IT HAD BEEN MONTHS since Kyle Craig had killed a man. Once upon a time, he’d been the type who needed everything yesterday, if not sooner. But no more. If years of hellish solitude in ADX Florence in Colorado had taught him nothing else, it was how to wait for what he wanted.
He sat patiently in the foyer of his quarry’s Miami apartment, weapon cradled on his lap, watching the lights of the harbor and biding his time. He was in no particular hurry, enjoying the view, maybe finally learning to enjoy life. He certainly looked relaxed—faded jeans, sandals, a T-shirt that said CONSIDER THIS FAIR WARNING.
At 2:12 a.m., a key sounded in the lock. Kyle immediately rose to his feet and pressed his back against the wall, hanging there as silently as a piece of art.
The man of the hour, Max Siegel, was whistling as he came in. Kyle recognized the melody, an old snatch from his childhood. It was from Peter and the Wolf. The strings section—Peter’s hunting theme. Ironically enough.
He waited for Mr. Siegel to close the door behind him and take a few more steps into the still-dark apartment. Then Kyle leveled his red laser site and squeezed the trigger. “Hello, Mr. Siegel,” he said. “Good to meet you.”
A stream of electrically charged saline solution hit Siegel squarely in the back, carrying fifty thousand volts with it. He grunted between clenched teeth. His shoulders seized up just before his body went completely rigid, and he fell like a tree to the floor.
Kyle didn’t hesitate for a second. He quickly slipped a nylon cord across Siegel’s throat, wound it around three times, and started to drag him in a small circle to sop up the saline solution on the floor, then yanked him straight through the apartment toward the master bath in the back. Siegel was too weak to struggle. Whatever effort he could muster was spent on the cord itself, trying not to be strangled.
“Don’t fight me,” Kyle said finally. “There’s no point in it.”
In the bathroom, Kyle lifted him into the oversize tub and tied off the ends of the cord to one of the chrome fixtures. It wasn’t necessary, physically speaking, but it kept Siegel’s head up where Kyle could see his face.
“You probably don’t even know about these, do you?” he said, holding up the strange gun he’d carried in. “I know you’ve been underground awhile, but trust me, they’re going to be huge.”
The thing looked like a Super Soaker, which it kind of was. Regular Tasers could go for thirty seconds at best. This baby could run and run, thanks to a two-gallon wearable water pack strapped to his back.
“What… do you want?” Siegel finally choked out in response to the madness.
Kyle withdrew a small Canon digital camera from his pocket and started taking pictures. Full face, left profile, right profile.
“I know who you are, Agent Siegel. Let’s start there, okay?”
A look of confusion crossed the man’s face. Then fear. “Oh God, this is some kind of horrible mistake. My name is Ivan Schimmel!”
“No,” Kyle said, snapping away—brow, nose, chin. “You’re Max Siegel, and you’re FBI. You’ve been deep undercover for the last twenty-six months. Worked your way up with the Buenez cartel until they trusted you enough to start making shipments.
“Now, while everyone’s watching Colombia, you’re running he**in from Phuket and Bangkok to Miami.”
He lowered the camera and looked Siegel in the eye. “Never mind the moral relativism. It’s all in the name of the big takedown at the end. Isn’t that right, Agent Siegel?”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about!” he cried. “Please! Check my wallet!” He’d begun to struggle again, but another dose of voltage put a quick end to that. The electricity went right after the motor and sensory nerves. Siegel’s pain tolerance was irrelevant. And the ammo, such as it was, ran right down the drain into Biscayne Bay.
“I suppose you might be forgiven for not recognizing me,” Kyle went on. “Does the name ‘Kyle Craig’ mean anything to you? Or maybe the Mastermind? That’s what they call me up at the Puzzle Palace in DC. As a matter of fact, I used to work there. Long time ago.”
A flash of recognition came and went in Siegel’s eyes, not that Kyle needed any kind of confirmation. His reconnaissance was still flawless.
But this Max Siegel was a pro, too. He wasn’t about to stop playing the game now, especially now. “Please,” he blubbered on when he found his voice again, “what is this? Who are you? I don’t know what you want.”
“Everything, Max. Every last little thing.”
Kyle took another half dozen pictures and repocketed the camera. “You’re actually a victim of your own good work, if that’s any consolation. Nobody knows who you are down here, not even the local FBI. That’s why I chose you. I selected you out of all the agents working in the United States. You, Max. Can you guess why?”
His voice had changed as he spoke. It was more nasal now, with the same shades of Brooklyn accent that laced the real Max Siegel’s speech.
“This will never work! You’re insane!” Siegel screamed at him. “You’re fu**ing mad!”
“By some standards, I think that might be true,” Kyle said. “But I’m also the most brilliant son of a bitch you’ll ever have the pleasure to know.” Then he pulled the trigger one more time and just let the thing run.
Siegel writhed mutely on the bottom of the tub. Eventually, he began to gag on his own tongue. Kyle watched, carefully noting every detail all the way to the end, studying his subject until there was nothing left to learn.
“Let’s hope this works,” he said. “Wouldn’t want you to have died for nothing, Mr. Siegel.”
TWENTY-TWO DAYS LATER, a man bearing a striking resemblance to Max Siegel checked out of the Hotel Meliá Habana in the ritzy Miramar section of Havana, Cuba. Medical tourists were as common as pickpockets here; no one looked twice at the broad-shouldered man in the linen suit with bruises around his eyes and gauze over his nose and ears as he came through the lobby.
He signed the bill with a perfectly replicated signature and kept the charges on Max Siegel’s brand-new American Express card. The surgeries, however, had been paid for in cash.
From the hotel, he caught a cab across town to Dr. Cruz’s office, discreetly tucked into one of the city’s endless neoclassic arcades. Inside was a full-service, completely staffed modern clinic that would have made a high-priced plastic surgeon in Miami or Palm Beach proud.
“I have to tell you, Senor Siegel, that I’m quite pleased with this.” The doctor spoke softly as he removed the last of the bandages. “It is some of the best work I’ve ever done, if I may say so.” His manner was thoughtful but crisp and efficient—very professional. You’d never know he was willing to cut so many ethical corners along with the skin and bones of his clients’ faces.
Dr. Cruz had performed seven separate procedures, something that might have taken months or even a year elsewhere. There was blepharoplasty for the eyelids; a template rhinoplasty for the nose, with a complete elevation of the skin and soft tissue in the nasal pyramid; new MEDPOR implants for more prominent cheekbones and chin; a sliding genioplasty of the jawbone; a little silicone augmentation for the brow; and, as a finishing touch, a nice little cleft in the chin—just like Max Siegel’s.
At the patient’s request, no electronic imaging had been taken before or after the procedures. For the right rate, Dr. Cruz had been more than willing to work from a series of digital blowups in hard copy, no questions asked, no interest in any biophysical detail.
Now, when he held up the large hand mirror for Kyle to see his reflection, the effect was stunning. The implants, especially, were like a miracle of change.
Max—not Kyle—smiled back from the mirror. He felt a slight sting at the corners of his mouth, which didn’t move quite the same way as before. In fact, he didn’t recognize himself at all. It was a total mind fuck, in the best possible way. There had been other disguises in the past, including some very expensive prosthetics that had gotten him out of prison. But they were nothing compared to this.
“How long will the bruising last?” he asked. “And this swelling around my eyes?”
Cruz handed him a folder of aftercare information. “With proper rest, you should be looking completely normal in seven to ten days.”
The remaining changes, he could do for himself—shave and dye his hair down to a dark buzz cut and put in a simple pair of colored contacts. If there was any disappointment at all, it was that Kyle Craig had been so much better looking than Max Siegel.
But screw it. He needed to consider the larger picture here. Next time, he could be Brad Pitt if he wanted to.
He left the clinic in an excellent mood and took another cab straight to José Martí International Airport. From there, he caught a flight back to Miami, with a connection to Washington, DC, that same afternoon. For the main event.
Already, his thoughts had begun to coalesce around one idea: meeting up with his old friend and sometimes partner Alex Cross. Had Alex forgotten the promises Kyle had made to him over the years? That didn’t seem possible. But had Cross grown just a little complacent in the meantime? Maybe so. In any case, the “great” Alex Cross was going to die, and die badly. There would be pain, but even more than that—regret. It would be a finale worth waiting for, no question.
And in the interim, Kyle was going to have some fun. After all, as the new and improved Max Siegel, he knew better than anybody that there was more than one way to take another man’s life.
ANOTHER MANHOLE COVER had exploded in Georgetown, blowing nearly forty feet in the air. It was a strange little epidemic, as the city’s aging infrastructure reached some kind of critical mass.
Over time, underground wires had frayed and smoldered, filling the space beneath the streets with flammable gas. Ultimately—and more frequently these days—the exposed wires created an electrical arc, lighting a fireball in the sewer and sending another three-hundred-pound iron disk flying up into the air.
This was the weird, scary stuff Denny and Mitch lived for. Every afternoon, they would gather up their papers to sell and hoof it over to the library to check the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) website for wherever rush-hour traffic was at its worst. Logjams were their meat.
Even on an ordinary day, the Key Bridge lived up to its nickname, the Car Strangled Spanner, but today the M Street approach was somewhere between a parking lot and a circus. Denny worked his way up the middle of the traffic, and Mitch took the outside.
“True Press, only a dollar. Help the homeless.”
“Jesus loves you. Help the homeless?”
They were an odd pair, to look at them—Denny, a six-feet-something white guy with bad teeth and stubble that never quite hid his sunken chin, and then Mitch, a brother with a boyish, dark black face, a husky body that topped out at five six, and stubby little baby dreads on his head to match.
“This is a perfect metaphor right here, ain’t it?” Denny was saying. They talked to each other over the tops of the cars—or, rather, Denny talked and Mitch played a sort of straight man for the customers.
“You got pressure building, way down low where no one’s looking, ’cause it’s all just rats and shit down there, and who cares, right? But then one day—” Denny puffed out his cheeks and made a sound like a nuclear explosion. “Now you gotta pay attention, ’cause the rats and shit, they’re everywhere, and everyone wants to know why somebody else didn’t do something to stop it. I mean, if that ain’t Washington to a tee, I don’t know what the hell is.”
“To a tee, bro. To a P, Q, R, S, tee,” Mitch said, and laughed at his own dumb joke. His faded shirt read, IRAQ: IF YOU WEREN’T THERE, SHUT UP! His pants were baggy camos, like Denny’s, only cut off around the calf.
Denny kept his shirt up over his shoulders to show off a half-decent six-pack. It never hurt to put a little eye candy on the table, and his face wasn’t exactly his strong suit. “It’s the American way,” he went on, loud enough for anyone with an open window to hear. “Keep doing what you always did, so you keep gettin’ what you always got. Am I right?” he asked a pretty business suit in a BMW. She actually smiled and bought a paper. “God bless you, miss. Now that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how we do it!”
He continued to fleece the crowd, getting more and more drivers to reach out their windows with cash in hand.
“Yo, Denny.” Mitch chinned at a couple of street cops working their way over from Thirty-fourth. “I don’t think these two are feeling us too much.”
Denny shouted over before the cops could talk first. “Panhandling ain’t illegal, officers. Not outside federal parklands, and last I checked, M Street ain’t no park!”
One of them gestured around at the snarl of traffic, Pepco trucks, and fire department vehicles. “You’re kidding me, right? Let’s go. Clear out.”
“Come on, man, you gonna deny a couple of homeless vets the right to make an honest living?”
“You ever been in Iraq, man?” Mitch added. People were starting to stare.
“You heard the officer,” the second cop told him. “Move along. Now.”
“Hey, man, just ’cause you got an as**ole don’t mean you gotta be one,” Denny said, to a few laughs. He could feel the captive audience coming over to his side.
Suddenly there was some pushing. Mitch didn’t much like to be touched, and the cop who tried went down on his ass between the cars. The other one got a hand on Denny’s shoulder and, like a lightning bolt, Denny knocked it away.
Time to go.
He slid across the hood of a yellow cab and started toward Prospect with Mitch right behind.
“Stop right there!” one of the cops shouted after them.
Mitch kept running, but Denny turned around. There were several cars between Denny and the officers now. “What are you going to do, shoot a homeless vet in the middle of traffic?” Then he spread his arms wide. “Go ahead, man. Take me out. Save the government a few bucks.”
People were honking, and some of them yelled from their cars.
“Give the guy a break, man!”
“Support the troops!”
Denny smiled, gave the officer a crisp salute with his middle finger, and ran to catch up with Mitch. A second later, they were sprinting up Thirty-third Street and were soon out of sight.