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The bestselling author of The Genesis Code and The Eighth Day now strikes his most harrowing chord, with a chilling novel that pushes suspense to nearly inhuman limits.
As a television news correspondent, Alex Callahan has traveled to some of the most dangerous corners of the globe, covering famine, plague, and war. He’s seen more than his share of blood and death, and knows what it means to be afraid. But what he’s never known is the terror that grabs him when, on a tranquil summer afternoon, he ceases to be an observer of the dark side and, to his shock, becomes enmeshed in it.
Separated from his wife, and struggling not to become a stranger to his six-year-old twin sons, Alex is logging some all-too-rare quality time with the boys, when they vanish without a trace amid the hurly-burly of a countryside Renaissance Fair.
Then the phone call comes. A chilling silence; slow, steady breathing; and the familiar, plaintive voice of a child–“Daddy?”–complete the nightmare . . . and set in motion a juggernaut of frenzy and agony.
The longer the police search, exhausting leads without success, the deeper Alex’s certainty grows that time is running out. And when, at last, telltale signs reveal a hidden pattern of bizarre and ghoulish abductions, Alex vows to use his own relentless investigative skills to rescue his children from the shadowy figure dubbed The Piper.
Whoever this elusive stranger is, the profile that slowly emerges–from previous crimes involving twins, from the zealously secret world of professional magicians, and from the eerie culture of voodoo–suggests that The Piper is a predator unlike any other. A twisted soul hell-bent on fulfilling an unspeakably dark dream. A fiend with a terrifying true calling. What Alex Callahan is closing in on is a monster with a mission.
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John Case is the bestselling author of The Genesis Code, The First Horseman, The Syndrome, and The Eighth Day.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Five hours of sleep. I rub my eyes, head out front, and bend down to extract my rolled-up copy of The Washington Post from beneath an azalea bush. I never know where I'm going to find the thing; whoever pitches it never got past T-ball.
"Good morning! Beautiful day in the neighborhood." It's Yasmin Siegel, my eightysomething neighbor from across the street, with her black Lab, Cookie.
"I guess." I slide the paper out from its transparent plastic sleeve.
"Seriously, Alex, a day like this in Washington, D.C." She shakes her head in disbelief. "It's a gift. End of May? You can get some real stinkers." She points her finger at me. "You enjoy it, you and those boys."
"I was hoping for rain," I tell her, looking up at the cloudless blue sky.
"Ri-ight," Yasmin chuckles. "O-kay, Cookie. I get the message." She gives me a jaunty wave and heads toward the park.
Actually, I was hoping for rain. I check the weather map on the back of the Metro section, just in case.
No. No rapidly moving front, no storm pelting toward D.C. from Canada or the Outer Banks.
A beautiful day.
Back in the house, I set up the coffeemaker. While I wait for it to do its thing, I put out bowls and spoons for the boys, pour two glasses of orange juice, tear off a couple of bananas from the bunch, toss them onto the table, get the giant box of Cheerios down from the cabinet.
The problem with the beautiful day is that I've got work to do, last-minute cuts on a piece scheduled to air tonight. But cuts or no cuts, I promised the boys--my six-year-old twins--that every Saturday they could pick out some kind of excursion. And they're dead set on this Renaissance festival, which naturally enough is all the way to hell and gone, way out past Annapolis. The drive alone will take more than an hour each way. It's going to kill the whole day.
And since this is the boys' first visit since Christmas--and only their second visit since Liz and I separated--this is the first of these excursions. No way I can bail.
I tell myself there's nothing for it. Get on with it. I need to make the cuts in time to drop off the file at the station on our way out of town.
The boys and I are doing great so far--although after only six days, I'm already wiped out and playing catch-up at the station. This would make Liz happy, both the sleep deprivation and the fact that after less than a week, I'm already falling behind at work. She built in the time crunch when she set up the conditions for the visit. She wouldn't let me take the boys on a trip, for instance, not even for part of the month. "How can I compete," she said, "if every time they're with you, it's a vacation?" (I took the kids skiing in Utah during my allotted four days at Christmas.)
What Liz wants is a month of "regular life," as she puts it. She works full-time at the Children's Museum in Portland. She wants me to experience the reality, 24/7, of having kids and a job, wants me to hassle with car pools, laundry, bedtimes, picky eating habits, friends, the parents of friends. If there's any chance for a reconciliation, I have to see that I can't just phone it in--having a wife and kids. Being a single parent for a month will force me to put family first.
Instead of work. In the station's official bio, I'm the guy who "goes after the toughest stories in the hardest places." This has won me several awards, but it's beginning to look as if it might cost me my marriage. And my family. I was in Moscow when the twins took their first steps, in Kosovo when Kev broke his arm, in Mazar-al-Sharif on their first day of kindergarten.
"Minute for minute," Liz said, "you'll probably see more of the boys this month than you have for the past two years. Maybe you'll even like it."
Coffee's ready. I splash some milk into it and I'm about to leave the plastic bottle on the table for the boys, when I remember that Kev won't touch milk if it's the slightest bit warm. I put it back into the fridge.
The thing is I do like it, having the guys around, even with the hassles. Liz was right about that. I guess it was always easier to let her do most of the "parenting," or whatever you want to call it. Turns out, that routine stuff is when you really get to know your kids. I forgot how much fun they are, their bursts of insight, the earnest concentration they bring to certain tasks. How much I missed them.
This Renaissance thing, though--I'm not looking forward to that. After a long and traffic-choked drive, I'm guessing it will be a hokey and overpriced tour through what amounts to a faux Elizabethan amusement park. Costumed knights and ladies. Jousts and faked swordplay. Jugglers and magicians. Not my kind of thing. Not at all.
I tried to promote an O's game, a trip to the zoo, a movie and pizza--but the boys wouldn't budge. They've been relentless about the festival ever since they caught the ad on TV.
By now, I've seen it too because the kids taped it and forced me to watch. A knight in shining armor gallops into the foreground. Behind him, a half-timbered facade bristles with wind-whipped pennants. Huge lance in hand, the knight reins in his horse, lifts his faceplate, and in hearty Elizabethan English invites one and all to "Get thyselves to the Maryland Renaissance Faire!"
It all seemed kind of lame to me, and I made the mistake of saying that to Liz last night on the phone--looking for a little good-natured mutual grumbling about parenthood.
What I got instead was a chilly lecture from my wife. Didn't I get it that what parents enjoy is their kids' enjoyment? What did I think--that Liz was crazy about Barney? Teletubbies? Return of the Clones? "And here I was going to compliment you on finding something that fit in so well with their after-school enrichment program," Liz said. "I should have known."
I didn't have a clue about any after-school program and that, unfortunately, became crystal clear. She explained: the boys have been up to their ears in Arthurian lore.
This had gone right by me; although once Liz mentioned it, I realized the kids had been rattling on about the Round Table and Merlin. And they'd spent hours out in the backyard, dueling with plastic swords. Plastic swords that, yes, they brought in their suitcases.
Okay, so I demonstrated a lack of curiosity about the plastic swords--is that so bad? Or--is Liz right and I'm the most self-absorbed parent on the planet? Unlike their tuned-in mother up in Maine.
Maine. I drop down into the chair in front of the iMac in my study. Could she have moved any farther away? Without expatriating? The answer, of course, is yes: she could have gone to Alaska. Hawaii. L.A. She could have gone lots of places. But...
I tap a key and wait for the screen to shimmer out of sleep mode. My segment--"Afghan Wedding"--was all wrapped and ready until nine last night, when I got the word that the addition of some promotional clips meant I had to cut another two minutes. I made the logical cuts last night, but I still need to lose forty-four seconds. The segment's only seven minutes long now, so cutting is harder. Whatever goes at this point will be something I don't want to give up.
Originally "Afghan Wedding" was part of an hour-long special about Afghanistan, pegged around a Donald Rumsfeld we-haven't-forgotten-you visit to that beleaguered country. I got a nice long interview with the secretary of defense about the state of the postwar recovery. I interviewed Karzai. We got some excellent tape of the crew working on the reconstruction of the Kandahar-Kabul road. And then there was a pastiche of feel-good stuff about life in liberated Kabul and Kandahar. Girls going to school. The opening of a health clinic for women. Exhilarated Afghanis listening to music. Dancing. Capped off with the wedding: Afghan couple celebrates long-postponed nuptials.
The wedding was to take place in a village near Kandahar. A safe zone, or so we were told. The crew and I got there with our equipment, no problem. Even with the cameras, the wedding got started on time. And then the happy occasion turned into a nightmare when the crew of an off-course U.S. F-16 seeking a rumored Taliban conclave misread the wedding tableau on the ground.
Four killed, fifteen wounded.
The segment was removed from the hour-long progress report about Afghanistan. Now the wedding footage was going to be part of an ambitious show about collateral damage: Gulf I (Saddam and the Kurds), Mostar (the bridge), Gaza and Jerusalem (noncombatants killed by both sides), Afghanistan (my wedding piece), Liberia (chopped-off hands and feet), Gulf II (friendly-fire fatalities). The show--Big Dave was angling for an Emmy--would finish with a segment about the mother of all collateral-damage stories: September 11.
I cue up my segment on the iMac. On the monitor, the nightmare has not yet begun. The camera cuts between the glowing faces of the bride and groom, then moves in for a close-up of the tiny American flags pinned to their nuptial finery.
"Dad, can we eat breakfast in the TV room and watch cartoons?"
I jump. Liz took off with the kids more than six months ago and one week into their visit, I'm still not used to the way they just materialize. "Jeez, I gotta put bells on you guys."
Sean says, "Can we?"
"Eat breakfast in the TV room? Please?"
I shrug. "Why not?"
"Great! C'mon, Kev."
But Kevin doesn't budge. "When are we going to the Renaissance Fair?"
I'm wondering what I can get away with. "I'm thinking...noon."
"No way!" Kev complains. "...
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Book Description Ballantine Books. Hardcover. Condition: New. 0345464710 Ships from Tennessee, usually the same or next day. Seller Inventory # Z0345464710ZN
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