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Burn

Detective Michael Bennett finally returns to New York City—and to the most unsettling, horrific case of his career.

At last, Detective Michael Bennett and his family are coming home to New York City. Thanks to Bennett, the ruthless crime lord whose vengeful mission forced the Bennett family into hiding has been brought down for good.

Back in the city that never sleeps, Bennett takes over a chaotic Outreach Squad in Harlem, where he receives an unusual call: a man claims to have seen a group of well-dressed men holding a bizarre party in a condemend building. With no clear crime or evidence, Bennett dismisses the report. But when a charred body is found in that very same building, he is forced to take the demented caller seriously—and is drawn into an underground criminal world of terrifying depravity.

Prologue | CALIFORNIA LEAVING

One

THE WORK VAN WAS a new Mercedes, white and high roofed, with the bloodred words turnkey locksmith hand-painted on its side.

At a little before 7 a.m., it was winding through the Hollywood Hills northwest of LA, the steady drone of its diesel engine briefly rising in pitch as it turned onto the long climb of Kirkwood Drive in Laurel Canyon. Two hundred feet below the intersection of Kirkwood and Oak, the van coasted to a crackling stop on the gravel shoulder of the secluded road and shut off its engine. A minute passed, then two. No one got out.

As the bald Hispanic driver flipped down the visor to get the sun out of his eyes, he spotted a mule deer nosing out through the steep hillside’s thick underbrush across the street.

Go for a lung shot, he thought as he imagined getting a bead on it with the new compound hunting bow his girlfriend had gotten him for his birthday. Track the blood trail down between the infinity pools and twenty-person funkadelic hot tubs before lashing it to the van’s front grille. See how that would go down with George Clooney and k. d. lang and the rest of the Laurel Canyon faithful.

He was feigning a bow draw when the elegant deer suddenly noticed him and bolted. The driver sighed, leaned slightly to his right, and depressed the intercom button under the drink holder.

“How’s this? Line of sight OK?” he said.

“Yes. Maintain here until the hand-off, then head for position two,” intercommed back the sharp-featured, copper-haired woman sitting directly behind the driver in the sealed-off back of the high-tech surveillance van.

There was a dull mechanical hum as the woman flicked the joystick for the high-definition video camera concealed in the van’s roof. On the console’s flat screen in front of her, an off-white stucco bungalow a hundred and fifty feet up the canyon slowly came into view.

She panned the camera over the bungalow’s short, steep driveway of bishop’s hat paver stones, the broken terracotta roof tiles above its front door, the live oaks and lemon trees in its side yard. She’d been here several times before and knew the target house as well as her own at this point.

She was halfway through the tea-filled Tervis tumbler from her kit bag when a truck slowed in front of the target house. It was a new Ford Expedition SUV, glossy black with heavily tinted windows. After it reversed up the driveway almost butt-up against the garage, the passenger-side door opened and out stepped a lanky middle-aged white man in a gray business suit. He adjusted his Oakley sport sunglasses for a moment before he reached into the open door and retrieved what appeared to be a military-issue M-16.

Then, up on the porch above him, the bungalow’s front door opened and Detective Michael Bennett came out of the house.

The woman almost spilled the tea in her lap as she quickly panned the camera left and zoomed in on Bennett and the crowd of people coming out behind him. His kids were in cartoon-character pj’s, their tan and striking blond nanny, Mary Catherine, in a bathrobe, drying her hands with a dish towel. One of the Bennett boys —was Trent his name? Yes, Trent —immediately started climbing out over the stair’s cast-iron rail, until Mary Catherine pulled him back by his collar.

The cacophony of the family’s calls and laughter rang in her earphone as she turned up the volume on the van’s shotgun mike.

“Arrivederci,” Bennett said playfully to his rambunctious family as he went down the stairs. “Sayonara, auf Wiedersehen. And, oh, yeah. Later, guys.”

The woman in the van watched silently as Bennett smiled and crossed his eyes and stuck his tongue out at his family. He was pushing forty, but still tall and trim and handsome in his dark-blue suit. Biting at her lower lip, she didn’t stop focusing until his dimples and brown eyes slid out of the bottom of the frame into the SUV.

As the Ford rocketed out into the street, the copper-haired woman had already put down the joystick and was wheeling the captain’s chair around toward the three men in bulky tactical gear sitting and sweating on the steel bench behind her.

If it hadn’t been for the glistening snub-barreled Heckler & Koch machine guns in their laps, the large men could have been professional football players. Wide receivers in the huddle waiting for the quarterback to call the next play.

“To repeat one last time,” she said calmly as the work van’s engine suddenly roared to life and they lurched into the street. “Front door, side door, back door. When the doors pop, you will stay low until you are in position.”

The poised woman quickly lifted her own submachine gun from the foam-lined hard case at her feet. Easily and expertly, she worked the H&K MP7’s action, slamming the first HK 4.6x30mm cartridge into the gun’s chamber with a loud snap.

“This isn’t a drill, gentlemen,” she said, looking up at the Bennett safe house growing rapidly now on the flat screen.

“Welcome to life and death.”

Copyright © 2014 by James Patterson

Read by Danny Mastrogiorgio

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