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Truth or Die(8)

By:James Patterson

"They must have moved the body and cleaned up afterward," I said.


"I heard only one voice through the door, but that doesn't mean there was only one person."

"You're right, it doesn't," said Bowman before checking his watch. "And about how much time would they have had to do this?"

"Apparently enough."

But even I was doing the math in my head. Ten minutes. Fifteen, tops. I looked back into the bathroom at the neatly folded dry towels, and especially the dry floor. In addition to the magic pliers, was there also a magic mop?

I could see how Bowman or anyone else would be a bit skeptical. That didn't concern me. Truth was, it didn't matter how it'd been done. It had been done. Quickly. Quietly. Professionally. And that combination could mean only one thing. The story that Claire was working on was getting bigger by the minute.

The kid is still alive.

The words were echoing again in my head. Someone had checked into this room and maybe even the room next to it. All I could look at now was the other thing strapped to Bowman's belt besides a pistol. His radio.

"Your partner downstairs," I said. "Did he get the name of who was staying in this room?"

"Yeah, he got a name," came a voice from behind me. I knew right away it wasn't Bowman's partner.

I turned to see Detective Lamont. Quite the sight. His glasses were askew, his tie loosened to the point of looking like a noose. His suit jacket, meanwhile, had more creases than an unfolded piece of origami.

Still, for a guy so disheveled, he somehow maintained an aura of complete control. You can't fake experience.

After silently studying the sheared-off door guard for a few seconds, Lamont stepped past me, gazing inside the bathroom as if confirming what he'd already been told in the lobby. There was no dead guy in the tub.

All the while, I was waiting for him to say the name of whoever it was who'd been staying in the room. He didn't.

"Is it supposed to be some kind of secret?" I finally asked. I couldn't help the sarcasm.

"No," said Lamont, bending down to touch the wet carpet. "No secret. It's just not his real name, that's all."

"How do you know?"</ol>


He stood up, looking at me for the first time. "Because I graduated high school in 1984."

"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Bowman. "Besides the fact that you're old."

Lamont ignored him. He was also ignoring the notepad clutched in his hand, suggesting that he'd never even bothered to write down the name.

Instead, he simply recited it, as if from memory. "Winston Smith."

Bowman looked at both of us and shrugged. I looked at Lamont and nodded.

"You're right," I said. "That's not his real name."


"WHY CAN'T Winston Smith be his real name?" asked Bowman.

"It's from a book," said Lamont, straightening his glasses with a professorial nudge. Class was in session. "George Orwell's 1984. Everyone in my high school had to read it that year. They practically made us memorize it. The name of the main character was Winston Smith."

Bowman shrugged again. "What? So no one else can have that name?"

"They could, but Winston Smith was supposed to represent Everyman," I said. I caught Lamont's eyes and cracked a smile. "It was a few years later, but I read it in high school, too."

"Good for you both," said Bowman, getting his Bronx up. "I wasn't even born in 1984."

I was really starting to dislike this guy. "Anyway," I said, "Winston Smith is simply a more clever version of John Doe."

"Not to mention that our Mr. Smith also paid in cash for this room and the one next door," said Lamont.

As if having prompted himself, he took a walk through the connecting doors to look at the other room. He was back within seconds.

"Do me a favor, Bowman," he said. "Give Mr. Mann and me a few minutes, will you?"

Bowman was more than happy to oblige. "I'll be in the lobby," he said.

As he walked out, Lamont closed the door behind him. He turned and made a beeline for the minibar fridge, grabbing a Diet Coke.

"What do you think they charge for this?" he asked, digging a fingernail under the tab. He popped open the can with a loud snap and grinned. "I guess we'll just have to put it on Mr. Smith's bill."

After taking a long sip, he stepped back and settled into the armchair in the corner. He was in no rush, and whether or not that was calculated I didn't know. He surely had questions for me. I just didn't expect his first one to be the same one I had.

"So what happens now?" he asked.

"I'm not sure what you mean," I said.

"Well, I know what I need to do," he said, pointing at his chest. "I need to eyeball all the exits and hope that the security cameras aimed at them were actually recording. I also need to get a description of our Mr. Smith from the clerk who actually checked him in, since the beady-eyed woman downstairs told me it wasn't her."

He was right. I had the wrong word. The woman at the front desk was more beady-eyed than wary-eyed.

Lamont paused, taking another sip. "Then maybe, just maybe, we can start piecing this whole thing together. Because until then, we've got a little problem."

Yes, we did, and he didn't need to spell it out. I'd learned it in law school; he'd learned it at the police academy.

No body? No crime.

"So, like I said, what happens now?" he asked. "What do you need to do?"

"You mean, besides getting some sleep?"

"That's a good start," he said. "But yeah, besides that."

I was stalling because I had no idea what he was getting at. Of course, that was his point.

"You tried to trace Claire's footsteps tonight and look where it got you," he said.

"I know her killer is dead, don't I?"

"Yes, and if it wasn't for those dumb doors being open to the next room, you could've been next."

"Is this your way of saying let us do our jobs?"

Lamont winced. "God, I hope not. They only say that on cop shows. What I'm saying is this: Stop trying to do hers."

I was about to shake my head, tell him he was off base. No, worse. Delusional. Like Donald Trump with a comb.

But Lamont knew that was coming and was way ahead of me. He'd already reached into his pocket and was now holding it in the air, Exhibit A.

"Where the hell did you get that?" I asked.

He broke into a smile, and as he did, I could practically see the canary feathers caught in his teeth.

"Did I mention you're a lousy liar, Mr. Mann?"


LAMONT WAS holding Claire's cell phone, the old Motorola she used strictly for her sources.</ol>


The Stopper.

"Why didn't you say anything back at the precinct?" he asked.

"I wasn't sure that was what she was doing," I said.

"Still, what the hell were you planning? Hop the fence later this afternoon at the Whitestone Pound and search behind the backseat?"

"It was really there, huh?"

"The second you wanted to watch that part of the recording again, I knew you saw her do something," said Lamont.

"Only I didn't know it was her phone she was hiding."

"You know why she would, though, don't you?"

He had me dead to rights on everything, right down to my waiting until the taxi had been cleared by Forensics, then shrink-wrapped and flatbedded from Lamont's precinct to, yes, the Whitestone Pound in Queens, where it would eventually be claimed by whoever owned the medallion for it.

The only part the detective got wrong was the timing. Screw the afternoon. Way too risky. Criminal trespassing is better left for the dark, no? I wasn't planning on hopping that fence until well after midnight.

"She was just protecting her sources," I said. "That phone was for them exclusively."

With that, I cocked my head, and he immediately shook his. He knew what I was about to ask.

"Counselor, we both know I can't turn it over to you, at least not yet," he said. "Pretty damn impressive, though, her presence of mind. Even in that moment  …  wanting to shield them." He flipped open the phone. "Of course, I can see why. There are a lot of boldfaced names in the directory, at least those I could decipher. Most were just listed by initials."

"Was there a W.S., by any chance?"

"No such luck," he said, pointing at the table between the two beds. Winston Smith had called from the phone in the room.

The kid was still alive, and we still had no way of contacting him.

Like a kick in the head, though, it occurred to me. What about the people who wanted to kill him? What about contacting them?

I took out my own phone, quickly sending an anonymous text to a number I knew by heart.

Lamont's eyes narrowed to a suspicious squint. "What are you doing?" he asked.

Something you're definitely not going to like, Detective.


ONE GOOD setup deserved another. Only mine had to be better, because I'd already discovered theirs.

Less than three hours later, I was sitting on one of the concrete benches lining the perimeter of Bethesda Terrace by the Lake in Central Park. I'd tried to get a little sleep beforehand back in the spare bedroom at my apartment, but it was impossible. Closing my eyes just seemed to magnify everything, if that makes any sense.

In my lap now was a Nikon D4, the 300mm lens peeking out beneath the bottom of the Daily News. With the weather warm and breezy and no clouds in sight, I couldn't have asked for a more picture-perfect day.