Unlucky 13, p.10

Unlucky 13, page 10

 part  #13 of  Women's Murder Club Series

 

Unlucky 13


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  He and CSI Stanford would follow Jansing in his BMW. I would take the unmarked Ford to Oakland and await the address of the drop.

  As I left the building by the back door, I thought of my daughter, as I did every hour of every day.

  The job felt different since Julie was born. My love for Julie made me very careful, yet at the same time, I was aware that that love could play out as a momentary delay when I was at risk, and a split-second hesitation could prove fatal.

  I put on my vest, hung my badge outside it, and shrugged into my Windbreaker with POLICE in big white letters across the back. I touched my hip, double-checking that my Glock was right there, and I dropped my phone into my jacket pocket.

  Then I climbed into the unmarked car and headed out.

  CHAPTER 41

  I HAD TWO open lines of communication inside my unmarked Crown Vic. My phone was on speaker for Conklin and Stanford, who were tracking the bomber’s phone and listening in on Jansing’s ongoing conversation with the bomber.

  I was also monitoring the staticky blare of my car radio, which was locked on a channel dedicated exclusively to the cops working this case.

  I buzzed down my window as I drove through Oakland’s Fruitvale area, a shopping district that had been economically up, down, and iffy for a long time. I passed a Chuck’s on the corner of East 12th and 35th Avenue. The restaurant was busy, and typical of the chain’s cheery bistro style, aqua-and-white market umbrellas shaded the brunch crowd at the tables outside the restaurant.

  Therese Stanford’s voice came over my cell phone: “The subject told Jansing to go to a vacant liquor store on San Leandro Street. The front door is open, and he’s supposed to leave the package on the counter. Subject says he’s watching Jansing, and he’s telling him to be smart. Okay. Okay. Now Mr. Jansing says he’s got dead air. Subject has shut off the cell phone and disconnected the battery.”

  My pulse picked up. I saw the vacant liquor store up ahead, situated between a bakery and a bike shop. The sign read BARNEY’S WINE AND LIQUOR. The plateglass window had been soaped from the inside and tagged from the outside, and rampant weeds had overtaken the pansies in the flower boxes.

  I circled the block, and as I approached Barney’s on the return pass, I saw that Jansing had pulled up to the curb. I slowed and saw him get out of his car with a taupe metal Zero Halliburton briefcase in his right hand.

  Stanford and Conklin, who had been following Jansing two cars back, pulled past him and made a U-turn before parking on the opposite side of the street, facing Barney’s.

  Radio dispatch confirmed that plainclothes were covering the rear exit of Barney’s and the parking areas behind the row of shops facing 45th Avenue.

  We were as ready as we could be.

  I didn’t like the idea of Jansing going into a building that hadn’t been cleared, but his open cell phone served as a wire. If Jansing was in trouble, he only had to say “I’m not armed” and the abandoned store would fill with men with guns.

  I still didn’t like it.

  By definition, our so-called belly bomber was a psychopath. He’d killed innocent people for fun and money, and he was threatening to do so again. If he was inside the former Barney’s liquor store, he might shoot Jansing and make a break with the money.

  I watched as Jansing carried his metal briefcase into the store with the opaque windows. Moments later, he came out empty-handed and got into his car. Stanford reported over the radio, “Jansing is out and safe. He left the money.”

  All around San Leandro Street, cops in utility vans and unmarked cars watched for the belly bomber to go into Barney’s to retrieve his loot.

  CHAPTER 42

  CONKLIN UNFOLDED HIS lanky body and got out of CSI Stanford’s low-slung muscle car. As she took off, he walked to our unmarked and got into the passenger seat. We had a good view of Barney’s from our spot in the middle of the block, and there we sat.

  It was a long wait. Conklin tipped his head back and caught some of the z’s he’d lost while fighting about the President’s economic policies with Tina, and I scrutinized all traffic—car, foot, and skateboard. There was a plant nursery to my left, a coffee spot to my right, and an elevated BART track across the way. The whoosh and hum of the train added a sound track to the casual afternoon scene. After an hour, I felt I knew the neighborhood as well as my own.

  But I didn’t see what I was looking for: a man walking under the red metal Barney’s sign, going through the doors into the vacant liquor store, and coming out with a package.

  Three and a half hours after staking out this block, I’d had enough. I nudged Conklin awake and then, along with a half dozen cops, we surrounded the liquor store with guns in hand.

  I assigned places, and when we were all ready, I opened the front door.

  The interior of the store was gloomy, with just enough light coming through the soaped windows to see the walls of empty shelves and cardboard cartons and one shiny object: the Zero Halliburton case on the counter.

  The case was open. The money was gone and a note had been left inside it. Block letters on lined paper.

  NO POLICE, REMEMBER? KA-BOOM.

  Two cops went to the basement and returned a minute later. They had found that the basement door that opened out to the parking lot was unlocked and that the basement itself was shared by the bakery next door.

  Conklin and I exited Barney’s by the front door and then entered the Frosted Fool Bakery next door, where a browsing crowd of shoppers checked out the glass cases and stood in line with numbers in their hands. I fetched the owner from the kitchen and invited the customers to leave. Then I turned the sign on the door to closed while Conklin gathered the salespeople together for questioning.

  We interviewed the owner and the three salespeople who’d been behind the counters all morning.

  All four agreed. No suspicious customers had been seen in the Frosted Fool. However, they did say that the basement door they shared with the defunct Barney’s was left unlocked during the day for deliveries and garbage removal.

  Undoubtedly that basement door was used by the unknown subject who had taken the four packets of cash totaling a hundred grand.

  And the game was still on. As the bomber had told Michael Jansing, he was enjoying himself immensely.

  That’s when a soft ka-boom went off in my mind.

  But was it already too late?

  I dashed out to our car and yelled into the radio: “All units to the corner of East Twelfth and Thirty-fifth. Now!”

  Three minutes later, we converged on Chuck’s Prime two blocks northeast of San Leandro Street, where grass-fed Chuckburgers were being served by fresh-faced guys and gals in cowboy outfits, every one of them looking too innocent to be real.

  In my mind, every employee was a suspect and every customer was a potential victim. Maybe there was a bomb under the broiler lamps now. Or maybe a ticking hamburger had just been served.

  There was no time for finesse.

  I stood with Conklin and a squad of armed cops at my back and yelled, “SFPD. Everybody stop eating! Put down those hamburgers! Now!”

  CHAPTER 43

  CINDY HAD LOCKED her office door at the Chronicle and was high on extra-sweet coffee, as she liked to be, working a newly hatched Mackie Morales angle, when Claire called her to ask, “Cin? You on tonight? Susie says that laughter and jerked pork are on the menu.”

  Cindy said, “Yeah, of course. Wouldn’t miss it.”

  She signed off, but her thoughts took a sharp turn toward Susie’s Café, which is where she’d met Mackie Morales in the flesh. The memory was indelible, and sometimes when it came over her, she couldn’t block it.

  She had been at Susie’s with the girls, at their regular table in the back, where she, Claire, Lindsay, and Yuki met just about every week.

  Mackie had been working her role as squad assistant at the Southern Station Homicide squad, and Lindsay had invited her to Susie’s. It was nice of Lindsay to bring Mackie to their club
house, and Cindy had thought Mackie was upbeat, bright, a cute person. It still amazed her how wrong she and innumerable top law enforcement officers had been about her.

  That time at Susie’s, Mackie had been in the ladies’ room when Richie showed up at their table, uninvited. He was frustrated and had made the rash decision to bring their increasingly stormy relationship issues to her girls.

  He was in mid-rant about what he needed and wasn’t getting when Mackie came back from the restroom. She sat down, became uncomfortable in the middle of this inappropriate conversation, and almost immediately made an excuse to leave the café, saying she had to go home to her child.

  Cindy and Richie had continued squabbling at the table, and after too much of that, they’d taken their fight outside and had broken off their engagement on Jackson Street, shouting at each other in the rain.

  How long had it taken Richie and Mackie to hook up after that?

  Cindy didn’t know and it didn’t matter now.

  What mattered was that she locate Morales, help bring her down, and then give Henry Tyler a story the Chronicle readers would never forget.

  To that end, she called Captain Lawrence, her police contact in Wisconsin, to ask him about Randy Fish’s father, Bill, who had owned the green house near Lake Michigan.

  Captain Lawrence picked up his phone on the first ring. She could tell he liked her now, and as long as he didn’t break the law, he was willing and even happy to help her.

  She asked, “Pat, do you know Bill Fish’s wife’s name and her last known address?”

  “Her name was Erica Williams before she married Fish. I think she was from Honolulu but I don’t know for sure. As to where she is now? I don’t even know if she’s in the United States. She was so ashamed of Randy. She couldn’t hold her head up. After Bill died, she had a tag sale. Sold most of her things and then just took off.”

  Cindy thanked the captain and stared out her window for a couple of minutes, organizing her many disparate thoughts.

  She decided to take her laptop out to lunch.

  CHAPTER 44

  CHOW’S WAS A coffee shop on 3rd Street, two long blocks down Mission from the Chronicle. It was a popular hole in the wall, serving home-style Thai and Chinese dishes as well as classic American diner fare. The place was packed from noon until three, but at just after eleven, Cindy thought Chow’s would offer the perfect change of scene she was hungering for.

  She pushed open the heavy glass doors, waved at George behind the cash register, cruised past the takeout line, and slipped into a two-person booth at midpoint of the center aisle. When the waiter came to her, she ordered French fries and a chocolate milk shake.

  “That’s it?”

  “For now,” said Cindy.

  She opened her MacBook and began a search for Erica Fish. Even before her fries and shake arrived, she found more than a hundred and fifty women with that name, equally distributed across the country. Between courses, she typed “Erica Williams” into her browser and found another four hundred listings, scattered from sea to shining sea.

  Her search assumed that Erica Williams Fish was using some version of her actual name and that the closely guarded custody of young Ben Morales Fish had gone to the little boy’s paternal grandmother.

  So it was also logical to check out Mackie’s mother, Deanna Mackenzie Morales, and her father, Joseph Morales. Mackie and her parents had lived in Chicago, but the thousands of listings for J. Morales totally swamped any possibility of a fine-tuned search without limitless funds and endless time.

  But it took no time and cost nothing to type Mackie’s mother’s name in different permutations into her browser. Cindy did it—and like freakin’ magic, she got a hit. D. M. Morales, the one and only person in the entire country with that name, was listed in the San Francisco white pages.

  Just the name.

  The number and address were unlisted—which made sense.

  If Mackie’s mother had lived in San Francisco prior to her daughter getting busted, she may have gotten custody of the child. If so, she would want to be way under the radar. So she’d blocked her phone and address so that people like Cindy couldn’t find her.

  Cindy slurped her milk shake down to the bottom, paid the check at the register, and walked back to the office. As she crossed 3rd Street, she thought about how Mackie Morales’s recent past had taken her from Wisconsin to a bank in Chicago and possibly to a highway in Wyoming. She was heading west.

  She might well be coming to San Francisco to visit Ben and her mother.

  And here was the dark hunch she’d been harboring. Morales might have other business in San Francisco as well.

  CHAPTER 45

  TO BE HONEST, I had to force myself to go to Susie’s that night. Normally, a Club meeting was like a dip in the Caribbean Sea—salty, warm, rousing, and comforting at the same time.

  But tonight, as I stood in my bare feet in my bedroom, I wanted to take off all my clothes, get into bed, and pull the covers over my head.

  But I knew even that wouldn’t assuage my twin feelings of frustration and bone-deep exhaustion from the fruitless day in Fruitvale. And the upshot of the entire pathetic operation was that the belly bomber had the money and was planning to kill again.

  Joe said, “You’ll feel better if you go out with the girls. I’ll wait up.”

  I showered and changed my clothes and drove to Susie’s, hoping that Claire and Cindy would both be okay if I ate and ran. That was pretty much all I could handle.

  I pulled open the big wooden door, and the calypso party spilled out. Hot Tea was working the steel drums, the rum punch and margaritas were flowing, and the whole place smelled like spiced meat on a grill.

  My girls were waiting at our booth when I got there. I slid in next to Claire, who read the expression on my face and put her arm around me.

  I laid my head on her shoulder and pretended to cry, and she squeezed me and said, “There, there. Whatever is wrong, it will get better with beer.”

  I leaned across the table and exchanged cheek kisses with Cindy, who said, “Someone had a bad day. Are you all right?”

  Cindy looked kind of radiant, as did Claire, so I guessed I would be tapped to be the first to piss and moan.

  “You’re not still mad at me, are you?” Cindy said.

  “What?” said Claire. “I didn’t hear anything about a fight between the two of you.”

  Cindy smirked and said, “It’s off the record,” then called our waitress over.

  Lorraine appeared, her red hair freshly permed, and wearing a new, brighter-red lipstick than ever before. She said, “Hey there, Sergeant Boxer. You look thirsty. What can I get you?”

  Before I could say, “I’m just going to watch,” Lorraine vanished and returned with a foamy pitcher of brew. She said, “I’ll be right back with glasses and to take your order. The fish and rice is nice.”

  Claire said, “Have you all seen Yuki’s Facebook page? Pictures of that aurora borealis? It’s like something you’d see on the Discovery Channel.”

  “I haven’t checked her page,” I said, “due to a belly bomb mission of the epic fail kind. What a day this has been.”

  The beer glasses arrived. We all ordered the Friday-night fish-and-rice special with ripe plantains and extra-hot sauce. Cindy booted up her tablet and we perused Yuki’s honeymoon pictures—and yeah, without my knowing it was happening, my mood lifted.

  We cracked some off-color jokes about just-married sex rocking the boat and we toasted my boss and Yuki, our good friends who’d fallen in love. After we ordered a second pitcher of beer to cool down the hot sauce, I talked about the belly bomber and wondered out loud what the creepy killer extortionist was really after.

  I said, “The ransom is so puny relative to Chuck’s Prime’s bottom line. And the logic is weird. ‘Please stop me before I bomb again.’ Well, he got the ransom.”

  Claire aimed a forefinger at her temple and rotated it in the universal hand signal for cuckoo.<
br />
  She said, “This bomber. He doesn’t want to be stopped. He keeps telling you. He likes to blow people up.”

  Claire signs in a couple thousand dead bodies a year to her fine establishment, and after we’d exhausted my story of a stakeout that got us exactly nowhere, the good Dr. Washburn told us a few gruesome tales from the crypt.

  She laughed as I covered my ears and said, “La-la-la.”

  “Here’s to dying peacefully in our sleep,” Claire said, hoisting her glass. “After putting down a big bowl of ice cream.”

  “Cheers to a nice cerebral hemorrhage—in our nineties,” I concurred.

  Cindy clinked her glass against ours, “And here’s to finding Mackie Morales and piling stones on her chest until she stops breathing.”

  “What?” said Claire. “Mackie Morales? What did you say?”

  “Lindsay didn’t tell you?” Cindy said, looking genuinely surprised.

  “Both of you better start talking. I want to know what’s going on behind my back,” said Claire.

  “That would be your cue,” I said to Cindy.

  CHAPTER 46

  CINDY SAID, “AW, Lindsay, you don’t mean that you want me to talk about this.”

  “Absolutely,” I said and then sat back and watched her try to figure out what to say to Claire that didn’t make her sound like a lunatic.

  “What is this about Mackie Morales?” Claire asked. “No, really, what is this? How come you’re not talking, Cindy?”

  “Because Lindsay is having fun with me.”

  Claire laughed. “Seriously? Well, I like to have fun, too.”

  She said, “Fine, Claire. This is the whole truth. Lindsay told me that Morales had been seen coming out of a post office in this small town called Two Rivers, Wisconsin.”

  “What? Mackie resurfaced, Lindsay?” Claire asked.

  “That’s what I was told.”

  “Lindsay didn’t tell me why or how,” said Cindy, mounting her defense. “But she told me where. That was all. And I took it from there.”

 
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