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2nd Chance

The Women's Murder Club is back! A brutal madman sprays bullets into a crowd of children leaving a San Francisco church. Miraculously-or was it intentionally?-only one person dies. Then an elderly black woman is hung. Police homicide inspector Lindsay Boxer senses a connection and together with medical examiner Claire, assistant D. A. Jill, and Chronicle reporter Cindy, finds a link that sends a chill through the entire nation. This killer's motives are unspeakable.

Prologue

THE CHOIR KIDS

AARON WINSLOW WOULD NEVER FORGET the next few minutes. He recognized the terrifying sounds the instant they cracked through the night. His body went cold all over. He couldn't believe that someone was shooting a high-powered rifle in this neighborhood.

K-pow, k-pow, k-pow... k-pow, k-pow, k-pow.

His choir was just leaving the La Salle Heights Church. Forty-eight young kids were streaming past him toward the sidewalk. They had just finished their final rehearsal before the San Francisco Sing-Off, and they had been excellent. Then came the gunfire. Lots of it. Not just a single shot. A strafing. An attack.

K-pow, k-pow, k-pow . . . k-pow, k-pow, k-pow.

"Get down!" he screamed at the top of his voice. "Everybody down on the ground! Cover your heads. Cover up!" He almost couldn't believe the words as they left his mouth.

At first, no one seemed to hear him. To the kids, in their dress white blouses and shirts, the shots must have sounded like firecrackers. Then a volley of shots rained through the church's beautiful stained-glass window. The depiction of Christ's blessing over a child at Capernaum shattered, glass splintering everywhere, some of it falling on the heads of the children.

"Someone's shooting!" Winslow screamed. Maybe more than one person. How could that be? He ran wildly through the kids, shouting, waving his arms, pushing as many as he could down to the grass.

As the kids finally crouched low or dove for the ground, Winslow spotted two of his choir girls, Chantal and Tamara, frozen on the lawn as bullets streaked past them. "Get down, Chantal, Tamara!" he yelled, but they remained there, hugging each other, emitting frantic wails. They were best friends. He had known them since they were little kids, playing four-square on blacktop.

There was never any doubt in his mind. He sprinted toward the two girls, grasped their arms firmly, and tumbled them to the ground. Then he lay on top of them, pressing their bodies tightly.

Bullets whined over his head, just inches away. His eardrums hurt. His body was trembling and so were the girls shielded beneath him. He was almost sure he was about to die. "It's all right, babies," he whispered.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the firing stopped. A hush of silence hung in the air. So strange and eerie, as if the whole world had stopped to listen.

As he raised himself, his eyes fell on an incredible sight. Slowly, everywhere, the children struggled to their feet.

There was some crying, but he didn't see any blood, no one seemed to be hurt.

"Everyone okay?" Winslow called out. He made his way through the crowd. "Is anyone hurt?"

"I'm okay....I'm okay" came back to him. He looked around in disbelief. This was a miracle.

Then he heard the sound of a single child whimpering. He turned and spotted Maria Parker, only twelve years old. Maria was standing on the whitewashed wooden steps of the church entrance. She seemed lost. Choking sobs poured from her open mouth.

Then Aaron Winslow's eyes came to rest on what had made the girl hysterical. He felt his heart sink. Even in war, even growing up on the streets of Oakland, he had never felt anything so horrible, so sad and senseless.

"Oh, God. Oh, no. How could you let this happen?" Tasha Catchings, just eleven years old, lay in a heap in a flowerbed near the foundation of the church. Her white school blouse was soaked with blood.

Finally, Reverend Aaron Winslow began to cry himself.

Copyright © 2002 by James Patterson

Read by Melissa Leo & Jeremy Piven
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