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Worst Case



THE STOCKY MAN with the salt-and-pepper hair felt light-headed as he crossed beneath the marble arch into Washington Square Park. He dropped his backpack, took off his circular glasses, and blotted the sudden tears in his eyes with the sleeve of his ancient jeans jacket.

He hadn't planned on breaking down, but My God, he thought, wiping at his rugged, lined face. Now he knew how Vietnam veterans felt when they visited their Wall down in Washington, DC. If veterans of the antiwar movement had a monument—a Wall of Tears—it was here, where it all began, Washington Square Park.

Staring out over the windy park, he remembered all the incredible things that had occurred here. The antiwar demonstrations. Bob Dylan in the 4th Street basement clubs, singing about which way the wind was blowing. The candlelit faces of his old friends as they passed bottles and smoke. The whispered promises they had made to one another to change things, to make things better.

He looked out over the Friday-afternoon crowd by the center fountain, the people hovering over the chess tables, as if he might find a familiar face. But that was impossible, wasn't it? he thought with a shrug. They'd all moved on, like he had. Grown up. Sold out. Or were underground. Figuratively. Literally.

That time, his time, was almost completely faded now, just about dead and gone.

Just about, he thought as he knelt and removed the box of flyers from his knapsack.

But not quite.

On each of the five hundred sheets was a three-paragraph message entitled LOVE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.

Who says you can't go home? he thought. A quote from Keith Richards popped into his head as he stacked the sheets.

"I got news for you. We're still a bunch of tough bastards. String us up and we still won't die." You said it, Keith, he thought, giggling to himself. Right on, brother. You and me both.

More and more over the last year, his thoughts kept coming back to his youth. It was the only time in his entire life when he'd felt like he meant something, when he'd felt he was making a positive difference.

Was coming back now after all this time a midlife crisis? Maybe. He didn't care. He'd decided he wanted that feeling again. Especially in light of recent events. The world now was in even more dire straits than the one he and his friends had fought to affect. It was time to do it again. Wake people up before it was too late.

That's why he was here. It had worked once. They had, after all, stopped a war. Maybe it could happen again. Even if he was a lot older, he wasn't dead yet. Not by any means.

He licked his thumb and took the first sheet from the stack. He smiled, remembering the countless flyers he'd handed out in Berkeley and Seattle, and in Chicago in '68. After all this time, here he was. Unbelievable. What a crazy life. Back in the saddle again.



"HI THERE," he said, offering the flyer to a young black woman pushing a toddler in a stroller.

He smiled at her, making eye contact. He was good with people, always had been. "I have a message here that I think you should take a look at, if it's not too much trouble. It concerns, well, everything."

"Leave me the hell alone with that nonsense," she said with surprising vehemence, almost smacking it out of his hand.

Had to expect a little of that, he thought with a nod. Some people were a hard sell. Came with the territory. Unfazed, he immediately walked over toward a group of teenagers skateboarding by the statue of Garibaldi.

"Afternoon, guys. I have a message here that I'd like you to read. Only take a second out of your day. If you're concerned about the state of affairs and about our future, I think it's something you should really consider."

They stared at him, dumbfounded. Up close, he was surprised to see the crow's-feet around their eyes. They weren't teenagers. They were in their late twenties and early thirties. Hard-looking. Kind of mean, actually.

"Holy shit! It's John Lennon!" one of them said. "I thought somebody shot you. Where's Yoko? When you getting back with Paul?"

The rest of them burst into sharp laughter.

Jerks, he thought, heading immediately over toward the center fountain, where a street comedian was giving a performance. Yeah, the fate of the world was a real rip, wasn't it? He wouldn't let those assholes get to him. He just needed to hit on the right person and things would start rolling. Persistence was the name of the game.

People averted their eyes as he approached them. Not one person would take a flyer. What the hell was this? he wondered.

It was fifteen fruitless minutes later when a petite woman walking past took the flyer from his hand. Finally, the man thought. His smile collapsed as the woman crumpled it and dropped it to the paved path. He ran forward and scooped it up before he caught up to her.

"The least you could do was wait until you were out of sight before you threw it out in a garbage can," he said as he whirled in front of her. "You have to litter, too?"

"I'm...sorry?" the woman said, pulling the white iPod buds from her ears. She hadn't heard a word he'd said. Were all young people today retarded or something? Didn't they see where everything was heading? Didn't they care?

"You certainly are," he mumbled as she walked off. "You are sorry. A sorry excuse for a human being."

He stopped dead when he got back to the park's entrance. Someone had kicked over the stack, and most of the flyers were wafting away under the arch, over the sidewalk, whipping north up Fifth Avenue.

He ran out of the park and chased them for a while. He finally stopped. He felt completely drained and idiotic as he sat on the curb between a couple of parked cars.

He held his head in his hands as he wept. For twenty minutes he cried, listening to the wind, watching the relentless roll of traffic in the street.

Flyers? he thought, sniffling. He thought he could change things with a sheet of paper and a concerned expression? He looked down at the antique jeans jacket he'd taken from the back of his closet. So proud that it still fit. He really was a complete fool.

There was only one thing that could get people to sit up straight, only one thing that would open their eyes.

Only one thing then.

And only one thing now.

He nodded, finally resolving himself. He wasn't going to be getting any help. He had to do it himself. Fine. Enough of this nonsense. The clock was ticking. He didn't have any more time to fool the fuck around.

He discovered he was still holding on to a crumpled flyer. He smoothed it out on the cold pavement beside him, took out a pen, and made a vital correction. It snapped like an unfurled flag as he let the wind take it from his fingers.

The broad man with the graying hair wiped his eyes as the sheet he'd written on caught high on the corner lamppost behind him.

The word LOVE in the title had been X'ed out. Against an ash-gray sky above him it now said,



Chapter 1

BOUND IN THE dark, Jacob Dunning thought about all the things he would give for a shower.

All his possessions? Done. One of his toes? In a heartbeat. One of his fingers? Hmmm, he thought. Did he really need his left pinkie?

Unidentified mudlike filth stuck to his cheek, his hair. Wearing only his NYU T-shirt and boxers, the handsome brown-haired college freshman lay on a soiled concrete floor in a very tight space.

An angry industrial hum raged in the vague distance. He was blindfolded, and his hands were cuffed to a pipe behind him. A gag around his mouth was knotted tight against the hollow indentation at the base of his skull.

The indentation was called the foramen magnum, he knew. It was where your spinal cord passed into your skull. Jacob had learned about it in anatomy class a month or so ago. NYU was step one in his lifelong dream to become a doctor. His father had an 1862 edition of Gray's Anatomy in his study, and ever since he was a little kid, Jacob had loved going through it. Kneeling in his father's great padded office chair with his chin in his hands, he'd spend hours poring over the elegant, fascinating sketches, the topography of the human body shaded and named like distant lands, like treasure maps.

Jacob sobbed at the safe, happy memory. A drop of lukewarm water landed on the back of his neck and dripped down his spine. The itch of it was unbearable. He would get sores soon if he wasn't able to stand. Bedsores, staph infection, disease.

The last thing he remembered was leaving Conrad's, an Alphabet City bar that didn't care about fake IDs. After a monstrously long chem lab, he'd been trying to chat up Heli, a stunning Finnish girl from his class. But after his fifth mojito, his tongue was losing speed. He'd called it a night when he noticed she was talking more to the male model of a bartender than to him.

His memory seemed to stop at the point when he stepped outside. How he got from there to here he couldn't recall.

For the billionth time, he tried to come up with a scenario in which everything turned out all right. His favorite was that it was a fraternity thing. A bunch of jocks had mistaken him for some other freshman, and this was a really messed-up hazing incident.

He started weeping. Where were his clothes? Why would somebody take his jeans, his socks and shoes? The scenarios in his head were too black to allow light to enter. He couldn't fool himself. He was in the deepest shit of his young life.

He banged his head on the pipe he was chained to as he heard a sound. It was the distant boom of a door. He felt his heart boom with it. His breath didn't seem to know if it wanted to come in or go out.

He was pretty much convulsing when he made out a jangle interspersed with the steady approach of footsteps. He suddenly thought of the handyman at his parents' building, the merry jingle of keys that bounced off his thigh. Skinny Mr. Durkin, who always had a tool in his hand. Hope gave him courage. It was a friend, he decided. Somebody who would save him.

"Hppp!" Jacob screamed from behind the gag.

The footsteps stopped. A lock clacked open, and cool air passed over the skin of his face. The gag was pulled off.

"Thank you! Oh, thank you! I don't know what happened. I—"

Jacob's breath blasted out of him as he was hit in the stomach with something tremendously hard. It was a steel-toed boot, and it seemed to knock his stomach clear through his spine.

Oh, God, Jacob thought, his head scraping the stone floor as he dry-heaved in filth. Dear God, please help me.


Chapter 2

JACOB WAS UNCUFFED and pulled roughly for twenty or so steps and slammed into a hard-backed seat. Light spiked his eyes as his blindfold was sliced away, and his hands were cuffed again behind his back.

He was in a child's school desk in a vast, windowless space. In front of him was an old-fashioned wooden rolling blackboard with nothing written on it. Behind him was a cold presence that lifted the hairs from his neck.

Jacob sobbed silently as a lighter hissed. The faintly spicy scent of tobacco smoke filled the air. "Good morning, Master Dunning," said a voice behind him.

It was a man's voice. The man sounded perfectly sane, highly educated, in fact. He reminded him of a popular English teacher he'd had at Horace Mann, Mr. Manducci.

Hey, wait. Maybe it was Mr. Manducci. He always did seem a little too, er, friendly with some of the male students. Could this be a kidnapping or something? Jacob's CEO father was extremely wealthy.

Jacob could actually feel the relief emit from his pores. He decided he'd take a kidnapping at this point. Ransom, being released. He was down with that. Please be a kidnapping, he found himself thinking.

"My family has money, sir," Jacob said, carefully trying to keep the terror out of his voice and failing.

"Yes, they do," the man said pleasantly. He could have been the DJ for a classical music station. "That's precisely the problem. They have too much money and too little sense. They own a Mercedes McLaren, a Bentley—oh, and a Prius. How green of them. You can thank their hypocrisy for bringing you here. Unfortunately for you, your father seems to have forgotten his Exodus twenty, verse five: �For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons.' "

Jacob twitched violently in the hard chair as a stainless-steel pistol barrel softly caressed his right cheek.

"Now I'm going to ask you some questions," his captor said. "Your answers are very, very important. You've heard of pass-fail, haven't you?"

The pistol jabbed hard into Jacob's face, its hammer cocking with a sharp click.

"This test you're about to take is pass-die. Now, question one: What was your nanny's name?"

Who? My nanny? Jacob thought. What the hell was this?

"R-R-Rosa?" Jacob said.

"That's right. Rosa. So far, so good, Master Dunning. Now, what was her last name?"

Oh, shit, Jacob thought. Abando? Abrado? Something. He didn't know. The sweet, silly woman that he had played hide-and-seek with. Who'd fed him after school. Rosa, pressing her warm cheek against his as she helped him blow out the candles on his birthday cake. How could he not know her last name?

"Time's up," the man sang.

"Abrado?" Jacob said.

"Not even close," the man said in disgust. "Her name was Rosalita Chavarria. She was a person, you see. She actually had a first and a last name. Just like you. She was flesh and blood. Just like you. She died last year, you know. A year after your parents fired her because she was becoming forgetful, she went back to her home country. Which leads us to our third question: What was Rosa's home country?"

How the hell had this guy known about Rosa's termination? Who was this? A friend of hers? He didn't sound Hispanic. Again, what was this?

"Nicaragua?" Jacob tried.

"Incorrect again. She was from Honduras. A month after she returned to a one-room shack owned by her sister, she had to go for a hysterectomy. In a substandard hospital outside of Tegucigalpa, she was given a tainted transfusion of blood and contracted HIV. Honduras has the highest concentration of AIDS in the Western Hemisphere. Did you know that? Sure you did.

"Now, question four: What is the average life span in Honduras for an HIV-positive person? I'll give you a hint. It's a hell of a lot less than the fifteen years it is in this country."

Jacob Dunning began to cry.

"I don't know. How would I know? Please."

"That won't do, Jacob," the man said, jamming and twisting the barrel of the gun painfully against his teeth. "Perhaps I'm not making myself clear enough. There'll be no Ivy League A in this class. No tutors. No helpful strategies to maximize your score. You can't cheat, and the results are ultimate. This is a test that you've had your whole life to study for, but I have the feeling you were slacking off. So I'd try to think a little bit harder. HIV-positive life span in Honduras! Answer now!"


Chapter 3

IT WAS THE Catholic grammar school version of March Madness in Holy Name's gym that Sunday around noon. A deafening chaos of ringing basketballs, screaming cheerleaders, and howling sugar-crazed kids rolling over the laminated hardwood on Heelys rose to the angel-carved rafters.

In addition to the noise, it was overly hot, dusty, and crowded, and I couldn't have been happier.

I found myself where I always do when chaos is present, smack-dab in the middle of it. With a whistle around my neck, I was standing at center court, overseeing layup and passing drills as our JV squad, the Holy Name Bulldogs, warmed up. St. Ann's, our crosstown rival from Third Avenue, was doing the same at the opposite end of the court.

Having one son, Ricky, on the varsity squad and another, Eddie, on the JV, I'd somehow found myself nodding in the affirmative when I was asked by the principal, Sister Sheilah, to replace the JV's coach. At first I'd been reluctant. Hello? Single dad, ten kids? Like I didn't have enough to do? But Sister Sheilah can smell a sucker like me from two miles away.

From ball-handling drills to doing the Xs and Os on the chalkboard to even putting away the folding chairs after the game, I'd actually come to get a kick out of coaching. I don't know if any of my 0-and-6 Bulldogs were NBA-bound, but witnessing them gain confidence in themselves and watching the magic that came from going from a bunch of individuals to a somewhat cohesive team, I guess you could do worse things with a Sunday.

The crowd had become so loud at the tip-off that I almost didn't hear the phone going off at my hip. I didn't recognize the number as work, but that didn't mean much. We rotated weekends on my new squad. Guess whose weekend this was?

"Bennett here," I screamed into it.

"Mike, it's Carol. Carol Fleming."

Damn, I thought, closing my eyes. I knew it. Carol was my new boss. Well, my new boss's boss actually. Her name was Chief Carol Fleming. She was the commanding officer of the NYPD's Special Investigative Division, which would have been a big deal even if she weren't the first woman ever to hold the job.

In January, I'd been rotated out of Manhattan North Homicide to the Major Case Squad under her command. Although I preferred Homicide, I had to admit that Major Case, which investigated high-profile bank robberies, art thefts, and kidnappings, wasn't exactly putting me to sleep.

"What's up, boss?" I said.

"We have a possible kidnapping uptown. You need to see April Dunning at One West Seventy-second Street, apartment ten B. Her son, Jacob, seems to be missing. Jacob's father, Donald Dunning, is founder and CEO of—"

"Latvium and Company, the multinational pharmaceutical company," I finished for her. "I've heard of him."

I'd actually read about him in a Forbes magazine at my kids' dentist's office. Dunning was a billionaire, and one of the mayor's golfing buddies. I could see where this was heading.

"How old is his kid, Jacob?"

"Eighteen," the chief said.

"Eighteen!?" I said. "Jacob's not missing. He's eighteen."

"I know what it sounds like, Mike. Somebody with City Hall juice looking for their probably party-hearty kid. Be that as it may, I still need you to check it out. Get back to me as soon as you can."

I wrote down the time and address on the back of my player list after I hung up. Find somebody else's kid? I thought. I had trouble enough keeping track of my own. I waved over Seamus, who was booing furiously as one of the St. Ann's players hit a three-pointer.

"Putting me in, Coach, are ya?" my wiseass grandfather priest said in his Guinness-thick brogue. "I keep telling ya

I still got game."

I shook my head.

"Listen, Monsignor. I need to check on something, hopefully very quickly. Fill in for me until I get back. On second thought, just stand here and don't say or do anything. Please."

"Finally," Seamus said, gleefully snatching the clipboard from me and rolling up the sleeves of his black shirt. "Maybe we'll win one this time."


Chapter 4

ONE WEST 72nd Street turned out to be the Dakota, the famous Gothic castle-like building where John Len-non had lived before he was shot in front of it. It was also the place where the lady who gives birth to the devil in Rosemary's Baby lived, I remembered cheerfully. The good omens just kept on coming this afternoon.

I passed the building and left my van up around the next corner on Columbus and walked back along 72nd. If in the unlikely case this was a kidnapping, it already could be under surveillance. I definitely did not want to advertise that the family had contacted the police.

I passed through a wrought-iron gate at the Dakota's entrance. Its double-wide arched entryway was the very spot where Chapman had killed the ex-Beatle, shooting him in the back before he could get into the lobby entrance up a short set of stairs to the right. The building was a popular sightseeing tour stop. Yoko, who still lived here, had to be overjoyed when she saw people looking around for bullet holes.

The heavy brass barred door opened as I reached the top. A portly Asian doorman in a hunter green suit coat and hat stood beside an ALL VISITORS MUST BE ANNOUNCED sign.

"I'm here to see the Dunnings," I said, discreetly showing him my shield.

After I was announced, an elderly hall man appeared and guided me through the lobby. The walls had the richest, darkest mahogany paneling I'd ever seen. A massive ballroom chandelier and brass wall sconces softly lit the intricately detailed ceiling moldings and white travertine marble floor.

The hall man, in turn, passed me off to an elevator man. Upstairs, a diminutive butler waved me in through the open door of 10 B.

Through the nearly double-height French doors, I could see the whole way through the Dunnings' apartment to Central Park. The grand rooms were arrayed in the classic enfilade design, allowing more than one way into each room so guests could avoid the servants. The wood floors, like the paneled walls, were Cuban mahogany. They were laid out in a herringbone pattern with what looked like a black-walnut trim.

A striking black-haired woman came quickly down the long corridor of the apartment. She was wearing a rumpled blue evening dress, and even from a distance, the agony in her fine-boned face was unmistakable. My annoyance at being called in dissipated as my heart went out to her. Even with her elegant clothes and her surroundings, she was just a concerned mom sick with worry.

"Thank God you've come. Detective Bennett, is it?" she said with an English accent. "It's my son, Jacob. Something's happened to him."

"I'm here to help you find him, ma'am," I said as reassuringly as I could while I took out my notebook. "When was the last time you saw or spoke to Jacob?"

"I spoke to him three days ago. Jacob lives at school. At NYU. Hayden Hall, right alongside Washington Square Park. My husband is still down there with my father. They've spoken to his friends, and no one has seen him since Friday. Not his roommate. No one."

Maybe he met a cute girl, I felt like saying to her.

"Not seeing someone for a few days might not necessarily mean something's wrong, Mrs. Dunning. Is there a specific reason why you think something's happened to him?"

"My husband and I had our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary last night at Le Cirque. We'd planned it with Jacob for months. Jacob's grandfather flew in from Bordeaux for the occasion. Jacob would not have missed it. He is our only child. You don't understand how close we are. He would not have missed our special event or the rare chance to see his grandfather."

I was starting to understand her concern. What she was telling me did seem strange.

"Did he say anything to you when you last spoke to him? Anything odd? Someone new he might have met or—"

That's when the phone on the antique sideboard beside her rang. She stared in horror at the caller ID number, then at me as it rang again.

"I don't know that number," she said, raw panic in her voice. "I don't know that number!"

"That's okay," I said, trying to calm her down. I scratched down the number, and let my instincts kick in.

"Listen, April. Look at me. If it's someone involved with Jacob being gone� I don't think it is, but if it is—you need to ask them exactly what you need to do in order to get your son back, okay? And if you can, say that you want to speak to Jacob."

Tears were streaming down her face as the phone rang again. She used a shaking fist to wipe them away before she grabbed the receiver. I listened at an extension in the adjacent study. I pressed the phone's answering machine's Record button as I lifted the receiver.

"Yes? This is April Dunning."

"I have Jacob," a strangely serene voice said. "Listen."

There was a click and hum on the line and then what sounded like a recording.

"Question number nine: If you were born in Sudan,

what would be your chances of living to forty? And what does that have to do with your cute little red iPod nano?"

"I don't know," a young man sobbed. "Stop. Please stop."

The recording clicked off.

"You'll receive instructions in exactly three hours," the calm voice said. "Follow them to the letter or you'll never see your son alive again. No police. No FBI."

The connection was cut. I was hanging up the extension when there was a crash in the hallway. Mrs. Dunning was kneeling on the herringbone floor, sobbing inconsolably.

"It's Jacob," she moaned. "That bastard has my Jacob."

The butler arrived a step before me and helped her into a chair.

I speed-dialed the chief. Unbelievable. This really was a kidnapping. We had no time to waste to get set up. We needed to hustle if we were going to have all our teams in place in three hours. It was going to be close.

I frowned out the window. Down across Central Park West, a tour bus was disembarking, people checking their cameras as they crowded toward the Strawberry Fields John Lennon memorial. My boss's phone rang with a painful slowness as Mrs. Dunning's cries carried through the high-ceilinged rooms.

"C'mon," I said in frustration. "Pick up."

Excerpted from WORST CASE © Copyright 2011 by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. Reprinted with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

Worst Case
by by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316036226
  • ISBN-13: 9780316036221