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Earlier that morning, the call had come while Inspector Kate Martinelli of the San Francisco Police Department was in the middle of a highly volatile negotiation.
"I'll hurt myself," the person on the other side of the room threatened.
"Now, that's no good." Kate's response employed the voice of patient reason that she had clung to for the last few minutes, as she desperately wished that the official negotiator would return and take command.
"Yes it is good." Her opponent saw with crystal clarity that self-destruction was a powerful weapon against Kate.
"Now, think about it, sweetie. If you hurt yourself, it's going to hurt."
The mop of curly yellow hair went still as the green eyes narrowed in thought, and Kate's soul contracted with the weird mixture of stifled laughter and heart-wrenching submission that had welled up inside ten thousand times over the past three years and ten months: The child was so like her mother--her looks, her intelligence, her innate sensitivity--she might have been a clone. Kate pushed the sensation away from her throat and said, still reasonable, "We'd all be sad if you were hurt, but you would be the one that was hurting. Now, if you let me lift you down from there, we'll talk about whether you're old enough and careful enough to play with those things."
"I'm careful," the child insisted.
"You come down, and then we'll talk about it," Kate repeated. A good negotiator only retreated so far, then stood firm.
It worked. Nora's chubby little arms went out and Kate moved quickly forward before her daughter tumbled off the high shelf. The arms clung to her fiercely, giving lie to the small person's declaration of fearlessness; Kate's arms clung just as hard.
Then she set the child firmly down and bent to look directly into those large, bright eyes, arranging her face so she would look very serious. "Nora, you must never do that again. It really would make me very, very sad if you hurt yourself falling down."
"Yes, and Mama Lee, too." In fact, Kate was wondering if it might even be possible to negotiate her way into an agreement with Nora that Lee not be told about this little episode, but voices in the hallway and the sounds of the front door, followed by the approach of Lee's uneven footsteps, told her that it wasn't going to happen.
And indeed, the moment Lee cleared the doorway Nora popped out from behind Kate and informed her mother, "I climbed up high and Mamakay said that if I comed down we'd talk about if I could play with the dollies."
"I had to pee," Kate explained guiltily. "Thirty seconds, and when I came out the little monkey was up on the sideboard."
There ensued a protracted discussion as to the nature of trust, which was Lee's current teaching concept, and Kate had to admit, the child seemed to follow most of what her PhD, psychotherapist mother had to say on the matter. After she'd put her two cents' worth in, telling Lee about Nora's willingness to harm herself if it got her the delicate Russian nesting dolls, the discussion turned to the evils of blackmail. That, however, seemed to exhaust the child's patience, and she interrupted to demand that she be given the dolls.
"Not today," Lee said firmly. And over the protest, she explained, "If you hadn't climbed up high after them, if you'd just asked us about it, we might have said yes. But because you didn't, you're going to have to wait until tomorrow."
It was scary, Kate reflected not for the first time, how reasonable the child was: She pouted for a count of five, then allowed Lee to take her hand and lead her to the kitchen for a discussion of the weekend itinerary. Kate watched the two blond heads, the two slim bodies, the two sets of unreliable legs--one pair made so by youth, the other by a bullet--as her partner and their daughter settled in to discuss the relative lunchtime merits of turkey versus peanut butter.
Only then did she remember the phone call that she'd been on her way to answer when she'd glanced up to see the little body clambering high above the hardwood floor. She went over and punched the playback on the machine, and heard the dispatcher ask for her to call back, then add that she was going to call Al Hawkin as well. Kate didn't bother calling Ops, just hit Al's number on the speed dial. From the sound of the background noise when he picked up, he was in the car.
"Hey, Al," she said. "What did the Ops center want?"
"There's a body in the park--but it's the other side of the bridge."
"In Marin? So why call us?"
"Jurisdiction over there's an absolute bitch, but the vic lives over here and it looks like the park's just the dump site. So until we find the murder site, the Park Police investigator, and his supervisor, thought we should be brought in early, in case it ends up in our hands. They've already called our Crime Scene out for the site."
"Marin's going to have a fit."
"Our side's going to have the fit. I'd say, if you're doing anything, don't break up your Saturday."
"No, I should come if you're going, and I think Lee's finished with her clients for the day. Let me just check with her."
"Why don't you call me if you don't want me to come by? I'm about twenty minutes out." Which meant he'd not been home when he got the call--he lived about an hour south of the city, but knowing Al, he had his full kit with him wherever he'd been, briefcase, forms, gun.
"Will do. Do you want anything to eat?"
"Jani and I had a big breakfast, so no thanks."
"Oh, and Kate? The guy said to wear sturdy shoes and a warm coat."
"Thanks for the warning."
Lee scowled at the news that Kate would be leaving, but she'd known that Kate was on call, and she'd been with Kate long enough to know that sometimes life came first, and sometimes death did.
"Can you call if you're not going to be home for dinner? I told Nora we'd make pizza."
Nora was neatly distracted from the disappointment of Kate's departure by the reminder. "Yay, pizza!" she cried with a jubilant dance.
"It should be fine, it may not even be our case, depending on how the lines are drawn on jurisdiction, but the d.b. lived here, so they offered us a look-in."
"Oh, what a treat," Lee said dryly.
"What's a deebee?" Nora piped up.
Kate gave her partner an apologetic glance and opened her mouth to try for an explanation about dead bodies that would satisfy the child without planting macabre images in her impressionable mind, but Lee had already begun with, "Well, you see, sweetheart . . ." Kate slipped away, letting Lee deal with that particular matter.
Seventeen minutes later, Kate was out in front of the house, waiting for Al Hawkin's car to round the corner. A neighbor came along the sidewalk at a snail's pace, a dog leash in one hand and a toddler's hand in the other. She greeted Kate, reminding Kate of the planning meeting the following week at the preschool, inquiring about the acupuncturist Lee had mentioned a while ago, and tossing out ideas for the upcoming street fair. The entire conversation was held with the woman moving slowly past, never quite coming to a halt while dog and toddler explored the street; the trio continued at the same pace until the corner, when they turned toward the park.
Kate smiled, and raised a hand to wave to another neighbor. She and Lee had lived in the Noe Valley neighborhood for nearly eight years, and never had a place felt more like home. Kate rarely thought anymore about the magnificent house on tony Russian Hill where they had once lived, cop and therapist rubbing shoulders with the city's cream of socialites and politicos. That place had been Lee's, an inheritance from her overbearing and disapproving mother, and had looked out on two incomparable bridges, San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island, and Mount Tamalpais in the background. When Lee finally decided to put the house on the market, it had sold before the print was dry on the advertisement, for more money than Kate could envision.
They had traded the gorgeous, intricately constructed Arts and Crafts-style house with the million-dollar view for a tumbledown Victorian whose chief virtue in their eyes was also, as far as the listing agent was concerned, its chief drawback: The elderly couple who had lived in the house all the five decades of their married life, unwilling to abandon the upper levels but increasingly unable to negotiate the stairs, had hacked up the back rooms and put in a tiny elevator.
Kate turned to gaze affectionately at the house. Most buyers would have been daunted by the enormous expense of ripping out the mechanism and restoring the rooms to their previous condition, but for Kate, the one-person elevator had been her personal deciding factor in its favor: Lee would never have agreed to its installation, but if it was here anyway, well, why not make use of it? The personal lift, just large enough for the wheelchair during Lee's bad times, was an unvoiced recognition that the effects of the bullet through Lee's spine, twelve years before, would never completely leave them; it had made their lives infinitely simpler.
The enormous price brought by the Russian Hill house had enabled them to make other renovations, from new carpeting and fresh paint to a complete rebuilding of the kitchen. Lee had also set up her therapy rooms in the front and was seeing clients again.
Most of all, however, what they had gained with the move was a thing that neither had known they needed: a community. They had traded socialites for Socialists, politicos for legal-aid lawyers, middle-aged white faces for a rainbow coalition of young families. Of the seven people Kate saw as she passed down the front walk that morning, she knew five of them by name, and had eaten dinner with three of those. Two doors down lived Nora's best friend, an eight-year-old girl from China, the oldest of three multiracial children adopted by a bank manager and his aromatherapist wife. Lee's long-time caregiver lived with his new family three blocks away. The woman in the big corner house had recently opened up a Montessori-style child-care facility, which meant that Nora could spend two afternoons a week with her friends. Typically, last summer the neighborhood association had voted to close the street one Sunday so everyone could hold a block party.
Small-town life in the big city.
Al's car appeared around the corner. Kate waved one last time, to the woman she sometimes went jogging with (who this morning was out running with her black Lab instead), tossed her coat and briefcase into the backseat, and hopped in beside him.
"How's the kid?" he asked before her buckle had latched.
"Perfect, as always. And yours?"
"They're all fine. Jules has a major crush, I quote, on her lab partner, Maya is thinking about a summer camp run entirely in Latin, and Daniel has discovered guns."
"Oh, Jani must be pleased about that."
"The genetic inclination of boys, I suppose, to make weapons out of anything. Sticks, Legos, organic vegetarian hot dogs."
"I know, I see it all the time at Nora's preschool."
"Still, he's also into sports--he's wants to try out for Little League next year. That's where I was, throwing balls for the second-graders."
Al was enjoying his second trip through parenting, at the same time his grandchildren were coming along. He sounded more than happy about the whole thing.
"So, speaking of boys and their guns, what's with this one up at Point Bonita?"
"Philip Gilbert, white male, fifty-three. And no guns there, not at first sight."
"But Mr. Gilbert didn't just walk up there and die?"
"There's a scalp wound, but the coroner says it doesn't look massive enough to kill him."
"Coroner? Not ME?"
"Marin caught it and declared death, the Park people didn't think they needed to call in our ME as well. Seemed to think Marin wouldn't mind transporting the body to us."
Kate looked at the side of his face, but neither needed to say it: The San Francisco ME wasn't going to be pleased with the arrangement. "So," she said, "the vic was shooting up out in the woods? Or maybe a little sex play that got rougher than he'd intended?"
"If so, he drove in wearing his pajamas, and barefoot. In January," Al added unnecessarily. "The rangers say he wasn't a park resident and he wasn't at either of the last two conferences held there. Once they have a picture they'll take it around and ask if anyone knew him, but in the meantime, like I told you, they're pretty sure he was dumped. No sign of the car DMV has registered to him, so I sent a uniform to drive past his home address, see if it's there."
"But who's got the case? And why isn't it just Marin's?"
"Interesting question. From the little I could get out of the Park investigator I talked to, they need to look at a satellite GPS to decide just what slice of the park the body's in--if it's a federal area, that's one thing; if it's found in a place that used to be owned by the state before the park was glued together, that's another. I'd say most likely it's up to the loudest voice. Which sounds like the Park Police supervisor. Who wants to give it to us."
Kate had been peripherally involved with the issue before, when it came to prosecuting in a park murder in the late nineties. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area--Ocean Beach, the Presidio, various forts, Crissy Field, and the lump of headland across the Golden Gate Bridge--was an anomaly on the face of the National Parks Service, the only national park located within the boundaries of a city. Some crimes were handled by the Park's own Criminal Investigations Branch, located in the Presidio. Others, particularly the major crimes, were given over to other law enforcement entities.
Who got jurisdiction often depended on historical definitions: A major crime taking place in areas that had been under local control before the GGNRA would be handed to the local force; if that same crime took place in a part that had been an Army base, it might well go directly to the FBI. It was a constant headache, and although cooperative statements such as the recent Interagency Agreement went far to smooth things out, in practice the work just went ahead and got done by whoever got there first. Or, as Al said, who had the loudest voice.