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This time it’s Alex Cross on trial.
Alex Cross is on the wrong side of the law. Serving a suspension from the force while he awaits trial for murder, Cross has been branded as a trigger-happy cop, another bad apple walking the streets with a gun, an accusation that Cross will do anything to refute. To make himself feel useful again, Cross opens a counseling office in the basement of his home. When his former partner Sampson shows up needing his help, Cross jumps at the chance, even if it may end up costing him what’s left of his career. When a string of young, blonde women go missing, the investigation leads Cross and Sampson to the most depraved, darkest corners of the internet. Struggling to prove his own innocence and uncover the truth lurking online, Cross must risk everything to save his most at-risk patient of all…himself.
A Hot Summer’s Eve
From inside a rambling white Colonial home on a shaded street that smelled of blooming wildflowers, a woman called in a pleasant Southern accent: “TW-Two? Where are you? Mama needs you to go to the store now.”
There was a pause before she called again. “TW-Two? Deuce?”
Timmy Walker Jr., TW-Two, also known as Deuce, was twelve and standing just inside the woods that adjoined his backyard.
Go to the store? Deuce thought. He had better things to do than ride his bike all the way there and back for his mom. As a matter of fact, he had much better things to do.
The back porch door opened with a creak.
“Deuce,” his mother called. “C’mon, now. I’ll take you out for an ice cream sundae later?”
That was tempting, but Deuce stuck to his plan and eased off on a familiar path that led downhill to an old logging road and a creek that meandered through the woods. It was late in the day. The light was slanted, coppery, and the air was still sticky and hot.
Holding a beat-up old pair of binoculars his granddad had given him, Deuce thought: Hot and sticky. That’s good. Seems there’s way more activity when it’s all hot and sticky this time of day, getting on into night.
Deuce looked down at his camouflage T-shirt and shorts and thought, I’m dressed perfect. Should be able to get real close, and I’ve got the right gear.
Mosquitoes whined. He slapped at one that bit his ear, hearing the building thrum of cicadas in the trees and smelling smoke from a distant fire. He dug in his pocket and got out a cigarette he’d taken from his mom’s secret pack.
He lit it, took a drag, and blew smoke at the mosquitoes. That helped.
Still smoking, Deuce crossed the creek and kept on the logging trail, which paralleled the waterway for almost a mile before splitting off. He went left, then started uphill, pausing every few moments to listen. Nothing.
Even so, the boy remained certain he’d see something good tonight. It was late Friday afternoon. Prime time. Late summer. Primer time. And you didn’t always have to hear them first. He’d learned that, hadn’t he?
When Deuce neared the top of the rise, he put on a camouflage head net that almost matched the T-shirt and shorts. He eased slowly up onto the crest of the hill, peering through the tangle of vines and leaves in the last golden rays of day. Nothing.
He took a step. Nothing. Another step.
Deuce smiled, hunched over, and snuck forward and downhill toward a clearing at the end of a rutted dirt road. There were beer cans and wrappers strewn about, a brush pile, and, on the far side of the clearing, a lone blue Toyota Camry.
The engine was off. The windows were down. No music was on. Deuce was sure he knew why the car was there. He lifted the binoculars and peered across the clearing into the Camry’s backseat, where a couple was writhing.
Deuce saw the naked back of one of them. The girl!
And blond! More perfect.
She sat up suddenly; she was seventeen, eighteen—beautiful! Then another topless blonde, younger, very pretty, rose up beside the first one. They began to kiss and caress.
The twelve-year-old thought he was going to have a heart attack, the scene made him so breathless. Shakily, Deuce lowered the binoculars, dug in his pocket, and came up with an iPhone 4 he’d bought used online. He found the camera icon and pressed it.
This is going to be epic, Deuce thought. No one will ever forget this one.
He took a soft step, and then another, which brought him right up to the clearing. He focused a moment on the passionate girls in the backseat of the car but did not raise his binoculars for a closer look.
He was on a mission now. Deuce thumbed the camera mode to video and pressed Record.
He stayed just inside the trees, in the shadows, and circled the clearing, going past the brush pile toward the Camry and coming up on it from behind and to its right. He imagined himself a panther and moved slow and careful until the car and the girls were down a bank and slightly below him, not twenty yards away.
From that angle, he could see the girls were both completely naked. He was flustered, fascinated; part of him wanted to go even closer, right in the backseat if he could. But that wouldn’t get him anywhere, now would it?
He had them framed perfectly. And the light wasn’t bad at all. He was sure this would be his best effort yet. Two blondes? I’ll be a hero!
Deuce almost laughed out loud but became transfixed when one girl’s hand left the other one’s breasts and slid south toward—
The boy heard the grumble of an engine and looked around. It sounded like a vehicle was coming fast and heading toward the clearing. The girls heard it too and scrambled for their clothes.
Are you kidding me? Deuce groaned.
He heard a shriek. He looked back at their car. One of the girls was staring out the window at him.
“There’s some pervo kid in camo out there!” she yelled. “He’s filming us!”
Deuce freaked and ran. He bolted deeper into the woods and then arced back the way he’d come, jumping logs, dodging trees, and smiling like he’d just escaped some tower with a king’s jewel in his pocket.
And in a way, he had, hadn’t he? He glanced at the phone gripped tightly in his hand as he continued to sprint back toward the trail. It wasn’t the epic video he’d hoped for, but it was still—
Deuce heard a vehicle roar into the clearing and skid to a halt. One of the girls screamed.
Deuce stopped and looked back. Sweat dripped down his face, and he strained to see the clearing through the thick foliage.
The boy told himself to go, get home fast, upload the video to his computer, and spend the night reliving his victory before trying to figure out which website to sell it to. But his natural curiosity overwhelmed him, propelled him back toward the clearing’s edge.
The sun was setting. Shadows were taking the opening in the woods. A white Ford utility van with a souped-up motor was idling next to the Camry, blocking Deuce’s view of the girls.
He lifted his binoculars, saw the van’s windows were darkly tinted. A magnetic sign on the near side said DISH NETWORK.
Dish? Out here? Wasn’t that like a—
“No!” one of the girls shouted from the other side of the van. “Please! Don’t do this! Help! Kid! Help us, kid!”
Deuce realized she was screaming for him and didn’t know what to do.
Another scream followed, louder, terror-stricken. One of the girls was sobbing, blubbering, begging for mercy.
Deuce began to tremble with fear. A voice in his head yelled, Run!
A car door slammed. The van door slid shut, muffling the girls’ cries.
I’m probably wrong for taking the video, Deuce thought, but this is seriously messed up. I’ve got to do something.
He dug furiously in his pocket, came up with a little magnetic doubling lens that he fitted to his phone’s camera lens. He slid the mode to photo for better resolution and zoomed in on the van’s rear license plate, lit by its parking lights, some sixty yards away.
The van’s headlights went on. The engine revved. They were leaving.
Deuce squeezed the upper volume button of the iPhone to shoot without flash or autofocus. Click, click, click. He got five shots in all before the van rolled forward, picked up speed, and left the clearing.
The boy watched the van go, then raised his binoculars to look at the Camry. It was empty in the last fading light. No movement. Both girls were gone.
The boy began to tremble; he felt sick. Those girls had been screaming.
Deuce decided he had to do something. He needed to erase the porn part, make up some story about why he’d seen all this, and then tell it to the police. They’d go find the Camry, figure out who the girls were, and find whoever was driving that Dish van.
And he had to do it sooner rather than later.
He looked at his phone. He punched 911 but got no connection. No Service, the screen read. He’d have to go back to the other side of the creek before reception turned solid.
Deuce looked around, got his bearings, and set off toward the logging trail. It would be dark before he knew it, but he’d been walking around in these woods since he was four.
When the boy hit the logging road, a three-quarter moon was rising behind him. He broke into a jog and went up and over the rise.
Right where the trail got steep again, Deuce caught a glimpse of something dark, heavy, and long coming right at him.
He tried to duck, but it was too late.
A forearm smashed into the boy’s neck and clotheslined him. Deuce’s feet went out from beneath him, and his upper body, arms, and head whipsawed violently before crashing onto the logging road.
The boy felt bones break on impact, and he took a nasty crack to the head. He saw stars, and his limp fingers and arms flung wide. His iPhone sailed off into the woods, along with all the wind in his lungs.
For a second, maybe two, Deuce was dazed and saw only shadows and darkness. He heard nothing but the sound of his own choking and felt nothing but pain that seemed everywhere.
Then the boy heard a man’s voice right beside him. “There, now,” he said. “Where did you think you were going, young man?”
Platinum Damages the Brain
I looked in my bedroom mirror and tried to tie the perfect necktie knot.
It was such a simple thing, a ritual I performed every day before work, and yet I couldn’t get it right.
“Here, Alex, let me help,” Bree said, sliding in beside me.
I let the tie hang and said, “Nerves.”
“Understandable,” Bree said, coming around in front of me and adjusting the lengths of the tie.
I have a good six inches on my wife, and I gazed down in wonder at how easily she tied the knot.
“Men can’t do that,” I said. “We have to stand behind a guy to do it.”
“Just a difference in perspective,” Bree said, snugging the knot up against my Adam’s apple and tugging down the starched collar. She hesitated, then looked up at me with wide, fearful eyes and said, “You’re ready now.”
I felt queasy. “You think?”
“I believe in you,” Bree said, getting up on her tiptoes and tilting her head back. “We all believe in you.”
I kissed her then, and hugged her tight.
“Love you,” I said.
“Forever and ever,” Bree said.
When we separated, she had shiny eyes.
“Game face, now,” I said, touching her chin. “Remember what Marley and Naomi told us.”
She got out a Kleenex and dabbed at her tears while I put on my jacket.
“Better?” Bree asked.
“Perfect,” I said, and opened our bedroom door.
The three other bedrooms off the second-floor landing were open and dark. We went downstairs. My family was gathered in the kitchen. Nana Mama, my ninety-something-year-old grandmother. Damon, my oldest child, down from Johns Hopkins. Jannie, my high-school junior and running star. And Ali, my precocious nine-year-old. They were all dressed as if for a funeral.
Ali saw me and broke into tears. He ran over and hugged my legs.
“Hey, hey,” I said, stroking his head.
“It’s not fair.” Ali sobbed. “It’s not true, what they’re saying.”
“Course it’s not,” Nana Mama said. “We’ve just got to ignore them. Sticks and stones.”
“Words can hurt, Nana,” Jannie said. “I know what he’s feeling. You should see the stuff on social media.”
“Ignore it,” Bree said. “We’re standing by your father. Family first.”
She squeezed my hand.
“Let’s do it, then,” I said. “Heads high. Don’t engage.”
Nana Mama picked up her pocketbook, said, “I’d like to engage. I’d like to put a frying pan in my purse here and then clobber one of them with it.”
Ali stopped sniffling and started to laugh. “Want me to get you one, Nana?”
“Next time. And I’d only use it if I was provoked.”
“God help them if you are, Nana,” Damon said, and we all laughed.
Feeling a little better, I checked my watch. Quarter to eight.
“Here we go,” I said, and I went through the house to the front door.
I stopped there, listening to my family lining up behind me.
I took a deep breath, rolled my shoulders back like a Marine at attention, then twisted the knob, swung open the door, and stepped out onto my porch.
“It’s him!” a woman cried.
Klieg lights blazed to life as a roar of shouts erupted from the small mob of media vultures and haters packing the sidewalk in front of our house on Fifth Street in Southeast Washington, DC.
There were fifteen, twenty of them, some carrying cameras and mikes, others carrying signs condemning me, all hurling questions or curses my way. It was such a madhouse I couldn’t hear any of them clearly. Then one guy with a baritone voice bellowed loudly enough to be heard over the din:
“Are you guilty, Dr. Cross?” he shouted. “Did you shoot those people down in cold blood?”
A black Suburban with tinted windows rolled up in front of my house.
“Stay close,” I said, ignoring the shouted questions. I pointed to Damon. “Help Nana Mama, please.”
My oldest came to my grandmother’s side and we all moved as one tight unit down the stairs and onto the sidewalk.
A reporter shoved a microphone in my face, shouted, “Dr. Cross, how many times have you drawn your weapon in the course of duty?”
I had no idea, so I ignored him, but Nana Mama snapped, “How many times have you asked a stupid question in the pursuit of idiocy?”
After that, it took everything in me to tune it all out as we crossed the sidewalk to the Suburban. I saw the rest of my family inside the SUV, climbed up front, and shut the door.
Nana Mama let out a long breath.
“I hate them,” Jannie said as we pulled away.
“It’s like they’re feeding on Dad,” Ali said.
“Bloodsuckers,” the driver said.
All too soon we arrived in front of the District of Columbia Courthouse at 500 Indiana Avenue. The building is a two-wing, smooth limestone structure with a steel-and-glass atrium over the lobby and a large plaza flanked by raised gardens out front. There’d been twenty vultures at my house, but there were sixty jackals there for my rendezvous with cold justice.
Anita Marley, my attorney, was also there, waiting at the curb.
Tall and athletically built, with auburn hair, freckled skin, and sharp emerald eyes, Marley had once played volleyball for and studied acting at the University of Texas; she later graduated near the top of her law-school class at Rice. She was classy, brassy, and hilarious, as well as certifiably badass in the courtroom, which was why we’d hired her.
Marley opened my door.
“I do the talking from here on out, Alex,” she said in a commanding drawl just as the roar of accusation and ridicule hit me, far worse than what I’d been subjected to at home.
I’d seen this kind of thing in the past, a big-time trial mob with local and national reporters preparing to feed raw meat to the twenty-four-hour cable-news monster. I’d just never been the raw meat before.
“Talk to us, Cross!” they shouted. “Are you the problem? Are you and your cowboy ways what the police have become in America? Above the law?”
I couldn’t take it and responded, “No one is above the law.”
“Don’t say anything,” Marley hissed, and she took me by the elbow and moved me across the plaza toward the front doors of the courthouse.
The swarm went with us, still buzzing, still stinging.
From the crowd beyond the reporters, a man shouted in a terrified voice, “Don’t shoot me, Cross! Don’t shoot!”
Others started to chant with him in that same tone. “Don’t shoot me, Cross! Don’t shoot!”
Despite my best efforts, I could not help turning my head to look at them. Some carried placards that featured a red X over my face with a caption below it, one reading END POLICE VIOLENCE and another GUILTY AS CHARGED!
In front of the bulletproof courthouse doors, Marley stopped to turn me toward the lights, microphones, and cameras. I threw my shoulders back and lifted my chin.
My attorney held up her hand and said in a loud, firm voice, “Dr. Cross is an innocent man and an innocent police officer. We are very happy that at long last he’ll have the opportunity to clear his good name.”
The police officers manning the security checkpoint watched me as I entered the courthouse, the media still boiling behind me.
Sergeant Doug Kenny, chief of court security and an old friend, said, “We’re with you, Alex. Good shoot, from what I hear. Damn good shoot.”
The other three all nodded and smiled at me as I went through the metal detectors. Outside, the horde descended on my family as they fought their way toward the court entrance.
Nana Mama, Damon, and Jannie made it inside first, looking shaken. Ali and Bree entered a few moments later. As the door swung shut, Ali faced the reporters peering in. Then he raised his middle finger in a universally understood gesture.
“Ali!” Nana Mama cried, grabbing him by the collar. “That is unacceptable behavior!”
But with the security team chuckling at him and me smiling, Ali didn’t show a bit of remorse.
“Tough kid,” Anita said, steering me to the elevators.
“Smart kid,” said the young African American woman who’d just appeared beside me. “Always has been.”
I put my arm around her shoulders, hugged her, and kissed her head.
“Thank you for being here, Naomi,” I said.
“You’ve always had my back, Uncle Alex,” she said.
Naomi Cross, my late brother Aaron’s daughter, is a respected criminal defense attorney in her own right, and she’d jumped at the chance to help me and work with the renowned Anita Marley on my case.
“What are my odds, Anita?” I said as the elevator doors shut.
“I don’t play that game,” she said crisply, adjusting the cuffs of her white blouse. “We’ll inform the jury of the facts and then let them decide.”
“But you’ve seen the prosecution’s evidence.”
“And I have a rough idea of their theory. I think our story’s more compelling, and I intend to tell it well.”
I believed her. In just the past six years, Marley had won eight high-profile murder cases. After I was charged with double homicide, I reached out to her, expecting to get a refusal or a “too busy.” Instead, she flew from Dallas to DC the next day, and she’d been standing by me in legal proceedings ever since.
I liked Anita. There was no BS about her. She had a lightning-fast mind, and she was not above using her charm, good looks, or acting skills to help a client. I’d seen her use all of them on the judge who oversaw pretrial motions, motions that, with a few disturbing exceptions, she’d won handily.
But mine was as complex a trial case as she’d ever seen, she said, with threads that extended deep into my past.
About fifteen years ago, a psychopath named Gary Soneji went on a kidnapping and murder spree. I’d put him in prison, but he escaped several years later and turned to bomb-building.
Soneji had detonated several, killing multiple people before we cornered him in a vast abandoned tunnel system below Manhattan. He’d almost killed me, but I was able to shoot him first. He staggered away and was swallowed by the darkness before the bomb he wore exploded.
Flash-forward ten years. My partner at the DC Metro Police, John Sampson, and I were helping out in a church kitchen. A dead ringer for Soneji broke in and shot the cook and a nun, and then he shot Sampson in the head.
Miraculously, all three survived, but the Soneji look-alike wasn’t found.
It turned out there was a cult dedicated to Soneji that thrived on the dark web. The investigation into that cult led me, in a roundabout way, to an abandoned factory in Southeast DC, where three armed people wearing Soneji masks confronted me. I shot three, killing two.
But when police responded to my call for backup, they found no weapons on any of the victims, and I was charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.
The elevator doors opened on the third floor of the courthouse. We headed straight to courtroom 9B, cut in front of the line of people trying to get seats, and, ignoring the furious whispers behind us, went in.
The public gallery was almost full. The media occupied four rows on the far left of the gallery. The front row behind the prosecution desk, which was reserved for victims and victims’ families, was empty. So was the row reserved for my family, on the right.
“Stay standing,” Marley murmured after we’d passed through the bar and reached the defense table. “I want everyone watching you. Show your confidence and your pride at being a cop.”
“I’m trying,” I whispered back.
“Here comes the prosecution,” Naomi said.
“Don’t look at them,” Marley said. “They’re mine.”
I didn’t look their way, but in my peripheral vision I picked up the two assistant U.S. attorneys stowing their briefcases under the prosecution table. Nathan Wills, the lead prosecutor, looked like he’d never met a doughnut he didn’t eat. In his mid-thirties, pasty-faced, and ninety pounds overweight, Wills had a tendency to sweat. A lot.
But Anita and Naomi had cautioned me not to underestimate the man. He’d graduated first in his class from Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley and clerked at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals before joining the Justice Department.
His assistant, Athena Carlisle, had a no less formidable background. A descendant of sharecroppers, Carlisle came from abject poverty in Mississippi and was the first person in her family to graduate from high school. She’d won a full scholarship to Morehouse College, graduated at the top of her class, and then attended law school at Georgetown, where she’d edited the Law Review.
- On Sale
- Sep 25, 2018
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- Grand Central Publishing