Read an Excerpt
The man heard a gasp from the backseat as he turned onto Fifty-Second Street. The girl named Samantha opened her eyes in a sudden panic. The eyes of the other girl in the backseat darted back and forth several times, as if she were trying to figure out where she was.
The man slowed the Cadillac Escalade at the parking lot of the emergency room. The lot was empty except for an ambulance, its back doors open toward the building. He spotted a camera and then a second one pointing downward, covering the parking lot and the wide glass doors that opened into the ER.
He jabbed the brake and stopped.
A uniformed security guard sat inside at a small desk. The man backed into the empty street and continued to the traffic light at Martin Luther King Jr. Way. A wide grass median divided the six-lane thoroughfare into northbound and southbound lanes. Above, the elevated tracks for BART rested on huge concrete pedestals that looked like giant gray mushrooms in the fog that rolled in nightly from the San Francisco Bay. Traffic was light. The digital clock on his dash read 4:02.
He turned right and stopped at the bus stop just north of the corner. A Plexiglas shelter covered the bus bench. He climbed out of the driver’s seat and jogged around the front of the SUV to the passenger side, opened the back door and lifted the older girl, Jenny, from the car seat, wrapping his arm around her to hold her up, and placed her on the ground. He shuffled her to the bench and sat her down, then returned to the car and brought Samantha to the bench in the same manner. Samantha leaned against her friend, resting her head on the other girl’s shoulder, her eyes locked open in a zombie-like stare.
The man slipped Samantha’s cell phone out of her clutch purse and turned it on. He scrolled to Mom and pressed the number.
“Sam, where have you been? You’ve had me so worried.”
He spoke slowly. “Ma’am, Samantha is with a friend named Jenny. They can’t talk right now, but they need your help.”
“Who is this? Is this some kind of joke?”
“Please listen carefully. The girls have taken some drugs and need to go to the hospital. Get something to write with and I’ll tell you where they are.”
“Who is this?” she demanded.
When he didn’t reply, her voice softened. “Okay, I have a pen.”
“Outside Children’s Hospital in Oakland, at a bus bench on Martin Luther King Way, just up from Fifty-Second Street. If you can’t get here fast, you might want to call the hospital and have them pick up the girls.”
“I got it. Now, who is this?”
He pressed the end button, wiped the phone on his jacket lining, and returned it to Samantha’s handbag. He scanned the area to ensure no one was watching. A car zipped by without slowing, and the driver didn’t look his way.
“Girls, stay here,” he said. “Your parents are on the way.”
Samantha seemed to focus on him for a second, but then her eyes resumed their distant, Rohypnol stare.
He drove a block up the street and pulled to the curb. In his rearview mirror, he saw one of the girls poke her head out of the front of the shelter.
“Go back and sit down,” he said under his breath.
She stood, looked straight ahead, and wobbled onto the sidewalk. She paused at the curb, and then stumbled, straight-legged into the street.
“No, no,” he muttered.
A pair of headlights in his mirror grew larger, and car tires screeched on the asphalt. Then he heard the thud.
He jumped out of his SUV. The car stopped and two people got out. They bent over the form in the street. One yelled something. Seconds later, people dressed in blue, pink, and green hospital scrubs ran toward the accident.
He climbed into the Cadillac and drove off.
Thirteen Months Later
Sergeant Matt Sinclair parked his unmarked Crown Vic behind the line of black-and-white Oakland PD cars. He stepped out of the car, swept his black suit coat back with his right hand to keep it from hanging up on the Sig Sauer .45 worn in a holster on his belt, and stood there, taking it all in.
A dozen uniformed officers occupied the street and sidewalk in front of him, some talking with citizens and others huddled in groups of two or three, pens and aluminum clipboards in hand. Sinclair glanced at his watch on his left wrist, slid a yellow pad from his folio, and wrote, 0552Arrived at scene. Cool, clear/fog, dry, darkbut full moon, street lighting. He took a deep breath, tried to relax the knot in his stomach, and then strode toward the uniforms.
A heavyset man with sergeant stripes on his sleeves hurried toward him. His bald head glistened under the streetlights. “Matt, good to see you back in a coat and tie,” Jim Clancy said.
“Good to be back,” said Sinclair. “How many more days to go?”
“Three months, eight days, two hoursbut who’s counting.”
“Not gonna stick it out for thirty?”
“The day I turn fifty, I’m outta here. Twenty-six is plenty. What about you?”
“Shit, Jim, I got fourteen years ’til I hit the big five-oh.”
“Fourteen yearsassholes don’t get that much time for murder.”
Sinclair raised his notebook and prepared to write. “Did you drag me out of bed at oh-dark-thirty just to bust my balls?”
Clancy pulled a stack of assignment cards from his back pocket and looked at the notes he had scratched on the back of the cards. “An X-ray tech from Children’s is walking to the parking garage after an overtime shift and sees a kid slumped on the bus bench. Thought it didn’t look right. You know, white kid, not dressed like he belongs in Oaktown after dark. Calls to him, shakes him, gets no response, so he calls nine-one-one as well as a nurse buddy in the ER. We get the call at zero-four-fifty-eight. First unit arrives the same time as paramedics at five-oh-four. I get here about ten minutes later. They pronounce him at the scene. Body was cold. Paramedics figure he’d been dead at least an hour.”
Sinclair looked up from his notepad. “Are you leaving out the obvious just to fuck with me?”
“No apparent cause of deathno GSW, no stab wounds, no obvious trauma. Don’t even know it’s a homicide. Right now, we’re writing it up as an SC Unexplained Death.”
“Great,” said Sinclair.
He preferred callouts where the bodies were peppered with a half-dozen gunshot wounds to SC, or “suspicious circumstance,” deaths. These they had to handle like homicides, which they sometimes turned out to be, but just as often, after spinning his wheels and wasting days of work, he’d get a call from the coroner saying the death was natural or accidental.
Clancy put his notes away. “We called homicide because someone tied the kid’s wrists and ankles together with flex-cuffs. Come on, I’ll show you.”
Cars containing early morning commuters slowed to check out the activity and then sped off. The eyes of every officer followed Sinclair. He was an average-sized cop. Six feet tall, with a slender, athletic build. This used to be one of his favorite moments, like walking the red carpet. He remembered his first homicide scene as a young patrol officer thirteen years agostreet people yelling, friends and family of the victim wailing, suspects in the rear of marked cars pounding on the windows. Then two homicide sergeants pulled upolder men, nearly his father’s age, dressed in dark suits and starched white shirts. They walked with a bit of a swagger, and their faces showed not a trace of worry, the sense that they had absolutely no doubt they would solve the case. At that moment, Sinclair knew he wanted to work homicide, to feel that confidence, to inspire that sort of respect, admiration, and awe.
Today, Sinclair felt like running back to his car and driving as far away as possible. What was he thinking when he’d asked to return to the unit? Was he fooling himself that he could go back as if the past year never occurred? He hoped the officers at the scene couldn’t sense his anxiety. Cops could detect fear in people the way dogs did.
An officer raised the yellow tape, and Sinclair slipped underneath. The Plexiglas bus shelter was ten feet long and open to the street. It sat six feet back from MLK Way and a hundred feet north of Fifty-Second Street. A green metal bench filled half the enclosure. Behind the bus stop, a gray multistory parking garage for Children’s Hospital took up most of the block.
Sinclair surveyed the concrete in front of him to make sure he didn’t trample on any evidence and stepped into the shelter. The bus schedule was on one wall: Route 18, last bus at 11:32 p.m., first one at 6:28 a.m. A milk ad, Help Me Drink Healthy , hung beside it.
The victim was slumped sideways on the seat, his head resting against the side wall of the shelter. Sinclair tried to recall the position of the rape victim who’d been left on the same bench last summer. Arquette, Samantha, female, white, fourteen. Coincidence? Maybe, but the details of that investigation were lost somewhere in the fog of booze that surrounded him back then.
This boy was young, smooth-faced, wearing a black Stanford University T-shirt, blue jeans, and white sneakers. He looked to be about the same age as the older of the two girls from last summer.
“Little cool to be wearing just a T-shirt,” said Sinclair.
“Sure is. It was already down in the fifties when I came on at eleven,” said Clancy. “A lot warmer on the other side of the hills, though.”
Sinclair leaned toward the body. “The flex-cuffs the department issues are a lot thicker than these things on his wrists. These look like electrical cable ties, like what you buy at a hardware store. We got an ID on him?”
“We didn’t want to search the body until the coroner got here, but I had YSD check missing persons,” said Clancy, referring to the youth services division. “He fits the physicalsame clothing tooof a seventeen-year-old juvenile missing from Danville since about midnight. Danville PD faxed the report and photo to us, and I got an officer en route to pick them up.”
Too many patrol sergeants, especially the younger ones, thought simple tasks, like having YSD check the state missing persons system, was something only detectives could do. Clancy was old school and did whatever was needed to get the job done. “You got a tech and coroner on the way?” Sinclair asked.
“The tech is up the street scouring for evidence. Should be back in a minute, and I was waiting for your okay before calling the coroner.”
“Do it,” said Sinclair.
Clancy pulled out his cell phone, and Sinclair returned to his scene notes as a familiar voice behind him chirped, “Good morning, Sergeant Sinclair. We’ve missed you on these scenes.”
Without turning, he replied, “Hey, Joyce, how’s my favorite tech?”
Short, squat, and with bleached-blonde hair, Joyce Talbert looked nothing like the tall, leggy CSIs on TV, and although she had plenty of seniority to work the day shift, she had worked as a civilian crime scene technician for fifteen years on the midnight shift by choice.
“I wish I had something for you, but I haven’t found any evidence to point to a suspect. I snapped loads of photos of the vic and the scene. I’ll print the Plexiglas around the body. Maybe we’ll get lucky and our killer leaned against it and left a perfect palm print.”
“We can dream,” said Sinclair.