The Watcher in the Wall (A Stevens and Windermere Novel)

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9780399174544: The Watcher in the Wall (A Stevens and Windermere Novel)
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A heart-pounding new Stevens and Windermere thriller from the award-winning author of The Stolen Ones and The Professionals.
 
Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere of the joint BCA-FBI violent crime task force have handled shocking cases before, but this one is different. Stevens’s daughter, Andrea, is distraught over a classmate’s suicide, but what the two investigators find is even more disturbing—an online suicide club of unhappy teenagers, presided over by an anonymous presence who seems to be spurring them on. Soon, it becomes apparent that the classmate wasn’t the first victim—and won’t be the last, either, unless they can hunt down this psychopath once and for all.

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About the Author:

Owen Laukkanen was born in Vancouver. After graduating from university in 2006, he answered an ad on Craigslist for a summer job at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas as a “poker tournament reporter” for a poker website. At the end of the summer, they offered him a full-time job. You wouldn’t think you could make a living at this, but you would be wrong. For the next three years he traveled around the world, reporting from the most luxurious casinos of Monaco and Macau and Australia to the sketchiest card rooms of California and Atlantic City. In 2009, having seen his fill, Laukkanen quit to concentrate on fiction. He also spends summers as a deckhand on the boats of his father and his uncle, both commercial fishermen. He is at work on more novels.
 
His previous Stevens and Windermere novels are The Professionals, Criminal Enterprise, Kill Fee, and The Stolen Ones. The Professionals was nominated for the Barry Award and International Thriller Writers Award for best first novel, as well as the Spinetingler Award for Best Novel: New Voice. Criminal Enterprise was nominated for the ITW Award for best novel. Both books, as well as Kill Fee, appeared on several best-of-the-year lists.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

It was time.
            Adrian Miller had planned to wait, a few more days, another week, maybe. Hell, when he woke up in the morning, before class, he wasn’t even sure he would do it anymore. He’d thought about his mom and dad and sister, about Lucas, and wondered what kind of monster would want to hurt them the way he was planning. He’d hugged his parents goodbye and walked out the front door, and it was a beautiful fall morning, crisp and bracing and clear, and he’d decided, not yet. Maybe not ever.
            But then he showed up at school, and it all started again.
            Lucas wouldn’t talk to him. Lucas never talked to him, not in public anyway. Lucas avoided his looks in the hallway, wouldn’t eat lunch with him, made him wait until the final bell rang and they could go away to the park somewhere, or Lucas’s dad’s basement, somewhere far away from school and Lucas’s real friends.
            Today, though, Lucas acted even more distant. Wouldn’t even answer his texts. Laughed along with his friends when they mocked him in math class. When someone poured water on his seat, so when he sat down it looked like he’d pissed himself. He’d looked over at the jocks in the corner, Lucas among them, all of them pointing and laughing and losing their minds, snapping pictures to upload to Facebook. Lucas was laughing with them. Lucas didn’t even have the courtesy to look away when he looked over. Even when he caught Lucas’s eye, like, what the hell, man?
            Like, I thought you were my friend.
            The pictures showed up online around lunchtime. Followed him around for the rest of the day. By the time the final bell rang, he’d forgotten how happy he’d felt this morning. He’d remembered why he wanted to do it.
            And now it was time.
            He was alone in the house. His parents wouldn’t be home for another couple of hours, at least. His little sister was off with her friends. He set his backpack on the bed and opened up his laptop, heard the chime from a hundred and one Facebook notifications.
            Fag.
            Loser.
            Fucking skid.
            He opened a new window in his browser. Logged on to the website he visited most. Found Ambriel98 and opened a chat window.
            I think I’m ready. I think I’m going to do it today.
            A long pause. He pictured Ambriel on the other side of the screen, staring into her own laptop somewhere in Pennsylvania. Wondered if she’d try and stop him.
            She didn’t.
            It’s the right decision, she typed. U’ll be in a better place.
            At least I won’t be in this place, he replied.
            I wish I had your balls.
            He kind of laughed, despite himself. Take them.
            Turn your webcam on if you’re doing it, she typed. Like we talked about. You’ll inspire me. You’ll inspire so many people like us.
            He looked around his room. Wondered if he was really ready to do this. Heard the chime from Facebook again, another asshole he couldn’t avoid, even in his own bedroom. Pictured going through another year of this shit, graduating, and then what?
            More shit, probably.
            More assholes.
            Never any escape.
            He dug into the bottom drawer of his desk. Pulled out the bottle he’d stolen from his dad, uncapped it and took a drink. Grimaced at the burn. Then he turned back to his laptop. Screw it. He was ready.
            Get ready for the show, he told Ambriel as he switched on his webcam. See you on the other side.

 
TWO
 
The phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
            Carla Windermere looked up from her computer, irritated. Looked across the small office to her partner’s empty workstation, then out into the hall and the Criminal Investigative Division beyond. Kirk Stevens had disappeared somewhere, and he’d left his dinky old cell phone behind.
            Windermere pushed herself out of her chair, crossed to Stevens’s desk, where the cell phone kept bleating its tinny electronic ring tone. She snatched up the phone, walked out to the doorway and scanned CID, fully intending to give her partner a lecture about the merits of his handset’s “silent” feature. But there was no sign of Stevens anywhere.
            Windermere was still getting used to the whole partner thing. She’d worked with Stevens, a special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, on a number of high profile cases during her four years in the FBI’s Minneapolis office. She liked the man, a twenty-year cop with sharp instincts and a steady aim, figured they worked well together—and history proved it. But when their bosses had decided to put them together onto a joint FBI-BCA violent crimes taskforce, they’d shunted Stevens into the FBI building, given him an office with Windermere. And Windermere still wasn’t sure how she felt about sharing.
            Still clutching the phone, Windermere walked deeper into the CID bullpen, splitting the rows of cubicles until she came to Derek Mathers’s desk. “Seen Stevens?”
            Mathers looked up from his computer, grinned when he saw her. He was a junior agent, a boyish, good-looking Wisconsin farm boy. He’d also managed to thaw Windermere’s heart enough that lately she was calling him her boyfriend, as much as the lovey-dovey stuff nauseated her.
            “Stevens? No idea,” Mathers said. “You try the kitchen?”
            The phone shut off. Stayed silent a moment. Then it started back up again. Around CID, people poked their heads up from their cubicles.
            “I swear, the bastard’s doing this to piss me off,” Windermere told him.
            Stevens was just replacing the coffee pot when she walked into the break room. “Carla,” he said. “You want coffee? Fresh pot.”
            “I swear to god, Stevens, if this thing keeps ringing, I’m going to answer it myself,” she said, brandishing the phone. “And I can’t be held responsible for what happens next.”
            Stevens made his eyes wide. Put down the pot and his coffee mug, crossed the break room to the door. “Give it here,” he said. “The last thing I need is you making friends with my wife.”
            He took the phone, flipped it open. “Agent Stevens,” he said, ducking out into the hallway.
            Windermere savored the silence for a moment. Looked over at the coffee pot. As long as I’m here. She poured herself a cup. Replaced the pot. Left the break room and found Stevens standing in the hall, staring at his phone, pale.
            “You okay?” she asked.
            Stevens glanced at her. “That was Andrea,” he told her. “There was an incident at her school; I have to go get her. One of her classmates, uh.” He shook his head. “Well, I guess he killed himself.”
            Windermere felt something twinge inside her, something small and tucked-away and long forgotten. “Shit,” she said. “Shit, Stevens, that’s awful.”
            “Yeah,” Stevens said, still staring at the phone. “Andrea’s a mess,” he said. “I should—”
            “Go,” Windermere said. “Definitely. Get out of here.”      
            Stevens nodded. Walked off down the hall like he was in a kind of a daze. Windermere watched him go, all the way back through CID to the bank of elevators on the far wall. Watched him until he’d disappeared, and wondered why she wasn’t moving.
 
THREE
 

“His name was Adrian Miller,” Kirk Stevens told his wife. “His parents found him in the bedroom when they got home from work yesterday. They figure he did it about as soon as he came home from school.”
            Across the dining room table, Andrea Stevens wiped her eyes with a Kleenex. “He was in my math class,” she told her parents. “Some asshole jocks from the football team poured water on his chair yesterday and took pictures of it when he sat down. It was all over Facebook.”
            She blew her nose. Glanced at her mom. “Sorry for swearing,” she said, quietly.
            Nancy Stevens waved her off. Dabbed at her own eyes. “Kids can be so mean.”
            Stevens nodded. Had nothing to say. He’d driven to the school as soon as Andrea called, found her with her boyfriend and the rest of her classmates, the principal, and a couple of grief counselors besides. Three weeks into senior year, everybody still wearing the last of their summer tans, nobody prepared for this.    
            He’d called his wife at the law office, and she picked up JJ, the Stevens’s twelve-year-old son, brought everyone back home for a family day.
            “He was just a quiet kid,” Andrea said. “He always dressed kind of funny, and he didn’t have any friends. He was a nice guy, though. There was nothing wrong with him.”
            “Why didn’t he have any friends?” JJ asked.
            “I don’t know,” Andrea said. “People were always picking on him, that’s all.” Her face seemed to crumple, and she hid her face in her hands. “It’s all just so stupid.”
            You got that right, Stevens thought. He’d dealt with plenty of different kinds of cruelty during his career as a BCA investigator, but the ways kids had of tormenting each other still made his stomach turn. Andrea, smart and athletic and popular, had managed to avoid the worst of the bullying, thank God. But JJ would be starting high school soon enough, and who could say how his classmates would treat him?
            Andrea looked up from her hands. “You have to do something, Dad,” she said. “For Adrian. You have to make it so the people who did this to him have to pay.”
            Stevens swapped glances with his wife. Leaned in and met his daughter’s eyes. “I don’t know if there’s anything I can do, Ange,” he told her. “This kind of thing, it’s probably too late to solve anything. There’s not really any point in mucking people around.”
            “You’re a cop,” Andrea said. “Adrian’s dead. Aren’t you supposed to punish the responsible parties?”
            Nancy rubbed Andrea’s back. “He can’t just arrest all those jocks, honey,” she said. “It wouldn’t solve anything, anyway. It’s not going to bring Adrian back, no matter who gets arrested.”           
            Andrea stifled a sob. “You have to do something, Dad. You can’t just let people get away with this.”
            Stevens studied his daughter across the table, her fierce eyes. She has her mom’s sense of justice, he thought. Always fighting for the underdog. It was the quality he admired most in his wife, a brilliant law mind who’d turned her back on a comfortable salary to work Legal Aid for the city’s downtrodden. It warmed Stevens’s heart to know his daughter had inherited the same passion.
            “Let me see what I can do,” he told Andrea. “I can’t promise it’ll make you feel any better, but maybe I can make a few calls.”
 

FOUR
 
Windermere tried to get back to work after Stevens had gone. She had a whole pile of paperwork to process, the last hoops to jump through on a sex-trafficking case she and Stevens had closed during the summer. Had all afternoon to work on it, her office blissfully free of any distractions, any annoying ring tones, but somehow, the work didn’t get done.
            “It’s nothing,” she told Mathers, at dinner that night. “I’m fine, Derek. No big deal.”
            They’d gone back to her condo in downtown Minneapolis, as usual. Were supposed to do some cooking, ...

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