FBI Special Agent Atlee Pine was sitting in her rental car outside of Andersonville, Georgia, with her assistant, Carol Blum, next to her. She hit the name on her contact list and listened to the phone ringing. “Pine, how nice of you to call,” the dripping-with-sarcasm voice said into her ear. The man speaking was the FBI’s top dog in Arizona, Clint Dobbs. He was the one who had given Pine permission to take a “sabbatical” in order to find out what had happened to her twin sister, Mercy, who had been abducted from their home in Andersonville thirty years before. Six-year-old Pine had nearly died in the process. “Sorry, sir, it’s just been a little busy.” “I understand that you have been extremely busy. You solved a series of murders down there, prevented other killings, nearly got blown up in the process, and discovered something truly remarkable about your past. Hell, the Bureau might owe you a bonus.” “I take it you’ve been kept informed through other channels.” “You could say that, yes, since you have been remarkably uncommunicative.” “Would that source of info be Eddie Laredo?” Laredo was an FBI special agent who had been sent down to Georgia to help in a murder investigation. He and Pine had a history, a complicated one, but she believed they had resolved things. “I have multiple sources keeping me informed.
What did you find out about your sister’s disappearance?” “When my mother was a teenager she was a mole in a sting operation involving the mob back in the eighties. One of the guys that went down as a result was a man named Bruno Vincenzo, who was murdered after he went to prison. Bruno had a brother in Jersey named Ito. Apparently, Ito found out what happened and blamed my mother for his brother’s death. Somehow he discovered where we were, came down to Georgia, and kidnapped my sister.” “Do you have a line on this Ito Vincenzo? Is he even still alive?” “I checked the state’s official online database. There’s no record of his death, but he might not have died in New Jersey. I found out that he lived in Trenton. I’ve got the house address. It’s in the name of a Teddy Vincenzo—that’s his son.
” “Sounds like he might have inherited it, so maybe his old man did die. Maybe he was a snowbird and breathed his last in Florida. If so, he might be beyond your reach, Pine.” “I can still talk to his family. They might know something helpful.” “Okay, if they’ll talk to you. And where is this Teddy Vincenzo?” Pine let out a long sigh. “In prison at Fort Dix.” “Ah, well, crime indeed runs in the family. At least he’s in Jersey.
So you want to go to Trenton now? Is that why you finally called me?” There was an edge to Dobbs’s voice that Pine did not care for. “I don’t see any other way.” “Oh, you don’t, do you? Maybe you and I have a different idea about that, Pine.” “I just need a little more time. I got sidetracked by the murders down here. But for that I could have made a lot more progress.” “So what you’re saying is that while you’ve been on leave, you’ve actually still been working as an agent.” “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” “I agree with you, Pine,” said Dobbs, surprising her. “You did great work down there, as I already pointed out.
If it were up to me, I’d tell you to take as much time as you need, but while I’m the top agent in Arizona, I do have people above me, Pine, a lot of them. And there have been grumblings around the Bureau.” “I didn’t think I was that important,” said Pine sharply. “And who’s complaining?” “Let me point it out then. I’ve got two agents on rotation covering for you in Shattered Rock, even though they’ve got their own assignments. They’re not happy about that because they’ve got no backup, which you apparently enjoy but they don’t. And I’ve also had to redirect admin resources there because Carol’s with you. And while I know this is the twenty-first century, the fact that you are, well, you know…” “You mean the fact that I’m a woman, that the guys don’t think I’m carrying my weight?” “They think you’re getting special treatment—and, in fact, you are. I’ve had more than a few complaining that they’ve all got problems but they still have to get up and go to work every day, so what’s the deal with you?” Pine barked, “You were the one to tell me to work out this issue if I wanted to keep working at the Bureau. And the only way I can do that is to find my damn sister.
” Blum put a calming hand on Pine’s arm. Dobbs said, “I will take into account your natural anger, but just keep in mind who the hell you’re talking to, Pine.” Pine took a long breath. “I just need a little more time, sir. A few more days.” Dobbs didn’t say anything for so long that Pine was afraid the man had hung up. “Trenton, New Jersey, huh?” “Yes,” said Pine quietly. “Funny thing, Pine. I started out in Trenton more years ago than I can remember. It was going through some challenging times back then.
It’s going through more challenging times right now.” He paused. “Okay, a few more days. If you need any backup or info, dial up the guys there and tell them Clint Dobbs said it’s okay. They won’t believe you, but they’ll believe it when I tell them it’s true.” Pine glanced at Blum with wide eyes. “Um, I was not expecting that.” “I wasn’t expecting to say it, Pine. The offer just popped into my head. But I need to make this point as clear as I can: You have to finish this and come home.
You got that? The Bureau pays your salary to work for them. I know I told you to go after this to get your head straight, but at the end of the day that’s your problem, not mine. And you’re not the only agent I have to deal with, okay? I got hundreds of them, and they all got problems. You got that?” “Yes, sir. Got it. And I’m so grateful. Thank you for—” But Dobbs had already clicked off. Pine slowly put the phone down. “New Jersey, here we come.” Chapter 2 TWO DAYS LATER , Pine was driving in her rental car through a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Trenton.
She was thinking about what she would say to Anthony “Tony” Vincenzo, who sometimes stayed at the home his father, Teddy, had apparently inherited from his father, Ito Vincenzo. She didn’t want to deal with the inevitable red tape of visiting Teddy Vincenzo in prison if she didn’t have to; Tony was low-hanging fruit. But with her current frame of mind, if Tony chose not to help her, she might just shoot him. As the grandson of Ito Vincenzo, Tony could possibly tell her something about Ito—hopefully where he currently was, if he was still alive. And that might lead to Mercy, which was why she was here, after all. The road to Mercy had been long and tortuous, and some days the destination seemed as unreachable as the summit of Mt. Everest. But now that Pine finally had a breakthrough in the case, she was going for it. And if it took her longer than a few days, so be it. Pine had been compelled to hunt for her sister after a disastrous encounter with a pedophile who had kidnapped a little girl in Colorado.
Her rage, fueled by the memory of her own sister’s abduction, had resulted in Pine’s almost beating the man to death and breaking every rule the Bureau had. Clint Dobbs had given her an ultimatum: Resolve her personal issues about her sister or find another line of work. But now she didn’t need any motivation from Dobbs or anyone else. Now she would willingly chuck her FBI career in exchange for finding her sister. It’s not just my job that I won’t be able to do if I don’t find out what happened to my sister. It’s my life that I won’t be able to do. Being able to admit this to herself had been both frightening and liberating. With a Glock as her main weapon and a Beretta Nano stuck in an ankle holster in case everything else went to hell—which it often did in her line of work—Pine pulled to a stop three cookie-cutter houses down from Vincenzo’s humble abode. All the homes here were salt boxes with asphalt shingles, about 1,200 square feet set over a story and a half of unremarkable architecture. The area was all post–World War II housing, constituting a grid of homes that had surrounded virtually every city across the country within a decade after the “boys” had come home from fighting Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito.
Nine or so months thereafter, Baby Boomers by the millions were born in neighborhoods just like this. Those Boomers were now taking their rightful place as grandparents to the Millennials and the Z generations. What was left was an old, tired group of dwellings inhabited both by the elderly and also those just starting out. Though they looked alike, the properties did differ. Some yards were neat and organized. Siding and trim were freshly painted. Mailboxes rested on stout metal posts, and washed cars were parked in driveways that had been kept up. Other homes had none of these attributes. The cars in the driveways or parked in the yards were more often resting on cinder blocks than on tires. The sounds of air-powered tools popping and generators rumbling foretold that some of these places had businesses operating out of them, either legal or not.
Siding peeled away from these structures, and front doors were missing panes of glass. Mailboxes were leaning or entirely gone. Driveways were more weeds than concrete or gravel. She counted three dwellings with bullet holes in the façade, and one that still had police crime scene tape swirling in the tricky wind. Tony Vincenzo’s place fell into the houses-that-hadn’t-been-kept-up category. But she didn’t care what his home looked like. She only wanted everything he held in his memory or in hard evidence about his grandfather Ito and any others who might have played a role in her childhood nightmare. She eased out of her car and stared at the front of the house. Ito Vincenzo had once owned this place and had raised his family here with his wife. Pine had no idea what sort of a father and husband he was.
But if he had it in him to nearly kill one little girl and kidnap another, she would rate his parental skills suspect, at the very least. Tony Vincenzo worked at Fort Dix, the nearby army installation. The prison where his father was behind bars was part of that complex. Maybe the son wanted to be close to the father. If so, maybe Tony visited Teddy regularly and thus might have information to share about Ito that he’d learned from his old man. Pine headed up the sidewalk where the concrete had lurched upward, corrupted by decades of freezing and thawing and no maintenance. She imagined Ito Vincenzo, her sister’s abductor and the man who almost killed her, walking this very same path decades before. The thought left her nearly breathless. She stopped, composed herself, and kept going. Pine reached the front door and peered in one of the side glass panels.
She could see no activity going on in there. If the guy had followed in his daddy’s footsteps, the criminal element would not be out in the open. They usually did their dirty deeds in the basement and away from prying eyes. Yet the guy was gainfully employed at Fort Dix, so maybe he was completely law-abiding. She knocked and got no answer. She knocked again as a courtesy and got the same result. She looked to her left at the house next door, where an old woman was rocking in a chair on her front porch, some needlework in hand. It was sunny, though cool, and she had on a bright orange shawl. Her gray hair looked freshly permed, with patches of shiny pink scalp peeking through here and there like sunlight through clouds. She took no note of Pine; her bespectacled eyes were focused on stitch one, purl two.
Her yard was neatly kept, and colorful flowerpots with winter mums in them were arrayed around the porch, adding needed color to what was otherwise drab and cold. “Tony’s in there,” the woman said quietly. Pine walked over to the far end of Vincenzo’s front porch and put her hand on the wooden railing. “You know him?” The woman, keeping her eyes on her needlework, nodded imperceptibly. “But I don’t know you.” “Name’s Atlee.” “Funny name for a girl.” “Yeah, I’ve heard that. So, he’s here?” “Saw him go in an hour ago and he hasn’t come out.” “Just him?” “That I don’t know.
But I haven’t seen anyone else.” The whole time the woman spoke quietly and kept her eyes on the knitting. Anyone not standing as close as Pine would not even be able to tell she was speaking to her. “Okay, thanks for the heads-up.” “You here to arrest him? You a cop?” “No, and yes, I am,” said Pine. “Then why are you knocking on his door?” “Just want to ask him some questions.” “He works at Fort Dix.” “Yeah, I’ve heard.” “He probably won’t like your questions.” “Probably not.
Does he live here full-time? I couldn’t find that out.” “He’s in and out. He’s not nice to me. He calls me bad names and he pisses on my flowers. And I don’t like the look of his friends. This used to be a nice neighborhood. But not anymore. Now I just want to make it out alive.” “Well, thanks.” “Don’t thank me.
Boy’s bad news. You watch yourself.” “I will.” Pine walked back over to the front door and knocked again. “Anthony Vincenzo?” she called out. Nothing. For one, two, three seconds. Then something. A lot of something