Tommy slept soundly, bracketed against the bare back of Sadie Cintean,
her ample butt tucked into his groin. She had accepted his invite for a
night cap after dinner at Don Pistos in North Beach—their fourth date.
They made love into the wee hours of the night, her boundless energy as
refreshing as it was exhausting.
He was awakened by his cell phone ringing. He broke from Sadie and
rolled over to grab it from the night stand.
“Hey cuz, it’s Ryan,” Assistant Chief of Police Ryan Delmastro
“Shit,” Tommy mumbled. “You’re gonna ruin my Sunday, aren’t
“Last time I checked, you were a homicide detective, and we have a
homicide that needs detecting.”
“Outside my jurisdiction,” Tommy groaned.
“Marin County Sheriff’s Department is short on detectives. We owe
‘em one for helping us out on the gang bust last year.”
“When did it happen?” Tommy rubbed his eyes.
“Overnight. Found early this morning.”
“San Francisco resident. Jina Pak—of Korean descent.”
“They told me she has a neck wound. That’s all I know.”
“That’s for you to find out. Are you a fuckin’ journalist?
What’s with the one-word questions?” Tommy heard Ryan slam his hand
on a table. “You’re with a woman, aren’t you?”
“Smile if you got any last night.”
“I’ll be there in an hour.” Tommy broke the connection.
“What’s going on? You have to be somewhere in an hour?” Sadie
asked, moving to rest her head on his chest.
“Yeah. Homicide on Muir Beach. Gotta go.”
“One more time around?” she asked, cupping his balls with her hand.
“As much as I’d like that, and I would, I’m afraid the dog needs a
nap. He might be ready tonight. What are you doing for dinner?”
“Meeting you somewhere. Text me.”
“Count on it. Stay as long as you like. I have to shower and go.”
“I’ll shower with you,” she said, and did.
They left together and strolled down the hill from Tommy’s corner at
Kearny and Vallejo to his barista at Caffé Trieste. He ordered a
biscotti and cappuccino to go, and bought a mocha for his lover, who
happened to be a criminal defense lawyer, but he didn’t hold that
They walked to her car, which was parked on a hill a few blocks away.
Never one to gush over fantastic sex, he simply said, “Sorry I gotta
“Me, too. Text you later.” She raised herself on her tiptoes and
placed a delicate kiss on the underside of his unshaven jaw.
“Whatever works for you.” He watched her start her car, use the
wiper blades to remove the film of fog, then pull out of her tight spot.
He turned and walked toward his car—an unmarked police cruiser—which
was on a side street a few blocks up the hill. He couldn’t use his
garage because he leased it to pay his monthly mortgage. He was grateful
for the rental income, allowing him to own a house in a market that was
otherwise too expensive for his detective’s salary. He unlocked the
battered cruiser, got in, and drove toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
When he exited Tamalpais Valley, a sign indicated that the segment of
Highway 1 leading to Muir Beach was closed. It’s gonna be one of those
days. The detour added thirty minutes to his drive as he zigzagged
through the redwood forest on Muir Woods Road, the fresh scent of the
giant trees tempering his sour mood. He drove past the Pelican Inn,
reminiscent of an English Inn from the fifteenth century, and dropped
down to the beach parking lot.
The lot was crammed with Marin County Sheriff cruisers. A patrol officer
stood at the entrance, directing traffic, so Tommy flashed his badge and
found an empty spot. A cluster of curious locals stood by with their
dogs, their Sunday morning routine of walking the beach interrupted by
the inconvenience of murder in their peaceful neighborhood.
He got out of his car, stretched, and walked to the footbridge that took
him from the lot, over the marsh, to the base of the sand dunes. It had
been several years since he had visited this popular location, and he
was impressed with the improvements. At almost two hundred yards in
length, the new bridge was solid and attractive. Beyond it, nestled
between the grassy sand dunes, was a long path to the beach. With each
step on the sand, his street shoes sinking deep, he felt the sense of
doom attendant to a murder scene.
Emerging from the high dunes, he didn’t have any difficulty spotting
the crime scene on the pristine beach before him. The local police had
strung the tell-tale yellow tape around spindly posts in a thirty
square-foot area, just below the massive hill that rose like a bookend
at the north end of the beach.
The beach itself was as he remembered—a quarter-mile long, dark cliffs
on the south side, residences neatly terraced into the hillside with
stunning views of San Francisco in the distance. The sand was
caramel-colored closest to the dunes, transitioning to small black and
grey pebbles by the water, but not as fine as the black lava sand he’d
experienced in Hawaii. His mind briefly flitted back to the beaches he
and his Hawaiian girlfriend, Vhina, had had sex on, but there was no
time for reminiscing about past lovers this morning.
Directing his attention to the north end of the beach where there was
smoke wafting from a dying campfire, he let his gaze wander over the
murder scene before officially ducking under the yellow tape to perform
the grisly tasks of his profession.
The campfire site was nestled at the foot of a steep hillside, covered
with dense grass and shrubbery. Massive benches, fashioned from broken
pier pilings, were arranged in a square around the round fire pit. An
otherwise serene setting on a Sunday morning was marred by the young
woman’s dead body.
From outside the tape, he observed that she was fully clothed, lying on
her side in the sand next to the rocks that surrounded the embers. He
breathed in the salty ocean air and calmly pushed it out of his lungs,
preparing his gag reflex to stand down while he examined yet another
corpse. Despite eighteen years of police work, he had never become
desensitized to inspecting the victim of a murder. He supposed that was
a good sign, still clinging to some innocence of spirit in himself.
He lifted his navy windbreaker to show his badge to the officer who
stood over the body, then ducked under the crime tape. “Detective
Tommy Vietti, SFPD.”
The officer nodded and wrote Tommy’s name in his scene log book.
Careful to approach on the same path that the officer had used, Tommy
studied the details. He stood silently, assessing the young woman’s
body and any clues that might be strewn amongst the party litter.
She was positioned on her left side, her outstretched hand lying next to
the fire, congealed blood covering her neck. Ever-present blood.
Splattered, streaked or pooled, no murder scene was complete without it.
Unlike a hard surface, where it formed a lake around the victim, hers
was dried into the sand. He assumed that most of it had soaked through
the granules, but, unlike salt water, some of the viscus red fluid had
remained on top.
She was a petite young woman, dressed in skin-tight blue jeans,
sneakers, a sweatshirt and a jacket. Her hair was pulled back into a
ponytail. What surely had been an attractive neck only twenty-four hours
earlier now had an engorged wound, her skin filleted open and dark red
blood crusted along its edges.
“Victim’s name?” he asked.
“Jina Pak if we believe the car in the parking lot is hers. I
haven’t searched her body for an I.D.,” the officer reported.
“Time called in?”
Tommy snapped photos of the body and environs with his cell phone.
“None,” the officer said.
“Did you interview the person who called it in?”
“Only enough to know she called. She’s standing over there with her
dog.” The officer pointed to a woman forty yards down the beach who
paced uncomfortably, her dog in tow on a short leash, the morning fog
and dew making her clothes damp and heavy.
“Waiting for me to question her?” Tommy asked.
“Anything else you can tell me?”
“No signs of a struggle anywhere. Looks like she was sitting on the
bench, enjoying the fire when her throat was slit.”
“Did we check the restrooms in the parking lot for a knife or bloody
“They’re taped off, but I haven’t been in there.”
Tommy nodded as he removed a pair of blue latex gloves from his pocket.
“I’m gonna search her pockets.” He donned the gloves and reached
into the damp front pocket of her sweatshirt, removing a cell phone. It
was in a pink case with her identification and two credit cards tucked
into a narrow cardholder slot. He looked at her I.D.—Jina Pak. He
reached into her other pockets and came up with a ponytail holder, a gum
wrapper and a lanyard with a key fob and several keys on it.
He read the side of the lanyard. “Federal Reserve Bank of San
Looping the lanyard around his wrist, he pressed the home button on the
victim’s cell phone and the phone came to life but was locked. On
impulse, not thinking he would find success, he leaned down to the
victim and picked up her small hand by her delicate wrist.
Surprisingly, her fingers were free of blood and not as cold as Tommy
had expected them to be. He pressed her rubbery right thumb onto the
home button of the cell, hoping the scanner would recognize a dead
thumbprint. The phone screen registered Jina’s print and
instantaneously displayed her home page icons. Tommy raised his
“Learn somethin’ new every day,” the officer said, writing in his
Not wasting any time, Tommy navigated to settings and reprogrammed her
passcode to SFPD1, overriding the entry of her old passcode like the
guys in Computer Forensics had taught him. He told the officer the code,
so he could include it in his scene report and inventory log. Tommy took
a minute to read her last few texts, noting that she was on a group text
with four others who had planned to attend the campfire at the beach.
Their full names were in her contacts list. If he called Ryan on his way
back to headquarters, Ryan could find their street addresses for
interviews later this morning.
Returning his attention to the immediate scene, Tommy asked, “Since
you secured the scene, has anyone walked behind the bench where she was
“Not that I know of.”
“Let’s try to pick up a shoe print—if we can. The killer stood
behind her while she was sitting on the bench looking at the fire, or
maybe even enjoying a massage with her eyes closed, but he stood there
to slit her throat. It’s been several hours, and sand isn’t the best
for preserving a tread print, but you never know.”
“Will do.” The officer made a note.
Tommy reached down and inspected Ms. Pak’s other hand, which was under
her waist. No blood. She never even had the chance to put her hands to
He could feel the biscotti and coffee churning in his stomach, so he
decided it was time to leave the scene and chat with the witness on the
beach who had called in the body.
Excerpted from "Stabscotch, The San Francisco Mystery Series, Book 3" by Alexi Venice. Copyright © 2018 by Alexi Venice. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.