"You know how fast you were going?" the cop asked in an agitated voice, his face flushed a bright red. Shafer noticed that the cop's hand was still on his gun.
Shafer pursed his lips, thought about his answer. "Well, I'd say about thirty, Officer," he finally said. "Maybe a little over the speed limit."
Then he took out an I.D. card and handed it over. "But you can't do anything about it. I'm with the British Embassy. I have diplomatic immunity."
That night, as he was driving home from work, Geoffrey Shafer started to feel that he was losing control again. He was beginning to frighten himself. His whole life had begun to revolve around a fantasy game he played called the Four Horsemen.
In the game, he was the player called Death. The game was everything to him, the only part of his life with real meaning.
He sped across town from the British Embassy, all the way to the Petworth district of Northwest. He knew he shouldn't be there, a white man in a spiffy Jaguar. He couldn't help himself, though, any more than he could that morning.
He stopped the car just before he got to Petworth. Shafer took out his laptop and typed a message to the other players, the Horsemen.
FRIENDS, DEATH IS ON THE LOOSE IN WASHINGTON.
THE GAME IS ON.
He started the Jag again and rode a few more blocks to Petworth. The usual outrageously provocative hookers were already parading up and down Varnum and Webster streets. A song called "Nice and Slow" was playing from a vibrating blue BMW. Ronnie McCall's sweet voice blended into the early evening.
The girls waved to him and showed their large, flat, pert, or flabby breasts. Several wore colorful bustiers with matching hot pants and shiny silver or red platform shoes with pointy heels. He slowed to a stop beside a small black girl who looked to be around sixteen and had an unusually pretty face. Her legs were long and slender for such a petite body. She wore too much makeup for his taste. Still, she was hard to resist, so why should he?
"Nice car. Jaguar. I like it a lot," she cooed, then smiled and made a sexy little "O" with her lipsticked mouth. "You're cute, too, mistah."
He smiled back at her. "Jump in, then. Let's go for a test ride. See if it's true love or just infatuation." He glanced around the street quickly. None of the other girls were working this corner.
"A hundred for full-service, sweetie?" she asked as she wiggled her tight little butt inside the Jag. Her perfume smelled like eau de bubble gum, and she seemed to have bathed in it.
"As I said, get into the car. A hundred dollars is petty cash for me."
He knew he shouldn't be picking her up in the Jaguar, but he took her for a joy ride anyway. He couldn't help himself now. He brought the girl to a small, wooded park in a part of Washington called Shaw. He parked in a thicket of fir trees that hid the car from sight. He looked at the prostitute, and she was even smaller and younger than he had thought. "How old are you?" he asked.
"How old you want me to be?" she said, and smiled. "Sweetie, I need the money first. You know how it works."
"Yes. But do you?" he asked.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a switchblade knife. He had it at her throat in an instant.
"Don't hurt me," she whispered. "Just be cool."
"Get out of the car. Slowly. Don't you dare scream. You be cool."
Shafer got out with her, staying close, the knife still pressed to the hollow of her throat.
"It's all just a game, darling," he explained. "My name is Death. You're a very lucky girl. I'm the best player of all." As if to prove it, he stabbed her for the first time.
© 1999 by James Patterson
Used by permission of the publisher, Little, Brown & Co.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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