Authors: James Patterson,Howard Roughan
“Be careful, Uncle Nick,” she said, plastering me with a hug. Then she dashed back to the attic stairs, climbing them so fast I almost forgot she couldn’t see the steps.
Meanwhile, Kate had disappeared into her bedroom. I was about to call out to her when she returned.
“What the hell is that?” I asked.
But I could see it plain as day. She was holding a handgun.
The Northeast liberal who once referred to the NRA as the Nincompoop Republican Army.
“Things change,” she said. “Here, take it.”
I didn’t merely take it, I grabbed it. “Thanks.” “It’s loaded,” she added.
“I hope so. It’s not much good if it isn’t.”
She rolled her eyes and for a moment we were kid brother and big sister back in Newburgh. But only for a moment.
“What do we do now?” she asked.
“We listen. We wait for the police to get here.”
If they can find the house …
Edging to the top of the stairs, I peered down to the first floor. Would he smash a window? Shoot the lock off the door at point-blank range?
I stared at Kate, raising my index finger to my mouth.
We both held our breath. For a second I thought I heard Elizabeth upstairs in the attic. God, how frightened she must have been.
“What do you think?” whispered Kate after a minute or so went by. “Is he gone or what?”
I was about to answer when we heard it. Only it wasn’t exactly the sound I expected. It was a car’s engine.
Were the police here?
I rushed back to the window in the guest bedroom, staring out at the driveway. No, the police weren’t there.
Neither was anyone else.
The driveway was empty, his car gone. Mr. Sunrise Diner, whoever he was, had scared the living bejesus out of us.
But nothing more.
Who the hell was that bastard?
What did he want from me?
OKAY, MAYBE POLICE protection isn’t such a bad idea after all …
Besides, it was a little hard to say no to it after I was the guy calling 911 in the middle of the night. By morning, as David Sorren put it, I had “seen the light.” Yeah, he was pissed at me, but he was also very relieved that I’d called him, if for no other reason than they hadn’t caught the guy who’d been shooting at me.
“He was on a rooftop that connected in the back to a brownstone on the next block,” explained Sorren. “We never had a chance to get him.”
“Do you think it was the same guy who killed Derrick?” I asked.
“Does it really make a difference? I mean, c’mon, Nick, it’s time to get real.”
Good point. “Either way, I’m still a target, right?”
“Exactly. Which is why I’m sending the first two-man shift of patrolmen assigned to you out to Connecticut right away. They’ll bring you back to your apartment,” he said. “And Nick?”
“Yeah? I’m here. I’m listening to every word, David.”
“Don’t even think about taking off again. You got that?”
Fair enough. I deserved that. I also deserved the incredibly sick feeling I had in my stomach for having put Kate and Elizabeth in danger. What the hell had I been thinking? That the Mafia had an honest-to-God moral code against hurting women and children?
In the back of the police car that came and got me, I had plenty of time to mull that over. I also made a promise to myself to keep Courtney out of this. If she would listen to me, that is.
“Okay, here’s how it works, Mr. Daniels,” said Officer Kevin O’Shea, one of the two cops who had driven me back into Manhattan. We were in my apartment, although not before he and his partner, Sam Brison, had first scoped it out with their guns drawn.
“You wear this on your body at all times. At the first sign of trouble, any trouble, you press this panic button.”
O’Shea handed me a necklace fashioned from a sneaker shoelace and what looked like a cheap, plastic garage-door opener. James Bond and Q, this wasn’t.
I put the device on, glancing down. The panic button, appropriately bright red, was the size of a quarter and hung right smack in the middle of my chest.
“It looks more like a target, if you ask me,” I joked. Apparently I wasn’t the first.
“Yeah, we get that a lot,” said Brison.
He went on to explain how one officer would always be posted outside my door while the other would be in the lobby after securing any and all doors in the basement. If I had a visitor — the kind that didn’t want to kill me — the doormen had been instructed to clear the person with the cops first, then with me. There would be no exceptions.
“Any questions, Mr. Daniels?”
“What if I want to go out?”
“Like where?” asked O’Shea with a squint of his eyes.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Like, the movies or something.” “The movies? Did you just say the movies? I don’t think you’re catching on to what’s happening to you.”
“It was just an example.”
He shook his head. “No, you don’t go to the movies or anywhere else. For the time being, this is where you need to stay. Safe and sound in your apartment.”
“Okay then, I have one more question. How long is ‘for the time being’?”
“Until you’re told otherwise.”
Well, that clears everything up …
The two officers started to leave. There was really nothing more to say. Still, I couldn’t help myself.
“Be careful, guys, okay?” I said.
I meant it, too. But I could understand how it must have sounded strange to the two of them. They exchanged odd glances before looking back at me.
“We will,” said Brison casually.
“No, I’m serious,” I said. “People have an awful way of dying around me.”
HAD I EVER wondered what it felt like to be under house arrest, I now had my answer. Problem was, I’d never wondered.
And for good reason.
After a few hours, my cramped shoe box of an apartment was beginning to feel more like a matchbox. I swear the walls were creeping in on me.
I’d been staring at my MacBook screen straight into the afternoon. Courtney was right: I was literally living the story of a lifetime. Now I had to start writing it.
So why couldn’t I?
Maybe because I didn’t know if I’d live long enough to finish it.
Ten years ago, I’d done a long piece on Salman Rushdie
when he’d still been the target of a fatwa against his life. I had asked him what it had felt like to know there were people hell-bent on killing him, that there were substantial rewards out for him, dead or deader. His answer?
There are some feelings for which words are utterly useless
. And remember, Salman Rushdie is a damn fine writer who had obviously done his research on the subject of death threats.
As I continued to stare at my blank computer screen, I now fully understood what he’d meant. Of course, it didn’t help matters that even if I could write the article, I no longer had
magazine waiting to publish it. In case I’d somehow forgotten that, all I had to do was turn on the television.
So much for TV as a diversion.
“… For that story we turn now to Brenda Evans, who’s outside the
There she was, the “Bull and Bear Babe,” my ex-girlfriend reporting for the World Financial Network on Thomas Ferramore’s “stunning announcement” that he was folding
“Stunning, of course,” said Brenda, holding her microphone as if it were one of her News Emmy Awards, “because
has been a profitable holding for Mr. Ferramore. Selling it would be one thing, but
I’d known Brenda long enough to know what was coming next. The gleam in her eye. The tilt of her head. It was gossip time.
“Speculation is rampant,” she continued into the camera, “that the move is merely one of spite in the wake of Ferramore’s broken engagement to
’s editor in chief and
driving force, Courtney Sheppard. There’s been no official statement from either side, but my sources tell me that it all ended very, very badly.”
I’d seen enough, heard enough. Not just of Brenda but of any more television. If the news wasn’t about Ferramore and
magazine, it was about the “Murder in Riverdale” of a state prosecutor. It hurt too much. I couldn’t bear to look at one more picture of Derrick Phalen.
Clearly neither could Courtney. As usual she’d decided not to take my advice about staying away. We’d spoken on the phone just before I’d turned on the television.
About twenty minutes later, she showed up at my door. She was two hours early. I had had to ask the doorman in the lobby, “Are you sure?” when he’d buzzed me that Courtney had arrived. All she and I had discussed on the phone was that she wanted to bring me dinner, the subtext being that we had a lot to talk about, too much to get into over the phone.
But as I opened the door, Courtney didn’t say a word. She looked, I don’t know — the word
came to mind. She stepped into the apartment, closed the door behind her, and stared deep into my eyes while biting her lower lip. Then she kissed me like I have never been kissed before in my life.
Finally she said, “Hey, Nick, what’s new?”
I shrugged. “Same old, same old.”
The small talk out of the way, we moved into the bedroom. We stripped away each other’s clothes. Then we couldn’t hold each other tightly enough. I didn’t have to tell her how much I wanted and needed her, and she didn’t have
to tell me.
Thankfully, Mr. Rushdie, the door swings both ways
. Extreme fear, yes, but also intense passion.
There are some feelings, and actions, for which words are utterly useless
But words do have their place, especially when Courtney said, “You were right, Nick.”
I grinned as I said, “First time for everything.”
SO MUCH FOR joy and happiness and all that.
I closed my eyes and drew a deep breath down close to the bottom of my lungs. I was hoping that when I opened my eyes I’d no longer be standing at Derrick Phalen’s grave site under a sea of gray clouds at Trinity Church Cemetery. I was hoping that this was all just a dream.
But no, it was as real as real gets, and it was also heart-wrenchingly sad. Dwayne Robinson may have had a host of Yankees at his funeral, but Derrick’s service overlooking the Hudson River was no less shy of New York’s heavy hitters. In attendance were the mayor, the Bronx borough president, the Bronx DA, and two congressmen, both of whom had campaigned heavily on fighting organized crime. Derrick’s victories in the courtroom had helped bring them victories at the polls, and they knew it.
Of course, David Sorren — the mayor in waiting — was on
hand, as was Ian LaGrange. I avoided any eye contact with LaGrange while noticing that Sorren seemed to be keeping close tabs on him. Was he worried that LaGrange would take another swing at me?
If so, he should’ve also been checking out the other prosecutors from the OCTF. I was getting some serious dirty looks from more than a few of them.
Ironically, it was Derrick’s family — his parents and sister — who proved to be the most forgiving. Or maybe they were just too numb to be angry. I couldn’t tell when Courtney and I approached them to offer our condolences.
Given the incessant media coverage, along with the usual gossip mill churning out whatever tidbits the press didn’t, my connection to Derrick Phalen was pretty well established. What wasn’t known was exactly
I was connected to him.
That’s the question I thought I was about to be asked when Derrick’s sister, Monica, caught up to Courtney and me a few minutes later. She wanted to know if she could speak to me alone for a moment.
Never was I so relieved to be wrong. It was an
, not a question, that Monica had for me.
Scratch that. It wasn’t just an answer. Hopefully it was
“I’LL BE OVER here when you’re done,” said Courtney, who had never been more understanding, and kind of selfless, in all the time we’d known each other. I had never felt closer to her either, or more in love. Bad timing, I know, but there it was.
I watched as she walked over to the shade of one of the immense oak trees that were scattered across the cemetery’s lawn. She always looked great in black, and today was definitely no exception. How could anybody
cheat on her?
Nearby, David Sorren was chatting with the Bronx DA. He gave me a quick nod of recognition as our eyes met briefly.
Yes, David, I’m still on the right side of the grass
I turned back to face Monica. She was tall and slender, with auburn hair cut straight around her shoulders. A few dozen freckles dotted the bridge of her nose.
The only thing I knew about her was what Derrick had
mentioned that one time we’d had lunch. We’d been discussing his reputation as a tough prosecutor.
“If you think I’m tough, you should talk to my sister,”
he’d said with a laugh.
Now here I was, doing just that. What I wouldn’t give for our meeting to be under different circumstances.
“I wanted to let you know how sorry I am about Derrick,” I told her.
“You feel partly responsible, don’t you?” I nodded. “Yes.”
“You shouldn’t,” she said matter-of-factly. “It’s not like Derrick was an accountant or a plumber. His job was trying to put mob guys behind bars. Serious, big-time hoods, the worst of the worst. Did you know he had to wear a bullet-proof vest?”
Again I nodded. “Yes. I knew that.”
“A lot of good that did him in the end, huh?”
Derrick was definitely right about his sister being tough, or maybe, like Courtney, she just compartmentalized very well. But what I was hearing more from her was anger. She was so angry, in fact, that some of it was spilling over onto Derrick.
“Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk with you about,” she continued. “It’s about something I found the other day, something belonging to my brother.”