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Description

“Tough-but-tender cop Lindsay Boxer” (People) leads the Women’s Murder Club in the high-profile murder investigation of a billionaire San Francisco couple. As enemies lurk in the shadows, will Cindy, Claire, Yuki, and Lindsay still be standing when the clock strikes midnight?

SFPD Sergeant Lindsay Boxer, Medical Examiner Claire Washburn, Assistant District Attorney Yuki Castellano, and crime writer Cindy Thomas gather at one of San Francisco’s finest restaurants to celebrate exciting news: Cindy is getting married.
 
Before they can raise their glasses, there’s a disturbance in the restaurant. A woman has been assaulted.
 
Claire examines the victim. Lindsay makes an arrest. Yuki takes the case. Cindy covers it. 
 
The legal strategy is complicated by gaps in the plaintiff’s memory—and the shocking reason behind her ever-changing testimony.
 
As Yuki leads the prosecution, Lindsay chases down a high-society killer whose target practice may leave the Women’s Murder Club short a bridesmaid … or two.

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What's Inside

Prologue: Six Months Earlier

ONE

I WAS LATE getting back from the men’s jail in San Bruno. I braked the squad car in front of the Hall of Justice, where my good friend Assistant District Attorney Yuki Castellano was waiting at the curb.

She got into the car and asked, “How’d it go?” Yuki is a prosecutor. Interrogation is her thing.

I said, “An inmate called Brandt got word to me that he knew who shot Holly Fricke and wanted to make a deal. It should have been one‑stop shopping, but I had to sign six forms, wait for a free room, wait some more for Brandt to be brought down . . .”

“And then?” Yuki asked.

“He’s a pathetic liar. I heard him out, laughed, and left. Anyway, sorry, Yuki. You called ahead?”

“Yep, yep, yep. Claire said don’t worry. She and Cindy are having fun. Said something about caviar.”

Yuki grinned into my sour expression. “Did she tell you?” she asked.

I smiled for real. “Cindy? No. But I have confidential informants.”

Yuki laughed her high‑pitched musical chortle. “It’s going to be great,” she said.

“What part?”

“Allllll of it.”

I agreed. Cindy and my longtime friend and partner, Rich Conklin, had finally both committed at the same time to getting married. It was a bell ringer. The two of them had been living together, playing house, for several years, both in love, but still stuck on an obstacle. Cindy was building her dangerous, satisfying career and didn’t want to have children — yet. Richie was from a big family, and to him children had to happen. The obstacle had somehow been sidelined. But Cindy was keeping the details to herself. Besides, today’s celebration was for Claire.

Cindy, Yuki, and I had saved up for Claire’s birthday, and today was the day.

Yuki was perfectly dressed in a pencil skirt and a blazer over a silk blouse just right for Xe Sogni, the hottest and most expensive place to eat in the entire Bay Area.

I hadn’t had time to change out of my everyday Homicide detective gear: blue pants, button‑down shirt, blue blazer, badge on a chain around my neck. I freed my lapel from the shoulder belt and tipped the rearview mirror toward me.

“You look fine,” Yuki said.

I said, “Well, hair and makeup didn’t show up this morning.” “It’s just lunch. Okay?” she said.

“This time with a cake and candles.”

We both laughed and I turned my mind to Claire. I wanted her to have a birthday she would remember for years. If we got there this year.

As I sweated the noontime rush, traffic slowed even more. Horns blew. I was tempted to hit my lights and sirens, but instead, I pounded the wheel with my palms. “Come onnn.”

Yuki looked at me like, Chill, Lindsay. And just then the traffic moved.

“And we’re off,” she said.

I floored it and five minutes later we saw the restaurant just up ahead, a plain brick building disguising a culinary gem. I pulled up to the curb and valets opened doors and whisked the squad car away.

The restaurant’s main room was dimly lit, banked on our right with an open kitchen, lined to our left with mahogany dining tables and large contemporary artwork. The air smelled indescribably delicious.

Yuki said, “The Women’s Murder Club is in the house.”

I followed her finger and saw Cindy and Claire sitting at a table for four near a spiral staircase. They were both grinning. Claire, dressed in navy‑blue silk, had never looked happier. Yuki and I pulled out chairs and joined them. Waiters fussed. As Yuki predicted, we were in time for the caviar course presented with a curl of salmon in a scallop‑shell dish.

God, this was good.

We were joking and roasting the birthday girl as the next course was served — then a woman screamed, loud enough to lift the roof.

“Nooooooo!”

Our waiter dropped a water glass. I grabbed his sleeve and showed him my badge.

“What’s up there?”

“Staff ch‑ch‑changing room.”

I got to my feet, knocking over my chair, and started up the corkscrew staircase. I took two steps at a time, and when I was halfway up, I heard a man shout, “You crazy bitch!”

I pulled my gun and, with my left hand on the railing, I raced to the top of the stairs.

•••

TWO

AS OUR WAITER had said, the second floor was a changing room. It was carpeted, about thirty feet square, densely packed with rows of lockers and benches between the rows. The lockers formed barricades and I couldn’t see between them from where I stood in the doorway. Even though I was armed, it was dangerous as hell to be here without my partner.

I listened as I scanned the maze of a room. I heard nothing, saw no movement, and then a shadow shifted in a far corner to my left. The shadow was a woman, lying on her side with her back pressed against the wall twenty feet away. I saw that, except for her pink bra that had been pushed up above her breasts, the woman was naked. The dim overhead lighting flickered. The rheostat was to my left and so I dialed up the lights. I reached the woman in seconds and identified myself. She didn’t seem to notice.

But I was taking mental notes of her. She was in her twenties; her eyes were puffy and partially closed and she was wheezing out little cries. I spoke to her again, asked her name, but she didn’t respond. That’s when I saw the fresh bruises encircling her neck and wrists.

She’d been choked and beaten, but she was alive.

I whipped my head around, scanned the area. Where was the damned attacker? Invisible.

I pulled my radio from my blazer pocket, connected to dispatch, and barked out a request for backup and an ambulance. If the attacker was still in the room, he’d heard me and would know that the cops were on the way.

Where was he?

I scoped out the room again from this new angle. There had to be an exit that led down to the kitchen, but I couldn’t leave the victim alone to look for it.

Taking a chance, I stood up and shouted, “SFPD! Step out with your hands in the air.”

That didn’t happen. Restaurant sounds had resumed on the floor below. China clanked, diners laughed. Where was the man who’d cursed loud enough to be heard downstairs over the music and chatter?

And then I saw movement at the far end of a row of lockers. A man was half hidden behind an open locker door. Was this the attacker, or a waiter changing into his work clothes — or one and the same?

With just a sliver view, I made him as a white male, mid‑twenties, average height and weight, dirty‑blond hair, and he was half naked. The tails of his white dress shirt hung down to mid‑thigh, front and back. His underwear and trousers were coiled around his feet.

It was him.

We made eye contact and he panicked, hopping, stumbling, bouncing off lockers as he tried to pull up his pants.

I shouted, “Stay where you are. Show me your hands.”

He stopped and, leaning against a locker, held out his palms. He didn’t have a gun. I let out a breath and said, “Turn around, close that locker, and put your hands on the door.”

“I’m going to get dressed, okay?”

“What’d I just say?”

The subject shut the locker door with a bang, then hesitated. He tried to pull up his pants and I could see him thinking of making a run. I guess I’m psychic. He pushed off from the bank of lockers and, heading away from me, took one step and immediately tripped and fell hard to the floor with a yowl of pain. He was where I wanted him. I holstered my gun and, kneeling alongside him, pulled his arms around to his back and cuffed him.

“Hey,” he said with his cheek pressed to the floor. “Listen to me. She set me up. I want to tell you what happened . . .”

“You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney . . .”

“Am I under arrest?”

“Yes, you are. What’s your name?”

“Tyler. I work here.”

“Tyler what?”

“I’m done talking.”

“Fine. Tyler Doe, you’re under arrest for aggravated assault, other charges pending.”

He spat, “Jesus Christ, what is this? She set me up, goddamnit. I’m telling the truth, okay?”

I finished reading him his rights and he acknowledged none of them. I needed help to get him out of here and the victim needed medical attention.

Where was my backup?

•••

THREE

THE VICTIM LOOKED to be in her late twenties. Her body was marked with fresh contusions and lacerations and the bruises around her neck were livid.

I stooped down and again tried to get a response from her. “I’m Sergeant Boxer. SFPD. Can you tell me your name?”

She groaned and wheezed. If she’d heard me, she was unable to answer or even look up. I pulled my phone from my pocket and speed‑dialed Claire, who was still at our lunch table on the main floor.

When Claire picked up, I said, “There’s an injured woman up here. Yeah, I called it in. Can you come up and take a look? And tell the manager that the locker room is off‑limits to everyone but cops and EMTs. Yes, Yuki can come up.”

The victim’s backpack was half buried in a pile of her clothes. I unzipped the bag, saw makeup and pens and an assortment of small office supplies. I rooted around for a moment looking for her wallet and phone, then dumped the whole lot of stuff onto the floor. I opened her wallet and, after finding her driver’s license,

compared her DMV photo to her face. The woman on the floor was named Mary Elena Hayes, age twenty‑eight.

“Mary Elena,” I said. “Can you tell me what happened?” Her voice was raspy, but I could make out what she said. “He raped us.”

What?

“There’s another victim? Where is she?” Mary Elena struggled to sit up.

“Lie still,” I said. “Help is coming.”

She croaked, “I’m Loretta. My name is Loretta.” She rolled onto her stomach and sobbed onto the carpet.

Tyler was looking at me from the floor. He said, “Let me talk.” I said, “Hey! We’ll take your statement at the station.”

Claire and Yuki stepped through the locker room doorway and went directly to the victim. Claire spoke first.

“I’m Dr. Washburn. Can you show me where you hurt?”

Yuki grabbed a towel from a stack on a nearby bench and covered the young woman’s body as I asked Ms. Hayes, “How do you know this man?”

Finally, she looked at me. “I just wanted to use the b‑b‑bathroom.” “Tyler” had said he was done talking, but he was still trying to get his story out. “Listen. Sergeant. I work here. She saw me, and she followed me. She wanted this. Understand? This was her idea.”

“I hear sirens,” Yuki said. “And Cindy’s heading up.”

I sighed. Cindy is an investigative crime reporter, and although I love her to pieces, she’s dogged, and once she saw this scene she’d call it news and would be working. It was the wrong time to talk to the press.

Tyler Doe spoke. “She said her name was Olivia and that I was hot.”

“No. Did not,” the woman mumbled.

“She did,” said our only suspect. “She said she wanted it hard and fast, and right now. I’m just human, Sergeant. She begged me. And another thing —”

Footsteps pounded up the stairs and two uniforms appeared; Nardone and Einhorn, both good cops I’d known for years.

Another thing,” Tyler shouted as the two cops pulled him to his feet. “She’s nuts. First, she tells me her name is Olivia. Then, it’s Loretta. Or is it Mary Elena? She lies.”

Nardone got a grip on the suspect’s shoulders while Einhorn hoisted and zipped up the man’s trousers, leaving the belt dangling.

I began opening unlocked locker doors. A jacket hanging from a hook in one of them looked like it could be Tyler’s.

I showed it to him. “Is this yours?”

He looked away from me and Nardone slapped the back of his head.

“Answer the sergeant.”

“Yes. It’s mine,” he said.

Tyler’s wallet was inside his jacket pocket. His ID told me that his full name was Tyler Richard Cates, showed him at five ten, 160, with green eyes and a Gough Street address. I said to Nardone, “Voucher this and take him to booking. I’ve charged him with aggravated assault.”

“So leave him in lockup.”

“You got it.”

As the two officers left with Cates through the rear exit, Cindy, panting from the climb, arrived in the changing room and called out to me.

“Lindsay. What happened?”

“Hey, Cindy. You know I can’t tell you.”

“Off the record?”

“Hah.”

“Okay. I know. Anyway, I’m here to tell you that our waiter needs to clear our table. There’s a cake. With candles. Oh, and here you are, Claire. We didn’t even sing ‘Happy Birthday to You.’ ”

Claire said, “It’s okay, Cin. Medical emergency.”

The ambulance driver appeared in the locker room with a pair of EMTs who went to Mary Elena Hayes and lifted her onto a stretcher. While Claire filled in the EMTs on her observations, I thought about what Mary Elena Hayes had told me.

He raped us. What had she meant by that?

Cindy sighed as the room cleared out, leaving her without a story. She put her arm around my waist.

“Trouble always finds you, Linds.”

I hugged her and said, “Look who’s talking.”

Cindy smiled at her feet, then said, “We can still kinda make this work. Let’s bag the gifts. Box up the cake. Pay up. And then you tell me everything.”

“Girl Reporter,” I said, giving her a squeeze. “You’re incorrigible.”

•••

PRESENT DAY: MONDAY

CHAPTER 1

THE DAY DREAMER WAS ninety feet of streamlined fiberglass, teak, and chrome. I’d never been on a yacht like this, but today was the day. Bob Barnett, Cindy’s agent and lawyer, had treated her to a three‑hour excursion on the bay because her just‑ published book, coauthored with a twisted serial killer, had topped the New York Times Best Seller list.

We grouped around Cindy on the main deck as she read Barnett’s card out loud.

“Writing Burke’s book was an act of admirable courage and determination, Cindy. You’re a winner and your book is a new true crime classic. Promise me that you’ll relax and have fun today. Try, okay? Love, Bob.”

Cindy called out, “Thank you, Bob. Wherever you are.” I seconded that emotion.

A ship’s officer showed us through the lounge and passageways to the aft deck, where a cushioned bench rounded the stern and lounge chairs were set up under the shade of the overhanging deck. As the yacht cast off, Cindy took a lounge chair at the center. Claire and Yuki settled into the chairs flanking hers and I stretched out on one of the long side benches across from them. We were all beaming. It was a picture‑worthy moment.

I took a selfie with my friends waving their hands behind me. Phones were passed around for portraits of a memorable day and the breeze blew away the worries of the last week. Yuki lifted her glass, saying, “To a life of happy days.”

“Hear, hear.”

Claire reached her hand over to Cindy’s chair, saying, “So we’re soon to become the Women’s Married Club.”

“Who told you?” Cindy joked.

Claire laughed. “Let’s see that blinding green bling on your finger again.”

Cindy stuck out her hand theatrically and Claire said, “Wow oh wow.”

Yuki said, “Let me see,” and Cindy showed her, too. “It’s too gorgeous, Cindy. It’s stunning.”

“He bought it for me. I don’t even want to know what it cost him,” Cindy said, first time I’d ever seen her looking shy.

“Really suits you, Cin,” I said. I’d first seen the ring years ago. When Rich asked me what I thought of the square cut emerald I’d said, “It’s perfect!” The next day, he’d proposed to Cindy at Grace Cathedral. She’d said yes but then later changed her mind.

It had killed Richie, but he’d hung in for love.

Now, Cindy was wearing the ring again. She was getting married.

And she was marrying the perfect man.

•••

CHAPTER 2

CLAIRE PROPPED HERSELF up on the chaise and asked Cindy, “So, tell us again, but this time fill in some details. The juicier the better. What did Richie say?”

“Aw, I don’t think I can tell you that.”

Yuki said, “You can tell us, Cindy. It’s off the record.”

We all laughed, Cindy included. So many times we’d discussed a case in front of her and she’d started taking notes. One or all of us would shout, “Off the record.”

I said, “Not fair, Cindy. Come on. We’ve been talking about you and Richie for years.”

Cindy said, “Okay, okay.”

She let it all out and we didn’t interrupt. She said that the other night she’d opened the bedroom closet door and a pile of gun catalogs had slid down from the top shelf, hitting her in the face. Rich was asleep but when she grabbed up the catalogs and dropped them into the trash, the noise woke him up.

“We had a shouting match about whose closet it was — his — and how sick I was of living in that dark hole with him, and I threatened to move out.”

Claire said, “But this was bull, right? You were fighting about something else, am I right?”

Cindy nodded her head. “I was fuming, packing up, and wondering what the hell I was doing when Rich sat me on the bed, grabbed my hands, and said, ‘I want to marry you, Cindy.’ ” She stopped to cough, then went on.

“He said, ‘I love you more than anything, more than closet space, more than a clean fridge, more than a dozen kids.’ Something like that,” Cindy said, looking at each of us. “And he said, ‘Marry me? Will you please?’ ”

We swarmed over her, congratulating her, practically pulling her finger off her hand to see the ring. One of us was crying. I think it was me.

About then, the waiter came out and said that lunch was served. We four grabbed onto one another and staggered against the surprising roll of the deck.

Claire said to Cindy, “By the way, Cin. This is what marriage is like.”

We were all still giggling when we reached the dining salon. A large round table was set for eight in the center of the room and four of the places were taken.

It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkened interior, and by then, the men at the table had gotten to their feet. They were grinning because they’d totally blindsided us.

“How’d you get here without us seeing you?” I asked Joe, my dearly loved husband.

“I’m a G‑man, remember?” he said.

We reached out to our husbands. Cindy hugged Rich, her husband‑to‑be. Claire gave Edmund a big smack. Joe hugged me and got in a butt grab while he was at it. Yuki’s husband, my commanding officer, Homicide Lieutenant Jackson Brady, swept Yuki off her feet — literally — then toasted the newly engaged couple.

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