The Beach House

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By James Patterson

By Peter de Jonge

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When New York law student Jack Mullen learns that his brother has drowned, he knows it can’t be an accident . . .

Jack Mullen is in law school in New York City when the shocking news comes that his brother Peter has drowned in the ocean off East Hampton. Jack knows his brother and knows this couldn’t be an accident; someone must have wanted his brother dead. But the powers that be say otherwise. As Jack tries to uncover details of his brothers last night, he confronts a barricade of lawyers, police, and paid protectors who separate the multibillionaire summer residents from local workers like Peter.

Soon he discovers that Peter wasn’t just parking cars at the summer parties of the rich. He was making serious money satisfying the sexual needs of the richest women and men in town. The Beach House reveals the secret lives of celebrities in a breathtaking drama of revenge-with a finale so shocking that only James Patterson could have written it.

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For Pete & Chuck
P. de J.
 
For Jack, the big boy
J. P.

 

 

Prologue
PETER RABBIT

 

 

1
IT’S LIKE DANCING SITTING DOWN. Squeeze—tap—release—twist. Left hand—right foot—left hand—right hand.
Everything unfolds in perfect sequence and rhythm, and every time I twist back the heated, gummy, rubber-covered throttle, the brand-new, barely broke in, 628-pound, 130-horsepower BMW K1200 motorcycle leaps forward like a thoroughbred under the whip.
And another snapshot of overpriced Long Island real estate blurs by.
It’s Thursday night, Memorial Day weekend, fifteen minutes from the start of the first party in what promises to be another glorious season in the Hamptons.
And not just any party. The party. The intimate $200,000 get-together thrown every year by Barry Neubauer and his wife, Campion, at their $40 million beach house in Amagansett.
And I’m late.
I toe it down to fourth gear, yank the throttle back again, and now I’m really flying. Parting traffic on Route 27 like Moses on a Beemer.
My knees are pressed tight against the sleek, dark blue gas tank, my head tucked so low out of the wind that it’s almost between them.
It’s a good thing this little ten-mile stretch between Montauk and Amagansett is as straight and flat as a drag strip, because by the time I pass those tourist clip joints—Cyril’s, the Clam Bar, and LUNCH—the needle’s pointing at ninety.
It’s also a good thing I used to be in the same home-room as Billy Belnap. As the most belligerent juvenile delinquent at East Hampton High, Billy was a lock to end up on the payroll of the East Hampton Police Department. Even though I can’t see him, I know he’s there, tucked behind the bushes in his blue-and-white squad car, trolling for speeders and polishing off a bag of Dressen’s doughnuts.
I flick him my brights as I rip by.

 

 

2
YOU WOULDN’T THINK a motorcycle is a place for quiet reflection. And as a rule, I don’t go in for much of it anyway, preferring to leave the navel gazing for big brother Jack, the Ivy League law student. But lately I’ve been dredging up something different every time I get on the bike. Maybe it’s the fact that on a motorcycle, it’s just you and your head.
Or maybe it’s got nothing to do with the bike, and I’m just getting old.
I’m sorry to have to confess, I turned twenty-one yesterday.
Whatever the reason, I’m slaloming through bloated SUVs at ninety miles per hour and I start to think about growing up out here, about being a townie in one of the richest zip codes on earth.
A mile away on the Bluff, I can already see the party lights of the Neubauer compound beaming into the perfect East End night, and I experience that juiced-up feeling of anticipation I always get at the beginning of another Hamptons summer.
The air itself, carrying a salty whiff of high tide and sweet hyacinth, is ripe with possibility. A sentry in a white suit gives me a toothy grin and waves me through the cast-iron gates.
I wish I could tell you that the whole place is kind of tacky and crass and overreaching, but in fact it’s quite understated. Every once in a while, the rich will confuse you that way. It’s the kind of parcel that, as real estate brokers put it, comes on the market every couple of decades—twelve beautifully landscaped acres full of hedges and hidden gardens sloping to a pristine, white sand beach.
At the end of the white-pebble driveway is a 14,000-square-foot shingled mansion with ocean views from every room except, of course, the wine cellar.
Tonight’s party is relatively small—fewer than 180 people—but everyone who matters this season is here. It’s themed around Neubauer’s just-announced $1.4 billion takeover of Swedish toymaker Bjorn Boontaag. That’s why the party’s on Thursday this year, and only the Neubauers could get away with it.
Walking among the cuddly stuffed lions and tigers that Bjorn Boontaag sells by the hundreds of thousands are a gross of the most ferocious cats in the real-life jungle: rainmakers, raiders, hedge-fund hogs, and the last of the IPO Internet billionaires, most of whom are young enough to be some CEO’s third wife. I note the Secret Service men wandering the grounds with bulging blazers and earphones, and I figure there must also be a handful of senators. And scattered like party favors are the hottest one-name fashion designers, rappers, and NBA all-stars the professional party consultant could rustle up.
But don’t be too jealous. I’m not on the guest list, either.
I’m here to park cars.

 

 

3
I’VE BEEN WORKING at the Beach House since I was thirteen, mostly odd jobs, but parking cars is the easiest gig of all. Just one little flurry at the beginning and end. Nothing but downtime in between.
I’m a little late, so I jump off my bike and get to work. In twenty minutes I fill an out-of-the-way field with four neat rows of $80,000 European sedans. They glisten in the silvery moonlight like metallic plants. A bumper crop.
A parking high point is when a burgundy Bentley the size of a yacht stops at my feet and my favorite New York Knickerbocker, Latrell Sprewell, climbs out, presses a twenty in my palm, and says, “Be gentle, my brother.”
The rush over, I get myself a Heinie and a plateful of appetizers, and sit down on the grass beside the driveway. This is the life. I’m savoring my sushi and cheese puffs when a black-jacketed waiter I’ve never seen before hustles up. With a wink, wink, nod, nod kind of smile, he stuffs a scrap of rose-colored stationery in my shirt pocket.
It must have been pickled in perfume. A pungent cloud hits my nostrils when I unfold it. Shalimar, if I’m not mistaken.
The note itself, however, couldn’t be more cut and dried. Three letters, three numbers: I Z D 2 3 5.
I slip away from the house and walk back through the fields of shining metal until I find them on a New York license plate screwed into the svelte behind of a forest green Benz convertible.
I slide into the front passenger seat and start pushing buttons to make myself feel welcome. With a comforting whir, windows drop into doors, the roof parts, and Dean Martin’s wiseass baritone pours out of a dozen speakers.
I check behind the visor. Nothing.
Then I fish around in the compartment between the seats. Inside a Robert Marc sunglasses case is a long, thin joint dressed up with a pink ribbon. I spark it up and blow a yellowish wreath across the full moon.
I’m thinking this isn’t half bad—getting baked as Dino confides about a French lady named Mimi—when a hand clamps down on my shoulder.
“Hi, Frank,” I say without even bothering to twist around in my cushy leather chair.
“Hey, Rabbit,” says Frank, reaching through the window for the joint. “Get laid yet?”
Frank is Frank Volpi, chief detective with the East Hampton Police Department and the only cop you’re likely to see sporting a platinum Rolex. Then again, Volpi logged two tours of duty in Vietnam before tackling crime in his own backyard. So you could argue that he has it coming.
“You know me, Frank. I don’t kiss and tell.”
“Since when?”
“Why, gee, since last night with your wife.”
This distinctly male excuse for conversation continues until the joint is burning our fingertips. Then Frank staggers off into the fragrant night, and I sit tight with Dino in the Benz.
The phone rings. It’s a woman. She whispers, “Peter, did you enjoy your gift?”
“Just what the doctor ordered. Thanks,” I say in a return whisper.
“I’d rather you thank me in person on the beach.”
“How will I know it’s you?”
“Take a flier, Peter. You’ll know me when you see me.”
I push a few more buttons, chat with a couple of operators who couldn’t be nicer, and finally I’m talking to my good pal Lumpke. He’s in grad school, getting a Ph.D. in sculpture. Maybe it’s not going too well, because Lump sounds cranky.
Of course, it’s four in the morning in Paris.
I batten down the Benz and slowly make my way down to the beach. I know I’ve already told you how outrageously beautiful this place is, but I don’t think I’ve done it justice. Every time I’m here, it amazes me. I’m sure I appreciate it more than Barry and Campion Neubauer do.
As I get closer to the beach, I think for the first time about who might be waiting for me. It wouldn’t have been hard to figure out whose voice was on the car phone. All I had to do was open the glove compartment and look at the registration, but that would have spoiled the surprise.
The thrill of the Beach House is that there’s no telling. She could be fifteen or fifty-five. She could arrive alone or with a friend, or a husband.
Rose-colored stationery. Shalimar. Hmmmm. I might know who sent me the note.
I sit down in the sand about twenty yards above from where the waves are breaking. The sloppy remains of Hurricane Gwyneth, which battered Cape Hatteras for a week, just hit the Hamptons this morning. The surf is huge and loud, and sounds pissed off.
So loud that I don’t hear them approaching from behind until they’re on top of me. The shortest and stockiest of the three, with a shaved dome and Oakley shades, kicks me full in the chest.
The kick breaks a couple of ribs and knocks the wind out of me. I think I recognize one of them, but it’s dark and I can’t be sure. My panic is growing with each professionally aimed kick and punch. Then the dark realization sinks in that these guys haven’t been sent here just to teach me a lesson. This is a whole lot more serious.
I start punching and kicking back with everything I’ve got, and I finally break free.
I’m running and screaming at the top of my lungs, hoping that someone on the beach will hear me, but the reef drowns out my cries. One of the guys catches me from behind and brings me down hard. I hear a bone snap—mine. Then all three of them are whaling on me, one punch or kick landing on top of the next. Without stopping, one of them snorts, “Take that, Peter fucking Rabbit!”
Suddenly, about thirty yards away behind some bushes, a flash goes off. And then another.
That’s when I know I’m going to die.
And for whatever it’s worth, I even know who my killer is.


 

 

Part One
THE SUMMER
ASSOCIATE

 

 

Chapter 1
EVEN BY THE HEADY NORM of millennial boomtown Manhattan, where master craftsmen paint frescoes on subway walls, the new law offices of Nelson, Goodwin and Mickel were over the top. If the great downtown courthouses around Broadway were palaces of justice, the gleaming forty-eight-story tower at 454 Lexington Avenue was a monument to winning.
My name is Jack Mullen, and as a summer associate at Nelson, Goodwin, I guess I was winning, too. Still, it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I entered Columbia Law School at the advanced age of twenty-six. But when a second-year student with $50,000 in college loans is offered a summer position at the most prestigious firm in the city, he doesn’t turn it down.
The phone started ringing the instant I stepped into my small office.
I picked up.
Female operator on tape: “You have a collect call from Huntsville, Texas, from…”
Male voice, also recorded: “The Mudman.”
Female operator again on tape: “If you wish to accept, please say yes or push the number—”
“Yes, absolutely,” I interrupted. “Mudman, how are you?”
“Not bad, Jack, except maybe for the fact that the state of Texas is pissing its pants at the thought of putting me down like a dog.”
“Dumb question.”
The surprisingly high-pitched voice at the other end of the line belonged to outlaw biker Billy “Mudman” Simon, and it was coming from the pay phone in Huntsville Prison’s death row. Mudman was there waiting for the lethal injection that would put him to death for murdering his teenage girlfriend nineteen years earlier.
Mudman is no saint. He admits to all manner of misdemeanors and an occasional felony during his run in the Houston chapter of the Diablos. But killing Carmina Velasquez, he says, wasn’t one of them.
“Carmina was a great woman,” the Mudman told me the first time I interviewed him. “One of my best friends in this miserable world. But I was never in love with her. So why would I kill her?”
His letters, trial transcripts, and records of repeated failed attempts to win a new trial were dropped on my desk three days after I started working for the firm. After two weeks decoding every wildly misspelled word, contorted phrase, and hundreds of footnotes painstakingly transcribed in tiny block letters that looked as if they had come from the unsteady hand of a grade-schooler, I was convinced he was telling the truth.
And I liked him. He was smart and funny, and he didn’t feel sorry for himself, despite a truckload of reasons why he should. Ninety percent of the convicts on death row were as good as screwed the day they were born, and Mudman, with his deranged junkie parents, was no different.
Nevertheless, he had no enthusiasm for blaming them for what had happened.
“They did their best, like everyone else,” he said the one time I mentioned them. “Their best sucked, but let ’em rest in peace.”
Rick Exley, my supervisor on the project, couldn’t have cared less about Mudman’s character or my rookie intuition. What mattered to him was that there were no witnesses to Velasquez’s murder and that the Mudman had been convicted completely on the basis of blood and hair samples from the crime scene. That all happened before the forensic breakthrough of DNA testing. It meant we had a reasonable chance to be granted our request that blood and hair samples be taken to confirm that they matched the DNA of the physical evidence held in a vault somewhere in Lubbock.
“I’d hate to get your hopes up for nothing, but if the state lets us test, we could get a stay of execution.”
“Don’t ever worry about getting my hopes up for nothing, Jack. Where I’m at, insane hope is welcome anytime. Bring ’em on.”
I was trying not to get too excited myself. I knew this pro bono project, with the pompous name of “the Innocence Quest,” was primarily a PR stunt and that Nelson,
Goodwin and Mickel didn’t build forty-eight stories in midtown by looking out for the innocent poor on death row.
Still, when the Mudman was cut off after his allotted fifteen minutes, my hands were shaking.

 

 

Chapter 2
I WAS STILL MARVELING at how well the Mudman was bearing up when Pauline Grabowski, one of Nelson, Goodwin’s top investigators, stuck her head in my office. To introduce the new recruits to the unique resources of the firm, Grabowski had been assigned to Mudman’s case and had spent the past two weeks sussing out things in East Texas.
Grabowski, who was renowned for her resourcefulness and was said to have made as much as a junior partner, carried her reputation lightly. Somehow she’d carved out a niche for herself in this male bastion without being overtly aggressive. She was low-key but straightforward. Although attractive in a captain-of-the-soccer-team way, she did nothing to draw attention to it. She wore no makeup or jewelry, except for earrings, pulled her dark brown hair back in a hasty ponytail, and seemed to wear the same tailored blue suit every day. Actually, I liked her looks just fine.
What gave her such style was the way the simplicity of everything else in her appearance contrasted with her tattoo. Rather than a discreet, dainty turtle or butterfly, Pauline had the indelible mark of the Chrysler Building on her right arm.
It started just below her right shoulder and extended for several inches, to her elbow. It was rendered in a lustrous gold that caught the light bouncing off the spire, and in such detail that it included a winged gargoyle scowling down at the metropolis. According to rumor, it had taken six eight-hour sessions.
When I asked her why she felt so strongly about a sky-scraper, her brown eyes flashed as if to say I didn’t get it. “It’s about people choosing to make something beautiful,” she said. “Plus, my grandfather worked on a Chrysler assembly line for thirty-eight years. I figured he helped build it.”
Pauline sat on the edge of my desk and told me that Stanley Higgins, the prosecutor in Mudman’s case, had sent six men to death row from one little Texas county. He’d retired recently, mainly to a redbrick bar in a working-class section of Amarillo. “According to some nice people who befriended me there, Higgins has a serious drinking problem. Approximately every night, he spouts off about his career as a prosecutor and what he calls ‘Higgins’s justice.’ I should probably make another trip before he parties himself to death.”
“Is this what you do all day? Collect voir dire on the enemies of Nelson, Goodwin and Mickel?”
She smiled, and it was hard not to join in with her.
“You can use the Latin if you like, but I call it dirt.
There’s no lack of it out there, young Jack.”
“Not as young as you might think. Mind if I ask what you do in your spare time?”
“Garden,” Pauline said, straight-faced.
"Seriously?”
"Cactus, mainly. So be careful, Jack. Besides, I hear
you’re spoken for. Private investigator, remember?”

 

 

Chapter 3
AT 9:20 THAT FRIDAY EVENING, I grabbed my backpack and descended by elevator, escalator, and stairs, each a little grittier than the one before, until I reached a subway platform beneath Grand Central Terminal. The MTA shuttled me west and south to Penn Station, and I high-stepped it over to the track that would take me to Long Island. I caught the last train out.
Every car would soon be cheek by jowl with frisky young urbanites headed for the summer’s first big Hamptons weekend, but I was early enough to claim a window seat. I slipped a CD into my Discman and hunkered down for the creaking three-hour ride to where the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road dead-end.
Montauk.
Home.
Minutes before the train lurched out, a kid who looked like a college freshman going home for the summer, all his dirty laundry and worry squeezed into one huge bag, sank into the seat across from mine.
Five minutes later he was asleep, a dog-eared paperback of The Red Badge of Courage hanging perilously from the pocket of his Old Navy tech vest. The book had also been a favorite of mine, and I reached over and tucked it safely back in.
Looking at the kid, who was tall and gawky with one of those mustache-goatees a nineteen-year-old sprouts with anxious pride, I was reminded of all the trips I made back home on that same train. Often I traveled in total defeat. Other times I was just looking to rest and refill my wallet, laboring for my old man’s little construction company if he had enough work or, more often when he didn’t, repainting the hulls at Jepson’s Boatyard. But for five years I never made the trip without a nameless dread of what the future held.
It made me realize how much better things had gotten.
I had just finished my second year at Columbia and made Law Review the semester before. I’d parlayed that into the associate gig, where I made more in a week than in a summer humping two-by-fours or repainting hulls.
And then there was Dana, who’d be waiting for me at the train. I’d been going out with her for almost a year, but it still amazed me. Part of it was her last name, Neubauer. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Her parents owned one of the biggest privately held companies in the world, and one of the great summer houses on the eastern seaboard.
I started dating her the summer before, when I was working at Jepson’s. She had stopped by to check on her father’s luxo-cruiser. I don’t know what got into me—but I asked her out. I guess she liked the rich girl–working boy scenario, and I probably did, too. Mostly, though, I liked Dana: she was smart, funny, centered, and focused. She was also easy to talk to, and I trusted her. Best of all, she wasn’t a snob or a typical spoiled rich kid, which was some kind of miracle, given her pedigree.
Eastward ho! The old train rattled on, stopping at all the suburban sprawl towns with their 7-Elevens and Indian names like Patchogue and Ronkonkoma, where my tired college pal got off. Real towns. Not the weekend-tourist villages those on board couldn’t wait to cavort in.
I apologize if my yuppie tirade is wearing thin, particularly since I had on the same kind of clothes and my prospects were probably better than most. But one difference between us was that for me, Montauk and the Hamptons were real places, not just a way of keeping a conversation going in a singles bar.
It’s where my brother and I were born. Where our mother died too young. And where our octogenarian hipster grandfather showed no sign of slowing down.
Half the passengers scrambled out in Westhampton.
The rest got off a couple of stops later, in East Hampton.
When the train finally wheezed to a stop in Montauk right on time at four minutes past midnight, I was the only one left in my car.
And something outside the window seemed very wrong.

 

 

Chapter 4
MY FIRST THOUGHT was that there were too many people waiting to meet the train at that hour.
I stepped off expecting to see Dana’s Range Rover in the middle of the black, empty lot and Dana sitting cross-legged on the still-warm hood all by her lonesome.
But Dana was standing right there at the end of the well-lit platform, and she didn’t seem happy to see me. Her eyes were swollen and she looked as if she’d been crying for days.
More alarming was that my father and grandfather were with her. My father, who never looks all that good these days, was ashen-faced. My grandfather looked hurt and angry, a pissed-off eighty-six-year-old Irishman looking for someone to punch.
Off to the side were an East Hampton cop named Billy Belnap and a young reporter from the East Hampton Star scribbling feverishly in a notebook. Behind them the pulsing red bar of Belnap’s cruiser streaked the scene with the cold-blooded light of catastrophe.
The only one missing was my brother, Peter. How could that be? Peter had spent his whole life careening from one near disaster to the next with hardly a scratch. When Peter was five, a neighbor found him lying unconscious on top of his bicycle on the side of the road. Our neighbor carried him to our house and laid him on the couch. We were about to call the ambulance when Peter sat up, as if from a nap. That was also the year he kept falling out of trees.
But now the faces on the platform were telling me that my brother, Peter, with his risky combination of carelessness and balls, had run out of lives. He’d driven his motorcycle off the Shadmoor Cliffs, or fallen asleep in bed smoking a cigarette, or chased a ball into traffic and gotten run over like a golden retriever.
My legs went weak as Dana wrapped her arms around my neck and put her wet face against mine. “Jack, I’m so sorry. It’s Peter. Oh, Jack, I’m sorry.”
After Dana let go, I hugged my father, but it just wouldn’t take. He was too far gone into his own pain and misery. We were both mumbling words that couldn’t express what we were feeling.
Thank God for Mack,

Genre:

On Sale
Jun 10, 2002
Page Count
368 pages
ISBN-13
9780316969680

James Patterson

About the Author

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum Ride, Middle School, I Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson’s writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn’t like to read,” only people who haven’t found the right book. He’s given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

Learn more at jamespatterson.com

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