Cross the Line

James Patterson

Cross the Line

Book 24 in the Alex Cross series, 2016

Prologue: A DEATH ON ROCK CREEK

ONE

HE CHANGED IDENTITY like many warriors do before battle. He called himself Mercury on nights like these.

Dressed in black from his visor helmet to his steel-toe boots, Mercury had his motorcycle backed up into a huge rhododendron bush by the Rock Creek Parkway south of Calvert Street. He sat astride the idling bike and cradled a U.S. Army surplus light detection and ranging device. He trained the lidar on every vehicle that went past him, checking its speed.

Forty-five miles an hour, on the money. Forty-four. Fifty-two. Routine stuff. Safe numbers. Boring numbers.

Mercury was hoping to see a more exotic and inflated figure on the screen. He had good reason to believe a bloated number like that would appear before this night was over. He was certainly in the right place for it.

Built in the 1920s, Rock Creek Parkway had been designed to preserve the natural scenic beauty of the area. The winding four-lane road ran from the Lincoln Memorial north through parks, gardens, and woods. It was 2.9 miles long and split in Northwest DC. Beach Drive, the right fork, headed northeast, deeper into the park. The parkway itself continued on to the left and curled back northwest to the intersection with Calvert Street.

Forty-three miles an hour, according to the lidar display. Forty-seven. Forty-five.

These numbers were not surprising. The parkway was on the National Register of Historic Places and was maintained by the National Park Service; it had a set speed limit of forty-five miles an hour.

But the parkway’s meandering route was about as close to a Grand Prix circuit as you could find in or around the District of Columbia. Elongated S curves, chicanes, a few altitude changes, straightaways that ran down the creek bottom-they were all there, and the road was almost twice the length of the fabled Grand Prix course at Watkins Glen, New York.

That alone makes it a target, Mercury thought. That alone says someone will try. If not tonight, then tomorrow, or the night after.

He’d read an article in the Washington Post that said that on any given night, the odds were better than one in three that some rich kid or an older prick sucking big-time off the federal teat would bring out the new Porsche or the overhorsed BMW and take a crack at Rock Creek. So might the suburban kid who’d snuck out the old man’s Audi, or even a middle-aged mom or two.

All sorts of people seemed obsessed by it. One try every three nights, Mercury thought. But tonight, the odds were even better than average.

A few days ago, a budget crisis had closed the U.S. government. All funding for park law enforcement had been frozen. No salaries were being paid. Park rangers had been sent home for liability reasons. There was no one looking but him.

Hours went by. Traffic slowed to a trickle, and still Mercury aimed the lidar gun and shot, read the verdict, and waited. He was nodding off at a quarter to three that morning and thinking that he should pack it in when he heard the growl of a big-bore engine turning onto the parkway from Beach Drive.

On that sound alone, Mercury’s right hand shot out and fired up the bike. His left hand aimed the lidar at the growl, which became a whining, buzzing wail of fury coming right at him.

The instant he had headlights, he hit the trigger.

Seventy-two miles an hour.

He tossed the lidar into the rhododendrons. He’d return for it later.

The Maserati blew by him.

Mercury twisted the accelerator and popped the clutch. He blasted out of the rhododendrons, flew off the embankment, and landed with a smoking squeal in the parkway not a hundred yards behind the Italian sports car.

TWO

THE MASERATI WAS brand-new, sleek, black; a Quattroporte, Mercury thought, judging by the glimpse he had gotten of the car as it roared past him, and probably an S Q5.

Mercury studied such exotic vehicles. A Maserati Quattro-porte S Q5 had a turbo-injected six-cylinder engine with a top speed of 176 miles per hour, and it boasted brilliant transmission, suspension, and steering systems.

Overall, the Maserati was a worthy opponent, suited to the parkway’s challenges. The average man or woman might think a car like that would be impossible to best on such a demanding course, especially by a motorcycle.

The average person would be wrong.

Mercury’s bike was a flat-out runner of a beast that could hit 190 miles an hour and remain nimble through curves, corkscrews, and every other twist, turn, and terrain change a road might throw at you. Especially if you knew how to drive a high-speed motorcycle, and Mercury did. He had been driving fast bikes his entire life and felt uniquely suited to bring this one up to speed.

Eighty miles per hour; ninety. The Maserati’s brake lights flashed in front of him as the parkway came out of the big easterly curve. But the driver of the Italian sports car was not set up for the second turn of a lazy and backward S.

Mercury pounced on the rookie mistake; he crouched low, gunned the bike, and came into the second curve on a high line, smoking-fast and smooth. When he exited the second curve, he was right on the Maserati’s back bumper and going seventy-plus.

The parkway ran a fairly true course south for nearly a mile there, and the Italian sports car tried to out-accelerate Mercury on the straight. But the Maserati was no match for Mercury’s custom ride.

He drafted right in behind the sports car, let go of the left handlebar, and grabbed the Remington 1911 pistol Velcroed to the gas tank.

Eighty-nine. Ninety.

Ahead, the parkway took a hard, long left turn. The Maserati would have to brake. Mercury decelerated, dropped back, and waited for it.

The second the brake lights of the Italian sports car flashed, the motorcyclist hit the gas and made a lightning-quick jagging move that brought him right up next to the Maserati’s passenger-side window. No passenger.

Mercury got no more than a silhouette image of the driver before he fired at him twice. The window shattered. The bullets hit hard.

The Maserati swerved left, smacked the guardrail, and spun back toward the inside lane just as Mercury’s bike shot ahead and out of harm’s way. He downshifted and braked, getting ready for the coming left turn.

In his side-view mirror, he watched the Maserati vault the rail, hit trees, and explode into fire.

Mercury felt no mercy or pity for the driver.

The sonofabitch should have known that speed kills.

Part One: A COP KILLING

1

LEAVING THE GLUTEN-FREE Aisle at Whole Foods, Tom McGrath was thinking that the long, lithe woman in the teal-colored leggings and matching warm-up jacket in front of him had the posture of a ballerina.

In her early thirties, with high cheekbones, almond-shaped eyes, and jet-black hair pulled back in a ponytail, she was lovely to look at, exotic even. She seemed to sense his interest and glanced back at him.

In a light Eastern European accent, she said, “You walk like old fart, Tom.”

“I feel like one, Edita,” said McGrath, who was in his mid-forties and built like a wide receiver gone slightly to seed. “I’m stiff and sore where I’ve never even thought of being stiff and sore.”

“Too many years with the weights and no stretching,” Edita said, putting two bottles of kombucha tea in the cart McGrath was pushing.

“I always stretch. Just not like that. Ever. And not at five in the morning. I felt like my head was swelling up like a tick’s in some of those poses.”

Edita stopped in front of the organic produce, started grabbing the makings of a salad, said, “What is this? Tick?”

“You know, the little bug that gives you Lyme disease?”

She snorted. “There was nothing about first yoga class you liked?”

“I gotta admit, I loved being at the back of the room doing the cobra when all you fine yoga ladies were up front doing downward dog,” McGrath said.

Edita slapped him good-naturedly on the arm and said, “You did not.”

“I got out of rhythm and found I kind of liked being out of sync.”

She shook her head. “What is it with the men? After everything, still a mystery to me.”

McGrath sobered. “On that note, any luck finding what I asked you about the other day?”

Edita stiffened. “I told you this is not so easy, Tom.”

“Just do it, and be done with them.”

She didn’t look at him. “School? My car? My apartment?”

“I said I’d help you.”

Torn, Edita said, “They don’t give a shit, Tom. They-”

“Don’t worry. You’ve got the warrior McGrath on your side.”

“You are hopeless,” she said, softening and touching his cheek.

“Just when it comes to you,” he said.

Edita hesitated and then blew him a kiss before leading them to the checkout line. McGrath helped her unload the cart.

“Why do you look like the lonely puppy?” Edita asked him as the checker began ringing them through.

“I’m just used to a grocery cart with a little vice in it. Beer, at a minimum.” ...

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