Mystery – Private Investigators…
plus 4.5 stars out of 36 reviews for DEPARTED!
in the second exhilarating installment of the “high-octane, tightly-plotted” Leonard Blake series of thrillers.
by Nick Stephenson
Expert criminology consultant Leopold Blake is having yet another bad week. While tracking a psychopathic serial killer through the streets of London, the reclusive investigator realizes with chilling certainty that history is about to repeat itself – with devastating consequences. Where Scotland Yard and MI5 have failed, Leopold must find a way to hunt down and apprehend a ruthless maniac before he strikes again.
And the clock is ticking.
Now Blake and his team must face their greatest challenge yet: an unseen force, intent on wreaking havoc throughout the city, is hunting on its home turf – and Leopold is about to realize that the good guy doesn’t always win.
Praise for Departed:
– author Craig McGrayGreat thriller..keeps the pages turning
“Absolutely loving this series!!…keeps you guessing till the end…. Nick Stephenson has nailed it with the Leopold Blake series…a must read!”
an excerpt from
by Nick Stephenson
A human body plummeting from a cruising altitude of thirty-five thousand feet takes three minutes to hit the ground. Low pressure and lack of oxygen cause loss of consciousness for most of the fall, until the last minute or so, where the average person wakes up just in time to see the ground hurtling toward them at over one hundred and twenty miles per hour. Not a pleasant way to die.
Leopold’s mind swam with a variety of horrific scenarios as he squeezed his eyes shut even tighter and gripped the armrest of his seat. The flight had been largely uneventful, but the recent bout of rough turbulence over Newfoundland had shaken his nerves.
“Are you okay?” a soft, calm voice asked.
Leopold opened his eyes and glared at police sergeant Mary Jordan, one of the NYPD’s finest, who hadn’t stopped fussing over him since they sat down. He regretted not seating her in coach.
“I’ll be fine,” said Leopold, gritting his teeth. “When you’re as familiar with aerospace engineering as I am; it’s impossible not to be concerned about the thousands of tiny things that could go wrong and drop us out of the sky.”
“Fine, be like that,” said Mary, turning back to her magazine. “But we’ve got another five hours before we land in London, and I’d rather not spend the entire flight with you in this mood.”
The consultant grunted and gripped his armrest a little tighter. The first class cabin of the brand-new Dreamliner 787 was state-of-the-art and spacious, but the tasteful luxury did nothing to calm his nerves. He waved to one of the flight attendants, who brought him another glass of Scotch. Downing the healthy measure, he felt the musky heat rise in the back of his throat. He exhaled slowly and sank into his chair.
This respite didn’t last long.
“You must have some idea why we’ve been called out to Scotland Yard,” said Mary, turning to face Leopold over the partition that separated their seats. “The London Metropolitan Police have their pick of local forensic and criminology experts. Why bring in someone else from the US?”
The consultant sighed. “Because I’m the best at what I do.”
“And so modest,” said Mary, her finely sculpted features settling into a smile. “But why bring me along?”
“My contract is with the FBI, and they’re leaning on your boss for extra resources. Apparently they can’t spare anyone at the moment, which is where the NYPD comes in.”
“So I’m just the babysitter?”
“That all depends on what we find when we get there. Scotland Yard refused to give me any details on the case. We’re going in blind.”
“Let’s make sure we play this one by the book,” said Mary, sitting back in her chair. “We don’t want to make the FBI look bad, now, do we?”
Leopold was sure he detected a note of sarcasm, but chose not to press the matter.
“You must be expecting trouble if you’ve brought him,” she continued, pointing to Jerome, who was watching their conversation from the back of the first class section.
“Wherever I go, Jerome goes,” said Leopold. “In my line of work, it pays to have personal protection at all times. Plus, he’s been with me for more than twenty years, so I don’t think he’s about to quit now.”
“Does he ever sleep?”
“I think so. But I’ve never seen it myself.”
Leopold grinned and turned to look at Jerome, who sat serenely in his chair, itself barely large enough to contain his muscular frame. The giant bodyguard was dressed in his usual elegant Armani suit, blended almost perfectly to match his coal-black skin, and wore a set of Sennheiser headphones that Leopold suspected weren’t connected to anything.
“Just make sure your head is in the game,” said Mary, concern registering in her voice as Leopold turned back to face the front. “After that phone call, I can understand if you’re not one hundred percent.”
“Drop it, Mary,” said Leopold, closing his eyes and leaning back in his chair. “It’s late and I need to be at my best when we arrive in London.”
He heard the police sergeant sit back in her own chair again with a resigned sigh. Keeping his eyes closed, he let the gentle thrum of the aircraft’s engines take over, the sound lulling him to sleep within a few minutes. As the aircraft cruised across the Atlantic, Leopold shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, his dreams flitting in and out, amid flashes of broken memories from a childhood he couldn’t quite remember.
The early morning was colder and wetter than usual, and the moon provided only limited illumination as the hunter stalked the cobblestone paths that wound through the ancient city. London was a maze of densely packed alleyways and side streets, especially in the east of the city where he had chosen to spend his nights, and there were plenty of shadows and sheltered recesses that could be used to his advantage. It was still several hours until dawn, but only a few minutes until last call at the several dozen pubs and bars that lined the more well-lit areas, meaning his prey would venture outside soon.
The case he carried had room for sixteen knives, and it was full. He had lovingly sharpened each blade by hand earlier in the evening, placing them in the case in order of size – ranging from the tiny paring knife all the way to the butcher’s cleaver. They were all strapped in tight and rolled up, making it easy and discreet to carry them around in public. Thanks to the predictable English weather, he didn’t look out of place wearing the transparent raincoat, which meant there would be no need to burn his clothes afterwards. The surgical gloves would stay in his pocket for the time being.
Crossing to the end of the street, he stood in one of the pools of shadow that had formed just out of reach of the streetlights, keeping his eyes locked on the pub on the opposite side of the road. The King’s Head looked dreary from the outside, but there was a considerable crowd within, all laughing and drinking away their lives, sheltered from the miserable weather outside. Within seconds, he caught sight of his prey as she passed by the window and allowed himself a smile. Soon, her suffering would be over.
Several minutes passed and the pub’s lights dimmed, signaling closing time. The front doors opened and the merrymakers began to pour out into the soggy streets, fumbling for their umbrellas and hoods as the fat raindrops caught them by surprise. His target followed at the rear, trying to catch the attention of the young men who had dawdled. She looked a little off her game tonight.
After a few minutes she gave up, slurring something inaudible at the last youth as he backed away and walked off with his hands stuffed into his pockets. Wavering slightly on the spot, the young woman leaned up against the pub’s dingy walls for support. Eventually regaining her balance, she slung her tiny handbag over a bare shoulder and hugged herself against the cold.
The hunter caught her eye as she crossed the street, and she smiled at him. Stepping out into the light, he took her by the hand. She didn’t flinch. After a few minutes they reached a more secluded part of the neighborhood, and he chose a sheltered spot where nobody would be able to see. She mentioned something about payment, and then began to put her hands on him. He resisted the urge to vomit in her face as the whore’s skin touched his own, instead pretending to reach for his wallet. The bitch’s breath stank of alcohol.
Pulling the surgical gloves out of his pocket and slipping them onto his hands, he heard the whore say it would be extra for the kinky stuff. He wanted to wrap his hands around her throat and squeeze until the larynx popped, but he knew he had to be patient. Methodical. There was an art to this that must be respected. Inhaling deeply, he pushed the thought to the back of his mind. The bitch asked about payment again.
His hand moved too quickly for her to register what happened next. The polished blade the killer carried in his pocket was light and strong, and he whipped the razor-sharp edge across the young woman’s throat in one smooth motion, then again in the opposite direction. Nothing happened for a moment, and then the blood came. First in slow drips and then faster, the arterial pressure forcing the two wounds to open wider, spraying his waterproof coat with hot red liquid.
The hunter licked his lips slowly, tasting the familiar copper flavor as some of the blood coated his face. The whore’s eyes were wide with shock, but there was no chance of her screaming as she crumpled slowly to the floor. The bitch even tried to grab at his raincoat for support, but it was slick with blood and no use to her. Within a few seconds she lost consciousness and lay still, her breathing shallow and weak.
Time to go to work, the killer’s mind buzzed as his excitement reached fever pitch.
He knelt and unrolled the case, selecting his favorite blade: a sturdy, six-inch knife with a carbon-fiber edge and excellent balance, and cut open her dress at the hem to reveal her naked body. Ignoring the fact she wasn’t wearing underwear, he focused his attention on the exposed stomach area, using his fingers to detect where the first cut should be made. Satisfied, he slipped the knife’s tip into her skin, peeling it apart with ease and opening a tear in her soft, white abdomen. There was very little blood left.
His heart pounded with excitement as her last breath drifted slowly into the night.
Now for the fun part.
Leopold snapped awake as the Dreamliner hit the runway and the jets’ thrust reversers kicked in. He grabbed his armrest with renewed vigor as the forces acting on the aircraft caused the cabin to tilt and sway as they slowed. Within a few seconds the plane had settled into a gentle taxi, and he allowed himself to relax a little.
“Interesting dreams?” asked Mary, unbuckling her seatbelt and stretching out. “You were muttering something in your sleep for most of the flight. Couldn’t make out a word.”
“Don’t remember,” he lied, stifling a yawn. “Probably nothing exciting.”
The arrivals process at Heathrow proved surprisingly painless, and Leopold, Mary, and Jerome collected their luggage without issue and made their way though customs to the arrivals lounge. The consultant spotted the young driver from Scotland Yard, who was dressed in civilian clothes and holding a placard.
“No black cab?” said Mary, as they approached their contact and shook hands.
“No, ma’am,” he replied, smiling. “That’s just the cabbies. Sergeant Cooper, at your service.”
“Pleasure,” said Mary, looking the sergeant up and down.
“No uniform, Sergeant?” said Leopold, as Cooper started to lead them in the direction of the parking lot.
“No, sir. I’m part of the – um,” – he stuttered slightly – “case you’re here to help with. The superintendent will fill you in when we get back to the Yard.”
“Your accent, Cooper,” said Leopold. “Not from around here, are you?”
“No, sir. Transfer from South Yorkshire police. Came down two weeks ago specifically to work on – well, you’ll find out soon. Here we are.”
The sergeant opened the rear passenger door of the black Audi A4 sedan and gestured for Leopold and Jerome to climb in. He held the front door open for Mary before packing the luggage into the trunk and settling himself into the driver’s seat. Leopold winced slightly as he nestled into the chilly leather and hoped the car would warm up quickly.
“It’s gone lunch time; have you eaten?” asked Cooper, turning his head toward Leopold.
“Not in a while. I’d prefer to wait until we’ve been briefed before thinking about a meal, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Speak for yourself,” muttered Mary.
“No problem, sir,” said Cooper. “We should be there in forty minutes or so, traffic allowing. If you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them on the way.”
Jerome sat forward. “Who knows we’re here?”
“Not too many people,” said Cooper, easing the car out of the line of slow traffic and into the bus lane. “The superintendent, the commissioner, and some of the top brass from the FBI are all aware of your flight plan. Other than that, I don’t have the clearance, so I couldn’t tell you.”
“You’ll draw too much attention using this lane during busy traffic,” said Jerome. “What if we’re stopped?”
“The number plate, sorry – license plate, is linked to the Met police database. Any problems and my clearance flashes up. Don’t worry, I’ve been trained to keep you safe.”
“Where do you keep your firearm?” said Jerome, ignoring Cooper’s last comment.
“Not licensed to carry, I’m afraid,” said the sergeant. “Which reminds me, while you’re on British soil you’ll have to remain unarmed. I hope that won’t be a problem.”
Leopold felt Jerome tense slightly and could have sworn the temperature in the car fell by a few degrees.
“I keep a Taser with me at all times,” continued the Yorkshireman. “If we run into any trouble, there’s enough power in one of those to put down a baby elephant.”
“Fine,” said Jerome, his voice flat. “I’ll need to conduct a full security assessment before we go out in the field, if you could arrange that for us upon arrival.”
“No problem,” said Cooper, easing the car forward a little faster. “Won’t be long now.”
The rest of the journey passed in silence, other than the occasional question from Mary regarding the scenery as they cruised through the suburbs and into the heart of the city. Leopold noticed most of the famous landmarks as they reached the Thames, and Cooper filled in the gaps when Mary pointed out buildings she didn’t recognize.
They eventually reached Westminster, where they left the highway and joined the line of traffic that snaked through the upmarket streets, lined on either side with glass-fronted office buildings, Georgian apartment blocks, and gleaming department stores flying the Union Jack at full mast. The black Audi sailed past most of the stationary vehicles, slowing only as they were joined by the epitomic red double-decker buses that shared the empty lanes. Cooper pulled away from the main road as one of the bus drivers blasted his horn in irritation, steering the car down one of the side roads that led up to the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police.
Leopold spotted the iconic New Scotland Yard wedge-shaped sign, familiar from countless news reports and detective shows, spinning slowly on its axis as the sergeant pulled the Audi around to the secured parking lot. An officer wearing a high-visibility jacket checked Cooper’s identification and waved them through the security checkpoint, down into the basement structure.
“Might not be here much longer,” said the Yorkshireman, peering through the gloom for a parking space. “The Met is considering selling the place next year and moving us to Whitechapel. Probably quite fitting, given the current situation.”
Leopold nodded absentmindedly and pointed out a free space near the elevators. “Will Superintendent Swanson be seeing us soon? It’s been a long trip.”
“Oh yes, he knows you’re here.” He lined up the car and reversed slowly into the space. “I’ll take you up to his office straight away.”
Leopold stepped out into the parking lot and followed Cooper to the elevators, where the four of them rode up to the sixth story offices. Their host led them through a maze of stuffy corridors until they reached Swanson’s office. The door was wide open.
Superintendent Swanson sat behind a large wooden desk, and was scribbling something on a piece of notepaper as Leopold stepped through into the office. Swanson was middle-aged, perhaps early fifties, overweight, and almost completely gray-haired, including his substantial moustache. He wore a stylish but conservative suit and stood up as the sergeant closed the door behind him.
“Ah, Mr. Blake and companions,” said the superintendent, his thick voice booming across the room. “So glad to finally meet you.”
Leopold shook Swanson’s hand, who gripped a little harder than the consultant had expected, before taking a seat across the desk. Cooper offered Jerome and Mary a seat on the small sofa at the back of the office, where they would still be able to join in the conversation.
“Thank you, Cooper,” said Swanson, taking his seat. “I’ll update you later.”
Leopold saw the sergeant nod politely and leave the room. The superintendent’s office was large enough to seat a half-dozen people, and had a generous view of the quiet streets below. The thick, reflective windows filtered the light somewhat, giving the outside world an odd hue that somehow made the interior of the building feel as overcast as the city itself.
“I understand you haven’t yet been briefed,” said Swanson, interlocking his fingers.
“Not yet,” said Leopold. “But I have a few theories as to why we’re here.”
“Really?” He leaned forward. “I was told about your particular talents. I’d be interested to hear what you’ve managed to figure out already.”
Leopold heard Mary shift her weight on the sofa behind him, and knew without looking that she was probably rolling her eyes.
“The Metropolitan Police are among the finest in the world,” he continued, “with access to almost unlimited resources. However, like many organizations, they will gladly outsource where they feel it is required. In this case you’ve called in the FBI, which suggests you suspect a foreign involvement.”
“Good, good,” said Swanson, his eyes twinkling. “Go on.”
“Naturally, the FBI are woefully under-resourced and decided to use one of their consultants instead of sending out a team. That’s where I come in.”
“Very astute. Anything else?”
“It’s unlikely the FBI would get involved for anything less than a homicide case, so I had assumed we would be assisting with a murder enquiry. Once Sergeant Jordan got involved, my suspicions were confirmed. The NYPD doesn’t send out one of its top homicide detectives without reason, even if they do want to keep an eye on me.”
Leopold turned to look at Mary, who was shifting uncomfortably on the sofa next to Jerome, whose bulky frame took up most of the space.
“Very good, Mr. Blake,” said Swanson, beaming.
“I’m not done yet.” He raised a finger. “Your man Cooper isn’t what he seems.”
“What do you mean?” The superintendent’s smile faded.
“A transfer from another police force to assist with a particular case is unusual, especially for someone with a mere sergeant’s rank. His car was brand new, a luxury model, which someone on his salary would be unlikely to afford. It’s not a rental, either. His accent was a little jumbled, suggesting someone who had lived away from home for several years, not a person who had just arrived in the last few weeks. All of which suggests to me that Cooper doesn’t work in your department. What’s his involvement with this case?”
Swanson sighed. “He doesn’t work for me, at least not directly. I can’t tell you more than that.”
Leopold sat in silence for several seconds before replying. “I’m sorry, Superintendent. I can’t assist if you won’t be forthright with me.” He stood and turned to leave.
“Mr. Blake, wait,” said Swanson, getting to his feet. “Please, sit down.” He gestured to the empty chair. “Two weeks ago, the FBI informed us that one of their persons of interest had landed on British soil.” He settled back into his seat as Leopold reluctantly sat down again. “He’s wanted for questioning in connection with a spree of murders in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. No arrest warrant yet, which is why he managed to get on a plane, but we have a longstanding agreement with the US authorities to keep each other well informed. An agreement like that, between two foreign nations, does not go unchecked.”
“Understood,” said Leopold. “Which means that if Cooper doesn’t work here, and this is a case of national security, I assume he’s MI5?”
“Of course, I can’t confirm that,” said Swanson, avoiding eye contact. “But I can assure you that he’s been thoroughly vetted and will provide invaluable support during this investigation. He also has contacts within Whitehall that could prove useful.”
“Fine. Has this person of interest been detained?”
“No. Cooper can’t approach him in case his cover is blown, and we need to keep him incognito, you understand. We actually have no legal grounds to keep the man locked up without solid evidence, which is why we need some help. Off the books, you understand.”
“Naturally,” said Leopold, leaning back in his chair. “What’s the man’s name?”
“Kandinski. George Kandinski.”
“And I assume you are under the impression he is responsible for a homicide on British soil?”
“Precisely, old boy. We got the red flag that he had touched down just a few days before we find a body with injuries closely matching the MO of the Portland killer. A week later we find another one, and a body was found early this morning that we think is linked also. That’s three murders already – that we know about, anyway. There may be more. If Kandinski’s the one responsible, we need to bring him in before he does any more damage.”
“Do you have anything tying him to the crimes?”
“Well, that’s the problem,” said Swanson. “There isn’t anything linking him to any crime within British borders, nor any international warrant for his arrest. We can bring him in for questioning, but he’ll have to be released after twenty-four hours if we can’t convince the Crown Prosecution Service to bring charges. Even sooner if he gets hold of a good solicitor. We need some solid evidence linking him to the killings.”
“And you want me to find it?”
“I’ll need to know more about the case,” said Leopold. “Assuming the three deaths were homicide, I’ll need to examine the bodies.”
“They are most definitely homicides, no doubt about it. You can take a look at the bodies. I’ll take you down to the morgue right now; it’s not far.”
“Excellent. Lead the way.”
Swanson stood up and made for the door before pausing. “Have you had lunch yet?”
“No. That’s the second time I’ve been asked that question,” said Leopold. “If you insist, we can grab a bite to eat on the way.”
“No, it’s not that,” said the superintendent, opening the door. “It’s just that I would strongly recommend having an empty stomach for this one.”
The Westminster forensic mortuary was a modern facility, built as an extension to an aging Edwardian building that looked out on to the main road, a couple minutes’ drive from Swanson’s office. Despite many refurbishments and high-tech equipment, Leopold still caught the smell of death as he stepped through the metal detectors and collected his belongings from the security officer who guarded the interior entrance.
“Not far,” said Swanson. “This way, gents.”
The superintendent marched off and Leopold followed, keeping pace. Jerome and Mary brought up the rear, the sound of their footsteps echoing against the pristine white walls and polished floors.
“Just through here.”
Swanson threw open the double doors at the end of the corridor and led them through into a large room, where several brushed steel examination tables were bolted to the floor, the walls lined with heavy metallic compartments that looked like oversized lockers. Leopold recognized refrigeration units that most facilities like this used, which slid out of the wall to provide access to examine the bodies. In the corner of the room, one of the forensic examiners bent over a fresh corpse, speaking into a Dictaphone. He looked up as they approached.
“Please put these on before you come any closer,” said the examiner, holding out a plastic container filled with surgical masks.
“Why aren’t you wearing one?” asked Mary, frowning as she took one of the masks.
“They’re not for your benefit,” said the forensic technician, turning back to the corpse. “They’re designed to keep the cadavers clean. I already know where my mouth has been.”
“Charming,” said Mary, her voice coming out slightly muffled as she snapped the elasticized straps behind her ears.
Leopold fitted his mask next, followed by Jerome and Swanson. All four took up standing positions on the opposite side of the table, and the examiner pulled back the plastic sheet covering the corpse. Leopold’s stomach lurched.
“Jessica Dowling’s body was discovered in Whitechapel in the early hours of this morning,” said the examiner. “Cause of death was loss of blood, resulting from the deep lacerations to the throat and both carotid arteries. The other injuries occurred perimortem, most likely after she lost consciousness.”
Jessica’s body lay white and naked on the cold table, her otherwise flawless skin marred by the deep red gashes that lined her throat and stomach. The rips in her abdomen were wide enough that Leopold could have easily fit his hands through them.
“The laceration to the abdomen,” continued the examiner, “was caused by a flat blade, roughly six inches in length. Judging by the angle of the cut, the person who caused the injuries must have been positioned above her, as she lay flat on her back. The direction of the cut suggests that the killer used his right hand.”
“If the cut was made after she died, what was the point?” asked Mary.
“I can’t speak as to motive. That would be nothing but conjecture at this point. All I can confirm is that the deep laceration to the abdomen allowed for the removal of several internal organs, that otherwise would have been left intact.”
“The killer took her organs?”
“In this particular case, most of the uterus and the entire left kidney are missing.”
“In this particular case?” said Mary. “You mean the others are like this?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” interjected Swanson, clearing his throat. “There are two other bodies with injuries closely matching Ms. Dowling’s. That we know of.”
Leopold stepped to the side as the examiner walked over to one of the nearby refrigeration units and pulled out the sliding table within.
“Ms. Eleanor Carter was found last week, in Spitalfields. Cause of death was also blood loss from a laceration to the carotid arteries. As you can see, she suffered similar mutilations to the abdomen,” said the forensic examiner, pulling back the sheet covering the body. “In this case, only the uterus was removed. The depth and angle of the lacerations strongly suggests the same killer is responsible for both deaths.”
“And the third?” asked Mary.
Leopold watched the examiner slide the table back into the wall and open another one nearby, pulling out the body of another young woman draped in a white sheet.
“Joanna Harper’s body was found two weeks ago. Cause of death was the same as the other two, and there are similar deep lacerations to the abdomen. However, in Ms. Harper’s case, no organs were removed.”
“All three share very similar injuries,” said Mary. “Too similar for it to be a coincidence. And you said this started a couple days after Kandinski touched down?”
“Yes, that’s right,” said Swanson. “Kandinski’s file at the FBI puts him as a person of interest in the deaths of three young women in Oregon, each of whom suffered mutilations to the body following their deaths. Like you said, it’s too similar an occurrence to put it down to coincidence.”
“That would be enough for me to bring him in,” said Mary, almost trembling with anger. “I’d be at his address right now with a team of armed officers if we were back New York. And I’d make sure to get a few minutes alone with him before bringing the bastard in.”
“Yes, and normally I would agree we should proceed with an arrest, but we can’t hold him for long without solid evidence. And without a warrant, we can’t prevent him from leaving the country, either. I need you to find that evidence before we make our move.”
“If I can interrupt for a moment,” said Leopold, pulling down his mask. “Superintendent, there is always enough evidence if one knows where to look. If Kandinski did indeed kill these women, then I can assure you we will find the link you need to bring him in. But we won’t get anything useful done standing around here. With your permission, I would like to take some photographs.”
“Of course, help yourself,” said Swanson, ignoring the protestations of the examiner.
The consultant pulled out his cell phone and began taking pictures of the bodies. He focused mainly on capturing images of the various injuries, but also took several shots of the young women’s faces and any distinguishing marks on their bodies that he could find.
“Thank you,” he said, nodding to the forensic examiner. “I’ve got what I need. I think I’d like to take a look at these at the hotel, once I’ve had chance to settle in.”
“You don’t think you should get straight to it?” asked Swanson. “Time is of the essence in a case like this.”
“We have time, don’t worry. You have three bodies here, each killed one week apart. The latest body was discovered this morning, which suggests we have at least six days until the next murder. More importantly, I can’t think properly without unpacking first.”
“Fine,” said Swanson. “How long do you need?”
“We’ll check in with you tomorrow,” said Leopold. “That will give me time to examine the evidence we have and develop a strategy.”
“Very good. I’ll show you out. Thank you, doctor.” Swanson nodded to the examiner and made his way to the door.
Leopold slipped his cell phone back into his jacket pocket and followed behind, as Mary sidled up beside him.
“You already have a theory, don’t you?” she whispered.
“Of course,” replied Leopold, whispering back. “But I’d like to keep it between us for the time being. So far, I’m not convinced we can trust anyone.”
The gray skies gave way to black clouds as Leopold stepped out of the taxi and hauled his luggage onto the sidewalk outside Claridge’s hotel in Mayfair, a luxury establishment famous for its endless roll of A-list guests and Royal connections. The uniformed doorman, complete with waistcoat, tails and top hat, stepped forward to assist as the rain started falling, calling in two others to help with Jerome’s and Mary’s heavy cases.
The hotel staff took their cases up to the large suite that Leopold had reserved, and left them to check in. The lobby of Claridge’s shone with pristine grandeur, from the polished checkerboard floors to the elegant Art Deco ceilings, and Leopold relaxed a little as the atmosphere took hold. The receptionist passed him a set of room keys, and pointed him towards the elevators. The consultant led the way and soon the three of them alighted on the top floor, where the penthouse suite awaited.
Leopold opened the heavy door that led to the entrance area and stepped through. The rain outside fell in earnest, and the sound of the fat drops hitting the tall windows filled the rooms with a tinny clatter as Leopold paced through to the main bedroom and tossed his case onto the bed.
The penthouse was huge, and he guessed it had at least two thousand square feet of floor space, including two large bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and a spacious living area. He also noticed the balcony, which looked out over London and provided a stunning view of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and the gleaming skyscrapers that stood tall above the ultra-modern financial district over at Canary Wharf. Unfortunately, they had little time to take advantage of the penthouse’s many amenities. There was work to do.
“This place is amazing,” said Mary, following Leopold through into the bedroom. “The second bedroom is bigger than my whole apartment back in New York.”
“It’s very impressive,” he replied, unfastening the clasps that secured his suitcase, “but we can’t stay long. There are a few leads we need to follow up first.”
“Already?” said Mary, disappointed. “Can’t I at least take a hot shower? I could do with a wash after six hours on a plane and spending lunchtime in a morgue. And I’m starving.”
Leopold felt his stomach rumble and realized he was hungry too. “Fine, let’s order some food and get refreshed. I’d like to run some of the facts of the case by you anyway.”
“Great,” she beamed, “just give me twenty minutes. No, make that thirty. Where’s Jerome?”
“The rooms are secure,” announced the bodyguard, appearing in the doorway and making Mary jump. “No recording devices that I could detect and we’re not overlooked by any other buildings.”
“Good,” said Leopold, handing Jerome his cell phone. “I need you to get me a printout of the photographs I took earlier so we can take a look at them together in the living room. Mary and I are going to take a shower.”
Jerome raised one eyebrow quizzically.
“Don’t be cute – there are two bathrooms, remember?” said Leopold.
The consultant could have sworn he made out a tiny smile on the bodyguard’s lips as he took his employer’s phone and left the room.
“Don’t they have people to print things out for you?” asked Mary, opening the wardrobe and pulling out one of the bathrobes. “Wow, this is soft. How much is this place for a night?”
“They do offer a butler service,” said Leopold. “But Jerome insisted nobody be allowed in the suite while we’re here. This is one of the best hotels in London,” he took a step toward Mary, “so they’ll have stocked a wardrobe for you as well. You don’t need to take my stuff.”
Leopold snatched the bathrobe from her and tossed it onto the bed.
“Okay, okay, I’ll go find my own.” She paused. “Look, I know we didn’t get much of a chance to talk on the plane. You haven’t spoken about that phone call and I can tell it’s bothering you.” Her features softened. “Please talk to me.”
He frowned and turned away, pulling his clothes out of the suitcase and arranging them on the bed. This was not the time to get distracted.
“Leopold, please,” she continued. “I know it’s a lot to process, but it would help if you talked about it.”
He sighed. “It’s public information that my parents died while I was still young and that my father’s body was never recovered. It was just someone trying to rattle me, that’s all.”
“Even so, it must have brought up a lot of unsettling memories. I know you had a difficult time growing up in your father’s shadow. Something like this would only bring all that to the surface again, and I just wanted you to know you could talk to me about it. If you want.”
Feeling Mary’s hand touch his shoulder, he turned back to face her. He always felt as though she had a knack for seeing right through him and it irritated him no end. “I know. I appreciate your friendship and I promise if I ever want to talk to anyone, you’ll be the first person I call,” he said, as sincerely as he could manage.
“Okay. Then I guess I’ll see you in a half hour, once I’ve freshened up.” She turned to leave the room. “Or maybe make that forty-five minutes.”
Leopold sat cross-legged on the floor, still slightly damp from the steaming hot shower, wearing a thick white bath robe that smelled of lilac. Mary sat opposite, dressed in sweat pants and a slightly crumpled tee shirt, finishing off a barbequed chicken wing and a bottle of Diet Coke. Around the room were scattered various empty plates, which had, until recently, held their room service orders. Refreshed and well fed, both Leopold and Mary were rearranging the printouts on the carpet in front of them for the fifth time.
“Run that by me again,” said Mary, licking sauce off her lips.
Leopold held up three photographs. “The body of Joanna Harper was found two weeks ago, killed by multiple cuts to the throat. Two more bodies were subsequently discovered, each a week apart, with similar injuries. All of them had mutilations to their abdomen and the more recent two had internal organs removed. All three murders took place in the East End.”
“So we’re looking at a serial killer.”
“Yes, but it’s more than that,” said Leopold. “The injuries themselves, the way in which these women died, it all has significance.”
“What do you mean?”
“The killer isn’t just killing. He’s performing a ritual, following a very specific pattern. This is something beyond mere violence.”
“Get real,” said Mary. “This guy is just some kind of wacko Jack the Ripper copycat, plain and simple. He kills women, and takes trophies.”
“I would agree with your assessment of his mental condition,” said Leopold. “And your Ripper theory is probably the closest thing we’ve got to a discernable pattern. If we can understand his motive, we have a better chance of predicting where and when he will strike next. Which improves our odds considerably.”
“For Christ’s sake, I was just kidding around!” Mary spluttered, nearly choking on her soda. “You can’t be serious.”
“Actually, I’m deadly serious. The killer is following the exact movements of the Ripper case, first opened over one hundred and twenty years ago. He’s recreated everything to a tee, except for the timings, which have been accelerated somewhat.”
“I’m not buying it,” she said, tossing the empty Coke bottle at the trash can and missing.
“I’ll break it down for you. The Ripper case was originally known simply as ‘The Whitechapel Murders’, starting with a single killing in 1888 and ending with a body count of eleven within three years. At least five of these deaths were attributed to a killer who would later be known as Jack the Ripper, although many suspect he was responsible for many more.” Leopold held up the photograph of Jessica Dowling’s mutilated body. “The similarities are remarkable.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Mary, getting to her feet. “Why would anyone want to copycat a Victorian urban legend? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Leopold remained on the floor. “This is no urban legend – the Whitechapel murders are an important part of this country’s history. Why someone would want to recreate them today doesn’t make any sense to us, but only because we’re not in possession of all the facts yet.”
“What facts do we have?” Mary started pacing the room.
“We know enough to say with certainty that the three dead bodies have injuries closely matching those of the bodies uncovered during the Ripper investigations.”
“It just seems too farfetched. The police will never go for it.”
“It doesn’t matter what the police choose to believe. All that matters is we stop him before he kills again. Superintendent Swanson can’t argue with that.”
“So, you think he’ll be on our side?”
“I believe so, yes. At least, he will be eventually. We need to go and talk to our friend Kandinski first; he may reveal something useful we can use just in case Swanson needs some convincing.” Leopold got to his feet and made his way back toward the bedroom. “Get dressed, we’re going out.”
Leopold watched the early evening sun break momentarily through the thick cloud cover, streaming golden light over the city for five full minutes before sinking back behind the gloomy skies. The black cab he had flagged down at the side of the road jostled along the cramped wet streets of London’s East End, its stiff suspension rocking the seats violently as the car hit numerous potholes and speed bumps along the way.
“I think that marks the beginning and the end of British summertime,” said Mary, holding on to her fold-down seat as the vehicle ricocheted off the curb.
“We’re not here for the weather,” said Leopold, gripping the hand rest a little tighter.
“No, of course not,” she replied, lowering her voice to a careful whisper. “We’re here for the psychopath serial killer, how could I forget?”
“We’re not far away now,” said Jerome, ignoring the conversation and holding up his cell phone. “GPS puts us less than a quarter mile away from Kandinski’s address here in the UK. We should approach on foot from here.”
“I just knew you were going to say that,” said Mary. “Have you seen the weather? It hasn’t stopped raining since we got here.”
Leopold instructed the driver to pull over and handed him some cash, and the cabbie let them out just as the sound of thunder began to rumble through the murky sky.
“Perfect, just perfect,” said Mary, turning up the collar on her raincoat. “How far is it?”
“Less than five minutes’ brisk walk,” said the bodyguard. “Follow me.”
Leopold gave Mary the thumbs up and she smiled sarcastically, but they both kept pace without speaking, bracing against the wind and rain. He made a mental note of their route, which wound through the twisting alleyways and backstreets, many of which would be almost impossible to tell apart once darkness fell. Instead, the consultant mapped out their path in his head, tracing their progress in his mind and committing landmarks and unusual features to memory. The exercise proved difficult than usual as heavy rain blasted against his face, making him squint.
A few minutes later, Jerome signaled they had arrived at the right address. Kandinski’s residence was listed as a rental property, halfway along a long street packed full of old two-bedroom terraced houses. The street was in bad repair, although Kandinski’s property stood out as the most run-down. Brickwork stained black from over half a century of heavy pollution loomed above a small front yard overgrown with weeds.
“Nobody’s been here in weeks,” said Leopold. “The mail slot is jammed open with unread magazines.”
The consultant saw Jerome reach instinctively for his hip before remembering he had been forced to leave his weapon behind in New York. Leopold heard him swear quietly as they approached the tiny house.
Jerome tried the front door and found it locked. Leopold and Mary followed him around to the side of the house, where they located the other entrance.
Jerome tested the weight of the frame before aiming a heavy kick at the area nearest the bolt. The flimsy door cracked at the edge and swung open, knocking hard against the inside wall. Leopold tensed at the sound, before realizing the strong wind outside would have made their entry inaudible to anyone more than a few feet away.
Calming himself down, he stepped through the doorway behind Jerome, with Mary at the rear. The house was dark, all the curtains drawn, and the rooms smelled of mold and rotting food. The bodyguard found the light switch and flicked it on, flooding the room with brightness. They found themselves in a kitchen filled with used pots and pans, empty pizza boxes and countless unidentifiable spills, many of which dripped from the counter top and onto the filthy floor. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling, without a shade, coated in a yellow grime.
“Stay here,” said Jerome, disappearing out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
Leopold heard the bodyguard’s footsteps upstairs loud and clear thanks to the thin ceilings and creaking floorboards. Within thirty seconds, Jerome returned and confirmed the house was empty.
“Kandinski must have made a run for it,” said Mary, trying not to breathe through her nose.
“But why?” said Leopold, sucking in the putrid air as he spoke. “There’s no way he could have been tipped off about us. Even we didn’t know we were coming to the UK until a few days ago. Scotland Yard would have been alerted if he left the country or made any large cash withdrawals, so it’s more likely he’s still in the area. Anyone wanting to lie low would encourage passers-by to think the place was uninhabited, so the state of the house might just be a set up. We need to check for any evidence that might link him to the murders before he gets back.”
“Fine,” said Mary. “Let’s start in the living room. I’d like to avoid getting too close to the rotting food in here if I can help it.”
The consultant nodded in agreement and led them through to the living room, a small, dingy enclosure with a dark green carpet and nicotine-stained wallpaper. Its only furniture was an old couch wrapped in plastic, and an ancient television set that didn’t appear to have been plugged in, balanced precariously on a cardboard box. Leopold noticed the smell was even worse the nearer he stood to the couch.
“This place is disgusting,” said Mary, gagging slightly. “But I don’t see anything in here that helps us.”
“Hang on a minute,” said Leopold, peering at the wall nearest the sofa.
“What is it?”
“The wall here is slightly concave, which is a little odd considering all the other walls are perfectly flat.”
“What about it? This place is full of damp. It’s bound to cause problems eventually.”
“Normally, I would agree,” said Leopold. “But this property was built in the thirties, which means the interior walls are solid brick. They shouldn’t distort like that.”
He ran his hand over the wall, feeling the bulge under his palm. Frowning, he waved Jerome over and the two men heaved the battered couch to the other side of the room, allowing a better view.
“It looks like something’s pushing against it from the inside,” said Mary.
Without a word, Leopold stalked back to the kitchen and found a large carving knife on the countertop, stained with old food and grime. He grabbed the handle and returned to the living room.
“What are you going to do with that?” Mary took a step back, as though expecting trouble.
“It all makes sense now,” he said, ignoring her. “Why would the living room stink more than the kitchen, when all the rotting food is piled in the sink?” He waited for a reply, but none came. “Because somebody is trying to cover up the smell of something worse.”
Walking over to the center of the wall, he brought the knife down hard against the wallpaper. The blade slid through easily and disappeared up to the handle.
“You see?” said Leopold, grinning. “Someone knocked down a portion of this wall and replaced it with plasterboard, then covered it up with the original wallpaper. The distortion in the wall wasn’t caused only by damp, but also by the release of gas from inside the cavity.”
“Gas?” asked Mary, screwing up her nose.
“Yes. The sort of gases that are released as a human body begins to decompose,” he replied, sawing at the wall with the heavy knife. “This is the perfect place to hide something you don’t want found. Or someone.”
The fetid stink of rotting meat hit Leopold’s nose as he pulled away the drywall, exposing a hollow recess within. The brickwork around the hole had been reinforced with a wooden joist to prevent it from collapsing, and underneath the dust Leopold could see a small pile of black garbage bags stacked up on the floor. He hoisted the uppermost sack over onto the living room carpet, where the plastic split. The smell hit the back of his nostrils and he gagged uncontrollably, feeling the bile in his stomach rise in protest at the stench.
“Well that explains a lot,” said Mary, holding her hand over her mouth and nose. “Fifty bucks says that’s Kandinski’s work.”
Leopold reached down and untied the bag, revealing a mutilated face staring up at him from inside. The eyes, lips and nose had been cut away, and most of the flesh was missing, exposing the raw cheekbone underneath. There was no torso, the head having been removed, but he could make out the hands and feet, which had been sawn away with a rough blade, judging by the serration marks on the bones that jutted out from the decomposing flesh. Leopold’s stomach lurched again and he held his breath.
“I suppose the rest of him is in there,” said Mary, pointing to the remaining garbage bags.
“I’ll make the call,” said the consultant, exhaling and turning to face Jerome. “Scotland Yard needs to get over here and look for DNA and fingerprints. I don’t have the tools required to sift through all this mess. Get me Cooper’s number.”
Leopold stepped back from the doorway to let the forensic teams into the living room, which was now full of crime scene examiners scraping up samples from the carpet and taking photographs. The glaring flashes of the bulky cameras stung the consultant’s eyes, which had become accustomed to the dingy gloom of the old house. Leopold spotted Cooper, who stood in the middle of the room, deep in conversation with one of the hair and fiber technicians.
“Cooper, I need a minute,” said Leopold, pushing his way through the room to where the young officer was standing.
“Yes, what is it?” said Cooper, holding up a finger to the hair and fiber technician, who grunted and went back to his work. “We’re having some issues finding reliable forensics in this mess.”
“What have you got so far?”
“Basically, nothing,” said Cooper. “No fingerprints anywhere, so it looks like someone gave the place a thorough scrub before littering it with all this rubbish. There’s only very limited DNA evidence to be found, and most of that is probably from the victim himself. It’s a dead end. It’s going to be hard enough to get an I.D. on the victim, let alone the killer.”
“As expected,” said Leopold. “Somebody’s gone to a lot of trouble to dispose of this body in a very particular way. Note that the dismemberment and mutilations occurred post-mortem – the killer was following a very particular process.”
“The dismemberment was purely out of convenience,” said Cooper. “A way for the killer to jam the body into the wall without compromising its structural integrity.”
“But the mutilations to the face were unnecessary – they’re part of the killer’s MO. Just like the others.”
“You think this is the same guy?”
“Undoubtedly,” said the consultant. “Somehow, the killer knew that Scotland Yard were tracking him here in London. He hid the body in the wall, thinking it would take longer to discover the remains.”
“Giving him more time to get away,” said Cooper.
“Exactly. Now our focus has to be on finding Kandinski before another dead body shows up in an alleyway somewhere.”
“You’re still going with this Ripper theory?” said the MI5 agent, a hint of scorn in his voice.
“We’ve been through this,” said Leopold. “The facts fit. However improbable it might seem to us right now, there’s far too much at stake to put it down to coincidence.”
“Like I said on the phone, I don’t buy it. But I agree the pattern suggests we’ve got until the end of the week before he kills again, and we can restrict our efforts to the Whitechapel area. I’m not concerned with his motive at this point. I just want to catch the bastard.”
“Motive is everything,” said Leopold. “If we understand the significance of these rituals, we understand the man responsible. That makes catching him a great deal easier.”
“You stick to your theories and I’ll stick to hard evidence for now.”
The consultant grunted and turned away, making his way back to the kitchen, where Mary was sifting through a huge pile of refuse that had been dumped on the floor near the sink.
“As expected, I’ve ended up elbow-deep in garbage,” she said, as Leopold entered. “But there’s nothing here but rotting food and empty packaging.”
“Did Jerome find anything?”
“Nope,” she replied, running her forearms under the faucet. “He decided to wait upstairs. I just about resisted the temptation to throw rotten fruit at him.”
“I don’t think your life is worth it,” said Leopold. “I’ll go find him.”
He squeezed past the forensic team that was checking the tiled floors in the hallway, and climbed the steep staircase up to the second floor, where he noticed Jerome standing by the window in the master bedroom. The room itself was small, with peeling wallpaper and stained curtains, but the smell of the ground floor hadn’t quite permeated all the way through the ceiling, so Leopold breathed a little more freely as he entered.
“Time for us to go,” he said as Jerome turned to greet him.
“Cooper just left,” said the bodyguard. “Strange he would be the first on the scene and not stick around for the forensics team to finish off.”
“He’s MI5. They always know what’s going on before anyone else. I wouldn’t be surprised if they put a tail on us the moment he picked us up from the airport.”
“I don’t trust him,” said Jerome, scowling.
“Relax. If Cooper becomes a problem we can worry about it then. We’ve certainly dealt with worse before. In the meantime, there’s nothing stopping us from making life a little bit more difficult for him.”
Leopold pulled out his cell phone and removed the battery and SIM card, dropping the whole lot onto the carpet. Jerome did the same.
“In case they have a tracer on the cell phones, we’ll pick up some prepaid units later. They won’t be able to track those,” said Leopold, crushing the chip under his heel.
“What’s next?” asked the bodyguard, following suit.
“There’s not much more we can do here, and it’s getting late. We can brief the superintendent in the morning, and I’d like to take another shower and get some sleep. Let’s get back to the hotel; the stink of this place will take some time to wash off.”
“You owe me one cell phone,” said Mary, as they walked back towards the main street.
The sun had begun to set, tinting the city pink as it gradually sank below the jumbled London skyline. The rain had eased off a little, but the wind was just as strong as before, and Leopold had been unable to find a taxi to take them back to the hotel.
“You could have at least waited a minute or two before smashing it up so I could order us a cab,” she continued, shouting into the wind. “I don’t want to have to spend all night walking around the subway.”
“It’s called the Underground here,” said the consultant. “And the hotel is just a few stops away. We don’t even have to change trains.”
“The station is right up ahead,” said Jerome, quickening his pace.
The old stairway that led down to the Underground station smelled like concrete and urine, an odor consistent with subterranean rail systems the world over. Leopold swiped his pass over the contactless reader built into the turnstile, deducting the fare from his prepaid account, and the others followed suit.
Several flights of stairs later, they reached the deserted underground train platform; a dimly lit and poorly ventilated waiting area, silent except for the distant rumble of approaching trains. As he checked the overhead monitors for timetable information, Leopold caught the familiar blast of warm air from the tunnel as their train drew closer, bringing with it the gusty smell of warm iron and oil.
“We’re not going to be able to stay together,” said Mary, as the train swept past and gradually squealed to a halt.
Unlike the station platform, the train was packed full of people, with standing room only. Leopold stepped through the automatic doors and eventually found a spot between two overweight businessmen, leaving just enough room for him to reach the handrail, while Mary and Jerome found space at the other end of the carriage. Holding on tight as the train began to move, Leopold felt the grease on the rail underneath his hands from the hundreds of other people who had grabbed hold of that particular spot throughout the day..
The consultant swayed as the train entered the tunnel and the force of the displaced air rocked the cars from side to side. As the noise of the tracks intensified in the confined space, the lights flickered slightly and the PA system announced the next stop. The busy train was hot and humid, packed with body heat and the smell of cheap cologne, but oddly quiet despite the thick crowd. The only sound Leopold could hear over the rail tracks was an MP3 player belonging to one of the nearby passengers, blasting out some terrible opera music through a pair of oversized headphones. The owner wore them slung loosely over a red baseball cap, obscuring his face.
Leopold tried to ignore the tinny whine of the music and turned to look out of the windows, where the hars
by Ameen Basheh
— a late sixth century resident of MesopotamiaDuring the 6th century in the Arabian Peninsula, Harb, like the other warriors of that time, scrapes a living by raiding other tribes of equal stature–until the day he convinces his allies to raid the great tribe of Aghlib. On the day of the battle, he holds his blade in his hand. It shines brilliantly under the bright desert sky and he smiles back at it. He leads the charge against the men of Aghlib, not knowing or caring that his selfish acts will have dire consequences.
Ameen Basheh was born and raised in Jeddah, the Bride of the Red Sea. He currently resides in New York, and he is the author of Desert Rhapsody.
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A Touch of Revenge
A Touch of Greed
The thrilling start to the wildly successful Nick Bracco series where FBI agent Nick Bracco recruits his mafia-connected cousin, Tommy, to help him track down terrorists. Oh yeah, it gets messy.
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His first novel, “A Touch of Deceit,” took five years to write and one to pick clean. The story was born from his childhood experiences working in his father’s candy store in Brooklyn, NY. His father was Sicilian and became friendly with some local members of a different kind of Sicilian family. Since Gary was just fifteen at the time, these family members would make sure he was protected whenever he would work late at night by himself. He soon discovered a side to the mafia not many people knew. It was these relationships which caused him to write about Sicilian FBI agent, Nick Bracco, who recruits his mafia cousin to chase down the world’s most feared terrorist.
“A Touch of Deceit,” went on to win the 2009 Southwest Writers Novel Contest, Thriller category. He is currently working on the 5th book in the Nick Bracco series as well as trying to create world peace in his spare time. Gary currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife Jennifer and two children, Jessica and Kyle.
“Well-rendered, complex political climate of the future.”—Kirkus Book Reviews
by Vinay Kolhatkar
A STORY THAT PROVOKES, EDUCATES, AND ENTERTAINS
It’s November 2019, and another U.S. presidential election season approaches.
Senator Olivia Allen—brilliant and beautiful—signs onto the Democratic presidential ticket, unaware of powerful forces that seek either to control her or destroy her.
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About The Author
Vinay Kolhatkar has written screenplays for film and television and has extensive experience in the world of high finance. He has a Masters degree in finance (UNSW). He studied creative writing at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney. Later, he studied screenwriting at ScreenwritingU in LA and at the Story Department, Sydney.
After getting increasingly fed up with the inane banalities and rhetoric of political campaigns, he decided to write a satirical thriller exposing such practices in a fictional setting, using his knowledge of story structure, dialogue subtext, and page-turning pace which he learnt from film scriptwriting.
From a young age, he had a keen interest in U.S. politics. For his debut novel, he supplemented this knowledge and his screenwriting background with extensive research into the conduct of presidential politics in America. The result is a purely fictional story with a deeply authentic ring to it–a story that provokes, educates, and entertains, all at the same time.
You can get in touch with the author at email@example.com–he welcomes interaction with his readers. He can also be contacted via LinkedIN, Facebook, or through the Facebook page of The Frankenstein Candidate, where visitors are welcome to start a discussion thread.
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“…a superb debut that exposes the consequences of the choices we make….” –Kirkus Reviews
by Lee Fullbright
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