Read by Edoardo Ballerini
Read by Rebecca Soler
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In Boston, a young woman finds herself pregnant–even though she is still a virgin.
In Ireland, another young woman discovers she is in the same impossible condition.
And in cities all around the world, medical authorities are overwhelmed by epidemics, droughts, famines, floods, and worse. It all feels like a sign that something awful is coming.
Anne Fitzgerald, a former nun turned private investigator, is hired by the Archdiocese of Boston to investigate the immaculate conceptions. Even as she comes to care about and trust the young women, she realizes that both are in great danger. Terrifying forces of light and darkness are gathering. Stepping into uncharted territory where the unknown is just the beginning, Anne must discover the truth–to save the young women, to save herself, and to protect the future of all mankind.
PRAISE FOR THE
THRILLERS OF JAMES PATTERSON
CRADLE AND ALL
"GIVE JAMES PATTERSON POINTS . . . THE STORY BUILDS IN MOMENTUM RIGHT UP TO THE SHOCKER ENDING. . . . Chills along the way."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"GRABS THE READER BY THE PROVERBIAL THROAT."
—Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
"AN EXTREMELY WELL-WRITTEN THRILLER FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM. . . . A fast-paced tale driven by well-defined characters, sharp dialogue, and a well-developed plot."
—San Francisco Examiner
"SUSPENSEFUL, FAST-PACED, AND IDEAL FOR A QUICK READ."
"ADVENTURE YARN WITH HEART. . . . [HE] KEEPS YOU ENGAGED AND GUESSING."
—Twin Cities Star-Tribune
"ROCKS ALONG AT A SNAPPY PACE. . . . Creepy scenes reminiscent of The Exorcist."
"PATTERSON'S USUAL CLEAN, FAST-PACED PROSE, A CREEPY PLOT, AND A TWISTED ENDING MAKE THIS ONE HARD TO PUT DOWN. RECOMMENDED . . . a good, spooky tale."
"HIS TRADEMARK RAPID-FIRE CHAPTERS . . . A SURPRISE."
"A TENSE THRILLER . . . LACED WITH THRILLS, CHILLS, TWISTS, AND TURNS. . . . It'll keep you awake, attentive, and on edge."
"EXCITING AND MOVING . . . TACKLES ISSUES OF FAITH WITH ADMIRABLE GUSTO."
"FUN, QUICK . . . A FINE READ."
"PATTERSON'S LEGION OF FANS WILL QUEUE UP FOR THIS ONE."
POP GOES THE WEASEL
"CROSS IS ONE OF THE BEST PROTAGONISTS OF THE MODERN THRILLER GENRE, AND ONE OF THE MOST LIKABLE. Patterson has a unique gift of making the reader feel Cross's joys and pains."
—San Francisco Examiner
"PATTERSON DOES IT AGAIN. THE MAN IS THE MASTER OF THIS GENRE. We fans all have one wish for him: Write even faster."
—Larry King, USA Today
"FAST AND FURIOUS. . . . IN THE PATTERSON PANTHEON OF VILLAINS, SHAFER IS QUITE POSSIBLY THE WORST. Best of all, from the perspective of Alex Cross fans, Patterson leaves plenty of room for a sequel."
"HE GIVES CROSS A WORTHY OPPONENT—PROBABLY THE SMARTEST KILLER SPAWNED BY PATTERSON'S WICKED IMAGINATION . . . a worthy addition to the Cross saga."
—San Francisco Examiner
"PATTERSON MAINTAINS A FAST PACE THROUGH A COMPLEX PLOT."
—San Antonio Express-News
"THE BOOK'S SAVAGE TWISTS WILL KEEP YOU ENTHRALLED."
WHEN THE WIND BLOWS
"WHIPS THE PAGES RIGHT BY. . . . It has been more than a decade since I was captivated by a book like I was captivated by this one."
—Denver Rocky Mountain News
"MEMORABLE . . . A WINNER."
"BRILLIANTLY DRAWN CHARACTERS . . . SKILLED DIALOGUE . . . big, warm feelings . . . reads like a dream."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"ROMANCE, SUSPENSE, ACTION . . . SWIFTLY TOLD. . . . There's magic here, too, leaving readers more than once struck deep in wonder."
"FINE WRITING . . . A GREAT STORY . . . WONDERFUL CHARACTERIZATIONS."
—Naples Daily News
CAT & MOUSE
"A PROTAGONIST WORTHY OF ADMIRATION. ALEX CROSS IS A HERO."
"PATTERSON IS A MASTER AT CREATING SCARY MURDERERS, BUT HIS HERO HAS WHAT IT TAKES TO PURSUE THEM."
"I'VE JUST STARTED JAMES PATTERSON'S CAT & MOUSE AND I CAN'T STOP TURNING PAGES."
—Larry King, USA Today
"FAST-PACED . . . THE PROTOTYPE THRILLER FOR TODAY."
—San Diego Union-Tribune
"A RIDE ON A ROLLER-COASTER WHOSE BRAKES HAVE GONE OUT."
"CAT & MOUSE IS A PULSATING GAME. . . . THE ACTION IS FAST AND FURIOUS. . . . The pages turn in a blur. . . . You might just finish this in one sitting. It's that kind of book."
—Denver Rocky Mountain News
JACK & JILL
"CROSS, A BRILLIANT HOMICIDE COP, IS ONE OF THE GREAT CREATIONS OF THRILLER FICTION."
—Dallas Morning News
"FLAWLESS. . . . PATTERSON, AMONG THE BEST NOVELISTS OF CRIME STORIES EVER, HAS REACHED HIS PINNACLE WITH THIS ONE."
—Larry King, USA Today
"FORTUNATELY PATTERSON HAS BROUGHT BACK HOMICIDE DETECTIVE ALEX CROSS. . . . He's the kind of multilayered character that makes any plot twist seem believable."
"Captivating. . . . a fast-paced thriller full of surprising but realistic plot twists. . . . CROSS IS ONE OF THE BEST AND MOST LIKABLE CHARACTERS IN THE MODERN THRILLER GENRE."
—San Francisco Examiner
"HE'S UNBEATABLE. . . . [PATTERSON] AGAIN PROVES HIMSELF MASTER OF THE HAIR-RAISING THRILLER WITH A CLIMACTIC, DOUBLE-TWIST ENDING."
"QUICK AND SCARY."
—New York Daily News
"CHILLING. . . . THIS BOOK IS HARD TO PUT DOWN."
ALONG CAME A SPIDER
"A FIRST-RATE THRILLER—FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS AND KEEP THE LIGHTS ON!"
"THIS READER LOST A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP."
"JAMES PATTERSON DOES EVERYTHING BUT STICK OUR FINGER IN A LIGHT SOCKET TO GIVE US A BUZZ."
—New York Times
"WHEN IT COMES TO CONSTRUCTING A HARROWING PLOT, AUTHOR JAMES PATTERSON CAN TURN A SCREW ALL RIGHT. . . . James Patterson is to suspense what Danielle Steel is to romance."
—New York Daily News
"HAS TO BE ONE OF THE BEST THRILLERS OF THE YEAR."
"TERROR AND SUSPENSE THAT GRAB THE READER AND WON'T LET GO. Just try running away from this one."
Also by James Patterson
The Thomas Berryman Number
Season of the Machete
See How They Run
The Midnight Club
Along Came a Spider
Kiss the Girls
Hide & Seek
Jack & Jill
Miracle on the 17th Green
(with Peter de Jonge)
Cat & Mouse
When the Wind Blows
Black Friday (formerly Black Market)
Pop Goes the Weasel
For Charles and Isabelle Patterson
Special thanks to Maxine Paetro, who helped me to remodel and to restore this scary old beach cottage of a story.
THE WOMEN'S MEDICAL CENTER
SUNDOWN HAD BLOODIED the horizon over the uneven rooftops of South Boston. Birds were perched on every roof and seemed to be watching the girl walking slowly below.
Kathleen Beavier made her way down a shadowy side street that was as alien to her as the faraway surface of the moon. Actually, she was here in Southie because it was so frozen, so obscure to her. She had on a fatigue jacket, long patterned skirt, and black combat-style boots — the urban streetwear look. The boots rubbed raw circles into her heels, but she welcomed the pain. It was a distraction from the unthinkable thing she had come to do.
This is so spooky, so unreal, so impossible, she thought.
The sixteen-year-old girl paused to catch her breath at the sparsely trafficked intersection of Dorchester and Broadway. She didn't look as if she belonged here. She was too preppy, maybe too pretty. That was her plan, though. She'd never bump into anyone she knew in South Boston.
With badly shaking hands, she pushed her gold wire-rimmed glasses back into her blond hair. She'd washed it earlier with Aveda shampoo and rinsed it with conditioner. It seemed so absurd and ridiculous to have worried about how her damn hair would look.
She squeezed her eyes shut and uttered a long, hopeless cry of confusion and despair.
Kathleen finally forced open her eyes. She blinked into the slashing red rays of the setting sun. Then she scanned her Rolex Lady Datejust wristwatch for the millionth time in the past hour.
God, no. It was already past six. She was late for her doctor's appointment.
She pushed forward into the ruins of Southie. Ahern's funeral parlor loomed in her peripheral vision, then slipped away. She hurried past the crumbling St. Augustine's parish church, past hole-in-the-wall bars, a boarded-up strip of two-storied row houses, a street person peeing against a wall covered with graffiti. She thought of an old rock song, "Aqualung," by Jethro Tull.
She whipped herself forward, as she often did to protect herself against the New England cold. Tears ran from her eyes and dribbled down over her chin.
Hurry, hurry. You have to do this terrible thing. You've come this far.
It was already twenty after the hour when she finally turned the corner onto West Broadway. She instantly recognized the gray brick building wedged in between a twenty-four-hour Laundromat and a pawnshop.
This is the place. This . . . hellhole.
The walls were smeared with lipstick-red and black graffiti: Abortion = Murder. Abortion is the Unforgivable Sin. There was a glass door and beside it a tarnished brass plaque: women's medical center, it read.
Sorrow washed over her and she felt faint. She didn't want to go through with it. She wasn't sure that she could. It was all terribly, horribly unfair.
Kathleen pressed her hand to the doorplate. The door opened into a reassuring reception room. Pastel-colored plastic chairs ringed the perimeter. Posters of sweet-faced mothers and chubby babies hung on the walls. Best of all, no one was here at this late hour.
Kathleen took a clipboard left out on a countertop. A sign instructed her to fill out the form as best she could.
Ensconced in a baby blue chair, she printed her medical history in block letters. Her hands were shaking harder now. Her foot, trapped in her trendy combat boot, wouldn't stop tapping.
Kathleen probed her memory for something, anything, that would make sense of this. Nothing did! This can't be happening to me! I shouldn't be in the Women's Medical Center.
She had made out with boys, but damn it, damn it, damn it, she knew the difference between kissing and . . . fucking.
She'd never gone all the way with anyone. Never even wanted to. She was too old-fashioned about sex — or maybe just a prude, or maybe just a good girl — but she hadn't done anything wrong. She'd never been touched down there by a boy. Wouldn't she know it if she had? Of course she would.
So how could she be pregnant?
She couldn't. It wasn't physically possible. She was a good kid, the best. Everybody's friend at school.
Kathleen Beavier was a virgin. She'd never had sexual intercourse.
But she was pregnant.
A SUDDEN WAVE of nausea came over Kathleen and nearly knocked her to the floor. She felt dizzy and thought she might throw up in the waiting room.
"Get yourself together," she muttered softly. You're not the first one to go through this kind of thing. You won't be the last, kiddo.
She glanced at the clock over the reception desk with no receptionist. It was nearly six-thirty. Where was the receptionist? More important, where was the doctor?
Kathleen wanted to run out of the women's clinic, but she fought off the powerful instinct. She couldn't sit here any longer! She couldn't stand the waiting. Where was everybody?
"Let's do this," she said between clenched teeth. "No time like the present."
She stood and walked to a pinewood door directly behind the reception desk. Kathleen took a deep breath, possibly the deepest of her life. She turned the metal handle, and the door opened.
She heard a soft, mellow voice coming from down the hall. Thank God someone is here after all.
She followed the sound.
"Hello," Kathleen called out tentatively. "Hello? Anybody? I'm a patient. I'm Kathleen Beavier. Hello?"
The door at the far end of the hall was partially open, and Kathleen heard the pleasing voice inside. She slowly pushed the door open all the way.
Something was wrong. It didn't feel right to Kathleen. She felt she should leave, but it had taken her so much courage to come here in the first place.
The air was thick, almost viscous. There was a smell of alcohol. But something else, too? Kathleen put her hand to her mouth.
It took her a few seconds to take in the full, horrifying effect of what she saw.
A young, dark-haired woman was hanging from a hook high up on the wall. She wore a white medical coat. Her name tag read DR. HIGGINS. A cord was slipknotted crudely around her neck, which seemed stretched to at least twice its normal length.
The neck and face were congested a brutal dark red. There was petechial hemorrhaging in the eyes, which were frozen in fear. The woman's brown hair cascaded over her shoulders.
Trembling, Kathleen reached out and touched the woman's hand. It was still warm, and damp. Dr. Higgins. Her doctor.
This woman had just died!
In a panic, Kathleen jerked her hand away. She wanted to run, but some force held her there. Something so powerful. So awful.
She saw a stethoscope coiled beside a pad of paper. On the pad was written Kathleen's name.
"Oh, nooooooo!" she screamed. There was a gathering in her stomach as fear and guilt and shame overpowered her in one sickening, wrenching movement.
At that instant, she realized she couldn't stand being in this world anymore. The thought was so strange, so overwhelming, it was almost as if it weren't her own.
A tray of instruments glittered near the pad of paper. Kathleen took up a sharp blade. It was ice-cold and menacing in her hand.
She heard a voice — but no one was there. The Voice was deep, commanding. You know what you have to do, Kathleen. We've talked about it. Go ahead, now. It's the right thing.
In the space between the pink cuff of her Ralph Lauren oxford cloth shirt and the crease of her left wrist, she sliced. The skin parted.
See how easy it is, Kathleen? It's nothing, really. Just the natural order of things.
Then blood welled up and fell in large drops onto the floor. Tears flowed from her eyes and intermixed with the blood.
One more cut. Just to be sure.
The second cut was harder for her to do. The wristband of her watch covered the best place on her vein, and her left hand was already weak.
She sliced into the vein again.
She sank to her knees, as if in prayer.
Kathleen managed a third slash before everything jumped to black.
She fell unconscious beneath the feet of the hanging doctor, whose mouth now seemed frozen in a knowing smile.
GIVEN EVERYTHING THAT HAS happened, it isn't too much of a stretch to say that this is one of the most incredible stories ever, and the strangest I've ever encountered. The weirdest thing of all is that I am part of it. A big part.
I remember how my involvement began, remember every detail as if it happened just moments ago.
I was in my small, hopelessly cluttered, but comfortable office in the Back Bay section of Boston. I was staring off in the general direction of the Hancock and Prudential towers.
The door opened without so much as a tap, and an elderly man stepped inside. He was wearing a gray pinstriped suit, a white-on-white shirt, and a dark blue silk tie. He looked like a successful Beacon Hill lawyer or a businessman.
I knew that he was neither; he was Cardinal John Rooney of the Archdiocese of Boston, one of the most important religious leaders in the world, and a friend of mine.
"Hello, Annie," he said, "nice to see you, even under the circumstances."
"Nice to be seen, Eminence," I said, and I smiled as I rose from my seat. "You didn't have to get all duded up to see me, though. What circumstances?"
"Oh, but I did," Rooney said. "I'm traveling incognito, you see. Because of the circumstances."
"I see. Nice threads. Very high WASP, which all us Catholics aspire to. Be careful, some chippie might try to pick you up. Come in. Please, sit. It's nearly six. Can I offer you something to drink, Eminence?"
"'John' will do for tonight, Anne. Scotch if you have it. An old man's drink for an old man. Getting older in a hurry."
I fixed the cardinal a scotch, then got a Samuel Adams out of the minifridge for myself.
"I'm honored. I think," I added as I gave him his glass. "Here's to — the circumstances of your visit," I said and raised my beer.
"The perfect toast," Rooney said and took a sip of his drink.
I have a rather complicated history with the Archdiocese of Boston, but most recently, I've worked several times with certain members as a private investigator. One case involved a teacher in Andover. She had been raped by a priest who taught at the same high school. Another case was about a fifteen-year-old who'd shot another boy in their church. None of the cases were happy experiences for either the cardinal or me.
"Do you believe in God, Anne?" Rooney asked as he sat back in one of my comfy, slightly tattered armchairs.
I thought it an odd question, almost impertinent. "Yes, I do. In my own, very unusual way."
"Do you believe in God the Father, Jesus, the Blessed Mother?" the cardinal went on. He was making this very strange meeting even stranger.
I blinked a few times. "Yes. In my way."
Cardinal Rooney then asked, "As a private investigator, are you licensed to carry a gun?"
I opened my desk drawer and showed him one of Smith & Wesson's finest. I didn't feel obliged to tell him that I had never fired it.
"You're hired," he said and knocked back the rest of his drink. "Can you leave for Los Angeles tonight? There's something there I think you should see, Anne."
I WILL NEVER FORGET Los Angeles and what I found there, what I felt there.
I had first seen the graphic pictures of the terrible disease on CNN, and then on every other TV network. I had watched, cringed in horror, as the children of Los Angeles burst upon Cedars-Sinai Medical Center by the carload, all with aching joints and fever, with symptoms that could kill within days.
When I arrived at Cedars, the scene was more intense than what I had seen on TV. It was so very different to be there in the midst of the suffering and horror. I wanted to turn away from it all, and maybe I should have. Maybe I should have run into the Hollywood Hills and never come out.
The sound of chaos and fear was well over a hundred decibels inside the fabled hospital, which had been turned into a confused mess. The shouting of the emergency-room nurses and doctors, and the wailing of their young patients, ricocheted sharply off beige tile walls.
It was so sad, so ominous. A portent of the future?
A curly-haired boy of four or so in yellow pj's was waiting to be intubated. I winked at him, and the boy managed to wink back. On another table, an adolescent girl was curled up in a fetal position around her stuffed sandy-haired bear. She was crying deep, heartrending sobs as doctors tried to straighten her contorted limbs. Other children were banked in a holding pattern along the perimeter of the room. Policemen, their radios squawking loudly, manned the doorways as best they could. They restrained desperate parents from their babies. The long linoleum hallway was packed wall to wall with feverish children tossing and turning on blankets laid across the bare floor.
Each room off the corridor had been turned into a dormitory of tragically sick kids. Their families seemed eerily related by the flimsy, blue paper gowns and the masks they all wore. Each new image was indelibly stamped into my mind, and then into my soul.
The doctor walking beside me was named Lewis Lavine, and he was the hospital's director of pediatrics. He was tall and somewhat gawky, and his black pompadour made him look even taller, but I found him heroic in his own way. Dr. Lavine had the presence of a rock in a sea of chaos. He was giving me the grand tour when clearly he had no time for it.
The same deeply mysterious plague had just broken out in Boston. Before I left for L.A., I saw the devastation at St. Catherine's, a very large hospital run by the Church. The archdiocese had sent me to L.A. on a fact-finding mission. I was their investigator.
"You know what it is, don't you?" I asked Lavine as we walked hurriedly down the hall.
"Yes, of course," he told me, but seemed reluctant to go further, to actually give a name to the horror. Then he spoke gravely. "It's basically poliomyelitis, only this time the virus is faster, even deadlier, and it seems to have appeared out of nowhere."
I nodded. "It's the same in Boston. I talked for over an hour with Dr. Albert Sassoon at St. Catherine's. He's a terrific doctor, but he's baffled, too. It's polio — the second coming of the dreaded disease."
Polio had once been a killer plague that attacked more than six hundred fifty thousand people, mostly children. It killed some twenty percent of the infected, receding from the rest like a lethal tide, leaving behind deformed limbs and crippled spines, bodies that would never heal. Dr. Salk's and the Sabin vaccines had eradicated polio, ostensibly for good. There had been only a handful of cases in this country since 1957. But this present, mysterious epidemic had a much higher fatality rate than the polio of old.
"All of these children were vaccinated?" I asked.
Lavine sighed. "Most of them. It doesn't seem to matter. We're looking at the Son of Polio," he said. "The old menace with a new, more potent kick. It rushed past the old vaccine without blinking. Some of the World Health people think a broken sewer line contaminated a water source, and that's how it spread. But in Los Angeles we don't know how the hell it originated. Here. In Boston. Or wherever it breaks out next. And we certainly don't know how to stop it."
As if to emphasize his point, he looked around at the sick children — the dying children. Many of them wouldn't be going home, and that was so sad, so incomprehensible.
"No, Doctor, neither do the doctors in Boston. They don't know how this could have happened. But it did. What the hell is going on?"
Rome, one week earlier.
FATHER NICHOLAS ROSETTI had never been so focused yet so devoid of original and illuminating thought in his life. He knew all about the "mysteries," the tragedies in Los Angeles, in Boston, and elsewhere. Sadly, he knew much more, so much more that his mind was threatening to implode. He thought that he knew why the diseases and plagues were happening. He knew the unthinkable.
Nicholas Rosetti's workman's build spoke of years of hard labor and outdoor life. He dressed simply, but well. His smile was disarming and self-assured, even when he was feeling almost total panic. He was darkly handsome, and that was inconvenient for a priest.
He had been born of poor, simple parents, but Nicholas was very smart, and he was ambitious. He understood how powerful the Church still was, but more important, how powerful it could be. He knew, he just knew, that one day he would be a cardinal.
But an odd and unexpected thing happened to him once he was ordained a priest: Nicholas Rosetti started to believe; he was given the divine gift of faith. From that moment on, he promised God that he would dedicate his life while here on Earth to serving the Church and its people. He was almost too good to be true — but he was consistent. That was how he eventually came to the attention of the Holy See, and then Pope Pius himself. It was known that Father Rosetti was as smart as any priest in Rome, but he was loyal, a genuinely good man, and he actually believed.
As he walked he found himself staring up at the familiar, shimmering gold domes, the two-thousand-pound crosses and needle spires of St. Peter's Basilica. He was looking for answers, but finding none. His already brisk pace accelerated.
As he struck out across the familiar, swarming St. Peter's Square — that majestic piazza with the Bernini colonnades — he could still hear the recent words of His Holiness Pope Pius XIII. The words kept ringing above the din of the Roman streets crowded with tourists, peddlers, and honking cars.
Nicholas, Pope Pius had said, speaking to him as a true confidant, you are the chief investigator of miracles all over the world. I want you to investigate a miracle for me. Actually, two miracles. You can tell no one. You will be alone.
Nicholas Rosetti strode quickly past the four magnificent candelabra built at the base of the Egyptian obelisk that had once towered center ring in Nero's Circus. His mind was still fixed on the words of the man whose spiritual authority and leadership spanned the globe.
Eighty-one years ago a message was left at Fatima, Portugal, by Our Blessed Lady. As you know, the "secret" of Fatima has never been revealed. Circumstances dictate that I must now tell you of the extraordinary message. I must tell you this secret, but you can tell no one. . . . It's vitally important, Nicholas. It has to do with the polio outbreak in America, the famines in Asia and Africa, so much more. . . . Everything is connected. You'll see for yourself soon enough.
A #1 New York Times Bestseller!
- On Sale
- Sep 12, 2016
- Hachette Audio