Read 1st Case Online

Authors: James Patterson

Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thriller

1st Case (7 page)

BOOK: 1st Case
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CHAPTER 20

I TOOK A short dinner break and walked out toward the harbor to clear my head. One of the perks of our office’s location was easy access to the wide-open space of Boston Harbor. If I can’t get out on my bike, just being near the water is the next best thing for me.

On my way, I grabbed a veggie burger from Kinsale’s and then called A.A. while I wolfed it down on the go.

“Owl!” she
answered.

“Hey, Pooh,” I said. “Tell me a joke or something. I need it.”

“I can hear it in your voice,” she said. “Take a breath and unclench, will you? Tell me what happened.”

“I wish I could,” I said.

“Have people died?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Does it have anything to do with that family who was killed in Lincoln?”

“I can’t say.”

It was driving me crazy, keeping all this from her. A.A.
was the one person I knew outside of the Bureau who could appreciate
the scope of this sick puzzle. And it wasn’t like I thought she’d spill any details if I told her. It was more about sticking to the code of ethics I’d signed up for the minute I took the Bureau internship—much less gotten involved in a case like this one. Just like you never know which details will become relevant, you also
never know which casual slip of the lip could be fatal to an investigation. For the time, anyway, I was going to walk a razor-straight line through the Bureau’s confidentiality policy.

I think A.A. knew it, too, just from the way she shifted the subject.

“What about Agent Blue Eyes?” A.A. asked. “How’s he treating you?”

“Like an employee,” I said. “Nothing’s going to happen there. My little
crush is too much of a cliché to be taken seriously.”

“Why do I think that means exactly the opposite?” she said.

It was a fair question. But the truth was, I had no idea if my feelings for Billy were real or just another part of playing the game. Like maybe winning over Agent Keats was more about winning than it was about Agent Keats, for me.

None of which seemed worth untangling right now.
I felt beyond useless out there on the street while everything that really mattered was happening back at the office. What I needed was to get back to work.

“I guess I just wanted to say hi,” I said. Already, I’d done a U-turn and started walking fast, back through Quincy Market. “But I’ve got to go.”

“Don’t you even want to
ask
about Darren?” A.A. said then.

That got my attention. I hated
even hearing his name, almost as much as I hated what this probably meant.


Please
don’t tell me you slept with him,” I said as I waited for a crosswalk sign to change.

“Oh, God, no,” she said.

“Good.”

“I told him he had to prove himself capable of adult behavior first, and I meant it,” she said. “If I’m satisfied by Friday, we’ll get a beer. That’s how I left it with him.”

A.A.’s no pushover.
If she said she meant it, then she did. She’d probably give that jerk a little hell in the meantime, I thought, and maybe even enjoy doing it.

But still, why was she bothering? Darren Wendt was the definition of a futile pursuit. Thinking he was going to change was like waiting for a pig to clean up its own pen. And it wasn’t like she’d ever raved about the sex, either. Honestly, I had no idea
what kept that doofus on A.A.’s radar.

“Don’t be mad,” she said.

“I’m not,” I told her, going for something like sincerity. “This is the new me. The one who doesn’t take things so personally anymore.”

“When did you ever take this personally?”

“Apparently, I take everything personally,” I said.

“Oh, please,” A.A. said. “Did you get that from Eve?”

“I love that you know that,” I said. “But
listen, I really do have to go.” The light had changed now, and the closer I got to the office, the less I could think about anything else. It was time to get back to work. Past time.

“Text me later,” she said. “I don’t think I can take the new you all at once. I’m going to need you to yell at me at least a little bit about Darren.”

“That I can do,” I said.

“And Angela?” she said. “Be careful,
okay? Don’t do anything stupid I wouldn’t do.”

“No promises,” I said just before I hung up and headed back into the belly of the beast.

CHAPTER 21

WHEN I GOT to my desk again, Zack Ciomek asked me to compile a full report of everything I’d done with the app so far. Record keeping is important, and it all funnels into the intelligence reports that are disseminated to the various key players in any given case. I knew that.

But it was still paperwork. Basically, being asked to compile a report is the FBI’s version of “Go clean
your room.”

“Welcome to the suck,” Ciomek said. “Shouldn’t take you more than a couple days to finish.”

I wasn’t off the case, but so many new people were involved now that my role had gotten watered down. Way down.

The good news was, my hands are like lightning on the keyboard, and if I’m being honest, my brain fires faster than most. By lunch the next day, I’d posted my report and was sitting
there in the CART without nearly enough to do. Nobody was around, or if they were, nobody was pulling me into any meetings.

So I turned my attention to something else.

One thing I hadn’t been able to get out of my head was this
photographer I’d heard about from Gwen’s friends. I had no idea if anyone had taken that tip and run with it. I just knew that I had to do something, for my own peace
of mind. Anything to rule this guy in or out. It felt like keeping a promise to those girls, even if it wasn’t one I’d made out loud.

I started with a basic online search, and it was quickly apparent that this scum bucket, Pietro Angeletti, had a whole lot more stink on him than I ever expected to find so quickly.

With the resources we had in the CART, it took only a few minutes to find his
Precious Moments franchise in Hingham and, more importantly, to see that he had a small but distinct criminal record.

Angeletti had been convicted twice on domestic violence charges. The first was four years earlier, against his own sister, in Michigan. More recently, there was an arrest and an overnight in jail after a fight with his girlfriend in Dedham. None of it was a slam dunk, but it sure
didn’t make the guy look
less
suspicious.

From there, it seemed like the next logical step was to go get a firsthand take on this dude and see what else it might tell me. So I called Angeletti’s studio and made an appointment for the next evening after work. I didn’t even consider identifying myself as FBI. Just the opposite, actually. I used a fake name, Amy Smith, and said this was for my high
school senior portrait. I was just slightly alarmed at how easily the lie slid out of me.

Maybe I was getting a little obsessed. It wouldn’t have been the first time, or the second. Hell, at MIT, obsessive thinking is the kind of thing they give you As for. And I was too curious to stop now.

But of course, we all know what they say about curiosity, right?

Just call me Angela the cat.

CHAPTER 22

PIETRO ANGELETTI’S STUDIO was a storefront in a crappy strip mall in Hingham. The window was etched with PRECIOUS MOMENTS and he had a row of faded school portraits hung in frames across the bottom of the glass. The whole place felt just about as sketchy from the outside as I might have imagined.

An electric bell chimed when I went in.

“Be right there,” a male voice called from the
back.

“Take your time,” I answered while I scanned around, looking for a phone, laptop, or anything with an internet connection. I didn’t have a plan, exactly. Just to do what I’d been doing in the field all along: watching and listening.

As I was glancing through one of the brochures by the door, I heard the click of a shutter. I looked up and saw someone, presumably Angeletti, standing by
the partition wall that divided the front from the studio in the back.

“Amy, right?” he asked, lowering the SLR camera he’d been pointing my way.

“That’s me,” I said.

“I always like to start off with a few candids,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind.”

The surprise was how hot he was—nothing like the pornstache-wearing letch I’d been expecting. He was at least six one, with a cultivated shadow
of a beard and the kind of shoulders you can’t help noticing.

It made sense, I realized, if he was seducing pretty girls. Which was still just a big
if,
of course. I was out on a limb here and I knew it.

“You said this was a senior portrait?” he asked, coming over to shake my hand. “I would have guessed you were older than that. You don’t look like a high school girl.”

“I get that a lot,” I
said.

The irony was, he didn’t even know he was right. It was just cheesy flattery to try to make me feel special. I’d been here less than a minute and Pietro was living right up to his own creepy reputation.

“Come on back,” he said, thumbing over his shoulder. The partition behind him was just a flimsy wall with no doors, so I didn’t mind following him to the studio area. I wanted to get a
full look around. And besides, I didn’t come completely unprepared.

In the back, he had the usual collection of umbrella lights and a posing area with a collection of backdrops you could pull down from the ceiling. Off to the side was a desk on which I could see a laptop sitting open. Next to that, he had what looked like a Samsung phone. Those were the things I really wanted to get to.

“Did
you bring a change of clothes?” he asked. “Most girls like some options.”

“Oh, I didn’t want to do the portrait today,” I said. “I just wanted to ask some questions, and maybe see some of your
work.” I pointed to the laptop on the desk. “Do you have any kind of website or online gallery I can look at?”

“Well, the thing is, you asked for a portrait,” he told me. “I already booked an hour of studio
time, so you might want to just go ahead and do it today.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I’m just here for the consult. I’m not ready to do the rest.”

He stopped and screwed up his face like he was considering something, even though I’m pretty sure he knew exactly what he was about to say.

“I don’t think you understand,” he told me. “I already cleared the hour, and the rate is a hundred and
forty-five. We can take the pictures or not, but I’m going to need to be paid either way.”

So he was a sleaze
and
a crook, I realized. Amazing. But was he also a killer? I was starting to get more creeped out than I wanted to be. In fact, I was starting to wonder what I’d been thinking, coming here alone like this. The mistake of it all was becoming real clear, real fast.

“I’m sorry for the
misunderstanding,” I said. “But you didn’t say anything about that on the phone. So, I’m just going to go and not waste any more of your time.”

“Hang on,” he said. Already his tone had softened, but he was also moving around me to block the way. “Listen, I’m not unreasonable. I’m sure we can work something out.”

My throat tightened. I wasn’t 100 percent sure that this had risen to any kind of
emergency yet, but I did know that I wanted to get out of there ASAP.

“Excuse me,” I said. I tried to step past, but he matched my move, keeping himself in the way.

“I’ll take a kiss instead,” he said. I think the look on his face was meant to be playful. “Then we’ll call it even.”

“Did you really just say that?” I asked. I was pissed for sure, but terrified now, too. And working hard not to
show it.

“Come on,” he said, pushing in closer. “That’s a pretty good deal for a hundred and forty-five bucks. You might even like it. Win-win, right?”

When he ran a finger down my arm, I thought I was going to puke.

“Get the hell out of my way,” I said and tried to push past him, but it was like pushing into a brick wall.

Everything changed fast—too fast. With another big step, he plowed
me right into the bathroom door. His hips ground into me. Two strong hands were on my arms. His breath smelled like cherry candy, and my scream got swallowed up with his mouth on mine.

What had I done? What the hell had I done?

CHAPTER 23

IT WAS A claustrophobic nightmare. His grip kept my arms pinned at my sides, and even though it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, it seemed to go on forever.

“I’ll pay you,” I got out. “Okay? Just get off me—”

“Don’t worry about that,” he said. “God, you’re beautiful. You know that?”

“Just let me pay you and I’ll go,” I said.

“I’d rather have another kiss,” he said as
I wormed a hand into my jacket pocket. My fingers closed around the small metal canister in there, but I still didn’t have the leeway to pull it out.

I started to scream again, and he pressed his disgusting mouth into mine—for maybe half a second. That’s how long it took me to wrench my arm free. I flipped the cap with my thumb, pulled the can out of my pocket, and hit him in the eyes with a
full shot of bear spray. I’d been carrying the stuff around for a long time and always hoped I’d never have to use it. Just like any insurance policy.

He screamed and staggered back two steps, but then lurched at me, swinging wildly. Before I could avoid it, the back of his hand caught me in the nose. I felt a warm gush of blood on my lip even as I pushed him away. This time, he fell onto his
own shitty couch and went down hard, still roaring.

“Jesus! What did you just do to me?” he yelled. His eyes were squeezed shut and streaming tears, from the mix of pepper and whatever else was in there. The backs of his hands were running like windshield wipers, back and forth, over his face, like that was going to do anything. And was I enjoying his pain? Yeah, I was. Just a little.

Maybe
more than a little.

“Is this how you do it?” I yelled back at him. “Preying on girls like some kind of animal? You’re done, asshole! Do you hear me?
Done!

“I’m going to make you
so
sorry,” he screamed, and even then, it sent a sharp tingle down my spine. All I could imagine was Gwen, and all I could feel was anger. Lots and lots of anger.

“You can’t even see me, you piece of shit!” I yelled.
“Stay back unless you want more of the same.”

That stopped him, at least for the moment. He really couldn’t see anything, I realized. Which meant this was my chance to take a real look around. I should have run, but I turned back toward the desk instead. If I was lucky, I could at least take a quick look and check his hard drive. And I probably would have, too, if someone hadn’t come in just
then. I heard the electric chime first, and then a voice calling out from the front.

A very familiar voice.

“Hello?” Billy Keats called out. “Anyone here?”

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