Jesse Stone’s cruiser pulled up to the stop sign on Paradise Road, preparing to make a right turn onto Country Club Way.
A warm fall breeze blew gently through the cruiser’s open windows. The red and yellow leaves of the elms and maples fluttered haphazardly in the wind. Jesse raised his face to the early-morning sun.
He noticed the car on his left, a late-model Audi A5 coupe, come to a complete stop beside him.
When the driver looked in his direction, Jesse nodded to him.
The Audi pulled away and proceeded through the intersection.
A Mercedes sedan barreled through the stop sign and broadsided the Audi. The Mercedes was doing at least fifty in a twenty-five-mile-per-hour zone.
The Audi collapsed into itself. The impact punched it off the road and into a ditch, where it bounced precariously a couple of times before sliding to an upright stop.
The alarm systems on both cars began to shriek. Front and side air bags deployed in a vicious rush of compressed air, pinning both drivers to their seats.
The Mercedes was driven by a young female. Jesse had seen her looking down as she ran the stop sign. She must have been texting.
He grabbed his cell phone and called the station.
Molly Crane answered.
“I’ve got a bad one at the corner of Paradise and Country Club. Send the entire sideshow. Ambulance. CSI unit. Hazmat team. Also Suitcase.”
“I’m on it, Jesse.”
“Oh, and call Carter Hansen, will you? Tell him I’ll be late.”
Jesse switched on the flashing light bar on top of his cruiser and inched closer to the accident. He stopped in front of the Audi, got out, and walked over to it.
The driver had been immobilized by the deployed air bags. He was sandwiched tightly between his seat and the bag.
He was middle- aged and overweight, wearing a navy blue sport jacket, a button-down white dress shirt, and a gray-and-pink polka-dot bow tie. A chevron-style mustache concealed his upper lip. He was unconscious.
Jesse called out to him.
“Can you hear me, sir?”
There was no response.
Jesse pulled open the door. He reached inside, disabled the alarm system, and used his Leatherman to deflate the air bags. The man slumped back in his seat. Blood seeped from his nose.
Jesse checked for a pulse.
At least the guy was alive.
Jesse turned and stepped over to the Mercedes.
The teenage driver had also been pinned by the air bags. She wore a uniform bearing the insignia of one of Paradise’s best private schools. Unlike the other driver, she was awake and alert.
“Are you hurt,” Jesse said.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
“Just get me out of this fucking car,” she said.
Jesse looked at her. Satisfied that she wasn’t injured, he circled the Mercedes, checking for damage. Despite the intensity of the crash, the car was relatively intact. He opened the passenger-side door and spotted the item he was looking for.
He walked back to the cruiser, retrieved an evidence bag, then returned to the Mercedes. Slipping a rubber glove on his right hand, he reached beneath the still-inflated air bag and grabbed the iPhone from the car floor.
“What are you doing,” the girl said. “Why aren’t you getting me out of here?”
Coffee was the only thing on Jesse Stone’s mind when he entered the Paradise police station on a bright New England spring morning.
His first stop was usually the coffeemaker. But when he saw what was happening in front of Suitcase Simpson’s desk, which was located across the aisle from the kitchen area, he headed for his office.
A man and a woman, middle-aged, expensively dressed, and handsomely coiffed, were arguing loudly with Suitcase. The man was irate. His face was beet-red, and the woman was obviously concerned for him.
“Molly,” he said, “what’s going on?”
She followed him into his office.
“Tourists. Missing vehicle. They exited the turnpike at Para¬dise Road, looking for a place to have breakfast. They discovered Daisy’s. Sometime while they were eating, their car disappeared. Late-model Honda Civic.”
“What’s with the yelling,” Jesse said.
“They believe the car was towed.”
“And they think we towed it?”
“Yes. Because it was parked illegally.”
“You mean they didn’t park in Daisy’s lot?”
“And did they say why they didn’t park in Daisy’s lot?”
“When they chose Daisy’s, they weren’t certain they were gonna like it. So they parked on the street. In a red zone. When they decided it was okay, they never went back to move the car.” “And that’s why they think it was towed?”
“Rich is checking on that as we speak.”
“Molly, can I ask you a question?”
“Since when do you need permission to ask me a question,” she said.
“May I have a cup of coffee, please?”
“You may. There’s some fresh.”
“I know. I can smell it.”
“Do you want me to wait here while you get it?”
“I want you to get it for me.”
“You want me to get coffee for you?”
She gave him the look.
“I don’t want to have to deal with those people just yet,” Jesse said. “Because?”
“Because I’m the decider, and I have decided that I don’t want to deal with those people just yet. Will you please get me a cup of coffee?”
“You’re gonna owe me for this, Jesse,” Molly said, as she left the office.
It’s never easy, Jesse thought.
Molly returned with the coffee, followed by Suitcase and the couple from the hall.
“They wanted to speak with you directly,” Molly said, as she handed Jesse the cup.
The couple pushed past Molly and stood directly in front of Jesse’s desk.
“What are you doing about our car,” the man said. “Jesse Stone,” Jesse said. “I’m the chief of police here.”
“Norman Steinberg,” the man said. “My wife, Linda. We want to know what you’re doing about our car.”
“Suit,” Jesse said. “What have we learned from Bauer?”
“He’s at Smitty’s Towing now, Jesse,” Suitcase said. “And?”
“He hasn’t located it.”
“You mean it’s not there?”
“Looks like it, Jesse.”
“Could it be possible that the car was stolen?” Jesse said. The phone rang, and Molly answered it.
“It’s Bauer,” she said to Jesse. “He wants to talk to you.” Jesse picked up the phone.
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