GEORGETOWN, WASHINGTON, DC
The surname of the family was Cox, the father a very successful
trial lawyer, but the target was the mother, Ellie Randall Cox. The
timing was right now, tonight, just minutes away. The payday was
excellent, couldn't be better.
The six-foot-six, two-hundred-fifty-pound killer known as "the
Tiger" had given out guns to his team–also a gram of cocaine
to share, and the only instruction they would need tonight: The
mother is mine. Kill the rest.
His secondary mission was to scare the American meddlers. He
knew how they felt about home invasions, and their precious
families, and murders in cold blood. They had so many rules for how
life ought to be conducted. The secret to beating them was to break
all their silly, sacred rules.
He settled down to watch the house from the street. Wood blinds
in the first- floor windows drew horizontal lines across the family
members as they moved around inside, unaware of the murderous
forces gathered outside.
The boys waited restlessly at the Tiger's side, and he waited
for instinct to tell him it was time to move on the
"Now," he said, "we go!"
Then, with only the slightest bend and whack of the knees, he
began to run, breaking out of the camouflaging shadow of an
evergreen, his strides almost too fast to count.
A single, powerful leap and he was up on the stoop of the house.
Next came three splintering blows to the front door. It seemed to
explode open, and they were inside, the kill team, all five of
The boys, none older than seventeen, streamed in around him,
firing Berettas into the living room ceiling, waving crude hunting
knives, shouting orders that were hard to understand because their
English was not at the level of the Tiger's.
The children of the house screamed like little piglets; their
lawyer father leapt up and tried to shield them with his flabby,
"You are pitiful!" the Tiger shouted at him. "You can't even
protect your family in your own house."
Soon enough, three family members were corralled against the
living room mantel, which was covered with birthday cards addressed
to "Momma" and "My Darling Ellie" and "Sweetness and Light."
The leader nudged the youngest of his boys forward, the one who
had chosen the name Nike and who had a contagious sense of humor.
"Just do it," the Tiger said.
The boy was eleven years old and fearless as a crocodile in a
muddy river. He raised a pistol much larger than his own hand and
fired it into the shivering father's forehead.
The other boys howled their approval, shooting off rounds in all
directions, overturning antique furniture, breaking mirrors and
windows. The Cox children were weeping and holding one another.
One particularly scary, blank-faced boy in a Houston Rockets
jersey emptied his magazine into the wide-screen television, then
reloaded. "Rock da house!" he shouted.
THE MOTHER, "DARLING Ellie," "Sweetness and Light," finally came
running and screaming down the stairs for her Akata
"Leave them out of this!" she yelled at the tall and very
muscular leader. "I know who you are!"
"Of course you do, Mother," said the Tiger as he smiled at the
tall, matronly woman. He had no desire to harm her really. This was
just a job to him. A high-paying one, important to somebody
here in Washington.
The two children scrambled to get to their mother, and it became
an absurd game of cat and mouse. His boys shot holes in the sofa as
the wheezing American young ones squeezed behind it.
When they emerged on the other side, the Tiger was there to
pluck the squealing son off the floor with one hand. The young girl
in the Rugrats pajamas was a little more clever and ran up the
stairs, showing little pink heels at every step.
"Go, baby!" her mother yelled. "Get out a window! Run! Keep
"Won't happen," said the Tiger. "No one gets away from here
"Don't do this!" she begged. "Let them go! They're just
"You know who I am," he said to her. "So you know how this will
end. You knew all along. Look at what you brought on yourself and
on your family. You did this to them."
THE HARDEST MYSTERIES to solve are the ones you come to near the
end, because there isn't enough evidence, not enough to unravel,
unless somehow you can go all the way back to the
beginning–rewind and replay everything.
I was riding in the lap of comfort and civility, my year-old
Mercedes. I was thinking about how odd it was to be going to a
murder scene now. And then I was there, leaving my vehicle, and
feeling conflicted about going over to the dark side again.
Was I getting too soft for this? I wondered for an
instant, then let it go. I wasn't soft. If anything, I was still
too hard, too unyielding, too uncompromising.
Then I was thinking that there was something par ticularly
terrifying about random, senseless murder, and that's what this
appeared to be, that's what everyone thought anyway. It's what I
was told when the call came to the house.
"It's rough in there, Dr. Cross. Five vics. It's an entire
"Yeah, I know it is. That's what they said."
One of the first responders, a young officer I know named
Michael Fescoe, met me on the sidewalk at the murder scene in
Georgetown, not far from the university where I'd gone as an
undergrad and which I remembered fondly for all sorts of reasons,
but mostly because Georgetown had taken a chance on me.
The patrolman was visibly shaken. No surprise there. Metro
didn't call me in special at eleven o'clock on a Sunday night for
"What have we got so far?" I said to Fescoe and flashed my badge
at a patrolman seemingly guarding an oak tree. Then I ducked under
the bright yellow tape in front of the house. Beautiful house, a
three-story Colonial on Cambridge Place, a well- heeled single
block just south of Montrose Park.
Neighbors and looky-loos crowded the sidewalk–but they
stayed at a safe distance in their pajamas and robes, keeping up
their white-collar reserve.
"Family of five, all of them dead," Fescoe repeated himself.
"The name's Cox. Father, Reeve. Mother, Eleanor. Son, James. All on
the first floor. Daughters, Nicole and Clara, on the third. There's
blood everywhere. Looks like they were shot first. Then cut up
pretty bad and piled into groupings."
Piled. I sure didn't like the sound of that. Not inside
this lovely home. Not anywhere.
"Senior officers on site? Who caught it?" I asked.
"Detective Stone is upstairs. She's the one asked me to page
you. ME's still on the way. Probably a couple of them. Christ, what
"You've got that right."
Bree Stone was a bright star with the Violent Crimes branch, and
one of the few detectives I went out of my way to partner with, pun
intended, since she and I were a couple and had been for more than
a year now.
"Let Detective Stone know that I'm here," I said. "I'm going to
start downstairs and work my way up to where she is."
"Will do, sir. I'm on it."
Fescoe stuck with me up the porch steps and past an ALS tech
working on the demolished front door and threshold.
"Forced entry, of course," Fescoe went on. He blushed, probably
because he'd stated the obvious. "Plus, there's a hatch open to the
roof on the third floor. Looks like they might have left that
"I'd say so–based on the amount of damage, whatever the
hell happened in there. Never seen anything like it, sir. Listen,
if there's anything else you need–"
"I'll let you know. Thank you. It's better if I do this alone. I
My reputation seems to attract hungry cops on big cases, which
can have its advantages. Right now, though, I wanted to take in
this scene for myself. Given the grim, steely-eyed look on the face
of every tech I'd seen coming from the back of the house, I knew
this was going to get harder in a hurry.
Turns out I didn't know the half of it. The murder of this
family was much worse than I'd thought.
Much, much worse.
THEY WANTED TO scare somebody, I was thinking as I
entered a brightly lit, warmly decorated alcove. But who? Not
these dead people. Not this poor family that had been slaughtered
for God only knew what reason.
The first floor told a grim and foreboding story that delineated
the murder. Nearly every piece of furniture in the living and
dining rooms had been either turned over or destroyed–or
both. There were gaping holes punched in the walls, along with
dozens of smaller ones. An antique glass chandelier lay scattered
in splinters and shards all over a brightly colored Oriental
The crime scene made no sense and, worse, had no direct
precedent in my experience as a homicide detective.
A bullet-riddled Chesterfield couch and settee had been pushed
up against the wall to make room in front of the fireplace. This
was where the first three bodies were piled.
While it's safe to say that I've seen some horrendous shit in
the line of duty, this scene, the monstrosity of it, stopped me
As promised, the stacked victims were the father, mother, and
son on top, all lying faceup. There were blood streaks and stains
on the nearby walls, furniture, and ceiling, and a pool had formed
around the bodies. These poor people had been attacked with sharp
cutting instruments of some sort, and there had been
"Jesus, Jesus," I muttered under my breath. It was a prayer, or
a curse on the killers, or more likely both.
One of the printing techs answered under his breath, "Amen."
Neither of us was looking at the other, though. This was the
kind of homicide scene you just gutted your way through, trying to
get out of the house with a minute piece of your sanity intact.
The blood patterns around the room suggested the family members
had been attacked separately, then dragged together in the
Something had fueled whatever savage rage brought these killers
to this and I agreed with Fescoe that there had been several
killers. But what exactly had happened? What was the cause of the
massacre? Drugs? Ritual? Psychosis?
I stashed the random thoughts to consider at another time.
Methods first, motive later.
I slowly circled the bodies and parts, picking my way around the
pools of blood, stepping on dry parquet where I could. There didn't
seem to be any cohesion to the cutting, or the killing for that
The son's throat was slit; the father had a bullet wound to the
forehead; and the mother's head was turned away at an unnatural
angle, as if her neck had been broken.
I went full circle to see the mother's face. The angle was such
that she seemed to be looking right up at me, almost hopeful, as if
I could still save her.
I leaned in for a closer look at her and all of a sudden felt
dizzy. My legs went weak. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
Oh no! Oh my God, no!
I stepped back blindly, my foot hit a slick spot, and I fell. As
I went down, I reached to break my fall. My gloved hand smeared
deep red across the floor.
Ellie Randall's blood. Not Cox–Randall!
I knew her–at least I once had.
Long, long ago, Ellie had been my girlfriend when we'd been
students at Georgetown. She had probably been my first love.
And now Ellie had been murdered, along with her family.
ONE OF THE printing techs moved to help me, but I got myself up
quickly. I wondered if maybe I was in shock about Ellie. "No harm.
I'm fine. What's the name here again?" I asked the tech.
"Cox, sir. Reeve, Eleanor, and James are the victims in the
Eleanor Cox. That was right; I remembered now. I stared
down at Ellie, my heart racing out of control, tears starting at
the corners of my eyes. She had been Ellie Randall when I
met her, a smart, attractive history major looking for
antiapartheid signatures from Georgetown University students.
Definitely not someone whose story would end like this.
"Need anything?" Fescoe was back and he was hovering.
"Just...get me a garbage bag or something," I told him. "Please.
I peeled off my Windbreaker and tried to wipe myself with it,
then stuck the coat in the bag Fescoe brought me. I needed to keep
moving and to get out of this room, at least for now.
I headed toward the stairs and found Bree just coming down.
"Alex? Jesus, what happened to you?" she asked.
I knew if I started to explain, I wouldn't be able to finish.
"We'll talk about it later, okay?" I said. "What's going on
She looked at me strangely but didn't push it. "More of the
same. Bad stuff. Third floor, Alex. Two more kids. I think they
were trying to hide from the killers, but it didn't work."
A photo flash ghosted the stairwell as we climbed. Everything
seemed hallucinogenic and unreal to me. I was outside the scene,
watching myself stumble through it. Ellie had been
murdered. I tried again but couldn't process the thought.
"No blood on the stairs, or in the hall," I noticed, trying to
focus on evidence, trying to do the job. It was freezing cold, with
a hatch door open overhead. November third, and the forecast was
for single-digit temperatures overnight. Even the weather had gone
a little crazy.
Bree was waiting up ahead, standing at the doorway to a room on
the third floor. She didn't move as I approached. "You sure you're
okay to be here?" she asked, speaking low so the others wouldn't
I nodded and peered into the room.
Behind Bree, the two little girls' bodies were crisscrossed on
an oval rag rug. A white canopy bed was broken into pieces,
collapsed in on itself as if someone had jumped too hard on it.
"I'll be fine," I said. "I need to see what happened here. I
need to begin to understand what it all means. Like who the
hell was jumping on that bed?"
BUT I DIDN'T even begin to understand the horrible
murders of five family members. Not that night, anyway. I was as
baffled as everybody else about the possible motivation of the
What made the mystery even deeper was something that happened
about an hour after I got to the crime scene. Two officers from the
CIA showed up. They looked around, then left. What was the CIA
It was a little after three thirty in the morning when Bree and
I finally got back home to Fifth Street. In the stillness of my
house, I could hear Ali's little-boy snores wafting down from
upstairs. Reassuring and comforting sounds, to be sure.
Nana Mama had left the hood light on over the stove, and she'd
Saran Wrapped a plate of the last four hermit cookies from dessert.
We took them upstairs, along with glasses and a half-full bottle of
Two hours later I was still awake and still messed up in the
head. Bree finally sat up and turned on the light. She found me
sitting on the edge of the bed. I could feel the warmth of her body
against my back, her breath on my neck.
"You sleep at all?" she asked.
That wasn't really what she wanted to know.
"I knew the mother, Bree. We went to Georgetown together. This
couldn't have happened to her. Shouldn't have, anyway."
She breathed in sharply at my revelation. "I'm so sorry, Alex.
Why didn't you say so?"
I shrugged, then sighed. "I'm not even sure if I can talk about
it now," I said.
She hugged me. "It's okay. No need to talk. Unless you want to,
Alex. I'm here."
"We were best friends, Bree. We were a couple for a year. I know
it was a long time ago, but..." I trailed off. But what?
But–it hadn't just been kid stuff, either. "I loved her for a
while, Bree. I'm blown away right now."
"You want to get off the case?"
"No." I'd already asked myself the same question, and the answer
had come just as quickly.
"I can get Sampson or somebody else from Violent Crimes to
cover. We'll keep you up to the second–"
"Bree, I can't let go of this one."
"This one?" She ran a hand softly up and down my arm. "As
compared to...what, Alex?"
I took a deep breath. I knew where Bree was going with this.
"It's not about Maria, if that's what you mean." My wife, Maria,
had been gunned down when our kids were small. I'd managed to close
the case only recently. There had been years of torture and guilt
before that. But Maria had been my wife, the love of my life at the
time. Ellie was something else. I wasn't confusing the two. I
didn't think so anyway.
"Okay," she said, stroking my back, soothing me. "Tell me what I
I folded us both under the covers. "Just lie here with me," I
said. "That's all I need for now."
"You got it."
And soon, wrapped in Bree's arms, I went off to sleep–for
a whole two hours.
Excerpted from CROSS COUNTRY © Copyright 2010 by James
Patterson. Reprinted with permission by Little, Brown and Company.
All rights reserved.