Attorney Rhonda Bird returns home to LA to bury her estranged father, and discovers that he left her two final surprises. The first is a private detective agency that he set up after leaving his job as an accountant; the second is a teenage half sister named Baby.
“SHE WAS A KILLER.
Jacob Kanular knew it, as soon as the girl put the gun to his head. It was the way she angled the barrel of the revolver: straight down from forehead to neck so that when she pulled the trigger, the bullet would pass cleanly through his brain to his spinal column. She wasn’t trying to scare him. Wasn’t messing around by putting the gun against his temple or his mouth. Whoever she was, she knew how to kill.
This was the only rational thought Jacob could manage. Everything else was just desperate internal screams. For himself. For his wife. For his baby.
There were five of them — three males, two females — and they were young and angry. They wanted to hurt, to destroy. There was at least one phone filming, a bright light too painful to look right at but illuminating snippets of what was happening next to him. Jacob was glad at least that they were binding his daughter, Beatrice, and wife, Neina, to chairs and not to the bed. Someone hacked Neina’s ponytail off with a pair of scissors. A Taser zapped, threateningly, in Beaty’s face. Jacob looked at the girl with the gun on him, and his thoughts focused on what he’d do to these people if he survived. But the duct tape across his mouth prevented him from speaking.
“I could kill you,” the girl said, as though she could read his thoughts. She seemed to really be weighing it up, tapping on the trigger so he could feel the vibration through the metal, through his electrified skin. An eighth of an inch from death. “But I’m a nice girl. So I’ll teach you a lesson instead.”
The others heard what she said and came for him. They pushed Jacob’s chair over, and he lay strapped to it in his boxer shorts, trying to fold himself in two to defend against the blows. The girl took a golf club from the bag in the hall and came back, showed it to him before she raised it over her shoulder with professional ease and smashed it into his ribs. He tried to focus on something, another cold, emotionless thought to get him through. He saw a single curl of blond hair poking out from beneath her hood. He squeezed his eyes shut and thought about that curl, that golden spiral, as they kicked him half to death.
Beyond the huge glass windows, the ocean off Palos Verdes was calm and gray and flat, sparkling with moonlight.
The girl with the curl grabbed a hank of his hair and lifted his head.
“You learned any manners yet?” she asked.
“Hey, Ash. Look,” someone said.
Ash, Jacob thought.
“Oh, man.” A boy’s voice. “She’s not breathing right.”
“Chill. She’s faking it.”
Through the pounding in his head Jacob strained to listen, and in the hot bedroom air he could pick out Beaty’s wheezes and coughs and groans. She hadn’t had an asthma attack since she was four years old. Six years since he’d heard that hellish noise. They didn’t even keep an inhaler in the house anymore.
The girl leader stepped on Jacob’s face. He felt the rubber grip of her boot tug down the corner of his eye.
“If she dies, it’s on you.”
Then they were gone, the sound of their running footsteps echoing off the high ceilings.
In the darkness of the car, Neina spoke for the first time, sitting in the back seat with their daughter in her lap. Jacob could hardly hear his wife’s voice over Beaty’s distraught, struggling breaths. The garage door seemed to take a year to slide up and let them free. There was still tape hanging from his left wrist as he gripped the wheel and floored it for the nearest hospital.
“Who the hell were they?” Neina cried.
“I don’t know,” he said honestly.
“I’m to understand that Mr. Donovan was so upset by his mom’s plan to marry her boyfriend that he filled the sprinkler system at the Colorado National Golf Club with red paint and rigged it to go off in the middle of their ceremony on the ninth green. Is that right?”
“YOUR HONOR,” I SAID. “My client is an artist.”
The courtroom had been rippling gently with the sounds of conversations between the clients waiting in the stalls and their defenders, and of family members moving in and out of the wide double doors. At my words, the room fell silent. Judge Mackavin rested his chin on his palm, a single bushy eyebrow raised.
“Get on with it, Rhonda,” the judge said as I soaked in the dramatic silence I’d created. Everyone was looking at me — for once a spectacle based on my words rather than my appearance.
As big as I am — 260 pounds, some of it well-earned muscle and some of it long-maintained fat — there’s no point trying to fit in with the crowd. The pink hair was just the latest shade in a rotating kaleidoscope of colors I applied to my half shaved, wavy quiff, and I always wore rock band shirts in the courtroom under my blazer.
“Mr. Reece Donovan comes from a long line of artists,” I said, gesturing to my client, who slumped meekly in his chair. “His mother, Veronica, is a talented glass blower. His father sold portrait sketches on Main Street in Littleton as a youth. For the entirety of his sixteen years on Earth, this young man has been lectured by his parents on the importance of art as a commentary on the folly of humankind, and —”
“Counselor.” Judge Mackavin leaned forward in his big leather chair. “You’re not about to tell me that what young Mr. Donovan did was performance art, are you?”
There was a cough at the back of the crowded room. The only sound. Young Reece Donovan chewed his fingernails and looked like he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him.
“Hear me out,” I said. “I’m just getting momentum.”
“From the brief of evidence I have here,” the judge said, lifting a page from those spread before him, “I’m to understand that Mr. Donovan was so upset by his mom’s plan to marry her boyfriend that he filled the sprinkler system at the Colorado National Golf Club with red paint and rigged it to go off in the middle of their ceremony on the ninth green. Is that right?”
“That’s correct, Your Honor,” I said.
“I see.” He nodded. “And his ingenious plan worked, it says here. He bathed the entire wedding party in paint, turning the ceremony into what visually resembled a violent bloodbath.”
The judge held a picture of the dripping, mortified wedding party, snapped by the photographer moments after the sprinkler system launched. It looked like a scene from a horror film.
“It’s a striking image, Judge,” I said. “Some would say bold. Some would say inspired.”
“He also managed to douse seventeen golfers standing at various stations on the course.”
“Mr. Donovan didn’t realize the whole sprinkler system was connected,” I said. “He thought he’d isolated the ninth green and the wedding party.”
The entire courtroom looked at my young client, who was wringing his long, slender fingers. In the front row of the audience, his mother and new stepfather looked exhausted. They’d forgiven him, but it had been hard work. I’d seen that expression on countless sets of parents over the course of my career.
“You know I support artistic expression in all its forms, Rhonda.” Mackavin looked pointedly at my flamingo-pink hair and Metallica shirt. “But you’re right out on the ledge here.”
“The kid was angry,” I said. “He wanted to make a statement. Yes, a lot of people got painted, but they were painted red, Your Honor. The color of passion. Of love! Of lifeblood, desire, longevity. An informed choice, I’m sure you’ll agree, and a visually spectacular execution. And, Judge, where would modern expressionism be without Jackson Pollock’s reckless determination to splash everything within ten feet of him with paint?”
The judge stifled a laugh, shook his head.
“Damages to the golf course, the sprinkler system, and the other golfers in attendance are into the tens of thousands of dollars,” the judge said, regaining his frown.
“We’re aware, Your Honor, and my client is very remorseful.”
The judge looked at me, thought for a moment. A small smile played about his lips.
“I’m willing to reward your creativity, Rhonda, in trying to pass Mr. Donovan’s actions off as anything more than pure idiocy here today,” Mackavin said, writing up his decision in the big book before him. “You’ve amused me, which is not an easy feat. Four hundred hours of community service.” The judge waved me away. “And tell the artist to keep it in the studio next time.”
I turned and smiled at my client, but like the judge’s, my humor was short-lived. Across the room I spied my next client, a handsome young man in an expensive blue suit, being led out from the holding rooms. Unlike the slouching, fidgeting juvenile offenders lined up on the bench behind the rail, Thad Forrester was cuffed. The bailiff escorted Thad Forrester to the end of the row and uncuffed him, and I felt the dread manifest at the center of my stomach as I headed over to greet the most dangerous kid on my list.”
Extracted from 2 Sisters Detective Agency by James Patterson and Candice Fox, out now.
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