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[Translated by Mark Polizzotti]
[Read by Gildart Jackson]
The shocking sequel to the runaway international bestseller Syndrome E
Syndrome E's Lucie Henebelle and Inspector Sharko have reunited to take on the case of the brutal murder of Eva Louts, a promising graduate student who was killed while working at a primate research center outside Paris. But what at first appears to be a vicious animal attack soon proves to be something more sinister. What was Eva secretly researching? Was she tracking three fanatical scientists who control a thirty-thousand-year-old virus with plans to unleash it on the world?
With his unmatched ability to inject cutting-edge science into his novels, Franck Thilliez draws on genetics, paleontology, and the dark side of human nature to create this smart, adrenaline-fueled thriller. Bred to Kill moves from the rain-slick streets of Paris to the heart of the Alps to the remote Amazon jungle, as Lucie and Sharko work to solve the murder - before whoever killed Eva comes for them.
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Franck Thilliez is the author of several bestselling novels in his native France. Syndrome E is his first novel to be translated into English in the United States.
It should not have been a sunny day.
Nowhere on earth should people have had the right to laugh, to run along the beach or exchange gifts. Something or someone should have stopped them. No, they had no right to be happy or carefree. Because somewhere else, in a refrigerated room, at the end of a dank, neon-lit hallway, a little girl was cold.
That cold would never leave her. Not ever.
Reports came through that the unrecognizable corpse of a little girl—estimated age seven to ten—had been found near a local highway between Niort and Poitiers. Lucie Henebelle didn’t yet know the exact circumstances surrounding the discovery, but the minute the news had hit the Criminal Investigations Division in Lille, she’d been out of there like a shot. More than three hundred miles fueled by pure adrenaline, despite her fatigue and emotional pain, her constant fear of the worst. And always, that one sentence she kept repeating like a mantra: “Please don’t let it be one of my daughters, please, God, don’t let it be one of my girls.” She who never prayed, who no longer remembered the scent of church candles, was begging. She let herself dare believe it was someone else’s child, a little girl who’d just now gone missing and hadn’t yet found her way into the system. Other parents would grieve, but not she.
Oh, no, not she.
Lucie convinced herself one more time: it was someone else’s child. The relative proximity of Les Sables d’Olonne, where Clara and Juliette had been kidnapped, to where hikers had found the body could only be coincidence. Same thing for the short amount of time, five days, between the little girls’ disappearance and the moment Lucie stepped onto the parking lot of the Poitiers forensic building.
Someone else’s child . . . So why was Lucie there, alone, so far from home? Why was bile coming up her throat, making her want to gag?
Even in late afternoon, the blacktop of the parking area was burning hot. Between the police cars and staff vehicles, the bitter odors of melting tar and hot tires stank up the air. That summer of 2009 had been hell in every way. And the worst was still to come, with that horrible word throbbing in her head: unrecognizable.
The girl stretched out in there is not one of my daughters.
Lucie looked at her cell phone yet again, called voice mail even though there was no envelope icon on the screen. Maybe there’d been a network outage while she was en route, maybe someone had left her an urgent message: they’d found Clara and Juliette; the girls were unharmed and would soon be back home, surrounded by their toys.
A van door slamming wrenched her back to reality. No messages. She put away her cell and entered the building. Lucie knew forensic institutes by heart. Always the same layout: reception straight ahead, labs on the first and second floors, morgue and autopsy rooms symbolically located underground. The dead were no longer allowed to see light.
The police lieutenant with sunken features and red-rimmed eyes got the information from the secretary. Her voice was hesitant and uncertain, vocal cords made hoarse by too many screams, sobs, and sleepless nights. According to the registrar, the subject—another awful word that squeezed her heart—had come in at 6:32 p.m. The medical examiner was probably finishing up the external exam. At that very moment, he was no doubt reading the events of the subject’s final moments in the very substance of her flesh.
Another little girl. Not Clara or Juliette.
Lucie had trouble staying on her feet; her legs buckled, urging her to run out of there. She hobbled down the corridor, one hand on the wall, moving in slow motion, bathed in shadow, while somewhere outside, in the midsummer air, people were dancing and singing. The contrast was so hard to fathom: everywhere else life went on, whereas here . . .
Thirty seconds later, she was standing in front of a swinging door with an oval window. The place reeked of death. Lucie had led parents, brothers, sisters down these ink-dark tunnels to “identify the body.” Most of them collapsed before the viewing. There was something terribly inhuman about entering this place. Something unnatural.
In her field of vision, on the other side of the window, a masked face directed an intent gaze toward a stainless steel table that Lucie couldn’t see. She had lived through this scene so many times; and so many times, she had seen only the start of a new case, a file she hoped would prove exciting, unusual. She had been like that cursed ME, who was just examining one case among many, and who would go home that night, pour himself a drink, and turn on the TV.
But today, everything was so horribly different. She was both the cop and the victim. The hunter and the prey. And just a mother, faced with the body of a dead child.
Not one of my daughters. Some anonymous little girl. Other parents will soon be suffering instead of me.
Drawing renewed courage from those words, Lucie flattened both hands against the door, took a deep breath, and pushed.
• • •
The fifty-something-year-old man had parked in the back of the forensic institute lot, behind a van delivering medical supplies. A strategic spot that allowed him to watch people coming and going from the building without attracting attention. Eyes hidden behind patched sunglasses, several days’ stubble on his cheeks, sweat beading on his forehead. The heat, this lousy, thick, oppressive heat . . . He raised his glasses and mopped his eyelids with a tissue, fretting. Should he go in and get more information about the dead child? Or should he wait for the Criminal Investigations cops to come out after witnessing the autopsy and get the intel from them?
Pressed back in his seat, Sharko massaged his temples. How many hours since he’d slept? How many nights had he spent tossing and turning in bed, huddled up like some guilty kid? The faint trickle of music from the dashboard radio and the thin drizzle of stifling air between the two open windows made his eyelids droop. His head lolled to one side; the sensation of free fall jolted him awake again. His body wanted to sleep, but his mind wouldn’t let him.
Franck Sharko, chief inspector at the Violent Crimes Unit in Nanterre, poured tepid mineral water into the hollow of his hand, wiped it over his face, and got out to stretch his legs. The outside air clung to his drenched clothes. At that moment, he felt incredibly stupid. He could have gone into the building, shown his police ID, and watched the autopsy. Gathered information, mechanically and professionally. In more than twenty-five years on the job, including twenty in Homicide, how many remains had he already watched being sliced up by an ME’s saw? Two hundred? Three times that?
But when it came to children, he couldn’t anymore, hadn’t for a long time. The scalpel was way too shiny next to those pale little hairless chests. It was like the kiss of pure evil. He had loved the way the little Henebelle girls looked at him, that day on the beach. They had played ball, jumped in puddles together, under their mother’s gaze. It was the holidays, a time to be carefree, to enjoy the simple pleasures of sharing. And the twins with their beautiful blue eyes had disappeared because of him.
That was barely a week earlier.
One of the longest, most agonizing weeks he’d known since his own family had been taken from him.
What would they learn from the autopsy, the internal exams and toxicology screens? What horrors would be spit out of the lab’s printer? He knew the circuit of death by heart, that implacable logic within the illogical. He knew perfectly well that a dead body in the hands of the police and medical examiners would never be granted final rest until the investigation was closed. This desecration of a human being that had once harbored so much light disgusted him. As for child-killers . . . The inspector clenched his fists until his knuckles turned white.
From the sound of a car engine, Sharko knew someone was parking nearby. Hidden by the van, he stretched for a few more seconds on that burning asphalt. His joints cracked like dry wood. Finally, he got back into his ailing vehicle, which was always on the point of giving up the ghost but which held out, then held out some more . . .
It was at that very moment that he saw her, and his insides shattered still further. In jeans and untucked gray T-shirt, her hair clumsily pulled back in a ponytail. Her sky-blue eyes no longer lit up her face. She looked like an old, ruined canvas by some past master—as no doubt did he. Seeing her that way, listing to the side like an ill-rigged sailboat, pained him to his inner core.
So Lucie Henebelle had heard the news, too. She had scanned the computerized case logs from every unit, picked up on any investigation involving children, made the phone calls. And at the first sign of trouble she had flown down here, pedal to the metal. Good God, what had she come to this mausoleum for? To watch one of her own children be cut into pieces? Even he, Sharko, hadn’t been up to seeing the postmortem of his little Eloise, so long ago. It was worse than swallowing a live grenade.
So then how could a mother, with all of her love, find the strength to do this? Why this need to suffer, to sharpen her hatred still further? And what if it turned out to be some anonymous kid? Would Lucie be condemned to wander from morgue to morgue, searching for her two children, until it wore her down to nothing? And what if she found one and never found the other—how does one keep from going insane?
His fingers gripping the steering wheel, Sharko hesitated a long time about what to do. Should he go in after her? Sit here and wait for her to reappear? But how could he let Lucie leave the building, legs wobbling and drunk with grief, without throwing himself into her arms? How could he not crush her to his heart with all his might, whisper in her ear that someday things would surely be better?
No, there was only one solution. Run away. He loved the woman too much.
He switched on the ignition and drove off toward Paris.
When the monstrous outline of the forensic building had faded in his rearview mirror, Sharko realized that he would probably never see her again.
Never had he felt such sorrow, or such hatred.
• • •
Follow the road, without thinking about the pain in her head, the burning tears. Get as far away as possible from that death-haunted place. Lucie had not eaten or drunk anything. Only retched. Going much faster than the speed limit, she drove back along the screaming floods of highway lamps, heading north. And too bad if she smashed against the guardrails. Drive to the point of exhaustion. Rack up the asphalt miles so as not to think, never to think. But despite everything, images rained down, flooding her memory. The tiny body, so out of place on the huge autopsy table. The merry gleam of the tools under the scialytic lamp . . .
And not to know. Not even to be able to recognize one of her own children. Those fountains of life that she had carried, accompanied for eight years, day and night, through illnesses and school fairs; whose every feature she knew, every hidden detail, down to the most minute differences between their faces.
The blood of her blood.
She had to wait a bit longer. The seconds would now drip like slow poison through her veins, with only horror at the end of it: either one of her twins was dead, or she was still trembling in the hands of her torturer. The worst, or worse still . . .
What monster had taken them? Why? Clara and Juliette had gone missing while buying ice cream, on the beach at Les Sables d’Olonne. In less than a minute they had vanished into the crowd. Had someone kidnapped them just by sinister chance? Had he been targeting them? To what end? Lucie couldn’t help trying out every possibility, every variation on the sordid theme, until she felt ill. The reel of horrors never ran out.
These constant waves of darkness, and all because of Franck Sharko. She hated him to the depths of her soul, and never, ever, did she wish to see him again—which was just as well, because she would gladly have leapt at him and ripped out his throat.
What would the next days be like, waiting for the lab results, the investigation, the manhunt for the killer? What kind of monster could do something like that to a child? Wherever he was on this earth, Lucie would track him down with her last iota of strength.
Not Clara or Juliette. It wasn’t Clara or Juliette I saw this evening. It was . . . something else.
A timid light trembled in the window of her apartment, in the heart of Lille’s student quarter. A pleasant area, usually, full of life, conversations, human warmth. Now the boulevard was empty; the traffic lights spat out their greens, reds, and yellows, monotonous like the end of the world. Lucie was afraid to go home. Those four walls, without Clara and Juliette at her sides, were worse than a sarcophagus.
Her mother, Marie Henebelle, was downing coffee after coffee and pill after pill to stay awake. It was three in the morning, and the woman with dyed blond locks, who usually had energy to burn, had aged ten years in the space of a few days. It was she who had raised the girls since they were born, because of their mother’s job. It was she who had changed their diapers, heated their bottles, sat at their bedside when they were sick, or when stakeouts called Lucie away in the night.
And today, dear God, today . . .
Lucie stood immobile in the doorway, jaws clenched, facing her mother. If only she’d been able to run away, far away from here, and never come back. Walk down a long stretch of sand as it sank into the middle of the ocean. She was already thinking of the next day. The empty beds in the pink-and-green room. Those stuffed toys waiting to be hugged. Juliette’s elephant that she’d won at the street fair, the hippo that Clara so loved to squeeze against her chest. All those memories, which had now become gaping wounds.
Because Lucie didn’t move, her mother got up and held her, not saying a word. What could she say at a time like this? That they’d end up finding the twins safe and sound? That everything would go back to normal? A cop, and consequently the mother of a cop, knew better than anyone that, after forty-eight hours, the chances of finding a child alive were next to nothing. Reality and statistics simply worked that way.
Marie noticed the transparent, hermetically sealed bag her daughter was squeezing in her white fist. She immediately understood. The packed kit contained a mask, a tube, a pair of latex gloves, an index card, and three cotton swabs for taking DNA samples.
Lucie murmured into her mother’s back.
“How am I going to do this, Mom? How am I going to get through this?”
Marie Henebelle sat on the couch, exhausted.
“I’ll be here. I’ll always be here.”
Lucie nodded with a sniffle.
“The child, on the autopsy table . . . I cursed her, Mom; I cursed her for leaving me in doubt. It’s not my child. Deep inside me, I know it’s not mine. How could one of my little girls end up on one of those? How could . . . how could anyone want to harm them? It just isn’t possible.”
“I know it isn’t.”
“I’m sure th...
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Book Description Blackstone Audio Inc, 2015. MP3 CD. Condition: Brand New. unabridged mp3cd edition. 1 pages. 7.50x5.30x0.60 inches. In Stock. Seller Inventory # zk148304873X
Book Description Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2015. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M148304873X