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By Candice Fox
Read by Federay Holmes
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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2016 by James Patterson
Excerpt from The Black Book © 2017 by James Patterson
Cover design by Gregg Kulick; photograph by Steve Duchesne/Getty Images
Author photograph by Sue Patterson
Cover copyright © 2017 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.
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"IF YOU REACH the camp before me, I'll let you live," the Soldier said.
It was the same chance he allowed them all. The fairest judgment for their crimes against his people.
The young man lay sniveling in the sand at his feet. Tears had always disgusted the Soldier. They were the lowest form of expression, the physical symptom of psychological weakness. The Soldier lifted his head and looked across the black desert to the camp's border lights. The dark sky was an explosion of stars, patched here and there by shifting cloud. He sucked cold desert air into his lungs.
"Why are you doing this?" Danny whimpered.
The Soldier slammed the door of the van closed and twisted the key. He looped his night-vision goggles around his neck and strode past the shivering traitor to a large rock. He mounted it, and with an outstretched arm pointed toward the northeast.
"On a bearing of zero-four-seven, at a distance of one-point-six-two kilometers, your weapon is waiting," the Soldier barked. He swiveled, and pointed to the north-west. "On a bearing of three-one-five, at a distance of one-point-six-five kilometers, my weapon is waiting. The camp lies at true north."
"What are you saying?" the traitor wailed. "Jesus Christ! Please, please don't do this."
The Soldier jumped from the rock, straightened his belt and drew down his cap. The young traitor had dragged himself to his feet and now stood shaking by the van, his weak arms drawn up against his chest. Judgment is the duty of the righteous, the Soldier thought. There is no room for pity. Only fury at the abandonment of honor.
Even as those familiar words drifted through his mind, he felt the cold fury awakening. His shoulders tensed, and he could not keep the snarl from his mouth as he turned to begin his mission.
"We're green-lighted, soldier," he said. "Move out!"
DANNY WATCHED THE Soldier disappear in the brief, pale light before the moon was shrouded by clouds. The darkness that sealed him was complete. He scrambled for the driver's side door of the van, yanked it, pushed against the back window where a long crack ran upward through the middle of the glass. He ran around and did the same on the other side. Panic thrummed through him. What was he doing? Even if he got into the van, the keys were gone. He spun around and bolted into the dark in the general direction of northeast. How the hell was he supposed to find anything out here?
The moon shone through the clouds again, giving him a glimpse of the expanse of dry sand and rock before it was taken away. He tripped forward and slid down a steep embankment, sweat plastering sand to his palms, his cheeks. His breath came in wild pants and gasps.
"Please, God," he cried. "Please, God, please!"
He ran blindly in the dark, arms pumping, stumbling now and then over razor-sharp desert plants. He came over a rocky rise and saw the camp glittering in the distance, no telling how far. Should he try to make it to the camp? He screamed out. Maybe someone on patrol would hear him.
Danny kept his eyes on the ground as he ran. Every shadow and ripple in the sand looked like a gun. He leapt at a dry log that looked like a rifle, knelt and fumbled in the dark. Sobs racked through his chest. The task was impossible.
The first sound was just a whoosh, sharper and louder than the wind. Danny straightened in alarm. The second whoosh was followed by a heavy thunk, and before he could put the two sounds together he was on his back in the sand.
The pain rushed up from his arm in a bright red wave. The young man gripped his shattered elbow, the sickening emptiness where his forearm and hand had been. High, loud cries came from deep in the pit of his stomach. Visions of his mother flashed in the redness behind his eyes. He rolled and dragged himself up.
He would not die this way. He would not die in the dark.
THE SOLDIER WATCHED through the rifle scope as the kid stumbled, his remaining hand gripping at the stump. The Soldier had seen the Barrett M82 rifle take heads clean off necks in the Gaza Strip, and in the Australian desert the weapon didn't disappoint. Lying flat on his belly on a ridge, the Soldier actioned the huge black rifle, set the upper rim of his eye against the scope. He breathed, shifted back, pulled the trigger and watched the kid collapse as the scare shot whizzed past his ear.
What next? A leg? An ear? The Soldier was surprised at his own callousness. He knew it wasn't military justice to play with the traitor while doling out his sentence, but the rage still burned in him.
You would have given us away, he seethed as he watched the boy running in the dark. You would have sacrificed us all.
There was no lesser creature on Earth than a liar, a cheat and a traitor. And bringing about a fellow soldier's end was never easy. In some ways, it felt like a second betrayal. Look what you've forced me to do, the Soldier thought, watching the kid screaming into the wind. The Soldier let the boy scream. The wind would carry his voice south, away from the camp.
The cry of a traitor. He would remember it for his own times of weakness.
The Soldier shifted in the sand, lined up a head shot and followed Danny in the crosshairs as he got up one last time.
"Target acquired," the Soldier murmured to himself, exhaling slowly. "Executing directive."
He pulled the trigger. What the Soldier saw through the scope made him smile sadly. He rose, flicked the bipod down on the end of the huge gun and slung the weapon over his shoulder.
"Target terminated. Mission complete."
He walked down the embankment into the dark.
IT WAS CHIEF Morris who called me into the interrogation room. He was sitting on the left of the table, in one of the investigators' chairs, and motioned for me to sit on the right where the perps sit.
"What?" I said. "What's this all about, Pops? I've got work to do."
His face was grave. I hadn't seen him look that way since the last time I punched Nigel over in Homicide for taking my parking spot. The Chief had been forced to give me a serious reprimand, on paper, and it hurt him.
"Sit down, Detective Blue," he said.
Holy crap, I thought. This is bad. I know I'm in trouble when the Chief calls me by my official title.
The truth is, most of our time together is spent far from the busy halls of the Sydney Police Center in Surry Hills.
I was twenty-one when I started working Sex Crimes. It was my first assignment after two years on street patrol, so I moved into the Sydney Metro offices with more than a little terror in my heart at my new role and the responsibility that came with it. I'd been told I was the first woman in the Sex Crimes department in half a decade. It was up to me to show the boys how to handle women in crisis. The department was broken; I needed to fix it, fast. The Chief had grunted a demoralized hello at me a few times in the coffee room in those early weeks, and that had been it. I'd lain awake plenty of nights thinking about his obvious lack of faith in me, wondering how I could prove him wrong.
After a first month punctuated by a couple of violent rape cases and three or four aggravated assaults, I'd signed up for one-on-one boxing training at a gym near my apartment. From what I'd seen, I figured it was a good idea for a woman in this city to know how to land a swift uppercut. I'd waited outside the gym office that night sure that the young, muscle-bound woman wrapping her knuckles by the lockers was my trainer.
But it was Chief Morris in a sweaty gray singlet who tapped me on the shoulder and told me to get into the ring.
Inside the ropes, the Chief called me "Blue." Inside the office, he grunted.
There was none of the warmth and trust shared by Blue and Pops in the ring here in the interrogation room. The Chief's eyes were cold. I felt a little of that old terror from my first days on the job.
"Pops," I said. "What's the deal?"
He took the statement notepad and a pencil from beside the interview recorder and pushed them toward me.
"Make a list of items from your apartment that you'll need while you're away. It may be for weeks," he said. "Toiletries. Clothes. That sort of stuff."
"Where am I going?"
"As far away as you can get," he sighed.
"Chief, you're talking crazy," I said. "Why can't I go home and get this stuff myself?"
"Because right now your apartment is crawling with Forensics officers. Patrol have blockaded the street. They've impounded your car, Detective Blue," he said. "You're not going home."
I LAUGHED, HARD, in the Chief's face.
"Good work, Pops," I said, standing up so that my chair scraped loudly on the tiles. "Look, I like a good prank as much as anyone but I'm busier than a one-armed bricklayer out there. I can't believe they roped you into this one. Good work, mate. Now open this door."
"This isn't a joke, Harriet. Sit back down."
I laughed again. That's what I do when I'm nervous. I laugh, and I grin. "I've got cases."
"Your apartment and car are being forensically examined in connection with the Georges River Three case," the Chief said. He slapped a thick manila folder on the table between us. It was bursting with papers and photographs, yellow witness reports and pink Forensics sheets.
I knew the folder well. I'd watched it as it was carried around by the Homicide guys, back and forth, hand to hand, a bible of horror. Three beautiful university students, all brunettes, all found along the same stretch of the muddy Georges River. Their deaths, exactly thirty days apart, had been violent, drawn-out horrors. The stuff of mothers' nightmares. Of my nightmares. I'd wanted the Georges River Three case badly, at least to consult on it due to the sexual violence the women had endured. I'd hungered for that case. But it had been given to the parking-spot thief Detective Nigel Spader and his team of Homicide hounds. For weeks I'd sat at my desk seething at the closed door of their case room before the rage finally dissipated.
I sank back into my chair.
"What's that got to do with me?"
"It's routine, Blue," the Chief said gently. He reached out and put his hand on mine. "They're just making sure you didn't know."
"We found the Georges River Killer," he said. He looked at my eyes. "It's your brother, Blue. It's Sam."
I SLAMMED THE door of the interrogation room in the Chief's face and marched across the office to the Homicide case room. Dozens of eyes followed me. I threw open the door and spotted that slimeball Nigel Spader standing before a huge corkboard stuffed with pinned images, pages, sketches. He flinched for a blow as I walked over but I restrained myself and smacked the folder he was holding out of his hands instead. Pages flew everywhere.
"You sniveling prick," I said, shoving a finger in his face. "You dirty, sniveling…dick hole!"
I was so mad I couldn't speak, and that's a real first for me. I couldn't breathe. My whole throat was aflame. The restraint faltered and I grabbed a wide-eyed Nigel by the shirtfront, gathering up two fistfuls of his orange chest hair as I dragged him to the floor. Someone caught my fist before I could land a punch. It took two more men to release my grip. We struggled backwards into a table full of coffees and plates of muffins. Crockery shattered on the floor.
"How could you be so completely wrong?" I shouted. "How could you be so completely, completely useless! You pathetic piece of—"
"That's enough!" The Chief stepped forward into the fray and took my arm. "Detective Blue, you get a fucking hold of yourself right now or I'll have the boys escort you out onto the street."
I was suddenly free of all arms and I stumbled, my head pounding.
And then I saw it.
The three girls, their autopsy portraits beside smiling, sunlit shots provided by the families. A handprint on a throat. A picture of my brother's hand. A map of Sydney, studded with pins where the victims lived, where their families lived, where my brother lived, where the bodies of the girls were found. Photographs of the inside of my brother's apartment, but not as I knew it. Unfamiliar things had been pulled out of drawers and brought down from cupboards. Porn. Tubs and tubs of magazines, DVDs, glossy pictures. A rope. A knife. A bloody T-shirt. Photographs of onlookers at the crime scenes. My brother's face among the crowd.
In the middle of it all, a photograph of Sam. I tugged the photo from the board and unfolded the half of the image that had been tucked away. My own face. The two of us were squeezed into the frame, the flash glinting in my brother's blue eyes.
We looked so alike. Detective Harry Blue and the Georges River Killer.
I'VE HAD TWO cigarettes in the past ten years. Both of them I smoked outside the funeral home where a fallen colleague's body was being laid to rest. I stood now in the alleyway behind headquarters, finishing off the third. I chain-lit the fourth, sucked hard, exhaled into the icy morning. Despite the chill, my shirt was sticking to me with sweat. I tried to call my brother's phone three times. No answer.
The Chief emerged from the fire exit beside me. I held up a hand. Not only did I not want to talk, I wasn't sure that I could if I tried. The old man stood watching as I smoked. My hands were shaking.
"That…that rat…that stain on humanity Nigel Spader is going to go down for this," I said. "If it's my last act, I'm going to make sure he—"
"I've overseen the entire operation," the Chief said. "I couldn't tell you it was going on, or you might have alerted Sam. We let you carry on, business as usual. Nigel and his team have done a very good job. They've been onto your brother for about three weeks now."
I looked at my chief. My trainer. My friend.
"I've thought you've been looking tired," I sneered. "Can't sleep at night, Boss?"
"No," he said. "As a matter of fact, I can't. I haven't slept since the morning the Homicide team told me of their suspicions. I hated lying to you, Blue."
He ground a piece of asphalt into the gutter with his heel. He looked ancient in the reflected light of the towering city blocks around us.
"Where is my brother?"
"They picked him up this morning," he said. "He's being interrogated by the Feds over at Parramatta headquarters."
"I need to get over there."
"You won't get anywhere near him at this stage." The Chief took me by the shoulders before I could barge past him through the fire door. "He's in processing. Depending on whether he's cooperative, he may not be approved for visitors for a week. Two, even."
"Sam didn't do this," I said. "You've got it wrong. Nigel's got it wrong. I need to be here to straighten all this out."
"No, you don't," he said. "You need to get some stuff together and get out of here."
"What, just abandon him?"
"Harry, Sam is about to go down as one of the nastiest sexual sadists since the Backpacker Murderer. Whether you think he did it or not, you're public enemy number two right now. If the press gets hold of you, they're going to eat you alive."
I shook another cigarette out of the packet I'd swiped from Nigel's desk. My thoughts were racing.
"You aren't going to do yourself any favors here, Harry. If you go around shouting in front of the cameras the way you did in that case room just now, you're going to look like a lunatic."
"I don't give a shit what I look like!"
"You should," the Chief said. "The entire country is going to tune in for this on the six o'clock news. People are angry. If they can't get at Sam, they're going to want to get at you. Think about it. It's fucking poetry. The killer's sister is a short-tempered, frequently violent cop with a mouth like a sailor. Better yet, she's in Sex Crimes, and has somehow managed to remain completely oblivious to the sexual predator at the family barbecue."
He took a piece of paper from the breast pocket of his jacket and handed it to me. It was a printout of a flight itinerary. He untucked a slim folder from under his arm and put it in my hands. I opened it and saw it was a case brief, but I couldn't get my eyes to settle on it for more than a few seconds. I felt sick with fear, uncertainty.
"What's this?" I asked.
"It's an Unexplained Death case out on a mining camp in the desert near Kalgoorlie," the Chief said.
"I'm Sex Crimes, Pops. Not cleanup crew."
"I don't care what you are. You're going. I pulled some strings with some old mates in Perth. The case itself is bullshit, but the area is so isolated, it'll make the perfect hideout."
"I don't want to go to fucking Kalgoorlie! Are you nuts?"
"You don't get a choice, Detective. Even if you don't know what's best for you right now, I do. I'm giving you a direct order as your superior officer. You don't go, I'll have you locked up for interrogative purposes. I'll tell a judge I want to know if you knew anything about the murders and I'll throw away the key until this shitstorm is over. You want that?"
I tried to walk away. The Chief grabbed my arm again.
"Look at me," he said.
I didn't look.
"There is nothing you can do to help your brother, Blue," the old man said. "It's over."
I DIDN'T KNOW which genius from Sydney Metro packed my bags for me, but they'd managed not to find the suitcases in the wardrobe of my tiny apartment in Woolloomooloo. I exited the baggage claim area in Kalgoorlie airport with three black garbage bags of possessions in tow. From what I could see in the pale light of the car-hire lot, some of the items I'd asked for were there, and quite a few I hadn't, too. I recognized my television remote among the fingerprint-dusted mess.
The numbness that had descended on me about my brother's arrest began after my first glass of wine on the flight. Now it was affecting my movements. I realized I had been standing at the hire car counter in a silent daze when the attendant clicked his fingers loudly in my face, snapping me back to reality.
"Miss? Hey! Miss!"
I frowned, reached out and pushed over a canister of pencils standing on the edge of the counter. The pencils scattered over his keyboard.
"So you're awake, then," he sighed dramatically, gathering up the pencils.
"What's the name?"
He did some tapping on the keyboard. Printed and presented me with a demoralizingly long form to fill in and a set of car keys.
"Blue and Whittacker. You've got the little red Camry."
"I am," said a voice from behind me. I turned around as a lean, broad-shouldered man was carefully setting down two immaculate leather Armani suitcases on their little golden feet. He put out a long-fingered hand. "Edward. You must be Harriet?"
"Harry. You're the driver?" I asked.
"I'm your partner, actually," he said, smiling.
I CALLED THE Chief first, sitting in the backseat of the car, to tell him I'd arrived and see if there was any more news on Sam. There was no word on my brother. I called a contact I had in the Feds, and when that route failed, I called some journalists I could trust to see if they had the inside scoop. A cocoon of silence had descended around Sam. By the time I'd given up calling his friends and neighbors, only hearing the same shock and horror I already felt myself, Whittacker had driven us out of the town and onto the highway.
"Everything all right?" he asked.
"You just mind the road, Whitt, and leave me to me."
"Actually, I prefer Edward," he said.
"You say 'actually' a lot."
His brow creased in the rearview mirror. I leaned on the windowsill and watched the featureless desert rolling by. When I couldn't stand thinking about my brother being in prison any longer I climbed through the gap between the seats and landed in the front beside Whitt. On the floor I found his copy of the case brief, which was bigger than mine.
"Remind me why I'm working with a partner," I said. "I never requested a partner."
"I had a back injury about a month ago. Compressed a disc in my lower spine. So I'm on light duties. I used to be Drug squad, but there's a lot of kicking down doors in Drug squad, as you can imagine." He smiled.
"Give me the rundown on this case, Whitt," I said. "Where are we headed?"
"To the very edge of nowhere."
"We were just there." I jerked my thumb toward the highway behind us, the tiny town in the middle of a sandy abyss.
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