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Authors: James Patterson

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Nana Mama let out a long breath.

“I hate them,” Jannie said as we pulled away.

“It’s like they’re feeding on Dad,” Ali said.

“Bloodsuckers,” the driver said.

All too soon we arrived in front of the District of Columbia Courthouse at 500 Indiana Avenue. The building is a two-wing, smooth limestone structure with a steel-and-glass atrium over the lobby and a large plaza flanked by raised gardens out front. There’d been twenty vultures at my house, but there were sixty jackals there for my rendezvous with cold justice.

Anita Marley, my attorney, was also there, waiting at the curb.

Tall and athletically built, with auburn hair, freckled skin, and sharp emerald eyes, Marley had once played volleyball for and studied acting at the University of Texas; she later graduated near the top of her law-school class at Rice. She was classy, brassy, and hilarious, as well as certifiably badass in the courtroom, which was why we’d hired her.

Marley opened my door.

“I do the talking from here on out, Alex,” she said in a commanding drawl just as the roar of accusation and ridicule hit me, far worse than what I’d been subjected to at home.

I’d seen this kind of thing in the past, a big-time trial mob with local and national reporters preparing to feed raw meat to the twenty-four-hour cable-news monster. I’d just never been the raw meat before.

“Talk to us, Cross!” they shouted. “Are
you
the problem? Are
you
and your cowboy ways what the police have become in America? Above the law?”

I couldn’t take it and responded, “No one is above the law.”

“Don’t say anything,” Marley hissed, and she took me by the elbow and moved me across the plaza toward the front doors of the courthouse.

The swarm went with us, still buzzing, still stinging.

From the crowd beyond the reporters, a man shouted in a terrified voice, “Don’t shoot me, Cross! Don’t shoot!”

Others started to chant with him in that same tone. “Don’t shoot me, Cross! Don’t shoot!”

Despite my best efforts, I could not help turning my head to look at them. Some carried placards that featured a red
X
over my face with a caption below it, one reading
END POLICE VIOLENCE
and another
GUILTY AS CHARGED
!

In front of the bulletproof courthouse doors, Marley stopped to turn me toward the lights, microphones, and cameras. I threw my shoulders back and lifted my chin.

My attorney held up her hand and said in a loud, firm voice, “Dr. Cross is an innocent man and an innocent police officer. We are very happy that at long last he’ll have the opportunity to clear his good name.”

CHAPTER
3

THE POLICE OFFICERS
manning the security checkpoint watched me as I entered the courthouse, the media still boiling behind me.

Sergeant Doug Kenny, chief of court security and an old friend, said, “We’re with you, Alex. Good shoot, from what I hear. Damn good shoot.”

The other three all nodded and smiled at me as I went through the metal detectors. Outside, the horde descended on my family as they fought their way toward the court entrance.

Nana Mama, Damon, and Jannie made it inside first, looking shaken. Ali and Bree entered a few moments later. As the door swung shut, Ali faced the reporters peering in. Then he raised his middle finger in a universally understood gesture.

“Ali!” Nana Mama cried, grabbing him by the collar. “That is unacceptable behavior!”

But with the security team chuckling at him and me smiling, Ali didn’t show a bit of remorse.

“Tough kid,” Anita said, steering me to the elevators.

“Smart kid,” said the young African American woman who’d just appeared beside me. “Always has been.”

I put my arm around her shoulders, hugged her, and kissed her head.

“Thank you for being here, Naomi,” I said.

“You’ve always had my back, Uncle Alex,” she said.

Naomi Cross, my late brother Aaron’s daughter, is a respected criminal defense attorney in her own right, and she’d jumped at the chance to help me and work with the renowned Anita Marley on my case.

“What are my odds, Anita?” I said as the elevator doors shut.

“I don’t play that game,” she said crisply, adjusting the cuffs of her white blouse. “We’ll inform the jury of the facts and then let them decide.”

“But you’ve seen the prosecution’s evidence.”

“And I have a rough idea of their theory. I think our story’s more compelling, and I intend to tell it well.”

I believed her. In just the past six years, Marley had won eight high-profile murder cases. After I was charged with double homicide, I reached out to her, expecting to get a refusal or a “too busy.” Instead, she flew from Dallas to DC the next day, and she’d been standing by me in legal proceedings ever since.

I liked Anita. There was no BS about her. She had a lightning-fast mind, and she was not above using her charm, good looks, or acting skills to help a client. I’d seen her use all of them on the judge who oversaw pretrial motions, motions that, with a few disturbing exceptions, she’d won handily.

But mine was as complex a trial case as she’d ever seen, she said, with threads that extended deep into my past.

About fifteen years ago, a psychopath named Gary Soneji went on a kidnapping and murder spree. I’d put him in prison, but he escaped several years later and turned to bomb-building.

Soneji had detonated several, killing multiple people before we cornered him in a vast abandoned tunnel system below Manhattan. He’d almost killed me, but I was able to shoot him first. He staggered away and was swallowed by the darkness before the bomb he wore exploded.

Flash-forward ten years. My partner at the DC Metro Police, John Sampson, and I were helping out in a church kitchen. A dead ringer for Soneji broke in and shot the cook and a nun, and then he shot Sampson in the head.

Miraculously, all three survived, but the Soneji look-alike wasn’t found.

It turned out there was a cult dedicated to Soneji that thrived on the dark web. The investigation into that cult led me, in a roundabout way, to an abandoned factory in Southeast DC, where three armed people wearing Soneji masks confronted me. I shot three, killing two.

But when police responded to my call for backup, they found no weapons on any of the victims, and I was charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

The elevator doors opened on the third floor of the courthouse. We headed straight to courtroom 9B, cut in front of the line of people trying to get seats, and, ignoring the furious whispers behind us, went in.

The public gallery was almost full. The media occupied four rows on the far left of the gallery. The front row behind the
prosecution desk, which was reserved for victims and victims’ families, was empty. So was the row reserved for my family, on the right.

“Stay standing,” Marley murmured after we’d passed through the bar and reached the defense table. “I want everyone watching you. Show your confidence and your pride at being a cop.”

“I’m trying,” I whispered back.

“Here comes the prosecution,” Naomi said.

“Don’t look at them,” Marley said. “They’re mine.”

I didn’t look their way, but in my peripheral vision I picked up the two assistant U.S. attorneys stowing their briefcases under the prosecution table. Nathan Wills, the lead prosecutor, looked like he’d never met a doughnut he didn’t eat. In his mid-thirties, pasty-faced, and ninety pounds overweight, Wills had a tendency to sweat. A lot.

But Anita and Naomi had cautioned me not to underestimate the man. He’d graduated first in his class from Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley and clerked at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals before joining the Justice Department.

His assistant, Athena Carlisle, had a no less formidable background. A descendant of sharecroppers, Carlisle came from abject poverty in Mississippi and was the first person in her family to graduate from high school. She’d won a full scholarship to Morehouse College, graduated at the top of her class, and then attended law school at Georgetown, where she’d edited the
Law Review
.

According to profiles of the prosecutors that had appeared the week before in the
Washington Post,
both Wills and Carlisle were ambitious in the extreme and eager to prosecute the federal government’s case against me.

Why the U.S. government? Why the high-powered U.S. Attorney’s Office? That’s how it’s worked in Washington, DC, since the 1970s. If you’re charged with a homicide in the nation’s capital, the nation is going to see you punished.

I heard shuffling and voices behind me, turned, and saw my family taking their seats. Bree smiled at me bravely, mouthed,
I love you.

I started to say it back to her but then stopped when I saw a sullen teenage boy in khakis and a blue dress shirt with too-short sleeves enter the courtroom. His name was Dylan Winslow. His father was Gary Soneji. His mother had been one of the shooting victims. Dylan came up to the bar, not ten feet away from where I stood, pushed back his oily dark hair, and glared at me.

“Frickin’ hell’s in session for you, Cross,” Winslow said, his smile smug and malicious. “Honestly, I can’t wait to see you go down in flames.”

Ali jumped up and said, “Like your dad did?”

I thought Winslow was going to go ballistic and attack my younger son. Damon did too, and he stood up behind Ali.

Instead of taking a swing at Ali, the teen smiled even more malevolently.

“That’s right, kid,” he said coldly. “Exactly like my dad did.”

“All rise!” the bailiff cried. “Superior Court of the District of Columbia is in session. Judge Priscilla Larch presiding.”

A woman in her mid-fifties, with thick glasses and dyed-black hair pulled back in a severe hairdo, Judge Larch stood four foot ten. She was so short she looked almost comical climbing up behind the bench.

But I was not laughing. Larch had a richly deserved reputation for being a hanging judge.

After striking her gavel twice, Judge Larch peered out through those glasses and in a smoker’s voice growled, “The People versus Alex Cross. This court will come to order.”

CHAPTER
4

Six weeks earlier …

JOHN SAMPSON TRIED
to remain calm, tried to tell himself that he would be okay with whatever decision awaited him on the other side of wooden double doors on the fifth floor of the Daly Building in downtown DC.

But Sampson couldn’t remain calm. He smelled his own sweat and was almost consumed by anxiety.

His stomach did a flip-flop when the secretary at last nodded to him around five p.m. and said, “He’ll see you now, Mr. Sampson.”

“Thank you,” Sampson said. He got to his feet and, like the therapists had taught him, widened his stance to counter the occasional bouts of vertigo he’d suffered since the gunshot wound to his head.

Sampson walked to the door, trying to exude confidence. He opened it, stepped in, and spotted Bryan Michaels sitting behind his desk, signing documents. Silver-haired and in amazing physical condition for a man in his mid-fifties, DC’s chief
of police looked up, smiled perfunctorily, and waved Sampson to a seat.

“If it’s okay, sir, I’d rather stand,” Sampson said.

Chief Michaels’s smile disappeared, and he set his pen down as Sampson approached and stood at ease. The chief leaned back in his chair and studied the big man for several long, disquieting moments, glancing more than once at the scar on the left side of the detective’s forehead.

“You shot well in qualifying, I see,” the chief said at last.

“Not a stellar performance, but I passed, sir.”

“You did,” Michaels said. “And you almost matched your personal best in the physical tests.”

“I’ve worked very hard to be here, Chief.”

Sampson caught Michaels glancing again at the scar on his forehead.

“You
have
worked hard, John,” Michaels said in a tone that instantly troubled Sampson, made him feel lost and, well, about to be discarded.

The chief went on. “But I also have to use my best judgment in deciding whether or not to return an officer to the field after the kind of trauma you sustained. And I have to ask myself if you will be a liability to other officers in times of crisis.”

Sampson had wondered the same thing, but he said nothing, just gazed at the chief without expression. A beat went by, then two.

Chief Michaels broke into a smile, stood, and offered his hand. “Welcome back, Detective Sampson. You’ve been greatly missed.”

Sampson grinned, grabbed the chief’s hand, and pumped it wildly. “Thank you, Chief. You won’t regret this.”

“I know I won’t,” Michaels said. “You’re an inspiration to many of your fellow officers. I want you to know that.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“You’ll be needing a new partner,” the chief said, his face falling a bit.

There was an awkward moment before Sampson said, “I’m ready for that.”

Chief Michaels studied him a moment and then said, “I hate that there’s a gorilla in the room.”

“Yes, sir. But I believe the gorilla will win out eventually.”

Michaels softened. “I hope so. How is he?”

“Hung out his shingle to pass time until the trial,” Sampson said.

“Give Alex my best. I mean that.”

There was a sharp knock at the door, and in stepped an angular and highly agitated redheaded woman with a detective’s badge on a chain around her neck.

“Fox?” Michaels said, irritated. “I hadn’t asked you in here yet.”

Fox glanced at Sampson, then back at the chief. “I apologize, sir, but Detective Sampson and I, we just pulled a bad one. Kidnapping and shooting at Washington Latin.”

“Latin?” Sampson said. “Ali Cross goes to that school.”

CHAPTER
5

ALI WAS BADLY
shaken but physically okay when Sampson found him on the steps of the Washington Latin Public Charter School, his backpack between his knees, wiping away his tears. A patrolman said Ali had seen the entire brutal incident. So had five other students involved in an after-school debate program.

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