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Burn

Detective Michael Bennett finally returns to New York City—and to the most unsettling, horrific case of his career.

At last, Detective Michael Bennett and his family are coming home to New York City. Thanks to Bennett, the ruthless crime lord whose vengeful mission forced the Bennett family into hiding has been brought down for good.

Back in the city that never sleeps, Bennett takes over a chaotic Outreach Squad in Harlem, where he receives an unusual call: a man claims to have seen a group of well-dressed men holding a bizarre party in a condemend building. With no clear crime or evidence, Bennett dismisses the report. But when a charred body is found in that very same building, he is forced to take the demented caller seriously—and is drawn into an underground criminal world of terrifying depravity.

Prologue | CALIFORNIA LEAVING

Three

I WAS IN THE midst of a daydream where I was locked in overnight at an Arthur Avenue bakery with several tubs of Breakstone’s lightly salted and a butter knife when we pulled off the 101 and approached the white stone pile of the Los Angeles Federal Court in downtown LA’s Civic Center.

That was when my gluten-filled fantasy came to an end. Abruptly.

Forward through the windshield was a huge commotion. A large crowd of civilians was assembled in front of the august court building. They stood behind metal sidewalk barricades and a line of nervous-looking uniformed LA cops holding plastic shields and wearing full face-masked riot helmets.

“What the heck is this? OJ can’t be on trial again, can he?” I said.

As we came closer, I could see that the crowd consisted of about a hundred fifty young people clustered on the sidewalk. More than a few in the crowd were wearing blue-and-white bandannas, bandit style, over their faces. There was even a muscular guy in a wife-beater wearing one of those spooky antiestablishment Guy Fawkes masks.

People began yelling and chanting and pumping their fists as someone struck a tom-tom over and over. Signs being shaken to the beat read,

NO Justice! NO Peace!
Racist SEGREGATION!!!!
DOWN WITH the KKKops!

Having become quite rudely acquainted with the LA gang culture in my time here searching for Perrine, I knew the blue-and-white do-rags meant MS-13. I also knew that MS-13 was an LA-based ally of the Tepito cartel scum I was about to help get sentenced.

It made me sit up straight, seeing fired-up gang members amassed in some sort of halfhearted political protest. I knew full well that some of these gangsters weren’t exactly your peaceful protester types. In fact, the cartel affiliates didn’t have qualm one when it came to incredibly bloody violence. Perrine’s people had actually killed a federal judge in New York at the courthouse in the middle of Perrine’s trial!

Remembering that, I felt my stomach drop as I watched shaved heads on the sidewalk turn toward our SUV. Some of the tattooed young bangers were elbowing each other, pointing our way as we slowed.

Oh, boy. Here we go. Though I hadn’t advertised that I was going to make an appearance at the courthouse today, my face had been in the media before. There was the odd chance that one of these guys might recognize me and want to collect on the multimillion-dollar contract that was currently hovering over my head.

It can’t be helped, I thought, bracing myself as we finally came to a halt by the court entrance on North Spring Street. Nothing —no gangbangers, no fake protest or anything else —was going to stop me from standing up for Tara today.

“You know, we still have some time, Mike,” Big Joe Kelly, the US Marshal team captain, said beside me as the crowd shifted and approached the SUV. “We could go for some Starbucks or something. Come back when it looks a little calmer.”

“Nah, Joe,” I said with a casualness that was all show. “Let’s just do this quick before I ruin the nice clean underwear I wore for the courthouse security strip search.”

Doors opened and Joe and the other big marshals got out. Bob went over and spoke to one of the cops, who quickly came over with two other uniformed riot cops, and then my door opened.

Stepping out from the sealed vault of the bulletproof SUV into the loud whooshing buzz of the jeering crowd was like coming out of a pool. A pool I felt like diving back into when more and more people in the crowd started rushing over.

“I smell pork!” some girl kept saying as the muscle head in the Guy Fawkes mask suddenly rushed up and snapped a picture of me with his cell phone.

“Got your picture, pig!” he yelled from behind his mask. “I’m gonna find out who you are and where you live and pay you a visit! Pay your pig family a visit!”

I was doing pretty well up to that point, but at the mention of my family, I lost my composure a little. In fact, I lunged at the stupid son of a bitch. Unfortunately, Joe stiff-armed him away before I could get my hands around his throat.

Then the marshals half-led, half-shoved me forward in a tight phalanx toward a break in the metal barrier. I was just through it and had set foot on the first marble step when it happened.

Pop-pop-pop-pop!

A string of explosions suddenly ripped the air all around us, and Bob was turning and shoving me back as the crowd churned.

In the mad rush, my ankle caught the edge of one of the metal barricades and the next thing I knew, I was knocked off my feet facedown on the cement sidewalk. Smelling gunpowder, I looked down at myself, my jacket and slacks, scanning for holes. Peeking up through a forest of legs, I saw some LAPD uniforms rush into the swaying, screaming crowd, throwing people out of the way. A K-9 unit German shepherd started barking to wake the dead, sending people running.

“It’s OK! It’s OK! It’s firecrackers!” came a loud, tinny voice out of Bob’s radio. “No gun! I repeat, no gun! Some ass in the crowd just tossed a pack of lit firecrackers.”

The crowd started laughing their collective faces off. Sarcastic clapping began and about fifty people gave me the finger as Bob helped me to my feet. Unbelievable. And they called this the Civic Center?

“You OK, Mike?” Bob yelled, grabbing my arm.

“Well, about that clean underwear,” I said as I peeled myself off the concrete.

Copyright © 2014 by James Patterson

Read by Danny Mastrogiorgio & Henry Leyva

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