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Run for Your Life
By James Patterson, Michael Ledwidge
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 James Patterson Michael Ledwidge
All rights reserved.
IT WAS COMING on three a.m. when I finally managed to get myself smuggled out of Harlem by a uniform who owed me a favor.
As we negotiated the gridlock maze of news satellite vans, barricades, and mounted crowd-control cops, there still wasn't the slightest hint about who had killed D-Ray.
Any standoff that led to a death would have been bad enough, but this bizarre shooting was the department's worst nightmare come true. No matter how much evidence suggested that the NYPD wasn't responsible, it looked like we were. The rabble-rousers, conspiracy theorists, and their many friends in the New York City media were going to have a field day.
And if that wasn't enough to make me rip into a blister pack of Prilosec, there was the mountain of reports and other red tape I'd be facing come morning. I'd have gladly accepted another caning from D-Ray's grandaunt instead.
When the cop dropped me off in front of my West End Avenue apartment building, I was so burnt out from fatigue, unresolved tension, and worry about what lay ahead that I almost stumbled to the door. I craved a few hours of peaceful sleep as a man who'd been crawling for days through the desert craves an oasis.
But the oasis turned out to be a mirage. Right off the bat, my crazy Dominican doorman, Ralph, seemed pissed off that I had to wake him up. I liked Ralph, but I was in no mood for petty surliness, and I gave him a look that told him so.
"Any time you want to trade jobs, Ralph, just let me know," I said.
He lowered his eyes apologetically. "Rough night, Mr. Bennett?"
"You'll read about it tomorrow in the Times."
When I finally made it into my darkened apartment, the Crayola products and Polly Pocket debris that crunched underfoot were actually welcoming. I mustered up enough energy to lock up my service weapon and ammo in the pistol safe in my front hall closet. Then, totally wiped, I collapsed onto one of the high stools at the kitchen island.
If my wife, Maeve, were still here, she'd be standing at the stove right now, handing me an icy Bud while something wonderful fried—chicken wings or a cheeseburger, heavy on the bacon. With divinely sent, cop-wife wisdom, she knew that the only panaceas for the grim reality of the streets were grease, cold beer, a shower, and bed, with her warm beside me.
A strange moment of clarity pierced my weariness, and I realized that she hadn't just been my love—she'd been my life support. On nights like this, the really bad ones, she'd listen for hours if I needed to talk, and understand completely when I couldn't.
Right then, more than anything in the world, I longed to feel her fingers caress the back of my neck as she told me that I'd tried my best. That sometimes there's nothing we can do. I would circle her waist with my hands, and her magic would make all my doubts and guilt and stress disappear.
Maeve had been dead for almost a year now, and in all that time, I hadn't found any new ways to cope with it—only new ways to miss her.
I'd been at the funeral of a homicide victim one time and heard his mother quote a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. It kept ringing in my ears lately, like a song you can't get out of your head.
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender the kind ...
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
I don't know how much longer I can live without you, Maeve, I thought. My head sagged, and I leaned my forearms on the counter for support.
But I jerked back upright when I noticed that my left hand was resting in a pool of something sticky. I examined the stuff, sniffed it, then tasted it: grape jelly, Welch's finest, covering not just my hand, but my whole suit jacket sleeve.
Living without you isn't the only thing that's impossible, I told Maeve while I stood up on tired legs to search for a paper towel.
How can I take care of all our kids the way only you could?
I WAS HOPELESS on the domestic front, all right. I couldn't even find a paper towel. I rinsed off the jelly with water as well as I could, and put the suit coat in a closet with some other clothes that were waiting to be dry-cleaned. My luck started looking better when I poked around inside the fridge. There was a Saran-wrapped plate of baked ziti on a shelf, and I dug up a can of Coors Light buried beneath half a case of Capri Suns in the drink drawer. I set the microwave humming, and I was just crunching open my Silver Bullet when a hair-raising sound emanated from the dark interior of my apartment—a sort of howling moan followed by a long, unholy splatter. Then it happened again, only in a different tone.
As I slowly lowered my untouched brew, I was visited by one of those blink moments I'd read about. Though my conscious mind wasn't sure what was causing those noises, some deeper instinct warned me that it signaled a danger that any sane person would flee with all his might.
Against my better judgment, I staggered down the hall in that direction. Peering around a corner, I spotted a bar of light under the rear bathroom door. I tiptoed to it and slowly twisted the knob.
I stood rooted there, speechless with visceral horror. My instincts had been all too correct. I should have fled when I had the chance.
Not one, not two, but three of my children were projectile-vomiting into the tub. It was like looking at an outtake from The Exorcist while you were seeing triple. I reared back as Ricky, Bridget, and Chrissy hurled again, each one's upchuck triggered by the previous one, like they were trying to puke a campfire round. Think Vesuvius, Krakatoa, and Mount Saint Helens all going off in musical succession.
Before I could catch myself, I made the mistake of breathing through my nose. My stomach lurched precariously. I blessed my stars that I hadn't had a chance to eat during the Harlem siege, or to get started on the ziti. Otherwise, yours truly would have chimed in a fourth eruption of his own.
My Irish nanny, Mary Catherine, was right beside the kids, her golden ringlets bouncing out from beneath a red bandanna as she mopped furiously at the blowback they left. She had wisely put on elbow-length, industrial rubber gloves and covered her face with another bandanna, but I could see from her eyes—usually crisp blue, but now damp and faded—that she was as exhausted as I was.
She gave me a quick wave, then pulled off the bandanna and said, in her lilting brogue, "Mike, remember before you left for work, I told you Chrissy was looking a little green?"
I nodded mutely, still struggling to absorb the enormity of the situation.
"I think that flu that's been going around school has arrived," Mary Catherine said. "Repent, for the plague is upon us."
I crossed myself solemnly, trying to pick up her joke to make us both feel a little better. But a nervous part of me wasn't entirely kidding. The way things had been going, maybe this was the plague.
"I've got it from here, Mary," I said, taking the mop from her. "You're officially off duty."
"That, I most certainly am not," she said indignantly. "Now, the Tylenol is in the cabinet over the sink, but we're running out of cough syrup, and—"
"And enough," I said, pointing toward the stairs to her upstairs apartment, formerly the maid's quarters. "I don't need any more patients to take care of."
"Oh? What makes you think you won't get sick?" She folded her arms in stubborn loyalty, which I'd come to know well. "Because you're a big tough copper?"
I sighed. "No—because I don't have time to. Get some sleep and you can take over in the morning, okay? That's what I'm going to need."
She wavered, then gave me a weary but sweet smile.
"You're not fooling anybody," Mary Catherine said. "But okay."
I MOANED along with the kids as the door closed behind Mary Catherine.
It's not that I don't love my children. I really do. But I'm the guardian of the kind of brood that would send Mother Teresa doctor-shopping for pharmaceutical assistance.
How's this for the Bennett lineup? Juliana, thirteen; Brian, twelve; Jane, eleven; Ricky, ten; Eddie, nine; twins Fiona and Bridget, eight; Trent, six; Shawna, five; and Chrissy, four. A total of ten, count them: two Hispanic, two black, one Asian, and the rest white. All of them are adopted. Pretty impressive, I know. Not many families can field a multicultural baseball team, plus a bench player.
It was primarily Maeve's idea. We started taking in her "stray angels," as she called our gang way back before Brangelina got into the act. How could either of us have foreseen the nightmare of her death from cancer at the age of thirty- eight?
I wasn't completely alone, thank God. Mary Catherine had appeared like a gift from heaven while Maeve was dying, and for some unfathomably merciful reason, she still hadn't fled screaming. My crotchety grandfather-turned-priest, Seamus, was pastor of Holy Name Church, just around the corner. He'd wangled the job so he could help with the kids and disapprove of me, but the disapproval was a small price to pay for his help.
But it had been nearly impossible to take care of my young ones even when their mother was still alive and they were perfectly healthy. What was I going to do with the apartment transformed into a children's ward at a hospital?
A thousand worries sprang up in my already stress-racked head. How was I going to get the well kids to school? What about taking the sick ones to a doctor's office? How much sick leave did I have left? Had I paid this month's health insurance premium on time? And what about the missed schoolwork? An image of the kids' strong-willed, meticulous principal, Sister Sheilah, loomed in my mind like a specter.
I palmed my forehead and took a deep breath. I was a trained problem solver, I reminded myself. I could get us through this. It was temporary—a rough spot for sure, but a brief one. Like in any survival situation, the worst thing I could do was panic.
I bent down over Chrissy, my youngest, as she began to wail at the tippity-top of her lungs. Through her thin Backyardigans pj top, I could feel her burning up with fever. So were her copatients, Ricky and Bridget. They all started whining for ginger ale.
Me, too, I thought, searching around frantically for Mary Catherine's spare bandanna. And let's not spare the Jack Daniel's.
THE MAN IN the beautifully tailored, two-button Givenchy suit had finished his morning's work with his usual expertise and speed. Many things in his life had changed since he had seen the truth—he was a new man now—but his superior intelligence and skills remained intact.
As he stepped into the garage of the stately Locust Valley home, he heard the lawn sprinklers kick on. He glanced at the black dial of his stainless-steel Rolex Explorer. Seven a.m. sharp. Excellent: he was running ahead of schedule, just the way he liked it.
He opened the gleaming door of the BMW 720Li, placed his Vuitton briefcase on the passenger seat, and swung his long, muscular legs under the steering wheel. As he adjusted the rearview mirror, he caught his own reflection. With his lean, brutally chiseled features, his razor-straight, collar-length black hair, and piercing, almost royal blue eyes, he looked like a model in a Vanity Fair ad. He smiled, showing himself his dimples and his perfect, gleaming white teeth.
He had it all, didn't he? he thought.
The V12 engine of the luxury BMW sedan came to life with an elegant explosion when he turned the key.
Too bad "it all" wasn't nearly enough.
While the engine warmed, the New Man took a Palm Treo 750 smart phone from his silk-lined inside jacket pocket. The little gadget could do everything: phone, e-mail, surf the Web. He clicked on Microsoft Tasks and opened the file he'd been working on.
It was a mission statement, a brief written summary of his goals, philosophy, and ambitions. He'd actually gotten the idea from the movie Jerry Maguire, of all places. In it, Tom Cruise's character sends out a mission statement that gets everyone all riled up.
That was precisely what the New Man was going to do today.
Except this was no movie.
He still liked Cruise, even though Cruise had made a fool of himself on Oprah with his couch-jumping antics. Maybe it was the slight resemblance they shared, but the New Man considered him a kind of a role model, almost a psychic brother. Cruise was a perfectionist, a peerless professional, a winner—just like himself.
Rereading the document for the hundredth time, he knew it was complete. The only problem that remained was how to sign it. There was no way he could use his real name, and the "New Man" wasn't distinguished enough. He could feel the true name hovering at the edge of his mind, but he couldn't quite reel it in. Well, it would come, he thought, closing the Treo down and tucking it back into his jacket. The important things always did.
He jauntily tapped the garage door opener on the Beemer's visor, and backed out smoothly toward the daylight flooding in through the rising door.
Then his passing glance caught the rearview mirror again—just in time to see the immense grille of a Lincoln Navigator, parked in the driveway directly in his path.
He slammed on the brakes barely in time to keep from ramming the Navigator and turning the shiny, showy grille into a twisted chunk of metal.
He exhaled a seething breath through his gritted teeth and wrenched the gearshift into park. Goddamn Erica! She had to leave her monster SUV right there, didn't she? Exactly in the one spot where he couldn't get around it. Now he'd have to go back inside the house, find the keys, move it, then start all over again in the Beemer. Like he wasn't in a distinct rush here. Like he didn't have important things to do. Erica wouldn't understand that—she'd never had anything important to do.
And now, she never would.
That thought made him feel a little better, but when he strode back to the Navigator three minutes later, his annoyance erupted all over again. This was cutting into his comfortable extra margin of time.
He twisted the key in the ignition so hard it bent, floored the accelerator, and threw the tranny into reverse. The SUV's seventeen-inch tires screamed as it rocketed backward, streaking rubber down the length of the herringbone-patterned limestone driveway. Instead of curving along with it, he kept going straight, onto the immaculate lawn. The spinning tires tore deep gouges and threw up tufts of shining green grass.
Leaving the Navigator's engine running, he parked the BMW, much more carefully, on the deserted suburban street. He was feeling a little calmer now. He was almost done with this crap, almost back where he'd started, and still ahead of schedule.
Then, as he was getting into the Navigator to return it to where it had been, a cold jet of water from a sprinkler pop-up lashed across the back of his designer suit from his shoulders to his waist.
His blue eyes practically smoked with fury, and he almost started pounding on the steering wheel with the heels of his hands. But a memory cut in, from an anger management therapy session he'd been ordered to take part in several years before. The therapist had concentrated on techniques to ratchet down his destructive rage: count backward from ten, breathe deeply, clench his fists, and pretend he was squeezing oranges.
Squeeze your oranges, he could almost hear her soothing voice saying to him. Then flick, flick, flick off the juice.
He gave it a try. Squeeze and flick. Squeeze and flick.
The sprinkler jet shot across the Navigator again, pissing into his face through the open window.
"I'll show you anger management, you idiot bitch!" he snarled, and stomped on the accelerator.
Spraying grass and chunks of limestone, the SUV hurtled straight through the garage and into the back wall at thirty-five miles per hour. The crash was like a bomb going off in a phone booth, with studs splintering and clouds of drywall dust billowing through the air.
Excerpted from Run for Your Life by James Patterson, Michael Ledwidge. Copyright © 2013 James Patterson Michael Ledwidge. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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