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As fire after fire consume couples in wealthy, comfortable homes, Lindsay and the Murder Club must race to find the arsonists responsible and get to the bottom of Michael Campion’s disappearance. But suddenly the fires are raging too close to home.
Frightened for her life and torn between two men, Lindsay must find a way to solve the most daunting dilemmas she’s ever faced–at work and at home.
Table of Contents
A Preview of The 8th Confession
A Preview of 15th Affair
About the Authors
Books by James Patterson
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at email@example.com. Thank you for your support of the author's rights.
To our spouses and children: Susie and Jack, John and Brendan
Our thanks and gratitude to these top professionals, who were so generous with their time and expertise: Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, Captain Richard Conklin, Chuck Hanni, Dr. Allen Ross, Philip R. Hoffman, Melody Fujimori, Mickey Sherman, and Dr. Maria Paige.
And special thanks to our excellent researchers, Ellie Shurtleff, Don MacBain, Lynn Colomello, and Margaret Ross, and to Mary Jordan, who keeps it all together.
THE CHRISTMAS SONG
TINY LIGHTS WINKED on the Douglas fir standing tall and full in front of the picture window. Swags of Christmas greenery and dozens of cards decked the well-appointed living room, and apple logs crackled in the fireplace, scenting the air as they burned.
A digitized Bing Crosby crooned "The Christmas Song."
"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose…"
Henry Jablonsky couldn't see the boys clearly. The one called Hawk had snatched off his glasses and put them a mile away on the fireplace mantel, a good thing, Jablonsky had reasoned at the time.
It meant that the boys didn't want to be identified, that they were planning to let them go. Please, God, please let us live and I'll serve you all the days of my life.
Jablonsky watched the two shapes moving around the tree, knew that the gun was in Hawk's waistband. He heard wrapping paper tear, saw the one called Pidge dangling a bow for the new kitten.
They'd said they weren't going to hurt them.
They said this was only a robbery.
Jablonsky had memorized their faces well enough to describe to a police sketch artist, which he would be doing as soon as they got the hell out of his home.
Both boys looked as though they'd stepped from the pages of a Ralph Lauren ad.
Hawk. Clean-cut. Well-spoken. Blond, with side-parted hair. Pidge, bigger. Probably six two. Long brown hair. Strong as a horse. Meaty hands. Ivy League types. Both of them.
Maybe there really was some goodness in them.
As Jablonsky watched, the blond one, Hawk, walked over to the bookshelf, dragged his long fingers across the spines of the books, calling out titles, his voice warm, as though he were a friend of the family.
He said to Henry Jablonsky, "Wow, Mr. J., you've got Fahrenheit 451. This is a classic."
Hawk pulled the book from the shelf, opened it to the first page. Then he stooped down to where Jablonsky was hog-tied on the floor with a sock in his mouth.
"You can't beat Bradbury for an opening," Hawk said. And then he read aloud with a clear, dramatic voice.
" 'It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.' "
As Hawk read, Pidge hauled a large package out from under the tree. It was wrapped in gold foil, tied with gold ribbon. Something Peggy had always wanted and had waited for, for years.
"To Peggy, from Santa," Pidge read from the gift tag. He sliced through the wrappings with a knife.
He had a knife!
Pidge opened the box, peeled back the layers of tissue.
"A Birkin bag, Peggy. Santa brought you a nine-thousand-dollar purse! I'd call that a no, Peg. A definite no."
Pidge reached for another wrapped gift, shook the box, while Hawk turned his attention to Peggy Jablonsky. Peggy pleaded with Hawk, her actual words muffled by the wad of sock in her mouth. It broke Henry's heavy heart to see how hard she tried to communicate with her eyes.
Hawk reached out and stroked Peggy's baby-blond hair, then patted her damp cheek. "We're going to open all your presents now, Mrs. J. Yours too, Mr. J.," he said. "Then we'll decide if we're going to let you live."
HENRY JABLONSKY'S STOMACH HEAVED. He gagged against the thick wool of the sock, pulled against his restraints, smelled the sour odor of urine. Heat puddled under his clothes. Christ. He'd wet himself. But it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was to get out alive.
He couldn't move. He couldn't speak. But he could reason.
What could he do?
Jablonsky looked around from his place on the floor, took in the fire poker only yards away. He fixed his vision on that poker.
"Mrs. J.," Pidge called out to Peggy, shaking a small turquoise box. "This is from Henry. A Peretti necklace. Very nice. What? You have something to say?"
Pidge went over to Peggy Jablonsky and took the sock out of her mouth.
"You don't really know Dougie, do you?" she said.
"Dougie who?" Pidge laughed.
"Don't hurt us—"
"No, no, Mrs. J.," Pidge said, stuffing the sock back into his captive's mouth. "No don'ts. This is our game. Our rules."
The kitten pounced into the heap of wrapping paper as the gifts were opened; the diamond earrings, the Hermès tie, and the Jensen salad tongs, Jablonsky praying that they would just take the stuff and leave. Then he heard Pidge speak to Hawk, his voice more subdued than before, so that Jablonsky had to strain to hear over the blood pounding in his ears.
"Well? Guilty or not guilty?" Pidge asked.
Hawk's voice was thoughtful. "The J.'s are living well, and if that's the best revenge…"
"You're kidding me, dude. That's totally bogus."
Pidge stepped over the pillowcase filled with the contents of the Jablonskys' safe. He spread the Bradbury book open on the lamp table with the span of his hand, then picked up a pen and carefully printed on the title page.
Pidge read it back. "Sic erat in fatis, man. It is fated. Get the kit-cat and let's go."
Hawk bent over, said, "Sorry, dude. Mrs. Dude." He took the sock out of Jablonsky's mouth. "Say good-bye to Peggy."
Henry Jablonsky's mind scrambled. What? What was happening? And then he realized. He could speak! He screamed "Pegg-yyyyy" as the Christmas tree bloomed with a bright yellow glare, then went up in a great exhalation of flame.
Heat rose and the skin on Henry Jablonsky's cheeks dried like paper. Smoke unfurled in fat plumes and flattened against the ceiling before curling over and soaking up the light.
"Don't leave us!"
He saw the flames climbing the curtains, heard his dear love's muffled screams as the front door slammed shut.
WE SAT IN A CIRCLE around the fire pit behind our rental cottage near the spectacular Point Reyes National Seashore, an hour north of San Francisco.
"Lindsay, hold out your glass," Cindy said.
I tasted the margarita—it was good. Yuki stirred the oysters on the grill. My border collie, Sweet Martha, sighed and crossed her paws in front of her, and firelight made flickering patterns on our faces as the sun set over the Pacific.
"It was one of my first cases in the ME's office," Claire was saying. "And so I was 'it.' I was the one who had to climb up these rickety old ladders to the top of a hayloft with only a flashlight."
Yuki coughed as the tequila went down her windpipe, gasping for breath as Cindy and I yelled at her in unison, "Sip it!"
Claire thumped Yuki's back and continued.
"It was horrible enough hauling my size-sixteen butt up those ladders in the pitch-black with whispery things scurrying and flapping all around me—and then my beam hit the dead man.
"His feet were hovering above the hay, and when I lit him up, I swear to God he looked like he was levitating. Eyes and tongue bugged out, like a freakin' ghoul."
"No way." Yuki laughed. She was wearing pajama bottoms and a Boalt Law sweatshirt, her hair in a ponytail, already drunk on her one margarita, looking more like a college kid than a woman nearing thirty.
"I yelled down into the dark well of that barn," Claire said, "got two big old boys to come up and cut the body down from the rafters and put Mr. Levitation into a body bag."
Claire paused for dramatic effect—and right then my cell phone rang.
"Lind-say, no," Cindy begged me. "Don't take that call."
I glanced at the caller ID, expecting it to be my boyfriend, Joe, thinking he'd just gotten home and was checking in, but it was Lieutenant Warren Jacobi. My former partner and current boss.
Yuki shouted, "Don't stop, Claire. She could be on the phone all night!"
"Lindsay? Okay, fine," Claire said, and then she went on. "I unzipped the body bag… and a bat flew out of the dead man's clothes. I peed my pants," Claire squealed behind me. "I really did!"
"Boxer? You there?" said Jacobi, gruff in my ear.
"I'm on my own time," I growled into my cell phone. "It's Saturday, don't you know that?"
"You're going to want this. If not, tell me and I'll give it to Cappy and Chi."
"What is it?"
"The biggest deal in the world, Boxer. It's about the Campion kid. Michael."
MY PULSE SHOT UP at the mention of Michael Campion's name.
Michael Campion wasn't just a kid. He was to Californians what JFK Jr. had been to the nation. The only child of our former governor Connor Hume Campion and his wife, Valentina, Michael Campion had been born into incredible wealth. He'd also been born with an inoperable heart defect and had been living on borrowed time for the whole of his life.
Through photos and newscasts, Michael's life had been part of ours. He'd been a darling baby, a precocious and gifted child, and a handsome teenager, both funny and smart. His father had become a spokesman for the American Heart Association, and Michael was their adored poster boy. And while the public rarely saw Michael, they cared, always hoping that one day there would be a medical breakthrough and that California's "Boy with a Broken Heart" would be given what most people took for granted—a full and vigorous life.
Then, back in January of this year, Michael had said good night to his parents, and in the morning his bedroom was empty. There was no ransom note. No sign of foul play. But a back door was unlocked and Michael was gone.
His disappearance was treated as a kidnapping, and the FBI launched a nationwide search. The SFPD did its own investigation, interviewing family members and retainers, Michael's teachers and school friends, and his virtual online friends as well.
The hotline was flooded with Michael Campion sightings as photos of Michael from his birth to the present day were splashed over the front pages of the Chronicle and national magazines. TV networks and cable news ran documentary specials on Michael Campion's doom-shadowed life.
The tips had led nowhere, and months later, when there'd been no calls from a kidnapper, and no trace of Michael had surfaced, terror attacks, wildfires, politics, and new violent crimes pushed the Michael Campion story off the front page.
The case was still open, but everyone assumed the worst. That a kidnapping had gone terribly wrong. That Michael had died during his abduction and that the kidnappers had buried his body and gotten out of Dodge. The citizens of San Francisco mourned along with Michael's famous and beloved family, and while the public would never forget him, they put the book of his life aside.
Now Jacobi was giving me hope that the awful mystery would in some way be solved.
"Michael's body has been found?" I asked him.
"Naw, but we've got a credible lead. Finally."
I pressed the phone hard against my ear, ghost stories and the first annual getaway of the Women's Murder Club forgotten.
Jacobi was saying, "If you want in on this, Boxer, meet me at the Hall—"
"I can be there in an hour."
I MADE THE ONE-HOUR DRIVE back to the Hall of Justice in forty-five minutes, took the stairs from the lobby to the third floor, and strode into the squad room looking for Jacobi.
The forty-by-forty-foot open space was lit with flickering overhead fluorescent tubing, making the night crew hunched over their desks look like they'd just crawled out of their graves. A few old guys lifted their eyes, said, "Howsit goin', Sarge?" as I made my way to Jacobi's glassed-in corner office, with its view of the on-ramp to the 280 freeway.
My partner, Richard Conklin, was already there; thirty years old, six feet two inches of all-American hunk, one of his long legs resting on the edge of Jacobi's junkyard of a desk.
I pulled out the other chair, bashed my knee, swore loudly and emphatically as Jacobi sniggered, "Nice talk, Boxer." I sat down, thinking how this had been a functional workspace when Jacobi's office had been mine. I took off my baseball cap and shook out my hair, hoping to hell that the guys wouldn't smell tequila on my breath.
"What kind of lead?" I asked without preamble.
"It's a tip kind of lead," Jacobi said. "Anonymous caller using a prepaid cell phone—untraceable, naturally. Caller said he'd seen the Campion kid entering a house on Russian Hill the night he disappeared. The house is home to a prostitute."
As Jacobi made room on his desk for the prostitute's rap sheet, I thought about Michael Campion's life at the time he'd disappeared.
There'd been no dates for Michael, no parties, no sports. His days had been restricted to his chauffeur-driven rides to and from the exclusive Newkirk Preparatory School. So it didn't sound exactly crazy that he'd visited a prostitute. He'd probably paid off his driver and escaped the plush-lined prison of his parents' love for an hour or two.
But what had happened to him afterward?
What had happened to Michael?
"Why is this tip credible?" I asked Jacobi.
"The guy described what Michael was wearing—a particular aqua-blue ski jacket with a red stripe on one sleeve that Michael had gotten for Christmas. That jacket was never mentioned in the press."
"So why did this tipster wait three months before calling it in?" I asked Jacobi.
"I can only tell you what he said. He said he was leaving the prostitute's house as Michael Campion was coming in. That he didn't drop the dime until now because he has a wife and kids. Didn't want to get caught up in the hullabaloo, but that his conscience had been needling him. Finally got to him, I guess."
"Russian Hill is a nice neighborhood for a pross," Conklin said.
And it was. Kind of like the French Quarter meets South Beach. And it was within walking distance of the Newkirk School. I took a notebook out of my handbag.
"What's the prostitute's name?"
"Her given name is Myrtle Bays," Jacobi said, handing me her sheet. The attached mug shot was of a young woman with a girlish look, short blond hair, and huge eyes. Her date of birth made her twenty-two years old.
"A few years ago she legally changed her name," said Jacobi. "Now she calls herself Junie Moon."
"So Michael Campion went to a hooker, Jacobi," I said, putting the rap sheet back down on his desk. "What's your theory?"
"That the kid died in flagrante delicto, Boxer. In English that means 'in the saddle.' If this tip pans out, I'm thinking maybe Ms. Myrtle Bays, AKA Junie Moon, killed Michael with his first roll in the hay—and then she made his body disappear."
A YOUNG MAN in his twenties with spiky blond hair and a black sport coat whistled through his teeth as he left Junie Moon's front door. Conklin and I watched from our squad car, saw the john lope across Leavenworth, heard the tootle as he disarmed his late model BMW.
As his taillights disappeared around the corner, Conklin and I walked up the path to the front door of what's called a Painted Lady: a pastel-colored, gingerbread-decorated Victorian house, this one flaking and in need of repair. I pressed the doorbell, waited a minute, pressed it again.
Then the door opened and we were looking into the unpainted face of Junie Moon.
From the first moment, I saw that Junie was no ordinary hooker.
There was a dewy freshness about her that I'd never seen before in a working girl. Her hair was damp from the shower, a cap of blond curls that trailed into a wisp of a braid that had been dyed blue. Her eyes were a deep, smoky gray, and a thin white scar cut through the top lip of her cupid's-bow mouth.
She was a beauty, but what grabbed me the most was Junie Moon's disarming, childlike appearance. Junie pulled the sash of her gold silk dressing gown tightly around her narrow waist as my partner showed her his shield, said our names and "Homicide. Mind if we come in?"
"Homicide? You're here to see me?" she asked. Her voice matched her appearance, not just young, but sweetened with innocence.
"We have some questions about a missing person," Rich said, launching his amazing, babe-catcher smile.
Junie Moon invited us in.
The room smelled sweet, floral, like lavender and jasmine, and the light was soft, coming from low-watt bulbs under silk-draped lampshades. Conklin and I sat on a velvet upholstered loveseat while Junie took a seat on an ottoman, clasped her hands around her knees. She was barefoot, her nail polish the pale coral color of the inside of seashells.
"Nice place," Conklin said.
"Thank you. I rent it. Furnished," she said.
"Have you ever seen this man?" I asked Junie Moon, showing her a photo of Michael Campion.
"You mean for real? That's Michael Campion, isn't it?"
Junie Moon's gray eyes grew even more huge. "I've never seen Michael Campion in my entire life."
"Okay, Ms. Moon," I said. "We have some questions we'd like to ask you at the police station."
JUNIE MOON SAT ACROSS FROM US in Interview Two, a twelve-by-twelve-foot gray-tiled room with a metal table, four matching chairs, and a video camera affixed to the ceiling.
I'd checked twice to be sure. The camera was loaded and running.
Junie was now wearing an open-weave pink cardigan over a lace-trimmed cami, jeans, and sneakers, no makeup, and—I'm not overstating this—she looked like she was in the tenth grade.
Conklin had started the interview by reading Junie Moon her Miranda rights in a charming, "no big deal," respectful manner. She initialed the acknowledgment of rights form without complaint, but still, it irked the hell out of me. Junie Moon wasn't under arrest. We didn't have to Mirandize her for a noncustodial interview, and Conklin's warning might very well inhibit her from telling us something we urgently needed to know. I swallowed my pique. What was done was done.
Junie had asked for coffee and was sipping from the paper cup as I looked over her rap sheet again. I mentioned her three arrests for prostitution, and she told me that since she'd changed her name, she hadn't been arrested for anything.
"I feel like a new person," she said.
There were no track marks on her arms, no bruises that I could see, and that made it even less understandable. What was the draw? What was the hook?
Why would a pretty girl like Junie turn pro?
"I took my name from an old Liza Minnelli movie," she was telling Conklin. "It was called Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon. A lot of my clients ask me to tell them that," she said with a wistful smile.
Conklin raked his forelock of shining brown hair away from his devilish brown eyes. I was sure that Rich had never seen the movie or read the book. "Is that so?" he said. "That's cool."
"So, Junie," I said, "most of your clients are prep school kids?"
"Tell me the truth, Sergeant Boxer. Should I get a lawyer? Because I think you're trying to say that I have sex with underage boys, and that's not true."
"You ask for their driver's licenses before you take off your pants?"
"We're not interested in your, ah, social activities, Junie," Conklin said, breaking in. "We're only interested in Michael Campion."
"I told you," she said, her voice trembling just a bit. "I've never met him, and I think I would know."
"Understand," I said, "we're not blaming you for anything. We know Michael was sick. Maybe his heart gave out while he was with you—"
"He was never a client," Junie insisted. "I would have been honored, you know, but it just didn't happen."
Conklin turned off the dazzling smile, said, "Junie. Work with us and we'll leave you and your business alone. Keep stonewalling us and vice is going to nail you to the wall."
We played patty-cake with Junie for about two hours, using every legal technique in the book. We made her feel safe. We leaned on her, lied to her, reassured her, and threatened her. And after all that, Junie still denied any knowledge of Michael Campion. In the end, I played our only card, slamming my hand down on the table for emphasis.
"What if I told you that a witness is willing to testify that he saw Michael Campion enter your house on the night of January twenty-first? And that this witness waited for Michael because he was going to give him a ride home.
"But that never happened, Junie, because Michael never left your house."
"A witness? But that's impossible," said the young woman. "It has to be a mistake."
I was desperate to crack open this one miserable lead, but we were getting no traction at all. I was starting to believe that Jacobi's anonymous tipster was yet another crank caller—and I was seriously considering waking Jacobi and peppering him with a few choice words—when Junie looked down at the table. Her eyes were moist and her face seemed pinched, actually transformed by grief.
"You're right, you're right, and I can't take this anymore. If you turn that thing off, I'll tell you what happened."
I exchanged startled looks with Conklin. Then I snapped out of it. I reached up to the video camera and switched it off. "You can't go wrong if you tell us the truth," I said, my heart going ga-lump, ga-lump.
I leaned forward, folded my hands on the table.
And Junie began to tell us everything.
"IT HAPPENED just like you said," Junie said, looking up at us with an anguished expression I read as fear and pain.
"Michael died?" I asked her. "He is, in fact, dead?"
"Can I start at the beginning?" Junie asked Conklin.
"Sure," Rich told her. "Take your time."
"See, I didn't know who he was at first," Junie said. "When Michael called to make the date, he gave me a fake name. So when I opened the door and there he was—oh, my God. The boy in the bubble. He'd come to see me!"
"What happened next?" I asked.
"He was really nervous," Junie said. "Shifting from one foot to the other. Looking at the window like someone could be watching him. I offered him a drink, but he said no, he didn't want to forget anything. He said that he was a virgin."
Junie bowed her head and tears spilled out of her eyes, dropped to the table. Conklin passed her the box of tissues, and we looked at each other in shock as we waited her out.
"A lot of boys are virgins when they come to me," she said at last. "Sometimes they like to pretend that we're having a date, and I make sure it's the best date they ever had."
"I'm sure," Conklin murmured. "So is that what happened with Michael? He pretended he was on a date?"
"Yeah," Junie said. "And as soon as we got into the bedroom, he told me his real name—and I told him mine!
"He got a real kick out of that, and then he started telling me about his life. He was a champion chess player on the Internet, did you know that? And he didn't act like a celebrity. He was super real. I started to think we were on a date, too."
"You got around to having sex with him, Junie?" I asked.
- On Sale
- Feb 4, 2008
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Little, Brown and Company