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Excerpt

Excerpt

The First Rule: A Joe Pike Novel

FRANK MEYER CLOSED HIS COMPUTER as the early winter darkness
fell over his home in Westwood, California, not far from the UCLA
campus. Westwood was an affluent area on the Westside of Los
Angeles, resting between Beverly Hills and Brentwood in a twine of
gracious residential streets and comfortable, well-to-do homes.
Frank Meyer --- more surprised about it than anyone else,
considering his background --- lived in such a home.

Work finished, Frank settled back in his home office, listening
to his sons crash through the far side of the house like baby
rhinos. They made him happy, and so did the rich scent of braising
beef that promised stew or boeuf bourguignon, which he
never pronounced correctly but loved to eat. Voices came from the
family room, too far away to make out the program, but almost
certainly the sound of a game show on television. Cindy hated the
nightly news.

Frank smiled because Cindy didn’t much care for game
shows, either, but she liked the background sound of the TV when
she cooked. Cindy had her ways, that was for sure, and her ways had
changed his life. Here he was with a lovely home, a growing
business, and a wonderful family --- all of it owed to his
wife.

Frank teared up, thinking how much he owed that woman. Frank was
like that, sentimental and emotional, and had always been that way.
As Cindy liked to say, Frank Meyer was just a big softy, which is
why she fell in love with him.

Frank worked hard to live up to her expectations, and considered
it a privilege --- beginning eleven years ago when he realized he
loved her and committed to reinventing himself. He was now a
successful importer of garments from Asia and Africa, which he
resold to wholesale chains throughout the United States. He was
forty-three years old, still fit and strong, though not so much as
in the old days. Okay, well --- he was getting fat, but between his
business and the kids, Frank hadn’t touched the weights in
years, and rarely used the treadmill. When he did, his efforts
lacked the zeal that had burned fever-hot in his earlier life.

Frank didn’t miss that life, never once, and if he
sometimes missed the men with whom he had shared it, he kept those
feelings to himself and did not begrudge his wife. He had
re-created himself, and, by a miracle, his efforts had paid off.
Cindy. The kids. The home they had made. Frank was still thinking
about these changes when Cindy appeared at the door, giving him a
lopsided, sexy grin.

“Hey, bud. You hungry?”

“Just finishing up. What am I smelling? It’s
fabulous.”

Pounding footsteps, then Little Frank, ten years old and showing
the square, chunky build of his father, caught the doorjamb beside
his mother to stop himself, stopping so fast his younger brother,
Joey, six and just as square, crashed into Little Frank’s
back.

Little Frank shouted, “Meat!”

Joey screamed, “Ketchup!”

Cindy said, “Meat and ketchup. What could be
better?”

Frank pushed back his chair, and stood.

“Nothing. I’m dying for meat and ketchup.”

She rolled her eyes and turned back toward the kitchen.

“You’ve got five, big guy. I’ll hose off these
monsters. Wash up and join us.”

The boys made exaggerated screams as they raced away, passing
Ana, who appeared behind Cindy. Ana was their nanny, a nice girl
who had been with them almost six months. She had bright blue eyes,
high cheekbones, and was a fantastic help with the kids. Another
perk of Frank’s increasing success.

Ana said, “I’m going to feed the baby now, Cindy.
You need anything?”

“We’ve got it under control. You go
ahead.”

Ana looked in at Frank.

“Frank? Anything I can do?”

“I’m good, hon. Thanks. I’ll be along in a
minute.”

Frank finished putting away his paperwork, then pulled the
shades before joining his family for dinner. His office, with its
window facing the nighttime street, was now closed against the
darkness. Frank Meyer had no reason to suspect that something
unspeakable was about to happen.

AS FRANK ENJOYED DINNER with his family, a black-on-black
Cadillac Escalade slow-rolled onto his street from Wilshire
Boulevard, the Escalade boosted earlier that day from a shopping
center in Long Beach, Moon Williams swapping the plates with an
identical black Escalade they found outside a gentlemen’s
club in Torrance. This was their third time around the block,
clocking the street for pedestrians, witnesses, and civilians in
parked cars.

This time around, the rear windows drooped like sleepy eyes, and
street lights died one by one, Jamal shooting them out with a
.22-caliber pellet pistol.

Darkness followed the Escalade like a rising tide.

Four men in the vehicle, black cutouts in the shadowed interior,
Moon driving, Moon’s boy Lil Tai riding shotgun, Jamal in
back with the Russian. Moon, eyes flicking between the houses and
the white boy, wasn’t sure if the foreigner was a Russian or
not. What with all the Eastern Bloc assholes runnin’ around,
boy coulda been Armenian, Lithuanian, or a muthuhfuckin’
Transylvanian vampire, and Moon couldn’t tell’m apart.
All Moon knew, he was makin’ more cash since hookin’ up
with the foreign muthuhfucka chillin’ behind him than any
time in his life.

Still, Moon didn’t like him back there, money or not.
Didn’t want that creepy, glassy-eyed muthuhfucka behind him.
All these months, this was the first time the fucka had come with
them. Moon didn’t like that, either.

Moon said, “You sure now, homeboy? That house right
there?”

“Same as last time we passed, the one like a
church.”

Moon clocked a nice house with a steep roof and these
gargoyle-lookin’ things up on the eaves. The street was wide,
and lined with houses all set back on big sloping lawns. These
homes, you’d find lawyers, businesspeople, the occasional
dilettante drug dealer.

Lil Tai twisted around to grin at the white boy.

“How much money we gettin’ this time?”

“Much money. Much.”

Jamal licked his lips, makin’ a smile wide as a piano.

Taste the money. Feel it right on my skin, all dirty and
nasty.”

Moon said, “We gettin’ that shit.”

Moon killed the headlights and pulled into the drive, the four
doors opening as soon as he cut the engine, the four of them
stepping out. The Escalade’s interior lights had been
removed, so nothing lit up. Only sound was Lil Tai’s
eighteen-pound sledge, clunking the rocker panel as he got out.

They went directly to the front door, Jamal first, Moon going
last, walking backward to make sure no one was watching. Jamal
popped the entry lights, just reached up and broke’m with his
fingers, pop, pop, pop. Moon pressed a folded towel over the dead
bolt to dull the sound, and Lil Tai hit that shit with the hammer
as hard as he could.

FRANK AND CINDY WERE CLEARING the table when a crash jolted
their home as if a car had slammed through the front door. Joey was
watching the Lakers in the family room and Little Frank had just
gone up to his room. When Frank heard the crash, he believed his
older son had knocked over the grandfather clock in the front
entry. Little Frank had been known to climb the clock to reach the
second-floor landing, and, even though it was anchored for
earthquake safety, Frank had warned the boys it could fall.

Cindy startled at the noise, and Joey ran to his mother. Frank
put down the plates, and was already hurrying toward the sound.

“Frankie! Son, are you all right --- ?”

They had only taken a step when four armed men rushed in, moving
with the loose organization of men who had done this before.

Frank Meyer had faced high-speed, violent entries before, and
had known how to react, but those situations had been in his former
life. Now, eleven years and too many long days at a desk later,
Frank was behind the play.

Four-man team. Gloves. Nine-millimeter pistols.

First man through had average height, espresso skin, and heavy
braids to his shoulders. Frank knew he was the team leader because
he acted like the leader, his eyes directing the play. A shorter
man followed, angry and nervous, with a black bandanna capping his
head, shoulder to shoulder with a bruiser showing tight cornrows
and gold in his teeth, moving like he enjoyed being big. The fourth
man was a step behind, moving more like an observer than part of
the action. White, and big, almost as big as the bruiser, with a
bowling-ball head, wide-set eyes, and thin sideburns that ran down
his jaw like needles.

Two seconds, they fanned through the rooms. A second behind,
Frank realized they were a home invasion crew. He felt the
buzz-rush of excitement that had always sparked through him during
an engagement, then remembered he was an out-of-shape businessman
with a family to protect. Frank raised his hands, shuffling
sideways to place himself between the men and his wife.

“Take what you want. Take it and leave. We won’t
give you any trouble.”

The leader came directly to Frank, holding his pistol high and
sideways like an idiot in a movie, bugging his eyes to show Frank
he was fierce.

“Goddamn right, muthuhfucka. Where is it?”

Without waiting for an answer, he slapped Frank with the pistol.
Cindy shouted, but Frank had been hit harder plenty of times. He
waved toward his wife, trying to calm her.

“I’m okay. It’s okay, Cin, we’re gonna
be fine.”

“Gonna be dead, you don’t do what I say!”

He dug the pistol hard into Frank’s cheek, but Frank was
watching the others. The bruiser and the smaller man split apart,
the bruiser charging to the French doors to check out the back, the
little guy throwing open cabinets and doors, both of them shouting
and cursing. Their movements were fast. Fast into the house. Fast
into Frank’s face. Fast through the rooms. Fast to drive the
play, and loud to increase the confusion. Only the man with the
strange sideburns moved slowly, floating outside the perimeter as
if with a private agenda.

Frank knew from experience it wasn’t enough to follow the
play; you had to be ahead of the action to survive. Frank tried to
buy himself time to catch up.

“My wallet’s in my office. I’ve got three or
four hundred dollars --- ”

The leader hit Frank again.

“You take me a fool, muthuhfuckin’
wallet?”

“We use credit cards --- ”

Hit him again. Harder.

The man with the sideburns finally stepped out of the
background, appearing at the table.

“See the plates? More people are here. We must look for
the others.”

Frank was surprised by the accent. He thought it was Polish, but
couldn’t be sure.

The man with the accent disappeared into the kitchen just as the
bruiser charged out of the family room to Cindy and Joey. He held
his pistol to Cindy’s temple, shouting at Frank in his
rage.

“You want this bitch dead? You want me to put this pipe
right in her mouth? You want her to suck on
this?”

The leader slapped Frank again.

“You think he don’t mean it?”

The bruiser suddenly backhanded Cindy with his pistol, splashing
a red streamer from her cheek. Joey screamed, and Frank Meyer
suddenly knew what to do.

The man with Frank was watching the action when Frank grabbed
his gun hand, rolled his wrist to lock the man’s arm, and
jointed his elbow. Frank had been out of the life for years, but
the moves were burned into his muscle memory from a thousand hours
of training. He had to neutralize his captor, strip the weapon as
he levered the man down, recover with the pistol in a combat grip,
put two into the big man who had Cindy, then turn, acquire, and
double-tap whoever was in his field of fire. Frank Meyer had gone
automatic. The moves flowed out ahead of the play exactly as he had
trained for them, and, back in the day, he could have completed the
sequence in less than a second. But Frank was still fumbling with
the pistol when three bullets slammed into him, the last shot
hitting the heavy vertebra in Frank’s lower back, putting him
down.

Frank opened his mouth, but only a hiss escaped. Cindy and Joey
screamed, and Frank fought to rise with the fierce will of the
warrior he had been, but will was not enough.

The man with the accent said, “I hear someone. In the
back.”

A shadow moved past, but Frank couldn’t see.

The leader appeared overhead, cradling his broken arm. Huge
shimmering tears dripped from his eyes and fell in slow motion like
rain from his braids.

He said, “I’m gonna get me that money.”

He turned away toward Cindy.

Frank’s world grew dark, and all he had left were feelings
of failure and shame. He knew he was dying, exactly the way he had
always thought he would die, only not here, and not now. All of
that should have been behind him.

He tried to reach for his wife, but could not.

Chapter 1

AT TEN-FOURTEEN THE FOLLOWING MORNING, approximately fifteen
hours after the murders, helicopters were dark stars over the Meyer
house when LAPD Detective-Sergeant Jack Terrio threaded his way
through the tangle of marked and unmarked police vehicles, SID
wagons, and vans from the Medical Examiner’s office. He
phoned his task force partner, Louis Deets, as he approached the
house. Deets had been at the scene for an hour.

“I’m here.”

“Meet you at the front door. You gotta see
this.”

“Hang on --- any word on the wit?”

A slim possibility existed for a witness --- an Anglo female had
been found alive by the first responders and identified as the
Meyers’ nanny.

Deets said, “Not so hot. They brought her over to the
Medical Center, but she’s circling the drain. In the face,
Jackie. One in the face, one in the chest.”

“Hold a good thought. We need a break.”

“Maybe we got one. You gotta see.”

Terrio snapped his phone closed, annoyed with Deets and with the
dead-end case. A home invasion crew had been hitting upscale homes
in West L.A. and the Encino hills for the past three months, and
this was likely their seventh score. All of the robberies had taken
place between the dinner hour and eleven P.M. Two of the homes had
been unoccupied at the time of entry, but, as with the Meyer home,
the other four homes had been occupied. A litter of nine-millimeter
cartridge casings and bodies had been left behind, but nothing else
--- no prints, DNA, video, or witnesses. Until now, and she was
going to die.

When Terrio reached the plastic screen that had been erected to
block the front door from prying cameras, he waited for Deets.
Across the street, he recognized two squats from the Chief’s
office, huddled up with a woman who looked like a Fed. The squats
saw him looking, and turned away.

Terrio thought, “Crap. Now what?”

She was maybe five six, and sturdy with that gymed-out carriage
Feds have when they’re trying to move up the food chain to
Washington. Navy blazer over outlet-store jeans. Wraparound shades.
A little slit mouth that probably hadn’t smiled in a month.
Deets came up behind him.

“You gotta see this.”

Terrio nodded toward the woman.

“Who’s that with the squats?”

Deets squinted at the woman, then shook his head.

“I’ve been inside. It’s a mess in there, man,
but you gotta see. C’mon, put on your booties --- ”

They were required to wear paper booties at the scene so as not
to contaminate the evidence.

Deets ducked behind the screen without waiting, so Terrio
hurried to catch up, steeling himself for what he was about to see.
Even after eighteen years on the job and hundreds of murder cases,
the sight of blood and rent human flesh left him queasy.
Embarrassed by what he considered a lack of professionalism, Terrio
stared at Deets’s back as he followed him past the
criminalists and West L.A. Homicide detectives who currently filled
the house, not wanting to see the blood or the gore until
absolutely necessary.

They reached a large, open dining area where a coroner
investigator was photographing the crumpled form of an adult white
male.

Deets said, “Okay we touch the body?”

“Sure. I’m good.”

“Can I have one of those wet-wipes?”

The CI gave Deets a wet-wipe, then stepped to the side, giving
them room.

The male victim’s shirt had been cut away so the CI could
work on the body. Deets pulled on a pair of latex gloves, then
glanced at Terrio. The body was lying in an irregular pool of blood
almost six feet across.

“Be careful of the blood.”

“I can see fine from here. I’m not stepping in that
mess.”

Deets lifted the man’s arm, cleaned a smear of blood off
the shoulder with the wet-wipe, then held the arm for Terrio to
see.

“What do you think? Look familiar?”

Lividity had mottled the skin with purple and black bruising,
but Terrio could still make out the tattoo. He felt a low dread of
recognition.

“I’ve seen this before.”

“Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

“Does he have one on the other arm, too?”

“One on each side. Matching.”

Deets lowered the arm, then stepped away from the body. He
peeled off the latex gloves.

“Only one guy I know of has tats like this. He used to be
a cop here. LAPD.”

A blocky, bright red arrow had been inked onto the outside of
Frank Meyer’s shoulder. It pointed forward.

Terrio’s head was racing.

“This is good, Lou. This gives us a direction. We just
gotta figure out what to do about him.”

The woman’s voice cut through behind them.

“About who?”

Terrio turned, and there she was, the woman and the two squats.
Wraparounds hiding her eyes. Mouth so tight she looked like she had
steel teeth.

The woman stepped forward, and didn’t seem to care if she
stepped in the blood or not.

“I asked a question, Sergeant. Do about who?”

Terrio glanced at the arrow again, then gave her the answer.

“Joe Pike.”

Excerpted from THE FIRST RULE: A Joe Pike Novel © Copyright
2011 by Robert Crais. Reprinted with permission by Berkley. All
rights reserved.

The First Rule: A Joe Pike Novel
by by Robert Crais

  • paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0425238121
  • ISBN-13: 9780425238127