Unlucky 13, page 7part #13 of Women's Murder Club Series
“The FBI is locking down Chuck’s meat-processing plant. We should go to Emeryville,” I said.
“Let’s do it.”
Conklin put on his good tie. I refreshed my lipstick and then drove us across the Bay Bridge to Emeryville, which sits along the east side of the bay.
The morning sun filtered through the fog and put a flattering glow on the streets of Emeryville. Gentrification had bred lots of modern structures in this former industrial flatland—new shops and restaurants and, near the marina, film production companies and office parks with some historical buildings thrown into the mix.
Chuck’s corporate headquarters was on 65th Street in the Emery Tech Building, a streamlined, block-long, brick-and-glass building that had once been a valve-and-regulator plant.
I parked right out front and placed a card on the dash that identified our gray Crown Vic as a cop car. Then Conklin and I entered the building.
We sat in a reception area appointed with gears and parts from the old plant and waited to meet the chief executive officer, Michael Jansing, the son-in-law of Charles “Chuck” Andersen, the original Chuck.
After about twenty minutes of thumb twiddling, we were shown to a conference room where we met CEO Jansing, a sandy-haired man of fifty with narrow, closely spaced blue eyes.
Jansing in turn introduced us to six other people sitting around the sturdy redwood table: the marketing director, the heads of PR, HR, and Security, two lawyers, and the head of the product-development team, who was attending the meeting by teleconference.
It was a diverse group with one thing in common: they weren’t glad to see representatives of the SFPD. Their body language and facial expressions told me they were wary, angry, defensive, and suspicious. It was obvious that they thought we weren’t friends of the Chuck’s family and that we could have a bad, or even a fatal, effect on their reputation.
Accordingly, Jansing was putting on an extraordinary show of force for a preliminary meeting with two midlevel cops.
I can’t say that he was crazy to do so.
After we took seats at the table, Jansing said, “The FBI tore apart our Hayes Valley store and found nothing. Frankly, I was a little surprised to hear from you, Sergeant Boxer.”
“We’re working with the FBI,” I told the executives, “but we’re running our own investigation on what may have been a double homicide. We have new evidence that places high explosives inside hamburger meat that originated at Chuck’s.”
Jansing’s eyebrows shot up.
“You can prove that?”
It was a bit of a stretch, but I said, “Yes, we can. Mr. Jansing, two people ate Chuck’s hamburgers and died as a result. It doesn’t mean that someone who works for you planted those explosives, but it does mean that Chuck’s is square one.”
What followed was like a freestyle Ping Pong tournament, in which balls could go to any table and anyone could return them. There came a point when so many aggressive questions were being fired at us that Conklin stood up and said, “Hey. That’s enough. We’re willing to talk to everyone in this office and keep it out of the Justice Department. Or we’ll get subpoenas and interview each of you down at the Hall. Up to you.”
Donna Timko, the product-development manager connected to the meeting by way of the two-way video screen, was the only person who expressed concern or humanity.
Timko said, “Sergeant Boxer, I can’t tell you how distressed we all are at any implication that Chuck’s could be involved in any way.”
Her voice broke, but Timko pushed on.
“We have already questioned everyone in the production division, and I can assure you, this random act of violence…it was not caused by someone who works at Chuck’s.”
And with that, Donna Timko started to cry.
Jansing said, “Donna, calm yourself, dear. It’s all right. We have nothing to hide from the police.”
And then he looked back at us.
“Do what you have to do, Inspectors. But do it fast so that we don’t have to take legal action for harassment by you.”
WHILE THE FBI shut down Chuck’s central meat-processing plant in Petaluma and began sifting through I don’t know how many tons of beef, Conklin and I spent the next day at Chuck’s Prime’s HQ, taking statements from executives and office staff.
Here’s what we learned.
Michael Jansing had vision and high standards. His people liked and trusted him. He paid fairly. The product was good. Employees took pride in their jobs.
No one reported hate mail or knew of current or former employees who exhibited erratic behavior, insanity, or aggression.
Net/net: we did not have one stinking lead on who might have spiked a hamburger with military-grade explosives. And that meant we had no idea how to head off future belly bombs.
I handed the car keys to Conklin, who said, “Well, there went two days of my life that I can’t get back.”
“I’m never eating hamburger again,” I said. “I mean it. I’m off ground beef forever.”
I strapped into the passenger seat, and as Conklin drove us back to the Hall, I took out my phone and opened some mail. I got caught up in one e-mail in particular. I started laughing to myself.
“Okay. What’s so funny?” Conklin asked me.
“I want what Yuki’s having.”
“Hot sex with Brady? Really?”
“No. Shut up. Listen to this.
“‘I don’t even know where to start talking about the awesomeness of Alaska. But let me try.
“‘Crack a dawn this morning, we went out on a tender with an onboard naturalist, and OMG, we saw a pod of Orca whales. Yes! A family pod of them, breaching or “spyhopping,” where they point their heads straight out of the water as if they’re standing on their toes. Guys, this was amazing.
“‘Then a bald eagle swooped down right in front of us and grabbed a salmon with his talons. It was a big fish, almost the size of the eagle and it was no sure thing he was going to be able to carry it off—but he kept holding that fish and beating his wings and he achieved lift-off!
“‘We climbed a glacier. Me! I did it! This is a stunning experience, my buds. Walking on a world of ice the color of Brady’s eyes. In between the jagged blue and white boulders as far as I could see, a river of ice ran through it.
“‘I knelt down and drank from a glassy well of blue water that had just melted for the first time in millions of years.
“‘It was dazzling. Just incredible.
“‘And get this.
“‘I was climbing down off the glacier and had just about reached the boat. Brady reached out to me and I slipped, guys. My feet went outward and I skidded asswise and dropped my booty right into the water.
“‘Brady saved me, pulled me out of the drink, gave me a hard time, and promised he had a nude cure for hypothermia. Geez, I almost laughed my chilly butt off.
“‘I’m writing to you from our outstanding cabin on the FinStar and now Brady is calling me to go to the spa. Think of me having the best time of my entire life.
“‘What Claire said; best friends, best times, best sex—or something like that!
“‘Sending you all my love.
“‘Yuki C. BRADY’”
I finished reading and turned to Conklin. “Isn’t she hilarious?”
He shouted at a car in front of us that was switching lanes without signaling. “Hey, buddy, make up your mind, will you?”
Then, to me: “So, what now, Sherlock?”
“Really. I wouldn’t mind taking a slow boat to Alaska.”
“Who wouldn’t? So we should talk to that Timko woman. The boss of the product-development office?”
“Tomorrow. First thing. Just drop in on her. You know, Richie, I never got to have a honeymoon,” I said as the sun slipped down behind the city of San Francisco.
Richie was back to verbally negotiating rush-hour traffic.
I thought about
WE WERE THIS close to Conklin’s apartment when a radio call came in that had our name on it. There had been a shooting that had likely stemmed from a domestic dispute. A crying child had called 911. The address was about four miles away.
I grabbed the mic and said that we were on our way, then asked Richie to stop the car.
He pulled into a handy driveway, and we got out, took our vests from the trunk, and put them on. We headed out and I snapped on every flasher we had, the grille lights, the visor lights, and the one on the roof of the car.
Richie stepped on the gas and eight short minutes later, we braked in front of a tan wood-frame semi-detached condo, one of dozens just like it on Jerrold Avenue.
The front door was open. We entered with our guns drawn, Richie calling out, “This is the SFPD.”
We came to a full stop in the living room, where a woman sitting in a crouch position with her back to a wall was holding a shotgun pointed at us. Blood and tissue fragments were sprayed on the wall, and there was a body—it looked like a man’s—ten feet to the north of the woman.
His heart was pumping blood onto the wooden floor.
Conklin said, “Ma’am, we need you to lower your weapon.”
The woman was white, about thirty, and wearing a torn T-shirt and jeans. There was blood spatter on her face, telling me that she had been very close to the victim when the gun fired. It looked to me like half his face had been shot away, but I thought he was still breathing.
I heard children crying somewhere down the hall.
This was a volatile situation, and I flashed on what could happen if we didn’t shut it down fast. I imagined the woman unloading that shotgun on us. Reloading. Taking out the kids. Reloading. Turning the gun on herself.
She wasn’t responding to Conklin, so I shouted, “Lady. Drop the damned gun.”
“I can’t,” she said in a small, almost little-girl voice. She looked at us with crazy eyes, shaking her head and trembling at the same time. “He’ll kill me.”
“We’re here now,” Conklin said, coming forward. “He’s not going to hurt you. We’re here now, ma’am. We’re here for you. So put the gun down, okay? You have to do it so we can go to your children, make sure they’re okay.”
“My kids? You know my kids?”
Her eyes flashed back and forth between me and Conklin and skipped right over the downed man on the floor.
Conklin holstered his gun. I covered him as he walked slowly toward the woman, showing her his empty hands.
“I’m just coming to help you. What’s your name?”
“Okay, Holly. I’m Richie.”
One of Conklin’s many strengths is that he has a terrific way with women. It’s a real gift, that’s for sure.
I said, “I’m just going to walk behind you, Holly.”
She looked at me as I edged around her, and Conklin saw his chance. He stepped forward and, grabbing the gun, cracked it open and knocked out the remaining shell and threw the gun onto the couch.
“There we go,” he said. “Now we can talk. Holly, tell me what happened here.”
ONCE HOLLY WAS disarmed, my breathing and my heartbeat returned to something like normal. I was not just relieved that no guns had gone off. I also wanted Holly to be all right.
I already had a pretty good idea what had happened in this house. Holly’s husband had been abusing her and had introduced a loaded shotgun into the fight. He’d been pointing that gun at her when she surprised him, grabbed the weapon, and got off a shot.
Very likely Holly had saved her own life.
But that didn’t mean that she wouldn’t have to prove self-defense in court. Her crappy life wouldn’t get better for some time, if ever.
I retraced my steps and bent to the man bleeding out on the floor. He was stocky, maybe in his thirties, and had tattoos on his arms and neck. A mixture of blood and air bubbled through what remained of his nose and lower jaw. He was alive. But he might not want to survive what he was facing—surgery, pain, food through a straw—while in jail.
I called dispatch and was told the ambulance was only three minutes out. I said that the situation was under control, that the EMTs could come directly into the house, and I asked for Child Protective Services.
Conklin led Holly to a plaid tub chair and sat on the couch across from her. She was babbling incoherently when I went down the hall in search of children.
I found two youngsters in the smaller of the two bedrooms, hiding between a bed and the wall. They popped up when I called, “Hey there.”
I thought the little girl was about four. The boy looked eight. The little girl looked me in the eye, then sucked in a deep breath and screamed before crawling under the bed.
The boy dried his face with his T-shirt and sputtered, “Are you the police?”
“You called us, right?”
I showed him the badge hanging from a chain around my neck.
“I’m Sergeant Boxer, but you can call me Lindsay. What’s your name?”
“Leon. Leon Restrepo. That’s Cissy.”
“Do you know how many people are in the house?”
“Can you tell me?” I asked.
He pointed out to the living room. “Her. Him. Me and Cissy.”
“Is Holly your mother?”
Leon nodded his head. Tears started flowing down his cheeks.
“Okay, Leon. Okay. Can you tell me what happened here?”
“She’s always hating on him,” the little boy said. “She’s always threatening to shoot him, and my dad, he always says, ‘She’s just talking.’ But she killed him, didn’t she?”
“No, no, your dad is alive, but he’s hurt.”
“Oh, man, this is so bad.”
Leon fell across the bed and cried like he would never stop. Between his sobs, he cried, “I love my dad,” he said. “I love my dad so much. Please don’t let him die.”
I OPENED THE front door to our apartment on Lake Street, and Martha came tearing around the corner from the living room. She threw her front feet hard against my solar plexus and sang her special welcome-home anthem.
I stooped, kissed her, ruffled her coat, and followed her back to the room where my husband was rising from his big chair, coming toward me, arms open.
“Maria Teresa just left. Julie’s had her bottle and her bath and she’s sleeping,” he said, giving me the biggest hug. “She made chocolate pudding for us, and, yes, I took Martha for a good long stroll.”
“Thank you, Joe. What a day I’ve had.”
“Did you eat?”
“Come on, my sweetheart. I’ll heat up some meat loaf and you can tell me all about it.”
I looked in on Julie, who was sleeping like a lamb. Without warning, I flashed on her first months, when Joe and I were afraid that she might die—a memory that was too, too awful. I shook the thought away.
I straightened Julie’s blanket, kissed my fingers, and touched her cheek. I whispered, “Sweet dreams, baby girl.”
I turned to see Joe waiting for me outside her door.
“I turned off my phone,” he said. “And I unplugged the landline.”
“I should turn off my phone, too, right?”
“How about it, Linds? Go off duty. We need some quality time, you and me.”
Turning off my phone was the easiest thing I’d done all day.
Joe served up meatloaf and green beans on a blue-and-white plate at the dining table, and he joined me in having a glass of Merlot. I asked for a refill, then attacked a bowl of pudding.
I took a long bath while Joe sat on the toilet seat and we talked together about my day of corporate go-nowhere interrogations, Yuki and Brady’s magical honeymoon, and a scene of bloody awful dom
We went to bed early in our blue bedroom with soft city lights glowing through our windows. It was a blessing to make love and not think about the phone ringing.
And throughout it all, little Julie slept.
I WAS IN the gym, huffing and puffing on the elliptical, when a hulking guy in a tan overcoat clumped across the red carpeting and approached me. I knew the elephant in the room. Knew him as well as I know myself.
“Boxer, hate to interrupt.” He grinned. He leered.
“This is a no-shoes zone, Jacobi.”
Warren Jacobi is my long-term friend and former partner. We spent about ten years of day, night, and overtime shifts catching gang shootings and homicides by various means, including bathtub electrocutions and angel-of-mercy-spree executions, to name but a few.
When I was promoted to lieutenant, Jacobi teamed up with Conklin. Later I demoted myself out of the bureaucratic nightmare of squad management, and Jacobi took the lieutenant’s chair. Not too long after that, Brady became lieutenant, and Jacobi, who had more street experience than all of us together, and who was suffering from old gunshot injuries and was also closing in on retirement, was bumped up to chief of detectives.
As chief, Jacobi was the go-to guy while Brady was on his honeymoon. I didn’t think the gym visit was a social call, but I got off the elliptical and gave him a sweaty hug anyway.
“What brings you here, bud?”
“I’m just a messenger, Boxer.”
What the hell? What kind of message got the chief of detectives out of the office? I pulled back from the hug and scanned the creases in his face, his hooded gray eyes. Had Joe called him? Had something happened to Julie?
“Spit it out, Jacobi. What’s wrong?”
“Take it easy, Boxer. It’s nothing personal. You didn’t answer your phone.”
I said, “So, okay. What brings you to Body Beautiful?”
He laughed. “I’m signing up so I can gawk at the spandex girls review.”
JAMES PATTERSON SERIES:
Other author's books:
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