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Anyone who is dumb enough to live on one side of Lake Washingtonand work on the other is automatically doomed to spend lotsof time stuck in bridge traffic. Such was the case one January morningas I headed for my job as an investigator for the Washington StateAttorney's Special Homicide Investigation Team, known fondly toall of us who work there by that unfortunate moniker, the SHITsquad.
I live in Belltown Terrace, a condo at the upper end of Second Avenuein downtown Seattle. My office is sixteen miles away in a southBellevue neighborhood called Eastgate. That morning's commute washampered by two separate phenomena, both of which were related toa mid-January blast of arctic air that had come swooping down onwestern Washington from the Gulf of Alaska. The first traffic hazardwas black ice, which had turned most of the minor side streets intoskating rinks. Unfortunately, I'm a world-class procrastinator, and thewinter weather had snuck up on me while my Porsche 928 was stilldecked out in summer-performance tires.
The other major traffic hazard was mountains—not driving overthem, but seeing them. For nine months of the year, the mountainsaround Seattle are mostly invisible. Hidden by cloud cover, they sitthere minding their own business, but when the "mountains are out,"as we say around here, and Mount Rainier emerges in all its snow-cladsplendor, trouble is bound to follow. Unwary drivers, entranced by theunaccustomed view, slam into the fenders of the cars in front of them,and traffic comes to a dead stop. The frigid air had left the snowcappedmountains vividly beautiful against a clear blue sky. As a result,I-90 was littered with pieces of scattered sheet metal, chrome-trimpieces, and speeding tow trucks.
Between ice- and gawker-related accidents, my normal twentyminutecommute had turned into an hour-long endurance test.Adding insult to injury was the fact that this was my first morningback at work after a weeklong stay in Hawaii.You'll notice I said stay, not vacation, because it wasn't. I was thereas father of the groom. Anyone who's been down that road knows it'sno cakewalk.
The wedding had come up suddenly when Scott telephoned theday after Christmas to say that he and Cherisse were giving up theirlong-planned, no-holds-barred, late-summer extravaganza of a weddingin favor of a hastily arranged and low-key affair that would takeplace on a private beach near Waikiki the second week in January. Asplans for the summer wedding had burgeoned out of control, I hadbeen less than thrilled about the way things were going. A lowattendanceaffair that would consist of bride and groom, best people,and an assortment of parental units was much more to my liking.
I did wonder briefly if a misstep in birth-control planning had accountedfor this sudden change in plans. That certainly had been thecase when I had masterminded my daughter's hasty marriage to her husband, Jeremy. Now, several years and 1.6 kids later, Kelly and Jeremywere doing just fine, and I had no doubt Scott and Cherisse woulddo the same. So I rented a tux, booked my hotel room and plane tickets,and was on my way. I didn't find out that I was wrong about theunwed pregnancy bit until after I checked into my hotel room outsideHonolulu.
I had just finished stowing my luggage when Dave Livingstonstopped by my room to give me the real story.
Dave, by the way, is my first wife's second husband and her officialwidower. He's also Scott's stepfather and a hell of a nice guy. Right afterKaren died, Dave and I both made an extra effort to get along—forthe kids' sake. It may have been a phony act to begin with, but overtime it's turned real enough. As far as parental units go, Dave and I areall Scott Beaumont has. Dave had flown in from L.A. the night beforeand had eaten dinner with Cherisse's folks, Helene and Pierre Madrigal,who had arrived on a flight from France the previous day.
There are a number of things I didn't learn about Dave Livingstonuntil the occasion of Scott's wedding. For one thing, he speaks French.I have no idea why an accountant from Southern California would be,or would even need to be, fluent in French, but he was and is. In thecourse of that initial dinner he had sussed out that Pierre, age fiftyseven,had recently been diagnosed with a recurrence of prostate cancer.He and his wife had decided to postpone his next round oftreatment until after the wedding. This bit of bad news no doubt accountedfor the sudden change in wedding plans, and rightly so. In myopinion, postponing cancer treatment for any reason is never a goodidea. Scott and Cherisse were obviously concerned that by summertimehis condition might have deteriorated to the point where travelingto their wedding would be impossible.
And so I found myself in the middle of a wedding event that was complicated by a family health crisis and confounded by limited communicationskills. Unlike Dave, I am not fluent in French. My daughterhad thoughtfully sent along a French/English phrase book that shethought might be useful. Unfortunately the usual tourist-focusedcontents made zero mention of PSA counts or prostate difficulties, so Icouldn't have talked to Pierre about his situation even if I had wanted ...Long Time Gone. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Long Time Gone by Harry Chase, J. A. Jance
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