Alex Cross rejoins the DC police force to confront two of the most diabolical killers he's ever encountered.
THE STORY, THE THRILLER, CONTINUED. Forty-eight hours after his rehearsal, his flawless walk-through, Yousef Qasim returned to the Riverwalk apartment building, with its wealthy and careless American tenants.
This wasn’t practice, though; it was the real thing, and his stomach was queasy. This was a truly big day for him, and for his cause.
Sure enough, at 4:34 p.m. the door to the service entryway opened and the same tall black porter lethargically lugged his garbage bags to the street. Old Black Joe, Qasim thought. Still in chains. Nothing really changes in America, does it? Not in hundreds of years.
Less than five minutes later, Qasim was upstairs on the twelfth floor, standing outside the apartment of a woman named Tess Olsen.
This time he rang the bell. Twice. He had been waiting for this moment for such a long time — months, maybe all his life, if he was honest with himself.
“Yes?” Tess Olsen’s eye flickered behind the peephole of 12F. “Who is it?”
Yousef Qasim made sure she saw his coveralls and the cap that said MO. No doubt he would look like any other brown-skinned maintenance worker to this woman — someone who was supposed to notice details in her profession. She was a well-known crime writer after all, and that was important for the story. A crucial detail.
“Mrs. Olsen? There is gas leak in your apartment. Someone call you from office?”
“What? Say again.”
His accent was impossibly thick, and English seemed to be torture for him. He spoke slowly, like some kind of idiot. “Gas leak. Please, missus? I can fix leak? Someone call? Tell you I come?”
“I just got home. No one called,” she said. “I don’t know anything about it. I don’t think there was a message. I suppose I can check.”
“You like me come back later? Fix gas leak then? You smelling gas?”
The woman sighed with the unconcealed exasperation of a person with too many trivial duties and not enough hired help. “Oh, for God’s sake,” she said. “Come in, then. Hurry it up. Your timing is just exquisite. I have to finish getting dressed and be out of here in twenty minutes.”
At the click of the dead bolt, Yousef Qasim readied himself. The moment the woman cracked the door and he saw both her eyes, he charged forward.
Extreme force was unnecessary in this case, physically speaking, but it had great utility. Tess Olsen fell back several steps and then thumped down hard on her behind. She came right out of her high-heeled pumps, exposing bright-red toenails and long, bony feet.
Before her shock and surprise gave way to a scream, Qasim was on top of her, pressing against her chest with his full body weight. The rectangle of silver duct tape he’d stuck to his pants leg was transferred quickly to the woman’s mouth. He put the tape on hard, to show that he meant business and that she would be foolish to resist.
“I mean you no harm,” he said, the first of many lies.
Then he flipped her onto her stomach and pulled a red dog leash from his pocket, securing it around her neck. The leash was a key part of the plan. It was inexpensive nylon mesh but more than strong enough.
The leash was a clue, and just the first that he would leave here for the police and for whoever else became interested.
The woman was maybe forty, hair dyed blond, not physically strong, in spite of the fact that she seemed to work out to keep herself thin.
He showed her something now — a box cutter! Very nasty-looking tool. Convincing.
Her eyes widened.
“Get up, you weak coward,” he said close to her ear. “Or I will cut your face in ribbons.” He knew that the softness of his voice was more threatening than any shouting could be. Also, the fact that his English had suddenly improved would confuse and frighten her.
When she tried to rise, he startled her with a sharp grab at the back of her scrawny neck. He stopped her right there — still on all fours.
“That’s quite far enough, Mrs. Olsen. Don’t move, not another inch. Be very still, very still. I’m using the box cutter now.”
Her expensive black dress fell away as he cut it down the back. Now she trembled uncontrollably and tried to scream from behind her gag. She was prettier without her clothes — firm, somewhat appealing, though not to him.
“Don’t worry. I am no dog-style fucker. Now go forward on your knees. Do as I say! This won’t take much of your busy day.”
She only moaned in response. It took the heel of Yousef’s shoe at her backside to get the idea across.
Then finally she began to crawl.
“How do you like it?” he asked. “Suspense. Isn’t that what you write about? That’s why I’m here, you know. Because you write about crime in your books. Can you solve this one?”
They moved slowly through the kitchen and the dining room, and then into a spacious living room. One entire wall was books, many of them her own. Glass sliding doors at the far end led to a terrace filled with fancy garden furniture and a shiny black grill.
“Look at all your books! I’m very impressed. You wrote all of these? Foreign editions too! You do any translations yourself? Of course you don’t! Americans speak only English.”
Qasim pulled up sharply on the leash, and Mrs. Olsen fell over onto her side.
“Don’t move from there. Stay! I have work to do. Clues to plant. Even you are a clue, Mrs. Tess Olsen. Have you figured it out yet? Solved the mystery?”
He quickly set up the living room just the way he wanted it. Then he returned to the woman, who hadn’t moved and who seemed to be getting her part down now.
“Is that you? In this picture?” he asked suddenly, with surprise in his voice. “It is you.”
Qasim prodded her chin with his foot to get her to look. A large oil portrait hung above the ornately scrolled sofa. It showed Tess Olsen in a long silver gown, her hand resting on a polished round table with an elaborate floral arrangement. The face was austere, full of unearned pride.
“It doesn’t look like you. You’re prettier in real life. Sexier without any clothes,” he said. “Now, outside! Onto the terrace. You’re going to be a very famous lady. I promise. Your fans are waiting.”
Copyright © 2007 by James Patterson
Peter Jay Fernandez is a New York-based actor and narrator. He has appeared on Broadway in Jelly's Last Jam and The Merchant of Venice. His extensive television credits include Funny Valentines, The Prosecutors, Law & Order, and Cosby. He currently lives in Harlem with his wife Denise and read London Bridges and Cross, also by James Patterson, for Hachette Audio.
Michael Stuhlbarg attended Juilliard and received a Tony Award nomination for his work in Pillowman and an Obie Award for his off-Broadway performance in The Voysey Inheritance.