The Nightmare Thief
Forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett returns in a fourth taut, groundbreaking thriller from Edgar Award winner Meg Gardiner.
Autumn Reiniger expects something special for her twenty-first birthday. Daddy's already bought her the sports car, the apartment, and admission to the private college where she parties away her weekends. Now she wants excitement, and she's going to get it.
Her father signs up Autumn and five friends for an "ultimate urban reality" game: a simulated drug deal, manhunt, and jailbreak. It's a high-priced version of cops and robbers, played with fake guns and fast cars on the streets of San Francisco. Edge Adventures alerts the SFPD ahead of time that a "crime situation" is underway, so the authorities can ignore the squealing tires and desperate cries for help.
Which is convenient for the gang of real kidnappers zeroing in on their target and a mammoth payday. Because what Daddy doesn't know is that someone has spotted his hedge fund's bulging profits, and the path to those riches runs right through Daddy's Little Girl.
Working on a case nearby is forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett and her partner Gabe Quintana. When the pair encounters a suspicious group of men carting six sullen college kids to the woods for a supposed wilderness adventure, alarm bells ring. Jo takes a closer look, and winds up with an invite to Autumn Reiniger's twenty-first birthday party-a party they may never leave.
The young trader stumbled from the trees like a scarecrow running on legs of straw. Her suit was muddy, her blouse torn, her sleek Asian hair matted with pine needles. She ran into the street directly in front of Autumn Reiniger’s BMW.
Autumn braked. “Oh, man.”
The trader glanced at her but didn’t break stride. With one arm she clutched a battered lockbox. The other arm she cradled to her chest, protecting what looked to Autumn like a broken wrist.
This was the place. Fun city.
The trader ran across the street to the driveway of Peter Reiniger’s palatial home. She was the last to emerge from the eucalyptus grove at the edge of the Presidio. The others huddled on the drive¬way. Beside them, Reiniger sat on the tailgate of a Mercedes SUV.
Autumn got out of her car. She took a step, but Reiniger ges¬tured for her to stay put.
The trader swayed to a stop. Nakamura, that was her name— Autumn recognized her from one of her father’s glossy corporate brochures. Chest heaving, the woman dropped to her knees.
She set down the lockbox. After long seconds she raised her gaze to Reiniger.
Her silence made Autumn’s skin tingle. Nakamura was control¬ling pain and raw emotion. And she was unintimidatedit was stirring. She knelt on the driveway, black hair falling across her face, and she held Peter Reiniger’s gaze. With her good arm she
fumbled open the lockbox. Inside, hundreds of multi-carat stones
glittered like tears.
“I win,” she said.
A hush pressed upon the street. Birdsong, wind through the trees, traffic down the hill along the San Francisco waterfront, all ebbed. Reiniger climbed off the tailgate.
“And?” he said.
She dug her hand into the stones and clutched a fistful. “Ransom my team.”
The people huddled around the SUV cheered. Nakamura let the stones—cubic zirconia, playtime diamonds—cascade back into the box.
Reiniger pulled her to her feet. “You okay?”
She wobbled, but smiled. “You owe me a raise.”
A medic jogged up. “Let’s take a look at that arm.”
Her colleagues thronged her. Autumn grinned and applauded. The woman was tough. From the roof of the Mercedes SUV, a cameraman panned the scene, catching their glee.
And . . . cut. Cue the music from Chariots of Fire. Autumn strolled toward her dad, hands in the back pockets of her jeans.
The game runner got to Reiniger first. “We’ll edit the video and burn copies for everybody.”
Reiniger nodded. “We’ll stream it at our board meeting.”
The game runner, a black guy with the hard fitness of a running back, poured antiseptic on a gauze pad and handed it to Reiniger. “Clean up.”
Cleaning up was what Edge Adventures did. Absolutely. Reiniger pushed up the sleeve of his sweatshirt. Scrapes covered his elbow. This kidnap scenario looked to Autumn like it had been rowdier than most.
She took the gauze pad from him and dabbed at the scrapes. “Messy.”
“Realistic,” he said. “The screaming’s all part of the game.”
Only at team-building weekends run for Reiniger Capital.Praise for Meg Gardiner:
"Meg Gardiner is as good as Michael Connelly and far better than Janet Evamovich. And she can be fall-on-your-fanny hilarious...The next suspense superstar."
"Stephen King is absolutely right. Meg Gardiner is an astonishing writer, and The Dirty Secrets Club is a humdinger of a thriller, with shocks and twists gaore. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough."
"A winner in every way. The Dirty Secrets Club is nuanced and layered-and a harrowing thriller that chews up the streets of San Francisco from the high-rises to the Tenderloin. Meg Gardiner makes every one of her characters leap alive off the page, and I personally am in love with the most compelling of them all, Jo Beckett-the psychiatrist who analyzes dead people for the cops and who's willing to trade her cell phone for a cup of coffee."
-New York Times bestselling author Jeffery Deaver
"Gardiner has created a tough, intelligent heroine who is as comfortable kicking butt and bad guys in the alleys of San Francisco as she is in a medical lab examining carbon nanotechnology and its effects on the brain."
"Jo Beckett may at times remind readers of Nancy Drew in her prime. Gardiner...with the eye and ear of a keen reporter, can capture the speech and manner of a self-important political staffer or a cynical cop, the pretentious ranting of a cyber-patriot or the e-mail venom of a deluded stalker."
-The Washington Post
"It cannor be overstated how talented Gardiner is. The action and thrills and twists never let up."
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