W e heard it on the news, boss.”
Gage looked up from where he sat in the sparsely occupied ICU waiting room. In his hand was a notepad on which he had outlined the reassignment of his own cases to his staff. Although time stood still for him, it surged forward for his corporate clients around the globe, and the enemies that threatened them wouldn’t be calling a truce because of a shooting on a San Francisco street.
Hector McBride, an ex-DEA agent, and Derrell Williams, an ex-FBI agent, pulled up chairs close to him.
“How’s he doing?” Williams asked, peering up at Gage through wire rims that glinted in the overhead fluorescent lights.
“Not good,” Gage said.
McBride hunched his huge frame forward, then tilted his head toward the door. “We saw some of Burch’s people heading toward the elevator.”
“I sent them away. They were so distraught, I was afraid they’d scare Jack’s wife. There’s nothing they can do here anyway.”
Gage handed Williams the list. “The only urgent one is my antitrust case. If we don’t move fast, the client is out of business. Take care of it yourself.” He then looked at McBride. “Get out to the Richmond District. See if your old informants have heard anything.”
“You think it’s Russians, and not road rage like the news said?” McBride asked.
“I don’t know yet, but it’s all we’ve got to go on.”
The three of them rose. McBride scanned the other people in the room, then leaned in toward Gage and lowered his voice.
“We’re right behind you, boss, and we’re gonna get this asshole. There’s no fucking place he can hide.”
Faith caught Gage’s eye as she climbed down from her SUV in the hospital parking lot. He walked around and opened the passenger door and immediately understood. Courtney Burch’s clear, sweet eyes told him that the tidal wave of the attempted murder of her husband hadn’t yet hit her.
The women were still dressed alike in plaid shirts and jeans for a clear fall day along Hat Creek, now darkened by gunshots. In Gage’s mind, they had always been opposites bound together like the north-south poles of a magnet. Faith: tall, slim, auburn hair; hazel eyes that peered out at the world as if it was composed of puzzling fragments, each to be held up for inspection. Courtney: diminutive, olive-skinned, black-haired, soft features; a woman for whom life was to be taken whole.
Gage hugged them both, then reached his arms around their shoulders and guided them through the hospital entrance and up to the second floor ICU to await permission to see Burch.
“Have the police found out anything more about who did this?” Courtney asked, after they sat down together in a corner of the reception area.
Gage shook his head. “Not yet, but they’ll pass on everything they learn. Spike is keeping the case himself.”
Courtney’s face drained of color. She looked up at Gage. “But Spike is in homicide.”
“They handle assaults, too,” Gage said quickly, hoping she wouldn’t ask why.
Courtney caught the motion of a patrol officer checking in with hospital security, then heading through the double doors into the ICU. The meaning registered on her face. “Is he safe here?” Panic rose in her voice as her eyes darted around the room, then froze toward the hallway as if masked men were about to storm the hospital. “Graham, is he safe?”
Gage reached around her shoulders and squeezed her tightly. “I’ll make sure he’s safe.”
Courtney looked up at Gage as if searching for a handhold in a tsunami. Her shoulders slumped as she burst into tears and buried her face in her hands.
The seawall had finally crumbled.
“I called Spike while I was in the cafeteria,” Gage said, handing cups of tea to Faith and Courtney a half hour later. “There’ll be a Take Back the Streets rally tomorrow where Jack was shot. Spike and I’ll be there trying to turn up more witnesses. All they’ve got so far for an ID of the shooter is that he’s slim and was wearing a Giants baseball cap.”
He sat down next to Courtney. Both he and Spike needed a question answered, one that made the shooting less anonymous and more terrifying.
“Was there anyone Jack was afraid of?” he asked.
“Is that why there’s an officer protecting him?” Her eyes locked on his. “You mean this wasn’t random, that it wasn’t road rage?”
“No. That’s not what I’m saying.” Gage held her gaze and offered her reassurance he didn’t feel. “It’s only in case the shooter thinks Jack would recognize him. Nothing more.” He tried again. “Was Jack troubled by anything at work?”
Courtney took a sip of tea, then gripped the paper cup in both hands, close to her chest. “More than troubled. Furious. The Russian finance minister tried to backdoor Jack after you two left Moscow.”
Gage’s eyes narrowed. “What was that about?”
“Nepotism and money.” She turned toward Gage. “The minister tried to have his son appointed managing director of the natural gas joint venture, positioning himself to divert funds. But Jack called him the day before yesterday and backed him down.”
“Someone leaked the call to the Financial Times. Jack thought it made his part of the project look political.”
“It was political.”
“Not for Jack.” She struggled to smile. “For him it was like playing with Tinkertoys.”
Gage finished her thought: “And he didn’t want bullies interfering.” He didn’t finish his own: Not wanting the bullies interfering was no guarantee that they wouldn’t. He let it drop and looked elsewhere. “Was Jack worried about anything else?”
Dr. Kishore emerged from the ICU before she could answer. They rose as the doctor walked toward them. Gage introduced her to Faith and Courtney. Dr. Kishore took Courtney’s hands in hers, but had nothing new to offer; just kind words and no promises, and permission to see her husband.
As the surgeon walked away, Gage led Faith and Courtney down the hallway toward Burch’s door. He opened it and stepped in first, trying to absorb some of the shock that he knew would jolt Courtney. He stopped at the foot of the bed where Burch lay surrounded by a cockpit of monitors and attached to a half-dozen drips. The only sound was the whoosh-snap of the ventilator, its breathing tube taped to the corner of his mouth. Gauze encased the top of his head, his forearms were mottled with bruises, splotches of yellow and blue surrounding needle punctures. The dim light shadowed his pallid face and his closed, sunken eyes. Burch already looked like the aged man that Gage hoped he would survive to be.
Courtney walked past Gage, took her husband’s hand, then leaned down and kissed his forehead. She sat in a chair next to the bed and gazed at him for a few moments before lowering her head to rest her cheek on the back of his hand. Her black hair, finally regrown after radiation and two courses of chemotherapy, flowed over their hands and onto the sheets.
Gage felt Faith’s arm reach around his waist, then her head press against him. He slipped his arm around her shoulders as they watched Burch’s slowly rising and falling chest. Moments later, Gage felt Faith tremble as she fought back her tears, and an ache tore at his heart as the stick figure to which his imagination had held fast, now transformed into blood and flesh.
Gage and Courtney watched mist glittering in the yellow halogen parking lot lights triggered by cloud-darkened, afternoon skies. He had led her to a quiet spot just outside the hospital entrance to converse out of the hearing of the nurses and technicians tending to Burch. Faith remained at his bedside.
“I’m sorry to keep pressing you on this,” Gage said, “but I need to know whether there was anything else bothering Jack besides the Russians?”
Courtney reached out her hand and watched the mist drift between her fingers, almost as if she hadn’t heard his question. Finally she answered: “SatTek.”
Gage felt his stomach tighten. “Why did-” He caught the motion of a television news truck pulling in from the street. He grabbed Courtney’s arm. “Let’s get back inside.”
He led her to the cafeteria, then into the employees’ dining room, where reporters wouldn’t think to look. They took seats next to each other, facing away from the door. He pushed aside empty paper plates, soda cups, and crumpled napkins, then called Spike, who promised to block the media from bringing cameras beyond the hospital lobby.
Gage seized the broken thread of their conversation, now seeming more like a live wire. “Why SatTek?”
Courtney shook her mind free of the descending media storm and the tens of millions of eyes that would soon drill like termites into their lives. “I don’t know. Jack wouldn’t say.”
“Then how do you-”
“He’s been obsessed with the SatTek television coverage for the last week; alternately angry, then dejected, switching among the cable news channels, then searching the Internet, fixated on every rumor about the collapse.”
Gage reached for the lesser evil. “Did he lose money when the stock fell?”
Courtney lowered her head. “It wasn’t that.”
“You mean SatTek was a client?”
She nodded without looking up.
“Two years ago. A referral from a venture capital firm in New York.”
There was a momentary silence, but neither of them said the obvious. SatTek had approached Burch just after Courtney was diagnosed. Gage and Burch had spent days together, sitting outside the Stanford Cancer Center as she first underwent surgery, then radiation, and finally chemotherapy. Burch had fled from the uncertainty of her future into talking about his work, the intricacies of each deal, seeking some alternate universe, safe and controllable.
“Why didn’t he mention SatTek to me?” Gage asked.
Courtney finally looked at him. “He couldn’t. You were still working on that TM-Micro trade secrets case. He read about your testimony in the Wall Street Journal. SatTek was about to make a huge purchase of TM-Micro products, big enough to push their stock up five or ten percent. He didn’t want to create the appearance that he leaked insider information.”
She paused for a moment and her eyes went vacant, then her brows furrowed.
“Is that it?” she asked, searching Gage’s face. “Is SatTek the reason Jack was shot? Some lunatic shareholder?”
Gage shook his head. “Not likely. Stockholders come gunning when companies collapse, but not with weapons, only with class action lawyers. If it was otherwise, Enron headquarters would’ve become a war zone.”
Courtney’s face showed she wasn’t convinced. Her gaze drifted down toward the brown Formica table, then held there as if searching for a constellation among the littered bread crumbs.
“It just can’t be random,” she finally said, looking up. “It just can’t be. Isn’t life supposed to mean something?”
Gage sat alone in Burch’s room, next to his bed, his hand resting on Burch’s. Faith had gone with Courtney to call his family in Sydney and hers in Portland.
Random. The word repeated itself in Gage’s mind, carrying with it a feeling from his early years in homicide. He’d drive up to Twin Peaks or Russian Hill and look out over the nighttime city after a murder, especially one without witnesses, without leads, without hope. A wave of uneasiness would shudder through him as if he were staring into a vast emptiness, as if he, too, was about to lose himself into the abyss in which the victim had disappeared. That unease would soon give way, replaced not by a feigned and swaggering squad room confidence that pretended away the unknown and unknowable, but by a resolve that was as palpable as the relentless breeze flowing in from the ocean.
He’d gaze down at the lights and the shadows and at the twisted grid of streets, listening to the rumble of traffic and the howl of tugboats on the bay, then he’d get back into his car and turn the ignition, and-
Gage heard the door swish open behind him. He looked over, then stood as Courtney approached the foot of the bed.
“Graham,” she said, looking down at her husband. “I need you to find who did this. I need to know he’ll never come back to hurt Jack.”
“I’ll protect him,” Gage said, “but I can’t promise that I’ll find the man. Sometimes it isn’t possible.”
“Just knowing you’re out there searching will give me a feeling of security, of stability.” She hugged herself as if fighting off a chill. “I just feel so…so…”
“Yes, adrift.” She peered up into his eyes. “How did you know?”
As Gage walked past the waiting room an hour later, car keys gripped in his hand, he heard Spike’s voice, distant and tinny. He glanced over at the television hanging from a bracket in the far corner: CNN. The ticker told the story: “International lawyer Jack Burch shot down in San Francisco. Russian and Ukrainian presidents to issue a joint statement regarding the future of the natural gas agreement.”
The small screen showed Spike along with Dr. Kishore and the chief of police standing in the hospital lobby behind a dozen microphones. A BBC reporter yelled out a question.
Gage didn’t break his step. He already knew the answer.
“No,” Spike said, staring into the camera, “we have no leads.”