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Catherine Coulter

Whiplash

Book 14 in the FBI Thriller series, 2010

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank:

Lisa Amoroso for yet another incredible jacket.

Karen Evans for her excellent discrepancy-spotting in the manuscript.

Dorian Hastings for all her excellent catches in copyediting.

Chris Pepe for her special enthusiasm about this book.

Erin Vollmer for always keeping all the balls in the air.

I'm very lucky to have you all in my corner. Thank you very much.

To a great group of women:

Ingrid Becker

Lesley DeLone

Karen Evans

Catherine Lyons-Labate

I'm glad you're in my life.

1

STONE BRIDGE, CONNECTICUT

Late Sunday night

Erin used her third-generation lock picks. She knew each one intimately, having successfully, and in excellent time, learned to unlock by the age of six and a half whatever her father hid under her pillow. Her hands didn't shake, though her heart felt like it would pound out of her chest. Crouching in a dark maintenance closet for three hours with two bottles of water and a PayDay candy bar hadn't been fun, but surely it wasn't all that illegal. What she was doing now, though, it was the real deal. She wasn't just twisting the law, she was stomping on it. She was breaking and entering. She could go to jail for the rest of her youth, which would be a real shame since she hadn't yet produced the fourth generation of lock pickers.

It wasn't the first time she'd gone through the back door to make things right for a client, but she prayed with all her heart it would be the last. Maybe if she'd been able to speak to the CEO, Caskie Royal, if only she could have tried to reason with him-no, that was a load of bull.

The lock snicked open. She slid her grandfather's picks back into the pocket of her black jacket, checked the corridor both ways, and opened the door just enough so she could slip inside the CEO's office. She turned on her penlight to get the lay of the land. It was a large square room, business-opulent, she'd call it, with a rich dark burgundy leather sofa, a love seat, and a huge matching chair with ottoman. A fine antique mahogany desk dominated the office. She flicked off the penlight, locked the door, and walked to the wall-wide window behind the desk, to make sure no one was out there. Mr. Royal had a lovely view of a large parklike lawn, now moonlit, lined with plants still bursting with blooms at the very end of summer. The maple and oak woods behind the lawn stretched a good quarter of a mile into Van Wie Park. Since she didn't see a single soul out there, she didn't close the draperies. She stepped to the computer sitting on the big desk and turned it on.

Of course it was pass-coded, but she was prepared for that. Her list had failed her only once, but that was years ago, and she started in on it now. Number 3 on her list-his third wife's birthday, that was the one she was betting on, but it was Number 4-the family dog, Adler, named after Schiffer Hartwin's director, Adler Dieffendorf. She was fairly certain Caskie Royal's boss wasn't aware of this honor-that his namesake was a happy brainless Dalmatian she'd seen belly up, legs waving, on Jane Ann Royal's website. Maybe it meant Mr. Royal had something of a sense of humor, since Herr Doktor Adler Dieffendorf's photo in Schiffer Hartwin's glossy annual report showed an older man with a lovely head of white hair, a thin patrician nose, and intelligent gray eyes.

She was in. Thanks, Adler.

She began searching his files. She felt queasy and ignored it. Get it done, get it done. If you're caught and go to trial, maybe the jury won't convict you given what these greedy yahoos are doing unless you get a crappy lawyer-there it was, no doubt at all in her mind-a file titled 'Project A.'

She began reading what were obviously Caskie Royal's notes on what Schiffer Hartwin was doing with the drug Culovort. He'd detailed his instructions complete with a To Do list, all neatly bulleted, beginning with the near shutdown of Culovort production at the U.S. Schiffer Hartwin manufacturing laboratory, Cartwright Labs, in Bartonville, Missouri. Next came instructions to their distribution plant, Rexol, also in Bartonville.

She was so deep into disbelief at what she was reading, it took her a moment before her brain processed the sound of a car driving around to the back of the building, right beneath the big window of the CEO's office. She dashed to the window and looked down to see a big silver Lexus. It was Caskie Royal's car.

What was he doing here, late on a Sunday night?

Doesn't matter, he's here. If he caught her, she'd soon be wearing a neon yellow jumpsuit, PI license or not. She plugged in a flash drive, and ran into another password, this one corporate. He's here, he's here. No choice. She pressed Print File and watched as page after page flowed out of the high-speed printer.

She hadn't checked the file size. What if there were a zillion pages? What if what she needed to have didn't print out in time-no, she had some time, it would be all right. Even Mr. Royal had to stop by the guard in the lobby and sign in before coming up.

The printer stopped. Thank goodness there were only nineteen pages in all. She quickly slid the pages inside her black jacket, zipped it up tight, turned off the printer, slipped the flash drive into her pocket, and closed down the computer. She straightened the chair, checked to see it all looked the way it had when she'd come in, and hurried to the office door to listen. She heard voices at the end of the long corridor. Royal and a woman coming her way.

Not good.

It was time for Plan B. Always have a Plan B, her father had drummed into her head, and she had one. It sounded like they were arguing. She pressed her ear against the door, heard the woman say clearly, 'I still can't believe you've made me a part of this, Caskie. What do we need it for?'

'Carla, the money is rolling in so fast there's barely time to even count it. They're looking at a windfall profit of about, conservatively, one and a half billion dollars. They've already racked up nearly a billion in sales in the last six months. And it's a freebee, like manna from heaven.'

'It's unethical and you know it. And it's dangerous and illegal.'

'Just back me up on this one, and I'll see to it you get a six-figure bonus in your pocket, Carla. And don't fret. There's no danger here, nothing bad can happen.'

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