- Published: 2 November 2017
- ISBN: 9781473536159
- Imprint: Cornerstone Digital
- Format: EBook
- Pages: 432
The People vs. Alex Cross
(Alex Cross 25)
A HOT SUMMER’S EVE
From inside a rambling white Colonial home on a shaded street that smelled of blooming wildflowers, a woman called in a pleasant Southern accent: “TW-Two? Where are you? Mama needs you to go to the store now.”
There was a pause before she called again. “TW-Two? Deuce?”
Timmy Walker Jr., TW-Two, also known as Deuce, was twelve and standing just inside the woods that adjoined his backyard.
Go to the store? Deuce thought. He had better things to do than ride his bike all the way there and back for his mom. As a matter of fact, he had much better things to do.
The back porch door opened with a creak.
“Deuce,” his mother called. “C’mon, now. I’ll take you out for an ice cream sundae later?”
That was tempting, but Deuce stuck to his plan and eased off on a familiar path that led downhill to an old logging road and a creek that meandered through the woods. It was late in the day. The light was slanted, coppery, and the air was still sticky and hot.
Holding a beat-up old pair of binoculars his granddad had given him, Deuce thought: Hot and sticky. That’s good. Seems there’s way more activity when it’s all hot and sticky this time of day, getting on into night.
Deuce looked down at his camouflage T-shirt and shorts and thought, I’m dressed perfect. Should be able to get real close, and I’ve got the right gear.
Mosquitoes whined. He slapped at one that bit his ear, hearing the building thrum of cicadas in the trees and smelling smoke from a distant fire. He dug in his pocket and got out a cigarette he’d taken from his mom’s secret pack.
He lit it, took a drag, and blew smoke at the mosquitoes. That helped.
Still smoking, Deuce crossed the creek and kept on the logging trail, which paralleled the waterway for almost a mile before splitting off. He went left, then started uphill, pausing every few moments to listen. Nothing.
Even so, the boy remained certain he’d see something good tonight. It was late Friday afternoon. Prime time. Late summer. Primer time. And you didn’t always have to hear them first. He’d learned that, hadn’t he?
When Deuce neared the top of the rise, he put on a camouflage head net that almost matched the T-shirt and shorts. He eased slowly up onto the crest of the hill, peering through the tangle of vines and leaves in the last golden rays of day. Nothing.
He took a step. Nothing. Another step.
Deuce smiled, hunched over, and snuck forward and downhill toward a clearing at the end of a rutted dirt road. There were beer cans and wrappers strewn about, a brush pile, and, on the far side of the clearing, a lone blue Toyota Camry.
The engine was off. The windows were down. No music was on. Deuce was sure he knew why the car was there. He lifted the binoculars and peered across the clearing into the Camry’s backseat, where a couple was writhing.
Deuce saw the naked back of one of them. The girl!
And blond! More perfect.
She sat up suddenly; she was seventeen, eighteen—beautiful! Then another topless blonde, younger, very pretty, rose up beside the first one. They began to kiss and caress.
The twelve year old thought he was going to have a heart attack, the scene made him so breathless. Shakily, Deuce lowered the binoculars, dug in his pocket, and came up with an iPhone 4 he’d bought used online. He found the camera icon and pressed it.
This is going to be epic, Deuce thought. No one will ever forget this one.
He took a soft step, and then another, which brought him right up to the clearing. He focused a moment on the passionate girls in the backseat of the car but did not raise his binoculars for a closer look.
He was on a mission now. Deuce thumbed the camera mode to video and pressed Record.
He stayed just inside the trees, in the shadows, and circled the clearing, going past the brush pile toward the Camry and coming up on it from behind and to its right. He imagined himself a panther and moved slow and careful until the car and the girls were down a bank and slightly below him, not twenty yards away.
From that angle, he could see the girls were both completely naked. He was flustered, fascinated; part of him wanted to go even closer, right in the backseat if he could. But that wouldn’t get him anywhere, now would it?
He had them framed perfectly. And the light wasn’t bad at all. He was sure this would be his best effort yet. Two blondes? I’ll be a hero!
Deuce almost laughed out loud but became transfixed when one girl’s hand left the other one’s breasts and slid south toward—
The boy heard the grumble of an engine and looked around. It sounded like a vehicle was coming fast and heading toward the clearing. The girls heard it too and scrambled for their clothes.
Are you kidding me? Deuce groaned.
He heard a shriek. He looked back at their car. One of the girls was staring out the window at him.
“There’s some pervo kid in camo out there!” she yelled. “He’s filming us!”
Deuce freaked and ran. He bolted deeper into the woods and then arced back the way he’d come, jumping logs, dodging trees, and smiling like he’d just escaped some tower with a king’s jewel in his pocket.
And in a way, he had, hadn’t he? He glanced at the phone gripped tightly in his hand as he continued to sprint back toward the trail. It wasn’t the epic video he’d hoped for, but it was still—
Deuce heard a vehicle roar into the clearing and skid to a halt. One of the girls screamed.
Deuce stopped and looked back. Sweat dripped down his face, and he strained to see the clearing through the thick foliage.
The boy told himself to go, get home fast, upload the video to his computer, and spend the night reliving his victory before trying to figure out which website to sell it to. But his natural curiosity overwhelmed him, propelled him back toward the clearing’s edge.
The sun was setting. Shadows were taking the opening in the woods. A white Ford utility van with a souped-up motor was idling next to the Camry, blocking Deuce’s view of the girls.
He lifted his binoculars, saw the van’s windows were darkly tinted. A magnetic sign on the near side said DISH NETWORK.
Dish? Out here? Wasn’t that like a—
“No!” one of the girls shouted from the other side of the van. “Please! Don’t do this! Help! Kid! Help us, kid!”
Deuce realized she was screaming for him and didn’t know what to do.
Another scream followed, louder, terror-stricken. One of the girls was sobbing, blubbering, begging for mercy.
Deuce began to tremble with fear. A voice in his head yelled, Run!
A car door slammed. The van door slid shut, muffling the girls’ cries.
I’m probably wrong for taking the video, Deuce thought, but this is seriously messed up. I’ve got to do something.
He dug furiously in his pocket, came up with a little magnetic doubling lens that he fitted to his phone’s camera lens. He slid the mode to photo for better resolution and zoomed in on the van’s rear license plate, lit by its parking lights, some sixty yards away.
The van’s headlights went on. The engine revved. They were leaving.
Deuce squeezed the upper volume button of the iPhone to shoot without flash or autofocus. Click, click, click. He got five shots in all before the van rolled forward, picked up speed, and left the clearing.
The boy watched the van go, then raised his binoculars to look at the Camry. It was empty in the last fading light. No movement. Both girls were gone.
The boy began to tremble; he felt sick. Those girls had been screaming.
Deuce decided he had to do something. He needed to erase the porn part, make up some story about why he’d seen all this, and then tell it to the police. They’d go find the Camry, figure out who the girls were, and find whoever was driving that Dish van.
And he had to do it sooner rather than later.
He looked at his phone. He punched 911 but got no connection. No Service, the screen read. He’d have to go back to the other side of the creek before reception turned solid.
Deuce looked around, got his bearings, and set off toward the logging trail. It would be dark before he knew it, but he’d been walking around in these woods since he was four.
When the boy hit the logging road, a three-quarter moon was rising behind him. He broke into a jog and went up and over the rise.
Right where the trail got steep again, Deuce caught a glimpse of something dark, heavy, and long coming right at him.
He tried to duck, but it was too late.
A forearm smashed into the boy’s neck and clotheslined him. Deuce’s feet went out from beneath him, and his upper body, arms, and head whipsawed violently before crashing onto the logging road.
The boy felt bones break on impact, and he took a nasty crack to the head. He saw stars, and his limp fingers and arms flung wide. His iPhone sailed off into the woods, along with all the wind in his lungs.
For a second, maybe two, Deuce was dazed and saw only shadows and darkness. He heard nothing but the sound of his own choking and felt nothing but pain that seemed everywhere.
Then the boy heard a man’s voice right beside him. “There, now,” he said. “Where did you think you were going, young man?”
I WASN’T PRESENT at the courthouse in Erva, Alabama, on that morning in June, when events unfolded that would suck me into the undertow of Douglas County.
A board a Night Stalkers Special Operations MH-60M Black Hawk helicopter code-named Spear One, Navy chief Nick Zeppos of SEAL Team Six checks his watch.
Twenty-one minutes before the ambush, Harrison Tucker is lying on his stomach on a king-size bed in an Atlanta hotel room
Temperatures that late January morning plunged to four degrees above zero, and still people came by the hundreds of thousands, packing both sides of the procession route from Capitol Hill to the White House.
The forest had a particular scent to it, a dewy moistness off the Columbia River mixed with Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, red cedar, hemlock, and maple.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, action. This could mean everything to Latham. It could be his ticket out.
CINDY THOMAS FOLLOWED Robert Barnett’s assistant down the long corridor at the law firm of Barnett and Associates in Washington, DC.
I CHECKED THE street in both directions in front of an upscale coffee house called Flat Bread and Butter on Amsterdam Avenue near 140th Street. The street was about as quiet as New York City gets.