Authors: James Patterson
Claire opened the victim’s mouth and shined her flashlight inside.
She said, “Look here, Lindsay. Call this confirmation of what you suspected. In a death by hanging, you’ll usually find the tongue is cut from biting.”
Carly’s tongue looked intact to me.
I said, “So she was dead when she was hanged.”
“Yes, that’s my opinion. I found petechial hemorrhaging in the eyes and bruising around the neck. The cricoid cartilage in the neck was fractured. This doesn’t happen with ligature strangulation.”
“What then? Manual strangulation?”
“That is correct, my dear sergeant.”
Claire showed me the bruises around Carly’s throat that had been covered by the collar of the white shirt.
Claire said, “And look here. Abrasions on her knees, forearms, and here, the base of her palms. This might have happened if she tried to get away from her attacker and fell when he overpowered her.”
Those abrasions had been hidden by shirttails and pink panties around her wrists when I saw Carly’s body in the shower. If she’d been attacked in the motel room, carpet fibers might be embedded in her scraped knees. If she’d been attacked outside, she should have traces of dirt from a lawn or a road or a parking lot, or even carpet from the inside of a vehicle.
That kind of evidence could be a break for the good guys.
I asked, “What kind of trace did CSI find in the wounds?”
“Linds, I hate to tell you this, but Clapper himself swabbed those abrasions last night, and it’s his opinion that the body is squeaky clean.”
I asked, “How squeaky? You’re not saying she was washed?”
“Clapper thinks so. When the DNA tests come back, he’ll be able to say with certainty, but from the first pass, this is what he got. They combed out her hair and found no foreign particles. No trace under her nails. They swabbed the bite mark on her neck, and that swab has gone off to the lab. The shampoo bottle that was found in the bathroom was empty, and even with decomp, you can smell the soap on her. Chamomile.”
“Nuts. Her killer really cleaned up after himself.”
“He’s smart enough. If he had sex with her, he used a condom and left no trace on the bed—or anywhere.”
“There were towels missing,” I said.
“So he put them on the bed to protect the spread. Huh. Possible.”
“What else?” I asked.
Claire told me that she had sent out the sexual assault kit and the blood samples, that there was zero chance that results would come back until after the weekend—if then.
“We’re looking at weeks for the DNA. I can only ring the fire alarm so many times,” she told me, “and I’ve rung it quite a lot recently.”
I remembered the many times I’d stood in this room with Claire, using logic and forensic pathology to puzzle out what had happened to the person on the table who couldn’t tell us anything.
Claire waggled her fingers in front of my face.
“You still with me, Linds?”
I snapped out of my thoughts and said, “Absolutely. We have to wait for the sexual assault kit to come back.”
“Correct,” she said. “But I’m not done here. Not by far.”
“Okay,” Claire said. “CSI found nothing at all on the shirt. It’s a common brand, all cotton, size 2XL, available for purchase in twenty thousand stores all over the country and online, priced between twelve and twenty bucks, made in China.”
I sighed, long and loudly.
Claire didn’t notice. She said, “The shirt hadn’t been worn until Carly’s dead body was dressed in it.”
“Great,” I said sadly.
If the doer had a new shirt handy, it pointed to a premeditated crime, either specific to Carly or in general if a choice opportunity arose.
“And what about Carly’s own clothes that were left on the motel room floor?”
“They were worn, but there was no blood or dirt or anything that would lead anywhere. I do have something for you, though.”
“Please, Claire, make my day.”
She smiled. She was enjoying herself. But hell, this was a rough job, and if someone had to oversee twelve hundred autopsies a year, best if it was someone who enjoyed her work.
“I’ve taken photos of her injuries,” said Claire, “including these.”
She pulled down the sheet, exposing Carly’s torso. She had large bruises on her body from chest to hips, and there was more: a half dozen discrete wounds in Carly’s flesh, three inches long, like knife wounds in a random pattern.
Claire said, “She was beaten over a couple days’ time, but these wounds are fresh. She’s got similar wounds on her back and buttocks.”
“What the hell are they?”
Claire said, “I’m asking the same question. The incisions are shallow and were made by an unusual kind of blade. Check this out. There’s no collateral bruising at the point of entry.”
“The blade was beveled and double-edged and super sharp. I can’t yet identify the implement—that’s good. It wasn’t any kind of knife I’ve seen. So if you find the weapon, you may find the killer.”
“Were the cuts made premortem or post?”
“She was alive,” Claire told me. “And that also supports Clapper’s opinion that this body was washed. Even though these cuts were shallow, Carly had to have bled. But there’s no sign of blood.
“That said, keep in mind that these wounds didn’t kill her, Lindsay. She was strangled. That’s a man’s crime.”
“So, unofficially …” I said, prompting her.
“Unofficially, manner of death: homicide. Cause of death: asphyxiation by manual strangulation. I’ll call you,” she said. “Right after I do the internal post.”
Claire’s receptionist elbowed the door open and said, “Sergeant, Inspector Conklin called. He’s waiting upstairs for you.”
I told Claire, “Thanks. Talk to you later,” and left the ME’s office, taking the breezeway to the back entrance of the Hall’s garnet-colored, marble-lined lobby. An elevator was waiting, and I rode it to four and then walked the short, brightly lit corridor to the homicide squad.
Conklin was sitting behind his desk—and Cindy sat behind mine. Even at that time, before they’d gotten together, there was chemistry between my friend and my partner, known by women in and around the Hall as Inspector Hottie. I’d liked seeing it.
Cindy said, “What can you tell me?”
It was quite bold of Cindy—coming to our house, taking my chair, making demands. She’s infuriating and funny, often at the same time.
I smiled and said, “This is absolutely all I can tell you,
Cindy. You can say that the deceased is, in fact, Carly Myers and that the authorities are looking for anyone who may have seen her or her killer.”
“Cause of death?”
“Still undetermined. Claire is doing the post now.”
“So, a positive ID of Carly Myers, deceased. What about the other two women? By my calculations, they’re still missing on day four.”
“We’re working on it. All of us.” I waved my hand to encompass the squad room, which was largely empty.
“Okay. I’ll do another blog post about the missing women.”
“Good. Thanks. And here’s something we haven’t released,” I said. “Nancy Koebel was a housekeeper at the Big Four. She disappeared. Can you say on your blog that the SFPD needs to get in touch with her? She may have seen or heard something regarding this crime.”
I spelled Koebel’s name, hoping that going public with that wouldn’t drive her further underground.
Cindy closed her tablet and gathered her possessions, saying, “I’ve got some work to do. I’ll speak to you later. That means both of you.”
She waved in our direction and headed out.
Conklin followed her with his eyes.
“Back to work, Tiger,” I said to him.
I filled him in on what I’d learned from Claire and Clapper.
“First and worst, Richie. No trace evidence has been found on Carly’s body. Clapper thinks and Claire agrees that the body was washed to destroy evidence. There’s also nothing of interest on Carly’s phone or laptop as far as Clapper can tell. Blood and DNA swabs are out for analysis.”
“Shit. The killer rolled up his trail,” said Rich. “He threw her in the shower before he strung her up.”
“Yep. And washed her down with the freebie shampoo. The shirt she was wearing is a generic men’s cotton shirt that could have been purchased anywhere. Claire is positive—unofficially—that Carly was strangled manually. The electric cord wasn’t the murder weapon.”
“It was window dressing?” Conklin asked.
“Exactly,” I said. “A distraction. A feint. An artistic touch.”
I told my partner the Claire-stumping news that Carly had been cut in a dozen places front and back with a sharp unidentified blade that left an unusually shaped slit. I showed him the photo. “Narrow on both ends and broader in the center.”
“What does Claire make of these … injuries?”
“She says that Carly was alive when she was cut. Some of the incisions were made like this.”
I used a letter opener to demonstrate a slice to my forearm.
“Others were at an angle. One of the cuts just grazed her shoulder, opening a flap of skin.”
“If the wounds weren’t lethal, what was the point?” Conklin asked.
“I think he wanted to scare her, Rich. Or force compliance. Either way, Carly was tortured.”
Joe tailed Petrović’s blue Jag from the yellow house on Fell, hanging back behind several cars at all times.
When the Jag pulled into a spot in front of Tony’s Place for Steak on California, a valet appeared and ran around to open the driver-side door.
The man in the Jag was getting celebrity treatment.
Joe glimpsed only a blue-trousered leg and a shoe as he passed the driver disembarking from his car.
Blending into the stream of traffic, Joe drove east for another couple of blocks before turning right onto Mason Street. Then he wrapped around the block again and one more time until he was back on California.
He parked on Taylor and walked one long uphill to the steak house, entering at quarter to one. He took in the whole of the room from the entrance. It was densely carpeted, mirrored on both long walls, with chandeliers overhead casting a flattering light over the well-dressed lunchtime crowd seated in the red leather booths and at round tables down the center of the room.
There was a closed door to his right that looked like it went to a private dining room.
The maître d’ approached.
Joe said, “I don’t have a reservation. Can you fit me in?”
“I can give you a small table in the back.”
“That’ll be fine.”
As he followed behind the maître d’, Joe looked for the man who might be Petrović, but didn’t see him. He took his seat with his back to the kitchen doors. A waiter introduced himself as Giorgio and asked Joe for his drink order. Joe went with sparkling water and accepted the menu.
It was a nice place, reminding him of the Palm in New York. The kitchen doors behind him swung open as elderly waiters in uniform came in and out with trays. Soon Giorgio returned and asked Joe if he was ready to order.
Joe asked for a New York strip steak, medium, with creamed spinach and a baked potato. When the waiter had gone, he thought about his conversation with Lindsay last night.
She’d advised him to get on the right side of this Petrović investigation. He knew he had to do it. But he didn’t yet see how to get a green light from Steinmetz.
The kitchen doors swung open again and two men came out, passing by Joe’s table.
One was of average height and build, wearing a gray suit. He had a thin mustache and gray hair. The other man was big, bulky, wearing blue serge, a white shirt, and a striped tie. Joe saw his face in profile as he said a few words to the man in gray. They were speaking Serbian.
There was no mistaking the bulky guy for anyone else.
He was Slobodan Petrović.
The man in gray was saying in Serbian basic enough for Joe to follow, “Tony, I just heard about it a minute ago. I can take care of her tonight.”
Tony. Antonije Branko was Petrović’s pseudonym. The two men were walking toward the front of the restaurant when Petrović paused midstep and pivoted back around.
Joe felt a shock to his heart.
It was clear that Petrović, too, had cop or military attentiveness. Petrović recognized him. It had just taken a moment for the cogs to engage, for him to place Joe’s face.
Petrović took a few steps back toward Joe and stood at the table, looking down at him.
He said, “Well, hello. Nice to see you here. We’ve only just opened up again as Tony’s. I’m Tony Branko,” he said, sticking out his hand.
Joe shook Petrović’s large hand, saying, “Nice place. Congratulations.”
“And you are?”
The man in blue released Joe’s hand and asked, “Where’s your girlfriend? The one who rides a bike past my house on Fell.”
Shit. Petrović had seen Anna. Did he know who she was?
The waiter came to the table with Joe’s lunch, saying, “Excuse, Mr. Branko,” and put the plates down in front of Joe. “Can I get you something else?”
Joe said, “No, thanks. I’m all set,” and the waiter disappeared.
Petrović remained at Joe’s table. He didn’t introduce the
man in gray standing uncomfortably a few feet away from him. He said to Joe, “You’re a cop?”
Joe said, “Good call.”
Petrović smiled. “Now I think
cop. Hey. Molinari. If you need a girl, I mean another one, let me know. I think we could be friends.”
And then he was gone.
Joe forced himself to eat, but he felt like an ass. He shouldn’t have stopped. He should just have kept driving. What the hell was wrong with him?
He asked for the check, paid in cash, then, throwing down his napkin, he headed to the front of the restaurant. As he passed the private room just off the entrance, Petrović/Branko stood up from a table of male diners and leaned out of the room. He called after him, “I hope you found everything to your satisfaction, Joe Molinari. Come again.”
Joe’s face burned as he left the restaurant and walked downhill to his car.