Prologue | BUS STOP
THE OLD CHROME-YELLOW school bus crawled south on Market Street
at half past seven that May morning. Its side and back windows were
blacked out, and a hip-hop hit throbbed into the low-lying mist
that floated like a silk veil between the sun and San
Got my ice
Got my smoke
Got my ride
Ain't got no hope
Hold ya heads up high
Don't know when
Ya gonna die....
The traffic light changed to yellow at the intersection of
Fourth and Market. The stop-sign arm at the driver's side of
the school bus swung out, the four- way hazard lights burned
amber, and the vehicle came to a halt.
To the right of the bus was a shopping mall, a huge one:
Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, the windows papered with large
Abercrombie posters of provocative half-naked teens in black and
To the left of the bus was a blue Ford van and then one of two
islands splitting the road—a staging area for bus passengers
Two cars behind the school bus, Louise Lindenmeyer, office
manager, late for work, braked her old gray Volvo. She buzzed down
her window and glared at that goddamned school bus.
She'd been stuck on its tailpipe since Buena Vista Park, then
watched it pull away from her at the light at Fifth and Market as a
stream of traffic took the turn and pulled in front of her.
And now that bus had stuck her at a light...again.
Louise heard a shout. "Hey, asshole!"
A man in his shirtsleeves, tie flapping, face bunched up, dried
shaving cream under his left ear, walked past her car to give the
bus driver hell.
A horn honked, and another, and then a cacophony of horns.
The light was green.
Louise took her foot off the brake and at that instant felt a
concussive shock, her ears ringing as she saw the roof of the
school bus explode violently upward.
Chunks of burning metal, steel-and-glass shrapnel, shot out in
all directions faster than gunfire. A mushroom cloud
like that of a small A-bomb formed above the bus, and the
box-shaped vehicle became a fireball. Oily smoke colored the
Louise saw the blue van in the lane to the left of the bus bloom
with flame, then blacken in front of her eyes.
No one got out of the van!
And now the blaze rushed at the silver Camry directly in front
of her. The gas tank blew, and fire danced over the car, consuming
it in vivid, leaping flames.
The bunch-faced man pulled himself up off the pavement to the
hole where her passenger-side window had been. His shirt was gone.
His hair was black frizz. The skin of his face was draped over his
collarbone like tissue paper.
Louise recoiled in horror, grappled with her door handle as fire
lapped at the hood of her Volvo. The car door opened and the heat
That's when she saw the skin of her own arm still on the
steering wheel, as if it were a glove turned inside out.
Louise couldn't hear the businessman's horrified screams or her
own. It was as though her ears had been plugged with wax. Her
vision was all dancing spots and blurry shapes.
And then she was sucked down into a well of black.
Prologue | BUS STOP
MY PARTNER, RICH CONKLIN, was at the wheel of our unmarked car
and I was sugaring my coffee when I felt the
The dashboard shook. Hot coffee slopped over my hand. I shouted,
"What the hell?" A few moments later the radio sputtered,
the dispatcher calling out, "Reports of an explosion at Market
and Fourth. Nearby units identify and respond."
I dumped my coffee out the window, grabbed the mic, and told
Dispatch we were two blocks away as Conklin accelerated up the
hill, then braked so that our car slewed across Fourth Street,
We bolted from the car, Conklin yelling, "Lindsay,
watch out. There could be secondary explosions!"
The air was opaque with roiling smoke, rank with burning rubber,
plastic, and human flesh. I stopped running, wiped my sleeve across
my stinging eyes, and fought against
my gag reflex. I took in the hellish scene—and my hair
literally lifted away from the back of my neck.
Market Street is a major artery. It should have been pulsing
with commuter traffic, but instead it looked like Baghdad after a
suicide bomb. People were screaming, running in circles, blinded by
panic and a screen of smoky haze.
I called Chief Tracchio, reported that I was the first officer
on the scene.
"What's happening, Sergeant?"
I told him what I saw: five dead on the street, two more at the
bus stop. "Unknown number of victims alive or dead, still in their
cars," I coughed into the phone.
"You okay, Boxer?"
I signed off as cruisers, fire rigs, and EMS units, their sirens
whooping, streamed onto Market and formed a perimeter at Third and
at Fifth, blocking off oncoming traffic. Moments later, the command
vehicle rolled up, and the bomb squad, covered top to toe in gray
protective suits, poured onto the debris field.
A bloodied woman of indeterminate age and race staggered toward
me. I caught her as her knees buckled, and Conklin and I helped her
to a gurney.
"I saw it," the victim whispered. She pointed to a blackened
hulk at the intersection. "That school bus was a bomb."
"A school bus? Please, God, not kids!"
I looked everywhere but saw no children.
Had they all been burned alive?
Prologue | BUS STOP
WATER STREAMED from fire hoses, dousing flame. Metal sizzled and
the air turned rancid.
I found Chuck Hanni, arson investigator and explosion expert,
stooping outside the school bus's side door. He had his hair
slicked back, and he wore khakis and a denim shirt, sleeves rolled
up, showing the old burn scar that ran from the base of his right
thumb to his elbow.
Hanni looked up, said, "God-awful disaster, Lindsay."
He walked me through what he called a "catastrophic explosion,"
showed me the two adult-size "crispy critters" curled between the
double row of seats near the driver's side. Pointed out that the
bus's front tires were full of air, the back tires, flat.
"The explosion started in the rear, not the engine compartment.
And I found this."
Hanni indicated rounded pieces of glass, conduction
tubes, and blue plastic shards melted into a mass behind the bus
"Imagine the explosive force," he said, pointing to a metal
projectile embedded in the wall. "That's a triple beam balance," he
said, "and I'm guessing the blue plastic is from a cooler. Only
took a few gallons of ether and a spark to do all this..."
A wave of his hand to indicate the three blocks of utter
I heard hacking coughs and boots crunching on glass. Conklin,
his six-foot-two frame materializing out of the haze. "There's
something you guys should see before the bomb squad throws us outta
Hanni and I followed Conklin across the intersection to where a
man's body lay folded up against a lamppost.
Conklin said, "A witness saw this guy fly out of the bus's
windshield when it blew."
The dead man was Hispanic, his face sliced up, his hair in
dyed-red twists matted with blood, his body barely covered in the
remnants of an electric-blue sweatshirt and jeans, his skull bashed
in from his collision with the lamppost. From the age lines in his
face, I guessed this man had lived a hard forty years. I dug his
wallet out of his hip pocket, opened it to his driver's
"His name is Juan Gomez. According to this, he's only
Hanni bent down, peeled back the dead man's lips. I saw two
broken rows of decayed stubs where his teeth had once been.
"A tweaker," Hanni said. "He was probably the cook. Lindsay,
this case belongs to Narcotics, maybe the DEA."
Hanni punched buttons on his cell phone as I stared down at Juan
Gomez's body. First visible sign of methamphetamine use is rotten
teeth. It takes a couple of years of food- and sleep-deprivation to
age a meth head twenty years. By then, the drug would have eaten
away big hunks of his brain.
Gomez was on his way out before the explosion.
"So the bus was a mobile meth lab?" said Conklin.
Hanni was on hold for Narcotics.
"Yep," he said. "Until it blew all to hell."
Part One | BAGMAN JESUS
CINDY THOMAS BUTTONED her lightweight Burberry trench coat,
said, "Morning, Pinky," as the doorman held open the front doors of
the Blakely Arms. He touched his hat brim and searched Cindy's
eyes, saying, "Have a good day, Ms. Thomas. You take care."
Cindy couldn't say that she never looked for trouble. She worked
the crime desk at the Chronicle and liked to say, "Bad
news is good news to me."
But a year and a half ago a psycho with an illegal sublet and an
anger-management problem, living two floors above her, had
sneaked into apartments and gone on a brutal killing spree.
The killer had been caught and convicted, and was currently
quarantined on death row at the "Q."
But still, there were aftershocks at the Blakely Arms. The
residents triple-locked their doors every night, flinched at sudden
noises, felt the loss of common, everyday security.
Cindy was determined not to live with this kind of fear.
She smiled at the doorman, said, "I'm a badass, Pinky.
Thugs had better watch out for me."
Then she breezed outside into the early May morning.
Striding down Townsend from Third to Fifth—two very long
blocks—Cindy traveled between the old and new San Francisco.
She passed the liquor store next to her building, the drive-through
McDonald's across the street, the Starbucks and the Borders on the
ground floor of a new residential high-rise, using the time to
return calls, book appointments, set up her day.
She paused near the recently rejuvenated Caltrain station that
used to be a hell pit of homeless druggies, now much
improved as the neighborhood gentrification took hold.
But behind the Caltrain station was a fenced-off and buckled
stretch of sidewalk that ran along the train yard. Rusted junkers
and vans from the Jimi Hendrix era parked on the street. The
vehicles were crash pads for the homeless.
As Cindy mentally geared up for her power walk through that "no-
fly zone," she noticed a clump of street people ahead—and
some of them seemed to be crying.
Then she drew her laminated ID card out of her coat, held it in
front of her like a badge, pushed her way into the crowd—and
it parted for her.
The ailanthus trees shooting up through cracks in the pavement
cast a netted shade on a pile of rags, old newspapers, and
fast-food trash that was lying at the base of the chain-link
Cindy felt a wave of nausea, sucked in her breath.
The pile of rags was, in fact, a dead man. His clothes were
blood-soaked and his face so beaten to mush, Cindy couldn't make
out his features.
She asked a bystander, "What happened? Who is this
The bystander was a heavyset woman, toothless, wearing many
layers and textures of clothes. Her legs were bandaged to the knees
and her nose was pink from crying.
She gave Cindy a sidelong look.
"It's B-B-Bagman Jesus. Someone killed
Cindy thumbed 911 on her Treo, reported what had clearly been a
murder, and waited for the police to arrive.
As she waited, street people gathered around her.
These were the unwashed, the uncounted, the unnoticed, fringe
people who slipped through the cracks, lived where the Census
Bureau feared to tread.
They stank and they twitched, they stammered and scratched, and
they jockeyed to get closer to Cindy. They reached out to touch
her, talked over and corrected one another.
They wanted to be heard.
And although a half hour ago Cindy would have avoided all
contact with them, she now wanted very much to hear them. As time
passed and the police didn't come, Cindy felt a story budding,
getting ready to bloom.
She used her cell again, called her friend Lindsay at home.
The phone rang six times before a masculine voice rasped,
"Hello?" Sounded to Cindy like maybe she'd interrupted
Lindsay and Joe at an inopportune moment.
"Beautiful timing, Cindy," Joe panted.
"Sorry, Joe, really," said Cindy. "But I've got to speak to
Part One | BAGMAN JESUS
"DON'T BE MAD," I said, tucking the blanket under Joe's chin,
patting his stubbly cheeks, planting a PG-13-rated kiss on his
mouth, careful not to get him going again because I just didn't
have enough time to get back in the mood.
"I'm not mad," he said, eyes closed. "But I am going to be
seeking retribution tonight, so prepare yourself."
I laughed at my big, handsome guy, said, "Actually, I can't
"Cindy's a bad influence."
I laughed some more.
Cindy is a pit bull in disguise. She's all girlie-girl on the
outside but tenacious through and through, which is how she pushed
her way into my gory crime scene six years back and wouldn't give
up until she'd nailed her story and I'd solved my case. I wished
all of my cops were like Cindy.
"Cindy's a peach," I said to my lover. "She grows on you."
"Yeah? I'll have to take your word for it." Joe smirked.
"Honey, would you mind—?"
"Will I walk Martha? Yes. Because I work at home and you have a
"Thanks, Joe," I said. "Will you do it soon? Because I think
she's got to go."
Joe looked at me deadpan, his big blue eyes giving me the
business. I blew him a kiss, then I made a run for the shower.
Several months had blown by since my cozy apartment on Potrero
Hill had burned out to the walls—and I was still
getting used to living with Joe in his new crib in the high-rent
Not that I didn't enjoy his travertine shower stall with the
dual heads and a gizmo that dispensed gel, shampoo, and
moisturizer, plus the hotel-style bath sheets folded over a heated
I mean, yeah. Things could be worse!
I turned the water up hot and high, soaked and lathered my hair,
my mind going to Cindy's phone call, wondering what she was so
charged up about.
Last I heard, dead bums didn't make headlines. But Cindy was
telling me this was some kind of special bum with a special name.
And she was asking me to check out the scene as a favor to her.
I dried my hair, padded down the carpeted hallway to my own
walk-in closet, which was still mostly empty. I stepped into clean
work pants, shrugged on an aqua-colored pullover, checked my gun,
buckled my shoulder holster, and topped it all off with my
second-best blue blazer.
I bent to ruffle the silky ears of my lovely border collie,
Sweet Martha, and called out, "Bye, honey," to Joe.
Then I headed out to meet Cindy's newest passion: a dead bum
with a certifiably crazy name.
Part One | BAGMAN JESUS
CINDY STOOD AT the dead man's side and filled her notebook,
getting down the names, the descriptions, the exact quotes from
Bagman Jesus's friends and mourners.
"He wore a really big cross," said a Mexican dishwasher
who worked at a Thai restaurant. He sported an Adidas T-shirt and
jeans under a dirty white apron. Had koi tattooed on his arms. "The
cross was made of two, whatchamacallit, nails—"
"It was a crucifix, Tommy," said a bent white-haired
woman leaning against her shopping cart at the edge of the crowd,
sores on her legs, her filthy red coat dragging in the street.
"'Scuuuuse me, boss. What I meant was, a crucifix."
"And they weren't nails, they were bolts, about three
inches long, tied together with copper wire. And don't forget that
toy baby on that cross. A little pink baby." The old woman
held a thumb and forefinger an inch apart to show Cindy how small
that toy baby was.
"Why would someone take his crucifix?" the heavyset woman asked.
"But his b-b-bag. That was a real leather bag! Lady, write this
down! He was murdered for his s-s-stuff."
"We didden even know his real name," said Babe, a big girl from
the Chinese massage parlor. "He give me ten dollah when I had no
food. He didden want nothing for it."
"Bagman took care of me when I had pneumonia," said a
gray-haired man, his chalk-striped suit pants cinched at the waist
with twine. "My name is Bunker. Charles Bunker," he told Cindy.
He stuck out his hand, and Cindy shook it.
"I heard shots last night," Bunker said. "It was after
"Did you see who shot him?"
"I wish I had."
"Did he have any enemies?"
"Will you let me through?" said a black man with
dreads, a gold nose stud, and a white turtleneck under an old
tuxedo jacket who was threading his way through the crowd toward
He slowly spelled out his name—Harry Bainbridge—so
Cindy would get it right. Then Bainbridge held a long, bony finger
above Bagman's body, traced the letters stitched to the back of
Bagman's bloody coat.
"You can read that?" he asked her.
"Tells you everything you want to know."
Cindy wrote it down in her book.
Excerpted from THE 8th CONFESSION © Copyright 2010 by James
Patterson and Maxine Paetro. Reprinted with permission by Little,
Brown and Company. All rights reserved.