NOTHING EVER STARTS where we think it does. So of course this doesn't begin with the vicious and cowardly murder of an FBI agent and good friend named Betsey Cavalierre. I only thought that it did. My mistake, and a really big and painful one.
I arrived at Betsey's house in Woodbridge, Virginia, in the middle of the night. I'd never been there before, but I didn't have any trouble finding it. The FBI and EMS were already there. There were flashing red and yellow lights everywhere, seeming to paint the lawn and front porch with bright, dangerous streaks.
I took a deep breath and walked inside. My sense of balance was off. I was reeling. I acknowledged a tall blond FBI agent I knew named Sandy Hammonds. I could see that Sandy had been crying. She was a friend of Betsey's.
On a hallway table I saw Betsey's service revolver. Beside it was a printed reminder for her next shooting qualifier at the FBI range. The irony stung.
I forced myself to walk down a long hallway that led from the living room to the back of the house. The house looked to be close to a hundred years old and was filled with the kind of country clutter that she'd loved. The master bedroom was situated at the end of the hall.
I knew instantly that the murder had happened in there. The FBI techs and the local police were swarming around the open door like angry wasps near a threatened hive. The house was strangely, eerily quiet. This was as bad as it gets, worse than anything else. Ever.
Another one of my partners was dead.
The second one brutally murdered in two years. And Betsey had been much more than just a partner. How could this have happened? What did it mean? I saw Betsey's small body sprawled on the hardwood floor and I went cold. My hand flew to my face, a reflex I had no control over.
The killer had stripped off her nightclothes. I didn't see them anywhere in the bedroom. The lower body was coated with blood. He'd used a knife. He'd punished Betsey with it. I desperately wanted to cover her, but I knew I couldn't.
Betsey's brown eyes were staring up at me, but they saw nothing. I remembered kissing those eyes and that sweet face. I remembered Betsey's laugh, high-pitched and musical. I stood there for a long time, mourning Betsey, missing her terribly. I wanted to turn away, but I didn't. I just couldn't leave her like this.
As I stood there in the bedroom, trying to figure out something coherent about Betsey's murder, the cell phone in my jacket pocket went off. I jumped. I grabbed it, but then I hesitated. I didn't want to answer.
"Alex Cross," I finally spoke into the receiver.
I heard a machine-filtered voice and it cut right through me. I shuddered against my will.
"I know who this is and I even know where you are. At poor, dear, butchered Betsey's. Do you feel a little bit like a puppet on a string, Detective? You should," said the Mastermind. "Because that's what you are. You're my favorite puppet, in fact."
"Why did you kill her?" I asked the monster. "You didn't have to do this."
He laughed a mechanical laugh and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. "You ought to be able to figure that out, no? You're the famous Detective Alex Cross. You have all those big, important cases notched on your belt. You caught Gary Soneji, Casanova. You solved Jack and Jill. Christ, you're impressive."
I spoke in a low voice. "Why don't you come after me right now? How about tonight? As you say, you know where I am."
The Mastermind laughed again, quietly, almost under his breath. "How about I kill your grandmother and your three kids tonight? I know where they are too. You left your partner with them, didn't you? You think he can stop me? John Sampson doesn't have a chance against me."
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