By Maxine Paetro
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James Patterson returns to the genre that made him famous with a #1 New York Times bestselling teen detective novel about the mysterious Angel family . . . and the dark secrets they’re keeping from one another.
On the night Malcolm and Maud Angel are murdered, Tandy Angel knows just three things: 1) She was the last person to see her parents alive. 2) The police have no suspects besides Tandy and her three siblings. 3) She can’t trust anyone-maybe not even herself.
As Tandy sets out to clear the family name, she begins to recall flashes of experiences long buried in her vulnerable psyche. These memories shed light on her family’s dark secrets, and digging deeper into her powerful parents’ affairs proves to be a disturbing and dangerous game. Who knows what any of the Angels are truly capable of?
Table of Contents
A Preview of The Private School Murders
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I have some really bad secrets to share with someone, and it might as well be you—a stranger, a reader of books, but most of all, a person who can't hurt me. So here goes nothing, or maybe everything. I'm not sure if I can even tell the difference anymore.
The night my parents died—after they'd been carried out in slick black body bags through the service elevator—my brother Matthew shouted at the top of his powerful lungs, "My parents were vile, but they didn't deserve to be taken out with the trash!"
He was right about the last part—and, as things turned out, the first part as well.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I? Please forgive me.… I do that a lot.
I'd been asleep downstairs, directly under my parents' bedroom, when it happened. So I never heard a thing—no frantic thumping, no terrified shouting, no fracas at all. I woke up to the scream of sirens speeding up Central Park West, maybe one of the most common sounds in New York City.
But that night it was different.
The sirens stopped right downstairs. That was what caused me to wake up with a hundred-miles-an-hour heartbeat. Was the building on fire? Did some old neighbor have a stroke?
I threw off my double layer of blankets, went to my window, and looked down to the street, nine dizzying floors below. I saw three police cruisers and what could have been an unmarked police car parked on Seventy-second Street, right at the front gates of our apartment building, the exclusive and infamous Dakota.
A moment later our intercom buzzed, a jarring blat-blat that punched right through my flesh and bones.
Why was the doorman paging us? This was crazy.
My bedroom was the one closest to the front door, so I bolted through the living room, hooked a right at the sharks in the aquarium coffee table, and passed between Robert and his nonstop TV.
When I reached the foyer, I stabbed at the intercom button to stop the irritating blare before it woke up the whole house.
I spoke in a loud whisper to the doorman through the speaker: "Sal? What's happening?"
"Miss Tandy? Two policemen are on the way up to your apartment right now. I couldn't stop them. They got a nine-one-one call. It's an emergency. That's what they said."
"There's been a mistake, Sal. Everyone is asleep here. It's after midnight. How could you let them up?"
Before Sal could answer, the doorbell rang, and then fists pounded the door. A harsh masculine voice called out, "This is the police."
I made sure the chain was in place and then opened the door—but just a crack.
I peered out through the opening and saw two men in the hallway. The older one was as big as a bear but kind of soft-looking and spongy. The younger one was wiry and had a sharp, expressionless face, something like a hatchet blade, or… no, a hatchet blade is exactly right.
The younger one flashed his badge and said, "Sergeant Capricorn Caputo and Detective Ryan Hayes, NYPD. Please open the door."
Capricorn Caputo? I thought. Seriously? "You've got the wrong apartment," I said. "No one here called the police."
"Open the door, miss. And I mean right now."
"I'll get my parents," I said through the crack. I had no idea that my parents were dead and that we would be the only serious suspects in a double homicide. I was in my last moment of innocence.
But who am I kidding? No one in the Angel family was ever innocent.
"Open up, or my partner will kick down the door!" Hatchet Face called out.
It is no exaggeration to say that my whole family was about to get a wake-up call from hell. But all I was thinking at that particular moment was that the police could not kick down the door. This was the Dakota. We could get evicted for allowing someone to disturb the peace.
I unlatched the chain and swung the door open. I was wearing pajamas, of course; chick-yellow ones with dinosaurs chasing butterflies. Not exactly what I would have chosen for a meeting with the police.
Detective Hayes, the bearish one, said, "What's your name?"
"Are you the daughter of Malcolm and Maud Angel?"
"I am. Can you please tell me why you're here?"
"Tandy is your real name?" he said, ignoring my question.
"I'm called Tandy. Please wait here. I'll get my parents to talk to you."
"We'll go with you," said Sergeant Caputo.
Caputo's grim expression told me that this was not a request. I turned on lights as we headed toward my parents' bedroom suite.
I was climbing the circular stairwell, thinking that my parents were going to kill me for bringing these men upstairs, when suddenly both cops pushed rudely past me. By the time I had reached my parents' room, the overhead light was on and the cops were bending over my parents' bed.
Even with Caputo and Hayes in the way, I could see that my mother and father looked all wrong. Their sheets and blankets were on the floor, and their nightclothes were bunched under their arms, as if they'd tried to take them off. My father's arm looked like it had been twisted out of its socket. My mother was lying facedown across my father's body, and her tongue was sticking out of her mouth. It had turned black.
I didn't need a coroner to tell me that they were dead. I knew it just moments after I saw them. Diagnosis certain.
I shrieked and ran toward them, but Hayes stopped me cold. He kept me out of the room, putting his big paws on my shoulders and forcibly walking me backward out to the hallway.
"I'm sorry to do this," he said, then shut the bedroom door in my face.
I didn't try to open it. I just stood there. Motionless. Almost not breathing.
So, you might be wondering why I wasn't bawling, screeching, or passing out from shock and horror. Or why I wasn't running to the bathroom to vomit or curling up in the fetal position, hugging my knees and sobbing. Or doing any of the things that a teenage girl who's just seen her murdered parents' bodies ought to do.
The answer is complicated, but here's the simplest way to say it: I'm not a whole lot like most girls. At least, not from what I can tell. For me, having a meltdown was seriously out of the question.
From the time I was two, when I first started speaking in paragraphs that began with topic sentences, Malcolm and Maud had told me that I was exceptionally smart. Later, they told me that I was analytical and focused, and that my detachment from watery emotion was a superb trait. They said that if I nurtured these qualities, I would achieve or even exceed my extraordinary potential, and this wasn't just a good thing, but a great thing. It was the only thing that mattered, in fact.
It was a challenge, and I had accepted it.
That's why I was more prepared for this catastrophe than most kids my age would be, or maybe any kids my age.
Yes, it was true that panic was shooting up and down my spine and zinging out to my fingertips. I was shocked, maybe even terrified. But I quickly tamped down the screaming voice inside my head and collected my wits, along with the few available facts.
One: My parents had died in some unspeakable way.
Two: Someone had known about their deaths and called the police.
Three: Our doors were locked, and there had been no obvious break-in. Aside from me, my brothers Harry and Hugo and my mother's personal assistant, Samantha, were the only ones home.
I went downstairs and got my phone. I called both my uncle Peter and our lawyer, Philippe Montaigne. Then I went to each of my siblings' bedrooms, and to Samantha's, too. And somehow, I told them each the inexpressibly horrible news that our mother and father were dead, and that it was possible they'd been murdered.
Can you imagine the words you'd use, dear reader, to tell your family that your parents had been murdered? I hope so, because I'm not going to be able to share those wretched moments with you right now. We're just getting to know each other, and I take a little bit of time to warm up to people. Can you be patient with me? I promise it'll be worth the wait.
After I'd completed that horrible task—perhaps the worst task of my life—I tried to focus my fractured attention back on Sergeant Capricorn Caputo. He was a rough-looking character, like a bad cop in a black-and-white film from the forties who smoked unfiltered cigarettes, had stained fingers, and was coughing up his lungs on his way to the cemetery.
Caputo looked to be about thirty-five years old. He had one continuous eyebrow, a furry ledge over his stony black eyes. His thin lips were set in a short, hard line. He had rolled up the sleeves of his shiny blue jacket, and I noted a zodiac sign tattooed on his wrist.
He looked like exactly the kind of detective I wanted to have working on the case of my murdered parents.
Gnarly and mean.
Detective Hayes was an entirely different cat. He had a basically pleasant, faintly lined face and wore a wedding ring, an NYPD Windbreaker, and steel-tipped boots. He looked sympathetic to us kids, sitting in a stunned semicircle around him. But Detective Hayes wasn't in charge, and he wasn't doing the talking.
Caputo stood with his back to our massive fireplace and coughed into his fist. Then he looked around the living room with his mouth wide open.
He couldn't believe how we lived.
And I can't say I blame him.
He took in the eight-hundred-gallon aquarium coffee table with the four glowing pygmy sharks swimming circles around their bubbler.
His jaw dropped even farther when he saw the life-size merman hanging by its tail from a bloody hook and chain in the ceiling near the staircase.
He sent a glance across the white-lacquered grand piano, which we called "Pegasus" because it looked like it had wings.
And he stared at Robert, who was slumped over in a La-Z-Boy with a can of Bud in one hand and a remote control in the other, just watching the static on his TV screen.
Robert is a remarkable creation. He really is. It's next to impossible to tell that he, his La-Z-Boy, and his very own TV are all part of an incredibly lifelike, technologically advanced sculpture. He was cast from a real person, then rendered in polyvinyl and an auto-body filler composite called Bondo. Robert looks so real, you half expect him to crunch his beer can against his forehead and ask for another cold one.
"What's the point of this thing?" Detective Caputo asked.
"It's an artistic style called hyperrealism," I responded.
"Hyper-real, huh?" Detective Caputo said. "Does that mean 'over-the-top'? Because that's kind of a theme in this family, isn't it?"
No one answered him. To us, this was home.
When Detective Caputo was through taking in the décor, he fixed his eyes on each of us in turn. We just blinked at him. There were no hysterics. In fact, there was no apparent emotion at all.
"Your parents were murdered," he said. "Do you get that? What's the matter? No one here loved them?"
We did love them, but it wasn't a simple love. To start with, my parents were complicated: strict, generous, punishing, expansive, withholding. And as a result, we were complicated, too. I knew all of us felt what I was feeling—an internal tsunami of horror and loss and confusion. But we couldn't show it. Not even to save our lives.
Of course, Sergeant Caputo didn't see us as bereaved children going through the worst day of our tender young lives. He saw us as suspects, every one of us a "person of interest" in a locked-door double homicide.
He didn't try to hide his judgment, and I couldn't fault his reasoning.
I thought he was right.
My parents' killer was in that room.
My gaze turned to the angry face of my ten-year-old "little" brother, Hugo. From the look of outrage he directed toward the cops, I got the feeling that he felt they were villains, and that he wanted to take Sergeant Caputo apart like a rotisserie chicken. The thing is, Hugo is probably as strong as a full-grown man. I thought he could actually do it.
What else could Hugo do?
He sat in the "Pork Chair," a pink upholstered armchair with carved wooden pig hooves for feet. He looked adorable, as he almost always did. He was wearing an enormous Giants sweatshirt over his pajamas. Because Goliath was his biblical hero, he allowed a haircut only once a year, so it had been eleven months since Hugo's last trim and his brown hair eddied down his back like a mountain stream.
My twin brother, Harrison—aka Harry—sat on the red leather sofa across from Hugo. You would like Harry; everyone does. We're fraternal twins, of course, but we look very much alike, with dark eyes and hair that we got from our mother. I wear my hair below my shoulders, sometimes with a headband. Harry's hair has curls that I would die for. He wears Harry Potter–style dark-rimmed glasses. We both twirl our hair with our fingers when deep in thought. I do it clockwise, and he does it in the other direction.
Harry also has a great smile. I guess I do, too, but I almost never use it. Harry uses his a lot. Maybe he's the only Angel who does, actually.
That night, Harry wore painter's pants and a sweatshirt with the hood pulled half over his face, which told me that he wanted to disappear. His breathing sounded wheezy, like he had a harmonica in his throat, which meant an asthma attack was coming on.
Samantha Peck, my mother's kind and beautiful live-in personal assistant, had spent the night in the apartment, behind our locked doors. She worked for Maud, and that made her a suspect, too. She stood behind Hugo with her hand on his shoulder, her sandy-colored braid cascading over her pink satin robe. Her face was drawn and pale, as if her heart had stopped pumping. I thought she might be in shock.
Caputo pointed at Robert's TV, which broadcast static 24/7. He said, "Can someone turn that off?"
Hugo said, "We never turn it off. Never."
Caputo walked to the wall and pulled the plug.
For an instant, the room was completely quiet, as Caputo watched us to see how we would react. I found myself wishing more than anything that my older brother, Matthew, would suddenly appear. I had tried to reach him several times, but he wasn't answering his phone. He may not have been on the best terms with our parents, but I wouldn't be able to entirely focus until he had been informed of their deaths. And Matthew, I was sure, would know how to deal with these police officers.
Sergeant Caputo shoved his sleeves up farther on his forearms and said, "The penthouse is a crime scene. It's off-limits until I say otherwise. Are we all clear?"
I thought about how my parents would have wanted us to behave in this situation.
My mother was like a perpetual-motion machine, never stopping, hardly sleeping at all. She seemed to barely notice people—even her children. Her strength was in analyzing financial markets and managing the billions in her exclusive hedge fund.
My father co-owned Angel Pharmaceuticals with his younger brother, Peter. He was a chemist with a gigantic brain and enormous gifts. Unlike my mother, Malcolm engaged with us so intensely that after a few minutes of contact with my father, I felt invaded to the core.
Even with all their faults, Malcolm and Maud had had their children's interests at heart. They tirelessly taught us to harness what they called our "superhuman powers": our physical strengths, our emotions, and our remarkable IQs.
Our parents wanted us to be perfect.
Even in this situation, they would've wanted us to behave perfectly.
You can probably imagine that the constant press toward perfection might affect your relationships with others and the expectations you have of yourself. It's like being a camera and the subject of its photographs at the same time.
That's screwed up, right?
Still, somehow the Angel kids survived this—perhaps by a means that I might describe as… not entirely natural. But we'll get to that later.
For the moment, I decided to use the skills my parents had driven into all of us, and to refuse to react the way Caputo wanted me to.
"Of course, Officer Caputo," I finally responded to his demand. "We wouldn't want to interfere in your very thorough investigation."
I would just have to wait until the officers were out of my way.
If only Caputo could interrogate Robert. You see, Robert sees stuff. He knows stuff. About the Angels. About me.
Such as: He knows about the time I put my foot right through his TV screen.
On purpose. Or so I'm told.
I don't even remember it. But I know it happened because one day I was the best lacrosse player at All Saints, and the next day I woke up in the hospital with fifty stitches in my foot and leg.
In the hospital, Malcolm's and Maud's stern faces had looked at me without sympathy. Maud said she never thought lacrosse was good for me, anyway. (I would never play again.) Malcolm announced that my Big Chop was going to be repairing Robert so that he was as good as new. (My efforts were, sadly, flawed; that's why Robert only watches static these days.)
And that's pretty much all they'd told me. You don't demand answers from Malcolm and Maud.
Hugo was the only one who saw what happened. He said I flew into the apartment in such a rage that he hid behind the Claes Oldenburg sculpture and watched me kick the hell out of Robert, screaming, "They killed her. They killed her!" My foot crashed through Robert's screen with the force of a wrecking ball, he claims.
How could I do that? I'd need almost superhuman strength. When I asked Matthew, he shrugged and said only: "It's a piece of art, Tandy. It's not industrial strength."
More important, though, was why I would do that. Could I really have been talking about my dead sister, Katherine?
Was I accusing Malcolm and Maud of killing their eldest daughter?
And why don't I remember it at all?
Caputo was still pacing and coughing, giving us the evil eye and warning us that if we crossed into the no-go zone of the penthouse suite, he would have us removed from the apartment.
"I'm doing you a favor, letting you stay downstairs. Don't make me sorry."
I stared back at the menacing detective and remembered what it had been like growing up here in the Dakota—a gated island on an island. It was one of the few places in the world where I felt secure.
Yet Malcolm and Maud Angel weren't the first people to be killed at the Dakota. Everyone knows that Mark David Chapman gunned John Lennon down right at the front gates, where the police cars were now parked. And just two floors below us, the actor Gig Young killed his wife and then shot himself.
Now my parents had been murdered in their own bed by an unknown killer for a reason I couldn't imagine.
Or maybe I could… but I digress. Those are very private thoughts, for later.
As I sat beside Harry, under the withering gaze of Sergeant Caputo, crime-scene investigators trooped through the private entranceway that very few New Yorkers had ever seen, even in photographs. They crossed the cobbled courtyard and used the residents' elevators to come upstairs, which was strictly forbidden by the cooperative's bylaws.
Sergeant Caputo had banned us from our parents' suite—but I lived there. I had rights. And I had already taught myself basic criminology.
I learned all about JonBenét Ramsey when I was six, the same age she'd been when she was murdered. She had been an adorable little girl, seemingly happy and unafraid and loving. I was so moved by her death that I wrote to the police in Colorado, asking them why they hadn't found her killer. No one wrote back. To this day, her killer has not been found.
The unsolved Ramsey case had inspired me to read up on the famous forensic pathologists Michael Baden and Henry Lee. I had consumed practical guides to homicide investigations, so I knew that the longer it took to solve a crime, the more likely it was that it would never be solved.
I wasn't one to trust authority. Who knows, though—maybe Caputo and Hayes were decent cops. But my parents were just a case to them. That was all they could ever be.
Malcolm and Maud were my parents. I owed them. I owed it to myself, and to my siblings, to try to solve their murders.
The fact is, I was the ideal detective for this case. This was a job that I could—and should—do. Please don't think I'm completely full of myself when I say that. I just knew that my doggedness and personal motivation would trump any training these guys had.
I am an Angel, after all. As Malcolm always said, we get things done.
So as I sat in the living room that night, I took on the full responsibility of finding my parents' killer—even if it turned out that the killer shared my DNA.
Even if it turned out to be me.
You shouldn't count that out, friend.
Are you familiar with the phrase unreliable narrator? Maybe from English-lit class? It's when the storyteller might not be worthy of your trust. In fact, the storyteller might be a complete liar. So given what I just said, you're probably wondering: Is that me?
Would I do that to you? Of course I wouldn't. At least, I don't think I would. But you can never tell about people, can you? How much do you really know about my past?
That's a subject we'll have to investigate together, later.
For now, back to my story. I was about to begin the investigation of my parents' murders. While the two detectives conferred in the study, out of sight, I climbed the stairs to the long hallway in my parents' penthouse suite. I flattened myself against the dark red wall and averted my eyes as the techs from the medical examiner's office took my parents away in body bags.
Then I edged down the hall to the threshold of Malcolm and Maud's bedroom and peered inside.
An efficient-looking crime-scene investigator was busily dusting for fingerprints. The name tag on her shirt read CSI JOYCE YEAGER.
I said hello to the freckle-faced CSI and told her my name. She said that she was sorry for my loss. I nodded, then said, "Do you mind if I ask you some questions?"
CSI Yeager looked around before saying, "Okay."
I didn't have time for tact. I'd been warned away from this room and everything in it, so I began to shoot questions at the CSI as if I were firing them from a nail gun.
"What was the time of death?"
"That hasn't been determined," she said.
"And the means?"
"We don't know yet how your parents were killed."
"And what about the manner of death?" I asked.
"The medical examiner will determine if these were homicides, accidents, natural deaths—"
"Natural?" I interrupted, already getting fed up. "Come on."
"It's the medical examiner's job to determine these things," she said.
"Have you found a weapon? Was there any blood?"
"Listen, Tandy. I'm sorry, but you have to go now, before you get me in trouble."
CSI Yeager was ignoring me now, but she didn't close the door. I looked around the room, taking in the enormous four-poster bed and the silk bedspread on the floor.
And I did a visual inventory of my parents' valuables.
The painting over their fireplace, by Daniel Aronstein, was a modern depiction of an American flag: strips of frayed muslin layered with oil paints in greens and mauve. It was worth almost $200,000—and it hadn't been touched.
My mother's expensive jewelry was also untouched; her strand of impossibly creamy Mikimoto pearls lay in an open velvet-lined box on the dresser, and her twelve-carat emerald ring still hung from a branch of the crystal ring tree beside her bed.
It could not be clearer that there had been no robbery here.
It shouldn't surprise me that the evidence pointed to the fact that my parents had been killed out of anger, fear, hatred…
As I stood outside my parents' bedroom a shadow fell across me and I jumped, as if I were already living in fear of the ghosts of Malcolm and Maud. Many ghosts in my family already haunt us, friend, so it helps me to know that you're here.
Fortunately, this shadow just belonged to Sergeant Caputo. He pinched my shoulder. Hard.
"Let's go, Tansy. I told you, this floor is off-limits. Entering a crime scene before it's cleared is evidence tampering. It's against the law."
"Tandy," I said. "Not Tansy. Tandy."
I didn't argue his point; he was right. Instead, I went ahead of him down the stairs and back to the living room, arriving just as my big brother, Matthew, stormed in from the kitchen.
When Matthew entered a room, he seemed to draw all the light and air to him. He had light brown dreadlocks tied in a bunch with a hank of yarn, and intense blue eyes that shone like high beams.
I've never seen eyes like his. No one has.
Matty was dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt under a leather jacket, but anyone would've sworn he was wearing a bodysuit with an emblem on the chest and a cape fluttering behind.
Hugo broke the spell by leaping out of his chair. "Hup!" he yelled at Matty, jumping toward his brother with outstretched arms.
Matthew caught Hugo easily and put a hand to the back of his baby brother's head while fastening his eyes on the two homicide detectives.
Matthew is six-two and has biceps the size of thighs. And, well, he can be a little scary when he's mad.
Mad wasn't even the word to describe him that night.
"My parents were just carried out of the building in the service elevator," he shouted at the cops. "They were vile, but they didn't deserve to be taken out with the trash!"
Detective Hayes said, "And you are…?"
"Matthew Angel. Malcolm and Maud's son."
"And how did you get into the apartment?" Hayes said.
"Cops let me in. One of them wanted my autograph."
Caputo said to Matthew, "You won the Heisman last year, right?"
"The complex, clever plot keeps the pages turning as it wends its way to a surprising resolution and several cliffhangers."—CommonSenseMedia.org
- On Sale
- Sep 10, 2013
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- JIMMY Patterson Books