But it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is involved; a powerful local Chinese power broker floats on the periphery; a television reporter goes underground and disappears; and her half-sister—the star news anchor—takes it on herself to pursue her own investigation. Corruption is everywhere. This effort treats Pearson’s fans to another engaging story and another visit with their favorite detective.
The First Victim (Boldt and Matthews Series #6)by Ridley Pearson
In this gripping new novel, Lou Boldt is back and entering dark new territory. A shipping container washed ashore leads Seattle television news anchor Stevie McNeal and her reporter friend, Melissa, on the trail of a scam involving the importation of illegal aliens. A career stepping-stone for McNeal, the investigation puts her at cross-purposes with the Seattle… See more details below
In this gripping new novel, Lou Boldt is back and entering dark new territory. A shipping container washed ashore leads Seattle television news anchor Stevie McNeal and her reporter friend, Melissa, on the trail of a scam involving the importation of illegal aliens. A career stepping-stone for McNeal, the investigation puts her at cross-purposes with the Seattle Police Department's Lou Boldt and Sergeant John LaMoia. When Melissa disappears, perhaps at the hands of the Chinese Triad, McNeal turns from foe to ally and teams up with the detectives on an investigation that takes them from Seattle's docklands to the offices of the immigration and Naturalization Service.
Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
PUGET SOUND, WASHINGTON
It came off the northern Pacific as if driven by a witch's broom: the remnants of typhoon Mary, which had killed 117 in Japan, left 6,000 homeless in Siberia and flooded the western Aleutians for the first time in sixty-two years. In the ocean's open waters it drove seas to thirty feet with its eighty-five-mile-per-hour winds, dumping three inches of rain an hour and barreling toward Victoria Island, the San Juan Islands, and the largest estuary in North America, known on charts as Puget Sound. It headed for the city of Seattle as if it had picked its course off a map, and it caused the biggest rush on plywood and chipboard that King County had ever seen.
In the partially protected waters west of Elliott Bay, one nautical mile beyond the established shipping lanes that feed Seattle's East Waterway docklands, the pitch-black night was punctured by the harsh illumination of shipboard spotlights that in clear weather might have reached a half mile or more but failed to stretch even a hundred yards in the dismal deluge that had once been Mary. The freighter, Visage, a container ship, rose and sank in fifteen-foot swells, rain drumming decks stacked forty feet high with freight cars. The Asian crew followed the orders of the boatswain who commanded a battery-operated megaphone from an upper deck, instructing them to make ready.
The huge ship pitched and yawed and rolled port to starboard, threatening to dump its top-heavy cargo. The crew had been captured inside Mary's wrath for the last three hundred nauticalmilesthree impossibly long days and nightsrarely able to sleep, some unable to eat, at work all hours attempting to keep the hundreds of containers on deck secure. Early on in the blow a container had broken loose, sliding across the steel deck like a seven-ton brick and crushing the leg of an unsuspecting crewman to where the ship's medic could find no bones to set, only soft flesh where the shin and knee had once been. Three of the crew had tied themselves to the port rail where they vomited green bile with each and every rise and fall. Only four crewmen were available for the transfer that was to come.
The neighboring tug and barge, seventy feet and closing off Visage's starboard bow, were marked by dim red and green running lights, a single white spot off the tug's bow, and a pair of bright halogens off the tower of the telescoping yellow crane chained down to the center of the barge. The tug and barge disappeared into a trough, rising and reappearing a moment later, only to sink once again into the foam, the crane as ominous and unnatural as an oil platform. The storm prevented any hope of docking the barge to the freighter, but both captains had enough motivation in their wallets to attempt the transfer nonetheless. Like two ends of a seesaw, the vessels rose and fell alternately, the crane's tower pointing like a broken finger into the tar black clouds. Radio communication was forbidden. Signal lights flashed, the only contact between the two captains.
Finally, in a dangerous and daring dance, the two vessels drew close enough for the crane's slip harness to be snagged by the freighter's crew on an upward pendulum swing. Briefly, the barge and container ship were connected by this dangling steel cable, but it broke loose of their hold, the barge lost to another swell. It was twenty minutes before the crane's steel cable was finally captured for a second time.
The vessels bobbed alongside one another, the slack in the crane's cable going dangerously tight with each alternating swell. The exhausted deckhands of the Visage worked furiously to be rid of this container, to a member wondering if it was worth the bonus pay they had been promised.
When the moment of exchange arrived, the crane made tight the cable and the deckhands cut loose the container's binding chains while lines secured to winches on both vessels attempted to steady the dangling container, for if it swung too violently it was likely to capsize the barge. As the first of these four lines snapped, the container, dangling precipitously over the void of open foam between barge and ship, shifted awkwardly, suddenly at a treacherous angle. Above the deafening whistle of wind and the lion's roar of the sea came the muted but unmistakable cry of human voices from within this container.
A crewman crossed himself and looked toward heaven.
A second line snapped. A third.
The container swung and slipped out of the harness, splashing into the water. It submerged and then bobbed back up like a whale surfacing.
The captain of the Visage barked his orders. The mighty twin screws spun to life, the gigantic ship lumbering to port and away from the barge and crane in an effort to keep the container from being crushed between the vessels.
The spotlights on the freighter were ordered extinguished as the ship was consumed by the storm, lumbering back toward the shipping lane where it belonged.
Behind it, in its wake, the abandoned container, singing of human screams and cries of terror, rode the mounting swells into darkness, lost to the wash of the waves and the whim of the wind.
On the evening of Monday, August 10, when the coattails of typhoon Mary had receded into little more than a torrential downpour, a rust orange container appeared bobbing in the churning green waters and whitecaps of Puget Sound. Spotted by a copilot of a test flight returning to Boeing Field, it was immediately reported to the Coast Guard. Loose containers were not an uncommon occurrence in the Sound. The urgency behind the Coast Guard's efforts to recover the orphaned container began as a result of the threat to navigation, especially with night closing in. "Metal icebergs," they were called. This urgency was heightened, however, as the Coast Guard's patrol boat came alongside the partially sunken container and human cries were heard from within. At that point, the call went out to the Seattle Police Department.
* * *
The piano sounded better than ever. For an old beat-up baby grand in a smoke-filled comedy bar where no one paid the instrument any attention except for the homicide cop who presently occupied its bench, his large hands and stubby fingers evoking a somber rendition of "Blue Monk," its tone was earthy and mellow, just the way jazz and blues were supposed to sound. The notes flowed out of Lou Boldt without conscious thought or preparation, sounding of the torments born of forty-odd years of life and a job involving all too much death.
Boldt aimed his interpretation toward the table where his wife and friends sat. If his five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter had been there he would have had everything and everyone that mattered to him in this one room: Elizabeth, his sweetheart, wife and partner; Doc Dixon, the county medical examiner who'd been his friend for most of Boldt's twenty-plus years with Seattle Police; John LaMoia, who had taken Boldt's place as a Crimes Against Persons' squad sergeant; Bobbie Gaynes, the first woman cop to join that squad; Daphne Matthews, forensic psychologist and confidante; and the lab's Bernie Lofgrin, with his Coke-bottle glasses and leaking-balloon laugh.
He didn't need to invent an emotion behind his playing. Liz's lymphoma had been in remission for one full year, and Boldt's happy hour performance that night at Bear Berenson's club The Joke's on You had developed into an impromptu celebration of her progress, a celebration that only a cop's wife could tolerate, but one that Liz would actually appreciate. Morbid humor was a way of life with this group, and while Liz didn't totally fit in with the others, they were family to her, just as they were to her husband.
While few at the table were above teasing Liz about how she'd looked when her hair had fallen out during treatment, or about smoking pot to bring on a taste for food, no one was really talking about anything, either. No one discussed that his new desk job was a problem for Boldt, that he ached for the opportunity to slap on a pair of latex gloves and get back out into the field. Similarly no one talked about the fact that for Liz's doctors her long remission was both unexpected and still unexplained. They wouldn't recommend breaking out the champagne for another three to five years. But Liz herself was sanguine: She credited God with her healing; and Boldt kept his mouth shut on that one. He felt that he and Liz had yet to recapture their comfort zone, but he wasn't about to talk about that, either. So that night no one discussed much of anything. They joked. They drank. They drank some more.
When the pagers started sounding, it seemed like something orchestrated for a comedy sketch, except that everyone knew immediately that it must be serious, since one call simultaneously summoned the lab, the medical examiner and the Homicide squad.
LaMoia flipped his cellphone closed and said, "It's a shipping container. Sinking out in the sound. People screaming inside. Still alive. Coast Guard's towing it ashore."
"Still alive," Liz echoed, watching as all but Daphne Matthews headed for the exit. Those words meant more to her than anyone at the table.
Liz offered a look of surprise that Daphne stayed behind.
Daphne explained, "They don't need me."
"Well I do," Liz replied, though retreating into silence, both confusing Daphne and making her curious.
When club owner Bear Berenson got the jukebox going a few minutes later, the rock music clashed with the earlier mood set by Boldt's piano.
"He doesn't understand it," Liz told Daphne. She meant Boldt. "The prayer. He can't accept that I was healed by something outside of that hospital."
"His background," Daphne said, uncomfortably attempting to explain the woman's husband to her. "If he wasn't a detective, he'd be a lab guy. You know?"
"Yeah, I know," Liz agreed. "But it's more that that. He won't give it a chance. It drives him crazy."
"He's glad you're well, however you got there."
"He doesn't trust it. Has he talked to you about it?"
"No," Daphne lied. She and Boldt had once been more than friends, just briefly. She knew well enough to protect the deeper friendship they had now.
"He doesn't say anything," Liz continued, "not directly, but I know he's waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not that he wants itI'm not saying that! Of course not! It's just that he doesn't believe in it. It's inconceivable to him that prayer, that God, can have that kind of power, that kind of consequence." She organized the dirty glasses on the table for the waitress.
"He doesn't believe it," she repeated. Liz looked toward the door as if he were still there.
"What if I talked to him about it?" Daphne offered.
"It's not something that can be sold."
"He needs to hear that from all sides," Daphne suggested.
"He needs to hear this from within, Daphne. That's the only way it's going to make sense, to have any resonance. Especially to him."
Liz reached for Daphne's hand and gave it a squeeze.
Daphne felt this woman's cold fingers held in her own warm palm, and thought how quickly things change. There had been a time when she would have cheered for Liz to leave her husband. Now she was cheering for Liz's survival. "You're an amazing woman," she said, as a chill whispered through her.
* * *
Boldt marveled at the emptiness of the docklands at night, the wide streets and warehouses deserted. Huge shipping cranes towered along the shoreline, silhouetted against dull gray clouds that reflected back the glow of city light, reminding Boldt of his son's Construction Site Legos kit that currently occupied the far corner of the living room.
The August air blew both warm and heavy, laden with salt spray, forcing all who awaited the raising of the container to squint and turn a shoulder toward shore. Boldt wore his hair trimmed short, which didn't quite fit with his otherwise professorial lookthe wrinkled khakis and favorite tweed jacket worn threadbare at the elbows and sleeves. His tight jaw and erect posture belonged to a man who meant business. Few people interrupted him when he was locked in thought, eyes distant and yet strangely focused. He deservedly owned the respect of all who worked with him, due to his attention to detail and dedication to procedure that many in law enforcement preached, but few practiced. He occasionally spoke at law enforcement seminars and conferences and at graduate criminology courses on the role of homicide victims as witnesses. "The Victim Speaks," his talk on the subject, had been transcribed and posted on the Internet.
Boldt grumbled to LaMoia about how long it was taking the Coast Guard to recover the container. The cries and screams continued. Patience was running thin.
LaMoia had stood at Boldt's side for the last seven years, working in his shadow, studying his every movement, then rising in rank to take not only the man's stripes but even his desk and office cubicle. LaMoia wore his jeans pressed, his shirts crisp, his hair perfect and his cowboy boots gleaming. He was focused less on Boldt and more on his bootsbrand new boots that had cost him a month's salary. This salt spray was beginning to really piss him off. He kept rising on tiptoe to pull his boots out of the puddled water.
"Piano sounded great tonight," LaMoia said.
"Are you kissing my butt?" Boldt asked. "What are you after, John?"
"I want to keep these new boots dry," LaMoia confessed.
"So get out of here. I'll cover." As a lieutenant, Boldt was expected to have no active field responsibilities. Technically, the case was LaMoia's, he was lead detective, though under Boldt's direct supervision. Both men understood this. Boldt resented it. Despite his two decades of experience he was expected in the conference room, not the street. Under a different captain, he might have been given more latitude, but Sheila Hill paid attention to rank and procedure. A ladder-climber and well connected in the department, Hill was not someone to cross. "Make it quick," Boldt said. "They're going to get this thing up and open any minute now." LaMoia was famous within the department for his casual attitude and his willingness to stop and chat with any and every woman he encountered.
"Okay, Sarge." LaMoia still referred to Boldt by his former rank. He jogged back toward his fire-engine red 1968 Camaro and the police line established to hold back the press from where television news crews were already shooting.
The detective left. Briefly the field belonged to Boldt.
* * *
"Polly's broken down in traffic. She's not going to make it. We need you."
"Slow down, Jimmy," Stevie McNeal said into the phone.
Jimmy Corwin was among the station's best producers, but he worked in a constant state of high anxiety. Stevie found his energy infectious, even over the phone. He was proposing she take a live segment for Polly. As an anchorwoman, Stevie picked her reporting work carefully.
"What are we looking at?" she asked.
"We've got a shipping container found by the Coast Guard. Human cries coming from inside. Channel Seven is already on-air. We need you on-camera in the next ten minutes."
"You'll post it up on the feed."
"Sure we will."
"I need a promise on that, Jimmy." The national feed could bring offers from the larger market.
"When we see the piece, we'll determine"
"Now! You commit now or I"
"And it's my follow-up, my story," Stevie negotiated.
"It's going to mean original segments for us, not just the five o'clock leftovers."
The phone crackled and the window flashed blue with the light of an approaching thunder cell. She said, "Tell the crew I'm on my way."
* * *
The Coast Guard crew had attached inflatables to stabilize the container while it was being towed to shore. Those same inflatables currently kept the steel box afloat.
As the cries from inside continued, swimmers climbed up and connected the cables to all four corners. A supervisor signaled the all clear and the crane's mighty diesel growled loudly. The cable lurched and snugged tight as the slack was removed, and a pillar of slate gray exhaust rose from the crane's rusted stack. The container's sunken end lifted from the black water that spilled from every crack, and the cries grew sharper, splitting the air and running chills down Boldt's spine. A cheer rang out from the workmen as the container cleared the water altogether, suspended and dangling as the crane moved it to dry land. Boldt was not among those cheering, his nose working overtime. He pulled out his notebook and marked the time. Dead body, he wrote alongside the numbers.
A man stepped through the police line, the officers clearing the way as he displayed his ID. Broad-shouldered, he exuded a confidence that advertised the sports he'd played in college, while the inexpensive suit clearly said "federal agent." Brian Coughlie introduced himself as the INS investigator in charge. Shaking his hand was like taking hold of a stick.
Boldt didn't know many agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service and said so. He added, "Glad to have your help on this one."
"What you're going to find in there, once they get the doors open, is anywhere from fifteen to seventy illegals. More than likely, all of the adults are Asian women in their teens and twenties: better for the sweatshops and whorehouses, which is where they all would have ended up. These container shipments have been a thorn in our side for over a year now. Glad to finally have one with something inside."
"Part of that something is dead," said Boldt, who was a little put off by Coughlie's arrogance. Boldt touched his own nose, answering Coughlie's quizzical expression.
"You think?" Coughlie asked. "These things arrive pretty damn ripe, I'll tell you what."
"Dead," Boldt ventured. "And that makes the others in there witnesses."
"You already jockeying for position, Lieutenant?" Coughlie asked calmly. "A reminder, lest you forget: These are illegal immigrants, so my boss is calling this ours. I pick 'em up and I deliver them to federal detention. You want to visit our house and have a chat with them, we got no problem with that. But your boss will have to clear it with my boss. Okay? Meantime, these visitorsthe live ones, anywaytake a trip on federal tires, not the local variety."
"And the dead ones?"
"Yours to keep," Coughlie said. "That okay with you?"
"So long as you keep them apart from your general population. I don't want them hearing stories, getting coached."
"We'll clean 'em up, shave 'em, and give 'em their own custom chain-link cage," Coughlie agreed. "No problemo. Barracks K. Our detention facility is part of what used to be Fort Nolan. You know Fo-No?"
"I know of it."
"No," Boldt answered.
"Too bad. They've got a great eighteen out there. Maintained courtesy of the taxpayer. You and mewe'd a been smarter to be military. Can't beat that retirement package."
LaMoia approached at a run. Boldt made the introductions. LaMoia shook hands with Coughlie but on his face was the expression of someone who'd picked up a sticky bottle of honey by mistake.
"We've got the turf problems all worked out," Boldt said, easing LaMoia's concerns.
"Somebody's dead," LaMoia remarked.
"Ahead of you on that," Boldt said.
LaMoia reached into his coat pocket and brought out a pair of plastic gloves and a tube of Vicks VaporRub.
Boldt accepted the tube after LaMoia had smeared a line under his nose. He passed it to Coughlie, who did the same. Some things a person couldn't live without.
* * *
When the container was finally opened with a bolt cutter, a hush overcame the crowd as one by one, nine Chinese womenpartially naked, bone thin and weakwere helped into waiting ambulances. Some on their feet, some on stretchers.
Three women came out in body bags.
Coughlie suggested Boldt give it a few days before attempting interviews. "I seen worse, Lieutenant. But I've also seen better, too."
"Thing about our squad," LaMoia informed Coughlie, "the victims don't typically get up and walk away."
"Three of them didn't," Boldt reminded somberly.
"Whereas in mine," Coughlie explained, "we're not in the habit of sending them home in a pine box."
* * *
Stevie McNeal arrived by Yellow Cab and was met by two of the remote crew, one who handed her an umbrella and a wireless microphone, another who explained camera position. Stevie headed straight for the yellow police tape that she was prohibited to cross, and crossed it anyway.
"Hey!" a black uniformed officer with a young, boyish face shouted from beneath his police cap, "You can't"
Stevie stopped and faced the man, allowing him a moment to recognize her.
"Oh," he said.
She looked him in the eye, putting just enough juice behind her determined expression and said, "Who's in charge?"
"LaMoia's lead," he answered obediently. "But the lieutenant's here too." He pointed out a group of silhouettes.
She stood facing LaMoia, Boldt and Coughlie. There weren't enough ambulances on hand. A few of the illegals, wrapped in EMT blankets, were being offered water to drink. Between the Coast Guard and the police, there were uniformed officers everywhere.
LaMoia said, "This is a restricted area. Press has to stay on the other side of the tape."
"The rumors are wild back there, Sergeant. Some say serial killer, some say illegals."
"Illegals," Coughlie answered. Stevie locked eyes with him. He wore an INS identification.
"We'll have a statement shortly," Boldt interjected.
Stevie tried to determine who to play to. She asked the INS guy, "Is this yours or SPD's?"
Coughlie answered, "Believe it or not, we're working in concert on this."
"So who's in charge of this love-in?"
One of the body bags was carried past them by a team working for the King County Medical Examiner.
"Not ready for prime time," LaMoia quipped.
"We'll have a statement shortly," Boldt repeated.
Stevie nodded, suddenly unable to speak.
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I have read several of Pearson's novels and truly thought this one was the best. I could not put it down!!!