The Women's Murder Club is back! A brutal madman sprays bullets into a crowd of children leaving a San Francisco church. Miraculously-or was it intentionally?-only one person dies. Then an elderly black woman is hung. Police homicide inspector Lindsay Boxer senses a connection and together with medical examiner Claire, assistant D. A. Jill, and Chronicle reporter Cindy, finds a link that sends a chill through the entire nation. This killer's motives are unspeakable.
A COLD RAIN STARTED TO FALL as I pulled my Explorer up to the La Salle Heights Church on Harrow Street, in the predominantly black section of Bay View. An angry, anxious crowd had formed - a combination of saddened neighborhood mothers and the usual sullen homeboys huddled in their bright Tommysall pushing against a handful of uniformed cops.
"This ain't goddamn Mississippi," someone shouted as I forced my way through the throng.
"How many more?" an older woman wailed. "How many more?"
I badged my way past a couple of nervous patrolmen to the front. What I saw next absolutely took my breath away. The facade of the white clapboard church was slashed with a grotesque pattern of bullet holes and lead-colored chinks. A huge hole gaped in a wall where a large stained-glass window had been shot out. Jagged edges of colored glass teetered like hanging ice. Kids were still scattered all over the lawn, obviously in shock, some being attended to by EMS teams.
"Oh, Jesus," I whispered under my breath. I spotted medical techs in black windbreakers huddled over the body of a young girl by the front steps. A couple of plainclothesmen were nearby. One of them was my ex-partner, Warren Jacobi.
I found myself hesitating. I had done this a hundred times. Only months ago I had solved the biggest murder case in the city since Harvey Milk, but so much had happened since then. I felt weird, like I was new at this. Balling my fists, I took a deep breath and went over to Jacobi.
"Welcome back to the world, Lieutenant," Jacobi said with a roll of the tongue on my new rank.
The sound of that word still sent electricity surging through me. Heading Homicide had been the goal I had pursued throughout my career: the first female homicide detective in San Francisco, now the department's first female lieutenant. After my old L.T., Sam Roth, opted for a cushy stint up in Bodega Bay, Chief Mercer had called me in. I can do one of two things, he'd said to me. I can keep you on long-term administrative leave and you can see if you find the heart to do this job again. Or I can give you these, Lindsay. He pushed a gold shield with two bars on it across the table. Until that moment, I don't think I had ever seen Mercer smile.
"The lieutenant's shield doesn't make it any easier, does it, Lindsay?" Jacobi said, emphasizing that our three-year rela-tionship as partners had now changed.
"What do we have?" I asked him.
"Looks like a single gunman, from out in those bushes." He pointed to a dense thicket beside the church, maybe fifty yards away. "Asshole caught the kids just as they came out. Opened fire with everything he had."
I took a breath, staring at the weeping, shell-shocked kids scattered all over the lawn. "Anybody see the guy? Somebody did, right?"
He shook his head. "Everyone hit the deck." Near the fallen child, a distraught black woman sobbed into the shoulder of a comforting friend. Jacobi saw my eyes fix on the dead girl.
"Name's Tasha Catchings," he muttered. "In the fifth grade, over at St. Anne's. Good girl. Youngest kid in the choir."
I moved in closer and knelt over the blood-soaked body. No matter how many times you do this, it's a wrenching sight. Tasha's school blouse was soaked with blood, mixed with falling rain. Just a few feet away, a rainbow-colored knapsack lay on the grass.
"She's it?" I asked incredulously. I surveyed the scene. "She's the only one who got hit?"
Bullet holes were everywhere, splintered glass and wood. Dozens of kids had been streaming out to the street...All those shots, and only one victim. "Our lucky day, huh?" Jacobi snorted.
Copyright © 2002 by James Patterson