Kill Alex Cross
reach the back door of the van. Its gray metal panels were buckled inward and the chrome handle was smashed to shit.
His heart was still thudding from the chase and he could feel the blood pounding in his ears. This wasn’t over yet. What the hell were they about to find on the other side of that door? Armed gunmen? Dead men?
Even worse — dead kids?
AT THE TIME of the first incident in the chain of events, I didn’t know it was the president’s son and daughter who were missing. All I’d heard on my radio was “possible kidnap.” That’s all any of us knew at that point.
I’d been driving east on K Street at the time and I was off duty. The location given put me less than two blocks from the crash site and I got over to Washington Circle even before the EMTs. I had to help if I could.
I was there in less than sixty seconds. A uniformed cop scurried behind me, unspooling a roll of yellow tape as I headed toward the smashed-up van.
The first thing I noticed was the wide-open back door. Second, that there was no sign of any kidnap victim here at all.
And third — Secret Service were everywhere! Some of them in the usual dark suits, others in preppy blazers, knit ties, dress shirts , and khakis. They looked like schoolteachers, but the corkscrew wires behind their ears told another story.
I badged my way over to the van to see inside for myself. The driver was pinned to his seat where the engine block had come all the way through in the crash. He was covered in blood below some obvious trauma around his midsection. His right arm was sticking up and out in a way that arms weren’t meant to go.
The guy looked to be midthirties, curly black hair, a sketchy beard with soul patch that was as slight and pathetic as he was.
But where was the victim? Had this whole thing been a hoax? An intentional diversion? Already, I was starting to think so, and the possibility sent a rush of adrenaline through me. A diversion from what? What else had happened at that school?
“Is he cogent?” I asked the tweed-clad agent next to me.
“Hard to say,” he answered. “He’s out of it. Maybe shock. We don’t even know if he speaks English.”
“And no sign of the missing kid?” I said.
The agent just shook his head, then held up two fingers. “ Two missing kids.”
This was turning into déjà vu for me — the worst kind. Some years back, I’d worked with Secret Service on another double kidnapping, perpetrated by a monster named Gary Soneji. Only one of the two children had survived. In fact, I’d barely made it myself. John Sampson had saved my life.
I flashed my badge some more, then leaned in through the shattered driver’s-side window.
“Police. Where are the kids?” I asked the guy, straight up. By default, I had to assume he knew something. This was no time to equivocate.
He was panting in quick shallow breaths, and his face was blank — like his body knew how much pain he was in, but his brain didn’t exactly get it.
His pupils were huge, too. He had some of the signs of PCP, but this guy had just navigated a high-speed chase through the city. I’d never seen anyone on angel dust who could do that.
When he didn’t answer — not a word or a nod or a grunt — I tried again.
“You hearing me?” I shouted. “Tell me where the two kids are! If you want us to help you out of there.”
The ambulance was here now and two EMTs were at my shoulder, trying to push me out of the way. I wasn’t moving anywhere.
I heard a hydraulic motor fire up somewhere behind me, too. That was for the spreader tool — the Jaws of Life — and this guy was definitely going to need it. But not until I got my answer.
“What do you know?” I said. “Are you working for someone? Just tell me where the kids are!”
Something in the driver’s face changed then. His breath was still shallow, but the corners of his mouth turned up and his eyes crinkled, like someone had told him a joke no one else could hear or maybe understand. When he finally spit out an answer, a spray of blood came with it, all over the mangled steering wheel and column.
“ What kids, man? ” he said.
THE RESCUE TEAM used a hurst tool to cut the posts flanking the van’s windshield and door, then a halogen bar to peel the roof back like a can of sardines. It’s amazing to watch, but usually you’re rooting for the person trapped inside. Not so much this time. Actually, not at all.
While they lowered in a chain to pull back the
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