In best-selling author James Patterson's latest book, “Cross Country,” Detective Alex Cross is called to the worst murder scene he has encountered in all his years on the force. Someone with less than zero regard for human life has slaughtered a family — and then more killings, each more ruthless than the last, quickly follow. One of those deaths comes terrifyingly close to home, and Alex realizes that he is chasing a horrible new breed of killer. An excerpt.
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
The surname of the family was Cox, the father a very successful trial lawyer, but the target was the mother, Ellie Randall Cox. The timing was right now, tonight, just minutes away. The payday was excellent, couldn’t be better.
The six-foot-six, two-hundred-fifty-pound killer known as the “Tiger” had given out guns to his team — also a gram of cocaine to share, and the only instruction they would need tonight: The mother is mine. Kill the rest.
His secondary mission was to scare the American meddlers. He knew how they felt about home invasions, and their precious families, and murders in cold blood. They had so many rules for how life ought to be conducted. The secret to beating them was to break all their silly, sacred rules.
He settled down to watch the house from the street. Wood blinds in the first-floor windows drew horizontal lines through the family members as they moved around inside, unaware of the murderous forces gathered outside.
The boys waited restlessly at the Tiger’s side, and he waited for instinct to tell him it was time to move on the house.
“Now,” he said, “we go!”
Then, with only the slightest bend and whack of the knees, he began to run, breaking out of the camouflaging shadow of an evergreen, his strides almost too fast to count.
A single, powerful leap and he was up on the stoop of the house. Next came three splintering blows to the front door. It seemed to explode open, and they were inside, the kill team, all five of them.
The boys, none older than seventeen, streamed in around him, firing Berettas into the living room ceiling, waving crude hunting knives, shouting orders that were hard to understand because their English was not at the level of the Tiger’s.
The children of the house screamed like little piglets; their lawyer father leaped up and tried to shield them with his flabby, overfed body.
“You are pitiful!” the Tiger shouted at him. “You can’t even protect your family in your own house.”
Soon enough, three family members were corralled against the living room mantel, which was covered with birthday cards to “Momma” and “My Darling Ellie” and “Sweetness and Light.”
The leader nudged the youngest of his boys forward, the one who had chosen the name Nike and who had a contagious sense of humor. “Just do it,” the Tiger said.
The boy was eleven years old and fearless as a crocodile in a muddy river. He raised a pistol much larger than his own hand and fired it into the shivering father’s forehead.
The other boys howled their approval, shooting off rounds in all directions, overturning antique furniture, breaking mirrors and windows. The Cox children were weeping and holding each other.
One particularly scary, blank-faced boy in a Houston Rockets jersey emptied his magazine into the wide-screen television, then reloaded. “Rock da house!” he shouted.
The mother, “My Darling Ellie,” “Sweetness and Light,” finally came running and screaming down the stairs for her Akata babies.
“Leave them out of this!” she yelled at the tall and very muscular leader. “I know who you are!”
“Of course you do, Mother,” said the Tiger as he smiled at the tall, matronly woman. He had no desire to harm her, really. This was just a job to him. A high-paying one, important to somebody here in Washington.
The two children scrambled to get to their mother, and it became an absurd game of cat and mouse. His boys shot holes in the sofa as the wheezing American young ones squeezed behind it.
When they emerged on the other side, the Tiger was there to pluck the squealing son off the floor with one hand. The young girl in the Rugrats pajamas was a little more clever and ran up the stairs, showing little pink heels at every step.
“Go, baby!” her mother yelled. “Get out a window! Run! Keep running!”
“Won’t happen,” said the Tiger. “No one gets away from here tonight, Mother.”
“Don’t do this!” she begged. “Let them go! They’re just children!”
“You know who I am,” he said to her. “So you know how this will end. You knew all along. Look at what you brought on yourself and on your family. You did this to them.”
Late to the party: Chapter one
The hardest mysteries to solve are the ones you come to near the end, because there isn’t enough evidence, not enough to unravel, unless somehow you can go all the way back to the beginning — rewind and replay everything.
I was riding in the lap of comfort and civility, my Mercedes R350. I was thinking how odd it was to be going to a murder scene now. And then I was there, leaving my vehicle, conflicted about going over to the dark side again.
Am I getting too soft for this? I wondered for an instant, then let it go. I wasn’t soft. If anything I was still too hard, too unyielding, too uncompromising.
Then I was thinking that there was something particularly terrifying about random, senseless murder, and that’s what this appeared to be. That’s what everyone thought, anyway. It’s what I was told when the call came to the house.
“It’s rough in there, Dr. Cross. Five vics. It’s an entire family.”
“Yeah, I know it is. That’s what they said.”
One of the first responders, a young officer I know named Michael Fescoe, met me on the sidewalk at the murder scene in Georgetown, not far from the university where I’d gone as an undergrad and which I remembered fondly for all sorts of reasons, but mostly because Georgetown had taken a chance on me.
The patrolman was visibly shaken. No surprise there. Metro didn’t call me in special at eleven o’clock on a Sunday night for run-of-the-mill homicides.
“What have we got so far?” I said to Fescoe, and flashed my badge at a patrolman seemingly guarding an oak tree. Then I ducked under the bright yellow tape in front of the house. Beautiful house, a three-story Colonial on Cambridge Place, which is a well-heeled single block just south of Montrose Park.
Neighbors and looky-loos crowded the sidewalk — but they stayed at a safe distance in their pajamas and robes, keeping up their white-collar reserve.
“Family of five, all of them dead,” Fescoe repeated. “The name’s Cox. Father, Reeve. Mother, Eleanor. Son, James. All on the first floor. Daughters, Nicole and Clara, on the third. There’s blood everywhere. Looks like they were shot first. Then cut up pretty bad and piled into groupings.”
Piled. I sure didn’t like the sound of that. Not inside this lovely home. Not anywhere. But it happened, and lately all too often.
“Senior officers on site? Who caught it?” I asked.
“Detective Stone is upstairs. She’s the one who asked me to page you. ME’s still on the way. Probably a couple of them. Christ, what a night.”
“You’ve got that right.”
Bree Stone was a bright star with the Violent Crimes Unit and one of the few detectives I went out of my way to partner with, pun intended, since she and I were a couple and had been for more than a year now.
“Let Detective Stone know that I’m here,” I said. “I’m going to start downstairs and work my way up to where she is.”
“Will do, sir. I’m on it.”
Fescoe stuck with me up the porch steps and past a tech working on the demolished front door and threshold.
“Forced entry, of course,” Fescoe went on. He blushed, probably because he’d stated the obvious. “Plus there’s a hatch open to the roof on the third floor. Looks like they might have left that way.”
“I’d say so — based on the amount of damage, whatever the hell happened in there. Never seen anything like it, sir. Listen, if there’s anything else you need —”
“I’ll let you know. Thank you. It’s better if I do this alone. Then I can concentrate.”
My reputation seems to attract hungry cops on big cases, which can have its advantages. Right now, though, I wanted to take in this scene for myself. Given the grim, steely-eyed look on the face of every tech I’d seen coming from the back of the house, I knew this was going to get harder in a hurry.
Turns out I didn’t know the half of it. The murder of this family was much worse than I thought.
Much, much worse.
Excerpted from “Cross ” by James Patterson. Copyright (c) 2008, reprinted with permission from Little, Brown and Co., a division of Hachette Book Group. To read more, click here.