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Authors: John Lescroart

The Keeper

BOOK: The Keeper
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Once again

To Lisa Marie Sawyer,

My endless love

“Woman's virtue is man's greatest invention.”

—Cornelia Otis Skinner

1

A
T SEVEN-FIFTEEN
on the Monday morning after Thanksgiving, Dismas Hardy sat at his dining room table, the
San Francisco Chronicle
spread out before him. He reached for his mug of coffee, took an all but unconscious sip, put it back down.

His wife, Frannie, coming in from the kitchen behind him, put her hands on his shoulders, then kissed the top of his head. “Are you all right?”

“Fine.”

“You sure?”

“Why wouldn't I be?”

“I don't know. You're sighing just about every ten seconds.”

“It's a new breathing technique I'm working on.”

“I'd say you've got it down.”

“Every ten seconds?”

“Give or take.” In her bathrobe, fresh from a shower, she pulled out a chair and sat as Hardy sighed again. “Like right there,” she said. “You're also not zipping through the paper the way you always do.”

Hardy looked down, turned a page. “Am, too.” He sat back. “Okay, so the kids stay here for five days, and the whole time I'm aware of how much space they're taking up and the energy it takes to keep up with them, and by yesterday I am really, really ready for them to get back to their school lives and out of here. And now this morning I wake up and they're not here and I wish they were. How does this make any sense?”

“You miss them, that's all.”

“Yeah, but when they're here . . .”

“They're great.”

“Of course,” Hardy said. “Perfect in every way, as we've raised them to be. But I barely get used to seeing them and they're gone again. Then I want them back.”

“Kids,” she said. “Can't live with them. Can't kill them. Meanwhile, do you think you can spare me a piece of the paper?”

Hardy sighed again. Reaching up, he tore off a corner the size of a postage stamp and slid it across to her.

“Thank you,” she said. “Now could you please spare me a section of the newspaper? Any section would be fine.”

“You said ‘piece.' ”

“I know I did. That was an egregious error, and I deserved what I got.” Striking quickly, she pulled the front section over to her. “How have I tolerated living with you all these years?”

“That whole ‘never a dull moment' thing?”

“That must be it.” She scanned the headlines, turned the page, and after a minute or two gave a quick gasp.

Hardy looked over. “What?”

But she was reading and didn't respond. Her hand went to her mouth.

“Fran?”

Now she looked up, puzzled and pensive. “Katie Chase,” she said. “One of my clients. It says here she's gone missing.”

“When?”

“Looks like Wednesday night.” Frannie kept scanning. “Her husband, Hal, went to pick up his brother at the airport, and when he came back, she was gone.”

“Gone how?”

“I don't know. That's all it says here, missing from her house.”

“Any signs of a struggle?”

“I don't know. It doesn't say.” She looked across at him. “She's got two kids, Diz. One and three. That's part of why she was seeing me.”

“What's the other part? No, wait, let me guess. Her marriage.” Then he shook his head. “But the husband's got an alibi.”

“It's not an alibi, Dismas. It wasn't him. I'm sure it wasn't him.”

“No? Why do you say that? Do you know him?”

Frannie lifted then lowered her shoulders. “They have their problems. This just in: Raising kids isn't easy. You said it yourself. Hal was at the airport. Maybe somebody snatched her. Maybe she ran away.”

“And left her kids?”

“Maybe they weren't there. Maybe Hal took them with him to the airport.”

“Because toddlers are so much fun to be with? Especially at an airport. No, they were home with her.”

“So what happened to them?”

“They're still home,” Hardy said. “They're fine. If they weren't, that article would have said something about it. It's only her. She either left on her own or somebody took her. And sorry, but nobody kidnaps adults.”

“Either way . . .”

Hardy finished her thought. “Either way, I admit, it's not good. And speaking of other things not good, you should read ‘CityTalk'”—a popular daily column in the paper—“third overdose in the jail in the last three months.”

“Overdose in the jail? How do you get drugs into the jail?”

“I'm going to rule out the Tooth Fairy.”

2

J
A
M
ORRIS
“J
AMBO
” M
ONROE
and Abby Foley wound up pairing off in Homicide because of softball. JaMorris played two years of varsity at Cal and, after finally reconciling himself to the fact that he wouldn't get drafted to play pro ball, went to the Police Academy in San Francisco.

Last summer he turned thirty-five and felt the need to come back to an approximation of the game he loved. He joined the Hammerheads and played the whole season with eight other guys and one woman: the catcher (the catcher!), Abby. He'd been blown away not only to have a woman on the team—it wasn't a coed league, strictly speaking—but also to find out that she was a great athlete, almost forty years old and a full inspector with the Homicide detail. After the season—they'd batted two and three in the lineup and had clicked as people—she'd lobbied to get him assigned there, too. Because of some department shake-ups (a former lieutenant who retired, an inspector who moved up), it had worked out.

Now, partnered for three months, they were sitting in the office of the new Homicide lieutenant, Devin Juhle, discussing an assignment that Abby wanted some clarity on. “I don't know why this isn't Missing Persons, Dev. She is simply missing, is she not?”

Juhle nodded equably. “She is.”

“You see my quandary?”

“Of course. In my earlier days, when I wondered about things, that might have been something I would have wondered about.”

“It's just that—”

“I know.” Juhle stopped her. “If we don't have a dead person, how can it be a homicide? Maybe it's because it's the wife of a sheriff's deputy. Maybe somebody knows somebody at City Hall. Ours is not to reason why.”

“That's what I was thinking,” Abby said.

“And thinking is a good thing.” Juhle spread his hands on his desk. “We encourage thinking and the questions it raises. In this case, fortunately, we have an answer to the main question.”

“The husband,” JaMorris said.

Juhle nodded with approval at his newest inspector. “The husband. Hal. Missing Persons thinks he ought to be at least a person of interest. His alibi is squishy as hell.”

“What is it?” JaMorris asked. “The alibi.”

“He went to the airport to pick up his brother. But he says he left at seven-thirty for an eight-fifty flight. It's a half-hour drive. Then the plane got delayed—that checks—so he pulled off and had a beer in South City, but he paid cash. Nobody remembers him where he says he stopped. So, all in all, squishy.”

“Anything else?” Abby asked.

“Well, the wife was seeing a marriage counselor—Hal admits this—about some issues between them.”

“Just the wife was seeing the counselor?” JaMorris asked. “Not him, too?”

“No. Just her. And another thing,” Juhle said. “Small but provocative. Blood in the kitchen.”

“Blood is good,” Abby said. “A lot?”

“Drops. Just enough for DNA. Hers. The point is, Missing Persons thinks it's all coming back to Homicide eventually, so we might as well get in on the ground floor.”

“Anything else in the realm of physical evidence?” Abby asked.

“Not yet, no. But a couple of other things just the same. First, when Hal and his brother got home, the wife was gone, but the kids were still in their beds, asleep. I have a hard time seeing her walking out and leaving the kids behind. Better odds that something happened to her, right? Second, one of the neighbors heard some arguing—maybe fighting, maybe struggling—down on the street.”

Abby let out a small sigh. “And how long has it been?”

“Since Wednesday night.” Juhle put on a perky face. “So she's officially missing since last night.” Absent signs of struggle or violence, because of the large number of random runaways, it took three days in San Francisco for a person who couldn't be found to become a true missing person to the police.

“Yeah, on that subject again,” JaMorris said, “just one more time. Why are we taking on a missing person? Everybody in town who goes missing is going to have a relative who thinks it's a murder and goes after Homicide for not doing their job.”

“I appreciate your concern, Jambo. But here's the deal. They tell me. I tell you. And I'm telling you we're on this one.”

Abby stepped in. “So, in reality, she's been missing for four days.” Everyone knew that the window on solving a homicide closed down dramatically after two days, and after four, the evidence trail tended to be very cold. But Abby understood that there was no point in arguing further. It was going to be their assignment, taking time away from their other, possibly solvable homicides. “How do you want us to handle this?”

“Talk to the husband, of course,” Juhle said. “Start there.”

“Is he being cooperative?” JaMorris asked.

“He's the very soul of cooperation.”

With a defeated sigh, Abby reached out and lifted the case file from the surface of Juhle's desk. Opening it, she asked as she scanned, “Where are we off to?”

“That's the easy part,” Juhle said. “Hal's just next door. At the jail.”

“He's already arrested?” JaMorris asked.

“No,” Juhle said. “He works there.”

3

T
HE
DARTBOARD IN
Dismas Hardy's office was designed to look like an upscale cherrywood cabinet. Behind its dark polished wooden doors was a professional-quality board on a green baize backdrop—Hardy never, ever missed the board entirely. Not exactly camouflaged, but subtle, was a cherrywood throwing line built into his light hardwood floor.

Now he stood at that line and threw a dart that landed in the center of the 4, his target. He was playing his third round of Twenty Down today, and so far this round, he hadn't missed. His coat hung over the chair behind his desk, his collar and tie were loose, and he knew that he was in the zone, locked. He had one more dart this round. Taking very little time so that he wouldn't think and screw it all up, he hefted his little tungsten beauty with its custom-made blue flights and let fly.

Nailed it. The 3. One round away from perfection.

He had come close once before, when the telephone rang and distracted him as he was setting up to throw, so now he hesitated a moment before going to the board to retrieve his last round. He knew he could walk over to his desk and take the phone off the hook. But by his own internal rules, that would be cheating. He could call Phyllis out in the lobby and tell her to hold his calls for exactly one minute, although she might—no, she would—ask him why and ruin his concentration. Or he could ignore the phone altogether, keep his head out of it, get his darts right now, and throw the goddamn things.

Finally, giving these options no more than the split second they were worth, he moved forward, retrieved his round from the board, walked back to the baseline, turned in a measured and unhurried fashion, lifted his first dart, aimed, and threw.

2.

Second to last dart.

1.

No thought. Don't think. Don't fucking think. Throw it throw it throw it.

Bull's-eye!

“Yes!” Hardy threw up his hands in a touchdown gesture. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said aloud, pumping his fist. “Yes!”

After three quick knocks, his office door opened, and Phyllis was standing there with a look of alarm. “Is everything all right? I heard you calling out.”

“I'm great. I'm at a peak moment.” Hardy, beaming, his arms again halfway raised, motioned her inside. “Check this out.” He gestured to the dartboard. “I ask you, is that a thing of beauty? A last-round two-one bull's-eye. Twenty down and no misses! First time ever. Is that awesome or what?”

His receptionist/secretary shot a nervous glance over at the board, then back at her boss. “Very nice,” she said with some uncertainty, “but I really think I should get back to the phones.”

She had barely started back toward her workstation when a man in a uniform appeared behind her, tapping on the open door. “Excuse me,” he said. “I don't know if I'm in the right office. I'm trying to find a lawyer named Dismas Hardy.”

•  •  •

H
AL
C
HASE
WASN'T
aware that he'd made a rational decision to come to Hardy's offices. All he knew was that after his interview with the two Homicide cops, he had to get out of the jail, like now, or he might crack. He needed to take a walk, clear his head. It was way early for lunch, but he didn't care. By now, all of his coworkers knew Katie was gone—no one would call him on anything. He passed through the lobby without a word on the way out, and the guys behind the counter just watched him go.

He turned uptown but didn't consciously know it. Cruel and relentless, his brain kept replaying scenes of good times he had shared with Katie; in the early years, it seemed they'd never had anything else: the blessed couple, the golden couple, the pair all their friends envied.

Where had those two people gone?

•  •  •

T
HE ENORMOUS OLD
seal lay sleeping in his usual spot right down by the water, on the ramp by the Santa Catalina ferry landing. Katie in her Dolphin shorts and the sexy tank top, as lovely as any swimsuit model with her long tan legs, her shoulder-length hair blowing in her face in the breeze, was urging Hal to get nearer to the seal for the picture.

“I get any closer, he's going to bite me.”

“Is my big brave boyfriend afraid of a little old seal?”

“That little old seal weighs about half a ton.”

“Chicken.”

“How about if I take your picture with him? You can sit on his lap.”

“Seals don't have laps. At least Ben doesn't.”

“That's just your excuse. I think you must be the chicken.”

“Come on. Look at him. He's so cute. A couple more steps, and I get a classic picture. We're making a memory here.”

Hal hesitated another moment and finally said, “Only because I love you.” He moved a step closer down the ramp.

The apparently sleeping seal suddenly lurched at him with an ear-­splitting angry cry. Which Hal pretty much matched with his own scream as he jumped out of his skin and ran back up the ramp to Katie, the seal hot on his heels, not nearly as slow as they might have supposed.

When they stopped running, all the way up by the ticket window ­(although the seal had called off the chase after only a few yards), they were breathless, holding each other.

And laughing, laughing, laughing.

•  •  •

H
OLDING HANDS OVER
the table after their pizza dinner at Giorgio's, which was one of the few places they could afford in San Francisco. “Something seems wrong,” Hal said.

“No, not really.”

“ ‘Not really' really means ‘yes really.' ”

Katie sighed. “It's not that big a thing. The important thing is we're getting married.”

“But . . . ?”

“But . . .” She took a small breath. “I've tried to get used to it, but I don't really like the ‘obey' part. ‘Love and honor' I'm good with, but . . . I don't want to have a fight about it. I mean, if it's important to you.”

“That you obey me? I've never thought of asking you to obey me. How weird would that be? We decide things together. That's who we are. That's who we're going to be after we're married.”

“It would really be okay with you? To leave out ‘obey'?”

“I wouldn't even notice it. Now that we're talking about it, I don't think I'd even want it at all. I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't think of it first. How about ‘love, honor, and cherish
'
?
That's got a nice rhythm, and it's how I feel.”

“Cherish,” she said. Her hand went to her mouth. Her eyes glistened in the pizzeria's dim light. Nodding, she pushed her chair back, stood up, and came around to kiss him right in front of God and everybody. “I love you so much,” she whispered. “You are so who I belong with.”

•  •  •

W
HEN KATIE WAS
pregnant with their first child, Ellen, she and Hal had nicknamed her Zy, for zygote. Every night before they went to sleep, he kissed Katie's stomach, and if that didn't lead to something else, he would say, keeping his mouth close, “Hi, Zy. Your daddy loves you.”

Now newborn Ellen lay swaddled on Katie's stomach outside the delivery room. Twenty-five hours of labor with Hal by her side every minute of it, and then at last the delivery of the healthy child. Hal looked down on her tiny face, her eyes scrunched closed. He touched her cheek. Leaning over, he gently kissed his exhausted wife. Then he looked down at the baby. “Hi, Zy,” he said.

Thirty minutes old, the baby opened her eyes—only for a second or two, but it was there, a definite moment of recognition—and she smiled at him.

Hal broke down and sobbed.

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