A poor art student living in New York stumbles on a bag of diamonds . . . but they come at a price in this unforgettable novel from "America's #1 storyteller" ( Forbes).
Matthew Bannon, a poor art student living in New York City, finds a duffel bag filled with diamonds during a chaotic attack at Grand Central Station. Plans for a worry-free life with his stunning girlfriend Katherine fill his thoughts-until he realizes that he is being hunted, and that whoever is after him won't stop until they have reclaimed the diamonds and exacted their revenge.
Trailing him is the Ghost, the world's greatest assassin, who has just pulled off his most high-profile hit: killing Walter Zelvas, a top member of the international Diamond Syndicate. There's only one small problem: the diamonds he was supposed to retrieve from Zelvas are missing. Now, the Ghost is on Bannon's trail-but so is a rival assassin who would like nothing more than to make the Ghost disappear forever.
From the world's #1 writer comes a high-speed thrill ride of adrenaline-fueled suspense you'll never forget.
|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Hometown:Palm Beach, Florida
Date of Birth:March 22, 1947
Place of Birth:Newburgh, New York
Education:B.A., Manhattan College, 1969; M.A., Vanderbilt University, 1971
Read an Excerpt
Kill Me If You Can
By Patterson, James
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2011 Patterson, James
All right reserved.
Some people are harder to kill than others. The Ghost was thinking about this as he huddled in the deep, dark shadows of Grand Central Terminal. A man named Walter Zelvas would have to die tonight. But it wouldn’t be easy. Nobody hired the Ghost for the easy jobs.
It was almost 11 p.m, and even though the evening rush was long over, there was still a steady stream of weary travelers.
The Ghost was wearing an efficient killing disguise. His face was lost under a tangle of matted silver-and-white hair and shaggy beard, and his arsenal was hidden under a wine-stained gray poncho. To anyone who even bothered to take notice, he was just another heap of homeless humanity seeking refuge on a quiet bench near Track 109.
He eyed his target. Walter Zelvas. A great hulk of a man with the nerves and reflexes of a snake and a soul to match. Zelvas was a contract killer himself, but unlike the Ghost, Zelvas took pleasure in watching his victims suffer before they died. For years, the ruthless Russian had been an enforcer for the Diamond Syndicate, but apparently he had outlived his usefulness to his employer, and the Ghost had been hired to terminate him.
If he doesn’t kill me first, the Ghost thought. With Zelvas it was definitely a matter of kill or be killed. And this would surely be a duel to the death between them.
So the Ghost watched his opponent closely. The screen on the departures monitor refreshed and Zelvas cursed under his breath. His train was delayed another thirty minutes.
He drained his second cup of Starbucks cappuccino, stood up, and crumpling his empty cup, deposited it in the trash.
No littering, the Ghost thought. That might attract attention, and the last thing Zelvas wanted was attention.
That’s why he was leaving town by train. Train stations aren’t like airports. There’s no baggage check, no metal detector, no security.
Zelvas looked toward the men’s room.
All that coffee will be the death of you, the Ghost thought as Zelvas walked across the marble floor to the bathroom.
A half-comatose porter, mop in hand, was sloshing water on the terminal floor like a zombie tarring a roof. He didn’t see Zelvas coming.
A puddle of brown water came within inches of the big man’s right foot. Zelvas stopped. “You slop any of that scum on my shoes and you’ll be shitting teeth,” he said.
The porter froze. “Sorry. Sorry, sir. Sorry.”
The Ghost watched it all. Another time, another place, and Zelvas might have drowned the man in his own mop water. But tonight he was on his best behavior.
Zelvas continued toward the bathroom.
The Ghost had watched the traffic in and out of the men’s room for the past half hour. It was currently empty. Moment of truth, the Ghost told himself.
Zelvas got to the doorway, stopped, and turned around sharply.
He made me, the Ghost thought at first.
Zelvas looked straight at him. Then left, then right.
He’s a pro. He’s just watching his back.
Satisfied he wasn’t being followed, Zelvas entered the men’s room.
The Ghost stood up and surveyed the terminal. The only uniformed cop in the area was busy giving directions to a young couple fifty feet away.
The men’s room had no door—just an L-shaped opening that allowed the Ghost to enter and still remain out of sight.
From his vantage point he could see the mirrored wall over the sinks. And there was Zelvas, standing in front of a urinal, his back to the mirror.
The Ghost silently reached under his poncho and removed his equally silent Glock from its holster.
The Ghost had a mantra. Three words he said to himself just before every kill. He waited until he heard Zelvas breathe that first sigh of relief as he began to empty his bladder.
I am invincible, the Ghost said in silence.
Then, in a single fluid motion, he entered the bathroom, silently slid up behind Zelvas, aimed the Glock at the base of his skull, and squeezed the trigger.
Some people are harder to kill than others.
Walter Zelvas never stepped up to a urinal unless the top flush pipe was made of polished chrome.
It’s not a perfect mirror, but it’s enough. Even distorted, everything he needed to see was visible.
Man. Hand. Gun.
Zelvas whirled on the ball of his right foot and dealt a swift knife-hand strike to the Ghost’s wrist just as he pulled the trigger.
The bullet went wide, shattering the mirror behind him.
Zelvas followed up by driving a cinder-block fist into the Ghost’s midsection, sending him crashing through a stall door.
The Glock went skittering across the tile floor.
The Ghost looked up at the enraged colossus who was now reaching for his own gun.
Damn, the Ghost thought. The bastard is still pissing. Glad I wore the poncho.
He rolled under the next stall as Zelvas’s first bullet drilled a hole through the stained tile where his head had just been.
Zelvas darted to the second stall to get off another shot. Still on his back, the Ghost kicked the stall door with both feet.
It flew off its hinges and hit Zelvas square on, sending him crashing into the sinks.
But he held on to his gun.
The Ghost lunged and slammed Zelvas’s gun hand down onto the hard porcelain sink. He was hoping to hear the sound of bone snapping, but all he heard was glass breaking as the mirror behind Zelvas fell to the floor in huge fractured pieces.
Instinctively, the Ghost snatched an eight-inch shard of broken mirror as it fell. Zelvas head-butted him full force, and as their skulls collided, the Ghost jammed the razor-sharp glass into Zelvas’s bovine neck.
Zelvas let out a violent scream, pushed the Ghost off him, and then made one fatal mistake. He yanked the jagged mirror from his neck.
Blood sprayed like a renegade fire hose. Now I’m really glad I wore the poncho, the Ghost thought.
Zelvas ran screaming from the bloody bathroom, one hand pressed to his spurting neck and the other firing wildly behind him. The Ghost dived to the floor under a hail of ricocheting bullets and raining plaster dust. A few deft rolls and he managed to retrieve his Glock.
Jumping to his feet, the Ghost sprinted to the doorway and saw Zelvas running across the terminal, a steady stream of arterial blood pumping out of him. He would bleed out in a minute, but the Ghost didn’t have time to stick around and confirm the kill. He raised the Glock, aimed, and then…
“Police. Drop it.”
The Ghost turned. A uniformed cop, overweight, out of shape, and fumbling to get his own gun, was running toward him. One squeeze of the trigger and the cop would be dead.
There’s a cleaner way to handle this, the Ghost thought. The guy with the mop and every passenger within hearing distance of the gunshots had taken off. The bucket of soapy mop water was still there.
The Ghost put his foot on the bucket and, pushing it, sent it rolling across the terminal floor right at the oncoming cop.
The fat cop went flying ass over tin badge and slid across the slimy wet marble floor.
But this is New York—one cop meant dozens, and by now a platoon of cops was heading his way.
I don’t kill cops, the Ghost thought, and I’m out of buckets. He reached under his poncho and pulled out two smoke grenades. He yanked the pins and screamed, “Bomb!”
The grenade fuses burst with a terrifying bang, and the sound waves bounced off the terminal’s marble surfaces like so many acoustic billiard balls. Within seconds, the entire area for a hundred feet was covered with a thick red cloud that had billowed up from the grenade casings.
The chaos that had erupted with the first gunshot kicked into high gear as people who had dived for cover from the bullets now lurched blindly through the bloodred smoke in search of a way out.
Half a dozen cops stumbled through the haze to where they had last seen the bomb thrower.
But the Ghost was gone.
Disappeared into thin air.
The Art Student
I swear this is true. My name is Matthew Bannon, and I’m a Fine Arts major at Parsons in New York City.
The first thing you resign yourself to when you decide you want to dedicate your life to being a painter is that you’re never going to get rich.
It goes with the territory. Vincent van Gogh died without a nickel, and that guy could paint rings around me. So I figured I’d spend the rest of my life as a starving artist in a paint-spattered loft in SoHo—poor but happy.
But that fantasy took a total nosedive when I found millions of dollars’ worth of diamonds inside a locker in Grand Central Terminal one night.
That’s right. Found.
I know, I know. It’s hard to believe. I didn’t believe it, either. I felt like a guy must feel when he wins the Mega Millions lottery. Only I didn’t buy a lottery ticket.
I just reached inside locker #925, and there it was.
A leather bag filled with millions and millions of dollars’ worth of diamonds.
One minute I was planning a life of poverty; the next minute I was holding a small fortune in my hand.
Growing up in Hotchkiss, Colorado, I saw my share of rich people. None of them lived there. They would just be driving the scenic route on their way to Vail or Telluride and they’d stop for gas or something to eat at the North Fork Valley Restaurant.
Hotchkiss is about half the size of Central Park, with fewer people than you’d find in some New York City apartment buildings. But it’s in the middle of God’s country. It’s everything John Denver sings about in “Rocky Mountain High.”
It’s where I learned to hunt, fish, ski, fly a plane, and do a whole lot of other macho stuff that my father taught me. He was a Marine. So were his father and his father before him.
My artistic side comes from my mom. She taught me to paint.
My father wanted me to carry on the family’s military tradition. My mother said one uncultured jarhead in the family was enough.
So we compromised. I spent four years in the corps, with three active deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Then I saved up enough money to move to New York. Now at the age of thirty, I was in one of the best art programs in the country.
And suddenly my days of worrying about money were over.
I was rich. Or at least I could be rich if I decided to keep the diamonds. And why not? The guy who owned them wouldn’t come looking for them.
As far as I figured, that guy was dead.
You might think that finding a bag full of diamonds would be the best thing that happened in my life.
But you’d be wrong.
The best thing was finding Katherine Sanborne.
We met at the Whitney Museum.
The Whitney is one of my favorite places in New York, and I was staring at one of my favorite paintings, Armistice Night, by George Luks.
And then I saw her. Midtwenties, a heart-stoppingly beautiful face framed with auburn hair that fell to her shoulders in soft curls. She was escorting a group of high-school kids. As they came up beside me, she said, “George Luks was an American Realist.”
“And I’m a Puerto Rican romantic,” one kid said.
Big laugh from his teen cohorts.
Another kid jumped right in. “And I’m a Jewish pessimist,” he said.
Within seconds, half a dozen kids were vying to see who could get the biggest laugh. Katherine just grinned and didn’t try to stop them.
But I did. “None of you is as funny as George Luks,” I said, pointing at the painting on the wall.
“You think this picture is funny?” the Puerto Rican romantic said.
“No, I don’t,” I said. “But the guy who painted it, George Luks, was a stand-up comedian and a comic strip illustrator. Then he teamed up with seven other artists and they became known as the Ashcan School.”
“Cool,” the kid said.
“He was pretty cool,” I said. “Until one night he got the crap kicked out of him in a barroom brawl and was found dead a few hours later. Now, if you paid attention to your teacher, you could learn a lot of cool stuff like that.”
I walked away.
A half hour later Katherine found me gawking at Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning.
“Where’s your class?” I said.
“I’m not their teacher,” she said. “I just do volunteer work at the museum every Wednesday. The kids liked you. They were sorry you left.”
“I’m sure you handled them just fine,” I said.
“I did. But I was sorry you left, too. How do you know so much about art?”
I shrugged. “I just do. It’s not a very exciting story.”
“I love to hear what other people think about art,” she said. “If I bought you a cup of tea and a pumpkin muffin at Sarabeth’s Kitchen, would you tell me some of the least boring parts?” She smiled and her soft gray eyes were full of mischief and joy and promise.
“I couldn’t do that,” I said.
Her smile faded and her eyes looked at me, more than a little surprised.
“But I could buy you a cup of tea and a pumpkin muffin at Sarabeth’s Kitchen,” I said. “Would that work?”
The smile flashed back on. “Deal,” she said, extending her hand. “I’m Katherine Sanborne.”
“Matthew Bannon,” I said. Her hand was warm and soft and about half the size of mine. I held it for only a second, but it was long enough for me to get that jolt that goes through your body when you touch someone who has touched your heart.
We had tea.
I told her about my dream to be a painter.
“Maybe I can help,” she said. “I teach art. I’d love to see your work. Maybe you can bring some samples to my office tomorrow after my class.”
“I thought you said those kids in the museum weren’t your class.”
“They’re not. I don’t teach high school.”
“Oh, okay. That makes sense,” I said. “You’re pretty young. You probably wouldn’t want to put up with a bunch of hormonal teenage boys all day. What grade do you teach?”
She smiled. “It’s not a grade,” she said. “It’s a master’s program. I’m a professor of Fine Arts at Parsons.”
It was now official: Katherine Sanborne was beautiful and brilliant.
I was totally out of my league.
I spent half that night trying to figure out which of my paintings I should show her. Was this one too predictable? Was that one too boring? Or worse, completely pedestrian? I was seeing my work in a whole new light. Not just was it any good, but was it good enough for Katherine?
The next day I was in Professor Sanborne’s office with fourteen photos of what I hoped was the best work I had done thus far. I doubt I’d ever felt more vulnerable and exposed in my life.
“No wonder you knew so much about the Realists,” she said after she looked at them. “Your work reminds me of Edward Hopper. In his early days.”
“I suppose you mean back when he was finger-painting in kindergarten?”
She laughed, and I decided it was gentle humor, kind humor, rather than the savage variety some professors strive to perfect.
“Not that early,” she said. “As you know, I’m sure, Hopper is legendary for his ability to capture reality. But his early works are so impersonal. That’s where you are now. In my opinion, anyway. Over time, Hopper’s paintings began to take on emotions—loneliness, despair, gloom. Nighthawks is probably his best work—my favorite—and he didn’t paint that till he was sixty.”
“I hope it doesn’t take me that long,” I said, “to do something half as good.”
“It won’t,” she said. “Not if you study at the right school.”
“Like where?” I asked. “Any suggestion you have would be so helpful. Honest.”
“Like here,” she said.
I shook my head a couple of times. “I don’t think I have the talent to be accepted at Parsons.”
“I’ll bet you do,” she said. “Loser buys the winner…I don’t know—dinner at Peter Luger. I love Luger’s.”
Six months later, Professor Katherine Sanborne and I were having the porterhouse medium rare at Peter Luger in Brooklyn.
I paid for dinner.
We started seeing each other regularly after our celebratory dinner, and six months after that, I was in her Group Critique class at Parsons. We did a pretty good job of keeping our relationship a secret from the other students, I thought.
The best part of Group Critique was being able to be near her three times a week. The worst part was enduring the critiques by my so-called peers.
The morning before I found the diamonds, my latest painting was being thoroughly trashed by Leonard Karns. Karns was short, round, pretentious, and bitterly, unnecessarily nasty. He waddled over to my canvas and explained to the rest of the group why it sucked and, by proxy, why I sucked.
“So it’s a bunch of nobodies in line at an unemployment office,” he said. “But do we really care about any of them? I could take the same picture with my cell phone camera. It’s like the German playwright Bertolt Brecht said, ‘Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.’”
“And you don’t think Mr. Bannon has shaped this piece?” Katherine said.
“No,” Karns said. “But I think he should take a hammer to it.”
If he was hoping for a laugh from the rest of the class, he didn’t get it. Most of my fellow students sat in silence and winced. It was the last day of the semester, and by now Karns had managed to systematically piss off every one of them with his condescending elitist bullshit.
He would have pontificated longer, but Katherine cut him off. When class ended, she gave us back our term papers. The assignment had been to write a five-thousand-word critique of public art in New York City. It counted as a third of our grade, so I’d spent a lot of time on it. I’d hoped for an A.
But I didn’t get it. There was a yellow sticky on the front page. It said, C+. Matthew, see me after class.
I sat in a depressed funk while everyone else filed out of the room. Katherine Sanborne finally came around her desk and walked toward me.
“C-plus?” I said. “I thought the paper was a little better than that.”
“If you’re willing to put in the time, I can give you a chance to improve your grade,” she said.
“What do I have to do? I’m not afraid of hard work.”
And then Katherine’s mischievous gray eyes lit up, and she clicked the lock on the classroom door.
“Take off your pants,” she said.
I’d been had.
She stepped out of her skirt. Very graceful. Nice to watch. “If those pants don’t come off in five seconds, Mr. Bannon, I’m going to have to give you an incomplete,” she said. “By the way, that paper of yours was damn good, but I’ve come to expect even more from you.”
The classroom had a chaise longue that was used for the figure-painting courses, and within seconds Katherine pulled me to it and began caressing, kissing, exploring. Then I was inside her. This was some kind of teacher-student counseling session.
Finally, Katherine put her lips to my ear, taunting me with kisses and little flicks of her tongue.
“Matthew,” she whispered.
Okay, let me get back to my story about the unexpected treasure trove that I found in locker #925. It was a night I’ll never forget, of course. And for the other people in Grand Central Terminal, it was probably their worst nightmare.
I wasn’t in New York City on September 11, 2001, but I’ve lived here long enough to understand the citywide paranoia. It could happen again.
New York is, was, and always will be Ground Zero. Code orange is as lax as we get here. I’ve seen tanks parked on Wall Street, bomb-sniffing dogs in public buildings, and convoys of cop cars barreling into neighborhoods as part of the NYPD’s daily anti-terrorism drills.
So, when the post–rush hour lull at Grand Central is shattered by gunshots and followed by two loud explosions, only one thing comes to mind.
In an instant, the collective paranoia was justified. Mass panic ensued.
The screams echoed off the walls of the marble cavern. The first thing I saw was that nobody ducked for cover. Everybody ran—with visions of the crumbling towers replaying in their heads, I’m sure.
And then I couldn’t see a thing. Red smoke filled the building.
I’ve spent a lot of time in war zones, but this was not my responsibility. I wasn’t a first responder.
I ran like the rest of them.
And then I saw it in the smoky haze.
A trail of blood.
Instinctively I followed it. And then I saw him.
He was a big bear of a man, slumped against a bank of lockers in a pool of his own blood—from a gaping wound in his neck.
In all the madness, nobody was paying any attention to him. I knelt at his side.
My knee hit something hard. A gun.
“Get doctor. Stop blood.” He gurgled out the words in a thick Russian accent.
But there was no time for a doctor. No time for anything.
Before I could say a word, his eyes rolled back in his head and he exhaled a strained breath. He was dead.
His dark blue suit and the floor around him glistened with blood. It coated the door of the bottom locker closest to him. As I looked up, I saw a wide swath of red where he had leaned against the upper locker and slid to the ground.
Locker #925 was covered in bloody handprints.
And it was open.
I could think of only one reason that a reasonably sane man who was hemorrhaging blood would open a train station locker instead of wildly seeking help. Whatever was inside that locker had to be too valuable to leave behind.
I looked down at the dead Russian. Was it worth it, Comrade?
But then, who was I to judge this poor man for choosing locker #925 over calling 911? If I had half a brain, I’d be running out of Grand Central with all my fellow bomb-scared travelers.
But I wanted to know what was inside that locker. No—I had to know.
I stood up. By now the red smoke was starting to dissipate and I could take in the pandemonium.
People were stampeding toward the exits, fighting and clawing their way out of the station. Some cops were trying to keep them from getting trampled in the doorways.
Other cops were trying to evacuate the people who refused to leave.
A woman with three suitcases was holding her ground in the middle of the station, insisting that she wasn’t going anywhere without her bags.
“Damn it, lady,” a ruddy-faced cop screamed, “you can’t get a redcap during a terrorist attack.”
He grabbed all three bags, and she followed him as he struggled toward an exit.
And then a body came flying through the air and hit the marble floor.
It was a young man, Asian, wearing a busboy’s uniform.
Michael Jordan’s Steak House is a popular restaurant on the balconies overlooking the main concourse. People were pouring out, shoving their way toward the wide marble staircase at the west side of the station. The busboy must have been caught at the far end of the restaurant and opted for the quick way out. It was about a twenty-foot drop. He stood up on his right leg and started hopping toward the exit.
I thought I’d just experienced the most insane day of my life. What I didn’t know then was that after I reached inside that locker, the insanity would only get worse.
I put my hand on the open door and peered in. There was a bag inside. But not just any bag. It was one of those old-timey medical bags that you see in black-and-white movies from back in the days when doctors made house calls.
Maybe the Russian wasn’t so dumb after all. Doctor bags are usually crammed with gauze and tape and about twelve hundred cotton balls.
I opened it carefully and looked inside.
My first thought was Holy shit.
My second thought was This is a bag worth dying for.
I’d seen diamonds before. My mother had one in her engagement ring. My aunt had two in her ears. But my recently shot-up acquaintance, now cooling on the floor of Grand Central, had them all beat. Did you ever enter one of those contests where you have to guess how many jelly beans are in the jar, and there are so many of them, you know you won’t even come close? That’s how many diamonds were in the Russian’s medical bag.
Correction—my medical bag. At least for the time being.
When I was growing up, my mom used to tell my sister and me about a leprechaun with a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. But she never mentioned a Russian Neanderthal with a bag of diamonds at the end of a bloody trail in a train station. Mom also said something about never taking what doesn’t belong to you. But to whom did the diamonds actually belong? The dead guy with the gun? I definitely suspected he had taken them from somebody else. My mom meant well, but at a time like this, I had to seriously consider my dad’s worldview. Finders keepers.
I could almost hear my dad listing my options. What are you going to do, Matthew? Leave the diamonds with the dead body and walk away? Or maybe you want to get on the PA system and say, “If anyone at Grand Central lost a bag of diamonds, please meet me on the main concourse”?
I made a decision, a temporary one, anyway. The diamonds were up for grabs and I was the one who would grab them.
I closed the black bag and snapped the brass latch. My mind started racing. These diamonds could completely change my life.
Little did I know how soon, and how much.
The voice behind me was deep, resonant, and authoritative. “Police. Turn around real slow. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
I turned. The voice belonged to a young, very large African-American cop. And just in case his size didn’t intimidate me, he was pointing his service revolver at my chest.
Hmm, I thought. Looks like my life is changing already.
There was a dead guy at my feet, a fortune in diamonds in my hands, and an NYPD uniform pointing his gun at me. Now what happens?
“Officer Kendall,” I said, reading his name tag. “I’m really glad you showed up. Thank God. Can you give me a hand here?”
“Who are you? Who is he?” the cop asked.
“I’m Dr. Jason Wood,” I said, dredging up a name. “And I have no idea who he is, but I can tell you he’s dead.”
I knelt down beside the body and tried to appear oblivious of the policeman’s gun. “There was nothing I could do. He had expired by the time I got here.”
Kendall was young, a beat cop, and this had to be the most action he’d seen since the Academy. One minute he was probably shooing unlicensed T-shirt vendors off Madison Avenue, and the next he’s involved in a bomb attack in the heart of Manhattan.
“Please do me a favor,” I said, barely looking up at him. “Would you point that gun somewhere else?”
“Sorry, Doc,” he said, holstering the weapon.
I leaned over the dead body like I knew what I was doing. “He must have caught some shrapnel when the bombs went off,” I said, stalling. “You know who’s behind it?”
“I don’t know shit,” the cop said. “I was on Forty-sixth Street. The call went out that bombs had gone off at Grand Central. I just got here.”
“Just a minute. Hold on. I’ve got an incoming.” I grabbed my cell phone from my pocket and pressed it to my ear. Then I improvised. “Hello, this is Dr. Wood,” I said. “I know. I was actually in Grand Central when the bombs went off. I’m still there. I’ll get to the ER as soon as I possibly can.”
I stood up. “Look, Officer,” I said. “There’s nothing I can do for this man. But there are people who need my help. I’ve got to get back down to St. Vincent’s. Are the subways running?”
“Shut down,” he said.
“All right. I’ll walk if I have to.”
Kendall’s radio came to life then. “All units, Grand Central Terminal. I have a ten-thirteen. Repeat—ten-thirteen: Officer needs assistance. Multiple looters at Five Borough Jewelry in the Forty-second Street Passageway. Shots fired.”
That’s when I found out that an officer in trouble trumps a dead civilian. Kendall didn’t hesitate. “I gotta go,” he said. “You wait here for the coroner.”
He raced off toward the Forty-second Street Passageway. As soon as he was out of sight, I headed in the other direction. As fast as I could.
I cut through the frenzied mass of people in Grand Central. It took maybe five or six minutes to get out to Lexington Avenue, where the insanity was even worse.
With the trains shut down, the street was teeming with commuters who wanted to get as far from midtown Manhattan as possible. And who were fighting over the few yellow cabs that had stopped.
Three men in suits had cornered one driver and were attempting to negotiate their way out of Dodge.
“Scarsdale,” one said. “I’ll give you three hundred bucks.”
“Ridgewood, New Jersey,” another guy said, and he actually held out a handful of hundreds. “A thousand dollars.”
I couldn’t believe it. I could fly to Japan for less than that. Jersey won the bidding war. He was about to get in the cab when I grabbed his arm.
“I’m a doctor. I have to get downtown to St. Vincent’s Hospital to deal with the victims,” I said. “If you’re taking the Holland Tunnel, you’ll go right past it.”
He looked down at my medical bag. “Yeah, yeah, Doc,” he said. “Hop in. Let’s get out of here.”
I got in. The driver locked the doors and began to weave his way through the human traffic jam on Lexington Avenue. St. Vincent’s is only a few blocks from my apartment. I was headed home. No charge.
Even if I decide to turn in these diamonds, I thought, I’m definitely keeping this little black bag.
Thirty minutes after Walter Zelvas bled out on the floor of Grand Central, two NYPD detectives pulled up to his apartment building on East 77th Street. Some cops go by the book, some bend the rules. But Detectives John Rice and Nick Benzetti were considerably dirtier than most of the crooks they busted.
They had finished the day shift in Robbery for the Department, and now they were working for Chukov at a much better hourly rate. Their mission was simple. Find the diamonds.
The doorman looked away as they entered the building. He knew exactly where they were headed. For fifty bucks he had supplied them with a key to the apartment of that nasty-ass Russian who had stiffed him at Christmas: Walter Zelvas.
The two cops entered the elevator.
Benzetti stood six feet tall, with slick black hair and an oversize hawk nose protruding from a small, pinched face. Tall, dark, and ugly. In reality, he was wearing six-inch cheater shoes, and his gray hair was slathered with Just For Men hair dye. The ugly came natural.
Rice, six three and bald, didn’t need help from a shoe company or a hair dye. But the two cops had one thing in common. They were both terrified.
They had met Zelvas once. And he didn’t like them. He didn’t care if they were on Chukov’s payroll. They were still cops.
They’d sat across the table from him at Chukov’s apartment, a bottle of vodka, a loaf of black bread, and a large block of cheese between them.
“Screw me over and I’ll kill you,” Zelvas had said. “And not with a bullet.”
He picked up a stainless-steel slicer and dragged it slowly, menacingly across the top of the cheese. A ten-inch sliver peeled away.
“Do you know how long it takes a man to die if you skin him alive?” Zelvas asked, popping the cheese curl into his mouth. “Six days. Four if you add salt.”
Benzetti and Rice stood to the left and right of the door outside apartment 16E, guns drawn. They knew Chukov wanted to ice Zelvas. What they didn’t know was that he was already dead.
“If Zelvas is there, we take him out quick,” Rice said. “I’ll aim for his head. You go for his heart.”
Benzetti knelt down, slid the key into the lock, and turned it. With Rice standing over him aiming high left, and his own gun pointed low right, he opened the door. Clear. The two men slowly padded into the living room.
The overstuffed sofa and two massive armchairs were covered in a shiny fabric with black and gold geometric shapes. Walter Zelvas was big and ugly, Benzetti thought, and he had furniture to match.
They scanned the room. Clear.
And then they heard it. A noise. Metallic. It was coming from the bedroom.
The two cops froze.
Whoever was on the other side of the door was too busy to know they were in the apartment. They moved silently, expertly, through the living room and flattened themselves against the wall outside the bedroom door.
From his lead vantage point Rice could see the wall safe. It had just been opened. But not by Zelvas.
He signaled his partner, and the two of them rushed in. “I’m guessing Walter isn’t at home,” Rice said, pointing his gun at the safecracker.
She looked up. She was drop-dead gorgeous. Midtwenties, dark hair, long legs, wearing ass-hugging jeans and a tight white blouse with the top three buttons undone.
“Shoot her,” Benzetti said.
“Back off,” the woman said in a voice that seemed to hold no fear. “Do you know who I am? Obviously you don’t.”
“Don’t know, don’t care,” Benzetti said. “Shoot her.”
“Maybe we should find out who she is first,” Rice said. “She obviously thinks she’s somebody.”
“I don’t care who she thinks she is,” Benzetti said.
“I see, I see,” she said. “Good cop, bad cop. You’re the two mudaks who work for Chukov, Benzetti and Rice. Zelvas warned me about you.”
“And you’re the woman breaking and entering, then ransacking Walter Zelvas’s safe.”
“I’m not ransacking. I have the combination. Zelvas gave it to me. As well as a key to his front door.”
She was defiant but she was also breathing hard. She was scared.
Benzetti loved watching this one squirm. The nice breasts were an added bonus for him. In a way, it would be a crime against nature to kill her.
“And why would Zelvas give you his front door key plus the combination to his safe?”
“I’m his girlfriend. I’m Natalia.”
Rice looked at Benzetti. “Chukov never said anything about Zelvas having a girlfriend.”
“So you do work for Chukov,” Natalia said. “What does he want here? You can tell me. After all, you plan to kill me.”
“He sent us to pick up some diamonds,” Benzetti said.
“I work for Nathaniel Prince,” Natalia said. “He sent me here for the diamonds, and he’s Chukov’s boss.”
“I thought Chukov was the boss,” Benzetti said.
“Chukov?” Natalia said, spitting out the name. “Do you think that boot-licking dalbaiyob is smart enough to run an operation like the Diamond Syndicate? Chukov works for Nathaniel Prince, and Nathaniel sent me, so put the guns down, gentlemen, and let me finish what I started. You couldn’t open the safe, anyway. I have the combination.”
“But we have the guns,” Benzetti said. He nodded to Rice. “Cuff her.”
Zelvas had a home gym in the bedroom, and Rice handcuffed Natalia’s slender right wrist to a two-hundred-pound barbell.
Benzetti reached into the safe and pulled out a black velvet bag. It had some heft to it—at least a couple of kilos. He wondered how many diamonds they could skim off without getting nailed. He dumped the contents on the bed.
No diamonds. Just cheese. A big fat wheel of cheese the size of a birthday cake.
Natalia let out a string of Russian curses.
“Calm the hell down,” Benzetti said.
Rice grinned. “I don’t speak Russian, but I’m guessing she’s really pissed.”
Benzetti shrugged. “Hey, she was banging the ugliest guy on the Upper East Side, expecting diamonds, and all she got was a hunk of cheese. Hell, I’d be pissed, too.”
The two cops left Natalia chained to the barbell and did a quick search of the apartment. After five minutes, Benzetti called it off. “If they’re not in the safe, they’re not here,” he said. “Which one of us breaks the bad news to Chukov?”
They flipped a coin and Benzetti lost. Jesus, he did not want to make this phone call.
Chukov was a two-hundred-fifty-pound powder keg with a half-inch fuse. Benzetti had once seen him smash a beer bottle and drive it into a man’s jaw for cheating at poker. And that was over a lousy hundred-dollar pot.
“Cheese?” Chukov screamed. “Cheese? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Benzetti could practically feel the enraged Cossack’s spittle through the cell phone. “No diamonds?” Chukov shouted.
“And no Zelvas,” Benzetti said.
“Zelvas is dead,” Chukov said.
“Zelvas is dead?” Benzetti repeated so that Rice could hear the news. “And you know that how? You’re sure of it?”
“He was stealing from us,” Chukov said. “I’m in charge of the Syndicate’s loss-prevention department. Ten minutes ago I got a confirmation call from the field that Zelvas’s thieving days are over.”
Benzetti breathed out in relief. “I’m impressed. Where did you find someone who could get the drop on Walter Zelvas? Never mind. Did your man in the field say anything about the diamonds?” Benzetti asked. “If they’re not here, I figure Zelvas took them with him.”
“If he did, our man didn’t see them,” Chukov said. “He barely had time to finish Zelvas off when a shitstorm of cops arrived. He was lucky to get away.”
“He never saw any diamonds?” Benzetti said.
“That’s what he told me. I really don’t know, but I want those diamonds back!” Chukov yelled.
“And so does somebody named Nathaniel Prince,” Benzetti said.
That seemed to get the Russian’s attention. “What do you know about Nathaniel Prince?”
“Is he your boss?”
“You and Rice work for me,” Chukov said. “That’s all you need to know.”
“Actually, there is one other thing I need to know,” Benzetti said. “Who’s Natalia? She’s around five ten, dark hair, fantastic rack, a very pretty lady.”
“How do you know Natalia?” Chukov asked.
“We’ve got her handcuffed in Zelvas’s bedroom. She was opening his safe just as we got here.”
“Natalia is Prince’s girlfriend.”
“Prince’s girlfriend? She said she was Zelvas’s girlfriend.”
Chukov laughed. “She gets around.”
“What should we do with the lovely Natalia?”
“Two choices,” Chukov said. “You can uncuff her, apologize for not knowing who she is, and tell her you’re going to do all you can to get the diamonds back for Nathaniel Prince.”
“I’m not much for apologies. What’s my second choice?”
Excerpted from Kill Me If You Can by Patterson, James Copyright © 2011 by Patterson, James. Excerpted by permission.
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