Back to the files.

Angie Atkins, in her late teens, a hooker who’d been found slashed to death three years ago in an alley off Sixth Street downtown-San Francisco’s skid row. No family, no history. She’d never been fingerprinted-didn’t hold a driver’s license-but Rae had a lead on another hooker who had been Angie’s best friend. So far her informant had only given her a first name-Callie-which she could’ve made up in order to get the money for her next fix.

Victims’ Advocates was a nonprofit group funded by various foundations and state and federal grants. Their focus was on cold cases involving violence to women. Although they employed two investigators, they were currently on overload, and McCone Investigations had agreed to take the case pro bono.

Why, Rae thought now, had she been the one Adah Joslyn approached with the assignment? And why had she agreed? She didn’t draw a salary from the agency, didn’t need to work if she didn’t want to. But although she and Ricky had so much money that neither of them would have to lift a finger for the rest of their lives, idleness wasn’t a component of their natures. So he managed his recording company, scouted for new talent, issued an occasional CD, and performed charity concerts. She wrote and investigated, because both pursuits were in her blood.

Now Rae tried to think of scenarios that would link the cold case with the burglar who had rifled their offices and then shot Shar. It was a stretch. She’d asked Patrick Neilan, the operative who coordinated their investigations, to look into those that Shar had been working three years ago. He’d turned up nothing to link with this one.

Finally Rae gave up and decided to have a glass of wine while she waited for Ricky to return from his recording company’s headquarters in LA.

Then the phone rang. An informant with an address for Angie Atkins’s friend Callie-last name O’Leary.


He was really pissed off, and Celestina Gates wasn’t improving his mood any.

She strode around the living room of her Nob Hill condominium issuing statements that boiled down to it’s-all- about-me and why-haven’t-you-found-out-who’s-ruined-my-life. Tall, willowy, with long dark hair, she normally would have attracted Mick. Had attracted him when he’d first met her. Now, instead of taking her to bed, he wanted to dangle her off her twelfth-story balcony.

Being pissed off had to do with Shar’s condition: Gates’s problem seemed so trivial compared with what had happened to his aunt. His aunt, who had put up with his immaturity, mentored him, given him a sure direction in life.

If this Gates bitch had anything to do with Shar’s shooting… He waited with gritted teeth till his client’s tantrum had passed, sitting on her red leather sofa and looking at the gray sky above the grim brownstone facade of the old Flood Mansion across California Street-a creation of famed architect Willis Polk that now housed the exclusive Pacific-Union Club. When Gates finally sat in a matching chair opposite him and fumbled with a cigarette and lighter, he said, “Ms. Gates, something’s wrong here.”

“Of course something’s wrong! My life and career are destroyed!”

“That’s not what I mean.”

Her nostrils flared. “What, you think I’m not telling you everything?”

She’d said it, he hadn’t. “Yes, I do.”

“How dare you-?”

He held up his hand. “Last night I was rereading the case histories you describe in Protect Your Identity. In each one, it took a long time for the individual to regain access to bank accounts and establish new credit card accounts and ratings.”

Wary now. “Yes.”

“I understand that as an expert on identity theft, this would be easier for you to accomplish than for a run-of- the-mill victim-even one using your book.”

“I suppose so.”

“Yet you chose to hire our agency.”

“Well, sometimes an objective investigator can do a better job than the individual involved.”

“Uh-huh. You claim you’ve been financially ruined.”

“I have been.”

“This condo-your mortgage is ninety-five hundred and thirteen dollars a month.”

“How do you-?”

“And that Jaguar in the garage downstairs is leased for three thousand.”

“… Right.”

“Your credit cards are all clean, and over there in the foyer are five big shopping bags full of stuff from places like Gucci and Neiman Marcus.”

“So what’s your point?”

“You don’t seem to be hurting-at least not as badly as you’ve made it out to be.”

“I’ve tapped into my savings-”

“Your column’s been canceled, nobody wants you on TV, clients are running like hell from your consulting firm. And you told me a book contract’s on hold. You’re spending a lot for someone who’s living on her savings and has no prospects for future income.”

She stubbed out the cigarette and immediately lit another. “I have an image to keep up.”

“According to you, that image is ruined.”

“All right, so I’m a compulsive shopper.”

“I doubt that. You’re too savvy a businesswoman to yield to impulse.”

“We all have our faults.”

“And one of yours is lying.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Never lie to an investigator when you’re trying to pull off a scam, Ms. Gates. It’s too easy for us to check into your background, credit rating, and finances. I did, when I started feeling uncomfortable about you. Everything’s golden, except for a scam you pulled off before you left your hometown in Texas. And that’s been pretty well covered up; I had to dig hard for the information. It was a similar scam to the one you’re trying to pull off now, but on a more minor scale.”

“What the hell-?”

“Failure and triumphant recoveries generate publicity and profits. Your career has been slacking off for at least two years since other, more reliable consultants have come on the scene. My guess is that you hired our agency so you could outshine us by solving your own manufactured identity theft and putting yourself back on top.”

She was silent now, glowering. Caught out.

“Who was going to be the lucky individual to take the blame for the theft?”

More silence.


“You’re so smart. Who do you think?”

It came to him in a flash. Himself! Why hadn’t he realized that before? Dumb, just plain dumb. He was the perfect scapegoat: he had all her significant information, and she’d probably set up a way to prove he’d had it before she ever went to McCone Investigations. Set up a way to prove the nonexistent identity theft, too.

He didn’t have to ask her why she’d picked him. Publicity value. After all, he was Ricky Savage’s son.

Nearly choking on his anger, he stood and loomed over her. She squirmed a little but maintained eye contact.

He said, “On the night of July seventh, did you or someone you hired go to Pier 24? looking for information I’d gathered?”

“Me? Why-Oh, God, that was the night your boss was shot!”


“I didn’t go there. I never hired anyone. You can’t involve me in that-oh, no.”

Her defensive reaction seemed genuine, made him think she was telling the truth. “I’ll accept that for now. But if I find out otherwise, I’ll go to the police and the press and expose you for what you are.”

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