Detective Alex Cross is back in James Patterson's latest thriller, “I, Alex Cross.” Cross is pulled out of a family celebration and given the awful news that a beloved relative has been found murdered. He vows to hunt down her killer, and soon learns that she was mixed up in one of Washington’s wildest scenes. An excerpt.
Chapter one Hannah Willis was a second-year law student at Virginia, and everything that lay ahead of her seemed bright and promising — except, of course, that she was about to die in these dark, gloomy, dismal woods.
Go, Hannah, she told herself. Just go. Stop thinking. Whining and crying won’t help you now. Running just might.
Hannah stumbled and staggered forward until her hands found another tree trunk to hold on to. She leaned her aching body into it, waiting for the strength to take another breath. And then to move another burst of steps forward.
Keep going, or you’ll die right here in these woods. It’s that simple.
The bullet lodged somewhere in her lower back made every movement, every breath an agony, more pain than Hannah had ever known was possible. It was only the threat of a second bullet, or maybe worse, that kept her on her feet and going at all.
God, the woods were almost pitch-black back in here. A quarter moon drooping over the thick forest canopy did little to light the ground below. Trees were shadows. Thorns and brambles were invisible in the underbrush; they pierced and raked her legs bloody as she pushed through. What little she’d been wearing to begin with — just an expensive black lace teddy — now hung in shreds off her shoulders.
None of that mattered, though, or even registered with Hannah anymore. The only clear thought that cut through the pain, and the panic, was Go, girl. The rest was a wordless, directionless nightmare.
Finally, and very suddenly — had it been an hour? more? — the low canopy of trees opened up around her. “What the ...” Dirt turned to gravel underfoot, and Hannah stumbled to her knees with nothing to hang on to.
In the hazy moonlight, she could make out the ghost of a double line, showing the curve of a country road. It was like a miracle to her. Half of one, anyway; she knew she wasn’t out of this mess yet.
When a motor sounded in the distance, Hannah leaned on her hands and pushed up off the gravel. Summoning strength she didn’t know she still had, she stood again, then staggered into the middle of the road. Her world blurred through sweat and fresh tears.
Please, dear God, don’t let this be them. This can’t be those two bastards.
You can’t be so cruel, can you?
A red truck careened around the bend then, coming at her fast. Too fast! Suddenly, she was just as blind as she’d been before, in the woods, but from the truck’s headlights.
“Stop! Please stop! Pleee-ase!” she screamed. “Stop, you sonofabitch!”
At the last possible second, the tires squealed on the pavement. The red pickup skidded into full view and stopped just short of flattening her right there into roadkill. She could feel heat coming off the engine through the grille.
“Hey, sweetheart, nice outfit! All you had to do was stick out your thumb.”
The voice was unfamiliar — which was good, really good. Loud country music was blasting from the cab too — Charlie Daniels Band, her mind vaguely registered, just before Hannah collapsed onto the pavement.
The driver was down there on the road a second later as she regained consciousness. “Oh, my God, I didn’t ... What happened to you? Are you — what happened to you?”
“Please.” She barely mustered the word. “If they find me here, they’ll kill us both.”
The man’s strong hands wrapped around her, grazing the dime-sized hole in her back as he picked her up. She only exhaled, too weak to scream now. A cluster of gray and indistinct moments later, they were inside the truck and moving really fast down the two-lane highway.
“Hang in there, darlin’.” The driver’s voice was shaky now. “Tell me who did this to you.”
Hannah could feel her consciousness slipping away again. “The men ...”
“The men? What men, sweetheart? Who are you talking about?”
An answer floated vaguely through Hannah’s mind, and she wasn’t sure if she said it out loud or maybe just thought it before everything went away.
The men from the White House.
His name was Johnny Tucci, but the boys back in his South Philadelphia neighborhood all called him Johnny Twitchy, on account of the way his eyes jumped around when he was nervous, which was most of the time.
Of course, after tonight, the boys in Philly could go screw themselves. This was the night Johnny got into the game for real. This was man time. He had “the package,” didn’t he?
It was a simple job but a real goody, because he was alone and had to take full responsibility. He’d already picked up the package. Scared him, but he’d done just fine.
No one ever said so, but once you started making deliveries like this, it meant you had something on the family, and they had something on you. In other words, there was a relationship. After tonight, there’d be no more running numbers for Johnny, no more scrapping for crumbs in southside neighborhoods. It was like the bumper sticker that said, Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
So naturally, he was pumped — and just a little bit nervous.
His uncle Eddie’s warning kept playing like a tape in his mind. Don’t blow this opportunity, Twitchy, Eddie had said. I’m way out on a limb here for you. Like he was doing him some kind of big favor with this job, which Johnny supposed maybe he was, but still. His own uncle didn’t have to rub his face in it, did he?
He reached over and turned up the radio. Even the country music they played down here was better than listening to Eddie’s nagging in his head all night long. Turned out, it was an old Charlie Daniels Band tune, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” He even knew some of the words. But the familiar lyrics couldn’t keep Eddie’s voice out of Johnny’s head.
Don’t blow this opportunity, Twitchy.
I’m way out on a limb for you.
Blue flashers danced off his rearview mirror — coming out of nowhere. Two, three seconds ago, he could have sworn he had I-95 all to himself. Apparently not.
Johnny felt the corner of his right eye start to twitch.
He goosed the gas; maybe he could make a run for it. Then he remembered the piece-of-sh-- Dodge he was driving, lifted out of a Motel 6 parking lot back in Essington. Goddamnit! Should have gone to the Marriott. Got a Jap car.
Still, it was possible the stolen Dodge hadn’t been flagged yet. Whoever owned it was probably sleeping back at that motel. With any luck, Johnny could just eat the ticket and no one would ever have to know.
But that was the kind of luck other people had, not him.
It took the cops forever and a day to get out of their cruiser, which was a bad sign — the worst. They were checking the make and the plates. By the time they came up on either side of the Dodge, Johnny’s eyes were going like a couple of Mexican jumping beans.
He tried to be cool. “Evening, officers. What seems to be —”
The one on his side, a tall dude with a redneck accent, opened the driver’s door. “Just keep your mouth shut tight. Step out of the vehicle.”
It didn’t take them any time at all to find the package. After they checked the front and back seats, they popped the trunk, pulled the spare-tire cover, and that was that.
“Holy Mother of God!” One of the troopers shone his light down on it. The other one gagged at the sight. “What the hell did you do?”
Johnny didn’t stick around to answer the question. He was already running for his life.
Excerpted from “I, Alex Cross” by James Patterson. Copyright (c) 2009, reprinted with permission from Hachette Book Group.