Cristina Silva had never been a believer.
When she was a girl, she didn't believe in fairy tales or unicorns or Santa Claus. Then she grew up and didn't believe in miracles. Or magic. Or the myth of the American Dream.
Cristina had always known better than to believe in God.
But she had faith. The kind she'd learned to live by in AA: If you can't believe, just make believe.
At this moment, staring down the steps of Saint Patrick's Cathedral toward Fifth Avenue, she was make -believing with all her might. Because nothing short of magical thinking was going to help her now.
She took timid steps forward and blinked the water out of her eyes. Daylight had not yet broken. It was still raining, and drops fell through the gaps in the scaffolding directly above her. The winter sky was murky gray and the streets were blurred by mist. She could barely make out Fifth Avenue, stretching for blocks in front of her.
Cristina concentrated on looking around her. Hoping for some sign of life out there in the gloom. She saw none. If there was one time this city ever took a nap, it was near dawn.
Massive bronze doors closed behind her with a forceful thud. Several thousand pounds of metal—and the images of half a dozen saints—now separated her from the rest of them. Those unlucky fools who, like her, had gone to Lady Chapel this morning. As soon as the Cathedral opened.
Then she had been singled out—for what, she wasn't quite sure.
Where was he?
Her blood, humming in panic, created a fierce rushing noise inside her head. It was like the ocean, only louder—and more distracting than the gusts of wind and rain that buffeted her cheeks.
A drenched passerby scurried down Fifth Avenue, buried under a green golf umbrella.
Cristina opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
"Help!" she silently pled.
The passerby did not turn. In the teeming rain, he couldn't be bothered with glancing toward gothic spires or intricate marble facades. Never mind a woman wearing a yellow rain slicker and carrying a wooden sign with help me painted in a brilliant shade of red.
Cristina took a cautious step forward.
Another umbrella passed, this one black. Then two cars.
No one slowed.
Just make a call, she prayed. 411. 911. Report the crazy lady standing in the rain. The one at Saint Patrick's—a landmark, tourist destination, and religious refuge, all rolled into one.
She took another step. Craned her neck through the gloom toward the scaffolding high above.
Was he watching?
Tears welled in her eyes, mingling with the rain. She knew that Saint Patrick's was a symbol. The sign she carried was a symbol, too. Even the confession she'd been forced to make was only a symbol. And for all her nonbelieving, she was terrified that she was about to die as a symbol.
Of God- only- knew- what.
A block away, Angus MacDonald got off the M4 bus, straight into the chilly puddle that snaked around the corner of Fifty- second Street and Fifth Avenue. Aware of the rain leaking into his supposedly waterproof trench coat, he made a run for it.
At least, he tried to. Thanks to the arthritis in his joints, sometimes his legs just refused to get with the program. Whoever had coined mind over matter obviously hadn't hit seventy-four.
Ahead of him, Angus saw virtually nothing. Only a traffic light that creaked and groaned as it swayed. This wasn't just Midtown at its quietest. The weather had made it a ghost town.
Then a man wearing an NYPD rubber raincoat emerged from the fog. Angus watched him cross Fifth Avenue in the middle of the block. Racing for the Cathedral. Not wanting to be late for seven-o'clock Mass.
It was a reminder that Angus had better move faster—or he was going to be late, too. He cut a forty-five-degree angle. Crossed the avenue.
The cop made it halfway up the stairs of Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Stopped.
There was a woman there. Just standing. Her canary-yellow raincoat stood out, even with the elaborate scaffolding that covered the entrance. Angus squinted. She was at least in her mid-twenties, he decided. She looked scared. So tense she didn't even respond to the cop staring at her. Like he wasn't even there.
She just stayed frozen in place, looking around.
The cop looked around, too.
There was nothing—and no one—to see. Only rain and fog and mist and the occasional headlights of a passing cab. And, of course, Angus.
The cop broke away with a shake of his head—as if there was nothing he could do. Then he turned and walked into the Cathedral.
The cop had been a big guy with a ruddy face, maybe six-one, maybe two-fifty. More suited to taking out street thugs than talking down distraught women.
Angus resigned himself to being late to Mass. In his experience, young women loved creating drama. He could see his niece pulling a stunt like this: standing in the rain with some silly sign, just to prove a point or get attention after a breakup gone bad.
"Hey, lady—why don't you come in out of the rain?" he called when he was within earshot.
She was so startled she whirled and faced him.
She'd obviously been lost in her own world, because Angus wasn't the type to scare people. With his wrinkled black skin, crinkled gray hair, and generous beer belly, he'd even pass for Santa Claus, given an appropriate red suit.
He reached out a hand to help her—but let it drop when she didn't move. Since the scaffolding provided scant shelter, he moved toward the massive bronze doors, shaking the worst of the water off his coat like a wet dog.
She stayed rooted in place, but she angled her head to watch him.
"My name's Angus. What's yours?" He bunched his hands in the pockets of his coat, huddling against the downpour.
She didn't reply, although she continued to look at him with an intense stare. Like she wanted to say something, but couldn't.
"Just tell me your name. That's not so hard, right?"
A whoosh of wind pushed away her bright yellow hood. Her hair blew wildly, and was instantly soaked, but she made no move to cover herself.
"You'll catch your death out here," Angus scolded. "Come inside with me."
Again, she didn't answer. She cocked her head, like she was trying to listen to something. But the only sound came from the driving rain as it pounded the marble steps.
"It's time for Mass," he said. "Whatever's wrong, whatever's upset you, let's talk about it inside, where it's warm and dry."
She looked up, eyes searching the levels of scaffolding.
"Your sign says help," he pointed out. "I'll help you. Let's go inside together."
She tried to raise her arms. It was a futile gesture. For the first time, Angus noticed: The sign she held was bound to her hands with tightly wrapped wire.
A troublesome sensation settled in his gut. No way did she do that to herself.
High above the Fifth Avenue skyscrapers, there was a flash of light, followed by a booming sound. Something in the atmosphere changed.
He needed to get help. He needed that cop. The giant bronze doors had just been open. He reached for the door on his right—the one with Mother Elizabeth Seton—and tugged.
It didn't budge. Not even when he pulled harder.
He tried again with the door on his left—the one with the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha—and failed. He'd have to try one of the side entrances.
But these doors shouldn't be locked. Not right before seven-o'clock Mass. Not when he had just seen the cop go inside. Something was wrong.
Angus forced himself to think straight. Whoever had done this to the woman must be inside the Cathedral. But it would be all right. The cop was a big guy. Surely a big cop could handle whatever threat lurked inside. Angus should focus on the situation out here.
He turned back to the woman, who was now facing him.
Her eyes fixed on Angus's.
He was trying to decipher the mute plea in them when he noticed a funny red dot dancing on her forehead. It looked just like the laser pointer he used when he taught algebra class.
Then she was gone.
The shot was silent as it sliced through her forehead. She crumpled, and suddenly there was slick blood everywhere, mingling with the rain that puddled on the Cathedral steps.
Angus felt a terrible stinging in his head, though he knew he hadn't been hit.
His legs stopped working and he fell to his knees, collapsing beside her.
The sacrifice of His body and blood, Angus thought, fumbling for his cellphone. Words from the Mass service that he was missing.
The rain-swept morning was hushed and still. The streets remained deserted.
Hands shaking, Angus managed to call 911.
It was another seven minutes before help arrived for the dead woman with the wire-bound hands, still gripping her small wooden sign.
It would be another nine before the responding officer would notice something else. That the sign she had carried held a message.
Not the public plea for help that she had shown the world. There was a note—a private communication taped on the back of the sign.
The officer didn't understand it.
But he was smart enough to radio it in.
Good news for your morning commute, New Yorkers: Rain and fog should be lifting within the hour. We'll have gray skies most of the day, with a slight chance of snow showers by this evening.
But if you're headed downtown to work, you might want to avoid Fifth Avenue below Fifty-seventh. We're receiving reports of police activity in that area . . .
A hundred blocks uptown, in the downpour that drenched New York City, Eve Rossi placed a stone on top of her stepfather's grave. It was a custom—albeit one that she didn't understand. She'd been told that the stone symbolized her memories, durable and everlasting. She'd also heard that it kept demons away. One superstition even held that the stone's weight would keep the dead man's spirit grounded in this world. As if Zev Berger would ever have wanted to stick around as a ghost.
Eve believed none of it.
Still, Zev had followed certain traditions, so Eve honored this one now. Instead of an ordinary stone, she'd chosen a clamshell from Zev's favorite beach—a secluded spot on the South Shore of Long Island where piping plovers nested and rough waves crashed into a black rock barrier.
Clamshells were beautiful, but not in a traditional way: Their irregular purple-and-cream stripes appeared textured. She always expected to feel those brilliantly colored ridges—and yet the shell was perfectly smooth to her touch. Not unlike Zev himself, a tough CIA veteran who never stood for being crossed—but who had always yielded to Eve or her mother.
Eve stood motionless in the rain. She didn't pray or talk. But she remembered. And if she imagined that she and Zev had a wordless conversation, that was only because she had once known him so well. Under the bleak December sky, her past and present bled together.
She'd made it through four of the five stages of grief. She had denied it, ranted at Zev, bargained with a God she wasn't sure she believed in, and learned to live with her dark thoughts. Now all that was left was acceptance.
Acceptance is a gift not always granted, a man in New Delhi had told her.
Eve didn't know about that. But her every instinct was to avoid accepting that Zev was forever gone. She couldn't face setting foot in Zev's home. Or returning the probate lawyer's calls. After Zev's funeral three months ago, she'd boarded a flight leaving JFK for Rome and kept on moving.
It seemed Zev had died holding a Scheherazade's store of secrets—and she was resolved to uncover the important ones. She wanted to understand his life; she needed to understand his death. So she started in Rome and Madrid. Then Paris and Bruges. Followed by Munich, Prague, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and eventually Athens and Shanghai. It was only after she'd reached Hong Kong—and felt the twist in her throat, watching men in the park play mah-jongg, as Zev had once done—that she realized the answers she needed were at home.
So she returned to New York. She visited this cemetery. That had to count for something.
She closed her umbrella and turned away from the grave. The morning's teeming rain had finally stopped, but a thick fog filled the air and the temperature was dropping. Shivering, she pulled her gray jacket tighter around her and started walking north alongside the Riverside Drive retaining wall.
The huge cemetery had been deserted, except for her. Now she noticed two men approaching through the mist.
No reason to think they were a problem. There were plenty of graves in this cemetery. Plenty of potential mourners. So what if a couple had decided to show up for an early—morning visit?
Nevertheless, she quickened her steps. Pushed her tangled blond hair away from her face. Took a closer look.
The men were walking south from West 155th Street.
She headed east toward Broadway.
From the corner of her eye she saw: They switched direction and went east as well.
Definitely not here to pay respects.
Her eyes scanned the landscape. No one was around. Just her—and these two.
She picked up her pace. They followed. Closing in fast.
She cut an angle toward the southeast. Used her peripheral vision to observe them.
They walked with a straight bearing. Authority in every step. A slight bulge near each of their waists betrayed the weapons they carried. Law enforcement, she decided.
What did they want with her?
She walked faster. Still watching. Still wary.
The one on the left, she determined, was plainclothes NYPD. He had gone days without shaving. And while once he might have had the body of a linebacker, he was now starting to go to seed. But he walked with swagger and confidence—still the man on the field, despite his lack of uniform.
The man on the right was smooth-shaven and clean-cut. He walked a half-step behind his partner. Because he had been trained to blend in, not stand out. FBI, definitely.
Two men working together—a model of interagency cooperation. The new norm in a post-9/11 world.
She wished they would just go away. But she knew they had to be dealt with—so she slowed and allowed them to catch up with her.
The NYPD officer arrived first. "Special Agent Rossi? I'm Rick Connor, and this is Special Agent Chris Anders." Connor thrust his NYPD ID in front of her. Anders flashed his FBI shield. "We need you to come with us."
Eve stopped abruptly. "I'm on leave."
"This is important."
"I'm on leave," she repeated. "Bereavement. You need to ask someone else."
"Director's orders," Anders persisted. "He wants to see you."
"Henry?" Eve raised an eyebrow. Her attitude toward a command from FBI assistant director in charge Henry Ma was no different from her view about stones on graves. She would follow the custom—or the command—only as she saw fit. Not because she lacked respect for the job Henry did or felt that his work was unimportant. But the man was a political schemer who couldn't be trusted. "Tell Director Ma that I'm sorry, but I'm not available." She started walking away from them.
"It's an emergency."
Eve's heartbeat quickened. They didn't mean a personal emergency. She was the only child of now-deceased parents, responsible for no one. Anders hadn't bothered with pleasantries or wasted words, so Eve didn't, either. "What kind of emergency?"
"A woman is dead."
"There are other profilers—"
"It has to be you. I'll explain on the way to the car." He indicated an unmarked sedan parked just up the hill. It was scarcely visible through the fog.
"How did you find me?" Eve didn't move.
"It's our job. Now we need you to do yours."
"I'm not on payroll." The government offered thirteen days of paid leave. Eve had already taken six times that amount, unpaid. And she fully intended to take more. "I've also got an appointment downtown." She made a point of glancing at her watch.
Connor found a cigarette in his pocket, lit it, and sucked in deeply. Like he was more desperate for nicotine than air. "There's more at stake than the dead woman. Director Ma said your presence was critical."
"Why?" Eve demanded.
"Hostages. We think the victim was a hostage. We're worried there are more like her." Except Connor didn't sound concerned. He was the kind of cop who had lost all ambition. She knew the type well. He performed his duty and counted down time: the minutes until quitting time, weeks until vacation time, and years until pension time.
"If you're worried, then you're not sure."
"It's complicated." Connor stood, smoking, staring at Eve like she was the problem.
Eve shook her head. She didn't want anything complicated. She had even less interest in a crisis involving hostages. Maybe at one time she would have been considered the top hostage negotiator in New York's FBI field office.
She'd left that work for a more unconventional assignment, put it behind her. No, this was a situation she wanted no part of.
"I haven't worked a hostage case in over a year." She turned away from them. "Pick someone currently on HRT." The FBI's Hostage Rescue Team was top-notch. So was the NYPD's.
This time it was Connor who spoke. "This is going down at Saint Patrick's Cathedral."
In spite of herself, Eve felt a prick of curiosity—but she trained a blank expression on the NYPD officer. "I heard nothing on the news." In her home, growing up, at least three televisions had always been on so Zev could monitor the different news channels. Another family tradition she now followed.
"The media haven't broken the story. But you should have received an encrypted message with the particulars."
Eve's fingers reached into her pocket for her phone—and she saw to her surprise that Connor was right. Even though this phone received only personal email. She opened the first page and swiftly scanned its contents. The spare words of the official report grabbed her interest and held it. This was complicated.
She looked up. "How long since the Hostage Taker barricaded the Cathedral?"
"Initial report came at seven-oh-nine a.m. After the first victim was killed."
"Gunshot. We took a preliminary suspect into custody—but looks like he's clean. The shot was fired from high in the Cathedral scaffolding—which is a patchwork of steel and wood, in the process of coming down." Connor dropped his cigarette butt to the ground. It sparked until he squashed it under his heel.
"The area's contained?"
"Completely. NYPD and a half-dozen officers from HRT have established a perimeter. No one inside is getting out."
"Still working on it."
Her interest flickered again—but Eve dropped her phone back into her pocket. "I've been out of the game for too long. Besides, I'm too busy."
"Because that seven-mile run you've taken the past three mornings can't wait? Sounds a little selfish to me." Connor's smile mocked her.
She turned to Anders with a cold stare. "Since when does the FBI spy on me?"
"Since early November," the agent answered with a shrug. "That's when the top brass started wondering if there was a problem. Why you were visiting so many foreign countries. If you were ever coming back."
"Give the lead negotiator my number. I'll share my thoughts if anyone needs some support," she lied. She had no intention of getting involved.
Anders wouldn't let it go. "You're not understanding us. It's possible that Ma will need you to be lead negotiator."
"Out of the question," Eve said firmly. The last time she'd worked a hostage case, she'd made the wrong call—and people had died. Eleven in all, including children. It was not an experience she cared to repeat.
Connor fixed her with a withering stare. "There may be a number of people inside Saint Patrick's this morning who need you to reconsider your answer."
"Sorry." Eve started back up the path.
"The Hostage Taker left a message."
"Give it to someone else."
"Can't," Connor called out after her.
"Why not?" She threw the words over her shoulder, still walking.
"He asked for you by name, Agent Rossi."
VIDOCQ FILE #A3065277 Current status: ACTIVE—Official Bereavement Leave
Nickname: EveCurrent Address: 348 West 57th Street (Hell's Kitchen).
Race/Ethnicity: Caucasian, Italian
Weight: 117 lbs.
Family: Mother, Annabella, deceased. Stepfather, Zev Berger, recently deceased, former CIA operative. Father, unknown.
Spouse/Significant Other: None.
Interests: Addicted to crossword puzzles. Concert-level pianist. Avid runner who has finished four NYC marathons.
Strengths: The stepdaughter of a CIA spook, Eve was born into the business and is passionately dedicated to her work, believing that it makes the world a better place. Her instincts and training give her insight into the criminal mind that most agents of her age and experience do not possess.
Weaknesses: A perfectionist. She likes control and does not delegate well.
Notes: Subject to debilitating migraines triggered by stress, lack of sleep, or caffeine mismanagement. Claims medication keeps condition under control. Suffered a crisis of confidence following failed hostage negotiation resulting in multiple fatalities (case history #175137662). Currently on Personal Leave of Absence after Vidocq Unit was disbanded.
*Assessment prepared—and updated—by ADIC Henry Ma. For internal use only.
This just in. We have a developing situation in Midtown.
Police and first-responder activity is causing multiple street closures in the vicinity of Fifth and Madison throughout the Forties and Fifties.
Our Sky Chopper is in the air to bring us this live shot of the area. There's a crush of emergency vehicles—including multiple fire department vehicles—jamming both Fiftieth and Fifty-first Streets on either side of Fifth Avenue.
Over to you, Jim. From your vantage point, can you tell whether the incident response seems directed to Rockefeller Center—or to Saint Patrick's Cathedral?
JIM: All I can say right now is that we're seeing a massive emergency response on the ground, centered on Fifth Avenue between these two major tourist destinations, especially busy at holiday time.
Excerpted from Hostage Taker by Stefanie Pintoff. Copyright © 2015 by Stefanie Pintoff. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.