Marcia Muller

Trophies And Dead Things

The tenth book in the Sharon McCone series, 1990


On summer mornings San Francisco is often shrouded by a heavy fog. It billows through the Golden Gate and moves insidiously about the city, transforming familiar places and ordinary objects into things of beauty, mystery, or-in certain cases-evil. It hangs thick outside windows, slips under doors, and permeates the consciousness of those on the raw edge of waking. An untroubled rest will then degenerate into tossing and turning; pleasant dreams grow nightmarish. When the fog's victims open their eyes, they are already aware of a curious deadening of spirit, even before they face the gray day.

I was one of those victims on a Saturday morning in July. Long before my alarm was due to go off at the unholy hour of seven I woke and lay contemplating the shadows that gathered in the corners of my bedroom. Finally I reached for the rod that controlled the mini-blinds on the window above my head and turned it. The light that entered was murky; I sat up, saw mist decorating the branches of my backyard pine trees like angel's hair.

I sighed, turned off the alarm before it could ring, and,flopped back against the pillows. The flat, dull feeling I'd awakened with deepened. There had been a dream… of what? I couldn't remember, but its aura persisted- distinctive, depressing.

I focused on the day ahead, but its prospects weren't too cheerful, either. Hank Zahn, senior partner at All Souls Legal Cooperative, where I am staff investigator, had asked a favor: that I help him clear out the flat of a client who had been killed in one of a recent rash of random street shootings. Although it was not the way I cared to spend my Saturday, I'd agreed because I sensed that Hank-one of my oldest and closest friends-needed my presence. And there was one bright spot: he'd bribed me with the promise of lunch; that plus Hank's good company was a winning combination.

Lord knew I could use some good company. This morning's low-grade depression might be mostly fog-induced, but the last month had been lonely and bleak, the five before it not much better. I had to find some way out of these emotional doldrums- The doorbell rang.

Uneasiness stole over me, the way it does when doorbells or phones ring at times when they're typically not supposed to. I got up, grabbed my robe, belted it securely as I went down the hall. When I got to the door, I peered through its peephole.

Jim Addison, the man I'd been seeing up until a month ago, stood on the steps-and he was drunk. At a little after seven in the morning, he was obviously drunk.

I opened the door and stared. Jim listed against the porch railing, a foxy little gleam in his blue eyes. His sandy hair was tousled, his clothing was rumpled, and he reeked of cigarette smoke.

He said, 'All-night jam session.' Jim was a jazz pianist who played on weekends with a group at a small club near the beach. 'Can I come in?'

I hesitated, wondering how quickly and easily I could get rid of him, then decided humoring him was the best approach. (Get rid of him… humor him… What had once been a pleasant relationship had come down to that.)

'For a few minutes.' I let him in and led him down the hall to the kitchen, where I went directly to the coffee- maker and filled it with water. He went directly to the refrigerator and looked inside.

'Got any wine?'

'There's half a bottle of Riesling on the shelf in the door.' While I whirled beans in the coffee grinder with one hand, I reached into the cupboard with the other and passed him a glass. I'd become used to Jim winding down his day while I was just beginning mine, although he didn't often unwind to such excess.

When I got the coffee going and turned, I saw he was just standing there, holding the empty wineglass and frowning. 'You hate me, don't you?' he said.

I sighed. 'Of course not.' It was the same question he'd asked when I'd told him I didn't want to see him anymore- and in each of his numerous and persistent phone calls since then. My answer was true, although I'd long ago wearied of reassuring him. Jim was a nice man with a good sense of humor, a talented and dedicated musician, and I liked him a great deal. In fact, it was liking him so much that had made me decide to end the relationship. It's unkind to use someone you care for to get over someone else whom you think you love.

He regarded me for a moment and then his lips twisted disgustedly. 'Sensible and rational as ever, aren't you?'

'What's that supposed to-'

'You're always right, you always know what's best for me, for you, for the whole fucking world!'

'That's not true.' If I were so sensible and rational, would I allow myself to go on missing a man whom I hadn't heard from for over six months? Would I have allowed myself to fall in love with that particular man in the first place?

Jim slammed the wineglass down on the counter so hard that it shattered. My gaze jumped to the gleaming shards and then to his face, mottled with rage. It was the first time I'd ever seen him angry.

'What do I have to say to get through to you?' he demanded.

'We've said it all before.'

'No, I don't think so. Not yet, we haven't!' Abruptly he turned and went down the hall; the front door opened and slammed behind him.

'Great,' I said. 'Just great. What else can go wrong today?'

I expelled a long breath and leaned back against the counter; behind me the coffeemaker wheezed and burbled. For a moment I considered whether Jim-this new angry Jim whom I didn't know-had a potential for violence. Well, I decided, we all did, didn't we? I'd have to wait and see what he did next. And on that less than encouraging note, I went to turn on the shower.

While I was washing my hair, the dream I'd had came back to me. I'd been driving to meet Hank at his client's flat in the Inner Richmond district, but after I crested Buena Vista Heights and descended into the Haight-Ashbury, I found that Stanyan, the northbound street on the edge of Golden Gate Park, had disappeared. In my confusion I made a series of turns that led me deep into unfamiliar territory, then suddenly I arrived at the top of the hill again. Over and over I'd driven down into the Haight. Over and over I'd found no trace of Stanyan Street.

Such frustration dreams-repeatedly dialing a phone and hitting the wrong buttons, missing a plane because I couldn't get packed in time-were nothing new to me. I'd recently read a paperback on the subject and learned that they're an indication that the dreamer is of two minds about reaching the destination, completing the call, or making the plane trip. But in this case, despite the depressing nature of the task ahead, I couldn't understand why I should feel such strong ambivalence-or why the dream had left such an unpleasant, lingering aura.

Superstitiously I crossed my shampoo-slick fingers against the possibility of the dream being a bad omen.

By nine o'clock I'd had three cups of coffee and done the Chronicle crossword, and my spirits had risen somewhat. By nine-thirty, when I arrived in the Inner Richmond (Stanyan Street still being there after all), I felt reasonably cheerful.

The Richmond is a solidly middle-class district on the northwest side of Golden Gate Park, consisting mainly of single-family homes and multi-flat buildings set close together on small lots. Once it was heavily populated by members of the city's Russian and Irish communities, but in the past couple of decades it has become the neighborhood of choice for upwardly mobile Asians. While the Catholic churches and Irish pubs and the Russian Orthodox cathedral on Geary Boulevard remain, everywhere there are signs of the new residents.

As I drove along Clement Street, the district's busy shopping area, I noted eight Asian restaurants within two blocks: one Thai, one Japanese, one Burmese, two Vietnamese, and three different types of Chinese. Produce

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