Pop Goes The Weasel James Patterson

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It was the Jamaican detective, John Anthony, calling out my name in the noisy terminal, coming our way in a big hurry. He was walking rapidly, a few steps ahead of Andrew Jones, who looked powerfully dismayed.

Jones and Anthony at the airport? What in God's name was happening now? What could possibly have gone wrong?

'The Weasel?' I said, and it came out like a curse.

Sampson and I stopped, and they finally caught up with us. I almost didn't want to hear what they had to tell us.

'You have to go back with us, Alex. Come with me.' Jones said, slightly out of breath. 'It's about Christine Johnson. Something's turned up. Come.'

'What is it? What's happened?' I asked Jones, then Detective Anthony, when the Englishman was slow in answering.

Anthony hesitated, but then he said, 'We don't know for sure. It could be nothing at all. Someone claims to have seen her, though. She may be here in Jamaica, after all. Come with us.'

I couldn't believe what he had just told me. I felt Sampson's arm wrap tightly around me, but everything else seemed unreal, as in a dream.

It wasn't over yet.

Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-One On the road out of the airport, Andrew Jones and Detective Anthony filled us in on what they knew. I could tell that they were trying not to build up my hopes too much. I'd been in the same untenable situation many times, but not as a victim of a crime.

'Last night we caught a small-time local thief breaking into a house in Ocho Rios.' Anthony said as he drove, the four of us packed tightly in his Toyota. 'He said he had information to trade. We told him we would hear what he had to say, and then we would decide. He then revealed that an American woman had been kept in the hills east of Ocho Rios, near the town of Euarton. There's an outlaw group lives up there sometimes.

'I learned about it only this morning. I called Andrew and we hurried to the airport. The man says she was called Beatitude. No other name was used. I contacted your hotel, but you had already left for the airport. So we came out here to get you.'

'Thank you.' I finally said, realizing I had probably been told as much as they knew.

Sampson spoke up. 'So why does this helpful thief appear now, after all this time?'

'He said there was a shooting a few nights ago that changed everything. Once the white men died, the woman wasn't important anymore. Those were his words.'

'You know these men?' I asked Detective Anthony.

'Men, women, children. Yes, I've dealt with them before. They smoke a lot of ganja. Practice their hybrid religion, worship the Emperor Haile Selassie, I know. A few of them are small-time thieves. Mostly, we let them be.'

Everyone in the car grew quiet as we hurried along the coast road toward Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios. The storm had passed quickly, and suddenly the island's hellified sun was blazing again. Sugarcane workers with machetes on their hips were tramping back into the fields.

Past the village of Runaway Bay, Detective Anthony turned off the main road and headed up into the hills on Route Al. The trees and bushes here were a thick jungle. The road eventually became a tunnel boring through vines and branches. Anthony had to turn on the headlights.

I felt as if I were drifting through a mist, watching everything as if in a dream. I understood that I was trying to protect myself, but also that it wasn't working.

Who was Beatitude? I couldn't make myself believe that Christine was alive, but at least there was a chance, and I clung to that. I had given up weeks before. Now I allowed myself to remember how much I loved her, how I missed her. Suddenly, I choked hard, and I turned my face toward the window. I went deep inside myself.

Bright light shone in my eyes. The car exited the brush after two or three miles that had seemed much longer on the twisting road. We were entering lush hills that looked something like the American South back in the fifties and sixties - maybe like Georgia or Alabama. Children in dated clothes played in front of small run-down houses. Their elders sat on uneven, slanted porches and watched the occasional car drive past.

Everything looked and felt so incredibly unreal to me. I couldn't focus.

We turned onto a skinny dirt road with a thick, high corridor of grass running between deep tire ruts. This had to be the place. My heart was pumping loudly, and it sounded like a tin drum being pounded in a tunnel. I felt every bump in the road like a hard punch.

Beatitude? Who was the woman they were holding? Could it possibly be Christine?

Sampson checked the load in his Glock. I heard the mechanism slide and click, and I glanced his way.

'They won't be happy to see us, but you won't need the gun,' Anthony said, turning to us. 'They probably know we're coming. They watch the local roads. Christine Johnson might not be here now, if she was even here at all. I knew you would want to check for yourself.'

I didn't say anything. I couldn't. My mouth felt incredibly dry and my mind was a blank. We were still involved with The Four Horsemen, weren't we? Was this Shafer's play? Had he known we'd eventually find this place in the hills? Had he set a final trap for us?

We arrived at an old green house with tattered white cloth over the windows and a burlap bag for a front door. Four men immediately came outside, all of them sporting dreadlocks.

They walked toward us, their mouths set hard, their eyes blazing with distrust. Sampson and I were used to the look from the streets of Washington.

Two of the men carried heavy field machetes. The other two wore floppy shirts, and I knew they were armed beneath the loose-fitting clothes.

'Just turn around, go back, mon,' one of them shouted loudly at us. 'Get out of here while you can.'
Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Two 'No!'

Detective Anthony got out of the car with both hands held high. So did Sampson, Jones and I.

There was the beat of traditional drums coming from the woods directly behind the main house. A pair of lounging dogs raised their lazy heads to look at us, and barked a few times. My heart was thundering faster now.

I didn't like the way this was going.

Another one of the men called to us, 'I and I would like you to leave.'

I recognized the phrase of speech. The double pronoun represented the speaker and God, who live together in each person.

'Patrick Moss is in jail. I'm Detective Anthony from Kingston. This is Detective Sampson and Detective Cross. You have a woman here. You call her Beatitude.'

Beatitude? Could it be Christine?

One of the men with a machete hanging from one hand glared and spoke to Anthony. 'Galang 'bout yuh business. Lef me nuh. Nah woman here. Nah woman.'

'This is my business and we won't leave you alone.' I said, surprising the man that I understood his dialect. But I know Rastaman from DC.

'Nah woman here. Nah American.' the man repeated angrily, looking directly at me.

Andrew Jones spoke up. 'We want the American woman, then we'll leave. Your friend Patrick Moss will be home by tonight. You can deal with him in your own way.'

'Nah American woman here.' The original speaker spat defiantly on the ground. 'Turn around, go back.'

'You know James Whitehead? You know Shafer?' Jones said.

They didn't deny it. I doubted we'd get anymore from them than that.

'I love her,' I told them. 'I can't leave. Her name is Christine.'

My mouth was still dry and I couldn't breathe very well. 'She was kidnapped a year ago. We know she was brought here.'

Sampson took out his Glock and held it loosely at his side. He stared at the four men, who continued to glare back at us. I touched the handle of my gun, still in its holster. I didn't want a gunfight.

'We can cause you a whole lot of trouble,' Sampson said, in a low, rumbling voice. 'You won't believe how much trouble is coming your way.'

Finally, I just walked forward on a worn path through the tall grass. I passed by the men, lightly brushing against one of them.

No one tried to stop me. I could smell ganja and sweat on their work clothes. Tension was building up inside me.

Sampson followed me, no more than a step or two behind. 'I'm watching them,' he said. 'Nobody's doing anything yet.'

'Doesn't matter.' I said. 'I have to see if she's here.'
Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Three An older woman with long and wildly frazzled gray-and-white hair stepped out of the front door as I reached the scarred, unpainted steps. Her eyes were ringed with redness.

'Come with me,' she sighed. 'Come along. You nah need no weapon.'

For the first time in many months I allowed myself to feel the tiniest flash of hope. I didn't have any reason to, just the rumor that a woman had been kept here against her will.

Beatitude? Something to do with blessedness and happiness? Could it be Christine?

The old woman walked unsteadily around the house and through light bushes, trees, and ferns out back. About sixty or seventy yards into thickening woods she came to half-a-dozen small shacks, and she stopped. The shacks were made of wood, bamboo, and corrugated metal.

She walked forward again and stopped at the next-to-last shack in the group.

She took out a key attached to a leather strap around her waist. She then inserted the key and jiggled it.

She pushed the door forward and it creaked loudly on a rusty hinge.

I looked inside and saw a plain, neat, and clean room. Someone had written The Lord Is My Shepherd in black paint on the wall.

No one was there.

No Beatitude.

No Christine.

I let my eyes fall shut. Desperation enveloped me.

My eyes slowly opened. I didn't understand why I had been led to this empty room, this old shack in the woods. My heart was ripped in two again. Was it some kind of trap?

The Weasel? Shafer? Was he here?

Someone stepped out from behind a small folding screen in one corner of the room. I felt as if I were in free fall, and a small gasp came out of my mouth.

I didn't know what I had been expecting, but not this. Sampson put out his hand to steady me. I was barely aware of his touch.

Christine gently stepped into the shafts of sunlight coming from the single window in the shack. I had never expected to see her again.

She was much thinner and her hair was braided and longer than I'd ever seen it. But she had the same wise, beautiful brown eyes. Neither of us was able to speak at first. It was the strangest moment of my life.

I had gone cold all over and everything was moving in slow motion. It seemed supematurally quiet in the small room.

Christine was holding a light-yellow blanket, and I could see a baby's head just peeking above the crown of the covers. I walked forward even though my legs were trembling and threatening to buckle. I could hear the baby softly cooing in the nest of blankets.

'Oh, Christine, Christine,' I finally managed.

Tears welled in her eyes, and then in mine. We both stepped forward, and then I was awkwardly holding her. The little baby peacefully gazed up into both our faces.

'This is our baby, and he probably saved my life. He takes after you,' Christine said. Then we kissed gently, and it was so sweet and tender. We held on for dear, dear life. We melted into each other. Neither of us could believe this was actually happening.

'I call him Alex. You were always right here,' Christine told me. 'You were always with me.'

Epilogue London Bridges, Falling CHAPTER One Hundred and Twenty-Four His name was Frederick Neuman, and he liked to think of himself as a citizen of the European Community rather than any single country, but if anyone asked he claimed to be German. His head was shaved close and it made him look severe, but also more impressive, he thought, which was an amazing accomplishment.

He would be remembered as 'quite tall, thin and bald', or as 'an interesting artist type', and several people did see him that week in the Chelsea area of London. He wanted to be remembered. That was important.

He shopped, or at least window-shopped, on the King's Road and Sloane Street.

He went to the cinema on Kensington High Street.

And Waterstone's bookshop.

Nights, he would have a pint or two at the King's Head. He mostly kept to himself at the pub.

He had a master plan. Another game was beginning.

He saw Lucy and the twins at Safeway one afternoon. He watched them from a safe distance across rows of baked beans and aisles of shoppers. No harm, no foul, no problem for anybody.

He couldn't resist the challenge though. The dice started to play in his head. They rattled the number he wanted to hear.

He kept walking closer and closer to the family, careful to keep his face slightly averted, just in case, but still watching Lucy out of the corner of his eye, watching the twins, who were perhaps more dangerous.

Lucy was examining some wild Scottish salmon. She finally noticed him, he was sure, but she didn't recognize who he was - obviously. Neither did the twins. Dumb, silly little girls - mirrors of their mother.

The game was on again - so delicious. He'd been away from it for a while. He had book money, his advance, which he kept in Switzerland. He had bummed around the Caribbean after his escape by boat from Jamaica. He'd gone to San Juan and been tempted to act up there. He'd finally traveled to Europe, to Rome, Milan, Paris, Frankfurt, Dublin - and at last home to London. He'd only strayed a couple of times on the whole trip. He was such a careful boy now.

It felt just like old times as he got oh so close to Lucy in the shopping aisle. Jesus, his physical tics were back. He was tapping his foot nervously and shaking out his hands.

He'd have thought she might have noticed that, but she was such a vacuous blonde cow, such a cipher, a waste of time; even now, as he got closer and closer, only a foot or two away.

'Oh Loo-cy... it's Ricky,' he said, and grinned and grinned. 'It's me, darling.'

Swish. Swish. He swiped at her twice, back and forth, as they passed like strangers in the aisle at Safeway. The blows barely crisscrossed Lucy's throat, but they cut her inches deep.

She dropped to her bony knees, both hands clutching her neck as if she were strangling herself. And then she saw who it was, and her blue eyes filled with complete shock and pain and what seemed to be terrible disappointment.

'Geoffrey,' she managed in a gurgling voice, as blood bubbled from her open mouth.

Her last word on earth. His name.

Beautiful for Shafer to hear, recognition that he craved, revenge against all of them. He turned away, forced himself to, before he did the twins as well.

He was never seen again in Chelsea, but everyone would remember him for as long as they lived.

God, would they remember.

That tall, bald monster.

The one in all-black clothes, the inhuman freak.

The heartless killer who had committed so many awful murders that even he had lost count.

Geoffrey Shafer.


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