The newest entry in the sizzling international thriller series featuring Nicholas Drummond, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter.
Freshly minted FBI agent Nicholas Drummond is barely out of his Quantico training when he and his partner, Mike Caine, are called to investigate a stabbing on Wall Street.
Their investigation, however, yields more questions than answers. It quickly becomes clear that the victim, John Pearce, was more than the naval historian and antiquities dealer he appeared to be. What Drummond doesn't know is that buying and selling rare books was Pearce's cover, and that he had devoted his life to discovering the whereabouts of a missing World War I U-boat concealing a stash of gold bullion, and an unexpected surprise that only raises more questions. When Drummond and Caine find both of Pearce's adult children have disappeared, the case assumes a new sense of urgency. The FBI agents know their best lead lies in the victim's cryptic final words-"The key is in the lock." But what key? What lock?
The search for Adam and Sophia Pearce takes them on an international manhunt, which threatens to run them afoul of an eccentric billionaire industrialist with his own plans not only for the lost gold, but the creation of a weapon unlike anything the world has ever seen.
Release date: September 30, 2014
Print pages: 464
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
The Lost Key
Lower Slaughter, Cotswolds
Ansonia was dead. And all those brave men who’d risked everything to end the bloody war were dead with her, and they’d left wives and children to wonder what had happened to them, to mourn, endlessly. Had their deaths been quick? Crushing tons of icy water and then it was over, quickly, so quickly, they didn’t know the end was on them? He prayed it was so. All he had left of her was the letter she’d stuffed in Leo’s coat pocket to give to him, his first name written in her hand on the envelope. Josef. All that was inside were her hastily scribbled words explaining what she’d done and why, and how much she loved him and Leo, and how, with God’s help, she would see them soon. Stay safe, stay safe, and all would be well. Signed simply, Ansonia.
Josef closed his eyes against the pain of it, a pain so deep he didn’t think he could bear it. But he had to, he had no choice, for there was Leo, their son, depending on him since his mother was gone. He saw her now, his brave, foolhardy Ansonia, saw them together that last night, and thought now her smile had been sad, accepting, as if she’d known she would die. He shut it off.
Josef Rothschild would mourn her forever, but not yet, not just yet. He stared through the front window down the long, dark drive, then over at the thick night dark woods. Pearce would be here soon with five other Order members. William Pearce, Viscount Chambers, the head of the Highest Order, his friend and ally for such a short time. He knew it would last until they both breathed their last breaths, this odd friendship of theirs, a German and an Englishman, forged that long-ago night at the battleground of Verdun. He wondered if William would one day be the Prime Minister. Josef wouldn’t doubt it. Even though William was young, he already had power, wealth, but most important, he had an excellent brain, a clear head, and honor.
Josef stared into the darkness. Where were they?
Six men of the Highest Order were coming to hear him announce that their plan had succeeded. The Highest Order—Josef had always thought the formal title of their society sounded so lofty as to be ordained by God—but now all members simply called it the Order. Yes, six members of the Order were coming to hear not only that they now had the kaiser’s gold, but that they also possessed Marie’s key and her book of secrets. Yes, they’d won, they would deal the kaiser a death blow, and they would raise a toast to Marie, magnificent Marie, architect of a weapon so powerful the one who owned it would rule the world.
But there wasn’t to be wild triumph, because the scores of gold bars worth millions of deutsche marks, the kaiser’s private treasury, the book, and the key were lost to both Germany and England in waters so deep he couldn’t imagine the U-boat ever being found. In England’s hands, having the gold would cripple the kaiser’s war, but having Marie’s horrifying weapon would deal a death blow. Now no one would have either the gold or the weapon, ever. Still, he wondered if someone in the distant future would find the U-boat and the kaiser’s gold and Marie’s key. Would they marvel at the lunacy of men long dead? Marvel at their greed, their eagerness to crush one another, their butchering of the innocent? Would they look at Marie’s weapon and be unable to fathom how any man, any country, could sanction its use?
Josef pulled the thin curtain back from the window and stared out into full darkness. There was no moon and the few stars shimmered off the ground fog covering the field beyond the cottage. The men would leave their cars hidden and come into the cottage one by one. The Order was always careful, rabidly so in wartime. Soon, soon now.
Josef looked over at the trundle bed in the corner, at his son, Leo, exhausted from his ordeal, still in shock. At last he was sleeping soundly, legs pulled up against his chest, one thin arm dangling over the edge of the cot, the small white hand open. Josef felt such fear, such love, that for a moment he couldn’t breathe. If his son had died, it would have been his fault. But he was alive, he’d survived the hellish trip from Berlin to Scotland, the specter of death constantly riding on his small shoulders. Josef prayed Leo had understood all he’d told him on their trip from Scotland to William Pearce’s cottage, understood that what his father and the other men had tried to do had been for him, for all the children of this useless, bloody war. Every time he’d said Ansonia’s name, he’d tasted his own tears. And when he was through talking, the tears shiny on his cheeks, Leo had slipped his small hand into his father’s and whispered, “Before we left her, Mama told me you were a hero. Now I understand why. What will happen now, Papa?”
Josef was humbled. He had no answer.
He looked out the window again. He saw a shadow running across the field, and another, wraiths in the night, the darkness bleeding around them. They would stagger their arrivals, each coming from a different direction, a few minutes between them. Six men, dressed in black, weapons at their sides. Three carried Webley .455 Marks, standard issue, and two had Mauser C96s tucked in their holsters. They were prepared for anything even though they should be safe enough, here in a small cottage deep in the Cotswolds, expecting to hear news of their triumph.
The first man stopped, whistled loudly through his teeth in a poor imitation of a whip-poor-will. Josef whistled in return, and the man started forward again. A series of calls and answers began behind him.
The first knock sounded. Four taps, then two pounds. The signal.
Josef took one last look at Leo, then pinched out the lone candle. He opened the door, welcomed each of them. Their only goal was to stop Kaiser Wilhelm’s war.
Only five men arrived. Where was William Pearce? He was never late. Josef gave all of them coffee, then, unable to wait, said, “The U-boat went down. The kaiser has lost both his gold and Marie’s book and the key. And we did, too.”
Dead silence, then, with succinct finality, Wallace Benton-Hurt, head of the Bank of England, said, “So it’s a stalemate.”
“Yes,” said Josef.
“I hear something, it must be William,” said Grayson Lankford, and went to the door.
Josef said, “Wait until he knocks.”
“No one knows we’re here, Josef. You’re being paranoid.”
“Yes, I am,” Josef said, “and that is the only reason I am still alive. Wait for the knock.”
Everyone waited, watching the door. Footsteps, then a knock. Two raps, sharp, like the end of a stick, or a rifle butt.
Not the right signal.
Josef knew they’d been found out. Leo.
He grabbed Leo into his arms and carried him to the closet. Leo’s eyes opened, unseeing at first, then he focused on his father’s face. “Listen to me, you have to stay here until I come for you. Do not make a sound. Do you understand me?”
Leo knew fear, and he saw it on his father’s face. “Are we in danger, Papa?”
“Yes, the enemy found us. You must keep quiet, Leo. Remember what I told you. If something happens to me, you tell no one what I told you. Trust no one. Remember, no matter what you hear, you keep quiet.” He kissed his boy, wrapped the blanket around him, and closed the closet door just as bullets shattered the glass windows and the front door burst open.
FBI New York Field Office
26 Federal Plaza
What in bloody hell have I done?
Nicholas Drummond reported for duty at the FBI’s New York Headquarters smartly at 7:00 a.m., as instructed. After twenty minutes with human resources, he felt a bit like a schoolboy: stand here, walk there, smile for your photograph, here’s your pass, don’t lose it. It was worse than the FBI Academy with their strict rules, the uniforms, the endless drills, and more like his training at Hendon Police College with Hamish Penderley and his team.
The administrative realities of moving from New Scotland Yard to the FBI in New York were decidedly less romantic than the initial prospect had been. Months earlier, Dillon Savich, head of the Criminal Apprehension Unit at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., had encouraged Nicholas to make a new home in the FBI, and he’d accepted. It was now the end of May, graduation from Quantico and the FBI Academy two weeks in the past, and he was officially an FBI special agent, and technically at the bottom of the food chain.
Twice he’d done this. The first time he’d left the Foreign Office to work for the Metropolitan Police in London. He’d survived those first days and he’d survive these, too.
And even better, you don’t have Hamish Penderley to ride you now, making you do tactical drills at 5:00 a.m. Zachery’s a very different sort. So buck up.
Nicholas knew he should have started out in a small Bureau office in the Midwest, gotten his feet wet, but Dillon Savich had gotten him assigned to the New York Field Office, as promised, working directly for Supervisory Special Agent Milo Zachery, a man Nicholas knew and trusted, with Special Agent Michaela Caine as his partner.
When at last they issued him his service weapon, he felt complete, the heavy weight of the Glock on his hip comforting, familiar.
Freshly laminated and now armed, he’d been walked to the twenty-third floor, led through the maze of the cube farm, and ushered into a small space, blue-walled with some sort of fuzzy fabric, the kind Velcro would adhere to, with a brown slab of wood-grained Formica as a desktop. There was a computer, several hard drives, two file trays labeled IN and OUT, and a chair.
The cubicle was so small he could easily touch each side with his arms outstretched, and that made the tiniest bit of claustrophobia sneak in. He needed more monitors and more shelving and maybe he’d soon feel at home. Once in the zone on his computers, the close quarters wouldn’t be a problem.
He dropped his briefcase on the floor next to the chair, stashed a small black go bag in his bottom drawer, and took a seat. He spun the chair around in a circle, legs drawn up to avoid crashing. Small, yes, but it would do. He didn’t plan to spend much time sitting here, anyway. Part of the deal he’d made with Savich meant Nicholas would be working ad hoc with him at times, running forensic point on cases in Washington. From what he’d already experienced working with Savich and Sherlock and Mike Caine, he was in for a ride.
A low, throaty voice said near his ear, “Needs a bit of sprucing up, don’t you think? How about a nice photo of the queen, front and center?”
Speak of the devil.
“The queen is hanging happily over my bed in my new digs.” He bent his head back to see Agent Mike Caine looking down at him, smiling widely. She was wearing her signature black jeans, motorcycle boots, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her badge hung on a lanyard around her neck, and her black-rimmed reading glasses were tucked into her blouse pocket.
“I wonder why I didn’t smell you first.” And he leaned up, sniffed. “Ah, there it is, that lovely jasmine, like my mum. Hi, Mike, long time no see.”
“Yeah, yeah, all of two weeks since your graduation. So you’re all settled in to these new digs of yours? By the way, where are your new digs?”
He didn’t want to tell her, didn’t want to tell anyone, it was too embarrassing. Fact was, he’d lost a big argument with his grandfather about where he’d lay his head in New York. He shrugged, looked over her shoulder at several agents walking by. “All settled in. A fairly nice bed in an okay place over there—” And he waved his hand vaguely toward the east.
She cocked her head at him, and he said quickly, “You look pretty good after being on your own for four months. When can we get out of here?”
“Champing at the bit for a case already, Special Agent Drummond? You’ve only been here fifteen minutes. We haven’t even had time to go over the coffee schedule and introduce you around. Are we calling you Nick or Nicholas these days?”
“You know what they say about rolling stones and moss. Nicholas will do fine.”
She looked at her watch. “You’re in luck. We’ve caught a murder.”
He felt the punch of adrenaline. “A murder? Is it terrorism related?”
“I don’t think so. I heard about it two minutes ago. Time to get briefed.”
Milo Zachery joined them in the hall. In his tailored gray suit, white shirt, and purple-and-black striped tie, Nicholas thought he looked a lot snazzier than Penderley ever had. Slick clothes, fresh haircut. He looked like a big-dog federal agent all the way to his highly polished wing tips. Nicholas knew Zachery was focused, smart, and willing to let his agents use their brains with only subtle hands on the reins.
Nicholas shook his new boss’s hand.
“Good to see you, Drummond. I’ll handle your briefing myself. Walk with me.”
Mike gave him a manic grin, her adrenaline on a level with his, and he was reminded of that night in Paris several months earlier, Mike barely upright, leaning against the overturned couch, bleeding from a gunshot to the arm, her face beat up, and smiling. He thanked the good Lord she was here and whole and ready to kick butt.
Nicholas smiled back and gestured for her to go first.
“Such lovely manners from the first Brit in the FBI. I could get used to this.”
“Still cheeky, are we? It’s good to see that some things haven’t changed.”
“Come on, you two.” Zachery walked them past his office, down the blue-carpeted senior management hallway, straight out the door and to the elevators. As he punched the down button, he said, “You’re headed to Twenty-six Wall Street. Stabbing. The NYPD called us since it’s on federal land, so it’s our case. I thought it would be a good idea to get Drummond here liaising with the locals as soon as possible. And aren’t you two lucky, someone managed to get themselves dead on your first morning. Go on down there and figure out what happened.”
The elevator doors opened and Zachery waved them in. “Drummond, I know you’re going to be our big cyber-crime computer-terrorism guy, but we also need to teach you to drive on the right side of the road, get your boots dirty on the ground first.” He smiled and clapped Nicholas on the shoulder. “Glad you’re with us, Drummond. Welcome to the FBI. Good hunting.” He turned, and said over his shoulder, “Oh, yes. Mike, keep him in line.”
Mike’s black Crown Vic waited for them in the garage. She jangled the car keys at Nicholas, then drew them back. “Maybe I should drive, even though you need the practice. Wall Street’s pretty crazy.”
“Contrary to popular belief, I do know how to manage the streets of New York. I have American blood, too, you know.”
She laughed and got behind the wheel. Once they were out of the garage, she said, “Next time out, you’ll drive. It’s a requirement that you know all the streets. But not today. So tell me, did you really live up to Savich’s lofty standards at the Academy? And Sherlock’s?”
“I tried my pitiful best, Agent Caine.” He watched her come within an inch of a lane-cutting taxi without blinking an eye.
“What have you been doing here in New York for the last two weeks?”
He never looked away from the pedestrian zigzagging in front of the Crown Vic. “Oh, a bit of this and that, getting set up, that’s about it.” Not to mention I shopped for furniture until I nearly cut my own wrists, fought with Nigel on where all the bloody furniture should go, and was forced to have dinner with my ex at a French in-place big on presentation and light on food. In short, I haven’t used my brain for two bloody weeks—but he didn’t tell her any of that.
She sped through a yellow light. “I’ve missed having you around. Come on, now, tell me about your new place.”
Not in this lifetime. “Nothing much to tell, really. It’s a place to live, that’s all.” Nicholas’s grandfather, in a magnanimous show of support for his grandson’s decision to move to America, had purchased Nicholas a brownstone. No matter how hard Nicholas had protested, the baron, and his parents, he suspected, refused to allow Nicholas his wish, an anonymous apartment somewhere in Chelsea.
He was now saddled with a behemoth town house on East 69th Street, much to his butler Nigel’s delight. Five bedrooms, five floors. Oh, yes, this sort of opulence was just the ticket for fitting in with the rest of the agents in the New York Field Office.
Mike slowly turned onto a street packed with pedestrians. “I can’t wait to see it. Invite me over for a beer later, all right?”
And again he thought, Not in this lifetime. He said, “Where is our crime scene?”
“Just off Wall Street. Right there.”
Mike threaded through dozens of people across to Pine Street, not far from Federal Hall. He saw the yellow sawhorse barrier with NYPD on it, three blue-and-whites, lights revolving, reflecting off the stone buildings.
They badged the NYPD cop at the barrier, signed in to the scene, and were led to the small side street. It was going to be a beautiful day, he saw, already warming nicely. Considering the number of crime scenes he’d handled in the pouring rain in London, this certainly was preferable.
“What do we have here?” he asked the young NYPD officer standing inside the tape. His badge read F. WILSON, and he looked barely old enough to vote, much less be a cop. Even though Nicholas knew he couldn’t be more than five years older than the cop, he felt ancient, until Wilson spoke like the seasoned professional he was. “Stabbing,” Wilson said, “and aren’t you in luck, it’s right there on your land. Another five feet and it would be ours, but no, this guy decides to get himself dead and make it all yours. I hear it’s your first day on the job. Welcome to New York.”
Wilson grinned. “We’ve been canvassing, got a small group of people held aside who were nearby when it happened. Most say the suspect was a Caucasian male, brown hair, medium height, wearing jeans and a white hoodie.”
Nicholas looked over at the small knot of people standing on the street corner, gaping at the scene, some recording everything with their phones, others standing quietly, obviously shell-shocked. He said, “Rather a detailed description, that.”
“I know, right? Amazing, really, since most witnesses can rarely agree on the sex of the suspect. Talk about lucking out—from the statements so far, there were two men arguing, then a struggle, then one guy turned away and the other man stabbed him from behind and took off running.”
Mike said, “Hold everyone here, Officer Wilson. We’ll want to speak to them as well. We need to get a look at the body, and we’ll be right back.”
Wilson saluted her and moved away from the tape to let them in.
Nicholas took his time walking toward the dead man, noticed Mike was taking in everything as well. Special Agent Louisa Barry, one of their crime scene techs, was snapping on nitrile gloves, ready to get to work. Nicholas smiled at her, then went down on his haunches beside a man who was seriously dead. He was in his late forties to early fifties, his brown eyes staring sightlessly into the sky, salt-and-pepper hair combed slightly to the side to cover the beginnings of a receding hairline, his suit rumpled and creased. From the angle of his body on the pavement, and the way his arms were flung out from his body, Nicholas thought he’d fallen to his knees, then onto his back and died. The blood pooled beneath him, dark and thick, but it was disturbed, like a child’s finger painting, swirls and whorls whipping across the sidewalk. What were you arguing about? Why’d he stab you in the back?
“See anything interesting?” Mike asked, studying the blood pool.
“It’s what I’m not seeing that’s interesting,” Nicholas said. “No murder weapon. The guy stabbed him, then pulled out the knife and took off. I wonder if any of the witnesses saw the killer do that.”
Mike said, “He still had his wallet, isn’t that right, Louisa?” She looked up at Louisa, holding the man’s belongings.
Nicholas asked, “What’s his name?” He hated calling a once living, breathing man a corpse. He deserved more than that.
“Jonathan Charles Pearce. Lived on the Upper East Side. Money and cards left in the wallet. His cell’s a BlackBerry Touch, and here’s a nice old watch and a set of keys. Cell is password protected, I can’t access it without my tools.”
Nicholas said, “Do you carry a UFED in the field, perchance?”
“Is that British for Universal Forensic Extraction Device?” And she grinned. “Yeah, so happens I have a Touch Ultimate on the truck. Hang on a minute.”
“Good,” he said. “Are there any cameras around?”
Louisa said, “Nothing that points directly to this spot, but there’s a traffic cam at the intersection of Pine and William, and the building itself has a camera on the corner. Might have something from one of those.”
“Excellent, Louisa, thank you.”
“By the way, Nicholas? It’s good to have you on board. Welcome to New York.”
“It’s good to be here.”
In the next instant, Louisa was headed to the mobile command unit.
Mike said, “Glad she brought it. With the UFED we’ll get the pass code broken and access the data in no time. So, Nicholas, it doesn’t appear Mr. Pearce was the victim of a robbery.”
“No, it would seem not. A fight between two men. About what?”
“Whatever it was, the killer lost it and stabbed Mr. Pearce in the back with a dozen people looking on.”
Nicholas looked up at a sharp whistle to see a tall, beefy older man heading their way, people getting out of his way. He looked like a guided missile, ready to clear the scene and move on to his next case.
“Here’s the ME, and good news for us, he’s the best,” Mike said. “You’ll like him.”
The man reached them and stuck out his hand. Nicholas thought he meant to shake, but he was handing them both nitrile gloves.
“You’re not allowed anywhere near my body without proper protection. See to it, now.”
Mike snapped the gloves over the ones she was already wearing. She never argued with Janovich. “Good morning, Dr. Janovich. Now we’re double protected. I’d like you to meet my new partner, Special Agent Nicholas Drummond. We worked together on the Koh-i-Noor diamond case. Today’s his first day.”
They shook hands. Janovich immediately pulled off his gloves and put on a fresh pair. “If I remember correctly, you knew the woman who died during that case. I’m sorry, that was tough.”
Nicholas felt a familiar stab of pain. “Thank you, it was. I was Inspector Elaine York’s superior at New Scotland Yard. But now I’m here in America, working for the FBI.”
“Welcome, welcome. I don’t know why we have a foreigner working for us, but in the long scheme of things, it doesn’t matter, does it? We shook hands, change your gloves.”
Mike said, “This particular foreigner was born in L.A. Do you remember the sitcom A Fish out of Water, with Mitzie Manders? She’s Bo Horsley’s sister, and Nicholas’s mom.”
Janovich blinked, his mouth widened in a huge smile. “You’re kidding. I loved that show. She is a beautiful lady, and she had wonderful comic timing. Tell your mother she has a fan in the New York OCME, will you?” He gave Nicholas a closer look and smiled. “Since you’re a foreigner, that stands for Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.”
“I’ll tell her, and thank you,” Nicholas said, amused, but Janovich had already begun examining Mr. Pearce’s body, talking as he worked. Nicholas crouched down so he could listen in.
“Stab wound to the right kidney. Took him down fast and hard from behind. Created quite a mess. I’d say this poor man bled out within three or four minutes. The blade would need to be at least five inches long to make a gash that deep. Not much of a cut in the shirt, I’m betting a stiletto of some sort.”
“Who’s our killer, then?” Nicholas asked.
Dr. Janovich glanced up at Nicholas and started, as if surprised to see him there at face level. He flashed a rare smile. “I guess I’ll have to let you figure that out.”
Nicholas stood, groaning a little as his knees popped. Louisa hurried over to them. She handed Nicholas Pearce’s cell phone. “I got in, no problem. You’ll see Mr. Pearce received several texts recently. He was supposed to meet someone with the initials EP here this morning.”
Nicholas said, “There was a short conversation between Pearce and EP. Listen to this: ‘I have news. Meet me at the Pine Street entrance of Fed Hall.’
“And Pearce wrote back: ‘Can’t get downtown this a.m. Meet me at store instead?’
“Pearce: ‘I hope this is the good kind of nine-one-one. On my way.’”
THERE WAS a fifteen-minute gap in time, then another outgoing message from 8:15 a.m. Only thirty minutes earlier.
‘I’m here, where are you?’
Both Mike and Nicholas could imagine Pearce walking quickly, distracted, worrying about what this EP and his 911 alert were all about, wondering what was so important it couldn’t wait.
The good kind of 911? What did that mean? And who was EP?
“Evidently,” Mike said, “EP didn’t show up. Do you think it was a ploy to draw Pearce here to kill him?”
“Or maybe EP did show up and it wasn’t a good kind of nine-one-one. They argued first, then EP killed him. Whatever, Mr. Pearce knew his killer. Maybe.”
Janovich began his prep to take the body back to the OCME. Nicholas went down on his knees next to Mr. Jonathan Pearce. He said quietly, “We’ll find who did this, sir. Mark my words.”
Mike said, “You know, we’ve had a lot of trouble with gangs recently. Committing a murder in broad daylight is a surefire way through initiation.”
“Anything is possible. But it seems rather unlikely that a New York gang would congregate on Wall Street and send text messages to their victims.”
“No, generally not. Unless it was a gang of stockbrokers.”
He grinned at her. “I know what you mean. They’re a deadly bunch in London.”
“Well, then,” Nicholas said, “let’s get out of Dr. Janovich’s way and see what the witnesses have to tell us.”
They made their way to the group of witnesses huddled on the corner. There was another crowd gathered across the street, gaping and pointing, shooting more video with their phones, probably calling all their friends. He didn’t think there was a single crime scene in the world today that wasn’t recorded down to the blood on the sidewalk.
Most of the witnesses were clearly upset, but a few were annoyed at having to stick around to talk to the police and be late to work. But most were eager to tell what they’d seen.
Mike took the lead. “I’m Special Agent Caine, and this is Special Agent Drummond, FBI. We’d appreciate your telling us exactly what you saw.” A furious babble erupted, and Mike put up her hands. “One at a time, please. Sir?”
He was the eldest of the group, a businessman in a gray wool suit. “I was walking across the street and heard the two men arguing.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...