18th Abduction (Women's Murder Club) (7 page)

CHAPTER
20

I entered the small tiled room knowing that I was about to see something that I would never forget.

Clapper moved the shower curtain aside with the back of his gloved hand, revealing the body of a woman wearing a men’s white shirt large enough that the tails hung to her midthigh.

As Clapper had said, the ligature was an electric cord wrapped around the stem of pipe between the shower head and the wall, and knotted under the victim’s jaw. Her wrists were secured in front of her with pink ladies’ underwear. A few twists of stretch lace could not withstand even Carly’s feeblest thrashing to get her hands free. Her feet hung over the drain, just below the spigots.

There’d been no sign of a struggle in the main room, and I didn’t see signs of disturbance here, either. The curtain hadn’t been pulled down, the bath mat was flat to the floor, lined up with the tub.

I tried to picture Carly Myers, a woman who was well
liked, attractive, successful, and athletic, getting undressed, putting on a men’s white dress shirt, making a noose with an electric cord, and slipping that noose over her head and pulling it tight. She would have had to secure the other end to the shower head and then loop her panties around her wrists in a couple of figure eights.

And then what? She’d stood on the lip of the tub and jumped a couple of feet toward the drain?

No way. She would have reflexively kicked at the tub rim and the wall, pulled at the cord, and the shower apparatus would have pulled out of the wall—no, no, no. She’d been murdered first, and very likely after that, her killer had strung her up. This was a staged suicide. The panties were a flourish. I’d bet my badge on it.

Conklin edged in for a better look.

“There’s a bite mark on her neck,” he said.

“Good catch. And it looks like two bath towels are missing,” I said.

Conklin said, “He used the towels to clean up and took them with him.”

My partner took snapshots of the body and the rest of the small room. When he was done, Clapper asked us to back out, and he summoned Hallows, his number two, to help him cut the body down.

Hallows laid a clean white sheet on the floor between the tub and the wall. Clapper supported the body while Hallows leaned in and cut the electric cord at the midpoint to protect possible DNA on either end.

I was guessing Myers weighed 115 pounds. She fell heavily when the cord was cut, but Clapper took the weight,
Hallows grabbed her legs, and the two of them laid her down on the sheeted floor.

Hallows bagged Myers’s bound hands to preserve evidence that might be under her nails, and Conklin and I stepped outside to the walkway for some air.

I said to Conklin, “You okay?”

“Not really. You?”

We leaned on the railing and watched squad cars slow and pull up to the curb. Cappy McNeil and Paul Chi, two of the best homicide investigators in the state, got out of a gray Chevy and ID’d themselves to the uniform at the tape. Bystanders and looky-loos crowded the Ellis Street side of the line.

I wanted to talk with the manager, Jake Tuohy. Now. I had questions.

Who had checked into room 212? I wanted to see the register and run the names of the guests. I wanted to talk to the housekeeper who had found the body.

And I wanted Chi and McNeil to interview the motel guests sequestered in the lobby. A guest’s name could light up the criminal database. Someone may have seen something—a questionable person, an altercation, a license plate. It crossed my mind that whoever had strung up Carly Myers in the shower was staying here at the Big Four.

Despite my feeling of urgency, it was well worth the time spent to kick around theories with Conklin.

“Let’s play it out,” I said to my partner.

CHAPTER
21

“Rich, do we agree that this was not a suicide?”

“Agreed. Her tongue wasn’t protruding,” he said. “The panties and the shirt are someone’s idea of a joke. She was dead when she was hanged in the shower.”

My turn to agree.

“If she was suicidal, she wouldn’t kill herself in this hole. She’d do it in her apartment. She’d take pills. She doesn’t want her parents to picture what we saw in that bathroom. So let’s back up to the beginning.”

“Right. Starting with where she was last seen,” he said. “Killer sees her walking back to her car after she and her girls leave the Bridge on Monday night.”

I said, “He comes up behind her with a gun and forces her into his car.”

“Or she knew him,” said Conklin. “She gets into his vehicle and he drives her here. There’s a fight and it all goes wrong for Carly. But what about her two friends? Where were they?”

“Let’s focus on Carly for now,” I said. “Most likely, the guy picks her up, and class act that he is, he checks them into this dump. That was his plan all along. He kills her in the room Tuesday night or Wednesday morning and strings her up. He figures when she’s discovered, the cops will think that her death was self-inflicted.”

“That works,” said Rich. “The killer washes up and gets into his car. He could be in Vancouver by now.”

I said, “But there will be evidence of the murder in 212. What about the shirt?”

Conklin shrugged. “Let’s just say this freak likes a woman in a big man’s shirt. Maybe he left some of himself on that shirt.” He nodded at the road. “Look. We have company.”

Press trucks and a satellite van had double-parked along Ellis, and reporters hoping for quotes were crowding the line.

I saw Cindy. She waved. I waved back but made no move to let her through.

She would hold that against me.

Conklin said, “We should notify Carly’s parents before the press does.”

“Right. But first we talk to Tuohy.”

CHAPTER
22

Conklin and I were with Jake Tuohy in his grubby office, sitting across the room from his dump site of a desk.

He looked to be in his sixties, a heavy bulldog of a man with black tufts of hair sprouting in a horseshoe pattern around his balding scalp. His hands were calloused, his clothes were baggy, and his general appearance was consistent with the entropic ambiance of the Big Four Motel.

He also had an aggressive, one-note personality.

While his demeanor and appearance didn’t make him a murderer, I tried him on as a suspect.

He looked physically strong. He had access to the rooms. His prints and DNA would be all over 212 and could easily be explained away. Would the bite mark on Carly Myers’s neck match an impression of Tuohy’s teeth? Was the saliva his?

Tuohy gave us the registration book—he had to. It was the law. But I had no right to demand a bite impression or a cheek swab, and we had no probable cause to arrest him.

Time was speeding by and our investigation was stalled. I
drummed my fingers on the narrow plastic arm of my chair as we waited for Tuohy’s boss to call and give him a go-ahead to talk to us without a lawyer present.

The silence was killing me.

I stared over Tuohy’s head at the large sepia photograph hanging behind his desk, a reproduction of the four railroad tycoons who’d built the Central Pacific Railroad, funding their endeavor with what was widely described as questionable means. They were called the Big Four.

Also hanging on the wall was a photo of a younger Jake Tuohy in some wooded section of Northern California. He was standing beside a deer that had been strung up in a tree by a hind leg. Tuohy was grinning. He had a knife in his hand and was about to gut his kill.

That photo of the dead animal and the pleasure on young Tuohy’s face gave me a very bad feeling.

His phone vibrated.

He read a text, tapped the phone, read another text, then put the phone down.

“All right,” he said. “The dead woman checked in on Tuesday night with cash.”

“Tuesday,” I said. “Not Monday night? You’re sure.”

“It’s in the book. Tuesday. She didn’t say anything to me, just pushed the money across the counter. Two tens and a twenty.”

Conklin leaned forward and asked the motel manager, “She was alone?”

“That’s right.”

“At what time?”

“Around the same time as usual. After ten, something like
that. And like always, she put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on her door. We honor that around here. Up to a point. Due to a laundry strike yesterday, that point was an hour ago.”

Conklin pressed on. “How’d she look?”

“I don’t understand the question.”

Conklin said, “Did she seem normal? Or was she stressed?”

“Fuck if I know,” Tuohy said. “I was on the phone. She pushed the cash at me. I gave her the key card to 212.”

I said, “You said ‘as usual.’ You’ve seen her before.”

“Sure. Like, every few weeks. Cinnamon was some kind of working girl.”

“Cinnamon? No, I think you’re talking about someone else. I’m asking about Carly Myers.”

“Look, I don’t know and I don’t care what her real name was. You showed me her picture, and I’m telling you now. The only way I know that girl is as Cinnamon. And from what I can tell, her customers liked some spice.”

My mind spun. Carly Myers was a working girl? A prostitute?

No way. How could that possibly be true?

CHAPTER
23

Tuohy said that Carly Myers had checked into the motel on Tuesday night and that her name was in the register.

I checked it myself.

As Tuohy had said, her name was right there, wedged in between other guests who’d checked in on Tuesday night. So where had Carly been for twenty-four hours after leaving the Bridge on Monday?

This didn’t make sense.

I pulled up Carly’s picture on my phone, walked it across the room, and showed it to Tuohy.

“This is the dead woman?”

“Yeah. That’s her. She went by the name of Cinnamon. Usually, her pimp drops her off in the parking lot, but I didn’t see him when she checked in the other night.”

Conklin asked, “What’s the pimp’s name?”

I expected Tuohy to say again, “Fuck if I know.” But he said, “Denny or Danny. I’ve heard her say, like, ‘Later,
Denny.’ And don’t ask me if I know anything else about him, because I don’t. Never saw him close up. Couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, don’t know what kind of car he drives, or if he has any ’stinguishing marks.”

There was a knock on the door.

Tuohy groaned, leaned heavily on his desk, and got up. He went to the door and opened it.

Officer Nardone came in and gave me a report; he’d taken guest names and photographed their IDs. A few of the guests were feisty. One had told him he was out on bail and an arrest would sink him. Another had thrown up on Nardone’s shoes.

“I told you. It’s nothing but wild animals out there.”

He shook his head, then said, “None of them saw anything or anybody, including the deceased. Also, Inspectors McNeil and Chi just got here. They’re taking over the interviews.”

This was good. The ball would be moving now.

I went into our holding room and talked with McNeil and Chi, and together we set up a phone relay between them and Nardone. Nardone would run the guests’ names on the car’s computer, while Chi and McNeil stayed with the guests. Nardone would let them know who had a rap sheet.

Einhorn was manning the door. I told him to go out to the street and take pictures of the crowd. The doer might come back to the crime. It happens.

I looked at my watch as I went back to Tuohy’s office. It was 6:00 p.m. We’d been here for three hours. A big twenty-four-hour gap had opened in our timeline. Carly had been somewhere before she was brought here. Where were her two missing friends?

I told Tuohy that I’d need the housekeeper’s contact info.

He tapped on his phone, scribbled a number on the back of a card, and handed it over. “That’s all I’ve got. Anything else I can do for you?”

His growl was heavy with sarcasm.

“Do you have a record, Mr. Tuohy?”

“I’ve been pristine for twenty years.”

“Then you have nothing to worry about. We’re going to need you to come with us down to the station. You spoke with the dead woman. Your fingerprints are on the doors. This makes you a material witness to a homicide. Let’s get your statement on the record.”

“Son of a bitch.”

Tuohy glowered at us. My gut tensed up. I could see him killing a prostitute, easy.

It might have been a murder of opportunity, then he’d staged a cover-up. Or maybe it was personal and he thought he could get away with it.

I watched Tuohy think through his options. Guys in jobs like this were streetwise. He knew he didn’t need to come to the station, but if he didn’t, we would double down. Get a search warrant for his home and car while we were at it. We could take his life apart.

Tuohy texted his boss.

Then he put on his hat and jacket, and we walked him out to our car.

CHAPTER
24

Conklin took the wheel, and as we crawled through rush hour to the Hall, I checked Tuohy’s arrest record on the MDC.

Jacob “Jake” Tuohy had spent time at Folsom for possession, holding up an all-night convenience store armed with his finger in his pocket, and around that time his ex-wife had gotten a restraining order against him.

I expected more and worse, but as he’d said, his sheet had been clean for twenty years. “Pristine.”

While I liked Tuohy for Carly Myers’s murder, I didn’t see him as organized, a master planner, or a serial killer. But Jake Tuohy was all we had.

We left the squad car parked on Bryant in front of the Hall and escorted Tuohy upstairs to Homicide. The squad room was nearly empty, all hands on the street, talking to their informants, trying to locate the missing and possibly dead schoolteachers.

Conklin made Tuohy comfortable in Interview 1, while I
went out to the observation room behind the glass and watched with Jacobi as Conklin questioned our person of interest.

He started off with softball questions, then mixed in the harder ones—pitching them right across the plate.

Tuohy stuck to his story; he had not killed Carly Myers and didn’t know who had. He hadn’t seen anyone go into her room. Furthermore, he’d never heard of Susan Jones or Adele Saran. He scrutinized their photos and said he didn’t recognize either of them.

I didn’t see a tell. I didn’t smell a lie. But men who ran no-tell motels were streetwise and cop-wary. They made deals with their guests, sex in exchange for drugs or a free overnight. Lies came easy to them.

Conklin joined us behind the glass, and Jacobi took his place in the interrogation room. Jacobi was a pro who’d spent most of his career in a squad car, and much of that time in the Tenderloin. Some of that time I’d been sitting next to him in the car. He was tough.

At this time, Jacobi was just over fifty, and any sympathy he may once have had for down-and-out psychos had disappeared.

Jacobi took a turn at Tuohy, with one new result.

Tuohy now remembered that he might have seen a man standing in the parking lot when Carly checked in. He only saw the guy from the back. Tuohy said he was big, with square shoulders. He didn’t remember seeing him before. He wondered now if Carly had freelanced this date.

A big man, seen from behind. Christ.

Was he throwing Jacobi a bone so we would let him out of the box?

Jacobi asked Tuohy, “Did you see his vehicle?”

“No.”

“What was he wearing?”

“Fuck if I know.”

“I want to clear you, Mr. Tuohy. I need your prints, et cetera.”

Tuohy sighed, nodded.

Jacobi got up from the table and left the room.

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