By Maxine Paetro
Read by January LaVoy
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Lindsay Boxer is pregnant at last! But her work doesn’t slow for a second. When millionaire Chaz Smith is mercilessly gunned down, she discovers that the murder weapon is linked to the deaths of four of San Francisco’s most untouchable criminals. And it was taken from her own department’s evidence locker. Anyone could be the killer–even her closest friends.
Or a vicious killer?
Lindsay is called next to the most bizarre crime scene she’s ever seen: two bodiless heads elaborately displayed in the garden of a world-famous actor. Another head is unearthed in the garden, and Lindsay realizes that the ground could hide hundreds of victims.
You won’t know until the 11th hour
A reporter launches a series of vicious articles about the cases and Lindsay’s personal life is laid bare. But this time she has no one to turn to–especially not Joe. 11TH HOUR is the most shocking, most emotional, and most thrilling Women’s Murder Club novel ever.
Table of Contents
A Preview of 12th of Never
A Preview of 15th Affair
About the Authors
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A GOOD-LOOKING MAN in his forties sat in the back row of the auditorium at the exclusive Morton Academy of Music. He was wearing a blue suit, white shirt, and a snappy striped tie. His features were good, although not remarkable, but behind the blue tint of his glasses, he had very kind brown eyes.
He had come to the recital alone and had a passing thought about his wife and children at home, but then he refocused his attention on someone else's child.
Her name was Noelle Smith. She was eleven, a cute little girl and a very talented young violinist who had just performed a Bach gavotte with distinction.
Noelle knew she'd done well. She took a deep bow with a flourish, grinning as two hundred parents in the audience clapped and whistled.
As the applause died down, a gray-haired man in the third row popped up from his seat, buttoned his jacket, stepped out into the aisle, and headed toward the lobby.
That man was Chaz Smith, Noelle's father.
The man in the blue suit waited several seconds, then followed Smith, staying back a few paces, walking along the cream-tiled corridor, then taking a right past the pint-size water fountain and into the short spur of a hallway that ended at the men's room.
After entering the men's room, he looked beneath the stalls and saw Chaz Smith's Italian loafers under the door at the far right. Otherwise, the room was empty. In a minute or two, the room would fill.
The man in the blue suit moved quickly, picking up the large metal trash can next to the sink and placing it so that it blocked the exit.
Then he called out, "Mr. Smith? I'm sorry to disturb you, but it's about your car."
"What? Who is that?"
"Your car, Mr. Smith. You left your lights on."
The man in the blue suit removed his semiauto .22-caliber Ruger from his jacket pocket, screwed on the suppressor. Then he took out a tan-colored plastic bag, the kind you get at the supermarket, and pulled the bag over his gun.
Smith swore. Then the toilet flushed and Smith opened the door. His gray hair was mussed, white powder rimmed his nostrils, and his face showed fierce indignation.
"You're sure it's my car?" he said. "My wife will kill me if I'm not back in my seat for the finale."
"I'm really sorry to do this to your wife and child. Noelle played beautifully."
Smith looked puzzled—then he knew. He dropped the vial of coke, and his hand dove under his jacket. Too late.
The man in the blue suit lifted his bag-covered gun, pulled the trigger, and shot Chaz Smith twice between the eyes.
A LONG SECOND bloomed like a white flower in the blue-tiled room.
Smith stared at his killer, his blue eyes wide open, two bullet holes in his forehead weeping blood, a look of disbelief frozen on his face. He was still on his feet, but his heart had stopped.
Chaz Smith was dead and he knew it.
The shooter stared back at Smith, then reached out a hand and pushed him off his feet. The dead man fell into the stall, collapsing onto the seat, his head knocking once against the wall.
It was a perfect setting for the late Chaz Smith. Dead on the toilet, a fitting last pose for this crud.
"You deserved this. You deserved worse, you son of a bitch."
It had been a good kill, and now he had to get out.
He put the plastic bag containing the shell casings, the GSR, and the gun back into his jacket pocket and closed the stall door.
Then he carried the trash can out of the men's room and put it down so that it blocked the door from the outside. That would hold people off for a while, make them think that the men's room was temporarily closed.
The man in the blue suit heard a rush of sound. The auditorium doors had opened for the crowd. He headed back by way of the main hallway, turning left just as people poured into the lobby, chattering and laughing. None of them noticed him, but even if they had, they would never have connected him to the dead man.
There was a fire alarm box on the wall next to a door marked TEACHERS' LOUNGE.
Using his handkerchief to glove his hand, he opened the door to the box, lifted the hammer, broke the glass, and pulled the lever; the alarm bell shrilled.
Then he walked directly into the thick of the crowd.
Children were already starting to scream and run in circles in the lobby. Parents called out to their kids, took their hands or lifted them into their arms, and moved quickly toward the front doors.
The man went with the crowd, through the glass doors and out onto California Street. He kept going, turned onto a side street, passed Chaz Smith's Ferrari, and unlocked his scarred SUV parked right behind it.
A moment later, he cruised slowly past the school. All the good people—the kids and their parents—were facing the building, staring up at the roof, watching for smoke and flames.
They didn't know it, but they were all safer now.
Chaz Smith was only one of his targets. The media had started tracking this shooter's kills—drug dealers, all of them. One of the papers had given him a nickname and it had stuck.
Now they all called him Revenge.
Fire engines approached from Thirty-Second Avenue, and the man called Revenge stepped on the gas. Not a good time to get stuck in a traffic jam.
He had shopping to do before he went home to his family.
THE HOUSE OF HEADS
YUKI CASTELLANO OPENED her eyes. She was in her lover's arms, in her mother's bed. If she was dreaming, it was a pretty funny dream.
She grinned to herself, almost seeing her dead mom sitting in the green slipper chair by the dresser, a look of disapproval on her face—and, as sometimes happened, her mother's voice got into her head.
Yuki-eh, you want to have hus-band. Not lover.
Mom. Mom, he's so great.
He so married.
Jackson Brady stirred beside her, pulled her toward him, lifted her hair, and kissed the side of her neck.
She said, "It's… early… you can sleep for another…"
Yuki sighed as Brady ran his hands over her naked body, started her engine, and revved it up.
Pillows went over the side, blankets bunched up at the footboard, and he fitted himself inside her. She cried out and he said, "I've got you."
He did. He had her good.
Gasping, they bit at each other, moved together in a race that they both won. They finished entangled in bedding and each other, both of them sweating, satisfied, amazed.
"Oh my God." Yuki sighed. "That was… just… okay."
Brady laughed. "You're too much."
He kissed her again, put his fingers in the thick black curtain of her hair, watched as the strands fell through his fingers.
"I have to go," he said softly.
"Not without coffee."
He gave her bottom a smack and got out of bed. Yuki turned on her side and watched Brady walking away from her. She took in his perfect body, his pale hair hanging almost to his shoulders, the simple Celtic cross tattooed on his back.
When the bathroom door closed, Yuki got out of bed and put on a silk robe the color of watermelon, a gift from Brady.
She stepped over the clothes they'd dropped on the floor last night, took one of his clean shirts out of a drawer, put it on the green chair. She listened to the shower and thought about Brady being in it.
Tsutta sakana ni esa wa yaranai, said Keiko Castellano. A man won't feed the fish he caught.
Shut up, Mom. I love him.
In the kitchen, Yuki opened the cupboard, got out the coffee beans, filled the coffeemaker with water. She put bread in the toaster.
It wasn't even 6:00 a.m. She didn't have to be at her desk in the DA's office until nine. But she didn't mind getting up with Brady. She wanted to do it, because, jeez, she loved him. It was almost embarrassing how much, but God, she was happy. Maybe for the first time in her adult life.
Nah, no maybe about it. This was definitely the happiest she'd been in twenty years.
Brady came into the kitchen. His tie was knotted, shoulder holster buckled over his blue shirt, and he was shrugging into his jacket. He looked worried, and she knew he was already working on the case that had been tearing at his guts.
She poured coffee, put buttered toast on a plate.
He stirred a lot of sugar into the coffee mug, took a sip. He took another, then put the cup down.
"I can't eat, sweetie. I have to—Christ, I have a meeting in fifteen minutes. You okay? I'll call you later."
He might not call her later.
It didn't matter. They were good.
She kissed him good-bye at the door and told him she hoped that he'd be safe. That she'd see him soon, whole and well.
She hugged him a little bit hard, a little too long. He tousled her hair and said good-bye.
THE SUN WAS still in bed when I parked my Explorer across the street from the Hall of Justice, home to the DA's office, the criminal court, and the southern division of the SFPD.
I badged security, went through the metal detector, and headed across the empty garnet-colored-marble lobby to the staircase and from there to the Homicide squad room on the fourth floor.
Lieutenant Jackson Brady had called us together for an early meeting but hadn't said why. I'd been working for Brady for ten months and it still felt wrong.
Brady was a good cop. I'd seen him perform acts of bravery and maybe even heroism—but I didn't like his management style. He was rigid. He isolated himself. And when I'd been lieutenant, I'd done the job a different way.
My partner, Rich Conklin, looked up from his computer as I came through the gate. I loved Richie—he was like a little brother who looked out for me. He was not just a fine cop but a sterling person, and we'd had a great couple of years working Homicide together. What I appreciated about Conklin was how, in times of high stress, he always kept a steady hand on the wheel.
Our desks were pushed together at the front of the squad room so that we worked face-to-face. I hung my jacket over the back of my chair said, "What's going on?"
"Lindsay, all he said was, 'I'll tell you when everyone is here.' "
I showed my childishness by making a lot of noise banging my chair against the desk. It took me about a minute to get it out of my system. Conklin watched me patiently.
"I haven't had coffee," I said.
Conklin offered me his. Then he threw paper clips at me until I calmed down.
At 6:30 a.m. the Homicide squad was present, all eight of us, sitting at our desks under the fluorescent lights that made us look embalmed.
Brady came out of his hundred square feet of glass-walled office and went directly to the whiteboard at the front of the room. He yanked down a screen, revealing 8 x 10s of three high-ranking bad-news drug dealers, all of them dead.
Then he stuck up photos of a fourth dead man—both his mug shot and morgue shot.
It was Chaz Smith. And his death was news.
Smith was a notorious scumbag who lived his upscale life in Noe Valley, passing as a retired businessman. He made a good living brokering the sales of millions of dollars in high-grade cocaine, delivering it to other dealers who sold on the street.
Smith had avoided capture for years because he was stealthy and smart and no one had ever caught him stopped next to another car on the shoulder of some highway transacting business through the window of his Ferrari.
Judging from the two bullet holes in his head, I figured it was safe to say he'd made his last deal.
Brady said, "Smith was at his little girl's music recital yesterday afternoon. He went to the men's room to have a snort, then took two shots through his frontal lobe. He was armed. He never got his gun into his hand."
Smith's death meant one less heinous dirtbag preying on the weak, and he'd been taken out without any taxpayer expense. I would have thought Narcotics would be dealing with this, not Homicide, but something was different about this murder. Something that had gotten to our lieutenant.
Brady took his job seriously. He didn't waste words. And yet right now he seemed to be skirting the reason he'd brought us onto the case.
I said, "Why us, Lieutenant?"
"Narcotics has requested our help," he said. "I know. We've got more than enough active cases, but here's the thing—Chaz Smith was taken out by a twenty-two that was stolen from our evidence room, one of six twenty-twos that have disappeared in the last few months. The shooter had access to SFPD floors. And the evidence log was deleted."
There was some gasping and shuffling in the room. Brady went on.
"There were no witnesses to Smith's murder, no evidence was left behind, and the fire alarm was pulled to create confusion.
"It was a professional hit, the fourth in a string of slick hits on dealers. It points to something—ah, shit," Brady said. "I'm not going to finesse it for you.
"I think the shooter is a cop."
CINDY THOMAS WAS walking down the long slope of Divisadero, with its crystal view over the rooftops all the way out to the dawn-lit bay. It was a fantastic sight that normally gave her a real rush to the heart, but Cindy wasn't sightseeing. Wasn't walking for the exercise either.
She was struggling with a conflict, a big one, and she hoped that by airing out her brain, she would get some clarity.
Her fiancé, Rich Conklin, had woken her at something like five thirty this morning when he'd gotten up to go to work. He'd been sitting on the side of the bed tying his shoelaces in the dark and he'd said, "We'll get used to this kind of thing when we have kids."
This was Rich's third comment about having kids in the past couple of weeks.
She'd said to him, "Hey, mister. What's the rush?"
"It's better to do it while we can still keep up with little ones, ya know?"
He'd pulled the covers over her shoulders, kissed her, said, "Go back to sleep," and she'd tried, but she'd failed, absolutely.
At six thirty she'd dressed and gone out for what she'd thought would be a short walk. She had now been walking for over an hour and was no closer to an answer than she'd been when she'd gone out the door.
An investigative reporter with the Chronicle, Cindy had been working the crime desk for six years. She'd earned a seat at editorial meetings and a lot of respect for her talent and her tenacity. She was well positioned for top management and a big, big future. But this job that she loved was always at risk. If she had children, she wouldn't be able to work the kind of hours she needed to; she'd never be able to compete.
Richie was handsome, sweet, and she loved him. A few months ago, he'd surprised her with his mother's diamond ring, dropped to one knee in front of the altar in Grace Cathedral, and proposed to her—like they say, in front of God and everyone.
Seriously, what more could a girl want?
As it turned out, she wanted a lot.
If she told Richie how she felt, maybe he would change his mind about her. Maybe she'd break his beautiful heart.
When Cindy got to the stop sign at the corner of Divisadero and Vallejo, she glanced at her watch and realized that if she didn't get a cab, she'd be late to work.
She got out her cell phone, and, as if taking out the phone had caused it, a rush of unmarked police cars and cruisers blew past her and turned onto Vallejo.
She looked down Vallejo at the impressive row of megamansions on each side of the magnolia-lined street and saw that the cop cars had stopped a few blocks away, right in front of the infamous Ellsworth compound.
Something had happened at that house. And if there really was a reason for everything, then she'd walked four miles this morning so that she would be the first reporter on the scene.
Cindy broke into a run.
THE ELLSWORTH COMPOUND was an immense and fanciful brick mansion built in the late 1800s, considered one of the most spectacular homes in Pacific Heights. A vine-covered wall fronted the house, and four attached buildings, built as servants' quarters, wrapped around the corner of Vallejo and went halfway down Ellsworth Place.
The compound had a colorful history of political intrigue and sex scandals going back over a hundred and twenty years.
But as Cindy ran along Vallejo toward the scrum of squad cars bunched in front of the mansion, she was thinking about the recent history of the house.
Ten years earlier, the Oscar-winning actor and legendary womanizer Harry Chandler had bought the Ellsworth compound and moved in with his glamorous wife, fashion designer to the stars Cecily Broad Chandler.
A year later, Cece Chandler simply disappeared.
Cindy had been an editorial assistant at the paper at the time, but she followed this gripping story over the next eighteen months as Harry Chandler was investigated, then tried for his wife's murder.
Chandler had pleaded not guilty, and because his wife's body was never found, the prosecution couldn't prove its case.
No body, no crime.
Harry Chandler was exonerated.
He had kept the Ellsworth compound as an investment while he lived on a yacht at a country club marina a few miles away.
Cindy had seen Chandler a couple of times at big social events and benefits. Looking at a man who had made so many famous films, you couldn't know if he was a killer or if he just played one on the big screen.
Now, blowing hard from her run, Cindy walked the last hundred yards to the front entrance of the Ellsworth compound, saw that it had already been cordoned off by uniformed officers. There was a crowd in front of the gate, tourists who had clearly come off a red bus marked STAR HOME TOURS.
Cindy went up to a cop she knew, Joe Sorbera, and asked him what was going on.
"You don't want to get me in trouble, Cindy. Do you? Because you know I can't tell you anything."
A young man wearing a Boston University sweatshirt came up next to Cindy and said, "Chandler thought he'd get away with it again."
Cindy introduced herself to the BU guy, said that she was a reporter, and asked the tourist to speak into her camera phone.
"The case of Cecily Chandler is a perfect example of how privileged people get over on the system," the young man said. "Harry Chandler had a famous defense attorney for a lawyer, a slick talker who probably played tennis with the judge."
Cindy shut off her phone, said, "Thanks," then muttered to herself, "for less than nothing."
A Channel Two news truck was turning onto Vallejo as two uniformed cops put out wooden barricades to block it.
Walking backward, Cindy tried again to get information from Sorbera.
"Can't you give me something, Joe, anything? I can quote you or keep you off the record, whatever you want. Please. Any detail will do."
"Stand back, Cindy. Thatta girl. Thank you."
Officer Sorbera stretched out his arms and corralled the crowd behind a barricade, letting the unmarked car Richie was driving go through.
I WAS AT my desk when the 911 call came in at 7:20 and was relayed to the squad room by dispatcher May Hess, our self-anointed Queen of the Batphone.
Hess told me, "A woman of few words called and reported two people dead at the Ellsworth compound.
"She sounded for real," Hess continued. "She said there were no intruders in the house and she was in no danger. Just 'Two people are dead.' Then she hung up. I called back twice but got an answering machine both times. I put out a call."
I listened to the 911 tape. The caller had a British accent and sounded scared. In fact, the fear in her voice and whatever she wasn't saying were more alarming than what she said.
Brady listened to the tape, then tagged me and my partner to take a run out to Pacific Heights.
"Just do the prelim," he said. "I'll assign a primary when you bring back a report."
Yes, sir. Forthwith, sir.
At 7:35 a.m., Conklin braked our car in front of the Ellsworth compound. Four cruisers had gotten there before us and there was also a red double-decker bus parked parallel to the curb. A gang of maybe twenty tourists were taking pictures from behind barricades across the street.
I had known the Ellsworth compound was on the historic-house tour, but I guess when Harry Chandler bought it for umpteen million dollars ten years ago, the compound went on the stargazing tour as well.
I got out of the car and approached Officer Joe Sorbera, who had been the first on the scene. He took out his notebook and said to me, "I got here at seven ten, spoke to Janet Worley, the caretaker, through the intercom. There's the box next to the gate. She said she was not in any danger and that the victims, two of them, were dead. Definitely dead were her exact words."
The uniformed cop continued. "Lieutenant Brady told me to cordon off a perimeter and to wait for you, Sergeant. He told me not to go into the house."
"Has the ME been called?"
"Yes, ma'am. And CSU is on the way. I took some photos of the crowd."
"Good job, Sorbera."
I looked at the mob, saw it was thickening. Cars were backed up on Vallejo and were being detoured around Divisadero. Because of the traffic, and a million Tweets and YouTube posts by tourists, the scene would be red-flagged by the press.
Death plus celebrity was a heady news combination. The media was going to train its brights on this house, and any law enforcement errors would be documented for posterity.
I told Sorbera to set up a media liaison and a command post on Pierce, then I went to where Conklin was examining the front gate to the compound.
The wrought-iron gate was set into a ten-foot-high ivy-clad brick wall that gave the house total privacy from the street. The metalwork looked old enough to be original, and the lock had recently been forced. I saw fresh cuts in old iron.
"It was pried open with a metal tool, not a bolt cutter," Conklin said.
Joe Sorbera said there were two victims, definitely dead. Who were they? Was Harry Chandler involved?
Brady had assigned us to do the preliminary workup, meaning we had to determine where law enforcement and forensics could walk on the scene without destroying evidence. We were charged with taking pictures, making sketches, and forming an opinion.
After that, we'd turn the scene over to the primary investigator on the case.
I gloved up and pushed at the gate, which swung open on well-oiled hinges. A stone walkway crossed a mossy grass lawn and led past a couple of flower beds, one on each side of the steps, to the ornate front door.
The door showed no sign of forced entry. Conklin lifted the brass door knocker, banged it against the strike plate.
I called out, "Janet Worley, this is the police."
THE PETITE WOMAN who opened the door was white, late forties, five three, one hundred and ten pounds, wearing leggings under a floral-print smock. Her expression was strained and her mascara was smudged under her eyes. Her nails were bitten to the finger pads.
I showed her my badge, said, "I'm Sergeant Lindsay Boxer. This is my partner, Inspector Richard Conklin."
She said her name was Janet Worley.
Conklin asked, "How are you doing, Ms. Worley?"
"Horribly, thank you."
"It's okay. We're here now," Rich said.
Conklin is good with people, especially women. In fact, he's known for it.
I wanted to learn everything at once, which was what always happened when I started working a case. I looked around the foyer as Conklin talked to Janet Worley and took notes. The entranceway was huge, with a twenty-foot-high ceiling and plaster moldings; to my right, a wide and winding staircase led to the upper floors.
Everything was tidy, not a rug fringe out of place.
Janet Worley was saying to Conklin, "My husband and I are just the caretakers, you understand. This house is thirty thousand square feet and we have a schedule. We've been cleaning the Ellsworth Place side of the house over the past three days."
Looking through the foyer, I thought the house seemed gloomy, what you would expect from a relic of the Victorian age. Had we stepped into a Masterpiece Theatre episode? Was Agatha Christie lurking in the wings?
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- May 7, 2012
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