Checkmate, p.1
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       Checkmate, p.1

           Steven James
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Checkmate


  “James writes smart, taut, high-octane thrillers. But be warned—his books are not for the timid. The endings blow me away every time.”

  —Mitch Galin, producer of Stephen King’s The Stand and Frank Herbert’s Dune

  Praise for the Novels

  of Steven James

  Checkmate

  “Checkmate is high tension all the way. The author writes with precision and incisiveness. Fast, sharp, and believable. Put it at the top of your list.”

  —John Lutz, Edgar Award–winning author of Single White Female and Frenzy

  “In his latest Patrick Bowers thriller, Steven James pens another fast-paced thriller chock-full of great characters, head-snapping plot twists, impeccable research, and a truly fun ride. Highly recommended. Not to be missed.”

  —D. P. Lyle, award-winning author of the Dub Walker and Samantha Cody thriller series

  “A perfectly crafted, hard-hitting, intense thriller that takes readers to the top of the cliff and dangles them over the edge. James is an author that every thriller reader should have on their bookshelf.”

  —Suspense Magazine

  The King

  “His tightly woven, adrenaline-laced plots leave readers breathless.”

  —The Suspense Zone

  “Steven James offers yet another slam dunk in the Bowers Files series!”

  —Suspense Magazine

  “Highly engaging, with consuming tension and solid storytelling.”

  —TitleTrakk.com

  “If you love edgy, intense, on-the-edge-of-horrifying coupled with great writing, then click and order this one now.”

  —Novel Reviews

  Opening Moves

  “A mesmerizing read. From the first chapter, it sets its hook deep and drags you through a darkly gripping story with relentless power. My conclusion: I need to read more of Steven James.”

  —Michael Connelly, New York Times bestselling author of The Gods of Guilt

  “Steven James has created a fast-moving thriller with psychological depth and gripping action. Opening Moves is a smart, taut, intense novel of suspense that reads like a cross between Michael Connelly and Thomas Harris. . . . Opening Moves is a blisteringly fast and riveting read.”

  —Mark Greaney, New York Times bestselling author of Dead Eye

  “Prepare yourself for a horror-of-a-ride, edge-of-your-seat thriller of thrillers.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “[A] fast-moving, intense thriller that has as many demented twists and turns as the crimes themselves.”

  —Examiner.com

  “[A] high-octane thriller.”

  —Suspense Magazine

  The Bishop

  “The novel moves swiftly, with punchy dialogue but gruesome scenes. Readers must be ready to stomach the darkest side of humanity and get into the minds of serial killers to enjoy this master storyteller at the peak of his game.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “This novel is fresh and exciting.”

  —Booklist

  “Absolutely brilliant.”

  —Jeff Buick, bestselling author of One Child

  “Steven James’s The Bishop should come with a warning: Don’t start reading unless you’re prepared to finish this book in a single sitting. Riveting!”

  —Karen Dionne, International Thriller Writers Web site chair and author of The Killing

  “The Bishop—full of plot twists, nightmarish villains, and family conflicts—kept me turning pages on a red-eye all the way from New York City to Amsterdam. Steven James tells stories that grab you by the collar and don’t let go.”

  —Norb Vonnegut, author, Top Producer; editor of Acrimony.com

  “Steven James locks you in a thrill ride with no brakes. He sets the new standard in suspense writing.”

  —Suspense Magazine

  More Praise for Steven James

  and His Award-Winning Novels

  “James delivers first-rate characters, dazzling plot twists, and powers it all with nonstop action.”

  —John Tinker, Emmy-winning screenplay writer

  “Once again, James has given us a ripsnorting thriller with a beating heart.”

  —New York Times bestselling author Eric Wilson

  “James delivers . . . caffeinated plot twists and intriguing characterizations. Riveting . . . a gripping plot and brisk pacing will win James some fans eager for his next offering.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “[An] exceptional psychological thriller.”

  —Armchair Interviews

  “Brilliant. . . . Steven James gives us a captivating look at the fine line between good and evil in the human heart. Not to be missed.”

  —Ann Tatlock, Christy Award–winning author

  “Exquisite.”

  —Fiction Fanatics Only!

  “Best story of the year—perfectly executed.”

  —The Suspense Zone (2008 Reviewer’s Choice Award)

  “In a word, intense.”

  —Mysterious Reviews

  “Steven James writes at a breakneck pace, effortlessly pulling the reader along on this incredible thrill ride. A writer to watch for.”

  —Fiction Addict

  THE BOWERS FILES

  Opening Moves

  The Pawn

  The Rook

  The Knight

  The Bishop

  The Queen

  The King

  SIGNET SELECT

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,

  New York, New York 10014

  USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

  penguin.com

  A Penguin Random House Company

  First published by Signet Select, an imprint of New American Library,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

  Copyright © Steven James, 2014

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  SIGNET SELECT and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

  ISBN 978-0-698-14019-6

  PUBLISHER’S NOTE

  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, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Version_1

  Contents

  Praise

  Also from THE BOWERS FILES

  Title page

  Copyright page

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  PART I: Arrowheads

  Prologue

  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

  PART II: Mortalis

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

/>   Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  PART III: Broken Blades

  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

  PART IV: M343

  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

  Chapter 74

  Chapter 75

  Chapter 76

  Chapter 77

  Chapter 78

  Chapter 79

  Chapter 80

  PART V: The Fourth Statue

  Chapter 81

  Chapter 82

  Chapter 83

  Chapter 84

  Chapter 85

  Chapter 86

  Chapter 87

  Chapter 88

  Chapter 89

  Chapter 90

  Chapter 91

  Chapter 92

  Chapter 93

  Chapter 94

  Epilogue

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  To my wife

  “After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box.”

  —Italian proverb

  PART I

  Arrowheads

  Prologue

  He stood in front of the mirror, unsure he really wanted to remove the bandages.

  His plastic surgeon had said there wouldn’t be any scarring, had promised him that the incisions on his face would heal quickly, that the stitches would come out on their own.

  But still, the surgery hadn’t taken place under the most ideal conditions and, although his doctor had an unparalleled reputation, he knew she might have been distracted by everything else that was going on.

  He wondered what lay beneath the bandages, beneath the stitches.

  A new face.

  A new future.

  He took a deep breath, reached up, and unfastened the end of one of the bandages that wound around his head.

  The surgery had been aggressive and it wasn’t the way he would have preferred going about this, any of this. Everything was rushed and the thought of seeing what he would look like for the rest of his life made him a little uneasy.

  Slowly, carefully, he began to unwrap the bandage.

  His surgeon had told him to wait three to five days.

  It had been two.

  Though he was relatively self-possessed in many areas of his life, he was anxious about this. There was so much to do before August and he wouldn’t be able to do any of it if the surgery wasn’t successful.

  As he unraveled the bandage he saw that it was tainted with dots of dried blood.

  Unraveled. That’s a good way to put it.

  Everything that was true of your life just over a year ago has unraveled.

  The last few bandages were placed across the incisions and stitches.

  Somewhat hesitantly, he peeled them off, until he was looking at his new face, revealed.

  It was the strangest sensation, staring into a mirror and seeing the face of a stranger you knew to be yourself.

  After depositing the bandages in the trash can beside the sink, he studied his reflection.

  Revealed.

  Yes, his face was swollen and misshapen, but even with all that, he could tell the difference.

  His plastic surgeon really had done an amazing job, especially considering how much stress she’d been under when she performed the surgery.

  He had the same bone structure—yes, of course, certainly—and the same general characteristics, but there were enough subtle differences to make it appear that he was someone else entirely.

  “We are all strangers to ourselves,” he remembered hearing one time, “when the masks fall away.”

  Well, had the masks really fallen away, or was this just another one for him to wear?

  Either way, he was emerging, unfolding, like a butterfly flexing its wings for the first time.

  Some people seek out surgery like this to hide the signs of aging. Others need it to recover from a life-altering accident. Still others so they can start over, start fresh.

  That was him.

  A second chance to get things right.

  After all that’d happened in the last year, after all the publicity—which, truthfully, still hadn’t quieted down—after all that, well, it would be much easier if there was a way to go online and pull up the information that was out there and press Delete.

  But it doesn’t work that way with the Internet.

  In cyberspace there’s no way to erase your past.

  He ran a finger along his jawline and then over the ridge of one of the incisions.

  So you have to erase yourself.

  A few follow-up appointments with his plastic surgeon would probably be a good idea, but the logistics made that difficult and he expected that he would only be seeing her one last time.

  He would ask her about the best post-op care, make sure he knew how to avoid infection, and then be on his way.

  Touching the mirror, he traced the outline of his face on the cool glass.

  Here is where you are now. Here.

  Now.

  Erased.

  And revealed.

  His wife had divorced him last summer.

  He had lost all of his friends during the trial.

  Yes, it was time to make a break with the past.

  But first, a visit to his surgeon.

  Turning off the bathroom light, he headed for the basement, where he’d kept her since the surgery.

  Both her and her boy.

  When he opened the door at the top of the steps he could hear the child crying.

  He decided he would take care of him first—that way the boy wouldn’t be frightened when he saw what was happening to his mother.

  Unpocketing the knife he would be using, he flicked out the blade, closed the door behind him, and descended the stairs.

  To write the first chapter of his new life.

  1

  Eight weeks later

  Monday, July 29

  Tarry Lawnmower Supply

  42 Wayside Road

  Dale City, Virginia

  8:54 a.m.

  Lawnmower posters decorated the walls. Toy riding lawnmowers sat on the receptionist’s desk beside the out-of-date computer, ink-jet printer, and an in-box overflowing with receipts, orders, and invoices.

  The receptionist was armed.

  We knew that.
>
  And she was a good shot.

  We knew that too.

  After all, the purpose of this building was not to supply and distribute lawnmowers, but you wouldn’t know that from studying its website or from simply entering the front lobby.

  You wouldn’t even know it from watching the semis arrive and leave from the building’s loading dock out back as they made deliveries or “picked up orders.”

  The trucks were driven by undercover agents. We didn’t even leave something like that to a private security firm.

  No.

  Not here.

  All a necessary illusion.

  Even though the receptionist knew us, Ralph and I were aware that she would be asking for our creds, so we held them out as we approached her desk.

  I scratched at my rib cage. Because of a shooting at DEA headquarters last week, everyone here today—including Ralph and me—was wearing body armor. Lightweight, but still a little uncomfortable.

  The agent who’d been shot was alright, but it’d put everyone on high alert. Having to wear one of these to work was an annoyance, but for those of us in the business it was more common than most people might think. In keeping with the secrecy of this place we normally didn’t wear them over our shirts, but I had a light rain jacket on today so my shirt was under my vest.

  “Good morning, Debra.” I saw the framed picture of her nine-year-old daughter, Allie, beside the computer monitor. “How’s that little girl of yours?”

  “Mischievous. Playful.” She carefully studied my credentials, but seemed a little distracted, agitated. “Always into something—you know how it is.”

  Actually, I knew almost nothing about bringing up girls, at least not from personal experience. Though I did have an eighteen-year-old daughter, I wasn’t the one who’d raised her.

  Tessa’s mother and I had married three years ago, and her dad had never been in the picture. Then, less than six months after our wedding, Christie died of breast cancer, and Tessa and I started the long, arduous task of trying to recover together, trying to re-form a family with just the two of us.

  For a long time it hadn’t gone very well. Now, however, things were finally on the right track. I was remarried, and it seemed like those days of watching my late wife die were in another lifetime.

  I was still caught up in my thoughts about my family when Debra handed back my creds. While I waited for her to finish with Ralph’s, I glanced out the window. Rain drizzled beyond the bulletproof glass, providing a welcome respite from the northern Virginia heat wave we’d been experiencing.

 

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