"You just did comment," said Jannie, never at a loss. I winked at her. She couldn't spoil my mood today. The killer known as the Mastermind had been captured and was now spending his days at a maximum-security prison in Colorado. My twelve-year-old, Damon, continued to blossom as a student as well as a singer with the Washington Boys' Choir. Jannie had taken up oil painting, and she was keeping a journal that contained some pretty good scribbling, and cartoons, for a girl her age. Little Alex's personality was beginning to emerge he was a sweet boy, just starting to walk at thirteen months.
I had met a woman detective recently, Jamilla Hughes, and I wanted to spend more time with her. The problem was that she lived in California and I lived in D.C. Not insurmountable, I figured.
I would have some time to find out about Jamilla and me. Today was the day I planned to meet with Chief of Detectives George Pittman and resign from the D.C. police. After I resigned, I planned to take a couple of months off.
Then I might go into private practice as a psychologist, or possibly hook up with the FBI. The Bureau had made me an offer that was flattering as well as intriguing.
There was a loud rap at the kitchen door. Then it opened. John Sampson was standing there. He knew what I was planning to do today, and I figured he'd come by to show me some support.
Sometimes I am so gullible, it makes me a little sick.
"HELLO, UNCLE JOHN," Damon and Jannie chorused, and then grinned like the little fools they can be when in the presence of greatness, which is how they feel about John Sampson.
He went to the refrigerator and examined Jannie's latest artwork. She was trying to copy characters from a new cartoonist, Aaron McGurder, formerly of the University of Maryland and now syndicated. Huey and Riley Freeman, Caesar, and Jazmine DuBois were all taped on the fridge.
"You want some eggs, John? I can make some scrambled with cheddar, way you like them," Nana said, and she was already up at her place. She would do anything for Sampson. It had been that way since he was ten and we first became friends. Sampson is like another son to her. His parents were in jail much of the time he was growing up, and Nana raised him as much as anybody did.
"Oh, no, no," he said, and quickly motioned for her to sit back down but when she moved to the stove, he said, "Yeah, scrambled, Nana. Rye toast be nice. I'm starved away to nothing, and nobody does breakfast like you do."
"You know that's the truth," she cackled, and turned up the burners. "You're lucky I'm an old-school lady. You're all lucky."
"We know it, Nana." Sampson smiled. He turned to the kids. "I need to talk to your father." "He's retiring today," Jannie said.
"So I've heard," said Sampson. "It's all over the streets, front page of the Post, probably on the Today show this morning."
"You heard your uncle John," I told the kids. "Now, scoot. I love you. Scat!"
Jannie and Damon rolled their eyes and gave us looks, but they got up from the table, gathered their books into backpacks, and started out the door to the Sojourner Truth School, which is about a five-block walk from our house on Fifth Street.
"Don't even think about going out that door like that. Kisses," I said.
They came over and dutifully kissed Nana and me. Then they kissed Sampson. I really don't care what goes on in this cool, unsentimental postmodern world, but that's how we do it in our house. Bin Laden probably never got kissed enough when he was a kid.
"I have a problem," Sampson said as soon as the kids left. "Am I supposed to hear this?" Nana asked from the stove.
"Of course you are," John said to her. "Nana, Alex, I've told you both about a good friend of mine from my army days. His name is Ellis Cooper and he's still in the army after all these years. At least, he was. He was found guilty of murdering three women off base. I had no idea about any of it until friends started to call. He'd been embarrassed to tell me himself. Didn't want me to know. He only has about three weeks to the execution, Alex."
Copyright © 2002 by James Patterson
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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