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Juror #3
Author:James Patterson & Nancy Allen

Juror #3

James Patterson & Nancy Allen


To Randy, Ben, and Martha





Prologue





One



BALANCING A TRAY loaded with dirty glassware, Darrien Summers dodged the masked men and women in evening dress as he made his way through the dining room. The annual Mardi Gras ball at the country club in Williams County, Mississippi, was in full swing, the dance floor so crowded that many guests swayed to the jazz band in the narrow spaces between the tables.

Darrien shouldered his way through the door into the kitchen. As it swung shut, the heavy door caught his bad knee. He grimaced and dropped his tray on a metal counter by the dishwasher. Limping over to a chair, he sat to massage the knee with both hands.

A white-haired waiter stood by the back door, blowing cigarette smoke into the outside air. He pointed the cigarette at Darrien. “That football knee still hurting you?”

Darrien nodded with a rueful laugh. “Sometimes it sure does.”

“You played at Alabama? Or was it Arkansas?”

“Arkansas,” Darrien said. He added, “Arkansas State. Not good enough for U of A.”

The flare-up in his knee was a painful reminder. He’d been a strong player at the high school level—maybe not enough of a star for Ole Miss or the Crimson Tide of Alabama or University of Arkansas, but he’d been signed for a full ride at Arkansas State, not far across the state line from Mississippi.

“Bet your daddy was proud. You going back in the fall? When your knee gets better?”

“No,” Darrien said, and turned away to discourage further conversation. He’d been answering that question since he was sidelined with a knee injury back in his sophomore year. He’d needed to remain on the team to get his degree, but shortly after, he’d been busted at a campus party in possession of a joint. They’d pulled the scholarship, and here he was.

Darrien’s phone buzzed in his pocket, and he reached for it under his white waiter’s jacket. Reading the text, Darrien smiled, whispering “Sheeiitt” under his breath.

The club manager, Bert Owens, came into the kitchen, pushing the door open with a bang. Darrien rose from the chair, and the other waiter pitched the cigarette out the back door. Owens marched over, tilting his head back to look Darrien in the eye.

“Summers, you get paid by the hour. I want you working all sixty minutes of it, not sitting on your ass and playing with your phone.”

Darrien slipped his phone into the pocket of his jacket.

“Mr. Owens, can I go on break now? Sir? I haven’t had a break all night.”

The manager pointed a finger at Darrien’s chest. “Twenty minutes. Then I want you back on the floor.”

Before Darrien could make his exit, the swinging door opened wide and a man in a black tuxedo stepped into the kitchen. His hair was parted on the side with razor-like precision, so that Darrien could see the white skin of his scalp. The man leaned against the door frame, crossing his arms on his chest.

“Damn, Owens. Have to chase you into the kitchen to get a word with you.”

The manager wheeled around, snatched a towel, and wiped his right hand before extending it.

“Mr. Greene, sir. We’re mighty happy to have you here tonight. What do you think of our shindig?”

Owens was grinning so hard, it looked like his face might crack.

Greene accepted Owens’s hand and gave it a brief shake. “Y’all put on a fine Mardi Gras party, that’s for sure. But I just heard that the band will stop playing at midnight. Owens, we can’t have that.”

As if on cue, the whine of a saxophone drifted into the kitchen.

“Mr. Greene, the band’s got a contract.”

“Is that so?” Greene’s blue eyes fixed on Owens. “Well, I do know a thing or two about contracts.”

“Yes, sir. You should, working with the finest law firm in Jackson.”

“And I didn’t come all the way from Jackson to go home at midnight, not at Mardi Gras. No, sir.”

Beads of perspiration shone on Owens’s forehead. “Mr. Greene, if the band plays past midnight, we got to pay them extra.”

Mr. Greene’s face broke into a smile. “Well, if that’s all.” He pulled a wallet from his pocket. He folded several bills and slipped the money into the manager’s hand, then pushed the door and walked out, with Owens at his heels.

Seizing the opening, Darrien slipped through the back exit out onto the patio, then walked toward the swimming pool at a brisk pace. The pool was drained, the lounge chairs and snack tables locked up until Memorial Day weekend. A dozen cabanas made a semicircle beside the women’s dressing room—and the door to cabana 6 was ajar.

Jewel Shaw would be waiting for him inside.





Two



SHE WAS BAD news, he knew that. At twenty-eight, she was seven years older than Darrien; and as the only daughter of one of the club’s founding members, Jewel Shaw was forbidden fruit. Even in the twenty-first century, rich white women usually didn’t mix with the black waitstaff at the country club. Not in Rosedale, Mississippi.

But Jewel was a wild child.

He pushed open the door to cabana 6 and slipped inside. It was dark, but Darrien knew from experience there was a light switch somewhere on the wall. Feeling for it with his fingers, he bumped against a table—with his good knee, thank Jesus. He found a lamp and switched it on.

He saw Jewel lying on the chaise lounge near the far wall of the small space. Her left arm dangled off the side, and it looked like her purple dress had stains all over it.

He hesitated. Maybe he ought to turn around and head back to the kitchen. If Jewel was passed out—and that had happened before—he was in no position to deal with it.

But he reconsidered. It wouldn’t be right to leave her like that. He’d best check on her, make sure she was okay. He approached carefully in the dim lamplight.

“Jewel?” he whispered. “What you doing, baby?”

When he got to the lounge, Darrien muffled a groan.

Blood was seeping through slits in the fabric of her purple dress, where she had been slashed in her chest, abdomen, and side. The green and gold Mardi Gras beads at her neck were wet, and blood matted her blond hair where it fell past her shoulders.

Her eyes were open and her chest heaved.

Darrien squatted on the floor beside her, barely noting the pain that knifed through his knee. “Oh, Jesus.” He picked up her limp wrist and, not feeling a pulse, pressed his ear to her chest to try to listen to her heart, smelling the coppery odor of Jewel’s blood.

Nothing. Her chest didn’t move again. Leaning over her, he lifted her head and spoke her name. “Jewel.” Then louder: “Jewel?”

Dropping her head back onto the chaise, Darrien squeezed his eyes shut, trying to think what he should do. He pressed his hands onto her chest, trying to revive her with CPR. It didn’t help. He reached into his pocket for his phone, registering with panic that his hands were bloody, and his white jacket was smeared with blood.

He would dial 911. But his hands shook so violently, he couldn’t enter the passcode.

Footsteps sounded on the cement outside the cabana and he heard men’s voices. Darrien tried to shout “Hey!” but it came out like a squawk.

As he held the phone, a flashlight beam cut into the dim room. Darrien dropped the phone and said, “Oh, my God.”





Three



THE CLUB SECURITY guard, a reserve deputy for Williams County, tackled him to the floor. Bert Owens trained the flashlight on Jewel, then turned the light into Darrien’s face. “What have you done?”

Darrien shook his head, pinned beneath the deputy, trying to frame the words: I tried to help her. Owens said to the deputy, “Stand him up.”

The man pulled Darrien to his feet and with the help of another security guard pinned his arms behind him. Owens swung the flashlight and smashed it into the side of Darrien’s head. “Boy, what have you done to Miss Shaw?”

“I didn’t—”

Owens punched him. Darrien felt his lip split over his teeth and tasted blood.