By Maxine Paetro
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Table of Contents
A Preview of Confessions of a Murder Suspect
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It hasn't been all that long since my last confession, but I already have so much to tell you. Fair warning: Most of it isn't very pretty.
My story starts with the catastrophic deaths of Malcolm and Maud Angel. They weren't just those wealthy New York socialites you read about in the New York Times.
They were my parents. Dead. They died in their bed under freakish circumstances three months ago, leaving my brothers and me devastated and bankrupt.
Not to mention under suspicion of murder.
We were eventually cleared of the crime—once I uncovered key evidence in the case. So, my friend, what do you think are the chances of another shocking, grisly crime happening in my life? Oh, about a hundred percent, and I can say that with total confidence.
Because it's already happened.
My brother Matthew has been charged with killing his twenty-four-year-old actress girlfriend, Tamara Gee, and her unborn child. Just to make things that much more scandalous, after my parents' deaths, Tamara announced to the press that she had been sleeping around—with my father.
That brings me to today, which really isn't the best time to be reminiscing about the past. I had to put on a positive face for Matthew, who I had come to visit.
Deep inside the infamous New York City jail known (for good reason) as The Tombs, I held my breath as a beefy guard led me down a long gray cinder-block hallway that was pungent with the reek of urine and male sweat and deposited me in a folding chair outside a Plexiglas cell.
So I did. And immediately began to nervously toy with the buttons on my peacoat. Matthew's trial was set to begin in just a few days, and I was here to bring him bad news. His so-called airtight alibi for the night of Tamara's murder had just completely imploded. I felt sick to my stomach just thinking about what could happen to him and, in turn, what might happen to what was left of our family.
My hands were shaking. I used to be the picture of calm in any and all situations, but these days I was feeling so raw that it was hard to remember how the numbing pills my parents had given me every day of my life kept my emotions in check.
I heard the echo of footsteps approaching from somewhere behind the concrete walls. Still no Matthew. Hinges squealed and metal scraped against stone. A door slammed shut and locked. Each sound was more hopeless than the last.
Finally the door at the back of the Plexiglas cell opened, and Matthew shuffled in with a uniformed guard right behind him.
You might remember when Matthew Angel won the Heisman, how he bounded up onto the stage with a self-satisfied grin and lifted the heavy trophy over his head while camera flashes popped. Maybe you've seen him returning kickoffs for the New York Giants, spiking the ball in the end zone and raising his fist to the sky. At the very least, you probably know him as the dude in the soup commercial. Matthew Angel has always been the guy every Pop Warner grade-schooler wants to be: a heroic rock-star jock, all muscle, smiles, and thoroughbred speed. A football god.
That person was now unrecognizable. Matthew had been transformed into a brooding hulk in an orange jumpsuit, wrists cuffed to a chain around his waist, shackles around his ankles.
My formerly cocky brother was too embarrassed and miserable to even look at me as the guard put a heavy hand on his shoulder and forced him into a chair before uncuffing him.
My eyes filled with tears. It was a feeling I was still getting used to.
Matthew managed a half smile, then leaned close to the grill that was set into the glass wall. "Hey, Tandy. How're you? How're the guys?"
Our brothers, Harrison and Hugo. Even in the throes of this misery, Matthew was thinking about them. About me. One tear spilled over. I wiped it away before he could look up and detect any weakness.
I took a deep breath. "Matthew, there's something I have to tell you."
"It's about your friends, Matty," I said through the grid. "The ones who swore they were playing poker with you when Tamara was killed. They say they lied to protect you, but now they've had some kind of crisis of conscience. They told Philippe they're not going to lie under oath."
I held my breath and waited for the inevitable explosion. While Matthew had a polished and shiny rep in public, we inside the Angel family knew that at any given moment he could go nuclear. Prone to violent outbursts was the clinical phrase.
But today my brother simply blinked. His eyes were heavy with sadness and confusion.
"I might have done it, Tandy," he finally mumbled. "I don't know."
"Matthew, come on!" I blurted, panic burbling up inside my chest. "You did not kill Tamara."
He leaned in closer to the grid, his hand flattened against the glass so that his palm turned white. "The guys are telling the truth, Tandy. We only played poker for a couple hours. I wasn't with them at the time when the medical examiner says Tamara was killed."
I pressed my lips together as hard as I could to hold back my anger. Not to mention my confusion and abject terror. "What? Where did you go?"
He shook his head. "I don't even know. Some bar? I got hammered and somehow made it home. It's pretty much a blur." He pressed the heels of his hands into his temples and sucked in a breath before continuing. "All I know is that I got into bed with her, and when I woke up, she was dead. There was blood all over me, Tandy. Blood everywhere. And I have no memory of what happened before that."
I stared at him, wide-eyed. For once in my life, I had no idea what to say.
But then, it wasn't completely out of the realm of possibility. Back when Tamara was killed, he was still on Malcolm and Maud's little Angel Pharma concoctions—special cocktails whipped up at the drug company my father founded—which made him prone not only to violent outbursts and manic episodes but also to blackouts.
I looked down at my hands. They trembled as I gathered the guts to ask a question I'd needed the answer to for weeks.
"Why didn't you tell me Tamara was dead, Matty?" I hazarded a glance at his eyes. "You came home that day. You spent the whole afternoon with us. You never once felt the need to say 'Oh, hey, guys, I kind of found Tamara murdered this morning'?"
Matthew pressed the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. "I was in shock," he said. "And I was terrified, okay? I didn't know what had happened. And you guys were already being put through the wringer by the DA, thanks to Malcolm and Maud. I thought… I thought…"
Suddenly he slammed his hand against the glass and the whole wall shuddered.
"Watch it!" the guard barked.
"You thought what?" I asked quietly.
He shook his head. "I think I thought that if I just ignored it, somehow it would all go away. I didn't want more scrutiny placed on us." His eyes were wet as he finally looked me in the eye. "Maybe I did do it, Tandy. Craziness runs in our veins, right?"
"Not in mine, Matty. Not anymore." I took a breath. "I don't do crazy these days."
"Oh, you do crazy just fine."
Then, out of nowhere, Matthew burst into tears. I'd never seen him cry once in my entire life.
"I was drunk. I don't know how else I could have done it," he said between sobs. "If I could see the apartment again… maybe… if I could go back there, maybe it would come back to me. God, I wish I could just get bail. Have you talked to Uncle Peter? Can't he find the money somewhere?"
I shook my head, my throat full. "We're totally broke, remember? And your bail is five million dollars." I pressed my palm to the glass at roughly the same angle as his, as if the connection brought us closer. "Please don't keep saying you might be guilty, Matty. It can't be true."
The door behind him squealed open. "Time's up," the guard said.
"I'm sorry, kiddo." Matthew shot me what looked like an apologetic smile as he was pulled away. The door slammed behind them and I just sat there, stunned.
"You taking up residence or what?" the guard standing behind me said. I got up and walked briskly down the hall in front of him, pretending I wasn't completely broken inside.
When I emerged from The Tombs, the bright sunlight hit my eyes and they burned. I squinted as I hailed a cab on Baxter, then slammed the door so hard the whole car rattled.
"Please take me home," I said to the cabbie.
He drilled me through the rearview mirror with his hard black eyes. "You want me to guess where you live?"
"The Dakota," I barked, in no mood. "Just go."
The cab leapt forward, and we headed uptown.
There's something I've been avoiding. Something I haven't admitted to anyone. I've barely even admitted it to myself. But this is a confession, so I'm confessing. Here goes.
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this whole having-emotions thing.
I know, I know. I'm the one who freaked out when I realized that the multiple pills my parents had been feeding us kids every morning were, in fact, high-test Angel Pharma mood-, mind-, and body-altering drugs. I'm the one who demanded that Harry go cold turkey with me so that we could take back control of our lives, our heads, maybe even our souls.
But those pills tainted our very essence—everything that made us human. I mean, when I saw my parents' dead bodies lying twisted in their bed, I didn't even cry. I didn't feel anguish or loss, I just felt angry. Anger was the only emotion the Angel kids were occasionally allowed to feel. Probably because anger produces adrenaline and adrenaline can be very useful. Whether you're tearing down a professional gridiron with two three-hundred-pound defensive ends on your tail, playing Mozart at Carnegie Hall, working complex calc problems at a desk, or navigating the wilds of uncharted jungles, adrenaline is a good thing to have on your side.
And of course, Malcolm and Maud knew that. They formulated our daily uppers and downers for optimal performance. They rewarded excellence with extravagant prizes called Grande Gongos and responded to failure with extreme punishments called Big Chops. And all emotions, like empathy, sadness, even joy, were failures. Pointless. Not for their little protégés.
Until Malcolm and Maud were gone. And I started making decisions for myself.
Now it's three months later, and yeah, I'm feeling things, all right. I'm feeling sorrow and excitement and nervousness. I'm feeling happiness and uncertainty and self-doubt. There's even a little bit of hopefulness sometimes. It's all emotion, all the time, and to be honest, sometimes I just want to down a whole mess of those pills again so I can have a little peace.
But the worst of all these new emotions is the fear. I can't stand feeling fear. And these days I'm afraid all the time. I'm afraid for my brother Matthew and what will happen to him. I'm afraid for my little brother, Hugo, and my twin brother, Harry, and what it will be like if we're thrown out of our apartment and tossed into foster homes and public schools. I don't even want to know what would happen if either one of them was faced with an actual bully. Harry would probably dissolve into a blubbering ball on the floor and get his butt kicked, while Hugo would probably—no, definitely—Hulk Out and tear whoever it was limb from limb. Then I'd have two brothers behind bars.
And of course I'm also terrified that I may never see James again.
James Rampling. The only boy I ever loved, and the one person (besides my older sister, Katherine, who died years ago) I could trust with all these emotions… if I had any idea where to find him.
That might be the worst fear of all—that I'll never get to experience true love again. The very thought makes my stomach clench, my heart pound, and my mind race.
See? Fear. I can't stand it. And if things don't calm down soon, it might be the one emotion that'll convince me to go back to being Maud and Malcolm's good little robot. To go back to the drugs.
To go back to being numb.
The cabdriver used both of his big fat feet when he drove, jamming on the brakes and the gas at the same time, making me sick. As the cab bucked to a stop at the light at Columbus Circle, my iPhone rang. I grabbed it from my bag.
C.P. Thank God.
After a lifetime of other kids thinking I was all robotic and weird, I actually had a friend at school. Claudia Portman, known as C.P., was a tarnished Queen Bee who was dethroned last year when she cheated on her finals and was ratted out by her clique-mates. Because of a massive donation by her parents to our school, she got to stay for our junior year, but she'd dumped her friends and become a self-defined loner until the day I was cleared of my parents' murders and she'd sat down with me at lunch. "Move over," she'd said. "We criminals gotta stick together."
And even though I wasn't a criminal, I laughed.
"Hey, T!" she said now by way of greeting. "Did you read it?"
"Read what?" I asked, still distracted after my conversation with Matthew. Hordes of people streamed out of the subway and crossed in front of my taxi.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about," she semiwhined. "Come on, Tandy, get with the program. I need to discuss this atrocity against the written word with someone!"
Right. The novel was another super-sexy purple-prose page-turner that was sweeping the planet in dozens of languages (some of which I'd already mastered). C.P. had downloaded the ebook to my tablet, but I had immediately deleted it, hoping she'd forget to ask what I thought. It wasn't exactly the kind of thing I enjoyed reading.
Suddenly, the driver stomped on the gas and the cab lurched forward, sending my stomach into my mouth.
"I'll get to it soon," I told C.P., "but you know it's not really my thing." We took a turn at roughly Mach 20, and I was glad I hadn't eaten since breakfast. "I'm almost home. Can I call you later?"
"Sure! But only if you've read at least fifty pages!" she replied.
I rolled my eyes and hung up.
Twelve nauseating blocks later, I paid the driver through the transom and disembarked on the corner of Seventy-Second and Central Park West, where the Dakota reigned. We lived at the top of the infamous co-op—infamous for housing the social elite and for being the site of a few high-profile murders over the last half century or so. Our apartment was nestled right under the intricate Victorian peaks and gables.
Our parents had been anything but Victorian in their decorating choices, though. They'd filled our home with everything from a winged piano to a UFO-shaped chandelier to a coffee table full of pygmy sharks (since freed), and dozens of other priceless—and strange—contemporary art items.
I huddled into my coat with the collar up, my face down, trying to evade the many photographers lined up near the gate so I could slip right through, but I never even got there. Harry blocked my way, his dark curls tossed by the frigid wind.
"Tandy, you're not going to believe this." He grabbed my arm and steered me down the sidewalk, holding me close to his side as we automatically matched our strides. "Adele Church. She's dead."
I turned to look at him. There wasn't a trace of mirth on his boyishly handsome face. Not that I was surprised. Harry wasn't a jokester or a liar. He wasn't even much of a storyteller.
"She can't be," I finally said. "I saw her this morning."
"She was shot about five minutes ago, Tandy. She's in the park. Her body, I mean. It's still there."
The whole world went fuzzy.
This was not happening. Not again.
"How did you—" I asked my brother, my mouth dry.
"No one told me," he said, digging around in his pocket. "I took this."
Harry showed me the picture on his phone. My already weakened stomach clenched, and I grabbed his arm to steady myself.
"Sorry," he said, gritting his teeth. "Should have warned you it was ugly."
"It's okay," I told him, clearing my throat. I turned and started for the park. "Let's go."
We sprinted across the broad expanse of Central Park West against the light and entered the park by a blacktop pathway. Harry steered me to the right, just past the pretzel cart Hugo lived for, and we ran the thirty yards through a tunnel of shade trees to John Lennon's memorial in Strawberry Fields, darting around strollers, joggers, and Rollerbladers.
It was clear where Adele's body was. The vultures were already circling. And by vultures, I mean press.
I elbowed through a group of Korean tourists wielding their camera phones and wedged open a sight line to the famous mosaic with the word Imagine set into the middle of a triangulated path.
Adele Church's body was right there, at dead center.
The blurry photo on Harry's phone had in no way prepared me for the reality. Adele was lying on her back as if she'd fallen from the sky. Black bullet holes had punched through her chest and stomach, and her white-and-pink plaid coat was drenched with blood. I was close enough to read Adele's expression as stark disbelief even as her wide-open blue eyes went dull from death.
Bile rose up in the back of my throat, bringing tears to my eyes. I turned to Harry and pressed my face into his shoulder, biting down hard on my lip as I tried not to cry.
This was one of those moments. One of those moments when I would have given anything not to feel. I couldn't wrap my brain around why anyone would want to kill sweet, totally innocuous Adele. I wanted to strangle every member of the growing crowd of tourists who were angling to get a better view of her poor broken body.
Most of all I wanted to scream at her to just get up. That this couldn't have happened. Not to someone I knew. Not to someone our age.
Not to one of the very few people at school who were occasionally nice to me.
"Take a breath, Tandy," Harry whispered, which was odd, considering he was usually the one on the verge of a nervous breakdown, not me. "Focus on something else. What do you think happened to her?"
Harry knew me so well. Piecing together evidence would focus me. It would make me feel like there was something I could do. I was all about productivity.
I turned to look at the body, trying to force myself into cool indifference, and drilled down deep into my analytic left brain.
"There's a lot of blood," I said under my breath. "She didn't die instantly. Three shots and her heart was still pumping after at least two of them. She knew what was happening. She knew she was—"
I paused and cleared my throat. I didn't want to go there.
"I wonder if she saw the shooter."
Harry frowned ponderously. He was about to ask me something when police sirens blew in bursts, startling everyone. The crowd separated as cruisers and unmarked cars streamed onto the scene of the crime. When the first cops to arrive got out of their gray Chevy, I froze. It was Sergeant Capricorn Caputo and his partner, Detective Ryan Hayes—the two cops who had been first on the scene of my parents' deaths.
Sergeant Caputo was tall and gangly, with a severe jawline, slick black hair, and an all-black wardrobe. Plus he was a total ass. He prided himself on being the tough guy, and his behavior could skew anywhere from rude to downright mean. Still, if you were as observant as I was, you might notice the checkered socks showing under the cuffs of his pants, which took the edge off his hard-core persona. While Detective Caputo was a general pain, he was focused. He lived his job.
His partner, Detective Hayes, was the opposite: a solid man, competent and kind, the sort of guy who put you totally at ease. Hayes was a good soul, and I was glad he would be on Adele's case, too. Even though, technically, he hadn't solved our parents' "murders."
"Sergeant Caputo!" I called.
He spotted me and narrowed his beady eyes, never taking them off my face as he picked his way carefully around Adele's body. "You're under arrest, Taffy."
Caputo had no problem remembering my name, but he loved to mess with me.
"Wow. Still going with that joke, huh? It stopped being funny about three months ago."
His gaze flicked over Harry, then back at me. "Please. You don't have a single funny bone in your entire skinny body."
I sighed. "So do you want to know what's going on here, or do you want to waste some more time coming up with lame nicknames?"
"You know this girl?" he asked, interested.
"Her name is Adele Church," I told him.
"We went to school with her," Harry added.
"What else do you know about Miss Church?" Caputo asked, flipping open his notebook and scribbling down her name.
"She was a sweet person," I said. "She lived up on Seventy-Ninth, I think. Her older brother graduated last year."
"She played the flute," said Harry. "And pretty much kicked ass in sociology."
"Any idea why someone would want to hurt her?" Caputo asked.
We heard more sirens with deeper whooping sounds as the coroner's van arrived. More cops were getting out of cruisers, stringing a yellow-tape perimeter around the body and shooing the onlookers back.
"Everyone liked her," I said. "I think she saw her killer, though. Maybe she knew him."
Caputo's face flattened with unsuppressed scorn. "I've got no time for your amateur-night theories, Tallulah."
"You know better than that, Caputo." I gave him my card. "I want to help."
He glanced at my card and scoffed. " 'Tandy Angel, Detective. Mysteries Solved. Case Closed,' " he read. "I was wrong. You're actually hilarious, T-bone." He glanced from me to Harry and pocketed the card. "Nice seeing you."
"You should call me," I shouted after him as he turned away. "Consultations are free for all clueless detectives named Caputo!"
He just kept walking.
"That man is going to break into our apartment and kill you in your sleep, you know," Harry said.
I smirked. "I'd like to see him try."
I may have seemed confident to Caputo and to Harry while I was handing over my card, but I wasn't. In fact, the second my card touched Caputo's chalky, dry fingers, something inside me swooped, like the way your heart feels when you jump off a bridge with nothing but a bungee cord tied to your feet.
Because that was when I realized: Maybe I wasn't a good detective. Not anymore.
Yes, even Capricorn Caputo would have to admit that without me, the mystery of my parents' deaths might never have been solved. But that was then. When I was still full of Num, Lazr, Focus, and other secret Angel Pharmaceuticals concoctions. Now that I was off the drugs, I was feeling everything, but did I still have the sharp and rational mind of an ace detective?
My grades seemed to indicate that I did. But anyone could get straight As. Most of the kids I knew were technical geniuses, if you believe in IQ scores. Even C.P. Probably even Adele. But something had been going on lately that was starting to seriously bother me.
I was having these dreams. Dreams about James. And whenever I woke up from one of these dreams, I had a hard time figuring out whether it was really a dream, or if it was actually a memory.
That's my deepest, darkest secret, my friend. I think my mind was starting to play tricks on me. And I had a feeling I knew who to blame. My parents. And Fern Haven. And that awful Dr. Narmond.
But that's a story for another time.
I looked at Harry as we walked back to the Dakota. Harry and I were both dark-eyed and dark-haired, and we were fiercely loyal to each other. Two people couldn't be tighter friends and confidants than we were. Still, I wished we had that twin telepathy thing you always hear about, but we didn't. Probably because aside from the superficial physical traits and the aforementioned loyalty, we couldn't have been less alike.
Harry was quiet. He was mopey. He had this tendency to slouch. He was asthmatic, and he slept long and late every day when he could. Harry was also kind.
Yes, much to my parents' disappointment, Harry was born an emo, and even though he was a world-class pianist who could bring an audience at Lincoln Center to tears, Malcolm and Maud described him as sensitive, sentimental, and weak. He had never won a Gongo or gotten a chop, and not even a billion emotion-quashing pills had ever dimmed a single ray of his brilliance.
According to me, he got major points for that.
I was Harry's flip side. I was up at dawn. I sometimes cooked elaborate breakfasts of apricot-and-chai oatmeal and fresh-squeezed orange juice before anyone else was even stretching their arms above their heads. I lived for a complex chemistry experiment and checked over my dad's financial books for fun—at least I had, back when he let me. I was known for being high-strung, and occasionally my sharpness was interpreted as, well, rudeness. I never danced around anything when I could cut to the chase, and no one had ever called me kind.
My parents gave me major points for that.
I'd also studied forensic science as a hobby since I was about six years old and had solved every mystery I'd ever read or seen on TV since I was eight. Now I just hoped I still had that talent. That quitting the drugs hadn't taken it from me.
Harry held the gate open for me, and we slipped inside the courtyard, ignoring the camera flashes popping all around us. Instead of thinking about me or Harry or Matthew, I thought about Adele. Adele, who listened well and laughed easily. Adele, who played in the orchestra and wore pink constantly and hung photos of composers and film directors in her locker. She could have gone on to do anything, be anyone, have a great big life.
Now she would never have another day. Another minute.
Call me crazy, but I wanted—no, I needed
"The complex, clever plot keeps the pages turning as it wends its way to a surprising resolution and several cliffhangers."—CommonSenseMedia.org
"Readers will be drawn inexorably into Tandy's world of paranoia and manipulation as they try to put the pieces together."
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