Read an Excerpt
A J.P. Beaumont Mystery
I was showered, dressed, and had rousted the girls out of bed for breakfast when the telephone rang at eight-ten the next morning. We had planned a New Year's Day outing to the Woodland Park Zoo, but a call from Seattle P.D. immediately put that plan in jeopardy.
"Happy New Year," Sergeant Chuck Grayson said jovially. "Hope I didn't wake you."
Murder doesn't necessarily observe holidays, so even on New Year's Day, Homicide Squad shifts had to be covered. As a single man with no local family obligations and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward football, I had volunteered to be on call the first of January. That was long before I had accepted an overnight baby-sitting assignment with Heather and Tracy.
"Happy New Year to you, too," I answered. "I may be up, but I'm not necessarily at 'em. What's going on?"
'We've got a floater right there in your neighborhood. Just off Pier Seventy," Grayson answered. "Since if s just down the hill from Belltown Terrace, I thought it might save time if you went there directly, rather than coming down here first."
Sure thing," I said. "No problem."
I put down the phone and turned back to the girls, who were happily shoveling their way through bowls of Frosted Flakes. Under Amy's diplomatic influence, Ron Peters has somewhat modified his stringent health food stance, but from the ecstatic greeting the girls had given my box of sugar-coated cereal, I had to assume that for them, Frosted Flakes were a rare and welcome treat.
"You have to go to work, right?" Tracy asked, sighing in disappointment.
"Yes." I drained the last slurp of coffee outof the bottom of my cup.
"Does that mean we won't be going to the zoo?"
"At least not this morning," I said. 'We'll have to see about this afternoon. In the meantime, you can watch the Rose Bowl Parade on television. That should be fun."
Heather made a face. "Parades on TV are boring. They're lots more fun in person." Influenced by the two recently viewed Home Alone nightmare videos, visions of my pristine condo destroyed by child-produced mayhem danced through my head.
"I'm sorry to leave you by yourselves like this. Your folks have a late checkout, so they probably won't be home before four or five. You won't get in any trouble, now, will you?"
'We'll be fine," Tracy said.
"You know how to run the TV. I want you both to stay right here in the apartment until I get back. There's microwave popcom in the cupboard, bread, peanut butter and jelly..."
"And lots more root beer," Heather added.
I knew the girls to be relatively self-sufficient. For one thing, this is a secure building, and when both their parents are at work (Amy is a physical therapist at Harborview Hospital), the girls do spend some time alone. I knew, for instance, that in the event of an emergency, they had been told to notify the doorman. Even so, I felt that by leaving them on their own I was being somewhat derelict in my baby-sitting duty. 'With any luck, maybe we'll still be able to go to the zoo later this aftemoon. The girls exchanged eye-rolling glances that said they didn't consider that a very likely possibility. Battling a certain amount of lingering guilt, I finished strapping on my semiautomatic and headed out the door.
From Belltown Terrace, my condo building at the comer of Second Avenue and Broad, to the murder scene at Pier 70 on Elliott Bay is a straight shot of only four blocks. Some people might scoff at the idea of my getting the 928 out of the underground garage and driving there, but in Seattle distances can be deceiving. Taking the glacial ridges into consideration, four downhill blocks going down are a whole lot shorter than the uphill ones coming back.
The few minutes in the car gave me a chance to shift gears, to go from a cozy holiday-type atmosphere into a work mind-set, where man's inhumanity to man is the order of the day.I found the entrance to the pier itself was blocked by a phalanx of official vehicles. Some were from the department, some were emergency fire and Medic One vans, but a fairly large number were of the ever-present and ever-circling news media variety. Dodging through the crush as best I could, I met up with Audrey Cummings, the assistant medical examiner, on the far side of the yellow crime-scene tape. The two of us walked down the thick, creosote-impregnated wooden planks together.
The assistant M.E. was in a foul mood. "Dragging some drowned New Year's Eve reveler out Of the drink isn't exactly how I had planned to spend my day," she groused.Audrey Cummings is short, stout, somewhere above the half-century mark, and not to be trifled with. She usually shows up at crime scenes looking far more like a lady accountant than she does a medical examiner. This time, however, instead of her trademark crisp blouse, WrInkle-free blazer and skirt, and sensible heels, she wore a pair of plaid wool slacks, loafers, and a leather jacket. For her to appear at a crime scene dressed that casually, it was, clear she really had intended to take the day off.
A little knot of officers was gathered along the edge of the pier. We made our way through them just in time to see a dripping, fully clothed corpse be lifted from the Harbor Patrol police boat and deposited faceup on the dock. The victim, clad in a sodden wool suit, appeared to me to be a late thirties Caucasian male.
"What did I tell you?" Audrey said, in a supposedly private aside to me. "That's one drowned rat if I ever saw one."
One of the Harbor Patrol officers, Rich Carlson, clambered up on the pier. He nodded in my direction. "Wouldn't count on that if I were you, Doc," he said to Audrey. "Most drowning victims I've seen don't turn up with bullet holes in the backs of their heads."
"A bullet hole?" Audrey repeated.
Carlson nodded. "It's small enough that it can't have been a very high caliber weapon, but at close range, it doesn't take much."
Stepping up to the corpse, Audrey Cummings squatted beside the sodden body, gazing at the dead man respectfully but curiously, with the watchful, no-nonsense demeanor that, in the gruesome world of medical examiners, must pass for bedside manner.
"How long ago was he spotted?" Audrey asked. Name Withheld
A J.P. Beaumont Mystery. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.