Bill Pronzini: Bones

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Bill Pronzini Bones
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Bill Pronzini



The house was in one of San Francisco's secluded residential neighborhoods, so neatly tucked away on top of a hill that most of the city's inhabitants would have had to consult a map to find it. I hadn't needed a map, but that was only because I had received explicit directions from the owner of the house, a man named Michael Kiskadon, who wanted to hire me. He had been vague about what he wanted to hire me to do-“It's not something I can explain very easily on the phone,” he'd said. Then he'd said, “But I can guarantee it's a job you'll find interesting, one you're well suited for. Can you come here so we can talk? I've had some medical problems and my doctor keeps me housebound these days.”

So here I was, up at the top of Twelfth Avenue across from Golden Gate Heights Park. It was eleven o'clock on a Monday morning, the sun was shining, there wasn't much wind-all in all, a pleasant October day-but hardly anybody was out on the tennis courts or the children's playground or on the wide green that paralleled the street for more than a block. It was a nice park, with big trees and picnic facilities and woody hillside paths; and from its west end you would have a sweeping view of the ocean. But its seclusion probably meant it was used more or less exclusively by the people in the neighborhood. Lucky for them, too bad for everybody else.

Not that this was a particularly affluent area. The houses lining the uphill curve of Twelfth Avenue to the east, and those back down the hill on Cragmont, were middle-class and well kept up, but mostly plain and on the smallish side. The one I wanted was opposite the park green-a semi-detached place that resembled a cottage more than anything else. It was painted blue. Behind a picket fence was a yard full of shrubs and acid-blue hydrangeas and a walkway that blended into a covered side porch.

I parked next to the green and got out. The air smelled of bay laurel, which is a good spicy smell, and I found myself smiling a little as I crossed the street. I was in pretty high spirits today, for no reason other than the balmy weather and maybe the fact that Kerry and I had spent the night together, doing what people do when they spend the night together. Kerry is my lady and a joy to be with, in or out of bed-most of the time, anyway. This morning I loved her even more than usual. This morning I loved everybody, even my partner Eberhardt and his stupid blond fiancee, Wanda.

There was a gate in the picket fence; I unlatched it and went along the path to the porch and rang the bell. The guy who opened the door was in his mid-to-late thirties, long and lean and intense-looking. He had a clump of dry black hair that drooped down on both sides of his narrow face like a bush that had died for lack of nourishment. His skin had a whitish pallor, there were the vestiges of pain in his eyes, and he carried a cane in his left hand-testimony to the truth of his statement that he'd been ill.

He said, “You're the detective?” and I said I was and he said, “I'm Michael Kiskadon, please come in.”

I went in. A big family room opened off the entryway, across the rear of the house; Kiskadon led me in there, moving slowly with the aid of his cane, favoring his left leg. Windows with rattan blinds rolled up at their tops let you see Twin Peaks straight ahead and, off to the left, the ugly science-fictional skeleton of the Sutro telecommunications tower. Incoming sunlight made streaks and splashes across some nondescript furniture and a row of potted ferns and Wandering Jews set inside wicker stands.

“Some coffee?” Kiskadon asked. “My wife made a fresh pot before she went shopping.”

“Thanks, but I've already had plenty.”

He nodded. “Well-thank you for coming. As you can see, I'm not really fit for travel yet.”

“Medical problems, you said?”

“Yes. I'm a diabetic-diabetes mellitus. Do you know what that is?”

“I've heard of it.”

“Well, I have a severe form of the disease, a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism. Hyperglycemia, glycosuria-you name it, I had it or still have it. I was in the hospital for a month.” He gave me a wry, mirthless smile. “I damn near died,” he said.

What can you say to that? I said inadequately, “But it's under control now?”

“More or less, assuming there aren't any more complications.” He sank down on the arm of an overstuffed Naugahyde couch. “Look, I'm not after sympathy or pity. My medical problems don't have anything to do with why I want a detective. Except that they helped me make up my mind to call you. I've been thinking about it for some time.”

“I don't understand, Mr. Kiskadon.”

“I almost died, as I said. I could still die before my time. There are some things I have to know before that happens, things that are important to me.”


“About my father. I never knew him, you see. He and my mother separated a month or so after I was conceived, and she moved back to Philadelphia, where her people were. She refused to tell my father she was pregnant.”


“She was very bitter about the split; it was my father's idea to end their marriage, not hers. She had always wanted a child and he'd been against it. I was a planned accident on her part, I think.” But he seemed not to have inherited any of his mother's bitterness toward his father; in his voice now was a kind of intense yearning; for what, I couldn't gauge yet.

I asked, “Did she tell him after you were born?”

“She never had the chance. She died giving birth to me.”

“I see.”

“I was raised by my mother's sister and her husband,” Kiskadon said. “They legally adopted me, gave me their name. My aunt hated my father, even blamed him for my mother's death; she also vowed not to tell him about me. He died without ever knowing he had fathered a son.”

“So it's not that you don't know who he was,” I said. That was what I'd begun to think he was leading up to: a search for his roots, for the identity of his old man.

“No, it's not that at all. Uncle Ned told me the truth two years ago, after my aunt died. He said he didn't think it was right that I go through the rest of my life believing my natural father was killed in Korea, which was what I'd always been told.”

“Did you make any effort to contact him, once you knew?”

The wry, mirthless smile again. “It was far too late by then,” he said. “But a few months later I had a job offer in San Francisco and I accepted it. It took me a while after I was settled, but I managed to make contact with my father's widow, the woman he married after his divorce from my mother. I also located the man who'd been his attorney. Neither of them could or would tell me what I need to know.”

“And that is?”

“Why he shot himself,” Kiskadon said.


“Yes. With a handgun.”

“Where was this?”

“At his home here in the city.”

“How long ago?”

“In 1949, when I was four years old.”

I stared at him. “Nineteen… did you say forty-nine? ”

“That's right. December 10, 1949.”

Well, Christ, I thought. I didn't say anything.

“I'm aware it might be impossible to find out the truth after thirty-five years,” he said, “but I have to try. It's important to me-I told you that. It's… oh hell, I might as well admit it: it's become an obsession. I have to know why he killed himself.”

I still didn't say anything.

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