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By Maxine Paetro
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Start Your Engines
LORI KIMBALL HAD three rules for the death race home.
One, no brakes.
Two, no horn.
Three, beat her best time by ten seconds, every day.
She turned off her phone, stowed it in the glove box.
On your mark. Get set.
She slammed the visor into the upright position, shoved the Electric Flag’s cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” into the CD drive, pressed the start button on the timer she wore on a cord around her neck.
Lori stepped on the gas, and her Infiniti EX crossover shot up the ramp and onto the 110 as if it could read her mind.
It was exactly ten miles from this freeway entrance to her home in Glendale. Her record was twelve minutes and ten seconds, and that record was made to be broken.
The road was dry, the sun was dull, traffic was moving. Conditions were perfect. She was flying along the canyon floor, the roadway banked on both sides, forming a chute through the four consecutive Figueroa tunnels.
Lori rode the taillights of the maroon 2013 Audi in front of her, resisting the urge to mash the horn with the palm of her hand—until the Audi braked to show her he wasn’t going to budge.
Her ten-year-old boy, Justin, did this when he didn’t want to go to school. He. Just. Slowed. Down.
Lori didn’t have to put up with this. She peeled out into the center lane, maneuvered around an old Ford junker in her way. As soon as she passed the Audi, she wrenched the wheel hard to the left and recaptured the fast lane.
This was it.
At this point, three lanes headed north on the 110, and the lane on the far left exited and merged into the 5. Lori accelerated to seventy, flew past a champagne-colored ’01 Caddy that was lounging at sixty to the right of her, and proceeded to tear up the fast lane.
As she drove, Lori amped up the decibels, and the eleven-speaker Bose pounded out the blend of rock and urban blues. Lori was now in a state that was as close to soaring flight as she could get without actually leaving the ground.
Lori was six minutes into the race and had passed the halfway mark. She was gaining seconds on her best time, feeling the adrenaline burn out to the tips of her fingers, to the ends of her hair.
She was in the hot zone, cruising at a steady seventy-two when a black BMW convertible edged into her lane as if it had a right to be there.
Lori wouldn’t accept that.
No brakes. No horn.
She flashed her lights, then saw her opening, a sliver of empty space to her right. She jerked the wheel and careened into the middle lane, her car just missing the Beemer’s left rear fender.
Oh, wow, the look on the driver’s face.
“It’s a race, don’tcha get it,” she screamed into the 360-degree monitor on the dash. She was lost in the ecstasy of the moment when the light dimmed and the back end of a gray panel van filled her windshield.
Where had that van come from? Where?
Lori stood on the brakes. The tires screeched as the Infiniti skidded violently from side to side, the safety package doing all it could to prevent the inevitable rear-end smashup.
The brakes finally caught at the last moment—as the van pulled ahead.
Lori gripped the wheel with sweating hands, hardly believing that there had been no crash of steel against steel, no lunge against the shoulder straps, no shocking blunt force of an airbag explosion. She heard nothing but the wailing of the Electric Flag and the rasping sound of her own shaky breaths.
Lori snapped off the music, and with car horns blaring around her, she eased off the brakes, applied the gas. Sweat rolled down the sides of her face and dripped from her nose.
Yes, she called it the death race home, but she didn’t want to die. She had three kids. She loved her husband. And although her job was boring, at least she had a job.
What in God’s name was wrong with her?
“I don’t know,” she said to herself. “I just don’t know.”
Lori took a deep, sobering breath and stared straight ahead. The Beemer slowed to her speed, and the driver, his face contorted in fury, yelled silently at her through his closed window.
To her surprise, Lori started to cry.
THE TWO MEN sat in the satin-lined jewel box of a room warmed by flaming logs in the fireplace and the flickering light of the flat-screen.
The older man had white hair, strong features, catlike amber eyes. That was Gozan.
The younger man had dark hair and eyes so black they seemed to absorb light. He was very muscular, a man who took weight lifting seriously. His name was Khezir.
They were visiting this paradise called Los Angeles. They were on holiday, their first visit to the West Coast, and had rented a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, palatial by any standard. This opulent three-bedroom cottage was as pretty as a seashell, set at the end of a coral pink path and surrounded by luxuriant foliage: banana trees and palms.
It was unlike anything in their country, the landlocked mountainous triangle of rock called the kingdom of Sumar.
Now, the two men held the experiences of this hedonistic city like exotic fruit in the palms of their hands.
“I am giving you a new name,” said Gozan Remari to the rounded blond woman with enormous breasts. “I name you Peaches.”
There were no juicy women quite like Peaches in Sumar. There weren’t many in Southern California either, where women with boylike shapes were considered desirable and ones like Peaches were called fat.
As if that were bad.
“I don’t like you,” Peaches said slowly. She was doing her best to speak through the numbing effect of the drugs she had consumed in the very expensive champagne. “But…”
“But what, Peaches? You don’t like me, but what? You are having a very good time?”
Gozan laughed. He was an educated man, had gone to school in London and Cambridge. He knew six languages and had founded a boutique merchant bank in the City of London while serving on numerous boards. But as much as he knew, he was still mystified by the way women allowed themselves to be led and tricked.
Peaches was lying at his feet, “spread-eagled,” as it was called here, bound by her wrists and ankles to table legs and an ottoman. She was naked except for dots of caviar on her nipples. Well, she had been very eager for champagne and caviar a couple of hours ago. No use complaining now.
“I forget.” She sighed.
Khezir got up and went to the bedroom just beyond the living room, but he left the double doors open so that the two rooms merged into one. He lay back and lounged on the great canopied bed beside the younger woman who was the daughter of the first. This woman was even sexier than her mother: beautifully fleshy, soft to the touch, with long blond hair.
Khezir ran his hand up her thigh, amazed at the way she quivered even though she could no longer speak.
He said to the young woman, “And I will call you…Mangoes. Yes. Do you like that name? So much better than what your pigs of parents called you. Adri-anna.” He said it again in a high, affected voice. “Aaay-dreee-annnna. Sounds like the cry of a baby goat.”
Khezir had cleansed many towns of people who reminded him of animals. Where he came from, life was short and cheap.
The girl moaned, “Pleease.”
Khezir laughed. “You want more, please. Is that it, Mangoes?”
In the living room, the CD changer slipped a new recording into the player. The music was produced by a wind instrument called a kime. It sounded like an icy gale blowing through the clefts in a rock. The vocalist sang of an ocean he had never seen.
Gozan said, “Peaches, I would prefer that you like me, but as your Clark Gable said to that hysterical bitch in Gone with the Wind, ‘Frankly, I don’t give a shit.’”
He leaned over her, slapped her face, then pinched her between her legs. Peaches yelped and tried to get away.
“It’s very good, isn’t it? Tell me how much you like it,” said Gozan.
There was a loud pounding at the door.
“Get lost,” Gozan shouted. “You’ll have to come back for the cart.”
A man’s voice boomed, “LAPD. Open the door. Now.”
SPRINKLERS SHOT BROKEN jets of water over the lush gardens in back of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Night was coming on. I was armed, waiting behind a clump of shrubbery a hundred feet from bungalow six when I heard footsteps come up the path. Captain Luke Warren of the LAPD, with a gang of six cops right behind him, came toward me.
For once, I was glad to see the LAPD.
I had information that Gozan Remari and Khezir Mazul, two heinous cruds who were suspected of multiple rapes but hadn’t been charged, were behind door number six. But unless there was evidence of a crime in progress, I had no authority to break in.
I called out to the captain, presented my badge, handed him my card, which read Jack Morgan, CEO, Private Investigations.
Warren looked up at me, said, “I know who you are, Morgan. Friend of the chief. The go-to guy for the one percent.”
“I get around,” I said.
Cops don’t like private investigators. PIs don’t play by the same rules as city employees, and our clients, in particular, hire Private because of our top-gun expertise and our discretion.
Captain Warren was saying, “Okay, since you called this in. What’s the story?”
“A friend of mine in the hotel business called me to say that these two were bounced out of the Constellation for assaulting a chambermaid. They checked in here two hours ago. I’ve got a couple of spider cams on the windows, but the drapes are closed. I’ve made out two male voices and one female over the music and the TV, but no calls for help.”
“And your interest in this?”
I said, “I’m a concerned citizen.”
Warren said, “Okay. Thanks for the tip. Now I’ve got to ask you to step back and let us do our job.”
I told him of course, no problem.
And it was no problem.
I wasn’t on assignment and I didn’t want the credit. I was glad to be there for the takedown.
Captain Warren sent two men around the bungalow to cover the back and garden exits, then he and I went up the steps and across the veranda to the front door along with two detectives from the LAPD. Warren knocked and announced.
We heard a shout through the front door; sounded like “Go away.”
I said, “He said, ‘Come in,’ right?”
The captain smiled to show me that he liked my way of thinking. Then he swiped the lock with a card key, cocked his leg, and kicked in the door.
It blew open, and we all got a good view of what utter depravity looks like.
THE LIVING ROOM was done up in silk and satin in the colors peach and cream. Logs flickered in the marble fireplace, and atonal music oozed from the CD player. Empty glasses, liquor bottles, and many articles of clothing littered the floor. A room-service cart had been tipped over, spilling food and broken china across the Persian carpet.
I served for three years as a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps. I’ve been trained to spot a glint of metal or a puff of smoke on the ground from ten thousand feet up. In the dark.
But I didn’t need pilot’s training to recognize the filth right in front of me.
The man called Gozan Remari sat in an armchair with the hauteur of a prince. He looked to be about fifty, white-haired, with gold-colored, catlike eyes. Remari wore an expensive handmade jacket, an open pin-striped shirt, a heavy gold watch, and nothing else—not even an expression of surprise or anger that cops were coming through the door.
A nude woman lay at his feet, bound with silk ties. Her arms and legs were spread, and she was anchored hand and foot to an ottoman and a table, as if she were a luna moth pinned to a board. I saw bluish handprints on her skin, and food had been smeared on her body.
There was an arched entrance to my right that led to a bedroom. And there, in plain sight, was Khezir Mazul. He was naked, sitting up in bed, smoking a cigar. A young woman, also naked, was stretched on her back across his lap, her head over the side of the bed. A thin line of blood arced across her throat, and I saw a steak knife on the cream-colored satin blanket.
From where I stood in the doorway, I couldn’t tell if the women were unconscious or dead.
Captain Warren yanked Gozan Remari to his feet and cuffed his hands behind his back. He said, “You’re under arrest for assault. You have the right to remain silent, you piece of crap.”
The younger dirtbag stood up, let the woman on his lap roll away from him, off the bed and onto the floor. Khezir Mazul was powerfully built, tattooed on most of his body with symbols I didn’t recognize.
He entered the living room and said to Captain Warren in the most bored tones imaginable, “We’ve done nothing. Do you know the word con-shen-sul? This is not any kind of assault. These women came here willingly with us. Ask them. They came here to party. As you say here, ‘We aim to please.’”
Then, he laughed. Laughed.
I stepped over the room-service cart and went directly to the woman lying near me on the floor. Her breathing was shallow, and her skin was cool. She was going into shock.
My hands shook as I untied her wrists and ankles.
I said, “Everything is going to be okay. What’s your name? Can you tell me your name?”
Cops came through the back door, and one of them called for medical backup. Next, hotel management and two guests came in the front. Bungalow six was becoming a circus.
I ripped a cashmere throw from the sofa and covered the woman’s body. I helped her into a chair, put my jacket around her shoulders.
She opened her eyes and tears spilled down her cheeks. “My daughter,” the woman said to me. “Where is she? Is she—”
I heard the cop behind me say into the phone, “Two females; one in her forties, the other is late teens, maybe early twenties. She’s bleeding from a knife wound to her neck. Both of them are breathing.”
I said to the woman whose name I didn’t know, “Your daughter is just over there, in the bedroom. She’s going to be all right. Help is coming.”
Clasping the blanket to her body, the woman turned to see her daughter being assisted to her feet.
A siren wailed. The woman reached up and pressed her damp cheek to mine. She hugged me tight with her free arm.
“It’s my fault. I screwed up,” she said. “Thank you for helping us.”
I DRAFTED BEHIND the ambulance as it sped the two assault victims through traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard toward Ocean Memorial Hospital. When the bus turned inland, I headed north until I reached Pacific Coast Highway, the stretch of road that follows the curve of the coastline and links Malibu to Santa Monica.
My Lamborghini can go from zero to ninety in ten seconds, but this car draws cops out of nowhere, even when it’s just quietly humming at a red light. So I kept to the speed limit, and within twenty minutes, I was within sight of home.
My house is white stucco and glass, shielded from the road by a high wall that is overgrown with vines and inset with a tall wrought-iron gate.
I stopped the car, opened my window, and palmed the new biometric recognition plate; the gate slid open. I pulled the Lambo into my short, tight parking spot and braked next to the blue Jag.
As the gates rolled closed behind me, I got out, locked up the car, checked behind the wall and within the landscaping for anything that didn’t belong. Then I went up the walk to the door.
I’d bought this place with Justine Smith about five years ago. Later, after we’d broken up for the third, impossibly painful time, I bought out Justine’s share of the house. It was comfortable, convenient to my office, just right—until a year ago last May.
On that night, I came back home from a business trip abroad to find another former girlfriend, Colleen Molloy, dead in my bed, her skin still warm. She’d been shot multiple times at close range, and the killer was a pro. The way he’d fixed it, all of the evidence pointed to me as the shooter.
I was charged with Colleen’s murder and jailed, but after some extraordinary work by Private investigators, I was free—if you could call it that. I still opened my door every night expecting that something horrible had happened while I was out.
I put my eye up to the iris reader beside the front door, and when the lock clacked open, I went inside.
A woman’s blue jacket and a sleek leather handbag were on a chair, and her fragrance scented the air as I walked through the main room. I followed the light coming through the house, crossed the tile floors in my gumshoes, then peered through the glass doors that opened out to the pool.
She was doing laps and didn’t see me. That was fine.
The door glided open under my hand and I went out again into the warm night. I took a chaise, and as the ocean roared at the beach below, I watched her swim.
Her lovely shape was up-lit by the pool lights. Her strong arms stroked confidently through the water, and her flip turns had both grace and power.
I knew this woman so well.
I trusted her with everything. I cared about her safety and her happiness. I truly loved her.
But I was unable to see my future with her—or anyone. And that was a problem for Justine. It was why we didn’t live together. And why we’d made no long-term plans. But we had decided a couple of months ago that we were happy seeing each other casually. And at least for now, it was working.
She reached the end of the pool and pulled herself up to the coping. Her skin glistened as light and shadow played over her taut body. She sat with her legs in the pool, leaned forward, and wrung out her long, dark brown hair.
“Hey,” I said.
She started, said, “Jack.”
Then she grabbed a towel and wrapped herself in it, came over to the chaise, and sat down beside me. She smiled.
“How long have you been sitting here?”
I put my hand behind her neck and brought her mouth to mine. I kissed her. Kissed her again. Released her and said, “I just got here. I’ve had a night you won’t believe.”
“I want to take a shower,” Justine said. “Then tell me all about it.”
THE HOT SPRAY beat on me from six showerheads. Justine lightly placed her palms on my chest, tipped her hips against mine.
She said, “Someone needs a massage. I think that could be you.”
Okay to whatever she wanted to do. It wasn’t just my car that could go from zero to ninety in ten seconds. Justine had that effect on me.
As she rubbed shower gel between her hands, sending up the scent of pine and ginseng, she looked me up and down. “I don’t know whether to go from top to bottom or the other way around,” she said.
“Dealer’s choice,” I said.
She was laughing, enjoying her power over me, when my cell phone rang. My fault for bringing it into the bathroom, but I was expecting a call from the head of our Budapest office, who’d said he’d try to call me between flights.
Justine said, “Here’s a joke. Don’t take the call.”
I looked through the shower doors to where my phone sat at the edge of the sink. The caller ID read Capt. L. Warren. It could only be about the rapists the cops had just arrested at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
“The joke’s on me,” I said to Justine. “But I’ll make it quick.”
I caught the call on the third ring.
“Morgan. We’ve got problems with those pukes from Sumar,” the captain said. “They have diplomatic immunity.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
He gave me the bad news in detail, that Gozan Remari and Khezir Mazul were both senior diplomats in Sumar’s mission to the UN.
“They’re on holiday in Hollywood,” Warren told me. “I think we could ruin their good time, maybe get them recalled to the wasteland they came from, but the ladies won’t cooperate. I’m at the hospital with them now. They wouldn’t let the docs test for sexual assault.”
“That’s not good,” I said. I put up a finger to let Justine know I would be just a minute.
“Mrs. Grove is very grateful to you, Morgan,” the captain was telling me. “I, uh, need a favor. I need you to talk to her.”
“Sure. Put her on,” I said.
Justine turned off the water. Pulled a towel off the rack. “She’s in a room with her daughter,” Warren said. “Listen, if you step on the gas, you could be here in fifteen minutes. Talk to them face-to-face.”
I told Justine not to wait up for me.
By way of an answer, she screwed in her earbuds and took her iPod to the kitchen. She was intensely chopping onions when I left the house.
It was a twenty-minute drive to Ocean Memorial and it took me another ten to find the captain. He escorted me to a beige room furnished with two beds and a recliner.
Belinda Grove was sitting in the recliner, wearing the expensive clothes I’d last seen strewn around bungalow six: a black knit dress, fitted jacket, black stiletto Jimmy Choos. She’d also brushed her hair and applied red lipstick. And although I’d never met her before today, now that she’d cleaned up, I recognized her from photos in the society pages.
This was Mrs. Alvin Grove, on the board of the Children’s Museum, daughter of Palmer Tiptree, of Tiptree Pharmaceuticals, and mother of two.
Now I understood. She would rather die than let anyone know what had happened to her daughter and herself.
MRS. GROVE STOOD when I came into the room, took my hands in hers, said, “Mr. Morgan, I want to thank you again.”
“My name is Jack. Of course, you’re welcome, Mrs. Grove. How are you doing?”
“Call me Belinda. I’m ashamed that I was so easily tricked,” she said, sitting down again. “We were having lunch in the Polo Lounge, my daughter and I, and we were talking about the Children’s Museum. Those monsters were at the next table and overheard us. Gozan said he had many children and would be interested in making a donation to the museum.
“Jack. They were well dressed. Looked well-heeled. They said they were diplomats. They were staying at the hotel. Gozan said he wanted to talk about making a sizable donation to the museum, but he wanted to discuss it privately.
“I ignored any warning signs. We went to the bungalow. I said that we couldn’t stay long, but a short chat would be all right. We are always looking for benefactors, Jack. They used Rohypnol or something damned close to it. It was in the champagne.”
“Don’t blame yourself. These are dangerous men.”
“I hope never to see either one of them again unless they’re hanging by their balls over a bonfire. I don’t think that Adrianna will be physically scarred, but emotionally…Emotionally, my daughter is in terrible shape.”
Terrible shape was an understatement. Adrianna had been drugged, probably raped, maybe by both men, and Khezir Mazul had stroked her throat with a serrated blade. She would have a scar across her neck for as long as she lived.
I hated to think what would have happened to these women had I not been tipped off, if we hadn’t shown up when we did.
I started to reason with Mrs. Grove, explain to her that if she made a complaint, Remari and Mazul might be deported.
She shook her head, warning me off.
Praise for Private Berlin:
"Patterson has always been an expert at conceiving chilling villains of his many pieces, and with Sullivan, he achieves new heights of terror....Private Berlin will make you a fan of this wide-ranging and marvelously conceived series, if you are not one already."--Bookreporter.com
- "Private Berlin promises fast paced action and unforgettable characters with plot twists and deceptions worthy of any James Patterson novel."--Examiner.com
- On Sale
- Jan 26, 2015
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Little, Brown and Company