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Caught in a web of assassins, Alex Cross enters the final battle with the all-knowing genius who has stalked him and his family for years.Dr. Alex Cross and Detective John Sampson venture into the rugged Montana wilderness—where they will be the prey.
They’re not on the job, but on a personal mission.
Until they’re attacked by two rival teams of assassins, controlled by the same mastermind who has stalked Alex and his family for years.
Darkness falls. The river churns into rapids. Shots ring out through the forest.
No backup. No way out. Fear no evil.
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Matthew Butler cocked his head to one side, considering the big-boned blonde in front of him. She was handcuffed and shackled to a heavy oak chair bolted into the concrete floor beneath bright fluorescent lights.
If the woman was anxious about her predicament, she wasn't showing it in the least. She was as chill as the yoga outfit she wore. No sweat on her pale brow. Beneath her warm-up hoodie, her chest rose and fell calmly, each breath measured. Her shoulders were relaxed. Even her eyes looked soft.
Butler adjusted the strap of his shoulder holster.
"I know they've trained you for this sort of thing," he said in a voice with the slightest of Western twangs. "But your training won't work against me, Catherine. It never does."
A fit, balding man with a hawkish nose, Butler had workman's hands and wore black jeans, Nike running shoes, and a dark blue polo shirt. He crossed his thick forearms when she smiled back at him with brilliant white teeth.
"Whoever you are, you are going to be destroyed for what you're doing," Catherine Hingham said. "When they find out—"
Butler cut her off. "You know, in my many years as a professional, Catherine, I have come to rather enjoy the delicate process of breaking into hearts and minds. They are very much interlinked, you know—hearts and minds—and I have found that one is almost always the key to the other."
"Langley will annihilate you," Hingham said, studying Butler as if she wanted to remember every line in his face.
"Your operators won't help you today," Butler said, gesturing at a pile of blank paper and a pen on the table before her. "Tell me the truth and we can all move on with our lives."
"I'll say it again: You have no jurisdiction over me."
Butler chuckled, gestured around the room. "Oh, but in here, I do."
"I want to see a lawyer, then."
"I'm sure," he said, sobering. "But we're talking about a serious threat to our national security, Catherine. A few rules of engagement can and will be broken in order to thwart that threat."
"I am not a national security threat," she said evenly. "I work for the Central Intelligence Agency, with the highest clearances, in support of my country's freedoms. Your freedoms as well."
"That's what makes your traitorous actions so hard to understand, Catherine."
Her face reddened and she shifted in her chair. "I am no traitor."
Butler took a step toward her. "The hell you're not. We know about the Maldives."
Hingham blinked, furrowed her brow. "The Maldives? Like, the islands in the Indian Ocean?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about. I have never been to the Maldives. I've never even been to India."
"Never. You can talk to my case officers about it."
"I plan to at some point," Butler said, taking another step toward her. He reached down to touch the back of her left hand before letting his finger trail across her wedding band and modest engagement ring. "Does he know? Your husband?"
"That I work for the CIA?" she said. "Yes. But he has zero idea what I actually do. Those are the rules. We play by them."
Butler sighed as he gently took hold of her left pinkie with his leathery hand, thumb on top.
"Do you know the surest way to sever the connection between the body and mind, and therefore the heart?"
"No," she said.
"Pain," Butler said. He gripped her little finger tight and levered his thumb sharply downward until he heard a bone snap.
Catherine Hingham screamed in agony, fighting against her restraints, then yelled at him, "You cannot do this! This is the United States of America and I'm a sworn officer of the Central—"
Butler broke her ring finger, then waited for her to stop screaming and crying.
"You have eight fingers left, Catherine," Butler said calmly. "I will break them all and if you still do not tell me what I want to know, I will have your five-year-old daughter brought here and I will begin breaking her tiny fingers one by one until you confess."
The CIA officer stared at him in disgust and horror. "Emily has cerebral palsy."
"You wouldn't. It's…monstrous."
"It is," he said and sighed again. "And yet, because there is so much at stake, Catherine, I will break your little girl's fingers. But only if you make it necessary."
The CIA officer continued to stare at him for several moments. He gazed back at her evenly until her lower lip trembled and she hung her head.
"The costs," Hingham whispered hoarsely. "You have no idea what a child like Em…" She could not go on and broke down sobbing.
"The heart wins again," Butler said. He pushed the pile of blank pages in front of her. "Start writing. The Maldives. The numbered accounts. Their connections. All of it."
After a few moments, Catherine Hingham calmed enough to raise her head. "I need witness protection."
"I'll see what I can do," Butler said and held out the pen to her. "Now write."
The CIA officer reached out with both handcuffed hands shaking. She took the pen. "Please," she said. "My family doesn't deserve what will happen if—"
"Write," he said firmly. "And I'll see what I can do."
The CIA officer reluctantly began to scribble names, addresses, account numbers, and more. When she'd moved to a second page, Butler had seen enough to be satisfied.
He walked behind the CIA officer and nodded to a small camera mounted high in the corner of the room.
A gravelly male voice came through the tiny earbud Butler wore in his left ear. "Mmmm. Well done. When you have what we need, end the interview and file your report, please."
Butler nodded again before moving in front of Catherine Hingham. She set her pen down and pushed the pages across the table at him.
"That's it," she said in a hoarse voice. "Everything I know."
"Unlikely," Butler said, using the nail of his index finger to lift up the first sheet so he could scan the information she'd provided on page two. "But this looks useful enough for now. It will give us leverage. Was that so hard, Catherine?"
She relaxed a little and said, "Okay, then, I've given you what you wanted. Now I need a doctor to fix my hand. I need witness protection."
With his fingernail, Butler scooted the confession pages to the far right of the table. "You're a smart woman, Catherine. Well educated. Yale, if I remember. You should know your history better. We don't protect traitors in the United States of America. From Benedict Arnold on, they've all had to pay the price. And now, so will you."
The CIA officer looked confused and then terrified when Butler took a step back and drew a stubby pistol with a sound suppressor from his shoulder holster.
"No, please, my kids are—" she managed before he took aim and shot her between the eyes.
From the time we'd met as ten-year-olds, John Sampson, my best friend and long-term DC Metro Police partner, had been stoic, quiet, observant. Since his wife, Billie, had died, he'd become even more reserved and was now given to long bouts of brooding silence. I knew he was still wrestling with grief.
But that late-June morning, Big John was acting as wound up as a kid about to hit the front gates of Disney World as he bopped around my front room, where we'd laid out all our gear for a trip we'd been talking about taking for years.
"You think we'll see a grizzly?" Sampson asked, grinning at me.
"I'm hoping not," I said. "At least, not up close."
"They're in there, big-time. And wolves."
"And deer, elk, and cutthroat trout," I said. "I've been studying the brochure too."
Nana Mama, my ninety-something grandmother, came in wringing her hands and asked with worry in her voice, "Did I hear you say grizzly bears?"
Sampson glowed with excitement. "Nana, the Bob Marshall Wilderness has one of the densest concentrations of grizzlies in the lower forty-eight states. But don't worry. We'll have bear spray and sidearms. And cameras."
"I don't know why you couldn't choose a safer place to go on your manly trip."
"If it was safer, it wouldn't be manly," I said. "There's got to be a challenge."
"Glad I'm an old lady, then. Breakfast in five minutes." Nana Mama turned and shuffled away, shaking her head.
"Checklist?" Sampson said.
"I'm ready if you are."
We started going through every item we'd thought necessary for the twenty-nine-mile horseback trip deep into one of the last great wildernesses on earth and for the five-day raft ride we'd take out of the Bob Marshall on the South Fork of the Flathead River. An outfitter was providing the rafts, tents, food, and bear-proof storage equipment. Everything else had to fit into four rubberized dry bags we'd use on the river after he dropped us off.
We could have signed up for a fully guided affair, but Sampson wanted us to do a good part of the trip alone, and after some thought, I'd agreed. Six days deep in the backcountry of Montana would give Big John many chances to open up and talk, which is critical to the process of coping with tragic loss.
"How's Willow feeling about our little trip?" I asked.
Sampson smiled. "She doesn't like the idea of grizzly bears any more than Nana does, but she knows it will make me happy."
"Your little girl's always been wise beyond her years."
"Truth. Bree liking her job?"
Thinking of my smart, beautiful, and independent wife, I said, "She loves it. Got up early to be at the office. Something about a possible assignment in Paris."
"Paris! What a difference a career change makes."
"No kidding. It was like the gig was tailor-made for her."
"Maybe we should think about going into private-sector investigations too."
"Pay's better, for sure," I allowed.
Before he could reply, my seventeen-year-old daughter, Jannie, poked her head in and said, "Nana says your eggs are getting cold."
I put down my dry bag and went to the kitchen, where I found my youngest child, Ali, already finishing up his plate.
"Morning, sunshine," I said, giving him a hug. He ignored it, so I tickled him.
"C'mon, Dad!" He laughed, then groaned. "Why can't I go with you?"
"Because you're a kid and we don't know what we'll be facing."
"I can do it," he insisted.
Sampson said, "Ali, let your dad and me scope it out this year. If we think you're up to it, we'll bring you along on the next trip. Deal?"
Ali scrunched up his face and shrugged. "I guess. When do you leave?"
"First thing in the—"
My cell phone began to ring at the same time Sampson's chimed.
"No," John protested. "Don't answer that, Alex. We're supposed to be gone already!"
But when I saw the caller ID, I grimaced and knew I had to answer. "Commissioner Dennison," I said. "John Sampson and I were just heading out the door on vacation."
"Cancel it," said the commissioner of the Metro DC Police Department. "We've got a dead female, gunshot wound to the head, dumped in the garage under the International Spy Museum on L'Enfant Plaza. Her ID says she's—"
"Commissioner, with all due respect," I said, "we've been planning this trip for—"
"I don't care, Cross," he snapped. "Her ID says she's CIA. If you want to continue your contract with Metro, you'll get down there. And if Sampson wants to keep his job, he'll be with you."
I stared at the ceiling a second, looked at John, and shook my head.
"Okay, Commissioner. We're on our way."
Tenth Avenue in Southwest DC goes under L'Enfant Plaza with a turnoff for monthly permit and public parking. The deceased, a big blonde in her late thirties with a gunshot wound to the head, was sitting upright in a corner of the third level of monthly permit parking.
A crude sign that said TRAITOR was hung around her neck.
"Someone had to have seen her get put here," I said. "Cameras, anyway."
Sampson nodded. "Maybe we will make our flight tomorrow morning."
Valerie Jackson, a Metro patrol officer, met us at a band of yellow tape she'd strung around the crime scene. The spy museum's director had discovered the victim when he arrived shortly after dawn.
"She has a CIA ID?" Sampson asked.
"Photo and everything. It's still on her lap. Catherine Hingham of the CIA."
We put on blue shoe covers and latex gloves before crossing to the deceased, who was dressed like a suburban mom out for a lunch date after yoga class. We saw how nasty the exit wound was, but we both noted how little blood there was around and behind her.
"She was moved here," Sampson said.
"I was just going to say the same thing," I said. "She was shot elsewhere, cleaned up a little, and put here as a message."
We saw two black Suburbans drive in and park.
"Who the hell let them in?" Officer Jackson said, moving toward the cars. Six men and women in black windbreakers emerged. One guy with slicked-back blond hair and an attitude came straight to the yellow tape and ducked under it. When Officer Jackson tried to cut him off, he flashed an ID and kept coming.
"Dean Weaver, Detectives," he said. "Central Intelligence Agency."
"CIA?" Sampson said, pulling himself up to his full six foot nine inches and getting in the man's way.
"Good—you can hear, and you understand English," Weaver said, holding up his identification. "We'll be taking over the investigation from here. I want any and all evidence left in situ. And I ask that you kindly leave."
I shook my head. "Not a chance. Federal law prohibits the CIA from running investigations in the United States, so I'll have to ask you to leave my crime scene."
"And who are you?"
"Dr. Alex Cross, investigative consultant to Metro PD and the FBI. And if you don't leave, I'll be calling my liaison, Supervising Special Agent Ned Mahoney, who I'm sure would be glad to explain how the law works domestically."
The CIA officer looked ready to pop his cork but he kept it under control. "Catherine Hingham is—was—one of ours, Dr. Cross," he said with clenched fists. "Can I please at least identify her?"
"After you explain how you found out so fast," I said.
"I…can't say. It's…complicated."
Sampson smiled. "Must happen like that a lot in the spy business."
The CIA officer sighed. "You have no idea."
"Let him look, John," I said, and Sampson let Weaver walk a few more feet forward until he could see the body.
Weaver's shoulders slumped and he stood there glumly for several minutes, looking at her. "That's Catherine," he said when he turned around. "And I don't care what that sign says. She was no traitor."
"Thank you," Sampson said. "But again, we're going to have to ask you to leave."
"Don't you want to know about her?" Weaver asked.
"I thought you guys never talk about what you do."
"We don't, usually. This is different."
Toni Alston, one of the district's medical examiners, arrived along with two crime scene specialists. They began photographing the area as we stood off to the side, listening to the CIA officer describe Catherine Hingham as one of the smartest, most dedicated field operatives he'd ever worked with.
"Field operative?" I said. "She looks like a—"
"Suburban housewife or a schoolteacher," Weaver said. "That was the point. She used both those covers, among others."
According to Weaver, Catherine Hingham had been fluent in five languages and worked in a variety of deep undercover settings. All the while, she raised two children, one of whom was born with cerebral palsy.
"Most mothers would have resigned immediately," Weaver said. "But Catherine's husband, Frank, is a speech pathologist and infinitely more qualified to be Emily's primary caregiver. Does he know yet?"
"Not that we're aware of," Sampson said. "And we'd appreciate being the ones to break the news to him."
"Where does he think she is?" I asked.
The CIA officer looked at me appraisingly. "Training in Los Angeles."
"Where was she really?"
"Until the day before yesterday, she was in Nogales, Mexico."
Weaver put up his hands. "Now, that I cannot discuss."
I said, "But given Nogales, we can assume what?"
"Assume nothing. She was on an assignment critical to national security and I'll have to leave it at that or risk prison time." He fished a card from his wallet. "But if you've got other questions, you can call me, day or night, and whatever I can tell you, I will."
"Was she one of yours?" I asked, taking the card. "Part of your team, like the others over by the Suburbans?"
Weaver cocked his head. "You are sharp, Dr. Cross. Yes, Catherine was one of mine and she entered the CIA with several of those officers. We were a team."
"Were you or any other members of your team also in Nogales?" Sampson asked.
The agent's eyes shifted; he blinked. "No. I wish we had been, but Catherine wanted to work this one solo."
"Was she corruptible? Financially? Ideologically?" I asked.
"No!" Weaver said sharply. "One hundred percent no. Catherine was…one of the good people—"
"Dr. Cross?" Toni Alston interrupted.
"Excuse me," I said and went over to the medical examiner.
Alston told me her preliminary examination indicated Hingham had died roughly thirty-six hours earlier from a single, small-caliber gunshot to the head. Her left pinkie and left ring finger were broken.
"Torture?" I asked.
"Possibly. Broken fingers must have been painful. But I'm not seeing any other marks on her so far," Alston said. "I'll know more once I get her back to my lab. And we found this in an inside pocket of her hoodie."
She went over and retrieved an evidence bag. Inside was a white letter-size envelope. Printed on it in a large, garish red font was one word: CONFESSION.
The text was so vivid, Weaver could see it from twenty feet away. "Confession?" he said, coming toward us. "I want to see that right now."
This time I stepped in front of him, my hands way out to my sides as if I were guarding him in a hoops game. "Mr. Weaver, that will not happen without some kind of waiver from the Department of Justice," I said. "There's nothing you or I can do without one. Now, please leave the crime scene or I'll have you forcibly removed."
The CIA officer wanted to paste me; I could see it in his eyes and the bunching of his muscles. But a cooler head prevailed. He nodded and said, "I'm going to see about that right now."
Weaver walked away, shooed the rest of his team back into the Suburbans, and left.
I was about to suggest we get hold of the parking lot's security cameras when my cell phone buzzed in my pocket.
When I saw the text on the screen, I felt instantly exposed. I looked all around and back to where the Suburbans had vanished.
"Alex?" Sampson said.
I held up a finger and then read the text again.
Top of the morning, Dr. C. It's been months, hasn't it? I know I've been playing catchup these last few days. Bree's left Metro PD behind her. How exciting! Jannie's entering her senior year soon. Damon's killing it at Davidson. Ali's becoming quite the young detective. And you're on the new case of the Traitor in the Parking Garage. I swear, if I take my eyes off you for a moment, Alex Cross, your entire life changes.—M
Across the Potomac River, in an Arlington office tower, Bree Stone knocked on the door to the conference room and entered. Five people waited for her at the table. Four were women, two in their late twenties and two in their forties. All were dressed for business. The lone male was silver-haired, craggily handsome, and dressed impeccably in a bespoke blue suit, starched white shirt, and red tie with teal polka dots.
"Bree Stone," he said in a British accent, standing to shake her hand. "Good to finally meet you in person."
"Desmond Slattery," she said, returning the smile. "When did you fly in?"
"I caught the red-eye from Heathrow," he said.
"And here you are, not a hair out of place."
"Got to keep the reputation clean," he said and chuckled.
The petite, fortyish brunette at the head of the table said, "Sit anywhere you'd like, Bree."
Elena Martin, the founder and president of Bluestone Group, was one of the smartest women Bree had ever met, a super-dynamo who needed less than five hours of sleep a night. A former analyst and investigator with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Martin was also an entrepreneurial visionary; after leaving the military, she quickly built Bluestone into one of the top private-security firms in the country by aggressively recruiting and hiring highly respected law enforcement professionals like Bree.
After taking a seat next to Slattery—a former inspector at Scotland Yard—Bree smiled at the other women at the table, whom she'd never seen before.
Elena Martin introduced the other woman in her forties as Patricia Nolan.
"Ms. Nolan is corporate counsel at Pegasus International," Elena Martin said. "Do you know the company?"
Bree shook her head.
Nolan smiled. "Not surprising. We're a hedge fund that prides itself on its low profile. We're incorporated in Delaware with offices on Wall Street and in Paris."
The president of Bluestone said to Bree, "I've told them you speak fluent French with a Caribbean accent."
Bree nodded. "My mother was from Saint Martin."
"I also told them you are one of our star investigators, and they wanted to meet you in person."
"I'm delighted, and I appreciate the confidence, Elena," Bree said. Nolan introduced her to the two younger women, and Bree reached across the table to shake their hands.
- On Sale
- Jun 27, 2023
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Grand Central Publishing