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Women's Murder Club [09] The 9th Judgment, страница 1

 

Women's Murder Club [09] The 9th Judgment
 

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Women's Murder Club [09] The 9th Judgment


  The Women’s Murder Club

  The 9th Judgment (with Maxine Paetro)

  The 8th Confession (with Maxine Paetro)

  7th Heaven (with Maxine Paetro)

  The 6th Target (with Maxine Paetro)

  The 5th Horseman (with Maxine Paetro)

  4th of July (with Maxine Paetro)

  3rd Degree (with Andrew Gross)

  2nd Chance (with Andrew Gross)

  1st to Die

  A complete list of books by

  James Patterson is on pages 360–361.

  For previews of upcoming books by James Patterson

  and more information about the author, visit

  www.JamesPatterson.com.

  Copyright

  Copyright © 2010 by James Patterson

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  Little, Brown and Company

  Hachette Book Group

  237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

  Visit our website at www.hachettebookgroup.com

  www.twitter.com/littlebrown

  First eBook Edition: April 2010

  Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The

  Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the authors.

  ISBN: 978-0-316-08817-6

  Contents

  Copyright

  Prologue: A THIEF IN THE NIGHT

  One

  Two

  Three

  Part One: SNEAKY PETE

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Part Two: SHOWTIME

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Part Three: THE TRAP

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapters 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  Chapter 66

  Chapter 67

  Chapter 68

  Chapter 69

  Chapter 70

  Chapter 71

  Chapter 72

  Chapter 73

  Chapter 74

  Chapter 75

  Chapter 76

  Chapter 77

  Chapter 78

  Chapters 79

  Chapter 80

  Chapter 81

  Chapter 82

  Chapter 83

  Chapter 84

  Chapter 85

  Chapter 86

  Chapter 87

  Chapter 88

  Chapter 89

  Chapter 90

  Chapter 91

  Chapter 92

  Chapter 93

  Chapter 94

  Chapter 95

  Chapter 96

  Chapter 97

  Chapter 98

  Part Four: MONSTER

  Chapter 99

  Chapter 100

  Chapter 101

  Chapter 102

  Chapter 103

  Chapter 104

  Chapter 105

  Chapter 106

  Chapter 107

  Chapter 108

  Chapter 109

  Chapter 110

  Chapter 111

  Chapter 112

  Chapter 113

  Epilogue: 911

  Chapter 114

  Chapter 115

  Chapter 116

  Chapter 117

  Acknowledgments

  About the Authors

  Books by James Patterson

  To Suzy and John

  and Jack and Brendan

  Prologue

  A THIEF IN THE NIGHT

  One

  SARAH WELLS STOOD on the roof of the carport and snaked her gloved hand through the hole she’d cut in the glass. Her pulse was thudding in her ears as she unlocked the double-hung window, opened the sash, and slid quietly into the darkened room. Once inside, she flattened herself against the wall and listened.

  Voices rose from the floor below, and she heard the clanking of silverware against china. Good timing, Sarah thought. In fact, perfect.

  But timing and execution were two different things entirely.

  She switched on her miner’s headlamp and took a 180-degree illuminated tour of the bedroom. She noted the console table to her left, which was loaded with whatnots. She had to watch out for that table and the scatter rugs on the slick hardwood floors.

  The lithe young woman quickly crossed the space, shut the door between the bedroom and hallway, and headed to the open closet, which smelled faintly of perfume. Leaving the door open just a crack, Sarah played her light over racks of clothing. She parted a curtain of long, beaded gowns, and there it was: a safe in the closet wall.

  Sarah had bet on this. If Casey Dowling was like most socialites, she dressed for her dinner parties and wore her jewels. Chances were that she’d left her safe unlocked so she could put her jewels away later without having to punch in the combination again. Sarah tugged lightly on the safe’s handle—and the heavy door swung open.

  It was a go.

  But she had to work fast. Three minutes, no more.

  Sarah’s headlamp lit up the contents of the safe while leaving her hands free to frisk the jumble of satin envelopes and silk-covered boxes. Way in the back was a brocaded box the size of a small loaf of bread. She undid the latch and lifted the lid on the mother lode.

  Sarah gasped.

  She’d read stories about Casey Dowling for two months and seen dozens of photos of her at society events, glittering with jewels. But she hadn’t expected the sheer weight of diamonds and precious stones, the gleaming mounds of baroque pearls.

  It was cra-zzzy. Casey Dowling owned all of this.

  Well, not for long.

  Sarah plucked bracelets and earrings and rings out of the box and stowed them in one of her two small duffel bags, the straps of which crisscrossed her chest. She paused to study a particular ring in its own leather case
, to marvel at the frickin’ wonder of it—when lights flashed on in the bedroom only yards from where she stood in the closet.

  Sarah snapped off her light and dropped to a crouch, her heart rate shooting into overdrive as she heard the living, booming voice of Marcus Dowling, superstar actor of theater and the silver screen, bickering with his wife as he came into the room.

  Sarah tucked all five feet eight of herself into a ball behind gowns and garment bags.

  God, she was stupid.

  While she’d been ogling the jewels, the Dowlings’ dinner party had ended, and now she was going to get caught and be imprisoned for grand larceny. Her. A high school English teacher. It would be a scandal—and that was the least of it.

  Sweat broke out under Sarah’s knit cap. Drops of it rolled from her underarms down the sides of her black turtleneck as she waited for the Dowlings to switch on the closet light and find her squatting there, a thief in the night.

  Two

  CASEY DOWLING WAS trying to squeeze an admission from her husband, but Marcus wasn’t having it.

  “What the hell, Casey?” he snapped. “I wasn’t staring at Sheila’s boobs, for Christ’s sake. Every single time we get together with people, you complain that I’m leering, and frankly, sweetheart, I find your paranoia very unattractive.”

  “Ohhhh no, Marcus. You? Leer at another woman? I’m soooo ashamed of myself for even having had the thought.” Casey had a lovely laugh, even when it was colored with sarcasm.

  “Silly cow,” Marcus Dowling muttered.

  Sarah imagined his handsome face, the thick gray hair falling across his brow as he scowled. She imagined Casey, too—her willowy shape, her white-blond hair falling in a silvery sheet to her shoulder blades.

  Casey cooed, “There, there. I’ve hurt your feelings.”

  “Forget it, love. I’m not in the mood now.”

  “Oh. Sorry. My mistake.”

  Sarah felt the rebuff as if it had happened to her. Then Marcus said, “Oh, for pity’s sake. Don’t cry. Come here.”

  The room went quiet for a few minutes, until Sarah heard a whoosh of bodies falling into plumped bedding, then murmuring—words she couldn’t make out. Then the headboard began to tap against the wall, and Sarah thought, Oh dear God, they’re doing it.

  Images came to her of Marcus Dowling in Susan and James with Jennifer Lowe and in Redboy with Kimberly Kerry. She thought of Casey in Marcus’s arms, her long legs wrapped around him. The tapping became more rhythmic and the moaning became louder and then there was a long, groaning exhalation from Marcus, and then—mercifully—it was over.

  Someone used the bathroom after that, and finally the room went black.

  Sarah squatted quietly behind the curtain of gowns for at least twenty minutes, and when the breathing outside the closet settled into sputters and snores, she opened the door and crawled to the window.

  She was almost home free—but not there yet.

  Sarah was quick and quiet as she vaulted to the windowsill, but when one leg followed the other, she hit the side of the console table—and it all went wrong.

  There was the tinkling of sliding whatnots as the table tipped and then crashed, sending its load of picture frames and perfume bottles to the floor.

  Holy crap.

  Sarah froze, mind and body, as Casey Dowling bolted into a sitting position and yelled, “Who’s there?”

  Sarah’s stark fear propelled her out the window. She hung on to the roof of the carport with all the strength in her fingertips, then released her grip and made the ten-foot drop.

  She landed on grass, knees bent, no pain. And as the Dowlings’ bedroom light came on overhead, Sarah ran. She ripped off her headlamp and stuffed it into one of the duffels as she sprinted through the upscale San Francisco neighborhood of Nob Hill.

  A few minutes later Sarah found her old Saturn where she’d left it in the parking lot outside a drugstore. She got into the car, closed the door, and locked it, as if that could keep out her fear. She started up the engine and released the hand brake, still panting, trying not to throw up as she drove toward home.

  When she hit the straightaway of Pine Street, Sarah pulled off her cap and gloves, wiped her brow with the back of her hand, and thought hard about her escape from the Dowlings’ bedroom.

  She’d left nothing: no tools, no prints, no DNA. No nothing.

  For now, at least, she was safe.

  Honestly. She didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

  Three

  CASEY’S EYES FLEW open in the dark.

  Something had crashed. The table by the window! She felt a breeze on her face. The window was open. They never opened that window.

  Someone was inside the house.

  Casey sat up. “Who’s there?” She clutched the blankets to her chin and screamed, “Marc! Someone is in the room.”

  Her husband groaned, “You’re dreaming. Go back to sleep.”

  “Wake up! Someone is here,” she hissed.

  Casey fumbled with the table lamp, knocked her glasses onto the floor, found the switch, and turned on the light. There. The console table was turned over, everything broken, curtains blowing in the breeze.

  “Do something, Marc. Do something.”

  Marcus Dowling worked out every day. He could still bench-press two hundred pounds, and he knew how to use a gun. He told his wife to be quiet, then opened his nightstand drawer and removed the .44 he kept fully loaded in a soft leather bag. He shucked the sack and gripped the gun.

  Casey grabbed the bedside phone and pressed the numbers 9-1-1 with a shaking hand. She misdialed, then tried again as Marc, still half drunk, bellowed, “Who’s there?” Even when he was serious, he sounded scripted. “Show yourself.”

  Marcus looked in the bathroom and the hallway, then said, “There’s no one here, Casey. Just what I said.”

  Casey dropped the phone back into its cradle, shoved at the bedcovers, and went to the closet for her robe—and screamed.

  “What is it now?”

  White-faced, naked, Casey turned to her husband and said, “Oh my God, Marc, my jewelry is gone. The safe is almost empty.”

  A look came over Marc’s face that was hard for Casey to read. It was as if he’d had an idea, and the idea was catching fire. Did he know who robbed them?

  “Marc? What is it? What are you thinking?”

  “Ah, I was thinking, You can’t take it with you.”

  “What kind of bullshit is that? What do you mean?”

  Dowling extended his right arm and aimed the gun at a mole between his wife’s breasts. He pulled the trigger. Boom.

  “That’s what I mean,” he said.

  Casey Dowling opened her mouth, sucked in air, and exhaled as she looked down at her chest, at the blood pumping and bubbling out of the wound. She clasped her hands to her chest. She looked at her husband and gasped, “Help me.”

  He shot her again.

  Then her knees buckled and she went down.

  Part One

  SNEAKY PETE

  Chapter 1

  PETER GORDON FOLLOWED the young mom out of Macy’s and into the street outside the Stonestown Galleria. Mom was about thirty, her brown hair in a messy ponytail, wearing a lot of red: not just shorts but red sneakers and a red purse. Shopping bags hung from the handles of her baby’s stroller.

  Pete was behind the woman when she crossed Winston Drive, still almost on her heels as she entered the parking garage, talking to the infant as if he could understand her, asking him if he remembered where Mommy parked the car and what Daddy was making for dinner, chattering away, the whole running baby-talk commentary like a fuse lit by the woman’s mouth, terminating at the charge inside Petey’s brain.

  But Petey stayed focused on his target. He listened and watched, kept his head down, hands in his pockets, and saw the woman unlock the hatch of her RAV4 and jam her shopping bags inside. He was only yards away from her when she hoisted the baby out of the stroller and folded the carriage into
the back, too.

  The woman was strapping the boy into the car seat when Pete started toward her.

  “Ma’am? Can you help me out, please?”

  The woman drew her brows together. What do you want? was written all over her face as she saw him. She got into the front seat now, keys in hand.

  “Yes?” she said.

  Pete Gordon knew that he looked healthy and clean and wide-eyed and trustworthy. His all-American good looks were an asset, but he wasn’t vain. No more than a Venus flytrap was vain.

  “I’ve got a flat,” Pete said, throwing up his hands. “I really hate to ask, but could I use your cell phone to call Triple-A?”

  He flashed a smile and got the dimples going, and at last she smiled, too, and said, “I do that—forget to charge the darned thing.”

  She dug into her purse, then looked up with the cell phone in hand. Her smile wavered as she read Pete’s new expression, no longer eager to please but hard and determined.

  She dropped her eyes to the gun he was holding—thinking that somehow she’d gotten it wrong—looked back into his face, and saw the chill in his dark eyes.

  She jerked away from him, dropping her keys and her phone into the foot well. She climbed halfway into the backseat.

  “Oh my God,” she said. “Don’t—do anything. I’ve got cash—”

  Pete fired, the round whizzing through the suppressor, hitting the woman in the neck. She grabbed at the wound, blood spouting through her fingers.

  “My baby,” she gasped.

  “Don’t worry. He won’t feel anything. I promise,” Pete Gordon said.

  He shot the woman again, poof, this time in the side of her chest, then opened the back door and looked at the bawler, nodding off, mouth sticky with cotton candy, blue veins tracing a road map across his temple.

  Chapter 2

  A CAR SCREAMED down the ramp and squealed around the corner, speeding past Pete as he turned his face toward the concrete center island. He was sure he hadn’t been seen, and anyway he’d done everything right. Strictly by the book.

 
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