Unlucky 13, page 11part #13 of Women's Murder Club Series
“And you did what?” Claire asked.
“I went to Wisconsin to find her.”
Cindy looked down at the table and drummed her fingers.
Claire laughed at Cindy’s expression, then started to pour herself more beer.
I put my hand on the top of her glass and said, “Who’s driving you home?”
Claire twisted her head around and shouted, “Lorraine? Coffee, please. All around.”
Lorraine came over with three mugs of coffee on a tray and said, “There’s been a complaint, Dr. Washburn. Laughing too loud at this table. But keep it up. I like it.”
We all laughed at this one, and I found that I was getting over myself. Cindy, too, was passionate about her work, and she was winning at it.
“I want pie,” Cindy called out before Lorraine had gone too far. “Anyone else?”
Lorraine returned to the table. “I’ve got coconut cream and key lime.”
“One of each,” Cindy said.
Claire stirred her coffee and said, “Okay. So did you find Morales?”
Cindy said, “Not me. Not the SFPD. And not the FBI either, but I’m still working on it.”
Cindy went on to tell Claire what she told me, that she had found out that Randy Fish’s father had lived in Wisconsin, that she had located the house and made friends with the local gendarme, and that they had found out the house was wired to explode three ways, and that Mackie had, in fact, been inside the house not long before.
“Are you shitting me?” said Claire. “Whoa, Cindy. That’s hard-core.”
Cindy was totally warmed up. She talked about the two DBs at a Citibank in Chicago, victims of a thin, dark-haired female shooter who might be Morales. And then there was the fresh corpse found in a drainage ditch off Route 80 outside Laramie, Wyoming.
“The victim was a dark-haired college girl,” Cindy said with meaning.
“Randy liked dark-haired college girls,” I said.
“I remember,” Claire said thoughtfully. “What was the cause of death?”
Cindy said, “Gunshot to the temple. And her fingers were amputated postmortem.”
“I get you. You think that was some kind of Mackie tribute to the Fish Man.”
Cindy said, “Yeah, I do. But I’ve got no proof.”
She delicately folded a forkful of pie into her mouth and managed to keep talking without looking gross doing it.
“The college girl was Randy’s type. Hell, Mackie is Randy’s type. There were no prints or shells or witnesses, but I’m getting a sense she’s on a spree and she’s heading this way.”
“And so what are you going to do about that?” Claire asked. Now, like me, Claire was alarmed.
“I just want to write a great, great story,” Cindy said. “There’s nobody better to do it than me. You guys should stop thinking of me as a kid. Really.”
“No one thinks of you that way,” Claire said.
“No one,” I said.
“Right,” said Cindy. “Look.”
She put her pearly-pink quilted handbag on the table and opened it so we could see inside.
I saw a snub-nosed .38 between her makeup kit and a packet of gum.
“Shut up,” said Claire.
“Are you kidding me?” I said.
“No joke, girls. I can ride ’em, I can rope ’em, and I can shoot, too. Richie taught me. And I have a carry license to prove it.”
Claire and I blinked at Cindy as she finished the last of her pie and scraped the plate with her fork.
I knew I was supposed to stay home tonight. My girlish merry mood was gone. And guess what?
I was scared to death for Cindy.
MACKIE MORALES HAD been driving for more than seventeen hours, crawling at sixty, making pit stops in rundown gas stations off the highways, paying cash, avoiding toll booths, and keeping to service roads—whatever she had to do so that the stolen car wouldn’t be tagged on camera or noticed by a state trooper.
So far, so good.
Randy was humming an uplifting tune inside her head.
He was feeling good, proud of her and looking forward to seeing Ben. That little booger.
She felt that way, too. She couldn’t wait to scoop Ben up in her arms and hug him and kiss his adorable baby face. And after she’d loved up her baby, she wanted a toilet seat that she could actually sit on and a hot shower and clean towels. She wanted her mother to make her a big fattening meal. Anything Mom cooked would be the best thing she’d eaten in her life, and then a long, deep sleep in a big clean bed. Oh, wow. Just think of that.
It wouldn’t be safe to stay more than a day, but if she slept and kept indoors, a twenty-four-hour layover should be okay.
After that, she had work to do and plans to execute.
“You’ll have my back while I sleep, right, lover?” she said to Randy.
Right, Princess. Best Girl. Goddess of my heart.
Mackie laughed and then became more focused as she homed in on her mother’s house.
It was after 11:00 p.m. when Morales entered the Anza Vista area, northeast of Golden Gate Park. The night air was clear, and the moon was really turning on the wattage, making it look like blue daylight.
Her mother’s neighborhood was treeless, block upon block of what could be called modernist row homes. The houses were all different but close enough in appearance that they gave the development a bland sameness and uniformity.
Now she was driving up a deserted Anza Vista Avenue, which divided the double row of pale facades with their parking garages on street level and stairs going up to the front door.
Her mom’s house was just ahead, and like the rest of them, it was tan-colored with two gable-like rooftops over square alcoves, a two-car garage on the lower level, and an ornate iron gate locking the stairway to the front door.
Mackie’s eyes started to tear up. Minutes from now, she’d be in her mother’s warm hug—but Randy was disturbed.
Something’s wrong, he said.
She saw a blue sedan, Japanese, parked several houses down, with a good view of her mom’s front door. What was wrong was that the sedan was parked on the street between two of the homes and yet the driveways of those homes were empty.
Why if you had a driveway and a garage would you park a car on the street?
Maybe it belonged to a guest. Maybe, maybe…or maybe a plainclothes cop was watching her mother’s house.
Mackie drove slowly toward the blue car, and just before she passed it, her headlights hit the windshield. A woman was behind the wheel. She was white and blond, and Mackie had seen her before. She worked very hard at not pressing the gas pedal to the floor. Instead, Mackie drove down the avenue at the same cautious speed, took a turn at the end of the next block, and headed out of the development in the direction of the bridge.
She knew the face of the driver. It belonged to Cindy Thomas, Richie’s ex-girl and Lindsay Boxer’s friend.
Mackie’s face flushed. She could feel her heartbeat pounding all the way out to the ends of her fingers. Randy was dead because of Lindsay Boxer. Everything that had gone wrong was because of her.
It all began and ended with Lindsay.
RED SKY IN THE MORNING
FIRST THING MONDAY morning, and at DA Len Parisi’s request, Conklin and I jogged down to the third floor to his offices to meet the new ADA, who would be representing People versus Holly Restrepo, scheduled for arraignment at ten.
The new ADA was Travis Cummings, in his first year out of law school and about to try his first case. His cuffed pants were too short, his eyeglass frames were bent, and his cuticles were torn, but to his credit he was smart and he worked fast and well.
Conklin and I took turns briefing the young attorney. We told him that we’d been the first officers on the scene and that we’d found Holly holding a smoking double-barreled shotgun and he
We told him that Ms. Restrepo told us that she did not remember the circumstances of the shooting, but gunpowder residue had been detected on her hands. And we reported that her little boy had said that she had threatened her husband, his father, and he was sure that she had killed him.
We went over all of this in detail until Cummings felt comfortable, and a half hour later, Conklin and I went with him to the small blond-wood-paneled courtroom on the third floor, where my partner and I took seats in the back row.
Holly’s case was called first and she pled not guilty, of course.
Her court-appointed attorney argued that Holly had two small children whose father was severely injured and might never recover, and so they needed their mother now more than ever before. Furthermore, said Holly’s attorney, she was not a flight risk because of said children and the fact that she had no available funds.
Cummings stepped up and argued that Restrepo’s children had told Child Protective Services that their mother had killed their father, and he made a strong request for remand, which the judge granted.
Bail was refused and a trial date was set.
The judge told Holly that her kids, Leon and Christine Restrepo, ages eight and four, were to remain in the custody of CPS pending foster care, which, no kidding given the option of being returned to their mother, was the best thing for them.
In my opinion he was absolutely right.
Holly screamed and cried that she was the victim here, and Conklin and I slipped out the door. Despite the importance of arraignments, the reality is that in most cases, even murder cases, arraignments take about five minutes.
We took the one flight of stairs to our squad room on the fourth floor, and as we headed for our desks, Conklin said he hadn’t eaten anything for breakfast and wanted to run out for a midmorning snack.
“Go ahead,” I said. “I need to check my mail.”
I was waiting for a call back from Donna Timko, Chuck’s Prime’s product-development manager, who had seemed willing, even eager, to help us sort through names of personnel who might be the belly bomb extortionist.
I asked Conklin to hang on because there was, in fact, an e-mail from Timko in my in-box, a brief message sent from her iPhone.
“I’m back from my business trip. Could we meet at ten-thirty this morning in my office? I can give you a half hour.”
I wrote back that that Conklin and I would see her then. As I relayed this to Conklin, I noticed an e-mail at the very bottom of my inbox. It was from Yuki, and it had come in many hours ago, at two a.m. this morning.
The subject heading read “Help.”
She had to be kidding. What is it, Yuki? Too much love and sex? An overabundance of four-star food and five-star views of nature’s wonders?
Conklin muttered, “You need something while I’m out, Boxer?”
I said, “Okay. Surprise me,” and I clicked on Yuki’s e-mail.
There was no text, but I watched the attached ten-second video. And I could not believe what I was seeing with my own eyes.
Rich was heading out the squad room door, but I yelled out, “Rich. Look at this. Come over here and look at this.”
CONKLIN WASN’T MOVING fast enough for me, so I screamed at him again, even louder.
“Come here, quick! Look at this video from Yuki.”
I had seen the ten-second video Yuki had attached to her blank e-mail, but all I could comprehend for sure was that something unthinkable was happening on the FinStar.
“Run it again,” Richie said reasonably. “And bring up the sound.”
I replayed the too-short video. The phone Yuki had used as a camera whipped around and from side to side as her clip opened with an unfocused view of a bright orange lounge inside the ship. I saw streaks of tables, a sofa, and what might have been a piano. And I saw blurred groups of people in defensive postures.
Yuki’s voice was recognizable, even though she spoke in a whisper that crackled like crumpling cellophane.
“Lindsay. Our ship was attacked. We were hit with explosives. The engine room is dead. Men with assault weapons boarded us. Pirates or terrorists. I can’t talk long—some passengers were shot—”
Shit, shit, shit.
The camera angle shifted, and I saw blurry images of people crying into their hands, an elderly couple standing next to Yuki clutching one another in an embrace, their faces contorted in horror. A terrifying blend of shouts and muffled cries nearly overwhelmed Yuki’s words.
She said, “We’re in a lounge. Just women and elderly. The men are somewhere else. I don’t know where Brady is—”
Yuki’s voice broke up. I strained to hear her when she said, “We don’t know what they want or what they’re going to—”
A man in camo fatigues, assault weapon in hand, with a knitted black ski mask covering his face, filled the screen and was coming closer. Two seconds of that, then half the picture went dark. There was another flash of orange carpet and then the video was over.
I was screaming inside.
I replayed the video, hoping to extend the ten seconds, to see something beyond this one heartrending window of time. But of course, the wildly whipping video repeated the frightening scene before going black.
Rich, his eyes fixed on the screen, kept saying, “Holy crap.”
I said to him, “This has to be a hijacking. But in Alaska? There can’t be terrorists there, right, Rich? It’s not the Gulf of Aden, for God’s sake. Where’s the Navy?”
Richie left my side and went to his computer and typed.
“Oh, man,” he said.
“What did you find?”
“This: ‘Rogue pirates attack the cruise ship HM FinStar.’ And this. ‘The HM FinStar, flagship of the Finlandia Line, filled to capacity with approximately six hundred and fifty passengers and two hundred crew, was attacked by an unknown group of commandos as it prepared to enter Alaska’s Inside Passage at Dixon Entrance near Prince Rupert.’”
“Send me the link,” I barked.
He did it.
I reached for my keyboard, backhanding the coffee that Rich had left on my desk this morning and sending it spilling in every direction. I didn’t even try to contain it.
Richie brought over a wad of paper towels as I read the latest breaking news.
Summarizing: Eight hours ago rocket-propelled grenades had slammed into the FinStar’s hull above the waterline, possibly hitting the engine room. An unknown number of gunmen boarded the ship in the small hours of the morning. The group was unidentified. The ship was damaged but afloat. There was no information about casualties. No official word of any demands made by the presumed pirates.
When Yuki had sent the video, she was well. Was she still safe? Was Brady?
I played the video again, looking for any new detail.
I felt that I was looking through Yuki’s eyes.
Where was Brady?
I WAS STARING at the last frames of Yuki’s video when my desk phone rang. It was Joe.
I said, “Honey, turn on the TV—”
“I just saw,” said Joe. “That’s Yuki’s ship, right?”
“Can you find out what’s happening?”
“I’ll try,” Joe said.
I heard Julie whimpering in the background, the voice of Maria Teresa, her funny nanny, talking as the baby bawled.
“Call you back,” said Joe.
When Joe was with Homeland Security, one of his areas of responsibility was port security. If anyone was connected, it was my husband.
I found a day-old jelly doughnut in the break room, took one bite, and delivered the rest of it to Conklin. Then I maniacally hit news links while across the desk Conklin took calls from frantic cops, asking if we’d gotten any word from Brady.
When Joe called back, I grabbed my cell, fumbled it, and recovered it just before it hit the floor.
“Talk to me,” I said tersely into the p
Joe said, “The first mate got out a distress call to the Coast Guard just before the radio room was breached. A man, self-identified as Jackhammer, warned that if anyone approached the ship, people would be shot. The crew is detained in the hold. Passengers have been rousted out of their cabins and corralled under guard to various lounges. There’s a Coast Guard vessel in contact with this Jackhammer. I guess some kind of negotiation is in progress.”
“No. That’s the good news. A passenger got out a phone call saying two passengers were dead, but they weren’t named. I’ll keep checking.”
I called Jacobi to tell him what I knew.
He said, “Brady will take care of Yuki. If you were a hostage, Boxer, who would you pick to break you out? Brady, right?”
That was true. But where was Brady?
I forwarded Yuki’s video to Jacobi, then sent it to Cindy and Claire, both of whom had e-mailed me after they’d caught bulletins about the FinStar on the news.
Cindy had uncut video, just in, of helicopters in the air above the beleaguered ship. It was a haunting fifteen seconds, during which time sections of the ship went dark until the entire ship had been blacked out. Then shots were fired into the air. A lot of shots. Long bursts of them. These hostage takers, whoever they were, had no shortage of ammunition.
I organized a conference call, and Cindy, Claire, and I gibbered anxiously, helplessly. We sounded panicky because we were in a three-alarm panic. We were all accustomed to making things happen, getting things done—but this time we had no moves, no action plan, nothing.
My skull felt as hollow as a drum, empty except for the bad thoughts ricocheting around inside. How could this be happening off the coast of Alaska? Where was Brady? Was Yuki okay? Was she still alive? Was Brady?
When I looked up, Conklin was watching me with a steady brown-eyed gaze.
He said, “Can we do anything to help them?”
“You know that we can’t do one damned thing.”