Unsolved (Invisible #2) - James Patterson


I AM neither evil nor deranged. I am not uneducated, I am not poor, and I am not the product of an abusive upbringing. I do what I do for one, and only one, reason.

The man in the beige jacket pulls his SUV into the strip-mall parking lot and kills the engine. He steps out of the car, straightens his jacket, and lightly brushes his hand against the bulge at his side, the concealed handgun.

The setting summer sun casts a dim glow over the strip mall, nearly empty. The laundromat at the end is dark; the catering service is shuttered, a metal grate across the window. The convenience store, displaying ads for cigarettes, beer, two-for-a-dollar hot dogs, Powerball tickets, is the only thing open.

There is one other vehicle in the lot, a Dodge Caravan the color of rust that’s parked nose in about eight spaces away.

A man in a wheelchair is in the middle of the lot. He bends over at the waist, reaches down to the pavement, and struggles to pick up several items that have spilled out of a plastic grocery bag. He also works the joystick on the arm of his wheelchair, but in vain—the motorized chair fails to respond to the command.

A disabled man in a broken wheelchair.

Only moralists or lemmings think that weakness requires compassion and mercy. Any student of history, of science, knows the opposite is true.

We are supposed to extinguish the weak. It always has been and always will be so.

The man in beige calls out, “How ’bout I give you a hand with that, mister?”

The wheelchair guy straightens up with some difficulty. His face is red and shiny with sweat from the effort of trying to retrieve the toiletries rolling around on the pavement. He is wearing a camouflage hat and an army fatigue jacket. Decent upper-body build, to be expected of someone who’s lost the use of his legs. His unshaven face is weathered and dull except for a small, shiny scar in the shape of a crescent moon near his right eye.

“I s’pose I could use a hand,” says the wheelchair guy. “I ’preciate that.”

“No trouble at all.”

Nothing like the gentle facade of manners, of charity, to reel in your prey. Far easier than lying in the weeds and waiting for the wounded animal in the pack to come limping by, unsuspecting.

“Not a problem at all,” the man in beige says again. He scoops up a tube of Crest toothpaste, a stick of deodorant, and a green bottle of Pert shampoo, puts all the items into the man’s plastic grocery bag, and hands the bag back to the wheelchair guy, who is struggling between gratitude and wounded pride, a feeling of helplessness. The guy pushes on the joystick again, but again the wheelchair fails to respond; the wheelchair guy curses under his breath.

“Having some trouble with your wheelchair?” asks the man in beige. “Need help getting in the van?”

Don’t talk to me about cruelty or pity. The thinking man has no affections, no prejudices, only a heart of stone.

I am as I was made. I am a product of the laws of nature, not of laws passed by some inane body of human beings.

The wheelchair guy lets out a sigh. “Well, actually…that would be great.”

“Sure, no problem.” The man in beige extends his hand. “I’m Joe,” he says.

“Charlie,” the wheelchair guy says, shaking his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Charlie. Where do you get in the van?”

“The back.”

The man in beige, Joe, takes the handles of the wheelchair and wheels Charlie to the back of the van. He reaches for the door, but Charlie hits a button on his key fob, and the door slides open automatically.

“Cool,” says Joe. “Never seen that on a back door.”

“You probably never been in no wheelchair neither.”

Charlie punches another button on his key fob to activate the hydraulic drop-down ramp.

Joe pushes Charlie up the ramp and into the bed of the van. The ramp rises up and folds back into place. The van’s interior is customized, of course; there is a front passenger seat and a rear one directly behind it, but the other side is a clear path to the steering wheel, which has manual controls to operate the van.

A nice, open space.

This is where I will kill him. But I will not be cruel—that word again. I have no desire to inflict more pain than is necessary to eliminate him.

But first, a little conversation, for distraction and to keep the victim at ease.

Joe looks