Prologue | THE CHAMELEON
INT. KITCHEN—REGENCY HOTEL,
NEW YORK CITY—DAY
It’s the height of the breakfast rush at the Regency’s world-famous You-Can-Kiss-Our-Ass-If-You’re-Not-Richand-Powerful dining room. THE CHAMELEON slips quietly into the busy kitchen. His sandy hair is now dark, his skin copper. He blends right in, just another nameless Puerto Rican in a busboy uniform. He goes totally unnoticed.
THE CHAMELEON HAD stared at those words in his script hundreds of times. This morning they were coming to life.
His movie was finally in production. “And action,” he whispered as he entered the Regency kitchen through a rear door.
He did not go unnoticed.
“You!” one of the black-tied, white-jacketed waiters yelled. “Get out there and top off the coffee cups at table twelve.”
Not exactly what he’d scripted, but so much better than he could have hoped for. Like most New York actors, The Chameleon knew his way around a restaurant kitchen. He filled one chrome carafe with regular coffee, another with decaf, and pushed through the swinging door into the dining room.
The cast of characters was even better than he had expected too. Today was the start of Hollywood on the Hudson week, the city’s all-out push to steal more film production business from LA. So in addition to the usual East Coast power brokers, the room was chock-full of Hollywood ass-holes chewing on multimillion-dollar deals and hundred-dollar breakfasts. And there, holding court at table twelve, was none other than Sid Roth.
If you could go to prison for destroying careers, families, and souls, Sid Roth would be serving a string of consecutive life sentences. But in the movie biz, being a heartless prick was a plus if it translated into the bottom line, and over the past three decades Roth had turned Mesa Films from a mom-and-pop shop into a megastudio. The man was God, and the four other guys at the table were happily basking in His aura.
The Chameleon began pouring coffee when Roth, who was regaling his tablemates with a Hollywood war story, put a hand over his cup and said, “Get me another tomato juice, will you?”
“Yes, sir,” The Chameleon said. One tomato juice and a featured cameo coming up for Mr. Roth.
He was back in less than three minutes with Roth’s juice. “Muchas gracias, amigo,” Roth said, and he emptied the glass without giving his waiter a second look.
And vaya con Dios to you. The Chameleon went back to the kitchen and disappeared through the rear door. He had ten minutes for a costume change.
The men’s room in the lobby of the hotel was posh and private. Cloth hand towels, floor-to-ceiling walnut doors on each stall, and, of course, no surveillance cameras.
Half a dozen Neutrogena makeup-removing wipes later, he went from swarthy Latino to baby-faced white boy. He traded the waiter’s outfit for a pair of khakis and a pale blue polo.
He headed back to the lobby and positioned himself at a bank of house phones where he could watch the rest of the scene unfold. It was out of his hands now. He only hoped it would play out half as exciting as writ.
INT. REGENCY DINING ROOM—DAY
Camera is tight on THE VICTIM as he feels the first effects of the sodium fluoroacetate. He grabs the edge of the table, determined to fight it off, but his legs won’t hold him. Panic sets in as his body goes into catastrophic betrayal and his neurological center goes haywire. He experiences a full-blown seizure, vomiting violently, flailing his arms, and finally crashing face-first into his mushroom-tomato frittata.
“How do you know he’ll order a frittata?” Lexi had said when she read it.
“It doesn’t matter what he orders,” The Chameleon said. “It’s a placeholder. I just had to write something.”
“Oatmeal would be better,” she said. “Maybe with some berries. Much more cinematic. How do you know he’s going to do all that...what did you call it? Catastrophic betrayal?”
“It’s a guideline. I won’t even know who the victim is till the last minute. Most of it is improv. All we want is for the guy to die a miserable, violent death.”
Sid Roth delivered. The vomit, the panic in his eyes, the spastic seizure—it was all there. Instead of falling facedown, he took a few blind steps, crashed into a table, and cracked his skull on the base of a marble column when he hit the floor. There was lots of blood—a nice little bonus.
A woman screamed, “Call 911!”
“And cut,” The Chameleon whispered.
All in all, a brilliant performance.
He texted Lexi as he walked toward the subway. Scene went perfectly. One take.
Fifteen minutes later, he was on the F train reading Variety, just another blue-eyed, fair-skinned, struggling New York actor heading to his next gig—a 9:00 call at Silvercup Studios.
THE FILM BUSINESS in New York needs chameleons, and he was one of the best. It was all on his résumé—the Woody Allen movies, Law and Order, the soaps—at least a hundred features plus twice as many TV shows. Always in the background. Never saying a word. Never upstaging. Blending, blending, blending.
Not today. He was sick of being a face in the crowd. Today he was the star. And the producer, and the director, and the writer. It was his movie—the camera was in his head. He pulled a handful of script pages from his pocket.
INT. SOUNDSTAGE—SILVERCUP STUDIOS—DAY
We’re on the set of another piece-of-crap IAN STEWART movie. The scene is a 1940s wedding reception. Ian is THE GROOM. THE BRIDE is DEVON WHITAKER, all tits, no talent, and half Ian’s age. The happy couple steps onto the dance floor. A hundred WEDDING GUESTS look on, trying to act happy for them. EDIE COBURN, playing the jealous EX-WIFE, enters the room. She’s filled with rage. The guests are horrified. The camera moves in close on one of them. It’s the real star of this scene. It’s The Chameleon.
His cell phone vibrated, and he grabbed it. Lexi. Again.
“Guess what?” she said.
“Lex, you can’t keep calling me every five minutes,” he said. “I’m in a no-phone zone. The AD is a total hard-ass about it.”
“I know, I know, but I had to call,” she said. “It’s all over the Internet that Sid Roth is dead.”
“Baby, it’s been three hours,” The Chameleon said. “Some guy at his table was tweeting it before Roth hit the floor.”
“Yeah, all the stories say ‘apparent heart attack.’ But TMZ just said he was poisoned.”
“TMZ is full of shit. They’re a bunch of tabloid trashmongers. Everything they print is a lie.”
“But it’s true.”
“They don’t know that it’s true,” he said in a harsh whisper. “They won’t know anything till the autopsy. But they don’t care. They just put out whatever garbage will get eyeballs on their website.”
“I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“It’s not your fault. It just screws up the flow of my script. The way I wrote it nobody is supposed to know about the poison till tomorrow. It’s a bigger payoff for the Ian Stewart–Edie Coburn thing.”
“How’s that going?”
“Lexi, I can’t talk now. I’m on the set.”
“Not fair,” she said, turning on her pouty voice. “If I can’t be there with you, at least keep me in the loop.”
“I am keeping you in the loop. I texted you a picture of me in wardrobe.”
“Oh, great. So now I have a screen saver of you dressed up like one of those goombahs in The Godfather. But I still don’t know what’s going on.”
“That’s the problem, Lexi. Nothing is going on. Nothing. Nada. There’s like a hundred extras sitting around since nine o’clock, but we haven’t rolled a single frame of film.”
“Did they tell you why?”
“They don’t tell us anything. But I heard Muhlenberg, the director, bitching to somebody on the phone. Edie refuses to come out of her trailer.”
“Probably because she’s pissed at Ian. It was all over TMZ that he’s been cheating on her.”
The Chameleon took a deep breath. Lexi was smart. Dean’s list four years running at USC. But brains took a backseat to her constant obsession with trivial crap like horoscopes, Hollywood gossip, and Internet chatter.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s cheating or not,” he said. “If Edie doesn’t come out, Ian won’t come out either.”
“They have to come out,” Lexi said. “It’s in our script.”
The Chameleon laughed. “I think Muhlenberg is in Edie’s trailer right now telling her it’s in his script.”
“Hey, asshole. You with the cell phone in your ear.”
The Chameleon looked up. It was the prick AD.
“No phones on the set means no phones on the set.”
“Sorry. I’ve been sitting around here forever. I got bored.”
“You’re an extra,” the AD said. “You get paid to be bored. Lose the phone or get off the lot.”
“Yes, sir.” He cupped his hand around the cell and whispered, “Lex, I’ve got to hang up. No more phone calls, okay?”
“Oh, crap,” she said. “Then how am I supposed to know when you’ve finished the scene?”
“It’ll be all over TMZ,” The Chameleon said. “Guaranteed.”
BOOK ONE | THERE’S NO PEOPLE LIKE SHOW PEOPLE
I WOKE UP angry as hell. It was still pitch-black except for the glowing 3:14 on the digital clock. I would have liked to catch another three hours, but the only sleep aid I had in the apartment was the loaded revolver on my night table, and I’d much rather have used that on the dumb son of a bitch who put my partner in the hospital.
I turned on the light. There was a rolled-up purple yoga mat under the dresser, and I decided thirty minutes of sukhasanas and downward-facing dogs would stretch my muscles and ease my stress.
By 4:15 I was showered, dressed, and nursing a cup of green tea. It’s not my drug of choice, but Erika, my yoga instructor, swears it will heal my chakras and help my body handle the physical and psychological pressures of life. I told her I’d give it a shot for a month. But only behind closed doors. If anybody at work even smelled tea leaves on my breath, I’d get laughed off the job.
I’m Detective First Grade Zach Jordan, NYPD.
There are thirty-five thousand cops in New York City, and I’m one of the lucky seventy-five assigned to the High-Profile Victims Response Team.
The unit was our mayor’s idea. He’s a hardcore business guy who believes running a big city is like running an airline— you cater to your Platinum Frequent Flyers. In New York that means the superrich, the supremely powerful, and the ridiculously famous.
Every day I get to serve and protect Wall Street billionaires; sports stars with seven-figure contracts; and the movers, shakers, and divas of show business. That last group keeps us the busiest. Probably because most of them are either so desirable they’re stalked, so rich they’re robbed, or so despicable they’re murdered.
Of course the name High-Profile Victims Response Team practically screams out that we have a special task force dedicated to the needs of the city’s crème de la crème. True, but politically damaging. So the mayor has asked—make that ordered—us not to use it.
They call us NYPD Red. And for a cop in New York, it’s the ultimate cool job.
My tea had gone cold, so I added sugar and put it in the microwave. Thirty seconds later it was hotter and sweeter, but it was still tea. I sat down at my computer and checked my email. There was one from Omar. All it said was Hey, Zach—today’s the BIG DAY. Break a leg. LOL. Omar.
I hit Reply and wrote back. I’m glad one of us thinks this is funny.
Omar Shanks is—make that was—my partner, until last week. The NYPD softball team was playing the fire department in our annual fund-raiser when some asshole fireman slid into second trying to break up a double play. What he broke was Omar’s left ankle, and he tore up his ACL. According to the docs, Omar will be off the grid for at least four months. So this morning I’m getting a new partner.
Her name is Kylie MacDonald, and we’ve got something most partners don’t have. Baggage. More than I want to get into now, but I can offer a snapshot.
It was my first day at the academy. I was sizing up the other recruits when a tan, golden-haired goddess walked out of a Beach Boys song and into the room. There was a defibrillator on the wall, and I was pretty sure I was going to need it. She was too beautiful to be a cop. She’d do much better as a cop’s wife. Mine.
At least half a dozen guys had the same thought, and in seconds she was in the middle of a sea of testosterone. I ignored her on the theory that girls like Kylie are more attracted to guys who don’t fawn, pant, or drool. It took a week, but it worked.
“I’m Kylie MacDonald,” she said to me one day after class. “We haven’t met.”
I grunted. “Yeah. I’ve been avoiding you.”
“The one you wore the first day. The one with the Mets logo.”
“Let me guess,” she said. “You’re a Yankees fan.”
“Die-hard and lifelong,” I said.
“I wish I’d known,” she said. “I’d have worn my Yankees T-shirt for you.”
“I seriously doubt you have a Yankees shirt,” I said.
“Five bucks says I do.”
She took out her cell phone and scrolled through the photos. Finally she found the one she was looking for and handed me the phone.
It was a picture of Kylie and an annoyingly good-looking guy who had his arm around her. He was wearing a Mets hat, and sure enough Kylie was wearing a T-shirt that said “Yankees” right across the front. And right below “Yankees,” it said “Suck.”
“Pay up,” she said.
Beautiful and smart. How could I not fall in love with her?
I gave her the five bucks. What happened after that is a long story filled with laughter and tears, happiness and heartbreak. Like I said—baggage that I’d rather save for another time. But I can explain how it ended. Big church wedding. Kylie and Spence Harrington—the guy in the cell phone picture.
That was almost ten years ago. Now Kylie and I are about to team up. It’s never easy breaking in a new partner. Even harder when you’re still hopelessly in love with her.
And that, if you haven’t already figured it out by now, is what woke me up in the middle of the night.
I dumped half a cup of green tea into the sink. To hell with my chakras. I needed coffee.
GERRI’S DINER IS on Lexington Avenue just around the corner from the 19th Precinct and directly across the street from Hunter College. Breakfast was in full swing when I got there, but at 5:00 in the morning there’s zero risk of bumping into any college kids. It was mostly cabbies, construction workers, and cops, one of whom has a PhD instead of a gun.
Cheryl Robinson is a department shrink. In addition to her extensive understanding of human behavior and her finely tuned listening skills, Dr. Robinson has something that sets her apart from other psychologists I’ve met. She is drop-dead gorgeous. Despite the fact that she swears she’s ninety percent Irish, she has the dark brown eyes, jet-black hair, and the glorious caramel skin of her Latina grandmother.
I won’t lie. I’ve been attracted to Cheryl since the day we met at a hostage negotiations seminar. But she was married, and, for me, that meant off-limits. Recently her marital status had changed, but the ink was barely dry on her divorce papers. This morning she was sitting alone in a booth, and judging by her body language and the soulful look in her eyes, she was still wrestling with the ghost of her failed relationship.
For some guys that’s an open invitation. They see a woman in full-blown rebound mode as an easy target, ready to compensate for the emptiness in her life with a night of uncomplicated, no-strings-attached sex. But I’m not one of those guys. At this point, Cheryl and I had become good friends, and she looked like she needed a friend more than a fling.
I bought two large coffees to go, bagged one, and opened the other. “Do you mind if I join you?” I said, sliding into the booth across from her. “You have Damsel in Distress oozing out of every pore, and I have this hyperactive White Knight gene.”
“I thought all cops had that problem,” she said. “But you’re the first one to come over and try to cheer me up.”
“That’s because you also have Department Shrink oozing out of every pore,” I said. “They’re afraid if they sit down and talk, you’ll start analyzing them.”
“What’s to analyze?” she said. “They’re all crazy, so they became cops, and they’re all cops, so they stay crazy.”
There were a bunch of open sugar packets on the table in front of her. I picked one up. “Having read the entire Hardy Boys series as a kid,” I said, “I’m guessing that based on the amount of sugar you’ve gone through, you’ve been here about forty minutes.”
She looked at her watch. “An hour.”
“I guess even shrinks have problems that wake them up in the middle of the night,” I said.
“Same problem, different night,” she said. “Fred.”
“I thought your divorce came through a couple of weeks ago. Based on the laws of the state of New York, isn’t he officially no longer your problem?”
“He emailed me last night. He’s engaged.”
“Hmm,” I said, nodding my head thoughtfully and slowly, stroking the imaginary goatee on my chin. “Und how does zat make you feel?”
She laughed. “That’s the worst Dr. Freud impression I’ve ever heard.”
“Actually, it was Dr. Phil, but you’re deflecting the question.”
“Look, I don’t care if the bastard remarries, but I’d feel better if it took him more than fourteen days to get over me.”
“You’re right, Doc,” I said. “He could at least have held off till you got over him. Oh wait, you are.”
She laughed. “I hit the wall with Fred two years before the divorce.”
“So now some other woman gets to suffer. Win-win.”
“Thanks a lot,” she said. “Now I get to play doctor. What woke you up so early?”
“It’s going to be a crazy week. A bunch of free-spirited Hollywood types are about to descend on New York, and I wanted to gird myself for their arrival.”
“I see,” she said. “And it has nothing to do with the fact that today’s the first day you’re partnering up with your ex-girlfriend.”
Cheryl Robinson knew all about my history with Kylie. It happened one night at a retirement party. Cheryl was a good listener, and I was just drunk enough to open up. I had no regrets. In fact, it was kind of therapeutic to be able to talk to a professional and still keep it off the record.
“You know, I think you’re right. Kylie does start today,” I said. “And hey, I never thanked you for helping her get the job.”
If I had to zero in on the most beautiful part of Cheryl Robinson, it would have to be her smile. It’s like she has an on switch, and the second it’s flipped, the dark eyes, white teeth, and full lips all light up at once. My snide little remark, which might have backfired with someone else, tripped that switch, and I got a dazzling, thousand-megawatt smile.
“Nicely done, Detective,” she said. “Make me the heavy. But no, I didn’t help Kylie MacDonald get the job. She did it on her own. Captain Cates asked me to take a peek at her P-file off the record. It was stellar. Apparently, the fact that you two had a go at it didn’t hurt her career.”
I raised my coffee cup. “Here’s hoping it doesn’t hurt my career.”
She rested her hand gently on mine, and I swear I almost dropped my cup. “Zach,” she said softly. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Let the past be the past and start fresh.”
“That’s good advice, Doc,” I said, laying my hand on top of hers. “For both of us.”
Copyright © 2012 by James Patterson