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The Never Game

Jeffery Deaver



  The Lincoln Rhyme Series

  The Cutting Edge

  The Burial Hour

  The Steel Kiss

  The Skin Collector

  The Kill Room

  The Burning Wire

  The Broken Window

  The Cold Moon

  The Twelfth Card

  The Vanished Man

  The Stone Monkey

  The Empty Chair

  The Coffin Dancer

  The Bone Collector

  The Kathryn Dance Series

  Solitude Creek


  Roadside Crosses

  The Sleeping Doll

  The Rune Series

  Hard News

  Death of a Blue Movie Star

  Manhattan is My Beat

  The John Pellam Series

  Hell’s Kitchen

  Bloody River Blues

  Shallow Graves


  The October List

  No Rest for the Dead (Contributor)

  Carte Blanche (A James Bond Novel)

  Watchlist (Contributor)


  The Bodies Left Behind

  Garden of Beasts

  The Blue Nowhere

  Speaking in Tongues

  The Devil’s Teardrop

  A Maiden’s Grave

  Praying For Sleep

  The Lesson of Her Death

  Mistress of Justice



  A Hot and Sultry Night for Crime (Editor)

  Trouble in Mind

  Triple Threat

  Books to Die For (Contributor)

  The Best American Mystery Stories 2009 (Editor)

  More Twisted



  Ninth and Nowhere


  The Victims’ Club

  Surprise Ending

  Double Cross

  The Deliveryman

  A Textbook Case


  Publishers Since 1838s

  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  Copyright © 2019 by Gunner Publications, LLC

  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.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Deaver, Jeffery, author.

  Title: The never game / Jeffery Deaver.

  Description: New York, New York : G. P. Putnam’s Sons, [2019]

  Identifiers: LCCN 2019003019 | ISBN 9780525535942 (hardback) | ISBN 9780525535966 (epub)

  Subjects: | BISAC: FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General. | FICTION / Crime. | GSAFD: Mystery fiction. | Suspense fiction

  Classification: LCC PS3554.E1755 N48 2019 | DDC 813/.54—dc23

  LC record available at

  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 M and P


  Also by Jeffery Deaver

  Title Page




  Level 3: The Sinking Ship

  Level 1: The Abandoned FactoryChapter 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

  Level 3: The Sinking Ship

  Level 2: The Dark ForestChapter 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

  Level 3: The Sinking ShipChapter 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

  Chapter 74

  Chapter 75

  Chapter 76

  Author’s Note

  About the Author

  Gaming disorder is defined . . . as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.


  Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock ’n’ roll.


  LEVEL 3:


  Sunday, June 9

  Sprinting toward the sea, Colter Shaw eyed the craft closely.

The forty-foot derelict fishing vessel, decades old, was going down by the stern, already three-fourths submerged.

  Shaw saw no doors into the cabin; there would be only one and it was now underwater. In the aft part of the superstructure, still above sea level, was a window facing onto the bow. The opening was large enough to climb through but it appeared sealed. He’d dive for the door.

  He paused, reflecting: Did he need to?

  Shaw looked for the rope mooring the boat to the pier; maybe he could take up slack and keep the ship from going under.

  There was no rope; the boat was anchored, which meant it was free to descend thirty feet to the floor of the Pacific Ocean.

  And, if the woman was inside, take her with it to a cold, murky grave.

  As he ran onto the slippery dock, avoiding the most rotten pieces, he stripped off his bloodstained shirt, then his shoes and socks.

  A powerful swell struck the ship and it shuddered and sank a few more inches into the gray, indifferent water.

  He shouted, “Elizabeth?”

  No response.

  Shaw assessed: there was a sixty percent chance she was on board. Fifty percent chance she was alive after hours in the waterlogged cabin.

  Whatever the percentages, there was no debate about what came next. He stuck an arm beneath the surface and judged the temperature to be about forty degrees. He’d have thirty minutes until he passed out from hypothermia.

  Let’s start the clock, he thought.

  And plunges in.

  * * *


  An ocean isn’t liquid. It’s flowing stone. Crushing.

  Sly too.

  Shaw’s intention was to wrestle open the door to the cabin, then swim out with Elizabeth Chabelle. The water had a different idea. The minute he surfaced for breath he was tossed toward one of the oak pilings, from which danced lacy flora, delicate thin green hairs. He held up a hand to brace himself as he was flung toward the wood. His palm slid off the slimy surface and his head struck the post. A burst of yellow light filled his vision.

  Another wave lifted and flung him toward the pier once more. This time he was just able to avoid a rusty spike. Rather than fighting the current to return to the boat—about eight feet away—he waited for the outflow that would carry him to the vessel. An upward swell took him and this time he gigged his shoulder on the spike. It stung sharply. There’d be blood.

  Sharks here?

  Never borrow trouble . . .

  The water receded. He kicked into the flow, raised his head, filled his lungs and dove, swimming hard for the door. The salty water burned his eyes but he kept them wide; the sun was low and it was dark here. He spotted what he sought, gripped the metal handle and twisted. The handle moved back and forth yet the door wouldn’t open.

  To the surface, more air. Back under again, holding himself down with the latch in his left hand, and feeling for other locks or securing fixtures with his right.

  The shock and pain of the initial plunge had worn off, but he was shivering hard.

  Ashton Shaw had taught his children how to prepare for cold-water survival—dry suit, number one. Wet suit, second choice. Two caps—heat loss is greatest through the skull, even with hair as thick as Shaw’s blond locks. Ignore extremities; you don’t lose heat through fingers or toes. Without protective clothing, the only solution is to get the hell out as fast as you can before hypothermia confuses, numbs and kills.

  Twenty-five minutes left.

  Another attempt to wrench open the door to the cabin. Another failure.

  He thought of the windshield overlooking the bow deck. The only way to get her out.

  Shaw stroked toward the shore and dove, seizing a rock big enough to shatter glass but not so heavy it would pull him down.

  Kicking hard, rhythmically, timing his efforts to the waves, he returned to the boat, whose name he noticed was Seas the Day.

  Shaw managed to climb the forty-five-degree incline to the bow and perch on the upward-tilting front of the cabin, resting against the murky four-by-three-foot window.

  He peered inside but spotted no sign of the thirty-two-year-old brunette. He noted that the forward part of the cabin was empty. There was a bulkhead halfway toward the stern, with a door in the middle of it and a window about head height, the glass missing. If she were here, she’d be on the other side—the one now largely filled with water.

  He lifted the rock, sharp end forward, and swung it against the glass, again and again.

  He learned that whoever had made the vessel had fortified the forward window against wind and wave and hail. The stone didn’t even chip the surface.

  And Colter Shaw learned something else too.

  Elizabeth Chabelle was in fact alive.

  She’d heard the banging and her pale, pretty face, ringed with stringy brown hair, appeared in the window of the doorway between the two sections of the cabin.

  Chabelle screamed “Help me!” so loudly that Shaw could hear her clearly though the thick glass separating them.

  “Elizabeth!” he shouted. “There’s help coming. Stay out of the water.”

  He knew the help he promised couldn’t possibly arrive until after the ship was on the bottom. He was her only hope.

  It might be possible for someone else to fit through the broken window inside and climb into the forward, and drier, half of the cabin.

  But not Elizabeth Chabelle.

  Her kidnapper had, by design or accident, chosen to abduct a woman who was seven and a half months pregnant; she couldn’t possibly fit through the frame.

  Chabelle disappeared to find a perch somewhere out of the freezing water and Colter Shaw lifted the rock to begin pounding on the windshield once more.

  LEVEL 1:


  Friday, June 7, Two Days Earlier


  He asked the woman to repeat herself.

  “That thing they throw,” she said. “With the burning rag in it?”

  “They throw?”

  “Like at riots? A bottle. You see ’em on TV.”

  Colter Shaw said, “A Molotov cocktail.”

  “Yeah, yeah,” Carole was saying. “I think he had one.”

  “Was it burning? The rag part?”

  “No. But, you know . . .”

  Carole’s voice was raspy, though she wasn’t presently a smoker that Shaw had seen or smelled. She was draped with a green dress of limp cloth. Her natural expression seemed to be one of concern yet this morning it was more troubled than usual. “He was over there.” She pointed.

  The Oak View RV park, one of the scruffier that Shaw had stayed at, was ringed with trees, mostly scrub oak and pine, some dead, all dry. And thick. Hard to see “over there.”

  “You called the police?”

  A pause. “No, if it wasn’t a . . . What again?”

  “Molotov cocktail.”

  “If he didn’t have one, it’d be embarrassing. And I call the cops enough, for stuff here.”

  Shaw knew dozens of RV park owners around the country. Mostly couples, as it’s a good gig for middle-aged marrieds. If there’s just a single manager, like Carole, it was usually a she, and she was usually a widow. They tend to dial 911 for camp disputes more than their late husbands, men who often went about armed.

  “On the other hand,” she continued, “fire. Here. You know.”

  California was a tinderbox, as anybody who watched the news knew. You think of state parks and suburbs and agricultural fields; cities, though, weren’t immune to nature’s conflagrations. Shaw believed that one of the worst brush fires in the history of the state had been in Oakland, very near where they were now standing.

  “Sometimes, I kick somebody out, they say they’ll come back and get even.” She added with astonishment, “Even when I caught them stealing fo
rty amps when they paid for twenty. Some people. Really.”

  He asked, “And you want me to . . . ?”

  “I don’t know, Mr. Shaw. Just take a look. Could you take a look? Please?”

  Shaw squinted through the flora and saw, maybe, motion that wasn’t from the breeze. A person walking slowly? And if so did the pace mean that he was moving tactically—that is, with some mischief in mind?

  Carole’s eyes were on Shaw, regarding him in a particular way. This happened with some frequency. He was a civilian, never said he was anything else. But he had cop fiber.

  Shaw circled to the front of the park and walked on the cracked and uneven sidewalk, then on the grassy shoulder of the unbusy road in this unbusy corner of the city.

  Yes, there was a man, in dark jacket, blue jeans and black stocking cap, some twenty yards ahead. He wore boots that could be helpful on a hike through brush and equally helpful to stomp an opponent. And, yes, either he was armed with a gas bomb or he was holding a Corona and a napkin in the same hand. Early for a beer some places; not in this part of Oakland.

  Shaw slipped off the shoulder into the foliage to his right and walked more quickly, though with care to stay silent. The needles that had pitched from branch to ground in droves over the past several seasons made stealth easy.

  Whoever this might be, vengeful lodger or not, he was well past Carole’s cabin. So she wasn’t at personal risk. But Shaw wasn’t giving the guy a pass just yet.

  This felt wrong.

  Now the fellow was approaching the part of the RV camp where Shaw’s Winnebago was parked, among many other RVs.

  Shaw had more than a passing interest in Molotov cocktails. Several years ago, he’d been searching for a fugitive on the lam for an oil scam in Oklahoma when somebody pitched a gas bomb through the windshield of his camper. The craft burned to the rims in twenty minutes, personal effects saved in the nick. Shaw still carried a distinct and unpleasant scent memory of the air surrounding the metal carcass.

  The percentage likelihood that Shaw would be attacked by two Russian-inspired weapons in one lifetime, let alone within several years, had to be pretty small. Shaw put it at five percent. A figure made smaller yet by the fact that he had come to the Oakland/Berkeley area on personal business, not to ruin a fugitive’s life. And while Shaw had committed a transgression yesterday, the remedy for that offense would’ve been a verbal lashing, a confrontation with a beefy security guard or, at worst, the police. Not a firebomb.