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The phone receiver began a series of staccato beeps. I stared as if it were a foreign object, then replaced it in the cradle. My world had tilted a few minutes ago, and everything seemed askew.
I went over to the windows and looked down at the lower deck of the Sea Cliff house where the post-wedding party was coming to an end. It was a perfect September day, warm and clear, without a wisp of fog to spoil the view of the Golden Gatethe start of the season we San Franciscans consider our summer. The guests were dressed in brightly colored clothing, ranging from shorts and Hawaiian shirts to formal attire. Typical eclectic crowd for a California wedding.
And it had been a terrific wedding. My friend and operative, Rae Kelleher, and my former brother-in-law, country music star Ricky Savage, exchanged vows by the deck rail, the Pacific gleaming in the background. Then the band struck up the title song of his new album, Redwritten and recorded as his wedding surprise for Raeand the serious partying got under way. Caterers passed through with gallons of champagne and mounds of shellfish, caviar, and hot hors d'ouevres; we ate and drank like pigs in heaven. The wedding cakenontraditional chocolatewas decimated minutes after the bride and groom cut it. Even Ricky's six children by my sister Charlene, initially subdued by their father's remarriage, perked up and were soon behaving in the various modes that had earned them the nickname the Little Savages.
When it came time for Rae to change from her wedding gown togoing-away clothes, I went inside with her to perform my final maid-of-honor dutynamely, to ensure she and Ricky didn't miss their honeymoon flight to Paris. The phone was ringing and she said, "Why don't you get that? I'm old enough to dress myself." So I left her and went to the living-room extension and picked up.
And my world changed.
Now I put a hand to my hair, touched the circlet of autumn flowers I wore. It was wilted. My dress, a silk swirl of similar shades, was rumpled, and I was barefoot because I'd been dancing. On the deck below, the band had stopped playing and people were starting to drift inside. Soon they'd be spilling up the stairway to watch the couple leave, and I'd need to be on hand and smiling as Rae tried to lob her bouquet at me.
"God, how can I?" I whispered.
Behind me I heard footsteps and voices. The room was filling up, but I stood frozen. I had to pull myself together, turn around.
You've been through lots worse, McCone. Just act as if nothing's happened. Pretend you never picked up that receiver; don't wreck Rae and Ricky's moment. Plenty of time to break the news later.
I squared my shoulders, took my own advice, faced the crowd. They were all talking and laughing, but the sound seemed curiously muted. I spotted Ricky's youngest child, Lisa, a gob of frosting on her cheek. My office manager, Ted Smalley, and his partner, Neal Osborn, looked handsome in vested suits and wild ties. Attorneys Anne-Marie Altman and Hank Zahn held hands with their adopted daughter, Habiba Hamidproof that some families, no matter how oddly assorted, worked. And there was Hy Ripinsky, my very significant other. . . .
Hy was talking with Ricky's manager, Kurt Girdwood, and didn't notice me. Quickly I turned away, started walking toward the staircase Rae and Ricky would be coming down. I couldn't let Hy see me; he'd instantly know something was wrong. In the years we'd been together I'd never once been able to conceal my true feelings from him.
A tap on my shoulder. Mick Savage, Ricky's oldest son and best man, and my agency's computer expert. His blond hair was tousled and he had traces of bright red lipstick on his mouth. Charlotte Keim, the source of the lipstick and another of my operatives, clung to his arm.
Mick said, "Wedding came off okay, huh?"
I managed a grin. "Great. And neither of us lost the rings."
"What the hell's taking them so long?" He glanced at his watch, probably anxious to get out of there and back to the condo he and Keim had started sharing two weeks before.
"They're going to Paris, darlin'," she said. "Takes time to get gussied up for a trip like that."
"Hell, Dad's probably grabbed Rae for a quickie."
"Let's have a little decorum here," I told him. Not that the remark offended me; knowing the bridal couple, it might very well be accurate. But Mick expected an auntly rebuke and would have found it odd had he not received one.
Then Rae and Ricky came down the staircase. She was stunning in a blue suit, her long red-gold curls loose on her shoulders; his handsome face looked happier and more at peace than I'd ever seen it. He caught my eye, pointed to Rae's bouquet, and winked. I shook my head, made a fending-off gesture.
Raising his hands for quiet as he did on stage, he called, "Okay, folks. It's time for the next lucky couples to learn their fate! Gentlemen firstpreferably single ones." As the men moved forward, he turned his back, waved Rae's lacy green garter in the air, and hurled it over his shoulder. It landed in the hands of Jerry Jackson, his drummer.
"Been there, done that!" Jerry yelled. But he pocketed the garter carefully and grinned at his pretty blond woman friend.
"Now it's the ladies' turn," Ricky announced, motioning for us to draw closer. When I didn't move, he looked at me and frowned; he was another man I had trouble deceiving. Quickly I stepped forward, and he shrugged: Sister Sharon, as he sometimes still called me, was simply being weird again. "Throw it, Red, so we can get out of here."
Rae pivoted and heaved the bouquet over her shoulder; she must've been on radar, because it flew straight at me. I sidestepped, and it ended up in Keim's arms.
"No way!" Charlotte exclaimed. "Rae may be the marryin' kind, but not this gal!" She tossed the flowers away, and Ricky's college-age daughter, Chris, caught them. She blushed, rolled her eyes, and smiled up at her date, a UC Berkeley wide receiver.
I let out a sigh, glad that this ordeal was nearly over. Catering people appeared with bags of confetti, and then Rae and Ricky ran the gauntlet to a waiting limo. As it drove off, more trays of champagne were circulated, but the party had a definite winding-down feel.
"McCone." Hy came up behind me, put his hands on my shoulders.
"Hey there." I rested my cheek against one of them. "Well, we got off scot-free in the garter-and-bouquet department, in spite of the happy couple's intentions."
"You sure that's a good thing?"
The question surprised me. "Since when have we needed legal sanction" My voice broke, the strain overwhelming me.
For a moment Hy didn't speak, just tightened his grasp on my shoulders. Then he said softly, "I've been watching you. You've done a good job of fooling everybody but me. What's wrong?"
". . . Let's go down on the deck, and I'll tell you."
The sun had dipped below the Marin County headlands, and the temperature had dropped. The musicians were packing up their gear while the caterers moved about filling plastic bins with plates and silverware and glasses. I went to the rail and leaned there, staring at the slow-moving lights of a departing container ship.
Hy came up beside me. "If you're cold, you can have my jacket."
"Temperature-wise, maybe. Now, what's wrong?"
I turned toward him. Drew comfort from his sensitive dark eyes and the concerned lines of his hawknosed, mustached face. Felt, with a painful and unexpected jolt, how empty my life would be should I lose him.
He took my face between his hands, eyes gentle on mine, and waited.
"There was a phone call when Rae and I went inside," I finally said. "From my brother John. I've been keeping the news to myself because I didn't want to upset the kids and Ricky. Even after he and Charlene got divorced, he'd remained close" I broke off, sucking in my breath.
"Something's happened to Charlene?"
I shook my head.
If you put it into words, it makes it real.
Atypical term of endearment, for Hy.
"My father. He's . . . he's dead. He had a heart attack this afternoon. In the garage of the San Diego house, all alone, working on some carpentry project."
There, I've said it. Pa's dead. And in spite of all the death I've seen over the course of my career, I don't know how to deal with this.
Hy did, for the moment. He put his arms around me, pulled me close, and held me.
"Can't sleep, McCone?"
"Sure you don't want me to fly you down there in the morning?"
"No. A commercial flight's faster."
"At least let me come along. I should be there for the funeral."
"Didn't I tell you? There won't be one. Pa didn't believe in them. John's having him cremated, and on Monday the two of us will scatter him at sea."
"Just you and John? What about the others?"
"Charlene's at a conference in London. Patsy can't leave the new restaurant. John couldn't get hold of Joeyhis phone's been disconnected."
"Well, if I went down with you, I could rent a plane and fly it while you and John scatter"
"No, I'll do that. Besides, there's something else I need from you."
"It's kind of a big thing. Would you mind the agency for me? Whenever I went away before, I put Rae in charge, but now"
"No problem. I'm between projects, but even if I wasn't, I'm always here for you."
But now I know that "always" is a lie.
Now I know that, in the end, death is the only certainty.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I ENJOYED READING THIS STORY. THE SURPRISE ENDING WAS ESPECIALLY GOOD. THE CHARACTERS ARE BELIEVABLE AND ORIGINAL. SHARON MCCONE LEARNED THAT THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT TIES THAN BEING BLOOD RELATIVES. RECOMMENDED READING.
Different, but excellent.
OK, so I don't recall ever having read this book before. But I do highly recommend it. It's quite a departure from the other books in the series, in that it really (and I mean, REALLY) delves in Sharon McCone's personal life. Some might find the lack of traditional "mystery" plot difficult to deal with, but I find it refreshing, especially as we watch Sharon peel away the layers of the past. Wonderful reading!!
The news that her beloved father died in his San Diego home from a heart attack stuns San Francisco Private investigator Sharon McCone. However, Sharon fails to obtain closure when she finds documents that prove she was adopted. Unable to let this revelation remain buried, Sharon decides to handle her own case and uncover the identities of her biological parents. Sharon soon finds evidence that sends her to a Shoeshone reservation in Idaho. Further inquiries lead to Saskia Blackhawk, the woman Sharon believes birthed and deserted her. Attorney Saskia is in a land dispute with developer Austin DiCarlo, who might be Sharon¿s father. Before Sharon can obtain the truth, a hit and run driver sends Saskia into a coma and makes the California sleuth wonder if her dad is trying to kill her mom, that is if they are her parents? LISTEN TO SILENCE is one of the best McCone mysteries to date, if not the best. The award winning Marcia Muller shows why she is so highly regarded as she personalizes the investigation, which adds focus on the sleuth. Sharon has never been this good as her emotions go through a grinder that leaves her raw, but anxious to know whose DNA she inherited. Ms. Muller freshens up the professional detective sub-genre with this personalized mystery. Harriet Klausner