Unlucky 13 - James Patterson
IT WAS AN ugly Monday just after noon. There had been no sign of sun so far, just a thick fog that had put the blocks to traffic around the Golden Gate. I was behind the wheel of the squad car, and Inspector Rich Conklin, my partner of many years, was in the seat beside me when Claire called my cell phone.
Claire Washburn is my closest friend, and also San Francisco’s Chief Medical Examiner. This call was strictly business.
“Lindsay,” Claire shouted over the braying of car horns. “I’ve got two DBs in a single-car smash-up and I don’t know what the hell I’m looking at. If you and Richie are in the neighborhood, I could use another opinion.”
She gave me her location, and I told her we’d be there as soon as weather and traffic permitted. I repeated to Rich what Claire had said and turned the car around.
My partner is smart, steady, a glass-full type of guy, and on this particular day, he was pretty happy with himself.
He said, “Claire wants us to look at a traffic fatality?”
“She doubts it’s an accident.”
I followed Lincoln through the Presidio and past the Crissy Field Overlook toward the bridge as Conklin called Brady and told him we were answering Claire’s call. He phoned Claire and said we were about eight minutes out, then picked up where he left off, asking my advice on his romantic dilemma.
“It’s Tina’s birthday. We’ve been together for two months,” he said. “So what do I get her that means ‘I like you a lot so far’?”
This line of conversation was tricky. Rich is like a younger brother to me. We’re tight. We talk about everything. But, his ex-girlfriend Cindy is my home girl. And Cindy was still suffering from their breakup six months ago. She hadn’t given up hope that she and Richie could get back together.
To tell the truth, I was hoping for that, too.
I kept my eyes on the road, staying on Lincoln, a two-laner flanked by historic buildings on the left and a parking lot on the right for visitors to the bridge. We drove slowly past the nifty old houses on Pilots’ Row and then hit a wall of traffic.
“Looks like we’re walking,” I said.
I braked on the shoulder, turned on the flashers, grabbed my Windbreaker, and locked up. Then my partner and I started up the incline. Richie didn’t miss a beat.
“So I was thinking I’d get her a pair of earrings. Or does the ring in earring send too much of a message?”
“Not unless they’re diamonds,” I said.
“Hah,” said Conklin.
I said, “Rich, in my humble opinion, you and Tina are at flowers and dinner. That’s safe, sweet, and her mother won’t send out invitations.”
“Okay. And do I sign the card love or not?”
I couldn’t help it. I rolled my eyes and threw a sigh.
“Richie, do you love her? Or don’t you? You have to figure that one out.”
“Could you stop giggling?” I said.
He gave me a salute and said, “Yes, ma’am, Sergeant Boxer, ma’am. And could you put in for a sense of humor?”
“You’re asking for it,” I said.
I gave him a little shove, and he laughed some more, and we kept walking up the incline, passing cars that were inching forward and passengers who were getting out, shouting curses into the fog.
My cell phone rang again.
Claire said, “Hurry up, okay? I can’t hold off the damned Bridge Authority much longer. The tow truck is here.”
THE SCENE WAS surreal, and I don’t use the term lightly.
From what I could see, a late-model red Jeep had lost control in the outside northbound lane and then careered across five lanes before hitting the walkway barrier and slamming into the railing, which was bulging to accommodate the Jeep’s front end.
All but one lane had been closed, and a narrow ribbon of traffic was open to alternating northbound and southbound traffic that crawled past the Jeep, which was swallowed by fog up to its tail lights.
Law enforcement vehicles were haphazardly parked on the roadway: Bridge Authority SUVs, Fire Department, CHP vehicles, black-and-whites, and personnel to match were all clumped up around the Jeep. I saw people I knew from the ME’s Office shooting pictures of the accident. A traffic cop heaved over the railing.
At the same time, a tow truck was pulling into position to remove the Jeep, in prep for reopening the road, the only thoroughfare between San Francisco and Sausalito.
A Bridge Authority uni checked out our badges and called out, “Dr. Washburn, you