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Authors: James Patterson

Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thriller

1st Case (13 page)

BOOK: 1st Case
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CHAPTER 44

KEATS CUT THE team in half at the end of the day. He sent two people back to Boston and put Obaje on a commercial flight to DC, to go meet with the Bureau’s Special Crimes Division. The rest of us checked into a Ramada and kept on working.

By midnight, I was holed up in my room, running scans through my laptop, with Jimmy Fallon on mute while I texted A.A. and picked at a chicken
salad from the Chili’s next door. Nothing like a little late-night multitasking.

How it goes, Piglet?

Kicking my ass to be honest.

I miss you. MIT’s not the same … :-(

You too, Pooh. We have to hang when I’m back.

YES

You need to get a bike so we can hit some trails

Hello? I don’t DO bike, remember?

You’d love it

Sorry, can’t hear you … going into a tunnel

:-)

Just then, another message
popped in. This one was from Keats.

You up?
he asked.

I’m always up,
I sent back.
What do you need?

Right away, a soft knock came at my door.

Of course, I thought. Billy never stopped working, either. I walked over and looked at him through the peephole.

I assumed this had something to do with work, but I’d have been lying if I said it was the only thing that crossed my mind just then. What
can I say? It’s not like Billy Keats’s good looks had an off switch.

Be right there,
I texted.
I’m all the way on the other side of this ENORMOUS ROOM.

I watched him read it and smile. Then I opened the door.

“What’s up? Did something happen?” I asked. “I can be ready to go in just a sec—”

“Nah,” Billy said. “Nothing like that. I just never got a chance to thank you.”

“For what?” I asked.
I honestly didn’t know.

“For this afternoon,” he said. “It’s been a rough one, obviously. I don’t like to make a habit of losing my shit. But I really appreciated what you said.”

I was almost embarrassed. Billy had done so much for me, and this seemed like the tiniest possible thing in comparison.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’m glad if it helped. I felt kind of corny, if you want to know
the truth.”

“Oh, it was corny, all right,” he said with the same kind of soft sarcasm he always gave me when he was busting my chops. “Still, it helped. And um … just … thanks,” he added.

“You’re welcome,” I said. I was genuinely glad to know that I hadn’t been a total goofball with him, and even more, that I’d been able to help on that level. For that matter, my own mother
had a tendency to
be corny and insightful at the same time. That must be where I got it.

Meanwhile, Billy was still standing there.

“So, anyway …” he said.

He pressed his lips into a tight smile and looked at the ground. I thought there was more coming, but the silence just kind of hung between us.

That’s when I realized the subject had just changed—or was about to—and that maybe I wasn’t the only one having
“thoughts” just then. Maybe, just maybe, Billy Keats had come to my room with more than one thing in mind.

It had been a while since I’d been with anyone. Too long, if I’m telling the truth. And it wasn’t like I’d gone out looking for him. Not this time, anyway. He’d come to me.

It was cute, actually, watching him stand there in my doorway now, shifting on his feet and trying to come up with
the right thing to say. Or maybe he was trying not to say it, for all I knew.

So I went ahead and did it for him.

“Do you want to come in?” I asked, stepping back to open the door a little wider.

I was wearing a cheap hoodie I’d bought on the fly that afternoon. It had a big red lobster on the front and didn’t exactly scream
Take me now,
but Keats didn’t seem to mind.

He smiled again. Then
he stepped inside, took the hoodie’s zipper between two fingers, and pulled me closer.

“Yeah, I do,” he answered, shutting the door behind him. “I really do.”

CHAPTER 45

SO, YEAH. THAT HAPPENED.

It wasn’t the night I was expecting to have. I’m guessing that Keats would have said the same thing, up to a point. But no regrets. I needed that, even if it did mean getting about two hours’ sleep, max.

When Keats’s phone rang at around dawn, I thought it was my own and jerked up in bed to answer.

That’s also when I remembered I wasn’t alone. Or wearing
anything.

“Yeah?” Keats said into his phone.

I lay back and pulled the sheet up to my shoulders. It suddenly felt a lot weirder to be naked than it had when I’d fallen asleep, all cozy and satisfied.

But there wasn’t much time for feeling awkward, anyway.

“What?”
Keats said. He sat up on the edge of the bed. “Wait, wait, wait, wait. How many—”

“What is it?” I asked, but he ignored me. He
shouldered the
phone, stood up, pulling on a pair of white boxers, and went into the bathroom.

“What time was she found?” I heard him say. And then, “How much?” Then, “Well, give me a range.”

I was up now, too, heart pounding as I reached around for whichever clothes were closest at hand. The clock said five twenty, and it sounded like Reese Sapporo had been found.

But what did that mean? Found
how? Alive?

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” Keats said over the sound of running water. “Text me the location. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”

A second later, he came back into the room, moving with a purpose.

“Sorry about this,” he said.

“Don’t be stupid,” I said. “What’s going on? Did they find her?”

“Yeah. She was dropped out of a car, blindfolded, in a parking garage at the Portland airport,”
he said. “Maybe half an hour ago.”

Thank God. With the Nigella Wilbur case, I’d been hugely relieved to find her alive. This was like more of the same, but on steroids. If I was being honest, I really hadn’t been expecting Reese Sapporo to make it back from whatever had happened to her. I wasn’t sure if Keats had been thinking the same thing, but a palpable sense of relief rushed through me.

“They just … let her go?” I asked. “Unharmed?”

“That’s right,” he said, yanking on his pants. His jaw was set tight against whatever else he wasn’t saying. Something more had obviously happened, but Keats tended to clam up whenever he took a hit.

“Come on, Billy. Spit it out or tell me to stop asking questions,” I said. “What’s going on? Am I allowed to know?”

He grabbed his shoes off the floor
and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Another family was attacked last night,” he said. “Three dead, including a nineteen-year-old girl with the same app loaded on her phone.”

Even now, after everything else that had happened, I couldn’t believe it. Any sense of reprieve from the Reese Sapporo case had just been snatched away and replaced with this, like tripling down on the stakes in a blink. Three
more people had just died.

“No,”
was all I managed to say.

“There’s a fourth victim who survived,” Keats went on. “An older brother home from college they probably weren’t expecting to be there. The kid was shot in the throat and left for dead. He’s in surgery now, but ought to be out by the time we get there.”

“Where are we going?” I asked.

I was throwing things into my bag as fast as I could.
Keats was ready to leave. He pocketed his phone and put a hand on the doorknob.

“Mass General,” he said. In other words, we were headed back to Boston. “That’s the other kick in the nuts. This family lived in Harbor Towers condos off Atlantic Avenue.”

And the hits just kept on coming.

“You mean—?”

“Yeah,” Keats said. “While we were chasing our tails up here, they were taking out their next
targets five goddamn blocks from our office.”

CHAPTER 46

OUR CHOPPER LANDED on the roof of Massachusetts General Hospital at nine thirty that morning, and we went straight to the ICU.

Keats was the only one allowed in, so I waited with another agent, Carl Baillette, in the nearest chairs. There was still plenty I could get done with my laptop.

And plenty to think about, too. This latest move wasn’t about spreading us thin. The FBI had
more than enough resources to cover as many crime scenes as these slippery sons of bitches could throw at us.

No. It was about flexing their muscles and showing off.

I’m no criminologist, but I know hackers. They’re driven by three things: ego, money, and notoriety, which is really just more ego. This was all about toying with us and controlling our moves. And so far, they were succeeding.

Emphasis on
they
. If there had been any lingering doubts about this as some kind of solo operation, those were gone. We now knew that the Nicholson family had been attacked in Boston within the same hour that Reese Sapporo was dropped off at the airport
garage in Portland. And nobody was calling it a coincidence. This had been a carefully orchestrated sequence of events.

At a minimum, there were
two perpetrators involved here, if not more. And they were clearly upping their game. Fast.

As for where it might be headed next, I could only guess.

A few minutes after Keats had gone in to do his interview with the one surviving member of the Nicholson family, he was back again. I looked up from where I was sitting and saw him motioning me over through the glass doors of the ICU.

“I need
your help,” he said, handing me some kind of visitor’s pass to clip on. “The kid’s name is Justin Nicholson. He’s cogent, but he can’t speak. You’re going to help him do that. I just need you to sit and hold his hand. Okay?”

“Absolutely,” I said. My head was swimming, but there was no question. Of course I could do this. I’d have to. And I was glad Billy had come to trust me this much—not just
because I wanted to be involved, but because I wanted to give him as much support as I possibly could.

I followed Keats through the ICU doors, into the antiseptic smell of the unit, and down to the last bed on the hall. That’s where I saw Justin Nicholson for the first time. He seemed to be asleep, but when we came in, his eyes fluttered open.

He was a huge guy, linebacker big, and took up most
of the bed. There was a tracheostomy tube in his throat, and I could see a yellow-and-rust-colored stain on the gauze around the entry point. From there, a ribbed white hose ran to a respirator, which was helping him breathe.

“Justin, this is Angela,” Keats said. “She’s going to assist with these questions.”

Right away, Justin seemed agitated. He looked at me wide-eyed and opened his mouth,
but nothing came out. I went to the side of the bed and put my hand on his.

“Don’t try to talk,” I said. Two tears ran down the sides of his face and I wiped them away with a tissue. It was heartbreaking to see him so devastated, and to think about everything he’d just lost. For all I knew, I reminded him of his sister, who hadn’t been much younger than me. Instead of asking any of the million
questions coursing through my mind, I tried to keep it professional and let Keats take the lead.

Keats put himself at the foot of the bed where Justin could easily see him. I stayed where I was, focused on Justin, ready to do whatever I could for him.

“I’m just going to ask a few yes or no items,” Keats told him. “You can squeeze Angela’s hand once for yes, and do nothing if it’s a no. Okay?”

I felt a tentative squeeze on my hand and nodded at Keats to keep going. This had to be quick. Justin was in no shape for a long interview.

“Justin, did you see the person who attacked you last night?” Keats asked.

I got another squeeze and gave Keats a fast nod.

“Did you see more than one person?” Keats asked.

There was no response. I shook my head for no.

“And the person you did see—was
it a man?”

Yes
.

“Anyone you recognized?”

No
.

I could feel a kind of quickening in the air. This was progress—the closest thing we had to an eyewitness—even if it was too little, too late. Justin kept shifting his gaze from Keats to me and back again. I could tell he wanted to say something. It must have been incredibly frustrating.

Then he mouthed my name—
Angela
.

“That’s right,” I said,
and moved a little farther down the bed
so he could see me more easily. But nothing I did seemed to calm him down. Not that I expected it to. He’d just lost his entire world.

“One more question,” Keats assured him. “Did this man say anything to you, Justin?”

Yes
.

He pulled his hand out of mine then and brought both of his own together in some kind of gesture.

“What is it?” Keats asked.

Justin
was insistent, motioning as emphatically as he could, which wasn’t much. He pointed with his right index finger and moved it back and forth across the other palm.

“Do you want to write something?” I asked. He tried to nod and winced from the pain.

“Stay still,” Keats said. “We’ve got you.”

Keats pulled a pen out of his jacket pocket. I managed to find a small legal pad in my bag. I put both
of them into Justin’s hands. He was shaking and dropped the pen, then waited for me to put it back in his grasp.

“Take your time,” Keats told him. “Tell us what this guy said, and then we’re going to let you get some rest.”

Justin was clearly struggling to get something down. The pen scratched and shook across the page, forming three barely readable words. When he finally stopped and dropped
the pad, Keats came around to see what it said.

I’d already read it. I wasn’t even sure if I could believe what I was seeing. But I did know one thing now. They never meant for Justin Nicholson to die. He was their messenger.

And right there, in a faint wavering scrawl, was his message from the killer.

Tell Angela hello.

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