Sins of the Fathers - J. A. Jance

Chapter 1

BY THE TIME I BROUGHT COFFEE INTO THE LIVING ROOM, Alan had removed the baby’s outer layer of pink blankets. I took a look inside the carrier as I set the cup down on a side table. I don’t know much about babies at the moment. I’m sure I’ll know a lot more three months from now when my new grandson is expected to arrive on the scene. In the meantime it occurred to me that the baby in my living room appeared to be very new. So what was Alan Dale doing driving solo up and down the I-5 corridor with a newborn infant in tow?

“What’s her name again?” I asked as I sat down. “And how old is she?”

“Athena,” he answered, “Athena Marie, and she’s six weeks old—six weeks tomorrow. She just got out of Children’s Hospital yesterday.”

The natural follow-up question would have been “Where’s her mommy?” but something—some newfound restraint that never used to be part of my conversational makeup—kept me from going there.

“How’s Jasmine these days?” I asked instead.

He shook his head miserably, looking as distraught as anyone I’d ever seen. “I lost her,” he said simply.

The word “lost,” used in that context, generally means one of two things. Either Jasmine had done Alan wrong and had taken off on him or else she had died. The utter defeat and desolation in his demeanor hinted at the latter.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Hep C,” he said bleakly.

And that said it all. Hepatitis C, an often-fatal liver infection, can be contracted any number of ways, including by reusing dirty needles, but it can also come about due to serious drinking. I’ve been sober for years now, but there was plenty of serious drinking in my past. When they started advertising that new hep C treatment on TV a couple of years ago, I went to see my doc and got tested—“an ounce of prevention,” as Mel had called it. When I came up clear, we both felt as though we’d dodged a bullet. I knew that Jasmine Day had been deep into drugs back in the late seventies, a time when things like HIV and hep C weren’t even a blip on the radar for most people. I hadn’t a doubt in the world that she’d been an IV drug user back then and that hep C had been lying in wait, ready to spring on her, years and years after she quit using.

“When?” I asked.

“A little over ten years ago,” he said.

“There are medications for that now,” I offered.

He nodded. “I know. They were coming then, too, but by the time Jasmine tried to get in to one of the human trials, it was already too late for her. She was sick for a long time, in and out of the hospital. No insurance, of course, so we ended up losing pretty much everything, including the house. If it hadn’t been for Jasmine’s mom, I would have been up shit creek.”

“I’m so sorry to hear about this,” I said. “But what’s the deal here, Alan? Why do you need a PI?”

“It’s about my daughter,” he told me, “Jasmine’s and my daughter. Her name is Naomi—Naomi Louise Dale.”

Knowing that hep C can be transmitted from mother to child, I hated asking the next question, but I did it anyway. “What about Naomi?” I asked. “Does she have hep C, too?”

Alan shrugged and slumped in his chair. “Maybe,” he said darkly, and then, after a pause, he added, “Make that probably. She might have inherited it from her mother, but she’s also been into drugs big time for years, so she could very well have contracted it on her own. At the time Jasmine was diagnosed, we tried to encourage Naomi to get tested, but by then she wasn’t listening to a word we said. I doubt she took our advice.”

“I take it Naomi is Athena’s mother?”

Alan nodded, and his reply made me wonder, if that was the case, why was baby Athena riding all over hell and gone with Alan rather than with her mother? And if Naomi had come down with hepatitis C . . .

“If Naomi has hep C,” I asked, “what about Athena?”

“I worried about that, too,” Alan admitted. “Given the family history, I asked Athena’s doc at Children’s to test her. He says she’s clear.”

“Thank God for that,” I murmured. “So what’s the story, then, Alan? Why exactly did you come looking for me?”

“Naomi’s gone missing,” he answered. “I’m hoping you can find her.”

“She went