“I don’t understand why nobody noticed she was… in there,” Hy said. “Shouldn’t they have seen the eyeblinks and motion when they put saline solution or whatever it is they use to keep the eyes hydrated?”

“Initially she was in a coma; if the patient’s eyes are closed and hydrating normally, there’s no need to augment it. Anyway, now that we know she’s awake, as indicated by the good brain wave activity shown in the CT scans taken at SF General and here earlier today, our preliminary diagnosis is locked-in syndrome. Do you know what that is?”


“Have you seen the film or read the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly?”


“Well, then. The syndrome is caused by traumatic brain injury: head wounds as in your wife’s case or by stroke. Before you leave today, we’ll provide you with literature that may help you understand it more thoroughly. And, of course, there’s plenty of material on the Internet, although much of it may be inaccurate. With locked-in syndrome, unlike coma, the patient has normal sleep-and-waking cycles, is conscious, can think and reason, and has sensation throughout her body. Your wife can blink and move her eyes and, now, breathe without a ventilator-all of which are very positive signs. But, as you know, she cannot speak or move or take nourishment without a feeding tube.”

It was a moment before Hy could process the information. “What’s the course of treatment for this syndrome?”

“We will take measures to prevent infection or pneumonia and give her physical therapy to prevent her limbs from contraction. She’ll be turned often to prevent bedsores. Good nutrition will be provided, of course. A speech therapist will help her to establish a communication code utilizing eyeblinks or eye movement.”

Alarm seeped into him. Something the doc wasn’t saying.

“And the recovery time…?”

Saxnay met his gaze evenly. “The mortality rate is high. Patients typically die within months, although some live for a few years.”

Months. A few years.

No! Not McCone!

“… You’re saying she’ll never come out of this.”

“No, I’m not, Mr. Ripinsky. The syndrome is relatively rare; there’s a lot we don’t know about it. Medical science is developing new methods such as implanting electrodes in the brain which bypass the normal communication channels from the brain to the muscles. Most of these are still in the experimental stage, but as soon as they’re proven, we’ll try them. Ms. McCone is a strong, otherwise healthy woman in full possession of her intellectual faculties. Each case is different-”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let me tune you out now. Because what you really mean is that my wife is going to die in silence.

She’s going to die, and there’s not a damn thing I can do to prevent it.

Now Saxnay left him alone for a while, ostensibly to collect more test results on Shar but really, he knew, to allow him to regroup. The grandfather clock ticked-seconds of his wife’s life slipping away. He got up and paced around the office.

All those times he and McCone had cheated death. The explosion in Stone Valley. The ambush down on the Mexican border. The near-crash in the Tehachapi Mountains.

And by herself: all the stuff from the past she’d told him about. Last year, when she left RKI’s Green Street building seconds before it blew up. Last November, when a lousy rental plane had crapped out on her and she’d had to crash-land in the high desert.

And now a fragmented bullet was lodged near her brain stem, doing more harm than all the criminals and aeronautical malfunctions could. A deadly little piece of metal, that none of her smarts and guts could combat.


The rundown Tenderloin district on the edges of the city’s posh downtown had improved since she’d first moved to San Francisco, but there were still more bad areas than good. Barred storefronts, boarded-up windows, winos passed out in doorways. Every stripe of predator on the prowl. But she wasn’t afraid. She’d walked these streets after dark many times before and come out unscathed. And she’d had the good sense to get firearms-qualified with a carry permit while she was Shar’s assistant at All Souls. Tonight she was armed and alert for danger.

A hooker in a short skintight red dress gave her the evil eye. No, sister. Do I look like somebody who’s trying to take over your turf?

A man in a black leather jacket and pants, accessorized with flashy gold jewelry, surveyed her speculatively, then looked away.

Well, I’m not a target for pimps, at least. Good to dress down for this foray.

She slowed at the corner of Ellis and Larkin, checking the numbers of the buildings on Ellis. Proceeded to the middle of the next block. The place where she was headed was one of those old brick six-story jobs that had once been respectable apartment houses and were now transient hotels-a polite term for flophouses.

She pushed the door open and went into a grubby faux-marble entry whose mailboxes had been vandalized, their doors ripped off or hanging on bent hinges. The entry opened into a dimly lighted lobby with a desk to one side, where a white-haired man sat in a chair, his head bent forward, chin resting on his chest. Snores gusted from his mouth.

She tiptoed past him to the elevator. Out of order. She looked for the door to the stairs, took them to the second floor. Room 209 was to the right, in the back.

She knocked on the door, called out softly, “Callie?”

No answer.

“Callie?” Louder.


This was definitely the address her informant had given her on the phone for Callie O’Leary, friend of the murdered hooker, Angie Atkins. So where was she? Out on the streets? With a john someplace else? Having dinner?

Of course, it could also be a bogus report, so the informant would seem to be doing the job Rae had paid her for. Or a trap of some kind. Well, let anybody try something: she had less than a hundred dollars in her purse, as well as her nine-millimeter Glock.

She slipped the Glock out, then turned the knob. The door wasn’t locked, and it swung open into a pitch-black room. No sound, no motion, no odor except disinfectant. She edged inside, found a light switch, flipped it on.


Just a small room-couldn’t have been more than six by nine-in a state of disorder. She moved toward a pair of doors and, with the Glock in her hand, pulled one open. A bathroom, towels on the floor, mildew in the shower; the other gave into a closet full of empty hangers.

Shit. If Callie O’Leary had lived here, she wasn’t just away for the evening, she’d cleared out.

Rae took out a pair of surgical gloves and snapped them on. Went back to the door to the hallway and closed it. Set the lock and secured the chain. Then she began to prowl.

Bedclothes rumpled and twisted, covered with stains she didn’t care to inspect. Pair of laddered pantyhose thrown over the room’s one chair. Ashtray full of lipsticked butts beside the bed; Callie’s choice of smokes was Virginia Slims. Bureau: nothing but a worn-out pair of red crotchless panties. Bedside table drawers: only a few packages of condoms and a phone book.

She took the book out and turned to the first page. People often noted things down there, and Callie had been no exception. In rounded handwriting were the words BILL DELANEY-CELL, 415-555-6789.

Rae ripped the page from the book, took another look around the room, and left. When she passed through the lobby, the elderly clerk was still snoring.

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