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The Fallen (Amos Decker #4)
Author:David Baldacci

The Fallen (Amos Decker #4)

David Baldacci



To Cindi and John Harkes,

we’re truly blessed to have you as friends





Chapter 1



WHO KILLED YOU?

Or, who murdered you?

There was, after all, a distinct difference.

Amos Decker was standing on the rear deck of a house where he and his FBI colleague, Alex Jamison, were staying while visiting Jamison’s sister. He used two fingers to neck-cradle his third bottle of beer of the evening while he contemplated these questions. He knew that most people never thought about these issues, because they had no reason to do so. Yet accurately answering the latter question dominated Decker’s professional life, which was really the only life he had left.

He was also aware that the difference between the two queries was more complex than some might have believed.

For example, one could kill a person without legally committing murder.

There was accidental death: Your car inadvertently slams into another, with death as a result, or you drop a gun and it goes off and the bullet strikes a bystander. Someone was dead but it wasn’t legally recognized as murder.

There was assisted suicide: A terminally ill person is suffering and wants to end it, and you help the person do so. The practice was legal in some places and unlawful in others. Again, someone was dead. Unlike the accidental death, the death was intentional, but it was not the same as murder, because it had been the choice of the deceased to end his life.

There was justifiable homicide, the best example of which was self-defense. There you intended to harm another, but the law said you had the right to defend yourself.

There were varying degrees of murder.

If you were negligent in causing that car accident or dropping your weapon, and someone died, you could be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

A spontaneous bludgeoning, resulting in death, could end with the perpetrator being charged with the more serious crime of voluntary manslaughter.

Second-degree murder, a close cousin to voluntary manslaughter, had the element of malice aforethought, and possibly recklessness, but not the additional one of premeditation, or lying in wait, as it was often called.

Decker sipped his beer as he went through the legal requirements of intentionally ending the life of another. The last one was the worst of all, in his estimation.

First-degree murder almost always required the specific elements of willfulness, premeditation, and malice aforethought. You wanted someone dead for your benefit and you laid out a plan in advance to make sure that death happened.

The harshest legal consequences of all were reserved for these heinous acts.

Going after these types of criminals was what Decker had done for almost his entire adult life.

He took another sip of beer.

I catch killers. It’s really the only thing I’m good at.

He stared out at the night sky over northwestern Pennsylvania, near the Ohio border, in a place called Baronville. He heard it had once been a thriving mill and mining town, owing its very existence to the eponymous Baron family, which had dug the mines and built the mills. However, those engines of commerce were long since gone. What was left wasn’t much. Yet people seemed to be getting by in a variety of ways, and with varying degrees of success. A similar pronouncement could be made about many places across America.

Inside the house, Alex Jamison was sharing a glass of white wine with her older sister, Amber, and talking to her precocious soon-to-be-six-year-old niece, Zoe. Decker and Jamison were here on vacation from solving crimes as part of a special task force at the FBI back in Washington. Decker had been reluctant to go with Jamison, but their boss, Special Agent Bogart, had insisted that he take some type of leave. And when Jamison had suggested that he accompany her on a visit to her sister, Decker couldn’t think of a single other place to go.

So here I am.

He took another sip of his beer and studied his size fourteen feet.

When they had arrived here, introductions had been made, hugs given, pleasantries exchanged, bags put away, and Jamison had given out housewarming gifts to her sister and niece, because Amber and her family had only recently moved here. Dinner was prepared and eaten, but long before then Decker had run out of things to say and ideas of what would be socially acceptable to do. And that’s when Jamison, who knew him perhaps better than anyone else, had discreetly suggested that he take his beer—and his awkwardness—outside, so the sisters could catch up in the way that women often did while no men were around.

The social awkwardness had not always been a part of him. The six-foot-five, three-hundred-pound–plus—well, maybe more than simply plus—Decker, a former professional football player, had once been outgoing, gregarious, a bit goofy even, fun-loving and always ready with a quip.

Then had come the vicious blindside hit to the head on the football field that had changed his life, and who he was, forever. The resulting brain trauma had almost killed him. And while he had survived, the blow had forced his brain to rewire itself to allow healing to occur. This process had left two distinct marks on him.

One was hyperthymesia, or perfect recall. Those possessing such a condition often could apply it only to autobiographical information, and often had below-average memory capacities in other aspects of their lives. But not Decker. It was as though someone had placed a camera with a limitless capacity to take pictures in his head. He was the memory man, unable to forget anything. Decker had found it a decidedly mixed blessing.

The second result of the hit was his developing synesthesia. He associated odd things, like death, with a color. In the case of death, it was a visceral electric blue that could raise the hairs on the back of Decker’s neck and make him feel sick to his stomach.

Along with his brain change, his personality had been transformed. The gregarious fun-loving prankster had forever vanished, and in its place—

—Is me.

With his football career irreversibly over, he had gone on to become a cop and then a homicide detective in his hometown of Burlington, Ohio. He had been married to a wonderful woman named Cassandra, or Cassie as he always called her, and they had had a beautiful child named Molly.

Had.

It was all past tense, because he no longer had a wonderful wife or a beautiful child.

Who killed you?

Who murdered you?

Well, Decker had figured out who had taken his family from him. And the person had paid the ultimate price.

Yet it was nothing in comparison to the price that Decker had paid. That he would pay every minute until he drew his last breath.

“Aunt Alex says you can’t forget anything.”

Decker turned from these musings to the source of the query.

Zoe Mitchell, twin blonde ponytails, long-sleeved pink shirt with flowers on it, and white shorts showing off dimpled knees, stared curiously at him across the width of the wooden deck attached to the back of her house.

“My memory’s pretty good, yeah,” said Decker.

Zoe held up a sheet of paper. On it were about a dozen very long numbers. She passed it to him.

“Can you remember all these?” she asked hopefully.

Decker glanced at it and then handed the paper back to her.

“Does that mean you can’t remember them?” said Zoe, the disappointment clear on her freckled face.

“No, it means that I already did.”

He recited the numbers back to her, in the same order they appeared on the page, because that’s what he saw in his head: the page of numbers.

She broke into a toothy grin. “That is so cool.”

“You think so?” said Decker.

Her pale blue eyes widened at his remark. “Don’t you?”

“Sometimes, yeah. It can be cool.”

He leaned against the deck railing and sipped his beer while Zoe watched him.

“Aunt Alex says you catch bad people.”

“We do it together. She’s got good instincts.”