4th of July Page 2

“Whatcha thinking, honey?”

“That I’ve got another John Doe on my hands.”

I was remembering another teenage John Doe, a homeless kid who’d been murdered in a place like this when I was just getting started in homicide. It was one of my worst cases ever, and ten years later the death still gnawed at me.

“I’ll know more when I get this young man on my table,” Claire was saying when Jacobi stuck his head through the doorway again.

“The informant says that partial plate number was taken off a Mercedes,” he said. “A black one.”

A black Mercedes had been seen at the other electrocution murder. I grinned as I felt a surge of hope. Yes, I was making it personal. I was going to find the bastard who had killed these kids and I was going to put him away before he could do it again.

Chapter 3

A WEEK HAD GONE by since the nightmare at the Lorenzo Hotel. The crime lab was still sifting through the abundant detritus of room 21, and our informant’s three-digit partial license plate number was either half wrong or a wild guess. As for me, I woke up every morning feeling pissed off and sad because this ugly case was going nowhere.

The dead kids haunted me as I drove to Susie’s for a get-together with the girls that evening. Susie’s is a neighborhood café, a bright hot spot with walls sponge-painted in tropical colors, serving spicy but tasty Caribbean food.

Jill, Claire, Cindy, and I had adopted this place as our sanctuary as well as our clubhouse. Our straight-shooting girl talk, unhampered by rank or department lines, had often cut through weeks of bureaucratic BS. Together, we’d broken cases wide open in this very spot.

I saw Claire and Cindy in “our” booth at the back. Claire was laughing at something Cindy had said, which happened a lot because Claire had a great laugh and Cindy was a funny girl as well as a first-class investigative reporter for the Chronicle. Jill, of course, was gone.

“I want what you’re having,” I said as I slid into the booth next to Claire. There was a pitcher of margaritas on the table and four glasses, two of them empty. I filled a glass and looked at my friends, feeling that almost magical connection that we’d forged because of all we’d gone through together.

“Looks like you need a transfusion,” Claire joked.

“I swear I do. Bring on the IV.” I took a gulp of the icy brew, snagged the newspaper that was beside Cindy’s elbow, and paged through until I found the story buried on page 17 of the Metro section, below the fold. INFO SOUGHT IN TENDERLOIN DISTRICT MURDERS.

“I guess it’s a bigger story in my mind,” I said.

“Dead street people don’t make page one,” Cindy said sympathetically.

“It’s odd,” I told the girls. “Actually, we have too much information. Seven thousand prints. Hair, fiber, a ton of useless DNA from a carpet that hadn’t been vacuumed since Nixon was a boy.” I stopped ranting long enough to pull the rubber band off my ponytail and shake out my hair. “On the other hand, with all the potential snitches crawling through the Tenderloin District, all we have is one shitty lead.”

“It sucks, Linds,” said Cindy. “Is the chief on your ass?”

“Nope,” I said, tapping the tiny mention of the Tenderloin District murders with my forefinger. “As the killer says, nobody cares.”

“Ease up on yourself, honey,” Claire said. “You’ll get a bite into this thing. You always do.”

“Yeah, enough about all this. Jill would give me hell for whining.”

“She says, ‘No problem,’” Cindy cracked, pointing to Jill’s empty seat. We lifted our glasses and clinked them together.

“To Jill,” we said in unison.

We filled Jill’s glass and passed it around in remembrance of Jill Bernhardt, a spectacular ADA and our great friend, who’d been murdered only months ago. We missed her terribly and said so. In a while, our waitress, Loretta, brought a new pitcher of margaritas to replace the last.

“You’re looking chirpy,” I said to Cindy, who jumped in with her news. She’d met a new guy, a hockey player who played for the Sharks in San Jose, and she was pretty pleased with herself. Claire and I started pumping her for details while the reggae band tuned up, and soon we were all singing a Jimmy Cliff song, plinking our spoons against the glassware.

I was finally getting loose in Margaritaville when my Nextel rang. It was Jacobi.

“Meet me outside, Boxer. I’m a block away. We’ve got a bead on that Mercedes.”

What I should’ve said was “Go without me. I’m off duty.” But it was my case, and I had to go. I tossed some bills down on the table, blew kisses at the girls, and bolted for the door. The killer was wrong about one thing. Somebody cared.

Chapter 4

I GOT IN THE passenger-side door of our unmarked gray Crown Vic.

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