Authors: Catherine Coulter
THE FBI THRILLERS
Twice Dead: Riptide
Double Jeopardy (2008): The Target
The Beginning (2005): The Cove
A BRIT IN THE FBI THRILLERS (WITH J. T. ELLISON)
The Final Cut
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
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Copyright Â© 2014 by Catherine Coulter
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Here's to us, J.T., and to a partnership I hope lasts for a very long time.
For Catherine, and Karen, and Anton, and Randy, and all those on Eternal Patrol.
I would like to thank Clive Cussler for giving me splendid advice on how to find the perfect writer for Nicholas Drummond and Mike Caine. It's an amazing experience, Clive, and you know what? I really lucked out. May you live long and prosper.
I would like to thank my brother-in-law, Alex De Angelis, for his assistance with all things Chinese. Alex, not only do you amaze me with how much you know, you are an incredibly kind, generous person. But lest you forget, I can kick your butt at Scrabble.
My rockâKaren Evansâthank you for always being here for me, for helping me find the right word, for never treating me like the technological idiot you know me to be.
And finally, I would like to thank all of those valiant men and women who came before us who fought to keep us free.
Life never ceases to amaze me. I always thought the ability to create characters, and story, was a lonely endeavor, something I'd spend hours locked away in my office developing, like a blind mole, hoping against hope that when I emerged, things would hold together.
And then Catherine came into my life, and I realized the combustible power of having two writers on a single project. Two approaches, two brainstorms, two brains!âit is a thing of glory.
The Lost Key
is a magnificent example of two brains being better than one.
I have to thank Catherine for the guidance and advice and too many laughs to count, and for loving the gulfstream-on-gulfstream violence. Working with you (and Mike and Nicholas) is a dream come true.
Darling Karen, for keeping us calm and focused;
Anton, for declaiming by the pool table;
Chris Pepe, for giving us brilliant notes and constant wrangling;
Scott Miller, for getting me into this in the first place;
Everyone who loved
The Final Cut
and reached out to let us know;
Jeff Abbott, Laura Benedict, Paige Crutcher, and Ariel Lawhon, who listened and yoga'd and fed me when necessary;
And, as always, my darling husband, Randy, who realized this book could only be made better by margaritas and new kittens. Love you, bunny.
J. T. ELLISON
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
“O Captain! My Captain!”
Lower Slaughter, Cotswolds
Ansonia was dead. And all those brave men who'd risked everything to end the bloody war were dead with her, and they'd left wives and children to wonder what had happened to them, to mourn, endlessly. Had their deaths been quick? Crushing tons of icy water and then it was over, quickly, so quickly, they didn't know the end was on them? He prayed it was so. All he had left of her was the letter she'd stuffed in Leo's coat pocket to give to him, his first name written in her hand on the envelope.
All that was inside were her hastily scribbled words explaining what she'd done and why, and how much she loved him and Leo, and how, with God's help, she would see them soon. Stay safe, stay safe, and all would be well. Signed simply,
Josef closed his eyes against the pain of it, a pain so deep he didn't think he could bear it. But he had to, he had no choice, for there was Leo, their son, depending on him since his mother was gone. He saw her now, his brave, foolhardy Ansonia, saw them together that last night, and thought now her smile had been sad, accepting, as if she'd known she would die. He shut it off.
Josef Rothschild would mourn her forever, but not yet, not just yet. He stared through the front window down the long, dark drive, then over at the thick night dark woods. Pearce would be here soon with five other Order members. William Pearce, Viscount Chambers, the head of the Highest Order, his friend and ally for such a short time. He knew it would last until they both breathed their last breaths, this odd friendship of theirs, a German and an Englishman, forged that long-ago night at the battleground of Verdun. He wondered if William would one day be the Prime Minister. Josef wouldn't doubt it. Even though William was young, he already had power, wealth, but most important, he had an excellent brain, a clear head, and honor.
Josef stared into the darkness. Where were they?
Six men of the Highest Order were coming to hear him announce that their plan had succeeded.
The Highest Order
âJosef had always thought the formal title of their society sounded so lofty as to be ordained by Godâbut now all members simply called it the Order. Yes, six members of the Order were coming to hear not only that they now had the kaiser's gold, but that they also possessed Marie's key and her book of secrets. Yes, they'd won, they would deal the kaiser a death blow, and they would raise a toast to Marie, magnificent Marie, architect of a weapon so powerful the one who owned it would rule the world.
But there wasn't to be wild triumph, because the scores of gold bars worth millions of deutsche marks, the kaiser's private treasury, the book, and the key were lost to both Germany and England in waters so deep he couldn't imagine the U-boat ever being found. In England's hands, having the gold would cripple the kaiser's war, but having Marie's horrifying weapon would deal a death blow. Now no one would have either the gold or the weapon, ever.
Still, he wondered if someone in the distant future would find the U-boat and the kaiser's gold and Marie's key. Would they marvel at the lunacy of men long dead? Marvel at their greed, their eagerness to crush one another, their butchering of the innocent? Would they look at Marie's weapon and be unable to fathom how any man, any country, could sanction its use?
Josef pulled the thin curtain back from the window and stared out into full darkness. There was no moon and the few stars shimmered off the ground fog covering the field beyond the cottage. The men would leave their cars hidden and come into the cottage one by one. The Order was always careful, rabidly so in wartime. Soon, soon now.
Josef looked over at the trundle bed in the corner, at his son, Leo, exhausted from his ordeal, still in shock. At last he was sleeping soundly, legs pulled up against his chest, one thin arm dangling over the edge of the cot, the small white hand open. Josef felt such fear, such love, that for a moment he couldn't breathe. If his son had died, it would have been his fault. But he was alive, he'd survived the hellish trip from Berlin to Scotland, the specter of death constantly riding on his small shoulders. Josef prayed Leo had understood all he'd told him on their trip from Scotland to William Pearce's cottage, understood that what his father and the other men had tried to do had been for him, for all the children of this useless, bloody war. Every time he'd said Ansonia's name, he'd tasted his own tears. And when he was through talking, the tears shiny on his cheeks, Leo had slipped his small hand into his father's and whispered, “Before we left her, Mama told me you were a hero. Now I understand why. What will happen now, Papa?”
Josef was humbled. He had no answer.
He looked out the window again. He saw a shadow running
across the field, and another, wraiths in the night, the darkness bleeding around them. They would stagger their arrivals, each coming from a different direction, a few minutes between them. Six men, dressed in black, weapons at their sides. Three carried WebleyÂ .455 Marks, standard issue, and two had Mauser C96s tucked in their holsters. They were prepared for anything even though they should be safe enough, here in a small cottage deep in the Cotswolds, expecting to hear news of their triumph.
The first man stopped, whistled loudly through his teeth in a poor imitation of a whip-poor-will. Josef whistled in return, and the man started forward again. A series of calls and answers began behind him.
The first knock sounded. Four taps, then two pounds. The signal.
Josef took one last look at Leo, then pinched out the lone candle. He opened the door, welcomed each of them. Their only goal was to stop Kaiser Wilhelm's war.
Only five men arrived. Where was William Pearce? He was never late. Josef gave all of them coffee, then, unable to wait, said, “The U-boat went down. The kaiser has lost both his gold and Marie's book and the key. And we did, too.”
Dead silence, then, with succinct finality, Wallace Benton-Hurt, head of the Bank of England, said, “So it's a stalemate.”
“Yes,” said Josef.
“I hear something, it must be William,” said Grayson Lankford, and went to the door.
Josef said, “Wait until he knocks.”
“No one knows we're here, Josef. You're being paranoid.”
“Yes, I am,” Josef said, “and that is the only reason I am still alive. Wait for the knock.”
Everyone waited, watching the door. Footsteps, then a knock. Two raps, sharp, like the end of a stick, or a rifle butt.
Not the right signal.
Josef knew they'd been found out.
He grabbed Leo into his arms and carried him to the closet. Leo's eyes opened, unseeing at first, then he focused on his father's face. “Listen to me, you have to stay here until I come for you. Do not make a sound. Do you understand me?”
Leo knew fear, and he saw it on his father's face. “Are we in danger, Papa?”
“Yes, the enemy found us. You must keep quiet, Leo. Remember what I told you. If something happens to me, you tell no one what I told you. Trust no one. Remember, no matter what you hear, you keep quiet.” He kissed his boy, wrapped the blanket around him, and closed the closet door just as bullets shattered the glass windows and the front door burst