Prologue | DAY-TRIPPER
A KILLER IN WAITING, Fred Brinkley slumps in the blueupholstered banquette on the top deck of the ferry. The November sun glares down like a big white eye as the catamaran plows the San Francisco Bay, and Fred Brinkley glares right back at the sun.
A shadow falls across him, a kid's voice asking, "Mister, could you take our picture?"
Fred shakes his head --- no, no, no --- anger winding him up like a watch spring, like a wire tightening around his head.
He wants to smash the kid like a bug.
Fred averts his eyes, sings inside his head, Ay, ay, ay, ay, Sau-sa-lito-lindo, trying to shut down the voices. He puts his hand on Bucky to comfort himself, feeling him through his blue nylon Windbreaker, but still the voices pound in his brain like a jackhammer.
Loser. Dog shit.
Gulls call out, screaming like children. Overhead, the sun burns through the overcast sky and turns him as transparent as glass. They know what he's done.
Passengers in shorts and visors line the rails, taking pictures of Angel Island, of Alcatraz, of the Golden Gate Bridge.
A sailboat flies by, mainsail double-reefed, foam flecking the rails, and Fred doubles over as the bad thing whips into his mind. He sees the boom swing. Hears the loud crack. Oh, God! The sailboat!
Someone has to pay for this!
Startling him, the ferry's engines grind into reverse and the deck vibrates as the ferry comes into dock.
Fred stands, works his way through the crowd, passing eight white tables, lines of scuffed blue chairs, his fellow ferry riders giving him the eye.
He enters the open compartment at the bow, sees a mother berating her son, a boy of nine or ten with light-brown hair. "You're driving me crazy!" the woman shouts.
Fred feels the wire snap. Someone has to pay.
His right hand slips into his jacket pocket --- finds Bucky.
He slips his finger into the trigger loop.
The ferry lurches as it bumps the mooring. People grab on to one another, laughing. Lines snake out from the boat, bow and aft.
Fred's eyes shoot to the woman who is still belittling her son. She's small, wearing tan clam diggers, her breasts outlined in the soft skin of her white blouse, nipples pointing straight out.
"What's wrong with you, anyway?" she yells over the engines' roar. "You really piss me off, buster."
Bucky is in Fred's hand, the Smith & Wesson Model 10, pulsing with a life of its own.
The voice booms, Kill her. Kill her. She's out of control!
Bucky points between the woman's breasts.
Fred feels the jolt of the gun's recoil, sees the woman jump back with a little hurt yelp, a red stain blooming on her white blouse.
The little boy follows his mother's fall to the deck with his big round eyes, strawberry ice cream plopping out of his cone, pee spreading across the front of his pants.
The boy did a bad thing, too.
Prologue | DAY-TRIPPER
BLINDING WHITE SAILS fill Fred’s mind as blood spills onto the deck. Trusty Bucky is hot in his hand. Fred’s eyes pan across the deck.
The voice in his head roars, Run. Get away. You didn’t mean to do it.
Out of the corner of his eye, Fred sees a big man charge him, rage on his face, hell in his eyes. Fred straightens his arm.
Another man, Asian, hard black eyes, a white line for a mouth, makes a grab for Bucky.
A black woman stands nearby, locked in place by the crowd. She turns toward him, round cheeked, wide-eyed. Stares into his face and . . . reads his mind.
“Okay, son,” she says, reaching out a trembling hand, “that’s enough, now. Give me the gun.”
She knows what he did. How does she know?
Fred feels relief flood through him as the mind-reading woman goes down. People in the small forward compartment move in waves, cowering, shifting left, then right as Fred swings his head.
They are afraid of him. Afraid of him.
At his feet, the black woman holds a cell phone in her bloody hands. Breath rasping, she presses numbers with her thumb. No, you don’t! Fred steps on the woman’s wrist. Then he bends low to look into her eyes.
“You should have stopped me,” he says through clenched teeth. “That was your job.” Bucky screws his muzzle into her temple.
“Don’t!” she begs. “Please.”
Someone yells, “Mom!”
A skinny black kid, maybe seventeen, eighteen, comes toward him with a length of pipe over his shoulder. He’s holding it like a bat.
Fred pulls the trigger as the ship lurches --- BLAM.
The shot goes wide. The metal pipe falls, skitters across the deck, and the kid runs to the woman, throws himself down. Protecting her?
People dive under the benches, and their screams rise up around him like licks of fire.
The noise of the engines is joined by the metallic clanking of the gangway locking into place. Bucky stays trained on the crowd as Fred looks over the railing.
He judges the distance.
It’s a drop of four feet to the gangway substructure, then a pretty long leap to the dock.
Fred pockets Bucky and puts both hands on the rail. He vaults over and lands on the flats of his Nikes. A cloud crosses the sun, cloaking him, making him invisible.
Move quickly, sailor. Go.
And he does it --- makes the leap to the dock and runs toward the farmer’s market, where he dissolves into the throng filling the parking lot.
He walks, almost casually, a half block to Embarcadero.
He’s humming when he jogs down the steps to the BART station, still humming as he catches the train home.
You did it, sailor.
Part One | DO YOU KNOW THIS MAN?
I WAS OFF DUTY that Saturday morning in early November, called to the scene of a homicide because my business card had been found in the victim’s pocket.
I stood inside the darkened living room of a two-family house on Seventeenth Street, looking down at a wretched little scuzzball named Jose Alonzo. He was shirtless, paunchy, slumped on a sagging couch of indeterminate color, his wrists cuffed behind him. His head hung to his chest, and tears ran down his chin.
I had no pity for him.
“Was he Mirandized?” I asked Inspector Warren Jacobi, my former partner who now reported to me. Jacobi had just turned fifty-one and had seen more homicide victims in his twenty-five years on the job than any ten cops should see in a lifetime.
“Yeah, I did it, Lieutenant. Before he confessed.” Jacobi’s fists twitched at his sides. Disgust crossed his timeworn face.
“Do you understand your rights?” I asked Alonzo.
He nodded and began sobbing again. “I shouldn’ta done it, but she made me so mad.”
A toddler with a dirty white bow in her hair, wet diapers sagging to her dimpled knees, clung to her father’s leg. Her wailing just about broke my heart.
“What did Rosa do to make you mad?” I asked Alonzo. “I really want to know.”
Rosa Alonzo was on the floor, her pretty face turned toward the flaking caramel-colored wall, her head split open by the iron her husband had used to knock her down, then take her life.
The ironing board had collapsed around her like a dead horse, and the smell of burned spray starch was in the air.
The last time I’d seen Rosa, she’d told me how she couldn’t leave her husband because he’d said he’d hunt her down and kill her.
I wished with all my heart she’d taken the baby and run.
Inspector Richard Conklin, Jacobi’s partner, the newest and youngest member of my squad, walked into the kitchen. Rich poured cat food into a bowl for an old orange tabby cat that was mewing on the red Formica table. Interesting.
“He could be alone here for a long time,” Conklin said over his shoulder.
“Call animal control.”
“Said they were busy, Lieutenant.” Conklin turned on the taps, filled a water bowl.
Alonzo spoke up.
“You know what she said, Officer? She said, ‘Get a job.’ I just snapped, you understand?”
I stared at him until he turned away from me, cried out to his dead wife, “I didn’t mean to do it, Rosa. Please. Give me another chance.”
Jacobi reached for the man’s arm, brought him to his feet, saying, “Yeah, she forgives you, pal. Let’s take a ride.”
The baby launched a new round of howls as Patty Whelk from Child Welfare came through the open door.
“Hey, Lindsay,” she said, stepping around the victim, “who’s Little Miss Precious?”
I picked up the child, took the dirty ribbon out of her curls, and handed her over to Patty.
“Anita Alonzo,” I said sadly, “meet the system.”
Patty and I exchanged helpless looks as she jostled the little girl into a comfortable position on her hip.
I left Patty rummaging in the bedroom for a clean diaper. While Conklin stayed behind to wait for the ME, I followed Jacobi and Alonzo out to the street.
I said, “See ya,” to Jacobi and climbed into my three-year-old Explorer parked next to six yards of garbage out by the street. I’d just turned the key when my Nextel bleeped on my belt. It’s Saturday. Leave me the hell alone.
I caught the call on the second ring.
It was my boss, Chief Anthony Tracchio. An unusual tightness strained his voice as he raised it over the keening sound of sirens.
“Boxer,” he said, “there’s been a shooting on one of the ferries. The Del Norte. Three people are dead. A couple more wounded. I need you here. Pronto.”
Copyright © 2007 by James Patterson.
The 6th Target