By David Ellis
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Not even Emmy’s ex-boyfriend, field agent Harrison “Books” Bookman, will believe her that hundreds of kidnappings, rapes, and murders are all connected. That is, until Emmy finds a piece of evidence he can’t afford to ignore. More murders are reported by the day–and they’re all inexplicable. No motives, no murder weapons, no suspects. Could one person really be responsible for these unthinkable crimes?
INVISIBLE is James Patterson’s scariest, most chilling thriller yet.
THIS TIME I know it, I know it with a certainty that chokes my throat with panic, that grips and twists my heart until it’s ripped from its mooring. This time, I’m too late.
This time, it’s too hot. This time, it’s too bright, there’s too much smoke.
The house alarm is screaming out, not the early-warning beep but the piercing you’re-totally-screwed-if-you-don’t-move-now squeal. I don’t know how long it’s been going off, but it’s too late for me now. The searing oven-blast heat within the four corners of my bedroom. The putrid black smoke that singes my nostril hairs and pollutes my lungs. The orange flames rippling across the ceiling above me, dancing around my bed, almost in rhythm, a taunting staccato, popping and crackling, like it’s not a fire but a collection of flames working together; collectively, they want me to know, as they bob up and down and spit and cackle, as they slowly advance, This time it’s too late, Emmy—
The window. Still a chance to jump off the bed to the left and run for the window, the only part of the bedroom still available. The enemy is cornering me, daring me, Go ahead, Emmy, go for the window, Emmy—
This is my last chance, and I know, but don’t want to think about, what happens if I fail—that I have to start preparing myself for the pain. It will just hurt for a few minutes, it will be teeth-gnashing, gut-twisting agony, but then the heat will shrivel off my nerve endings and I’ll feel nothing, or better yet I’ll pass out from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Nothing to lose. No time to waste.
The flames hit my flannel comforter as my legs kick over to the floor, as I bounce up off the mattress and race the one-two-three-four steps to the window. A girlish, panicky squeal escapes my throat, like when Daddy and I used to play chase in the backyard and he was closing in. I lower my shoulder and lunge against the window, a window that was specifically built to not shatter, and ringing out over the alarm’s squeal and the lapping of the flames is a hideous roar, a hungry growl, as I bounce off the window and fall backward into the raging heat. I tell myself, Breathe, Emmy, suck in the toxic pollution, don’t let the flames kill you, BREATHE—
Breathe. Take a breath.
“Damn,” I say to nobody in my dark, fire-free room. My eyes sting from sweat and I wipe them with my T-shirt. I know better than to move right away; I remain still until my pulse returns to human levels, until my breathing evens out. I look over at the clock radio, where red fluorescent square numbers tell me it’s half past two.
Dreams suck. You think you’ve conquered something, you work on it over and over and tell yourself you’re getting better, you will yourself to get better, you congratulate yourself on getting better. And then you close your eyes at night, you drift off into another world, and suddenly your own brain is tapping you on the shoulder and saying, Guess what? You’re NOT better!
I let out one, conclusive exhale and reach for my bedroom light. When I turn it on, the fire is everywhere. It’s my wallpaper now, the various photographs and case summaries and inspectors’ reports adorning the walls of my bedroom, fires involving deaths in cities throughout the United States: Hawthorne, Florida. Skokie, Illinois. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Plano, Texas. Piedmont, California.
And, of course, Peoria, Arizona.
Fifty-three of them in all.
I move along the wall and quickly review each one. Then I head to my computer and start opening e-mails.
Fifty-three that I know of. There are undoubtedly more.
This guy isn’t going to stop.
I’M HERE for the Dick. That’s not what I actually say, but that’s what I mean.
“Emmy Dockery for Mr. Dickinson, please.”
The woman parked at a wedge of a desk outside Dickinson’s office is someone I’ve never met. Her nameplate says LYDIA and she looks like a Lydia: cropped brown hair and black horn-rimmed glasses and a prim silk blouse. She probably writes sonnets in her spare time. She probably has three cats and likes Indian food, only she would call it cuisine.
I shouldn’t be so catty, but it annoys me that there’s someone new, that something has changed since I left, so I feel like a stranger in an office where I faithfully labored for almost nine years.
“Did you have an appointment with the director, Ms.…Dockery?”
Lydia looks up at me with a satisfied smirk. She knows I don’t have an appointment. She knows because they called up from the lobby to see if I was authorized to enter. She’s just reminding me that I’ve only gotten this far as some kind of courtesy.
“The director?” I ask with faux confusion. “You mean the executive assistant director for the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch?”
Okay, I can be a bitch. But she started it.
I wait Lydia out, because I wouldn’t be standing here if the Dick hadn’t agreed to see me.
He makes me wait, which is so like him, but twenty minutes later I’m in the office of the Dick. Dark wood walls and trophy photographs on the walls, diplomas, ego stuff. The Dick has a tremendous and entirely undeserved opinion of himself.
Julius Dickinson, he of the ever-present tan and comb-over, the extra ten pounds, the smarmy smile, gestures to a seat for me. “Emmy,” he says, thick with false pity in his voice but his eyes bright. Already, he’s trying to get a rise out of me.
“You haven’t returned any of my e-mails,” I say, taking a seat.
“That’s right, I haven’t,” he says, making no attempt to justify the stiff-arm he’s given me. He doesn’t have to. He’s the boss. I’m just an employee. Hell, I’m not even that at the moment; I’m an employee on unpaid leave whose career is hanging by a string, whose career could be destroyed by the man sitting across from me.
“Have you at least read them?” I ask.
Dickinson removes a silk cloth from his drawer and cleans his eyeglasses. “I got far enough to see that you’re talking about a series of fires,” he says. “Fires that you think are the work of a criminal genius who has managed to make them appear unrelated.”
“What I did read in its entirety,” he adds with a sour note, “was a recent article from the Peoria Times, the local newspaper in a small Arizona town.” He lifts up a printout of the article and reads from it. “‘Eight months after her sister’s death in a house fire, Emmy Dockery is still on a crusade to convince the Peoria Police Department that Marta Dockery’s death was not an accident, but murder.’ Oh, and this part: ‘Doctor Martin Lazerby, a deputy medical examiner with the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office, insists that all forensic evidence points to death by an accidental fire.’ And this is my favorite, a quote from their police chief: ‘She works for the FBI,’ he said. ‘If she’s so sure it’s murder, why doesn’t she get her own agency to investigate it?’”
I don’t respond. The article was crap; they took the police’s side and didn’t even give a fair airing of my evidence.
“It makes me wonder about you, Emmy.” He puts his hands together and collects his thoughts, like he’s about to lecture a child. “Have you been getting therapy, Emmy? You badly need help. We’d love to have you return, of course, but only after we’ve seen some progress in your treatment.”
He can hardly suppress a smile as he says this. He and I have history; he was the one who had me brought up on disciplinary charges for inappropriate conduct that got me suspended—I’m sorry, in bureaucratic-legal lingo, placed on unpaid administrative leave. I’ve still got seven weeks before I return, and even then, it will be a sixty-day probationary period. If I hadn’t had a recent death in the family, I probably would have been canned.
He knows the real reason why I was brought up on charges. We both do. So he’s taunting me here. I can’t let him get under my skin. That’s what he wants. He wants me to blow up, so he can tell the brass that I’m not ready to return.
“Somebody’s running around the country killing people,” I say. “That should concern you whether I’m in therapy or not.”
His eyes narrow. He doesn’t have to do anything here; I’m the one who wants something. So this is his idea of torture, sitting there tight-lipped and stubborn.
“Concentrate on your rehabilitation, Emmy. Leave the law enforcement to us.”
He keeps repeating my name. I’d rather he spit on me and called me names. And he knows that. This is the passive-aggressive version of waterboarding. I wasn’t sure he’d see me today, unannounced. Now, I realize, he probably couldn’t wait to see me, to shut me down, to laugh directly in my face.
He and I have a history, like I said. Here’s the short version: he’s a pig.
“This isn’t about me,” I insist. “It’s about a guy who—”
“Are you feeling angry right now, Emmy? Do you feel like you’re in control of your emotions?” He looks me over with mock concern. “Because your face is getting red. Your hands are balled up in fists. I’m concerned you still can’t contain your emotions. We have counselors on staff, Emmy, if you need someone to talk to.”
He sounds like a late-night commercial for chemical dependency. We have counselors waiting to talk to you. Call now!
There’s no point in proceeding further, I realize. It was dumb of me to come. Dumb of me to expect he’d listen to me in person. I was screwed before I got here. I get up and turn to leave.
“Good luck with your therapy,” he calls out. “We’re all rooting for you.”
I stop at the door and look back at him.
“This man is killing people all over the country,” I say, one hand on his office door. “And it’s not that we’re chasing him and can’t catch him. It’s that we don’t even know there’s someone to catch. It’s like he doesn’t even exist to us.”
Nothing from the Dick but his cupped hand, a tiny wave good-bye. I slam the door behind me.
I WAIT until I leave the building before I blow off any steam. I won’t give Dickinson the satisfaction of seeing me angry, and I won’t give him fodder to use against me when I try to return to my job in seven weeks. (The truth is, I probably already have; he can point to my e-mails, and however he chooses to paint the conversation we just had, as proof that I’m “obsessive” and also committing the greatest sin of a research analyst—acting like an agent, forgetting my place in the hierarchy.)
When I settle into the return drive on I-95, I give my steering wheel a couple of good hard smacks, which doesn’t make me feel any better and, if I’m not careful, could leave me with broken fingers. “Asshole!” I yell. That makes me feel better; the only thing I might hurt is my vocal cords. “Asshole! Asshole!”
Dickinson owns me now, after the disciplinary hearing; I’ll be on probation, and if I make one false step—or if the Dick even claims I misstepped—I’m done. Oh, watching him smirk at me back there, pretending that I’m in need of therapy. We both know my only disciplinary problem was that I pushed his hand off my knee every time he put it there, I said no to late dinners, and even laughed at the idea of a weekend getaway, just the two of us. It was the laugh, I think, that finally did it. By the next morning, he had concocted some story to the upper brass that I was harassing him, and becoming more and more aggressive. Add in words like erratic and volatile—words that are easy to say and hard to disprove—and voilà, you are a discipline problem.
But really, Emmy, get a grip. Solve the problem. I have to do something. I can’t give up on this. I know these cases are connected. But I’m stuck. I can’t go outside the chain of command, and the Dick is shutting me down, not on merit but out of spite. I’m stuck. What can I do? What else can I possibly—
I let my foot off the pedal, for no particular reason, other than pissing off the SUV driver behind me—he is following me a little close—while I think it over. No. No. It’s the last thing I should do.
But, yes, it might be my only way in. So I have to try it.
Because if I’m right about this guy, he’s getting better and better at killing. And nobody even knows he exists.
Recording # 1
August 21, 2012
Welcome to my world. You can call me Graham, and I’ll be your host.
You don’t know me. My anonymity is a testament to my success. As I’m sitting here talking to you, I’m not famous. But I will be when these recordings are released, whenever it is that I decide to release them. Then I’ll be on the front page of every newspaper and magazine around the world. They will write books about me. They will study me at Quantico. Websites will be devoted to me. Movies made.
You will never know my real identity—“Graham” may or may not be my real name—so whatever you know about me will come from these audio files, my oral diary. You will know what I let you know. I may tell you everything and I may leave some things out. I may tell you the truth and I may lie to you.
A bit about me to start: I was sufficiently athletic to play high school sports but not enough to go beyond. I got good grades in school but not enough for the Ivy League, so it was a state university for me. I absolutely detest onions of any variety, cooked or raw, a vile weed no matter its iteration. I can speak three languages, though my French borders on the embarrassing at this point. But I can say no onions please, or the functional equivalent of that phrase, in no less than eleven languages, having recently added Greek and Albanian to my tally. I prefer your basic pop music to classical or adult alternative or heavy metal, but I don’t admit that to my friends. I once ran a half marathon in one hour and thirty-seven minutes. I don’t exercise regularly now. And I never, ever drink light beer.
Two of the things I just told you aren’t true.
But this one is: I’ve killed a lot of people. More than you’d believe.
And you? I don’t even know who you are, the person to whom I’m addressing this narrative: a sentient being, perhaps the spirit of one of my victims? A tiny demon perched on my shoulder, whispering dark thoughts in my ear? An FBI profiler. An enterprising reporter. Or just an ordinary citizen listening to these audio files on the Internet someday, hovering over the computer with lascivious fascination, hungry for any morsel, any kernel of information, any insight whatsoever into The. Mind. Of. A. Madman!
Because, of course, that’s what you’ll do—you’ll try to understand me, diagnose me. It makes you feel comfortable and safe to do that, to assign me to some nice, neat category. You’ll ascribe my behavior to a mother who didn’t show me love, a traumatic event that redefined me, a mental illness in the DSM-IV.
But here is what you’ll find instead: I could be chatting you up in a neighborhood bar, or trimming the hedges next door, or sitting next to you on a jet from New York to Los Angeles, and you would never even notice me. Oh, in hindsight, sure, you might pick out something about me that seemed off. But in real time, when I’m standing right in front of you or sharing an armrest or seated across from you, I would make no impression on you. I would be a set of data collected and immediately discarded. I would seem, in a word, normal. And do you know why?
No, you don’t know why. But I do. It’s why I’m so good at what I do. And why nobody will ever catch me.
TWO YEARS after it opened, the bookstore in downtown Alexandria still looks fresh and new, red brick with wood trim painted powder blue. The name THE BOOK MAN is stenciled across the front sidewalk window, which is filled with the latest releases, fiction and nonfiction, but focusing more these days on children’s and picture books.
I take a breath before I enter the store, debating yet again the wisdom of this decision. But I’ve hardly slept the last two nights and I’m out of other ideas.
I push through the door to the ding! of a cheerful bell, and I see him before he sees me. He is wearing a plaid short-sleeved shirt untucked, blue jeans, and moccasins. It gives me a start to see him not wearing a suit and tie. It smells like new books and coffee in here. Sedate, peaceful.
He’s behind the counter, ringing up a customer, when he sees me. He does a double take, then remembers to smile at the customer and throws a bookmark into a plastic bag. When the customer’s on her way, he comes around. He wipes his hands on his jeans and stops short of me.
“Hello, Books.” Figure I might as well start.
“Emmy.” Just hearing his voice, deep and commanding but somehow gentle, unleashes so many memories from behind the mental dam I’ve erected. The gentle part is a tad more so, I notice, probably because the last time we saw each other, eight months ago, I was burying my sister. He showed up the morning of the visitation to console me. I’m not sure how he even knew about it—maybe my mother called him; I never asked—but there he was, never pushing, just fading into the woodwork, making himself available if I needed him. He always had the capacity to surprise me.
“Thanks for agreeing to see me,” I say.
“I didn’t. You just showed up.”
“Then thanks for not kicking me out.”
“I haven’t had the chance to kick you out. I still might.”
It’s the first time I’ve smiled in weeks. Books looks great. Fit and relaxed. Happy. The jerk. Isn’t he supposed to be miserable after our breakup?
“Are you still a coffee snob?” I ask.
Now he smiles, a little, grudgingly. Lots of memories there. Even on a government employee’s salary, he always sprang for the good stuff, ordering Italian beans over the Internet. “Of course,” he says. “Are you still a neurotic pain in the ass with a big heart?”
That’s a fair assessment. Books knows me better than anybody. Still, the small talk between us is awkward, forced. I might as well cut to the chase.
“I need your help,” I tell him.
“NO,” BOOKS says, shaking his head furiously. “No way, Em.”
“I want you to hear me out on this one, Books.”
“You’ve never heard anything like this.”
“As I said, or think I said out loud, no thank—”
“This one gets my vote as the most evil prick in the entire history of the world. I’m not exaggerating for effect, Books.”
“I’m not interested. I’m not. I’m not,” he repeats, as if trying to convince himself.
We’re in the warehouse next to his store, surrounded by books stacked on tables or sorted on shelves. I found a small space on one of the tables, where I stacked up fifty-three case files for his review. “It’s all right there,” I say. “Just read it.”
Books runs a hand through his sandy hair. It’s longer these days, bangs hanging over his forehead and curls in the back, now that he’s a private citizen. He paces in a circle while he collects his thoughts.
“I don’t work for the Bureau anymore,” he says.
“You could come back for this,” I answer. “They never wanted you to leave.”
“This is more an ATF assignment, anyway—”
“Then we’ll do a joint task force—”
“This is not my problem, Em!” He swipes at a table and knocks a stack of paperbacks to the floor. “You know how hard this is for me, to have you suddenly show up like this? And to ask me for help? This isn’t fair.” He jabs a finger at me. “This is not fair.”
He’s right. It’s not fair. But this isn’t about fair.
Books stands there for about two minutes, hands on his hips, shaking his head. Then he looks over at me. “Dickinson shut you down?”
“Yes, but not on merit. He never even read the files. You know the Dick.”
Books allows for that. “And did you tell him why you care about this?” he asks.
“It’s obvious why I care. A man is killing—”
“That’s not what I mean, Em, and you know it.” He walks toward me now. “Does Dickinson know that your sister died in a fire of suspicious origin eight months ago in Peoria, Arizona?”
“That has nothing to do with this.”
“Ha!” A mock laugh, hands flying up. “This has nothing to do with it!”
“It doesn’t. Whether my sister was one of the victims or not doesn’t change the fact that a serial—”
Books doesn’t want to hear it. He waves me off, la-la-la-I’m-not-listening.
“Emmy, I’m sorry about Marta. You know I am. But—”
“If you’re sorry, then you’ll help me.” As soon as I say the words, even I realize I’ve crossed a line. Books has moved on with his life. He’s done being a special agent. He sells books for a living now.
I put up my hands. “Strike that last comment,” I say. “I shouldn’t have come here, Books. I’m…I’m sorry.”
I walk out the same way I came in, without a word from my former fiancé.
Recording # 2
August 22, 2012
I love the smell of fresh flowers in the evening. It’s such a summer-unique smell, isn’t it? It makes this whole bedroom feel…what’s the word…new. New and fresh. Fresh paint on the walls, pink with lemon accents. That bed is new, too, a queen-size bed with an old-fashioned canopy—is that like what you had when you were a little girl, Joelle? Was this a congratulatory present from Mom and Dad on the new townhouse, the new start on life?
Oh, never mind. I’m afraid Joelle can’t talk right now.
The rest of this is positively quaint. The antique vanity, probably dusted off and hauled up from the parents’ basement. A nice reading chair. Best of all, the makeshift nightstand, straight out of a college dorm room, two milk crates stacked, with a small alarm clock and that vase of fresh lilies.
A girl on a budget, with some taste but not yet the money to showcase it. A starter townhouse for a girl starting a professional life.
I wish I could take a picture of this room and show it to you, because this, right here, is the essence of America, the essence of hope, of starting small but dreaming big things. Joelle Swanson had grand plans. She dreamed of taking her criminal justice degree and becoming a big crime-fighter, maybe first a cop but someday the FBI or even the covert world of the CIA. Impressive stuff. Big things!
Anyway, I’d like to take a photograph for you, but I don’t see how that will work later, how it would fit in with my narrative. I’d be too afraid you’d look at the pictures and ignore my words. I’m sure a psychiatrist would say that I limit these sessions to my oral testimony because I want to control every aspect of it; I only want you to know what I let you know, to see what I let you see.
PRAISE FOR JAMES PATTERSON
"The prolific Patterson seems unstoppable."--USA Today
- "James Patterson knows how to sell thrills and suspense in clean, unwavering prose."--People
- "Patterson's novels are sleek entertainment machines, the Porsches of commercial fiction, expertly engineered and lightning fast."--Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Feb 24, 2015
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Grand Central Publishing