Private Paris

By: James Patterson & Mark Sullivan

Prologue





Tagger





18th Arrondissement, Paris

April 6, 12:30 a.m.



THE MESSENGER BAG pressed tight to his hip, the hood of his black sweatshirt up, and a black-and-white checked kaffiyeh scarf looped around his swarthy neck, Epée walked quickly down the Rue Marcadet.

His name meant sword in French—more particularly, a duel sword, which is how he thought of himself that night.

I am declaring war here, Epée thought. The Sword marks the first battleground.

The shabby area around him was sparsely traveled that late, and he was careful not to look up at the few people who passed him on the sidewalk near the corner with the Boulevard Barbès. The shops that lined both sides of the boulevard were dark, but lights flickered in the apartment windows above. Somewhere a baby was crying. Somewhere Middle Eastern music was playing.

Epée looked to his north beyond an Islamic bookstore, a tailor’s shop that sold robes, and the storefront office of FEZ Couriers, a messenger service. She was right where he remembered her from his scouting trip the week before.

She’s big enough, he thought, and her skin is flawless.

In fact, she’s perfect. I couldn’t find one better.

Seeing that the sidewalks were vacant for blocks in either direction, Epée reached down, tugged the kaffiyeh scarf up over his lower face, and began to jog toward his target. Just past the closed doors to a mosque, he skidded to a stop, reached in his messenger bag, and snatched two cans of spray paint.

With a can in each hand, he sprayed the mosque wall in big, looping movements that started high over his head and finished at his toes. In seconds, he was done and feeling the bittersweet ecstasy of the spent artist.

The graffiti was his design, bloodred and dripping. Despite the swooping, stylized letters, there was no doubt what the tag said:

AB-16



A car engine started down the street to his south. Headlights flashed on and found Epée, who dropped the cans and took off like a spooked deer.

The engine roared. Tires squealed. Headlights slashed. A Klaxon began whooping, and the scene was cast in flashing blue.

Fucking Paris police were watching the place!

Epée sprinted diagonally across the boulevard, between two parked cars, and onto the opposite sidewalk. The tagger was uncommonly fast, but no man could outrun a police car in a straight-line race.

Then again, Epée had no intention of moving in a straight line. An expert in parkour, the French art of urban obstacle course running, he saw everything in the street, high and low, as a potential ally.

The police car was almost abreast of him. Another patrol car appeared from where Barbès meets the Boulevard Ornano. It raced right at Epée. His remarkable brain saw angles, vectors, and converging speeds as if they were opaque readouts on a jet fighter pilot’s visor.

The unmarked car behind him now came into his peripheral vision. Epée cut hard off the sidewalk toward the vehicle’s front bumper. He jumped fluidly, gracefully, but full of intent and precision. Tires screeched.

The tagger’s rubber soles found the bumper. His body and legs coiled into it, and then sprang off. The move threw him forward through the air, tucked like a downhill ski racer off a jump.

Epée landed, chest forward, his legs churning in perfect cadence with the momentum he’d created, not in retreat at all. He charged the oncoming car, played chicken with it as his mind spun. Would they run a guy down for tagging? He didn’t think so. But stranger things had happened.

Stranger things did happen. Instead of braking, the cop accelerated. Epée could hear the other car coming fast as well, as if they meant to hit him front and back, cut him in half.

Epée leaped into the air like a triple jumper. His left foot tapped the hood of the oncoming police car, his right foot caressed its flashing blue lights, and both feet absorbed the landing a split second before the two police cars crashed head-on and just behind him.

Epée had made his escape look as elegant as a ballet solo, but he wasn’t taking any chances and sprinted hard for blocks before slowing on a quiet street.

He saw a brand-new white BMW parked in the middle of the block, saw that the street was deserted, and took the opportunity to spray-paint the hood with the same bloodred graffiti tag.

Also By James Patterson & Mark Sullivan

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