Authors: James Patterson
Thanks to Cindy’s anonymous source, Conklin and I had a name and known hangout of a guy who may have dated Carly Myers.
Name: Tom Barry. Favorite lunch spot: a sports bar called Casey’s on Fillmore.
I’d never been to Casey’s before and took a good look from the doorway.
The room was narrow, dark, and clubby, with framed photos of sports stars on the walls. A long bar ran along the length of the place, and there were some tables and armchairs front and back. Three HD TVs were positioned at intervals, and all of them were locked in on a horse race running in Saratoga Springs.
The crowd was fervent—money was on the line.
Conklin and I looked at the men at the bar, and one of them fit the photo. White guy in his twenties, lanky, spiky hair, drinking his lunch. To be fair, he had a bowl of peanuts beside his beer.
We walked over and stood on either side of him, and from the look in his eyes, we were pissing him off by encroaching
on his personal space.
Sorry, bud. This is police business.
We were ready to grab him if he tried to run.
I flashed my badge, introduced my partner and myself, and asked if he was Tom Barry.
“Why do you ask?”
I pulled my phone and showed him the parking lot photo. I asked him if he was the man in the picture.
“Looks like me. Yeah. That’s my leather jacket.”
“Who’s that with you?”
“You were with her a few nights ago,” I said.
“Nope. I saw her last week, Tuesday. That’s when we went out. What’s going on?”
Conklin sidestepped the question, asking Barry if he knew where we could find Carly.
“Me? No. We’re not that close. If we’re drinking in the same bar, we sometimes go out for a bite and a roll.”
“She’s missing,” Conklin said. “She hasn’t been seen in a few days.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” Barry said, drawing back, showing alarm.
The horses on the screen overhead were clearing the back turn and pounding into the stretch. The crowd in the bar broke out in yelling and rooting.
Barry glanced up at the screen, yelled, “Oh, come onnn, Fast Talker, come onnnn.” Then he remembered we were standing beside him, and turned back to us in disgust.
“I don’t know anything about Carly. You’re wasting my time.”
I said, “We believe you, Mr. Barry. But if you care about Carly at all, we need your help.”
“Christ. I don’t even have her phone number.”
Conklin said in that nice, nonthreatening way he has, “Sometimes people know more than they think. We’d appreciate you coming with us to the station, Mr. Barry. You might be able to shine a light on this situation.”
“Look, I have to be at work at two, okay? I manage the car wash over on Third.”
“You’ll be back in plenty of time,” I lied.
Barry slapped a ten down on the bar, and I noticed his knuckles were scraped up. He’d swung at someone or something recently and connected. While he struggled into his leather jacket, Conklin snaked a hand around him, picked up the beer glass by the rim. While I further distracted Barry by putting the photo of him back in his face, asking, “This is the parking lot at the Bridge, right?” Conklin got a plastic bag from the bartender.
“I guess so,” Barry muttered.
With his prints on a bagged glass under Conklin’s Wind-breaker, we escorted him out onto the street and into the back of our car. As Conklin drove, I checked out Thomas Barry on the MDC built into the console.
Barry had a minor-league record: an arrest for drunk and disorderly one night at Casey’s a couple of years back, a fender bender last year, and a DUI. His juvenile record was sealed.
I had an image in mind of Carly Myers and Barry, and he didn’t look, smell, or feel like a match for her. What did she see in him?
My interest was piqued. So much so that I was cautiously optimistic that Tom Barry held a key to the whereabouts of the missing schoolteachers.
The Hall of Justice was a large, rectangular granite building on Bryant Street, home to the criminal court, the DA’s office, a jail, and the Southern Station of the SFPD, which included the homicide squad, where Conklin and I worked in the bullpen on the fourth floor.
Despite its storied past and understated charm, the HOJ was rat-infested, prone to flurries of asbestos and sewage leaks, and seismically unstable.
We’d been working here for so long that Conklin and I hardly noticed that the Hall was hazardous to our health. Whenever we talked about it, we agreed that we would miss the old wreck when it was eventually demolished.
But at that moment, with a possible suspect in tow, we were only thinking about the missing schoolteachers.
Conklin, Tom Barry, and I were seated at a metal table inside a small interrogation room down the hall from our squad room. Lieutenant Warren Jacobi, our old friend and commanding officer, was behind the glass.
I took the lead in the interview and began by asking Barry to help us out. He responded by pushing my buttons, first denying knowing anything about Carly yet again, then becoming argumentative and belligerent. He had quite an act. And the truth was, we had nothing on him.
He could walk out anytime.
Conklin took a turn.
“Mr. Barry, cut it out. This is very damned serious. We’re trying to save lives here, and you’re acting like you’ve got something to hide. If you’re innocent, act like it, okay?
“You went out with Carly, spent time with her, so give us something to go on. Where would she be if she went somewhere on her own after work and after dark?”
“I. Do. Not. Know. Look, I wasn’t attached to her. At all. We talked baseball, football, and especially soccer. We screwed. Once in my place. Once in hers. I didn’t buy her a Valentine. I didn’t introduce her to my mother. The relationship was casual. What don’t you get?”
After an hour of this combative back-and-forth, I thought I’d wrung everything out of Thomas Barry that he had to give; not only his work schedule but also the name of a woman who could vouch for him the night Carly, Susan, and Adele went missing. He gave us names of two other women he’d rolled with on the two nights after that. Thomas Barry was a player. We would send his prints to the lab, my thought being that maybe his prints would be found on Carly Myers’s car.
It was quarter to two in the afternoon.
Barry said, “Can I go now? I don’t want to get fired.”
I said, “I’ll have an officer give you a lift.”
He stood to put on his jacket and gave me a peculiar look, which I read as a sign he was about to do us a favor.
“Sergeant, I had nothing to do with Carly being missing. Or any of them. If I were you, I’d be looking into Carly. My take is that she’s no angel. She has a dark side. That much I can tell you.”
There was a knock on the door and Jacobi came in, looking stricken.
He said, “Mr. Barry, I’ve got you a ride. Thanks for your help. Boxer, Conklin, I need to see you right away.”
I handed Barry off to Officer Mahoney and headed back to Jacobi’s glass-walled office at the back of the squad room.
He and Conklin were waiting for me.
I pulled out a chair, saying, “Waste of time. We don’t have enough cause to get a warrant—”
Jacobi cut me off.
“We’ve got a body. Might be Carly Myers. Big Four Motel, room 212. Call me when you get there.”
Richie lost the coin flip, so I drove.
We reached Ellis Street in record time, then closed in on the Big Four, slowing only for the aimless druggies wandering down and across Larkin.
I pulled into the parking spot at the front of the seedy, rent-by-the-hour, no-tell motel, switched off the engine, and took a breath. We weren’t alone. A dozen homeless, impoverished, drug-dependent residents of the Tenderloin were camped out on the macadam between the parked cars.
They were about to lose their campground.
The parking lot was a secondary crime scene and would have to be vacated and taped off from the street.
Conklin and I got out of the car. My mind was racing with questions, none of which would be answered until we got into room 212.
Question one: Was the dead woman Carly Myers?
Questions two and three: If the DB was Carly, what had killed her? And why here?
A handful of the motel’s guests stood under the awning outside the manager’s office, complaining loudly that they needed to get into their goddamn rooms.
The manager said just as loudly, “Cops said when they’re done, they’re done. Nothing I can do.”
I interrupted the dispute to get the manager’s name, Jake Tuohy, and to tell him to stick around. We’d be back.
Room 212 was at the rear of the motel. My partner and I rounded the corner of the three-story stucco building and saw a small fleet of first responders: two cruisers, an ambulance, and two CSI vans, all empty.
We badged the uniform at the foot of the stairs, ducked under the crime-scene tape, and headed up to the second floor, where Nardone, another uniformed officer, was waiting for us. At that time, Officer Robert Nardone was a beat cop with ambition and promise. He told us that he was the first officer on the scene.
“Tell me what you know,” I said.
“Housekeeper, Nancy Koebel, went to clean 212 at twelve thirty or so and found the DB hanging by the neck from the shower head. She reported the body to the manager, Jake Tuohy, who took a look in the bathroom, closed the door, and called it in.”
“Where is Koebel?”
Nardone said, “By the time I got here, she’d taken off.”
Conklin asked him, “You checked out the room?”
“I was very careful not to contaminate anything. It was dark. I flipped on the light switch with my elbow and stepped into the bathroom. Saw the victim and went to check her vitals. She wasn’t breathing. I touched her leg. She was ice cold.”
Nardone looked sad, maybe ill. I pictured him in that bathroom, hand against the wall as he reached out to touch the victim. His prints were likely on the wall and definitely on the doorknob. Doorknobs had also been handled by the housekeeper and the manager, probably smearing whatever the perp had left behind.
“Keep going,” I said.
“I looked into the main room from the hallway. The curtains were closed, but I could see a little bit by the bathroom light. No one was in the room, living or dead. I called the lieutenant.”
“Okay,” I said. “Good job, Bobby.”
We talked protocol for another few minutes.
I directed Nardone to get plate numbers of every car in the lots front and back, clear and seal off the parking lots, and set up a media liaison post on Ellis.
“No one but law enforcement goes in or out of here until I say okay. I’ll get you some help to collect the guests and sequester them in the reception area.”
“They’re like crazy people,” he said.
“They’re going to object. Be nice but firm. This is a police investigation into a possible homicide, okay?”
“Got it, Sergeant.”
I called Jacobi.
“I need uniforms and investigators, boss. We have to question guests who are not going to volunteer.”
Jacobi said he was on it.
Then Conklin and I headed to room 212 and the scene that was waiting for us.
I was very glad to see Charles Clapper standing outside room 212, thumbing his phone.
A former homicide lieutenant with the LAPD, Clapper was a hands-on criminalist, ran a great shop, and was neither a showboater nor a politician. He was rock solid and I called him a friend.
We exchanged greetings, and then Conklin asked Clapper if there was security footage.
“Wouldn’t that be a treat,” said Clapper.
“I take it that’s a no,” said Conklin.
“It’s a maybe. The customers here don’t like cameras, but I’ve got two guys checking the ATM across the street. I’m curbing my enthusiasm.”
The door to room 212 was open, and LED lights blazed in the small room beyond the doorway. Clapper talked as we gloved up and fitted booties over our shoes.
He said, “I could teach a university course in forensics on this scene. But then, don’t take that to mean I’ve got a handle on it.”
We followed him over the threshold and got our first look at the room. In many ways 212 was typical, about eighteen feet long from the door to the window at the far end, nine feet wide, the width largely taken up by the bed. The bathroom was to our immediate left, right off the entrance.
The Big Four Motel had been a fixture in the Tenderloin for thirty years and, during that time, had aged disgracefully. The carpet was dirt gray, original color indeterminate. The curtains were threadbare, and the spread was all that plus stained and soiled. The double bed was still made, but the pillows were disturbed.
Conklin and I stood inside the doorway, watching the CSIs taking photos of everything, sketching the layout, and dusting for prints, the last being a fairly futile activity given the three decades of accumulated splooge. But it had to be done. Maybe one clear print or even a partial would find a match in AFIS.
The CSIs had put markers down next to folded items of female apparel on the floor: a dark garment, either pants or a skirt; a lacy top with long sleeves; an underwire bra. High-heeled shoes stood next to the bed, a light coat hung over a chair back, and at the foot of the chair was a large handbag of the tote bag variety. It was unzipped and looked plenty big enough to hold electronics, books, and the kitchen sink.
As crime scenes went, this one was tidy. But we hadn’t seen the body yet; the two techs in the bathroom were blocking our view.
I asked Clapper, “Did you find a note?”
“Not yet. I opened her bag to check her ID. Her license says Carly Myers, and her face matches the photo. We’ll take the bag back to the lab and let you know what we find.”
If the bag contained a phone and a computer, he’d also check her incoming and outgoing calls, get her text messages and emails, too. A phone could crack open everything from before she went missing. Pray to God it would lead to Susan Jones and Adele Saran.
Noting that, Clapper said, “We’ve only been in here for twenty minutes, so this is still a prelim. What I can tell you is that the victim is a Caucasian female found hanging by her neck by an electric cord noose. The other end of the cord was wrapped a number of times around the stem of the shower head and the curtain rod for added support. The cord was cut from a standing lamp in the other room. Scissors are on the floor.”
Clapper went on.
“She’s wearing an extra-large men’s shirt. Looks new.”
“What do you make of that?” I asked.
“Nothing yet. We’ll test it. I saw no defensive wounds on the victim’s arms, but I haven’t checked her hands. Her wrists were bound in front with a pair of panties. The ME will take her liver temps, but I can tell you she’s just coming out of rigor. So I’m estimating that she died twenty-four to thirty-six hours ago.”
Bodies were different. Environments were different. But it was safe to use Clapper’s guesstimate for now.
Carly was last seen on Monday night. So she’d died probably late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.
Clapper said, “We’re just beginning to process the bathroom, but you can have a look. Are you ready, my friends?”
He knocked on the doorframe. The techs came out with their kits, and Clapper toed the door wide open.
Conklin and I went inside.