Angels & Demons | Dan Brown

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EXCERPT

THE only sound Mortati could now hear was the anomalous hum of a television camera in back—an electronic presence no conclave in history had ever endured—but a presence demanded by the camerlengo. To the utter astonishment of the cardinals, the camerlengo had entered the Sistine Chapel with two BBC reporters—a man and a woman—and announced that they would be transmitting his solemn statement, live, to the world.

Now, speaking directly to the camera, the camerlengo stepped forward. “To the Illuminati,” he said, his voice deepening, “and to those of science, let me say this.” He paused. “You have won the war.”

The silence spread now to the deepest corners of the chapel. Mortati could hear the desperate thumping of his own heart.

"The wheels have been in motion for a long time," the camerlengo said. "Your victory has been inevitable. Never before has it been as obvious as it is at this moment. Science is the new God."

What is he saying! Mortati thought. Has he gone mad? The entire world is hearing this!

"Medicine, electronic communications, space travel, genetic manipulation…these are the miracles about which we now tell our children. These are the miracles we herald as proof that science will bring us the answers. The ancient stories of immaculate conceptions, burning bushes, and parting seas are no longer relevant. God has become obsolete. Science has won the battle. We concede."

A rustle of confusion and bewilderment swept through the chapel.

"But science’s victory," the camerlengo added, his voice intensifying, "has cost every one of us. And it has cost us deeply."

Silence.

"Science may have alleviated the miseries of disease and drudgery and provided an array of gadgetry for our entertainment and convenience, but it has left us in a world without wonder. Our sunsets have been reduced to wavelengths and frequencies. The complexities of the universe have been shredded into mathematical equations. Even our self-worth as human beings has been destroyed. Science proclaims that Planet Earth and its inhabitants are a meaningless speck in the grand scheme. A cosmic accident." He paused. "Even the technology that promises to unite us, divides us. Each of us is now electronically connected to the globe, and yet we feel utterly alone. We are bombarded with violence, division, fracture, and betrayal. Skepticism has become a virtue. Cynicism and demand for proof has become enlightened thought. Is it any wonder that humans now feel more depressed and defeated than they have at any point in human history? Does science hold anything sacred? Science looks for answers by probing our unborn fetuses. Science even presumes to rearrange our DNA. It shatters God’s world into smaller and smaller pieces in quest of meaning…and all it finds is more questions.”

Mortati watched in awe. The camerlengo was almost hypnotic now. He had a physical strength in his movements and voice that Mortati had never witnessed on a Vatican altar. The man’s voice was wrought with conviction and sadness.

"The ancient war between science and religion is over," the camerlengo said. "You have won. But you have not won fairly. You have not won by providing answers. You have won by so radically reorienting our society that the truths we once saw as signposts now seem inapplicable. Religion cannot keep up. Scientific growth is exponential. It feeds on itself like a virus. Every new breakthrough opens doors for new breakthroughs. Mankind took thousands of years to progress from the wheel to the car. Yet only decades from the car into space. Now we measure scientific progress in weeks. We are spinning out of control. The rift between us grows deeper and deeper, and as religion is left behind, people find themselves in a spiritual void. We cry out for meaning. And believe me, we do cry out. We see UFOs, engage in channeling, spirit contact, out-of-body experiences, mindquests—all these eccentric ideas have a scientific veneer, but they are unashamedly irrational. They are the desperate cry of the modern soul, lonely and tormented, crippled by its own enlightenment and its inability to accept meaning in anything removed from technology.”

Mortati could feel himself leaning forward in his seat. He and the other cardinals and people around the world were hanging on this priest’s every utterance. The camerlengo spoke with no rhetoric or vitriol. No references to scripture or Jesus Christ. He spoke in modern terms, unadorned and pure. Somehow, as though the words were flowing from God himself, he spoke the modern language…delivering the ancient message. In that moment, Mortati saw one of the reasons the late Pope held this young man so dear. In a world of apathy, cynicism, and technological deification, men like the camerlengo, realists who could speak to our souls like this man just had, were the church’s only hope.

The camerlengo was talking more forcefully now. “Science, you say, will save us. Science, I say, has destroyed us. Since the days of Galileo, the church has tried to slow the relentless march of science, sometimes with misguided means, but always with benevolent intention. Even so, the temptations are too great for man to resist. I warn you, look around yourselves. The promises of science have not been kept. Promises of efficiency and simplicity have bred nothing but pollution and chaos. We are a fractured and frantic species…moving down a path of destruction.” 

The camerlengo paused a long moment and then sharpened his eyes on the camera.

"Who is this God science?" Who is the God who offers his people power but no moral framework to tell you how to use that power? What kind of God gives a child fire but does not warn the child of its dangers? The language of science comes with no signposts about good and bad. Science textbooks tell us how to create a nuclear reaction, and yet they contain no chapter asking us if it is a good or bad idea.

"To science, I say this. The church is tired. We are exhausted from trying to be your signposts. Our resources are drying up from our campaign to be the voice of balance as you plow blindly on in your quest for smaller chips and larger profits. We ask not why you will not govern yourselves, but how can you? Your world moves so fast that if you stop even for an instant to consider the implications of your actions, someone more efficient will whip past you in a blur. So you move on. You proliferate weapons of mass destruction, but it is the Pope who travels the world beseeching leaders to use restraint. You clone living creatures, but it is the church reminding us to consider the moral implications of our actions. You encourage people to interact on phones, video screens, and computers, but it is the church who opens its doors and reminds us to commune in person as we were meant to do. You even murder unborn babies in the name of research that will save lives. Again, it is the church who points out the fallacy of this reasoning.

"And all the while, you proclaim the church is ignorant. But who is more ignorant? The man who cannot define lightning, or the man who does not respect its awesome power? This church is reaching out to you. Reaching out to everyone. And yet the more we reach, the more you push us away. Show me proof there is a God, you say. I say use your telescopes to look to the heavens, and tell me how there could not be a God!” The camerlengo had tears in his eyes now. “You ask what does God look like. I say, where did that question come from? The answers are one and the same. Do you not see God in your science? How can you miss Him! You proclaim that even the slightest change in the force of gravity or the weight of an atom would have rendered our universe a lifeless mist rather than our magnificent sea of heavenly bodies, and yet you fail to see God’s hand in this? Is it really so much easier to believe  that we simply chose the right card from a deck of billions? Have we become so spiritually bankrupt that we would rather believe in mathematical impossibility than in a power greater than us?

"Whether or not you believe in God," the camerlengo said, his voice deepening with deliberation, "you must believe this. When we as a species abandon our trust in the power greater than us, we abandon our sense of accountability. Faith…all faiths…are admonitions that there is something we cannot understand, something to which we are accountable…With faith we are accountable to each other, to ourselves, and to a higher truth. Religion is flawed, but only because man is flawed. If the outside world could see this church as I do…looking beyond the ritual of these walls…they would see a modern miracle…a brotherhood of imperfect, simple souls wanting only to be a voice of compassion in a world spinning out of control.”

The camerlengo motioned out over the College of Cardinals, and the BBC camerwoman instinctively followed, panning the crowd.

"Are we obsolete?" the camerlengo asked. "Are these men dinosaurs? Am I? Does the world really need a voice for the poor, the weak, the oppressed, the unborn child? Do we really need souls like these who, though imperfect, spend their lives imploring each of us to read the signposts of morality and not lose our way?"

Mortati now realized that the camerlengo, whether consciously or not, was making a brilliant move. By showing the cardinals, he was personalizing the church. Vatican City was no longer a building, it was people—people like the camerlengo who had spent their lives in the service of goodness.

"Tonight we are perched on a precipice," the camerlengo said. "None of us can afford to be apathetic. Whether you see this evil as Satan, corruption, or immorality…the dark force is alive and growing every day. Do not ignore it." The camerlengo lowered his voice to a whisper, and the camera moved in. "The force, though mighty, is not invincible. Goodness can prevail. Listen to your hearts. Listen to God. Together we can step back from this abyss."

Now Mortati understood. This was the reason. Conclave had been violated, but this was the only way. It was a dramatic and desperate plea for help. The camerlengo was speaking to both his enemy and his friends now. He was entreating anyone, friend or foe, to see the light and stop this madness. Certainly someone listening would realize the insanity of this plot and come forward.

The camerlengo knelt at the altar. “Pray with me.”

The College of Cardinals dropped to their knees to join him in prayer. Outside in St. Peter’s Square and around the globe…a stunned world knelt with him.

___________________________________________________

Dan Brown (b. June 22, 1964) is an American author of thriller fiction who is best known for the 2003 bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code. Brown’s novels are treasure hunts set in a 24-hour period, and feature the recurring themes of cryptography, keys, symbols, codes, and conspiracy theories. His books have been translated into 52 languages, and as of 2012, sold over 200 million copies. Two of them, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, have been adapted into films.

Death Benefit | Robin Cook

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EXCERPT

406 Park Avenue, NYC

March 2, 2011, 10:37 AM

Edmund and Russell entered the midsize high-rise along Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan. Predictably, Edmund had been in a sour mood on the Town Car ride down from Greenwich. Russell had insisted on sharing the ride—he wanted to see if he could soften his partner’s mood before they met Gloria Croft. Edmund had been a bully all his life, and he felt uncomfortable in any situation where he wasn’t in charge. Not only was he not controlling events here, it seemed like he was being played, and by a woman, and by a woman who used to work for him. Russell doubted whether his calming words had had any effect.

When they arrived, Gloria used a script she had learned from Edmund, and Edmund knew it. The two men were buzzed into the suite and shown into a glass-walled conference room, where they were left to stew for fifteen minutes. The receptionist was very polite, and they were offered coffee or water. Outside the room, the office seemed calm and peaceful, with only the hum of the air-conditioning system breaking the silence. The image exuded was of quiet authority.

Then Gloria emerged. She’d changed her look since Edmund had last seen her. There was now a slight wave to her mid-length, lustrous brown hair. She wore a well-tailored business suit with a lavender blouse and black heels. There was just the right hint of decolletage. She looked like ten million dollars.

"Gentlemen, I’m very sorry, something going on in Singapore." Russell and Edmund had stood up when Gloria entered, and she walked over to each man and shook his hand. There was a slight, almost imperceptible smile on her face. She was clearly enjoying herself.

"Follow me!" She walked out of the conference room quickly, and Edmund and Russell gathered up their coats and briefcases and hustled after her.

"She’s got us trotting after her like a couple of poodles," Edmund muttered under his breath.

Gloria was already sitting at her desk when the men entered her office. Some giant, abstract, and presumably very expensive painting hung on the wall behind her. The desk itself was bare save for several large telephones; carrels behind Gloria were strewn with prospectuses and various files. One entire mahogany wall was inset with the mandatory array of televisions carrying the financial channels. Gloria pressed a button on the underside of her desk, and the office door soundlessly closed. When she spoke, she sounded coy even if Edmund knew that was something she was incapable of.

"I feel like I’m twenty-five again. Back then I was like a suckerfish hanging around the great predators, looking for the little scraps of food they missed when they fed. The ocean was full of blood. It was a lot more fun then than it is now, don’t you agree?"

Edmund didn’t like the way this had started out. Even he wouldn’t have been this bold. Now she was the shark, and they were the suckerfish, and it was their blood she smelled in the water. He bit his tongue until Gloria started talking about the “opportunities” she had lucked into in the subprime field, opportunities she was grateful that the market (meaning Edmund and Russell) had made available to her.

"Well, Gloria," Edmund said, trying to control himself, "you’re just not as smart as you think you are. That subprime stuff was never designed to succeed. We knew it was going to fail. We were shorting each other. We were shorting ourselves."

"Maybe you were, but not till the very end. I was buying swaps five years before you"—Edmund snorted—"and you guys were still leveraging your position selling the worthless bonds right up until Lehman went down. Tell me you weren’t."

Gloria had at least one of her gloves off now. She felt she held a winning hand against LifeDeals. It might make for a longer game if she held her cards, but she had Edmund and Russell right where she wanted them, and she could enjoy witnessing their reaction if she played her hand now. She’d probably make just as much money in the long run if LifeDeals wasn’t a public company. It depended on how far Edmund was going to push his luck. That morning before they arrived she’d looked at herself in the bathroom mirror and said, “Payback time.”

Gloria cleared her throat and went on: “The traders who sold those CDOs should have gone to jail. The whole of Wall Street was tarred with that brush. Immoral, greedy, selfish…it was stealing.”

"Nonsense," Edmund said. "You said it yourself: It was an opportunity. You destroyed those companies. Your fingerprints are on the bodies. The government mandated that mortgage lenders make subprime deals. Everybody should have a home. No one held a gun to anyone’s head…I don’t understand why we’re raking over all this again. We’ve moved on. You clearly haven’t, but I’d urge you in the strongest possible terms to get over it.”  

Edmund was exerting as much self-control as he could, speaking slowly and evenly. Russell knew the plug on the volcano was shaking, the whole thing was threatening to blow. Robotically Edmund continued.

"We have the utmost confidence that LifeDeals is a winner and is going to prove to be so in the near future." 

"Oh really," Gloria said. "Well, I have a million in credit default swaps on the line that says it won’t. And I’m going to buy more. And you know what, I’ll be glad when it fails, because I think you’re stealing again, only this time you’re stealing vulnerable people’s life insurance, and you’re paying them pennies. These are old people who are desperate for money because they need an operation and don’t want to go bankrupt because our health system has written them off."

Edmund was massaging his temples. They were bankers, they made money, end of story.

"The Supreme Court has ruled that life insurance policies are equity that people can buy and sell," Edmund said.

"You’re paying fifteen percent of face value. Ten if you can."

"We’re offering a legitimate financial service to older Americans who need cash for whatever reason. We haven’t created the need, we’re merely filling it. It’s of no concern to me whether an individual is paying for a new hip or a cruise to Alaska. Perhaps they just don’t want their ungrateful children to get the money. There’s nothing immoral or unethical about it. We’re helping put money back into the economy. You should thank us."

"Oh, spare me, Edmund. Now that the mortgage market has dried up, some clever analyst zeroed in on life insurance. It’s another gold mine and damn the consequences for the people involved."

Russell could see this was going nowhere fast. He moved forward in his seat. “Gloria, with all due respect, Edmund and I didn’t drive down here to debate the ethics of life settlements, although I have to say they have been around for years with little protest. We’ll have to agree to disagree. We’d like to know why you’re so sure we’re wrong. I brought along some research as backup.” 

Russell placed financial statements in front of Gloria along with complicated graphs that showed bell curves for the life expectancy of people whose policies LifeDeals had purchased, separating them by the diseases the holders suffered. He gave Gloria the whole picture, letting her see more information than was normally presented to prospective hedge fund managers. He then described the plan, how they would securitize the policies into bonds, resulting in vastly increased income that was then used to buy up more policies to make into more bonds. The bonds were weighted, the largest segment based on diabetes, the second largest on cardiovascular disease, and the third on kidney disease. While Russell talked, Gloria glanced at the financial statements and the bell curves. It didn’t take her long. When she was finished, she tossed them aside as if she didn’t believe any of it.

Finally Russell explained that since the bell curves could accurately predict when the policies would pay out, they could factor in all the other cogent data and determine their cash flow extremely accurately and buy as many policies as the revenue streams allowed. Their actuarial data was enormous, going back fifty years, and even longer if they needed it.

"We’ve left nothing to chance," Russell said. "It’s foolproof, based on real numbers. Sure, a few people are going to have spontaneous remissions, but others will pay out faster than predicted. It’s all based on accepted mathematics and the bedrock is the insurance companies. It might be the best investment opportunity ever, backed by the Supreme Court ruling, so there’s no chance the insurance industry can lobby Congress to have laws and rules changed. The insurance companies are going to pay every penny the policies have accrued." 

Russell suddenly stopped, out of breath. Russell and Edmund looked at Gloria, who stared back for a couple of beats. There was silence.

"Don’t you see it?" Russell questioned.

I see it,” Gloria said. “You’re the ones who don’t see it.”

"It’s real. We’ve run the numbers up and down and confirmed it with the actuarial companies. It’s real. We’re already holding fifty thousand policies—"

Gloria whistled. “How much are the premiums on fifty thousand policies, Russell? You must be paying out about four, five million a month. You’re going to run out of capital by the end of next year if you don’t start having significant income.”

Russell and Edmund knew she was right. That Gloria was smart was not news to Edmund; he wouldn’t have hired her otherwise way back when. But in this instance they’d be fine, they were going to be fully capitalized by the end of this year. He wondered if Gloria might be bluffing and was beginning to think she was. So far she’d given them nothing. He was getting tired of this.

"Gloria. All you’ve told us is that we are mean, heartless bastards taking money from old ladies," Edmund said. "But we knew that already. I think you’re fishing. You told some guy you were shorting us knowing it would flush us out, and we’d come down here and explain our business plan. Which we have done. Congratulations. Now we should go and not take up any more of your time. We’ll be more than happy to mail you a prospectus in due course."

Edmund’s irritated expression had morphed into the insufferably smug look Gloria remembered from whenever he had dressed her down in days of yore. She pulled out the central drawer of her desk and found a red Sharpie. Looking at Edmund, she took one of Russell’s graphs and copied the bell curve, only drawing it shifted to the right of the one printed on the paper. She held up the graph.

"What would it mean to you if this happened?"

Russell squinted at the paper—it was the diabetes chart. 

"That’s not going to happen."

"Humor me. Hypothetically."

"You’re projecting chronically sick diabetes patients living about ten years longer than they’re going to live. As I said, it’s not going to happen."

"Let’s say forty percent of your policies are diabetes patients. If we have a curve like mine instead of the curve like yours, I reckon that’s twenty thousand policies you’re stuck with for ten additional years. That’s, um, two hundred and forty million in premiums you weren’t expecting to pay. Kind of cuts into your model, doesn’t it? Perhaps they’re half your policies. I think the curve needs to move a little more. Fifteen years and it’s four hundred and fifty million. Your biggest source of revenue becomes a sinkhole of toxic assets."

"That’s hypothetical, and it flies in the face of fifty years of actuarial data. Fifty years!"

Edmund was yelling but Gloria was looking at Russell. He looked worried.

"Yes, you have fifty years’ worth of old data. But you’re not looking at the future. Technology can make a monkey out of a table in a minute. If you have any more great ideas, please share them with me, I will be happy to take a position on them too. 

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Edmund demanded.

"Do you know what an iPS cell is?"

"I’ve heard of them, yes," said Edmund. "Something to do with stem cells. But I don’t see—"

"Induced pluripotent stem cells," said Gloria. "If you looked to the future and not to the past, you might know that iPS cells are going to have a huge impact on regenerative medicine."

"You mean stem cell therapy?" said Edmund. "That bubble burst ten years ago, all those biotechnology start-ups? Penny stocks today."

"Edmund, you’re still talking about the past." Gloria had come this far. You’re ignoring the future."

"Okay, Gloria, what do you see in your crystal ball?"

"Have you heard of the Nobel laureate Tobias Rothman? Or Junichi Yamamoto? What they’re doing at their research lab up at Columbia Medical Center?"

"No," Russell said, feeling that the ceiling was pressing in on him.

"Through a contact who follows biotech patents I’ve learned that Rothman has mouse organs, entire organs, that he has grown from iPS cells that he’s transplanted back into the same mice that donated the cells. Any day now he’s going to do it  with human iPS cells if he hasn’t already. He’ll be able to grow pancreases. For humans. To make insulin. Pancreases that are custom made for a patient so no rejection. You know what that’s going to do?" Gloria pointed to the graph she had drawn over and dragged her finger from Russell’s bell curve to her red version.

"That."

Gloria sat back.

Russell had done the real math in his head. Thanks to some particularly aggressive salesmen in Texas and Florida, they were extremely long on diabetics’ policies. Gloria had in fact undershot—they were almost two-thirds of their policies. Meaning they might be on the hook for almost $600 million in additional premiums. Who knew if the science was going to work and when, and not every patient was going to be helped, but still, if she was right, their paradigm would be in tatters. Was there any way they could dump those policies? Could they securitize them anyway? Would anyone invest in the company with this much doubt about the nature of the risk? These questions were occurring to Russell; Edmund just wanted to get the hell out of there.

"Think of LifeDeals as a swimming pool," said Gloria. "There’s water pouring out already and there’s going to be a lot less of it pouring in than you planned in the near term. You guys are going to be left high and dry with no life preserver."

Gloria was enjoying herself.

"You want some advice? I doubt it but I’m going to give it to you anyway. Hurry up and securitize and sell those tranches ASAP, before others start to see that the ground under LifeDeals  is going to be more like quicksand than bedrock. Once that happens, your bonds are going to go begging. Some of the money that comes in from the bonds you might be able to squirrel away if you’re clever, and I know you are, but you certainly aren’t going to get back your seed money. Unless you want to break the law. Which brings us neatly full circle. Perhaps you’ll end up going to jail this time."   

"Russell we gotta go," Edmund said, as Russell gathered up his papers. Edmund and Gloria held each other’s glare. Gloria had played her hand, and she could see it had hit home.

"So sorry you guys have to run, but I have to go to lunch anyway," she said.

Gloria handed Russell some more of his papers. She’d already decided to strengthen her position against LifeDeals significantly later that day. Edmund was right in part—she had wanted them to tell her about their business plan, and she assumed Edmund would be arrogant enough to tell her too much. Now she’d seen their model, and it was even worse than she could have hoped. Or better. Maybe she’d cost herself some money, but she already had more than she could reasonably spend in three lifetimes.

That look on Edmund’s face was priceless.

Edmund and Russell were silent as they waited for the elevator. Russell stole a look at Edmund’s face, and it bore an expression he had never seen. It looked like grief. They got in the elevator.

"Hold these a second," Edmund said to Russell, handing him his case and his coat. Edmund stepped forward and slammed the elevator door hard with the fist he’d made of his left hand. He cried out and grabbed his hand. The pain, when it came, was a relief. 

________________________________

Dr. Robin Cook (b. 1940 in New York City) is an American physician and novelist who is best known for combining medical writing with the thriller genre. Many of his books have been bestsellers on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Cook says he chose to write thrillers because the forum gives him “an opportunity to get the public interested in things about medicine that they didn’t seem to know about. I believe my books are actually teaching people.”

The author admits he never thought that he would have such compelling material to work with when he began writing fiction in 1970. “If I tried to be the writer I am today a number of years ago, I wouldn’t have very much to write about. But today, with the pace of change in biomedical research, there are any number of different issues, and new ones to come,” he says.

Dr. Cooks books have sold nearly 100 million copies.

Bad Blood | John Sandford

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EXCERPT

[Warning: Triggering may occur]

Dunn reached past Coakley and gave the door a solid thwack-thwack-thwack with his fist, hitting it hard enough to shake it, and then said, “Want us to kick it in?”

Coakley saw a shadow moving toward them and said, “I think somebody’s coming. Off to the side, guys,” and she took her pistol out of her holster and held it by her side, the only time in her life she’d ever drawn it in the line of duty. Dunn and Hart were doing the same, and then the shadow hardened, and the door’s lock rattled, and the door opened and a girl looked out. “Yes?”

"Are you Kristy?" Coakley asked.

"Yup. My parents aren’t here," Kristy said.

"We have a search warrant for your house. We’re going to have to come in."

"Well, then I guess you better," Kristy said.

"Are you alone?"

"Yup. They all went to Emmett Einstadt’s."

Coakley looked at Dunn and tipped her head, and he nodded and went back outside. He’d call the cars trailing the Einstadt truck. Coakley said to Kristy, “Well, let’s go in, and I’ll explain this all to you.”

**

They went up the short flight of stairs, Kristy leading them to the kitchen, where she pulled out a chair and pointed Coakley and Hart at the others, and Coakley took one and asked, “How old are you?”

"Fifteen. Last month."

"Okay, we’re here because we’ve heard—we’ve had people tell us—that the World of Spirit church has involved adults having sex with younger people, like yourself, and like Kelly Baker. We’re here to search your house to see if we can find evidence of that."

"I thought somebody might come someday, especially after Kelly died," Kristy said. She turned and looked at Dunn, who’d come back in, and who nodded at Coakley. She continued: "I don’t know exactly what happened to her, but I heard people talking for a while, then they hushed it all up. She was providing service to three or four of the men, and she suffocated, is what the rumor is. Jacob Flood had a great big cock and he left it in her throat too long and something happened and she couldn’t start breathing again when he took it out. He was like that. He was a jerk like that. He liked to see girls choke on it."

Coakley looked at Dunn and Hart, whose mouths were hanging open, and Hart said, “Oh, Jesus.” 

Coakley said, “Your father is a photographer. Did he ever take any pictures of anybody doing these things?”

"Sure," she said. "There’s boxes and boxes of them up in a secret cubbyhole in their bedroom. Father likes to look at them to get excited, before we service him."

"Who’s…we?" Dunn asked.

"Mom and me. Or one or the other of us. And sometimes other women. And he gets more excited if there are other men there, and everybody is servicing everybody."

"Could you show me the boxes?" Coakley asked.

"Sure. My mother would have a heart attack if she knew I was showing it all to you," Kristy said.

"Why are you?" Coakley asked.

"Because you’re going to save me, and take me away from it, and then I’m going to get psychological help and try to lead a normal life, although that might not be possible anymore," Kristy said. "If it is, I’d like to go to L.A."

Hart asked, “Where did you hear about psychological help?”

"Facebook," she said. "I’ve read all about it. I don’t think I’m insane yet. Some girls are insane, we think. I  think my mother is insane. We talk about it sometimes, the ones on Facebook. Our parents don’t know about Facebook."

"Okay," Coakley said, exhaling. "Could you show me the boxes?"

**

On the way up the stairs, Dunn said, “This is awful. This is the most awful thing I’ve ever heard. And Crocker knew about it. I wonder if he took the job to watch us?”

"Dunno," Coakley said.

Hart asked Kristy, “Why do you want to go to L.A.? I mean, just to get away from…them?” 

"Oh, no. It’s just that it’s so dark and cold here," Kristy said. "I’d like to go where it’s warmer. Miami would be okay. Basically, it’s just the weather."

She went on up the next flight, and Dunn murmured to Coakley, “That’s the most insane thing she’s said yet. The weather’s the problem.”

**

They fished a box out of the closet—the top box was the current one, Kristy said, and Coakley knew it was the one that Virgil had opened. Coakley sat on the bed and started looking through the pictures. Kristy would point to one in which she was prominent, with both men and boys. In one, she was having sex with a boy who didn’t look more than twelve, while a group of people watched with parental pride, the children’s faces turned toward the camera. The boy, Kristy said, “had come into his manhood,” and was being shown how it worked. “After me, the older women would take him, and get him taught.”

"So it wasn’t just men with girls."

 ”No, it was the women with the boys, too. Pretty much, all of us with all of us. It’s always been that way, since we came from the Old Country.”

Dunn was pulling more boxes out of the hidden cubbyhole, five in all, with photos going back at least a full generation, the earliest ones showing men in military uniforms, apparently after World War II.

"Grandfather took pictures, too," Kristy said.

"All right," Coakley said. She turned to the two men and said, "Start turning the place over. Kristy, you come downstairs and sit with me. I want the names of all the people in these photographs."

She remembered Virgil and called him: “We arrived at the Rouse place,” she said formally, “and Kristy Rouse informed us of the presence of several boxes of photographs hidden in her parents’ closet, which show a wide variety of sexuality between adults and children.”

Virgil said, “Great. Schickel has been talking to your guys, the ones tagging Einstadt, and they say that there are a hundred cars at the Einstadts’, and there are people all over the place. Lots of cars coming and going. Our guys are a little stressed. If there’s nothing going on with you, I’m going to send Schickel and Brown, and the two highway patrol guys, to keep an eye on things until we start down the bust list.”

"Good. We’re here all by ourselves. I’ve got two people tearing up the house while I talk to Kristy. But everything is right here. All the photos."

"I’ll be there in fifteen minutes," Virgil said. "I’m peeling off these other guys right now."

"Fifteen," Coakley said. And, "Virgil, however bad you think this is—it’s worse."

**

Coakley carried the first box of photos down the stairs, and she and Kristy sat at the kitchen table and started going through the photos—many were Polaroids, but more were recent digital-printed shots—Kristy giving her names as they went, Coakley writing them in her notebook.

Five minutes in, Kristy told her that there were lots more that her father had never printed, that were on the computer. They went into what had been a first-floor bedroom, now converted to a workroom.

A wide-screen iMac sat in the middle of the worktable, and Kristy brought it up and went to a Lightroom program and rolled out the Lightroom database as pages of thumbnail photos. Not all the photos were sexual, but hundreds of them were: In the library module, Kristy tapped an “All photographs” number: There were 8,421 photos in the collection.

Coakley was sitting, transfixed, at the desk, when headlights swept up the hill, and she said, “Virgil. He’s gonna be freaked out.”

Dunn went to look and came back and said, “I don’t think it’s Virgil. There’s a whole line of cars coming in.” He went to the stairway and shouted, “Bob. Bob, get down here.”

 Hart came running down the stairs, and they all went to the side entrance, and Dunn, looking out the window, said, “They’ve got guns, some guys are running around to the front,” and Coakley snapped at Hart, “Watch the front door. Don’t let anybody in.”

Hart pulled his gun, his eyes wide and his Adam’s apple bobbing in what might have been fear, and Coakley heard glass breaking at the front, and heard Hart shout, “Stay out of here—stay out of here. We’re the police—”

BANG! 

What the Night Knows | Dean Koontz

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EXCERPT

On the left, a door opened, and Billy Lucas entered the patient’s side of the room. He wore slippers, gray cotton pants with an elastic waistband, and a long-sleeved gray T-shirt.

His face, as smooth as cream in a saucer, seemed to be as open and guiless as it was handsome. With pale skin and thick black hair, dressed all in gray, he resembled an Edward Steichen glamour portrait from the 1920s or ’30s.

The only color he offered, the only color on his side of the glass, was the brilliant, limpid, burning blue of his eyes.

Neither agitated or lethargic from the drugs, Billy crossed the room unhurriedly, with straight-shouldered confidence and an almost eerie grace. He looked at John, only at John, from the moment he entered the room until he stood before him, on the farther side of the glass partition.

"You’re not a psychiatrist," Billy said. His voice was clear, measured, and mellifluous. He had sung in his church choir. "You’re a detective, aren’t you?"

"Calvino. Homicide."

"I confessed days ago."

"Yes, I know."

"The evidence proves I did it."

"Yes, it does."

"Then what do you want?"

"To understand."

Less than a full smile, a suggestion of amusement shaped the boy’s expression. He was fourteen, the unrepentant murderer of his family, capable of unspeakable cruelty, yet the half-smile made him look neither smug nor evil, but instead wistful and appealing, as though he were recalling a trip to an amusement park or a fine day at the shore.

"Understand?" Billy said. "You mean—what was my motive?"

"You haven’t said why."

"The why is easy."

"Then why?"

The boy said, “Ruin.”

The windless day abruptly became turbulent and rattled raindrops like volleys of buckshot against the armored glass of the barred windows. That cold sound seemed to warm the boy’s blue gaze, and his eyes shone now as bright as pilot lights.

" ‘Ruin,’ " John said. "What does that mean?"

For a moment, Billy Lucas seemed to want to explain, but then he merely shrugged.

"Will you talk to me?" John asked.

"Did you bring me something?"

"You mean a gift? No. Nothing."

"Next time, bring me something."

"What would you like?"

"They won’t let me have anything sharp or anything hard and heavy. Paperback books would be okay."

The boy had been an honor student, in his junior year of high school, having skipped two grades.

"What kind of books?" John asked.

"Whatever. I read everything and rewrite it in my mind to make it what I want. In my version, every book ends with everyone dead."

Previously silent, the storm sky found its voice. Billy looked at the ceiling and smiled, as if the thunder spoke specifically to him. Head tilted back, he closed his eyes and stood that way even after the rumble faded.

"Did you plan the murders or was it on impulse?"

Rolling his head from side to side as though he were a blind musician enraptured by music, the boy said, “Oh, Johnny, I planned to kill them long, long ago.”

"How long ago?"

"Longer than you would believe, Johnny. Long, long ago."

"Which of them did you kill first?"

"What does it matter if they’re all dead?"

"It matters to me," John Calvino said.

Pulses of lightening brightened the window, and fat beads of rain quivered down the panes, leaving a tracery of arteries that throbbed on the glass with each bright palpitation.

"I killed my mother first, in her wheelchair in the kitchen. She was getting a carton of milk from the refrigerator. She dropped it when the knife went in."

Billy stopped rolling his head, but he continued to face the ceiling, eyes still closed. His mouth hung open. He raised his hands to his chest and slid them slowly down his torso.

He appeared to be in the grip of a quiet ecstasy. 

When his hands reached his loins, they lingered, and then slid upward, drawing the T-shirt with them.

"Dad was in the study, at his desk. I clubbed him from behind, twice on the head, then used the claw end of the hammer. It went through his skull and hooked so deep I couldn’t pull it loose."

Now Billy slipped the T-shirt over his head and down his arms, and he dropped it on the floor. His eyes remained closed, head tipped back. His hands languidly explored his bare abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms. He seemed enravished by the texture of his skin, by the contours of his body.

"Grandma was upstairs in her room, watching TV. Her dentures flew out when I punched her in the face. That made me laugh. I waited till she regained consciousness before I strangled her with a scarf." 

He lowered his head, opened his eyes, and held his pale hands before his face to study them, as if reading the past, rather than the future, in the lines of his palms.

"I went to the kitchen then. I was thirsty. I drank a beer and took the knife out of my mother."

John Calvino sat on the arm of a chair. He knew everything the boy told him, except the order of the killings, which Billy had not revealed to the case detectives. The medical examiner had provided a best-guess scenario based on crime-scene evidence, but John needed to know for sure how it had happened.

Still studying his hands, Billy Lucas said, “My sister, Celine, was in her room, listening to bad music. I did her before I killed her. Did you know I did her?”

"Yes."

Crossing his arms, slowly caressing his biceps, the boy met John’s eyes again.

"Then I stabbed her precisely nine times, though I think the fourth one killed her. I just didn’t want to stop that soon."

Thunder rolled, torrents of rain beat upon the roof, and faint concussion waves seemed to flutter the air. John felt them shiver through the microscopic cochlear hairs deep in his ears, and he wondered if perhaps they had nothing to do with the storm.

He saw challenge and mockery in the boy’s intense blue eyes. “Why did you say ‘precisely’? “

"Because, Johnny, I didn’t stab her eight times, and I didn’t stab her ten. Precisely nine."

Billy moved so close to the glass partition that his nose almost touched it. His eyes were pools of threat and hatred, but they seemed at the same time to be desolate wells in the lonely depths of which something had drowned.

The detective and the boy regarded each other for a long time before John said, “Didn’t you ever love them?”

"How could I love them when I hardly knew them?"

"But you’ve known them all your life."

"I know you better than I knew them."

A dull but persistent disquiet had compelled John to come to the state hospital. This encounter had sharpened it. He rose from the arm of the chair.

"You’re not going already?" Billy asked.

"Do you have something more to tell me?"

The boy chewed his lower lip. John waited until waiting seemed pointless, and then he started toward the door.

Wait. Please,” the boy said, his quivering voice different from what it had been before.

Turning, John saw a face transformed by anguish and eyes bright with desperation.

"Help me," the boy said. "Only you can."

Returning to the glass partition, John said, “Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t do anything for you now. No one can.”

"But you know. You know.” 

"What do you think I know?"

For a moment more, Billy Lucas appeared to be a frightened child, unsettled and uncertain. But then triumph glittered in his eyes.

His right hand slid down his flat abdomen and under the elastic waist of his gray cotton pants. He jerked down the pants with his left hand, and with his right hand directed his urine at the lower grille in the glass panel.

As the stinking stream spattered through the steel grid, John danced backward, out of range. Never had urine smelled so rank or looked so dark, as yellow-brown as the juice of spoiled fruit.

Aware that his target had safely retreated, Billy Lucas aimed higher, hosing the glass left to right, right to left. Seen through the foul and rippling flux, the boy’s facial features melted, and he seemed about to dematerialize, as if he had been only an apparition. 

John Calvino pressed the button on the intercom panel beside the door and said to Coleman Hanes, “I’m finished here.”

To escape the sulfurous odor of the urine, he didn’t wait for the orderly but instead stepped into the hallway.

Behind John, the boy called out, “You should have brought me something. You should have made an offering.”

The detective closed the door and looked down at his shoes in the fluorescent glare of the corridor. Not one drop of foulness marred their shine.

As the door to the guard’s vestibule opened, John walked toward it, toward Coleman Hanes, whose size and presence gave him the almost mythological aura of one who battled giants and dragons.

Worth Dying For | Lee Child

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EXCERPT

The two guys formed up shoulder to shoulder and headed for the cabin’s door. Reacher opened it up and stepped out to meet them head-on. Win or lose, fighting inside would bust up the room, and Vincent the motel owner had enough problems already.

The two guys stopped ten feet away and stood there, side by side, symmetrical, their weapons in their outside hands, four cubic yards of bone and muscle, six hundred pounds of beef, all flushed and sweating in the chill.

Reacher said, “Pop quiz, guys. You spent four years in college learning how to play a game. I spent thirteen years in the army learning how to kill people. So how scared am I?”

No answer.

"And you were so bad at it you couldn’t even get drafted afterward. I was so good at it I got all kinds of medals and promotions. So how scared are you?"

"Not very," said the guy with the wrench. 

Wrong answer. But understandable. Being a good enough guard or tackle in high school to get a full-boat free ride to the big school in Lincoln was no mean achievement. Playing even a cameo role on the field in Memorial Stadium made a guy close to the best of the best. And failing to make the National Football League was no kind of real disgrace. The dividing line between success and failure in the world of sports was often very narrow, and the reasons for falling on one side or the other were often very arbitrary. These guys had been the elite for most of twenty years, the greatest thing their neighbourhood had ever seen, then their town, then their county, maybe their state. They had been popular, they had been feted, they had gotten the girls. And they probably hadn’t lost a fight since they were eight years old.

Except they had never had a fight. Not in the sense meant by people paid to fight or die. Pushing and shoving at the schoolyard gate or on the sidewalk outside of the soda shop or late at night after a start-of-summer keg party was as far from fighting as two fat guys tossing lame spirals in the park were from the Super Bowl. These guys were amateurs, and worse, they were complacent amateurs, accustomed to getting by on bulk and reputation alone. In the real world, they would be dead before they even landed a blow.

Case in point: bad choice of weapons. Best are shooting weapons, second best are stabbing weapons, third best are slashing weapons. Blunt instruments are way down the list. They slow hand speed. Their uncontrolled momentum is disadvantageous after a miss. And, If you have to use them, the backhand is the only way to go, so that you accelerate and strike in the same fluid motion. But these guys were shoulder to shoulder with their weapons in their outer hands, which promised forehand swings, which meant that the hammer or the wrench would have to be swung backward first, then stopped, then brought forward again. The first part of the move would be a clear telegraph. All the warning in the world. No surprise. They might as well put a notice in the newspaper, or send a cable by Western Union.

Reacher smiled. He had been raised on military bases all around the world, battling hardcore Marine progeny, honing his skills against gangs of resentful native youths in dusty Pacific streets and damp European alleys. Whatever hardscrabble town in Texas or Arkansas or Nebraska these guys had come up in had been a feather bed by comparison. And while they had been studying the playbook and learning to run and jump and catch, he had been broken down and built back up by the kind of experts who could snap your neck so fast you never knew it had happened until you went to nod your head and it rolled away down the street without you.

The guy with the wrench said, “We’ve got a message for you, pal.”

Reacher said, “Really?”

"Actually it’s more of a question."

"Any difficult words? You need more time?"

Reacher stepped forward and a little to his right. He put himself directly in front of the two guys, equidistant, seven feet away, so that if he was six on a clock face, they were eleven and one. The guy with the wrench was on his left, and the guy with the hammer was on his right.

The guy with the wrench moved first. He dumped his weight on his right foot and started a short, compact backswing with the heavy metal tool, a backswing that looked designed to bounce off tensed muscles after perhaps forty degrees or a couple of feet, and then snap forward again through a low horizontal arc, aiming to break Reacher’s left arm between the shoulder and the elbow. The guy wasn’t a total idiot. It was a decent first try.

But it was uncompleted.

Reacher had his weight on his left foot, and he had his right foot moving a split second after the wrench, driving the same way at the same speed, maybe even a little faster, and before the wrench stopped moving backward and started moving forward, the heel of Reacher’s boot met the big guy’s knee and drove right through it, smashing the kneecap deep into the joint, turning it inside out, making it fold forward the way no knee is designed to go. The guy started to drop and before he was past the first vertical inch and before the first howl was starting in his throat Reacher was stepping past him, on the outside, shouldering him aside, deleting him from memory, forgetting all about him. He was now essentially an unarmed one-legged man, and one-legged men had never featured near the top of Reacher’s concerns.

The guy with the hammer had a split-second choice to make. He could spin on the forehand, but that would give him almost a full circle to move through, because Reacher was now almost behind him, and anyway his crippled buddy was in the way of the spin, just waiting helplessly for a face-to-face collision. Or the guy could flail on the backhand, a Hail Mary blind swing into the void behind him, hoping for surprise, hoping for a lucky contact.

He chose to flail behind him.

Which Reacher was half-expecting and wholly rooting for. He watched the lunge, the arm moving, the wrist flicking back, the elbow turning inside out, and he planted his feet and jerked from the waist and drove the heel of his hand into the knob of the guy’s elbow, that huge force jabbing one way, the weight of the swinging hammer pulling the other way, the elbow joint cracking, the wrist overextending, the hammer falling, the guy instantly crumpling and dancing and hopping and trying to force his body to a place where his elbow stayed bent the right way around, which pulled him through a tight counter-clockwise circle and left him unsteady and unbalanced and face-to-face with Reacher, who paused less time than it took for the hammer to hit the floor and then head-butted him hard in the face, a savage, snapping movement, solid bone-to-bone contact, and then Reacher danced away toward the wrecked Subaru and turned and planned the next second and a half.

The guy who had held the wrench was down, rolling around, in Reacher’s judgement stunned not so much by the pain, most of which would be still to come, but by the awful dawning knowledge that life as he knew it was over, the momentary fears he might have experienced as an athlete after a bad on-field collision finally come true, his future now holding nothing but canes and braces and limps and pain and frustration and unemployment. The guy who had held the hammer was still on his feet, back on his heels, blinking, his nose pouring blood, one arm limp and numb, his eyes unfocused, not a whole lot going on in his head.

Enough, a person might say, if that person lived in the civilized world, the world of movies and television and fair play and decent restraint. But Reacher didn’t live there. He lived in a world where you don’t start fights but you sure as hell finish them, and you don’t lose them either, and he was the inheritor of generations of hard-won wisdom that said the best way to lose them was to assume they were over when they weren’t yet. So he stepped back to the guy who held the hammer and risked his hands and his arms and crashed a low right hook into the skinny triangle below the guy’s pectorals and above his six-pack abdominals, a huge blow, timed and jerked and delivered to perfection, straight into the solar plexus, hitting it like a switch, and the guy went into all kinds of temporary distress and sagged forward and down. Reacher waited until he was bent low enough for the finishing kick to the face, delivered hard but with a degree of mercy, in that smashed teeth and a busted jaw were better than out-and-out brain damage.

Then he turned to the guy who had held the wrench and waited until he rolled the right way and put him to sleep with a kick to the forehead. He picked up the wrench and broke the guy’s wrist with it, one, and then the other wrist, two, and turned back and did the same to the guy who had held the hammer, three, four. The two men were somebody’s weapons, consciously deployed, and no soldier left an enemy’s abandoned ordnance on the field in working order.

The doctor’s wife was watching from the cabin door, all kinds of terror in her face.

“What?” Reacher asked her.

(Reblogged from assistantdirector)
America’s First Bookless Library to Open in Texas
BiblioTech is being touted as America’s first bookless public library system, with the prototype site in San Antonio hoping to offer 150 e-readers, 50 computer stations, 25 laptops and 25 tablets to local readers.

America’s First Bookless Library to Open in Texas

BiblioTech is being touted as America’s first bookless public library system, with the prototype site in San Antonio hoping to offer 150 e-readers, 50 computer stations, 25 laptops and 25 tablets to local readers.

Gideon’s War | Howard Gordon

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EXCERPT

Gideon was given his first firearm, a Marlin .22, when he was five years old. He learned early that one thing, and one thing only, could ensure his father’s affection. That one thing was good shooting. When you went to the range with Father, you didn’t mess around, you didn’t talk, you didn’t smile, you didn’t shuffle your feet. You simply loaded and fired. With precision and accuracy.

From the moment he touched the Marlin .22, Gideon knew he had a gift. Trap, skeet, air pistol, bench rest, offhand, prone, practical handgun shooting - no matter. He had it - that magical trick of eye and brain and finger that allowed him to aim a gun and hit what he wanted to hit. Kill was the word that Father used.

For the first three years, his father taught him. After that, all his father had to do was man the spotting scope and let the boy work. “Good kill, son,” he’d whisper. “Good kill.”

Tillman, on the other hand, struggled to keep up on the range. Compared to any other kid, he was excellent and could drive tacks with a rifle or run clays set after set. But he did it through gritted teeth, flinching under his father’s perpetual scrutiny. Every near miss, every stray shot earned him an ear-ringing slap on the back of the head, a pinch on the inside of his upper arm, or - worst of all - a few cutting words. These ranged from “useless fool” to “you’re no son of mine, boy.” Always whispered softly. Even at his most violent, Father never raised his voice.

But the violence was always there. When the dark rage came on him, he struck out at anyone within reach. Anyone except Gideon. While their mother sometimes absorbed his wrath, Tillman was always their father’s main target. It had taken a long time for Gideon to see it, but Tillman hadn’t absorbed the belittling and the beating and the abuse by accident. As the older of the two, Tillman had routinely stood between their father and Gideon - deflecting his anger, absorbing his blows, protecting the younger boy. In fact, Tillman had been his protector throughout his childhood - whether it was from bullies at school or opposing linemen on the football field. Thanks to Tillman, nobody messed with Gideon Davis. People came to understand that if you put a late hit on Gideon Davis, when the next play rolled around, Tillman Davis was going to cut you off at the knees.

It was only as he grew older - and increasingly estranged from his brother - that he began to understand what that protection had cost Tillman, how much pain he had absorbed on Gideon’s behalf. The realization came only slowly and grudgingly. But eventually Gideon realized that only through Tillman’s self-sacrifice had Gideon been given the space to grow into the man he had become.

It was a debt that Gideon knew he had never adequately repaid.

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Howard Gordan is an Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning writer and producer who served as executive producer of the hit television show 24 for its full eight-season run. He was also a writer and executive producer for The X-Files.