The First Victim

Ridley Pearson

Also by Ridley Pearson

The Pied Piper

Beyond Recognition

Chain of Evidence

No Witnesses

The Angel Maker

Hard Fall

Probable Cause


Hidden Charges

Blood of the Albatross

Never Look Back

Writing as Wendell McCall

Dead Aim

Aim for the Heart

Concerto in Dead Flat

Short Stories

'All Over but the Dying'

in Diagnosis: Terminal

edited by F. Paul Wilson


In conducting research for The Pied Piper and The First Victim, I learned that some 40,000 infant girls are abandoned to orphanages each year in China. This novel is dedicated to Seattle’s New Hope Child and Family Agency and all such adoption agencies around the world.


This novel was edited by Leigh Haber at Hyperion Books who deserves none of the criticism, if any, for its successes or failures, but all of the credit for both holding me to the page and expanding my horizons. Thanks, Leigh.

Also a note of thanks to Al Zuckerman for editorial consultation and literary representation.

The author wishes to express his gratitude to the variety of professionals who helped with The First Victim: law enforcement, Sergeant Donald Cameron; medical examiner, Dr. Donald Reay; oceanographer, Dr. Alyn Duxbury; friends at the FBI and at Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Force and Capitol Police Force.




 It came off the northern Pacific as if driven by a witch’s broom: the remnants of typhoon Mary, which had killed 117 in Japan, left 6,000 homeless in Siberia and flooded the western Aleutians for the first time in sixty-two years. In the ocean’s open waters it drove seas to thirty feet with its eighty-five-mile-per-hour winds, dumping three inches of rain an hour and barreling toward Victoria Island, the San Juan Islands, and the largest estuary in North America, known on charts as Puget Sound. It headed for the city of Seattle as if it had picked its course off a map, and it caused the biggest rush on plywood and chipboard that King County had ever seen.

In the partially protected waters west of Elliott Bay, one nautical mile beyond the established shipping lanes that feed Seattle’s East Waterway docklands, the pitch-black night was punctured by the harsh illumination of shipboard spotlights that in clear weather might have reached a half mile or more but failed to stretch even a hundred yards in the dismal deluge that had once been Mary. The freighter, Visage, a container ship, rose and sank in fifteen-foot swells, rain drumming decks stacked forty feet high with freight cars. The Asian crew followed the orders of the boatswain who commanded a battery-operated megaphone from an upper deck, instructing them to make ready.

The huge ship pitched and yawed and rolled port to starboard, threatening to dump its top-heavy cargo. The crew had been captured inside Mary’s wrath for the last three hundred nautical miles—three impossibly long days and nights—rarely able to sleep, some unable to eat, at work all hours attempting to keep the hundreds of containers on deck secure. Early on in the blow a container had broken loose, sliding across the steel deck like a seven-ton brick and crushing the leg of an unsuspecting crewman to where the ship’s medic could find no bones to set, only soft flesh where the shin and knee had once been. Three of the crew had tied themselves to the port rail where they vomited green bile with each and every rise and fall. Only four crewmen were available for the transfer that was to come.

The neighboring tug and barge, seventy feet and closing off Visage’s starboard bow, were marked by dim red and green running lights, a single white spot off the tug’s bow, and a pair of bright halogens off the tower of the telescoping yellow crane chained down to the center of the barge. The tug and barge disappeared into a trough, rising and reappearing a moment later, only to sink once again into the foam, the crane as ominous and unnatural as an oil platform. The storm prevented any hope of docking the barge to the freighter, but both captains had enough motivation in their wallets to attempt the transfer nonetheless. Like two ends of a seesaw, the vessels rose and fell alternately, the crane’s tower pointing like a broken finger into the tar black clouds. Radio communication was forbidden. Signal lights flashed, the only contact between the two captains.

Finally, in a dangerous and daring dance, the two vessels drew close enough for the crane’s slip harness to be snagged by the freighter’s crew on an upward pendulum swing. Briefly, the barge and container ship were connected by this dangling steel cable, but it broke loose of their hold, the barge lost to another swell. It was twenty minutes before the crane’s steel cable was finally captured for a second time.

The vessels bobbed alongside one another, the slack in the crane’s cable going dangerously tight with each alternating swell. The exhausted deckhands of the Visage worked furiously to be rid of this container, to a member wondering if it was worth the bonus pay they had been promised.

When the moment of exchange arrived, the crane made tight the cable and the deckhands cut loose the

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