Single mother Lisa Palmer has barely recovered from the sudden death of her husband when she is drawn into a new nightmare. On her way home from upstate New York, Lisa stops at a service center minutes before an armored car heist. Four men are executed before her eyes—one of them an off-duty FBI agent Lisa tried to help. Now Lisa is the FBI's secret witness and the key to finding the fugitive killers.
FBI agent Frank Morrow leads the investigation of the high-profile case. Hiding a very personal secret, Frank knows this assignment will be like no other he's ever faced—and it could be his last.
Pressured to land an exclusive, newswire journalist Jack Gannon chases down the elusive thread of an anonymous tipster. With every instinct telling Jack the story is within his grasp, he gambles everything in his frantic race to reveal the chilling truth…before the cold-blooded killers can enact the next stage of their vengeful mission.
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Ramapo, Metropolitan New York City
Maybe the worst was really over, Lisa Palmer thought, driving home alone to Queens from Upstate New York.
Her fingers tightened on the wheel. She was trying to get a grip on her life, trying to regain control, but it was hard, so hard. It had been nearly two years since her husband, Bobby, had died, but now, for the first time, Lisa believed that she and her kids would endure.
They had to.
They needed to move on with their lives. Selling the cabin in the Adirondacks was the first big step Lisa had taken.
But was it the right thing to do?
She glanced at the passenger seat and the slim briefcase holding all the paperwork. A few hours ago she'd closed the sale at the Realtor's office. The new owners, a retired chef and his wife, a florist, from Newark, would take possession in thirty days.
The cabin was still Lisa's until then.
She had promised Ethan and Taylor one last visit to the lake. It was important for all of them to say goodbye to this part of their lives. They'd go up to the cabin together in a few weeks. Lisa brushed a tear from her eye. God, the kids loved it there. She did, too. It was on Lake George and so pretty. It had been in Bobby's family since his greatgrandfather bought it in 1957.
Bobby had treasured the place. Lisa's hand shook when she'd signed the papers and all the way down I-87 she'd begged Bobby to forgive her.
I had to do it. The insurance is still a mess. The bills keep coming. I can't make ends meet anymore, not on my pay. The cabin was our only asset. I'm so sorry. I have to think of the future; of going on without you.
She would always love Bobby. But while her aching for him would never stop, she found hope in the thick forests that swept down the hills and rock cuts of the region.
Suddenly, she felt he was near.
He was a mechanic who'd quit school to work in a garage in Corona. A kind, good-looking guy who was good with cars. He loved history, always had his nose in a book. It was at this point of the cabin drive that he would say that the lumber and iron from these hills helped build New York City. Then he would tell her how George Washington had climbed one of the rocks out there and watched for British ships down by Sandy Hook.
Lisa smiled at the memory as her Ford Focus glided down the New York Thruway. After drinking the last of her bottled water, she decided she'd take a break at the new truck stop coming up at the exit for Ramapo, which would put her about an hour or so from home.
This trip to sell the cabin had overwhelmed her. Along the drive, she thought of her best friend from the old neighborhood, Sophia Gretto. They'd grown up together and were like sisters. Even after Sophia had left Queens for college in California they'd kept in touch. Now Sophia was an executive with a public relations firm. Her husband, Ted, was an entertainment lawyer. No children, two Mercedes and a house on Mulholland Drive. Lisa was a supermarket cashier in Queens who never made it to college.
When Bobby died, Sophia and Ted flew to New York to be with Lisa and the kids. Ted had been a saint. They'd both been so good to her.
In the months after Bobby's death, Sophia had visited a few times and called almost every day.
"Why don't you think about moving to Los Angeles," Sophia suggested a few months ago, during one of their calls.
"Ted and I could get you a job in one of our offices. You could take courses and get your real estate license like we talked about. We could help you, Ethan and Taylor. Think it over."
"I don't know, Sophia. It could be too much change for the kids."
"Promise me you'll just think about it, honey, okay?" Lisa did.
In fact, it was all she could think about.
Being a cashier was a good job, but it was not what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Before she'd met Bobby and got pregnant, Lisa had dreamed of going to college to study interior decorating and start her own business. It didn't happen. After high school she had to work to help take care of her mother. Lisa loved Bobby and her life with the kids, but in a far corner of her heart her dream still flickered.
Should she go after it?
Could she leave everything here and move to Los Angeles?
"It would be like walking away from him, from the life we had here," Lisa had told Sophia.
"Lisa, before all this, you were the fiercest, toughest person I've ever known. You could handle anything without anyone's help. So whatever you decide to do, you'll make it work. You just need to get your strength back." Then Sophia said, "You did not die with him."
"Part of me did."
"Not all of you. You have a life to live. You have to go on."
Everything Sophia had said made sense.
Lisa was about to arrive at a decision as she left the thruway and wheeled into the big, new Freedom Freeway Service Center at Ramapo. She parked some distance from the rigs easing in and out of the lot. Diesel engines growled, air brakes hissed. She was enveloped by humid air as she walked across the hot pavement.
After driving nearly two hundred miles, stretching her legs was a luxury.
The interstate traffic droned.
The building was landscaped with clipped shrubs. Its neo-deco facade had huge windows. New York State flags and the Stars and Stripes flapped on gold-tipped poles above the mammoth entrance.
Inside, the air-conditioning was soothing. After using the restroom, Lisa went to the snack shop for bottled water, a candy bar, a comic for Ethan and a magazine for Taylor. She knew she shouldn't be spending the money, but she missed her kids and wanted to give them something.
A few people stood ahead of her to pay.
As the line advanced, all the lights went off. The ventilation fans stopped and the building lost power. People glanced at each other for an answer. A moment later, the lights came back on and the fans restarted.
Keys jingled and a man in a business jacket loosened his tie, hurried from a rear office toward the restaurant, grumbling to the woman accompanying him. "Call them and tell them it's another false alarm."
Lisa saw the man go to a control panel at the far end of the restaurant. The panel's lights stopped flashing after he inserted a key and turned it.
Must be this hot weather straining the air-conditioning.
Come on, please.
This was taking longer than she'd expected and she still faced New York traffic. She wanted to get back on the road.
Lisa looked outside as an American Centurion armored truck stopped in front of the lobby, which had three ATMs. One guard started loading a cart while another stood by, scanning the lot and the building.
The guards started for the entrance as Lisa stepped to the counter. After paying, she slid her items and wallet into her shoulder bag. Then she made a quick search in her bag for her supermarket ID, not certain if she'd left it at home, or if she'd thrust it in her bag after finishing her shift before driving upstate.
She barely noticed the rumble of the four motorcycles that had pulled up alongside the armored truck. Adjusting her bag, she saw several people standing near the ATMs; some were studying the large map of Greater New York City above the machines.
As the armored truck guards entered, Lisa froze.
Two of the motorcycle riders, their faces hidden by their helmets and dark shields, were dressed in full-body riding suits that were bulky around their abdomens. They were wearing gloves and gripping handguns as they came up behind the guards.
The first rider shot the first guard. A gout of blood and fragments of his skull blasted across the floor to a vending machine.
At the same time, the second rider came up on the guard wheeling the money cart and fired into the back of his neck. Crack! The impact forced the top of the guard's head to flap open, cranial matter springing out. The money cart clanged to the floor between the dead men, their blood blossoming into widening pools.
Lisa caught her breath.
"Everyone down!" the first shooter yelled, seizing the guards' guns. "Nobody fucking move! Put your phones on the floor beside you now! Put your hands behind your head! Look at the floor! Don't look at us!"
Lisa slid to the floor. Her magazines, water and other items tumbled from her bag around her.
The second rider produced a sack and moved swiftly, collecting cell phones from staff and customers throughout the center.
Outside, the two other riders had sprayed something into the truck's air intake, forcing the driver to exit, double over and vomit. Then they shot him. The two riders entered the truck and quickly unloaded money into backpacks and saddlebags.
In the service center, a woman began wailing.
One of the riders herded all staff and customers from the washroom, the restaurant, the kitchen, the snack shop and gas counter into the center's lobby, forcing them to the floor at gunpoint. The other gunman produced folded nylon bags and commanded the nearest person, a sobbing teenage girl, to help him fill them. The plastic wrapped around some of the cash had torn. Bundles had rolled over the center's floor lobby near Lisa.
The gunman collecting the cash grunted as he snatched the packs that had fallen around her, whizzing them into the nylon bags. His partner eyed the people on the floor for movement.
Please, God, let someone call the police, Lisa thought.
The man on the floor next to Lisa turned his face to her. He looked about thirty, was clean shaven with quick intelligent eyes. He was wearing jeans, a jacket and T-shirt.
"I'm a cop," he whispered, keeping his hands outstretched over his head. "My gun's on my right hip under my shirt."
"You slide closer, lift it out," he said. "Tuck it under me. They're wearing vests, but I can get off head shots." Lisa could not breathe.
She was motionless until the man's urgent gaze compelled her to move. She worked her way closer to him, carefully extending her left hand, pulling away his jacket, feeling the hardness of his gun. Lisa got it loose. Her sweating face was two feet from his.
He nodded encouragement.
As Lisa pulled, the weapon slipped from her fingers and rattled on the floor. A gunman flew to them, grabbing the gun before the cop could. He patted the man, taking his second gun from his ankle holster. He jerked at the man's jacket, extracting a folding police wallet and examining it.
Lisa looked into the young agent's eyes.
The gunman pushed the muzzle against his head.
Lisa's breathing quickened. The agent blinked and said, "Jennifer, I love you," before his skull exploded, propelling brain matter onto Lisa's face.
The killer moved and pressed his gun to her head.