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By David Ellis
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Let's see what she has in her medicine cabinet. I mean, as long as I'm here.
Careful, though. Before you turn on the light, close the bathroom door. The rest of her apartment is dark. Best to keep it that way.
What do we have here…lotions, creams, moisturizers, lip balm, ibuprofen. What about the meds? Amoxicillin for a sinus infection…lorazepam for anxiety…
Diana has anxiety? What the heck does she have to be anxious about? She's the most put-together woman I know.
And what's this? Cerazette for…birth control. She's on the pill? Diana is on the pill? She never told me that. She isn't having sex with me. Not yet, anyway. So who is she having sex with?
Diana, every time I think I have you figured out, you remind me that you're a mystery. A mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma—Joe Pesci's line from JFK, though Winston Churchill first used it in a 1939 radio address to describe Russia. President Roosevelt, who grew very close to Churchill during the war, once wrote to him, It is fun to be in the same decade with you.
Diana, it is fun to be in the same decade with you. Now excuse me while I check out your bedroom closet.
Same drill: get inside, close the door, then turn on the light. Keep the light from filtering into the remainder of the condo.
Whoa. At least a hundred pairs of shoes, meticulously lined up. Stuart Weitzman stilettos. Black knee-high Manolo Blahnik alligator-skin boots. Roger Vivier heels with a satin-rose toe. Red Jimmy Choos. Pink Escada evening sandals. Black Chanel pumps, appropriate for the boardroom or a five-star restaurant.
Woodrow Wilson favored white dress shoes with his linen suits. Lincoln had the biggest presidential shoe, a size 14, while Rutherford B. Hayes had the smallest, a size 7.
You'll have to excuse me. Sometimes my mind wanders. Kind of like Moses through the desert. Except that he had a better excuse. And a speech impediment—unlike me, unless you count putting your foot in your mouth.
Anyway, that's a long story, so back to our regularly scheduled programming: Lady Diana's Closet. And what do we have here, hanging behind a row of dresses, hidden from all but the keenest of voyeurs? Hmm…
Leather vests and headgear. Chains and whips. Vibrators of various kinds and colors. One of them is purple and curved on the end (I'm not sure why). Most of them are shaped like the male organ, but some have appendages for some reason. There are some black beads on a string…what are those for? Nipple rings—I get that, I guess. Creams and lotions. A long yellow feather—
Then I hear it and see it and feel it all at once—movement across the carpet, brushing against my leg, circling me—
"Hey, Cinnamon," I say after the momentary terror dissipates and the prickling of my spine ceases. Diana's Abyssinian cat, three years old. The word Abyssinian is Ethiopian, but the origin of the breed is believed to be Egyptian. Isn't that weird? Abyssinians have bigger ears and longer tails than most cats. Their hair is lighter at the root than at the tip; only a handful of breeds have hair like that. I told Diana she should have named her cat Caramel, because it more accurately describes the color of her coat. Plus I just like caramel more than cinnamon, especially those candy chews.
Okay, time to get to work. I turn off the closet light before I open the door—still dark in the place. I feel like Paul Newman in Thief.
Start with the bedroom. There's a desk on one side, near the balcony. Next to it, a pair of electrical outlets. I plug the AC adapter into the lower outlet and drag the cord behind the window curtain toward the desk. It looks just like any other AC adapter for a computer or appliance. But it's a high-resolution, motion-activated video recorder with thirty-two hours of memory that will film the entire room in color. It can be switched to continuous recording if necessary, but motion activation is the smarter play here. I like this one because it doesn't need a battery, as it's plugged into the wall. And it doesn't transmit signals—it only records them to an SD card that can be played on a computer—so it wouldn't be detected in a bug sweep.
Keeping low, I move out of the bedroom into Diana's main living space, which has an open floor plan that encompasses a small kitchen area and a large living and dining area. Her place is on the top floor of a condo building in Georgetown, which means she's paying for location, not square footage.
I don't want to use another AC adapter; if one is discovered, the other will be found. Diversify, I say. But this one will be more complicated than plugging something into a wall, so I need my night-vision goggles—like the serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs, except I've never murdered anyone, much less skinned them.
Murder can be made to look like suicide, and suicide can be made to look like murder.
Tired of worrying about house fires and home intruders? Want to spy on your party guests while you protect them from unwanted smoke inhalation? Introducing Benjamin's functional all-in-one smoke detector and covert color camera. This easy-to-use gadget mounts to any ceiling and comes in three attractive colors to match any decor. Best of all, its 3.6-millimeter pinhole camera and audio microphone let you see and hear everything in the room. But that's not all: if you act now, we'll throw in a twelve-volt power adapter absolutely free!
Trust me, I'm not as normal as I seem.
Okay, all done. The kitchen looks the same as it did when I entered. I drop Diana's old smoke detector and my night-vision goggles into my gym bag and stop for a minute to make sure I haven't left anything behind.
I check my watch: it's 9:57 p.m. My instructions were to be done by ten. So I made it with three minutes to spare.
I reach for the doorknob and then it hits me—I've made a terrible mistake.
Paul Newman didn't star in Thief. It was James Caan.
How could I mix up Paul Newman and James Caan? Must be the nerves.
I lock up and move quickly down the hallway to the fire escape, accessible with a key. I pop the door open and slip into the night air just as I hear the ding of the elevator down the hallway.
I take the stairs down the fire escape, all six stories, at a slow pace, gripping the railing fiercely. I don't like heights. Presidents Washington and Jefferson wanted DC to be a "low city." I'm with them all the way.
In the 1890s, the Cairo Hotel was built on Q Street to a height of 164 feet, towering over its neighbors. In reaction to the uproar that followed, Congress passed a law called the Height of Buildings Act a few years later. But they amended the law in 1910, making it even more restrictive. Now the heights of buildings in the capital are limited to the width of the streets they face plus twenty feet. Most streets in DC are no wider than 110 feet, so most buildings are no higher than 130 feet, which usually means thirteen stories or fewer.
Still too high for me. I can't stand near ledges. I'm not so afraid of losing my balance or slipping. I'm afraid I'll jump.
When I reach the bottom, I walk through the parking lot and take the stairs up to the brick path that follows the C&O Canal. Diana lives on a tiny, two-block stretch of 33rd Street between the Potomac River to the south and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to the north. Hers is the last building before the dead end at the canal, so it's a secluded walk for me as I come around to the front of her building again.
It's sticky-hot outside in August. The capital was built on swampland, and our humidity is unbearable this time of year. I don't blame Congress for staying away.
Two younger guys are standing outside the loft building across the street, smoking cigarettes and checking out my bike.
"Sweet ride," one of them says. He's small and mangy, like Joaquin Phoenix in To Die For—Nicole Kidman's breakout role, in my opinion, in which she showed for the first time she could carry a movie.
"You like it?" I ask. I do, too. It's a 2009 Triumph America. Dual overhead cams, 865-cc, twin four-stroke engine, twin reverse cone pipes, phantom black with chrome detail. Yes, like the one Colin Farrell drove in Daredevil. I'm not saying I bought it for that reason. Not saying I didn't. But yeah, it's a pretty sweet ride.
"You get this thing out on the open road much?" the guy asks me.
Colin Farrell was terrific in Phone Booth. I liked that cop movie he did with Edward Norton and that futuristic movie he did with Tom Cruise, Minority Report. He's underrated as an actor. He should do a movie with Nicole Kidman.
"Yeah, I try to stretch her legs when I can," I tell the guy. I'm not supposed to be advertising my presence here, and yet here I am chatting up a couple of guys about my bike.
I look up into the darkness at Diana's apartment, at the triangular brick balcony that juts out over 33rd Street. The balcony serves more as a garden than anything else. The ledges on the sides are all lined with potted plants and flowers, and some small trees sit on the balcony floor, all of which she treats with loving care.
A light has gone on inside her apartment, illuminating the kitchen window.
"What do you got on the front there?" the guy asks me, kicking my front wheel.
"A 110/90 ME880," I say. "I like to ride with 880s front and back."
Diana's home already? That's…interesting.
"Cool," says the guy. "My tire guy doesn't do Metzelers. I've been running Avons all these years."
I look back at the guy. "They handle pretty well so far."
He asks me for the name of my tire guy. I tell him while he scribbles it down on a scrap of paper. Then I jump on the bike and take one last look up at Diana's balcony. Good night, Lady Di—
"No!" I cry.
A body is in free fall from Diana's balcony, plunging headfirst six stories to the ground. I close my eyes and turn away, but I can't close my ears to the sickening whump of a body hitting the bricks, of bones snapping and crunching.
I jump off my bike and sprint toward her. No. It can't be. It can't be her—
"Did you see that?"
I reach her second, after two women, from a car in the circular driveway, have jumped out and knelt down beside her.
Oh, Diana. Her body lies just short of the street, spread-eagled and facedown. Her luminous hair spills over her crushed face and onto the curb. Blood runs over the curb onto the street. I stand by the two women, looking over their shoulders at the only woman I've ever—
Why, Diana? Why would you do this to yourself?
"Did anyone see what happened?" someone shouts.
"That was Diana's balcony!" someone running toward the building shouts.
A crowd has quickly gathered. Nobody can do anything but stare at her, as though she were a museum object. She is—I can't say the word, but she isn't breathing, her body has been crushed, she…isn't alive.
Leave her alone, I say in my head, maybe out loud, too. Give her space. Let her have some dignity.
At least it's dark, which, mercifully, shrouds her in a semblance of privacy. You can't see her damaged face, can't see the pain. It is, in a strange way, consistent with Diana's fierce pride that she would hide her broken face from the public even in death.
Somebody asks about an ambulance. Then ten people at once are on their cell phones. I sit back on my haunches, helpless. There is nothing I can do for her. Then I see, to my right, between the feet of some onlookers, pieces of a broken clay pot and dirt. I even detect a whiff of cinnamon. I look up at her balcony again, not that I can see anything from this angle in the dark. Must be her apple geraniums, which she kept in pots outside during the summer, near the tip of the triangular balcony overlooking the street.
I pull back and part the growing crowd of people, moving back onto 33rd Street, suddenly unable to be part of their morbid curiosity.
I turn and vomit on the street. Before I know it, I'm on all fours on the pavement.
Diana's hand on my cheek. Diana giggling when she spilled creamer all over herself at that new coffee shop on M Street. Diana showing me her hair a month ago, when she dyed it brown, wondering what I thought, caring about my opinion. That look she had when something was on her mind but she didn't want to say anything. Turning and looking at me, realizing it's me, and smiling. Smiling that carefree smile but maybe not so carefree. She was taking lorazepam, you idiot; how did you miss that? How did you miss the signs?
She needed my help and I wasn't there for her. I didn't take the steps necessary to be proactive. It never occurred to me that suicide could be an option.
Murder can be made to look like suicide, and suicide can be made to look like murder.
The apple geraniums.
"—dude's freaking out over here!"
Run, Benjamin, run.
Sirens now, flashing lights cutting through the darkness, sucking away the air—
"Hold steady," I coach myself. "Hold steady, Benjamin." I take a deep breath and get to my feet.
"Okay." I jump on my motorcycle and speed away.
I avoid the highway and take Independence home because I don't trust myself to drive my bike at a high speed right now. I keep my motorcycle steady and don't try to pass anybody. I'm looking through cloudy, tear-soaked eyes, and my hands are trembling so feverishly I can hardly keep my grip.
Independence is a slightly more direct route—4.44 miles door-to-door, to be precise, compared to 4.8 miles on the highway—but it's slightly longer, 15.8 minutes compared to 13.2. This time of night, with traffic more sparse, the gap should narrow. Over the last nine months, the Independence route has varied from twenty-two minutes and eighteen seconds to eleven minutes and five seconds, but I've never been able to compare the routes during rush hour because Constitution and Independence have turn restrictions those times of day, so I have to adjust the route, and that obviously throws the comparisons out the window. Like apples to oranges. Oranges to apples.
Fiona Apple should be a bigger star. She should be as popular as Amy Winehouse was. They remind me of each other, those throaty, soulful voices, but Fiona never seemed to take off after "Criminal." Not that Amy fared much better, ultimately.
Yeah, the way my mind wanders? It gets worse when I get stressed. Dr. Vance had a fancy phrase for it—adrenaline-induced emotional sanctuary—but I always thought he was just trying to justify all the money my father was paying him to "fix" me. It took me a long time before I figured out that I suffered from "Pater Crudelis" disorder.
I take Pennsylvania within a block of the White House and, like everything, like a song or a tree or oxygen, it makes me think of Diana. He's so talented, she'd said of the president. He understands what we're trying to do like nobody before him.
Oh, Diana. Intelligent, caring, idealistic Diana. Did you do this to yourself? Did somebody kill you? Neither possibility makes sense.
But I'm going to figure it out. It's what I do for a living, right?
An oncoming SUV honks at me as it passes me in the other direction on Constitution. Only two presidents signed the Constitution, Washington and Madison. Madison was also the shortest president. And the first to have previously served in the United States Cong—
I swerve to avoid the Mazda RX-7 in front of me, gripping the brakes with all the strength my hands can muster. I end up sideways, perpendicular to the cars at my front and rear. Red light means stop, Ben. Focus! You can do this.
Benjamin, the sooner you learn your limitations, the better.
You're not like everyone else, Benjamin. You never were. Even before—well, even before everything happened with your mother.
You'll have plenty of time to make friends when you grow up.
Diana was my friend. And she could have been much more. She would have been.
I can do this. I just need to take some medicine. I just need to get home.
Light turns green. I right the bike and move forward.
Diana Marie Hotchkiss. Marie was her aunt's name; Diana was her grandmother's name. Born January 11, 1978, in Madison, Wisconsin, played volleyball and softball, won the award for outstanding Spanish student from Edgewood High School of the Sacred Heart, from which she graduated in 1995—
Honking; someone's honking at me for something I did; what did I do?
"Shut up and leave me alone!" I yell, not that I expect a response from the car behind me—or that they'll even hear me.
"Pull your motorcycle over and kill the engine!" booms a voice through a loudspeaker.
I look in my rearview mirror and notice for the first time the flashing lights. It's not an angry motorist.
It's a cop.
This should be interesting.
I pull my motorcycle to the side of Constitution and kill the engine.
The first reported murder of a cop was in 1792 in New York in what is now the South Bronx. The perpetrator was a guy named Ryer, from a prominent farming family, who was involved in a drunken brawl at the time. Want to hear the funny part?
"How we doing tonight?" says the cop, walking over to me. I'm illuminated by the searchlight from his car, which he's trained on me.
The funny part is that one of the police precincts in the Bronx is located on Ryer Avenue, named after that same family.
I give him my license and registration. He probably already traced my plates. He already knows who I am.
"You wanna take off your helmet, sir?"
Actually, no, I don't. But I do it anyway. He takes a long look in my eyes. It can't be a pretty sight.
"Do you know why I pulled you over, Mr. Casper?"
Because you can? Because you have the power to stop, frisk, search, seize, and arrest pretty much whoever you want whenever the mood strikes you? Because you're a constipated, impotent, Napoleonic transvestite?
"I lost control back there a bit," I concede.
"You just about caused an accident," he says. He has a handlebar mustache. Is this cop on loan from the Village People?
I don't favor facial hair, but even if I did, I wouldn't shape it like a handlebar. I'd probably go with the two-day stubble Don Johnson wore in Miami Vice. That would be cool.
"You crossed the centerline three times in one block," he says.
I decide to exercise my right against self-incrimination. And pray that he doesn't ask me what's in my bag—like night-vision goggles or a used smoke alarm or some rudimentary tools. Or the body frosting I took from Diana's closet.
I need to get home. I need time to think, to figure this out.
"Have you been drinking tonight, sir?"
He's standing pretty close to me. One of the hazards of pulling over a motorcyclist. I could reach over in jest and grab his baton or the handcuffs on his belt, maybe his holstered weapon, before he could say doughnut. He probably wouldn't think it's funny.
But if he gets too inquisitive, I might not be joking. I may have mentioned that sometimes I don't trust myself.
"Sober as a priest," I answer. Actually, my priest when I was growing up, Father Calvin, was a raging alcoholic.
"Something upsetting you tonight?" he asks.
Well, the night started off okay, when I successfully planted surveillance equipment in the home of the woman I love. It took a turn for the worse when she later plummeted to her death. HOW DOES THAT SOUND, COP?
"Fight with my girlfriend," I explain. "Sorry about my riding. I was just a little worked up. I'm totally sober and I'll drive home carefully. I'm on the Hill, just five minutes away."
I can play normal when I have to. He looks me over for a while, watches my eyes, and then tells me to sit tight. He takes my license and registration back to his vehicle. He isn't going to find anything interesting. I don't have a criminal record—not one that he'd find, anyway.
Ulysses S. Grant was once stopped for speeding on his horse. The fine was twenty dollars and he insisted on paying it. Franklin Pierce was once arrested for hitting an old lady with his horse, but the charges were dropped.
"You're a reporter," the cop informs me when he returns. "The Capital Beat. I've read your stuff before. Thought I recognized the name."
Actually, I'm the White House correspondent, and I also own the company. The benefits of having a wealthy grandfather. Does that mean he won't write me a ticket?
Nope. He cites me for reckless driving and crossing the centerline. It seems duplicative to me, but now is not the time to engage in a debate about logic. I just want him to let me go, which he's going to do, albeit with tickets for moving violations. That's the good news. The other good news is that, in a bizarre way, this cop has calmed me down, forced me somewhere toward normal.
The bad news is that now I've been placed near Diana's building within an hour of her death.
I don't sleep but I dream: of a gun on a bathroom floor; of a woman prone on a sidewalk; of blood spatter on a shower curtain; of vacant, lifeless eyes; of a scream nobody can hear; of a blood droplet in free fall, taking the shape of a sphere before striking a surface without a sound.
"Diana," I say aloud. My head pops up. I get up from the second-floor landing and rush downstairs. Did I hear her voice?
I check the kitchen, the family room, the bathroom.
Outside, the darkness is gently dissolving. Dawn. Seven hours have passed in what felt like seven decades, torturous, agonizing. My body is covered in sweat and my pulse is just starting to slow. My limbs ache and I'm breathing as if someone is standing on my chest.
I race to the front door and look through the keyhole: a white panel truck is parked directly outside my town house. Coincidence? A couple of joggers are running through Garfield Park, across the street. My neighbor's giant schnauzer, Oscar, is urinating on my brick walkway. Giant schnauzers freak me out. People should only have the small kind. They don't make sense being that tall. They remind me of Wilford Brimley for some reason. That guy's been sixty years old my entire life.
President Johnson had at least three dogs, mostly beagles, including two he named Him and Her. George Washington kept foxhounds, but he loved all dogs. During the Battle of Germantown, his troops came upon a terrier that belonged to British general Howe, his sworn enemy. His troops wanted to keep it as a trophy, but Washington bathed it, fed it, and then called a cease-fire so that one of his men could return the pooch to his owner across enemy lines under a flag of truce. FDR had a dog he took every—
Just then, a kid appears out of nowhere and hurls a newspaper at my front door.
I duck down, which makes no sense, then silently curse Paper Boy—he'll get his, one day soon—and then decide that I should probably have taken my medicine last night. But no time for that now. I need to get out of here.
First I need to shower, because I stink with sweat and that vanilla body frosting from Diana's closet. I think you're supposed to have somebody else in the room when you use it. Calvin Coolidge liked to have Vaseline rubbed on his head while he ate breakfast in bed. "Vasoline" is second only to "Interstate Love Song" as the Stone Temple Pilots' best song. I probably should have taken a pill last night, but I don't like the side effects, which include mild nausea, ringing in the ears, and, oh yeah, impotence. It keeps you from getting down, and it keeps you from getting it up.
Not that impotence is my number one problem right now. You need another person in the room for that endeavor, too, last I checked. I've had sex with eight women a total of ninety-nine times. The shortest encounter, from foreplay to climax, was three minutes and roughly fourteen seconds. I say roughly because sometimes it's a little awkward to go straight to the stopwatch afterward, so you estimate: it takes five seconds to withdraw and between five and ten seconds to pay her a compliment before checking your wrist discreetly.
- PRAISE FOR JAMES PATTERSON:
"The prolific Patterson seems unstoppable."
- "James Patterson knows how to sell thrills and suspense in clean, unwavering prose."—People
- "Patterson's novels are sleek entertainment machines, the Porsches of commercial fiction, expertly engineered and lightning fast."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Mar 11, 2014
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- Grand Central Publishing