Truth or Die(8)
Author:James Patterson

    Who was she meeting?

    Suddenly, I was channeling Oliver Stone, somehow trying to link her murder to the story she’d been chasing. But that was crazy. I saw her murder in black and white. It was a robbery. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and as much as that was a cliché, so, too, was her death. She’d be the first to admit it.

    “Imagine that,” I could hear her saying. “A victim of violent crime in New York City. How original.”

    Still, I’d become fixated on wanting to know where she’d been heading when she left my apartment. A two-hundred-dollar-an-hour shrink would probably call that sublimated grief, while the four-hundred-dollar-an-hour shrink would probably counter with sublimated anger. I was sticking with overwhelming curiosity.

    I put myself in her shoes, mentally tracing her steps through the lobby of my building and out to the sidewalk. As soon as I pictured her raising her arm for a taxi¸ it occurred to me. The driver. He at least knew the address. For sure, Claire gave it to him when he picked her up.

    Almost on cue, a taxi slowed down next to me at the curb, the driver wondering if I needed a ride. That was a common occurrence late at night when supply far outweighed demand.

    As I shook him off, I began thinking of what else Claire’s driver might remember when Lamont interviewed him. Tough to say after the beating he took. Maybe the shooter had said something that would key his identity, or at least thin out the suspects. Did he speak with any kind of accent?

    Or maybe the driver had seen something that wasn’t visible to that surveillance camera. Eye color? An odd-shaped mole? A chipped tooth?

    Unfortunately, the list of possibilities didn’t go on and on. The ski mask, turtleneck, and gloves made sure of that. Clearly, the bastard knew that practically every taxi in the city was its own little recording studio. So much for cameras being a deterrent.

    As the old expression goes, show me a ten-foot wall and I’ll show you an eleven-foot ladder.

    The twenty blocks separating me from my apartment were a daze. I was on autopilot, one foot in front of the other. Only at the sound of the keys as I dropped them on my kitchen counter did I snap out of it, realizing I was actually home.

    Fully dressed, I fell into my bed, shoes and all. I didn’t even bother turning off the lights. But my eyes were closed for only a few seconds before they popped open. Damn. All it took was one breath, one exchange of the air around me, and I was lying there feeling more alone than I ever had in my entire life.

    The sheets still smelled of her.

    I sat up, looking over at the other side of the bed … the pillow. I could still make out the impression of Claire’s head. That was the word, wasn’t it? Impression. Hers was everywhere, most of all on me.

    I was about to make a beeline to my guest room, which, if anything, would smell of dust or staleness or whatever other odor is given off by a room that’s rarely, if ever, used. I didn’t care. So long as it wasn’t her.

    Suddenly, though, I froze. Something had caught my eye. It was the yellow legal pad on the end of the bed, the one Claire had used when she took the phone call. She’d ripped off the top sheet she’d written on.

    But the one beneath it …


    I ALL but lunged for the pad, gripping it beyond tight while staring at the indentations she’d left behind.

    Another impression.

    I could make out a letter here, a letter there. An S followed by something, followed by a B. Or was that a 6?

    I flipped on the nearby lamp for more light, angling the pad every which way, trying to decipher the ever-so-slight grooves in the paper. It could’ve been a name, but all my money was on it being an address. It was where Claire was going. It had to be. But I still couldn’t make it out.

    I thought for a few seconds, racking my brain. Before I knew it, I was dashing across my living room and into my office, grabbing a pencil, followed by a piece of paper from my printer tray. This could work, I thought.

    Laying the paper over the pad, I began gently making a rubbing, like people do with tombstones and other memorials. But the printer paper was too thick. I needed something thinner. I knew exactly where to find it, too.

    It was an invitation I’d just received to a legal aid benefit being held at the New York Public Library. Pretty hard to miss the irony, given that Claire would have been my plus-one.

    The invitation itself was on a thick stock, but all I could see in my head was what had been inserted to protect the embossed type: a piece of vellum as thin as tracing paper. Perfect.

    I riffled through my pile of mail, finding the invite and the vellum. Laying it on the legal pad, I again began gently rubbing the pencil back and forth. Like magic, the letters started to appear before my eyes. Letters and numbers.

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