Short Mysteries

Perfect Crime

I glanced over my left shoulder at the lights of San Francisco twinkling like a fairy-tale kingdom across the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. I gripped the steering wheel and turned sharply, brushing against the rocky outcrops of the Marin Headlands. One mistake and I would plunge into the treacherous Pacific currents that have claimed sailing ships since Sir Francis Drake sailed past in 1585.

The night fog was moving across the headlands like a jungle cat stalking prey. Nothing escapes the fog’s relentless prowl across the barren landscape, dark and moody as a Scottish moor. Strange things happen on nights when the moon shines on barren settings and predators lurk in dark places. Heathcliff would have been at home here; so would have Baskerville’s hound.

The milky beacon of the Point Bonita Lighthouse swept across the dark Pacific, its foghorn moaning like a sorrowful plea from the grave. A few miles west, great white sharks, gray whales, tuna, seals, and salmon swam in deep Pacific currents.

The headlands’ tortuous turns resembled a Le Mans rally route. A mile to the east, Sausalito’s bars and restaurants were packed with Marin County liberals dipping focaccia bread in olive oil and vinaigrette, nibbling radicchio salads, chewing on grilled tilapia, and sipping Napa Valley’s fruity pinot grigios.

I was straddling two worlds: the western edge of North America and the hedonism of the California good life.

A month ago, my husband and I had driven the headlands’ winding roads to attend a summer barbecue at an isolated hideaway owned by his college roommate, Alex. The sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay had been dazzling in the afternoon sunshine.

After reaching the heights, we had driven into a shallow valley past a nature center and a mammal research center, along with anachronistic World War II Army barracks and a Nike missile site from the Cold War. The historic buildings form the northern boundary of the National Recreational Area that stretches across the Golden Gate to Alcatraz, the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, and the San Mateo coastline to the south. Beyond the weathered buildings was a secluded area where a few isolated homes remained from old dairy farms before they were absorbed into the national park.

I slowed as I passed the darkened buildings and drove up a ridge leading to the secluded homes. I parked on the shoulder and turned off my headlights to let my eyes adjust to the darkness. I rolled down the window and inhaled salty air into my lungs. I listened to waves crashing against the cliffs and the wind sweeping through the chaparral, oak trees, and tall grass.

A full moon cast an eerie sheen over the desolate landscape. I braced for what lay ahead; my life could change profoundly in the next few moments. I was about to confirm—or deny—my suspicion that my husband was shacking up with his lover in one of the secluded homes.