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Step on a Crack

First there was Alex Cross.

Then there was the Women's Murder Club.

Now meet Detective Michael Bennett, NYPD.

Detective Michael Bennett is about to face the greatest challenge of his career. After the death of a beloved former first lady, the most powerful people in the world gather in New York for her funeral. Then the inconceivable occurs. Billionaires, politicians, and superstars of every kind are suddenly trapped within one man's brilliant and ruthless scenario.

Ten adopted kids.
Bennett–father of ten–is pulled into the fray but is then hit with devastating news: his wife is battling a terrible disease. As New York descends into chaos, he faces the prospect of losing the great love of his life and having to raise his children alone.

The crime of the century to solve.
Day after day, Bennett confronts the most ruthless man he has ever encountered, a man who kills without hesitation. As the entire world watches, Bennett has to find a way out–or face responsibility for the greatest debacle in history.

Welcome to Michael Bennett's world.
From the #1 bestselling author who introduced readers to Alex Cross and the Women's Murder Club comes the beginning of a brand-new electrifying series. Step on a Crack is his most fiendishly terrifying thriller yet.

Prologue | THE LAST SUPPER

Three

THE PALE, blond autograph seeker from L’Arène told the pathetic wog of a cabdriver to pull over on Ninth Avenue, a block north of St. Vincent’s Hospital. He stuffed a ten into the grimy divider slot and elbowed open the greasy door latch to avoid touching it. There were good reasons he was known as the Neat Man.

A Channel 12 EyeScene news van screeched to a halt beside him as he made it to the corner. He stopped on his heels when he saw uniformed NYPD holding back a growing crowd of reporters and cameramen at the entrance to the hospital’s emergency room.

No, he thought. It couldn’t be! Were the fun and games already over?

He was crossing 52nd Street when he spotted a distraught-looking female EMT slumping out of the crowd.

“Miss?” he said, stepping up to her. “Could you tell me? Is this where they’ve brought First Lady Caroline?”

The full-figured Hispanic woman nodded her head, and then she suddenly moaned. Tears began to stream down her cheeks. A quivering hand went to her mouth.

“She just died,” she said. “Caroline Hopkins just died.”

The Neat Man felt dizzy for a second. Like the wind had been knocked right out of him. He blinked rapidly as he shook his head, stunned and elated.

“No,” he said. “Are you sure?”

The overwrought paramedic sobbed as she suddenly embraced him. “Ay Dios mío! She was a saint. All the work she did for poor people and AIDS. One time, she came to my mother’s project in the Bronx, and we shook her hand like she was the queen of England. Her Service America campaign was one of the reasons I became a paramedic. How could she be dead?”

“Lord knows,” the Neat Man said soothingly. “But she’s in His hands now, isn’t she?”

He could practically feel the billions of germs the woman was carrying. He shuddered, thinking of the indescribable filth a New York City paramedic came into contact with every day of her pitiful existence. A Hell’s Kitchen hospital worker for that matter!

“God, what am I doing?” the medic said, releasing him. “The news. The shock of it. I guess it tore me up. I was thinking about going to get some candles or flowers or something. It’s just so unreal. I … I’m Yolanda, by the way.”

“Yolanda? Yeah. I’m … uh … leaving,” the Neat Man said, brushing past her into the street.

He had his cell phone in his hand by the time he made it to the east side of Ninth Avenue. He could hear loudly clattering plates and chefs yelling in French when his call was picked up at L’Arène.

“It’s done, Julio,” he said. “She’s dead. Now get the hell out of there. You killed Caroline Hopkins. Congratulations.”

The Neat Man was about to shake his head in wonder at his good luck, but then stopped himself. Luck had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Three years to plan, he thought wistfully as he rounded the corner of 49th Street and headed east. Now they had just three days to pull off the rest of this job.

Minutes later, he was in the back of another taxi, heading north up Eighth. He took a couple of alcohol wipes out of his wallet and scoured his hands and face. He smoothed his lapels and crossed his hands in his lap as he sped through the bright lights, escaping the unclean city.

I’ll tell you what’s really so unreal, Yolanda baby, the Neat Man thought as the cab swerved around Columbus Circle and made its way up Broadway.

First Lady Caroline’s death is just the beginning!

Copyright © 2007 by James Patterson

Read by John Slattery & Reg Rogers

John Slattery's credits include: Flag of Our Fathers, Jack & Bobby, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Mona Lisa Smile, Sex and the City, and Will & Grace. He has read several audiobooks.

Reg Rogers was nominated for Broadway's 1996 Tony Award as Best Actor (Featured Role-Play) for a revival of Phillip Barry's Holiday. Other credits include: Analyze That, Igby Goes Down, Runaway Bride, If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Now, Shut Up and Sing and TV's: Ed, Miss Match, and Law & Order.

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