The cabdriver used both of his big fat feet when he drove, jamming on the brakes and the gas at the same time, making me sick. As the cab bucked to a stop at the light at Columbus Circle, my iPhone rang. I grabbed it from my bag.
C.P. Thank God.
After a lifetime of other kids thinking I was all robotic and weird, I actually had a friend at school. Claudia Portman, known as C.P., was a tarnished Queen Bee who was dethroned last year when she cheated on her finals and was ratted out by her clique-mates. Because of a massive donation by her parents to our school, she got to stay for our junior year, but she'd dumped her friends and become a self-defined loner until the day I was cleared of my parents' murders and she'd sat down with me at lunch. "Move over," she'd said. "We criminals gotta stick together."
And even though I wasn't a criminal, I laughed.
"Hey, T!" she said now by way of greeting. "Did you read it?"
"Read what?" I asked, still distracted after my conversation with Matthew. Hordes of people streamed out of the subway and crossed in front of my taxi.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about," she semiwhined. "Come on, Tandy, get with the program. I need to discuss this atrocity against the written word with someone!"
Right. The novel was another super-sexy purple-prose page-turner that was sweeping the planet in dozens of languages (some of which I'd already mastered). C.P. had downloaded the ebook to my tablet, but I had immediately deleted it, hoping she'd forget to ask what I thought. It wasn't exactly the kind of thing I enjoyed reading.
Suddenly, the driver stomped on the gas and the cab lurched forward, sending my stomach into my mouth.
"I'll get to it soon," I told C.P., "but you know it's not really my thing." We took a turn at roughly Mach 20, and I was glad I hadn't eaten since breakfast. "I'm almost home. Can I call you later?"
"Sure! But only if you've read at least fifty pages!" she replied.
I rolled my eyes and hung up.
Twelve nauseating blocks later, I paid the driver through the transom and disembarked on the corner of Seventy-Second and Central Park West, where the Dakota reigned. We lived at the top of the infamous co-op—infamous for housing the social elite and for being the site of a few high-profile murders over the last half century or so. Our apartment was nestled right under the intricate Victorian peaks and gables.
Our parents had been anything but Victorian in their decorating choices, though. They'd filled our home with everything from a winged piano to a UFO-shaped chandelier to a coffee table full of pygmy sharks (since freed), and dozens of other priceless—and strange—contemporary art items.
I huddled into my coat with the collar up, my face down, trying to evade the many photographers lined up near the gate so I could slip right through, but I never even got there. Harry blocked my way, his dark curls tossed by the frigid wind.
"Tandy, you're not going to believe this." He grabbed my arm and steered me down the sidewalk, holding me close to his side as we automatically matched our strides. "Adele Church. She's dead."
I turned to look at him. There wasn't a trace of mirth on his boyishly handsome face. Not that I was surprised. Harry wasn't a jokester or a liar. He wasn't even much of a storyteller.
"She can't be," I finally said. "I saw her this morning."
"She was shot about five minutes ago, Tandy. She's in the park. Her body, I mean. It's still there."
The whole world went fuzzy.
This was not happening. Not again.
"How did you—" I asked my brother, my mouth dry.
"No one told me," he said, digging around in his pocket. "I took this."
Harry showed me the picture on his phone. My already weakened stomach clenched, and I grabbed his arm to steady myself.
"Sorry," he said, gritting his teeth. "Should have warned you it was ugly."
"It's okay," I told him, clearing my throat. I turned and started for the park. "Let's go."
We sprinted across the broad expanse of Central Park West against the light and entered the park by a blacktop pathway. Harry steered me to the right, just past the pretzel cart Hugo lived for, and we ran the thirty yards through a tunnel of shade trees to John Lennon's memorial in Strawberry Fields, darting around strollers, joggers, and Rollerbladers.
It was clear where Adele's body was. The vultures were already circling. And by vultures, I mean press.
I elbowed through a group of Korean tourists wielding their camera phones and wedged open a sight line to the famous mosaic with the word Imagine set into the middle of a triangulated path.
Adele Church's body was right there, at dead center.
The blurry photo on Harry's phone had in no way prepared me for the reality. Adele was lying on her back as if she'd fallen from the sky. Black bullet holes had punched through her chest and stomach, and her white-and-pink plaid coat was drenched with blood. I was close enough to read Adele's expression as stark disbelief even as her wide-open blue eyes went dull from death.
Bile rose up in the back of my throat, bringing tears to my eyes. I turned to Harry and pressed my face into his shoulder, biting down hard on my lip as I tried not to cry.
This was one of those moments. One of those moments when I would have given anything not to feel. I couldn't wrap my brain around why anyone would want to kill sweet, totally innocuous Adele. I wanted to strangle every member of the growing crowd of tourists who were angling to get a better view of her poor broken body.
Most of all I wanted to scream at her to just get up. That this couldn't have happened. Not to someone I knew. Not to someone our age.
Not to one of the very few people at school who were occasionally nice to me.
"Take a breath, Tandy," Harry whispered, which was odd, considering he was usually the one on the verge of a nervous breakdown, not me. "Focus on something else. What do you think happened to her?"
Harry knew me so well. Piecing together evidence would focus me. It would make me feel like there was something I could do. I was all about productivity.
I turned to look at the body, trying to force myself into cool indifference, and drilled down deep into my analytic left brain.
"There's a lot of blood," I said under my breath. "She didn't die instantly. Three shots and her heart was still pumping after at least two of them. She knew what was happening. She knew she was—"
I paused and cleared my throat. I didn't want to go there.
"I wonder if she saw the shooter."
Harry frowned ponderously. He was about to ask me something when police sirens blew in bursts, startling everyone. The crowd separated as cruisers and unmarked cars streamed onto the scene of the crime. When the first cops to arrive got out of their gray Chevy, I froze. It was Sergeant Capricorn Caputo and his partner, Detective Ryan Hayes—the two cops who had been first on the scene of my parents' deaths.
Sergeant Caputo was tall and gangly, with a severe jawline, slick black hair, and an all-black wardrobe. Plus he was a total ass. He prided himself on being the tough guy, and his behavior could skew anywhere from rude to downright mean. Still, if you were as observant as I was, you might notice the checkered socks showing under the cuffs of his pants, which took the edge off his hard-core persona. While Detective Caputo was a general pain, he was focused. He lived his job.
His partner, Detective Hayes, was the opposite: a solid man, competent and kind, the sort of guy who put you totally at ease. Hayes was a good soul, and I was glad he would be on Adele's case, too. Even though, technically, he hadn't solved our parents' "murders."
"Sergeant Caputo!" I called.
He spotted me and narrowed his beady eyes, never taking them off my face as he picked his way carefully around Adele's body. "You're under arrest, Taffy."
Caputo had no problem remembering my name, but he loved to mess with me.
"Wow. Still going with that joke, huh? It stopped being funny about three months ago."
His gaze flicked over Harry, then back at me. "Please. You don't have a single funny bone in your entire skinny body."
I sighed. "So do you want to know what's going on here, or do you want to waste some more time coming up with lame nicknames?"
"You know this girl?" he asked, interested.
"Her name is Adele Church," I told him.
"We went to school with her," Harry added.
"What else do you know about Miss Church?" Caputo asked, flipping open his notebook and scribbling down her name.
"She was a sweet person," I said. "She lived up on Seventy-Ninth, I think. Her older brother graduated last year."
"She played the flute," said Harry. "And pretty much kicked ass in sociology."
"Any idea why someone would want to hurt her?" Caputo asked.
We heard more sirens with deeper whooping sounds as the coroner's van arrived. More cops were getting out of cruisers, stringing a yellow-tape perimeter around the body and shooing the onlookers back.
"Everyone liked her," I said. "I think she saw her killer, though. Maybe she knew him."
Caputo's face flattened with unsuppressed scorn. "I've got no time for your amateur-night theories, Tallulah."
"You know better than that, Caputo." I gave him my card. "I want to help."
He glanced at my card and scoffed. "'Tandy Angel, Detective. Mysteries Solved. Case Closed,'" he read. "I was wrong. You're actually hilarious, T-bone." He glanced from me to Harry and pocketed the card. "Nice seeing you."
"You should call me," I shouted after him as he turned away. "Consultations are free for all clueless detectives named Caputo!"
He just kept walking.
"That man is going to break into our apartment and kill you in your sleep, you know," Harry said.
I smirked. "I'd like to see him try."
I may have seemed confident to Caputo and to Harry while I was handing over my card, but I wasn't. In fact, the second my card touched Caputo's chalky, dry fingers, something inside me swooped, like the way your heart feels when you jump off a bridge with nothing but a bungee cord tied to your feet.
Because that was when I realized: Maybe I wasn't a good detective. Not anymore.
Yes, even Capricorn Caputo would have to admit that without me, the mystery of my parents' deaths might never have been solved. But that was then. When I was still full of Num, Lazr, Focus, and other secret Angel Pharmaceuticals concoctions. Now that I was off the drugs, I was feeling everything, but did I still have the sharp and rational mind of an ace detective?
My grades seemed to indicate that I did. But anyone could get straight As. Most of the kids I knew were technical geniuses, if you believe in IQ scores. Even C.P. Probably even Adele. But something had been going on lately that was starting to seriously bother me.
I was having these dreams. Dreams about James. And whenever I woke up from one of these dreams, I had a hard time figuring out whether it was really a dream, or if it was actually a memory.
That's my deepest, darkest secret, my friend. I think my mind was starting to play tricks on me. And I had a feeling I knew who to blame. My parents. And Fern Haven. And that awful Dr. Narmond.
But that's a story for another time.
I looked at Harry as we walked back to the Dakota. Harry and I were both dark-eyed and dark-haired, and we were fiercely loyal to each other. Two people couldn't be tighter friends and confidants than we were. Still, I wished we had that twin telepathy thing you always hear about, but we didn't. Probably because aside from the superficial physical traits and the aforementioned loyalty, we couldn't have been less alike.
Harry was quiet. He was mopey. He had this tendency to slouch. He was asthmatic, and he slept long and late every day when he could. Harry was also kind.
Yes, much to my parents' disappointment, Harry was born an emo, and even though he was a world-class pianist who could bring an audience at Lincoln Center to tears, Malcolm and Maud described him as sensitive, sentimental, and weak. He had never won a Gongo or gotten a chop, and not even a billion emotion-quashing pills had ever dimmed a single ray of his brilliance.
According to me, he got major points for that.
I was Harry's flip side. I was up at dawn. I sometimes cooked elaborate breakfasts of apricot-and-chai oatmeal and fresh-squeezed orange juice before anyone else was even stretching their arms above their heads. I lived for a complex chemistry experiment and checked over my dad's financial books for fun—at least I had, back when he let me. I was known for being high- strung, and occasionally my sharpness was interpreted as, well, rudeness. I never danced around anything when I could cut to the chase, and no one had ever called me kind.
My parents gave me major points for that.
I'd also studied forensic science as a hobby since I was about six years old and had solved every mystery I'd ever read or seen on TV since I was eight. Now I just hoped I still had that talent. That quitting the drugs hadn't taken it from me.
Harry held the gate open for me, and we slipped inside the courtyard, ignoring the camera flashes popping all around us. Instead of thinking about me or Harry or Matthew, I thought about Adele. Adele, who listened well and laughed easily. Adele, who played in the orchestra and wore pink constantly and hung photos of composers and film directors in her locker. She could have gone on to do anything, be anyone, have a great big life.
Now she would never have another day. Another minute.
Call me crazy, but I wanted—no, I needed—to do something about it. I just hoped that the new and maybe-improved drug-free me still could.
I put my key in the lock of apartment 9G, the duplex where Harry, Hugo, and I had once lived with our parents but now suffered daily with our horrible uncle Peter until the courts decided what was to become of us. But before I turned the knob, the door opened, and a tall, dark, and drop-dead-handsome man of maybe fifty said hello.
My shoulders coiled. Stranger in my apartment equals not good. "Who are you?"
"I'm Jacob Perlman," he said calmly. "Call me Jacob. Peter has brought me in as your guardian."
Harry gave Jacob a dubious look. "I thought Uncle Peter was our guardian."
"He was. Now I am," Jacob said, his brown eyes free of guile. "Would you like to come in?"
"To our own home?" I snapped. "Sure. Thanks."
Jacob smiled slowly and stepped back to let us through. Harry, sensing that I'd flipped into set-to-pop mode, quickly disappeared down the hallway and into his room.
"Peter installed a stranger in our house to look after us?" I said, looking up at Jacob and noting the small scar near his ear, the perfect hairline, the razor-sharp shave. "Is that even legal?"
He smirked. "Tandoori, right?"
He had an accent I couldn't quite place, which was odd considering I'd been most places and spoke most languages. The wrinkles fanning out from the corners of his eyes looked like squint lines more than laugh lines. He was lean and muscular, but not like he'd been working out in a gym. More like he'd had a physically demanding life.
"Yeah, that's me," I replied. "Where's Uncle Peter?"
Jacob folded his hands in front of him. "He didn't say."
Great. So not only had he left a stranger in our house, he'd left him here alone. How was I supposed to know this guy was even who he said he was? There could be a team of ninjas hanging out in the kitchen just waiting to gut me.
Considering my family's history, it wasn't much of a stretch.
"You won't mind if I just ... give him a call," I said, angling one foot toward the still-open door.
"Feel free," Jacob said. He was so sophisticated and smooth that the UFO chandelier hovering over his head—the one that had decorated our foyer my whole life—looked suddenly out of place.
He was a man of few words. That, at least, I liked. I speed-dialed my uncle, hating with every fiber of my being that I had to consult him on anything.
Uncle Peter was my father's totally despicable brother. He was intolerant and so rude that he made me seem like Miss Manners. In fact, we all hate him and call him Uncle Pig, sometimes to his face.
Peter had moved into our house when my parents died, had taken over my sister's room, which had been strictly off-limits up to that point, and had started treating the Angel kids like the dirt under his grubby fingernails.
He picked up on the fourth ring. "Yes, Tandoori, Jacob is your new guardian. Yes, it's legal. If you'd like to see the paperwork, ask him. I'm busy."
Excerpted from Confessions: The Private School Murders by James Patterson, Maxine Paetro. Copyright © 2013 James Patterson Maxine Paetro. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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