OVER THE LAST three months, the SFPD homicide squad had been swamped by nightmarish murders of all types. Robbery-homicides, murder-suicides, and a kidnapping where the victim was locked in a car trunk and the drugged-up abductor, the victim’s nephew, turned himself in. But he had no idea where he’d parked the car. The car was found, but too late for Uncle Dave.
I punched out of work at six on Friday and drove home to my family. Mercifully, the horrible week had been overwritten by a weekend of eat, play, love, and sleep.
Now, it was Monday morning.
My closet was the most organized part of my life. I opened the doors, ran my eyes across the neat row of blue trousers, button-down shirts in white, beige, pink, and blue-striped and at the end of the rod, five blue gabardine blazers hung in dry cleaner’s plastic bags. It was very satisfying to just grab and go.
I was dressing, listening to my husband, Joe, and our daughter, Julie, laughing in the large, open, loft-type room outside the bedroom door. I was also thinking of breakfast — a big bowl of granola, say, with strawberries — when I heard a loud crash followed by my daughter’s shrill screams and the barking of our elderly dog, Martha.
What the hell?
I cleared our bedroom in a second and, once inside the main room, focused on the chaos in the kitchen. Julie Ann Molinari, our nearly five-year-old, had her hands to her cheeks, eyes to the floor, screaming, screaming, taking a breath and screaming some more. Joe was admonishing our border collie.
“No, Martha, no. Stop that. Now.”
As Joe made a grab for Martha’s collar, Julie wailed, “Noooo, noooo, nooooo! Mommeeee, hellpppp!”
I hurried into the eye of the storm, shouting, “What’s happening, what?”
“Lindsay, don’t come over here in your bare feet.”
I braked and saw what had gone wrong. A glass globe that had held water, gravel, and two orange goldfish had somehow sailed from its place on the kitchen counter, dropped to the floor, and shattered. Mr. Bubbles and Fanny flopped among the shards and colored bits of fishbowl decor.
“They’re going to be fine,” I said to my daughter. “Don’t worry, but we have to work fast. Joe, can you take Julie?”
“You bet. Lift your arms, Bug. Hang on to me.”
There was a pitcher of distilled water near the sink that I used to top up the fishbowl. I picked up each of the flip-floppers by the tail, slipped them into the pitcher, and dropped in the aerator. Joe tossed a towel onto the floor and said, “Good job, Blondie. I’ll take it from here.”
He handed off our red-faced kiddo and I carried Julie to the couch in the living room. She was still crying as I checked her toes and soles, then mine, and then Martha’s paws. There were no injuries, but the tears continued.
I asked, “What happened, Jules? No, don’t cry. The fishes are fine. I just want to know.”
She gulped down a sob, then said, “I moved the bowl close so I could make fish mouths at them and I slipped …”
“And you grabbed the bowl. Okay. I understand, Julie. I’ll order an aquarium today. It’ll be bigger.”
“You’re not mad?”
“Accidents happen,” I said. I hugged Julie and ruffled Martha’s ears, then finished dressing for work. I planted kisses all around, geared up in the foyer with gun and badge and shouted, “See you all tonight!”
Then I was out the door and down the stairs into a beautiful San Francisco morning. My car was waiting on 12th Street where I’d parked it Friday night. I started her up, then turned my Explorer out onto Lake Street. I was anticipating a smooth fifteen-minute drive to work, an oasis between two points of chaos.
I couldn’t know that in a half hour, I would be faced with a murder that would change my life.
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AT QUARTER TO EIGHT I pushed open the gate on the fourth floor of the Hall of Justice. Homicide’s day shift was logging in, hitting the break room for a stiff mug of leftover night-shift coffee and one of Cappy McNeil’s fresh peanut butter cookies before dropping into their desk chairs. Phones rang, tweetled, and tinkled out music. Cops shouted to each other across the small, gray squad room.
My partners, Rich Conklin and Sonia Alvarez, and I have arranged our desks in a square horseshoe at the front of the bullpen. My desk is in the center, my back to the wall, giving me a clear view of the entire squad room including Lieutenant Jackson Brady’s glassed-in office at the far opposite end of the room. He wasn’t in.
Conklin, my ride-or-die partner of many years, greeted me, as did Alvarez, our new teammate. She joked, “What time is it? I haven’t been home yet.”
I knew the feeling. “Can I top up your mug?”
“Thanks, no, Lindsay. I’m good to fly to the moon.”
I got myself a mug of highly sugared coffee and, passing on the cookies, returned to my desk.
“So, what’d I miss? Where’s Brady?”
As if summoned, the lieutenant burst through the gate — and he looked worried.
“Boxer. Conklin. I need you downstairs.”
Leaving Alvarez, we followed Brady down the fire stairs. Brady is six two, muscular, with white-blond hair banded in a short ponytail, wears denim everything. But more to the point, he’s a great leader. We three exited the building through the lobby’s back door, took the breezeway out to Harriet Street, which is where a lot of Hall of Justice workers take advantage of free parking under the overpass.
This morning, squad cars had formed a barrier that cordoned off the street to traffic. Sergeant Bob Nardone was standing at the intersection of Harriet and our breezeway. Another couple of uniforms blocked my view.
Nardone broke from the huddle and approached us.
He said to Brady, “The victim is white, male, sixties to seventies. I was about to get into my car when I saw him lying facedown next to my vehicle. Bullet in the back of his head, looks like it was fired at close range. Lieutenant,” he said to Brady. “Will you take a look before the swarm moves in?”
It was too late to avoid that. Hall of Justice workers and passersby were crowding in for a look. There was no room for all of us, so Brady and Conklin joined Nardone while I called my closest friend, Dr. Claire Washburn.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” she said. And she meant that literally.
Claire is San Francisco’s chief ME. Her office is a hundred yards from where we stood on Harriet Street.
While I waited for Claire, I called the crime lab and got director Eugene Hallows on the phone. I said, “Gene, first homicide of the week is right here on Harriet Street between Bryant and Harrison Streets. You’ll see the cruisers.”
“I’ll send the van, ASAP.”
We clicked off and I went over to the squad car barricade hoping to get a closer look at the scene, but Conklin put his hand at my back and headed me away from it. No question about it, my cool-under-fire partner looked very troubled.
We hope you enjoyed reading the first two chapters of 23½ Lies, the latest thriller in James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series, coming out in September 2023. The previous book in the series, The Trial, is available online in its entirety from AARP Members Only Access.
More mysteries available in their entirety online for AARP members