By: Catherine Coulter

To my splendid other half, Anton, with your sharp brain and, thankfully, ultimate knowledge of all things medical


I would like to thank the following consummate professionals for their infinite kindness and patience in making Backfire richer, and, super-important, accurate. Thank you all so very much for coming into my life. I worship at your feet.

Let me add that if there are any factual goofs in the book, it’s my fault. I mean, I’d like to blame someone else, but alas, it’s on my head.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Dave Key—your experiences and exploits are amazing. Perhaps even more amazing is that you’re still alive and smiling and ready to take on more.

Marshal Donald O’Keefe, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Marshals Service, Northern District of California—El Jefe, your willingness to provide me with everything I needed is appreciated.

Chief Judge James Ware, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California—you are thoughtful, eloquent, and you answered every one of my crazy questions, and even some I hadn’t thought of.

Ms. Uyen Trinh, judicial assistant for Chief Judge James Ware—you are the great facilitator. I appreciate all your assistance and your wonderful enthusiasm for my books.

Lieutenant Donald Wick, Marin County Sheriff Department—I was told you were The Man, and I find I must agree. You added richness and verisimilitude to the Marin County scenes.

Ms. Angela Bell, FBI Office of Public Affairs, Hoover Building, Washington, D.C.—thank you for your plot-saving idea to get the letter into the lobby of the Hoover Building without breaking any rules, and for telling me the CAU moved to the third floor.

Mr. Alexander DeAngelis, director, China Office, National Science Foundation—I’m not just saying this because you’re my brother-in-law. Your brain and succinct insights are a pleasure to behold. Thank you for providing me accuracy in all things Chinese.

Sea Cliff, San Francisco

Late Thursday night

One week before Thanksgiving

Judge Ramsey Hunt listened to the lapping water break against the rocks below, a sound that always brought him back into himself and centered him. He stood at this exact spot every night and listened to the waves, as unending and as infinite as he knew he wasn’t. Only the sound of the waves, he thought. Otherwise, it was dead silent, not even a distant foghorn blast from the huge cargo ship that was nearing the Golden Gate through a veil of low-lying fog.

A light breeze ruffled the tree leaves and put a light chop on the ocean below. It was chilly tonight. He was glad Molly had tossed him his leather jacket on his way out. A week before Thanksgiving, he thought, a week before he would preside over the turkey carving and feel so blessed he’d want to sing, which, thankfully, he wouldn’t.

Ramsey looked up at the low-hanging half-moon that seemed cold and alien tonight. His ever-curious son, Cal, had asked him if he could sink his fingers into the pitted surface. Would it be hard, like his wooden Ford truck, he wondered, or soft like ice cream?

At least his day had ended well. In the late afternoon, he’d met Molly and the twins at Davies Hall to hear Emma rehearse Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the San Francisco Symphony, smiling and nodding as they listened. Ramsey had long thought of her as his own daughter, and here she was, a prodigy, of all things. He had to be careful or he’d burst with pride, Molly always said. Remarkably, Cal and Gage hadn’t raised too much of a fuss at having to sit still during the rehearsal. Well, Cal did yell out once, “Emmy, I want you to play ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’!” which had brought warm laughter from the violin section.

They’d enjoyed enchiladas and tacos an hour later at La Barca, the family’s favorite Mexican restaurant on Lombard, always an adventure when the three-year-old twins were anywhere near chips and guacamole.

Ramsey rested his elbows on the solid stone fence built when his boys had reached the age of exploration a year and a half ago. Better than nightmares about them tumbling off the sixty-foot cliff into the mess of rocks and water below.

He looked out across the entrance to the bay at the Marin Headlands, as stark and barren as the half-moon above them. Soon the winter rains would begin to green things up, as green as Ireland in some years, his second favorite place on earth after San Francisco. It was a blessing that this incredible stretch was all a national recreational area so he would never have to look at some guy sipping a nice fruity Chardonnay across from him on a condo balcony. He noticed a Zodiac sitting anchored below him, nearly as still as a small island in the ocean. There were no other boats around it that he could see. Who would be out so late, anchored in open water? He saw no one aboard, and for a moment, he felt alarmed. Had someone fallen overboard? No, whoever motored over in the Zodiac could easily have swum or waded to the narrow beach. But why? Not to get a suntan, that’s for sure. He wondered if he should call 911 when he heard Molly open the family room door behind him. “Goodness, it’s cold out here. I’m glad you’re wearing your jacket. Is your favorite sea lion talking to you again?”

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