container’s binding chains while lines secured to winches on both vessels attempted to steady the dangling container, for if it swung too violently it was likely to capsize the barge. As the first of these four lines snapped, the container, dangling precipitously over the void of open foam between barge and ship, shifted awkwardly, suddenly at a treacherous angle. Above the deafening whistle of wind and the lion’s roar of the sea came the muted but unmistakable cry of human voices from within this container.

A crewman crossed himself and looked toward heaven.

A second line snapped. A third.

The container swung and slipped out of the harness, splashing into the water. It submerged and then bobbed back up like a whale surfacing.

The captain of the Visage barked his orders. The mighty twin screws spun to life, the gigantic ship lumbering to port and away from the barge and crane in an effort to keep the container from being crushed between the vessels.

The spotlights on the freighter were ordered extinguished as the ship was consumed by the storm, lumbering back toward the shipping lane where it belonged.

Behind it, in its wake, the abandoned container, singing of human screams and cries of terror, rode the mounting swells into darkness, lost to the wash of the waves and the whim of the wind.


n the evening of Monday, August 10, when the coattails of typhoon Mary had receded into little more than a torrential downpour, a rust orange container appeared bobbing in the churning green waters and whitecaps of Puget Sound. Spotted by a copilot of a test flight returning to Boeing Field, it was immediately reported to the Coast Guard. Loose containers were not an uncommon occurrence in the Sound. The urgency behind the Coast Guard’s efforts to recover the orphaned container began as a result of the threat to navigation, especially with night closing in. ‘‘Metal icebergs,’’ they were called. This urgency was heightened, however, as the Coast Guard’s patrol boat came alongside the partially sunken container and human cries were heard from within. At that point, the call went out to the Seattle Police Department.

The piano sounded better than ever. For an old beat-up baby grand in a smoke-filled comedy bar where no one paid the instrument any attention except for the homicide cop who presently occupied its bench, his large hands and stubby fingers evoking a somber rendition of ‘‘Blue Monk,’’ its tone was earthy and mellow, just the way jazz and blues were supposed to sound. The notes flowed out of Lou Boldt without conscious thought or preparation, sounding of the torments born of forty-odd years of life and a job involving all too much death.

Boldt aimed his interpretation toward the table where his wife and friends sat. If his five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter had been there he would have had everything and everyone that mattered to him in this one room: Elizabeth, his sweetheart, wife and partner; Doc Dixon, the county medical examiner who’d been his friend for most of Boldt’s twenty-plus years with Seattle Police; John LaMoia, who had taken Boldt’s place as a Crimes Against Persons’ squad sergeant; Bobbie Gaynes, the first woman cop to join that squad; Daphne Matthews, forensic psychologist and confidante; and the lab’s Bernie Lofgrin, with his Coke-bottle glasses and leaking-balloon laugh.

He didn’t need to invent an emotion behind his playing. Liz’s lymphoma had been in remission for one full year, and Boldt’s happy hour performance that night at Bear Berenson’s club The Joke’s on You had developed into an impromptu celebration of her progress, a celebration that only a cop’s wife could tolerate, but one that Liz would actually appreciate. Morbid humor was a way of life with this group, and while Liz didn’t totally fit in with the others, they were family to her, just as they were to her husband.

While few at the table were above teasing Liz about how she’d looked when her hair had fallen out during treatment, or about smoking pot to bring on a taste for food, no one was really talking about anything, either. No one discussed that his new desk job was a problem for Boldt, that he ached for the opportunity to slap on a pair of latex gloves and get back out into the field. Similarly no one talked about the fact that for Liz’s doctors her long remission was both unexpected and still unexplained. They wouldn’t recommend breaking out the champagne for another three to five years. But Liz herself was sanguine: She credited God with her healing; and Boldt kept his mouth shut on that one. He felt that he and Liz had yet to recapture their comfort zone, but he wasn’t about to talk about that, either. So that night no one discussed much of anything. They joked. They drank. They drank some more.

When the pagers started sounding, it seemed like something orchestrated for a comedy sketch, except that everyone knew immediately that it must be serious, since one call simultaneously summoned the lab, the medical examiner and the Homicide squad.

LaMoia flipped his cellphone closed and said, ‘‘It’s a shipping container. Sinking out in the sound. People screaming inside. Still alive. Coast Guard’s towing it ashore.’’

‘‘Still alive,’’ Liz echoed, watching as all but Daphne Matthews headed for the exit. Those words meant more to her than anyone at the table.

Liz offered a look of surprise that Daphne stayed behind.

Daphne explained, ‘‘They don’t need me.’’

‘‘Well I do,’’ Liz replied, though retreating into silence, both confusing Daphne and making her curious.

When club owner Bear Berenson got the jukebox going a few minutes later, the rock music clashed with the earlier mood set by Boldt’s piano.

‘‘He doesn’t understand it,’’ Liz told Daphne. She meant Boldt. ‘‘The prayer. He can’t accept that I was healed by something outside of that hospital.’’

‘‘His background,’’ Daphne said, uncomfortably attempting to explain the woman’s husband to her. ‘‘If he wasn’t a detective, he’d be a lab guy. You know?’’

‘‘Yeah, I know,’’ Liz agreed. ‘‘But it’s more that that. He won’t give it a chance. It drives him crazy.’’

‘‘He’s glad you’re well, however you got there.’’

‘‘He doesn’t trust it. Has he talked to you about it?’’

‘‘No,’’ Daphne lied. She and Boldt had once been more than friends, just briefly. She knew well enough to protect the deeper friendship they had now.

‘‘He doesn’t say anything,’’ Liz continued, ‘‘not directly, but I know he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not that he wants it—I’m not saying that! Of course not! It’s just that he doesn’t believe in it. It’s inconceivable to him that prayer, that God, can have that kind of power, that kind of consequence.’’ She organized the dirty glasses on the table for the waitress.

‘‘He doesn’t believe it,’’ she repeated. Liz looked toward the door as if he were still there.

‘‘What if I talked to him about it?’’ Daphne offered.

‘‘It’s not something that can be sold.’’

‘‘He needs to hear that from all sides,’’ Daphne suggested.

‘‘He needs to hear this from within, Daphne. That’s the only way it’s going to make sense, to have any resonance. Especially to him.’’

Liz reached for Daphne’s hand and gave it a squeeze.

Daphne felt this woman’s cold fingers held in her own warm palm, and thought how quickly things change. There had been a time when she would have cheered for Liz to leave her husband. Now she was cheering for Liz’s survival. ‘‘You’re an amazing woman,’’ she said, as a chill whispered through her.

Boldt marveled at the emptiness of the docklands at night, the wide streets and warehouses deserted. Huge shipping cranes towered along the shoreline, silhouetted against dull gray clouds that reflected back the glow of city light, reminding Boldt of his son’s Construction Site Legos kit that currently occupied the far corner of the living room.

The August air blew both warm and heavy, laden with salt spray, forcing all who awaited the raising of the

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