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The address of the administrative headquarters for the Sanctuary House for Battered Women was on Potrero Avenue near San Francisco General Hospital. Unlike the other service-oriented nonprofits he'd visited in the last few days, for obvious reasons Sanctuary did not shelter, educate, or test any of its clientele on-site-instead, they were a.s.signed, often with their children, to one of the organization's seventeen secure locations within the city limits. Because of this, Sanctuary's footprint here on Potrero was so small as to be nearly invisible. Mickey drove by what should have been the address twice before he realized that the office must be somewhere among the buildings that made up the much larger hospital complex.

Fifteen minutes after he'd finally managed to park in a handicapped zone in the hospital's main but still woefully inadequate lot, he found the place-one of many apparently identical offices on the ground floor of the hospital's Admitting and Triage Building. It was a typical overused bureaucratic medical landscape-already at nine A.M., long lines had formed at each of the gla.s.s windows, with the chairs in the main lobby filled with mostly older and poorly dressed patients. Although there was still the usual complement of mothers with their coughing or sleeping children, s.p.a.ced- out young adults, and obvious derelicts, all waiting in numb patience while the clammy fluorescent lighting lit the area and reflected up at them from the greenish tile flooring.

The only indication of Sanctuary House's presence was the name of the organization stenciled onto the gla.s.s doorway, now open at the farthest extent of the lobby. Mickey stood in the doorway for a long moment. In front of him, a counter bisected most of the room across the front, and behind it were mazes of green and gray filing cabinets and a few desks. Venetian blinds over the high back windows. To his left, the counter made a right angle, and behind it more of the ubiquitous green-tinged gla.s.s separated out the two or three other offices.

He heard low voices, apparently coming from one or more of those offices, but saw no one, so he stepped forward and, following instructions, "Please Ring for a.s.sistance," pushed the little hotel bell that someone had duct-taped down to the peeling wooden counter.

In five seconds, a tiny and tentative bespectacled young woman appeared from between one of the banks of filing cabinets, wearing what looked to Mickey like a thrift-store cotton dress and a devastated and yet somehow impatient expression. Beneath her wire- rimmed gla.s.ses, her eyes were red and swollen. Mickey at once realized two things: that the employees had heard the news about their executive director, and that maybe this should have been an a.s.signment for Tamara-the vast majority of the time, Mickey supposed that men here were going to be the enemy; it came with the turf. Still, he dredged up a look of respectful solicitude.

"Can I help you?

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