Authors: James Patterson,Mark Sullivan
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For the thousands who tried to escape over the wall, and the hundreds that died in the attempt. —M.S.
AT TEN O’CLOCK on a moonless September evening, Chris Schneider slipped toward a long-abandoned building on the eastern outskirts of Berlin,
his mind whirling with dark images and old vows.
Late thirties, and dressed in dark clothes, Schneider drew out a .40 Glock pistol and eased forward, alert to the dry rustle
of the thorn bushes and goldenrod and the vines that engulfed the place.
He hesitated, staring at the silhouette of the building, recalling some of the horror that he’d felt coming here for the first
time, and realizing that he’d been waiting almost three decades for this moment.
Indeed, for ten years he’d trained his mind and body.
For ten years after that he’d actively sought revenge, but to no avail.
In the past decade, Schneider had come to believe it might never happen, that his past had not only disappeared, it had died,
and with it the chance to exact true payback for himself and the others.
But here was his chance to be the avenging angel they’d all believed in.
Schneider heard voices in his mind, all shrieking at him to go forward and put a just ending to their story.
At their calling, Schneider felt himself harden inside. They deserved a just ending. He intended to give it to them.
By now he’d reached the steps of the building. The chain hung from the barn doors, which stood ajar. He stared at the darkness,
feeling his gut hollow and his knees weaken.
You’ve waited a lifetime, Schneider told himself. Finish it. Now.
For all of us.
Schneider toed open the door. He stepped inside, smelling traces of stale urine, burnt copper, and something dead.
His mind flashed with the image of a door swinging shut and locking, and for a moment that alone threatened to cripple him
But then Schneider felt righteous vengeance ignite inside him. He pressed the safety lever on the trigger, readying it to
fire. He flicked on the flashlight taped to the gun, giving him a soft red beam with which to dissect the place.
Boot prints marred the dust.
Schneider’s heart pounded as he followed them. Cement rooms, more like stalls really, stood to either side of the passage.
Even though the footprints went straight ahead, he searched the rooms one by one. In the last, he stopped and stared, seeing
a horror film playing behind his eyes.
He tore his attention away, but noticed his gun hand was trembling.
The hallway met a second set of barn doors. The lock hung loose in the hasp. The doors were parted a foot, leading into a
He heard fluttering, stepped inside, and aimed his light and pistol into the rafters, seeing pigeons blinking in their roost.
The smell of death was worse here. Schneider swung his light all around, looking for the source. Large rusted bolts jutted
from the floor. Girders and trusses overhead supported a track that ran the length of the space.
Corroded hooks hung on chains from the track.
The footprints cut diagonally left, away from the doorway. He followed, aware of those bolts in the floor and not wanting
Schneider meant to look into the girders again, but was distracted by something scampering ahead of him. He crouched, aiming
the gun and light at the noise.
A line of rats scurried toward a gaping hole in the floor on the far side of the room. The boot prints went straight to the
hole and disappeared. He heard rats squealing and hissing as he got closer.
To the left of the hole stood a metal tube of a slightly smaller diameter than the hole. Atop it lay a sewer grate. To the
right of the hole was a small gas blower, the kind used to get clippings off walkways.
Schneider stepped to the hole and shined the light into a shaft of corrugated steel. Ten feet down, the shaft ended in space.
Four feet below that lay a gravel floor.
A female corpse was sprawled on the gravel. Rats were swarming her.
Schneider knew her nonetheless.
He’d been searching for her all over Berlin and Germany, hoping against hope that she was alive.
But he was far, far too late.
The desire for vengeance that had been a low flame inside Schneider fueled and exploded through him now. He wanted to shoot
at anything that moved. He wanted to scream into the hole and call out her killer to receive his just due.
But then Schneider’s colder, rational side took over.
This was bigger than him now, bigger than all of us. It wasn’t about revenge anymore. It was about bringing someone heinous
into the harsh light, exposing him for what he was and what he had been.
Go outside, he thought. Call the Kripo. Get them involved. Now.
Schneider turned and, sweeping the room behind him with the light, started back toward the hallway. He had taken six or seven
steps when he heard what sounded like a very large bird fluttering.
He tried to react, tried to get his gun moving up toward the sound.
But the dark figure was already dropping from his hiding spot in the deep shadows above the rusted overhead track.
Boots struck Schneider’s collarbones. He collapsed backward and landed on one of those bolts sticking up from the floor.
The bolt impaled him, broke his spine, and paralyzed him.
The Glock clattered away.
There was so much fiery pain Schneider could not speak, let alone scream. The silhouette of a man appeared above him. The
man aimed his flashlight at his own upper body, revealing a black mask that covered his nose, cheeks, and forehead.
The masked man began to speak, and Schneider knew him instantly, as if three decades had passed in a day.
“You thought you were prepared for this, Chris, hmmm?” the masked man asked, amused. He made a clicking noise in his throat.
“You were never prepared for this, no matter what you may have told yourself all those years ago.”
A knife appeared in the masked man’s other hand. He squatted by Schneider, and touched the blade to his throat.
“My friends will come quicker if I bleed you,” he said. “A few hours in their care, and your mask will be gone, Chris. No
one would ever recognize you then, not even your own dear, sweet mother, hmmm?”
AT A QUARTER to four the following Sunday morning, Mathilde “Mattie” Engel wove through the crowd jammed into Tresor, a legendary underground
nightclub set inside an old power plant in the hip Kreuzberg district of Berlin.
In her thirties, strong and attractive, Mattie reached a series of industrial passageways that linked the club’s two huge
dance floors. She yawned and ran her fingers through her short, spiked blond hair as electronic music throbbed and echoed
all around her.
Mattie’s roving sapphire eyes took in the graffiti-lined walls, the smoky air, and all the hard-core partiers trying to make
their Saturday night last until midmorning at least.
A stocky Eurasian man appeared in the hallway ahead of Mattie. He had a tattoo of a spiderweb beneath his left eye.
“The countess still here, Axel?” Mattie asked, loud enough to be heard.
The man with the spiderweb tattoo jerked his head back in the direction he’d come from. “She’s with the Argentine. They’re
on something stronger than booze, weed, or blow. I’m guessing ecstasy.”
“Just as long as it’s not crystal,” Mattie replied. “I hate tweakers.”
“You’re on your own in any case,” Axel warned. “I can’t have your back on a gig like this.”
“Think it will ruin your image as a creature of the night?” Mattie said.
“Private will send you a finder’s fee.”
Axel grinned. “Even better. Thanks, Mattie.”
She nodded. “Do I have a clean way out of there?”
“Fire exits at both ends of the floor.”
Axel thought about that. “I’ll make a call. The bar. You’ll have to dance.”
Mattie slapped Axel’s big palm and moved by him toward the entrance to the dance floor. She got out her cell phone as she
walked, flipped it open, and called up a school picture of a brunette teenager.
The Countess Sophia von Mühlen of Austria was seventeen. A week ago she ran off with her father’s polo instructor, a thirty-three-year-old
Argentine scoundrel and fortune hunter named Raul Montenegro.
In exactly four days, the countess would turn eighteen and of age to wed.
Which is what the countess’s family was desperately trying to avoid, and why Private Berlin had been hired to track her down
and return her to Vienna.
Sophia’s mother had died three years before of a drug overdose. Her grandmother, the formidable Sarah von Mühlen, did not
want the family name or fortune tarnished by further scandal, especially when Sophia’s father, Peter, a prominent politician
in the Tyrol, was preparing to run for higher office.
“Spare no expense,” the grandmother had told Mattie. “Find her.”
Mattie had done just that, tracking the young countess via credit card charges and GPS data from her cell phone to the nightclub.
Luckily she’d known Axel, the head of security at Tresor, since her days as a Kripo investigator with the Berlin Kriminalpolizei.
Mattie put away her cell phone and moved onto a dance floor packed with writhing, sweating bodies dancing to a convulsive
mix laid down by a DJ named The Mover.
She angled toward the bar, nodding to the bartender, who was snapping shut his cell phone. She climbed up at the waitress’s
station and began to dance her way down the bar in time with The Mover’s beat and riffs.
The crowd noticed and began to hoot and cry for her. Mattie smiled, playing the drunken chick. But her eyes moved everywhere
until she spotted Sophia von Mühlen and her Latin lover on the other side of the room.
The countess’s arms hung around Montenegro’s neck. She was kissing his chest. His hands were roaming all over her.
Mattie looked beyond them for the fire escape doors.
But then the countess suddenly pushed away from the polo instructor, and wove unsteadily toward the hallway, a lucky break
for Mattie, who jumped off the bar and caught up to her in the tunnel where she’d left Axel.
“Sophia?” she said and flashed her badge. “My name is Mattie Engel. I’m with Private Berlin. I’m here to take you home.”
Sophia laughed scornfully. “I’m eighteen. I can do what I want.”
“You’re not eighteen for another four days,” Mattie shot back in a no-nonsense voice. “Let’s go. And try not to make a scene.”
Sophia smiled. “I’m good at making scenes. Big ones. The kind that attract reporters.”
“Not on my watch,” Mattie said, grabbing the countess by the back of her elbow, and applying force to pressure points there.
“Owww,” Sophia whined, “you’re hurting me.”
“You’ll hurt more if you don’t move,” Mattie replied and began hustling the countess down the hallway, heading toward the
main entrance to the club.
“Sophia! Hey! What do you do there?”
Mattie glanced over her shoulder to see the polo instructor, whacked on drugs and booze, angry, and storming after them.
Mattie held on to Sophia and flashed her badge at Montenegro. “Don’t make this more difficult than it has to be, Raul. She’s
Montenegro glowered. “She consents to be with me. She’s eighteen.”
“She might have consented to sex. But she’s not eighteen.”
The polo instructor’s shoulders dropped as if in submission. But then he rushed right at her.
Mattie let go of the countess and raised her hands to defend herself.
Montenegro tried to bat her hands away.
Mattie snatched his right hand and twisted it sharply toward the floor.
Montenegro grunted in pain and went to his knees, shouting, “Run, Sophia! Run!”