it will likely turn up, and that's what they'll get them on. They're not going down on your ID, I promise you that. Meanwhile, I'm keeping you and my wife thinks I'm on my way home." He pointed a ringer at Creed. "Call the inspectors, though, all right?"

"Yes, sir."

Forty-five minutes later, Creed was working the beat south of Market and saw Roy Panos taking a break in a booth at Carr's coffee shop. Like Creed, he was on duty tonight, and in uniform. Roy was engaged in an animated conversation and after Creed was inside, he realized that one of the two men facing away from him was Nick Sephia. Not a big fan of Nick's, whom he'd worked with a few times before he went to the Diamond Center, he considered turning around and walking out, but by then Roy had seen him and motioned him over, sliding over to the wall to make room.

"Hey, Mattie." Creed hated the diminutive, and had committed the cardinal error of mentioning it once to Roy, thereby assuring that he'd forever be Mattie, or Little Matt, or Mataroni. In any event, it was hard to stay mad at Roy, who was always hale fellow well met and tonight so much so that Creed wondered if he'd been drinking. Or maybe he was nervous. "I was just telling the guys here-you know Nick and Julio… no? Julio Rez, Matt Creed."

Creed reached across the table and shook hands with a very well-dressed, overshaved, alert and unsmiling Hispanic with a little less than half of his left ear. "Nice," he said as though adding "to meet you" would have been excessive.

Creed had a quick impression of danger, of suppressed energy, maybe of cocaine. He wondered if Nick, who'd moved into the stratosphere of security positions transporting diamonds, now had his own bodyguard. When Rez had leaned across to take Creed's hand, his coat had fallen open, revealing a shoulder holster and the butt of an automatic.

But this was the observation of a split second. Roy was back carrying the conversation. "I was just telling these guys about you. I mean, here I've been doing this work, what, fifteen years, and it's shine the flashlight, see nothing, go to the next window and do it again. Mattie here, he's on less than a year, he comes round the corner-blam! blam!-couple of rounds right at him, guys running, him chasing, the fucking Wild West. Awesome action."

"Anytime you want, I'll trade you," Creed said. "I took the job for the flashlight work."

"You don't like gettin' shot at?" Sephia asked. "I love it, you know that, swear to God. Makes me horny as hell."

"Anything doesn't make you horny, Nick?" Roy asked.

Sephia considered briefly. "Nothing comes to mind," he said.

But Rez turned to Creed. "Roy said you fingered those assholes at the Ark," he said. It wasn't quite a question. It sounded more like a challenge, but then Rez had made the single word "nice" sound the same way.

"Fingered might be a little strong," he said.

"He's being modest," Roy said. "He set 'em all up to go down. Holiday, Terry, his little girlfriend, what's his name?"

"Randy Wills." Rez didn't have to think. He had it all in his head. He might have been an accountant.

"Wills, Terry, Holiday, all of 'em," Roy repeated. "Not only does the kid get himself shot at a few times, he solves a murder before his first anniversary."

"Not exactly that."

But Roy pushed it. "Hey, it's true, Matoosh. After your ID the other night, those guys are going down for a long time."

"Yeah, well…"

"You don't seem so happy about it," Rez said. He leaned in across the table, a tight smile fixed under a glassy cat's-eye stare.

Creed felt a line of sweat forming at the back of his neck. "The thing is, it might not have been them."

Roy snorted, half laughing. "What are you talking about? Of course it was them. You're the one who saw them, didn't you? How could it not be them?"

But now, having gotten it out, Creed continued in a rush. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Do you know a Lieutenant Glitsky?

"

Roy nodded. "Sure. He used to run homicide. What about him?"

"Well, his father was a friend of Silverman's and they were by there tonight."

"Who was by where?" Rez asked.

"Glitsky and his father. And Silverman's wife. At the shop."

"Doing what?" Sephia's color was suddenly up.

Creed shook his head. "Nothing, really. They never got to it. They were going to do an inventory, but barely got started before Glitsky got there and cleared them out."

"There you go," Roy said, as though he were satisfied with the answer. "So Glitsky's working the case now? What's that about?"

"No. I think he was just there because of his father. But outside, after, I asked him what if I wasn't as sure as I sounded about the three guys with the other inspectors."

"And what'd he say?"

A shrug. "He said just to tell them. Not a big issue. They'd be glad about it."

"Wait wait wait, not if…" Sephia said.

But Roy raised a hand-firmly. Made eye contact across the table. "Exactly right!" he said. Then, in a milder tone. "Exactly right." He smiled a shut-up warning at Sephia and Rez. "No way they want to spend all that time chasing the wrong guys." Back to Creed. "But you're sure this time? You seemed pretty certain the other way the other night."

Creed shook his head miserably. "I don't even know that. It still could have been them, I suppose. I just didn't want them-the inspectors-thinking I was positive, basing their case on what I said

…" He scratched at the tabletop.

Roy nodded in full agreement. "Hey, bottom line is Glitsky's right. You got to tell them. In fact, I'm meeting up with them later tonight down at the Hall." Roy tapped his own pocket. "Wade's little PR moment for our good friends among the police. Forty-niner tickets, fifty yard line. You want, I'll pass the message on for you when I see them."

Creed felt a wash of grateful relief and it showed. Roy Panos was far better with people, especially with city policemen, than he was. Roy could phrase Creed's ambivalence about the ID in such a way as to minimize the idiocy factor, maybe even give it a rosy gloss. Certainly, Creed himself could avoid the embarrassment of having to face the inspectors and admit that in his zeal to be a help, he'd screwed up. "You sure?" he asked Roy. "You'd do that?"

Roy smiled and took a pinch of Creed's cheek. "Hey, anything for my little Matooshka. Huh?"

Creed took this as his cue to leave. He slid out of the booth and said good-bye all around. But he wasn't completely out the door to the coffee shop when Nick leaned across the table. "He can't take back that ID, Roy." He was whispering, but with great intensity. "That's the thing that's keeping the inspectors busy."

Roy picked up his coffee cup, sipped at it. "He's not taking back the ID," he said.

Sephia hit the table for emphasis. "Hello. Roy? He just told us he was."

Roy finished his sip, slowly put the cup down. "I don't know if you heard me, but I said I'd tell the two inspectors. And I'm going to forget."

"Not enough," Rez said.

"It would still screw it all up," Sephia said.

"He still knows." Rez methodically turned his own mug around and around on the table.

Roy shook his head. "Look, guys, Creed doesn't know anything. Don't go all paranoid around this. Even if he somehow gets back himself with Cuneo and Russell and says the ID on Terry isn't positive, so what?"

"Maybe he gets them thinking," Rez said. Still spinning the mug, never looking up.

"It's not going to happen, especially since I'm not passing it on."

"I still don't like it," Sephia said.

Rez nodded in agreement, finally looked over at Sephia. "Creed's a problem," he said.

"Creed's not a problem! He thinks it might not have been Terry. That's all."

"But if he can't talk at all, it doesn't even get to that," Sephia said.

"Don't you guys be stupid," Roy said. "This is under control; I'm telling you."

Rez slowly brought his empty gaze around across the table to Roy. He nodded his head once, a dismissal. "Oh, okay," he said.

8

"Is this the same man who prides himself on living According to John Kennedy's old motto of never explain, never complain? I've only heard you say those words about a hundred and fourteen times now."

"I'm sure I meant them every single time, too."

"Well?"

"Well, this particular fine day"-and it was, the good weather continuing as they drove together into work-"I'm going to have to do some explaining before I can succeed in doing some real good."

"The explaining part will neither be appreciated nor understood. And neither will the real good, if in fact that's what it is."

Glitsky stared at the road ahead of him.

His wife kept it up. "When are you going to learn, Abe? There's no point in trying to live by a motto, even an excellent one, if you can't dredge it up and act on it when you really need it. Which you do today, believe me. You don't want to even start to do this."

He kept his voice civil. "So what do you suggest I do?"

She turned to him. "You know that one."

"No. I'm asking."

She sighed. "All right, then. I suggest you do absolutely nothing. You go up to your office and close the door and read a good book."

"And just ignore all this other stuff? "

She glanced over at him. "How can I put this so you understand? It is not your job. You are not responsible for what happens down there. You should not even care."

"How can I not care? Tell me that."

"Easy. You say to yourself, 'Self, I'm at my job because I have a wife and a child and two kids in college and I need the paycheck and benefits. That is why I go to work,' Period."

"And that's how you feel about your job?"

"Actually, no. I love my job, but it's not the same situation."

"How is it different then?"

She rolled her eyes. "I don't believe we're having this discussion. It's different because I care about the job they're paying me to do. You, on the other hand, care about a job nobody's paying you for. It's like if you decided you cared about, I don't know, being an astronaut. I'm sure astronauts have problems all the time, but guess what, Abe? They're not your problems!" She slapped at the console between them. "And neither are homicide's!"

They rode in silence for a block. Finally Abe said, "So I shouldn't go to Gerson?"

Again, Trey a sighed. "You think you know something, call one of your people there. You've still got friends there, right? Marcel, Paul. They make the same argument to Gerson, tell him what you told them-the ID might be funky- then you buy them a hamburger, everybody's happy. What's the problem with that?"

"I don't know," Glitsky said. "I really don't know. It just doesn't seem right, somehow. And it still leaves me having to explain why I was by Silverman's if he finds out, which he will."

"How would he find out? Who's going to tell him? The young rent-a-cop?"

"I don't know, but he's going to find out-that's the way these things go-so given that, it'd be better if he heard it first from me."

They'd gotten to a parking place in one of the lots under the freeway, a couple of blocks from the Hall of Justice. Glitsky switched off the motor, but made no move to get out. Treya pulled down the visor and carefully, with an exaggerated calm, applied some lipstick. She was breathing heavily through her nose. When she was done, she-again, carefully-closed the lipstick and dropped it back in her purse. At last, she turned to her husband. "Well?"

"I'm thinking about it," he said.

*****

Glitsky was in a booth at Lou's with Marcel Lanier, a longtime colleague in homicide. He was bragging modestly about his wife, who'd convinced him that there was no point in having a motto if you were going to jettison it at a real opportunity to have it work for you. It would be like being a Boy Scout and just before a rafting trip in Class V rapids forgetting to put on your life vest. "So what good would all that earlier 'Be Prepared' stuff have done you?"

Lanier squinted in the dim light. "I know you don't drink, Abe, especially this early. Otherwise I'd be worried. What the hell are you talking about?"

Glitsky blew on his tea. "Not explaining to Gerson about why I'm interested in this Silverman thing."

"And this has to do with the Boy Scouts somehow?"

The tea was too hot and Glitsky put it down. "Never mind, Marcel. Let's leave it. What I really want to talk about is Wade Panos."

Lanier made the face of a chronic heartburn sufferer. "Do we have to?"

At a few minutes after eleven o'clock, about two hours after Glitsky had told Lanier about Creed's perhaps bogus identification, there was one sharp rap at his door. Glitsky took his feet off his desk, snapped shut his latest Patrick O'Brian novel-Desolation Island. He opened his drawer, deposited the book, pulled some paperwork over in front of him. "It's open," he said.

Glitsky wasn't altogether stunned to see Barry Gerson. He came to his feet with what he hoped was a warm greeting, invited the lieutenant in, shook his hand, told him to take a chair. "Returning the courtesy visit?" he finally asked.

Gerson, polite as an undertaker, inclined his head an inch. "Something like that."

"But not exactly?"

"No, frankly, Abe. Not."

"All right." He squared himself, linked his fingers on the desktop in front of him. "How can I help you?"

"Actually, I came here to ask you the same thing. I thought I'd made it clear yesterday when you came down to the detail that my door was open to you. You needed anything, all you had to do was ask."

"That's true. I appreciated that, too, Barry, I really did. I still do."

"But?"

"But then I had a talk with"-he almost named Batiste, stopped himself-"with some colleagues, who didn't think it would be smart of me to abuse the privilege. It might look like I was trying to insinuate myself back into the detail."

"Which you're not."

"No. Of course not." Glitsky pushed his chair back, crossed his arms behind his head. "I'm minding my own business up here, keeping an eye out for payroll irregularities."

But Gerson didn't smile at the witticism. "So you're denying that you went down to Silverman's last night?"

Glitsky repressed his own rare urge to smile. Of course, as he'd told Treya, Gerson would have to find out. He was almost pleased that he'd predicted it. "Nobody's asked me. If they did, if you're asking me now, I admit it."

Gerson nodded. "You mind if I ask you why?"

"Not at all. My father went down there with Mrs. Silverman and I didn't think it was a good idea. I wasn't there ten minutes."

"You expect me to believe that?"

Glitsky let out a weary breath. "As I told you yesterday, my father was Silverman's best friend."

"You mentioned that. I remember." Gerson straightened to his full length in the chair. "And as I believe I told you yesterday, I would inform you as soon as we unearthed anything that moved the case forward."

"Of course. I appreciate that. It's just that my dad and the wife hadn't heard from your department and thought they'd take an inventory. I told my father it wasn't a good idea for him to be involved because of the discussion I had with you. That's what happened."

"I was out yesterday. Cuneo and Russell both had personal time off. That's why nobody called the wife." At Glitsky's look, he added, "Hey, it happens."

"Yes it does." Good, Glitsky thought, I've got him explaining, too.

"So you just went down to Silverman's and found them there?"

"He called me and left a message. And I don't need to answer these questions. I've got no interest."

Gerson displayed a small air of triumph. "And because you've got no interest, you didn't talk to Lanier this morning?"

"So what?" Glitsky pushed his chair back far enough to allow him to cross a leg. "You want to know the truth, Lieutenant, I was trying to do you a favor."

"Goodness of your heart, huh?"

"Believe it or not, I actually have some understanding of the job you've got. I thought I could save you some misery."

"And how would you do that? "

"Do you know Wade Panos?"

"By reputation, sure."

"And what's his reputation?"

"He does a good job. Maybe a little rough, but he keeps the scum factor down in his neighborhoods."

"And that's it?"

A shrug. "What else is there?"

Glitsky came forward again. "Do you know he's being sued?"

"Who isn't? People sue people all the time. What's that mean?"

"Maybe nothing, except when there's something like fourteen plaintiffs asking around thirty million dollars."

"Again, I ask you, what does that prove? Hell, you know. Somebody's always suing us. Brutality, invasion of privacy, stealing candy from schoolkids, you name it."

"True enough," Glitsky said. "You're probably right. Panos is a saint."

"I never said that." But Glitsky still had a look, and Gerson said, "But what?"

"Only that I'd think hard before I gave him point in any homicide investigation."

"He's not point. He had leads, that's all. The poker players."

Glitsky locked his ringers on the desk. Said nothing.

Gerson raised his voice. "And in fact the names he gave us took my boys someplace. You got a problem with that?"

"Not at all."

"So? What, then?"

"So, the usual suspects, huh? Two guys with sheets."

"Three, as it turns out. Randy Wills isn't any choirboy, either. So yeah, the usual suspects. Happens every day."

"No question about it." Glitsky turned a neutral face up at him. "Your boys find any evidence to go with their suspects?"

"They'll be getting warrants."

Glitsky clucked, then nodded, all understanding. "They looking at anybody else in the meanwhile?"

"Why do they want to do that when the guys Panos gave us look good for it?"

"You're right," Glitsky said mildly. "Waste of time. That'd be stupid."

Perhaps correctly, Gerson must have gotten the impression that Glitsky was including him among the less intellectually gifted. He'd burst in here ten minutes ago holding the high moral ground and for the past several minutes had been drifting into the lower regions, and losing territory even there. It didn't appreciably improve his attitude.

He stood up.

"Well, you know," he said, "stupid or not, I'm running the detail now. I'm calling the shots with my troops and what I came up here to tell you still goes. Silverman is my case. I'm controlling the investigation. Yesterday I'm a good guy and bend a little and you take advantage of it, hiding behind your old man. Well, I'm telling you now. You keep you and your father out of it, all the way out, or I'll haul your ass in before the deputy chief. Don't think I won't." His voice was rasping now, low-pitched with anger and the need for control in the cramped room. "In fact, you might want to remember that every homicide in the city is my case now and my guys work for me."

Glitsky knew he could a draw a punch with one sarcastic word and it hovered temptingly on the tip of his tongue. There'd be a great deal of pleasure in it. But he only leaned back, crossed his arms, and nodded. "I got it," he said.

David Freeman had to be at his office at 1:30 p.m. to hold the hand of another of his co-plaintiffs being deposed in the Panos lawsuit. Yesterday they'd started at 10:00 a.m. with a gentle, turbaned professor of Comparative Religion at City College. In his mid-fifties now, soon after the terrorist attacks Casif Yasouf had been walking back to his car, parked at the Downtown Center Garage, from a meeting at the St. Francis Hotel, when he had the bad luck to run into Roy Panos, in uniform. The assistant patrol special was abusing a homeless man in an alley, kicking him and his shopping cart down toward the western border of Thirty-two.

Mr. Yasouf's version of events was that he'd simply tried to intervene as a citizen, telling the policeman that he didn't have to use such tactics. Panos, he said, had then abandoned his pursuit of the bum and turned on him, lifted him easily by his shirt, slapped his face hard twice and told him to take his rag-head ass back to Arabia. Frightened and bleeding, Mr. Yasouf finally fled. He reported the incident to the regular police the next morning, complete with Panos's name from his tag. Two days later he abandoned the complaint. Again-his version-because someone had set fire to his car.

That deposition hadn't finished up until twelve-thirty the next morning and by the time Freeman had gotten back, walking as always, to his apartment at the foot of Nob Hill, it was after 1:00 a.m. and Gina Roake was asleep in his bed. It had been their bed now, since a few weeks after his physical confrontation with Nick Sephia.

About a year ago, things had started to change with Freeman and Roake. Before that, Freeman had maintained a discreet and rotating harem of up to a dozen women. He was, after all, a wealthy and successful old man with an established, urban, sophisticated lifestyle that did not include the sort of entanglements that he believed were the unvarying attendants of exclusive physical relationships. He had always kept an armoire of women's robes for his visitors. The medicine chest was well-stocked-toothbrushes, creams and so on.

Roake was, at forty-eight, not exactly a babe in the woods herself. She, like Freeman, had had several longstanding but essentially casual relationships, and had never been married. They had seen each other in professional and social settings-courtrooms, fund-raisers, restaurants, even the occasional judge's chambers-for years, but had never shared more than pleasantries.

Freeman had a long-standing tradition that whenever he won a large case, he would celebrate alone-a fine meal at one of the city's restaurant treasures with an old and noble wine, then a final cognac or two at the Top of the Mark, or one of the other towers-the St. Francis, the Fairmont. That night, at the Crown Room in the Fairmont, he sat savoring his Paradis at a small table by the window overlooking the Bay side. He appreciated the walk of the shapely, grown-up woman as she got off the elevator, unavoidably registering that she appeared to be alone. It didn't matter, he told himself. This was not how he met women, ever.

He'd been playing the case over and over again in his mind throughout the night, all the high points up to and including the glorious moment of the "Not Guilty" verdict. People had no idea what a rare and lovely thing it was, even in San Francisco, to get a defense verdict. The best defense lawyers in the world won maybe five percent of their cases-Freeman himself hovered around fourteen percent, but he believed himself to be an almost unparalleled genius. And he was right.

Except now the case was over. There would be no need, even, of an appeal. His mind, consumed by its strategies for most of a year, was suddenly empty. He felt a mild euphoria and with the meal and wine, a deep physical contentment. The cognac was the essence of perfection. He stared out the window, over the sparkling lights.

He turned back to the room. The woman had materialized in front of him.

"David? I thought that was you."

Still half in reverie, he smiled. "Gina. Hello. What a pleasant surprise."

"I don't want to bother you if you're busy," she said.

"Not at all, at all. Please, join me if you'd like."

She'd sat and they had talked until last call, after which she took a cab home. In the next month, he asked her to lunch nine times-he preferred lunch dates because there was less expectation of automatic intimacy than with dinner. Either party, in the get-to-know stage, could back out without embarrassment or loss of face. In that way friendship, which in Freeman's opinion was always preferable to physical attraction, could be preserved.

In Roake's case, though, a strange thing happened. By the time it became obvious that they'd be sleeping together, he'd stopped seeing anyone else. Before he asked her to his apartment for the first time, and without any kind of agonizing analysis, he got rid of the contents of his armoire, the other feminine accoutrements. Then slowly, over time, she'd started leaving articles of clothing of her own at his place until she had her own drawer in his bureau and the entire armoire all to herself. She hadn't spent the night at her own apartment now for three months.

This morning, Freeman barely woke up in time to catch Roake as she was out the door on her way to work. He reminded her of the depositions that had now begun on Panos, and wondered if she might make it back here for lunch, even a little early if possible, since they wouldn't get dinner together for who knew how long.

Now he checked his watch: 11:20. She should be home any minute. Billy Joel's CD of piano concertos-a Gina find-played almost inaudibly in the background. Rubbing his palms together, he was shocked to find them damp with nerves. He caught a glimpse of himself in a wall mirror and shook his head in amusement. David Freeman hadn't been nervous arguing before the Supreme Court. He couldn't remember his last attack of even minor jitters, but he had to admit he had them now. His eyes left his own image and went to the little eating nook in the cramped and narrow kitchen. Normally the table was a mess, piled high with yellow legal pads, lawbooks, half-empty coffee mugs, wineglasses and sometimes bottles, newspapers, binders and file folders.

Today, it looked perfect and elegant. He'd spent most of an hour removing the usual detritus and what remained were two simple place settings in silver, crystal champagne glasses, one yellow cymbidium in the center of the starched white cloth, echoing the sunlight that just kissed the edge of the table. There was a beaded silver champagne bucket to one side, a bottle of Veuve Cliquot's La Grande Dame, purposely chosen for the name of course, nestled in it in chilled splendor. He'd arranged for Rick, the chef downstairs at the Rue Charmaine, to deliver the light lunch- pike quenelles in a saffron broth and an artichoke-he art-and-pancetta salad-precisely at noon.

One last glance at himself, and he had to smile. Certainly, no one would mistake him for handsome. But he'd done all right, and today he looked as good as he could, which is to say he probably wouldn't scare most small children. He wore the one nice suit, a maroon-and-gold silk tie. He'd managed to shave without cutting his neck and his collar was free of his trademark brown specks of dried blood. It would have to do.

And here she was. On time, cheerful, kissing his cheek. God, he loved her.

"You're looking good today, mister. If I didn't have a meeting in two hours…" She kissed him again, then backed up a step. "I thought clients didn't trust nice clothes."

"This isn't for a client." He realized he had taken her hand when she'd come up to him and hadn't released it. "Come look at something."

She stopped in the doorway to the kitchen and turned to him. "Who are you and what have you done with my boyfriend?" Then, more seriously, "This is beautiful, David. Is it an occasion? Don't tell me we started seeing each other a year ago today and I didn't remember."

"It might be an occasion someday," he said, "in the future." He drew in a deep breath and came out with it. "I wanted to know if you'd be interested in marrying someone like me."

She looked quickly down to the ground, then back up, staring at him with a startled intensity. "Somebody like you? Do you mean hypothetically?"

"No. I said that wrong. I meant me. Will you marry me?"

For an eternal two seconds-they were still holding hands-she did not move, looking him full in the face. She brought her other hand up and held it over her mouth, obviously stunned. "Oh, David…" Her eyes filled. "I never thought…" She looked at him, hopelessly vulnerable, terrified. A tear spilled out onto her cheek.

But still the word didn't come. "I love you," he said. "Please say yes."

"Oh God, yes. Of course yes." Her arms were around his neck and she was crying openly now, kissing his face, eyes, lips again and again. "Yes yes yes yes yes."

*****

"This Saturday?"

It was mid afternoon and they were taking a break in the deposition of their old friend Aretha LaBonte while she used the ladies' room.

Panos's lawyer Dick Kroll was waiting, taking notes back in the conference room, a large sunlit enclosure resembling a greenhouse that they called the Solarium. Freeman and Hardy were ostensibly filling their coffee cups in the old man's office.

Freeman nodded. "If you're free." "I'll get free. It's not that. I'm flattered that you'd ask me. I'm just a little surprised. No, I'm flabbergasted. I didn't know you were even thinking of it." "Well, there you go. You don't see everything." "And isn't Saturday a little soon if you just got engaged today?"

"Why would we want to wait once we decided?" "I don't know. Most people do, that's all. Send out invitations, plan the party."

Freeman was shaking his head. "None of that, Diz. We don't want a party. Just a best man-that's you-and a maid of honor and a judge. Oh, and Gina's mother." "It's nice you remembered her. Can Frannie come?" "And Frannie, naturally. Goes without saying." Hardy drank some coffee. "You know, I've been a best man twice now in two years. I stood up for Glitsky."

"Good for you." Freeman's enthusiasm was restrained. "You'll be in practice."

"I didn't need it. It was pretty easy. Like Aretha here." Again, Freeman shook his head. "Don't get complacent. Kroll's good, even if he's got no principles. In fact, it might be why he's good."

"I don't know," Hardy said. "I'm not seeing much yet." Freeman opened the door out to the lobby. Aretha was back at her place in the Solarium, and smiling, Freeman waved at Kroll, who was staring angrily in their direction. He pointed at his watch in an impatient gesture. Freeman waved again, turned back to Hardy. "He'll come up with something."

"I'm just saying we've got him on the ropes. I don't see him coming up with a legal something."

"You wait," Freeman said, "you'll see." Then, an afterthought, "What do you mean, legal something? What else is there?"

The law offices of Richard C. Kroll were located in one of the recently built and controversial loft spaces south of Market Street at Third and Folsom. For the past twenty minutes, Kroll had been turned around in his swivel chair, looking out of his second story, floor-to-ceiling window, for the familiar sight of Wade Panos to appear on the street below. It was the day after his latest deposition with Aretha LaBonte at David Freeman's office.

And now here Wade was, half a block down, on foot and in uniform as always, stopping to look into the shops as he passed them, even occasionally raising a hand to acquaintances on the street. An extraordinarily successful man in his element, Panos bestrode the pavement like a parade marshal, confident and unassailable.

Kroll's stomach rumbled, and he clutched at it. Taking a few antacids from a roll in his desk drawer, he stood up. In the mirror over the bar area, he got his face composed so that it wouldn't immediately telegraph the bad news he was about to deliver. By the time his secretary buzzed him with the word that Wade had arrived, he was back at his desk, apparently lost in other work. When Panos opened the door to the office, he looked up and motioned to the wing chair in front of his desk. He'd be done in just a moment.

Closing the folder, he finally found the nerve to look at his client. Wade, for his part, sat back comfortably, an ankle resting on a knee, his eyes half closed. He was always a patient man, and the small wait until his lawyer gave him his attention didn't seem to rankle in the least. Still, when Kroll closed the folder, he came out of his trance, suddenly all business. "So how bad is it?" he asked.

Kroll tried to smile. "How do you know it's bad?"

"You want to see me in person, Dick, it's bad. It's one reason I like you. Other guys, they get bad news, they give it to you over the phone, or leave a message. You? You got the balls to be here and try to break the fall. I appreciate that. So how bad is it?"

Kroll templed his hands on his desk. "Pretty bad."

Panos nodded. "Tell me."

"We got denied on the summary judgment."

"Which means what?"

"It means the judge decided that this thing's going forward."

Panos showed little reaction. If anything, he settled back a little more into his chair. "Okay," he said, "you said from the beginning that filing the thing was a slim chance. So it didn't work. No real surprise, right?"

"But there is a surprise."

Panos cocked his head, an inquisitive dog. "I'm listening."

Kroll noticed that his knuckles had gone white and he willed himself to loosen his grip. "You remember we decided that since you personally were not alleged to have harmed any of the plaintiffs, that you shouldn't be personally named as one of the defendants?"

"Right. It's just WGP and some of the assistants-" Noticing Kroll's look, he stopped midsentence. "What?"

"That's what Freeman and Hardy decided to hit. They were shooting to pierce the corporate veil, and it looks like they did it."

Still well back in his seat, still in a relaxed posture, Panos frowned. "You lost me, Dick. What's that mean?"

"It means…" Kroll stopped, shook his head, reached for another folder, and opened it. "I'll read the relevant part to you. How's that? 'Plaintiffs have introduced enough evidence to show that there exists a triable issue of fact as to whether WGP Enterprises Incorporated, a California corporation, and Wade Panos, an individual, are in fact alter egos of one another.' " He dared a glance up at Panos. "They're saying that the corporation is a sham and that therefore you should be personally bound in. Apparently the judge bought it."

"Dick, I've been incorporated for thirty years, and my dad before that."

"I know, I know." Kroll sighed. "But apparently they argued that the corporation is undercapitalized, among some other technical points. Also, since you're the only shareholder and you control the company's day-to-day workings on your own, they said the corporation is being maintained not as a legitimate entity but as an artificial dodge to avoid personal liability."

"Artificial my ass. I donate to all these charities through the corporation. I pay my guys and my bills with corporate checks. The corporation's as real as a heart attack, Dick."

"I agree with you, Wade, and certainly that's what I'd argue in front of a jury, and I might even prevail. But the judge ruled that it would have to be decided by a jury, so that's what we're dealing with."

"And if we lose, then what?"

"Then you're exposed. Personally."

Panos seemed to go into another kind of trance.

"It gets worse, I'm afraid," Kroll said. "It also means you'll be deposed before the jury gets to hear anything. You and me go up to Freeman's office, there's a court reporter taking everything down, and you're under oath."

Panos opened his eyes again, but didn't respond. Folding his hands in his lap, he took a breath.

The lawyer continued. "It also means that Freeman and Hardy get to ask you where you get your money, all of it. And how you get it."

This brought a small rise. "So then you object, right?"

Kroll nodded. "Yes I do. Except in a depo the objection is noted for the record, but you've got to answer the question anyway. And later the judge rules whether the answer is admissible."

"Later?"

"Way later."

Panos's chest rose and fell, long and slow.

"The point is," Kroll continued, "once they've got you in a depo, they can ask anything. That's how they finally got Clinton, you know. Not because of anything he did with Paula Jones, but because he said under oath that he hadn't had sex with anybody else. Then when Monica came along…"

Panos held up a hand. "Spare me the history lesson, Dick. What's this mean to me in the here and now? "

Kroll picked his words carefully. "It means they're going to be able to look at any bank account you have anywhere. It could be-I'm not saying it will be, but knowing Freeman I'd say it's likely-that it's going to be open season on your books, and not just your corporate books. They want your net worth."

"Why? What's the big deal with my net worth?"

"That's largely what they base punitive damages on, Wade. The idea is that punitives are supposed to punish, to hurt. The more you're worth, the more they ask, the more-"

Panos raised his head, stopping Kroll. His face betrayed no deep concern. In fact, it had a controlled calm that, given the circumstances, Kroll found to be a little scary. A small laugh came from deep in Panos's throat. "You remember when this started? You called it a-what was it?- a nuisance lawsuit?"

"I remember."

Again, the frightening smile. "I'd say these two sons of bitches have taken it a little further than that, wouldn't you?" He came forward in the chair. "Okay, you're my lawyer, what's your advice now?"

Kroll appeared to be thinking, although he'd known all along that it would come to this. "We might want to offer to settle now."

Panos lived with that notion for a beat. Then, "How much?"

"A few million, at least. Say three, four."

Panos shook his head, uttered an obscenity. "You think they'll take it?"

Kroll shrugged. "I don't think I would, especially after this ruling, but it can't hurt to ask. There's no other option really."

Panos grunted. "There's always another option," he said. He cast his eyes about the room, then settled them on his lawyer. "But you go ahead. Make the offer."

9

Dan Cuneo lived in Alameda, across the Bay from 'San Francisco. He had a dentist appointment at eleven o'clock on Monday morning. Though it killed him to miss a day when they might be able to close in on a murder suspect, he also had a strong aversion to spending the day drooling with a numb lip next to his partner.

He'd read many, many magazine articles and listened to hundreds of hours of psychobabble nonsense about burnout, and the consensus was that if you wanted to avoid it, you had to keep some perspective on real life. Don't be a cop all the time. If you've got an appointment with a doctor, keep it. If you're really sick, stay home. The job isn't everything. So he had finally talked himself into believing that he wasn't abandoning the Silverman case by taking one day off.

He had accrued eleven extra sick days from the past couple of years-times when the exigencies of the job had won out when he'd been sick. But today he had the damned appointment and as a conscious exercise he had decided, albeit before Silverman had been shot, that no matter what came up-and there would always be something that came up-he was going to keep the appointment. Mental health.

To quell the voice of his conscience before it could change his mind, he called his partner on Saturday morning and gave him the news that he was calling in sick Monday. Russell, who lived in Sunnyvale, forty-five miles south of San Francisco, took this as an opportunity to make plans to go fishing on the Bay. He had three unused sick days in his bank, and like every other city employee he knew except Cuneo, he believed that it was bad luck to let too many of them pile up. So on Monday he went fishing.

This morning, Tuesday, after three days out of the office, both inspectors had enormous amounts of busywork waiting for them when they checked in at a little after 7:45-a couple of dozen phone calls for each to return, transcripts of the tapes of witness interviews to proofread for accuracy-and they stayed at their desks for three and a half hours before breaking for lunch, which took up most of an hour at the McDonald's next to the Hall.

At one, they had to be out at the Academy for a mandatory, previously scheduled four-hour sensitivity training class. Every cop in San Francisco made fun of these attempts to create social workers out of law enforcers. But if you didn't go, your pay got docked.

Today's topic had been transgender issues, timely and relevant because the city had recently decided to extend the insurance of city workers to cover sex-change operations. This change in policy also brought to light some sensitivity shortcomings among city service personnel. Especially the police, who needed guidelines on how to refer to those of questionable gender during the arrest and booking process. The critical element was the person's self-definition-if someone defined herself as a transsexual, officers should refer to her as a female; if she possessed a penis, however, she should be booked as a male.

But even with all the education, the concepts remained mostly elusive to some people. Drumming "Wipeout" on the steering wheel as he drove back downtown after the class, dusk descending, Cuneo turned to his partner. "So if I don't want 'em to cut off my dick, I can't be a girl."

Russell threw him a frown. "You've just failed the course. You realize that?" Then, seeing that Cuneo was apparently sincere, he continued, "It's not a matter of wanting, Dan. You can be all the way to a woman in your brain and still have a dick. You might not want to get rid of it anymore, or it might be too expensive…"

"Not here. It's covered by insurance."

"Okay, not here. But most places."

"If it were me," Cuneo said, "I'd just move here, get a job with the city, lop that sucker right off."

So it went, variations on the theme until they got back to the homicide detail where Cuneo hoped they could put in some time, finally, on Silverman. At least get caught up if there'd been any developments. But by now, the inspectors had each put in ten hours and he knew Russell was going to want to go home to his family. So more or less casually, Cuneo walked over and stood outside the open door to Gerson's office until the lieutenant happened to look up.

"Dan, there you are. You and Lincoln got a minute?"

The room had changed since Glitsky's tenure. It wasn't a large space by any definition, but in the old days the big desk in the center of it had kept any meetings, by necessity, small. There had been one uncomfortable wooden chair across from the desk, affording any visitor maybe three feet of room. Anybody else would have to stand.

Gerson, by contrast, had installed a modular unit that hugged the back wall and turned the corner, where he had his computer, printer, fax machine and telephone. This arrangement left an open area in the middle of the room, made the office seem larger. The lieutenant was a bass fisherman and had brought in and hung on the walls a few of his mounted trophy fish and several framed promotional photos of boats and fishing equipment. On his last birthday, the unit had pitched in and bought him a mounted plastic bass that, when activated, sang "Don't Worry, Be Happy," and he'd hung it over his computer.

Now Cuneo, Russell and Gerson sat facing one another on their identical ergonomic rolling chairs. No one looked happy; all seemed angry, or at least worried. Gerson was telling them about Glitsky's input. "He thinks Wade Panos is screwing with your investigation."

Cuneo, paying attention, was whistling a tuneless melody. Russell, leaning forward, elbows on his knees, asked, "Did he say why?"

"No, not really, nothing substantive. Just that Panos doesn't have a great rep."

Cuneo stopped whistling. "The guy's a major philanthropist. What's he talking about?"

"I think he's talking about some of his guys, the beat patrolmen."

"What about them?" Russell asked.

A shrug. "Some of them, sometimes, get a little enthusiastic, it seems. Play a little rough with the residentially challenged, roust 'em out of their neighborhoods."

"Good for them," Russell said. "Somebody needs to."

"It's probably because they don't get the sensitivity training we real cops get."

"You're joking, Dan," Gerson said, "but you're not all wrong. Evidently it's a legitimate problem, at least enough so Panos is getting sued. He could probably run a tighter ship. But you ask me, the real problem is that Glitsky's old school and Panos isn't a righteous cop, simple as that. He doesn't like the patrols."

"So Glitsky's take is that Wade Panos himself is personally screwing with our investigation?" Cuneo asked. "Why would he do that?"

"No idea," Gerson said. "But Glitsky's all over it. He went to Silverman's, you know. And yesterday morning he talked to Lanier."

"Lanier?" Cuneo straightened up. "What about? What's Lanier got to do with anything? You mean with Silverman?"

"I don't know." Gerson shrugged. "This Panos thing."

"What Panos thing?" Russell shot a look at his partner, came back to Gerson. "Are we missing something here, Barry?"

"I guess Glitsky's wondering why Panos got into it at all."

"Why?" Russell raised his voice. "I'll tell you why! He came down to Silverman's because one of his employees discovered the body, that's why. Then it turned out he happened to know about this poker game, which was the source of Silverman's stolen money. Next day he gives us names of the players in the game and one of them looks like he's with the guys who did it. What's the problem with that? Tell me that isn't good police work."

"I can't. It is. I don't have a problem, not with you. Not with the investigation either."

"I got another one for you, Barry," Cuneo said. "What's any of this to Glitsky anyway? Why would he give any kind of a shit?"

Gerson pressed his lips together, reluctant to diss a fellow lieutenant. Finally, though, he decided his inspectors needed to know. "My gut feeling is I believe he wants to get back into homicide, though God knows why. His dad knew Silverman. I guess he thought it gave him a wedge."

"And this helps him how?" Cuneo asked.

"I don't know, to tell you the truth. The kindest thing I can think is he's really trying to make himself useful somehow. I mean to us, to you. I've been trying to figure it out, but it baffles me." He shook his head. "Or maybe… no."

"What?" Cuneo asked.

"Nothing."

"You were going to say something," Russell said.

Gerson looked at each of them in turn, considered another moment. "Well, I don't really think this is too likely, but if Glitsky starts to make you guys doubt your sources, maybe you get tentative, don't make the arrests you need to. You look bad, which makes me look bad, and pretty soon they want a new lieutenant up here."

"And they pick Glitsky out of a hat?" Cuneo asked. "I don't think so."

"Are you really worried, sir?" Russell asked.

Gerson was matter of fact. "I can't say I'm losing sleep. But if you guys could bring in a quick collar here, it wouldn't break my heart. I…" He went silent again.

The inspectors waited. Finally Cuneo said, "What?"

He sighed with resignation. "When I mentioned this to Batiste, he said there might be something else in play. With Glitsky."

"What's that?" Russell asked.

Gerson paused again, lowered his voice. "I'd really like to keep this in this room, between us. All right?" Both inspectors nodded. "Well, it seems Lieutenant Glitsky has a couple of lawyer friends, we're talking good friends, defense lawyers, and they're the guys who are suing WGP. They can't very well have Panos get a lot of press for helping us solve a murder case right now-it'd make him look too good in front of the jury."

Russell came forward. "And you're saying Glitsky's working for these guys?"

Gerson backpedaled slightly. "I'm not saying anything. I'm telling you what Batiste mentioned to me as a rumor, nothing more. To the extent it intersects with your investigation here, it's probably worth your knowing, although I don't know how much credence I'd give it. There's also talk that your suspect-Holiday, right?-he's been out working the streets, rounding up witnesses against Panos, too."

"Why? What would be in it for them?" Cuneo asked.

"They're asking thirty mil or so, which is ten to the lawyers if they win. Any small percentage of that is a nice payday for whoever was on the team helping them. How's that sound? Plus if we somehow screw up in homicide, maybe Glitsky gets the gig back here."

"We're not going to screw up, Barry," Russell said. "This one's falling in by the numbers. We brace Holiday in the morning, get him and his partners nervous about each other talking. Then somebody gives somebody up and we bring them all in."

"You're sure they're it?"

"The kid, Creed, he basically ID'd them." Russell spread his arms. "Show me anything else, Barry. No, this all fits."

It was full dark by the time Russell and Cuneo checked out. They planned to arrive at the Ark tomorrow at 10:00. Holiday worked the early shift and they'd catch him there and have a long conversation.

Cuneo considered trying to talk Russell into going by and leaning on Clint Terry or Randy Wills more that night, but he knew that Lincoln would want to be home, a priority with him. Besides, Cuneo had his own date with Liz from Panos's office, and it made the second date difficult if you blew off the first one at the last minute. Finally, they'd already worked eleven hours today and there'd been nothing but stink about overtime lately. Cuneo knew that everything probably could wait until tomorrow and it wouldn't really make any difference. Certainly, nothing had happened since Friday. Cuneo was always frustrated by the pace of investigations; this case was proceeding as it should.

The two inspectors had not done any substantive investigative work on the Silverman murder since 8:30 the previous Friday night, when they'd gotten Creed's tentative identification of Terry, Wills and Holiday. It was now 6:30 on Tuesday, ninety-four hours later.

It was a small but welcome surprise. The attorneys had all finished with Aretha LaBonte's deposition by early evening. Hardy would be home by dinnertime. Up in his office, he called Frannie with the news, then checked his messages-nothing crucial-and packed some file folders into his briefcase. Downstairs, he stopped in the doorway to the old man's office. Dick Kroll, who'd stayed for a little chat, had gone, and Freeman was alone at his desk, lighting the stub of a cigar he'd started early in the afternoon.

"Do you have any idea how great it is to be able to walk in here without Phyllis stopping me to ask what I want?" Hardy asked.

Freeman had the cigar in his mouth and spun it over a wooden match. When he had it going, he drew on it contentedly, then placed it in an ashtray. The firm's longtime receptionist, Phyllis, was a tyrant in the lobby, whose chief role was to block access to Freeman. Hardy's suggestions regarding her termination were a recurring theme that Freeman mostly ignored. "I believe Mr. Kroll is getting concerned," he said with satisfaction, "and not a minute too soon." He gestured ambiguously. "He just offered to settle."

"How much?"

"Four million. I must be losing my touch. I had him pegged at three and a half."

"I remember." Hardy stepped inside the office, sat on one of the chairs. "Still, it seems a long way from thirty."

Freeman blew smoke. "Yes, it does. Although, as Mr. Kroll points out, it's a mil and change for us right now. He seems to believe that our compensation-yours and mine, the firm's-is the critical factor. He doesn't even consider that it might be about our clients. Or his, really."

Hardy crossed a leg. "So the four mil, what's that break down to?"

"Call it almost three hundred grand per plaintiff, which after taxes is a hundred and fifty."

"Still," Hardy said. "That's real money."

Freeman waved that off. "Pah! It's gone in a year, maybe two. Besides, it's his first offer. I told him flat no, not even close. But I did learn something."

"What's that?"

"Panos has four mil of his own that he's willing to give us, forget the insurance. Where'd he get that kind of money?" He chewed his cigar for a moment. "Anyway, I told him flat out that my intention was to put his client out of business. The man's a common gangster and he knows it."

Hardy grinned. "You should have just been honest and told him what you really thought. So what'd he say to that?"

"He got a little put out. Said making this a personal vendetta wasn't doing either of us any good. I was being irresponsible to my clients." Freeman clucked. "He also said he was going to approach you directly."

"Me? What for?"

"Evidently he thinks you might be more amenable to reason. I told him to help himself. I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all. I'll just refer him back to you."

Freeman nodded, amused. "I told him that's probably what you'd do."

"And he said?"

"He said if it kept coming back to me, I was looking for trouble."

Hardy came forward. "He threatened you? Directly?"

But Freeman waved that off. "It wasn't even that. Cheap theatrics, that's all. That's what they do. They're cowards, basically. Wouldn't you agree?"

"Basically. But that doesn't mean they wouldn't try something."

"No chance. They're scared so they want to scare me. It's all just posturing, besides which, as you well know, I'm bullet proof."

Hardy grimaced. "I hate when you say that."

The old man grinned. "I know you do; that's half the fun. But you watch, this time next week, they come back with six, maybe eight mil. We get there, I might even start listening. But I might not." He smiled contentedly. "Have I mentioned that I love my job?"

"Couple of times," Hardy said. "And I my family, to whose bosom I now fly. Can I drop you home?"

"Naw." He indicated the clutter on his desk. "I've got some work here. Gina won't be home for an hour or two anyway."

"Is she picking you up here?"

"Are you kidding me? It's what, six blocks? I need the exercise. See you tomorrow. Drive carefully."

*****

At the dinner table, Rebecca was making a face of disgust. "That is just so gross," she said.

"I think it's cool," Vincent retorted.

"It's not gross, Beck. They love each other."

"But he's so… I mean, you know what I mean."

"Old?" Frannie offered. "Ancient?"

"Not just that. I mean, yeah, he's old, but also, I mean, like.. ."

Hardy held up a warning ringer. "Uh-uh, nice or nothing at all. This is David Freeman we're discussing. He is a great man and has every right to happiness and wedded bliss, just like I have with your mother." He gave Frannie a wink.

"And I with your father," she said.

"But, God." The Beck ignored them both, couldn't let the topic go. "I mean, think about Gina. She kisses him?" She shivered at the thought.

"More than that, I bet."

"Thank you, Vincent," Frannie said. "That's enough."

"And since it is," Hardy said. "I've got a fun new game. The Beck can go first." He turned to his daughter. "Here it is. You try to say a whole sentence without using the words 'like' or 'mean.'"

The Beck was a very intelligent child. She hesitated not at all before smiling cruelly at him. "Then I wouldn't be able to say that I like my daddy even though he's really mean."

This tickled Vincent, who held up both hands as though she just scored a touchdown. "Good one, Beck. Six points for the Beck."

Hardy grinned all around. "Six points, true, but unfortunately, grounded for life. It hardly seems worth it to me."

After dinner, the adults adjourned to the living room with the last of their wine while the kids cleared the table and started washing the dishes, a relatively new development in the Hardys' ongoing campaign to increase the quality of their life at home. Frannie sat on the couch with a leg curled under her, Hardy in his wing chair with his feet on the ottoman. Without benefit of the kids' comments, they had returned to the subject of Freeman's upcoming nuptials. "Do you think he's all right?" Frannie asked. "I mean physically."

"David? He's a horse. Why do you ask?"

"Just that it seems so sudden. I wonder if he found out he's dying or something and maybe wanted to have his estate automatically go to Gina."

"He could just as easily put her in his will." He shook his head, smiling. "I think they love each other, strange as it may be."

"Why do you say that?"

Hardy sipped some wine, lowered his voice. "Well, the Beck wasn't all wrong at dinner. David's not exactly Brad Pitt, you know. He's not even Wallace Shawn."

"And this matters because…?"

"It doesn't, I know. We should be above all that superficial stuff. Still…"

Frannie put on her schoolteacher look. "And we wonder why the Beck worries so much about how she looks."

Hardy was grinning broadly. "At her very worst, light-years better than David."

"I'd hope so, but just for your information, I would take a David Freeman any day over, say, a John Holiday."

"That's very noble of you, but I believe you'd be in the minority."

"And fortunately," she said, "I don't have to choose. I've already got a perfectly acceptable husband."

"Perfectly acceptable," Hardy said. "And people say the passion goes." He finished his wine, looked at the glass as though wondering where it had all gone. "But you just reminded me…" He was getting up.

"What?"

"I've been so swamped at work with these depos; I wanted to check in with John. The thing he called about Friday."

"Is he in more trouble?"

"Probably not. I hope I would have heard. I-" The telephone rang and got picked up in the kitchen on the first ring. He turned back to Frannie and made a face. "Well, if that's Darren, there goes an hour."

But his daughter yelled back. "Dad! For you."

Matt Creed tried the front door, then shone a light around the spacious lobby of the Luxury Box Travel Agency. Everything was as it should be, and this was not a surprise.

This was the upscale portion of his route, close up to Union Square. In spite of the city's recent campaigns to discourage vagrancy in the high-tourist area, the vast majority of security problems this far north in Thirty-two still had to do with the homeless or mentally disabled population.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Creed didn't try to roust these unfortunates completely out of the beat. He didn't want them sleeping, parking their shopping carts, urinating or taking care of other personal needs in the doorways or elsewhere on the property of the client buildings, but beyond that, he was happy to leave them alone.

But tonight, late now, in the last hour of his shift, he had turned right onto Stockton and taken maybe ten steps when he saw an exaggerated movement, a shadow in the mouth of the alley across the street. Creed knew the spot pretty well. Since it ended at the delivery bay for a building on the next block over, it was more a driveway than a true alley. After the workday, in the lee of the prevailing winds and equipped with a dumpster that often doubled as a drop for leftover cooked food from some nearby restaurants, it had become a popular sleeping site for the area's homeless. Normally, Creed walked right by it on the last leg of his route.

But when some kind of bottle came skittering up the street toward him, slamming the curb and shattering at his feet, he stopped. He would never have done so normally, but perhaps because of leftover jitters from his recent Shootout, tonight he pulled his weapon and crossed over. At the mouth of the alley, Creed could still hear the footfalls of the man running away. He stopped there, then stepped to the side against the adjacent building to catch his breath. After the excitement at Silverman's last week, he considered just guarding the opening and calling for some backup. Roy Panos was undoubtedly somewhere in the beat and could be here in ten, max.

But then he thought about the grief Roy would give him. A homeless guy throws a bottle in Creed's direction and he can't handle the situation himself. He needs backup. It might even cost him points with Wade, who made no secret of his disdain for cowardice, or timidity of any type for that matter. If you worked for Panos, you were macho or you were soon unemployed.

But Creed's jaw was tight, his teeth clamped down, all of his senses on alert. One part of him knew that it was all because of last week, of getting shot at. He thought of Nick Sephia's boast last night that getting shot at made him horny, and couldn't even find a shred of humor in it. Or truth. Even thinking about it now-

But what was he thinking of? This wasn't anything like a burglary in process. It was a homeless guy-Creed had seen him, or his shadow anyway. A homeless man who'd somehow scored a bottle of wine and got mad when it was empty. He probably hadn't even seen Creed, much less aimed at him. Shaking his head at his own demons, he realized with surprise that he still held his weapon, and he holstered it-whatever this was, he was sure it wouldn't call for a drawn gun-and turned on his flashlight.

Taking a last deep breath, he walked into the alley.

It wasn't much over ten feet wide, seventy or eighty feet deep. The beam on his light was strong, but at this distance still only dimly illuminated the dumpster at the end, on the left side. Normally, at this time of night, there would be a couple of guys sitting on the delivery dock, maybe three or four piles of debris that turned out to be men wrapped in their newspapers and layers of clothes at the small indentations of doorways along the alley. Tonight he saw nothing.

But the alley had no egress except the way he'd come in. The guy who'd thrown the bottle had to be hiding in or behind the dumpster. Creed walked another ten or twelve steps. "Hey!" he yelled, his voice echoing eerily off the walls on three sides. "Come on out here. We've got to talk."

Nothing.

Creed swore to himself, stood a long moment shining his light on the dumpster. "Come on," he said again. "Whatever it is, we'll get it worked out, all right?" He had half a mind to forget about it, to simply turn and walk out of the alley to Stockton and back to the precinct, where he could tell the lieutenant that there was this possible problem he might want to send some guys to look at. That wouldn't even involve either of the Panoses. And what was he going to do with this guy when he came out, anyway? March him down to the precinct? Knock him upside the head? Clean him up and buy him some coffee? Not.

Screw it, he thought. This is dumb.

He turned around and started back toward the street. He'd gone six or eight steps when another bottle exploded a few feet behind him, the broken glass spraying the ground around him with little diamonds. Creed nearly jumped out of his shoes.

But now, truly pissed off, he turned around. "Okay, asshole, you want to have some fun?" The beam from his flashlight preceding him, he raked the dumpster side to side and front to back. "Come on out! Don't be stupid." Ten feet back, he stopped again, gave the flashlight another pass.

Finally, movement at the back of the dumpster. He brought the beam over, took a step in that direction, then heard a noise-a second movement, to his left, at the front of the dumpster, maybe six feet from him.

He was turning in that direction…

And then he was dead.

John Lescroart

Hardy 08 – First Law, The

Part Two

^

Sometime earlier today-time was routinely meaningless now-Gina Roake had been with them in Dismas Hardy's office, in David's building. These men, these unlikely avengers. She knew where they would be going when the meeting broke up, and why.

Now she was back where David had asked her to marry him. The most stunning, shocking and unexpected moment of all her life. She sat straight, unmoving, at the little rickety table, now reduced to its usual state, without the linen or china or crystal. Could that lovely service have been here? When was it now, that eternity ago?

She looked at her hands. The ring caught her short again and she held her left hand within her right and stared at it while more immeasurable time went by.

The kitchen was in a round turret that jutted from the corner of the apartment. The glass in the curved, original windows was probably sixty-five years old. Looking through them was a wavy vision through perfect water, and now she stared downhill at the impossible world going by as though nothing had changed. Cars passed at the intersection a block down; a couple embraced and kissed against a building; a woman pushed a baby stroller up toward her.

She hadn't dressed for work in several days, so she wore blue jeans and tennis shoes, a UOP sweatshirt, a blue band to hold her hair back. No makeup of any kind. She was rubbing her hands and looked at them again, surprised that now suddenly they struck her as the hands of an old woman. She'd been biting her nails, and the week-old red polish was chipped and pathetic. She made a fist of her right hand, let it go, made it again, and held it until it hurt. Old or not, she recognized that there was still strength in these hands.

Perhaps the biggest shock was what it had taken her this long to process-that her old friends in Hardy's office had truly scared her. She'd been playing with the big boys in her real life for a long time now, consoling or lecturing her clients, being a goddamned equal to her male friends and lovers, kicking ass in the courtroom, taking no shit and giving no quarter. That's why she was successful. That's why David loved her.

She thought it was who she was, but now even that wasn't clear. Nothing was clear. She didn't know who she was, who she wanted to be, what she wanted to do. But beyond everything else was raw rage. She'd never known anger like this before, nor even understood that such a thing could exist. The desire to hurt someone was almost a physical pain in her stomach. That scared her more than anything.

Her mind returned to the men in Hardy's office. She'd known them forever, it seemed. They'd been colleagues in her life with the law. She'd clerked for Dismas at the DA's when she'd been in law school and he'd just been starting out. Glitsky always a presence, even long before the homicide years, with his passion for justice, for fairness, a stickler for procedure.

But then this morning, these people of the law suddenly making common cause with a man like John Holiday? But Holiday, Dismas and Abe were in this all the way together now, there could be no doubt of that.

And good lawyer that she was, where did that leave her? With them? If she didn't believe in the rule of law under all circumstances, then what kind of fraud had she been for all these years? If it seemed to these men that the law wasn't working as it should to protect them, did that give them the right to take it into their own hands? When the police didn't exactly move mountains to identify shooters in the various ghettos and barrios, did that condone or mitigate even slightly the violent retribution of a victim's relatives or friends?

She didn't think it did. No, she knew it didn't. She knew Glitsky and Hardy and they felt the same way. Or always had, until today.

Today everything was different.

And Gina now found herself with them. These men had become her true allies in this. The import of the collective decision as Abe had left Diz's office had been clear. He was going down to make the arrests himself if he couldn't move his own police department to do it for him. That was the pretext.

The subtext was that Panos and his gang would not go gently into the night. They'd proven themselves not only capable of violence, but committed to it as the way they dealt with obstruction. And the clock was running.

So Glitsky, left without an option, had come to his decision. He gave lip service to the arrest, but she knew without doubt that he'd get down to Pier 70 early, maybe a couple of hours early to avoid an ambush-in any event long before the four o'clock appointment he'd made with Gerson. And when they showed up, he'd be prepared to fight, quite possibly to kill. He had never asked Hardy or Holiday, and certainly not Gina, to back him up in any way. In actual fact, he'd been adamant on the point, expressly reminding them that he was a police officer acting in the line of duty. Diz, Holiday, anyone else who showed up to help him would, in the eyes of the law, be vigilantes. They must not be part of it.

To be part of it at all, if they lived, would ruin them.

But of course, he told them exactly where he was going, and when; what he planned to do, what he believed was going to happen.

A gust shook the ancient windows, then howled away down the street like the passage of the Angel of Death, the howl modulating down to a moan and finally fading to a dirge, then silence.

Gina had kept a Beretta. 40 caliber automatic locked in her desk drawer ever since one of her early cop boyfriends had convinced her that one day she'd need it. She had often thought to get rid of it-lawyers needed to believe that they didn't have to carry guns-but could never quite make the decision. And because it really would have been the height of absurdity to keep a gun she couldn't load or shoot properly, she went to the range every few months and fired off a couple of hundred rounds of ammunition to keep herself sharp. Over the years, she'd not only become comfortable with her gun and, in the process, turned into a capable marksman, she'd come to enjoy the experience-the smell of powder, the deafening noise, the awesome kick and power so far removed from the cops-and-robbers fantasy she'd entertained when she'd started.

She knew now. To shoot a high-caliber handgun was to taste death, in some ways to embrace the idea of it. The thing ruined flesh, obliterated bone. It snuffed out life instantly. As fast, she thought, no-faster than God could take it. The feeling was intoxicating.

Still at David's kitchen table, she looked at her hands a last time. Her ring, again, caught her eye, and suddenly the reality of all she'd borne coursed through her body like a current.

She nearly ran to the front door and outside to the street. She had to get to her desk, then to her car. Enough reflection. She was who she was-equal in her heart and soul and body to any man, and to her allies in particular. She'd suffered along with them, and now belonged with them. They were all in this and they would need her.

She checked her watch and broke into a jog.

10

The smartest inspector in the San Francisco homicide detail if not on the planet worked solo. Paul Thieu, a six-year veteran, was on when the call came in at a little after one in the morning. A security guard named Matthew Creed had not reported back to his liaison at the Tenderloin Station at the end of his shift, and the ensuing search of his route by both city and private patrolmen had turned up his body. He'd been gunned down-two shots at very close range-and lay sprawled by a dumpster not two blocks from Union Square.

Although the pickin's were very slim, Thieu spent most of the rest of the night at the scene with the Crime Scene Investigation unit. He did notice a few potential anomalies that might possibly shed light on elements of the crime. There were two concentrations of broken glass, where bottles had obviously been broken-one out on Stockton across the street and up a few yards from the mouth of the driveway, and another at its mouth. It wasn't that broken glass rose anywhere to the significance of evidence-it was as common as the dew on many city streets-but Thieu believed in collecting all the data that came his way in the hopes that some of it would acquire relevance. He asked the CSI team to gather any shards that might be large enough to hold a fingerprint.

He also had a reasonably defined size twelve-and-a-half shoe print from a leather- or smooth-soled shoe. The dumpster had been dripping a stinky, gooey miasma and somebody had stepped in it and then onto relatively drier pavement. Thieu knew that the footprint might not belong to the shooter. The scene by the loading dock at the end of the long driveway was a known rendezvous for some of the city's homeless, so there was a strong likelihood that the footprint belonged to one of the bums.

On the other hand, Thieu was a stickler for precision and they'd done some preliminary blood spatter analysis, complete with photos-a difficult task in the middle of the night. The footprint location was at least consistent with where the shooter must have been standing, which was at the front, or Stockton Street corner, of the dumpster. This was hardly conclusive evidence, but it was something. He was going to take it. He asked the CSI team to gather some of the liquid and bag it as evidence.

He was aided in his work by the fact that the victim was in uniform. Even if he was only an assistant patrol special, Creed was in some ways one of them. Every man and woman on the CSI would take all the time Thieu wanted if it would help him apprehend a cop killer.

Although they found no casing, they also got lucky with one of the two. 38 caliber bullets that had passed through the victim's body, leaving fairly clean small holes in the front and, even with two wounds, something less than a gaping maw of open flesh in the back. This had led Thieu to conclude first that the slugs were probably not hollow points and second that therefore they'd be able to find one or even both of the bullets. Not only was he proved right, but they discovered one of the bullet holes in a makeshift bumper someone had mounted against one of the buildings where the loading trucks would otherwise scrape. So the nearly perfect slug had passed through some rubber tire material that coated the bumper and lodged in the thick wooden beam beneath it.

Again, a slug by itself meant nothing. The odds of them finding the gun and matching it both to a person and to that particular bullet, and thus having it be any use in actually solving the crime, were all but infinitesimal. But Thieu was glad he had the piece of lead bagged and heading for the evidence locker. You just never knew.

Impressions, too, played a role, although in even a more nebulous manner than the other potential evidence. But impressions, unlike the other stuff, were ephemeral. Thieu was conscientiously typing his up so he wouldn't forget them, when Gerson came in at 8:30 sharp. Thieu had been technically off for two and a half hours, but he didn't care.

He wasn't going to put in for overtime. He didn't need the money and he knew that eventually the bean counters who controlled promotion would discover that he solved cases and cost less. Besides, there was nothing he'd rather be doing. Nothing.

His colleagues had been drifting in for fifteen minutes and the homicide detail was filling with sound and the smell of coffee. Sarah Evans had discovered a female country singer with the same name as her, and she had her radio going low. Thieu tried to work through it all, concentrating mightily.

But it was not to be, at least not right then. Gerson made his way through the room and surprisingly-the two men tolerated each other at best-stopped in front of Thieu's desk, waiting until he looked up. "Got a minute, Paul? I'd appreciate it. In my office. Thanks." He turned and headed back.

This was a first, but Thieu took it for what it was, a simple summons, undoubtedly some bureaucratic folderol. Sighing, he pushed back in his chair and stood up. He couldn't help but compare the current lieutenant with his old boss Glitsky, who might have come over to his desk in the same way Gerson just had, but would have seen he was working intently-just possibly on a homicide he was expected to solve. Abe would have either had the sensitivity to let him alone until he was finished, or he would have wanted to know all about what he was working on, what if anything he'd discovered. They'd trade ideas and theories of the case.

But that wasn't Barry Gerson, who when Thieu got to his office was turned away from the door, studying columns of numbers on his computer screen. He knocked on the wall. "Sir?"

Gerson blackened the screen and spun round in his seat, motioned to the other chairs. "I don't want to keep you if you were going home," he began.

"No. I was finishing up, but I've got another half hour. What can I do for you?"

Gerson wasted no time. He pointed in the general direction of his desk. "I was reading the IR"-incident report- "on your call last night, what you're probably working on out there right now, the patrol special…"

"Matt Creed," Thieu said.

"That's him. I think there's a good chance he's part of another case, another homicide." At Thieu's unasked question, he went on. "I don't know if you've followed this Silverman case at all…"

"Sure." Gerson didn't know it, but Thieu followed every case. "Pawnshop on O'Farrell. Last what? Thursday night? Cuneo and Russell, right?"

"You know everything else and you don't know about Creed?"

Thieu ignored the facetious tone. "Not everything, sir. In fact, nothing but the bare facts." But he didn't want to get into one-upmanship with Gerson. He put on a receptive expression. "What was Creed's involvement?"

"He was the only witness to the robbery in progress at Silverman's. He chased the three suspects for a couple of blocks but lost them. Then he came back to the pawnshop and found the body."

"All right." For the life of him, Thieu couldn't figure out where this might be going. He'd let Gerson get to it without prompting him, though. Relaxed in his chair, an ankle resting on its opposite knee, he waited.

Gerson cleared his throat, finally went on. "The thing is, Cuneo and Russell interviewed Creed, and he pretty much identified the suspects."

This surprised Thieu, but he kept his expression neutral. "Pretty much?" he asked. He didn't know what that meant. "Positively? By name, sir? Or from a photo spread?"

"By name. The inspectors haven't had time to get photos together. But Creed narrowed it to a trio of losers in the 'Loin. Clint Terry, Randy Wills, John Holiday."

Thieu automatically filed the names away in the supercomputer he carried between his ears. He was stunned that ninety-six hours after a homicide, no one had shown the main witness a photo spread. Still, he waited, offering nothing but a civil expectancy.

"My point is that if these two homicides are related, maybe committed by the same hand, it might be more efficient to assign Creed to the same inspectors who are working Silverman since they've got the early jump. But I wanted to run it by you first."

Thieu was even more stunned. When two homicides seemed to be related, inspectors on both cases worked together. But he was being pulled off. "I've got no problem with that, sir," he said without inflection. "I'd be happy to brief them if you'd like, though there isn't much to talk about. But who works the case-that's your decision."

"No hard feelings?"

"Not at all." Then Thieu added, a brush at levity, "It's not like my caseload is about to dry up."

"No, I don't suppose it is."

But though Thieu in fact didn't really mind passing off the new case, he did have a question. He would always have a question. "So your assumption is that these suspects must have somehow found out that Creed had identified them and killed him to keep him from testifying?"

Gerson grimaced. "All I know is he was a witness in one case and the victim in another, and the other guys have got a head start. We might get two birds with one stone, is all I'm thinking." He spread his palms wide and stood up. "Efficiency. The brass loves it."

Thieu, standing himself, knew he'd been dismissed, but wanted to be sure that he and Gerson understood one another. "If you'd like," he repeated, "I could stay on awhile this morning to brief them."

But Gerson waved that off. "Thanks, but you're into OT now as it is. If you finish your write-up, that and the IR here ought to be enough to get them started. They have specific questions, they can always ask you later."

Cuneo wasn't sure that he liked the operating theory of the case, the very one Thieu had asked about. Cuneo had correctly identified the exact problem that had concerned Thieu. While there was an admittedly strong coincidence factor in Creed being involved in two homicides within Thirty-two in the past week, that very fact didn't compel Cuneo to believe that the cases were in fact related. It seemed to him that the only way the two had to be related was if the suspects had known that Creed had identified them.

"And how could they have known that?" He and Russell and Gerson were in the lieutenant's office an hour after Thieu had gone home and he was twitching his legs to some inner beat as he talked. "If the two are related, that's what had to happen, didn't it? I mean, they had to know Creed was a threat, right?"

"Right," Russell said. "So they knew."

"That's my point. How? I can't see him being so dumb. What did he do? Stop by the Ark and tell the three guys he'd picked 'em out?"

"Maybe not, but close." Gerson had no problem with it. "Come on, Dan. Look, the kid's involved in his first real homicide. He's the star witness, for Christ's sake. He's going to tell somebody. He's proud as hell of it. Right?" He looked to Russell.

And Russell agreed. "And that somebody told somebody else till it got back to Terry. Hell, it took four days as it was. That's plenty of time. More than enough."

Cuneo's legs stopped their jumping. "All right," he said. "If it sings so good for you both, I can run with it. But if that's the theory, we can settle it once and for all pretty quick."

Russell was right up to speed. "Ballistics," he said.

Cuneo gave him a nod. "We've got the bullet that did Silverman, too. Two bullets, same gun, and we've got connections. Connections, we get a warrant in a heartbeat and go on a treasure hunt."

After they'd left Gerson's office, Russell went over to the homicide computer and emailed the crime lab with the request, noted "Homicide-URGENT." The bullets from both scenes would by now have been filed away in the evidence lockup in the Hall's basement. Once the crime lab had physical possession of them-and a regular shuttle service ran between the Hall and the lab-they could do the actual comparison with an electron microscope. It shouldn't take more than fifteen minutes.

With any kind of luck, they could get it done today.

While Russell did the computer work, Cuneo checked their messages and found that Roy Panos had called early last night-he had some terrific 49ers tickets for this weekend that he couldn't use. If the guys were interested, why didn't they all meet at John's Grill down in the heart of Thirty-two, have an early lunch, pick up their tickets?

Of course, the call had been before Creed's death, so Cuneo called Roy back to make sure he felt he could handle a social lunch. Exhausted-he'd barely slept-Roy still wanted to meet with the inspectors. Maybe he could give them some thoughts on Creed while it was still early enough to do some good. If even by inadvertence he knew or had heard anything that might help them in finding out who'd killed Matt, he wanted them to pump him for it.

Finally, finally, finally, Cuneo and Russell got clear of the Hall. At five minutes to ten, they were parked across the street from the Ark, waiting for their chance to brace John Holiday at last. Find out where he'd been last night as well.

At a quarter after, Cuneo got out of the car and banged on the bar's door for fifteen or twenty seconds.

Quarter to eleven, and Russell couldn't endure another moment in the car with his hyperkinetic partner. He checked the door to the Ark again, then walked to the corner and around it to the alley that ran to the back entrance. It, too, was closed. There was no light within, no sign of any life.

They'd told Roy Panos they'd meet him at John's at 11:30, and ten minutes before that Cuneo turned on the ignition and put the car in gear. "How's the guy make a living, he never opens his shop?"

"Maybe he's not coming in at all," Russell said. "Maybe he's on the run."

Cuneo looked across, pointed a finger at him, pulled the imaginary trigger.

John Holiday's conquest stories to friends such as Dismas Hardy had lately been fabrications. The truth was that he had fallen in love and didn't want to appear to have been a fool if it didn't work out.

While Cuneo and Russell waited for him to show up at the Ark, he was in Michelle's wonderful apartment-a modest but extremely well-kept one-bedroom unit on the back, non-tourist straight side of the "crookedest street in the world," Lombard. The place was only on the second floor of her building, but the street fell off in a cliff, so out the picture window she had a million dollar unimpeded view of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. She'd started living in these three rooms while she was in college, eighteen years ago, and rent control had kept her there-in today's San Francisco, she couldn't have found an unfurnished lean-to for what she was paying. A freelance writer, Michelle occasionally published in national magazines and regularly in some of the local neighborhood papers and advertising supplements. She also had a couple of very nice steady jobs doing restaurant reviews, and these helped bridge the income gap by providing dinners out for her and, often, a guest.

The first communication between Michelle and Holiday had been faceless, via email. In fact, because Michelle signed her pieces "M. Maier," Holiday hadn't even known he was writing to a woman. In early summer, in an ad rag called the Russian Hill Caller, she reviewed a small new place called Tapa the Bottom-a Spanish tapas restaurant located at the foot of Russian Hill. Michelle's food pieces often had a kind of M.F.K. Fisher quality, where snatches of philosophy, cultural history, or personal experience would thicken the usual thin broth of menu and decor description, and this article had stirred up feelings in Holiday that he'd suppressed for a long time.

He'd spent his honeymoon with Emma on the Costa Brava in Spain, at a small fishing village called Tossa de Mar, about forty miles north of Barcelona. For Holiday, the very air there at that time had seemed imbued with promise, with a sense that everything in his life now was going to work out, that the emptiness of his early life was over forever. And that short season of hope had been steeped in saffron, garlic, oregano, onions.

As soon as Holiday finished the article, he'd beelined to Tapa the Bottom, where he felt himself transported by nearly every bite. Escargots in pepper sauce, baby octopus, the Spanish tortilla-really an omelette of onion, egg and potato-the crusty bread smeared with tomato and garlic. When he got back home, flushed with a full bottle of chilled rose, he emailed M. Maier through the Caller to express his gratitude for the recommendation. He ended by adding, without much thought, "Happiness has been a bit elusive for a while, but while I was eating there, I was happy."

She'd written him back the next day, and they'd started corresponding regularly, breaking ground. Eventually, since they knew they must be neighbors, they agreed to meet. Michelle showed up in what turned out to be her usual outdoor attire, an army-navy coat over loose-fitting paramilitary camo garb, combat boots and a weird hat, one of her misshapen collection of thrift store headwear. In her heavy black-rimmed eyeglasses, with the hat pulled low and her tousled dark hair falling over her face, and wearing no makeup of any kind, she had attracted no undue attention.

Holiday had enjoyed the lunch, and though Michelle was nice enough, she wasn't the kind of woman he chose to pursue anymore. Clearly not a casual person, she brimmed with passion-thoughts and feelings, ideas, wit. Not his type, not since Emma. And certainly not the type he'd been taking lately to bed.

But he kept writing to her. She wrote back. They had another platonic lunch.

Gradually, as their relationship had slowly progressed, he began to appreciate her really magnificent beauty. Long-legged and deep-bosomed, with a sensuous wide mouth, an exotic cast to her eyes and strikingly perfect skin, she used the baggy clothes and funky headwear and army camouflage as a form of deception that allowed her, mostly, to pass through the world unmolested.

In their early lunches, she'd always looked barely thrown together. It came out that she'd been hurt a lot by men liking her only for her looks. She told him she'd always fantasized about marrying a blind man so that she could be sure he loved the person she was and not just because of, as she called it, the package.

The package fostered an odd mix of physical confidence and low self-esteem. As Holiday moved closer and closer to something resembling a commitment to Michelle, she had started to trust him less. If he let her know that he desired her body, too, it scared her. That's what the other men had wanted. So Holiday must in some way be like them.

The irony of this-that the first person with whom he'd tried to be faithful since Emma doubted him-did not escape him. They'd had their worst-ever fight about it on Thursday night. Holiday in his cups stormed out of the Imperial Palace before they'd gotten their pot stickers. They hadn't made up until Sunday, after a Friday night about which Holiday felt guilty. As well he should have.

It hadn't all been lies to Hardy.

This morning, in bed with Michelle, Holiday reclined propped on his elbow. Looking up from the newspaper, he was drawn back to that first meeting with her and had to smile that his initial reaction to this woman had been so neutral. At this moment, he was entirely smitten with the view of her. In stylish reading glasses, she wore orchid-print white silk pajamas. Barely buttoned on top, they gapped open as she leaned over to read.

He reached over and cupped her breast and she moved her hand over his, holding him there, never stopping her reading. He went back to the paper and turned the page. Some tension must have translated over to her.

"What is it, John? Are you all right?"

His hand had left her breast. He read on for another few seconds, making sure it confirmed what the headline seemed to promise. It did. He looked up at her, concern etching his features into something very much older. He hesitated, knowing that his ownership and management of the Ark was not her favorite thing about him. When he'd gotten home from work last night, he had started to tell her about Clint and Panos's people, to say nothing of the actual police. As usual, it hadn't sparked her interest, and he'd let it drop in favor of her query letters to Gourmet, Sunset and Bon Appetit to see if any of them would be interested in a story on the glories of grilled fruit.

He'd already told her the story about how he'd come to own the Ark. He'd known the owner, Joey Lament, pretty well. Joey was pushing seventy and Holiday had had a pocketful of cash from the sale of the pharmacy, so they made a deal and the thing never even went on the open market. But now, like it or not, his bar was about to become the topic again.

"Somebody killed Matt Creed," he said.

"Do you know him?"

"Yeah, I did. He's the patrol guy. Kind of a cop. Private security."

"And somebody killed him?"

"Shot him." He was picking up details, scanning the small article. "Point blank, or close enough."

She pulled some covers up around her shoulders. "Tell me this has nothing to do with you or your bar."

He said nothing, eyes down on the printed page.

"John?"

Finally, a sigh. "He's the kid who found Silverman. It was in the paper Saturday. The thing they came and talked to Clint about."

"What do you mean, kid?"

"It says here he was twenty-two."

Michelle pulled her blanket more closely around her and got out of the bed. She walked over to the picture window and stood before it, looking out. "I don't want to have this in our life, if we're going to have a life," she said. "People you know getting killed. They're related aren't they?"

He sat up, his voice defensive. "It doesn't say that here. There's no sign of it."

But he might as well not have spoken. "I guess I don't understand why you don't just sell the damn bar. Or if it's really important to you, at least fix it up?"

"It's not that important, really. It keeps my money working so I don't have to, that's all. I could sell it today for twice what I paid for it and then retire." Trying to inject some lightness, he added, "But then what would I do?"

"I've got a wild idea."

"What?"

"How about something worthwhile?"

A jolt of anger shot through him and he fought to control it. "I guess I don't remember," he said. "Were we having a fight?"

She lowered herself onto the ottoman by her reading chair. Her head went down so that he couldn't see her face.

"Would you be happier if we broke up?" he asked. "The last thing I want to do is cause you pain."

When she looked up, she was close to tears. "You know two people who have been shot to death in the last week. Do you know how scary that is to someone who loves you? And then you say-you apparently believe-that they're not related, to you or each other." She shook her head back and forth with great sadness. "Of course they are, John. Of course they are."

Roy Panos was buying. He insisted.

He cut into his steak and met the eyes of both inspectors across the table. He put a bite of meat into his face, then put his utensils down and held up his right hand. "I swear to God. Terry was off. I stopped in around eight…"

"I thought they'd quit paying you guys," Russell said.

Roy nodded. "Yeah, but since Silverman, I figured it can't hurt to keep up on 'em, am I right?"

"You're right." Cuneo was having petrale with capers and lemon sauce, humming as he chewed. "So Holiday worked the night shift last night?"

"Yep."

"You talk to him?" Russell asked. He was having the special-lamb chops with asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes.

"Said hi when I looked in. I bought a coffee. He asked me where Mattie was."

"Creed?" Cuneo put down his fork. "Why'd he ask that?"

Roy shrugged. " 'Cause normally Mattie walked the north beat first. But last night I took it."

"Why? "Russell asked.

"No reason, really. Change of pace."

"He say anything else? Holiday?"

Panos had had a rye on the rocks before lunch. Now he finished his second glass of wine and started pouring the next. He drank some more, put the wineglass down, twisted the stem of it pensively. When he spoke, it was almost apologetically. "I didn't want to spook him. I wanted to let you guys get him fresh."

"So you didn't mention anything about Creed?" Cuneo asked.

"Anything like what?"

"Like he pointed the finger in their direction."

Roy gave this some more thought. "I didn't go anywhere near there, but now you mention it, Holiday did say if I talked to Mattie, would I ask him to stop in? He wanted to ask him something."

The two inspectors exchanged a look.

Suddenly, Roy's heavy eyes lit up with the significance of what he'd revealed. "He wanted to make sure Mattie was on, didn't he? Son of a bitch. And I told him. Shit." For a moment, it looked as though Roy would cry.

Russell reached out and patted the table between them. "It would have been another night, that's all. It's nothing you did."

"The sons of bitches," Panos repeated. "And now, without Mattie's ID…"

"Don't worry about that," Cuneo said. "They made some mistakes last night. We're close."

"How close?"

He was one of them, another cop, so the inspectors told him.

11

The night before, Hardy drove twice around the downtown neighborhood and could not find a place to park even quasilegally. Nearly out of his mind with frustration and worry, he had finally given up and driven the extra few blocks to his own office, where he had his own spot under the building. Back up on the street, he'd run back to the emergency room entrance of St. Francis Memorial Hospital, where Gina Roake had stood waiting by the admitting station.

"How is he?"

Her face was blotched, but she held it now under tight control. "Not good. He's been in there for two hours. He's still unconscious. They won't let me in."

"What happened?"

"Somebody beat him up, Dismas. I'd been home an hour and some policemen knocked at the door. He had his wallet on him, which had his driver's license with the address, and…"

"He had his wallet? Was there still money in it?"

"I don't know. I didn't even…"

She caught Hardy's shift of focus and turned. A young woman in green scrubs had come out into the waiting room. Roake touched his arm and went to her. He followed, noting with a sinking heart the grave look on her face.

"We've done all we can for the moment," she was saying. "We'll be bringing him to the ICU, where we can keep a close eye on him."

"But how is he?" Gina asked.

The young doctor's eyes quickly went to Hardy, came back to Gina. "He's taken quite a beating. He's got severe head trauma and internal bleeding and he hasn't regained consciousness." She took in a deep breath and let it out. "I'd have to call his condition critical."

Roake closed her eyes. Her shoulders seemed to collapse. After a short moment, she opened her eyes and nodded. "Is there anything at all I can do?"

There wasn't. The doctor said she had to go and supervise the transfer to the ICU, and she went back behind the door to the ER.

Without a word, Roake and Hardy sat down next to one another on the waiting room chairs. To his surprise, Hardy realized that they weren't alone in the room-a young black woman rocked a baby across the room and stared into empty space in front of her. An elderly Asian man was reading a newspaper.

A young person let out an agonizing moan somewhere behind them, and sirens cried somewhere close in the night.

After a minute, an orderly came out holding a large plastic sack. He looked around and came over to them. "Are you with Mr. Freeman? I've got some of his personal effects that you might want to take."

Roake reached out for the bag, and for the first time Hardy noticed the ring-twice the size of Frannie's diamond, newly mounted and bright. She opened the bag and looked inside, then closed it back up. "His good suit," she said as though to herself. "I bought it for him." Turning to Hardy, her lip quivered for an instant. She bit down on it. "How could this happen?" she asked. "Who could have done this to him?"

After a sleepless night, Hardy's first stop at a little after 6:00 a.m. this morning had been the hospital again. It was still long before visiting hours and though he believed he had no chance to get in and see Freeman, he knew he'd get more information talking to a human being than to a voice on the telephone.

Sure enough, at the nurse's station, he had learned that Freeman's condition was unchanged from the night before, but that at least there had been no deterioration. He was no more critical than he'd been. Armed with that news, he walked down the hallway and looked in on the ICU waiting room, where the nurse had told him another of Freeman's visitors had spent the night.

Roake clearly hadn't spent it sleeping either. Alone in the room at this time of the morning, she'd aged five years in the past six hours. Her eyes were heavy, red-rimmed, her hair all over the place. As Hardy got to the door, she was running her hands through it as though trying to still the ravages of a severe headache.

Seeing him, she stood and walked over, put her arms around his neck and sagged for an instant. He saw the plastic bag that held Freeman's suit on the floor next to the couch where Roake had been sitting-she really hadn't gone home.

After they'd sat, Hardy delivered the latest prognosis in the best possible light, then asked if he could do something for her, drive her home, anything.

Her first reaction was to shake her head as though she didn't understand the question. A random syllable escaped, stopped again. She ran a hand through her hair again, squeezed at her temples. "I suppose I've got to get to my clients. I know there's something this morning, but… but that's not you, is it? I'd better leave a message for Betsy." She looked out beyond Hardy. "It's morning already, isn't it?"

"Getting there," Hardy said. "You ought to go home and get some sleep, Gina." It was hard advice but she had to hear it. "Nothing's happening here. The nurse told me this could go on for a while."

"I know." Then, again, "I know. I just wanted to stay. I thought

…"

He waited, but no further words came. "I can drive you to David's now," he said. "You get a little sleep, call your office when they open. If they need you here, you can be back in five minutes. How's that sound?"

She was perfectly immobile for half a minute or more, then finally let out a heavy breath, reached for the plastic bag, stood up. "You're right. You talked me into it."

Fifteen minutes later, he couldn't believe the amount of legal curb that was available just around the corner from the Hall of Justice. Then he remembered, of course, the time. But he'd wanted to get down here if he could while someone from the night shift might still be in the building.

Miraculously, he was talking to Inspector Hector Blanca within ten minutes, Blanca was a dark-skinned Hispanic sergeant with the General Work Detail and he'd pulled the call on the Freeman beating. It was not only fresh in his mind, he was reviewing the incident report, written by the patrolman who found Freeman, as Hardy got to his desk. After the introductions, and Hardy's reassurance that he was a friend of Abe Glitsky and used to be a cop himself, that he wasn't some ambulance-chasing dick of an attorney looking to make trouble, Blanca must have decided it was okay to talk. "So, this man Freeman. He was your partner?"

Technically David wasn't, but Hardy didn't think it mattered. "I hope he still is."

The sergeant grimaced. "Sorry. I didn't mean that. What's the word at the hospital?"

Hardy told him, but he'd come to Blanca to get information, not give it. "His fiancee, Gina Roake, told me he still had his wallet. That's how you guys knew to come to his house."

"That's right. Beat him near to death, but didn't take his wallet, his watch, nothing."

"Was there money in it?"

Blanca tried to keep his face neutral, but it wanted to react. "Six hundred fourteen dollars, right there in the regular section."

Hardy sat with that a minute. "So it wasn't any kind of robbery. You saw him. What was it about?"

"I've got no idea. It was about as brutal as I've seen. He fucking somebody's wife, anything like that?"

"No," Hardy said.

"What I mean is, maybe if it was personal…"

"Yeah, I know. I can't think of anything-" He stopped.

"What?" Blanca asked.

"I just thought about this pretty ugly lawsuit we're working on. But I've never seen anything like that before and I've been practicing twenty years."

Blanca gave him another chance. "You sure? I'll grab at anything."

But after another minute with it, Hardy shook his head. "No. Couldn't be."

"All right. But whatever it was, let me tell you, this was deliberate damage. Boots and blunt objects. Not just fists."

Hardy didn't want to think about Freeman lying helpless, curled on himself, as a group of vicious assailants worked him over. "So there was more than one guy?"

A shrug. "I can't say for sure, but I'd bet on it." He drummed his ringers on his typewriter keys, then met Hardy's eye. "I guess there's no nice way to put it, sir. Whoever it was, these guys left him for dead."

"But took nothing?"

He shook his head. "Nothing obvious, at least."

"So what's that leave?"

Blanca frowned in concentration. "It leaves the whole universe, to tell you the truth. People nowadays, you wouldn't believe how many are just nuts."

"I bet I would. You think it was just some kind of rage?"

"It looked like that, but who knows? It might have been just for the thrill." Something seemed to nag at him. "An old guy like this, though? It doesn't make any sense, not that it has to. Tell you what I'll do. I'll pull some other reports from the general vicinity. Maybe come up with something similar. MO. Something."

"Thanks," Hardy said. "I'd appreciate it."

Okay, Hardy told himself. He'd done his little bit with detective work, and without any conclusive results, but the real reason the hospital and the Hall had had to come first and early this Wednesday morning was because he had to get to his office.

Freeman amp; Associates kept formal hours, from 8:30 to 5:30. Like most law firms, F amp;A expected its associates to bill two thousand hours every year. With a two-week vacation, that computed to forty billable hours every single week, even weeks where there was a holiday or two. Working at perfect efficiency, the best attorneys could perhaps get all their administrative and other unbillable work, such as lunch for example, done in two hours every day. This meant that, if they did not double-bill-if discovered, a firing offense at Freeman's-associates averaged about ten hours at their desks every single day, often working weekends to make up for holidays or the rare day off when they needed to bill but the office was closed.

The awesome burden of billing two thousand hours was perhaps the main reason Hardy had never joined Freeman's, or any other, firm. Not that he didn't work round the clock and then some when he needed to, but at least in theory-though meeting his monthly nut kept it from being his common practice-he could make his own decision to put in fewer hours and therefore make less money. This wasn't an option for Freeman's full-time associates. But since it was the norm everywhere else, what were they going to do?

So although it was still a few minutes short of 8:00 a.m. when Hardy walked up the stairway and entered the lobby, the place wasn't deserted, but the somber tone was decidedly unusual. Word must have gotten out.

At the receptionist's desk, although Phyllis wasn't in yet, they had the radio tuned to the all-news station. A group of maybe ten associates stood around, listening, murmuring. Hardy knew three of them quite well-Amy Wu, Jon In-galls and Graham Russo-and Russo broke from the knot when he saw Hardy. All the other eyes followed him. "Do you know anything about David?" he asked. "Amy heard the end of something in her car, but…"

Russo and everyone else could tell from Hardy's expression that what Wu had heard was both true and bad. The knot coalesced around him and Hardy gave them the very short version and answered as many questions as he could. While he was in the middle of one of them, Phyllis came up the stairs behind him-her usual grim-lipped, uptight self. She stood behind Hardy for a moment, clearly perplexed at the gathering.

Hardy stopped midsentence and, cued by his audience, turned. "What's the matter?" she asked. "What is this about?"

"David's in the hospital," Hardy said simply. "Somebody beat him."

"What do you mean, beat him? He's not in trial."

"Not that kind of beat. Somebody mugged him, beat him up."

For a long moment, she still appeared not to comprehend. Finally, she backed up a step and put a hand over her heart. "Why? I mean, is he all right?"

"I was just telling the folks here. It's bad. He's unconscious."

Phyllis looked down to Freeman's office door as though she expected him to appear from behind it. One of the associates yelled from back at reception. "Here it is, here it is!" And as a body, the mass of people turned and fell silent.

"… flamboyant and famous attorneys in the city was found beaten last night a few blocks from his home. Police have no known motive yet in the brutal attack, which has left Mr. Freeman in critical condition at St. Francis Memorial Hospital. Robbery doesn't seem to have been a factor, although police are refusing…"

Hardy and the rest of the associates all missed the rest of the report. At the word "critical," Phyllis had uttered a small cry and crumpled to the ground.

In his office, Hardy had three voice mails from Jeff Elliot, his friend and the writer of the "CityTalk" daily column for the Chronicle. They shared the basic information that each had independently gathered; then Elliot asked, "So where does this leave you?"

"You mean me personally or the firm here?"

"Both."

"Well, he's the rainmaker here, so people are freaked. If he's even out for a couple of weeks, the work dries up. Phyllis fainted. You know he'd just asked Gina to marry him?"

A short silence. Elliot, Hardy knew, trying to digest it. "What'd she say?"

"She said yes. He gave her a ring."

Another pause. "Was she seeing anybody else?"

"Who'd want to kill David and thereby eliminate the competition? I don't think so. She was at the hospital all night."

"Still…"

"I think it's a dry well, Jeff, but you can ask her if you want."

Elliot seemed to accept that. "So how are you doing?"

"I'm worried. Unconscious isn't good. They're saying critical, and the nurse this morning wasn't what you'd call optimistic. Blanca-you know Blanca-he seemed to think that whoever did it meant to hurt him bad at least."

"What for?"

"No theories. Not robbery, unless he was carrying something unusual with him, which he never did. But not his wallet, not his watch-a Rolex by the way."

"So what do you think?"

"I'm totally stumped. At the moment, I'm tempted to think it might even have been random. Easy target. Cheap thrills. It's been known to happen. Hey, I'm getting another call. You want to wait?"

"No thanks. I'm crankin' here. I hear anything, I'll let you know."

"Dismas Hardy," he said, punching into his call waiting.

"Diz. Dick Kroll. I just heard about David. My God…"

"Yeah. I don't know what's happening yet. Did we have a depo today? We do, don't we?" Hardy brought his hand to his forehead, squeezed his temples.

Kroll was sympathetic. "We can put that off as long as you need. The important thing now is David. How's it look?"

For the hundredth time, Hardy ran down what he knew. Answered the same questions. No robbery. No motive. No clues. A senseless beating of an old and defenseless gentleman. When he finished, the line hummed open for a long beat.

"I don't know what to say, Diz. I'm in shock, really. Is there anything I can do?"

Hardy gave it an instant's thought. "Maybe see if any of your client's men noticed or heard something. Or will. It wasn't one of Wade's beats, though, was it?"

"I don't know. Where did it happen exactly?"

"Two blocks north of here. Right around the corner, actually."

"No, then. Thirty-two ends down at Post."

Hardy kept on. "It was his usual route home, which he always walked because he was bullet proof. Jesus…"

"What?"

Hardy blew out. "Nothing. I just remembered I offered to drive him." He swore.

"Don't blame yourself. It wasn't anything you did." Kroll cleared his throat. "So listen, I don't want to add to your troubles today. Why don't you dig out, call me when you want to start up on these depos again. I'm assuming if David's out, you'll be taking the lead."

"It's too early, Dick, okay? I don't want to go there yet."

"Fine, fine. I'll wait till you call me. Meanwhile, is there anything else I can do? Anything at all?"

"I can't think of anything, but thanks."

"I'll pray for him. How about that?"

Hardy hadn't ever considered Kroll much of a religious man-certainly he was an unscrupulous attorney and dirty fighter, but you never knew. "Couldn't hurt," he said. "Thanks." Yet another call was coming in on the heels of the last. He looked at his watch-the regular workday still wouldn't begin for seven minutes and he'd already been going for two hours. He punched the button on his phone, stifled a weary sigh. "Dismas Hardy," he said.

It was the first time Hardy had been to Glitsky's new domain on the fifth floor. The lieutenant was leaning over a computer terminal in a claustrophobic room occupied by two women, one of them with an enormous girth. Glitsky was saying something to her about the new software they should be getting sometime in the next decade that would do it all faster and better. Hardy, in low enough spirits already, found the moment nearly unbearably sad.

Perhaps sensing a shadow behind him, Glitsky stopped in midsentence, straightened up and turned around quickly. Everything from his stance to his fierce glare announced his readiness to fight whoever it might be. When he saw it was Hardy, something went out of him. For an instant, he seemed almost disappointed, but immediately the expression shifted to concern. "You all right?" he asked. "Is everybody all right?"

By this he meant, of course, their families. Hardy showing up unannounced in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, looking shell-shocked and drawn, set off every alarm in Glitsky's head.

Hardy's reply didn't ease his mind. "Got a minute?"

Excusing himself to his staff, he led his friend to the next office and closed the door behind them. "What?"

"You haven't heard about David?"

Glitsky read his friend's face and his gaze went flat. "Don't tell me he's dead."

"Not yet, but it doesn't look good." The telling took less than a minute, during which Glitsky took a seat behind his desk. Hardy remained standing, drained, hands in his pockets. "I've just come from the hospital. Again. Gina's back down there, too."

Glitsky slouched in his chair, ringers templed at his lips. Hardy was rambling on. "I don't even know why I'm here, to tell you the truth. I answered calls all morning at the office, but the thought of work…" He shrugged. "Sorry to just barge in."

"If memory serves," Glitsky said, "I've done it to you a few times."

But the usual banter couldn't find a toehold, and the two men filled the space managing their silent emotions. Finally, Hardy pulled a chair around and sat heavily. "I really don't know why I'm here," he repeated.

Glitsky let another minute pass. "He was walking home? That's it?"

Hardy nodded. He was wrestling with something, and finally came out with it. "I almost told Blanca I thought it was Panos."

At this, Glitsky's eyes sharpened. He stirred in his chair. "Do you?"

He shook his head. "I can't see it. Kroll called me up this morning as soon as he heard. He seemed genuinely upset."

"And that rules out Panos? That he didn't inform his lawyer? I wouldn't tell my lawyer if I was planning to beat up or kill somebody. Not before, not after. But what was David to Panos? I know you've got that lawsuit, but…"

"Just keep repeating thirty million dollars, Abe, and everything will become clear. If we win all the way large, say, it's not impossible Panos is on the street." Talking about specifics somehow took Hardy's mind off the big picture, and he too became more animated. "Kroll offered David four the other day to settle."

"Four million? What'd the old man say?"

"He laughed at him. Kroll then got huffy and said he was going to go around David and talk to me directly, I guess on the theory that I'm a wuss and I'd cave. David said he was welcome to try, but I'd probably just send it back to him, which was true. Anyway, Kroll got a little mad and told him he'd better watch out."

"For what?"

"Maybe for what happened."

Glitsky cocked his head. "You really think that?"

"I'm not really thinking anything, yet, Abe. We're talking boots and clubs, maybe nightsticks. Your average street banger doesn't have a sap."

"But you said 'maybe' nightsticks."

"True. But we're also talking downtown. Unless you're walking around with lumber, you're not going to find a club lying on the street, are you?"

"Maybe a tire iron. Or the butt of a gun."

Hardy shook his head, disagreeing. "A couple of whacks on the head with a tire iron and you're dead directly, wouldn't you think? Maybe a gun, though."

"So what are you saying?"

"It's coming to me as we're talking, so I'm not sure. Whoever did it didn't come to rob him. They showed up carrying heavy tools and ambushed him."

The phone rang twice. The answering machine picked up with its warm and sunny greeting. "Glitsky, payroll. Leave a message." Some sergeant left his number and asked if he could get a call back about his accumulated comp time.

Neither Glitsky nor Hardy acknowledged the interruption. As soon as the sergeant had rung off, Hardy continued. "You might as well know the other thing that happened yesterday. Both Blanca and Jeff Elliot thought it might have something to do with it, but I just came from talking to Gina, and it doesn't."

"Okay. What?"

He told Glitsky about the engagement, the ring, the remote question about Gina's possible involvement with another man. "Anyway, I asked. I don't know whether it set our friendship back two years or if she was flattered that I could think she was somehow keeping a stable of men on the side, but either way, she wasn't lying. Enough for me, anyway."

"I'd take that."

"So. There we are." Suddenly he found he had talked it all out. And again, it left him exhausted. "And so what, huh? Nobody's even looking."

Glitsky almost said that if Freeman came to, he would be able to tell them what happened; if he died, the case would go to homicide and maybe Paul Thieu would get it and discover something, but he realized this wouldn't be a consoling thought. And if anybody else besides Thieu picked up a case like this, an old man who lingered, no clues, it would remain a mystery forever. So he shrugged. "Blanca's okay," he said. "Maybe he'll get something."

"Yeah." Hardy dragged his old bones up and stood. "Well…"

The phone rang again. Glitsky glared at it, then got up himself, making no move to answer it. He was coming around to let Hardy out when he heard the voice of Marcel Lanier. He stopped and picked up the receiver.

"Talk to me," he said.

Hardy was at the door and raised a hand in silent farewell. Glitsky, listening with one ear, snapped his ringers, got his attention, waved him back in. "Yeah, I'm here," he said into the mouthpiece. He listened intently for almost a full minute, then said, "I appreciate it, Marcel. Thanks."

Hardy stood right at the door. "What was that about?"

Glitsky raised a hand and settled a haunch on the corner of his desk, his face hardened in concentration.

Hardy couldn't take it. "What, for Christ's sake?"

Glitsky expelled a lot of air. "One of Panos's guys got shot last night. The kid who found Silverman. Creed. Matt Creed."

"You knew him?"

"I only met him once, Monday night, a couple of hours after I left you, in fact. But he made an impression. Remember I told my dad it was a bad idea to go to Silverman's when nobody in homicide called him back?"

Hardy nodded. "Sure."

"Well, he went that night anyway and I had to pull him out. Creed was there."

"Doing what?"

"Just walking the beat. He saw the light and stopped. Then I showed up. We had a little party together. But a nice kid."

"And somebody shot him?"

Glitsky's head dropped, came back up. "Last night. On the beat." He paused to let Hardy digest it. "Marcel was just talking to Paul Thieu and heard about the connection to Panos. He thought I'd want to know."

"Why's that?"

"We had a talk about Wade recently, Marcel and I. I thought maybe he could pass a message along to Gerson. Save him some trouble." A shrug. "Turns out he couldn't."

"What was the message?"

"That maybe Panos wasn't the guy to help out homicide on Silverman. Or anything else, for that matter."

"And he'd been doing that?"

"Trying. He'd given them some names, among them your friend Holiday, who Creed originally ID'd as one of the guys who broke into Silverman's, by the way."

"Well, that's wrong. John had…"

Glitsky held up a hand. "Relax. Creed changed his mind. No ID. He was calling the case inspectors and letting them know."

"Did he?"

"I don't know. I'd assume so. Besides, what does it matter? You said Holiday has an alibi, and you'd never lie for a client."

Hardy declined to comment, found his chair, and was sitting again. Finally, he said, "Suddenly I'm willing to believe that Panos had something to do with David."

Glitsky nodded slowly, the professional cop in him less than completely willing to commit. "It does invite inquiry."

"So how do we do it?"

"Do what?"

"Inquire."

Glitsky scratched his cheek. "You might profitably mention something to Blanca. Maybe something got left at the scene. David's. But this could be nothing. Just a coincidence."

"Theoretically, I agree with you. I'll keep it in mind."

"Just so we're on the same page. And also, so you're clear, I'm not going anywhere near it. The latest poll results are in, and the consensus is it's not my job."

12

San Francisco's crime lab, one of several buildings in a facility that had originally been built by the Navy, had recently been refurbished and was now pretty much state of the art. The facility also housed the TTF unit, or Tac Squad, and served as the PD's armored car lot. Although its location in Hunters Point was as far from desirable as possible, the ancient hamburger stand called Dago Mary's just outside the compound made it something of a destination for the law enforcement community.

Russell and Cuneo had finished their lunch with Roy at John's Grill. Then they'd gone back to the Ark, pounded on the doors again, sat outside for most of another useless hour. Apparently the place wasn't opening today, at least not before nighttime. Finally Cuneo gave up on the stakeout and they'd driven to the Marina District, to Holiday's address, where several newspapers in the doorway argued that he'd been away for a while.

Russell couldn't pass Dago Mary's without a pit stop. Hell, they were right here anyway, Russell argued. It wouldn't take fifteen minutes. They would have plenty of time to pick up their ballistics results from the lab and roll back uptown on the undoubtedly related Creed/Silverman murders. Get some warrants. Kick ass.

By the time they got past the guard tower, parked, and arrived at the lab's reception, they'd burned fifteen more minutes. A small room with a desk, phone and computer, enclosed on their side with glass, blocked any view of the lab itself within. When the inspectors entered the lobby area, there was no one at the desk. They waited awhile in the hopes that a body would appear.

Cuneo craned his neck trying to be seen. He sang out a strong, "Hello!"

"Here we go," Russell said. There was a button next to the door that led inside and he pressed it. Silence. "Maybe it rings inside." He pressed and held it this time.

"Hey! Hey! Enough with the bell! We're coming."

The door finally opened to reveal a small, pale, middle-aged man in Dockers and a button-down plaid shirt. A wash of wispy dark hair fell sideways across his forehead- if he'd had the right mustache, he would have been a ringer for Hitler. The plastic name tag over his left pocket read "M. Lester," and Mr. Lester was frowning. "Keep your shirts on, boys, what's the problem?"

Cuneo pointed at the reception desk. "Nobody seems to be minding the fort, is all."

"Yeah, well, Sherry's out today. Sorry."

"Well," Cuneo said, "we're here for some ballistics results. Homicide. My partner here, Russell, he marked it urgent."

The frown grew more pronounced as Lester turned to Russell. "I emailed you about that."

"I never got it."

The man persisted. "I sent it off as soon as I got yours. Couldn't have been five minutes later."

"I still didn't get it," Russell said. "What was it about?"

"Your evidence. I asked if you could pick it up while you were still at the Hall and bring it down here. We're getting killed by the flu. Half the staff is out sick. We got nobody to drive the shuttle even."

Cuneo drew a breath, kept an exaggerated calm in his voice. "And so, because my partner had marked his email 'Homicide-Urgent,' and you didn't hear back from him, you called a patrol car or got a messenger to bring this critical evidence down to your lab so that we'd have our ballistics results in time, perhaps, to save a life or two, or at least get some scumbags off the streets. That's what you did, right? Tell me that's what you did."

In spite of the strikeout on ballistics, Cuneo reminded Russell that for all their efforts, they still needed to talk to John Holiday. He might have come in to the Ark since they'd last been there, and Cuneo voted that they go back for the third time that day and try again.

"There's no way, Dan. He's gone."

"I don't think so."

"Why not? He doesn't come to work. His apartment's deserted. He knows we've put him with Terry and Wills on Silverman. If it were me, I'd be long gone."

"Except that, if you recall, Roy Panos said he talked to him last night. Stopped by the Ark and there he was working behind the bar. Nothing's changed between last night and today."

"Except Creed got shot. Not exactly nothing."

Cuneo glanced across the seat. "Agreed. But if Holiday was bartending, and Roy says he was, then he didn't do Creed, did he? He knows we're not after him for that. So no way does it get him to run if Silverman didn't."

This shut Russell up for a half block or so. "Don't get me wrong," he finally said. "I'm itching to drive back uptown and talk to him, but if we don't have ballistics, what are we talking to him about? Especially if he wasn't any part of Creed?"

"I never said he wasn't any part of it. He just didn't pull the trigger. But that still leaves Terry and Wills. In which case Terry's the shooter both times. We might mention some chance of immunity for Holiday if he'll give them up, see if he bites."

"If he's there."

"Even if he's not, we'll learn something. Maybe get another chance to talk to Terry."

"And if he is, we're his friends."

"That's the ticket," Cuneo said. "Give him a chance."

Randy Wills checked his lipstick in the bathroom of his apartment. He'd bathed and shaved all over less than an hour ago. Looking down, he smoothed the front of his skirt, then came back to the mirror. Luckily, he'd never had a heavy beard, and now a close shave and makeup base gave him the smooth cheeks of a very pretty woman with luminous eyes, a delicate nose and jawline. He wore a luxuriant, natural-looking chestnut wig. A black turtleneck covered his Adam's apple-the only giveaway that he wasn't what he seemed.

Outside, it was coming to dusk. The back window in the bedroom let in a thin late-afternoon light, and he looked around the room and then into the front rooms-the kitchen and living room-with something approaching real contentment.

He and Clint lived in a street-level apartment on Jones, less than a quarter mile from the Ark. It didn't look like much from the outside, but they'd turned it into a nice home-the best place Randy had lived in since he'd left New Mexico at sixteen.

When Randy got to the Ark, he struck a momentary pose in the doorway-hip cocked, breasts thrust out. Clint was behind the bar, of course, talking to a couple of customers, and he looked up without any sign of recognition at all. Only a friendly nod, as if Randy were just another customer. Could it be he didn't recognize him at all? Was he that beautiful tonight?

Taking a stool next to one of the customers, he crossed his legs and arranged himself at the bar. "Hello, Clint," Randy said, "I'd like a vodka gimlet, please."

Clint's customer, a puffy-faced man, was staring at him. The other man, black, leaned over the bar. "Who's your friend, Clint?"

Randy smiled all around and made some eye contact. He offered his hand to the closer man. "I'm Randy Wills," he said, in his most feminine voice. "Randy with an 'i.' " Then, to the other man, "Hello." He'd get a rise out of Clint yet, he thought.

But Clint simply looked down, shaking his head. Surprisingly, the puffy-faced man didn't take his extended hand. Instead, he proffered a badge, introduced himself and his partner.

Clint reached across the bar and put his big hand over Randy's. "I'm sorry," he said. "They just got here. They're looking for John."

"Why?" Randy turned to the inspectors. "What did he do?"

"We want to talk to him," Russell said. "We understand he was working here last night."

"That's right," Terry said.

"But you're here tonight?"

"For another hour or two. Then John comes on."

"Tonight?" Cuneo asked. "I understood he worked mostly days, though."

"Mostly, I guess, you're right. But it varies. We're pretty flexible here, really."

"Good for you," Russell said. "So you weren't here last night then?"

"No, I already told you, we…"

Cuneo butted in. "That's right, you did." He turned to Randy. "We were just talking to Clint here about what he did last night. I'd like to ask you the same thing. What you did."

Clint started to say something to him, but Russell leaned in, one ringer extended in warning. "Uh-uh-uh. No hints."

"What I did?" Randy checked with Clint, who nodded almost imperceptibly. "When? Last night?"

"That's right, last night," Cuneo said.

Eyes over the bar. "I was with Clint. Why?"

"We'll get to why," Russell said. "Just now we'd like to know how you spent your night last night. Unless there's some reason you'd rather not tell us."

"No. Nothing like that. Why would there be?" Another look at Clint. "Well, early we had dinner at home; then we went to Finocchio's for the show," he said. "We were there together. I used to work there." Into their stony silence, he added, "I'm a dancer. Well, used to be."

Cuneo said, "That was pretty good." He turned to his partner. "They've got some code."

Russell jumped right in. "You talk to anybody at Finocchio's while you were there? What time was that, by the way?"

"I don't know. What time, Clint? Eleven, twelve? Somewhere in there."

"No hints," Cuneo repeated. "My partner asked if you talked to anybody."

"I suppose the waiter. He might remember."

"Uh-huh. And what time did you get there?"

"I really don't know exactly. I don't remember."

"Later than ten?"

"Maybe. It seems like it. Why? What happened last night?"

"What happened last night, he asks," Cuneo said to Russell. Back to Randy. "As if it's news to you, a patrol special named Matt Creed got shot dead about three blocks from here."

Shocked and appalled, Terry put his hand to his heart. "Not Matt," he said.

Cuneo pointed a ringer at him. "Spare me that shit." He threw an ugly look at his partner, tapped twice on the bar, obviously reining himself in. After a minute more, still righting himself, he picked up a glass from the gutter and spun it. Finally he whirled on Randy. "So I'm asking you again, tell me what you did last night?"

"I told you. We ate and then went to a show."

"And you were there until what time?" Cuneo pressed.

"Where?"

Suddenly Cuneo grabbed a glass from the bar's gutter and flung it at the bottles behind the bar, where everything exploded in a spray of glass and noise. "You want to fuck around, you fucking queen? You want to fuck around with me? I'll show you fuck around!"

But Russell was up, next to Cuneo, ready to restrain him if he took it any further.

Terry had ducked, then backed away, and now he'd come back forward, his hands shaking on the bar. "Really, inspectors, really. We didn't do anything. We didn't do anything."

For a long dead moment, there was nothing but the sound of labored breathing in the bar. Then Russell leaned over and punched a finger into Clint Terry's chest. "This isn't close to over," he said. "Don't leave town. Stay where we can find you." He turned to Cuneo. "Let's get out of here before somebody gets hurt."

The inspectors killed an hour at the building housing the Tenderloin Task Force, talking to the Patrol Special liaison to see if any information had surfaced on the beat or with any of the regular patrol cops during the day. Nothing.

Then, calmed slightly and primed to finally get a word with John Holiday, they came back, yet again, to the Ark. It was full dark outside and the place had six paying customers. Terry and Wills were gone and a man fitting the description of Holiday was behind the bar. Before they'd even sat, he had napkins down in front of them.

"Good evening, inspectors," he said. They hadn't even started and he was ahead of them. "What're you drinking?"

"We're not," Cuneo said. He put his badge on the bar and sat on his stool. "We'd like you to answer a couple of questions."

"Sure," he said, then smiled. "Give me just a minute, though, would you?" He walked down the bar, had a word with a customer and pulled a bottle of beer out of the refrigerator. After he'd opened and poured it, he was back in front of the inspectors. "It's bad luck in the bar business to let your customers get thirsty." Another smile. "You sure you don't want anything? It's on me."

Cuneo had gotten himself seated. The ringers of both hands were already tattooing the bar. "Enjoying yourself, aren't you?"

A nod. "Every minute, inspector. Life's short enough and this isn't dress rehearsal. Now what did you say I could do for you fellows?"

"You can answer some questions," Russell said. "Like where were you last Thursday night?"

Holiday clucked as though he were sorely disappointed. "Oh, that kind of question. This is about a crime, isn't it?"

"You know what it's about," Cuneo snapped.

"Actually, I'm not sure," Holiday said. "I was working here last night when Matt Creed got shot, so it's not for that. But if it's about any crime at all, I'm sorry, but I can't help you."

"Last Thursday night," Russell said again.

"Darn," Holiday said. "It's sad, too, because I know the answer to that one and I think you'd like it. But my lawyer told me he'd kill me if I answered questions from you guys about any crimes without calling him first."

"So you talked to your lawyer?" Russell said. "Why'd you do that?"

Holiday had his smile stuck in place. "We're close friends," he said. "We talk all the time. He's a great guy, really. Dismas Hardy. You know him?"

"And he told you not to talk to us?" Cuneo asked. "Why was that?"

"I had some legal troubles a while ago. He just found it a better policy. Your lawyer's not there, some policemen take advantage. You wouldn't believe."

"So call him," Cuneo said. "Tell him to come down."

"I would, but it's Date Night. He and his wife, they go out every Wednesday. He says it's the secret to his happy marriage. It wouldn't do any good, anyway-if he came down-he wouldn't let me talk to you. He's really strict about it."

"How much money did you lose at Silverman's?" Cuneo asked.

Holiday sighed. "Can't say. Question. Oops, look at that. Another customer with an empty glass. Back in a New York minute. Don't go away."

Holiday went down the bar again, took two drink orders. As he was pouring the second, the inspectors filed past him on their way out.

"Nice talking to you!" he called after them. "Have a nice night!"

John Lescroart

Hardy 08 – First Law, The

13

Date Night might have been the key to the Hardys' 'marriage, but they weren't having a happy one.

It had started, naturally, with another stop at the hospital. Hardy hadn't wanted to go again-it would be his third visit there today-but Frannie insisted that she wanted to see David. Before she'd seen the damage, she had some sense that in some way she could help. Make him more comfortable, maybe bring him cookies tomorrow. Something.

She'd heard the word "unconscious," of course, but the concept and reality of deep coma hadn't yet struck home. She confessed this forty minutes later to her husband, before she'd even gotten her glass of wine, while she was silently crying in their back corner booth at Fior d'Italia. "I couldn't even see him, really. I've never seen anybody so bandaged. His whole face…" Her eyes pleaded with him, as though somehow hoping he could make any part of it better.

Hardy knew that she was trying to find a place to order her impressions, but they'd assaulted her too violently for that. He put his hand over hers on the table. She just needed to talk. "It didn't even happen to me and I feel so violated," she said. "I don't know how this kind of thing can even happen."

"That's almost exactly what Gina said."

"And poor Gina. And after the whole wedding…" She stopped while the sensitive waiter, delivering their drinks, averted his own eyes from her. Hardy had ordered Pellegrino. The waiter took their meager orders-they were splitting the antipasto and then a plate of carbonara. Sensing that it wasn't the night either for a sales pitch on the special, or for glib, he retreated.

"No appetite," Hardy said. "Except for maybe killing whoever did that to David."

"You think that would help?"

"I don't see how it could hurt." Hardy wasn't speaking ironically. He had no humor left in him. With his jaw set, staring fixedly ahead, he slowly turned his glass of water in the circle of its condensation. "Sons of bitches," he said. "If they think this is going to soften me up, they're making the biggest mistake of their lives."

"Who is? I thought nobody knew anything about who did this."

"Nobody does."

"So who's trying to soften you up?" Clearly, he'd let slip something he'd have preferred to hold close. His mouth twisted in a slight grimace. Frannie knew his looks, and in his rage he was very close to losing control. "Dismas?"

He picked up his glass and drank it all off. "I don't even know how to find out."

"Find out what?"

"How to prove it." He hung his head in disgust. "I should just go shake their tree."

"That is definitely not a good idea. If they did this to David.. ."

"And of course that's what they're counting on. Everybody's scared and nobody does anything."

She leaned in toward him. "Do you really think you know who did this?"

"I've got some idea. I might be wrong, but I bet I'm not."

"Well, then. Tell the police. I know they'll look. They know you."

"Uh-uh. You and I may remember me as the cop I once was, or the hard-hitting prosecutor I became, but that's all ancient history. Now I'm a defense attorney. I'm not on their side anymore…"

"There's no side. Whoever beat up David…"

But he was shaking his head. "According to the cops' best guess, whoever beat up David is probably either a bunch of kids or a well-coordinated band of random muggers, neither of whom stole anything. Do either of those theories make even the tiniest bit of sense to you?"

"No."

"Which leaves what?"

"Somebody with a reason."

"Exactly. Somebody who stands to lose thirty million dollars if David takes him to court, for example."

"The man in your lawsuit, what's his name?"

"Wade Panos. Good guy. Private cop. Pillar of the community."

"He's not beating people up, Dismas. That doesn't make any sense, either."

"He doesn't have to do it himself, Frannie. He's got people."

"So we're back to where we were. Tell the police."

Hardy calmed himself with a deep breath. "No, now we're back to where we were, I'm a defense attorney."

"What does that mean?"

"It means you, Susie Citizen, can have something bad happen and you go to the cops and give them some reasons why your suspects might have done it and they'll listen to you with something like an open mind. Whereas, I, defense cretin that I am, I say something and first it's got to make it through the prism of doubt. And especially when I'm accusing somebody who's facing me in court. You, knowing me as the caring human being that I am, possibly can't see that in reality every word out of my mouth is a self-serving lie and every act of kindness is a cynical manipulation."

"I think you're exaggerating."

"Not by much."

"Abe doesn't see you that way."

"Maybe not all the time, but you'll recall we've had our bad days. And even with Abe, it's always been over this same issue, this inherent lack of credibility. When I walk in the door, first it's what's my agenda? What am I really doing? The idea that I've got something to give them for free that might help in some way just never occurs to them, and they wouldn't believe it if it did. And besides, Abe's not really a cop anymore."

She frowned at that characterization. "I bet he'd help you with this if you asked."

"It's funny you should say that, because just this afternoon I did, and he didn't."

The frown grew deeper. "What did you say, exactly? Maybe he didn't realize it was personal."

Hardy raised his shoulders an inch. "He knew it was David. That's close enough. He knows the lawsuit is my case now. He's even the one who got me really considering Panos."

"Well, that's helping you."

"Okay, as far as that goes. But he's not intervening with any other cops, I'll tell you that. It was loud and clear. Not his job."

Frannie was swirling her own glass. "So who's investigating what happened to David? Have you talked to him?"

Surprised, Hardy sat back in his chair for a moment. Sometimes the obvious solutions could be the most elusive. Everything he'd told Frannie about the police prejudice against defense attorneys was absolutely true, but just that morning he'd actually encountered a great deal of cooperation from Hector Blanca. Maybe the General Work inspector would be the exception that proved the rule.

In their conversation back then, Hardy hadn't even mentioned Panos in the Freeman context because it had been the barest wild notion on his part, with nothing to support it. But since then he'd learned about Matt Creed and his undeniable connection to the Patrol Special. It wasn't much, but if Blanca in fact wanted to find David's assailants-not a sure bet by any means-Hardy thought that with suitable up-front disclaimers, he might get him to listen.

"What?" Frannie asked. "What are you thinking?"

"Just that sometimes you're a genius. You're right. Freeman's guy-his name's Blanca-he might look."

"Why wouldn't he, Dismas? It's his job, isn't it?"

"Yep," Hardy said. "Sure is. And guess what? It's still his job, whether he does it or not."

"What does that mean?"

"Well, it means he's got a guy beating his neighbor up, let's say, or there's a fight in a bar. Both cases, and most of his other cases, he's got a victim and a suspect who's got a motive. With an apparently random mugging case like Freeman, and leaving me and my ideas out of it, the odds are good to great that they'll never, no matter what, get to base one about who actually did it, so every minute Blanca spends looking is potentially a pure waste of his time."

Frannie stared disconsolately at the tablecloth between them. "And even if they find him, it doesn't help David, does it?"

At the truth of that, the futility of the entire discussion, Hardy blew out heavily.

The waiter returned with their plates to a silent table. Picking up the mood, he said nothing as he checked the basket of bread and placed the antipasto platter between them-olives, red and yellow roasted peppers, anchovies, salami, caponata. The restaurant was one of their favorite places and the antipasto a long-standing traditional beginning to their meals here, but neither Hardy nor Frannie reached for a bite. After a minute or so, Frannie sighed and took a tiny sip of her wine. "It seems a shame to come to a great place like this and not want to eat. Should we just pack it up and go home?"

But they didn't get to go straight home.

They'd found a parking place three blocks straight up the hill, in a dark stretch of Union Street above Grant. The wind was cutting into them, even huddled together, and they leaned into it as they walked. Neither really looked up or paid much attention until they came up near their space.

Hardy drove a five-year-old Honda on which he had long ago disconnected the alarm, since alarms only went off by mistake, anyway, never to alert you of anything.

But this time it might have been worth having.

The front windshield had been completely and thoroughly smashed. There were four or five obvious impact points-two of them had pierced the safety glass. The rest of the window was a network of web-like fissures-white lines in the distant dim light from Washington Square down the street.

"Oh, God!" Frannie said, her hand over her mouth.

Hardy didn't hear her. He was caught up in his own reaction, a veritable flash flood of unleashed obscenity. Spinning all the way round in frustration and anger, he whirled again and threw a vicious backhand fist up against the windshield, spraying more glass inside the car and onto the street. Another spasm of swearing overtook him as he was cupping his bleeding hand against himself, and again he lashed out at the windshield. The immediate anger spent now, he leaned heavily with his one good hand on the car's hood, ragged and desperate gasps punctuated by staccato exhalations.

Frannie had found that she'd backed herself against a building. Shivering in her heavy coat, she couldn't have said whether it was the biting wind or the chill of fear. Her husband's reaction struck her as more upsetting and in some ways almost worse than the vandalism itself, the violence and obscenity so unlike him. Under normal circumstances, something like this-a car window smashed- would make Dismas mad, of course; he'd be scathing in his wrath for a while, and probably funny about it. But that was nothing like this, nothing close to how she'd just seen him. Whatever this was, it had rocked Dismas to his core.

Coming forward tentatively, she reached out and touched the windshield briefly-it crinkled almost like cellophane as some glass chipped off onto the dashboard inside. Involuntarily, she backed away a step, another one. "Dismas, what is this?"

His face was as grim as his words. "This," he said, "is a warning."

"Against what?"

"Me. The lawsuit."

She didn't know what to say to that. He was obviously reeling from David. Of course that would occur to him, but she didn't think there was any way he could be certain. But this was no time to argue, or even discuss. He was too wrought up and, obviously, in pain. Moving close next to him, she put a hand on his back. "Is your hand all right?"

It was Frannie who took control, getting the passenger door for her husband, helping him inside. Eventually, they were both inside the car against the wind. They turned on the engine for the eventual heat to kick in. Now her husband sat beside her, unspeaking, cradling his injured left hand. She finally ventured a suggestion. "We ought to call the police."

It didn't call for a reply, and none came. Frannie got out the cell and reported their problem and location, then called her brother at home to ask if he'd like to come and get them. All the while, Hardy sat ramrod straight, well back in the passenger's seat. He stared straight ahead through the kaleidoscope of broken glass.

Since they were patrolling in North Beach anyway, the squad car got there in under ten minutes. By the time Hardy saw the red-and-blue lights turn up at the corner, he felt he could face another human, talk with some semblance of reason. He and Frannie opened their doors and were standing out in the street as the two uniformed officers-Reyas and Simms from their name tags- He turned and watched them walk away.

It was obvious enough what had happened, and the officers took their statements with professionalism and even sympathy. While Simms went back to his car to call the towing service, Reyas began walking around the car with his flashlight. He hadn't gotten very far when he stopped and leaned over for a closer look at the hood. "This looks like blood here," he said.

"It is," Hardy said. "It's mine. I lost my temper and popped the windshield." He held up his hand. "Not my finest hour," he added, "or my smartest."

Reyas nodded, shifted his attention to Frannie. "Mrs. Hardy," he asked, "you two haven't been fighting, have you?"

The question surprised her and instinctively she threw a look at Hardy before coming back to Reyas. "No, sir. We were just coming back from dinner, as we said. At Fior d'Italia."

He appeared to be considering something. Coming back around the front of the car again, he sprayed his beam over them both. "Mrs. Hardy," he said. "Would you mind accompanying me for a minute over to the squad car?"

Again, she looked at Hardy, and though not happy about this development, he nodded once. "It's okay."

He turned and watched them walk away. Hardy knew what was happening here. Officer Reyas wanted to get Frannie alone so she could answer a question or two without interference or coercion from her husband. He also wanted some better light-the squad car was parked directly under a streetlamp-where he could observe her more closely to see if she had any visible bruises. If it seemed that the broken windshield was really part of a violent domestic disturbance, Hardy knew they'd handcuff him and take him downtown. As well they should, he thought.

But they wouldn't find anything to indicate that.

His hand was throbbing now. Looking down, trying to make it into a fist, he realized that he might have broken a bone in his little finger. The blood had mostly dried by now, but even with the cold, the swelling was substantial. The pain and this inconvenience to him and to Frannie struck him as being a two-pronged and just sentence for having been such an idiot.

A fierce and quite deadly calm settled upon him. He knew without any doubt what this had been here tonight. It was part of David and perhaps part of Creed. His earlier explosion was the wrong use for his really unprecedented anger. The calm would serve better.

He looked again across the street. Reyas and Simms were both talking to Frannie and fortunately, Hardy thought, his fiery, redheaded wife was keeping her own famous temper in check. After perhaps three minutes, both policemen escorted her back to where he waited. Frannie had evidently explained to them that Moses was on his way to pick them up.

But they weren't done yet. Simms had a notepad out. "Mr. Hardy. Your wife tells us you've got some suspicion of who might have done this?"

Hardy struggled for a genial tone. "Some," he said. "I'm suing somebody. If I win, and I will, they're out of business."

"You want to give us a name?"

"I could, but it wouldn't do you any good. He wouldn't have done this himself. He'd have sent one of his men." He drew a breath to maintain his control. "And there won't be any evidence here. They wouldn't have touched anything. The windshield looks like your traditional blunt object." He indicated the car. "You can see where they hit it."

"Yes, sir," Simms said. "But if you want us to include anything specific in our report, now is the time. As you say, there's a chance we won't get anywhere with an actual investigation on this incident, but it would be good to have a name if something else happens later. You call us and say, 'This is the second time,' and somebody's going to wonder why you didn't report the first one."

"What do you mean, if something else happens?" Frannie asked.

The two cops looked at each other. Surely this was clear enough. But Hardy saved them from having to answer. "Nothing's going to happen," he told his wife. "They see they're not scaring me off and they'll stop trying."

"Like they did with David?" she asked with some asperity.

"Who's David?" Reyas asked.

Hardy sighed. "My partner in this lawsuit. David Freeman. He got beaten up last night. He's still hospitalized."

"In a coma," Frannie added. "In critical condition."

Again, Reyas and Simms consulted silently. Finally, Simms tapped his notepad. "Maybe you better give us a name," he said.

Moses McGuire arrived a little after the tow truck, and after the Hardys' car was on its way, he packed the two of them into the cab of his pickup. It hadn't been a cheerful ride back from North Beach, but Moses had talked them into stopping by his bar to eat their dinner and calm down. Now he'd plied his sister with wine and Hardy with some first aid for his hand and then a double martini. Most of the immediate tension had passed. They were eating their Fior d'Italia antipasto at one of the coffee tables at the back of the Little Shamrock.

McGuire tipped up the last of his scotch. "I've got an idea," he said.

"Ideas are good," Hardy said. "I'd take an idea."

"Paul!" McGuire called to the bartender and held up his empty glass, pointing at it. Then, back to Hardy, "Where does Panos live?"

"Uh-uh." Frannie shook her head. "Bad idea."

"No, really," Moses said.

"No really yourself. You don't escalate things."

"You don't? Why not? I think it's a fine idea. Drop by his place, pop a window or two, have a little fun."

Hardy thoughtfully chewed an olive. "It does have a quaint sort of in-your-face appeal."

McGuire was getting into it. "Especially if I just do it and don't even tell you." He smiled at his sister.

She put down her wineglass. Her face had gone hard. "Don't even think about it. I mean it, Moses."

She turned to her husband for support, but he just shrugged. "I can't control him, Fran. He's a big boy."

"Boy is the key word." Then, to her brother, "You just don't do this."

McGuire got his new drink. Service tended to be good for him at the Shamrock. But he hadn't lost the thread. "So what do you recommend?"

The question seemed to fluster her. "I don't recommend anything. The police said they were going to look into it."

McGuire barked a deep and scathing laugh. "And then, when they find nothing, what?"

"Maybe they'll find something," Frannie said.

"She's right," Hardy said. He'd had enough discord for one night. Moses and Frannie were threatening to really go at it, and he thought he'd try to slow them down. "Maybe they will, Mose. It could happen."

A couple of scotches now into the wind, McGuire fastened a cold eye on Hardy. "Traitor. And how, pray, is it going to happen? One of Panos's guys leave a card in the gutter?" He took in both of them. "Get real, guys. You've already told me that they don't have anything on who beat up your Mr. Freeman, and he's a moderately important person. You think they're even going to look with your stupid car? This, my naive friends, is not going to happen."

"My car's not stupid," Hardy replied. "In fact, now that I think of it, it's smarter than some of my clients."

"Go ahead, Diz. Make a joke of it. I don't think it's funny." McGuire put a spoonful of caponata on some focaccia and stuffed it into his mouth. "These guys really piss me off."

"I intuited that." Hardy was working on his newfound calm. He put his injured hand on Frannie's knee, shot her his craggy grin. "We're a little angry ourselves, tell the truth."

"But you don't go breaking his windows," she said. "Then you're just like he is."

"Sorry, li'l sis, but no you're not." Before Vietnam had killed the scholar he'd been as a young man, McGuire had earned a doctorate in philosophy at Berkeley. "There's one tiny little difference."

"No. There's no difference. And don't 'li'l sis' me!"

"All right, strike the 'li'l sis,' but don't give me that 'no difference' bullshit."

Hardy's efforts to defuse the sibling fireworks weren't working. The area at the back of the Shamrock was small enough to begin with-maybe ten feet across and twelve deep-and McGuire's voice reverberated off the close walls, drowning even the jukebox.

"There's a fucking huge difference. And you know what it is? They started it! How 'bout that for a concept?" He pointed at his sister, his brow knit, his eyes dark. "They did it to you first. You don't think that makes a fundamental difference, you're dead fucking wrong."

"Easy, Mose," Hardy said. "We're just talking, okay?"

McGuire whirled on him. "What do you think that was? You see anybody throwing a punch here? I don't think so. But don't tell me we're just like them, 'cause that's just plain bullshit. We're nothing like them."

But Frannie was evidently much more accustomed to McGuire's outbursts than even Hardy was, and he'd seen a lot of them. She got up and sat down next to her brother, put an arm around him. "And people wonder where I got so feisty," she said. She kissed him on the cheek. "Okay, you're nothing like them. Just promise me you won't go shoot out anybody's windows."

Not completely mollified, McGuire came forward heavily. He grabbed for his scotch, picked it up, then put it back down and sat back. After another moment, he leaned over and kissed his sister. "I wasn't going to shoot them," he said. Smiled. The fight was over. "I was thinking maybe a slingshot," he said.

14

The call came into homicide at 4:38 a.m. As soon as he heard the tentative identifications, Paul Thieu thought he knew what he had, but for his own reasons, not the least of which was pride in his work, he proceeded in his own ordered, methodical fashion. He had to get to the scene and make his own determination first.

Gerson wouldn't thank him for a call at this time of the morning anyway. If the crime scene was anything like what it promised to be from the dispatch-double homicide or possibly homicide with suicide-the CSI team wouldn't even have gotten a good jump by the time it was reasonable to call the lieutenant.

In the cold, dark morning, Thieu left the Hall of Justice through the front doors. A couple of black-and-whites were parked on Bryant just down the steps-the dim light of cigarettes visible in the front one. Thieu didn't want to waste even the few minutes it would take to walk to the back lot and get his assigned Ford Taurus. He walked up to the driver's window and pressed his badge up against it. The window came down in a fog of smoke and coffee. "Sorry to interrupt your coffee break, officers, but I've got a very hot homicide eight blocks away and I'd like to be there ten minutes ago." He slapped the roof of the car. "How fast can you make this thing go?"

Sirens screaming all the way-Thieu saw no reason why commandeering a squad car couldn't include an element of fun-they dropped him at his address in under five minutes. Two other squad cars were already parked in the street, but there was no sign yet of the coroner's van or any of the CSI people.

The building had no aspirations to stand out among the other worn and tawdry four-story structures on the block. With its common entrance, yellowing paint and graffiti in a hundred hands and colors, the apartment house squatted all but anonymously amid its identical neighbors, each more depressing than the next. Inside, Thieu knew, the apartments would also be more similar than not, every one squalid. Stained ancient mattresses with no coverings, broken furniture without upholstery, bare walls and sagging wallpaper hanging in sheets no one ever thought or cared to remove. In every kitchen, dirty dishes would lie piled in the sinks and on every flat surface, the stoves would be buried in grease and carbon, the refrigerators nearly living with mold. The stench of the rooms-of tobacco, urine, alcohol, vomit, decay and musk-would, Thieu supposed, never come out.

When homicides are reported, the sergeant from the local precinct is supposed to come out and maintain security at the sight until an inspector from the homicide detail arrives. In this case, things were working as they should and Sergeant R. Penrose, from his name tag, out of the Tenderloin Task Force was standing, talking to another uniformed patrolman at the building's entrance. Out of the wind, inside the open doorway.

Thieu introduced himself and noted the look of relief on Penrose's face-the scene wasn't his direct responsibility anymore. Thieu pegged him at about his own age, mid-thirties, but a kind of rigid nervousness made him seem younger. "This is Officer Lundgren," he said. Although Thieu was anxious to get inside, he knew it was smarter to get everything from the beginning. "He and his partner out in the car there, they got the original complaint."

In this part of town, complaints to the police were decidedly unusual, so this in itself piqued Thieu's interest. "Who complained about what?" he asked.

"The landlady." Lundgren pointed into the half-shadow behind him where a small Asian woman, dressed now in a heavy overcoat, hovered by the stairway. "Mrs. Chu. Her English isn't so good, but evidently she was trying to sleep and-"

"Excuse me, Officer," Thieu said, stopping him. He turned to Sergeant Penrose. "Maybe I will see if I can just talk to her for a minute, please."

Penrose nodded. If he was surprised, he didn't show it. He motioned to Mrs. Chu to come forward. Thieu was not a tall man, but Mrs. Chu didn't reach his shoulders. She looked to be about sixty years old, and as she emerged from the shadows, Thieu took in her threadbare coat, the thin, short gray hair, a pair of red Converse tennis shoes. She, too, like Penrose, exuded wariness.

That was it, Thieu was thinking. Everybody here looks asleep, Sergeant.

He addressed her in Mandarin, in which he was fluent, and at the familiar sounds, she relaxed slightly. She told him that she'd been watching television (not in fact trying to sleep as Officer Lundgren had volunteered), trying to drown out the loud radio from directly below her. Usually the tenants down there were quiet and polite, but tonight it seemed they were partying. They came in a little after midnight-yes, she thought, several people, at least three but maybe more-and first thing had turned on the radio, very loud. She couldn't hear her television over the blaring radio. But noise was a fact of life in the building, and people tended not to get involved. (Thieu knew that interrupting "parties," that is, drug use or sex or both, was a typical cause of violence in the Tenderloin.) Besides, one of the men downstairs was very big and she did not want him to become mad at her, so she put it off a long time. But eventually, about an hour ago, she needed to sleep and so came down and knocked.

But no one answered, although the radio kept on and on. Finally, she called the police and they…

Thieu thanked Mrs. Chu and turned back to Sergeant Penrose. "I'd better go in. I expect the coroner and crime scene investigation unit any time. I'm afraid you're not going to be getting much sleep, Sergeant. Sorry."

"I think it's going to be a while anyway," Penrose said. "Every time I close my eyes, I…" He stopped, motioned toward the closed door. Again, that spooked quality. He reached out and touched Thieu on the arm, a dramatic gesture under any circumstances, and not at all coplike. "Prepare yourself," he said. "It's bad."

Dawn ambushed him. One minute Thieu was opening the door to the apartment, flipping on the light against the blackness outside, thinking not only that it wasn't bad, it was incredibly well-kept-the flowers, the polished surfaces, a sense of order and cleanliness, to say nothing of the matching furniture, high-end magazines, framed prints on the faux-painted terracotta walls. A minute later, he stood squinting up at blue sky through the back window that opened on an alley. In three plus hours, he hadn't grown appreciably inured to the sight of the carnage behind him in the bedroom.

He'd been wrong about the CSI team hardly getting a jump before it was time to call Gerson. They were getting close to finished. Already they wanted to remove the bodies, but much as it sickened him to refuse, that's exactly what he did. After a long while working here, someone had opened both the back windows and the front door and the temperature in the apartment now barely made it into the forties, although it felt like one hundred degrees to Thieu.

He knew it was time to call Gerson, but he checked his watch anyway and made sure. Turning around, he resolved to go outside for a moment-he wanted to get out of this room-and patch into the detail from one of the squad cars, or maybe the coroner's van. He stepped carefully to avoid the blood, tried again without much success to avert his eyes from the horrific tableau.

But before he'd made it out of the room, Lennard Faro stopped him. Faro was the crime scene specialist. Thin and intense, he had recently begun sporting a soul patch under his lip which he called his bug. Both of his ears were pierced, the right one twice. He wasn't yet thirty years old, yet in his profession believed that he had seen everything. Even the almost unfathomably grisly scene here today failed to elicit any response, and Thieu found himself wondering if it was all simply a defense. He knew that he, himself, came across as very professional, and knew the reality behind that guise. Maybe Faro was simply better at it than he was-but even if it was your job, Thieu didn't think most humans could handle the butchery they had here without reacting viscerally.

But Faro seemed to be holding up. Certainly better than Thieu was. He and Thieu had both spent the previous night crawling around the driveway where Matt Creed had been shot, so when the specialist had first arrived, he greeted Thieu with the old, "We've got to stop meeting like this." But that was before he'd seen the bodies.

Now, having seen them, his voice held a suitable gravity, but no real sign of personal revulsion. Suddenly Thieu realized what it was-Lennard Faro wasn't spooked. And it was hard not to be. "So we got a refrigerator here, Paul. You still wanna leave 'em where they be?"

"I do," Thieu said. "I'm going out to call Gerson on it right now. Couple more hours isn't going to hurt them, I don't suppose."

Faro cast an unfeeling eye back at the room. "No. They'll keep. But the team's going to want to wrap it up, and-" Seeing Thieu's expression-anger and resolve-he stopped. "I'm just saying it's two nights in a row now. People get tired they don't do as good. We got the place sealed off. We come back early, say. Or bring out the day team to tag and bag. What do you say?"

Thieu knew that he could appear peremptory. He forced a smile, pointed to the front door. "Let's go out a minute, get some air, okay?" By the time they had reached the front door, finally out of sight of the bedroom, Thieu found he could control himself much more easily.

Turning back to Faro, he spoke with an easy assurance, even sympathy. "I hear what you're saying, Len, but I think in this case, it'd be helpful if your team stayed around just awhile longer, at least till the lieutenant's here to let you go."

"You think Gerson's gonna be coming down here?" Faro, clearly, didn't envision that possibility. "That would be a first, wouldn't it?"

Thieu didn't comment on that. "What I think is that whether or not he comes down himself, it's very likely he's going to assign this case to Cuneo and Russell, which is what he did with Creed last night." Faro's hand went to his bug as he processed this. "I'd bet you anything that this one's part of that, which is part of Silverman. So if you don't mind, I think it'd be helpful if you guys were around to answer questions when the new guys get here. Probably in fifteen minutes or less. Plus," he added, "they need to see it."

Faro's face suddenly went slack. "Nobody needs to see that," he said.

Thieu felt a wash of something like relief. He decided to speak. "You know, Len, I'm glad to hear you say that. I thought it rolled right off you."

Faro pulled at his bug, shook his head slowly side to side. "Nope," he said.

When Thieu reached Gerson on the phone, the lieutenant as expected wasn't enthusiastic about coming down and checking out the murder scene himself, but he wasted no time at all with his administrative duties. Upon learning that the victims were Clint Terry and Randy Wills, the two chief suspects in both the Creed and Silverman homicides, he told Thieu-again, if he didn't mind and with other suitable disclaimers-that it sounded like efficiency would be better served if Cuneo and Russell were assigned to this homicide as well as the other two. He told Thieu that the two inspectors were running a little late getting into the office this morning since they were stopping at the lab for some ballistics results before reporting in. But Gerson would call dispatch and send them directly to the crime scene just as soon as he got off the phone with Thieu.

Which he did shortly, leaving Thieu and Faro standing out in the street by the coroner's van. But when Thieu started explaining Gerson's decision about Cuneo and Russell to Faro, the crime scene specialist stopped him before he'd gotten very far. "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You want to run that by me again? You're telling me those guys in there, they were suspects in the Creed thing?"

Thieu nodded. "Yeah, and them plus a third guy named Holiday for Silverman."

Faro pulled at his bug. "So the theory is what?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you just told Gerson this homicide was related to Creed and Silverman, so he's sending over Russell and Cuneo, right?"

"Right."

"So what's the relation?"

"The relation is that they're suspects in both those murders."

But Faro was shaking his head. "They killed Silverman. Then they killed Creed. Now they're both dead. And this guy Holiday, he's the only one left?"

"Yeah, looks like. Which makes him…" Thieu cocked his head. "What's the problem, Len?"

Faro took a long beat deciding what he'd say. Finally, he said, "This might be a hell of a coincidence, okay, and we're trained to hate and mistrust them, but they happen. My take is that this isn't any of that-Silverman and Creed, I mean. It's completely unrelated."

"It can't be. These are the same guys."

"Be that as it may, I've seen a half a dozen of these."

"Like this? Not like this." Thieu motioned toward the apartment. "Like that?"

Faro's head bobbed down, then up. "Spittin' image, or close enough. This is a pickup gone bad. I'd bet my badge on it. Which might close Silverman and even Creed, okay, except maybe for this other guy, Holiday, but these stiffs here, this case-they ought to stay with you."

"With me? In what way with me?"

"Your case. They've got nothing to do with Cuneo and Russell's other work."

Thieu rubbed his hands together against the cold. "They do if.. ."

"Nope. Not unless you think Holiday did this, which I'm betting he didn't. You're thinking he did?"

"I didn't know. I just assumed he must be in it somehow. He fits."

"A falling out among thieves, something like that?"

"Something like."

Suddenly Faro shivered. "Jesus, it's cold. I'm going to go tell the team we're hanging fire another hour or so. Send 'em out for coffee." He fished in his pockets, brought out his keys, pointed. "That's my car over there, the brown one." He flipped the keys to Thieu. "Get the heat going, would you? Have a seat. I'll be right back."

Thieu was still pondering the pickup gone bad theory when Faro opened the door and slid into the passenger seat. "So where were we?"

"This should stay my case."

"That's it. And hey, no offense to Dan and Lincoln, nothing personal. It's just that their theory don't hold."

Thieu crossed his arms, hugging himself. It hadn't warmed up much. "So what's yours?"

"What happened? Easy. The two vies in there went out to party last night and found some guy who wanted to play, so they brought him back here. You see some of that powder on the bureau? Ten to one it's coke, maybe heroin or crank, one of those. So they're getting a lot high and a little kinky, maybe one of 'em's already naked-I'm thinkin' the big guy…"

"That's Terry. Why him first?"

"We'll get to that. But see if this don't play. So Terry's tied up in the chair just like he is now, maybe they're playin' a little with him and the two other guys-well, the guy they picked up and the one he thinks is the girl…"

"Wills."

"Yeah, whatever, so those two start to get it on. Then the pickup guy reaches down and-whoops!-gets a handful of surprise."

"Wills isn't a woman."

"He sure isn't. Not even a little. So the perp goes ballistic-the coroner will tell us exactly what he did next, but my guess is he strangled Wills, maybe knocked him around a little first. But he's still flying on whatever drug they're doing and completely out of his mind now with being fooled. His masculinity, if you want to call it that, is all fucked up. Except he really knew all along. Plus he's just killed Wills with Terry tied up sitting there watching him. What's he gonna do? He's in a rage and completely freaked. He's got to get out of there, but first there's business. So maybe he's gone to the bathroom since he's been there, seen the straight razor Wills shaved his whole body with. He goes back in there…"

"I think I get it from there," Thieu said. He might have been a hard-boiled six-year veteran inspector of homicide, but he was shaking now not with the cold, but with the recitation. He didn't think he could bear to listen to Faro's certain-to-be-vivid clinical description of how the throats of both of them had been slit, or the individual steps as Randy Wills was undressed, trussed, and finally castrated.

Faro needed a moment to extract himself from his imagination. At last, he turned to Thieu. "Anyway, my point is that whatever happened here, this was separate. Nothing to do with Creed or Silverman or anything else. This was its own thing and the case ought to belong to you if you want it."

*****

John Holiday loved Clint Terry-he really did-but he was going to have to fire the irresponsible son of a bitch. He was thinking this as he pulled the chairs off the tables that he'd put on them when he'd closed the place last night at two o'clock. Why did he bother? He set the last chair in its place and checked his watch. Noon. He'd closed the place up a mere ten hours ago, and thank God he'd come by just on a random check to find the door closed and nobody behind the bar. This was his only source of income and it had to be open for him to actually make some money, stay solvent and not be forced to sell cheap.

He still believed he could get a lucky streak going, maybe at poker. Lucky streaks weren't out of the question. Look at him and Michelle. With just a few solid months and a bit of luck, he could make the Ark presentable, and then maybe sell at a profit, go back into something more legitimate.

What was the matter with people? he wondered. A gay ex-convict like Clint with a questionable reputation and no real skills, where was he going to get another job as good as this one? With a laid-back boss, flexible hours, decent pay. What, if anything, was he thinking as he undoubtedly slept in this morning, making it two days in a row, knowing he was blowing the job off? All Holiday asked, essentially, was that the big galoot show up, and especially- especially!-when Holiday had pulled the night shift the day before. But first yesterday, then today. Enough was enough.

He was going to have to do it. That was all there was to it.

Fortunately, when he'd closed last night, he'd prepped the back bar and cleaned up every bit of the glass and mess-good guy and great employer that he was-so that Clint could have it easy when he opened. Now, at least, he was close to ready, albeit two hours late, as he unlocked the front door and flicked on the open sign.

As sometimes happened, a man was waiting just outside and pushed open the door while Holiday went around the bar. The man, a wiry Asian of some kind, was seated by the time the two men were face to face, a cocktail napkin down on the bar between them. "Morning," Holiday said. "What can I get you?"

"How about a beer?"

"Bottled? Draft? We got Sam Adams and Anchor Steam."

"Which one's colder?"

"Anchor," Holiday said, naming the city's own brew. "It's lived here longer so it's had more time to chill. But you sure you want cold today? There's plenty of that outside."

But the play had run out. "Anchor's good," the customer said.

Holiday turned and grabbed a glass from the refrigerator, tipped it up against the Anchor spigot and drew off the pint. Coming back to the bar, he noticed a twenty dollar bill in the gutter, the man's wallet out on the pitted wood. the change.

He put the beer down carefully. "I told the guys who came by yesterday that I wasn't talking to you without my lawyer here. I'm still not. You want me to call him?"

"I'm off duty and I've got the world's simplest question, I promise. Whatever answer you give me, I drink my beer and go home and get some sleep."

For some reason-Clint's absence, or this man's easy manner, or even his own fatigue at having his guard up all the time-Holiday called him on it. "Okay. What the hell? One," he said.

"Where were you last night at midnight?"

Holiday actually laughed out loud. "That's it? That's the one question? We could play this all day. I was here, and by here I mean right here"-he tapped the bar twice- "tending this twenty-two feet of antiquated glulam with dedication and some might even say panache."

"So you had customers? People you knew?"

"Six or eight at least. But I just gave you another question."

"Two actually," Thieu said. He lifted his glass and, closing his eyes, drained half of it. "Great beer," he said. Then, "Thank you."

He picked up his wallet, got off his stool, and walked to the door, where he stopped and turned again. "Keep the change."

*****

The evidence bonanza that was the Terry/Wills apartment was almost enough to overcome the revulsion felt by both Cuneo and Russell when they had first arrived and taken in the appalling scene. Thieu had still been there with them, of course. They didn't know it, but Gerson had overruled his request, based on Faro's theory of the case, that on reflection he should remain the inspector of record. Thieu didn't argue with the lieutenant, but simply hung around until all three inspectors signed off on the release of the bodies to the medical examiner's with a great sense of relief.

Once the overwhelming presence of the corpses was removed, and Thieu had gone, Faro and the other members of the CSI unit began walking the two new inspectors through the masses of evidence they'd acquired and bagged in plastic. Cuneo and Russell were both tightly focused and slightly flushed with the successful results of the ballistics test they had finally shepherded through the crime lab. That test, performed on two remarkably undamaged slugs, had conclusively shown that Sam Silverman and Matt Creed had been shot with the same. 38 caliber weapon.

And now, among other items, they were looking at just such a gun, a Smith amp; Wesson revolver with its serial number filed off, found under a pile of socks in the bureau drawer in the bedroom. Two empty bullet casings remained in the cylinder with four live rounds. Additionally, the same drawer yielded a box of. 38 ammunition minus eight shells, a stack of bills of various denominations-$2440 in all- each one marked with a small red dot in the upper right-hand corner. Wade Panos and Sadie Silverman, both and separately in their respective interviews, had mentioned this habit of Silverman's, red-dotting the bills he'd be depositing.

When they had nearly finished-Faro had already gone home for the day without burdening the new inspectors with his theory of the case-Cuneo had an idea and went to the bedroom closet. The CSI team had already looked inside it and found nothing, then had reclosed the door. Of course, the clothes the two victims had been wearing were already bagged and tagged, but Cuneo had read Thieu's report on the Creed crime scene and had something specific in mind. He wasn't a minute looking before he stopped humming "Bolero" and turned back to the room. "Lincoln, get me another bag, would you? Good-sized."

He came out holding a pair of large shoes. They were nicely made, expensive-looking loafers of light brown braided leather with a tassle. The soles were worn smooth, but there was some gunk-still tacky-stuck where the heel started, a little more around the edge, on the right one. "If this is what I think it is," Cuneo said, "we got this thing wrapped up."

As it turned out, they didn't need the analysis of the garbage effluent. This time the two inspectors of record didn't email the lab and request that someone drive up to the Hall and pick up their new evidence. They had the gun- the probable murder weapon-and, since they hadn't been back to the Hall to return the earlier slugs to the evidence locker, they had possession of them, too. So they had another hamburger lunch at Dago Mary's while the lab fired the gun and compared this new bullet to the earlier rounds.

By one o'clock, they were back uptown talking to Gerson in his office. Ten minutes after that, they appeared in the chambers of Judge Oscar Thomasino, a venerable presence on the bench, who was on his lunch break from the trial over which he was presiding. This was his week as duty judge, which meant he was the person responsible for approving search warrants, and he was already well disposed to both Cuneo and Russell. The DNA evidence that had led to the arrest of the alleged rapist and murderer Shawon Ellerson last week had come from a search conducted by these two inspectors at the suspect's apartment, and Thomasino had signed off on the warrant for that search.

He got up from his desk and the paperwork on it and ushered the two men over to a small seating area by the room's one window. "You boys are having yourselves quite a week," he said.

Russell nodded soberly. It never did to gloat. "We're getting a few breaks, your honor. That's true."

"It's funny how breaks come to the good cops. I've noticed a definite correlation."

"Thank you, your honor."

"This one looks pretty solid," Cuneo added. He handed the warrant across to the judge.

Thomasino looked it over carefully. These may have been good cops, but the decision to violate a citizen's residence by allowing a legal search was never a casual one, and Thomasino took it very seriously indeed. When he'd finished reading, he looked up. "So this man, Holiday, how does he fit exactly? I'm not sure I see it."

Cuneo took point. "We believe he was with the other two men-the victims this morning in the apartment where we found the gun-during the Silverman robbery and murder. Plus, we've confirmed that the same gun was used to kill a security guard two days ago, Matt Creed."

"But these men were not shot? This morning?"

"No, sir. Somebody had cut their throats," Russell said.

"And you think it was this Holiday?"

"Yes, your honor." Cuneo, exuding urgency, came forward in a kind of a crouch. "We didn't get a positive match on the slugs for Silverman and Creed until this morning and based on them, we were planning to arrest Terry and Wills, except they went dead on us."

"But not Holiday? Why not?"

Russell shifted in his seat. "He's a bartender. He was working when Creed got shot, so we think that Creed was just the two of them, Terry and Wills."

"Maybe Holiday didn't even know they were planning on killing him," Cuneo added. "He might have felt they were getting too trigger-happy and were a risk. Which is why Holiday decided he had to kill them."

"But," Russell said, "it's probable he did know about Creed. That they all decided."

"And why would they do that?" Thomasino asked.

Cuneo straightened up, the tag team continuing. "Because Creed had identified all of them as the guys who'd killed Silverman. So they figure he can't testify if he's dead."

Russell jumped back in. "And me and Dan repeating what Creed told us would be hearsay and inadmissible anyway, isn't that right?"

A faint trace of smile tugged at the judge's mouth. "The rules about hearsay have fooled better men than me. But you're saying you had an ID on Holiday? Then why isn't he in jail already?"

"The ID was in the dark at fifty feet, your honor," Russell said. "The DA wouldn't have charged it if that's all it was."

"We needed physical evidence tying him to Silverman," Cuneo added. "And we didn't get any until this morning, when we got plenty."

Thomasino stroked his chin, pulled at his ear, rubbed his neck. Something about all this still bothered him. "I see you've got a lot for these two dead men, although it's a little late now. I'm still not sure I see the connection to Holiday so clearly."

Cuneo had started tapping his thighs in agitation. "Your honor, he killed them both last night. The other dead man, Creed, put Holiday with them both during the Silverman robbery and murder. I'm a hundred percent certain we'll find evidence we can use at his place tying him to four murders. This man needs to be off the street."

"But you need probable cause for a search warrant. You gentlemen know this. And I'm not sure you've got anything yet that rises to that standard."

"Your honor." Russell reached over and touched his partner's arm, stopping the agitation. Playing counterpoint to Cuneo's intensity, he leaned back in his chair, crossed a leg over his knee, "I personally heard Matt Creed positively identify the three men who robbed and killed Mr. Silverman as Clint Terry, Randy Wills and John Holiday." He pointed to the form in Thomasino's hand. "As the affidavit indicates, we found bills with Mr. Silverman's distinctive mark at Wills's and Terry's apartment. We will be searching for similar bills at Mr. Holiday's. We know they were together."

Chewing the inside of his cheek, the judge sat with it for another moment. Finally, he narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. "Inspector Russell, you heard this Mr. Creed's identification with your own ears?"

"Yes, sir."

"Inspector Cuneo? Same question."

"Yes, your honor."

Thomasino nodded. "All right. Perhaps the warrant application just isn't as clear as it needs to be. I want you to handwrite that right here, initial and date it, each of you. I'm calling that good enough for me." He came all the way forward and placed the warrant on the small table between them. The pen's scratch was the only sound in the room.

Holiday called Michelle at her apartment from the Ark. She had a restaurant review for a place on Chestnut Street and they'd been planning to go there together for lunch, but now that wasn't going to happen. He told her that Clint still hadn't shown up and he was going to have to pull a double shift. He'd see her tonight, late, after he got off. He wondered, since the restaurant was near his own duplex, if she'd mind swinging by his place for a clean shirt or two and some underwear. He might be pulling back-to-backs at the bar and he could be with her sooner tonight if she could save him the long walk or bus ride home. He'd lost the last car he'd owned at a poker game, then found he didn't need a car for his normal life, anyway, since he lived all of it within such a relatively small radius. Most days he walked to work-Chestnut to Taylor or Mason, then all the way down to O'Farrell wasn't even two miles and the hills gave him some badly needed exercise.

So after lunch, sometime between 2:00 and 3:00, Michelle found herself climbing the stairs to his flat. He'd lived in the same upper duplex on Casa Street in the Marina for over fifteen years, had bought it with Emma, lived there with her for their three years together. In a fit of fiscal probity during Emma's pregnancy, the young couple had actually bought mortgage insurance and because of that, after her death, the place was now paid off. It still had ghosts for him, evidently, and he spent as little time there as possible, although he had told her that he recognized the necessity of holding on to it. He could never afford to rent a similar, or even a far less desirable, place. It was just something he possessed, like his bar. Part of his life.

There had been three newspapers in the little area at the foot of the stairs, and Michelle was carrying them as she got to the upper landing and noticed that his door was open. She pushed at it gingerly and it gave another few inches. Inside, she heard unmistakable sounds of movement and male voices.

"Hello!" she sang out. "Is anybody home?"

The voices ceased. Footsteps approached. The door opened all the way. A well-dressed, clean-cut black man stood in front of her, scowling. "Can I help you?"

"Is John home?" she asked. "Who are you?"

The man pulled out his wallet and showed her his identification. Another man, this one white, appeared in the hall behind him. "Inspector Lincoln Russell. My partner, Dan Cuneo. We're with homicide."

"Homicide?" She backed away a step. "Is John okay?"

"That would be John Holiday? Yes, ma'am, as far as we know."

"All right, but then what are you doing here?"

"We're searching his apartment." Inspector Russell reached into his coat pocket and produced a piece of paper. "We have a warrant."

The other man came forward. "While we're getting to know each other, can I please see some identification?"

"From me?"

"Yes, ma'am. If you don't mind."

It didn't seem to her that it was a request she could refuse. Flustered, going for her purse, she dropped the newspapers around the welcome mat. Finally, she fished around and brought out her driver's license, which she handed to Russell, since he was nearest to her. He glanced at it, showed it to his partner, then gave it back to her and said, "All right, Ms. Maier, you mind telling us why you're here?"

Michelle was thinking as fast as she could, showing them nothing. "I've been trying to get in touch with John and he's not answering his phone, so I thought I'd come by and leave a message on his door. I'm going away for a couple of days and he always watches my cats." She knew she was blurting and realized at the same time that this might not be a bad thing. "He's really good with cats. He never forgets. Anyway, so when I got here I thought I'd pick up his papers when I saw them all down there, and then the door was open a little, so I… well, you know." She stammered to a halt. "I'm sorry to have interrupted you," she said.

The black inspector turned to his partner, came back to her. "You don't know where Mr. Holiday is?"

"No. That's why I came by, to see if…" She gave them both her most plaintive look. "Is he in trouble?"

Cuneo came forward a step. "You might want to find somebody else for your cats. If he comes by, we'll see he gets the papers."

It was a dismissal. She couldn't believe it, but as long as she stayed cool, they were letting her just go away. "Okay, then." She forced herself to wait another moment, then raised her hand tentatively, as though wondering if it would be appropriate to wave. "Sorry to have bothered you. 'Bye."

"So… what?" Gerson said. The three of them were in his office, sitting around in something like a circle. The door was closed. "You left his copy of the warrant taped to the front door? Inside?"

"Yes, sir."

"I don't want any technical error to screw this up."

"No, sir," Cuneo said. "Neither do we. It was a righteous search, by the book."

"And where was all this? Just lying out?"

He was referring to the three baggies the inspectors had brought in with them-their winning streak growing to truly absurd proportions. In Holiday's bathroom, one of the drawers under the sink didn't appear to be as deep as the counter over it. Upon pulling it out, Russell discovered a battered, old dull red leather pouch stuffed to near bursting with over $3,700 in mixed bills, each one marked with a red dot in the upper right-hand corner. As if that weren't enough, at almost the same instant, Cuneo-in the bedroom-let out a yelp when he opened a cigar box on a shelf in the back corner of the closet. It rattled when he picked it up, and he found that it contained seven rings, five of them women's engagement rings with large diamonds, two of them for men. One of the men's rings was truly distinctive, inset with what looked to the inspectors to be a huge and brilliant star sapphire. Two of the rings, including the sapphire, still had the tiny price tag attached with a small length of thin white string. The price tags also had red dots on them-Silverman's.

Cuneo nodded. "We talked about it on the way in," he said. "If I were more cynical, I wouldn't believe this could have fallen together so perfectly all by itself."

"You are more cynical, Dan," his partner said. He turned to Gerson. "It wasn't just lying out, sir. Holiday had it hidden. Just not well enough."

"Don't get me wrong," Cuneo said. "I'm not complaining. I'll take it. Makes up for all the times nothing works. It's just so weird. I'm tempted to go buy a lottery ticket."

Gerson nodded. "And Thomasino signed off on the search?"

"Yes, sir," Russell said.

"Okay, so what I suggest you do is go back to him right away…"

"He's at trial," Cuneo said.

"Interrupt his honor," Gerson replied. "He won't mind, I promise. Print yourselves out an arrest warrant and show him what his wisdom allowed you to discover. You'll make his day. You have any idea where Mr. Holiday is at the present time?"

"Dan called the Ark, sir, from the phone at his place as soon as we found this stuff. When a male voice answered, we hung up. We figure he can't have a clue we've made this kind of progress. Enough to arrest him. And it's got to be him working there now. His other bartender's dead."

"Good point. All right. So after the judge signs your warrant, you're going down to pick him up? You want some backup?"

Cuneo answered. "We can handle it, sir. He won't give us any trouble."

Gerson considered for a beat. "Okay, but by the book."

"Every time, sir," Russell said, nodding in agreement. "Every time."

"Glitsky. Payroll."

It rankled every time.

"Lieutenant? Barry Gerson again."

"Yes, sir." No emphasis. "What can I do for you?"

"Well, first I wanted to apologize for going so territorial on you the other day. I can't blame you for being interested in Silverman. Your father knew him. Of course you're interested. I was out of line."

"Thank you. What's second?"

The brusqueness of the reply slowed Gerson for a second, but then he recovered. "Second is I thought you'd want to know that Cuneo and Russell have been doing some incredible work these last couple of days. I believe they've gotten to the bottom of this thing with Silverman. At least they've got plenty that you can pass on to your father."

Suddenly the flat tone left Glitsky's voice. "I'm listening."

Gerson gave him the rundown on the evidence that so unambiguously pointed to Terry, Wills and Holiday-the gun in Terry's drawer, so clearly and demonstrably both the Silverman and Creed murder weapon. But also the red-dotted bills from both the Jones Street apartment and from Holiday's duplex in the marina. Although the lab hadn't finished its analysis of the gunk yet, Gerson threw in for good measure the shoes found in Terry's apartment and their probable relation to the Creed killing. The pawnshop jewelry articles in Holiday's closet. The case was solved, soup to nuts.

When Gerson finished, Glitsky exhaled heavily. "So that's it?"

"That's it."

"And Holiday killed the other two. Last night, was it?"

"Looks like. There's really no other option. Thomasino gave Cuneo and Russell a warrant in about five seconds. They've gone on down now to pick him up."

Glitsky spent a second or two adjusting to this new reality. The fundamental rule of his thirty years of life as a cop was that evidence talked, and in this case it positively screamed. He had been completely wrong, and his meddling had possibly even inconvenienced the good inspectors working the case. Maybe, he thought bitterly, payroll was where he belonged after all. He'd obviously lost his edge. He drew in a deep breath, let it out slowly. "Then I'm the one who should be apologizing, Lieutenant. If Wade Panos put your guys on the trail that led here, I must have pegged him wrong."

"That's not an issue for me, Abe." Glitsky noted the first name, a far cry from the "lieutenant" he'd started with. "You thought you were doing me a favor."

"I really did."

"I believe you. Some of these rent-a-cops… well, you know. They're not all righteous, we can go that far. But Panos had something real this time. We're lucky he felt cooperative. Anyway, if you've got something I need to hear in the future, my door's open. You put in a lot of years at this desk. I'd be an idiot if I didn't take advantage of that."

"Thanks, Barry. I appreciate it. But it's your gig now. I'm out of it."

"Maybe. But I'm reserving the right to come to you if something stumps me. Deal?"

"Deal."

When they hung up, Glitsky sat unmoving, turned away from his desk, staring out the window into the bright afternoon. He heard the wind whistling around his corner of the building. A deep sigh escaped. In spite of the kissy-face words, the hard truth settled over him like a shroud-in the real world, Glitsky would probably never set foot in homicide again. No one was even going to have to try to keep him out. The thing was done, a fait accompli.

It was the termination of all those years.

After a minute, he swiveled his chair, stood up and went over to the printing room to see how the paychecks were coming along. They were due out tomorrow morning. That was the priority now, the sum total of his professional importance-making sure those checks got out on time.

15

Holiday got Michelle's frantic call to the Ark during the afternoon lull. He had one customer, a fifty-something dot-com bankrupt named Wayne, and he shooed him out pleading illness. He was going to have to close up. After he'd locked the door behind Wayne, he took all the money from the cash register, walked to the back room, and unlocked the bottom left drawer of his desk. The drawer contained a Walther PPK. 380 automatic wrapped in a greasy old T-shirt and a quarter box of ammunition that was at least six years old, and possibly more than that. Holiday had bought the gun when he'd first opened his pharmacy fifteen years ago-he had no memory of when he'd last taken it to the range, or bought any ammunition. In all his years in business, he'd never had occasion to take it out, even to brandish.

But he believed with all his heart that he had a reason now. He cranked a round into the chamber and snapped the safety off. He tucked the gun into his belt and the bullets into the pocket of his three-quarter-length leather coat. Letting himself out the back door of the Ark, he double-locked it up and started walking. He arrived at Michelle's an hour later.

Now they had been holed up inside for about another hour. It turned out, when Michelle accidentally saw the gun, that she wasn't much a fan of firearms. There had never been a gun in her parents' house when she was growing up. She wasn't going to tolerate one now. She had wanted to warn John about the police, but had never considered what it might really mean, who this man she'd been seeing really was.

When he showed up with a loaded gun, it more than worried her. It made her feel as though he'd duped her somehow.

So she'd told him no gun, he didn't need it here, she wouldn't have it in her apartment. If he was intent on keeping the gun, he had to leave. In the end, she reluctantly agreed to a wimpy compromise-he would unload it and put the gun and the ammunition out of sight in one of the bedroom drawers. She agreed not because she wanted to, she realized, but because suddenly some part of her was afraid of him.

She'd been attracted to him at the beginning-and consistently since-because she'd chosen to ignore all the outward signs that he might finally, at heart, not be the man he pretended to be. Now she was forced to consider that he might, in fact, be a true criminal. The seedy bar, the nomadic lifestyle, ex-convict associates, heavy drinking, even his own drug arrest. He had explained away all of those dark and telling realities with a lighthearted and eloquent insouciance, and she'd wanted to believe him in large part because of the powerful chemistry between them.

Clearly he had a sensitive side. He'd apparently endured great pain and loneliness after the loss of his wife and child. He was smart as a whip. He could be very funny. He was a great lover. She had convinced herself that most of the time he simply chose to hide his essential goodness from the world because people would take advantage of it. The same way she handled her physical beauty. This was something she could relate to, a defensive coloration.

But now, here he was in her private and special place with a loaded gun. The homicide police had been searching his duplex. How blind was she?

And now she'd not only helped him escape, she was harboring him.

When he had stowed the gun, he came over to where she stood looking, holding a crack in the blinds open with her finger, out the window over the city. When he put his arms around her from behind, he felt her stiffen. "What's the matter?"

She let go of the blinds, shrugged out of his embrace, took a step away, turned to face him. "Oh, nothing, John. Whatever could be the matter?"

He smoothed the side of his mustache. "I just put the gun away, Michelle. That's what you asked me to do."

She crossed her arms. "Where did you go Friday night?"

He cocked his head. "What was Friday night?"

"The night after Thursday, a week ago today, when you walked out on me. I know you remember. Chinatown. Where were you?"

"I don't know. Home, I guess." He strove to sound casual. "I can't believe how many people are interested in where I was every night this past week. Maybe I should make up a calendar and pass it around."

"Or maybe you could answer me."

"I just did, didn't I? I was home."

"On Friday night?"

He gave every indication of counting back the days, making sure. "Yep. I worked the day, handed it off to Clint, ate at Little Joe's, went home, watched TV, went to sleep."

"That's funny," she said.

"What is?"

"When I went by there today, when the police were there, I picked up your papers down at the bottom of the stairs, and there were three of them-Friday, Saturday, and Sunday."

"Michelle…"

She held up a hand. "Never mind. Don't even start. I'm going out for a walk. You and your gun don't have to be here when I get back."

Roake had been a defense attorney for twenty-one of her forty-eight years. After graduating from King Law School at UC Davis, she passed the bar and, at twenty-five, took her first job with the San Francisco District Attorney's office. Two years later, genetically predisposed to favoring the underdog and the dispossessed, the unfortunate and the unlucky, she switched to the defense trade. There she was often unsuccessful, although typically defense attorneys would under the normal definition be considered to fail most of the time. (A ripping success is often an accepted plea to a slightly lesser offense, or eight years in the slammer for the client instead of twelve.) After thirteen years working mostly with and for other lawyers, she finally hung out her own shingle and had done exceedingly well exclusively handling criminal cases.

Unlike Lennard Faro, who believed he had seen it all, Gina Roake had seen it all. She had defended clients-and come to know them as people, as far as this was possible- from the netherworld of the gene pool all the way up to educated professionals and wealthy business people: suburban housewives turned murderers, children who'd killed their parents, addicts of every drug known to mankind, sexual criminals from simple misfits to the truly perverted, thieves, rapists, con men, pickpockets, shoplifters (lots of shoplifters!), lowlifes, gangbangers and muggers. A million drunk drivers. Nothing surprised her. Humans were flawed, but worth defending.

And so, she felt, was the system. Her job, her lifework- keeping some balance between the two-meant providing the best defense the law allowed to those who had fallen. Everyone had a demon; most people had several, from grinding poverty to sexual abuse, from unseen psychic trauma to pampered irresponsibility, and these demons would be served, forcing their victims to commit crimes against themselves and against the society that had maimed and scarred them. She'd always believed that the crimes should be justly punished, but that the criminals themselves-the human beings who did these things-ought to be viewed with an eye to mercy, with an understanding of what had led them to their acts.

This was why now she felt so adrift, so foreign to herself. Along with the grief to which she had not even begun yet to grow accustomed, her desire for vengeance against the people who had done this to David-to David!-was making her feel, quite literally, insane. "If I knew who they were, Dismas. I swear to God, if they were here in front of me, I would personally beat them to death. Gladly."

Unable to concentrate, Hardy had left work early again. He had a Band-Aid of a splint around the pinkie and ring fingers on his left hand, but the others were intertwined on the table between them in the hospital's tiny coffee shop. Cups sat untouched in front of them. "I'd say that's natural, Gina."

"It's not for me; that's my point. It's the polar opposite of everything I've ever believed. I would literally kill the sons of bitches."

"I doubt that."

"Try me." She brought her hands up to her face and wiped a palm down each side of it. "Oh, God, what am I saying? I'm losing it here, Dismas; I really am. What am I going to do with this?"

"Have you slept yet? At all?"

A brittle laugh collapsed into a pitiable cough. "I'm sorry," she said when she'd caught her breath. "No. Sleep has not happened. Not to you either, I'd say."

He didn't want to burden her with his own problems, his own fury and fears. He forced a smile. "I had a little bit of a tough night last night, that's all. Car problems. Have you seen him?"

She nodded. "They let me in whenever they can now. An hour or two. I try to tell myself he's squeezing my hand back or something, but

…" She shook her head in misery, bit her lip. Then, as though if she said it aloud it would be more true, she whispered, "His kidney function seems to be slowing down."

"Is that bad?"

"It's one of the things they measure. Of course if it stops entirely, it would be bad." Closing her eyes, she sighed deeply. "I'm trying to prepare myself. I just feel so… so helpless and then so goddamned furious. I'm in there pleading with him, talking out loud like he can hear me, like I'm…" The words stopped. She looked across at Hardy. "You don't need to hear this. You know."

He reached across the table and put his hand over hers. "You're a big girl so I don't have to tell you, but if you could sleep, it would help. Especially if you can't do anything here."

"I keep thinking maybe he'll wake up and if he does I won't be there."

"He'd get over it. He might not even notice. No, never mind. It's David. He'd notice." He shrugged. "Still…"

"Still, you're probably right. Oh, and Sergeant Blanca came by here for a few minutes. He said he'd talked to you. He didn't have much."

"He still doesn't, not as of about a half hour ago."

A silence. Then Gina said, "They're not going to find anything, are they? I wonder if it's somebody I got off. If some scumbag was back on the street because I was such a goddamned whiz of a lawyer. Wouldn't that be special?"

Hardy squeezed her hand. "Don't go there."

"I don't know where I'm going."

Hardy hesitated for an instant, then decided that he'd known her for a long time. He could push a little. "Gina. Sorry to be a broken record, but how about going home, then to bed? Give the nurses your number. They'll call you if there's any change. This isn't doing anybody any good."

"I'll still want to kill them," she said. Somehow the comment didn't seem off the subject. It was as though they'd been talking about it all along.

"I hear you," Hardy said gently. "If it's any help, so do I."

When she saw Holiday wasn't gone, Michelle stood just inside her doorway, uncertain about whether she should simply turn and give him more time, or walk out and call the police herself. But she hesitated long enough for him to start explaining.

The television droned near him. He stood in front of it, his coat back on. She assumed he had rearmed himself.

"I'm sorry. I didn't expect you back so soon." He took a tentative step toward her, then stopped. "Look, I'm sorry about everything. I didn't mean to lie to you. I've got a bad habit of… never mind, it doesn't matter anymore. I'm going now in a minute. I just wanted to catch the news. Maybe see if they'll show what I'm up against."

Still in her camo gear, including hat and boots, she came up next to him as the program began, then backed up and sat on the corner of the bed.

Since it was both local and lurid, they didn't have to wait long. The handsome and serious anchor hadn't gotten twenty words into the lead story when Holiday nearly jumped forward to turn up the volume. "… these grisly Tenderloin murders. The victims have been identified as Clint Terry and Randy Wills. Terry, a bartender at a downtown watering hole, was a former football star with the…"

"Oh my God." Holiday folded himself down to the floor, cross-legged. As the anchor continued with the details, his head fell forward. After a minute, he reached up to support it with his hands, rocking his whole body from side to side.

On the television, the story continued, running through a cursory review of the related killings and a tantalizing film clip of Crime Scene Investigators removing allegedly "highly significant evidence" from the scene, and closing with the not entirely surprising news, though no less unwelcome for that, that the chief suspect for that crime and also the murders last week of Sam Silverman and Matthew Creed, was John Holiday.

He finally glanced up again at the mention of his name. His four-year-old mug shot filled the screen as the anchor finished up with the words that a warrant had been issued for his arrest and that he should be considered armed and dangerous. As they cut to the next story, Michelle walked to the set, picked the remote off the top of it, killed the power.

Head in his hands, Holiday still rocked his whole body on the floor-back and forth, side to side.

"John?" She reached over and touched his shoulder. "John, are you okay?"

When he looked up, she wasn't sure he even saw her. His eyes shone with panic. His voice, when it came, was a suddenly ravaged and hoarse whisper. "I don't believe Clint and Randy are dead. They can't be just dead."

She lowered herself down to the floor, facing him. He kept shaking his head from side to side. She reached out and put a hand on his knee, and she left it there.

The sun descended enough so that a few bars of sunlight through the blinds inched up the wall over her bed. A dog barked somewhere in the neighborhood, the call was taken up by another; then both died away.

Eventually, Holiday cleared his throat one time, again, didn't meet her eyes, then began quietly, matter-of-factly. "What I do, see, is find somebody like you and then try to fuck it all up, cheat on you or do something else you can't forgive…"

"Shut up," she said. "Just shut up. I get it. You don't think I get it? I know what you do, what you always do. You know why? 'Cause I do it, too. It keeps things manageable, doesn't it, making people you might love hate you when they start to get close? So my question to you is, 'What are you going to do now?' I'm talking with you and me."

"You told me to get out."

"Right. And you didn't leave. You had most of an hour. What does that mean about us? Anything? Or were you just afraid to go out because of… because of all this? And don't tell me you needed to find out what they were saying on the television."

"No."

"What then? If your plan is to hang around and have a few more fights and go out on me to make me hate you, I can save you some trouble. Just walk out now, no hard feelings. Because do it again and I will hate you. I promise." She stood up and went back over to the window, checked the blinds again. She turned back to him. "You didn't kill any of those people, did you?"

"No. I've never killed anybody."

"Do you know who did?"

He nodded soberly. "The same people who planted whatever they found in my apartment." He looked up at her. "I don't understand this at all, Michelle. The last I heard, the police were talking to Clint about Mr. Silverman, and now they're both dead."

She'd been pacing and now stopped over by the bed. "That lawyer who defended you last time…" Suddenly, her hands came up. "Christ, I don't believe I'm talking about this. Lawyers and killers and planted evidence. I don't want this stuff in my life, John. I really don't."

He got up and came over to her. "It's not my first choice either, Michelle. I'm not making this happen. I don't want to be around it, either. I don't even know what it is. If this thing ever ends, maybe I'll make some changes."

"Maybe. Some. Wow."

"All right, not maybe. Definitely, and maybe a lot. But first there's this, wouldn't you agree? What were you asking me about my lawyer?"

"Just that aren't you still friends?"

"So where are you now, John?"

"At a friend's. I locked up the Ark and I'm not going home."

"Ah, intelligent behavior at last. And so what do you want me to do?"

"I don't know. Talk to somebody. Whatever you do. I didn't do this, Diz, none of it. I loved Clint. I liked Sam and Matt. I don't know how anything got into my apartment. This whole thing is too weird."

"I haven't had much luck with the too-weird-to-be-real defense, John." Hardy sighed. "All right. You said there was a warrant? For your arrest?"

"That's what was on the news. You can check it out for yourself."

"I will. But in the meanwhile, I want you to think about something. If in fact there's a warrant out on you, my only option as your lawyer is to advise you to turn yourself in. If you don't, I can't have anything more to do with you."

"Turn myself in for what?"

"See if you can guess, John."

"But I didn't do it."

"All right."

"You don't believe me?"

"That's beside the point. If there's already a warrant for your arrest, about the best I can do is arrange your surrender."

"That's you the lawyer, Diz. What about you my friend?"

"I'm afraid we're the same person, John. Look, if you won't take my advice, why don't we both think about it overnight? You think about it, I'll think about it. One of us might come up with something."

"What about now?"

"What about it?"

"I come over now to your place. We get something figured out."

"Then if I don't call the police, I'm harboring a fugitive and lose my license. And though I love you like a brother, I couldn't do you any good if I'm disbarred." He paused. "Look, why don't you call me at my office tomorrow morning? Something might have changed by then. I'll talk to the DA, see what they're going with. Meanwhile, you say nobody knows where you are? I'm guessing you're not that uncomfortable. Just lie low."

"Diz… this isn't exactly what I was hoping to hear."

"What can I tell you, John? It's the best I can do."

*****

Watching his television at home, Nat Glitsky had heard the news of the awful Tenderloin murders and then of the arrest warrant that had been issued in Sam Silverman's death. Now he was in his son's kitchen, sitting at the table having tea with his dessert, Abe's day-old macaroons. For the first time since Rachel's birth, the Hardys hadn't shown up yesterday at the conclusion of their Date Night, so there was a full plate of them.

Nat dipped his cookie into his tea, blew on it, put the softened morsel to his granddaughter's lips. "Your daughter, she loves these," he said.

"Everybody loves them." Treya was standing behind her husband's chair, her hands on Abe's shoulders. "Dismas Hardy thinks Abe should go into business making them. Abe's Manna Macaroons."

"Such a name," Nat said. "A name is an important thing. That Dismas, he's not so dumb."

Abe liked that. "I'll tell him you said so. He's a glutton for praise. 'Not so dumb' ought to make his week."

Nat teased Rachel's lips with the remainder of his macaroon, then brought it to his own mouth and popped it in. The baby's little hand reached out. Her face fell in shocked surprise. A second later, her smile returned as a fresh cookie appeared in Nat's grasp. He let her grab it and they played tug of war for a second or two before he let it go. She laughed in pure joy, stuffing the spoils of victory into her mouth. "Such a good girl," Nat said. "I see great things. Someday she becomes the owner of Abraham's Manna Macaroons."

"Abe's," Treya said. "Not Abraham's."

"Shorter," Glitsky said. "Punchier. Maybe I will go into baking after all." Treya had come around behind Rachel and gave him a look.

He gave her the same look back. "Baking's a noble profession. Bakers have been baking probably longer than cops have been…"

"Copping?" Treya offered a tight smile. "It won't be too much longer. A couple of months, he said."

"Two months can be a long time if you're in thumbscrews."

Nat nearly sprang forward out of his chair leaning over the table. "He says thumbscrews, plural. I don't even see one." He sat back down as though he'd proven something. "And for all the moaning and groaning, who did they call as soon as they knew about Sam?"

"I believe that was Lieutenant Glitsky," Treya said. "The pariah of Bryant Street."

"Courtesy only."

"Courtesy, he says." Nat wasn't buying.

"I heard him." Neither was Treya. She finally sat down at the table. "And since the only thing of interest and importance in the world, and hence the only thing worth talking about-never mind the precious lives of infants-is a homicide investigation, it just occurred to me that I'll bet this is why Dismas and Frannie didn't come by last night. He's still John Holiday's attorney, isn't he?"

Abe nodded. "I would think so."

But Nat exploded. "Wait a minute. What am I hearing here? This man who killed Sam? He's with Dismas?"

"He was," Abe said. "I'd bet he still is."

"He's trying to get him off?"

"I haven't heard Holiday's even been arrested yet, Dad. But when he is, yeah. That's what Diz does."

Nat sat unhappily with this intelligence for a second. "He'd do this, this defense work, for a man who's killed four people. Did you see what this animal did to those men last night?"

He shook his head. "No. I'd only heard they'd been killed."

"Only killed would have been mercy," Nat said.

He went on to tell his son some of the details he'd picked up. When he finished, Treya made a face of disgust, then asked, "And Holiday is wanted for all of these murders?"

Abe picked up something in her tone. He wasn't going to pursue it aloud right here. But in the past year, he and Treya had met John Holiday a few times at the Hardys'. He had seemed okay to Abe; Treya had positively liked him. And Glitsky very much trusted his wife's instincts. He had seen enough of killings and murderers that he considered almost anyone, under the right conditions, capable of the act. But he'd never seen a sign nor heard from Hardy that Holiday used drugs, the great instigator of horrible, irrational violence. If Holiday had been robbing Silverman's store and got interrupted, if Creed had chased him into a blind alley, maybe…

But the scenario with Terry and Wills, as his father had just explained it?

"What?" Nat asked, seeing the look between them.

Abe hesitated. Then, "Nothing," he said.

16

Rebecca sat down to the plate of scrambled eggs her father had cooked for her. This morning, he'd cooked them for Frannie and Vincent as well, but neither of them typically appeared at the breakfast table until ten minutes after the Beck. By this time, whatever hot meal Hardy had prepared would have cooled-to him, cold scrambled eggs were an affront to nature-although his wife and son didn't seem to notice, much less mind.

His daughter took a first bite, said, "Yum!" then looked around. She didn't miss much and wasn't easy to fool. "Where's the paper?" she asked her father.

He casually sipped his coffee. "I don't know."

She put down her fork. "What's in it?"

"What do you mean? What's in what?"

"The paper."

"I just said I didn't know where it was."

She gave a threatrical sigh. "As if."

"As if," he repeated, striving to match the teenage inflection.

She ignored that. "As if you didn't go out to the porch and get it like you do every single morning. Is it one of your clients?"

It was his turn to sigh. He and Frannie had discussed it, along with the spin they would put on the smashed car window, and had decided it would be better for the kids if Hardy could get a few facts about the crimes for which John Holiday was likely to be arrested before he tried to explain it to them. Holiday wasn't exactly Uncle John yet, as Uncle Abe was, but he'd been by the house a few times in the past year, almost immediately endearing himself to both children, although for different reasons. He treated Rebecca in a sincere and courtly manner that flattered her vanity; Vincent he treated like a grown man, no kid stuff. He played catch with him, arm wrestled, had taken both Hardy men to 49er and Giants games.

As the kids had gotten older, they had both become, as Hardy was, addicts of the morning Chronicle. Rebecca, particularly, loved the back page of the Scene section-the columnists and the In Crowd. Vincent, emulating his dad, would peruse Jeff Elliot's "CityTalk" column every day, but his favorite was Thursdays, when McHugh and Stienstra did their respective great stuff on the Outdoors page. Hardy and Frannie had promoted this interest from its first flowering over the comics-it was important to keep up on the news, on what people thought, what was happening in the world. Life wasn't lived in a vacuum.

But there could also be the occasional drawback, as for example when your client and friend happened to be the main suspect in four murders, two of them incredibly grotesque.

"Who is it?" Rebecca asked.

Hardy threw a glance at the ceiling, then looked straight at her. "John Holiday."

"No way!"

"I'm afraid so."

"Not John. There's no way, Dad. What are they saying he did?"

She was going to find out anyway. Still, he hesitated, then decided it would be impossible to soften it. "They're saying he killed some people."

"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard. John wouldn't ever kill anybody. He couldn't!"

"I don't think so either."

"And what you do mean, some?"

"Four."

"Four? Dad, come on."

"It's not me, Beck. I don't think he killed anybody, either. But they found some evidence in his house…" He stopped, reached out, and put a hand over hers. "Look. Beck. I'm going to talk to him today; then I'll have a better idea where we stand. But I didn't want you guys to see the paper this morning, okay? Two of the-"

But her temper was up, and she cut him off. "What are they saying he did?"

"Well, that's just it. You don't want to know. Not right now."

"Yes I do!" Suddenly, she pushed back from the table. Her chair fell over and she was on her feet. "He's my friend, too. You can't censor us like that."

Hardy knew he sounded like a pathetic adult. Still, he couldn't stop himself. "It's not censoring, it's…"

"It is, too. Where is it? I want to see."

"Beck…" He was up, too. "Please don't…"

But she ran by him, through the kitchen and out to the little anteroom in the back where they stored their recyclables. By the time he got to her, she'd already dug it out from where he'd buried it. She was emitting little whimpering noises, as an injured puppy might. Finally, she turned to him with her hand over her mouth, her eyes overflowing. "Oh God!" she said. "Oh God!"

Then Vincent was standing behind them. "What? What's going on?"

Most of an hour got killed while Hardy dropped his rental and picked up his own car with its new windshield. Again he stopped at the hospital. Again David had not improved.

When he finally arrived at S utter Street, it was close to nine o'clock, normally a bustling hour, but the office had an extremely subdued feel. The reception desk, Phyllis's domain, sat empty. As he stood there, one of the phones started ringing. He just let it go.

The lights in the lobby had yet to be turned on. The door to the office at the far end of the lobby that housed Norma, the office manager, was closed and through the blinds he could see Phyllis in there. She seemed to be wiping at her eyes. The Solarium was empty. No secretaries were gossiping by the coffee machine/Xerox area. Hardy took a few steps so he could see down the hallway, and was relieved to see people-secretaries and paralegals-at their desks, but most of the doors to the associates' cubicles seemed to be closed. People were hunkering down, lying low.

One of the doors was open in the long hallway on the main floor, and he walked down to it and looked inside. Amy Wu was at her desk, scribbling furiously on a yellow legal pad. Hardy knocked on the door and she looked up, smiling feebly out of politeness. "Hi. How's David?"

"The same, I'm sorry to report. It's pretty quiet out here."

"Is it? I haven't noticed. Jon-my paralegal?-he called in sick so I've been running pages to word processing all morning. I've got this memo that needs to be filed today, so-" Suddenly she stopped, put her pencil all the way down. "I'm sorry. Who cares, right? How are you doing? What happened to your hand?"

He held it up. "Stupid accident. Me, I'm trying to get motivated to go upstairs and face some work."

"Join the club. I think I'm the only one down here who's been able to get going on anything, and that's only because I'd fire myself if I was late on this filing after all the work I've already done." She motioned with her head. "Everybody else… well, you noticed."

He nodded. "I can't blame anybody. I feel the same way." He paused, took a breath, came out with it. "But I wonder if I could ask you a favor."

"Then you'll owe me one, but sure. What is it?"

"Could you could keep an eye out down here, give me a call when people start coming out their door, getting back to work?" At her questioning look, he added, "I was hoping I could tap some of the talent down here. I need some people in a hurry if we want to keep up with depositions on Panos. We're talking megahours."

Something was going on in Wu's brain. Her eyes narrowed; then she nodded. "Sure. First sign of life, I'll buzz you."

"Thanks. In fact, after you're done with your memo, maybe…"

But she was shaking her head no. "I can't, Diz. I'm overwhelmed, especially if David's out for a while. I've got to call Jon at home though. It just occurred to me, if he's not really sick, if he just decided this was a sinking ship…" She stopped and sighed heavily. "If he dies, then what? Is all this keeping up with his work just me being stupid?"

"He's still got clients, Amy. They're still going to need good lawyers. That's what David's been training you for, isn't it? It's why I need a few bodies around here. David or no David, Panos is going to be huge."

"So you're really going ahead on that?"

"I really am." He narrowed his eyes. "Of course I am. Why would you even ask that?"

"No reason, really." But after wrestling with herself for a minute, she came out with it. "I've just heard some rumors around here that that's why David got beat up, that it had to do with Panos, with scaring him off. Evidently, David himself mentioned something about it to Graham, talking about his bullet-proof self of course. Now, with this-everybody's heard it by now-so even if you're assigning billable hours, people might be a little reluctant, especially with you not really in the firm."

This was the first time Hardy had run up against this question. He'd always considered his irregular status vis-a-vis Freeman amp; Associates an unalloyed good thing. He was merely the upstairs tenant and friend of the firm's owner, and as such was neither fish nor fowl-not associate, not partner, not even Of Counsel, and a bit of a loose cannon at that. He loved the freedom of it, the independence. When David threw him work, he was often happy to take it.

But now he wondered if he could successfully assign it back to the formal associates, who in David's long-term absence (to say nothing of his death) might be out pounding the pavement for work before too long.

Among the associates, Hardy thought he could count on Graham Russo, who had once been his client and with whom he still had a good personal relationship. And maybe, in a week or more-after she worked down her current load-he might be able to use Amy. But other help from among David's legions was problematic at best. And if David died, the ancillary support-Norma and Phyllis and the secretaries and paralegals who worked with the other associates-would all dry up overnight. With his limited resources, Hardy wouldn't stand a chance.

He could promise all the billable hours in the world, but none of the associates would be laboring under any illusion. Since it was a contingency lawsuit, if they didn't win, those hours would be written off. And what could he pay them in the meanwhile? Hardy couldn't float an island of suits, betting on the come, the way Freeman could.

The Panos lawsuit would be over before it began.

It was a morning of first revelations. Aside from his realization about the tenuousness of his position among the associates, for the first time it struck him how effective the violence against Freeman had been. Was. Especially if he didn't survive. Far from being the blunt instrument it had first appeared to be, the mugging was effectively a scalpel that separated him both from the lawsuit and the other associates.

For the sad truth was that Hardy alone had no power in the Panos matter. The plaintiffs were all the clients of David Freeman, not Dismas Hardy. Some he hadn't even met. Hardy wasn't any kind of real player, any kind of significant danger or threat to Panos, but merely a fly to be flicked away without a second thought. The realization washed over him like an acid bath. He must have shown it.

"Diz? Are you all right?"

He flashed a false grin. "Fine," he said. "I'm fine. I'm just thinking about how to do all I've got today. If Norma comes out of her office, would you ask her to please give me a call?"

Hardy's office was one flight up from the lobby, the only occupied room on the third floor. He took the stairs two at a time. His office door was closed, but a light shone under it from within. He stopped short of the opening, heard a quiet and dull but unmistakable thud, then after a moment, another one-someone was pounding something against his wall while he waited for Hardy to arrive. Putting down his briefcase, he stealthily tried the knob, which didn't give at all. He'd had enough experience with muggings and surprise mischief over the past couple of days that he wasn't anxious to get any more, and he turned back to the stairway.

The police could be here in ten minutes and whoever had broken into his office could explain it all to them.

Halfway down the stairs, a voice stopped him. "Diz?" Holiday stood at the top of the stairs, grinning down at him, holding three darts up. "I thought I heard somebody pounding on up the stairs, but I wanted to finish my round. Where are you going?"

Hardy climbed back up the seven steps he'd just descended. "I was just going to call the police, John. That would have been a good time." He reached the landing again and led the way inside, then closed the door behind Holiday. "How did you get in here? Wasn't the door locked? It was. And what were you doing?"

"Just shooting some darts. There was a bunch of keys down at the reception desk, and nobody was there. I thought you'd be up here in your office, to tell you the truth. Then when you weren't, I figured I'd just let myself in. I put the keys back."

"Good for you."

"This place is a ghost town today. Where is everybody?"

"It's a legal holiday." Hardy said it without a trace of irony.

"Hm-m. Well. But you're here, I notice, although you are a little late, aren't you?"

Hardy wasn't even slightly in the mood to explain his various delays of the morning, especially since the beginning of it all had been the breakdown of his children over the very client he now faced. "We had an appointment," Hardy said by way of explanation, "except if you remember, you were supposed to call me. Do you remember that? Wasn't that what we decided?"

Holiday shrugged and walked back over to the dart line. "Either way, we're talking."

Hardy got around his desk and put his briefcase on the top of it. "That's true, John, but I'm your attorney and I happen to know that there's a warrant out for your arrest, so all I can do now, as I thought I explained rather clearly last night, is help you turn yourself in." Hardy's voice took on an edge. "How about putting those things down a minute and talking to me?"

Immediately, Holiday whirled, all contrition. He placed his two remaining darts on Hardy's desk and spread his hands apologetically. "I thought we were talking. What happened to your hand?"

Hardy glanced down at his Band-Aid splint. He was going to have to invent a witty response pretty soon, but he didn't have the energy for it right now. "I whacked it against something." He sat down behind his desk. "Look, I'm sorry, John, but I'm a little stressed. But I suppose you are, too."

"Naw. It's just another arrest warrant." Holiday went over to the couch, plopped himself down on it. "So what do you think? What's the plan?"

"I wish I had one. I'm assuming you're not inclined to give yourself up."

"Good guess."

"Well, as your attorney, that's all I'm allowed to suggest."

"How about not as my attorney? I haven't paid you anything, have I? Can't we just be friends?"

Hardy's mouth turned up an inch. "Can't we all just get along?"

"Exactly, and apparently not too well. But you and me, we could."

"But even as just your friend, I'm still harboring you, and you're a fugitive."

Holiday shrugged. "Tell them I held you hostage or something."

"Though it might not be a bad idea, you know. Turning yourself in."

Holiday's eyes went wide. "You're out of your mind, Diz. I wouldn't last fifteen minutes in jail."

"Why not? You've been there before. It wouldn't be any worse than last time."

"Yeah, except this time someone would kill me."

"Why would they do that?"

"Because that's what these guys are doing, Diz. Think about it. I'm the only one left and the case is closed. As soon as I'm dead, it's a tight little package. Nobody goes looking for who really did it."

"And who are these people?" A grin flickered around Hardy's mouth. "You're saying they're cops? They can get you in jail?"

"They planted stuff in my apartment."

"The cops did? Why?"

"I don't know why, but it's not as far-fetched as you think. It happens."

"I'm sure it does, John, I'm sure it does." Hardy scratched at the top of his desk blotter. "Look, humor me a minute. If you've got solid alibis for all the murders, we could press for a quick prelim and have you out of there and cleared of all this in a week or two at the most."

"Not if I'm dead first."

"That's not going to happen. Not in jail. Do you know where you were when any of these last three men got killed?"

"Sure. Two of them, Randy and Clint, I'm positive. I was at work. In fact, you know, a cop came by the Ark the other day, before I even knew about Randy and Clint, and asked me if I'd been tending bar there the night before."

"What do you mean, a cop? A real cop? SFPD?"

"I thought so. The badge looked right. Some Chinese guy. He wasn't with Panos, I'll tell you that."

"And he asked you what?"

"Just if I'd been working at midnight the night before and could I prove it? I told him yeah and it seemed to satisfy him. That's why I'm blown away they got a warrant for me. I mean, they know I didn't kill Clint and Randy. I don't get it."

"So what about Creed?"

"Same thing. It was a work night, though there weren't as many customers, but somebody would remember. So maybe they think I wasn't the actual shooter with Creed anyway. I was just in cahoots with Clint and Randy." Holiday had gone into a full recline on the sofa, his hands crossed behind his head.

Hardy sat for a long moment, picking at the Band-Aid. "You mind telling me again where you were the night Silverman got it? Last time we talked about it, not to put too fine a point on it, your alibi sucked."

Holiday got himself up to sitting again. He ran a hand through his hair, tugged at the side of his mustache. When he spoke, he wore a sheepish expression. "If you want to know the truth, my girlfriend and I had a fight and I went out and picked up somebody else, who I couldn't find again to save my life."

"That's what it might be, John. To save your life."

He shook his head.

"Did you go to her house?" Hardy asked.

"Yeah. Well, apartment, I think."

"So where was it?"

"She drove," Holiday said. "I dozed. I don't know."

"What about in the morning?"

Holiday made a face. "There wasn't any morning. I left right after

… anyway, I think I wandered around a bit."

"Drunk?"

"Possibly. Likely."

Hardy frowned. "Which means you really have no alibi at all for Silverman, is that right?" He didn't wait for an answer. "So where did you call from yesterday?"

"My girlfriend's."

A beat. "Another one?"

"The real one."

"The one you broke up with on Thursday?"

"Yeah. Her name's Michelle. I'm staying at her place."

"I'm happy for you. That's so special. So the story about the important man's wife…"

"I made it up."

"Great!" Hardy said. "Swell. Let me ask you this. The paper said you lost a lot of money at Silverman's game the night before he died. Is that true?"

"Okay, but I didn't go to steal it back. I didn't, Diz. I swear to you."

"You swear to me. That helps. You swore to me about your alibi." Hardy shook his head angrily. "It might have been nice to know some of this a week ago." Collecting himself, he drew in a long, slow breath and let it out heavily. "Okay, John, suddenly my idea that you turn yourself in because you couldn't have committed any of the murders isn't so doable. Any one of them is good enough." He looked straight at him. "How am I supposed to believe you didn't do this after all? You got any suggestions?"

"I'm telling you. You know me, Diz."

"Right. But these lies, John. I can't think of a reason you'd lie to a friend if you weren't trying to hide something."

"I felt bad about the way things had gone with Michelle. I didn't want to bring her into it. That's the truth. I swear to God."

Hardy was still working on his response to that when on his desk, the telephone rang, his direct line. He reached for it. "Dismas Hardy." Listening for a moment, he sat up straighter, uttered a syllable or two, listened some more. He put a ringer to his lips and pointed at Holiday. He talked into the receiver. "Sure, I read all about it this morning. I wondered whether-"

As he spoke, he reached out and pushed down on the button, breaking the connection in his midsentence. "That was a homicide inspector named Russell," he said, "asking if I'd seen you recently. Somebody must have told him that I represented you last time and he thought you might have looked me up again."

"That was probably me. He and his partner came by the bar."

"And you gave them my name?"

"Yeah."

"Terrific, John. Just great. You're batting about a thousand here with bad moves."

"I know, Diz. I know. I'm sorry. Did he say where he was?"

"He didn't get a chance. We can hope it was the Hall. But I think you'd be smart to get out of here right now. I don't want to know where you are when they ask me, which they will. I'd be surprised if they think you're here now, but to be safe go down through the garage and out the back. Now go! Call me in an hour. We'll think of something. I'll be here. Go! Go!"

When the phone rang a minute later, Hardy picked it up again. "Inspector Russell? Sorry about that. We're having the devil of a time with the phones lately here. I don't know what it is, except aggravating. You, too, huh? I think it's everybody. But you were asking about John Holiday? I'm afraid I don't know where he is. He's no longer my client."

Russell said he'd talked to Holiday just two days before and he'd mentioned Hardy by name as his attorney. Said they were close friends. Saw each other all the time.

"I hate to say this, Inspector," Hardy said. "But the man's been known to lie. Sure. Anytime. Good luck."

The lab tests from the Terry/Wills crime scene indicated that the stuff on the shoe in Terry's closet closely matched the gunk Thieu had collected at the Creed scene the day before-brake fluid, animal fats, peanuts and pepper flakes, no doubt from Kung Pao chicken.

Thieu was at his desk comparing the written transcription of a taped recording of one of his witness's interviews to the tape itself. While Russell was on the phone with Holiday's lawyer, trying to track the suspect down, Cuneo read over the lab report on the shoe and decided to thank the veteran inspector and to share the good news with him. "Pretty cool, huh?"

Thieu put the report down. "That's enough matches for me. It's the same stuff, all right. Nice work. And I see you found more evidence at Holiday's place."

"It's been a lucky couple of days," Cuneo said.

"If you believe in luck."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing, really. It's just so rare when things fall together so well."

"I said the same thing to Gerson, but what am I supposed to do, look a gift horse in the mouth? This is about as solid as it gets."

Thieu made no comment to that. He had put down the transcript and his pencil. Now he took off his earphones and hooked them around his neck. He looked piercingly at Cuneo. "After I left the Terry/Wills scene yesterday, did you find anything that put Holiday there?"

"Not directly, no. But later in the day we did find money and jewelry from Silverman's at his place."

Thieu acknowledged that with a nod. "I heard about that. But no bloody clothes or shoes? Anything tying him directly to Terry and Wills? There was an awful lot of blood."

"He hadn't been back there, where he lived. There were three or four days' worth of newspapers down on his stoop."

"Ah, that would explain it then."

"Maybe he slept in his bar, I don't know. Or he's shacked up with somebody." Cuneo had pulled a chair around and was straddling it backward. He started tapping a beat with his fingers. "But that's a good call. We'll check the dumpsters and alleys between the Ark and Terry's."

"You can't ever have too much, I don't believe." Thieu leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his middle. Then he smiled politely and, wishing Cuneo luck again, said he had to get back to his editing.

17

Holiday's phone call did not come one hour later as Hardy had suggested, so he had filled his increasingly wide-open morning with visits downstairs to less-than-enthusiastic associates and calls to his deposition witnesses in the Panos suit. He needed to bring them up to date on Freeman's condition and rearrange his calendar so that they could get back on some kind of schedule by, say, the middle of next week. If David still wasn't up to appearing, then Hardy would try to go it alone, or with minimal help, for a while.

It galled him, but he knew he might have to revisit the question of Kroll's settlement offer-four million was starting to look pretty good to him about now. But whether that or any offer was still on the table was uncertain. Hardy himself had already billed something in the order of three hundred hours to the matter in the past four months and now stood to lose all of that time and money if he couldn't make some magic in the relatively short term. So he talked to clients and filled time.

Three full hours after Holiday had ducked out of his office, his call-waiting signal went off. In his mind, by now he had just about come to the conclusion that Inspector Russell had staked out his office after all and that John had been arrested leaving it. And that after he was processed, Hardy would get the phone call.

He asked the client to hold a second, connected to the other line.

No hello, no identification of any kind. Just the words, "Big Dick," repeated twice. Then a dead line.

After he finished talking to the client, Hardy hung up and stared into the empty space between his desk and his dartboard.

The voice had been Holiday's, and he had obviously formed the impression that Hardy's phone might be tapped. Hardy reflected that he also thought someone might kill him in jail. He might have found this paranoia amusing if he had any patience left.

Hardy thought about it for another thirty or forty seconds, then stood, threw the last two of Holiday's morning darts into his board-two elevens-and walked out, making sure the door was locked behind him. In the lobby, some semblance of normalcy had returned. Phyllis had returned to reception and her presence was somehow reassuring. One of the associates sat with a client, visible through the glass walls of the Solarium. Norma's door was open and he saw her at her desk, talking on the telephone. Above all, a slight but audible hum permeated the open space. People were here, trying to carry on.

Okay, he thought. Okay.

When Hardy pulled his car out of the garage, he saw that the day had become overcast again. Gray, with hovering wisps and banks of fog that he drove into and out of as he fought the noon traffic. He decided that the first thing he would do when he got to Holiday was have the billing conversation. Friends or no friends, he was going to get a retainer up front before doing any work for John Holiday. He couldn't afford to work for free anymore. He was going to charge his top defense fee and three times that for every minute he spent in the courtroom. Holiday could sell his bar or his duplex to cover his costs for all Hardy cared. He was done with charity.

Fortunately, the phrase "Big Dick" meant something to Hardy besides the standard reading-it was Holiday's name for Coit Tower, the phallic landmark and vista point at the apex of Telegraph Hill. Hardy had worked himself up to a fine fettle by the time he serpentined up the winding streets and reached the parking lot. This spot with its mounted binoculars all along its retaining wall, was premier sightseeing turf-Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito and the Marin headlands, seemingly a stone's throw across the Bay.

At this time of day, normally the lot was cluttered with vacationers and tourist buses. But as Hardy pulled into one of the parking spaces and opened his car door-he'd had his windshield wipers going from halfway up the hill-he marveled at the sense of desertion. The place was wrapped in a thick, bone-chilling gauze of cloud and drizzle. He could barely make out the tower itself, looming there right behind him. He was completely alone up here today, his car the only one in the lot.

Leave it to Holiday, he thought. Why couldn't they meet at some restaurant, or even his new girlfriend's house? Hell, anyplace else would be more convenient and comfortable than here. But of course, Holiday hadn't given Hardy any chance to argue, or suggest an alternative.

And now there was no sight of him here, either. Hardy looked again back toward the tower, out over the low retaining wall into the empty fog. "John!" he yelled into the nothingness. He walked halfway through the lot, into the very middle of it, toward the tower. He called out again. Turned. Waited. Cupped his hands around his mouth. "Hey, John! Ollie, ollie oxen free!"

"I haven't heard that in forever."

"Jesus Christ!" When Hardy landed, he whirled around and found himself facing Holiday, who stood a foot in front of him, grinning. "Where did you just come from?"

"Right here. Did I scare you? I did, didn't I?"

"No. I always levitate when the fog's in." Hardy put his hand over his heart. "God!"

"A little jolt like that's good for you. Clears the arteries."

"Well, they're clear then. Now all I've got to do is start breathing again." He looked all around. "Great place you picked here. Especially today. Why don't we get in my car before we freeze to death? You make any decision?"

They started moving. "About what?"

"Oh, I don't know. How about…?"

Hardy paused as out of the corner of his eye he noticed a gray sedan pulling slowly into the lot maybe fifty or sixty feet off to his right. The driver-side window, all the way down, possibly gave him some subliminal sense that something was not right, and he instinctively grabbed Holiday's arm just above the elbow. "What?"

Before he could answer, the car suddenly accelerated and turned hard to its left, exposing them to the passenger-side window, from which an arm protruded…

Hardy could be wrong and look like a fool, or they could both be dead in two seconds. It wasn't a hard choice. "Down! Get down!" he yelled.

Hardy crouched and pushed Holiday away, then hit the pavement rolling himself as two quick shots, then two more, exploded behind him.

He rolled again and came up, running and stumbling- his dress shoes slipping on the wet surface under him- toward the protection of the retaining wall. Behind him, tires screeched. Two more shots, deafening, in rapid succession.

The low wall directly in front of him pinged with a ricochet. He saw the gray mist of a shatter of concrete, felt a scratch across his cheek. Had the bullet hit him?

But he was still moving; he had to keep moving forward.

And then he was over the wall, rolling and sliding steeply downhill under the canopy of low evergreen and bramble.

The thick trunk of an ancient cypress stopped his free fall and knocked the breath out of him, a murderous blow high on his ribs under his arm. But he didn't stop.

Were they still up there? Had he heard another peal of rubber? Did it mean the car was gone?

Whatever, he was still exposed.

Forcing himself to roll, he half collapsed into the fall line of the slope and didn't come to rest again until he was within a first down of Lombard Street, still within the tree-line, sheltered from below and hidden from above.

He couldn't move, never wanted to move again. His ribs. Was he shot? In shock?

The silence all around him was complete, the fog enveloping but now not cold. He was sweating heavily. His breath came in gasps. The pain from his broken left finger kicked in again. Agony.

He squeezed at the skin around his mouth, took his hand away, and saw blood. He rubbed at his cheek-a faint sting, a smear of red.

Suddenly aware of movement behind him and to his right up the slope, he turned and saw Holiday traversing, half sliding toward him. But he was moving smoothly, quickly, unhurt. He was with Hardy in seconds.

"Diz? You all right?"

Hardy tried a deep breath. His ribs hurt, but he could breathe. He definitely wasn't shot. The scratch on his cheek-he'd done worse damage shaving.

Then they were both on their feet, dusting themselves off, checking back up the hill. A car passed below them on Lombard and they both froze until they saw it was a large white SUV, nothing like the gray sedan. For a moment, neither man could find anything to say.

The right arm of Hardy's suit coat hung by a thread and he shrugged himself out of it and rolled it into a ball. Under it, his shirt, too, was badly ripped at the sleeve.

Holiday reached over and flicked at the tear. "I've got to get myself a real lawyer. Clothes make the man, Diz," he said. "You look like absolute shit."

From a certain point, there was only one way up or down Telegraph Hill, and deciding they didn't like the odds of taking the only street up, where their assailants might still be lurking, they made it back to the retaining wall uphill through the trees and brush. Hardy's car was still the only one parked in the lot, right there ten feet away. Crouching, he got to the door and opened it, got his cell phone, made it back behind the retaining wall. He and Holiday moved a few yards back down the slope where they could still see any activity within the lot. But there was none.

"Okay, you've got your phone. Now what?"

"Now I call the police."

"I don't think so. Not while I'm here."

"So you go. But I'm reporting this."

"Why? What are you going to say?"

"I'm going to tell them what happened."

"And then what? They're going to investigate? They're going to find something you don't already know? And thank you for it?"

"I don't know, John. What do I already know?"

"You know somebody followed you here and tried to kill us. Your pal Freeman's in the hospital. Put it together. It's Panos."

"I'm not arguing with you, John. I'm telling you the cops need to know it, too."

"And then they'll move right on it?"

"That's the theory."

Holiday shook his head. "Man. You're hopeless."

*****

Twenty-five long minutes passed before the patrol car showed up.

In that time, two tour buses had pulled up into the center of the lot, the exact spot where Holiday had surprised Hardy. Additionally, several cars had arrived and parked willy-nilly all around. It had turned, Hardy was thinking, into a goddamned tourist extravaganza. A fitful breeze had blown off the worst of the fog, revealing the usual stunning panorama. A knot of Japanese tourists in overcoats had gathered at the retaining wall where the bullet had chipped it near the front of Hardy's car. They were enthusiastically sharing the mounted pay binoculars and exclaiming over the view.

Hardy didn't even see it. His ribs throbbed. He'd turned the car's heater on so he was no longer cold, but he was still shaking.

As he opened his door and raised his hand to call the black-and-white car over, he was struck with a sense of the surreal nature of the whole afternoon, of what he'd gone through, of what he was doing now.

When he'd first returned from Vietnam, before he'd gone to law school, Hardy had been a cop, walking a beat with Abe Glitsky. He liked cops, empathized with them, generally understood their concerns, prejudices, methods. And now here were two more, twin tight ends named Jakes and Warren, and at a glance very much like the men from the other night with his windshield in North Beach- hardworking, sincere, dedicated-and most importantly, living every day in the line of fire, which tended to breed a certain defensiveness, even cynicism.

They pulled over and parked in the space next to him, got out of their car together, expressed their concern over Hardy's appearance, asked him if he needed medical attention, which he declined. Finally, Officer Warren took out a pad of paper, and the interview began.

"So what happened here? Dispatch said there was a report of a shooting? You mean right here?" Checking out the tour buses around them, Warren couldn't quite picture it.

Hardy really couldn't blame him. "This was about an hour ago, and the place was pea soup with fog. You couldn't see twenty feet. There was nobody else up here."

"Nobody?"

"Not a soul." The two cops looked at each other, but Warren's expression remained neutral. "Just myself and a client I'd come here to meet."

Hardy knew this would be tricky, but once he'd decided to call the police, he had to tell them the truth. It was the only way the system worked. So he told them about Holiday.

But the truth wasn't scoring points. Jakes broke in to ask, "You mean to say that this client of yours, he's wanted for murder? There's a warrant out?"

"That's right."

"So where is he now?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know," Jakes repeated.

Hardy started to shrug. His ribs stopped him. "When I called you, he thought it would be smart to leave. I couldn't really argue with him."

"You didn't try to make him stay?" Warren asked.

"Of course," Hardy kept it low-key, "I told him he should turn himself in. He might be safer in jail after all. But he didn't see it that way." Hardy met their eyes in turn. "But the point is that he was here earlier with me. If you don't mind, I'd like to get back to what happened."

Finally Jakes said, "Okay, shoot."

Hardy gave it to them succinctly in less than five minutes. "We waited for a while down there at the bottom," he concluded, "then climbed back up here through the brush…"

"Wait a minute," Jakes said. He walked over to the retaining wall and looked down. "You came back up through that? Why didn't you use the road?"

Hardy explained, but by now no longer felt they believed him. He walked them over to where the tour buses were parked, describing the gray sedan and its course through the then-empty parking lot. Hardy had distinctly heard the tires squeal, but the pavement had been wet, and now there was no sign of skid marks. Six shots had been fired, but no one had been hit and there were no bullet casings. The chipped cement at the retaining wall could have happened an hour or a week or six years ago.

Back where he'd parked, he said, "I know how weird this sounds. But it happened." He indicated his own ruined clothes, his face. "I didn't do this to myself, really. And my partner David Freeman is in the ICU right now, mugged a few days ago. That's real and verifiable. So is the fact that somebody smashed my windshield a couple of days ago in North Beach. There ought to be a report of that on file."

"So you're saying you think you know who did this? All this stuff?" Warren asked.

"Yes, sir. His name is Wade Panos. He's a Patrol Special. You may know him."

"And you're saying you think he's trying to kill you? And your partner?"

"I do."

"And what about your client? Holiday? How does he fit in with all this?"

"That," Hardy said uneasily, "gets a little complicated."

18

Clarence Jackman did not normally hold open of-fie hours for defense attorneys, nor for anyone else. After a long and successful career in the private sector, Jackman, a darkly hued African-American sixty-five-year-old, physically imposing and impeccably dressed, had been appointed to his position of District Attorney of San Francisco by the mayor about three years ago. Since then, he'd come to appreciate the power and influence that came with the job, to the extent that he was committed to running for election to his second term. He was now, even more so than when he'd been in the lofty reaches of the private sector, a true august personage.

But Abe as well as Trey a Glitsky, who was his personal secretary, considered him something of a friend. So did Dismas Hardy and, for that matter, so did David Freeman. All of these people, along with Gina Roake and a few others, had been regularly meeting at Lou the Greek's for a couple of years with the DA and serving as his informal kitchen cabinet.

So when Hardy had called requesting a meeting with the DA, saying he needed a word with Jackman right away, Treya cleared it with her boss and set to work rescheduling the afternoon. When he actually arrived battered, worn and dirty, and gimped his way into the outer office, sans coat, his hands and face scratched and bloody, she ushered him directly in, closing the door behind them.

After expressing his genuine concern and making sure Hardy was comfortable in one of the office's easy chairs, Jackman listened with his trademark intensity. He sat slumped at the near end of the couch, leaning heavily on an elbow, the thumb of his right hand under his chin, the ringers regularly caressing the side of his mouth.

When Hardy finished, Jackman sat still for a very long while. Hardy knew better than to interrupt his thoughts, or try to prompt him. At length, the DA straightened up slightly and looked Hardy in the face. "Panos?"

A nod. "Yes, sir." Hardy knew that Jackman couldn't take this as anything like good news. It was no secret that Panos contributed to every major political campaign in the city so that, no matter who won, he never lost influence.

"You seriously believe he's behind these attacks?"

"Not personally, probably not. But some of his people, yes."

"You'll pardon me for saying so-you're obviously upset right now, Diz, and I can't say I blame you-but that seems like just one hell of a reach. Wade's not a gangster."

"With respect, Clarence, maybe you'd like to take a look at some of my deposition testimony. He's not exactly Mr. Clean."

Jackman shook his head. "Maybe not. He's in a tough field, where admittedly some of his tactics, especially with, let us say, not the cream of society, might have come close to crossing the line. But here you're talking attempted murder of regular citizens. There's a huge difference and frankly, I can't see Wade going there. Why would he even risk it?"

"Maybe because David and I, we're threatening to put him out of business."

"And how would you do that? Do you think he doesn't have insurance?"

"No, he has insurance."

"Well, then." A pause. "You know and I know how it works, Diz. Panos sees this as just another nuisance lawsuit. In all probability, he won't personally pay a dime, even if it goes to trial, which it probably won't. All parties will settle. It's not personal."

Hardy sat back. "Take a look at me, Clarence. I'd say it's gotten personal. I'm going to try like hell to shut him down. I want the son of a bitch in jail."

Jackman sighed. "Well… but all right. So then, assuming you're successful, he'd be out of business. He's close to retirement age anyway. He might even welcome the break." He came forward to the edge of the couch and spoke with a quiet intensity. "Look, Diz, there's no denying that something bad is going on. David and then you today. I'm willing to concede that they're related. Hell, they'd all but have to be. But related doesn't mean it has to be Wade."

"Except that it is."

Jackman frowned. "If it is, there are two very good and experienced inspectors investigating David's mugging and they should come up with something."

"Two?"

"Two." Jackman played it as a trump. "It may not be clear to you, Diz, but I myself am really, really pissed off about David. I don't think you or anybody else has any idea how angry I am. So I asked Dan Rigby"-the chief of police-"to assign another inspector to assist Hector Blanca. They had the CSI team out all morning combing the site, and you know how often that happens for a simple mugging? Never. But it happened now, and it happened because I wanted it to. And they get anything else they need, too. I've even given the investigation an event number." This was a huge commitment from Jackman. The assignment of an event number meant that all expenses related to the event were paid out of the city's general fund, and not out of any department's budget. It essentially meant unlimited resources.

Jackman continued. "So if they find anything that points to Wade Panos-hell, I don't care if it points to the Pope- I'll charge him or whoever it is so fast it'll make your head spin." In his agitation, Jackman had stood up. He leaned back against his desk, arms crossed. "So if you've got even a small show of proof that Wade's any part of this, of you or David, I'd like to hear about it right now."

Hardy sat silent, wrestling with how far he should push this thing. "It's not just me and David," he said. "And it's not attempted murder. It's murder. And in fact it's more than one."

His patience clearly frayed, Jackman nevertheless nodded cautiously. "I'm listening."

Hardy launched into his conspiracy theory that led through Silverman and Creed, Terry and Wills, and on up to the arrest warrant that had been issued for his client.

Jackman's scowl had grown darker as the recitation progressed. By the time Hardy finished with the suggestion that the DA convene a grand jury to investigate Panos's company-he was sure they'd find something tying at least his employees to these murders-Jackman finally lost his temper, albeit in his quiet fashion.

"In other words, your client didn't kill these people. Panos did. Now he's a murderer."

"Yes, sir."

"And what about the police, about the evidence they've collected, the witnesses they've talked to?" The DA kept talking. "If I'm not mistaken, Diz, when you defend people, it's often not because they didn't do something, but because no one can prove what they did do, isn't that right?"

"Yes, but…"

"… but without proof of any kind, you're telling me you know your client is innocent and that in his place Wade Panos is guilty. Am I stating your position accurately?"

Hardy spread his hands. "I'm saying it's worth looking into, that's all."

"No, that's not all, as a matter of fact. You want me to use the power of this office to investigate a private citizen who happens to be your opponent in a lawsuit…"

"Clarence, that's neither here-"

But Jackman raised a finger. "Please, let me finish. And at the same time you accuse this same private citizen of the very crimes your own client stands accused of. And all in the name of what? Of David's mugging, is what it comes down to, and the rage I feel about that. If I didn't believe I knew you so well, I might be tempted to think you were a cynical lawyer trying to manipulate the DA to harm his adversaries."

"That's not any-"

But again, Jackman stopped him. "Let me tell you something, Diz. If one of your clients suggested you try something like this to me, you'd laugh at him. If you were Wade's lawyer and I called you in to talk about any of these charges, you'd laugh at me. Where's the proof? Where's any sign of proof?"

"I'm betting it's out there."

"Well, if it is, apparently neither you nor the police have found it. And what they have found seems to implicate your client. Rather strongly, from what I hear." He crossed back and took the chair next to Hardy, where he leaned forward with some intimacy. The vitriol seemed to have passed. "Diz, look what's happened to you today. It's got you shook up. What you're telling me is that sometimes the process doesn't work-you and I both know that."

"No one's looking in the right direction, Clarence."

"I'm sure the police are looking where the evidence leads. That's what they do."

"And they're never wrong, are they?"

And this, finally, was the wrong note.

Jackman's shoulders fell and, sighing heavily, he stood up and went over behind his desk. "I encourage you to make sure the report on what happened to you and your client today is complete. I will talk to Chief Rigby and try to make sure that Inspector Blanca gets a team out to Coit Tower before every trace of what happened to you is gone."

"Thank you." He was standing up. The meeting was over.

But Jackman stopped him a last time before he got to the door. "Diz."

Hardy turned back. Jackman was pointing a finger for emphasis. "I want to be crystal clear here. If we ever do get to the point where we can charge Panos with something, and there's any suggestion that the criminal charges were brought because you're my friend rather than because there's evidence sufficient to convict, this case won't just go down the tubes, it'll embarrass us both. Capisce?"

"Capisce."

"So we won't ever have to talk about this again, right?"

More than anything else, Hardy wanted to go home. He knew he looked a mess; his ribs ached; his whole left hand throbbed anew. But it was already early Friday afternoon, and though he might get lucky with Blanca deciding to pull weekend work, his luck wasn't something he wanted to count on. Not today.

Again, the inspector for General Work was in. When Hardy gave his name and they called Blanca, he said to bring Hardy back to his area. But when Hardy got there, Blanca looked right through him until Hardy spoke. "Sergeant Blanca."

Blanca's eyes settled on him. Recognition dawned. "Mr. Hardy? Sorry. I thought I was waiting for a man in a business suit. What the hell happened to you?"

"That's why I'm here."

"Well." Blanca got halfway out of his chair. "Come on back where we can talk."

He got Hardy settled, brought him some water, picking up some of the details as he did so. The smashed windshield. The report he'd be getting from the responding officers on the Coit Tower shooting today. Blanca wrote the names down, made a note to look them up. Finally the sergeant got seated in his chair. "So you're thinking it was the same person who shot at you…"

"Two people, at least," Hardy said.

"Okay, two, maybe three. And you say these might be the same people who beat up Mr. Freeman?"

Hardy nodded. "I've got no proof, none at all, as Mr. Jackman just reminded me. But yes, I'm let's say morally certain it's the same guys."

"Last time you didn't want to give me a name."

"But I did tell you about a lawsuit we were preparing…"

"Sure." Suddenly, his eyes alight with possibility, Blanca pulled the yellow legal pad he'd written the officers' names on up in front of him. "You also said that in twenty years or so of practice, you hadn't ever seen anybody take it out on the lawyers."

"True. But I'm seeing it now."

Blanca quickly took in his disheveled appearance again. "So you got a name now?"

"Wade Panos."

Blanca reacted almost as if he'd been struck. "The Patrol Special? Actually, the king of the Patrol Specials?" He put his pencil down.

"His people. Especially a thug-I think he's Wade's nephew-named Nick Sephia."

Blanca didn't need to consult any notes. "I've heard of him."

"I'm not surprised. When he worked for his uncle, his specialty was planting dope on working girls, but he's been known to hit people, too. Now he's muscle for the Diamond Center. A real sweetheart." Finding a receptive official audience a nice change of pace, Hardy leaned back in his chair. "Jackman tells me you got a partner to help with the Freeman investigation."

"Yeah," Blanca said, "but what investigation? We don't got witness one to interview and Freeman still isn't telling us anything." He looked up with some real sadness. "Anyway, even with CSI going over the place a second time, we got nothing, and I mean nothing. So unless somebody walks in off the street and confesses, the investigation as you call it is closed."

"I was thinking maybe what just happened to me might reopen it. If there were two of you, maybe you could shake a tree or two. At least see if Sephia's got an alibi."

Blanca shook his head skeptically. "That's an awful cold trail, and if he had partners, they'd cover each other anyway."

"Okay, but I'm not a cold trail. Somebody shot at me in the last two hours. Sephia's someplace to start. Maybe you can find out what he was doing."

"No maybe about it. But you didn't see him?"

Hardy shook his head. "I saw the car. Gray sedan, late model. Then the gun, which I'm afraid took all of my attention."

Blanca chuckled. "Yeah, they tend to do that."

"I guess I just wanted to put what's happened to me on your radar as part of Freeman. Which, of course, I can't prove. But if you could find anything, either up at Coit Tower or talking to Sephia…"

"Hey, I'm hearing you. I'm on it."

It wasn't the kind of story he was dying to tell his wife. In a fair, just, and kind world, she wouldn't have been home in the middle of this Friday afternoon, and he could run upstairs, shower, change into a new suit or even some hangout clothes-"Oh, with David out of the office, there wasn't much to do, so I thought I'd spend some extra time with you and the darlings." He could bury his ruined clothes under something in the garbage can, explain away his scrapes with a humorous anecdote about one of his client's vicious cats.

Except that Frannie was sitting on some cushions in the bay window in the living room, studying, and saw him when he got up on the porch. She made it to the door and opened it before he did. "What happened?"

"It's not as bad as it looks," he said.

Twenty minutes later, he was soaking in a hot bath upstairs. Aside from the scratches on his hands and his face, the upper right quarter of his back was badly scraped and already swollen. Frannie sat on the edge of the tub, twisting a towel anxiously as they talked. "I must be missing something, then," she said. "So who shot Silverman?"

"That I don't know. Not specifically. Maybe Sephia."

"Which gets you to Panos?"

"Right, maybe, if he even knew about it." He let out a breath. "But there were three of them. And another problem. I've got the same people killing Silverman and Creed, right?"

"Okay."

"So why did Creed have to get killed?"

"So he wouldn't get to tell the homicide cops he wasn't sure about identifying John and his friends."

"Right. And who does that benefit?"

"The real killers, whoever they might be."

"Exactly. So then they decide-actually, they probably decided at the same time as Creed-if they do away with Terry and Wills, it's going to look like John. It's got to. The cops still were working with the three names and there's nobody else left. So they plant the Silverman/Creed gun and some of the Silverman loot in both places and bingo."

"But they really don't want John arrested."

"No. They want him dead. Then all the questions stop because there's nobody around to ask them. It's just low-lifes purging each other from the gene pool. It's a tightly wrapped, self-contained case, and everybody involved is dead."

"Not exactly. There's still you."

He looked up at her, shaking his head. "They had us both there for a minute…"

"But how could they have known about that? That you'd be together?"

"I don't know for sure, but I'd bet they figured John would eventually come to my office, or I'd go to him, so they just decided they'd tail me for a while. And everything worked like a dream. Except I saw them in time."

"So if it isn't about David's case after all, why did they attack him?"

"Or us, for that matter, with the windshield. Maybe it's both."

"That seems like such a reach, Dismas. I'm sorry, but it really does."

Hardy nodded ruefully. "Those were Jackman's exact words, I believe."

"And planting evidence in two apartments? Does that really happen? Are you sure John wasn't at Silverman's?"

He hesitated, then shook his head. "No."

"Or that this Nick Sephia was?"

No answer.

Frannie tsked, twisted the towel some more, stood up and walked over to the door. "I mean, I can't imagine John killing anybody either, but…"

"He sure didn't kill his bartender and his boyfriend, Frannie. Not that way. I don't believe that."

"Okay. I can't see that either." She turned back to face him. "Maybe you could talk to the man who's got Abe's old job."

"No. That's not going to happen."

"Why not?"

"Because he's got a suspect and I'm the guy's lawyer. My only function is to deliver John so they can arrest him. As I mentioned to you the other night, as a defense attorney, I have no interest in justice, only in getting my client off."

"But Abe used to talk to you about cases."

"And it's one of the things I always loved about him. But it got him in trouble more than once and he's already told me he won't talk about this one."

"He might, though, when he finds out they shot at you. That might make it different."

He shifted in the tub and an involuntary groan escaped. Finally, he got through the pain. "It's worth a try, I guess," he said. "I've got to do something."

She was over by him again. She sat on the edge of the tub, put a hand gently on his shoulder. "You're not going to want to hear this, but maybe you should consider dropping this lawsuit. See what happens to David, then take it from there."

He gave it a minute of real consideration. "It might get to that anyway. I can't afford to keep it going by myself, although I might be able to talk one of the big firms into taking it on. It would be a big payday."

"If you win."

"There is always that. But what I'd really like is to try to bluff them into making another settlement offer at least, pay for expenses and the time I've already worked. Although I can't believe this thing this morning was about that. With Freeman out of the way, the thing's going to pretty much dry up on its own anyway. So I'm thinking it had to be mostly about John."

She rubbed her hand over the skin of his shoulder. "You want to hear another hard one?"

"From you? Anything."

Unhappy, she came out with it. "You could always drop him, too, Dismas."

He sighed, hung his head. "No," he said finally. "It's tempting as hell, and maybe he deserves it, but that I can't do."

"And meanwhile, someone's trying to kill you."

"Maybe. Maybe me or maybe John. Probably not me."

"Notice the clever rationalization. Even though they broke your windshield and shot at you, they're not really after you."

He smiled at her. "I'm not saying it's impossible, just unlikely. Besides, I've finally got this Sergeant Blanca looking at Sephia. If he finds anything, and I bet he will, then suddenly it all falls into place. I'm talking Silverman and the rest, the murders."

"It all falls into place? How does it do that?"

"Inevitably?" Hardy going for the light touch, but he couldn't quite pull it off. "What do you mean? How does it do what?"

"How does it go from you and David getting attacked to the murders? I mean, what's the point of contact that connects them? Because from where I sit, I must tell you I only see one."

"And what is that?"

"John Holiday."

Blanca had what he considered a legitimately hot lead and wasted no time after Hardy left. He picked up the phone, got information, and found the number of Georgia AAA. He endured the usual runaround for a few minutes until he was finally connected to the Diamond Center's Chief of Security, who told him that Nick Sephia was off today. He was taking a three-day weekend.

A good sign, Blanca thought. If he was off, it left him free to drive around in a gray sedan and cause mischief. So, all right. He knew where Sephia wasn't. The trick now was to find where he was.

The obvious answer was WGP-Panos's company-and sometimes obvious worked. The efficient-sounding woman in the Panos office said she had no idea where Nick Sephia was-he no longer worked for the company-but she took his number and said she'd try to reach Wade and have him call back. Three minutes later, his phone rang, and it was the man himself. His tone was relaxed. "Do you mind, Sergeant, if I ask what this is about?"

"Not at all. I wanted to have a few words with Nick Sephia. I tried where he works, but he's taking a day off."

"And you think I know where he might be?"

"I understand he's your nephew."

"That's right." Panos paused. "And you think I might know where he is? How many nephews do you have, Sergeant? Do you know where any of them are? If he's not at work, he's probably at home, and I don't know his address offhand, somewhere near Gough, I think. Maybe we've got it or his phone number in some files back at the office, though. He worked for me for a while, but you probably already knew that."

"Yes, sir."

"But you know, my little brother Roy hangs out with him sometimes. I could page him and see. He's on the beat today."

"I'd appreciate that."

"Good. But you still haven't told me what this is about."

"I thought I did. I wanted to have a few words with him."

Panos chuckled. "Excuse me, Sergeant, but as one cop to another, you can cut the bullshit, okay. The question is what do you want to have a few words with him about?"

Blanca thought for a minute. "His possible involvement in a crime. A violent crime."

After a rather long hesitation, Panos spoke in a heavy tone of sadness. "I hate to hear that. I was hoping he was doing better. I heard he was, what with the new job and everything. He's got a temper, sergeant, but he's a good boy."

"This wasn't temper," Blanca said, "and whoever did it wasn't a good boy."

Panos sighed. "God. Poor Rosie, his mother. What that woman's been through." He sighed again. "Why don't I page Roy, see if he can help you? Oh, but one thing…"

"Yes, sir."

"I'm curious how you knew that Nick used to work for me, or that he was my nephew for that matter."

"Somebody I talked to knew him," Blanca said.

"Oh yeah? Was the guy's name Hardy, by any chance?"

"It was just a witness. I can't give out the name."

"No, of course you can't. But you might like to know, not saying it was him, that this guy Hardy and I are involved in some big litigation-he's a lawyer; in fact, he's a sleazy lawyer if you want to know the truth-and he's not going according to Hoyle." Panos spent a minute or so outlining some of the salient points of the lawsuit-the plaintiffs and some of the issues and money involved.

He concluded earnestly, "Look, the truth is the guy makes things up if he needs to, if things aren't going his way. I'm not saying he has anything to do with your questions about Nick-Nick's a hothead all right. But this Hardy is well known for being unethical. Seriously unethical. Do yourself a favor and ask around. Only if it was him you heard about Nick from, of course. Anyway, there's my warning for what it's worth. And you can probably expect a call from Roy any minute."

It came as advertised, and Roy told Blanca that Nick and a friend of his had gone up to Nevada last night to spend the weekend gambling-he was a serious poker player- before the crowded and crazy snow season began next month. Roy was planning on going up and joining them tonight when he got off work. He expected they'd probably be just hanging around the cabin they rented during the day-they hit the clubs at night. But Roy had the cabin's number if the sergeant would like it.

The area code was 775. Nevada.

"No, this is Julio Rez, but Nick's here. Hold on."

"This is Nick. Who's this?"

Blanca had never spoken to Sephia before and so had no idea if this was truly him on the telephone. But it seemed an impossibly elaborate ruse for someone to cook up in the fifteen minutes or less since he'd first called Panos's office. It would never be proof in a court of law, but Blanca personally had no doubt that he was talking to Nick Sephia, and that if he'd driven where he was in no traffic, he was four hours east of where Blanca sat now.

Which meant, conclusively, that he hadn't shot at Dismas Hardy three hours ago.

What it meant about Hardy, Blanca couldn't quite say. He wanted to trust and even like the guy because of David Freeman and what had happened to him, but now suddenly he didn't have a good feeling even about that.

Blanca looked at the receiver in his hand. He had everything he needed from Nick Sephia. He hung up.

Strikeout.

At the end of the day, at the end of the week, things were getting a little hot in Barry Gerson's office in the homicide detail. The small and airless place was packed with mostly large men, and all of them were standing. The two squad car officers who had responded to the Coit Tower call, Jakes and Warren, had come directly up at the end of their shift. That had started the whole thing. They knew that whatever had happened that noon at Coit Tower-and they were very skeptical-the fugitive and murder suspect John Holiday had been part of it. If they did nothing else, they felt they had to take their information to homicide. As soon as he determined what the officers' visit was about, Gerson had naturally called in both Cuneo and Russell, who were finishing up some paperwork, getting ready to go home.

After he'd hung up on Nick Sephia, Hector Blanca had had a full and interesting afternoon looking up and noting the name Panos on the report on Dismas Hardy's broken windshield. Deciding to take Panos's advice and ask around about Hardy, he went directly to the best source he could think of-he called the District Attorney to whom he'd had increased access since Freeman had been mugged. Jackman had stopped far short of a glowing character reference. "He's a good lawyer." Then, "Defense lawyer, I should say." In fact, when Blanca first mentioned the name Dismas Hardy, Jackman's tone had unmistakably cooled, then changed by degrees until Blanca concluded he was furious about something, about Hardy.

After that conversation, he was trying to locate Jakes and Warren to get the story on the events at Coit Tower and was suitably stunned when their sergeant at Central Station told him that, even as they spoke, the two officers were possibly reporting to the Homicide Detail on the fourth floor of the Hall of Justice, just upstairs from him. Maybe he could catch them there, get their report in person.

So Blanca was with them as well, the last one to arrive. For some not exactly rational reason, when he'd first heard the word homicide, he'd imagined that David Freeman must have died-although of course Freeman had nothing to do with Jakes and Warren. But it was the only even remotely related homicide that came to his mind, and so for the first few minutes after Gerson-somewhat grudgingly- admitted him to his office, he stood against the door, trying to pick up the gist of things as they went along. Finally, he had to interrupt.

"Excuse me, I keep hearing the name Holiday," he said. "I thought we were here about Hardy and maybe Freeman."

"Who's Freeman?" Gerson asked.

"Hardy's partner," Blanca said. "He's in the ICU over at St. Francis right now. Somebody beat him up. Bad. But who's Holiday?"

"Hardy's client," Gerson said. "Arrest warrant out on him for murder. For four murders, to be more precise."

"Wait a minute, excuse me," Blanca said. "This guy Holiday, he was with Hardy today? When?"

"When they got shot at," Warren said. "About noon."

"Maybe," said Jakes.

Russell decided to get into the discussion. "Maybe what? Maybe Holiday was there, you mean?" he asked.

"No. Maybe they got shot at," Jakes answered. "Or, alternatively, maybe it was just Hardy."

"No, that's wrong!" Obviously Warren and Jakes had discussed it between themselves and didn't agree. "Jakes watches too many movies."

"Hey!" Jakes said. It wasn't playful. "You show me anything proves it happened."

"I saw the guy, Hardy, is what proves it happened. He was beat to shit."

"Doesn't prove squat. He could have done it to himself."

"Yeah, but why?" Warren shook his head. "People just don't do this shit."

"Hold it, hold it, hold it!" Gerson had the rank, and he pulled it. "Officer Jakes, what are you trying to say?"

The young man gathered himself. "Only, sir, that we examined the area pretty carefully, and several aspects of Mr. Hardy's story seemed, well, a little questionable."

"Like what?"

"Like first, his story is nobody else was there. We're talking Coit Tower. Noon…"

"It was foggy, Doug, get it?"

Gerson snapped at Warren. "Button it! Go on, Jakes."

"All right, it was foggy. Like it's never foggy? Hello? This is San Francisco, people have heard of fog. They still go to Coit Tower. So anyway, the first thing is he and Holiday are all alone up there, except when we arrive twenty minutes later, it's a car lot, plus buses. Okay, so then he talked about screeching tires. Except no tire marks. Then some chipped concrete where a slug hit it, or maybe not. Oh, and finally six shots fired, just about point blank…"

"Moving car," Warren blurted, held up a hand to Gerson. "Sorry, sir."

"Okay, moving car, but nobody even scratched. We then interviewed down on Lombard, right below. Seven people home. Nobody heard a shot."

The only sound was a low musical note-Cuneo. No one seemed to notice.

"All right," Gerson said. "And all this means what?"

"He doesn't think it happened," Cuneo said. "He thinks Hardy faked it."

"That's right, sir. I do."

Warren raised his hand. Gerson pointed at him and nodded. "Go ahead."

"I saw the man, sir. Hardy. He was ripped head to toe. Brand new nice suit. Cuts and scratches all over."

This didn't bother Jakes. "That hill's a monster. You roll down it in a suit, you'll ruin it, too. You'll get scratched up."

"Okay, maybe, but why would anybody-anybody, much less a successful lawyer-want to do that?"

Blanca had gradually found himself growing astounded that Hardy had spent so much time with him earlier in the day, discussing the Coit Tower incident in some detail and never once seeing fit to mention his representation of the murderer John Holiday, or the fact of Holiday's presence at that scene. Deciding he had to speak up, he cleared his throat, raised his hand, addressed himself to Gerson. "If I may, Lieutenant. I might have something to say to that."

"All right." Gerson looked around. "We're all listening."

Blanca, still by the door, held up some paper. "This is a report about another incident that happened Wednesday night in North Beach, also involving Hardy. While he and his wife were at a dinner at Fior d'Italia that they didn't eat, supposedly somebody smashed the windshield of his car. He first told the officers he suspected who it might have been, but didn't think they needed to investigate. The vandals, he said, wouldn't have left any sign. He admitted that he'd hurt his hand and that his own blood was on the hood of the car-he'd lost his temper when he saw the damage and slammed the windshield, he said."

"All right," Gerson said, "what's the point?"

"There are two points, Lieutenant. First, maybe it happened the way it looked, but maybe he hurt his hand trying to break the window himself before he went to a tire iron or whatever got used. Again, just like this incident today, there seems to be no evidence that anything happened the way he said it did."

Every man in the room was locked into Blanca's narrative. He went on, "The second point goes back to Officer Warren's question of why anyone would do this kind of thing, and the answer is that in both these incidents, Hardy accused a man named Wade Panos as…"

"Wade Panos!" Cuneo exploded out of his trance. "Wade Panos isn't going around breaking car windows. That's the stupidest thing I ever heard."

Russell was just as outraged. "You mean to say that Hardy actually told you Wade was the person shooting at him?" He was looking for corroboration from Warren and Jakes, and they were both nodding.

But Blanca answered, "Not exactly. He said it probably wasn't Panos himself. He has a nephew named Sephia…"

"Sure," Cuneo said, "Nick."

"Except Nick was up at Incline Village today," Blanca said. "Since last night. Roy Panos gave me his number and I checked. So he didn't shoot at anybody."

"Roy's a good guy," Cuneo said.

"You know him?" Blanca asked. "Either of them?"

"Both," Russell said. "They gave us the list of names that led straight to Holiday."

The room, this time, went completely silent. Jakes said, "Shit."

After a long beat, Blanca picked up the thread again. "So here's the missing piece of this puzzle. Hardy's suing Panos right now, damages in the millions for abuses in his Patrol Special beats. And guess who else?" Nobody offered. "The San Francisco Police Department. For negligent supervision."

The room grew blue with the obscenity of comrades. When it had run its course, Warren was the first to get back to the issue. "So he faked all this to… what?"

"I'm hearing two reasons," Gerson said. "First, to ruin Panos and give himself more ammo in court. But even more, and this really sucks, to maybe try to get a jury to think this Nick Sephia's got something to do with the people Holiday offed. The old Soddit defense."

"What's that?" Jakes asked.

"Some other dude did it," Gerson said. "Hey, maybe the other dude was this guy Sephia. All Hardy needs to get to is reasonable doubt. If he can make the jury believe Sephia shot at him and his client…"

"Scumbag," Cuneo said. He was one man, but he spoke for the whole group.

Unanimously.

John Lescroart

Hardy 08 – First Law, The

Part Three

Holiday had borrowed Michelle's car and was riding south through the city on surface streets. Hardy had ordered him that no way was he even to consider going outside until this thing had gotten settled. The arrest warrant on him was still in force. Glitsky evidently was going down to make the arrests on the others that would somehow clear Holiday; then he'd present the DA and even the homicide detail with a fait accompli. Glitsky said he had the evidence he needed. It was going to happen. Holiday just had to wait.

Except that this was Holiday's fight, far more than it was even Glitsky's or Hardy's. Fuck if he'd let someone else fight it for him. They'd already killed two of his friends, tried to kill him, set the police on his ass. Hardy could say what he wanted, but after everything that had happened so far, nobody doubted that if Holiday got into custody, they would find a way to get to him. Panos was connected inside the system. Enormous sums of money were at stake-they had killed to protect it and they would kill again. As often as they needed to, wherever it needed to be done. Even in jail.

Holiday looked down at the gun on the seat next to him, what was left of the box of old cartridges. Reaching over, he picked it up, felt the heft of it, put it back down. He wiped his hand across his forehead. He was sweating. He rolled the window down an inch. Outside, it was cold, overcast and windy. He lowered the window further. Kept sweating.

He knew he could just keep driving south. Michelle wouldn't be home until late so nobody would even be looking for the car. He could zip over to the freeway and be out of the Bay Area within a couple of hours, out of the state easily by nightfall. Maybe even out of the country. It wasn't yet 1:30. If he pushed it, he could cross into Tijuana well before midnight. And, after Glitsky and Hardy had fixed things up for him, after the authorities had come to believe that it was Sephia and his friends after all, he could simply come back, reopen the Ark, continue as before. It was his fight, sure, but did that mean he had to be in it? Wasn't that the sucker play?

And what about Michelle?

Holiday for years had been playing himself as the tragic figure who didn't commit. He was too bruised by life, too battered by love and loss. The women had always understood, as Michelle would come to understand. He felt his pain too deeply, he was too sensitive. The idea that his broken heart would ever heal just wasn't really on the table.

Was he really ready to abandon that charade for good?

He was. All the running around, the scoring, the drinking, the moving on from woman to woman hadn't given him one minute of true happiness. But Michelle had. By the same token, Dismas Hardy had taken him into his life, endured his jokes and visits and hangovers, made him part of the family-God knew why. So Diz and Michelle, were they just to be more sacrifices that he'd burn on the altar of his pathetic self-pity?

He'd come to his last turn if he wasn't going to get on the freeway. He didn't take it. Suddenly putrid with fear, he realized that he wasn't going to Mexico or anywhere else except Pier 70, where Glitsky was going to need all the help he could get. Hardy had never said anything definite about going himself-in fact, he'd outright denied he would be there. It was police business, he'd said. Civilians didn't belong, would be out of place.

But Holiday knew Hardy. He would be there.

When they got this cleared up, Holiday would start taking care of the Ark, of Michelle, of the rest of his business. His life.

19

On Saturday afternoon, Vincent Hardy opened the 'front door of his house and stood in the entrance to his living room where his father and Abe Glitsky were speaking in measured tones, having a serious discussion. He wore a long-sleeved Jerry Rice 49er T-shirt, tennis shoes and calf-length baggy shorts; mostly, though, what he wore was mud. Hardy looked at h