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Authors: Richard North Patterson

Private Screening

PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON

“This generation's best writer of legal thrillers.” —
Entertainment Weekly

“Patterson is a natural storyteller who never breaks the thread of action.” —
The New York Times

“Richard North Patterson seems destined for celebrity status, alongside Scott Turow and John Grisham, as an acknowledged master.” —
Los Angeles Times Book Review

The Outside Man

“Rich, complex, beautifully written.” —
The New Republic

“A classic detective story.” —
The New York Times Book Review

Escape the Night

“Intricate … Intelligent and menacing.” —
The Boston Globe

Private Screening

“Enthralling … A compelling read.” —
The Washington Post Book World

“Thrilling …
Private Screening
succeeds on all counts. It's a footrace of a read, daring you to put it down.” —
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Private Screening

Richard North Patterson

For my mother and father,

Marjorie and Richard Patterson,

and for my daughter and son,

Shannon and Brooke,

with much love, and gratefulness

for my luck in having them

Contents

Prologue: Phoenix

The Kidnapping

Part 1: Stacy Tarrant

The Concert

Part 2: Tony Lord

The Trial: Harry Carson

The Trial: Stacy Tarrant

The Trial: John Damone

The Trial: Tony Lord

Part 3: Tony Lord and Stacy Tarrant

The Seven Days of Phoenix

Day Two: Tuesday

Day Three: Wednesday

Day Four: Thursday

Day Five: Friday

Day Six: Saturday

Day Seven: Sunday

Consequences: April–September

About the Author

Prologue

PHOENIX

THE KIDNAPPING

April 7

F
ROM
a distance, the players could have been anyone; two figures flailing soundlessly at an invisible ball.

The court was a green rectangle in a crevice of the Napa Valley. For half a mile the terrain swept downhill toward them. A sequence of gullies and rises covered with low green brush, it resembled a sea of heather which swelled to pine-covered ridges miles beyond the court. At odd intervals, oaks cast late-afternoon shadows from the west. Between them, two men with semiautomatic weapons crept toward the tiny figures in white.

They loped, bent to the brush for cover, traversing the gullies and rises in a deadly zigzag forward. As minutes passed, the eye would lose them, find them, lose them again: with each rise they reappeared, but smaller, closer to the court. The only constant was the players, heedless as children.

The men disappeared in a wrinkle thirty feet from courtside. There was a last few seconds' peace. Charging to the net, one player raised his arms in a comic gesture of victory.

The two gunmen burst onto the court.

The players stopped; their masked invaders faced them, a pantomime of indecision.

Suddenly a white van appeared at courtside. Hooded and armed, its driver moved toward the four waiting figures. Without hurry, the new protagonist raised his curiously-shaped weapon, and then announced to those who watched him, “I am Phoenix.…”

Tony Lord turned up his television, uncertain of what he was seeing.

Deep yet slurred, the taped voice was like a record played too slowly. “For the next eight days, through Satellite News International, you will participate in all I do.…”

The picture changed abruptly.

In close-up, Lord recognized the two players as Colby and Alexis Parnell.

He stared at them in disbelief. Instinctively, Parnell moved to shelter his wife from the camera; the gesture was touching and pathetic, a moment from a Chaplin film.

The new angle was that of Phoenix.

“Three days ago, I captured Stacy Tarrant's personal manager, John Damone. Tonight, as you can see, I've taken Alexis Parnell. Tomorrow, I will broadcast my first demand to Stacy Tarrant and Colby Parnell by satellite, for them to answer as you watch on Satellite News International.…”

The two armed men moved toward Alexis. Turning to the camera, Parnell mouthed across the tennis net, “Take
me
.”

“On television, you will see whether this wealthy newspaper magnate and famous rock star care for the people closest to them as much as for their privilege. And then you will join me as their jurors.…”

Lips closing, Parnell watched one gunman bind Alexis's hands as the other held his weapon to her temple. She looked stunned yet perfect, a well-coiffed mannequin; Lord could feel her shock.

“My intentions are unprecedented: a trial for social justice viewed by millions, with Colby Parnell and Stacy Tarrant as defendants, and the lives of those they love at stake.

“No one will stop this electronic trial before its verdict, or rescue my hostages. No one can find the place where I have taken them or track my frequency to its source. No one should try: this place is not only protected by armed guards but by dynamite set to detonate on intrusion, and my pulse is monitored by an electrocardiograph wired to plastic explosives. If my heart stops beating, it will trigger an explosion within fifteen seconds, blowing Damone and Alexis Parnell to pieces. Their lives depend on me alone, and
you
.…”

Astonished, Lord watched the two hooded men push Alexis toward the van.

“John Damone will die unless Stacy Tarrant can persuade you to pledge five million dollars, through a unique and public act of selflessness which I will disclose on my first broadcast, tomorrow night.…”

The van's rear door opened. Stumbling, Alexis fell beside it, scraping her knee on gravel. Reflexively, she tried to touch the scrape, then remembered that her hands were bound.

“As for Alexis Parnell, in the days that follow you will judge her husband's televised compliance with my demands. Then, on the seventh day of her captivity, you will cast an advisory vote through SNI as to whether she will live or die.…”

As the lens moved in, Alexis looked up at it.

“And on the final day you will witness her release or execution—live.”

Silver-blonde mane glinting in the sun, Alexis Parnell stared from Lord's television. When the picture froze, there were tears in her eyes. Beneath her face appeared the caption “Courtesy of SNI.”

“Mother of God,” Lord murmured involuntarily, and then Alexis vanished.

The weekend anchorwoman began speaking in her actress's crisp staccato:

“The shocking film you've just witnessed was found with Colby Parnell early this morning after the terrorists left him, bound but unharmed, in the pasture of a Sonoma County farm. With it was an audiotape in which the so-called Phoenix threatened to execute Parnell's wife, Alexis, if he did not ensure its broadcast over SNI. The terrorists further claimed to be holding John Damone, manager of singer Stacy Tarrant, who was taken late last week from his Los Angeles home. And now the communications magnate and the feminist superstar of rock must wait with millions of others for the broadcasts which ‘Phoenix' claims are coming.

“What makes this even more extraordinary is that the Parnells and Stacy Tarrant have suffered prior tragedy. The Parnells' son, Robert, vanished from their Tahoe cabin in a 1968 kidnapping, while Tarrant's close relationship with presidential aspirant James Kilcannon ended in his assassination here last June by Vietnam veteran Harry Carson.…”

Her words became the narrative for a clip of Stacy Tarrant. It was a file film, Lord saw at once, taken as she'd left the courthouse. Face drawn as he remembered, she entered the limousine without speaking or looking at anyone.

“Miss Tarrant has not appeared in public since testifying at Carson's highly controversial trial.…”

Lord's telephone rang. Hitting the off button, he went quickly to the kitchen and answered.

The downstairs guard sounded harried. “There's a camera crew in the lobby, Mr. Lord—something about ‘Phoenix.'”

It took Lord a moment to react. “Put them on.”

“Tony? Tom Isaka, Headline News.”

“If I'd known you were coming, Tom, I'd have invited you.”

“We went by your wife's—she said you'd just left off your son.”

Lord could feel Marcia's bitter triumph in passing on what she had come to hate. “Ex-wife. Frankly, I don't like people knowing where I live.”

“Why so rigid?”

Lord considered hanging up. “Because I got sick of Tarrant and Kilcannon's admirers calling to say what they'd do to my son
before
they dumped his body in the bay. Look, I just saw your newscast—there's nothing I can add to
that
.”

“But UPI quotes the president as saying that defenses like your Carson case encourage ‘this unprecedented act of terror.' Considering that Parnell, Damone,
and
Stacy Tarrant all figure in your career—”

“Tell me,” Lord cut in, “can this mutant really broadcast?”

“With smarts, and equipment like they used for Carson's trial. The Damone,
and
Stacy Tarrant all figure in your career—”

“He'll threaten to kill both hostages if they don't. And you'll run their film clips, I imagine.”

“It's news, Tony.”

“Not with my help. Enjoy.” Lord hung up.

For a time, his thoughts drove him to the window, staring out at stucco houses colored the pink and white of Portofino; the slim masts of boats in harbor; the azure bay specked with sails and flashes of sunlight through the Golden Gate. But this beauty seemed unreal, a deception.

Turning, Lord saw Christopher's toys still scattered through the apartment. Distractedly, he began to pick up metal cars.

This televised extortion of celebrities—an eight-day race against a public execution to ensure that millions watched—could transmute terrorism by succeeding. And the mind which conceived it had secured the perfect victims: Stacy and Parnell must feel they'd awakened from a recurring nightmare, to find it real.

Putting Christopher's cars away, Lord wandered to the bathroom.

Two razors lay on the sink. Only one had blades. During the Carson trial, when Lord had still been married to Marcia, Christopher had shaved with him to give them time together. It had become a ritual: Christopher had stood next to him in solemn imitation, pushing lather around his face with a bladeless razor. But now he was too old for such pretending, Christopher had announced this weekend—he was a baseball player.

Lord put one razor in a drawer, and closed it.

That left Christopher's cot, and the second mitt which Lord had bought him.

Putting the cot away, Lord contemplated the mitt. Since the divorce, it had been Lord's superstition that to put away Christopher's last toy was to put away Christopher. He left the mitt where it was.

Fuck
her
, he thought.

When the phone rang again, he was walking toward his television.

This time it was Cass, demanding, “Have you seen that film? UPI keeps calling.…”

“I've seen it.” Lord realized that in her three years as legal assistant and friend, this was only the second time he had heard Cass shaken. “I hope this lunatic won't kill them.…”

“You
do
know what the president said.”

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