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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.

Part One | FIVE YEARS LATER, AND ALL GOING ACCORDING TO PLAN

Chapter 2

DEAD? HOW COULD Shelby be dead? There had to be some mistake. But how could there be?

I was the one who had introduced Shelby to Andy. I was best man at their wedding less than six months ago. I’d had dinner with them last week at Musso and Frank. Andy told me they were going to name their first kid Jack. Not John or Jackson, just Jack.

Had Shelby suffered a heart attack—at her age? Had there been a car accident? Andy hadn’t said, but he was devastated. And what hurt Andy hurt me.

I stuffed a wad of bills into the valet’s hand, escorted a visibly upset Guin to the ballroom with apologies, and handed her over to Matt Damon. When I got back out to the street, my car was waiting.

I was in shock as I sped toward the Cushmans’ home in my over-the-top sports car. The car was a gift from a client whose terrible secret I kept. When it wasn’t in the shop for repairs, it was a cop magnet.

I slowed as I entered the Bluffs section of Pacific Palisades, the heavily patrolled village of small shops and homes within walking distance of the ocean. Ten minutes later, I braked in Andy’s circular driveway.

Dusk was coming on. There were no lights on in the house, and the front door was wide open, the frame splintered.

Was an intruder in the house? I doubted it, but I took my gun out of the glove box before I went in through the open door.

Three years in the pilot’s seat of a CH-46 during wartime had sharpened my visual acuity. I was adept at doing vigilant instrument scans, and then, in the next second, checking the ground for movement, dust, smoke, reflections, human outlines, or flashes of light.

As an investigator, I had another practical application for my somewhat unusual ability to pick out anomalies. I could look at a scene and almost instantly see what was out of place: a random speck of blood, a ding on a painted wall, a hair on a shag carpet.

As I entered the Cushmans’ house, I scanned the living room for any signs of disturbance. The cushions were neat. Rugs were straight. Books and paintings were all in place.

I called Andy’s name and he answered, “Jack? Jack. I’m in the bedroom. Please come.”

I kept my gun, a custom Kimber .45, drawn as I went through the airy rooms to the master bedroom in its own wing in back.

I felt for the switches by the doorway and threw on the lights. Andy was sitting on the side of the bed, hunched over, holding his head in bloodstained hands.

Jesus Christ! What had happened here?

Unlike the living room, the bedroom looked as though it had been tossed by a tornado. Lamps and picture frames were smashed. The television had been ripped from the wall, but the cord was still plugged in.

Shelby’s clothes, shoes, and underwear had been flung haphazardly around the room. Oh, Jesus. Jesus Christ!

Shelby was lying naked and very dead, face-up, in the center of the bed.

I tried to take it all in, but it was impossible to comprehend. Shelby had been shot through the forehead. From where her blood had pooled on the pale satin sheets, it looked like she’d taken a second shot in the chest.

Shock made my knees weak. I fought my impulse to go to Andy, to go to Shelby. I couldn’t, mustn’t do that. Stepping foot into that room would contaminate the crime scene.

So I called out to my friend, “Andy. What happened here?”

Andy looked up at me, his round face pasty white, his eyes bloodshot, his wire glasses askew. His face and hands were bloody. His voice was tremulous when he said, “Someone killed Shelby. Shot her just like that. You’ve got to find out who did this, Jack. You’ve got to find the bastard who killed Shelby.”

With that, my best friend broke down and cried like a little boy. The tough thing—I’d seen Andy cry as a little boy too.

Copyright © 2010 by James Patterson

Read by Peter Hermann

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