Authors: James Patterson
“No one’s putting me in a psych ward,” Aaliyah said, getting to her feet angrily. “Least of all me.”
“Sorry,” she said, heading for the door. “I thought I could trust you and I was wrong. Good-bye, Dr. Cross.”
After a long look at the situation I came to a decision, grabbed my jacket, went outside, and hailed a cab.
WE PULLED UP
in front of the DC Police Union building twenty minutes later. I paid the cabbie, went inside, and asked to see William Roth.
Did I have a meeting set up with Mr. Roth? the receptionist asked. No. Had I tried to call him? I’d thought it was a dire enough situation to come down to talk with Mr. Roth in person. It wasn’t until I told him it might be a matter of life and death that he called upstairs.
Mr. Roth was in an important meeting, the receptionist told me after hanging up the phone.
“You didn’t explain the gravity of the situation. Call back.”
The receptionist rolled his eyes, snatched up the phone again, and dialed. “He says break into the meeting. It’s that important,” he told someone.
The receptionist waited, waited, and then hung up and said, “Go on up, third floor, second door on the right. Roth’s not happy.”
“I don’t care,” I said, and I took the stairs up.
I knocked on the door and then entered an anteroom with a very irritated secretary at her desk. “Mr. Roth has been working for this meeting for six months,” she said.
“Would it matter if someone you cared about was in danger?”
“Well,” she said, flustered. “I suppose so.”
“Roth’s right here,” said a flushed, bald man who appeared in the open doorway behind the secretary. “This better be good. I’ve got people at the table I never expected to—”
“It’s Tess Aaliyah,” I said, walking past the secretary into Roth’s office. “You’re her rep, correct?”
“Aaliyah?” Roth said with mild disdain. “Dear God, what’s she done now?”
“You sent her to me this morning for an evaluation. I believe she’s depressed and possibly suicidal.”
“No,” Roth said, taking a seat at his desk. “I saw her last week. She was bummed but knew it wasn’t her fault that the little girl was playing in the front hall before the shooting started.”
“I don’t think Aaliyah cares. About anything. Which can be chemical, and which is why I need your help getting her into a psych ward for three days so she can be evaluated by medical professionals.”
“You want me to commit Aaliyah?” Roth said incredulously. “No, absolutely not. Even if I had that authority, and I don’t, absolutely not.”
“Aren’t you supposed to look after her, represent her?”
“In the shooting, yes, but this? No.”
“The depression and suicidal thoughts followed from the
shooting,” I said firmly. “She needs help. More than I can give her.”
“You tell her that?”
“What did she say?”
“That she was upset but fine and nowhere near the padded room.”
“There you go, then,” Roth said, getting up. “I have a meeting to run.”
I blocked the door and said, “You don’t care about Aaliyah’s well-being?”
“I care,” Roth said. “But if you want her in a psych ward, convince her doctor or someone in her family to recommend it. Or get the department to make it a stipulation of her suspension revocation. Any way you try to do it, though?”
“Expect her to fight.”
AFTER SEVERAL UNSUCCESSFUL
attempts to reach her, I spoke with Esther Dodd, an attorney for the police department. It was obvious by her curtness that Ms. Dodd was none too happy to take my call, probably due to the murder charges pending against me. She listened impatiently and dismissed out of hand my request to have Aaliyah undergo psychiatric evaluation as soon as possible as a stipulation of her rejoining the force.
“She’s on suspension with a lawsuit pending,” the attorney said. “That puts Detective Aaliyah in limbo and gives us very few options, especially since your evaluation was done on behalf of the police union. With all due respect, it holds no weight from a legal perspective. Good-bye, Dr. Cross.”
I tried to find Aaliyah’s doctor next and lucked out when a friend in the human resources department checked some old records and gave me a name, Dr. Timothy Cantrell. I looked Cantrell up and found he was not only an internist
but affiliated with GW Medical Center and its famous tropical medicine division. I called Cantrell’s office but found that the physician, a member of Doctors Without Borders, was currently out of the country, working in Brazil to stem a yellow fever outbreak.
I was frustrated but refused to give up without making every effort.
At 2:12 p.m., after making the long drive, I turned down Francis Street in the small town of Arbutus, a suburb of Baltimore, and soon found a small blue-and-white bungalow with a neatly tended yard.
A raw northeast wind had picked up and caused me to shiver as I ran up the walk and knocked at the door. A tall and very put-together redheaded woman in her late fifties answered the door.
I introduced myself, and her features softened.
“I’ve seen you on the news,” she said. “Tess and Bernie say you’re innocent, wrongfully charged.”
Her name was Christine Prince. She was Aaliyah’s father’s girlfriend and was happy to tell me that Bernie had gone off surf-fishing, his passion in retirement. I asked when he’d return, and she said that he’d gone to one of his favorite spots out on Assateague Island, so he probably wouldn’t be back until around midnight.
After a few moments’ hesitation, I asked if she knew where on Assateague he went to fish.
“You’re going all the way out there?” she said after showing me on a map.
“I need his advice, and I think he’d want to give it to me sooner rather than later.”
“Tess?” she said softly.
“You’re a mind reader, Christine,” I said. “Thank you for the help.”
Two hours later, I pulled into Assateague Island State Park. The ranger station was closed, and I found Bernie Aaliyah’s Jeep Wagoneer parked right where his girlfriend said it would be.
When I got out, the wind clipped me, and the sky spat rain. I dug in the trunk of my car and came up with an old rain jacket and a pair of calf-high rubber boots I kept around for crime scene work. I put them on, and with my hood up to block the wind, I walked up the trail, through the dunes, and onto the beach.
The Atlantic was gray and roiling. But to my left, there were surfers out on the swells, clad head to toe in black neoprene, and to my right, there were six or seven anglers. I stood there, looking at the anglers one at a time, until I saw an older man limp fast toward the crashing surf and then use his powerful shoulders to whip out a heavy fishing rod with a big pink lure.
I thought the lure’s arc would die quickly in the wind, but it had just the right angle, and it punched through, landing in the water far offshore. As I started toward him, he pumped the rod tip up and down several times, paused, then did it again. When I passed his chair, his cooler, his tackle box, and two Coleman lanterns yet to be lit, he twitched it a third time.
“Bernie Aaliyah?” I said.
The old man startled and looked over his shoulder at me, huddled in my rain jacket and hood. “I know you?” he said.
I pushed back the hood. “Alex Cross, sir.”
Tess’s father’s face broke into a toothy smile. “So you are. Been a long time, Dr. Cross. I’ve been following your career from way back.”
“I followed yours when I was at Johns Hopkins, sir,” I said.
“Hold on, let’s do this proper,” Bernie said, sticking the butt end of his fishing rod into a piece of white PVC pipe buried in the sand. “There, now.”
He turned awkwardly, due to a gunshot wound to his pelvis that had ended his remarkable career in Baltimore Homicide, but he shook my hand with the vigor of a man half his age.
“To what do I owe the honor of you driving all the way to hell and gone to see me?” Bernie asked.
“It’s about Tess,” I said. “It’s serious.”
AFTER I DESCRIBED
my concerns and the evidence to support them, Bernie Aaliyah was quiet for several moments, standing there, looking off toward the waves crashing in the falling light.
“I saw my daughter three days ago,” he said at last. “Tess was still grief-stricken, still remorseful, but I didn’t see suicidal, Dr. Cross. And I certainly will not go to court over her wishes.”
“I don’t discount your observations, Mr. Aaliyah,” I said. “And maybe you don’t want to legally compel Tess to undergo a full psych evaluation. But you could convince her to commit herself. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but I’d rather stand here with my tail between my legs than stand next to you at a grave.”
Before Aaliyah’s father could reply to that, there was a sharp popping noise. We both turned to see his surfcasting rod bending hard, the line straight and quivering.
“That’s a good one!” he cried, scrambling over to the fishing rod and grabbing it before it could come free of the PVC pipe.
Bernie held the rod tight about two feet from the bottom,
the butt still in the pipe. He leaned back, testing the weight of the fish and its strength.
“Oh, Jaysus,” Bernie said. “He’s gonna go forty minimum, maybe fifty!”
The reel started to whine. Aaliyah’s father reached down and adjusted the drag to let the unseen fish run. He let it tear out a hundred yards and saw the line slacken before he snatched up the pole from the PVC pipe and reset the drag.
“Bernie,” I began.
He barked, “I’ve been waiting on this quality of fish for two years running, Cross. So you can either leave or wait until I’m done here.”
I held up my hands. “Don’t let me get in your way.”
So I stood back and watched the retired homicide detective engage in an epic battle on the beach. Every time Bernie was able to pull and crank the fish closer to shore, it would make another run that left him gasping.
“He could go sixty,” Aaliyah’s father said with a grunt twenty minutes into the struggle. “Big, big striper.”
Thirty-five minutes into the fight, he said, “Maybe seventy pounds. My God, what a pig of a fish!”
Fifty-two minutes into the battle, Bernie had the striper in the surf thirty yards right in front of him. We saw the leader and a flash of a big fin before the pig of a fish rolled over and started to shake its head against the pressure of the line and the hook.
Then the fish ran, leaped up out of the water, head still shaking, and crashed sideways into the surf. I was shocked at the size of it. So was Bernie.
“Jaysus H,” he said in awe. “He has to be pushing the world rec—”
The striper thrashed once more. There was a twanging noise as the line snapped in two. Bernie staggered and fell back into the sand.
I felt bad and expected him to be mad, curse his luck, or at least cry out in dismay. But Aaliyah’s father just sat there in the sand, holding his fishing rod, staring at the surf and what could have been.
After several minutes, he said, “You get a chance at some things only once in this life, and sometimes they slip right through your hands. I’ll support you, Dr. Cross. One way or the other, I’ll see to it that Tess gets the help you say she needs.”
JOHN SAMPSON KNOCKED
on the door frame of Bree Stone’s office.
“Chief, we’ve got her in interrogation,” he said.
Bree looked up from a stack of papers, put her pen down, and got up.
She and Sampson went to a booth with a one-way mirror overlooking an interrogation room. A young woman with elaborate parrot tattoos on both arms, multiple face piercings, and half her jet-black hair shaved off sat at the table, staring at the mirror.
In an accent that sounded straight out of Appalachia, she said, “Sally Sweet doesn’t have all day. You either want to know or you don’t.”
Detective Ainsley Fox was also in the observation booth. She said, “Let me talk to her alone, Chief. Get her to relate to me.”
Sampson wondered whether that was possible, given that Fox was one of the most abrasive, obnoxious people he’d ever worked with.
Bree was skeptical too, and shook her head. “Detective Sampson will take the lead. He has years of experience at this kind of thing.”
Fox scowled but offered no argument as she trailed Sampson out into the hallway. Sampson stopped and said, “You listen. You study. You learn.”
His partner did not like that, but she nodded. She and Sampson entered the interrogation room and sat down in front of the woman.
“Sally Sweet?” he said after introducing himself.
“It’s what my driver’s license says,” she said, smiling. “For real. Approved by the court, even.”
“Taken in on charges of soliciting prostitution,” Fox said. “And possession of a controlled narcotic.”
Sampson had to fight not to ask Fox to leave right then.
Sweet shrugged. “Like I told the vice cop, the Oxy I got legit, cause of a herniated disk in my lumbar, and anyway, I got a get-out-of-jail-free card, and I want to use it.”
“Describe the card,” Sampson said.
“It’s a big one.”
Fox leaned across the table as if to speak. Sampson put his hand on his partner’s thigh and squeezed it hard. Fox sat back and looked at his hand and then at him in outrage.
Sampson squeezed harder, and then let go. He looked at Fox, then turned his head to Sweet, who couldn’t figure out what was going on.
“I can’t promise you a thing until I hear what you have,” Sampson said, ignoring the fact that Fox’s normally pale skin had gone beet red. “If it’s strong evidence, we’ll inform the prosecutor who draws your case. In return for testimony, you’ll get some kind of deal.”
Sweet’s lips curled as if she’d sniffed something foul. “I didn’t say nothing ’bout testifying. This is a tip. I give the tip to you. You let me go.”
Fox was about to open her mouth, but Sampson pushed back from the table, stood up, and said, “I guess we’re done, then. You’ll be taken back to central holding. Detective Fox?”