Read A Plague of Secrets Online

Authors: John Lescroart

A Plague of Secrets

John Lescroart
A Plague of Secrets
John Lescroart

The first victim is Dylan Vogler, a charming ex-convict who manages the Bay Beans West coffee shop in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. When his body is found, inspectors discover that his knapsack is filled with high-grade marijuana. It soon becomes clear that San Francisco's A-list flocked to Bay Beans West not only for their caffeine fix.

But how much did Maya Townshend – the beautiful socialite niece of the city's mayor, and the absentee owner of the shop – know about what was going on inside her business? And how intimate had she really been with Dylan, her old college friend?

As another of Maya's acquaintances falls victim to murder, and as the names of the dead men's celebrity, political, and even law-enforcement customers come to light, tabloid-fueled controversy takes the investigation into the realms of conspiracy and cover-up. Prosecutors close in on Maya, who has a deep secret of her own – a secret she needs to protect at all costs during her very public trial, where not only her future but the entire political landscape of San Francisco hangs in the balance, hostage to an explosive secret that Dismas Hardy is privilegebound to protect.

Book 13 in the Dismas Hardy series, 2009

To my muse, mentor, partner, and true love Lisa Marie Sawyer

Men are not punished for their sins, but by them.

– Elbert Hubbard

Part One
1

Friday, the end of the workweek.

On the small deck outside his back door a lawyer named Dismas Hardy sat with his feet up on the deck’s railing and savored a rare moment as the sun spent the last hour of its day lowering itself toward the horizon behind his home.

The house cast its ever-lengthening shadow out over the neighborhood to the east- San Francisco ’s Richmond District-and it threw into relief the bright west-facing facades of the buildings in the city before him as it stretched away to downtown. The random window reflected glints of sunlight back at him, fireflies in the gathering dusk, shimmering in the Indian-summer air.

He sipped his gin and ice, placed the glass down on the meshed metal of the picnic table they’d set up out here, and was suddenly and acutely aware that he could not be more content. His wife, Frannie, whom he still loved after twenty-three years, was inside the house behind him, humming as she did whatever she was doing. His two children were away and doing well at their respective schools-Rebecca at Boston University and Vincent at UC San Diego. The law firm of Freeman, Farrell, Hardy & Roake, of which he was the managing partner, was humming along as though it were on autopilot.

Hardy looked for a moment into the blue above him, blinking against a wave of emotion. Then, being who he was, his mouth cracked into a small grin at himself and he lifted his glass for another sip.

Inside, the telephone rang twice and stopped, which meant that it was someone they knew and that Frannie had picked it up. Her voice, with notes of sympathy and understanding, floated out to him, but he didn’t bother trying to make out any of the words. She had begun to have a somewhat thriving career of her own as a marriage and family therapist and often would wind up counseling her clients from home.

Hardy drifted, not off to anywhere, but into a kind of surrender of conscious thought. For a long moment he was simply there in the same way that his drink or his chair existed; or the light, or the breeze off the ocean a little over a mile west of where he sat. So that when the door opened behind him, he came back with a bit of a start.

Frannie put a hand on his shoulder and he brought his hand up to cover hers, half turning, seeing the look on her face. “What’s up?” he asked, his feet coming down off the railing. “Are the kids all right?” Always the first concern.

She nodded a yes to the second question, then answered the first. “That was Treya.” Treya was the wife of Hardy’s best friend, Abe Glitsky, the head of San Francisco ’s homicide department. Anguish in her eyes, Frannie held and released a breath. “It’s Zack,” she said, referring to Glitsky’s three-year-old son. “He’s had an accident.”

Accompanied by her five-year-old daughter, Rachel, Treya Glitsky opened the gate in the Hardys’ white picket fence. Dismas Hardy, in his living room watching out through the plantation shutters of his front window, called back to his wife in the kitchen that they were here, then walked over and opened his front door.

Treya turned away and, closing the gate, reached down for a small duffel bag. By the effort it took to lift, it might have weighed a hundred pounds. When she straightened up, her shoulders rose and fell, then she brought a hand to her forehead and stood completely still for another second or two. With her tiny hand Rachel held on to the front pocket of her mother’s jeans while she looked up at her face, her own lips pressed tight.

Hardy crossed his porch and descended three steps to the cement path that bisected his small lawn. The sun had gone down behind the buildings across the street, although true dusk was still twenty minutes away. As she turned and saw him now, Treya’s legendary composure threatened to break. She was a tall woman-nearly Hardy’s size-and strongly built. Her mouth, expressive and normally quick to smile, quivered, then set in a line.

Hardy came forward, took the duffel bag from her, and put an arm around her neck, drawing her in, holding her for a moment. Finally he stepped back and whispered, “How is he?”

She shrugged and shook her head. Then, her voice as quiet as his, “We don’t know yet.”

Frannie came up, touched his shoulder, and came around to hug Treya.

Hardy stepped to the side and went down on one knee to face Rachel at her level. “And how’s my favorite little girl in the whole world?”

“Okay,” she said. “But Zack got hit by a car.”

“I know he did, hon.”

“But he’s not going to die.”

Hardy looked up at the two women. Treya gave him a quick nod, and he came back to her daughter. “No, of course not. But I hear you’re going to stay here for a couple of days while he gets better. Is that okay with you?”

“If Mom says.”

“And she does. Is that duffel bag your stuff? Here, let me get it. If you put your arms around my neck, your old uncle Diz will carry you inside.”

Then they were all moving up the path and into the house. “Abe went with the ambulance,” Treya was saying. “We don’t know how long we’re going to have to be down there. I don’t know how to thank you for watching Rachel.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Frannie said. “We love Rachel.” She reached out and touched the little girl’s cheek where she rested it on Hardy’s shoulder. “She’s our favorite little girl.”

Hardy and Frannie walked Treya out after they got Rachel settled in with cookies and milk in front of the television. They stopped again on the path just inside the fence. “Was he conscious?” Hardy asked.

“No.” Treya paused, then lowered her voice. “He didn’t have his helmet on.”

“What happened exactly?” Frannie asked.

“We may never know,” she said. “Abe had just brought down his Big Wheel bike and Zack was on it, but Abe told him to just sit still and wait a minute while he turned around and got his helmet, which he’d set down like two feet away on the stairs. But then as soon as his back was turned, Zack got aboard and either started pedaling or just rolling down the driveway, just as another car was coming up the street. One of our neighbors. He was only going like five miles an hour, but Zack just plowed into him and got knocked off the bike and into the street.” She flashed a pained look from Hardy to Frannie. “He banged his head.” She hesitated. “I’ve got to get down there now. You guys are great. Thank you.”

“Go,” Hardy said. “Call when you can.”

At ten-thirty Hardy was shepherding the evening’s last glass of wine, which he didn’t need at all. He was sitting in his reading chair across from the fireplace in the living room. Rachel had gone down to sleep early and easily about an hour and a half ago. Frannie was in the family room now and for the past half hour had been talking to their son, Vincent, down in San Diego. She’d already called the Beck back in Boston, both calls not so much to share the bad news as to touch base with their own offspring, to make sure they were safe.

Neither Treya nor Abe had called yet with any report from the hospital. Hardy, hamstrung by his overwhelming sense of dread, had his hand around the stem of his glass but hadn’t yet brought it to his lips. He simply stared at the fire.

Frannie must have hung up, because she was now standing in the portal that separated their dining and living rooms. “Diz?”

He turned his head toward her, perhaps surprised to see her there, appearing out of thin air the way she had. “Hey.”

She crossed the remaining few steps to him and sat on the ottoman at his feet. “You’ve been just sitting there without moving a muscle since I’ve been in this doorway.”

“Isometric exercise. Every muscle tensed for maximum effect.” But there was no humor in it.

“Are you all right?”

He shrugged, his effort to smile halfhearted at best. “How’s Vinnie?”

“Good. He got a B-plus on his first poly-sci exam.”

“Slacker.”

“He wanted to know if we needed him to come up. He said he would. I told him I didn’t think so.”

“Probably right. Nothing for him to do.”

“You either,” Frannie said. “Just be there for them if they need us.”

Sighing, Hardy shook his head. “You think this stuff is buried so deep down, and next thing you know you’re blindsided by it.”

Frannie hesitated, but she knew what he was talking about. “Michael?”

Hardy’s firstborn son had died in infancy thirty-five years before. A precocious seven-month-old, he’d stood up in his crib well before he was supposed to be able to and had pitched over the guardrail that they’d kept at half-mast. He had landed on his head.

“I don’t think I’ve consciously thought about him in five years, and now here he is, big as life. Bigger than he was in life.”

Frannie rested a hand on his knee. “This may not turn out the same. Let’s hope.”

“I don’t know if Abe could take it, how anybody does. I don’t know how I did.”

Frannie knew. Hardy’s son’s tragedy had marked the end of his first marriage and the abandonment of his law career. It had led to ten years behind the bar at the Little Shamrock, where he had averaged somewhere between one and two dozen beers a day, not to mention the rest of the alcoholic intake.

She squeezed his leg reassuringly. “Let’s wait till we hear something. You want to come to bed?”

“I want to drink a bottle of gin.”

“You could, but you wouldn’t be happy about that tomorrow.”

“No. I know. Plus, if Abe needs something…” He shook his head and looked away, then came back and met her eyes. “Shit, Frannie.”

“I agree. But Rachel’s going to be up early. We’re going to want to be rested. I’ve got to go lie down. You’re welcome to join me.”

“I’d be lousy company.” Then, softening it, he patted her hand with his own. “Couple more minutes,” he said.

And the phone rang.

“The best bit of news,” Treya was saying to both of them as they listened on the two extension phones, “is that he’s out of his twos. Evidently the younger you are, the worse the prognosis. Three is way better than two. And this is a Level One hospital, so they had a neurosurgical resident in house, which is also lucky since he could go right to work.” Her voice, while not by any stretch cheerful, was strong and confident-sounding. Conveying facts, honing to the bearable news, she was keeping herself together the way she always did, by sucking it up.

“They’ve cooled him down to make him hypothermic,” she went on, “which is what they always do, and taken some scans, and they’ve got him on a continuous EEG and his vital signs are good, so that’s all heartening.”

“But he’s still unconscious?” Hardy asked.

Frannie and Hardy heard Treya’s quick intake of breath and flashed their reactions to one another. “Well, that’s really not so much of an issue now, since they’ve induced a coma. He’s going to be unconscious for a while. Maybe a week or more.”

“He’s in a coma?” Frannie, before she could stop herself.

“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Treya said. “They induce it with some drug to let his brain heal. And they’ve got him on something for the internal swelling, but the doctor says they still may have to operate. In fact, probably.”

Hardy, possibly leaving the actual ridges of his fingerprints in the telephone at his ear, asked, “When’s that going to be, the surgery?”

“Probably pretty soon, maybe by the morning. They’ve got him stuck with a couple of catheters in his head to measure his cranial pressure. It gets above fifteen, whatever that means, they’re going to have to go in. And it’s at thirteen now, up from ten when he got here, so…”

“Do you need us to do anything?” Frannie asked.

“Watching Rachel is enough. I don’t see either of us leaving here for a while.”

“Take whatever time you need, Trey.” Frannie’s eyes were locked on Hardy’s as they nodded together. “Don’t even think about that. It’s no issue. She’s wonderful and we love having her. Both of us.”

“Both of us,” Hardy repeated. “So what’s next?”

“I think probably the surgery.”

“What are they going to do?”

“They take a couple of bones out of his skull to relieve the pres sure.”

“Not permanently?” Hardy asked.

“No,” Treya said, “I don’t think so. But I’ll ask now for sure. Anyway, then they make some slits in the dura.”

“What’s that?” Frannie asked.

“Oh, you’ll like this.” Treya obviously wearing herself down trying to keep a positive spin on things. “It means tough mother.”

“What does?”


Dura mater
. It’s the outer layer of the brain. Tough and fibrous. They make some small slits in it to let the brain expand.”

Silence collected in the line as this bit of horrifying, yet perhaps good, information began to sink in. Finally, Hardy cleared his throat. “So how’s Abe?”

Treya hesitated. “Quiet. Even for him.”

“It’s not his fault,” Frannie said.

“I know that. It might not be so clear to him.” Again, a stab at an optimistic tone. “He’ll get to it.”

“I know he will,” Frannie said.

Hardy, not so certain of that, especially if Zachary didn’t make it, turned to face away from his wife. Stealing a glance at his watch, he did some quick math: If the accident had taken place at five-thirty, it had now been five and a half hours. After they’d gotten his own son Michael to the hospital, he had survived for six.

The women’s words continued to tumble through the phone at his ear, but he didn’t hear any of them over his own imaginings-or was it only his pulse, sounding like the tick of a clock counting down the seconds?

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