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Paying the Piper

Paying the Piper

4.5 17
by Simon Wood

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A serial kidnapper known as the Piper spent years snatching children from San Francisco’s wealthiest families. When crime reporter Scott Fleetwood got himself involved in one of the cases, the Piper went from kidnapper to murderer…and vanished.

Now, after Fleetwood has languished under crippling guilt and public scorn for eight years, the Piper emerges


A serial kidnapper known as the Piper spent years snatching children from San Francisco’s wealthiest families. When crime reporter Scott Fleetwood got himself involved in one of the cases, the Piper went from kidnapper to murderer…and vanished.

Now, after Fleetwood has languished under crippling guilt and public scorn for eight years, the Piper emerges from hiding to kidnap Fleetwood’s son. He’s demanding $2 million, but it’s not really about the money: the Piper wants blood — and he’s going to use Fleetwood to get it.

In the pulse-pounding tradition of Harlan Coben and Gregg Hurwitz, Simon Wood hangs listeners on hooks of suspense and action, leaving them white-knuckled until the bloody, bitter end.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

After an eight-year hiatus, the elusive serial kidnapper dubbed the Piper is once again commanding headlines in San Francisco after abducting Sammy, one of newspaper reporter Scott Fleetwood's young sons. However, where the Piper's previous crimes had been motivated by money-kids returned unharmed in exchange for millions in ransom-this one appears to be personal: the Piper holds Fleetwood responsible for botching his last kidnapping, costing the Piper a cool two million and forcing him to resort to murder. The victim in that case was the only child of wealthy real estate mogul Charles Rooker, who has now stepped forward to fund the Piper's ransom demand for Sammy, while helping Fleetwood and the FBI nail his son's killer. Before Sammy can come home, however, the Piper has more grueling maneuvers than a demented drill sergeant to put these characters through. Wood, in his sophomore effort (following Accidents Waiting to Happen), keeps the pages flying even as his plot gets more and more complex, accelerating nicely toward an elegant climax. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

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Amazon Publishing
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5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Paying the Piper

By Simon Wood

Dorchester Publishing

Copyright © 2007 Simon Wood
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8439-5980-2

Chapter One

Scott leaned on his horn and roared through the red light. Six lanes of traffic on Van Ness with the green light on their side lurched forward, then slithered to a halt in the same breath. A barrage of blaring car horns trailed after him.

Geary Boulevard rose up on the other side of the intersection. Scott tightened his grip on the wheel and braced for the jarring impact. His Honda sedan bottomed out on the steep incline, but maintained its speed. With the gas pedal floored, the car accelerated and closed in on a slow-moving SUV switching lanes. Scott jumped on his horn again. The SUV froze, straddling both lanes to block his path.

"Idiot," he snarled and shouldered his way past the other driver.

Traffic was everywhere, but when wasn't it in San Francisco? He weaved between two cars, jerked out from behind a muni bus, and still had a stream of vehicles ahead.

His cell phone rang. He snatched it from its holder on the dashboard. "Yes."

"Scott, where are you?" Jane squeezed out between sobs. "You said you'd be here."

Hearing his wife cry split him in two. His own tears welled, but he bottled them for later. He needed to be strong. If he let this overwhelm him, then what good was he to his family?

"I'm nearly there." His hoarse voice cracked in the middle of his short reply.

"Just hurry."

"I am."

He hung up and tossed the phone on the passenger seat next to him.

How could his life have changed so irrevocably? Just twenty minutes ago, he'd been living a normal life. A good life. He was a reporter for the San Francisco Independent. He and Jane had a loving marriage-a miracle in this day and age. They owned a house in a good neighborhood in the city, even with its insane real estate prices. It was the perfect place to bring up kids-and they did. They had two great kids.

Had two great kids.

It had only taken a moment to lose one of his children. Some sick freak had snatched him out from under them. How could that happen? He and Jane took every precaution. They'd entrusted their children to a good school-the best they could afford with their two incomes. They'd gone private to prevent this kind of thing from happening. He palmed away the tears clouding his vision and swerved around a UPS truck.

He felt the guilt spreading through him, eating away at his spirit. He'd failed his son, Sammy. Abduction was a parent's worst fear, but he hadn't wanted to be one of those parents who saw phantoms on every street corner. Putting bars on the windows and dead bolts on the doors didn't keep them out, it kept you in. But that cavalier attitude had led to this. His worst fears had been realized. Someone had taken his son.

"I'm sorry, Sammy."

A new sensation swept away his guilt. Imagination, strong and invincible, assaulted him. He'd always been able to conjure up images from secondhand accounts. That's what made him such a good reporter. He didn't just relay facts. He told stories-living, breathing stories. He turned readers into eyewitnesses-transporting them to the actual locations, inserting them inside the people present at the celebration or the tragedy. Now that talent turned on him. From the meager facts available, Scott constructed a nightmare. Sammy appeared to him, his smiling face melting into a scream as the abductor dragged him kicking and screaming inside a van. His imagination blinded him with these false, but true, images. The abduction was true, but the events were lies, just images his fear conjured up. He would know nothing until he reached the school. He stabbed down on the gas again and frightened a hybrid hatchback out of his way.

At the cost of a door mirror snapped off against the corner of a Safeway trailer truck, he made it to the school. Half a dozen SFPD cars were staked out in front. Was that all his son warranted-six patrol cars? Not that these cops were any good now. Talk about closing the stable door after the horse had bolted. Where were these bastards when Sammy was being snatched?

He ground to an untidy halt in front of the cop cars and abandoned his Honda in the roadway. Let the city tow it, he thought. He spilled out onto the asphalt, gathered himself up, and raced toward the school gate. He hadn't gotten ten feet when his cell rang. He darted back and snatched it off the car seat. He hit the green key on the run.

His antics drew the attention of two uniformed officers protecting the school's perimeter. Seeing him charging toward the school gates, they moved as a unit to intercept him.

Scott put the phone to his ear. "I'm here, babe. It's okay. I'm here."

"That's good to know."

The voice on the line chilled him. Instead of his wife's soft tones, he heard a voice that was harsh, blunted by an electronic disguise. The words came out robotic and demonic. Scott recognized the voice, but he hadn't heard it in eight years. The raw adrenaline left him as swiftly as it had come and he ground to a halt with the cops still racing toward him.

"It's been a long time, Scott. I thought I'd reintroduce myself."

"What have you done with Sammy?"


Scott feared asking the obvious question, but there was no way around it. "What do you want?"

The cops caught up to him. They bombarded him with questions and threats. He ignored them. He listened to the distorted voice on the line until it hung up.

He lowered the phone. A wave of nausea swept over him, taking his legs out from under him. The two cops caught him before he hit the ground.

"He has my son." Misery clung to his words. "The Piper has my son."

"Jesus Christ," one of the cops said.

Chapter Two

Eight years earlier

"Independent, Scott Fleetwood."

He'd answered his desk phone out of reflex and he cursed himself for it. He was late finishing up a feature piece for tomorrow's deadline and some two hours past the time he'd told Jane he'd be home at his last update. No doubt she was calling to chew him out about leaving a pregnant woman expecting twins alone. Only last night they'd agreed on names-Sammy and Peter if they were boys, and Emily and Rachel if they were girls.

When no one answered, he said, "Hello?"

"This is the Piper," the garbled voice said.

Yeah, right, Scott thought. There were plenty of freaks out there eager to see their name in print. What better name to use than that of the infamous serial kidnapper? It was common knowledge that the Piper used an electronic voice disguiser. It wasn't exactly a difficult item to obtain these days with all the spy gadget stores around.

He leaned back in his seat. "You won't be insulted if I ask for proof?"

"Of course not."

"Put Nicholas Rooker on the line. I'm sure his parents would like to know that he's all right." "Can't do that. He's not with me."

What a surprise, Scott thought. He checked his watch. If he left in fifteen, he'd get home by eleven.

"That's disappointing," Scott said. "Look, I've got to go."

"And miss out on the story of your career?"

Scott smiled. He had to give it to this guy. He had plenty of cool. He sounded just like the Piper. Scott sat up in his chair.

"Look, I don't have to travel far in this city to find someone who'll tell me they're the Piper if I give them a buck. If you really want me to take you seriously, you're going to have to do a lot better than you're doing. Tell me something no one else would know."

Silence. Just what Scott expected. He was about to hang up when the Piper spoke.

"I sedate the kids with chloral hydrate. You won't find that in any FBI press releases."

Hairs stood up on the back of Scott's neck. There'd been plenty of publicity surrounding the Piper and his seven kidnappings in as many years. The Piper targeted the families of Bay Area millionaires. The Piper's current victim, Nicholas Rooker, was the son of San Francisco's premier property developer, Charles Rooker. A lot had been said about the kidnapped children, but Scott couldn't recall any mention of doping. Even so, that didn't make it the truth.

"I'll need to check it out."

"Then check it out."

"Give me a number where I can call you back?"

An electronic laugh came from the phone. "Nice try. I'll call you. You've got an hour."

Scott hung up his phone and hit the Internet. He combed story after story and found no mention of chloral hydrate. Even the Independent's own morgue kicked up nothing.

He called Keith Ellis on his cell. Ellis was a reporter who was tight with the cops, since he had family in the SFPD and Oakland PD. Ellis tried shooting the breeze, but Scott shot him down. He had fifteen minutes before the Piper called back.

"Okay, what do you need?" Ellis asked, sounding put out. He was in a bar, judging by the burble of voices and music in the background.

"The Piper. Any mention of him using chloral hydrate on any of the kids?"

"Not that I know of. Why?"

"Can you ask someone? Now?"

"What is all this?"

"I can't explain. Can you do it?"

"Sure. I guess."

"Get back to me in ten. Okay?"

Scott hung up in the middle of Ellis's protests. He eyed the clock at the right-hand corner of his computer monitor, then his desk phone, then the clock again. If he really did have the Piper calling him, it was the story of his career. He tried not to let his imagination run away with itself.

Ellis called back with three minutes to spare. All of the Piper's kidnap victims had been doped. The Piper drugged them to keep them docile. When the FBI ran blood tests on the children, they found chloral hydrate in their blood. The feds were keeping the knowledge from anyone outside the investigation.

Scott's excitement left him panting. Ellis pushed for details, but Scott hung up on him and ignored his subsequent calls. The voice claiming to be the Piper called back exactly one hour from his previous call. "Well?" he said.

"You have the benefit of the doubt. You're either the Piper or someone very close to him."

"Caution. I like that."

"Why come to me?"

"I had to call someone. You answered the phone."

Scott deserved that. He was hoping for a little ego stroking. If anyone was going to get his ego stroked, it was the Piper. He'd come out of the shadows to talk after all the speculation about him. Scott wasn't going to blow it now.

"You know I'm going to have to go to the FBI with this."

"I want you to. I want someone to document this kidnapping. But I don't want you to go just yet. We have a lot to talk about. Are you okay with that?"

The implication of what the Piper was asking of Scott hung in the air like smoke. "Yeah, I'm okay with that."

The present

That decision eight years ago had cost Nicholas Rooker his life. When Scott looked back on that night, his involvement with the Piper seemed so tenuous. If he hadn't stayed late that evening, he wouldn't have picked up the phone. If the Piper had picked a different newspaper, a different reporter's life would be in shreds. If he'd only gone to the FBI right away, then ... So many ifs.

That night had led him here. He was in the principal's office with Peter on his lap, the boy's arms wrapped around his neck. Jane sat beside him, leaning into him as if body heat would make things better. They'd all been crying. Clare Donnelly, the school principal, kept telling them how sorry they were, as did the two SFPD inspectors. Their condolences failed to penetrate. Scott was numb.

"It's my fault," Scott murmured. "I'm being punished."

The Piper hadn't made a threat after Nicholas Rooker's death, but it hung there in the air unsaid and unseen. A lot of people blamed Scott for botching the Nicholas Rooker kidnapping. He'd started writing his own ticket when the Piper came to him. The infamous kidnapper had selected him out of all the reporters out there. The Los Angeles and New York Times were courting him. Book offers were falling through the mail slot daily. A Pulitzer Prize had been put aside for him when the next round of awards came around. He was talking to the Piper, kidnapper of children.

But he wasn't. He'd been conned. He'd been talking to Mike Redfern. Redfern wasn't a malicious hoaxer or some deranged lunatic who claimed responsibility because his cat told him to. No, Redfern was a sad, lonely man who lived out elaborate fantasies. He'd read and absorbed the theories about the Piper's identity and put himself in the kidnapper's shoes. He'd gotten the Piper's identity down pat. Scott hadn't been the only one fooled. The FBI believed Redfern was the Piper, which only fueled him to keep going with his fantasies. Only when the FBI caught him did it sink in that they'd been suckered. Worse still, while everyone had been focused on Redfern, the Piper had been overlooked, his demands disregarded, and his ultimatum ignored.

Nicholas Rooker's body had been found in Golden Gate Park the day after Redfern's arrest. The Piper had been humane. He'd sedated the child first before smothering him.

Nicholas's face from that night flooded Scott's memory. The image became so vivid it hurt his vision. Sammy's face bled into Nicholas's until Nicholas no longer existed and Scott stared at his son's dead face.

The world had pointed a finger at Redfern. His childish antics had led to Nicholas Rooker's death. The finger pointed at Scott too. The Los Angeles and New York Times stopped calling. Hate mail replaced the book offers. The Pulitzer went to someone else.

And the Piper? He never made a public announcement. He didn't call a competing newspaper or send a note to the television stations. He simply disappeared. After seven kidnappings netting him in excess of ten million dollars, he went underground.

"Mr. Fleetwood," a squat inspector said. "You've got nothing to worry about. The FBI is on the way."

The FBI. The mention of the illustrious name was meant to fill him with confidence and hope. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of hope to be had, considering the bureau had failed to catch the Piper on all the previous occasions. Only one thing could make things worse.

"Who are they sending?"

"You're in safe hands, Mr. Fleetwood. They're sending their top guy."

"Would that be Tom Sheils?"

"Yeah. You know him?"

"You could say that."


Excerpted from Paying the Piper by Simon Wood Copyright © 2007 by Simon Wood . Excerpted by permission.
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

Anthony Award–winning author of a dozen books as well as over 150 published stories and articles, Simon Wood is an ex–race car driver, a licensed pilot, an animal rescuer, an endurance cyclist, and an occasional private investigator. Having dealt with dyslexia from an early age, Wood has been met with rave reviews for his previous publications, including Working Stiffs, We All Fall Down, Paying the Piper, Dragged into Darkness, Asking for Trouble, and The Fall Guy, among numerous others published under his horror pseudonym, Simon Janus. Originally from the UK, Wood moved to the US in ’98 to share his world with his American wife, Julie — and a longhaired dachshund and four cats.

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Paying the Piper 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Cindy-Lee More than 1 year ago
"Do NOT start this book if you have any intentions of getting anything else done before you finish it! My favourite Simon Wood book to date. This thriller had my heart pounding, my blood boiling, and my thumb sore from hitting the page button. An exciting, electric, page-turning masterpiece, worth every second it takes to fly through it. From start to finish, this book has more twists and turns than a pretzel factory, and the ending will astound you. Well done Simon Wood!
HolliCastillo More than 1 year ago
There is a lot of discussion among writers and readers alike regarding the difference between a thriller and a mystery- for anyone who wants to see the distinction in action, Paying the Piper is one hundred percent the definition of a thriller. Although there is a definite mystery in the plot line, Simon Wood's story is part action, part psychological drama, and wholly edge-of-your-seat suspense-driven entertainment. This book is fast paced, with unexpected twists and turns and a surprise ending that gave me one of those aha! moments, realizing the clues were there, but planted so well I didn't put them together to figure out the ultimate truth of the "whodunnit" and "whydunnit." With everyday characters facing extraordinary circumstances- the kidnaping of a child- the writing rings true and realistic while maintaining the drama and suspense of a good thriller. This is the type of book you stay up late reading and then double check that the doors are locked before you go to sleep. Simon Wood is a master of suspense and an expert at the thriller, and, as usual, does not disappoint. If you like pure, unadulterated fear, Simon Wood is an author for you. Holli Castillo Author of Gumbo Justice
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
I had so many “ah” moments with this book that I just have to give it 5 stars! One night I woke up frantically wondering if my own children where in their beds, only to realize they were either sleeping in their college dorm room or living at their own house…. that’s how drawn in I got. This is a first-rate thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat all the way through till the end. It’s a parent’s worse nightmare to have your child abducted from you and the author does a great job playing with the readers emotions with all the various characters as he plays out the scenarios that surround the kidnapping. Who is paying the Piper and who is playing with the Piper? How far would you go to get your child back? Would you let your emotions get in the way? Well done…bravo, bravo!! Looking forward to reading more by this author!
Jaidis More than 1 year ago
If you're looking to get pulled in and pumped up by a truly kick-ass suspense novel, then this book is for you! Simon Wood's Paying the Piper is a pure adrenaline rush that will have you hanging by the edge of your seat while clawing at your heartstrings. Mr. Wood tells the tale of a parent's worst nightmare, the kidnapping of a child and the unrelenting attempts to get them back! The excitement begins as soon as you open the book, the story moving along at a swift and thrilling pace. The storyline is fantastic and the characters are complex and diverse. I saw and felt this novel come to life as I'm sure many readers have and will! Right off the bat we are introduced to Scott Fleetwood, a crime reporter for the Independent, as he races his way across town to his children's elementary school. His wife had just called with horrible, life-altering news.their son had been kidnapped! Every parent hopes and prays for their children to be kept safe from such a tragedy, but Scott had almost expected it. Just eight years ago Scott had made a terrible mistake and put publicity and a good story above bringing down the bad guy. Scott believed the man on the phone was The Piper, a serial kidnapper contacting him personally to tell his story. This was huge, or it would've been had he really been speaking with The Piper. Scott soon realized he had been duped when the area's highly feared kidnapper became a cold-blooded killer, showing the F.B.I., the news and Scott that they had made a grave mistake in ignoring his demands. A young boy had been killed and Scott has been blamed by all for his death. Now, after eight years his children were being used as pawns in this sick and vengeful game that The Piper had waited long enough to play. Scott wanted his children back and was willing to get them no matter the cost. It was time to pay The Piper. I highly recommend reading this book to just about anyone! I was completely engaged in this story from the beginning and found myself emotionally vested in the main character's course to get his kids back. There were twists and turns I never saw coming, keeping the storyline fresh and invigorating! Loved this book! Hazel O'Shea Written for the Juniper Grove Blog
gloriafeit More than 1 year ago
The tension starts on page 1 of Simon Wood’s wonderful new novel. Scott Fleetwood, a crime reporter with the San Francisco Independent, has been told by his frantic wife that one of his twin sons has been kidnapped. When the next call he gets is from the kidnapper, Scott’s horror only increases: The Piper, as he calls himself, has a history with Scott. As we soon learn in the first of several flashback scenes, eight years back it appeared that a serial kidnapper had called Scott at his desk and began a series of communications with him. Spurred on by the thought of saving the latest victim as well as by the attendant fame surely ahead of him, Scott ultimately is horrified when he learns he has been ‘played’ by a phony, the whole thing a hoax, and the kidnapped boy is killed when the real kidnapper fails to receive his demanded ransom. Scott receives the blame for the boy’s death from the public, his wife, the FBI and, not least of all, himself. This time, the kidnapping of Scott’s son appears to be personal: The Piper also holds Scott to blame, for his lost ransom and forced ‘retirement.’ And Scott doesn’t yet know the full extent of what will be expected from him in order to gain his son’s freedom. As difficult as it would seem for the author to keep up the suspense generated from the first pages, he has accomplished this in skillful fashion, maintaining and amping up the tension as the tale unfolds. The complex characters and intricate plotting make this much more than just a page-turner – it’ll keep you right on the edge of your seat till the final page. Recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Paying the Piper is full of twists and surprises. It was hard to put the book down, right from the very first page. What a fabulous author. Can't wait to read more of his books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful story. A real page turner. Great characters and twist and turns.
crazymommy78 More than 1 year ago
a page turner from the first page it will keep you on the edge of your seat
LisaDM More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book! Great suspense, great twist! It kept me page turning, which is what you want in a good read. I had the pleasure of meeting Simon Wood (very funny and quite charming as only an Englishman can be I must say)at a book signing in San Diego, which my writing group attended. I'll admit I'd never heard of him...but after enjoying the event and hearing him tell how he got into writing novels and about his vast interesting background, I just had to experience his writing. I asked him what book was his fave of the bunch (cuz I was only buying one!) and he recommended Piper. Well...guess I have to go out and get all his books now, cause this man can WRITE! :)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Can anyone truly imagine the horror of having their child kidnapped? Especially knowing that it is their fault? This novel starts at a break neck pace and constantly accelerates until the finish line. Wood¿s multi-faceted characters are engaging and the plot lines twist and turn and loop around again until the reader is not sure what else could possible happen¿. and then it does! Definitely a name to be kept on the TBR (to be read) list!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoy suspense and thriller mystery novels and Simon Wood hits a homerun with this one. It is fast paced and edgy without being brutal. I did guess his plot twist early on in the book, BUT, I didn't care. I wanted to see how his characters were going to work it out and 'get there in time.' Thanks Simon for this fun little read!! K.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought that the plot had a lot of suspense. It was a fast pace moving book. I did not want to put the book down. In the future I will read the book again.
Kataman1 More than 1 year ago
This book starte out great. Scott Fleetwood is a reporter who made a mistake with a serial kidnapper known as the Piper eight years prior. That mistake caused the Piper to kill a boy he kidnapped. Everybody seemed to blame Scott for the boy's death. Now eight years later and the Piper has seemingly returned and kidnapped Scott's son. Where in the past, the Piper's demands were for cash and he simply released his victims, this time he also wants Scott to do things to pay for his past mistake. Scott needs to manuveur around the FBI led by Detective Shiels, who had worked on the previous Piper cases, to do things he will later regret to get his son back. This story definately had me hooked from the start and guessing who the Piper may be. And things seem to break pretty fast, holding the reader in place. The book started to lose it in the last third of the book. We have characters doing really stupid things like dumb people who end up getting killed in slasher films and other things that unfold that just had me shaking my head. This is the third thriller I have read by this author and most of his books do have good tension throughout. However, the last third of this book prevents me from giving it more than 3 stars.
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harstan More than 1 year ago
Eight years ago the Piper kidnapped preadolescent Nicholas Rooker demanding two million dollars in ransom from his wealthy father, a successful bay area realtor. The serial abductor began calling San Francisco Independent reporter Scott Fleetwood leaving clues for the cops to track. However, by the time the police realized that the caller was a fake, the Piper changed is MO of retuning the kids unharmed once remittance occurred this time he killed Nicholas.------------- In the present, after a hiatus the Piper abducts one of Scott¿s children, Sammy. He feels Scott owes him more than just the money he lost he blames the reporter for his killing Nicholas, the first time he committed murder. Nicholas¿ father Charles Rooker puts up the ransom money hoping that this time the FBI, led by Agent Shiels, captures his son¿s killer. The cat and mouse game has just begun on the streets of San Francisco with the Piper warning Scott to play by his rules because of ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN.----------------- Although an action-packed thriller that never slows down even when the cast climbs the hills, the story line belongs to the four male protagonists who make up a macabre square with each feeling strong degrees of guilt over what happened to Nicholas. Fascinatingly the Piper regrets having had to murder Nicholas although he holds Scott culpable Scott feels the same way and to a degree so does Charles and even Shiels. PAYING THE PIPER is a terrific thriller as the quartet knows that they all fall down on this one.------------------ Harriet Klausner