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Private Games



WEDNESDAY, JULY 25, 2012, 11:25 P.M.

THERE ARE SUPERMEN and superwomen who walk this earth.

I'm quite serious about that, and you can take me literally. Jesus Christ, for example, was a spiritual superman, as were Martin Luther and Gandhi. Julius Caesar was superhuman as well. So were Genghis Khan, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Adolf Hitler.

Think about scientists like Aristotle, Galileo, Albert Einstein, and J. Robert Oppenheimer. Consider artists like da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Vincent van Gogh, my favorite, who was so superior it drove him insane. Above all, don't forget athletically superior beings like Jim Thorpe, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, and Jesse Owens; Larisa Latynina and Muhammad Ali; Mark Spitz and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Humbly, I include myself on this superhuman spectrum as well—and deservedly so, as you shall soon see.

In short, people like me are born for great things. We seek adversity. We seek to conquer. We seek to break through all limits—spiritually, politically, artistically, scientifically, and physically. We seek to right wrongs in the face of monumental odds. And we're willing to suffer for greatness, willing to engage in dogged effort and endless preparation with the fervor of a martyr—which, to my mind, is an exceptional trait in any human being at any age.

At the moment I have to admit that I'm certainly feeling exceptional, standing here in the garden of Sir Denton Marshall, a sniveling, corrupt old bastard if there ever was one.

Look at him on his knees, with his back to me and my knife at his throat.

Why, he trembles and shakes as if a stone had just clipped his head. Can you smell it? Fear? It surrounds him with an odor as rank as the air after a bomb explodes.

"Why?" he gasps.

"You've angered me, monster," I snarl at him, feeling a deeper-than-primal rage split my mind and seethe through every cell. "You've helped ruin the games, made them a mockery and an abomination."

"What?" he cries, acting bewildered. "What are you talking about?"

I deliver the evidence against him in three damning sentences that turn the skin of his neck livid and his carotid artery a sickening, pulsing purple.

"No!" he sputters. "That's...that's not true. You can't do this. Have you gone utterly mad?"

"Mad? Me?" I say. "Hardly. I'm the sanest person I know."

"Please," he says, tears rolling down his face. "Have mercy. I'm to be married on Christmas Eve."

My laugh is as caustic as battery acid. "In another life, Denton, I ate my own children. You'll get no mercy from me or my sisters."

As his confusion and horror become complete, I look up into the night sky, feeling storms rising in my head, and understanding once again that I am superior, superhuman, imbued with forces that go back thousands of years.

"For all true Olympians," I vow, "this act of sacrifice marks the beginning of the end of the modern games."

Then I wrench the old man's head back so his back arches.

And before he can scream, I furiously rip the blade across his throat with such force that his head comes free of his neck all the way to his spine.



Chapter 1

THURSDAY, JULY 26, 2012, 9:24 A.M.

IT WAS MAD-DOG hot for London. Peter Knight's shirt and jacket were drenched with sweat as he sprinted north on Chesham Street past the Diplomat Hotel and skidded around the corner toward Lyall Mews in the heart of Belgravia, home to some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Don't let it be true, Knight screamed internally as he entered the mews. Dear God, don't let it be true.

Then he saw a pack of newspaper reporters gathering at the yellow tape of a London Metropolitan Police barricade that blocked the road in front of a cream-colored Georgian-style townhome. Knight lurched to a stop, feeling like he was going to retch up the eggs and bacon he'd had for breakfast.

What would he ever tell Amanda?

Before Knight could compose his thoughts or still his stomach, his cell phone rang. He snatched it from his pocket without looking at caller ID.

"Knight," he managed to choke out. "That you, Jack?"

"No, Peter, it's Nancy," the voice replied in an Irish brogue. "Isabel has come down sick."

"What?" he groaned. "No...I just left the house an hour ago."

"She's running a temperature," the full-time nanny insisted. "I just took it."

"How high?"

"One hundred. She's complaining about her stomach, too."


"He seems fine," she said. "But—"

"Give them both a cool bath, and call me back if Isabel's temp hits a hundred and one," Knight said. He snapped the phone shut, swallowed the bile burning at the back of his throat.

A wiry man about six feet tall, with an appealing face and light brown hair, Knight had once been a special investigator assigned to the Old Bailey, home of England's Central Criminal Court. Two years ago, however, he joined the London office of Private International at twice the pay and prestige. Private has been called the Pinkerton Agency of the twenty-first century, with offices in every major city in the world staffed by top-notch forensic scientists, security specialists, and investigators such as Knight.

Compartmentalize, he told himself. Be professional. But this felt like the straw that would break the camel's back. Knight had already endured too much grief and loss, both personally and professionally. Just the week before, his boss, Dan Carter, and three of his colleagues had perished in a plane crash over the North Sea that was still under investigation. Could he live with another death?

Pushing that question and his daughter's illness to one side, Knight forced himself to hurry on through the sweltering heat toward the police barrier, giving the Fleet Street crowd a wide berth, and in so doing spotted Billy Casper, a Scotland Yard inspector he'd known for fifteen years.

He went straight to Casper, a blockish man with a pockmarked face who scowled the second he saw Knight. "Private's got no business in this, Peter."

"If that's Sir Denton Marshall dead in there, then Private does have business in this, and I do, too," Knight shot back forcefully. "Personal business, Billy. Is it Sir Denton?"

Casper said nothing.

"Is it?" Knight demanded.

Finally the inspector nodded, but he wasn't happy about it, and asked suspiciously, "How are you and Private involved?"

Knight stood there a moment, feeling lambasted by the news and wondering again how the hell he was going to tell Amanda. Then he shook off the despair and said, "The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games is Private London's client. Which makes Sir Denton Private's client."

"And you?" Casper demanded. "What's your personal stake in this? You a friend of his or something?"

"Much more than a friend. He was engaged to my mother."

Casper's hard expression softened a bit and he chewed at his lip before saying, "I'll see if I can get you in. Elaine will want to talk to you."

Knight felt suddenly as if invisible forces were conspiring against him.

"Elaine caught this case?" he said, wanting to punch something. "You can't be serious."

"Dead serious, Peter," Casper said. "Lucky, lucky you."


Chapter 2

CHIEF INSPECTOR ELAINE Pottersfield was one of the finest detectives working for the Metropolitan Police, a twenty-year veteran of the force with a prickly, know-it-all style that got results. Pottersfield had solved more murders in the past two years than any other inspector at Scotland Yard. She was also the only person Knight knew who openly despised his presence.

An attractive woman in her forties, the inspector always put Knight in mind of a borzoi, with her large round eyes, aquiline face, and silver hair that cascaded about her shoulders. When he entered Sir Denton Marshall's kitchen, Pottersfield eyed him down her sharp nose, looking ready to bite at him if she got the chance.

"Peter," she said coldly.

"Elaine," Knight said.

"Not exactly my idea to let you into the crime scene."

"No, I imagine not," replied Knight, fighting to control his emotions, which were heating up by the second. Pottersfield always seemed to have that effect on him. "But here we are. What can you tell me?"

The Scotland Yard inspector did not reply for several moments. Then she finally said, "The maid found him an hour ago out in the garden, or what's left of him, anyway."

Flashing on memories of Sir Denton, the learned and funny man he'd come to know and admire over the past two years, Knight's legs felt wobbly, and he had to put his vinyl-gloved hand out on the counter to steady himself. "What's left of him?"

Pottersfield grimly gestured at the open French door.

Knight absolutely did not want to go out into the garden. He wanted to remember Sir Denton the last time he'd seen him, two weeks before, with his shock of startling white hair, scrubbed pink skin, and easy, infectious laugh.

"I understand if you'd rather not," Pottersfield said. "Inspector Casper said your mother was engaged to Sir Denton. When did that happen?"

"New Year's past," Knight said. He swallowed and moved toward the door, adding bitterly, "They were to be married on Christmas Eve. Another tragedy. Just what I need in my life, isn't it?"

Pottersfield's expression twisted in pain and anger, and she looked at the kitchen floor as Knight went by her and out into the garden.

Outside, the temperature was growing hotter. The air in the garden was still and stank of death and gore. On the flagstone terrace, five quarts of blood—the entire reservoir of Sir Denton's life—had run out and congealed around his decapitated corpse.

"The medical examiner thinks the job was done with a long curved blade that has a serrated edge," Pottersfield said.

Knight again fought off the urge to vomit. He tried to take the entire scene in, to burn it into his mind as if it were a series of photographs and not reality. Keeping everything at arm's length was the only way he knew to get through something like this.

Pottersfield said, "And if you look closely, you'll see some of the blood's been sprayed back toward the body with water from the garden hose. I'd expect the killer did it to wash away footprints and such."

Knight nodded, and then, by sheer force of will, moved his attention beyond the body, deeper into the garden, bypassing forensics techs gathering evidence from the flower beds and turning to a crime-scene photographer snapping away near the back wall.

Knight skirted the corpse by several feet and from that new perspective saw what the photographer was focusing on. It was from ancient Greece, and was one of Sir Denton's prized possessions: a headless limestone statue of an Athenian senator cradling a scroll and holding the hilt of a busted sword.

Sir Denton's head had been placed in the empty space between the statue's shoulders. His face was puffy, lax. His mouth was twisted to the left, as if he were spitting. And his eyes were open, dull, and, to Knight, shockingly forlorn.

For an instant, the Private operative wanted to break down. But then he felt himself swell with outrage. What kind of barbarian would do such a thing? And why? What possible reason could there be to behead Denton Marshall? The man was more than good. He was...

"You're not seeing it all, Peter," Pottersfield said behind him. "Go look at the grass in front of the statue."

Knight closed his hands to fists and walked off the terrace onto the grass, which scratched against the paper booties he wore over his shoes, making a sound that was as annoying to him as fingernails on a chalkboard. Then he saw it and stopped cold.

Five interlocking rings, the symbol of the Olympic Games, had been spray-painted on the grass.

Through the symbol, an X had been smeared in blood.


Chapter 3

WHERE ARE THE eggs of monsters most likely laid? What nest incubates them until they hatch? What are the toxic scraps that nourish them to adulthood?

So often during the headaches that occasionally rip through my mind like gale-driven thunder and lightning, I ponder those kinds of questions, and others.

Indeed, as you read this, you might be asking your own questions, such as "Who are you?"

My real name is irrelevant. For the sake of this story, however, you can call me Cronus. In old Greek myths, Cronus was the most powerful of the Titans, a digester of universes, the Lord God of Time.

Do I think I am a god?

Don't be absurd. Such arrogance tempts fate. Such hubris mocks the gods. And I have never been guilty of that treacherous sin.

I remain, however, one of those rare beings to appear on earth once a generation or two. How else would you explain the fact that long before the storms began in my head, hatred was my oldest memory and wanting to kill was my very first desire?

Indeed, at some point in my second year of life, I became aware of hatred, as if it and I were linked spirits cast into an infant's body from somewhere out there in the void, and for some time that's what I thought of as me: this burning singularity of loathing thrown on the floor in the corner, into a box filled with rags.

Then one day I instinctively began to crawl from the box, and with that movement and freedom I soon understood that I was more than anger, that I was a being unto myself—that I starved and went thirsty for days, that I was cold and naked and left to myself for hours on end, rarely cleaned, rarely held by the monsters that walked all around me, as if I were some kind of alien creature landed among them. That's when my first direct thought occurred: I want to kill them all.

I had that ruthless urge long, long before I understood that my parents were drug addicts, crackheads, unfit to raise a superior being such as me.

When I was four, shortly after I sunk a kitchen knife into my comatose mother's thigh, a woman came to where we lived in squalor and took me away from my parents for good. They put me in a home where I was forced to live with abandoned little monsters, hateful and distrustful of any other beings but themselves.

Soon enough I grasped that I was smarter, stronger, and more visionary than any of them. By the age of nine, I did not know exactly what I was yet, but I sensed that I might be some sort of different species, a supercreature, if you will, who could manipulate, conquer, or slay every monster in his path.

I knew this about myself for certain after the storms started in my head.

They started when I was ten. My foster father, whom we called Minister Bob, was whipping one of the little monsters, and I could not stand to hear it. The crying made me feel weak and I could not abide that sensation. So I left the house and climbed the back fence and wandered through some of the worst streets in London until I found quiet and comfort in the familiar poverty of an abandoned building.

Two monsters were inside already. They were older than me, in their teens, and members of a street gang. They were high on something, I could tell that about them right away, and they said I'd wandered onto their turf.

I tried to use my speed to get away, but one of them threw a rock that clipped my jaw. It dazed me and I fell, and they laughed and got angrier. They threw more stones, which cracked my ribs and broke blood vessels in my thigh.

Then I felt a hard smashing above my left ear followed by a Technicolor explosion that crackled through my brain like the crippled arms of so many lightning bolts ripping a summer sky.

© Copyright 2012, James Patterson. All rights reserved.

Private Games
by by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan

  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1455513024
  • ISBN-13: 9781455513024