Detective Alex Cross must confront his most terrifying nemesis ever-and his own deepest fears-in this electrifying new thriller from the master of suspense, James Patterson.
Alex Cross has never believed in vampires. But when two joggers are found slain in a manner that suggests a macabre ritual, he has to reconsider. Someone believes in vampires enough to have committed a series of bizarre murders that appear to be the work of one. Local police are horrified, and even the FBI is baffled.
Cross takes on the case and plunges into a netherworld of secret clubs and role-players, a world full of poseurs and playactors-and someone demented enough to have crossed the line from dark ritual to real blood. At the same time, a lethal super-criminal from Cross's past known as the Mastermind is stalking him, taunting him, and threatening everything he holds dear. Cross has never been closer to defeat, or in greater danger. In a shocking conclusion, Alex Cross must survive a deadly confrontation-only to discover at last the awful secret of the Mastermind.
Prologue: WITHOUT ANY WARNING
NOTHING EVER STARTS where we think it does. So of course this doesn't begin with the vicious and cowardly murder of an FBI agent and good friend named Betsey Cavalierre. I only thought that it did. My mistake, and a really big and painful one.
I arrived at Betsey's house in Woodbridge, Virginia, in the middle of the night. I'd never been there before, but I didn't have any trouble finding it. The FBI and EMS were already there. There were flashing red and yellow lights everywhere, seeming to paint the lawn and front porch with bright, dangerous streaks.
I took a deep breath and walked inside. My sense of balance was off. I was reeling. I acknowledged a tall blond FBI agent I knew named Sandy Hammonds. I could see that Sandy had been crying. She was a friend of Betsey's.
On a hallway table I saw Betsey's service revolver. Beside it was a printed reminder for her next shooting qualifier at the FBI range. The irony stung.
I forced myself to walk down a long hallway that led from the living room to the back of the house. The house looked to be close to a hundred years old and was filled with the kind of country clutter that she'd loved. The master bedroom was situated at the end of the hall.
I knew instantly that the murder had happened in there. The FBI techs and the local police were swarming around the open door like angry wasps near a threatened hive. The house was strangely, eerily quiet. This was as bad as it gets, worse than anything else. Ever.
Another one of my partners was dead.
The second one brutally murdered in two years. And Betsey had been much more than just a partner. How could this have happened? What did it mean? I saw Betsey's small body sprawled on the hardwood floor and I went cold. My hand flew to my face, a reflex I had no control over.
The killer had stripped off her nightclothes. I didn't see them anywhere in the bedroom. The lower body was coated with blood. He'd used a knife. He'd punished Betsey with it. I desperately wanted to cover her, but I knew I couldn't.
Betsey's brown eyes were staring up at me, but they saw nothing. I remembered kissing those eyes and that sweet face. I remembered Betsey's laugh, high-pitched and musical. I stood there for a long time, mourning Betsey, missing her terribly. I wanted to turn away, but I didn't. I just couldn't leave her like this.
As I stood there in the bedroom, trying to figure out something coherent about Betsey's murder, the cell phone in my jacket pocket went off. I jumped. I grabbed it, but then I hesitated. I didn't want to answer.
"Alex Cross," I finally spoke into the receiver.
I heard a machine-filtered voice and it cut right through me. I shuddered against my will.
"I know who this is and I even know where you are. At poor, dear, butchered Betsey's. Do you feel a little bit like a puppet on a string, Detective? You should," said the Mastermind. "Because that's what you are. You're my favorite puppet, in fact."
"Why did you kill her?" I asked the monster. "You didn't have to do this."
He laughed a mechanical laugh and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. "You ought to be able to figure that out, no? You're the famous Detective Alex Cross. You have all those big, important cases notched on your belt. You caught Gary Soneji, Casanova. You solved Jack and Jill. Christ, you're impressive."
I spoke in a low voice. "Why don't you come after me right now? How about tonight? As you say, you know where I am."
The Mastermind laughed again, quietly, almost under his breath. "How about I kill your grandmother and your three kids tonight? I know where they are too. You left your partner with them, didn't you? You think he can stop me? John Sampson doesn't have a chance against me."
I hung up and ran out of the house in Woodbridge. I called Sampson in Washington and he picked up on the second ring.
"Everything okay there?" I gasped. "Everything's fine, Alex. No problems here. You don't sound too good, though. What's up? What happened?"
"He said he's coming for you and Nana and the kids," I told John. "The Mastermind."
"Not going to happen, sugar. Nobody will get past me. I hope to hell he tries."
"Be careful, John. I'm on my way back to Washington right now. Please be careful. He's crazy. He didn't just kill Betsey, he defiled her."
I ended the call with Sampson and I sprinted full-out toward my old Porsche.
The cell phone rang again before I got to the car.
"Cross," I answered, still running as I spoke, trying to steady the phone against my chin and ear.
It was him again. He was laughing maniacally. "You can relax, Dr. Cross. I can hear your labored breathing. I'm not going to hurt them tonight. I was just fucking with you. Having some fun at your expense.
"You're running, aren't you? Keep running, Dr. Cross. But you won't be fast enough. You can't get away from me. It's you I want. You're next, Dr. Cross."
Copyright © 2001 by James Patterson
Read by Daniel Whitner & Kevin O'Rourke
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