Murder Beyond the Grave – James Patterson

THE MAN GASPS for air and claws at the plywood siding of his prison. He’s inside a coffin that is six feet long and three feet wide. Rivulets of sweat pour from his brow. His shirt is soaked. His heart is thumping like he’s just run up a flight of stairs. His skull is throbbing with a nauseating headache. He has been buried alive. At gunpoint. A stranger, disguised with a ski mask and motorcycle helmet, had kidnapped him, had clipped handcuffs around his wrists, and later, when he forced him into the box, he cut the chain between the cuffs but left the circles of metal clasped tightly to his wrists. The kidnapper left three items in the coffin: a gallon jug of cloudy water, a pile of candy bars, and a car battery attached to a caged lightbulb. He has gulped half the water already but hasn’t touched the candy bars. He isn’t sure how long he’s been in here. The lightbulb is starting to dim. He looks up at a small piece of PVC pipe sticking through the plywood, and he puts his mouth over the tube, trying to draw big gulps of fresh air. But though he’s in good shape, his lungs strain.

No matter how much air he pulls in, his chest is still heaving, still gasping for more. He knows what’s happening. He’s running out of oxygen. The pipe isn’t doing enough to circulate fresh air into the chamber. He pushes up against the plywood and pounds on the wood with his fists. “Help!” he screams. But his vocal cords are raw from yelling so much. And he can barely catch his breath as it is. He tries to calm his panicked breathing, taking long, slow breaths. His head is pounding.

Keep it together, he tells himself. Calm down! He remembered what the masked man said when he put him in here, that this is all about money. Everything’s going to be fine. I’ve worked out all the details. You’re not going to die. But he is beginning to think his kidnapper is never coming back. The air smells of sour sweat, plywood, and caulk. And hidden behind those odors, barely noticeable, is the smell of freshly dug soil—the smell of his grave. He presses his trembling hands against the plywood again. This time, when he pushes upward, straining with all his strength, he feels some give in the earth.

He feels a moment of hope. But when he releases the pressure, the board sags inward, like a mineshaft nearing its inevitable collapse. The light flickers. He takes deep breaths. Long inhalations. Slow exhalations. He tries to calm his nerves. He closes his eyes and, as he waits for the light to die and the darkness to envelop him, he thinks of the faces of his children and the woman he loves. He hopes they know how much he loves them. CHAPTER 2 January 1987 Eight months earlier DANNY EDWARDS WALKS down a sidewalk in Chicago, his head down, his fists buried in his coat.

Flakes of snow drift in the air. Danny’s breath comes out in bursts of visible vapor. Cars drive by, slicing through gray slush. Danny is thirty years old, well dressed, and handsome. Under ordinary circumstances, he would seem like a friendly guy, but today he has a determined look on his face. He’s anxious. He pushes through the door into a steak house and is greeted by a rush of warm air, a cloud of cigarette smoke, and a barrel-chested host who lights up when he sees him. “Yo, Danny,” the man says, his Chicago accent thick. “Long time no see, eh?” When the man opens his arms to give Danny a hug, Danny awkwardly thrusts a hand out for a shake instead. “How’ve you been?” Danny says, feigning a smile.

“Oh, you know,” says his longtime associate, who, unfazed by the rebuffed embrace, claps Danny on the shoulder. “Same ol’, same ol’.” Danny opens his mouth for more small talk, but the host cuts him off with a nod toward the kitchen. “He’s waiting for you in the back. Told me to send you in straightaway.” Danny makes his way toward the rear of the restaurant, walking through tendrils of cigarette smoke. The room is full of low-hanging lamps and checkerboard tablecloths. He enters a redbrick hallway and walks past the kitchen, where white-clad cooks shout over a flaming grill, and then past the dish room, where a kid with pimples on his face and a cigarette between his lips is blasting dirty plates with a high-powered spray nozzle. In the very back of the restaurant is an oak door, standing ajar, and Danny knocks gently and pokes his head inside. “Hey, Mitch,” Danny says, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Sit down,” Mitch says to Danny without any of the good cheer the host displayed when Danny entered the restaurant. Danny sits in a leather chair across from Mitch, who is leaning over a white platter. There are no vegetables on the plate, no sides whatsoever. Just a sixteen-ounce porterhouse barely seared on the outside and as bloody as a bullet wound on the inside. Mitch, an intimidating sixtysomething man with silver-streaked hair and cold, dark eyes, saws into the meat and pops a dripping bite into his mouth. “How’s it going?” Danny says. “Cut the crap,” Mitch says, his voice like a garbage disposal filled with broken glass. “Where’s my money?” Danny’s façade breaks. He nervously glances around the room. “Here’s the thing, Mitch,” he says, and then hesitates to continue.

Mitch stares at him. He holds his fork in one hand and a steak knife in the other, but his meal is forgotten. His attention is focused on Danny. Danny takes a deep breath and then rips the Band-Aid off. “The cops nabbed my cocaine,” Danny says. “The whole supply.” Mitch’s expression is unreadable. “I’m lucky they didn’t get me,” Danny says. Mitch continues to stare, saying nothing. Danny fidgets in his chair.

“Listen,” Danny says. “I’ve got it all worked out. My buyers are still interested. They’re hungry for product. I just need another kilo. I’ll give all the profits to you. It will cover what I owe you and the new bag. You know I’m good for it.” Mitch returns to his steak without speaking. Danny waits.

He can’t sit still. He pulls at the collar of his shirt and wipes a bead of sweat from his brow. Mitch takes his time cutting off another bloody hunk of steak. “So you’re going to pay me double?” Mitch says, without looking at Danny. “Of course.” “And a penalty fee?” Danny hesitates. “If that’s what it takes. I want to make things right.” “What’s up with you?” Mitch says, raising his eyes and fixing them on Danny. “You seem a little bit off.

Why are you sweating so much?” CHAPTER 3 OUTSIDE IN A nondescript panel van, two police officers listen with headphones. “Damn it,” says the first officer. “He’s been made.” “Wait,” says the other. “This guy Danny is a slick operator. Let’s see what he does.” High-tech equipment lines one side of the van’s interior, and the first officer adjusts a knob to try to hear the conversation better. “I seem a bit of ?” Danny asks. “Yeah,” Mitch says, his gravelly voice particularly jumbled in the earphones. “Jumpy.

” “Jumpy?” “Yeah,” Mitch says, getting frustrated now. “You gonna repeat everything I say?” “Sorry,” Danny says. “What I’m wondering is if the cops nabbed the cocaine you were selling, how is it that they didn’t nab you?” The two cops look at each other. “Get ready to call in the team,” the first one says. “I don’t want a dead informant on our hands.” The detectives spent weeks putting this operation together. After they busted Danny Edwards, they convinced him that they wouldn’t charge him if he wore a wire and helped them bring down his supplier. Danny Edwards is a little fish—they want the Big Kahuna. The plan is simple: once Mitch shows Danny the drugs, Danny is supposed to say a code phrase. Then the police will come rushing in.

The only other reason they would come rushing in would be if Danny seemed to be in danger. Danny’s a low-level hoodlum, but they don’t want his blood on their hands. “I’m making the call,” the first officer says, picking up a walkie-talkie. “Wait!” the second says, and they both go quiet as they listen. “How is it that they didn’t nab me?” Danny whispers. “I swear to God you better stop repeating everything I say.” “Okay, okay,” Danny says. “Here’s what happened.” Danny explains how he’s been keeping his supply of drugs at a construction site down the road from where he does most of his deals, not in his own home. The house is a skeleton of two-by-fours and plywood flooring.

Just now, the roof is getting shingled and the walls are being covered in drywall. But the central air ducts are installed, and it’s a convenient place to keep a brick of coke hidden and dry. “That part of the house has already been inspected, you see. No one looks in there.” “Why don’t you just keep your coke at your own house like a normal drug dealer?” Mitch asks. “Are you kidding?” Danny says. “My girlfriend would have a fit. I’d be sleeping on the street if she found out there were any drugs in the house.” Danny goes on to explain that he was selling to a couple guys he hadn’t seen before. They were asking for more than he had on him.

He should have known better, he admits, but he told them to wait and he’d be back in thirty minutes. He walked to the construction site without realizing he was being followed. Once he’d reached into the vent and pulled out the brick, two other guys came running from the corner of the house waving guns and badges. Danny took off on foot and lost them when he hid in the rafters of another half-finished house at the construction site. “I saw them grab the coke,” Danny says, “and then I snuck of .” “And these cops don’t know who you are?” Mitch asks. “No way, man. That’s why I walked to the construction site. They don’t have my plate number. They don’t know the car I drive.

They saw my face, but I never ended up selling them anything. Even if they found out who I was, they couldn’t do anything. They’ve got nothing.” The two police officers listen as the conversation in their headphones goes quiet for a moment. “You were right,” says the first officer. “Told you he was a slick operator.” “That was such a convincing story he almost fooled me,” says the first cop. “If I give you more,” they hear Mitch say, “are you going to be careful?” “Thank you so much,” Danny says. “I’m so happy I could kiss a pig.” “Did you hear that?” says the first police officer.

The other officer nods and barks into his walkie-talkie, “Move! Move! Move! The drug deal is going down!” CHAPTER 4 “DON’T GO KISSING any pigs just yet,” Mitch growls at Danny. “You’re still in hot water.” Danny dabs more sweat from his forehead. “This is your last chance.” Mitch points his knife toward Danny. “You know what happens if you mess this up?” A drop of red juice drips off the blade of the knife. Danny opens his mouth to answer, but then they hear a commotion going on outside the office door. There’s yelling, then the sound of pans clattering and glass breaking. Then comes an earsplitting crash, as if someone dropped a whole tray of dinner plates outside the office door. “What in the holy hell is going on out there?” Mitch snarls.

Mitch stands to his feet just as the door bursts open, crashing against the wall with a bang. In seconds, the office is full of police officers pointing shotguns and pistols at Mitch and Danny. “Hands up!” a cop yells. Danny obliges. Mitch ignores the request. “What’s going on here?” he barks. “What do you think you’re doing?” “You two are under arrest,” one cop says, leveling a pistol at Mitch’s forehead. Another cop grabs Mitch and shoves him against his desk. He kicks Mitch’s legs into a wide stance and begins patting him down. Another officer shoves Danny against the wall and begins patting him down as well.

“Where are the drugs?” one of the officers asks Mitch. “What drugs?” Mitch says. “This is a family restaurant. It’s a law-abiding business.” The cop gets close to Mitch’s ear and says, “You’re the biggest drug dealer in the city. You know it. We know it. Everybody knows it. And now you’re finally going down for it.” “Where’s your evidence?” The cops glance around the room, as if they’re expecting to see a brick of coke sitting out in the open.

There isn’t anything but Mitch’s half-eaten steak. “Don’t worry,” the cop says, pulling Mitch’s hands behind his back and cuffing them. “We’ll find the evidence, even if we have to tear this place apart.” A cop yanks one of Danny’s arms behind his back, fastens a cuff around it, and then pulls his other arm back and locks them together. “Ouch,” Danny mumbles. “What’s wrong?” a cop says. “Don’t like being locked up? Get used to it. We’re going to lock you up until you’re old enough to collect social security.” The police begin searching the office, flinging open drawers on the desk and turning over furniture. Danny watches them search, then raises his eyes to look at Mitch.

Mitch is glaring at him, his eyes focused and murderous. A cold chill slithers up Danny’s spine. Mitch doesn’t say a word, but his expression tells Danny everything he needs to know. Mitch’s expression says, I know it was you. CHAPTER 5 DANNY SITS IN the rear of an unmarked police car as it rolls past the welcome sign for the city of Kankakee, Illinois. In the front seats sit the same officers who were in the panel van earlier, his handlers for the undercover operation. They are detectives with KAMEG—the Kankakee Area Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Group. Danny has forgotten their names. Both were friendly to him before, but now things are different. Ever since the bust went awry, they’ve been alternating between cold indifference and fiery antagonism.

“You know you could have taken these damn handcuffs off me,” Danny says, shifting his body to find a comfortable way to sit in the seat while his hands are still locked behind his back. The officer in the passenger seat—a fortysomething man with blond hair, sideburns, and a mustache —shifts around to look at Danny. His eyes glare at Danny with nearly the same rage that had been burning in Mitch’s eyes. “You’re lucky we’re not throwing your ass in jail,” the officer says. “Hey,” Danny says, shrugging his shoulders, “I did my part.” “You were supposed to say the code phrase after you saw the coke. Not before.” “He was about to pull it out,” Danny says. “I was sure of it.” “It’s our fault,” says the driver, a man about Danny’s age with a buzz cut that makes him look as if he just got out of the marines.

“We assumed this high school dropout knew the difference between before and after.” “My three-year-old knows the difference between before and after,” says the officer with the mustache. “Yeah, but your son’s human.” The driver looks in the rearview mirror and fixes his eyes on Danny. “Not a rat.” “Very funny,” Danny says. “You weren’t calling me a rat when I agreed to help you.” “That was back when we thought you were actually going to help us,” the cop says. “Not screw us over.” “If it was up to me,” the mustached officer says, “I’d put your lying ass in jail.

You reneged on your agreement as far as I’m concerned.” “Well, it’s not up to you,” Danny says, unable to hide a smile. “The state’s attorney says I fulfilled the terms of my deal.” The cop in the passenger seat looks over at the driver. “I told you he was a slick operator.” The driver says nothing, and quiet overtakes the car. Danny looks out the window. The car crosses a bridge over the Kankakee River. Its water is gray in the January light, and the trees lining the banks are leafless and lean. Soon they’re driving through downtown Kankakee, a short strip of old brick storefronts.

With a population of about twenty-five thousand people, Kankakee is a nice little town—quaint, quiet, and close enough to Chicago that residents can get their big-city fix whenever they need to. Danny watches the storefronts roll by, remembering growing up here. He’d ridden his bike into town on summer afternoons. He’d gone swimming in the river. He’d snuck into train cars at the old depot and smoked marijuana with his friends. His parents were well off, and he’d never been left wanting. As an adult, he’d done well for himself—just not by obeying the law. Up until recently, he’d been making four thousand dollars a week selling cocaine. He’d owned a riverfront house in an upscale neighborhood, and he’d also been making enough to lease a split-level town house for his girlfriend, Nancy. He paid for her place because he didn’t want her and her eight-year-old son, Benji, to be close to his drug-dealing operations.

Life had been great. He’d been planning to buy a boat. But then KAMEG agents raided his Aroma Park home, seizing ten thousand dollars in cash and two hundred grams of cocaine—with a street value of twenty thousand. The story of the narrow escape that he told to Mitch was a complete fabrication. The truth is he’d been busted red-handed. A month ago, he’d had the world at his feet. Now he’s sleeping in Nancy’s town house, trying to figure out how to make the monthly payment. All the money he had in the world is gone. Life as he once knew it is now over. “Why are you looking so gloomy?” the officer in the passenger seat says to him.

“You just lucked into a get-out-of-jail-free card.” “It doesn’t feel that way,” Danny says. “What am I supposed to do now?” As the police car rolls up in front of Nancy’s town house, the two officers look at each other, incredulous. The driver turns around and glares at Danny. “Why don’t you try getting a job like everybody else.” CHAPTER 6 August 1987 DANNY SWINGS HIS hammer and drives a framing nail into a two-by-four. He stands inside the skeleton of a house under construction, sweating in the summer humidity. He reaches into his tool belt, pulls out another nail, and lines it up. He takes a swing and misses the nail—hitting his thumb instead. “Damn it!” he shouts, throwing his hammer down onto the plywood floor.

He shakes his hand, trying to wring out the pain. He checks his watch. It’s not quite quitting time, but close enough. He collects his hammer and heads over to the foreman, who hands him a check. Danny stares in disbelief at the numbers on the paystub. “Uncle Sam sure takes a bite, don’t he?” the foreman says. And people say I’m a crook, Danny thinks. He almost opens his mouth to ask for more hours. He sure could use the money. But he hates the work.

There’s got to be an easier way to make money. He climbs into his van and heads home. At a stoplight, he examines the palms of his hands. The soft flesh is full of blisters. He keeps waiting for calluses to form and for his skin to toughen up, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m not cut out for this type of work, he thinks. The only problem is that the one type of work he is cut out for is illegal. He’s been walking the straight and narrow since January because he knows that another bust will put him in prison for who knows how long. There will be no leniency this time. No deal.

No get-out-of-jail-free card. He pulls up in front of the town house, which is in need of a new paint job. Inside, he finds Nancy crouched in the kitchen behind the dishwasher, which she’s slid out from the counter. A slick of soapy water covers the linoleum floor. Her son, Benji—oblivious to the difficulties of the world—is playing in the puddle. Nancy has a roll of duct tape and is wrapping it around a pipe. “What the hell are you doing?” Danny says. “The damn thing’s leaking again,” Nancy says without looking up. Nancy Rish is a knockout. Twenty-five years old.

Petite. Platinum blond. When she dresses up for a night on the town, she looks like a Barbie doll. But right now, her hair is damp and hanging in her eyes, her sweatpants are soaked with soapy water, and she has grease on her hands and forearms like she’s an auto-shop mechanic instead of a stay-at-home mom. “That should do it,” she says, and stands up. She presses the button to start the dishwasher again. The motor begins to hum, and they watch for more water leaking out. It appears she fixed whatever was wrong. She grabs a mop and starts to clean up the floor. Danny knows he should help, but he’s dog tired after working all day, so he just watches her.

When she’s finished mopping, she leans against the handle and says, “You know, I’ve been thinking. It’s time I go back to work.” “No,” Danny says without considering it. “Honey,” she says. “We need the money.” Benji is walking around the kitchen, searching for puddles. There’s no more water for him to splash in, but his shoes are wet and he keeps leaving dirty footprints on the linoleum. “I’ll think of something,” Danny says. “I’ll get back on my feet. I promise.

” Nancy approaches him, and even in her soaked sweatpants and dirty tank top, she is still beautiful. She puts her arms around his neck and pulls his face down for a long kiss. “I’m so proud of you for not dealing anymore,” she says. “Times are tough right now, but they’re going to get better. You’re doing the right thing. Let me help you.” Danny shakes his head. When he first met her, Nancy had been working two jobs and somehow taking care of Benji in what little free time she had. She’d gotten pregnant and married as a teenager and ever since she divorced her husband, she’d worked odd jobs: waitressing, selling makeup, cleaning houses. He’d been able to take her from that life.

He’d be damned if he was the reason she had to go back to it. He wraps his arms around her and embraces her. She closes her eyes and rests her head on his chest. They hear Benji splashing in a puddle. “I thought I got it all,” Nancy says, opening her eyes. The dishwasher is leaking again.

.

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