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Hope to Die (Alex Cross Series)
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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

Five

“MY NAME IS MICHAEL BENNETT,” I said. “I am a twenty-year veteran of the NYPD, the last nine working as a first-grade detective. Tara McLellan, who these men have been convicted of killing, was a colleague of mine and a very close family friend. I was asked to come here today by her devastated family in order to address the court.”

Someone in the crowded courtroom coughed in the silence as I paused to take a deep breath.

“Tara was an extremely beautiful and bright young woman who loved life more than almost anyone I’ve ever met,” I started.

But as I said those words, I did what I’d sworn I would not. I locked up, choked up as I pictured her. Her raven-black hair and bright-blue eyes. Her smile. A tear rolled off my cheek and landed on the page with a tiny splat. I clenched my jaw as I wiped my face and then, with an out-rush of breath, forced myself to continue.

“Tara loved gardening at her small house in Westchester, loved to travel. Her numerous nieces and nephews looked forward to every birthday for the moment when Aunt Tara would arrive with the ridiculously elaborate character cakes she would bake them, charting the landmarks of their childhood from Elmo to Justin Bieber with food coloring and frosting and love.”

I took another breath in the now-dead silence.

“But what she loved most of all in this world was delivering justice as an assistant United States attorney of the Southern District of New York. Tara stood in courtrooms just like this one. Stood before the worst that humanity has to offer —killers and mobsters and con men. She stood before these predators of the innocent, looked them in the eye, and with a conviction and courage few will ever know, she said simply, ‘No. You will not get away with what you have done. You will not get away with the pain you have inflicted.’

“Tara’s loss in that dim Bronx motel where she was inhumanly violated before being beheaded isn’t felt just by her grieving parents, Camille and James, or her two sisters, Annette and Jeanie. Nor just by all her nephews and nieces and cousins and friends.

“No, Judge Barnett. Tara’s loss is your loss as well. It is everyone’s loss. There are very few people on this planet who never back down from evil. Tara was one of them. The light of this world has been dimmed without Tara McLellan in it anymore. Thank you.”

I’d folded my paper and was about to leave, when Judge Barnett motioned me to stay.

“Detective Bennett, wait,” he said. “Thank you so much for those words. I myself had gleaned most of your impression of Ms. McLellan from these proceedings, but to hear you put the tragedy of her loss in so personal and poignant a way has helped clarify this court’s decision.”

He swiveled to the seated defendants.

“Will the convicted please rise.

“Alejandro Soto?” Judge Barnett said.

Soto’s defense lawyer tugged his sleeve.

“What?” Soto said, staring at his ankle shackles.

“This court and the federal government, representing the people of these United States of America, hereby sentence you to die by means of lethal injection.”

Judge Barnett cracked the gavel again at the audible gasp that rose in the courtroom.

“Tomás Maduro,” the judge said, turning immediately toward the next defendant. “This court and the federal government, representing the people of these United States of America, hereby sentence you, too, to die by means of lethal injection.”

And down the line Judge Barnett went, handing out death sentences. I couldn’t believe it. It was only under the rarest of circumstances when the federal courts handed out capital punishment. Only sixty-nine people had been sentenced with it since 1988, and only three, including the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, had actually been executed.

Now, not one, not two, but all five of these vicious, evil men were going to get the needle. The cartels meted out death like it was water, and apparently, Judge Barnett wasn’t going to take it anymore.

That was when I did it. What the judge had asked me not to.

I turned to the baffled, raging defendants and addressed them directly. As the drug-dealing murderers were surrounded by court officers, I gave each one a smile along with a happy little wave good-bye.

Copyright © 2014 by James Patterson

Read by Danny Mastrogiorgio

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