Unlucky 13, page 8part #13 of Women's Murder Club Series
“Okay. I’m running an errand for the FBI.”
“Oh. I guess my workout is over.”
“Yeah, good guess. Get dressed so we can talk in private.”
I took a quick shower, dressed PDQ, and met Jacobi in the lobby of the health club. We went out onto Folsom Street and leaned up against the building.
Jacobi said, “There was a fatality in LA about an hour ago. A guy was having a breakfast burger in his car in the parking lot of a fast-food joint when his stomach exploded. He was killed instantly. The glass blew out, blinding a pedestrian. There were other injuries, but only the one fatality.”
“This happened at a Chuck’s?”
“Correct. Chuck’s, Marina del Rey. Here’s the phone number of the FBI agent who called me. Jay Beskin. We’ll get along with them better if we play nice. You want to work this case right, okay, Boxer?”
I told Jacobi that motherhood had brought out the sweetheart in me. He smirked, like yeah, right. We said good-bye and I called my current partner.
“Saddle up,” I said. “I’ll meet you at the Harriet Street lot, ASAP.”
CONKLIN AND I took seats opposite Michael Jansing in his office/Chuck’s Prime museum of ads and artifacts.
Jansing, Chuck’s chief executive officer with the hay-colored hair and narrow blue eyes, glared at us over engraved plexiglass cubes, slabs, and obelisks on his desk, all trophies awarded for fast-food advertising.
I said, “Do you understand me, Mr. Jansing? The FBI is investigating another death by Chuck’s as we speak. Do you want to help your company and cooperate with us, or should we just back off and let the Feds take you in and treat you to enhanced interrogation?”
Jansing got up from behind his desk and went to the doorway.
He said to his assistant, “Caroline, get Louis, would you?”
Jansing returned to his desk.
“That’s fine,” said Conklin. “If that makes you more comfortable.”
“Listen, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” I asked.
“I’m sorry. Our head of legal has something to tell you,” Jansing said.
A stooped man came through the doorway. He wore a corporate gray suit and a comb-over with a dark metallic sheen, and he had nicotine stains on the fingers of his right hand. I recognized him as one of the players at the executive Ping Pong meeting we’d attended.
He came toward us and introduced himself again.
“Louis Frye,” he said and shook our hands before taking the chair next to Conklin.
Jansing said, “Lou, please tell these officers about the text messages.”
What was this? We hadn’t heard about any texts relating to the belly bombs. If Jansing had withheld information, he’d better have a damned fine reason or he was going to be charged with obstruction.
“This text came from a prepaid boost phone,” Frye said. “I printed it out for you.”
He passed over a plain sheet of copy paper with a smattering of words: “Time to pay up.”
“When did you get this?” I asked.
“After the bridge bombs. It came to me,” said Lansing. “I thought it was spam. It meant nothing to me. We didn’t know that the bridge incident was related to us,” said the lawyer, “until the FBI descended on our Hayes Valley store.”
Frye said, “Then Michael got another text. Identical message, but they followed up the text with a phone call naming the amount. We decided to pay.”
Of course they paid. Chuck’s Prime only cared about keeping the company name off the record and out of the news.
“How much?” Conklin asked.
“Fifty thousand,” said Frye. He was slapping at his pockets, looking for his smokes. He found a worn pack of an unfiltered brand, opened it, closed it, and put it back in his jacket pocket.
He said, “We bundled the bills in a Chuck’s Big Lunch Box and left the box in a garbage can at our Monterey location.”
Conklin said to the head cheese, “You’re telling us you believed that would be the end of it?”
“Yes. Of course. And we agreed, Lou and I,” said Jansing. “Rather than let someone else die, we forked over the money. It seemed like the best course.”
I wanted to shout at the two suits, “You morons.”
Instead I said, “So rather than call the cops, have them monitor the transfer, you trusted a bomber, a murderer, an extortionist, when he said that there would be no more bombs.”
Jansing had gone pale around his eyes and mouth. I didn’t think he was feeling remorse. More like he was realizing how much shit was about to hit the fan.
“We employ thousands of people, all of whom would be negatively impacted if the public—”
“The FBI contacted us two hours ago,” I said, cutting his self-serving spiel off at the knees. “A Chuck’s customer exploded from inside out. Happened in one of your parking lots in LA.”
I passed the name of the FBI guy across the desk to Jansing and said, “I spoke with this gentleman, Special Agent Beskin, and he’s about to call you. I advise you to tell him everything you know. Any questions?”
CINDY WAS AT her desk at the Chron, rereading her old Randy Fish files, straining them for any missed morsel of information that could lead to Morales. By 10:00 a.m. she had put down three cups of coffee and two churros, the only food groups that appealed to her in her current mood.
Apparently her body was telling her what she needed.
Henry Tyler was in Washington today, meaning Cindy had a reprieve from a humiliating meeting where she would have to inform him that her story had gotten away from her and she wouldn’t be nominated for the Pulitzer anytime soon.
It was a conversation she really didn’t want to have.
Just then, a gaggle of her coworkers who were raving about a new reality dating show parked themselves in the hallway outside her office. Cindy got up and shut the door, and when she returned to her desk, an e-mail had arrived from [email protected]
Hope sprang, leapt around, did a pirouette and a curtsy.
Morales’s prints were found in the house, but they were dusty. So give yourself a gold star for figuring that out, anyway. Fyi, if you don’t know, there was a bank robbery in Chicago on Monday and the perp was tentatively id’d as our friend Mac. According to what I got from our cop network, she shot and killed two people and got away with about a thousand dollars. Disappeared in plain sight, right outside of the bank. So maybe Morales was last seen in Chicago. Or maybe it was someone who looked like her.
All the best,
The few short lines felt to Cindy like bright sunshine breaking through the cloud cover after forty days and nights of torrential rain. She’d been right that Morales had used the Fish house as a hideout.
And now here came a fresh lead.
Morales had staged a bank holdup and she had killed two people—both a measure of her psychopathy and of her desperation.
No question in Cindy’s mind, Morales was going to need money again soon and she would resurface.
Cindy went online, searched for “bank robbery, Chicago” and spent the next hour reading about it in the Chicago papers. Mackie Morales wasn’t mentioned by name. Law enforcement was no doubt working according to the same principle as when Cindy had found out that the Fish house was wired with explosives.
Namely, they had to keep Morales out of the press so that she wouldn’t know that she’d been exposed.
Cindy located the videos from the Chicago news broadcasts. Customers who had fled the bank right after the shootings had been interviewed by the local press.
Cindy noted the names, and she sent out an e-mail to the staff writers at the Chron, asking if anyone had contacts in the Chicago PD.
Then Cindy wrote to Henry Tyler:
To: H. Tyler
From: C. Thomas
Henry, Morales may have held up a bank in Chicago and killed two people. Her name has not been released. I’m following up, digging in. More TK as I get info. Cindy.
Then Cindy wrote to Captain Lawrence, thanking him for the lead. Next, she booked a flight to Chicago.
MACKIE MORALES WAS behind the wheel of the silver Acura she’d boosted from a parking space on State Street, a high-end shopping street in Chicago’s Loop. Well, she’d seen the keys in the trunk lock, so the Acura’s owner was definitely a dummy, probably still wondering where she’d parked the car, and would take her time to report the theft.
Meanwhile, as Mackie set out due west, she and Randy had had some laughs. He said, Sometimes life hands you dummies.
“Good one, lover.”
When Mackie stopped for gas in Bettendorf, Iowa, two and a half hours west of Chicago, she found the dummy’s peacoat in the trunk. She transferred her gun from her blue trench to the dummy’s felt coat and stuffed her own coat into the trash bin near the pumps.
About that time, she also found a pair of leather gloves in the pocket of the peacoat, very handy, and about sixteen dollars in ones and coins. It would have been great if the dummy had had some real cash in the car, but there had been a package of Oreos in the console and Mackie had been glad for those.
Now, after several cash purchases—gas and snack and dinner in a truck stop outside Cheyenne—Mackie was keeping to the speed limit on the interstate, cutting through the barren plains of southern Wyoming. She was looking for a good radio signal and a clear road with no cops. Instead, she saw a figure on the side of the road near the Laramie on-ramp.
As she drew closer, she saw that the figure was a young woman wearing jeans and a denim jacket. She had long dark hair and held a piece of cardboard with a sign written in marker, reading ROCK SPRINGS.
Randy’s type. To a T.
Mackie slowed the Acura to a stop, and the girl picked up her backpack and ran toward the car.
Mackie buzzed down the window.
The girl said, “Hi, wow, thanks for stopping. How far can you take me?”
“I’m driving to Portland,” Mackie said. “I can take you all the way.”
“Oh, that would be great. Thanks.”
The long-haired girl took a bottle of water from her backpack. Mackie saw the finger marks on her wrists just before the girl pulled her jacket sleeves down to hide the bruises.
“I’m Leila,” she said.
“I’m Hannah,” said Mackie, picking a name out of the air. “Leila, sorry to be nosy, but why are you hitching this late at night?”
“Oh, boyfriend trouble. I was visiting my, well, I guess he’s my ex now, at the University of Wyoming.”
Leila used her thumb to point behind her to Laramie.
“We had a fight. About another girl he’s been seeing, of course. Now I have to get back home on my own, but I sure don’t ever have to see that shit again.”
“And you’re not afraid to hitchhike?”
“Not at all. I would only get into a car with a woman. Do you live in Portland?”
“My mom. I’m going to spend a little time with her. She’s a million laughs and she cooks, too.”
“Cool. Hannah, I didn’t get any sleep last night. Would you mind if I nap for a few minutes?”
Mackie dialed around and found a light-music station. By the time Leila was asleep, Mackie was thinking about Lindsay Boxer. It was good to be going back to San Francisco. Richie and Lindsay wouldn’t even be thinking about her.
Surprise. We’re ba-a-ack.
Beside her, Leila stirred.
Between now and San Francisco, she had to deal with the girl.
YUKI STOOD WITH Brady and gangs of lighthearted after-dinner guests who were filling the FinStar’s world-class Ocean Bar to the walls. Inside, the bar was all gold trim and rusty autumn colors. Beyond the curving floor-to-ceiling windows, the night was ink-black, lit only by the foam breaking, leaping around the bow as the glorious ship steamed toward Sitka.
Yuki wore a sexy black dress, her new pale coral necklace, and strappy heels. She nursed her first margarita, hoping to see the aurora borealis, an amazing natural light show that often appeared at night in this part of the world.
Brady looked savagely handsome. He, too, was wearing black: turtleneck, blazer, and trousers. His dark clothes contrasted wonderfully with his flashing blond hair. He held out his hand.
“Come with me, sweetie. Let’s go to the Veranda Deck.”
Back home, Yuki was up at six, organized and overworked, always moving, doing whatever she could to prosecute criminals and put them away.
She felt different with Brady. With him it was okay to show her softer, more vulnerable side, to let him take the lead and take care of her. It was the first time she’d ever trusted a man this way, both emotionally and practically. She trusted him that much. But she didn’t like heights.
Yuki put down her glass and, taking her husband’s hand, said, “Lead the way.”
Together she and Brady climbed the three winding flights of tawny carpeted staircase that coiled below the huge illuminated art work of stars suspended above the staircase. Arriving at the Veranda Lounge, Brady put his hand to the small of her back and steered her through the crowd to the glass right at the front of the ship.
Just then, the room filled with awed murmurs.
There, off the starboard side, Yuki saw a pale aqua feathering in the sky. The color gathered depth and motion, forming a swath of light that ran from east to west, curling back on itself in a loose swirl.
Brady stood behind her and wrapped her in his arms as they watched the effect of atomic particles colliding, discharging energy some sixty miles overhead, creating an ethereal watercolor that bled through the velvet night.
“I must get pictures,” Yuki said.
“That can be arranged,” said her husband.
He took her hand, led her to the door, and made sure she safely cleared the high threshold.
The cold wind on the deck brought tears to Yuki’s eyes, but she shot a dozen pictures, each with her blowing hair across the lens. Then she saw Lyle, their cabin steward, who volunteered to point and shoot.
“How long will this last?” she asked him.
“Maybe hours, or—the way I heard it—it could disappear if you sneeze.”
“Quick,” she said, shoving her camera into his hand.
She and Brady stood with arms around each other, their backs to the blackness below and above, lit now with the magical northern lights.
Yuki thanked Lyle and took back her camera. She turned to Brady, stood on her toes, and pressed her body against him. He pulled her in even closer.
She shouted above the wind, “You should take me to bed.”
“How did we ever get so lucky?” said Brady.
MY DAY STARTED in Jacobi’s big office with its view of the bail-bond storefronts and All Day Parking on Bryant.
Jacobi had new information from our contact at the FBI. He said, “The evidence from our bridge victims and the one in the LA parking lot matches. Same type of injuries, and they found a granule of RDX.”
“Nice of the FBI to keep us posted. But I’m still working a double homicide by hamburger bomb.”
“You know what, Boxer? Leave it with the Feds. It’s their case. They’ve got the mega-lab and the manpower. We’ve got plenty to do in our own backyard.”
“Is that an order?”
“Yeah, right. Would that work?”
No. It wouldn’t.
“I’m working the case, Jacobi.”
I called Donna Timko, head of Chuck’s Prime product development, but after learning that she was out of town for the day, Conklin and I got Holly Restrepo out of holding.
We gave the woman an intensive six-hour, three-way chat, and she entirely, adamantly stuck to her story. Namely, her bastard husband had been th
My sweetheart of a partner said, “Holly, time is flying. If you tell us you shot Rudolfo in self-defense, you might be able to work out a deal. If he dies, you’re looking at capital murder. You’ll never touch your children again.”
Holly Restrepo rolled her crazy-twitchy eyes and said, “Do I seem like I’m in my right mind?”
Yes, she did.
She was practicing her insanity defense on us.
It was that kind of day. Frustrating and haunted by belly bombs yet to explode. I was ready for it to be over.
I’d been home for about ten minutes and had just hung up my jacket and unpacked my gun when Cindy’s ID came up on my home phone.
“Linds, may I come over?”
“Of course. Joe’s making veggie lasagna. Get your skinny butt over here.”
A half hour later, Cindy bounced in, looking cute in jeans and a pink cardigan, with a rhinestone barrette in her hair. She also looked wired.
“I need some baby love,” she said.
“Sit yourself down.”
Cindy reached out her arms, and Joe handed Julie over. For a woman who didn’t want kids—not now!—she took to holding our little one like she held babies every day.
She made intense small talk with Julie, nothing deep or personal apart from asking her if she preferred Leno or Letterman, causing Julie to burble, which made me laugh out loud. I had to tear Julie away from Cindy so I could put her down before dinner.
Cindy picked at her lasagna, and she asked Joe the kinds of questions that come easily to a reporter. She even asked follow-up questions. I continued to feel that something was bothering her, though—and she didn’t care to discuss it in front of Joe.
Whatever was stuck in her shoe, she softened it with a couple of glasses of wine, then turned down coffee and dessert in favor of a third glass, effectively killing the bottle. About then, Joe said he had some calls to make. He kissed the top of Cindy’s curly-haired head and left the room.