“Open it anyway,” he said to her. “This you’ll like.”
She lifted the top. Inside a suede pouch was a set of earrings, large silver rings around a pair of whimsical moons made from diamonds.
“They’re how I think of you,” he said.
Melanie held the moons against the lobes of her ears. They were perfect, and so was she.
“It’s you who pulls my tides,” David murmured.
They kissed, and he unfastened the zipper of her dress, letting the neckline fall just below her shoulders. He kissed her neck. Then the tops of her breasts.
There was a knock on the door of the suite.
“Champagne,” called a voice from outside.
For a moment, David thought of just yelling, “Leave it there!” All evening, he had longed to peel away the dress from his wife’s soft white shoulders.
“Oh, go get it,” Melanie whispered, dangling the earrings in front of his eyes. “I’ll put these on.”
She wiggled out of his grasp, backing toward the Mandarin’s master bathroom, a smile in her liquid brown eyes. God, he loved those eyes.
As he went to the door, David was thinking he wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world.
Not even for a second goat.
PHILLIP CAMPBELL had imagined this moment, this exquisite scene, so many times. He knew it would be the groom who opened the door. He stepped into the room.
“Congratulations,” Campbell muttered, handing over the champagne. He stared at the man in the open tuxedo shirt with a black tie dangling around his neck.
David Brandt barely looked at him as he inspected the brightly ribboned box. Krug. Clos du Mesnil, 1989.
“What is the worst thing anyone has ever done?” Campbell murmured to himself. “Am I capable of doing it? Do I have what it takes?”
“Any card?” the groom said, fumbling in his pants pocket for a tip.
“Only this, sir.”
Campbell stepped forward and plunged a knife deep into the groom’s chest, between the third and fourth ribs, the closest route to the heart.
“For the man who has everything,” Campbell said. He pushed his way into the room and slammed the door shut with a swift kick. He spun David Brandt around, shoved his back against the door, and powered the blade in deeper.
The groom stiffened in a spasm of shock and pain. Guttural sounds escaped from his chest — tiny, gurgling, choking breaths. His eyes bulged in disbelief.
This is amazing, Campbell thought. He could actually feel the groom’s strength leaking away. The man had just experienced one of the great moments of his life and now, minutes later, he was dying.
Campbell stepped back, and the groom’s body crumpled to the floor. The room began to tilt like a listing boat. Then everything began to speed up and run together. He felt as if he were watching a flickering newsreel. Amazing. Nothing like he had expected.
Campbell heard the wife’s voice and had the presence of mind to pull the blade out of David Brandt’s chest.
He rushed to intercept her as she came from the bedroom, still in her long, lacy gown.
“David?” she said with an expectant smile that turned to shock at the sight of Campbell. “Where’s David? Who are you?”
Her eyes traveled over him, terror ridden, fixing on his face, the knife blade, then her husband’s body on the floor.
“Oh, my God! David!” she screamed. “Oh, David, David!”
Campbell wanted to remember her like this. The frozen, wide-eyed look. The promise and hope that just moments ago had shined so brightly were now shattered.
The words poured from his mouth. “You want to know why? Well so do I.”
“What have you done?” Melanie screamed again. She struggled to understand. Her terrified eyes darted back and forth, sweeping the room for a way out.
She made a sudden dash for the living room door. Campbell grabbed her wrist and brought the bloody knife up to her throat.
“Please,” she whimpered, her eyes frozen. “Please don’t kill me.”
“The truth is, Melanie, I’m here to save you,” he said as he smiled into her quivering face.
Campbell lowered the blade and sliced into her. The slender body jolted up with a sudden cry. Her eyes flickered like a weak electric bulb. A deathly rattle shot through her. Why? her begging eyes pleaded. Why?
It took a full minute for him to regain his breath. The smell of Melanie Brandt’s blood was deep in his nostrils. He almost couldn’t believe what he had done.
He carried the bride’s body back into the bedroom and placed her on the bed.
She was beautiful. Delicate features. And so young. He remembered when he had first seen her and how he had been taken with her then. She had thought the whole world was in front of her.
He rubbed his hand against the smooth surface of her cheek and cupped one of her earrings — a smiling moon.
What is the worst thing anyone has ever done? Phillip Campbell asked himself again, heart pounding in his chest.
Was this it? Had he just done it?
Not yet, a voice inside answered. Not quite yet.
Slowly, he lifted the bride’s beautiful white wedding dress.
IT WAS A LITTLE BEFORE EIGHT-THIRTY on a Monday morning in June, one of those chilly, gray summer mornings San Francisco is famous for. I was starting the week off badly, flipping through old copies of The New Yorker while waiting for my G.P., Dr. Roy Orenthaler, to free up.
I’d been seeing Dr. Roy, as I still sometimes called him, ever since I was a sociology major at San Francisco State University, and I obligingly came in once a year for my checkup. That was last Tuesday. To my surprise, he had called at the end of the week and asked me to stop in today before work.
I had a busy day ahead of me: two open cases and a deposition to deliver at district court. I was hoping I could be at my desk by nine.
“Ms. Boxer,” the receptionist finally called to me, “the doctor will see you now.”
I followed her into the doctor’s office.
Generally, Orenthaler greeted me with some well-intended stab at police humor, such as, “So if you’re here, who’s out on the street after them?” I was now thirty-four, and for the past two years had been lead inspector on the homicide detail out of the Hall of Justice.
But today he rose stiffly and uttered a solemn “Lindsay.” He motioned me to the chair across from his desk. Uh-oh.
Up until then, my philosophy on doctors had been simple: When one of them gave you that deep, concerned look and told you to take a seat, three things could happen. Only one of them was bad. They were asking you out, getting ready to lay on some bad news, or they’d just spent a fortune reupholstering the furniture.
“I want to show you something,” Orenthaler began. He held a slide up against a light.
He pointed to splotches of tiny ghostlike spheres in a current of smaller pellets. “This is a blowup of the blood smear we took from you. The larger globules are erythrocytes. Red blood cells.”
“They seem happy,” I joked nervously.
“They are, Lindsay,” the doctor said without a trace of a smile. “Problem is, you don’t have many.”
I fixed on his eyes, hoping they would relax and that we’d move on to something trivial like, You better start cutting down those long hours, Lindsay.
“There’s a condition, Lindsay,” Orenthaler went on. “Negli’s aplastic anemia. It’s rare. Basically, the body no longer manufactures red blood cells.” He held up a photo. “This is what a normal blood workup looks like.”
On this one, the dark background looked like the intersection of Market and Powell at 5:00 p.m., a virtual traffic jam of compressed, energetic spheres. Speedy messengers, all carrying oxygen to parts of someone else’s body.
In contrast, mine looked about as densely packed as a political headquarters two hours after the candidate has conceded.
“This is treatable, right?” I
asked him. More like I was telling him.
“It’s treatable, Lindsay,” Orenthaler said, after a pause. “But it’s serious.”
A week ago, I had come in simply because my eyes were runny and blotchy and I’d discovered some blood in my panties and every day by three I was suddenly feeling like some iron-deficient gnome was inside me siphoning off my energy. Me, of the regular double shifts and fourteen-hour days. Six weeks’ accrued vacation.
“How serious are we talking about?” I asked, my voice catching.
“Red blood cells are vital to the body’s process of oxygenation,” Orenthaler began to explain. “Hemopoiesis, the formation of blood cells in the bone marrow.”
“Dr. Roy, this isn’t a medical conference. How serious are we talking about?”
“What is it you want to hear, Lindsay? Diagnosis or possibility?”
“I want to hear the truth.”
Orenthaler nodded. He got up and came around the desk and took my hand. “Then here’s the truth, Lindsay. What you have is life threatening.”
“Life threatening?” My heart stopped. My throat was as dry as parchment.
THE COLD, BLUNT SOUND of the word hit me like a hollow-point shell between the eyes.
I waited for Dr. Roy to tell me this was all some kind of sick joke. That he had my tests mixed up with someone else’s.
“I want to send you to a hematologist, Lindsay,” Orenthaler went on. “Like a lot of diseases, there are stages. Stage one is when there’s a mild depletion of cells. It can be treated with monthly transfusions. Stage two is when there’s a systemic shortage of red cells.
“Stage three would require hospitalization. A bone marrow transplant. Potentially, the removal of your spleen.”
“So where am I?” I asked, sucking in a cramped lungful of air.
“Your erythrocytic count is barely two hundred per cc of raw blood. That puts you on the cusp.”
“The cusp,” the doctor said, “between stages two and three.”
There comes a point in everybody’s life when you realize the stakes have suddenly changed. The carefree ride of your life slams into a stone wall; all those years of merely bouncing along, life taking you where you want to go, abruptly end. In my job, I see this moment forced on people all the time.
Welcome to mine.
“So what does this mean?” I asked weakly. The room was spinning a little now.
“What it means, Lindsay, is that you’re going to have to undergo a prolonged regimen of intensive treatment.”
I shook my head. “What does it mean for my job?”
I’d been in Homicide for six years now, the past two as lead homicide inspector. With any luck, when my lieutenant was up for promotion, I’d be in line for his job. The department needed strong women. They could go far. Until that moment, I had thought that I would go far.
“Right now,” the doctor said, “I don’t think it means anything. As long as you feel strong while you’re undergoing treatment, you can continue to work. In fact, it might even be good therapy.”
Suddenly, I felt as if the walls of the room were closing in on me and I was suffocating.
“I’ll give you the name of the hematologist,” Orenthaler said.
He went on about the doctor’s credentials, but I found myself no longer hearing him. I was thinking, Who am I going to tell? Mom had died ten years before, from breast cancer. Dad had been out of the picture since I was thirteen. I had a sister, Cat, but she was living a nice, neat life down in Newport Beach, and for her, just making a right turn on red brought on a moment of crisis.
The doctor pushed the referral toward me. “I know you, Lindsay. You’ll pretend this is something you can fix by working harder. But you can’t. This is deadly serious. I want you to call him today.”
Suddenly my beeper sounded. I fumbled for it in my bag and looked at the number. It was the office — Jacobi.
“I need a phone,” I said.
Orenthaler shot me a reproving look, one that read, I told you, Lindsay.
“Like you said,” — I forced a nervous smile — “therapy.”
He nodded to the phone on his desk and left the room. I went through the motions of dialing my partner.
“Fun’s over, Boxer,” Jacobi’s gruff voice came on the line. “We got a double one-eight-oh. The Grand Hyatt.”
My head was spinning with what the doctor had told me. In a fog, I must not have responded.
“You hear me, Boxer? Work time. You on the way?”
“Yeah,” I finally said.
“And wear something nice,” my partner grunted. “Like you would to a wedding.”
HOW I GOT from Dr. Orenthaler’s office, out in Noe Valley, all the way to the Hyatt in Union Square, I don’t remember.
All I know is that barely twelve minutes after Jacobi’s call, my ten-year-old Bronco screeched to a halt in front of the hotel’s atrium entrance.
The street was ablaze with police activity. Jesus, what the hell had happened?
The entire block between Sutter and Union Square had been cordoned off by a barricade of blue-and-whites. In the hotel entrance, a cluster of uniforms crowded about, checking people going in and out, waving the crowd of onlookers away.
I badged my way into the lobby. Two uniformed cops whom I recognized were standing in front: Murray, a potbellied cop in the last year of his hitch, and his younger partner, Vasquez. I asked Murray to bring me up to speed.
“What I been told is that there’s two VIPs murdered on the thirtieth floor. All the brainpower’s up there now.”
“Who’s presiding?” I asked, feeling my energies returning.
“Right now, I guess you are, Inspector.”
“In that case, I want all exits to the hotel immediately shut down. And get a list from the manager of all guests and staff. No one goes in or out unless they’re on that list.”
Seconds later, I was riding up to the thirtieth floor.
The trail of cops and official personnel led me down the hall to a set of open double doors marked “Mandarin Suite.” I ran into Charlie Clapper, the Crime Scene Unit crew chief, lugging in his heavy cases with two techs. Clapper’s being here himself meant this was big.
Through the open double doors, I saw roses first — they were everywhere. Then I spotted Jacobi.
“Watch your heels, Inspector,” he called loudly across the room.
My partner was forty-seven, but he looked ten years older. His hair was white, and he was beginning to bald. His face always seemed on the verge of a smirk over some tasteless wisecrack. He and I had worked together for two and a half years. I was senior, inspector-sergeant, though he had seven years on me in the department. He reported to me.
Stepping into the suite, I almost tripped across the legs of body number one, the groom. He was lying just inside the front door, crumpled in a heap, in an open tuxedo shirt and pants. Blood matted the hair on his chest. I took a deep breath.
“May I present Mr. David Brandt,” Jacobi intoned with a crooked smile. “Mrs. David Brandt’s in there.” He gestured toward the bedroom. “Guess things went downhill for them quicker than most.”
I knelt down and took a long, hard look at the dead groom. He was handsome, with short, dark, tousled hair and a soft jaw; but the wide, apoplectic eyes locked open and the rivulet of dried blood on his chin marred the features. Behind him, his tuxedo jacket lay on the floor.
“Who found them?” I asked, checking his pocket for a wallet.
“Assistant manager. They were supposed to fly to Bali this morning. The island, not the casino, Boxer. For these two, assistant managers do wake-up calls.”
I opened the wallet: a New York driver’s license with the groom’s smiling face.
Platinum cards, several hundred-dollar bills.
I got up and looked around the suite. It opened up into a stylish museum of Oriental art: celadon dragons, chairs and couches decorated with imperial court scenes. The roses, of course. I was more the cozy bedand-breakfast type, but if you were into making a statement, this was about as substantial a statement as you could make.
“Let’s meet the bride,” Jacobi said.
I followed through a set of open double doors into the master bedroom and stopped. The bride lay on her back on a large canopy bed.
I’d been to a hundred homicides and could radar in on the body as quick as anyone, but this I wasn’t prepared for. It sent a wave of compassion racing down my spine.
The bride was still in her wedding dress.
YOU NEVER SEE so many murder victims that it stops making you hurt, but this one was especially hard to look at.
She was so young and beautiful: calm, tranquil, and undisturbed except for the three crimson flowers of blood spread on her white chest. She looked as if she were a sleeping princess awaiting her prince, but her prince was in the other room, his guts spilled all over the floor.
“Whaddaya want for thirty-five hundred bucks a night?” Jacobi shrugged. “The whole fairy tale?”
It was taking everything I had just to keep my grip on what I had to do. I glared, as if a single, venomous look could shut Jacobi down.
“Jeez, Boxer, what’s goin’ on?” His face sagged. “It was just a joke.”
Whatever it was, his childlike, remorseful expression brought me back. The bride was wearing a large diamond on her right hand and fancy earrings. Whatever the killer’s motive, it wasn’t robbery.
A tech from the medical examiner’s office was about to begin his initial examination. “Looks like three stab wounds,” he said. “She must’ve showed a lot of heart. He got the groom with one.”
What flashed through my mind was that fully 90 percent of all homicides were about money or sex. This one didn’t seem to be about money.