On your mark
Private, the world's most renowned investigation firm, has been commissioned to provide security for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Its agents are the smartest, fastest, and most technologically advanced in the world, and 400 of them have been transferred to London to protect more than 10,000 competitors who represent more than 200 countries.
The opening ceremony is hours away when Private investigator and single father of twins, Peter Knight, is called to the scene of a ruthless murder. A high-ranking member of the games' organizing committee has been killed. It's clear to Peter that this wasn't a crime of passion, but one of precise calculation and execution.
Newspaper reporter Karen Pope receives a letter from a person who calls himself Cronus claiming responsibility for the murders. He promises to restore the Olympics to their ancient glory and to destroy all those who have corrupted the games with lies, corruption, and greed. Immediately, Karen hires Private to examine the letter, and she and Peter uncover a criminal genius who won't stop until he's completely destroyed the modern games.
About the Author
James Patterson has had more New York Times bestsellers than any other writer, ever, according to Guinness World Records. Since his first novel won the Edgar Award in 1977 James Patterson's books have sold more than 300 million copies. He is the author of the Alex Cross novels, the most popular detective series of the past twenty-five years, including Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.
Hometown:Palm Beach, Florida
Date of Birth:March 22, 1947
Place of Birth:Newburgh, New York
Education:B.A., Manhattan College, 1969; M.A., Vanderbilt University, 1971
Read an Excerpt
By Patterson, James
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2012 Patterson, James
All right reserved.
INT EDITION PAGE COUNT: 432
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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 sank 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.
Peter Knight felt helpless as he glanced back and forth from the Olympic symbol crossed out in blood to the head of his mother’s fiancé.
Inspector Pottersfield stepped up beside Knight. In a thin voice, she said, “Tell me about Sir Denton.”
Swallowing his grief, Knight said, “Denton was a great, great man, Elaine. Ran a big hedge fund, made loads of money, but gave most of it away. He was also an absolutely critical member of the London Organising Committee. A lot of people think that without Sir Denton’s efforts, we never would have beaten out Paris for the games. He was also a nice guy, unimpressed with himself. And he made my mother very happy.”
“I didn’t think that was possible,” the chief inspector remarked.
“Neither did I. Neither did Amanda. But he did,” Knight said. “Until just now, I didn’t think Denton Marshall had an enemy in the world.”
Pottersfield gestured at the bloody Olympic symbol. “Maybe it has more to do with the Olympics than with who he was in the rest of his life.”
Knight stared at Sir Denton Marshall’s head and returned to the corpse before saying, “Maybe. Or maybe this is just designed to throw us off the track. Cutting off someone’s head can easily be construed as an act of rage, which is almost always personal at some level.”
“You’re saying this could be revenge of some kind?” Pottersfield replied.
Knight shrugged. “Or a political statement. Or the work of a deranged mind. Or a combination of the three. I don’t know.”
“Can you account for your mother’s whereabouts last evening between eleven and twelve thirty?” Pottersfield asked suddenly.
Knight looked at her as though she were an idiot. “Amanda loved Denton.”
“Spurned love can be a powerful motive for rage,” Pottersfield observed.
“There was no spurning,” Knight snapped. “I would have known. Besides, you’ve seen my mother. She’s five foot five and a hundred and ten pounds. Denton was two twenty. There’s no way she’d have the physical or emotional strength to cut off his head. And no reason to.”
“So you’re saying you do know where she was?” Pottersfield asked.
“I’ll find out and get back to you. But first I have to tell her.”
“I’ll do that if you think it might help.”
“No, I’ll do it,” Knight said, studying Sir Denton’s head one last time, and then focusing on the way his mouth seemed twisted, as if he wanted to spit something out.
Knight fished in his pocket for a pen-size flashlight, stepped around the Olympic symbol, and shined the beam into the gap between Sir Denton’s lips. He saw a glint of something, and reached back into his pocket for a pair of forceps he always kept there in case he wanted to pick something up without touching it.
Refusing to look at his mother’s dead fiancé’s eyes, he began to probe between the man’s lips with the forceps.
“Peter, stop that,” Pottersfield ordered. “You’re—”
But Knight was already turning to show her a tarnished bronze coin he’d plucked from Sir Denton’s mouth.
“New theory,” he said. “It’s about money.”
When I returned to consciousness several days after the stoning, I was in hospital with a fractured skull and the nauseating feeling that I had been rewired somehow, made more alien than ever before.
I remembered everything about the attack and everything about my attackers. But when the police came to ask me what had happened, I told them I had no idea. I said I had memories of entering the building, but nothing more; and their questions soon stopped.
I healed slowly. A crab-like scar formed on my scalp. My hair grew back, hiding it, and I began to nurture a dark fantasy that became my first obsession.
Two weeks later, I returned home to the little monsters and Minister Bob. Even they could tell I’d changed. I was no longer a wild child. I smiled and acted happy. I studied and developed my body.
Minister Bob thought I’d found God.
But I admit to you that I did it all by embracing hatred. I stroked that crab-like scar on my head, and focused my hatred, my oldest emotional ally, on things that I wanted to have and to have happen. Armed with a dark heart, I went after them all, trying to show the entire world how different I really was. And though I acted the changed boy—the happy, achieving mate—in public, I never forgot the stoning or the storms it had spawned in my head.
When I was fourteen, I secretly began looking for the monsters that broke my skull. I found them eventually, selling dime bags of methamphetamine on a corner twelve blocks from where I lived with Minister Bob and the little monsters.
I kept tabs on the pair until I turned sixteen, and felt big and strong enough to act.
Minister Bob had been an ironworker before he found Jesus. On the sixth anniversary of my stoning, I took one of his heavy hammers and a pair of his old work coveralls, and I slipped out at night, when I was supposed to be studying.
Wearing the coveralls and carrying the hammer in a schoolbag harvested from a trash bin, I found the two monsters that stoned me. Six years of their drug use and six years of my evolution had wiped me from their memory banks.
I lured them to an empty lot with the promise of money, and then I beat their monstrous brains to bloody pulp.
Shortly after Chief Inspector Pottersfield ordered Sir Denton’s remains bagged, Knight left the garden and the mansion consumed by far worse dread than he’d felt when he’d entered.
He ducked the police tape, avoided the reporters, and headed out of Lyall Mews, trying to decide how in God’s name he was going to tell his mother about Denton. But Knight knew he had to, and quickly, before Amanda heard it from someone else. He absolutely did not want her to be alone when she learned that the best thing that had ever happened to her was…
“Knight?” a man’s voice called to him. “Is that you?”
Knight looked up to see a tall, athletic man in his midforties, wearing a fine Italian suit, rushing toward him. Below his thick salt-and-pepper hair, anguish twisted his ruddy, blockish face.
Knight had met Michael “Mike” Lancer at Private’s London offices twice in the eighteen months since the company was hired to act as a special security force during the Olympic Games. But he knew the man largely by reputation.
A two-time world decathlon champion in the 1980s and ’90s, Lancer had served with the Coldstream Regiment and in the Queen’s Guard, which had allowed him to train full-time. At the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, he led the decathlon after the first day of competition, but then cramped in the heat and humidity during the second day, finishing out of the top ten.
Lancer had since become a motivational speaker and security consultant who often worked with Private International on big projects. He was also a member of LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, charged with helping to arrange security for the mega-event.
“Is it true?” Lancer asked in a keenly distraught voice. “Denton’s dead?”
“Afraid so, Mike,” Knight said.
Lancer’s eyes welled with tears. “Who would do this? Why?”
“Looks like someone who hates the Olympics,” Knight said, and then described the manner of Sir Denton’s death, and the bloody X.
Rattled, Lancer said, “When do they think this happened?”
“Shortly before midnight,” Knight replied.
Lancer shook his head. “That means I saw him only two hours before his death. He was leaving the party at the Tate with…” He stopped and looked at Knight in sad appraisal.
“Probably my mother,” Knight said. “They were engaged.”
“Yes, I knew that you and she were related,” Lancer said. “I’m so, so sorry, Peter. Does Amanda know?”
“I’m on my way to tell her right now.”
“You poor bastard,” Lancer said, and then looked off toward the police barrier. “Are those reporters there?”
“A whole pack of them, and getting bigger,” Knight said.
Lancer shook his head bitterly. “With all due loving respect to Denton, this is all we need with the opening ceremonies tomorrow night. They’ll blast the lurid details all over the bloody world.”
“Nothing you can do to stop that,” Knight said. “But I might think about upping security on all members of the organizing committee.”
Lancer made a puffing noise, and then nodded. “You’re right. I’d best catch a cab back to the office. Marcus is going to want to hear this in person.”
Marcus Morris, a politician who had stood down at the last election, was now chairman of the London Organising Committee.
“My mother as well,” Knight said, and together they headed on toward Chesham Street, where they thought taxi traffic would be heavier.
Indeed, they’d just reached Chesham when a black taxi appeared from the south, across from the Diplomat Hotel. At the same time, farther away and from the north, a red taxi came down the near lane. Knight hailed it.
Lancer signaled the black taxi in the northbound lane, saying, “Give my condolences to your mother, and tell Jack I’ll be in touch sometime later today.”
Jack Morgan was the American owner of Private International. He’d been in town since the plane carrying four members of the London office had gone down in the North Sea with no survivors.
Lancer stepped off the curb and set off in a confident stride, heading diagonally across the street as the red taxi came closer.
But then, to Knight’s horror, he heard the growl of an engine and tires squealing.
The black taxi was accelerating, heading right at the LOCOG member.
Knight reacted on instinct. He leaped into the street and knocked Lancer from the cab’s path.
In the next instant, Knight sensed the black taxi’s bumper less than three feet away, and tried to jump in the air to avoid being hit. His feet left the ground, but could not propel him from the cab’s trajectory. The fender and grille struck the side of his left knee and lower leg and drove on through.
The action wheeled Knight into the air. His shoulders, chest, and hip smashed on the hood and his face was pressed against the windshield, enabling him to catch a split-second image of the driver. Scarf. Sunglasses. A woman?
Knight was hurled up and over the roof as if he were no more than a stuffed doll. He hit the pavement hard on his left side, knocking the wind out of him, and for a moment he was aware only of the sight of the black taxi speeding away, the smell of car exhaust, and the blood pounding in his temples.
Then he thought: A goddamn miracle, but nothing feels broken.
The red taxi screeched toward Knight and he panicked, thinking he’d be run over after all.
But it skidded into a U-turn before stopping. The driver, an old Rasta wearing a green-and-gold knit cap over his dreads, threw open his door and jumped out.
“Don’t move, Knight,” Lancer yelled, running at him. “You’re hurt!”
“I’m okay,” Knight croaked. “Follow that cab, Mike.”
Lancer hesitated, but Knight said, “She’s getting away!”
Lancer grabbed Knight under the arms and hoisted him into the back of the red cab. “Follow it!” Lancer roared at the driver.
Knight held his ribs, still struggling for air as the Rasta taxi driver took off after the black cab, which was several blocks ahead by now, turning hard onto Pont Street, going west.
“I catch her, mon!” the driver promised. “Dat crazy one tried to kill you!”
Lancer was looking back and forth between the road ahead and Knight. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Banged up and bruised,” Knight grunted. “And she wasn’t trying to run me down, Mike. She was trying to run you down.”
The driver power-drifted onto Pont Street, heading west. The black taxi was two blocks ahead now, its brake lights flashing red before it lurched in a hard right turn onto Sloane Street.
The Rasta mashed the gas hard, turning the leafy road into a blur. They reached the intersection with Sloane so fast, Knight felt sure they’d actually catch up to the woman who’d just tried to kill him.
But then two more black taxis flashed by them, both heading north on Sloane, and the Rasta was forced to slam on the brakes and wrench the wheel to avoid hitting them. Knight’s cab went into a screeching skid, and almost hit another car: a Metropolitan Police vehicle.
The siren went on. So did the flashing lights.
“No!” Lancer yelled.
“Every time, mon!” the driver shouted in frustration, and slowed the taxi to a stop.
Knight nodded in an angry daze, looking through the windshield as the taxi that had almost killed him melted into the traffic heading toward Hyde Park.
Brightly fletched arrows whizzed and cut through the hot midmorning air. They landed on and around the yellow bull’s-eyes painted within larger red and blue circles on a long line of targets set up across the lime-green pitch at Lord’s Cricket Grounds near Regent’s Park in central London.
Archers from six or seven countries were completing their final practice rounds. Archery would be one of the first sports to be decided after the 2012 London Olympic Games opened, with team competition scheduled to start midmorning on Saturday, two days hence, and the medal ceremony to be held that very afternoon.
Which is why Karen Pope was up in the stands, watching through binoculars, boredom slackening her face.
Pope was a sports reporter for the Sun, a British tabloid newspaper that boasts more than seven million readers, thanks to its reputation for aggressive, bare-knuckle journalism and its tradition of publishing photographs of young bare-breasted women on page 3.
Pope was in her early thirties, and attractive in the way Renée Zellweger was in the film Bridget Jones’s Diary, but too flat-chested to ever be considered for page 3. Pope was also a dogged reporter, and ambitious in the extreme.
Around her neck that morning hung one of only fourteen full-access media passes granted to the Sun for the Olympics. Such passes had been severely limited for the British press because more than twenty thousand members of the global media would also be in London to cover the seventeen-day mega-event. The full-access passes had become almost as valuable as Olympic medals, at least to British journalists.
Pope kept thinking she should be happy to have the pass and to be here covering the games at all, but her efforts so far this morning had failed to yield anything truly newsworthy about archery.
She’d been looking for the South Koreans, gold medal favorites, but had learned that they had already finished their practice session before she arrived.
“Bloody hell,” she said in disgust. “Finch is going to kill me.”
Pope decided her best hope was to do research for a feature that, with lively writing, might somehow make the paper. But what sort? What was the angle?
Archery: Darts for the Posh?
No, there was absolutely nothing posh about archery.
Indeed, what in God’s name did she know about archery? She’d grown up in a footballer family. Earlier that very morning Pope had tried to explain to Finch that she’d be better off assigned to athletics or gymnastics. But her editor had reminded her in no uncertain terms that she’d only just joined the paper six weeks before from Manchester and therefore was the low person on the sports-desk totem pole.
“Get me a big story and you’ll get better assignments,” Finch had said.
Pope forced her attention back to the archers. It struck her that they seemed so calm. It was almost like they were in a trance up there. Not like a cricket batsman or a tennis player at all. Should she write about that? Find out how the bowmen got themselves into that state?
C’mon, she thought in annoyance. Who wants to read about Zen in sports when you can look at bare boobs on page 3?
Pope sighed, set down her binoculars, and shifted her position in one of the Grand Stand seats. She noticed stuffed down into her handbag a bundle of mail she’d grabbed as she left the office. She started going through the stack, finding various press releases and other items of zero interest.
Then she came to a thick manila envelope with her name and title printed oddly in black and blue block letters on the front.
Pope twisted her nose as if she’d sniffed something foul. She hadn’t written anything recently to warrant a wack-job letter, most definitely not since she’d arrived in London. Every reporter worth a damn got wack-job letters. You learned to recognize them quickly. They usually came after you’d published something controversial or suggested a diabolical conspiracy.
She slit the envelope anyway and drew out a sheaf of ten pages attached by a paper clip to a folded plain paper greeting card. She flipped the card open. There was no writing inside. But a computer chip in the card was activated and flute music began to play, weird flute music that got under her skin and made her think that someone had died.
She shut the card and then scanned the first page of the sheaf of pages, and saw that it was a letter addressed to her, and typed in a dozen different fonts, which made it hard to read. But then she began to get the gist of it, and Pope read the letter three times, her heart beating faster with every line until it felt like it was throbbing high in her throat.
She scanned the rest of the documents attached to the letter and the greeting card, and almost felt faint. She dug wildly in her bag for her phone and called her editor.
“Finch, it’s Pope,” she said breathlessly when he answered. “Can you tell me whether Denton Marshall has been murdered?”
In a thick Cockney accent, Finch said, “What? Sir Denton Marshall?”
“Yes, yes, the big hedge fund guy, philanthropist, member of the organizing committee,” Pope confirmed, gathering her things and looking for the nearest exit to the stadium. “Please, Finchy, this could be huge.”
“Hold on,” her editor growled.
Pope had made it outside and was trying to hail a cab across from Regent’s Park when her editor finally came back on the line.
“They’ve got the yellow tape up around Sir Denton’s place in Lyall Mews and the coroner’s wagon just arrived.”
Pope punched the air with her free hand and cried, “Finch, you’re going to have to get someone else to cover archery and dressage. The story I just caught is going to hit London like an earthquake.”
“Lancer says you saved his life,” Elaine Pottersfield said.
A paramedic prodded and poked at a wincing Knight, who sat on the bumper of an ambulance on the east side of Sloane Street, a few feet from the Rasta’s parked red taxi.
“I just reacted,” Knight insisted, aching everywhere and feeling baked by the heat radiating off the pavement.
“You put yourself in harm’s way,” the chief inspector said coldly.
Knight got annoyed. “You said yourself I saved his life.”
“And almost lost your own,” she shot back. “Where would that have left…” She paused. “The children?”
He said, “Let’s keep them out of this, Elaine. I’m fine. There should be footage of that taxi on CCTV.”
London had ten thousand closed-circuit security cameras spread out across the city, all of which rolled twenty-four hours a day. A lot of them had been there since the 2005 terrorist bombings in the tube—London’s subway system—which left fifty-six people dead and more than seven hundred wounded.
“We’ll check them,” Pottersfield promised. “But looking for a black taxi in London? Since none of you got the license plate, that’s going to be near impossible.”
“Not if you narrow the search to this road, heading north, and the approximate time she got away. And call all the taxi companies. I had to have done some damage to her hood or grille.”
“You’re sure it was a woman?” Pottersfield asked skeptically.
“It was a woman,” Knight insisted. “Scarf. Sunglasses. Very pissed off.”
The Scotland Yard chief inspector glanced over at Lancer, who was being interviewed by another officer, before saying, “He and Sir Denton. Both LOCOG members.”
Knight nodded. “I’d start looking for people who have a beef with the organizing committee.”
Pottersfield did not reply because Lancer was approaching. He’d torn his tie loose around his neck and was patting at his sweating brow with a handkerchief.
“Thank you,” he said to Knight. “I am beyond in your debt.”
“Nothing you wouldn’t have done for me,” Knight replied.
“I’m calling Jack,” Lancer said. “I’m telling him what you did.”
“It’s not necessary,” Knight said.
“It is,” Lancer insisted. He hesitated. “I’d like to repay you.”
Knight shook his head. “LOCOG is Private’s client, which means you are Private’s client, Mike, and it’s all in a day’s work.”
“No, you…” Lancer said, hesitated, and then completed his thought. “You shall be my guest tomorrow night at the opening ceremonies.”
Knight was caught flat-footed by the offer. Tickets to the opening ceremonies were almost as prized as invitations had been to the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton the year before.
“If I can get the nanny to cover for me, I’ll accept.”
Lancer beamed. “I’ll have my secretary send you a pass and tickets in the morning.” He patted Knight on his good shoulder, smiled at Pottersfield, and then walked off toward the Jamaican taxi driver, who was still getting a hard time from the patrol officers who’d pulled him over.
“I’ll need you to make a formal statement,” Pottersfield said.
“I’m not doing anything until I’ve spoken with my mother.”
Twenty minutes later, a Metropolitan Police patrol car dropped Knight in front of his mother’s home on Milner Street in Knightsbridge. He’d been offered painkillers by the paramedics, but had refused them. Getting out of the cop car was brutal, and he kept remembering, in flashes, an image of a beautiful pregnant woman standing on a moor at sunset.
Thankfully, he was able to put her out of his mind by the time he rang the doorbell, suddenly aware of how dirty and torn his clothes were.
Amanda would not approve. Neither would…
The door swung open to reveal Gary Boss, his mother’s longtime personal assistant. Boss was in his thirties, thin, well-groomed, and impeccably attired.
He blinked at Knight from behind round tortoiseshell glasses and sniffed, “I didn’t know you had an appointment, Peter.”
“Her son and only child doesn’t need one,” Knight said. “Not today.”
“She’s very, very busy,” Boss insisted. “I suggest…”
“Denton’s dead, Gary,” Knight said softly.
“What?” Boss said, and then tittered derisively. “That’s impossible. She was just with him last—”
“He was murdered,” Knight said, stepping inside. “I just came from the crime scene. I need to tell her.”
“Murdered?” Boss said, and then his mouth sloughed open. He closed his eyes as if in anticipation of some personal agony. “Dear God. She’ll be…”
“I know,” Knight said, and moved by him. “Where is she?”
“In the library,” Boss said. “Choosing fabric.”
Knight winced. His mother despised being interrupted when reviewing samples. “Can’t be helped,” he said, and walked down the hall toward the doors to the library, getting ready to tell his mother that, in effect, she had just been widowed for the second time.
When Knight was three, his father, Harry, had died in a freak industrial accident, leaving his young widow and son a meager insurance payout. His mother had turned bitter about her loss, but then turned that bitterness into energy. She’d always liked fashion and sewing, so she used the insurance money to start an apparel company she named after herself.
Amanda Designs had started in their kitchen. Knight remembered how she had seemed to look at life and business as one long, protracted brawl. Her pugnacious style succeeded, though. By the time Knight was fifteen, his mother had built Amanda Designs into a robust and respected company by never being happy and by constantly goading everyone around her to do better. Shortly after Knight graduated from Christ Church college at Oxford, she’d sold the concern for tens of millions of pounds and used the cash to fund the launch of four more successful apparel lines.
In all that time, however, Knight’s mother never allowed herself to fall in love again. She’d had friends and consorts and, Knight suspected, several short-term lovers. But from the day his father had died, Amanda had erected a solid shield around her heart that no one, except for her son, ever managed to breach.
Until Denton Marshall had come into her life.
They met at a cancer fund-raiser and, as his mother liked to say, “It was everything at first sight.” In that one evening, Amanda transformed from a cold, remote bitch into a schoolgirl giddy with her first crush. From that point forward, Sir Denton had been her soul mate, her best friend, and the source of the deepest happiness of her life.
Knight flashed on that image of the pregnant woman again, knocked on the library door, and entered.
An elegant woman by any standard—in her late fifties, she possessed the posture of a dancer, the beauty of an aging movie star, and the bearing of a benevolent monarch—Amanda Knight was standing at her worktable, dozens of fabric swatches arrayed in front of her.
“Gary,” she scolded without looking up. “I told you that I was not to be—”
“It’s me, Mother,” Knight said.
Amanda turned to look at him with her slate-colored eyes and frowned. “Peter, didn’t Gary tell you I was choosing…” She stopped, seeing something in his face. Her own face twisted in disapproval. “Don’t tell me: your heathen children have driven off another nanny.”
“No,” Knight said. “I wish it were something as simple as that.”
Then he proceeded to shatter his mother’s happiness into a thousand jagged pieces.
If you are to kill monsters, you must learn to think like a monster.
I did not begin to appreciate that perspective until the night after the explosion that cracked my head a second time, nineteen years after the stoning.
I was long gone from London, my first plan to prove to the world that I was beyond different—that I was infinitely superior to any other human—having been thwarted.
The monsters had won that war against me by subterfuge and sabotage. As a result, when I landed in the Balkans in the late spring of 1995, assigned to a NATO peacekeeping mission, the hatred I felt had no limits. Its depth and dimensions were incalculable.
After what had been done to me, I did not want peace.
I wanted violence. I wanted sacrifice. I wanted blood.
So perhaps you could say that fate intervened on my behalf within five weeks of my deployment to the fractured, shifting, and highly combustible killing fields of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It was July, a late afternoon on a dusty road eighteen miles from the besieged city of Srebrenica, in the Drina Valley. I was riding in the passenger seat of a camouflaged Toyota Land Cruiser, looking out the window, wearing a helmet and flak jacket.
I’d been reading about Greek mythology from a book I’d picked up, and was thinking that the war-torn Balkan landscape through which we traveled could have been the setting of some dark and twisted myth; wild roses were blooming everywhere about the mutilated corpses we’d spotted in the area, victims of one side’s atrocity or the other’s.
The bomb went off without warning.
I can’t recall the sound of the blast that destroyed the driver, the truck, and the two other passengers. But I can still smell the cordite and the burning diesel.
And I can still feel the aftershock of the invisible fist that belted me with full force, hurling me through the windshield and setting off an electrical storm of epic proportions inside my skull.
Dusk had blanketed the land when I regained consciousness, ears ringing, disoriented, nauseated, and thinking at first that I was ten years old and had just been stoned unconscious. But then the tilting and whirling in my mind slowed enough for me to make out the charred skeleton of the Land Cruiser and the bodies of my companions, which were burned beyond recognition. Beside me lay a submachine gun and pistol, a Sterling and a Beretta, which had been thrown from the truck.
It was dark by the time I could stand with the weapons and walk.
I staggered and fell for several miles across fields and forests before I came to a village somewhere southwest of Srebrenica. Walking in, carrying the guns, I heard something above and beyond the ringing in my ears. Men were shouting somewhere in the darkness ahead of me.
Those angry voices drew me, and as I went toward them I felt my old friend hatred building in my head, irrational, urging me to slay somebody.
The men were Bosnians. There were seven of them, armed with old single-barrel shotguns and corroded rifles they used to goad three handcuffed teenage girls ahead of them as if they were driving livestock to a pen.
One of them saw me, shouted, and they turned their feeble weapons my way. For reasons I could not explain to myself until much later, I did not open fire and kill them all right there, the men and the girls.
Instead, I told them the truth, that I was part of the NATO mission and that I’d been in an explosion and needed to call back to my base. That seemed to calm them somewhat and they lowered their guns and let me keep mine.
One of them spoke broken English and said I could call from the village’s police station, where they were heading.
I asked what the girls were under arrest for, and the one who spoke English said, “They are war criminals. They belong to Serbian kill squad, working for that devil Mladić. People call them the Furies. These girls kill Bosnian boys. Many boys. Each of them does this. Ask oldest one. She speak English.”
Excerpted from Private Games by Patterson, James Copyright © 2012 by Patterson, James. Excerpted by permission.
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