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The Darkness (2009), страница 1

 

The Darkness (2009)
 


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The Darkness (2009)


  Praise for the novels of

  THE STOLEN

  “The emotional dichotomy makes Parker

  a captivating and complex protagonist, one whose

  pithy observations about New York are dead on.”

  — Publishers Weekly

  “This thriller proves truly scary as it explores every parent’s

  worst nightmare. The next book can’t come fast enough.”

  — Library Journal

  “An exciting whodunit…

  Fans will appreciate this entertaining suspense thriller

  with the right touch of sexual tension to augment a fine read.”

  — Midwest Book Review

  THE GUILTY

  “A painstakingly refined story, from the realistically constructed

  characters to the consistently pedal-to-the-metal pacing.”

  — Chicago Tribune

  “One of the great new voices in the genre.”

  — CrimeSpree magazine

  “A fresh tale with original characters...

  Pinter knows what he’s doing as his exciting plot

  grabs readers from the first page.”

  — South Florida Sun-Sentinel

  “Those who enjoy their noir

  with a dash of real-world research will love The Guilty. ”

  — Bookreporter.com

  “A fabulous thriller…

  will prove to be one of the best of the year.”

  — Midwest Book Review

  THE MARK

  “Pinter’s a wizard at punching out page-turning action, and the

  voice of his headstrong protagonist is sure to win readers over;

  his wild ride should thrill any suspense junky.”

  — Publishers Weekly

  “An excellent debut. You are going to love Henry Parker,

  and you’re going to hope he survives the story,

  but you’re not going to bet on it.”

  —Lee Child

  “A first-rate debut from an author who dares to take the

  traditional thriller in bold new directions.”

  —Tess Gerritsen

  “A harrowing journey—chilling, compelling, disquieting.”

  —Steve Berry

  “A stunning debut by a major new talent!”

  —James Rollins

  “From the opening sentence to the exhilarating conclusion,

  Pinter’s debut thriller gets the reader’s heart racing.

  Pinter is clearly one to watch.”

  — Library Journal [starred review]

  “It’s Front Page meets The Sopranos

  with more than a little Scorsese thrown in.”

  —Jeffery Deaver

  “A top-notch debut… Fast-paced, gritty and often raw,

  The Mark is a tale you won’t soon forget.”

  —Michael Palmer

  “A fast-paced addictively suspenseful thriller.”

  —Allison Brennan

  ®

  To the booksellers, librarians and readers

  who support my work.

  Thank you.

  And to Bud White, who refused to die.

  1

  Paulina Cole left the office at 4:59 p.m. Her sudden departure nearly caused a panic in the newsroom of the New

  York Dispatch, where she’d worked as a featured columnist and reporter for several years. Paulina was prone to late

  nights, though many argued whether the nights were due

  to a work ethic that was second to none, or simply because

  she was more comfortable spending her time among competitive, ambitious and bloodthirsty professionals than

  sitting on the couch with a glass of wine and takeout.

  She had left that day after a particularly frustrating

  conference call with the paper’s editor in chief, Ted Allen.

  Paulina had spent the better part of two years becoming

  the city’s most notorious scribe in no small part due to

  her ambivalence concerning personal attacks, heated vendettas, and a complete refusal to allow anyone to get the

  best of her. When her instincts faltered, she called in

  favors. When she got scooped, she would trump the scoop

  by digging deeper. And she held grudges like ordinary

  folks held on to family heirlooms.

  Which is why, after reading a copy of that morning’s

  New York Gazette, the paper Paulina used to work for and

  now wished buried under a paper landfill, she demanded

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  Jason Pinter

  to speak with Ted. She knew the man had a two o’clock

  tee time, but she’d seen him golf before and cell phone

  interruption might even improve his thirty-seven handicap.

  That day’s Gazette featured a story about the murder

  of a young man named Stephen Gaines. Gaines’s head

  had met the business end of a revolver recently, and in a

  twist of fate that Paulina could only have wished for on

  the most glorious of days, the prime suspect was none

  other than Gaines’s father, James Parker. James Parker

  also happened to be the father of Henry Parker, the

  Gazette’ s rising young star reporter, whom Paulina had

  as much fondness for as her monthly cycle.

  Paulina had cut her teeth at the Gazette, and had briefly

  worked side by side with Henry Parker. But after seeing

  what the Gazette had become—an old, tired rag, refusing

  to adapt to new technologies or understand that hard news

  was essentially dead—she’d made it her business to put

  the paper out of its misery.

  Nobody cared to read about the government or the economy—at least not on a grand scale. They only cared about

  what they saw right in front of them, day in and day out.

  Their mortgage payments. Their bank accounts. It was all

  visceral. You bought the celebrity magazine so you could

  make fun of the stars’ cellulite with your friends.You shook

  your head at the news program that exposed the foreman

  whose building was overrun with rats because he refused

  to pony up for an exterminator.You scorned the politician’s

  wife who stood silent at the press conference by her cheating louse of a husband. Paulina gave those with no life

  something to live for, something to chat about at the nail

  salon.

  The New York Gazette was dead. It just didn’t know

  it yet.

  The Darkness

  9

  So when Ted Allen suggested that Paulina write an

  article about vampires, she was taken aback to say the least.

  “Vampires are huge,” Allen had said. “There are those

  books that have sold like a gajillion copies. Now there are

  movies, television shows, soundtrack albums. Hell, newspapers are the only medium that isn’t getting a piece of

  it. Teenage girls love them, and teenage boys want to get

  into the pants of teenage girls. And this all scares the

  living hell—no pun intended—out of their parents, so you

  write a piece on vampires I bet it’s one of our bestselling

  editions of the year.”

  “What the hell do I know about stupid vampires?”

  Paulina said, laughing at herself for even asking the

  question. She stopped laughing when she realized Ted

  was serious.

  “Oh, I don’t know,” Allen had said. “D
idn’t I hear

  about some boys and girls who go around biting people

  on the neck because they think they can be vampires? Go

  interview them. Even better, go undercover and pretend

  to be one of them. You know, pretend you like to bite

  people’s necks and see what they tell you.”

  “Ted, I’m in my forties,” Paulina said. “I don’t think

  going undercover with teenagers will fly.”

  “Are you kidding?” Ted said. “What’s that term? Milf?

  The teenage boys will love you.”

  That’s when Paulina left.

  Rain beat down upon the streets steadily, with the precision of soft drumbeats. The drops splashed upward as

  they struck the pavement, and Paulina felt the water

  soaking her ankles as she exited into the gloom. A bottle

  of Finca Vieja Tempranillo was waiting at home. It was

  a good red wine, with a slight plum taste, and she could

  picture slipping into a warm bath with a glass in one

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  Jason Pinter

  hand and a romance novel in the other. The rest of the

  bottle sitting on the ledge just within reach, ready to be

  tilted until the last drops were consumed. Ordinarily she

  was not that kind of girl, in fact laughed at those who

  were, but Paulina needed a night away from it all.

  Paulina opened up an umbrella and stepped into the sea

  of New Yorkers, entering the crowded bloodstream

  known as the commute home. The streets were chock-full

  of open umbrellas, and she tried to wedge her way into

  the crowd without having her eye poked out by a random

  spoke.

  As she took her first step, Paulina heard a man’s voice

  yell, “Miss Cole! Miss Cole!”

  She saw a man wearing a dapper suit and dark overcoat

  approaching. He was tall, six one or two, with hair so

  blond it was nearly white, peeking out from underneath

  a billed cap. He looked to be in good shape, late thirties

  or early forties, and for a brief moment Paulina felt her

  heart rate speed up. The car service company had really

  stepped up their recruiting.

  “Miss Cole,” the man said, stopping in front of her.

  “My name is Chester. I’m from New York Taxi and Limo.

  Ted Allen called to request a ride home for you.”

  “Is that so,” Paulina said, barely hiding her smile. She

  knew months ago that she had Ted by the balls. Things

  like this proved it. Keeping her happy and pumping out

  pieces was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year

  to the Dispatch, and the publicity she received raised the

  paper’s profile more than their “crackerjack” investigative team ever could. That Ted would extend an olive

  branch so quickly surprised her at first, but if she ran the

  company she’d want to make sure her star reporter got

  home safe, sound and dry.

  The Darkness

  11

  “Please,” Chester said, “come with me.”

  Chester opened up a much larger umbrella and held it

  out. Paulina smiled at him, a big, bright, toothy smile, and

  stepped under the umbrella. He led her to a Lincoln Town

  Car which sat double-parked at the curb. Holding the

  umbrella to shield her from the rain, the driver opened the

  door. Paulina thanked him, picked up the hem of her skirt

  and climbed into the backseat of the car. The driver shut the

  door, and Paulina watched as he walked around to the front.

  Two sealed bottles of water were set in a pair of cup

  holders, and crisp new editions of that morning’s newspapers were folded in the pocket in front of her. The rain

  pattered against the windows as Paulina unscrewed one

  of the bottles and took a long, deep sip.

  The driver flicked on his blinker and pulled into traffic.

  He headed uptown. The only sound Paulina could hear

  was the rubber squeaking of the windshield wipers. The

  only smell that of the car’s leather.

  “Good day, miss?” the driver asked.

  “Better than some, worse than others,” she replied.

  Traffic was bumper to bumper, and the car inched along.

  Paulina began to grow restless. As much as she hated taking

  the subway, she probably would have been home by now.

  “You think there might be a faster route?” she asked,

  leaning forward slightly when the car stopped at a red

  light. The driver turned around, grinned.

  “Let’s see what we can do.”

  The driver made a right turn, and soon the car was

  heading east. When they got to First Avenue, Paulina

  could see signs for the FDR Drive north. He pulled onto

  the on-ramp and headed uptown. The FDR tended to get

  flooded during heavy rain, but Paulina didn’t mind chancing that to get home quicker. She watched the cars out-12

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  side, eyes widening as she saw her exit, Sixty-first Street,

  appear in the distance. Yet instead of slowing down and

  pulling left toward the exit ramp, the car sped along, bypassing the exit completely.

  “Hey!” Paulina said, leaning forward again. “That was

  my stop. This isn’t NASCAR, pay attention.”

  “My apologies,” the driver said, “I must not have seen

  it.”

  “No kidding, Stevie Wonder.” Paulina cursed under her

  breath. The next exit wasn’t until Ninety-sixth Street,

  and then he would have to loop all the way back downtown. Just like Ted Allen to hire a car service and get a

  driver dumber than a pile of bricks.

  Traffic moved along steadily, and Paulina sighed as

  they approached the Ninety-sixth Street exit.

  “Exit’s coming up,” she said, making sure to remind him.

  “Got it, thanks, Miss Cole.”

  As they approached the exit, Paulina noticed the car

  was not slowing down at all.

  “Hey, will you slow down? What the hell is wrong

  with you? You’re going to miss it!”

  The car drove right by the exit without slowing

  down one bit.

  “Where the hell are you going?” Paulina yelled. The

  driver did not answer. “I’m calling Ted. You’ll work as a

  brain surgeon before you ever work our account again.”

  “Put the phone down, Miss Cole.” The driver’s voice

  had lost all of its pleasantries.

  “Screw you. Now I’m calling the cops. Forget our

  account. Your ass is going to jail.” She took out her cell

  phone and flipped open the cover.

  “If you ever want to see your daughter with all her

  limbs intact, you’ll put the phone down right now.”

  The Darkness

  13

  Paulina’s mouth fell open in a silent scream. Her

  daughter…how did this man even know about her?

  Paulina’s daughter lived with her first husband, a loser of

  a man named Chad Wozniak. He was a good father, an

  aspiring architect who never progressed beyond the word

  aspiring. He was a good man, a decent man, but not a

  provider. That’s what Paulina had wanted for her family,

  but in the end she had to do what Chad could not.

  Abigail. She was twenty years old. A junior in college.

  A 3.7 average, captain of the soccer team at so
me allgirls’ school up in Massachusetts. She and Paulina barely

  spoke. Maybe once every few months, and usually only

  when Abby’s checking account ran low. Abby was beautiful, even if sometimes this budding young woman

  seemed like a stranger to her own mother.

  “You’re a sick monster,” Paulina said, closing the phone.

  “Don’t be like that. We’re almost there.”

  The driver took the FDR to the Triboro Bridge, pulling

  off once they’d arrived in Queens. He skidded around an

  off-ramp, took several turns in a neighborhood Paulina

  did not recognize, and slowly eased into an alleyway

  bookended by two buildings that looked like they were

  about to collapse. Paulina could see nobody, hear nobody.

  She was all alone with this man. Through the rain and

  desolation, nobody would hear her if she screamed.

  The driver exited the car and walked around to the

  backseat. Paulina locked the door from the inside. She

  heard a click as the driver unlocked it with his remote.

  Before she could lock it again, he threw open the door,

  grabbed Paulina by her coat and spun her into the mud.

  Wet slop splashed into her face. Paulina felt her eyes

  grow warm, anger rising inside of her. She launched

  herself at the man, her nails bared to rake at his face, but

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  Jason Pinter

  he merely grabbed her by the neck, held it for one horrible

  moment as he stared into her eyes.

  Then Paulina felt him press something against her

  side, and suddenly she felt a scorching pain worse than

  anything she’d ever experienced. Her body twitched as

  she screamed. She lost control of her bladder, then

  dropped facedown into the mud. Paulina looked up to see

  the man holding a Taser, smiling.

  “I wouldn’t do that again. I can smell your piss.”

  Paulina could feel hot tears pouring down her face. She

  was on her hands and knees, caked in grime, and her

  body felt like it had just been plugged into an electrical

  socket. She slowly got to her knees, managed to stand up,

  her breath harsh and ragged.

  “What do you want?” she cried. “Money? Sex?” She

  shuddered at the last word, praying he didn’t, praying

  there was something else, something that wouldn’t leave

  a scar. Pain she could take, but that kind of pain would

  never leave.

  The man shook his head. Holding the Taser, he reached

  inside his overcoat, rain beading down the dark fabric.

 
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