Julia always thought in her primary language when she was upset. And every time she conferred with Haven Dietz, she had trouble concealing her emotional turmoil.

Thing was, it could’ve been her. Was more likely to have been her, given her past. She’d been hooking and dealing on the tough streets of the Mission district when she was a teenager; Haven had been assaulted while taking a shortcut home through a park in the supposedly safe, middle-class outer Richmond district.

Por Dios…

But something wasn’t right with Dietz, and Julia couldn’t pin it down. She’d come to the agency for help, but her behavior ranged from noncooperative to hostile. Also, she professed to dislike Larry Peeples’s parents, yet she’d strongly urged them to contract with the agency and request Julia as their investigator. Of course the cases were connected, and Dietz knew it.

Always before, Julia had met with Dietz at her apartment, but today she’d asked her to come here. Power play.

“I’m finding strong links between your case and the Larry Peeples disappearance,” Julia added. “Can we talk about your relationship with him again?”

The woman sighed and fired up a cigarette without asking-in spite of the NO SMOKING signs posted on the wall along the cat-walk. “We’ve been over and over this. Larry was a neighbor and he was gay. We were casual friends, nothing more.”

Julia didn’t like Dietz, but more than once she’d told herself she couldn’t let it interfere with her investigation.

“You and Larry were close friends, according to his lover, Ben Gold.”

She shrugged. “We lived on the same floor. Sometimes I’d go to dinner at his apartment, or he’d come to mine. We didn’t exactly run in the same social circles.”

“When you saw him, what did you talk about?”

“Haven’t we done this before?”

Julia bit the tip of her tongue to control her temper. “It helps to keep going over things.”

Another sigh. “We talked about my job at the firm and his at the Home Showcase. About movies we’d seen and books we’d read. Nothing heavy. It was a way to pass the time and not have to cook for one. I don’t exactly call that a relationship.”

“But Larry took care of you when you came home from the hospital.”

“Nobody else was going to.” Bitterness filtered into her tone. “My parents were too busy sailing their damn yacht across the Pacific. My so-called friends turned out to be people who couldn’t deal with disfigurement.”

Dietz looked down at the cigarette, which was close to burning her fingers. She registered that there was no ashtray on the desk and glanced around.

“We don’t encourage our clients to smoke,” Julia said and motioned to her wastebasket. “Make sure it’s out. The service’s already emptied it, but I don’t want the plastic bag to melt.”

Dietz ground the butt out on the basket’s side and dropped it in. The smell of scorched plastic immediately drifted up to further poison the air.

Julia said, “You’ve told me you and Larry didn’t see too much of each other after you recovered from the attack.”

“No, we didn’t. He was working extra hours at Home Showcase and was with Ben Gold a lot. Besides…”

That was one thing she’d been holding back.


“Well, we had kind of a falling-out. He told me I was a terrible patient and didn’t appreciate all he’d done for me. I offered to pay him for his time, and then he called me a spoiled rich brat. Which is definitely not fair, because if anybody was spoiled it was Larry. His family has tons of money: they own an award-winning winery in the Sonoma Valley.”

Julia knew all about the winery: Larry’s grieving parents had told her that shortly before he’d disappeared he’d agreed to return home and train to take over the business. They’d also invited her up there for a tour and lunch, but so far she hadn’t gone. She didn’t know how to act or dress in social situations with rich people. Across her desk she did better.

She said, “You and Larry never made up, right?”


“But you suggested that his parents consult our agency about his disappearance.”

“That was to get them off my back. They kept coming down here and hammering me with questions. They’re sure I know something-which I don’t.”

Julia consulted her file. “The day Larry disappeared-”

“We’ve been over this at least half a dozen times… Oh, hell, all right. I ran into him at the mailboxes about eleven that morning. We ignored each other. Later I felt guilty about that. After all, he did take care of me, and I’m not a very good patient. Besides, the building manager had told me Larry was giving up the apartment and moving back to Sonoma. So after I went out for groceries I went over there to say good-bye. He didn’t come to the door, although I sensed he was there, so I said the hell with it. Two days later Ben Gold came to my door asking if I’d seen Larry. And then the police got into it, and then the damned parents.”

“This Ben Gold-what’s your take on him?”

Dietz shrugged.

“Come on, you must’ve formed some opinion.” From her background check, Julia had learned the details of Gold’s life: born in the Bronx to a poor family; abusive home life; tried to make it on the New York stage and, when he didn’t, headed to less competitive San Francisco, where he’d had modest success with low-budget commercials. But she really couldn’t get a handle on Gold, other than that he was very distressed by his lover’s disappearance.

“He doesn’t like me, and I don’t like him,” Dietz said. “He’s ambitious about the acting and modeling. Sucked up to Larry’s parents, too. Have you talked with him?”


“So what’s your take on him?” Dietz asked.

“For a while he wasn’t getting on with his life. Spent a lot of time at the Peepleses’ vineyard. The mother seems to view him as a substitute for her son. That’s about to end, though; he’s moving to LA soon-something about an acting job.”

Dietz’s brow knitted and her gaze grew far away. After a moment she said, “Those parents…”

“What about them?”

Another shrug.

“Why d’you suppose they think you know more than you’re telling?”

“You’ll have to ask them.”

Julia had more questions, but her phone rang. She checked to see who was calling and said, “I need to take this.”


He slumped in a chair across the desk from Dr. Ralph Saxnay, Shar’s attending physician at the Brandt Neurological Institute. The starkly white and functional office was very quiet, except for the ticking of a grandfather clock on the facing wall. City sounds were muted in this eucalyptus-surrounded enclave.

“Mr. Ripinsky?”

“I’m sorry. It’s difficult to process all this.”

“I understand.”

Hy studied Saxnay. The doctor was tall and thin and totally bald, with a pale skeletal face and small blue eyes. Intelligent eyes, and full of compassion.

The situation with McCone was evidently much worse than when the medical professionals had thought she was in a coma.

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