By Maxine Paetro
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Table of Contents
A Preview of The 5th Horseman
A Preview of 15th Affair
About the Authors
Books by James Patterson
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IT WAS JUST BEFORE 4:00 a.m. on a weekday. My mind was racing even before Jacobi nosed our car up in front of the Lorenzo, a grungy rent-by-the-hour "tourist hotel" on a block in San Francisco's Tenderloin District that's so forbidding even the sun won't cross the street.
Three black-and-whites were at the curb, and Conklin, the first officer at the scene, was taping off the area. So was another officer, Les Arou.
"What have we got?" I asked Conklin and Arou.
"White male, Lieutenant. Late teens, bug-eyed and done to a turn," Conklin told me. "Room twenty-one. No signs of forced entry. Vic's in the bathtub, just like the last one."
The stink of piss and vomit washed over us as Jacobi and I entered the hotel. No bellhops in this place. No elevators or room service, either. Night people faded back into the shadows, except for one gray-skinned young prostitute who pulled Jacobi aside.
"Give me twenty dollars," I heard her say. "I got a license plate."
Jacobi peeled off a ten in exchange for a slip of paper, then turned to the desk clerk and asked him about the victim: Did he have a roommate, a credit card, a habit?
I stepped around a junkie in the stairwell and climbed to the second floor. The door to room 21 was open, and a rookie was standing guard at the doorway.
"Evening, Lieutenant Boxer."
"It's morning, Keresty."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, logging me in, turning his clipboard to collect my signature.
It was darker inside the twelve-by-twelve-foot room than it was in the hallway. The fuse had blown, and thin curtains hung like wraiths in front of the streetlit windows. I was working the puzzle, trying to figure out what was evidence, what was not, trying not to step on anything. There was too damned much of everything and too little light.
I flicked my flashlight beam over the crack vials on the floor, the mattress stained with old blood, the rank piles of garbage and clothing everywhere. There was a kitchenette of sorts in the corner, the hot plate still warm, drug paraphernalia in the sink.
The air in the bathroom was thick, almost soupy. I swept my light along the extension cord that snaked from the socket by the sink, past the clogged toilet bowl to the bathtub.
My guts clenched as I caught the dead boy in my beam. He was naked, a skinny blond with a hairless chest, half sitting up in the tub, eyes bulging, foam at his lips and nostrils. The electric cord ended at an old-fashioned two-slice toaster that glinted up through the bathwater.
"Shit," I said as Jacobi entered the bathroom. "Here we go again."
"He's toast, all right," said Jacobi.
As commanding officer of the Homicide detail, I wasn't supposed to do hands-on detective work anymore. But at times like this, I just couldn't stay away.
Another kid had been electrocuted, but why? Was he a random victim of violence or was it personal? In my mind's eye, I saw the boy flailing in pain as the juice shot through him and shut his heart down.
The standing water on the cracked tile floor was creeping up the legs of my trousers. I lifted a foot and toed the bathroom door closed, knowing full well what I was going to see. The door whined with the nasal squeal of hinges that had probably never been oiled.
Two words were spray-painted on the door. For the second time in a couple of weeks, I wondered what the hell they meant.
IT LOOKED LIKE A particularly grisly suicide, except that the spray paint can was nowhere around. I heard Charlie Clapper and his CSU team arrive and begin to unpack forensic equipment in the outer room. I stood aside as the photographer took his shots of the victim, then I yanked the extension cord out of the wall.
Charlie changed the fuse. "Thank you, Jesus," he said as light flooded the god-awful place.
I was rifling through the victim's clothes, finding not a scrap of ID, when Claire Washburn, my closest friend and San Francisco's chief medical examiner, walked through the door.
"It's pretty nasty," I told Claire as we went into the bathroom. Claire is a center of warmth in my life, more of a sister to me than my own. "I've been having an impulse."
"To do what?" Claire asked me mildly.
I swallowed hard, forcing down the gorge that kept rising in my throat. I'd gotten used to a lot of things, but I would never get used to the murder of children.
"I just want to reach in and pull out the stopper."
The victim looked even more stricken in the bright light. Claire crouched beside the tub, squeezing her size-sixteen body into a size-six space.
"Pulmonary edema," she said of the pink foam in the dead boy's nasal and oral orifices. She traced the faint bruising on the lips, around the eyes. "He was tuned up a bit before they threw the switch on him."
I pointed to the vertical gash on his cheekbone. "What do you make of that?"
"My guess? It's going to match the push-down lever on the toaster. Looks like they clocked this child with that Sunbeam before they chucked it into the tub."
The boy's hand was resting on the bathtub's rim. Claire lifted it tenderly, turned it over. "No rigor. Body's still warm and lividity is blanching. He's been dead less than twelve hours, probably less than six. No visible track marks." She ran her hands through the boy's matted hair, lifted his bruised top lip with her gloved fingers. "He hadn't seen a dentist in a while. Could be a runaway."
"Yeah," I said. Then I must've gotten quiet for a minute or so.
"Whatcha thinking, honey?"
"That I've got another John Doe on my hands."
I was remembering another teenage John Doe, a homeless kid who'd been murdered in a place like this when I was just getting started in homicide. It was one of my worst cases ever, and ten years later the death still gnawed at me.
"I'll know more when I get this young man on my table," Claire was saying when Jacobi stuck his head through the doorway again.
"The informant says that partial plate number was taken off a Mercedes," he said. "A black one."
A black Mercedes had been seen at the other electrocution murder. I grinned as I felt a surge of hope. Yes, I was making it personal. I was going to find the bastard who had killed these kids and I was going to put him away before he could do it again.
A WEEK HAD GONE by since the nightmare at the Lorenzo Hotel. The crime lab was still sifting through the abundant detritus of room 21, and our informant's three-digit partial license plate number was either half wrong or a wild guess. As for me, I woke up every morning feeling pissed off and sad because this ugly case was going nowhere.
The dead kids haunted me as I drove to Susie's for a get-together with the girls that evening. Susie's is a neighborhood café, a bright hot spot with walls sponge-painted in tropical colors, serving spicy but tasty Caribbean food.
Jill, Claire, Cindy, and I had adopted this place as our sanctuary as well as our clubhouse. Our straight-shooting girl talk, unhampered by rank or department lines, had often cut through weeks of bureaucratic BS. Together, we'd broken cases wide open in this very spot.
I saw Claire and Cindy in "our" booth at the back. Claire was laughing at something Cindy had said, which happened a lot because Claire had a great laugh and Cindy was a funny girl as well as a first-class investigative reporter for the Chronicle. Jill, of course, was gone.
"I want what you're having," I said as I slid into the booth next to Claire. There was a pitcher of margaritas on the table and four glasses, two of them empty. I filled a glass and looked at my friends, feeling that almost magical connection that we'd forged because of all we'd gone through together.
"Looks like you need a transfusion," Claire joked.
"I swear I do. Bring on the IV." I took a gulp of the icy brew, snagged the newspaper that was beside Cindy's elbow, and paged through until I found the story buried on page 17 of the Metro section, below the fold. INFO SOUGHT IN TENDERLOIN DISTRICT MURDERS.
"I guess it's a bigger story in my mind," I said.
"Dead street people don't make page one," Cindy said sympathetically.
"It's odd," I told the girls. "Actually, we have too much information. Seven thousand prints. Hair, fiber, a ton of useless DNA from a carpet that hadn't been vacuumed since Nixon was a boy." I stopped ranting long enough to pull the rubber band off my ponytail and shake out my hair. "On the other hand, with all the potential snitches crawling through the Tenderloin District, all we have is one shitty lead."
"It sucks, Linds," said Cindy. "Is the chief on your ass?"
"Nope," I said, tapping the tiny mention of the Tenderloin District murders with my forefinger. "As the killer says, nobody cares."
"Ease up on yourself, honey," Claire said. "You'll get a bite into this thing. You always do."
"Yeah, enough about all this. Jill would give me hell for whining."
"She says, 'No problem,'" Cindy cracked, pointing to Jill's empty seat. We lifted our glasses and clinked them together.
"To Jill," we said in unison.
We filled Jill's glass and passed it around in remembrance of Jill Bernhardt, a spectacular ADA and our great friend, who'd been murdered only months ago. We missed her terribly and said so. In a while, our waitress, Loretta, brought a new pitcher of margaritas to replace the last.
"You're looking chirpy," I said to Cindy, who jumped in with her news. She'd met a new guy, a hockey player who played for the Sharks in San Jose, and she was pretty pleased with herself. Claire and I started pumping her for details while the reggae band tuned up, and soon we were all singing a Jimmy Cliff song, plinking our spoons against the glassware.
I was finally getting loose in Margaritaville when my Nextel rang. It was Jacobi.
"Meet me outside, Boxer. I'm a block away. We've got a bead on that Mercedes."
What I should've said was "Go without me. I'm off duty." But it was my case, and I had to go. I tossed some bills down on the table, blew kisses at the girls, and bolted for the door. The killer was wrong about one thing. Somebody cared.
I GOT IN THE passenger-side door of our unmarked gray Crown Vic.
"Where to?" I asked Jacobi.
"The Tenderloin District," he told me. "A black Mercedes has been seen cruising around down there. Doesn't seem to fit in with the neighborhood."
Inspector Warren Jacobi used to be my partner. He'd handled my promotion pretty well, all things considered; he had more than ten years on me, and seven more years in grade. We still partnered up on special cases, and even though he reported to me, I had to turn myself in.
"I had a few at Susie's."
"How many is a few?" He swung his large head toward me.
"One and a half," I said, not admitting to the third of the one I drank for Jill.
"You all right to come along?"
"Yeah, sure. I'm fine."
"Don't think you're driving."
"Did I ask?"
"There's a thermos in back."
"No, it's for you to take a piss in, if you've got to, because we don't have time for a pit stop."
I laughed and reached for the coffee. Jacobi was always good for a tasteless joke. As we crossed onto Sixth just south of Mission, I saw a car matching the description in a one-hour parking zone.
"Lookit, Warren. That's our baby."
"Good catch, Boxer."
Apart from the spike in my blood pressure, there was a whole lot of nothing happening on Sixth Street. It was a crumbling block of grimy storefronts and vacant SROs with blank plywood eyes. Aimless jaywalkers teetered and street sleepers snored under their piles of trash. The odd bum checked out the shiny black car.
"I hope to hell no one boosts that thing," I said. "Stands out like a Steinway in a junkyard."
I called in our location and we took up our position a half block away from the Mercedes. I punched the plate number into our computer, and this time gongs went off and it spit quarters. The car was registered to Dr. Andrew Cabot of Telegraph Hill.
I called the Hall and asked Cappy to check out Dr. Cabot on the NCIC database and call me back. Then Jacobi and I settled in for a long wait. Whoever Andrew Cabot was, he was definitely slumming. Normally, stakeouts are as fascinating as yesterday's oatmeal, but I was drumming the dash with my fingers. Where the hell was Andrew Cabot? What was he doing down here?
Twenty minutes later, a street-sweeping machine, a bright yellow car-sized hulk like an armadillo with flashing lights and honking back-up alerts, rolled right up onto the sidewalk, as it did every night. Derelicts rose up off the pavement to avoid the brushes. Papers swirled in the low light of the street lamps.
The sweeper blocked our view for a few moments, and when it had passed, Jacobi and I saw it at the same time: Both the driver's-side and the passenger-side doors of the Mercedes were closing.
The car was on the move.
"Time to rock and roll," said Jacobi.
We waited tense seconds as a maroon Camry got between us and our subject. I radioed dispatch: "We're following a black Mercedes, Queen Zebra Whiskey Two Six Charlie, heading north on Sixth toward Mission. Request units in the area—aw, shit!"
It was meant to be a quick pullover, but without warning or apparent cause, the driver of the Mercedes floored it, leaving Jacobi and me in the freshly washed dust.
I WATCHED IN DISBELIEF as the Mercedes' taillights became small red pinpoints, moving even farther into the distance as the Camry backed carefully into a parking space, hemming us in.
I grabbed the mike and barked over the car's PA system, "Clear the street! Move over now!"
"Fuck this," said Jacobi.
He flipped the switches that turned on the grille lights and the headlight strobes, and as our siren screamed into action, we tore past the Camry, clipping its taillight.
"Good one, Warren."
We blew across the intersection at Howard Street, and I called in a Code 33 to keep the radio band free for the pursuit.
"We're going northbound on Sixth, south of Market, in pursuit of a black Mercedes, attempting to pull it over. All units in the area, head into this vicinity."
"Reason for the pursuit, Lieutenant?"
"Ongoing homicide investigation."
Adrenaline flooded my body. We were going to land this baby, and I prayed we wouldn't kill any bystanders in the process. Radio units sang out their locations as we crossed Mission against the light, going at least sixty.
I pressed my foot against virtual brakes as Jacobi gunned our car across Market, the largest and busiest street in town, heavy now with buses, Muni trains, and late commuter traffic.
"Hang a right," I shouted to Jacobi.
The Mercedes veered onto Taylor at a split in the road. We were two car lengths behind but not close enough in the darkening night to get any sense of who was driving, who was riding shotgun.
We followed the car onto Ellis, heading west past the Hotel Coronado, where the first electrocution murder had happened. This was the killer's turf, wasn't it? The bastard knew these streets as well as I did.
Cars hugged the curbs, and we blew past cross streets at eighty, our siren blaring, speeding uphill at full throttle, going airborne for a few heart-stopping seconds before dropping onto the downside curve of the incline—and even so, we lost the Mercedes at Leavenworth as cars and pedestrians clogged the intersection.
I yelled into the mike again and thanked God when a radio car called in, "We've got him in sight, Lieutenant. Black Mercedes heading west on Turk, going seventy-five." Another unit joined the chase at Hyde.
"I'm guessing he's headed toward Polk," I said to Jacobi.
"My thoughts exactly."
We deferred the main route to the squad cars, shot past Krim's and Kram's Palace of Fine Junk on the corner of Turk, and picked up Polk heading north. There were about a dozen one-way alleys branching off Polk. I drilled each one of them with my eyes as we passed Willow, Ellis, and Olive.
"That's him, dragging his butt," I shouted to Jacobi. The Mercedes wobbled on a blown right rear tire as it took the turn past the Mitchell Brothers' theater, then onto Larkin.
I grabbed the dash with both hands as Jacobi followed. The Mercedes lost control, caromed off a parked minivan, flew up onto the pavement, and charged a mailbox. Torn metal screamed as the mailbox punched the undercarriage of the car, which then came to rest with its nose pointing upward at a forty-five-degree angle, the driver's side canting down toward the gutter.
The hood popped, and steam poured out as the radiator hose gave up the ghost. The stink of burned rubber and the candy apple smell of antifreeze permeated the air.
Jacobi halted our vehicle, and we ran toward the Mercedes, guns in hand.
"Get your hands in the air," I shouted. "Do it now!"
I saw that both occupants were pinned by the airbags. As the airbags deflated, I got my first look at their faces. They were white kids, maybe thirteen and fifteen, and they were terrified.
As Jacobi and I gripped our weapons with both hands and approached the Mercedes, the kids started bawling their hearts out.
MY HEART WAS BOOMING almost audibly, and now I was furious. Unless Dr. Cabot was Doogie Howser's age, he wasn't in this car. These kids were idiots or speed freaks or car thieves—or maybe all three.
I kept my gun pointed at the driver's-side window.
"Put your hands in the air. That's it. Touch the ceiling. Both of you."
Tears were cascading down the driver's face, and with a shock, I realized it was a girl. She had a short pink-tipped haircut, no makeup, no face piercings: a Seventeen magazine version of punk that she hadn't quite pulled off. When she lifted her hands, I saw glass shards dusting her black T-shirt. Her name hung from a chain around her neck.
I admit I yelled at her. We'd just been through a chase that could have killed us all.
"What the hell did you think you were doing, Sara?"
"I'm sorrrry," she wailed. "It's just—I only have a learner's permit. What are you going to do to me?"
I was incredulous. "You ran from the police because you don't have a driver's license? Are you insane?"
"He's going to kill us," said the other kid, a lanky young boy hanging sideways from the over-the-shoulder seatbelt holding him into the passenger seat.
The boy had huge brown eyes and blond hair falling across them. His nose was bleeding, probably broken from the slam he'd taken from the airbag. Tears dribbled down his cheeks.
"Please don't tell. Just say the car was stolen or something and let us go home. Please. Our dad's going to really kill us."
"Why is that?" Jacobi asked sarcastically. "He won't like the new hood ornament on his sixty-thousand-dollar car? Keep your hands where we can see them and get out real slow."
"I can't. I'm stuh-uh-uck," cried the boy. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand, smearing blood across his face. Then he threw up on the console.
Jacobi muttered, "Aw, shit," as our instincts to render aid took over. We holstered our weapons. It took our combined strength to wrench open the ruined driver's-side door. I reached in and shut off the ignition, and after that we eased the kids out of the vehicle and onto their feet.
"Let's see that learner's permit, Sara," I said. I was wondering if her father was Dr. Cabot and if the kids were afraid of him for good reason.
"It's here," Sara said. "In my wallet."
Jacobi was calling for an ambulance when the young girl reached into her inside jacket pocket and pulled out an object so unexpected and so chilling my blood froze.
I yelled, "GUN!" a split second before she shot me.
TIME SEEMED TO SLOW, every second distinct from the one before it, but the truth is, everything happened in under a minute.
I flinched, turning sideways as I felt the bullet's hard punch to my left shoulder. Then another shot slammed into my thigh. Even as I struggled to understand, my legs buckled and I fell to the ground. I reached a hand out toward Jacobi and saw his face register shock.
I didn't lose consciousness. I saw the boy shoot Jacobi—blam-blam-blam. Then he walked over and kicked my partner in the head. I heard the girl say, "C'mon, Sammy. Let's get out of here."
I felt no pain, just rage. I was thinking as clearly as I had at any time in my life. They'd forgotten about me. I felt for my 9mm Glock, still at my waist, wrapped my hand around the grip, and sat up.
"Drop your gun," I shouted, pointing my weapon at Sara.
"Fuck you, bitch," she yelled back. Her face was etched with fear as she leveled her .22 and squeezed off three rounds. I heard shell cases ping against the sidewalk all around me.
It's notoriously hard to hit your target with a pistol, but I did what I was trained to do. I aimed for central mass, the center of her chest, and double-tapped: boom-boom. Sara's face crumpled as she collapsed. I tried to get to my feet but only managed to rise to one knee.
The bloody-faced boy was still holding a pistol in his hand. He pointed it at me. "Drop it!" I screamed.
"You shot my sister!"
I aimed, double-tapped again: boom-boom. The boy dropped his gun, his whole body going limp.
He cried out as he fell.
THERE WAS A TERRIBLE hushed silence on Larkin Street. Then sounds kicked in. A radio played rap in the middle distance. I heard the soft moans of the boy. I heard police sirens coming closer.
Jacobi wasn't moving at all. I called out to him, but he didn't answer. I unhooked my Nextel from my belt and, to the best of my ability, I called in.
"Two officers down. Two civilians down. Need medical assistance. Send two ambulances. Now."
The dispatcher was asking me questions: location, badge number, location again. "Lieutenant, are you okay? Lindsay. Answer me."
The sounds were fading in and out. I dropped the telephone and put my head down on the soft, soft pavement. I'd shot children. Children! I had seen their shocked faces as they went down. Oh, my God, what had I done?
I felt hot blood pooling under my neck and around my leg. I played the whole thing over in my mind, this time throwing the kids against the car. Cuffing them. Frisking them. Being smart. Being competent!
We'd been inexcusably stupid, and now we were all going to die. Mercifully, darkness closed over me and I shut my eyes.
Unscheduled Vacation Time
A MAN SAT QUIETLY in a nondescript gray car on Ocean Colony Road in the nicest section of Half Moon Bay, California. He wasn't the kind of man people would notice, even though he was out of place here. Even though he had no legitimate business surveilling the people who lived in the white colonial house with the pricey cars in the driveway.
The Watcher held a camera that was no bigger than a book of matches up to his eye. It was a wonderful device with a gig of memory and a 10x zoom.
He zoomed in and pressed the shutter, capturing the family moving behind the kitchen window, downing their wholesome multigrain cereal, having morning chitchat in their breakfast nook.
At 8:06 on the dot, Caitlin O'Malley opened the front door. She was wearing a school uniform, a purple knapsack, and two watches, one on each wrist. Her long auburn hair positively shone.
The Watcher took Caitlin's picture as the teenager got into the passenger side of the black Lexus SUV in the driveway and soon he heard the faint sounds of rock FM.
Placing his camera on the dash, the Watcher took his blue notebook and a fine-tip pen from the center console and made notes in a careful, nearly calligraphic hand.
- On Sale
- Jul 1, 2008
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Grand Central Publishing