Authors: James Patterson
Anna had promised Joe not to chase Petrović, and she would keep that promise.
But nothing had been said about parking on Fell Street, where she could see the Butcher come and go, observe his movements in the hours when she was not working, and make sure that if he did spot her, he wouldn’t get a good look at her face.
It was after 8:00 p.m. and Anna was in her car, parked on Fell. The traffic was light, and she could easily see the row of Victorian houses, especially the yellow one with the blue trim where she’d seen Petrović coming down the front stairs twice before.
The fancy houses were lit up inside, and Anna could see the blue glow of televisions and the silhouettes of the homeowners against the curtains.
Once, she had lived in a beautiful mountain town with pretty houses and TVs and cars, and parks and shops, bridges over cool waters, and an ancient fortress. She and her friends
had read books and gone to work and dressed in Western clothing, like in any European country. It had been like a dream, but she hadn’t known she was only dreaming.
Now she opened a nut-and-chocolate candy bar and ate it as she stared out at the picture-pretty street. She thought about a time not so long ago when she and her husband had had their own house on the outskirts of Djoba.
The house was not big, but it was cozy.
Built of brick and stucco and wood, it was pale blue outside and white inside, with exposed beams overhead and a brick stove in the kitchen. She loved cooking on that stove and felt completely at home in that earthy kitchen, with its sweet touch of decorated plates hanging on the walls.
When she was just married, her friend and Tina, her older sister, taught her to cook their recipes on that small stove, and they gave her some good tricks to make delicious dinners.
There was a sweet dessert called
cream pie, that they made for holidays and birthdays. Anna remembered her first attempts at rolling out the puff pastry dough and making the custard filling. Her friend and sister had laughed so hard at the flour sticking to her hair and her face and hands and every surface, but she had learned and grown to love serving
on her grandmother’s blue cake plates, using the forks that had been in her family for generations. And it was her husband’s favorite dessert, though his mother made a different type:
in which the custard was replaced with meringue. He would tease her in a sexy voice, “Anna, my sweet, I love your
The way he said it always made her laugh.
Anna hadn’t made pie since Petrović’s army stormed Djoba. Her family had been buried in a mass grave, except for her baby. She didn’t know where his poor bones had come to rest.
Tears came down her face, but she didn’t sob and she didn’t even blink. She wiped them away with the back of her hand and kept her eyes on the fancy house where Slobodan Petrović lived.
Anna saw headlights in her rearview mirror first but didn’t realize until after they’d passed her that the car was a blue Jaguar.
There was an empty spot in front of the yellow house, and the car swept into it, parked, shut off the lights.
It was dark again, and Anna exhaled. She looked at her watch and saw the time, just after midnight. She’d fallen asleep and hadn’t known it. Petrović’s restaurant must have closed, and he was home for the night.
She watched him get out of his car, phone to his face as usual, and head up under the decorative woodwork of the front porch to the front door. Lights came on in the front hall, then the parlor.
Anna switched on her ignition as another car came down the street, the headlights shining into her eyes. She waited for this car to pass her before pulling out, but instead it pulled parallel to a parked car behind her and stopped. Double-parked.
The driver-side door opened, and a man with silvery hair in a gray topcoat got out, slammed the door to his dark SUV. Anna knew cars. It was a Cadillac Escalade.
Who was this?
An FBI man tailing Petrović?
A friend or colleague paying a call at midnight?
The man in gray walked to Petrović’s house and climbed the stairs. The door opened. Anna saw the dark hulk of Petrović stand back so that the man in gray could go in. The front door closed again.
Anna shut off the ignition, took a swig from her water bottle, and put it back on the seat. She would wait until the man in gray left the house. She’d promised Joe not to chase Petrović, but technically, following his associate wasn’t chasing
The more they knew about Petrović, the better.
And she didn’t have to wait long.
About five minutes after going inside the yellow house, the man in gray came out, got into his car, started it up, and drove up from behind her at a slow speed, coming alongside her and then stopping. Right next to her.
The man in the car waited for her to turn her face to him, and then made the universal signal for rolling down the car window.
She didn’t do it. Anna was actually paralyzed. She pictured a gun pointed at her. She imagined ducking to the floor of the car. She saw herself bolting out of her car on the sidewalk side and just running, running, running, bullets coming at her as she ran.
Anna heard the man yelling through his open window.
“You need help?”
She shook her head no. And reached for the key, turned her engine on. There was room to pull out and drive past him. Barely. She turned the wheel, and as she rolled out into her lane, she looked toward the driver of the Escalade.
He was smiling at her. It was the kind of smile she’d seen before in the darkest days of her hell on earth. The smile was an expression of power.
He was letting her know how confident he was of his power to hurt her.
The tires of Anna’s Kia grabbed asphalt, and the car squealed as it shot off and up the street. As Anna reached the intersection of Fell and Broderick, she checked her rear-view mirror.
The Caddy wasn’t following her. But if he looked for her, he would recognize her car. She parked blocks away from her front door and stuck to the shadows as she made her way home.
Nancy Koebel, the housekeeper from the Big Four Motel, had taken off to parts unknown after finding Carly Myers’s dead body.
Not only had she discovered the body, but because of her presence around the motel on the days surrounding the murder, she might also have information about Carly’s killer. So Conklin and I were surprised and
glad to see Koebel when she came through the entrance to Homicide on Tuesday morning and asked for me.
We escorted her into Interview 2 and asked her if she needed anything. She declined and told us that she couldn’t stay long.
Nancy Koebel was young, between eighteen and twenty-two, and thin, with choppy brown hair and dark circles under her eyes. She explained that she had come to San Francisco from Canada almost three months ago with her boyfriend, Roger Lewis.
“It was supposed to be a vacation,” she told us. “But we
weren’t getting along. I said some things. Roger said some things. Then he ditched me. I had very little cash, no car, a used-up credit card, and my visitor’s visa was about to expire. I lived with my parents and had been raving about this jerk. I’ve been staying with my uncle, who lives in Pacifica, but I was too embarrassed to borrow money from him, so I decided to get a job and work until I had enough money to go home with a little dignity.”
Conklin and I commiserated and Koebel went on, telling us that she’d seen a
sign outside the Big Four Motel. She had taken the job for a couple of weeks, which expanded into a couple of months.
Conklin’s famous way with women wasn’t all about his good looks. He was kind, he listened, and he used the magic words. He’d taken the lead in the Koebel interview, and I was happy to sit back and let him do it. He said, “What can you tell us about finding the body and any information you may have about Carly Myers’s death? Don’t edit, please, Nancy. We’ll listen and ask questions.”
She nodded, and I sat on the edge of the rickety metal chair as she began to tell her story.
Inside the first hour, Koebel told us, “I was working my usual shift—from noon checkout time to 10 p.m.—and room 212 was supposed to be empty. But the ‘Do Not Disturb’ card was still on the door. I knocked a few times, and then I had to go in. The room had to be cleaned.
“I went to the bathroom first. That’s how I do it. I take the towels and toss them into the cart, then I go for the bedding. But the towels weren’t on the rack or the floor, so I opened the shower curtain.”
Koebel covered her face with her hands. I’d seen what she’d seen—so I knew that the sight of the victim had given her the shock of her life.
She told us what she’d done after that, and it matched Tuohy’s version of the events. She’d gotten her bag from the office, run out to the street, and not been back to the Big Four since, not even to get her paycheck.
She said, “That’s how messed up I was about what happened.”
I showed her on my phone a photo of the man seen on Tuesday coming down the stairs at the back of the motel.
Koebel thought she might have seen him, but not on the day she found the body. She also said she had never spoken with Carly Myers. She claimed that she had done her job, kept her head down, and saved her money so she could go home.
“I just came in to tell you what I know. That when I opened the door to room 212, no one was there—only that poor woman hanging in the shower.”
An hour and a half after first meeting Ms. Koebel, my hope that she was going to lead us to a killer, or two missing schoolteachers, had dimmed considerably.
Conklin said to our iffy witness, “But you recognize the man whose picture we showed you?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know. I didn’t pay that much attention.”
Conklin said, “Okay. It’s okay. Nancy, let me get you that tea I promised you.”
When he’d left the room, I said, “One more time, please, Nancy. You were working from noon until ten. Did you see Carly Myers check into her room last Tuesday night at around ten?”
“No, like I said, I didn’t see her at all on Tuesday. I’ve seen men going to her room on other days, two or three times. But I didn’t know her name until I saw her picture online.”
“Did you ever speak with her?”
“She asked for more towels once. She asked for batteries for the remote control. For the TV.”
“And what about these men you saw with her on separate occasions? What can you tell me?”
“Like I said, Sergeant, I didn’t look at their faces. They went to 212. She let them in, and a little while later they left. I didn’t look or try to remember any of the guests. It was none of my business, and Mr. Tuohy made sure he got his six dollars an hour out of me. I had stairs. I had vacuuming. I had laundry. I wanted to keep my job.”
“I understand. Did you ever hear or see any signs of violence? Broken furniture, bruises on Carly’s arms or face?”
“Did you ever find anything disturbing in Carly’s room after she checked out? Blood? Anything like that?”
She said “No” emphatically.
Conklin came in with a mug of tea for Nancy. I smelled Chinese herbs. Paul Chi’s private stash.
He pulled out his chair and said, “I know this is stressful, Nancy, and you’ve been very helpful. You’re our last hope to find Carly’s killer.”
She shook her head, out of desperation or regret, I couldn’t know. But the video camera was still rolling; the witness was still in her seat. And I still had questions.
Conklin was right: Nancy Koebel was our best hope.
She’d seen Carly alive and then dead. And before Carly’s death Koebel had seen men coming and going from the victim’s motel room. One of those men
have been Carly’s killer. But
was miles away from proof.
I didn’t want to admit it, but Nancy Koebel was believable and not panning out at all. But as my mother used to say, pressure makes diamonds. If I had to lean on Koebel, I would do it, because I wasn’t ready to give up on this witness.
I said to Koebel, “Nancy. Look at this picture once more.”
“Okay,” she said, resigned.
She blew on the tea, and I pulled up the best of the pictures the ATM had shot from across the street of the rear of the Big Four the night Carly Myers was killed.
“Here are some additional shots of him from a slightly different angle. Do you recognize him now?”
She took the phone out of my hand and really gave the images a good look.
She squinted, then said, “You know … let me see the other shot again.”
Koebel took my phone and squinted at it.
“That could be Denny. I can’t swear on a Bible, but that might be Denny.”
Jake Tuohy had said Carly’s pimp was named Danny or Denny.
“You saw him a number of times,” I pressed.
“The time I remember, Carly checked in. He waited in the front parking lot near the office. They walked around back together.”
I said, “Go on,” and Koebel added a new layer to the story she’d been telling us all morning.
She said, “Carly waved and shouted out, ‘Bye, Denny,’ and he watched her while she went up to the second floor.”
Koebel clamped her mouth shut and closed her eyes.
She was probably thinking about the last time she’d been in room 212, a life-altering experience. And from the way Koebel was gripping the edge of the table, I thought she was ready to bolt.
If she did, we couldn’t stop her.
Conklin saw it, too. Fear of something. Maybe fear of us. She was in the USA with an expired visa.
Conklin said, “You’re not going to be asked to testify. We are trying to find this woman’s killer because two other women are still missing. You’re helping us, Nancy, and we’re very grateful to you for coming in.”
She nodded and said, “I need to get home.”
I wasn’t done, so I pressed on.
“Nancy, we’re not there yet. We have a hypnotist on call. Dr. Friedlander can come in and put you into a hypnotic state. You’ll be able to visualize the moment you saw this man and freeze the picture. Get a good look at him through the lens of your own memory.”
“How long will that take?”
“Do you want to call your uncle and tell him that you’re helping the police find a killer and you have to stay here until you give them a clue?”
She looked genuinely distressed.
“I have to go. I don’t want to be hypnotized.”
“Then answer my questions, Nancy. Truthfully. Do you think that Denny was Carly’s client or a friend? Or do you think she worked for him?”
“Oh, my God. Now that you mention it, another time I think I saw her give him—or someone like him—a wad of money.”
It was another
statement, but it felt like I’d finally gotten somewhere. And I thought of the woman who worked at the laundromat across from the Big Four. Edna Gutierrez. She’d told Jacobi that she’d seen a man drop Carly off in front of the motel in what she thought was a black or blue SUV.
I asked Koebel, “What kind of car did Denny drive?”
“I didn’t notice a car. Look. I need to get back to my flat and pack my two sets of clothes and my toothbrush. My uncle is coming to get me in a couple of hours, and we’re driving to Toronto.”
Conklin looked at me as if to ask,
I asked Nancy for her phone number and thanked her again for helping out the SFPD. I left her in the box with Richie, putting a statement together, and headed back to the bullpen and my desk.
Before I reached the swinging door, Conklin called me back.
I turned. He said, “There’s more.”
I went back into the interrogation room. Nancy Koebel was sitting where she’d been when I left the room.
“I remember something,” she said. “I’m not 100 percent sure.”
I sat back down.
“Tell Sergeant Boxer what you told me.”
“I saw them standing next to a car when she handed him the money. It was a boxy kind of thing, like an SUV, and if this is the right car, there was a decal on the side, a logo for Taqueria del Lobo. And once when I was cleaning out room 212, I found a paper bag with the same lettering on it. I think the address was Valencia Street.”
Did Denny work at the takeout taco joint on Valencia? I danced back to my desk. Maybe we had a lead made of diamonds. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Susan Jones. Adele Saran. Hang on, please. We’re doing everything we can do to find you.