Alex Cross ventures into the rugged Montana wilderness - where he will be the prey. He's not on the job, but on a personal mission. Until he's attacked by two rival teams of assassins, controlled by the same mastermind who has stalked Alex and his family for years. Darkness falls. The river churns into rapids. Shots ring out through the forest. No backup. No way out. Fear no evil.
“MATTHEW BUTLER COCKED HIS HEAD to one side, considering the big-boned blonde in front of him. She was handcuffed and shackled to a heavy oak chair bolted into the concrete floor beneath bright fluorescent lights.
If the woman was anxious about her predicament, she wasn’t showing it in the least. She was as chill as the yoga outfit she wore. No sweat on her pale brow. Beneath her warm-up hoodie, her chest rose and fell calmly, each breath measured. Her shoulders were relaxed. Even her eyes looked soft.
Butler adjusted the strap of his shoulder holster.
“I know they’ve trained you for this sort of thing,” he said in a voice with the slightest of Western twangs. “But your training won’t work against me, Catherine. It never does.”
A fit, balding man with a hawkish nose, Butler had workman’s hands and wore black jeans, Nike running shoes, and a dark blue polo shirt. He crossed his thick forearms when she smiled back at him with brilliant white teeth.
“Whoever you are, you are going to be destroyed for what you’re doing,” Catherine Hingham said. “When they find out — ”
Butler cut her off. “You know, in my many years as a professional, Catherine, I have come to rather enjoy the delicate process of breaking into hearts and minds. They are very much interlinked, you know — hearts and minds — and I have found that one is almost always the key to the other.”
“Langley will annihilate you,” Hingham said, studying Butler as if she wanted to remember every line in his face.
“Your operators won’t help you today,” Butler said, gesturing at a pile of blank paper and a pen on the table before her. “Tell me the truth and we can all move on with our lives.”
“I’ll say it again: You have no jurisdiction over me.”
Butler chuckled, gestured around the room. “Oh, but in here, I do.”
“I want to see a lawyer, then.”
“I’m sure,” he said, sobering. “But we’re talking about a serious threat to our national security, Catherine. A few rules of engagement can and will be broken in order to thwart that threat.”
“I am not a national security threat,” she said evenly. “I work for the Central Intelligence Agency, with the highest clearances, in support of my country’s freedoms. Your freedoms as well.”
“That’s what makes your traitorous actions so hard to understand, Catherine.”
Her face reddened and she shifted in her chair. “I am no traitor.”
Butler took a step toward her. “The hell you’re not. We know about the Maldives.”
Hingham blinked, furrowed her brow. “The Maldives? Like, the islands in the Indian Ocean?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I have never been to the Maldives. I’ve never even been to India.”
“Never. You can talk to my case officers about it.”
“I plan to at some point,” Butler said, taking another step toward her. He reached down to touch the back of her left hand before letting his finger trail across her wedding band and modest engagement ring. “Does he know? Your husband?”
“That I work for the CIA?” she said. “Yes. But he has zero idea what I actually do. Those are the rules. We play by them.”
Butler sighed as he gently took hold of her left pinkie with his leathery hand, thumb on top.
“Do you know the surest way to sever the connection between the body and mind, and therefore the heart?”
“No,” she said.
“Pain,” Butler said. He gripped her little finger tight and levered his thumb sharply downward until he heard a bone snap.
““You have eight fingers left, Catherine,” Butler said calmly. “I will break them all and if you still do not tell me what I want to know…”
“CATHERINE HINGHAM SCREAMED IN AGONY, fighting against her restraints, then yelled at him, “You cannot do this! This is the United States of America and I’m a sworn officer of the Central — ”
Butler broke her ring finger, then waited for her to stop screaming and crying.
“You have eight fingers left, Catherine,” Butler said calmly. “I will break them all and if you still do not tell me what I want to know, I will have your five-year-old daughter brought here and I will begin breaking her tiny fingers one by one until you confess.”
The CIA officer stared at him in disgust and horror. “Emily has cerebral palsy.”
“You wouldn’t. It’s . . . monstrous.”
“It is,” he said and sighed again. “And yet, because there is so much at stake, Catherine, I will break your little girl’s fingers. But only if you make it necessary.”
The CIA officer continued to stare at him for several moments. He gazed back at her evenly until her lower lip trembled and she hung her head.
“The costs,” Hingham whispered hoarsely. “You have no idea what a child like Em . . . ” She could not go on and broke down sobbing.
“The heart wins again,” Butler said. He pushed the pile of blank pages in front of her. “Start writing. The Maldives. The numbered accounts. Their connections. All of it.”
After a few moments, Catherine Hingham calmed enough to raise her head. “I need witness protection.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Butler said and held out the pen to her. “Now write.”
The CIA officer reached out with both handcuffed hands shaking. She took the pen. “Please,” she said. “My family doesn’t deserve what will happen if — ”
“Write,” he said firmly. “And I’ll see what I can do.”
The CIA officer reluctantly began to scribble names, addresses, account numbers, and more. When she’d moved to a second page, Butler had seen enough to be satisfied.
He walked behind the CIA officer and nodded to a small camera mounted high in the corner of the room.
A gravelly male voice came through the tiny earbud Butler wore in his left ear. “Mmmm. Well done. When you have what we need, end the interview and file your report, please.”
Butler nodded again before moving in front of Catherine Hingham. She set her pen down and pushed the pages across the table at him.
“That’s it,” she said in a hoarse voice. “Everything I know.”
“Unlikely,” Butler said, using the nail of his index finger to lift up the first sheet so he could scan the information she’d provided on page two. “But this looks useful enough for now. It will give us leverage. Was that so hard, Catherine?”
She relaxed a little and said, “Okay, then, I’ve given you what you wanted. Now I need a doctor to fix my hand. I need witness protection.”
With his fingernail, Butler scooted the confession pages to the far right of the table. “You’re a smart woman, Catherine. Well educated. Yale, if I remember. You should know your history better. We don’t protect traitors in the United States of America. From Benedict Arnold on, they’ve all had to pay the price. And now, so will you.”
The CIA officer looked confused and then terrified when Butler took a step back and drew a stubby pistol with a sound suppressor from his shoulder holster.
“No, please, my kids are — ” she managed before he took aim and shot her between the eyes.
“FROM THE TIME WE’D MET as ten-year-olds, John Sampson, my best friend and long-term DC Metro Police partner, had been stoic, quiet, observant. Since his wife, Billie, had died, he’d become even more reserved and was now given to long bouts of brooding silence. I knew he was still wrestling with grief.
But that late-June morning, Big John was acting as wound up as a kid about to hit the front gates of Disney World as he bopped around my front room, where we’d laid out all our gear for a trip we’d been talking about taking for years.
“But when I saw the caller ID, I grimaced and knew I had to answer.”
“You think we’ll see a grizzly?” Sampson asked, grinning at me.
“I’m hoping not,” I said. “At least, not up close.”
“They’re in there, big-time. And wolves.”
“And deer, elk, and cutthroat trout,” I said. “I’ve been studying the brochure too.”
Nana Mama, my ninety-something grandmother, came in wringing her hands and asked with worry in her voice, “Did I hear you say grizzly bears?”
Sampson glowed with excitement. “Nana, the Bob Marshall Wilderness has one of the densest concentrations of grizzlies in the lower forty-eight states. But don’t worry. We’ll have bear spray and sidearms. And cameras.”
“I don’t know why you couldn’t choose a safer place to go on your manly trip.”
“If it was safer, it wouldn’t be manly,” I said. “There’s got to be a challenge.”
“Glad I’m an old lady, then. Breakfast in five minutes.” Nana Mama turned and shuffled away, shaking her head.
“Checklist?” Sampson said.
“I’m ready if you are.”
We started going through every item we’d thought necessary for the twenty-nine-mile horseback trip deep into one of the last great wildernesses on earth and for the five-day raft ride we’d take out of the Bob Marshall on the South Fork of the Flathead River. An outfitter was providing the rafts, tents, food, and bear-proof storage equipment. Everything else had to fit into four rubberized dry bags we’d use on the river after he dropped us off.
We could have signed up for a fully guided affair, but Sampson wanted us to do a good part of the trip alone, and after some thought, I’d agreed. Six days deep in the backcountry of Montana would give Big John many chances to open up and talk, which is critical to the process of coping with tragic loss.
“How’s Willow feeling about our little trip?” I asked.
Sampson smiled. “She doesn’t like the idea of grizzly bears any more than Nana does, but she knows it will make me happy.”
“Your little girl’s always been wise beyond her years.”
“Truth. Bree liking her job?”
Thinking of my smart, beautiful, and independent wife, I said, “She loves it. Got up early to be at the office. Something about a possible assignment in Paris.”
“Paris! What a difference a career change makes.”
“No kidding. It was like the gig was tailor-made for her.”
“Maybe we should think about going into private-sector investigations too.”
“Pay’s better, for sure,” I allowed.
Before he could reply, my seventeen-year-old daughter, Jannie, poked her head in and said, “Nana says your eggs are getting cold.”
I put down my dry bag and went to the kitchen, where I found my youngest child, Ali, already finishing up his plate.
“Morning, sunshine,” I said, giving him a hug. He ignored it, so I tickled him.
“C’mon, Dad!” He laughed, then groaned. “Why can’t I go with you?”
“Because you’re a kid and we don’t know what we’ll be facing.”
“I can do it,” he insisted.
Sampson said, “Ali, let your dad and me scope it out this year. If we think you’re up to it, we’ll bring you along on the next trip. Deal?”
Ali scrunched up his face and shrugged. “I guess. When do you leave?”
“First thing in the — ”
My cell phone began to ring at the same time Sampson’s chimed.
“No,” John protested. “Don’t answer that, Alex. We’re supposed to be gone already!”
But when I saw the caller ID, I grimaced and knew I had to answer. “Commissioner Dennison,” I said. “John Sampson and I were just heading out the door on vacation.”
“Cancel it,” said the commissioner of the Metro DC Police Department. “We’ve got a dead female, gunshot wound to the head, dumped in the garage under the International Spy Museum on L’Enfant Plaza. Her ID says she’s — ”
“Commissioner, with all due respect,” I said, “we’ve been planning this trip for — ”
“I don’t care, Cross,” he snapped. “Her ID says she’s CIA. If you want to continue your contract with Metro, you’ll get down there. And if Sampson wants to keep his job, he’ll be with you.”
I stared at the ceiling a second, looked at John, and shook my head.
“Okay, Commissioner. We’re on our way.”
Extracted from Fear No Evil by James Patterson, out now.
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