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Twenty-five million dollars in cartel gold lies hidden beneath a mansion on the Miami Beach waterfront. Ruthless men have tracked it for years. Leading the pack is Hans-Peter Schneider. Driven by unspeakable appetites, he makes a living fleshing out the violent fantasies of other, richer men.
Cari Mora, caretaker of the house, has escaped from the violence in her native country. She stays in Miami on a wobbly Temporary Protected Status, subject to the iron whim of ICE. She works at many jobs to survive. Beautiful, marked by war, Cari catches the eye of Hans-Peter as he closes in on the treasure. But Cari Mora has surprising skills, and her will to survive has been tested before.
Monsters lurk in the crevices between male desire and female survival. No other writer in the last century has conjured those monsters with more terrifying brilliance than Thomas Harris. Cari Mora, his sixth novel, is the long-awaited return of an American master.
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Two men talking in the middle of the night. They are 1,040 miles apart. One side of each face is lit by a cell phone. They are two half-faces talking in the dark.
"I can get the house where you say it is. Tell me the rest, Jesús."
The reply is faint through a crackle of static. "You paid one-fourth of what you promised." Puff-puff. "Send me the rest of the money. Send it to me." Puff-puff.
"Jesús, if I find what I want with no more help from you, you will receive nothing from me never."
"That is truer than you know. That's the truest thing you ever said in your life." Puff-puff. "What you want is sitting on fifteen kilos of Semtex…if you find it without my help you will be splattered on the moon."
"My arm is long, Jesús."
"It won't reach down from the moon, Hans-Pedro."
"My name is Hans-Peter, as you know."
"You'd put your hand on your peter if your arm was long enough? Is that what you said? I don't want your personal information. Quit wasting time. Send the money."
The connection is broken. Both men lie staring into the dark.
Hans-Peter Schneider is in a berth aboard his long black boat off Key Largo. He listens to a woman sobbing on the V-berth in the bow. He imitates her sobs. He is a good mimic. His own mother's voice comes out of his face, calling the crying woman's name. "Karla? Karla? Why are you crying, my dear child? It's just a dream."
Desperate in the dark, the woman is fooled for a second, then bitter wracking tears again.
The sound of a woman crying is Hans-Peter's music; it soothes him and he goes back to sleep.
In Barranquilla, Colombia, Jesús Villarreal lets the measured hiss of his respirator calm him. He breathes some oxygen from his mask. Through the common darkness he hears a patient out in the hospital ward, a man crying out to God for help, crying "Jesús!"
Jesús Villarreal whispers to the dark, "I hope God can hear you as well as I can, my friend. But I doubt it."
Jesús Villarreal calls information on his burner phone and obtains the number of a dance studio in Barranquilla. He pulls his oxygen mask aside to talk.
"No, I am not interested in learning to dance," he says into the telephone. "I am not dancing at this time. I want to speak to Don Ernesto. Yes you do know him. Say my name to him, he will know." Puff-puff.
Hans-Peter Schneider's boat slid very slowly past the great house on Biscayne Bay, water gurgling along the black hull.
Through his binoculars Hans-Peter watched Cari Mora, twenty-five, in her pajama pants and tank top as she stretched on the terrace in the early morning light.
"My goodness," he said. Hans-Peter's canine teeth are rather long and they have silver in them that shows when he smiles.
Hans-Peter is tall and pale, totally hairless. Lacking lashes, his eyelids touched the glass of his binoculars, making smudges. He wiped the eyepieces with a linen handkerchief.
The house-agent Felix stood behind him on the boat.
"That's her. The caretaker," Felix said. "She knows the house better than anybody, she can fix things. Learn the house from her and then I'll fire her smart ass before she can see anything she shouldn't see. She can save you some time."
"Time," Hans-Peter said. "Time. How much longer for the permit?"
"The guy renting the house now is shooting commercials. His permit is good for two more weeks."
"Felix, I want you to give me a key to that house." Hans-Peter speaks English with a German accent. "I want the key today."
"You go in there, something happens, you use my key, they know it's me. Like O.J.—you use my key, they know it's me." Felix laughed alone. "Listen, please, I will go to the renter today, ask him to let it go. You need to see the place in daylight, with people. You have to know it's a creepy son of a bitch in there. I went through four housekeepers before I got this one. She's the only one that's not afraid of it."
"Felix, you go to the renter. Offer him money. Up to ten thousand dollars. But right now you give me a key or you will be a floater in five minutes."
"You hurt the bitch, she can't help you," Felix said. "She sleeps there. She has to sleep there for the fire insurance. She works other places in the day sometimes. Wait and go in the day."
"I'm only going to look around. She'll never know I'm in the house."
Hans-Peter studied Cari through the glasses. She was on tiptoes filling a bird feeder now. It would be a waste to throw her away. With those interesting scars he could get a lot for her. Maybe $100,000—35,433,184 Mauritanian ouguiya—from the Acroto Grotto Stump Club in Nouakchott. That's with all her limbs and no tattoos. If he had to customize her for top dollar, with the downtime, it would be more. A hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Chicken feed. There was between twenty-five and thirty million dollars in that house.
In the frangipani tree beside the terrace a catbird sang a song it had learned in the Colombian Cloud Forest and brought north to Miami Beach.
Cari Mora recognized the signature call of an Andean Solitaire that lived fifteen hundred miles away. The catbird sang with great enthusiasm. Cari smiled and paused to listen one more time to the song from her childhood. She whistled to the bird. It whistled back. She went inside the house.
On the boat Hans-Peter held out his hand for the key. Felix put the key on his palm without touching him.
"The doors are alarmed," Felix said. "But the sunroom door is faulted until we get some parts. It's the sunroom on the south side of the house. You got some lock picks? For the love of God scratch the tumblers before you use the key, and leave a pick on the steps in case something happens."
"I will do that for you, Felix."
"This is not a good idea," Felix said. "Fuck her up, you lose the knowledge."
At his car back at the marina, Felix took up the mat in the trunk to get to his burner phone stashed with the jack and tools. He dialed the number of a dance studio in Barranquilla, Colombia.
"No, señor," he said into the phone, whispering though he was outdoors. "I have delayed him with the permit as long as I can. He has his own lawyer for these things—he will find me out. He will just have the house. That's all. He knows no more than we do…Yes, I have the deposit. Thank you, señor, I will not fail you."
Cari Mora had a variety of day jobs. The one she liked was at the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station, where veterinarians and other volunteers rehabilitate birds and small animals. She maintained the treatment room and sterilized the instruments at the end of the workday. Sometimes with her cousin she catered the station's boat excursions.
Cari always went early for a chance to work with the animals. The station provided her with scrubs and she liked to wear them because they made her feel medical.
The veterinarians had learned to trust Cari, she was dexterous and careful with the birds, and today, with Dr. Blanco watching, she stitched the gular pouch beneath the beak of a white pelican injured by a fishhook. Pouch stitching is delicate work that must be done in layers, each stitched separately while the bird is anesthetized with gas.
It was peaceful, absorbing work. Very different from her childhood experience, closing soldiers' wounds in the field with a fast mattress stitch or a tourniquet or a poncho to cover a sucking chest wound, or pressing with her hand while she tore open a compress bandage with her teeth.
At the end of the day the pelican was sleeping it off in a recovery coop, and Dr. Blanco and the others had gone home.
Cari took an organic rat out of the freezer to thaw while she put the treatment room in order and refreshed the water in the outside flyways and pens.
When she had finished the room and sterilized the instruments, she opened a tamarind cola for herself and took the defrosted rat out to the wire-enclosed pens and flyways.
The great horned owl was on a perch in the high far corner of its flyway. She put the rat carcass through the wire onto a narrow shelf. She closed her eyes and tried to hear the owl coming before the wind from its great wings washed over her. The big bird never lit, but plucked up the food with one of its X-shaped feet and silently beat back up to its perch, where it opened its beak and throat startlingly wide and threw down the rat in one gulp.
The great horned owl was a permanent resident of the Seabird Station. It could never be released as it had lost an eye in an accident with a power line and could not hunt, but it could fly very well. The owl was a popular visitor to the city schools for nature talks, where it put up with the close scrutiny of hundreds of schoolchildren, sometimes closing its one great eye and dozing during the lectures.
Cari sat on her overturned bucket with her back against the wire, under the scrutiny of the booby across the way recovering from a cut between its toes. Cari had closed the cut with a neat pulley stitch the vets had taught her.
In the nearby marina, the boats were lighting up and cozy couples were cooking in their galleys.
Caridad Mora, child of war, wanted to be a veterinarian. She had lived in the United States nine years on a shaky Temporary Protected Status, and her TPS could be canceled at any time by a governmental tantrum in the current sour atmosphere.
In the years before the immigration crackdown she had gotten a general equivalency high school diploma. She quietly added a home health aide license with the short six-week course plus her considerable life experience. But to go further in school she would have to show better papers than she had. The migra—ICE—was always watching.
In the short tropic twilight she took the bus back to the big house on the bay. It was almost dark when she got there, the palms already black against the last light.
She sat for a little while beside the water. The wind off the bay was full of ghosts tonight—young men and women and children who had lived or died in her arms as she tried to stanch their wounds, had fought to breathe and lived, or shivered out straight and gone limp.
Other nights the wind batted lightly at her like the memory of a kiss, of eyelashes brushing her face, sweet breath on her neck.
Sometimes this, sometimes that, but always the wind was full.
Cari sat outside listening to the frogs, the many-eyed lotus in the pond watching her. She watched the entrance hole of an owl house she had made out of a wooden crate. No face appeared yet. Tree frogs were peeping.
She whistled the song of the Andean Solitaire. No bird replied. She felt a little empty as she went inside in the hard time of day when you eat alone.
Pablo Escobar had owned this house, but he never lived here. Those who knew him thought he bought it for family to use if he was ever extradited to the United States.
The house had been in and out of the legal system since Escobar's death. A series of playboys and fools and real estate speculators had owned it over the years—plungers who bought it from the courts and held on to it for a little while as their fortunes went up and down. The house was still full of their follies: movie props, monster mannequins, everything lunging and reaching. There were fashion mannequins, lobby cards, jukeboxes, horror-film props, some sex furniture. In the living room was an early electric chair from Sing Sing that had only killed three, its amperage last adjusted by Thomas Edison.
A progression of lights on and off up through the house as Cari made her way through the mannequins, the crouching movie monsters, the seventeen-foot Mother Alien from the Planet Zorn to reach her bedroom at the top of the stairs. A last light in her bedroom winked out.
With Felix's key in hand, Hans-Peter Schneider could creep the house in Miami Beach as he was dying to do. He could creep it with the girl Cari Mora asleep in her hotness upstairs.
Hans-Peter was in his living quarters in an unmarked warehouse on Biscayne Bay near the old Thunderboat Alley in North Miami Beach, his black boat tied up in the adjacent boathouse. He sat naked on a stool in the center of his tiled shower room, letting the many nozzles on the walls beat water on him from all directions. He was singing in his German accent: "…just singing in the rains. What a glorious feeling, I am haaaappy again."
He could see his reflection in the glass side of his liquid cremation machine where he was dissolving Karla, a girl who hadn't worked out for business.
In the rising mist Hans-Peter's image on the glass looked like a daguerreotype. He struck the pose of Rodin's The Thinker and watched himself out of the corner of his eye. A faint smell of lye rose with the steam.
Interesting to see himself as The Thinker reflected on the glass, while behind the glass, in the tank, Karla's bones were beginning to stand up out of the paste the corrosive lye water had made of the rest of her. The machine rocked, sloshing fluid back and forth. The machine burped and bubbles came up.
Hans-Peter was very proud of his liquid cremation machine. He'd had to pay a premium for it, as liquid cremation was becoming all the rage with ecology enthusiasts eager to avoid the carbon footprint of cremation by fire. The liquid method left no carbon footprint, or print of any kind. If a girl did not work out, Hans-Peter could just pour her down the loo in liquid form—and with no harmful effect on the groundwater. His little work song was:
"Call Hans-Peter—that's the name!—and away go troubles down the drain—Hans-Peter!"
Karla had not been a total loss—she had provided Hans-Peter with some amusement and he was able to sell both her kidneys.
Hans-Peter could feel the pleasant heat from his cremation machine radiate across the shower room, though he kept the temperature of the lye water at only 160 degrees Fahrenheit to prolong the process. He enjoyed watching Karla's skeleton emerge slowly from her flesh, and, like a reptile, he was drawn to warmth.
He was deciding what to wear to creep the house. His white latex plugsuit was newly stolen from a fantasy convention and he was mad for it, but it squeaked when his thighs rubbed together. No. Something black and comfortable with no Velcro to rasp if he decided to take off his clothes in the house while he looked at Cari Mora asleep. And a change of clothes in a plastic bag in case he got wet or sticky, and an ornate flask of bleach to destroy DNA, should it come to that. And his stud finder.
He sang a song in German, a folk song Bach used in the Goldberg Variations called "Sauerkraut and Beets Are Driving Me Away."
It was nice to be excited. To be going on a creep. To be getting back at Pablo in his infernal sleep…
Hans-Peter Schneider was in the hedge beside the big house at 1 a.m. There was a lot of moon, palm shadows black as blood lay on the moonlit ground. When wind moves the big fronds a shadow on the ground can look like the shadow of a man. Sometimes it is the shadow of a man. Hans-Peter waited for a puff of wind and moved with the shadows across the lawn.
The house still radiated the heat of the day. It felt like a big warm animal as he stood close against the wall. Hans-Peter pressed himself against the side of the house and felt the heat up and down his body. He could feel the moonlight, itchy on his head. He thought of a newborn kangaroo working its way up its mother's belly toward the warm pouch.
The house was dark. He could see nothing through the tinted glass of the sunroom. Some of the metal hurricane shutters were down. Hans-Peter stuck a pick into the lock and raked the tumblers twice to scratch them.
He pushed Felix's key slowly into the lock. He had the good freezing feeling. It was so intimate for Hans-Peter, pressing against the warm house and pushing the key into the lock. He could hear the tumblers engage in a tiny series of clicks, like the insects talking when he revisited a woman dead for days in the bush and warmed wonderfully—warmed warmer than life by the larval mounds.
The oval bow of the key was flush now against the rose of the lock. Flush as he would be against her if he decided to go upstairs. Stay stuck to her until she got too cool. Sadly, she would cool faster than the house does as it sheds the heat of the sun. In the air-conditioning she wouldn't stay warm for long even if he pulled the covers up over them and snuggled. They never did stay warm. So soon clammy, so soon cool.
He didn't need to decide now. He might just follow his heart. It was fun to see if he could keep from following his heart. Heart HEAD, head HEART, bump. He hoped she smelled good. Sauerkraut and beets are driving me away.
He turned the knob and the weather-stripping hissed as he pushed the door open. The stud finder taped to the toe of his shoe would detect any metallic alarm mat hidden under a carpet. He slid his foot across the sunroom floor before he put his weight on it. Then he stepped inside, into the cool darkness, away from the shadows moving on the lawn and the heat of the moon on his skull.
A twang and rustle in the corner behind him.
"What the fuck, Carmen?" a bird said.
Hans-Peter's pistol was in his hand and he had no memory of drawing it. He stood still. The bird rustled again in its cage, shuffled up and down the perch and muttered.
Silhouettes of mannequins against the moonlit windows. Did any of them move? Hans-Peter moved among them in the dark. An extended plaster hand touched him as he passed.
It is here. It is here. The gold is here. Es ist hier! He knew it. If the gold had ears it could hear him if he called to it from this spot where he stood in a parlor. Draped furniture, a draped piano. He went into the bar with its pool table draped to the floor with sheets. The icemaker dumped a tumble of ice and he went into a crouch, waiting, listening, thinking.
The girl had a lot of information about the house. He should harvest that information before anything else. He could always get the money for her later. She wouldn't be worth more than a few thousand dead, and to get even that he'd have to ship her in dry ice.
It made no sense to disturb her, but she was so fetching, so heartwarming on the terrace and he wanted to look at her asleep. He was entitled to some fun. Maybe he could just drip a little on the bedclothes, on her scarred arms, nothing more. Oh, a drop or two on her sleeping cheek, little facial, what the hell? A little might run into the corner of her eye. Hello. Prime her eye for the tears to come.
The telephone in his pocket buzzed against his thigh. He moved it around until it felt good. He looked at the text from Felix and that felt even better. The text said:
I got it. I got him to give up his permit for 10K and some good shit to come. Our permit clear tomorrow. Can move in now!
Hans-Peter reclined on the carpet underneath the draped pool table and punched out some texts with what he called his zinc finger. The nail of his forefinger was distorted by the same genetic affliction that made him hairless. He had learned about zinc finger before he was expelled from medical school on moral grounds. Fortunately his father had been too old to beat him hard for the failure. The nail was sharp and useful for clearing his hairless nasal passages, so susceptible to mold and spores and the pollens of spiny amaranth and rape.
Cari Mora came awake in the dark and did not know why. Her waking reflex was to listen for the warning sounds of the forest. She came to herself then, and without moving her head she looked around the big bedroom. All the tiny lights were glowing—TV cable box, the thermostat, the clock—but the alarm-pad light was green instead of red.
A single beep had awakened her when someone turned off the alarm downstairs. Now the alarm light blinked as something passed a motion sensor in the foyer on the floor below.
Cari Mora pulled on some sweats and got her baseball bat from under the bed. Her phone and her knife and her bear repellent spray were in her pockets. She went out into the hall and called down the winding stairs.
"Who is it? You better say something now."
Nothing for fifteen seconds. Then a voice from below said "Felix."
Cari rolled her eyes up at the ceiling and hissed between her teeth.
She turned on the lights and went down the spiral staircase. She took the bat with her.
Felix stood at the bottom of the stairs, beneath a movie figure, the toothy space raptor from the Planet Zorn.
Felix did not look like he was drunk. He did not have a weapon in his hands. He had his hat on in the house.
Cari stopped four steps from the bottom. She did not feel his piggy eyes on her. Good, that.
"You call me before you come here in the night," she said.
"I got a renter, last minute," Felix said. "Movie people. They pay good. They want you to stay because you know the place, maybe cook too, I don't know yet. I got you the job with them. You should thank me. You should give me something when they pay you big movie money."
"What kind of a movie?"
"I don't know. I don't care."
"You bringing this news at five in the morning?"
"If they're willing to pay, they get their way," Felix said. "They want to be inside before daylight."
"Felix, look here at me. If it's porn you know what I say to that. I'm walking if it's that."
A lot of pornographic movie production was moving to Miami after the passage of Los Angeles County's Measure B, requiring the use of condoms onscreen, stifling freedom of expression.
She'd had trouble with Felix about this before.
"It's not dirty movies. It's like, reality something. They want two-hundred-twenty-volt hookups and fire extinguishers. You know where all that stuff's at, right?" He took out of his jacket a wrinkled City of Miami Beach filming permit and told her to get him some tape.
In fifteen minutes she heard a boat close inshore on Biscayne Bay.
"Leave the dock lights off," Felix said.
Hans-Peter Schneider is extremely clean much of the time in his public life and smells good to casual acquaintances. But when Cari shook his hand in the kitchen, she caught a whiff of brimstone off him. Like the smell of a burning village with dead inside the houses.
Hans-Peter noted her good hard palm, and smiled his wolfish smile. "Shall we speak English or Spanish?"
"As you wish."
Monsters know when they are recognized, just as bores do. Hans-Peter was accustomed to reactions of distaste and fear as his behavior revealed him. On exquisite occasions, the reaction was an agonized pleading for a quicker death. Some people beeped to him quicker than others.
Cari just looked at Hans-Peter. She did not blink. The black pupils of her eyes had the smudge of intelligence.
Hans-Peter tried to see his reflection in her eyes but disappointingly he could not see himself. What a looker! And I don't think she knows it.
A moment of reverie as he made up a little couplet. I cannot see my reflection in the black pools of your eyes / You will be hard to break but, broken, what a prize! He'd do it in German too, with a tune, when he had time. Use "hörig" for "broken," more like "enslaved." Use the tune from "Sauerkraut and Beets." Sing it in the shower. Maybe to her, if she happened to be recuperating, begging to be clean.
At the moment, he needed her goodwill. Showtime now.
"You have worked here a long time," he said. "Felix tells me you are a good worker, you know the house well."
"I've watched the house five years on and off. I helped with some repairs."
"Does the pool house leak?"
- "The best of Harris's work, and this includes his latest, long-awaited novel, Cari Mora, has just that feeling of absolute, unquestionable reality. Through a combination of elements -- a perfectly realized authorial voice, the steady accumulation of terrible details, an empathetic vision of lost and damaged souls -- Harris has created a sense of dreadful intimacy that we cannot escape, that forces us to gaze at unthinkable things, and never look away. No one has illuminated this kind of darkness more thoroughly or effectively than Harris. It seems unlikely that anyone ever will."—Washington Post
- "This page-turner begins intensely, builds in suspense then executes a high-action finale . . . Harris writes in cinematic takes and doesn't waste words . . . a good, fiendish read."—USA Today
- "A less accomplished or ambitious writer might have crafted a worthy thriller with only one or two of the story strands that Mr. Harris weaves; but the several plot elements in Cari Mora are always in fine balance, as befits the work of a unique master still at the top of his strange and chilling form."—Wall Street Journal
- "[Cari Mora] is delectable . . . as well as smart and tough and emotionally and physically scarred, all of which makes her a worthy adversary for the various monsters."—New York Times
- "Cari Mora is Harris' response to the Me Too movement. He already has proven his mastery of complex female characters in the form of Clarice Starling, but the protagonist and title character here takes things to another level . . . The result is a novel that is extremely well-written from start to finish and gives us a heroine to both root for and respect."—Bookreporter.com
- "[Thomas Harris's] latest is another penetrating exploration of signature themes -- the nature of evil, the persistence of trauma, and the strange, fateful gravity that so often seems to exist between individuals on either side of law and morality . . . It's an electric setup, and Harris handles the suspense as finely as you would expect from one of the genre's foremost practitioners. Cari Mora will keep readers up all night in the best possible way."—CrimeReads
- "Harris builds the plot skillfully, with violence and betrayal punctuated by moments of calm and reminiscence. The contest for the gold turns into a fight for survival that rockets to the final pages. Cari Mora is a pulse-pounding thriller, and Cari is an engagingly badass character."—Tampa Bay Times
- "Cari Morais at its best as a sustained meditation on the ineffable extent of humankind's capacity for brutality in the name of personal gain . . . carries an irony befitting Harris's ongoing consideration of how light and dark are often interchangeable."—Slant Magazine
- "It's vintage Harris, with nice twists and elegant ways of expressing just how bad bad people can be . . . Refreshingly, entertainingly creepy and with nary a fava bean in sight."—Kirkus Reviews
- "The heist story that makes up the bulk of Cari Mora is inventive and crisp, with a prose style that owes less to the floridness of the last two Hannibal novels than it does to the late and much-lamented Elmore Leonard."—Slate
- "Harris explores the dark side of human passion in this pulse-pounding novel. His first book in 13 years,Cari Mora will not disappoint fans of disturbing, taut thrillers."—BookPage
- "For Thomas Harris fans, Cari Mora will be comfort food: whimsically brutal and odd and silly, lacking only Hannibal's signature cannibalism."—Oregonian
- "With Cari Mora, Harris does what he does best -- takes us on a spine-tingling, edge-of-your-seat ride steeped in intrigue and nail-biting suspense. You will not sleep. You will not eat. This book screams to be devoured in one sitting."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- "There is no doubting that Mr. Harris is the undisputed king of memorable grotesquerie . . . one has no choice but to recommend Mr. Harris's highly skilled performance."—East Hampton Star
- "Harris's characters are interesting, and his meticulous research impressive . . . an adept novel."—Winnipeg Free Press
- "A fantastic novel and character study of a survivor."—Monsters, Madness and Magic
- "Read this book to escape for a couple nights into the darkest of worlds."—Aleo Review of Books
- On Sale
- Sep 22, 2020
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Grand Central Publishing