18th Abduction (Women's Murder Club) (8 page)

CHAPTER
25

Two hours after bringing Tuohy in to Southern Station’s Homicide Division, we had his statement, a ten-card of fingerprints that matched his prints already in the system, a cheek swab, and a bite impression.

He had also submitted to Conklin taking photos of his naked arms and upper torso. His body was clean, but Tuohy wasn’t happy.

I thought he might bite
me.

I assigned a uniform to drive the motel troll home and stashed all the physical evidence we’d collected from him into the overnight pouch for the forensics lab.

There was takeout Italian dinner in a bag on Jacobi’s desk when Conklin and I went in to tell him good night.

I asked my boss and former partner, “What do you think?”

“I’m not convinced either way,” said Jacobi. “He had means and opportunity, and if he’s a psycho, opportunity could’ve been his motive. He knew the girl. She could have let him into the room. They got into something. He killed her. But
that’s ‘what if,’ Boxer. Pure speculation. Until Washburn and Clapper weigh in, I’m not putting down any bets.”

Which meant he wasn’t going to ask the DA to get an arrest warrant, or search warrants for Tuohy’s domicile, office, and car. There was no probable cause. We were lucky to get exclusionary prints and DNA.

I nodded my agreement. Any guy walking past Carly’s door could have pushed her in and killed her. He might’ve even had a clean white shirt in his suitcase.

“You did good,” Jacobi said to me and Conklin.

It was after 9:00 p.m. when Conklin and I got into our car and headed out toward Russian Hill.

Carly Myers had been murdered. How, by whom, and why were still pieces of a mystery, and that was devastating. We weren’t quite back to square one, but we might as well have been.

Where were Susan and Adele?

No freaking clue.

Conklin and I parked on Filbert Street in front of a nice apartment building where the Myers family lived, waiting for us to bring them good or at least hopeful news.

Tragically, all we had was that Carly had been murdered in a motel frequented by prostitutes on possibly the skeeziest block in the city. We didn’t have a suspect, but to stem the grief over Carly’s death, we would promise to find her killer.

Right now that promise wouldn’t hold a drop of water.

My partner and I got out of the car and psychologically buckled up. What we had to tell Carly’s parents was going to change their lives forever.

CHAPTER
26

I’d left Joe sleeping when I headed out of our apartment before seven this morning.

Now, fifteen hours later, I was done and done in. All the lights were on in the living room when I shuffled through the front door. I dropped my keys onto the console, stowed my gun belt in the cabinet, and hugged my dog.

I called out to Joe, but he didn’t answer.

I wanted to tell him all about my day. The leads that had run us into stone walls, a killer who’d scrubbed away evidence, and maybe worst of all, parents who wanted to die rather than live without their murdered daughter.

When Jacobi gets stuck on a case, he turns it upside down, looks at it from a different person’s point of view, or from an opposite angle. I turned my case over as I unlaced my shoes.

Three women had last been seen leaving a restaurant bar after having a good time. They’d been drinking, but none of them had been stumbling drunk.

One of them had been found three days later, a day and a half postmortem, hanged from a shower head in a motel that she’d frequented in her part-time night job as a prostitute.

That was a mindblower from any angle, but I turned it over in my brain. Was Carly broke?

A drug addict?

Under someone’s thumb?

Her sometimes date, Tom Barry, had told us that Carly had a dark side. Jake Tuohy had said she was turning tricks—not what I’d thought Barry meant by “dark side.”

Was this possible? Schoolteacher by day, whore by night?

Karin Slaughter, the assistant dean, was Carly’s friend. She would have rung the bell if Carly were using drugs. Carly’s parents weren’t wealthy but surely could have helped her out if she couldn’t make do on her $70K annual salary. As far as I could tell, she had a safety net. So—why turn to prostitution?

In fact, we had only Jake Tuohy’s word for that.

Similarly, Adele and Susan had friends, jobs, parents. They, too, seemed to have safety nets. But you never knew what was going on beneath the surface. Had their support systems failed?

Were they alive, in mortal danger? Or were they in similar creepy motel rooms, hanged by their necks, as yet undiscovered?

The search warrants for all three of the women’s apartments had been executed, and no additional phones, laptops, or tablets had been found.

I had interviewed Adele’s roommate, Patricia Sanders, who was torn up by fear. She had no idea what could have
happened to her friend. According to Patricia, Adele had left for work on Monday morning, running late. She’d said she was going out for dinner and thrown a kiss as she raced out the door.

The roommate confirmed that Adele carried her phone and a laptop in a shoulder bag.

CSI had the electronics, and so far nothing had jumped out of them, making it more certain that the women had been nabbed by a person or persons they hadn’t known.

At the same time, there had been no ransom notes or calls to any of the women’s parents, and the hounds hadn’t picked up a scent of any of the three women beyond the Bridge’s parking lot.

If this was an abduction, how had it happened? By force? Willingly? And if willingly, what had the kidnapper used to bait the hook?

My shoes were off and lined up under the coatrack.

Martha was wriggling in front of my knees and telling me she’d missed me. I grabbed her up and kissed her and snuggled her. After telling my sweet doggy girl how much I loved her, I went into the living room to find Joe.

CHAPTER
27

I found my Joe reclined in his big chair, papers stacked around him, his laptop open on his thighs, and deep in sleep.

It was after ten o’clock and I wanted to sleep, too, but I wanted to talk to Joe more. Maybe my own special agent would see a flaw in my reasoning or a door I hadn’t opened.

I called his name, walked over, and kissed his head, and he started awake.

“Joe, honey,” I said. “I really need to talk to you.”

He righted his chair into a sitting position and said, “I really need to talk to you, too. In fact, I may need to talk to you more.”

“You first,” I said to my man. “But I have a confession. I stink.”

“Do not.”

“Do.”

By the time I’d showered, gotten into pj’s, and made ham
and mayo sandwiches with tea for two, Joe was back with Martha from their nighttime walk around the block.

I brought our dinner over to the coffee table, and Joe and I relaxed into the inviting embrace of the long leather sofa. I urged Joe to start talking. And he did.

“It’s about Anna,” he said. “Anna is the woman I met sitting on Golden Gate Avenue.”

“I know who you mean.”

“Well, here’s the thing. I didn’t open a case file on her that night. She looked like she’d been through hell, and I was right. In fact, I didn’t know a fraction of it. So I said ‘screw protocol’ and gave her a lift home.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad, Joe. You can walk the protocol back, right?”

Joe picked up his sandwich, looked at it as though he’d never seen such a thing before, and put it back down on the plate.

“I should have done it before I started investigating Slobodan Petrović. I didn’t know if Anna’s story was for real or if she was having flashbacks to the nightmare of nightmares. If I’d opened a file, she would have had to meet with a duty officer and she would have been questioned. Extensively. What if he didn’t believe her? There was a good chance of that. And Bosnia isn’t exactly on our patch.

“I didn’t think it through.”

I remembered Joe’s face when he told me Anna’s story on the night he’d met her. He’d been this close to breaking down when he told me about the scorched-earth destruction of her town. The savage murders of her husband and child.

“You did the humane thing, hon. Subjecting Anna to an
FBI grilling without first vetting her story could have been worse for her, and you, too.”

“That’s what I told myself. But what I’m doing now, having people in other offices do research, digging into government files on behalf of my concern for this woman … I’m acting like I’m a PI, not a federal agent. It’s inexcusable. Let me be more precise: I could get beached.”

Joe Molinari was a straight arrow. Solid. Honest. Some would say a hero. He’d taken a hell of a chance for a stranger. A woman. I tried not to let that bother me.

I asked, “What can you do to fix this?”

“Now that I’ve gone this far, I want to bring this to the supervisor as a real thing. If Petrović is living on Fell Street legally, I want to know how that happened. Why is he here? Is he in a witness protection program? Is he being managed? What’s his deal? If Anna is wrong and this is a Petrović look-alike, I’ll talk her down and save her the grief of being interrogated by the FBI. And I’ll fess up.”

“That shouldn’t take too long,” I said.

He shrugged. “I have to work this myself, not get anyone else involved. Anyway, your turn. Tell me.”

He didn’t have to convince me. I was dying to tell him about my day.

CHAPTER
28

Joe and I changed positions on the sofa. I lay down with my head in Joe’s lap, and he stroked my hair. I told him how good it felt. He smiled, but it didn’t quite take. He looked as wrung out as I felt.

I put it out there; that we’d found Carly’s dead body, that it appeared to be homicide.

“I heard something about a dead woman found in the Big Four.”

“That’s her.”

“Oh, man. Too bad, Linds.”

I filled Joe in on the details, including the shocker that she’d checked into the motel alone, and that according to the manager, she’d done it before.

“He said she was a prostitute.”

“No kidding. The schoolteacher?”

“So said the manager. Right now I have nothing to support that. But, Joe, if Carly was a party girl,
anyone
could have killed her.”

Joe commiserated, encouraged me to keep talking.

I said, “The manager says he may have seen her date, but only from the back. He says Carly had a pimp named Danny or Denny, he doesn’t know. Our night shift is showing Carly’s picture around, talking to their CIs about her and this possible Danny or Denny. And here’s a surprise. None of the hotel guests heard or saw anything suspicious while Carly was at the Big Four.

“These three women were having good lives by nearly any standard. What am I missing?”

Joe said, “Maybe it wasn’t them. It was him. What kind of person would have done this?” His anger was right there, just below the surface. Was he thinking about Petrović and Anna? What kind of man had committed this shocking crime?

I said, “I think her killer was careful. Organized. This wasn’t an amateur job. My guess is he’s killed before.”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

I pictured the three women leaving the Bridge feeling happy, maybe a little tired, tipsy … what had happened?

“Joe, there’s no sign of a struggle in the parking lot outside the Bridge. Assuming the women were offered a lift back to the school after dinner. Say the driver saw an opportunity. Why did these women get into that car?”

“Was it raining?”

“Nope.”

“Maybe they trusted him.”

I smiled at him, squeezed his hand.

“Or one of them did.”

He said, “You’re in the early stages of the investigation. You need more information, Linds. Want to go to bed and sleep on it?”

Sounded good to me. I cleaned up while Joe stacked the dishes in the dishwasher. A few minutes later I met the man I loved in the bedroom. We got under the covers, and Martha climbed in between us.

We all slept.

CHAPTER
29

My eyes flashed open at some dark hour.

I couldn’t remember the whole of my dream, but the fragment that remained was a picture of Carly, Adele, and Susan climbing into a vehicle outside the Bridge.

Now my conscious mind kicked in.

If the three women had gotten into a car with a killer, how was it that twenty-four hours later, Carly had checked into the Big Four Motel alone?

Big question: Where had she been during that time?

If Carly had been tricking,
any
smart and careful psychopath could have killed her in room 212.

I was scared.

I was afraid that this case could be an endless ball of string that would be unsolved for the next twenty years. Or it could go cold forever.

Next unrelenting question: Where were Adele and Susan?

Joe said, “You can’t sleep, either?”

“Oh, damn. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“I was awake. I can’t turn off my brain.”

Martha rolled onto her back and I mindlessly rubbed her belly.

“I’ve got unsolved murders running through my head,” I said.

“And I’ve got voices talking to me,” said Joe.

He rolled toward me. “The voices are saying, ‘Get it together, you dumb shit.’”

“That’s just
mean
of your voices.”

Joe sighed and reached for me.

Martha jumped off the bed and I went into Joe’s arms.

We comforted each other, and then we made love, and fell asleep again until the sun came through the bedroom window.

It was Friday morning. I was primary on a sickening case, and I still had no clues. I had to go to work.

CHAPTER
30

By eight thirty that morning Conklin and I were at our facing desks trying to get a lead on Nancy Koebel, the housekeeper who’d come upon the gruesome scene in room 212.

Then she’d vanished.

Her phone number came up as a prepaid phone, a burner. I called Tuohy, and he told me once again that it was the only number he had for her.

“She’s only been here for a coupla months.”

“Thanks,” I barked at him. This guy really pissed me off.

I went back to my computer.

Koebel’s name was absent from the DMV, SFPD, NCIC, and other available criminal databases. Did she get payroll checks from the Big Four—or was she paid off the books? Did she pay taxes? I doubted it. I couldn’t find a trace of her.

“She’s undocumented,” I said to Conklin. I was taking an educated guess.

That’s when Clapper called.

Maybe he’d found evidence on Carly Myers’s body.

“Hold a sec,” I said, “I’m putting you on speaker.”

I stabbed the button on my phone console.

Hellos were exchanged, then Clapper said, “What do you want first? Bad news or good?”

“Bad,” I said. “Don’t cushion it.”

“Inventory of Carly’s handbag: two textbooks, American history, Western civ. Hefty makeup kit. Pair of sneakers and two white socks. Miscellaneous pads and pens. A strip of condoms. Phone and charger. Laptop and charger. We’ve run down the numbers and email; she shops and pays her bills online. Nothing pops.”

“Shit.”

Clapper kept going.

“Meanwhile, here’s something to keep hope alive. We’ve impounded the ATM from the Stop ’n Go facing across Polk toward the back of the motel,” he said. “We’re taking it apart and should know shortly if the camera was working, the disk was usable, the lens was clean. If all that’s a go, we’ll see if it captured anything useful.”

“Good,” I said, crossing my fingers.

Clapper said, “I’m being paged, but we finished processing Carly Myers’s body down at the morgue last night. Claire has my detailed notes. Call me if you have questions.”

I had questions. Lots of them.

I shouted, “Charlie, wait.”

“Can’t,” he said. “Boxer. Go to the morgue. Claire’s waiting for you. And keep the faith.”

He hung up.

I looked at my partner. “Ready?”

“You go. Take notes. I’ll keep working on Koebel.”

Fine.

I jogged down the four flights of stairs to the lobby and out the back door, and then power walked three hundred yards to the ME’s office. I pulled open the heavy glass door.

It was closing in on 9:00 a.m., and the waiting room was filled with several cops and civilians who were likely family members waiting for autopsy results.

I opened my jacket, flashed my badge at the new receptionist, and told her that Dr. Washburn was waiting for me.

The receptionist pressed the intercom button on her phone and said, “Doctor, Sergeant Boxer is here.” Then, to me, “Go ahead.”

She buzzed open the inner door.

Several people who were waiting their turn saw this exchange and gave me hard looks.

Well. I was on the job.

I headed back to the autopsy suite. It was still early in the investigation, but maybe Claire would give me one tidbit or even, God willing, a eureka that would lead us to a killer and maybe from there to the two still-missing women.

Claire, San Francisco’s chief medical examiner and my best bud, was suited up in baby-blue gown, cap, and gloves. She said, “I’ve got you a set of clothes over there, Lindsay. See it?”

There was a pile of blue cotton scrubs folded on a metal stool, necessary attire to prevent contamination of Carly Myers’s body.

When I was properly dressed, I moved in.

Claire and I bumped our gloved fists, what Claire’s little girl, Rosie, calls an elephant kiss. We grinned and then turned our attention to Carly Myers. She was draped with a sheet from her knees to her armpits.

Claire told me, “Obviously, I haven’t begun the internal autopsy yet, but I have a few useful notes and one thing that has me completely stumped.”

“Start there,” I said.

“What? You want to spoil all my fun?”

“God forbid. Start where you like. It’s your party and I’m in your house.”

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