Another officer led the detective to the scene. The trophy room was down a long hallway, then to the right. McMichael felt the coldness of the house in his shins. The hall was wide and well lit by recessed ceiling lights. There were paintings hung museum style, with individual viewing lights fastened above the frames: all ocean scenes - ships and waves in violent moments, the grandeur of catastrophe at sea. One light was trained on nothing, just blank wall with a hanger still nailed to the plaster.
He stepped down into the trophy room, smelling blood and feces and cigar smoke. Two small bundles of firewood lay at his feet. Above him was a cavernous cross-beam ceiling with heavy-duty shop lamps hung in two rows of six. The lamps washed the room in a strong incandescent glow.
McMichael pulled the little tape recorder from the pocket of his bomber's jacket, checked the tape and turned it on. He spoke into it, setting the time and date and location, then narrating what he saw.
Ahead of him was a wall of glass facing the water and the city. Beyond the glass, windblown leaves swirled through the deck lights and a quick blizzard of sand rose toward San Diego Bay. A navy destroyer sat moored to the east, irrationally large amidst the tenders and pleasure craft.
To McMichael's right was a cedar-paneled wall festooned with Pacific trophy fish - tuna, yellowtail, dorado, swordfish, sailfish and sharks. In the lower right corner of the wall hung some of the gear used to catch them - rods, reels, gaffs and fighting belts.
His eye went to the two empty hangers, like he'd seen in the hallway. One amidst the fish, one in the gear.
The main attraction was a white shark that looked to be three times the length of a man. It was obscenely thick. Rows of teeth glistening, its huge head swung outward in the posture of attack. McMichael noted that the taxidermist had gotten the eyes right, rolled back into the head for protection. He remembered that Pete Braga had made TV and the papers with that one.
To his left was a large fireplace with no fire and two handsome leather chairs facing it. On either side of the hearth stood enormous saltwater aquariums teeming with tropical fish. McMichael stepped past the bundled firewood. Between the chairs was a small table and a lamp with two shades, two bulbs and two brass pull chains. Both bulbs were on. Two half-filled glasses of what looked like red wine sat on the table.
He walked over and looked down on the body of Pete Braga, slouched almost out of the right-hand chair. Braga was wearing a smoke-gray satin robe. He had slid down, legs buckling on the floor, his back and head flat on the chair seat. His arms dangled over the rests, hands relaxed. His head was bathed in blood and the top crushed in the middle - skin and hair and bone seeming to fall in upon themselves. His face was a bloody mask of surprise and confusion, eyes open and still reflecting light. On the hardwood floor to the left of the chair stood a pond of blood littered with pale debris and a short club with a leather lop at the end of the handle. McMichael felt the hair on his neck stand up.
Requiescat in pace, he thought, thirty-plus years of Catholic funeral Latin imprinted in his mind. What a way to get your last ticket punched.
He remembered Braga as a tuna fleet captain, way back in '70. McMichael had been five years old. He remembered him as a Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealer a few years after the tuna industry collapsed - Pete's robust, gray-haired face smiling down at you from freeway billboards on the 5 and the 8, and the 163 and along Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. Remembered him as a mayor and a port commissioner and a city booster, always tossing out the first pitch at a Padres game, smiling while a champagne bottle cracked against a hull, touring the latest opening or disaster.
But easiest of all McMichael remembered Pete as the grandfather of Patricia Braga, the first girl he'd fallen in love with. They were children then, back before they fully understood that the McMichaels and Bragas had spilled each other's blood and that they were supposed to hate each other.
Excerpted from Cold Pursuit By T. Jefferson Parker. Copyright 2003 by T. Jefferson Parker. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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