By James Patterson

By David Ellis

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In this companion to #1 New York Times bestseller The Black Book, Detective Billy Harney chases down a billionaire crime boss and a prison escape artist while a young girl's life hangs in the balance.

As Chicago PD’s special-ops leader, Detective Billy Harney knows well that money is not the only valuable currency. The filthy rich man he’s investigating is down to his last twenty million. He’s also being held in jail.
For now.
Billy’s unit is called in when an escape plan results in officers down and inmates vanished.
In an empty lot, Billy spots two Kevlar vests. Two helmets. Two assault rifles. And a handwritten note:
Hi, Billy
Are you having fun yet?


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April 8

Chapter 1

HE'S HERE somewhere. I know it. And the girl might still be alive.

The girl: fifteen-year-old Bridget Leone, abducted off the streets of Hyde Park forty-four hours ago.

Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing.

The ALPR sounds on the dashboard of our unmarked car, registering every license plate we pass, searching for any plate beginning with the letters F and D. But our witness told us the letters might have appeared the other way around, D and F, and maybe not even next to each other.

If we have this right, the same man who kidnapped Bridget Leone has abducted four other girls between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, all African American, around the Chicagoland area over the last eighteen months. None of those four girls has been found. All four of them were runaways, homeless—meaning they were easily overlooked and forgotten by overworked and understaffed suburban police departments dealing with cold trails of girls gone missing.

Bridget Leone was different. African American and age fifteen, yes, but far from homeless or a runaway. Still, her parents said she dressed "way too provocatively" for her age and often ran with some "wild kids," typical teenage rebellion stuff that her abductor could have misconstrued. And just before she was abducted, we eventually learned from her reluctant friends, she and some classmates had been smoking weed in an alley only a few blocks from the elite magnet high school she'd attended.

When Bridget disappeared, her father—a real estate developer worth millions—called his good pal Tristan Driscoll, the Chicago police superintendent, who in turn immediately deployed the Special Operations Section to find her. That meant my partner, Carla Griffin, and me, at least as the lead detectives.

The computer mounted on the dash buzzes. A hit. Carla leans forward in the passenger seat and checks it. "False alarm," she says.

These automated license plate readers aren't perfect, natch. Sometimes a D is mistaken for a zero or an O, or an E is mistaken for an F.

Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing.

"I feel like I'm in a freakin' arcade," I say as I pull our unmarked car into a heavily wooded subdivision called Equestrian Lakes. Giant houses; wide, grassy lots.

Carla smirks. "Well, this is definitely a game of luck, not skill."

She's right. We have so little to go on. Nobody saw the direction in which the offender drove his car after he scooped Bridget off the street. The route he took didn't hit any PODs—our police observation cameras mounted in various places along the streets. The only witness was a homeless guy who had no phone, so he couldn't snap a photo or call it in. And he could only recall two possible digits of the license plate on a "dark" SUV and give us a vague profile of a white male who is "slightly hunched," probably five nine or five ten, with a long scar on the left side of his face and wearing a baseball cap.

We have AMBER alerts, community alerts, investigative alerts, and flash messages on every cop's screen in northern Illinois. The Illinois State Police are patrolling the highways. The night Bridget was abducted, we ran a check of ALPRs for those letters—D and F, next to each other—and picked up a Ford Explorer on South Archer Avenue. The registration traced to someone in Missouri who died six months ago.

We've cleared every registered sex offender in the area. So far, nothing. Nothing but hope for a little luck. Unless by some chance my gut call was right and he's here, on the southwest end of unincorporated Cook County.

My thinking: this largely vacant area would be close to the place where the ALPR picked up the Ford Explorer. There are some nice subdivisions, sure, but it has a rural feel, lots of woods and houses set back deep into the lots, no sidewalks or curbs or streetlights. Lots of privacy. Perfect for a predator.

So instead of running everything from the Special Operations headquarters, at North and Pulaski, Carla and I are here, taking phone calls and issuing orders while patrolling in an unmarked vehicle—unmarked unless you notice the tiny camera, the ALPR, on the roof.

Nothing unusual in Equestrian Lakes, a fancy subdivision, so I get back onto the main road, Rawlings, and follow the bend, the ALPR bing-bing-binging as cars pass.

The terrain gets more remote, more wooded. It feels like lake country out here, reminding me of the trips we'd take to Michigan when I was a kid. It's not yet dusk when I take a left turn down an unmarked narrow dirt road, hooded by tall trees, PRIVATE PROPERTY signs nailed to the trunks, glimpses of houses down paths. Beams of sun so infrequently break through the trees that my headlights switch on automatically. I'll do a quick tour before I—

A quarter mile ahead, a white van turns toward us onto the road. Carla's on her phone, talking with the state police, but she drops it from her ear and goes quiet.

I slow the car. The van continues to approach, going the speed limit, its headlights on us.

Bing. The ALPR picks up the plate.

"Commercial van," Carla reads off the mounted computer. "Registered to LTV, LLC. Registration's up to date."

The van moves slowly, giving us a wide berth, nearly driving onto the uneven shoulder.

I stop my car entirely, putting it in Park, and put on my hazards. Just to see what the driver will do.

The van seems to slow but doesn't stop. Carla and I lean down to look out the window at the driver, who's up higher than we are in his van.

White guy, roughly shaved, dark-framed glasses, baseball cap, bandage on his left cheek. Both hands gripping the wheel. His eyes stay straight forward, not even sneaking a peek in our direction, despite the fact that we have stopped in the middle of the road and put on our hazards.

Carla's voice is low. "That look like a white guy, five nine, hunched, scar on his face?"

Yeah, it sure as hell does. Not a Ford Explorer, no F or D on the plates, but a guy fitting the description in a creepy van. "Let's check it out."

I put the car in Drive and do a U-turn, following the van.

Chapter 2

THE VAN rolls along the dirt road, slowing even further as we pull up behind it. So far, it's guilty of nothing. Not speeding. No busted taillights. No apparent malfunctions that would warrant a stop.

"No PC," Carla says. A summary and a warning. We stop the car. Without probable cause, we have a problem in court.

But we don't need probable cause to follow it for a while. It's a free country.

I figure he's headed for the main road from which we just came, Rawlings. But he isn't. The van turns left down an unmarked path. Another dirt road.

No crime in that. And he used his blinker.

Still. I glance at Carla, the expression on her face probably the same as mine, gearing up.

"Baird Salt," she says, noting the logo visible on the side panel of the van when it turned.

I follow the van onto the turnoff. It hardly qualifies as a road—it's more like a clearing through the foliage and heavy tree cover, enough for a single lane of traffic, barely. The bumps are enough to challenge our Taurus's suspension and the fillings in my teeth. The canopy of trees keeps it dark, but the piercing beams of the lowering sun manage to penetrate here and there.

The van keeps moving at a normal clip down a path that wasn't meant to be noticed, much less traveled. I feel like I'm driving through a jungle, overhanging branches tapping our windshield and scraping the sides of the Taurus.

We still haven't taken any official police action, but there's no longer any doubt that we're following. If this guy's innocent, he has to be wondering about our intentions.

But he's not, I think, my pulse banging. This is our guy.

And he knows we know.

"Sosh, where are you?" Carla says into her radio. Another SOS team, Detectives Lanny Soscia and Mat Rodriguez, are in this area doing the same thing we are.

"West of Archer near…Hogan?"

"We're just south of Rawlings, traveling westbound on an unmarked dirt road. We're following a white van, driver fits the description. We need assistance."

"Where on Rawlings?" Sosh calls back.

Carla cusses at the GPS, which is spinning right now, unable to connect. "We're at the first turnoff west of the Equestrian Lakes subdivision, south side. West of…Addendale, I think."

"On our way."

I keep a distance of two or three car lengths as the van bounces along.

The van begins to slow. I nudge Carla, who nods.

Up ahead, a clearing, sunlight blanketing the ground. No tree coverage.

A road of some kind? An intersection?

"What's that up ahead?" I ask Carla, not wanting to take my eyes off the road.

"Can't get GPS to pull up yet," she answers. Then, into her radio, she calls to the state police chopper: "Air 6, this is CPD 5210. Do you copy?"

"Air 6 to 5210, what's your twenty?"

These state troopers and their formality. Carla repeats our location, best she can.

"We'll try to find you," the pilot calls back. "GPS is a nightmare out here."

No shit. The van slows still further, so I do, too.

Then the van reaches the clearing, suddenly cast in the glow of sunlight, while we remain in the darkness of the trees.

The van rolls carefully up onto a small incline, a tiny hill, then comes to a complete stop.

"He stopped," I tell Carla, who's busy banging the GPS on the laptop. "What the hell's he doing? What's he on? Are those" I lean forward, squinting.

"Wait—GPS is up," says Carla.

We say it at the same time: "They're railroad tracks."

Not a public right-of-way. No crossbucks or gates or flashing lights. "One of those old crossings, out of use for decades," says Carla.

"So what the hell is he doing?" I mumble.

"Parking on the tracks."

Then we both hear it, from our right, the north. The rumbling sound of a train coming.


"He's done, and he knows it," Carla says. "Suicide by train."

And possibly with a fifteen-year-old girl inside.

We burst out of the car.

Chapter 3

WE RUSH toward the van, feeling the vibration of the oncoming train underfoot, fanning out on each side as the train horn bellows its warning. The screeching sound of metal on metal as the train tries in vain to halt ahead of the van stopped in its path.

"Chicago police! Chicago police!" I shout as I approach the driver's-side door, emblazoned with the salt-company logo.

In the rectangular side mirror, I catch sight of the man's face, his eyes intense. The van's tires screech as they spin into motion, blasting the vehicle off the platform and over the tracks—just as the train barrels past us, the deep blare of its horn, sparks flying, a high-pitched screech from the brakes.

I'm blown backward and almost lose my balance. Carla is calling into her radio to the state police chopper, to all units, as we lose sight of the van on the other side of the tracks, blocked now by the freight train.

The train shudders to a halt. "No!" I yell. "Keep moving! Clear this crossing!"

That will take forever. The conductor has protocols. And he's well down the track. He probably can't hear me. He's probably cursing the idiot van driver who just played chicken with him.

Carla drops to the ground, looks under the train. "Can't see anything underneath!"

I look around me, a tree branch raking across my face.

A tree.

I grab onto the thickest low branch I can find and do something I haven't done in twenty-five years. I pull myself up onto the branch and look out. No view. Still blocked by the idled train. I find another branch, pull myself up, and straddle it. There.

I spot the van just as it's turning left through what looks like a cornfield. "He turned south a few hundred yards up!"

I lose sight of him. But at least I know the direction he's heading. I climb back down, jumping from the branch and scraping my hands, falling face-first into some foliage that may or may not be poison ivy. "C'mon," I shout, heading back to the car.

We get into the car. I drop it into gear. I turn in the same direction the van is headed, south, and drive along the sloped gravel right-of-way next to the train tracks on my right.

"Air 6, you got this asshole?" Carla shouts. "We're near Rawlings and the train tracks! A white van. It's heading south now, probably a half mile southwest of the tracks and Rawlings."

"CPD 5210, we are responding."

We race along on the sloped gravel, our tires slipping and sliding.

"Twelve o'clock," Carla says to me.

I see it: a large structure on the right-of-way, a big black junction box mounted in the gravel. I can't plow over it. To the left is unknown terrain, and we could be screwed. Only choice is to go right, nearly hitting the train tracks. Carla braces herself.

"Hope all those years of video games paid off," I say.

I speed up and swerve to the right, the angle dangerously sharp, Carla nearly falling into me from the passenger seat. We scrape the embankment of the railroad tracks, bouncing downward against the junction box, but the momentum carries us past, the Taurus nearly nosediving into the very terrain I wanted to avoid to the left. We kick up rocks and dust, but the Taurus rights itself, and we barrel forward again.

"Air 6 to 5210, we have a twenty on the white van."

So do we. Up ahead, maybe a hundred yards. Flying across the train tracks again, back to the side that we're on, the Baird Salt logo unmistakable.

He's driving in a square. He's heading back where he came from.

"CPD 5210 is in pursuit," Carla says.

"CPD 5210, we can't track him in those woods."

Which is why he came back. He knows these woods. He knows where to hide.

We're on him, at least. But he has a head start. I can only go so fast without losing control of the Taurus on this uneven gravel.

After ninety seconds that feel like an hour, we reach the road where the van crossed back over the tracks. Carla is cool and calm as she relays the developments. "All units, we need to seal off this perimeter. Sheriff 1, you call it; you know this area."

I floor the Taurus, which responds with its souped-up police-model engine. At least this road is paved, so we can make progress. But so can the van. With the cherry lit up on the dashboard and the siren blaring, I hit nearly ninety miles an hour, hoping nobody or no thing jumps out into our path. I can't afford to lose the van. We've probably got it pinned down now, but that's not the problem.

The problem is the girl and what he'll do to her if he feels cornered.

"There, Harney, there—"

We catch a glimpse of the van, turning left yet again. Completing the square.

He's going back home?

"Suspect is heading north," Carla calls in. "Air 6, you got it?"

I push the Taurus as hard as it can go, then skid into a left turn onto a dirt road, nearly wiping out. "This is the same road," I say. "The same one where we first saw him."

Carla calls it in, now on familiar ground. But the van driver has the advantage.

We see the van make its final turn up ahead.

"He did all this just to circle back and get home," says Carla. "What's so special about back home?"

I pound the brake as we slide into a turn, reaching the turnoff the van just took.

"We're about to find out," I say.

Chapter 4

WHEN WE reach the turnoff, we see a DO NOT ENTER sign chained across the path. That makes no sense. How did the suspect get through it and reattach it?

Whatever. I blast the Taurus through, the sign splitting apart before I could hit it.

"Some kind of automatic gate," says Carla, checking her weapon, adjusting her vest. "Who the hell is this guy?"

We follow a winding road, slowing to navigate the turns. Too slow to overtake the van.


Up ahead, the van pulls up to a house of brick and stone, the garage door opening. The van roars inside. Behind us, the sirens of law enforcement—state, county, city—come blaring from Rawlings Road.

The van screeches into the garage. The man pops out. The van's back doors open. He reaches in and pulls out…

…a girl, African American, tied at the hands and feet. Bridget Leone.

Carrying the girl in his arms, the man rushes into the house as we reach the property and squeal to a halt.

I run into the garage, seeing the door to the house ajar. My Glock out and high, I push the door open and shout, "Chicago police!"

I'm in a kitchen, red light flashing in a high corner. An intruder alert?

We race into a sparsely furnished family room—a couch and chair but not much else. A door to the left. To the right, a sliding glass door onto a patio.

And another red light flashing in the corner.

"Bridget! Bridget Leone?" Carla calls out. She tries the door. It opens into a staircase leading down.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a figure running through the backyard. It's our offender, the ball cap and build matching the description.


A faint but clear "Yes!" comes from the basement.

"I got the perp; you get the girl," I say to Carla.

I push open the sliding glass door and leap off the patio onto the grass a good ten feet below. I ignore the pain in my ankle and start running.

It's a thick net of trees, a natural fencing, but I saw where he went in, and I see his hat on the path. I run with my Glock at my side. The path is narrow, the footing uneven. I try to watch for an ambush while running at top speed in an area this asshole knows and I don't.

Advantage: asshole. But I have some wheels when I'm motivated, and I get the sense this guy does not.

Then I hear him up ahead, his labored breathing, the sound of his footfalls. He comes into my view, running with all he's got, but it isn't enough.

"Police!" I shout as best I can while sprinting, my chest burning, my ankle throbbing. I make a decision, stop, aim, and fire at a tree in front of him.

The wood splinters. The man cowers, slowing down.

Then he stops.

"Hands up and turn around!" I shout, shuffling toward him, both hands on the Glock.

He raises his hands. Turns around.

Beady eyes, greasy dark hair, thick nose. A large head rising from a long, skinny neck and sloping shoulders. Big ears protruding off his head like those of some cartoon character. The bandage dangling from his face, the sweat overpowering the adhesive, revealing a decent scar.

"Drop to your knees!" I command.

He doesn't. Instead, with a poker face, he makes a word with his lips.


Then he looks over my shoulder, past me.

"Drop to your—"

Then I realize he wasn't saying Boo.

He was saying Boom.

My phone buzzes in my pocket.

Behind me, a deep, thundering explosion. I turn to see the roof blowing off the house, a massive ball of orange and black, the sides of the house caving in.

The entire house, reduced to ash and rubble within five seconds.

I turn back. The suspect has started running again, turning into the thicket of trees and disappearing.

I look back and forth, then holster my weapon and start running back to the house.

Chapter 5

I BAT away tree branches and stumble over a hole along the path as black smoke fills the sky. I feel the searing heat before I reach the clearing.

When I push through the final branches into the backyard, I'm hit with an oven blast of heat and dark soot and dust. I nearly stumble over a young African American girl lying in the grass, facedown, wearing a T-shirt and shorts.

"Bridget?" I bend down, touch her neck for a pulse. "Bridget Leone?"

She opens her eyes, nods, looks up at me.

I cover my mouth with my hand so I can breathe. "Are you okay? Can you move?"

She manages to nod, squint at me, cough.

Around the other side of the house, a state police trooper and a county sheriff's unit come running. I flag them down. Eventually, they see me through the smoke. "This is Bridget," I say, while my eyes whip back and forth for Carla. "Get her out of here!" But before I do, I lean into her ear. "Bridget, where's my partner?"

Still dazed, she shakes her head. She doesn't know.

The troopers gather her in their arms and rush her away from the blaze, the poisonous soot, the scalding heat.

"Suspect went through that clearing!" I shout to the sheriff's deputies, pointing. "I don't think he was armed, but I can't be sure! Go! And get the chopper on him! Go!"

I push them as I soldier forward, my mouth covered by the crook of my arm, taking quick, greedy breaths as I move forward. "Carla!" I shout. "Carla!" Each time breaking into a coughing spasm.

By now, more than a dozen officers are on the scene in their various uniforms. I grab two and yell, "There's a Chicago police detective here somewhere!"

Mini fires are scattered around the rubble, but the house was all brick and concrete, mostly stamping them out. The real problem is the air quality—beyond treacherous and making it almost impossible to see through the thick blanket of dust and soot.

What I can see: a house, leveled. Parts of a roof and walls scattered about. Utter wreckage. Carla could be anywhere.

"Carla!" I call out, and others join me, calling her name. Knowing without acknowledging it that if she was still inside the house, she has no chance. But the girl got away, so she probably did, too.

It gets darker by the second. I pull out my Maglite and shine it around. A rescue squad is spraying the remaining fires.

"Billy, you okay?"

I turn. Lanny Soscia, part of the SOS squad. "Can't find Carla!" I shout.

We look through the debris, pieces of roof, wall, furniture. I break into another coughing spasm. Someone hands me a gas mask.

Then I remember my phone, buzzing just before the explosion. I check it; the call came from Carla. I press the button to call her back and look around.

Through the darkness, only a few feet to my right, a phone lights up.

"Over here!" I rush over, slide down. Carla is lying underneath a slab of concrete that covers her body up to her shoulders.

Her eyes are shut. She looks…she doesn't look…

"I'm here, kiddo, I'm here." Her face is painted soot black. I touch her neck and feel a faint pulse.

"Over here!" I yell. "Officer down! We need a medevac!"


On Sale
May 9, 2023
Page Count
448 pages

James Patterson

About the Author

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum Ride, Middle School, I Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson’s writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn’t like to read,” only people who haven’t found the right book. He’s given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

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