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Authors: James Patterson

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Vertze said, “My anti-blondeness stems from a severe German teacher junior year who had zero sense of humor. I thought about sticking a pin in her ass but refrained—at least, long enough to get an A.”

Stetson and Cyr laughed again. I couldn’t help it and smiled.

“What about you, Brian?” I said, looking at Stetson.

Stetson sobered and said, “My blonde story is like all blonde stories. They’re all about the princess complex that’s sold to them each and every day.”

CHAPTER
15

AFTER DINNER, ONCE
Jannie had gone upstairs to do homework and Ali had settled in to watch
Meru,
an excellent documentary about extreme mountain climbers, I told Bree and Nana Mama about Brian Stetson, disguising him as a client and not revealing his name.

“The princess complex?” Bree said. “And how exactly did he define that?”

“He said it starts at birth with blond girls,” I said. “They’re dressed as princesses in the crib. Then they’re sold the princess story in movies, in advertising, all around them, until they believe that if they can just be beautiful enough, they’ll attract Prince Charming and live happily ever after.”

Nana Mama said, “An eighteen-year-old told you all that?”

“A sharp one. He had the root theory of blonde stories figured out.”

Bree said, “I knew a blonde who was just like that, treated
like a princess her whole childhood. Leanne Long. She was an honest-to-God nice person, and she became a nurse and married a really nice guy, so it doesn’t always work according to that kid’s theory.”

“This old lady needs her sleep,” my grandmother said, taking her cane and getting up.

“We’re right behind you,” I promised. “We’ll make sure the place is spotless for you in the morning.”

“Bless you, dear,” she said, and she kissed my forehead.

When Nana Mama was out of earshot, Bree turned serious and said, “Alex, how long did you think you could be involved in the Gretchen Lindel investigation without me knowing?”

“The client story didn’t work?”

“Uh, no.”

I told her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

When I was done, Bree was spitting mad.

“What were you thinking, going onto campus like that?” she demanded. “Entering a dorm room without a warrant? Threatening possible witnesses without authority and while on suspension due to pending homicide charges?”

I’d known most of that was coming, but it still hurt. I’d let her down.

“I wanted to be useful, Bree,” I said. “It felt like I was back in the game.”

“Your clients and practice are your game now. Have nothing to do? Work on your defense. Help Anita and Naomi make your case ironclad. And the next time you feel the need to lie or hide things from me, Alex? Please don’t.”

I had a hollow feeling in my stomach and said, “You’re right. I just … you’re right. It will never happen again.”

I hoped she’d forgive me. I hated going to sleep when one of us was mad at the other.

After several moments, Bree sighed and said, “So you don’t think those college boys are involved?”

My shoulders relaxed. I felt like we were getting back to level ground.

“Beyond the posts, no, not as far as I could tell.”

“You don’t think we should get a warrant for their computers?”

“And get them all expelled for being smart, nosy, teenage male nerds with blonde chips on their shoulders?”

“Well, when you put it like that,” Bree said, getting up and extending her hand to me.

I took it, kissed the back of her hand, and said, “Princess?”

She started laughing, said, “Charming?”

I got up, grinning. “That’s me.”

CHAPTER
16

JOHN SAMPSON HAD
never heard a collective grief quite like this. The crying, wailing, and whimpering seemed to come from every room he passed.

Innocence destroyed,
Sampson thought.
Up until now, their lives have been one shooting star after another, and that’s gone.

Looking shell-shocked, Wally Christian, Georgetown University’s security chief, walked beside Sampson and Detective Ainsley Fox down a hall on the first floor of Village C West, a residential building for freshmen. A DCMP patrol officer stood aside so they could go through the double doors into the common area.

Sampson paused just beyond the doors and took in the carnage with one long, sweeping glance.

A young brunette in a Hoyas sweatshirt was sprawled on a couch, dead, a gunshot to her neck. A second young woman with short brown hair lay facedown and dead on the carpet. EMTs rushed out of the room with a gurney carrying a very large Samoan American male with two chest wounds.

“How many saw it?” Sampson asked.

“Seven,” Wally Christian said. “We’ve moved them to the common room upstairs. The chaplains are with them.”

“Who’s the missing girl?” Fox asked. “The blonde?”

“Patsy Mansfield,” Christian said. “A sophomore. Real star.”

“As in, people knew who she was?” Sampson said.

“On campus, you bet. She plays lacrosse, all-American as a freshman, and, well, you’ve seen the picture of her I put out with the Amber Alert. She’s quite the looker.”

As all of them took the stairs to the second floor of the dorm, Sampson thought of what Alex had told him over the phone about the three freshmen at Catholic University with bad attitudes about blondes. He wondered if they were involved here and made a note to check on their whereabouts at the time of the incident.

The seven witnesses to the homicides of the brunettes and the kidnapping of Patsy Mansfield all told much the same story. Eleven students were hanging out in the lounge around seven that Saturday evening when two men came in from outside. They wore black balaclavas and olive-green workman’s coveralls with
Georgetown University
written on the back. They drew pistols with silencers and ordered everyone to the floor except Patsy Mansfield.

“Wait,” Detective Fox said. “They used her name?”

“Definitely,” said Tina Hall, a freshman. “They knew who she was.”

Hall and the others said the two men told Mansfield that things would go easier if she just went with them. But then Keoni Latupa, a linebacker on the football team and a good friend of Patsy’s, grabbed one of the men and threw him to the ground so hard that his gun clattered away. Latupa
scrambled for it, but the other man shot and wounded him before he could get to it.

The loose gun came to a stop at the feet of Macy Jones, the brunette in the Hoyas sweatshirt. She went for it and was shot too. At that point, Denise O’Toole, Jones’s roommate, went to help her friend. She was shot in the leg.

“Then the first guy got up and retrieved his pistol,” said Tina Hall. “He went over to Keoni and shot him again. Then he went to Denise, who pleaded with him not to shoot her, just to take her but not shoot her.”

Hall paused, tears welling in her eyes and then dripping down her cheeks. She went on, “Know what he said before he killed Denise? He said, ‘Why would we take you? Nobody pays for brunettes anymore.’”

CHAPTER
17

THE DC POLICE
union had referred my latest client to me. She knocked on my basement door shortly after nine Monday morning.

I opened the door and found a dark-haired woman in her mid-thirties standing there, her shoulders slumped. I knew her, but she was so haggard I almost didn’t recognize her.

“Tess?” I said, holding out my hand. “It’s good to see you.”

Detective Tess Aaliyah lifted her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I’m embarrassed and uncomfortable to be here, Dr. Cross, but my union rep said you were the only counselor available on short notice.”

“Come inside, and please don’t be embarrassed or uncomfortable. I’m not a detective now and not here to judge you in any way. You need to talk. I’m available to listen. And, of course, nothing said ever leaves the room.”

The detective hesitated and then came inside. I followed her into my office, remembering the confident, smart, and
attractive woman who’d helped save my family after they were taken by a madman named Marcus Sunday.

Aaliyah was from a police family. Her father, Bernie, had been a top detective in Baltimore, and she’d lived and breathed the job when we’d worked together. I knew some of the trauma she’d been through lately, and as I shut the office door, I prayed that I was up to the task of counseling her.

I got coffee for her and gestured to a chair. She sat down, her head tilted low and her upper torso and shoulders rolled forward, as if in surrender.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“You’ve seen the news? How should I feel?”

“Forget the news,” I said. “Lift your chin, straighten your shoulders, and give me your side of it.”

Conflicting emotions flickered on the detective’s face as she made a slight alteration in her slouch before telling me the story.

She and her partner, Chris Cox, had gone to a high-rent apartment complex off Judiciary Square to serve a warrant on and arrest one Drago Kovac. Kovac had immigrated to the U.S. from Serbia when he was nine, become an American citizen at fifteen, and become a car thief shortly thereafter. He wasn’t very good at his chosen field at first. Kovac was caught and convicted of grand theft auto twice before his eighteenth birthday. After that, he wised up and got sophisticated. He formed an auto-theft ring that worked the Miami-to-Boston corridor, boosting in-demand cars, chopping them up for parts, and then selling the parts over the Internet.

Kovac was now twenty-seven and operating his illegal enterprise from his luxury flat on Third Street in DC. Aaliyah, looking for spare parts for her Ford Explorer, had happened on one of
his websites, which offered “gently used” parts for a third of what other sites and stores were asking. When she learned the company and Kovac were based in DC, one thing led to another, and then to a year of additional investigative work.

“We had him,” Aaliyah said. “I mean, this was a major criminal operation. Millions of dollars, and we had him dead to rights.”

“So you go to Kovac’s apartment building to serve the warrant,” I said, pushing her toward the awful truth.

“Yes.” Aaliyah sighed. “We went in at the exact same time arrests in this case were supposed to go down all over the East Coast. Synchronized, you know?”

But unbeknownst to Aaliyah and her partner, several warrants had been served early. When police in New Jersey went through the front door of a Kovac chop shop, one of his men got off a text warning of the raid.

“Seconds before we reached the tenth floor of his apartment building, Kovac and his men left his flat,” Aaliyah said. “Cox saw them at the far end of the hallway and ordered them to the ground. They ran, and when we pursued, they shot.”

“They definitely shot first?”

“No question,” Aaliyah said, a smolder of the old fire in her eyes. “Surveillance cameras back us up.”

“Okay. Kovac and his men shoot first. Then what?”

That glowing ember died in Aaliyah’s eyes. Her neck muscles went taut as piano wires before she said, “Then it all became a nightmare.”

Provoked into a gun battle, Aaliyah and her partner followed protocol and returned fire. Her first shot hit the meat of Kovac’s thigh. Her second and third shots missed the car thief, who, howling in pain, lunged into the stairwell.

“I was in pursuit when the wailing started behind the door at the end of the hall,” Aaliyah said, and she broke down sobbing.

I knew the rest. She and Cox caught and arrested Kovac and two accomplices, but at an unfathomable cost. The bullets that went wide of the car thief had gone through the door of the apartment belonging to the Phelps family—Oliver, a young, successful attorney; Patricia, a young, successful physician; and their twins, four-year-old Meagan and Alice.

Alice had been playing in the front hallway. The nanny had rushed to get her at the first shot.

“What are the odds, Dr. Cross?” Aaliyah asked, still weeping bitterly. “What are the odds of wounding the nanny and killing the girl?”

CHAPTER
18

AFTER AALIYAH POURED
out her anguish, her grief, her guilt and despair, she pulled her feet up under her on the chair, wrapped her arms around her knees, and stared off into the distance.

“In the end, I’ll always be the cop who killed a child,” she said hollowly. “No matter who I was before or who I become after, that’s who I will be.”

“To who? You?”

“I pulled the trigger, Alex. That’s what they’ll write after I die.”

“I empathize with the pain and regret you must be feeling, but you don’t know what the future holds for you. None of us do.”

She blinked slowly, said, “There is a way to know your future for certain.”

That got my attention and concern. “Have you thought about that, Tess?”

Aaliyah took a big breath and then shook her head. “No. Not really.”

“Not really?”

“Not at all. I’m just trying to find a way to process this, you know?”

There was little conviction in the detective’s voice, and she appeared preoccupied.

“Are you sleeping?” I asked.

“Some days it’s all I do.”

“Self-medicating? Alcohol? Drugs?”

“Honestly, I wish they’d work, but they don’t, so I don’t.”

“When does the civil suit go to trial?”

Aaliyah continued to avoid eye contact. “I don’t know what they expect to get from me. This has already cost me everything.”

I continued to watch her, thinking about the flat affect in her voice and expression, the defeated way the detective was holding herself, and some of the statements she’d made, especially talking about herself in the past tense.

“Tess, I think I’d feel more comfortable if, for your own safety, we take you somewhere to get a proper, in-depth evaluation of your current condition.”

Aaliyah raised her head for the first time in many minutes, gazed dully at me, and said, “I’m nowhere near the padded room.”

“Given what you’ve been through, suicidal ideations are cause for serious concern, Tess. This could be a medical issue that—”

BOOK: The People vs. Alex Cross
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