As Robin Matucci sails under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Pacific, the sea is calm and her deckhand, Carlos, is sober. By the next day, the sky is black and Carlos is passed out drunk. The waves crest higher as Robin fights to reach land, until they finally overwhelm her small ship. Fire springs up from the engine room, and the tiny craft goes to the bottom of the Pacific. When the wreck’s remains surface, Robin is gone, but the police recover samples of her hair. They then discover that the samples match those found at the site of a hit-and-run accident from three years before. The hit-and-run victim’s widow wants Robin found, dead or alive, and hires medical examiner turned private detective Kiernan O’Shaughnessy to find her. The answer to the riddle of the missing mariner will take Kiernan to the depths of the ocean, and back into the arms of a man she thought she had left behind forever.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Susan Dunlap including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
Rogue Wave is the 2nd book in the Kiernan O'Shaughnessy Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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About the Author
Susan Dunlap (b. 1943) is a prolific author of mystery novels. Born in the suburbs of New York, Dunlap majored in English at Bucknell College and earned a masters in teaching from the University of North Carolina. She was a social worker before an Agatha Christie novel inspired her to try her hand writing mysteries. Five attempts and five years later, she published Karma (1981), which began a ten book series about brash Berkeley cop Jill Smith. Since then, Dunlap has published more than twenty novels and numerous short stories. Her other ongoing characters include the meter-reading detective Vejay Haskell, medical examiner Kiernan O’Shaugnessy, and Zen student turned detective Darcy Loft. In addition to writing, Dunlap has taught yoga, worked as a paralegal, and helped found the women’s mystery organization Sisters In Crime. She lives in San Francisco.
Read an Excerpt
By Susan Dunlap
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Susan Dunlap
All rights reserved.
Her knuckles stood out white against the tan of her clenched hands. She could no longer feel where her skin stopped and the boat's wheel began. Her arms were nearly numb from the prolonged pressure, and her shoulders were so tense that she couldn't turn her head.
Robin Matucci stared through the spray-mottled window at the black water. The Pacific off the Golden Gate wasn't supposed to be so rough, not in October. She had miscalculated. She'd needed a storm, but not one like this. A black wall of water flung itself forward, and Early Bird jolted. She had to keep her feet firmly planted, one pressed against the bulkhead, knees braced.
The bow hit a wave and lifted sharply. The cabin door broke loose from its hook and banged. She clung to the wheel as much as steered with it. Risking a quick look behind her, she saw the body of Carlos Delaney, her deckhand, banging back and forth in the open stern. Delaney was drunk.
He'd been dry since he'd signed on, right up until they'd passed under the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday afternoon. But one taste of bourbon and that was the end of it. Half a bottle gone in record time, and the ocean getting rougher by the minute. When the blow came that felled him, he couldn't get out of the way. An inch lower, and it would have burst his carotid artery. Now his dark hair fanned over his goggles, and his thin lips were parted in a parody of the wry smile that had made her ignore her suspicions until it was too late. He lay like a stunned sockeye, waiting to be washed overboard.
What she would have given to have Early Bird headed toward shore! But in a storm like this she couldn't pull the wheel hard over and turn around, couldn't expose the starboard side to a wave, even momentarily, couldn't risk the boat broaching, skidding out of control, helpless against the next wave that would smash down on the starboard quarter and toss Early Bird over like a child's plastic tub toy.
But the sun had been out when they left the wharf! She almost laughed at that excuse—who was she going to tell, St. Peter?
Early Bird would go down. And no one would be surprised.
Robin grabbed the wheel tighter and stared through the windshield. The gigantic wave coming—flying—at her was so high the mast light reflected off it halfway up. She couldn't see the foam at its crest. It hit with a sickening smack. Early Bird lurched straight up, as if a rope had yanked up the bow. The wind battered her face, numbed her ears; still she could hear the scrape and thump of Delaney slamming into the bulkhead. Then the boat stopped, dead. The wind was silent.
Early Bird had crested the wave.
Momentarily, Early Bird hung in midair, and the only sound was the ominous whir of props spinning out of water. Then the boat slammed into the trough and walls of water rose round her. Her breath caught. It took her a moment to recognize that unfamiliar sensation: fear. She was never afraid, never let herself be.
Delaney moaned. The boat hurtled into the next trough, sending him flying. Water crashed into the windshield; the side window shattered. Glass spat across the cabin. Water lashed her face.
Through blurred and stinging eyes she stared up at the foam at the top of the wave as it began to curl down, aiming its full force at them with a viciousness she'd never seen in these waters.
There was no time left. She had to deal with Delaney. He was less than a yard from the cabin doorway. But the wave was too close now. Her hands froze on the wheel.
Early Bird flew straight up. Delaney slammed against the fighting chair in the cockpit. The boat shot down so steeply that she was sure it would pitchpole end over end. Water crashed over the bow and banged back and forth inside the boat. Hanging onto the wheel, she watched as Delaney bounced against the stern. His mouth was open. He was screaming! No. Of course he wasn't. Delaney was past screaming. That shriek was the wind. The boat slid backward; water swept over the stern. She watched Delaney go with it—over the stern into the ocean.
Her whole body shook. She pushed Delaney out of her mind. She couldn't afford to think of him, or of how slim were her own chances of surviving. The engine strained; with the props out of water, it would burn out.
Another wave exploded through the broken window; water poured over the stern and for a panicky moment she thought it would bring Delaney's body with it.
Location! She'd lost track. Was she too near the rocky mounds of the Farallon Islands? They could destroy her! She pictured the murderous sea smashing Delaney's corpse against the Farallon rocks. Unbeckoned came the horrifying vision of Delaney, as the Coast Guard picked up his mangled, bruised, dead, dead, body.
She steered automatically, despite her terror. And when the flames shot up from the engine room, she made no move to stop them. Before dawn off the coast south of San Francisco Early Bird sank.CHAPTER 2
Kiernan O'Shaughnessy sat staring over her office desk at the misty yellow finger of sun stroking the Pacific breakers. Dusk came early this time of year. Still, there was no place more beautiful than La Jolla, with its gray-green water lumbering toward shore, rubber-suited surfers gliding atop the waves, and adolescents on their boogie boards, balancing, balancing, grabbing for air, and finally flailing down into the surf. Beyond it all, the horizon dropped off in clouds of crimson like the fiery breath of ancient dragons.
"Dinner in ten minutes!" Brad Tchernak called.
The smell of garlic butter floated in from his half of the duplex. She pictured him, all six feet, four inches and 240 pounds of ex-football muscle, standing at the counter breading a trio of giant clams flown in fresh from Oregon. When she stood next to him, the top of her short dark curly hair came to his armpit. It was one of the drawbacks of being not quite five foot one.
Less than ten minutes. She pulled open a file drawer and extricated the Yault file.
The door between the flats swung into hers. Ezra, her Labrador—Irish wolfhound cross, padded in, surveyed the desk, shook his wiry brown head in disgust and sank to the floor. Kiernan laughed. "Liked this room better as a kitchen, eh, Ez?" She reached down and rubbed behind his ears. "You are a very spoiled dog. One kitchen in Tchernak's flat isn't enough? I've never had food here. Only coffee. And even you, you big beggar, draw the line at that."
Ezra looked accusingly at the printer, where the stove had once been. Following the dog's glance, Kiernan eyed the file cabinets that had replaced kitchen cabinets, the computer that sat on a shelf above the smallest refrigerator money could buy. From the first moment she'd conceived of this remodeling job, this commitment to the decadent life, it had delighted her. As she had told friends, it was the working woman's equivalent of Chinese emperors growing their fingernails ridiculously long because they knew there would be servants as close as a thumbnail, or in her case, the front half of a duplex.
She would always have a housekeeper, but not necessarily Tchernak. The job wouldn't hold him forever. She tried to shake off the thought. Maybe once the election was over and Tchernak had more time ... But if the attention he'd been getting as a local spokesman for the campaign to impede offshore oil drilling was an indicator, his days of preparing baked sturgeon stuffed with Italian fontina could be numbered.
Kiernan gave the big dog's head a final rub. "Ezra, in spite of what you think, my flat does not need a kitchen. It needs an office with an ocean view."
"Eight minutes," Tchernak called from his kitchen.
The phone rang.
"Don't answer that," Tchernak warned. "Remember our agreement."
It rang again.
"I'll be through in seven minutes."
"Like last week, huh?"
"Tchernak, you forget your place. You are a house keeper, not a housemother." She picked up the receiver. "O'Shaughnessy."
"Kiernan O'Shaughnessy?" a hesitant male voice asked.
"And you're a detective now?"
"Private Investigator. Who is this?"
"You're the same Kiernan O'Shaughnessy who was a doctor at the coroner's office in San Francisco twelve years ago?" The voice seemed familiar, but she couldn't tell if the connection was muffling what she might have recognized, or creating a mechanical sameness that gave the illusion of familiarity. The man's nervousness was unmistakable. "Who is this?"
"Skip Olsen. From San Francisco."
"I was with the police back then, when you were at the coroner's. Harold Olsen. We had a few stiffs in common."
Olsen. Now she was beginning to remember. Harold "Skip" Olsen, a beat cop. He'd been about thirty then. Shortish, sandy-haired, excitable. The morgue had made him nervous. And he'd always referred to the corpses, her corpses, as stiffs. She'd never seen Skip Olsen without feeling he shouldn't have been a cop. He was too unsure of himself. She remembered his pale blue eyes, and the way they followed people's movements. There'd been a puckered look to his face, as if he was sure that even though he wore a uniform no one would take him seriously. But Kiernan had; she'd been wary of that insecurity, the type that led men to overcompensate. His was not an acquaintance she wanted to renew.
But even from the little he'd said, something didn't fit. The "Harold Olsen." Sergeant Olsen, or Lieutenant Olsen, is what Skip would have hidden behind. "Are you still with the police department?"
She could hear a quick intake of breath before he said, "No."
"No? How come?"
"Lamed out." Another nervous breath. "I was sorry to hear about your, uh, leaving the coroner's office up north."
He hadn't said "your being fired from the coroner's office." That small show of subtlety surprised her. But it did not move her to explain the circumstances: that her mistake had been a natural one; that all but one pathologist in northern California had been willing to support her. Instead she said, "You're calling me on business?"
There was another short pause. This one, she suspected, was the vacuum left by unfulfilled curiosity. Then he said, "I've got this drowning that might not be a drowning. I need you to check out the body."
"Wait a minute. You've got this case? You're not with the department anymore. Have you gone private?"
"I'm licensed. Not that big a deal for a guy who was a police sergeant."
"But?" she prompted, responding to his tone.
"I do background checks, things like that that don't call for much legwork. Like I said, I got lamed out—took a shot in the hip. They put my pelvis back together, but my days of fast getaways are gone." He gave an uncomfortable laugh. "But this isn't just a new case. It's connected to a hit-and-run I handled three years ago on beat."
"The client is Maureen Brant. Here's the story. A party fishing boat—you know, the type that takes groups out to fish for a day or so—went down south of San Francisco. That was ten days ago. Two people were aboard, Robin Matucci, the owner and captain, and her deckhand, Carlos Delaney. Delaney's body, or what's left of it, was washed up on the Farallons. Matucci's never turned up."
"Not surprising," Kiernan said, warming to the subject in spite of her hesitation about Olsen. "I did the postmortems on a few Golden Gate jumpers when I was at Bryant Street. One was washed all the way out to the Farallons."
"Not much left, I'll bet. Farallons are the only spot around where the ocean floor isn't too deep for marine life. You got the whole food chain out there: plankton, little fish, salmon, albacore, sea lions and the sharks. And plenty of happy crabs on the bottom all the time. You drop something or somebody in the water near there, don't expect to see them again. Or, if you do, they end up looking like lace tablecloths."
Kiernan recalled that false bravado of Olsen's; remembered him looking down at a drowned pimp on the slab and snidely pronouncing, "Not so well hung any more, huh?" The pathologist at the next table had begun clipping rib cartilage. Olsen had turned whiter than the autopsy table and run for the sink.
"Four minutes," Tchernak called, clearly irritated.
"Three years ago," Olsen hurried on, "Maureen Brant's husband, Garrett, was found unconscious on the side of the Great Highway out by the ocean. We figured he was walking by the dunes when the car struck him."
Garrett Brant. The name sounded familiar.
"You remember the Great Highway?"
"I lived in the city for seven years. The Great Highway isn't a place you forget," she said tersely. Skip Olsen had always made her a bit terse—her and everybody else, too. But she did remember the Great Highway, better than he'd have thought. Oddly deserted for a metropolitan beach, the dunes beyond it provided delicious if icy seclusion for lovers. Kiernan had discovered them in the spring of her first year of internship. For a pair of interns trying to escape the long, harried shifts at San Francisco General, the fog-covered dunes were a soft, secluded womb for a sleeping bag, a foolishly romantic spot in which to wrap each other close in a passion that blocked out thoughts of hospital rounds, IVs, and death; a place to drink wine from specimen containers while the May sun sank into the muddy gray Pacific. In winter, angry gusts off the ocean tossed tons of sand up and over the macadam, creating impassable dunes where the road had been.
"Whoever left your client's husband unconscious chose one of the places best suited to death by hypothermia."
"Three minutes, Kiernan!" Tchernak glared through the connecting doorway to his kitchen.
"Okay." To Olsen, she said, "I've got to make this fast. What's the link between the drowning ten days ago and this three-year-old hit-and-run?"
"I caught the call on Brant back then. I could see he was in bad shape the second I looked at him. It took exactly five-and-a-half minutes for the medics to roll up, so I had plenty of time to observe him. I noticed two things: one was a trail of blood from his nose. The other was a couple of hairs stuck in the blood. Reddish hairs. And Brant's a blond."
"The blood was from traumatic hemorrhage?"
"Good guess, but no," Olsen said, a touch of satisfaction in his voice. "It was a one-in-a-million stroke of bad luck. The windshield had shattered and sent slivers of glass flying at Brant. There was glass everywhere. But—and here's the one in a million—one sliver went up his nose."
Kiernan shivered. "And lodged in his brain?"
"Right. Of course. There was no way I could know that at the time."
Nodding at Tchernak, Kiernan said to Olsen, "But you realized that the red hairs had to have fallen in the blood after the accident."
"I bagged them, got the department to run a DNA check, and convinced a friendly tech to check it against every new San Francisco sample they ran. Three years and I came up empty."
"Right. Until the remains of that boat washed up on the beach. There'd been a fire. There wasn't much more left of the boat than there was of Delaney, but the remains included part of the wheelhouse. The lab needed to identify Delaney. So they ran the hairs. They didn't find a match for his, but they found the captain's, Robin Matucci's. And hers matched the hair stuck in Garrett Brant's blood."
"A DNA match in less than a week? Come on, Olsen. The tests for that are run sequentially; you can't complete them so quickly."
Olsen made an odd grunting sound. "Okay, Doc, semantic difference. What they ran was a PCR test."
"Not just a semantic difference. The polymerase chain reaction is only ninety-three percent accurate—at best."
"Yeah, but add to that that a witness saw a red convertible near the scene of the hit-and-run, and Robin Matucci drives a red sports car."
"Did she have it three years ago?"
"She did. And she's one of only fourteen women in all of San Francisco who've got both red hair and red convertibles. Maybe you've been gone too long to recall that San Francisco is fog land. Only people with money to blow buy convertibles so they can freeze."
Tchernak rounded the doorway, platter in hands. Ezra jumped up and bounded to the table.
"Have a seat," Tchernak grumbled "since you're the only one who's interested."
Refusing to acknowledge the jibe, Kiernan said, "The red convertible could have been borrowed. Still, okay, so the woman who captained this boat is a suspect in the attack on Brant three years ago."
Excerpted from Rogue Wave by Susan Dunlap. Copyright © 1991 Susan Dunlap. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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