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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 3

I FELT THE floor shifting under me, but I knew Andy was counting on me to think straight for both of us. Having a clear head in an emergency, that was supposed to be my calling card. I was Jack Morgan, right?

I told Andy to stay put, made my way back out to the car, and returned with an MD 80, the best camera ever made for shooting crime scenes. It had night vision, GPS, and spoke in a dozen languages—should I ever need to be told I’d left my lens cap on in Farsi or Mandarin.

I snapped off a dozen shots from the bedroom doorway, captured every detail I could think to cover.

While I took the photos, I tried to imagine what could have gone on here during the actual murder.

Apart from the blood on the bed and on Shelby, there was no other obvious trace around: no spray or prints on the walls, or drag marks or drips on the floor. She had almost definitely been killed in her bed. I pictured Shelby cowering against the headboard as the intruder busted up the room. He’d forced her to lie still, hadn’t he? Then he shot her twice—in the chest and forehead. She had bled profusely from the terrible wounds, and then she had died.

Whatever the intruder’s twisted motive, it clearly couldn’t have been robbery. Shelby was still wearing her engagement ring, and an even bigger diamond was hanging from a chain around her neck. Her Hermès handbag was on the dresser, clipped shut.

So if this wasn’t a burglary, what was it?

A thought occurred to me, the same one a homicide detective would have. Had Andy killed his wife? Was that why he had called me here? Because I was probably the best person in LA to handle this, to make it go away.

I talked calmly to my friend, telling him how sorry I was and how shocked. Then I asked him to leave Shelby where she was and come with me.

“We have to talk this through, Andy. We need to do it right now.”

He came to the doorway, moaned, and sagged against me.

I held Andy up as I guided him to a chair in the living room. I took a seat on the sofa, separating myself from Andy on purpose. The next ten minutes or so were going to be bad—for both of us.

I asked the easy questions first. “Did you call nine one one?”

“I—I didn’t want the cops here until I called you. No, I didn’t call the police.”

“Andy, do you own a gun? Do you have a gun in the house?”

He shook his head. “No. And I never have. Guns scare the crap out of me. You know that.”

“Okay. Good. Did you notice—was anything taken?”

“The safe is in my study. I came in through the garage. I’d been at the office, and I put my briefcase in the study before I went into the bedroom…. Everything looked okay. I don’t know, Jack. I wasn’t thinking about a robbery. I can’t concentrate right now….”

I peppered Andy with more questions, and he answered them while looking at me as though I were a lifeboat and he a man overboard in a turbulent sea. He said he’d last seen Shelby that morning when he left for work, that he’d spoken to her from the car an hour ago. She’d sounded great.

“This is a tough question,” I said. “Was she seeing anyone? Or were you?”

Andy looked at me as if I’d lost my mind and said, “Me, Jack? No. Her? She loved me. There was no reason to do that. We were both in love, totally in love. I never thought I could feel the way I felt about Shelby. We were trying to have a baby.”

I took a controlled breath, then I pushed on. “Has anyone threatened your life, or Shelby’s?”

“C’mon, I’m basically a glorified bean counter, Jack. And who’d want to kill Shelby? She’s a sweetie. Everyone loved her….”

Apparently not.

I had to ask him. “You have to tell me the truth, Andy. Did you have anything to do with this?”

In about five seconds, Andy’s expression went from grief to shock to fury.

“You’re asking me that? You know how much I loved her. I’m telling you now and I never want to have to say it again. I didn’t kill her, Jack. And I don’t know who did. I can’t imagine this happening. I can’t, Jack.”

Night was falling. I reached up and turned on a light. Andy was looking at me as though I’d punched him in the face.

Christ, I was his best friend.

“I believe you,” I said. “The cops are going to grill you, though. Do you understand? The husband is always suspect number one.”

He nodded his head and started crying again.

I got up and went into the foyer. I called Chief of Police Michael Fescoe at his home. Fescoe and I had become friends in the past couple of years. He was depressed due to his crap job, but he was a good man, and I trusted him.

I gave Fescoe the rundown, told him that Andy and I had been childhood friends and frat brothers at Brown and that I could vouch for his character a hundred percent.

I stayed with Andy as the cops and the CSU arrived. I heard him tell a detective that Shelby didn’t have an enemy in the world.

And yet, whoever killed her had made a point.

This was not only an execution.

It was personal.

Copyright © 2010 by James Patterson

Read by Peter Hermann

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