Unlucky 13, p.20

Unlucky 13, page 20

 part  #13 of  Women's Murder Club Series


Unlucky 13

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  Becky’s screams were lost in the commotion on the deck, but even in the gray dawn, Yuki saw that the passengers were fighting back with guns, knives, and glass shards—whatever they could throw, swing, or stab with.

  Yuki looked for something she could use to arm herself. There was a bottle of champagne deep in the back of the bar and she grabbed it by the neck. She found a paring knife in a drawer, and slipped it into her pocket.

  She looked for Brady. He’d been right there! Suddenly, a hand in her hair pulled her from behind the bar. She kicked out, dropped the bottle, and punched air, and then she was dragged to her feet.

  It was Brady who yelled, “Put her down!”

  The voice belonging to the man who held her asked, “Is this your wife?”

  Yuki recognized the voice: It was Jackhammer’s.

  The realization rose in her from her feet to her throat, as if her body had filled with frigid water. She wasn’t going to be saved. This was her last moment on earth. She looked at the pink line of sun rising over the railing. She thought of her dead mother, Keiko, holding out her arms to her.

  She looked at Brady for the last time.

  She focused on her husband’s eyes and heard Jackhammer say into her ears, “Here’s my little volunteer. Just in time.”


  CAPTAIN GEORGE BERLINGHOFF ran out onto the deck from the Luna Grill at the bow, four of his officers behind him, men who’d never been in battle, men with wives and children and aspirations.

  Maybe they thought of the ones they loved as they stared out at the chaos and the bloodshed, the downed passengers crawling, trailing blood, the nearly dead and the clearly dead, innocent people in pajamas, many of them fighting back with fists and bottles and whatever they could find.

  As the captain of a tourist ship, he was going by Brady’s plan and a lot of old war movies he’d seen from his couch. He waded into a battlefield, armed with one of the dead commandos’ assault rifles.

  He did what Brady had said to do.

  He assessed the situation and he looked for opportunities. And then he saw Brady, frozen in place right at the foot of the stairs.

  Incongruous music from the speakers in the bar wafted across the deck.

  As Berlinghoff tried to put the scene together, he saw that Brady was advancing on the overturned bar. Actually, he was coming toward one of the terrorists, who was holding a woman in front of him, using her as a shield.

  He heard the gunman shout at Brady, “Is this your wife?”

  Berlinghoff slung the AK and pulled his handgun from his belt—the old revolver with one round in the chamber.

  Jackhammer was occupied with Brady and didn’t see or hear Berlinghoff come up from behind. Berlinghoff looked over the gun sight to the back of the commando’s neck. He was too close to miss.

  He had his finger on the trigger—when suddenly shots rang out and his gun spun from his hand. Blood spurted from his wrist, and he shouted, “Damn!”

  He gripped his wrist but blood pumped out between his fingers. More bullets punched into him.

  Mother of God. He was hit.


  BULLETS CHATTERED ACROSS the Pool Deck. Pop music blasted out of the bar speakers. But despite the terrifying and discordant sights and sounds, Brady’s focus was on Yuki in Jackhammer’s headlock, staring at him as though she was already a ghost.

  Jackhammer had pulled Yuki tight to his body and he leaned over her shoulder. Brady thought he was talking to her.

  Like he was telling her that she was going to die.

  Brady saw that his only way to save Yuki was to shoot her himself. He would aim for her shoulder or her hip and hope that she would drop and Jackhammer would lose his grip on her.

  Could he fucking shoot straight?

  Please, God, help me.

  As he was taking aim at Yuki’s shoulder, Brady saw George Berlinghoff come up behind Jackhammer, unseen. He was holding his one-shot revolver pointed at the pirate’s neck.

  Brady saw what would happen. Berlinghoff would kill Jackhammer. He could not miss. And then Brady would come in quickly and swoop Yuki up before Jackhammer hit the ground.

  But, it didn’t happen.

  In the split second before Berlinghoff pulled the trigger, there were shots from Berlinghoff’s right-hand side and the revolver spun out of his hand.

  The captain yelled, “Damn!” and Brady saw him grab his wrist. More shots hit him, sending blood spurting across the captain’s white uniform as he fell.

  Jackhammer was distracted by Berlinghoff’s shout. He swung his head to see Berlinghoff’s falling body, and in that instant, Brady yelled at Yuki, “NOW!”

  Yuki seemed to come back to herself. She twisted in Jackhammer’s grip and kicked him in the knee. Then she pulled something from her bathrobe pocket and punched out at Jackhammer’s gut.

  Jackhammer grunted and relaxed his hold enough for Yuki to wrench herself free.

  As she ran to Brady, Jackhammer aimed at them. Brady saw that he was steady enough to stand, and he knew that the bullets would cut both of them down.

  But, no. Jackhammer was switching out his empty magazine.

  Brady shoved Yuki away from him. He dropped to his knee and fired the last rounds in his AK’s magazine at Jackhammer’s legs.

  The terrorist-in-chief dropped his weapon and went down screaming.


  BRADY SCRAMBLED TO his feet, tossed Jackhammer’s weapon away from him, and then bent close to the man’s face.

  He said, “I’d happily kill you, you son of a bitch. But you have to answer for all of this.”

  Brady shouted out for help, and passengers brought belts, sashes, and strips of torn clothes. Brady rolled Jackhammer onto his belly, tied his hands and bleeding legs, cinching tourniquets above his wounds.

  Yuki stooped beside him.

  “The shooting stopped,” she said.

  Then she pulled up Brady’s shirt and saw where the blood was coming from.

  “I’m lucky,” he said. “That was close.”

  She touched his right ear, just above where the lobe had been shot away.

  “Oh, Brady,” Yuki said.

  He took his wife in his arms. Bottles were being cracked open. Passengers were drinking, and the stinking sound system was shut down.

  “It’s not over,” Brady said. “Counting Jackhammer, that’s thirteen men down. The other six…they could be retrenching.”

  Brady heard Brett Lazaroff call out from the rail.

  “Brady, Yuki. Come and look at this.”

  His broken ribs were killing him, but Brady leaned on Yuki, and they joined Lazaroff at the port side of the Pool Deck.

  Following the line of Lazaroff’s finger, they saw moving specks coming from the eastern shore of the passage.

  “Whales?” Yuki asked. “Is that a pod of Orcas?”

  “Boats,” said Brady.

  A dozen zodiacs were motoring toward the FinStar, and within minutes they pulled up to the hull. Grappling hooks were fired. Men in ballistic gear began climbing the ropes.

  Lazaroff’s voice cracked when he said, “Those are Navy SEALs, my friends. That’s the United States Navy.”


  IT WAS EVENING, in the thick of rush hour. Joe and I were in his Mercedes, heading out to San Francisco International Airport, as the sky turned a rich cobalt-blue. Two black SUVs with government plates and flashers bracketed us in front and behind, helping to speed our way.

  After a news blackout of two full days, word had exploded over all media channels at once: The surviving passengers of the FinStar were returning home.

  Yuki and Brady, along with about a dozen other San Francisco residents who had been aboard, were arriving by Air Canada at a yet to be disclosed time and I definitely wanted to be there when that plane landed.

  Naturally, traffic didn’t know or care what I wanted, and I swore at the vehicular knots and snarls, tried to drive from the passenger seat, jammin
g on the imaginary gas pedal whenever Joe had to take his foot off the real one.

  I stared ahead at the highway and thought about the last time I saw Yuki, a pale night-blooming flower in her après-wedding dress as Brady twirled his new bride around the dance floor.

  Then another memory pushed the party right out. It was the ten seconds of unfocused autumn colors on my iPhone accompanied by Yuki’s frightened whispered voice—“Lindsay. Our ship was attacked”—before her phone was snatched and the lights went out.

  The car swerved as we took the exit, and Joe said, “Hon. Lock up your gun.”

  I stowed my Glock in the glove box as we turned up the airport access road and swooped to the curb fronting the magnificent winged entrance to the international terminal’s arrival hall.

  Homeland Security agents jumped out of their SUVs, opened our doors, and turned us over to a pair of Air Canada’s security officers. We were taken through the wide-open terminal with its soaring ceilings and oversize spaces, past gangs of press seeking a glimpse of FinStar passengers’ loved ones for a fresh clip or maybe a quote.

  Our security escort led us through metal doors, down a corridor, and into a small elevator, before we finally disembarked in a private buff-colored lounge. There was food and coffee, cushy upholstered furnishings, and dense carpeting. I knew that this lounge was generally used by the grieving families of passengers involved in airline fatalities.

  As we waited, the lounge filled with babies and grannies and moms and pops, all red-eyed from crying, holding on to toys and blankets and handmade signs, and to one another.

  The three TVs were turned to CNN.

  Wolf Blitzer was telling his viewers that some of the terrorists were in detention and others were at the Alaska State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage.

  Next he showed a satellite image of little stars bursting, blooming, and winking out—the big firefight aboard the FinStar. Then Blitzer introduced a live guest, a former admiral who said, “The SEALs couldn’t board until they mapped out where the shooters were. If they’d gone in too soon, there would have been many more casualties. But when the firefight started, they just went in balls to the walls and took the ship back.”

  A tight-faced man who had been sitting with his large weeping family got up and switched off the television sets one after the other.

  “I can’t take any more,” he said.

  No one protested.

  I looked around at the friends and families of FinStar survivors and at the pain on their faces.

  I know my face was radiating the same kind of pain.

  How was Yuki holding up emotionally? Was Brady more badly injured than we knew? Would the two of them want to come home with us? Or would they want to be alone? What did my friends need? What could we do for them?

  I couldn’t know a damned thing until I saw them come through the door.


  IT FELT LIKE ball bearings were rolling around inside my guts. I couldn’t sit still. I ate food that I didn’t want and paced the floor, texting friends and searching the Web for any tidbits that might be leaking out around the edges of legitimate news.

  I was taking a lap around the lounge when I glimpsed the small Air Canada jet with wheels down, rolling toward the gate.

  I shouted the completely obvious “They’re here,” then pressed my hands against the windows as the plane was waved in. Joe joined me, and then everyone in the lounge found a few square inches of glass that they could claim as their own.

  People bounced on their toes, shouting, and thanked God.

  But then nothing happened. Time crawled on its hands and knees one slow second at a time. Cranky babies were shushed. An elderly man in a yellow Windbreaker began repeating, “God damn it. God damn it.”

  By now the passengers must be in the building, right?

  What was the holdup?

  Where were our people?

  Joe put his arm around me as we waited, and then finally a door opened. There were a lot of people between me and the door, but I found a gap in the crowd and focused through that.

  First in, an Air Canada pilot came through to cheers and mad applause. He was pushing a young woman in a wheelchair. People screamed, “Jenny!” and raced toward the chair.

  Other crew came through that narrow doorway pushing wheelchairs, and every time a chair came through, the new arrival was greeted with shouts and tears.

  I was tearing up before I saw Yuki and Brady—and then slowly they came through the doorway, and I saw some of what had been done to them.

  Brady had been wounded more than once.

  His left arm was in a sling, and there was a huge bandage over his left ear. He walked stiffly, and it looked to me like his ribs were taped under his shirt.

  Yuki looked like a child who’d been living on the street. Her jeans and sweatshirt hung from her frame. Her face was thin and pale. I yelled her name.

  She turned toward my voice, and when she saw me, it was as if a light went on behind her eyes.

  She broke away from Brady and I ran toward her, and when I got my arms around her, I hugged her bony little self half to death.

  “How are you? Are you okay? Are you hungry?”

  She said over my shoulder, “I’m never letting Brady plan another vacation as long as we live.”

  Brady was right there and he heard her. Grinning painfully and holding on to his rib cage, he said to Yuki, “I want another chance.”

  Joe was shaking Brady’s hand when a woman in a bright red sweater appeared and grabbed Brady’s right biceps. She said, “You’re in my prayers for life, Mr. Brady. Christmas cards until the end of time. I’ll write to you soon.”

  People flowed around us as Yuki said to me, “He saved us. I mean, Lindsay, he saved us all. I don’t know how many passengers. Many, many. Hundreds.”

  Brady said, “You have no idea what strong stuff my wife is made of. She—”

  Brady stopped, putting his hand over his eyes. His shoulders shook, and that great big man, the hero who fought for the passengers of the FinStar, started to cry.

  Yuki put her arms around him, very gently.

  “Okay,” she said. “It’s okay, dear one.”

  “I’m not crying,” he said. “This is…”

  It hurt to hear his huge wracking sobs, but I understood that he was feeling overwhelming relief. He was alive. Yuki was alive. He was home.

  “Let’s get out of here,” Yuki said.

  “Car’s right outside,” said Joe.


  EVERY COP IN Homicide, all three shifts, as well as Robbery, Vice, and the brass on the fifth floor, was crowding our squad room, spilling out the gate and into the waiting room and halfway down the hall.

  It was an insanely happy crowd and a very tight fit.

  Cappy and Samuels were trying to hang a WELCOME BACK BRADY banner over Brady’s office door. Really. Watching those two extra-large cops balancing on wheelie chairs, ordering each other around—well, it was hilarious.

  I was putting out cookies on Brenda’s desk, telling Conklin about last night.

  “So Yuki says, ‘I want barbecued spare ribs. No, make that I neeeeed barbecued spareribs.’ And Brady says, ‘Pasta with red sauce. Eggplant parmigiana. Osso buco.’”

  Conklin laughed and popped a chocolate-walnut cookie.

  “And Yuki says, ‘Egg rolls. Pork fried rice. Oh, my God. Lobster in black bean sauce. Anything in black bean sauce.’ And Brady tries to hold his broken ribs, and he says, ‘Please darlin’, whatever you want. Just don’t make me laugh.’”

  Conklin and I both fell apart at that and then a shadow fell across my desk.

  It was Jacobi. There was a bad look on his face.

  “There’s been another belly bomb explosion,” he said. “Young guy, just back from Afghanistan. Supposed to get married next week.”

  Conklin said, “Not possible, Chief. Not a belly bomb.”

  “Tell that to the dead soldier with his guts blo
wn out. This time, the victim had his burger ‘to stay.’ There were assorted nonfatal casualties as well.”

  Jacobi took out his phone and showed us the interior of a Chuck’s restaurant after a consumed belly bomb went off.

  “Aw, fuck,” my partner said.

  Jacobi nodded, then said, “Conklin. You and I are going upstairs to question Walt Brenner. Maybe he’ll brag on planting a delayed-action bomb. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

  “I’ll talk to Timko,” I said.

  The women’s jail is around the corner from the Hall on 7th. Timko was incarcerated there, awaiting trial, and I hoped she was getting a good sense of life without an office, a staff, a new Caddy, a house—nothing but a jumpsuit and a lot of time to catalog her mistakes.

  I made a couple of calls as I jogged down the fire stairs and then continued out the lobby onto Bryant. Five minutes later, I ran up the steps to the huge Sheriff’s Department Building. I passed through security with no hassle, found my way to the appropriate reception area, and twiddled my thoughts while Timko was located.

  An hour later, Officer Bubbleen Waters found me.

  She’d gone blond since I’d last seen her, and she’d been working out with weights.

  She said, “Lucky you, Sergeant. Ms. Timko will see you now. What a nasty piece of work.”

  “And her lawyer?”

  “She doesn’t want him, because she didn’t do anything and she’s not going to say anything. And that’s a verbatim quote.”


  “She wants to give you the evil eye, she told me.”

  “Okay. I’m wearing my invisible force field. So.”

  “Oh, wow. Where can I get one of those?”

  “Walmart, where else?”

  Officer Waters laughed, and I followed her into an elevator. I stared up at the blinking numbers as the car rose to the seventh floor.

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