Dismissed with Prejudice
The jangling telephone reverberated through my head, ramming its way through champagne-stupefied senses, jarring awake both me and a pounding headache. Without opening my eyes, I grappled blindly for the phone, knowing the only way to stiflethe awful racket was to answer the damn thing.
Except I couldn't pick it up. When I tried to close my fingers around the handset, they wouldn't. The receiver slipped out of my hand and clattered noisily across the bedside table.
Even hung over, I'm usually not quite that clumsy.
Puzzled, I opened my eyes and looked at my hand. The three middle fingers, bandaged securely to metal splints, stood stiffly at attention. No wonder my hand wouldn't close. With each heartbeat, a dull throbbing pain echoed from my fingertips up through my hand and wrist. I stared stupidly at the injured fingers as if maybe they belonged to somebody else. What was wrong with them? Were they broken or what? How had it happened?
"Hello? Hello?" A tiny angry voice buzzed up to me from the fallen receiver on the tabletop. "Beau? Are you there? Answer the phone, goddamnit!"
Reaching down, I again attempted to scoop up the phone, this time using my thumb and the palm of my hand rather than the useless fingers. That didn't work very well either. Once more the phone skittered away from me. This time it bounced off the table onto the carpet.
"Just a minute," I snarled at the phone and whoever was on it. I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. "Hold your horses."
I had to pause there for a moment to steady myself while the room spun and the jackhammer in my head threatened toloosen teeth.
"Beau, what the hell's taking so long?" I recognized Big Al Lindstrom's muted voice.
Detective Allen Lindstrom is my partner on the Seattle Police Department Homicide Squad. Even from a distance and at much reduced volume I could tell he was pissed.
I snatched up the phone with my left hand. "So I'm up already. What's the big rush? My alarm didn't work, and Peters didn't call."
Peters, my former partner, had spoiled me. For months he had routinely given me an early morning wake-up call from his semipermanent residence on the rehabilitation floor at Harborview Hospital. Gradually, I had gotten out of the habit of setting an alarm, counting on him to wake me up in plenty of time to get to work. He was out of the hospital now, and back at work a few hours a week in the Media Relations Department, but the pattern of early morning phone calls had continued.
"You jerk," Big Al snapped. "You expect him to call you while he's off on his honeymoon? Get real., Beau, and get dressed. I'll be there to pick you up in ten minutes. There's a case breaking right now. Sergeant Watkins wants us to handle it. By the way, how are your fingers?"
I held up my right hand and examined the bandaged fingers, turning them this way and that. "Fine," I mumbled.
"They don't hurt? The doc said they probably would, once you sobered up."
"No. They're okay," I lied, attempting to ignore the low-grade throbbing that got stronger as soon as the idea came up. I found it disturbing that Big Al seemed to know more about my injured fingers than I did. I couldn't remember anything at all about hurting them or about seeing a doctor, either. I guess I'd really tied one on.
"Be there in a few minutes," Big Al said shortly when I said nothing more. He hung up. I sat on the bed for a few seconds longer, trying to piece together what might have happened. Finally, giving up, I stumbled into the bathroom and studied my face and body in the mirror. Other than the fingers, there was no visible ,sign of injury, so whatever had happened couldn't have been too serious—something less damaging than a multistory fall or a car wreck. And if it was a fight, the other guy never laid a glove on me, at least not on my face.
I closed my eyes in concentration and tried to remember. The previous day had seen the arrival of the long-awaited wedding between Ron Peters and Amy Fitzgerald. The ceremony itself, in a small church on top of Queen Anne Hill, had been simple and quiet. The reception in the Chart Room of Belltown Terrace had started sedately enough, but it hadn't stayed sedate long. When cops feel free to let down their hair, they've got a lot of letting to do.
And Jonas Piedmont Beaumont was right in there swinging with the best of them. As someone whose usual drinking menu seldom varies far from Canadian in general, MacNaughton's in particular, I should never, never have allowed myself to be suckered into swilling champagne one glass after another. At my age, I ought to know better.
I remembered the part at the church clearly enough, but there was only a dim recollection of the cake cutting at the reception, with its hazy, happy laughter and flashing cameras. After that, the remainder of the evening was a total blank. That worried me.
Gulpingdown some aspirin, I staggered into the shower and turned it on full blast. The hot, rushing water helped clear my head some. Once out of the shower, I discovered it was a real struggle to get dressed. My underwear, zippers, and buttons are all built to be right-handed, and the splints got in the way of everything from brushing my teeth and putting on my socks and shoes to tying my tie. Dismissed with Prejudice
. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.