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Lightning-fast stories by James Patterson
- Novels you can devour in a few hours
- Impossible to stop reading
- All original content from James Patterson
3 minutes, 10 seconds
A mother’s instinct to protect her child—the most powerful force on the planet.
Right now I’m bursting with it. Overwhelmed by it. Trembling from it.
My son, my precious little boy, is hurt. Or, God forbid, it’s worse.
I don’t know the details of what’s happened. I don’t even know where he is.
I just know I have to save him.
I slam on the brakes. The tires of my old Dodge Ram screech like hell. One of them pops the curb, jerking me forward hard against the wheel. But I’m so numb with fear and panic, I barely feel the impact.
I grab the door handle—but stop and count to three. I force myself to take three deep breaths. I make the sign of the cross: three times again.
And I pray that I find my son fast—in three minutes or less.
I leap out and start running. The fastest I’ve ever moved in my life.
Oh, Alex. What have you done?
He’s such a good kid. Such a smart kid. A tough kid, too—especially with all our family’s been going through. I’m not a perfect mother. But I’ve always done the best I know how. Alex isn’t perfect, either, but I love him more than anything. And I’m so proud of him, so proud of the young man he’s becoming before my eyes.
I just want to see him again—safe. And I’d give anything for it. Anything.
I reach the two-story brick building’s front doors. Above them hangs a faded green-and-white banner I must have read a thousand times:
HOBART HIGH SCHOOL—HOME OF THE RAIDERS
Could be any other high school in America. Certainly any in sweltering west Texas. But somewhere inside is my son. And goddamnit, I’m coming for him.
I burst through the doors—But where the hell am I going?
I’ve spent more hours in this building than I could ever count. Hell, I graduated from this school nearly twenty years ago. But suddenly, the layout feels strange to me. Foreign.
I start running down the central hallway. Terrified. Desperate. Frenzied.
Oh, Alex. At fifteen, he’s still just a child. He loves comic books—especially the classics like Batman and Spider-Man. He loves video games, the more frenzied the better. He loves being outdoors, too. Shooting and fishing especially. Riding his dirt bike—shiny blue, his favorite color—around abandoned oil fields with his friends.
But my son is also turning into an adult. He’s been staying out later and later, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. He’s started cruising around the county in his friends’ cars. Just a few weeks ago—I didn’t say anything, I was too shocked—but I smelled beer on his breath. The teenage years can be so hard. I remember my own rocky ones. I just hope I’ve raised him well enough to handle them.…
“Alex!” I scream, my shrill voice echoing off the rows of metal lockers.
The text had come from Alex’s cell phone—Miss Molly this is Danny—but it was written by his best friend since first grade. I always liked Danny. He came from a good family. But rumor was, he’d recently started making some bad choices. I’d been secretly worrying he’d pressure Alex to make the same ones someday.
The moment I read that text, I knew he had.
Alex did too much. Not breathing. At school come fast.
Next thing I remember, I’m in my truck roaring down Route 84, dialing Alex’s cell, cursing when neither of them answers. I call his principal. I call my brothers. I call 911.
And then I pray: I call in a favor from God.
“Alex!” I yell again, even louder, to no one and everyone. “Where are you?!”
But the students I pass now just gawk. Some point and snicker. Others point and click, snapping cell-phone pictures of the crazy lady running wild through their school.
Don’t they know what’s happening?! How can they be like this, so…
Wait. Teenagers spread rumors faster than a brushfire, and it’s way too quiet. Maybe they don’t know.
He must be on the second floor.
I head to the nearest stairway and pound up the steps. My lungs start to burn and my heart races. At the top, the hallway forks.
Damn it, which way, where is he?!
Something tells me to hang a left. Maybe a mother’s intuition. Maybe blind, stupid luck. Either way, I listen.
There, down at the end, a growing crowd is gathering outside the boys’ bathroom. Kids and teachers. Some yelling. Some crying. All panicking.
Like I am.
“I’m his mother!” I push and shove toward the middle. “Move! Out of my way!”
I spot Alex’s legs first, splayed out limp and crooked. I see his scuffed-up Converses, the soles wrapped in duct tape, apparently some kind of fashion trend. I recognize the ratty old pair of Levi’s he wore at breakfast this morning, the ones I sewed a new patch onto last week. I can make out a colorful rolled-up comic book jutting out of the back pocket.
And then I see his right arm, outstretched on the ground. His lifeless fingers clutching a small glass pipe, its round tip charred and black.
Oh, Alex, how could you do this?
His homeroom teacher, the school nurse, and a fit youngish man I don’t recognize wearing a HHS baseball T-shirt are all hunched over his body, frantically performing CPR.
But I’m the one who’s just stopped breathing.
“No, no, no…Alex! My poor baby…”
How did this happen? How did I let it? How could I have been so blind?
My knees start to buckle. My head gets light. My vision spins. I start to lose my balance.…
“Molly, easy now, we got ya.”
I feel four sturdy hands grab me from behind: Stevie and Hank, the best big brothers a girl could ask for. As soon as I called them to say what had happened, they rushed right over to the high school. They’re my two rocks. Who I need now more than ever.
“He’s gonna be all right,” Hank whispers. “Everything’s gonna be fine.”
I know he’s just saying that—but they’re words I desperately need to hear and believe. I don’t have the strength, or the will, to respond.
I let him and Stevie hold me steady. I can’t move a muscle. Can’t take my eyes off Alex, either. He looks so thin, so weak. So young. So vulnerable. His skin pale as Xerox paper. His lips flecked with frothy spittle. His eyes like sunken glass orbs.
“Who sold him that shit?!”
Stevie spins to face the crowd, spewing white-hot rage. His voice booms across the hallway. “Who did this?! Who?!”
The crowd instantly falls silent. A retired Marine, Stevie is that damn scary. Not a sound can be heard—except for the wail of an ambulance siren.
“Somebody better talk to me! Now!”
Yet no one makes a peep. No one dares to.
But no one needs to.
Because as I watch the last drops of life drain from Alex’s body, my own life changed and dimmed forever, I realize I already know the answer.
I know who killed my son.
2 minutes, 45 seconds
The old Jeep rattles slowly down the long dusty road, like a cheetah stalking its prey. A symphony of crickets fills the hot night air. A passing train whistles off in the distance. A pale sliver of moon, the only light for miles.
Gripping the steering wheel is Stevie Rourke. His eyes gaze straight ahead. A former staff sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, he’s forty-four years old, six feet six inches tall, and 249 pounds of solid muscle. A man so loyal to his friends and family, he’d rush the gates of hell for them, and wrestle the devil himself.
Hank Rourke, trim and wiry, younger by only a few years, with a similar devotion but a far shorter fuse, is sitting shotgun—and loading shells into one, too.
“We’re less than 180 seconds out,” Stevie says.
Hank grunts in understanding.
The two brothers ride in tense silence for the rest of the brief trip. No words needed. They’ve discussed their plan and know exactly what they’re going to do.
Confront the good-for-nothing son of a bitch who killed their fifteen-year-old nephew.
Stevie and Hank both loved that boy. Loved him as if he were their own son. And Alex loved them both back. Molly’s worthless drunk of a husband had taken off when the boy was just a baby. But no one had shed any tears. Not then, not since. Molly reclaimed her maiden name for her and Alex. The whole Rourke family was already living together on their big family farm, and with no children of their own, Hank and Stevie stepped right up. The void left by one lousy father was filled by two incredible uncles. And Alex’s life was all the better for it.
Until today. When his life came to a heartbreaking end.
Both brothers dropped everything as soon as Molly called them. They drove together straight to the high school, their truck rattling along at over a hundred miles per hour. They were hoping for the best.…
But had prepared themselves for the worst.
The doctors and sheriff’s department are treating Alex’s death as an accident. At least for now. Just two kids being kids, messing with shit they shouldn’t have been.
But it was an accident that didn’t have to happen.
And somebody is going to pay.
Their destination soon comes into sight: a cluster of low-slung wood and metal buildings that seem to shimmer in the still-scorching desert heat. Hank surveys the area with a pair of forest-green binoculars.
“Don’t see anyone on patrol. Maybe we can sneak up on him after all.”
Stevie shakes his head.
“That bastard knows we’re coming.”
The Jeep comes to a stop in front of a rusty padlocked gate on the perimeter of the property, dotted with dry shrubs and scraggly trees. At the end of a short driveway sits a tumbledown little shack.
The man they’ve come for lives inside.
Stuffing his Glock 19 into his belt behind his back, Stevie steps out of the Jeep first—and the blistering desert air hits him like a semi. Instantly he’s flooded with memories of the nighttime covert ops he ran in Desert Storm. But that was a distant land, where more than two decades earlier he served with honor and distinction.
Tonight, he’s in Scurry County, Texas. He doesn’t have an elite squad to back him up. Only his jumpy little brother.
And the stakes aren’t just higher. They’re personal.
“Lay a hand on my gate, Rourke, I’ll blow it clean off.”
Old Abe McKinley is standing on his farmhouse porch, shakily aiming a giant wood-handled Colt Anaconda. With his wild mane of white hair and blackened teeth, he either looks awful for seventy-five, or like total shit for sixty.
But Stevie doesn’t scare easy—or back down.
“I want to talk to you, Abe. Nothing more.”
“Then tell your baby brother to be smart. And put down his toy.”
“If you tell your folks to do the same.”
Abe snorts. Not a chance.
Stevie shrugs. Worth a try. “Then at least tell ’em,” he says, “to quit pretending to hide.”
After a reluctant nod from the old man, Hank tosses his pump-action Remington back into the Jeep. Simultaneously, fourteen of McKinley’s goons, hidden all around the compound, slowly step out of the shadows. Some were crouched behind bushes. Others, trees. A few were lying prone in the knee-high grass that covers most of McKinley’s two dozen acres.
Each man is wearing full hunting camo and a ski mask, and clutching a semiautomatic weapon.
Stevie was right. The bastard sure did know they’d be coming around here.
“Now, then.” Stevie clears his throat. “As I was saying—”
“Sorry to hear about your sister’s boy.” McKinley interrupts. Not one for small talk. He spits a thick squirt of tobacco juice into the dirt. “Tragedy.”
Stevie swallows his rage at the intentional sign of complete disrespect. “You sound real cut up about it. About losing a first-time customer.”
McKinley betrays nothing. “I don’t know what you mean by that. If you’re implying I had anything to do with—”
Hank’s the one who interrupts now. Can’t keep his cool like his brother.
“You got four counties hooked on the crystal you cook!” he shouts, taking a step forward. McKinley’s men raise their guns, but Hank doesn’t flinch.
“You’re the biggest player from here to Lubbock, and everybody knows it. Means one of y’all”—Hank glares at each of the armed men, one by one, their fingers tickling their triggers—“sold our nephew the shit that killed him. Put a live grenade in the hand of a child!”
McKinley just snarls. Then turns and starts heading back inside his house.
“Stevie, Hank, thanks for stopping by. But don’t do it again. Or I’ll bury you out back with the dogs.”
Like a shot from a rifle—crack!—the screen door slams shut behind him.
4 minutes, 45 seconds
Tomorrow marks ten weeks to the day my son Alex died before my eyes.
I can’t believe it. It feels like barely ten minutes.
- On Sale
- Sep 6, 2016
- Page Count
- 144 pages