Unlucky 13, p.3

Unlucky 13, page 3

 part  #13 of  Women's Murder Club Series


Unlucky 13

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  “I’m quoting Claire, who got that from the FBI lab. They found a trace of the compound in the stomach contents. Seems that stomach acid activates the explosion.”

  “Damn,” Conklin said, rocking back in his chair. “Do the Feds have any theories as to who put this stuff into the food?”

  “Not yet. I’m way open to anything you come up with.”

  I pulled up the scene pictures again, this time focusing on the hamburger bag and waxed-paper wrappers among the pile of litter on the floor. The hamburger bag had come from Chuck’s Prime, a chain of fast-food restaurants that had made a name for themselves for hamburgers of superior grass-fed, made-in-America beef.

  I turned my computer so Conklin could see the photo and said, “Look here. I think Trimble and Katz had a couple of Chuckburgers—and sometime not long after that, they blew up.”

  Conklin said, “There’s a Chuck’s in Hayes Valley, about fifteen minutes south of the bridge.”

  We signed out a squad car and Conklin drove. I listened to the car radio with half an ear while Conklin said, “I should tell you, Linds. I eat at Chuck’s twice a week. Maybe more.”

  “I’ve had a Chuck’s bacon burger a few times and have to say, they’re pretty tasty.”

  “Yeah,” Conklin said. “Might be time for a change.”

  Twenty minutes later, we parked at the corner of Hayes and Octavia near the park known as Patricia’s Green and in the heart of the Hayes Valley commercial district, a strip with trendy shops, boutiques, restaurants, and cafés.

  In the middle of the block was a big parking lot, and beside the lot, like a sunny seaside trattoria, was Chuck’s.

  The outside tables were shaded by market umbrellas, and inside, a counter wrapped around two walls, and square wooden tabletops formed neat lines. Few people were eating burgers at this time of morning, but the serving folks were ready for the lunch crowd, smartly dressed as they were in aqua cowboy shirts with pearl buttons and tight white jeans.

  I badged the girl at the cash register and asked to speak to the manager. Mr. Kent Sacco was paged and about thirty seconds later, a pudgy man in his early thirties came from an office at the back and greeted us with a sweaty handshake and a business card.

  We took a table by the front windows and I told Mr. Sacco that the victims on the bridge last week may have eaten their last meal at Chuck’s.

  I said, “We need to see your security tapes.”

  “Sure. Whatever I can do for you.”

  “We need contact information for your kitchen and serving staff.”

  Sacco took us back to his office, where he printed out a list of personnel with copies of their photo IDs. He left us briefly and returned with security DVDs from the four cameras, two positioned inside and two outside the restaurant.

  On the way out, Conklin bought burgers and fixings to go. In the interest of full disclosure, when we got back to our desks, I offered to take one of those sandwiches off Conklin’s hands. I was nearly starving. Still, I scrutinized the meat very thoroughly. Then I closed the sandwich and ate it all up. It was delicious.

  Conklin and I watched videotape for the rest of the day, jumping a little when we found the gritty images of David Katz and Lara Trimble ordering hamburgers, sodas, and fries to take out. A young cowgirl behind the counter took their order and their cash, then handed them the bag of food. The victims took the bag and left with their arms around each other.

  We looked at the footage forward and back, enlarged it, sharpened it, focused on every area in the frame.

  No one but the girl behind the counter had spoken to Trimble and Katz, and there was no altercation of any kind.

  I called Clapper and brought him into the loop. He asked me to forward the employee contact material to him and said he’d call his FBI contact.

  “They’re gonna tear Chuck’s apart,” he said.


  IT WAS THE end of the day. We were nowhere on belly bombs and I was hungry. I was pulling on my jacket when Brady dropped by the double desk I share with Conklin.

  “I just got a call from the FBI,” he said.

  “Belly bomb bulletin?”

  “Just open the mail I sent the two of you.”

  Conklin and I both did that and saw a grainy black-and-white photo of a woman leaving a post office on a rural street. I almost recognized her, but not quite. Conklin, however, looked frozen. He looked shocked.

  Brady said, “That’s our old friend Mackie Morales, in a one-stoplight town in Wisconsin.”

  I got it now. Mackie had clipped her long, curly hair, a standout feature of her natural beauty. Now her dark curls were very short and she was wearing a canvas jacket to midthigh. Mackie was angular and thin. She could dress like a man and get away with it.

  Along with recognition came images and chilling memories of Randy Fish, a savage serial killer who had fixated on me. Fish should be on death row, but instead he was serving out his eight consecutive life sentences in some extra-toasty corner of Hell.

  Fish’s lady love was this woman, Mackenzie, aka Mackie, Morales, midtwenties, who had spent the summer right here at the Southern Station of the SFPD. Posing as an intern while working her way to her PhD in psychology, she had worked her way into Conklin’s heart and used information she gleaned from interning with us to commit some murders of her own.

  Her plan had been to distract us, impress her lover, and set him free.

  Her plan had backfired.

  She, too, should be languishing on death row, but she had escaped from a hospital bed and hadn’t been heard of again—until now.

  I looked over at Conklin, who was staring at the image of Morales. I knew that he was still ashamed that this criminal nut job had conned him. Actually, she’d conned both of us.

  I flashed on Morales’s three months in our house, a proficient and slippery killer convincingly disguised as our cheerful back-office summer temp. No one was safe while Morales was free.

  “So is she in custody?” Conklin asked Brady.

  “Afraid not. This was a random video from a security cam across the street from the post office in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. That’s about a half hour from Cleveland. Someone who had been in the post office recognized Morales from the wanted poster, and after a few days, this video ended up at the FBI.

  “She could be anywhere by now,” Brady said. “So keep your eyes open. And have fun tonight, Boxer. Take good care of my baby.”


  CLAIRE HAD PUT Yuki’s all-girl engagement party together in a flash. Instead of going to Susie’s Café, our customary watering hole, we met at Rickhouse, a restaurant bar in the financial district known for its sophisticated cocktails and its cozy brick and bourbon-barrel-stave decor.

  I was late, but with a little help from the maître d, I found Claire, Yuki, and Cindy in the mezzanine level overlooking the bar below.

  Yuki was radiant in office wear: vintage I. Magnin, 1960s black silk chiffon with rhinestones, and she was wearing her open-toed silver pumps that she never gets to wear.

  She also had her mom’s diamond ring, a four-carat solitaire the size of a cocktail onion, on the ring finger of her left hand. That thing almost lit up our little table in the dark.

  Claire stood to let me slide in next to Yuki, saying, “We’re drinking something called ‘Corpse Reviver Number Five.’ Should be our signature Club cocktail.”

  “What’s in that potion, if I may ask?”

  Cindy said, “It’s the reverse of embalming fluid,” and lifted her glass to show me her sunny-looking drink. Like me, Cindy is blond, but unlike me, she’s got corkscrew curls and adorable, slightly overlapping front teeth, and she’s a graceful size six.

  “The key ingredient is tequila,” she said. “We’ve got Yuki on pass-out alert. Brady’s going to pick her up when we call.”

  Yuki grinned and said, “Thanks for having faith in me.”

  We said, “You’re welcome,” in unison. It was no secret that Yuki was an ea
sy drunk with a weakness for margaritas, and this Corpse Reviver was close enough to her favorite drink.

  I ordered what they were having, and when my drink arrived, we toasted the bride-to-be in turn. We’d given her a lot of crap over the years for her go-nowhere relationships. One of her former frogs had actually set out to kill her.

  “To Yuki, with thanks for putting an end to the frog parade.”

  “I’ll drink to that,” she said.

  “To you and Brady,” said Cindy. “Perfect together.”

  “I’ll drink to that, too,” said Yuki, already slurring softly. She guzzled her drink down to the bottom of the glass.

  Claire said, “Darlin’, here’s to the best sex, best friends, and best times, for the whole of your lives.”

  “Hear, hear,” I said.

  We clinked glasses of lemony-pineapple-y tequila, and Yuki put down her empty glass and dipped her head. I saw a couple of tears gathering in her eyelashes. I put an arm around her shoulder.

  “Hey. Don’t cry. What’s wrong, for Pete’s sake?”

  “Happy tears,” she said. “How much I love the three of you. And I miss my daffy mom.”

  “She would’ve loved this,” Claire said. “You getting married to that big, brave, blondy-haired man.”

  Yuki smiled. She cocked her head and in her mother’s voice she said, “‘Yuki-eh, be good wife. Cook what he likes. Say yes alla time. Keep yourself up.’”

  We all laughed. And then asked Yuki a hundred questions, which she answered in full—about the wedding plans and the honeymoon, and she told us that she and Brady were going to live in her apartment, which had been her mother’s, once they came home from their cruise.

  Claire grabbed the check and Cindy leaned toward me and said, “I may be too sloshed to drive.”

  “Then I’m your designated driver,” I told her.

  Once Cindy was strapped into my passenger seat, I buzzed down the windows and fired up my trustworthy Explorer. As I drove, I told her about the belly bombs—off the record. And when I finished with that, I told her about the Mackie Morales sighting in Wisconsin.

  Cindy sighed, then said, “She was bound to turn up sometime, but I guess I thought maybe she’d stayed off the FBI’s radar by crossing the border.”

  I knew Cindy was thinking about Mackie and Richie.

  I was thinking about Mackie, too. The last time I saw her, she was bloodied from the crash that killed Randy and narrowly missed killing their baby. I had seen Richie getting into the ambulance with Mackie cuffed to the stretcher. And that was the last of Mackie until Brady’s news of her today.

  Mackie shouldn’t have escaped. It was a crime that she was on her own two feet with nothing to stop her from killing again.

  I was just about to go on a rant about Morales being a textbook psycho when the phone in my pocket rang with Joe’s ringtone.

  I filled my husband in on my location and ETA and by the time we hung up, I was parking in front of Cindy’s apartment, the place where she and Richie had lived together.

  I wanted to tell Cindy again that she needed to move into a new apartment, start fresh where she wouldn’t see Rich in every room, but before I could open my mouth, Cindy leaned over, gave me a big hug, and said, “Don’t worry about me, Linds.”

  “I can’t help it,” I said hugging her back.

  “I’ll be fine, okay?”


  Of course I worried about her. Cindy was tough but not invincible. I watched her until she disappeared behind her front door. Then I pulled my car out onto Lake Street. I thought of the four of us Cindy had jokingly dubbed the Women’s Murder Club.

  Claire and I were in good, happy marriages, and Yuki was about to tie the knot with a demonstrably good man. As I drove home to my dear husband waiting up for me and my little girl asleep in her crib, I felt grateful and very lucky.

  I fiercely wanted good luck for Cindy, too.


  CINDY WENT THROUGH her ground-floor apartment, switching on lights, thinking about how just about every time she was with the girls and something interesting came up in conversation, one or all three of them would turn to her and shout, “That’s off the record, Cindy.”

  It was a recurring joke, and actually not all that funny. So here was the thing. If she was going to be preemptively accused of running off with private tidbits for public consumption, she might as well do it.

  Tonight, when Lindsay told her about the Mackie Morales sighting in Wisconsin, she had neglected to post the usual warning. So if Morales wasn’t off the record, she was on. And Morales was huge.

  Morales had killed three people. She was a fugitive. And she’d never been interviewed. An in-depth Mackie Morales story was a crime reporter’s dream.

  Cindy had worked the crime desk at the San Francisco Chronicle for five years and according to the publisher, she was a rising star. She’d gotten regular pay bumps and a coveted office with a door, and her byline had been on the front page regularly, top of the fold, on the home page of the website.

  But by Cindy’s own admittedly high standards, she hadn’t blown the lid off the cooker.

  Cindy went directly to the bay window niche in the front room, which she used as an office. She booted up her laptop, and while it loaded, she went to the kitchen and put on the kettle. After that, she washed her face and changed into plaid pajama bottoms and one of Richie’s SFPD T-shirts with the slogan, Oro en Paz, Fierro en Guerra. ENGLISH TRANSLATION: “GOLD IN PEACE, IRON IN War.”

  Cindy was well aware that wearing Richie’s shirts, living in these rooms, sleeping in the bed they’d shared together, made it harder to get over him. But she wasn’t ready to get over him.

  She loved him. He loved her. He’d proposed and she’d said yes. Then she’d blown it.

  She vividly remembered the night they’d broken their engagement, on Jackson Street in the rain, after a fight about having kids, a fight they’d had many times before.

  Here was the headline:

  He wants kids. She wants a career. First.

  They both insisted that it had always been so.

  But the imminent lifetime commitment had caused them to polarize their individual needs. At least that’s how she saw it. She hadn’t said that she’d never be ready to have children, but that’s how he’d taken it.

  By then, Mackie Morales had faked her way into the SFPD and manipulated Richie perfectly, even using her adorable fatherless little boy in a scheme to use Richie for her own purposes.

  Richie was far from stupid, but he’d gone for it. That’s how good Morales was. And when she was exposed as a stone-cold killer, Richie’s heart and faith were shattered again.

  File the whole mess under Humpty Dumpty.

  Tonight, when Lindsay mentioned that Mackie Morales had been sighted, an idea with the size and brilliance of a four-carat white-diamond solitaire had burst into her mind.

  She was an excellent investigative reporter.

  She could track Morales down, trade information for exclusive access. A first-person interview with Mackenzie Morales would be a stunning career move.

  By the way, Rich Conklin would know what she’d done, and he’d be moved.

  Actually, she was pretty sure that he’d welcome an opportunity to see her again.


  CINDY TOOK HER mug of Earl Grey into her home office, facing Mission Street, and got settled in her hydraulic chair with the memory foam seat. She checked her e-mail and returned all work-related messages.

  Then she opened her original files on the Mackenzie Morales/Randolph Fish story.

  She reacquainted herself with Morales: She was born in Chicago, and although unmarried, she had had a child with the infamous convicted serial killer Randy Fish, a boy named Ben, now age four.

  Cindy read up on the three murder charges against Morales, and she reread her own interview with Lindsay, who had witnessed Fish’s last mortal moments and death.

  And there was the
quote she’d gotten from the SFPD press liaison: “Mackenzie Morales had confessed to three homicides and was in police custody at Metropolitan Hospital when she escaped. She is an extremely intelligent individual and may be armed and dangerous.

  “If you see Mackenzie Morales, don’t approach her. Contact the SFPD.”

  Duly noted.

  She went out to the Web and typed “Mackenzie Morales” into her browser. A second and a half later, a list of Morales-related stories filled her screen.

  She opened the most recent articles first and saw pictures of Morales being wheeled into the ambulance bay four months ago. The familiar figure walking alongside the gurney was Richie. Rich had been in some kind of hell.

  She stared for a moment, then clicked through.

  After reading all the publicly available information on Morales and Fish, she signed on to LexisNexis, the by-subscription electronic database for legal files and public records.

  The legal files on Fish were extensive. The FBI had linked him to the bodies of eight young women who had been brutally murdered. Fish was a sexual sadist, a type of killer that got off on torturing his victims. The pathology had been documented and studied for hundreds of years.

  Fish had never given a press interview, but as Cindy paged through court transcripts, she found one bit of information that had gotten little, if any, attention. Randy Fish’s father had owned a small house on Lake Michigan in a town called Cleveland, Wisconsin.

  When Cindy went through the tax records, she found that the property was still in William Fish’s name. It was not in arrears and it had never been sold.

  This was significant. Morales had been seen within thirty miles of William Fish’s lake house.

  Cindy grabbed her mug and held it in both hands. She was getting a rush from linking two facts that had never been linked before.

  She imagined interviewing Morales. She could see the small gray room, gray table, Morales in orange with handcuffs and chains. She would sympathize with the woman, get her to open up about Randy Fish. Cindy would write a double exposé of Fish and Morales that could very well become a crime classic, like the interviews of Bundy, Gacy, BTK, and Dahmer.

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