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Authors: James Patterson

Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thriller

1st Case (24 page)

BOOK: 1st Case
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I WOKE UP in the van again. Not because we were moving, but because we’d just stopped. A single line of light was cutting between the back doors, and I could see Eve across from me.

Her eyes were open.

I bolted up and got caught short against my own bindings. My head snapped back against the wall of the van. It took me another few seconds to refocus.

Eve’s mouth was taped like mine.
I could just see the whites of her eyes. I leaned toward her, babbling her name incoherently from behind my gag, but all we could really do was stare at each other. Tears were streaming from my eyes now.

I knew where we were, and I knew what was about to happen.

Images rushed through my mind. Crime scene photos of Gwen Petty, and the victims before her, all asphyxiated in their bedrooms. Family
members, too, shot in their beds. Horrible stuff, like I’d never imagined.

Now it was all about to come very much to life, right in front of me.

The back of the van opened, and I got a better look at Eve as more streetlight streamed in. She was pale and drawn, and barely even looked like herself. I could see her trying to make some noise, kicking with her feet, but she was too weak even for
that. God only knows what she’d been through since I’d last seen her.

The older of our two captors climbed in and went to Eve first. He bent over her, doing something I couldn’t see. A few seconds later, she went slack, and he dropped the hypodermic he’d been carrying. That was it. She was out again.

Then he turned to me. “Time to go,” he said, and a fresh wave of panic erupted all through me.

No, no, no, no!
I tried to scream, uselessly.

He leaned in and used his hunting knife to cut away the straps that held me in place. I rolled away from him instinctively, but I knew there was nowhere to go.

“Hey, get in here,” he whispered to his brother. “We’re going to have to light her up.”

Light me up? What the hell did that mean? I was still using my heels to push myself away, but then
my back hit the rear wall of the van, and I was truly cornered.

The Poet climbed in with his briefcase. All I could do was watch as he opened it on the floor and took out the gun I’d seen before, although I could tell now that it wasn’t actually a pistol. It was chunkier than that.

A Taser.

No sooner had I figured it out than I heard a snap and a buzz. My body jerked, then seized, with an electric
pain unlike anything I’d ever felt before. It seemed to reach every extremity, freezing all of my muscles at once, and even erasing the throb I’d been feeling in my leg since the bike accident. Which was basically trading one burden for another. All I could feel now
was the paralyzing current and the full-body jolting pain that went with it.

“Let’s go,” the Engineer said. His arm hooked under
mine and I unfolded off the floor like a rusty chain as they hauled me out of the van. I got one more look at Eve, out cold, before they closed the door and dragged me away.

They’d backed into my family’s driveway, I saw. That part was no surprise. We passed my father’s old Saab, parked closer to the house. The front-porch light was on, but all the windows were dark.

I had nearly zero strength
left. Still, I resisted with everything I had. I writhed out of the Engineer’s grasp and dropped to the ground, but they scooped me right back up.

The Poet took my legs now, and they carried me like an old rolled-up rug around to the back of the house. The parked van gave them all the cover they’d need from the street. Not that anyone was passing by at this hour.

These guys had obviously cased
the house, and they knew just what to do. When we came to the kitchen door at the back, they set me down again. I could see the gun in the Engineer’s hand, a knife sheathed at his side, the Taser in the Poet’s hand, and his own knife as well. Only in my worst imaginings could I guess at how they intended to use them.

This was all my doing. I’d promised my mother that everything was going to be
okay. I’d told her that there was nothing my family needed to worry about.

And now, I’d brought the monsters right to their door.


“WHERE’S THE HIDE-A-KEY, Angela?” the older one whispered to me. “There’s always a key somewhere. Just nod if I’m getting warmer.”

He used his pointer finger to sweep left and right, watching me the whole time like this was some kind of game.

In fact, the key was in a magnetic box on the back of the outside spigot, five feet away. I knew that he’d probably figure it out on his own
if he tried, but the longer this took, the better.

He still had hold of my arm, and after a few more passes, he leaned down to speak into my ear.

“Listen to me. We’re going in, one way or another. If you help, we make it easy for your sisters and parents. Quick and done. But if you make this harder than it has to be? Well, then we’re going to take our time. Up to you.”

“Go to hell,” I said—or
at least tried to say, from the inside of my taped mouth. I think he got the gist, anyway.

I was out of my mind. I had no rational thought left. Even if it did make sense to take his threat seriously and give him what
he wanted, I still couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not with my family on the other side of that door. The longer I made these guys wait, the more chance there was for a miracle.
Which was what I needed now.

It didn’t buy me much time, in any case. “Screw it,” he said, and elbowed a glass panel out of the back door without any trouble. A few seconds later, he’d reached in and undone the lock from the inside.

They carried me through the kitchen, and this time I didn’t struggle. I kept still, letting my eyes focus on the room around me, ranging from side to side, hoping
to make some kind of physical disturbance or loud noise to wake up the others.

The knives in the big wooden block were out of my reach. The china cabinet in the dining room wasn’t close enough for me to throw myself against it, even if I could get free of them. And a few seconds later, it was moot, anyway. It didn’t take more than a moment to pass all the way through the house, to the bottom
of the stairs.

They moved quickly now, up the steps with silent feet on the carpet runner and then down the hall to my room. They knew exactly where it was.

When we got there, they dropped me on the bed, right next to the white-painted nightstand where I used to keep my endless stack of reading. Now it was repopulated with a sampling of my academic trophies from high school and further back.
My parents had made a shrine to me, in my own room.

Soon it would be my memorial.

None of my yelling and screaming rose to more than a low hum from behind the tape on my mouth.

“Stop it!” the younger one whispered fiercely. And I felt the electric seizure of the Taser once more. A grunt came from somewhere deep inside me. In my head, it was another scream.

By the time I could martial any motor
skills at all, they’d taped me to the bed, one wrist on either side, lashed to the posts. With a little more energy, I might have been able to rip free, but that wasn’t happening.

“Don’t make me do that again,” the Poet whispered in my ear.

He climbed onto the bed and then on top of me, straddling my waist with his legs. It stirred the bile in my stomach. I was afraid for a second that I might
actually throw up behind my gag.

“This needs to be quick,” his brother told him. “You know what to do.”

“Just go,” the kid said, staring me in the eye. “Take care of the others.”

He flipped on the bedside lamp as his brother left the room and closed the door. I could see his face clearly again in the light. He looked eerily peaceful. Happy, even. This was what he’d been waiting for, I could
tell. This was what he did to salve that writhing, insane, genius brain of his.

And it wasn’t sexual, either. Not anymore. He wasn’t even trying to touch me.

No, this was about killing some part of himself. Even I could see that.

“So, I guess this is going to have to be quick,” he said. “But I want to thank you, Angela. It’s been a pleasure. I mean that.”

He reached around my head now and
pulled the pillow out from underneath me. I bucked and twisted on the bed with everything I had, though it wasn’t much. All I could really do was watch as he brought the pillow down over my face.

It had been hard enough to breathe already. Now it was impossible. There was no air anywhere that I could find. And I knew it was finally close to over.

In every way.


THE PANIC OVERTOOK me. I twisted, side to side, straining against the tape. I whipped my head around as if that was going to fight him off. There was nowhere to go and nothing I could do.

I felt the full weight of his body on the pillow now, pressing into my face, while his hands sought out my throat. One finger at a time, they closed around me, trembling and tightening, both.

couldn’t breathe. Not even a little.

Dear God, I was going to die.

Blue sparks, or something like it, shot across my dark field of vision. My head swam. Even as I struggled, my body was losing the strength it needed to move at all.

A loud bang of some kind sounded in the background. It was my bedroom door, I realized, slamming open.

Then the Engineer’s voice.

“Something’s wrong! We have to
go, now!”

But the pressure around my head and face only increased. The hand on my windpipe tightened its grip.

“What are you talking about?” I heard. “Get the hell out of here!”

The hand on me slipped away, and the pressure eased. I sucked in a breath, and another. The pillow slipped off my face, and I saw the older of the two trying to pull the kid off me. With my wrists taped to the bedposts,
there was still nothing I could do.

“I’m not screwing around with you!” the older one said. “Nobody’s home. Understand? We have to go. This one’s my call. Bring her if you want, but we’re leaving.”

Another loud slam sounded, this time from downstairs.

“FBI!” someone shouted.

Klieg-bright lights blazed to life outside my bedroom window. I heard feet on the stairs. Flashlight beams danced and
crisscrossed in the hall.

The Poet had already started cutting the tape around one of my wrists. He was still on top of me and looked back fast over his shoulder as the raid came closer.

I moved just as fast. My hand ripped free and landed on the first thing I could reach—an old Mathlympics silver cup from ninth grade on the nightstand.

I swung it as hard as I could. This time, I connected.
One of the cup’s handles sunk with a nauseating crunch right into the side of his skull.

The effect was instantaneous. He slumped and rolled halfway off the bed, blood already seeping from the wound in his head before he slid the rest of the way to the braided rug on the floor below.

I tore the tape from my mouth. “In here!” I screamed just as the older one grabbed me off the bed.

My other
wrist, still bound, felt like it was going to snap.

But the tape gave way, and he had me now. We stumbled back against the wall farthest from the door even as he was pulling me in front of him like a shield.

At the same moment, the doorway filled up.

“FBI! Drop your weapons!”

Black-suited cops in tactical vests and helmets were there, AK-47s raised. They came in formation, one agent in the
lead, with two others flanking him from behind. Red and blue flashers were running outside now, casting bits of color around the walls of my room.

“Don’t even think about it!” the Engineer yelled, pulling me closer. He had one arm snaked around my neck and was using the other to press the barrel of his pistol into my scalp just above my right ear.

Shouts reverberated and blended in the room.

“Let her go!”

“Back off!”

“Don’t do this!”

“I’m warning you!”

I could feel the gun scraping painfully against my head. A line of blood trickled into my ear. I wasn’t even sure where to look.

“Back off!” he screamed at them again. “I’ll kill her, and you know I will!”

As fast as it had all happened, it seemed as though he’d suddenly realized his own advantage. The entry team did, too.

right!” he shouted. “Guns down, right now!”

My body was blocking any clear shot they had. The lead agent put up a hand for the others, and they moved, almost in slow motion, lowering their weapons.

“Now back up, out of the room!” the Engineer told them. “And give me someone I can talk to! Unarmed!”

“That’d be me,” said a voice from somewhere in the back of the pack.

As the others cleared out,
I saw Billy standing in the doorway. He still had his vest on, but his helmet was off and his empty hands were raised in the air as he took a tentative step past the others, into the room.


“I’M AGENT KEATS from the FBI,” Billy said.

“I know who you are,” the Engineer said. “What authorization do you have?”

“I’m the lead investigator on this case,” Billy said. “Tell me what you need for us to de-escalate the situation.”

His hands were still up. He used his foot to kick the bedroom door closed behind him, and he flicked on the overhead light.

Our eyes met for a second
before he put his gaze back on the man holding me hostage.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Billy said. “Just tell me what you want.”

“I want you to get us the hell out of here,” the Engineer said. “And I mean out of the country.”

“How do you propose that?”

“Just … shut up! Give me a minute to think. Jesus!”

He seemed to be on the edge of a complete meltdown. For all I knew, he was lost without
his genius brother.

Not that I wanted to test his limits. I could just see out of the
corner of my eye where his gun hand was shaking, his finger still on the trigger.

“What about your guy here?” Keats said. A pool of dark blood had spread past the edge of the rug and as far as the door. “He doesn’t look so good. Can we bring in an EMT?”

“No! You get him out into the hall,” the Engineer instructed
Billy. “Nobody else comes in.”

Billy spoke into the radio on his shoulder. “I need EMTs to the second-floor hallway, right now,” he said. Then he moved slowly, picking the kid up in his arms and handing him off to someone in the hall. It was a long, slow pass-off. Nobody was making any false moves, but the Engineer dug the barrel of his gun that much farther into my skin anyway.

“Close that
door again,” the Engineer told Billy, and he complied, keeping his hands spread out in front of him. I could hear the med techs starting to work on the wound I’d sunk into the other one’s skull. I hoped the kid wasn’t dead. Even now, I didn’t want that on my conscience.

“Okay, talk to me,” Billy said. “Where are you trying to get to?”

“Mexico City,” the guy said. It sounded to me like he was
making it up, improvising now as much as he and his brother ever had.

“Okay,” Keats said placatingly. “That’s doable, but you’re going to have to give us a little time. You planning on taking your man out there, too?”

“Of course,” he said. “Have your people get him ready for travel. No hospital. They do what they have to here, and then we’re out.”

Keats obediently relayed the information.

“We’re working on a chopper,” he said then. “How soon can you let Angela go?”

“She’s coming too,” he said.

That was no surprise. I knew Billy had to ask, but it was obvious where this was going. They needed me as an insurance policy, all the way out of the country.

“Okay, let’s take this one thing at a time,” Keats tried again. “What about Eve?”

“She’s in the van outside!” I blurted. I got
it out before the Engineer could stop me.

“Shut up!” he screamed, and moved the gun around to my face. His free hand grabbed me by the jaw and wedged my mouth open so he could stick the barrel of his pistol inside.

I tasted metal and my eyes watered.

” Keats said. “Jesus Christ, stop it! Nobody’s coming for you, okay? Just ease up, brother.”

“I’m not your goddamn brother,” he said.
“And you don’t give the orders.” But he took the gun back out and held it to my cheek instead. “Not another word,” he told Billy. His voice was rough and shaky. I’m not even sure which of us was more desperate. Everything felt somehow slow-motion and rushed at the same time.

“Check the van in the driveway,” Keats said into his radio.

“Already there, sir,” a voice came back. “We have Ms. Abajian.”

If it was possible to breathe a sigh of relief, I did just then.

Keats looked at the Engineer again. “All right. It’s going to be at least twenty minutes before we’re mobile. See if you can find a more comfortable position.”

“Don’t worry about me,” he said.

“I’m not,” Keats said, and stuck out his chin at me. “I’m worried about her. You can’t keep that stance for twenty more minutes. You’re
already exhausted. I can tell.”

For a second, nothing happened. Then the Engineer yanked me by the shoulder, pushing back and downward, pressing me into a kneel. I tried to do it, but my right leg had
stiffened way up. I came halfway down instead, landing on my left knee.

At the same moment, a loud popping sound came, like a stun grenade, from out on the lawn. I saw a flash of blue light from
the corner of my eye and turned to look. So did the Engineer.

Everything happened fast. I saw the red dot of a laser site appear on his forehead. On instinct, I dove out of the way as much as I could in that small space. It was a blind move and I crashed into my own nightstand, bringing the lamp down on top of me.

At the same time, I heard a small sound of breaking glass. The Engineer’s head
cocked back, like someone had punched him in the face. His knees bent first, but the rest of him followed.

“Shot fired!” Keats was saying into his radio. The bedroom door opened and personnel were flooding back in.

Billy was there in a second. He scrambled across the bed to reach me.

“Are you okay?” he practically shouted, shielding me against anything else that might come flying.

“I’m okay!”
I said. I really was.

Because over Billy’s shoulder, I could see where the Engineer had come to a rest on the floor. A dark, impossibly round circle showed on his forehead, and his eyes seemed frozen wide open.

He was dead already. The sniper’s bullet had found its mark.

And the longest night of my life was finally over.

BOOK: 1st Case
5.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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