Authors: James Patterson
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thriller
WHEN I HIT the sidewalk with Marlena still crying in my arms, a small crowd of pajama-wearing neighbors and passersby had already gathered. Several people were holding each other, some of them crying. I saw George dead in his car, again, and my knees buckled. It brought me down hard on Eve’s front step. I knew this was real, but I couldn’t make it into a fact. Not in my head. All I
could manage was—
Hold the baby.
Soothe this little girl.
I clung to those thoughts, and to her, until the police arrived to secure the scene. Suddenly, cruisers and personnel were everywhere. One of the officers took Marlena and swaddled her in his jacket. I hated to hand over the baby, but it wasn’t my choice, and besides, I was in no position to take care of her myself. It all went by in
a dark blur.
Soon after that, I saw Keats, Obaje, and the rest of their team pulling up. I had no idea how they’d gotten there so fast. For that matter, I had no idea how much time had passed by now, but I was glad to see them.
Billy took my statement first, slowly and deliberately, making it as easy as he possibly could as I walked him through what I knew. After that, he poured me into the
back of a manned police cruiser and brought me my things from inside. I wrapped my arms around my messenger bag like it was some kind of surrogate for the baby. Anything to hold on to.
“I’ve got someone coming to pick you up, an Agent Lisa Konrad Palumbo,” Keats said. “She’ll take you where you’re going.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Where am I going?”
“Somewhere safe,” was all he said. “You
need to disappear for a little while. Are you okay waiting here?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” I asked. It was a ridiculous answer, considering what I’d just been through, but I didn’t want Billy worrying about me. He’d already spent enough time on that. I wanted him out there looking for Eve.
Keats knelt by the open door and put both arms on the frame of the car, closing us in a little huddle. When
he spoke, it was a low murmur, just for me, and I could tell I was about to hear something confidential.
“She’s still alive, Angela,” he said. “I can tell you that much.”
“How can you know that?” I asked. “How can you possibly—
”But then I realized. Whoever was behind this must have notified the Bureau that it was about to happen. It was exactly the kind of move these attention-seeking scumbags
had been pulling all along. The more they accomplished, the more they flaunted their position.
“They told you ahead of time, didn’t they?” I asked.
“Just not enough to do anything about it,” Keats confirmed.
“For all we know, Reese Sapporo’s abduction in Portland was some kind of dry run for whatever this is supposed to be,” Billy
said. “My guess is they drugged her before they took
her out that upstairs window. But Angela? Look at me.”
I took a shaky breath and looked him in the eye.
“If they wanted to kill her, she’d already be dead. Okay? Trust me. We’ve got the whole city lit up with surveillance. We’ve already spun up a task force at the field office, and we’re covering every known route out of the city. Believe me, we’re going to find her.
give up hope.”
I gave him a nod, which was as much as I could manage.
“Go,” I said. “Do what you have to do.”
And then he was gone.
That left me alone with the cop in the front. I didn’t even know the officer’s name. He’d kept his eyes forward the whole time, like he didn’t want to intrude. Which was just as well. I didn’t feel much like chatting.
I hated to think about the hell Eve was in. Not to mention
how out of her mind she’d have to be, worrying about Marlena. But Keats was right. Eve had to be alive. Otherwise, why take her? Reese Sapporo had been returned unharmed. Maybe this was just another version of the same maneuver. With any luck, we’d have Eve back by morning.
But where was she now? What did these people want? And why? It was like a shifting constellation of questions, one moving
target after another, with no clear answers.
“Hey, excuse me? Are you hearing that?”
I glanced up. The cop had twisted around to look at me from the front seat. He chinned down at the messenger bag on my lap.
“Sounds like your phone’s going off,” he said. “You seemed a million miles away, but I wasn’t sure if that might be important.”
“You must have heard something else,” I told him. “I don’t
have a phone on me.” I’d dropped my burner inside the house, and it had already been tagged for evidence.
But even as I finished saying it, an unmistakable ping sounded from somewhere inside my bag. I looked down and back up at the cop, totally confused. He just shrugged and left me alone.
I had to rummage through my usual collection of junk to find where that sound had come from. And there,
at the very bottom of the bag, I found a silver Android phone I’d never seen before. It had a charger rubber-banded to it and a white bar on the screen that read
5 NEW MESSAGES.
What in the blue hell?
When the cop caught my eye in the rearview mirror, I wasn’t sure what to say. So I punted. “It’s my friend’s phone,” I told him. “I forgot I had it with me.”
But whoever had planted that Android
there was no friend of mine. That much was clear. They must have dropped it in my bag while I was outside losing it at the sight of George’s murder.
I tapped the message bar with a shaking finger. It opened the phone right up without any unlock code and took me straight into the app.
app. The one I’d been seeing everywhere I looked, ever since this case began.
And there, in the familiar
three-color interface, I saw my five waiting messages, all of them sent within the last minute.
Don’t say a word.
Don’t even look around.
One wrong move and Eve dies.
Hit me back when you’re ready for more instructions.
IN MY HAND, I now had a phone with the capability to listen, watch, and track my every move down to the square meter. I knew as well as anyone what that app could do.
So I kept my eyes down, heart thundering, and texted back right away.
What have you done with Eve?
The reply was almost immediate.
If you want to find out, start walking up West Broadway.
I eyed the cop
in the front seat, but he’d gone back to leaving me alone. My thumbs flew over the keyboard, sending another question.
Why would I do that?
At first, nothing happened. Then I got back a photo instead of a text. It was nearly identical to the one they’d sent just after Reese Sapporo’s abduction. It showed Eve in a blurry close-up, eyes wide, with silver tape over her mouth. And there, at the
edge of the frame, was the unmistakable black barrel of a gun, pointed at her head.
I slapped a hand across my own mouth to keep from blurting anything out. It was almost as if I was looking at someone other than Eve. She barely looked like herself, and I had no context for seeing my friend and mentor, this woman who had been more of a rock to me than anyone I’d ever known, trapped in this horrifying
Outside the cruiser, police and agents were buckling down the scene. Yellow tape had already gone up in front of Eve’s house and around George’s car. The crowd had swelled, and a few officers were starting to corral everyone up the block.
How am I supposed to walk away from this?
You’re the genius, Angela. You figure it out,
he wrote back. And then,
You have one minute.
that, a digital timer popped up on the Android’s screen, counting down from sixty seconds.
Maybe it was a bluff, but I couldn’t assume that. These people had shown themselves more than willing to kill for no reason. There was no time to come up with a work-around, either. I was already down to forty-five seconds.
And whatever they wanted from me, I was the one who had set it all in motion. There
was no way I could let Eve pay for my mistakes. That realization cut through everything else, including my panic.
“Hey,” I said to the cop in front. “I forgot to tell Agent Keats something.”
“I don’t have him on my radio,” he told me.
“No, I didn’t think so,” I answered, and looked down at the phone again. There were thirty seconds left. Half a minute to get out of that car. My hand was already
on the door handle and I took out my credentials for show.
“I’m just going to run in and find him. I’ll be right back,” I said.
“I can get one of my guys to—”
“Don’t bother, I’ve got it,” I told him.
Before the officer could say anything else, I slid out of the car and shut the door behind me with about fifteen seconds to spare. I knew I might have been making the worst mistake of my life,
but given the alternative, I can only say that I’d do it again if I had to.
I FORCED MYSELF to walk away from the cruiser at a casual pace. I couldn’t afford to draw any attention to myself, and I was terrified someone might pull me back.
I saw Obaje standing outside Eve’s front door, but he was talking to someone. Billy was nowhere in sight. Everyone was too busy to notice as I slipped up the block and away from the scene.
As soon as I turned off of Eve’s
street and onto West Broadway, I started running. I didn’t know where I was going, but my body needed to move. My mind was a seething mess of confusion and I was terrified about whatever came next. But at least my feet knew what to do.
Once I’d gotten around that first corner, the phone pinged three times in my hand. I looked down to read the incoming messages without slowing my pace.
Coffee. Five blocks on your left.
Order something and wait at the counter.
You have two minutes.
The on-screen timer had already reset and started counting down again. It felt like this was some kind of game for them. Like they were toying with me, and I had no choice but to play along.
I knew exactly where Carlito’s was and broke into a sprint the rest of the way. I focused on speed, focused
on my feet, focused on getting there—and tried not to think about what might happen if I didn’t.
When I reached the coffee shop, I stumbled as much as walked inside. It was after midnight by now. Most of the tables were empty and there was nobody waiting at the counter. I ordered a latte, gave my name, and shoved some money at the aproned dude staring back at me.
Then I looked down to check
the Android. Nothing new had come in.
I wrote, and hit Send.
At nearly the same moment, a chime of some kind sounded from across the room. My eyes snapped up to see a guy in a red and black Northeastern hoodie, just picking up his phone.
I held my breath. I watched as he read whatever was in front of him and set the phone back down without ever looking my way.
So I sent another message.
Hello? Are you there?
And again, the guy’s phone dinged.
Maybe it was a coincidence. Phones are constantly going off in a place like Carlito’s. But tell that to the adrenaline pumping like white water through my system just then.
Before I could think about it—or think at all—I was plowing my way across the floor. A few empty chairs tipped over in my wake, and the guy looked up just in time
to see me bearing down on him fast.
He jumped up with his phone and backed away.
“What were you just doing?” I demanded.
“What the bloody hell?” he asked in a clear English accent.
“Show me your phone!” I screamed, half out of my mind. I lunged for it and he stepped back again. Someone grabbed my arm from behind.
“Whoa, whoa! What’s going on here?” one of the staff asked.
trying to take my phone,” the Brit said.
“Where is she?” I yelled at him. “What have you done with her?”
“Calm down, miss!” he shouted back, just as I heard a new message dinging into my own phone. Then another, and another.
If anything was going to re-rack my focus, it was that. I tore my arm free from the barista and looked down to see what I had.
One block north. Right on C Street.
at the corner of C and Cypher.
You have two minutes.
The digital timer was back and had started its countdown all over again.
When I looked up, the Brit was staring at me like I was some kind of lunatic. And in fact, it was just hitting me that I may have made a horrible mistake. Maybe even a fatal one, where Eve was concerned.
But that didn’t mean I was wrong about this guy. He could have
been just one part of a larger team. Some kind of diversion, or test.
As I stared back, I could swear I saw him fighting off a smile. His eyes crinkled, like he was taunting me, silently daring me to make the wrong move.
When I checked the timer on my phone, twenty seconds had already evaporated. That left a minute forty to cover the next leg. I had to leave now if I was going to go at all.
I gave the Brit one last look, committing his face to memory—strong nose, sandy-brown buzz cut, cleft chin—and turned to head for the door. The last thing I heard before I hit the sidewalk was “Latte, single shot, for Angela?”
But I was already gone.
IT WAS GETTING surreal. I felt like I was slogging through mud and fog as I covered the next several blocks, texting back and forth on the fly with the architect of my own nightmare.
Where are you taking me?
Just keep going,
Are you going to release Eve if I do?
How do I know that?
You’ll have to take my word for it. Or not.
And then what? Kill me?
Then what? Talk to me!
The replies had been coming in as fast as the questions I sent, but now they stopped. When I reached the designated corner, I stared at the screen, waiting for something to happen.
I looked up and down both streets. There was nothing out of the ordinary to see, and nobody to catch my attention. The intersection was deserted.
I tried again.
Where did you go?
My breath caught in my throat as I started to imagine the worst. Was it over? Had I pushed too hard? Was Eve gone?
Then, as suddenly as it had stopped, it started again. A flurry of pings sounded and a series of messages scrolled in fast.
Change of plans.
Pocket the phone
Keep it on you at ALL TIMES.
One word about this to anyone and Eve dies
If we lose track of you,
Do not test us.
Do not forget these instructions.
We’ll be in touch.
I blinked several times, frozen in my spot. What in God’s name was that supposed to mean? They’d be in touch? When?
What do you mean?
I wrote back, just before I heard my name.
I turned 180 and saw Keats. He’d just jumped out of a cruiser, parked diagonally in the intersection behind me, lights flashing.
I hadn’t even heard the car coming. Now Billy was sprinting toward me with one hand on the gun at his hip.
I didn’t know what to do. My options were extremely limited, in any case, and I slipped the phone into my pocket as surreptitiously as I could. This was insane, but I couldn’t stop now. I had to protect Eve. And to do that, I had to keep the phone a secret, at least for the time being.
“I’m okay, I’m okay!” I said, just as Billy got to me.
“What the hell are you doing out here?” he shouted. “Have you lost your mind?”
It was a struggle to synthesize everything into one response.
Anything I said to Billy might be overheard through that Android. And any mention I made of the phone itself would almost certainly get Eve killed.
“I thought I saw them taking her!” I said. The lie
burst out of me in a panic. “I didn’t know what to do … and I just … ran after the car. I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have done that. I was wrong. It wasn’t even them!”
“Okay, okay,” Keats said, his voice easing. He put an arm around my shoulder and shepherded me toward the cruiser as it pulled up the block. “It’s done now. But Jesus, Angela, you scared the crap out of me.”
I could barely look him
in the eye. I felt terrible for lying, but the alternative was worse. The bulge in my pocket felt conspicuous as hell, even if nobody else seemed to notice. What I needed was a few minutes alone to think this through and not make any rash decisions. For once.
In the meantime, all I could do was stick to the story, take it one thing at a time, and pray that this sick little game hadn’t just come
to an abrupt end.