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By Tim Green
Read by Scott Brick
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- Audiobook Download (Abridged) $18.99 CAD
- ebook (Digital original) $5.99 $7.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 12, 2006. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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ALSO BY TIM GREEN
The Red Zone
The Letter of the Law
The Fourth Perimeter
The Fifth Angel
The First 48
The Dark Side of the Game
A Man and His Mother:
An Adopted Son's Search
For Illyssa, because,
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.
—SHAKESPEARE (SONNET 43)
With each book I write, there are many people who help with essential steps along the way, and I would like to thank them.
Esther Newberg, the world's greatest agent and my dear friend, for her wisdom. Ace Atkins, my dependable, brilliant, and talented friend, for his careful reading and fantastic ideas. Jamie Raab, my publisher and editor, who polished this story with unmatched insight and creativity. And the women who worked with her, Frances Jalet-Miller and Kristen Weber, as well as all my friends at Warner Books: Larry Kirshbaum, who's no longer with the company but who, along with Rick Wolff, gave me my chance; Maureen Egan; Chris Barba and the best sales team in the world; Emi Battaglia; Karen Torres; Martha Otis; Paul Kirschner; Flag Tonuzi; Jim Spivey; Mari Okuda; Fred Chase; and Tina Andreadis, who we'll all miss.
My parents, Dick and Judy Green, who taught me to read and to love books and who spent many hours scouring this manuscript so that it shines.
A special thanks to former FBI agent John Gamel, who helped me navigate the inner workings of the FBI and kindly took my calls at all hours of the day.
This is a work of fiction. My good friends Mike Allen, Tim McCarthy, Bucky Lainhart, Darlene Baker, and Scott Congel inspired me as I was creating the characters called Mike Allen; Tim McCarthy; Darlene Baker; Bucky, his wife, Judy, and their son, Russell; and the Scott King character and his wife, Emily. But all of the other characters, including in particular James King, are completely fictitious and the product of my imagination. Scott Congel's real father, Bob Congel, is in fact a close personal friend who has treated me and my family like part of his, with great kindness and generosity. He is no closer to the James King character than I am to Thane Coder. So any resemblance of these characters to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental. In addition, some real locations and actual events are mentioned, but they, too, are used fictitiously.
Stars, hide your fires:
Let not light see my black and deep desires:
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears; when it is done, to see.
—Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 4, lines 50–53
Most people would have done what I did," I say.
"That's an interesting statement," the shrink says. "Most people wouldn't kill a man who was like a father to them."
"He wasn't my father."
"I said 'like' a father."
I nod, because that was true.
"I guess, when you think about it," I say, "he gave me things my father never did. But he also took things away. Money. My wife. My child. Things no father would take from his son."
"What do you mean he took them?" the shrink asks. "That's not what really happened, is it? He didn't take your wife."
"Okay. He moved the pieces on the board in a way that they were taken from me. It's all the same."
"And he deserved to die for that? The others too?"
"I don't know if any of them deserved it," I say. "But it happened, and it would have happened that way to most people. All I wanted was to get ahead, to have my wife, my family."
"Do you really think so, Thane?" he says, looking at his notebook. "That most people would have done what you did?"
"I thought you shrinks are supposed to ask about my mother. What's all this father stuff?"
"You didn't kill your mother-figure," he says in his deep rumble of a voice.
"Or my wife."
He raises an eyebrow. "Why do you mention her? Did she deserve what happened?"
I look away and sigh. "In a way. Maybe. I dream about it. Her."
"Freud said dreams are wishes," he says. "Look. Let's just start from the beginning. How about you tell me the story?"
"So you can write a book?" I ask.
"So I can help."
"You think I need help?" I say. "I'm a shell. A couple of weeks and I'm out of here. This is just going through the motions. I'll walk out of here and I won't even be Thane Coder anymore. Mike Jenkins. That's the name they're giving me. They've got me a job in a metal shop. Fifteen dollars an hour and a little two-bedroom box outside Bozeman. You ever been to Montana?"
"You're still a person," he says. "You still need to cope."
Over the past six years, I've seen other guys like this. Other shrinks with dreams of helping those beyond help, or who didn't have what it takes to have an officeful of books and leather furniture. They never really help. They just dredge up the muck that's better off left at the bottom. But there's something about the idea of finally being free that makes me giddy enough to want to talk, even about this.
"How far back?" I ask with a sigh.
"What about the storm?" he says, tapping his pen. "Tell me about that. From what I've seen in your file, that seems to push a button."
On the other side of the brick and bars, I hear the sound of the scum spilling out into the yard below. Hooting in the cold air. Their words drift skyward in smoky puffs. The noise of their obscene banter is muffled by the dirty window of the small square room. I look out and see the wall. At its crest the empty eye of the tower stares down. A guard bent over a book. His rifle nowhere in sight.
I think about Jessica, my wife. Pretty dark hair. Sexy in a girlish way. She was a sweet girl. That's how I'd describe her, what she was, even after everything. Even though I blame her.
How could a prison head doctor understand that?
"I never thought I could kill anyone," I say, then I sigh again because I know I'm going to tell him, even though it won't do either of us any good.
"I don't mean in a rage, or in self-defense, or in a war. I mean killing someone to get what you want. That wasn't me. But even the best of us has that bad side. I'm not saying I was the best, but I wasn't the worst either. I think I was about where most people are. It was the situation."
He's taking notes now, the blue Bic rolling across the yellow paper. One fat finger is constricted by a college ring with an orange stone. The gold inscriptions are flattened and worn. I'm used to the shrinks writing when I talk, but not this way, in big looping letters that list to one side.
"What?" he says.
"Nothing. I loved my wife. Jessica. I loved the men too. The ones I killed. You believe that? But love, hate. Sometimes they're close, right?''
The shrink smiles like I just figured out that the world is round. He grabs his college ring and gives it a twist.
"And, I wanted the money. Real money. Yeah, I know. I had millions coming to me. But the more money you have, the more you want. You own a mansion on the beach in Tortola, you want a private plane to get there. Then your neighbor takes you out on his yacht and you think how nice that'd be. Maybe a chopper to get there quicker. It never ends. Trust me, when I started out, I thought if I could make a hundred thousand dollars a year with a mortgage-free house I'd have everything I ever needed. That was before Jessica, though."
"You blame that on her, then?" he asks. "This greed."
"I grew up where you didn't try to pass things off on other people," I say. "But you listen, then you figure out how much of it was me and how much her. You'll get it."
I take a deep breath and say: "Six years ago, but it doesn't seem that long. It was a bad night."
"In what way?"
"In the way that after that, it was all downhill," I say. "The weather too, this cold rain and wet snow that fell straight down. The sky was black."
I WAS SHIVERING. SLUSH PLASTERED the hair to my head in ropes. Melted snow dripped off my nose into my mouth. I wiped it with the tip of my finger and smelled the dead animal smell of the batting gloves on my hands. My black Windbreaker rubbed quietly against my jeans while the rubber boots that came up almost to my knees squeaked softly.
My truck waited out on the road, outside the boundaries of the ten-thousand-acre hunting preserve, far enough away so that no one would see me come or go. It was a two-and-a-half-mile walk to the lodge. I call it a lodge, but that doesn't give you the real picture.
The place was as big as the man who created it. A monster laid out nearly three hundred feet end to end. Something out of Disney World. Out of scale. Logs as thick as manholes and longer than telephone poles stacked three stories high. The roof, two-inch-thick rough-cut cedar planks, towered above. The main chimney stood fifty feet tall. The foundation boulders were the size of small cars.
Inside there was fifty thousand square feet of space with beds for forty people. European antiques, ancient firearms, Remington bronze casts, mounted animal heads, and century-old paintings filled every open space. There was a movie theater, a hot tub room, a catering kitchen, an elevator, and a wine cellar with catacombs like an English castle.
I walked to the bridge and stood where you could see the house across the half-mile-wide man-made lake while a bizarre flash of lightning brightened the sky. There was no thunder, only silence so strong that it hummed in my ears. In that blink of light, I saw a truck left outside next to the dark brown lodge. It looked like a Matchbox toy next to the building. Through the falling slush, a dull yellow glow leaked from the upper windows.
The lodge had been built on a peninsula and I had to go another mile, around the back end of the lake and into the woods guarding the main entrance with only the sound of my squeaking boots to keep me company. A circular cobblestone drive led upward to the main entrance and then back down past a small apple orchard and to an underground parking garage. I trudged up, my boots slapping in the slush, then descended a hidden set of wrought iron stairs that led to a lower level beneath the elevated drive. The space was dank with the smell of wet stone.
The double doors—like all the doors in the lodge—were salvaged from an eleventh-century Persian fortress. They were arched, bound and studded in bronze with bolts and hinges meant to keep invaders out. But this was upstate New York, a rural place where people left the keys in their cars and their front doors unlocked. The security system at the lodge was to protect against stealth, not force. Every entrance electronically monitored by Eye Pass.
Family members and a handful of close friends—I was considered something in between—all had their retina patterns programmed in the system. I punched the button and put my eye to the small opening, staring into the green light until there was a small sharp beep.
The lock clicked and the light on the keypad went from red to green. One muted rumble of thunder rolled overhead as I slipped inside.
When I shut the door, I could hear the blood pulsing in my temples. Water dripped off me onto the stone floor. On the wall I saw my picture, among all the photos from hunts over the years. I was posed between James King and his son Scott. Ben was there too, the four of us with shotguns, a black Lab, and big smiles, a double row of broken mallards beneath our waders.
Past the picture wall were racks of camouflage hunting clothes. Jackets, pants, and hats. A wall full of boots. Blaze orange for deer season. Leafy green for turkey. Pale yellow striped with brown cattails for duck. Ahead stood three mounted wolves fighting a moose. Another mount showed a bear doing battle with a bull elk.
A yellow light spilled out from the hot tub room. The sound of the churning water made my stomach queasy. I eased my way close enough so I could peer through the bars in the ancient doors. Plush ruby red towels and steam curling up from the bubbling cobblestone pool, but no one in the tub. I slipped inside and checked the showers.
I steadied myself against the rough granite wall and breathed the warm damp air. When the pounding in my head subsided, I headed for the family hunting lockers, looking for the one with "Scott" painted on a wood placard along with a birch tree and a wolverine. I knew the combination. Why wouldn't I? Scott and I had been good friends since college. He taught me to hunt.
The door clicked and swung open. The light went on. The bone-handled knife was on a shelf. Scott traded a pair of jeans for the razor-sharp blade with a Mozambican poacher while he was on a safari. I unsheathed it, eased the door shut, and crept up the back stairs and then through the kitchen and all the way to the third level.
I tiptoed down the wide hallway under the gaze of all those dead animals. The door to the master suite was locked, but I knew how to open it from when Scott and I would sneak girls out to the lodge and take turns as to who got to sleep with their date on the big bed with the coyote pelt comforter. College days long past.
I worked carefully, stopping every few seconds to listen for sounds from within. But then I was in there with the stuffed ducks, the stone fireplace, and the leather furniture. The big cherry bed rested diagonally in the middle of the room with that comforter thrown over the footboard. I looked down at the man who did more to shape my life than my own father.
James slept on his back. I blinked and moved my face close to his to be sure it was him even though I knew. It was the first time I'd ever seen the man with his eyes closed and his mouth open wide beneath that round red nose. His brow was lined from years of high stakes, but his thick jowls were slack. The corners of his eyes were creased with sleep and age and tufts of his white mane showed thin and graying against the snowy pillow.
My heart beat fast and hard and my throat felt like it was going to close. My eyes moved off his face. His red and white striped pajamas were held closed by pearly white buttons.
I concentrated on the second button from the top while I raised the long blade and a feather pillow from the bed. I forced myself to focus on the stabbing motion of the knife, not murder. Just punching the blade through a pajama top the way you'd stab a piece of rotten fruit with a pencil when you were a kid.
A carnival of thoughts washed through my head. Everything I'd have if I did it. Everything I'd lose if I didn't. It all pointed to Johnny G, the union boss, and the deal he cut, not with me, but with Jessica. If we helped get rid of James, and made it look like his own son had done the deed, then I would control King Corp. I could cut a deal with the union, use their men and their contractors to build Garden State Center.
They'd get their money, I'd get the power of running things, and Jessica and I would get kickbacks. Cash. We agreed to do it, and once you cut a deal with this union, there was no going back. It was my life, or James's. When I got to that realization and it still wasn't enough, I thought of Teague, my infant son. I thought of his shiny white coffin, the size of a small tool chest, and I just did it. I plunged that knife and smothered his rage with the pillow at the same time.
James King jerked back and forth under my full weight, but only for half a minute and that surprised me. I guess I expected something more from a man who had moved so many other men's lives like chess pieces. I took the pillow away slowly. But the bone-handled knife was buried to its hilt and the dark scarlet stain had already spread beyond the pajamas and onto the sheets.
I SAID SCOTT TAUGHT ME TO HUNT, but it was the times with James that taught me how to kill. Two weeks before he died, we were out with a banker, Bart Swinson. I didn't usually get into the financing aspect, but Bart was a big college football fan who actually remembered my glory days at Syracuse. James thought it would be a good thing to have me around.
The early light was weak, but I could see the smoke of James's breath in the damp dawn air. James adjusted his gun barrel. I knew he was nudging the red dot of his laser-sight just a bit to where the aorta joined the heart. That was the perfect shot.
He inhaled deep and caressed the trigger. It was his if he wanted it, but instead, he relaxed his finger and without moving anything else, nudged an elbow into the banker's ribs. Bart inhaled sharply and swung his .300 Ruger in a broad arc that startled the deer. I bit the inside of my cheek and blinked at the sound of the shot. The deer tumbled, but then jumped up and started to run.
"Missed," James said.
"No," Swinson said. "It went down."
"Missed the kill shot," I said.
We were decked out in new Cabela's camouflage jackets, pants, and hats, sitting in padded chairs lined up along the south opening of a European game stand. A twelve-by-twelve-foot tower of stone, twenty feet high with a cedar shake roof and a propane heater. The tower stood in the middle of a clover field that was flanked on either side by wooded slopes. It was early in the season for killing deer, but Cascade was a ten-thousand-acre preserve surrounded by a high fence that let us operate under a different set of rules.
We descended the tower's stairs and went to the spot in the field where the deer had been. A spray of crimson blood was spattered across the clover. James knelt down and picked a blade. He held it up in the early dawn light and sniffed it.
"Gut shot," he said.
I pursed my lips and shook my head.
"What?" Bart said.
"Bad way to go," I said.
"I thought these things took them down," Bart said, hefting his nickel-plated .300.
"Got to hit them right," James said, patting him on the back. "Don't worry, we'll find it."
"You sure?" Bart said. He was from New York City and it was his first deer.
"Want me to call Bucky?" I asked.
"No," James said to me. "He's showing those marine biologists from Harvard his spawning program. They can't figure out how he does it."
"The guy who built the lodge?" Bart asked. "The guy I met last night who takes care of the place?"
"He's the best hunter I've ever seen," James said. "Russia. South America. Africa. No one better."
"I thought he was a builder."
"He's everything," I said, walking in the direction the deer had run and kneeling down to pick my own cloverleaf.
We went up a hillside and through a thick stand of saplings shot through with brambles. By the time we reached the top of the ridge, Bart had to stop, hands on his knees to catch his breath. In front of us was a field, bisected by massive power lines.
James broke out of the trees and stood over the banker, patting his back. The sun wasn't up yet, but the sky was blue. I knew by the look on James's face that he wanted me to push on, so I started off, keeping my eyes on the blood trail, but listening to James.
"Thane's got a plan," he said to Bart. "We should be able to get our steel in by the end of the week."
"You cut a deal with the unions?" Bart said, his eyes wide.
"No," James said, "we're going around them, or over them, I guess. Thane got his hands on some Sikorskys. We're airlifting in the steel."
"Well . . . that's—"
"Great news, right?" I said, stopping so they could catch up, then continuing on the trail.
"Listen," James said, patting the banker hard on the back, "I get the feeling your people were ready to call in the outstanding loans we already have. I know they didn't believe a project this big could really happen. But this will put us officially 'under construction.' That'll lock in our tenants. My son Scott's got signed leases with Home Depot, JC Penney, Lord & Taylor, BJ's, Circuit City, Costco, and Target. Stores that have never even been on the same site before."
"The biggest project ever," I said. "Every banker from London to Singapore will be camping outside our door."
We had reached the other edge of the field and looked down into a gloomy tree-filled ravine. I put up my hand.
I crouched down and grabbed Bart by the collar, pulling him behind a thick oak tree. The loamy scent of dirt and dead leaves filled the air.
"He's right there," James said in a whisper. "Get your gun up."
Bart fumbled with the .300, bringing it to his shoulder. His arms were shaking.
"Where?" he said in a hiss, looking over the top of his scope.
James peeked around the edge of the tree.
"Just this side of the stream," he whispered. "Next to that big black stump."
Bart nodded and aimed his rifle.
"Safety off," James said, flicking the gun's safety off for him.
Bart nodded again. James raised his own gun, aiming it. I saw him pull the trigger almost the instant Bart shot. The deer went over like a duck in a shooting gallery. James dropped his gun to his side and Bart jumped up, whooping and hugging us, slapping high-fives.
"God damn," Bart said. "I did it."
We half walked, half slid down into the bottom of the ravine. James took out his hunting knife and slit open the animal's belly. Bart lost some color and looked away.
"Nice one," James said. "Big day for you, Bart. First kill and a huge new deal with King Corp."
"We thought we'd give you a chance to do the deal," James said. "You're our biggest bank relationship."
James cut the deer's throat and spilled the guts out onto the ground. He sliced off a wedge of the liver and held it up to Bart.
"First deer," he said. "You gotta eat the liver."
"Two billion dollars at one hundred over LIBOR," I said, gripping the banker's bony shoulder through the jacket. LIBOR was the lending rate set by the London banks between themselves. One hundred points over that was merely one percent.
Bart looked from the scarlet meat to James and made a laughing sound.
"I can't do that."
James shrugged and, dangling the meat, said, "Then you're out. You gotta do this though."
"That's what they do?" Bart said, blinking at him. "Really?"
Bart took it from him and nibbled at it, wincing.
"The whole thing," I said, slapping his back. "Come on."
Bart put it in his mouth and swallowed, choking, but keeping it down. James and I laughed.
"Come on," James said, "you don't get the deal, but you got the buck. This'll look great over your fireplace."
James grabbed one of the deer's hind legs. I grabbed the other and we started dragging it to the top of the ravine, sticks snapping beneath our boots. Bart stood there watching.
"We can do a deal," Bart said, scrambling to catch up and helping himself up by grasping the trunks of small trees.
"No, you're out," James said, looking back.
We were at the top of the ridge now and breathing hard. James looked out over the open field at the orange glow in the eastern sky and inhaled deeply.
"You know what I love?" James said, nudging the carcass with his boot. "Bucky's boys will clean this up, butcher it like they do at the grocery store, and it'll show up on the table in a week or so with a good bottle of Meritage."
"Why am I out?" Bart asked.
James looked off at the sky again, then back at Bart and said, "Because I gave you a chance and you don't want it. The Bank of Switzerland will take it and be glad."
James shook Bart's hand.
"Congratulations," he said. "Bucky will be along to get you. Let him know if you want it mounted. He's got a great taxidermist."
James turned and started to walk away across the field, leaving us.
"James," Bart said, raising his voice. "I can't do one hundred over LIBOR. No one can. Two fifty I can do, maybe."
James kept walking.
"It's the biggest retail development in the world," I said. "It's thirty minutes from New York City and it's ours. It's happening."
"You guys are overextended," Bart said, his voice as clear as a bell, directing it at James's back. "Everyone knows that too. This thing's gone on for three years. You've leveraged every project you own. This preserve, even. There are other banks you owe. If your loans get called, King Corp could go under. You can't demand one hundred over LIBOR from that position."
"We'll find out when he gets back to the lodge," I said.
"James, you don't just do deals like this," Bart said, yelling to him.
"When he capitalizes this deal," I said, my voice low, but carrying clearly in the quiet dawn, "the rest of our projects will drop like fruit. If you're out, you know what he'll do to you. He'll spend the next six months refinancing every project your bank owns and your bonus will look like a dishwasher's paycheck."
"One hundred is insane, James," Bart yelled. "I could be a laughingstock."
James was across the field now, and he ducked into the woods.
All of a sudden, Bart took off running after him. I jogged along, chuckling. Sticks snapped under his feet as he chased James down into the wooded ravine.
When he caught up, he said, "Jesus, how am I going to look?"
"Like you beat everyone else to the punch," James said, smiling, reaching up the hill, and holding out his hand. "Now you go wait for Bucky with the deer and we'll meet you. Come on, Thane."
"But you're not calling UBS, right?"
"We have a deal, don't we?"
James set off through the woods at a pace that left me breathing hard, taking long strides until we came to the bridge. Across the water, rising out of the mist, the lodge lay sleeping like a giant.
"Look at that," James said. He put his hand on my shoulder and gave me a brief squeeze. "Family. At the end of the day, that's what it's about."
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- Apr 12, 2006
- Hachette Audio