Authors: James Patterson,Howard Roughan
She reached into her black purse, removing something. It was so small, though, I couldn’t see it in her clenched fist.
“What is it?” I had to ask.
“If you were ever in Derrick’s office, then you know he had this crazy thing for Post-it notes. Those little yellow stickies were everywhere around his desk.”
I remembered. “Yes, I know. I saw them when I visited Derrick in White Plains.”
“Well, they were all over his stupid apartment, too,” she said. “Last night I was over there going through some of his files, trying to find Derrick’s life insurance policy. That’s when I came across this.”
She opened her fist to reveal a small USB flash drive, the kind you can pick up at any computer supply store for about twelve bucks. It was barely over an inch long.
“What’s on it?” I asked.
“I have no idea. I didn’t look at it — but I’m pretty sure Derrick wanted you to have it.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because there was a yellow sticky on it. He’d written your name.” She extended her hand, placing the flash drive in mine. “Promise me one thing, though, okay? You have to promise. That’s the quid pro quo here.”
Hell, I’d pretty much promise her anything to see what was on that flash drive. How could I not think that it was what Derrick had wanted to tell me the night he’d died?
“Sure,” I said. “What is it?”
“Out of respect for my brother, could you not tell anyone you have this until you’ve had a chance to look at it?”
“Good,” she said, but I could tell there was something else she wanted to say. She seemed unsure about it.
“Go ahead,” I said. “It’s okay. I owe your brother, and I feel like I owe you.”
“You don’t. It’s just that I was …”
She stopped. A tear formed in her eye, and she quickly
wiped it away. “Everyone who worked with Derrick said all the right things, that he was really good at his job and was a great guy and all that. What I want to know, though, is that he didn’t die in vain. Can you promise me that, too?”
I reached out and took Monica’s hand, squeezing it tight. “Yes, I can promise you that, too. I’ll make sure of it,” I said.
If it’s the last thing I do
OFFICER KEVIN O’SHEA turned to his partner, Sam Brison, in the lobby of my apartment building as I looked on. “Heads or tails?” asked O’Shea, tossing a shiny quarter in the air.
“Tails,” said Brison.
Apparently, this was what my first shift did every morning when they arrived. Instead of taking turns standing guard in the lobby or outside my door, they flipped for it.
O’Shea caught the quarter and sneaked a peek. “Shit,” he muttered underneath his square, bushy mustache.
Tails it is
“Ha!” said Brison, heading for the comfortable couch in the lobby. Outside my door there was only a metal folding chair with no padding. Enough said.
I rode the elevator up with O’Shea, continuing with what I thought was my stellar acting job since the funeral. I didn’t want to seem overly anxious, but I absolutely couldn’t wait to get home so I could plug in that flash drive.
“Hey, are you okay?” O’Shea asked me, leaning against the back of the elevator. “You seem a little jumpy today. You jumpy? Something the matter, Nick?”
So much for my acting. Clearly I wasn’t the Second Coming of Sir Laurence Olivier.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. “Rough morning, that’s all. I don’t like funerals much.”
“Nobody likes funerals,” O’Shea agreed, nodding but continuing to eye me as if his bullshit meter was ticking in the red zone. I was sure he was about to press the subject when I was saved by the bell of the elevator. We’d arrived at my floor.
O’Shea stuck his head out, peering left and right. “Okay,” he announced.
I fell in line behind him as we walked the beige and white wavy-striped carpeting of the hallway. The rug was kind of trippy. Staring at it was enough to give you some serious vertigo.
“What do you think you’re doing?” asked O’Shea as we reached my door. I’d taken out my key and made a move for the lock.
“Oh yeah, I forgot,” I said.
He shot me a look like a disapproving parent. “Sometimes that’s all it takes — forgetting one time, Nick.”
I handed him the key so he could scope out my apartment before I entered.
“Out of curiosity,” I said, “while you’re in there checking to make sure the coast is clear, who’s watching me here in the hallway?”
He didn’t hesitate. “That’s why Sam is in the lobby.”
“But what if, say, there’s someone waiting for me behind the door to the stairwell?”
O’Shea chuckled. He realized I was just busting his chops. “Would you like me to go check for you?” he asked slowly.
“No, that’s okay,” I said, and laughed lightly. We both did. O’Shea was a pretty good guy actually. I liked him and his partner, too. Hey, they were trying to keep me alive.
“Good. Now stay here,” he said with a grin as he unlocked my door. “Try not to get in any trouble.”
“Yeah, sure. That’ll be a first.”
THE SECONDS OUTSIDE my door went by slowly, and I couldn’t help wishing that I could get back my old life, that none of this had happened. Except maybe Courtney breaking up with Ferramore.
“You better not be raiding my fridge!” I called to O’Shea from the hallway.
I’d been eating takeout for three days straight. With all the containers of Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and Italian, I was just about housing the United Nations of leftovers.
“Hey, did you hear me?” I said.
O’Shea had been checking my apartment for about a minute, roughly a half minute longer than it usually took him or Brison to comb my twelve-hundred-square-foot one-bedroom apartment.
An uneasy feeling suddenly came over me, my mind starting to race.
Instinctively, I took a step forward to peek in around the doorway, only to catch myself. That was the last thing I should be doing, right?
Instead, I looked down at my striped tie, pushing it to the side. Behind it I could feel the outline of the alarm around my neck. Even underneath my dress shirt there was no mistaking the large panic button.
Shit, what do I do? Do I press it?
No. Not yet
“Kevin?” I called out again, this time louder. No more joking around about my fridge. “Everything all right in there? Hey, Kevin?”
I heard nothing back. I heard nothing, period. My apartment, the hallway — everywhere was quiet.
Then, finally —
— I heard him.
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” came O’Shea’s voice.
I couldn’t see him yet but I could tell he was walking toward me. He drew a deep sigh before explaining, “For a moment there, I thought I heard —”
Before another sound came, I saw the blood, a bright red spray splattering across the hallway in front of the door. Then Officer Kevin O’Shea’s body came crashing down at my feet, the back of his head blown wide open.
Oh no! No! No! No!
I took a clumsy step backwards, nearly tripping over my own heel. My knees were beginning to buckle and I couldn’t think straight. My thought process felt completely fractured.
Run, Nick! Run now!
I turned, sprinting down the hallway as those crazy beige
and white stripes of the carpet blurred before my eyes. I was ten feet from the stairwell. Could I make it?
I pushed through the door to the stairs. For a split second I allowed myself to look back. Just one glance.
It was all I needed. Make that
than I needed.
Storming out of my apartment, a gun fitted with a suppressor snug in his hand, was the man who should’ve killed me when he’d had the chance in that alley next to the pizza place in the South Bronx.
At least I’m sure that’s what Carmine Zambratta, the Zamboni, was thinking as his eyes met mine.
He raised his gun and my heart nearly stopped.
Keep running, Nick!
I PRACTICALLY FLUNG myself down the stairs, my feet barely keeping up with the rest of me. Could I outrun him? Would he get a clear shot at me? I didn’t see why not.
I was about to press the hell out of my panic button to alert Brison in the lobby, when a voice kicked in from the one brain cell remaining that wasn’t drowning in adrenaline.
No, wait! Don’t come to me, Brison — I’m coming to you!
And I’m bringing company
I kept flying down the stairs — the ninth floor … the eighth — my shoes pounding away on the concrete steps, my heart pounding away at my chest.
How far back was he? Was he gaining on me?
That’s when I heard it.
There were no footsteps from above, no sound of the
Zamboni gaining on me. I was alone in the stairwell and that one working brain cell of mine immediately figured out why.
He was taking the elevator.
On the landing of the sixth floor I skidded to a stop, gasping for air, trying to think in straight lines.
What do I do?
In a flash, I thought I had the answer. I’d go hide in someone’s apartment — just keep banging on doors until somebody let me in. Then I’d call the police.
Oh no! The police
The image of Brison on that couch in the lobby suddenly came crashing into my head. He was a sitting duck down there. I had to warn him.
You know that company l’m bringing, Brison? He might get there first!
I jammed my thumb against the panic button as I took off again down the stairs.
The fifth floor …
The fourth floor …
My lungs were on fire, my legs aching — but what hurt the most was not knowing what was going to happen.
How would Brison respond to my hitting the panic button? Would he head straight for the elevator and Zambratta?
“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the Spider to the Fly
The third floor …
The second floor …
I had to get to the lobby first!
Nobody else could die on my watch.
THE LITTLE THINGS we take for granted.
Like the glass window cut into the door between the stairs and the lobby. Seven years living in the building and I’d never once noticed it. Not one time.
But there it was, no bigger than a loaf of bread — hell, even smaller; make that a
of bread — but still big enough to catch a glimpse of Brison as I raced down the last set of stairs.
He had his gun drawn, his mouth twisted into a scowl so tight I thought his face would crack.
He was aiming the gun dead square at the elevator. Watching. Waiting.
I did neither.
I bolted straight through the door like … well, like the crazy, panicked guy I was. Only when Brison turned on a dime and nearly blew my head off did I realize that maybe that hadn’t been such a good idea.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” he said, his trigger finger still twitching. “I could’ve killed you!”
“Sorry.” What the hell else could I say?
Brison swung his gun back at the closed door of the elevator, and I followed his eyes to the line of floor numbers above it. The five was lit up. Then the four.
“It’s Carmine Zambratta,” I said quickly, still out of breath.
“He shot O’Shea.”
I could tell from Brison’s face he knew that, too. Or at least was assuming it. “Is he still alive?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t think so.”
Brison swallowed hard, digesting the news like the bitter pill it was. But that’s all he had time for. Otherwise both of us would end up just like O’Shea.
“Get the hell behind the counter!” he yelled at me. “Hurry! Stay down!”
I dashed behind the doorman’s desk — which looked more like a counter you’d see at an airline gate — while wondering how Brison had known Zambratta was in the elevator or that it was Zambratta at all.
That’s when I saw the closed-circuit monitor with a split screen on the wall right above me. Brison had obviously checked it when I had hit the panic button. He also must have told the doorman to skedaddle out of there. And call for help?
I stared at the monitor, my eyes bouncing back and forth like a game of Pong. On one side was the revolving door of
the front entrance. On the other was the inside shot of the elevator.
And there he was in black and white. Grainy and fuzzy, too. Not to mention scary as shit.
For sure Brison had recognized him right away. How could he not? The guy was the poster boy for mob enforcers. A celebrity, practically. He killed people and got away with it. Probably have his own show on cable soon.
I could see the gun with the suppressor in his meaty hand, his huge shoulders pressed tight against the side of the elevator wall. Carmine Zambratta was coming for me, and he wanted me dead. Very badly.
Yet he couldn’t have looked more relaxed and in control. How freakin’ screwed up was that?
“What’s he doing? Is he still on the side of the elevator?” asked Brison, his voice clipped. His throat must have been dry as dirt. If he was trying to sound calm, it wasn’t working — and I was the last person on earth who could blame him for some nerves and high anxiety.
Crouched low and out of sight, I could still see the monitor perfectly. From where Brison was positioned, he couldn’t. Not at all.
I would have to be his eyes.
Don’t blink, Nick
“YES,” I TOLD BRISON, quickly wiping away the sweat dripping from my forehead. Zambratta was still hugging the side of the elevator. He hadn’t moved. What was he up to?
And where the hell was the elevator?
The damn thing should’ve reached the lobby by now, right? And then —
Right on cue. The elevator landed, the sound of the high-pitched bell cutting through the silence of the lobby.
Here we go …
I braced myself, my eyes glued to the closed-circuit monitor. No need to look at Brison now.