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Art galleries and casinos, mansions and brothels, billionaires and thieves—only New York Times bestselling author James Patterson could create a triple-cross this decadent and suspenseful.
Imagine everyone’s surprise when Carter von Oehson, a sophomore in Dr. Dylan Reinhart’s Abnormal Psychology class, posts on Instagram that he plans to kill himself. 24 hours later and still no one has seen him.
Release the hounds. A massive search ensues. But when Carter’s sailboat rolls in with the tide without him or anyone else on it, the worst seems to be confirmed. He really did it . . . Or did he?
The one person convinced he’s still alive is his father, Mathias von Oehson, founder and CEO of the world’s largest hedge fund. But what Mathias knows and how he knows it would ultimately reveal a secret so damaging that it would be as if he were committing suicide himself. There’s no way he can go to the police. But there’s still someone he can turn to.
Dylan now finds himself wrapped up in multi-million-dollar secrets and danger and it’s going to take every bit of his wit, and the brilliant and headstrong NYPD Detective, Elizabeth Needham, to stay ahead of both his enemy . . . and his employer.
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Better than Betty,
Deader than Dead
Carter von Oehson mixed himself a tall gin and tonic from behind the polished mahogany bar of his father’s billiard room, topping it off with a squeeze of lime.
“Remember,” his father once told him, “never put the used wedge of lime in your drink. Toss it and reach for a new one. Anything less is sloppy.”
Carter never forgot that piece of fatherly advice, if for no other reason than he was only nine years old at the time.
A von Oehson man is never too young to learn the finer points of life.
Nor will he ever be deprived of the finest education. After boarding at Phillips Exeter, Carter was now a freshman at Yale. Never mind that he was whip smart and probably could’ve gotten in on his own. It didn’t matter if he had the grades or test scores. What Carter had was his name—von Oehson—and, more important, the man who gave it to him.
Mathias von Oehson, Yale class of ’86, ran the world’s most profitable hedge fund. Fortune magazine listed his net worth north of twenty-four billion dollars, a hundred million of which was earmarked for his beloved alma mater upon Carter’s graduation. Of course, Carter had only just submitted his application to Yale when his father made that hundred-million-dollar pledge to three of the university’s senior trustees over some butter-drenched porterhouses at Peter Luger. Timing is everything. And for Mathias von Oehson, so was his only son going to Yale.
In fact, Carter’s enrollment had never been discussed between the two of them. It had always just been assumed. Like it or not, Carter, that’s where you’re going.
But, oh, how Carter liked it.
The all-night parties at Durfee Hall. The infamous naked run through Bass Library. Taking in a dome show at Leitner Planetarium while completely stoned out of your gourd, and afterward eating an entire coal-fired large pepperoni from Pepe’s Pizzeria. An Ivy League education at its absolute finest.
Best of all—what Carter really liked—was that a mere thirty minutes away, a straight shot south on I-95 in his matte-black BMW M8 coupe, was his parents’ home. One of their houses, at least.
It was a sprawling Nantucket shingle in Darien, designed by Francis Fleetwood, that overlooked Long Island Sound and measured twenty-six thousand square feet with an estimated value of fifty-four million dollars. And most of the time it just sat there. Empty.
Except when Betty was coming over. Betty was one of Carter’s best-kept secrets. She was also late.
Carter glanced again at the Patek Philippe strapped to his wrist with a preppy blue-and-white nylon band. He and Betty had had many dates, and he couldn’t remember another when she had kept him waiting. Time was money, after all. Her time, his money.
The thought of calling her flashed through his mind as he took a sip of his gin and tonic, but that idea was quickly rendered moot by the melodic chime of the front doorbell.
In ripped jeans and a faded polo shirt, Carter strode barefoot across the white Italian marble of his parents’ foyer. In some ways Betty’s arrival was the best part. The anticipation. The initial slow climb of a giant roller coaster before the ride of his life. And always, always, always the same two words when he opened the door.
“Hello, handsome,” she would say.
Not today, though.
Carter blinked a few times, confused. But also a bit mesmerized.
She was auburn hair, lush and long. She was tanned skin, even now, in the month of December, accessorized with a full-length mink that left little doubt that not much was worn underneath it.
“You’re not Betty,” he said.
“No,” she replied, slinking up to his left ear and whispering in a Russian accent. “I’m better than Betty.”
She breezed by him, planting a three-inch stiletto heel in the middle of the foyer and turning around. Her jade-green eyes shifted to his hand. “What are you drinking?” she asked.
Carter glanced down as if reminding himself. “A gin and tonic.”
“Boring. You have any tequila?”
“That depends. You have a name?”
She shook her head, playfully disappointed. “Do you always ask so many questions?”
“That was only one.”
“One too many,” she chided him. “Besides, Betty told me you like a little mystery.”
“So, you and her are—friends?”
“Something like that. She had to travel somewhere last minute but thought you would like me.” She dropped the mink just enough to expose the curve of her naked breasts, slightly larger than Betty’s. “You do like me, don’t you?”
“I think you’re very pretty,” said Carter, sounding way more like a schoolboy than he wanted to. He cleared his throat, dropping a half octave. “In fact, I’d say you’re gorgeous.”
“Good,” she said, pulling the mink back over her shoulders. “Now how about that tequila?”
Carter led her into the billiard room and straight to the bar. For sure, he’d impress her with his knowledge of the blue agave aging process. “Reposado or añejo?” he asked.
Or maybe not. “Shut up and pour,” she said.
Carter grabbed a lowball glass, pouring a generous shot of Partida Elegante. No sooner had he handed it to her than she threw it back like a pro, so to speak. Then, without the slightest hesitation, she reached into his gin and tonic for the unused lime, sucking it dry.
Plop. Back into his glass it went.
“Would you like to help me out of my coat, Carter?”
She turned around, the nape of her long neck and everything else about her inviting in Carter a hoard of extremely impure thoughts. Clink, clink, clink went the roller coaster, climbing upward. Were it not for the other sound in Carter’s head, his father’s voice, that mink of hers would’ve already been on the floor, along with the both of them.
“Cigars and women. The two things in life you always take your time with, son.”
That was on Carter’s eleventh birthday.
Slowly, Carter reached around with both hands, feeling his way inside the front of her coat. He hated the music of John Mayer—not to mention John Mayer himself—but for the first time he sort of knew what the guy was getting at with his song “Your Body Is a Wonderland.” This woman felt amazing. Her skin, soft as the mink.
Of course, a young man can only be so patient.
Carter’s hands slid past her navel, his fingers tracing the edge of her lace panties. He would do a drive-by first, a little tour of the perimeter before delving in.
Suddenly, he froze. What the…?
There was a bulge in those panties where there absolutely, positively should not have been a bulge. Unless, of course, Better Than Betty was actually a—Benny?
Carter’s hands snapped back. He nearly tripped over his own feet as he tried to pull away. When she spun around, the first thing he saw was her smile. Then came the second thing.
He’d felt something hard, all right, and for a split second he was relieved to know that it was something other than what he thought. The next split second, he wasn’t so sure.
He could live with The Crying Game. But the snub-nosed, single-action .38 now aimed at his chest?
“Who are you?” asked Carter. “What do you want?”
“Again with the questions,” she said.
Fine, no questions. Just a knee-jerk offer born of sheer panic and an extremely privileged upbringing. “If it’s money, you can have it. As much as you want. I promise. Anything. You can have it.”
She shook her head with mock disgust. “See, now you’re insulting me, Carter. Do I look like I need money?”
“I didn’t mean to—”
“Shut up already. You were better off asking questions.”
She cocked the hammer, the metallic sound—click!—echoing in Carter’s head and jogging loose the one and only question that really mattered now.
“Are you going to kill me?” he asked, his voice cracking.
Surprise, surprise. She shook her head no. But it was the way she did it, as if he’d just asked a tricky question with an even trickier answer.
“No, I’m not going to kill you,” she explained. “You’re going to do it for us.”
The Art of Revenge
I once taught a class with a massive hangover. My head was throbbing and I wanted to throw up. It wasn’t my finest hour, but it wasn’t my worst, either.
During another semester, pre-Covid-19, I’d caught the flu. I had a temperature of 103 degrees and looked paler than a box of chalk. Still another time I was battling a kidney stone that had me keeling over in agony while discussing whether Freud really did have the hots for his mother.
The point being, the postal service has nothing on me. When Dylan Reinhart has an abnormal-psychology lecture to give, he delivers it no matter what.
But for the first time I simply didn’t have it in me.
Still, I couldn’t call in sick. Of all classes, this was one I knew I couldn’t miss.
If his fellow students can show up, I sure as hell can, too.
“Good morning, everyone, although I truly wish it were a good morning,” I began.
Then I just stopped. I knew everything I wanted to say, all the soothing reassurances that the grieving process is actually very healthy and that life—no matter how challenging at times or, more aptly put, how utterly effed-up beyond hope it can all too often feel like—is still always worth living. Nothing is sweeter in death. If it were, the pope wouldn’t have a pope mobile.
Again, though, I just stopped. All I could do was stare helplessly at my students as they stared right back at me. I could see it in their eyes. None of us had this in us.
Suicide isn’t supposed to make sense. I knew that. Hell, I’d even written about it extensively in AJP, the American Journal of Psychology. But this, what Carter had done, truly made no sense at all.
The kid wasn’t born on third base. No, he had it even better. Carter von Oehson was born crossing home plate after hitting the walk-off home run to win the World Series. Game seven, no less. He was the son of a multibillionaire and GQ–model handsome. Literally. Carter had appeared only months ago in the magazine’s September issue for a feature called “The Young Men of the Ivy League.” He was Mr. Yale.
So how does this young man, my student, charismatic as all get-out and with so much going for him, decide it simply isn’t enough? Why did Carter von Oehson take to Instagram a few weeks before Christmas and announce that “everything isn’t as peachy keen as it seems” and that he “no longer has the will”?
Even after that post, people still didn’t believe it. This was Carter being Carter. A cutup. A provocateur. He didn’t shy away from drama—he courted it. Any minute now he’d show up back on campus, all smiles and laughs. That’s what everyone thought.
But then those minutes became days. That’s when the New Haven police were called. That’s when it became news—local, tristate area, and then national. Carter’s roommate explained in a TV interview, while standing in front of the century-old Harkness Tower, that last Tuesday morning Carter had left their second-floor room in the Old Campus dorm, wearing his winter coat. He had his car keys but not his knapsack.
His roommate didn’t think anything of it because Carter didn’t have any Tuesday classes and apparently left campus a lot on those days. Sometimes he came back Tuesday night, sometimes the next morning. But he always came back.
Then Saturday happened.
No one could blame Carter’s parents for not mentioning to detectives that Carter kept a Sunfish at their waterfront Darien home. Who thinks of sailing in December? Besides, it had been months since the boat had been tied to their dock in plain sight, let alone configured. Before Carter left back in August for freshman orientation, he’d disassembled the Sunfish and stored it in the garage.
A maintenance worker at the Tokeneke Club less than a mile from the von Oehson home was the one who first spotted the boat at low tide early Saturday morning. The Sunfish was wedged along the side of a jetty that shielded the club’s beach. It had been washed ashore, fully intact, save for the heavy scratches on the bow. Carter had taken the boat out, but only the boat returned.
The Coast Guard concluded its search after twenty-four hours. Divers scoured the waters around the jetty, although if Carter had accidentally drowned he presumably would’ve either still been floating or washed ashore. By the end of the weekend there was only one logical conclusion, especially given Carter’s Instagram post. There was nothing accidental about his drowning.
I’m not sure which student had spoken up. It was a safe bet there was more than one. I had no idea how long I’d been standing there behind the lectern in a complete daze. “I’m sorry. What?” I asked.
“You stopped talking,” said someone in the front row.
“Yeah, are you sure you’re okay?” came a voice toward the back.
I snapped out of it. The room, my students—and most important—my purpose suddenly came into focus.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said. “Everybody follow me.”
The Yale professor handbook is decidedly unclear on the topic of spontaneous field trips. Come to think of it, it’s decidedly unclear whether there’s even such a thing as the Yale professor handbook. If so, I certainly haven’t read it.
Besides, it’s not as if I were taking the class rock climbing or bungee jumping. We were merely heading over to Woolsey Rotunda, which serves as the entrance to Woolsey Hall, the largest auditorium on campus. Even as we trudged in from the cold, though, none of my students knew why we were there. That’s how I wanted it.
“Everyone, please spread out,” I said.
There’s a reason the Whiffenpoofs and practically every other a cappella singing group at Yale has performed in Woolsey Rotunda. In a word? Acoustics. Nowhere else on campus does sound carry, echo, reverberate, and resonate as fully and beautifully as it has in this rotunda for more than a century.
I waited in the middle as the students filled out the space around me. Then I began.
“When I was thirteen, I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer,” I said. “There’s no good time to lose a parent, but thirteen was especially tricky. I was obviously old enough to fully understand what had happened, the finality of it. But at the same time I was still only a kid. I hadn’t lived enough to really know how to process death. All I knew was how much it hurt, and here’s the tricky part: all I wanted to do was make that pain go away.
“I remember two things about the guy on the other end of the phone the night I called the suicide hotline. The first was his name—Doug. Doug talked to me for more than an hour, and at no time did he ever tell me that I shouldn’t kill myself. Everyone who calls that number has reasons for doing so, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, the main reason isn’t that you want to kill yourself. It’s that you’re searching for someone, anyone, to give you a reason not to. And simply being told ‘don’t do it’ isn’t reason enough.
“So that was the second thing. Doug never told me that night what I should or shouldn’t do. His job wasn’t to give me a lecture, which is why we’re here instead of back in class. What suddenly dawned on me while looking at all of you, so soon after Carter’s suicide, is that words just aren’t going to cut it today. How can you make sense of something that makes no sense? You can’t. You shouldn’t. So today, I say to hell with saying the right thing. To hell with saying anything at all.”
With that, I gave my class a resounding explanation for why we’d marched across campus. Acoustics. At the top of my lungs, I let go with the loudest, nastiest, most primal scream I’d ever unleashed.
Half of my students were startled. As for the other half, I downright scared the crap out of them. But an amazing and wonderful thing happened as the sound of my scream engulfed the entire rotunda, the echoes seemingly weaving in and out and all around us.
One by one they started to join in. Primal screams from younger lungs, even louder and—yes, angrier—than mine. The angrier the better. Let it all out. That was the idea. Then it can’t eat you up from the inside.
When the echoes finally faded, the rotunda once again returning to silence, I looked around and smiled. Satisfied.
“Class dismissed,” I said. “See you all next week.”
T. S. Eliot had it all wrong about April. Cruel, my ass. Clearly the dude had never tried riding a motorcycle round trip from Manhattan to New Haven in the month of January. Or February, for that matter.
The deepest into winter I can usually still ride my bike is December, and that’s only if I catch a week early on before the mercury truly plummets. Even then I have to layer up like the kid from A Christmas Story.
“Is that a ’62 or a ’63?” came a voice over my shoulder. I was standing in the parking lot near Ingalls Rink, affectionately known as the Whale, about to strap on my helmet after climbing into my insulated clutch pants.
“Actually, it’s a ’61,” I said, before fully turning around to see who was doing the asking.
Not that looking at him told me much. The man standing before me was wearing a black full-length cashmere coat and a Vineyard Vines baseball cap pulled down tight just above the eyes, which were covered by oversized sunglasses. Whoever he was, he was lying low.
“A 1961 Triumph TR6,” he said. “I don’t actually own one of those. Good for you.”
There was so much to unpack with that line I didn’t know where to begin. I don’t actually own one of those? And that condescending tack-on in light of the fact that I did? Good for you? As if the natural order of the universe had somehow been upended by my owning something that this guy didn’t?
Only that’s what tipped me off as to who he was, the connotation of immense wealth combined with the strong sense that I’d heard his voice somewhere before. This was Carter von Oehson’s father, in the flesh. He wasn’t talking to the press in the wake of Carter’s suicide, but they’d shown news clips of past interviews.
He stepped toward me. “I’m Mathias von Oehson,” he said, making it official.
I removed my riding gloves so we could shake hands. “Dylan Reinhart,” I said.
“Yes, I know.”
I know you know. This is hardly an accidental meeting, is it? Not a chance in the world.
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” I said.
“Thank you. I appreciate that. Actually, that’s what brings me to campus, albeit incognito,” he said. “I was hoping you and I could speak privately for a few minutes.”
I glanced around. There wasn’t another human being within a hundred yards. Far be it from me to point that out, though. Not to Mathias von Oehson. He was the genius, the Nostradamus, the Mad Hungarian of Wall Street, according to the litany of articles and features extolling his mastery of the financial markets. The man was the titan of all hedge funds. In other words, Mathias von Oehson didn’t just manage risk. He controlled it.
“Shall we head back to my office?” I asked.
No need. Von Oehson quickly signaled with his hand. All the privacy we could ever want came rolling up to us from behind a row of parked cars. A black stretch limousine.
Except this was no ordinary prom-night limo. This was a Mercedes-Maybach Pullman, the ultimate ride for the chauffeured set. I’d never seen one in person. In fact, I could’ve sworn I’d read they weren’t even available for sale in the United States. A brilliant US marketing strategy, if there ever was one.
The driver stepped out, but his boss waved him off. Von Oehson opened the door for me, then walked around to get in from the other side. And like that we were sitting side by side in roughly seven hundred thousand dollars’ worth of comfort. So why don’t I feel the least bit comfortable?
The reason was as clear as the stress and anguish etched on von Oehson’s face, even behind the cap and sunglasses. He was about to ask me a question that I couldn’t answer. He was a father on a mission. It was only natural. Carter’s suicide post on Instagram was short on specifics. Very short. Von Oehson was now talking to anyone and everyone on the Yale campus who could possibly help him understand why his son would take his own life. Friends and acquaintances, professors and administrators. I was simply next on his list.
Or maybe not.
Von Oehson turned to me, removed his sunglasses, and got right down to it. “My son didn’t kill himself,” he said.
“I don’t know for certain. I think so,” said von Oehson. “But if he is dead, he sure as hell didn’t drown himself out at sea.”
“You’re saying he could’ve been murdered?”
“That or, more likely, he was kidnapped. That’s what I really think. Either way, they’ve made it look like a suicide.”
I drew a deep breath, in and out. It takes a lot to make my head spin, and I was already full-on, Tilt-a-Whirl dizzy. According to von Oehson, his son might be alive. Or maybe he was murdered. Or quite possibly kidnapped. And somehow his suicide was faked?
“Have you gone to the police?” I asked.
“No,” said von Oehson.
“Because I can’t.”
There was obviously a reason behind that answer, but even more obvious was that von Oehson didn’t want to share it. Not yet, at least. He seemingly had this conversation all mapped out in his head, and we weren’t quite at the point where he would explain why he couldn’t go to the police.
- On Sale
- Nov 29, 2022
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Grand Central Publishing