Authors: James Patterson
Joe drove through Polk Gulch with a backup team behind him, both cars tailing the Jag, when Petrović took a right on Union where it crossed Van Ness.
Was Petrović trying to lose them? Or was this a ruse, a deliberate joke on them, taking them out of the way and then doubling back to his restaurant?
Or was this was something else entirely?
Instead of looping back, Petrović stayed on Union, climbing uphill to the high-priced neighborhood of Russian Hill.
Joe exchanged words with his teams, instructing his follow car to speed up and pass him. If Petrović had picked up the Toyota in the rearview, he would now think that he’d lost his tail.
A church was up ahead on the left, and something was happening there. A half dozen limos interspersed with media trucks were parked out front. Reporters sat on high canvas director’s chairs, facing their cameras, makeup people touching up their hair. Traffic cops held up their hands to slow and detour traffic.
Just then the huge church doors swung open, and the newlyweds burst through with their wedding guests. The church emptied behind the new couple coming down the steps, waving, ducking rice, the bride pausing to turn around and toss the bouquet over her shoulder to a squealing crowd.
Joe recognized the couple, a Silicon Valley billionaire and a Hollywood movie star. He got a good look because the wedding party had produced a one-lane logjam that had slowed the flow of traffic to just under a crawl.
He was now at a dead stop. His backup team, just ahead of him, was also locked into the parking-lot variety of standstill.
Cursing to himself, Joe checked the GPS.
Petrović was zipping along Lombard within the speed limit, but at the same time was far, far away.
Joe sent the backup team to Tony’s Place and checked in with the team on Fell Street who were now waiting for another team to relieve them.
Once free of traffic, Joe took the next turn that would take him back to his office. He continued to watch the Jaguar’s contrail on his desktop computer, the little blip that was Petrović motoring back to the steak house.
Joe hoped that the butcher wasn’t having a big laugh on him. But he couldn’t dismiss the possibility.
If Petrović had anything to do with the murdered schoolteachers, he was winning. And to prove it, he’d just given the Bureau a big fat middle finger.
Fifteen minutes later Joe was with Steinmetz in his corner office, updating him on the day’s chase.
“I have a team on Petrović’s house. I have the second team watching the restaurant where Tony is now overseeing the lunchtime service.”
Joe told Steinmetz about the wedding party roadblock caused by newlywed celebrities and attendant paparazzi, the frustration of seeing a renowned mass murderer drive around San Francisco with impunity.
Joe said, “How can I stop him?”
Steinmetz muttered, “We’re a nation of laws.”
Joe nodded his agreement, then told his supervisor what he’d learned about the murder of Adele Saran.
Steinmetz said, “I’m on top of that case. The bottom line is that there were lots of footprints in the woods, no forensic evidence, no witnesses to the crime, and no video recorders out in the middle of Sierra Azul Open Space.”
“Correct,” Joe said. “Lindsay is of the opinion that Petrović may be involved in the schoolteacher murders.”
“Because Petrović liked to hang his victims.”
Steinmetz cracked a smile. “That would almost be too good to be true. You had eyes on him at the time of the Saran girl’s murder?”
“We had eyes on his house.”
“So no. He wasn’t sighted here in town. What do you know about his associates?”
“Guy who runs his restaurant, Marko Vladic, has no record. Petrović has some kitchen help that are also squeaky clean. No one wants to get caught up in an ICE sweep. The Boy Scouts have nothing on Petrović’s crew.”
Steinmetz said, “You’re not seriously thinking of bringing him in as a suspect in the Saran murder?”
“I’m waiting for him to give me any kind of excuse,” Joe said. “Littering. Jaywalking. Parking in a no-parking zone.”
“You get something resembling probable cause, get back to me,” said Steinmetz.
Joe said, “Will do,” and feeling totally ineffectual, he walked down the hall to his office, went in, and closed the door. He checked the GPS: Petrović’s car was still parked in front of the restaurant. The car staking out the back of the restaurant had been switched out for another bland-looking repurposed sedan, American brand this time. Team two was parked near the intersection of Fell and Scott in an old hippy bus, painted with swirls and flowers.
Joe checked in with the guys, got zippo, gave encouragement, and got off the phone. A moment later it rang.
Joe grabbed for the receiver. It was the security guard at the ground-floor desk saying, “She’s baaaaack.”
Joe met Anna at the elevator, then walked her back to his office, hoping that she had remembered something important or that Petrović had threatened her, something that would rise to the level of probable cause to investigate him with the full force of FBI resources.
He asked Anna if she had news for him as she took a seat.
She said, “No. I don’t have anything new, Joe. I thought you might have something for me.”
She looked expectant and very vulnerable. The tough “don’t tell me what to do” version of Anna wasn’t apparent today.
“Anna, do you have any friends in town?”
“A few. Why?”
“Because I know I’d worry less if you moved in with a friend instead of living in that house where Petrović can get to you at any time. He can simply cut through a few backyards.”
“You think he’s going to come after me?” Anna asked him. “He couldn’t care less about me, Joe. He’s had me. Many times. He could have killed me, many times. Petrović isn’t afraid of me. And he has no reason to fear, because if he doesn’t lay a hand on me now, I can’t touch him. He got a pass for all of his old crimes.”
“I’ve told you what I think,” Joe said. “He’s a criminal in search of a target, and you make a pretty good one.”
“It’s my birthday, Joe. Forty today.”
“Oh. Well. Happy birthday. Did your coworkers give you a cake?”
“Yes. And cards. And this,” she said, showing him a chain with a little sparkly pendant. “It’s my birthstone. But I haven’t had lunch. How about taking me out for something, Joe? I haven’t had steak in a long time.”
“Small joke. Not steak. Pasta maybe.”
“Sorry, Anna. I’ve got work to do here at the office.”
She tried to hide her disappointment, but her face colored. She picked up her handbag.
“I apologize for being … inappropriate. I’ll be going now.”
Joe said, “Don’t worry, Anna. Really. It’s okay.”
He knew she was lonely. That he was a large figure in her life. He walked Anna to the elevator and told her, as he always did, that he would be in touch if he learned anything useful and she should do the same.
Later that afternoon, Joe checked in with his teams and their night shift replacements. Petrović’s car was still parked in his spot in front of Tony’s Place. All was quiet.
Joe turned it all over in his mind as he drove toward Lake
Street. Was Petrović up to something? Or was he on his best behavior, taking part in the American dream?
He thought about Lindsay and hoped she’d be waiting for him when he opened the front door.
He longed for a regular evening at home with Lindsay.
It was Friday morning, eleven days since the schoolteachers had been abducted—two of them subsequently murdered—and we were clueless in the truest sense of the word.
I stared down at the mess of papers on my desk while I was on the phone with Clapper, thanking him for getting back to me so fast on Adele Saran.
He said, “I think you mean, ‘Thanks for nothing.’”
“No. I mean one door closes, another opens—if I can only find that other one.”
Clapper chuckled, said, “You’ll find it, Boxer. I’ve got faith.”
I put down the receiver and threw a category-five sigh, blowing a pile of message slips across my desk onto Conklin’s.
Conklin said, “Tell me. I can take it.”
“Okay. Welcome back to square one, partner. The only DNA on Adele’s body was hers. Nothing under her nails. No trace or prints on the wire used to bind and hang her. No
prints on the throwing stars, and the only evidence in the woods was scuffled leaves from hither to thither, starting and ending at Hicks Road. Oh. On the other hand, there were
if not thousands, of prints on the tacomobile.”
Conklin leaned back in his chair, ran both hands through his hair, and sighed, “Oh, happy day.”
I went on.
“Carly’s prints were on the door handles and the dashboard—corroborating what Denny Lopez told us. He drove Carly to the motel a few times. Most of the other prints were his and his girlfriend’s—remember her? Three days ago seems like a year. Lucinda Drucker. But there was a match to a Barbara Fines, a prostitute, goes by the name of Daisy.”
Conklin said, “Corroborating Denny’s story again.”
I said, “Clapper will release the taco truck to its owner, or he’ll hold on to it if we want to jerk Denny around a little more.”
“He’s all we’ve got. Let’s do it,” said my partner. “Maybe we’ll shake something loose.”
I called Lopez with a burner phone so that my name didn’t come up on his screen, and he picked up. He was mad about my little trick but said that he was at a bar called Bud’s on Twenty-Second and Mission. I told him to hang tight, then Conklin and I were on our way in a cruiser.
Conklin pointed to Lopez, standing on the corner outside the bar. He was unkempt, with dirty hair and clothes, clearly out of work—our fault—since we’d taken the SUV away.
Lopez looked pained as we double-parked the black-and-white,
and even more so as Conklin got out, opened the rear door, steered Denny into the back, then got in beside him.
“For God’s sake,” the pimp slurred. “You’re going to get me killed, you know?”
Conklin said, “Killed, why?”
“You know why,” Denny said, like he was talking to four-year-olds. “I could be seen talking to cops.”
“If you help us out, Martinez could have the SUV in a few hours. You’ll get your job back. Okay?”
Lopez said, “Let’s talk fast. I have a lunch date with a young lady. If you get my meaning.”
I slid over to the wheel, started up the car, pulled out onto Mission without tearing up the asphalt. I parked four blocks away in front of a nail salon and a donut shop, set the brake, and leaned over the seat back.
I said, “Listen to me, Denny. You were present at the scene of the crime. Prior to that, you’d seen the schoolteachers at the Bridge and had a business relationship with Carly. She’s dead. Adele is dead. We could hold you as a person of interest for a lonnnng time.”
“You shitting me?”
“Dig deep, Denny. There’s always one forgotten thing. What haven’t you told us?”
“Now that you mention it, I do remember something.”
I said, “Go ahead. Blow me away.”
“I actually remember a guy who came into the Bridge one time, not long ago. Sat at a table with another dude and bought drinks for those girls.”
Lopez was sobering up a little bit and checking out the passersby, the customers carrying bags from Grand Mission
Donuts, the usual motley collection of jobless, homeless, hopeless, and drugged-up denizens of the Mission, along with office workers getting their morning joe.
Conklin grabbed the pimp’s arm and shook him to attention.
“Denny. Tell us what the guy looked like, anything he may have said or done.”
“Christ,” Denny said, throwing up his hands. “He was big. I only saw him sitting, but I’m guessing he was six three. Two eighty. Carried his weight here.” He put his hands on his abdomen. “He was at the Bridge and buying drinks for the girls, and Carly was shining on him. I was still hoping to get her back, so that’s why I noticed.”
I started up the car.
Conklin got out of the back seat, got in next to me.
“Hey. You’re taking me back to Bud’s, right?” Denny asked.
“Guess again,” I said.
Conklin said to Denny, “We need you to look at some pictures at the Hall.”
Lopez protested loudly.
I told him to shut up and calm down. “Two women are dead, and you knew both of them. Odds are you saw their killer.”
“You arresting me?” he asked, still slurring.
“Only if you insist,” I said.
He didn’t speak after that. We arrived back at the Hall in fifteen minutes, left the car on Bryant, and marched Denny Lopez straight up to the fourth floor, where I stashed him in Interview 1 and told him to sit tight.
“Officer Krupky is behind the glass,” I said, pointing to the mirrored window. I waved at my image. Krupky was fictitious and the observation room was empty, but Denny didn’t know that. I said to him, “It’s going to take us a little while,” handing him a copy of the morning
which I’d grabbed off one of the chairs.
“You should read this.”
The front-page story was about Adele Saran. There was a picture of her beautiful face and another of the hanging tree. The headline couldn’t have been bolder or blacker.
TORTURE AND DEATH OF A SCHOOLTEACHER.
Denny didn’t strike me as a news junkie or a reader. From the way he grabbed the paper with his shaking hands, he was learning the details of Adele Saran’s murder right here and right now.
Conklin brought Denny black coffee, then he and I went to our desks and put together a photo array of big guys. One was Petrović. Jacobi and Cappy McNeil were also included, as well as three convicts doing life in maximum-security prisons.
When the glue had dried on the six-picture array, Conklin and I returned to the interview room.
I put the photo array in front of Denny Lopez, and Conklin and I took our seats, my partner telling him to give the photos a good look. “Take your time.”
Lopez recognized a picture instantly, stabbed it with his right index finger. “Him. That’s the guy.”
“Be sure. Take another look,” said Conklin.
Denny said he was sure. The camera in the corner of the ceiling duly recorded that he’d identified Lieutenant Warren Jacobi, our friend and commanding officer.
Lopez asked me, “Is that him? Did I pick the right one?”
I answered his question with a question of my own.
“The big guy who bought the women drinks at the Bridge. Did he ever get lucky? Did any of those women ever leave with him?”
“Jeez, I don’t know. You think a lot of my powers of observation, Sergeant. And I’m not sure why.”
It was a funny remark, but I didn’t laugh.
My gut told me that Petrović was our killer, but that hunch wasn’t backed by evidence of any kind.
“Let’s go, Denny.”
Conklin and I drove Lopez back to the vicinity of Bud’s Bar and left him on the corner where we’d found him.