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"I'm on my way home," he said. "Can you please come for one drink?"
"I should get home, Buck."
"Twenty minutes. I want to talk about this. I want to explain."
"It's Friday night. I won't get to talk to you again until Monday. Please."
She glanced down at the clock. It was only nine. The girls would be in bed. John would be catching up on correspondence or reading The Economist. She could still be home by ten. He never went to sleep before eleven or so. "Okay, but just one drink. And just talk." The weekend belonged to her family. It felt like Buck owned her during the week, so she was adamant about weekends. Plus, the firmly drawn lines helped her keep the two worlds separate, and for whatever backwards reasoning, the rules also kept her from feeling too much guilt.
"I promise," he a.s.sured her, sounding relieved. "I just want to talk. Thank you."
She hung up, changed lanes, and waited at the turn signal. Behind her, the driver of a Camaro revved his engine. Friday nights brought out the worst. More of every crime happened on Friday night. Payday, the end of the work week, it was a heyday of lawlessness.
Hailey just hoped there were no murders tonight, though she knew it would be someone else's turn. She already had one too many on her plate and until her partner was back, it felt like working the equivalent of four cases.
She arrived at Buck's apartment at 9:20 and parked up the street from the entrance to the building. She normally parked across the park. If someone noticed her car there, she could point to a half dozen restaurants and bars she might be at. Here was too close. For a moment, she considered moving, but couldn't rouse the energy. After this week-Natasha, the Dennigs, Scanlan-she was ready to put the job aside. Ready to watch Camilla and Ali argue over whose turn it was with the Barbie car. Ready to spend some time on the couch with John, to watch a movie about horses or baseball, anything but murder.
Hailey stared at the facade of Buck's building. It wasn't too late to go straight home. She'd promised him twenty minutes. She was angry, but didn't want the relationship to end, especially not like this. She locked her gun in the glove box, stood from the car, and set the alarm with the key fob. She put her purse over one shoulder and across her chest and walked to the apartment door.
It was dark and the single old light over the doorway gave off only a pale amber glow. She was rarely here in the dark. Maybe one other time before this and it crossed her mind that it wasn't a very safe entryway. She pressed the buzzer for his apartment and heard the click of the door unlock. She stepped inside and felt her purse catch on something. She reached back, turned, and someone bulldozed her into the dark apartment stairwell.
Before she could scream, a man was on her back. She fell to the floor. "Buck," she called out but her sound was m.u.f.fled. The strap of her purse was coiled around her neck, tightened on her throat. She tasted the dust of the old rug, saw white stars in her vision as the strap cut off her air. She dug her fingers into her neck, struggled to pry the strap loose. She sucked a breath, tried to roll to one side.
He pinned her down with his hips, held the strap like reins. Buck, she thought. Where was Buck?
The strap loosened for a fraction of a second. She gasped a breath. Her eyes seemed to bulge in their sockets. Frantic, she reached down and clawed at his ankle, felt her nails dig into his skin.
The pressure loosened momentarily. She struggled left, then right. The strap crushed her throat again. Her vision blanked. She choked, struggled to scream. She blinked, saw black as she started to lose consciousness. Blood surged in her face like a pounding drum. Black. It was all black.
She heard a click above her.
She fought to scream, but the sound caught in her throat, faded out.
She heard Buck again.
I'm here. I'm right here. Help me.
Black swam across her vision. Then bright white lights. She heard footsteps and tried to yell.
Louder. Someone was coming.
The strap went slack. She sucked in air, panted. Tried to move. Couldn't.
A sound like a hand hitting gla.s.s. The door clicked opened, slammed closed.
Buck's voice. "Christ. Christ."
His touch was cool. His hand tingled against her skin.
She looked at him. Spots in her vision blocked his face. She tried to smile.
Then everything went black.
When Jamie woke on Sat.u.r.day morning, Tony was still asleep. He'd been asleep when she arrived home the night before, too. At ten-thirty, she left for errands, leaving a menu to a local pizza place and a check with a note. When she returned home at four thirty, Tony was gone-no note, no message. The check sat untouched on the counter. The backpack he'd brought with him sat beside the couch. The blankets he'd used as covers were in a heap at the far end of the couch, the pillow on top. He was obviously coming back, but where would he have gone? With no car, no knowledge of the area. He might have had money but she couldn't imagine he'd gone sightseeing. And it was impossible to picture him looking for a job in the state he'd been in. The library seemed unlikely. The only thing left was alcohol. He had gone somewhere to drink and the thought of him out there, drunk and still drinking, made her a little sick to her stomach.
She spent a quiet evening alone, ate a Lean Cuisine chicken teriyaki, washed it down with c.o.ke. It was a typical Sat.u.r.day night, but somehow worrying about Tony left her feeling more hollow than usual. She was used to being alone. What she wasn't used to-and didn't want to get used to-was worrying about someone else.
When the phone rang at nine, she s.n.a.t.c.hed it up, hoping to hear Tony's voice. Even drunk, it would have been a relief.
Jamie sank back down. "You're out?"
"Yeah. I got released about an hour ago."
She didn't respond, couldn't think of anything to say.
"I wanted to thank you for the help with Ed Goldman and everything."
"Sure. You're welcome."
There was a pause. "J, can I see you when this is over?"
She shook her head, cleared her throat. "I don't think so, Tim."
"How about the phone? Can I call you?"
It was a bad idea.
"Please. Just once in a while?"
"I guess. I can't promise I'll answer," she added truthfully.
"Okay," he said. "Thanks."
There was a pause. "You're welcome" didn't sound right.
"I'll talk to you soon, then."
As she hung up, nostalgia caught in her throat.
She stood and found her cigarettes, lit one. The smoking didn't help. Trying to distract herself, she logged on to the computer to catch up with the cases the online group was working. A few others were logged in, and the group spent an hour corresponding about the case in Chicago. When they were done, Mary Dodgson, a forensic psychology Professor, IM'd her privately to ask about Devlin.
JVail How'd you hear about that one?
The screen remained blank for thirty seconds and for a moment, Jamie a.s.sumed Mary must have gotten up from the computer.
MDod We got the update from you this morning.
Frowning, Jamie stared at Mary's words.
JVail I wasn't on this morning.
Jamie watched the cursor blink on the screen. Waited for a response. Nothing came. She heard the ping of a new e-mail and changed screens. When she saw Mary's e-mail address, she opened the letter.
The e-mail simply listed a Chicago phone number.
Her pulse humming, Jamie dialed the number from her cell.
"Jamie?" Mary asked.
"Yeah. It's me."
"We were on for more than hour this morning. Are you okay?"
"It wasn't me, Mary. I've been out most of the day. Didn't log on until just now."
Mary paused. "Someone have access to your computer?"
Jamie thought about Tony. It didn't make sense. He didn't even know anything about Devlin. "What time?"
"About ten a.m. Chicago."
That was eight o'clock in California. It couldn't have been Tony. At eight o'clock, they were both still asleep.
"What's your pa.s.sword?"
"I mean, is it easy to guess?"
"It's my birthday." Fear danced up her spine.
"Birthdays are easy to get."
"Christ," Jamie breathed.
"It makes sense now," Mary commented.
"You-or whoever was pretending to be you-asked some pretty basic MO questions. I wondered if you were just trying to get a fresh perspective. I think I even commented on it, and you responded that you'd had a long night."
Jamie considered that. "But whoever used my ID has to be on the list, right?"
"How else would someone know about it?"
"That's the scary part."
Jamie's throat tightened. "What do you mean?"
"You ever Googled yourself?"
Jamie frowned. "What? No."
"Are you online right now?"
"Go to Google and type in your name."
Jamie launched a new screen and navigated to Google, entered her own name. "I get about forty-seven thousand responses."
"Sorry. Put quotes around it."
Jamie did it. "Forty-nine." She scanned the first one. "San Francisco s.e.x Crimes Inspector Jamie Vail." She clicked on the link. The San Francisco Chronicle Web site came up and she read a brief article about the hearing on one of her more recent cases.
"You there?" Mary asked.
"Yeah. I found me. It's an article on a case."
"What am I looking for?" She scanned the next few entries-all newspaper articles-then clicked to the next page.
"You'll find it, but basically, the bulletin board we use is public. That means anyone can apply to join us. They have to come through the moderator to get in. That's how we keep out the unwanted element, limit it to police officers and forensic folks."
Jamie listened, still scanning the list. So far only one link didn't refer to her.