disconnecting the patches that connected me to the monitors from my arms, legs, and chest.

God, those are my lifelines! They’re going to kill me!

The voiceless scream rose. Subsided when someone said, “Okay, let’s get her onto the gurney.”

Being lifted. Moved sideways. Down onto a harder surface. Tugging of blankets. Clicking of strap connectors.

Where are they taking me? More tests?

I struggled to make my vocal cords work. Couldn’t.

I tried to raise my arm. Couldn’t.

Clumsy maneuvering through a door. Then swift forward motion, wheels bumping over uneven spots on the floor. Acoustical ceiling and fluorescents passing overhead. Automatic door noise, and then…

Fresh air. Cool and faintly salt-tinged.

I’m outside!

Another voice: “We’ll take her from here.” A face appeared above me-male, smooth, young. “Ms. McCone,” he said, “if you can hear me, I’m Andy with the Sequoia Ambulance Service. We’re taking you to the Brandt Neurological Institute.”

Oh, right. Where Hy told the doctor he was having me transferred. The terror subsided, and I blinked my eyelids, but Andy had looked away. “It’s only a twenty-minute trip,” he added, “and we’ll try to make you as comfortable as possible.”

Why does he sound as if he doesn’t believe I can understand a word he says?

Will somebody please look at me and see I’m still here?

Weariness washed over me and I slept.

Cool light. Blue walls. Scent of fresh-cut flowers. A window. And beyond it a thick stand of eucalyptus.

I love eucalyptus. I wish the window were open so I could smell them. But this floral scent… what…?

I tried to look around, but from the way the bed was positioned I couldn’t see much more of the room. Looked up. Suspended from the overhead track was a stainless steel contraption that looked like an elaborate, multi-barbed fishhook. An IV bag was suspended from it, as well as a container of a brownish liquid.

Alone? Yes, I can tell by the quality of the silence.

Tired. So tired. Was it yesterday that Hy said it had been ten days? Ten whole days since I’d been in a coma, then weak and helpless?

No, admit it-paralyzed.

But not in a coma. I can think, see, hear, breathe, and feel. I just can’t move or speak.

Just? That’s everything!

Got to find some way to let them know.

Got to!

Someone coming into the room. Hand on my forehead. Hy.

“We’re at the Brandt Institute, McCone,” he said. “I just met your new neurosurgeon. They’re going to do everything they can to help you.”

Don’t stand over to the side. Look at my face!

“It’s a nice place, out on Jackson Street, near the Presidio. Nice people, too.”

Look at me, dammit!

“First thing tomorrow they’re going to run some more brain scans and try to get an accurate diagnosis. Then…” He fell silent for a few seconds.

“Hell, McCone, if you could hear me, you’d know I’m clutching at straws here. There’s so much they don’t know about the brain, and I know even less. God, I can’t…”

He was crying. I’d seldom known him to cry.

He moved around, bent over, and buried his face on my shoulder. His body shook and his tears wet my hospital gown. I wanted to hold him, and I couldn’t move. Comfort him, and I had no words.

After a moment, he raised his head and looked straight into my eyes.

I blinked at him, moved my eyes up and down.

He drew back, astonishment and hope brightening his drawn features. Gently he reached out to touch my face.

“You’re here with me!” he said.

I blinked again.

“You can hear me. See me.”


“Can you move?”

I decided two blinks would mean no.

“Can you talk to me?”

Blink, blink.

“Doesn’t matter. You’re on your way back. I’m getting your doctor.”

Thank God. I knew I could count on you, Ripinsky.

But what the hell took you so long?


She propped her right elbow on the desk and lowered her forehead to the palm of her hand. Her eyes ached and pain needled above her brow. Through the open doorway of her study she could hear her stepdaughters, Molly and Lisa, squabbling downstairs over which DVD to watch. She wouldn’t interfere. Let them duke it out-that was her parenting philosophy. Prepare them ahead of time for the often rocky shoals of life.

She took several deep breaths. The throbbing stopped. She raised her head and fumbled in the desk drawer for eyedrops. They soothed the ache.

She raised her head and stared out the window to the northeast at the fog-shrouded towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. Below the house waves pounded the shoreline. Many millions’ worth of view. She remembered when she and Ricky and the real-estate agent had first toured the multilevel mansion in the exclusive Sea Cliff area: it was so beautiful that she ached to live there. She’d been poor and in debt most of her life, and she couldn’t believe anything remotely like that was possible. But in the bedroom with the indoor hot tub overlooking the sea, Ricky had put his arms around her and said, “What do you think, Red? Will you live here with me?” The answer was a given.

Back to the present, she told herself.

But the present was so depressing. Shar…

She thought back to her initial interview with the woman she’d hoped would be her boss, when Shar was staff investigator at All Souls Legal Cooperative, a poverty law firm. Rae had been in her twenties, trapped in a bad marriage to a professional student, and adrift as far as a career was concerned. Shar’s faith in her ability to make a good investigator had given her the strength to break with her husband and move on. And as they worked together, a friendship strong enough to last a lifetime had formed between them.

At least, she’d thought it would last a lifetime, till some scum-bag had pumped a bullet into Shar’s brain.

And now she was trying without much success to connect this old homicide to Shar’s shooting. Cold cases fascinated most people, but as far as Rae was concerned they were a pain in the ass. For that matter, so was the director at the San Francisco Victims’ Advocates. Maggie Lambert, an old-school feminist and former rape victim with great empathy for her mostly deceased clients. But Maggie wasn’t interested in providing accurate files or details. She wanted instant resolutions to cases that had been gathering dust forever.

Plus it was hard for Rae to focus when she was so worried about Shar.

Shar-now almost but not quite a relative by marriage. Ricky was only Shar’s former brother-in-law, but his and her sister Charlene’s six kids-four of whom Rae was participating in raising-had caused her enough trouble to qualify her for family membership. They weren’t collectively called the Little Savages for nothing.

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