New York Times bestseller John Lescroart delivers a dark, intimate thriller about the price we put on family and the terrible costs of seeking the truth.
Raised by loving adoptive parents, San Francisco private investigator Wyatt Hunt never had an interest in finding his birth family-until he gets a chilling text message from an unknown number: "How did ur mother die?"
The answer is murder, and urged on by curiosity and the mysterious texter, Hunt takes on a case he never knew existed, one that has lain unsolved for decades. His family's dark past unfurls in dead ends. Child Protective Services, who suspected but could never prove that Hunt was being neglected, is uninformed; his birth father, twice tried but never convicted of the murder, is in hiding; Evie, his mother's drug-addicted religious fanatic of a friend, is untraceable. And who is the texter, and how are they connected to Hunt?
Yet in the present, time is running out. The texter, who insists the killer is out there, refuses to be identified. The cat-and-mouse game leads Hunt across the country and eventually to places far more exotic-and far more dangerous. As the chase escalates, so does the threat, for the killer has a secret that can only be trusted to the grave. Thriller master John Lescroart weaves a shocking, suspenseful tale about the skeletons inside family closets . . . and the mortal danger outside the front door.
THEY WERE HAVING THE SPECIAL‚ wings and tuna wontons‚ in a window booth at Lou the Greek’s‚ two guys in their early forties‚ talking over the lunchtime noise. The good-looking one‚ Wyatt Hunt‚ said‚ “Gina and me‚ we’re both reluctant to commit.”
“Reluctant‚” Devin Juhle said. “I like that.” He was a San Francisco homicide cop and relationship issues‚ even those in his own life‚ weren’t his main concern. He’d been with Connie for fourteen years and didn’t think about that stuff too often. They just worked‚ had their three kids‚ did their jobs. Loved each other. Committed.
Juhle picked up a wing‚ held it out between them. “What is on this thing?”
“No‚ Kemo Sabe. What spice?”
“Peanut butter‚ I think‚” Hunt said. “And garlic and cayenne and probably soy sauce. Pretty good‚ huh?” Juhle nodded. “For Lou’s.” He took a bite and chewed. &ldaquo;So you guys are done?”
“Pretty much‚ I’d say.”
“I can’t say it breaks my heart‚ you know.”
“Yeah‚ well‚ you and she had kind of a different thing.”
“She’s a ball-buster.”
“Not to me.”
Gina Roake‚ the woman in question‚ was a lawyer a few years older than Hunt who’d had occasion to ﬁllet Juhle on the witness stand in a murder trial a while ago. It hadn’t been his ﬁnest moment.
“I don’t want to hear any trash talk about her‚ Dev. We had a good run and she and I are still going to be friends‚ okay?”
Juhle shrugged. “It’s your life.”
Hunt nodded. “Damn straight.”
BUT THEY WEREN’T THERE to talk about Hunt’s love life. This was a job interview.
And Juhle was holding up his hand. “Before you get too far‚ Wyatt. I appreciate the offer‚ I really do. I’m surprised and ﬂattered‚ honest. But I don’t see how I could.”
“You reach your hand out over the table‚ we shake on it‚ the deal’s done.”
Juhle shook his head. “Connie would kill me.”
“Connie wouldn’t even maim you. She wouldn’t care if you changed jobs. You could push a hot- dog cart and she’d dance out on ahead of it hawking sales in her cheerleader outﬁt.”
Juhle nodded in acknowledgment. “Well‚ okay‚ so maybe not Connie. But there are other reasons. My retirement‚ for example. Health insurance. Being in homicide‚ which puts me at the top of the food chain. Besides which‚ I actually like what I do.”
“Yeah‚ but the bureaucracy‚ the union stuff‚ all the rules . . .” “Hey‚ rules are my life. I love the rules. Why do you think I became a cop? I’m a rule guy.”
“That’s what Ivan said‚ too.” This was Ivan Orloff‚ one of Hunt’s new hires. “And guess what? That whole rule-guy thing—it turns out not so much. He loves the freedom of being on his own‚ plus he turns out to be an amazing investigator‚ which he didn’t even know until he stopped being a cop. Now he sees stuff even I miss on the ﬁrst pass. Not to mention we get along great together‚ which I’m hoping might even happen with you. Although that’s a bit more of a long shot.”
“And getting longer every minute.”
Hunt leaned back and crossed his arms. “Twenty-ﬁve percent.”
Another head shake. “It’s not the money. Twenty’s ﬁne if I wanted to do it. But I’m not even slightly tempted. Besides‚ I’ve got some pretty severe reservations about the whole boss thing between you and me . . .”
“I wouldn’t be your boss.”
“You’d be paying me‚ am I right? Wouldn’t that make you the boss?”
“Technically‚ perhaps. But you know me‚ I wouldn’t ever pull rank.”
A small smile. “Yeah. Until you did. And then there goes twenty years of you and me getting along‚ such as we do.”
Hunt stayed hunched back against the wall of the booth for a moment‚ then came forward‚ his elbows on the table. “Come on‚ Dev. Don’t you think we could have us some real fun?”
“We’re having fun now‚ dude. Eating great wings. No hierarchy between us. Just two guys out living the high life on a weekday afternoon. It ain’t broke‚ so we don’t need to ﬁx it. That’s a main life rule and‚ as I said‚ I’m a rule guy.”
* * *
HUNT WAS IN HIS BEDROOM‚ having changed into nicer clothes for his next appointment‚ sitting on his bed‚ talking to his receptionist/ secretary/assistant Tamara Dade on his cell phone‚ telling her the disappointing news about Devin Juhle. He heard the little ping telling him he was getting a text message‚ but as usual when he was talking to someone‚ he ignored it.
“It was a long shot anyway‚” he was saying‚ “but I ﬁgured worth a try.” “Deﬁnitely‚ but I can’t believe he didn’t jump at it. Was it even close?”
“He stopped me before I’d even ﬁnished the pitch. No interest.”
“Could it be that fun being a cop?”
“I guess. Who would’ve known? Or here’s a thought—maybe he thinks it’s not that much fun being a private eye.” “That couldn’t be it. He’s seen us at work‚ where the fun never stops. Now‚ for example. Are we having fun now or what?”
“Fun. No question.”
“Well‚ there is one other theory.”
“What about me?”
“He ﬁnds you too attractive to deal with and is afraid if he works around you every day‚ it’ll impact his marriage to Connie.” “Right‚ Wyatt.” Again he heard the tone indicating a message‚ and again he ig
“No‚ seriously‚” Hunt continued. “He’s worried he’ll become addled with wild sexual fantasies‚ unable to concentrate. Eventually turn to drink‚ despair‚ and divorce.”
“He mentioned this to you‚ did he? Used the word ‘addled’?”
“Not exactly. I read between the lines‚ though. It was kind of sad.”
“I’d imagine‚” she said.
He said good-bye and touched the “End” bar on the face of his cell phone. The latest text message—the second message‚ the one that showed on his screen—was from Tamara’s brother Mickey‚ but to Hunt it barely registered. The messages could wait. Hunt didn’t want any interruptions at the moment and he held down the button to turn the power off and then slipped the cell phone into its holster.
Frowning‚ he swore under his breath.
Why did he bring up that lame attempt at humor to Tamara? That Juhle thought she was too attractive to work around? Distracting? Addle making?
When it was he who was having the problem.
Since 1912‚ the Mission Club has made its home in the Kearney Mansion‚ an enormous yet gracious four-story stucco structure on Nob Hill Circle‚ just around the corner and a little downhill from the Fairmont and Mark Hopkins hotels. Its membership includes 183 members—never more‚ sometimes less—making it the most exclusive private club in the city.
The club employed a male butler‚ Taylor‚ a chiseled-faced‚ strongly built African-American in his late ﬁfties or early sixties. Taylor was leading Hunt back to his meeting room when Hunt touched his arm and stopped their progress to check his reﬂection in the foyer’s mirror.
He was wearing his best slacks and sports coat but‚ as always when he came here‚ he felt inadequately turned out.
“You look ﬁne‚ sir‚” Taylor intoned.
Taylor was in a tuxedo. Hunt looked him up and down and couldn’t keep a smile off his face. “Easy for you to say.”
Because of his assignment here‚ Hunt had gotten access to some of the club’s statistics‚ such as the average age of 67‚ the average net worth around $60 million. What wasn’t in the stats was the average cost of what the women wore. Hunt ﬁgured‚ what with the designer dresses and shoes and handbags and other accessories and—oh‚ let us not forget the jewelry—nobody walked around with less than twenty thousand dollars worth of stuff clinging or hanging or otherwise attached to their bodies.
And then they were at the doorway to the room where the three members of the Membership Committee sat chatting in Queen Anne chairs that surrounded the lace-covered table on which rested a selection of pastries‚ cookies‚ coffee and teas.
Taylor intoned. “Mr. Hunt.” The door closed behind him.
“Ah‚ Wyatt.” Dodie Spencer got to her feet and crossed over to him‚ offering her cheek for him to kiss. She was a distractingly beautiful woman reminiscent‚ Hunt thought‚ of Grace Kelly or January Jones. From his background research‚ he knew that she was forty-two years old and married to Lance Spencer‚ owner of Execujet. “So good to see you again‚” she said. “It’s always good to see you.”
“And you‚” Hunt said‚ then added‚ “All of you.” He included the other two women who remained seated. “Mrs. Wren‚ Ms. Hatcher. Good afternoon.”
Deborah Hatcher nodded politely. Hunt knew that she was seventy‚ that she had never been married‚ that her father had made their fortune in mining salt out of the bay.
Gail Wren‚ eighty-four‚ observed Hunt with her glacier-water eyes. She wore ornate gold and emerald earrings‚ several rings‚ and a multi-strand necklace that Hunt thought probably contained forty carats in diamonds‚ maybe a thousand carats. She was old‚ old money‚ with somewhat obscure equity ties to the ﬁrst years of the Bank of America.
Deborah Hatcher reached forward to take a cookie from the tray while Dodie kept a light hand‚ possessively‚ on Hunt’s arm‚ as she turned back toward her two co-members. Gail ﬁxed Hunt with an impatient cold eye. “Since you’re a little late‚ we may as well get right to it. Does that suit you‚ Mr. Hunt?” The elderly dowager pointed with a bejeweled‚ arthritic ﬁnger. “Take that chair. Pour some coffee if you want. And‚ Dodie‚ for God’s sake‚ quit mushing‚ would you? And sit down.”
“JUDITH BLACK‚” Hunt began‚ “is not exactly who she appears to be.”
“I knew it!” Gail Wren slapped the side of her chair. “I knew something wasn’t right with that woman.”
Deborah Hatcher turned her head‚ reached a hand across to her neighbor’s chair‚ and spoke in a calm tone. “Mr. Hunt hasn’t said that exactly‚ Gail dear. Not yet.”
“Oh‚ nonsense. Of course he has.”
“Maybe we could just let him go on‚” Dodie Spencer said. “Wyatt?”
He nodded. “Thank you.” He came forward‚ elbows on his knees. “She is in fact on the payroll at Abbot- Cantor Securities‚ and has been for the past ﬁve years . . .”
“She’s a broker?” Gail might as well have said “hooker.”
Dodie glanced her impatience at the older woman as Hunt pressed on. “Not exactly a broker‚ Mrs. Wren. More like a ﬁnder‚ although Josh Cantor called her a business development manager. I was up front with Cantor and told him that I was helping with Judith’s membership application background check here and he made no bones about her role in the ﬁrm.”
“Her role in the ﬁrm?” Deborah asked “Which is what‚ exactly?”
“She cultivates clients and funnels them to Abbot- Cantor.”
“Cultivates‚” Gail said. “Charming. Funnels. And sends them to our city’s very own Bernie Madoff‚ only he hasn’t been caught yet.”
Again‚ this got a small rise out of Deborah. “Now‚ Gail‚ we don’t know that.”
“Hmph! Would either of you work with him‚ with what we already know? He’s been dodging indictments for the past decade.” And then‚ back to Hunt. “How much does he pay her?”
“We didn’t get into that‚ and I don’t think he would have told me if I’d asked.”
“Never mind that‚” Dodie said. “The point is‚ she lied on her application.”
“Well‚ not exactly. Under ‘Employer‚’ she put ‘not applicable.’ ”
Deborah huffed at that. “She’s working for Abbot- Cantor‚ that’s applicable.”
Hunt spread his hands. “That might be a matter of interpretation.”
“Nonsense. It’s purposefully deceptive‚” Gail said. “Do any of us doubt that she wants to become a member so that she can—what was your word‚ Mr. Hunt?—she can funnel our members into Mr. Cantor’s funds? When the rules explicitly forbid soliciting other members in business matters . . .”
Dodie reached across and touched Hunt’s knee. “Did you ﬁnd any evidence of that? Speciﬁc solicitation?”
“Well‚” Gail put in‚ “I don’t think we’re going to need that. Not after this.”
“Nevertheless‚” Hunt said‚ “I did contact each of her three sponsors and yes‚ two of them have moved their money to Abbot-Cantor within the past two years and the third one‚ Florence Wright‚ is thinking about it right now. None of them seemed aware that Mrs. Black worked for that ﬁrm‚ and I asked all of
them speciﬁcally as it came up. And then when I asked if they thought the monthly dues would be a problem for Judith‚ they all volunteered that she was one of the most astute investors they knew‚ with close ties to Abbot- Cantor. In fact‚ the results she was getting with that ﬁrm was why they’d switched or were thinking about switching.”
“Funneled‚” Gail rasped out in disgust.
Hunt nodded. “Funneled. I tend to agree.”
Dodie let out a disappointed little sigh. “Well.”
“It’s such a shame‚” Deborah’s eyes were downcast. “She should have known she wouldn’t have been happy here if she really wasn’t who she’s pretending to be.”
“She doesn’t care about happiness‚ not in the same way you do‚” Gail replied. “Happiness to her is money. And she just wanted to make money off of us‚ plain and simple. You’re such a believer in the goodness of people‚ Deborah. You’d think you’d have grown a little more realistic by now.”
“It’s just that I’ve always liked Judith‚” Deborah said. “She seems so sweet.”
“Con men don’t succeed if they’re not sweet‚” Gail replied with her usual asperity. “Same goes for con women.” She shifted her focus. “And you‚ Mr. Hunt‚ thank you. This is precisely why we decided to hire you‚ and you’ve saved us all embarrassment‚ not to say possible ﬁnancial reversals.” Now‚ taking in her fellow members. “I believe our decision is clear here‚ is it not? Decline?”
Dodie nodded. “Decline.” Deborah sighed. “Oh‚ if I must.” She wagged her head sadly. “Decline.”
* * *
DODIE WALKED Hunt OUT as far as the foyer. Talking about “the old battle-ax” in a stage whisper‚ she kept her hand on Hunt’s arm as they walked. “I particularly liked it when she told me to ‘quit mushing.’ I didn’t know I was mushing. Did you think I was mushing‚ whatever that is‚ Wyatt? Was I bothering you?”
“Not in the least.”
“All right‚ then. Just so I’m not a nuisance.”
“You’d have to go quite a ways to get to there‚ Dodie.”
“Well‚ thank you.” She gave his arm a little squeeze. “And also thanks again for the background on Judith. She would have been a cancer here if we’d let her in.”
“I’m glad I could be of help‚ what little I could do.”
“You did plenty‚ believe me‚ and beyond that‚ you kept it all under the radar‚ and that’s a talent rare as gold. The last thing this club needs is a public scandal.”
For an instant‚ Dodie stopped and looked up at him. Hunt wondered if she might try to kiss him. When she had interviewed him for the assignment here‚ her attraction to him had been obvious: she’d hung on his every word. His professional background. His personal story all the way‚ it seemed‚ back to his childhood. It had almost been unprofessional enough to make him decide not to take the job.
But now the intensity in her eyes gave way to a smile and she said‚ “We will certainly keep you in mind if anything new comes up. Have a nice day.”
IN FRONT OF THE MANSION‚ Hunt was waiting for his car to be delivered to him when he took out his cell phone and powered it back on. Mickey’s earlier text message appeared again on the screen‚ some menu he was working on. Hunt could get back to him later. He pressed “Close” on Mickey’s text and the next message popped up from an unknown number.
What the . . . ?
The message read: How did your mother die?Praise for John Lescroart and Damage:
"Lescroart again demonstrates his fiendish delight in keeping those pages turning."
-The Washington Post
"John Lescroart's writing skills are a national treasure."
-The Huffington Post
"Lescroart masterfully guides events to a nail-biting denouement."
"Lescroart's pitch-perfect plotting, with its twists and turns that are still playing themselves out almost to the book's end, will keep readers turning pages past any self-imposed curfews and returning to Lescroart's considerable backlist."
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