Next to Lieutenant Abraham Glitsky's bed, the telephone rang with a muted insistence.
A widower, Glitsky lived in an upper duplex unit with his youngest son Orel and a housekeeper/nanny named Rita. During his wife's illness, he'd deadened the phone's ringer so that it wouldn't wake anyone else in the house when, as often occurred, it rang in the middle of the night.
He located the source of the noise in the dark and picked up the receiver, whispering hoarsely. "Glitsky. What?"
Surfacing slowly into consciousness, he didn't really have to ask. He was the head of San Francisco's homicide detail. When he got calls in the dead dark, they did not tend to be salespeople inquiring about his satisfaction with his long-distance service provider. It was nearly two hours past midnight on Monday, the first day of February, and the city had produced only two homicides thus far this year--a slow month. In spite of that, Glitsky spent no time, ever, wondering if his job was going to dry up.
The caller wasn't the police dispatcher but one of his inspectors, Ridley Banks, on his cell phone directly from the crime scene. It wasn't standard procedure to call the lieutenant from the street--so this homicide must have an unusual element. Though Ridley spoke concisely with little inflection, even in his groggy state Glitsky detected urgency.
A downtown patrol car had seen some suspicious movement in Maiden Lane, a walking street just off Union Square. When the officers had hit their spotlight, they flushed a man squatting over what looked like, and turned out to be, a body.
The suspect ran and the officers gave chase. Apparently drunk, the man staggered into a fire hydrant, fell in a heap and was apprehended. Cuffed now, in the backseat of the squad car, he had passed out awaiting his eventual trip to the jail.
"Guy appears to be one of our residentially challenged citizens," Ridley said drily. "John Doe as we speak."
"No ID of course." Glitsky was almost awake. The digital clock on the bed stand read 1:45.
"Not his own. But he did have the wallet."
"The victim had a wallet?" To this point, Glitsky had been imagining that this homicide was probably another incident in the continuing tragedy of San Francisco's homeless wars, where an increasingly violent population of bums had taken to beating and even killing each other over prime downtown begging turf. Certainly, the Union Square location fit that profile.
But if the current victim had a wallet worth stealing, it lowered the odds that the person was a destitute vagrant.
"Taken from her purse, yeah."
"It was a woman?"
"Yeah." A pause. "We know her. Elaine Wager."
"What about her?"
"She's the stiff."
Glitsky felt his head go light. Unaware of the action, he moved his free hand over his heart and clutched at his breast.
The voice in the telephone might have continued for a moment, but he didn't hear it. "Abe? You there?"
"I was just saying maybe you want to be down here. It's going to be crawling with media jackals by dawn or the first leak, whichever comes first."
"I'm there," Glitsky said. "Give me fifteen."
But after the connection was broken, he didn't move. His one hand dug absently into the flesh over his heart. The other gripped the telephone's receiver. He simply lay there, staring sightlessly into the darkness around him.
When the phone started beeping loudly in his hand, reminding him that it was still off the hook, it brought him to. Abruptly now, he hung up, threw the covers to one side and swung himself up to a sitting position.
And stopped again.
"Oh God, please no." He didn't know he'd said it aloud, didn't hear his own voice break.
Reprinted from The Hearing by John Lescroart by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by John Lescroart. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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