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Authors: James Patterson

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BOOK: Alert: (Michael Bennett 8)
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WORST CASE

Children from wealthy families are being abducted. But the captor isn’t demanding money. He’s quizzing his hostages on the price others pay for their luxurious lives, and one wrong answer is fatal.

TICK TOCK

New York is in chaos as a rash of horrifying copycat crimes tears through the city. Michael Bennett cuts his family holiday short to investigate, but not even he could predict the earth-shattering enormity of this killer’s plan.

I, MICHAEL BENNETT

Bennett arrests infamous South American crime lord Manuel Perrine in a deadly chase that leaves Michael’s lifelong friend dead. From jail, Perrine vows to rain terror down upon New York City – and to get revenge on Michael Bennett.

GONE

Perrine is back and deadlier than ever. Bennett must make an impossible decision: stay and protect his family, or hunt down the man who is their biggest threat.

BURN

A group of well-dressed men enter a condemned building. Later, a charred body is found. Michael Bennett is about to enter a secret underground world of terrifying depravity.

For Sister Sheila

PROLOGUE
THE OLD SOD
 
ONE
 

“MIKE, MARY CATHERINE
here said you’re NYPD. So you’ve gunned down a lot of people, then, have ya?”

I raised an eyebrow over the rim of my glossy waiting-room magazine at Billy, the slim, scruffy law-office receptionist typing at his computer.

Like many of the Irish folk I’d come into contact with in southern Ireland over the last week, Billy had a distinctive, mischievous twinkle in his Irish eyes. Akin to hurling and Gaelic football, pulling the legs of dumb Yanks like me seemed to be an Emerald Isle national pastime.

“The land of saints, scholars, and sarcasm,” I whispered to Mary Catherine, who was sitting on the leather couch next to me.

“Well, that depends, Billy,” I said as I went back to reading about what Camilla was up to in my
OK!
London celeb mag.

“Oh? On what, pray tell, Detective?” the receptionist said, finally turning from his screen.

I casually put down the magazine and lifted the floral-patterned china cup of Gevalia coffee he’d fetched us when we came in.

“On what you consider ‘a lot,’” I said.

The law office was in the city of Limerick, around ninety minutes west of Mary Catherine’s family’s tiny farmhouse outside Clonmel, in Tipperary. It was in a new modern brick-and-glass building on a bustling street called Howley’s Quay that ran along the rippled slate ribbon of the River Shannon. Outside the floor-to-ceiling window behind the wise-guy receptionist was a high-rise apartment building and a ten-story silver glass office tower.

Not exactly midtown Manhattan, but definitely not the traditional thatch-roof rural Ireland I remembered from the last time I had been here with my family to visit relatives when I was fourteen.

The office belonged to a real estate lawyer, and we were there to close on the sale of the small hotel and golf course Mary Catherine’s mother had run before she’d passed away. Since it was a quick sale, money was being left on the table, but Mary Catherine hadn’t minded because they’d found a buyer who would keep the place running. Twenty-three people worked there, old family friends and cousins, and Mary Catherine needed to be sure that they would be taken care of before we went back to New York.

“Mary Catherine, sorry to keep you waiting,” said the real estate agent and lawyer, Miranda O’Toole, as she poked her head out of her office a few minutes later.

I took my coffee with me as she waved us into her bright office. Miranda was a tall, milky-complexioned woman in her forties with dark-red hair. She unbuttoned her elegant tailored navy blazer, slipping it on the back of her chair before turning down the Haydn playing softly from the Bose speaker on her desk. She smiled as she rolled up the sleeves of her cream-colored blouse.

“I hope your writing hand is limber, Mary Catherine,” she said, pointing at a high stack of papers on a small conference table by the window. “We have a lot of documents to sign.”

TWO
 

“BUT WAIT,” MARY
Catherine said as we sat. “Where’s the buyer? I thought Mr. Hart would be here with us. There was a lot I wanted to go over with him. You know—details about the place, the employee roles, and all the different shifts and such.”

“Oh, yes. Mr. Hart,” Miranda said, smiling pleasantly as she sat down beside us. “Unfortunately, he had a business thing today up in Dublin, so he came in and signed yesterday evening. I hope that’s not a problem.”

Mary Catherine looked at her, still a little confused.

“I…suppose not,” she finally said.

“Perhaps you could call him this afternoon,” Miranda said, uncapping a red-and-gold Montblanc pen and offering it to Mary Catherine. “Go over everything then.”

“Perhaps,” Mary Catherine said, finally taking the pen as Miranda deftly turned over the first sheaf of documents and opened it to the signature page.

“Um, Mary Catherine, before you get started, I’d like to ask Miranda a question,” I said as Mary Catherine was about to sign the first line. “If that’s okay.”

“Yes?” Miranda said a tad curtly as she darted her intelligent gray eyes at me. “I’m sorry, what’s your name again?”

“I’m Mike Bennett,” I said, smiling the most vacant, stupid Yank smile I could muster. “From New York City.”

“Oh, yes. Great city, that. Tell me your concern, Mike. I’m all ears,” Miranda said impatiently.

“I know it’s probably nothing, but what’s all this here?” I said as I pointed at the document. “Under Mr. Hart’s name. What exactly is Red Rover Services, LLC?”

“Oh, that’s just one of Mr. Hart’s companies,” Miranda said with a shrug. “He wanted to purchase the property through his LLC for tax purposes. It’s nothing to worry about. Happens on contracts all the time.”

“Oh, good,” I said brightly. “I wouldn’t want there to be anything out of the ordinary.”

“Completely normal,” Miranda said, nodding gently. “Any other questions? Shall we get started?”

“Well, actually, just one,” I said as she frowned again. “What does Red Rover Services do?”

“You know, I’m not completely sure,” Miranda said, biting on a knuckle.

I grinned some more as I slowly took out my iPhone and placed it on her desk with a click.

“Before we continue, why don’t I look it up? These smartphones are just incredible, aren’t they? Curiosity would have never killed that darn cat if only he’d had a smartphone,” I said.

“What is it, Mike?” Mary Catherine said, frowning over at me.

“Red Rover is a construction company, okay?” Miranda was starting to sound impatient. “They build housing complexes. Mostly in Northern Ireland, but they also had a few developments up in Westmeath.” Miranda paused, folded her arms. “But you heard Mr. Hart’s assurances that he’s going to keep the hotel running. You’ll not find another buyer, at any rate. Not in this market.”

She turned to Mary Catherine.

“You’re going back to America, Mary Catherine, right? So go ahead and sign. Take the money for your family. It’ll all work out, I’m sure.”

Mary Catherine stared at the lawyer. The Montblanc made a screech as she flicked it across the glass tabletop at Ms. Miranda O’Toole.

“No developers. I told you that at the very beginning. Several times. You’re a dishonest person, Ms. O’Toole. Putting my friends and relatives out on the street in order to make a few euro isn’t the kind of thing I do. Unlike you.”

“And you’re a very naive young woman, Ms. Flynn,” the lawyer said sharply. “That old place is on its last legs. Has been for a decade, and everyone from around here knows it. That ratty course has more rabbit holes on the fairways than the ones on the ragged greens. Take the money.”

“Mike, it’s time to leave,” Mary Catherine said, standing.

“Thanks for the Gevalia,” I said to the grim-faced lawyer as I clicked my china cup on the glass and retrieved my phone. “It was really awesome. Just like the good ol’ USA. And smartphones. Bye-bye, now.”

THREE
 

“WHY DON’T WE
just bring the kids here?” I said for the hundredth time as Mary Catherine and I lay on the guest-room bed staring up at the ceiling.

Instead of answering me, Mary Catherine’s warm hand found mine. She lifted my hand to her lips. Her lips soft and warm on my palm. Her soft cheek on my shoulder, warm and wet with silent tears.

I listened to the low murmur of rain against the roof. I knew what Mary Catherine wasn’t saying. She wanted me to stay. Or she wanted to come with me. One or the other. It didn’t matter. As long as we were together. As we’d always wanted to be. Only we couldn’t.

The dreaded morning of my flight was here. The real world was back and getting in the way, as usual. There was no way around it. No matter how we adjusted things. We’d have to be apart again.

What a week it had been. Like something out of a dream. We’d never spent so much time together—alone. For three days, we’d tooled around in my little Ford rental hitting bed-and-breakfasts. We’d seen the Ring of Kerry, the Lakes of Killarney. The best was the fabulous sunny day we’d spent at the Cliffs of Moher, enjoying a windy picnic of Champagne and Irish soda bread as we held each other, staring out at the sea and listening to the crash of the surf five hundred feet below.

I’d never laughed so hard in my life as I had in the previous few days. Or allowed myself to be quite so recklessly happy. It had been an unplanned, unexpected bubble of paradise. One we didn’t want to end. Ever.

Yet it was ending. Mary Catherine had to stay and sell the hotel to someone who would keep it open. I had to go back to the kids and my job. There was nothing either of us could do. At least not now.

Or maybe…

“What if…,” I said as Mary Catherine suddenly sat bolt upright in bed.

“What?” I said.

“Shh!” she said.

I shushed.

“No! It’s a car! What time is it?” she said as she leaped onto her feet and ran to the window. “Oh, no. She’s here! I knew she’d be early!”

“She” was Mary Catherine’s great-aunt, Sister Terese, come to take me to the stupid airport for my stupid flight.

“Get up and dressed! Now!” Mary Catherine said as I continued to lie there. “We can’t have this! If she sees you come down these stairs, we’ll need the coroner!”

“Oh, please, Mary Catherine. It’s the twenty-first century,” I said. “She’s a grown woman.”

“A grown woman? She’s an eighty-year-old Tipperary nun! It’s the thirteenth century to her every day! And the coroner won’t be for her! Out the window and into the backyard. Now!”

“Out the what? It’s the second floor!” I cried.

“Hang-jump it. I’ve done it before. You’ll be fine. Do it now!”

We heard a door come open downstairs.

“Mary Catherine? Are ye here?” came a voice.

Mary Catherine shoved me toward the window.

“I’m not going out that window in my boxers, Mary Catherine. That’s nuts.”

“Get!” she scream-whispered at me, and then suddenly I was hanging off the windowsill, letting just about everything hang out in the rainy breeze. For a moment. My hand slipped, and I landed on my bare feet with a squish in a muddy lettuce garden. I was barely able to catch the pair of jeans that flew out the window after me, followed a second later by my shirt, Top-Siders, and bag.

“Close your eyes, ladies,” I said as I ran into the clucking henhouse at the other side of the garden with my bundled clothes.

I’d just gotten my jeans buttoned and my muddy feet into my shoes when I heard Mary Catherine open the back door.

“Oh, yes, Sister. The hotel was nice enough to drop him off about ten minutes ago,” I heard Mary Catherine say. “He said he was going to take a little walk. He has to be around here somewhere.”

“Hey, everybody!” I said as I finally tucked in my shirt and stepped out of the henhouse. “Wow, you’re right, Mary Catherine. Those are some real nice chickens in there. Shiny…eh…coats on them and impressive…beaks.”

I turned to Mary Catherine’s aunt. She was about five one and stocky. The expression on her face seemed to indicate that she didn’t suffer fools well. Which was unfortunate, because she was about to be spending some time with me.

“Hi—I’m Mike,” I said. “You must be Sister Terese.”

The little old woman, wearing a plain, light-blue dress that matched her eyes, looked even more skeptical as we shook hands. Nothing new there. Skepticism was pretty much par for the course with me.

“Mr. Bennett,” she said sternly. “If yer all done with the…chickens, I’ll be waiting fer ye in the car.”

Mary Catherine grabbed me and kissed me as soon as the nun was out of sight. I kissed her back even harder, if that were possible.

“I’m not getting on that plane, Mary Catherine,” I said, finally letting go. “I don’t care. I’ll quit my job. I’m staying here.”

But it was too late. Mary Catherine was already running back to the house. The door slammed, and it was just me, the stupid Yank, standing in the rain in the lonely gravel farmyard.

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