Authors: James Patterson
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thriller
Please tell me you don’t actually watch that crap.
It’s a good show.
It’s a good show EVERYWHERE.
Nice knowing you.
Do YOU think you’re pretty?
Honestly, I don’t know.
I know I’m not ugly but …
I bet you’re beautiful.
What about you?
Do you think you’re good looking?
Can I tell you the truth?
Then yeah. I think I’m
Can I send you a pic?
Is your name really Beth?
No … ☺ Is your name really Rob?
No. Do you want to know my real name?
That’s ok. Besides, BETH IS WAY HOT.
Thanks, so is Rob.
Hope you don’t mind
It’s just good to be careful.
Your parents would be so proud.
Keep shutting up.
Where were we?
You were asking me to unbutton
Tell me something I don’t know about you.
You don’t know anything about me.
I know you call yourself Beth.
I know your personality is f-ing hot.
I know you were adventurous enough to find me here.
I also make really good burritos.
That’s just about everything, isn’t it?
I’m also not wearing any underwear right now
I stand corrected.
I better lock my door before we go any farther here.
You don’t want your brothers walking in on this, haha.
How do you know I have brothers?
You told me.
Did you get the pic?
Yeah, and …!!!!
Is that really you?
Show me something I haven’t seen before.
You are so GREEDY!
What’s your point?
Do you even know
how beautiful you are?
You can’t even see my face.
I don’t need to.
I really want to meet you sometime
Go on. What else?
I’m going to take my time.
I’m going to make you wait.
I’m going to make you take your time, too.
Do you want me to touch myself now?
Good, bc I already am.
Do you think about me when you … you know?
kidding? Every time.
Does this help?
Save it for later.
RU kidding??? NOT saving for later.
God, you’re so f-ing hot. No lie.
Can I see your face?
First I want you to get hard.
Me too! I love that stuff. Can’t get enough.
Now you’re just saying that.
I’m not. Swear.
Have you been looking at my Snapchat?
How could I see your
I don’t even know your name
FWIW, I’m T.J.
Hi T.J. for real.
You don’t have to tell me yours if you don’t want.
I lay you down on your own bed
I ask you if I should keep going and you say yes
You feel me, grinding against your thigh as I kiss your neck
This is only the beginning, Gwen
We have to meet
Sooner or later
Don’t you think?
yes is a world
& in this world of
Did you just write that?
Say yes, Gwen.
Please? Why not?
Parents here. So are my brothers.
I can be quiet.
Let me just come to your window.
One kiss and I’ll go
even know where my window is
95 Geary Lane?
It’s called the internet.
You are so bad!
Is that a yes?
I don’t know.
I’m coming over unless you say no
You still there?
Are we really going to do this?
Ha. See you soon.
You won’t regret it
“I HAVE TWO pieces of advice,” Eve said as I was getting ready to leave. “When you’re back to the office, I want you to take the credit for finding this app.”
I shrugged on my jacket. “Won’t they take me more seriously if I say it came from you?” I asked.
“Maybe at first,” she said. “But it’s still a boys’ game at the Bureau, and it’s time for you to start playing. We have to watch
out for each other.”
I was struck by the word
. Maybe I wasn’t Eve’s professional equal—not yet—but I was her colleague now. Which was amazing. It felt like just yesterday she had been walking little sixteen-year-old me through the very basics of robotics, and maybe five minutes ago she had been writing me a recommendation for grad school.
Now here I was working alongside her for the FBI.
It hadn’t stopped being surreal yet.
Even so, the idea of taking credit for something I didn’t do sat on the wrong side of my gut. She was the one who discovered the app, not me.
“Isn’t that just lying?” I asked.
“Oh, please.” Eve shifted the baby from one hip to the other as we walked to the front door. “Would you have eventually found it on your own?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Of course you
would have,” she said. “So take the damn credit and move on. There are a lot of ways you have to prioritize the bigger picture in this work, Angela. This is just one of them.”
I knew she was probably right. I’d just have to wrap my mind around it. What a strange feeling, too. I’d been facing down all kinds of competition at MIT. But somehow, toggling that killer instinct over to the real, professional
world was less instinctive for me than I would have thought.
“You said there were two pieces of advice?” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “Now that you’re really in this, you need to remember: don’t ever let the work get personal.”
That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. “Which part of the work do you mean?” I asked.
“All of it,” she said. “The case. The murders. The lives that
were stolen from people whose memory you’re now in charge of protecting. It’s very easy to feel like you’re letting someone down if an investigation doesn’t go the way it should. But you can’t take that path. Don’t even think about it. You’ll burn out, faster than you can possibly imagine.”
It was like every time I talked to Eve I got another new way of thinking about all this.
“Just for the
record,” I said. “What makes you think I’d take any of that personally?”
“Because I know you. I know how you get when someone you care about is attacked,” she said, making a not so subtle jab
about what had happened with A.A. “I also know that Gwen was the same age as your sister,” she added.
That wasn’t off base, either. Sylvie had crossed my mind about a hundred different ways since the night
I’d stood in that room where Gwen Petty was asphyxiated. It was impossible not to imagine my own personal nightmare coming true after I’d seen it happen to someone else, firsthand. I shuddered at the echo of it all as it passed through my mind again.
Eve touched me on the shoulder, pulling me out of my thoughts. “This work will drag you down if you let it, Angela,” she said. “Don’t let it.”
“Okay, but how?” I said. “All you ever hear is ‘Suck it up,’ but nobody ever tells you how to actually do that.”
“You’ve got to look at your own stuff,” she said. “Not that you’ll hear this from any of the guys, but that’s what makes us better at it. Take stock. Be ready for whatever’s going to get the best of you
it takes you by surprise.”
This wasn’t just idle conversation, I knew. What
happened to the Pettys and the two families before them could easily happen again. In fact, it probably would if the Bureau didn’t work fast enough, or smart enough.
And that meant me, too, now.
“I’m handling it,” I told her. She gave me a skeptical look. I gave back a little kiss on Marlena’s cheek.
I said on my way out the door.
And I was. Barely.
But handling it all the same.
THE NEXT MORNING, I went with Billy Keats to Lincoln-Sudbury High School, where Gwen Petty had been a student. I was a little surprised that he’d invited me, but maybe that meant I was doing a good job.
It didn’t hurt that I’d taken Eve’s advice. I wasn’t crazy about claiming credit for that app, but I trusted her gut about how to play the game. And either way, it bought me some time
alone in the car with Keats’s undivided attention. As usual, I had an overabundance of questions.
“Can I just pose a theory to you, and you can tell me why it’s wrong?” I asked.
“Sure,” Keats said. He was nodding his head to an old Breaking Benjamin track on the stereo. You could tell he’d been a metalhead, once upon a time, but he sure cleaned up well.
“What if this isn’t just one or two people,
but some kind of network?” I said.
He gave it a beat and thought about it for a second, which I took as a good sign. It’s amazing how many men in positions
of power are threatened by smart women. I wouldn’t have been shocked if he’d dismissed the theory out of hand—but he didn’t.
“Go on,” he said.
Even better. He wanted to know more.
“Well, here’s the thing. Hackers work in collectives all
the time,” I said. “The price of admission is usually some kind of showboat move. Something to prove your skills. Maybe in this case, that means getting a new target to load the app on her phone. Or maybe even a murder.”
“Sure,” Keats said, a little more noncommittally now. “It’s all on the table.”
Fair enough, I thought. I hadn’t proved anything.
“Does that mean you’re looking for other cases
like these?” I asked. “Because I was wondering if I might be able to get a look at those files—”
He stopped me with a flash of eye contact that read like a perimeter alert. Apparently, I was treading into questions above my pay grade—not about the case itself, but about how far into it I might be allowed.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” I said, and went back to reading the file on my lap. There was
plenty to absorb in there, anyway.
“For what it’s worth, I’d be asking the same things,” Keats told me. That was good to hear, but it didn’t stop my mind from crawling with curiosity. What was there to know about these other families who had been killed? What kind of digital signature had—or hadn’t—been left behind in those cases?
“One more question,” I said. “Can I ask why you
brought me along this morning?”
Billy reached over and flipped off the stereo. We were just pulling into the high school parking lot.
“You’re closer to Gwen Petty’s age than anyone else on this team,” he told me. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll see this place in a way that I wouldn’t. But that’s all you’re coming to do.
Watch and listen
“Aye, aye, captain,” I said.
Basically, I was
down with anything that kept me involved in this case. I’d give it my best shot, anyway. Keeping my eyes open was no problem.
As for keeping my mouth shut? Not exactly my strong suit.
WALKING INTO THAT high school was like some kind of eerie flashback. Even the smell of floor cleaner mixed with cafeteria food took me back to those four awkward years I’d spent waiting to go to college.
We followed signs to the main office, where you could feel the quiet pall that had come over the place. Evidently, everyone was still in shock about the Petty murders.
A sense of
not belonging settled over me as we passed through the halls. My own uncomfortable memories of high school started swirling in with the fresher images in my head from that horrendous quintuple homicide crime scene. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all, but when I realized I’d slowed down enough to fall behind, I hurried to catch Keats and followed him into the main office.
The principal, Vic
Oppel, was waiting for us when we came in. He was a strange bird right off the bat. Not suspicious, but not very generous with the eye contact, either. He looked at my shoes when we shook hands.
“I’d be happy to answer any questions,” he told us. “But I’m sure our head guidance counselor will be more useful. She knew Gwen quite well.”
He gestured us back out of the office and we started walking
up the hall. I didn’t see anyone going through the usual paces. There was nobody lingering around the bathrooms. No one sitting in the hall scribbling some last-minute assignment. No real signs of everyday high school life-as-usual—at all. It felt more like a funeral home, and something told me it wasn’t just about the fact that Gwen Petty and her family had died. It was very much about the way
in which it had happened.
Weirdly enough, the exception to that was Mr. Oppel himself. Whatever he might or might not have been feeling, he was self-contained on the outside, to say the least.
“Can you tell me a little about Gwen from your own perspective?” Keats asked. “Whatever you know about her.”
“She was an excellent student,” he answered. “Three point four grade point average. President
of the math club. Band, orchestra, model UN. Quite popular, I’m told.”
It was all dry facts, like he knew the gravity of the situation but the emotion of it was beyond him. I couldn’t tell if he was just geeky-awkward, or maybe even a little bit on the spectrum. Either way, it made me like him more. I have a soft spot for geeks.
Oppel answered more of Keats’s questions as he gave us a factoid-filled
tour of Gwen’s classrooms, eventually coming around to her locker, where we stopped to take things in.
A folding table in the hall was overflowing with flowers, stuffed animals, and sympathy cards. Two electric votives flickered softly. And the locker door itself was covered with little messages, all written in silver or gold Sharpie.
Love you, Gwennie.
Gone but never forgotten
is broken, xoxo.
“The response has been somewhat difficult to manage,” Oppel said. “As you can see.”
He may have been talking about the students’ grief, but he could have just as well been talking about this roadblock of a memorial sitting in the hall. I thought it was beautiful, in its own way, and fought back the lump in my throat.
“It’s quite something,” Keats said in a husky voice. When
I looked over, I was shocked to see tears rimming his eyes. He pinched them away with a swipe. “Sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be,” I told him. If anything, I was relieved. It was the first indication I’d gotten so far that I wasn’t the only one struggling with this case. It also told me that Gwen Petty’s memory was in good hands with Billy. Even more than I’d realized. I had no doubt that he was excellent
at his job, but this little glimpse of humanity only made him better, in my eyes. I thought about what Eve had said, about the way men worked differently from women at the Bureau, and I thought,
Well, yes and no.
“The guidance office is just down here,” Mr. Oppel said, pulling me out of my own thoughts. I started to follow, but Keats put himself in my way. He stared at me just long enough to
lock in my attention.
“I’ve got this,” he said. “Maybe you want to go grab a cup of coffee in the cafeteria or something.”
He didn’t owe me any explanation, and I didn’t get one, but it pissed me off all the same. Just when I thought I was going to be sitting in on those interviews, I’d gotten shunted off to the side.
It reminded me of freshman year soccer, getting to suit up
for a varsity
game and then spending the whole night on the bench. I understood. But still, the bench sucks.
“No problem,” I said, staring back at Keats but keeping it professionally vanilla for Oppel’s sake. “Just text me when you’re done.”
It wasn’t until the two of them had disappeared around the corner that I even considered the alternative. Maybe Keats was trying to tell me something. Maybe
the real watch-andlisten part, while he was off doing something else.
Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. I had no real way of knowing, so I went with the answer I preferred.
A second later, I turned around and headed off in the opposite direction to go exploring.