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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.

Book One | THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE

Chapter 3

MY MOTHER WAS the first to show me the power of masks.

She was a makeup artist with the German State Opera and Ballet. She was also a traitor to her country, to her husband, and to me.

But those are stories for another time.

The masks.

As a child I lived with my mother and father in a prefabricated apartment building that the state erected in the far eastern reaches of Berlin, out where the city met farms where livestock was raised for milk and slaughter.

I note this, my friends, only because in addition to being a raging alcoholic, my father was a professional butcher.

The day I learned about the power of masks, my father was at work, and the opera house was dark for the season. I must have been about seven and had been sick with chicken pox.

Trying to cheer me up, my mother climbed into the attic and brought down a large trunk. She opened it, and I swore I could smell old people in there—you know, the scent of slow, inevitable decay?

She pulled out a Papierkrattler mask, which featured smirking, cartoon features: ruby lips, a gargantuan nose, wild eyes, and a raccoon tail for hair. She said it was last used fifty years before during a parade in Ravensburg, down near the Swiss border.

My mother said that the mask had once belonged to her mother, who had died in the bombing that reduced Berlin and my father to smoking rubble and desperation in the last year of Hitler’s war. The mask had somehow survived.

“This mask is a miracle,” my mother told me. “A miracle.”

She set it aside and brought out another mask, this one black, narrower, and fitted across the bridge of the nose like a criminal’s disguise.

“It’s from Don Giovanni, the opera,” she said as she slipped it on me.

“Who’s Don Giovanni?” I asked.

“A bad man who dies badly. That is how an evil person dies. The death of a sinner always reflects their life. Remember that.”

Of course I would later learn that this was complete and utter nonsense.

Death is never a form of retribution.

Death is a thing of beauty, something to behold, a moment to celebrate.

But good son that I was, I agreed earnestly. My mother brought out her makeup kit and showed me how to paint my face. She gave me surly lips, sunken eyes, and wicked brows that made me laugh.

After she’d added a wig and glasses, I remember looking in the mirror and thinking I really was someone else, most certainly not me anymore.

“Do you know why they use masks and makeup in the theater?” my mother asked.

I shook my head.

“A mask changes you. So does makeup. With the right mask you can be anyone you want to be. With a mask you can hide in plain sight. You can do what you want, act the way you want. With a mask, it’s almost like you’re invisible and free to be anyone or anything you desire. Like a prince. Or a tiger.”

I nodded, feeling possibility swelling inside me. “Or a monster?”

“Even a monster,” my mother said and kissed me on the head.

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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