Marcia Muller

Games to Keep the Dark Away

The fourth book in the Sharon McCone series, 1984

Chapter 1

The wind whipped my jacket open as I went up to the guardrail. The sheer, rock-strewn face of Potrero Hill dropped away for fifty yards or more, and I could look down on the roofs of the houses below. I turned, pulling the jacket tightly around me, and walked down the street from where I’d parked at the dead end. Broken glass and other debris crunched beneath my feet.

All the buildings save two in this short block were condemned or half demolished. They stood silent in the early October dusk, gaping holes where windows had once been, jagged timbers silhouetted against the dying light. I shivered, only partly from the biting wind.

Number twenty-one was surrounded by a six-foot red-wood fence on which the number was spelled out in carved letters. I pushed through the gate into a deep front yard that was choked with vegetation. A gravel walk overhung by scraggly palm trees led to the front door. I went up and rang the bell.

In a moment the door opened a crack and a pale, nondescript face peered at me over the security chain. “Yes?”

“Mr. Snelling? I’m Sharon McCone, the investigator from All Souls Legal Cooperative.” I passed one of my cards though the narrow opening. After a few seconds the chain rattled, the door opened, and I was admitted into a dark hallway.

The man quickly rechained the door, then turned to me, his hand outstretched. “It’s good of you to come so promptly. I’m Abe Snelling.”

I clasped his slender, long-fingered hand. Its palm was moist. “I’m glad to meet you. I admire your photographs.”

“Thank you. Come this way.” He led me down the hall toward the back of the house. So far I couldn’t tell much about Snelling, except that he was short, shorter than my own five six, and that his blond hair was thinning at the crown. I followed him into a large, white-carpeted living room and stopped, caught up in the view.

In the foreground, the lights of Potrero Hill cascaded down into the industrial flatlands below. The warehouses, oil storage tanks, and ships in dry dock were softened by the dusk, and beyond them, the water of the Bay lay flat and quiet. My gaze moved to the East Bay hills and the shining chain of bridge that linked the two shores.

“Your view of the Bay and the hills is spectacular,” I said.

“Yes, I enjoy it during the day.” Snelling crossed the dark room and drew the draperies with a decisive snap of the cord. He then went around flicking on table lamps. The walls of the room were also white and covered with his photographs. The furnishings were severely modern.

I must have had an odd expression on my face because Snelling stopped and gave me a lopsided grin, his head cocked to one side. “I can’t stand to have the drapes open after dark.”

“It is pretty bleak-looking out there.”

“No, it’s not that.” He motioned at a chair. “Actually, it’s snipers.”


“I have a ridiculous fear of snipers.”

“Oh.” I sat down in one of those chrome-and-leather chairs that are surprisingly comfortable in spite of their looks.

Snelling sat across the glass coffee table from me and fumbled in his shirt pocket for a pack of cigarettes. “It’s stupid, but when I was in my teens, one of the neighborhood kids shot his mother. She was standing at the kitchen window and he went out in the backyard and shot her through the glass with his hunting rifle. A thing like that makes an impression on you.”

“I guess so.”

“Anyway, since then, I’ve never been able to have the curtains open after dark. I know it’s stupid, but I can’t seem to help it.”

“We all have those kinds of fears,” I said, thinking of my own phobia about birds.

Snelling fiddled with a chrome table lighter, and I watched him, disappointed that he didn’t fit my notion of what a celebrity photographer should look like. I wasn’t sure exactly what I had expected, but Snelling wasn’t it. He was slender, with an almost unnatural pallor and washed-out blue eyes. He wore faded jeans with a hole in one knee, a workshirt stained with darkroom chemicals, and scuffed loafers. His abrupt motions reminded me of a bird, the kind you see running along the tide line at the beach. The association did nothing to endear him to me.

Still, he was a potential client and it was time to get down to the business. “Mr. Snelling, I understand you have a problem you want me to investigate.”

He finally got the cigarette lit and looked up. “Yes, as I told your boss-Hank Zahn is your boss?”

I nodded.

“Well, as I told Hank Zahn, it’s not the sort of thing I can go to the police about. I mean, it could be nothing and then Jane would be furious with me.”

“Let’s start at the beginning. Who’s Jane?”

“Jane Anthony, my roommate. She’s missing.”

I took a pad and pencil out of my bag and noted the name. “For how long?”

“A week. Exactly a week today.”

“Tell me what happened.”

“There’s not much to tell. I had an early-morning photo session. I do all my work in my studio, upstairs.” He waved a hand at the circular stairway that ascended to a second story. “As far as I knew, Jane was still asleep in her room. The session took a long time; it was with Anna Adams-you know, the actress who’s starring in that terrible musical at the Golden Gate?”


“Well, Miss Adams is a good actress, but she’s got the attention span of a flea. It took hours to get a few decent shots. During that time, I thought I heard Jane in the kitchen below. When Miss Adams left, Jane was also gone.”

“She didn’t leave a note?”

“No, nothing.”

“Is she in the habit of going off without telling you?”


“So what did you do?” “At first I didn’t think much of it. I went about my daily routine. But, when dinnertime came and went, and Jane still hadn’t shown, I got worried. I called a few of her friends around nine, but they hadn’t heard from her.”

“What about her place of employment? Does she work?”

He shook his head. “Jane’s an unemployed social worker. With all the budget cuts, jobs in that field are hard to come by.”

“What did you do next?”

“Waited. Checked back with the same friends the next day. Halfway through the week I called Jane’s mother- she lives down south in a coastside village called Salmon Bay, near Port San Marco. I didn’t want to alarm Mrs. Anthony-she’s old and not in very good health-so I just said Jane had mentioned she might stop in there on her way to L.A. But her mother hadn’t heard from her.”

“Did Jane take any of her things with her?”

“As far as I can tell, only enough for a night or two. Her stuff’s gone from the bathroom, and there’s an

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