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Surprise Ending

Jeffery Deaver

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  Text copyright © 2017 by Gunner Publications, LLC

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Published by Amazon Original Stories, Seattle

  Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Amazon Original Stories are trademarks of, Inc., or its affiliates.

  eISBN: 9781542097741

  Cover design by Adil Dara




  “Please! You have to believe me.”

  In response to the stuttering words, Angel Ramos cocked his head with curiosity. His gut hung over tight jeans and tested the strength of the buttons of his pale-blue work shirt. Upper arms like hams, fists rocky, knuckles red (at least at the moment, since he’d been pounding on the jaw and cheek and ear of the man who sat tied to a chair before him).

  “Believe you. I have to believe you?” Ramos’s voice echoed in the dank warehouse. He wasn’t being dramatic. He was, in his heart, actually curious why Billy Frey stated, as a fact, that Ramos had to believe him. “Why?”

  The slim man gasped. “Why . . . what?”

  “Why do I have to believe you?”

  “Just, you do. I’m telling the truth. Me and my guys, we didn’t know it was Mr. Fed—”

  “Shh, no names.”

  “Swear to God. We didn’t know it was his . . . somebody else’s territory. That ’hood was, what wouldya say, unclaimed. That’s what we thought. Swear.”

  Yeah, as if there was any open ’hood left around Fell’s Point, the artsy neighborhood on the Baltimore waterfront. Or in downtown, for that matter. Even the dullest gangbanger’d know that the intersection where twitchy Billy Frey had set up his drive-by oxy shop was probably claimed . . . and that the claimer was Andre Hector Federico.

  Billy Frey whined, “I keep telling you this.”


  “And you don’t believe me.”


  The tears were real. He was scared, clearly. But Angel Ramos didn’t care. Sure, the man had brought his game to Mr. Federico’s turf. Happened from time to time. No biggie. You pay your fine, you go your way.

  You had to look at the broader picture, though: Billy Frey was a skel who’d just shot a teenage girl because she’d copped some rock from him. Yeah, she was a meth ho, a bitch, straggly, bleedy, yellow toothed. Pretty useless. Ramos was part of a crew that made their living turning people into zombies too, but he wouldn’t’ve killed a girl.

  Still, it wasn’t for Ramos—or God—to decide the mortal fate of Billy Frey. His survival or unsurvival was exclusively Mr. Federico’s call. The man would be standing, at this moment, at a pay phone in a strip mall thirty miles away, conferring with another associate and debating whether Billy Frey, out of Columbia, Maryland, was a threat or just a mosquito.

  Shivering from fear and the cool April air, Billy whispered, “I’ll leave town. Gone. Out of here.”

  Well, that was going to happen one way or the other. For sure and certain.

  Ramos’s mobile hummed.

  The pay phone’s number popped up.

  He hit “Accept.” But didn’t say “Hi,” much less “Sir,” because, on the remote chance that they—police, FBI, rival gangs—had tapped the phone, the s-word would suggest Ramos was on the line with his superior, who would be, everybody knew, Andre Federico. Ramos hit the number 1, then the number 3 on his phone.

  There was silence. Mr. Federico would be listening to the line. Once, he’d told Ramos in a weird whisper that he could hear wiretaps. This was, of course, bullshit, but nobody told him so. The man had said, years ago, when he was thinking of hiring Ramos, “All communications between me and you, everything, will happen in person or by code. And if it’s in person, I’m going to wand you with a scanner.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “And even then, we keep our words vague, keep them ambiguous. You know what ‘ambiguous’ is?”

  Angel Ramos had believed he should be insulted at that. But with Mr. Federico, you let a lot slide. He’d said he did know the meaning and he would take the advice to heart (and he’d also chosen, wisely, not to point out that saying “vague” and “ambiguous” was pretty much redundant).

  Now, in this grim warehouse, mobile pressed against his ear, Ramos heard three tones as Mr. Federico pressed the buttons of the pay phone. Ramos had memorized the pitch of the keys. This was 999. Ramos pressed 2.

  The line disconnected.

  “What?” Billy Frey asked. Then cried, “Tell me!” His voice was high and loud, but the walls of the waterfront warehouse were thick. No one outside could hear. Ramos lifted a black Glock pistol from his back waistband. No need to work the slide; a gun without a round in the chamber was a brick.

  Billy Frey stared at it. “No! You can’t do it! You can’t!”

  I must believe him. I can’t do this.

  Well. Angel Ramos stuffed spongy orange plugs in each of his ears, stepped close to Billy Frey, and fired. Twice was enough, but Ramos opted for one more. Thinking of the girl.

  The session that Alan Seybold had just concluded in the main ballroom of the East Coast Writers’ Conference had been pretty good.

  The signing afterward, even better.

  Seybold finished the last of the autographs—there’d been nearly two hundred in the queue, not bad—and stretched. He doused his hands with Purell sanitizer and enjoyed both the cooling sensation on his sore digits and the thought of the deaths of the million germs that’d leapt from his fans’ fingers to his during the obligatory handshakes.

  One of these fans now circled back and asked, breathlessly, if she could take a selfie with him, and Seybold said, “Sure.” He brushed his thinning brown hair back and tugged his dark-gray sport coat together to cover the bit of belly he’d developed in the past year or so. Book tours and writing about serial killers for three or four hours a day—all that ass time could take a toll. Still, for a balding forty-five-year-old, with a salt-and-pepper goatee, he believed he was holding his own.

  He put his arm around the fan’s shoulder and felt her trembling with excitement.

  After the shot she turned to him. “Mr. Seybold, I wanted to ask a question at the event but I didn’t get the chance. You said a big studio’s doing a movie of The Girl on the Ship.”

  “That’s right.”

  “Oh, that’s so cool!” A frown. “I don’t think you should’ve killed Steve’s partner. She was a nice lady.” The intense smile returned. “But I forgive you. I wanted to ask, who’s going to play Steve?”

  “I can’t really talk about it.”

  “Even if you just whisper it in my ear?”


  “Bad boy.” She winked, charmingly adoring and flirty, and vanished.

  Seybold glanced at his watch. The conference wasn’t finished for the day; the awards banquet was later this evening. But now he had a few hours of downtime for a shower and a scotch.

  A woman’s voice from behind him: “That was great, Alan.”

  He turned to see Maggie Daye, the local Baltimore author he’d just been “in conversation” with onstage, as the ECWC program described it.

  “Hey, yeah, enjoyed it.”

  “Think it went well,” she said, her blue eyes looking steadily into h
is, which were hazel.

  Yes, it had been a good session, he reflected once more. He’d enjoyed the back and forth as they batted around their assigned topic, “Story versus Character in Today’s Crime Fiction.” They were a good blend of authors too, because they approached the craft of writing commercial fiction differently. Maggie was a “plotter,” outlining her books extensively ahead of time, while he was a “pantser” (as in seat-of-the)—an author who just started writing and let the story take him where it wanted to go. Her books were more intellectual puzzles; his were more go-get-’em action tales. She wrote her first draft by hand, he by computer. The fans seemed to get a lot out of the conversation.

  The blonde, in her late thirties, he guessed, had a pleasant smile and a figure that he’d call voluptuous but that Maggie herself would probably consider pudgy. She reminded him of a grade school teacher, as sweet as could be, and he’d been amused when a fan had asked where she’d come up with the idea of using molten lead as a murder weapon in her latest book. He hadn’t read her stuff. Maybe he’d pick one up.

  “Can I buy you a drink?” she asked. Then smiled. “I have an ulterior motive. I wanted to pick your brain about Europe.”

  The subject of foreign sales had come up in the session. Seybold was far more famous than Maggie; he sold his titles in thirty-seven countries. Translation rights were a lucrative but tricky part of the publishing world and she’d be looking for advice from a seasoned pro.

  His face tightened into a faint wince. “Oh, sorry. I’ve got some things to do now.” Shower and scotch. “But maybe at the reception before the banquet?”

  “Ah, I’m passing on that.” She shrugged and offered a rueful grin. “Didn’t make the award short list.”

  “Your day’ll come.” Seybold had won the Best Novel prize twice at this gathering and was up for another this year. “But shoot me an email? Happy to give you any advice I can.”

  “I’ll do that. Thanks again.”

  They shook hands and she walked off. Seybold felt a bit bad about declining. Still, he couldn’t help everybody. This was the nature of being an author of popular fiction at Alan Seybold’s level: always on the go, giving advice to neophytes about writing, attending conferences, signing books for fans, appearing at literacy fundraisers. Oh, yeah, writing the books too. Time was his most precious commodity; he had to make sure people didn’t take advantage of him.

  On the other hand, there were some individuals that you made sure to fit in.

  Like the tall, coiffed man approaching now, holding up a gold police badge. He was wearing a well-cut charcoal-gray suit and perfectly starched white shirt. The tie was lustrous crimson. “Mr. Seybold? I’m Maryland State Police detective Bradley Reynolds. This is my partner, Louis Phan.” A slim Asian man nodded to him, offering a badge too. He wore a dark suit as well, though it was more modest and less tailored than Reynolds’s. Phan was Vietnamese, to judge from the name (Seybold’s books were bestsellers over there and he’d been to the country once, on book tour).


  The two badge cases vanished into the men’s pockets.

  “We’re with the Organized Crime Task Force. We’ve got a situation, and we’re hoping you can help us.”

  “We’re not sure anyone else can,” Phan said.

  Intriguing. Thoughts of a shower vanished. So did thoughts of Johnnie Walker Black.

  And that was saying something.

  Seybold looked around. “I sometimes get a little, well, mobbed by fans. It doesn’t sound very modest but it does happen. Can we find someplace quiet?”

  Starbucks in downtown Baltimore.

  Five blocks from the hotel, five blocks from the fans. Oh, he loved them, sure, but sometimes they thought they owned you.

  Even if you just whisper it in my ear . . . ?

  “Mr. Seybold, now—”

  “Alan’s fine.” He sipped his cappuccino, the officers, regular coffee.

  “Okay, I’m Bradley.”

  “And Louis.”

  Reynolds was the image of a cop about whom, had Seybold put him in a book, his editor would have said, “Too much of a cliché. Too upper-crusty. Scruffy him up. Roughize him.” (The editor had a unique, sometimes irritating approach to language—but when someone pays you a million dollars a year, you build up an immunity to irritation pretty fast.)

  “Alan, we’d appreciate it if you’d keep this to yourself.”


  “You know Baltimore?”

  “No. I live in California. I’m just here for the writers’ conference.”

  “Well, we have our share of criminal activity.”

  “That I’ve heard.”

  “We have two main organized crime gangs that’ve been vying for power on the waterfront and downtown. One is headed by Andre Federico. He’s sixty-two. His legitimate business is trucking and storage. His gang—where he makes most of his money—is the number one in terms of revenue, geographic reach . . . and body count. The second crew is run by Jack Kelley. He’s thirty-five. He and his wife own a bar and a chain of payroll loan shops. Federico and Kelley, they don’t run your typical urban crews. They’re the new face of OC.”

  “Organized crime,” Phan offered.

  Which, of course, Seybold knew. Steve Cameron went after mobsters, as well as terrorists and serial killers.

  Reynolds said, “It’s not white versus black versus Hispanic anymore. Fact is, these assholes don’t really care about old family ties or race or national origin. All they care about is their members producing. If you can score Walter White–quality meth and you’re willing to tag somebody and dump the body in a secret hidey-hole where it won’t ever, ever be found, you’re in the club. Black, white, Chinese, Latino.”

  “Orthodox Jew,” Phan said.

  Seybold had no idea if he was joking. He supposed so, though neither of the cops smiled.

  “Okay. Andre Federico—second-generation Mexican Swiss, go figure—lives in Chevy Chase. Multi-gazillionaire. Responsible for easily two dozen bodies we’ve found and who knows how many we haven’t. Kelley’s crew’s up-and-coming but they’re small potatoes. Not as many in his stable as Federico has and they’re not as nasty. We’ll take out Kelley at some point, but now it’s Federico’s crew in our sights. Those boys’re bad—particularly one shit named Angel Ramos. They love playing around with pliers and soldering irons . . .” Reynolds’s voice faded. “Sorry, sir . . . Alan. You don’t need the gruesome details.”

  Thinking once more, enviously, of Maggie Daye’s clever use of molten lead, Seybold smiled. “Doesn’t bother me. I write this stuff for a living.”

  “Well, actually, sir,” Phan said, “that’s why we’re here.”

  Seybold lifted an eyebrow.

  Reynolds took over again. “We want Federico behind bars. We want him bad. He and his crew’re ruining the waterfront, people’re dying of meth and opiate overdoses, children are getting shot in crossfires. I’m going to stop him.”

  Seybold noted how the pronoun had switched from first person plural to singular: I’m going to stop him. He now had a handle on Bradley Reynolds, a classic protagonist in noir crime fiction. He was a force of nature, someone who said to hell with propriety and procedure in his quest to stop the bad guys. But his ambition bled beyond his daily police work. He had expensive tastes—look at the suit and gold Rolex—and feeding those appetites meant he needed wins, big ones, like collaring high-profile OC perps. He’d need those victories, as well, to land an expansive office in city hall or the state capitol.

  “You know what a CI is?” Phan asked.

  “Write about ’em all the time. Confidential informant. Snitch.”

  Reynolds: “We’ve got a guy inside the Federico organization. He’s good, reliable.”

  “Great, actually,” Phan said.

  “But there’re limits. He can finger some lower-level muscle and we can take them down. But he can’t get us anything implicating Federico himself. The man’s way too careful�
�totally paranoid.”

  Seybold brushed at his salt-and-pepper goatee. “So . . . what’re you asking? You think in the research for my books I’ve found something that might help you?” A shrug. “My hero, he’s a cop in San Francisco. Nothing to do with the East Coast.”

  “That’s not why we’re here.”


  Reynolds said, “A couple days ago this CI—Stan Walker’s his name—Stan and I were talking. A takedown we’d tried to put together’d just fallen apart.” The detective paused. A dramatic pause. “Then Stan says, you know, kind of joking, ‘Hell, to put Federico away, you need somebody smart as Steve Cameron.’ And I go, ‘Who the hell is Steve Cameron?’”

  Seybold couldn’t help but smile.

  “And then he tells me about you. You’re his favorite author.”

  Seybold was flattered, despite the fact that this Walker was a gangbanger, a snitch, and maybe a murderer.

  A fan’s a fan.

  “And I go out and buy a couple of your books. Loved ’em.”

  “Thank you.”

  “And I got what Walker’s talking about.” A grin. “Damn. The assassination plot in Bloody River. I never saw that big twist in the middle coming. And the robbery in Two Days to Die? Man, it was like a fine-tuned engine.”

  Reynolds added, “Sure hope we’re going to see Steve Cameron on TV. I’d binge on that series, I tell you.”

  Seybold grinned with tight lips. “Well, there’s a movie deal. The Girl on the Ship?”

  “Congratulations. Didn’t read that one, but I’ll bet it’s great.”

  “So tell me what you’ve got in mind.”

  “The three of us and this CI—we all sit down. We give you the info we’ve got on Federico and his operation and you come up with some idea about how to lure him out of his safe zone and collar him. Just blue sky. Have some fun and see what you come up with. Now, we can’t entrap, we can’t plant evidence. We’ve got to play by the rules.”

  As Seybold well knew. He was thinking of the subplot in Sunday’s Orphan, where Steve Cameron had to surrender his gun and badge after it looked like he’d planted a fingerprint of a serial rapist at a crime scene.