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PENGUIN BOOKS

The Dead Room

Chris Mooney is the author of five previous thrillers, of which Remembering Sarah was nominated for the prestigious Edgar Award for Best Novel. The Missing and The Secret Friend, the first two outings for CSI Darby McCormick, are both available as Penguin paperbacks. Chris lives in Boston with his wife and son.

The Dead Room

CHRIS MOONEY

Copyright © Chris Mooney, 2009

All rights reserved

For John Connolly and Gregg Hurwitz

Day 1

1

Darby McCormick stepped over the dead bodyguard as she ejected the two empty thirty-round magazine cartridges from her Heckler & Koch sub-machine gun. By the time the cartridges hit the floor she had loaded two fresh clips.

Sweat running down her face and back, she moved to the side of a door and tried listening for movement underneath the low and steady thump-thump-thump of the helicopter blades coming from the roof.

She couldn’t hear anything but knew Chris Flynn would be heading this way any moment. Downstairs in the main bay, crouched behind a stack of wooden crates as Flynn’s two bodyguards fired rounds from their automatic weapons, she had caught sight of Flynn rushing up the set of stairs just before her SWAT partner had cut the power to the warehouse. She ran up the opposite rickety balcony stairs to the first floor to intercept Flynn before he could make his way to the stairwell, his only means of escape.

Darby felt confident he hadn’t reached it yet. She swung around the corner, looking down her weapon sight at the long hallway lit by dim light bleeding through the windows. Still too dark. She flipped the night-vision goggles down across her eyes.

The darkness inside the warehouse room disappeared in a green ambient glow of light. She moved down the corridor, making her way to the stairwell.

A door slammed open and then she saw Flynn standing behind a frightened woman with his forearm wrapped around her throat, the muzzle of a Glock digging against the side of her head. A single eye peeked above the woman’s shoulder. No single body part was exposed.

Shit. No way to get off a clean shot. She didn’t want to kill him, just wound him before he could reach the copter. Her orders were explicit: capture Flynn alive. Dead, he was worthless.

I know what you assholes want me to do,’ Flynn screamed, his voice echoing through the stifling hot air. ‘I’m not going to say shit.’

Darby inched her way down the hall. ‘I’m here to protect you, Mr Flynn. The cartel –’

‘Stop right there and drop your weapon.’

Darby stopped but didn’t lower her weapon. ‘The cartel will kill you, Chris. You know too much. They can’t afford to keep you alive. We can offer you protection in exchange for –’

IM NOT PLAYING AROUND HERE. DROP YOUR WEAPON RIGHT NOW OR I SWEAR TO CHRIST ILL KILL HER.’

Darby had no doubt the 38-year-old American banker would do it. He had strangled his girlfriend of twelve years to death when he found out she had talked to the Boston police about Flynn using his cheque-cashing company to launder nearly half a billion dollars in cocaine profits for the Mendula family, a Columbian drug cartel.

Flynn lurched forward, using the woman’s body as a shield. The woman stumbled, the heels of her shoes scraping across the floor as she clutched Flynn’s arm. Her long black hair covered most of her face. She wasn’t dressed like any of the warehouse employees. She wore rhinestone T-strap pumps and a white business suit professionally tailored for her tall, curvy frame.

SWAT can track the copter, Darby thought. They might be able to move people into place by the time it touches down.

‘Please do what he say,’ the woman cried in broken English. ‘Two babies at home. I want to go home and see babies.’

Darby spoke in a loud, clear voice. ‘Okay, Chris, you’re in charge. I’m backing away from the stairs.’

‘Now drop the gun.’

Darby still hesitated.

‘Let the hostage go and you have my word.’

The woman yelped, a harsh, choking sound.

I’ll do it, I swear to Christ –’

‘Okay, Chris.’ Darby lowered her weapon, then released the clip for the shoulder strap.

Flynn inched towards the stairs. The FLIR night vision provided excellent clarity and contrast. She could make out the tiny, worm-like scars on Flynn’s bald head, could see the woman’s diamond rings and the intricate details of her bracelet.

Darby dropped the HK and kicked it down the corridor to her right. If Flynn decided to fire, she might be able to duck down there. She wore a bulletproof vest underneath the camouflage, metal armour plates on her shins and legs. You better hope he doesn’t try for a headshot.

‘Your turn,’ Darby said.

‘I still don’t trust you.’ Flynn stepped closer. ‘Get on your knees – and no sudden movements.’

‘I’ll do whatever you want as long as you promise not to harm the hostage.’

‘Then do it, nice and slow. You pull any shit and I’ll kill her, understand?’

‘I understand.’ Darby knelt and slowly moved her hands up by her face.

‘Stay right there,’ Flynn said. ‘Stay right where you are and I’ll let her go.’

Flynn stopped near the bottom steps of the stairwell. The corridor’s hot, musty odour mixed with the unmistakable scent of the woman’s Chanel No. 5.

He released the hostage. Darby heard the woman run up the steps, tripping in her ridiculous shoes.

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