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The Big Bad Wolf

By Miguel Reynolds,2014-11-04 20:11
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The Big Bad Wolf

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Part One THE “WHITE GIRL” CASE

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Chapter 1

    THE PHIPPS PLAZA shopping mall in Atlanta was a showy montage of pink-granite doors, sweepingbronze-trimmed staircases, gilded Napoleonic design, lighting that sparkled like halogenspotlights. A man and a woman watched the target, “Mom”, as she left Niketown with sneakersand whatnot for her three daughters packed under one arm.

    “She is very pretty. I see why the Wolf likes her. She reminds me of Claudia Schiffer,” saidthe male observer. “You see the resemblance?”

    Everybody reminds you of Claudia Schiffer, Slave Don’t lose her. Don’t lose your prettylittle Claudia or the Wolf will have you for breakfast.”

    The abduction team, the Couple, was dressed expensively, and that made it easy for them toblend in at Phipps Plaza, in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. At eleven in the morning, Phippswasn’t very crowded, and that could be a problem.

    It helped that their target was rushing about in a world of her own, a tight little cocoon ofmindless activity, buzzing in and out of Gucci, Caswell-Massey, Niketown, then Gapkids andParisian (to see her personal shopper, Gina), without paying the slightest attention to who was

     around her in any of the stores. She worked from an At-a-Glance leather-bound diary and madeher appointed rounds in a quick, efficient, practiced manner, buying faded jeans for Gwynne,a leather dop kit for Brendan, Nike diving watches for Meredith and Brigid. She even made anappointment at Carter-Barnes to get her hair done.

    The target had style and also a pleasant smile for the sales people who waited on her in theTony stores. She held doors for those coming up behind her, even men, who went out of theirway to thank the attractive blonde. “Mom” was sexy in the wholesome, clean-cut way of manyupscale American suburban women. And she did resemble the supermodel Claudia Schiffer. Thatwas her undoing.

    According to the job specs, Mrs. Elizabeth Connolly was the mother of three girls; she was agraduate of Vassar, class of 87, with what she called a degree in art history that ispractically worthless in the real world , whatever that is , but invaluable to me.” She’dbeen a reporter for the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before she wasmarried. She was thirty-seven, though she didn’t look much more than thirty. She had her hairin a velvet barrette that morning, wore a short-sleeved turtleneck, a crocheted sweater,slim-fitting slacks. She was bright, religious, but sane about it, and tough when she neededto be, at least according to the specs.

    Well, she would need to be tough soon.

    Mrs. Elizabeth Connolly was about to be abducted.

    She had been purchased, and she was probably the most expensive item for sale that morning atPhipps Plaza.

    The price: $150,000.

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Chapter 2

    LIZZIE CONNOLLY FELT LIGHT-HEADED and she wondered if her quirky blood sugar was acting upagain.

    She made a mental note to pick up Trudie Styler’s cookbook, she kind of admired Trudie, whowas cofounder of the Rainforest Foundation as well as Sting’s wife. She seriously doubted shewould get through this day with her head still screwed on straight, not twisted around likethe poor little girl in The Exorcist. Linda Blair, wasn’t that the actress’s name? Lizziewas pretty sure it was. Oh, who cared? What difference did trivia make?

    What a merry-go-round today was going to be. First, it was Gwynne’s birthday, and the partyfor twenty-one of her closest school buddies, eleven girls, ten boys, was scheduled for oneo’clock at the house. Lizzie had rented a bouncy house, and she had already prepared lunchfor the children, not to mention for their moms or nannies. Lizzie had even rented a MisterSoftee ice-cream truck for three hours. But you never knew

    what to expect at these birthday gigs other than laughter, tears, thrills, and spills.

    After the birthday bash, Brigid had swimming lessons, and Merry had a trip to the dentistscheduled. Brendan, her husband of fourteen years, had left her a “short list” of his currentneeds. Of course everything was needed A.S.A.P.S. which meant as soon as possible,sweetheart.

    After she picked up a T-shirt with rhinestones for Gwynnie at Gapkids, all she had left to buywas Brendan’s replacement dop kit. Oh, yeah, and her hair appointment. And ten minutes withher savior at Parisian, Gina Sabellico.

    She kept her cool through the final stages, never let them see you sweat, then she hurried toher new Mercedes 320 station wagon, which was safely tucked in a corner on the P3 level of theunderground garage at Phipps. No time for her favorite rooibos tea at Teavana.

    Hardly anybody was in the garage on a Monday morning, but she nearly bumped into a man withlong dark hair. Lizzie smiled automatically at him, revealing perfect, recently whitened andbrightened teeth, warmth, and sexiness even when she didn’t want to show it.

    She wasn’t really paying attention to anyone, thinking ahead to the fast-approachingbirthday party, when a woman she passed suddenly grabbed her around the chest as if Lizziewere a running back for the Atlanta Falcons football team trying to pass through the “line ofspinach,” as her daughter Gwynne had once called it. The woman’s grip was like a vise shewas strong as hell.

    “What are you doing? Are you crazy?” Lizzie finally screamed her loudest, squirmed herhardest, dropped her shopping bags, heard something break. “Hey! Somebody, help! Get off ofme!”

    Then a second assailant, the BMW sweatshirt guy, grabbed her legs and held on tight, hurther, actually, as he brought her down onto the filthy, greasy parking-lot concrete along withthe woman. “Don’t kick me, bitch!” he yelled in her face. “Don’t you fucking dare kickme.”

    But Lizzie didn’t stop kicking

    or screaming either. “Help me. Somebody, help! Somebody, please!”

    Then both of them lifted her up in the air as if she weighed next to nothing. The man mumbledsomething to the woman. Not English. Middle European, maybe. Lizzie had a housekeeper fromSlovakia. Was there a connection?

    The woman attacker gripped her around the chest with one arm and used her free hand to pushaside tennis and golf stuff, hurriedly clearing a space in the back of the station wagon.

    Then Lizzie was roughly shoved inside her own car. A gauzy, foul-smelling cloth was pushedhard against her nose and mouth, and held there so tightly it hurt her teeth. She tasted blood.First blood, she thought. My blood. Adrenaline surged through her body, and she beganfighting back again with all her strength. Punching and kicking. She felt like a capturedanimal striking out for its freedom.

    “Easy,” the man said.” Easy-peasy-Japanesy . . . Elizabeth Connolly.”

    Elizabeth Connolly? They know me? How? Why? What is going on here?

    “You’re a very sexy mom,” said the man. “I see why the Wolf likes you.”

    Wolf? Who’s the Wolf? What was happening to her? Who did she know named Wolf?

    Then the thick, acrid fumes from the cloth overpowered Lizzie and she went lights out. Shewas driven away in the back of her station wagon.

    But only across the street to the Lenox Square Mall

    where Lizzie Connolly was transferred into a blue Dodge van that then sped away.

    Purchase complete.

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Chapter 3

    EARLY MONDAY MORNING, I was oblivious to the rest of the world and its problems. This was theway life was supposed to be, only it rarely seemed to turn out so well. At least not in myexperience, which was limited, when it came to anything that might be considered the “goodlife?”

    I was walking Jannie and Damon to the Sojourner Truth School that morning. Little Alex wasmerrily toddling along at my side. “Puppy,” I called him.

    The skies over D.C. were partly cloudy, but now and then the sun peeked through the cloudsand warmed our heads and the backs of our necks. I’d already played the piano ,Gershwin, forforty-five minutes. And eaten breakfast with Nana Mama. I had to be at Quantico by nine thatmorning for my orientation classes, but it left time for the walk to school at around seven-thirty. And that was what I’d been in search of lately, or so I believed. Time to be with mykids.

    Time to read a poet I’d discovered recently, Billy Collins. First I’d read his Nine Horses,and now it was Sailing Alone Around the Room. Billy Collins made the impossible seem soeffortless, and so possible.

    Time to talk to Jamilla Hughes every day, often for hours at a time. And when I couldn’t, tocorrespond by e-mail and, occasionally, by long flowing letters. She was still workinghomicide in San Francisco, but I felt the distance between us was shrinking. I wanted it to and

     hoped she did too.

    Meanwhile, the kids were changing faster than I could keep up with them, especially LittleAlex, who was morphing before my eyes. I needed to be around him more and now I could be. Thatwas my deal. It was why I had joined the FBI, at least that was part of it.

    Little Alex was already over thirty-five inches and thirty pounds. That morning he had onpinstriped overalls and an Orioles cap. He moved along the street as if a leeward wind werepropelling him. His ever-present stuffed animal, a cow named Moo, created ballast so that helisted slightly to the left at all times.

    Damon was lurching ahead to a different drummer, a faster, more insistent beat. Man, I reallyloved this boy. Except for his fashion sense. That morning he was wearing long jean shorts,Uptowns, a gray T with an Alan Iverson “The Answer” jersey over it. His lean legs weresprouting peach fuzz, and it looked as if his whole body were developing from the feet up.Large feet, long legs, a youthful torso.

    I was noticing everything that morning. I had time to do it.

    Jannie was typically put together in a gray T with “pro Athletics 1987″ printed in bright red

     letters, sweatpant capris with a red stripe down each leg, and white Adidas sneakers with redstripes.

    As for me, I was feeling good. Every now and again someone would still stop me and say Ilooked like the young Muhammad Ali. I knew how to shake off the compliment, but I liked tohear it more than I let on.

    “You’re awfully quiet this morning, Poppa,” Jannie laced her arms around my free arm andsaid. “You having trouble at school? Your orientation? Do you like being an FBI agent sofar?”

    “I like it fine,” I said. “There’s a probationary period for the next two years.Orientation is good, but a lot of it is repetitive for me, especially what they call“practicals”. Firing range, gun cleaning, exercises in apprehending criminals. That’s why Iget to go in late some days.”

“So you’re the teacher’s pet already,” she said, and winked.

    I laughed. “I don’t think the teachers are too impressed with me, or any other street cops.How’re you and Damon doing so far this year? Aren’t you about due for a report card orsomething?”

    Damon shrugged. “We’re acing everything. Why do you want to change the subject all the timewhen it’s on you?”

    I nodded. “You’re right. Well, my schooling is going fine. Eighty is considered a failinggrade at Quantico. I expect to ace most of my tests.”

    “Most?” Jannie arched an eyebrow and gave me one of Nana Mama’s “perturbed” looks.“What’s this most stuff? We expect you to ace all your tests.”

    “I’ve been out of school for a while.”

    “No excuses.”

    I fed her one of her own lines. “I’m doing the best I can, and that’s all you can ask fromsomebody.”

    She smiled. “Well, all right, then, Poppa. Just as long as the best you can do puts all A’son your next report.”

    About a block from the school I gave Jannie and Damon their hugs _ so as not to embarrassthem, God forbid, in front of all their cool-ass friends. They hugged me back and kissed theirlittle brother, and then off they ran. “bye,” said Little Alex, and so did Jannie and Damon,calling back to their brother,” bye, ba-bye!”

    I picked up Little Alex and we headed home; then it would be off to work for soon-to-be AgentCross of the FBI.

    Ú,” said Little Alex as I carried him in my arms. That was right _ Dada. Things were fallinginto place for the Cross family. After all these years, my life was finally close to being inbalance. I wondered how long it would last. Hopefully at least for the rest of the day.

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Chapter 4

    NEW-AGENT TRAINING at the FBI Academy in Quantico, sometimes called “Club Fed,” was turningout to be a challenging, arduous, and tense program. For the most part, I liked it, and I wasmaking an effort to keep any skepticism down. But I had entered the Bureau with a reputationfor catching pattern killers, and I already had the nickname Dragonslayer. So irony andskepticism might soon be a problem.

    Training had begun six weeks before, on a Monday morning, with a crew-cut broad- shoulderedSSA, or supervisory special agent, Dr. Kenneth Horowitz, standing in front of our class tryingto tell a joke: “The three biggest lies in the world are: _All I want is a kiss,_ _The checkis in the mail,_ and _I’m with the FBI and I’m only here to help you._” Everybody in theclass laughed, maybe because the joke was so ordinary, but at least Horowitz had tried hisbest, and maybe that was the point.

    FBI director Ron Burns had set it up so that my training period would last for only eightweeks. He’d made other allowances for me as well. The maximum age for entrance into the FBIwas thirty-seven years old. I was forty-two. Burns had the age requirement waived for me andalso voiced his opinion that it was discriminatory and needed to be changed. The more I saw ofRon Burns, the more I sensed that he was something of a rebel, maybe because he was an ex-Philadelphia street cop himself. He had brought me into the FBI as a GS13, the highest I couldgo as a street agent. I’d also been promised assignments as a consultant, which meant abetter salary. Burns had wanted me in the Bureau, and he got me. He said that I could have anyreasonable resources I needed to get the job done. I hadn’t discussed it with him yet, but Ithought I might want two detectives from the Washington PD _ John Sampson and Jerome Thurman.

    The only thing Burns had been quiet about was my class supervisor at Quantico, a senior agentnamed Gordon Nooney. Nooney ran Agent Training. He had been a profiler before that, and priorto becoming an FBI agent, had been a prison psychologist in New Hampshire. I was finding himto be a bean counter at best.

    That morning, Nooney was standing there waiting when I arrived for my class in abnormalpsych, an hour and fifty minutes on understanding psychopathic behavior, something I hadn’tbeen able to do in nearly ÿteen years with the

    D.C. police force.

    There was gunfire in the air, probably from the nearby Marine base. “How was traffic fromD.C.?” Nooney asked. I didn’t miss the barb behind the question: I was permitted to go homenights, while the other agents-in-training slept at Quantico.

    “No problem,” I said. “Forty-five minutes in moving traffic up on Ninety-five. I left plentyof extra time.”

    “The Bureau isn’t known for breaking rules for individuals,” Nooney said. Then he offered atight, thin smile that was awfully close to a frown. “Of course, you’re Alex Cross.”

    “I appreciate it,” I said. I left it at that.

    “I just hope it’s worth the trouble,” Nooney mumbled as he walked off in the direction ofAdmin. I shook my head and went into class, which was held in a tiered symposium-style room.

    Dr. Horowitz’s lesson this day was interesting to me. It concentrated on the work of Professor

     Robert Hare, who’d done original research on psychopaths by using brain scans. According toHare’s studies, when healthy people are shown “neutral” and >motional” words, theyrespond acutely to emotional words, such as cancer or death. Psychopaths register the wordsequally. A sentence like “I love you” means nothing more to a psychopath than “I’ll havesome coffee.” Maybe less. According to Hare’s analysis of data, attempts to reformpsychopaths only make them more manipulative. It certainly was a point of view.

    Even though I was familiar with some of the material, I found myself jotting down Hare’s“characteristics” of psychopathic personality and behavior. There were forty of them. As Iwrote them down, I found myself agreeing that most rang true.

    Glibness and superior charm

    Need for constant stimulation / prone to boredom

    Lack of any remorse or guilt

    Shallow emotional response

    Complete lack of empathy…

    I was remembering two psychopaths in particular: Gary Soneji and Kyle Craig. I wondered howmany of the forty characteristics” the two of them shared, and started putting

    G.S. and K.C. next to the appropriate ones. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned awayfrom Dr. Horowitz.

    “Senior Agent Nooney needs to see you right now in his office,” said an executive assistant,who then walked away with the full concept that I would be right on his heels.

    I was.

    I was in the FBI now.

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Chapter 5

    SENIOR AGENT GORDON NOONEY was waiting in his small, cramped office in the Administrationbuilding. He was obviously upset, which had the desired effect: I wondered what I could havedone wrong in the time since we’d talked before class.

    It didn’t take him long to let me know why he was so angry. “Don’t bother to sit down.You’ll be out of here in a minute. I just received a highly unusual call from Tony Woods inthe director’s office. There’s a _situation_ going down in Baltimore. Apparently thedirector wants you there. It will take precedence over your training classes.”

    Nooney shrugged his broad shoulders. Out the window behind him I could see thick woods, andalso Hoover Road, where a couple of agents jogged. “What the hell, why would you need anytraining here, Dr. Cross? You caught Casanova in North Carolina. You’re the man who broughtdown Kyle Craig. You’re like Clarice Starling in the movies. You’re already a star.”

    I took a deep breath before responding. “I had nothing to do with this. I won’t apologize for

     catching Casanova or Kyle Craig.”

    Nooney waved a hand my way. “Why should you apologize? You’re dismissed from the day’sclasses. There’s a helicopter waiting for you over at HRT. You do know where Hostage RescueTeam is?”

    “I know where it is.”

    Class dismissed, I was thinking as I ran to the helipad. I could hear the crack, crack ofweapons being fired at the shooting range. Then I was onboard the helicopter and strapping in.Less than twenty minutes later, the Bell helicopter touched down in Baltimore. I stillhadn’t gotten over my meeting with Nooney. Did he understand that I hadn’t asked for thisassignment? I didn’t even know why I was in Baltimore.

    Two agents in a dark blue sedan were waiting for me. One of them, Jim Heekin, took chargeimmediately, and also put me in my place. “You must be the FNG,” he said as we shook hands.

    I wasn’t familiar with what the letters stood for, so I asked Heekin what they meant as we got

     into the car.

    He smiled, and so did his partner. “The Fucking New Guy,” he said.

    “What we have so far is a bad deal. And it’s hot,” Heekin said. City of Baltimore homicidedetective is involved. Probably why they wanted you here. He’s holed up in his own house.Most of his immediate family’s in there with him. We don’t know if he’s suicidal, homicidal,

     or both, but he’s apparently taken the family hostage. Seems similar to a situation createdby a police officer last year in south Jersey. This officer’s family was gathered togetherfor his father’s birthday party. Some birthday party.”

    “Do we know how many are in the house with him?” I asked.

    Heekin shook his head. Best guess, at least a dozen, including a couple of children. Detectivewon’t let us talk to any of the family members, and he won’t answer our questions. Most ofthe people in the neighborhood don’t want us here either.”

    “What’s his name?” I asked as I jotted down a few notes to myself. I couldn’t believe I was

     about to get involved in a hostage negotiation. It still didn’t make any sense to me _ andthen _ it did.

    “His name is Dennis Coulter.”

    I looked up in surprise. “I know Dennis Coulter. I worked a murder case with him. Shared abushel of crabs at Obrycki’s once upon a time.”

    “We know,” said Agent Heekin. “He asked for you.”

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Chapter 6

    DETECTIVE COULTER HAD ASKED FOR ME. What the hell was that all about? I hadn’t known we wereso close. Because we weren’t. I’d met him only a couple of times. We were friendly, but notexactly friends. So why did Dennis Coulter want me here?

    A while back, I had worked with Dennis Coulter on an investigation of drug dealers who weretrying to connect, and control, the trade in D.C. and Baltimore and everywhere in between.I’d found Coulter to be tough, very egotistical, but good at his job. I remembered he was abig Eubie Blake fan, and that Blake was from Baltimore.

    Coulter and his hostages were huddled somewhere inside the house, a gray wood-shingleColonial on Ailsa Avenue in Lauraville, in the northeast part of Baltimore. Venetian blindswere tightly closed in the windows. What was going on behind the front door was anybody’sguess. Three stone steps climbed to the porch, where a rocking chair and a wooden glider sat.The house had recently been painted, which suggested to me that Coulter probably hadn’t beenexpecting trouble in his life. So what happened?

    Several dozen Baltimore PD, including SWAT team members, had surrounded the house. Weaponswere drawn and, in some cases, aimed at the windows and the front door. The Baltimore policehelicopter unit Foxtrot had responded.

    Not good.

    I already had one idea. “What do you think about everybody lowering their guns forstarters?” I asked the old commander from the Baltimore PD. “He hasn’t fired on anybody,has he?”

    The old commander and SWAT team leader conferred briefly, and then weapons around theperimeter were lowered, at least the ones I could see. Meanwhile, one of the Foxtrothelicopters continued to hover close to the house.

    I turned to the commander again. I needed him on my side. “Thank you, Lieutenant. Have youbeen talking to him?”

    He pointed to a man crouched behind a cruiser. Detective Fescoe has the honor. He’s been onthe horn with Coulter for about an hour.”

    I made a point of walking over to Detective Fescoe and introducing myself. “Mick Fescoe,”he said, but he didn’t seem overjoyed to meet me. “Heard you were coming. We’re fine here.”

    “This intrusion isn’t my idea,” I told him. “I just left the force in D.C. I don’t want toget in anybody’s way.”

    “So don’t,” Fescoe said. He was a slender, wiry man who looked as if he might have playedsome ball at one time. He moved like it.

    I rubbed my hand over my chin. “Any idea why he asked for me? I don’t know him that well.”

    Fescoe’s eyes drifted toward the house. “Says he’s being set up by Internal Affairs.Doesn’t trust anybody connected to the Baltimore PD. He knew you’d gone over to the FBIrecently.”

    “Would you tell him I’m here? But also tell him I’m being briefed now. I want to hear how he

     sounds before I talk to him.”

    Fescoe nodded, then he called the house. It rang several times before it was picked up.

    “Agent Cross has just arrived, Dennis. He’s being briefed now,” said Fescoe.

    “Like hell he is. Get him on the hook. Don’t make me shoot in here. I’m getting close tocreating a real problem. Get him now!”

    Fescoe handed me the phone and I spoke into it. “Dennis, this is Alex Cross. I’m here. I didwant to be briefed first.”

    “This really Alex Cross?” Coulter asked, sounding surprised.

    “Yeah, it’s me. I don’t know too many of the details. Except you say you’re being set up by

     Internal Affairs.”

    “I don’t just say it, I am being set up. I can tell you why too. I’ll brief you. That wayyou’ll hear it straight.”

    “All right,” I told him. “I’m on your side so far. I know you, Dennis. I don’t knowBaltimore Internal Affairs.”

Coulter cut me off. “I want you to listen to me. Don’t talk. Just hear me out.”

    “All right,” I said. “I’m listening.”

    I sat down on the ground behind a Baltimore PD cruiser, and I got ready to listen to thearmed man who was supposedly holding a dozen of his family members hostage. Jesus, I was backon the Job again.

    “They want to kill me,” Dennis Coulter began. “The Baltimore PD has me in its crosshairs.”

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Chapter 7

    POP!

    I jumped. Someone had pulled open a can of soda and tapped me on the shoulder with it.

    I looked up to see none other than Ned Mahoney, head of the Hostage Rescue Team at Quantico,handing me a Diet Coke, caffeine-free. I had taken a couple of classes from him duringorientation. He knew his stuff _ in the classroom, anyway.

    “Welcome to my private hell,” I said. “What am I doing here, by the way?”

    Mahoney winked and dropped down beside me.

    “You’re a rising star, or maybe a risen star. You know the drill. Get him talking. Keep himtalking,” said Mahoney. “We hear you’re real good at this.”

    “So what are you doing here?” I asked.

    “What do you think? Watching, studying your technique. You’re the director’s boy, right? Hethinks you’re gifted.”

    I took a sip of soda, then pressed the cold can to my forehead. Hell of an introduction to theFBI for the FNG.

    “Dennis, who wants to kill you?” I spoke into the cell phone again. “Tell me all you canabout what’s going on here. I also need to ask about your family. Is everybody all right inthere?”

    Coulter bristled. “Hey! Let’s not waste time on a lot of bullshit negotiation crap. I’mabout to be executed. That’s what this is. Make no mistake. Look around you, man. It’s anexecution.”

    I couldn’t see Coulter, but I remembered him. No more than five-eight, goatee, hip, alwayscracking a wiseass joke, very tough. All in all, a small-man complex. He began to tell hisstory, his side of things, and unfortunately I had no idea what to make of what he wasspilling out. According to Coulter, detectives in the Baltimore PD had been involved in largedrug payoffs. Even he didn’t know how many, but the number was high. He’d blown thewhistle. The next thing he knew, his house was surrounded by cops.

    Then Coulter dropped the bomb. “I was getting kickbacks too. Somebody turned me in toInternal Affairs. One of my partners.”

    “Why would a partner do that?”

    He laughed. “Because I got greedy. I went for a bigger piece of the pie. Thought I had mypartners by the short hairs. They didn’t see it that way.”

    “How did you have them by the short hairs?”

    “I told my partners that I had copies of records _ who had been paid what. A couple years_worth of records.”

    Now we were getting somewhere. “Do you?” I asked.

    Coulter hesitated. Why was that? Either he did or he didn’t.

    “I might,” he finally said. “They sure think I do. So now they’re going to put me down.They were coming for me today….I’m not supposed to leave this house alive.”

    I was trying to listen for other voices or sounds in the house while he kept talking. I didn’t

     hear any. Was anybody else still alive in there? What had Coulter done to his family? Howdesperate was he?

    I looked at Ned Mahoney and shrugged my shoulders. I really wasn’t sure whether Coulter wastelling the truth or if he was just a street cop who’d gone loco. Mahoney looked skepticaltoo. He had a don’t ask me look on his face. I had to go somewhere else for guidance.

    “So what do we do now?” I asked Coulter.

    He sniffed out a laugh. “I was hoping you’d have an idea. You’re supposed to be the hotshot,

     right?”

    That’s what everybody keeps saying.

    Alex Cross 9 - The Big Bad Wolf

    Chapter 8

    THE SITUATION IN BALTIMORE didn’t get any better during the next several hours. If anything,it got worse. It was impossible to keep the neighbors from wandering out on their porches towatch the standoff in progress. Then the Baltimore PD began to evacuate the Coulters_neighbors, many of whom were also the Coulters_ friends. A temporary shelter had been set upat the nearby Garrett Heights elementary school. It reminded everyone that there wereprobably children trapped inside Detective Coulter’s house. His family. Jesus!

    I looked around and shook my head in dismay as I saw an awful lot of Baltimore police,including SWAT, and also the Hostage Rescue Team from Quantico. A swarm of crazy-eyedspectators was pushing and shoving outside the barricades, some of them rooting for cops tobe shot _ any cop would do.

    I stood up and cautiously made my way over to a group of officers waiting behind an emergencyrescue van. I didn’t need to be told that they didn’t appreciate interference from the Feds.I hadn’t either when I was on the D.C. police force. I addressed Captain Stockton JamesSheehan, whom I’d spoken to briefly when I arrived. “What do you think? Where do we go withthis?”

    “Has he agreed to let anybody out?” Sheehan asked. “That’s the first question.”

    I shook my head. “He won’t even talk about his family. Won’t confirm or deny that they’rein the house.”

    Sheehan asked, “Well, what is he talking about?”

    I shared some of what I’d been told by Coulter but not everything. How could I? I left outthat he’d sworn Baltimore cops were involved in a large-scale drug scheme _ and, moredevastating, that he had records that would incriminate them.

    Stockton Sheehan listened and then he offered, “Either he lets go of some of the hostages orwe have to go in and get him. He’s not going to gun down his own family.”

    “He says he will. That’s the threat.”

    Sheehan shook his head. “I’m willing to take the risk. We go in when it gets dark. You knowthis should be our call.”

    I nodded without agreeing or disagreeing, then I walked away from the others. It looked as ifwe might have another half hour of light. I didn’t like to think about what would happen oncedarkness came.

    I called Coulter again. He picked up right away.

    “I have an idea,” I told him. “I think it’s your best shot.” I didn’t tell Coulter, but Ialso thought it was his only shot.

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