Main 19th Christmas (Women's Murder Club)

19th Christmas (Women's Murder Club)

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About the Authors

JAMES PATTERSON is one of the best-known and biggest-selling writers of all time. His books have sold in excess of 385 million copies worldwide. He is the author of some of the most popular series of the past two decades – the Alex Cross, Women’s Murder Club, Detective Michael Bennett and Private novels – and he has written many other number one bestsellers including romance novels and stand-alone thrillers.

James is passionate about encouraging children to read. Inspired by his own son who was a reluctant reader, he also writes a range of books for young readers including the Middle School, I F; unny, Treasure Hunters, Dog Diaries and Max Einstein series. James has donated millions in grants to independent bookshops and has been the most borrowed author of adult fiction in UK libraries for the past twelve years in a row. He lives in Florida with his wife and son.

MAXINE PAETRO has collaborated with James Patterson on the bestselling Women’s Murder Club, Private and Confessions series. She lives with her husband in New York State.

Also by James Patterson


Along Came a Spider • Kiss the Girls • Jack and Jill • Cat and Mouse • Pop Goes the Weasel • Roses are Red • Violets are Blue • Four Blind Mice • The Big Bad Wolf • London Bridges • Mary, Mary • Cross • Double Cross • Cross Country • Alex Cross’s Trial (with Richard DiLallo) • I, Alex Cross • Cross Fire • Kill Alex Cross • Merry Christmas, Alex Cross • Alex Cross, Run • Cross My Heart • Hope to Die • Cross Justice • Cross the Line • The People vs. Alex Cross • Target: Alex Cross • Criss Cross


Step on a Crack (with Michael Ledwidge) • Run for Your Life (with Michael Ledwidge) • Worst Case (with Michael Ledwidge) •Tick Tock (with Michael Ledwidge) • I, Michael Bennett (with Michael Ledwidge) • Gone (with Michael Ledwidge) •Burn (with Michael Ledwidge) • Alert (with Michael Ledwidge) •Bullseye (with Michael Ledwidge) • Haunted (with James O. Born) •Ambush (with James O. Born)


Private (with Maxine Paetro) • Private London (with Mark Pearson) • Private Games (with Mark Sullivan) • Private: No. 1 Suspect (with Maxine Paetro) • Private Berlin (with Mark Sullivan) • Private Down Under (with Michael White) • Private L.A. (with Mark Sullivan) • Private India (with Ashwin Sanghi) • Private Vegas (with Maxine Paetro) • Private Sydney (with Kathryn Fox) • Private Paris (with Mark Sullivan) • The Games (with Mark Sullivan) • Private Delhi (with Ashwin Sanghi) • Private Princess (with Rees Jones)


NYPD Red (with Marshall Karp) • NYPD Red 2 (with Marshall Karp) • NYPD Red 3 (with Marshall Karp) • NYPD Red 4 (with Marshall Karp) • NYPD Red 5 (with Marshall Karp)


Never Never (with Candice Fox) • Fifty Fifty (with Candice Fox) • Liar Liar (with Candice Fox) • Hush Hush (with Candice Fox)


Instinct (with Howard Roughan, previously published as Murder Games) • Killer Instinct (with Howard Roughan)


The Thomas Berryman Number • Hide and Seek • Black Market • The Midnight Club • Sail (with Howard Roughan) • Swimsuit (with Maxine Paetro) • Don’t Blink (with Howard Roughan) • Postcard Killers (with Liza Marklund) • Toys (with Neil McMahon) • Now You See Her (with Michael Ledwidge) • Kill Me If You Can (with Marshall Karp) • Guilty Wives (with David Ellis) • Zoo (with Michael Ledwidge) • Second Honeymoon (with Howard Roughan) • Mistress (with David Ellis) • Invisible (with David Ellis) • Truth or Die (with Howard Roughan) • Murder House (with David Ellis) • Woman of God (with Maxine Paetro) • Humans, Bow Down (with Emily Raymond) • The Black Book (with David Ellis) • The Store (with Richard DiLallo) • Texas Ranger (with Andrew Bourelle) • The President is Missing (with Bill Clinton) • Revenge (with Andrew Holmes) • Juror No. 3 (with Nancy Allen) • The First Lady (with Brendan DuBois) • The Chef (with Max DiLallo) • Out of Sight (with Brendan DuBois) • Unsolved (with David Ellis) • The Inn (with Candice Fox) • The Warning (with Robison Wells)


Torn Apart (with Hal and Cory Friedman) • The Murder of King Tut (with Martin Dugard) • All-American Murder (with Alex Abramovich and Mike Harvkey)


Murder, Interrupted (with Alex Abramovich and Christopher Charles) • Home Sweet Murder (with Andrew Bourelle and Scott Slaven) • Murder Beyond the Grave (with Andrew Bourelle and Christopher Charles)


Triple Threat (with Max DiLallo and Andrew Bourelle) • Kill or Be Killed (with Maxine Paetro, Rees Jones, Shan Serafin and Emily Raymond) • The Moores are Missing (with Loren D. Estleman, Sam Hawken and Ed Chatterton) • The Family Lawyer (with Robert Rotstein, Christopher Charles and Rachel Howzell Hall) • Murder in Paradise (with Doug Allyn, Connor Hyde and Duane Swierczynski) • The House Next Door (with Susan DiLallo, Max DiLallo and Brendan DuBois) • 13-Minute Murder (with Shan Serafin, Christopher Farnsworth and Scott Slaven)

For more information about James Patterson’s novels, visit

Authors’ Note

Part of the joy of writing a long-running series is the opportunity to watch the characters develop lives of their own. Just like all of us, the Women’s Murder Club (and those they care about) have a present—and a past. In 18th Abduction, the first scenes and the very last scenes take place in the present day, but the main story takes place five years earlier, before Julie Molinari was born. We referenced this time line shortly after the Prologue, but probably didn’t make it clear enough. We heard from some readers asking after Julie. Thank you for caring about this character so very deeply. Read on for more about Julie, and all your other favorites.


* * *


IT WAS FOUR nights before Christmas Eve, and the city of San Francisco had decked the halls, houses, and grand public edifices in a sparkling, merry Christmas display.

My husband, Joe, our three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Julie, our aging border collie, Martha, and I had piled into the family car for a tour of the lights.

Julie was wearing a red leotard with a tutu and a blinking tiara. The antlers she had assigned to Martha had been rejected by our doggy, so Joe wore them to keep the peace and Julie approved. I was wearing the sweater my baby fashion coach had picked out of a catalog—Santa and his sleigh sailing over a cheesy grinning moon. It was so tacky it was hilarious.

Joe said to me, “Lindsay, give me a C.”

I did, perfectly pitched.

As we headed down Jackson Street, we sang “Jingle Bells,” and then Martha joined in—definitely off-key.

Dear Joe knew the way to guide our sleigh, and we headed toward Cow Hollow, parked, and walked along Union Street to see the Fantasy of Lights. The Victorian buildings, both shops and homes, were twinkling red, green, and white. Joe carried Julie on his shoulders, and I laughed out loud when she parted his antlers to get a better view of the window displays.

Julie clapped her hands at the sight of the snowmen guarding the entrance to Santaland, and I was elated. This was one of the wonderful things about motherhood, watching Julie make Christmas memories.

“Where to next?” Joe asked Julie. “The fishing boats will be all lit up from the Holiday Lights Boat Parade.”

“Chocolate factory!” she shouted from her top-of-Daddy seat.

And we were off to Ghirardelli Square, near Fisherman’s Wharf, to see the fifty-foot-tall tree decorated with giant chocolate bars, Julie’s idea of the prettiest Christmas tree in the whole wide world.

Yuki Castellano was in the kitchen, and there was not a holiday decoration in sight. She stirred the guacamole and then set a tray of brownies in the oven while her husband, Jackson Brady, mixed up a pitcher of margaritas.

“Ah love to see you giggly,” he teased in his Southern accent.

Yuki giggled just hearing that. From her Japanese mother and her Italian-born American-soldier daddy, she had inherited a ticklish funny bone, no tolerance for alcohol, and a decided weakness for tequila.

“You just want to take advantage of me,” she told her husband.

“I do. My first night off in I don’t know how long, and I think we should trash the bedroom.”

Yuki felt the same way. She’d just finished prosecuting a case from hell, and Brady had been working overtime as a homicide lieutenant and doubling as the acting police chief. They’d barely had time for sleep, let alone each other—and it was almost Christmas.

She said, “No phones, okay? Not a single phone call. And that means both of us, agreed?”

“Say the word and I’ll fill up the sink and drown those dang things in it.”

She said, “The word,” laughed again, and popped open a bag of chips.

“Plate alla that, will you? I’ll grab the liquor.”

They headed for the bedroom with drinks, chips, and dip. They’d chosen to screen an action classic that some considered the greatest Christmas story ever told. Yuki had never seen Die Hard and was wondering now if she’d ever get to see it. Odds were she and Brady were going to be naked before the opening credits rolled.

“Don’t start without me,” she said. “I’ll be right there.”

She went back to the kitchen and turned off the oven. Brownies could wait.

Cindy Thomas and her live-in boyfriend, Rich Conklin, stood on the tree-lined path that divided Civic Center Plaza. The attractions of the seasonal Winter Park were in full swing.

Up ahead, centered on the path, City Hall was alight in wide, horizontal red and green bands; the brilliant Christmas tree in front of the impressive old granite building pointed up to the magnificent dome.

Rich squeezed Cindy’s hand and she looked up at his dear face.

She said, “Are you going to forgive me?”

“For us not going out to see my family?”

“I wish I could, Richie. Your pops always makes me feel like a movie star. But I’ve got that interview tomorrow.”

“And a deadline,” he said. “You think I don’t know the drill by now?”

“You. Are. The best.”

“Don’t I know it,” he said. He grinned at her and she stood up on her toes to kiss him. He pulled her in and made a corny thing of it, dipping her for effect, making her laugh between the dramatic rows of trees. People cut around them, taking pictures of the view.

Cindy said, “Hang on.”

She ran up ahead to the couple who had just taken a photo of City Hall.

“Sorry,” she said to the surprised couple. “I wonder if you might have caught me and my man in your pictures?”

The woman said, “Let’s see.” She flicked through the photos on her phone and squealed, “Hey. Lookee here.”

She showed the phone to Cindy, who beamed and said, “Can you send it to me, please?”

“My pleasure,” the woman said. She took Cindy’s email address and said, “There you go. Merry Christmas.”

Impulsively, Cindy threw her arms around the stranger, who hugged her back.

“Merry Christmas to you, too. Both of you,” Cindy said, and she ran back to her sweetheart.

“Rich, look.” She showed him the photo on her phone.

“Instant Christmas card. Beautiful. I’ll send it to my family. And now let’s go home, Cindy. Home.”

Claire Washburn had slung her carry-on bag over one shoulder and her computer case over the other and was forging ahead toward the gate. She and her husband, Edmund, were at SFO, which was decorated for the season with over three million LED bulbs—not that Claire took any notice. She turned to look for her husband and saw him far behind, gazing out at the light show.

She called, “Edmund, give me one of those bags.”

“I’ve got them, Claire. Just slow down a little so I can keep up.”

“Sorry,” she said, walking back to him. “Why is it you can never find a luggage trolley when you want one?”

He made a face. “You want me to state the obvious?”

The airport was always busy, and it was even busier today, with mobs of people flying out to spend the holidays with relatives in far-flung places.

It was a working holiday for Claire. As San Francisco’s chief medical examiner, she had been asked by National University in San Diego to teach an extra-credit course for students in the master’s program in forensic medicine.

She was glad to do it.

The quick course would be held during Christmas break and was the perfect amount of time for a case study of a crime Claire had worked years ago. The body of a young boy had been discovered in a suitcase chained to a concrete block in a lake miles from home. Claire’s work on that case had helped the police solve the crime.

Along with giving her a nice paycheck, the City of San Diego was putting Claire and Edmund up at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, a resort-style hotel with a gym and a gorgeous pool. It promised to be a great respite from the somewhat harsher NoCal winter.

Edmund had resisted going with Claire on this trip. He had made plans with friends from the San Diego Symphony to lay down a track for a CD they were working on. But Claire knew the real reason he didn’t want to come: Edmund was becoming more introverted by the year, and he just wanted to stay home.

Claire had told him, “Edmund, it’s a chance for us to be together with a heated pool and room service. Your mom is dying to babysit her youngest grandchild over Christmas, and Rosie wants to be babied. Tell me I’m wrong.”

He couldn’t honestly do that.

Edmund knew how much Claire loved talking to students, encouraging them and sharing her experience on the Thad Caine case. It would be a needed lift to her spirits, and if Claire wanted his company, he couldn’t say no.

Edmund saw a lone luggage trolley by the newsstand and he grabbed it.

He called to Claire, “I got wheels. We are definitely not going to miss our flight.”

Part One

* * *



JULIAN LAMBERT WAS an ex-con in his midthirties, sweet-faced, with thinning, light-colored hair. He was wearing black jeans and a down jacket as red as a Santa Claus suit.

As he sat on a bench in Union Square waiting for his phone call, he took in the view of the Christmas tree at the center of the plaza. The tree was really something, an eighty-three-foot-tall cone of green lights with a star on top. It was ringed by pots of pointy red flowers and surrounded by a red-painted picket fence.

That tree was secure. It wasn’t going anywhere. But he would be, and soon.

It was lunchtime, and all around him consumers hurried out of stores weighed down with shopping bags, evidence of money pissed away in an orgy of spending. Julian wondered idly how these dummies were going to pay for their commercially fabricated gifting sprees. Take out a loan on the old credit card and worry about it next month or not worry about debt at all. Julian’s phone vibrated, almost catching him by surprise.

He fished it out of his pocket, connected, and said his name, and Mr. Loman, the boss, said, “Hello, Julian. Are we alone?”

“Completely, Mr. Loman.” Julian knew that he was meant only to listen, and that was fine with him. He felt both excited and soothed as Loman explained just enough of the plan to allow Julian to salivate at the possibilities.

A heist.

A huge one.

“The plan has many moving parts,” Loman said, “but if it goes off as designed, by this time next year, you, Julian, will be living the life you’ve only dreamed of.” Julian dreamed of the Caribbean, or Ipanema, or Saint-Tropez. He was picturing a life of blue skies and sunshine with a side of leggy young things in string bikinis when Loman asked if he had any questions.

“I’m good to go, boss.”

“Then get moving. No slipups.”

“You can bank on me,” said Julian, and he was glad that Loman barked back, “Twenty-two fake dive, slot right long, on one.”

Julian cracked up. He had played ball in college, which was a very long time ago, but he still had moves. He clicked off the call, sized up the vehicular and foot traffic, and chose his route.

It was go time.


JULIAN SAW HIS run as a punt return.

He charged into an elderly man in a shearling coat, sending the man sprawling. He snatched up the old guy’s shopping bag, said, “Thanks very much, you knucklehead.”

What counted was that he had the ball.

With the bag tucked under his arm, Julian streaked across Geary, dodging and weaving through the crowd, heading toward the intersection at Stockton. He sprinted across the street and charged along the broad, windowed side of Neiman Marcus where a Christmas tree laden with lights and ornaments rose forty feet into the rotunda. Revolving glass doors split a crowd of shoppers into long lines of colorful dots going inside or filing out onto the sidewalk accompanied by Christmas music: “I played my drum for him, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.” It was all so crazy.

Julian was still running.

He yelled, “Coming through! No brakes!” He wove around the merry shoppers, sideswiped the UPS man loading his truck, and, with knees and elbows pumping, bag secured under his arm, dashed up the Geary Street straightaway and veered left.

Another crowd of shoppers loaded with shopping bags spilled out of Valentino. Julian shot his left hand out to stiff-arm a young dude, who fell against a woman in a fake-fur coat. Bags and packages clattered to the sidewalk. Julian high-stepped around and over the obstacles, easy-breezy, then broke into a sprint again and turned left on Grant Avenue.

Julian chortled when the oncoming pedestrians scattered as he headed toward them; he gave the finger to a wiry guy who yelled at him. He ran on, knocking slowpokes out of his way and shouting, “Merry flippin’ Christmas, one and all.” God, this was fun. He couldn’t see the goalposts, but he knew that he was scoring, big-time.

Julian’s long strides ate up the pavement, and despite the blood pounding in his ears, he listened for sirens. He still had the ball, but the clock was ticking. He glanced over his shoulder and saw, finally, two people who looked like cops running up behind him.

He was winded, but he didn’t stop. Show me what you’ve got, suckers. He put on another surge of speed as he headed toward Dragon’s Gate and the Chinatown district. He slowed only when a lady cop’s authoritative voice shouted, “Freeze or I’ll shoot!”

He thought, In this crowd? I don’t think so. And he kept running.


MY PARTNER, INSPECTOR Richard Conklin, was running out of time, and he needed my help.

He said desperately, “Would be nice if she’d tell you what she wants.”

“Where would the fun be in that?” I said, grinning. “You figuring it out is kind of the point.”

“I guess. Make our own history.”

“Sure. That’s an idea. Romantic, Rich.”

We had slipped out of the Hall of Justice to do some lunchtime Christmas shopping in San Francisco’s Union Square because of its concentration of upscale shops. Richie wanted to get something special for Cindy. He wanted his gift to make her speechless, but when he asked her for a hint about what she wanted, she’d offered practical ideas. A multiport device charger. New cross-trainers. A gel-foam seat for her car. He grinned, thinking about her.

Rich had wanted to marry Cindy from pretty much the moment he met her. And she loved him fiercely. But. There’s always a but, right?

Rich was from a big family, and while he was still in his thirties, he’d always wanted kids. Lots of them. Cindy was an only child with a hot career—one that took her to murder scenes in bad places in the dead of night. And Rich wasn’t the only crime fighter in the relationship; Cindy had solved more than one homicide, had even shot at and been shot by a crafty female serial killer who’d become the subject of Cindy’s bestselling true-crime book.

All this to say, Cindy was in no hurry to start a family.

It was a conflict of priorities that in the past had broken up my two great friends, and it was tremendous that they were back together now. But as far as I knew, the conflict remained unresolved.

Rich pointed out an emerald pendant around the neck of a mannequin in the window of a high-end jewelry shop. “Do you like that?”

Just as I said, “Beautiful, Rich. And very Christmasy,” I heard a scream behind us.

I whipped around to see a man in a red down jacket running hard, bowling down shoppers. He closed in and then passed us, yelling, “Coming through! No brakes!” He collided with a group of people walking out of Neiman’s. They scattered and he just kept going.

An elderly man in a shearling coat was hobbling down the street in pursuit, blood streaming out of his nose. He cried, “Stop, thief! Someone stop him!”

Rich and I are homicide cops, and this was no murder. But we were there. We took off after the man in the red down jacket who was running with all the power and determination of a pro tailback.

I yelled, “Freeze or I’ll shoot!” But the runner kept going.


I DIDN’T TRUST myself to run full out. My doctor had recently benched me for two months because I was anemic. So I slowed to a walk and yelled to my partner, “You go! I’ll call it in.”

I got on my phone and summed up the situation for dispatch in a few words: There had been a robbery, a grab-and-dash. Conklin was pursuing the suspect on foot, running east on Geary Street between Stockton and Grant Avenue.

“Suspect is wearing a red jacket, dark pants. We need backup and an ambulance,” I said and gave my location.

I trotted back to the elderly man with the bloody nose who was panting and leaning against a building.

He said, “Are you the police?”

“Yes. I’m Sergeant Boxer. Tell me what happened,” I said.

He said, “I was minding my own business when that guy in the puffy red coat knocked me down and stole my shopping bag. How could he do that to a senior citizen?”

“What’s your name, sir?”

“Maury King.”

“Mr. King, an ambulance will be here in a minute.”

He shook his head. “No, no. I’m okay.”

“We won’t let him get away. My partner is in pursuit. Stay right here,” I said. “I’ll be back with your shopping bag.”

The man in the red jacket had cleared a wide path for Rich, as screaming shoppers had thrown themselves against parked cars and buildings. I took off again, jogging in their wake.

I could see that Rich was keeping up with the runner but not gaining on him. I was following behind them on the wide, shadowed corridor of Grant Avenue, close enough to see someone pop out of a doorway and step right in front of the runner.

The runner stumbled and almost fell. I saw him push off the pavement with his free hand. He regained his footing but he had lost his momentum.

I yelled again, “Freeze or I’ll shoot.”

Just then, Rich fully extended himself, lunged—and tackled the runner. They both went down.

Breathless and dizzy, I caught up in time to hold my gun on the runner as Rich pulled the man to his feet and shouted, “Lace your fingers behind your neck.” Rich kicked the runner’s legs apart and patted him down.

“He’s not packing,” Rich told me.


I unhooked my cuffs and, with shaking hands, linked the runner’s wrists behind his back. A cruiser pulled up to the curb.

I asked the runner for his name as I closed the cuffs.

“Julian Lambert. Still smokin’ after all these years,” he said, sounding far too pleased with himself.

I arrested Lambert for battery, theft, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Conklin read him his rights and stuffed him into the back seat of the cruiser. After my partner slapped the flank of the departing vehicle, I said to him, “Did you notice? That jerk actually looked glad to see us.”


THAT DAY YUKI was in sentencing court, standing before the bar.

Across the aisle, defense counsel Allison Junker stood with her client Sandra McDowell. McDowell was a fifty-three-year-old woman who had lost control of her car and plowed into a gang of kids exiting a sports bar on Fillmore Street.

There had been no fatalities, thankfully, but three of the boys she’d hit had been hospitalized with an assortment of injuries to heads and limbs and one had been in a coma since the incident, which had happened weeks before. McDowell had admitted to driving while intoxicated and making an illegal left turn. She had pleaded guilty, been remanded to the court without bail, and been in jail since her arraignment. Yuki expected the sentencing hearing to be swift, smooth, and punishing.

Judge Judie Schlager was on the bench, presiding over a full courtroom. It wasn’t yet the end of the day, and she’d sentenced over two hundred people since nine a.m. She looked unfazed, even chipper. A small pin reading “#1 Nana” sparkled on her collar.

The judge said, “Ms. Castellano. Talk to me.”

Yuki looked up at Judge Schlager and said, “Your Honor, Mrs. McDowell was indisputably drunk when she took an illegal left turn and plowed into pedestrians crossing with the light. She injured four young college students, one of whom, a rising football star, is still comatose. First officer on the scene gave Mrs. McDowell a Breathalyzer test. Her blood alcohol was 0.15. In his words, she was severely impaired.”

The judge flipped through papers in front of her and asked, “She called the police of her own accord?”

“Yes, Your Honor,” said the defendant’s counsel, Ms. Junker.

“And she pleaded guilty?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

Yuki said, “Your Honor, this is not Mrs. McDowell’s first DUI. We’re asking for a sentence of three to five years, time commensurate with the pain and suffering of her victims. It’s too soon to tell, but some of their injuries may be permanent.”

The defendant was now weeping noisily into her hands.

Judge Judie Schlager addressed the defendant. “Mrs. McDowell, it says here that you’re a pharmacist, married, two children in college. And this prior DUI was a one-car accident?”

“Yes, Your Honor. I hit a tree. Came out of nowhere.”

The judge said, “Don’t you just hate those jaywalking trees?”

“Your Honor,” said Ms. Junker, “Mrs. McDowell is a good citizen. Her entire family is dependent on her income, including her husband, who has MS and is confined to a wheelchair. She has accepted responsibility for this accident from the time it happened and is unbelievably sorry. She intends to join AA upon her release. We urge the court to show leniency.”

Judge Schlager wrinkled her brow and looked toward the back of the courtroom at a scuffle that had gotten out of control. She banged her gavel and demanded silence in the court even as Sandra McDowell continued to cry.

Yuki would be happy with a three-year sentence. It would get McDowell off the street, and during that time, she hoped that those college boys could recover from their injuries, get PT, and return to the lives they’d had planned before McDowell ran into them with her Buick.

Judge Schlager said, “Mrs. McDowell, before I impose a sentence, do you have anything to say?”

Mrs. McDowell dabbed at her face with a tissue and blew her nose. When she had regained her composure, she said, “Your Honor, I’m more sorry than I can say. I’m only grateful that I didn’t kill anyone, but what I did was inexcusable. Whatever sentence you think fair is acceptable to me.”

Judge Schlager said, “Mrs. McDowell, I’m revoking your driver license and giving you a year of probation, including eight months of community service, twenty hours a week. Do not drive. If one year from now your probation officer reports to me that you’ve attended AA and completed your community service and automotive abstinence, this court will be done with you.

“I’m releasing you today for time served. Next time there will be no leniency, do you understand me?”

“Yes, Your Honor. Thank you very much.”

“Thank my Christmas spirit. That’s all. Next?”

Allison Junker smirked over her client’s shoulder, and Yuki gave her a Drop dead look before leaving the courtroom feeling like she’d been punched in the face by Santa Claus.


CONKLIN AND I faced each other across our abutting desks in the Homicide squad room. The exasperation on his face mirrored my own.

The Robbery Division was overworked in the first degree. Likewise, Booking was packed to the walls. Conklin and I had caught this case, literally, and now we owned it. Julian Lambert was in cuffs, swiveling distractedly in the side chair while we wrote him up for larceny, assault and battery, and, for good measure, resisting arrest.

Lambert handed over his driver license and answered our questions, telling us his full name and address and that he worked in the stockroom at Macy’s. Just before I accessed our database to see if the guy Conklin and I had tagged as the Grant Avenue Dasher had a record, he made an announcement.

“I’m on probation,” he said.

“For what?” I asked.

“Shoplifting, from Best Buy. I did four months and was let out on good behavior, long as I don’t screw up this year. My parole officer is a hard-ass. If you don’t violate me, I can help you out,” he said.

I asked, “How can you help us out, exactly?”

“I’ve got some information to trade for a get-out-of-jailfree pass.”

I seriously doubted Lambert’s claim, but what the hell. Let him try. I ran his name and found the arrest from three years ago as well as his release for time served and his current ongoing probation.

Conklin had read him his Miranda rights. He knew he could have an attorney present but apparently didn’t want one. We were free to hear what he had to say and use it against him—if there was anything worth using.

We walked Lambert out of the bullpen and down the corridor to Interview 2, entered the small interrogation room, and took seats around the scarred metal table.

Conklin said, “Okay, then. You see that mirror?”

“Two-way. This isn’t my first time in the box.”

Conklin grinned. “You probably think there’s someone back there listening in, watching your body language, right?”

“Yep.” Lambert waved at the glass and said, “Joyeux fucking Noël, everyone.”

“Well,” said my partner, “you just waved at nobody. We’re short-staffed this week. So lay your cards on the table and there’s a good chance we can move you along with a minimum of red tape. You could be out on bail by New Year’s.”

“Okay, but I’m supposed to go to Florida, to my mom’s place in Vero Beach, the day after Christmas.”

I jumped in.

“Mr. Lambert, your victim is going to have something to say about your traveling across state lines. You threw an old man to the ground, broke his nose, and took about twenty-eight hundred dollars in Prada belts and Hermès ties. Sorry to tell you this, but that’s grand larceny. And your victim is not feeling well disposed toward you. Last thing he said to us was ‘Toss him in a dark cell and leave him there for good.’”

“I thought there was food in that bag. I swear,” Julian Lambert said to the camera in the ceiling. “But he’ll get his property back, right?”

Conklin said, “Yes. But you hurt him and traumatized him. You want us to help you, let’s hear what you’ve got. Make it good. And quick. And truthful.”


LAMBERT GAVE A long, reluctant sigh, clasped his cuffed hands in front of him on the table, and said, “This is going to blow your minds.”

He paused for effect, and when he got no reaction, he said, “I heard that something big is going down in a couple of days. I promise this is worth more to you than this little bust for stealing what I thought was a fruitcake and then bowling with pedestrians.”

Conklin said, “Get serious, Lambert. You scared a lot of people, and Mr. King is looking to press charges. What’s this ‘big’ something? Be specific.”

“There’s going to be a heist on Christmas Day,” said Lambert.

“A heist?” Conklin said. “An armed robbery?”

“Yeah. Maybe the biggest one in the history of this town.”

I thought, Yeah, sure.

But movies with big heists flashed through my mind. Heat, Ocean’s Eleven through Thirteen, Diamonds Are Forever, and Goldfinger. And my favorite, the Pink Panther movies. My sister and I still found them hilarious and watched one whenever we spent time together.

I said to the dasher, “So you’re talking about a bank robbery? Underground tunnels, things like that?”

“I overheard this conversation in a bar, so I don’t have all the pieces.”

“How about some pieces?” I said. “Do you have some?”


I turned to Conklin and said, “Mr. Lambert is just making stuff up. It’s been a long day already, and I’ve had enough. Time to send him up to his cell and move on.”

Lambert said to Conklin, “A little patience, please, Officer. I’m getting to it. It’s dangerous for me to talk to you, understand?”

Conklin shrugged, stood up, pushed his chair in, and said, “Sergeant Boxer is the boss. She says we’re done, we’re done.”

“Okay. Listen,” said Lambert. “I’ve got the crew chief’s name. Loman. You’ll have something on him in your database.”

I asked, “Like the off-price clothing chain? L-o-e-hm-a-n-n?”

“No idea. I’ve never seen his name in writing.”

“Mr. Loman’s first name?”

“Mister. Look, he just calls himself Mr. Loman. That’s all I know.”

“Wait here. I’ll be right back,” I said.

I went to my desk, said hey to a couple of colleagues, then brought my computer to life.

I ran the names Loehmann, Lowman, and Loman through all available databases. Too many hits came up, dozens in San Francisco. I’d need more information about who we were looking for to do anything with this tip, and the first name “Mister” wasn’t cutting it. My fingers were warmed up, so I ran Julian Lambert’s name again. As he’d said, he’d served short time and was currently on probation for shoplifting. But now that he’d claimed knowledge of a huge heist, I punched his name into the FBI database. I found zip, zero, nada. And Lambert had no known associates named Loman on record.

Our runner looked to be a liar, a nobody, and an utter waste of time.


I RETURNED TO Interview 2 with two guards from our jail on the seventh floor.

I said, “Stand up, Mr. Lambert. Your escorts will take you to your cell. You should consider using your phone call to get a lawyer.”

“Wait. Wait a minute, will you?”

“I don’t have time for bull, Mr. Lambert. Tell your story to the judge.”

Lambert asked, “What? You found nothing on Loman?”

“I found a lot of names like that with many different spellings, dozens in Northern California, dozens in town. Without a first name and a location, your hot tip isn’t worth jack.”

“I have more information,” he said.

Our petty-thief runner was sounding desperate and no longer looked as happy to see me as he was when we arrested him.

Conklin said, “I’ve worked with Sergeant Boxer for a long time, Mr. Lambert. I know when she’s ready to lock up for the night.”

“Okay, I hear you,” he said. “Just—I need to tell you about this heist. Alone.”

I asked the guards to step outside, but I didn’t sit down.

“Speak,” I said to Lambert.

“I know one of the crew. I’ve got his name and address and I know that he’s the kind of guy who is always heavily armed.”

I sat down.

“His name is Chris Dietz. I know there will be a lot of people by that name. But that’s his real name.”

“What does he have to do with this heist?”

“He’s a hitter. Psycho variety. Loman hired him for this job. I met Dietz here, in the seventh-floor jail, about three years ago. It was memorable.”

I said, “I’ll pull Dietz’s sheet, but save me some time. What was he in for?”

“He was charged with holding up an armored car. Witness disappeared and the charges didn’t stick.”

“Okay, Mr. Lambert. Let’s have his address.”

After Lambert gave me the name of a cheap hotel located squarely in the pit of hell, I stood up, opened the door, and asked the guards to come in again.

“Please take Mr. Lambert up to seven.”

“Hey, I cooperated,” Lambert protested.

“If your information pans out, I’ll speak to the DA. The DA will speak to Mr. King. Your lawyer will tell you to be remorseful when you’re in front of the judge. Make it real.”

When Lambert was gone, Conklin and I walked back to our desks in the squad room. Shifts were changing. Day turning to night.

I did a search for Christopher Dietz. I found him.

I said to Rich, “There’s an arrest warrant out for Christopher Alan Dietz, whose last known address was Seattle. He was charged with armed robbery. Someone put up two hundred thousand for bail and he skipped. He’s got priors for shootings that didn’t stand up due to lack of evidence. We should get the Feds into this.”

Conklin picked up the phone, punched in a number, and said, “Cin. I’m working tonight. I know. I know. I’ll try not to wake you up.”

Cappy McNeil stopped by our desks. Cappy was a friend, a fellow cop who’d been working homicide longer than me, which made him an old-timer.

“I overheard the name Chris Dietz,” he said. “I know of him. A CI of mine just mentioned that Dietz could be planning some kind of job. Big one.”

“No kidding.”

I thanked Cappy for the tip, which gave some validity to Julian Lambert’s story and turned my thoughts about the interview with him upside down. And then I saw how this was going to go.

Conklin and I would brief Brady. He would call the SF branch of the FBI and our mostsenior SWAT commander, Reg Covington. Then we were all going to pay a call on Mr. Dietz, a bad guy with a gun said to be living in the Anthony Hotel.

I tried to imagine Dietz coming peacefully with us to the Hall.

I couldn’t see it.


THE ANTHONY HOTEL was in the middle of a grubby block in SoMa, flanked by two buildings—on the left, a low-rent office building with a tax-preparation business on the ground floor; on the right, a liquor store with a sputtering neon sign and a massage parlor on the top two stories.

I’d been to this nightmarish six-story “hotel” before, once to investigate a suspicious death by hanging and once to disarm a drug-addled father who had threatened to take out his family of six. It was amazing that we’d gotten all of those kids out alive.

I knew the Anthony’s nearly bare lobby by heart, the scabby front desk, two broken-down armchairs, a bank of vending machines, and the pervasive smell of urine. Above the ground floor were five stories of rent-by-the-month rooms where drug addicts could indulge their habits in private and with all the amenities, like sinks and toilets and beds.

The hallways were pocked with bullet holes and in some places had been bloodied by heads being bashed against the walls. Inside the rooms, sinks had been pulled out and pipes in the ceiling had exploded, and I didn’t want to think about what passed for bathrooms.

To call the Anthony Hotel a dump was to flatter it. But Christopher Dietz, the professional hit man Julian Lambert had named, had taken a room here among the psychos, drug addicts, and many poor families with small children.

At eight that night Conklin and I, wearing Kevlar over our SFPD Windbreakers and armed with semiautos and two warrants, entered the lobby. With us were two FBI agents, Reginald Covington, the head of our SWAT team, and three of his men, all in full tactical gear. Four other SWAT commandos were outside, watching the front and rear entrances and standing by for whatever might come.

Was this overkill for one bail-jumping presumed hit man?

Only if he put up his hands and let us bring him in.

Covington asked the frightened desk troll which room Dietz occupied.

“He’s in 6R. Top floor, rear of the building.”

Covington said to the clerk, “Be cool and get out.” He didn’t have to be told twice.

The elevator wasn’t working, so the eight of us thundered up the stairs. A woman on three dropped her laundry basket and locked herself behind her door. Good idea. Little kids playing in the stairwell yelled for their mothers—and then they just stood there and stared.

We swept them out of our way, ordered them to go home and close the door. One child left his pile of small wheeled toys in our path, and a girl of about eighteen months just sat on the landing and bawled until her father grabbed her up and carried her away.

My pulse was pounding from both exertion and dread. Kids could get hurt. We all could.

When we reached the top floor, we paused to scope out the hallway. It was dim, silent, and empty. Room 6R was at the far end of the execrable corridor, which was lined with five doors on each side.

Covington and his men stood on either side of Dietz’s doorway.

As I was lead investigator on this case, my job was to knock, announce, then step away. When the door opened, SWAT would toss in a flashbang grenade and pull the door closed. A moment later they would open the door again and immobilize Dietz, who would be sprawled out on the floor, temporarily deaf and blind and wishing he were dead.

I knocked, called out, “Mr. Dietz? SFPD,” and stepped to the side of the door. I listened for the sound of footsteps.

Instead I heard metallic clicks coming from behind us, down the hall and at the front of the building. It sounded like locks being thrown open.

Was a neighbor coming out to see what was happening?

Or was a child coming out to play?

I turned toward the sound and a heavy weight fell on me, covering me and dropping me to the floor. I heard shocking reports of gunfire and the reverberation of hundreds of rounds hitting the walls. The sixth floor of the Anthony Hotel had become a war zone.


A MOMENT LATER, the deafening fusillade of gunfire at close range just stopped cold.

There was an echoing silence, then I heard the clattering of boots on tile and men cursing: “Shit.” “Jake. Speak to me.” “God damn it to hell.”

I said to Conklin, “Rich. Let me up. Please.”

He scrambled off me, got to his feet, and peered down into my face. “You okay, Boxer?”

“I think so. Yes. How about you?”

“I’m good,” he said.

“You’re great. A human shield,” I said to my partner, who might have saved my life.

“Pure reflex. Let’s get you up.”

He reached down and I grabbed his hand. He pulled me to my feet.

My ears were ringing and I was on adrenaline overload as I stared along the narrow hallway. Most of the ceiling lights had been shot out. Five feet away, an FBI agent with what looked like a fatal head wound sat propped against a wall. The other agent had taken a bullet to his shoulder. Blood spurted as he tried to coax his partner back to life.

I called for backup and an ambulance, stat. I wasn’t sure how the shit had hit the fan, but I gathered what I could from the chaotic scene and tried to piece together what had just happened. I’d been standing to the side of room 6R, waiting for SWAT to kick in the door, when the hallway had exploded in gunfire—the first shots coming from behind us—and Conklin had thrown himself on top of me.

We’d been told by the desk clerk that Chris Dietz, the professional hitter, was in 6R, rear. But apparently he’d been in 6F, front.

Had Dietz been so paranoid that he’d kept two rooms? Had he heard us running up the stairs and taken defensive action by busting into someone else’s space? Or—the simplest explanation—had the terrified desk clerk given us the wrong room number?

The door to 6F had nearly been shot off its hinges. The dead man inside, cut down by our return, and more intense, gunfire, blocked the threshold. Even in the dim light I could see his blood pooling on the tiles. Me, Conklin, Commander Covington, and two of his people went to 6F and the body.

A SWAT officer kicked the dead man’s gun aside, and he and Conklin rolled him. I pulled a wallet from his back pocket. His driver license told me he was Christopher Dietz, Caucasian male, no corrected vision. Height, five ten; eyes, hazel; born in 1985. An address in Boise. If there had been a place for occupation, I suppose it would have said freelance hitter.

I was glad he was dead but very, very sorry I wouldn’t get a chance to interrogate him.

Covington shouted through 6F’s open doorway for any people inside to show themselves, put their hands above their heads. When no one answered, he and his team stormed the small room, clearing it to the corners.

Conklin and I stepped around the dead man and peered into 6F, which was lit by the sporadic flashing of red neon coming from the liquor store next door.

Covington hit the light switch and the room lit up.

I saw a coffee table made of two milk crates and a plank, and a bare mattress in the corner. A rag of a shirt hung in the open closet. There were empty beer and liquor bottles everywhere, and the smell of excrement permeated the air.

We touched nothing, corrupted nothing, just looked for something that would reveal what Chris Dietz had been doing before he decided to commit suicide-by-cop in grand style.

If a clue was there, I didn’t see it.

I heard sirens screaming up Sixth Street, ambulances and cruisers. Conklin and I backed out of the doorway and returned to the rear of the building, and I told the wounded FBI agent to hang on, EMTs were on the way.

Covington rammed in the door to 6R, rushed in, and, a moment later, pronounced it clear.

Paramedics jogged up the stairs with a stretcher. Uniformed cops followed. Conklin told them to cordon off the rooms at both ends of the hall and start checking for wounded residents behind the other doors.

I called Brady, briefed him, and gave him the bad news: “Our best and only lead to the Christmas Day heist has expired.”


YUKI AND BRADY were at home that evening, dressing for a pre-Christmas dinner with DA Len Parisi and a handful of coworkers. They had promised each other that they would pick out a tree together. There was still time.

Yuki fastened the clasp of her jet necklace, and it curled neatly above the rounded neckline of her little black dress. She brushed her hair and then sat on the edge of the bed, watching Brady get ready.

He said, “I’m looking forward to getting out, talking to people. Wonderin’ if I still have any charm left after all these years.”

“You’ve still got it, sweetie. Charm to spare.”

In Yuki’s opinion, he underplayed his appeal and it was a pleasure to see him dressing for a night out. She liked his pink shirt, a sweet complement to his buffed body and white-blond hair. He held up three ties for her review, and she selected one with a pattern of jumping dolphins.

“This place is going to be jammed,” said Brady as he knotted his tie in front of the mirror.

The restaurant they were going to was the new hip successor to LuLu’s, also specializing in local seafood, suckling pig, and gourmet pizza cooked in wood-fired brick ovens. Yuki thought about her first dinner at LuLu’s with Len Parisi.

Yuki and her new boss had been discussing a case in which a ferry passenger had pulled a gun and unloaded on the other passengers, killing six innocent people. The Brinkley case was Yuki’s first prosecution of a mass murderer, and it was personal: the killer had shot her friend Claire Washburn and her teenage son, both of whom, thank God, had survived.

She and Len had been deep in conversation over wine and pizza when he suddenly clutched his chest and toppled backward onto the restaurant floor.

To this day, Len credited her with saving his life. She had only made a phone call, but he insisted that it was because of her clearheaded actions—waving off the fellow diner who had volunteered to drive him to the hospital, calling 911, staying with him, riding with him in the ambulance—that he was alive today.

In Yuki’s opinion, Len didn’t owe her a thing. It was the other way around. She’d learned so much from him, and she liked him, too.

It had been at least a year since she and Brady had had a social evening with Len and friends, and she was thinking ahead to what she knew would be a memorable event.

Brady was lacing up his shoes when his phone vibrated. Yuki had tried instituting a no-phone-after-eight-p.m. rule, but it hadn’t lasted for even a day. She got calls. He got calls. Drowning “those dang things” in the sink was a fun idea but definitely impractical.

Brady grabbed his phone off the dresser, and Yuki listened to his end of the conversation.

He said, “Tell me everything, Boxer. But y’all are okay? I need the name of the FBI agent. Okay. Got it. You need to get all of those tenants off the sixth floor and into the lobby. I agree. Wait for the ME. I’ll call the mayor. Absolutely. Twenty minutes, traffic permitting.”

Yuki knew what was coming next. She sighed.

He ended the call, speed-dialed the mayor, and left an urgent message.

“I’m sorry,” he said to Yuki. “Our investigation just turned into a shootout with two fatalities. I’ve got people on the scene, more on the way, and a lotta displaced tenants needing a place to bunk.”

Yuki was disappointed, but she didn’t say so. Dinner was dinner. This was life and death. Brady had been talking with Lindsay, and that meant that her friend had been in danger. Yuki tuned back in to what her husband was saying.

“I have to go. Yuki, tell Red Dog I’m sorry.”

“He’ll understand,” she said. “Be safe. I love you.”


AFTER LIVING THROUGH the terrifying shootout at the Anthony, I was weak-kneed, shaky, and ready for sleep, a shower, hugs, and dinner, not necessarily in that order.

I took the elevator to our apartment and had stabbed my key at the front-door lock several times when the door opened. Joe said, “Hey, just wondering what happened … oh, man, look at you, Blondie.”

“That good, huh?”

I got my hug. I held on to Joe, thinking once again that my love for my job could cost me everything. Any day. Any time.

I told Joe that I loved him, my voice cracking in the middle. He said, “Hey, hey, you’re home now. Take a look at what Sugarpuss and I have been up to.”

Sugarpuss, a.k.a. Julie Anne Molinari, screamed, “Mommeee,” and ran into the foyer. Joe grabbed her up so I could get out of my jacket and lock my weapon in the antique gun safe high above Julie’s curly-haired head.

Martha woofed and waddled in and got her paws up on my knees. We all headed into the big living-eating-relaxing room with its tan leather furniture and big TV.

And there, standing between two tall windows looking out onto Lake Street, was a beautiful Christmas tree, winkin’ and blinkin’, intensely decorated on the branches that Julie could reach. The star for the pinnacle was sitting on the windowsill, and a pile of wrapped presents filled the seat of Joe’s big daddy chair.

“Oh, my God,” I said. “You two did all of this?”

“I did, Mommy!” said Julie.

I didn’t know I still had an ear-to-ear grin left in me. I picked Julie up and she gave me a tour of the tree: the snowflakes and icicles, the globes with little scenes inside, and the now-traditional silver star from my sister, Catherine, engraved with First Christmas on one side and Julie on the other.

After the tour and Joe’s promise to place the star on the top of the tree in the morning, we put our little girl to bed. We doused the light, blew some kisses, and closed the door. As we tiptoed back to the living room, Joe said, “If I were you …”


“If I were you, I’d have a bowl of mushroom beef barley soup. Then a shower. Then ice cream.”

“We have that soup?”

I must have been staring at him with stray-dog eyes, because Joe laughed long and hard. “You think I would offer soup and not have any?”

“You made it from scratch?” I said.

“Mrs. Rose did that.”

Mrs. Rose, Julie’s part-time nanny, was an amazing cook.

“I’m reheating it,” said Joe. “That counts.”

“It certainly does.”

He sat me down and turned a flame up under the soup. When I was tucking into a bowl with a spoon in one hand and half of a buttered baguette in the other, I told my husband about my day.

I started with Christmas shopping for Cindy, then the chase along Grant Avenue, the capture of Julian Lambert, and our Q and A with him back at the Hall.

“He asked for a deal,” I told my husband. “A walk-in exchange for info on an upcoming ‘heist of the decade.’ He said the mastermind was called Low-man.”


“Or Loman.”

“Like Willy Loman? Lead character in Death of a Salesman?”

“Hmm. Maybe. Julian didn’t know how to spell it. What he did know was that a professional hitter by the name of Chris Dietz was one of the crew. Dietz was renting in the Anthony Hotel.”

“I get a rash just thinking about that place,” Joe said.

I nodded and said, “Tell me about it. We cornered Dietz, we thought, but then he pulled a switcheroo. Decided to have SWAT mow him down.”

Joe asked questions. I told him what I could, and we continued talking as I took a hot shower. When I was dry and dressed in pj’s, sure enough, there was a bowl of chocolate chocolate chip ice cream waiting for me. Joe, Martha, and I went over to the tree, and I watched Joe write out gift labels, most of them from Santa. He shook a small, flat box. “From Aunt Cat,” he said. “Bet it’s Julie’s annual Christmas star.”

Would I see the next one? I was thinking again about the Job versus Life. Everyone I knew, certainly my closest friends, was trying to balance this conflict every day.

Joe read me. “You’re thinking about the shootout?”

“I was feeling bad that I missed the J-Bug hanging balls on the tree.”

“There will be other Christmas trees,” he said.

“I know.” I said it again for emphasis and maybe for luck. “I know.”

But what I was thinking was God willing.

Part Two

* * *



CINDY THOMAS WAS in her office at the Chronicle, laptop open and coffee cooling as she dug into the assignment that had just arrived in her inbox.

The paper’s publisher and editor in chief, Henry Tyler, had asked her to do a piece for the Living section about how undocumented immigrants in San Francisco celebrated the Christmas holidays. Undocumented immigrants were tangential to her usual crime beat, but Cindy was charged up by the story idea. For once she wouldn’t be reporting on bombings or mass murderers or parents who’d locked their babies in hot cars.

Cindy created a new folder and shut out the sounds around her—the coffee-cart lady’s bell, her coworkers laughing and chatting as they passed her office, and the traffic noise coming from the street below.

She would begin her research with the Christmas traditions of people from Mexico and Central America, focusing on a central question: Was it possible to keep cultural tradition alive when you were living under a shadow? Sometimes that shadow was decades long.

Cindy began reading about Las Posadas—“the Inns” —a nine-day Mexican Christmas tradition celebrating Mary and Joseph’s journey to find a safe place to stay while awaiting the birth of their child. How had she never heard of this festival? It sounded so joyful. It started every year on December 16 with a costume parade down a main street, after which friends, families, and neighbors would take turns acting as “innkeepers,” one home hosting a posada each night through December 24. As tradition had it, once the crowd had gathered inside a home, there were prayers and a Bible reading before the good times rolled. Cindy found photos of the piñatas, the hot drinks and yummy food, and the take-home bags of candies for the celebrants.

Today was the twenty-second. Cindy figured that in some places in San Francisco, Las Posadas was in full swing, but it would be ending soon. She had to work fast if she was going to center her story on that. Research alone did not a story make.

Five days a week Cindy published a crime blog that was open to her readership for comments. She clicked on her crime-blog page and wondered how to ask for assistance from Latino immigrants without it looking like an ICE-inspired sting.

She wrote, “If you’re from South or Central America or Mexico and would like to share your Christmas tradition with our readers, please write to me. Your real name is not required.”

Within the hour she was looking through dozens of responses to her query, and one of them was tantalizing.

But it had nothing to do with Las Posadas. At all.


THE RESPONSE THAT grabbed Cindy’s attention was from Maria, who wrote, “My husband is in jail for a murder he didn’t do. We are undocumented and he has been in jail for two years, no trial. I am lost. Please help.”

Cindy replied, “Thank you for your message, Maria. Can we meet?”

Maria wrote back in minutes. “Can you come to my apartment? I have to work at noon.”

Less than an hour later Cindy was driving through the Mission, a neighborhood heavily populated by Spanishspeaking immigrants from Latin America.

She checked off the landmarks Ms. Maria Varela had given her—the tattoo parlor on one corner, a mercado on the opposite one, vividly colored signage and murals on the sides of the three-story wood-frame building on Osage Street where Maria lived.

Cindy parked in front of a coin-op laundry, walked a block west to Osage, and buzzed the button marked VARELA. A return buzz unlocked the street-level door. With some trepidation, Cindy entered and climbed two flights of stairs.

Maria was waiting for her outside the apartment door.

“I love you for coming,” she said. “Thank you very much.”

Cindy thought Maria looked to be in her forties, average height and weight, hair pulled into a bun. She wore a loose-fitting flowered top over tights and flat shoes, pink lipstick, and a smile at odds with the sadness in her brown eyes.

The small apartment was tidy with a nice sectional facing the TV, a print of the Crucifixion over the faux fireplace, and Christmas lights strung along the wall above the windows. A small Christmas tree stood on the kitchen table, and there were framed family photos—everywhere.

Cindy declined an offer of coffee, took a seat on the sofa, and began to interview Ms. Varela, noticing that her English was excellent.

“Tell me about your husband,” Cindy said.

Maria lifted a photo from the lamp table and showed it to Cindy. It was a picture of herself and her husband, Eduardo Varela, taken some years before. Maria’s hair hung loose to below her shoulders, Eduardo wore a white linen shirt, and the two had their arms around each other, radiating love and hope.

Maria said, “We got married in Guadalajara when we were eighteen. Three little ones came the first five years. Then the farm where we worked burned down. We couldn’t get work. We had a cousin here. We tried to get visas for ourselves and our children so we could come to America. The papers never came.”

Maria told a harrowing story of the type that had become almost commonplace in the pages of the Chronicle and all over the country. She and Eduardo had paid a “coyote” everything they had, and he had arranged for them to be driven in a packed truck to the border and then smuggled over. In the process, they had been separated from their oldest child.

“But God answered our prayers. We found Roberto in a shelter four months later. He was six.”

The cousin got Eduardo a job in the tomato fields, and Maria did laundry. They scraped by.

“We were illegal. We couldn’t apply for green cards.

“Roberto, Elena, and Geraldo are now in high school. I work at the Trident Hotel. Cleaning. Eduardo had two, sometimes three, jobs to support us all—and then the nightmare happened.”

Maria seemed stuck in the memory of that nightmare until Cindy encouraged her to go on.

Maria looked grief-stricken. She told Cindy, “A boy was shot on the street. Some other boys said Eduardo did it. They knew him—knew his name and said that to the police. Ms. Thomas, Eduardo was in his car, sleeping. He doesn’t want to wake us up when he leaves for his night shift. He heard the shots but he had nothing, nothing, to do with the shooting. That night he was arrested for murder at his job, and he is being held for trial two years now.”

“Two years? Can they do that?”

Maria nodded sadly. She told Cindy that her husband had prior arrests before the shooting. “He was stopped for speeding. And he had a fake driver license. He needed to work, drive from the auto-body store he cleaned during the day to the gas station where he did the overnight shift,” she said. “But he never hurt anyone in the world. He is the best husband and father. Sweet. Gentle. He has never shot any gun.”

“Maria, do you have a lawyer?”

“We did. He got all our money, and Eduardo is still in jail. Now I’m afraid if I fight, I’ll be deported, and then there is no one to protect our children.”

“I’d love to see more pictures of your family,” Cindy said.

Maria brought an album over and sat next to Cindy.

“The pictures are not so good but very valuable to us.”

She turned the pages slowly, saying who was who in photos of events, birthdays, and gatherings. There was even a picture taken at a parade along Osage Street of the family dressed as peasants and angels in the Christmas pageantry of Las Posadas.

“But we won’t be celebrating Las Posadas this year.”

“What can I do to help?” Cindy asked.

“When I saw what you wrote, I felt that God was saying that you are a lifeline. I have no place else to turn.”

“No promises,” Cindy said, reaching over to take Maria’s hands. “But I’ll talk to a friend who might be able to help.”


CINDY DROVE BACK to the Chronicle, thinking about what she could do before she called Yuki and begged her to get involved. There were so many people like Maria, hopeless, living in fear. And there had to be many others who would feel this family’s pain. People who could easily think, There but for the grace of God go I.

As she drove, Cindy thought of Maria Varela’s sadness and desperation. In her mind she composed a pitch to Henry Tyler about Maria’s family and their tragic situation.

If Tyler approved, Cindy thought she could write a story about this family that would get attention. It might melt some bureaucrat’s heart or attract a legal pit bull who could take a bite out of the system. Suddenly she was feeling a lot of pressure to write an impassioned story about the Varelas as well as her assigned feature about Las Posadas in time for both pieces to appear in the Christmas edition.

She just needed to stay focused and keep her fingers on the keys. Research first.

Back at the Chronicle, Cindy found the coffee wagon, brought a cup of cocoa and a muffin, took both back to her desk, and began looking up resources about immigration law, which she knew to be complex and sometimes arbitrary. She pulled several articles from LexisNexis and read for hours. In regard to law enforcement, she learned that ICE could bring an unauthorized migrant to immigration court, where he or she would most likely be deported and barred from reentering the United States for ten years or more. Depending on the offense, the individual might also be prosecuted under the laws in his or her home country.

In Eduardo’s case, the officers had chosen to hold him on criminal charges. He’d been indicted by a grand jury and then left in jail in San Francisco pending trial—whenever that would be. Cindy now knew that long-term pretrial detention happened with regularity. Courts had backlogs, and detention ensured court appearances and preserved public safety. But the real reason many stayed in jail was that most undocumented immigrants couldn’t afford bail.

Maria had told Cindy that Eduardo was sleeping in his car when he heard the shots. She said that the witnesses had lied—he didn’t own and had never fired a gun. Maybe when they’d seen Eduardo, they had decided on the spot to pin the shooting on him.

Cindy thought about the possible outcomes of a trial. Could those witness statements be refuted? Or was it more likely that two years after that murder, in a transient neighborhood with an immigrant population, no one would testify in Eduardo’s defense? And if the case went to trial and Eduardo was found guilty of murder despite the sketchy evidence, he would go to prison, probably for life.

With her new understanding of Eduardo’s situation and what he was up against, Cindy decided it was time to pitch Tyler the story and then, if he approved it, go see Yuki Castellano and try to get her on board.


YUKI WAS BEHIND her tidy desk in her office when Cindy came to the door. She said to Cindy, “Come on in. Have a seat. Put your feet up. What’s going on?”

Yuki was usually the fast talker of the group, but Cindy could put some speed on when she was worked up. The two friends went over to the small sofa, where Cindy filled Yuki in on her meeting with Maria and the research she had done.

Her proposed article about Eduardo Varela wasn’t an investigative report. It was an opinion piece, a human-interest story. She hadn’t interviewed cops or the ME or gone over crime scene photos.

She had pitched Eduardo’s story to Henry Tyler, the publisher and editor in chief, saying that she believed, based on talks with his family, that this undocumented immigrant had been wrongfully charged and jailed without trial for two years.

Cindy had told Tyler that she was convinced that an injustice had been done, and she and Tyler had discussed the Varela family’s backstory.

After ten intense minutes Tyler had said, “Go for it.” And he was holding space for her on the front page of the Christmas edition.

Now she had to write it—and fast. Could Yuki help Eduardo?

Yuki said, “Are you asking me to lean on an ADA and get this man out of jail? Today?”

“Can you?”

“Hell no.”

Cindy laughed. “I thought you could do anything.”

“Not exactly,” said Yuki. “I can do nothing to defend this man. I’m a prosecutor, remember? But I have some questions for you.”

“Shoot,” said Cindy.

Yuki asked for the names of the victim, the arresting officers, and the witnesses against Eduardo. Cindy referred to her notes.

“The victim was Gordon Perez, twenty years old, body found on Bartlett Street two blocks from Eduardo and Maria’s apartment. Here’s a transcript of the arresting officers’ statements,” Cindy said as she emailed the police report to Yuki from her phone.

“Let me see,” said Yuki. She went to her laptop, read the report, then looked up and said, “The police didn’t find the gun.”

“That’s good or bad?”

“If they’d found a gun that belonged to Eduardo, there’s your slam-dunk conviction. If they’d found the murder weapon and it was registered to someone else but Eduardo’s prints were on it, ditto. Slam dunk. If they’d found the gun but there were no prints, that would have worked in Eduardo’s favor. Without a gun, it’s much harder to prove that he’s the shooter. Did Eduardo know the victim?”

“Yes. They were acquainted.”

“How did they get along?”

“From what Maria told me, they just lived on the same street. That was all.”

Yuki said, “Okay. Assuming Eduardo Varela had no motive to shoot Gordon Perez, the case against him is based on witness statements. Varela has a crappy alibi. As it says here, he was sleeping in his car, heard shots, got out, and saw some boys run off.”

“He didn’t call the police,” said Cindy. “He just drove to his second job.”

“Hmm. Or, as the state will put it, he shot the guy, got rid of his gun, then drove to his second job.”

Yuki had worked for a nonprofit lawyers’ organization. Cindy knew she had defended a couple of undocumented immigrants while assisting the head of the Defense League, who was now a friend.

Yuki said, “I’m thinking about that big case that gets talked about a lot. Jorge Alvarez was deported five times and got back into San Francisco, where he fatally stabbed a man in a hotel lobby. It was an unfortunate criminal career path,” Yuki said, “but it made a big impression on the public consciousness, and it hardened the courts against illegal immigrants.”

“What happened to Alvarez?” Cindy asked.

“He’s awaiting trial. He could be your guy’s cell mate, for all we know. But there’s another guy I just read about, an immigrant convicted of murder, Jaime Ochoa. Ochoa got a break—after twenty years.”


“The one and only witness retracted her statement. She maintained that she had told the cops she wasn’t sure at the time, but the state ran with the witness testimony and got a conviction. After twenty years, the witness was willing to swear she’d ID’d the wrong man.”

“Holy crap. Twenty years of life, wasted.”

“Ochoa walked out a free man. He wasn’t deported, and he thanked the court and went home to his family,” Yuki said. “He was undocumented, but he had no prior record.

“Varela, on the other hand, is not only here illegally, he’s a repeat offender with a murder indictment.”

“So there’s no hope at all?”

“I’ll make a call to Zac Jordan, the lawyer I worked for at the Defense League. He’s good, Cin. He’s smart as can be. Still, I wouldn’t bank on Eduardo Varela walking on this one. He has the right to a fair trial. But unless he has a brilliant lawyer and the state is too overwhelmed to pay attention, odds are he’s going to prison for the rest of his life.”

“Please call your friend, Yuki,” Cindy said. “I believe in miracles.”


THE DAY AFTER the shootout at the Anthony Hotel, the bullpen was standing room only, packed wall to wall to wall with investigators from our station and representatives from Northern and Central as well.

Brady had called an emergency meeting. Two FBI agents had been hit; one had died, and the other had been moments from bleeding out. The tension in the room was expressed with tight body language and nervous chatter.

I watched Brady leave his office at the back of the bullpen and edge through the crowd. When he got to the front, he grabbed a chair, stepped up onto it, batted away a garland of tinsel tacked to the ceiling, then ripped it down.

He said, “Good morning, everyone.”

The chatter immediately shut down, and our lieutenant and acting chief got right to it.

He said, “We’ve been tipped off that there is going to be a big, likely heavily armed robbery in the next few days. We’d like to head that off.

“Here’s what we know.”

Talking over the fresh round of murmurs, Brady detailed the chase and capture of petty thief Julian Lambert, the info he’d given us on a hitter hired to work the upcoming robbery, and the tip that the hitter was staying at the Anthony Hotel.

“That hitter,” said Brady, “is now laid out at the morgue. Everyone here heard what happened last night?”

A murmur of “Yes, sir”s rumbled through the room. The story of the one-man ambush and Dietz’s utter obliteration on the sixth floor had traveled fast, first over the police and fire department channels, then by word of mouth, then via the internet, and finally as a “Sources tell us” piece on the broadcast news.

Conklin and I exchanged looks, both of us still shell-shocked, hoping for answers. After this, we planned to go back to the Anthony and meet with CSI director Charlie Clapper. He and his team had been processing the scene all night, and I was dying to find out what he had learned from Chris Dietz’s rented room. Julian Lambert was still in our custody, and Brady would interrogate him again. If Lambert was holding anything back, I was pretty sure he’d give it up to Brady.

Brady said, “Here’s what we know about this robbery scheme. Supposedly, a man named Loman is behind it, and supposedly, it’s going down on Christmas Day.”

He paused and everyone waited.

“That’s all I’ve got,” said Brady. “No idea what the target is, what part of town it’ll be in, who else is involved. Heck, Loman might have decided to pull the plug on this operation, given all the publicity on last night’s action.

“But let’s say he’s still going forward. If you hear something, say something.”

Feet shifted. A voice called out, “Over here, boss.”

“Bentley,” Brady said. “Whatcha got?”

Sergeant Roger Bentley was from the Robbery Division. I didn’t know much about him, but I knew he was well positioned to hear rumors about a heist.

Bentley said, “I’ve heard the name Loman. People are afraid of him, like he’s a drug lord or a capo. But nothing more than that. I’ve asked, and what comes back is ‘I don’t want to talk about him.’”

Another hand went up and Brady called on Anderson from the Criminal Investigations Unit upstairs.

Anderson said, “Rumor has it that Loman was behind that casino heist in Vegas. The one at the Black Diamond. Netted nine million. Almost got out clean, but three of his crew—the guys transporting the take—were killed when their getaway car was T-boned by a gas truck on the way out of town.”

We had all heard about that heist gone wrong—a TV movie had been based on it. As I remembered it, the gas-truck explosion was shown in slow motion and it had been a mesmerizing special effect. But I hadn’t known that the man behind the heist that went way wrong was named Loman.

“Let’s have some ideas on possible targets,” Brady said.

Hands went up around the room; people suggested banks, museums, jewelry stores. Opportunities for potentially big hauls, like the nine million taken from the Black Diamond Casino.

When the brainstorming was over, Brady asked those present to work their informants and uniforms in their divisions and forward all possible leads to him.

“Crime’s not going to take a holiday while we go after Loman. I’m calling people back from time off so we’re covered. One of those people is Chief Warren Jacobi, who has volunteered to step out of retirement and work out of this unit with Boxer and Conklin.”

Jacobi came through the doorway to a big round of applause from about sixty cops who knew that, even after retiring under a cloud, he was a helluva cop.

I was very glad to see my old partner, my old boss, my close friend. Conklin and I grinned at each other.

The gang was all here.


I WAS STILL on adrenaline overload from last night’s shootout at the Anthony Hotel, and now Brady’s full-house staff meeting had tweaked me to a turn.

The clock on this mysterious big heist was running out and we needed answers—fast. Conklin parked our squad car in front of the Anthony Hotel behind three cruisers and the CSI van. I was glad to see that van. If anyone could read tea leaves in the dregs of this cesspool, it was Charlie Clapper and his team.

I zipped my Windbreaker over my vest and yanked up the chain holding my badge so that it hung outside my jacket. I got out of the car and took in the sights. Morning on Sixth Street looked like a flashback to the Great Depression. Clouds blocked the sun. Trash blew up the pavement and collected in the gutters. Pedestrians drifted purposelessly, and the thin traffic slowed when drivers saw the CSI van.

Uniformed officers leaned against their cruisers, protecting the perimeter. Others had door duty, barring the press and checking IDs of hotel residents. An old man vomited in the alley next to the liquor store.

My partner said, “Ready?”

“You bet. Can’t wait.”

We crossed the buckled sidewalk to the hotel entrance, entered the stinking lobby, and identified ourselves to the desk clerk, who was twenty years older than the clerk working the night shift. He had been informed, no doubt. He said, “Don’t mess up the place, okay?”

Conklin said, “Got it,” and we took the stairs, an obstacle course of discarded crack vials, condoms, Thunderbird empties. We exited through the fire door onto the sixth floor.

All but two of the doorways were taped off; tenants had been relocated and their rooms cleared. I noticed now that a couple of those doors had wreaths circling the peepholes. Another was hung with a stocking, the name Mia stitched on the cuff. Meager hopes for a merry Christmas, dashed.

At the front of the long hallway, room 6F looked as I had seen it last night, the bullet-perforated door left hanging by one hinge after Dietz had sprung his surprise attack on a team of trained SWAT commandos armed with military-grade automatic weapons. The bloody outline of Dietz’s body was like an unwelcome mat in front of the door. Why would he pick a fight he so obviously would not win?

At the far end of the hallway, the door to 6R was wide open. I called out to Charlie Clapper and he stepped out to meet us. Clapper was director of Crime Scene Investigation, a former LVPD homicide cop with deep knowledge and no attitude. He always looked as though he’d dressed for a business meeting, and despite the booties over his shoes and the blue latex gloves he was wearing, today was no exception. His blazer and tie were snappy, and his graying hair was immaculately cut and combed.

“Welcome to the morning after,” he said.

“Always a pleasure to see you, Charles,” I said.

Clapper told us to view the scene from the doorway. “For anything you want to see close up,” he said, “I’ll be your eyes.”

The room was lit by a couple of halogen lights and was small enough that we could see everything in it from the threshold. Three CSIs, gloved up, wearing booties, and armed with cameras and evidence bags, stepped gingerly around the periphery of the room.

Done correctly, processing a crime scene is a slow, methodical procedure of documentation and analysis because of the underlying need to keep the scene intact. If there were clues to Loman’s plans, they could be here.

I looked around and saw an open can of beer on top of the old-fashioned TV set, a plate of half-eaten spareribs on the kitchen table. The closet door was open, revealing two men’s coats and assorted pieces of casual clothing. A coffee table in front of a sagging sofa was laden with what looked to be expensive cameras and technical equipment I couldn’t identify.

“So what do we have?” I asked Clapper.

“Looks like he was living here alone,” said Clapper. “And he was working on something not exactly kosher. Those are the tools of his trade: cameras, sophisticated listening devices. No expense was spared. Oddly, there’s no laptop in either of his rooms, but we got his phone.

“Unrelated, there was a stash of porn over there,” he said, pointing in the general direction of the sofa. “And in the bathroom. And under the bed.”

“Regular porn or something special?”

“Straight-up busty women. Two semiautos plus ammo were in the closet. I sent the guns and the phone to the lab. Before I did that, I mailed this from his phone to mine. You may find it interesting.”

Conklin and I stood beside Clapper as he swiped through the crime scene photos. He stopped on one and angled the screen so we could see it: a map of Golden Gate Park. He enlarged it. The de Young Museum, located inside the park, had been circled in red.

Hot damn.

Finally. We had a clue.


CONKLIN AND I were heading down the fire stairs to the Anthony’s lobby when a curvy young woman stepped out of the shadows on the fourth-floor landing.

She said, “Hey. Inspectors. I got something to tell you about Savage. I mean Chris.”

She looked to be around twenty years old and was wearing frayed black tights and a tight red top with sequins at the neckline. Her haircut was choppy and there were studs in her face, hoops in her ears. The tattoo on one arm read BITE ME. One of her hands was inked with a baby’s face under a banner reading ANGEL.

I asked her name.

“I go by Dancy.”

“And Savage is?”

“Your boy. Chris Dietz,” she told us.

Muffled shouts, Christmas carols, and door slams resonated through the stairwell, as if it were acoustically designed to pull sound upward through the thin walls of adjoining apartments.

I asked her, “How well did you know Chris Dietz?”

“I lived next door to him for two months. Since he moved in,” she said. “When I got jacked outta my room, I found an empty one downstairs. When can I go back to my place?”

I said, “When the crime scene guys are done. Probably take another day.”

“What about all the holes in my door?”

I shrugged an apology and said, “That’ll be up to hotel management and Nationwide. You have something for us?”

She scowled. “I need a hundred dollars. Savage was my rent money.”

Conklin said, “A hundred? That’s a little much, isn’t it?”

“It’s cheap for what I’ve got for you,” she said. “He used to talk to me when we were done. He told me his plans.”

I didn’t want to take a witness statement in a fire stairwell if I could help it. If Dancy had something, I wanted her in an interrogation room on camera.

We had a map of Golden Gate Park with a circle around the museum that had come from Dietz’s phone. It was a good start. Maybe we had the where. But I wanted more. Much more. Times, dates, names, all the details needed to flesh out this sketchy story. If Dancy had answers, truthful ones, a hundred bucks was cheap.

I said, “I have to get the boss to sign for that. Let’s take a ride to the station.”

She scoffed and trotted down toward the lobby.

I shouted after her, “Dancy. We’ll get the money.”

She spun around. “You want to lock me up.”

“No,” I said. “I want to talk to you in private—”

“Listen, and make sure you hear me,” she said. “I’m not going to no damned police station with you.”

A door opened on the floor below us. Children’s voices rang out and their footsteps clattered in the stairwell.

I sighed. Our potential informant was dancing away.

“Come back,” I said. “I’ll give you what I’ve got on me.”

The young prostitute walked up to the landing and stuck out her palm.

Conklin dug his wallet out of his back pocket and I searched my jacket for spare change.

I handed him my little wad.

Conklin counted his bills and said, “I’ve got sixty. All together, we’ve got seventy-five dollars and thirty-five cents.”

Dancy looked at it and snorted. “Keep the change,” she said. She plucked the bills from Conklin’s hand and stuffed them inside the bodice of her red spangled blouse.

She said, “Dietz told me that he was going to hit the mayor.”

“Caputo?” I said stupidly.

“He’s the mayor, right?”

“Why was Dietz going to kill the mayor?”

“He didn’t say why. Savage always wants to be a big man. There was supposed to be a huge paycheck in the hit. He said he knew where the mayor was and when. He was just waiting for the call and it would be a go.”

“Waiting for the call from whom?” Conklin asked.

Dancy looked at him like he was an idiot.

“You don’t know anything, do you?” she said. “Loman. Savage was working for Mr. Loman.”


CONKLIN AND I sat across from Brady in his small, glass-walled office at the back of the bullpen.

Our lieutenant had a few to-do lists in front of him, yellow pads marked with a red grease pencil. A flurry of Post-it notes covered his lamp and walls. Every light on his phone console blinked red.

The stress of several punishing months of double duty showed in Brady’s face and posture. I wondered how much longer he could take it, how long before either a new chief was hired to replace Jacobi or Brady took the bump up to the bigger job. He had the chops to be chief, but the position was 100 percent administration and politics.

I didn’t think he would like it.

Brady punched a button on his phone console and said, “Brenda, can you clear these calls before the phone shorts out?”

To us he said, “Y’all have to make this quick.”

Conklin and I told him about our morning with Clapper at the Anthony and dangled the two shiny objects: Dancy’s tip about a contract on the mayor and the circled museum on the hit man’s phone.

Brady leaned back in his chair and stared out at the traffic on the freeway.

When he turned back, he said, “We’re swimming in tips, none substantiated. Loman’s crew is going to hit one of two banks, a jewelry store, or all of the above.

“Now we add in a target on the mayor. Why the mayor? Is this political? Is it terrorism?”

Conklin said, “Dancy told us that Dietz was given a contract. That’s all we’ve got.”

Brady said, “I’ll get to the mayor. He’s too willing to put himself in front of microphones. Cameras. He should cancel any public appearances. I can beef up his security detail.”

He stood up, shouted out across the bullpen, “Brenda, please get Wroble on the line.”

Ike Wroble was captain of the Homeland Security Unit, now reporting to Brady in his role as temporary police chief.

Brady sat down, drummed his fingers on the legal pad.

“About a robbery at the de Young,” said Brady. “It’s a rich target. If Lambert, your shopping-bag thief, is right that there’s going to be a heist, that sounds more like the way to go than taking out the mayor. There’s a fortune in artwork at the de Young.

“Either way, we’ve got three days to get ahead of this. I don’t have to tell you, we have limited resources and not one goddamn reliable fact.”

We kicked it around for ten more precious minutes. Conklin argued that we should lean on Dancy. “She says Dietz confided in her. She’s skittish, but motivated by cash.”

“Okay,” said Brady. “Grab up a partner from the bullpen or get a couple of unis and pick her up. If she’s uncooperative, hold her as a material witness. And, Conklin, you interview her alone. Do your magic. Boxer, we’ve still got Lambert upstairs?”

“Yes, his arraignment is tomorrow.”

“Good. You and Jacobi squeeze him hard. What else does he know about Dietz, about Loman, and does he know anything about any possible hits on, say, local politicians? And get ahold of security at the de Young. Tell them what we’ve got.”

Brady’s phone lines were blinking like a flock of rabid bats, and Brenda was at his door.

Conklin and I got out of his way and went to work.


CONKLIN FOUND A pickup partner in Robbery, and they left the Hall to bring Ms. Dancy in.

Jacobi swooped in, took Conklin’s vacant chair, and plugged in his laptop.

I said, “Must suck to get dragged back into this mess.”

“Not at all, Boxer. It’s retirement that sucks.”

Job one for us was the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. We were both familiar with the spacious modern showplace that held a permanent collection of great American art as well as priceless jewelry and special exhibits. With the opening of the annual holiday artisan fair and special viewing hours, foot traffic would be up.

“You call museum security,” I said.

“And you hit the keys.”

I grinned at him. It felt great to be partnered again with my old pal. We had always been able to read each other’s minds and finish each other’s sentences. We hadn’t lost the knack.

I booted up my computer. If the de Young was the target, I could envision gunfire spraying throughout the galleries. I could imagine a bloodbath.

Jacobi said, “Guy named James Karp was head of security last I checked. I used to know him.”

As Jacobi dialed out, I hit the keys, asking our software for museum robberies. Pages of them unfurled on my screen.

I clicked on the first link and read about an audacious museum heist in Boston. In this case, a couple of armed cops arrived after the museum had closed for the day and told a security guard that they’d received a call reporting a disturbance. Breaking the rules, the guard let the supposed cops in, and they promptly handcuffed him, threatened another guard, and made off with thirteen high-value paintings worth five hundred million dollars. There’d been no shooting. No mayhem. Just a well-planned and -executed robbery.

The return on investment was, frankly, unbelievable. The fake cops were never ID’d or caught, and the property was never recovered.

A similar job had taken place in a Swiss museum. Two bad guys in ski masks had forced their way in, bound the security guards with duct tape, and gone out the back with four paintings by the all-star masters’ club: Cézanne, Degas, Monet, and van Gogh.

As with the Boston heist, there’d been good planning, a huge haul disproportionate to the number of men in the crew, and, surprisingly, no bloodshed.

Jacobi sighed loudly and said into the phone, “Yes, I can continue to hold.”

I saw the beauty of these robberies that required very few people and had such enormous payouts. I went on to read about more sophisticated, over-the-top B-movie-type heists involving explosives and tunnels that had taken years to dig. A robbery of a Swedish museum had one team to lift the masterworks while another detonated cars in other parts of the city, closing off roadways so that police couldn’t fully respond.

I thought about that. Code 3, adrenalized cops swarming in from all points with lights, sirens, the works, and slamming into gridlock—everywhere. Damn. Frustrating wasn’t a strong enough word for that.

Jacobi had the receiver to his ear and was twisting the cord around his fingers, but he was still on hold, so I gave him the highlights of my research.

I said, “From what I can tell, you don’t have to come through the skylight on a rope with suction cups and a glass cutter or crawl under laser beams. You want to rob a museum, go at night. No civilians, small security detail. Threaten and terrify the guards, bind them with duct tape, get the keys and codes, lift the loot that is hanging in plain sight, and get the hell out.

“I wonder if that’s Loman’s plan. Do the hit not on Christmas Day, as we’ve been led to believe, but after museum hours on Christmas Eve. Not many security guards working then.”

Jacobi said, “I like your thinking,” and turned his attention back to the phone. “James Karp? It’s Warren Jacobi. Yeah, I know, long time. Listen, Karp, I’m helping out at Southern Station on a tip we got that the de Young is going to be burglarized.”

“Put him on speaker,” I said.

Jacobi hit the button and introduced the security head, adding, “Boxer, Karp and I were patrolling a beat when you were in high school.”

I laughed politely and said, “That can’t be right.” I cut to the chase, telling Karp about our unconfirmed lead pointing to a possible well-armed hit on the museum on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Our call was interrupted when Officer Bubbleen Waters texted me from the seventh-floor jail. Sgt. I got your prisoner in a box. Lambert, Julian.

Jacobi told Karp he’d call him back and signed off.

We went upstairs to the jail. I was ready and eager to talk to Julian Lambert. I had news for him about his friend Dietz.

And we weren’t leaving Lambert until he had actionable news for us.


JULIAN LAMBERT WORE a day-old beard and the same odd expression I’d noticed when Conklin and I arrested him yesterday. He took a chair at the table in the jail’s small meeting room, seeming wan and pale, as if lockup was having a bad effect on his morale.

“Sergeant Boxer, right?”

“How’re you doing, Julian?”

I saw that I was going to be the good cop; Jacobi’s age and interrogation style made him a natural heavy. I introduced him as Chief Jacobi, and we all sat at the table, which was twice the size of a luncheon tray.

Would Lambert talk? Our deal with him was paying out tomorrow. He’d given us Dietz, and in exchange, when he went to arraignment court, the ADA bringing the assault and theft charges would drop them and he would be released.

Julian had made good on his side of the deal. We had no leverage.

I said, “We found Chris Dietz at the Anthony.”

“Like I said. I hope you didn’t mention my name.”

“We found him, Julian, but we didn’t talk to him. He pulled his weapon and fired on us. He was killed in the return fire.”

“Oh, no. You killed him?” The jolly expression was gone.

Jacobi jumped in, all business.

“Mr. Lambert, we need some help. We’re getting miscellaneous tips about what Loman’s crew is up to.”

Lambert said, “I can’t believe you killed Dietz. This is my fault. He’s dead because of me—because of what I told you.”

I took temporary leave of my good-cop role. “He’s dead because he fired on police. He knew he was going to die.”

Jacobi refused to be sidetracked. He said to Lambert, “The calls we’re getting say Loman’s going to hit a bank, a museum, or some other high-value target—”

“Wow. Well, I’m not surprised. Loman has a rep for thinking big.”

Jacobi said, “I’ve got some questions for you, Lambert, and here’s your incentive. Tell us what we want to know, or we’re going to hold you as a material witness until you give us what we need to close this deal down.”

“No. Wait. I’m supposed to be released tomorrow.”

Jacobi said, “How do we find Loman?”

“I have no idea. He could live in outer space for all I know.”

“I know this,” said Jacobi. “You’re keeping back information.”

“Jezusss. I told the sergeant. I heard that Chris had a job working for Loman. I didn’t speak with Loman or with Chris. I guess it’s too late now.”

Lambert seemed genuinely broken up. Jacobi didn’t care.

I gave Jacobi a look and he pushed his chair back from the table. I said, “Julian, listen to me. More people could die. You want that on you?”

Lambert said, “I’ve told you everything I know. Supposed to be a big heist on Christmas. Loman is the boss. I’ve never met him, thank God. Who do you think I am, CIA?”

“Who’s your informant? Who told you that Dietz had a job with Loman and that there was going to be a heist?” I asked. “Give me a name, Julian.”

“I can’t say. I can’t say. It wouldn’t do you any good if I did. I got it from a nobody who happened to overhear a phone call.”

“Your story is changing, Julian. You overheard it? Or someone else overheard it? What’s the truth?”

“It’s getting to where your guess is as good as mine. I’m not sleeping. I’m not eating. I can’t even think anymore.”

Either Lambert was digging in or he really was empty.

I stood up from the table, walked to the door, hit it with the flat of my hand, and called, “Guard.”

Jacobi said to Lambert, “Be smart. Speak now, or we’ll hold you as a material witness. We don’t mind keeping you while we file additional charges. Obstruction of justice comes to mind.”

Lambert appeared startled. He said, “Look, I can’t verify this.”

The door opened and two guards came into the room.

“Hang on a minute,” Jacobi said to the guards. Then, to Lambert, “We’re listening.”

“What I heard was they were going to hit the mint.”

“The San Francisco Mint? Who told you that?” I asked.

He shook his head—no, no, no.

“Give me a name.”

“Marcus, okay? That’s all I know about him. Calls himself Marcus, no known address. He’s harmless, so try not to kill him, all right?”

“What else?” I said. “Anything about a hit on a museum? Any targeted political figures?”

“No,” said Lambert. “Marcus said the mint.”

I didn’t think an army could get into the mint. The gray stone structure located on Hermann Street in the Lower Haight was completely closed to the public. Currency was no longer produced there, but the mint did strike commemoratives, special coins, and sets—it was a highly fortified fort full of gold and silver bars.

“Don’t use my name,” Lambert pleaded. “Keep my name out of this.”

Jacobi and I left Lambert with the guards and took the elevator down to the squad room.

I said to Jacobi, “Could this be true? The mint is impenetrable. Guns and ski masks won’t cut it. What’s your bullshit detector tell you?”

Jacobi said, “That it’s time to call the Secret Service.”

Part Three

* * *



JULIAN LAMBERT LEFT the jail in the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street with his backpack over his shoulder and wearing the red down jacket and dirty clothes he’d had on when he was arrested.

He’d felt like a vagrant in court, but the cops had made good on their promise. The ADA had said, “We’re withdrawing the charges, Your Honor.”

He was freed into a blustery morning. He walked northwest into a high, damp wind, trying to shake off the feeling of cuffs and bars, the omnipresent glare of fluorescent lights and psychopathic guards, the echoing shouts of prisoners.

He’d spent only two nights in a cell, but it felt like a year. And now the rest of his life was ahead of him.

With the wind blowing his hair around, Lambert adjusted his backpack and headed toward Victoria Manalo Draves Park, thinking of the job to come. He was sure that it would be a well-oiled process, and just as with a spy cell, he wouldn’t know the others on the team and they wouldn’t know him.

When the job was done, Loman would give him a passport, a new name and address, and a flush bank account in a city with a coastline. That was the deal. He was thinking he just might have some work done. Lose the bags under his eyes, shave down the nose. There was nothing he would miss about San Francisco, USA.

He had just crossed Columbia Square when a car horn honked behind him. He turned and watched as the blue Ford sedan pulled alongside him and slowed to a stop.

The car had one occupant, the driver, who buzzed down the passenger-side window and called out to him. “Lambert, right?”

Lambert walked over to the car and peered in. “And you are?”

“Dick Russell. Loman’s man.”

Lambert said, “I thought Loman was coming.”

“He wants to have lunch with you,” said Russell. “Get in.” Lambert got into the passenger seat and closed the door, and the car took off.

Loman’s man looked nothing like a criminal. He wore old-man clothes, a cap with a button-snap brim, a khaki Windbreaker, and perforated leather driving gloves. His face was unlined and ink-free, and he was carrying a spare tire around his waist. To Lambert’s eyes, Russell looked like an accountant.

“Lunch, huh?” Lambert said. “Mind driving by my crib so I can change? I’d rather not smell this bad, you know?”

Russell said, “We don’t have time, and besides, it’s not necessary. Loman is very impressed. Tell me how you got yourself arrested, if you don’t mind.”

Lambert relaxed. A light rain pattered on the windshield, and the wiper blades smoothed it away. He was thrilled to be able to tell the story to someone, and Dick Russell was a very eager audience.

Lambert began, “It was Mr. Loman’s inspiration.”

Then he gave Russell the play-by-play, how he’d planned his moves as he ran, knocking down the old man and grabbing the bag, feinting, dodging, slowing so the cop could lunge and catch him.

Russell cracked up at the punch lines, then asked him what happened once the cops had him in the box.

Lambert told him about giving up Dietz as instructed. “The cops just told me about Dietz getting killed. Did you know?”

Russell nodded, slowed for the light on Howard Street. “I heard. Did you know he had cancer?”

“No. I didn’t know him very well.”

“It was sad. Terminal. In his brain. Dietz didn’t want to die in a cell with his mind turning to mush, so he decided to go out in a blaze of glory.”

“No shit.”

Russell continued, explaining that Dietz’s cut of the take was going to his daughter in Newark. “We’re funneling the money into her bank account.”

“Nice,” said Lambert. “The cops bit on the map of the park Dietz left on his phone—I take it that was part of the plan?”

“Absolutely,” said Russell. “So, Julian, where did you leave things with the cops?”

Lambert told Loman’s man the whole story of the second interrogation—the threats, the pressure, how the two major-league cops finally dragged “the truth” out of him.

Lambert said, “I told them I heard Loman’s crew was going to hit the mint.”

“You’re kidding,” Russell said, turning to grin at Lambert. “That’s brilliant. Protecting the mint will drain their resources. What made you think of that?”

Lambert was laughing now, enjoying the ride and the company. He said, “I always wanted to hit the mint. Must be pallets of gold bars and vaults full of coins in there. I’m a pretty good safecracker. But wait—that isn’t the target, is it?” he asked. “I didn’t accidentally give it away?”

Russell said, “Not at all. Make sure to tell Loman all about this; he’s going to love it. He’ll be meeting us in about five minutes. He’s never late.”


THERE WAS A lull in the conversation between Lambert and Russell as Russell negotiated the traffic in the rain, looking at his watch every few minutes. Lambert didn’t want to interrupt Russell’s thoughts, so he tuned in to his own.

He thought again about Dietz. He didn’t know much about the guy, but he’d gleaned that Dietz was a sports fisherman, owned a boat called the Mai Tai he talked about a lot, and had a seventeen-year-old daughter named Debbie. When he’d known Dietz, he hadn’t yet been diagnosed with cancer. Shit. He’d been only about forty.

Lambert tried to picture what the cops had told him about Dietz firing on armed SWAT like he wanted to die. They didn’t know that Dietz and Loman had planned this “blaze of glory” in exchange for a payout to Dietz’s daughter. Generous of Loman to spring for it. But then, Dietz had come through for Loman even in death.

Lambert appreciated Loman’s game plan, throwing down fake clues like spike strips in the path of the police, distracting them from the real plan and, at the same time, scaring the citizens with random chaotic events. It took tremendous skill and confidence to do that.

Lambert’s own strength was that he was a complete athlete, almost a player-coach. The coach had foresight; he could diagram plays and knew when to call them. The player saw the whole field, anticipated events and knew what to do in the moment. His movements were quick and instinctive. He executed.

Lambert had used these skills in football and in life, and they had never failed him.

For this job, he would work with Loman’s playbook and carefully script out his plays. He had a nose for the goal line—in this case, the money. And he’d kn