Unlucky 13, p.13

Unlucky 13, page 13

 part  #13 of  Women's Murder Club Series


Unlucky 13

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  There was shrieking, and people shrank from the armed men, but another woman shouted, “You can’t keep us here like this. We are human beings.”

  A gunman raised the muzzle of his gun and fired into the air, sending a shower of glass and plaster down on their heads.

  The screaming that followed was cold, sheer horror transmuted into sound. It had been a building panic with nowhere to go.

  Yuki had taken her phone out of her robe and pushed the button to record. She had narrated her video in a whisper but a gunman had seen what she was doing. As he was coming toward her, Yuki had quickly sent the video to Lindsay.

  The gunman had grabbed her phone, dropped it, and crushed it under his boot.

  “You’re crazy sending pictures,” he had shouted into her face. “And crazy has to pay.”

  He had backhanded her across the face. Yuki staggered back, but due to the sheer density of people surrounding her, she didn’t fall. She’d never in her life been struck in the face. The pain was excruciating, and she’d heard herself moan.

  She wished she could take that moan back.

  She wished she hadn’t shown that she was afraid.

  Another big man appeared in the doorway, at least six feet and maybe two hundred pounds, also wearing fatigues and mask.

  He had shouted, “Everyone shut up! Sorry to be blunt, but everyone just shut the fuck up, okay?”

  A restive quiet came over the lounge as the passengers muffled their fear and waited to hear what was coming.


  YUKI DIDN’T REMEMBER every word but close to it.

  She had a very good memory for the spoken word and was known around the DA’s Office for being able to recall depositions and court testimony verbatim.

  The big man in the mask and fatigues, who had told all of the passengers crammed into the Veranda Lounge to shut up, had stepped up onto a chair.

  “My name is…well, you can call me Jackhammer. And this is your orientation session. In a few minutes you’ll know everything you need to know in order to survive. We are in charge.

  “‘We’ is me and my squad, and I mean we are completely in charge. The ship’s crew can’t help you. They are locked up, in chains, under guard. And their lives depend on—you. More on this later.

  “To continue, the engine room and the communications deck have also been disabled, but if anyone feels like taking a swim, you’re welcome to try. No one will stop jumpers. We are twenty-five miles from land. You will suffer shock the moment you hit the water. It will take about ten to twenty minutes for hypothermia to set in, and even if you make it to shore, which no one can, there’s nothing out there.

  “So, here’s the business end. We’ve made a demand of the Finlandia Line and assured them that we will shoot a passenger every hour until our money has been wired to our bank account in Zurich. We’re caught up now for the first three hours in advance. A few passengers made bad decisions. So.

  “So if Finlandia gets moving, if everyone behaves, you can go back to your vacation and we will get out of your lives. And your cooperation will ensure that the crew will also survive.

  “Now we are moving you upstairs to the Pool Deck. As you go through the door, drop your cell phone into the box provided. Keep cool. That’s my advice. Oh. We are looking for a volunteer. Who is the one who took pictures?” Jackhammer asked.

  “This one,” said the gunman standing so close to Yuki that she could smell his sweat. He grabbed her arm roughly and shoved her forward. She had lost her footing and fallen to Jackhammer’s feet, her robe swinging open and her nightgown hiking up to her hips.

  Yuki had experienced fear before. But this was an order of horror beyond her nightmares. She expected a gun in her face, a bullet to her head.

  Jackhammer glared at her through slits in his mask. “Thank you for volunteering. You are the next to be shot,” he said.

  Yuki struggled to her feet and backed into the crowd. And she turned her back on Jackhammer, closing her eyes as the tears sheeted down her cheeks.

  If nothing else, she was going to stand up for herself as she always had.

  Where was Brady?

  Was he one of the passengers who had made a bad decision?

  Yuki found it hard to even breathe.


  COLD SALT AIR blew the smell of sweat across the several hundred passengers who were packed on the Pool Deck. Yuki shivered as she sat with her back against a bulkhead. She was jammed against that wall, jammed tight.

  Yuki scanned the terror-stricken faces of the passengers, who, like her, had been ripped from their sleep and told that they could be murdered at random at any time, pirate’s choice.

  And although she’d been told she was the next to be shot, two other people had already been dragged to a railing and, while screaming for help and pleading “no, no, no,” shot in the back of the head, and their bodies had been hoisted over the side.

  As far as Yuki could tell, the murdered passengers hadn’t made a break or hit out or started a fight. They’d been sitting on the deck. Whereas she had taken pictures. There was a death penalty for that.

  Possibly she’d been forgotten or her location in the middle of the crowd was inconvenient for Jackhammer’s thugs. If they came for her, could she save herself?

  She took a visual tour of the Pool Deck, mapping the structures, the doors, and staircases.

  At the bow of the boat was the Luna Grill restaurant, with a bandstand outside it, a raised platform for live entertainment outside the pool.

  The middle of the deck was all about the swimming pool, with decking between the edges of the pool and the railings. At the back end of the Pool Deck, the ship’s stern, was the Wave Spa, with a wet bar that had been overturned by the terrorists.

  Metal stairs began at the base of both the Grill and the Spa, and those outside staircases ran up one flight to the Sun Deck and running track above the pool. The track was open above the Pool Deck, and the terrorists were using the track as a spy’s nest, a shooting platform.

  Right now one of the terrorists was standing above her on the metal stairs near the Grill, only ten feet away. He wasn’t tall, but he was muscular and alert and he carried a massive assault rifle with ammo clips on his belt. His mask hid anything that might be human in him. How could she appeal to a man in a mask?

  The male passengers had been moved from wherever they had been sequestered to the part of the deck that was opposite the women, at the far end of the unlit swimming pool. Their backs were to the closed doors of the Water Spa.

  Yuki searched the silhouetted grouping of men. Some men stood, but more squatted or sat on the deck behind a ragged line of gunmen. She counted about six of them.

  A bright flash in the unrelenting dark caught her eye. It was Brady’s hair. She was sure of it.

  He was standing toward the back of the crowd, and she wanted to screw everything and just run to him. But she knew that was irrational. She didn’t even dare to draw his attention. She couldn’t put him in danger. Her tears welled up as she thought about how close he was while so far away.

  Just then, as if she had summoned him with her fear, Jackhammer walked onto the track above the Pool Deck, that long, hollow rectangle, with its gun’s-eye view of the passengers.


  JACKHAMMER CAME DOWN the metal stairs, and when he reached the Pool Deck, he stepped through the shadows and began to cut through the crowd.

  He walked to the long side of the pool and raked the passengers left and right with his eyes. His sickening gaze seemed to stop on her and then, having touched her, move on.

  Jackhammer cleared his throat and said, “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience, everyone. I know this stinks, but, you know, if it were up to me, you would be back to your vacation. Eating good food. Enjoying the good life.

  “But your captain can’t get anywhere with your cruise line. Apparently there is an obstacle, which means more of you will die. If only the cruise line would wire the m
oney we have asked for. Well for now, be happy that unlike the captain and crew you have fresh air, and perhaps by morning some of you will have breakfast. Sound good?”

  Jackhammer turned as one of his men came toward him. They bent their heads toward each other, conferring. Were they talking about her? Yuki saw movement from the stern: a gray-haired man in bright-green pajama bottoms was running in bare feet, holding a deck chair over his head.

  Oh, my God, this passenger had snapped.

  He stretched up and hurled the chair at Jackhammer, who saw the chair coming toward him and stepped aside.

  A woman cried out, “No, Larry, no!”

  Jackhammer had his gun aimed even before the chair crashed to the deck. He fired on the gray-haired man. His wife broke through arms that were holding her in place and ran toward her fallen and dying husband.

  Jackhammer fired again and the woman’s body jerked before she collapsed on her husband’s chest.

  The shots and the killings sent the entire deck into motion. Those people near the bleeding bodies fell back, and then panic sent all of the women to the far side of the pool. People slipped on the blood-slicked deck and fell. The strongest trampled the weak. Pirates slammed gun butts into passengers, who made for the doorways and staircases.

  Gunmen fired in bursts above the heads of passengers, who were screaming like animals being slaughtered.

  It was inside this sheer chaos that Yuki saw her opportunity. Obscuring herself among the hundreds of shifting people, Yuki edged along the length of the deck. By the time the shooting stopped, Yuki had resurfaced beside the man she loved.

  Brady drew her into his arms, cloaking her entirely.

  “I’ve got you, sweetheart,” he said. “I’ve got you.”

  She sobbed into his chest.

  She loved him so much.

  They had to survive this. They just had to.


  I WAS IN the takeout line at MacBain’s, crunching peanut shells underfoot while saying hey to various tipsy Hall of Justice regulars, but my eye was on the muted TV over the bar.

  A report was coming in from an ABC affiliate in Alaska. Valerie Ricco, a reporter wearing a big green down coat, was standing on a remote stretch of coastline, trying to keep her footing as the wind whipped her hair and shook her microphone.

  The captioning read: “This is day two of the hijackers’ takeover of the FinStar, a lavish passenger liner…”

  Behind me were a couple of uniforms, drinking their lunch and talking to each other about Brady and how they heard there had been shootings.

  I dropped my eyes from the TV and turning my body, faced the restaurant. I didn’t want to be recognized or questioned.

  I thought about Brady, a genuine tough guy in the best possible way. Brave. Unflinching. Determined. I’d watched him risk his life to save a child.

  I could see him making a move against the commandos on the ship even though he was outnumbered, unarmed, and literally at sea. That made me worry for him, and I worried for Yuki even more. She was a fighter. She had taken on cases that should have gone against her and gotten juries who were predisposed to the defense to dance in the palm of her hand. She’d taken on hardcore criminal defense attorneys, big, big names, and while she hadn’t always won, she’d made them sweat for their wins.

  But could Yuki’s courtroom skills help her now? Could she talk her way out of a sudden-death hostage situation?

  I don’t pray every day, but I was praying every minute now. Please God, let them get off that ship alive and well.

  I heard my name, spun around, and grabbed my bag of sandwiches off the bar. I paid at the cash register, and when I got outside, I phoned Joe.

  “Anything new?” I asked him.

  “Information coming from the Coast Guard ship is limited, Linds. What I’ve been able to glean is that these bad guys are kind of a hybrid; like pirates, they’re doing this for money, but unlike pirates, they’re not in it for a quick score. They’re looking for a financial killing, and they are trained terrorists.

  “No names of possible suspects or groups have been discussed, but from what I’m seeing, they are former military. Our former military. They’re well aware that no one on the ship is armed, not the passengers and not the crew.”

  “How can they be sure of that?”

  “You can’t bring guns onto a cruise ship. No one. Not passengers. Not crew. Not FBI agents on vacation or cops. No guns, because in a case of piracy, insurance companies would rather pay the ransom than pay lawsuits if guns get into the wrong hands and shooting happens.”

  I was crossing Bryant against the light. I kept the bag of lunch under my left arm, held my phone to my ear, and dodged angry lunchtime traffic.

  “So the insurance company is going to pay, right?” I said. “What’s the holdup?”

  “What’s going on, Linds? I can hardly hear you.”

  I reached the sidewalk and said, “Can you hear me now?”

  “Okay. Here’s the holdup. And it’s not good. FinStar has a piracy exclusion in their policy. Because they don’t run tours into historically dangerous waters, they took out a cheap policy.”

  Running up the steps to the Hall, I shouted at the messenger, my poor husband.

  “What are you saying? The insurance company isn’t liable for the ransom? So what the hell is going to happen? Who’s going to pay up? Where’s the military? What’s the government doing about this?”

  “A Coast Guard vessel is about a mile away, keeping in contact with the head guy, trying to talk them down. Coast Guards have special ops, but nobody wants to go Waco on this ship. Not now. Too many people would die and—”

  I interrupted, grunting my thanks, and said “Sorry for yelling. I love you.” Then, churning with furious thoughts about cheapskate cruise ship lines, I went back to work.


  WHEN I GOT back to our desks, Conklin had assembled an array of surveillance DVDs from the six Chuck’s Prime restaurants in San Francisco. He’d separated the disks into six stacks, one stack for each restaurant. Each stack was six inches high.

  He said, “These were shot with cameras inside and out. There isn’t one complete two-week set, but this is everything that could be retrieved, including one from Hayes Valley starting the day before the Jeep bombs.”

  I said, “The FBI has seen all of these?”


  “And they found nothing?”

  “There are about a hundred million hours here. The Feebs are human. They could’ve missed something,” Conklin said. “We could save the day.”

  “I admire your optimism.”


  He grinned at me. Let’s just say that Ashton Kutcher has nothing on Conklin.

  I grabbed my phone and put in a call to FBI special agent Jay Beskin in his Golden Gate Avenue office.

  He picked right up.

  “Jay, am I right that your folks have finished going through Chuck’s meat-processing plant?”

  “We’ve pulled core samples from about two tons of chopped meat,” he said. “Talk about a needle in a haystack. We’re looking for pellets that can fit inside a cold capsule. Anyway, we’ve examined a lot of prime beef. We scoured the prep kitchens and grilled the workers. No red flags. No flags of any color.”

  “Any suspects—at all?”

  “Seems like only angels work at Chuck’s. I’m wide open to ideas, Sergeant.”

  I updated Beskin on our big bag of zeros. I summarized the stakeout at Barney’s Wine and Liquor, including the hand-lettered threat left in the briefcase. I told him about my day at the product-development plant and the prospective buyout by Space Dogs that might now be off the table. And I said that my partner and I were about to dive into surveillance footage, again.

  Beskin wished me luck, and we exchanged promises to keep each other in the ever-widening, thus-far fruitless loop.

  I hung up and looked across our desks to my partner.

  He said, “Let
s each take a disk, press play, and see if something jumps out at us.”

  I stared at the stacks of surveillance footage, thinking how much I’d love to have a single clean fingerprint or an eye witness or a drop of the bomber’s blood. That was the kind of forensic evidence cops had long relied on to point the way, to apply the screws, and nail a case shut.

  On the other hand, watching a million hours of surveillance tape was probably the perfect antidote to my upcoming nervous breakdown as I thought about Yuki and Brady under the guns of paramilitary terrorists off the cold coast of Alaska.


  “I heard you,” I said to Conklin. “We’re looking for something to jump out at us. Preferably someone wearing a sign reading, ‘I’m the Bomber.’”

  Conklin laughed. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”

  He brought us coffee from the break room and I unwrapped the BLTs. After our trash had been dumped in the round file, we each cued up a CD from our chosen stack.

  My first had been recorded on the day before the original belly bomb explosions.

  We were 100 percent sure that the two students who’d been killed by belly bombs a week ago had eaten “hamburger bombs to go” from the Hayes Valley Chuck’s.

  Somewhere in my stack of disks, there had to be a killer.


  SECURITY SYSTEMS IN fast-food restaurants and parking lots rarely produce footage that’s HD, in focus, and Sundance Film Festival worthy. Chuck’s Prime’s Hayes Valley series was no exception.

  I cued up the first disk, the footage that was shot inside Chuck’s on the day preceding the double belly bombs. The camera was set back and across from the cash register and trained on the cowpoke behind the counter. The camera angle also gave a partial view of the kitchen behind the counter, a sixty-degree-wedge view of the tables, and the front door.

  I watched black-and-white images of people coming into the store for morning coffee, and then I hit fast-forward until I reached the three-hour mark, about the time Chuck’s began to fill for lunch.

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