Stingrays, страница 1
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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2017 by James Patterson
Cover design by Kapo Ng; photograph by Lisa Koltyrina
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Letter from James Patterson
About the Authors
Imagine she’s your sister.
Smart, shy, six feet tall—and she has absolutely no idea how beautiful she really is. Her fellow students at St. Paul’s Prep gravitate toward her. They like her sweet nature and silly sense of humor. Her closest friends have the twin impulses to protect her and maybe corrupt her a little, because it’s just too much fun. Come on, have a smoke. Let’s shotgun a beer!
Now, your sister’s never had a drink before—not even a secret sip of Mom’s wine at the Thanksgiving dinner table. So she almost always says no, thank you. Or takes the faintest puff or smallest sip, just to appease her friends.
Your sister’s a good kid.
But when her two best friends invite her to a very private beach party on Turks and Caicos during spring break—all expenses covered—she can’t help herself. She feels like a kid who was denied sweets growing up and one day stumbled into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Of course she grew up hearing the usual advice about partying smart, pacing yourself, and keeping your hand over the top of your drink so nobody slips a roofie into it. And she believes in that advice. But she’s also never been invited to a party like this before. Someone has spent a lot of money to lay out an array of culinary delights, yet everybody seems to ignore the food. Instead they drink and dance to throbbing electronic music under strings of lights and palm fronds. Or steal away to a quiet corner for a more intimate conversation.
Your sister’s best friends from school, an adorable pair of twins, press a cocktail the color of a bruised sunset into her hand and encourage her to take just a sip. C’mon, just one! So she does.
And it tastes…amazing. Nothing like the cheap beer they’d sneak on campus. Before she knows it, she’s finished her first and the twins are handing her another. And she downs that, too. Easily, and it’s as refreshing as a glass of orange juice.
And after the second drink the twins manage to drag their normally shy friend onto the dance floor and begin to twirl under skies so beautiful she can hardly believe this is real. Any of it.
Of course, the men notice her because there’s no one else at this party quite like her. In a sea of bodies trying too hard, she is an effortless beauty, full of laughter and light.
First comes the handsome Italian lifeguard, just a few years older than your sister, but much more experienced in the ways of the islands. So he’s not entirely surprised when he’s nudged aside by a trust fund kid with a yacht—and this kid mentions the yacht a lot. Soon your sister and her twin friends are tipsy enough to agree to go see the yacht, a Squadron 60 (whatever that is—your sister doesn’t know), anchored just off the beach.
Once they’re on board, however, the yacht’s captain cozies up to your sister. He’s in his forties, but the captain is charming enough to make your sister fall for him just a little, even though a voice in the back of her mind screams, He’s twice your age! But he pours her shots of clear, sweet rum between dances, and she kind of loves how she feels in his muscular arms.…
Sometime after midnight, the party is broken up by local cops. It’s not so much a raid as a gentle shakedown, in which the trust fund kid is expected to fork over a tiny sliver of said fund. When your sister looks around, she realizes the twins have already left the yacht, pretty much abandoning her.
One of the cops is kind enough to offer her a ride back. He’s very friendly. So friendly, he insists on a good-night kiss before she goes home. She offers him one. He pushes things further. She pushes back. He gently insists with the manner of someone who is used to hearing no, but also used to completely ignoring it.…
Now imagine your sister coming to her senses a little. Those old warnings from Mom and Dad are nagging at her, so she parts ways with the cop and decides to go for a walk to clear her head. Sand beneath her feet, ocean spray on her face, and all that. This was a nice diversion to fantasyland, but now it’s time to return to reality.
But it’s darker on the beach than she realized. And before she can make it back to the party—hands reach out from the darkness and grab her.
She fights back. With everything she’s got. Deep down, at the animal instinct level, she knows: this perso
But the stranger’s hands, they’re too powerful, and she’s had too much to drink. They pull on her wrists and she’s brought down to her knees, then tumbles down onto the sand.
Still, she refuses to give up. Whatever those hands want with her, it can’t be good. She punches, she kicks, she scrambles up to her feet, and she thinks she’s just about to make it when…
She’s tackled, hard—her face smashing into the beach. She inhales to scream and sucks coarse sand down her throat.
Her attacker does not care. The hands, so incredibly powerful, drag her choking body down to the water’s edge. She tries to hold on. Struggles to undo the mistakes she thinks she’s made tonight. If she can only hold on a little longer…
But the tracks from her fingers, as they claw at the beach, will be erased by the tide the next morning.
“Paige Ryerson’s body was never found,” Matthew Quinn says, continuing his tale as he sprays the inside of a Teflon pan with coconut oil.
The five of them, as usual, gather in the oversized kitchen where Quinn is cooking breakfast. His $7,000-a-month Cambridge loft has plenty of other places where they can gather, but they prefer to talk about their cases over a hot meal. In this instance: the Sunday morning omelet station.
The other four take in the details of Quinn’s story as the pan heats up.
“That last bit is your theory, of course,” says Theo Selznick, who is standing at Quinn’s immediate right. The stocky, clean-cut man has known Quinn the longest, and he expects to be served first.
“My theory?” Quinn asks, as he cracks an egg over the side of a silver bowl.
“You know, the part about the hands grabbing her out of the darkness and all that. The last person to see her alive was the cop with the sweet lips, right? As far as we know, Paige Ryerson is still alive and well somewhere in paradise. Oh, and no cheese in mine, please.”
“It’s not an omelet without cheese,” Quinn says.
“You’ve known me since college,” Theo replies. “When have you ever known me to give a damn about the rules?”
Quinn cracks another egg. “Kate? How about you?”
Kate Weber, standing to Quinn’s left, has a stormy look on her thin face. “If she were my sister, I’d be rounding up the lifeguard, the rich kid, the captain, and the cop and work them over hard until I learned the truth. Maybe twice, just to be sure.”
“No,” Quinn says. “On your omelet, I mean.”
“Oh,” Kate says. “Just egg whites, please.”
“That’s also not an omelet, either,” Theo says. “You know, according to the rules.”
Quinn expertly cracks three eggs and separates the yolks from the white by using the two halves of the shell. His movements are fluid, relaxed—almost sleight-of-hand. He admires Kate’s Spartan tastes. She was the same way in the US Army, when they briefly served together. No muss, no fuss. Just get the job done.
“Believe me, Kate,” Quinn says as he works. “There’s nothing I’d like better than to gather those men in a room and squeeze them until they pop. But you know how we work. We never let—”
“—our targets know they’re in our crosshairs,” says Jana Rose, who has positioned herself directly opposite Quinn. “We know, Matthew, honey. Maybe you could have that embroidered on a quilt.”
Quinn smiles at Jana, who has the classic beauty of a stage actor from another era. She’s the only one who dares to tease him like this. Even Theo—whom Quinn has known since they were roommates at Harvard—knows there are limits. But Jana knows Quinn more intimately than anyone else in this room. Or the planet, for that matter.
“And what would you like, Jana?” Quinn asks.
“Now, you know I don’t like eggs,” she says.
“Which is why you’ll find Greek yogurt and a small fruit salad in the fridge at knee-level.”
Jana’s face lights up. “Wonderful.”
From the other side of the kitchen comes a sigh. “I guess it’s up to me, then.”
The fifth member of the team, Otto Hazard, is perched on the kitchen counter, apart from the group. As usual. Otto met Theo in “finishing school”—the US Penitentiary at Leavenworth—making him the only member of the team without a direct connection to Quinn. So he constantly tries to earn his place, with a curious combination of bravado and laid-back disinterest.
“What are you thinking, Otto?” Quinn asks.
“That I’m gonna be the only one who will order a real omelet. Six eggs, plenty of cheese, mushrooms, onions, ham, and the hottest peppers you have. You’ve got habanero sauce somewhere in this place, right?”
“Check the pantry behind you.”
As Quinn cooks and Otto searches, Kate shifts impatiently. “I don’t know what we’re waiting for. Let’s vote and get moving on this one.”
“Hold on a sec,” Theo says. “We need to know a little more. For starters, which agency is interested? The feebs? The CIA?”
“Nope,” Quinn says. “Private party.”
Which is unusual for the group. Their particular set of skills—creating elaborate stings to entrap those who believe they’re above the law—are usually in demand by various government agencies. Not ordinary civilians.
“Huh, that’s weird,” Theo says. “The girl’s parents?”
“I don’t want that to cloud our judgment,” Quinn says. “We always evaluate cases on their intrinsic merits alone.”
“What’s our objective?” Jana asks.
“We’ve been asked to find Paige alive—or catch her killer.”
“And she disappeared…?” Kate asks.
“Two nights ago. Friday evening.”
“So the trail is going cold fast,” Theo says.
The others consider this. Even Otto stops searching for the habanero sauce and turns to face the group. Meanwhile, Quinn finishes the three omelets cooking in three separate pans, then glides them onto waiting plates.
“What do you think, boss?” Kate asks.
Quinn says, “I think that Paige Ryerson is probably dead. I believe that I may know who did it, and I believe I know how the girl died. But right now I have no idea how to prove it.”
“So who did it?”
“No shortcuts,” Quinn said. “You find the evidence and bring it to me…then I’ll tell you. Shall we put it to a vote?”
“I’m in,” says Kate. “We either bring her home safe or give her a proper burial.”
“Sure,” says Theo. “I could stand a little island action.”
“Absolutely,” adds Otto through a mouthful of omelet.
“You wouldn’t have brought this case to us without good reason,” Jana says. “Let’s do it.”
“Actually, I don’t think we should take this one,” Quinn says. “But it’s four to one, so consider us officially engaged.”
The rest of them stare at Quinn, trying hard not to express their surprise. Their boss can be mercurial, but they’ve all learned it’s better to just roll with it. You don’t play chess with Matthew Quinn. You play five games of chess simultaneously, and you just have to accept that you won’t be able to see all of the pieces (or the boards, for that matter).
Instead of ruminating further, they simply eat the breakfast he prepared for them.
“What about your omelet?” Jana asks.
“I ate earlier,” Quinn says, pulling a file folder from the side of the omelet station. “Now here’s the plan.…”
THEO (THE TRADER)
The flight down to Turks and Caicos is smooth as can be expected, and within minutes of clearing the gate I have a drink in my hand. (Which is kind of awesome, actually.) The sun is shining, the freezing snows of Boston are just a memory, and I’m carrying a bag full of bait that will hopefully catch a killer. What better way to spend a Sunday evening?
My target is the lifeguard—one Paolo Salese. The first one to dance with Paige Ryerson.
A private car takes me to one of those sprawling resorts north of Grace Bay Road. This is where Paige Ryerson and her girlfriends stayed, and this is where Paolo works during the day, guarding the Olympic-sized pool. Usually, I’d expect him to be on the prowl at one of the five bars on the property. Most likely, the watering hole with the greatest percentage of underage ladies.
But not tonight.
Tonight there’s some serious global heat on Paolo the Playboy, so he’s probably going to fade into the background like a local. Takes me a few drives (and a few fat tips), but somewhere around 9:00 p.m., I find his location: a glorified shack bar not far from the beach, but far from the path that tourists care to wander. It’s the kind of place where the bar top can be lifted off its moorings and hidden away come daylight. The kind of place where guys like me (in a suit) aren’t usually welcome.
Like I give a damn.
Paolo’s hunkered over a shot of something brown and a cheap island beer. Guessing by the sticky rings on the wood beneath his arms, he’s had more than a few.
“Hey there, Paolo.”
Paolo spins, takes one glance at me, and tags me immediately. I’m wearing a suit and carrying an expensive leather valise, which means I’m one of Them. The Establishment.
“No comment,” he says, waving me away. As if he’d been harassed by Anderson Cooper all day. Then again, maybe he has. Paolo Salese is the prime suspect in the murder of Paige Ryerson, featured in media reports all around the world.
“Look, buddy, I’m not a journalist. It’s even worse—I’m a lawyer! Let me buy you a drink.”
Paolo shakes his head. “Piss off.”
I sit down next to him anyway and give him my best lawyerly pitch. (I actually am a lawyer, so I’m pretty good at this.)
“I’ve got a client who will pay half a million dollars for closure in the disappearance of Paige Ryerson.”
The look on Paolo’s face tells me that he may not know the definition of the word “closure.” So I try again.
“My client wants to know what happened. No strings attached. No blame, no fault…and certainly no cops or courthouses, you understand? Completely off the books.”