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Truth or Die(6)

By:James Patterson

Suddenly, I was in no-man's-land, and my only thought was that I couldn't afford to be seen. Call it instinct or sheer panic, but I was done knocking on the door of room 1701.

I was now in room 1701.

And I wasn't alone.


IT WAS pitch black; I couldn't see a thing. But there was no mistaking the sound of running water. It was the shower.

Meanwhile, there was the other sound behind me. A door opening and closing out in the hallway. Whoever I'd woken up was going back to bed without laying eyes on me. One bullet dodged.

Now what?

I could practically hear myself playing lawyer with the police, telling them this wasn't breaking and entering because technically the door was open. The trespassing charge, however, would be a little harder to argue.

No, this was an easy decision. I'd slip back outside the door and wait for whoever was in the shower to get out. I'd knock again, and this time Claire's source would hear me. It would be as if I'd never set foot in the room.

But as I turned to reach for the handle, I felt the squish beneath my shoe. The carpet was wet. Soaked, actually.

From there, it was all a blur.

Immediately, I slapped my hand blindly against the wall until I found the nearest light switch. The entryway lit up as I rushed into the bathroom, the water splashing up beneath my feet.

Again, I felt around for a light and found the switch. But it wasn't working. I couldn't see anything beyond shadows.

Reaching for my phone, I hit the flashlight app and waited for my eyes to adjust. When they did, I literally jumped back, almost tripping over myself.

Half his body was in the bathtub; the other half-his legs-dangled over the side. Also dangling was the cord of the hair dryer that was submerged in the water. It didn't take a genius to put it together. This was no accident. Claire's source had been murdered.

I took a step forward, the light from my phone edging up toward his face. It was like a grotesque freeze-frame of the electrocution. Every muscle contracted, his mouth ovaled as if midscream. The stuff of nightmares.

I knew what I was supposed to do next. It was what all the stupid characters in movies somehow decide not to do right before things spiral hopelessly out of control. Go to the police. In the big scheme of things, it didn't matter how or why I was there in that room.

As a forensic psychologist once told me in a deposition, with a slow nod of his bearded chin, "A dead body changes everything."

Problem was, all I could really think about in that moment was Claire. Whatever story she was chasing, it was the kind someone else didn't want told. Really didn't want told.

And just like that, the random act of violence that had ended her life-a taxi robbery-didn't seem so random.


THE NEXT thing I knew, I was holding off a minute on calling the police.</ol>


Yes, it was a crime scene. Yes, I was aware I shouldn't be touching the victim. But I was in that hotel to find out whom Claire had been coming to see, and I still didn't know. Right or wrong, the answer was only a few feet away.

Angling my phone near the sink, I spotted and grabbed a face towel to prevent my leaving any fingerprints as I turned off the shower. I knelt down at the edge of the bathtub and began looking for a wallet, or anything else that would ID the guy. One hand was still holding my phone for light, the other searching his pockets. It would've been a lot easier if he hadn't been wearing jeans.

The front two pockets didn't turn up anything except perhaps a measure of guilt. Most of Claire's sources were people doing the "right thing" in one way or another. Whistle-blowing on corruption, setting the record straight, things like that. Some of them risked their lives in doing so. Now here was one, it seemed, who'd paid the ultimate price.

Until I searched his back pockets.

At first, I thought it was his wallet I was feeling. It wasn't, but it was certainly a form of ID. Even drenched and bunched in a ball as it was, I knew right away what I was holding in my hand. A ski mask. Looked like the same one from the taxi surveillance video.

This wasn't the guy Claire had been going to see.

This was the guy who killed her.

All at once, the rest of the pieces came together before my eyes. Underneath the guy's gray sweatshirt was the same black turtleneck I'd seen in the video. There was also a black baseball cap on the tile floor next to the tub.

There was no doubt this was him, whoever he was, and all I could think of, all I wanted to do in that very instant, was to bring him back to life just so I could kill him again myself.

I'd never known such a feeling. Vengeance was an abstraction to me, the melodramatic word that always seemed a bit too much. Now it wasn't nearly enough. Where have you taken me, Claire?

I stood up, looking at the cord of the hair dryer knotted around the towel bar. The tub had been full, the water running. As a plan, it was brilliant in its simplicity. Claire's source had known he was in danger, and had known enough to turn the tables. Damn good for him. Now if I only knew where he'd gone.

Claire would've been all over me for assuming that only a guy would've had the wherewithal to outwit a killer, and she would've been right. He could've easily been a she.

Any proof either way, though, was nowhere to be found as I searched the rest of the room. It was spotless. The two queen beds were made, the wastebasket was empty, nothing had been disturbed. Except for the dead guy in the bathtub, of course. Now it was time to call the police.

But before I could even reach for my phone again, I suddenly had a brand-new problem. It was the distinct sound of things about to spiral hopelessly out of control.

Someone was knocking on the door.


THE FIRST thing I did was freeze. There was no second thing. At least, not right away. I had no idea what to do.

Instead, it was all about what not to do. There was no way I was opening that door. No way I was asking, "Who's there?"

But I did need to know. If it was anyone from the hotel, they weren't necessarily going away if no one answered.

About twenty feet of that beige carpet separated me from the door, the final few feet drenched with water. I had to time it just right.

Quickly, I tiptoed right up to the door of the bathroom. Then I waited. I couldn't cover up the squishing sound of my last footsteps on my own. It would take some help, and I knew it was coming.

The second knock on the door-even louder than the first-was all I needed to get right up next to the peephole. I held my breath and took a fast look before peeling off to the side.

Damn. There were two possibilities. One, the peephole was somehow broken. Two, it was working just fine.

Either way, all I could see was black. As I reached over and oh-so-silently swung the door guard closed, I was betting my entire stack on the perfectly working peephole  …  and a hand in the hallway placed over it.

Ten seconds passed. Twenty. Half a minute. I remained with my back plastered against the wall, inches away from the hinges, hoping the next thing I'd hear would be footsteps fading away toward the elevator.

If only.

It was more like the exact opposite as the sound of the key card sliding into the lock was followed by a click and a beep. The door opened, only to be stopped short by the door guard. Little hard to pretend no one was in the room now.

I waited for the voice of hotel security, or at least someone who worked at the hotel. Anyone. I didn't care. Let it be room service or housekeeping. My mouth was half open, ready to respond to whatever was said. But nothing was. What's taking so long?</ol>


No, wait  …  a far more pressing question.

What's that smell?


IT WAS straight out of an Ian Fleming novel, something Q would've given 007. Jutting through the two-inch opening in the door was what looked at first glance like a common pair of pliers. The only difference being what they were doing, literally melting the metal loop of the door guard. Silently, no less.

This wasn't someone from the hotel.

A starter's pistol went off in my head, but I had nowhere to run. I looked over at the windows, which didn't open, and the bed I'd be a fool to hide under. Ditto for the one and only closet as I pictured myself trying to duck behind a hotel robe. The ultimate indignity. Dying while stupid.

The only real shot I had was erecting the world's quickest wall of furniture. Basically, I'd lodge everything in the room that wasn't bolted down against the door. It could work. It had to work. Question was, how much time did I have left?

I stared back at the door, those pliers cutting through the metal as the smell of sulfur continued to overwhelm the air. I had to step back just so I wouldn't cough.

As I slid along the wall, it was my hand that felt it first-the connecting door to the next room. My eyes had passed right by it, and I couldn't blame them. Countless times, if only for shits and giggles, I'd been in a hotel room and opened the first door, only to see the door behind it, leading to the adjoining room, staring back at me, shut tight as a drum and locked. Here goes nothing  …

I opened the door on my side, peeking around the edge, and in one, beautiful skip of a heartbeat, it was as if Al Michaels were broadcasting my life instead of the US men's Olympic hockey team. "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

The second door-the door that was never open, not ever-showed a sliver of daylight, or whatever kind of light was coming through from the other side. Given the odds I was beating, it might as well have been the burning bush.

As silently as I could, I slipped into the adjoining room, closing both doors behind me and locking the one now facing me. I knew immediately I wasn't barging in on anyone. The room was empty, with a neatly made king bed and no luggage lying around. I peeked into the bathroom. No dead body, either.