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’Twas the Night Before Easter
I trudged aimlessly through the dark, empty streets of Washington, haunted by the memory of my son Ali telling me that the only way to kill a zombie was to destroy its brain.
It was 3 a.m. Storms punished the city.
I’d been walking like that for hours by then but didn’t feel hungry, or thirsty, or tired in any way. When lightning bolts ripped the sky and thunder clapped right over my head, I barely flinched. Not even the pouring rain could slow me or soothe the agony that burned through every inch of my body because of what had been done to my family. With every step I kept seeing Ali, Bree, Damon, Jannie, and Nana Mama in my mind. With every step the horror of what had happened to them ignited inside me all over again, and loneliness and grief and anger.
Is this what Thierry Mulch wanted? I kept asking myself.
Thierry Mulch had destroyed everything I loved, everything I believed in. He’d gutted me and left a dead, soulless man doomed to endless, meaningless movement.
As I walked, I kept hoping Mulch or some anonymous street predator would appear and blow my head off with a shotgun, or crush it with an axe.
There was nothing I wanted more than that.
Sixteen Days Earlier…
Sitting in a parked work van on Fifth Street on a beautiful April morning, Marcus Sunday used high-definition Leica binoculars to monitor Alex Cross’s house and felt a genuine thrill, thinking that the great detective was sure to make an appearance sometime in the next half hour or so.
After all, it was a Thursday and seven thirty in the morning. Cross had to work. So did his wife. And his children had school to attend.
Sunday had no sooner had that thought than Regina Cross Hope, Cross’s ninety-one-year-old grandmother, came up the sidewalk from the direction of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. The old bird was tough and moving at a surprising clip despite the cane. She walked right by his van, barely gave it a glance.
Then again, why would she?
Sunday had attached magnetic signs to the van that advertised OVER THE MOON VACUUM CLEANER COMPANY. And behind the tinted glass he was wearing the uniform of said company, a real find at the Salvation Army. Fit perfectly.
The used vacuums in the back of the van had been purchased at a secondhand store out in Potomac for sixty bucks apiece. The phony magnetic signs had been ordered online through FedEx Office. So had the phony badge on his left shirt pocket. It read: THIERRY MULCH.
A lithe, fit man in his late thirties with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and slate-gray eyes, Sunday checked his watch as Cross’s grandmother disappeared inside the house. Then he took up a black binder stowed between the driver’s seat and the center console.
Flipping it open, he noted the tabs on the first five section dividers, each marked with a name: Bree Stone, Ali Cross, Jannie Cross, Damon Cross, and Regina Cross Hope, otherwise known as Nana Mama.
Sunday went straight to the Regina Cross Hope/Nana Mama section and filled in the exact time the old woman had entered the house and from what direction. Then, waiting for more sightings, he flipped to the back of the binder and found a four-page copy of the floor plan of the house, which had conveniently been filed with the city planning board last month as part of Cross’s application for permits to redo his kitchen and bathrooms.
Alternately studying the plan and the house itself, Sunday made notes on the diagrams regarding entries and exits, positions of windows, landscaping, and the like. When Cross’s wife, Bree Stone, also a detective with the DC Metro Police, came out on the porch to fill a bird feeder at 7:40, he recorded that act as well, and the fact that her backside looked glorious in a tight pair of jeans.
At 7:52, a truck bearing a logo that read DEAR OLD HOUSE pulled up in front of Cross’s house, followed by a waste disposal company hauling a construction Dumpster. Out came the great detective onto the porch to greet the contractors and watch the unloading of the Dumpster. So did his grandmother, his wife, and two of his three children: fifteen-year-old Jannie and seven-year-old Ali.
Nice happy family, Sunday thought, studying them through the binoculars in turn. The future for them seems bright. Looks full of promise. Doesn’t it?
Sunday allowed himself a smile, thinking that a good deal of the fun in any adventure lay in the planning, the preparation, and the anticipation. Maybe more than half, he decided, enjoying the way his ever-fertile brain conjured up various dark ways to destroy the dream scenario unfolding before his eyes.
Then Dr. Alex left with his kids. The three of them walked past Sunday on the other side of Fifth, but the detective barely looked at the work van.
Then again, why would he?
Sunday felt deflated after Cross and his children disappeared. It just wasn’t as enjoyable scouting the house with the detective absent, almost like looking at a maze in desperate need of a rodent.
Sunday checked his watch, shut the binder, and put it away, feeling that he was a free, authentic man with a purpose that would not waver no matter the consequences. He started the van, thinking that wavering in any way was almost an insult to one’s opponent. You had to want to destroy your enemy as much as he wanted to destroy you.
As Sunday drove off, he believed he was up to his task. He also believed Cross’s family deserved the wickedness to come.
Each and every one of them.
Especially Dr. Alex.
In a normal year the murder rate in Washington, DC, waits for the stifling days of summer to peak. In July and August, when the air along the Potomac is the consistency and temperature of a rabid dog’s mouth, people just seem to snap left and right. In my line of work you come to expect it.
But beginning with the terrorist attack at Union Station on New Year’s Day, there had been a steady run of homicides through the winter and on into spring. It was barely April, but this was shaping up already as one of the worst years in three decades for homicide in the District of Columbia.
That had put enormous political pressure on the mayor and the city council, which meant the Metro police chief, too, was under enormous pressure. But the squeeze was especially tight around the homicide and major case squads. Since I was now a roaming investigator for both teams, the nonstop murders meant the biggest squeeze had been put on me and on my partner and closest friend, John Sampson.
We had not had a day off in nearly two months, and our caseload seemed to grow every day. To make it worse, I was fielding calls from a contractor who was about to remodel the kitchen and put an addition on our house. So the last person I wanted to see around nine thirty that Thursday morning was Captain Roelof Antonius Quintus, who ran Homicide.
Captain Quintus knocked on the door of my office, where I’d been finishing up a breakfast burrito and a second cup of coffee while looking at a cabinet hardware catalog my wife had shoved into my hand as I left home. Sampson, a locomotive of a man, was on the couch, devouring the last of his morning meal.
Sampson saw Quintus and groaned. “Not another one?”
Quintus shook his head. “I just need an update to take to the chief. The mayor’s out of her mind and hounding him nonstop.”
“We cleared three this week, but you handed us four,” I replied. “So the takeaway is that we’re making progress but falling behind.”
“Sounds about right,” Sampson said. “Like that king in mythology who keeps pushing the boulder up the hill, only it keeps falling down.”
“Sisyphus,” I said.
“Like him,” Sampson said, pointing at me.
“C’mon, Cross,” Quintus said. “We’re counting on you to put some of the higher-profile cases like Rawlins and Kimmel to bed, get the Post off our backs. Did you see that goddamned editorial?”
I had. Just that morning they’d run a piece that described the effect the murders were having on tourism, called for the police chief to resign, and floated a proposal to have the FBI take over the department until the murder rate could be lowered.
“Tell you what, Captain,” I said. “You tell people to stop killing each other, and we’ll have more time to work on cases like Rawlins and Kimmel.”
“I wasn’t joking.”
“No, really, you should try stand-up at open-mike night, Cross,” Quintus said, turning to leave. “I think you may have missed your calling.”
Dressed now in a black leather jacket, black jeans, black polo shirt, and black harness boots, Marcus Sunday hurried toward the New North building at the center of the Georgetown University campus. Weaving through a throng of students, he reached the 120-seat McNeir Auditorium and went in, passing a sign outside that read, THE PERFECT CRIMINAL. LECTURE TODAY. 11 A.M.
The place was abuzz with anticipation. And as Sunday moved down the aisle toward the front rows, he saw that other than an empty director’s chair onstage, there wasn’t a seat to be had, standing room only.
When he reached the front row, Sunday saw students sitting on the floor in front of the stage. He smiled, moved through them, and bounded up the stairs onto the stage, where he shook hands with the tweedy-looking, gray-bearded fellow waiting.
“Sorry I’m running late, Dr. Wolk,” Sunday said.
“I’m just out of class myself,” the man said. “Shall I introduce you?”
“Please,” Sunday replied, and bobbed his head with deference.
Dr. Wolk turned on the microphone and tapped it twice before saying, “Good morning. I am David Wolk, chairman of Georgetown’s philosophy department, and I’d like to welcome you once again to the Spring Series of Lectures by Diverse Scholars.”
He smiled and went on: “They say the study of philosophy is not relevant to the real world, but as this crowd shows, that’s not true. The creative, resourceful application of philosophical methods to modern problems can be penetrating—groundbreaking, even. Today’s guest, who has a PhD in philosophy from Harvard, does just this sort of startling, innovative, and controversial work.
“His first book, published earlier this year, was The Perfect Criminal, a fascinating look at two unsolved mass-murder cases told through the eyes of a truly original thinker focused on the depths of the criminal soul.
“Please welcome Marcus Sunday.”
Sunday grinned, stood, and took the mike from Dr. Wolk.
Facing the clapping audience, the writer scanned the crowd, his gaze hesitating only briefly on an extremely sexy woman, there in the second row. She had a bemused look about her. Curly, dirty-blond hair hung down over her shoulders and a well-filled white tank top. A colorful sleeve tattoo covered her left arm, depicting a black panther lying on a blooming branch in the jungle. The panther’s tail roamed down the woman’s forearm and crossed her wrist. The cat had bewitching green eyes, the color of new, wet clover. So did she.
“Five years ago, I set out to find the perfect criminal,” Sunday began, forcing himself to look away from her. “To my knowledge he’d never been studied, never been identified. That made sense, because if he was perfect, he would never get caught. Right?”
There was nervous laughter in the room, and nods of agreement.
“So how do you find perfect criminals?” Sunday asked, looking around the room and seeing no confident faces. He focused on that young woman with the ruby lips and the startling clover eyes.
She shrugged, said in a light Cajun accent, “Look at unsolved crimes?”
“Excellent,” Sunday said, dropping his head toward his left shoulder. “That is exactly what I did.”
The writer went on to describe two unsolved mass murders that had become the heart of his book. Seven years earlier, the five members of the Daley family of suburban Omaha had been found slain at home two nights before Christmas. Except for the wife, they were all found in their beds. Their throats had all been cut with a scalpel or razor. The wife had died similarly, but in the bathroom, and naked. The house doors had either been unlocked, or the killer had had a key. It had snowed during the night and all tracks were buried. Police had found no valuable evidence.
Fourteen months later, the Monahan family of suburban Fort Worth was discovered in a similar state in the aftermath of a violent storm: a father and four children under the age of thirteen were found with their throats slit in their beds. The wife was naked, dead on the bathroom floor. The doors had either been unlocked or the killer had had a key. Again, because of rain and high winds, and the killer’s meticulous methods, police had found no usable evidence, DNA or otherwise.
“I became interested because of that lack of evidence, that void,” Sunday informed his rapt audience. “After traveling to Nebraska and Texas several times, going to the scenes, reading the files, and interviewing every investigator who worked the cases—FBI, Nebraska State Police, Texas Rangers—I came away understanding that other than the carnage the killer had left, the cases were black holes.”
Sunday said that the dearth of evidence had forced him to backtrack and theorize about the philosophical worldview of a perfect killer.
“I came to the conclusion that he had to be an existentialist of some twisted sort,” the writer said. “Someone who does not believe in God or any kind of moral or ethical basis for life, someone who thinks there is no meaning to be found in the world beyond what he alone gives to it.”
Sunday slowed, seeing he’d lost a few in his audience, and changed tack.
“What I’m saying is that the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky almost got it right,” he went on. “In his masterwork, Crime and Punishment, the central character, Raskolnikov, nearly pulls off the perfect crime. Raskolnikov decides life is meaningless and he kills a man no one cares about for money.
“At first he’s fine with it,” Sunday continued, and tapped his head. “But eventually Raskolnikov’s mind, specifically his imagination, does him in. Because Raskolnikov can imagine a moral, ethical universe where life has actual meaning, he breaks. Not so, our perfect criminal.”
The writer paused, seeing that he held his audience again, before pushing on.
“The perfect killer, I believe, understands clearly that life is meaningless, absurd, without absolute value. As long as the criminal operates from this perspective, he can’t be tripped up by his own mind, and he can’t be caught.”
Sunday went on in this vein for some time, explaining how the evidence surrounding the murder scenes supported his theories and led to others.
He left time at the end for questions. After several nitpickers fixated on minor notes in the book, the sexy woman in the second row batted her clover eyes and raised her panther tattoo as if she were languidly summoning a waiter.
The writer nodded to her.
“The reviews you got were pretty solid,” she said in that rich southern voice. “Except for the one that Detective Alex Cross wrote in the Post. I think you’ll agree he trashed it, disagreed with almost everything you said. Claimed you changed his words after you interviewed him to fit your thesis.”
Sunday gritted his teeth a moment before replying, “Miss, as any journalist will tell you, sources saying they didn’t say something are commonplace. What Detective Cross and I have is a strong difference of opinion. Nothing more.”
After a long moment of awkwardness, Dr. Wolk cleared his throat, said, “I have a question, Dr. Sunday. As I indicated, I found your book riveting, but I, too, have a quibble about one of your conclusions.”
Sunday forced a smile onto his face. “Which one is that, Doctor?”
“At one point in the book you describe the antithesis of the perfect criminal,” Dr. Wolk replied. “A detective who believes in and is emblematic of the moral, ethical universe, and so of a meaningful life.”
“But I was surprised at your suggestion that someone like your perfect detective could be made to see that life was meaningless and valueless, and…”
“In so doing become a perfect criminal himself?” Sunday asked. “Yes. I wrote that. I believe that it logically follows, Doctor. Don’t you?”
Sunday did not get to his apartment in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood until almost five. There had been a few books to autograph after his lecture, followed by an unavoidable lunch with Dr. Wolk, who drank too much and often reduced philosophical arguments into object lessons worthy of Dear Abby.
To make matters worse, Dr. Wolk had pressed Sunday repeatedly about the sort of research or writing he was doing while on sabbatical. Sunday finally told the chairman of Georgetown’s philosophy department the unvarnished but completely vague truth: “I’m conducting an experiment that tests the dimensions of an existential world and the role of human nature in that world.”
Dr. Wolk had seemed genuinely intrigued, wanted more, but Sunday had gently and firmly refused, telling his colleague he’d be able to read all about it someday when his research was complete. In fact, he’d promised, Wolk would get the first read.
Hearing zydeco music inside the apartment now and smelling garlic frying somewhere, Sunday used his key to open the door and entered a room with white walls, a white ceiling, and a pale-gray rug. Several pieces of chrome-and-black-leather furniture faced a flat-screen television tuned to a music channel; that was the source of the zydeco.
A woman was in the room, dancing to the music. Her back was to him as her hips swayed and shimmied. Her riot of dirty-blond hair was tied up on her head. She was barefoot, wore loose, flowing olive-green pants and a tight-fitting white tank top that showed off the damp skin and muscles of her shoulders as she reached high overhead, revealing the colorful tattoo of the lounging panther that covered most of her left arm.
Sunday smiled and shut the door loudly. The woman stopped dancing and looked over her shoulder at him with those clover-green eyes. She grinned, clapped, and turned. She ran to him, kissed him hungrily on the mouth, and said in that light Cajun accent, “Thought you’d never get here, Marcus.”
“Couldn’t be helped,” Sunday said. “Had to keep up appearances.”
She jumped up into his arms, locked her powerful thighs around his waist, and kissed him again. “But I had something to show you, sugar.”
“Been reading Fifty Shades of Grey again, Acadia?” he asked, amused, as he stared into her impossible irises.
“Better,” Acadia said, unlocked her legs, and slid from his arms. “Follow me, sugar?”
The writer trailed her down the hall, watching her rear sway, imagining some carnal delight. But instead of heading to the master bedroom, she turned right into a room they’d been using for storage.
Four seventy-two-inch flat-screens had been affixed to the far wall, creating one floor-to-ceiling screen that was interrupted only by an Xbox 360 Kinect device aiming outward. The screens glowed dull blue.
A scruffy young guy in a denim jacket sat with his back to them, facing the screens, wearing Bose noise-canceling headphones that were blaring hard rock. A helmet of some sort lay on the table. Beside the table were a server about the size of a large suitcase and an Xbox 360. Cables linked it all to several laptops.
“Ta-da,” Acadia said. “What do you think?”
Furious, Sunday grabbed her by her panther tattoo and dragged her back into the hallway and into a bedroom. He whispered fiercely, “I didn’t okay this, and who is that guy?”
Furious right back at him, Acadia hissed, “Preston Elliot. Computer genius. You want state-of-the-art understanding, you need state-of-the-art minds and equipment. You said so yourself!”
Before Sunday could reply, she softened, said, “Besides, sugar, Preston picked up most of it at Costco. No-questions-asked return policy on all electronics.”
Sunday stayed skeptical. “What about him? What’s his fee?”
Her nostrils flared and she looked at him like he was meat. “The eager young man expects two hours of ultrakinky sex with me. He’ll use a condom. Isn’t that what you said you needed right about now?”
Sunday cocked his head, appraising her anew. “Really? I didn’t notice, is he—?”
“Approximately your height and weight, yes.”
Intrigued now, the writer saw all the possibilities. “That means?”
“Don’t you think?” Acadia asked. Her breathing was slow. “It has been a while since we indulged, sugar.”
Sunday looked into her dark eyes and felt a thrill of primal anticipation ripple through him. “When?” he asked.
She shrugged. “All he has to do now is debug the software. Says he’ll be finished tomorrow around this time.”
“Who knows he’s here?”
“No one,” she replied. “Part of the deal. A secret.”
“Think he’ll keep it?”
“What do you think?” she asked, pressing against him a moment and igniting crazy desire in him. Sunday looked into Acadia’s green eyes and saw himself at eighteen, feeling that predatory rush for the first time as he carried a shovel and slipped up behind a figure crossing a dark yard. For a second it was all so real he swore he heard pigs squealing.
“Well, sugar?” Acadia whispered.
“I’ll leave,” he said, feeling that thrill all over again. “It’s better if he doesn’t see me tonight.”
She put on a saucy look, pressed against him again, and whispered in his ear, “Acadia Le Duc is limitless. No restrictions. None. You believe that, don’t you, sugar?”
“Oh, I do, baby,” Sunday said, almost breathless. “It’s one of the reasons I’m totally addicted to you.”
Much later that same day, Kevin Olmstead, a soft-featured man in his late twenties, spotted the neon sign of the Superior Spa, a massage parlor on Connecticut Avenue reputed to offer “happy endings.”
Happy endings, Olmstead thought, running his fingers delicately over his smooth skin. Despite all the craziness in his head, he still knew the enduring value of a happy ending. He had enough money in his pocket, didn’t he? He seemed to remember withdrawing cash from an ATM sometime that day.
Was that real? Do I still have the money?
- "No one gets this big without amazing natural storytelling talent-which is what Jim has, in spades. The Alex Cross series proves it."—Lee Child
- "Prepare yourself for one of the most gripping endings of any thriller in recent memory."—Jeffery Deaver
- "Alex Cross is a legend. He has thrilled us and kept us on the edge of our seat for twenty years now."—Harlan Coben
- "Every once in a while a writer comes along and fundamentally changes the way people read . . . James Patterson is the gold standard by which all others are judged."—Steve Berry
- : "James Patterson is The Boss."—Ian Rankin
- "Twenty years ago, I wrote, 'Along Came a Spider...should instantly make James Patterson a household name.' Congratulations, Jim, on 20 years of Alex Cross and on CROSS MY HEART, which I am loving. You The Man."—Nelson DeMille
- "Patterson boils a scene down to the single, telling detail, the element that defines a character or moves a plot along. It's what fires off the movie projector in the reader's mind."—Michael Connelly
- "The most terrifying and shocking Cross thriller to date, full of unexpected twists, savage turns, and electrifying suspense. This is the page-turner to end all page turners."—Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
- "Alex Cross is one of the best-written heroes in American fiction....Congratulations to James Patterson on 20 years of Alex Cross-both of you only get better and better. Simply put: Nobody does it better."—Lisa Scottoline
- On Sale
- Sep 30, 2014
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- Grand Central Publishing