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Womans Murder Club 5 The 5th Horseman

Patterson James


antiquePatterson,JamesWomans Murder Club 5 - The 5th HorsemanenPatterson,Jamescalibre 0.8.911.7.20115e6ed380-1eec-4547-bd70-88592432f32e1.0

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Prologue

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 1

RAIN WAS DRUMMING HARD against the windows when the midnight-to-8:00 rounds began at San Francisco Municipal Hospital. Inside the ICU, thirty-year-old Jessie Falk was asleep in her hospital bed, floating on a Percocet lake of cool light.

Jessie was having the most beautiful dream she’d had in years.

She and the light of her life, three-year-old Claudia, were in Grandma’s backyard swimming pool. Claudie was in her birthday suit and bright-pink water wings, slapping the water, sunlight glinting off her blond curls.

“Simon says, kiss like a butterfly, Claudie.”

“Like this, Mommy?”

Then the mother and daughter were shouting and laughing, twirling and falling down, singing out “wheeeeeee,” when without warning a sharp pain pierced Jessie’s chest.

She awoke with a scream — bolted upright — and clapped both of her hands to her breast.

What was happening? What was that pain?

Then Jessie realized that she was in a hospital — and that she was feeling sick again. She remembered coming here, the ambulance ride, a doctor telling her that she was going to be fine, not to worry.

Falling, nearly fainting back to the mattress, Jessie fumbled for the call button at her side. Then the device slipped from her grasp and fell. It banged against the side of the bed with a muted clang.

Oh, God, I can’t breathe. What’s happening? I can’t get my breath. It’s horrible. I’m not fine.

Tossing her head from side to side, Jessie swept the darkened hospital room with her eyes. Then she seized on a figure at the far edge of her vision.

She knew the face.

“Oh, th-thank God,” she gasped. “Help me, please. It’s my heart.”

She stretched out her hands, clutched feebly at the air, but the figure stayed in the shadows.

“Please,” Jessie pleaded.

The figure wouldn’t come forward, wouldn’t help. What was going on? This was a hospital. The person in the shadows worked here.

Tiny black specks gathered in front of Jessie’s eyes as a crushing pain squeezed the air from her chest. Suddenly her vision tunneled to a pinprick of white light.

“Please help me. I think I’m—”

“Yes,” said the figure in the shadows, “you are dying, Jessie. It’s beautiful to watch you cross over.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 2

JESSIE’S HANDS FLUTTERED like a tiny bird’s wings beating against the sheets. Then they were very still. Jessie was gone.

The Night Walker came forward and bent low over the hospital bed. The young woman’s skin was mottled and bluish, clammy to the touch, her pupils fixed. She had no pulse. No vital signs. Where was she now? Heaven, hell, nowhere at all?

The silhouetted figure retrieved the fallen call device, then tugged the blankets into place, straightened the young woman’s blond hair and the collar of her gown, and blotted the spittle from her lips with a tissue.

Nimble fingers lifted the framed photo beside the phone on the bedside table. She’d been so pretty, this young mother holding her baby. Claudia. That was the daughter’s name, wasn’t it?

The Night Walker put the picture down, closed the patient’s eyes, and placed what looked to be small brass coins, smaller than dimes, on each of Jessie Falk’s eyelids.

The small disks were embossed with a caduceus — two serpents entwined around a winged staff, the symbol of the medical profession.

A whispered good-bye blended with the sibilance of tires speeding over the wet pavement five stories below on Pine Street.

“Good night, princess.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Part One

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

MALICE AFORETHOUGHT

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 3

I WAS AT MY DESK sifting through a mound of case files, eighteen open homicides to be exact, when Yuki Castellano, attorney-at-law, called on my private line.

“My mom wants to take us to lunch at the Armani Café,” said the newest member of the Women’s Murder Club. “You’ve gotta meet her, Lindsay. She can charm the skin off a snake, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.”

Let me see; what should I choose? Cold coffee and tuna salad in my office? Or a tasty Mediterranean luncheon, say, carpaccio over arugula with thin shavings of Parmesan and a glass of Merlot, with Yuki and her snake-charming mom?

I neatened the stack of folders, told our squad assistant, Brenda, that I’d be back in a couple of hours, and left the Hall of Justice with no need to be back until the staff meeting at 3:00.

The bright September day had broken a rainy streak in the weather and was one of the last glory days before the dank autumn chill would close in on San Francisco.

It was a joy to be outside.

I met Yuki and her mother, Keiko, in front of Saks in the upscale Union Square shopping district out by the Golden Gate Panhandle. Soon we were chattering away as the three of us headed up Maiden Lane toward Grant Avenue.

“You girls, too modern,” Keiko said. She was as cute as a bird, tiny, perfectly dressed and coiffed, shopping bags dangling from the crooks of her arms. “No man want woman who too independent,” she told us.

“Mommm,” Yuki wailed. “Give it a rest, willya? This is the twenty-first century. This is America.”

“Look at you, Lindsay,” Keiko said, ignoring Yuki, poking me under the arm. “You’re packing!”

Yuki and I both whooped, our shouts of laughter nearly drowning out Keiko’s protestation that “no man want a woman with a gun.”

I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand as we stopped and waited for the light to change.

“I do have a boyfriend,” I said.

“Doesn’t she though,” Yuki said, nearly bursting into a song about my beau. “Joe is a very handsome Italian guy. Like Dad. And he’s got a big-deal government job. Homeland Security.”

“He make you laugh?” Keiko asked, pointedly ignoring Joe’s credentials.

“Uh-huh. Sometimes we laugh ourselves into fits.”

“He treat you nice?”

“He treats me sooooo nice,” I said with a grin.

Keiko nodded approvingly. “I know that smile,” she said. “You find a man with a slow hands.”

Again Yuki and I burst into hoots of laughter, and from the sparkle in Keiko’s eyes, I could tell that she was enjoying her role as Mama Interrogator.

“When you get a ring from this Joe?”

That’s when I blushed. Keiko had nailed it with a well-manicured finger. Joe lived in Washington, DC. I didn’t. Couldn’t. I didn’t know where our relationship was going.

“We’re not at the ring stage yet,” I told her.

“You love this Joe?”

“Big-time,” I confessed.

“He love you?”

Yuki’s mom was looking up at me with amusement, when her features froze as if she’d turned to stone. Her lively eyes glazed over, rolled back, and her knees gave way.

I reached out to grab her, but I was too late.

Keiko dropped to the pavement with a moan that made my heart buck. I couldn’t believe what had happened, and I couldn’t understand it. Had Keiko suffered a stroke?

Yuki screamed, then crouched beside her mother, slapping her cheeks, crying out, “Mommy, Mommy, wake up.”

“Yuki, let me in there for a second. Keiko. Keiko, can you hear me?”

My heart was thudding hard as I placed my fingers to Keiko’s carotid artery, tracked her pulse against the second hand of my watch.

She was breathing, but her pulse was so weak, I could barely feel it.

I grabbed the Nextel at my waist and called Dispatch.

“Lieutenant Boxer, badge number twenty-seven twenty-one,” I barked into the phone. “Get an EMS unit to Maiden Lane and Grant. Make it now!”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 4

SAN FRANCISCO MUNICIPAL HOSPITAL is huge — like a city in itself. Once a public hospital, it had been privatized a few years back, but it still took more than its share of indigents and overflow from other hospitals, treating in excess of a hundred thousand patients a year.

At that moment, Keiko Castellano was inside one of the curtained stalls that ringed the perimeter of the vast, frantic emergency room.

As I sat beside Yuki in the waiting room, I could feel her terror and fear for her mother’s life.

And I flashed on the last time I’d been inside an emergency room. I remembered the doctors’ ghostlike hands touching my body, the loud throbbing of my heart, and wondering if I was going to get out alive.

I’d been off duty that night but went on a stakeout anyway, not thinking that one minute it would be a routine job, and the next minute I’d be down. The same was true for my friend and former partner, Inspector Warren Jacobi. We’d both taken two slugs in that desolate alley. He was unconscious and I was bleeding out on the street when somehow I found the strength to return fire.

My aim had been good, maybe even too good.

It’s a sad sign of the times that public sympathy favors civilians who’ve been shot by police over police who’ve been shot by civilians. I was sued by the family of the so-called victims and I could have lost everything.

I hardly knew Yuki then.

But Yuki Castellano was the smart, passionate, and supertalented young lawyer who had come through for me when I really needed her. I would always be grateful.

I turned to Yuki now as she spoke, her voice choppy with agitation, her face corrugated with worry.

“This makes no sense, Lindsay. You saw her. She’s only fifty-five, for God’s sake. She’s a freaking life force. What’s going on? Why don’t they tell me something? Or at least let me see her?”

I had no answer, but like Yuki, I was out of patience.

Where the hell was the doctor?

This was unconscionable. Not acceptable in any way.

What was taking so long?

I was gathering myself to walk into the ER and demand some answers, when a doctor finally strode into the waiting room. He looked around, then called Yuki’s name.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 5

THE NAME TAG over the pocket of his white coat read “Dennis Garza, MD, Dir. Emergency Services.”

I couldn’t help noticing that Garza was a handsome man — midforties, six foot one, 180 or so, broad-shouldered, and in good shape. His Spanish lineage showed in his black eyes and the thick black hair that fell across his forehead.

But what struck me most was the tension in the doctor’s body, his rigid stance and the way he repeatedly, impatiently, snapped the wristband of his Rolex, as if to say, I’m a busy man. An important, busy man. Let’s get on with it. I don’t know why, but I didn’t like him.

“I’m Dr. Garza,” he said to Yuki. “Your mother probably had a neurological insult, either what we call a TIA, a transient ischemic attack, or a mini-stroke. In plain English, it’s a loss of circulation and oxygen to the brain, and she may have had some angina — that’s pain caused by a narrowing of the coronary arteries.”

“Is that serious? Is she in pain now? When will I be able to see her?”

Yuki fired questions at Dr. Garza until he put up a hand to stop the onslaught.

“She’s still incoherent. Most people recover within a half hour. Others, maybe your mother, take as long as twenty-four hours. Her condition is guarded. And visitors are off-limits right now. Let’s see how she does tonight, shall we?”

“She is going to be all right though, right? Right?” Yuki asked the doctor.

“Miss Castellano. Take a deep breath,” Garza said. “I’ll let you know when we know.”

The door to the ER swung closed behind the unpleasant doctor, and Yuki sat down hard on a plastic chair, slumped forward, lowered her face into her hands, and began to sob. I’d never seen Yuki cry before, and it killed me that I couldn’t fix what was hurting her.

I did all that I could do.

I put my arm around Yuki’s shoulders, saying, “It’s okay, honey. She’s in good hands here. I know your mom will be better really soon.”

Then I rubbed Yuki’s back as she cried and cried. She seemed so tiny and afraid, almost like a little girl.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 6

THERE WERE NO WINDOWS in the waiting room. The hands of the clock above the coffee machine inched around the dial, cycling the afternoon into night and midnight into morning. Dr. Garza never returned, and he never sent us any word.

During those eighteen long hours, Yuki and I took turns pacing, getting coffee, and going to the ladies’ room. We ate vending-machine sandwiches for dinner, traded magazines, and, in the eerie fluorescent silence, listened to each other’s shallow breathing.

At just after 3:00 a.m., Yuki fell sound asleep against my shoulder — waking with a start twenty minutes later.

“Has anything happened?”

“No, sweetie. Go back to sleep.”

But she couldn’t do it.

We sat shoulder to shoulder inside that synthetically bright, inhospitable place as the faces around us changed: the couple with linked hands staring into the middle distance, the families with young children in their arms, an elderly man sitting alone.

Every time the swinging door to the ER opened, eyes would snap toward it.

Sometimes a doctor would step out.

Sometimes shrieks and cries would follow.

It was almost 6:00 in the morning when a young female intern with weary eyes and a blood-smeared lab coat came out of the ER and mangled Yuki’s name.

“How is she?” Yuki asked, bounding to her feet.

“She’s more alert now, so she’s doing better,” said the intern. “We’re going to keep her for a few days and do some tests, but you can visit as soon as we settle her into her room.”

Yuki thanked the doctor and turned to me with a smile that was far more radiant than was reasonable, given what the doctor had just told her.

“Oh-my-God, Linds, my mom’s going to be okay! I can’t say how much it means to me that you stayed with me all night,” Yuki said.

She grabbed both of my hands, tears filling her eyes. “I don’t know how I could have done this if you hadn’t been here. You saved me, Lindsay.”

I hugged her, folded her in.

“Yuki, we’re friends. Anything you need, you don’t even have to ask. You know that, right? Anything.

“Don’t forget to call,” I said.

“The worst is over,” said Yuki. “Don’t worry about us now, Lindsay. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

I turned to look behind me as I exited the hospital through the automatic sliding doors.

Yuki was still standing there, watching me, smiling and waving good-bye.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 7

A CAB WAS IDLING in front of the hospital. Lucky me. I slid in and slumped into the backseat, feeling like total crap, only much worse. Pulling all-nighters is for college kids, not big girls like me.

The driver was mercifully silent as we made our way across town to Potrero Hill at dawn.

A few minutes later, I slipped my key into the front door of the pretty, blue three-story Victorian town house I share with two other tenants, and climbed the groaning staircase to the second floor, two steps at a time.

Sweet Martha, my border collie, greeted me at the door as if I’d been gone for a year. I knew her sitter had fed and walked her — Karen’s bill was on the kitchen table — but Martha had missed me and I’d missed her, too.

“Yuki’s mom is in the hospital,” I told my doggy. Corny me. I wrapped my arms around her, and she gave me sloppy kisses, then followed me back to my bedroom.

I wanted to fall into the downy folds of bedding for seven or eight hours, but instead I changed into a wrinkled Santa Clara U tracksuit and took Her Sweetness for a run as the glowing morning fog hovered over the bay.

At eight on the nose I was at my desk looking through the glass walls of my cubicle out at the squad room as the morning tour sauntered in.

The stack of files on my desk had grown since I’d seen it last, and the message light on my phone was blinking in angry red bursts. I was about to address these irritations, when a shadow fell across my desk and my unopened container of coffee.

A large, balding man stood in my doorway. I knew his pug-ugly face almost as well as I knew my own.

My former partner wore the time-rumpled look of a career police officer who had rounded the corner on fifty. Inspector Warren Jacobi’s hair was turning white, and his deep, hooded eyes were harder than they’d been before he’d taken those slugs on Larkin Street.

“You look like you slept on a park bench last night, Boxer.”

“Thanks, dear.”

“I hope you had fun.”

“Tons. What’s up, Jacobi?”

“A DOA was called in twenty minutes ago,” he said. “A female, formerly very attractive, I’m told. Found dead inside a Cadillac in the Opera Plaza Garage.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 8

THE OPERA PLAZA GARAGE is a cavernous indoor lot adjacent to a huge mixed-use commercial building that houses movie theaters, offices, and shops in the middle of a densely populated business district.

Now, on a workday morning, Jacobi nosed our car up to the curb beside the line of patrol cars strategically parked to block access to the garage entrance on Golden Gate Avenue.

No cars were coming in or going out, and a shifting crowd had gathered, prompting Jacobi to mutter, “The citizens are squawking. They know a hot case when they see one.”

I excused our way through the throng as strident voices called out to me. “Are you in charge here?” “Hey, I’ve got to get my car. I’ve got a meeting in like five minutes!”

I ducked under the tape and took up a position on the entry ramp, making good use of my five-foot-ten frame. I said my name and apologized for the inconvenience to one and all.

“Please bear with us. Sorry to say, this garage is a crime scene. I hope as much as you do that we’ll be out of here soon. We’ll do our best.”

I fielded some unanswerable questions, then turned as I heard my name and the sound of footsteps coming from behind me. Jacobi’s new partner, Inspector Rich Conklin, was heading down the ramp to meet us.

I’d liked Conklin from the moment I’d met him a few years back, when he was a smart and dogged uniformed officer. Bravery in the line of duty and an impressive number of collars had earned him his recent promotion to Homicide at the ripe young age of twenty-nine.

Conklin had also attracted a lot of attention from the women working in the Hall once he’d traded in his uniform for a gold shield.

At just over six foot one, Conklin was buffed to a T, with brown eyes, light-brown hair, and the wholesome good looks of a college baseball player crossed with a Navy SEAL.

Not that I’d noticed any of this.

“What have we got?” I asked Conklin.

He hit me with his clear brown eyes. Very serious, but respectful. “The vic is a Caucasian female, Lieutenant, approximately twenty-one or twenty-two. Looks to me like a ligature mark around her neck.”

“Any witnesses so far?”

“Nope, we’re not that lucky. The guy over there,” Conklin said, hooking a thumb toward the scraggly, long-haired ticket-taker in the booth, “name of Angel Cortez, was on duty all night, didn’t see anything unusual, of course. He was on the phone with his girlfriend when a customer came screaming down the ramp.

“Customer’s name is” — Conklin flipped open his notebook — “Angela Spinogatti. Her car was parked overnight, and she saw the body inside the Caddy this morning. That’s about all she had for us.”

“You ID’d the Caddy’s plates?” Jacobi asked.

Conklin nodded his head once, turned a page in his notebook. “The car belongs to a Lawrence P. Guttman, DDS. No sheet, no warrants. We’ve got calls into him now.”

I thanked Conklin and asked him to collect the parking-garage tickets and the surveillance tapes.

Then Jacobi and I headed up the ramp.

I’d had way too little sleep, but a thin, steady flow of adrenaline was entering my bloodstream. I was imagining the scene before I saw it, thinking about how a young white female came to be strangled inside a parking garage.

Footsteps echoed overhead. Lots and lots of them. My people.

I counted a dozen members of the SFPD strung around the upward-coiling concrete-ribbon parking area. Officers were going through the trash, taking down plate numbers, looking for anything that would help us before the crime scene was returned to the public domain.

Jacobi and I rounded the bend that took us to the fourth floor and saw the Caddy in question, a black late-model Seville, sleek, unscratched. Its nose was pointing over the railing toward the Civic Center Garage on McAllister.

“Zero to sixty in under five seconds,” Warren muttered, then did a fair imitation of the Cadillac musical sting from their TV commercials.

“Down, boy,” I said.

Charlie Clapper, head of CSU, was wearing his usual non-smile and a gray herringbone jacket that casually matched his salt-and-pepper hair.

He put his camera down on the hood of an adjacent Subaru Outback and said, “Mornin’, Lou, Jacobi. Meet Jane Doe.”

I tugged on latex gloves and followed him around the car. The trunk was closed because the victim wasn’t in there.

She was sitting in the passenger seat, hands folded in her lap, her pale, wide-open eyes staring out through the windshield expectantly.

As if she were waiting for someone to come.

“Aw, shit,” Jacobi said with disgust. “Beautiful young girl like this. All dressed up and no place to go. Forever.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 9

“I DON’T SEE a handbag anywhere,” Clapper was telling me. “I left her clothing intact for the ME. Nice duds,” he said. “Looks like a rich girl. You think?”

I felt a shock of sadness and anger as I looked into the victim’s dreamy face.

She was fair-skinned, a light dusting of powder across her face, a hint of blush on the apples of her cheeks. Her hair was cut in a Meg Ryan-style mop of tousled blond lights, and her nails had been recently manicured.

Everything about this woman spoke of privilege and opportunity, and money. It was as if she’d been just about to step down the runway of life when some psycho had ripped it all away from her.

I pressed the victim’s cheek with the back of my hand. Her skin was tepid to the touch, telling me that she’d been alive last night.

“Larry, Moe, and Curly didn’t whack this little lady,” Jacobi commented.

I nodded my agreement.

When I first got into Homicide, I learned that crime scenes generally come in two types. The kind where the evidence is disorganized: blood spatter, broken objects, shell casings scattered around, bodies sprawled where they fell.

And then there were the scenes like this one.

Organized. Planned out.

Plenty of malice aforethought.

The victim’s clothes were neat, no bunching, no buttonholes missed. She was even wearing a seat belt, which was drawn snug across her lap and shoulder.

Had the killer cared about her?

Or was this tidy scene some kind of message for whoever found her?

“The passenger-side door was opened with a slim jim,” Clapper told us. “The surfaces have all been wiped clean. No prints to be found inside or out. And look over here.”

Clapper pointed up toward the camera mounted on a concrete pylon. It faced down the ramp, away from the Caddy.

He lifted his chin toward another camera that was pointed up the ramp toward the fifth level.

“I don’t think you’re going to catch this bird doing the vic on tape,” Clapper said. “This car is in a perfect blind spot.”

I like this about Charlie. He knows what he’s doing, shows you what he sees, but the guy doesn’t try to take over the scene. He lets you do your job, too.

I directed my flashlight beam into the interior of the car, checking off the relevant details in my mind.

The victim looked healthy, weighed about 110, stood maybe five foot or five one.

No wedding band or engagement ring.

She was wearing a crystal bead necklace, which hung below a ligature mark.

The mark itself was shallow and ropy, as if it had been made with something soft.

I saw no defensive cuts or bruises on her arms and, except for the ligature mark, no signs of violence.

I didn’t know how or why this girl had been killed, but my eyes and my gut told me that she hadn’t died in this car.

She had to have been moved here, then posed in a tableau that somebody was meant to admire.

I doubted that someone had gone to all of this trouble for me.

I hoped not.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 10

“HAVE YOU GOT your pictures?” I asked Clapper.

There wasn’t much room to work, and I wanted to get in close for a better look at the victim.

“I’ve got more than enough for my collection,” he said. “The camera loves this girl.”

He stowed his digital Olympus in his case, snapped the lid closed.

I reached into the car and gingerly fished out the labels from the back of the victim’s pale-pink coat and then her slim black party dress.

“The coat is Narciso Rodriguez,” I called out to Jacobi. “And the dress is a little Carolina Herrera number. We’re looking at about six grand in threads here. And that’s not counting the shoes.”

Since Sex and the City, when it came to shoes, Manolo Blahnik was the man. I recognized a pair of his trademark sling-backs on the victim’s feet.

“She even smells like money,” said Jacobi.

“You’ve got a good nose, buddy.”

The fragrance the victim wore had a musky undertone calling up ballrooms and orchids, and maybe moonlit trysts under mossy trees. I was pretty sure I’d never smelled it before, though. Maybe some kind of pricey private label.

I was leaning in for another sniff, when Conklin escorted a short, fortyish white man up the steep ramp. He had a ruff of frizzy hair and small, darting eyes, almost black dots.

“I’m Dr. Lawrence Guttman,” the man huffed indignantly to Jacobi. “And yes. Thanks for asking. That is my car. What are you doing to it?”

Jacobi showed Guttman his badge, said, “Let’s walk down to my car, Dr. Guttman, take a ride to the station. Inspector Conklin and I have some questions for you, but I’m sure we can clear this all up, PDQ.”

It was then that Guttman saw the dead woman in the passenger seat of his Seville. He snapped his eyes back to Jacobi.

“My God! Who is that woman? She’s dead! W-what are you thinking?” he sputtered. “That I killed someone and left her in my car? You can’t think. . . . Are you crazy? I want my lawyer.”

Guttman’s voice was squelched by the roar and echo of a large engine coming toward us. Wheels squealed as a black Chevy van wound up and around the helix of the parking-garage ramp.

It stopped twenty feet away from where we stood, and the side doors slid open.

A woman stepped out of the driver’s seat.

Black, just over forty, substantial in every way imaginable, Claire Washburn carried herself with the dignity of her office and the confidence of a well-loved woman.

The ME had arrived.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 11

CLAIRE IS SAN FRANCISCO’S chief medical examiner, a superb pathologist, a master of intuition, a pretty fair cellist, a happily married lady of almost twenty years, a mother of two boys, and, quite simply, my best friend in the universe.

We’d met fourteen years ago over a dead body, and since then had spent as much time together as some married couples.

We got along better, too.

We hugged right there in the garage, drawing on the love we felt for each other. When we broke from our hug, Claire put her hands on her ample hips and took in the scene.

“So, Lindsay,” she said, “who died on us today?”

“Right now, she goes by Jane Doe. Looks like she was killed by some kind of freako perfectionist, Claire. There’s not a hair out of place. You tell us, though.”

“Well, let’s see what we can see.”

Claire walked to the car with her kit and in short order took her own photos, documenting the victim from every angle, then taped paper bags over the young woman’s hands and feet.

“Lindsay,” she finally called for me, “come have a look here.”

I wedged into the narrow angle between Claire and the car door as Claire rolled up the girl’s upper lip, then rolled down the lower one, showing me the bruising by the beam of her penlight.

“See all this here, sugar? Was this young lady intubated?” Claire asked me.

“Nope. The EMTs never touched her. We waited for you.”

“So this is trauma artifact. Look at her tongue. Appears to be a laceration.”

Claire flicked her light over the furrow at the girl’s neckline.

“Unusual ligature mark,” she told me.

“I thought so, too. Don’t see any petechial hemorrhaging in the eyes,” I said, talking the talk. “Odd, isn’t it? If she was strangled?”

“All of it’s odd, girlfriend,” said Claire. “Her clothes are immaculate. Don’t see that too much with a body dump. If ever.”

“Cause of death? Time of death?”

“I’d say she went down somewhere around midnight. She’s just going into rigor. Other than that, all I know is that this girl is dead. I’ll have more for you after I examine young Jane under some decent light back at the shop.”

Claire stood and spoke to her assistant.

“Okay, Bobby. Let’s get this poor girl out of the car. Gently, please.”

I walked to the edge of the fourth floor and looked out over the tops of buildings and the creeping traffic down on Golden Gate Avenue. When I felt a little collected, I called Jacobi on my cell.

“I turned Guttman loose,” he told me. “He’d just gotten off a flight from New York, had left his car at the garage while he was out of town.”

“Alibi?”

“His alibi checks out. Someone else parked that girl in his Caddy. How’s it going over there?”

I turned, saw Claire and Bobby wrapping the victim tamale-style in the second of two sheets before inserting her into a body bag. The chalk-on-board sound of that six-foot-long zipper closing, the finality of encasing the victim in an airproof sack, feels like a gut-punch no matter how many times you’ve witnessed it.

My voice sounded sad to my own ears as I said to Jacobi, “We’re wrapping things up now.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 12

IT WAS ALMOST 6:00 that night, ten hours after we’d found Caddy Girl’s body.

The sheaf of paper in the center of my desk was a list of the 762 cars that had gone through the Opera Plaza Garage last night.

Since morning, we’d run the plates and registrations of those cars through the database, and no red flags had popped up, nothing even remotely promising.

We’d also struck out on Caddy Girl’s prints.

She’d never been arrested, or taught school, or joined the military, or worked for any government agency.

A half hour ago, we’d gotten a digital picture of her likeness out to the press, and depending on what else was happening in the world, she’d be in all the newspapers tomorrow.

I pulled the rubber band out of my hair, shook out my ponytail, threw a breathy sigh that riffled the papers in front of me.

Then I called Claire, who was still downstairs in the morgue.

I asked her if she was hungry.

“Meet me downstairs in ten,” she said.

I greeted Claire at her private parking spot on McAllister. She unlocked the car, and I opened the passenger-side door of her Pathfinder. Claire’s scene kit was on the seat, along with a pair of hip waders, a hard hat, a map of California, and her ancient 35mm Minolta.

I transferred the tools of her trade from the front into the back and wearily slid onto the passenger seat. Claire gave me an appraising look, then burst out laughing.

“What’s the joke, Butterfly?”

“You’ve got that third-degree look on your puss,” she told me. “And you don’t have to work me over, baby girl. I’ve got what you want right here.”

Claire waved some papers at me, then shoved them into her cowhide handbag.

Some people think Claire’s nickname is Butterfly because, like Muhammad Ali, she “floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.”

Not so.

Claire Washburn has a bright golden Monarch butterfly tattooed on her left hip. Now I pinned her with my eyes.

“I’m sooooo ready to hear your verdict,” I said.

Claire gave it up at last.

“It’s a homicide, definitely,” she told me. “Lividity was inconsistent with a sitting position, so she was moved. And I found faint bruising across the tops of her arms, chest, and on her rib cage.”

“So the manner and cause of death?”

“I’m gonna say she was burked,” Claire told me.

I was familiar with the term.

In the 1820s, a couple of sweethearts named Burke and Hare were in the cadaver procurement business. For a while, they dug up bodies for sale to Edinburgh’s medical schools — until they realized how easy it was to produce fresh corpses by grabbing live victims and sitting on their chests until they died.

Burking was still in good standing today. Postpartum mommies do it to their kids more often than you’d ever want to know. Slip the child between the mattress and box spring, sit on the bed.

If you can’t expand your chest, you can’t breathe.

And the victim’s body shows little or no sign of trauma.

I buckled up as Claire backed the car out and headed to Susie’s.

“It was a horror show for this girl, Lindsay,” Claire told me. “What I’m thinking is, while one perp sat on her chest, another freak slipped a plastic bag over her head and smothered her. Rolled up the edge of the bag good and tight. That’s where the ligature mark came from. Maybe he pressed his hand to her nose and mouth at the same time.”

“She had two killers?”

“If you ask me, Lindsay, that’s the only way it could have been done.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 13

SAN FRANCISCO’S BUSINESS DISTRICT slipped by as Claire piloted the Pathfinder through evening rush-hour traffic. We were silent for a few minutes, the eeriness of that young woman’s death filling the space around us.

Images shifted in my mind as I tried to put it together one grisly piece at a time.

“Two killers,” I finally said to Claire. “Working as a team. Posing the victim inside a car after the fact. What’s the point of that? What’s the message?”

“It’s cold, for one thing,” Claire said.

“And sick, for another. The rape kit?”

“Is at the lab,” said Claire, “along with that pricey outfit Caddy Girl was wearing. By the way, the lab found a semen stain on the hem of her skirt.”

“Was she raped?”

“I didn’t see the kind of vaginal tearing or bruising you’d expect from a rape,” Claire mused. “We’ll have to wait to decide about that.”

Claire braked the car at the Muni rail crossing, and together we watched the train rattle by. Night was closing in over the city of San Francisco, and the commuters were all going home.

Questions were still flooding my little mind. Lots of them. About who Caddy Girl was. Who had killed her. How she and her killers might have crossed paths.

Had the killing been personal?

Or was Caddy Girl a victim of opportunity?

If it was the latter, we could be looking for a ritualistic killer, someone who liked to kill and was equally excited by patterns.

Someone who might like to do it again.

Claire made a left across a break in the oncoming traffic. A moment later, she executed a careful parallel-park maneuver between two cars on Bryant, right outside Susie’s.

She turned off the engine, turned to face me. “There’s more,” she said.

“Don’t make me beg, Butterfly.”

Claire laughed at me, meaning it took even longer for her to get it together and tell me what I was dying to know.

“The shoes,” she said. “They’re a size eight.”

“Couldn’t be. That little girl?”

“Could be and are. But you’re right that it’s crazy, Linds. Caddy Girl probably wore a size five. Those shoes weren’t hers. And the soles have never touched pavement.”

“Huh,” I said. “If they’re not her shoes, maybe those aren’t her clothes, either.”

“That’s what I’m thinking, Lindsay. I don’t know what it means, but those clothes are brand-new. No sweat stains, no body soil of any kind. Somebody carefully, I want to say artfully, dressed that poor girl after she was dead.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 14

IT WAS STILL EARLY in the evening when Claire and I crossed the threshold to Susie’s, the boisterous, sometimes rowdy Caribbean-style eatery where a group of my friends meet for dinner every week or so.

The reggae band hadn’t yet arrived — which was fine, because when Cindy waved to us from “our” booth, I could see from her expression that she had something big on her mind.

And words were her thing.

Cindy is the hot-shit crime reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle these days. We met four years ago while I was working a particularly grisly case involving honeymoon murders, and she talked her way right into my crime scene. Her audacity and tenacity ticked me off enormously, but I came to respect those same qualities when her reporting helped me nail a vicious killer and send him to death row.

By the time Cindy crashed my next crime scene, we’d bonded and become trusting friends. I’d do anything for her now. Well, almost anything — she is a reporter after all.

Claire and I wriggled into the booth opposite Cindy, who looked both boyish and girly with her fluffy blond hair, man-tailored black suit jacket over a mauve sweater, and jeans. Her front two teeth overlap minutely, which only makes her face look even prettier. Her smile, when it comes, lights you up inside.

I flagged down Loretta, ordered a pitcher of margaritas, turned off my cell phone, then said to Cindy, “You look like you’re hatching something.”

“You’re good. And you’re right,” she said with a grin. She licked salt off her upper lip and set down her glass.

“I’ve got a lead on a story that’s going to be a bombshell,” Cindy said. “And I think I’ve got it to myself — at least for a while.”

“Do tell,” said Claire. “You’ve got the talking stick, girlfriend.”

Cindy laughed and launched into her story.

“I overheard a couple of lawyers talking in an elevator. They arrr-oused my interest,” Cindy said with a funny, leonine growl, “and I followed up.”

“Don’t you just love blabbermouths?” I said, pouring margaritas for Claire and myself, then topping off Cindy’s glass.

“Some of my favorite people,” Cindy said, leaning in toward the center of the table.

“So here’s the prepublication scoop. There’s a malpractice suit starting against a huge hospital right here in Metropolis,” she told us. “Last couple of years, a number of patients who were admitted through the emergency room fully recovered. Then, a few days later, according to what I overheard between the lobby and the fourth floor of the Civic Center Courthouse, those patients died. Because they got the wrong medication.”

I eyed Cindy over the rim of my glass. A feeling was starting to grow in the center of my chest, a feeling I hoped would disappear as she continued her story.

“This hotshot lawyer named Maureen O’Mara is going after the hospital, representing a bunch of the patients’ families,” Cindy was saying.

“Which hospital?” I asked. “Can you tell me?”

“Well, sure, Linds. San Francisco Municipal.”

I heard Claire say, “Oh, no,” as the feeling in my gut mushroomed.

“I just spent the night at Municipal holding Yuki’s hand,” I said. “We brought her mom into the emergency room yesterday afternoon.”

“Let’s not go crazy, here,” Cindy said quietly. “It’s a humongous hospital. There’s one doctor in particular in the crosshairs, a guy named Garza. Apparently, most of the deceased in question were admitted on his watch.”

“Oh my God,” I said, my blood pressure spiking so I felt heat through the top of my head. “He’s the one. I met him. That’s the doctor who admitted Yuki’s mother!”

Just then, the air moved at the back of my neck, and silky hair brushed the side of my face as someone bent down to kiss my cheek.

“Did you just mention my name?” Yuki asked. She slipped into the empty seat beside Cindy. “What’d I miss?”

“Cindy is working on a story.”

“It’s something I think you should know,” said Claire.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 15

YUKI’S EYES WERE BEAMING question marks, but suddenly Cindy seemed reluctant to talk.

“You can trust me,” Yuki said earnestly. “I understand what ‘off the record’ means.”

“It’s nothing like that,” Cindy said.

Loretta came by, greeted Yuki, and unloaded a tray of jerk chicken and spareribs dripping sauce. After a few halting starts and a few sips of her margarita, Cindy repeated to Yuki what she’d just told us about Maureen O’Mara’s pending case against Municipal Hospital.

“Actually, I know a lot about this,” Yuki said when Cindy was finished. “O’Mara’s been putting this case together for about a year.”

“Really? Come onnnn,” Cindy said. “How do you know?”

“I have a friend, an associate at Friedman, Bannion and O’Mara,” Yuki said. “She told me ’cause she’s thrown a ton of man-hours into this case. Tremendous amount of research involved. A lot of medical technicalities to plow through. It should be a hell of a trial,” Yuki continued. “O’Mara never loses. But this time, she’s shooting the moon.”

“Everyone loses sometimes,” Claire offered.

“I know, but Maureen O’Mara carefully picks cases she knows she can win,” Yuki said.

Maybe Yuki was missing the point, so I had to say it. “Yuki, doesn’t it worry you that your mom is at Municipal?”

“Nah. Just because Maureen O’Mara is taking on the case doesn’t mean the hospital is guilty. Lawyer’s credo: anyone can sue anyone for anything.

“Really, you guys,” Yuki said, her words going her usual rat-a-tat, sixty-five miles an hour. “I had my appendix taken out there a couple of years ago. Had an excellent doctor. And first-class care until I left the hospital.”

“So how is your mom?” Claire asked.

“She’s in fine form,” said Yuki. Then she laughed. “You know how I know? She tried to fix me up with her cardiologist. Bald guy in his forties with tiny hands and dog breath.”

We all laughed as Yuki’s animated reenactment lit up the table. She did her mom so well, I could see Keiko as if she were right there.

“I said, ‘Mom, he’s not for me.’ So she said, ‘Yuki-eh. Looks mean nothing. Dr. Pierce honest man. He good man. Looks for mag-azines.’ I said, ‘Mom, Daddy looked like Frank Sinatra. What are you talking about?’”

“So are you going out with him?” Cindy asked, sending us into new rounds of laughter.

Yuki shook her head. “You mean, if he asks me? You mean, if my mom grabs his cell phone and dials my number for him?”

We were having so much fun the band had to dial up the music a notch to be heard over our good time. Twenty minutes later, Yuki left the table before the coffee and chocolate mud pie, saying she wanted to see Keiko again before visiting hours were over.

Despite her rapid-fire talk, and our good-time chatter, there were worry lines between Yuki’s beautiful brown eyes when she told us all good night.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 16

MAUREEN O’MARA FELT HER PULSE beating in her temples. Was that possible? Well, that’s how pumped she was. She pulled open one of the massive steel-and-glass doors to the Civic Center Courthouse and entered the cool gray interior.

Goddamn.

Today was the day. She owned this place.

She handed her briefcase to the security guard, who put it on the X-ray machine and checked it as she cleared the metal detectors. He nodded good morning and returned her seven-hundred-dollar “lucky” Louis Vuitton case with a smile.

“Best a’ luck today, Miss O’Mara.”

“Thanks, Kevin.”

O’Mara showed the guard her crossed fingers; then she cut through the milling crowd in the lobby and headed toward the elevator bank.

She was thinking as she walked — about how her stuffy, know-it-all partners had told her that she was insane to take on the huge, well-defended hospital, to try to weave twenty individual claims into one gigantic malpractice case.

But she couldn’t have turned it down. This one was too good.

The first patients had found her — then she’d seen the pattern. The momentum had built rapidly, then snowballed, and soon she’d become the go-to lawyer for patients with serious grievances against Municipal.

Putting this case together had been like corralling wild horses while standing on the seat of a motorbike and juggling bowling balls. But she’d done it.

Over the last fourteen months, she’d slogged through the discovery process, the endless depositions, lined up her seventy-six witnesses — medical experts, past and present employees of the hospital, and her clients, the families of the twenty deceased who were all finally in accord.

She had a personal reason for her total, unwavering commitment, but no one needed to know why this case was a labor of love.

She definitely felt her clients’ pain — that was reason enough.

Now she had to convince a jury of their peers.

If she could do that, the hospital would feel the pain, too, in the only way it could — by kicking out a gigantic payout, the many, many millions her clients richly deserved.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 17

MAUREEN O’MARA MADE A RUSH for one of the courthouse elevators, stepping in then starting as a man in a charcoal-gray suit joined her just as the doors were closing.

Lawrence Kramer gave her a brilliant smile, leaned forward, and pressed number four.

“Morning, Counselor,” he said. “How are ya doing so far today?”

“Never better,” she chirped. “And you?”

“Perfecto. I had about three pounds of raw meat with my eggs this morning,” Kramer said. “Breakfast of Champions.”

“Sounds kind of bad for your heart,” Maureen said, giving the hospital’s lead attorney a sidelong look. “You do have a heart, don’t you, Larry?”

The big man threw his head back and laughed as the elevator lurched upward toward the courtroom.

God, he has a lot of teeth, and they’ve been whitened.

“Sure I do. I’m going to get my cardio workout in court, Maureen. Thanks to you.”

At forty-two, Lawrence Kramer was a gifted defense attorney — smart, good-looking, and in his prime. All that and he was rapidly gaining national media presence as well.

O’Mara had seen him interviewed a few times on Chris Matthews’ Hardball about one of his clients, a football star accused of rape. Kramer had held his own against Matthews’ verbal machine-gun attack. It hadn’t surprised Maureen, though. Hardball was Kramer’s game of choice.

And now Lawrence Kramer was defending San Francisco Municipal Hospital in an action that could throw the hospital into receivership, even possibly shut it down. But more important was that Kramer was defending the hospital against her.

The elevator stopped on the second floor of the courthouse, and three more passengers crowded into the small mahogany-lined box, forcing Maureen closer to Kramer’s side. It was a little too much contact with the man who was going to try to flatten her and run her clients into the dust.

O’Mara had a moment of doubt, felt a frisson of fear. Could she pull this off? She’d never taken on a case so complex — she didn’t know anyone who had. This was definitely the Big One, even for Larry Kramer.

The elevator jolted to a stop on four, and she stepped out just ahead of Kramer. She could almost feel her opponent’s presence behind her, as if a high-voltage charge were coming off his body.

Eyes straight ahead, the two attorneys marched along together, the clacking of their shoes on the marble floor echoing in the wide corridor.

Maureen went inside her head.

Even though Kramer had ten years on her, she was his equal, or could be. She, too, was Harvard Law. She, too, thrived on a hard and bloody fight. And she had something that Kramer didn’t have. She had right on her side.

Right is might. Right is might.

The affirmation was like cool water, soothing her and at the same time bracing her for the biggest trial of her career. This one might get her on Hardball.

She reached the open door to the courtroom seconds before her opponent and saw that the oak-paneled room was just about filled with spectators.

Down the aisle at the plaintiffs’ table on her right, Bobby Perlstein, her associate and second chair, was going over his notes. Maureen’s assistant, Karen Palmer, was setting out the exhibits and documents. Both turned to her, flashing eager smiles.

Maureen grinned back. As she approached her associates, she passed her many clients, acknowledging them with a smile, a wink, a wave of her hand. Their grateful eyes warmed her.

Right is might.

Maureen couldn’t wait for the trial to start.

She was ready. And today was her day.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 18

YUKI WAS FILING a motion on the ground floor of the Civic Center Courthouse at 400 McAllister that Monday morning, when she remembered that Maureen O’Mara’s case against San Francisco Municipal was starting right about now.

This was something the lawyer in her wanted to see.

She glanced at her watch, bypassed the mob at the elevator bank, and took to the stairs. Slightly out of breath, she slipped into the wood-paneled courtroom at the end of the fourth-floor hallway.

Yuki saw that Judge Bevins was on the bench.

Bevins was in his seventies, wore his white hair in a ponytail, and was considered fair but quirky, impossible to second-guess.

As Yuki settled into a seat near the door, she noticed a dark-haired man across the aisle wearing khakis and a blazer over his pink button-down shirt and club tie. He was plucking at the wristband of his watch.

It took a second for the handsome face to click with a name; then, with a shock of recognition, Yuki realized that she knew him — Dennis Garza, the doctor who’d admitted her mother to the emergency room.

Of course. He’s a witness in this trial, Yuki thought.

Her attention was pulled away from Garza by a rustling and buzzing in the crowded courtroom as Maureen O’Mara stood and took the floor.

O’Mara was tall, a solid size twelve, Yuki guessed, dressed in a fitted gray Armani pantsuit and low-heeled black shoes. She had strong features and truly remarkable hair, a dark red mane that hung to her shoulders, swinging when O’Mara turned her head — as she did now.

The attractive attorney faced the court, said good morning to the jury, introduced herself, then began her opening statement by lifting a large and awkward cardboard-mounted photograph from a stack of photos on the table in front of her.

“Please, take a good, long look. This lovely young woman is Amanda Clemmons,” O’Mara said, holding up the picture of a freckled blonde who looked to be about thirty-five years old.

“Last May, Amanda Clemmons was in her driveway playing basketball with her three young boys,” O’Mara said. “Simon Clemmons, her husband, the boys’ father, had been killed in an automobile accident only six months before.

“Amanda wasn’t much of a ballplayer,” O’Mara continued, “but this young widow knew she had to be both a mother and a father to Adam, John, and Chris. And she was as up to the task as anyone could be.

“Imagine this plucky woman if you can. Picture her in your mind,” Maureen said, calling up the scene.

“She’s wearing white shorts and a blue-and-gold Warriors T-shirt, dribbling circles around her little kids in the driveway, getting ready to make a shot through the hoop hanging from the garage.

“John Clemmons told me that his mom was laughing and ragging them, just before she snagged her shoe on a crack in the asphalt and went down.

“Half an hour later, an ambulance came and took Amanda to the hospital, where she was X-rayed and diagnosed in emergency with a broken left leg.

“That injury shouldn’t have been more than a temporary setback for Amanda Clemmons,” O’Mara continued. “She was young; she was strong and resilient. She was a real warrior, that woman. A homegrown American hero. But she had been admitted to San Francisco Municipal Hospital.

“And that was the beginning of the end of her life. Please, take a good, long look at this picture of Amanda Clemmons. This is the one the family used at her funeral.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 19

MAUREEN FELT HER ANGER rising exponentially as she told Amanda’s story. Although Maureen had never met Amanda Clemmons, the young mother was as real to Maureen as an honest-to-God friend, and since she worked so hard, she didn’t have that many friends.

Maureen felt that way about every one of her deceased clients, about every one of the victims, she reminded herself. She knew their backgrounds and their families, the names of children and spouses.

And she knew precisely how they had died at Municipal Hospital.

She handed the picture of Amanda Clemmons to her assistant, turned back to the jury, seeing in their eyes that she had their interest. They couldn’t wait for her to go on.

“The afternoon Amanda Clemmons broke her leg,” Maureen said, “she was taken to Municipal’s emergency room, where the bone was X-rayed and set. This was a simple procedure. Then she was moved to another room, where she was to spend the night.

“Sometime after midnight and before the sun came up, Amanda was given a deadly dose of Cytoxan, a chemotherapy drug, instead of Vicodin, a painkiller that would have given her a good night’s sleep.

“That terrible night, Amanda died an excruciating and senseless death, ladies and gentlemen, and we have to ask why this happened. Why this woman’s life was ripped away from her long before her time.

“Over the course of this trial, I’ll tell you about Amanda and about the nineteen other people who died from similar drug-related, lethal disasters. But I’ll tell you why they died right now.

“It was because of San Francisco Municipal’s rampant, irrefutable greed.

“People died because again and again Municipal Hospital put cost efficiency above patient care.

“I’m going to tell you a lot of things about Municipal that you’ll wish you didn’t know,” O’Mara said, sweeping the jury box with her eyes.

“You’ll learn that procedures have repeatedly been violated, and poorly trained people have been hired on the cheap and made to work mind-numbing hours. All in the interest of protecting the bottom line, all in the interest of keeping profits among the highest of all San Francisco’s hospitals.

“And I can assure you the twenty deceased patients I represent are just the beginning of this horrible scandal—”

Kramer leaped to his feet.

“Argumentative, Your Honor! I’ve been patient, but Counsel’s remarks are inflammatory and actually slanderous—”

“Sustained. Don’t test me, Counselor,” said Judge Bevins to Maureen O’Mara. He shook his head. “Next time you cross the line, I’m slapping you with a fine. It will get much more serious after that.”

“I’m sorry, Your Honor,” O’Mara said. “I’ll be more careful.”

But Maureen was delighted. She’d said what she needed to, and Kramer wouldn’t be able to unring that bell. Surely the jury got the message.

Municipal Hospital is a dangerous place, obscenely dangerous.

“I’m here for my clients,” O’Mara said, standing rock-still in front of the jury box, hands clasped together in front of her, “the deceased and their families; all were victims of malpractice as a result of Municipal Hospital’s greed and negligence.” Then Maureen O’Mara turned to face the courtroom. “Please,” she said, “please raise your hand if you have lost someone at Municipal Hospital.”

Dozens of hands went up around the courtroom. Others in the courtroom gasped.

“We need your help to make sure that these deadly so-called accidents never happen again.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 20

AS ORDER WAS RESTORED by Judge Bevins, Yuki slowly dragged her eyes away from Maureen O’Mara. She looked across the aisle to Dr. Garza’s face. She was hoping to see anger, rage that his hospital had been falsely accused. But she couldn’t find it. Rather, something like a smirk played over Garza’s lips, and his entire expression was as cold as a winter landscape.

Fear constricted Yuki’s chest, and for a long moment she couldn’t move.

She’d made a horrible mistake!

Please, don’t let it be too late.

Yuki stood up from her seat, pushed open the swinging courtroom door, and turned on her cell phone as soon as her feet hit the hallway. She pressed the phone’s small keys, connecting her to the hospital’s recorded telephonic menu.

She listened to the options, her anxiety rising as she stabbed at the number keys.

Was Keiko in room 421 or 431? She couldn’t remember! She was blanking on the room number.

Yuki pressed the zero key, and a watery rendition of “The Girl from Ipanema” plinked in her ear as she waited for a live operator.

She had to speak with her mom.

She had to hear Keiko’s voice right now.

“Let me speak with Keiko Castellano,” she said to the operator finally. “She’s a patient. Please ring her room. It’s 421 or 431.”

The ringing tone stopped abruptly as Keiko answered, her cheery voice crackling over the wireless transmission.

Yuki clapped her hand over one ear, pressed her cell phone to the other. The corridor was filling now as the court recessed. Yuki and Keiko continued to talk, to argue, actually. Then the two of them made up, as they always did.

“I’m doing fine, Yuki. Don’t worry so much all the time,” Keiko finally said.

“Okay, Mommy, okay. I’ll call you later.”

As she pressed End, she heard someone calling out her name.

Yuki looked around until she saw Cindy’s excited face, the crowd parting as her reporter friend elbowed her way through.

“Yuki,” Cindy said breathlessly. “Were you in there? Did you hear O’Mara’s opening? What’s your professional opinion?”

“Well,” Yuki told her, blood still pounding in her ears, “lawyers like to say that you win or lose your case in your opening statement.”

“Hang on,” Cindy said, scribbling in her notebook. “That’s pretty good. The first line in my story. Go on . . .”

“Maureen O’Mara’s opening was killer, actually,” Yuki said. “She dropped a bomb on the hospital, and the jury isn’t going to forget it. Uh-uh. Neither will I.

“Municipal hires cheap labor, and patients die because of it. They’re sloppy. They give out the wrong meds. Christ. O’Mara freaked me so far out, I called my mother and told her I wanted to move her to Saint Francis.”

“Are you doing that?”

“I tried, but she shot me down! Got really pissed at me,” Yuki said incredulously. “‘Yuki-eh. You want to give me hot-attack? I like it here. I like my doctor. I like my room. Bring me my hot rollers. And pink nightgown with dragon.’”

Yuki laughed and shook her head. “I swear to God, she acts like she’s at a spa. I wanted to say, ‘Ma, should I bring your tanning bed? Your cocoa butter?’ You know, I didn’t want to terrify her just because Maureen O’Mara’s opening statement rocked. Jeez, when all those people raised their hands, I got a chill up my spine.”

“What if you went over there and checked her out of the hospital no matter what she wants?” Cindy asked.

“Sure, I thought about that, but what if I did that and I really did give her a ‘hot-attack’?”

Cindy nodded her understanding. “When are they discharging her?”

“Thursday morning, according to Dr. Pierce. After her MRI. ‘Dr. Pierce good doctor. Dr. Pierce honest man!’”

“Dr. Pierce, your future husband,” Cindy cracked.

“That’s the one.”

“You feel okay?”

“Yeah. I’ll go see my mom later. Keep her company for a while.”

“So can you hang out here for the rest of the day?”

“I should get back to the office,” Yuki said, her resolve fading even as she spoke. “But hell, I want to hear Larry Kramer’s opening. How could I miss it?”

“Sit next to me,” Cindy said.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 21

CINDY WATCHED WITH FASCINATION as Larry Kramer unfolded his gray-suited six-foot-four breadth and length and took the center of the floor. His thick brown hair was combed back, accenting a jutting jawline and giving him the look of a sailor setting his face into the wind.

A man in perpetual forward motion, thought Cindy.

Kramer greeted the court, then turned an affable smile on the jury and thanked them for serving on this case.

“Ms. O’Mara is right about one thing,” he said, putting his large hands on the jury-box railing. “She’s damned right this case is about greed. It’s about the greed of her clients.

“I won’t deny that it’s tragic that through no fault of their own, people have died,” Kramer went on. “But their families have come before this court with one thing in mind. They want to score big. They want to recoup from the deaths of their loved ones. They’re here for the money.”

Kramer leaned into the jury box and looked into the faces of the jury members.

“To most people that might sound cynical or vengeful or mercenary. But it’s not entirely the fault of the litigants.”

Kramer pushed off from the railing and moved out into the center of the room, seeming to be lost in his own thoughts before turning to face the jury again.

“I understand grief. My father and my son both died in a hospital. My baby boy died only three days after he was born. He was a gift, a blessing that was ripped away from my wife and me. My father was my best friend, my mentor, captain of my cheering section. I miss them both every day.”

Kramer’s scowl softened, and he began to pace slowly, hypnotically, in front of the jury box.

“I’m fairly sure every one of you has suffered the loss of a loved one, and you know it’s perfectly natural to want to blame someone,” Kramer said.

“You suffer, you get mad, and, eventually, you turn anger into good by remembering the good times you shared with this person.

“You make peace with the fact that love doesn’t conquer all, or that life can be unfair, or that God works in mysterious ways. And somehow you move on. You move on.

“You want to know why the plaintiffs aren’t doing that?” Kramer asked. He put his hands back on the railing, giving the jury the full force of his attention.

“Because my opponent has led them down a path that is unworthy of them. Because of a law firm called Friedman, Bannion and O’Mara. Because of this woman, Maureen O’Mara.” He pointed his finger directly at his opponent. “Because of her, these unfortunate people have come to see their personal tragedies as a financial opportunity. You’ve all heard the movie line — ‘show me the money.’ That’s what this travesty of justice is really about. That’s why those people raised their hands.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 22

CINDY ACTUALLY CLAPPED HER HAND over her mouth, stunned at Kramer’s searing personal attack on O’Mara and her firm. Damn — and this was just the trial’s first day.

O’Mara shot up from her seat.

“Objection,” O’Mara snapped. “Your Honor, Counsel’s statement is inflammatory and prejudicial and personally insulting. I move that it be stricken from the record.”

“Sustained. Ms. Campbell,” the judge said to the court reporter, “please strike Mr. Kramer’s last remark. Mr. Kramer, what’s good for the goose . . .”

“Your Honor?”

“Tone down the rhetoric and proceed, Mr. Kramer. You could be fined, or worse.”

Kramer nodded — “Yes, Your Honor” — and turned back to the jury with a strained smile.

“Ladies and gentlemen, during this trial you will hear abundant proof that San Francisco Municipal is a highly respected and responsible institution,” Kramer continued. “That it has above-industry-standard pharmaceutical safeguards and protocols, and that it follows them rigorously.

“That doesn’t mean that the hospital is perfect. Human beings sometimes commit human error. But mistakes are one thing. Malpractice is something else entirely.”

Kramer paused to let his words sink in and used the long moment to look each juror in the eye again. He was talking to them, one at a time, making this personal.

“I’m afraid that this is going to be an emotional trial because people have died. But the judge will tell you that you can’t let the plaintiffs’ attorney obscure the facts by playing on your emotions.

“Weigh the facts as presented — that’s the job you’ve accepted and it’s your charge. The facts, ladies and gentlemen. The facts will convince you that my client is not negligent, and that my client performs an incredibly valuable service for our city of San Francisco.”

Cindy’s mind leaped ahead as Kramer thanked the jury and took his seat.

She saw the front-page headline in her mind — SAN FRANCISCO MUNICIPAL SUED FOR MALPRACTICE, the block of twenty victims’ photos and the rest of her story carried over to page three.

This trial was the stuff of books and movies.

Twenty people had died.

And whether or not the hospital was guilty, the evidence would shock people.

They would take it personally. And patients who were admitted to Municipal would be scared for their lives.

Hell, she was scared just listening at this trial.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 23

IT WAS MIDMORNING, four long days since we’d found Caddy Girl dead in the Opera Plaza Garage. I’d just come back from a meeting with Chief Tracchio, who told me that he was rotating some staff, moving some of my people out of Homicide to plug openings in other departments. Tracchio wasn’t asking for my input, just informing me.

I hung my jacket behind the door, still seeing the chief in my mind, ticking off the reasons on his chubby fingers — Budget cuts. Too much overtime. Gotta backfill here and there. It’s just temporary, Boxer.

It was infuriating, crippling, bureaucratic bs.

And now I had a pounding headache behind my right eye.

“Tell me something good,” I said to Jacobi as he walked into my office, parked his large butt on my credenza. Conklin followed him in, moving with the grace of a lynx, crossing his arms as he leaned against my doorway. Hard not to stare.

“Keep your expectations low,” Jacobi growled.

“Okay, Warren. They’re subterranean. Give it to me.”

“We sent a text message over the NCIC system to all regional law enforcement agencies with everything we had on Caddy Girl.” Jacobi interrupted himself with a bout of coughing, a lingering symptom of the still-healing gunshot wound he’d taken to his right lung.

“Height, weight, approximate age, manner of dress, color of her hair, eyes, the works,” he continued at last.

“Checked all the possibles that came out of that,” said Conklin, optimism lighting his eyes.

“And?” I asked.

“We got a few approximate matches, but in the end they didn’t check out. One piece of good news. The lab found a print on one of her shoes.”

I perked up.

“It’s a partial,” Jacobi said, “but it’s something. If we ever get anything or anyone to match it to. That’s the problem so far. No links.”

“So, what’s your next step?”

“Lou, I was thinking that’s a trendy haircut on Caddy Girl,” Conklin said. “The cut and the color probably cost around three hundred dollars.”

I nodded, said, “Sounds about right.” How did he know about three-hundred-dollar haircuts?

“We’re going to canvass the fancy beauty salons. Someone might recognize her. Is that okay with you?”

“Let me see the picture,” I said, sticking out my hand.

Conklin reached out and handed me the dead woman’s photo. I stared at her angelic face, her tousled blond hair lying soft against the stainless-steel slab. A sheet was pulled up to her clavicle.

My God. Who was she? And why hadn’t anyone reported her missing? And why, four days after the girl’s death, were we absolutely clueless?

The two inspectors left my glass-walled cube, and I called out to Brenda, who settled into the side chair and flapped a notepad open on her lap.

I began to dictate a memo-to-staff about my meeting with Tracchio, but I found it hard to focus.

I wanted to do something today, something that mattered. I wanted to be out on the street with Conklin and Jacobi, showing Caddy Girl’s picture around “fancy beauty salons” and prospecting good neighborhoods for clues.

I wanted to wear out my shoes on this case.

I wanted to work in a way that made me feel as if I was doing my job instead of dictating useless, worthless memos.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 24

AT ABOUT 7:30 that evening, Claire called, saying, “Lindsay, come on down. I have something to show you.”

I tossed the Chronicle with Cindy’s front-page story about the Municipal trial into the file basket. Then I locked up for the night. I jogged downstairs to the morgue hoping for a breakthrough.

Hoping for something!

One of Claire’s assistants, a smart cookie named Everlina Ferguson, was closing a drawer on a gunshot victim when I got there. Ug-ly.

Claire was washing up. “Give me half a minute,” she said.

“Take the full minute,” I replied.

I poked around the place until I found Caddy Girl’s photos tacked to the wall. God, this case was bugging the hell out of me.

“What did you make of that perfume she was wearing?” I called out to Claire.

“Funny thing about that. It was only evident on her genitalia,” Claire called back. She turned off the faucets, dried her hands, then extracted two bottles of Perrier from the little fridge under her desk.

She opened them and handed one to me.

“Lots of girls these days like to perfume their gardens,” she went on. “So normally I wouldn’t even mention it in my report. But this girl, she didn’t dab it anywhere else. Not on her cleavage or wrists or behind the ears.”

We clinked bottles, each took a long drink.

“Struck me as unusual, so I sent a swab of the perfume to the lab. They kicked it back,” Claire said a moment later. “They can’t ID it. Don’t have the right equipment. Don’t have the time.”

“No time to solve the crime,” I groused.

“It’s always a three-legged sack race around here,” Claire said, pushing papers around on her desk.

“But I got back the labs on the sexual-assault kit. Hang on. It’s right here.”

Eyes glinting, she seized a brown envelope, pulled out the sheet of paper, and pinned it to her desk with a forefinger, saying, “The stain on her skirt was, in fact, semen, and it matched one of the two semen samples that showed up inside Caddy Girl.”

I followed Claire’s finger down the results of the toxicology screen. She stabbed the letters ETOH with her index finger. “This is what I wanted to show you. Her blood was positive for alcohol. Point one three.”

“So she was wasted,” I said.

“Uh-huh, but that’s not all. Look here. She was also positive for benzodiazepine. It’s unusual to have booze and Valium in your system, so I had tox run her bloods again, this time looking for zebras. They narrowed it down to Rohypnol.”

“Aw. No. The date-rape drug.”

“Yeah, she didn’t know where she was, who she was, what was happening, even if it was happening.”

The ugly pieces were there, but I still couldn’t make sense of the whole picture. Caddy Girl had been doped up, assaulted, and murdered with mind-boggling care and precision.

Claire turned to the wall of photos. “It’s no wonder she didn’t have vaginal bruising and defensive wounds, Lindsay. Caddy Girl couldn’t fight back if she wanted to. Poor child never had a chance.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 25

I DROVE MY EXPLORER home in the dark, feeling female, not female cop. I had to see the world through Caddy Girl’s eyes if I wanted to understand what had happened to her. But it was horrific to imagine being that vulnerable to the will of violent men. Two of them, two animals.

I grabbed my Nextel out of its clip on my belt and called Jacobi before more time passed. He answered on the first ring, and I filled him in on what Claire had told me.

“So I’m guessing she found herself in a room with a couple of guys who had sex on their mind,” I said, braking for a light at the next street corner. “They got pushy — and Caddy Girl resists, rebuffs them. So one of the guys puts roofies into her Chardonnay.”

“Yeah,” Jacobi agreed. “Now she’s so stoned she can’t move. Maybe she even blacks out. They take her clothes off, spray her with perfume, take turns having sex on her.”

“Maybe they’re afraid she might remember the assault,” I said, my thoughts neatly in sync with those of my former partner. “They’re not totally stupid. Maybe they’re very smart, actually. They want to kill her without leaving a lot of evidence. One guy burks her; the other makes sure she’s dead by suffocating her with a plastic bag. A nice clean kill.”

“Yup, sounds right, Boxer. Maybe after she’s dead, they reload and do her again,” Jacobi said. “Figure a little necrophilia never hurt anyone. Then what? They dress her in five thousand bucks’ worth of clothes and take her for a ride? Drop her off in Guttman’s Seville?”

“That’s the craziest part of it all,” I said. “I don’t get it about the clothes. The clothes thing throws everything off for me.”

“Claire didn’t have the results on the DNA?”

“Not yet. You know, if Caddy Girl was the mayor’s wife, we’d know something by now. But since nobody’s even reported her missing . . .”

“Good-looking girl like that,” said Jacobi. I could hear a tinge of sadness in his voice. Some small revelation of loneliness. “Someone should be missing her.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 26

I OPENED THE FRONT DOOR to my apartment and exchanged sloppy hellos with Martha.

“Hey, Boo. Howzmygirl?”

I hugged her squirming body as she yapped her enthusiastic approval of my return from the wars.

As exhausted as I was, jogging with my girl was the greatest encouragement I had to keep fit.

I leashed her, and soon after, we were running across Missouri in the dark, around the rec center, down and back up the hill, endorphins lifting my mood and giving me a slightly more positive outlook on Caddy Girl’s murder investigation.

The perp’s DNA was cooking in the lab right at this moment.

Cops were canvassing with her picture in hand.

There was hope after all.

Someone had to be missing her by now and would make a call soon. Or a witness would step forward who’d seen her likeness in the Chronicle or on our Web site.

Once we had a name, we’d have a chance to solve her murder. We could all stop thinking of her as Caddy Girl.

A half hour later I was back at home. I slugged down a cold beer and ate a Swiss and Hellmann’s on sourdough in front of the TV while catching up on the news of the world on CNN, CNBC, and FOX. Then I stripped down, turned on the shower, and waggled my hand in the water to test the temperature.

That’s when the phone rang.

Figures. Now what — another murder? Better yet, a break in the case?

The caller ID flashed his name.

“Hey,” I said, feigning nonchalance, heart going boom, da-boom, da-boom.

“God, you’re gorgeous.”

“I don’t have a picture phone, Joe.”

“I know what you look like, Lindsay.”

I laughed.

“That’s a very naked laugh,” said my fella. He wasn’t clairvoyant. He could hear the shower running. I turned off the water, put my robe on.

“You’re amazingly perceptive,” I said. By now, I was picturing him naked, too.

“Listen, naked lady, rumor has it I’m going to be in your town this weekend. The whole weekend.”

“Good, ’cause I miss you,” I said, my voice dropping down a few notches, getting a little throaty. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

We flirted until my skin was damp and my breath was short. When we hung up a few minutes later, we had a plan for our upcoming good time.

I dropped my robe, stepped into the shower, and, as the hot spray beat on my skin, began to belt out a pretty good rendition of “My Guy,” loving the vibrato in my voice coming back at me in my little tiled sound studio.

Whooo! Let’s hear it for Lindsay Boxer, pop star.

For the first time in a whole lot of days, I put the job out of my mind.

I felt great, at least for the moment.

I felt gorgeous.

And very soon, I was going to be with my love.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 27

CHIEF TRACCHIO WAS obviously surprised to see me when I knocked on the partially open door to his office. There was a lot of dark wood paneling in there and a big photo mural of the Golden Gate Bridge that took up the whole wall facing his desk.

“Boxer,” the chief said now. Then he actually smiled. “Come in.”

I’d thought about my speech all night, rehearsed it in my mind all morning, had the first line all teed up and ready to go.

“Chief, I have a problem.”

“Drag up a chair, Boxer. Let’s hear it.”

I did as he said, but as I looked into his face, I forgot the careful phrasing, the curlicues and fripperies, and blurted out the whole deal at once.

“I don’t like being a boss, boss. I want to go back to investigation full time.”

His smile was gone, long gone. “What are you saying, Lieutenant? I don’t get you.”

“I wake up in the morning feeling wrong, Chief. I don’t like supervising a lot of other people. I don’t like being Lieutenant Inside,” I explained. “I like being on the street, and you know that’s where my abilities lie, Tony. You know I’m right.”

For a second or two I wasn’t sure Tracchio had even heard me — his face was that stony. Was he thinking of all the killers I’d helped put away? I sure hoped so. Then he slapped the desk with such force, I inadvertently pushed my chair back a couple of inches.

He exploded verbally, spit actually flying in my direction.

“I don’t know what you’ve been smoking, Boxer, but you’ve got the job. You — no! Don’t say anything! You know how many men got bumped when you were promoted? You know how many guys in the squad still resent you? You were promoted because you’re a leader, Boxer. You’re squad commander. Do your job. End of conversation.”

“Chief—”

“What? Make it quick. I’m busy.”

“I’m better on the ground. I close cases, and my record bears that out. I’m spinning my wheels in my office, and those guys who want to be lieutenant, well, you should promote one of them, Chief. You need someone in my job who wants it.”

“Okay, now that you’ve started this, I’ve got a couple of other things to say to you,” Tracchio said.

He opened a desk drawer, pulled out a cigar, chopped off the tip of it with a pocket guillotine gizmo, and puffed blue smoke into the air as he lit his stogie.

I waited breathlessly.

“You’ve got room to grow in this job, Boxer. When it comes to crime solution, the SFPD is dead last across the board. In the whole country! You need to learn to supervise better. Help other cops with your experience. You need to put out a positive image of the SFPD. Be a beacon of good. You gotta help us recruit and train. You’re nowhere when it comes to that stuff, Boxer, and — I’m not finished!

“Not long ago you got shot and almost died. We almost lost you for good. You weren’t even on duty that night, and you showed no self-control at all. Jacobi invites you on a stakeout, you say, ‘Let me at it.’”

Tracchio stood, whirled around, put his hands on the back of his chair. His reddened face radiated exasperation. “You know, I don’t even understand what the hell you’re beefing about. You’ve got it easy. How would you like my job?”

I stared at him dully as he began ticking off departments on his sausage fingers: “I’ve got Homicide, Robbery, Narcotics, Anticrime, and Special Victims. I got the mayor and I got the governor, and if you think that’s like getting the red-carpet treatment on Oscar night—”

“I think you’re making my point for me, Chief.”

“Look, why don’t you do yourself and everyone else a big favor and suck it up, Lieutenant. Request denied. Now we’re done.”

I felt like a little kid as I picked myself up and left Tracchio’s office. I was humiliated and mad enough to quit — but I was too smart to do it. Everything the man had said was right. But I was right, too.

Recruit and train?

Learn to supervise?

None of that had anything to do with why I’d become a cop.

I wanted to be back on the streets of San Francisco.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 28

CINDY THOMAS SAT on the back bench of courtroom 4A of the Civic Center Courthouse, squeezed between a reporter from the Modesto Bee and a stringer for the LA Times. She felt keyed-up, focused, and very, very possessive. This was her town, her story.

Her laptop was warm on her knees, and Cindy tapped at the keyboard, making notes as Maureen O’Mara’s first witness was sworn in.

“Good morning, Mr. Friedlander,” O’Mara said. The lawyer’s long auburn hair glowed against the flat blue wool of her suit. She wore a white blouse with a plain collar and a simple gold watch on the wrist of her ring-free left hand.

“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but how old are you?” O’Mara asked her witness.

“I’m forty-four.”

Cindy was surprised. With his creased face and graying hair, she would have put Stephen Friedlander’s age at closer to sixty.

“Can you tell the Court about the night of July twenty-fifth?” O’Mara asked.

“Yes,” Friedlander said. He cleared his throat. “My son, Josh, had a grand mal seizure.”

“And how old was Josh?”

“He was seventeen. He would have been eighteen this month.”

“And when you got to the hospital, did you see your son?”

“Yes. He was still in the emergency room. Dr. Dennis Garza brought me to see him.”

“Was Josh conscious?”

Friedlander shook his head. “No.”

This prompted O’Mara to ask him to speak up for the court reporter.

“No,” he said, much louder this time. “But Dr. Garza had examined him. He told me that Josh would be back at school in a day or two, that he’d be as good as new.”

“Did you see Josh after that visit to the emergency room?” O’Mara asked.

“Yes, I saw him the next day,” Friedlander said, a smile flitting briefly across his face. “He and his girlfriend were joking with the fellow in the other bed, and I was struck by that because there was kind of a party atmosphere in the room. The other boy’s name was David Lewis.”

O’Mara smiled, too, then assumed a more sober expression when she spoke again.

“And how was Josh when you got to see him the next morning?”

“They let me see my son’s body the next morning,” Friedlander said, his voice breaking. He reached forward, clasping the rail of the witness box with his hands, the chair legs scraping the floor.

He turned his hopelessly sad and questioning eyes to the jury, and then to the judge. Tears sheeted down his furrowed cheeks.

“He was gone just like that. His body was cold to my touch. My good boy was dead.”

O’Mara put her hand on her witness’s arm to steady him. It was a moving gesture and seemed quite genuine.

“Do you need to take a moment?” she asked Friedlander, handing him a box of tissues.

“I’m all right,” he said. He cleared his throat again, dabbed at his eyes. Then he sipped from the water glass.

“I’m fine.”

O’Mara nodded, then asked him, “Were you given an explanation for Josh’s sudden death?”

“They said that his blood sugar bottomed out, and I wanted to know why. Dr. Garza said that he was mystified,” the witness said, stiffening his lips around the word, trying to control the quiver in his voice.

“I was mystified, too,” Friedlander continued. “Josh had been stabilized the day before. He’d eaten a couple of meals. Went to the bathroom without help. Then, overnight, right there in the hospital, he went into a coma and died! It made no sense.”

“Did the hospital do an autopsy on Josh?” O’Mara asked.

“I demanded it,” Friedlander said. “The whole thing was fishy—”

“Objection, Your Honor,” Kramer bellowed from his seat. “We all sympathize with the witness, but please instruct him to simply answer the questions.”

The judge nodded, then addressed the witness. “Mr. Friedlander, just tell us what happened, please.”

“I’m sorry, Your Honor.”

O’Mara smiled encouragingly at her witness. “Mr. Friedlander, were you ever given the results of the autopsy?”

“Eventually, I was.”

“And what were you told?” Maureen asked.

Friedlander exploded, his face turning the brightest red. “They said that Josh’s blood was loaded with insulin! I was told that it was injected into his IV bag sometime during the night. That Josh got that insulin by mistake. And that’s what killed him. A mistake by the hospital.”

O’Mara stole a look at the stricken faces of the jurors before asking, “I’m sorry to have to ask, Mr. Friedlander, but how did you feel when you learned about that mistake?”

“How did I feel?” Friedlander asked. “I felt like my heart had been cut out of my chest with a spoon. . . .”

“I understand. Thank you, Mr. Friedlander.”

“Josh was our only child. . . . We never expected to be in the world without him. . . . The pain never stops. . . .”

“Thank you, Mr. Friedlander. I’m sorry to have put you through this. You did just fine. Your witness,” O’Mara said, and motioned to Kramer.

The witness snatched several tissues from the box in front of him. He held them up to his face as hoarse sobs racked his body.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 29

LAWRENCE KRAMER STOOD and slowly buttoned his jacket, giving the witness a moment to pull himself together, thinking that the man’s son was in the ground, for God’s sake. Now all he had to do was neutralize his awful testimony — without antagonizing the jury — and, if possible, turn Stephen Friedlander into a witness for the defense.

Kramer walked to the witness box and greeted Mr. Friedlander in a kindly manner, almost as if he knew the man, as if he were a friend of the family.

“Mr. Friedlander,” Kramer said, “let me first express my condolences on the tragic loss of your son.”

“Thank you.”

“I want to clear up a few things, but I promise to keep this as short as I possibly can. Now, you mentioned that you met David Lewis, the young man who was sharing your son’s room when you visited Josh on July twenty-sixth.”

“Yes. I met him the one time. He was a very nice boy.”

“Did you know that David has diabetes?”

“I think I knew that. Yes.”

“Mr. Friedlander, do you know the number of the bed your son occupied in his hospital room?”

Friedlander had been leaning forward in his chair, but now he sat back.

“Number? I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, the hospital refers to the bed closest to the window as ‘bed one,’ and the bed closest to the door is ‘bed two.’ Do you remember which bed Josh occupied?”

“Okay. He would have been in bed one. He was by the window.”

“Do you know why hospital beds are numbered?” Kramer asked.

“I don’t have any idea,” said the witness, his tone edgy, getting irritated.

“The beds are numbered because the nurses dispense medication according to the room and bed number,” Kramer explained. He went on. “By the way, do you recall if you ordered a special television package for Josh?”

“No, he was only supposed to be there for the one day. What’s your point?”

“My point,” Kramer said, shrugging his shoulders apologetically. “My point is that David Lewis checked out of the hospital after lunch on the day you saw him there.

“Your son, Josh, expired in bed number two that night. Josh was in David’s bed when he died, Mr. Friedlander.”

“What are you saying?” Friedlander asked, his eyebrows flying up, his mouth twisting with anger. “What the hell are you trying to tell me?”

“Let me say this in a different way,” Kramer said, showing the jurors with his body language and his phrasing, I’m doing my job. But I mean this man no harm.

“Do you know why your son was found in bed number two?”

“No idea.”

“Well, it was because of the TV. Josh got out of his bed by the window, pulled his mobile IV pole over to bed number two so he could watch the movie channels — let’s see. . . .” Kramer referred to his notes.

“He ordered a movie on Showtime.”

“I don’t know anything about that.”

“I am aware of that,” Kramer said, his voice compassionate, even fatherly, thinking, knowing, that the witness wasn’t getting it. He still didn’t have a clue what had happened to his son and why he had died.

“Mr. Friedlander, you have to understand. Josh did get David Lewis’s insulin by mistake. The paperwork on David Lewis’s discharge hadn’t yet caught up with the nurse’s orders. That can happen in a hospital the size of Municipal. But let me ask you this. Wouldn’t any fair-minded person understand how the nurse didn’t catch this error?

“David and Josh were about the same age. The nurse brought insulin for the sleeping patient in bed number two and injected it into the IV bag beside that bed. If Josh had stayed in his own bed . . .”

Kramer turned as an anguished howl rose from the gallery. A middle-aged woman stood, dark clothing hanging from her frail body, wailing, “Noo,” as she clutched at her face.

Friedlander reached out a hand to her from the witness box: “Eleanor! Eleanor, don’t listen to this. He’s lying! It wasn’t Joshie’s fault. . . .”

Lawrence Kramer ignored the roar of voices in the courtroom, the repeated crack of the gavel. He dipped his head respectfully.

“We’re very sorry, Mr. Friedlander,” he said. “We’re very sorry for your loss.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 30

IT WAS A LITTLE AFTER 8:00 P.M. as I grunted my way up Potrero Hill on the return leg of my nightly run.

I obsessed as I ran, the long blur of the investigation repeating itself in my mind — seeing the cops in my office all day, running their cases, me advising, giving orders, treading paper, going after warrants, settling disputes, hating the stress of the whole sorry business.

On most nights, the rhythmic slapping of my rubber soles on pavement had a calming effect, but it wasn’t happening tonight.

And for this I blamed Chief Tracchio.

His lecture, or whatever it was, had gotten to me.

As I pushed forward into a cold wall of wind, I second-guessed every decision I’d made so far on the Caddy Girl case, worried that I was letting everyone down, including myself.

Martha was oblivious to my problems. She loped blithely ahead of me, often doubling back to bark at my feet, which is what border collies are born to do.

I panted, “Cut it out, Boo,” but I couldn’t stop my dog from dogging me. I was a lagging lamb, and she was my shepherd.

Twenty minutes later, I was home sweet home, showered, and smelling of chamomile shampoo.

I stepped into my favorite blue flannel pj’s, put the Reverend Al Green on the CD player, and cracked open a beer. I took a long, frosty slug from the amber bottle of Anchor Steam. Yum.

My favorite one-pot pasta meal was simmering on the stove, and I was starting to feel seminormal for the first time that day when the doorbell rang.

Damn.

I shouted, “Whoo-izit?” into the intercom, and a friendly voice shouted back.

“Lindseeee, it’s meeeeeee. May I please come up?”

I buzzed Yuki in, and as she made the climb, I set the table for two and took out glasses for the beer.

A minute later, Yuki blew into my apartment huffing and blowing like a small storm.

“Ooh, I like that,” I said, examining her platinum-streaked forelock. It had been magenta a few days ago.

“That’s two yes votes,” she said, throwing herself into an armchair. “My mom said, ‘That hair make you look like air hostess.’” Yuki laughed. “Hey, that’s her one unrealized dream. So, what smells so good, Lindsay?”

“It’s pot-au-feu, Boxer-style,” I said. “Don’t argue. I’ve made plenty for two.”

“Argue? You obviously don’t know how carefully I timed this impromptu drop-in.”

I laughed; we clinked glass mugs and said, “Cheers, dears” in unison. And then I dished up the meal. I almost told Yuki what had been bothering me, but I couldn’t find a trace of funk to whine about.

Over Edy’s heavenly chocolate chip ice cream and brewed decaf, Yuki brought me up to date on her mother’s condition.

“Her doctors were concerned because she’s really young to get a TIA,” Yuki told me. “But now she’s passed a whole battery of tests, and they’ve moved her out of the ICU into a private room!”

“So when are you bringing her home?”

“Tomorrow morning. Right after her personal savior, Dr. Pierce, checks her out. Then I’m going to take her for a weeklong cruise on this monster ship, the Pacific Princess.

“I know, I know, it sounds corny,” Yuki said, hands in constant motion as she talked, “but a floating hotel with a casino and a spa is just what the doctor ordered. And frankly, I need the time off, too.”

“Gee, I’m jealous,” I said, putting down my spoon and beaming into Yuki’s face.

I meant every word.

I imagined myself on a ship at sea. A pile of good books, a comfy deck chair, and the gentle roll of the waves putting me to sleep at night. Plus Joe, of course.

No meetings. No unsolved homicides. No stress.

“Lucky you,” I said. “And your lucky mom.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 31

YUKI WAS ON HER WAY HOME from Lindsay’s, on Eighteenth Street just merging into I-280, when her cell phone’s fluting melody sang out from the depths of her handbag, which was now lying in the passenger-side footwell.

“Shoot. Wouldn’t you know it.”

She set an angled course toward the right lane of the highway, and while holding the wheel with her left hand, she fished below eye level for her handbag.

A large bronze SUV honked at her as she threw magazines, her makeup kit, and her wallet out of the voluminous bag onto the floor.

“Sorry, sorry,” she muttered; then she palmed her phone on the third ring.

“Mom?” she said.

“Ms. Castellano?”

Yuki didn’t recognize the man’s voice. She held the steering wheel with her elbow, buzzed up the windows, and turned off the radio so that she could hear a little better.

“Yes, this is Yuki.”

“It’s Andrew Pierce.”

Yuki’s mind scrambled as she fitted the two names together. It was Dr. Pierce. Her stomach lurched. Dr. Pierce had never called her before. Why was he calling now?

“Dr. Pierce. What’s wrong?”

His voice was tinny on the cell phone, overwhelmed by the roar of the traffic surrounding her. Yuki pressed the phone even tighter to her ear.

“Your mom’s in some trouble, Yuki. I’m on my way to the hospital now.”

“What do you mean? What happened to her? You said that she was okay!”

Yuki’s eyes were fixed on the road ahead, but she saw nothing.

“She’s had a stroke,” Dr. Pierce told her.

“A stroke? I don’t understand, Doctor.”

“She’s hanging in,” Dr. Pierce went on. “Can you meet me at the hospital?”

“Yes, yes, of course. I’m less than ten minutes away.”

“Good. Your mother’s in the ICU on three. She’s a fighter, which is good news.”

Yuki tossed the phone onto the seat beside her. Images and words cascaded inside her head.

A stroke?

Her mother had been eating ice cream four hours ago. She’d been chatty. Funny. Perfectly fine!

Yuki forced her focus back to the road, realizing too late that she’d passed her exit. “Damn it!”

Frantically, desperately, she sped down I-280 to where it ended at Berry Street, then gunned through a yellow light as she took a sharp turn onto Third.

With her heart pounding, Yuki pointed her little Acura north toward Market Street. This was a slower route, more cars, more lights, more pedestrians crossing against them, but it was her only alternative now.

Yuki reviewed her brief conversation with Dr. Pierce. Had she heard him right? She’s hanging in, he’d said.

Tears gathered in Yuki’s eyes. Her mother was strong. Always. Her mother was a fighter. Even if Keiko was paralyzed . . . Nothing could keep her down.

Yuki wiped tears away with the back of her hand.

Visualizing every cross street and stoplight between her car and San Francisco Municipal Hospital, Yuki floored the accelerator.

Hang on, Mommy. I’m coming.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 32

FIGHTING DOWN PANIC, Yuki exited the elevator on Municipal Hospital’s third floor; she followed the arrows around turns and through doorways until she found the ICU waiting area and the nurses’ station beside it.

“I’m here to see Dr. Pierce,” she said tersely to the nurse at the desk.

“And you are?”

Yuki gave her name and stood until Pierce came out into the waiting room. His weathered face was buckled with concern as he led Yuki to a pair of small straight-backed chairs.

“I can’t tell you much right now,” the doctor finally said. “Most likely, plaque flaked off an arterial wall and formed a block to her brain. She’s on an anticoagulant—”

“Just tell me. What are her chances?”

“We’ll know soon,” Pierce told her. “I know this is hard—”

“I have to see her, Dr. Pierce. Please,” Yuki said. She reached out and clamped her hand around the doctor’s wrist. “Please.”

“Thirty seconds. That’s all I can do for you.”

Yuki followed the doctor through the swinging doors to the curtained-off slot where Keiko was lying. Wires and IV lines were running from her body to machines that had been assembled around her bedside like concerned friends.

“She’s unconscious,” Dr. Pierce said. “But she’s not in any pain.”

How could you possibly know that? Yuki wanted to yell at Dr. Pierce.

“Can she hear me?” she asked instead.

“I doubt it, Yuki, but it’s possible.”

Yuki bent close to her mother’s ear, spoke urgently.

“Mommy. It’s me. I’m here. Hold on, Mommy. I love you.”

She heard Dr. Pierce speaking to her, as if from miles away. “Will you be waiting outside? Yuki? If I can’t find you out there, I’ll call your cell—”

“I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right outside. I’m not leaving under any circumstances.”

Yuki walked blindly out of the ICU, took up a position in a chair.

She sat, staring straight ahead, nerves screaming, all of her frightened thoughts fused into one.

There was only one way this could turn out.

Her mom was going to make it.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 33

KEIKO CASTELLANO HAD never been more frightened in her life. She felt the prick of a needle in the back of her hand.

Then she heard a rhythmic beeping sound — then the whoosh of machines.

Voices mumbled around her, but they were not her concern.

She had a flash of understanding. She was in the hospital. She’d had a serious incident of some kind — there was a pressure in her head, jamming her thoughts.

She remembered being a young girl at the Dontaku Festival, the street full of people in bright-colored costumes playing samisen and beating drums.

Thousands of paper lanterns floated on the water. Kites with tails of red ribbons danced overhead, and fireworks burst open the sky.

Keiko felt more pressure building inside her head, a thunderstorm. Dark and cold and terribly threatening. The noise of the storm was a loud rumble, drowning out all other sound.

Was she passing now?

She did not want to go!

Keiko was inside this darkness that was not sleep, when suddenly Yuki’s voice, close but distant, broke through the numbness.

Yuki was speaking to her. Yuki was there.

“Mommy. It’s me. I’m here. Hold on, Mommy. I love you.”

She tried to call out, Itsumademo ai shiteru, Yuki. I love you forever, my daughter.

But a large tube filled her mouth, and she could not speak.

And then Keiko drifted farther into the darkness.

But she came back — she was fighting the storm.

Someone was inside her room. Someone here to help?

She heard footsteps around her, felt a pull at the IV line in the back of her hand.

Her heartbeat sped up!

This was not a dream.

Something was wrong. This person hadn’t come to help.

An explosion of pain bloomed inside Keiko’s head.

She couldn’t see. She couldn’t hear. Keiko screamed out in fear, but nothing came out of her mouth.

She understood what was happening now — she was being murdered; then her thoughts melted as she slipped into the void.

Keiko never felt the cold, metallic touch of a coin, first on one eyelid, then on the other.

She didn’t hear the whispered words in her ear.

“These coins are your transfers, Keiko. Good night, princess.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Part Two

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

MURDER, MURDER EVERYWHERE

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 34

YUKI WOKE UP in the dark, her heart racing in leaps and bounds. Everything came back to her immediately, and with unusual clarity. Dr. Pierce mouthing condolences in the hospital waiting room. Lindsay driving her home from the hospital, putting her to bed, sitting with Yuki until she finally slept.

Still, it made no sense.

Yesterday, her mother had been well! Today she was gone.

Yuki grabbed the clock — almost 6:15.

She called Municipal Hospital, punched her way through the Audix menu. At last she got a live operator who connected her to the ICU.

“You can come anytime, Ms. Castellano,” the ICU nurse said. “But your mother isn’t here. She’s in the basement.”

Yuki’s rage was instant and blinding. She sat upright in her bed.

“What do you mean she’s in the basement?”

“I’m sorry. What I meant to say is that we can’t keep deceased patients in the ICU—”

“You put my mother in the hospital morgue? You insensitive—”

Yuki slammed down the receiver, then picked it up again and dialed for a cab. She couldn’t trust herself to drive right now. She dressed quickly in jeans, a cardigan, running shoes, and leather jacket, and dashed outside her apartment building to Jones Street.

She struggled during the seven-block cab ride to assimilate the frankly unbelievable.

Her mother was gone. There was no more Keiko in her life.

Inside the hospital, Yuki wove her way through the shuffling people in the lobby, sprinted up the stairs to the ICU. Eyes darting, she looked from one to the other of the nurses at their station. They were talking to one another, acting as if she didn’t exist. She lifted a chart and banged it sharply down on the counter. That got their attention.

“I’m Yuki Castellano,” she said to the nurse, the one with the bran-muffin crumbs clinging to the front of her uniform. “My mother was here last night. I need to know what happened to her.”

“Your mother’s name?”

“Keiko Castellano. Dr. Pierce was her doctor.”

“May I see your medical power of attorney?” the nurse asked next.

“I’m sorry?”

“You know about HIPPA? We can only tell you about your mother if you have medical power of attorney.”

Anger blazed through her. “What are you saying? Are you mad?”

What did her question have to do with patients’ rights? Her mother had just died. She had a right to know why that had happened.

Yuki fought for control of her voice. “Is Dr. Garza here, please?”

“I’ll call him, but Dr. Garza can’t tell you anything, either, Miss Castellano. He’s bound by HIPPA, like we all are.”

“I’ll take my chances,” said Yuki. “I want to see Dr. Garza!”

“Take it easy, okay,” said the nurse, training her huge, expressionless eyes on Yuki, letting her know that she thought she was out of her flipping mind. “I’ll see if he’s still here.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 35

DR. GARZA WAS INSIDE his stark, windowless office when Yuki knocked on the open door. She almost hesitated as he looked up at her, his face hard, showing his instant resentment at her intrusion. What a dick, Yuki thought.

But she pushed on, taking the chair across the desk from him, coming right to the point.

“I don’t understand why my mother died,” she said. “What happened to her?”

Garza plucked at his watchband.

“I’m sure Dr. Pierce told you, Ms. Castellano. Your mother had a stroke,” he said. “You understand? A thrombus, a blood clot, went to her brain, preventing blood flow. We put her on anticoagulants, but we couldn’t save her.”

The doctor flattened his hands on the desk in front of him, a gesture that signified “That’s it. End of story.”

“I understand what a stroke is, Dr. Garza. What I don’t understand is why she was chirpy at dinner and dead by midnight. She was inside a hospital! And you people didn’t save her. Something about that stinks, Doctor.”

“Please take your tone down a few notches, if you don’t mind,” Garza said. “Bodies aren’t machines, Ms. Castellano. And doctors aren’t miracle workers. Believe me, we did our best.”

Garza reached out and covered Yuki’s hands with his. “It’s a shock, I know. I’m sorry,” he said.

It was an oddly intimate gesture that startled Yuki, and repelled her. She jerked her hands away instinctively, and the doctor retracted his.

“By the way,” said Garza, turning cold again, “you’ll need to speak to Nurse Nuñez on your way out. Your mother has to be transferred to a funeral home within twenty-four hours. I’m afraid we can’t keep her here longer than that.”

Yuki stood up abruptly, knocking over the chair as she got to her feet.

“This isn’t over. I’m a lawyer,” Yuki said. “I’m going to look into this thoroughly. I’m going to find out what actually happened to my mom. Don’t move her until I say so, understand? And by the way, Dr. Garza, you have the bedside manner of an eel.”

Yuki turned toward the door, stumbling over the upturned chair, her feet catching the legs, pitching her forward.

She stopped her fall by grabbing at the wall, snapping off the light switch with the flat of her hand as she clumsily regained her balance, plunging Dr. Garza’s office into blackness.

She didn’t stop to say a word, or even to turn the light back on.

Feeling wobbly, Yuki negotiated the doorway, the hallway, the stairwell. And from there, she ran out to the street.

The air outside was heavy and damp, and suddenly she felt faint. Yuki sat down on the sidewalk under a large sycamore tree and stared at the people going to work as if it were a normal day.

She thought about the last time she’d seen her funny, feisty mom. Keiko had been eating ice cream in bed, dispensing her crazy old-world advice with the conviction of a judge.

And she remembered most how much they’d always laughed.

Now, all of that was over.

And it just shouldn’t be.

“Mom,” Yuki said now. “It wasn’t a dignified exit, I know, but I left that bastard sitting in the dark.”

She laughed to herself, thinking how much her mother would have enjoyed that scene.

Yuki-eh, why you never act like lady?

Then the pain swamped her.

Yuki drew her legs up and hugged them to her chest. With the solid old tree against her back, she put her head on her knees and wept for her mother. She sobbed like a child, one who would never be the same again.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 36

IT WAS TOO EARLY for this kind of crap, just 7:00 in the morning when I pulled up to the curb in front of an old Tudor-style house on Chestnut Street. A large evergreen tree sent fingers of dark shade across the grass between the house and the garage. A handful of cops already dotted the front lawn.

I slammed the door shut on my three-year-old Explorer, buttoned my khaki blazer against the morning chill, and marched across the well-shorn grass.

Jacobi and Conklin were at the front doorstep interviewing a seventy-something couple wearing matching awning-striped bathrobes and slippers. With their stricken faces and spiky bed heads, the septuagenarians looked as shocked as if they’d just put their fingers into wall sockets.

The elderly gentleman screeched at Jacobi, “How do you know we don’t need police protection? You can see into the future?”

Jacobi turned his weary expression on me, and then introduced Mr. and Mrs. Robert Cronin.

“Hello,” I said, shaking their hands. “This is a terrible ordeal, I know. We’ll make it as easy on you as we possibly can.”

“CSU is on the way,” Conklin told me. “I’m okay here to do the interview, Lieutenant.” He was asking permission, but letting me know he was more than ready.

“It’s all yours, Inspector. Do your job.”

I excused myself and Jacobi; then we walked together toward the dark-blue Jaguar XK-E convertible parked with its top down in the driveway. A beautiful car, which only made things worse.

I’d known what to expect since getting Jacobi’s call twenty minutes ago. Still, when I looked into the victim’s face, my heart lurched.

Like Caddy Girl, this woman was white, probably eighteen to twenty-one, petite. Her blond hair fell to her shoulders in loose waves. The girl had lovely, lustrous hair.

She was “looking” out onto Chestnut Street with wide-open blue eyes. As with Caddy Girl, she’d been posed to look as though she were still alive.

“God, Jacobi,” I said. “Another one. Has to be. Jag Girl.”

“It was in the low fifties last night,” he told me. “She’s cold to the touch. And here we go again with the high-ticket clothes.”

“Head to toe.”

The victim was wearing a blue scarf-type blouse and a subtle blue-and-gray plaid tulip skirt. Her boots were Jimmy Choo, the kind that zip up the back. It was an outfit that would cost about three months’ of a cop’s salary.

One little discrepancy though. The dead girl’s jewelry struck me as wrong.

Her tennis bracelet and matching ear studs flashed with the prismatic light of fake diamonds. What was that all about?

I turned at the wail of sirens. I watched both the EMT and CSU vans roll up, park next to the lineup of squad cars.

Conklin crossed the lawn toward the EMTs. I heard him tell the driver, “She’s gone, buddy. Sorry you wasted the trip.”

As the ambulance shifted into reverse, Charlie Clapper stepped out of the scene-mobile with his kit and camera in hand. He walked over to where we were standing, said, “Another day, another body,” and asked us to kindly stand aside.

Jacobi and I stood a few yards from the Jaguar as Clapper shot his pictures.

I was thinking that I knew what he was going to find: a ligature mark at the young woman’s throat, no handbag, no ID — and that the car would otherwise be clean as a whistle.

“Smell that?” said Jacobi.

It was faint at this distance, but I’d smelled it before: a musky fragrance that made me think of orchids.

“Caddy Girl’s eau de toilette,” I said to my former partner. “You know, the first one you think, maybe it’s personal. But again? Another girl? Similar physically. Another immaculate crime scene? They’re getting off on the killings, Jacobi. They’re doing it for fun.”

We watched Clapper’s team dust the car for prints in silence. I knew that Jacobi and I were cycling the same unspoken questions.

Who were these two girls? And who was the kinky tag team that had murdered them?

What had triggered the killings?

What was the meaning of the odd dress-up tableaux?

“The balls on these guys,” said Jacobi as the ME’s van arrived. “Putting the vics on display like this. They’re not just having fun, Boxer. They’re giving somebody the finger.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 37

I GRABBED THE PHONE in my office on the first ring when I saw that it was Claire.

“I’ve got some preliminary findings on Jag Girl,” she told me.

“Want me to come down?”

“I’ll be up in a few minutes,” she said. “I’m ready for a change of scene.”

The smell of oregano and pepperoni preceded Claire, who ambled into my office with a pizza box and a couple of cans of Diet Coke, saying, “Lunch is served, baby girl. Nature’s most perfect food. Pizza.”

I moved files from the side chair, cleared the stuff on my desk onto the window ledge, put out my finest paper napkins and the plastic cutlery.

“I took the stairs,” Claire said, dropping into the chair, beginning to carve up the pie.

“Well, give them back. We’re gonna need them later.”

“As I was saying before your awful joke,” she said, laughing at me, “I climbed the stairs. Three steep flights. That’s about a hundred calories, wouldn’t you think?”

“Uh-huh, I’d say. Probably cancels out a quarter of a slice of nature’s perfect food.”

“Never mind that.” She chuckled, flopping a steaming slice onto my paper plate. “I don’t believe in making war with food. Food is not the enemy.”

“A truce on pizza,” I said.

“To the truce,” Claire said, touching her cola can to mine.

“The whole truce,” said I. “And three kinds of cheese.”

I joined in with Claire’s long, rolling laugh, one of my favorite sounds in the world. Whenever work got particularly grisly, the two of us got giddy. Sometimes, it even helped. We polished off one of Pronto Pizza’s best in about ten minutes as Claire brought me up to date on our latest Jane Doe.

“Taking into account her exposure to the low temperature last night, I’m calling Jag Girl’s time of death somewhere ’round midnight,” she said, lobbing her empty can into the trash basket.

“The clothes were gorgeous,” she said, “but a bad fit. Too small on top, too big across the hips, but this time her shoes fit.”

“And she never walked in them, right?”

“Clean soles. And just like with Caddy Girl, that funky perfume was only on her labia.”

“When are you starting the post?”

“Soon’s I get back downstairs.”

“Want some company?”

I phoned Tracchio’s office and blew off the staff meeting. Was I rebelling against authority? Yep. Then I went out to the squad room and invited Jacobi. I filled him in as we jogged down the stairs to the morgue.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 38

I ALWAYS FOUND the stark reality of the morgue, Claire’s place, a shock to the nervous system — the unforgiving white light on the dead, the sheets hiding that their insides were out. The empty faces. The harsh scent of antiseptics.

Somehow, the circumstances didn’t completely dim Jag Girl’s material beauty. If anything, she looked younger, and more vulnerable, than she had dressed up in designer clothes.

The purple bruise circling her neck and the dusting of bluish bruising on her upper arms seemed like an insult to her flawless skin. After several hours in the morgue, she was starting to have a bad hair day, too.

I watched as my friend slipped into her gear — cap, gown, plastic apron, and gloves. “It looks like another soft kill,” Claire said. “No knives, no guns.”

Claire positioned her scalpel to make the deep, Y-shaped incision that would run from shoulder to shoulder, meeting at Jag Girl’s breastbone and extending down to her pubis.

She pulled up her mask, lowered her face shield, spoke into the mike as she made a layer-wise dissection of the strap musculature of Jag Girl’s neck.

She peeled back a flap of skin with her forceps. Showed me and Jacobi the brownish stain in the shape of a thumbprint.

“This young lady was asphyxiated by two complete nutjob assailants,” Claire said.

“Just like with Caddy Girl, there’s no petechial hemorrhaging. So someone held her down and burked her. Pressed her neck right here with his thumb. This boy is strong.

“Someone else applied a ligature. Sort of crinkly-like. Looks like a patterned impression, consistent with the rolled edge of a plastic bag. Probably put his paw over her nose and mouth to seal the deal.”

I couldn’t help staring at the victim and imagining the freaking outrageous homicide.

“It’s making me think that this is some kind of porn fantasy come to life,” I said. “No peep-show booth, no magazine or computer screen. What fun. Real girls without any barriers. The perps can drug them, rape them, dress them up, do whatever the hell they want.”

“There’s no sign this young lady fought back,” said Claire. “So until I get the tox screen, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say she was probably drugged, too.”

Jacobi seethed. “Fucking cowards.”

“Keep the faith, you guys,” said Claire. “I’ll call in a favor at the lab. See if I can put a rush on the DNA.”

I stepped closer to the table and looked into the victim’s lifeless face again. Finally, I reached over and closed her clouded blue eyes.

“We will get these bastards,” I told her.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 39

CLAIRE SAW LINDSAY and Jacobi to the door, saying that she wished that she had given them more to work with, hoping for all of them that this poor dead girl would have a name unrelated to luxury cars very soon.

She made her call to DNA and got the usual — “Of course, Dr. Washburn, we’ll get right on it,” an assurance that came with an unspoken disclaimer, namely, “Do you understand how long this procedure takes? Do you know how many cases are ahead of yours?”

“I mean it,” she said to the lab supervisor. “This is urgent, rush, high priority.”

“Yes, ma’am. I got it.”

Claire was sliding Jag Girl into a drawer, when her cell phone rang. Yuki’s number flashed on the caller ID.

“Yuki! Darlin’, how are you holding up?” she asked. “Do you want me to pick you up or can you drive over by yourself? Edmund’s really looking forward to meeting you, and he’s cooking mushroom risotto tonight.”

“Claire, I’m sorry. I just can’t — I can’t be with people right now.”

Claire gave it a respectful beat; then she said, “Of course, honey. I understand.”

“But I have to ask a favor,” Yuki said, then sighed loudly.

“Whatever you need.”

“I want you to do an autopsy on my mom.”

Claire listened intently as Yuki described her meeting with Garza, and explained that she was completely unsatisfied with his explanation for her mother’s death.

Claire wanted to sigh out loud, too, but she held it in. She didn’t want to show any disrespect to Yuki.

“You’re sure you want me to do this, baby? Can you handle whatever I find?”

“I swear I can. I have to know if her death was avoidable. I absolutely have to know what happened to my mom.”

“I understand. I’ll arrange to have her brought here in the morning.”

“You’re the best,” Yuki said, her voice cracking from the pressure of tears.

“Don’t you worry, honey. She’s family. Just leave your mom to me.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 40

THE FOLLOWING AFTERNOON, Yuki was in her mother’s kitchen, standing over the sink. She stuffed a bite of toast into her mouth, hardly chewing. Everything about this still seemed so unreal.

She’d been up the whole night — phoning her mother’s friends, going through albums and scrapbooks, losing herself in memories. Now she wrenched herself back to the present, wondering when Claire would call and what Claire would say.

When the phone finally rang, Yuki lunged for it.

Claire asked, “How are you doing, honey?”

“I’m okay,” Yuki said, but that was a lie. She felt light-headed, her guts twisting as she waited for Claire to tell her about the end of her mother’s life. Finally, she couldn’t stand it another second.

“Did you find out anything?”

“I did, honey. For one thing, Garza was right when he told you that your mom had an embolism around her brain. What he didn’t tell you was it had to have been more than three hours before someone noticed that she was in trouble.

“The doctors should have given her an MRI to establish the size of the hematoma,” Claire continued. “But instead, they loaded her up with streptokinase, an anticoagulant.”

“He said something about an anticoagulant.”

“Uh-huh. Well, streptokinase isn’t the newest drug on the market, but it’s okay if used properly. Which it wasn’t.

“Your mom was already hemorrhaging. There was no place for all that blood to go, and that’s why she died, Yuki. I’m so, so sorry. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”

Yuki felt the news like a gut-punch.

My God, Keiko had been bleeding into her brain for hours — and no one even noticed?

What the hell was going on in that hospital?

Why had her mother had the stroke at all?

“Yuki? Yuki? Are you still there?”

“I’m okay. . . .”

Yuki finished up with Claire; then she dropped the phone into its cradle. She went into the bathroom and threw up in the toilet. She took off her clothes and got into her mother’s pink-and-green shower stall, stood for a long time sobbing, pressing her head against the wall as the hot water streamed down her body. She decided what she needed to do next.

A half hour later, wearing one of her mother’s outfits — black pants with a stretch waistband and a red velour top — Yuki drove to the 800 block of Bryant Street. She parked in front of a bail bondsman’s office across from the Hall of Justice.

Yuki entered the gray granite building, stopping at the security desk to give her name. She was on a mission now; she’d made up her mind; there was no turning back.

She took the elevator to the third floor and the Southern Division of the SFPD.

Lindsay was waiting when she got there. She put her arm around Yuki’s shoulders and walked her back to her small glass-enclosed office.

Yuki took the desk chair across from Lindsay. Her face felt stiff, and her throat was tight. Lindsay was peering at her with concern. What a good friend she was, Yuki thought. I shouldn’t do this to her. But I have to.

“I want to file charges against Municipal,” Yuki said. “Someone at that damn hospital murdered my mother.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 41

COLMA, CALIFORNIA, IS CALLED the City of the Dead; located five miles south of San Francisco, it’s our city’s graveyard. With more than a million people buried in its neatly manicured cemeteries, it’s the only place in America where the dead outnumber the living, upward of twelve to one.

My mom was here at Cypress Lawn Cemetery, and now Yuki’s mom would be here, too.

That Saturday, about seventy of us were grouped under a tent at Keiko’s graveside, a breeze riffling the white canvas panels, twisting the thin plume of smoke coming from the incense pot next to the portrait of Yuki’s parents, Bruno and Keiko Castellano.

Yuki stood with her arm around a small Japanese man in a dusty black suit. This was Keiko’s twin brother, Jack. He choked out a few words in halting, broken English: “My sister was precious woman. Thank you for . . . bringing honor to my family.”

Yuki hugged her uncle. A smile crossed her tired face as she began to speak about her mother.

“My mom liked to say that when she came to San Francisco she picked out the important landmarks right away. The Golden Gate Bridge, Saks, I. Magnin, Gump’s, and Nordstrom. Not necessarily in that order.”

Warm laughter rose up as Yuki brought images of Keiko to life.

“I used to go shopping with her after school and race around the clothing racks. She would say, ‘Yuki-eh, you must learn to be a lady.’

“I don’t think I ever quite learned to do that.” Yuki laughed. “I liked my music loud. My skirts short — I know, Mommy, even this one is too short! She wanted me to marry a lawyer — instead I became one.

“My life isn’t what she dreamed for me, but she always gave me her love, her support . . . her everything.

“We were a team, Mom and me. Best friends, always. As I stand here with my uncle, I cannot imagine my world without her. Mommy, I will love you and miss you forever.”

Yuki lowered her head, her lips trembling. Then she and her uncle turned so that they faced Keiko’s coffin.

Pressing a bracelet of stone beads between her palms, Yuki held her hands in front of her face. She and her uncle Jack chanted a Japanese prayer that swelled as the voices of Keiko’s friends and family joined in.

Then Yuki bowed to her mother’s coffin.

I gripped Claire’s hand with my right hand, Cindy’s hand with my left, feeling my own grief well up in me as tears rolled down Yuki’s face.

“This is just the saddest damn day,” Claire said.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 42

I FOUND MY MOTHER’S GRAVE by walking east and south for ten minutes with a map in my hand, stepping around carved lions and angels, and ornate mausoleums, until I found the simple granite stone that I carried around like a weight in my heart.

The carved letters had darkened with almost fifteen years’ growth of lichen, but the legend was clear and indelible. Helen Boxer, wife of Martin, devoted mother to Lindsay and Catherine. 1939-1989.

A picture came to me of being a little kid, Mom making breakfast as she got ready for work, her yellow hair pinned up in a twist, pulling hot Pop-Tarts out of the toaster for me and Cat, burning her fingers and crying out “oooh-oooh-ooooh” to make us laugh.

On those days, workdays, I wouldn’t see her again until dark.

I remembered how my little sister and I would come home from school to an empty house. Me, making the mac-and-cheese dinners. Waking up at night to our mom screaming at Dad to shut his trap and let the girls sleep.

And I remember what it was like after my father left us: my mother’s beautiful, short-lived freedom from my father’s iron fist over all of us. She cut her hair into a flingy bob. Took singing lessons with Marci Weinstein, who lived down the street. Had six or seven years of what she called “breathing free” — before runaway breast cancer knocked her down.

I had a dim memory of standing at this very spot when Mom was buried, not having a shred of the grace or eloquence Yuki had shown today. I was mute, torn up with anger, bent on keeping my face turned so that I didn’t have to look at my father.

Now, sitting cross-legged beside my mother’s grave, I stared out at the autumn-brown hills of South San Francisco as an Alaska Air jetliner crossed overhead. I wished that my mother could see that Cat and I were both okay, that Cat was strong, that her little girls were smart and fine, and that my sister and I were friends again.

I wished I could tell her that being a cop had given my life meaning. I hadn’t always been sure of myself, but I think I had become the woman she would have wanted me to be.

I ran my hand over the curve of her headstone and said something that I didn’t often admit to myself.

“I really miss you, Mom. I wish that you were here. I wish I’d been sweeter to you when you were alive.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 43

MY THOUGHTS FLITTED between love and death as I drove back from Colma to San Francisco. Images kept coming to me of the people I’d loved deeply who had died.

Lights glinted on the Bay Bridge as I entered the city and threaded my way through the narrow, rising streets of Potrero Hill.

I parked the Explorer a few houses down from mine, thinking ahead to my small chores and pleasures, ready to settle in for the night.

I had my keys in hand, about to open the front door, when I heard Martha’s distinctive bark coming from outside the house!

It couldn’t be, because it made no sense.

Was I crazy?

Or had Martha somehow slipped out the door when I left this morning for the funeral?

I whipped my head around, listening intently, frantically sweeping the street with my eyes.

Then I saw my doggy leaning out of the passenger-side window of a black sedan that had pulled up to the curb and was parked behind my car.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude. A good Samaritan had found her and brought her home.

I peered in through the car’s open window to thank the driver for bringing my girl back — and my heart almost stopped.

How could I have forgotten?

It was Joe.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 44

JOE’S ARMS WERE FULL of grocery bags as he got out of the car, but I grabbed and hugged and kissed him anyway as Martha leaped at my legs.

“When did you get here?” I asked.

“At ten a.m. As planned.”

“Oh, no.”

“I had a nice day. Watched some football. Took a nap with Martha. Took her shopping.”

“Oh, God, Joe.”

“You forgot that I was coming, didn’t you?”

“Oh, man. I’m so sorry. I really blew it.”

“That’s not good enough, sister. Not by half. Not even close.”

“I can explain.”

“Make it good,” he said, “and don’t even think of lawyering up.”

I laughed. Put my arm around his waist as we all clambered up the stairs.

“I’ll make it up to you.”

“You bet you will,” he growled, then hugged me tight.

Inside the kitchen, Joe put the groceries on the counter, the ice cream into the freezer. Then he sat on a stool at the counter, crossed his arms, and gave me a look that said “I’m waiting.”

“Yuki’s mother,” I said. “We buried her today. Out in Colma.”

“Aw. Jeez, Lindsay. I’m sorry.”

“Joe, it was so sudden. Yuki and her mom were going to go on a cruise together next week!”

Joe opened his arms to me, and I leaned into him. Then I talked for ten minutes straight about how close Yuki had been to her mom, how the hospital might have screwed up by giving Keiko the wrong meds.

My voice tightened in my throat as I told him about my own mom, about visiting her grave that afternoon.

“It’s a rotten shame that I messed up, Joe. I wish you’d been with me today. I’ve really missed you.”

“How much?” he asked, the glint in his eyes showing me that I was out of the doghouse.

I stretched out my arms, making the universal symbol for “this much.” Joe pulled me closer, giving me a full-body hug and a five-star kiss.

We clung together for a long moment, me with a hand in Joe’s thick hair, holding his cheek tightly against mine, feeling his strong arms wrapped around me. This was good, so good.

He walked me backward to the bedroom, his hands cupping my buttocks. He was hard against me and holding me so that there was no space between us.

He lowered me onto the bed, lay down next to me, and moved my hair off my face.

So handsome, my Joe.

“I missed you more,” he said.

“No way.” I took his hand and put it over my heart. “Feel that?”

“You know that I love you, Lindsay.”

“I love you, too.”

Joe unzipped my skirt, kissed me, undid the buttons of my blouse, unclipped the barrette from my hair, slowly tugged off my clothes, until I was bare and flushed and, well, panting.

I hugged pillows to my chest as Joe tossed my clothes and his onto the lap of the chair. Neither one of us was talking now.

When I couldn’t stand to wait another minute, he flipped up the covers, took away my pillows, and got into bed beside me, his naked body hot against mine.

I hooked my arms around his neck, pressed my toes against the tops of his feet, fitted my mouth to his, dissolved into the smell and feel and taste of Joe.

He opened me with his hands and his mouth, and then he moved into me.

Oh my God.

It had been a long time since nothing mattered but this.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 45

JOE AND I WERE LEANING into the wind at the bow as the ferry chugged across the bay on the return trip from Sausalito to San Francisco. Joe looked pensive, and I wondered why that was.

I reviewed our lazy roll out of bed at around 11:00 that morning, the brilliant blue sky as we held hands on the top deck of the outbound ferry. We’d had a cozy late lunch at Poggio, an outstanding restaurant overlooking the water.

It was as if we’d been transported to the coast of Italy, dining on pasta at the edge of the blue Mediterranean Sea. Yep, it was that good.

I squeezed Joe’s arm.

It had been a spectacular six months for the two of us. We’d bridged the geographical distance between us with phone calls and e-mails. Then, once or twice a month, we’d have a magical weekend like this one.

And then it would be over, which seemed so cruel and wrong.

In a half hour, I’d be in my apartment, and Joe would be heading to Washington on an air force jet.

“Where are you, Joe? You look like you’re very far away. Already.”

He put an arm around me, pulled me to him. I savored these last moments, the gulls calling and swooping alongside the ferry, the spray of water on my face, Joe’s arms tight around me, the feel of his sweater against my cheek.

“I can’t keep doing this,” he said. “Making love eleven times in twenty-four hours. I’m forty-five for Christ’s sake.”

I threw back my head and laughed. “Aerobics are always a good thing.”

“You think it’s funny? You do, don’t you? My manhood’s at stake here.”

I hugged him hard, reached up and kissed his neck, then kissed it again.

“Don’t start up with me, blondie. I’m out of steam.”

“Seriously, Joe. Is everything okay?”

“Seriously? There’s a lot on my mind. I just haven’t known when or how to get into it.”

“I guess you’d better start talking,” I said.

Joe turned his blue eyes on me as the ferry eased closer to the dock.

“I think we need to spend more time together, Linds. This weekend stuff is unbelievable but—”

“I know. The drama gets in the way of reality.”

He paused before saying, “Would you ever move to DC?”

I know I must have looked shocked. I’d always figured that sometime we would discuss where our relationship was headed, but I hadn’t expected it today.

How could I live in DC?

I saw my startled look register on his face.

“Okay, hang on. There’s another way to look at this,” he said.

Joe began to tell me some of what I already knew: that the Port of Los Angeles is the entry point for all of the cargo containers coming by ship from Hong Kong, the largest container port in the world.

Then he told me the Homeland Security viewpoint.

“There’s an honest-to-God fear that terrorists could smuggle a nuke — say from North Korea — by way of a container coming from Hong Kong into LA,” Joe said. “And the chance that we’d detect such a device, at present, is practically nil.

“We don’t yet have effective systems in place. I see an opportunity to help secure the port. I think I could do important work out here.”

The ferry engines ground into reverse with a roar, and the bulky wooden ship coasted into dock. Suddenly we were in the center of a shoving mob, moving us down the gangway. Talking was impossible as our handhold was broken apart and strangers seeped between us.

Joe’s Town Car was waiting beyond the docks, gleaming and black. He held open the door for me and asked the driver to take us to the lot where I’d parked my car.

“I know it’s a lot to think about,” he said.

“Joe, I want to talk more about this. I hate that you’re leaving. I really hate it, especially this time.”

“Me, too, Linds. We’ll find a way.”

The Town Car stopped in the parking lot, and we both got out. I leaned against the sun-heated flank of my old Explorer.

I felt tears coming into my eyes as we embraced, exchanged “I love yous” and wishes for a safe trip home.

We hugged and kissed again.

It had been another beautiful day added to our scrapbook of special memories. I could still feel the pressure of his lips on mine, the sting of salt against my whisker-burned cheeks.

I could still feel him, as if he were right there beside me.

But Joe was gone.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Part Three

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

IN SEARCH OF CAR GIRLS

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 46

I CAME BACK TO THE SQUAD ROOM after lunch with Cindy, feeling several pairs of eyes tracking me as I passed the desks on my way to my office. I was thinking that a week had passed since Caddy Girl’s picture had been posted in the Chronicle, and now Jag Girl’s photo would be running beside it.

It was infuriating that we were still hoping for tips from the public.

Where were the leads?

Why was there so little evidence?

What the hell were we overlooking? How were we messing up?

I waved Jacobi and Conklin into my glass cube and closed the door, hung my jacket up. Conklin sprawled in the chair, his long legs spanning the length of my desk, while Jacobi parked, as usual, on the edge of my credenza.

I told Jacobi and Conklin that I’d put the photo of Jag Girl out to the press and asked if they had anything new.

“My partner’s got something for you, Boxer.” Jacobi isn’t prone to smiling, but I thought I saw a spark of pride light up his stony eyes.

“Yeah, we’ve got sorta good news,” said Conklin as he sat up straight in the chair.

“Any kind of news is good news on this case.”

“We got the DNA back on Caddy Girl’s rape kit.”

“Excellent. What do we know?”

“We got a cold hit, Lou,” Conklin said.

My rising hopes crashed.

A cold hit is a little bit of not much to go on. In this case, there was a matching DNA profile in the database — but the donor’s ID was unknown.

Conklin spread the computer printout on my desk, spun it so it faced me. Then he took me through it, slowly, patiently, the way I took my bosses through detail they were too thick to get.

“This sample came from the sexual assault kit of a white female who was killed in LA two years ago,” Conklin said. “She was in her early twenties — raped, strangled, and found in a field a few days after she was dumped there. No ID on the victim, and she was never identified. LAPD thinks she was a transient.”

“What was she wearing?” I asked him.

“No designer clothes. A polyester top pulled up to her neck. It’s no wonder we didn’t get a hit before,” Conklin said. “Completely different MO than the Car Girls. This victim wasn’t dressed up or posed in a car, but for sure, the same guy who had sex with this victim two years ago had sex with Caddy Girl.”

“Maybe the LA vic was our perp’s first kill,” Jacobi added. “And he’s been polishing up his act ever since.”

“Or maybe he’s got a partner now,” I said, trying on another theory. “Maybe this new cat has a lot more imagination.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 47

LEO HARRIS WAS LOCKING UP the register in his Smoke and Joke shop when the bell jingled over the front door.

“I’m done for the night,” the black man said without turning around. “Register’s closed. Come back in the morning. Thank you.”

He heard footsteps shuffling toward the counter anyway, baggy pants whiffing around the customer’s ankles.

“I said, we’re closed.”

“I need some smokes,” the voice said, soft and slurry, a young man’s voice asking, “You got Camels?”

“Try the Searchlight Market,” Mr. Harris said. “You can see it from the door. Right on the corner of Hyde.”

The sixty-six-year-old man closed the cash drawer, turned his blank eyes toward the customer, seeing just his outline, waiting for the kid to leave his shop.

“Put the money on the counter, old man,” the voice said. “Back up to the wall. Keep your hands up and maybe I won’t hurt you.”

Harris was aware of every sound now — the deep breathing of the boy, the buzzing of the neon sign in the window, the dull clang of the trolley at the intersection of Union and Hyde.

He said, “Okay, okay. We don’t have a problem. Let me open the register. I got a hundred bucks under the drawer. Hell, take a carton of cigarettes and just get—”

“Get your hand away from that button!” the boy yelled.

“I’m just opening the register.”

Harris pressed the silent alarm under the counter and at the same time heard the jangle of Midnight’s collar as she ran downstairs from his apartment, starting her nightly patrol of the store.

Harris thought, Oh, no, even as he heard the police dog’s growl. Then the click of the gun, the kid’s scared shout: “Fucking get away from me, dog.”

There was an explosion, a gunshot; then Leo Harris called out, “Midnight!” Then came another deafening explosion that seemed to rock the small room.

Harris clutched at his chest. He fell, grabbing at the toiletries and cigarette cartons, hearing the sound of the punk busting out the door, the door slamming, the tinkling bell. . . .

Then he was thinking about his companion and friend of twelve years, hearing poor Midnight’s yelping and whining over the sounds of bottles falling, broken glass scattering on the floor.

“Someone help us, please! We’ve been shot.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 48

LEO HARRIS AWOKE lying on his side, face turned to the wall. He felt Midnight’s muzzle against the back of his neck, her hot breath on his cheek. Then he heard a man’s voice saying, “You okay, Mr. Harris? It’s Larry. Officer Petroff. Can you hear me?”

“My dog. I think he shot Midnight.”

“Yes, sir, she’s right here; looks like she took a shot to her hip. Dragged herself over to you. Easy girl, I’m not going to hurt you. Tell her it’s okay, Mr. Harris.”

“Be still. Thatsa girl.”

“I’ve got EMS coming for you, Mr. Harris, and my partner and I, we’re driving your dog to the animal hospital. She’ll be fine, good as new.”

Leo Harris went out again. When he came to, he felt the bumps as the paramedics jostled him into the ambulance, heard someone call it in: “Emergency room. Paramedic Colomello. We’ve got a male, approximately sixty-five years old, with a GSW to the right thorax. Blood pressure’s one forty over one hundred. Pulse, one fifty. We’ve got decreased breath sounds on his right side. Heart sounds are good. No other obvious injuries. We’re about to transport him. We’ve got normal saline running wide open.”

“Imagine. The little prick shooting a blind man,” Officer Larry Petroff said to his partner.

“Legally blind,” Leo Harris called out from inside the ambulance. “Legally blind is not totally in the dark.”

“I stand corrected, Mr. Harris. Now don’t worry about anything. They’ve got good docs on board at Municipal. Traffic or not, you’ll be there in three minutes. Midnight’s going to be fine, too. You’re both very lucky.”

“Yeah, today’s my lucky day,” said Leo Harris.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 49

NURSE NODDIE WILKINS was fuming. If she got into her car this minute, she’d still be a half hour late for her date with Rudolpho. This job sucked. It was sucking up her whole life! Plus, the damn hospital was cutting back on her benefits every chance it got. The cheap bastards.

She bumped open the door to room 228 with her hip, careful not to spill the tray. The only light in the room came from the TV. “Hey, Mr. Man,” she called out over the cheers of 49ers fans in an uproar about something stupid and ridiculous.

The nurse angled the tray onto the swinging arm of the bedside table, staying out of her patient’s reach. Mr. Harris was sixty-six and recovering from his gunshot wound; still, she had to move quickly or, legally blind or not, he’d grab her with his good arm. He was nice enough, though, a sweet older guy who sure loved his dog, Midnight.

“I got your dinner, Mr. Harris, and your two ice creams, soon’s I take your blood pressure.”

The nurse turned away from her patient, rolled the blood-pressure machine from the corner toward the bed, expecting to hear his “Sweetheart, fluff my pillow. Thatsa girl.”

Noddie glanced over to the bed. Her stomach dropped the equivalent of half a dozen stories.

Something was wrong.

“Mr. Harris! Mr. Harris!”

She shook the patient’s arm, and his head lolled, coins slipping off his eyes onto the bedding. One of the coins dropped to the floor, rolling to the corner of the room, rattling before it fell flat to the linoleum.

Dear sweet Jesus, it had happened again!

Those horrible coins. On the eyes of Mr. Harris this time.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 50

FOR THE THIRD MORNING in a row, Yuki pulled open the heavy glass-and-etched-steel door at the Civic Center Courthouse. This was now officially an obsession. The question — was she completely nuts?

She flashed her ID at the security guard and then took the elevator to courtroom 4A.

She was on leave from her job, and it was either come to court every day or go crazy with heartbreak and fury. The only thing that got her out of bed in the morning was that she could watch Maureen O’Mara make her case against Municipal Hospital.

Court was already in session when Yuki entered the packed room. She saw one vacant place in the center of the gallery and wriggled past a dozen pairs of resistant knees before finally taking a seat. “Sorry,” she whispered.

Yuki then sat riveted as men and women who’d lost family members at Municipal took the stand, each witness telling in wrenching testimony how he or she had lost a child, or a spouse, or a parent because of medical neglect and malpractice.

Yuki was still so raw it was all she could do to stop herself from weeping along with the witnesses. But she didn’t cry. She forced herself to look at O’Mara’s case the way a lawyer would.

It was exactly as Cindy had said at Susie’s more than a week ago.

The patients had been admitted through the emergency room, they recovered in the ICU, then something happened and the patient died.

That was exactly what had happened to her mom.

If only she could go back in time and check her mother out of that hellhole.

If only she had done that.

Yuki heard Lawrence Kramer dismiss a tearful mother on the stand. “I have no questions for this witness, thank you.”

As the poor woman choked back sobs, Yuki pressed a handkerchief hard against her own eyes with both hands.

She took deep, painful breaths as Maureen O’Mara called the next witness.

“Call Dr. Lee Chen.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 51

YUKI LEANED FORWARD in her seat, scrutinizing the plaintiffs’ witness, Dr. Chen, who spoke with the controlled fervor of an intelligent person who didn’t want to come off as sounding too smart. She knew all too well how that felt. Hell, it was practically her life story.

Chen listed his credentials — an MD from Berkeley, followed by twelve years in the emergency room at San Francisco Municipal.

In response to O’Mara’s questioning, the serious-looking doctor in black-framed glasses told the court about a night when he was the attending physician in the ER and a thirty-year-old woman named Jessica Falk was brought in by ambulance.

“Ms. Falk had been swimming in her pool,” said Chen. “She felt woozy and dialed nine-one-one. She was in ventricular fibrillation when she came into the ER. We defibbed her, got her heart back into normal sinus rhythm so she was stabilized. She was doing just fine,” Chen told the jury. “Then she was transferred to the ICU.”

“Please go on, Dr. Chen,” said O’Mara.

“I knew Ms. Falk pretty well — our daughters go to the same day care center — so I stayed on top of her case. I looked in on Jessie about six hours later, when I was going off my shift. We talked for a while, and she was okay. She missed her little girl was all. But when I checked her chart the next day, I learned that she’d had irregular heartbeats, probably the result of conductive disturbance — and she died.”

“Doctor, did you find that unusual?”

“I thought it was unusual for a woman of Jessica’s age and physical condition.”

“And so, what did you do?”

“I called for a postmortem and a board review.”

“And what were the findings of the autopsy?”

“Somehow Jessie Falk had received epinephrine. It was not prescribed.”

“And what would be the effect of epinephrine on that type of cardiac patient?”

“Epinephrine is a synthetic form of adrenaline for God’s sake. She should have gotten lidocaine, an antiarrhythmic. That would have smoothed out her heart rate. Administering epinephrine was like giving her cocaine. It would be lethal for a cardiac patient.”

“So that’s a pretty big mistake, isn’t it, Dr. Chen? What happened when the hospital board reviewed Ms. Falk’s case?”

“Actually, no action was taken,” the doctor said, biting off his words.

“No action?”

“Well, nothing with respect to Jessie Falk, anyway. I was terminated two weeks later.”

“Because you blew the whistle?”

“Objection! Counsel is leading the witness,” Kramer said, coming to his feet.

“I’ll rephrase, Your Honor. Dr. Chen, why was your employment terminated after twelve years?”

“I was told it was for ‘budgetary reasons.’”

O’Mara dropped her head, letting the power of the doctor’s words stand without embellishment. Then she lifted her face to the witness.

“I only have one more question, Dr. Chen. Who was the doctor who admitted Jessica Falk through the emergency room?”

“Dr. Dennis Garza.”

“To your knowledge, did he conduct a follow-up exam of Mrs. Falk when she was in the ICU?”

“His signature was on the chart.”

“Thank you. That’s all I have for you, Doctor.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 52

AS KRAMER GOT UP to cross-examine Dr. Chen, Yuki swung her head, scanning the courtroom until she found Dr. Garza three rows ahead on the aisle. That scum.

He was getting up from his seat, raking his black hair away from his forehead as he headed toward the door. Yuki’s face burned.

Where is that bastard going? Get back here, Garza. You need to listen to this!

Yuki stood, too, excusing herself, working her way across the row of knees again, stepping on toes, banging the bench-back with her briefcase.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry.”

By the time she reached the hallway, Garza was out of sight.

Yuki saw elevator doors closing. She ran forward, pressed the button, reversing the doors. But the elevator car was empty.

She arrived at the lobby in time to see the back of Garza’s navy-blue jacket, the man striding purposefully, heading away from her and out of the courthouse.

Yuki followed him, her heels clacking loudly on the lobby floor. Now she was wondering what she was going to say or do when she caught up with him.

This was so unlike her, Yuki thought as she pushed open the heavy door, stumbling into the blinding light outside. She wasn’t this impulsive.

She was organized, disciplined.

But right now, she couldn’t stop herself. The obsession was taking over, as if she were in a wild Hitchcock movie.

Yuki searched the sidewalk, saw Garza heading along McAllister toward the Civic Center, head up, forging through the pedestrian traffic.

Yuki followed, running at times to catch up with him, then pacing herself behind him; finally, she called out his name. “Garza!”

The doctor stopped, and he spun around to face her. He squinted his eyes against the sunlight.

Yuki drew closer, stopping just short of handshaking distance.

“I’m Yuki Castellano.”

“Yes, I know who you are. The question is, why are you stalking me?”

“I asked the medical examiner to autopsy my mother’s body,” she said.

Garza struggled not to look surprised. “I hope that made you feel a lot better. Did it?”

“I do feel better, Doctor, because I don’t feel crazy anymore. But I am in a rage. My mother died because you screwed up. Again.”

Garza looked incredibly annoyed now.

“Me? Personally? You’re sure of that?”

“Don’t play games with me. I’m talking about my mother!”

“I’m sure the ME will send me her report. Maybe I’ll even read it.” Then Dr. Garza turned away and walked to a black Mercedes parked at the curb.

He opened the car door and stooped to get in, but then he stopped. He looked back at Yuki. “Hey, why don’t you sue me, bitch? What an original idea. Join the crowd.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 53

IT WAS 6:15 ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT, and Claire and I were in our favorite booth at Susie’s. The calypso band was tuning up with the Jimmy Buffett national anthem, and we’d ordered a pitcher of draft while we waited for Yuki and Cindy to show.

Claire and I clinked glasses, then continued unloading the small complaints that are like fleas on a dog — not life-threatening, but annoying as hell.

“You know Bob Watson?” Claire said.

“Your assistant, Bob?”

“Yes. My dear, strong, willing, smart, workaholic assistant, Bob. He’s moving to Boston, and now I have to promote the mayor’s twenty-two-year-old niece.”

“What? She’s a courtesy hire?”

“Shoved right down my larynx. Child’s called Bunny.” Claire moaned. “Bunny can hardly lift her coffee cup, let alone a two-hundred-fifty-pound body.

“Keeps changing the CDs from Shostakovich to hip-hop. ‘Dr. Washburn, we need the right music.’ Sure thing, Bunny. No rush. Mr. Doe here is resting comfortably.”

I laughed, snorting beer up my schnoz just about the time Cindy blew in and plopped into our booth.

“Greetings, girlfriends.”

“Back at you, girl reporter,” said Claire. “Where’s Yuki?”

“I just left her in front of the courthouse. She sends her regrets.”

“She’s still really hurting?”

“Terribly,” Cindy said. “But she’s focused on the trial. She’s even more obsessed than I am.”

Loretta dropped off the menus and a basket of plantain chips as Cindy told us about her past few days in court.

“Dr. Dennis Garza’s name came up again today. A ten-year-old girl lost her mother because of an overdose of her prescribed medication. Garza checked her in through the ER. Jamison Funeral Home checked her out.

“You listen to the stories in court, and you really want to nail someone for this shit,” Cindy continued, blowing the wrapper off a drinking straw. “Don’t ever go to a hospital if you can help it. More people die of accidents in the hospital than die from breast cancer, AIDS, or in car accidents.”

“Come on!”

“Lindsay, medical errors are among the top ten causes of death in America. And I’ve done some research on Garza. Statistically, he’s holding up his end.”

“Do tell,” said Claire.

“Every place Garza worked,” Cindy said. “Cleveland, Raleigh, Albany, and here. The body count climbs when he shows up at a new hospital.”

“What you’re talking about, it’s a national scandal,” Claire said, setting her glass down hard on the table. “Dirty medical practitioners moving around the country, and the hospitals don’t turn them in ’cause they don’t want to get sued.”

Cindy nodded her agreement. “It’s how so-called angels of death rack up dozens and sometimes hundreds of victims before they’re caught — if they ever are.”

“It’s no wonder Yuki’s obsessed with Garza,” I said. “She’s sure he’s responsible for killing her mother.”

“I can tell you this for a fact,” said Cindy. “Someone at that hospital is responsible for what happened to Keiko. She should be at home right now. Drinking tea. Telling Yuki what to wear and how to get married.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 54

SAN FRANCISCO’S MORNING rush-hour snarl had eaten up fifteen precious minutes of drive time, and now Cindy was late. She pushed open the courtroom door, waved at Yuki, who was sitting behind the rail, then bumped everyone in the press row down a seat as she squeezed in.

A sidebar was in progress, a fairly heated one, Cindy thought. O’Mara and Kramer were arguing in lowered voices at the base of the judge’s bench.

Judge Bevins had listened long enough. “I don’t see the problem, Mr. Kramer.” Bevins flicked his ponytail, adjusted his bifocals. “Both of you, step back. Let’s get going.”

Kramer spun away from the bench, and Maureen O’Mara took the lectern. She tossed her mane of titian hair. A sign of victory? Then she called a witness to the stand.

There was a buzz in the courtroom as a striking fortyish woman with short platinum-blond hair was sworn in. Her slim European designer suit in shades of olive green combined with her crisp, white man-tailored shirt spoke of uncommon style and confidence.

“What’s going on?” Cindy whispered to the reporter beside her. This dude was like Clark Kent in the flesh — early thirties, dark-haired, bespectacled, remarkably cute in a nebbishy sort of way.

“Hello. I’m Whit Ewing. Chicago Tribune,” he said.

“Sorry. I’m Cindy Thomas.”

“Of the Chronicle?”

“That’s me.”

“I’ve been reading your reports. Not too bad.”

“Thanks, Whit. So, what’s the beef?”

“O’Mara is calling a defense witness as part of her case-in-chief. It’s a pretty clever tactic. Kramer can’t cross-examine his own witness—”

“So she gets over on him until he puts the witness on himself.”

“Very good.”

“Thanks, bud. I owe you one.”

“I just may hold you to that,” he said, grinning.

The sharp crack of Judge Bevins’s gavel brought the court to order.

“Please state your name,” said O’Mara.

“Dr. Sonja Engstrom.”

“Dr. Engstrom, what is your position at Municipal?”

“I’m director of pharmacy.”

“Here we go,” Whit Ewing said to Cindy. “The windup for the pitch.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 55

SONJA ENGSTROM LISTED her credentials succinctly, said that she’d been at Municipal for seven years and was responsible for the systems and people who dispense medication. She seemed suitably impressed with herself, too.

O’Mara asked, “Could you tell the jury about those systems that you’ve put in place, Doctor?”

“Sure. We have an automated computer system linked to a dispensing mechanism.”

“What can you say about the accuracy of this system?”

“I’d say it’s ninety-nine point nine percent bulletproof.”

“Could you please explain?”

Cindy got it all down on her laptop. A physician would take a patient’s lab results and enter the diagnosis into the computer. The computer program would offer a menu of appropriate drugs, and the doctor would pick one. Then a nurse would pull up the patient’s name on the computer and enter her code.

“It’s a password, right? Everyone has their own code?” O’Mara asked.

“Exactly.”

“Please go on.”

“At the same moment the nurse enters her code, one of our pharmacists reviews and enters the order for that patient. This releases the brake on the machine that dispenses the drugs.”

“So it’s a kind of digital vending machine.”

“Correct,” said the witness, seemingly pleased with herself and with O’Mara for getting it right. “The nurse takes the patient’s drug out of a pocket in the machine and administers it to the patient.”

“A ‘bulletproof’ system?”

“Very close. The program can’t be altered, and the security codes leave an auditory trail.”

“I see,” said O’Mara. She walked back to her table, consulted her notes, turned back to the witness.

“Could a technician load the wrong drugs into the machine’s ‘pockets’?”

“I suppose it’s possible. . . .”

“Please answer yes or no.”

“Yes.”

“Could someone withhold a drug after removing it from the machine? Divert it, say, for personal use.”

“Yes.”

“If a physician makes a wrong diagnosis, wouldn’t the wrong medication be dispensed to the patient?”

The witness was blinking her eyes rapidly. Flustered maybe, Cindy thought, but more than that, she looked pained. So much for 99.9 percent reliability.

“Yes, but—”

“Thank you,” O’Mara cut in. “Now, isn’t it true that the number of pharmaceutical-based fatalities has increased threefold since Municipal was privatized three years ago?”

“Don’t you think this worries me? I’ve turned over every stone,” Engstrom said, her voice rising, wavering for the first time since she’d taken the stand.

“Come on, Dr. Engstrom. Just answer the question. You’re head of this department. You’re on the hospital board. Have the number of pharmaceutical-based fatalities more than tripled in the last three years?”

“Yes, but . . . Well, yes.”

“Do you dispute that my clients’ loved ones died because they received the wrong medication?”

“No, I can’t dispute that,” Engstrom said in a barely audible voice.

“So whether these fatalities are the fault of your bulletproof vending machine or human error is irrelevant, right? I mean, either way,” O’Mara pushed on, “isn’t it true that these deaths are the result of negligence on your part and the part of the hospital?”

“Objection! Argumentative.” Kramer was up on his feet.

Cindy felt the little hairs on her arms lift. Beside her, Whit Ewing whistled softly.

“Sustained,” Bevins said.

“Withdrawn,” said Maureen O’Mara. Her eyes went to the jury and stayed there. “Your Honor, the plaintiffs rest.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 56

I’D BEEN TOLD that it was a beautiful fall day, but I sure couldn’t swear to it. I was having ham and Swiss on a roll in my office, with its dark-alley view, when Inspector Conklin knocked on the door.

“Come on in,” I told him.

Conklin was in his shirtsleeves, his brown eyes lit up with something. Whatever it was, I really wanted to know.

“Lou, we’ve got someone in the lunchroom you should meet. Like, right now if you can.”

“What’s going on?”

Conklin started out of my office, saying, “C’mon, Lieutenant,” taking long strides away from me and down the hall.

“Conklin?”

I tossed down the report I’d been editing and followed him to the small, cluttered room that was home to our microwave and yellowing Kenmore fridge.

Jacobi was sitting at the battered table across from a pretty young woman in her early twenties wearing a blue Polarfleece shirt and stretch pants. Her long dark hair was in a braid down her back. She looked up at me with reddened, mascara-smudged eyes.

Clearly, she’d been crying.

Jacobi had his “Uncle Warren” face on. It was short of a smile, but I could read happiness in his eyes.

“Lieutenant,” Jacobi said, “this is Barbara Jane Ross. She was throwing out newspapers when she found this.”

He pushed the newsprint picture of Jag Girl into the center of the table, the pretty blond girl we’d found displayed like a mannequin in the Jaguar convertible on Chestnut Street.

Innumerable dead-end tips had flooded our phone lines since Jag Girl’s picture had run in the Chronicle. From the look on Jacobi’s face, I knew this young woman had something valuable to say.

Barbara Jane Ross and I shook hands. Hers were cold as ice. “May I see that?” I asked of the photo she clutched in her left hand.

“Sure,” she said, handing me a snapshot of herself and Jag Girl on the beach. Both girls were wearing wide-brimmed hats and small bikinis; they had identical braids, and both were grinning broadly.

“She was my college roommate,” said Barbara Jane, her eyes scrunching up with tears. “I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe that Sandy is dead.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 57

I HANDED BARBARA JANE a box of tissues, stared over her head, first at Jacobi then at Conklin, as she blew her nose. Holy shit. We’d finally gotten a break on Jag Girl.

“Barbara, what’s your friend’s last name?”

“It’s Wegner. But Sandy goes by other names. I don’t know them all.”

“She’s an actress?”

“No, an escort.”

I was stunned. Sandy Wegner had been a party girl. So how had she kept her prints out of the system?

“Are you an escort, too?” Conklin asked.

“No way. I teach. Special ed, right here in the city.”

Jacobi loaded up the Mr. Coffee as Barbara Jane Ross told us how she and Sandy had been roommates at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“When we were in school, Sandy needed some extra cash, so she went on a few ‘dates’ for an escort service. A lot of girls do it,” Barbara said. “You never, ever have enough money in school.

“She didn’t do it often, but when she did, she thought it was exciting and fun,” Barbara continued. “Sandy loved having a secret life. She wasn’t the only coed doing it, either.”

“Did she ever mention that one of her dates was giving her a hard time?” I asked. “Maybe someone got possessive? Or violent?”

“Nothing like that,” Barbara said. “She would have told me. We talked about everything, even her work.”

“Did Sandy have a boyfriend? Maybe someone who could have found out that she was doing this kind of thing on the side?”

“There was no one special in her life or she would have quit her night job,” Barbara told us. “She wasn’t a slut. I know how that sounds, but honest to God, she wasn’t — oh, God! Her parents don’t know. They live in Portland.”

“Do you know their names? Maybe you have their phone number?”

Barbara Jane dug into her Coach bag; she pulled out her PDA.

“Listen,” she said, “I just remembered who she worked for. The escort service. I think it was called Top Hat.”

“Thanks. You’ve been a big help. Hang around, won’t you, Barbara Jane? Inspector Conklin has some more questions for you.”

As I walked out of the door, Conklin took my chair. I saw Barbara Jane Ross look into his face and smile.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 58

THE THREE-STORY beige-stucco apartment building was on California Street at the edge of the Financial District.

I badged the doorman, and he called up on the intercom.

“SFPD is here to see you, Ms. Selzer.”

A female voice crackled over the speaker. “I’m not home. I didn’t see anything, don’t know anyone. I’m a shut-in. And I mind my own business.”

“A comedienne,” Jacobi said to the doorman. “We’re going up.”

A tiny, small-boned woman was standing at her apartment door when we got there. She was definitely under five feet, glossy hair pinned up with a tortoiseshell comb, pale lipstick, wearing a black silk V-neck sweater and satin pants.

I put her at thirty-five, but the crow’s-feet told me she was either older than she appeared or she’d had a rough-and-tumble life. Probably both.

“Officers, I run an introduction service. My license is totally in order,” she said by way of a greeting.

“You mind inviting us in?” Jacobi said, flashing his shield. “There’s a nasty draft out here in the hallway.”

The small woman sighed her exasperation, but she stepped back and let us in. A mirrored foyer led to a living room painted and upholstered in every shade of gray. Helmut Newton’s black-and-white photos lined the walls.

We followed her to a red swivel chair and a black enameled worktable up against the front window.

“I’m Lieutenant Boxer. This is Inspector Jacobi. Homicide.”

I snapped the pictures of Sandy Wegner and Caddy Girl down on the table. Two pallid faces. Sheets drawn up to the ligature marks around their necks.

“Do you recognize these women?”

Selzer sucked in her breath, then put her finger on Wegner’s image.

“This is Sandra Wegner. Calls herself Tanya. I don’t know the other girl. You’re saying she’s dead?”

“What can you tell us about Sandy?”

“I only met her once. Talked to her on the phone after that. Great sense of humor, really nice body. I could’ve kept her busy every night, but she was strictly part-time. Look, you’re not thinking I had anything to do with this?” she said, directing her question to me.

“Was Sandy working on the night of September fifteenth?” I asked.

Selzer dropped into the swivel chair and worked the computer keys, resting her chin in her cupped hands as squiggles of data scrolled up.

“Her date that night was a Mr. Alex Logan. I remember now. He called from the Hotel Triton. Said he was in town for the evening and wanted a petite blonde to go with him to a show. Henry the Fifth. I don’t know why I remembered that.”

“Is Logan a regular?”

“Nuh-uh. A first-timer.”

“You sent this girl out on a date with someone you didn’t know?” Jacobi’s voice was hard, the way it should have been. Selzer instantly shrunk away from him.

“I ran his credit card. No problem. Checked his name and address on AnyWho.com. Called the hotel and he was registered. It was all kosher.”

“Have you heard from him since?” I asked.

“Nope. Nothing. But you don’t usually get feedback from out-of-towners.”

“How much did Mr. Logan pay for his date with Sandy?” I asked.

“Her usual. A thousand for the night. I took my cut, made a direct deposit into Sandy’s account. Any tips, she got to keep.”

“Was anyone hassling her? Stalking her? Did she mention having any trouble from anyone?” Jacobi asked. “Give us some help here.”

“No, and Sandy wasn’t shy. She would’ve told me. What?” she said defensively. “I called her the next day, and when I didn’t hear back, I figured she quit. Ticked me off, believe me. I had to cancel her bookings. Look, I’m not a den mother for Christ’s sake! She was a free agent.”

Jacobi gave Selzer a scathing look. Her indignant expression crumpled. “Selzer, you’re pissing me off,” he said.

“Oh, man, I feel bad. I really do. You think I screwed up? I don’t know what I could’ve done differently.”

The woman pulled the comb from her hair, shook her head so that her gleaming hair sprayed around her face, playing the sex card in an unconscious defense of her worried conscience.

The move didn’t distract Jacobi, not even a little bit.

“You didn’t just screw up,” he said. “You sent this girl on a date with a killer.”

Selzer clapped her hands to her face.

“Give me the john’s particulars,” said Jacobi.

Selzer wrote numbers on a Post-it note. Jacobi snatched it up and put his card in its place.

“If he calls you again, fix him up with a girl who doesn’t exist and call me immediately. You got that? Any time, day or night. My cell phone’s on the back of the card.”

Selzer called out as we reached her front door.

“Officers. I’m sorry about Sandy. You should know that. I hope you get whoever killed her.”

“Yeah,” Jacobi called back, “we want to ease your guilt if we possibly can.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 59

CONKLIN OPENED THE DOOR for us when we arrived at Sandy Wegner’s apartment. I said hey to Charlie Clapper, who was coming out of the bathroom, bagging the victim’s hairbrush and toothbrush, plus some medications.

“Doesn’t look like a crime scene, Lieutenant,” Conklin told me. “The door was double-locked. No signs of a struggle.”

“What else?”

“She had yogurt for dinner. She left some clothes on the bed, like maybe she’d tried on a few things before she went out. Towel rumpled on the towel bar. Her clothes are okay, but not superexpensive, by the way.

“The message light on her answering machine was blinking. Two calls. Her mother and the library saying she had a book overdue. I took the tape. Pressed redial. Her last call was to ‘time and weather.’ Probably called just before she went out that night.”

“Good work,” I said to Conklin. I asked a CSU tech, “How’s it coming?”

“We’ve got our pictures, Lieutenant.”

I looked around Sandy Wegner’s place. It was dark, like my office, a view of the alley from every room.

Her style was Pottery Barn right down to the swirly iron wall-hanging over the couch. A vase of dead flowers was on the windowsill, and contemporary novels and historical biographies, along with textbooks — math, physics, art history — lined the bookshelves.

Sandy’s bedroom was small, about eleven feet square, painted a pretty lilac-blue with white trim. Primitive watercolors of birds hung over her bed, her name signed in the corner of each one. The personal touches always kill me.

I opened her bifold closet doors, saw that Sandy took care of her clothes. Her Agnès B. T-shirts were on padded hangers; dresses, suits, and jeans in dry-cleaner’s bags. Shoes lined up, polished, heels in good condition.

She had a tasteful wardrobe, but it was definitely off the rack. Nothing like the quality of what she was wearing when we found her body. Jacobi was going through the dresser drawers, shutting them noisily as he went.

He stopped, called me over when he found the drawer with her underthings. I took a look. Lace demi-bras, thongs, and transparent panties in Jell-O colors, a vibrator.

Could be tools of the trade.

Could be a girl with a sassy love life.

We searched all four of her rooms, not finding anything really, not even an address book or a diary or a drug more powerful than Tylenol PM.

Looked to me like Sandy Wegner’s night job was a small part of how she lived.

I asked Conklin to go back to the Hall to run Alex Logan’s name through every database. Then Jacobi and I sealed the apartment and went down to the street.

The sky was the color of dull steel at 6:45 p.m. The sun was going down early now, and it left a pall over the city. Or maybe I was just projecting.

“Our guys are pattern killers,” I said to Jacobi as he started the car. “If Sandy’s an escort, Caddy Girl is probably an escort, too. That means the DNA we got from her rape kit—”

“You’re reading my mind,” said Jacobi, pulling out into the traffic on Columbus. “Sperm lives inside the body for about seventy-two hours. It could have come from her killer, or a john, or a boyfriend.”

“Whatever,” I said. “The DA’s going to say it’s not evidence of murder.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 60

BUT MAYBE WE WERE getting closer to the evidence.

The Hotel Triton was busy that night, but it always had a brisk turnover. Fronting Union Square, steps away from the trolley line, across the street from Chinatown, it had a frisky Cirque du Soleil decor and a midrange room rate.

Jacobi pushed to the front of the line at the reception desk; he badged the clerk and brusquely told him to find the night manager. “Chop, chop. Move it before you lose it.”

A chunky man of forty stepped out of the back room. The name tag on his jacket read “Jon Anderson, Mgr.” He nodded at us, asked if there was a problem.

“There’s a big problem. We’re investigating a homicide,” I told him. “We need the sign-in records for September fifteenth and whatever you have on a guest named Alex Logan.”

Jacobi added, “And we need the tapes from that camera,” he said, stabbing his forefinger toward the camera behind the desk. “Also need the tape from the hall camera outside the room Logan used on that date, the fifteenth.”

The manager got huffy on us. “I suppose you have a warrant?”

“Do we need one? ’Cause we can get one and close this place down while we do a complete search.”

He appeared to quickly think over the implications of a search, then said, “The videotapes are on a forty-eight-hour loop. There won’t be anything on them from September fifteenth.

“But everyone here,” he said, pointing to the line of five college kids manning the reception desk. “All of them were on duty that night. I’ll pull the records for you. See how cooperative I am?”

A thin, distracted desk clerk by the name of Gary Metz had checked Alex Logan into room 2021.

“I think I remember this Mr. Logan,” Metz told us. He drummed his fingers on the desk, looked past my shoulder into the lobby, then focused on my eyes again. “He was with another man.”

I think I may have stopped breathing for a moment; I was that hopeful that we’d run this lead to ground.

“If I’ve got him right, he was about my height, kind of regular size. Maybe he was Chinese,” said the clerk.

“Alex Logan? He looked Chinese?”

“I think so. Maybe part Chinese. The other guy was a bruiser. Six two, two thirty, and blond. He’s the one that said he wanted a smoking room. Both of them looked straight, if you want my opinion.”

“And how do you figure that?” I asked.

“They wanted a room with a king-size bed, but they didn’t dress well enough to be gay. The bigger guy’s haircut looked like he did it himself.”

“Do you remember if they had any luggage?”

“The big guy had a large rolling bag. I noticed because it was leather. Maybe Tumi? Looked expensive.”

“Thanks, Mr. Metz,” I said, doing my level best to keep the excitement out of my voice. “We need to see the room.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 61

ROOM 2021 WAS TWO DOORS DOWN from the elevator, and it had the same whimsical decor as the lobby: a checkered-fabric headboard, three-legged chairs, a starred royal-blue carpet throughout. The current occupants had been hustled out at our behest, leaving their suitcases open on the bed and toiletries in the bathroom. There was an opened mini-bottle of Scotch on the night table.

I tried to imagine how the murder had gone down. The Chinese guy answering the door. Sandy Wegner saying hello. Throwing her coat down on the chair. The first guy spiking her drink with Rohypnol. The second guy, the bruiser, coming out of the bathroom for the kill.

I felt as if I could sense the murder happening around me. Sandy Wegner, helpless as she was raped, killed by two freaks.

The inexpressible horror grabbed me as I looked around for anything that might jump out. But the room had been slept in and cleaned many times since Sandy’s death.

“I hate hotel rooms,” I said to my former partner.

“The carpet probably has a million pubic hairs, none of them matching anything.”

“Thanks for putting that image in my head, Jacobi.”

The manager came to the door, said he was upgrading the current occupants and would keep 2021 free for as long as we needed. I thanked him, said we’d be leaving soon, but that CSU would be arriving shortly.

“CSU could find a print or, God willing, a hair with a skin tag,” I said to Jacobi.

“Doesn’t hurt to hope,” he said with a shrug.

I said, “Doesn’t hurt to pray.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 62

DUCKS HUNG BY THEIR NECKS in the front window of Wong Fat, a Chinese restaurant a five-minute walk from the Triton. “I like this place already,” I said.

Inside, the eatery was bright, fluorescent light bouncing off the linoleum floors and Formica tables. The menu, written in Chinese letters on strips of red paper, hung against the walls.

It was good to be in out of the dark and the chill at least. The tea was hot. The hot-and-sour soup was excellent.

As we waited for our entrées, Jacobi laid down the printout of Alex Logan’s charges at the Triton.

“Here’s the phone call to Top Hat,” he said. “Lasted four and a half minutes. Logan and his buddy also raided the honor bar. Champagne, nuts. Pringles for Christ’s sake. They ordered pay-per-view at nine. What do you think? Football or porn?”

“I think that these killers plan it all. They book the room, book the hooker, rape and kill her in a place that’s a contaminated crime scene by definition.

“Then they wash her off in the shower, clean up any hairs and fibers on her body.”

“Don’t forget the perfume.”

“Right, thank you,” I said. “Then they spray her privates, dress her up, comb her hair, and make her up like a little doll.”

“They used the suitcase to bring in the clothes. Used it again to take out the body,” said Jacobi. “That ‘bruiser’ simply rolls it out to the car.”

“And then they plant her so we can find her.”

I was about to wonder out loud where they got the clothes, when my cell phone rang.

It was Conklin.

“I ran Alex Logan’s name and credit card number, Lieutenant. Wait until you hear this. Alex Logan is a woman. I pulled up her license info — petite blonde, twenty-three years old. I think we found Caddy Girl.”

“What else have you got?”

“I went to her apartment building, Lieutenant. Nice place on Jones. According to her doorman, she hasn’t been home in a while. I also called American Express, and her card is active. There’s only been one charge in the last ten days. The Hotel Triton on September fifteenth.”

“I’ll call the DA. Get a search warrant for her apartment. Richie?”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“You’re gonna be a star.”

I hung up and turned to Jacobi, who was watching me, his fork in the air.

“What is it, Boxer?”

“Conklin made her,” I said. “The perps used her credit card to book Sandy Wegner and pay the hotel tab. Alex Logan is Caddy Girl.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 63

I LOOKED OUT over the squad room the next morning, anticipating a giant leap forward in the Car Girl case.

The victims had names, and with that crucial bit of news, there was a decent chance that the lives of Alex Logan and Sandy Wegner would intersect in a big fat lead that would help us nail their killers.

I could see Jacobi and Conklin through the glass, working the phones, reaching out to the girls’ parents, when a beam of sunshine sailed past Brenda’s desk and came through the gate.

It was Claire with a young woman in tow. She rapped on my office wall, and I waved her in.

“Lindsay, this is Bunny Ellis.”

“Nice to meet you — and welcome.”

Claire’s new assistant had gray eyes, slightly crossed, and a gap between the front teeth of her Crest-strip smile. The cosmetic flaws made her look touchingly appealing.

“Bunny was helping me get Misses Wegner and Logan ready to be released to their families,” Claire said. “Tell the lieutenant what you told me, Bunny.”

“I’ve been sooooo fascinated by these murders, you know? Such young women and such brutal—”

“The short version, child.”

“I’m sorry. It’s about their perfume, Lieutenant Boxer. I noticed it when they were brought in, but I didn’t know it was important.”

“Please go on,” I said, thinking about that haunting scent the killers had sprayed on the young women’s genitalia.

“My husband gave me that perfume for my birthday,” said Bunny. “Black Pearl. It’s made exclusively for Nordstrom.”

I looked at Claire, then back at Bunny. “You can’t get Black Pearl anywhere else?”

She shook her head emphatically. “Only at Nordstrom.”

I felt a shot of adrenaline, a hit of hope. Someone had bought that exclusive perfume at Nordstrom, a purchase that could lead to a credit card number, a name, or a good visual ID.

“Bunny, see those two inspectors over there in the corner?”

“The gray-haired guy and Inspector Conklin?”

I tried not to roll my eyes. Bunny had been with Claire for only a short time, and she could already pick Rich Conklin out of a lineup.

I nodded. “Go introduce yourself. Tell them about Black Pearl. You’re going to make their day.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 64

JACOBI AND CONKLIN had just headed out to Nordstrom on the perfume detail when Brenda called me on the intercom.

“Lieutenant, there’s a lady on the phone, says she needs protection. Won’t talk to anyone but the head of Homicide.”

“What’s her name?”

“Mrs. Anita Haggerty. Calling from Municipal Hospital. She’s a patient there, she says.”

The woman spoke in a low voice, just above a whisper.

“Lieutenant Baxter?”

“It’s Boxer. How can I help you?”

“Have you ever been so scared you’re throwing up? That’s how scared I am.”

“Back up, Mrs. Haggerty. Start from the beginning.”

“Okay, but I might have to suddenly hang up.”

I took down the woman’s room number and encouraged her to get to the point.

“I was in a hospital in Raleigh with a concussion three, four years ago. My roommate was in for a bleeding ulcer. Dottie Coombs. That was her name.

“Dottie was ready to go home when she suddenly went into seizures and died. Right in front of me.”

“Go on, Mrs. Haggerty.”

“She shouldn’t have died. The nurses closed my curtains, but they were very upset, saying, ‘How could this happen?’ And I heard her doctor say something to those nurses that I’ll never forget as long as I live. It was burned into my brain.”

“I’m listening.”

“He said, ‘Sometimes a bad wind blows.’”

“What did that mean to you?”

“It meant Friday the Thirteenth. It meant Nightmare on Elm Street. I don’t know, Lieutenant Baxter, but my friend was dead, and her doctor’s reaction was creepy and sick. And now he’s here. He poked his head into my room, and I think maybe he remembers me. I’ve got surgery tomorrow for a hernia,” Haggerty continued breathlessly. “Supposed to be a simple operation, but as God is my witness, I’m scared for my life.”

I was having the kind of premonition where you know what someone’s going to say before they say it. Cold sweat trickled down the sides of my body.

I pressed the receiver hard to my ear.

“Do you remember the doctor’s name?”

“I’ll never, ever forget it,” Haggerty said. “It was Garza. Dr. Dennis Garza.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Part Four

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

SHOW GIRL

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 65

SOMETIMES A BAD WIND BLOWS.

It was an eerie phrase, and the fear in Mrs. Haggerty’s voice had given me chills. I heard Yuki’s voice, too. Someone at that damn hospital murdered my mother.

I drove to the hospital alone, telling myself that I wasn’t working a case. This was just an inquiry. A courtesy call, I guess you could say.

San Francisco Municipal Hospital is a humongous stone fortress of a place with a low wall and a smattering of shade trees between the entrance to the hospital and the sidewalk.

I parked in the lot and entered the gloom of the lobby. Crossed the granite-block floor to the elevator, got out on the third floor, and followed the arrows to room 311.

I was about to open the door to Haggerty’s private room, when a nurse’s aide came out with a load of sheets in her arms. I waited for her to clear out of the way; then I stepped inside room 311.

I had pictured Mrs. Haggerty from the sound of her voice, imagined her as having a wiry frame and dark, hennaed hair.

I hadn’t imagined for a second that her bed would be empty.

I stood blinking stupidly in the doorway, astonished by what I didn’t see. Then I spun around, out into the hall.

The nurse’s aide had already stuffed the sheets into a canvas trolley and was walking away from me.

“Wait,” I said, lunging out and grabbing for her arm.

Her face stretched with surprise. Kind of jumpy for hospital personnel.

“Take your hands off me. Please.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, showing her my badge. “Lieutenant Boxer, SFPD. I came to see Mrs. Haggerty in room 311.”

“Well, you’re too late.”

“Too late? I just spoke with her on the phone. What happened?”

I envisioned the woman hunched over the phone, scared out of her mind.

I’d just spoken with her!

“She checked herself out without doctor’s approval. I wheeled her out to the street myself. Helped her into a taxi. Yellow Cab, if that matters. You done with me now?”

I nodded, said thanks.

The nurse’s aide continued down the hallway, leaving me in the corridor alone.

I was heading toward the exit when a nurse in blue scrubs beckoned to me from a room across the hallway. She was a light-skinned black woman, about twenty-five, rounded face, her reddish hair in twists. The ID tag hanging from the ball chain around her neck read “Noddie Wilkins, RN.”

“You’re with the police?” she asked, her voice low and urgent. “I have to talk to you. I have to tell you what I know. The police should be involved with what’s happening.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 66

WE DECIDED TO TALK somewhere outside the hospital. Noddie Wilkins and I sat together in my Explorer, sipping cafeteria coffee from paper cups.

“There’s something weird going on around this hospital,” Noddie told me. “Last week, when I found one of my patients dead, I totally freaked out. Mr. Harris was frisky. He was getting ready to go home, not die. Cardiac arrest? Far as I know, there was nothing wrong with his heart.”

“You found that suspicious?”

“That and the fact that when I found him dead, he had coins on his eyes.”

That threw me for a loop.

“Coins? What kind of coins?” I asked.

“Well, they look like coins, but they’re buttons, like from a jacket or a blazer. They have a raised pattern — what do you call that?”

“Embossed?”

“That’s it. They were embossed with a medical symbol — snakes winding up a pole with wings at the top.”

“You’re talking about a caduceus?”

“That’s right. A caduceus.”

I felt like I’d dropped through an open manhole, and was still falling.

Markers had been placed on the eyes of a dead patient.

How could that be anything but the signature of a killer?

“This is bad, isn’t it?” said Noddie, taking in the shock on my face. “There’s more.”

She homed in on me with her big oval eyes, as if she’d been pent up for a long while, and now she needed to talk.

“First time, maybe six months ago, I found these things on another dead patient’s eyes,” she said. “I thought, coins to pay the ferryman, something creepy like that.

“But when I found Mr. Harris, I honestly got the screaming-jeebies. And I got mad. I liked that old guy and he liked me and those things on his eyes? Uh-uh. It stunk like old cheese. Something is not right here, Lieutenant.”

“Why didn’t you call the police?” I asked the nurse, who was nice but didn’t strike me as the sharpest blade in the shed.

“I reported it to my supervisor, and she said we would take it to Mr. Whiteley. He’s the CEO of the hospital.”

My heart was pounding, booming in my ears. How had the hospital kept something this bizarre, this sinister, under wraps for so long?

“I’d like you to swear out a complaint,” I said to Noddie, but the young woman pulled away from me, backed up against the car door.

“You’ve gotta keep me out of this,” she said. “I can’t swear out anything. Jeez. I need my job. I’m raising two small kids alone. . . .”

“I hear you,” I said. “I’ll be as discreet as I can. Did you talk with the CEO?”

“Yeah. He was real stiff with me,” the young woman said, shaking her head at the memory.

“Said the coins were someone’s idea of a joke, and that if I blabbed, it could cost the hospital plenty — and that would mean cutbacks. He was making a threat.

“So I dropped it,” she said. “What else could I do? Now I hear talk, that other people have found these things and just go about their business. Months go by and nothing happens.

“Then bing, bing, bing. Dead patients one after another with coins on their eyes.”

“How many patients, Noddie? How many?”

“I don’t know. See these goose bumps? I’m freaking out all over again,” the nurse said, holding out her arm for me to see. “I mean, if it’s just a joke, like Mr. Whiteley said, what’s the punch line? ’Cause I just don’t get it.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 67

I SAT IMPATIENTLY in a big upholstered chair, dense carpeting underfoot, Fortune magazine splayed out on the blond-wood coffee table — the hushed outer office of Carl Whiteley, Municipal Hospital’s CEO.

Whiteley’s assistant hung up a phone and told me that Mr. Whiteley could see me now.

I entered a many-windowed office, where a gray-haired man with smooth pink cheeks and wire-rimmed glasses stood up from behind his desk. He looked like a Republican senator or Santa Claus with a really close shave.

I shook his hand and showed him my badge, thinking how I had no partner, no warrant, no case file, just Noddie Wilkins’s fear and an unsettling image of Yuki’s mom in my mind.

“I don’t understand, Lieutenant,” Whiteley said as he sat down and I took the seat across from him. The sun beat through the plate glass and jabbed me in the eyes. “Someone made a complaint to the police? Who? Over what?”

“You’re surprised? Now I’m the one who doesn’t understand. Your hospital is being sued for malpractice.”

“That lawsuit is total crap. It’s a travesty.” Whiteley laughed. “This is a hospital, a very good one, but patients die. We’re living in litigious times.”

“Even so, I have some questions for you.”

“Okay,” he said, linking his hands behind his head, leaning back in his cushy executive chair. “Shoot.”

“What can you tell me about the coins your staff has found on the eyelids of deceased patients? How long has this been going on?”

“Coins,” he said, returning his chair to its original position. Whiteley gave me a condescending look. “You mean buttons, don’t you?”

“Coins. Buttons. What the hell difference does it make? In my business we call them clues.”

“Clues to what, Lieutenant? This place is crawling with doctors. We know every patient’s cause of death, and none of them were homicides. Want my opinion? These buttons are a prank. A cruel prank.”

“And that’s why you didn’t inform the police about any of this?”

“There’s nothing to report. Patients sometimes die. Where’s the crime?”

Whiteley was incredibly smug, and I didn’t like him. Not his smooth baby face or his jackass laugh. Or the way he was trying to put me down and fake me out.

“Covering up evidence is illegal, Mr. Whiteley. Either tell me about those buttons or this pleasant chat of ours is over, and I’m going to arrest you for obstruction of justice and for interfering with a police investigation.”

“Arrest me? Hang on, Lieutenant. I’m calling my attorney.”

“Be my guest,” I said. “And while you’re at it, think about this. You’ve still got a pretty good reputation. How’s it going to look when squad cars pull up with sirens blasting and I march you out to the curb in handcuffs?”

Whiteley reached for the receiver. He punched out a few numbers before angrily pounding the phone back into its cradle.

“Look, this is ridiculous,” he said, burning a couple of holes into me with his eyes. “We’ve got nothing to hide.”

He opened a desk drawer, pulled out a cream-colored envelope with the hospital’s logo in the upper left corner. He tossed it lightly onto his desktop.

“You can buy these buttons in any uniform supply store in the country, Lieutenant,” he said. “I’m cooperating, okay? This idiocy can’t go public. If you do anything to damage our reputation, I’m prepared to take legal action against the city for libel, and against you in particular.”

“If there’s no causal relationship between the buttons and the patients’ deaths, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

I reached for the envelope, my pulse pounding as I opened the flap and peered inside.

Shiny brass circlets glinted up at me.

There were dozens of them, each button smaller than a dime, with a tiny shank on the back, a raised emblem of a caduceus on the front.

The buttons rattled inside the envelope as I shook it. Maybe Whiteley was right. They were common blazer-cuff buttons. Nothing special about them.

But we both knew that each pair represented a person who had died here at the hospital.

“I’ll need a list of all of the patients found with these things on their eyes,” I told him.

“I can fax it to your office,” said Whiteley.

“Thanks,” I said, crossing my arms. “Nice of you to offer, but I’d prefer to wait.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 68

I DROVE BACK to the Hall through medium-heavy afternoon traffic, still feeling the heat of my confrontation with Whiteley and the chilling sight of those damn buttons.

What in God’s name did it all mean?

Placing markers on the eyes of the dead was grim, and it was freaky. Was someone playing a cruel prank as Whiteley had said? Or was Municipal Hospital covering up a long history of serial murders?

The list of the dead that Whiteley had given me rested on the seat beside me.

I braked at the light at California and Montgomery, snapped on my dome light, and opened the folder. A two-page spreadsheet was inside — the names of thirty-two patients who’d been found dead over the last three years with buttons on their eyelids. For God’s sake!

Across the top of the grid were the headings “patient name,” “patient’s physicians,” “date of death,” “cause of death.”

I skimmed the data, then flipped to the second page.

Leo Harris was last on the list, and just above his name — Keiko Castellano.

My heart lurched as I stared at the name of Yuki’s mom.

I saw her sweet face in my mind, then her eyes covered with those vile brass markers.

Blaring car horns brought me out of my trance.

“Okay, okay!” I shouted, putting the Explorer in gear. The car jumped forward as I stepped on the gas.

I was thinking ahead as well.

Whiteley had said he didn’t want details of the buttons to get out — but a sleazy cover-up wasn’t evidence of murder.

We already had stacks of bona fide homicides to solve and too few inspectors to handle them. I needed more than a handful of buttons and a list of names before I went to Tracchio or the DA.

If I wanted some answers, I’d have to work around the edges of the system.

And I’d have to ask a big favor of a friend.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 69

YUKI SETTLED INTO HER SEAT in the courtroom as the lunch recess ended. Larry Kramer had begun to mount his case in defense of his client, Municipal Hospital. And she’d watched Maureen O’Mara attack his witnesses on cross.

It had been a spirited dance and good theater for the media, but these had been emotionally draining, grueling days for Yuki.

She tried to read the jurors’ faces, and it seemed to her that they had been satisfied with Kramer’s string of witnesses, nodding their heads as each doctor, each clever executive explained away deaths that should never have happened.

Yuki opened her pad and looked over her notes on Carl Whiteley’s testimony that morning. The hospital CEO had been fluent, even funny, under Kramer’s softball questioning.

Then O’Mara had drilled the CEO, asking him what she had asked the others: “Isn’t it true that pharmaceutical-based fatalities have increased threefold since Municipal was privatized three years ago?”

Whiteley had agreed — but unlike Sonja Engstrom, he hadn’t flubbed his lines. He whitewashed the individual deaths and threw national statistics at O’Mara, enough data to numb the jurors’ minds.

“Redirect, Mr. Kramer?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

Kramer stood, addressing his witness from the defense table. “Those statistics you quoted, Mr. Whiteley. Between fifty thousand and a hundred thousand patients die annually from medical errors in the United States. This is commonly accepted knowledge?”

“That’s right,” said Whiteley. “According to the ISMP, approximately seven thousand people die each year from medication errors alone.”

Yuki scribbled in her notebook, getting it all down. The facts were shocking, but she didn’t care about what Whiteley had to say. He was an apologist, a corporate suit, the warm-up act. She’d stolen a glance at the defense table during the last recess.

She’d seen the witness lineup.

For a week, she’d waited for the next witness to take the stand.

As soon as Kramer was done with Whiteley, he was going to call Dr. Dennis Garza.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 70

KRAMER SHUFFLED PAPERS as Dennis Garza was sworn in, thinking, You don’t always get the witnesses you want. You get the witnesses you get.

Kramer looked up to see the undeniably good-looking doctor straighten his Armani jacket as he took the witness seat. He shot the cuffs of his tailored shirt, crossed his legs, sat perfectly straight and completely at ease.

Garza looked more like a Hollywood actor than a guy who was up to his wrists in blood and guts sixty hours a week.

But even that wasn’t the problem.

What worried Kramer was that Garza was as volatile as he was cocky. He’d resisted being prepped, saying that after twenty-two years of medical practice, he was fully capable of answering the charges against the hospital.

Kramer hoped to hell he was right.

Garza’s testimony could tip the case. This was it. Kramer smiled tightly and greeted his witness.

“Dr. Garza, you’re aware of the plaintiffs’ charges?”

“Yes. And I feel very sorry for the families.”

“I’m going to ask you specifically about the patients who were admitted by the emergency room while you were on duty.”

Kramer questioned Garza, beginning to feel better by the minute as the doctor explained away each of the patient fatalities in a reasoned, believable, authoritative voice. Garza was in a great groove.

“Do you see any pattern in these deaths, Dr. Garza? Anything at all?”

“I see the absence of a pattern,” Garza said, raking his thick hair away from his forehead. “I see the random, regrettable errors that happen every day in every hospital in the country. In the world for that matter.”

“Thank you, Dr. Garza. Your witness,” Kramer said to O’Mara.

Kramer watched Maureen O’Mara walk to the lectern, an expression on her face that cast a cold shadow over Kramer’s newborn feeling of relief. He knew Maureen. Had gone against her a few times before. She was always prepared, always smart, and a strong interrogator.

But he saw something now in her face that alarmed him.

She looked eager.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 71

YUKI LEANED FORWARD in her seat as Maureen addressed the witness.

“Dr. Garza, Jessie Falk was your patient?” O’Mara asked. “Do you remember Jessie Falk?”

“Yes. Of course I do.”

“Your Honor, it’s been established that Jessie Falk was admitted to Municipal for cardiac arrhythmia. That her death was caused by the wrongful administration of epinephrine that caused her subsequent cardiac arrest and death.”

“Mr. Kramer?” asked the judge.

“That’s fine, Judge.”

“So stipulated.”

Yuki felt the tension in the air, imagined the expectation and dread of the dead woman’s husband, a young man sitting only three rows ahead of her.

“Dr. Garza, how did Mrs. Falk die?”

“As you said, she had a heart attack.”

“That’s true, Doctor. But what I mean is, can you describe her death so that we can better understand her last moments?”

Larry Kramer rose to his feet immediately. “Objection! Your Honor, Counsel is trying to prejudice the jury. This is outrageous.”

“Your Honor, I’m merely asking how the patient died. That’s what this case is about.”

“Yes, yes. Of course it is. Dr. Garza, please answer the question.”

Yuki saw surprise ripple across Garza’s face. That was interesting. He cleared his throat before he spoke.

“Well, she went into ventricular tachycardia. A very fast heartbeat.”

“Would you say that would have hurt her and frightened her?”

“Probably. Yes.”

“What else, Doctor?”

“She would have tried to contact anything in her immediate environment.”

“Claw at the sheets, for instance?”

“Probably.”

“Try to call out?”

“Your Honor!” Kramer broke in. “Out of respect for Mrs. Falk’s family—”

“I’m touched, Mr. Kramer,” said O’Mara. “Be concerned for my clients now.”

“Overruled. Dr. Garza, please answer the question.”

“She may have tried to call out. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.”

“What else, Dr. Garza? In medical terms.”

“She went into ventricular fibrillation. As the circulation to the brain decreased, she might have developed clonic movements — like a little seizure. Her skin would’ve gotten clammy. She would have felt dizzy and weak before she went into shock. The entire episode would have taken only two or three minutes until she became unconscious.”

“Doctor, are you familiar with the term ‘psychic horror’?”

Kramer got to his feet and spoke in a tone of deep disappointment. “Your Honor, I object. Counsel is trying to inflame the jury.”

“Overruled, Mr. Kramer. Psychic horror is a legally admissible term. I’m pretty sure you know that. Dr. Garza, please answer the question.”

“Could I have the question again?”

O’Mara emphasized each word. “Doctor, do you know the term ‘psychic horror’?”

“Yes.”

“Could you please tell us what it means?”

Garza shifted uncomfortably in his chair, saying finally, “It’s a term used to describe those few seconds before you die. You know that death is impending. You know there’s no way to avoid it.”

O’Mara linked her hands behind her back, said, “Doctor, an example of psychic horror is what that American journalist felt before he was beheaded by terrorists, isn’t that right?”

“If you say so.”

“Wouldn’t you agree that when Jessie Falk’s heartbeat tripled, she was scared out of her mind? That during those two to three minutes of horrific pain and terror, she experienced psychic horror?”

“She may have.”

“Only two to three minutes of horrific pain and terror?”

O’Mara paused. A rather long, uncomfortable pause.

Yuki watched the hands of the clock move slowly, knowing what O’Mara was doing. She was making sure everyone in the room felt how long it had taken for Jessie Falk to die.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 72

CINDY WAS THERE in the courtroom’s press row, her fingers scrambling over her keyboard, getting down most of O’Mara’s cross-examination. It was sharp, incisive, fat-free, and merciless. One of the best interrogations she’d ever witnessed. This girl is good, every bit as talented as Larry Kramer.

“Doctor, you’ve told us that the death of Jessie Falk was a mistake. Now tell us this. How did this mistake happen?”

“I really don’t know how the epinephrine got into her IV bag. It wasn’t ordered, but look,” the doctor said, leaning forward in the witness chair, exasperation coloring his face, “doctors and nurses are human. Mistakes happen. People die. Sometimes a bad wind blows.”

There was a gasp throughout the courtroom. Cindy’s nimble fingers paused on the keys. What had he just said? A bad wind blows?

What the hell was that supposed to mean?

The collective gasp faded, and the room became as silent as a desert at noon. No one coughed, crossed their legs, or crumpled a candy wrapper.

O’Mara asked almost casually, “Did you have anything to do with this ‘bad wind,’ Doctor?”

Lawrence Kramer shot to his feet. “Objection! Counsel is badgering the witness. This has to stop.”

“Overruled. Sit down, Mr. Kramer.”

“What are you accusing me of?” Garza asked.

“You don’t get to ask the questions, Dr. Garza,” said O’Mara. “Fourteen of the twenty people whose families I represent were treated by you or died on your watch—”

Garza snarled, “How dare you?”

“Your Honor, please instruct the witness to answer.”

“Dr. Garza, answer the question.”

“I’ll ask again,” O’Mara said, her voice level, constrained. “Did you have anything to do with the deaths of those people?”

Garza drew himself up in the witness seat and stared hard at O’Mara. Cindy was thinking, He would shoot her if he could.

“I take the Fifth,” said Garza.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said, I stand on the Fifth Amendment.”

Shock froze the faces of the jury; then the room seemed to explode with voices. Judge Bevins banged his gavel over and over.

“Thank you,” said O’Mara, a fleeting smile crossing her face. She even snuck a look at Larry Kramer. “I have nothing further for this witness.”

“What I meant to say . . .”

“That’s all, Dr. Garza.”

“The witness may step down. Court is in recess until nine tomorrow morning,” said the judge, slamming down the gavel one final time.

Cindy saved her file and stuffed her computer into her bag. Garza’s stunning statements were still repeating in her mind as she was swept along with the crowd moving out into the hallway.

Sometimes a bad wind blows.

I stand on the Fifth Amendment.

The doc had just written his own headlines.

And they were about to go nationwide.

Yuki was waiting for Cindy at the door. Her eyes were huge. It was as if she had just won this case herself.

“Cindy, do you believe what he said?”

“I sure heard it. That fool refused to answer on the grounds that he might incriminate himself!”

“He just admitted it,” Yuki said, her voice cracking. “That bastard is guilty, guilty, guilty.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 73

THE SMELL OF FRIED STEAK and onion and ripe plantains greeted me as I pushed open the door to Susie’s. My friends were already in deep conversation when I got to the table.

I bumped Claire down the banquette and ordered a beer.

“What’d I miss?” I asked.

“I wish to God you could have been in court today, Lindsay,” Yuki said, her face animated, truly alive for the first time since her mother had died. “Garza blew himself up,” she said. “Spectacularly.”

“I want to hear everything. Don’t skip a word.”

Yuki had been drinking, for sure. She took me literally, impersonating both O’Mara and Garza, repeating their words verbatim.

Cindy jumped in, the two overtalking each other, until Claire and I simply cracked up.

Cindy plowed ahead. “Thing is — no, really, you guys! All he had to say was ‘Nooooo. I had nothing to do with those patients’ deaths.’”

“Instead, he takes the Fifth!” said Yuki, slapping the table. She was glowering but elated. “What a jerk, stepping on his dick like that.”

“If you ask me, his conscience made him do it,” Cindy added. “The more I dig into Garza’s past, the more I find out what kinda bum he is.”

“More on that,” I said, holding up my empty glass. Loretta winked, returned with a refill. She also dropped laminated menus in front of us.

“For instance,” said Cindy, “he left several of his jobs under a dark cloud. Not exactly ‘You’re fired,’ but definitely ‘Here’s your hat. There’s the exit.’ At least once, he ducked a sexual harassment suit.”

“Why am I not surprised that Garza’s a skirt hound?” Yuki said. “Arrogant bastard. Totally in love with himself.”

Cindy nodded vigorously. “And more to the point, too many ‘accidents’ happened to his patients. If I hadn’t heard about other cases like his, I’d say it was unbelievable.”

“See, this is what gives me the willies,” Claire said. “Only about one out of ten hospital mistakes ever get reported. Most of the time the mistakes aren’t fatal — so, no problem. The patient survives and goes home.

“But even when patients die under totally hinky circumstances, people think doctors are so Godlike, they just accept whatever they’re told. I’ve seen it happen.”

“Not me. I don’t feel that way anymore,” said Yuki, her smile clouding over. It was like watching an eclipse of the moon. “I don’t think Dennis Garza is a god. Quite the opposite. I know he’s e-vil!”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 74

YUKI LAY ON HER BACK IN BED, watching passing headlights splash patterns on her ceiling.

She’d woken up so many times during the night, she wasn’t even sure that she’d slept. Now, at a few minutes to 6:00 a.m., she was as awake as if a fire alarm had gone off under her pillow.

She threw back her blankets and went to her desk, where she booted up her computer. Three harplike notes rang out as she connected to the Internet.

She located his address on the first try. He lived less than a couple of miles away.

And he was e-vil.

Yuki threw her Burberry over her blue satin pajamas and took the elevator down to the parking garage, unlocked her Acura, and strapped herself in.

She felt exhilarated and reckless — as if she were about to step out onto the ledge of a tall building in a high wind in order to see the view. Gunning her engine, she dropped the car onto the steep downhill chute of Jones Street. Nothing ventured, right?

She braked at Washington, watched the cable car rattle along the rails, tapped her nails against the steering wheel. She anxiously waited another long minute behind a school bus making a pickup before turning left onto Pacific.

Then Yuki picked up speed, thinking she hadn’t felt this crazed when her dad had died. She’d loved him. She’d grieved and she’d never, ever forget her love for him.

But her mother’s death was different. It was a wound to her soul, a gross violation as well as a loss. She would never get over Keiko.

The fog parted as she turned onto Filbert. She frisked the house numbers on the pricey block with her eyes, finding 908 halfway down the street.

The house was very tall, three stories of pale yellow stucco frosted with a white trim.

Yuki sat parked in her car across the street watching the morning brighten in a conventional way. She stayed there a long time, hours; she was starting to feel like a madwoman.

The FedEx man picked up a package. A Mexican nanny pushed twins in a stroller, a terrier on a leash trailed behind, ordinary activities that were now tinged with her own sadness.

Then the garage door of the yellow house opened. A black Mercedes backed out.

There he was. Creepy bastard.

Yuki decided to follow him, so quickly it felt more like an instinct than a decision.

The two cars headed south in tandem, down Leavenworth, flying through twists and turns, steep climbs, and drops until the sight of Municipal Hospital filled her windshield.

Yuki signaled to follow the Mercedes into the parking lot, when she saw a police cruiser in her rearview mirror. She gripped the wheel and tapped the brakes.

Had she been speeding?

She glided into an empty space at the curb, her eyes straight ahead as the cop car sailed past her.

With a shaking hand, she turned off the ignition and waited for her heartbeat to slow.

Stupid girl. Stupid, stupid girl.

Her pj’s were soaked with sweat, the satin collar and cuffs peeking out from her raincoat. My God. If the cop had questioned her, what would she have told him?

She’d been stalking Garza!

Pedestrians crossed at the red light in front of her. Office workers with briefcases and steaming coffee cups. Nurses and doctors, their coats buttoned over their scrubs, feet in soft-soled shoes.

Everyone going to their jobs.

Yuki reached two weeks back into her memory, recalling going to her high-rise office, being an associate in a top law firm, being a young, fast-track litigator.

She’d loved her work. Now she couldn’t picture going to the office. All she was good for was obsessing about Dennis Garza. Thinking how in some way that monstrous man had killed her mother.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 75

I SAW THE DUSKY-BROWN ENVELOPE lurking inside the tower of mail in my in-box. I fished it out and slit the flap with the shiv I kept in my top drawer.

I read the report. Read it again to make sure I was right. Latent had pulled fifty million smudged partials from the caduceus buttons.

There was nothing even remotely usable in the batch.

I got up from my desk, walked over to Jacobi, who was unwrapping an egg salad sandwich, piling coleslaw and garlic pickles onto a plate for his lunch.

“Join me?” he asked, holding up a sandwich half.

“Okay.”

I dragged up a chair, shifted his piles of junk, and made a space for myself.

As we ate, I downloaded my humming mind, filling Jacobi in on Yuki’s charge that her mother had been murdered at one of the city’s most revered hospitals.

I told him the rest of it — my conversation with the nurse at Municipal and about the caduceus buttons I’d scored from Carl Whiteley during our executive-suite fandango.

I kept talking, and Jacobi didn’t stop me. By the time I got to the malpractice suit, he’d broken out the box of Krispy Kremes. Put a chocolate glazed on a napkin in front of me.

“So, what are you thinking, Boxer? You thinking like a lieutenant, or an investigator?”

“The only autopsy report we have is Keiko’s.”

“And how did Claire call it?”

“Without any evidence to the contrary? Pending, until all the facts are in.”

“So, what am I missing here? Where’s the tie-in with Garza? You girls don’t like the way he looks?”

“He’s very handsome, actually.”

I told Jacobi that Keiko, like the patients in the malpractice case against Municipal, had entered the hospital through the ER — Garza’s turf.

This was also true of thousands of patients who survived, checked out, and, for all I knew, lived happily ever after.

“I have to find something in Municipal’s list of doctors, nurses, and maintenance staff that will either explain away my uneasy feelings or solidify them,” I said.

“So, what do you want from me, Boxer?” He crumpled up the rubbish from our lunch, dunked it into the trash can.

“I need you to work overtime.”

“Tonight?”

“Unpaid overtime.”

“Aw, jeez, Lieutenant. I just remembered. I’ve got opera tickets. . . .”

“Because I’ve used up my overtime budget for the month. Because I don’t have a bona fide victim. And because I don’t even know what the hell this is.”

Jacobi caved, knowing I’d do the same for him.

As the day shift stumbled out of the squad room and the graveyard shift trickled in, Jacobi and I ran the names of six hundred Municipal employees through the database.

We uncovered doctors with spotty medical histories and rap sheets on lower-level staffers for domestic violence, assault, armed robbery, drug abuse, and DWIs aplenty.

My DeskJet spat out a summary of the “button” victims.

I read it to Jacobi.

“All thirty-two patients came through the ER, and half were examined by Garza.

“They were black, white, brown, and every color in between. Ages seventeen to eighty-three and the timing of the deaths over the last three years appears to be random.”

“So, Boxer. What you’re saying is there’s no victim profile. If the thirty-two ‘button’ patients were actually whacked — a big fat if, by the way—”

“You’re right. I’m stumped, pardner. All I’ve got is this weird signature, and it’s the only thing that ties the victims together.”

Jacobi had a coughing fit, his still-healing gunshot wound pinching his lung and giving him hell. He weighed down the stack of papers with a stapler and stood to put on his jacket.

“Just stating the obvious, but nobody is saying homicide except Yuki. What’s she basing it on? She hates the guy?”

“I take your point, Warren. But buttons on the eyes of dead people means something. Talk me out of it if you think I’m crazy. Because I just can’t put this out of my mind.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 76

I THOUGHT ABOUT the sick mind that had to be behind those caduceus buttons as I drove home that night. Wondering again if Yuki and I were paranoid or if we were right: a very strange killer was murdering patients at Municipal Hospital.

And no one was stopping him.

No one was even trying.

I arrived at the front door of my apartment barely remembering the drive there. I completed my pit stop in record time, and soon I was back in the Explorer, heading toward the hospital.

The crime scene — the homicide scene?

I parked near the entrance to the ER and went inside, where I hung around the waiting room for a few minutes, flipping through an ancient issue of Field and Stream, blending in with the visitors sitting around me.

Then I took a little stroll.

The corridor was lit with a flat white fluorescence. Patients moved around carefully with their canes and IV poles. The medical staff walked purposefully, eyes straight ahead.

I kept my hands in my pockets, my baseball cap down over my eyes, hoping that the bulge of my Glock wasn’t noticeable under a soft, zippered jacket.

I honestly had no idea what the hell I was looking for.

Maybe if I poked around, something would click, and the deaths and stats and tantalizing clues would add up to an honest-to-God serial crime, possibly the worst ever in San Francisco.

At the same time, I had no business surveilling the hospital. I was a homicide lieutenant, not a freakin’ PI, and Tracchio would rip into me if he knew I was haunting Municipal on my own.

That’s what I was thinking when I took a corner and slammed into a man in a white coat with medium-long black hair. I knocked a clipboard right out of his hand.

Christ!

“Sorry,” I said.

Then I nearly jumped out of my shoes. I’d thought of him often, but I hadn’t seen Dr. Garza since the day Yuki and I brought Keiko into the emergency room.

The doctor picked up his clipboard and fixed his hard black eyes on mine. It was a challenge, and I felt a nearly overwhelming impulse to throw him against the wall and cuff him.

You’re under arrest for being a supercilious son of a bitch, for giving my friend nightmares, and for being a likely suspect in an unspecified number of suspicious deaths that might or might not be homicides. Do you understand your rights?

Instead, I balled my fists up inside my jacket pockets and stood my ground.

“I know who you are,” Garza said. “Police lieutenant. Friend of Ms. Castellano. She’s a little overanxious, wouldn’t you say? Having a hard time with her mother’s death.”

“My friend is fine,” I told him. “But I’m not so sure about you.”

His face cracked in a crazy grin that left us both in a paralytic standoff that was finally broken by his name blasting over the PA.

“Dr. Garza wanted in the ER.”

We stepped out of each other’s way.

“I have work to do,” he said.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 77

LAUREN MCKENNA took a quick breath, then knocked on the door. She waited anxiously in the carpeted hallway of the hotel, her stomach churning, thinking she was out of her mind to do this. Absolutely nuts.

She stared down at her gold pumps, the fake croc shoes a witty touch with the silk chiffon skirt, wondering if he’d notice — and then, a split second later, going the other way again, thinking it wasn’t too late to change her mind and get the hell out of there.

If she didn’t like him, she was going to say, “Sorry, I’ve got the wrong room.”

And then the door opened.

Her “date” smiled. He looked Asian American, maybe thirty or so, slim, hair gelled into spikes. He was dressed okay in a blue cotton shirt and tan dress slacks, but handsome, causing her a moment’s doubt — was she pretty enough for this guy? He reached out his hand and clasped hers.

“I’m Ken,” he said warmly. “You’re gorgeous, Lauren. I love what you’re wearing. You exceed all my expectations. Please come in.”

Lauren thanked him, stepped inside the plush hotel room, her heart banging in her chest.

Ken was saying, “Let me see your face. Do you mind?”

He reached out, moved her bangs away from her eyes.

“Can you smile?” he said, then smiled himself.

Lauren clamped her jaw shut, clutched her handbag to her chest, looked around. She was trying to take in everything at once. Fear Factor on the TV, the bottle of champagne on ice, the man himself — a total stranger.

How had she thought she could go through with something like this?

“Come on,” he said. “Give me a little smile.”

She did it then, baring her teeth in a clenched grin, Ken saying, “Braces? How old are you, Lauren?”

“Nineteen. I’m a sophomore. In college.”

“You don’t look it,” he said, smiling at her again, his teeth extremely white, that gorgeous skin, not too old, but still, this was nothing like a blind date.

She was in a hotel room with a stranger, one who wanted to pay her money — for God only knew what.

Lauren started flashing back, thinking about all of the little humiliations of the past week — dodging the landlord, her bounced check taped next to the register at the campus bookstore, all the money she’d borrowed from friends.

Her roommate saying, “Call this number. Margot can help you with an easy-breezy debt-consolidation plan.”

Easy-breezy? This was insane!

Now Ken was helping her out of her camel-hair coat. She encouraged herself: hang in there, Lulu. Be brave. Try to have fun. Anyway, think of all that money.

She saw Ken’s eyes on her long legs, checking out her clingy, see-through blouse, her bra straps peeking out on top. So she put her hands on her hips, striking a pose like a runway model, laughing nervously when Ken looked amused.

Lauren heard herself say what she’d heard call girls say in movies.

“Mind if we get the business part out of the way?”

“Not at all.” Ken took several bills out of his back pocket. He stacked ten crisp hundreds in her open hand.

“You can count it. But it’s all there. Don’t worry, I’m a decent guy.”

Lauren smiled awkwardly, tucked the cash into her Kate Spade bag, and left it by the TV.

Ken offered her the wing chair near the window, and she took it, gratefully accepting the glass of Dom. The champagne bubbled its way down her throat, damping her anxiety.

“Do me a favor,” Ken was saying. “Put your feet flat on the floor. Shake your head a little, like the wind is blowing through your hair. The way the beautiful models do it.”

“Like this?”

“Excellent. That’s great. And you can relax, Lauren. I want you to have fun tonight.”

She was kind of relaxed, feeling warm in the expensive room with the velvet curtains. In the distance, the bridge was lit up and framed like a picture in the window.

Ken was very nice. Not rushing her or acting crude. He took the bottle from the ice bucket beside her, topped off her glass.

She said, “I’ll tell you a secret, Ken. This is my first time doing this.”

“Well, I’m honored,” he said. “I can see that you’re a real sweet girl. Hey, I’d like your opinion about something.”

He crossed the room and took some brochures out of his coat pocket. Offered them to her.

“I’m thinking of getting a new car. Which one do you like best? Porsche, BMW, Mercedes?”

Lauren was studying the glossy fliers, getting herself into the right mood, when she heard the door open from the adjoining room.

Her heart jumped as a really big guy with blondish hair came through the door as if he had every right to be there.

She shot an alarmed, questioning look at Ken.

“I was just going to tell you,” said Ken. “This is my friend Louie.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 78

THE CAR FLIERS FELL from Lauren’s hand, scattering around her gold shoes. Suddenly, she felt cold all over, her stomach dropping as if she were inside an elevator car and the cable had just snapped.

She gaped at Louie — broad, muscular, in khakis and a pink polo shirt. He looked like a jock, but older, maybe a coach.

He gave Lauren a look, like “wow-ee.” Swiveled his head and looked at her again.

“Listen,” Lauren said. She felt queasy as she rose quickly out of the chair. She gauged the distance to the door. “I didn’t agree to a, a . . . threesome. That’s definitely not okay with me.”

“Don’t worry,” Ken said, holding up his hands, showing her his palms. “Louie is — a great guy. Look, Lauren, everything’s okay. There’s nothing to worry about. Your service wouldn’t send you if there was.”

“I’ve made a mistake,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “No offense, guys. I’m not like this. This really isn’t me—”

“Louie,” Ken said, turning away from her, “say hello, willya?”

The big man crossed the room, stuck out his large hand. His eyes were soft and shy.

“Lauren? Nice to meet you. I’m Louie.”

She kept her hand at her side, blinking into his face, imagining how she was going to paste on a smile, say she had to go to the bathroom, casually pick up her purse. Take out the thousand dollars. Put it on the TV . . . and blow the hell out of here.

“Louie, why don’t you show Lauren — you know.”

It seemed to Lauren that time had slowed. She felt for the chair, steadied herself as Louie opened the closet door. The closet door?

“He has a heart of gold,” Ken was saying quietly, so that Louie couldn’t hear. “He hasn’t been with a woman since his girlfriend dumped him last year. Such a decent person,” said Ken. “I’d trust him with my life.”

Louie rolled a suitcase into the room, parked it next to the sofa. “You’re a seven, right?” Ken smiled at her. “I asked your service to send a seven.”

Lauren nodded dumbly. “It’s his birthday,” Ken was saying. “I didn’t want him to be all alone.”

She was getting an idea about Louie. He was one of those teddy-bear types, maybe. A nice guy, but no game with girls. She watched him pull at the zipper on the suitcase, take out a long dress, and hold it out for her to see.

“This is for you, Lauren. Honest. It’s yours to keep. No strings.”

Lauren stared at the navy-blue reembroidered lace gown with a jewel neckline, the sheath silhouette that flared out below the knees to the floor. It was a Monique Lhuillier. Cost a ton. She could keep it?

“I have connections in the wholesale business,” Louie explained.

Could she do this? Could she?

She didn’t feel so tense anymore. Two nice guys . . . let them do it to her . . . pay off her debts . . . beautiful dress . . . Suddenly she felt euphoric.

Ken was holding up a necklace, a curving chain with diamond chips, light bouncing off the facets.

“This is really your lucky night,” Ken was saying.

Lauren tried to step toward him, show him that it was okay, but her vision blurred and the room tilted. Her legs folded, and she dropped to the floor. The champagne climbed back into her throat.

I can’t open my eyes! What’s wrong with me?

She felt the two men jostle her onto the bed . . . their hands pulling at her clothes . . . thumbs hooked into her panties . . . her legs over someone’s shoulders . . . rough bumping and . . . what was happening?

Air burst from her lungs. She felt a tremendous weight on her chest. She couldn’t breathe!

“Please,” she cried out. “Stop . . . please . . .”

Lauren heard someone laugh.

Something tightened around her neck. She tried to fight, but she couldn’t move!

She strained for air, sucked plastic into her nose and mouth, stared up at Ken’s contorted face through the film over her face, his kind brown eyes horrifically transformed.

Why?

Why are you doing this to me? I should never have come here. Oh, God, you’re killing me! It’s not too late, please . . . stop. . . . God, give me another chance, and I’ll never do anything like this again, no, nooo, I don’t want to die. Please. Not like this.

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 79

JAKE HADLEY GLANCED at his wristwatch, something he was doing about every sixty seconds now. Quarter to 9:00. He’d been standing with his boys in line outside the convention center since half past 7:00 that Saturday morning, catching their excitement as they squeezed his fingers, chased around him making car engine noises, asking, “When, Daddy, when? Is it time?”

Today was the day his two boys had been waiting for all year — the opening of the International Car Show.

And finally, the line was moving.

“Dad! Oh boy oh boy oh boy. They’re open.”

Jake smiled as he pulled the tickets out of his shirt pocket and handed them to the young man at the turnstile.

“Have fun in there,” the ticket-taker said. He was wearing a red-and-black T-shirt, the car show logo across his chest in a speedy-looking type font with racing stripes, Jake thinking he’d get a couple of those for the boys.

“Thank you. Plan to,” Hadley replied, holding his kids’ hands as they jumped up and down, about to pull his arms out of their sockets.

Air-conditioning, soupy music, and the indescribably delicious smell of car wax and new leather enveloped them as they entered the glittering automobile extravaganza.

Where to look first?

Concept cars rotated on platforms. Pretty girls in tight-fitting skirt suits and prim shirts, and showing a little too much leg, the ultimate blend of sex and money, performed their sales pitches.

Lights and music coming from everywhere.

Directly ahead, very attractive women with badges sat behind long tables, handed out glossy car brochures.

“If we get separated for any reason, this is Hadley Family Central,” Jake said, stooping to the height of his six-year-olds. “Look around. Get a fix on this place, because this is where I’ll come to find you.”

“Okay, Dad,” Stevie said. “Byeeee!” Then he broke free, running ahead toward the European cars in the main hall.

“He wants to see the Ferraris,” Michael explained to his dad, “and the Monstarotties, too.”

Jake laughed as he and Michael followed Stevie, the vast space filling up quickly as the crowd surged in like the tide.

Jake lost sight of Stevie for a moment; then he saw his boy on a carpeted platform as the salesmen pulled the cover from the sleek, silver 2007 Ferrari coupe.

Jake called out over the noise of the crowd. “Steven. Get down. You’re not allowed to stand up there, son.”

When Stevie turned, Jake saw a stricken look on his boy’s face. A pang of fear seized Jake even though his son was in plain sight.

He gripped Michael’s small hand.

“Come on, now, Stevie, get down—”

“The lady in the car, Dad. Something’s wrong with the lady in the car.”

Jake Hadley started to tell his son that the model in the front seat wasn’t real, but as he came closer, peered inside, his heartbeat quickened — then it began to race.

The girl’s open eyes were dulled, her pretty face tipped at an unnatural angle. He saw what appeared to be a wide purple shadow around her neck. She was wearing some kind of evening gown.

What the hell was this?

“Steven!” he yelled at his son, grasping the boy’s arm. “I said, come down, now.”

By now, others had seen the girl, too, her limbs frozen in a waxy parody of a mannequin — stone-dead in the two-hundred-thousand-dollar car.

The salesman in charge of the concession waved the crowd away. His face was pale, his eyes wild, and he was shouting, “Stand back, please. Stand back. Get the hell away from here!”

People swarmed toward the Ferrari, then away from it, a riptide eddying around Jake and his boys.

Sharp screams pierced the peppy pop music, and Jake’s sons broke into tears. They pressed their faces into their father’s body, fiercely hugging his waist and legs.

His heart galloping, Jake hoisted the twins onto his hips and walked quickly toward the exit.

He spoke sternly to the wide-eyed ticket-taker at the door.

“Someone’s dead in there. A woman. You’d better call the police right now.”

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Part Five

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

ONE-STOP SHOPPING

Womans Murder Club 5 - The 5th Horseman

Chapter 80

THE CAR-SHOW VISITORS streamed out of the convention center looking like shell-shocked commuters who’d driven too close to the scene of a nasty, very bloody accident.

Jacobi was waiting for me just inside the big glass doors at the Howard Street entrance.

“Welcome to Groundhog Day,” Jacobi said.

“Tell me about it.”

Jacobi brought me up to date as we cut through the crowd, working our way toward the rear of the hall.

“White female, eighteen to twenty, blond, a hundred pounds soaking wet, ligature mark around the neck, parked inside a Ferrari.”

“My God. These freaks. What audacity, craziness. What nerve to do this in public. Look at all these kids at the auto show!”