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A Preview of The Big Bad Wolf
A Preview of Cross Justice
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Books by James Patterson
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Here's to Manhattan College on her sesquicentennial anniversary. Go Jaspers!
This one is also for Mary Jordan, who holds everything together, and I mean everything.
Did you ever see
such a sight in your life…
THE "BLUELADY" MURDERS
THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY for Cumberland County, North Carolina, Marc Sherman, pushed the old wooden captain's chair away from the prosecution table, and it made a harsh, scraping eeek in the nearly silent courtroom.
Then Sherman rose and slowly approached the jury box, where nine women and three men—six white, six African American—waited with anticipation to hear what he had to say. They liked Sherman. He knew that, even expected it. He also knew that he had already won this dramatic murder case, even without the stirring summation he was about to give.
But he was going to give this closing anyway. He felt the need to see Sergeant Ellis Cooper held accountable for his crimes. The soldier had committed the most heinous and cowardly murders in the history of Cumberland County, North Carolina. The so-called Bluelady Murders. The people in this county expected Sherman to punish Ellis Cooper, who happened to be a black man, and he wouldn't disappoint them.
The district attorney began: "I have been doing this for a while—seventeen years, to be exact. In all that time, I have never encountered murders such as those committed in December last, by the defendant, Sergeant Ellis Cooper. What began as a jealous rage aimed at one victim, Tanya Jackson, spilled over into the shameless massacre of three women. All were wives, all were mothers. Together these women had eleven children and, of course, three grieving husbands and countless other family members, neighbors, and dear friends.
"The fateful night was a Friday, 'ladies' night' for Tanya Jackson, Barbara Green, and Maureen Bruno. While their husbands enjoyed their usual card night at Fort Bragg, the wives got together for some personal talk, some laughter, and the treasured companionship of one another. Tanya, Barbara, and Maureen were great friends, you understand. This Friday night get-together took place at the home of the Jacksons, where Tanya and Abraham were raising their four children.
"Around ten o'clock, after consuming at least half a dozen shots of alcohol at the base, Sergeant Cooper went to the Jackson house. As you have heard in sworn testimony, he was seen outside the front door by two neighbors. He was yelling for Mrs. Jackson to come out.
"Then Sergeant Cooper barged into the house. Using an RTAK survival knife, a lightweight weapon favored by United States Army Special Forces, he attacked the woman who had spurned his advances. He killed Tanya Jackson instantly with a single knife thrust.
"Sergeant Ellis Cooper then turned the knife on thirty-one-year-old Barbara Green. And finally, on Maureen Bruno, who nearly made it out of the slaughterhouse but was caught by Cooper at the front door. All three women were killed with thrusts delivered by a powerful male, who has taught hand-to-hand fighting techniques at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, headquarters for the Army Special Forces.
"The survival knife has been identified as Sergeant Cooper's personal property, a deadly weapon he had kept since the early 1970s, when he left Vietnam. Sergeant Cooper's fingerprints were all over the knife.
"His prints were also found on the clothing of Mrs. Jackson and Mrs. Green. DNA from particles of skin found under the nails of Mrs. Jackson were matched to Sergeant Cooper. Strands of his hair were found at the murder scene. The murder weapon itself was discovered hidden in the attic of Cooper's house. So were pathetic 'love letters' he had written to Tanya Jackson—returned unopened.
"You have seen unspeakable photographs of what Sergeant Cooper did to the three women. Once they were dead, he painted the women's faces with ghoulish-looking blue paint. He painted their chests and stomachs. It is gruesome and twisted. As I said, the worst murders I have ever encountered. You know that there can be only one verdict. That verdict is guilty! Put this monster down!"
Suddenly, Sergeant Ellis Cooper rose from his seat at the defendant's table. The courtroom audience gasped. He was six feet four and powerfully built. At age fifty-five, his waist was still thirty-two inches, just as it had been when he enlisted in the army at eighteen. He was wearing his dress greens, and the medals on his chest included a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Service Cross, and a Silver Star. He looked impressive, even under the circumstances of the murder trial, and then he spoke in a clear, booming voice.
"I didn't kill Tanya Jackson, or any of those poor women. I never went inside the house that night. I didn't paint any bodies blue. I've never killed anyone, except for my country. I didn't kill those women. I'm innocent! I'm a war hero, for God's sake!"
Sergeant Cooper hurdled the wooden gate at the front of the courtroom. He was on Marc Sherman in seconds, knocking him to the floor, punching him in the face and chest.
"You liar, liar!" Cooper shouted. "Why are you trying to kill me?"
When the courtroom marshals finally pulled Cooper away, the prosecutor's shirt and jacket were torn, his face bloodied.
Marc Sherman struggled to his feet and then he turned back to the jury. "Need I say more? The verdict is guilty. Put this monster down."
THE REAL KILLERS had taken a small risk by attending the final day of the trial in North Carolina. They wanted to see the end of this, couldn't miss it.
Thomas Starkey was the team leader, and the former Army Ranger colonel still looked the part, walked the walk, and talked the talk.
Brownley Harris was his number two, and he remained deferential to Colonel Starkey, just as it had been in Vietnam, just as it would always be until the day one or—more likely—both of them died.
Warren Griffin was still "the kid," which seemed marginally funny, since he was forty-nine years old now.
The jury had come in with a verdict of guilty less than two and a half hours after they were sent out to deliberate. Sergeant Ellis Cooper was going to be executed for murder by the state of North Carolina.
The district attorney had done a brilliant job—of convicting the wrong man.
The three killers piled into a dark blue Suburban parked on one of the narrow side streets near the courthouse.
Thomas Starkey started up the big car. "Anybody hungry?" he asked.
"Thirsty," said Harris.
"Horny," said Griffin, and snorted out one of his goofy laughs.
"Let's get something to eat and drink—then maybe we'll get into some trouble with the ladies. What do you say? To celebrate our great victory today. To us!" shouted Colonel Starkey as he drove down the street away from the Courthouse. "To the Three Blind Mice."
THE LAST CASE
I CAME DOWN to breakfast about seven that morning and joined Nana and the kids around the kitchen table. With Little Alex starting to walk, things were back in "lockdown" mode in the kitchen. Plastic safety locks, latches, and outlet caps were everywhere. The sounds of kid chatter, spoons clattering in cereal bowls, and Damon coaching his baby brother in the art of blowing raspberries, made the kitchen almost as noisy as a precinct house on a Saturday night.
The kids were eating some kind of puffed-up chocolate-flavored Oreos cereal and Hershey's chocolate milk. Just the thought of all that chocolate at seven in the morning made me shiver. Nana and I had eggs over easy and twelve-grain toast.
"Now isn't this nice," I said as I sat down to my coffee and eggs. "I'm not even going to spoil it by commenting on the chocoholic breakfast two of my precious children are eating for their morning's nourishment."
"You just did comment," said Jannie, never at a loss.
I winked at her. She couldn't spoil my mood today. The killer known as the Mastermind had been captured and was now spending his days at a maximum-security prison in Colorado. My twelve-year-old, Damon, continued to blossom—as a student as well as a singer with the Washington Boys' Choir. Jannie had taken up oil painting, and she was keeping a journal that contained some pretty good scribbling, and cartoons, for a girl her age. Little Alex's personality was beginning to emerge—he was a sweet boy, just starting to walk at thirteen months.
I had met a woman detective recently, Jamilla Hughes, and I wanted to spend more time with her. The problem was that she lived in California and I lived in D.C. Not insurmountable, I figured.
I would have some time to find out about Jamilla and me. Today was the day I planned to meet with Chief of Detectives George Pittman and resign from the D.C. police. After I resigned, I planned to take a couple of months off.
Then I might go into private practice as a psychologist, or possibly hook up with the FBI. The Bureau had made me an offer that was flattering as well as intriguing.
There was a loud rap at the kitchen door. Then it opened. John Sampson was standing there. He knew what I was planning to do today, and I figured he'd come by to show me some support.
Sometimes I am so gullible, it makes me a little sick.
"HELLO, UNCLE JOHN," Damon and Jannie chorused, and then grinned like the little fools they can be when in the presence of greatness, which is how they feel about John Sampson.
He went to the refrigerator and examined Jannie's latest artwork. She was trying to copy characters from a new cartoonist, Aaron McGurder, formerly of the University of Maryland and now syndicated. Huey and Riley Freeman, Caesar, and Jazmine DuBois were all taped on the fridge.
"You want some eggs, John? I can make some scrambled with cheddar, way you like them," Nana said, and she was already up at her place. She would do anything for Sampson. It had been that way since he was ten and we first became friends. Sampson is like another son to her. His parents were in jail much of the time he was growing up, and Nana raised him as much as anybody did.
"Oh, no, no," he said, and quickly motioned for her to sit back down—but when she moved to the stove, he said, "Yeah, scrambled, Nana. Rye toast be nice. I'm starved away to nothing, and nobody does breakfast like you do."
"You know that's the truth," she cackled, and turned up the burners. "You're lucky I'm an old-school lady. You're all lucky."
"We know it, Nana." Sampson smiled. He turned to the kids. "I need to talk to your father."
"He's retiring today," Jannie said.
"So I've heard," said Sampson. "It's all over the streets, front page of the Post, probably on the Today show this morning."
"You heard your uncle John," I told the kids. "Now, scoot. I love you. Scat!"
Jannie and Damon rolled their eyes and gave us looks, but they got up from the table, gathered their books into backpacks, and started out the door to the Sojourner Truth School, which is about a five-block walk from our house on Fifth Street.
"Don't even think about going out that door like that. Kisses," I said.
They came over and dutifully kissed Nana and me. Then they kissed Sampson. I really don't care what goes on in this cool, unsentimental postmodern world, but that's how we do it in our house. Bin Laden probably never got kissed enough when he was a kid.
"I have a problem," Sampson said as soon as the kids left.
"Am I supposed to hear this?" Nana asked from the stove.
"Of course you are," John said to her. "Nana, Alex, I've told you both about a good friend of mine from my army days. His name is Ellis Cooper and he's still in the army after all these years. At least, he was. He was found guilty of murdering three women off base. I had no idea about any of it until friends started to call. He'd been embarrassed to tell me himself. Didn't want me to know. He only has about three weeks to the execution, Alex."
I stared into Sampson's eyes. I could see sadness and distress there, even more than usual. "What do you want, John?"
"Come down to North Carolina with me. Talk to Cooper. He's not a murderer. I know this man almost as well as I know you. Ellis Cooper didn't kill anybody."
"You know you have to go down there with John," Nana said. "Make this your last case. You have to promise me that."
SAMPSON AND I were on I-95 by eleven o'clock that morning, our car wedged between caravans of speeding, gear-grinding, smoke-spewing tractor-trailers. The ride was a good excuse for us to catch up, though. We'd both been busy for a month or so, but we always got back together for long talks. It had been that way since we were kids growing up in D.C. Actually, the only time we'd been separated was when Sampson served two tours in Southeast Asia and I was at Georgetown, then Johns Hopkins.
"Tell me about this army friend of yours," I said. I was driving, and Sampson had the passenger seat as far back as it would go. His knees were up, touching the dash. He almost looked comfortable somehow.
"Cooper was already a sergeant back when I met him, and I think he knew he always would be. He was all right with it, liked the army. He and I were both at Bragg together. Cooper was a drill sergeant at the time. One time he kept me on post for four straight weekends."
I snorted out a laugh. "Is that when the two of you got close? Weekends together in the barracks?"
"I hated his guts back then. Thought he was picking on me. You know, singling me out because of my size. Then we hooked up again in 'Nam."
"He loosened up some? Once you met him again in 'Nam?"
"No, Cooper is Cooper. He's no bullshit, a real straight arrow, but if you follow the rules, he's fair. That's what he liked about the army. It was mostly orderly, consistent, and if you did the right thing, then you usually did all right. Maybe not as well as you thought you should, but not too bad. He told me it's smart for a black man to find a meritocracy, like the army."
"Or the police department," I said.
"Up to a point," Sampson said, nodding. "I remember a time," he continued. "Vietnam. We had replaced a unit that killed maybe two hundred people in a five-month period. These weren't exactly soldiers that got killed, Alex, though they were supposed to be VC."
I listened as I drove. Sampson's voice became faraway.
"This kind of military operation was called 'mopping up.' This one time, we came into a small village, but another unit was already there. An infantry officer was 'interrogating' a prisoner in front of these women and children. He was cutting skin off the man's stomach.
"Sergeant Cooper went up to the officer and pressed his gun to the man's skull. He said if the officer didn't stop what he was doing, he was a dead man. He meant it too. Cooper didn't care about the consequences. He didn't kill those women in North Carolina, Alex. Ellis Cooper is no killer."
I LOVED BEING with Sampson. Always had, always would. As we rode through Virginia and into North Carolina the talk eventually turned to other, more hopeful and promising subjects. I had already told him everything there was to tell about Jamilla Hughes, but he wanted to hear more scoop. Sometimes he's a bigger gossip than Nana Mama.
"I don't have any more to tell you, big man. You know I met her on that big murder case in San Francisco. We were together a lot for a couple of weeks. I don't know her that well. I like her, though. She doesn't take any crap from anybody."
"And you'd like to know her more. I can tell that much." Sampson laughed and clapped his big hands together.
I started to laugh too. "Yes, I would, matter of fact. Jamilla plays it close to the vest. I think she got banged up somewhere along the line. Maybe the first husband. She doesn't want to talk about it yet."
"I think she has your number, man."
"Maybe she does. You'll like her. Everybody does."
John started to laugh again. "You do find nice ladies. I'll give you that much." He switched subjects. "Nana Mama is some kind of piece of work, isn't she?"
"Yeah, she is. Eighty-two. You'd never know it. I came home the other day. She was shimmying a refrigerator down the back stairs of the house on an oilcloth. Wouldn't wait for me to get home to help her."
"You remember that time we got caught lifting records at Spector's Vinyl?"
"Yeah, I remember. She loves to tell that story."
John continued to laugh. "I can still see the two of us sitting in that store manager's crummy little office. He's threatening us with everything but the death penalty for stealing his crummy forty-fives, but we are so cool. We're almost laughing in his face.
"Nana shows up at the record store, and she starts hitting both of us. She hit me in the face, bloodied my lip. She was like some kind of mad woman on a rampage, a mission from God."
"She had this warning: 'Don't cross me. Don't ever, ever cross me, ever.' I can still hear the way she would say it," I said.
"Then she let that police officer haul our asses down to the station. She wouldn't even bring us home. I said, 'They were only records, Nana.' I thought she was going to kill me. 'I'm already bleeding!' I said. 'You're gonna bleed more!' she yelled in my face."
I found myself smiling at the distant memory. Interesting how some things that weren't real funny at the time eventually get that way. "Maybe that's why we became big, bad cops. That afternoon in the record store. Nana's vengeful wrath."
Sampson turned serious and said, "No, that's not what straightened me out. The army did it. I sure didn't get what I needed in my own house. Nana helped, but it was the army that set me straight. I owe the army. And I owe Ellis Cooper. Hoo-rah! Hoo-rah! Hoo-rah!"
WE DROVE ONTO the sobering and foreboding high-walled grounds of Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The security housing unit there was like a prison within a prison. It was surrounded by razor-sharp wire fences and a deadly electronic barrier; armed guards were in all the watchtowers. Central Prison was the only one in North Carolina with a death row. Currently there were more than a thousand inmates, with an astounding 220 on the row.
"Scary place," Sampson said as we got out of the car. I had never seen him look so unsettled and unhappy. I didn't much like being at Central Prison either.
Once we were inside the main building it was as quiet as a monastery, and the extremely high level of security continued. Sampson and I were asked to wait between two sets of steel-bar doors. We were subjected to a metal detector, then had to present photo IDs along with our badges. The security guard who checked us informed us that many of North Carolina's "First in Flight" license plates were made here at the prison. Good to know, I suppose.
There were hundreds of controlled steel gates in the high-security prison. Inmates couldn't move outside their cells without handcuffs, leg irons, and security guards. Finally we were allowed to enter death row itself, and were taken to Sergeant Cooper. In this section of the prison each block consisted of sixteen cells, eight on the bottom, eight on top, with a common dayroom. Everything was painted the official color, known as "lark."
"John Sampson, you came after all," Ellis Cooper said as he saw us standing in a narrow corridor outside a special hearing room. The door was opened and we were let in by a pair of armed guards.
I sucked in a breath, but tried not to show it. Cooper's wrists and ankles were shackled with chains. He looked like a big, powerful slave.
Sampson went and hugged Cooper. Cooper had on the orange-red jumpsuit that all of the death row inmates wore. He kept repeating, "So good to see you."
When the two big men finally pulled apart, Cooper's eyes were red and his cheeks wet. Sampson remained dry-eyed. I had never, ever seen John cry.
"This is the best thing that's happened to me in a long, long while," Cooper said. "I didn't think anybody would come after the trial. I'm already dead to most of them."
"I brought along somebody. This is Detective Alex Cross," Sampson said, turning my way. "He's the best I know at homicide investigations."
"That's what I need," said Cooper as he took my hand. "The best."
"So tell us about all this awful craziness. Everything," Sampson said. "Tell us from start to finish. Your version, Coop."
Sergeant Cooper nodded. "I want to. It will be good to tell it to somebody who isn't already convinced that I murdered those three women."
"That's why we're here," Sampson said. "Because you didn't murder the women."
"That Friday was a payday," Cooper began. "I should have gone straight home to my girlfriend, Marcia, but I had a few drinks at the club. I called Marcia around eight, I guess. She'd apparently gone out. She was probably ticked off at me. So I had another drink. Met up with a couple of buddies. I called my place again—it was probably close to nine. Marcia was still out.
"I had another couple of highballs at the club. Then I decided to walk home. Why walk? Because I knew I was three sheets to the wind. It was only a little over a mile home anyway. When I got to my house, it was past ten. Marcia still wasn't there. I turned on a North Carolina–Duke basketball game. Love to root against the Dukies and Coach K. Around eleven o'clock I heard the front door open. I yelled out to Marcia, asked her where she had been.
"Only it wasn't her coming home after all. It was about half a dozen MPs and a CID investigator named Jacobs. Soon after that, they supposedly found the RTAK survival knife in the attic of my house. And traces of blue paint used on those ladies. They arrested me for murder."
Ellis Cooper looked at Sampson first, then he stared hard into my eyes. He paused before he spoke again. "I didn't kill those women," he said. "And what I still can't believe, somebody obviously framed me for the murders. Why would somebody set me up? It doesn't make sense. I don't have an enemy in the world. Least I didn't think so."
THOMAS STARKEY, BROWNLEY Harris, and Warren Griffin had been best friends for more than thirty years, ever since they served together in Vietnam. Every couple of months, under Thomas Starkey's command, they went to a simple, post-and-beam log cabin on Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia and spent a long weekend together. It was a ritual of machismo and would continue, Starkey insisted, until the last of them was gone.
They did all the things they couldn't do at home, played music from the sixties—the Doors, Cream, Hendrix, Blind Faith, the Airplane—loud. They drank way too much beer and bourbon while they grilled thick porterhouse steaks that they ate with fresh corn, Vidalia onions, tomatoes, and baked potatoes slathered with butter and sour cream. They smoked expensive Cuban cigars. They had a hell of a lot of fun in what they did.
"What was the line in that old beer commercial? You know the one I'm talking about," Harris asked as they sat out on the front porch after dinner.
"It doesn't get any better than this," Starkey said as he flicked the thick ash from his cigar onto the wide-planked floor. "I think it was a shit beer, though. Can't even remember the name. Course, I'm a little drunk and a lot stoned." Neither of the others believed that. Thomas Starkey was never completely out of control, and especially not when he committed murder, or ordered it done.
"We've paid our dues, gentlemen. We've earned this," Starkey said, and extended his mug to clink with his friends. "What's happening now is well deserved."
"Bet your ass we earned it. Couple or three foreign wars. Our other exploits over the past few years," said Harris. "Families. Eleven kids between us. Plus we did pretty good out in the big, bad civilian world too. I sure never figured I'd be knocking down a hundred and a half a year."
They clinked the heavy beer glasses again. "We did good, boys. And believe it or not, it can only get better," said Starkey.
As they always did, they retold old war stories—Grenada, Mogadishu, the Gulf War, but mostly Vietnam.
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