Authors: James Patterson,Maxine Paetro
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Suspense, #Police Procedural, #Police, #Mystery fiction, #Crime, #Women Sleuths, #Serial murders, #Women detectives, #Female friendship, #Policewomen, #Half Moon Bay (Calif.), #Trials (Police misconduct), #Boxer; Lindsay (Fictitious character), #Police - California, #Police shootings
Womans Murder Club 4 - 4th of July
IT WAS JUST BEFORE 4:00 a.m. on a weekday. My mind was racing even before Jacobi nosed our car up in front of the Lorenzo, a grungy rent-by-the-hour “tourist hotel” on a block in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District that’s so forbidding even the sun won’t cross the street.
Three black-and-whites were at the curb, and Conklin, the first officer at the scene, was taping off the area. So was another officer, Les Arou.
“What have we got?” I asked Conklin and Arou.
“White male, Lieutenant. Late teens, bug-eyed and done to a turn,” Conklin told me. “Room twenty-one. No signs of forced entry. Vic’s in the bathtub, just like the last one.”
The stink of piss and vomit washed over us as Jacobi and I entered the hotel. No bellhops in this place. No elevators or room service, either. Night people faded back into the shadows, except for one gray-skinned young prostitute who pulled Jacobi aside.
“Give me twenty dollars,” I heard her say. “I got a license plate.”
Jacobi peeled off a ten in exchange for a slip of paper, then turned to the desk clerk and asked him about the victim: Did he have a roommate, a credit card, a habit?
I stepped around a junkie in the stairwell and climbed to the second floor. The door to room 21 was open, and a rookie was standing guard at the doorway.
“Evening, Lieutenant Boxer.”
“It’s morning, Keresty.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, logging me in, turning his clipboard to collect my signature.
It was darker inside the twelve-by-twelve-foot room than it was in the hallway. The fuse had blown, and thin curtains hung like wraiths in front of the streetlit windows. I was working the puzzle, trying to figure out what was evidence, what was not, trying not to step on anything. There was too damned much of everything and too little light.
I flicked my flashlight beam over the crack vials on the floor, the mattress stained with old blood, the rank piles of garbage and clothing everywhere. There was a kitchenette of sorts in the corner, the hot plate still warm, drug paraphernalia in the sink.
The air in the bathroom was thick, almost soupy. I swept my light along the extension cord that snaked from the socket by the sink, past the clogged toilet bowl to the bathtub.
My guts clenched as I caught the dead boy in my beam. He was naked, a skinny blond with a hairless chest, half sitting up in the tub, eyes bulging, foam at his lips and nostrils. The electric cord ended at an old-fashioned two-slice toaster that glinted up through the bathwater.
“Shit,” I said as Jacobi entered the bathroom. “Here we go again.”
“He’s toast, all right,” said Jacobi.
As commanding officer of the Homicide detail, I wasn’t supposed to do hands-on detective work anymore. But at times like this, I just couldn’t stay away.
Another kid had been electrocuted, but why? Was he a random victim of violence or was it personal? In my mind’s eye, I saw the boy flailing in pain as the juice shot through him and shut his heart down.
The standing water on the cracked tile floor was creeping up the legs of my trousers. I lifted a foot and toed the bathroom door closed, knowing full well what I was going to see. The door whined with the nasal squeal of hinges that had probably never been oiled.
Two words were spray-painted on the door. For the second time in a couple of weeks, I wondered what the hell they meant.
IT LOOKED LIKE A particularly grisly suicide, except that the spray paint can was nowhere around. I heard Charlie Clapper and his CSU team arrive and begin to unpack forensic equipment in the outer room. I stood aside as the photographer took his shots of the victim, then I yanked the extension cord out of the wall.
Charlie changed the fuse. “Thank you, Jesus,” he said as light flooded the god-awful place.
I was rifling through the victim’s clothes, finding not a scrap of ID, when Claire Washburn, my closest friend and San Francisco’s chief medical examiner, walked through the door.
“It’s pretty nasty,” I told Claire as we went into the bathroom. Claire is a center of warmth in my life, more of a sister to me than my own. “I’ve been having an impulse.”
“To do what?” Claire asked me mildly.
I swallowed hard, forcing down the gorge that kept rising in my throat. I’d gotten used to a lot of things, but I would never get used to the murder of children.
“I just want to reach in and pull out the stopper.”
The victim looked even more stricken in the bright light. Claire crouched beside the tub, squeezing her size-sixteen body into a size-six space.
“Pulmonary edema,” she said of the pink foam in the dead boy’s nasal and oral orifices. She traced the faint bruising on the lips, around the eyes. “He was tuned up a bit before they threw the switch on him.”
I pointed to the vertical gash on his cheekbone. “What do you make of that?”
“My guess? It’s going to match the push-down lever on the toaster. Looks like they clocked this child with that Sunbeam before they chucked it into the tub.”
The boy’s hand was resting on the bathtub’s rim. Claire lifted it tenderly, turned it over. “No rigor. Body’s still warm and lividity is blanching. He’s been dead less than twelve hours, probably less than six. No visible track marks.” She ran her hands through the boy’s matted hair, lifted his bruised top lip with her gloved fingers. “He hadn’t seen a dentist in a while. Could be a runaway.”
“Yeah,” I said. Then I must’ve gotten quiet for a minute or so.
“Whatcha thinking, honey?”
“That I’ve got another John Doe on my hands.”
I was remembering another teenage John Doe, a homeless kid who’d been murdered in a place like this when I was just getting started in homicide. It was one of my worst cases ever, and ten years later the death still gnawed at me.
“I’ll know more when I get this young man on my table,” Claire was saying when Jacobi stuck his head through the doorway again.
“The informant says that partial plate number was taken off a Mercedes,” he said. “A black one.”
A black Mercedes had been seen at the other electrocution murder. I grinned as I felt a surge of hope. Yes, I was making it personal. I was going to find the bastard who had killed these kids and I was going to put him away before he could do it again.
A WEEK HAD GONE by since the nightmare at the Lorenzo Hotel. The crime lab was still sifting through the abundant detritus of room 21, and our informant’s three-digit partial license plate number was either half wrong or a wild guess. As for me, I woke up every morning feeling pissed off and sad because this ugly case was going nowhere.
The dead kids haunted me as I drove to Susie’s for a get-together with the girls that evening. Susie’s is a neighborhood café, a bright hot spot with walls sponge-painted in tropical colors, serving spicy but tasty Caribbean food.
Jill, Claire, Cindy, and I had adopted this place as our sanctuary as well as our clubhouse. Our straight-shooting girl talk, unhampered by rank or department lines, had often cut through weeks of bureaucratic BS. Together, we’d broken cases wide open in this very spot.
I saw Claire and Cindy in “our” booth at the back. Claire was laughing at something Cindy had said, which happened a lot because Claire had a great laugh and Cindy was a funny girl as well as a first-class investigative reporter for the Chronicle. Jill, of course, was gone.
“I want what you’re having,” I said as I slid into the booth next to Claire. There was a pitcher of margaritas on the table and four glasses, two of them empty. I filled a glass and looked at my friends, feeling that almost magical connection that we’d forged because of all we’d gone through together.
“Looks like you need a transfusion,” Claire joked.
“I swear I do. Bring on the IV.” I took a gulp of the icy brew, snagged the newspaper that was beside Cindy’s elbow, and paged through until I found the story buried on page 17 of the Metro section, below the fold. INFO SOUGHT IN TENDERLOIN DISTRICT MURDERS.
“I guess it’s a bigger story in my mind,” I said.
“Dead street people don’t make page one,” Cindy said sympathetically.
“It’s odd,” I told the girls. “Actually, we have too much information. Seven thousand prints. Hair, fiber, a ton of useless DNA from a carpet that hadn’t been vacuumed since Nixon was a boy.” I stopped ranting long enough to pull the rubber band off my ponytail and shake out my hair. “On the other hand, with all the potential snitches crawling through the Tenderloin District, all we have is one shitty lead.”
“It sucks, Linds,” said Cindy. “Is the chief on your ass?”
“Nope,” I said, tapping the tiny mention of the Tenderloin District murders with my forefinger. “As the killer says, nobody cares.”
“Ease up on yourself, honey,” Claire said. “You’ll get a bite into this thing. You always do.”
“Yeah, enough about all this. Jill would give me hell for whining.”
“She says, ‘No problem,’” Cindy cracked, pointing to Jill’s empty seat. We lifted our glasses and clinked them together.
“To Jill,” we said in unison.
We filled Jill’s glass and passed it around in remembrance of Jill Bernhardt, a spectacular ADA and our great friend, who’d been murdered only months ago. We missed her terribly and said so. In a while, our waitress, Loretta, brought a new pitcher of margaritas to replace the last.
“You’re looking chirpy,” I said to Cindy, who jumped in with her news. She’d met a new guy, a hockey player who played for the Sharks in San Jose, and she was pretty pleased with herself. Claire and I started pumping her for details while the reggae band tuned up, and soon we were all singing a Jimmy Cliff song, plinking our spoons against the glassware.
I was finally getting loose in Margaritaville when my Nextel rang. It was Jacobi.
“Meet me outside, Boxer. I’m a block away. We’ve got a bead on that Mercedes.”
What I should’ve said was “Go without me. I’m off duty.” But it was my case, and I had to go. I tossed some bills down on the table, blew kisses at the girls, and bolted for the door. The killer was wrong about one thing. Somebody cared.
I GOT IN THE passenger-side door of our unmarked gray Crown Vic.
“Where to?” I asked Jacobi.
“The Tenderloin District,” he told me. “A black Mercedes has been seen cruising around down there. Doesn’t seem to fit in with the neighborhood.”
Inspector Warren Jacobi used to be my partner. He’d handled my promotion pretty well, all things considered; he had more than ten years on me, and seven more years in grade. We still partnered up on special cases, and even though he reported to me, I had to turn myself in.
“I had a few at Susie’s.”
“How many is a few?” He swung his large head toward me.
“One and a half,” I said, not admitting to the third of the one I drank for Jill.
“You all right to come along?”
“Yeah, sure. I’m fine.”
“Don’t think you’re driving.”
“Did I ask?”
“There’s a thermos in back.”
“No, it’s for you to take a piss in, if you’ve got to, because we don’t have time for a pit stop.”
I laughed and reached for the coffee. Jacobi was always good for a tasteless joke. As we crossed onto Sixth just south of Mission, I saw a car matching the description in a one-hour parking zone.
“Lookit, Warren. That’s our baby.”
“Good catch, Boxer.”
Apart from the spike in my blood pressure, there was a whole lot of nothing happening on Sixth Street. It was a crumbling block of grimy storefronts and vacant SROs with blank plywood eyes. Aimless jaywalkers teetered and street sleepers snored under their piles of trash. The odd bum checked out the shiny black car.
“I hope to hell no one boosts that thing,” I said. “Stands out like a Steinway in a junkyard.”
I called in our location and we took up our position a half block away from the Mercedes. I punched the plate number into our computer, and this time gongs went off and it spit quarters. The car was registered to Dr. Andrew Cabot of Telegraph Hill.
I called the Hall and asked Cappy to check out Dr. Cabot on the NCIC database and call me back. Then Jacobi and I settled in for a long wait. Whoever Andrew Cabot was, he was definitely slumming. Normally, stakeouts are as fascinating as yesterday’s oatmeal, but I was drumming the dash with my fingers. Where the hell was Andrew Cabot? What was he doing down here?
Twenty minutes later, a street-sweeping machine, a bright yellow car-sized hulk like an armadillo with flashing lights and honking back-up alerts, rolled right up onto the sidewalk, as it did every night. Derelicts rose up off the pavement to avoid the brushes. Papers swirled in the low light of the street lamps.