Authors: Judith A. Jance
To Alice and Alan,
the happy campers
To Doc Thornton,
J.P. Beaumont's personal physician
The jangling telephone reverberated through my head, ramming its wayâ¦
I have worked with these two men for so long,â¦
There are a lot of things about this job thatâ¦
The deep-throated honk of a semi's horn sounded three shortâ¦
I was shocked when Kimi Kurobashi opened the door andâ¦
Locked out of her father's inner office, Kimi was ableâ¦
When I got back home to Belltown Terrace it wasâ¦
The Pullman-Moscow Airport is set in a natural swale amongâ¦
A young Hispanic-looking doctor with a chart in his handâ¦
The crime-scene team, two criminalists from the Washington State Patrolâ¦
I took a decrepit cab, possibly Moscow, Idaho's only cab,â¦
Big Al and I sat in the warm autumn sunâ¦
My hand still hurt like hell as I rode upstairsâ¦
I may have been in bed, but I hardly slept.
“Tell me just this one thing,” Big Al said, asâ¦
By the time I was ready to head across theâ¦
By midnight I was back in line waiting for aâ¦
When I got to the Medical Examiner's office, three peopleâ¦
Ralph Ames was up and gone when I got backâ¦
The waiter was coming toward us carrying a tray ladenâ¦
I charged out of Waterfall Park just in time toâ¦
It took a long time to get things sorted outâ¦
HE JANGLING TELEPHONE REVERBERATED
through my head, ramming its way through champagne-stupefied senses, jarring awake both me and a pounding headache. Without opening my eyes, I grappled blindly for the phone, knowing the only way to stifle the awful racket was to answer the damn thing.
Except I couldn't pick it up. When I tried to close my fingers around the handset, they wouldn't. The receiver slipped out of my hand and clattered noisily across the bedside table.
Even hung over, I'm usually not quite that clumsy.
Puzzled, I opened my eyes and looked at my hand. The three middle fingers, bandaged securely to metal splints, stood stiffly at attention. No wonder my hand wouldn't close. With each heartbeat, a dull throbbing pain echoed from my fingertips up through my hand and wrist. I stared stupidly at the injured fingers as if maybe they belonged to somebody else. What was wrong with them? Were they broken or what? How had it happened?
“Hello? Hello?” A tiny angry voice buzzed up to me from the fallen receiver on the tabletop. “Beau? Are you there? Answer the phone, goddamnit!”
Reaching down, I again attempted to scoop up the phone, this time using my thumb and the palm of my hand rather than the useless fingers. That didn't work very well either. Once more the phone skittered away from me. This time it bounced off the table onto the carpet.
“Just a minute,” I snarled at the phone and whoever was on it. I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. “Hold your horses.”
I had to pause there for a moment to steady myself while the room spun and the jackhammer in my head threatened to loosen teeth.
“Beau, what the hell's taking so long?” I recognized Big Al Lindstrom's muted voice.
Detective Allen Lindstrom is my partner on the Seattle Police Department Homicide Squad. Even from a distance and at much reduced volume I could tell he was pissed.
I snatched up the phone with my left hand. “So I'm up already. What's the big rush? My alarm didn't work, and Peters didn't call.”
Peters, my former partner, had spoiled me. For months he had routinely given me an early morning wake-up call from his semipermanent residence on the rehabilitation floor at Harborview Hospital. Gradually, I had gotten out of the habit of setting an alarm, counting on him to wake me up in plenty of time to get to work. He was out of the
hospital now, and back at work a few hours a week in the Media Relations Department, but the pattern of early morning phone calls had continued.
“You jerk,” Big Al snapped. “You expect him to call you while he's off on his honeymoon? Get real, Beau, and get dressed. I'll be there to pick you up in ten minutes. There's a case breaking right now. Sergeant Watkins wants us to handle it. By the way, how are your fingers?”
I held up my right hand and examined the bandaged fingers, turning them this way and that. “Fine,” I mumbled.
“They don't hurt? The doc said they probably would, once you sobered up.”
“No. They're okay,” I lied, attempting to ignore the low-grade throbbing that got stronger as soon as the idea came up. I found it disturbing that Big Al seemed to know more about my injured fingers than I did. I couldn't remember anything at all about hurting them or about seeing a doctor, either. I guessed I'd really tied one on.
“Be there in a few minutes,” Big Al said shortly when I said nothing more. He hung up. I sat on the bed for a few seconds longer, trying to piece together what might have happened. Finally, giving up, I stumbled into the bathroom and studied my face and body in the mirror. Other than the fingers, there was no visible sign of injury, so whatever had happened couldn't have been too seriousâsomething less damaging than a multistory fall or a car
wreck. And if it was a fight, the other guy never laid a glove on me, at least not on my face.
I closed my eyes in concentration and tried to remember. The previous day had seen the arrival of the long-awaited wedding between Ron Peters and Amy Fitzgerald. The ceremony itself, in a small church on top of Queen Anne Hill, had been simple and quiet. The reception in the Chart Room of Belltown Terrace had started sedately enough, but it hadn't stayed sedate long. When cops feel free to let down their hair, they've got a lot of letting to do.
And Jonas Piedmont Beaumont was right in there swinging with the best of them. As someone whose usual drinking menu seldom varies far from Canadian in general, MacNaughton's in particular, I should never, never have allowed myself to be suckered into swilling champagne one glass after another. At my age, I ought to know better.
I remembered the part at the church clearly enough, but there was only a dim recollection of the cake cutting at the reception, with its hazy, happy laughter and flashing cameras. After that, the remainder of the evening was a total blank. That worried me.
Gulping down some aspirin, I staggered into the shower and turned it on full blast. The hot, rushing water helped clear my head some. Once out of the shower, I discovered it was a real struggle to get dressed. My underwear, zippers, and buttons are all built to be right-handed, and the splints got in
the way of everything from brushing my teeth and putting on my socks and shoes to tying my tie.
It was nothing short of miraculous that I was down on the sidewalk outside Belltown Terrace when Detective Lindstrom swung off Broad onto Second Avenue in one of Seattle P.D.'s notoriously unreliable Reliants. I climbed in. The car coughed, sputtered, and choked as Big Al eased down on the gas and pulled away from the curb.
“You look like something the cat dragged in,” Big Al commented as we started down Second toward Seattle's high-rise core. “And your tie's crooked.”
“It's on, isn't it?” I replied curtly. “Give me a break.” I wanted to get off the subject of J. P. Beaumont, his fingers and his foibles, as quickly as possible. “What's going on, Al? Bring me up to speed.”
Al shrugged. “Suicide, most likely. Down in one of those new industrial complexes south of the Kingdome. Landlord came in this morning and found one of his tenants dead.”
“Not a good way to start the week,” I said.
Big Al nodded in agreement. “Ya sure, you betcha,” he responded in his best Norwegian parody. “You can say that again.”
Al and his wife Molly live in Ballard, a Scandinavian enclave in Seattle with such strong Old Country connections that people sometimes joke about needing a passport to go there. In the months we've worked together I've learned that
the best thing to do with Big Al when he gets cute is to ignore him entirely. Otherwise, he gets worse.
“What kind of suicide?”
“High tech,” Al responded.
“What'd he do, electrocute himself with his computer?”
Big Al shook his head. “I mean the guy was into high tech. Nobody mentioned how he did it.”
Al reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and drew out a tattered notebook, opened to an almost empty page. He tossed it over to me. The notebook clipped the top of the splinted fingers, fell to the floorboard, and slipped under the seat.
“Sorry,” Al said, as I fumbled clumsily to pick it up. Once the notebook was held securely in my left hand I read the hurriedly penciled note scrawled across the top of the page:
Microbridge, 1841 Fourth Avenue South
“What the hell's a microbridge?” I asked.
“Beats me. Not big enough to walk on. Something to do with computers, I think,” Big Al replied. “I don't know anything more about that stuff than you do.”
Which is to say, not much. Big Al Lindstrom and J. P. Beaumont are two of a kind when it comes to that. We're both manual typewriter people trapped in a computer world.
The address on Fourth South turned out to be in a brand-new low-rise complex called Industry Square, a campus that occupied several full blocks. The building numbered 1841 was sur
rounded on three sides by a border of parking lots while the back with its waist-high loading dock butted up against a Burlington Northern railroad track. The main entryway was marked by two tall wrought-iron gates that opened onto a small interior courtyard and garden. A six-foot-high
SPACE FOR LEASE
sign had been tacked onto the wall next to the gate.
A small group of civilians, presumably workers from the building who had been displaced by the investigation, stood clustered on the far side of the first line of cars. Numerous Seattle P.D. patrol cars were scattered near the front entrance while a King County Medical Examiner's van, directed by a uniformed police officer, was just backing up to the opening.
“How come they're here before we are?” I asked, nodding toward the M.E.'s van.
“Their people must have been awake when the call came in.” Big Al's response was liberally laced with sarcasm, but I knew he had covered for me with Sergeant Watkins, and I let the dig pass without comment. Struggling to open the car door with my gimpy hand, I got out and started toward the van. As I came around the side of it, I almost ran over a little round-faced bald-headed guy. Startled, we both zigged and zagged, trying unsuccessfully to stay out of each other's way.
The uniformed officer looked up, saw me, and nodded briefly in my direction, but he spoke to the man in front of me. “So you're going to have to
stay back, Mr. Rennermann, at least until we finish getting people and equipment in and out.”
“But this is my property!” Rennermann objected, backing away a step or two. His already florid face reddened to a slightly brighter shade. “You've got no rightâ¦”
“We have every right in the world,” the officer replied calmly. “This is a police investigation.”
He turned to me while the two technicians from the Medical Examiner's van hurried through the gate carrying a stretcher between them. “Hello there, Detective Beaumont. The body's upstairs. Doc Baker said to send you up as soon as you got here.”
“Who's he?” I asked, nodding in Rennermann's direction. “The landlord?”
“That's right. He's the one who found the body.”
I fumbled a notebook out of my pocket. One abortive attempt at writing was enough to convince me it was a lost cause. As long as the splints were on my fingers, holding a writing implement of any kind was out of the question. I stuffed the useless notebook back in my jacket, got out my ID, and flashed it in the landlord's direction.
Rennermann looked like the sales-crazed manager of a disreputable used car lot. He paced back and forth, his unbuttoned orange plaid sports coat jacket flapping wildly with every bouncing step. His tie was knotted slightly to the left of center, and he was perspiring heavily.
“Hello, Mr. Rennermann,” I said, finally getting
him to hold still. “I'm Detective J.P. Beaumont of the Seattle Police Department. My partner, Detective Lindstrom, and I will be handling this case.”
Big Al reached my side just in time to nod a brief acknowledgment to my introduction. “This is the guy who found the body, Al. Do you mind taking down his information? My hand won't work.”
Disgustedly, Al got out his own notebook. “Give me your name,” he said.
“Rennermann. Bernard Rennermann. My friends call me Bernie.”
“And where can we find you when we finish up here?”
“Over there. In the next building. That's where my office is.”
Big Al jotted down Bernard Rennermann's name and phone number and snapped his notebook shut. “You'll be there all morning?”
“We'll come see you just as soon as we finish up here,” Big Al said. “We'll need to ask you some questions.”
A panicked look washed over Bernard Rennermann's flushed face. “But the new tenant is coming to look the place over today. What am I going to tell him?”
“Tell him he's going to have to wait.” Big Al, running low on patience, started moving away while he was still speaking. He pushed past Rennermann as a second uniformed cop appeared at the gate. “Which way?” Al asked.
“Upstairs,” the officer replied. “The elevator is just inside, right around the corner.”
Al disappeared through the gate, but I wasn't ready to follow. “Did you say new tenant?” I asked, as Rennermann stared after Big Al's retreating figure. “Does that mean this one was moving out?”
Rennermann nodded, a little uneasily, I thought, although it was only a fleeting impression with nothing to back it up.
“He was in Chapter Seven,” Bernard Rennermann continued. “You know, involuntary bankruptcy. It's been in all the papers.”
“I don't read papers.”
“Oh,” Rennermann said. “Well, there was a long court fight, something about patent infringement. I guess the lawyers cost him an arm and a leg and ate up all the cash flow. Lawyers are like that. He lost anyway. In court. Lost the whole ball of wax. Kurobashi was scheduled to be out of here by the end of the month. In this market I was lucky as hell to find someone in the same kind of business who was willing to come in and take over the space without my having to do a whole lot of tenant improvements.”
Big Al poked his head back through the gate. “Are you coming or not?” he demanded impatiently.
“I'll be right there. You be sure to stay in your office so we'll be able to find you, Mr. Rennermann. We won't be that long.”
“But what about all these people out here who work for my other tenants in the building? When are they going to be able to go inside and start work?”
I glanced across the parking lot where a mobile food vendor was making an unscheduled stop, unloading a batch of undrinkable coffee and stale Danish.
“The roach coach is here, so at least they won't starve,” I said. “They're going to have to wait outside until we give the word. Nobody's allowed in the building until after the crime-scene investigators have finished up, understand?”
Rennermann sighed, nodded his head, and swiped at his damp forehead with a dingy, wrinkled hanky. “This is real bad for business, you know. Bad public relations.”