Authors: James Patterson
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thriller
I SPENT THE next several hours pounding double espressos from Eve’s fancy Belgian machine and breaking the app’s source code into manageable chunks. This audit was going to take days, if not weeks. I’d only been a fraction of the way through it when Keats took the app off my system, and God only knew what kind of updates had been implemented since then.
At around two, my eyes were
starting to cross. I’d written code for twenty-four hours straight before, but this kind of analysis was a more intense discipline. Looking for vulnerabilities in a program isn’t just about finding something unusual in the code. A lot of times it’s about noticing what might not be there, which is another whole kind of insight and nearly impossible to process with a tired brain. Not that I was kicking
off for the rest of the night, but I did have to pace myself. So I took a break. I stole some dulce de leche Häagen-Dazs out of Eve’s freezer and gave A.A. a quick call to catch up on things.
“Hey,” she answered just after the first ring.
“Hey, Pooh,” I said. “I hear you’ve been having some unauthorized communication with my mother. Care to comment?”
I thought she’d laugh, or get a little defensive,
or something. But instead, there was just a long silence.
“Hello?” I said.
Then finally she said, “I can’t talk right now.”
“What’s wrong with your voice?” I asked. “Do you have a cold?”
“I’m not alone,” she whispered.
For a second, I was happy. At least one of us was getting laid again.
But that’s when I heard a depressingly familiar snore in the background. It was the same half
pig, half buzz saw drone that had kept me awake through the thin walls of Ashdown House on way too many nights before.
“Seriously?” I said. “You know there are three hundred thousand men in the city of Boston alone, right? Not just one.”
“I know, I know,” she said. “It kind of just happened, somewhere after the tequila shooters at Lolita. Can we talk about it later?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Or not. Whatever.”
“Are you all right?” she asked. “I can go in the other room.”
My mind was racing with all kinds of things, but nothing I wanted to say out loud. For starters, Darren was a piece of gutter scum, and A.A.’s taste for him truly baffled me. But more than that, if I was being honest, I felt betrayed. Just not in a way that I could see putting out there on the table for discussion.
Not right now, anyway. Maybe never.
“I’m fine,” I told her. “I should have texted. I’ll catch you later, okay? Have a good night.”
“Angela?” she said.
I pretended not to hear her. A.A. was free to make all the stupid, horny mistakes she wanted. God knows I’d made a few of my own. But that didn’t mean I had to sit there chatting away while that human error she called an ex-boyfriend slept in
the bed next to her. Thanks, but no thanks.
As soon as I hung up, I got a text from her.
Don’t be mad. Please?
I’m not mad,
I wrote back.
I didn’t intend to say anything else. It was more like my thumbs had little minds of their own and just kept going.
But you deserve better and you know it,
Then I turned my phone all the way off and got back to work.
OVER THE NEXT several days, my life fell into a pattern. I’d leave for the office in the morning and stay until a reasonable hour. Then I’d clock out and pick up some dinner on the way to Eve’s. I knew what she liked: anything Pan-Asian or Mexican, veg-and-protein salads, veggie pizza. It was all like the grownup version of the junk I ate in college. Once a computer jockey, always
a jockey, I guess.
I also knew she had enough sensitive information under her roof that she didn’t much care for delivery guys coming to the door. Part of showing up for work with Eve was about knowing the rules and not giving her any reason to think I might be compromising her security. It was a small price to pay for getting access to a system as cutting-edge as hers was.
After dinner, I’d
park myself at her desk and work as long as I could on the app, usually all night. Eventually, my static analysis—reading code—gave way to dynamic analysis, which is basically putting the program into action. That’s where I could really put the app through its paces. I’d send myself
modified copies and then track what it did in real time, always looking for some clue about how to trace this thing
back to its original source.
As long as I kept it inside Eve’s network, there was no way of being detected, which was key. It wasn’t just Keats I needed to hide this little project from. It was also whoever else might be watching, given the chance.
For that matter, it was entirely possible that my work was redundant to whatever Keats’s team was doing. In fact, I’d have been shocked if they weren’t
breaking down and analyzing this app in the same way as me. But the thing was, I didn’t get to know. Ever since Keats had dropped me from the investigation, I was completely in the dark about what he or anyone else over there was up to.
So I was more than a little surprised when all of that changed again, about a week later.
It was early on a Tuesday morning. I was just wrapping up another marathon
session when I got a call from Keats out of the blue.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m at Eve’s,” I said. “I was just about to leave for the office. Why?”
“We’ve got a bead on something at Boston Latin School,” he said. “I’m heading over there now.”
I could hear in his voice that this wasn’t just any lead. Something specific had happened. I could only hope nobody had died.
“The truth is, you
were a big help at the last high school,” Keats went on. “I want you to ride along, just in case we can use you.”
“Seriously?” I said. “I thought I was in time-out, or whatever.”
“See, one of the cool things about this job is that I don’t have
to explain myself to you,” he said. Even now, he was a little adorable. I couldn’t help noticing. “Can you be at Beacon and Arlington in fifteen minutes?
I’ll pick you up.”
I checked the clock. It was five after eight. The city was going to be packed with rush hour traffic, but I knew how to hack this one, too.
“Do you have room for a bike in the back of your car?”
“Yeah, why?” Keats asked.
“Then I’ll be there in ten,” I told him, and hung up on my way out the door.
EVERYTHING WAS MOVING fast now. Including me.
I barely checked the lights as I flew up Fourth Street out of South Boston. Sure enough, the roads were clogged and I was passing traffic at a good clip. It had been 8:06 when I hung up with Keats. I wanted to be in sight of him by 8:16, if only to start the day by kicking a little ass. It’s not unusual in Boston to hit maybe twenty miles
an hour on my bike, but for a couple of straightaways, anyway, I was definitely north of that number.
My mind was flying, too. I had a million questions about this new incident and how it fit into the larger picture. Considering where we were headed, this had to be something about a prospective victim. A high school girl like Gwen Petty.
God willing, this one was still alive.
Once I passed
under I-93, I took a right on Tremont, where everything opened up with wider streets and fewer buildings.
I put my head down and pedaled into the wind, while my thoughts churned just as hard.
I wasn’t going to tell Billy about how I’d been spending my nights. Not until I had something constructive to share. I didn’t want to lie to him, but I didn’t want to say too much without a good reason,
either. Not until all that moonlighting actually led to something worth sharing—
“Watch where you’re going, asshole!”
someone screamed to the tune of their own car horn. I wasn’t sure if they were yelling at me or someone else, but I
just swerved onto Charles Street at the last second. The city’s been working toward more bike lanes for years now, without much progress. The motto of the road
in Boston might as well be God Bless and Good Luck. I dodged another right-hooking truck, went around his left side, and kept going.
From there, it was a straight shot to the Public Garden, where Keats was picking me up. I ignored the burn in my legs and powered on. It was the fastest I’d ever biked in the city. And if I was being honest, part of that was about making sure Billy couldn’t give
me shit for anything when I got there. This was my chance to be taken seriously again, and I wanted everything to go perfectly.
Then again, I always do.
By the time I was flying through the park, it felt like all the joggers, walkers, and other traffic were moving in slow motion around me. I goosed a yellow light to catch a left onto Beacon and saw Keats just up ahead, parked illegally on the
opposite side. His flashers were on and his hatch was already up.
I checked over my shoulder, crossed both lanes in a fast diagonal, and hopped off my bike at a run.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Eight sixteen,” he said. “You’re late.”
“I’m exactly on time,” I said. I hoisted the bike into the back of the car and he slammed the hatch.
“If I’m waiting, you’re late,” he told me, with just a
hint of sarcasm. Then we jumped in on either side and Keats accelerated away from the curb, heading west.
No slowing down now.
“THERE’S A FILE on the seat,” Billy told me. “Take a look and tell me what you see.”
It was an ordinary manila folder with a red strip reading CLASSIFIED across the subject tab. Even there, I knew I was in new territory. Nobody had handed me a classified anything since I started at the Bureau, much less a case file like this one. I could feel myself getting drawn more and more deeply
into this case, even as we hurried toward that high school. It may or may not have been an actual turning point for me, professionally, but it sure felt that way. Some part of me didn’t even want to open that folder—didn’t want to know about another victim, another murder, another piece of darkness, just waiting to seep into my brain.
At the same time, some other part of me was beyond anxious
to know exactly what was about to happen and, for that matter, what had happened to put this new twist into motion.
So it was with something like the definition of mixed feelings that I flipped open the file and started reading.
A laser-printed school picture of a teenage girl was clipped to the top of the packet inside. She was white, with dirty-looking dreads set off by two big ladybug barrettes.
“Nigella Wilbur,” Keats said. I flipped past the school pic and to the report that lay underneath. “She’s been using the app for just over a week. We found all that”—he stabbed with one finger at whatever was inside the file—“forty-five minutes ago.”
“Please tell me she’s still alive,” I said.
Keats’s mouth constricted into a tight line. I guess that was the question of the hour. It was like
a lateral move for my nerves. Nothing had been confirmed or denied yet, but there were still plenty of possibilities for a worst-case scenario here.
My hands were shaking by the time I started flipping through the rest of the material in that file. I told myself it was because I’d been biking without gloves, but that wasn’t it. I could see that the next
several pages were a transcript of text messages and conversation fragments, just like the ones I’d found for Gwen Petty.
Behind those pages were printouts of several images, presumably camera snaps sent back and forth between Nigella Wilbur and whoever this person was coming after her.
The pictures themselves were all over the map, from innocently playful and flirty sorts of poses all the way
up to stuff that was explicitly hard-core. They were the kind of images that could get a man arrested, assuming Nigella Wilbur was as young as she looked. My heart was already breaking for her, just knowing the kind of trap this girl had wandered into.
I took a deep breath, clenched my fists against the shaking, and started to read.
I just smoked some skunky weeeeeed
Sounds like fun.
yeah it is
Are you alone?
Now i am.
Where are you tonight?
I’m outside watching you through the window.
Haha. Just kidding.
Don’t be scared. I’m friendly.
But weed makes me parnoid
In that case—I lied.
I really am watching you through the window.
Take your shirt off for me.
I’ll bet people say you’re different all the time.
What do you mean?
But I’ll bet not everybody thinks so.
Why you say that?
Just a hunch.
Well your right
But screw everybody
No … screw me. :P
You have a 1 track mind
Guys always think with their dix
You say that like it’s a bad thing.
Don’t put words in my mouth
I’m not even touching that
Can I see a pic?
If you’re good
You don’t think I’ve been good?
I mean yes
(0) (0) !!!!
That’s what I’m talking about
That’s all you get for now
Here something for you.
Fair is fair.
Holy shit, dude!
Did you really just take that on the street???
It’s all good
I’ll visit your ass in jail
I just bought a half ounce of the best green you’ll ever smoke.
And I share …
wow. Super subtle.
I see what you’re doing.
You’re supposed to see.
Let’s get together. Pretty please?
Does that mean probably? Or probably not?
It means maybe
Don’t tease me.
You luv it
I’m so into you it’s not even funny.
I wasn’t kidding on Tuesday. I really do want to meet you.
You ready for me?
Let me think about it, k?
Just say yes.
Tell me why i should
yes is a world
& in this world of yes lives,
I don’t even know what you just said
It’s a poem.
I’m getting a F in English
I’ll give you an F in whatever you want
So is that a
That’s a probably
Got to go …
already late for skoooool