James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
PART ONE: FIVE MONTHS EARLIER
TWO MONTHS LATER
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
JAMES PATTERSON is one of the best-known and biggest-selling writers of all time. His books have sold in excess of 385 million copies worldwide. He is the author of some of the most popular series of the past two decades – the Alex Cross, Women’s Murder Club, Detective Michael Bennett and Private novels – and he has written many other number one bestsellers including non-fiction and stand-alone thrillers.
James is passionate about encouraging children to read. Inspired by his own son who was a reluctant reader, he also writes a range of books for young readers including the Middle School, Treasure Hunters, Dog Diaries and Max Einstein series. James has donated millions in grants to independent book shops and has been the most borrowed author of adult fiction in UK libraries for the past thirteen years in a row. He lives in Florida with his family.
MAXINE PAETRO is a novelist who has collaborated with James Patterson on the bestselling Women’s Murder Club, Private, and Confessions series; Woman of God; and other stand-alone novels. She lives with her husband, John, in New York.
A list of titles by James Patterson appears at the back of this book
In memory of Philip R. Hoffman Counselor and friend
CINDY THOMAS FOLLOWED Robert Barnett’s assistant down the long corridor at the law firm of Barnett and Associates in Washington, DC.
This meeting could be the beginning of something terrific, and she had dressed for the win; sleek black dress, tailored leather jacket, a touch of lipstick, and an air of confidence that came from the material itself.
As a senior crime reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, she had dominated the inside track, investigating and reporting on the vilest and most audacious serial murders of our time.
Bob Barnett, a lawyer and a literary agent, had represented her true-crime epic, Fish’s Girl, making a very respectable sale to a good publishing house. Then, as was said, “It debuted to great reviews” and had briefly touched the hem of the Times Best Seller list.
Fish’s Girl was the real-life story of a psychopathic serial killer with an equally deadly and immoral girlfriend. Reporting for the Chronicle, Cindy had helped the police catch “Fish’s Girl,” and the finale in the book — and in real life — had been a shoot-out. Cindy had been winged by a 9mm bullet and then returned fire, bringing down the psycho killer herself.
The entire Fish’s Girl experience had been extraordinary, but now it was old news. Industry press reported that book sales were down in all categories, and Cindy had been busy with her all-consuming day job.
Then, last week, Bob Barnett called her at home, saying, “I’ve been following your Burke serial avidly. Great work, Cindy. If you craft it into a proposal, I believe I can sell it.”
He’d asked her to write a treatment of the story; an introduction, a chapter outline, and at least one fully written chapter to show off her style for those potential deal makers who didn’t read the Chronicle. He had offered her a plane ticket and a room at the Ritz if she would fly to DC and meet with him about her recent coverage of the serial murders. Cindy had allowed herself to hope that Barnett would work his magic again.
“Call me when you’re ready,” he had said.
It hadn’t taken long.
Now, Barnett’s assistant led her into the corner office, told her that the boss was running a little late, and said, “Make yourself at home, Ms. Thomas. I’m right outside if you need anything.”
The office looked just as Cindy remembered it. The carpet was grass green. A slab of green marble was set into Barnett’s desktop, and potted orchids, most in full bloom, stood proudly on every flat surface. The floor-to-ceiling bookcase at a right angle to Barnett’s desk held every book he’d sold; Cindy saw Fish’s Girl was at eye level slightly out of line, as if Bob had taken it out to review before this meeting.
Cindy loved seeing it fitted in between the big author names, and after snapping a selfie with her book to show Richie, she took a seat on the sofa in the meeting area.
She was ready for Barnett when he strode into his office, saying, “Cindy, I’m so sorry I kept you waiting.”
“Not a problem, Bob.”
He shook her hand with both of his and took the chair at an angle to her seat on the sofa. He was a nice-looking man, designer glasses, natural tan, thick gray hair, and he was easy to talk with.
“I’ve been enjoying the view,” Cindy said. “And the orchids.”
“I’m a genius with orchids,” he said. “And not too bad at picking winners, either.”
She smiled appreciatively, and leaning forward, he got