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By James Patterson, Mark Pearson
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 James Patterson Mark Pearson
All rights reserved.
9 April 2003—Los Angeles, USA
The day everything changed.
HANNAH SHAPIRO WAS having a wonderful day.
Presents and mimosas at breakfast. Just the one glass—but a thirteenth birthday needed marking, didn't it? She would become bat mitzvah—a Daughter of the Commandments—this coming Shabbat. But Saturday was three days away!
"Come on, darling, take a sip ..." Jessica, her mother, said, her southern accent sweet and musical. "You'll love it. It tastes just like an angel's tears in a glass."
And so she had. Even though she didn't like the taste of alcohol, Hannah loved her mom more than anything in the world and wouldn't think of disappointing her. She sipped, then half spluttered, half laughed. "I've got bubbles in my nose."
"That's what you pay the good money for, sweetheart!"
Hannah laughed with her.
It was a perfect morning. The only thing missing was her father. "It's a shame Daddy couldn't make it back last night," she said.
"It's government business. He'd have been here if he could, darling."
"And he promised he'll try to make the three o'clock flight. Even if he has to fight the chief of staff to do it!" her mother said, hugging Hannah and ruffling her hair.
Hannah giggled again. She couldn't imagine her father fighting with anyone.
"Come on, honey. Make a birthday wish on your first champagne."
Hannah thought about it. Her best friends from school, Sally Hunt and Tiffany Wells, had already turned fourteen. Sally had been given a polo pony and Tiffany a diamond watch from Cartier. Both their parents had been divorced more than once.
Hannah looked at the family portrait hanging over the fireplace. Her father and mother so much in love, Hannah in the middle.
She gazed up at her mother, couldn't believe how heartbreakingly beautiful she was. Couldn't believe that her father could bear to spend so much time away from her.
So Hannah took another sip of her mimosa, looked again at the family portrait and made her wish: Catch that plane, Daddy!
Crossing Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Hannah took her mother's hand.
They were both laden with packages, bags from all the best stores hanging off their shoulders.
"We have done very well with the shopping," said Hannah, grinning broadly.
"Daddy said to make it up to you for missing breakfast."
"He's doing a very good job."
"So far. But the day is young."
"And it's good we have the time to ourselves. Daddy doesn't do shopping."
Hannah chuckled. "I know."
Jessica Shapiro winked at her. "But your mother, darling ... is a professional!"
Moments later, she fetched out the keys to the Mercedes convertible they were approaching in the underground car park.
She looked up, startled as two men suddenly appeared. They wore black hoods.
Hannah's scream was cut short as a rough hand covered her mouth.
"Tell the little bitch to shut it now! Or I'll blow her brains halfway across California."
Jessica nodded. Numb with fear. Unable to speak. Staring terrified at Hannah, she pleaded with her daughter with her eyes to be still.
THREE DAYS LATER
Hannah wanted to scream again. Scream till her throat bled as she watched what was happening to her mother.
But she couldn't. Duct tape had been wrapped around her head, sealing her mouth shut painfully. Her nostrils bulged wide, as much with fear as the need to suck oxygen into her burning lungs.
She squeezed her eyes shut, images of memory flashing, snapshots of the horror that had led to this moment.
The black-suited hooded men grabbing them. The crook of an elbow jammed tight against her mouth. Throwing her into the back of a windowless van.
Forcing her down on the cold metal floor. Tying her hands with tape. Then her mouth, her feet.
The vehicle moving, bouncing her hard against the unforgiving side. Tires squealing. Her own muted screams. A dark sack dropped over her head.
Darkness. The sound of her mother sobbing nearby. A mewing, hurt sound.
Her bladder voiding. The awful shame of it.
A world of hurt later.
Her mother lay naked on a bed. Her hands above her head tied cruelly to the headboard.
One of the men was on top of her mother now. Grunting as he raped her. Feeding on her pain, her humiliation, her helplessness. It didn't take long. He stood up and gestured to the other hood leaning against the far wall.
"You want a go now?"
"Not on mommy I don't," said the second man flatly. "I like my meat fresher."
Hannah whimpered, horrified as she realized what he meant.
He raised the gun that he held loosely in his right hand, tightening a silencer on the end of its barrel. Then he pointed it at Hannah's mother.
"Your husband did this to you, not me. He wouldn't pay the ransom."
Hannah shook her head violently, begging with her eyes, screaming out to her father as she had been doing since the horror had begun. Why hadn't he paid them the money? Why hadn't he saved them? Where was he?
The gunman's eyes were so cold. "He had his chance," he said simply.
Then he pulled the trigger. He shot Jessica Shapiro twice. The shots made a sound like a nail gun.
"Can't say we didn't give daddy a chance," said the hood.
Hannah slumped back in the chair, reeling. Her system shutting down in shock. The grip of fear holding her heart so tight that she couldn't breathe.
The man holstered his gun and undid his trouser belt. "Untie the girl," he said.
At that moment, a lifetime too late, the door to the loft was smashed off its hinges.
As the gunman turned, a high-velocity bullet punched through his forehead, knocking him off his heels. His head exploded.
The sound of the shot still rang deafeningly in the air as his dead body slid down the wall.
The other kidnapper took a step toward his partner before three shots from the semi-automatic weapon cut him down. He crashed to his knees, tumbled sideways, dead before he hit the floor.
A fine mist of red seemed to hang in the air for a moment and then a tall man stepped through it, lowering the gun that he was holding in a two-handed grip.
He looked down at the girl with desperately sad, apologetic eyes.
"You're safe now, Hannah," said Jack Morgan.CHAPTER 2
Seven years later. Somewhere over the Atlantic.
MY NAME IS Dan Carter. I run the London office of Private International.
At that moment I was sitting in first class on my way to New York to meet with my boss. I'm ex-military—ex-Royal Military Police, to be specific. Late thirties. Shade over six foot, dirty blond hair, blue eyes; 185 pounds in weight. I can run the mile in under five minutes and bench-press 240. I could build up to more but I like the way my suits fit me just fine. In my line of work it's not all about brute strength. I don't scare easily.
But I don't like flying.
"Sorry, what did you say?"
"I said would you like another drink, sir?" asked the air hostess. She had a smile that could have lit the pitch at Wembley Stadium but I wasn't even registering it. Like I said, I'm not a good flyer. The man I was on my way to meet was. But then, he was an ex-military pilot. Served his time in Afghanistan. Jack Morgan who owned Private worldwide. Hell—Jack Morgan was Private!
The air hostess moved away and I took another small sip of beer. I didn't want to overdo it. Not good form, turning up drunk for an important meeting. I didn't know if my boss was well known for giving people a second chance—somehow I doubted it—but I didn't plan to find out.
One of the reasons he'd hired me was because I had rescued an American soldier over in Iraq. Saved his life. I don't talk about it, but he had known the real story behind it. Suffice to say I wasn't following standing orders—could probably have been court-martialed and dishonorably discharged.
Might have been better that way. Eventually I was invalided out and had to ride a wheelchair for a while. Jack Morgan had checked my references pretty thoroughly. Going so far as to talk with the injured young GI I had carried through a kill zone to medical help.
The fact that I had killed two other American soldiers who had shot him and were raping a suspected bomb maker's wife didn't faze him. He knew why, even if the people who gave me a medal for the rescue didn't. And I sincerely hope they never did. But Jack Morgan approved, he knew the circumstances and he wanted to have a man capable of making his own decisions heading up his London operation. Getting the job done—whatever it took—and living with the consequences.
I guess I had proved that I could do that. To him, at least.
For me, though, things are never as black and white as I would have liked. Moral certitude is something that gets blown away pretty damn quickly when you take the King's shilling and march overseas to another man's war.
Like I was doing.CHAPTER 3
ON THE STEADY tarmac of the JFK runway, I resisted the urge to drop to my knees and kiss the ground.
People were watching, after all, and small children were running ahead of me laughing and giggling as if they hadn't been through seven hours of ordeal. Too young to realize the dangers, I rationalized, and headed for the airport entrance.
An hour later and I was waiting in the Blue Bar in the Algonquin, sipping on a chilled Peroni. I'd been treating the woman serving behind the bar to some of my wit but it was like bouncing pebbles off concrete. But suddenly she smiled.
Not at me. She was looking at the entrance and the man who was walking up to join me at the bar.
He's used to it. Let me tell you, Jack is a man to have as a friend not an enemy—but you don't want him by your side if you're in a bar looking to meet a nice lady for a dance.
"Dan," he said, smiling, and stuck his hand out.
"Jack," I said back and shook his hand. He was about an inch taller than me but built bigger. Could have played pro ball, one of his colleagues once told me and I didn't doubt it. His uncle owned the Raiders for a start which probably would have helped.
He smiled at the woman behind the bar. "I'll take my usual, please, Samantha," he said to her.
"Coming right up, Mister Morgan."
She flashed her dentistry again. That's something the Americans are definitely world class in. Teeth.
"I appreciate you coming out here, Dan."
I turned back to Jack and shrugged. "You're the boss."
"You're the boss of London. I guess you're wondering why I needed you for a simple babysitting job."
"I am a little curious," I admitted. "Couldn't someone from the New York office have brought her over? We could have met her at the airport."
"The truth is," he replied, "there's nothing simple about this case."CHAPTER 4
"WHAT DO YOU know about Hannah Shapiro?"
"Nothing at all. Your assistant said you'd fill me in, just told me to meet you here."
"Good. This is clearly on a need-to-know basis. Safer that way."
Jack took the drink from the bar lady and laid his briefcase on the counter. Popping open the locks. "Apart from her first name, she has a completely new identity—surname, passport. Everything."
"Something like that."
"Only not government-sanctioned?"
"In fact it is."
"She's how old?"
"Hannah is twenty."
"And I'm taking her back to England?"
"For how long?"
"Three years, Dan."
I looked at him quizzically and took a sip of beer. Then nodded. "Long enough to get a degree, I guess?"
Jack Morgan nodded, pleased. "You catch on fast."
"Where's she going to be studying?"
I nodded right back at him. One of the oldest, one of the best. I looked down at the documents. Money was clearly not a problem. Private didn't come cheap—even if it was for just a hand-holding job on a flight over the Pond.
"This isn't just a hand-holding exercise, Dan."
I fought the urge to react. "It's not?"
"She's extremely valuable cargo. I need an eye on her the whole time she's over there in England. Looked after discreetly."
"Hard to be discreet if she goes round like Madonna with a crew of bodyguards the whole time."
"Indeed. Less of a bodyguard, more of a companion. Let us know if she starts falling in with the wrong kind of crowd. Discreetly. Eyes and ears."
"So discreet even Hannah herself doesn't know about it?"
"When's her course start?"
I took a sip of my lager. "I might need some strings pulling."
"Way ahead of you." Jack nodded at the briefcase. "I've spoken to the dean of admissions."
"What's she going to be reading?"
I nodded thoughtfully again. "That could work."
"She's had some issues in the past that I can't talk about. Maybe this will help her deal with that."
"And we make sure she has the space to do so."
"Her father is a major client of ours, Dan. Seven figures major. So she's important to us."
"What does he do?"
Jack looked at me with a small quirk of a smile. "He pays the bills."
"Like you said. Need-to-know basis."
"You got it, bubba." He clicked his glass against mine and drained it. "Okay. Let's go meet the million-dollar baby."CHAPTER 5
I HAD EXPECTED the precious cargo I was going to be babysitting to be just that.
West Coast precious. Serious money, serious Valley attitude. I had her pictured pretty clearly in my mind's eye—young, tanned and beautiful.
She was young, I got that much right at least. Looked even younger than she actually was.
Hannah's hair was mousy brown, tied back. She wore tortoiseshell glasses, a simple skirt and blouse with a cardigan, flat shoes. I don't know the name of the geeky girl from Scooby Doo, but she was like a thinner version of her without the confidence. Maybe a taller Ugly Betty. No makeup discernible to my eye, and my eye was pretty good in that respect. Nervous.
Hannah Shapiro looked like she wouldn't say boo to a waddling duck, let alone a goose.
"Hi, I'm Dan," I said. "Dan Carter." I held out my hand.
She shook it with her own small, delicate hand but didn't say a word or make eye contact.
Maybe it was down to the confident air of masculine authority I exude. Maybe—but she looked as though a strong wind could knock her over. If she was going to be studying psychiatry I was surmising she had ambitions for the research side of the business. I couldn't see her as a practitioner, with the couch and the reassuring voice and the leading questions. You had to be comfortable around people to do that kind of work.
Perhaps she was right to be nervous—she was standing next to Del Rio, after all.
Del Rio, one of Jack Morgan's right-hand men from the West Coast office. He'd done four years' hard time at the state's pleasure, and looked perfectly capable of doing so again. But he was on our side of the law nowadays, if not exactly working within it.
But that was the whole point of Private, after all. We weren't constrained by the same rules and regulations that restricted our uniformed counterparts. That was how we earned our money. And if half the rumors I had heard about Del Rio were true, he was more than willing to take the law into his own bare hands—take it with lethal consequences.
I held my hand out and shook his. If the girl's grip was feather light, this guy had a grip like an anaconda. Del Rio nodded. He didn't say anything either but I don't think it was from a lack of self-confidence. I don't think you could dent his self-confidence with anything short of an oak pickaxe handle.
"Dan will take care of you now, but if you ever need to speak to me you've got my number, right?" said Jack Morgan to the girl, who still seemed more interested in her feet than in anything else.
"Yeah, Jack," she said. "Thanks." Then she looked up and smiled. She had a nice smile.
"Anytime, night or day." Jack slapped me on the back. "Take good care of her, Dan. I'm counting on you."
"You got it," I said, falling into the native lingo. I turned to the young woman. "We good to go?"
"Sure," she replied. I didn't get a smile but figured it was just a matter of time. A six-hour flight is plenty of time to get to know people. I'd break her in under four, I reckoned. The old Dan Carter charm. They should put it in a bottle.
Excerpted from Private London by James Patterson, Mark Pearson. Copyright © 2013 James Patterson Mark Pearson. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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