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Lying in Wait
I didn't get much sleep that night. I was up early the next morning. Standing on my twenty-fifth-floor terrace, I was drinking coffee when the fall sun came creeping up over the tops of the Cascades. The previous day's rainstorm had blown away overnight, pushed eastward by the arrival of a sudden high-pressure system. The storm had left behind it a layer of low-lying, moisture-heavy fog that clung to the ground like an immense downfilled comforter.
Looking out across Seattle's skyline from that height, I found that the city's streets were shrouded and invisible, as were most of the surrounding low-rise buildings. I could hear the muffled sounds of passing cars and buses in the street below, but I couldn't see them. Now and then I could pick out the sound of an individual car churning down the street, its progress marked by the distinctive hum of pavement-destroying tire studs. Here and there across the cityscape, the tops of other high-rise buildings loomed up out of the fog like so many huge tombstones, I thought. Or like islands in the fog.
Wasn't that the name of a book? I wondered.
No, it was Islands in the Stream. I had never read that particular Hemingway opus. My familiarity with the title came from working countless crossword puzzles.
That's what happens when you live alone. Your mind fills up with unnecessary mental junk like so much multipath interference on an overused radio frequency. Just as static on a radio keeps a listener from hearing the words, stream-of-consciousness interference keeps people who live alone from thinking too much. At least it helps. I had brought my grandfather's ashes home with methe night before. Even now, that discreetly labeled metal box was sitting on my entryway table. Sitting there, waiting. Waiting for my grandmother to decide what should be done with it.
I had asked her if there was some particular place where she would like the ashes scattered, or did she want an urn? Her answer was that she didn't know. She'd have to think about it. She'd let me know as soon as she made up her mind.
Chilled by the damp, cool air, I was headed back inside the apartment for another cup of Seattle's Best Coffee when the phone rang. Beverly Piedmont had been so much on my mind that somehow I expected the call to be from her, but it wasn't. It was Sergeant Watty Watkins, the desk sergeant from the Homicide Squad.
"How's it going, Beau? How's your grandmother holding up?"
"Pretty well, under the circumstances."
"Are you working today, or are you taking another bereavement day?"
"I'll be in. Why? What's up?"
"We've got a case that just turned up a few minutes ago, over at Fishermen's Terminal--a fatality boat fire. If it's a problem, I can assign it to someone else."
"Watty, I told you, I'm coming in. I'll take it. Who'll be working the case with me?"
"There'll be an arson investigator from the Seattle Fire Department, of course. As far as Homicide is concerned, pickings are a little thin. Detective Kramer and two of the other guys are off in D.C. for a training seminar this week. I'
probably team you up with Detective Danielson.!! I was partnerless at the moment. Both of my last two partners, Ron Peters and Al Lindstrom, had been injured in the line of duty. For the foreseeable future, Ron was stuck in a wheelchair, and Al had just taken a disability retirement. Those two separate incidents had turned me into the Homicide Squad's version of Typhoid Mary. I was beginning to feel like an outcast.
For weeks now, I had been working by myself on the cold trail of a twenty-five-year-old homicide. The bullet-riddled skull had surfaced during the hazardous-waste cleanup of an import/export shipping company that had left Harbor Island in favor of cheaper rent in Tacoma. I had pretty well exhausted all possible leads on that musty old case. Frustrated at being exiled to a dead-end case and tired of getting nowhere, I was bored stiff and ready for some action.
Sue Danielson is one of the newest additions to the Homicide Squad. Not only is she relatively inexperienced, she's also one of the few female detectives on the team. Still, a partner is a partner. Beggars can't be choosers.
"Sue Danielson's fine," I said. "Is she there already? Does she have a car, or should I come down and get one?"
"She's right here," Watty replied. "I'll send her down to Motor Pool as soon as I get off the hom with you. She'll stop by Belltown Terrace to pick you up on her way north."
"Good," I said. "I'll be waiting downstairs."
And I was. Sue pulled up to the curb at Second and Broad in a hot little silver Mustang with a blue flashing fight stuck on the roof. Some poor unfortunate drug dealer had been kind enough to equip the Mustang with a 5.0-liter high-output V-8 before unintentionally donating it to the exclusive use of the Seattle P.D. by way of a drug bust. As I crammed my six-three frame into the rider's side, I wished the bad guy had been taller. Short crooks tend to buy cars that are long on horsepower and short on headroom.
"How's it going?" I asked.
"Great," Sue said brusquely.
I was still closing the door when she gunned the engine and shot into traffic just ahead of an accelerating Metro bus that was lumbering down Second Avenue. Seattle police vehicles are supposedly nonsmoking in these politically correct days, but there was more than a hint of cigarette smoke wafting around in the Mustang when I got inside. Despite the cold, the driver's-side window was rolled all the way down . . . Lying in Wait
. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.