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Alex Cross's first case since joining the FBI has his new colleagues baffled. Across the country, men and women are being kidnapped in broad daylight and then disappearing completely. These people are not being taken for ransom, Alex realizes. They are being bought and sold. And it looks as if a shadowy figure called the Wolf-a master criminal who has brought a new reign of terror to organized crime-is behind this business.
Even as he admires the FBI's vast resources, Alex grows impatient with the Bureau's clumsiness and caution when it's time to move. A lone wolf himself, he has to go out on his own in order to track the Wolf and try to rescue some of the victims while they are still alive. As the case boils over, Alex is in hot water at home too. His ex-fiancee, Christine Johnson, comes back into his life-and not for the reasons he might have hoped.
Table of Contents
A Preview of London Bridges
A Preview of Cross Justice
About the Author
Books by James Patterson
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THE PHIPPS PLAZA shopping mall in Atlanta was a showy montage of pink-granite floors, sweeping bronze-trimmed staircases, gilded Napoleonic design, lighting that sparkled like halogen spotlights. A man and a woman watched the target—"Mom"—as she left Niketown with sneakers and whatnot for her three daughters packed under one arm.
"She is very pretty. I see why the Wolf likes her. She reminds me of Claudia Schiffer," said the male observer. "You see the resemblance?"
"Everybody reminds you of Claudia Schiffer, Slava. Don't lose her. Don't lose your pretty little Claudia or the Wolf will have you for breakfast."
The abduction team, the Couple, was dressed expensively, and that made it easy for them to blend in at Phipps Plaza, in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. At eleven in the morning, Phipps wasn't very crowded, and that could be a problem.
It helped that their target was rushing about in a world of her own, a tight little cocoon of mindless activity, buzzing in and out of Gucci, Caswell-Massey, Niketown, then Gapkids and Parisian (to see her personal shopper, Gina), without paying the slightest attention to who was around her in any of the stores. She worked from an At-a-Glance leather-bound diary and made her appointed rounds in a quick, efficient, practiced manner, buying faded jeans for Gwynne, a leather dop kit for Brendan, Nike diving watches for Meredith and Brigid. She even made an appointment at Carter-Barnes to get her hair done.
The target had style and also a pleasant smile for the salespeople who waited on her in the tony stores. She held doors for those coming up behind her, even men, who went out of their way to thank the attractive blonde. "Mom" was sexy in the wholesome, clean-cut way of many upscale American suburban women. And she did resemble the supermodel Claudia Schiffer. That was her undoing.
According to the job's specs, Mrs. Elizabeth Connolly was the mother of three girls; she was a graduate of Vassar, class of '87, with what she called "a degree in art history that is practically worthless in the real world—whatever that is—but invaluable to me." She'd been a reporter for the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before she was married. She was thirty-seven, though she didn't look much more than thirty. She had her hair in a velvet barrette that morning, wore a short-sleeved turtleneck, a crocheted sweater, slim-fitting slacks. She was bright, religious—but sane about it—and tough when she needed to be, at least according to the specs.
Well, she would need to be tough soon.
Mrs. Elizabeth Connolly was about to be abducted.
She had been purchased, and she was probably the most expensive item for sale that morning at Phipps Plaza.
The price: $150,000.
LIZZIE CONNOLLY FELT LIGHT-HEADED and she wondered if her quirky blood sugar was acting up again.
She made a mental note to pick up Trudie Styler's cookbook—she kind of admired Trudie, who was cofounder of the Rainforest Foundation as well as Sting's wife. She seriously doubted she would get through this day with her head still screwed on straight, not twisted around like the poor little girl in The Exorcist. Linda Blair, wasn't that the actress's name? Lizzie was pretty sure it was. Oh, who cared? What difference did trivia make?
What a merry-go-round today was going to be. First, it was Gwynnie's birthday, and the party for twenty-one of her closest school buddies, eleven girls, ten boys, was scheduled for one o'clock at the house. Lizzie had rented a bouncy house, and she had already prepared lunch for the children, not to mention for their moms or nannies. Lizzie had even rented a Mister Softee ice-cream truck for three hours. But you never knew what to expect at these birthday gigs—other than laughter, tears, thrills, and spills.
After the birthday bash, Brigid had swimming lessons, and Merry had a trip to the dentist scheduled. Brendan, her husband of fourteen years, had left her a "short list" of his current needs. Of course everything was needed A.S.A.P.S. which meant as soon as possible, sweetheart.
After she picked up a T-shirt with rhinestones for Gwynnie at Gapkids, all she had left to buy was Brendan's replacement dop kit. Oh, yeah, and her hair appointment. And ten minutes with her savior at Parisian, Gina Sabellico.
She kept her cool through the final stages—never let them see you sweat—then she hurried to her new Mercedes 320 station wagon, which was safely tucked in a corner on the P3 level of the underground garage at Phipps. No time for her favorite rooibos tea at Teavana.
Hardly anybody was in the garage on a Monday morning, but she nearly bumped into a man with long dark hair. Lizzie smiled automatically at him, revealing perfect, recently whitened and brightened teeth, warmth, and sexiness—even when she didn't want to show it.
She wasn't really paying attention to anyone—thinking ahead to the fast-approaching birthday party—when a woman she passed suddenly grabbed her around the chest as if Lizzie were a running back for the Atlanta Falcons football team trying to pass through the "line of spinach," as her daughter Gwynne had once called it. The woman's grip was like a vise—she was strong as hell.
"What are you doing? Are you crazy?" Lizzie finally screamed her loudest, squirmed her hardest, dropped her shopping bags, heard something break. "Hey! Somebody, help! Get off of me!"
Then a second assailant, the BMW sweatshirt guy, grabbed her legs and held on tight, hurt her, actually, as he brought her down onto the filthy, greasy parking-lot concrete along with the woman. "Don't kick me, bitch!" he yelled in her face. "Don't you fucking dare kick me."
But Lizzie didn't stop kicking—or screaming either. "Help me. Somebody, help! Somebody, please!"
Then both of them lifted her up in the air as if she weighed next to nothing. The man mumbled something to the woman. Not English. Middle European, maybe. Lizzie had a housekeeper from Slovakia. Was there a connection?
The woman attacker gripped her around the chest with one arm and used her free hand to push aside tennis and golf stuff, hurriedly clearing a space in the back of the station wagon.
Then Lizzie was roughly shoved inside her own car. A gauzy, foul-smelling cloth was pushed hard against her nose and mouth, and held there so tightly it hurt her teeth. She tasted blood. First blood, she thought. My blood. Adrenaline surged through her body, and she began fighting back again with all her strength. Punching and kicking. She felt like a captured animal striking out for its freedom.
"Easy," the man said. "Easy-peasy-Japanesy… Elizabeth Connolly."
Elizabeth Connolly? They know me? How? Why? What is going on here?
"You're a very sexy mom," said the man. "I see why the Wolf likes you."
Wolf? Who's the Wolf? What was happening to her? Who did she know named Wolf?
Then the thick, acrid fumes from the cloth overpowered Lizzie and she went lights out. She was driven away in the back of her station wagon.
But only across the street to the Lenox Square Mall—where Lizzie Connolly was transferred into a blue Dodge van that then sped away.
EARLY MONDAY MORNING, I was oblivious to the rest of the world and its problems. This was the way life was supposed to be, only it rarely seemed to turn out so well. At least not in my experience, which was limited when it came to anything that might be considered the "good life."
I was walking Jannie and Damon to the Sojourner Truth School that morning. Little Alex was merrily toddling along at my side. "Puppy," I called him.
The skies over D.C. were partly cloudy, but now and then the sun peeked through the clouds and warmed our heads and the backs of our necks. I'd already played the piano—Gershwin—for forty-five minutes. And eaten breakfast with Nana Mama. I had to be at Quantico by nine that morning for my orientation classes, but it left time for the walk to school at around seven-thirty. And that was what I'd been in search of lately, or so I believed. Time to be with my kids.
Time to read a poet I'd discovered recently, Billy Collins. First I'd read his Nine Horses, and now it was Sailing Alone Around the Room. Billy Collins made the impossible seem so effortless, and so possible.
Time to talk to Jamilla Hughes every day, often for hours at a time. And when I couldn't, to correspond by e-mail and, occasionally, by long flowing letters. She was still working homicide in San Francisco, but I felt the distance between us was shrinking. I wanted it to and hoped she did too.
Meanwhile, the kids were changing faster than I could keep up with them, especially Little Alex, who was morphing before my eyes. I needed to be around him more and now I could be. That was my deal. It was why I had joined the FBI, at least that was part of it.
Little Alex was already over thirty-five inches and thirty pounds. That morning he had on pinstriped overalls and an Orioles cap. He moved along the street as if a leeward wind were propelling him. His ever-present stuffed animal, a cow named Moo, created ballast so that he listed slightly to the left at all times.
Damon was lurching ahead to a different drummer, a faster, more insistent beat. Man, I really loved this boy. Except for his fashion sense. That morning he was wearing long jean shorts, Uptowns, a gray T with an Allen Iverson "The Answer" jersey over it. His lean legs were sprouting peach fuzz, and it looked as if his whole body were developing from the feet up. Large feet, long legs, a youthful torso.
I was noticing everything that morning. I had time to do it.
Jannie was typically put together in a gray T with "Aero Athletics 1987" printed in bright red letters, sweatpant capris with a red stripe down each leg, and white Adidas sneakers with red stripes.
As for me, I was feeling good. Every now and again someone would still stop me and say I looked like the young Muhammad Ali. I knew how to shake off the compliment, but I liked to hear it more than I let on.
"You're awfully quiet this morning, Poppa," Jannie laced her arms around my free arm and said. "You having trouble at school? Your orientation? Do you like being an FBI agent so far?"
"I like it fine," I said. "There's a probationary period for the next two years. Orientation is good, but a lot of it is repetitive for me, especially what they call 'practicals.' Firing range, gun cleaning, exercises in apprehending criminals. That's why I get to go in late some days."
"So you're the teacher's pet already," she said, and winked.
I laughed. "I don't think the teachers are too impressed with me, or any other street cops. How're you and Damon doing so far this year? Aren't you about due for a report card or something?"
Damon shrugged. "We're acing everything. Why do you want to change the subject all the time when it's on you?"
I nodded. "You're right. Well, my schooling is going fine. Eighty is considered a failing grade at Quantico. I expect to ace most of my tests."
"Most?" Jannie arched an eyebrow and gave me one of Nana Mama's "perturbed" looks. "What's this most stuff? We expect you to ace all your tests."
"I've been out of school for a while."
I fed her one of her own lines. "I'm doing the best I can, and that's all you can ask from somebody."
She smiled. "Well, all right, then, Poppa. Just as long as the best you can do puts all As on your next report."
About a block from the school I gave Jannie and Damon their hugs—so as not to embarrass them, God forbid, in front of all their cool-ass friends. They hugged me back and kissed their little brother, and then off they ran. "Ba-bye," said Little Alex, and so did Jannie and Damon, calling back to their brother, "Ba-bye, ba-bye!"
I picked up Little Alex and we headed home; then it would be off to work for soon-to-be Agent Cross of the FBI.
"Dada," said Little Alex as I carried him in my arms. That was right—Dada. Things were falling into place for the Cross family. After all these years, my life was finally close to being in balance. I wondered how long it would last. Hopefully at least for the rest of the day.
NEW-AGENT TRAINING at the FBI Academy in Quantico, sometimes called "Club Fed," was turning out to be a challenging, arduous, and tense program. For the most part, I liked it, and I was making an effort to keep any skepticism down. But I had entered the Bureau with a reputation for catching pattern killers, and I already had the nickname Dragonslayer. So irony and skepticism might soon be a problem.
Training had begun six weeks before, on a Monday morning, with a crew-cut broad-shouldered SSA, or supervisory special agent, Dr. Kenneth Horowitz, standing in front of our class trying to tell a joke: "The three biggest lies in the world are: 'All I want is a kiss,' 'The check is in the mail,' and 'I'm with the FBI and I'm only here to help you.'" Everybody in the class laughed, maybe because the joke was so ordinary, but at least Horowitz had tried his best, and maybe that was the point.
FBI director Ron Burns had set it up so that my training period would last for only eight weeks. He'd made other allowances for me as well. The maximum age for entrance into the FBI was thirty-seven years old. I was forty-two. Burns had the age requirement waived for me and also voiced his opinion that it was discriminatory and needed to be changed. The more I saw of Ron Burns, the more I sensed that he was something of a rebel, maybe because he was an ex-Philadelphia street cop himself. He had brought me into the FBI as a GS13, the highest I could go as a street agent. I'd also been promised assignments as a consultant, which meant a better salary. Burns had wanted me in the Bureau, and he got me. He said that I could have any reasonable resources I needed to get the job done. I hadn't discussed it with him yet, but I thought I might want two detectives from the Washington PD—John Sampson and Jerome Thurman.
The only thing Burns had been quiet about was my class supervisor at Quantico, a senior agent named Gordon Nooney. Nooney ran Agent Training. He had been a profiler before that, and prior to becoming an FBI agent, had been a prison psychologist in New Hampshire. I was finding him to be a bean counter at best.
That morning, Nooney was standing there waiting when I arrived for my class in abnormal psych, an hour and fifty minutes on understanding psychopathic behavior, something I hadn't been able to do in nearly fifteen years with the D.C. police force.
There was gunfire in the air, probably from the nearby Marine base. "How was traffic from D.C.?" Nooney asked. I didn't miss the barb behind the question: I was permitted to go home nights, while the other agents-in-training slept at Quantico.
"No problem," I said. "Forty-five minutes in moving traffic on Ninety-five. I left plenty of extra time."
"The Bureau isn't known for breaking rules for individuals," Nooney said. Then he offered a tight, thin smile that was awfully close to a frown. "Of course, you're Alex Cross."
"I appreciate it," I said. I left it at that.
"I just hope it's worth the trouble," Nooney mumbled as he walked off in the direction of Admin. I shook my head and went into class, which was held in a tiered symposium-style room.
Dr. Horowitz's lesson this day was interesting to me. It concentrated on the work of Professor Robert Hare, who'd done original research on psychopaths by using brain scans. According to Hare's studies, when healthy people are shown "neutral" and "emotional" words, they respond acutely to emotional words, such as cancer or death. Psychopaths register the words equally. A sentence like "I love you" means nothing more to a psychopath than "I'll have some coffee." Maybe less. According to Hare's analysis of data, attempts to reform psychopaths only make them more manipulative. It certainly was a point of view.
Even though I was familiar with some of the material, I found myself jotting down Hare's "characteristics" of psychopathic personality and behavior. There were forty of them. As I wrote them down, I found myself agreeing that most rang true.
Glibness and superficial charm
Need for constant stimulation / prone to boredom
Lack of any remorse or guilt
Shallow emotional response
Complete lack of empathy…
I was remembering two psychopaths in particular: Gary Soneji and Kyle Craig. I wondered how many of the forty "characteristics" the two of them shared, and started putting G.S. and K.C. next to the appropriate ones.
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned away from Dr. Horowitz.
"Senior Agent Nooney needs to see you right now in his office," said an executive assistant, who then walked away with the full confidence that I would be right on his heels.
I was in the FBI now.
SENIOR AGENT GORDON NOONEY was waiting in his small, cramped office in the Administration building. He was obviously upset, which had the desired effect: I wondered what I could have done wrong in the time since we'd talked before class.
It didn't take him long to let me know why he was so angry. "Don't bother to sit down. You'll be out of here in a minute. I just received a highly unusual call from Tony Woods in the director's office. There's a 'situation' going down in Baltimore. Apparently the director wants you there. It will take precedence over your training classes."
Nooney shrugged his broad shoulders. Out the window behind him I could see thick woods, and also Hoover Road, where a couple of agents jogged. "What the hell, why would you need any training here, Dr. Cross? You caught Casanova in North Carolina. You're the man who brought down Kyle Craig. You're like Clarice Starling in the movies. You're already a star."
I took a deep breath before responding. "I had nothing to do with this. I won't apologize for catching Casanova or Kyle Craig."
Nooney waved a hand my way. "Why should you apologize? You're dismissed from the day's classes. There's a helicopter waiting for you over at HRT. You do know where Hostage Rescue Team is?"
"I know where it is."
Class dismissed, I was thinking as I ran to the helipad. I could hear the crack, crack of weapons being fired at the shooting range. Then I was onboard the helicopter and strapping in. Less than twenty minutes later, the Bell helicopter touched down in Baltimore. I still hadn't gotten over my meeting with Nooney. Did he understand that I hadn't asked for this assignment? I didn't even know why I was in Baltimore.
Two agents in a dark blue sedan were waiting for me. One of them, Jim Heekin, took charge immediately, and also put me in my place. "You must be the FNG," he said as we shook hands.
I wasn't familiar with what the letters stood for, so I asked Heekin what they meant as we got into the car.
He smiled, and so did his partner. "The Fucking New Guy," he said.
"What we have so far is a bad deal. And it's hot," Heekin said. "City of Baltimore homicide detective is involved. Probably why they wanted you here. He's holed up in his own house. Most of his immediate family's in there with him. We don't know if he's suicidal, homicidal, or both, but he's apparently taken the family hostage. Seems similar to a situation created by a police officer last year in south Jersey. This officer's family was gathered together for his father's birthday party. Some birthday party."
"Do we know how many are in the house with him?" I asked.
Heekin shook his head. "Best guess, at least a dozen, including a couple of children. Detective won't let us talk to any of the family members, and he won't answer our questions. Most of the people in the neighborhood don't want us here either."
"What's his name?" I asked as I jotted down a few notes to myself. I couldn't believe I was about to get involved in a hostage negotiation. It still didn't make any sense to me—and then—it did.
"His name is Dennis Coulter."
I looked up in surprise. "I know Dennis Coulter. I worked a murder case with him. Shared a bushel of crabs at Obrycki's once upon a time."
"We know," said Agent Heekin. "He asked for you."
DETECTIVE COULTER HAD ASKED FOR ME. What the hell was that all about? I hadn't known we were so close. Because we weren't. I'd met him only a couple of times. We were friendly, but not exactly friends. So why did Dennis Coulter want me here?
A while back, I had worked with Dennis Coulter on an investigation of drug dealers who were trying to connect, and control, the trade in D.C. and Baltimore and everywhere in between. I'd found Coulter to be tough, very egotistical, but good at his job. I remembered he was a big Eubie Blake fan, and that Blake was from Baltimore.
Coulter and his hostages were huddled somewhere inside the house, a gray wood-shingle Colonial on Ailsa Avenue in Lauraville, in the northeast part of Baltimore. Venetian blinds were tightly closed in the windows. What was going on behind the front door was anybody's guess. Three stone steps climbed to the porch, where a rocking chair and a wooden glider sat. The house had recently been painted, which suggested to me that Coulter probably hadn't been expecting trouble in his life. So what happened?
Several dozen Baltimore PD, including SWAT team members, had surrounded the house. Weapons were drawn and, in some cases, aimed at the windows and the front door. The Baltimore police helicopter unit Foxtrot had responded.
I already had one idea. "What do you think about everybody lowering their guns for starters?" I asked the field commander from the Baltimore PD. "He hasn't fired on anybody, has he?"
The field commander and SWAT team leader conferred briefly, and then weapons around the perimeter were lowered, at least the ones I could see. Meanwhile, one of the Foxtrot helicopters continued to hover close to the house.
I turned to the commander again. I needed him on my side. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Have you been talking to him?"
He pointed to a man crouched behind a cruiser. "Detective Fescoe has the honor. He's been on the horn with Coulter for about an hour."
I made a point of walking over to Detective Fescoe and introducing myself. "Mick Fescoe," he said, but he didn't seem overjoyed to meet me. "Heard you were coming. We're fine here."
"This intrusion isn't my idea," I told him. "I just left the force in D.C. I don't want to get in anybody's way."
"So don't," Fescoe said. He was a slender, wiry man who looked as if he might have played some ball at one time. He moved like it.
I rubbed my hand over my chin. "Any idea why he asked for me? I don't know him that well."
Fescoe's eyes drifted toward the house. "Says he's being set up by Internal Affairs. Doesn't trust anybody connected to the Baltimore PD. He knew you'd gone over to the FBI recently."
"Would you tell him I'm here? But also tell him I'm being briefed now. I want to hear how he sounds before I talk to him."
Fescoe nodded, then he called the house. It rang several times before it was picked up.
"Agent Cross has just arrived, Dennis. He's being briefed now," said Fescoe.
"Like hell he is. Get him on the hook. Don't make me shoot in here. I'm getting close to creating a real problem. Get him now!"
Fescoe handed me the phone and I spoke into it. "Dennis, this is Alex Cross. I'm here. I did want to be briefed first."
"This really Alex Cross?" Coulter asked, sounding surprised.
"Yeah, it's me. I don't know too many of the details. Except you say you're being set up by Internal Affairs."
"I don't just say it, I am
- On Sale
- Aug 29, 2023
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing