San Francisco Homicide Inspector Paavo Smith wrenched himself awake in the dark bedroom. He didn't move, but listened, searching for sounds that existed only in his head. When all remained quiet, he slowly collected himself, calmed his racing pulse, and reassembled himself into the now of his existence. He was a cop; he'd seen firsthand the living nightmares men foisted upon one another. There was no reason his imagination should bother him this way. For it to do so was unacceptable.
Abruptly he sat up in bed and ran a hand over his eyes, against his nose. A small ripple of cartilage marked where it had been broken. Most people assumed the break had come as a result of police work, but the first time he had broken it, he'd been wrestling with his older sister. She had raised her head just as he lowered his own, and the world exploded. For a couple of months his nose looked like it was heading leftward, while his eyes and mouth aimed straight ahead.
That Jessica came to mind now made sense. She'd been in his nightmare. It was an old dream, but recently he'd begun having it again'three times in the past few weeks, each time more vivid than the last.
He stood up, his body slick with sweat. At the foot of the quilt-covered bed his yellow tabby, Hercules, lifted his head, twitched an ear, and yowled with annoyance at having his sleep disturbed. Paavo left the lights off and paced the room, rubbing his forehead, as if through physical force he could shove the alarming memories away.
The dream wouldn't bother him half so much if he could figure out what it meant. The nightmare placed him in a shoot-out. He had been in a few since joining the force, but had neverexperienced the stark terror that filled him in the dream. He was low on ammunition, trapped, with no way out, and the worst part was that Jessica was with him.
Yet when she died, he'd been only fourteen years old.
Most likely she'd been on his mind because of the brooch that had belonged to their mother, a cameo of a woman's profile in a gold setting. Jessica had never liked it and refused to wear it. She was into grunge before there was such a style. Brooches weren't her thing.
At Christmas Paavo thought of the brooch while trying to come up with a meaningful gift for his girlfriend, Angie, who had enough money to buy herself anything she wanted twice over. Although it was only costume jewelry, the design was beautiful and delicate and elegant. Just like Angie. Its sentimental value, he knew, was something she would also appreciate.
Seeing it, holding it, must have stirred up recollections of his family, what little family he had. They then could have jumbled together in his head with current thoughts and blended his life as a police officer with memories of his sister. That was the only explanation he could think of. Guns had never entered his life as a child, he didn't think.
And yet . . .
He wished whatever the hell was causing this nightmare to surface would stop. Now, with Angie in his life, he was happier than he had ever been. He didn't want to remember the past, the days of his childhood; he didn't even want to talk about them, and didn't.
Still, from the dream, an awful dread hovered over him, as if an omen of what was to come.
Angie Amalfi thrust a handful of money at the Yellow Cab driver. Keep the change. In a waft of QuelquesFleurs and a mint-green Donna Karan silk suit, she dashed from the taxi to a small jewelry shop on California Street. Gold lettering over the shop proclaimed rose jewelry, ltd., and an open sign dangled on the front door.
Inside, recessed lights shone onto walnut-framed glass counters set in a U shape along the back and side walls. Gold- and platinum-set stones and diamonds were tastefully displayed on black velvet. Atop each long counter was a rectangular mirror on a lacquered stand, while more mirrors discreetly hung from the paneled walls.
A white-haired man sat at a wooden desk behind the farthest counter. Thank God you're here, Angie cried, hurrying toward him on dyed-to-match Giacomo Ferre stilettos.
He raised his head. Slowly pushing himself to his feet, he unhooked the jeweler's magnifier from his eyeglasses and placed it on the table. He was quite old, his back curved so badly that even standing upright, he seemed to be searching for something at his feet. He peered at her through bushy gray eyebrows, frowned, and shuffled closer.
I hope you can help me. Anxiety made her voice shrill. Mr. Warner at Tiffany's told me you were the only one he knew who did this kind of work.
His eyebrows lifted with interest at the name. Ralph Warner was the senior jeweler at the prestigious store. Shaking, gnarled hands rested on the glass countertop. What kind of work is it? His voice was deep and he spoke with an accent, mixing his v's and w's.
I'll show you. She set down her tiny green Prada handbag and, from a black leather Coach tote, removed a small padded jewelry box. The hinged top opened like a clamshell. My boyfriend gave me the brooch for Christmas. I was polishing it'the cameo had gotten some dust and dirt in it over the years'and the stone fell out of its setting. You've got to fix it for me!
His gaze fixed on the brooch. Oh, my, he murmured.
It was his mother's, she continued, trying to keep the dejection and panic from her voice. I can't tell him I broke it. This is so upsetting! I could just die!
She waited for a word, a reaction, but he gave none. She stopped talking and watched his fascination with the piece. The cameo was oval, an elegant woman's profile carved on rose-hued agate against a black background.
Joanne Pence is the author of the Angie Amalfi mystery series. Angie wants two things in life -- a good job and San Francisco Homicide Inspector Paavo Smith, but culinary crime keeps getting in the way. Joanne grew up amidst the cultural diversity and culinary excellence of San Francisco, and that setting provides a rich "flavor" to her books.