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ALSO BY CATHERINE COULTER
THE FBI THRILLERS
Split Second (2011)
Twice Dead: Riptide and Hemlock Bay (2011)
Whiplash (2010)
KnockOut (2009)
TailSpin (2008)
Double Jeopardy: The Target and The Edge (2008)
Double Take (2007)
The Beginning: The Cove and The Maze (2005)
Point Blank (2005)
Blowout (2004)
Blindside (2003)
Eleventh Hour (2002)
Hemlock Bay (2001)
Riptide (2000)
The Edge (1999)
The Target (1998)
The Maze (1997)
The Cove (1996)
BACKFIRE
CATHERINE COULTER
G. P. Putnam’s Sons / New York
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
Publishers Since 1838
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA • Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi–110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Copyright © 2012 by Catherine Coulter
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Coulter, Catherine.
Backfire / Catherine Coulter.
p. cm.
ISBN 978-0-399-15732-5
1. United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation—Fiction. 2. Savich, Dillon (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 3. Sherlock, Lacey (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 4. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3553.O843B33 2012 2012015360
813'.54—dc23
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To my splendid other half, Anton, with your sharp brain and, thankfully, ultimate knowledge of all things medical
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to thank the following consummate professionals for their infinite kindness and patience in making Backfire richer, and, super-important, accurate. Thank you all so very much for coming into my life. I worship at your feet.
Let me add that if there are any factual goofs in the book, it’s my fault. I mean, I’d like to blame someone else, but alas, it’s on my head.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Dave Key—your experiences and exploits are amazing. Perhaps even more amazing is that you’re still alive and smiling and ready to take on more.
Marshal Donald O’Keefe, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Marshals Service, Northern District of California—El Jefe, your willingness to provide me with everything I needed is appreciated.
Chief Judge James Ware, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California—you are thoughtful, eloquent, and you answered every one of my crazy questions, and even some I hadn’t thought of.
Ms. Uyen Trinh, judicial assistant for Chief Judge James Ware—you are the great facilitator. I appreciate all your assistance and your wonderful enthusiasm for my books.
Lieutenant Donald Wick, Marin County Sheriff Department—I was told you were The Man, and I find I must agree. You added richness and verisimilitude to the Marin County scenes.
Ms. Angela Bell, FBI Office of Public Affairs, Hoover Building, Washington, D.C.—thank you for your plot-saving idea to get the letter into the lobby of the Hoover Building without breaking any rules, and for telling me the CAU moved to the third floor.
Mr. Alexander DeAngelis, director, China Office, National Science Foundation—I’m not just saying this because you’re my brother-in-law. Your brain and succinct insights are a pleasure to behold. Thank you for providing me accuracy in all things Chinese.
Contents
COVER
ALSO BY CATHERINE COULTER
TITLE PAGE
COPYRIGHT
DEDICATION
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
CHAPTER 1
CHAPTER 2
CHAPTER 3
CHAPTER 4
CHAPTER 5
CHAPTER 6
CHAPTER 7
CHAPTER 8
CHAPTER 9
CHAPTER 10
CHAPTER 11
CHAPTER 12
CHAPTER 13
CHAPTER 14
CHAPTER 15
CHAPTER 16
CHAPTER 17
CHAPTER 18
CHAPTER 19
CHAPTER 20
CHAPTER 21
CHAPTER 22
CHAPTER 23
CHAPTER 24
CHAPTER 25
CHAPTER 26
CHAPTER 27
CHAPTER 28
CHAPTER 29
CHAPTER 30
CHAPTER 31
CHAPTER 32
CHAPTER 33
CHAPTER 34
CHAPTER 35
CHAPTER 36
CHAPTER 37
CHAPTER 38
CHAPTER 39
CHAPTER 40
CHAPTER 41
CHAPTER 42
CHAPTER 43
CHAPTER 44
CHAPTER 45
CHAPTER 46
CHAPTER 47
CHAPTER 48
CHAPTER 49
CHAPTER 50
CHAPTER 51
CHAPTER 52
CHAPTER 53
CHAPTER 54
CHAPTER 55
CHAPTER 56
CHAPTER 57
CHAPTER 58
CHAPTER 59
CHAPTER 60
CHAPTER 61
CHAPTER 62
CHAPTER 63
CHAPTER 64
CHAPTER 65
CHAPTER 66
CHAPTER 67
CHAPTER 68
CHAPTER 69
CHAPTER 70
CHAPTER 71
CHAPTER 72
CHAPTER 73
EPILOGUE
PS
Sea Cliff, San Francisco
Late Thursday night
One week before Thanksgiving
Judge Ramsey Hunt listened to the lapping water break against the rocks below, a sound that always brough
t him back into himself and centered him. He stood at this exact spot every night and listened to the waves, as unending and as infinite as he knew he wasn’t. Only the sound of the waves, he thought. Otherwise, it was dead silent, not even a distant foghorn blast from the huge cargo ship that was nearing the Golden Gate through a veil of low-lying fog.
A light breeze ruffled the tree leaves and put a light chop on the ocean below. It was chilly tonight. He was glad Molly had tossed him his leather jacket on his way out. A week before Thanksgiving, he thought, a week before he would preside over the turkey carving and feel so blessed he’d want to sing, which, thankfully, he wouldn’t.
Ramsey looked up at the low-hanging half-moon that seemed cold and alien tonight. His ever-curious son, Cal, had asked him if he could sink his fingers into the pitted surface. Would it be hard, like his wooden Ford truck, he wondered, or soft like ice cream?
At least his day had ended well. In the late afternoon, he’d met Molly and the twins at Davies Hall to hear Emma rehearse Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the San Francisco Symphony, smiling and nodding as they listened. Ramsey had long thought of her as his own daughter, and here she was, a prodigy, of all things. He had to be careful or he’d burst with pride, Molly always said. Remarkably, Cal and Gage hadn’t raised too much of a fuss at having to sit still during the rehearsal. Well, Cal did yell out once, “Emmy, I want you to play ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’!” which had brought warm laughter from the violin section.
They’d enjoyed enchiladas and tacos an hour later at La Barca, the family’s favorite Mexican restaurant on Lombard, always an adventure when the three-year-old twins were anywhere near chips and guacamole.
Ramsey rested his elbows on the solid stone fence built when his boys had reached the age of exploration a year and a half ago. Better than nightmares about them tumbling off the sixty-foot cliff into the mess of rocks and water below.
He looked out across the entrance to the bay at the Marin Headlands, as stark and barren as the half-moon above them. Soon the winter rains would begin to green things up, as green as Ireland in some years, his second favorite place on earth after San Francisco. It was a blessing that this incredible stretch was all a national recreational area so he would never have to look at some guy sipping a nice fruity Chardonnay across from him on a condo balcony. He noticed a Zodiac sitting anchored below him, nearly as still as a small island in the ocean. There were no other boats around it that he could see. Who would be out so late, anchored in open water? He saw no one aboard, and for a moment, he felt alarmed. Had someone fallen overboard? No, whoever motored over in the Zodiac could easily have swum or waded to the narrow beach. But why? Not to get a suntan, that’s for sure. He wondered if he should call 911 when he heard Molly open the family room door behind him. “Goodness, it’s cold out here. I’m glad you’re wearing your jacket. Is your favorite sea lion talking to you again?”
Ramsey smiled. Old Carl, that was the name he’d given this giant of a sea lion that liked to laze about in the water below. He hadn’t seen Old Carl in several days now. He called back, “He’s probably at Pier Thirty-nine, stretched out on the barges with his cousins. What’s up?”
“Gage had a nightmare. Can you come and tell him the spinach monster isn’t lurking in his closet? He doesn’t believe me.”
He turned to her, grinning. “Be right there—”
Molly heard a shot, cold and sharp as the moon, and saw her husband slammed violently forward by a bullet. Molly’s scream pierced the night.
Criminal Apprehension Unit (CAU)
Hoover Building
Washington, D.C.
Earlier on Thursday
Denny Roper from Security came into Savich’s office and handed him a plain white legal-sized envelope. Savich studied the big black block-printed handwriting: DILLON SAVICH, CRIMINAL APPREHENSION UNIT, THIRD FLOOR. That was it. No address.
Roper said, “A visitor told Briggs at security check-in in the lobby that he noticed this envelope propped against the outside door on the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance. Briggs wanted me to look at it before it came to you, just in case.
“We put it through the X-ray, checked it out for biologics. There’s nothing gnarly like anthrax on the envelope or on that one piece of paper—but it’s curious, Savich. The person who sent it knows not only the name of your unit but your location—third floor.”
Savich unfolded the single white sheet of paper. The same black block printing: FOR WHAT YOU DID YOU DESERVE THIS.
“I hope you’ve got some idea what that clown is talking about.”
Savich said, “Not a clue. Tell me you have the visitor who handed over the envelope to Briggs.”
“No, the guy walked away while Briggs was looking at the envelope. You know there are lots of tourists coming in this time of morning. Briggs called out, but the guy was gone, disappeared in the crowd. But we’ve got lots of good camera coverage of him, a close-up when he’s speaking to Briggs. You think he was the one who wrote it?”
“Since it isn’t possible to get into the lobby without a thorough security check, why not do it this way? Hey, I found this envelope, not a clue what it is or who left it.”
Roper said, “Would you like to have a look-see at this surveillance video?”
Savich nodded.
“Since he spoke to Briggs, we also have his voice on tape, nice and clear. He looked and acted like an ordinary guy, according to Briggs, but I wanted some of you experts to double-check it for us.” Roper paused, looked up at all the faces focused on him and Savich, not more than two feet outside of Savich’s office. “It looks like your people are already interested. I’ll get things set up in the conference room,” and Roper walked out, waving the disk at the agents as he passed them.
Savich read the note again:
FOR WHAT YOU DID YOU DESERVE THIS
He sat back in his chair, closed his eyes, and thought: What had he done? Exactly what did he deserve? It was clearly a threat, but from whom? It had been only two weeks since they’d brought down Ted Bundy’s mad daughter, Kirsten Bolger. There was her mother, her stepfather, and her aunt Sentra to think about. Anyone else? Well, there was the family of her lover and partner Bruce Comafield, but both families were solidly middle-class, with a great deal to lose. When he’d met with them after Comafield’s death and Kirsten’s capture, they’d been in a state of shock. Sometimes shocks like that upended a person’s whole world, but no, those folks just didn’t seem likely.
Who else? Behind his closed eyes, Savich saw a kaleidoscope of tumbled vivid memories of blood and death and brutal faces, too much and too many. We’re a failed species, he thought, not for the first time. He opened his eyes to see his wife, Sherlock, standing in front of him, her eyes on the open sheet of paper.
Sherlock said, “Denny’s got the DVD ready, said we might all want to see it. What’s going on? What’s in that letter?”
“It’s a weird threat. What I don’t like is that it was delivered personally. Come on, let’s have a look at the guy who gave it to Briggs in the lobby.”
He watched Sherlock shove a thick corking curl of hair behind her ear. He’d give it two seconds before another curl worked its way out of one of the clips and sprang forward. The clips never seemed to work very well. She said, “Everybody watched Denny come in and give you this envelope. Good thing you’re involving all of us, or you’d be mobbed in here.”
“That’s what Roper seemed to think. It shouldn’t take very long. We’ll see if that brainpower can figure something out.” She gave him a long assessing look, then turned and walked out of his office. He watched her walk in that no-nonsense stride, a traffic-stopper in those sexy black boots of hers. She was wearing her signature low-cut black pants and white blouse. He felt his heartbeat quicken. Could Sherlock be in danger because of something he’d done?
When Savi
ch walked in with the envelope, Sherlock said, “Okay, Dillon, tell everyone what’s in the letter before we watch the video.”
Savich unfolded the single white sheet and said in an emotionless voice, “For what you did you deserve this. That’s it, nothing else. Now, let’s see what we’ve got, Denny.”
There were nine agents, including Shirley, a gum-chewing grandmother and the unit secretary, with bright red hair this week, and one of the two unit clerks who would bet on anything with you and usually win. Denny Roper hit play and they all leaned forward to watch the sharp, high-res picture. Lots of tourists in the security line, all of them talking, dozens of conversations overlapping. The two security guards behind Plexiglas greeting and questioning everyone, handing out IDs, a smooth, practiced routine. Roper paused the DVD. “It’s exactly nine-fifteen this morning. Here he comes.”
A man—or a woman; it was hard to tell—came through the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance ahead of a dozen or so tourists. He stood in line, speaking to no one. When he reached the Plexiglas, he handed the envelope to Briggs. He was wearing loose jeans, an FBI hoodie pulled up over his head, and sunglasses, all of which would have had to come off if he went through security, which he’d had no intention of doing. He, or she?
Roper said, “I had them filter out everything but Briggs’s voice and the man’s. Listen again.”
“What can I do for you, sir?”
“I found this envelope propped against the glass right outside. I brought it to you before it got trampled or tossed or whatever.” A low voice, not particularly deep, but clear as a bell. A nice voice, really, calm, unhurried. And young.
Briggs accepted the envelope, studied it for a second, and the man blended into the group of tourists behind him. They saw him walk out the Pennsylvania Avenue exit and disappear. Roper said, “All slow and easy, not a care in the world. And that’s it.” Roper turned off the video.
Dane Carver said, “You’ve figured out his size?”
Roper said, “He’s five-eight, weighs about one hundred thirty-five pounds. So what do you think?”
Ruth Warnecki Noble said, “I’d like to watch this a dozen more times, but first impression? He’s slight for a guy, but I’d say he’s male, twenty to twenty-five.”

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