San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti never thought murder would be part of her practice, but now, Julia’s former boss and current client has asked for help. He has serious problems at his law firm. Two attorneys and a paralegal have received death threats and the only common denominator between all three is a case long settled — the highly publicized Bank of San Francisco fire. Julia’s convinced a woman is behind the threats, perhaps even the widow of the man who died in that same fire, but no one wants to listen — they can’t believe astrology could provide a clue. Before Julia can help her client, two lawyers are dead and her own life is threatened. Can she unmask the killer before he (or she) takes another life?
The doorbell rang. I hurried down the stairs to the front door. I hesitated as I saw a woman’s figure through the glass. Maggie. It was Maggie. I threw the door open and we hugged. Michael’s sister and I got along famously from the first time we met. Maggie probably understands better than anyone how I feel and even though we don’t stay in touch as much as we used to, every time we meet it’s as though no time has elapsed at all. I stepped back and took a good look at her. She wasn’t smiling. “Maggie? What is it?”
“Can I come in?”
“Of course. Yes.” She was quiet as we climbed the stairs. She headed straight for the kitchen and sat down at the table. I joined her. “What’s wrong?”
“Something’s come up.”
“About . . .”
“Yes,” she didn’t have to say it. I knew she meant Michael.
“What’s happened?” Part of me hoped against hope that we might find an answer some day, another part of me just wanted the sadness and unknowingness to go away.
“Let me try to tell you in some kind of order.” She took a deep breath. “Do you remember the elderly man who used to live across the street from Michael’s old apartment?”
I nodded. I did remember. Michael’s apartment at 45th and Taraval was just a few blocks from my old place in the Sunset District. “Michael and I used to see him when he walked his dog. And then . . .” I shrugged, “there was a time when we didn’t see him as much.”
“Well, I think what happened was his son took the dog because it became too much for the old guy. But the dad didn’t want to leave his home so the family arranged some care and a companion for him.” I waited, not sure what Maggie’s story had to do with Michael. “Apparently, the old man was always taking pictures. He wasn’t any kind of a real photographer, but he liked to do that. He was always fooling around with his camera.”
“Yes, I remember now. He’d even take pictures of the flowers in his yard.”
“He died a couple of weeks ago. And his son and his daughter-in-law are putting the house up for sale. They’ve been there every day, moving stuff out and selling a few things to the neighbors. The thing is . . . they found a box of photos. The father didn’t like digital cameras, he had an old camera that he used and then he’d . . .
“Maggie . . .” I couldn’t imagine where she was going with this story.
“They found a photo of Michael. On the street. Just as that car hit him.”
I gasped and covered my mouth. My heart was racing wildly. “He saw. He saw who hit Michael?”
“He must have. He must have tried to take a picture of what happened from his window.”
“Why didn’t he ever say anything?”
Maggie shook her head. “I don’t know. I really don’t. Maybe he didn’t want to get involved. Maybe he was afraid he’d have to testify.”
As much as I dreaded looking at anything Maggie had described, I still needed to see the photo. “Do you have it with you?”
“I don’t. The old man’s son and his wife knew what it was. They didn’t know Michael, but they knew there had been a hit and run in the neighborhood and that someone had died, so they turned it over to the police.”
“Have you seen it?”
“Yes, they showed it to me and my mother. She’s hysterical right now.” Celia, Michael’s mother had refused to speak to me since his death. She wasn’t on firm ground to begin with but after the accident, in her convoluted logic, she blamed me for her loss. If he hadn’t been in such a hurry to meet me, he would have been more careful. He wouldn’t have been killed.
“I can imagine.” I didn’t envy Maggie the emotional turmoil she must be dealing with.
“I told you before, Julia, she’s made a shrine of Michael’s room and I’m so worried about her. She never wants to go out or do anything. Once in a while I manage to drag her to a restaurant for brunch or something, but even her old friends have given up calling her.”
“What can they tell from the photo?”
“Not much, it’s not digital and it’s old. He had an old Nikon, I think, so they can’t see very much. Michael is lying on his side on the street and . . .” Maggie’s voice shook, “and you can just see the edge of the car. It’s dark or black and there’s a bit of a bumper and the corner of the right rear tire. The police think the driver must have panicked and took off. The old guy might have been looking out his window when it happened and snapped it really quick. They’re going to try to get as much information from it as they can, but they don’t really hold out much hope.”
“Who’s in charge of this?”
“Actually, a retired detective has volunteered to work on it. The case has never been closed, but this is the first thing they’ve had to go on at all. I can get you the name of the detective in charge, and maybe he’ll give you more information. I’ll find out and let him know you might want to talk to him.”
“Thanks, Maggie.” My heart sank. In all this time, no witnesses to the accident had come forward. One woman at the end of the block remembered a dark vehicle traveling fast, but couldn’t swear it had anything at all to do with the car that hit Michael. “We shouldn’t get our hopes up.”
“I want some answers, Julia!” Maggie’s voice had risen. “And I’m sure you do too. It’s not right. What this has done to our family, to me, to you. All our lives have been changed because of this. I want to see someone pay for what they did.”
I nodded. “I do too. It won’t change anything. It won’t bring him back. But you’re right. We’ve all gone through so much . . .”
“I have to go.” Maggie stood suddenly and I realized she hadn’t even taken her coat off. “I’m staying at my Mom’s for a little while. I’m so worried about her. I don’t like the thought of her being all alone in that big house.”
“Okay. Stay in touch and let me know what you find out?”
“I will.” Maggie leaned toward me and I put my arms around her, holding her tight. I felt her chest rise, a quiet sob. “I’m sorry to arrive on your doorstep like this, but I had to tell you face to face.”
“I’m glad you did, Maggie. I’m glad you did. And maybe we’ll learn more.”
Maggie pulled away. I could see tears forming in her eyes as she rushed down the stairs.
Excerpt from Tail of the Dragon by Connie di Marco. Copyright © 2018 by Connie di Marco. Reproduced with permission from Connie di Marco. All rights reserved.
Connie di Marco is the author of the Zodiac Mysteries from Midnight Ink featuring San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti. Tail of the Dragon, third in the series, will be released on August 8, 2018.