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From the author Time magazine has called “the man who can’t miss,” CROSS COUNTRY is the most heart-stopping, speed-charged, electrifying Alex Cross thriller yet.
Table of Contents
A Preview of I, Alex Cross
A Preview of Cross Justice
About the Author
Books by James Patterson
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For Jill and Avie Glazer
GEORGETOWN, WASHINGTON, DC
The surname of the family was Cox, the father a very successful trial lawyer, but the target was the mother, Ellie Randall Cox. The timing was right now, tonight, just minutes away. The payday was excellent, couldn't be better.
The six-foot-six, two-hundred-fifty-pound killer known as "the Tiger" had given out guns to his team—also a gram of cocaine to share, and the only instruction they would need tonight: The mother is mine. Kill the rest.
His secondary mission was to scare the American meddlers. He knew how they felt about home invasions, and their precious families, and murders in cold blood. They had so many rules for how life ought to be conducted. The secret to beating them was to break all their silly, sacred rules.
He settled down to watch the house from the street. Wood blinds in the first-floor windows drew horizontal lines across the family members as they moved around inside, unaware of the murderous forces gathered outside.
The boys waited restlessly at the Tiger's side, and he waited for instinct to tell him it was time to move on the house.
"Now," he said, "we go!"
Then, with only the slightest bend and whack of the knees, he began to run, breaking out of the camouflaging shadow of an evergreen, his strides almost too fast to count.
A single, powerful leap and he was up on the stoop of the house. Next came three splintering blows to the front door. It seemed to explode open, and they were inside, the kill team, all five of them.
The boys, none older than seventeen, streamed in around him, firing Berettas into the living room ceiling, waving crude hunting knives, shouting orders that were hard to understand because their English was not at the level of the Tiger's.
The children of the house screamed like little piglets; their lawyer father leapt up and tried to shield them with his flabby, overfed body.
"You are pitiful!" the Tiger shouted at him. "You can't even protect your family in your own house."
Soon enough, three family members were corralled against the living room mantel, which was covered with birthday cards addressed to "Momma" and "My Darling Ellie" and "Sweetness and Light."
The leader nudged the youngest of his boys forward, the one who had chosen the name Nike and who had a contagious sense of humor. "Just do it," the Tiger said.
The boy was eleven years old and fearless as a crocodile in a muddy river. He raised a pistol much larger than his own hand and fired it into the shivering father's forehead.
The other boys howled their approval, shooting off rounds in all directions, overturning antique furniture, breaking mirrors and windows. The Cox children were weeping and holding one another.
One particularly scary, blank-faced boy in a Houston Rockets jersey emptied his magazine into the wide-screen television, then reloaded. "Rock da house!" he shouted.
THE MOTHER, "DARLING ELLIE," "Sweetness and Light," finally came running and screaming down the stairs for her Akata babies.
"Leave them out of this!" she yelled at the tall and very muscular leader. "I know who you are!"
"Of course you do, Mother," said the Tiger as he smiled at the tall, matronly woman. He had no desire to harm her really. This was just a job to him. A high-paying one, important to somebody here in Washington.
The two children scrambled to get to their mother, and it became an absurd game of cat and mouse. His boys shot holes in the sofa as the wheezing American young ones squeezed behind it.
When they emerged on the other side, the Tiger was there to pluck the squealing son off the floor with one hand. The young girl in the Rugrats pajamas was a little more clever and ran up the stairs, showing little pink heels at every step.
"Go, baby!" her mother yelled. "Get out a window! Run! Keep running!"
"Won't happen," said the Tiger. "No one gets away from here tonight, Mother."
"Don't do this!" she begged. "Let them go! They're just children!"
"You know who I am," he said to her. "So you know how this will end. You knew all along. Look at what you brought on yourself and on your family. You did this to them."
LATE TO THE PARTY
THE HARDEST MYSTERIES to solve are the ones you come to near the end, because there isn't enough evidence, not enough to unravel, unless somehow you can go all the way back to the beginning—rewind and replay everything.
I was riding in the lap of comfort and civility, my year-old Mercedes. I was thinking about how odd it was to be going to a murder scene now. And then I was there, leaving my vehicle, and feeling conflicted about going over to the dark side again.
Was I getting too soft for this? I wondered for an instant, then let it go. I wasn't soft. If anything, I was still too hard, too unyielding, too uncompromising.
Then I was thinking that there was something par-ticularly terrifying about random, senseless murder, and that's what this appeared to be, that's what everyone thought anyway. It's what I was told when the call came to the house.
"It's rough in there, Dr. Cross. Five vics. It's an entire family."
"Yeah, I know it is. That's what they said."
One of the first responders, a young officer I know named Michael Fescoe, met me on the sidewalk at the murder scene in Georgetown, not far from the university where I'd gone as an undergrad and which I remembered fondly for all sorts of reasons, but mostly because Georgetown had taken a chance on me.
The patrolman was visibly shaken. No surprise there. Metro didn't call me in special at eleven o'clock on a Sunday night for run-of-the-mill homicides.
"What have we got so far?" I said to Fescoe and flashed my badge at a patrolman seemingly guarding an oak tree. Then I ducked under the bright yellow tape in front of the house. Beautiful house, a three-story Colonial on Cambridge Place, a well-heeled single block just south of Montrose Park.
Neighbors and looky-loos crowded the sidewalk—but they stayed at a safe distance in their pajamas and robes, keeping up their white-collar reserve.
"Family of five, all of them dead," Fescoe repeated himself. "The name's Cox. Father, Reeve. Mother, Eleanor. Son, James. All on the first floor. Daughters, Nicole and Clara, on the third. There's blood everywhere. Looks like they were shot first. Then cut up pretty bad and piled into groupings."
Piled. I sure didn't like the sound of that. Not inside this lovely home. Not anywhere.
"Senior officers on site? Who caught it?" I asked.
"Detective Stone is upstairs. She's the one asked me to page you. ME's still on the way. Probably a couple of them. Christ, what a night."
"You've got that right."
Bree Stone was a bright star with the Violent Crimes branch, and one of the few detectives I went out of my way to partner with, pun intended, since she and I were a couple and had been for more than a year now.
"Let Detective Stone know that I'm here," I said. "I'm going to start downstairs and work my way up to where she is."
"Will do, sir. I'm on it."
Fescoe stuck with me up the porch steps and past an ALS tech working on the demolished front door and threshold.
"Forced entry, of course," Fescoe went on. He blushed, probably because he'd stated the obvious. "Plus, there's a hatch open to the roof on the third floor. Looks like they might have left that way."
"I'd say so—based on the amount of damage, whatever the hell happened in there. Never seen anything like it, sir. Listen, if there's anything else you need—"
"I'll let you know. Thank you. It's better if I do this alone. I concentrate better."
My reputation seems to attract hungry cops on big cases, which can have its advantages. Right now, though, I wanted to take in this scene for myself. Given the grim, steely-eyed look on the face of every tech I'd seen coming from the back of the house, I knew this was going to get harder in a hurry.
Turns out I didn't know the half of it. The murder of this family was much worse than I'd thought.
Much, much worse.
THEY WANTED TO scare somebody, I was thinking as I entered a brightly lit, warmly decorated alcove. But who? Not these dead people. Not this poor family that had been slaughtered for God only knew what reason.
The first floor told a grim and foreboding story that delineated the murder. Nearly every piece of furniture in the living and dining rooms had been either turned over or destroyed—or both. There were gaping holes punched in the walls, along with dozens of smaller ones. An antique glass chandelier lay scattered in splinters and shards all over a brightly colored Oriental rug.
The crime scene made no sense and, worse, had no direct precedent in my experience as a homicide detective.
A bullet-riddled Chesterfield couch and settee had been pushed up against the wall to make room in front of the fireplace. This was where the first three bodies were piled.
While it's safe to say that I've seen some horrendous shit in the line of duty, this scene, the monstrosity of it, stopped me instantly.
As promised, the stacked victims were the father, mother, and son on top, all lying faceup. There were blood streaks and stains on the nearby walls, furniture, and ceiling, and a pool had formed around the bodies. These poor people had been attacked with sharp cutting instruments of some sort, and there had been amputations.
"Jesus, Jesus," I muttered under my breath. It was a prayer, or a curse on the killers, or more likely both.
One of the printing techs answered under his breath, "Amen."
Neither of us was looking at the other, though. This was the kind of homicide scene you just gutted your way through, trying to get out of the house with a minute piece of your sanity intact.
The blood patterns around the room suggested the family members had been attacked separately, then dragged together in the middle.
Something had fueled whatever savage rage brought these killers to this and I agreed with Fescoe that there had been several killers. But what exactly had happened? What was the cause of the massacre? Drugs? Ritual? Psychosis?
I stashed the random thoughts to consider at another time. Methods first, motive later.
I slowly circled the bodies and parts, picking my way around the pools of blood, stepping on dry parquet where I could. There didn't seem to be any cohesion to the cutting, or the killing for that matter.
The son's throat was slit; the father had a bullet wound to the forehead; and the mother's head was turned away at an unnatural angle, as if her neck had been broken.
I went full circle to see the mother's face. The angle was such that she seemed to be looking right up at me, almost hopeful, as if I could still save her.
I leaned in for a closer look at her and all of a sudden felt dizzy. My legs went weak. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
Oh no! Oh my God, no!
I stepped back blindly, my foot hit a slick spot, and I fell. As I went down, I reached to break my fall. My gloved hand smeared deep red across the floor.
Ellie Randall's blood. Not Cox—Randall!
I knew her—at least I once had.
Long, long ago, Ellie had been my girlfriend when we'd been students at Georgetown. She had probably been my first love.
And now Ellie had been murdered, along with her family.
ONE OF THE printing techs moved to help me, but I got myself up quickly. I wondered if maybe I was in shock about Ellie. "No harm. I'm fine. What's the name here again?" I asked the tech.
"Cox, sir. Reeve, Eleanor, and James are the victims in the living room."
Eleanor Cox. That was right; I remembered now. I stared down at Ellie, my heart racing out of control, tears starting at the corners of my eyes. She had been Ellie Randall when I met her, a smart, attractive history major looking for antiapartheid signatures from Georgetown University students. Definitely not someone whose story would end like this.
"Need anything?" Fescoe was back and he was hovering.
"Just . . . get me a garbage bag or something," I told him. "Please. Thank you."
I peeled off my Windbreaker and tried to wipe myself with it, then stuck the coat in the bag Fescoe brought me. I needed to keep moving and to get out of this room, at least for now.
I headed toward the stairs and found Bree just coming down.
"Alex? Jesus, what happened to you?" she asked.
I knew if I started to explain, I wouldn't be able to finish. "We'll talk about it later, okay?" I said. "What's going on upstairs?"
She looked at me strangely but didn't push it. "More of the same. Bad stuff. Third floor, Alex. Two more kids. I think they were trying to hide from the killers, but it didn't work."
A photo flash ghosted the stairwell as we climbed. Everything seemed hallucinogenic and unreal to me. I was outside the scene, watching myself stumble through it. Ellie had been murdered. I tried again but couldn't process the thought.
"No blood on the stairs, or in the hall," I noticed, trying to focus on evidence, trying to do the job. It was freezing cold, with a hatch door open overhead. November third, and the forecast was for single-digit temperatures overnight. Even the weather had gone a little crazy.
Bree was waiting up ahead, standing at the doorway to a room on the third floor. She didn't move as I approached. "You sure you're okay to be here?" she asked, speaking low so the others wouldn't hear.
I nodded and peered into the room.
Behind Bree, the two little girls' bodies were crisscrossed on an oval rag rug. A white canopy bed was broken into pieces, collapsed in on itself as if someone had jumped too hard on it.
"I'll be fine," I said. "I need to see what happened here. I need to begin to understand what it all means. Like who the hell was jumping on that bed?"
BUT I DIDN'T even begin to understand the horrible murders of five family members. Not that night, anyway. I was as baffled as everybody else about the possible motivation of the killers.
What made the mystery even deeper was something that happened about an hour after I got to the crime scene. Two officers from the CIA showed up. They looked around, then left. What was the CIA doing there?
It was a little after three thirty in the morning when Bree and I finally got back home to Fifth Street. In the stillness of my house, I could hear Ali's little-boy snores wafting down from upstairs. Reassuring and comforting sounds, to be sure.
Nana Mama had left the hood light on over the stove, and she'd Saran Wrapped a plate of the last four hermit cookies from dessert. We took them upstairs, along with glasses and a half-full bottle of wine.
Two hours later I was still awake and still messed up in the head. Bree finally sat up and turned on the light. She found me sitting on the edge of the bed. I could feel the warmth of her body against my back, her breath on my neck.
"You sleep at all?" she asked.
That wasn't really what she wanted to know.
"I knew the mother, Bree. We went to Georgetown together. This couldn't have happened to her. Shouldn't have, anyway."
She breathed in sharply at my revelation. "I'm so sorry, Alex. Why didn't you say so?"
I shrugged, then sighed. "I'm not even sure if I can talk about it now," I said.
She hugged me. "It's okay. No need to talk. Unless you want to, Alex. I'm here."
"We were best friends, Bree. We were a couple for a year. I know it was a long time ago, but . . ." I trailed off. But what? But—it hadn't just been kid stuff, either. "I loved her for a while, Bree. I'm blown away right now."
"You want to get off the case?"
"No." I'd already asked myself the same question, and the answer had come just as quickly.
"I can get Sampson or somebody else from Violent Crimes to cover. We'll keep you up to the second—"
"Bree, I can't let go of this one."
"This one?" She ran a hand softly up and down my arm. "As compared to . . . what, Alex?"
I took a deep breath. I knew where Bree was going with this. "It's not about Maria, if that's what you mean." My wife, Maria, had been gunned down when our kids were small. I'd managed to close the case only recently. There had been years of torture and guilt before that. But Maria had been my wife, the love of my life at the time. Ellie was something else. I wasn't confusing the two. I didn't think so anyway.
"Okay," she said, stroking my back, soothing me. "Tell me what I can do."
I folded us both under the covers. "Just lie here with me," I said. "That's all I need for now."
"You got it."
And soon, wrapped in Bree's arms, I went off to sleep—for a whole two hours.
"I SPY, WITH my little eye, a pink newspaper," said Bree.
"Over there!" Ali was quick to spot it. "I see it! It is pink. What kind of crazy newspaper is that?"
To my family's surprise and delight, I hadn't left for work at some obscene hour the morning after I found Ellie and her family dead in their home. Today, I wanted to walk the kids to school. Actually, I wanted to do it most every day, but sometimes I couldn't, and sometimes I didn't. But today I needed lots of fresh air in my life. And smiles. And Ali's giggles.
Jannie was in her last year at Sojourner Truth, all ready for high school, while Ali was just starting out in the school world. It seemed very circle-of-life to me that morning, with Ellie's family gone in a blink, and my own kids coming up strong.
I put on my best cheerful dad face and tried to set aside the gruesome images of last night. "Who's next?"
"I've got one," Jannie said. She turned a canary-eating grin on Bree and me. "I spy, with my little eye, a POSSLQ."
"What's a possel-cue?" Ali wanted to know. He was already looking around, moving his head like a bobblehead doll's, trying to spot it, whatever it was.
Jannie practically sang out the answer. "P, O, S, S, L, Q. Person of the opposite sex, sharing living quarters." She whispered the word sex in our direction, presumably to safeguard her little brother's innocence. No matter, I could feel myself blushing slightly.
Bree tagged Jannie's shoulder. "Where exactly did you pick that one up?"
"Cherise J. She says her mom says you two are, you know, living in sin."
I exchanged a look with Bree over the top of Jannie's head. I guessed this was bound to come up in some way or another sooner or later. Bree and I had been together for more than a year now, and she spent a good amount of time at the house on Fifth Street. Part of the reason was that the kids loved having her around. Part was that I did.
"I think maybe you and Cherise J. need to find something else to talk about," I told her. "You think?"
"Oh, it's okay, Daddy. I told Cherise her mom needs to get over herself. I mean, even Nana Mama's down with it, and her picture's in the dictionary under 'old-fashioned,' right?"
"You wouldn't have any idea what's in a dictionary," I said.
But Bree and I had stopped trying to be politically correct with Jannie, and we just let ourselves laugh. Jannie had that "crossroads" thing going on these days; she was right at the intersection of girl and woman.
"What's so funny?" Ali asked. "Somebody tell me. What is it?"
I scooped him up off the sidewalk and onto my shoulders for the last half block of our walk to school. "I'll tell you in about five years."
"I know anyway," he said. "You and Bree love each other. Everybody knows. No big deal. It's a good thing."
"Yes it is," I said and kissed his cheek.
We dropped him at the school's east entrance, where the rest of his class of minicuties were lining up outside. Jannie called to him through the fence. "See you later, alligator! Love you."
"In a while, crocodile! Love you back."
With their older brother, Damon, off at prep school in Massachusetts, these two had grown closer than ever lately. On weekend nights, Ali often slept on an air mattress at the foot of his sister's bed, in what he called his "nest."
We left Jannie at the opposite side of the school building, where all the older kids were streaming in. She gave us both hugs good-bye, and I held on a little longer than usual. "I love you, sweetie. There's nothing more special to me than you and your brothers."
Jannie couldn't help but look around to make sure no one had heard. "Me too, Daddy," she said. Then, almost in the same breath, "Cherise! Wait up!"
As soon as Jannie was gone, Bree took my arm in hers. "So what was that?" she said. " 'Everybody knows you and Bree love each other'? "
I shrugged and smiled. "What do I know? That's the big rumor going around, anyway."
I gave her a kiss.
And because that worked out so well, I gave her another.
BY NINE A.M. I was all kissed out and getting ready to enter a most unpleasant multiple-homicide briefing at the Daly Building. It was being held in the large conference room right across from my office. Handy, anyway. Every available D-1 and D-2, and a contingent from Second District, which covered most of Georgetown, would be there.
I still couldn't get it in my head that Ellie was the victim. One of the victims.
The ME's Office had sent over a representative in the person of Dr. Paula Cook, a bright investigator who had the personality of tapioca pudding. The corners of Dr. Cook's mouth actually twitched when we shook hands. I think it was an attempted smile, so I smiled back. "Thanks for coming, Paula. We need you on this one."
"Worst I've seen," she said, "in fourteen years. All those kids, the parents. Turns my stomach. Senseless."
We had picked up a stack of crime scene photos on the way in, and now Paula and I pinned some of them up in the situation room. I made sure they were all 11 × 14s. I wanted everyone to feel some of what had happened last night in Georgetown, the way I still did.
"This might be an isolated incident," I stood in front and told the assembled group a few minutes later. "But I'm not going to assume it is. The more we understand, the more prepared we'll be if this happens again. It might not be an isolated incident." I figured some of the more jaded homicide detectives wouldn't agree; they'd be thinking I'd worked one too many serial cases. I didn't much care what they thought at that point.
For the first fifteen minutes or so, I ran through the primary facts of the case for those who hadn't been there the night before. Then I turned it over to Paula. She bounced up and talked us through the photos on the wall.
"The cutting styles indicate a variety of weapons, strength, and ability," she said, using a red laser pointer to highlight the slashes, punctures, and severing that had been done to the Cox family.
"At least one blade had a serrated edge. One was unusually large—possibly a machete. The amputations, wherever they occurred, were never done cleanly. Rather, they were the result of repetitive trauma."
A detective named Monk Jeffries asked a pretty good question from the front row. "You think they were practicing? Had never done this before?"
"I couldn't say," Paula told him. "Wouldn't surprise me."
"Yeah," I put in. "It's like they were practicing, Monk." I had my own opinion about the murders. "There's something very young about this crime scene."
"As in inexperienced?" Jeffries asked.
"No. Just young. I'm talking about the cutting, the broken bed, the vandalism in general. Also the fact that this was probably done by a group of five or more. That's a big group of intruders. When I intersect all those factors, I get a few possibilities: gang, cult, OC. In that order."
"Gang?" another D-1 asked from the back. "You ever see gang violence like this massacre?"
"I've never seen violence like this, period," I said.
"I've got twenty bucks on OC. Any takers?" It was Lou Copeland, a competent but thoroughly obnoxious D-1 with Major Case Squad. A few of his cronies laughed.
Not me. I threw my clipboard across the room. It struck the wall and fell onto the tile. That wasn't like me, so it made an impression.
The room was quiet. I walked over to pick up my notes. I saw Bree and Sampson exchange a look I didn't like. They weren't sure that I could handle this.
Bree took it from there, and she started handing out assignments. We needed people recanvassing the Cambridge Place neighborhood, riding the lab for fast turnaround, and calling in any chits we had on the street for information about last night.
"We need your best work on this one," Bree told the group. "And we want some answers by the end of the day."
Everyone looked around. It was Sampson who'd spoken.
PRAISE FOR DOUBLE CROSS:
"It was smart to hire two talented and very different readers for Patterson's latest blockbuster about now retired FBI psychiatrist and former ace profiler Alex Cross. Fernandez catches Alex's raspy wisdom with instant credibility (he's done Cross before, in London Bridges and Cross), and Stuhlbarg is full of lighter charm as the narrator and one of the two serial killers who are trying to spoil Cross's return to private practice. Stuhlbarg makes Alex's former FBI colleague Kyle Craig, who turned out to be a mass murderer nicknamed the Mastermind, as charismatic as he is deadly. Cross's other burden comes from a more conventional serial killer terrorizing the Washington area where Alex's lady is on the case. "—Publishers Weekly
- "Peter J. Fernandez and Dion Graham deliver a clear, fast-paced performance..."—AudioFile
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- Nov 17, 2008
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