“Nah, he was in it for the publicity.”

After she hung up the receiver, she slumped back again, brooding over the duffel bag.

There were footsteps on the catwalk, and Rae came into the office. “God, I’m exhausted!” she exclaimed and flopped on her back on the floor.

“Where’ve you been?”

“Lafayette, interviewing Senta Summers again. No surprises there. It’s hotter than hell in the East Bay, and traffic got snarled near the Caldecott Tunnel.”

“I’ve never been there-I mean, past the tunnel.”

“Pretty suburbs, rolling hills. But it’s getting so damn overpopulated. Every place in California is getting overpopulated. What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“The bag on your desk.”

“A big pain in the culo.” She briefly summarized her theory about the bag.

Rae listened, massaging her temples with her fingertips.

“Okay,” she said. “Your reasoning sounds solid. Whoever attacked Dietz bled, and some of it came off on the bag’s lining. If you were a cop, you could go to databases of known offenders and try for a DNA match. But you’re not a cop.”

“And I can’t break my agreement of confidentiality with the Peeples. I was the one who told them to keep the money in their safe.”

“Because there was no evidence of a crime. You’re entitled to hold money you find on your property any place you choose. Even the bloodstains don’t prove a crime-their son could’ve cut himself shaving the day he stashed the cash.”

“Right. So what should I do? I’ve never had to deal with anything this complicated before.”

Rae was silent, her knees bent, arms outflung on the carpet.

“Let Shar hear the evidence. She’ll know.”

“How? She’s fighting for her life.”

Rae sat up, blue eyes wide. “Didn’t anybody tell you? She’s completely conscious, making sounds, and moving a little-a miracle. Give her a few days. This case will wait till then.”

Julia put her head in her hands and cried with relief.

MONDAY, JULY 28

SHARON McCONE

Today is the day I really start living again.

I can move-minimally. I can talk, even if it does come out garbled most of the time. I’m responding to therapy.

But best of all, they’re all coming this afternoon. We’re holding a staff meeting right here in my new room at the Brandt Institute.

It was a bigger room with two upholstered chairs and an even better view of the eucalyptus grove. Same restful blue walls, but I now found myself drawn to the bright spots of color of the flowers people had sent and a poster of Rae’s new book jacket that she’d tacked up.

Bright color, a symbol of action, liveliness, my future.

Hy, of course, had briefed me all along on the investigations. Indictments were being prepared against Pro Terra Party Chairman Lee Summers, his aides, and a dozen city and state officials. Summers was under investigation for the murders of his daughter, Harvey Davis, Amanda Teller, and Paul Janssen; whether he’d done them or hired them out made no difference. He was going down.

But it was doubtful he or one of his associates had put the bullet in my head.

That left the case Julia was working on, which she was going to present to me this afternoon. And if my shooting wasn’t connected with that-then what?

A run-of-the-mill burglary that I interrupted? The random situation of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

No, that didn’t feel right.

One in the afternoon. I could actually turn my head a little to see the small crystal clock that Hy had bought me. The agency staff were coming at one-thirty. I felt like a kid who was having a birthday party.

A bald-as-an-egg kid.

The nurses kept reassuring me that my hair would grow back in. But when they’d removed the bandages, I’d wondered. Jesus, what vanity! But I’d always had such thick, manageable hair-probably my best feature.

No, from now on your best feature will be walking and talking. Making love with Hy. Eventually driving and flying. Living-pure sweet living.

Promptly at one-thirty they filed in-Julia, Mick, Craig, Rae, and Adah. In the interest of keeping the meeting small, we’d decided against including Patrick, Derek, and Thelia. Hy had come a few minutes earlier and leaned against the wall, making room for the others.

Adah chaired the meeting, asking first Craig, then Mick, and finally Rae to sum up the city hall investigation. The indictments had come down, the accused had lawyered up. Lee Summers was being held without bail for the murders of Teller and Janssen. The chief evidence against him was the document Teller had made Janssen sign, admitting to collaborating with Summers in choosing his victims for the sex videos: instead of destroying it, Summers had carelessly left it in a locked drawer in his office. The Pro Terra Party-which had only been a vehicle for getting into office lawmakers whose votes would financially benefit Summers and a handful of associates-had been disbanded, although some environmentalists Hy knew were thinking of reviving it in its original incarnation. There was no tangible evidence to link Summers or any of his cohorts to my shooting, but the authorities were investigating Summers’s involvement in his daughter Alicia’s murder.

One case closed.

“The mayor,” Hy said, “is weathering the storm with his usual diplomacy. City operations go on uninterrupted.”

Adah said, “Julia? Your case?”

She stood, visibly nervous. I knew why: everybody else had closed their investigations; she-a relatively new kid on the block-had hit a wall. I tried to smile reassuringly at her, but smiles were not my forte these days.

She gave a detailed synopsis of the case, holding up pictures from her file as she had the last time.

“What bothers me,” she ended, “is why Larry Peeples would leave a hundred thousand dollars at his parents’ place and not try to retrieve it till recently.”

Think, Julia. Maybe he didn’t leave it.

Maybe he couldn’t retrieve it.

“And if he attacked Dietz for it, why did he nurse her back to health?” Julia went on, “The attack was savage- no simple mugging. And the perp brought along his own bag to stash the money in. I asked the parents what Larry’s blood type is-O positive. It was AB negative in the duffel.”

Because Peeples didn’t attack her. It was the perp’s blood.

“But it stands to reason he put the money under the floor in that tack room. Whoever did it had knowledge of the place, and an excuse to be there in case somebody saw them. I called Ben Gold before I came over here, asked him for yet another follow-up interview later this afternoon. And tomorrow, I’ll talk with the parents again.”

I moved a finger toward the file-a tiny gesture, but Hy caught it and told Julia to hold it up where I could see it. She turned the pages slowly until I found what I was looking for.

Somebody else was familiar with the property. And could’ve explained away his being there.

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