Loyalty"Returns the female detective to the heart of the hard-boiled tradition." - Sara Paretsky
A GOOD-LOOKING MAN in his forties sat in the back row of the auditorium at the exclusive Morton Academy of Music. He was wearing a blue suit, white shirt, and a snappy striped tie. His features were good, although not remarkable, but behind the blue tint of his glasses, he had very kind brown eyes.
He had come to the recital alone and had a passing thought about his wife and children at home, but then he refocused his attention on someone else’s child.
Her name was Noelle Smith. She was eleven, a cute little girl and a very talented young violinist who had just performed a Bach gavotte with distinction.
Noelle knew she’d done well. She took a deep bow with a flourish, grinning as two hundred parents in the audience clapped and whistled.
As the applause died down, a gray-haired man in the third row popped up from his seat, buttoned his jacket, stepped out into the aisle, and headed toward the lobby.
That man was Chaz Smith, Noelle’s father.
The man in the blue suit waited several seconds, then followed Smith, staying back a few paces, walking along the cream-tiled corridor, then taking a right past the pint-size water fountain and into the short spur of a hallway that ended at the men’s room.
After entering the men’s room, he looked beneath the stalls and saw Chaz Smith’s Italian loafers under the door at the far right. Otherwise, the room was empty. In a minute or two, the room would fill.
The man in the blue suit moved quickly, picking up the large metal trash can next to the sink and placing it so that it blocked the exit.
Then he called out, “Mr. Smith? I’m sorry to disturb you, but it’s about your car.”
“What? Who is that?”
“Your car, Mr. Smith. You left your lights on.”
The man in the blue suit removed his semiauto .22-caliber Ruger from his jacket pocket, screwed on the suppressor. Then he took out a tan-colored plastic bag, the kind you get at the supermarket, and pulled the bag over his gun.
Smith swore. Then the toilet flushed and Smith opened the door. His gray hair was mussed, white powder rimmed his nostrils, and his face showed fierce indignation.
“You’re sure it’s my car?” he said. “My wife will kill me if I’m not back in my seat for the finale.”
“I’m really sorry to do this to your wife and child. Noelle played beautifully.”
Smith looked puzzled—then he knew. He dropped the vial of coke, and his hand dove under his jacket. Too late.
The man in the blue suit lifted his bag-covered gun, pulled the trigger, and shot Chaz Smith twice between the eyes.
The car was waiting for me at LAX. Aldo was out at the curb, holding a sign reading, “Welcome Home Mr. Morgan.”
I shook Aldo’s hand, threw my bags into the trunk, and slid onto the cushy leather seat in the back. I’d done six cities in three days, the return leg from Stockholm turning into a twenty-five-hour journey through airline hell to home.
I was wiped out. And that was an understatement.
“Your packet, Jack,” Aldo said, handing a folder over the divider. The cover was marked “Private,” the name of my private investigation firm. Our main office was in LA, and we had branches in six countries with clients all over the map who demanded and paid well for services not available through public means.
I had worried lately that we were growing too big too fast, that if big was the enemy of good, great didn’t stand a chance. And most of all, I wanted Private to be great.
I tucked the folder from Accounting into my briefcase and as the car surfed into the fast lane, I took out my BlackBerry. Unread messages ran into triple digits, so I chose selectively as I thumbed through the list.
The first e-mail was from Viviana, the stunner who’d sat next to me from London to New York. She sold 3-D teleconferencing equipment, not exactly must-have technology, but it was definitely interesting.
There was a text from Paolo, my security chief in Rome, saying, “Our deadbeat client is now just dead. Details to follow.” I mentally kissed a two-hundred-thousand-euro fee good-bye and moved to texts from the home team.
Justine Smith, my confidante and number two at Private, wrote, “We’ve got some catching up to do, bud. I’ve left the porch light on.” I smiled, thinking that as much as I wanted to see her, I wanted to shower and hit the rack even more.
I sent Justine a reply, then opened a text from Rick Del Rio. “Noccia wants to see you pronto, that prick.”
The text was like a gut punch.
Carmine Noccia was the scion of the major Mob family by that name, capo of the Las Vegas branch, and my accidental buddy because of a deal I’d had to make with him six months before. If I never saw Carmine Noccia again, it would be way too soon.
I typed a four-letter reply, sent it to Del Rio, and put my phone back into my pocket as the car turned into my driveway. I collected my bags and watched Aldo back out, making sure he didn’t get T-boned on Pacific Coast Highway.
I swiped my electronic key fob across the reader and went through the gate, pressed my finger to the biometric pad, and entered my home sweet home.
For a half second, I thought I smelled roses, but I chalked it up to the delight of standing again in my own house.
I started stripping in the living room and by the time I’d reached the bathroom, I was down to my boxers, which I kicked off outside the shower stall.
This was the day I was getting married. Our suite at the Ritz in Half Moon Bay was in chaos. My best friends and I had stripped down to our underwear, and our street clothes had been flung over the furniture. Sorbet-colored dresses hung from the moldings and door frames. The scene looked like a degas painting of ballerinas before the curtain went up, or maybe a romanticized bordello in the wild west. Jokes were cracked. Giddiness reigned —and then the door opened and my sister Catherine stepped in, wearing her brave face: a tight smile, pain visible at the corners of her eyes. “What’s wrong, Cat?” i asked. “He’s not here.” I blinked, tried to ignore the sharp pang of disappointment. I said sarcastically, “Well, there’s a shock.” Cat was talking about our father, Marty Boxer, who left home when we were kids and failed to show when my mom was dying. I’d seen him only twice in the past ten years and hadn’t missed him, but after he’d told Cat he’d come to my wedding, I’d had an expectation. “He said he would be here. He promised,” Cat said. I’m six years older than my sister and a century more jaded. I should have known better. I hugged her. “Forget it,” I said. “He can’t hurt us. He’s nobody to us.” Claire, my best bosom buddy, sat up in bed, swung her legs over, and put her bare feet on the floor. She’s a large black woman and funny —acidly so. If she weren’t a pathologist, she could do stand-up comedy. “I’ll give you away, Lindsay,” she said. “But I want you back.” Cindy and I cracked up, and Yuki piped up, “I know who can stand in for Marty, that jerk.” She stepped into her pink satin dress, pulled it up over her tiny little bones, and zipped it herself. She said, “Be right back.” Getting things done was Yuki’s specialty. Don’t get in her way when she’s in gear. Even if she’s in the wrong gear. “Yuki, wait,” I called as she rushed out the door. I turned to Claire, saw that she was holding up what used to be called a foundation garment. it was boned and forbidding-looking. “I don’t mind wearing a dress that makes me look like a cupcake, but how in hell am Isupposed to get into this?” “I love my dress,” said Cindy, fingering the peach-colored silk organza. She was probably the first bridesmaid in the world to express that sentiment, but Cindy was terminally lovesick. She turned her pretty face toward me and said dreamily, “You should get ready.” Two yards of creamy satin slid out of the garment bag. I wriggled into the strapless Vera Wang confection, then stood with my sister in front of the long freestanding mirror: a pair of tall brown-eyed blondes, looking so much like our dad. “Grace Kelly never looked so good,” said Cat, her eyes welling up.
Peter Gordon followed the young mom out of Macy’s and onto the street outside the Stonestown Galleria. Mom was about thirty, her brown hair in a messy pony-tail, wearing a lot of red, not just the shorts, but the red sneakers and a red purse. Shopping bags hung from the handles of her baby’s stroller.
Pete was behind the woman when she crossed Winston Street at the light, still almost on her heels as she entered the parking garage talking to the infant as if he could understand her, asking him if he remembered where Mommy parked the car and what would Daddy want for dinner, chattering away, the whole running baby-talk commentary like a fuse lit by the woman’s mouth, terminating at the charge inside Petey’s brain.
But, Petey stayed focused on his target. He listened and watched, kept his head down, hands in his pockets, saw the woman unlock the hatch of her RAV 4 and jam her shopping bags inside. He was only yards away from her when she hoisted the baby out of its stroller and folded that into the back, too.
The woman was strapping the baby into the car seat, when he started toward her.
“Ma’am? Can you help me out, please?”
The woman drew her brows together, what do you want? written all over her face as she saw him. She got into the front seat now, had her keys in her hand.
“Yes?” she said.
Pete Gordon knew that he looked healthy and clean and wide-eyed and trustworthy. His All-American good looks were an asset, but he wasn’t vain. No more than a Venus flytrap was vain.
“I’ve got a flat,” Pete said, throwing up his hands. “I really hate to ask, but could I use your cell phone to call triple A?”
He flashed a smile, got the dimples going and at last, she smiled, too and said, “I do that. Forget to charge the darned thing.”
She dug into her purse, looked up with the cell phone in hand. Then, her smile wavered as she read Pete’s new expression, no longer eager to please, but hard and determined.
She dropped her eyes to the gun he was holding, thinking that somehow she’d gotten it wrong, looked back into his face and saw the chill in his dark eyes.
She jerked away from him, dropping her keys and her phone into the foot well, half-way climbing into the backseat.
“Oh my God,” she said. “Don’t -- do anything. I’ve got cash --.”
Pete fired, the round whizzing through the suppressor, hitting the woman in the neck. She grabbed at the wound, blood spouting through her fingers.
“My baby,” she gasped.
“Don’t worry. He won’t feel anything. I promise,” Pete Gordon said.
He shot the woman again, pooof, this time in the chest, then opened the back door and looked at the bawler, nodding off, mouth sticky with candy, blue veins tracing a roadmap across his temple.
Excerpt by permission of Little, Brown and Company
KIM MCDANIELS WAS BAREFOOT and wearing a blue-and-white-striped Juicy Couture minidress when she was awakened by a thump against her hip, a bruising thump. She opened her eyes in the blackness, as questions broke the surface of her mind.
Where was she? What the hell was going on?
She wrestled with the blanket draped over her head, finally got her face free, realized a couple of new things. Her hands and feet were bound. And she was in some kind of cramped compartment.
Another thump jolted her, and Kim yelled this time, "Hey!"
Her shout went nowhere, muffled by the confined space, the vibration of an engine. She realized she was inside the trunk of a car. But that made no freaking sense! She told her self to wake up!
But she was awake, feeling the bumps for real, and so she fought, twisting her wrists against a knotted nylon rope that didn't give. She rolled onto her back, tucking her knees to her chest, then bam! She kicked up at the lid of the trunk, not budging it a fraction of an inch.
She did it again, again, again, and now pain was shooting from her soles to her hips, but she was still locked up, and now she was hurting. Panic seized her and shook her hard.
She was caught. She was trapped. She didn't know how this had happened or why, but she wasn't dead and she wasn't injured. She would get away.
Using her bound hands as a claw, Kim felt around for a toolbox, a jack or a crowbar, but she found nothing, and the air was getting thin and foul as she panted alone in the dark.
Why was she here?
Kim searched for her last memory, but her mind was sluggish, as if a blanket had been thrown over her brain, too. She could only guess that she'd been drugged. Someone had slipped her a roofie, but who? When?
"Helllllllpppp! Let me out!" she yelled, kicking out at the trunk lid, banging her head against a hard metal ridge. Her eyes were filling with tears and she was getting mad now on top of being scared out of her mind.
Through her tears, Kim felt a five-inch-long bar just above her. It had to be the interior trunk release lever, and she whispered, "Thank you, God."
KIM'S CLAW-HANDS TREMBLED as she reached up, hooked her fingertips over the lever, and pulled down. The bar moved - too easily - and it didn't pop the lid.
She tried again, pulling repeatedly, frantically working against her certain knowledge that the release bar had been disabled, that the cable had been cut - when Kim felt the car wheels leave the asphalt. The ride smoothed out, and that made her think the car might be rolling over sand.
Was it going into the ocean?
Was she going to drown in this trunk?
She screamed again, a loud, wordless shriek of terror that turned into a gibbering prayer, Dear God, let me out of this alive, and I promise you - and when her scream ran out, she heard music coming from behind her head. It was a female vocalist, something bluesy, a song she didn't know.
-From the book, Swimsuit.
The 8th Confession Excerpt
MY PARTNER, RICH CONKLIN, was at the wheel of our unmarked car and I was sugaring my coffee when I felt the concussion.
The dashboard shook. Hot coffee slopped over my hand. I shouted, "What the hell?" A few moments later the radio sputtered, the dispatcher calling out, "Reports of an explosion at Market and Fourth. Nearby units identify and respond."
I dumped my coffee out the window, grabbed the mic, and told Dispatch we were two blocks away as Conklin accelerated up the hill, then braked so that our car slewed across Fourth Street, blocking traffic.
We bolted from the car, Conklin yelling, "Lindsay, watch out. There could be secondary explosions!"
The air was opaque with roiling smoke, rank with burning rubber, plastic, and human flesh. I stopped running, wiped my sleeve across my stinging eyes, and fought against my gag reflex. I took in the hellish scene - and my hair literally lifted away from the back of my neck.
Market Street is a major artery. It should have been pulsing with commuter traffic, but instead it looked like Baghdad after a suicide bomb. People were screaming, running in circles, blinded by panic and a screen of smoky haze.
I called Chief Tracchio, reported that I was the first officer on the scene.
"What's happening, Sergeant?"
I told him what I saw: five dead on the street, two more at the bus stop. "Unknown number of victims alive or dead, still in their cars," I coughed into the phone.
"You okay, Boxer?"
I signed off as cruisers, fire rigs, and EMS units, their sirens whooping, streamed onto Market and formed a perimeter at Third and at Fifth, blocking off oncoming traffic. Moments later, the command vehicle rolled up, and the bomb squad, covered top to toe in gray protective suits, poured onto the debris field.
A bloodied woman of indeterminate age and race staggered toward me. I caught her as her knees buckled, and Conklin and I helped her to a gurney.
"I saw it," the victim whispered. She pointed to a blackened hulk at the intersection. "That school bus was a bomb."
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