From bestselling author Mike Omer comes the first in a new series full of the psychological twists and police procedural turns that his fans have come to know and love. Lieutenant Abby Mullen is no stranger to crisis. As the hostage negotiation instructor for the NYPD, she deals with worst-case scenarios every day. Nothing fazes her anymore. That all changes when she gets a call from Eden Fletcher, a fellow survivor of the infamous Wilcox cult. The two haven’t spoken since the night of a tragic, fiery massacre, when their paths diverged. But now Eden needs Abby’s help: someone has kidnapped her son and is demanding a $5 million ransom. As Abby throws herself into the case, she can’t help but wonder...
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (April 1, 2021) Pages: 443 pages ISBN-10: 1542022878 ISBN-13: 978-1542022873 ASIN: B0899ZSB11
About the author: Mike Omer is the author of the Zoe Bentley Mystery Series and the Glenmore Park Mystery Series. In the past, he’s been a journalist, a game developer, and the CEO of the company Loadingames. He is married to a woman who diligently forces him to live his dream, and is the father of an angel, a pixie, and a gremlin. He has two voracious hounds that wag their tail quite menacingly at anyone who comes near his home. Mike loves to write about true-to-life people who are perpetrators or victims of crimes. He also likes writing funny stuff. He mixes these two loves quite passionately into his mystery books. You can contact Mike by sending him an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
The bedraggled man sat huddled on a rickety scaffold, staring at the thousands of lights glittering in the dark night. He wore baggy jeans and a faded corduroy jacket that seemed too thin for the chilly wind. Abby peered at him through the bare, unfinished window, trying to judge if he was about to jump.
“He’s been out there for the past fifty minutes,” the patrolman said behind her. “Doesn’t answer when we call out to him. Won’t even look in our direction.”
Abby nodded distractedly, never taking her eyes off the man. He shifted uncomfortably and kept glancing down. He was building up his determination; she was certain of it. She didn’t have a lot of time.She took a step back and looked around her, assessing the situation. The space they stood in was still under construction, the beams bare, the windows paneless, rubble and building materials everywhere. The floor was scattered with food wrappers, and a couple of stubs and an empty cigarette box were tossed by her feet. Her colleague Will Vereen was talking on his shoulder mic, and farther away, two Emergency Service Unit guys stood waiting in case she decided they had to make a grab for the jumper outside.
It was windy up there on the fifty-second floor of the unfinished skyscraper. To talk CO the man from the window, she’d have to shout.
Her voice tended to be shrill when she shouted, hardly the reassuring tone of a calm negotiator.
She glanced at Will, wondering if he should be the primary negotiator this time. He had a deeper voice and could shout louder. But she had a hunch that the man outside might think of Will as threatening. She was better in this instance.
“Do you need the bullhorn, Lieutenant?” The officer held up a blue bullhorn.
She shook her head. “If I shout at him through that, he’ll jump just to make it stop. I’m stepping out.”
One of the ESU guys helped her latch the rope to her rappelling harness. Then, swallowing hard, she stepped out of the window and into the void.
Once she was outside, the wind was much worse, buffeting her body relentlessly. She grabbed the scaffolding pole, her heart beating wildly, and tried to ignore the creaking and groaning of the metal frame. The rappelling harness felt almost like a joke now, a flimsy strap that would never hold her weight if she lost her balance. A wave of dizziness shot through her, bile in her mouth.
She forced the fear away, focusing on the man who sat at the far end of the scaffolding, dangling his legs over the abyss. She took a step closer. He glanced at her, unblinking, his lips trembling. His cheek was scratched twice, two angry red lines, jagged and raw. Mother step. She was three yards away from him.
“Don’t come any closer! I’ll jump!” His voice was hoarse, desperate.
She raised one hand slowly, palm facing outward. “Okay. I’m stay-ing here.”
“I swear I’ll do it!” He leaned forward.
Abby carefully sat down on the ledge of the scaffold. “See? I’m right here. I just want to talk.”
He turned away, facing the New York skyline, his thin hair fluttering in the wind. Coughing, he patted his pockets, then hawked and spat.
“I’m Abby Mullen,” she said, keeping her voice calm and carefree. As if they were two strangers who had randomly bumped into each other while taking a stroll on the scaffolding, hundreds of feet above the street.
He ignored her, lost somewhere in his own mind.
“What’s your name?” she asked after a few seconds.
She waited, letting the time stretch. She was comfortable with waiting. Her arrival had interrupted the man’s focus, and he now seemed to be frozen in indecision.
Whatever determination he’d mustered before had dissipated. It was cold. Abby had her long coat on, a sweater underneath, and a woolen hat. But she’d left her scarf and gloves back in her car. She had one hand shoved in her pocket, but she gripped the freezing scaffolding with the other, and wasn’t about to let go. Her nose and ears already felt like icicles.
The words I’m cold hovered on her lips. It was basic human inter-action. If you were cold, you mentioned it, because it was something to say and it was a way to create a connection, to start a conversation. But even such a simple comment hid a trap within. Because I’m cold was about her. And the worst thing she could do right now was make it seem like she wanted to talk about herself.
“It’s cold,” she said instead. “You’re probably freezing.” His eyes stayed fixed on the horizon.
“It seems like you’re in a lot of pain,” she said.
“What happened?” His jaw clenched as if the question prodded his thoughts. But he also shifted slightly away from the edge, turning so that he could see her from the corner of his eye. Abby waited, hoping he’d talk again. She needed something, anything, to get him inside. She knew Will was frantically trying to find out this guy’s name and the reason that had driven him to go up fifty-two floors and step out a window.
Finally she said, “Do you want to get inside and tell me what happened?”
She didn’t expect him to agree. She wanted him to say no. It would be a start. And it would give him a sense that he controlled the situation. If he said no, they’d be in a much better place. But instead, he ignored her, his eyes vacant. He patted his pockets again, his motions erratic, clumsy. The movement of a drunk.
“Do you want a warm drink? I can get you a thermos with hot coffee or tea.” Those sounded amazing to her right now. Surely they sounded just as good to him. But he tightened even more. As if the suggestion made him suspect trickery.
Was it getting colder? She let go of the icy metal pole and shoved her other hand in her pocket as well. Even though she sat safely on the scaffold, letting go felt like a mistake. She accidentally glanced down, and the darkness below yawned endlessly. Another wave of dizziness hit her, even worse than the first one, and the blood drained from her face. She dug her fingernails into her palm as hard as she could, the pain clearing her mind.
She quickly raised her eyes and focused on the skyscrapers. It was an amazing view from up here; she had to give the guy that. He’d chosen the location well. There were few things Abby found more awe inspiring than New York’s skyline. Brightly lit spires and countless rooftops. The Empire State Building, awash in white, and beyond it the colossal Freedom Tower, its blue light almost spectral. Surrounding them stood numerous buildings and towers, each dotted with dozens of windows offering small glimpses into the lives beyond. Even now, at four in the morning, there were still scores of lit windows as well as many cars traversing the streets below, their red and yellow lights glimmering in the night.
“How did you get those scratches?” she asked.
On and on she tried, asking questions, labeling his feelings, prod-ding for a way in. She did so tirelessly, making sure her mounting frustration and concern didn’t creep into her tone. The man seemed to tense up, fidgeting more, shutting his eyes, taking fast, shallow breaths. She was about to lose him. It was time to call the ESU guys.
Would they get to him in time? She doubted it. But she was out of options, and they had to try.
And then she thought of the stubs and the empty cigarette box on the floor by the window. The way he’d patted his pockets as if searching for his cigarettes. She could imagine him standing by that window earlier, having his last smoke before climbing over the windowsill and stepping out.
She didn’t want to offer him a cigarette, remembering his reaction to her previous offer. Instead, she turned to the window and said, “Hey, I’m dying for a smoke. Does anyone have a cigarette?”
One of the ESU guys handed her a cigarette and a lighter through the window. She carefully reached over and grabbed them both. Then she placed the cigarette between her lips and lit it. She hadn’t smoked since college, and the taste of it in her mouth nauseated her. But she sucked on the cigarette as if it were the best thing in the world, then expelled the smoke slowly.
The man turned to watch her. She took another drag from the cigarette. “Mind if I have one of those?” he finally said.
“Absolutely,” she said and turned to the window. “Can I have another one for the guy over here?”
The ESU guy held out the entire box.
“Toss it over,” the man said.
She’d hoped he would reach for the box. It would have forced him to let her come closer.
Still, at least he was talking. She carefully tossed the box over to him. A gust of wind nearly knocked it off the scaffolding, but it ended up on the edge. The man pried one cigarette out and lit it with his own lighter. It took him four tries, his fingers trembling, the wind puffing out the lighter’s flame. Finally he managed it and took a long drag.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Can I get you anything else?”
“No.” He gave her a small sad smile. “I’m Phil.”
She returned a smile. “Nice to meet you, Phil. What made you come here?”
He took another drag. “Life.”
She was used to vague answers, knew how to pry the truth out. “Life,” she echoed.
“Yeah. Life. Things didn’t go the way I wanted, I guess.”
Once she got them talking, her main role was to keep them talking, and to listen. Good negotiators didn’t talk much at all. They mainly listened, prodding their subject to keep on going. Buying time. Gathering information. Looking for the things that would help influence the subject.
“The way you wanted?” she repeated his words. It was the number one tool in any negotiator’s arsenal—mirroring. Repeat the subject’s words, demonstrate that you were listening, and make them elaborate more.
A few seconds of silence followed, and then he said, “My sister died two days ago.”
“I’m sorry. It must have been very painful to lose her. How did she die?”
“Cancer.” He glanced at the cigarette between his fingers. “Lung cancer. She didn’t even smoke.”
“I went to her funeral, and I could see every person there thinking the same thing.” He exhaled a cloud of smoke. “That it should have been me.”
Abby waited. The words were pouring out now All she needed to do was listen.