On a quiet night in their tranquil suburban home, the Fulton family awakens to a nightmare. Four armed men force bank manager Dan Fulton to steal a quarter million dollars from his branch—strapping remote-detonation bombs on him, his wife, Lori, and their young son.
The FBI moves swiftly with a major investigation while Kate Page, a reporter with a newswire service, digs deep into the story. In the wake of the Fulton family’s abduction, questions emerge, including one of the most troubling: is the case linked to Lori Fulton’s tragic past?
Working as fast as they can, Kate and the investigators inch closer to a devastating truth—it’s not only the Fultons’ lives at stake, but thousands of others…and every second counts in the race to save them.
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Roseoak Park, New York
Lori Fulton woke in the darkness of her bedroom to a strange pressure covering her mouth, forcing her head deep into her pillow.
A hideous face glared down at her.
Straining to breathe, Lori thought: I'm dreaming! Then her eyes flicked to her husband's side of the bed. It was empty.
Where's Dan? What's happening? Wake up!
At the peel of duct tape and the guttural noises of a struggle nearby, Lori's brain thundered awake with the horrible realization that the man above her was real. Again, she thought of her husband and her son.
Where's Dan? Where's Billy?
She thrashed against her attacker, who countered by seizing her throat.
The lights switched on and she saw Dan was across the room in his T-shirt and boxers, on his knees, hands bound behind his back. A band of tape sealed his mouth. Blood webbed down his cheek. His eyes met hers.
A gun was being held to his head.
Dan! Oh God, where's Billy?
The two men in her room wore loose mechanic-style coveralls over top of hoodies and white masks with grotesque faces. In an explosion of terror and rage, Lori fought back, shaking her mouth free to shriek.
"Billy! Where's my son? Billy!"
Lori's assailant pressed a strip of duct tape over her mouth then yanked her by her hair from her bed. Dan moved to protect her but was stopped when his attacker smashed the butt of his gun against his face. Lori was shoved to the floor, her nightshirt hiked up to her waist in the scuffle. Her attackerThorne, according to the name embroidered on the patch on his chestpaused to take in her body before dropping his knee hard on her stomach, knocking out her breath. He clamped her wrists in one gloved hand then reached for the duct tape.
Through her pain Lori noticed him fumbling, unable to find the start of the tape. He cursed, shook off his glove, peeled a lead and quickly wrapped her wrists like a rodeo cowboy in a calf-roping competition.
Thorne replaced his glove, then pulled Lori to her knees positioning her next to Dan, both of them now bound helplessly. Lori wheezed, her need for air contending with the ache in her gut. A muffled whimpering sounded through their open bedroom door. Shadows moved in the hallway as two more figures approached, dressed the same as the first two. Their name patches read Cutty and Percy.
Cutty, the largest of the four, carried Billy on his hip as if he were luggage.
Dan's muzzled growl nearly burst through his tape as Lori screamed under hers. Billy's hands and mouth were bound, his eyes wide with terror as Cutty tossed him on the floor next to them. Lori fumbled closer, feeling Billy's body trembling against hers as he sobbed.
Who were these monsters?
The man who'd been holding on to DanVic, by his name patchtook charge. He sat on the foot of Lori and Dan's bed, casually contemplating his gun, then the family.
Lori, Dan and Billy were on their knees before him, their armed attackers looming behind thema portrait of contrasts. Dan was in his favorite Jets T-shirt, now bloodstained, and Billy in the new Spider-Man pajamas Lori had bought him for his ninth birthday last month. They'd been torn in the struggle.
Why had these people violated their home? Vic tapped his gun to his knee as if coming to a decision.
"Are we calm now? Do we have your attention?" he asked. "I'll make it simple. If you do what we say and do it right no one gets hurt and this will be over tomorrow. If you fail at any stage, you'll die."
* * *
Roseoak Park, New York
Lori's pulse pounded.
As the invaders marched her, Dan and Billy downstairs, fear and questions burned through her mind.
Why didn't the home security alarm work? Why isn't someone helping us? Please, God, don't let them kill us! We have to fight back. What can Dan and I do without guns?
Overwhelmed with panic, Lori drew a few deep breaths to calm her nerves and focus. The attackers had moved them to the living room and put them on the sofa. A duffel bag, zippered shut, sat on the hardwood floor in the middle of the room like an unanswered question. The invaders closed the curtains, kept the main floor lights dim then browsed around as if they were interested buyers at an open house.
Thorne inspected their paintings, the crystal figurines and their furniture.
"You got a lot of nice stuff," he said from behind his mask. "So much suffering going on, so many people in trouble in this world, but why should you care, huh? You're living the American dream."
Lori watched as Cutty and Percy went to the kitchen, opened the fridge and helped themselves to leftover takeoutpizza and Chinese food Dan and Lori had ordered when they'd worked late this week.
Lori saw them opening soda cans, lifting their masks to eat and drink. She couldn't make out their faces in detail, but she could see they were white males in their early twenties.
Like college kids snacking after a late night.
"It's goin' good," Cutty said between bites. "Like you said it would, Jake."
"Shut up! My name is on my patch!" Vic said.
One of them was named Jake. Lori glanced at Dan as they both noted the slipup before a new fear dawned on her. She looked around for Sam, Billy's golden retriever. He wasn't a barker or a good guard dog at all, really. He was just gentle, loving Sam.
What've they done with him?
Vic sat in the chair opposite the sofa, placing his gun on the arm and staring at her family from behind his mask.
"We've been watching you for a long time," he began. "We've been doing our homework. We know all about you. Billy Fulton, fourth grade at Eisenhower Elementary, dog lover, Little League, shortstop for the Roseoak Park Wild Tigers. Lori Fulton, age thirty-four, devoted mother. You never miss one of Billy's games. You work at Dixon Donlevy Mutual Life Insurance investigating insurance fraud. Someone in this house is partial to Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Cherry Garcia, judging by what we found in your trash.
"Dan, age thirty-six. You were in the National Guard, army, when you guys lived in Southern California. You work for SkyNational Trust Banking Corp. A few years ago, you were transferred to New York. Now you're the manager of a suburban branch here in Roseoak Park. You like the Jets, but you're still loyal to the Dodgers, according to your Tweets. You both volunteer with charities. How we doing so far? We've got you nailed, right?"
Lori's stomach clenched at Vic's accuracy. She glanced at Dan. He remained tense, keeping his eyes on Vic as he continued.
"Tomorrow's going to be a long day. We know Dan's branch is one of the earliest-opening branches in the state, opening its doors at 6:00 a.m., to serve commuting customers. This is what's going to happen. Dan, you'll be going to work in the morning, as usual, while we stay here with your wife and son. But tomorrow you're going to remove a quarter million dollars from the vault. We know about cash inventory in a branch like yours. You'll place the money in a bag like this one here." He motioned to the duffel on the floor. "No dye packs, no radio transmitters, no bait, no silent alarms. You'll leave the bank, follow our instructions. Once that's done and we have the cash, everyone is let go unharmed.
You got that?"
Dan didn't move. His face was expressionless but for a twitch in his jaw.
"You need more incentive, Dan?"
Vic nodded toward Thorne, who came forward and unzipped the duffel bag, removing what looked like a small vest bearing thin, brick-shaped items connected to wires. Cutty then yanked Billy from the sofa. He sliced the tape from Billy's hands and, with Thorne's help, slipped the vest over Billy, then resealed his hands.
Lori screamed into the tape.
"No!" Dan roared into his.
Vic leaned forward.
"That's right," he said, pointing with his gun as he continued. "That's a suicide vest. It's loaded with C-4 and all sorts of good stuff. Any of us here can detonate it simply by dialing a cell number."
Thorne and Cutty pulled another vest from the bag, cut the tape from Lori's hands, and forced it on her. She struggled in vain when they retaped her wrists, her mind reeling. As she stood next to her son, each of them now wearing a bomb, her knees weakened at the thought of Billy in danger, and she inhaled sharply. They were living and breathing second by second. Their surroundingsthe curtains she'd sewn herself, the sofa set they'd bought on sale, the antique coffee table they'd gotten in Williamsburgtheir sanctuary instantly took on an unspeakable dimension as images blazed before her.
She imagined their viscera splattered over the living room walls, mingling with the paint color, Coral Sunset, she and Dan had finally decided on. Blood obscuring the paintings they fell in love with on their vacation in Maine. It all seemed silly now.
"Now, I'll ask you again," Vic said. "Are you going to cooperate, follow our instructions and get us the money?"
Dan looked hard at Lori and Billy, his eyes filling with tears, and nodded.
Roseoak Park, New York
Cutty, Percy and Thorne took Lori and Billy to the basement.
Their captors switched on the stairway light and marched them down the stairs. With every creaking step, Lori felt time ticking on their lives. The heavy vests enveloped them with the threat of death. Her skin prickled as adrenaline burned through her body, but she moved slowly, terrified that a sudden action might trigger the bombs.
The sound of her own blood rushing in her ears was deafening, but a steely clink and jingle caught her attention. Cutty carried a coiled chain with locks. The heavy fragrance of powdered detergent filled the damp air when they reached the laundry room, stopping at the wall before the washer and dryer.
"Lie down there." Thorne pointed to the shag mat that Lori had made herself when they'd lived in California. There were mistakes in it that she noticed every time she looked at it, but Dan loved it and had insisted she not throw it out. Heaped on the mat were the sheets and towels she'd planned to wash the next day. As Lori and Billy eased themselves carefully on to the pile, Lori could feel the components of her vest digging into her side. She held Billy's terrified gaze, hoping to reassure him despite the fear that bubbled inside her.
The chains jangled as Cutty and Percy worked fast, fixing them to a shackle they'd secured to their ankles, grunting as they looped them around the joists in the ceiling and a naked, load-bearing beam.
Then the three invaders moved the snow tires for Dan's car. She always hated that he'd stored them in the already cramped laundry room, and now the men moved the tires toward Lori and Billy, building a makeshift wall. The rubbery smell was strong. Atop the tires, they piled dusty cushions from the old sofa at the other end of the basement, then worked together to heave the washer and dryer closer to them, pulling the hoses taut.
The answer suddenly dawned on Lori. The men were building a barrier to absorb an explosionsomething to protect themselves if they detonated the bombs while they were still in the house.
She blinked rapidly, struggling to process the reality of the situation.
Thorne moved close to Lori, lowering himself until he was squatting before her. He drew his horrible mask to within an inch of her face.
"You deserve what's going to happen to you."
Without another word, Thorne and the others left. They switched off the lights at the top of the stairs and closed the door.
In the cool darkness Lori felt the warmth of Billy's body against hers. How could anyone deserve this? Billy was crying softly. She could hear his muffled calling for Sam. As she nestled closer to comfort him, she tasted the salt of her own tears that had seeped under the tape covering her mouth. Her eyes adjusted to the dim basement light and she searched through the cracks of their crude enclosure for any sign of their dog that might reassure Billy. She couldn't find anything, and she hoped he'd managed to escape through his door in the kitchen. She was suddenly thankful for her bad habit of leaving it unlocked.
Lori's attention went to the basement window, the night sky and a corner of the Millers' roof next door.
Lori thought of Grant and Monica Miller sleeping peacefully a few feet away, unaware of the horror playing out in the house beside them. Grant was a mechanic, Monica a nurse. They had little girls. Grant had loaned Dan his generator when they lost electricity in that storm last month. In the spring, Monica had come over to check on Billy when he was running a fever. The Millers were the kind of people who'd go out of their way to help you.
They'd call the police, if they only knew.
In the Tudor home across the street, their neighbors were Ward and Violet Selway, a retired couple.
The kindest people you could ever meet. Ward had been an accountant years ago. Violet had managed a clothing store at the Roseoak Mall. Their son lived in Oregon and they spent winters in Clearwater, Florida. Lori had always admired their beautiful yard, and Ward would give her gardening tips. Violet was always baking cookies to share with Billy.
Oh God, if our neighbors only knew!
Lori ached to wake from this nightmare and return to the normal life they'd been living less than an hour ago. It wasn't perfect, but they'd been doing okay since everything they'd been through in California. They'd finally been moving on.
Lori's attention shifted to the storage area on the far side of the basement. Pieces of our lives. There was the closet filled with clothes, Dan's old shirts and suits and some things of her own. Things she was certain she'd never wear again. Why do I keep them?
But she knew the answer. Because of Tim. She reminded herself she had to give all that stuff away, as if any of that mattered at this moment.
Beside the closet was a shelving unit jammed with boxes of board games, lamps, radios, computer keyboards, extension cords, cables and replacement bulbs for the Christmas tree. Rows of old books and stacks of ancient magazines cluttered the rest of it, along with photo albums containing a record of every year of their lives.
Lori shuddered. Stress had always been a trigger for these memories, pulling her back to a darker time. In a flash she saw herself
Sitting in the street, covered with blood, helpless to do anything.
Up until then she had been a whole persona confident, strong woman who could handle anything the world could throw at her.
Until that night six years ago.
Lori flinched at the sound of movement above them, snapping her mind back to reality.
She was as familiar with the noises and rhythms of her home as she was with the back of her hand. The strain and measured creaking of the floor indicated that the men had gone to the top floor. Maybe they've taken Dan back to the bedroom? Soon, more groans and squeaking indicated the invaders had returned to the main floor. Next she heard muffled conversations, though she couldn't make out the words. But as the voices echoed through the vent nearby, Lori guessed they were discussing a strategy. No matter what their plan was, she didn't believe it included letting her family live.
She pressed her cheek to the top of Billy's head, then examined their vests more closely. There was a small red light blinking from a battery pack on each of them, flashing in time with her heart, ticking down, second by second.