The Russian by James Patterson

Chapter 1



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.

There’s never a good time to be breaking in a new detective on the squad, but this moment was one of the worst. The new detective’s name was Brett Hollis. He was a sharp up-and-comer. He may not have been experienced, but he looked good. Full suit and tie. Not a hair out of place. He almost looked like he could be one of my kids dressed for church.

Occasionally I have a hard time trusting a well-put-together cop. I figure cops who take the job seriously have a permanent disheveled look. Like mine.

Hollis was also young. Maybe too young.

My lieutenant, Harry Grissom, hadn’t used the word babysit, but he’d said to make sure this kid didn’t get into any trouble. Sort of what a babysitter does. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but we were in the middle of a major murder investigation.

Chloe Tumber, a first-year student at Columbia Law, had been found stabbed to death with some kind of sharp tool. One Police Plaza was keeping recent developments quiet, but Chloe was the third victim—after one in the Bronx and another in Brooklyn—to die by similar means. The stab wounds had been made by blades with slightly different markers. We suspected the killer had a toolbox full of sharp implements.

I turned to the rookie and said, “Remember, this guy Van Fleet is a person of interest. Not necessarily a suspect. Follow my lead.”

Hollis nodded his head nervously, saying, “We need to call in our location.”

“Why?”

“Policy says we have to check in on the radio for safety reasons.”

I smiled at the young detective. “I appreciate your knowledge of the NYPD policy manual, but in real life, if we called in every location we stopped at, we’d do nothing but use the radio all day.” I stepped into the coffee house without another word, trusting Hollis would follow.

The coffee house was narrow, with about ten tables and a bar with ten stools. A good-looking young man wearing the name tag JESSE stood behind the counter and welcomed us.

I said, “Is Billy around?”

“You guys cops?”

Hollis stepped forward and said, “What about it?”

Jesse shrugged. “You got the look. Listen, Billy doesn’t steal from me and he shows up for his shifts—that’s all I care about.” Jesse set down his rag and jerked his thumb toward the rear of the narrow coffee house. “He’s in the back.”

I followed Hollis through the constricted hallway, boxes of paper towels and toilet paper stacked along the walls. Hollis walked past the bathrooms and storage room into the kitchen. That’s where we found Billy Van Fleet. The tall, slim, pale twenty-eight-year-old was busy washing dishes. He looked up and smiled, clearly making us for police officers. Guess we did have the look.

I saw Hollis take a step forward, and I placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, saying, “Be cool.”

“What can I do for you, Officers?” the dishwasher asked, drying his hands and straightening his shirt.

I held up my shield. “Billy Van Fleet?”

He nodded.

“When was the last time you saw Chloe Tumber?”

“Why?”

Hollis’s demeanor changed in an instant. “We’re asking the questions,” he snarled.

Van Fleet held up his hands and said, “Okay, okay, just asking.”

Hollis kept going. “How about you tell us where you were last night between 8 and 11 p.m.”

Van Fleet kept his eyes on Hollis, which I figured I’d use to my advantage. Maybe I’d let my new partner lead the interview. That way I could watch Van Fleet and see what made him nervous.

Right now he seemed very calm. Until suddenly he wasn’t. Without warning, he spun and sprinted away from the sink, blasting through the rear exit. He was fast.

Hollis broke into a run, calling over his shoulder almost cheerfully, “He’s our man!” just as Van Fleet hit the safety bar on the door, letting sunshine flood into the dark kitchen.





Chapter 2



I could’ve broken into a run with Brett Hollis. But that would’ve been counterproductive. Hollis was trying to keep the suspect in sight. I was sure he’d give this guy a good run for his money. But veteran cops don’t engage in foot chases. Experience is supposed to teach you something. It taught me to either find a car or use my head.

I knew this neighborhood. Every block of it. Traffic had picked up on Amsterdam Avenue, and no one runs toward a busy street. This guy had a plan. I figured he’d take the alley a block down and move away from any pedestrian traffic. If I were him, I’d head toward St. Nicholas Park. It wasn’t that far away.

I broke into a light jog. We needed this guy—make no mistake. Van Fleet was the first lead we’d had in Chloe Tumber’s homicide. Which, despite the different blades used, looked to be connected to those two other cases. All three victims were young women who’d suffered gruesome injuries moments before their deaths. And the three crime scenes looked similar. Messy. Though I couldn’t shake the feeling that the mess was deliberate, almost designed for effect. We were still developing a theory as to why.

I found the garbage alley I was looking for between two buildings, with its gates, as usual, left wide open. Then I saw an abandoned dog leash. A long one. Maybe twelve feet, and already hooked to a pole behind a pizza place. I took the leash in my hand and stepped to the other side of the alley.