"Mofina continues his string of gripping, tense thrillers that explore the intricacies of crime reporting, the culture of a big-city newsroom and the fallout of what happens when those who report on the news become the news."
Rick Mofina's Books
Kate Page series
Jack Gannon series
The Panic Zone
Jason Wade series
The Dying Hour
No Way Back
Blood of Others
If Angels Fall
Listed among the TEN BEST SUMMER READS by the Ottawa Citizen
During his years as a crime reporter in San Francisco, Tom Reed had seen a lot of sick messages, but the one just delivered to his fellow reporter Molly Wilson is different — it’s shockingly personal, written in human blood.
SFPD Homicide Inspector, Walt Sydowski, has grappled with horrific cases but the one confronting him now is unlike anything he’s ever faced — the murder of a fellow detective. As Sydowski works on his most challenging case Tom races to save his career, and Molly.
Waiting alone at Jake’s Bar & Grill in North Beach, Molly Wilson finished her second diet cola then pressed redial on her cell phone. Four rings. She got his machine again. Damn.
“It’s me. I’m at Jake’s. Where are you? Call me.”
Nearly an hour late and not a word. This was not like Cliff. Maybe he’d left her a message at work. She tried her line there.
“You’ve reached Molly Wilson of the San Francisco Star. I’m either on the phone or ... .”
She keyed in her password. No new messages since she’d left the newsroom. Just two hang up calls. She’d been getting of lot of those lately but nothing from Cliff. She ordered another soda and brooded.
In the time they’d been together Cliff had never been late. Except tonight. Maybe he’d sensed that she’d reached a decision. Cliff was a great guy. She’d never set out to hurt him. She’d set out to have fun and they were having fun. But she didn’t want to move in with him. Wasn’t ready for it. She wanted to cool things. See other people. She was going to tell him tonight. She was going to thank him for his offer and return his key.
If only she could reach him, she exhaled.
She didn’t like this. She tried his cell phone wanting this night to be over so she could retreat to her apartment, soak in her tub, listen to some Phil Collins then eat a gallon of butterscotch ripple. No answer. She drummed her glossed nails on the table. Then stopped.
Someone was watching her.
She pushed back her auburn hair and inventoried the after work office crowd. Nothing unusual until she noticed two men nearby warming stools at the bar, ties loosened, stealing glimpses of her, then the big TV overhead.
Of course. She was on Eyewitness 24-Hour Action News. It was her weekly eight-minute spot with Vince Vincent, host of Crime Scene, where they talked about crime trends in San Francisco.
The show was taped at noon. Molly was still wearing the same sweater and matching blazer, which complimented her eyes. There she was with Vincent at a studio desk against San Francisco’s skyline at night discussing the latest justice department figures.
” ... but what about violent crime, like murder?” Vincent asked.
“The odds of your being murdered, or a victim of a violent crime, are very remote,” she said.
Watching the set over the bar, Molly shook her head. Vince was worried. No sensational crimes in weeks.
“But violent crimes do happen here, Molly. We’ve got gangs, drug wars, murders of every sort. The city is still reeling from the recent jewelry heist homicides.”
“Sure but the fact is your likelihood of being victimized by such a crime is virtually nil.”
The two guys at the bar were now grinning, offering Molly little waves. She shrugged them off. She’d been on the show for over a year. She loved doing it but there was a down side. It was more than a magnet for jerks like those two. Since Crime Scene had been picked up by a state-wide cable network it has attracted more whack jobs. Sickos of every description tried contacting her. Comes with the territory, she shrugged.
Molly could handle the pair at the bar. There was little she couldn’t handle. But not tonight. She wasn’t up for these two. Not now. One was headed her way. That was her cue. She grabbed her bag, tossed a few bills on the table.
Outside, an evening breeze rolled up from the Bay and she was struck by an odd sensation. It was as if somebody was just waiting for her to leave Jake’s.
And now they were watching her.
This was stupid. She took stock of the street. Nothing but a few window shoppers. She was being silly, put off by those drunks at the bar. And Cliff. Where was he? She waved it off and flagged a cab.
“Upper Market,” she told the driver. “I’ll give you the address when we get closer.”
The lights of San Francisco rolled by and Molly thought of Cliff. He was so good to her. Nothing like some of the creeps she’d dated and dropped. Like the hair puller who called her a “stupid bitch” and the weirdo who went mute and just glared at her. She bit her lip wondering if cooling things with Cliff was a mistake. He was considerate, intelligent, had a sense of humor. A decent handsome guy. Nothing was wrong with him. They’d only started dating a few months ago. She just wasn’t ready for a long-term relationship.
She considered her friend Tom Reed, the reporter who sat next to her at the Star. Look at what he had with Ann, his wife. The real thing. They had Zach, their beautiful son. They were far from perfect but they had a fire that could melt steel. They’d endured heartbreaks and emerged stronger. Maybe some day she’d find something like that. She just wasn’t ready to settle down yet.
“Miss?” the driver said. “The address, please.”
Molly recited it as the cab climbed the neighborhood’s serpentine hills. She liked the way the fog rolled up the steep streets of Cliff’s little oasis. He’d joke about being sheriff when she pointed at the community signs that demanded suspicious persons be immediately reported.
The creak of brakes echoed in the stillness as the cab stopped at the small Queen Anne style house. Cliff’s apartment was upstairs at the back.
“If you shut off your meter and wait, I’ll go back with you,” she told the driver.”
“How long, Miss. I gotta make a living.”
“Not long. Please. I need to see if my friend’s home.”
He slid the gearshift to park and killed the motor. It ticked down.
Molly approached the front. The exterior lights were on, but the place seemed oddly dark. No interior lights. The wrought iron gate squeaked as she took the tiled walkway to the rear stairs. The yard was lush, private, bordered with rosebushes, shrubs, eucalyptus trees. A couple of sturdy looking palms.
Her footsteps echoed as she ascended the wooden staircase to his door. Inhaling the fragrance of the flowers rising from the boxes on his balcony, she pressed the buzzer, heard it sound through his apartment. Then nothing. She buzzed again. Waiting, she put her ear to the door. Not a hint of movement. She knocked. Waited. Nothing.
Strange. She reached into her bag for her key to his apartment, slid it into the slot. It went in too fast. What the – ? The door was unlocked. She turned the handle. It opened. Inviting her to enter.
No one responded from the darkness. She reached inside, flipped on a light.
The first room was the kitchen. She saw his jacket draped over a chair. His car keys were on the counter, along with his cell phone, wallet, loose change, unopened mail.
“Cliff, it’s Molly.”
She moved to the living room. In the darkness the red message light of his answering machine was blinking like something terrified. She switched on a lamp.
It was too quiet.
Something began to stir deep in her gut telling her this was all wrong. The next room across the darkened hall was his bedroom. Instinct warned her to leave now but her hand hovered over the doorknob. The driver out front had blasted his horn and her skin nearly exploded.
She took a breath and opened his bedroom door. The room swam in a surreal dim blue glow from the digital clock on his nightstand. Her stomach tightened.
Cliff was on the bed. Face down.
She inched toward him.
He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. A huge damp, dark blue halo encircled his head. Something resembling wet raw meat had erupted from the side, glistening in the eerie blue light.
Resting on Cliff’s lower back was his service weapon, a 40-caliber Beretta. Next to it, open for display, his official San Francisco police identification. It read:
INSPECTOR OF POLICE