Enigma

Enigma by Catherine Coulter

Available in...

HardCover edition on sale September 12, 2017
Audio edition on sale September 12, 2017

When Agent Dillon Savich saves Kara Moody from a seemingly crazy man, he doesn’t realize he will soon be facing a scientist who wants to live forever and is using “John Doe” to help him. But when the scientist, Lister Maddox, loses him, he ups the stakes and targets another to take his experiments to the next level.

It’s a race against time literally as Savich and Sherlock rush to stop him and save both present and future victims of his experiments. In the meantime, Cam Wittier and Jack Cabot must track a violent criminal through the Daniel Boone National Forest. When he escapes through a daring rescue, the agents have to find out who set his escape in motion and how it all ties into the murder of Mia Prevost, the girlfriend of the president’s Chief of Staff’s only son, Saxton Hainny. It’s international intrigue at the highest levels and they know they have to succeed or national security is compromised.

 

Excerpt for ENIGMA by Catherine Coulter

Near Pennington Gap, Virginia

Monday morning

U.S. Federal Marshal Chan Michaels was chair-dancing to “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots to keep himself alert as he drove the marshals’ big black van. He liked the pounding rhythm, liked the video even more because all of it was shot in jail. He wondered if Liam Hennessey, who actually preferred to go by his moniker, Manta Ray, knew that. Sure he did, the dude wasn’t stupid, anything but, from what Chan had heard. When the Pilots finished, Chan turned down the sound to listen through the wire cage to whatever it was his fellow marshals Otter and Benz were saying.

They were talking sports, of course, this time, basketball. He heard Manta Ray laugh at something Otter said, a nice, inviting laugh. Amazing, really, coming from a psychopath. Chan had dealt with enough of them to know they could make you forget how seriously scary bad they were when they laid on the charm. The federal prosecutor must have done a happy dance when Manta Ray accepted a plea bargain rather than wait a year for a jury trial. Who knew what would have happened if there were women on the jury? Even men seemed to be drawn to Manta Ray until they found out who and what he was. If he wasn’t out to kill you, you had to like the guy.

Otter said something Chan couldn’t make out, probably more basketball talk, even though it was baseball season, and he tuned them out. He was happy enough to let the Warriors rule the basketball kingdom as Otter insisted, but he really didn’t care. With him, it was always all about football and the Redskins. He heard Benz say to Manta Ray, “You’re what, thirty-three?”

Benz knew better than that. The less said to a prisoner while being transported, the better. But Benz was nearing retirement, and he didn’t pay much attention to the rules anymore. He’d transported thousands of prisoners over his long career, seen about everything, and now, he did what he wanted.

Manta Ray said in his smooth voice with its hint of the Irish from County Cork, his birthplace, “I turned thirty-four in jail last week. One of the lady guards brought me a chocolate cupcake with a candle on top. She couldn’t light the candle, it was against the rules, she said, as if I’d stick it in her face and try to escape, and she rolled her eyes. Her name was Monica. She was cute, and she liked me. I told Monica to take the candle off the cupcake and lick it.” Manta Ray gave them a big white-toothed grin.

Otter snorted out an embarrassed laugh. Benz said, “I saw a prisoner stick a lighted match in a guard’s ear once, all he could reach. No one knew how he’d gotten hold of it.”

“Did he manage to hurt him?” Manta Ray asked.

Benz said, “The guard outweighed him by fifty pounds. He punched him in the ribs a couple of times, put him in the infirmary. After he got out, he spent two weeks in solitary.”

“A good story.” Manta Ray lowered his voice. “Me? If that guard had tried than on me, I’d have stuffed my birthday cupcake up his nose and held his mouth closed. Imagine, death by cupcake.” He gave an easy laugh, only this time Chan felt gooseflesh rise on his arms. He heard Otter take a sharp breath. Manta Ray freaked him out. He was young, new to the federal marshal’s service. Chan imagined he hadn’t heard a lot of talk like this before.

“Now there’s a visual,” Benz said, and yawned. Nothing a prisoner said could touch Benz. “I heard you have a big-time lawyer. Why’d he plea bargain you out?”

Chan was surprised Benz would ask that. That was over-the-top even for him. Sports talk was one thing, maybe even the cupcake story, but talking about his case, that was just plain unprofessional. Chan started to say something when Manta Ray said matter-of-factly, “Bowler, my lawyer, was afraid I’d get the death penalty, even though it was Marvin who killed the bank teller, not me. But hey, if you’re there to play, you have to pay. Me? I don’t believe in violence.”

Benz said, “Yeah, right. One of your priors was for stomping your girlfriend. You broke three of her teeth and her jaw.”

Chan pictured Manta Ray shrugging. “Bitch hit my kid. I didn’t like it.” He fell silent. Chan had heard the federal prosecutor say the guy had three or four kids with different women. No wives. How would those kids grow up carting this guy’s genes around?

There was silence in the back of the van. Chan didn’t think it would last. Benz was shooting off his mouth because he was bored, and Otter was only following his lead.

Sure enough, Benz picked it up again. “Your buddy Marvin Cass got his brains blown out at the bank, but you got away, even with a bullet in your side. I was impressed reading that, even if the FBI found you later in that flophouse in the warehouse district in Alexandria. They didn’t find any of the jewelry or money you stole from the bank safe-deposit boxes, did they? You had the grit to hide it first. That impressed me, too. Tell me something. Now that you’re about to spend the next thirty years in lockup, maybe you want to change your mind, clear your conscience? Tell us where you hid all that fine stuff you stole?”

Manta Ray laughed, tut-tutted. “Are you conspiring with a prisoner, Mr. Federal Marshal? You want a share to fill out your retirement?”

Otter gave another nervous laugh, said, “Of course he isn’t, but I bet you could still get less time if you told the FBI where you hid all of it. Why haven’t you?”

“Ah, lad, an excellent question. Of course there’s an answer, there’s always an answer. Maybe you’ll find out soon enough.” His Irish was riding high, so thick it was like he’d left Ireland the week before.

Chan looked in his rearview, saw Manta Ray had leaned against the van wall and closed his eyes. Actually, he’d wondered about that, too. Why hold on to the loot if it was going to cost him thirty years in prison?

Benz said, “In thirty years, I’ll probably be underground. But thirty years is a long time, a very long time. I plan to spend it fishing the Great Lakes and playing a lot of golf courses. I’ll be free to do what I want when I want. I could have sex every night until I croak, what with Viagra. But you? Sorry, buddy, you’re screwed.”

Chan would have told anyone but Benz to shut up by now, but he didn’t want to start an argument, didn’t want Manta Ray to hear that. So he decided to mind his own, maybe listen to the Pilots again and chair-dance some more. But first, right now, he couldn’t help but listen.

Manta Ray said, “You think I’m going to go without sex for thirty years?” He laughed, only this time, his laugh was nasty, with an edge that made Chan’s skin crawl. “We’ll see about that, won’t we?”

Silence again. This time it lasted.

They had less than an hour before they reached Lee Penitentiary, the high-security federal prison in Pennington Gap, Virginia. Chan couldn’t wait to hand Manta Ray over to the prison staff. He looked in the rearview, saw Benz reading a novel, Otter staring through the mesh cage out the front of the van.

Finally, Chan saw a flash of the huge white concrete penitentiary tower in the distance through a small gap between two low hills. Nearly there. He turned the big black Chevy van off the interstate onto the narrow two-lane road that led to Lee. Only two miles to go. Chan glanced into his rearview, saw Manta Ray was awake, leaning forward, focused. On what? His dark eyes dominated a strong high-cheekboned face that was movie-star good-looking, no doubt about that. But Chan could see that someone would forget the good looks, if he looked long enough into Manta Ray’s eyes and saw the blackness behind them. It looked to Chan like his lips were moving, like he was chanting silently. Was he meditating or trying to cast some kind of curse? Chan felt a stab of fear, shook his head at himself. Manta Ray was a seriously scary man, and he’d seen a lot of scary in his ten years as a U.S. marshal.

Chan drove carefully as the road narrowed over a short bridge, the stream running beneath running high because of the recent heavy rains. Once off the bridge the oaks and maples grew so lush they nearly met over the road. It was beautiful country, endless rolling hills dotted with small towns, cattle, sheep, an occasional white house, and more trees than you’d care to count. That day the sky was a clear shining blue, the air sweet and warm. He’d never minded the prisoner runs to Lee, except maybe this one. He didn’t want to think about it, but he was uncomfortable in the same van with this prisoner. He was a bottomless pit of mean covered with a coat of slippery charm. He wanted this run over.

Chan smoothly followed a bend in the road when he saw a motorcycle on its side across both lanes, the rider down beside it, unmoving. He braked, threw the steering wheel over just as a man burst from the trees and ran toward them, dressed in commando black, mask and army boots. In the next moment, a dark metal canister shot through his open driver’s side window, an inch from Chan’s face, and slammed against the passenger door.

A flash bang.

Chan only had an instant to throw the van into reverse and lay on the gas before a ferocious bright light blinded him and an incredible blast in the enclosed space deafened him. The whole van shook with the force of the concussion. It knocked him senseless for a moment. When his brain was working again, his world was spinning and his body bowed forward in pain. He lost control. The van shot backward off the road, its rear end slamming hard into an oak, throwing Chan sideways. As his head lashed back, the airbag exploded in his face.

He heard Otter and Benz yelling, moving around. Then he heard the back window shatter under a rain of bullets, and heard another flash bang crash into the van. He heard Otter yell, heard another explosion, then he heard groans. At least Manta Ray wasn’t going anywhere in his three-piece prisoner’s suit, his feet shackled to the floor of the van.

Only Chan could get them out of here. He pushed away the airbag and swiped his shirtsleeve over his tearing eyes, trying to clear his vision. He got the engine turned over again, but the van only lurched to one side on its rear wheels. It had to be a broken axle.

He heard another canister slam into the van through the shattered back window. Chan knew it wasn’t another flash bang when he heard it hissing out some kind of aerosol and heard Benz and Otter wheezing and coughing. The gas would get him through the wire cage in seconds.

Chan pressed the power button on his sat phone, punched in the emergency number and yelled, “We’re down! We’re down! One mile from Lee! We’re down!” He felt the world fading, and there was nothing he could do about it. He watched smoke rise in a skinny gray funnel from beneath the hood as the sat phone dropped from his hand.

He heard someone’s voice outside the van, shouting orders. How many were there? It didn’t matter, nothing he could do mattered anymore. Chan wondered if the gas, or whatever it was, was going to kill him. He didn’t want to die, he wanted to stay with Liddy and the kids---