An Indiana detective is out to stop a killer for hire who tortures for pleasure in this crime thriller from an author who “writes as only a cop can” (Nelson DeMille).
In Detective Jack Murphy’s experience, the killers who blend in are the hardest to catch. But none are as elusive—or efficient—as Mr. Smith. A man of average height, weight and build, Mr. Smith is as ordinary as his name. Which makes it easy for him to get close to his targets. And that’s when he reveals how uniquely twisted he truly is.
Mr. Smith kills without conscience—and with apparent pleasure. Using every weapon at his disposal, he’s raising the stakes in a global game of terror and death. Mr. Smith is no ordinary killer. But Jack Murphy is no ordinary cop . . .
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The Highest Stakes
A Jack Murphy Thriller
By RICK REED
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Rick Reed
All rights reserved.
Chicago's financial district
The late July downpour in Chicago's financial district didn't stop the workforce from hurrying about their daily tasks. The sudden storm had blown in from Lake Michigan, and umbrellas blossomed like spring flowers. Women who came to work unprepared held scarves over their heads, the men pulled up coat collars, and like an army of worker ants they streamed along the sidewalks, impervious to the rain, to each other — and to Mr. Smith sitting inside the shiny black Hummer.
Smith was of average height, weight, and build with mousy brown hair that was cut not too long and not too short. He wore a dark suit like so many others. Only the lifeless gray eyes were remarkable. Behind heavily tinted windows, he watched through the intermittent movement of the wiper blades.
The Hummer was parked facing north at LaSalle and Quincy Streets in front of the Potbelly Sandwich Shop. The Willis Tower loomed in the west, the Chicago River two blocks farther on, and behind him at Lake Street the steel and wood El tracks rose above the streets. Directly in front of him was the beating heart of the financial district. The Chicago Board of Trade sat at the southernmost end of LaSalle, and the old Continental Bank building with its grand columns cattycorner. The Federal Reserve of Chicago was directly across from that. Together they formed a financial tricorner hat of sorts.
A block in front of the Hummer, a deli truck was parked on the corner with a man in a white apron and white butcher hat hawking his goods. A block distant from the deli truck on the front sidewalk of the Federal Reserve was the old-fashioned telephone booth he had under surveillance. In the last hour he had seen dozens of people duck into the booth for less than a minute while they put something in a briefcase or a purse or pulled coats over their heads before venturing out again. He felt the rumble of the subway beneath the street, while above, throngs of people crowded and pushed along the wide sidewalks. The average person made it through each day by pure luck and not by any skill or alertness. Those hapless souls had no inkling of what was to come.
He was told his real target would be in that particular phone booth at precisely noon. At twelve on the dot, a middle-aged man dressed in a smart suit came out of the Federal Reserve building, pulled the collar of his jacket up, and held a newspaper over his head as he walked directly for the telephone booth. He pushed at the bifold doors, rolled the newspaper up and put it under his arm, and then entered the glass and aluminum rectangle.
Smith started the Humvee and put it in drive. He punched a number into a prepaid cell phone and hit the send button. The shock wave from the blast rocked the Humvee. He watched as bodies were thrown about like rag dolls, some landing on the sidewalk, some hurled into the street and run over by panicked drivers. Pieces of those closest to the blast stuck to the hood and windshield of his car almost two blocks distant from the explosion. When the smoke cleared, he could see the a crater in the concrete where the phone booth had stood.
Those lucky enough to live ran in every direction. Others crawled or rolled around, their clothing aflame, their flesh melted by the heat. Some would die later, internal organs damaged from the blast.
A woman staggered out of the smoke and stumbled against his window. The left half of her face was gone. She clawed at the door and collapsed, leaving a smear down the window.
He allowed himself a smile before the next explosion came from below the street in the subway. Iron grates and manhole covers blew into the air all down the block and flipped end over end like coins before thudding to the ground. Another timed explosion came from behind him, herding the crowd south along LaSalle toward the El tracks, where a special surprise waited them. Like any fireworks display there was always a finale.
It was beautiful.
Three blocks north of the National Cathedral in the nation's capital, Smith waited for Pamela to come home. He'd driven straight through, his route taking him south from Chicago and east through Indianapolis and then Columbus, Ohio, and on into Washington. It was dark when he'd arrived. He left the lights off, poured some Scotch, and wandered through the condo. He could smell her scent in every room.
He'd met Pamela in D.C. a year ago while he was in between assignments. She tended bar at a downtown nightclub named Madam's Organ. They talked, and she told him she was a political science major at George Washington University with dreams of working in the government, maybe for a congressman. He'd introduced himself as Alex Stanhope, a day trader. The Stanhope cover was clean, with a Virginia driver's license, a condo, credit cards, and even some debt, and his employers were unaware it existed. Like many of his peers, he had squirreled away several sets of clean IDs, with passports and cash. In between jobs he needed to disappear. Needed privacy. Needed anonymity. He had found what he needed in D.C., hiding in plain sight, so to speak.
His mentor had a saying, "Never shit in your own milk." So when he awoke beside Pamela the next morning he was surprised. Not by the fact he'd slept with a beautiful woman, but that he had invited her back to his condo and let her stay the night. Instinct told him to kill her. But he hadn't.
He found he enjoyed her company, so he had violated another of his rules and let her live with him as part of his cover. She went to school days, worked the club at night, and he stayed with her as often as possible. She never questioned his prolonged absences, or his need for angry sex immediately upon his return. His cover job explained his frequent absences and narcissistic lifestyle. Lying about who he was and what he did was like taking a breath, involuntary yet necessary.
In Columbus, Ohio, he was Daniel Whitcomb, who ran a successful consulting business. In Seattle, he was Professor Douglas Levin, on sabbatical from Shoreline College, where he taught criminal justice. There were many others, and in each location someone to complete his cover. But his employers, down to the smallest detail, had manufactured these identities. Had assigned the women who acted as his girlfriend, sister, wife, et cetera. Only in D.C. was he Alex Stanhope.
He was taking a risk with Pamela, but keeping his employers in the dark was extremely satisfying. The killings in Chicago were also satisfying. He had been held in check far too long. Like a bull in a pen, he longed to be released, to run rampant, to charge everything and create fear.
And then 9/11 came along. If he believed in God he would have thanked Him because the rules had relaxed in the aftermath, and the bean counters' coffers were filling. Then someone had the bright idea of creating even more federal agencies in the name of combating terrorism, and to coordinate investigations among the already burgeoning system. As a result the funding had slowed to a trickle, information was even more jealously guarded, and no one had benefited.
Finally the Agency had turned him loose. The "terrorist attack" on Chicago would ensure their coffers were filled to overflowing. He was like Hercules unchained, doing what he was born to do. But he was no fool. He'd been at this too long to believe they would let him continue for long before chaining him again. He was lifting the heavy loads while the pussies in the Agency were wringing their hands and crying like old women. Or more likely, planning damage control, eliminating any thread of connection between themselves and the Chicago incident, and he was one of those threads. Time to move again.
The condo was dark. He looked at the luminous face of his watch, then silenced the ticking of the wall clock. Sitting on the sofa, he closed his eyes, and let his senses take over. Pamela would be walking in the door at exactly one a.m. He would have to kill her and leave Alex Stanhope behind. Such a waste.
He heard the hum of the elevator and the soft clattering as its doors opened. Too early. Soft footfalls came down the hall. Two sets. Not the high heels Pamela wore. The steps paused. The light coming from beneath the door went out as a key slipped in the door's lock.
He knelt beside the sofa and retrieved the handgun from underneath, thumbed the safety to the "fire" position, then hurried into the bathroom. He stood in the dark with his back against the wall and used the medicine cabinet mirror to watch the front door.
The snick of the lock turning was barely audible. Soft-soled shoes, more than one set, moved into the condo. In the mirror he saw two black shapes. One tall, one short, a faint green glow floating around their faces. Night vision.
Night-vision technology is designed to magnify ambient light, so when Smith flipped the light switches on, the intruders were as blinded as if staring into the sun. Gloved hands scrabbled for goggles, but before they could pull them off, Smith shot the closest one in the throat just under the chin and the other in the mouth. Both targets were down, unmoving.
He stood between them and examined the bodies. Both wore dark clothing, balaclavas over their heads with night-vision goggles covering their eyes and 9mm Glocks fitted with silencers in their hands. Their equipment and weapons were all the explanation he needed for why they had come. Cleaners.
They were from the Agency, or maybe hired guns. In either case, their purpose was to eliminate him and erase any evidence he had ever existed. Good equipment, sloppy execution. He was insulted the Agency hadn't sent a better team, and a little angry they thought he would be that easy to dispose of.
The short one seemed familiar. He knelt beside the slender athletic body and removed the goggles and lifted the balaclava. He felt emotions he hadn't felt since he was a child. Embarrassment. Shock. Disbelief.
It was Pamela. His Pamela.
He looked out the window for signs of a backup team. Traffic was light. No parked cars. No one on the street. But he knew at least two more were waiting. Any minute they would know the first team had failed and they would come for him. This time they would come better armed, and they would come hard.
He went to the massive wooden entertainment center, lifted the plasma television out, and tossed it to the side. In the back of the cabinet was a wall safe. He worked the combination and opened an inch-thick steel door, revealing another silenced pistol, several passports, other identification and credit cards, and stacks of twenty- and hundred-dollar bills.
He stacked everything in a briefcase and stuffed his wallet with the Alex Stanhope identification in the dead man's back pocket. If Pamela worked for the same people he did, she had already reported his Stanhope cover. She may have also found this hidey-hole and reported all his aliases to the Agency. It was what he would have done.
She also would have recorded the serial numbers on the money, but he would have to chance it for now. The last item he removed from the safe was a small canister resembling a can of shaving cream. It was an incendiary device that could be detonated remotely. The condo would burn and eliminate most of the evidence. With any luck they would find Alex Stanhope's wallet beneath the burned body of the male agent. It would only confuse things for an hour, maybe less, but he needed the diversion.
On his way out of the condo he stopped and stood over Pamela. He looked down into her face. He knew now why he had liked her better than the other women he'd been with. She was like him.
He went to the open door and turned the condo's lights off. He peeked into the dark hallway. Nothing moved. He thought about using the night-vision goggles, but it hadn't worked out well for the two inside. He stepped into the hallway. Left, it was twenty feet to the stairs. Right, it was fifteen to the elevator. No professional would be waiting in the elevator. He turned toward the stairs.
He reached for the handle of the stairway door and saw it turning. He yanked the door open and shot the startled man in the throat. As that one lay gagging on his own blood, another man looked up the stairwell and was dispatched with a double tap to the face. He shot them both once more in the head and descended the stairs.
He pushed the button on the remote and heard a muffled explosion above. He stepped out the service door and into the alleyway. Once outside he scanned for other watchers. The street was empty except for an intoxicated couple getting into a D.C. cab. He walked to the cab's open door and shot the couple multiple times and then shot the cabbie.
He pushed the woman's leg inside and shut the passenger door. He then put the driver's body inside the trunk and drove away. Just another late night in D.C.CHAPTER 2
Three weeks later, Evansville, Indiana
August was a bad month for Detective Jack Murphy, starting with some ex-military guys turned hit men and ending in a shoot-out where Jack thought he would be killed. Several people were killed, some good, some bad. In fact, the county prosecutor had died. Then the chief deputy prosecutor, second in command, had "flown the coop," without a word to anyone, not even to Jack's ex-wife, Katie, to whom he was engaged. Good riddance to the prick.
September was shaping up to be more of the same. The new prosecutor and new chief deputy prosecutor were pricks just like the old ones. But the worst thing of all was that he and Katie had almost gotten back together through all of this, but he'd blown it. It was a long story.
Katie wasn't taking his calls, hadn't taken his calls for several weeks, and even her sister, Moira, who had orchestrated them getting back together, was mad at him. "Sexist pig" was his new name, and that was the kind version.
Just when he thought it couldn't get any worse he'd gotten a call from the prosecutor's office asking that he come to a meeting to discuss an arrest he had made last night. Jack was expecting some repercussions for breaking the sick bastard's jaw, but it felt like the right thing to do at the time, and he'd do it again given the same circumstances.
It was early enough that Jack hadn't any trouble finding a parking place in one of the city council spots behind the Civic Center. He even walked through the unmanned security station that led to the judge's chambers and the prosecutor's office. He wondered why it wasn't manned by security as soon as the Civic Center was opened for the day. But he didn't make those decisions. Civilians with political aspirations and the right connections made them.
Jack entered the prosecutor's offices unchallenged. The second set of doors that were normally locked was cracked open. He walked down the hall to where he remembered the conference rooms were located.
Moira Connelly's office was just ahead on the left. He could tell she was in because he could hear music coming through the thin wall. Maybe she could tell him what this was about. He knocked on her door. The music stopped and a voice said, "Come in."
He pushed the door open and found Moira doing Pilates in front of her desk. She was wearing a blue two-piece power suit with a red silk blouse. She straightened up and tucked the blouse in where it had come loose.
"Just getting warmed up before the meeting," she said, a little out of breath.
"I always wondered what attorneys did before court," Jack said with a grin.
Moira was Katie's younger sister, and where Katie was short, like their mother, Moira was tall, like their father. Both women were beautiful, but a striking feature they shared was their bright red hair — thick, wavy, and long. Moira pushed her hair back into place and picked up a file from the top of her desk. She was settling in nicely to her job as deputy prosecutor.
She squeezed past him and out of the door. "Let's get this party started," she said and led the way down the hall.
Outside the conference room, she hesitated, her hand on the doorknob. Jack could hear men's laughter coming from inside the room. She looked at Jack and said, "The new prosecutor went to law school with the defense attorney, Joe Miller. He might call him Boom Boom. That's Miller's nickname. Try to keep your temper."
Miller wasn't exactly a big gun as far as defense attorneys go. But he was ruthless and not above cheating, stealing, and lying to get his client off the hook. "What am I going to get mad about?" Jack asked, but Moira was already pushing the door open.
The new prosecutor's name was Mike Higgins. He preferred being called Mr. Prosecutor. He was appointed to his position a few months ago after the last guy ate his gun. Higgins was a little guy with a giant ego, but so far Jack had no reason to dislike the man. All that was about to change.
Excerpted from The Highest Stakes by RICK REED. Copyright © 2016 Rick Reed. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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