Next Victimby Michael Prescott
The New York Times bestselling author of Comes the Dark, Stealing Faces, The Shadow Hunter, and Last Breath, "Michael Prescott has managed to delve into the depths of the most twisted minds" (Publishers Weekly). This time Michael Prescott really outdoes himself as an FBI agent closes in on the serial killer who murdered her loverjust as the killer gets his hands on a chemical weapon that could raise his body count...to thousands of victims.
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Read an Excerpt
By Michael Prescott
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 Douglas Borton
All rights reserved.
She was running hard down an alley with her Sig Sauer 9mm in her hand, her shout echoing off the high brick walls.
The suspect did not stop or even turn to look at her. His shoes slapped the asphalt. He was pulling away, blending into the nocturnal shadows. Soon he would be only another shadow himself.
She put on some speed. There was no point in shouting again. She would only waste her breath.
Yards ahead the alley opened on a street streaming with traffic. She saw the suspect as a silhouette, his figure limned by rushing headlights.
If he reached the street and made a dash through the traffic, he would lose her.
But she wouldn't let that happen.
With a rush of adrenaline she lengthened her strides, closing the gap until finally she reached out with her left hand and grabbed his shirt collar.
She gave it a hard yank and jerked him off balance like a dog surprised by a sudden tug on its chain—and like a dog, he snarled as he whipped around, and she saw a flash of teeth.
Not teeth. Steel.
The blade drove at her. She spun clear and almost fired at him, but she was afraid that a shot at point-blank range would kill him, and she didn't want him dead.
Instead she chopped his wrist with the side of her hand, splaying his fingers. The knife fell, and before he could retrieve it, she'd taken a step back and fixed him in the pistol's sights.
"Don't move, you are under arrest."
She still thought he might try something, and she was ready to try for a nonlethal shot, in violation of her academy training, in which the advisability of always taking the kill shot had been emphasized.
But he surprised her by raising his hands in submission. Then she heard footsteps behind her, approaching at a run. She didn't want to take her eyes off the suspect, and especially the suspect's hands, the two danger points, so without looking back she called out, "Who's coming?"
"LAPD," a male voice answered.
Must be the uniformed cop she'd seen on Melrose. It didn't escape her notice that it was a patrol officer, not the two special agents sharing surveillance duty with her in the van, who'd come to her aid.
"I'm FBI," she said, still watching the suspect. He remained in silhouette. A lanky figure, medium tall, with close-cropped hair and wiry arms. She could not judge his age or ethnicity. If he was a white male around forty years old, she would be very happy.
The patrolman trotted up beside her and gave his name—Payton.
"Tess McCallum," she said.
"What the hell happened? I saw you jump out of a parked minivan and take off after this guy."
"He was already running. That's why I chased him."
"He was about to go into Aspen." Aspen was a club on Melrose Avenue, near the entrance to the alley. "Then he caught sight of you and turned away. As soon as you weren't looking, he broke into a run."
"Scared of cops, is he? Now why would that be?"
Payton snapped on his flashlight to get a look at the suspect, and Tess was instantly disappointed.
He was a white male. That much was good. But he wasn't any older than twenty-five.
He was not the man she'd hoped for.
"I don't know him," Payton said. "He put up any resistance?"
"Tried to cut me." She bobbed her head at the knife on the asphalt. The flashlight beam swung over to it, revealing it as a cheap switchblade.
"That wasn't so smart, asshole. Up against the trash bin. Come on, move it."
Payton handcuffed the suspect, then made him spread his legs as he patted him down. In the pocket of the young man's pants he found a bag of white powder.
"Coke," the patrolman said. "He was probably going into the bar to make a sale. Saw a uniform and freaked."
Tess had put her gun back into the special compartment in her purse now that Payton was in command of the situation. "Well, it's your bust. Local crime."
"Unless you want to make it assault on a federal officer," Payton said, obviously hoping for a bigger collar.
"I'll let it ride. The knife probably just slipped a little in my direction. Isn't that right, sir?"
The suspect, who hadn't said one word so far, looked at her and muttered, "Suck me off, bitch."
Payton told him that was no way to address a lady. Tess just laughed.
"LA's one hell of a town, isn't it?" Payton said wearily.
"I wouldn't know. I'm just visiting."
"You didn't really think it was him, did you?"
Tess looked at Special Agent Collins as she climbed back into the van. "You never know," she answered. "He was the right height, right build, and he ran from a cop. Thanks for backing me up, by the way."
Collins shrugged. Diaz, wearing headphones as he listened to the sounds in the bar, was more conciliatory. "We had to keep an eye on Barber." Julie Barber was the agent stationed inside Aspen, whose job was to fend off come-ons from patrons who didn't match the profile, while encouraging anyone who looked like a possible suspect.
"Anything happen inside?" Tess asked.
"Not a thing," Collins said. "Like last night, and the night before that, and the night—"
"Point taken." Tess refused to be ruffled. "We're not the only ones pulling this detail. Maybe one of the other squads will get lucky."
"Maybe pigs will fly. Face it, this son of a bitch is too smart to return to this neighborhood. He'll show up someplace else next time. Santa Barbara, San Diego. Anywhere but here."
Tess was inclined to agree. Trouble was, they couldn't watch every bar on the southern California coast. They had to make a stand somewhere.
She was about to point this out when her purse began to chirp. Her cell phone was ringing.
She answered it. "McCallum."
"You'd better get over to the field office," said a voice she recognized as belonging to Peter Larkin.
She disliked Larkin. And she didn't intend to let him order her around. "I'm working surveillance, remember?"
"I remember. Let Collins and Diaz handle it. You got your own vehicle there?"
"Stop wasting time, Agent McCallum. Just haul ass over here."
"What's going on, Peter?" she asked in a more cautious voice.
"Nothing much. It's just that we may have got him, that's all. I really hope you can find time to join us."
He clicked off, and she was left staring at the silent phone in her hand.CHAPTER 2
We may have got him.
The words chased Tess McCallum like ghosts as she guided the bureau sedan west on Wilshire Boulevard, past the shops and palm trees of Beverly Hills. The sunset had faded out hours ago, and somewhere above the smog, the stars were shining.
She powered through an intersection as the stoplight cycled from yellow to red, ignoring a horn that blared at her. She would not be stopped by traffic lights.
She had to see him. Had to look at his face.
Could they really have caught him—finally, after two years? There was no way to be sure. But she wouldn't have been pulled away from the undercover detail on Melrose if all they had was another "possible," like that one last week, the salesman who had turned out to be only a run-of-the-mill adulterer.
The streets were busy, as always, and she had to swing from lane to lane, passing slower cars. The bureau car—or "bucar" in the ridiculous terminology of the FBI—was a blue Crown Victoria, only two years old, with good acceleration and smooth handling. It invited her to take risks. She only hoped a cop didn't pull her over. The FBI badge in her wallet would probably save her from a ticket, but a traffic stop would slow her down.
She reached the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica. Not far from Westwood now. The dashboard clock read 9:58.
She wondered if Andrus had been called. If he had been, then they must be really sure. It was March 29—Friday on Easter weekend—and although she didn't think of Andrus as particularly religious, she knew they wouldn't disturb an assistant director on Good Friday without cause.
On impulse she removed her cell phone from her purse and speed-dialed the field office's switchboard, then asked for Larkin. "This is McCallum again," she said when Larkin came on. "I'm five, ten minutes out. What's going on?"
"Nothing that can't wait till you get here." As always, Larkin treated her with supercilious disrespect. It wasn't possible to hear a man smirk over the phone, but Tess could swear she heard it anyway.
"Just give me the rundown," she said.
He sighed, perturbed at this misuse of his time. "The guy's name, address, DL, and SSN all check out. No priors. They haven't read him his rights yet." It was legal to obtain preliminary information on a suspect without a Miranda warning. "Right now we've got him cooling his heels."
This was standard procedure. Some suspects lost their nerve after as little as ten minutes alone in the bare institutional setting of the interrogation room. Then the Stockholm syndrome would kick in, and they would cooperate with their interrogators, sometimes even confess. The downside was that often these confessions were false.
"Are Gaines and Michaelson there?" she asked. Gaines was a profiler working the case. Michaelson was the squad supervisor, experienced at interrogation.
"Gaines just arrived. We're expecting Michaelson any second."
"Who made the bust?"
"Tyler, Hart, and DiFranco. They're in the surveillance room. Michaelson and Gaines may want Tyler in on the questioning at some point."
"And me? Do they want me in?"
"I don't think that's such a good idea."
She hadn't asked for his opinion. "We'll talk about it. How about Andrus?"
So they had called him. "I guess he looks good for it, this guy?" she said, holding her voice steady.
"It's still preliminary."
Obviously Larkin would tell her only the bare minimum. She ought to be angry, but all she felt was nervous tension. "Try to hold off the interview till I get there."
"Michaelson's the case agent. He's the one in charge."
Tess knew that. "Just take your time briefing him, okay?" She clicked off without waiting for an answer and dumped the phone back into her handbag.
She hated talking to Larkin. Hated talking to any of them, really, except Andrus. The others treated her with a mixture of pity and scorn. Pity for what had happened in Denver. Scorn because they liked to think they would have handled it better. They were men, after all. They didn't let things get to them. But she was a woman—and women, well, they got emotional about these things.
Of course, they didn't know the whole story. Only Andrus knew, and she had prevailed on him not to share it with the others. It was irrelevant to the case. It was her private life. She had given enough of her life to the bureau—more than enough. There were some things she meant to keep to herself.
She was in Westwood now, coursing down the wide corridor between rows of high-rise apartment buildings. Ahead, on her right, was Westwood Village, a cluster of movie theaters and T-shirt shops crowded with UCLA students.
Her destination lay to her left, at the southwest corner of Wilshire and Veteran—the twenty-story Federal Building that housed the Los Angeles field office of the FBI.
On most homicide investigations, local law enforcement authorities had jurisdiction and took the lead, and the bureau was brought in, if at all, only to provide consultation and analysis. But not this one. This was a federal case, and had been ever since the night of February 12, two years ago.
The key in the lock. The key, turning. The key ...
But she couldn't think about that now.
She pulled into the large, open parking lot adjacent to the building. Ordinarily it would be almost empty at night, but on weekends the lot was used by visitors to the Village. Even so, she found an available slot after less than a minute of searching.
She killed the Crown Victoria's engine and hurried inside, where she stabbed the elevator button and waited, shifting her weight restlessly.
The key in her hand, key in the lock, turning, no resistance ...
Reliving the event was a symptom of posttraumatic stress. Her therapist had explained it to her. A traumatic event triggered stress hormones; the more hormones were pumped out, the more intensely the memory would be burned into the amygdala, a bundle of neurons in the brain. Whenever the experience was relived, new stress hormones were produced, further reinforcing the memory.
To break the cycle, it was necessary to brush aside the memories. Think about something else.
Something else. But there was nothing else. There was only the key in the lock, forever turning....
Turning, and the door opening as she stepped into the house ...
The elevator arrived, chiming faintly. The sound startled her into the present.
When the doors slid apart, she saw two men in suits.
Cops, not feds. She knew instantly. They had to be cops because she saw the faint outlines of their firearms under their jackets. But they weren't FBI, because their suits weren't stylish enough. Elitist but true.
She got in, pressing the button for the seventeenth floor.
"Going up?" one man asked. "So are we."
"We are?" the other cop asked with a lifted eyebrow.
"We are now," the first man said.
She looked at him. He was about forty, trim and self-possessed, but with a vaguely disreputable air. It was nothing she could pinpoint, just a suggestion of cunning that she disliked and distrusted.
"Didn't you just come down?" she asked.
"From eighteen." The elevator began to rise. "We were meeting with Tom Danner. Know him?"
"No." Distantly she remembered that Danner was a profiling consultant, like Gaines. Profilers often acted as liaisons with the local police. "If you've just seen him, why are you heading back up?"
He smiled. "No special reason. It's just a nice night for a ride."
Just what she needed. Don Juan in a cheap suit.
She looked at the numbers above the doors, not wanting to continue the conversation.
"I'm Jim Dodge," the cop said. "West LA Homicide. This is my partner, Al Bradley." Bradley was a big, broad-shouldered man with sleepy eyes.
"Nice to meet you," Tess said, turning away.
Dodge wasn't deterred. "And you are ...?"
"In a hurry."
"Hey, this is LA. Everybody's in a hurry. But you've got to slow down sometime. Stop and smell the flowers."
"I haven't had a lot of flowers in my life lately." The words came out fast, and instantly she regretted them. He would take the statement as a flirtation.
"You must have a name," he pressed. "It comes standard issue with the birth certificate."
"Tess McCallum." It was easier to tell him than to argue.
"You're new to this field office."
"Not too temporary, I hope."
Dodge was looking her over without a hint of self-consciousness. She found herself wondering if she looked all right in her gray suit and white blouse and Western-style string tie. The thought irritated her.
"Where you from?" he asked.
She wished the elevator would move faster. "Denver."
"Nice town. Enjoying LA?"
"I'm not here for enjoyment. I'm working."
"You can't work all the time."
"I'm involved with a case right now."
"So am I. Whole bunch of cases. How many open cases we got, Al?"
"More than I can count, Jimbo." Al Bradley spoke in an exhausted baritone.
"More than he can count," Dodge said, "and that's using his fingers and toes. We catch one bad guy, another pops up to replace him. The job never ends. To stay sane, you've got to loosen up a little. Not everything is life-and-death."
"That's a funny attitude for a homicide detective to take."
"I'm just saying you can't let a case take over your life."
"I already have."
"Oh, I get it. This time it's personal."
He wanted to be funny, but the joke hurt her like a slap.
"Extremely personal," she said.
The doors opened, and she stepped out. Behind her, Dodge said, "Hey." He was holding a business card. "In case you get lonely."
"Take it. It's good for a free dinner."
Because she didn't have time to debate the issue, she took the card and stuffed it in the side pocket of her jacket without even giving it a look.
"That's my cell number. You can reach me anytime." He smiled. "It's my snitch card. You know, the one I give out—"
"To informants. I'm glad to join such elevated company."
Excerpted from Next Victim by Michael Prescott. Copyright © 2002 Douglas Borton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Michael Prescott, a New York Times–bestselling author, began his career as a screenwriter and freelance journalist. He has published ten suspense thrillers, including Miasma (2007), Final Sins (2007), Mortal Faults (2006), Dangerous Games (2005) (Tess McCallum #2), In Dark Places (2004), Next Victim (2002) (Tess McCallum Book One), Last Breath (2001), The Shadow Hunter (2000), Stealing Faces (1999), and Comes the Dark (1999). He is almost always at work on a new novel and divides his time between the Arizona desert and the New Jersey shore.
You may contact Michael Prescott at his website www.michaelprescott.net. Prescott also blogs on general subjects, including books and publishing, at www.michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I couldn't put this book down! it swas sooo good! One of his best books yet! I have yet to find a book by Presoctt that i didn't like! (I have only read 5 so far though....) Great book!
Nothing absolutely nothing kept my interest in reading the story. As a matter of fact is was another terrible read that I archived without finishing the book
As usual, Prescott did not disappoint with this book. Couldn't put it down.
A great read. Michael Prescott is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.
All his books are great.
I thought some sections were too detailed and slowed the action of story line
Unexpected twist and turns!
Great book from beginning to end.
This has to be one of the best books I've read all year...A fast-paced story that will not let you down...Pick this gem up and enjoy one really good read!!!
This book was one of the best thrillers that are out there. If you are into thrillers, then you have to read this book. It will keep you guessing til the end.
With Next Victim Prescott has truly outdone himself. I have been a Prescott fan for several years now and anxiously await each year's new release from him. This one was definitely worth the wait! With edge of your seat suspense, twists and turns and characters so real you want to reach out and touch them, Prescott takes the reader into a world that touches very close to home in this day and age. His vivid descriptions and obvoius intense research bring the world of Tess McCallum to life and transports the reader into a world of chaos and humanity. Definitely a must read for any fan of suspense thrillers!
very good book
Enjoyable read, not one of my favorites by this author, but I am certainly not disappointed in my purchase!
Terrific detective work, characters and plot. And, of course, the chase. This is a "hang onto your seat" book.
Not tied together very well
pretty good read
Hated the protagonist who is every bit as nuts as the killer but blessed with all the obnoxious, self righteous, pushy unpleasantness that seems to characterize every female cop in every book. Why do authirs think we will want to read about jackasses like this? No one could possibly like them or relate to them, no matter how much hokey suffering is ascribed to their pasts. She suffered? Good. It coukdn't possibly be more painful than reading this tripe.. I could only make it halfway through the book before my desire to see the protagonist dead overcame me and I shredded it.
Certainly enjoyed enough to give this author another try - maybe a couple.
Well written and well told story. Kept me interested until the end.