Unlucky 13, page 4part #13 of Women's Murder Club Series
Fish and Morales put Bonnie and Clyde in the shade.
First, she had to get a go-ahead from her boss, Chronicle publisher Henry Tyler. Tyler liked her, but this story would take her out of state and away from her regular assignments.
She would have to be damned convincing.
Cindy put her laptop into sleep mode, then went to bed. She hugged the king-size body pillow that used to be Richie’s.
She lay awake for more than an hour, organizing her pitch, refining it. When she woke up in the morning, she was invigorated—fired up and ready to go.
CINDY WAS READY for her 8:15 a.m. meeting with Henry Tyler when she entered the old Gothic Revival–style Chronicle Building at the intersection of Mission and 5th. She went directly to her office and put down her bags, then took the elevator to the executive floor.
When the doors opened, she said “Hey” to the receptionist, who buzzed her in through the double glass doors.
She walked down the carpeted corridor to Tyler’s office. She was five minutes early. Which was perfect.
Tyler was behind his enormous glass desk in his many-windowed corner space, furnished in pewter-colored leather with enormous abstract canvases on three walls.
He was a handsome man in his fifties, a Harvard graduate and former reporter for the New York Times, former war correspondent for Reuters, and now corporate honcho.
Tyler put down the phone and beckoned to Cindy to come in, saying, “I haven’t seen you in a while. Is everything okay?”
Cindy’s pitch had to be both comprehensive and concise, and she had probably two minutes to sell Tyler on her idea.
She took a seat across from his desk and said, “I’m fine, Henry, thanks. Listen, I’ve kept an open file on Mackie Morales. You remember her—”
“Sure. She was attached to the SFPD—and to Randy Fish. His love interest, right? She shot three people dead.”
Cindy nodded and said, “Morales is a pretty spectacular killer, Henry. She’s beautiful and cold. Killed three people that we know about—and she’s only twenty-six. Her relationship with Fish was symbiotic. I think he was her mentor and she inspired him. But there was love and sex involved, highly unusual for a sexual sadist like Fish to love someone who fit his victimology. And they have a child.”
“Huh,” said Tyler. “Interesting. So you want to do some kind of Sunday-magazine piece on this killer couple?”
“I want to get an interview with Morales.”
“You’ve lost me.”
“Well, I saved the kicker. I’ve got a hot lead, an authenticated sighting of Morales that I’d like to follow up. I connected that lead to a location—and I think I’m the first and only person to have done so.
“If I’m right, and I find Morales, I’ll turn the cops onto her, provided I’m in at the takedown. I’ll negotiate with them for access beforehand. And then, as long as that falls into place…”
“A lot of big ifs.”
“You know I love to turn big ifs and cold maybes into ‘git ’er done.’”
Henry treated her to a generous smile.
“Keep going,” he said. “I’m enjoying this.”
“Morales has never been interviewed,” Cindy went on. “Even the SFPD didn’t get to interrogate her before she escaped. I know a ton about Morales. I know people she knows. I think I can flatter her into a tell-all about her love affair of the century with Randolph Fish.”
“You’re saying you’re that good.”
Cindy grinned. “Exactly.”
Tyler said, “Do I need to remind you that on a danger scale of one to ten, ten being psychopathic killer—”
“She’s a fifteen. I know, Henry. I’m just scared enough to be smart about this.”
Tyler nodded thoughtfully.
“Don’t get me wrong. You had me at ‘Morales.’ I’m just saying I don’t want to be delivering your eulogy, you understand, Cindy?”
Cindy smiled. “This will make you feel better. I have a carry permit. I have a gun.”
Clearly impressed, Tyler said, “You’re a surprise a minute, Cindy. And you’ve been practicing?”
“You bet. Target practice every weekend for two years. I was living with a cop, you know.”
Tyler pushed his chair away from the desk, swiveled it, and looked out the window.
“How long do you need?”
“I’ll keep you posted on that.”
At nine, Cindy went to Human Resources, signed a release, and arranged for a cash advance. Her overnight bag was in her office and her small but efficient gun was in its case in an inside pocket.
Three hours later, Cindy flew out of SFO—destination, the city of Cleveland, Wisconsin.
THE NEXT MORNING, having spent a restless night on a sprung motel mattress, Cindy dressed in brown trousers, a Fair Isle sweater with pastel colors around the neck, and brown leather boots with flat heels. She pulled her blond curls into a ponytail with bangs, put on her camel hair coat, and tucked her snub-nosed Smith & Wesson .38 Special into the pocket.
She checked out of the Red Moon Motel using her corporate card and headed due west in her rented Ford Focus. Her computer bag was on the seat next to her, milky coffee was in the cup holder, and she had programmed the GPS with the address of William Fish’s lake house in the woods.
She couldn’t know for sure if Mackie Morales had been staying at the Fish house, but it was a good bet. Morales had been seen in a town only thirty minutes from this lightly populated area on the ragged fringe of nowhere.
Cindy’s instincts rarely let her down, and right now they were swearing that she was on the right track.
Driving north, Cindy easily found Lakeshore Drive, which hugged Lake Michigan’s shoreline. She passed blocks of nice older homes on wooded lots on her left, the lake just visible through thinner clumps of trees on her right.
She continued on, and as she drove farther away from the town, the homes became more spaced out, then sparse, sunlight flashing through gaps in the woodland like strobe lights.
Ten miles out, the GPS spoke and Cindy took the car right onto a dirt road toward the lake. The road was more like a rut, bumpy and potholed, winding between walls of trees crowding in on both sides.
The road branched into a narrower dirt rut, and as the GPS announced, “You have reached your destination,” Cindy saw a green chalet-style house at the edge of a clearing. The white trim and the lines of the house were crisp against the dark woods behind it, making the house look almost like a paper cutout. The lake wasn’t visible from here.
Cindy drove past the house and stopped her car on the road to the lake. From where she had parked, she could see the house through a break in the woods.
Cindy cut her engine and took her binoculars from her bag. From what she could see, the house was in good repair. There was no mailbox and no car, and the only sign that the house was occupied was a small tricycle on the sun-deprived patch of grass that served as a lawn.
Was someone living here?
Or was the place abandoned?
Cindy thought about getting out of the car and approaching the house with a story of being lost, in case someone was there. She wanted to take a look through the windows, listen, and maybe even ring the bell.
But since her cloak of invisibility was at the dry cleaners, she couldn’t take the chance that Morales might open the door with a loaded gun in hand.
The tricycle wasn’t proof, but it was a definite maybe that Morales was here, seeing her boy.
Cindy had done what she’d come to do. She’d checked out her lead, and now she needed help with the next step.
It was time to see what kind of deal she could cut with the local authorities.
CINDY WAS WITH Captain Patrick Lawrence in his office on West Washington Avenue, the Village of Cleveland PD.
The captain was a big, stocky man, about forty, with thick brown hair a
Lawrence was on the phone with someone called Reilly, saying he couldn’t use a phone or his computer or even a pen, for Christ’s sake, and don’t even think of pulling a gun. He listened to Reilly for a few seconds, then laughed and said, “Yeah, my left hand works okay.”
Cindy looked around the office. She saw the shelf of Green Bay Packers bobble-heads, the marksman plaques on the wall, the photos of the captain with a twelve-point buck, and a family photo with a good-looking wife and four boys who looked like their dad.
Lawrence was saying, “I gotta go, Reilly, but thanks for your support.”
He hung up the phone and a turned to face Cindy.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “My brother-in-law was worried about me. Now, do I have this right? You’re a reporter from San Francisco and you have a line on a fugitive who was seen in my district?”
“She’s wanted for murder,” Cindy said. “Multiple murders.”
Lawrence said, “And the name of this fugitive?”
“Not so fast, Captain,” Cindy said. She smiled, showing that despite the ponytail and the pastels, she was a pro. “I want to help you catch this person, but I need something in return.”
“Christ, yeah. You want me to go out with you on a fishing expedition, and if we hook something you want an exclusive story. Something like that, Ms. Thomas?”
“Exactly like that, Captain. And if this is a fishing trip, we’re trawling for a Great White that’s been spotted in these waters.”
The captain grinned at her. Nice grin, actually.
“I can tell you’re a writer,” he said. “What’s the nature of your lead, Ms.—”
“Please call me Cindy.”
“Okay, Cindy. Explain what you know and spare me the bull, please. I got a limited number of people on my force and none of us are going anywhere until I verify this killer you say is around here.”
Cindy told the captain that the fugitive was wanted by the FBI and had been captured on videotape within thirty miles of Cleveland.
“I’m not going to name my source—not now, not ever. But I scoped out the location this morning, Captain. This fugitive has a small child. I saw a trike on the lawn.
“Maybe that’s nothing,” Cindy said, “but this house would make an excellent hiding place for this individual.”
The captain tapped his fingers on the desk and said, “Cindy, that’s just not enough. We can’t go out to some location where there might be a dangerous felon without doing our own scoping. Give me the address and let me do this right.
“I’ll send out some guys in unmarked cars, vans, whatever, see who is coming and going, do our due diligence, before we show up with guns blazing. You follow me?”
“I understand. And now I have to be clear, Captain. You want to catch this fugitive before she runs. You really do.”
“I hear you. Now give me the name. If there are warrants out, I’ll work something out with you. Do we have a deal?”
Cindy stuck out her hand and the Captain shook it with his good one. Cindy was spelling out “Mackenzie” when Captain Lawrence’s good hand paused over the keyboard.
“Mackie Morales. That’s Randy Fish’s woman.”
“Right. You know about Fish?”
“Went to school with him. He was always a little shit, but I underestimated him. He turned out to be one of the biggest turds to come out of this state in a hundred years.”
“He was ruthless and cunning,” Cindy said. “So is Morales.”
Captain Lawrence said, “I’m on board with you, Cindy. Tell me what you know.”
AN HOUR AFTER meeting with Captain Lawrence in his office, Cindy was sitting in the passenger seat beside him in a cruiser, parked on the same section of dirt road beyond the green house where she had parked earlier this morning.
The captain’s terms had been good enough for Cindy.
She could ride to the location in his car. She had to stay back from any action. Anything he said was off the record unless he said she could quote him. She couldn’t take pictures. She couldn’t hotdog or in any way go off on her own, or the deal was null and void.
In exchange for giving him the lead, Captain Lawrence would give Cindy credit for the tip, and he’d give her whatever advantage he could in protecting her exclusive on the story.
It was a great deal, and Cindy liked the captain and felt sure that he wouldn’t go back on his word.
And the operation was seriously in play.
Minutes after she and the captain were in place, a second cruiser had blocked off the long dirt drive where it branched off toward the Fish house. There was a boat on the lake and two teams of armed men were hidden in the woods.
Now a white van marked ZIMMER CONSTRUCTION came up the drive to the house. The radio in the captain’s car came to life, Sergeant Bob Morrison reporting that he and Officer Barton were going to go to the door.
Captain Lawrence told them to go ahead, then said to Cindy, “I looked you up. That story you wrote about Randy Fish. I read it at the time. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize your name.”
“That happens. Like all the time.”
“It was good story, and you wrote it well. I keep going back in my mind, trying to picture Randy, asking myself when he turned into such a monster. He was brought up in a good family. Bill Fish was a dentist—”
The radio crackled and Lawrence grabbed the mic and said, “Morrison, what’s happening?”
“No answer to the doorbell, Captain. We’re going to take a look around back.”
The two cops dressed as construction workers disappeared from view. A couple minutes later, they returned to the front door of the house. The one named Morrison cupped his hands at the front window and looked in.
After that, Morrison gestured to his partner, who also peered through the glass. Lawrence opened the mic and said, “What have you got, Morrison?”
“The house appears wired, Captain. Booby-trapped.”
“Get out of there now,” said Lawrence.
Cindy listened to the rapid-fire radio communications between the captain, the men in the woods, and the undercover cops, who got back into their construction van.
Cindy’s mind was on fire. She saw how this story was going to start: right here, with Morrison telling Lawrence that the house was rigged to blow. This was a beautiful lede. A movie-style fricking opening.
Lawrence released the brake and headed the car south toward the main road with the construction van following right behind.
He said, “Cindy, we have to talk.”
“Absolutely,” she said to the captain. “The house is wired. Booby-trapped. This means that she set up explosives so that if the law came in through the door—”
“I mean,” said Captain Lawrence, “we have to talk about our deal. If Morales is staying here, we can’t let on. She may come back if she thinks her safe house is still safe. That’s what we want.
“Now I have to call the FBI. You can thank me later for keeping you out of that. They will not make a deal with you, but you will have to give up your source. Count on that.
“Also, Morales may have had nothing to do with wiring that house. And as I understand journalism, if you can’t verify it, you can’t write it. Am I right?”
“You’re right as to the kind of journalism I do.”
“Okay, then. Bottom line, Cindy,” Lawrence said, turning to her as he negotiated the rutted road. “You cannot write a single word until or unless I say so. Not one single word.”
MY PHONE RANG on the table next to the bed, cracking my deep sleep wide open.
I was pretty sure it was Saturday. I looked at the clock. 10:30 a.m. I had slept at least six hours straight and—hey, the baby wasn’t crying. Cause for celebration!
The phone was still ringing.
I said to Joe, “It’s Brady,” and I reached for the phone.
I asked myself, why was Brady was calling me? He and Yuki were getting married today. I clicked to answer the call, hoping he just needed me to pick up something for the wedding and Yuki hadn’t gotten cold feet or there’d been a quadruple homicide and he was handing off the case to me.
I said my name into the phone.
“Boxer, someone just called in something that sounds like a belly bomb. You want it? Or you want me to give it to Paul Chi? It’s your call.”
I said, “You know me too well.”
I took the address and said I’d be on scene in twenty minutes. I didn’t see how I could do that, but belly bombs were mine. I called Conklin, who said his car was in the shop. And he was at Tina’s house.
“Get dressed,” I said. “I mean now.”
I had fallen into bed last night thinking that Joe and I were going to make love in the morning. Pretty sure that he’d been having similar thoughts.
I got out of bed and opened the closet. Pulled out a pair of jeans and a man-tailored white cotton, no-iron shirt. My usual.
“No fair,” Joe said.
“I’ll make it up to you, Joe. I swear I will.”
“I think I’ve heard that before. A few thousand times.”
I laughed. I got dressed, strapped on my shoulder holster, and put on a jacket. My blue one. One of my three almost identical blue blazers.
Then, I took the dress I was going to wear to the wedding out of the closet—a gorgeous deep blue, almost-black dress with a swishy taffeta skirt, a cinched-in waist, and a pleated matte jersey bodice. My sapphire pendant on a chain would look good with this. Oh, my.
I hung my dress on the back of the door, then rooted around the closet shelf and found the box with my barely-ever-worn black Stuart Weitzman shoes. I put the box on the floor under the dress. I just couldn’t wait to put on some glam.
JAMES PATTERSON SERIES:
Other author's books:
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