Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
The Book of Lies
By Brad Meltzer
Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 2, 2008. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
In Chapter Four of the Bible, Cain kills Abel. It is the world’s most famous murder. But the Bible is silent about one key detail: the weapon Cain used to kill his brother. That weapon is still lost to history.
In 1932, Mitchell Siegel was killed by three gunshots to his chest. While mourning, his son dreamed of a bulletproof man and created the world’s greatest hero: Superman. And like Cain’s murder weapon, the gun used in this unsolved murder has never been found.
Today in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Cal Harper comes face-to-face with his family’s greatest secret: his long-lost father, who’s been shot with a gun that traces back to Mitchell Siegel’s 1932 murder. But before Cal can ask a single question, he and his father are attacked by a ruthless killer tattooed with the anicent markings of Cain. And so begins the chase for the world’s first murder weapon.
What does Cain, history’s greatest villain, have to do with Superman, the world’s greatest hero? And what do two murders, committed thousands of years apart, have in common? This is the mystery at the heart of Brad Meltzer’s riveting and utterly intriguing new thriller
More from Brad Meltzer
Table of Contents
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your support of the author's rights.
I believe that what you are now reading is the most important part of this book. And yes, the publisher again asked me to move it to the back, but keeping it right in front is the whole point. So thank you to all—especially you, our incredible readers—whose support is the only reason I get to dream these dreams: First and always, my Wonder Woman, Cori, whose strength and unwavering love convinced me to finally write this book, which is one I've been afraid of for years. I owe her forever for that. And I'll love her for all that time. Jonas, Lila, and Theo, you are the ones I dream for. You are the ones who inspire me. And the love in this father-child story is the love I keep for you. Jill Kneerim, my unwavering anchor, who believes I'm a better writer than I am, even when I fall short; Ike Williams, Hope Denekamp, Cara Shiel, Julie Sayre, and all our friends at the Kneerim & Williams Agency.
In this book about family, I need to thank my parents, who forever let me find my own adventures, especially the creative ones. They gave up so much for me. No one loves me more; my sister, Bari, who continues to lend me strength; Will Norman, for trusting me and reminding me about the real value of family; Dale Flam, whose reach and help knows no bounds; Bobby, Matt, Ami, and Adam, for more than they realize; Noah Kuttler, who is such a vital part of this process. He is a brother and mentor and keeps me intellectually honest about the craft. He also helps me feel cooler than the pathetic, bald little man that adulthood has turned me into. Thanks for pushing me, Calculator. Ethan Kline steers every early draft; Edna Farley, Kim from L.A., Marie Grunbeck, Georgie Brown, Maria Nelson, Michelle Perez-Carroll, and Brad Desnoyer, who do the true hard work; Paul Brennan, Matt Oshinsky, Paulo Pacheco, Joel Rose, Chris Weiss, and Judd Winick, such superfriends, who save me over and over.
As I've always maintained, every novel is a book of lies trying to masquerade as a book of truth. I therefore owe these people huge thank-yous for handing me the truths that are threaded throughout this book. First and without question, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, for building something that has meant more to me than any other art form, including novels. For me, the best part of the story has never been the Superman part; it's the Clark Kent part—the idea that any of us, in all our ordinariness, can change the world. I only hope, even in the fictional universe, I did your stories justice. To that end, this is a book about heroes, which is why I was blessed to find so many new ones, so thanks to: Joanne Siegel, Laura Siegel Larson, Marlene Goodman, Rita Hubar, Norma Wolkov, and Jerry and Irving Fine for sharing their memories, their family, and their friendship; Zachary Mann, a dear friend who kept me honest on how crime is really fought in the federal world of ICE investigations; Michael San Giacomo, my master of all things super and all things Cleveland; Courtney at the TaskForce Fore Ending Homelessness, David Abel, and Laura Hansen and Scott Dimarzo at the Coalition to End Homelessness, who fight the good fight every single day; my law enforcement team of Matt Axelrod, Brenda Bauer, Dr. John Fox, Steven Klein, Ed Kazarosky, Lisa Monaco, Maria Otero, Wally Perez, and Keith Prager, whose trust means so much; Mark Dimunation, Natalie Firhaber, Georgia Higley, Dianne L. van der Reyden, and Roberta Stevens answered every insane question about ancient book history; Hattie and Jefferson Gray, for sharing the Siegel house; Stan Lee, Paul Levitz, and Jerry Robinson, for so much more than comic book lore; Rabbi Steven Glazer, Rabbi David Golinkin, A. J. Jacobs, James L. Kugel, and Burton Visotzky, who helped steer and guide me through thousands of years of biblical interpretations; Paula Tibbetts and all the stories that came from Covenant House (1-800-999-9999, if you're young and on the street and need help); Brian Fischer, Terry Collins, and Marc C. Houk, for all the prison details; Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns for feeding my Cain fascination, and Mark Lewis and Robert Leighton, artists and puzzle-makers extraordinaire. I also had an incredible group from the Library of Congress who helped with so much of the research: Tema David, Katia Jones, Sara Duke, Martha Kennedy, Peggy Pearlstein, Teri Sierra, and Kathy Woodrell, as well as the librarians at the Western Reserve Historical Society; Gerard Jones's Men of Tomorrow, James L. Kugel's How to Read the Bible, Louis Ginzberg's The Legends of the Jews, Simon Singh's The Code Book, and Ruth Mellinkoff's The Mark of Cain were all invaluable to this process. Dr. Ronald K. Wright and Dr. Lee Benjamin yet again aided my medical details; John Ingrassia, Alex Miller, Leslie Collman-Smith, Matt Stringer, Tony Ward, and everyone at Sony BMG for their tremendous vision (check out the companion soundtrack they made for this book at www.BradMeltzer.com); and John Goins, Michael Orkin, Jacob Booth, Jeff and Emily Camiener, Janet Doniger, and Jessica Gardner trusted me with traits I truly hold dear, especially the ones you see in the characters. Finally, Stewart Berkowitz, Matthew Bogdanos, David Brazil, Sy Frumkin, Jerry Gottlieb, Mike and Laure Heuer, Jay Kislak, Abe Laeser, Brian Lewis, Tony and Jonna Mendez, Ben Powell, Tom Savini, Raquel Suarez, Andy Wright, and Mark Zaid lent their expertise to so many different details; Rob Weisbach for the initial faith; and of course, my family and friends, whose names, as always, inhabit these pages.
I also want to thank everyone at Grand Central Publishing: David Young, Maureen Egen, Emi Battaglia, Jennifer Romanello, Evan Boorstyn, Chris Barba, Martha Otis, Karen Torres, the kindest and hardest-working sales force in show business, Harvey-Jane Kowal, Mari Okuda, Thomas Whatley, Jim Spivey, and all the dear friends who, over the years, have helped build what we're building. I've said this before, but it's still true: They're the real reason this book is in your hands. Also, thanks to Mitch Hoffman, whose insights and editing changed the course of Cal's story. So glad to have you in the family. Finally, let me thank Jamie Raab. When I told her what this book was about, she never hesitated. She forced me to challenge myself, and for that, I am blessed. Thank you, Jamie, for knowing that the best stories are the ones we believe in, and most important, for your faith.
Nineteen years later
Good girl—such a good girl," Ellis said, down on one knee as his dog snatched the beef treat from his open palm. With a bite and a gulp, the treat was gone, and Ellis Belasco, with his sleek copper red hair, smiled proudly and added a strong authoritative pat to the back of his smoky brown pet's neck. As the trainer said, attack dogs had to be rewarded.
"P-Please… my leg… he chewed my leg!" the thin Chinese man whined as he crawled across the worn beige carpet toward the hotel room door.
"To be clear, she chewed your Achilles' tendon," Ellis said, calmly standing up and brushing back his long European-style haircut—he was always meticulous—to reveal amber eyes framed by striking, lush eyebrows that almost merged on the bridge of his nose. Because of his rosy coloring, his cheeks were always flushed, as were his full lips, which he licked as he stared down at a small tattoo between his thumb and pointer finger.
His birthright was healing nicely.
For the past two months, Ellis had been tracking the ancient book from collector to collector—from the doctor in China whose death gave it away, to Zhao, the shipper, who schemed to deliver it elsewhere. Every culture called it by a different name, but Ellis knew the truth.
"I know you have it," Ellis said. "I'd like the Book of Lies now."
From the corner of the bed, Ellis reached for his small gray pistol.
"Nonono… you can't— My fiancée— We just got engaged!" the young dockworker begged, scrambling on his one good knee as his other leg left a smear of blood across the carpet.
Ellis pressed the barrel of his gun against the man's throat. It was vital he hit the jugular. But he knew he would. That was the advantage of having God on your side. "I paid what you asked me, Zhao," Ellis said calmly. "But it makes me sad that someone else clearly paid you more."
"I swear—the book—I told you where it's going!" Zhao screamed, his eyes rolling toward the pistol as Ellis glanced out the hotel window, into the dim alley. The view was awful—nothing more than a blank brick wall. But that was why Ellis had Zhao meet him here. No view, no witnesses.
With a squeeze, Ellis shot him in the throat.
There was no bang, just a pneumatic hiss. Zhao jerked slightly, and his eyes blinked open… "Ai! Ai, that—! What was that?" he stuttered as a drop of blood bubbled from his neck.
The military called them "jet injectors." Since World War I, they had been used to vaccinate soldiers quickly and easily. There was no needle. The burst of air was so strong, it drilled through the skin with nothing more than a disposable air cartridge and the one-use red nozzle that looked like a thimble with a tiny hole. All you'd feel was the snap of a rubber band, and the vaccine was in your blood. For Ellis, it was a bit overdramatic, but if he was to find the Book that had been taken from him… that had been taken from his family… He knew every war had rules. His great-grandfather left him this gun—or the plans for this gun, at least—for a reason. It took time and patience to build it from scratch. Ellis had plenty of both.
"Forty… thirty-nine… thirty-eight…" Ellis began to count, peeking under the wrist of his starched shirt and checking his new Ulysse Nardin watch.
"Wait…! The shot—! What'd you put in me!?" Zhao screamed, gripping the side of his neck.
"… thirty-seven… thirty-six… thirty-five…" Ellis said, his voice as serene as ever. "My family first encountered it in Belgium. Conium maculatum. Hemlock."
"Are you—? You put hemlock—!? You put a poison—are you a fool!? Now you get nothing!" Zhao yelled, fighting hard as he thrashed and crawled toward the door.
In a way, Zhao was right. Shooting him was a gamble. But Ellis knew… it's not a gamble when you know you'll win. After unscrewing the empty hemlock vial, he replaced it with a vial filled with a cloudy yellow liquid.
"I-Is that the antidote?" Zhao asked. "It is, isn't it!?"
Ellis stepped back, away from his victim's reach. "Do you know who Mitchell Siegel is, Zhao?"
"Wh-What're you talking about?"
"Thirty-one… thirty… twenty-nine… In 1932, a man named Mitchell Siegel was shot in the chest and killed. While mourning the death of his father, his young son Jerry came up with the idea of a bulletproof man that he nicknamed Superman."
Mid-crawl, Zhao's feet stopped moving. "M-My—! Wh-What'd you do to my legs!?"
Ellis nodded and stood still. To this day, scientists didn't know why hemlock poisoning started in the feet and worked up from there.
"Such a dumb idea, right, Zhao—a bulletproof man? But the only reason Superman was born was because a little boy missed his father," Ellis pointed out. "And the best part? The murder's still unsolved. In fact, people are still so excited by Superman, they never stop to ask just why Mitchell Siegel was killed—or to even consider that maybe, just maybe, he might've done something that made him the bad guy in this story.… Twenty… nineteen… eighteen…"
"I can't feel my legs!" Zhao sobbed as tears ran down his face.
"You think I'm the bad guy here, but I'm not," Ellis said, putting away the empty vial, zipping his leather doctor's case, and smoothing the sheets on the edge of the bed. "I'm the hero, Zhao. You're the bad guy. You're the one keeping the Book of Lies from us. Just like Mitchell Siegel kept it from us."
"P-Please, I don't know who the hell you're talking about!"
Ellis crouched down next to Zhao, who was flat on his belly, barely able to catch his breath. "I want my Book. Tell me its final destination."
"I—I—I told you," Zhao stuttered. "W-We— It's going to Panama."
"And then where?"
"That's it—Panama… " he repeated, his nose pressed to the carpet, his eyes clenched in pain. "Just… the antidote…"
"You feel that tightening in your waist?" Ellis asked, looking down and realizing that his shoes could use a new shine. "Your thighs are dead, Zhao. Then it'll climb to your testicles. Hemlock is what killed Socrates. He narrated his entire death—how it slithered from his waist, to his chest, right up to when his eyes were fixed and dilated."
"Okay… okayokayokay… Miami! After Panama… they're… it's going to Miami! In Florida," Zhao insisted. "The sheet… the lading bill… it's… I swear… it's in my pocket! Just make it stop!"
Ellis reached into Zhao's pocket and extracted the sheet of light pink paper that held all the details of the shipment's arrival.
… seven… six… five…
The dog began to growl. She could smell death coming. But Ellis ignored the noise, peacefully reading from the bill of lading: the container's new tracking number, the receiver's name (had to be fake)—everything the Leadership needed.
… four… three… two…
Still flat on his stomach and now with his mouth wide open, Zhao gave a final hollow gasp that sounded like the last bits of water being sucked down a drain. Ellis's great-grandfather described the same sound in his diary—right after he mentioned there was no antidote for hemlock poisoning.
Zhao was nice—even kind when they first met at the doctor's funeral—but the mission was bigger than Zhao. And based on what happened in 1900 with Mitchell Siegel, the mission had enough problems with witnesses.
Zhao's tongue went limp, and his head slumped forward, sending his forehead against the carpet.
Ellis didn't notice. He was already on his phone, dialing Judge Wojtowicz's number.
"I told you not to call me here, Eddie," answered an older man with a soft, crackly voice.
"Ellis. I'm called Ellis now," he replied, never losing his composure. He spread out his left hand, admiring the tattoo.
"It's five in the morning here, Ellis. What do you want?"
Ellis smiled—truly smiled—turning his full attention to the phone. "What I want is for you to remember just where you were when I found you, Judge. Your group—your Leadership—your dream was old and dead. Is that how you pictured your final years? Just another discarded, cobwebbed old man sitting in his cramped Michigan apartment and wondering why his glory days weren't more glorious? You're not even a footnote in history, Judge. Not even an asterisk. But if you want, I can put you back there. Maybe one day you'll be a parenthesis."
"My family has been in the Leadership since—"
"Don't embarrass yourself, Judge. Family names don't get you into Harvard anymore; what makes you think they'll get you in here?"
There was a long pause on the line. "I appreciate your helping us with this, Ellis," the Judge finally offered. Clearing his throat, he added, "You're close to finding the Book, aren't you?"
"And about to get even closer," Ellis said, glancing at the pink bill of lading and studying the container's new tracking details: when it left the port, when it'd arrive in Miami, even the truck driver who was responsible for the pickup.
"C'mon, Benoni," he murmured to the dog.
He knew it was an odd name. Benoni. But according to the diaries, that was the name of Abel's watchdog—the dog that was eventually given to Cain—and the only witness to the world's first murder.
"You're in for a treat, girl," he said as he stepped over Zhao's dead body and led the dog out into the hallway. "This time of year, the weather is gorgeous in Florida."
As the dog ran ahead, Ellis never lost sight of her. He knew his history. Only with Benoni would he find the Book of Lies and solve the true mystery of the world's greatest villain.
Two weeks later
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
My name is Cal Harper.
This is the second most important day of my life.
"Remove heem," the manager of the French bistro calls out behind us.
"S-Sorry, Cal," my client Alberto apologizes, his body shaking as I hook his arm around my neck and help him hobble back toward our van. From the stench on his breath, Alberto's been drinking hard. From his fresh split lip, plus the tear in his ratty T-shirt, he's been fighting, too. In his left hand, he clutches the dented, rusty RC Cola can that he carries everywhere.
Welcome to Fort Lauderdale beach. Just another day in paradise.
"You planning on helping here?" I call to Roosevelt, who's reclining in the passenger seat of our dumpy white van.
"Ah'm mentoring," Roosevelt calls back in a thick Tennessee drawl, nodding a hello to Alberto, who offers a gray-toothed smile in return.
"No, you're sitting on your rear while I do all the work," I point out.
"Whattya think mentoring is?" Roosevelt asks, lumbering out like an old mountain cat and slowly tugging open the side door of the van, a 1991 GMC Safari that another client christened "the White House." (Roosevelt and Calvin in the same place? It's downright presidential.)
"You got him?" I ask.
"Isn't that why God put me on this planet?" Roosevelt says, his dyed-black, aging-hippie ponytail flapping in the salty ocean breeze. At forty-two, Roosevelt's old enough to know better than the ponytail, but we all have our weaknesses. "Man, Alberto, you reek."
To the few passing tourists still walking the beach, we probably look like mobsters. But our job's far more dangerous than that.
"Listen, thanks for calling us instead of the cops," I tell the restaurant manager, a middle-aged guy who looks like a ferret.
"I'm no schmuck," he laughs, dropping his French accent. "Cops would take two hours. You take the trash out fast."
He offers a handshake, and as I reach to take it, I spot a hundred-dollar bill in his palm. I pull back as if he's offering a coiled snake.
"Just our way of saying thanks," he adds, reaching out again for the handshake.
I don't shake back. "Listen," I insist, stepping toward him. It's clear I'm not the most imposing figure—I slouch and have a shambling walk that's all arms and legs and big hands—but I do have most of my dad's height. Nearly six feet when I stand up straight. And the only time I do that is when I'm pissed. Like now. "Do you understand what I do?" I ask, my thick Adam's apple pumping with each syllable.
"Aw, jeez, you're gonna give me some self-important speech now, aren't ya?"
"No speech. We take the homeless back to shelters—"
"And what? If you accept a tip it'll make it less of a good deed? I respect that. I do. But c'mon, be fair to yourself," he says, motioning to my faded black T-shirt, which is barely tucked in. "What're ya, thirty years old with that baby face? You're wearing secondhand sneakers and sweatpants. To work. When was the last time you got a haircut? And c'mon… your van…"
I glance back at the van's peeling tinted windows and the swarm of rust along the back fender, then down at my decade-old sweatpants and my checkerboard Vans sneakers.
"Take the money, kid. If you don't use it for yourself, at least help your organization."
I shake my head. "You called my client trash."
To my surprise, he doesn't get defensive. Or mad. "You're right—I'm sorry," he says, still holding out the money. "Let this be my apology. Please. Don't make it the end of the world."
I stare at my sweatpants, calculating all of the underwear and socks I could buy for our clients with an extra hundred dollars.
"C'mon, bro… even Bob Dylan did an iPod commercial."
"And once again, making the world safe for people who eat croque-monsieurs," I say, yanking open the door of the van and climbing back behind the wheel.
"What the fudge, Cal? You didn't take the money, did you?" Roosevelt asks with a sigh as he reaches into the brown bag on his lap and cracks open a pistachio shell. "Why you so stubborn?"
"Same reason you say dumb crap like 'What the fudge.' "
"It's not different," I shoot back, looking down at the van's closed ashtray. With a tug, I pull it open, spot the dozens of discarded pistachio shells he's stuffed inside, and dump them in the empty Burger King bag between us. Roosevelt cracks another shell and leans for the ashtray. I shake the Burger King bag in front of him instead. "You were a minister, so you don't like to curse—I get it, Roosevelt. But it's a choice you make on principle."
"You were a minister?" Alberto blurts from the backseat, barely picking his head up from the RC soda can with the plastic wrap on top. It took nearly six different pickups before Alberto told me that's where he keeps his father's ashes. I used to think he was nuts. I still do. But I appreciate the logic. I'm what my parents left behind. I understand not wanting to do the same to someone else. "I thought you were some special agent who got arrested…"
Twisting the ignition and hitting the gas, I don't say a word.
"That was Cal," Roosevelt points out as we take off down A1A, and his ponytail flaps behind him. "And we've talked about my ministry, Alberto."
Alberto pauses a moment. "You're a minister?"
"He was," I offer. "Ask him why he left."
"Ask Cal why he got fired," Roosevelt says in that calm, folksy drawl that filled the church pews every Sunday and immediately has Alberto looking my way. "Losing his badge… y'know that's what turned his hair white?" Roosevelt adds, pointing at my full head of thick silver hair, which is such a scraggly mess it almost covers the birthmark near my left eye.
"Nuh-uh," Alberto says. "You didn't get that from your momma or daddy?"
I click my front teeth together, staring out at the closed tourist T-shirt shops that line the beach. The only thing I got from my parents was a light blue government form with the charges against my father.
The prosecutor was smart: He went for manslaughter instead of murder… painted a picture of this six-foot-two monster purposely shoving a small, defenseless young mom… then for the final spit-shine added in my father yelling, "That's it—you're done!" (Testimony courtesy of every neighbor with an adjoining wall.)
My dad got eight years at Glades Correction Institution. The state of Florida gave me six minutes to say good-bye. I remember the room smelled like spearmint gum and hairspray. Life is filled with trapdoors. I happened to swan dive through mine when I was nine years old. That was the last time I ever saw Dad. I don't blame him anymore, even though when he got out, he could've— I don't blame him anymore.
"Gaaah," Roosevelt shouts, his ruddy features burning bright. "You shoulda taken that restaurant money."
"Roosevelt, the only reason he was offering that cash was so when he goes home tonight, he doesn't feel nearly as guilty for sweeping away the homeless guy that he thought was bad for his fake French bistro business. Go pray… or send an e-mail to heaven… or do whatever you do to let your God weigh in, but I'm telling you: We're here to help those who need it—not to give fudging penance."
His lips purse at my use of the G-word. Roosevelt'll joke about anything—his long hair, his obsession with early chubby Janet Jackson (so much better than the later thinner model), even his love of "Yo Momma's So Fat" jokes as a tool for changing the subject during an awkward social situation—but he'll never joke about God.
Staring out the side window, Roosevelt's now the one clicking his teeth. "Making it a crusade doesn't make it right," he says, speaking slowly so I feel every word.
"It's not a crusade."
"Really? Then I suppose when you leave this job every night, your life is filled with a slew of outside interests: like that kindergarten teacher I tried to set you up with. Oh, wait—that's right—you never called her."
"I called her. She had to run," I say, gripping the steering wheel and searching the passing side streets for possible clients.
"That's why you set up a date! To make time so you can talk, or eat, or do something besides riding past mile after mile of gorgeous beach and spending all that time checking every alley for a homeless person!"
I look straight ahead as Roosevelt cracks another pistachio and tosses the shell in the bag. I never had an older brother, but if I did, I bet he'd torture me with the exact same silence.
"I know you can't turn it off, Cal—and I love you for that—but it's unhealthy. You need something… a hobby—"
"I have lots of hobbies."
"Don't start." I think a moment. "Watching cop shows on TV."
"That's just so you can point out inconsistencies. Name a real form of entertainment. What was the last movie you saw? Or better yet—" He grabs the notebook-size steel case that's wedged between my seat and the center console. My laptop.
"Here we go," he says, flipping open the computer and clicking the History button in my browser. "Seeing the Web sites someone goes to, it's like looking at the furniture arrangement of their mind."
On-screen, the list isn't long.
"SmartSunGuide.com?" he asks.
"That's a good site."
"No, that's where you get Florida traffic reports and the public CCTV cameras—to spot homeless clients who're sleeping under an overpass."
"And this one: ConstructionJournal.com. Lemme guess: up-to-the-minute building permits, so you can find all the new construction sites."
"That's where our clients tend to sleep."
- On Sale
- Sep 2, 2008
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Grand Central Publishing