Unlucky 13, p.16

Unlucky 13, page 16

 part  #13 of  Women's Murder Club Series

 

Unlucky 13
 


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  “I don’t know who he is, but this is a pretty good representation of what your man looks like.”

  I asked Kellner to get up and let me sit close to the monitor, which he did. I stared into the eyes of the composite image, and I swore that face looked familiar to me.

  Was that because I recognized him from watching the facial recognition process? Or did I recognize the actual guy?

  I knew my brain was fried from viewing too many miles of gray-and-white surveillance footage, but still, pieces and parts of the man’s face matched a man I’d seen but didn’t know. Then I pictured him in action.

  I recalled a barely registered image of a guy like this one stepping down from a Chuck’s refrigerated transport van. He’d been wearing a dark leather jacket and a dark scarf around his neck. No, not a scarf. It was a gray hoodie. He had opened the cargo doors, his back to the camera, then, head lowered, he’d carried a stack of white cartons to the back door at Chuck’s Hayes Valley location.

  My mind saw it now, more vividly than when I’d watched the unending surveillance footage.

  The skinny guy had delivered food to Chuck’s.

  Then, having handed off a half dozen white cartons to the kitchen, he’d pulled up his hood and gone into the restaurant. I was staring at his composite image right now.

  But even if my sketchy memory was dead-on, this might mean only that the delivery truck driver liked to buy lunch after he made a delivery.

  But why hide his face?

  If he was a deadbeat dad, or if there was a warrant out for him, and he wasn’t the stupidest person on earth, he might have fooled around with his facial hair to avoid detection by the security cameras.

  Or else this guy, who had the means and the opportunity to deliver preformed frozen hamburger patties to Chuck’s restaurants, was no dead-beat dad.

  He was Mr. Ka-boom.

  “He works for Chuck’s,” I said to Conklin. “I’m sure of it. Richie? I think we have a suspect.”

  CHAPTER 73

  BO KELLNER FORWARDED the composite image of our suspected belly bomber to my phone. I thanked him, said, “Great job, Bo,” and handed my car keys to Conklin.

  Once Conklin and I were inside the elevator, I checked the time again and saw that, as if I didn’t already know it, we were edging up on the bomber’s deadline. We had about twelve hours to name, locate, and arrest the man I’d tentatively identified as Mr. Ka-boom. The sun was down and offices were closed. Catching this guy without a name was a lot to hope for.

  We piled into my Explorer and burned rubber in the forensic lab’s lot, then headed out to Emeryville at high speed.

  I texted and then called Michael Jansing’s cell.

  The phone rang three times and then rolled my call over to Jansing’s voice mail. So I called him at home.

  This time a woman answered and identified herself as Emily Jansing. When I said I had to speak with her husband, she complained that he was at dinner and said that he’d call me later.

  “Mrs. Jansing. I’ll come to your front door and kick it in if you don’t put your husband on the phone. Now!”

  I guess she knew I meant that.

  The phone clattered onto a hard surface. I heard raised voices in the background, then footsteps on hardwood floors, and finally Jansing came on the line.

  “We have a suspect,” I said. “I’m sending a photo to your phone.”

  “You think I know him?”

  “Let’s hope and pray to God that you do,” I said.

  I sent the image of a possible Chuck’s delivery man as Conklin took a hard right onto the US 101 North on-ramp. I could see the bridge up ahead, but we were still twenty minutes away from Chuck’s Prime’s headquarters.

  Jansing said, “I don’t know him. He doesn’t look familiar to me at all.”

  “He may be one of your truckers. Does that help?”

  “I don’t know our truckers,” said Chuck’s CEO. “None of them.”

  Traffic slowed as we approached the Powell Street exit, and after an interminable sixty seconds of stop-and-go along Hollis, Richie said, “Hang on.”

  He flipped on the lights and the siren, and while that didn’t exactly blow vehicles out of the road, the noise meant that I had to shout to communicate with Jansing. “We have to get into your personnel records.”

  A volley of yelling back and forth concluded with Jansing’s offer to have his assistant, Caroline Henley, let us into the office so that we could examine the company’s personnel files. “Caroline lives two blocks from the office,” said Jansing.

  Which was a relief.

  At half past six and there was no fast way to get a warrant.

  By the time Conklin pulled my screaming, flashing car up to Chuck’s cream-colored corporate headquarters, my heart was pounding hard against my rib cage—like it was trying to crash out of jail.

  Was I right that the skinny delivery man was the belly bomber?

  If so, could we stop him before he bombed again?

  Conklin set the brakes and asked, “You okay?”

  “There’s Caroline,” I said, pointing to a brown-haired woman wearing tight jeans and a short tan coat, who was lowering her head against the wind as she came toward us.

  We got out of the car and exchanged greetings, then climbed the steps to the Emery Tech Building’s front door. Henley swiped her access card in the reader, and the locks thunked open. Once we were inside the lobby, I showed her the composite of our one lone suspect.

  “Do you know him?” I asked her.

  She took my phone in hand and said, “Yeah. I think that’s Walt.”

  My hopped-up adrenal glands squirted a little more juice into my bloodstream. Jansing’s assistant knew the guy.

  “What’s Walt’s last name?” Conklin asked as the elevator doors slid open.

  “Bremmer. Or something like that,” Caroline said. “I only met him once, but I think he’s a very popular guy in our delivery fleet. He’s not in any trouble, is he?”

  “How fast can you get into the files?” I asked her.

  CHAPTER 74

  IN HER OWN humble opinion, Cindy was a good driver. She kept to the speed limit, slowed at yellow lights, and let moms pushing baby strollers cross the street in their own good time.

  So it was against her own rules of the road that Cindy sped up Lake Street at sixty-five, cutting in front of slower cars as she shot through the residential neighborhood.

  If only she could be sure that the taillights up ahead belonged to the green Subaru. She pulled out of line to pass the vehicle in front of her, but she was forced to return to her own lane as an oncoming van leaned furiously on the horn.

  It was frightening and embarrassing, and Cindy hunched reflexively, worried that if Mackie was up ahead and looked into her rearview mirror, she might once again make Cindy.

  Still, Cindy pressed on.

  At the moment, she was riding the tailgate of a Ford Escape, flying past the fenced-in, well-cropped lawns of St. Anne’s Home of the Poor. The Subaru was two cars ahead of the Escape, and although Cindy couldn’t identify the driver as Mackie Morales, she thought that the back of the driver’s head definitely looked to be that of a young adult female with short dark hair.

  The driver turned her head to check her mirror, and Cindy saw her face.

  That was her. That was Mackie Morales. For sure.

  Cindy reached for her phone in the seat beside her and hit number three on her speed dial.

  Lindsay’s voice came through the earpiece: “You have reached Sergeant Lindsay Boxer. Leave your name and time that you called—”

  Damn it.

  Cindy needed both hands on the wheel. She clicked off without leaving a message and tossed her phone back onto the passenger seat. Up ahead, Lake Street terminated at a T intersection. Cindy saw the Subaru take the left onto Arguello Boulevard toward the Presidio, and she followed the Outback into the turn too fast. Centrifugal force sent her handbag and cell phone off the passenger seat and
onto the floor.

  Cindy kept going, past the gate to Presidio Terrace and onward toward the Presidio, a former army post for more than two hundred years and now a National Park.

  Where was Morales going?

  It didn’t really matter. All Cindy had to do was follow her to her destination, then park inconspicuously, and call Lindsay, text Lindsay to death, wait for Lindsay.

  As Cindy passed Inspiration Point on her right, she saw the Subaru gather speed around the next curve. Traffic had thinned so that now there was very little cover on the two-lane road between her Honda and Morales.

  Whatcha going to do now, Cindy?

  Cindy eased up on the gas. That was really her only option. She let a gray Lexus pass her and then a line of three motorcycles, and now the road split at a fork; it continued as Arguello on the right and was Washington Boulevard on the left. And there, up ahead, was a stop sign and there was no running it. This was a damned three-way stop. Cindy swore as she braked, and traffic filled in from Washington, crossing in front of her, blocking her view. And when she could move forward again, she didn’t see the Subaru anymore.

  Had Morales stayed on Arguello, the main route to the lower part of the Presidio? Or had she taken the left onto Washington? Cindy stayed on Arguello, but a short distance later, as she passed Infantry Terrace, she knew that she had lost Morales and maybe given herself away.

  She drove on at a steady fifty, her eyes going everywhere looking for a station wagon that would no longer look green in the dark.

  She wanted to call Richie. She wanted to hear him say, “What is it, Cin? What’s wrong? Okay, I’ll put in a BOLO for that Outback. We’ll find her. You sit tight.”

  It was a compulsion the size of a long-haul truck, but her phone was somewhere on the floor and there was no place to stop. Cindy was actually glad she could wait out the urge to call Richie.

  Just then, somewhere near the gas pedal, her cell phone started to ring. Cindy had a horrible feeling it was Mackie Morales calling to tell her that she was an asshole and a loser.

  She wished she could take that call. She wanted to tell her, “Grow up, Mackie. Meet with me. I want to talk with you and I’m not giving up. Not now. Not ever.”

  CHAPTER 75

  CINDY BACKTRACKED ON Arguello, still looking for Morales, knowing that for tonight at least, there was no fucking way.

  She slowed as she neared Infantry Terrace. She turned into the entrance between tall stone gates, backed around so that she was facing traffic, and braked her car.

  Her hands were shaking, but don’t tell that to her boss.

  Shit. She hadn’t eaten anything in eleven hours.

  Cindy shut off the engine and the headlights. She felt around on the floor, picked up her handbag and located her phone under the seat. She checked her missed calls and was relieved that her last call hadn’t been from Morales.

  Seriously, she wanted to talk to that bitch, but she wanted to talk to her from a position of strength. And she wasn’t there yet.

  Her last caller had been Lindsay, returning her calls.

  “Sorry, Cindy. I couldn’t call until now. Call me back.”

  Cindy stabbed redial and listened to the ringtone.

  Lindsay’s voice came through her earpiece and Cindy said, “Linds—” before realizing that once again she’d gotten Lindsay’s voice mail.

  She pounded the wheel with her palm, and at the beep, she said, “Linds. This is urgent. Mackie is in town. She coasted past your apartment about an hour ago. She could be looking for you. Understand. She could be looking—”

  The beep cut her off.

  She pressed redial, and after Lindsay’s tiresome outgoing message finished, Cindy said, “Linds. She wrote to me, so believe me, I’m not hallucinating. I ID’d her. I followed her and then I lost her somewhere in the Presidio. She’s driving a stolen green Subaru Outback, so watch—”

  She had about one bar left of battery life on her phone and figured she’d better save it. In case Mackie was waiting in front of her apartment house for her. She opened her purse and took out her gun. She considered it. It was one thing to shoot at targets, but could she actually shoot a person?

  She put it back in her bag, picked up her phone again, and hit speed dial number 5.

  The phone rang three times and then Claire’s voice came through: “You’ve reached Dr. Claire Washburn. My office hours are from eight a.m.—”

  Cindy clicked off, dropped her phone into her bag, and started up her car. Totally disgusted, she headed toward her dark and empty home.

  CHAPTER 76

  YUKI FOLDED HERSELF under Brady’s arm, her nightgown cold and wet with sweat in the aftermath of the killing moments ago.

  The woman’s name had been Kara. She had thick red hair and taught special education in Ann Arbor. She was young, in her twenties. Kara’s parents had given her this cruise as a gift. Kara had been standing right next to her only a few days ago when the whales had dazzled and amazed the passengers by swimming so close to the ship.

  That girl. The one who had jumped up and down on her toes, and hugged Yuki squealing, “This is one of the best things, isn’t it?” She had been sitting in the thick of the crowd when she was plucked like a kitten by the scruff her robe and dragged through the scattering passengers across the width of the Pool Deck to the rail.

  Yuki heard her plead, “No, no, nooooo. Not meee. I didn’t do anything. I was good. Please, don’t. Let me talk.”

  The terrorist said, “Nice knowing ya. Good-bye.”

  And that’s when Yuki had screamed wordlessly, high and long, her voice sharp with terror, cut off by the crack of gunfire.

  Instantly, she dropped flat to the deck, horrified at what she had done. She had been forgotten by those killers, and now she had called attention to herself—and to Brady—and for what? She was beyond stupid. She was crazy, delirious, insane.

  Over by the railing, another pirate joined the first and they picked up Kara by her arms and legs.

  “And a one, and a two, and a three.”

  They swung her overboard and walked away before her body hit the cold water.

  How could they have done this?

  These were Americans.

  Moans and long keening cries seeped from other passengers. Yuki knew they were all thinking, “Am I next?” Praying to God, “Please, not me, not my wife, not us.”

  Why didn’t Finlandia pay? Why didn’t they pay?

  Yuki bit the back of her hand and tried to fight her nausea.

  Only last night she had gone to bed feeling so lucky. She was married to Brady. A good, funny, sexy man she loved so much. They were on their honeymoon, the opening act to their beautiful wide open future.

  And now this sick unrelenting dread and terror.

  Yuki said to Brady, “That scream. I’m sorry—”

  “Shhh, sweetie. You couldn’t help it. Stay right here. I’ll be just there.”

  Brady got onto his stomach and wriggled ten feet over to Lazaroff. They talked quietly for less than a minute, then Brady slid back to her side.

  She wanted to ask what they were discussing, when she heard the clank of combat boots on metal. Jackhammer came down the stairs from the track deck above and stalked to the long side of the pool, directly opposite where Yuki and Brady sat together.

  Yuki was shaking again.

  The sight of the man, the way he walked, his hardy-har attitude, and the random murders were so crazy-making, she felt this close to going bug-fuck. Like the man who’d thrown the chair, she was seized with a need to pick up something, or throw something, or find an insult so humiliating …but she couldn’t think of anything that would achieve anything but her own certain death.

  Brady shifted his position so that Yuki was hidden behind him. She heard him say, “Okay, honey, shhhhh.”

  She’d been whispering. Or maybe whimpering.

  Jackhammer struck a pose, legs apart, hands on his hips, mocking them all.

  He said, “I
have good news.”

  CHAPTER 77

  YUKI SHIVERED BEHIND her husband’s broad back, remembering other times when Jackhammer had said he had good news.

  About an hour ago he had said, “Good news, everyone. The execution is over and we have sent proof of death to your hosts back in Finland. You can all relax for a little while. Uh, for fifty-nine minutes to be exact. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see the northern lights.”

  What news would Jackhammer deliver now?

  Buffet dinner in the Luna Grill? Aerobics on the sports deck?

  Yuki reached around her husband and gripped his chest.

  He patted her hand and said beneath the sound of the water lapping the hull, “We’re going to be okay. I mean it.”

  Brady would protect them if he could, but what chance would he have? Jackhammer’s crew had already shot six people she knew about, and maybe dozens of crew had been gunned down when he and his gang had first boarded the ship.

  If he didn’t get his money, he might have himself a real party and shoot every passenger on board. A bloodbath. A massacre.

  Jackhammer spoke from the across the pool. “Guess what, everyone? We got an e-mail from your cruise line. They say they’re going to be transferring money soon. Won’t that be great? We’re standing by for our bank’s confirmation of the wire transfer from Finlandia. Okay? Didn’t I tell you I had good news?”

  There was a sprinkling of applause from the captives who were bunched, crouched, sick with fear.

  Jackhammer said, “Hey. Let’s hear it for money coming, all right?”

  The faint applause increased. Whatever it took to mollify the monster.

  Jackhammer said in his most mocking ringmaster voice, “And now, let’s have some music.”

  CHAPTER 78

  AFTER THE HIGH-PITCHED feedback squeal from the sound system just about uncorked the top of Brady’s head, salsa music jumped out of the speakers on the Pool Deck bar. The dance-y Latin music was incongruous, crazy, and from Brady’s perspective a good thing.

 
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