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Lightning-fast stories by James Patterson
- Novels you can devour in a few hours
- Impossible to stop reading
- All original content from James Patterson
I’m an experienced hunter of humans. It’s not hard, if you understand how they think. People have tunnel vision and are objective-driven. As long as you don’t interfere with their goal, and don’t make yourself known before you’re ready to pounce, you can close in on a relaxed target pretty easily. It doesn’t even require much stealth. Unlike animals, human beings don’t use their alarm system of senses. Though the wind was behind me, Ben Hammond didn’t smell me. He didn’t hear my breath over the clunk of his boots on the pavement.
Hammond’s objective was his late-model Honda Civic on the edge of the parking lot. So that’s all he could see—he didn’t notice me round the corner from the loading dock and fall into step behind him. He left the shopping center with hands full of groceries swinging at his sides and headed across the parking lot, already sliding into the driver’s seat in his mind, shutting the door on the moonless night.
I followed with my head down, my hoodie pulled up against the security cameras trained on the few remaining cars. I let him pull his keys out of his pocket, the jangling sound covering the soft fall of my boots for the last few steps between me and my prey.
I closed the distance and attacked.
“Fuck!” Ben Hammond grabbed at the back of his head where I’d punched him, turned and stumbled against the car, dropping the bags. Glass cracked in one of them. He cowered in a half-crouch, trying to make himself smaller. Both hands shot up. “Oh, my God! What are you doing?”
“Stand up.” I waved impatiently.
“Take—m-my—wallet,” he stammered. “Don’t hurt m—”
“You don’t like the surprise attack, do you, Ben? You know how effective it is.”
He realized three things very quickly. First, that I was a woman. Second, that this wasn’t a mugging. Third, that he’d heard my voice before.
The man straightened almost fully and squinted into the darkness of my hood. I tugged the hood down and watched his eyes wander around the silhouette of my short hair against the shopping-center lights, the terror in his face slowly dissipating.
“I…” He straightened. His hands dropped. “I know you.”
“You’re that cop.” He pointed an uncertain finger at me, began to shake it as his confidence grew. “You’re that cop from the trial.”
“I am,” I said. “Detective Harriet Blue, here to deliver your punishment.”
It was a little insulting that my name didn’t come to Ben’s mind as quickly as I’d hoped. But I had just cracked him on the skull. What little gray matter was sloshing around his brain probably needed time to recover. I’d done everything I could to make him aware of me while he was tried for the rape of his ex-girlfriend Molly. When I took the stand to testify that I’d found Molly at the bottom of the shower where he’d dumped her, I’d looked right at him and calmly and clearly stated my name.
It hadn’t been a solid case. Ben had been very crafty in getting back at his ex for leaving him: raping and beating her, but charming his way into her apartment struggle-free and sharing a glass of wine with her first, so it looked as if she’d welcomed the sexual encounter. I’d known, sitting on the witness stand and staring at him, that like most rapists he’d probably go free.
But that didn’t mean I was finished with him.
“This is assault.” Ben touched the back of his head, noted the blood on his fingers, and almost smiled. “You’re in a lot of trouble, you stupid little bitch.”
“Actually,” I slid my right foot back, “you’re in a lot of trouble.”
I gave Ben a couple of sharp jabs to the face, then backed up, let him have a moment to feel them. He stepped out from between the shopping bags and came at me swinging. I sidestepped and planted my knee in his ribs, sending him sprawling on the asphalt. I glanced at the distant shopping center. The security guards would notice a commotion at the edge of the farthest parking lot camera and come running. I figured I had seconds, not minutes.
“You can’t do this.” Hammond spat blood from his split lip. “You—”
I gave him a knee to the ribs, then lifted him before he could get a lungful of air and slammed him into the car’s hood. I’m petite, but I box, so I know how to maneuver a big opponent. I grabbed a handful of Ben’s hair and dragged him towards the driver’s door.
“You’re a cop!” Hammond wailed.
“You’re right,” I said. I could just make out two security guards rushing out of the loading dock.
“My job gives me access to crime alerts,” I said. “I can tag a person’s file and get a notification every time they’re brought in, even if their original charge never stuck.”
I held on to Hammond’s hair and gave him a couple of hard punches in the head, then dumped him onto the ground. The guards were closer. I stepped on Hammond’s balls, so I knew I had his full attention.
“If I ever see your name in the system again,” I told him, “I’m coming back. And I won’t be this gentle next time.”
I pulled my hood up and sprinted into the bushes at the side of the lot.
I’m not a vigilante. Sometimes I just have no choice but to take matters into my own hands.
I’d worked in sex crimes for five years, and I was tired of seeing predators walking free from convictions. When I got close to a victim, the way I did with Molly Finch, I found it hard to sleep after their attacker was acquitted. For weeks I’d lain awake at night thinking about Hammond’s smug face as he’d walked down the steps of the courthouse on Goulburn Street, the wink he’d given me as he got into the taxi. I’d managed to make a minor physical assault charge stick. But there had been no proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the sex Hammond had had with Molly that night hadn’t been consensual.
That’s how it goes sometimes with sexual assaults. The guy’s lawyer throws everything he has at the idea that she might have wanted it. There was no physical evidence, or witnesses, to say otherwise.
Well, now there was no evidence to say Ben Hammond wasn’t bashed half to death by a mugger gone nuts, either. If he went to the cops about what I’d done, he’d know what it felt like not to be believed.
But he wouldn’t go to the cops and tell them a woman had given him a beatdown. His kind never did.
I rolled my shoulders as I drove back across the city towards Potts Point, sighing long and low as the tension eased. I was really looking forward to getting some sleep. Most nights saw me at my local gym pounding boxing bags to try to exhaust myself into a healthy presleep calm. Smacking Ben around had given me the same delicious fatigue in my muscles. I hoped it lasted.
At the big intersection near Kings Cross, a pair of hookers strutted across the road in front of my car. Their skin was lit pink by the huge neon Coca-Cola sign on the corner. The streets were still damp from a big storm the night before. The gutters were crowded with trash and huge fig-tree leaves.
My phone rang. I recognized the number as my station chief.
“Hello, Pops,” I said.
“Blue, take down this address,” the old man said. “There’s a body I want you to look at.”
Murder was hard work, but Hope had never been afraid of that.
She knelt on the floor of the kitchen of the Dream Catcher and scrubbed at the polished boards. She was trying to push her brush down the cracks and bring up the blood that had dried and settled there. Deck, she thought suddenly, dunking the brush in the bucket of hot water and bleach beside her. On yachts, the floor was not a floor at all but a deck. The kitchen was called a galley. She smiled. She’d need to get used to all the terminology. There was so much to learn, being a new boat owner. She sat back on her heels and wiped the sweat from her brow. She’d give the blood a rest for a while and work on the bedroom.
The young woman climbed backwards down the little ladder and walked into the yacht’s expansive bedroom, gathering up a garbage bag from the roll she’d placed on the bed. The first thing she did was take a framed photograph from the nightstand and dump it in the darkness of the bag. She didn’t look at the couple’s smiling faces. She threw in some reading glasses, a pair of slippers, and a folded newspaper. She opened the cupboard and started taking out the woman’s clothes, grabbing great handfuls on coat hangers and bundling the shirts, skirts, and pants into a roll before she shoved them into the bag.
Jenny Spelling had awful taste, Hope thought, glancing at a turquoise skirt-suit before it went into the trash. Ugh, shoulder pads. So eighties. She felt a wave of excitement roll over her as she looked along the empty hanging rod, thinking about her own clothes racked there.
When she’d filled all the garbage bags on the rolls with their possessions, Hope walked to the back of the boat to check on her prisoners. The couple was slumped in the corner of the shower cubicle, Jenny’s head twisted back against the wall so that her nose pointed upward and her mouth hung open. When Hope opened the door, Ken shifted up as much as his binds would allow. His wife was limp against him.
“I’m just heading out to get rid of some garbage,” Hope said brightly. “You guys need anything before I go? More water?”
Jenny Spelling woke and immediately started shivering. She stared at Hope wordlessly, as though she didn’t know what the young woman was.
“Hope.” Ken’s face reddened with desperation. “I’m begging you, please, just take the boat. Take everything. My wife needs to do her dialysis or she’s going to die. Okay? It’s only going to take a few minutes. That’s all. That—”
“We’ve discussed this.” Hope held up her hand, gave him a weary sigh. “It’ll all be over soon. I’m not getting into this again. The last time I let you loose, you did this.” She held up her forearm, showed him the bruise. “Trust, Ken. You had it, and you lost it.”
“Please, please.” Ken shifted. “You don’t need to do this. Look at her. Look at her face. She’s missed her dialysis for three days now. She’s not right. She’s—”
Hope took the duct tape from the counter beside the toilet and ripped off a length. She placed a strip over Jenny’s mouth, but gave Ken a few turns around his head. He was the feisty one. She worked emotionlessly as the tape sealed off his words.
“She’s gonna die!” the man howled through the tape. “Please!”
Heading to the crime scene, I drove through the quiet streets of Picnic Point and up through the national park. The dark hills were spotted here and there with the gold porch lights of suburban mansions. I’d spent some time out here as a preteen with one of the foster families who had taken on my brother Sam and me. That is, before their adoption dream had ended.
There had been so many young families who’d attempted to integrate us that it was difficult to decide which one it had been. All I remembered was the local school and the crowds of teens in green and gold uniforms, the curious glances we’d received as we entered midway through the semester.
As usual, Sam and I had only been at the school for a few weeks. As a pair of kids who’d been in the system since we were practically toddlers, we didn’t make life easy for our foster parents with our bad behavior. It was probably me who had broken the spell by running away in the middle of the night. Or maybe it was Sam setting something on fire, or running his mouth at our potential new parents. We’d both been equally bad at school—fighting off kids who wanted to give us grief, trying to show our new teachers who was really boss. Once our new mommies and daddies realized we weren’t grateful for being “saved,” the fantasy usually died. In truth, Sam and I had always preferred the group homes and institutions they shipped us to between potential adopters. More places to hide. I dreamed as I drove by the lamplit houses of what it might have been like to grow up here, if I’d been a more stable kid.
The police tape started at the edge of the main road. I was stopped by a young officer in a raincoat and flashed him my badge, only then realizing that my knuckles were still wrapped.
“Okay, Detective Blue, head down to the end of this road where it turns to dirt and go left along the river. You’ll see the lights,” the cop said.
“The river? Shit!” I felt the fine hairs on my arms stand on end. “Who’s the victim?”
The cop waved me on. Another car was coming up behind me. I stood on the gas and zipped down the slope, almost swerving on the corner where the dirt began. I couldn’t wait to get to the crime scene. If the victim was a young woman, it meant the Georges River Killer had struck again.
And I was going to get him this time.
I parked close, unwrapped my knuckles, and strode up to the crime scene with my heart pumping in my ears. I didn’t even bring my scene kit. I had to know as much as I could, as fast as possible, so that I could get Pops to put me on the case. The Georges River killings were splashed all over the newspapers, and so were the idiots who had control of the case—a group of loutish guys from Sydney Metro Homicide who wouldn’t give me so much as a whiff of what they had.
I didn’t want the notoriety these cops seemed to enjoy so much. I wanted to be involved in catching what was probably the most savage serial killer in our nation’s history. Young, beautiful university students were going missing from the hip urban suburbs around the University of Sydney campus. Their savaged bodies were turning up on the banks of the Georges River three or four days after they disappeared. My brother spent two days of his working week teaching undergrad design students at the university, and lived in their midst in the hip suburbs around Newtown and Broadway. I’d talked to Sam about it a lot, about how the girls in his apartment building were terrified, begging the landlord to put cameras up outside the block, walking each other to and from their cars in the late hours.
- On Sale
- Dec 6, 2016
- Page Count
- 160 pages