Authors: James Patterson
It was Saturday morning, five days since Carly Myers, Susan Jones, and Adele Saran had gone to work at Pacific View Prep School for what may have been the last time.
The task force on this case had taken over the squad room. Besides me and Conklin, McNeil and Chi, it now included two additional career homicide inspectors, Samuels and Lemke. Also present were a dozen volunteers from Robbery and Crimes Against Persons. Even our squad assistant, Brenda Fregosi, had come in this morning to make sure we had fresh coffee and eats.
At that moment we were watching the television hung high on the wall of the bullpen and centered directly over my desk and Conklin’s.
On-screen, Jacobi was being interviewed by Kathy Cabot, a reporter from an NBC affiliate. Cabot was asking him to fill in the public on the missing schoolteachers.
Jacobi looked reassuringly in charge when the reporter said, “Lieutenant, people are frightened. What can you tell us about the Carly Myers murder?”
Jacobi said, “As has been recently reported, Carly Myers is a victim of a homicide. I’m sorry that I can’t give you any details on our investigation, which is in progress.”
“Do you have any information about Susan Jones? Adele Saran?”
Jacobi took two photos from inside the breast pocket of his coat and held them so that the camera could get a fix on them. “Susan Jones and Adele Saran have been missing since late Monday night. The entire police force is looking for them. The mayor has just authorized a twenty-five-thousand-dollar reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Carly Myers’s killer, and the same amount each for information leading to the recovery of Susan Jones and Adele Saran. Call our hotline …” Jacobi read off the number.
Ms. Cabot had prepared for this announcement. The information appeared on the screen. She asked the public for their help, thanked Jacobi, and signed off, returning the viewing audience to the studio.
The camera took a parting shot of Jacobi climbing the stairs to the Hall. The shot was wide enough to take in the patrol cars blocking the press from coming into the building.
Back in the squad room, over a dozen worried and restless cops were feeling the pressure of the complicated unsolved homicide, plus our two missing persons.
I picked up the remote and muted the TV, gesturing at Conklin to take the floor.
Conklin leaned the whiteboard against the easel we’d set up at the front of the room.
Behind me, cops had wheeled chairs into the aisle of our small, crowded bullpen. They all knew the faces of the schoolteachers, but even so, I clipped their photos to the top of the board.
Lemke moved closer and said, “Damned shame, Boxer. We’re going to find them.”
Cappy McNeil stood and faced the group. A heavy, bald man with a bulldog face and a gravelly voice, Cappy sounded depressed as he summarized the notes he and Paul Chi had gathered from their interviews with twenty-six motel guests.
“The interviews fall into three types,” he said. “‘Don’t know anything about it,’ ‘Didn’t see anything,’ and ‘Was in my room minding my own business. Can I go now?’”
There was a smattering of laughter, then Cappy summed up the guests’ rap sheets. None of the twenty-six were
totally clean, but there were no suspects convicted of crimes against persons.
Paul Chi took over for his partner. Chi had a sharp mind and a mild manner. Many saw him as having a big future in the SFPD.
He told the group that news of the murder and presumed kidnappings had gone viral. The parents had been interviewed and had made pleas for information, telling their daughters, “If you’re watching, we love you. We want you home.”
From the blanket coverage in all media, including social, the tip lines had yielded a flood of phone traffic but very little actionable information.
Chi said, “As of an hour ago we have one promising lead.
“Edna Gutierrez, who works at a nearby laundromat. She called in a description of a man in a dark-colored SUV who had dropped off a woman who looked like Carly Myers in front of the Big Four Motel at around 10:00 p.m. last Tuesday night.
“Ms. Gutierrez came in to see the lieutenant this morning. Boxer, you have the tape?”
I cued up the audio of Ms. Gutierrez relaying these facts to Jacobi, boosted the volume, and let it roll.
Ms. Gutierrez told Jacobi that the SUV looked new and it was black or blue. The windows were too dark for her to see the driver, and she couldn’t give any kind of description. But she firmly believed that the woman he’d dropped off in front of the motel’s office was Carly Myers.
“I’m sure it was her. Almost sure.”
Hardly bulletproof testimony, but it was something.
I had diagramed the whiteboard, pinpointing the dates and highlights of the case. I used a laser pointer to give me something to do with my hands.
I took the squad through the last five days, from the time the three women ordered dinner and drinks at the Bridge. I’d inked in a big black star on the board over the words
Day Three, Thursday.
I said, “This was the day that the motel manager, Jake Tuohy, called us to report the dead body hanging in the shower of room 212. He told us—and this is unconfirmed—that Carly Myers was turning tricks. Also reported by Tuohy, she may have had a pimp called Danny or Denny. He can’t or won’t describe him.”
I asked the room, “Anyone know of such a person?”
No one answered, but I saw some taking notes.
I said, “There’s another missing person. Nancy Koebel is the housekeeper who found the body.”
I laid it out.
According to Tuohy, after Koebel told him about the body, she was hysterical, grabbed her purse, and ran out to the street, never to be seen or heard from since. We had no picture of her. Her phone was a prepaid burner, and she wasn’t answering our calls.
Conklin added, “She may have been spooked by the murder, or maybe the doer saw her and she has good reason to be freaked. She’s a critical witness.”
Inspector Joy Robinson piped up from the back. “Or the killer knows her and offed her to stop her from talking.”
Conklin nodded, put down his pointer. “Alive or dead, we need to find her. Alive is preferable.”
We all looked toward the squad room entrance when someone entered, standing off to the side of Brenda’s desk.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he said into the silence.
John Clark was a senior video tech from our forensics lab. I knew him, and when I read his expression, I felt a small surge of hope.
“You’ve got something?” I asked.
“Maybe,” Clark said. “I think maybe I do.”
As soon as Clark made his report, I called an impromptu working lunch with my best friends and members of the Women’s Murder Club.
We were all working that weekend—that’s how alarmed we were that the women were still freaking missing.
The Women’s Murder Club met at MacBain’s, the bar and grill located across and down the street from the Hall of Justice. We had all arrived by quarter to twelve, before the lunchtime crush, to snag our favorite spot: the small table with high stools by the window at the front of the room. With luck, we’d get our order in to the kitchen before it was overwhelmed.
We’d done this for years, since Cindy helped me solve a gruesome double murder back in the day. She had jokingly named us the Women’s Murder Club and it had stuck. Now, whenever any of us had a knotty problem, love or work or what not to wear, the four of us would get together and kick it around.
I signaled to Sydney MacBain, our favorite waitress, and she hustled over to take our order, the usual—burgers, fries, and beer times four. She gave a rare smile, told Claire she looked pretty in pink, and headed off toward the kitchen. Meanwhile, the room was filling up. The jukebox was rocking. And laughter ricocheted from wall to wall.
This was a conference, but apart from being geographically desirable, MacBain’s was nothing like a conference room. We put our heads together, literally, so that we could hear and be heard. Cindy was sworn to keep everything we said off the record, and she snorted her annoyance. “When are you going to trust me, hmmm? How many more years?”
“We trust you,” we said in unison.
I added, “If I don’t say it, I’m negligent in my duties. Don’t take it personally, Cin. Please. Okay?”
She tossed her head, said, “Okay, okay,” then asked me, “What news on Carly Myers?”
I said, “An hour ago I would’ve said we’d hit a wall.”
“And now?” Cindy asked.
I filled my friends in on the hot news delivered to us direct from our forensics lab.
“The ATM at the deli across Polk Street and facing the back of the now infamous Big Four Motel captured three images of a man who might be a suspect in Carly Myers’s murder.”
Yuki said, “Can you show us?”
“Here you go.”
There, on my phone, was the lab’s photographic reconstruction of ATM snapshots taken from a hundred yards away of a man moving along the motel’s second-floor
walkway. A floodlight in the parking lot illuminated this individual, but he was captured by the camera at an oblique angle. The reconstruction had sharpened the man’s features.
I said, “From what our lab techs can determine, he’s in his mid-thirties, sandy-colored hair, five ten, and fit. They’ve refined his facial features as much as possible, but they don’t match with anything in ViCAP or DMV.”
Yuki asked, “What makes you think he has anything to do with Carly Myers?”
“Only this,” I said. “It looks like he’s leaving the second floor, and the photo is time-stamped Tuesday night, 11:23. Carly was probably killed right around then. And one other thing. A woman called the hotline saying she saw a dark-colored SUV drop Carly off at the motel on Tuesday night. I pointed to one of the photos of Mr. X, which included a lengthwise section of a dark-colored SUV parked a few yards from the subject in question.
“Crap,” said Cindy. “The license plate isn’t showing.”
I said, “You stole my line. Cindy, I’ll give you this photo of an unnamed male when it’s cleared for takeoff. But right now we need to find him, not send him running over the border.
“But,” I went on, “I do have something for you to run with your reward-for-information story. No one else has this.”
“Now you’re talking,” Cindy said.
“The assistant dean at Carly’s school, name of Karin Slaughter, gave it to me to use as we see fit.”
I showed Cindy a sweet photo of Carly, Adele, and Susan taken at the Bridge the previous week. The women were
relaxed at a table and had pulled their chairs close enough to put their arms around one another.
Last week when this picture was taken, a tragedy was waiting for them in the wings.
But at that moment they all looked very happy.
After lunch we said our good-byes outside of MacBain’s. Cindy cabbed it home, Yuki walked up the street to an off-site meeting, and Claire and I headed back to the Hall together.
As we walked toward the intersection of Bryant and Harriet Streets, Claire said, “I’ve got some breaking news for you.”
“Really? I’m listening.”
“The tox screen came back. Carly was drugged with Rohypnol. Large dose.”
“Carly was roofied?”
Claire went on. “The sexual assault kit came back, too.”
I grabbed her arm and looked at her.
“Give me something good.”
The traffic light changed and we crossed the street. I couldn’t wait for Claire to start talking again.
When we were standing on the far side of the intersection and Claire was about to take the turn to her office, she
said, “There was no semen present, but we did find condom lubrication. On a hunch, I gave her a pelvic exam. I found one pubic hair. One. And it’s not Carly’s.”
I said, “Wow. That could be a breakthrough.”
Claire said, “It’s very good news, but I don’t have to tell you, that piece of evidence is going to have to get into line for DNA comparison.”
“Claire. Can’t we jump to the front of the line? Use your considerable influence, will you?”
“Linds. Every cop in the city is trying to shove to the front of the line. But I will definitely lean on a few people.”
I thanked her, hugged her, waved good-bye, and carried on down Bryant to the main entrance to the Hall.
I crossed the mostly empty lobby and headed for the elevator, thinking about Claire’s news, imagining Carly’s last moments.
I saw her waiting outside the Bridge, getting into a car with or without her girlfriends. Twenty-four hours later she checked into the Big Four. Where had she been during that twenty-four hour gap, and had she been with whoever had picked her up at the Bridge?
Maybe her driver or date or customer had driven her to the Big Four the next night and waited there while she checked into room 212, then parked his car at the back and met her upstairs.
If I was seeing this right, whoever this guy was, he’d planned his night with Carly. It was premeditated. Up in the room, he’d given her a drink of something that had been loaded with the powerful knockout drug Rohypnol.
She’d gone down.
While she was unconscious, Carly’s attacker had spread towels down on the bed and done horrific things to her. He’d sliced her, raped her, strangled her, dressed her in some items from his sick imagination, then hanged her corpse from the shower head.
He was good. But not perfect.
He’d left his calling card behind: a short hair with a skin tag, a neat little bundle of his telltale DNA.
We finally had a real lead.
I hoped like mad it would take us to Carly’s killer.
Joe had met with Anna over the weekend to prepare for their Monday-morning meeting with supervisor Craig Steinmetz.
At 9:00 a.m. they sat at right angles to each other on the squared-off leather sectional in the FBI’s thirteenth-floor reception area.
Joe glanced over at Anna.
She seemed unperturbed, buds in her ears, eyes closed. A curtain of brown hair hid the terrible scar on her face. Joe flashed back to last week, Anna telling him in the dark of his car how Petrović had burned her with a cigarette lighter, men holding her down as he raped her.
Then and now, Joe felt enraged. It was all he could do to sit still in his seat. He thought about Anna and the hundreds of other women who had lived and died in that “hotel.”
He drummed his fingers on his knees and turned his eyes to the FBI seal hanging on the wall opposite the sofa. The medallion was round, blue and gold, with the words
Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
encircling the outer rim, enclosing a circle of stars. At the center of the seal was a shield made up of red and white stripes and the scales of justice.
Beneath the scales were the words
Another way of spelling
These were the values he’d built his life around since joining the Bureau.
He was startled out of his thoughts as he heard his name.
Supervisor Craig Steinmetz came through the doorway and asked him to come in. “Joe. Just you.”
Joe followed Steinmetz down the hallway to the corner office and took the chair across from his desk. Like his own office, this one was uncluttered, had a flag in the corner, and featured the seal on one wall, a couple of framed certificates and pictures with past presidents on another. In the picture with President George W. Bush, a younger Captain Steinmetz wore his USMC uniform with rows of ribbons over his left breast.
Joe knew Steinmetz’s history.
After his last tour in Afghanistan, Steinmetz had joined the FBI to head up an antiterrorism division for a dozen years at Quantico, where Joe had met him. Then he’d led the San Francisco branch for the last five years.
Steinmetz was unlikely to cut Joe a break for old times’ sake, and Joe had prepared himself for the possibility that he could get jammed up for conducting an unauthorized surveillance, which he’d done. Without an open case or a preliminary inquiry, he’d probably get time on the beach without pay.
Putting that possibility aside, Joe looked across at his supervisor and laid his weak cards on the table, knowing the conversation had to be recorded.
“A nationalized American, Anna Sotovina, originally from Bosnia, was riding her bike on Fell Street last Wednesday afternoon and sees a war criminal, Slobodan Petrović, coming down the steps of his house and getting into his car. She’s sure it’s him, and she follows him. On her bike. Several blocks later she gets sideswiped by a car. Walks the bike a couple of miles to us.
“I saw her sitting outside the building. She was banged up, and her bike …” Joe threw up his hands and then continued. “She wanted to make a report, but our security turned her away. She was hysterical, looked like she’d been in a fight or was living rough, and maybe she seemed irrational. Anyway, I asked her name and what was wrong. She told me she’d seen this war criminal from her past life. I drove her home, and while in the car, she told me that she had lived in Djoba and survived Petrović’s massacre.”
Steinmetz said, “Can you hang on a minute?”
He stepped outside his office, asked his assistant to postpone his next meeting, then returned to his desk.
He said, “I know what happened in Djoba. I’m listening.”