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Private

The police can't help you

Former CIA agent Jack Morgan runs Private, a renowned investigation company with branches around the globe. It is where you go when you need maximum force and maximum discretion. The secrets of the most influential men and women on the planet come to Jack daily—and his staff of investigators use the world's most advanced forensic tools to make and break their cases.

The press will destroy you

Jack is already deep into the investigation of a multimillion-dollar NFL gambling scandal and the unsolved slayings of eighteen schoolgirls when he learns of a horrific murder close to home: his best friend's wife, Jack's former lover, has been killed. It nearly pushes him over the edge. Instead, Jack pushes back and devotes all of Private's resources to tracking down her killer.

Only one place to turn: Private

But Jack doesn't have to play by the rules. As he closes in on the killer and chooses between revenge and justice, Jack has to navigate a workplace love affair that threatens to blow the roof off his plans. With a plot that moves at death-defying speeds, Private is James Patterson's sleekest, most exciting thriller ever.

Prologue | "YOU'RE DEAD, JACK"

Two

IT WAS TWO YEARS after I got back from Afghanistan and the war. I hadn’t seen my father in over a year, had no reason or desire to see him again. But when he called, he said he had something important to tell me. He said it was urgent and that it was going to change my life.

My father was a manipulative, lying bastard, but he’d hooked me, so there I was, walking through the forbidding visitors’ gate of California State Prison at Corcoran.

Ten minutes later, I took a seat at the Plexiglas partition as he came into the cubicle on the other side and grinned at me, showing his gappy teeth. He had been handsome once; now he looked like Harrison Ford on meth.

He grabbed the phone, and I did the same on my side of the partition.

“You’re looking good, Jack. Life must be agreeing with you.”

I said, “You’ve lost weight.”

“The food here is for rats, son.”

My father picked up where he had left off the last time I’d seen him. Telling me how there were no gentleman crooks anymore, just punks. “They kill a clerk at a Stop-N-Go. Turn a robbery into a life sentence—for what? A hundred bucks?”

Listening to him made my head hurt and my back and neck stiffen. He ragged on blacks and Hispanics for being stupid, and here he was, serving life for extortion and murder. Same time, same place as the punks. I felt ashamed for all of the years I’d spent looking up to him, turning myself inside out to get an “Atta boy, Jack” instead of the back of his hand.

“Tell you what, Tom,” I said. “I’ll have a chat with the warden. See if I can get you transferred to the Bel-Air or the Beverly Wilshire.”

He laughed. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

I finally smiled. “You never change.”

He shrugged and grinned back at me. “Why should I, Jack?”

I noticed new tats on my father’s knuckles. My name was on his left hand, my brother’s name on the right. He used to knock us around with those fists, what he called “the old one-two.” I drummed my fingers on the ledge.

“Am I boring you?” he asked.

“Hell, no. I parked my car in front of a hydrant.”

My father laughed again, said, “I look at you, I see myself. When I was an idealist.”

Narcissistic SOB. He still thought he was my idol, which couldn’t have been further from the truth.

“Jack, let me ask you a serious question. You like working for that useless, pathetic hack Pinkus PI?”

“Prentiss. I’ve learned a lot from him. I’m happy. It’s a job I’m good at.”

“You’re wasting your time, Jack. And I’ve got a better offer.” He made sure he had my attention, then said, “I want you to take over Private.”

I guess he’d gotten to the part that was supposed to change my life.

“Dad. Remember? All that’s left of Private are a lot of file cabinets in a storage unit.”

“You’re going to get a package tomorrow,” my father continued, as if I hadn’t spoken. “It’s a list of all my clients—and the dirt I had on them. There’s also a document putting your name on my bank account in the Caymans,” he said. “Fifteen million dollars, Jack. All yours. Do with it what you will.”

I raised my eyebrows. Private had once done first-class investigation for movie stars, politicians, multimillionaires, even the White House. My dad had charged the maximum for his services. But fifteen million? How had he earned that much, and did I really want to know?

“What’s the catch, right?” he said. “Simple. Don’t tell your twin about the money. Anything I ever gave him he snorted or gambled. This is your birthright, Jack. I’m trying to do the right thing for once in my life.”

“Did you hear me say that I’m happy at Prentiss?” I said.

“I wish you could see your face, Jack. Listen to me. Stop being the ‘good twin’ for half a frickin’ second and think this through. There’s no such thing as good money and bad money. It’s all the same. Just a medium of exchange. And this is an opportunity, a big one. Fifteen million dollars’ worth of opportunity.

“I want Private to be remembered as the best. You’re a smart, good-looking kid, and on top of that, you’re a frickin’ war hero. Bring Private back to life. Do it for me, and more important, do it for yourself. Don’t talk yourself out of a really good thing. Make Private the best in the world. You have the money, the talent—and the compassion—so do it.”

A guard put a hand on my dad’s shoulder. He hung on to the phone, looked at me with a kind of tenderness I hadn’t seen since I was five or six, and said, “Have the life you deserve, Jack. Do great things.” He touched the glass with his palm, then turned away.

A week after my visit to Corcoran, Tom Morgan took a shank to the liver. Three days later, my father was dead.

Copyright © 2010 by James Patterson

Read by Peter Hermann

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