Read Chapter Two

I rush through the fog, away from what I saw in that scene. I’m in shock but not stunned enough to deny that I just witnessed a murder.

That man was stabbing her.

I run back up the hill the entire two blocks to the bar. The synthetic material of my dress is stuck to my back and to other parts of my body, so I pause briefly for some air before going back inside. The cold sweat would force me in soon enough.

I have to tell someone what I saw. I have to tell Reid. We have to call the police.

Most of all, I was afraid of what would happen if he saw me through the window. Or was it only my fear being reflected?

I pull out my phone and dial emergency.

+++   ++   +++

After I call the police, I go back inside. I’m really shivering by this time, and all I want to do is go home and climb into my warm Murphy bed, but the police told me to stay where I am. I stand in the corner of the bar, silently reprimanding myself that I didn’t get a photo of the murderous action with my phone. I couldn’t see after the light was doused.

“Skylar?” Reid comes out from behind the bar towards me. He looks concerned. “What happened? Where did you go?” he asks over the loud level of conversation in the bar.

“The police are on their way,” I tell him.

“What? Why did you call the police?”

I just shake my head. I feel really lightheaded and I must’ve looked it, because the next thing I know Reid catches me.

When the haze clears a few seconds later, I’m slumped against him but he’s holding me up, one arm underneath my shoulders. With his other arm around my waist, he drags me to a nearby sofa.

“Skylar!”

I hear Elise cry out, and when my vision levels, I stare into both their faces.

“I must have fainted,” I tell them. No longer cold, the packed room is claustrophobically warm.

“Yeah,” Reid says. “You sure did.”

The crowded bar became noticeably hushed and we see a pair of San Francisco police come through the throng. Reid waves them over.

“We’re looking for a Skylar Saffron,” one of them says.

“I’m Skylar,” I say grimly. It makes me really uncomfortable to have the police announce they’re looking for me. The officers, with short and stocky builds, buzz cuts and tattoos peeking out of shirtsleeves, look like the type of guys who spent a lot of their downtime placing bets at sports bars. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it would just be ironic.

“I’m Officer Smith, and this is Officer Diaz. We’re responding to your emergency call.”

“Yes,” I say nervously. “I just saw a woman being lured out of the bar. She was drugged, I think. I followed the couple and saw them through the window of a basement apartment around the corner. The man was stabbing her.”

“What?!” Elise cries out.

“Please, everyone stay calm,” Officer Diaz interjects. “Ms. Saffron, we’re going to need you to show us exactly where you witnessed the crime.”

“Okay,” I say weakly. “Just let me get my coat.”

I go over to the sofa where I stowed my stuff and grab it quickly, ignoring the curious looks Tim and Dave throw my way.

“I’m coming with you,” Elise insists, wrapping a scarf over her blazer. Hearing that relieves me.

“Sorry, we can’t take the chance. The potential suspect might still be in the vicinity,” said Officer Smith. “You need to stay here.”

I was about to object, unsure of why Officers Smith and Diaz would take issue with Elise coming with us.

“We’ll make sure Ms. Saffron is safe,” Officer Diaz promises.

Reid’s concern is written all over, but even in the face of it, he’s practical. “Skylar, if it was who you think it was, the couple who were in here earlier, I saved their cocktail glasses.”

His quick thinking impresses me. “It was them,” I say.

“We’ll send forensics to collect the glasses,” Officer Smith tells Reid.

“Stay here?” I ask Elise. “I’ll come back.”

“Okay,” she agrees.

As I leave with the officers, I wonder about Reid catching me after I fainted. It was good he was there. When I look back, however, he’s already behind the bar, engulfed with customers, and I seem forgotten.

The officers and I walk down Sutter St. After sunset, the night is even colder now, the wind ruthless.

“The building is just down Leavenworth, past Post,” I tell the officers. Revisiting the scene of the crime makes me slightly ill, but the officers give me a sense of security, which I hope isn’t false.

When we get to the apartment building, the light is back on in the basement, but there’s nothing to see. The room is empty.

“Are you sure this is the place?” Officer Smith asks. He seems to doubt me.

“Of course I’m sure,” I say, peeking through the window, confused by the emptiness of the room. “I remember the round window with the stained glass decoration.” I gesture to the colored pattern framing the window.

“We’ll go in and check it out,” Officer Diaz adds, pulling out his walkie-talkie to call it in.

“Come on,” Officer Smith says. “I’ll escort you back to the bar.”

With one last look through the round window, I go with him reluctantly. I know what I saw. I don’t know where they went, but the man and woman were in that basement — and I don’t think the woman made it out alive.

+++   ++   +++

The next day finds me sitting in the sun at the café across the street from my apartment building. There’s always a window of summer sunshine in the early afternoon just after lunch. When I can, I take advantage of it. The window closes between two and four, and the fog rolls in.

It’s so great to have a Friday off. Sometimes I go down to Dolores Park, the warmest spot in the city, but I haven’t been in a while because my scooter is broken and I refuse to take Muni.

As I sit there with my cappuccino, I scroll through the local news reports on my mobile. There’s nothing about the man and woman I saw leave the bar.

Last night before we parted, the police gave me a slip of paper with a case incident name and number. I take it out of my handbag and stare at it for several seconds before finally dialing.

I get a voice mail and leave my name and the reason for my call. At this point, any information I can get about the case is going to assuage my overactive mind.

I’m about to leave and walk down to Polk St. when my phone buzzes. I snatch it up but it’s only Larissa, my friend from high school, who’s now a junior law associate at a large firm in the city.

“Hi Larissa.” My voice is friendly but I’m determined to make the conversation short. Right now I have a one-track mind.

“Skye. What are you doing tonight?” Although she’s a few years older than I am, Larissa Loughlin is one of my oldest friends and always calls me by my childhood nickname.

“Um, I don’t know. Why?”

“There’s an event and I need a wingwoman.”

“I don’t know, Larissa. Last night was pretty eventful.”

“But it’s Friday! Come on,” she wheedles.

Another call beeps in. It’s a local area code but I don’t recognize the number.

“Okay,” I relent, mostly so I can take the next call — it may be the police. “Text me the details. Listen, I’ve got to answer this.”

“Great! I’ll see you tonight.”

I pause briefly before answering and hope that whatever I just agreed to isn’t going to be too painful.

“Hello?”

A pleasant voice responds, a voice that sounds familiar.

“Skylar? This is Julia Hartfield.”

“Hi!” I say in surprise. Julia Hartfield is the director of the library where I just interviewed.

“Hi. I want to let you know that we came to a decision about hiring a junior digital reference librarian.”

“Yes?” Sitting up straight, my body is alert and waiting for an answer.

“The committee is very impressed with your credentials and we want to offer you the job.”

“That’s wonderful!” After living under the cloud of seriously somber events the past twenty-four hours, this is unexpected, welcome news.

“You said you could start right away, correct? Can you come in on Monday?”

“Yes, I can.”

“Wonderful. Report to the reference desk on the third floor for training at 9 am sharp.”

“Thank you, I’ll be there.” I end the call with amazement. That was fast, I think.

No matter. I’m now employed at one of the most prestigious private libraries in the city. It’s all happening. My life as a librarian is really starting.

After some considerable time on the phone to all the A-list people in my life, to tell them about the recent new employment development, I need to get ready to go out. Larissa’s text revealed she has tickets to a night of deejays and dancing at the Academy of Sciences, and we’re meeting some guys there she knows. I’m aware I should make an effort, and so I head into my tiny little bathroom to touch up my makeup.

Even though Larissa was only dragging me along on her evening, in the end, I’m glad to be going. It would take my mind off of last night. I needed to focus on the positive, on things like the new job I’m starting on Monday.

My phone rings and I lunge for it, expecting a reminder call from Larissa. That however, isn’t who’s calling.

It’s a San Francisco police detective named Paul Chen.

“Ms. Saffron, I understand that you reported a crime you witnessed last evening in a basement on Leavenworth St., between Post and Geary.”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“I wanted to follow up with you because we may need another interview.”

“Did you find out something more?” I ask, heart beating hard in my chest. I had an eerie feeling they did.

“Yes,” Detective Chen admits. “When we searched the basement apartment last night we discovered a body in the closet.”

I gasp.

“The woman was dead, stabbed and possibly strangled.” Detective Chen continues. “Do you think you can come down to 850 Bryant and give a statement?”

“When?” 850 Bryant is South of Market, aka SOMA, the opposite direction of the event that evening.

“Now.”

“I can’t come in tonight. Can I call you tomorrow? I might be able to come down in the morning.”

“Well, if that’s the earliest you can come in, it will have to do.” Detective Chen makes sure I have the correct number to call him back on. “The sooner the better in cases like these.”

After we hang up, I walk slowly back to the bathroom and pick up a smoky eyeliner to finish my makeup. I hesitate as I look in the mirror, and my hand drops without drawing another line.

The woman’s dead. I can’t believe it. I witnessed a murder.

In the end, all the energy I could muster went to applying a thin coat of mascara. Then I brush some gloss lightly over my lips. Wearing makeup seems so pointless, anyway.

I sit on the edge of my Murphy bed, stunned and staring dejectedly into space until Larissa calls to say she’s outside. “I can’t find parking,” she says. “I’ve pulled into a driveway a few doors down from you.”

“I’ll be right out.” I grab my evening essentials — a clutch bag and cashmere wrap — and leave, locking the door securely behind me.

When I walk down the short flight of stairs that lead from the front door of the building and look around the corner, I see that Larissa is driving her little white convertible. The Loughlins really cleaned up in the early days of the Internet boom and pulled out before the economy went bust. Larissa inherited wealth and brilliance from her parents, both of who are programmers.

“Do you want to put the top down?” she says when she sees me.

“That’s okay,” I slip into the bucket seat of the coupe. It’s so comfortable that my mood immediately softens. I swear, if Larissa weren’t so compassionate and involved in so many philanthropies, I would be jealous of her abundance. “I have a story to tell you.”

“Oh, about your job? Congrats, by the way.” She starts to back up but pauses for the cable car coming down the block. “I just love that the cable car goes down your new street!”

“I know! I love it, too. It’s really charming. And thanks about the job, but there’s something else.”

During the thirty minute drive crosstown, I fill her in on what happened at the bar the night before. Me sneaking after the couple, witnessing the murder, calling the police, them finding the body — everything.

“Are they going to ask you to identify the body when you go meet with them tomorrow?”

I hadn’t thought of that. “I don’t know.”

The closer we get to the ocean, the denser the fog is, which means an early sunset, even on a long summer day.

“Just be prepared for it. It’s standard procedure.”

Larissa drives into the park and around the loop where the cultural heart of the city is located, the science center and a large art museum. Housed in a building of mostly glass, the eco-friendly design of the Academy of Sciences also features a living rooftop, with human-made hills of green mixed with solar panels.

After parking in the underground garage, we take the elevator to the main atrium and join the culture. Strobe lights pulse to the thumping music of a deejay, as a throng of twenty- and thirtysomething young professionals mingle on the dance floor. The butterfly rainforest backdrop on one side and three-story aquarium opposite make the scene quite spectacular.

“Come on,” Larissa says, clearly pleased with the crowd. “Let me get you a cocktail to celebrate your new job.”

We go to the bar where I let Larissa buy me a drink. Then I follow her as she navigates our way through the mass of people. Eventually she finds the guy she’s there to meet and introduces us. His friends seem nice, but I’ve got my eye on someone else.

There’s a guy in a black suit with his back to me standing in line for the bar. He seems familiar and I try to place where I know him.

Then he turns and I realize it’s the guy from the bar, from the night before. The man I saw assault and murder that young woman in the awesome spectator shoes.

+++   ++   +++

Readers: What do you think is going on?! What will happen next? Leave a comment below and receive a tip to the next clue.

READ THE REST OF PART 1