First there was Alex Cross.
Then there was the Women's Murder Club.
Now meet Detective Michael Bennett, NYPD.
Detective Michael Bennett is about to face the greatest challenge of his career. After the death of a beloved former first lady, the most powerful people in the world gather in New York for her funeral. Then the inconceivable occurs. Billionaires, politicians, and superstars of every kind are suddenly trapped within one man's brilliant and ruthless scenario.
Ten adopted kids.
Bennett–father of ten–is pulled into the fray but is then hit with devastating news: his wife is battling a terrible disease. As New York descends into chaos, he faces the prospect of losing the great love of his life and having to raise his children alone.
The crime of the century to solve.
Day after day, Bennett confronts the most ruthless man he has ever encountered, a man who kills without hesitation. As the entire world watches, Bennett has to find a way out–or face responsibility for the greatest debacle in history.
Welcome to Michael Bennett's world.
From the #1 bestselling author who introduced readers to Alex Cross and the Women's Murder Club comes the beginning of a brand-new electrifying series. Step on a Crack is his most fiendishly terrifying thriller yet.
Prologue | THE LAST SUPPER
THE BACK OF THE TABLE captain’s cream-colored evening jacket had just turned away when Stephen Hopkins leaned across the secluded corner booth and kissed his wife. Caroline closed her eyes, tasting the cold champagne he’d just sipped, then felt a tug as Stephen’s hand caught one of the silk spaghetti straps of her Chanel gown.
“These puppies aren’t exactly secured in this frock, if you haven’t noticed,” she said as she came up for air. “Keep playing around and we’re going to have a serious wardrobe malfunction. How’s my lipstick?”
“Delicious,” Stephen said, smiling like a bleeping movie star. Then he touched her thigh.
“You’re past fifty,” Caroline said. “Not fifteen.”
Having this much fun with your husband, Caroline thought, playfully twisting Stephen’s hand away, had to be illegal. That their annual “Christmas in New York” date got better every year was beyond her, but there you had it. Dinner here at L’Arène, probably the most elegant, most seductive French restaurant in New York City; a horse-and-buggy ride through Central Park; and then back to the Pierre’s presidential suite. It had been their Christmas gift to themselves for the past four years. And every year it turned out to be more romantic than the last, more and more exquisite.
As if on cue, snow began falling outside the copper-trimmed windows of the restaurant, big silver flakes that hung in glittering cones from Madison Avenue’s old-fashioned black-iron lampposts.
“If you could have anything this Christmas, what would it be?” Caroline asked suddenly.
Stephen raised his gold-tinged glass of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Brut, trying to come up with something funny.
“I wish … I wish …”
A stilling sadness extinguished the humor from his face as he stared into his flute.
“I wish this were hot chocolate.”
Caroline felt dizzy as her mouth opened and her breath left.
Many years ago, she and Stephen had been homesick scholarship freshmen at Harvard, without enough money to make it home for Christmas. One morning they’d been the only two breakfast diners in cavernous Annenberg Hall, and Stephen had sat down at her table. “Just for a little warmth,” he’d said.
Soon they learned they were both planning to be poli-sci majors, and they hit it off immediately. In the Yard outside, in front of redbrick Hollis Hall, Caroline impulsively dropped to the ground and made a snow angel. Their faces almost touched when Stephen helped her up. Then she took a quick sip of the hot chocolate she’d smuggled out of the dining hall—so as not to kiss this boy she’d just met and somehow already cared about.
Caroline could still see Stephen as he had been, smiling in the bright, nickeled winter light. That lovely boy standing before her in Harvard Yard, clueless to the fact that he would marry her. Give her a beautiful daughter. Go on to become the president of the United States.
The question he’d asked as she’d lowered her cocoa mug thirty years before reverberated poignantly now in her ears, like crystal struck by shining silver: “Does yours taste like champagne, too?”
Hot chocolate to champagne, Caroline thought, lifting her bubbling flute. Now champagne to hot chocolate. Two and a half decades of marriage come full circle.
What a life they’d had, she thought, savoring the moment. Lucky and worthwhile and …
“Excuse me, Mr. President,” a voice whispered. “I’m sorry. Excuse me.”
A pasty-looking blond man in a metallic-gray double-breasted suit stood ten feet in front of their booth. He was waving a menu and a pen. Henri, the maître d’, arrived immediately. He assisted Steve Beplar, the Hopkinses’ Secret Service agent, in trying to escort the intruder discreetly out of sight.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the man said to the Secret Service agent in a defeated voice. “I just thought the president could sign my menu.”
“It’s okay, Steve,” Stephen Hopkins said with a quick wave. He shrugged at his wife in apology.
Fame, Caroline thought, placing her champagne glass down onto the immaculate linen. Ain’t it a bitch.
“Could you make that out to my wife? Carla,” the pale man spoke over the Secret Service agent’s wide shoulder.
“Carla’s my wife!” the man said a little too loudly. “Oh my God! I just said that, didn’t I? I have the insane luck to run into the greatest president of the last century, and what do I do? Jesus, look, I’m blushing now. I have to say, you guys look terrific tonight. Especially you, Mrs. Hopkins.”
“Merry Christmas to you, sir,” Stephen Hopkins said, smiling back as graciously as he could manage.
“Hope it was no bother,” the man said, the sheen of his suit flashing as he backed away, bowing.
“Bother?” Stephen Hopkins said, grinning at his wife after the man had departed. “Now how could Carla’s husband think that demolishing the most romantic moment of our lives was a bother?”
They were still laughing when a beaming waiter materialized out of the shadows, put down their plates, and vanished. Caroline smiled at the avant-garde architecture of her terrine of foie gras as her husband topped off her champagne.
It’s almost too beautiful to eat, Caroline thought, lifting her knife and fork. Almost.
The first bite was so ethereal that it took a few seconds for her to place the taste.
By then it was too late.
What felt like high-pressure superheated air instantly inflated Caroline Hopkins’s lungs, throat, and face. Her eyeballs felt like they were going to pop by the time her scrolled silver fork fell from her lips and clattered against china.
“Oh my God, Caroline,” she heard Stephen say as he looked at her in horror. “Steve! Help! Something’s wrong with Caroline! She can’t breathe.”
Copyright © 2007 by James Patterson
John Slattery's credits include: Flag of Our Fathers, Jack & Bobby, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Mona Lisa Smile, Sex and the City, and Will & Grace. He has read several audiobooks.
Reg Rogers was nominated for Broadway's 1996 Tony Award as Best Actor (Featured Role-Play) for a revival of Phillip Barry's Holiday. Other credits include: Analyze That, Igby Goes Down, Runaway Bride, If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Now, Shut Up and Sing and TV's: Ed, Miss Match, and Law & Order.