Authors: James Patterson
Anna was at the Tesla dealership on Bush Street, off Van Ness, inside the office she shared with the copy machine.
At just before 5:00 p.m., she was finishing up the monthly books, entering last week’s expenses onto the spreadsheet. The numbers were facts; sales minus dollars spent on salaries, supplies, rent, advertising, even the birthday parties, including hers.
Anna excelled in this job, but socially she was a disaster. She understood all the reasons why. But setting her own catastrophic damage aside, other people were too peculiar for her. Too not from her world.
She’d tried and failed to explain this to Dale.
Dale Winston was behind his desk in the showroom, doing some paperwork. He liked her, and she liked him, too, but not in the way he wanted. She walked across the showroom floor in time to the bouncy music coming over the sound system.
He looked up. “Anna. Hey. You look good in purple. You know that?”
She thanked him, rearranged her coat and scarf, then said, “Dale, I need a favor.”
“Anything. I’m all yours.”
She smiled and said, “Seriously.”
“What do you need?”
She told him, and he was reluctant, very, but in the end he caved, telling her to bring back the vehicle before the shop opened in the morning.
“Not a problem.”
“It can’t be, or we’re both getting fired—or worse.”
“Do not worry, Dale. You can trust me.”
“I do trust you, Anna. Do you trust me? Wait. Hear me out. Maybe we could have dinner together this week. Just to celebrate your birthday.”
“Uh, you know we’re not allowed to fraternize, Dale. I’m sorry.”
He opened the drawer and took out a key ring. He waited for her to hold out her hand, then he gave her the keys, making a point of pressing her palm with his fingers.
She clutched the keys.
“Before 9:00 a.m.,” he said unnecessarily.
She nodded. “And will you call Roger? Say I’m on my way?”
Anna went back to her office, got her bag, and waved good-bye to Dale. She walked a block to the service department. Roger was behind the counter, phones ringing in the office behind him, the service bays still busy at the end of the day.
Roger looked through her without seeing her—her scar did that to people—but she was glad he didn’t want to make small talk.
She just wanted to go.
“You need pointers on the car, Anna?”
Anna told him she knew the Model X and had taken a couple of test-drives with Dale. That part was a lie, but Roger seemed satisfied. He pointed to the black Tesla Model X parked outside the service center. It was a prototype with a dinged-up front fender, and while Anna usually liked things to be perfect, she only cared that this car was fast and wasn’t her red Kia.
Roger said, “Have fun. But not too much.”
Anna nodded and touched the door handle, and the falcon wing rose silently, majestically, revealing the car’s sleek interior.
Wow. Just wow.
She took off her coat, placed it with her handbag in the passenger seat, and slipped in behind the wheel.
The car automatically adjusted the mirrors, the seat.
Anna buckled in, touched the button that started up the engine, and was rewarded by a subaudible hum and the sense that the car was alive and attuned to her.
Because it was only 5:15 p.m. and the Butcher didn’t leave his house until 6:30 on weeknights, Anna decided to take the long way to Fell Street.
It wasn’t every day that she got to drive a hundred-thousand-dollar car. In fact, this might be the first, last, and only.
Smiling to herself, feeling self-indulgent and rich, she set her course for the Panhandle and pulled out of the garage. The engine was surprisingly silent, accelerating and decelerating like nothing she’d ever experienced. Like the car was reading her mind.
It did everything fast, so fast.
Anna wished she’d had the Model X that first day she saw Petrović and she’d chased him on her old bike. Now she had an urge to reverse course, take Highway 101 out of the city and up the coast, burn off all her frustration and anger, and let the Tesla out for an unforgettable run.
But she couldn’t do it. Couldn’t avoid what seemed to be her appointment with Petrović.
Traffic parted for her as she drove through Pacific Heights to Fillmore, flying along in the perfect car, swooping downhill toward the Marina District. She gave the Tesla more pedal and felt the city blocks falling behind, becoming only faint images in her rearview mirror.
Five miles after getting behind the wheel, Anna was on Fell Street, three blocks from where she lived, and there, like a beacon, was Petrović’s yellow-and-blue Victorian house.
Best of all, his Jaguar was out front, exactly where she hoped it would be. There was only one vacant parking spot, and it was at the east end of the block. She didn’t get the best view of the house from there, but she would see the Jag leave, no matter what direction the Butcher took.
Anna parked the Tesla with ease and touched the image on the screen to lower her seat back a few degrees. Once she was as comfortable as she had ever been in her life, she shut down the engine and settled in to watch.
She had spied on Petrović, had followed him before through the dirty streets of the Tenderloin. But she’d always lost him, her bright-red car calling too much attention for a close pursuit. He wouldn’t imagine her in this Model X.
Sitting in front of his house, she imagined trailing him, watching to see what shady activities he must be involved in here in San Francisco. She suspected drugs, human trafficking, gambling. That’s who he was. A mass murderer. A monster.
Tonight she wouldn’t lose him.
Anna reached for her handbag, felt around, and took out the nut-and-chocolate bar she’d stashed for a moment like this. She ate, drank water, thought about Petrović and how
much she hated him—when everything went wrong. There was a violent crash from behind, and she was thrown hard into the steering wheel.
Anna righted herself, looked behind her, and opened her door, the falcon wing creaking now, injured in the crash. Filled with fury, she got out of the car and saw him. Not Petrović. It was the man in the Escalade, he had rammed the Tesla from behind. He was backing up, putting his vehicle in gear, getting ready to ram her again.
She’d been attacked again by that vicious soldier who had raped her. He buzzed down his window.
Anna screamed at him in her native language.
“You. I see you. I know you. I know how to find you. I’m calling the police. No, the FBI.”
The man with the gray beard and hair gestured
but Anna knew that he’d rammed her with purpose. It was a warning. She went back to her car, leaned all the way in, and got her purse from the footwell.
She would take pictures of the man and his license plate. Then she would call Joe. She was so consumed by this task, she never heard footsteps behind her.
Joe was on Tenth Avenue at California, waiting for the light to turn, when his phone buzzed.
Lindsay was texting him, saying that she was sorry. She was jammed up at work, not sure when she would be home, and he should go ahead and have dinner without her.
He texted back,
No problem. CU later.
Joe had spent the day immersed in the Petrović files, saturated with the man’s documented cruelty, as certain as Lindsay that Petrović had killed Carly Myers and Adele Saran. And also like Lindsay, he had nothing to prove it.
He checked the GPS and saw the pulsing blip representing the blue Jaguar, motionless on California near Tony’s Place. He made a turn and ten minutes later Joe was parked on the corner where he had an unobstructed view of the opposite corner and the brightly lit Place for Steak.
Joe phoned Robert Diano and Bill Ennis, the team assigned to the restaurant. He told them that he was relieving them for an hour, that they should take a break.
Diano reported back that they would be at the pizzeria on Bush Street.
Joe watched them head out, and he took over the surveillance of the Jag and the restaurant. A minute later, as if Joe had materialized him, Petrović, holding a paper bag, left the restaurant, waved at him, and crossed the street directly to where Joe sat in the Toyota.
What the hell?
“Hey,” he called out, “Joe Molinari.”
Petrović shook the bag like he had a mouse in there and he was letting his pet owl know that Daddy was home with something tasty.
Joe ran through his options and quickly settled on his only move. He got out of the car and spoke to Petrović over the roof.
Petrović said, “You hungry, Joe?”
Joe said, “How’d you know?”
He smiled, walked around the back of the car, and stretched out his hand for a friendly shake. Petrović did the same. Joe feinted, grabbed Petrović by the knot of his tie, spun him, and shoved him hard against the car.
The big man expelled air and, having been thrown off-balance, tripped over his feet, stumbled, and fell to the pavement. He raged, “Are you crazy, attacking a civilian?”
Joe had his gun in his hand. He pointed the muzzle at the Butcher’s head.
Petrović said, “What are you doing? I’m trying to be a nice guy. I brought you dinner.”
“I know who you are, Petrović,” Joe said. “I wouldn’t call you a civilian. I could shoot you now and become an overnight international hero. I’ve thought about it, and instead I’m going to give you a warning.”
Petrović was grinning, but he wasn’t pushing back.
He must have known that Joe didn’t need much of an excuse, that he probably had a throw-down weapon in the car. That the dash cam was off. If he were in Petrović’s place, that’s what Joe would be thinking. The FBI would win this one.
Joe said, “Bike girl is under FBI protection. Hurt her, and I’m dragging you back to Bosnia myself.”
“You mixed me up with someone else, Joe. She’s not my type. I like them younger. And prettier.”
Joe glared at Petrović for another moment, then said, “Get up.”
Petrović had to use his hands and knees to leverage himself to a standing position, then he dusted himself off with his large hands. He said, “We have to do this again sometime. Did I say that right?”
“It would be my pleasure,” Joe said. “Next time, dinner’s on me.”
Petrović smiled, turned, and limped back to the restaurant.
Joe got into his car, while keeping his eyes on Petrović. His pulse was pounding hard, as if he’d sprinted five miles. He was furious at himself, not because he’d crossed a line with Petrović, but that Petrović had made him—twice—and made sure Joe knew it.
Petrović was playing with him.
Joe had a kit in the trunk. He got out an evidence bag,
retrieved Petrović’s doggy bag from where it had fallen, sealed, and tagged it.
He called Rob Diano and told him what had occurred, adding, “I have to go to the office.”
“We’re on our way back to your location,” said the agent.
When Diano and Ennis pulled up alongside him, Joe waved, then drove to the FBI branch on Golden Gate Avenue.
He knew Petrović would be gunning for him. He hoped so. He’d like a clean shot at this piece of filth. He’d really like to put him down.
Twenty-four hours after his encounter with Petrović, Joe was in his office, getting ready to head out and salvage some of his Saturday, when Agent Rob Diano called and delivered the chilling news.
“We lost Petrović. I don’t know how, he—”
Joe interrupted. “When was the last time you saw him?”
“Molinari, it’s complicated. Hear me out. Last night at twenty-three hundred we followed him from his steak joint to his house. The car didn’t move all night. We had eyes on it throughout. Seven a.m. the car was still in front of the house when we hand him off to Carroll and Bartoff.
“Carroll turns on the GPS, and the monitor shows the car is moving. But he sees it—parked right there on Fell. Plates check out—Petrović’s Jag—but the blip on the screen is moving. Obviously, the subject switched out the tracker, put it on another vehicle. So where is he? Did he leave the house on foot through the backyard overnight and someone gave
him a lift? That’s my guess. Sorry, Molinari. We can’t cover all the bases at the same—”
Just then Carroll phoned from the Fell Street location. Without waiting for Joe to speak, he said, “Molinari. The Jag is still outside the house on Fell. I followed the signal and found the tracker on a florist’s delivery truck. We’re on it now. Sunshine Florist, white panel van, on Fair Oaks.”
“I pulled them over, nice as pie, ‘Would you mind? We’re looking for a criminal.’ No problem. They’re father and son doing their store’s deliveries. We checked out the van. Nobody in there. No cigar fumes. Nothing but flowers. Ran Sunshine’s license, registration, plates. They’re clean. Showed them a picture of Tony. They don’t know him. We pulled the tracking device, so when you see the Jag moving, it’s us. We’re coming in to file a report.”
Joe hung up, thinking that he hadn’t heard from Anna in more than a day. Now that they’d lost Petrović, he felt alarmed. He called her, left a message, asked her to return his call. He texted her. No response. He called the general phone line at the Tesla dealership. After a ring he heard, “Sales, this is Dale Winston.”
Joe said, “Can you put me through to Anna Sotovina?”
“And who may I say is calling?” Winston asked.
“Joe Molinari, FBI.”
“Oh. Anna’s not here. Actually, she didn’t come in today. That’s not like her. In fact, I’m worried. She’s a very disciplined person, but she’s forgetting things, showing up late. And now—this is the worst. I don’t know why I trusted her.”
Winston explained to Joe that Anna had needed to use a loaner overnight, was supposed to return it to the shop this morning by nine. She hadn’t come in with the car, and he hadn’t been able to reach her.
Joe took down details on the vehicle, left an urgent message for Anna with Winston, hung up, and made notes to the file.
Petrović hadn’t been seen in twenty hours.
Anna hadn’t come to work and hadn’t returned calls.
It was premature, and highly speculative, but those facts added up.
One plus one equaled Petrović had Anna.
Where in God’s name were they?