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INSTANT #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER: Agent Pendergast faces his most unexpected challenge yet when bloodless bodies begin to appear in Savannah, GA.
A fabulous heist:
On the evening of November 24, 1971, D. B. Cooper hijacked Flight 305—Portland to Seattle—with a fake bomb, collected a ransom of $200,000, and then parachuted from the rear of the plane, disappearing into the night…and into history.
A brutal crime steeped in legend and malevolence:
Fifty years later, Agent Pendergast takes on a bizarre and gruesome case: in the ghost-haunted city of Savannah, Georgia, bodies are found with no blood left in their veins—sowing panic and reviving whispered tales of the infamous Savannah Vampire.
A case like no other:
As the mystery rises along with the body count, Pendergast and his partner, Agent Coldmoon, race to understand how—or if—these murders are connected to the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. Together, they uncover not just the answer…but an unearthly evil beyond all imagining.
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Wednesday, November 24, 1971
FLO SCHAFFNER WAS NOT at all happy with the new uniform that Northwest Orient Airlines had imposed on stewardesses, especially the dumb cap with a bill and earflaps that made her look like Donald Duck. Nevertheless, she stood at the door of Flight 305—Portland to Seattle—with a bright smile, greeting arriving passengers and checking their tickets. She was not displeased at the relatively small number of passengers on the flight; she'd thought it would be full, this being the day before Thanksgiving. But today only about a third of the main cabin was occupied, which in her experience meant a stress-free flight.
As people began to settle into their seats, she and the other stewardess, Tina Mucklow, began moving from opposite ends of the main cabin, taking drink orders. Schaffner took the rear. One of her first customers was in seat 18C of the Boeing 727: a polite, soft-spoken gentleman of early middle age, wearing a raincoat, a gray business suit, a white shirt, and a black tie. She knew his name; one of her responsibilities in checking tickets was to try to memorize the names of all the passengers and their seat assignments. It was usually impossible, but with the plane as empty as it was, today she had managed it.
"Can I get you anything to drink, Mr. Cooper?"
He politely asked her for a bourbon and Seven. When she brought it, he handed her a twenty.
She told him he'd have to wait until later for her to get him change.
The pilot, William Scott, whom everyone called Scotty, announced over the intercom for the stewardesses to secure the exits and prepare for takeoff. Schaffner raised the aft stairway and then settled in a jump seat next to it, not far from the passenger in 18C. The flight took off precisely on time, at 2:50 PM, for the thirty-minute hop to Seattle.
As the plane was leveling out and the seat belt signs were turned off, the passenger in 18C signaled to her. She came over, assuming he wanted another drink, but instead he placed an envelope in her hand. This was something that often happened to Schaffner: a lonely traveler writing her a note asking to meet for a drink, dinner, or something more. She had learned that the best way to handle such approaches was simply not to engage. She thanked the passenger warmly and slipped the envelope into her pocket, unread.
The man leaned toward her with a friendly smile and whispered, "Miss, you'd better look at that note. I have a bomb."
Schaffner wasn't sure she had heard him correctly. She removed the envelope and took out the note. It was printed in felt-tipped pen in precise capital letters, and it did indeed say he had a bomb, and that as long as everyone cooperated nothing bad would happen.
"Please sit down next to me," he said, taking the note back from her and putting it in his shirt pocket. She did as told, and he unlatched the briefcase in his lap and lifted the lid a few inches. Inside, she could see a bundle of red cylinders with wires attached, nestled next to a large battery.
He shut the briefcase and put on a pair of dark glasses. "Take this down."
Taking out her pen, she wrote down a series of instructions.
"Relay that to the cockpit," he said.
Schaffner rose, walked down the aisle, and went into the cockpit. Closing the door behind her, she told the pilot the plane was being hijacked by a man with a bomb. Then, reading from the envelope, she recited the list of his demands.
"Does he really have a bomb?" Scotty asked.
"Yes," she replied. "I saw it. It looked real."
"Oh, boy." Scotty called Northwest Orient flight operations in Minnesota. His words were summarized in a teletype.
PASSENGER HAS ADVISED THIS IS A HIJACKING. EN ROUTE TO SEATTLE. THE STEW HAS BEEN HANDED A NOTE. HE REQUESTS $200,000 IN A KNAPSACK BY 5:00 PM. HE WANTS TWO BACK PARACHUTES, TWO FRONT PARACHUTES. HE WANTS THE MONEY IN NEGOTIABLE AMERICAN CURRENCY. DENOMINATION OF THE BILLS IS NOT IMPORTANT. HAS A BOMB IN BRIEFCASE AND WILL USE IT IF ANYTHING IS DONE TO BLOCK HIS REQUEST.
The hijacker also requested that a fuel truck be waiting on the tarmac at Sea-Tac airport, to refuel the plane for a new journey to be specified later. And he demanded that a flight engineer board the plane for the next leg of the journey.
He didn't say why.
IN THE COCKPIT OF Flight 305, Scotty and copilot Bill Rataczak discussed how to handle the situation. So far, the passengers had no idea the plane was being hijacked—and Scotty wanted to keep it that way.
After the call to Minnesota, Northwest Orient flight operations had contacted Don Nyrop, the airline's president, as well as the FBI. The FBI wanted to storm the plane, but Nyrop said he preferred to cooperate with the hijacker, that the airline had insurance and would pay the ransom. The FBI reluctantly agreed. But it would take time for the hijacker's demands to be met.
In the meantime, the 727 had reached Tacoma and begun to circle. The FBI and the airline scrambled to pull together the ransom and parachutes.
Scotty got on the intercom and told the passengers that the plane was experiencing a minor mechanical problem, there was no need for concern, and that they would be landing in an hour or so. Meanwhile, in the back of the plane, the hijacker, Dan Cooper, had been chain-smoking. He offered a cigarette to Schaffner, who took it to calm her nerves, even though she had given up smoking some time before.
Outside, a storm was developing. Soon it began to rain.
The airline contacted the Seattle National Bank, where it had done business. The bank was glad to help. It had, in fact, a store of money ready for just such a purpose: a cache of twenty-dollar bills that had been microfilmed and each serial number recorded, in case of a heist or robbery. Ten thousand twenty-dollar bills, banded in bricks of fifty, were stuffed into a satchel with a drawstring and delivered to the FBI. It weighed about twenty pounds.
The parachutes were obtained from a jump center east of the airport: two front or reserve chutes, and two rear or main parachutes. As Cooper had insisted, they were civilian parachutes, not military. They, too, were given to the FBI.
Meanwhile, the plane continued to circle Sea-Tac. Tina, the other stewardess, moved up and down the aisle, reassuring passengers. Dan Cooper explained to Schaffner how things were going to work.
"After the plane lands," he said, "I want you to go out and get the money and bring it back."
"What if it's too heavy?"
"It won't be. You'll manage. Then," he continued, "you'll get the parachutes and bring them on board." He pulled a bottle of Benzedrine pills from his pocket. "Take these to the cockpit in case the crew gets sleepy during the next flight."
She asked if he was hijacking the plane to Cuba, at the time the most common destination for skyjackings.
"No," he said. "Not Cuba. Someplace you'll like."
She asked him why he was hijacking the plane. Did he bear a grudge against Northwest?
"I don't have a grudge against your airline, miss," he said. "I just have a grudge."
On the ground, the airport had been closed and all outgoing flights canceled. Incoming flights were either diverted or put into a holding pattern. Shortly after five, ground control radioed the plane and said the money and parachutes had been assembled and were in a car at the far end of a runway, as instructed.
The pilots brought the 727 in to land and taxied, as per the hijacker's instructions, to a remote section of runway. It was now dark and the rain persisted, accompanied by occasional flashes of lightning. The area had been illuminated with banks of floodlights.
The plane came to a halt. "Go get the money," Cooper told Schaffner.
Schaffner walked down the aisle to the exit door and descended the stairs, walking in wobbly high heels to the waiting vehicle. An FBI agent took the money from the trunk and handed it to her. Schaffner walked back to the plane, mounted the stairs, and carried the sack back to Cooper. He opened it, looked inside, grabbed a few bricks and took them out.
"For you," he said.
Schaffner was surprised. "Sorry, sir. No tips. Northwest Orient policy."
He seemed to smile faintly. "All right. Go get the parachutes."
Schaffner once again descended the stairs and, making two more trips, brought Cooper the four parachutes.
He leaned toward her. "Now, this is the important part, Flo. Listen carefully. It's time for the captain to tell everyone on board that the plane has been hijacked. The hijacker has a bomb. He is to order everyone off the plane. They're to go straight out—not open the overhead compartments, not take their carry-on luggage or anything else they brought on board. If these instructions are not followed to the letter, or if a hero tries to come back and interfere with me, I'll detonate the bomb. Please relay that to the captain. Only the pilot, copilot, and you are to remain on board."
"Yes, sir." Schaffner got up, went to the cockpit, and relayed the demand. A moment later the captain got on the intercom.
"Listen carefully, and please remain calm," Scotty's neutral voice came over the speakers. "There is a hijacker on this plane with a bomb."
There was a scattering of expostulations, gasps, a scream or two.
"Do not panic. All passengers are to deplane immediately. Do not open the overhead bins. Do not take any carry-on luggage with you. You are to deplane empty-handed."
More gasps, murmurs.
"Commence deplaning now. Walk, don't run."
The passengers rose up en masse, in a babble of confusion and raised voices, and surged toward the forward stairs. Several passengers reached for the overhead compartments, and one managed to get his open.
Seeing this, Cooper rose from his seat and held up his attaché case, brandishing it like a weapon. "You!" he screamed, suddenly enraged, gesturing at the offending passenger. "Get back! I've got a bomb! I'm going to set it off if you don't follow instructions!"
The passenger, an older man, backed up, face full of terror, amid the yells and rebukes of the passengers around him. Someone gave him a shove forward; he abandoned the open bin and was pushed along with everyone else as they stumbled off the plane. In a few minutes, the cabin was empty, with the exception of Schaffner and Tina.
"You get off, too," Cooper said to Tina. "And tell the flight engineer to board." Then he grabbed the cabin phone. "How much longer for refueling?" he yelled into it.
"Almost done," the copilot told him.
The Northwest flight engineer who had been brought in came up the stairs and stood in the galley, awaiting orders.
Cooper turned to Schaffner. "Close all the shades. Both sides."
Schaffner was really frightened now. The calm, polite version of Cooper had vanished, replaced by a high-strung, angry man. "Yes, sir."
As Schaffner went around closing the shades, Cooper spoke to the flight engineer. "You. Listen carefully. As soon as refueling is done, I want you to set a course for Mexico City. Keep your altitude below ten thousand feet—no higher. Trim the flaps down to fifteen, keep the gear down, and don't pressurize the cabin. Fly at the slowest possible speed that configuration allows, which should be no more than one hundred knots." He paused, then said: "I intend to put the aft stairs down and take off in that configuration. Is that feasible?"
"Everything you've said is feasible," the flight engineer said, "except it would be dangerous to attempt takeoff with the aft stairs deployed. And with the configuration you're specifying, we'll need to refuel at least once."
After a brief back-and-forth, Cooper agreed to having the aft stairs closed and making a stop in Reno for refueling.
"Now join the crew in the cockpit and shut the door," Cooper told the engineer. "And get the show on the road."
After the flight engineer had disappeared into the cockpit, the fuel truck withdrew and the jet engines began to rev up, the plane turning to taxi down the runway.
The hijacker turned to Schaffner. "Show me how to operate the aft stairs."
She showed him, then gave him a card with instructions.
"Go into the cockpit," he said. "On your way, close the first-class curtains. Make sure nobody comes out."
She was relieved not to have to sit next to him again, but still frightened at his abrupt change of demeanor—especially now, when all his demands had been met. She went forward and turned to shut the curtain, catching a glimpse of the hijacker as she did so. He was tying the sack of money around his waist. The plane had reached the end of the taxiway and now turned onto the runway, accelerating for takeoff. The time was 7:45 PM.
THE MAN WHO CALLED himself Dan Cooper finished tying the bundle of money around his midriff. He then went to one of the overhead bins, the one above seat 12C—the one that had been opened by the old man. He pulled out some hand luggage, strewing it about the cabin, until he reached a battered brown briefcase. He removed it with care and placed it on his own seat. Then he opened more bins and pulled out luggage at random—bags, purses, coats, umbrellas—and tossed it around the interior. The storm had gotten worse and their course was taking them through some turbulence, the plane thumping up and down from time to time, causing additional luggage to topple out of the open bins.
Stepping over the luggage, Cooper donned a back parachute with swift and efficient movements, then put on the forward, reserve chute. He went to the aft stairs and, referring to the card of instructions Schaffner had given him, unsealed the hatch to a great roar of wind and opened the stairs into the darkness.
The sudden change in pressure alarmed the pilots in the cockpit. Copilot Rataczak got on the intercom. "Can you hear me?" he called. "Is everything okay back there?"
"Everything is okay."
The hijacker reached around and grasped his own attaché case—the one containing the fake bomb—and threw it out the hatch into the thunderous darkness. Next, he selected several pieces of luggage at random and tossed them out as well. Finally, using shroud lines cut from a parachute he wasn't planning to use, he took the brown briefcase he had removed from the overhead bin and securely tied it to his midriff opposite the money bag. He now bore a faint resemblance to the Michelin Man: parachutes on the front and back, the money tied on one side and the briefcase on the other. It may have looked comical, but it was secure.
This accomplished, he stepped carefully onto the stairs and then, a moment later, jumped into the night. In the cockpit, everyone noted the sudden lift caused by the release of weight, and the captain recorded the time: 8:13 PM. But they weren't sure what it meant. They had no way of knowing if the hijacker was still in the plane, and so they flew onward to Reno.
Cooper hurtled out into the blasting wind. He waited a moment to clear the two engines, which on the Boeing 727-100 were mounted aft; stabilized his free fall; counted a full sixty seconds—and then released the drogue. This action pulled out a ten-foot bridle, which in turn yanked the parachute out of the deployment bag. Cooper noted all these stages by feel, with satisfaction. As soon as the chute was fully open, he oriented himself, making out the faint lights of the town of Packwood, his fixed point of reference—dimmed by the storm but still visible.
Then he reached down to where he had tied the bag of money, tugged open the drawstring, and reached into the bag. With the chute open, the wind had lessened considerably and movement was easier. He grabbed a fistful of cash, yanked it out, and tossed it away. Then he began emptying the bag as quickly as possible, throwing handfuls of money off into the night.
Suddenly, he felt a jerk on the lines. Looking up, he saw that several bundles of money had been swept upward and were interfering with the main canopy, partially deflating it. At the same time, he felt his fall accelerate toward a fatal rate of descent.
He did not panic. In a practiced move, he cut away the main canopy by pulling the release handles on the shoulder straps. He now went into free fall. He quickly pulled the second handle to manually deploy the reserve chute. But when it snapped out and open, he realized there was something wrong with this, as well; it had deployed but not cleanly. Maybe it had been sabotaged or, more likely, it had simply become stiff from sitting too long without being repacked. A not uncommon problem.
But it was a dire problem for him.
Cooper felt an unfamiliar surge of panic as he dropped through the darkness, the wind tearing loose the bag with the rest of the money. Nothing he tried could correct the deployment of the reserve chute. He continued to fall, the partially collapsed reserve chute juddering in the turbulence, a final cloud of twenty-dollar bills bursting like confetti and fluttering away into the night as the struggling figure plummeted down toward the forest below, soon lost from sight in the howling storm.
THE AGUSTAWESTLAND 109 GRAND shot northwest, powerful rotors humming, flying so low that its landing skids almost seemed to brush the azure-blue surface of the Atlantic. It rose as it cleared the reefs, barrier islands, and bays that led to mainland Florida.
In the luxurious cabin of the helicopter sat three people: a man in torn jeans and a plaid shirt; a young woman in a pleated white skirt and blouse, wearing dark sunglasses, with a large sun hat on her lap; and a spectral figure in a severely cut black suit, who sat looking out the cabin window with a remote expression on his sculptural features. Despite the tinting of the window, the brilliant sunshine outside turned his silver-blue eyes a strange platinum color and gave his light-blond hair the sheen of a snow leopard's fur.
This was Special Agent A. X. L. Pendergast of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. With him in the passenger cabin were his ward, Constance Greene, and his partner, Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon. They were departing the scene of a successfully concluded case on Sanibel Island, Florida, and though relatively little conversation was taking place, there was a sense of closure in the cabin and a feeling that it was time to get on with their lives.
Now the helicopter climbed and banked right, to avoid the hotels and luxury condos of Miami Beach, glistening like an alabaster Oz against the line of sand and the blue water beyond.
"Nice of the pilot to give us a show like this," Coldmoon said. "It's like a ride at Disneyland."
"I wouldn't know," Pendergast replied in his silky, butter-and-bourbon New Orleans accent.
"You're assuming it was intentional," Constance said as she leaned forward to pick up the volume that had slipped from her hands when the helicopter banked: Clouds without Water, by Aleister Crowley. "Turbulent pitch and roll are often the first indications of helicopter trouble, before the stresses of a vortex ring force it into an uncontrolled descent."
This was greeted by a moment of silence broken only by the whine of the engines.
"I'm sure we have an excellent pilot," Pendergast said. "Or is that your fey sense of humor at work?"
"I find no humor in the prospect of having my person, burned and dismembered, spread across a public beach for all to see," the young woman replied.
Coldmoon couldn't see her eyes behind the Ray-Bans, but he felt sure she was looking at him, gauging the effect this morbid observation was having. Not only did this strange, beautiful, erudite, and slightly crazy woman scare the hell out of him—in the last week, she had both saved him and threatened to kill him—but she seemed to get a distinct enjoyment out of busting his balls. Perhaps, he told himself, it was a sign of interest. In which case—no thanks.
He took a deep breath. It didn't merit thinking about. Mentally, he was already thousands of miles away, at his new posting at the Denver Field Office, far from the muggy air and stifling heat of Florida.
His gaze drifted from Constance Greene to Pendergast. Another strange one. Even though he'd just completed two cases back-to-back with the senior agent, Pendergast was another reason why Coldmoon wanted to get to Colorado as quickly as possible. The guy might be a legend in the FBI and the finest sleuth since Sherlock Holmes, but he was also notorious for the number of homicide cases he'd solved in which the perp had been "killed during apprehension"…and Coldmoon had learned the hard way that anybody who partnered with the guy had only a slightly better chance of surviving than the perp.
As the confectionary beaches of the Florida coast skimmed past below him, bringing him ever closer to the plane that would take him west, Coldmoon felt a sort of release, as if from prison. He almost smiled at the thought of the incredulity on the faces of his cousins, who lived in Colorado Springs, because his assignment had been so delayed that they refused to believe he was actually coming. Cheered by this thought, he glanced out the window again. The coastline was still as built up as farther south, but the buildings were not nearly as tall now. He could see I-95 running up the coast, wall to wall with cars. That would be something else he wouldn't miss, although he'd heard that traffic in Denver had gotten crazy over the past few years. From above, it was hard to tell where they were. The flight was longer than he'd expected. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Pendergast and Constance had their heads together and were speaking in low tones. It was odd, though—he didn't know a lot about Miami, despite the time he'd spent there, but he was pretty sure that the airport was west of town, not north…especially not this far north. They'd passed what he thought was Miami some time ago.
He sat back in his leather seat. Were they headed for an air force base or FBI helicopter landing pad? After all, their boss, Assistant Director in Charge Walter Pickett, hadn't yet issued him a plane ticket to Denver. Maybe they were flying him in a government or military jet—it was the least the Bureau could do, given the shit he'd been through. Unlikely: now that word would soon be coming through of Pickett's promotion to Associate Deputy Director, he was probably too busy packing his own bags for D.C. to think of anything else.
"Hey, Pendergast," he said.
Pendergast glanced up.
"I thought we were headed for Miami International."
"That had been my assumption."
"Then what's going on?" He looked out the window again. "Looks like we're hell and gone from Miami."
"Indeed. It would appear that we have overshot the airport."
At these words, Coldmoon became aware of an uncomfortable tickling sensation—something like déjà vu, but distinctly more unpleasant—manifesting itself in the rear of his brain. "Overshot? You're sure we aren't coming back around for a landing?"
"If we were actually headed for Miami, I doubt we'd be over Palm Beach right now."
"Palm Beach? What the hell—?" Coldmoon looked down. Another narrow barrier island covered with mansions was passing below—including one particularly large and garish pseudo-Moorish compound their shadow was crossing over at present.
He sat back again, momentarily dazed by surprise and confusion. "What's going on?" he asked.
"I confess I haven't the faintest idea," said Pendergast.
"Perhaps you should ask the pilot," Constance said without looking up from her book.
Coldmoon glanced at the two with faint suspicion. Was this some kind of joke? But no—his gut, which he always trusted, told him they were as in the dark as he was.
"Good idea," Coldmoon said, unbuckling his harness and standing up. He made his way forward from the passenger compartment to the cockpit. The two pilots, with their headsets, khaki uniforms, and brown hair cut to a similar regulation length, could have been twins.
"What's up?" he asked the pilot in command in the right seat, cyclic between his knees. "We're supposed to be going to Miami."
"Not anymore," the PIC said.
PRAISE FOR BLOODLESS:
"Leave it to the imaginations of Preston and Child... Spooky and surreal [and] wonderful fun."—Kirkus
Praise for CROOKED RIVER"Exciting. Nail-biting. Quality storytelling."—Publishers Weekly
- "Preston and Child know how to craft compelling stories that are both baffling and surprising. The cast of characters feels authentic and moves the story forward in unexpected ways. . . the authors are masters of the procedural with a gothic flair."—Associated Press
- "[Pendergast] still remains the most charming, intelligent, cool, and creepy agent ever written. . . Read this. As fast as possible. Preston & Child have once again created the unimaginable and you just can't miss it!"—Suspense Magazine
- "Agent Pendergast is back and better than ever."—The Real Book Spy
- "The best mystery series going today. Preston and Child display a true masters' touch. This is riveting reading entertainment of the highest order."—Providence Journal
- “Non-stop action, and much to amuse, shock and horrify the reader.”—Fresh Fiction
- "BLOODLESS is their 20th novel featuring one of the most unique protagonists in all of thriller fiction, Agent Aloysius Pendergast, and may rank as one of the finest books they have ever penned together.... BLOODLESS is a pure pleasure to read and is like candy to thriller fans --- candy from which readers will drain every ounce of flavor in pure delight."—BookReporter
- "Preston and Child, expertly straddling the line between reality and the paranormal, have fashioned a neo-gothic masterpiece."—The Providence (RI) Journal
- “Bloodless is rife with inventive scenarios, amusing exchanges (especially between oft-impatient Coldmoon and eternally placid Pendergast) and tantalizingly spooky mysteries, topped off with a gloriously wild finale that is as action-packed as it is memorable.”—BookPage (Starred Review)
- On Sale
- Jan 10, 2023
- Page Count
- 496 pages
- Grand Central Publishing