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The Trial: A BookShot
A Women's Murder Club Story
By Maxine Paetro
Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 5, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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It was that crazy period between Thanksgiving and Christmas when work overflowed, time raced, and there wasn’t enough light between dawn and dusk to get everything done.
Still, our gang of four, what we call the Women’s Murder Club, always had a spouse-free holiday get-together dinner of drinks and bar food.
Yuki Castellano had picked the place.
It was called Uncle Maxie’s Top Hat and was a bar and grill that had been a fixture in the Financial District for 150 years. It was decked out with art deco prints and mirrors on the walls, and a large, neon-lit clock behind the bar dominated the room. Maxie’s catered to men in smart suits and women in tight skirts and spike heels who wore good jewelry.
I liked the place and felt at home there in a Mickey Spillane kind of way. Case in point: I was wearing straight-legged pants, a blue gabardine blazer, a Glock in my shoulder holster, and flat lace-up shoes. I stood in the bar area, slowly turning my head as I looked around for my BFFs.
Cindy Thomas waved her hand from the table tucked under the spiral staircase. I waved back, moved toward the nook inside the cranny. Claire Washburn was wearing a trench coat over her scrubs, with a button on the lapel that read SUPPORT OUR TROOPS. She peeled off her coat and gave me a hug and a half.
Cindy was also in her work clothes: cords and a bulky sweater, with a peacoat slung over the back of her chair. If I’d ducked under the table, I’m sure I would have seen steel-toed boots. Cindy was a crime reporter of note, and she was wearing her on-the-job hound dog clothes.
She blew me a couple of kisses, and Yuki stood up to give me her seat and a jasmine-scented smack on the cheek. She had clearly come from court, where she worked as a pro bono defense attorney for the poor and hopeless. Still, she was dressed impeccably, in pinstripes and pearls.
I took the chair across from Claire. She sat between Cindy and Yuki with her back to the room, and we all scooched up to the smallish glass-and-chrome table.
If it hasn’t been said, we four are a mutual heart, soul, and work society in which we share our cases and views of the legal system, as well as our personal lives. Right now the girls were worried about me.
Three of us were married—me, Claire, and Yuki—and Cindy had a standing offer of a ring and vows to be exchanged in Grace Cathedral. Until very recently you couldn’t have found four more happily hooked-up women. Then the bottom fell out of my marriage to Joe Molinari, the father of my child and a man I shared everything with, including my secrets.
We had had it so good, we kissed and made up before our fights were over. It was the typical: “You are right.” “No, you are!”
Then Joe went missing during possibly the worst weeks of my life.
I’m a homicide cop, and I know when someone is telling me the truth and when things do not add up.
Joe missing in action had not added up. Because of that I had worried almost to panic. Where was he? Why hadn’t he checked in? Why were my calls bouncing off his full mailbox? Was he still alive?
As the crisscrossed threads of espionage, destruction, and mass murder were untangled, Joe finally made his curtain call with stories of his past and present lives that I’d never heard before. I found plenty of reason not to trust him anymore.
Even he would agree. I think anyone would.
It’s not news that once trust is broken, it’s damned hard to superglue it back together. And for me it might take more time and belief in Joe’s confession than I actually had.
I still loved him. We’d shared a meal when he came to see our baby, Julie. We didn’t make any moves toward getting divorced that night, but we didn’t make love, either. Our relationship was now like the Cold War in the eighties between Russia and the USA, a strained but practical peace called détente.
Now, as I sat with my friends, I tried to put Joe out of my mind, secure in the knowledge that my nanny was looking after Julie and that the home front was safe. I ordered a favorite holiday drink, a hot buttered rum, and a rare steak sandwich with Uncle Maxie’s hot chili sauce.
My girlfriends were deep in criminal cross talk about Claire’s holiday overload of corpses, Cindy’s new cold case she’d exhumed from the San Francisco Chronicle’s dead letter files, and Yuki’s hoped-for favorable verdict for her client, an underage drug dealer. I was almost caught up when Yuki said, “Linds, I gotta ask. Any Christmas plans with Joe?”
And that’s when I was saved by the bell. My phone rang.
My friends said in unison, “NO PHONES.”
It was the rule, but I’d forgotten—again.
I reached into my bag for my phone, saying, “Look, I’m turning it off.”
But I saw that the call was from Rich Conklin, my partner and Cindy’s fiancé. She recognized his ring tone on my phone.
“There goes our party,” she said, tossing her napkin into the air.
“Linds?” said Conklin.
“Rich, can this wait? I’m in the middle—”
“It’s Kingfisher. He’s in a shoot-out with cops at the Vault. There’ve been casualties.”
“But—Kingfisher is dead.”
“Apparently, he’s been resurrected.”
My partner was double-parked and waiting for me outside Uncle Maxie’s, with the engine running and the flashers on. I got into the passenger seat of the unmarked car, and Richie handed me my vest. He’s that way, like a younger version of a big brother. He thinks of me, watches out for me, and I try to do the same for him.
He watched me buckle up, then he hit the siren and stepped on the gas.
We were about five minutes from the Vault, a class A nightclub on the second floor of a former Bank of America building.
“Fill me in,” I said to my partner.
“Call came in to 911 about ten minutes ago,” Conklin said as we tore up California Street. “A kitchen worker said he recognized Kingfisher out in the bar. He was still trying to convince 911 that it was an emergency when shots were fired inside the club.”
“Watch out on our right.”
Richie yanked the wheel hard left to avoid an indecisive panel truck, then jerked it hard right and took a turn onto Sansome.
“You okay?” he asked.
I had been known to get carsick in jerky high-speed chases when I wasn’t behind the wheel.
“I’m fine. Keep talking.”
My partner told me that a second witness reported to first officers that three men were talking to two women at the bar. One of the men yelled, “No one screws with the King.” Shots were fired. The women were killed.
“Caller didn’t leave his name.”
I was gripping both the dash and the door, and had both feet on imaginary brakes, but my mind was occupied with Kingfisher. He was a Mexican drug cartel boss, a psycho with a history of brutality and revenge, and a penchant for settling his scores personally.
Richie was saying, “Patrol units arrived as the shooters were attempting to flee through the front entrance. Someone saw the tattoo on the back of the hand of one of the shooters. I talked to Brady,” Conklin said, referring to our lieutenant. “If that shooter is Kingfisher and survives, he’s ours.”
I wanted the King on death row for the normal reasons. He was to the drug and murder trade as al-Baghdadi was to terrorism. But I also had personal reasons.
Earlier that year a cadre of dirty San Francisco cops from our division had taken down a number of drug houses for their own financial gain. One drug house in particular yielded a payoff of five to seven million in cash and drugs. Whether those cops knew it beforehand or not, the stolen loot belonged to Kingfisher—and he wanted it back.
The King took his revenge but was still short a big pile of dope and dollars.
So he turned his sights on me.
I was the primary homicide inspector on the dirty-cop case.
Using his own twisted logic, the King demanded that I personally recover and return his property. Or else.
It was a threat and a promise, and of course I couldn’t deliver.
From that moment on I had protection all day and night, every day and night, but protection isn’t enough when your tormentor is like a ghost. We had grainy photos and shoddy footage from cheap surveillance cameras on file. We had a blurry picture of a tattoo on the back of his left hand.
That was all.
After his threat I couldn’t cross the street from my apartment to my car without fear that Kingfisher would drop me dead in the street.
A week after the first of many threatening phone calls, the calls stopped. A report came in from the Mexican federal police saying that they had turned up the King’s body in a shallow grave in Baja. That’s what they said.
I had wondered then if the King was really dead. If the freaking nightmare was truly over.
I had just about convinced myself that my family and I were safe. Now the breaking news confirmed that my gut reaction had been right. Either the Mexican police had lied, or the King had tricked them with a dead doppelganger buried in the sand.
A few minutes ago the King had been identified by a kitchen worker at the Vault. If true, why had he surfaced again in San Francisco? Why had he chosen to show his face in a nightclub filled with people? Why shoot two women inside that club? And my number one question: Could we bring him in alive and take him to trial?
Please, God. Please.
Our car radio was barking, crackling, and squealing at a high pitch as cars were directed to the Vault, in the middle of the block on Walnut Street. Cruisers and ambulances screamed past us as Conklin and I closed in on the scene. I badged the cop at the perimeter, and immediately after, Rich backed our car into a gap in the pack of law enforcement vehicles, parking it across the street from the Vault.
The Vault was built of stone block. It had two centered large glass doors, now shattered, with a half-circular window across the doorframe. Flanking the doors were two tall windows, capped with demilune windows, glass also shot out.
Shooters inside the Vault were using the granite doorframe as a barricade as they leaned out and fired on the uniformed officers positioned behind their car doors.
Conklin and I got out of our car with our guns drawn and crouched beside our wheel wells. Adrenaline whipped my heart into a gallop. I watched everything with clear eyes, and yet my mind flooded with memories of past shoot-outs. I had been shot and almost died. All three of my partners had been shot, one of them fatally.
And now I had a baby at home.
A cop at the car to my left shouted, “Christ!”
Her gun spun out of her hand and she grabbed her shoulder as she dropped to the asphalt. Her partner ran to her, dragged her toward the rear of the car, and called in, “Officer down.” Just then SWAT arrived in force with a small caravan of SUVs and a ballistic armored transport vehicle as big as a bus. The SWAT commander used his megaphone, calling to the shooters, who had slipped back behind the fortresslike walls of the Vault.
“All exits are blocked. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Toss out the guns, now.”
The answer to the SWAT commander was a fusillade of gunfire that pinged against steel chassis. SWAT hit back with automatic weapons, and two men fell out of the doorway onto the pavement.
The shooting stopped, leaving an echoing silence.
- On Sale
- Jul 5, 2016
- Page Count
- 144 pages