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Worst Case

Alex Cross has Washington, DC. The Women's Murder Club has San Francisco. Detective Michael Bennett has all of New York City—chaos capital of the world.

Best case: Survival
The son of one of New York's wealthiest families is snatched off the street and held hostage. His parents can't save him, because this kidnapper isn't demanding money. Instead, he quizzes his prisoner on the price others pay for his life of luxury. In this exam, wrong answers are fatal.

Worst case: Death
Detective Michael Bennett leads the investigation. With ten kids of his own, he can't begin to understand what could lead someone to target anyone's children. As another student disappears, another powerful family uses their leverage and connections to turn up the heat on the mayor, the press—anyone who will listen—to stop this killer. Their reach extends all the way to the FBI, which sends its top Abduction Specialist, Agent Emily Parker. Bennett's life—and love life—suddenly get even more complicated.

This case: Detective Michael Bennett is on it
Before Bennett has a chance to protest the FBI's intrusion on his case, the mastermind changes his routine. His plan leads up to the most devastating demonstration yet—one that could bring cataclysmic ruin to every inch of New York City. From the shocking first page to the last exhilarating scene, Worst Case is a nonstop thriller from "America's #1 storyteller" (Forbes).

Part One | ASHES TO ASHES

Chapter 2

JACOB WAS UNCUFFED and pulled roughly for twenty or so steps and slammed into a hard-backed seat. Light spiked his eyes as his blindfold was sliced away, and his hands were cuffed again behind his back.

He was in a child's school desk in a vast, windowless space. In front of him was an old-fashioned wooden rolling blackboard with nothing written on it. Behind him was a cold presence that lifted the hairs from his neck.

Jacob sobbed silently as a lighter hissed. The faintly spicy scent of tobacco smoke filled the air. "Good morning, Master Dunning," said a voice behind him.

It was a man's voice. The man sounded perfectly sane, highly educated, in fact. He reminded him of a popular English teacher he'd had at Horace Mann, Mr. Manducci.

Hey, wait. Maybe it was Mr. Manducci. He always did seem a little too, er, friendly with some of the male students. Could this be a kidnapping or something? Jacob's CEO father was extremely wealthy.

Jacob could actually feel the relief emit from his pores. He decided he'd take a kidnapping at this point. Ransom, being released. He was down with that. Please be a kidnapping, he found himself thinking.

"My family has money, sir," Jacob said, carefully trying to keep the terror out of his voice and failing.

"Yes, they do," the man said pleasantly. He could have been the DJ for a classical music station. "That's precisely the problem. They have too much money and too little sense. They own a Mercedes McLaren, a Bentley—oh, and a Prius. How green of them. You can thank their hypocrisy for bringing you here. Unfortunately for you, your father seems to have forgotten his Exodus twenty, verse five: For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons.' "

Jacob twitched violently in the hard chair as a stainless-steel pistol barrel softly caressed his right cheek.

"Now I'm going to ask you some questions," his captor said. "Your answers are very, very important. You've heard of pass-fail, haven't you?"

The pistol jabbed hard into Jacob's face, its hammer cocking with a sharp click.

"This test you're about to take is pass-die. Now, question one: What was your nanny's name?"

Who? My nanny? Jacob thought. What the hell was this?

"R-R-Rosa?" Jacob said.

"That's right. Rosa. So far, so good, Master Dunning. Now, what was her last name?"

Oh, shit, Jacob thought. Abando? Abrado? Something. He didn't know. The sweet, silly woman that he had played hide-and-seek with. Who'd fed him after school. Rosa, pressing her warm cheek against his as she helped him blow out the candles on his birthday cake. How could he not know her last name?

"Time's up," the man sang.

"Abrado?" Jacob said.

"Not even close," the man said in disgust. "Her name was Rosalita Chavarria. She was a person, you see. She actually had a first and a last name. Just like you. She was flesh and blood. Just like you. She died last year, you know. A year after your parents fired her because she was becoming forgetful, she went back to her home country. Which leads us to our third question: What was Rosa's home country?"

How the hell had this guy known about Rosa's termination? Who was this? A friend of hers? He didn't sound Hispanic. Again, what was this?

"Nicaragua?" Jacob tried.

"Incorrect again. She was from Honduras. A month after she returned to a one-room shack owned by her sister, she had to go for a hysterectomy. In a substandard hospital outside of Tegucigalpa, she was given a tainted transfusion of blood and contracted HIV. Honduras has the highest concentration of AIDS in the Western Hemisphere. Did you know that? Sure you did.

"Now, question four: What is the average life span in Honduras for an HIV-positive person? I'll give you a hint. It's a hell of a lot less than the fifteen years it is in this country."

Jacob Dunning began to cry.

"I don't know. How would I know? Please."

"That won't do, Jacob," the man said, jamming and twisting the barrel of the gun painfully against his teeth. "Perhaps I'm not making myself clear enough. There'll be no Ivy League A in this class. No tutors. No helpful strategies to maximize your score. You can't cheat, and the results are ultimate. This is a test that you've had your whole life to study for, but I have the feeling you were slacking off. So I'd try to think a little bit harder. HIV-positive life span in Honduras! Answer now!"

Copyright © 2010 by James Patterson

Read by Bobby Cannavale, Orlagh Cassidy
and John Glover

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