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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

Four

THE WITNESS WAITING ROOM adjacent to the second-floor federal courtroom where I was going to give my statement was a happy surprise after the fireworks show and my unexpected sidewalk rugby match. It had leather furniture and piped-in slow-dance Muzak and a rack of magazines next to the coffee machine.

For twenty minutes, I sat in it alone, humming to Michael Bolton as Bob and his guys stood vigilantly in the hallway outside the locked door. The little stunt downstairs had fired them up beyond belief. Even with the tight courthouse security, they weren’t taking any chances.

I’d just finished pouring myself a second cup of French vanilla coffee (which I probably didn’t need, considering my already frazzled nerves) when the door unlocked and a middle-aged blond court officer poked her friendly face inside and said it was time.

All eyes were on me as I followed the officer’s blond ponytail into the bleached-wood-paneled courtroom. The line of orange-jumpsuited convicts sitting at the two defendants’ tables peered at me curiously with “haven’t I seen you someplace before” expressions as I made my way to a podium set up beside the witness box.

Alejandro Soto, the highest-ranking of the Tepito cartel members in attendance, seemed especially curious from where he sat closest to the witness box. I recognized his gaunt, ugly features from the video of the Bronx motel where he had brought my friend Tara to rape and kill her.

I stared directly at Soto as the court clerk asked me to state my name for the record.

“My name is Bennett,” I said, smiling at Soto. “Detective Michael Bennett.”

“Bennett!” Soto yelled as he stood and started banging his shackled wrists on the table. “What is this? What is this?”

No wonder he was shocked. His organization was out to get me and suddenly, presto, here I was. Be careful what you wish for, I thought as two court officers shoved the skinny middle-aged scumbag back down into his seat.

The violent crack of Judge Kenneth Barnett’s gavel at the commotion was a little painful in the low-ceilinged courtroom. Our side could set off some firecrackers, too, apparently. Tall and wide, Barnett had the build of a football player, bright-blue eyes, and a shock of gray hair slicked straight back.

“Detective Bennett,” he said as I was about to take my prepared statement from my jacket pocket. “Before you begin, I would just like to gently remind you that the victim impact statement is not an occasion for you to address the defendants directly. It is a way for me, the sentencing judge, to understand what impact the crimes in this case have had on you and society and thereby determine what appropriate punishment to mete out to these convicted men. Do you understand?”

“Perfectly, Your Honor,” I said.

Especially the punishment part, I thought, glancing at Soto again.

I took my written statement out of my pocket and flattened it against the podium as I brought the microphone closer to my mouth.

Copyright © 2014 by James Patterson

Read by Danny Mastrogiorgio

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