The 13-Minute Murder - James Patterson

Chapter 1

Dr. Randall Beck sat in his office and looked across the coffee table at his patient.

Todd Graham was a big man who looked small. He hunched on the overstuffed couch, arms curled in tightly to himself. He looked cold. He looked scared.

You’d never know that a few months earlier, Graham had been one of the top men on the Metro PD’s Emergency Response Team—the Washington, DC, police SWAT team. He had broken down countless doors, been shot in the line of duty, and had seen some of the worst humanity had to offer in hostage situations, drug raids, and murder scenes.

But then he’d been called to a small apartment building in the Southeast, the quadrant of DC known as the worst area in the city. He and his squad thought they were going to take down a crack house.

Instead, they found bodies. Nine of them. Someone had killed all the members of an extended family for a grudge or some deal gone wrong. Graham was the first one into the room. He saw a child curled into the arms of her mother, the same gunshot wound through both of their chests.

Graham could handle danger to himself. What he couldn’t handle was the thought of being helpless to stop it from happening to someone else.

Since then, Graham had been on administrative leave. He’d lost weight. He didn’t sleep. He drank too much.

After medication and regular therapy failed, he’d been sent to see Beck.

Everything in Beck’s office was soft and beige, designed to soothe and calm, the visual equivalent of white noise. Beck’s patients were people who’d had enough chaos in their lives already.

Beck was considered the counselor of last resort for people suffering from severe post-traumatic stress and burnout. His patients included paramedics who’d pulled charred corpses out of plane crashes; doctors who’d volunteered in war zones, patching up children dismembered by bombs; hospice workers who faced a 100 percent mortality rate in their patients; and Special Forces soldiers who spent months in combat, ruthlessly killing to keep the rest of the world safe.

Beck noticed that the one thing all these people had in common was they were used to saving the world, but they had a much harder time saving themselves.

Graham had spent most of their sessions just sitting on Beck’s couch. Quiet. Staring. Today was no different.

“Do you want to talk?” Beck asked, after a long silence.

Graham shrugged. “What’s the point?” he asked Beck. “What’s the point of any of it?”

“You don’t think there’s any point to living?”

Graham shrugged again. He sat back, as he had in their other sessions, finished talking for the day. He seemed to think he could just wait Beck out.

Beck decided he was done waiting. He reached into a bag at the side of his chair and pulled out a Glock 9mm.

Graham was instantly alert.

Beck placed the pistol on the table between them.

“Okay,” he said. “You really want to die? Pick up the gun. Get it over with.”

Graham stared at him, wide-eyed. “You’re crazy.”

Beck shrugged. “I’m a licensed psychiatrist.”

“You’re still crazy.”

Beck sighed deeply. “You don’t want to do it yourself? Well. I’m here to help.” Beck picked up the Glock and racked the slide back, jacking a shell into the chamber. He pointed it at Graham, his hand steady.

“Now. Do you want to die?” Beck asked, looking down the barrel at his patient.

Graham was out of his chair in a split second. He knocked the gun aside and landed on Beck with his full weight, toppling the chair over. He and Beck struggled for a moment as Graham tried to get his hands on the gun.

They rolled across the floor together. Graham came up on top, the Glock in one hand. He pointed it at Beck, kneeling on top of him.

For a second, they were frozen like that.

Then Beck looked up at Graham, bleeding from the corner of his mouth where a stray elbow had hit him.

And he smiled.

“You fought,” he said, grinning.

Graham looked confused. Then angry. “Are you crazy?” he shouted. “Of course I fought you! You pointed a gun at me!”

He got off Beck and let him up, but didn’t take the gun off him. Beck didn’t seem at all worried.

“Dummy bullets,” Beck said. “Wouldn’t fire even if I pulled the trigger.”

Graham eyed Beck suspiciously, then checked the Glock’s clip. If anything, it made him even more angry. “I didn’t know that!” he shouted.

Beck didn’t stop smiling. “That’s right. You didn’t. And you fought me. For the first time since you walked