Part One | ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE
AT THE TIME of his formal sentencing in Alexandria, Virginia, for
eleven known murders, the former FBI agent and pattern killer Kyle
Craig, known as the Mastermind, was lectured and condescended to by
U.S. District Judge Nina Wolff. At least that’s the way he
took the judicial scolding, and he definitely took it personally,
and very much to heart.
“Mr. Craig, you are, by any criteria I know, the most evil
human being who has ever come before me in this courtroom, and some
despicable characters have come —”
Craig interrupted, “Thank you so very much, Judge Wolff.
I’m honored by your kind and, I’m quite sure,
thoughtful words. Who wouldn’t be pleased to be the best? Do
continue. This is music to my ears.”
Judge Wolff nodded calmly, then went on as if Craig hadn’t
spoken a word.
“In reparation for these unspeakable murders and repeated
acts of torture, you are hereby sentenced to death. Until such
sentence is carried out, you will spend the remainder of your life
in a supermaximum-security prison. Once there, you will be cut off
from human contact as most of us know it. You will never see the
sun again. Take him out of my sight!”
“Very dramatic,” Kyle Craig called to Judge Wolff as he
was escorted from the courtroom, “but it’s not going to
happen that way. You’ve just given yourself a death
“I will see the sun again, and I’ll see you, Judge
Wolff. You can bet on it. I’ll see Alex Cross again. For
sure, I will see Alex Cross. And his charming family. You have my
word on it, my solemn promise before all these witnesses, this
pathetic audience of thrill seekers and press hyenas, and all the
rest of you who honor me with your presence today. You
haven’t seen the last of Kyle Craig.”
In the audience, among the “thrill seekers and press
hyenas,” was Alex Cross. He listened to his former
friend’s empty threats. And yet he couldn’t help hoping
that ADX Florence was as secure as it was supposed to be.
Prologue | IN YOUR HONOR
FOUR YEARS TO THE DAY LATER, Kyle Craig was still being held, or
perhaps smothered was the more apt description, in the
maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado, about a hundred
miles from Denver. He hadn’t seen the sun in all that time.
He was cut off from most human contact. His anger was growing,
blossoming, and that was a terrifying thing to consider.
His fellow inmates included the Unabomber — Ted Kaczynski;
Oklahoma City conspirator Terry Nichols; and Al Qaeda terrorists
Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui. None of them had required much
sunblock lately either. The prisoners were kept locked away in
soundproof, seven-by-twelve concrete cells for twenty-three hours
every day, completely isolated from anyone other than their lawyers
and high-security guards. The solitary experience at ADX Florence
had been compared to “dying every single day.”
Even Kyle admitted that escaping from Florence was a daunting
challenge, maybe impossible. In fact, none of the prisoners
inside had ever succeeded, or even come close. Still, one could
only hope, one could dream, one could plot and exercise the old
imagination. One could most definitely plan a little
His case was currently on appeal, and his lawyer from Denver, Mason
Wainwright, visited once a week. This day, he arrived as he always
did, promptly at four p.m.
Mason Wainwright sported a long silver-gray ponytail, scuffed black
cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat worn jauntily back on his head. He
had on a buckskin jacket, a snakeskin belt, and large horn-rimmed
glasses that gave him the appearance of a rather studious
country-and-western singer, or a country-and-western-loving college
professor, take your pick. He seemed a curious choice as an
attorney, but Kyle Craig had a reputation for brilliance, so the
selection of Wainwright wasn’t seriously questioned.
Craig and the lawyer hugged when Wainwright arrived. As he usually
did, Kyle whispered near the lawyer’s ear,
“There’s no videotaping permitted in this room? That
rule is still in force? You’re sure of it, Mr.
“There’s no videotape,” answered Wainwright.
“You have attorney-client privilege, even in this pathetic
hellhole. I’m sorry that I can’t do more for you. I
sincerely apologize for that. You know how I feel about
“I don’t question your loyalty, Mason.”
Following the hug, Craig and the lawyer sat on opposite sides of a
gray metal conference table, which was bolted securely to the
concrete floor. So were the chairs.
Kyle now asked the lawyer eight specific questions, always the same
questions, in session after session. He asked them rapidly, leaving
no time for any answers by his attorney, who just sat there in
“That great consoler of mass-murdering prisoners, Truman
Capote, once said that he was afraid of two things, and two things
only. So which of these is worse, betrayal or abandonment?”
Kyle Craig began, then went right to the next question.
“What was the very first thing you forced yourself not to cry
over, and how old were you when it occurred?”
And then, “Tell me this, Counselor: what is the average
length of time it takes a drowning person to lose
“Here’s something I’m curious about — do
most murders take place indoors or out?
“Why is laughing at a funeral considered unacceptable, while
crying at a wedding is not?
“Can you hear the sound of one hand clapping if all the flesh
is removed from the hand?
“How many ways are there to skin a cat, if you wish it to
remain alive through the entire process?
“And, oh yes, how are my Boston Red Sox doing?”
Then there was silence between Kyle and the lawyer. Occasionally,
the convicted murderer would ask a few more specifics —
perhaps additional detail about the Red Sox or about the Yankees,
whom he despised, or about some interesting killer working on the
outside whom the lawyer had informed him about.
Then came another hug as Mason Wainwright was about to leave the
The lawyer whispered against Kyle’s cheek.
“They’re ready to go. The preparations are complete.
There will be important doings in Washington, DC, soon. There will
be payback. We expect a large audience. All in your
Kyle Craig didn’t say anything to this news, but he put his
index fingers together and pressed them hard against the
lawyer’s skull. Very hard indeed, and he made an unmistakable
impression that traveled instantly to Mason Wainwright’s
The fingers were in the shape of a cross.
Part One | ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE
The first story, a thriller, involved an Iraqi soldier and a crime
writer. This soldier was observing a twelve-story luxury apartment
building, and he was thinking, So this is how the rich and
famous live. Stupidly at best, and very dangerously for
He began his checklist of possibilities for a break-in.
The service entrance at the back of the superluxury River-walk
apartment building was rarely, if ever, used by the residents, or
even by their sullen lackeys. More secluded than the main entry or
the underground parking garage, it was also more vulnerable.
A single reinforced door showed off no external hardware. The frame
was wired on all sides.
Any attempt at forced entry would trigger simultaneous alarms at
the Riverwalk’s main office and with dispatch at a private
security firm based just a few blocks away.
Static overhead cameras monitored all deliveries and other foot
traffic during the day.
Use of the entrance was forbidden after seven p.m., when motion
detectors were also engaged.
None of this was a serious problem, the soldier believed. Actually,
it was an advantage for him.
Yousef Qasim had been a captain for twelve years with the
Mukhabarat under Saddam. He had a sixth sense about such things,
anything to do with the illusion of security. Qasim could see what
the Americans could not — that their love of technology made
them complacent and blind to danger. His best way into the
Riverwalk was also the easiest.
Garbage was the answer. Qasim knew it was carried out every Monday,
Wednesday, and Friday afternoon, without fail. American efficiency,
so valued here, was another of the luxury building’s
Efficiency was predictability.
Predictability was weakness.
SURE ENOUGH, at 4:34 p.m. the door to the service entrance opened
from inside. A tall black lackey in stained green coveralls and a
silver Afro latched a chain from inside the door to a hook on the
outside wall. His flatbed dolly, loaded with bulging plastic
garbage bags, was too wide to negotiate the opening.
The man moved slowly, lazily carrying two bags at a time to a pair
of commercial Dumpsters at the far end of a covered loading
This man is still a slave to the whites, Qasim thought to
himself. And look at him — the pathetic shuffle, the
downcast eyes. He knows it too. He hates his job and the terrible
people in the Riverwalk building.
Qasim watched closely, and he counted. Twelve paces away from the
door, nine seconds to throw the garbage bags in, then back
On the man’s third trip, Qasim slipped by him unnoticed. And
if his own cap and green coveralls weren’t enough to fool the
camera, it was no crucial matter. He’d be long gone by the
time anyone came to investigate the security breach.
He found the poorly lit service stairs easily enough. Qasim took
the first flight cautiously, then ran up the next three. Actually,
the running released pent-up adrenaline, which was useful to get
On the fourth-floor landing was an unused utility closet, where he
stashed the garment bag he had carried in, then continued up to
Less than three and a half minutes after entering the luxury
building, he stood at the front door to apartment 12F. He gauged
his position relative to the peephole in the door. His finger
hovered over the buzzer, a recessed white button in the painted
But he went no further than that. He didn’t actually push the
Without making a sound, he turned on his heels and left the way he
had come. Minutes later, he was back out on the street, busy
The drill, the rehearsal, had gone fairly well. There were no major
issues, no surprises either. And now Qasim jostled along with the
rush-hour pedestrian traffic. He was invisible here, just as unseen
in this herd as he needed to be.
He felt no impatience for the execution up on the twelfth floor.
Patience and impatience were irrelevant to him. Preparation,
timing, completion, success: those were the things that
When the time came, Yousef Qasim would be ready to do his
And he would.
One American at a time.
I WAS OUT OF POLICE WORK, and had been for a while now. So far,
that was okay with me.
I was standing with my back against the kitchen door, sipping a mug
of Nana’s coffee, thinking that maybe it was something in the
water, but all I knew was this: my three kids were growing up too
fast. Blink-of-an-eye stuff. And here’s the thing —
either you can’t stand to even think of your kids leaving
home or you can’t wait, and I was definitely, firmly, in the
My youngest, Alex Jr. — Ali — was going to be a
kindergartner now. He was a sharp little guy too, who rarely, if
ever, shut up except when he knew you wanted to
know something from him. His passions at the moment included Animal
Planet’s Most Extreme, the Washington Nationals
baseball team, the Michael Jordan biography Salt in His
Shoes, and anything to do with outer space, including a very
strange TV show called Gigantor, with even stranger theme
music that I couldn’t get out of my head.
Preteen Jannie had begun trading in that twiggy body of hers for a
set of starter curves. She was our resident artist and actress, and
was taking painting classes through the Corcoran ArtReach
And Damon, who had just passed the six-foot-one mark, was looking
forward to high school. So far, he didn’t whoop and shout or
trash-talk, and seemed more generally aware of his surroundings
than his peers were. Damon was even being recruited by a couple of
prep schools, including a persistent one in Massachusetts.
Things were changing for me too. My private-therapy practice was
going pretty well. For the first time in years, my life had nothing
“official” to do with law enforcement. I was out of the
Well, almost, anyway. I did have a certain senior homicide
detective in my life: Brianna Stone, also known as the Rock, if you
asked some of the detectives who worked with her. I’d met
Bree at a retirement party for a cop we both knew. We spent the
first half hour that night talking about the Job and the next few
hours talking about ourselves — kind of crazy things like her
“race-hand release” as a paddler on the Dragon Boat
Racing Team. By the end of the night, I barely had to ask her out.
In fact, as I think about it now, she might have asked me. But then
one thing led to another, and another, and I went home with Bree
that night and we never looked back. And yes, I think Bree asked me
to come home with her that night too.
Bree was fully in control of herself — intense, in all the
good ways and none of the bad. And it didn’t hurt that she
seemed to have a natural chemistry with the kids. They dug her. She
was, in fact, right now chasing Ali at Olympic speed through the
first floor of the house on Fifth Street, roaring like the
child-eating alien she had apparently become, while Ali used a
Star Wars lightsaber to keep her at bay. “That sword
can’t hurt me!” she shouted. “Prepare to eat
Bree and I didn’t stick around on Fifth Street too long on
that particular morning, though. To be honest, if we had stayed
there, I probably would have been forced to sneak her upstairs to
show her my nonexistent etchings, or maybe my lightsaber.
For the first time since we’d been going out, we had managed
to synchronize our schedules for a few days away. I went out the
front door loudly singing the end of Stevie Wonder’s very
first hit, “Fingertips Part 2”: “Good-bye,
good-bye. Good-bye, good-bye. Good-bye, good-bye,
good-bye.” I knew the words by heart, one of my
I winked at Bree and pecked her cheek. “Always leave them
laughing,” I said.
“Or at least confused,” she said, and winked
Our destination, Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland, was on the
eastern rampart of the Appalachian Mountains, not too far from
Washington — and not too close either. The mountains were
perhaps best known as the site of Camp David, but Bree knew about a
campground open to mere mortals like us. I couldn’t wait to
get there and be alone with her.
I could almost feel the thrum of DC move out of my head as we
headed north. The windows of my R350 were down, and as always I was
loving the ride of this marvelous vehicle. Best buy I’d made
in a long time. The late, great Jimmy Cliff wailed on the stereo.
Life was pretty good right at the moment. Hard to beat.
As we zipped along, Bree had a question: “Why the
“It’s comfortable, yes?”
I touched the gas. “Responsive, quick.”
“Okay, I get the point.”
“But most important, it’s safe. I’ve had
enough danger in my life. I don’t need it on the
At the park entrance, as we were paying for the site, Bree leaned
across me to speak to the ranger on duty. “Thanks a lot.
We’ll be respectful to your park.”
“What was that about?” I asked Bree as we pulled
“What can I say, I’m an environmentalist.”
The campsite was definitely spectacular, and worthy of our respect.
It sat on its own little point of land, with shimmering blue water
on three sides and nothing but dense forest greenness looming
behind. In the far distance, I could see something called Chimney
Rock, which we planned on hiking the next day. What I
couldn’t see was a single other person.
Just the one that mattered, Bree, who happened to be the sexiest
woman I’d ever known. Just the sight of her got me going,
especially out here on our own.
She took hold of me around the waist. “What could be more
perfect than this?”
I couldn’t think of anything that would spoil our weekend up
here in the woods.
THE STORY, THE THRILLER, CONTINUED. Forty-eight hours
after his rehearsal, his flawless walk-through, Yousef Qasim
returned to the Riverwalk apartment building, with its wealthy and
careless American tenants.
This wasn’t practice, though; it was the real thing, and his
stomach was queasy. This was a truly big day for him, and for his
Sure enough, at 4:34 p.m. the door to the service entryway opened
and the same tall black porter lethargically lugged his garbage
bags to the street. Old Black Joe, Qasim thought.
Still in chains. Nothing really changes in America, does it?
Not in hundreds of years.
Less than five minutes later, Qasim was upstairs on the twelfth
floor, standing outside the apartment of a woman named Tess
This time he rang the bell. Twice. He had been waiting for this
moment for such a long time — months, maybe all his life, if
he was honest with himself.
“Yes?” Tess Olsen’s eye flickered behind the
peephole of 12F. “Who is it?”
Yousef Qasim made sure she saw his coveralls and the cap that said
MO. No doubt he would look like any other brown-skinned maintenance
worker to this woman — someone who was supposed to
notice details in her profession. She was a well-known crime writer
after all, and that was important for the story. A crucial
“Mrs. Olsen? There is gas leak in your apartment. Someone
call you from office?”
“What? Say again.”
His accent was impossibly thick, and English seemed to be torture
for him. He spoke slowly, like some kind of idiot. “Gas leak.
Please, missus? I can fix leak? Someone call? Tell you I
“I just got home. No one called,” she said. “I
don’t know anything about it. I don’t think there was a
message. I suppose I can check.”
“You like me come back later? Fix gas leak then? You smelling
The woman sighed with the unconcealed exasperation of a person with
too many trivial duties and not enough hired help. “Oh, for
God’s sake,” she said. “Come in, then. Hurry it
up. Your timing is just exquisite. I have to finish
getting dressed and be out of here in twenty minutes.”
At the click of the dead bolt, Yousef Qasim readied himself. The
moment the woman cracked the door and he saw both her eyes, he
Extreme force was unnecessary in this case, physically speaking,
but it had great utility. Tess Olsen fell back several steps and
then thumped down hard on her behind. She came right out of her
high-heeled pumps, exposing bright-red toenails and long, bony
Before her shock and surprise gave way to a scream, Qasim was on
top of her, pressing against her chest with his full body weight.
The rectangle of silver duct tape he’d stuck to his pants leg
was transferred quickly to the woman’s mouth. He put the tape
on hard, to show that he meant business and that she would
be foolish to resist.
“I mean you no harm,” he said, the first of many
Then he flipped her onto her stomach and pulled a red dog leash
from his pocket, securing it around her neck. The leash was a key
part of the plan. It was inexpensive nylon mesh but more than
The leash was a clue, and just the first that he would
leave here for the police and for whoever else became
The woman was maybe forty, hair dyed blond, not physically strong,
in spite of the fact that she seemed to work out to keep herself
He showed her something now — a box cutter! Very
nasty-looking tool. Convincing.
Her eyes widened.
“Get up, you weak coward,” he said close to her ear.
“Or I will cut your face in ribbons.” He knew that the
softness of his voice was more threatening than any shouting could
be. Also, the fact that his English had suddenly improved would
confuse and frighten her.
When she tried to rise, he startled her with a sharp grab at the
back of her scrawny neck. He stopped her right there — still
on all fours.
“That’s quite far enough, Mrs. Olsen. Don’t move,
not another inch. Be very still, very still. I’m
using the box cutter now.”
Her expensive black dress fell away as he cut it down the back. Now
she trembled uncontrollably and tried to scream from behind her
gag. She was prettier without her clothes — firm, somewhat
appealing, though not to him.
“Don’t worry. I am no dog-style fucker. Now go forward
on your knees. Do as I say! This won’t take much of your busy
She only moaned in response. It took the heel of Yousef’s
shoe at her backside to get the idea across.
Then finally she began to crawl.
“How do you like it?” he asked.
“Suspense. Isn’t that what you write about?
That’s why I’m here, you know. Because you write about
crime in your books. Can you solve this one?”
They moved slowly through the kitchen and the dining room, and then
into a spacious living room. One entire wall was books, many of
them her own. Glass sliding doors at the far end led to a terrace
filled with fancy garden furniture and a shiny black grill.
“Look at all your books! I’m very impressed. You wrote
all of these? Foreign editions too! You do any translations
yourself? Of course you don’t! Americans speak only
Qasim pulled up sharply on the leash, and Mrs. Olsen fell over onto
“Don’t move from there. Stay! I have work to do. Clues
to plant. Even you are a clue, Mrs. Tess Olsen. Have you figured it
out yet? Solved the mystery?”
He quickly set up the living room just the way he wanted it. Then
he returned to the woman, who hadn’t moved and who seemed to
be getting her part down now.
“Is that you? In this picture?” he asked
suddenly, with surprise in his voice. “It is
Qasim prodded her chin with his foot to get her to look. A large
oil portrait hung above the ornately scrolled sofa. It showed Tess
Olsen in a long silver gown, her hand resting on a polished round
table with an elaborate floral arrangement. The face was austere,
full of unearned pride.
“It doesn’t look like you. You’re prettier in
real life. Sexier without any clothes,” he said. “Now,
outside! Onto the terrace. You’re going to be a very
famous lady. I promise. Your fans are waiting.”