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Private: #1 Suspect

Unsolvable cases

Since former Marine Jack Morgan started Private, it has become the world's most effective investigation firm—sought out by the famous and the powerful to discreetly handle their most intimate problems. Private's investigators are the smartest, the fastest, and the most technologically advanced in the world—and they always uncover the truth.

Impossible murders

When his former lover is found murdered in Jack Morgan's bed, he is instantly the number one suspect. While Jack is under police investigation, the mob strong-arms him into recovering $30 million in stolen pharmaceuticals for them. And the beautiful manager of a luxury hotel chain persuades him to quietly investigate a string of murders at her properties.

The #1 suspect is Jack Morgan

While Jack is fighting for his life, one of his most trusted colleagues threatens to leave Private, and Jack realizes he is confronting the cleverest and most powerful enemies ever. With more action, more intrigue, and more twists than ever before, PRIVATE: #1 SUSPECT is James Patterson at his unstoppable best.

Prologue | SHOTS IN THE DARK

Two

A. J. ROMANO was driving the white transport van west on I-15, a hundred fifty miles east of Vegas. The van was a late-model Ford. On both sides and across its rear cargo doors were decals saying "Produce Direct" over a basket of red, green, and yellow vegetables.

Benny "Banger" Falacci was slumped in the passenger seat, his new eel-skin cowboy boots up on the dash. Rudy Gee was in the back, taking his shift in the air-conditioned cargo section, his sleeping bag wedged between the cartons.

A. J. liked night driving anyway, but especially on those crystal clear nights you got at high altitudes out west. Bright stars. No traffic. A strip of road cutting through miles and miles of grazing land and desert terrain with a dusky backdrop of foothills like crumpled packing paper rising high and wide in the distance.

He was saying to Banger, "I made this stew, you know, me cooking for her for a change."

Banger broke the filter off a Marlboro, lit up with his lucky silver butane, opened the window.

"Jeez," Romano said, opening his window too. "Ever heard of secondary smoke? You're smoking for two here."

"It's been three hundred sixteen miles," said Banger. "That was the deal. One smoke every three hundred miles."

"Awright." A. J. went on, speaking louder now over the rush of air past the window, "so I make some noodles and a little chocolate cake. It's nice."

"Fascinating, A. J. You got the major food groups covered."

"So I'm full but not stuffed. We go to bed and at about two-thirty I wake up. I'm literally freezing."

Banger plucked a shred of tobacco off his tongue. There was no CD player in the van, no radio signal this far from any fucking thing. In a few hours he was going to be sitting at a blackjack table. He'd be sleeping in a triple-wide bed tonight. He could call Suzette at the last minute. He was thinking about that and how much talking she'd do before he could get her panties off. Or he could go to the Sands and find someone new. He was feeling lucky.

"I dial up the electric blanket. Still my nips are hard as diamonds."

"Christ," Banger said. "Change the subject, do you mind?"

"I notch the heat up to nine. That's weld," said A. J. "I'm still freezing my ass off. When I wake up again, I'm sweating like I ran a couple of miles—"

"What's happening there?" Banger asked.

"I don't know. That's what I'm asking. Is my heart acting up on me?"

"What's happening there," Banger said, pointing through the windshield at the red lights up ahead.

"That car, you mean?"

"It's slowing down."

"Asshole should have filled up in Kanarraville."

"Pull around him," Banger said.

But A. J. was decelerating, saying, "Guy runs out of gas on this road, he could get eaten by a bear."

But the car in front of them wasn't running out of gas. It was crawling, giving a Chevy in the left lane, headlights off, a chance to catch up and pull alongside the van.

"What the fuck is this now?" A. J. said, staring at the Chevy six inches from his door. "What's this asshole doing?"

"Brake. Brake!" Banger yelled. "Pull around him."

A. J. Romano leaned on the horn, but it had no effect. Their van was hemmed in, being shunted toward the Pintura exit, and he had to either slam into the car beside him or barrel down the ramp.

A. J. jerked the wheel to the right, sending the van down the exit ramp, while Banger was digging under his seat for his piece. Next thing, metal was grinding against his door and the van was off the exit, forced onto some kind of spur road.

Banger was yelling, "You mother," as A. J. stood on the brakes. The van skidded in dirt and plowed through a wire fence into the middle of fucking nowhere, dust shutting out the view and filling the cab.

Car doors banged shut in front and behind. Banger gripped his piece with one hand and undid his seat belt with the other, ready to bolt out the door, but a man's face was in the window, a punk he'd never seen before, yelling, "Grab the ceiling."

A. J. had his hands up. "Banger," he yelled, "do what they say."

Banger pulled up his gun from below the window opening. There was a bright flash and a loud report. Banger slumped, exhaled, and didn't move again.

Inside his head, A. J. screamed, Oh, my God. They killed Banger. A .45 was pointed at his left ear. "Listen to me," A. J. said. "I don't know you. I didn't see nothing. Take what you want. I got six hundred bucks—"

A. J. didn't even hear the gun go off. He twitched, but that was all.

Copyright © 2012 by James Patterson

Read by Scott Sowers

Scott Sowers' Broadway credits include Bus Stop, A Streetcar Named Desire, Inherit the Wind and A Few Good Men (LA Dramalogue Award for Performance). Scott is a lifetime member of The Ensemble Studio Theatre. His many TV credits include HBO's Boardwalk Empire, Law & Order, Cracker and All My Children. Scott's film credits include True Grit, The Ten, The Village, Dead Man Walking, Erin Brockovich, Magnolia, and My Mother Dreams...(winner, 2000 Academy Award for Short Feature).

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