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The Sixth Man
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Edgar Roy–an alleged serial killer–is awaiting trial. He faces almost certain conviction. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are called in by Roy’s attorney, Sean’s old friend and mentor Ted Bergin, to help work the case. But their investigation is derailed when Sean and Michelle find Bergin murdered.
It is now up to them to ask the questions no one seems to want answered: Is Roy a killer? Who murdered Bergin? The more they dig into Roy’s past, the more they encounter obstacles, half-truths, dead-ends, false friends, and escalating threats from every direction. Their persistence puts them on a collision course with the highest levels of the government and the darkest corners of power. In a terrifying confrontation that will push Sean and Michelle to their limits, the duo may be permanently parted.
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More David Baldacci
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THE SIXTH MAN
Edgar Roy—an alleged serial killer—is awaiting trial. He faces almost certain conviction. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are called in by Roy's attorney, Sean's old friend and mentor Ted Bergin, to help work the case. But their investigation is derailed when Sean and Michelle find Bergin murdered.
It is now up to them to ask the questions no one seems to want answered: Is Roy a killer? Who murdered Bergin? The more they dig into Roy's past, the more they encounter obstacles, half-truths, dead-ends, false friends, and escalating threats from every direction. Their persistence puts them on a collision course with the highest levels of the government and the darkest corners of power. In a terrifying confrontation that will push Sean and Michelle to their limits, the duo may be permanently parted.
NINE MONTHS LATER
THE SMALL JET BUMPED down hard on the runway in Portland, Maine. It rose up in the air and banged down again harder. Even the pilot was probably wondering if he could keep the twenty-five-ton jet on the tarmac. Because he was trying to beat a storm in, the young aviator had made his approach at a steeper trajectory and a faster speed than the airline's manual recommended. The wind shear culled off the leading edge of the cold front had caused the jet's wings to pendulum back and forth. The copilot had warned the passengers that the landing would be bumpy and a bit more than uncomfortable.
He'd been right.
The rear carriage wheels caught and held the second time around, and the lead aircraft-grade rubber bit down a few moments later. The rapid and steep flight path in had caused more than a few of the four dozen passengers on the single-aisle jet to white-knuckle their armrests, mouth a few prayers, and even reach for the barf bags in the seatbacks. When the wheel brakes and reverse thrusters engaged and the aircraft slowed perceptibly, most of the riders exhaled in relief.
One man, however, merely woke when the plane transitioned off the runway and onto the taxiway to the small terminal. The tall, dark-haired woman sitting next to him idly stared out the window, completely unfazed by the turbulent approach and bouncy touchdown.
After they'd arrived at the gate and the pilot shut down the twin GE turbofans, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell rose and grabbed their bags from the overhead. As they threaded out through the narrow aisle along with the other deplaning passengers, a queasy-looking woman behind them said, "Boy, that sure was a rough landing."
Sean looked at her, yawned, and massaged his neck. "Was it?"
The woman looked surprised and eyed Michelle. "Is he kidding?"
She said, "When you've ridden on jump seats in the belly of a C-17 at low altitudes in the middle of a thunderstorm and doing thousand-foot vertical drops every ten seconds with four max-armored vehicles chained next to you and wondering if one was going to break loose and crash through the side of the fuselage and carry you with it, this landing was pretty uneventful."
"Why in the world did you do that?" said the wide-eyed woman.
"I ask myself that every day," replied Sean sardonically.
He and Michelle both had their clothes, toiletries, and other essentials in their carry-on bags. But they had to stop by baggage claim to pick up an eighteen-inch-long, hard-sided, locked case. It belonged to Michelle. She picked up the case and slid it into her carry-on.
Sean gave her an amused expression. "You're the queen of the smallest checked bag of all time."
"Until they let responsible people on planes with loaded guns, it'll have to do the trick. Get the rental. I'll be back in a minute."
"You licensed to carry that up here?"
"Let's hope we don't have to find out."
He blanched. "You're kidding, right?"
"Maine has an open carry law. So long as it's visible I can carry it without a permit."
"But you're putting it in a holster. That's concealed. In fact, it's concealed right now."
She flipped open her wallet and showed him a card. "Which is why I have a valid nonresident's concealed weapon's permit for the great state of Maine."
"How'd you score that? We only found out about this case a few days ago. You couldn't have gotten a permit that fast. I checked into it. It's a mountain of paperwork and a sixty-day response period."
"My dad is good friends with the governor. I made a call to him. He made a call to the governor."
She went to the ladies' room, entered a stall, opened the locked case, and quickly loaded her pistol. She holstered her weapon and walked to the covered parking garage adjacent to the terminal where the rental car companies were clustered. There she found Sean filling out the paperwork for the wheels they needed for the next phase of their trip. Michelle showed her operator's license as well, since she would be doing most of the driving. It wasn't that Sean minded driving, but Michelle was too much of a control freak to let him.
"Coffee," she said. "There's a place back in the terminal."
"You had that giant cup you brought on the flight."
"That was a while ago. And where we're going is a long drive from here. I need the caffeine pop."
"I slept. I can drive."
She snagged the keys from his hand. "Don't think so."
"Hey, I drove the Beast, okay?" he said, referring to the presidential limo.
She eyed the rental car tag. "Then the Ford Hybrid you reserved will be no challenge. It'll probably take me a day just to get it up to sixty. I'll spare you the pain and humiliation."
She got an extra-large black coffee. Sean bought a donut with sprinkles and sat in the passenger seat eating it. He dusted off his hands and moved the seat back as far as possible in the compact car, and still his six-foot-two-inch frame was bent uncomfortably. He finally ended up putting his feet on the dash.
Noting this, Michelle said, "Air bag pops out of there, it'll smash your feet right through the glass and amputate them when they hit the metal roof."
He glanced at her, a frown eclipsing his normally calm features. "Then don't do anything to make it pop."
"I can't control other drivers."
"Well, you insisted on being the wheelman—excuse me, wheelperson. So do the best you can to keep me safe and comfortable."
"All right, master," she snapped.
After a mile of silence Michelle said, "We sound like an old married couple."
He looked at her again. "We're not old and we're not married. Unless you really slipped something by me."
She hesitated and then just said it: "But we have slept together."
Sean started to reply but then seemed to think better of it. What came out instead seemed to be a grunt.
"It changes things," she said.
"Why does it change things?"
"It's not just business anymore. It's personal. The line has been crossed."
He sat up straight, removing his feet from the perilous reach of the air bag. "And now you regret that? You made the first move, if I recall. You got naked on me."
"I didn't say that I regretted anything, because I don't."
"Neither do I. It happened because we obviously both wanted it to happen."
"Okay. So where does that leave us?"
He sat back against his seat and stared out the window. "I'm not sure."
"Great, just what I wanted to hear."
He looked across at her, noted the tense line of muscle and bone around her jaw.
"Just because I'm unsure of where to go with all this, doesn't lessen or trivialize what happened between us. It's complicated."
"Right, complicated. That's always the case. For the guy."
"Okay, if it's so simple for the ladies, tell me what you think we should do."
When she didn't answer he said, "Should we run off and find a preacher and make it official?"
She shot him a glance and the front end of the Ford swerved slightly. "Are you serious? Is that what you want?"
"I'm just throwing out ideas. Since you don't seem to have any."
"Do you want to get married?"
"That would really change things."
"Uh, yeah, it would."
"Maybe we should take it slow."
"Maybe we should."
She tapped the steering wheel. "Sorry for jumping on you about this."
"Forget it. And we just got Gabriel squared away with a great family. That was a big change, too. Slow is good right now. We go too fast, maybe we make a big mistake."
Gabriel was an eleven-year-old boy from Alabama that Sean and Michelle had taken temporary custody of after his mother was killed. He was currently living with a family whose dad was an FBI agent they knew. The couple was in the process of formally adopting Gabriel.
"Okay," she replied.
"And now we have a job to do. Let's focus on that."
"So that's your priority list? Business trumps personal?"
"Not necessarily. But like you said, it's a long drive. And I want to think about why we're heading to the only federal maximum security institution for the criminally insane in the country, to meet with a guy whose life is definitely on the line."
"We're going because you and his lawyer go way back."
"That part I get. Did you read up on Edgar Roy?"
Michelle nodded. "Government employee that lived alone in rural Virginia. His life was pretty average until the police discovered the remains of six people buried in his barn. Then his life became anything but average. The evidence to me seems overwhelming."
Sean nodded. "Roy was found in his barn, shovel in hand, dirt on his pants, with the remains of six bodies buried in a hole he was apparently putting the finishing touches to."
"A little tough to dance around that in court," said Michelle.
"Too bad Roy's not a politician."
Sean smiled. "If he were a politician he could spin that story to say he was actually digging them out of the hole in order to save them but was too late; they were already dead. And now he's being persecuted for being a Good Samaritan."
"So he was arrested but failed a competency hearing. He was sent to Cutter's Rock." She paused. "But why Maine? Virginia didn't have the facilities for him?"
"It was a federal case for some reason. That got the FBI involved. When the competency remand comes it's wherever the Feds decide to send you. Some Fed max prison facilities have psych wards, but it was decided that Roy needed something more than that. St. Elizabeth's in D.C. was moved to make way for a new Homeland Security HQ, and its new location was not deemed secure enough. So Cutter's Rock was the only game in town."
"Why the weird name?"
"It's rocky, and a cutter is a type of ship. Maine is a seafaring state, after all."
"I forgot you were a nautical guy." She turned on the radio and the heater, and shivered. "God, it's cold for not being winter yet," she said grumpily.
"This is Maine. It can be cold any time of the year. Check the latitude."
"The things one learns in enclosed spaces over long periods of time."
"Now we do sound like an old married couple." He turned his vent on full blast, zipped up his windbreaker, and closed his eyes.
WITH MICHELLE'S FOOT typically heavy on the gas the Ford raced along Interstate 95, past the towns of Yarmouth and Brunswick and on toward the state capital in Augusta. Once past Augusta, with the next big town coming up being Bangor, Michelle began eyeing the surroundings. There were dense evergreen trees on either side of the highway. A full moon gave the forests a silvery veneer that made Michelle think of wax paper over salad greens. They passed a warning sign for moose crossing the highway.
"Moose?" she said, glancing at Sean.
He didn't open his eyes. "Maine's state animal. You don't want to hit one. They weigh more than this Ford. And they have nasty tempers. Kill you in a heartbeat."
"How do you know? Have you ever encountered one?"
"No, but I'm a big fan of Animal Planet."
They drove on for another hour. Michelle continually scanned the area, left to right and back the other way, like human radar. It was a habit so drilled into her that even after being out of the Secret Service all this time she couldn't shake it. But as a private investigator maybe she didn't want to shake it. Observations made you forewarned. And being forewarned was never a bad thing, particularly if someone was trying to kill you, which people often seemed to want to do to her and Sean.
"There's something wrong here," she said.
Sean opened his eyes. "Like what?" he asked, doing his own quick scan.
"We're on Interstate 95. Runs from Florida to Maine. Long stretch of asphalt. Big travel route. Pipeline of East Coast vacationers."
"So we're the only fricking car on it in either direction, and have been for at least a half hour. What, was there a nuclear war and no one told us?" Her finger hit the scan button on the radio. "I need news. I need civilization. I need to know we're not the only ones left alive."
"Will you chill? It's just isolated up here. Interstate or not. Lots of space, not lots of people. Most of the population lives near the coast, Portland, back where we came from. The rest of the state is big on land and pretty low on human beings. Hell, Aroostook County is bigger than Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. In fact, Maine is as large as all the other New England states put together. And once we get past Bangor and keep heading north, it gets even more isolated. The interstate stops near the town of Houlton. Then you take Route 1 the rest of the way up towards the northern tip of the Canadian border."
"What's up there?"
"Places like Presque Isle, Fort Kent, and Madawaska."
"I suppose. Lucky we're not going there. It's really far."
"Couldn't we have flown into Bangor? They have an airport, right? Or Augusta?"
"No direct flights. Most of the available flights had two or three stops. One took us all the way south to Orlando before heading north. We could have flown out of Baltimore, but we'd have to connect through LaGuardia and that's always dicey. And we would have still had to drive to Baltimore, and 95 can be a nightmare. It's faster and more certain this way."
"You're just a fountain of useful facts. You've been to Maine much?"
"One of the former presidents I protected has a summer place up here."
"Bush Forty-One at Walker's Point?"
"You got it."
"But that's southern coastal Maine. Kennebunkport. We flew over it going into Portland."
"Beautiful area. We'd follow Bush in our chase boat. Could never keep up with him. Guy's fearless. Has over eight hundred HP spread over three Mercury outboards on a thirty-two-footer named the Fidelity III. Man loved to go full throttle in the open Atlantic in pretty heavy chop. I rode in the Zodiac chase boat trying to keep up with him. Only time I've ever puked on duty."
"But that area's not as isolated as this," said Michelle.
"No, lot more humanity down there." He looked at his watch. "And it's late. Most people up here probably rise at dawn to go to work. That means they're probably already in bed." He yawned. "Like I wish I was."
Michelle checked the GPS. "Around Bangor we get off the interstate and head east to the coast."
He nodded. "In between the towns of Machias and Eastport. Right on the water. Lot of back roads. Not easy to get to, which makes sense because then it's not easy to get away from if a homicidal maniac has managed to escape."
"Has anyone ever escaped from Cutter's Rock?"
"Not to my knowledge. And if they ever did, they'd have two options: the wilderness or the chilly waters of the Gulf of Maine. Neither one is too palatable. And Mainers are hardy folk. Probably not even homicidal maniacs would want to cross them."
"So we're hooking up with Bergin tonight?"
"Yep. At the inn where we're staying." Sean checked his watch. "In about two and a half hours. Then we see Roy at ten tomorrow morning."
"So how do you know Bergin again?"
"He was my law professor at UVA. Great guy. Was in private practice before he started teaching. Few years after I graduated he hung his shingle back out. Defense lawyer, obviously. Has an office in Charlottesville."
"How'd he end up repping a psycho like Edgar Roy?"
"He specializes in hopeless cases, I guess. But he's a first-rate attorney. I don't know what his connection is to Roy. I'm assuming he'll fill us in on that, too."
"And you never did elaborate on why Bergin engaged us."
"I didn't elaborate because I'm not quite sure. He called, said he was making headway in Roy's case and needed some investigation done by people he could trust in preparation for taking the case to trial."
"What sort of headway? From my reading of the case they're only waiting for him to get his mind back so they can convict him and then execute him."
"I don't profess to understand what Bergin's theory is. He didn't want to discuss it on the phone."
Michelle shrugged. "I guess we'll find out soon enough."
They left the interstate, and Michelle steered the Ford east along increasingly poor and windy surface roads. As they neared the ocean waters, the briny smell invaded the car.
"Fishy, my favorite," she said sarcastically.
"Get used to that smell. It'll be everywhere up here."
She calculated they were about thirty minutes from their destination along a particularly lonely patch of road when the silvery night was broken by another set of car lights. Only they weren't on the road. They were on the shoulder. Michelle automatically slowed as Sean rolled down his window for a better look.
"Flashers," he said. "Somebody's broken down."
"Should we pull over?"
He debated this. "I suppose. They might not even be able to get cell reception up here." He poked his head out for a better look. "It's a Buick. I doubt someone would use a Buick to lure unsuspecting motorists into a trap."
Michelle touched the gun in its holster. "I doubt we qualify as unsuspecting motorists."
She slowed the Ford and pulled in behind the other car. The hazard lights blinked off and on, off and on. In the vastness of coastal Maine it looked like a small conflagration stuck in the limbo of fits and starts.
"Somebody's in the driver's seat," noted Michelle, as she put the Ford in park. "Only person I can see."
"Then he might be worried about us. I'll get out and put the person at ease."
"I've got your back in case someone's hiding in the floorboard and they don't want to be put at ease."
He swung his long legs out and approached the car slowly from the passenger's side. His feet crunched over the sparse shoulder gravel. His breath came out as puffs of smoke in the chilled air. From somewhere among the trees he heard an animal's call and briefly wondered if it was a moose. Animal Planet hadn't been clear on what a moose actually sounded like. And Sean had no interest in finding out for himself.
He called out, "Do you need any help?"
Blink, blink of the hazard lights. No response.
He looked down at his cell phone clutched in his hand. He had reception bars. "Are you broken down? Do you want us to call a tow truck for you?"
Nothing. He reached the car, tapped on the side window. "Hello? You okay?"
He saw the silhouette of the driver through the window. It was a man. "Sir, you okay?" The guy didn't budge.
Sean's next thought was a medical emergency. Maybe a heart attack. A marine haze had obscured the moonlight. It was so dark inside the car he couldn't make out many details. He heard a car door open and turned back to see Michelle climb out of their ride, her hand on the butt of her weapon. She glanced at him for communication.
"I think the guy's in medical distress."
She nodded and moved forward; her boots made clicks on the asphalt.
Sean eased around to the driver's side and tapped on the window. In the darkness all he could see was the man's outline. The red light from the flashers lit the interior of the car, casting the surroundings into a bright crimson before going dark again, like the car was heating up one second and going cool the next. But it didn't help Sean see inside the car. It only made it more difficult. He tapped on the glass once more.
"Sir? Are you all right?"
He tried the door. It was unlocked. He opened it. The man slumped sideways, held in the car only by his seat harness. Sean grabbed the man's shoulder and righted him as Michelle rushed forward.
"Heart attack?" she said.
Sean looked at the man's face. "No," he said firmly.
"How do you know?"
He used the light from his cell phone to illuminate the single gunshot wound between the man's pupils. There was blood and grayish brain matter all over the car's interior.
Michelle drew closer and said, "Contact wound. You can see the gun's muzzle and sight mark burned onto his skin. Don't think a moose did that."
Sean said nothing.
"Check his wallet for some ID."
"Don't have to."
"Why not?" she asked.
"Because I know him," replied Sean.
"What? Who is he?"
"Ted Bergin. My old professor and Edgar Roy's lawyer."
THE LOCAL POLICE SHOWED up first. A single Washington County deputy in a dented and dusty but serviceable American-made V8 with an array of communication antennas drilled into the trunk. He came out of the cruiser with one hand on his service weapon and his gaze fastened on Sean and Michelle. He warily approached. They explained what had happened and he checked the body, muttered the word "Damn," and then hastily called in backup.
Fifteen minutes later two Maine State Police cruisers from Field Troop J slid to stops behind them. The troopers, young, tall, and lean, came out of their aquamarine cars; their crisp blue uniforms seemed to glow like colored ice even in the weak, hazy light. The crime scene was secured and a perimeter guard established. Sean and Michelle were interviewed by the troopers. One of the officers pecked the responses into the portable laptop he'd yanked from his cruiser.
When Sean told them who they were and why they were here, and, more important, who Ted Bergin was and that he represented Edgar Roy, one of the troopers walked away and used his handheld mic to presumably call in more assets. As they waited for reinforcements, Sean said, "You guys know about Edgar Roy?"
One of them replied, "Everybody around here knows about Edgar Roy."
Michelle said, "Why's that?"
The other trooper said, "FBI will be here quick as they can."
"FBI?" exclaimed Sean.
The trooper nodded. "Roy's a federal prisoner. We got clear instructions from Washington. Anything happens with him, they get called in. That's what I just did. Well, I told the lieutenant and he's calling it in."
"Where's the closest FBI Field Office?" asked Michelle.
"Boston? But we're in Maine."
"FBI doesn't maintain an official office in Maine. It all goes through Boston, Mass."
Sean said, "It's a long way to Boston. Do we have to stay until they get here? We're both pretty beat."
"Our lieutenant is on the way. You can talk to him about it."
Twenty minutes later the lieutenant arrived and he was not sympathetic. "Just sit tight" was all he said before turning away from them to confer with his men and look over the crime scene.
The Evidence Response Team arrived a couple of minutes later, all ready to bag and tag. Sean and Michelle sat on the hood of their Ford and watched the process. Bergin was officially pronounced dead by what Sean assumed was a coroner or medical examiner—he couldn't recall what system Maine used. They gleaned from snatched bits of conversation among the techs and troopers that the bullet was still in the dead man's head.
"No exit wound, contact round, small-caliber gun probably," noted Michelle.
"But still deadly," replied Sean.
"Any contact wound to the head usually is. Crack the skull, soft brain tissue pulverized by the kinetic energy wave, massive hemorrhaging followed by organ shutdown. All happens in a few seconds. Dead."
"I know the process, thanks," he replied dryly.
As they sat there they could see the members of the Maine constabulary look over at them from time to time.
"Are we suspects?" asked Michelle.
"Everybody's a suspect until they're not."
Some time later the lieutenant came back over to them. "The colonel is on his way."
"And who is the colonel?" asked Michelle politely.
"Chief of the Maine State Police, ma'am."
"Okay. But we've given our statements," she said.
"So you two knew the deceased?"
"I did," answered Sean.
"And you were following him up here?"
"We weren't following him. I explained it to your troopers. We were meeting him up here."
"I'd appreciate if you could explain it to me, sir."
Okay, we are suspects, thought Sean.
He went through their travel steps.
"So you're saying you didn't know he was here? But you just happened to be the first ones on the scene?"
Sean said, "That's right."
The man tilted his wide-brimmed hat back. "I personally don't like coincidences."
- "Authentic scenario, mystery piled on misdirection, and more double-crosses than a tic-tac-toe tournament."—Kirkus Reviews
- "A complex puzzle . . . Baldacci is a master craftsman."—Associated Press
"An entertaining read."
"Fresh and engaging...a lean, relentlessly-paced thriller...The Sixth Man is built for speed."
An intricate thriller...a good read for mystery lovers."
- On Sale
- Mar 1, 2012
- Page Count
- 576 pages
- Grand Central Publishing