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Terrified for their lives, suspicious of each other, and armed only with their own wits and guile, they must join forces in a nightmare cycle of hunt-and-kill. At stake is the shattering truth about the tragedies that robbed them of the men they loved…and about an awesome conspiracy whose ultimate target is as big as the earth and as close as the air we breathe.
ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?
A master storyteller, Sidney Sheldon is the author of seventeen novels (which have sold over 300 million copies), over 200 television scripts, twenty-five major motion pictures and six Broadway plays, ranking him as one of the world’s most prolific writers. His first book, The Naked Face, was acclaimed by the New York Times as ‘the best first mystery novel of the year’ and subsequently each of his highly popular books have hit No.l on the New York Times bestseller list.
For more about Sidney Sheldon, visit his website at www.sidneysheldon.com
For automatic updates on Sidney Sheldon visit HarperCollins.co.uk and register for www.AuthorTracker.com.
Sonja Verbrugge had no idea that this was going to be her last day on earth. She was pushing her way through the sea of summer tourists overflowing the busy sidewalks of Unter den Linden. Don’t panic, she told herself. You must keep calm.
The instant message on her computer from Franz had been terrifying. Run, Sonja! Go to the Artemisia Hotel. You will be safe there. Wait until you hear from –
The message had ended suddenly. Why had Franz not finished it? What could be happening? The night before, she had heard her husband saying to someone on the telephone that Prima must be stopped at all costs. Who was Prima?
Frau Verbrugge was nearing Brandenburgische Strasse, where the Artemisia was located, a hotel which catered to women only. I will wait for Franz there and he will explain to me what this is all about, she thought.
When Sonja Verbrugge reached the next corner, the traffic light had turned to red, and as she stopped at the kerb, someone in the crowd bumped against her and she stumbled into the street. Verdammt touristen! A limousine that had been double-parked suddenly moved toward her, grazing her just hard enough to knock her down. People began to gather around her.
‘Is she all right?’
‘Ist ihr etwas passiert?’
At that moment, a passing ambulance stopped. Two attendants from the ambulance hurried over and took charge. ‘We will take care of her.’
Sonja Verbrugge found herself being lifted into the ambulance. The door closed and a moment later, the vehicle sped away.
She was strapped to a stretcher, trying to sit up. ‘I am fine,’ she protested. ‘It was nothing. I –’
One of the attendants was leaning over her. ‘It is all right, Frau Verbrugge. Just relax.’
She looked up at him, suddenly alarmed. ‘How do you know my –?’
She felt the sharp sting of a hypodermic needle in her arm and a moment later, she gave herself up to the waiting darkness.
Mark Harris was alone on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, oblivious to the driving rain swirling around him. From time to time a streak of lightning shattered the raindrops into dazzling diamond waterfalls.
Across the River Seine stood the familiar Palais de Chaillot, and the Trocadéro Gardens, but he was unaware of them. His mind was focused on the astonishing news that was about to be released to the world.
The wind had begun to whip the rain into a frenzied maelstrom. Mark Harris shielded his wrist with his sleeve and looked at his watch. They were late. And why had they insisted on meeting here, at midnight? he wondered. Even as he was wondering, he heard the door to the tower lift open. Two men were moving toward him, fighting against the fierce wet wind.
As Mark Harris recognised them, he felt a sense of relief.
‘It’s this damn weather, Mark. Sorry.’
‘Well, you’re here. The meeting in Washington is all set, isn’t it?’
‘That’s what we need to talk to you about. As a matter of fact we had a long discussion this morning about the best way to handle this, and we decided –’
As they were speaking, the second man had moved behind Mark Harris and two things happened almost simultaneously. A heavy, blunt instrument slammed into his skull, and an instant later he felt himself being lifted and tossed over the parapet into the cold driving rain, his body plunging toward the unforgiving pavement thirty-eight storeys below.
Gary Reynolds had grown up in rugged Kelowna, Canada, near Vancouver, and had had his flight training there, so he was accustomed to flying in treacherous mountainous terrain. He was piloting a Cessna Citation II, keeping a wary eye on the snow-capped peaks surrounding him.
The plane was commissioned to carry a cockpit crew of two, but today there was no co-pilot. Not this trip, Reynolds thought, grimly.
He had filed a false flight plan for Kennedy Airport. No one would think of looking for him in Denver. He would spend the night at his sister’s home, and in the morning he would be on his way east, to meet the others. All the arrangements were complete, and –
A voice on the radio interrupted his thoughts. ‘Citation One One One Lima Foxtrot, this is the approach control tower at Denver International Airport. Come in, please.’
Gary Reynolds pressed the radio button. ‘This is Citation One One One Lima Foxtrot. I am requesting a clearance to land.’
‘One Lima Foxtrot, say your position.’
‘One Lima Foxtrot. I am fifteen miles north-east of the Denver Airport. Altitude 15,000 feet.’
He saw Pike’s Peak looming up on his right side. The sky was bright blue, the weather clear. A good omen, he thought.
There was a brief silence. The voice from the tower came through again. ‘One Lima Foxtrot, you are cleared to land at Runway Two-Six. Repeat, Runway Two-Six.’
‘One Lima Foxtrot, roger.’
Without warning, Gary Reynolds felt the plane give a sudden, high bounce. Surprised, he looked out of the cockpit window. A strong wind had come up and within seconds, the Cessna was caught in a violent turbulence that began to toss the plane around. He pulled back the wheel to try to gain altitude. It was useless. He was trapped in a raging vortex. The plane was completely out of control. He slammed down the radio button.
‘This is One Lima Foxtrot. I have an emergency.’
‘One Lima Foxtrot, what is the nature of your emergency?’
Gary Reynolds was shouting into the microphone. ‘I’m caught in a wind shear! Extreme turbulence! I’m in the middle of a goddamn hurricane!’
‘One Lima Foxtrot, you are only four-and-a-half minutes from the Denver Airport and there is no sign of air turbulence on our screens.’
‘I don’t give a damn what’s on your screens! I’m telling you –’ The pitch of his voice suddenly rose. ‘Mayday! May –’
In the control tower, they watched in shock as the blip on the radar screen disappeared.
Manhattan, New York
At dawn, at an area under the Manhattan Bridge of the East River next to Pier 17, half a dozen uniformed policemen and plain-clothes detectives were gathered around a fully-dressed corpse lying on the gritty sand at the river’s edge. The body had been carelessly tossed down, so its head was eerily bobbing back and forth in the water, following the vagaries of the tide.
The man in charge, Detective Earl Greenburg, from the Manhattan South Homicide Squad, had finished the official prescribed procedures. No one was allowed to approach the body until photographs had been taken, and he made notes of the scene while the officers looked for any evidence that might be lying around. The victim’s hands had been wrapped in clean plastic bags.
Carl Ward, the medical examiner, finished his examination, stood up and brushed the dirt from his trousers. He looked at the two senior detectives. Detective Earl Greenburg was a professional, capablelooking man with an impressive record. Detective Robert Praegitzer was grey-haired and grizzled, with the laidback manner of someone who had seen it all before.
Ward turned to Greenburg. ‘He’s all yours, Earl.’
‘What have we got?’
‘The obvious cause of death is a slashed throat, right through the carotid artery. He has two busted kneecaps, and it feels like a few ribs are broken. Someone worked him over pretty good.’
‘What about the time of death?’
Ward looked down at the water lapping at the victim’s head. ‘Hard to say. My guess is that they dumped him here some time after midnight. I’ll give you a full report when we get him to the morgue.’
Greenburg turned his attention to the body. Grey jacket, dark blue trousers, light blue tie, an expensive watch on the left wrist. Greenburg knelt down and started going through the victim’s jacket pockets. His fingers found a note. He pulled it out, holding it by its edge. It read: ‘Washington. Monday, 10 a.m. Prima.’ He looked at it a moment, puzzled.
Greenburg reached into another pocket, finding another note.
‘It’s in Italian.’ He glanced around. ‘Gianelli!’
One of the uniformed policemen hurried up to him. ‘Yes, sir?’
Greenburg handed him the note. ‘Can you read this?’
Gianelli read it aloud, slowly. ‘“Last chance. Meet me at Pier 17 with the rest of the dope or swim with the fishes.”’ He handed it back.
Robert Praegitzer looked surprised. ‘A Mafia hit? Why would they leave him out here like this, in the open?’
‘Good question.’ Greenburg was going through the corpse’s other pockets. He pulled out a wallet and opened it. It was heavy with cash. ‘They sure as hell weren’t after his money.’ He took a card from the wallet. ‘The victim’s name is Richard Stevens.’
Praegitzer frowned. ‘Richard Stevens…Didn’t we read something about him in the papers recently?’
Greenburg said, ‘His wife. Diane Stevens. She’s in court, in the Tony Altieri murder trial.’
Praegitzer said, ‘That’s right. She’s testifying against the capo di capos.’
And they both turned to look at Richard Stevens’ body.
In downtown Manhattan, in Courtroom 37 of the Supreme Court Criminal Term building at 180 Centre Street, the trial of Anthony (Tony) Altieri was in session. The large, venerable courtroom was filled to capacity with press and spectators.
At the defendant’s table sat Anthony Altieri, slouched in a wheelchair, looking like a pale, fat frog folding in on itself. Only his eyes were alive, and every time he looked at Diane Stevens in the witness chair, she could literally feel the pulse of his hatred.
Next to Altieri sat Jake Rubenstein, Altieri’s defence attorney. Rubenstein was famous for two things: his high-profile clientele, consisting mostly of mobsters, and the fact that nearly all of his clients were acquitted.
Rubenstein was a small, dapper man with a quick mind and vivid imagination. He was never the same in his courtroom appearances. Courtroom histrionics were his stock-in-trade, and he was highly skilled. He was brilliant at sizing up his opponents, with a feral instinct for finding their weaknesses. Sometimes Rubenstein imagined he was a lion, slowly closing in on his unsuspecting prey, ready to pounce…or a cunning spider, spinning a web that would eventually entrap them and leave them helpless…Sometimes he was a patient fisherman, gently tossing a line into the water and slowly moving it back and forth until the gullible witness took the bait.
The lawyer was carefully studying the witness on the stand. Diane Stevens was in her early thirties. An aura of elegance. Patrician features. Soft, flowing blonde hair. Green eyes. Lovely figure. A girl-next-door kind of wholesomeness. She was dressed in a chic, tailored, black suit. Jake Rubenstein knew that the day before, she had made a favourable impression on the jury. He had to be careful how he handled her. Fisherman, he decided.
Rubenstein took his time approaching the witness box, and when he spoke, his voice was gentle. ‘Mrs Stevens, yesterday you testified that on the date in question, October 14, you were driving south on the Henry Hudson Parkway, when you got a flat tyre and pulled off the highway at the 158th Street exit, onto a service road into Fort Washington Park?’
‘Yes.’ Her voice was soft and cultured.
‘What made you stop at that particular place?’
‘Because of the flat tyre, I knew I had to get off the main road, and I could see the roof of a cabin through the trees. I thought there might be someone there who could help me. I didn’t have a spare.’
‘Do you belong to an auto club?’
‘And do you have a phone in your car?’
‘Then why didn’t you call the auto club?’
‘I thought that might have taken too long.’
Rubenstein said, sympathetically, ‘Of course. And the cabin was right there.’
‘So, you approached the cabin to get help?’
‘Was it still light outside?’
‘Yes. It was about five o’clock in the afternoon.’
‘And so, you could see clearly?’
‘What did you see, Mrs Stevens?’
‘I saw Anthony Altieri –’
‘Oh. You had met him before?’
‘What made you sure it was Anthony Altieri?’
‘I had seen his picture in the newspaper and –’
‘So, you had seen pictures that resembled the defendant?’
‘Well, it –’
‘What did you see in that cabin?’
Diane Stevens took a shuddering breath. She spoke slowly, visualising the scene in her mind. ‘There were four men in the room. One of them was in a chair, tied up. Mr Altieri seemed to be questioning him while the two other men stood next to him.’ Her voice shook. ‘Mr Altieri pulled out a gun, yelled something, and – and shot the man in the back of the head.’
Jake Rubenstein cast a sidelong glance at the jury. They were absorbed in her testimony.
‘What did you do then, Mrs Stevens?’
‘I ran back to my car and dialled 911 on my cell phone.’
‘I drove away.’
‘With a flat tyre?’
Time for a little ripple in the water. ‘Why didn’t you wait for the police?’
Diane glanced toward the defence table. Altieri was watching her with naked malevolence.
She looked away. ‘I couldn’t stay there because I – I was afraid that the men might come out of the cabin and see me.’
‘That’s very understandable.’ Rubenstein’s voice hardened. ‘What is not understandable is that when the police responded to your 911 call, they went into the cabin, and not only was no one there, Mrs Stevens, but they could find no sign that anyone had been there, let alone been murdered there.’
‘I can’t help that. I –’
‘You’re an artist, aren’t you?’
She was taken aback by the question. ‘Yes, I –’
‘Are you successful?’
‘I suppose so, but what does –?’
It was time to yank the hook.
‘A little extra publicity never hurts, does it? The whole country watches you on the nightly news report on television, and on the front pages of –’
Diane looked at him, furious. ‘I didn’t do this for publicity. I would never send an innocent man to –’
‘The key word is innocent, Mrs Stevens. And I will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Altieri is innocent. Thank you. You’re finished.’
Diane Stevens ignored the double entendre. When she stepped down to return to her seat, she was seething. She whispered to the prosecuting attorney, ‘Am I free to go?’
‘Yes. I’ll send someone with you.’
‘That won’t be necessary. Thank you.’
She headed for the door, and walked out to the parking lot, the words of the defence attorney ringing in her ears.
‘You’re an artist, aren’t you?…A little extra publicity never hurts, does it?’ It was degrading. Still, all in all, she was satisfied with the way her testimony had gone. She had told the jury exactly what she had seen and they had no reason to doubt her. Anthony Altieri was going to be convicted and sent to prison for the rest of his life, and yet Diane could not help thinking of the venomous looks he had given her, and she felt a little shiver.
Diane handed the parking attendant her ticket and he went to get her car. Two minutes later, Diane was driving onto the street, heading north, on her way home.
There was a stop sign at the corner. As Diane braked to a halt, a well-dressed young man standing at the kerb approached the car. ‘Excuse me. I’m lost. Could you –?’
Diane lowered her window.
‘Could you tell me how to get to the Holland Tunnel?’ He spoke with an Italian accent.
‘Yes. It’s very simple. Go down to the first –’
The man raised his arm and there was a gun with a silencer in his hand. ‘Out of the car, lady. Fast!’
Diane turned pale. ‘All right. Please don’t –’ As she started to open the door, and the man stepped back, Diane slammed her foot down on the accelerator and the car sped away. She heard the rear window smash as a bullet went through it, and then a crack as another bullet hit the back of the car. Her heart was pounding so hard that it was difficult to breathe.
Diane Stevens had read about car jackings, but they had always been remote, something that happened to other people. And the man had tried to kill her. Did car jackers do that? Diane reached for her mobile phone and dialled 911. It took almost two minutes before an operator answered.
‘911. What is your emergency?’
Even as Diane was explaining what had happened, she knew it was hopeless. The man would be long gone by now.
‘I’ll send an officer to the location. May I have your name, address, and phone number?’
Diane gave them to her. Useless, she thought. She glanced back at the shattered window and shuddered. She desperately wanted to call Richard at work and tell him what had happened, but she knew he was working on an urgent project. If she called him and told him what had just occurred, he would get upset and rush to her side – and she did not want him to miss his deadline. She would tell him what had happened when he got back to the apartment later.
And suddenly a chilling thought occurred to her: had the man been waiting for her, or was this just a coincidence? She remembered the conversation she had had with Richard when the trial began: ‘I don’t think you should testify, Diane. It could be dangerous.’
‘Don’t worry, darling. Altieri will be convicted. They’ll lock him away for ever.’
‘But he has friends and –’
‘Richard, if I don’t do this, I couldn’t live with myself.’
What just happened had to be a coincidence, Diane decided. Altieri wouldn’t be crazy enough to do anything to me, especially now, during his trial, she concluded.
Diane turned off the highway, and drove west until she reached her apartment building on East Seventy-fifth Street. Before she pulled into the underground garage, she took a last careful look in the rear-view mirror. Everything seemed normal.
The apartment was an airy, ground-floor duplex, with a spacious living room, floor-to-ceiling windows and a large, marble fireplace. There were upholstered floral sofas, armchairs, a built-in book-case, and a large television screen. The walls were rainbowed with colourful paintings. There was a Childe Hassam, a Jules Pascin, a Thomas Birch, a George Hitchcock, and in one area, a group of Diane’s paintings.
On the next floor was a master bedroom and bathroom, a second guest bedroom, and a sunny atelier where Diane painted. Several of her paintings were hanging on the walls. On an easel in the centre of the room was a half-finished portrait.
The first thing Diane did when she arrived home was to hurry into the atelier. She removed the half-finished portrait from the easel, and replaced it with a blank canvas. She began to sketch the face of the man who had tried to kill her, but her hands were trembling so hard that she had to stop.
Driving to Diane Stevens’ apartment, Detective Earl Greenburg complained, ‘This is the part of the job I hate most.’
Robert Praegitzer said, ‘It’s better that we tell them than have them hear about it on the evening news.’ He looked at Greenburg. ‘You going to tell her?’
Earl Greenburg nodded, unhappily. He found himself remembering the story of the detective who had gone to inform a Mrs Adams, the wife of a patrolman, that her husband had been killed.
‘She’s very sensitive,’ the chief had cautioned the detective. ‘You’ll have to break the news carefully.’
‘Don’t worry. I can handle it.’
The detective had knocked on the door of the Adams’ home, and when it was opened by Adams’s wife, the detective had asked, ‘Are you the widow Adams?’
Diane was startled by the sound of the front doorbell. She was not expecting anyone. She went to the intercom. ‘Who is it?’
‘Detective Earl Greenburg. I’d like to speak to you, Mrs Stevens.’
It’s about the car jacking, Diane thought. The police got here fast.
She pressed the buzzer and Greenburg entered the hallway and walked to her door.
‘Yes. Thank you for coming so quickly. I started to draw a sketch of the man, but I…’ She took a deep breath. ‘He was swarthy, with deepset light brown eyes and a little mole on his cheek. His gun had a silencer on it, and –’
Greenburg was looking at her in confusion. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t understand what –’
‘The car jacker. I called 911 and –’ She saw the expression on the detective’s face. ‘This isn’t about the car jacking, is it?’
‘No, ma’am, it’s not.’ Greenburg paused for a moment. ‘May I come in?’
Greenburg walked into the apartment.
She was looking at him, frowning. ‘What is it? Is something wrong?’
The words would not seem to come. ‘Yes. I’m sorry. I – I’m afraid I have some bad news. It’s about your husband.’
‘What’s happened?’ Her voice was shaky.
‘He’s had an accident.’
Diane felt a sudden chill. ‘What kind of accident?’
Greenburg took a deep breath. ‘He was killed last night, Mrs Stevens. We found his body under a bridge along the East River this morning.’
Diane stared at him for a long moment, then slowly shook her head. ‘You have the wrong person, Lieutenant. My husband is at work, in his laboratory.’
This was going to be even more difficult than he had anticipated. ‘Mrs Stevens, did your husband come home last night?’
‘No, but Richard frequently works all night. He’s a scientist.’ She was becoming more and more agitated.
‘Mrs Stevens, were you aware that your husband was involved with the Mafia?’
Diane blanched. ‘The Mafia? Are you insane?’
‘We found –’
Diane was beginning to hyperventilate. ‘Let me see your identification.’
‘Certainly.’ Detective Greenburg pulled out his ID card and showed it to her.
Diane glanced at it, handed it back, and then slapped Greenburg hard across his face. ‘Does the city pay you to go around trying to scare honest citizens? My husband is not dead! He’s at work.’ She was shouting.
Greenburg looked into her eyes and saw the shock and denial there. ‘Mrs Stevens, would you like me to send someone over to look after you and –?’
‘You’re the one who needs someone to look after you. Now get out of here.’
‘Mrs Stevens –’
Greenburg took out a business card and put it on a nearby table. ‘In case you need to talk to me, here’s my number.’
As he walked out of the door, Greenburg thought, Well, I handled that brilliantly. I might as well have said, ‘Are you the widow Stevens?’
- On Sale
- Jun 1, 2005
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Hachette Book Group