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The gem leads Pendergast to an abandoned mine on the shore of California’s Salton Sea, which in turn propels him on a journey of discovery deep into his own family’s sinister past. But Pendergast learns there is more at work than a ghastly episode of family history: he is being stalked by a subtle killer bent on vengeance over an ancient transgression. And he soon becomes caught in a wickedly clever plot, which leaves him stricken in mind and body, and propels him toward a reckoning beyond anything he could ever have imagined . . .
Table of Contents
More Preston and Child
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The stately Beaux-Arts mansion on Riverside Drive between 137th and 138th Streets, while carefully tended and impeccably preserved, appeared to be untenanted. On this stormy June evening, no figures paced the widow's walk overlooking the Hudson River. No yellow glow from within flowed through the decorative oriel windows. The only visible light, in fact, came from the front entrance, illuminating the drive beneath the building's porte cochere.
Appearances can be deceiving, however—sometimes intentionally. Because 891 Riverside was the residence of FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast—and Pendergast was a man who valued, above all, his privacy.
In the mansion's elegant library, Pendergast sat in a leather wing chair. Although it was early summer, the night was blustery and chill, and a low fire flickered on the grate. He was leafing through a copy of the Manyōshū, an old and celebrated anthology of Japanese poetry, dating to AD 750. A small tetsubin, or cast-iron teapot, sat on a table beside him, along with a china cup half-full of green tea. Nothing disturbed his concentration. The only sounds were the occasional crackle of settling embers and rumble of thunder from beyond the closed shutters.
Now there was a faint sound of footsteps from the reception hall beyond and Constance Greene appeared, framed in the library doorway. She was wearing a simple evening dress. Her violet eyes and dark hair, cut in an old-fashioned bob, offset the paleness of her skin. In one hand she held a bundle of letters.
"The mail," she said.
Pendergast inclined his head, set the book aside.
Constance took a seat beside Pendergast, noting that, since returning from what he called his "Colorado adventure," he was at last looking like his old self. His state of mind had been a cause of uneasiness in her since the dreadful events of the prior year.
She began sorting through the small stack of mail, putting aside the things that would not interest him. Pendergast did not like to concern himself with quotidian details. He had an old and discreet New Orleans law firm, long in the employ of the family, to pay bills and manage part of his unusually extensive income. He had an equally hoary New York banking firm to manage other investments, trusts, and real estate. And he had all mail delivered to a post office box, which Proctor, his chauffeur, bodyguard, and general factotum, collected on a regular basis. At present, Proctor was preparing to leave for a visit to relatives in Alsace, so Constance had agreed to take over the epistolary matters.
"Here's a note from Corrie Swanson."
"Open it, if you please."
"She's attached a photocopy of a letter from John Jay. Her thesis won the Rosewell Prize."
"Indeed. I attended the ceremony."
"I'm sure Corrie appreciated it."
"It is rare that a graduation ceremony offers more than an anesthetizing parade of platitudes and mendacity, set to the tiresome refrain of 'Pomp and Circumstance.' " Pendergast took a sip of tea at the recollection. "This one did."
Constance sorted through more mail. "And here's a letter from Vincent D'Agosta and Laura Hayward."
He nodded for her to scan it. "It's a thank-you note for the wedding gift and once again for the dinner party."
Pendergast inclined his head as she put the letter aside. The month before, on the eve of D'Agosta's wedding, Pendergast had hosted a private dinner for the couple, consisting of several courses he had prepared himself, paired with rare wines from his cellar. It was this gesture, more than anything, that had convinced Constance that Pendergast had recovered from his recent emotional trauma.
She read over a few other letters, then put aside those of interest and tossed the rest on the fire.
"How is the project coming, Constance?" Pendergast asked as he poured himself a fresh cup of tea.
"Very well. Just yesterday I received a packet from France, the Bureau Ancestre du Dijon, which I'm now trying to integrate with what I've already collected from Venice and Louisiana. When you have the time, I do have a couple of questions I'd like to ask about Augustus Robespierre St. Cyr Pendergast."
"Most of what I know consists of oral family history—tall tales, legends, and some whispered horror stories. I'd be glad to share most of them with you."
"Most? I was hoping you'd share them all."
"I fear there are skeletons in the Pendergast family closet, figurative and literal, that I must keep even from you."
Constance sighed and rose. As Pendergast returned to his book of poetry, she walked out of the library, across the reception hall lined with museum cabinets full of curious objects, and through a doorway into a long, dim space paneled in time-darkened oak. The main feature of the room was a wooden refectory table, almost as long as the room itself. The near end of the table was covered with journals, old letters, census pages, yellowed photographs and engravings, court transcripts, memoirs, reprints from newspaper microfiche, and other documents, all arranged in neat stacks. Beside them sat a laptop computer, its screen glowing incongruously in the dim room. Several months before, Constance had taken it upon herself to prepare a genealogy of the Pendergast family. She wanted both to satisfy her own curiosity and to help draw Pendergast out of himself. It was a fantastically complex, infuriating, and yet endlessly fascinating undertaking.
At the far end of the long room, beyond an arched door, was the foyer leading to the mansion's front door. Just as Constance was about to take a seat at the table, a loud knock sounded.
Constance paused, frowning. They rarely entertained visitors at 891 Riverside Drive—and never did one arrive unannounced.
Knock. Another rap resounded from the entryway, accompanied by a low grumble of thunder.
Smoothing down her dress, Constance walked down the length of the room, through the archway, and into the foyer. The heavy front door was solid, with no fish-eye lens, and she hesitated a moment. When no third rap came, she undid the upper lock, then the lower, and slowly opened the door.
There, silhouetted in the light of the porte cochere, stood a young man. His blond hair was wet and plastered to his head. His rain-spattered features were fine and quintessentially Nordic, with a high-domed forehead and chiseled lips. He was dressed in a linen suit, sopping wet, which clung to his frame.
He was bound with heavy ropes.
Constance gasped, began to reach out to him. But the bulging eyes took no notice of the gesture. They stared straight ahead, unblinking.
For a moment, the figure remained standing, swaying ever so slightly, fitfully illuminated by flashes of lightning—and then it began to fall, like a tree toppling, slowly at first and then faster, before crashing facedown across the threshold.
Constance backed up with a cry. Pendergast arrived at a run, followed by Proctor. Pendergast grasped her, pulled her aside, and quickly knelt over the young man. He gripped the figure by the shoulder and turned him over, brushing the hair from his eyes, and feeling for the pulse that was so obviously absent beneath the cold flesh of the neck.
"Dead," he said, his voice low and unnaturally composed.
"My God," Constance said, her own voice breaking. "It's your son Tristram."
"No," Pendergast said. "It's Alban. His twin."
For just a moment longer he knelt by the body. And then he leapt to his feet and, in a flash of feline motion, disappeared into the howling storm.
Pendergast sprinted to Riverside Drive and paused at the corner, scanning north and south along the broad avenue. The rain was now coming down in sheets, traffic was light, and there were no pedestrians. His eye lit upon the closest vehicle, about three blocks south: a late-model Lincoln Town Car, black, of the kind seen on the streets of Manhattan by the thousands. The license plate light was out, leaving the details of the New York plate unreadable.
Pendergast ran after it.
The vehicle did not speed up, but continued at a leisurely pace down the drive, at each cross street moving through one set of green lights after another, steadily gaining distance. The lights turned yellow, then red. But the vehicle continued on, running a yellow and a red, never accelerating, never slowing.
He pulled out his cell phone and punched in a number as he ran. "Proctor. Bring the car. I'm headed south on Riverside."
The Town Car had almost disappeared, save for a faint pair of taillights, wavering in the downpour, but as the drive made the slow curve at 126th Street even those disappeared.
Pendergast continued on, pursuing at a dead run, his black suit jacket whipping behind him, rain stinging his face. A few blocks ahead, he saw the Town Car again, stopped at another light behind two other vehicles. Once again, he pulled out his phone and dialed.
"Twenty-Sixth Precinct," came the response. "Officer Powell."
"This is SA Pendergast, FBI. In pursuit of a black Town Car, New York license plate unidentified, traveling southbound on Riverside at One Hundred Twenty-Fourth. Operator is suspect in a homicide. Need assistance in motor vehicle stop."
"Ten-four," came the dispatcher. And a moment later: "We have a marked unit in the area, two blocks over. Keep us posted on location."
"Air support as well," Pendergast said, still at a dead run.
"Sir, if the vehicle operator is only a suspect—"
"This is a priority target for the FBI," Pendergast said into the phone. "Repeat, a priority target."
A brief pause. "We're putting a bird in the air."
As he put the phone away, the Town Car suddenly veered around the cars idling at the red light, jumped the curb and crossed the sidewalk, tore through a set of flower beds in Riverside Park, churning up mud, then headed the wrong way down the exit ramp to the Henry Hudson Parkway.
Pendergast called dispatch again and updated them on the vehicle's location, followed it up with another call to Proctor, then cut into the park, leapt over a low fence, and sprinted through some tulip beds, his eyes locked on the taillights of the car careening down the off-ramp onto the parkway, the screech of tires floating back to his ears.
He vaulted the low stone wall on the far side of the drive, then half ran, half slid down the embankment, scattering trash and broken glass in an attempt to cut the vehicle off. He fell, rolled, and scrambled to his feet, chest heaving, soaked with rain, white shirt plastered to his chest. He watched as the Town Car pulled a U-turn and came blasting down the exit helix toward him. He reached for his Les Baer, but his hand closed over an empty holster. He looked quickly around the dark embankment, then—as brilliant light slashed across him—was forced to roll away. Once the car had passed, he rose again to his feet, following the vehicle with his eyes as it merged into the main stream of traffic.
A moment later a vintage Rolls-Royce approached and braked rapidly to the curb. Pendergast opened the rear door and jumped in.
"Follow the Town Car," he told Proctor as he strapped himself in.
The Rolls accelerated smoothly. Pendergast could hear faint sirens from behind, but the police were too far back and would no doubt get hung up in traffic. He plucked a police radio from a side compartment. The chase accelerated, the Town Car shifting lanes and dodging cars at speeds that approached a hundred miles an hour even as they entered a construction area, concrete barriers lining both shoulders of the highway.
There was a lot of chatter on the police radio, but they were first in pursuit. The chopper was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly a series of bright flashes came from the traffic ahead, followed instantly by the report of gunshots.
"Shots fired!" Pendergast said into the open channel. He understood immediately what was happening. Ahead, cars veered wildly right and left, panicking, along with the flashes of additional shots. Then a crump, crump, crump sounded as multiple vehicles piled into each other at highway speed, causing a chain reaction that quickly filled the road with hissing, ruined metal. With great expertise, Proctor braked the Rolls and steered into a power slide, trying to maneuver it past the chain reaction of collisions. The Rolls hit a concrete barrier at an angle, was deflected back into the lane, and was hit from behind by a driver who rammed into the pileup with a deafening crash of metal. In the backseat, Pendergast was thrown forward, stopped hard by his seat belt, then slammed back. Partially stunned, he heard the sound of hissing steam, screams, shouts, and the screeching of brakes and additional crashes as cars continued to rear-end each other, mingling with a rising chorus of sirens and now, finally, the thwap of helicopter blades.
Shrugging off a coating of broken glass, Pendergast struggled to collect his wits and remove the seat belt. He leaned forward to examine Proctor.
The man was unconscious, his head bloody. Pendergast fumbled for the radio to call for help, but even as he did so the doors were pulled open and paramedics were pushing in, hands grasping at him.
"Get your hands off me," Pendergast said. "Focus on him."
Pendergast shrugged free and exited into the sweeping rain, more glass falling away as he did so. He stared ahead at the impenetrable tangle of cars, the sea of flashing lights, listening to the shouts of paramedics and police and the thud of the useless, circling chopper.
The Town Car was long gone.
As a classics major from Brown University and a former environmental activist, Lieutenant Peter Angler was not a typical officer of the NYPD. However, there were certain traits he shared with his fellow cops: he liked to see his cases solved clean and fast, and he liked to see perps behind bars. The same single-minded drive that had motivated him to translate Thucydides's Peloponnesian War during his senior year in 1992, and to sink nails into old-growth redwoods to frustrate chain-saw loggers later that same decade, also caused him to rise through the ranks to Lieutenant–Commander Detective Squad at the young age of thirty-six. He organized his investigations like military campaigns, and made sure that the detectives under his supervision performed their duty with thoroughness and precision. The results that such a strategy obtained were a source of lasting pride to Angler.
Which was precisely why this current case gave him such a bad feeling.
Admittedly, the case was less than twenty-four hours old. And his squad could not be blamed for the lack of progress. Everything had been handled by the book. The first responders had secured the location, taken statements, held the witnesses until the technical investigators arrived. Those investigators, in turn, had thoroughly processed the scene, surveying and searching and collecting evidence. They had worked closely with the crime scene unit, with the latents team, the forensic investigators, photographers, and the M.E.
No—his dissatisfaction lay with the unusual nature of the crime itself… and, ironically, with the father of the deceased: a special agent in the FBI. Angler had read a transcript of the man's statement, and it was remarkable for its brevity and lack of helpful information. While not exactly hindering the CSU, the agent had been curiously unwilling to allow them any more access to his residence than had been necessary beyond the perimeter of the crime scene—even to the point of refusing to let an officer use a bathroom. The FBI was not officially on the case, of course, but Angler had been prepared to give the man courtesy access to the case files, if he'd wished it. But the agent had made no such request. If Angler hadn't known better, he would almost have assumed this man Pendergast didn't want his son's murderer to be caught.
Which was why he'd decided to interview the man himself, in—he glanced at his watch—precisely one minute.
And precisely one minute later, the agent was ushered into his office. The man who did the ushering was Sergeant Loomis Slade, Angler's aide-de-camp, personal assistant, and frequent sounding board. Angler took in the salient details of his visitor with a practiced glance: tall, lean, blond-white hair, pale-blue eyes. A black suit and a dark tie of severe pattern completed the ascetic picture. This was anything but your typical FBI agent. Then again, given his residences—an apartment in the Dakota, a veritable mansion on Riverside Drive where the body had been dumped—Angler decided he shouldn't be surprised. He offered the agent a chair, then sat back down behind his desk. Sergeant Slade sat in a far corner, behind Pendergast.
"Agent Pendergast," he said. "Thank you for coming."
The man in the black suit inclined his head.
"First of all, let me offer my condolences on your loss."
The man did not reply. He did not look bereaved, exactly. In fact, he betrayed no expression at all. His face was a closed book.
Angler's office was not like that of most lieutenants in the NYPD. Certainly, it had its share of case files and stacks of reports. But the walls displayed, instead of commendations and photo ops with brass, a dozen framed antique maps. Angler was an avid cartographic collector. Normally, visitors to the office were immediately drawn to the page from LeClerc's French Atlas of 1631, or Plate 58 from Ogilby's Britannia Atlas, showing the road from Bristol to Exeter, or—his pride and joy—the yellowed, brittle fragment from the Peutinger Table, as copied by Abraham Ortelius. But Pendergast gave the collection not even a passing glance.
"I'd like to follow up on your initial statement, if you don't mind. And I ought to say up front that I will have to ask some awkward and uncomfortable questions. I apologize in advance. Given your own law enforcement experience, I'm sure you'll understand."
"Naturally," the agent replied in a mellifluous southern accent, but with something hard behind it, metallic.
"There are several aspects to this crime that, frankly, I find baffling. According to your statement, and that of your—" a glance at the report on his desk—"your ward, Ms. Greene, at approximately twenty minutes past nine last evening, there was a knock on the front door of your residence. When Ms. Greene answered it, she found your son, his body bound with thick ropes, on your doorstep. You ascertained he was dead and chased a black Town Car south on Riverside Drive while calling nine-one-one. Correct?"
Agent Pendergast nodded.
"What gave you the impression—initially, at least—that the murderer was in that car?"
"It was the only vehicle in motion at the time. There were no pedestrians in sight."
"It didn't occur to you that the perpetrator could have been hiding somewhere on your grounds and made good his escape by some other route?"
"The vehicle ran several lights, drove over a sidewalk and through a flower bed, entered the parkway on an exit ramp, and made an illegal U-turn. In other words, it gave a rather convincing impression of trying to elude pursuit."
The dry, faintly ironic delivery of this statement irritated Angler.
Pendergast went on. "May I ask why the police helicopter was so dilatory?"
Angler was further annoyed. "It wasn't late. It arrived five minutes after the call. That's pretty good."
"Not good enough."
Seeking to regain control of the interview, Angler said, rather more sharply than he intended: "Getting back to the crime itself. Despite a careful canvassing of the vicinity, my detective squad has turned up no witnesses beyond those on the West Side Highway who saw the Town Car itself. There were no signs of violence, no drugs or alcohol in your son's system; he died of a broken neck perhaps five hours before you found him—at least, that's the preliminary assessment, pending the autopsy. According to Ms. Greene's statement, it took her about fifteen seconds to answer the summons. So we have a murderer—or murderers—who takes your son's life, binds him up—not necessarily in that order—props him against your front door while in a state of rigor mortis; rings your doorbell; gets back into the Town Car; and manages to get several blocks before you yourself could effect pursuit. How did he, or they, move so quickly?"
"The crime was flawlessly planned and executed."
"Well, perhaps, but could it also be that you were in shock—perfectly understandable, given the circumstances—and that you reacted less quickly than indicated in your statement?"
Angler considered this terse answer. He glanced at Sergeant Slade—as usual, silent as a Buddha—and then back again at Pendergast. "Then we have the, ah, dramatic nature of the crime itself. Bound with ropes, planted at your front door—it displays certain hallmarks of a gangland-style killing. Which brings me to my main line of questioning, and again, excuse me if some of these are intrusive or offensive. Was your son involved in any mob activity?"
Agent Pendergast returned Angler's gaze with that same featureless, unreadable expression. "I have no idea what my son was involved in. As I indicated in my statement, my son and I were estranged."
Angler turned a page of the report. "The CSU, and my own detective squad, went over the crime scene with great care. The scene was remarkable for its lack of obvious evidence. There were no latents, either full or partial, save those of your son. No hair or fiber, again save that of your son. His clothes were brand new—and of the most common make—and on top of that, his deceased body had been carefully washed and dressed. We retrieved no bullet casings from the highway, as the shots must have been fired from within the vehicle. In short, the perps were familiar with crime scene investigation techniques and were exceptionally careful not to leave evidence. They knew exactly what they were doing. I'm curious, Agent Pendergast—speaking from a professional capacity, how would you account for such a thing?"
"Again, I would merely repeat that this was a meticulously planned crime."
"The leaving of the body at your doorstep suggests the perpetrators were sending you a message. Any idea what that message might be?"
"I am unable to speculate."
Unable to speculate. Angler looked at Agent Pendergast more searchingly. He'd interviewed plenty of parents who had been devastated by the loss of a child. It wasn't uncommon for the sufferers to be numb, in shock. Their answers to his questions were often halting, disorganized, incomplete. But Pendergast wasn't like that at all. He appeared to be in complete possession of his faculties. It was as if he did not want to cooperate, or had no interest in doing so.
"Let's talk about the, ah, mystery of your son," Angler said. "The only evidence he is, in fact, your son is your statement to that effect. He is in none of the law enforcement databases we've checked: not CODIS, not IAFIS, not NCIC. He has no record of birth, no driver's license, no Social Security number, no passport, no educational record, and no entry visa into this country. There was nothing in his pockets. Pending the DNA check against our database, from all we've learned it appears your son, essentially, never existed. In your statement, you said he was born in Brazil and was not a U.S. citizen. But he's not a Brazilian citizen, either, and that country has no record of him. The town you indicate he grew up in doesn't seem to exist, at least officially. There's no evidence of his exit from Brazil or entry into this country. How do you explain all this?"
Agent Pendergast slowly crossed one leg over the other. "I can't. Again, as I mentioned in my statement, I only became aware of my son's existence—or the fact that I had a son—some eighteen months ago."
"And you saw him then?"
"In the Brazilian jungle."
"And since then?"
"I have neither seen nor communicated with him."
"Why not? Why haven't you sought him out?"
"I told you: we are—were—estranged."
"Why, exactly, were you estranged?"
"Our personalities were incompatible."
"Can you say anything about his character?"
"I hardly knew him. He took delight in malicious games; he was an expert at taunting and mortification."
Angler took a deep breath. These non-answers were getting under his skin. "And his mother?"
"In my statement you will see that she died shortly after his birth, in Africa."
"Right. The hunting accident." There was something odd about that as well, but Angler could only deal with one absurdity at a time. "Might your son have been in some kind of trouble?"
"I have no doubt of it."
"What kind of trouble?"
"I have no idea. He was eminently capable of managing even the worst trouble."
"How can you know he was in trouble without knowing what sort?"
"Because he had strong criminal tendencies."
They were just going around and around. Angler had the strong feeling Pendergast was not only uninterested in helping the NYPD catch his son's killer, but was probably withholding information, as well. Why would he do that? There was no guarantee the body was even that of his son. True, there was a remarkable resemblance. But the only identification was Pendergast's own. It would be interesting to see if the victim's DNA returned any hits in the database. And it would be simple to compare his DNA with Pendergast's—which, since he was an FBI agent, was already on file.
"Agent Pendergast," he said coldly. "I must ask you again: Do you have any idea, any suspicion, any clue, as to who killed your son? Any information about the circumstances that might have led to his death? Any hint of why his body would be deposited on your doorstep?"
"There is nothing in my statement that I am able to expand upon."
Angler pushed the report away. This was only the first round. In no way was he finished with this man. "I don't know what's stranger here—the specifics of this killing, your non-reaction to it, or the non-background of your son."
Pendergast's expression remained absolutely blank. "O brave new world," he said, "that has such people in't."
" 'Tis new to thee," Angler shot back.
At this, Pendergast showed the first sign of interest of the entire interview. His eyes widened ever so slightly, and he looked at the detective with something like curiosity.
Angler leaned forward and put his elbows on his desk. "I think we're done for the present, Agent Pendergast. So let me close by saying simply this: You may not want this case solved. But it will
- "Fast-moving, sophisticated and bursting with surprises... If you're willing to surrender to Preston and Child's fiendish imaginations, you might devour the Pendergast books the way kids do Halloween candy...There's nothing else like them."—The Washington Post
- "Preston and Child have the ability to blend contemporary forensic thrillers with a dose of Dickensian/Sherlock Holmes-era atmosphere. Add a villain to a vendetta that has spanned generations and a cast of characters that readers will find emotionally satisfying, and the end result is another best-seller for the duo."—Associated Press
- "Preston & Child once again bring A.X.L. Pendergast to life and offer up a host of thrills, heart-pumping action, and an intricate plot that pits a vengeful killer against (still) the most interesting character in fiction."—Suspense Magazine
- "Quirky and compelling."—San Francisco Bee
- "Those who have grown to love Agent Pendergast will not be disappointed in the newest installment of his series by Preston and Child. The sharp wit and secretive demeanor of Pendergast are both amusing and mystifying to readers, and the plot unfolds in twists that will keep readers guessing right up to the end."—RT Reviews
- "A complete winner...pure reading joy...I loved, loved, LOVED this book...Grab this one immediately-and be prepared to put your life on hold as you devour it."—GimmeThatBook.com
- "In a single word, WOW...A must read...Trust me, you will not be disappointed."—StefansBookShelf.com
- "It's a fun, frantic, can't-put-down-read that will undoubtedly go over well with fans both casual and dedicated."—Beauty In Ruins
- "Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast is back in his most personal and dangerous case yet. While many authors may slack off over time with series characters, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child do just the opposite...Whether a longtime fan or a newcomer, this installment will have you on the edge of your seat."—Florida Times-Union
- On Sale
- Nov 11, 2014
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Grand Central Publishing