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Gone

A crime lord has declared war on America. Only Detective Michael Bennett knows why.

Manuel Perrine doesn't fear anyone or anything. A charismatic and ruthless leader, Perrine slaughters rivals as effortlessly as he wears his trademark white linen suit. Detective Michael Bennett once managed to put Perrine behind bars, the only official in the US ever to accomplish that. But now Perrine is out, and he has sworn to find and kill Bennett and everyone dear to him.

Detective Bennett, along with his ten adopted children, their nanny, and his grandfather, are hidden safely on a rural California farm, with guards courtesy of the FBI's witness protection program. Perrine begins to embark on an escalating series of assassinations across the country, killings whose brazenness and audacity bring into question the possibility of safety and law in the US. The FBI has no choice but to ask Detective Bennett to risk it all in Perrine's war on America.

With explosive action and fierce villainy that rivals James Bond movies at their best, GONE is the next astounding novel by James Patterson.

Prologue | FATHER AND SON

One

IT WAS THREE A.M. on the button when the unmarked white box truck turned onto the steep slope of Sweetwater Mesa Road and began to climb up into the exclusive Serra Retreat neighborhood of Malibu, California.

Majestic mountain peaks rising to the left, thought Vida Gomez as she looked out from the truck’s passenger seat. Nothing but moonlit ocean to the right. No wonder so many movie stars lived here.

As if the sights matter, Vida thought, tearing her eyes off the million-dollar view and putting them back on the screen of the iPhone in her lap. What was up with her? She never got distracted on a job. She took a calming breath. She seriously needed to buckle down. Taking her eye off the ball here would not be prudent. Not tonight.

She was in the midst of typing a text when out of the corner of her eye she noticed the driver trying to look down her shirt again. No wonder she was a little off her game, she thought with a muffled sigh. The new, pudgy driver that the cartel had sent at the last minute was incompetence walking on two legs. That was just like them to send her some fat-assed chump for “training” at the last minute. All he had to do was drive, and apparently, he couldn’t get even that done.

The next time the oaf let his eyes wander, Vida made a command leadership decision. She calmly lifted the MGP-84 machine pistol in her lap and placed the long, suppressed barrel to one of his stubbled chins.

“Do you think we’re on a hot date here tonight? On the way to the prom, maybe? By all means, give me your best line, Romeo. If it’s good enough, maybe we’ll skip first and go straight to second base,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” the suddenly sweating driver said after a long, tense beat. “I made a mistake.”

“No, that was your parents,” Vida said, digging the gun in hard under his fleshy chin. “Now, here’s the deal. You can either (a) keep your eyes on the road, or (b) I can splatter what little brains you possess all over it instead. Which do you prefer?”

“A,” the driver said, nodding rapidly after a moment. “I choose a. Please, señorita.”

“Excellent,” Vida said, finally lowering the chunky black metal pistol. “I’m so glad we had this little talk.”

The truck killed its lights before they pulled into the darkened driveway of 223 Sweetwater Mesa Road ten minutes later. She was about to retext the alarm company tech they’d bribed when he finally texted back. It was a one-word message, but it was enough.

Disabled, it said.

She wheeled around and slid open the small window that separated the rear of the truck from the cab. The eight cartel soldiers crouched there were wearing black balaclavas over their faces, black fatigues, black combat boots.

“Ándele,” she barked rabidly at them. “It’s time. What are you waiting for?”

The truck’s rear double doors opened silently, and the black-clad men issued forth onto the shadowed driveway and began gearing up. They strapped themselves into military-grade personal protective equipment, black nuclear-biological-chemical suits. Each suit had a self-contained breathing apparatus and was made of rubber over reinforced nylon and charcoal-impregnated felt.

Vida joined her men, slowly and carefully fitting the positive-pressure mask over her face before meticulously checking the suit’s material for any slits or gaps, as per her extensive training. When she was done, she bit her lip as she stared up at the seven-thousand-square-foot mission-style house behind the wrought iron gate. She let out a tense breath and closed her eyes, wondering if she was going to throw up the flock of butterflies swirling in her stomach.

She felt stage fright every time right before a job, but this was ridiculous. It was the uncertainty of what they were about to try. What they were about to do was...something new, something so volatile, so incredibly dangerous.

I really don’t want to do this, Vida thought for the hundredth time.

Who was she kidding? As if she had a choice after accepting her latest promotion. The path before her was excessively simple. Either go through with what the cartel had ordered or blow her own brains out right here and now.

She stared at the machine pistol in her heavy rubber-gloved hand, weighing her options. Then, after another moment, she did what she always did. She pulled herself the hell together and nodded to her right-hand man, Estefan. Two muffled coughing sounds ripped the warm quiet as he blew off the hinge bolts of the iron walkway gate beside the driveway with a suppressed shotgun.

“Remember, now. No guns unless completely necessary,” Vida said through the face mask’s built-in microphone as one of the men handed her a small video camera. “You all know why we are here. We are here to leave a message.”

One by one, the men nodded. The only sound now was that of their breathing from the interior speakers, an amplified metallic, metronomic hiss. Vida turned on the camera and pointed it at the men as they poured through the open gate and converged on the darkened house.

Copyright © 2013 by James Patterson

Read by Danny Mastrogiorgio & Henry Leyva

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