Home Sweet Murder – James Patterson

Leo Fisher holds a pair of boxer undershorts to the knife wound in his neck, trying to stop the flow of blood pumping out. The shorts don’t seem to be doing much good. The fabric is soaked. His arm is slathered in sticky blood. The sixty-one-year-old tries to take shallow, calming breaths. A spasm of pain rips through his chest. If the gouge in his neck doesn’t kill him, under such stress his heart condition surely will. Hold on! he tells himself. Stay calm. The advice seems impossible considering the circumstances. The house’s burglar alarm screams around him, a deafening, maddening tone that seems to grow louder and louder with each peal. Faintly, from beyond the wail of his house’s alarm, he can just make out police sirens, getting closer. Leo is sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall next to the hallway leading to the bedroom and his office. He doesn’t know where his wife is. He had blacked out and was awakened by the siren going off.

“Sue!” he calls, but there is no answer. “Muffy!” he yells again, using his pet name for her. One of their cats pads down the hall, startling Leo. Its eyes are wild, its hair spiked. It’s more than the alarm that spooked it, Leo realizes. The cat is leaving a path of bloody paw prints behind as it runs into the living room. “Sue,” Leo croaks, knowing the blood must belong to his wife of forty years. The police sirens are suddenly very loud. There is a crashing at the door. “Police!” a voice shouts.

Leo hears footsteps in the foyer. He musters all the strength he can to yell out in a hoarse, trembling voice, “In here.” A uniformed police officer appears, his gun drawn. Another officer follows close behind. “My wife,” Leo croaks. “Do you see her?” The first officer drops to his knees to help Leo. The second continues down the hall. Leo cranes his neck to watch the man. From his angle going down the hallway, the officer can see into the office. A woman lies facedown on the floor next to the desk.

The carpet beneath her is a swamp of crimson. Her back appears to be stippled with puncture wounds, with bloodstains blooming like roses through her white sweater. Her hair is matted with blood. She isn’t moving. Leo sees the look of horror on the officer’s face. That’s the last thing Leo is able to take—he passes out. His limp hand falls, pulling away the makeshift bandage that was stemming his blood flow. Fresh blood pumps out of his neck in rhythm with his heartbeat. Each pulse of blood is weaker than the one before it. Chapter 2 Earlier that night November 9, 2014 6:00 p.

m. Leo sits at the table, reading a novel, while Sue moves around the kitchen preparing their dinner. They’ve been married forty years, and this has become their evening ritual: Sue cooking while Leo keeps her company. They have lots of friends and enjoy plenty of social opportunities, but on any particular day, if given the choice, they like to stay home together. For all the money Leo makes at the law firm, they like a simple life. Sue notices Leo’s empty glass of water and says, “Do you want me to get you a refill, Pie?” “Pie” is her nickname for him. “Sure,” he says, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Sue fills his water glass at the refrigerator and brings it to him. He looks up from the pages to offer her an appreciative smile. “Thanks, Muffy.

” Leo has a kind face. It’s one of the things she’s always loved about him. She noticed it when he was a twenty-year-old kid with dreams of becoming a lawyer, and she notices it now, four decades later. He’s gained a few pounds and most of his hair has fallen out—and what hair is left has turned white—but the kindness behind his smile has never changed. Sue turns back to the kitchen counter, where she is preparing a basting sauce for their chicken dinner. She pushes the sleeves of her white sweater up to her elbows to make sure she doesn’t get anything on them. She combines olive oil, garlic, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper. She pours the mixture over the chicken breasts, then uses tongs to flip the breasts over and coat both sides. The oven isn’t quite preheated yet, so she turns her attention to a few dishes in the sink. Then she has a thought.

“Pie,” she says, trying not to sound like a nag, “did you take your medicine?” “I will in a minute,” Leo says, not looking up from his book. Sue doesn’t say a word. Instead, she leaves the kitchen and walks through the living room toward the hallway leading to the back of the house. Their home is nice—spacious but not extravagant. In McLean, Virginia, there are certainly bigger, more expensive houses. Ten miles from Washington, DC, the suburban community is home to diplomats, businessmen, and high-ranking government officials. Most of Sue and Leo’s income comes from Leo’s work as a partner for the Bean, Kinney & Korman law firm in nearby Arlington. He works on cases involving trademarks, copyrights, business transactions, corporate disputes—nothing particularly exciting by most standards, but nevertheless a career that has given them a comfortable life together. Sue walks down the hallway. She isn’t sure where Leo keeps his pills.

She checks their bedroom first. She flicks on the light and spots both of their cats, Twist and Shout, submerged in the thick, snow-white duvet covering Sue and Leo’s California king bed. Twist raises his head and whips his tail rhythmically while Shout purrs loudly. “Hi, sweeties,” Sue says, running her hands along both cats’ soft fur. On each side of their bed, she and Leo have their own nightstands. Leo’s is practically empty except for a lamp and a handful of books in his to-read pile. No pills. She doesn’t expect his medication to be on her side, but she checks anyway. There is nothing there but her face cream and a landline telephone. She crosses through the bedroom into the bathroom they share.

She checks his medicine cabinet. No luck. She frowns. Where are those darn pills? She leaves the bedroom and goes into Leo’s home office across the hall. Bookshelves line the back wall, filled with a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction titles, and decorated with framed photos and novelties purchased on their travels abroad. There is a love seat against one wall, with a couple throw pillows. A small end table sits to one side with a few more of Leo’s books lying on it. Leo’s desk, on the opposite wall, is neat and organized, with a large-screen desktop computer, another telephone, and a case file lying open. Sitting on the corner of the desk is a small bottle of prescription medication. Sue checks the label to verify what it is.

Of course, she thinks. His heart is in his work, so why not keep his heart medication in his of ice? She snatches the bottle off the surface of the desk and heads back to the kitchen. On her way through the living room, something catches her eye out the front picture window. A vehicle is parked on the road at the end of their driveway. It’s an SUV of some sort, with its interior lights illuminated. She can make out two figures inside but, at this distance, can’t discern any details about them. As if they can sense her watching, the lights inside the car go off, and everything behind the windows turns black. It’s not unusual for people to park on the street in this neighborhood, but the properties are big enough, with long driveways, that people don’t often park anywhere but in front of the houses they’re visiting. They must be lost, Sue thinks. Maybe they stopped to look at a map or their GPS.

Or to make a phone call or send a text. But several seconds pass, and the car doesn’t move. Sue suddenly realizes that they could be watching her, just as she had been watching them. The ceiling light is on, as well as a lamp in the corner, which would backlight Sue’s silhouette and make it easy for anyone on the road to see her standing there. Sue feels goosebumps rise on her skin and she isn’t sure why. She yanks the curtain closed and heads back toward the kitchen, telling herself there’s nothing to worry about. Chapter 3 “Here you go, ” Sue says, setting the prescription bottle on the table next to Leo’s glass of water. Leo puts his book down on the table and dutifully takes his pills. “Is this how you’re going to spend your retirement, Muffy?” he says, taking a good-humored, teasing tone. “Keeping track of what I’m supposed to be doing?” “If you would just retire too,” Sue says, returning to the counter and her dinner preparations, “then you could keep track of yourself.

” Leo chuckles. This is an ongoing conversation these days. Sue recently retired from a career in finance, and she’s been pressing him to join her. “I’m only sixty-one—not ninety-nine,” Leo says. “I’m not ready to retire. I know it’s what was right for you, but it’s not for me. Not yet.” “People don’t have quadruple bypass surgeries just to sit behind a desk,” Sue says, using a spoon to ladle more sauce onto the chicken breasts. “I love what I do,” Leo says. “Oh, I know,” she teases.

“I’m well aware of your undying affair with the firm.” Leo laughs and picks his book back up. If her jibes made any dent, he doesn’t show it. She wishes he’d take her concerns seriously. She’s been thinking about mortality—both of theirs— ever since he had the heart attack that led to the surgery. They are both sixty-one, which isn’t old, but they aren’t spring chickens anymore. It isn’t that she thinks they need to spend every minute of their lives together. But he works too hard. Even after his heart attack, Leo seems to think he will live forever. She can’t help but worry about him.

She can’t imagine life without him. The oven buzzes, signaling that the preheat temperature has been reached. Sue opens the door, and, as she puts the casserole dish inside, the heat of the oven fogs the edges of her glasses. She sets the timer and says, “Okay, dinner will be ready in—” The doorbell rings. Leo looks up from his book. Sue frowns and shrugs her shoulders, telling him she doesn’t know who it could be. “Probably the courier from the firm,” Leo says, setting his book down and rising from his chair. “On a Sunday night?” Sue says. “Are you expecting anything?” “Not that I can think of,” Leo says. He seems to think nothing of it, but Sue can’t help but find it odd that Leo would be receiving files over the weekend without even knowing that they’re coming.

Is he so busy that he can’t even keep track of what files are supposed to be delivered? “Can’t we have one night to ourselves without your job interrupting us?” Sue intends the question to be a tease, like the tone he used with her earlier, but when the words come out, she doesn’t recognize her own voice. She sounds like the nag she doesn’t want to be. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” Leo says, seeming not to notice. As Leo walks toward the foyer to answer the door, Sue remembers the car parked in front of their house. She opens her mouth to tell him to wait, but he’s already out of the room. Besides, what would she say? There’s a strange car parked on the street? So what. This isn’t a gated community. Anyone can drive down the street and park in front of their house. Anyone. The bell rings again.

Chapter 4 The man at the door clearly isn’t a courier from the office. He is wearing a suit, but the fabric is wrinkled, as if he’s been sleeping in his clothes. Atop his head is a brown fedora like Harrison Ford wore in the Indiana Jones movies. The man pulls a badge from his jacket, flashes it in front of Leo’s face, then makes it disappear back into his suit. “I’m Jeffrey Wilkins from the SEC,” the man says. “I need to come in and ask you some questions.” “I don’t understand,” Leo says, trying to make sense of what is happening. “What is this about?” “Sir,” the agent says, “it’s urgent that I come inside.” The agent tries to step forward, but Leo doesn’t make room for him. The man stands uncomfortably close to Leo.

“Are you sure you have the right address? My name is Leo Fisher.” “Time is of the essence. We’re investigating misconduct at your firm, and I need to ask you a few questions. We’re speaking with all the partners. I’ve just come from Mr. Korman’s residence.” “On a Sunday night?” Leo says. “Like I said, this is urgent.” Leo’s heart starts to race. What is going on? “I’m not at liberty to discuss matters relating to my firm,” Leo says.

“Or my clients.” “Even when something illegal is going on?” “There is nothing illegal going on at the firm,” Leo says. “You’re sure?” “To my knowledge, yes.” The agent is probably in his thirties, but he has a chubby, boyish face, with a brown goatee and a sorry excuse for a mustache. Despite his youthful features, there is something in the man’s face that is disquieting. Anger seems to be bubbling just beneath the surface. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” Leo says. “If you want to drop by the office tomorrow, I’d be happy to speak with you.” “Really?” “Yes.” “If I come tomorrow,” the agent says, “I’m bringing a warrant—and police.

I think it would be easier if we talk tonight. Off the record.” Leo thinks for a moment. “May I see that badge again?” Leo asks. Leo expects the agent to oblige and show his badge, even if he is irritated by the request. But the agent does nothing of the sort. Instead, he shoves Leo—hard—in the chest. Leo stumbles back into the foyer. The man steps into the house and swings the door shut behind him. He throws the deadbolt.

Leo stares in disbelief. Sue walks in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. “What’s going on?” she says. “Ma’am,” the agent says with authority. “I’m with the Securities Exchange Commission. I have some questions for your husband.” “Leo?” Sue says, turning to her husband. “I don’t understand.” Leo can’t bear the look of confusion and fear on his wife’s face. This isn’t right.

“This is unacceptable,” Leo says to the agent. “I know the law. I know my rights. You need to leave.” “You’re the one who did something unacceptable,” the agent snaps. “And you’re going to be in even more trouble if you don’t cooperate.” “I demand to see your identification,” Leo says. The man takes a deep breath, like a parent dealing with a petulant child. He reaches into his jacket. But he doesn’t pull out his credentials.

He pulls out what looks like a toy gun from a science fiction movie. The agent points the object at Leo, and in the instant before the man squeezes the trigger, Leo realizes what it is. Chapter 5 Two barbed electrodes shoot from the gun and stab into Leo’s sweater. Lightning bolts of pain explode through his body. The electricity blasting through him paralyzes his muscle function, and he drops to the ground, convulsing. The pain is extraordinary—every bit as excruciating as his heart attack. Leo fears he is having another heart attack, but then the electricity cuts off and the pain begins to subside. He is a useless blob of jelly lying on his foyer floor, but he knows he is going to live. Unless, that is, his assailant decides to zap him with the Taser gun again. Leo isn’t sure he can survive another shock.

Faintly, over his own garbled moans of pain, Leo can hear his wife screaming. “You can’t do this!” Sue shouts. “This is outrageous.” The agent ignores her and crouches over Leo, fastening his hands and ankles with zip ties. The agent disconnects and retracts the cords from the Taser. Sue stands frozen, unsure what to do. Finally, her paralysis breaks, and she steps forward to help Leo. The man cuts her off before she makes it two steps. “Don’t move,” he says. “I’ll zap you too, you bitch!” He grabs her arm and shoves her against the wall.

He is much stronger than she is, and he holds her arms together then encircles her wrists with a zip tie. The plastic strips cut into her skin. He fastens her ankles together. Sue tries to bring her breathing under control and to keep herself from crying. The man leaves the two of them there—Leo lying on the floor, Sue precariously balanced on ziptied legs—and starts closing the blinds in the front-facing rooms. “Pie,” Sue says, her voice barely more than a whisper. “Are you okay?” “I’m okay,” Leo says, but this is far from true. His limbs feel like Jell-O, and his muscles ache. It’s as if every muscle in his body had seized up with charley horses, and only now are the muscles beginning to loosen. Worse, he feels a painful squeezing in his chest.

Not a heart attack—not yet—but it’s serious enough that, under normal circumstances, he would lie down and try to relax. Relaxing is impossible right now. “What’s this about, Pie?” Sue says. “What kind of trouble are we in?” “I don’t know.” This statement seems to enrage the agent, who storms back into the room. “You don’t know?” he says, kneeling over Leo and practically shouting in his face. “We’ll see about that.” The agent leans over and jerks Leo to sit upright. The man winces and reaches for his lower back. “Get up and go to the bedroom,” the agent says, holding his back like he just strained a muscle.

Leo and Sue hobble down the hallway. From their bedroom door, Twist and Shout watch them suspiciously. As if they can tell something is wrong, the cats take off running. The agent makes Leo and Sue sit on the edge of their bed. “Let’s get this interrogation started,” the agent says. Chapter 6 A chair sits in the corner with a small pile of Leo’s unfolded clothes. The agent brushes the clothes out of the chair and eases down onto its cushion as if the act of sitting is difficult. He takes off his hat and sets it on the floor. His hair is disheveled and flattened on one side from the fedora. His forehead is beaded with sweat.

He reaches into his pants pocket and pulls out a prescription bottle. He pops a tiny pill into his mouth and swallows. “This is outrageous,” Leo says. “This is a clear violation of our civil rights.” The agent rises from his chair and looms over Leo and Sue. “You’d be advised not to make this any more difficult than it has to be, Mr. Fisher. You know what you’ve done.” Sue’s eyes widen, looking at Leo for answers. He shrugs, a gesture meant to say he doesn’t have any.

The agent begins to pace back and forth in front of them like a cop on a TV show. Sue has a strange surreal feeling—like she’s somehow been teleported from her normal life and dropped into an episode of The Twilight Zone. This is our bedroom, she thinks. In our home! And we’re being questioned in it like criminals! “Leo Fisher, managing partner at Bean, Kinney & Korman,” the agent says, as much to himself as Leo. “And you’ve been there since 1990? Is that right?” Leo nods, and the agent turns his attention to Sue. “And you’re recently retired, isn’t that right, Susan? Enjoying the life of a housewife, are we?” Sue glares at him. What kind of questions are these? What does her retirement have to do with Leo’s law firm? “Will you just tell us what this is about already?” Sue says. The agent glares at her. She feels like squirming under his gaze, but she holds her head high and does not look away. “What this is about,” the agent says, “is some very irregular activity at the firm in the past month.

” “Irregular activity?” Leo says. “Don’t interrupt,” the agent snaps, then turns his attention back to Sue. “There are hints of very dubious wire transfers at your husband’s direction,” the man says. “And intercepted emails to prove it.” “This must be a mistake,” Leo says. “It’s no mistake, I’m afraid,” the agent said. “Either you’re up to no good, or someone in the firm is framing you. Now I need some answers.” The agent peels off his jacket and tosses it on the chair in the corner. Without the jacket, they can see the Taser fastened to the man’s belt, as well as a shoulder holster containing what looks like a semi-automatic pistol.

Do SEC agents carry firearms? Sue wonders. The agent starts bombarding Leo with questions about any illicit activities at the firm. Shady employees who might be framing him? Clients who have criminal histories? Offshore accounts? “I don’t know about anything like that,” Leo says. “Can you be more specific? Our firm deals in commercial and civil litigation. We have a high standard for clients we’ll work with—there’s nothing duplicitous going on.” “So that’s the way you want to play it, huh?” the agent says, shaking his head. “Play what?” “You know what I’m talking about,” the agent snaps. “Stop acting as if you’re innocent.” The agent runs his hand through his hair, and his expression changes. For an instant, he lets his guard down.

Instead of looking like a confident—and angry—government agent, he suddenly looks different. He looks like an ordinary guy. Someone you might pass on the street or in a hallway. Imagining him this way—in another context, wearing different clothes—Leo thinks for a moment that he might know the man. There is just a glimmer of recognition, but then the agent’s bad-tempered expression is back. Leo turns away, not wanting his own expression to reveal his speculation. Leo is sure now that he’s seen the man somewhere before. But where?

.

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