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Authors: James Patterson

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BOOK: Midnight Club
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69

Sarah McGinniss and John Stefanovitch; East Hampton

SARAH COMPOSED AN
opening for a very pivotal chapter in
The Club,
maybe the turning point of the book.

She was sitting at an old schoolroom desk, framed in a dormer window of her beach house. She eyed the main road rather than the ocean, watching as the cars steadily arrived. She wrote to distract herself as much as anything:

Everyone we could trust, possibly even trust with our lives, had been asked to come. Seven men and two women were invited out to the house in East Hampton, a list whittled down from twenty. A harrowing task in itself.

They began to arrive as early as six forty-five in the morning. The first was David Wilkes, who’d traveled from Washington. Stefanovitch and I had prepared everything as well as we could under the circumstances. Neither of us entirely believed what we had decided to do, only that something had to be done.

For Stefanovitch, there was no issue: he had to go after Alexandre St.-Germain again. There was no choice for him. No choice at all.

* * *

Stefanovitch busied himself stoking a modest fire in the living room. He tried not to think about what was going on here; about the fact that St.-Germain was alive.

He used oak and pine shavings Sarah had brought from Vermont during the spring. After twenty minutes, the house began to smell sweet and good, like New England on a crisp fall morning. The atmosphere was deceptively pleasant, as homey and traditional as any countryside inn.

Stefanovitch saw that it was still spitting rain outside. The sky was gloomy cardboard gray, pressed down and hugging the ocean. Sam raced along the top of the dune in a bright yellow slicker. He was an irrepressible spirit, an irresistible little boy. Sam seemed oblivious to all of what was happening, the possible dangers.

As he shuffled a final log onto the fire, Stefanovitch noticed his hands were unsteady. A very troubling question remained for him: had they chosen these people wisely enough? Could every member of the group be trusted?

The night before, he and Sarah had made the necessary phone calls. A meeting was decided on. The house in East Hampton seemed like a good place, as secure as any.

Sarah finally appeared downstairs. She stood beside one of the dripping bay windows, talking with Isiah Parker. Stefanovitch had told her everything about Parker. He had shown her the detective’s personnel file, which he’d been able to copy at Police Plaza. Parker had been a superior policeman for his twelve years with the department, but Parker was also an enigma.

“I guess we should start,” Stefanovitch said at last. “We’re all here now.”

They began to settle around an old oak serving table in the dining room. The room was filled with antique furniture, also humorous knickknacks Sarah had picked up both in the East and around California. They helped to lighten the mood of the room but not enough.

Three lawyers, one man and two women, were there from the district attorney’s office. They all sat together at the table. Stefanovitch had known each of them for years. Stuart Fischer had been the right hand for the district attorney over the past several years.

David Wilkes had flown up the previous night. He’d accepted the invitation immediately; he seemed well aware of problems with the ongoing investigation in Atlantic City, the mysterious lessening of police resources.

Stanley Kahn from the
New York Times
had been asked to come by Sarah. The reporter accepted without too many of his difficult questions being answered beforehand.

David Hale and Terry Marshall from New York’s Organized Crime Task Force were already seated at the dining table. So was John Keresty from U.S. Customs. So far, none of them knew why they had been invited, except that it had to do with the reappearance of Alexandre St.-Germain.

Sarah remained standing as the others quietly seated themselves. Small details seemed charged, and terribly important that morning. The shore house felt as if it were holding more of the morning’s chill than usual.

“I might as well start with a few things that are on my mind,” she said from her place.

“For reasons that should become clear as I go on, we decided against Police Plaza for this meeting. We also decided against the district attorney’s office. Or even the
Times
offices, on Forty-third Street, Stanley.”

She bowed in the direction of the
Times
reporter, who looked slightly bemused.

“If you think you hear a little paranoia in what I’m saying, I’m afraid you do. We don’t know exactly whom we can trust in police departments,” Sarah said. She paused to let the implication of her words sink in. “Or in the district attorney’s office. Or at the
Times.
Or in the Treasury, or FBI. Did I leave anybody out? I assume I have everybody’s attention now?”

“Rapt,” Stanley Kahn said from behind tented hands.

Sarah watched the tightening circle of faces. None of the men and women seemed overjoyed to be among the trusted few. That was understandable. The notion that so many others weren’t trusted was overwhelming to consider.

A chair scraped against the wooden plank floor. A body hunched forward. Mostly there was silence.

“Where to start is part of my dilemma,” Sarah continued. “Maybe if I go back closer to the beginning…”

Stefanovitch was getting an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu. He had been here before and he’d been burned badly. He had trailed St.-Germain into a trap. His wife had been murdered. Stefanovitch finally spoke up from his place at the table.

“What we’re here to discuss is the possibility of playing by their
law.
Not just the
street law.
It’s not that simple. We’re talking about the unwritten
laws
of supernational corporate executives around the world. And the
laws
practiced by governments and military juntas. The
laws
of the super-rich, people who think they’re above ordinary laws.

“We want to talk about a crime syndicate, an entirely
new
kind of syndicate. It’s called the Midnight Club. It represents what’s become of organized crime.”

70

LATE THAT AFTERNOON
, after all the others had left, Sarah and Stefanovitch sat up on the deck overlooking the water. The rainstorm had finally passed. A pale wafer of sun was trying to break through the cloud cover.

For the first twenty minutes or so, they talked about the important meeting that had just finished. Had they sounded too paranoid? They didn’t think so. Not based on the reactions; especially the questions asked toward the end of the session. The
new
Midnight Club had the full attention of everyone invited to the meeting.

“Maybe we should talk about something else for a while,” Stefanovitch finally suggested. “Sarah, I really am sorry about what happened in Pennsylvania,” he went right on—while his nerve was up.

“It’s over now,” Sarah shrugged. “I’m not sure if I understand exactly what happened, though,” she couldn’t help adding.

“I think I understand it okay,” Stefanovitch said. “I’m not so sure I can put it into the right words, and then get the words out.”

Sarah didn’t say anything. She had a sense that Stef had to do this his own way, or not at all.

She looked into his eyes. He had deep brown eyes, but too often, they seemed on the edge of sadness.

Sarah realized that part of her wanted to make the sadness go away. She didn’t know if that was possible; if it was a wise thing to want to try to do; if it was healthy for either of them. She
did
know that they needed a break from both the Midnight Club and Alexandre St.-Germain.

“I’ve tried to be with somebody a few times since the accident,” Stefanovitch said. As he spoke, he watched children playing in the surf. “One time it was the woman I mentioned meeting in Gramercy Square Park, a nurse named Pat Beccaccio. I wanted to get close to her. There was this ache inside me. I was afraid, Sarah. The more I needed somebody, the more afraid I got.

“I’d go over to Gramercy Park, hoping she’d be there after work. I’d think about her a lot during the day. If I saw some tall woman with dark hair in the neighborhood, my heart would start to slam around, thinking it might be her. If she wasn’t at the park, I’d be incredibly disappointed and hurt…

“I’d imagine that she didn’t come because she didn’t want to see me, didn’t want to stop and have to talk to some cripple. I decided she was avoiding the park, so she wouldn’t have to see me.”

Sarah felt she was getting closer to whoever John Stefanovitch really was. For better or worse, Stef had this old-fashioned code of honor. It was stuck like a broken record in his thick skull. He would probably have it for the rest of his life.

There are features I like besides his eyes, she was thinking as she listened to him talk. Like a scar that ran like the serrated edge of a knife over one of his eyelids. It made the eye sag a little, which gave his face more character. He’d been
bitten.
In a high school basketball game, he’d told her. She could understand how someone might want to bite him sometimes.

“I don’t know if you can understand any of what I’m saying, Sarah? I couldn’t bring myself to call Pat Beccaccio and-make a date. Sometimes, I’d be in my apartment at night, with my hand right on the phone receiver.
I couldn’t make myself call.
I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I just want you to know what’s been building up inside me for a long time.”

“I understand a little,” Sarah finally said. She wanted to reach out for him suddenly, to hold him and be held, but she didn’t. She listened. She let him talk.

“This may not sound like a cop talking, but I was afraid. Afraid of you. I was scared you might reject me, right when I was starting to feel something.”

“Maybe that’s okay. Maybe you’re getting back in touch with something important?”

Finally, Sarah came closer. He could smell her perfume, which was light and flowery. The whole thing had an extraordinary this-isn’t-happening aura. It fit with a lot of other experiences lately.

It was Sarah’s turn to be confused, though; time for her head to be whirling. She wasn’t sure exactly who started it…

They began to kiss. The kiss was sweet, more tender, gentler, than she would have expected it could be. That was the thing. Stefanovitch was always full of surprises.

She wasn’t sure whether this was the right thing, or absolutely the wrong thing for them. Sarah wasn’t sure how she felt about anything right now. Her mind was reeling a little. No, her mind was reeling a lot. She knew just one thing for certain: she wanted to kiss Stefanovitch. She needed to be held by him, and to hold him back. Beyond that, she wasn’t sure of anything.

Suddenly, Sarah kissed him hard, their teeth hitting. She sucked at his mouth and squeezed his body as tightly as she could.

“I guess this breaks the ice a little more.” He finally was able to speak again.

“Now you know how I feel, at least. No more guessing games. I like you so much, Stef.” Sarah smiled. “I have from that first day at Police Plaza.”

71

The Midnight Club; New York City

AT A FEW
minutes before eight, Alexandre St.-Germain arrived inside Tower Two of the World Trade Center. Some of the most powerful men and women in the world had journeyed to New York to meet with him that morning. They were congregated upstairs, in a plush suite of business offices on the eighty-sixth floor.

The crime syndicate was about to begin operations. Except that it really wasn’t a crime syndicate anymore; it was a federation of business, government, and political figures.

…With the power of influence.

With respectability.

With invisibility.

There were twenty-seven members now. All of them were up on the eighty-sixth floor of the Trade Center…

The Old Guard of organized crime was no longer operating. All that had changed in Atlantic City. There was too much money, too much political influence involved to trust it to crime chiefs. Sixty-five billion dollars was put on the table every year; that was the profit from organized crime around the world—enough to pay off the banking debts of entire countries.

Sixty-five billion dollars. In profits.

The evolution of leadership had actually been taking place for a decade. First it had happened in Western Europe; then in the Far East; finally in the United States, where the mob had been strongest, and also had government ties going as far back as the OSS.

The original Club had included nothing but the Old Guard of crime—the powerful and erratic dons and bosses. Then, Alexandre St.-Germain had begun to shape a new direction. The Club had taken on “advisers” from Wall Street and all over Europe. Only St.-Germain operated in both the old world and the new.

Now the advisers, plus Alexandre St.-Germain, were the Club.

The words of a speech flowed through St.-Germain’s head as the elevator rose through the Trade Center. This will be my second formal speech in two days, he considered. The price of respectability.

Look around you,
he planned to say to the august group gathered in a suite overlooking New York Harbor.
Think about the differences between the old order and the new. We make billions of dollars by giving speeches, by holding business meetings, by attending political caucuses and dinners. How different that is from the syndicates of the past. How important to the recharging of the world’s money supply, the world’s cash flow.

For twenty days I was dead. Just as the old ways are dead. From today on, there will be a more organized way for us to do business. The world’s governments are limited by their own internal politics; by absurd, almost Neanderthal policies for dealing with one another. We have no such restraints. We are the most efficient, the wealthiest, and most powerful governing body in the world.

Our policy will be to maintain tight control of the world’s economic markets. New York. London. Los Angeles. Paris. São Paulo. Frankfurt, Rome, Amsterdam, Tokyo. Hong Kong. The cities from which you come. We will move on to control the Third World at some time in the future.

Look around you and think about this. There is no one who can stop us from taking whatever we want.

At eight o’clock, Alexandre St.-Germain swung open the glass doors leading into a sun-drenched conference room. Inside the well-appointed room, they were quietly waiting for him.

The club members had taken their places on either side of an oval, polished glass conference table. Most of the men were outfitted in dark expensive suits, the women in conservative dresses. The group had the look and feel of money; of real money; of power without any limits.

To the surprise of Alexandre St.-Germain, the twenty-seven members rose as he entered the room. They stood, and they applauded. The newly constituted Midnight Club had finally been called to order.

That night, a dark blue Cadillac eased to a stop in front of 10 East Seventy-fourth Street, two doors from the wilds of Central Park. A stretch limo parked in front of the federal-style town house wasn’t an unusual sight. Number 10 seemed to get more than its share of expensive cars, even in a neighborhood of prestigious foundations, embassies, and consulates.

The wrought-iron front door of the town house finally swung open. Four strikingly beautiful, very young girls came outside. The girls were talking and laughing as they hurried to the waiting car.

The Cadillac limousine quietly slid north on Park Avenue, then picked up speed onto the FDR. The girls were asked to put on black satin sleeping masks during the ride up into Westchester.

BOOK: Midnight Club
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