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Private Berlin

Private, the world's most respected investigation firm, has branches around the world, each staffed with the smartest, fastest, and most advanced agents, who have cutting-edge forensic tools that not even the most powerful governments possess.

At Private Berlin, agent Chris Schneider has disappeared. Chris had taken a secretive personal leave and hadn't spoken to anyone from the office in days. The Private team retraces his footsteps to the cases he was investigating before his disappearance: a billionaire suspected of cheating on his wife, a world-famous soccer player accused of throwing games, and the owner of a seedy nightclub. They were the last people to see Chris—and they're all suspects. And someone is lying.

The Private team is led to an abandoned Nazi slaughterhouse where all hope vanishes. As Private digs further into Chris's past, a terrifying history is revealed, and they begin to suspect that someone very dangerous and very depraved is responsible for Chris's disappearance. And he's not finished in Berlin. PRIVATE BERLIN has more twists, action, and deception than any other James Patterson thriller ever.

Prologue | THE INVISIBLE MAN

One

AT TEN O’CLOCK on a moonless September evening, Chris Schneider slipped toward a long-abandoned building on the eastern outskirts of Berlin, his mind whirling with dark images and old vows.

Late thirties, and dressed in dark clothes, Schneider drew out a .40 Glock pistol and eased forward, alert to the dry rustle of the thorn bushes and goldenrod and the vines that engulfed the place.

He hesitated, staring at the silhouette of the building, recalling some of the horror that he’d felt coming here for the first time, and realizing that he’d been waiting almost three decades for this moment.

Indeed, for ten years he’d trained his mind and body.

For ten years after that he’d actively sought revenge, but to no avail.

In the past decade, Schneider had come to believe it might never happen, that his past had not only disappeared, it had died, and with it the chance to exact true payback for himself and the others.

But here was his chance to be the avenging angel they’d all believed in.

Schneider heard voices in his mind, all shrieking at him to go forward and put a just ending to their story.

At their calling, Schneider felt himself harden inside. They deserved a just ending. He intended to give it to them.

By now he’d reached the steps of the building. The chain hung from the barn doors, which stood ajar. He stared at the darkness, feeling his gut hollow and his knees weaken.

You’ve waited a lifetime, Schneider told himself. Finish it. Now.

For all of us.

Schneider toed open the door. He stepped inside, smelling traces of stale urine, burnt copper, and something dead.

His mind flashed with the image of a door swinging shut and locking, and for a moment that alone threatened to cripple him completely.

But then Schneider felt righteous vengeance ignite inside him. He pressed the safety lever on the trigger, readying it to fire. He flicked on the flashlight taped to the gun, giving him a soft red beam with which to dissect the place.

Boot prints marred the dust.

Schneider’s heart pounded as he followed them. Cement rooms, more like stalls really, stood to either side of the passage. Even though the footprints went straight ahead, he searched the rooms one by one. In the last, he stopped and stared, seeing a horror film playing behind his eyes.

He tore his attention away, but noticed his gun hand was trembling.

The hallway met a second set of barn doors. The lock hung loose in the hasp. The doors were parted a foot, leading into a cavernous space.

He heard fluttering, stepped inside, and aimed his light and pistol into the rafters, seeing pigeons blinking in their roost.

The smell of death was worse here. Schneider swung his light all around, looking for the source. Large rusted bolts jutted from the floor. Girders and trusses overhead supported a track that ran the length of the space.

Corroded hooks hung on chains from the track.

The footprints cut diagonally left, away from the doorway. He followed, aware of those bolts in the floor and not wanting to trip.

Schneider meant to look into the girders again, but was distracted by something scampering ahead of him. He crouched, aiming the gun and light at the noise.

A line of rats scurried toward a gaping hole in the floor on the far side of the room. The boot prints went straight to the hole and disappeared. He heard rats squealing and hissing as he got closer.

To the left of the hole stood a metal tube of a slightly smaller diameter than the hole. Atop it lay a sewer grate. To the right of the hole was a small gas blower, the kind used to get clippings off walkways.

Schneider stepped to the hole and shined the light into a shaft of corrugated steel. Ten feet down, the shaft ended in space. Four feet below that lay a gravel floor.

A female corpse was sprawled on the gravel. Rats were swarming her.

Schneider knew her nonetheless.

He’d been searching for her all over Berlin and Germany, hoping against hope that she was alive.

But he was far, far too late.

The desire for vengeance that had been a low flame inside Schneider fueled and exploded through him now. He wanted to shoot at anything that moved. He wanted to scream into the hole and call out her killer to receive his just due.

But then Schneider’s colder, rational side took over.

This was bigger than him now, bigger than all of us. It wasn’t about revenge anymore. It was about bringing someone heinous into the harsh light, exposing him for what he was and what he had been.

Go outside, he thought. Call the Kripo. Get them involved. Now.

Schneider turned and, sweeping the room behind him with the light, started back toward the hallway. He had taken six or seven steps when he heard what sounded like a very large bird fluttering.

He tried to react, tried to get his gun moving up toward the sound.

But the dark figure was already dropping from his hiding spot in the deep shadows above the rusted overhead track.

Boots struck Schneider’s collarbones. He collapsed backward and landed on one of those bolts sticking up from the floor.

The bolt impaled him, broke his spine, and paralyzed him.

The Glock clattered away.

There was so much fiery pain Schneider could not speak, let alone scream. The silhouette of a man appeared above him. The man aimed his flashlight at his own upper body, revealing a black mask that covered his nose, cheeks, and forehead.

The masked man began to speak, and Schneider knew him instantly, as if three decades had passed in a day.

“You thought you were prepared for this, Chris, hmmm?” the masked man asked, amused. He made a clicking noise in his throat. “You were never prepared for this, no matter what you may have told yourself all those years ago.”

A knife appeared in the masked man’s other hand. He squatted by Schneider, and touched the blade to his throat.

“My friends will come quicker if I bleed you,” he said. “A few hours in their care, and your mask will be gone, Chris. No one would ever recognize you then, not even your own dear, sweet mother, hmmm?”

Copyright © 2013 by James Patterson

Read by Ari Fliakos & January LaVoy

Ari Fliakos has performed with the award-winning theater ensemble The Wooster Group since 1996. His film credits include Company K and Pills. Ari has appeared on Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Third Watch, The Unusuals, and Unforgettable.

January LaVoy is a New York-based voice, stage, and television actress. She has performed on and Off-Broadway, and appeared extensively in regional theaters across the country. She is best known for her role as Noelle Ortiz on the long-running ABC daytime drama One Life to Live.

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