Prologue | FIRE AND WATER
HANNAH WILLIS WAS a second-year law student at Virginia, and
everything that lay ahead of her seemed bright and promising ---
except, of course, that she was about to die in these dark, gloomy,
Go, Hannah, she told herself. Just go. Stop thinking. Whining
and crying won't help you now. Running just might.
Hannah stumbled and staggered forward until her hands found
another tree trunk to hold on to. She leaned her aching body into
it, waiting for the strength to take another breath. And then to
move another burst of steps forward.
Keep going, or you'll die right here in these woods. It's that
The bullet lodged somewhere in her lower back made every
movement, every breath an agony, more pain than Hannah had ever
known was possible. It was only the threat of a second bullet, or
maybe worse, that kept her on her feet and going at all.
God, the woods were almost pitch-black back in here. A quarter
moon drooping over the thick forest canopy did little to light the
ground below. Trees were shadows. Thorns and brambles were
invisible in the underbrush; they pierced and raked her legs bloody
as she pushed through. What little she'd been wearing to begin with
--- just an expensive black lace teddy --- now hung in shreds off
None of that mattered, though, or even registered with Hannah
anymore. The only clear thought that cut through the pain, and the
panic, was go, girl. The rest was a wordless, directionless
Finally, and very suddenly --- had it been an hour? more? ---
the low canopy of trees opened up around her. "What the..." Dirt
turned to gravel underfoot, and Hannah stumbled to her knees with
nothing to hang on to.
In the hazy moonlight, she could make out the ghost of a double
line, showing the curve of a country road. It was like a miracle to
her. Half of one, anyway; she knew she wasn't out of this mess
When a motor sounded in the distance, Hannah leaned on her hands
and pushed up off the gravel. Summoning strength she didn't know
she still had, she stood again, then staggered into the middle of
the road. Her world blurred through sweat and fresh tears.
Please, dear god, don't let this be them. This can't be those
You can't be so cruel, can you?
A red truck careened around the bend then, coming at her fast.
Too fast! Suddenly, she was just as blind as she'd been before, in
the woods, but from the truck's headlights.
"Stop! Please stop! Pleee-ase!" she screamed. "Stop, you
At the last possible second, the tires squealed on the pavement.
The red pickup skidded into full view and stopped just short of
flattening her right there into roadkill. She could feel heat
coming off the engine through the grille.
"Hey, sweetheart, nice outfit! All you had to do was stick out
The voice was unfamiliar --- which was good, really good. Loud
country music was blasting from the cab too --- Charlie Daniels
Band, her mind vaguely registered, just before Hannah collapsed
onto the pavement.
The driver was down there on the road a second later as she
regained consciousness. "oh, my god, I didn't... What happened to
you? Are you --- what happened to you?"
"Please." She barely mustered the word. "If they find me here,
they'll kill us both."
The man's strong hands wrapped around her, grazing the
dime-sized hole in her back as he picked her up. She only exhaled,
too weak to scream now. A cluster of gray and indistinct moments
later, they were inside the truck and moving really fast down the
"Hang in there, darlin'." the driver's voice was shaky now.
"tell me who did this to you."
Hannah could feel her consciousness slipping away again. "the
"the men? What men, sweetheart? Who are you talking about?"
An answer floated vaguely through Hannah's mind, and she wasn't
sure if she said it out loud or maybe just thought it before
everything went away.
The men from the White House.
Prologue | FIRE AND WATER
HIS NAME WAS Johnny tucci, but the boys back in his South
Philadelphia neighborhood all called him Johnny twitchy, on account
of the way his eyes jumped around when he was nervous, which was
most of the time.
Of course, after tonight, the boys in Philly could go screw
themselves. This was the night Johnny got into the game for real.
This was man time. He had "the package," didn't he?
It was a simple job but a real goody, because he was alone and
had to take full responsibility. He'd already picked up the
package. Scared him, but he'd done just fine.
No one ever said so, but once you started making deliveries like
this, it meant you had something on the family, and they had
something on you. In other words, there was a relationship. After
tonight, there'd be no more running numbers for Johnny, no more
scrapping for crumbs in southside neighborhoods. It was like the
bumper sticker that said, today is the first day of the rest of
So naturally, he was pumped --- and just a little bit
His uncle eddie's warning kept playing like a tape in his mind.
Don't blow this opportunity, twitchy, eddie had said. I'm way out
on a limb here for you. Like he was doing him some kind of big
favor with this job, which Johnny supposed maybe he was, but still.
His own uncle didn't have to rub his face in it, did he?
He reached over and turned up the radio. Even the country music
they played down here was better than listening to eddie's nagging
in his head all night long. Turned out, it was an old Charlie
Daniels Band tune, "the Devil Went Down to georgia." He even knew
some of the words. But the familiar lyrics couldn't keep eddie's
voice out of Johnny's head.
Don't blow this opportunity, twitchy.
I'm way out on a limb for you.
Blue flashers danced off his rearview mirror --- coming out of
nowhere. Two, three seconds ago, he could have sworn he had I-95
all to himself.
Johnny felt the corner of his right eye start to twitch.
He goosed the gas; maybe he could make a run for it. Then he
remembered the piece-of-shit Dodge he was driving, lifted out of a
Motel 6 parking lot back in essington. Goddamnit! Should have gone
to the Marriott. Got a Jap car.
Still, it was possible the stolen Dodge hadn't been flagged yet.
Whoever owned it was probably sleeping back at that motel. With any
luck, Johnny could just eat the ticket and no one would ever have
But that was the kind of luck other people had, not him.
It took the cops forever and a day to get out of their cruiser,
which was a bad sign --- the worst. They were checking the make and
the plates. By the time they came up on either side of the Dodge,
Johnny's eyes were going like a couple of Mexican jumping
He tried to be cool. "evening, officers. What seems to be
The one on his side, a tall dude with a redneck accent, opened
the driver's door. "Just keep your mouth shut tight. Step out of
It didn't take them any time at all to find the package. After
they checked the front and back seats, they popped the trunk,
pulled the spare-tire cover, and that was that.
"Holy Mother of god!" one of the troopers shone his light down
on it. The other one gagged at the sight. "What the hell did you
Johnny didn't stick around to answer the question. He was
already running for his life.
Prologue | FIRE AND WATER
NOBODY HAD EVER been any deader, or dumber, than he was right
now. Johnny tucci knew that, even as he broke across the tree line
and started slip-sliding down a ravine at the side of the
He could hide from these cops, maybe, but not from the Family.
Not in jail, not anywhere. It was a fact of life. You didn't lose a
"package" like this without becoming one yourself.
Voices came from up the slope, and then dancing flashlight
beams. Johnny dropped down low and threw himself under a clump of
bushes. He was trembling all over, his heart was going so fast it
hurt, and his lungs were heaving from too many cigarettes. It was
almost impossible to keep still and keep quiet.
Oh shit, I am so dead. I am so, so dead.
"You see anything? See that little bastard? that freak?"
"Nothing yet. We'll get him. He's down here somewhere. Can't be
The troopers fanned out on either side of him, working their way
down. Very deliberate and efficient.
Even as he caught his breath now, the trembling only got worse,
and not just because of the cops. It was because he'd started to
figure out what he had to do next. Strictly speaking, there were
only two real options. One involved the .38 he had holstered to his
ankle. The other, the package --- and who owned it. It was only a
question of which way he wanted to die.
And in that cold moonlight, it didn't really seem like much of a
question at all.
Moving as slowly as he could, he reached down and pulled the
.38. With a badly shaking hand, he fitted the barrel in his mouth.
The damn metal clacked hard against his teeth and tasted sour on
his tongue. He was ashamed of the tears coming down his face, but
that couldn't be helped, and who would ever know but him
Jesus, was it really going down this way? Crying like a punk,
all alone in the woods? What a crummy world this was.
He could just hear the boys now. Sure wouldn't want to go out
the way Johnny did. Johnny twitchy. They'd put it on his gravestone
--- just for spite. Those heathen bastards!
The whole time, Johnny's brain was saying pull, but his trigger
finger wouldn't do it. He tried again, both hands on the grip this
time, but it was no go. He couldn't even do this right.
He finally spit the gun barrel out, still crying like a little
kid. Somehow, knowing he was going to live another day didn't do a
thing to stop the tears. He just lay there, biting his lips,
feeling sorry for himself, until the cops got as far as the stream
at the bottom of the ravine.
Then Johnny twitchy crawled real fast back up the way he'd come,
ran across the interstate, and dropped into the woods on the other
side --- wondering how in Christ he was going to make himself
disappear off the face of the earth, knowing that it just wasn't
going to happen.
He'd looked. He'd seen what was in "the package."
Part One | FIRESTORM
I CELEBRATED MY birthday with a small, very exclusive, very
festive and fun party on Fifth Street. It was just the way I wanted
Damon had come home from boarding school in Massachusetts as a
special surprise. Nana was there, acting large and in charge of the
festivities, along with my babies, Jannie and Ali. Sampson and his
family were on hand; and of course Bree was there.
Only the people I loved most in the world were invited. Who else
would you want to celebrate another year older and wiser with?
I even made a little speech that night, most of which I forgot
immediately, but not the opening few words. "I, Alex Cross," I
began, "do solemnly promise --- to all those present at this
birthday party --- to do my best to balance my life at home with my
work life, and not to go over to the dark side ever again."
Nana raised her coffee cup in salute, but then she said, "too
late for that," which got a laugh.
Then, to a person, everybody did their best to make sure I was
aging with a little humility but also a smile on my face.
"Remember the time at redskin stadium?" Damon cackled. "When Dad
locked the keys in the old car?"
I tried cutting in. "to be fair �"
"Called me out of bed past midnight," Sampson said, and
"Only after he tried breaking in for an hour because he didn't
want to admit he couldn't do it," Nana said.
Jannie cupped a hand around her ear. "'Cause he's what?" And
everyone chorused back, "America's Sherlock Holmes!" It was a
reference to a national-magazine piece from a few years ago that I
will apparently never live down.
I swigged my beer. "Brilliant career --- or so they say ---
dozens of big cases solved, and what am I remembered for? Seems to
me, someone was supposed to have a happy birthday tonight."
"Which reminds me," Nana said, somehow taking the bait and
cutting me off at the same time. "We've got a piece of unfinished
business here. Children?"
Jannie and Ali jumped up, more excited than anyone. Apparently,
there was a Big Surprise coming for me now. No one was saying what
it was, but I'd already opened a pair of Serengetis from Bree, a
loud shirt and two minis of tequila from Sampson, and a stack of
books from the kids that included the latest george Pelecanos and a
biography of Keith richards.
Another clue, if I can call it that, was the fact that Bree and
I had become notorious plan cancelers, with one long weekend after
another falling by the wayside since we'd met. You might think that
working in the same department, same division --- Homicide ---
would make it easier for us to coordinate our schedules, but it was
just the opposite most of the time.
So I had some idea, but nothing really specific, about what
might be coming.
"Alex, you stay put," said Ali. He'd started calling me Alex
lately, which I thought was all right but for some reason gave Nana
Bree said she'd keep an eye on me and stayed back while everyone
else snuck off to the kitchen.
"The plot thickens," I muttered.
"Even as we speak," said Bree with a smile and a wink. "Just the
way you like it."
She was on the couch, across from where I sat in one of the old
club chairs. Bree always looked good, but I preferred her like
this, casual and comfortable in jeans and bare feet. Her eyes
started on the floor and worked their way up to mine.
"Come here often?" she asked.
"Once in a while, yeah. You?"
She sipped her beer and casually cocked her head. "Want to get
out of here?"
"Sure thing." I jerked my thumb toward the kitchen door. "Just
as soon as I get rid of those pesky, um �"
"Beloved family members?"
I couldn't help thinking that this birthday was getting better
and better. Now I had two big surprises coming up.
Make that three.
The phone rang in the hall. It was our home line, not my cell,
which everyone knew to use for work. I also had a pager up on the
dresser where I could hear it. So it seemed safe to go ahead and
answer. I even thought it might be some friendly soul calling to
wish me a happy birthday, or at the very worst, someone trying to
sell me a satellite dish.
Will I ever learn? Probably not in this lifetime.
Part One | FIRESTORM
"ALEX, IT'S DAVIES. I'm sorry to bother you at home." ramon
Davies was superintendent of detectives with Metro, and also my
boss, and he was on the line.
"It's my birthday. Who died?" I asked. I was ticked off, mostly
at myself for answering the phone in the first place.
"Caroline Cross," he said, and my heart nearly stopped. At that
very moment, the kitchen door swung open and the family came out
singing. Nana had an elaborate pink-and-red birthday cake on a
tray, with an American Airlines travel folio clipped on top.
"Happy birthday to you..."
Bree held up a hand to quiet them. My posture and my face must
have said something. They all stopped right where they were. The
joyful singing ended almost midnote. My family remembered whose
birthday this was: Detective Alex Cross's.
Caroline was my niece, my brother's only daughter. I hadn't seen
her in twenty years; not since just after Blake died. That would
have made her twenty-four now.
At the time of her death.
The floor under my feet felt like it was gone. Part of me wanted
to call Davies a liar. The other part, the cop, spoke up. "Where is
"I just got off the phone with Virginia State Police. The
remains are at the Me's office in richmond. I'm sorry, Alex. I hate
to be the one to tell you this."
"Remains?" I muttered. It was such a cold word, but I
appreciated Davies not over-handling me. I walked out of the room,
sorry I'd said even that much in front of my family.
"Are we talking homicide here? I assume that we are."
"I'm afraid so."
"What happened?" My heart was thudding dangerously. I almost
didn't want to know.
"I don't have a lot of details," he told me, in a way that
instantly gave me a hint --- he was holding something back.
"Ramon, what's going on here? tell me. What do you know about
"Just take one thing at a time, Alex. If you leave now, you can
probably be there in about two hours. I'll ask for one of the
responding officers to meet you."
"I'm on my way."
I'd almost hung up the phone, my mind in splinters. "What is
it?" "I don't think you should go alone."
Part One | FIRESTORM
RUNNING HARD, AND using my siren most of the way, it took less
than an hour and a half to get down to richmond.
The Department of Forensic Science was housed in a new building
on Marshall Street. Davies had arranged for Detective Corin Fellows
from the State Police CI Bureau to meet us there --- Bree and
"The car's been towed to our lot up at division headquarters on
route one," Fellows told us. "otherwise, everything's here. The
remains are downstairs in the morgue. All the obvious evidentiary
material is in the lab on this level."
There was that terrible word again. Remains.
"What did you bag?" Bree asked him.
"Troopers found some women's clothing and a small black purse
wrapped in a mover's blanket in the trunk. Here. I pulled this to
He handed me a rhode Island driver's license in a plastic
sleeve. The only thing I recognized at first was Caroline's name.
The girl in the photo looked quite beautiful to me, like a dancer,
with her hair pulled back from her face and a high forehead. And
the big eyes --- I remembered those, too.
Eyes as big as the sky. That's what my older brother Blake had
always said. I could see him now, rocking her on the old porch
glider on Fifth Street and laughing every time she blinked up at
him. He was in love with that baby girl. We all were. Sweet
Now both of them were gone. My brother to drugs. And Caroline?
What had happened to her?
I handed the driver's license back to Detective Fellows and
asked him to point us toward the investigating Me's office. If I
was going to get through this at all, I had to keep moving.
The medical examiner, Dr. Amy Carbondale, met us downstairs.
When we shook hands, hers was still a little cool from the latex
gloves she'd been wearing. She seemed awfully young for this kind
of work, maybe early thirties, and a little unsure of what to do
with me, what to say.
"Dr. Cross, I've followed your work. I'm very, very sorry for
your loss," she said in a near whisper that carried sympathy and
"If you could just give me the facts of the case, I'd appreciate
it," I told her.
She adjusted her glasses, silver wire rims, working up to it.
"Based on the samples I took, there was apparently a ninety-six
percent morselization of the body. A few digits did survive, and we
were able to get a print match to the name on the license that was
"Excuse me --- morselization?" I'd never heard the word before
in my life.
To her credit, Dr. Carbondale looked me right in the eye.
"there's every reason to believe a grinder of some sort was used
--- likely a wood chipper."
Her words took my breath away. I felt them in my chest. A wood
chipper? then I was thinking: Why keep her clothes and driver's
license? As proof of Caroline's identity? A souvenir for the
Dr. Carbondale was still talking. "I'll do a full tox screen,
run a DNA profile, and of course we'll sieve for bullet fragments
or other metals, but actual cause of death is going to be hard to
prove here, if not impossible."
"Where is she?" I asked, just trying to focus. Where were
"Dr. Cross, are you sure right now is the time �"
"He's sure," Bree said. She knew what I needed, and she gestured
toward the lab. "let's get on with it. Please, Doctor. We're all
We followed Dr. Carbondale through two sets of swinging doors
into an examination room that resembled a bunker. It had a gray
concrete floor and a high tiled ceiling, mounted with cameras and
umbrella lights. There were the usual sinks and stainless steel
everywhere, and a single white body bag on one of the narrow silver
Right away, I could see something was very strange. Wrong.
The body bag bulged in the middle and lay flat against the table
at the ends. I was dreading this in a way I couldn't have imagined
Dr. Carbondale stood across from us and pulled back the zipper.
"the heat sealing is ours," she said. "I closed it back up after my
initial exam earlier."
Inside the body bag there was a second bag. This one looked like
some kind of industrial plastic. It was a frosted white translucent
material, just clear enough to show the color of meat and blood and
I felt like my mind shut down for a few seconds, which was as
long as I could deny what I was seeing. It was a dead person in
that bag but not a body.
Caroline but not Caroline.
Part One | FIRESTORM
THE DRIVE BACK to Washington was like a bad dream that might
never end. When Bree and I finally got home, the house was starkly
quiet and still. I thought about waking Nana, but the fact that she
didn't get up on her own told me she was out cold and needed the
rest. All of this bad news could wait until later in the
My birthday cake sat untouched in the refrigerator, and someone
had left the American Airlines folio on the counter. I glanced at
it long enough to see two tickets for Saint John, an island in the
Caribbean I'd always wanted to visit. It didn't matter; all of that
was on hold now. everything was. I felt as though I was moving in
slow motion; certain details had an eerie clarity.
"You have got to go to bed." Bree took me by the hand and led me
out of the kitchen. "If for no other reason than so you can think
clearly about this tomorrow."
"You mean today," I said.
"I mean tomorrow. After you rest."
I noticed she hadn't said sleep. We dragged ourselves upstairs,
took off our clothes, and fell into bed. Bree held my hand and
wouldn't let go.
An hour or so later, I was still staring at the ceiling, hung up
on the question that had been dogging me ever since we left
Why had this happened? Why to Caroline?
Why a goddamn wood chipper? Why remains instead of a body?
As a detective, I should have been thinking about the physical
evidence and where it could lead me, but I didn't exactly feel like
a detective, lying there in the dark. I felt like an uncle, and a
In a way, we'd lost Caroline once before. After Blake died, her
mother didn't want anything more to do with the family. She'd moved
away without so much as a parting word. Phone numbers were changed.
Birthday presents were returned. At the time, it seemed like the
saddest possible thing, but since then, I'd learned --- over and
over --- what a staggering capacity the world has for misery and
Somewhere around four thirty, I swung my legs over the edge of
the bed and sat up. My heart and mind were not to be eased.
Bree's voice stopped me. "Where are you going? It's still
"I don't know, Bree," I said. "Maybe the office. Try and get
something done. You should go back to sleep."
"I haven't been asleep." She sat up behind me and put her arms
around my shoulders. "You're not alone on this. Whatever's
happening to you is happening to me."
I let my head hang and just listened to her soothing voice. She
was right --- we were in this together. It had been like that ever
since we'd met, and that was a good thing.
"I'm going to do anything it takes for you and for this whole
family to get through this," she said. "And tomorrow, you and I are
going to go out there and we're going to start to find out who did
this terrible thing. You hear me?"
For the first time since Davies's phone call, I felt a warm spot
in my chest --- nothing like happiness or even relief, but
gratitude, anyway. Something to be glad for. I'd lived most of my
life without Bree, and now I couldn't imagine how.
"How did I find you?" I asked her. "How did I get so lucky?"
"It's not luck." She held on to me even tighter. "It's love,
Part One | FIRESTORM
IT SEEMED BOTH appropriate and ironic to Gabriel Reese that this
odd, almost unprecedented middle-of-the-night meeting take place in
a building originally built for the State, Navy, and War
Departments. Reese lived by a deep sense of the historic in
everything he did. Washington, you could say, was in his blood, in
his family's blood for three generations.
The vice president himself had called Reese, sounding more than
a little tense, and Walter Tillman had run two Fortune 100
companies, so he knew a thing or two about pressure. He hadn't
given details, just told Reese to be at the eisenhower executive
office Building, now. Technically, this was the VP's ceremonial
office, the same one where veeps from Johnson through Cheney had
welcomed leaders from every quadrant of the globe.
More apt and to the point, it was away from the West Wing and
whatever eyes and ears this secret meeting was clearly designed to
The doors to the inner office were closed when Reese got there.
Dan Cormorant, head of the White House's Secret Service detail, was
stationed outside with two other agents farther down the hall in
Reese let himself in. Cormorant followed and closed the heavy
wood doors behind them.
"Sir?" said Reese.
Vice President Tillman stood with his back to them at the far
end of the room. A row of windows reflected the glow of half-lit
globes on an elaborate gasolier overhead, a reproduction. Several
glass-encased ship models gave a more specific reference to the
building's history. This office had been general Pershing's during
World War II.
Tillman turned and spoke. "We've got a situation, Gabe. Come and
sit down. This is not good. Hard to imagine how it could be much
Part One | FIRESTORM
AGENT CORMORANT WALKED forward and took a standing position next
to the vice president. It was an odd move, and Reese's gut
tightened another notch. He was chief of staff --- there was very
little that the Secret Service should know about ahead of him. But
they clearly did in this case. What in the name of god had
happened? To whom had it happened?
The vice president nodded for Cormorant to go ahead and
"Thank you, sir. Gabe, keeping what I'm about to tell you to
yourself probably constitutes a felony. You need to know that
before I --- "
"Just spit it out, Dan."
Gabe Reese liked Cormorant well enough, just not the way he
pushed the bounds of his position. Tillman had brought both of them
along, all the way up from the old days of Philadelphia politics,
so there was some leeway to be expected here. It was just that
Cormorant always seemed to make a little more of it than Reese
thought he should. Then again, Cormorant probably thought Reese
lived with a stick up his ass.
"Have you ever heard the name Zeus mentioned in any work-related
context?" the agent asked. "Zeus, as in the greek god."
Reese thought for a moment. Secret Service had revolving code
names for all protectees, but that certainly wasn't a familiar one,
and, of course, it would have to be a higher-up. He shook his head.
"I don't think so. Should I have?"
Cormorant didn't answer the question, merely continued. "over
the past six months, there have been a series of missing-persons
cases all over the mid-Atlantic region. Mostly women, but a few men
too, and all of them in a certain profession, if you follow me,
which I'm sure you do. So far, nothing's connected them."
"Until now," Reese inferred aloud. "What the hell is going
"Our intel division has three separate communications intercepts
linking this tag, Zeus, to three separate cases. last night, it
came up again, but on a known homicide this time." He paused for
emphasis. "All of this is classified, of course."
Reese felt his patience slipping fast. "What does this have to
do with the vice president? Or the president --- since you've
called me in? I'm not even sure we should be having this
Tillman spoke up then, cutting through the bullshit as usual.
"This Zeus, whoever it is, has some kind of connection to the White
"What?" Suddenly Reese was up and out of his chair. "What kind
of connection? What are you saying --- exactly? What the hell is
going on here?"
"We don't know," Cormorant said. "That's the first part of the
fucking problem. The second is shielding the administration from
whatever this is going to be."
"Your job is covering the president and vice president, not the
entire administration," Reese shot back, his voice rising.
Cormorant stood firm, both arms folded across his chest. "My job
is to investigate and prevent any potential threat --- "
"Both of you, please shut it!" Tillman's voice rose to a shout.
"We're all together on this or the meeting is terminated right now.
You got that? Both of you?"
They answered in unison. "Yes, sir."
"Dan, I already know what you think. Gabe, I want your honest
opinion. I'm not at all sure we should keep this quiet. It could
very easily come back to bite us, and we're not talking about
censure or a slap on the wrist here. Not with this Congress. Not
with the press either. And surely not if this actually involves
Murder? Dear god, Reese thought.
He ran a hand through his hair, which had been silver since his
midtwenties. "Sir, I'm not sure that an off-the-cuff answer to a
question like this is in your best interests, or the president's.
Is this a rumor? Are there hard facts to substantiate it? What
facts? Does the president know yet?"
"The problem is that we know very little at this juncture.
Goddamnit, Gabe, what does your gut tell you? I know you have an
opinion. And no, the president doesn't know. We know."
Tillman was big on gut, and he was right; Reese did already have
"Going public is a bell that can't be unrung. We should find out
what we can, within a very limited time frame. Say two or three
days. Or until you specify otherwise, sir," he added for Agent
Cormorant's benefit. "And we'll need an exit strategy. Something to
distance ourselves when and if any story comes out before we want
"I agree, sir," Cormorant put in. "We're way too much in the
dark right now, and that is unacceptable."
Tillman took a deep breath that Reese read as both resignation
and assent. "I want you two working together on this. No phone
calls, though, and for god's sake, no e-mails. Dan, can you assure
me that absolutely none of this goes through the Crisis
"I can, sir. I'll have to speak to a few of my men. But it can
be contained. For a while."
"Gabe, you mentioned exit strategies?"
"Think dimensionally here, all possible scenarios. Anticipate
everything. And I mean everything."
"I will, sir. My mind is going at about a million miles an hour
"Good man. Any other questions?"
Reese had already started scanning his memory for historical or
legal precedent, more out of habit than anything. There were no
questions of loyalty here. His only reservation was situational.
Good god Almighty --- if there was a serial killer connected to the
White House? Any kind of killer?
"Sir, if there's word out on this, what's to keep anyone else
--- god forbid a reporter --- from picking up on it?"
Cormorant looked offended, but he let the vice president
"It's the Secret Service, Gabe. We're not talking about an
open-source intelligence here." Cormorant stood down and Reese
"But that's not the kind of insurance I'm going to depend on
either. I want this done fast, gentlemen. Fast and clean and
thorough. We need some real facts. And clarity. We need to find out
who the hell Zeus is and what he's done, and then we have to deal
with it like it never happened."
Part One | FIRESTORM
THE PUNCHES KEPT coming, hard ones. Despite the Rhode Island
driver's license, Caroline had been living in Washington for the
last six months, but she'd never tried to make contact with me. She
had an english-style basement apartment on C near Seward Square ---
less than a mile from our house on Fifth Street. I'd jogged by her
building dozens of times.
"She had nice taste," Bree said, looking around the small but
stylish living room.
The furniture and decor had an Asian influence, lots of dark
wood, bamboo, and healthy-looking plants. A lacquered table by the
front door held three river stones, one of them carved with the
I didn't know if that felt more like a taunt or a reminder.
Caroline's apartment was nowhere that I wanted to be right now. I
wasn't ready for it.
"Let's split up," I told Bree. "We'll cover the apartment faster
I started with the bedroom, forcing myself to keep going. Who
were you, Caroline? What happened to you? How could you die the way
One of the first things that caught my attention was a small
brown leather date book on a desk near her bed. When I grabbed it,
a couple of business cards fluttered out and onto the floor.
I picked them up and saw they were both for Capitol Hill
lobbyists --- though I didn't recognize the names, just the
Half of Caroline's date book pages were blank; the others had
strings of letters written on them, starting at the beginning of
the year and going about two months ahead. each string was ten
letters, I noticed right off. The most recent, from almost two
weeks before Caroline had died, was SOD-BBLZHII. With ten
The first thing I thought of was phone numbers, presumably coded
or scrambled for privacy.
And if I asked myself why at that point, it was only because I
was putting off an inevitable conclusion. By the time I'd gone
through the big rosewood dresser in her walk-in closet, there was
little doubt left about how my niece had been affording this
beautiful apartment and everything in it.
The top drawers were filled with every kind of lingerie I could
imagine, and I have a good imagination. There was the more expected
lacy and satin stuff, but also leather, with and without studs,
latex, rubber --- all of it neatly folded and arranged. Probably
the way her mother had taught her to organize her clothing as a
The bottom drawers held a collection of restraints, insertive
objects, toys, and contraptions, some of which I could only guess
about and shake my head over.
Separately, everything I'd found was no more than
circumstantial. All together, it got me very depressed, very
Was this why Caroline had moved to DC? And was it the reason
she'd died the way she did?
I came out to the living room in a fog, not even sure I could
talk yet. Bree was down on the floor with an open box and several
photos spread in front of her.
She held one up for me to see. "I'd recognize you anywhere," she
It was a snapshot of Nana, Blake, and me. I even knew the date
--- July 4, 1976, the summer of the Bicentennial. In the picture,
my brother and I were wearing plastic boaters with red, white, and
blue bands around them. Nana looked impossibly young and so
Bree stood up next to me, still looking at the photo. "She
didn't forget you, Alex. One way or another, Caroline knew who you
were. It makes me wonder why she didn't try to contact you after
she came to DC."
The picture of Nana, my brother, and me wasn't mine to take, but
I put it in my jacket pocket anyway. "I don't think she wanted to
be found," I said. "Not by me. Not by anybody she knew. She was an
escort, Bree. High-end. Anything goes."
Excerpted from I, ALEX CROSS © Copyright 2011 by James
Patterson. Reprinted with permission by Vision. All rights