Authors: James Patterson
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thriller
IT WAS JUST as well that Billy came in when he did. If not, I probably would have broken at least a couple of laws: searching Pietro Angeletti’s laptop and phone without his permission.
Still, I wasn’t out of trouble yet. When Keats came into the studio to find me standing there with a bloody face and Angeletti moaning on the floor, his expression was as blank as I’d ever seen. He
looked like he’d just walked into some kind of bizarre dream—which is about how I felt.
“Angela? What the hell? Are you okay?”
“I’m … um …”
I didn’t know what I was. I hadn’t seen myself yet, but I could see the blood on my shirt. My nose was throbbing and my heart hadn’t slowed down yet. I had to fight back the tears, too.
“What the hell is going on in here?”
Angeletti spluttered out. He
was still half blind, and the slits of his eyes were bloodred.
“Sir, calm down,” Keats said, holding both hands out in front of him. He glanced from Angeletti back to me again.
“Go ahead,” I said. “I’m okay.”
Angeletti yelled back. “Who the hell
“I’m Agent William Keats. I’m with the FBI—”
“Are you kidding me?” Angeletti kept yelling, even as he continued to
try to wipe the pain out of his streaming eyes. It looked pretty bad. Almost enough to make me care, but not quite.
“What’s wrong with him?” Keats asked me.
I held up the can to show him. It was clear that Billy had about a hundred questions now, but all of that was going to have to wait. Just as well. I needed a little time to recover, not to mention figure out how I was going to explain myself
for this one.
“We’ll get some water for your eyes,” Keats said, and shot me another look. I went into the bathroom and threw some water on my face, then soaked a handful of paper towels for Angeletti. I could hear him raving the whole time, not having any of it.
“I’m going to sue your asses so bad you aren’t going to have a pot to piss in. You hear me? This is federal now, and I intend to take
it as far as I can!”
“One thing at a time,” Keats said placatingly as I came back out. “Let’s get you over to the sink first.” He had Angeletti halfway to his feet already.
“Get your damn hands off me!”
“I’m telling you, sir, you need to calm down! Just let me—”
That’s when Angeletti took a swing. His eyes were obviously still no good, because the punch only glanced off Keats’s jaw. Still,
it was enough to get him a full roundhouse bitch slap in return. Keats’s open palm literally knocked Angeletti down to his knees.
“I told you to calm down!” Keats said. “Now just stay there and don’t move.”
That seemed to be the peak of it all. Angeletti’s shoulders slumped, and his groans had winnowed down to a soft whimper. He didn’t try to get up again.
Meanwhile, I was standing there with
a wad of wet paper towels in my hand, just starting to realize how close I’d come to a real disaster.
Who knew what Angeletti might have done?
I thought—just before it all came up and out of me. Literally. My gut heaved, and I turned back toward the bathroom,
fast enough to get to the toilet. I ended up puking all over Pietro Angeletti’s studio floor instead.
AFTER THAT, ANGELETTI was arrested and taken in without incident. As for Billy, he wouldn’t even talk to me until we were outside on the sidewalk, getting ready to leave. I could tell the ball was in my court.
“I’m sorry I disappointed you,” I said.
“You didn’t disappoint me. You pissed me off,” he said. “If this guy’s dirty, you just set any federal prosecution back by a goddamn
“I never told him I was FBI,” I said. It was déjà vu, with me grasping at straws all over again. Except this time instead of Mom, or Eve, or the disciplinary board at MIT, I was pleading my case to a federal agent. I’m not sure that counts as coming up in the world, but the comparison wasn’t lost on me.
“Do you know what could have happened to you?” Keats asked, but then he held up a
hand to stop me. “Sorry. Never mind. I know you know, but Jesus, Angela. You’re lucky I showed up when I did.”
I wanted to say,
Well, kind of.
The truth was, I’d taken care
of Angeletti by the time Keats had gotten there, but that didn’t seem worth pointing out just then. Especially considering the fact that I might have made things even worse if Billy hadn’t shown up when he did. Part of me
still wished I’d had the chance to get a look at Angeletti’s phone and hard drive, but mostly I knew it was best that I hadn’t.
“Why were you here, anyway?” I asked.
“Angeletti’s name came up with Gwen Petty’s friends, more than once,” he said. “He’s been on my list.”
“Does that mean he’s a suspect?” I tried, but all it got me was another one of Keats’s tight-lipped glares. Not that I needed
a verbal confirmation. Obviously, Angeletti was
kind of suspect.
“Let me have your address,” Billy said. “I’ll follow you home and make sure you get there okay. Unless you’d rather go to your parents’.”
“My parents?” I said.
“You’ve just been through a lot. I’m not sure you should be alone tonight,” he said.
At any other time I would have jumped on that double entendre.
“I’m fine,” I
told him. “I don’t need anyone to hold my hand. And you don’t have to follow me all the way out to Somerville, either. I can make that drive in my sleep.”
“I wasn’t asking,” he said, and gestured at my dirty Subaru with the bike still in the back.
So I made like a good little intern, didn’t push it any further, and drove home with Keats riding my ass the whole way. He even waited in his car
at the curb outside my building until I’d found a parking space and walked back over.
“You sure you’re okay?” he asked from his car. “I can give you the number of someone to talk to, if you want.”
“I appreciate it, Billy. I really do,” I said. “But I’m just going to open a bottle of wine and Netflix it until Monday morning. Go worry about someone else, okay?”
He gave me one more skeptical look
after that, and finally drove off without another word.
As soon as he was gone, I ran upstairs. Then I took off every stitch of clothing I’d been wearing that day and threw it right in the trash. Then I took the world’s longest shower, packed a bag, and headed back out again. Straight to my parents’ house.
But Billy Keats didn’t need to know about that.
I GOT TO the house in Belmont just in time for dinner. I never needed a reason or an invitation. Everyone was always glad to see me, so it was a relief not to have to explain myself. All I really wanted was something like a normal evening after the day I’d just had.
Dinner was Dad’s lemon orzo chicken with Mom’s roasted broccoli—perfect comfort food. Tucking in with my parents and
sisters, I finally started to unwind.
But that also cuts both ways, and just like that, my guard was down again. I’d taken only a few bites before I could feel the tears starting to burn my eyes. I tried to focus on the conversation, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Pietro Angeletti. The way he’d pressed me up against that bathroom door. Those greedy hands. That sickeningly sweet breath.
While my parents and sisters chattered on, I thought about Gwen Petty, too. How she’d walked into the same trap, and much worse after that, with nobody there to help her.
Not to mention the other girls in this case. And their families. It was overwhelming.
Before I could stop myself, I dropped my fork and started sobbing.
“Angela?” Mom said. “My God, what is it?”
Both of my sisters were wide-eyed.
Everyone had stopped eating and all eyes were on me, of course.
“I’m okay,” I blubbered like an idiot.
“It doesn’t look that way to me,” Dad said. I tried to wave him off, but he came and put his arms around me anyway.
“I’m just working through some stress,” I said, punting on the specifics so I wouldn’t have to show too many of my cards. “It’s been kind of intense at work lately.”
Hannah asked quietly.
“Angela, Angela …” Mom reached over and stroked my hand across the table. “You take on too much. You always have. It’s like anytime you’ve got a mountain to climb, there’s nothing else you can see.”
Mom’s an English prof at BU, with a specialty in myths and fairy tales. For her, everything is a mountain to climb or a dragon to slay. But it’s from Mom that I get my sense
of right and wrong in the world. You can learn a lot from fairy tales. And nobody gets to “happily ever after” without a few scars.
“I knew something was wrong,” Mom said. “Especially since … well …”
“Since what?” I asked.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “A.A. might have mentioned that you seemed a little stressed out lately. More than usual, I mean.”
“Did she call you?” I asked, genuinely surprised.
“Three times,” Sylvie chimed in. I glared over at my other sister and got a shrug in return. “What? She’s
It wasn’t unlike A.A. to have her own conversations with my
mom, but at a minimum, I would have thought she’d give me a heads-up about it.
“The point is,” Mom said, “I’m not crazy for being concerned.”
“The point is, A.A. is a drama queen,” I told her.
“She loves you,” Dad
said, still holding on to me. “We all do.”
I leaned my head into the crook of his arm and took a deep breath.
“Can I just stay here tonight?” I asked.
It sounded weak. Not that anyone was begrudging me a night in my old bed. But this wasn’t the person I wanted to become—someone who ran home after every crisis. I was better than that. Stronger, too. I worked at the FBI, for God’s sake!
was kind of the point. Coding is one thing. A murder investigation is something else. They don’t give classes in human suffering at MIT.
This was exactly what Eve had warned me about. The work was going to bring me down if I let it, she’d said. So now, more than ever, I had to make sure I didn’t let it.
WHEN I GOT to the office on Monday morning, I was told in no uncertain terms that I’d be sticking close to my desk for the foreseeable future. No surprise there.
Keats did throw me a bone, though. He asked Zack Ciomek to let me scan all of Angeletti’s seized media from the photography studio. That included his laptop, cell, and a separate external drive where Angeletti stored everything
from the two cameras they found hidden in his dressing room.
So it was confirmed now. This guy was exactly the serial predator Gwen Petty’s friends had suspected. But was he also Gwen’s killer?
As it turned out, no.
It didn’t take more than a quick look through Angeletti’s social media to determine that he’d been in the Bahamas on the night of the Petty murders. That was backed up with the
Bureau’s check on travel manifests for the United flights that Angeletti had booked and with security footage from the hotel where he’d stayed.
That sleazebag was going to jail, for sure. Just not on a murder charge.
All of which meant a couple of things for me. I was off the hook for any interference I might have caused in a federal investigation. But I was also back on the outside of this
case, looking in. As soon as Angeletti was cleared of the killings, the Bureau handed all physical and digital evidence over to the local police.
Keats didn’t stop there, either. I think I really had pissed him off, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that, professionally or personally. I felt awkward around Billy now, even if I wasn’t 100 percent sorry. At least I’d managed to make good
on my promise to Gwen Petty’s friends and bring down that scumbag, regardless of anything else.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t like Keats was going out of his way to make me uncomfortable, but he was most definitely reining me in. My copy of the app was deleted from my workstation, along with everything I’d uploaded from Gwen’s various devices. By the end of the week, I was back to entry-level threat assessment
and penetration testing. It was like I’d never been attached to the case at all.
I understood where Keats was coming from, but that didn’t mean I could just forget about it. If anything, my detour through Angeletti’s hellish little studio had me more resolved than ever. I guess I’m stubborn that way. Or obsessive, depending on who you ask.
There wasn’t much I could accomplish from the Bureau
field office. But lucky for me, I just happened to know someone else with a vested interest in this case. Someone who might be feeling a little cooped up herself and might appreciate a conversation that had nothing to do with midnight feedings or diaper rash.
So as soon as I could get away from the office that evening, I headed over to Eve’s for some unofficial consulting. I didn’t know what
I expected from her, exactly, but the alternative was to do nothing at all.
And that just wasn’t an option.
AN HOUR LATER, we were sitting at Eve’s dining room table, slurping down bowls of pho from Bon Me while I bitched about my day.
“Okay,” she said once she could get a word in edgewise. “Let me ask you this. If it were your case, what would you be doing?”
I liked the question. It was exactly what I’d been asking myself all day.
“I’d tear down that app from scratch, one subroutine
at a time,” I said. “There’s got to be some kind of vulnerable function in there. Some way to swim upstream back to whoever’s sending it out.”
Eve smiled down at Marlena, cooing and gurgling in her little tabletop bassinet.
“Black hat hacking the black hats,” she said. “I like it. But don’t be too sure of yourself. They know what they’re doing.”
“It’s moot, anyway,” I said. “Keats took away
all my toys. I can’t even look at the app anymore, much less run it. I should be asking what
“I’d be doing the same thing, starting with a full audit on the source code,” she said. Then she glanced across the room at her workstation and back to me again with a canary-eating look on her face.
“In fact,” she said, “maybe I already am.”
That’s when it hit me, like a Mack truck with
a big DUH on the license plate.
“You still have the app on your system, don’t you?” I asked.
Eve smiled again. “I thought that’s why you were here,” she said.
” I said.
All of a sudden, I wasn’t the least bit hungry. If anything, I was aggravated with myself for missing something so obvious. I hate making mistakes, and I really hate when they’re unforced errors. It was like I’d
just lost an hour I couldn’t get back.
That said, there was nothing stopping me now. When I walked over to Eve’s desk, I saw that she already had a web vulnerability scanner up and running. That was a good start, but I needed to put my eyeballs directly on that app’s code.
“You were just waiting for me to figure it out, weren’t you?” I said.
Eve shrugged. “Once a mentor, always a mentor, I
I pulled her desk chair halfway out. “Do you mind?”
When she didn’t stop me, I took a seat in front of the best-equipped array I’d ever known outside an actual lab. I reached for the mouse, but she got there first and laid a hand over it.
“This is a coding practicum, okay? A
Not an investigation,” she said. “For the record, you have no authorization from me to conduct any official
“Got it,” I said. My fingers were itching. I couldn’t wait to get started.
“I can’t be looking over your shoulder every minute, either,”
she went on. “I’m not going to be accountable for what you choose to do when I’m upstairs with the baby. Agreed?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Good,” she said, and stepped back. “Now if you need anything, I’ll be upstairs with the baby.”
not to smile.
A second later, she disappeared with Marlena and left me alone at the helm, fingers already flying.