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Authors: Jay Bonansinga

Twisted

BOOK: Twisted
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High Praise for Jay Bonansinga and
Frozen
 
“A relentless chiller that leaves you guessing and gasping again and again.”
—
David Morrell,
New York Times
best-selling author of
The Brotherhood of the Rose
 
“A thrilling, beautifully paced skyrocket of a novel.”
—
Peter Straub,
New York Times
best-selling author of
In the Night Room
 
“A captivating novel of cold and meticulous suspense.”
—
Robert W. Walker,
author of
City for Ransom
 
“Frozen
will chill you to the bone!”
—
J. A. Konrath,
author of
Bloody Mary
and
Whiskey Sour
 
“Frozen
will send chills down your spine.”
—
Barbara D'Amato,
award-winning author of the Cat Marsala mysteries
 
“Impressive range, depth, and audacity ... Bonansinga nimbly avoids all melodramatic traps and makes his two investigators believable and moving.”
—Chicago Tribune
 
“One of the best pure thrillers I've read all year—will appeal to anyone who enjoys the Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child novels.”
—
Rod Lott,
BY JAY BONANSINGA
Frozen
Twisted
 
Available from Pinnacle Books
TWISTED
Jay Bonansinga
PINNACLE BOOKS
Kensington Publishing Corp.
www.kensingtonbooks.com
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Dedicated to the victims of Katrina
Foreword
In August of 2005, an unprecedented storm hit the Gulf Coast of America, wreaking havoc across three states. The city of New Orleans was especially hard-hit. The ensuing floods brought about devastation on a biblical scale, resulting in loss of life and property damage that are, at this book's press time, still being tabulated.
In July of 2005, I turned in the first draft of a book about an epochal hurricane hitting New Orleans, including scenes of deadly flooding, levees giving way, and the whole gamut of heart-wrenching human behavior in extremis—all of this written months before it happened in real life.
For an author of commercial fiction, this presented a major dilemma—albeit one that paled in comparison with the misery and heartache experienced by Katrina's victims. Still, I had a difficult decision to make. Should I scrap the whole thing out of respect for the dead and dispossessed? Or should I “Katrina-ize” the existing story?
Ultimately I decided—along with Michaela Hamilton, my sage and patient editor at Pinnacle Books—to stick with New Orleans. And stick with the hurricane.
Novels take place in a “parallel present” and our current present will forever be affected by Katrina. But I'm sticking with New Orleans because you do not abandon those you love. Because New Orleans should have
libraries
of books written about it. Because New Orleans is us.
Long live the Crescent City!
PROLOGUE:
City of Ghosts, City of Martyrs
New Orleans
Present day
 
That night, as the latest storm closed in on the old man's row house on Dumaine Street, the world seemed to turn inside out. The black rain, coming down in sheets, strafed across the professor's ruined tile roof. The Spanish windows rattled and thrummed. The wrought-iron galleries moaned and whistled. Every few moments lightning flickered, filling the cozy bachelor's lair with the glare of a photographer's strobe.
Hunkered down in his cluttered living room, surrounded by his beloved books and wax 78s, the old man tried to ignore the overwhelming feeling that the imminent hurricane was the least of his problems. Nowadays, he and his fellow New Orleanians had become practically inured to—if not downright contemptuous of—hurricane warnings. Besides, the old man had bigger catastrophes on his personal horizon. He had made troubling discoveries over the past few months, as well as grave mistakes. Dreadful mistakes. Mistakes that were just now coming back to torment him through terrifying permutations.
He put his book down, unread, on the side table, the winds continuing to rage against the window glass. He rose to his full height and tried to decide what to do: evacuate or wait out the storm in the reinforced garage behind the building? How many people had asked themselves that very question last year when Katrina was bearing down on the Gulf Coast? How many lives were snuffed out in '05 in the fury of those floodwaters because of a single poor decision? And how many more perished because of the simple, inexorable fact of poverty?
For a man in his late seventies, Professor Moses Andrew Jackson De Lourde, PhD, was not the type to ruminate on such matters. He was a robust old coot of impressive stature—both figuratively and literally. Nearly six feet tall in his stocking feet, with long, storklike legs and a little oval paunch, he wore the garb of a nineteenth-century aristocrat. Evening jacket, silk cravat, and riding boots. His long iron-gray mane was swept back off his lined, leathery face, and the single delicate gold loop piercing his flabby left earlobe only hinted at his bohemian lifestyle, not to mention his proud gayness.
So how had he sunken to this point? How had he botched his affairs so completely? Moses De Lourde was supposed to be a man of measured judgement, one of the Old Lions of Academia, an authority in arcane corners of history, anthropology, and archaeology. Now look at him: alone, afraid, reduced to the level of a Neanderthal huddling horror-stricken in his cave, waiting for the angry nature gods to subside. Like so many folks in this town, De Lourde seemed to suffer from post-hurricane stress disorder, a form of manic depression punctuated by periods of debilitating pessimism. Pessimism about the future, about God and country. But all this merely served to bolster the professor's stubbornness and pride, and insistence on staying put—like most of his heartier fellow denizens. The city had weathered three centuries of turmoil. No goddamned hurricane was going to shut them down now.
He heard another noise from down the hall, maybe from the bedroom. It was a flinty, scraping noise, followed by a series of clicks.
He had been hearing these noises all evening, and had initially thought them simply figments of his imagination or merely the palmetto branches scraping the windows. But now he was convinced they were the sounds of a human intruder. Someone was trying to get inside!
“The nastiness seems to be commencin' a trifle early this time around,” he muttered to himself, reaching down into the pocket of his coat. He pulled out a small can of pepper spray, a precautionary purchase that he had made last year during the days marshal law ruled the Quarter. In those awful weeks after Katrina had flooded the entire metro area—when the French Quarter, the only high and dry area for miles, had been reduced to the wild west—De Lourde had cowered, day in and day out, behind his second-floor gallery like Gloria Swanson in
Sunset Boulevard
.
The little aerosol bottle felt reassuring in his gnarled, liver-spotted hand as he started down the back hall toward the noise.
His bedroom was empty. The French doors latched. The windows locked securely. A single bedside lamp threw a dull, yellow cone of light across the Persian rug. Nothing out of the ordinary here.
The bathroom was also as he had left it. Shower curtain drawn back. Rusty water dripping perpetually into an old claw-foot bathtub.
But just as he was about to turn away and make his exit, he paused suddenly, noticing something peculiar on the outer surface of the window above the toilet. The little porthole-style pane overlooked the rear alley two stories down. No human being could reach the outside of that window. The drop was at least thirty feet. A person would have to have wings.
“Sweet Jesus on the cross,” De Lourde uttered, staring at the symbol scrawled there, his southern drawl barely a whisper.
He began backing away, moving almost involuntarily, until his back bumped the opposite wall of the corridor. He kept gaping at that window, and the strange characters drawn across it in red paint. The more he stared at it—especially the way it was streaking and blurring in the rain—the more he realized it was not red paint at all.
“This cannot be happenin',” he murmured, his voice drowned by the sound of the rain, as he turned and staggered back down the hallway toward the living room.
An old princess model phone sat on a French provincial table by the fireplace. He grabbed it and tried to dial the nonemergency number for the Orleans Parish Detective Squad. He knew a good old boy over there who might listen to the ravings of a crazed old queen.
The phone was dead.
“Damn, damn,
damn.”
He hobbled over to the hat rack by the door. His London Fog slicker hung there, next to his walking cane and Panama hat. He quickly shrugged on the coat, then grabbed the Panama, and the cane, and a large umbrella.
Then he awkwardly whirled around, searching for his cell phone. It sat perched in its charger by the bookshelf. He went over, snatched up the cell, then made his exit.
Quickly ... down the rickety back stairs. Across an iron platform greasy with rain. Past his new tomato plants, past his ragged bougainvillea trellis, still bearing the scars of Katrina's winds. The tip of his old lion-head cane slipped and squeaked as he trundled through a narrow gate and into the storm-swept back alley.
Rain lashed his face as he hobbled across slimy cobblestones. Lightning flashed again, turning the scene into a silent movie flicker show. The old man turned up his collar, lowered his hat, and squinted up at the gray shrouds. What in God's name did he think he was going to see? And what did he think he was going to
do
if he saw something?
The storm pressed down on him as he gazed up at the back of his place and tried to figure out how someone could draw an ancient symbol on his bathroom window. He saw nothing but tangled power lines and rainwater streaming down cracked, weathered timbers.
He made a decision then. He would skip the parish detective squad, and he would make a call to the one man who might take all this nonsense seriously.
The professor took a deep, pained breath then and headed for the mouth of the alley ...
. . . completely unaware that he was being followed.
 
 
The dark figure tracked the old man with amazing stealth and skill, moving from shadow to shadow, keeping just enough distance between the twosome to remain undetected.
Tall and rawboned and sinewy, this impressive figure possessed preternatural hearing and vision, and blended into the battered, wounded cityscape, and the veils of rain, and the swirling salt winds, like a graceful black chameleon. This was a deadly predator—newly born, newly minted—and he moved with a singular purpose.
Up ahead, the old man stumbled slightly, fiddling with his umbrella and cell phone, trying to find the entrance to the garage's storm shelter, trying to be heard above the wind and rain. “—dreadfully sorry to call at this hour—hello?—Ulysses!”
The dark figure paused, shivering now with anticipation, crouching just inside the alley's shadowy threshold. Clad in black ceremonial garb, draped in ritual implements, the figure coiled itself there with cobra stillness.
Several things were happening all at once: the hurricane approaching, the first sequence beginning, the bloodlust rising, and the voice, the voice, its words hollered into a cell phone, barely audible in the roar of the rain.
“Ulysses, can you hear me? Hello! I'm frightfully sorry, dear heart, but I believe I have a situation on my hands—I said a situation!—
Hello
!”
Thunder boomed.
Lightning crackled.
The figure crept—cautiously, smoothly under the cover of darkness—toward the professor. Fifteen feet. Ten. Eight. The old man was now trying to open the garage shelter door, grunting with effort, the phone wedged against his ear as he wheezed at the top of his lungs: “Ulysses? Ulysses!”
The figure pounced, and the old man jerked.
Something flashed in the momentary strobe of lightning like tinsel in the dark.
It was over before the old man hit the ground.
 
 
Over the course of the next hour and forty-five minutes, Hurricane Cassandra roared into town, battering the French Quarter, strafing Jackson Square, and taking the tops of trees off like an angry, petulant god. It was nowhere near Katrina-sized, of course, but it was deadly just the same.
By that point, most of the residents of New Orleans—or at least those lucky enough to possess the proper conveyances—were either evacuated somewhere upstate, waiting out this category-one blowhard, or safely tucked away in storm shelters. Very few—if any—onlookers witnessed the furious winds that reigned across the Quarter and into the Garden District for several hours that night. Nobody saw the ancient rows of live oaks being shredded once again like sickly stalks of wheat chewed up in a cosmic combine. And nobody saw the dark figure dragging the limp form from doorstep to doorstep, from alcove to underhang, fighting the horizontal rain and seventy-five-mile-an-hour winds.
Nobody realized that this dark figure had been transformed by the weather, a force of nature
himself
. He thought of himself as the Holy Ghost now, and the title suited him. He was a glorious visitor from another realm, here to equalize a universe in turmoil.
He dragged the professor's flaccid body down the ramp and into the shadows of the scarred and shambled Riverfront, into the dark, swaying palmettos of the Toulouse Street wharf. The sky was changing. That was good.
It was nearly time.
In the churning blackness under the festering Toulouse Street steamboat slip, the Holy Ghost laid the body in the rancid mud and prepared for the ritual. The Great Process was about to begin. The summoning. And this old man was merely the beginning. A prelude to the main event.
The ultimate sacrifice.
BOOK: Twisted
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