Read Breaking Point Online

Authors: Suzanne Brockmann

Tags: #Fiction

Breaking Point

For all of the readers who spent the weekend with me in Tampa—
and for those who were there in spirit, too.

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thank you, first and foremost, to my early draft readers, Lee Brockmann and Ed Gaffney. (Thanks, also, to Deede Bergeron and Patricia McMahon, who were standing by, ready to help!)

Thank you to the wonderful people at Ballantine Books, who work hard to put the latest installment of my ongoing series featuring SEAL Team Sixteen, Troubleshooters Inc., and Max Bhagat’s FBI Counter-terrorist team into readers’ hands as quickly as humanly possible: Gina Centrello, Linda Marrow, Arielle Zibrak, and Signe Pike. Thank you, also, to my wonderful editor, Shauna Summers.

Thanks to Gail LeBlanc for lending me her name!

Thanks to Vivian Tönnies for helping with German translations, to Erika Schutte for standing ready with information on Kenya, and to Major Michelle Gomez USAF, Retired, for too many things to list!

Thanks to the home team: Ed, Jason and Melanie Gaffney, and Sugar and Spice, the world’s greatest schnauzers.

Thanks, as always, to Eric Ruben, Steve Axelrod, and Tina Trevaskis.

Thanks to everyone involved in my
Target: Tampa
weekend: Maya Stosskopf of EMA, Gilly Hailparn and the publicity team at Ballantine Books, and my wonderful guest authors: Catherine Mann, Alesia Holliday, and Chuck Pfarrer.

A shout out to the
Target: Tampa
volunteer coordinators—Suzie Bernhardt, Karen Metheny, and Sue Smallwood—who made this weekend-long gathering of readers possible, as well as all of the wonderful volunteers: Elizabeth and Lee Benjamin, Lee Brockmann, Jeanne Glynn, Michelle Gomez, Kim Harkins, Stephanie Hyacinth, Beki & Jim Keene, Regina LaMonica, Kay Luecke, Laura Luke, Jeanne Mangano, Heather McHugh, Peggy Mitchell, Barbara Mize, Dorbert Ogle, Gail Reddin, Marla Snead, Shannon Short, Erika Shutte, and Melissa Thompson. You rock!

An extra thanks to Maya for coming up with the promotional line “The war is within” for the (fictional!) movie
American Hero,
and to Kathy Lague for letting Max borrow her Giant Forks from Outer Space nightmare.

Check my website at www.SuzanneBrockmann.com/Appearances.htm for information about my next readers weekend. You’ll also find information about my west coast
Breaking Point
July 2005 book tour!

Last but certainly not least, thank you to my readers. I love hearing from you via e-mail and letters, chatting with you on my bulletin board, and meeting you at book signings.

As always, any mistakes I’ve made or liberties I’ve taken are completely my own.

PROLOGUE

N
ORTH OF
W
ASHINGTON
, D.C.
S
EPTEMBER
, 1986
N
INETEEN
Y
EARS
A
GO

Max had five minutes.

Tops.

Five minutes before the SWAT team snipers were in place.

Five minutes before Leonard D’Angelo became little more than an unpleasant job for a strong-stomached cleaning team to mop from the marble-tiled bank floor.

Okay, yeah, Lenny
was
guilty of some seriously screwed-up judgment. He
had
walked into this suburban branch of the Westfield National Bank with a pistol in his pocket.

And that whole taking of hostages thing was another very,
very
bad idea.

But even if FBI agent Max Bhagat hadn’t spent the past fifteen minutes in the surveillance van watching footage from the bank’s security cameras and listening in to the drama now unfolding in that bank via one extremely high-tech long-range microphone, he still wouldn’t have believed Lenny deserved to die for his mistakes.

Apparently Lenny had gone into the bank with a note, demanding that the teller withdraw $47,873.12 from one specific account. Problem was, he didn’t have the correct ID to access those funds, so after some conversation, complete with lots of gesturing, the teller had signaled the security guard. At which point Lenny pulled out his little handgun.

And, as he took it out of his pocket, he blew a neat little hole into the soundproof ceiling tiles overhead.

It was an event that had made nearly everyone in the bank burst into tears—including Bankrobber Lenny, who still continued to sob.

The so-called security guard had immediately handed over his own weapon—without making any attempt whatsoever to talk the gun out of Lenny’s hand. After his full surrender, the guard then led the hostages safely down onto the floor, hands on their heads. Everyone except two very young children who were being held by their mother.

They huddled against the wall.

The head teller had hurried to make Lenny’s withdrawal, but by then her cooperation was too little too late.

Because the noise of the gunshot had drawn first the local, then the state police, and then—because one of the tellers was related to a federal judge—finally this FBI team, of which Max was a junior member. The bank was now surrounded by dozens of cop cars: lights spinning, doors open as both uniformed and plainclothes officers stood in the street, well outside the range of the gunman’s little weapon.

It soon became clear to the entire task force that their hostage-taker had no designs on the VIP teller and that he was, in fact, a total amateur. This was a fact which brought with it both the good news and the bad.

The good news was that Lenny was so criminally inept that he continued to stand smack in the middle of the bank. He was directly in front of big plate-glass windows—a clean, clear target for the SWAT team snipers.

The bad news was that, until the SWAT team got into place, he was a potential loose cannon. The man hadn’t spoken a single coherent sentence since Max had started listening in. He just continued to cry, making oddly animal-like keening sounds as he now awkwardly held both his and the security guard’s guns.

“Let me go in there, sir,” Max had requested of his team leader, Ronald Shaw, who was also the agent in charge.

But Shaw shook his head, not even taking the time to answer the junior agent. Max had been working with the team for several weeks and he was pretty certain Shaw didn’t know his name.

Still, he persisted. “Sir. Something’s up with this guy. I’d like to try to talk to him.”

Leonard D’Angelo had no record, no priors. He wasn’t in the system for so much as a parking ticket. Desperate for information about the hostage-taker, Max had called a friend in the IRS, who’d told him that Lenny D. was a hard-working, taxpaying construction worker. He was also the married father of a young son.

He was Joe Average—or at least he had been before something had made him go postal.

Loss of job, loss of home, loss of wife and child through divorce. . . ? It could have been any number of things.

Max had tried calling Lenny’s wife at their home number—only to be greeted by an automated message. “This number has been disconnected.”

Not a good sign.

Following procedure, Max requested the local police pay a visit to the D’Angelo’s tiny apartment—the morbid thought being that Len may have snuffed his entire family before setting out on this crime spree.

But Max didn’t believe that scenario.

If this guy was homicidal, he already would’ve used his weapon.

And what about his request for an exact sum, down to the penny—what had he asked for. . . ? Twelve freakin’ cents.

Max didn’t have a whole lot of experience, but this smelled to him like some kind of crime of passion. Retribution for money misspent or unwisely invested, perhaps?

Something was up, that was for sure. Because why, for the love of God, wouldn’t Lenny pick up the bank telephone and talk to them?

He had to know they were out here. Fourteen police cars weren’t something that could be overlooked by anyone but a blind man.

And okay, yes. Max could have it totally wrong. Maybe Lenny
had
killed his entire family. But even if he had, it was beyond obvious that his homicidal rage had faded. He was currently incapable of doing more than standing in the middle of the bank and crying.

Max was willing to bet his very life that he could walk right through those doors, right up to Lenny, and simply take the weapons from his limp-fish hands.

“I’d like to try,” Max said to Shaw again.

“It’s too dangerous,” Shaw responded as they stood outside the van, watching a television monitor that showed the gunman crying in the middle of the bank. The camera responsible for that picture had a state-of-the-art zoom lens. Even shot through the reflective glass of the window, it provided a sharp close-up of Lenny’s tear-streaked face. “Do whatever you have to do to get him to pick up that phone.”

Ronald Shaw was weeks from retirement. Was it possible that he was afraid of smearing his record by giving one of his newest, greenest negotiators permission to get himself killed?

Even if it meant shooting Leonard D’Angelo without a single word of negotiation?

Goddamn it. Max had thought a man like Ronald Shaw would do better than that.

“Sir, we’ve got every phone line ringing in there,” Max informed his boss. “He’s not picking up.”

“Keep trying, Matt,” Shaw ordered curtly as he walked away from the van.

“It’s Max,” he shouted after Shaw. “And keep trying until when? Until the SWAT team snipers put a bullet through Lenny’s head?”

But Shaw was gone.

Smitty Durkin was in the street, manning the bullhorn. “Mr. D’Angelo, you must pick up the phone immediately! Leonard D’Angelo, pick up the telephone!” As Smit’s finger left the button, the bullhorn let out an ungodly squeal.

On camera, in full close-up on that TV monitor, Leonard D’Angelo didn’t so much as blink.

Sure he was inside the bank, but still, that sound was freaking loud.

Grit-your-teeth-and-flinch loud.

And suddenly Max knew.

Okay,
knew
was perhaps too strong a word for it.
Strongly suspected
was more accurate.

Leonard D’Angelo hadn’t picked up the telephone because he didn’t hear it ringing. Max strongly suspected that Leonard D’Angelo, although not blind, was most likely deaf.

And Jesus, there was nothing to write on except a yellow legal pad in Max’s briefcase. It wasn’t half as big as he needed, but it would have to do.

There was a marker—one of those indelible Sharpies—attached to the inside panel of the van by a string. Max grabbed and pulled.

He wrote as he ran, pushing his way through the uniformed officers, moving outside of the protective circle of police cars and into the street directly in front of the bank’s glass door.

I AM UNARMED
. Max held up the sign with one hand as he shrugged off his jacket. He unclipped his shoulder holster, putting it onto the street along with the secondary weapon that he wore at the small of his back.

Inside the bank, Lenny had spotted him. Max could see the man shaking his head, his weapon now halfheartedly aimed directly at the door Max would have to pass through to get inside that building.

Max turned the page of his pad.
I

M COMING INSIDE TO
TALK. He held up that sign.

But Lenny still shook his head.

Max took off his tie and crisply starched white dress shirt, then used the marker to underline the words, holding up his first sign again.
I AM UNARMED
.

As Lenny kept shaking his head, Max could hear Ron Shaw’s voice. Shouting. “What does that motherfucker think he’s doing?”

Max was, of course, the motherfucker to whom Shaw was referring.

He kicked off his shoes, pulled off his socks, rolled up the bottoms of his pants. Nothing up these pant legs, Lenny. See? He held up the sign again.
I AM UNARMED
.

No,
Lenny told him, still shaking his head.

“Get out of there, Bhagat,” Shaw shouted. How about that? He’d finally learned Max’s name. “The snipers are in place and you’re in the goddamn way!”

The entire local police force and a whole lot of civilian spectators watched as Max unfastened his pants. But, oh
shit.
Look what he was wearing today.

Max Bhagat was the proud owner of fifty-seven pairs of utilitarian white briefs—all of which had been in the laundry when he’d gotten dressed this morning. He’d been forced to dig into the back of his underwear drawer and, when faced with a choice between a pair of boxers with pink hearts or black bikini briefs with the word
Stud
across the front in red sequins—both gifts from Elisabeth, a seriously misguided ex-girlfriend—he’d gone with the red sequins.

Right now, Max had no choice. He was not going to stand by and let Leonard D’Angelo get a bullet to the brain.

On the other hand, the idea of being known forevermore throughout the Federal Bureau of Investigations as “Mr. Sequins” or, God help him, “Stud-Boy,” was equally unbearable.

Which left him with option three.

As Max pushed down his pants, he hooked his fingers in his briefs and took them off, too.

And this time when he held up his sign, it was very clear to everyone within a solid two block radius that he was, indeed, completely and totally unarmed.

Inside the bank, Lenny’s mouth had dropped open. He was no longer shaking his head and his gun hand had drooped significantly, so Max held up his second sign.

And walked, stark naked, into that bank.

 

Max stood in front of Ronald Shaw’s desk, waiting for the noise to stop, mentally making a note to keep a change of underwear in his locker from now on.

It was possible he was slightly allergic to wool.

“You’re not even listening, are you?” Shaw roared even louder.

Whoops. “To be honest, sir,” Max admitted at a far lower decibel level, “when you started repeating yourself for the third time, yes, I did tune out. Was there something you wanted to add?”

Shaw laughed. And sat down. “You’re pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you, Bhagat?”

Max considered that. “I think it’s safe to say I have a God-given talent when it comes to reading people, sir.”

After walking into that bank it had taken him all of four seconds to gain possession of both of Leonard D’Angelo’s weapons.

Max had been right—the man was no criminal, let alone capable of shooting anyone.

Leonard D’Angelo was a grief-stricken father who had made a whole series of flat-out stupid mistakes.

The man’s two-year-old son had been born with a defective heart. He and his wife had sold their house and scraped together all of their savings to pay for an operation to repair the boy’s faulty valve. But their son had died on the operating table.

With the wild irrationality of the deeply grieving, Lenny had gone to the doctor and demanded their money back—seeing as how the operation hadn’t saved their boy’s life.

When the doctor refused, Lenny somehow found out where the man did his banking, and went to get the cash that he felt should be returned to him.

Cash he needed in order to find his wife, who had taken off with their only car, inconsolable over the loss of their child.

“I told you not to go into the bank,” Shaw reminded Max now. “I specifically ordered—”

“With all due respect, sir,” Max interrupted, “you told me to do whatever I had to do to get D’Angelo to pick up the phone. But how was he going to pick it up if he couldn’t hear it ringing?”

Max’s intention had been to go in—sans clothing and therefore unarmed—and start a dialogue with D’Angelo. If the gunman had been willing, Max would then have picked up the phone. And, since the hearing-impaired hostage-taker also obviously couldn’t hold a conversation using a conventional telephone, it had been Max’s intention to act as a go-between—using pen and that legal pad to communicate between D’Angelo and the FBI negotiator out on the street.

And hopefully, somewhere during the negotiation, someone would have sent in his pants.

But Max had told Shaw all this already. Several times, in fact. In writing, as well.

Max had also stated that before he offered to act as D’Angelo’s gobetween, it had seemed something of a no-brainer simply to ask the hostage-taker to hand over his weapons.

Which the man had done. With a great deal of relief.

Max had been relieved, too. At which point he’d held his legal pad up like an office supply loincloth as the hostages had rushed outside and the police and FBI rushed in.

Smitty Durkin brought Max’s things into the bank—except his underwear wasn’t with the rest of his clothes. Max could only hope that they’d fallen out of the leg of his pants, and that a strong wind had pushed them underneath some car, and into a puddle still standing from last night’s rain.

“I admire you, sir,” Max told Shaw now. “Very much. Your record as a team leader is remarkable. And I would never say this outside the privacy of your office, but it’s my opinion that you made the wrong call out there today. You should have given me permission to go to that bank. I think you know that, sir.”

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