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
AT A QUARTER to four the following Sunday morning, Mathilde “Mattie” Engel wove through the crowd jammed into Tresor, a legendary underground nightclub set inside an old power plant in the hip Kreuzberg district of Berlin.
In her thirties, strong and attractive, Mattie reached a series of industrial passageways that linked the club’s two huge dance floors. She yawned and ran her fingers through her short, spiked blond hair as electronic music throbbed and echoed all around her.
Mattie’s roving sapphire eyes took in the graffiti-lined walls, the smoky air, and all the hard-core partiers trying to make their Saturday night last until midmorning at least.
A stocky Eurasian man appeared in the hallway ahead of Mattie. He had a tattoo of a spiderweb beneath his left eye.
“The countess still here, Axel?” Mattie asked, loud enough to be heard.
The man with the spiderweb tattoo jerked his head back in the direction he’d come from. “She’s with the Argentine. They’re on something stronger than booze, weed, or blow. I’m guessing ecstasy.”
“Just as long as it’s not crystal,” Mattie replied. “I hate tweakers.”
“You’re on your own in any case,” Axel warned. “I can’t have your back on a gig like this.”
“Think it will ruin your image as a creature of the night?” Mattie said.
“Private will send you a finder’s fee.”
Axel grinned. “Even better. Thanks, Mattie.”
She nodded. “Do I have a clean way out of there?”
“Fire exits at both ends of the floor.”
Axel thought about that. “I’ll make a call. The bar. You’ll have to dance.”
Mattie slapped Axel’s big palm and moved by him toward the entrance to the dance floor. She got out her cell phone as she walked, flipped it open, and called up a school picture of a brunette teenager.
The Countess Sophia von Mühlen of Austria was seventeen. A week ago she ran off with her father’s polo instructor, a thirty-three-year-old Argentine scoundrel and fortune hunter named Raul Montenegro.
In exactly four days, the countess would turn eighteen and of age to wed.
Which is what the countess’s family was desperately trying to avoid, and why Private Berlin had been hired to track her down and return her to Vienna.
Sophia’s mother had died three years before of a drug overdose. Her grandmother, the formidable Sarah von Mühlen, did not want the family name or fortune tarnished by further scandal, especially when Sophia’s father, Peter, a prominent politician in the Tyrol, was preparing to run for higher office.
“Spare no expense,” the grandmother had told Mattie. “Find her.”
Mattie had done just that, tracking the young countess via credit card charges and GPS data from her cell phone to the nightclub. Luckily she’d known Axel, the head of security at Tresor, since her days as a Kripo investigator with the Berlin Kriminalpolizei.
Mattie put away her cell phone and moved onto a dance floor packed with writhing, sweating bodies dancing to a convulsive mix laid down by a DJ named The Mover.
She angled toward the bar, nodding to the bartender, who was snapping shut his cell phone. She climbed up at the waitress’s station and began to dance her way down the bar in time with The Mover’s beat and riffs.
The crowd noticed and began to hoot and cry for her. Mat-tie smiled, playing the drunken chick. But her eyes moved everywhere until she spotted Sophia von Mühlen and her Latin lover on the other side of the room.
The countess’s arms hung around Montenegro’s neck. She was kissing his chest. His hands were roaming all over her.
Mattie looked beyond them for the fire escape doors.
But then the countess suddenly pushed away from the polo instructor, and wove unsteadily toward the hallway, a lucky break for Mattie, who jumped off the bar and caught up to her in the tunnel where she’d left Axel.
“Sophia?” she said and flashed her badge. “My name is Mattie Engel. I’m with Private Berlin. I’m here to take you home.”
Sophia laughed scornfully. “I’m eighteen. I can do what I want.”
“You’re not eighteen for another four days,” Mattie shot back in a no-nonsense voice. “Let’s go. And try not to make a scene.”
Sophia smiled. “I’m good at making scenes. Big ones. The kind that attract reporters.”
“Not on my watch,” Mattie said, grabbing the countess by the back of her elbow, and applying force to pressure points there.
“Owww,” Sophia whined, “you’re hurting me.”
“You’ll hurt more if you don’t move,” Mattie replied and began hustling the countess down the hallway, heading toward the main entrance to the club.
“Sophia! Hey! What do you do there?”
Mattie glanced over her shoulder to see the polo instructor, whacked on drugs and booze, angry, and storming after them.
Mattie held on to Sophia and flashed her badge at Montenegro. “Don’t make this more difficult than it has to be, Raul. She’s going home.”
Montenegro glowered. “She consents to be with me. She’s eighteen.”
“She might have consented to sex. But she’s not eighteen.”
The polo instructor’s shoulders dropped as if in submission. But then he rushed right at her.
Mattie let go of the countess and raised her hands to defend herself.
Montenegro tried to bat her hands away.
Mattie snatched his right hand and twisted it sharply toward the floor.
Montenegro grunted in pain and went to his knees, shouting, “Run, Sophia! Run!”
Copyright © 2013 by James Patterson
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.