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Private L.A.

Private Jack Morgan investigates the disappearance of the biggest superstar couple in Hollywood.

Thom and Jennifer Harlow are the perfect couple, with three perfect children. They maybe two of the biggest mega movie stars in the world, but they're also great parents, philanthropists and just all-around good people.

When they disappear without a word from their ranch, facts are hard to find. They live behind such a high wall of security and image control that even world-renowned Private Investigator Jack Morgan can't get to the truth. But as Jack keeps probing, secrets sprout thick and fast--and the world's golden couple may emerge as hiding behind a world of desperation and deception that the wildest reality show couldn't begin to unveil. Murder is only the opening scene.

Part One | A VANISHING ACT

Chapter 2

SPEEDING NORTH INTO Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway, driving the VW Touareg I use when the weather turns sloppy, I could still smell Guin, still hear her words to me before the cab took her away: “No more dress rehearsals, Jack.”

Pulling up to Sherman Wilkerson’s gate, I felt like the village idiot for leaving Guin, wanted to spin around and head for her place in Westwood.

Wilkerson, however, had recently hired my firm, Private Investigations, to help reorganize security at Wilkerson Data Systems offices around the world. I parked in an empty spot in front of the screen of bougainvillea that covered the wall above the dream home Wilkerson had bought the year before for his wife, Elaine. Tragically, she’d died in a car wreck a month after they moved in.

Head ducked in the driving rain, I rang the bell at the gate, heard it buzz, went down steep wet stairs onto a terrace that overlooked the turbulent beach. Waves thundered against the squalling wind that buffeted various L.A. Sheriff ’s vehicles converged on a crime scene lit by spotlights.

“They’re in the fire, four dead men, Jack,” said Wilkerson, who’d come out a sliding glass door in a raincoat, hood up. “You can’t see them now because of the tarps, but they’re there. I saw them through my binoculars when the first cop showed up with a flashlight.”

“Anyone come talk to you?”

“They will,” he said, close enough that I could see his bushy gray brows beneath the hood. “Crime scene abuts my property.”

“But you have nothing to worry about, right?”

“You mean did I kill them?”

“Crime scene abuts your property.”

“I was at work with several people on my management team until after midnight, got here around one, looked down on the beach, saw the flashlight, used the binoculars, called you,” Wilkerson said.

“I’ll take a look,” I said.

“Unless it’s dire, tell me about it all in the morning, would you? I’m exhausted.”

“Absolutely, Sherman,” I said, shook his hand. “And one of my people is coming in behind me, in case you have the driveway alert on.”

He nodded. I headed to the staircase to the beach, watched Wilkerson go into his house and turn on a light, saw moving boxes piled everywhere.

Either poor Sherman was leaving soon, or he’d never really arrived.

Copyright © 2014 by James Patterson

Read by Jay Snyder

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