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1st to Die

1st to Die is a dazzlingly powerful new thriller by master suspense novelist James Patterson, the #1 bestselling author of Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider.

Four women-four friends-share a determination to stop a killer who has been stalking newlyweds in San Francisco. Each one holds a piece of the puzzle: Lindsay Boxer is a homicide inspector in the San Francisco Police Department, Claire Washburn is a medical examiner, Jill Bernhardt is an assistant D.A., and Cindy Thomas just started working the crime desk of the San Francisco Chronicle.

But the usual procedures aren't bringing them any closer to stopping the killings. So these women form a Women's Murder Club to collaborate outside the box and pursue the case by sidestepping their bosses and giving one another a hand.

The four women develop intense bonds as they pursue a killer whose crimes have stunned an entire city. Working together, they track down the most terrifying and unexpected killer they have ever encountered-before a shocking conclusion in which everything they knew turns out to be devastatingly wrong.

Full of the breathtaking drama and unforgettable emotions for which James Patterson is famous, 1st to Die is the start of a blazingly fast-paced and sensationally entertaining new series of crime thrillers.

Chapter 6

YOU NEVER SEE so many murder victims that it stops making you hurt, but this one was especially hard to look at.

She was so young and beautiful: calm, tranquil, and undisturbed except for the three crimson flowers of blood spread on her white chest. She looked as if she were a sleeping princess awaiting her prince, but her prince was in the other room, his guts spilled all over the floor.

"Whaddaya want for thirty-five hundred bucks a night?" Jacobi shrugged. "The whole fairy tale?"

It was taking everything I had just to keep my grip on what I had to do. I glared, as if a single, venomous look could shut Jacobi down.

"Jeez, Boxer, what's goin' on?" His face sagged. "It was just a joke."

Whatever it was, his childlike, remorseful expression brought me back. The bride was wearing a large diamond on her right hand and fancy earrings. Whatever the killer's motive, it wasn't robbery.

A tech from the medical examiner's office was about to begin his initial examination. "Looks like three stab wounds," he said. "She must've showed a lot of heart. He got the groom with one."

What flashed through my mind was that fully 90 percent of all homicides were about money or sex. This one didn't seem to be about money.

"When's the last time anyone saw them?" I asked.

"A little after ten last night. That's when the humongous reception ended downstairs."

"And not after that?"

"I know this isn't exactly your terrain, Boxer," Jacobi said. He broke into a grin. "But generally people don't see the bride and groom for a while after the party."

I smiled thinly, stood up, looked back across the large, lavish suite. "So surprise me, Jacobi. Who springs for a room like this?"

"The groom's father is some Wall Street big shot from back east. He and his wife are down in a room on the twelfth floor. I was told it was quite a shindig downstairs. Up here, too. Look at all these goddamn roses."

I went back over to the groom and spotted what looked like a gift box of champagne on a marble console near the door. There was a spray of blood all over it.

"Assistant manager noticed it," Jacobi said. "My guess is, whoever did this brought it in with him."

"They see anyone around?"

"Yeah, a lot of people in tuxes. It was a wedding, right?"

I read the champagne bottle label. "Krug. Clos du Mesnil, 1989."

"That tell you something?" Jacobi asked.

"Only that the killer has good taste."

I looked at the blood-smeared tuxedo jacket. There was a single slash mark on the side where the fatal knife wound had gone through.

"I figure the killer must've stripped it off after he stabbed him." Jacobi shrugged.

"Why the hell would he do that?" I muttered out loud.

"Dunno. We'll have to ask him."

Charlie Clapper was eyeing me from the hallway to see if it was okay to get started. I nodded him in. Then I went back to the bride.

I had a bad, bad feeling about this one. If it's not about money...then...sex.

I lifted the fancy tulle lining of her skirt. The coldest, bitterest confirmation sliced through me.

The bride's panties had been pulled down and were dangling off one foot.

A fierce anger rose in my chest. I looked into the bride's eyes. Everything had been ahead of her, every hope and dream. Now she was a slaughtered corpse, defiled, possibly raped on her wedding night.

As I stood there, blinking as I stared down at her face, I suddenly realized that I was crying.

"Warren," I said to Jacobi, "I want you to speak with the groom's parents," I said, sucking in a breath. "I want everyone who was on this floor last night interviewed. If they've checked out, I want them traced. And a list of all hotel staff on duty last night."

I knew if I didn't get out now, I couldn't hold back the tide any longer. "Now, Warren. Please ...now."

I avoided his eyes as I skirted past him out of the suite.

"What the hell's wrong with Boxer?" Charlie Clapper asked.

"You know women," I heard Jacobi reply. "They always cry at weddings."

Copyright © 2001 by James Patterson

Read by Suzanne Toren (unabridged) & Melissa Leo and Dylan Baker (abridged)
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