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Table of Contents

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce 2


The Twelve by Justin Cronin 24
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson 37
Wards of Faerie by Terry Brooks 57
Garment of Shadows by Laurie King 86
12.21 by Dustin Thomason .. 108
Jack Reacher: One Shot by Lee Child .. 131
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker 183

ABOUT THIS BOOK


Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English
village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost
everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast.
Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning
the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a
letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he
hasnt seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is
in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.
Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores,
heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very
best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that
convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to
Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at
the heart of Rachel Joyces remarkable debut. Harold Fry is
determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the
hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long
as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.
Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his
urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets
one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks
his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his
first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in
fatherhood, come rushing back to himallowing him to also
reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds
herself missing Harold for the first time in years.
And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie
Hennessy.
A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight
into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our
hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces
Rachel Joyce as a wiseand utterly irresistiblestoryteller.

The
U N LI K ELY P I L G R I M AG E

of
H A RO LD F RY

A NOVEL

Rachel Joyce

d
RANDOM HOUSE

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Who would true valour see,


Let him come hither;
One here will constant be
Come wind, come weather.
Theres no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His rst avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
JOHN BUNYAN, The Pilgrims Progress

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Harold and the Letter

THE LET TER THAT would change everything arrived on a Tuesday. It was an ordinary morning in mid-April that smelled of
clean washing and grass cuttings. Harold Fry sat at the breakfast
table, freshly shaved, in a clean shirt and tie, with a slice of toast
that he wasnt eating. He gazed beyond the kitchen window at
the clipped lawn, which was spiked in the middle by Maureens
telescopic washing line, and trapped on all three sides by the
neighbors stockade fencing.
Harold! called Maureen above the vacuum cleaner. Post!
He thought he might like to go out, but the only thing to do
was mow the lawn and he had done that yesterday. The vacuum
tumbled into silence, and his wife appeared, looking cross, with a
letter. She sat opposite Harold.
Maureen was a slight woman with a cap of silver hair and a
brisk walk. When they rst met, nothing had pleased him more

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than to make her laugh. To watch her neat frame collapse into
unruly happiness. Its for you, she said. He didnt know what
she meant until she slid an envelope across the table, and stopped
it just short of Harolds elbow. They both looked at the letter as if
they had never seen one before. It was pink. The postmark says
Berwick-upon-Tweed.
He didnt know anyone in Berwick. He didnt know many
people anywhere. Maybe its a mistake.
I think not. They dont get something like a postmark wrong.
She took toast from the rack. She liked it cold and crisp.
Harold studied the mysterious envelope. Its pink was not the
color of the bathroom suite, or the matching towels and ued
cover for the toilet seat. That was a vivid shade that made Harold
feel he shouldnt be there. But this was delicate. A Turkish Delight pink. His name and address were scribbled in ballpoint, the
clumsy letters collapsing into one another as if a child had dashed
them o in a hurry: Mr. H. Fry, 13 Fossebridge Road, Kingsbridge,
South Hams. He didnt recognize the handwriting.
Well? said Maureen, passing a knife. He held it to the corner of the envelope, and tugged it through the fold. Careful, she
warned.
He could feel her eyes on him as he eased out the letter, and
prodded back his reading glasses. The page was typed, and addressed from a place he didnt know: St. Bernadines Hospice.
Dear Harold, This may come to you as some surprise. His eyes ran to
the bottom of the page.
Well? said Maureen again.
Good lord. Its from Queenie Hennessy.
Maureen speared a nugget of butter with her knife and attened it the length of her toast. Queenie who?

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She worked at the brewery. Years ago. Dont you remember?


Maureen shrugged. I dont see why I should. I dont know
why Id remember someone from years ago. Could you pass the
jam?
She was in nances. She was very good.
Thats the marmalade, Harold. Jam is red. If you look at
things before you pick them up, youll nd it helps.
Harold passed her what she needed and returned to his letter.
Beautifully set out, of course; nothing like the muddled writing
on the envelope. Then he smiled, remembering this was how it
always was with Queenie: everything she did so precise you
couldnt fault it. She remembers you. She sends her regards.
Maureens mouth pinched into a bead. A chap on the radio
was saying the French want our bread. They cant get it sliced in
France. They come over here and they buy it all up. The chap said
there might be a shortage by summer. She paused. Harold? Is
something the matter?
He said nothing. He drew up tall with his lips parted, his face
bleached. His voice, when at last it came, was small and far away.
Itscancer. Queenie is writing to say goodbye. He fumbled
for more words but there werent any. Tugging a handkerchief
from his trouser pocket, Harold blew his nose. I um. Gosh.
Tears crammed his eyes.
Moments passed; maybe minutes. Maureen gave a swallow
that smacked the silence. Im sorry, she said.
He nodded. He ought to look up, but he couldnt.
Its a nice morning, she began again. Why dont you fetch
out the patio chairs? But he sat, not moving, not speaking, until
she lifted the dirty plates. Moments later the vacuum cleaner
took up from the hall.

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Harold felt winded. If he moved so much as a limb, a muscle, he


was afraid it would trigger an abundance of feeling he was doing
his best to contain. Why had he let twenty years pass without
trying to nd Queenie Hennessy? A picture came of the small,
dark-haired woman with whom he had worked all that time ago,
and it seemed inconceivable that she waswhat? Sixty? And
dying of cancer in Berwick. Of all the places, he thought; hed
never traveled so far north. He glanced out at the garden and saw
a ribbon of plastic caught in the laurel hedging, apping up and
down, but never pulling free. He tucked Queenies letter into his
pocket, patted it twice for safekeeping, and rose to his feet.

Upstairs Maureen shut the door of Davids room quietly and


stood a moment, breathing him in. She pulled open his blue curtains that she closed every night, and checked that there was no
dust where the hem of the net drapes met the windowsill. She
polished the silver frame of his Cambridge portrait, and the
black-and-white baby photograph beside it. She kept the room
clean because she was waiting for David to come back, and she
never knew when that would be. A part of her was always waiting. Men had no idea what it was like to be a mother. The ache
of loving a child, even when he had moved on. She thought of
Harold downstairs, with his pink letter, and wished she could
talk to their son. Maureen left the room as softly as she had entered it, and went to strip the beds.

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Harold Fry took several sheets of Basildon Bond from the sideboard drawer and one of Maureens rollerball pens. What did you
say to a dying woman with cancer? He wanted her to know how
sorry he felt, but it was wrong to put In Sympathy because that
was what the cards in the shops said after, as it were, the event;
and anyway it sounded formal, as if he didnt really care. He tried
Dear Miss Hennessy, I sincerely hope your condition improves, but
when he put down the pen to inspect his message, it seemed both
sti and unlikely. He crumpled the paper into a ball and tried
again. He had never been good at expressing himself. What he
felt was so big it was dicult to nd the words, and even if he
could, it was hardly appropriate to write them to someone he had
not contacted in twenty years. Had the shoe been on the other
foot, Queenie would have known what to do.
Harold? Maureens voice took him by surprise. He thought
she was upstairs, polishing something, or speaking to David. She
had her rubber gloves on.
Im writing Queenie a note.
A note? She often repeated what he said.
Yes. Would you like to sign?
I think not. It would hardly be appropriate to sign a note to
someone I dont know.
It was time to stop worrying about expressing anything beautifully. He would simply have to set down the words in his head:
Dear Queenie, Thank you for your letter. I am very sorry. Yours Best
wishesHarold (Fry). It was limp, but there it was. Sliding the
letter into an envelope, he sealed it quickly, and copied the address of St. Bernadines Hospice onto the front. Ill nip to the
postbox.
It was past eleven oclock. He lifted his waterproof jacket

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from the peg where Maureen liked him to hang it. At the door,
the smell of warmth and salt air rushed at his nose, but his wife
was at his side before his left foot was over the threshold.
Will you be long?
Im only going to the end of the road.
She kept on looking up at him, with her moss-green eyes and
her fragile chin, and he wished he knew what to say but he didnt;
at least not in a way that would make any dierence. He longed
to touch her like in the old days, to lower his head on her shoulder and rest there. Cheerio, Maureen. He shut the front door
between them, taking care not to let it slam.

Built on a hill above Kingsbridge, the houses of Fossebridge


Road enjoyed what estate agents called an elevated position, with
far-reaching views over the town and countryside. Their front
gardens, however, sloped at a precarious angle toward the pavement below, and plants wrapped themselves round bamboo
stakes as if hanging on for dear life. Harold strode down the
steep concrete path a little faster than he might have wished and
noticed ve new dandelions. Maybe this afternoon he would get
out the Roundup. It would be something.
Spotting Harold, the next-door neighbor waved and steered
his way toward the adjoining fence. Rex was a short man with
tidy feet at the bottom, a small head at the top, and a very round
body in the middle, causing Harold to fear sometimes that if he
fell there would be no stopping him. He would roll down the hill
like a barrel. Rex had been widowed six months ago, at about the
time of Harolds retirement. Since Elizabeths death, he liked to
talk about how hard life was. He liked to talk about it at great

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T h e U N L I K E LY P I L G R I M AG E o f H A R O L D F R Y

length. The least you can do is listen, Maureen said, although


Harold wasnt sure if she meant you in the general sense or the
particular.
O for a walk? said Rex.
Harold attempted a jocular tone that would act, he hoped, as
an intimation that now was not the time to stop. Need anything
posted, old chap?
Nobody writes to me. Since Elizabeth passed away, I only
get circulars.
Rex gazed into the middle distance and Harold recognized at
once the direction the conversation was heading. He threw a
look upward; pus of cloud sat on a tissue-paper sky. Jolly nice
day.
Jolly nice, said Rex. There was a pause and Rex poured a
sigh into it. Elizabeth liked the sun. Another pause.
Good day for mowing, Rex.
Very good, Harold. Do you compost your grass cuttings? Or
do you mulch?
I nd mulching leaves a mess that sticks to my feet. Maureen
doesnt like it when I tread things into the house. Harold glanced
at his yachting shoes and wondered why people wore them when
they had no intention of sailing. Well. Must get on. Catch the
midday collection. Wagging his envelope, Harold turned
toward the pavement.

For the rst time in his life, it was a disappointment to nd that


the postbox cropped up sooner than expected. Harold tried to
cross the road to avoid it, but there it was, waiting for him on the
corner of Fossebridge Road. He lifted his letter for Queenie to

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the slot, and stopped. He looked back at the short distance his
feet had traveled.
The detached houses were stuccoed and washed in shades of
yellow, salmon, and blue. Some still had their pointed fties roofs
with decorative beams in the shape of a half sun; others had
slate-clad loft extensions; one had been completely rebuilt in the
style of a Swiss chalet. Harold and Maureen had moved here
forty-ve years ago, just after they were married. It took all his
savings to pay the deposit; there had been nothing left for curtains or furniture. They had kept themselves apart from others,
and over time neighbors had come and gone, while only Harold
and Maureen remained. There had once been vegetable beds, and
an ornamental pond. She made chutneys every summer, and
David kept goldsh. Behind the house there had been a potting
shed that smelled of fertilizer, with high hooks for hanging tools,
and coils of twine and rope. But these things too were long since
gone. Even their sons school, which had stood a stones throw
from his bedroom window, was bulldozed now and replaced with
fty aordable homes in bright primary colors and street lighting in the style of Georgian gas lamps.
Harold thought of the words he had written to Queenie, and
their inadequacy shamed him. He pictured himself returning
home, and Maureen calling David, and life being exactly the
same except for Queenie dying in Berwick, and he was overcome. The letter rested on the dark mouth of the postbox. He
couldnt let it go.
After all, he said out loud, though nobody was looking, its
a nice day. He hadnt anything else to do. He might as well walk
to the next one. He turned the corner of Fossebridge Road before he could change his mind.

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11

It was not like Harold to make a snap decision. He saw that.


Since his retirement, days went by and nothing changed; only his
waist thickened, and he lost more hair. He slept poorly at night,
and sometimes he did not sleep at all. Yet, arriving more promptly
than he anticipated at a postbox, he paused again. He had started
something and he didnt know what it was, but now that he was
doing it, he wasnt ready to nish. Beads of perspiration sprouted
over his forehead; his blood throbbed with anticipation. If he
took his letter to the post oce on Fore Street, it would be guaranteed next day delivery.
The sun pressed warm on the back of his head and shoulders
as he strolled down the avenues of new housing. Harold glanced
in at peoples windows, and sometimes they were empty, and
sometimes people were staring right back at him and he felt
obliged to rush on. Sometimes, though, there was an object that
he didnt expect; a porcelain gure, or a vase, and even a tuba. The
tender pieces of themselves that people staked as boundaries
against the outside world. He tried to visualize what a passerby
would learn about himself and Maureen from the windows of 13
Fossebridge Road, before he realized it would be not very much,
on account of the net curtains. He headed for the quayside, with
the muscles twitching in his thighs.
The tide was out and dinghies lolled in a moonscape of black
mud, needing paint. Harold hobbled to an empty bench, inched
Queenies letter from his pocket, and unfolded it.
She remembered. After all these years. And yet he had lived
out his ordinary life as if what she had done meant nothing. He
hadnt tried to stop her. He hadnt followed. He hadnt even said
goodbye. The sky and pavement blurred into one as fresh tears
swelled his eyes. Then through them came the watery outline of

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a young mother and child. They seemed to be holding ice cream


cones, and bore them like torches. She lifted the boy and set him
down on the other end of the bench.
Lovely day, said Harold, not wanting to sound like an old
man who was crying. She didnt look up, or agree. Bending over
her childs st, she licked a smooth path to stop the ice cream
from running. The boy watched his mother, so still and close it
was as if his face was part of hers.
Harold wondered if he had ever sat by the quay eating ice
cream with David. He was sure he must have done, although
searching in his mind for the memory, he found it wasnt readily
available. He must get on. He must post his letter.
Oce workers were laughing with lunchtime pints outside
the Old Creek Inn, but Harold barely noticed. As he began the
steep climb up Fore Street, he thought about the mother who
was so absorbed in her son she saw no one else. It occurred to
him it was Maureen who spoke to David and told him their
news. It was Maureen who had always written Harolds name
(Dad) in the letters and cards. It was even Maureen who had
found the nursing home for his father. And it raised the
questionas he pushed the button at the pelican crossingthat
if she was, in eect, Harold, then who am I?
He strode past the post oce without even stopping.

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Harold and the Garage Girl and a


Question of Faith

HAROLD WAS NEAR the top of Fore Street. He had passed the
closed-down Woolworths, the bad butcher (He beats his wife,
Maureen said), the good butcher (His wife left him), the clock
tower, the Shambles, as well as the oces of the South Hams Gazette, and now he was at the last of the shops. The muscles in his
calves pulled with every step. Behind him, the estuary shone like
a sheet of tin against the sun; boats were already tiny ecks of
white. He paused at the travel agent, because he wanted to take
a rest without anyone noticing, and pretended to read about bargain holidays in the window. Bali, Naples, Istanbul, Dubai. His
mother used to talk so dreamily about escaping to countries
where there were tropical trees, and women with owers in their
hair, that as a boy he had instinctively distrusted the world he did
not know. It had not been very dierent once he was married to

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Maureen, and they had David. Every year they spent two weeks
in the same holiday camp in Eastbourne. Taking several deep
breaths to steady his chest, Harold continued north.
The shops turned into homes, some built in pinky-gray Devon
stone, some painted, others fronted with slate tiles, followed by
cul-de-sacs of new housing. Magnolias were coming into ower;
frilled white stars against branches so bare they looked stripped.
It was already one oclock; he had missed the midday collection.
He would buy a snack to tide him over and then he would nd
the next postbox. After waiting for a gap in the trac, Harold
crossed toward a petrol station, where the houses stopped and
the elds took over.
A young girl at the till yawned. She wore a red smock over a
T-shirt and trousers, with a badge that said HAPPY TO HELP. Her
hair hung in oily strips on either side of her head so that her ears
poked through, and her skin was pockmarked and pale, as if she
had been kept inside for a long time. She didnt know what he
was talking about when he asked for light refreshments. She
opened her mouth and it remained hanging ajar, so that he feared
a change in the wind would leave her like that. A snack? he said.
Something to keep me going?
Her eyes ickered. Oh, you mean a burger. She trudged to
the fridge and showed him how to heat a BBQ Cheese Beast
with fries in the microwave.
Good lord, said Harold, as they watched it revolve in its box
behind the window. I had no idea you could get a full meal from
a garage.
The girl fetched the burger from the microwave and oered
packets of ketchup and brown sauce. Are you paying for fuel?
she asked, slowly wiping her hands. They were small as a childs.

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15

No, no, I am just passing. Walking actually.


Oh, she said.
Im posting a letter to someone I knew once. Im afraid she
has cancer. To his horror, he found that he paused before saying
the word and lowered his voice. He also found he had made a
small nugget shape with his ngers.
The girl nodded. My aunt had cancer, she said. I mean, its
everywhere. She cast her eyes up and down the shop shelves,
suggesting it was even to be found tucked behind the road maps
and Turtle Wax polish. You have to keep positive, though.
Harold stopped eating his burger and mopped his mouth
with a paper napkin. Positive?
You have to believe. Thats what I think. Its not about medicine and all that stu. You have to believe a person can get better.
There is so much in the human mind we dont understand. But,
you see, if you have faith, you can do anything.
Harold gazed at the girl in awe. He didnt know how it had
happened, but she seemed to be standing in a pool of light, as if
the sun had moved, and her hair and skin shone with luminous
clarity. Maybe he was staring too hard, because she gave a shrug
and chewed at her lower lip. Am I talking crap?
Gosh, no. Not at all. Its very interesting. Im afraid religion
is not something I ever quite got the hang of.
I dont mean, like, religious. I mean, trusting what you dont
know and going for it. Believing you can make a dierence. She
twined a strand of hair round her nger.
Harold felt he had never come across such simple certainty,
and in such a young person; she made it sound obvious. And she
got better, did she? Your aunt? Because you believed she could?
The strand of hair was twiddled so fast round her nger he

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was now afraid it was stuck. She said it gave her hope when
everything else had gone
Does anyone work here? shouted a man in a pinstripe suit
from the counter. He rapped his car keys on the hard surface,
beating out wasted time.
The girl threaded her way back to the till, where the pinstripe
made a show of checking his watch. He held his wrist high in the
air and pointed to the dial. Im supposed to be in Exeter in thirty
minutes.
Fuel? said the girl, resuming her place, in front of cigarettes
and lottery tickets. Harold tried to catch her eye but she wouldnt
meet his. She had returned to being dull and empty again, as if
their conversation about her aunt had never happened.
Harold left his money for the burger on the counter and
made his way to the door. Faith? Wasnt that the word she had
used? Not one he usually heard, but it was strange. Even though
he wasnt sure what she meant by faith, or what there was left
that he believed in, the word rang in his head with an insistence
that bewildered him. At sixty-ve he had begun to anticipate
diculties. A stiening of the joints; a dull ringing in his ears;
eyes that watered with the slightest change in the wind; a dart of
chest pain that presaged something more ominous. But what was
this sudden surge of feeling that made his body shake with its
sheer energy? He turned in the direction of the A381, and promised again that at the next postbox he would stop.
He was leaving Kingsbridge. The road narrowed into a single
lane, until the pavement disappeared altogether. Above him, the
branches joined like the roof of a tunnel, tangled with pointed
new buds and clouds of blossom. More than once he had to crush
himself into a hawthorn to avoid a passing car. There were single

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17

drivers, and he supposed they must be oce workers because


their faces appeared xed as if the joy had been squeezed away,
and then there were women driving children, and they looked
tired too. Even the older couples like himself and Maureen had a
rigidity about them. An impulse to wave came over Harold. He
didnt, though. He was wheezing with the eort of walking and
he didnt want to cause alarm.
The sea lay behind; before him stretched rolling hills and the
blue outline of Dartmoor. And beyond that? The Blackdown
Hills, the Mendips, the Malverns, the Pennines, the Yorkshire
Dales, the Cheviots, and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
But here, directly across the road, stood a postbox, and a little
way beyond it a telephone booth. Harolds journey was over.
He dragged his feet. He had seen so many hed lost count, as
well as two Royal Mail vans and a courier on a motorbike. Harold thought of all the things in life hed let go. The small smiles.
The oers of a beer. The people he had passed over and over
again, in the brewery car park, or on the street, without lifting his
head. The neighbors whose forwarding addresses he had never
kept. Worse: the son who didnt speak to him and the wife he had
betrayed. He remembered his father in the nursing home, and his
mothers suitcase by the door. And now here was a woman who
twenty years ago had proved herself a friend. Was this how it
went? That just at the moment when he wanted to do something,
it was too late? That all the pieces of a life must eventually be
surrendered, as if in truth they amounted to nothing? The knowledge of his helplessness pressed down on him so heavily he felt
weak. It wasnt enough to send a letter. There must be a way to
make a dierence. Reaching for his mobile, Harold realized it
was at home. He staggered into the road, his face thick with grief.

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A van shrieked to a halt and skirted past. You stupid fucker!


yelled the driver.
He barely heard. He barely saw the postbox either. Queenies
letter was in his hands before the door of the telephone kiosk had
closed behind him.
He found the address and telephone number, but his ngers
shook so hard he could barely tap the buttons to enter his PIN
code. He waited for the ringing tone, and the air hung still and
heavy. A trickle of sweat slid between his shoulder blades.
After ten rings there was at last a clunk, and a heavily accented voice: St. Bernadines Hospice. Good afternoon.
Id like to speak to a patient, please. Her name is Queenie
Hennessy.
There was a pause.
He added, Its very urgent. I need to know that shes all
right.
The woman made a sound as if she was breathing out a long
sigh. Harolds spine chilled. Queenie was dead; he was too late.
He clamped his knuckle to his mouth.
The voice said, Im afraid Miss Hennessy is asleep. Can I
take a message?
Small clouds sent shadows scurrying across the land. The
light was smoky over the distant hills, not with the dusk but with
the map of space that lay ahead. He pictured Queenie dozing at
one end of England and himself in a phone booth at the other,
with things in between that he didnt know and could only imagine: roads, elds, rivers, woods, moors, peaks and valleys, and so
many people. He would meet and pass them all. There was no
deliberation, no reasoning. The decision came in the same moment as the idea. He was laughing at the simplicity of it.

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T h e U N L I K E LY P I L G R I M AG E o f H A R O L D F R Y

19

Tell her Harold Fry is on his way. All she has to do is wait.
Because I am going to save her, you see. I will keep walking and
she must keep living. Will you say that?
The voice said she would. Was there anything else? Did he
know visiting hours, for instance? Parking restrictions?
He repeated, Im not in a car. I want her to live.
Im sorry. Did you say something about your car?
Im coming by foot. From South Devon all the way up to
Berwick-upon-Tweed.
The voice gave an exasperated sigh. Its a terrible line. What
are you doing?
Im walking, he shouted.
I see, said the voice slowly, as if she had picked up a pen and
was jotting this down. Walking. Ill tell her. Should I say anything else?
Im setting o right now. As long as I walk, she must live.
Please tell her this time I wont let her down.
When Harold hung up and stepped out of the phone booth,
his heart was pounding so fast it felt too big for his chest. With
trembling ngers, he unpeeled the ap of his own envelope and
pulled out the reply. Cramming it against the glass of the kiosk,
he scribbled a PS: Wait for me. H. He posted the letter, without
noticing its loss.
Harold stared at the ribbon of road that lay ahead, and the
glowering wall that was Dartmoor, and then the yachting shoes
that were his feet. He asked himself what in heavens name hed
just done.
Overhead a seagull cracked its wings and laughed.

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Order a copy of
THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY
in hardcover or ebook

ABOUT THIS BOOK


The end of the world was only the beginning.
In his internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed novel
The Passage, Justin Cronin constructed an unforgettable world
transformed by a government experiment gone horribly wrong.
Now the scope widens and the intensity deepens as the epic
story surges forward with . . .
THE TWELVE
In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three
strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant
mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection
that she continues to plan for her childs arrival even as society
dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as Last
Stand in Denver, has been forced to flee his stronghold and is
now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and
well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a
teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a
landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they
have not been fully abandonedand that in connection lies
hope, even on the darkest of nights.
One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on
for humankinds salvation . . . unaware that the rules have
changed. The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has
arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than
mans extinction. If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united
to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.
A heart-stopping thriller rendered with masterful literary skill,
The Twelve is a grand and gripping tale of sacrifice and
survival.

THE
TWELVE
A NOVEL

JUSTIN CRONIN

BALLANTINE BOOKS
N E W YO R K

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The Twelve is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and


incidents are products of the authors imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2012 by Justin Cronin
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint
of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of
Random House, Inc., New York.
Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of
Random House, Inc.
ISBN 978-0-345-50498-2
eBook ISBN 978-0-345-53489-7
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
www.ballantinebooks.com
2

First Edition

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the twelve | 19

rc: She was decapitated, Dr. Kyle. You were holding the body when we
found you. Dont you remember?
lk: (inaudible)
rc: Can you speak up, please?
lk: I dont understand what you want. Why are you asking me these
questions?
rc: Because you were there. Youre our only witness. You saw nine people
die tonight. They were ripped apart, Dr. Kyle.
lk: (inaudible)
rc: Dr. Kyle?
lk: Those eyes. It was like looking into hell. Like falling forever into
darkness. Do you believe in hell, Detective?
rc: Whose eyes?
lk: It wasnt human. It couldnt have been human.
rc: Are you still speaking of Mr. Letourneau?
lk: I cant think about this. I have to think about the baby.
rc: What did you see? Tell me what you saw.
lk: I want to go home. I dont want to talk about this anymore. Dont
make me.
rc: What killed those people, Dr. Kyle?
(Pause.)
rc: Dr. Kyle, are you all right?
(Pause.)
rc: Dr. Kyle?
(Pause.)
rc: Dr. Kyle?

4
Bernard Kittridge, known to the world as Last Stand in Denver, realized it was time to leave the morning the power went out.
He wondered what had taken so long. You couldnt keep a municipal
electrical grid running without people to man it, and as far as Kittridge
could tell from the nineteenth floor, not a single human soul was left
alive in the city of Denver.
Which was not to say he was alone.
He had passed the early hours of the morninga bright, clear morn-

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20 | justin cronin

ing in the first week of June, temperatures in the mid-seventies with a


chance of bloodsucking monsters moving in toward dusksunning on
the balcony of the penthouse he had occupied since the second week of
the crisis. It was a gigantic place, like an airborne palace; the kitchen
alone was the size of Kittridges whole apartment. The owners taste ran
in an austere direction: sleek leather seating groups that were better to
look at than sit on, gleaming floors of twinkling travertine, small furry
rugs, glass tables that appeared to float in space. Breaking in had been
surprisingly simple. By the time Kittridge had made his decision, half
the city was dead, or fled, or missing. The cops were long gone. Hed
thought about barricading himself into one of the big houses up in
Cherry Creek, but based on the things hed seen, he wanted someplace
high.
The owner of the penthouse was a man he knew slightly, a regular
customer at the store. His name was Warren Filo. As luck would have it,
Warren had come into the store the day before the whole thing had broken to gear up for a hunting trip to Alaska. He was a young guy, too
young for how much money he hadWall Street money, probably, or
one of those high-tech IPOs. On that day, the world still cheerily humming along as usual, Kittridge had helped Warren carry his purchases to
the car. A Ferrari, of course. Standing beside it, Kittridge thought: Why
not just go ahead and get a vanity plate that says, douche bag? A question that must have been plainly written on his face, because no sooner
had it crossed Kittridges mind than Warren went red with embarrassment. He wasnt wearing his usual suit, just jeans and a T-shirt with
sloan school of management printed on the front. Hed wanted Kittridge to see his car, that was obvious, but now that hed allowed this to
happen, hed realized how dumb it was, showing off a vehicle like that to
a floor manager at Outdoor World who probably made less than fifty
grand a year. (The number was actually forty-six.) Kittridge allowed
himself a silent laugh at thatthe things this kid didnt know would fill
a bookand he let the moment hang to make the point. I know, I know,
Warren confessed. Its a little much. I told myself Id never be one of those
assholes who drive a Ferrari. But honest to God, you should feel the way she
handles.
Kittridge had gotten Warrens address off his invoice. By the time he
moved inWarren presumably snug and safe in Alaskait was simply a
matter of finding the right key in the managers office, putting it into the
slot in the elevator panel, and riding eighteen floors to the penthouse. He
unloaded his gear. A rolling suitcase of clothes, three lockers of weap-

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the twelve | 21

onry, a hand-crank radio, night-vision binoculars, flares, a first-aid kit,


bottles of bleach, an arc welder to seal the doors of the elevator, his
trusty laptop with its portable satellite dish, a box of books, and enough
food and water to last a month. The view from the balcony, which ran
the length of the west side of the building, was a sweeping 180 degrees,
looking toward Interstate 25 and Mile High field. Hed positioned cameras equipped with motion detectors at each end of the balcony, one to
cover the street, a second facing the building on the opposite side of the
avenue. He figured hed get a lot of good footage this way, but the money
shots would be actual kills. The weapon hed selected for this task was a
Remington bolt-action 700P, .338 calibera nice balance of accuracy
and stopping power, zeroing out at three hundred yards. To this hed affixed a digital video scope with infrared. Using the binoculars, he would
isolate his target; the rifle, mounted on a bipod at the edge of the balcony, would do the rest.
On the first night, windless and lit by a waning quarter moon, Kittridge had shot seven: five on the avenue, one on the opposite roof, and
one more through the window of a bank at street level. It was the last
one that made him famous. The creature, or vampire, or whatever it
wasthe official term was Infected Personhad looked straight into
the lens just before Kittridge put one through the sweet spot. Uploaded
to YouTube, the image had traveled around the globe within hours; by
morning all the major networks had picked it up. Who is this man? everyone wanted to know. Who is this fearless-crazy-suicidal man, barricaded in a Denver high-rise, making his last stand?
And so was born the sobriquet, Last Stand in Denver.
From the start hed assumed it was just a matter of time before somebody shut him down, CIA or NSA or Homeland. He was making quite
a stir. Working in his favor was the fact that this same somebody would
have to come to Denver to pull the plug. Kittridges IP address was functionally untraceable, backstopped by a daisy chain of anonymizer servers, their order scrambled every night. Most were overseas: Russia,
China, Indonesia, Israel, Sudan. Places beyond easy reach for any federal agency that might want to pull the plug. His video blogtwo million hits the first dayhad more than three hundred mirror sites, with
more added all the time. It didnt take a week before he was a bona fide
worldwide phenomenon. Twitter, Facebook, Headshot, Sphere: the images found their way into the ether without his lifting a finger. One of his
fan sites alone had more than two million subscribers; on eBay, T-shirts
that read, i am last stand in denver were selling like hotcakes.

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22 | justin cronin

His father had always said, Son, the most important thing in life is to
make a contribution. Who would have thought Kittridges contribution
would be video-blogging from the front lines of the apocalypse?
And yet the world went on. The sun still shone. To the west, the mountains shrugged their indifferent rocky bulk at mans departure. For a
while, there had been a lot of smokewhole blocks had burned to the
groundbut now this had dissipated, revealing the desolation with eerie
clarity. At night, regions of blackness blotted the city, but elsewhere,
lights still glittered in the gloomflickering streetlamps, filling stations
and convenience stores with their distinctive fluorescent glow, porch
lights left burning for their owners return. While Kittridge maintained
his vigil on the balcony, a traffic signal eighteen floors below still dutifully turned from green to yellow to red and then to green again.
He wasnt lonely. Loneliness had left him, long ago. He was thirtyfour years old. A little heavier than he would have likedwith his leg, it
was hard to keep the weight offbut still strong. Hed been married
once, years before. He remembered that period of his life as twenty
months of oversexed, connubial bliss, followed by an equal number of
months of yelling and screaming, accusations and counteraccusations,
until the whole thing sank like a rock, and he was content, on the whole,
that this union had produced no children. His connection to Denver was
neither sentimental nor personal; after hed gotten out of the VA, it was
simply where hed landed. Everyone said that a decorated veteran should
have little trouble finding work. And maybe this was true. But Kittridge
had been in no hurry. Hed spent the better part of a year just reading
the usual stuff at first, cop novels and thrillers, but eventually had found
his way to more substantial books: As I Lay Dying, For Whom the Bell
Tolls, Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby. Hed spent a whole month on
Melville, drilling his way through Moby-Dick. Most were books he felt
he ought to read, the ones hed somehow missed in school, but he genuinely liked most of them. Sitting in the quiet of his studio apartment, his
mind lost in tales of other lives and times, felt like taking a long drink
after years of thirst. Hed even enrolled in a few classes at the community
college, working at Outdoor World during the day, reading and writing
his papers at nights and on his lunch hour. There was something in the
pages of these books that had the power to make him feel better about
things, a life raft to cling to before the dark currents of memory washed
him downstream again, and on brighter days, he could even see himself
going on this way for some time. A small but passable life.
And then, of course, the end of the world had happened.

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the twelve | 23

The morning the electricity failed, Kittridge had finished uploading the
previous nights footage and was sitting on the patio, reading Dickenss
A Tale of Two Citiesthe English barrister Sydney Carton had just declared his everlasting love for Lucie Manette, the fiance of the haplessly
idealistic Charles Darnaywhen the thought touched him that the
morning could only be improved by a dish of ice cream. Warrens enormous kitchenyou could run a five-star restaurant out of the thing
had been, unsurprisingly, almost completely bereft of food, and Kittridge
had long since thrown away the moldy take-out containers that had constituted the meager contents of the fridge. But the guy obviously had a
weakness for Ben and Jerrys Chocolate Fudge Brownie, because the
freezer was crammed with the stuff. Not Chunky Monkey or Cherry
Garcia or Phish Food or even plain old vanilla. Just Chocolate Fudge
Brownie. Kittridge would have liked some variety, considering there was
going to be no more ice cream for a while, but with little else to eat besides canned soup and crackers, he was hardly going to complain. Balancing his book on the arm of his chair, he rose and stepped through the
sliding glass door into the penthouse.
By the time he reached the kitchen, he had begun to sense that something was off-kilter, although this impression had yet to coalesce around
anything specific. It wasnt until he opened the carton and sank his spoon
into a soft mush of melted Chocolate Fudge Brownie that he fully understood.
He tried a light switch. Nothing. He moved through the apartment,
testing lamps and switches. All were the same.
In the middle of the living room, Kitteidge paused and took a deep
breath. Okay, he thought, okay. This was to be expected. If anything,
this was long overdue. He checked his watch: 9:32 a.m. Sunset was a little
after eight. Ten and a half hours to get his ass gone.
He threw together a rucksack of supplies: protein bars, bottles of
water, clean socks and underwear, his first-aid kit, a warm jacket, a bottle of Zyrtec (his allergies had been playing hell with him all spring), a
toothbrush, and a razor. For a moment he considered bringing A Tale of
Two Cities along, but this seemed impractical, and with a twinge of regret he put it aside. In the bedroom he dressed himself in a wicking Tshirt and cargo pants, topping this off with a hunting vest and a pair of
light hikers. For a few minutes he considered which weapons to take before settling on a Bowie knife, a pair of Glock 19s, and the retrofitted

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24 | justin cronin

Polish AK with the folding stock: useless at any kind of range but reliable close in, where he expected to be. The Glocks fit snugly in a crossdraw holster. He filled the pockets of his vest with loaded magazines,
clipped the AK to its sling, hoisted the backpack over his shoulders, and
returned to the patio.
That was when he noticed the traffic signal on the avenue. Green, yellow, red. Green, yellow, red. It could have been a fluke, but he doubted it.
Theyd found him.
The rope was anchored to a drainage stack on the roof. He stepped
into his rappelling harness, clipped in, and swung first his good leg and
then his bad one over the railing. Heights were no problem for him, and
yet he did not look down. He was perched on the edge of the balcony,
facing the windows of the penthouse. From the distance he heard the
sound of an approaching helicopter.
Last Stand in Denver, signing off.
With a push he was aloft, his body lobbing down and away. One story,
two stories, three, the rope smoothly sliding through his hands: he landed
on the balcony of the apartment four floors below. A familiar twang of
pain shot upward from his left knee; he gritted his teeth to force it away.
The helicopter was closing in now, the thrum of its blades volleying off
the buildings. He peeled off his harness, drew one of the Glocks, and
fired a single shot to shatter the glass of the balcony door.
The air of the apartment was stale, like the inside of a cabin sealed for
winter. Heavy furniture, gilt mirrors, an oil painting of a horse over the
fireplace; from somewhere wafted the stench of decay. He moved through
the becalmed space with barely a glance. At the door he paused to attach
a spotlight to the rail of the AK and stepped out into the hall, headed for
the stairs.
In his pocket were the keys to the Ferrari, parked in the buildings
underground garage, sixteen floors below. Kittridge shouldered open the
door of the stairwell, quickly sweeping the space with the beam from the
AK, up and down. Clear. He withdrew a flare from his vest and used his
teeth to unscrew the plastic top, exposing the igniter button. With a combustive pop, the flare commenced its rain of sparks. Kittridge held it over
the side, taking aim, and let go; if there was anything down there, hed
know it soon. His eyes followed the flare as it made its descent, dragging
a contrail of smoke. Somewhere below it nicked the rail and bounced out
of sight. Kittridge counted to ten. Nothing, no movement at all.
Three flares later he reached the bottom; a heavy steel door with a
push bar and a small square of reinforced glass led to the garage. The
floor was littered with trash: pop cans, candy bar wrappers, tins of food.

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the twelve | 25

A rumpled bedroll and a pile of musty clothing showed where someone


had been sleepinghiding, as he had.
Kittridge had scouted out the parking garage the day of his arrival.
The Ferrari was parked near the southwest corner, a distance of approximately two hundred feet. He probably should have moved it closer to
the door, but it had taken him three days to locate Warrens keyswho
kept his car keys in a bathroom drawer?by which time hed already
barricaded himself inside the penthouse.
The fob had four buttons: two for the doors, one for the alarm, and
one that, he hoped, was a remote starter. He pressed this one first.
From deep within the garage came a tart, single-noted bleep, followed
by the throaty roar of the Ferraris engine. Another mistake: the Ferrari
was parked nose to the wall. He should have thought of that. Not only
would this slow his escape; if the car had been facing the opposite way,
its headlights would have given him a better look at the garages interior.
All he could make out through the stairwell doors tiny window was a
distant, glowing region where the car awaited, a cat purring in the dark.
The rest of the garage was veiled in blackness. The infected liked to hang
from things: ceiling struts, pipes, anything with a tactile surface. The tiniest fissure would suffice. When they came, they came from above.
The moment of decision was upon him. Toss more flares and see what
happens? Move stealthily through the darkness, seeking cover? Throw
open the door and run like hell?
Then, from high overhead, Kittridge heard the creak of an opening
stairwell door. He held his breath and listened. There were two of them.
He stepped back from the door and craned his neck upward. Ten stories
above, a pair of red dots were dancing off the walls.
He shoved the door open and ran like hell.
He had made it halfway to the Ferrari when the first viral dropped
behind him. There was no time to turn and fire; Kittridge kept on going.
The pain in his knee felt like a wick of flame, an ice pick buried to the
bone. From the periphery of his senses came a tingling awareness of beings awakening, the garage coming to life. He threw open the door of the
Ferrari, tossed the AK and rucksack onto the passenger seat, got in, and
slammed the door. The vehicle was so low-slung he felt like he was sitting
on the ground. The dashboard, full of mysterious gauges and switches,
glowed like a spacecrafts. Something was missing. Where was the gearshift?
A wang of metal, and Kittridges vision filled with the sight of it. The
viral had bounded onto the hood, folding its body into a reptilian crouch.
For a frozen moment it regarded him coolly, a predator contemplating

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26 | justin cronin

its prey. It was naked except for a wristwatch, a gleaming Rolex thick as
an ice cube. Warren? Kittridge thought, for the man had been wearing
one like it the day Kittridge had walked him to the car. Warren, old
buddy, is that you? Because if it is, I wouldnt mind a word of advice on how
to get this thing in gear.
He discovered, then, with the tips of his fingers, a pair of levers positioned on the undersides of the steering wheel. Paddle shifters. He should
have thought of that, too. Up on the right, down on the left, like a motorcycle. Reverse would be a button somewhere on the dash.
The one with the R, genius. That one.
He pushed the button and hit the gas. Too fast: with a squeal of smoking rubber, the Ferrari jolted backward and slammed into a concrete
post. Kittridge was hurled back into his seat, then tossed forward again,
his head smacking the heavy glass of the side window with an audible
thud. His brain chimed like a tuning fork; particles of silver light danced
in his eyes. There was something interesting about them, interesting and
beautiful, but another voice inside him said that to contemplate this vision, even for a moment, was to die. The viral, having tumbled off the
hood, was rising from the floor now. No doubt it would try to take him
straight through the windshield.
Two red dots appeared on the virals chest.
With a birdlike quickness, the creature broke its gaze from Kittridge
and launched toward the soldiers coming through the stairwell door.
Kittridge swung the steering wheel and gripped the right paddle, engaging the transmission as he pressed the accelerator. A lurch and then a
leap of speed: he was thrust back into his seat as he heard a blast of automatic weapon fire. Just when he thought hed lose control of the car
again he found the straightaway, the walls of the garage streaming past.
The soldiers had bought him only a moment; a quick glimpse in the
rearview and Kittridge beheld, in the glow of his taillights, what appeared to be the detonation of a human body, an explosive strewing of
parts. The second soldier was nowhere visible, though if Kittridge had to
bet, hed say the man was surely dead already, torn to bloody hunks.
He didnt look back again.
The ramp to the street was located two floors above, at the far end of
the garage. As Kittridge downshifted into the first corner, engine roaring, tires shrieking, two more virals dropped from the ceiling, into his
path. One fell under his wheels with a damp crunch, but the second leapt
over the roof of the barreling Ferrari, striding it like a hurdler. Kittridge
felt a stab of wonder, even of admiration. In school, he had learned that
you couldnt catch a fly with your hand because time was different to a

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the twelve | 27

fly: in a flys brain, a second was an hour, and an hour was a year. Thats
what the infected were like. Like beings outside of time.
They were everywhere now, emerging from all the hidden places. They
flung themselves at the car like suicides, driven by the madness of their
hunger. He tore through them, bodies flying, their monstrous, distorted
faces colliding with the windshield before being hurled up and over,
away. Two more turns and hed be free, but one was clinging to the roof
now. Kittridge braked around the corner, fishtailing on the slick cement,
the force of his deceleration sending the viral rolling onto the hood. A
woman: she appeared to be wearing, of all things, a wedding gown.
Gouging her fingers into the gap at the base of the windshield, she drew
herself onto all fours. Her mouth, a bear trap of blood-lined teeth, was
open very wide; a tiny golden crucifix dangled at the base of her throat.
Im sorry about your wedding, Kittridge thought as he drew one of the
pistols, steadied it over the steering wheel, and fired through the windshield.
He blasted around the final corner; ahead, a shaft of golden daylight
showed the way. Kittridge hit the ramp doing seventy miles an hour, still
accelerating. The exit was sealed by a metal grate, but this fact seemed
meager, no obstacle at all. Kittridge took aim, plunged the pedal to the
floor, and ducked.
A furious crash; for two full seconds, an eternity in miniature, the Ferrari went airborne. It rocketed into the sunshine, concussing the pavement with a bone-jarring bang, sparks flying from the undercarriage.
Freedom at last, but now he had another problem: there was nothing to
stop him. He was going to careen into the lobby of the bank across the
street. As Kittridge bounced across the median, he stamped the brake
and swerved to the left, bracing for the impact. But there was no need;
with a screech of smoking rubber, the tires bit and held, and the next
thing Kittridge knew he was flying down the avenue, into the spring
morning.
He had to admit it. What had Warrens exact words been? You should
feel the way she handles.
It was true. Kittridge had never driven anything like it in his life.

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www.EnterThePassage.com
www.Facebook.com/EnterThePassage

ABOUT THIS BOOK


It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy
who loves to cook walks to his grandmothers house and helps
her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is
Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted,
and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef
Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and
family in all its manifestations.
Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his
mother, and his sisterall battling tuberculosiswalked
seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of
Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease
shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered,
and one year later they were welcomed into a loving middleclass white family in Gteborg, Sweden. It was there that
Marcuss new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong
passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her
freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken. From a
very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going
to be when he grew up.
Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelssons remarkable journey
from Helgas humble kitchen to some of the most demanding
and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his
grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City,
where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at
Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star
rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelssons career
of chasing flavors, as he calls it, had only just begunin the
intervening years, there have been White House state dinners,
career crises, reality show triumphs and, most important, the
opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster,
Samuelsson has fufilled his dream of creating a truly diverse,
multiracial dining rooma place where presidents and prime
ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus
drivers, and nurses. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia,
raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home.
With disarming honesty and intimacy, Samuelsson also opens
up about his failuresthe price of ambition, in human terms
and recounts his emotional journey, as a grown man, to meet
the father he never knew. Yes, Chef is a tale of personal
discovery, unshakable determination, and the passionate,
playful pursuit of flavorsone mans struggle to find a place
for himself in the kitchen, and in the world.

MARCUS SAMUELSSON YES, CHEF


A MEMOIR

samu_9780385342605_2p_01_r2.r.indd iii

4/16/12 9:17 AM

Chant another song of Harlem.


Not about the wrong of Harlem.
But the worthy throng of Harlem.
Proud that they belong to Harlem.
They, the overblamed in Harlem,
Need not be ashamed of Harlem.
All is not ill-famed in Harlem.
The devil, too, is tamed in Harlem.
Anonymous, circa 1925

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ONE MY AFRICAN MOTHER

I have never seen a picture of my mother.


I have traveled to her homeland, my homeland, dozens of times.
I have met her brothers and sisters. I have found my birth father and
eight half brothers and sisters I didnt know I had. I have met my
mothers relatives in Ethiopia, but when I ask them to describe my
mother, they throw out generalities. She was nice, they tell me.
She was pretty. She was smart. Nice, pretty, smart. The words seem
meaningless, except the last is a clue because even today, in rural Ethiopia, girls are not encouraged to go to school. That my mother was
intelligent rings true because I know she had to be shrewd to save the
lives of myself and my sister, which is what she did, in the most mysterious and miraculous of ways.

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My mothers family never owned a photograph of her, which tells


you everything you need to know about where Im from and what
the world was like for the people who gave me life. In 1972, in the
United States, Polaroid introduced its most popular instant camera.
In 1972, the year my mother died, an Ethiopian woman could go her
whole life without having her picture takenespecially if, as was the
case with my mother, her life was not long.
I have never seen a picture of my mother, but I know how she
cooked. For me, my mother is berbere, an Ethiopian spice mixture.
You use it on everything, from lamb to chicken to roasted peanuts.
Its our salt and pepper. I know she cooked with it because its in the
DNA of every Ethiopian mother. Right now, if I could, I would lead
you to the red tin in my kitchen, one of dozens I keep by the stove in
my apartment in Harlem, lled with my own blend and marked with
blue electrical tape and my own illegible scrawl. I would reach into
this tin and grab a handful of the red-orange powder, and hold it up
to your nose so you could smell the garlic, the ginger, the sundried
chili.
My mother didnt have a lot of money so she fed us shiro. Its a
chickpea our you boil, kind of like polenta. You pour it into hot
water and add butter, onions, and berbere. You simmer it for about
forty-ve minutes, until its the consistency of hummus, and then
you eat it with injera, a sour, rich bread made from a grain called
teff. I know this is what she fed us because this is what poor people
eat in Ethiopia. My mother carried the chickpea powder in her
pocket or bag. That way, all she needed to make dinner was water
and re. Injera is also portable, so it is never wasted. If you dont
nish it, you leave it outside and let it dry in the sun. Then you eat
it like chips.
In Meki, the small farming village where Im from, there are no
roads. We are actually from an even smaller village than Meki, called
Abrugandana, that does not exist on most maps. You go to Meki, take
a right in the middle of nowhere, walk about ve miles, and that is
where we are from.

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I know my mother was not taller than ve feet, two inches, but I
also know she was not delicate. Those country women in Ethiopia are
strong because they walk everywhere. I know her body because I
know those women. When I go there now, I stare at the young mothers to the point of being impolite. I stare at those young women and
their children and its like watching a home movie that does not exist
of my childhood. Each woman has a kid, who might well be me, on
her back, and the ngers of her right hand are interlocked with another slightly older kid, and that kid is like my sister. The woman has
her food and wares in her bag, which is slung across her chest and
rests on her hip. The older kid is holding a bucket of water on her
shoulders, a bucket thats almost as heavy as she is. Thats how strong
that child is.
Women like my mother dont wear shoes. They dont have shoes.
My mother, sister, and I would walk the Sidama savannah for four
hours a day, to and from her job selling crafts in the market. Before
three p.m. it would be too hot to walk, so we would rest under a tree
and gather our strength and wait for the sun to set. After eight p.m. it
was dark and there were new threatsanimals that would see a baby
like me as supper and dangerous men who might see my mother as
another kind of victim.
I have never seen a picture of my mother, but I know her features because I have seen them staring back at me in the mirror my
entire life. I know she had a cross somewhere near her face. It was
a henna tattoo of a cross, henna taking the place of the jewelry she
could not afford or even dream of having. There was also an Orthodox cross somewhere on the upper part of my mothers body,
maybe on her neck, maybe on her chest, near her heart. She had
put it there to show that she was a woman of faith. She was an
Orthodox Ethiopian Christian, which is very similar to being
Catholic.
I dont remember my mothers voice, but I know she spoke two
languages. In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois spoke of the
double consciousness that African Americans are born into, the need

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to be able to live in both the black world and the white world. But that
double consciousness is not limited to African Americans. My mother
was born into it, too. Her tribe was a minority in that section of Ethiopia and it was essential to her survival that she spoke both the language of her village, Amhara, and the language of the greater outside
community, which is Oromo. She was cautious and when she left the
Amharic village, she ipped that switch. She not only spoke Oromo,
she spoke it with a native accent.
I dont know my mothers face, but I sometimes think I remember
the sound of her breath. I was two when a tuberculosis epidemic hit
Ethiopia. My mother was sick, I was sick, and my sister Fantaye was
doing only slightly better than the two of us. We were all coughing
up blood and my mother had seen enough in her young life to measure the ravages of that disease. She knew she had to do something.
She put me on her back. It was all coming at her now: the fatigue and
the fever; pieces of her lung splintering and mixing with her throwup; the calcications on her bones, where the disease had already
spread. She and Fantaye walked more than seventy-ve miles, my
mother carrying me the whole way, under a hot sun, from our village
to the hospital in Addis Ababa to get help. I dont know how many
days they walked, or how sick my mother was by the time she got
there. But I do know that when we arrived, there were thousands of
people standing in the street, sick and dying, awaiting care. I do not
know how my mother managed to get us through those lines and into
that hospital. I do know that she never left that hospital and that perhaps it was only by the miracle of that henna cross that Fantaye and I
got out alive.

Today, in the dead of night when I should be sleeping, I sometimes


imagine the breath of the woman who not only gave me life, but delivered me from death. I sometimes reach into that tin by my stove
and take a handful of berbere, sift it through my ngers, and toss it into
the pan. I watch my wife cook and I imagine that I can see my moth-

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ers hands. I have taught myself the recipes of my mothers people


because those foods are for me, as a chef, the easiest connection to the
mysteries of who my mother was. Her identity remains stubbornly
shrouded in the past, so I feed myself and the people I love the food
that she made. But I cannot see her face.

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TWO MY SWEDISH MOTHER

My father wanted a son. That is how I came to live in Sweden, of


all places. My sister and I had been orphaned in Ethiopia in 1972, in
the tuberculosis epidemic that cost my mother her life. And the Samuelssons of Gteborg, Lennart and Anne Marie, wanted a son.
They already had a daughter, an eight-year-old foster child named
Anna, who had been born to a Swedish woman and a Jamaican man.
While it would take decades for the United States to see a wave of
international and transracial adoptions, this had been going on in
Sweden since the 1950s and 1960s. In those days, it was nearly impossible to nd a Swedish child to adopt. Single and pregnant Swedish
women either had abortions, which were increasingly acceptable, or

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raised their children as single mothers, which was not frowned upon
by the society at large. So in the mid-1960s, my parents were matched
with fteen-month-old Anna, who was not technically adopted but
was doted on nonetheless by Lennart and Anne Marie, who were so
thrilled to have their dream of becoming parents come true.
Before a family adopts a child, theres a journey they go on. For
my parents, it was ten long, painful years of We want to have a baby,
but we cant. Today, if a couple is trying to get pregnant and its not
happening, doctors can do tests and, in most cases, offer up a relatively
quick diagnosis and sometimes a measure of hope. Back then, there
was just my mother sitting in the kitchen with her mother, wondering
how she was going to become the woman she wanted to be without a
child. She wanted to have a family. She was a very traditional person
in that sense. When my parents adopted Anna, my mother hardly
cared what race she was. Anne Marie Samuelsson, at age forty-ve,
was nally a mother. Anna wasnt black or white, she was joy.
In the Samuelsson family, the adoption chain goes back even further. Right after the Second World War, my mothers parents took a
Jewish girl into their one-bedroom apartment. My mother was fteen
years old at the time and spoke uent German. Sweden had remained
neutral during the war and like many young people her age, my
mother volunteered to go down to the port and work as a translator
to help the thousands of Jews who were traveling from Denmark to
Sweden, seeking refuge. On the docks, she met a sixteen-year-old girl
named Frieda. Frieda was Czechoslovakian and had been in a concentration camp. She was all alone. My mom and Frieda became friendly
and one day she said to my grandfather, Cant we just take her? Cant
we save one person? My grandparents didnt have any money, but
they did it, they took her in. And the happiness that Frieda brought to
my mothers life led to the happiness that Anna brought to my parents life, which paved the way for us.
My father wanted a son. He didnt care what color the boy was; he
just wanted a boy he could teach to hike and sh. He lled out adoption forms in triplicate and considered offers from any part of the

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globe where orphaned baby boys were seeking homes: Greece, Vietnam, Korea, Russia, the continent of Africa. Anyplace that had been
touched by famine or war, anyplace poor enough to part with a fatherless boy.
Id been hospitalized in Addis Ababa for six months, but was on
the mend when Anne Marie and Lennart got the call saying I might
soon be up for adoption. It wasnt just me, though: I had my fouryear-old sister, who had also been hospitalized, and our Ethiopian
social worker didnt want to separate us. We had already lost our
mother to disease, she told the Samuelssons; it would be best if we
didnt lose each other now.
Yes, Anne Marie and Lennart said almost instantly. Yes, why not
two?
It would take nearly a year for my sister and me to make the journey from Addis Ababa to Gteborg, a blue-collar city on Swedens
southwest coast.

On Tuesday, May 1, my fathers mother, Lissie, died in Smgen, a


small island off the west coast of Sweden where my father and his
siblings had been raised. The next morning, the old priest stood in
the pulpit of the brick Lutheran church with its whitewashed walls
and dark wood pews. He said the Church of Sweden liturgy and each
mourner placed a ower on Lissies casket, which was then ferried
over to the mainland to be buried in a graveyard next to her husband
and four generations of Samuelssons. On Thursday, the family gathered for gravl, grave beer, and the toasts and reminiscing went on
for hours.
On Friday, my parents received a phone call in the Smgen house.
It was my mothers parents. The Swedish adoption agency, unable to
reach them directly, had called with news: My sister and I were on our
way from Ethiopia. My parents raced back to Gteborg, stopping
along the way to purchase a bunk bed and linens, and then booked
round trip tickets to Stockholmthree going and ve returningfor

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11

the next day. As our parents would always say, with both grief and
gratitude, never before had they seen so clearly how when one life
ends, another begins.
My mother never gave birth, but as any adoptive mother knows,
the journey to meet the child you hope to call your own is its own
kind of labor. When Mom, Dad, and Anna arrived at the customs
area, they learned that our ight had been delayed for several hours.
My father, a scientist, and Anna, his shadow, sat quietly reading, while
my nervous mother proceeded to unpack a picnic in the airport waiting area. A large thermos of coffee for her and Dad, a small thermos
of saft, a sweet red-currant drink, for Anna. Then came two types of
sandwiches, both on heavily margarined multigrain bread. One was
made of vsterbottensost, a hard, parmesan-like cows-milk cheese from
the north of Sweden, and a few thin slices of green pepper. The other
was stuffed with slabs of a rough, country-style liver pt. My mothers mother, Helga, had not only made the pt, but topped it with
slivers of homemade pickles and a smear of grainy mustard. For dessert, there was apple cake, which, my mother explained to anyone
who would listen, would have been so much better with the traditional vanilla sauce topping, but since they had been in a rush, and
had traveled by plane, compromises had to be made.
A dozen times a week, easily, I am stopped on the street in New
York City by someone, most often a woman, who tells me that she is
the mother of an adopted child. More and more over the past few
years, these women have adopted their children from Ethiopia and
have read about me or seen me on TV and know my story. What they
want to tell me is about the moment when they met their child in
person for the rst time. I try to be polite, but the hard thing is that
after hearing so many of their stories, each a little different, it becomes difcult for me to distinguish their story from my own. Whats
real and whats imagined? Was it my adoptive mother who cried when
she rst picked me up, or was it that woman I met a few weeks ago
outside my restaurant? Was I the one who was handed an apple and
spat it out because it was the very rst time Id eaten a piece of fruit,

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or was that my sister? Was I the one who smiled shyly and sweetly, or
did I hide? The stories of the adoptive parents Ive met stay with me
long after weve crossed paths, so for accuracy, I must depend as I always have, on my sister Linda. She was ve and I was three and she
remembers the moment when we met our adoptive parents with far
more clarity than I ever could. Heres how she describes it:
When our plane nally landed, our escort, Seney, got off rst. She was
tall, thin, with medium brown skin. Very pretty Habesha, meaning someone
like us, Amhara heritage. She held you on one hip and held me tightly by the
hand. I didnt want to be there. A porter pushed a cart with our luggage,
a suitcase for Seney and a small cloth satchel for us. Seney handed you to
Anne Marie, then opened her suitcase to present our new parents with gifts,
Ethiopian handmade crafts that Mom still proudly displays in her living
room. Seney had no money of her own; she must have budgeted carefully the
cost of getting us to the airport, and the plane tickets, making sure to have
enough so that we could be fed in the airport if the Samuelssons were late.
But it would not have been our peoples way to just hand these two foreigners
these motherless kids. It would have been important to Seney that we come
bearing more than the pale skin on our open palms.
On their ight from Gteborg to Stockholm, my parents had
chosen our Swedish names. I was born Kassahun but would be called
Marcus. My sister Fantaye would become Linda. They began to call
us by these names right away. My father bent down to say hello to
Linda, who vanished behind the folds of Seneys skirt.
Linda was ve, old enough to have remembered everything: our
village outside of Addis, our mother, the hospital where she died, and
the wards where wed competed for food, attention, and survival. Linda
was silent all the way home from the airport. The only thing that gave
her comfort was holding on to a small square of tattered fabric shed
brought from Ethiopia. She didnt cry, she remembers, because tears
and the vulnerability they symbolized were too rich a gift to give to
Anne Marie and Lennart, the man and woman she now viewed as potential enemies. So she sat next to Anna in the backseat of our parents
car while I sat in the front, sleeping in our new mothers lap.

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13

In his application, my father promised to raise his adopted children in a good family, one with a dog and a cat, both very friendly
toward children. He described their neighborhood, Puketorp, as
having about three hundred families with a surrounding forest where
we hike in the summer and ski and saucer in the winter. He promised small lakes with crystal clear waters, perfect for skating and swimming, and a modest house with a at lawn and an outdoor playhouse,
tailor-made for jumping and playing with balls.
The house, neighborhood, and surroundings were all as he described, but it would take more than the comparative opulence of
Gteborg to win Linda over. She trusted no one except her new sister,
Anna. Linda was my protector. If our new mom reached down to pick
me up without securing Lindas permission rst, Linda would pry me
out of her arms and scold my mother in Amharic. When my mother
tried to put me into the bathtub, a frightful contraption with a mad
gush of water, the likes of which wed never seen before, Linda would
cling to me so tightly that my father would have to lift the two of us,
stuck together like conjoined twins, and drop us into the tub together.
My mother learned to ask Lindas permission each and every time
she wanted to make contact with me. Mom spoke to Linda in Swedish, enunciating each word carefully and raising the volume a notch
or two, as if that might help. With a mimes gift for hand gestures and
facial expressions, each day my new mother made herself more easily
understood, and after many months, Linda loosened her grip.

There is an Ethiopian fairy tale called The Lions Whiskers. Its


the story of a woman who is in an unhappy marriage. Her husband
comes home late from work every day, and some nights he does not
come home at all. Distraught, the wife goes to see the village elder.
He assures her that he can x this trouble. I will prepare a medicine
that will make your husband love you with an unbounded devotion,
he says.
The woman can barely contain her excitement. Abba, she begs,

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using the word for a man who is father to the entire village, make the
potion right away.
The elder shakes his head. I need one essential ingredient and it
is not an easy one to get, he explains. You must provide me with a
whisker plucked from a living lion.
The woman is in love and unafraid. She says, I will get it for
you.
It was not the elders wish to cause the woman any harm. On the
contrary, he had lived a long time and he believed that in asking her
for an ingredient that was as fantastical as fairy dust, he was letting her
down easy. Some things were the way they were and always had been.
Husbands got bored and sometimes came home late or not at all.
Time had taught the elder that his most important job was not to mix
potions but to listen. For a woman who is anxious and lonely, the reassuring counsel of an elder was its own kind of balm.
But that was not the case with this woman, for when she loved,
she loved ercely.
The next day, she took a slab of raw meat down to the river where
she had, on many occasions, watched a lion take his morning drink.
She was afraid, but found the courage to walk up close and throw the
meat to the lion. Each morning, she returned and fed the beast, getting closer and closer to him until, one day, she was able to sit by his
side and, with no danger to herself at all, pluck the whisker from the
lions cheek. When she returned to the village elder, he was shocked
that she had completed the seemingly impossible task.
How did you do it? he asked.
The woman explained and at the end of her story, the village elder
spoke to her with deference and respect. You have the courage, patience, and grace to befriend a lion, he said. You need no potion to
x your marriage.
This is a fairy tale that all children in Ethiopia learn, but for me,
it is also the story of my early days in Sweden and how my sister and
I became Samuelssons. The brave woman was my mother, Anne
Marie, and Linda was the lion.

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THREE SWEDISH FISH

My love for food did not come from my mother.


For my mom, putting dinner on the table was just another thing to
get done in the course of a long, busy day. Cooking competed with ferrying her three kids back and forth to soccer, ice skating lessons, horseback riding, doctors and dentists appointments. Once I became old
enough to test my daredevil skills (Dad wanted a boy!) on my skateboard and bike, there were regular visits to the emergency room as well.
Its not that my mother was a bad cook, she simply didnt have the
time. In the late 1970s, she subscribed to a magazine that had try it
at home recipes for the busy homemaker, slightly exotic concoctions
that featured canned, frozen, and boxed ingredients. This was her

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go-to source of inspiration. She made pasta as not even a prisoner


would tolerate it, with tinny tomato sauce and mushy frozen peas. She
served roast pork from imaginary Polynesian shores, with canned
pineapple rings and homemade curry whipped cream. She experimented with something called soy sauce. She wanted us to eat well, to
experience other cultures, but she also didnt want to be tied to the
stove the way her mother had been. Her mother, Helga, had worked
as a maid since the age of eleven, and now, even in retirement, was
unable to break the habit of cooking and serving, cooking and serving. My mother saw that and ran the other way.
What she valued in a meal was convenience. Its funny that the
one dish of hers I adored was the one that could not be rushed: cabbage rolls. I loved sitting on the counter and watching as she blanched
the cabbage leaves, seasoned the ground pork with salt and pepper,
then scooped the pork into the leaves, wrapping them like cigars and
placing them carefully on a platter. My mothers cabbage rolls were
special because the very preparation of the dish forced her to slow
down so I could enjoy her presence as much as her cooking. The literal translation for dim sum is little bits of heart. My mothers cabbage rolls were my dim sum.
My mother organized our dinners the way she organized the
householdefciency and routine ruled the day. No more than ten
dishes made it into her regular rotation. On Mondays, we had meatballs with mashed potatoes, lingonberries, and gravy. On Tuesdays,
herring. On Wednesdays, a roast. On Thursdays, we ate split pea
soup and on Friday, sh casserole. Once in a while, we veered from
the routine. But not often.
Tuesdays I loved most of all. That was the day the shmonger
drove his beat-up Volvo panel truck into our neighborhoods modest
shopping area, which consisted of a tailor we never used, a grocery
store owned by the Blomkvists, and the newsstand guy from whom I
could occasionally cadge a peppermint and where my father bought
canisters of loose tobacco and cigarette papers.
My father, the son of a sherman, was no fan of the shmonger.
His sh is not fresh, he said disapprovingly.

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17

Day-old is better than frozen, was my mothers ever-practical


reply. And his prices are better than good.
My mother always took me with her to the shmonger on Tuesdays, but not before raking a comb through my hair, yanking so hard
that for the next hour, I could feel the aftershocks on my scalp. My
laces had to be tied, my freshly ironed shirt tucked in. My mother
dressed up, too: lipstick, a leather purse, and a sharp red felt cap that
she felt gave her a more sophisticated air.
We would both watch as the sh man, Mr. Ljungqvist, parked his
truck at the curb in front of the Blomkvists market and unfurled his
blue-and-white-striped awning. Mr. Ljungqvist was shaped like a
bowling ball, with thick white hair curling out from under his black
shermans cap. He wore a sweater under his smock and a red apron
on top. No matter how cold it was, his pink hands were bare, chafed
and scraped from handling so much ice, sharp belly scales, and spiny
ns.
I liked to hoist myself on the bottom lip of the service window
and see what was waiting on Mr. Ljungqvists icy deathbed. It never
turned out to be anything too excitingsome cod, some perch, some
sill, which is what we called herringbut I always hoped hed procured something more surprising and exotic from the bottom of the
sea, like an eel or turbot or squid. But there were no surprises as to
what my mother would buy or how my mother might cook it. The
big, oafy-looking cod would be ground into sh balls. Perch would be
broiled and served with butter and lemon. And the herring? The herring was our hamburger.
Herring is the classic Swedish sh. It was on almost every table at
every meal, gured into almost every course but dessert, and showed
up at every holiday. It was even woven into the language. You could
be deaf as a herring or dumb as a herring. Tram conductors who carried trolleys full of commuters were called herring packers. If you
were exhausted, you were a dead herring. Smelly shoes were called
herring barrels.
Ljungqvists customers bought lots and lots of herringto poach,
pickle, bake, and layer into cheesy, creamy casseroles with leeks and

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tomatoes. On the nights my mother would fry the herring, she bypassed the ten-inch-long Atlantic herring in favor of the smaller,
silver-skinned strmming that came from the Baltic and t better in
her cast-iron pan. As a Swedish woman who came of age in the 1950s,
she may have happily served mushy peas from the tin, but she scaled,
gutted, and lleted the herring herself. For her, that wasnt a kitchen
skill. Knowing how to clean a sh was as innate as knowing how to
open a door.
I helped my mother pick out our sh. What you wanted to avoid
at all costs were cloudy eyes and blood spots on their gills, telltale
signs that the sh was not fresh. My father, who had grown up in a
family of shermen, did not trust my mother to pick the sh. It was
my job, he told me secretly, to make sure she made the right choices.
When we found the acceptable choice for that nights supper, Mom
nodded to me, I nodded to Mr. Ljungqvist, and he picked the sh out
of the ice, added it to the others he had laid into the crook of one arm,
and wrapped them in newspaper.
Next, my mom would pick out the anchovies for our Friday night
dinner, Janssons Temptation, a traditional Swedish casserole of potato, anchovy, onion, and cream. Mr. Ljungqvist dug into a shallow
pail of anchovies with his red scoop, and then shook out the extras
until he had exactly the right amount. They glimmered, metallic and
shiny, against the ice. Put that one back, my mother would say. No,
no, I want that one.
There was a kind of wholl blink rst thing going on between
my mother and Mr. Ljungqvist, each respectfully trying to gain the
upper hand. To this day, I could not declare a winner in their silent
battle of wills, except to say that learning how to pick the freshest sh,
for the best value, helped lay the groundwork for my work as a chef.
And as my sisters did not accompany us on these sh-buying expeditions, they would never know that, occasionally, despite her virulent
anti-sweets policy, our mother could be swayed. Every once in a
while, after wed made our purchases from Mr. Ljungqvist, I would
talk her into walking over to the newsstand and buying a little candy.
Salted licorice for her. Colored sour balls for me.

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YES, CHEF
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ABOUT THIS BOOK


Seven years after the conclusion of the High Druid of Shannara
trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks at last
revisits one of the most popular eras in the legendary epic
fantasy series that has spellbound readers for more than three
decades.
When the world was young, and its name was Faerie, the power
of magic ruledand the Elfstones warded the race of Elves and
their lands, keeping evil at bay. But when an Elven girl fell
hopelessly in love with a Darkling boy of the Void, he carried
away more than her heart.
Thousands of years later, tumultuous times are upon the world
now known as the Four Lands. Users of magic are in conflict
with proponents of science. Elves have distanced their society
from the other races. The dwindling Druid order and its
teachings are threatened with extinction. A sinister politician
has used treachery and murder to rise as prime minister of the
mighty Federation. Meanwhile, poring through a long-forgotten
diary, the young Druid Aphenglow Elessedil has stumbled upon
the secret account of an Elven girls heartbreak and the
shocking truth about the vanished Elfstones. But never has a
little knowledge been so very dangerousas Aphenglow
quickly learns when shes set upon by assassins.
Yet there can be no turning back from the road to which fate
has steered her. For whoever captures the Elfstones and their
untold powers will surely hold the advantage in the devastating
clash to come. But Aphenglow and her alliesDruids, Elves,
and humans alikeremember the monstrous history of the
Demon War, and they know that the Four Lands will never
survive another reign of darkness. But whether they themselves
can survive the attempt to stem that tide is another question
entirely.

Wards
Wa
rds of

Faerie
the dark legacy of shannara

terry
brook s
BALLANTINE BOOKS

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NEW YORK

6/28/12 3:55 PM

Wards of Faerie is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of
the authors imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2012 by Terry Brooks
Insert map copyright 2012 by Russ Charpentier
Insert illustration copyright 2012 by Todd Carpenter
Interior maps copyright 2012 by David A. Cherry
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Del Rey is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of
Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Brooks, Terry.
Wards of Faerie : the dark legacy of Shannara / Terry Brooks.
p. cm.
ISBN 978-0-345-52347-1 (hardcover : acid-free paper) ISBN 978-0-345-52349-5 (ebook)
1. Shannara (Imaginary place)Fiction. I. Title.
PS3552.R6596W37 2012
813'.54dc23
2012020292
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
www.delreybooks.com
2 4 6 8 9 7 5 3 1
First Edition
Book design by Liz Cosgrove

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.
It was almost one year to the day after she began
her search of the Elven histories that Aphenglow Elessedil found the
diary.
She was deep in the underground levels of the palace, sitting alone
at the same table she occupied each day, surrounded by candles to
combat the darkness and wrapped in her heavy cloak to ward off the
chill. Carefully she read each document, letter, or memoir in what
had taken on the attributes of a never-ending slog. It was late and her
eyes were burning with fatigue and dust, her concentration beginning to wane, and her longing for bed to grow. She had been reading
each day, all day, for so long that she was beginning to think she
might never see Paranor and her fellow Druids again.
It was dark each day when she began her work and dark when she
ended it, and aside from an occasional visit from her sister or her
uncle, she saw almost no one. She had read through the entirety of
the histories, including their appendices, and had moved on to the
boxes and boxes of other writings donated by prominent families
over the years. These papers were intended to supplement, embellish,
or correct what was considered the official record of a history that
stretched back thousands of years. She had found little that she didnt
already know or was in any way useful, yet she had persevered be-

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cause that was how she was. Once she started something she did not
give up until the job was finished.
And now, perhaps, it was. A diary, written by a young girl, a Princess of the realm living in the age of Faerie, had caught her eye just as
she was on the verge of putting everything aside and going off to bed.
It was buried at the bottom of a box she had finished emptying,
smalland worn and stiff with age, and she had glanced at the first
couple of pages, noted the girlish writing and the nature of the entries, and been prepared to dismiss it. But then something had
stopped hercuriosity, a premonition, a quirk in the way it was written, and she had paged ahead to the final entries to find something
unexpected.
23, month 5
Something both terrible and wonderful has happened to me, and I can
tell no one.
Today I met a boy. He is not of our people and not of our moral and
ethical persuasion. He is a Darkling child of the Void, but he is the most
beautiful boy I have ever seen. I am hopelessly in love with him, and
even knowing that it is wrong of me to be so and that nothing good can
come of it, I want to believe that it might be otherwise.
I was down by the Silver Thread, deep in the woods seeking bunch
lilies and ardweed seeds for the shelter, when he appeared to me. He
came out of the trees as if born of them, a lovely mirage given substance
and form. So striking was he, so perfect. Blue skin (I have never seen
such a depthless blue), golden eyes, hair of midnight black and stars, his
voice as soft as the ending of a summer rain when he greeted me. I loved
him at once, in that first moment. I could not help myself.
Even when I knew what he was and that he was forbidden to me, I
could not turn away from him. I like to believe that there was something more than physical attraction that drew me to him. I had enough
presence of mind to be able to warn myself against what I was doing.
But after we talked and I heard what he had to say about himself and
his people, I knew I could not change things. It is said that the most
ancient of our race frequently found love at first sight and seldom

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through lengthy consideration. Perhaps I am a throwback, for that is


what happened with this boy and me.
We sat in a quiet glade and talked for hours; I cannot say for how
long. By the time our encounter ended, twilight was approaching. I left
him with a promise to meet again. No plans, no details, but I know it
will happen.
I want it to happen.
26, month 5
Today, unable to help myself, I returned to the forest to try to find him
again. I was not back in the glade for more than the half split of an hour
before he reappeared. Again, we sat and talked of our lives and our
hopes for the future. I feel so free with him, so able to be open about my
life. He is the same with me, and I am reassured that the love I feel for
him is not built on a foundation of false expectations but on real possibilities. While the prohibitions cannot be changed, I see no reason
why they might not be ignored for a time. So I tell myself. So I am
persuaded.
28, month 5
We met again today. Our conversations were of ourselves, but also of
the strife between our peoples and the terrible toll it was taking on all
our lives. He told me he did not see all of his people as bad or all of ours
as good. It was not so simple in his eyes, and I was quick to agree with
him. The war is ongoing, centuries old, a struggle that has its roots in
the beginnings of all our Races and of the world itself, and it will not
end in our lives. We are its children, but we feel so apart from the war
when together and alone. If only we could keep it that way. If only we
could shelter what we feel for each other so that no one could ever destroy it.
Before we parted, he told me how he had come to find me. He was
delegated by his elders to spy upon the city from the particular vantage
point into which I had ventured. He was not to interfere, only to observe and report. He hated what he was doing, but it was his duty and
his parents would be shamed if he failed. Yet when he saw me, he found

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he no longer cared about anything else. He had to reveal himself. He


had to talk to me.
By now I am no longer thinking of anything but how to hold on to
him, how to make him mine forever.
2, month 6
When he came to me on this day, our first day of meeting in the new
month, I gave myself to him. I did so freely and with great joy. We did
not speak while it was happening, did not even pause to consider. We
simply did what we had wanted to do from the first time we had met. It
was so wonderful, and the feelings I experienced while in his arms are
with me still and will be so forever. It was my first time, and he is my
first real love. I could not ask for anything more wonderful. I have been
made happy beyond my wildest expectations. Now that I have takenthis
final, irrevocable step, there is no going back, nothing more to consider.
I am his.
3, month 6
We met again today. I couldnt help myself. Nor, I think, could he. We
are so in love. We are so happy.
5, month 6
Again. Another sweet time.
12, month 6
Such agony! Mother kept me busy all this week with studies and housework, and I could not go to him even once. Today was our first time
together again in an entire week. He says he understands, although it is
hard for him, too. I will not suffer such separation again!
15, month 6
Even three days is too long. I was in such despair, and he was so wild
with worry and so in need when we met. Oh, how I love him!

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17, month 6
Just when I think matters have returned to normal and we will be left
to our regular meetings, something else has intruded. I must go to visit
my grandparents in the city of Parsoprey across the Dragons Teeth and
down onto the plains of the Sarain and so will be gone for two entire
weeks. I cannot go to him to let him knowwe are to leave at once! I
think I shall die!
2, month 7
Home again at last. I went straight to the glade and took him to our
home and into my bed. It feels so right to have him there. I told him
everything of where I had been and what I had been forced to endure
and he, sweet boy, told me he understood and forgave me. He worried
that I had forsaken him and would not return. But I would never do
that. He must know this, I told him. I will love him until the day I die.
22, month 7
I take him to my bed at every opportunity, no longer content with our
time in the forest glade. I want him close to me. I want him with me
always and constantly, but I must settle for what I can have. I choose
times when I know the house will be empty. I live for those times. I am
consumed by my need for them. I want them to go on forever.
10, month 8
Today I did something that may have been foolish. I spoke of the magic
that keeps the Elves safe. I revealed too much of what I knew in an effort to impressthough only after he had done so first, speaking of the
magic that keeps his own people safe. We spoke in general terms and
not of specifics, but I am troubled nevertheless. We spoke of magic in
the course of our frequent discussions on how the war between our
peoples might be brought to an end. If there were no magic, there might
be less cause for fighting, we reason. He sees it as I do, and so we speak
of it openly. It is only talk, and nothing much could come of it. When
we are together, what does talk of magic and conjuring and endless
conflict matter anyway? Nothing matters, save that we are together.

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8 Terry Brooks

But now I wonder. Because even though we spoke mostly in generalities, I did once speak in specifics.
I told him about the Elfstones.
Aphen, are you still down there?
She looked up quickly from the diary. Her uncle. Still here, she
answered.
She shoved the diary under a pile of papers and took up something else as if she had been looking at that instead. She did so out of
habit and instinct, aware not only that was she forbidden to remove
anything from the archives but also that she was constantly watched
in her comings and goings and never certain who it was that might
be doing the watching. Mostly, it was Home Guards stationed at the
top of the basement stairs, but it could be anyone. She liked her uncle
and was close to him, but to the larger Elven community she had
been a pariah for so long that she never took anything for granted.
A candles dim light wavered its way down the steps from the level
above, and her uncle appeared out of the darkness. The hours you
keep, dear young lady, are ridiculous.
Ellich Elessedil was the younger of the two brothers who had
been in line for the throne many years ago and, to her mind, the one
best suited to the task. But his older brother, her grandfather, was the
one who had become ruler of the Elves on the death of their parents.
Now her grandfathers son, Phaedon, was the designated heir apparent and, as her grandfather continued to weaken from his chronic
heart and lung problems, increasingly likely to be King soon. Aphenglows mother was Phaedons much younger sister, and her refusal to
become involved in the business of the court allowed Aphenglow
toremain comfortably clear of family and state politics.
Not as far clear as she would have liked, however. Her choice to
become a member of the Druid order had put an end to that.
Her uncle took a seat on a stool she was using for stacking notes,
moving the papers aside without comment. Though he was actually
her great-uncle, Aphen found the designation awkward and called
him simply Uncle, mostly as a term of endearment because they were
so close. He was tall and lean and as blond as she was, although his

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hair was beginning to go gray. Its getting on toward midnight, you


know. Whatevers keeping you here could wait until morning.
She smiled and nodded. Nothings really keeping me. I just lost
track of time. Thank you for rescuing me.
He smiled back. Find anything of interest today?
Nothing. The lie came smoothly. Same as always. Every morning I think that this will be the day I discover some great secret about
the magic, some clue about a lost talisman or a forgotten conjuring.
But each night I return to my bed disappointed.
He looked around the room, taking in the shelves of books and
boxes, the reams of papers stacked in their metal holders, the clutter
and the scraps of documents and notes. Perhaps there is nothing to
find. Perhaps all you are doing is sorting documents that no one but
you will ever read. He glanced back at her. Im not trying to discourage you, not after all the work youve put in. I am only wondering if this is a fools errand.
A fools errand? she repeated. Her blue eyes flashed. You think
I may have spent the last three hundred and sixty-four days on a
fools errand?
He held up his hands in a placating gesture. That was a poor
choice of words. Please forget that I spoke them. I dont know enough
about what you are doing to be able to question it with any authority.
I only ask because I care about you.
You know why I am here, Uncle, she said quietly. You know the
importance of what I am doing.
I know that you believe it to be important. But if there is nothing
to find, if there is no magic to be found, no talismans to be recovered,
then what have you accomplished?
I will have made certain of what you clearly suspect, she answered. I will have eliminated the possibility that something has
been missed. A lot of time has passed and a lot of history been forgotten or lost. We are an old people, after all.
He shrugged, leaning back on the stool. Old enough that we are
no longer the people we once were and probably never will be again.
We have evolved since the Faerie Age. We do not rely on magic as we
once didor certainly not the same kinds of magic. We share the

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world now with other, different species. The Faerie that served
theVoid are locked away behind the Forbidding. Now we have humans to deal with instead, a less imaginative people, and the need we
once had for protective magic no longer exists.
She gave him a look. Some might question that. Grianne Ohmsford, for one, if she were still alive.
Yes, she probably would. After all, she was the Ilse Witch.
She was also Ard Rhys of our order after that, and she saved us
all from the very humans you seem to think we no longer need protection from. She sighed. Listen to me, engaging in a meaningless
argument with my favorite uncle. To what end? Lets not quarrel. I
have a job to do, and I intend to do it. Maybe I wont find anything.
But I will make certain of that before I return to Paranor.
Her uncle rose, nodding. I wouldnt expect less of you. Will you
take dinner with us tomorrow night? You might enjoy a real meal for
a change. Besides, Jera and I miss you.
Her aunt and uncle lived in a cottage just outside the palace
grounds, preferring to distance their personal lives from his work as
a member of the Elven High Council and adviser to his brother. For
as long as she could remember, they had chosen to forgo the benefits
they could have enjoyed as members of the royal family.
She gave him a warm smile, standing with him. Of course Ill
come. I miss you, too. And I promise not to forget this time, either.
He reached out and took her hands in his. Whatever anyone
elsetells you, I am proud of the work you are doing with the Druid
order. I dont think you betrayed anyone by accepting their offer to
study with them. The betrayal would have been to your own sense of
right and wrong had you refused. I will say, however, that when this
task is done, perhaps you will think about staying in Arborlon for
good.
He squeezed her hands once, and then turned and started back
for the stairs, candle in hand. Good night, Aphen. Get some sleep.
She watched until the candle had flickered out of sight and sat
down again quickly. Digging under the papers where she had hidden
it, she retrieved the diary.
She opened it and began to read anew.

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11

14, month 8
Something terrible has happened, something that changes everything.
He has told me he has been ordered to return to his home in Rajancroft
by weeks end. His term of service as a watcher is complete. He wants
me to go with him. He said it was necessary if we were to be together.
My people might not accept him, but his would accept me. His Darkling
clan is less disposed toward the exclusion of other Races, and I would
become his bride and his people would embrace me. As I listened to
him, I felt such a deep, abiding panic at the thought of leaving Arborlon
and the Elves that I could barely breathe. I asked him not to speak of it
again; I told him we must find another way.
17, month 8
It seems I know him less well than I believed. He is proud and insistent,
and he has refused to change his mind. I must go with him, he tells me.
It is our only chance for happiness, our only way to make a life. We
could not keep meeting secretly forever even if he were allowed to stay
on. Someone would find us out eventually. His recall merely requires
that we act sooner rather than later. I must delay no longer. I must go
with him.
To my surprise and consternation, I found I could not agree to this.
I want to be with him, but I cannot leave my home and my people. I
told him so. I begged him to reconsider. I pleaded. If we could not be
together as often, we would simply be together when we could. But even
as I spoke the words, I could detect in his expression his refusal to accept this and I knew he would never be satisfied until he took me away.
What am I to do? I know I am going to lose him and cannot bear it.
Please, let him see reason! Please, let him stay!
18, month 8
I am ruined. I am the most wretched and miserable creature alive. I
have betrayed everyone by my foolish, selfish behavior, and I cannot
begin to imagine the price that others will pay because of it.
My boy is gone. My beautiful, wonderful lover and friend has abandoned me and perhaps worse. I do not know what I should do. I am
reduced to writing down what has happened in an effort to under-

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stand. But perhaps I only delay the inevitable recognition that in the
end nothing can be done.
Earlier today, we met for the last time. I took him to my room and
to my bed and spoke the words I thought I would never speak. I told
him I could never leave my people and we must end our assignations
and our hopes for a future life. What he wanted, I had already refused
him. What I wanted, he would never accept. What point in continuing
what was clearly doomed?
I did this in a misguided effort to change his mind, hoping that the
prospect of losing me would be as painful for him as it would for me to
lose him. I did so out of desperation but also with an understanding
that when I told him I could not leave my home and my people, I was
telling him the truth.
Amid tears of despair and hurt so deep I thought I would never be
well again, we coupled a final time, and then he left me in my bed, sated
and sleeping and thinking that perhaps I had won my victory and he
would stay.
I was wrong. I had won nothing. He did not leave the house when
he left my bed. What he did instead is the cause of my humiliation and
despair. Because he was a Darkling, I knew he had use of magic. Because I loved him, I never asked its nature. It seemed irrelevant to our
relationship and to our love. I knew it was there; I did not care that it
was.
But when I woke later that afternoon, I found a note lying next to
me. It read thus:
I cannot give you up.
You must come to me.
Use these Elfstones to find me
And to reclaim the other stones
Which I hold hostage.
I love you that much.
Lying beneath the note were the three blue Elfstones, the seekingStones of the five precious sets.
I rushed at once to where my father kept the Elfstones hidden and

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13

secured, dreading what I might find. Releasing the locks embedded in


the stronghold by using the words of magic with which they were imbued, I discovered to my horror that my Darkling boy had not lied. The
Elfstones were goneall but those three he had left me.
At first, I did not understand. That he was gone and asking me to
come after him was clear enough, the rest less so. The implications of his
wording were dark and dangerous; I was unsure of what conclusion to
reach. Had he taken the Elfstones only for the purpose of persuading me
to follow him, or had he stolen them for a different reason entirelyto
aid his people, to give them the magic they lacked as servants of the
Void? The first bespoke a rash and desperate act. The second was purposefully evil. I could not believe that of him. But if I were wrong, what
then? What did he know of the Elfstones? Did he know that he could
not use themthat none of his Darkling kind could? Did he realize
that it required a true Elf to make the magic come alive? Did he know
that the Elfstones must be freely given if they are to serve the holder?
What was the true reason he had taken them?
I had told him nothing of where they could be found or how to get
to them. Of that much, I was certain. Yet somehow he had known. How
much more did he know of which I was unaware? How much that I
thought I knew about him was false?
I am made very nearly hysterical by my uncertainty. I cannot see
how to resolve the matter in any way that is satisfactory. I cannot go to
him not knowing the truth about his intentions. How can I be certain
of what he has planned? Has he betrayed me or does he honestly think
that this theft will bring me to him?
If he is the boy I think he isthe one I fell in love withit is the
latter. But why hasnt he trusted me if what he wants is for us to be
together? Why has he resorted to this desperate act? Surely he realizes
the position in which he has put me? Does he think I can escape the
blame that will attach for his theft or do I no longer matter to him?
What am I to do?
25, month 8
Days have passed since I have written here, my thoughts too poisonous
to be recorded. I have told no one of what has happened. Those who

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14 Terry Brooks

need to know will find out the truth soon enough. But not yet, it seems,
for I have heard nothing of the theft. I know where he has taken the
Elfstones, but I cannot think how I should go about getting them back.
So I wait. I sit for hours thinking on what I must do. The longer I
deliberate, the less clear my course of action becomes. In spite of what I
feel for him, I cannot trust my emotions to guide me. I must find a way
to set things right, and to do that I need to make certain that my failures of judgment will not bring harm to my people. It is bad enough
that my parents should suffer for my transgression; it is unbearable to
think that the Elven people should pay for my foolishness, as well.
Perhaps even with their lives.
I could not bear that.
28, month 8
I know now what I must do. I have considered long enough. I must risk
all and use the blue Elfstones to go in search of the others and of my
Darkling boy. I must know the truth about him, and I must set right
what he has made wrong. I leave in the morning with a small contingent of Elven Hunters, having given my father a false story of what I
intenda fresh transgression added to the others. But what is one more
by now?
24, month 9
I have returned empty-handed. In the course of my search, I found neither the Elfstones nor the boy. No amount of effort or use of magic could
help me recover my treasures. It is as if they have vanished off the face
of the earth. Inquiries yielded nothing. Someone may know what has
become of them, but no one is saying. I have given the blue Stones back
and admitted all. I am disgraced and undone.
Yet events conspire to make possible a chance for redemption, and I
will take the chance offered. Perhaps history will remember me for
doing what was right and so provide me with a measure of grace.
I beg your forgiveness, my dearest Mother and Father. Let no one
accuse Meresch and Pathke Omarosian of not sufficiently loving and
embracing their wayward daughter. Let it be known here, in these

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15

pages, that I will treasure forever the life I have shared with you. If you
should read this, as one day I hope you will, be not sad for me. Be
happy that I have found peace. I have found my second chance and I go
now happily to embrace it.
All Honor, Your Daughter Aleia

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.
Aphenglow departed the palace, nodding amiably
to the guard who stood just outside the door to the archives as she
passed, and crossed the palace grounds to the divergent paths that
led into the city proper, covering the ground in long, smooth strides.
She had trained once upon a time to be a Tracker, back when she was
still a girl. But her real skills lay with her enhanced instincts and her
unusual connection to the magic of the elements found in earth, air,
water, and fireand so she had been invited to join the Druids at
Paranor. She had accepted almost without thinking about it, excited
at the prospect of exploring magics limits and of finding fresh ways
to bring healing and the chance for a better life to the Races and their
homelands.
In retrospect, she had acted without sufficient forethought, ignorant of how the decision would impact her life. The Druids were held
in low regard by the Elves, and those who chose to join them were
seen as lacking in both common sense and moral balance. Once you
chose to side with the Druids, you were automatically considered to
have sided against the Elves. This was the common thinking of her
times, and Aphens assumption that as a granddaughter of the King
she would somehow be treated differently proved optimistic. If anything, it infuriated the Elves even more.
Now, six years later, she was back in Arborlon and thoroughly

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17

disappointed to discover that nothing much had changed when it


came to how her people viewed her. Slow to anger, they were even
slower to forgive, and her return had not generated much in the way
of good feelings. Even her familyher sister and uncle asidehad
seemed less than pleased to see her. But she had come for a purpose,
and she intended to see it through. It was an effort supported by her
fellow Druids, who instantly saw the value in it, but was regarded by
everyone else as a waste of time. The King, her grandfather, had
granted her the permission she requested, but only after making it
clear that the same search had been conducted repeatedly by others
over the years and that even if she found something useful her discoveries would belong solely to the Elves and not to anyone else
especially not to the Druid order.
She understood the reason for the prohibition. Hard feelings endured from the time when Grianne Ohmsford had served as Ard
Rhys and the Elven nation had been threatened by the Southland and
its Federation armies. Though it was Grianne who had put an end to
that threat, various members of her order had allied with Federation
Prime Minister Sen Dunsidan, and both she and the order had been
tarnished by the perceived treachery. Queen Arling Elessedil, already
harboring a deep dislike and distrust of the Druids, had cut all ties to
the order.
It didnt matter that Grianne Ohmsford had been gone for more
than a hundred years, or even that her successor as Ard Rhys was
herself a member of the Elessedil family. The old King, Arlings son,
held fast to his mothers beliefs where the Druids were concerned,
and it was only because Aphenglow was an Elf and his granddaughter that she was allowed to conduct her study.
Many others thought she should take her studies and her practices elsewhere if she could not remember where her loyalties should
lie.
Head up, eyes sweeping the landscape watchfully, she left the palace grounds behind and moved down the pathway that led to the
cottage she shared with her younger sister. Wherever she went in
Arborlon, she paid close attention to what was happening around
her. The city might have been her home once and it might be so again

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18 Terry Brooks

one day, but for now she was no better than a visitor from a foreign
country. There were enough Elves who mistrusted her presence that
she could not afford to take her safety for granted.
Especially not tonight, when she was carrying that which she was
expressly forbidden from having. One of the agreements she had
made was that she would take nothing from the storerooms. Not at
any time. Not for any reason. Yet buried amid the collection of notes
and papers contained in her pack was the diary.
And if she were caught with it . . .
She shrugged the matter away. She had done what she needed to
do. The diary was importantperhaps the most important piece of
information that had been uncovered since the First Council of Druids convened.
Everyone knew about the existence of the missing Elfstones, of
course. But only in the abstract and not in the specific. They knew
primarily because the blue Stones, the seeking-Stones, had survived
whatever had become of the other sets. There were three stones in
each setone each to reflect the strength of the heart, mind, and
body of the user. No one knew what had become of the other sets. No
one knew their colors or their functions. No written record of their
history had ever been found, save vague references to a time in ancient Faerie when all the Elfstones had been craftedjust enough to
indicate that there had been five sets altogether and that by their absence it could be concluded that four had been lost. It was the great
mystery of all Elven magic.
Yet after virtually everyone had decided the missing Elfstones
were gone and would never be recovered, now there was thisa
diary written by a girl named Aleia that might at last solve the mystery.
She could hardly believe her good luck in finding it. Imagine, if
they could recover the Stones! She smiled at the thought. Everyone
knew about the power of the blue Stones. But no one knew the first
thing about the other four sets; no one even knew their colors. No
records existed that described them. Or at least, none that had been
uncovered. It was all so long ago, so far back in time. It was as Ellich
had said. The Elves were a different people then. The world was dif-

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19

ferent. The other Races hadnt been born. Only the Faerie people
were alive, imbued with various forms of magicsome of which they
shared with creatures now consigned either to mythology or by powerful magic to the dark world of the Forbidding.
It gave her pause. All those who had followed or sworn to the
Void were imprisoned in the ForbiddingDarklings, Furies, Harpies, dragons, Goblins, and others. Yet the author of this diary had
fallen in love with one of them. She had found him beautiful and
enchanting, had given herself to him freely and had envisioned a life
with him.
With a creature of the Void.
It didnt seem possible, but sometimes Aphen wondered if those
viewed as evil were in fact only those who had lost the war and
weretarnished by the victors. She understood that reality wasnt as
simple as everyone wanted to believe, not as straightforward or as
easily explained. Not black and white, but mostly gray.
She reached the cottage, dark now and apparently empty. Perhaps
her sister was in bed or perhaps she was not home yet. Her work as a
Chosen of the Ellcrys was difficult and demanding, and sometimes
her days were eighteen hours long. Aphenglow didnt think she could
ever do what that job demanded. But she guessed there were those
who didnt think anyone could do her job, either, or even be what she
was.
She opened the door and went inside, pausing for a moment to let
her eyes adjust to the darkness. The silence enfolded her, and she
gave herself over to it, using her senses to detect her sisters presence.
She found the signs quickly enougha gentle breathing, a stirring
beneath sheets, a rustle of bedclothesjust up the stairs in the bedroom they shared whenever she was home, which was not often these
days. Aphen sighed and sat down, her mind still mulling the entries
in the diary and the questions they raised about the fate of the missing Elfstones.
She wondered first and foremost how the Stones had disappeared.
Apparently, Aleia had tried and failed to find either them or her
Darkling boy. That seemed odd, given that she had the use of the blue
Elfstones to seek them. But of course, if she wasnt trained in their

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20 Terry Brooks

usewhich was likelythen she might have lacked the sophistication to detect them.
Still, hadnt others tried to find the missing Elfstones since? Hadnt
the Elves themselves used the blue Stones to attempt it? She couldnt
imagine that efforts hadnt been made. And yet in all those years, no
one had found a thing.
She put her deliberations on that subject aside and gave consideration to what had become of Aleia after her return to Arborlon. She
had indicated in her diary entry that she had been given another
chance at making things right, one that she hoped might give her a
measure of redemption. But what sort of chance? The diary didnt
say.
And what was the truth about the Darkling boy? Had he taken the
Elfstones solely as a means of forcing her to come in search of him?
Was he motivated entirely by his love for her, as she so desperately
wanted to believe? Or had he intended all along to steal the Elfstones
or whatever other magic he could lay his hands on? Was he the dark
creature she feared he might be, his seduction of her purposeful and
lacking in any real feeling or passion? Had he been pretending the
whole time? There were arguments both ways. She had a feeling this
was something no one would ever know.
Which was perhaps for the best. It would be sad to discover that
Aleia had been deceived, that she had given herself to a liar and a
thief.
Aphen leaned back in her chair and stared out the window. There
were so many questionsand so many needing answers when answers were in short supply. Tomorrow she would look into the records of the Kings and Queens of Faerie, at the carefully recorded
lineages of royal parents and children. Most were still intact. Aleia
and her parents would be listed somewhere. There would be little
information beyond the names, but it was a start to the search she
now knew she had to undertake.
Her hand strayed to her pack where it rested by her side, her fingers finding the flat surface of the diary where it nestled inside.
Coming to bed anytime soon?
Arlingfant stepped into the room, small and delicate and wreathed

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Wards of Faerie

21

in silk. She came over to her sister and knelt in front of her as if in
supplication. Her perfect faceoval in shape, and dominated by her
dark eyes and pronounced Elven featurescanted upward, a smile
appearing like a crescent moon come out from behind a clouds
shadow.
I heard you come in. My senses are every bit as good as yours,
Aph.
Everything about you is as good. Were you sleeping or just lying
awake waiting for me?
Lying awake. I was thinking. She brushed away loose strands of
her dark hair absently. The tree is so mysterious to me, even after
almost eight months of caring for her. She almost never communicates, even in the smallest of ways. She relies on us to do what is
needed, and we are expected to anticipate what those needs might be.
It seems impossible that anyone could do this. Even though there are
twelve of us serving her, we might miss something. We might interpret what we see the wrong way. We might do any number of things
to cause her harm. Yet somehow we dont. But that doesnt mean we
dont spend every waking minute worrying about it.
She looked away. Today, while I was cleaning her bark, working
at the things that might sicken or mar its surfaces, I had the oddest
feeling. I thought I heard the tree say something. The voice just came
out of nowhere, like a whisper in my ear. I knew it wasnt one of the
other Chosen because I know their voices and this wasnt one I knew.
I looked around, but I didnt see anyone near and didnt hear the
voice again. But later, I mentioned to Freershan that I thought one of
the tree branches had touched me. The tip of a branch, reaching
down to touch my shoulder. But when I turned to look, there wasnt
anything there.
Aphenglow reached out and touched her sisters face. The tree is
magic, Arling. It doesnt seem too odd that magical things might
happen in its presence. Even ones of the sort you describe. Is the tree
all right?
Arlingfant nodded. She seems fine. No one mentioned anything
at the end of the day. It was just these . . . things.
Aphenglow stood up. Do you want a glass of milk?

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22 Terry Brooks

Her sister nodded, and Aphenglow walked into the kitchen,


opened the cold box, took out the milk pitcher, and poured a little of
its contents into two glasses. She put the milk away again and carried
the glasses back into the living room.
It will help you sleep, she said, handing Arlingfant the glass.
They drank the milk in silence, sitting in the darkness, the quarter
moons soft light spilling down through the trees and filtering in
through the cottage windows. Her mind drifted back to the diary,
and for a moment she toyed with the idea of telling her sister what
she had found. It would be good to have another opinion, to share
her thoughts with someone who might bring a fresh perspective. But
she resisted the impulse. She didnt want to put her sister in the position of having to cover for her if someone found out. Shared thoughts
and fresh opinions could wait until she knew something more.
Find anything interesting today? Arlingfant asked suddenly, as
if reading her mind.
Nothing, Aphen lied. Lying was getting easier. It was starting to
feel natural. Im getting to the end of my search, though. Not too
many more boxes of letters and notes to go. I finished the last of the
history appendices a week ago. Its exhausting work.
Translating must be hard. So much of it is archaic. Ancient Elfish.
Different dialects. Its good that youre trained to read those.
Aphenglow nodded. She had studied ancient Elven languages
starting at the age of ten. She had a knack for it, a real sense of meanings and purposes in the use of words, and when shed returned a
year ago to undertake this task, she had come prepared with more
than fifteen years of experience in deciphering what Elves thousands
of years gone had written down.
I might have to return to Paranor for a bit, she said suddenly.
For a week or so, perhaps.
The idea had just occurred to her, although in truth she must have
known from the moment she had read the first few entries in the
diary. She needed to consult the other Druids. A decision had to
bemade about what to do with this information, and where to take
the search from here. She had promised her grandfather she would
not take anything away, but the promise had been falsely given. She

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23

had always intended to take whatever she found. She was an Elf and
loyal to her people, but not at the expense of the other Races. In that
regard, she was a Druid first. Magic was meant to be shared, and it
was safest in the hands of the Druids, who would make sure that
happened.
Aphen. Her sister moved close to her, placing her hands on
Aphens shoulders. Take me away. I want to leave here. I want to go
with you.
Aphenglow shook her head. You know I cant do that.
I know youve said you cant. But theres nothing you cant do, if
you want to. A Druid has immense power, and you are the best of
them all. If you tell them you want me there, they will have to let me
stay.
They had covered this before, many times. Arlingfant had it in her
head that she was meant to be not a Chosen, but a Druid like her
sister. She didnt care about the inevitable repercussions. She was prepared to give up everything if Aphen would just take her to Paranor.
You cant leave your friends to tend the Ellcrys without you,
Aphenglow said pointedly. They need you. If I am the best of the
Druids, you are ten times the best of the Chosen. You are the one
who always knows what to do. How many times have you ferreted
out sickness or blight that no one else even noticed? You cant walk
away from that. Later, maybe, when your year of service is finished.
But not now.
I know, I know. Youve said this often enough. But I want to study
magic with you!
Which leads to something else you keep ignoring. I dont make
the choice of who becomes a Druid by myself. All in service must
agree, and the Ard Rhys must be awake when that happens. At present, she rests in the Druid Sleep and is not to be woken for another
two years unless an emergency requires it. Taking in another Druid
even you, Arlingdoes not qualify as an emergency.
Besides, she added, there is a reluctance to accept members of
the same family into the order. You know this. There are genuine
concerns about how blood ties would affect their performance as
Druids.

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24 Terry Brooks

She embraced her sister. Nevertheless, when your service is over


I will put your name before the others and make every effort to gain
you a place. Dont you think I would like to have you with me? Dont
you know I miss you?
Arlingfant hugged her back. I do know, Aphen. I dont mean to
be unreasonable. But its hard sometimes to have to wait so long.
Aphen laughed. I know what you mean. Go on to bed, now. I will
be up shortly. I just need to go through my notes one more time to be
sure Ive written everything down.
Her sister kissed her on the cheek, got to her feet, and left the
room. Aphenglow listened to the soft pad of her feet on the stairs,
thesqueak of the bed ropes, and silence.
Then she took out the diary and sat looking at the last entry.
Pathke, Meresch, and their Aleia. Very likely a King, his wife, and his
daughter. She must find their place in the Elven histories and determine if that might in some way help with her search for the missing
Elfstones. Certainly it had happened a long time ago; the Elfstones
had been missing since the last war between the Word and Void, in
the time of Faerie.
And the city of Rajancroft where the Darkling boy had lived
where was that?
She must find all this out and begin fitting the pieces together. She
must ferret out
A shadow passed by the window on her right, and the thought
was left unfinished as her attention shifted immediately. She did not
react to the movementshe was trained to do otherwisebut instead closed the diary and slipped it down between the cushions on
her left, effectively hiding it from view in a smooth natural movement that wouldnt be noticed by watching eyes.
She waited a moment, giving herself time to think and her watcher
time to reappear at the window.
When nothing happened, she stood up, looking as if she might be
ready to retire, but using the act as a way to glance from window to
window.
Nothing.

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25

And then a silken cord, its threads strong and tightly wound,
slipped about her neck and cut off her air.
Her attackers moves were so practiced and smooth that she was
certain he had killed this way before. It would have meant the death
of many others, and she had only a moment to ensure it would not be
hers. She slammed her head backward into his, stomped down on his
right ankle, and thrust her elbow back into his rib cage. She had been
trained in hand-to-hand combat by no less an authority than the formidable Bombax, and she knew exactly what to do.
The problem was that it seemed to make no difference to her attacker, who barely responded to what would have crippled others.
Pressed close against him as he continued to twist and tighten the
cord, she tried to throw him and failed. He was too heavy, too well
balanced. Even as tall and strong as she was, she was no match for
him. She tried to use his weight against him, to trip him and topple
him to the floor. That, too, failed. They were careening about the
room like wild things, slamming into the walls, furnishings flying
about, tipping over, breaking. Aphenglow possessed defensive skills
that made her the equal of anyone, but she was losing this fight. She
could feel her strength seeping away and could see spots before her
eyes.
Then Arlingfant came tearing down the stairs, screaming like a
banshee, a cudgel gripped in both hands. Without slowing, she
whacked at her sisters attacker, catching him on the side of the head
with a blow that rocked him just enough for Aphenglow to tear herself free of the killing cord.
But when she turned to engage her attacker, he was already out
the door and had vanished into the night. Arling started to give pursuit, but Aphenglow pulled her back, shaking her head.
It took her a moment before she could speak. Let him go, she
said, gasping for breath. We dont want to give him the advantage
heseeks by bungling out into the darkness.
Her attacker was male. Of that she was certainof his sex if not
his Race. She had seen his wrists when he broke awayjust a glimpse,
but enough to be able to tell by the size and the amount of hair.

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26 Terry Brooks

She moved over to a bench next to the dining table and lowered
herself gingerly. The cord had burned her neck, and her breathing
was still ragged. You saved me, Arling. He was too strong for me. I
couldnt fight him off.
Her sister bent close, examining her neck. I hope I bashed his
head in, she muttered. Sit still. Ill bring cold cloths and ointment
for the burn.
She moved into the kitchen, and Aphenglow quickly stepped over
to the chair, retrieved the diary, and slipped it into her blouse. She
was furious with herself for allowing someone to get that close. It
shouldnt have been possible for an attacker to creep up on her like
that; her normally dependable instincts should have warned her.
That they hadnt was troubling.
Arlingfant was back, carrying a small, lighted lantern, which she
placed on the table next to her sister. Then she proceeded to clean
the burns with cold cloths and to apply a pain-relieving ointment.
She worked quickly and efficiently, her small fingers smooth and
clever.
Who would do this? she asked, the anger in her voice undiminished. Why would anyone attack you in your own home?
I dont know, Aphenglow lied, already suspecting why, if not
who.
Did they take anything?
No. What is there to take? It was probably just someone who
doesnt care for young women leaving their Elven family to join a
Druid order. Perhaps someone with a grudge or a perceived hurt.
Well, whoever it was will have a sore head in the morning. Her
sister finished with the cleaning and ointments. He tried to kill you,
Aphen!
Or scare me. Wanting to send a message of some sort, maybe. We
cant be certain.
But she was certain. Whoever had attacked her was experienced
and skilled. It wasnt some common person, someone with resentments or a misguided sense of duty. And the nature of the attack
suggested her assailant had been trying very hard to injure her badly,
not merely scare her.

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27

But who would want to hurt her? Who would benefit from that?
She didnt know. She didnt have any identifiable enemies and couldnt
think of anyone who carried a grudge of this magnitude. She couldnt
help thinking she had been attacked because of the diary. But who
would even know she had it? Who had come close enough to find
out?
Only her uncle, Ellich. But her uncle loved her and would never
do something like this. So was there someone who would benefit by
having her dead and the diary in hand? Someone who had been
watching her and saw her take the diary from the archives?
But if she had been seen taking the diary, why not just demand it
back? Why try to injure her? Or why not just steal it from her, or try
to frighten her into giving it up? Harming her seemed extreme, if getting possession of the diary was the principal goal.
Whatever the case, she was determined to press on. The attack
had only strengthened her resolve. She would begin her search of the
lineage charts first thing in the morning, just as she had planned.
But she would be keeping careful watch when she did.

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Preorder a copy of
WARDS OF FAERIE
in hardcover or eBook!

ABOUT THIS BOOK


Laurie R. Kings New York Times bestselling novels of
suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock
Holmes, comprise one of todays most acclaimed mystery
series. Now, in their newest and most thrilling adventure, the
couple is separated by a shocking circumstance in a perilous
part of the world, each racing against time to prevent an
explosive catastrophe that could clothe them both in shrouds.
In a strange room in Morocco, Mary Russell is trying to solve a
pressing mystery: Who am I? She has awakened with shadows
in her mind, blood on her hands, and soldiers pounding on the
door. Out in the hivelike streets, she discovers herself strangely
adept in the skills of the underworld, escaping through alleys
and rooftops, picking pockets and locks. She is clothed like a
man, and armed only with her wits and a scrap of paper
containing a mysterious Arabic phrase. Overhead, warplanes
pass ominously north.
Meanwhile, Holmes is pulled by two old friends and a distant
relation into the growing war between France, Spain, and the
Rif Revolt led by Emir Abd el-Krimwho may be a Robin
Hood or a power mad tribesman. The shadows of war are
drawing over the ancient city of Fez, and Holmes badly wants
the wisdom and courage of his wife, whom hes learned, to his
horror, has gone missing. As Holmes searches for her, and
Russell searches for herself, each tries to crack deadly parallel
puzzles before its too late for them, for Africa, and for the
peace of Europe.
With the dazzling mix of period detail and contemporary pace
that is her hallmark, Laurie R. King continues the stunningly
suspenseful series that Lee Child called the most sustained feat
of imagination in mystery fiction today.

Garment
of
Shadows
A NOVEL OF SUSPENSE F EAT URING
MARY RUSSEL L
AND SH ERLOC K H OL MES

Laur ie R . King

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5/2/12 12:30 PM

Garment of Shadows is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either
are the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2012 by Laurie R. King
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House
Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Bantam Books and the rooster colophon are
registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
King, Laurie R.
Garment of shadows : a novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and
Sherlock Holmes / Laurie R. King.
p. cm.
ISBN 978-0-553-80799-8
eBook ISBN 978-0-553-90755-1
1.Russell, Mary (Fictitious character)Fiction. 2.Women private investigators
IndiaFiction. 3.Holmes, Sherlock (Fictitious character)Fiction. 4.British
MoroccoFiction. I.Title.
PS3561.I4813G37 2012
813.54dc23
2011047287
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
www.bantamdell.com
2 4 6 8 9 7 5 3 1
First Edition
Book design by Caroline Cunningham

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Preface

he big man had the brains of a tortoise, but even he was beginning to look alarmed.
Sherlock Holmes drew a calming breath. Then another.
It had seemed such a simple arrangement: If Mary Russell chose to
submit to the whimsy of Fflytte Films as it finished its current moving
picture, that was fine and good, but there was no cause for her husband to
be tied down by her eccentricitiesnot with an entirely new country at
his feet. Hed never been to Morocco. After some complex marital negotiations, he promised to return, at an agreed-to time and place, which was
here and today.
Except she was not there.
He started again. So she left her tent that night. After dark.
Oui, Monsieur.
And was still gone the next morning.
Oui, Monsieur.
She spoke to no one, merely left a brief note to say that she was going
to Fez.
The man nodded.
The filming ended. The rest of Fflyttes crew came back here. No one
thought this odd. And all you have to say is that my wife was last seen
walking into the desert in the company of a child. Three days ago.
Morocco might be a small country, but it was plenty big enough to
swallow one young woman.
Russell, he thought, what the devil are you up to?

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Chapter One

was in bed. A bed, at any rate.


I had been flattened by a steam-roller, trampled under a stampede of bison. Beaten by a determined thug. I ached, head to toe, fingers
and skin. Mostly head.
My skull throbbed, one hot pulse for every beat of my heart. I could
see it in the rhythmic dimming of an already shadowy room. I wanted to
weep with the pain, but if I had to blow my nose, my skull might split like
an overripe melon.
So I lay in the dim room, and watched my heart beat, and ached.
Some time later, it came to me that the angle of the vague patch of
brightness across the opposite wall had changed. Some time after that, an
explanation slipped out between the pain-pulses: The sun had moved
while I slept. A while later, another thought: Time is passing.
And with that, a tendril of urgency unfurled. I could not lie in bed, I
had to be somewhere. People were depending on me. The sun would go
down: I would be late.
Rolling onto my side was like pushing a motorcar up a hill. Raising
myself up from the thin pad made me cry outnearly black outfrom
the surge of pressure within my skull. My stomach roiled, my ears rang,
the room whirled.
I crouched for a long time on the edge of the bed. Slowly, the pounding receded. My vision cleared, revealing a snug roughly plastered room;
hand-made floor tiles; a tawny herringbone of small bricks; a door of
some dark wood, so narrow a big man might angle his shoulders, a hook

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L AU R I E R . K I N G

driven into it, holding a long brown robe; a pair of soft yellow bedroom
slippers on the floorbabouches, my mind provided: new leather, my nose
told me. The rooms only furniture was a narrow bed with a rough threelegged stool at its head. The stool served as a table, its surface nearly
covered with disparate objects: in the centre stood a small oil lamp. To its
left, nearest the bed, were arranged a match-box, a tiny ceramic bowl
holding half a dozen spent matches, a glass of water, and a pair of wirerimmed spectacles that appeared to have been trod upon. The other side
of the lamp had an even more peculiar collection: a worn pencil stub, a
sausage-shaped object tightly wrapped in a handkerchief, some grains of
sand, and one pale stone.
I studied the enigmatic display. The little bowl caused a brief memory
to stir through the sludge that was my brain: As I slept, the sound of a
match scratching into life would wake me; the sharp smell would bite my
nostrils; faces would appear and make noises; I would say something apparently sensible; the faces would bend over the light, and with a puff, I
would be back in the shadows, alone.
My hand reached out, hesitated over the water, rejected it, and picked
up the spectacles instead. I winced as they settled between my ears and
the snug head wrap I wore, but the room came into focus.
The matches also came into focus: a cheap, bright label, in French. I
picked up the box, slid it open, my nose stung by the smell of sulphur.
Four matches. I took one, scraped it into life, held it to the oil lamp. A
spot of warmth entered the room.
By its thin light, I looked down at what I wore. Drab homespun trousers and tunic. Bare feet. The clothing was clean, but not my hands. They
looked as if someone had tried to wipe away a layer of some dark greasy
matter, leaving stains in the deeper creases and under the nails.
I stretched the left one out nearer the lamp. Motion caused the flame
to throw dancing shadows across the room. When it had steadied, I
frowned at the finger-nails to which I was attached.
Not grease.
Blood.
The light of a candle/the sunshine smell of linen/the slope of ceiling/the soft
throat of a young girl asleep/the blood on my hands
The bolt of memory shocked me to my feet. I swayed, the room roar-

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ing in my ears, my eyes fixed on the flat, slope-free ceiling. Dont look
down (blood on my hands)dont think about the hands memory of the
smooth, intimate glide of sharp steel through flesh.
I ventured a step, then another, towards the shuttered window.
To my surprise, the latch flipped beneath my awkward fingers, and
when the hinges creaked open, there were no bars. Why had I expected
to be a prisoner?
The brilliance was painful, even though the sky was grey with unshed
rain. I lifted a hand to shade my eyes, and squinted at the view: a dirty,
cobbled lane far too narrow for any motorcar. One could have passed an
object between opposing windowshad there been windows. I saw only
one, higher even than mine, tiny and tightly shuttered. I could see two
entranceways off this diminutive alley: One had been painted with
brightly coloured arabesques, long ago, and comprised a small door inside
a larger one, as if the carpenter had learned his craft on castles and cathedrals. The door across from it was a single rectangle, black wood heavily
studded with rusting iron circles the size of my thumb-nail. Around
them, grubby whitewash, a fringe of grass on the rooflines, chunks of
plaster flaking from walls that bulged and slumped. In one place, wooden
braces thirty feet from the ground kept two buildings from collapsing
into each other.
The house I was in seemed to be the lanes terminus; thirty feet away,
beneath the slapdash web of braces, the passageway turned to the right
and disappeared.
I pushed the shutters wider open, intending to lean out and examine
the face of the building below me, then took a step back as the left-hand
door came open and a woman emerged. She was swathed head to toe in
pale garments, with a straw bag in one hand and a childs hand in the
other. She glanced down the alleyway, her eyes on a place well below me,
and I could see her brown, Caucasian features and startling blue eyes. She
pulled her scarf up over her face and tugged the child down the lane,
vanishing around its bend.
Arabic; French; woman in a robedjellaba, the internal dictionary
supplied, although that did not seem quite right. Those clues combined
with the womans Berber features suggested that I was in North Africa.
Algeria or perhaps Morocco. In a suq.

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The knowledge of where was just beyond my grasp, like an elusive


name on the tip of ones tongue. Similarly, how I came to be here. And
what had been so urgent it drove me to my feet. Or why I had blood on
my hands.
Or, my name.
Who the hell was I?

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Chapter Two

weat broke out all over my body, despite the cold of the room.
There was a good explanation, for everything. One that I would
remember in a minute, once I could think around the pounding in my
head. Or . . .
I turned to consider the narrow door. The shutters hadnt been locked.
Yes, the window was high and the drop to the lane sheer, but perhaps it
meant that my situation was not the source of that feeling of urgency.
That the water in the glass was not drugged. That the door led to assistance, to information. To friends, even.
My bare feet slapped across the cold tiles. I stopped beside the bed,
transferring everything but the lamp, water, and bowl into my pockets,
then moved over to the door and put my ear to the crack: nothing. My
fingers eased the iron latch up until the tongue came free; the wood
shifted towards me. I was not locked in.
The odours that washed over me threatened to turn my stomach over.
Frying oil, onions, chicken, a panoply of spicesfor some reason, I felt
that if I were more experienced with their names, I would be able to identify each individual element of that sensory cloud.
I pushed aside the evidence of my nostrils, concentrating instead on
my vision. The scrap of corridor was no more revealing than the view
from the window: the same rough herringbone on the floor, cobalt-andcream tiles halfway up the walls, with crisp whitewashed plaster above;
another door; a tidy stack of straw baskets; the suggestion of a house off
to the left. I took a step out: To my right, a stone stairway curled upward

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out of viewto the roof, I felt, although I could not have said why. Then
I heard a voicetwo voices, so distant, or behind so many doors, that I
could not determine the language, much less the words.
But I could hear the tension.
For some reason, I reached around to the back of my waist-band, my
fingers anticipating a cold weight nestled against my spine, but there was
nothing. After a moments consideration, I drew a breath, and stepped
out. Nothing happened.
I crept down the hall to the left and took up a position just before the
bend, not venturing my head into the open. The voices were clearer now,
the rhythms suggestive of Arabic. Cool air moved across my face and the
light around the corner was daylight, not lamps, as if the walls of the
house had been sliced away. Words trickled into my mind. Dar: a house
of two or three storeys built around a ground-level courtyard, open to the
sky; halka: its wide central sky-light; riad: a house whose inner courtyard
was a garden.
Another brief internal flash: clipped green rectangle/rain-soaked brick
walls/gures in academic gowns/the odour of learning
I was gathering myself for a step towards that light when a harsh
sound juddered through the house, coming from below and behind me at
the same time. I hurried back into my tiny cell and across the tiles to peer
downwards into the narrow lane
Soldiers!
No mistaking that blue uniform and cap: two armed French soldiers,
pounding on the door below.
Aimless urgency blew into open panic: I could not be taken by them,
it was essential that I remain free, that I get to
To where? To whom? But while I might have given a single gendarme
the benefit of the doubt, armed soldiers could only be a declaration of
war. I snatched the robe from the hook, stepped into the slippers, and
made for the curve of steps leading up.
The upper doors iron latch opened easily. Outside was a terrace roof
around an iron-work grid, open to the house below. On one side was
strung a bare laundry line; the furniture consisted of six pots of winterdead herbs and a pair of benches. The rooftop was emptyhad I known

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it would be?but it smelt of rain, the drips on the clothes-line showing


that it had been recent. The air was very cold.
I worked the robe over my headit was like a sack with a hood, and
to my relief smelt only of wool and soap. I picked up the stick supporting
the centre of the clothes-line and brought down one slippered foot on its
centre, snapping it in two; jamming the sharp end beneath the door
would slow pursuit. And the rope itselfthat would be useful. I reached
for my ankle, but found only skin where my fingers seemed to expect a
knife.
Neither knife nor handgun: not friends, then.
I abandoned the line to make a quick circuit of the rooftop, keeping
well clear of the open grid, lest someone looking up see me. All around
lay a tight jumble of buildings, their rooftopssquared, domed, and
crenellated; brick and stone and tile; crisply renovated or crudely patched
or on the point of collapseat a myriad of levels, like the worlds largest
set of childrens blocks. The town covered slopes dropping into a valley;
higher hills, green with winter rains, lay in the distance. Here and there,
tree-tops poked up between the structures, but there was no discernable
break for roads, and the buildings were so intertwined that they appeared
to be resting atop one another. Certainly they were holding each other
uprightI had seen that from the window below. Several green-roofed
minarets sticking above the architectural confusion confirmed that I was
in North Africa.
As I circled the rooftop, my fingers automatically laid claim to a few
small items left by the women-folk whose territory this wasa pocketmirror with cracked glass, a tiny pot of kohl, a pair of rusting scissors too
delicate to part the laundry ropeand automatically thrust them through
the djellabas side-slits to the pockets beneath.
The circuit ended, I was faced with a decision: The easiest descent was
the most exposed; the most surreptitious way might well kill a person
with a head as dizzy as mine.
I looked out over the town, where a faint suggestion of emerging sun
was bringing an impression of warmth to the grey, tan, and whitewashed
shapes. Weeds sprouted on every flat surface, and storks nests. Werent
those supposed to be good luck? I hoped so. The towns overall texture

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L AU R I E R . K I N G

had an almost tactile satisfaction that reminded me of something. Something I had seen, touchedhoneycomb! But not comb neatly bounded
by a wooden frame: wild honeycomb, with orderly hexagons filling up the
bumps and hollows of rock or tree. My eyes squinted, making the town
blur; the aroma of honey seemed to rise up . . .
Stop: time for decisions, not distractions. I went to the low wall overhanging a neighbours housethen ducked down as a door twenty feet
away scraped open and two women came out, arguing furiously in a language I did not know. As I vacillated between waiting for this safer route
and risking the other, the door behind me rattled.
Without further consideration, I scurried across the rooftop, pushed
through a narrow gap, and dropped down to a wall-top eight feet below.
My earlier glance had shown me a glimpse of tiled courtyard through the
branches of an orange tree, with this foot-thick wall separating it from a
derelict garden next door. I settled my yellow babouches onto the weedy
bricks, fixed my gaze on the vestigial window-sill twenty feet away, then
balanced like a tight-rope walker across the ragged surface to the abandoned building beyond. Fearful of pursuit, I stepped over the gap and
insideand my heart instantly seized my throat: The brick walls bled
light like lace-work; the floor was mostly missing. The entire structure
seemed to sway with the addition of my weight.
I stood motionless until bits of mortar and wood stopped drifting
down. The breath I took then was slow, but fervent.
Moving with extreme caution, I drew the hand-mirror from my inner
pocket and, keeping it well away from the light, held it up to reflect the
rooftop behind me. The soldiers came into view.
Their backs were to me. I could hear them shouting at the women on
the adjoining rooftop, but either they answered no, they hadnt seen me,
or (more likely) they retreated inside at the first sight of strange men. The
soldiers then began the same circuit I had made.
Ending up staring right at me.
I held the glass absolutely still, lest a flash of reflection give me away.
They seemed . . . wrong, somehow, although I could not have said why.
Clean-shaven, dark-eyed, their uniforms like any others.
But French soldiers did not belong on a rooftop of that shape.
The men were surveying the tiled courtyard. One of them pointed

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11

down and said something. His companion turned briskly for the door.
The first took another look around the edges, then he, too, left the rooftop.
Shakily, I lowered myself to the floor. The stable tiled island beneath
me did not collapse and the wall, appearances to the contrary, seemed
stout enough to support my back. Through a hole, I could see a portion of
the neighbouring courtyard. In a few minutes, the military caps appeared.
I listened to the soldiers berating the confused and frightened owner,
whose French was clearly inadequate for the task of self-defence. Eventually, they left. I waited, the looking-glass propped against a hundredweight of fallen plaster. Half an hour later, motion came again to the
rooftop I had so hastily left.
Between the overcast sky and the dullness of the reflection, it was difficult to make out details of the two people who walked across the rooftop. I abandoned the looking-glass to stand, warily, and peer around the
splintery boards that had once framed a window. A man and a woman,
she in white drapery, he in a sackcloth robe over shirt and trousers, his
turban a circle of cloth revealing the crown of his head. They looked
around the rooftop, down the edges, into the neighbouring courtyard,
appearing less angry than confused. I was tempted to call out to them, to
give them a chancebut that sense of urgency had returned, growing
ever stronger as I sat trapped in the crumbling building.
And, they had taken my weapons.
I was blind, no doubt about that. But as the blind are forced to rely on
their other senses to find their way (a man, in a heavy fog, explaining the
phenomenonbut the image was gone before it was there), so would I rely
on what senses I had left, to make my decisions.
I did not call out.
Instead, I waited for the pair to leave. It was cold, so it did not take
long. When I was aloneso far as I could tellI stepped through the
hole again and onto the wall.
And paused. A sound rose across the city, a prolonged exhortation. It
was joined a minute later by another, then a third farther away. The midday call to prayer, a chorus of reminders ringing out across the town,
muezzins declaring the greatness of God, reminding the citizens that
prayer is better than sleep.

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I had heard it before, and yet I had not. I knew it, and yet I was a
stranger. I could recite the words, yet I was quite sure they were not my
own. Its meaning frightened me; its beauty moved me deeply.
And I must stop succumbing to distraction! I pushed away its spell
and dropped into the derelict garden on the other side. While the sound
of the adhan faded, I picked my way through weeds and assorted rubbish,
startling a pair of cats and slicing a hole in my slippers. On the other side
of the garden was a shorter wall and a heap of something that might have
been unused tiles. I climbed up, and peered over.
Here was another narrow alleyway, with another pair of stout nailclad doors, to the right and to the left. Unlike the first passageway, this
semi-tunnel opened onto a marginally wider, and more populated, nearstreet (though even that was too narrow for motorcars). A woman in
voluminous ash-coloured garments went past the opening. Two chattering children trotted in the other direction, one of them balancing on his
head a tray bigger than he was, carrying loaves of unbaked bread. The
children were followed by a donkey with a long wooden bench of freshcut cedar strapped to his back, a lad with a switch moving him along. I
gathered the hem of my djellaba, scrambled over the wall, and dropped to
the damp, slick stones.
My skull seemed to be resigning itself to the abuse; I only needed to
lean against the wall for a minute or so before the pounding and spinning
receded, and I no longer had to fight back the urge to cry out. When I felt
steady, I tugged the robes hood over my head and walked down the dark
passageway towards the street.
For some reason, I expected to find the narrow streets bustling with
activity, but the human beehive was all but deserted. Shops were padlocked. Few donkeys pressed through with their burdens. One of the
lanes was so still, I could hear the sound of a buried stream through the
paving stones. As I moved into the city, I began to wonder if some awful
pestilence had struck my fellows as well. Was the entire populace hiding
behind its shutters, infected with my same mental distress, terrified of
venturing into the light? Were it not for the unconcerned pace of the occasional shrouded woman who went past and the cries of a group of boys
playing in a side-street, I might have begun pounding on doors to find
out.

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13

But those residents I passed were clearly untroubled. And the air did
not smell of death and corruption. It smelt, rather, of spices and meat.
I stopped, studying a building that faced the street. There were no
windows on the lower storeys, but at the top, two small glass-paned openings were propped open, giving out a loud stream of womens voices.
I lowered my gaze to the ground floor: shutters on what was clearly a
shop of some kind. My brain made a huge effort, and presented me with
an explanation: The effect of desertion was merely because the shops were
closed tight, and the men were at prayer. It was a holidayrather, a holy
day. Today must be Friday, the Moslem Sabbath.
The sound of footsteps echoed down the hard surfaces and started me
moving again. I took care to walk at a steady pace, holding my body as if
I not only knew where I was going, but was interested in nothing particular outside of getting there.
How I knew to do this, I could not think.
It was unnerving, as if one portion of my mind was simply frozen
solid. I had no idea where I was goingwhere I was to begin withyet
I moved forward now as I had walked the precarious wall earlier: with the
unthinking assurance that can only come from long experience. The analytical machinery of my mind also seemed to be missing on a couple of
cylinders: To have had blood on my hands yet none on my garments suggested that someone (in that house?) had removed my clothing, surely
noticing that I was a woman, yet then dressed me in what I knew was
male clothing. Why had they done that? Similarly, I had lain in that bed
for some hours with neither locks nor bonds, as if I was a guest rather
than a prisoner, yet they had robbed me of my weaponsand then summoned the authorities: A pair of soldiers would not have happened down
that alleyway by accident. Again, why?
I could not have given my reasons for wanting to put distance between myself and the house, but my body seemed determined to do so.
And until I had evidence to the contrary, I could only trust that it knew
what it was doing.
Some twenty minutes later, having come to the dead ends of four different paths, it was clear that letting my feet choose the way by turning
consistently leftor rightonly led to a standstill. Instead, I started
looking for lanes that led uphill. And in a short time, I came to a more

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L AU R I E R . K I N G

lively quarter with open shops. Men sat in some, all wearing the same
calf-length, rough-spun robes but occasionally layered with a heavier
burnoose. They wore a variety of head-coverings: Some had loosely
wrapped lengths of cloth, others wore snug turbans that revealed the
crowns of their heads and a single thin plait, some had the rigid caps
called tarboosh or fez. The women picking over displays of onions and
greens were for the most part veiled, though some went freely bare-faced.
They all haggled: over the cost of lemons, the measure of olives, the quality of tin cups. Colourful displays of garments and tools spilt onto the
street.
I moved at the same speed the others did; my eyes were focussed at
the same distance ahead; my robes were theirsthe men even wore the
same yellow babouches. I dodged laden donkeys and responded to the
warning Blak! Blak! of their drivers and veered around displays and
vendors without so much as a glance. I managed to walk past a pair of
patrolling French soldiers without drawing any attention to myself. Several minutes later, I discovered that I had at some point removed my
spectacles. I slid them through the pocket-slit in the djellaba, and when
my empty hand came out again, it reached down to a display of fruit and
deftly appropriated a small orange. As I proceeded through the streets,
my pockets slowly filled, with fruit and a roll, a handful of almonds and a
ball of twine, one decorative hair-pin, a small red Moroccan-leather notebook, a fat little embroidered purse plucked from a womans Westernstyle hand-bag, and a slim, decorated dagger that I kept inside my
left-hand sleeve, fearing that if I put it into the pocket, within half a
dozen steps it would slice its way to the cobblestones.
First an acrobat, now a pick-pocket. Had I escaped from some travelling circus?
I soon came to the explanation for this districts relative bustle: a city
gate, very new and strong-looking, ornate with mosaic tile (zellij, the
translator in my head whispered). Beyond it was clearly a more modern
part of this city, with men in suits, the sign for a bank, several horse-carts,
even a motorcar. And: soldiers.
I leant casually against a wall. Armed French soldiers, with the bored
stance and alert gaze of guards the world around. As I watched, they
moved forward to intercept a man on a white mule, who freely handed

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15

over the immensely long Jezail rifle he held and continued inside. It
would seem that arms were not permitted in the city. That might explain
why my hand had met a revolvers absence at my waist-band.
There was no way I could get past the soldiers without attracting attention, not in the clothes I wore now. Even were I to dress in a womans
all-concealing shrouds, I would have to take carealthough as with everything else that day, I could not have said how I knew that. My mind
was in a shadowy netherland, but what knowledge I did retain was crystal
clear. Uncertainty and inchoate fear seemed to sharpen the essentials,
helping me to read the guards as easily as I had accumulated key possessions and walked unnoticed.
Still, until I knew more about my situation, I did not feel driven to
break out of this suq. Whatever shelter, comfort, and time to ponder I
might require, I could as easily find it here as out there.
I turned my back on the outer world, and descended once more into
the dim-lit warren of the old town.
On the other side of a shop piled high with caged chickens stood a
pocket handkerchiefsized caf with a tureen of smoking oil and neatly
arranged glasses of tea. As I had passed it before, my stomach vaguely let
me know that its former queasiness was fading. Now, at the aroma of
chillies and hot oil, my mouth began to water and I realised that I was
weak with hunger. I dug into my pockets, then stopped: Fumbling with
unfamiliar money, taken from a ladys decorative purse, would be foolish.
I spent a moment watching closely as a man purchased a small cornucopia of fried ambrosia, and forced myself to walk on.
At the next bit of blank wall, I surreptitiously drew out the purse,
searching for the coin I had seen him use. There were two. I palmed them
and put the rest away. Back at the fragrant food-stall, I nodded to the
proprietor, lifted my chin at the glass case, raised an affirming eyebrow
when his hand hesitated over a choice, and laid one of the coins on the
tiny counter. I left my hand there until he slid some smaller scraps of
metal into my palm, following them with a greasy handful of flat bread
wrapped around an unidentifiable mouthful of spice. My jaws might have
learnt table manners from a dog: Half a dozen sharp gulps, and the food
was but a trace on my fingerswhich I eyed, but did not lick: I needed to
find a source of water, and soon.

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In this same way, I obtained a bowl of extraordinarily hearty soup


called harira, a sweet biscuit tasting of almonds, and two glasses of hot,
syrupy mint tea.
The food did nothing to clear my brain, but it was little short of a
miracle how it helped the shakiness recede.
And as if the suqs guiding spirit had heard my plea, around the next
corner was an open area where three of the diminutive lanes came together, which in any normal town would have gone unnoticed but here
was tantamount to a village green. Set into one of the resulting corners
was a magnificently tiled fountain, at the moment gushing water into a
childs brass pot. I waited while two women filled their jugs, then pushed
forward to thrust my hands under the frigid clear water.
I could feel their disapproval, either because it was not done to wash
ones hands in a drinking fountain, or because I was (to all appearances)
a man pushing into a womans realm, but I did not care. I scrubbed and
clawed at my nails as if the stain were some systemic poison, and I kept
on scrubbing even after my eyes assured me the skin was clean. I even
splashed my face.
Finally, too aware of the waiting women, I drew back. In the centre of
the open area, I held up my hands to reassure myself that the blood was
gone. And for the first time, I noticed a faint indentation around the ring
finger of my right hand.
I stared at it. I turned the hand over, then back, and felt a stir of rage.
Take my weapons, yes, but steal a ring from my finger?
Had I been standing on the rooftop, I would have stormed the house,
soldiers or no. But I had left that house hours ago; Id never find it again.
Furious and mournful, I dried my hands on my robe and slipped back
into the suq.
Since I was now both fed and cleansed, the next order of business was
to find shelter against the night. The afternoon call to prayer had come
and gone; in the short winters day, sunset would not be far off. And perhaps if I slept, my missing past might creep back. If nothing else, a private
corner would let me paw through my few possessions, and my fewer
memories, and consider where I stood.
The problem was, I had seen nothing that resembled an hotel. I had

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17

seen no hand-lettered Room to Let signs propped in windows (had there


been windows). I had a vague idea that benighted travellers might be
welcomed in a mosque or madrassa school, but that was far too risky for
a woman in disguise. Even a caravanserai, or whatever the local equivalent might be, would be tricky. And although I spoke a couple of the local
languages, I was loath to risk a demonstration of my ignorance by asking.
What I needed was another deserted building. Of which there seemed
to be plenty, but I preferred one with a facsimile of a roof, and not on the
point of collapse.
I kept walking, waiting for my bruised cortices to present me with an
idea. A dull boom of cannon-fire shuddered over the town, startling a
pair of egrets into flight, but it seemed to be merely a signal: The muezzins started up their sunset calls. More shops began to close. A wrinkled
gent gave a friendly nod as he ran a chain through the iron loops on his
shops door. Farther along, a shoe-seller picked up a basket filled with
fresh-made babouches, and with the leather odour came a vivid jolt of
memory: an avalanche of bright yellow slippers in a narrow lane/tannery
smell and spice and sea-air/a donkeys bray/men shouting/above it one mans
voice
Then it was gone, and the shoe-seller was staring at me. I gave him an
uncomfortable smile and continued on.
Across the way and down a few steps, a brass-worker was closing his
doors on an Aladdins cave of gleaming metal and Mediaeval tools. His
workshop opened, not directly off the street, but through a shallow arched
entrance that provided supplemental display-space for his wares during
the day.
My mind gave me a nudge. I walked on, bought a glass of orange juice
from a man with one small basket of fruit left him, and drank it as I gazed
back the way I had come, watching the brass-workers retreating figure.
Returning the empty glass, I walked on slowly, taking great care to
recall my path. I lingered in deserted streets, I passed back and forth and
circled about, until the dim lanes were going dark and the darker recesses
were nearly black. I waited until a group of chattering men passed where
I stood, and fell in behind them until we reached the brass-workers
doorway. At the dark arched entrance, I took a step to the side.

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My hands seemed to know, without benefit of sight, how to open a


padlock with the straightened right earpiece of a pair of spectacles and a
hair-pin. Yet another curious skill.
Inside, there were no lingering apprentices, no open courtyards to a
family dwelling. A high window, gathering in the last of the days light,
showed me the room: Banquettes along two of the walls, where customers would drink cups of tea, promised cushion for my aches; two gleaming eyes from a high shelf eyed me warily, but the resident cat stayed
where it was. A patch of blackness beside the faint glow of the brazier
proved to be charcoal, enough to keep me warm all night.
I had not realised how utterly wrung-out I was, until I stood in that
safe place.
I barely made it to the cushions before my legs buckled, and there I
sat, my knees pulled up to my chest, near to weeping with relief and exhaustion. If the soldiers had knocked at the workshop door, I would have
flung myself at their feet.
I sat there a very long time before the trembling stopped.
The high window had gone dark, the cats eyes had vanished. The pain
in my head, arms, and hip that I had kept at bay by movement and fear
had taken over again, and it was an effort to work my hand into an inner
pocket to pull out a piece of bread. I forced myself to eat it, then crawled
over to add charcoal to the fire, lest it go out during the night.
By the flare of light, I examined my hands again, as if the dried blood
might have returned. They were clean. I looked at my right hand, with its
indentation, then at the left. The left hand was where Europeans in general wore a wedding ring; however, for some reason I felt quite certain
that my peopleJewish: Wasnt I Jewish?put the ring on the right
hand. That the narrow dent was from a wedding band. But why was the
skin beneath it not pale? My hands were brown from the sunmuch
browner than the rest of my armsand the colour was no different beneath the ring. Was I married? Had my husband died? Had he cast me
out into the suq, for thievery?
I lowered my head to my knees, trying to think back over the day,
trolling my memory for any kind of clue. I was in a North African city
made up of an un-mappable tangle of tiny by-ways. Some of its buildings
took the breath away with their beauty, their ornate tile-work crisp, their

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G A R M E N T O F S H A D OW S

19

paint and carvings clean. Other houses were rotting shells on the edge of
collapse, dangerous and stinking of decay.
One might almost think my damaged mind had created a town in its
image.
Enough, I decided. I could do no more tonight. I was dimly aware
that one was supposed to keep a concussion victim from sleep, but in
truth, given a choice between staying awake any longer, and simply not
waking up, I would take the risk.
I laid the decorative knife beside me on the cushion and tugged the
hood over my face. As the world faded, again I smelt the faint aroma of
honey.

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5/2/12 12:30 PM

Preorder a copy of
GARMENT OF SHADOWS
in hardcover or eBook!

ABOUT THIS BOOK


From the co-author of the two-million copy mega-bestseller
The Rule of Four comes a riveting thriller with a brilliant
premise based on the 2012 apocalypse phenomenonperfect
for readers of Steve Berry, Preston and Child, and Dan Brown.
For decades, December 21, 2012, has been a touchstone for
doomsayers worldwide. It is the date, they claim, when the
ancient Maya calendar predicts the world will end.
In Los Angeles, two weeks before, all is calm. Dr. Gabriel
Stanton takes his usual morning bike ride, drops off the dog
with his ex-wife, and heads to the lab where he studies
incurable prion diseases for the CDC. His first phone call is
from a hospital resident who has an urgent case she thinks he
needs to see. Meanwhile, Chel Manu, a Guatemalan American
researcher at the Getty Museum, is interrupted by a desperate,
unwelcome visitor from the black market antiquities trade who
thrusts a duffel bag into her hands.
By the end of the day, Stanton, the foremost expert on some of
the rarest infections in the world, is grappling with a patient
whose every symptom confounds and terrifies him. And Chel,
the brightest young star in the field of Maya studies, has
possession of an illegal artifact that has miraculously survived
the centuries intact: a priceless codex from a lost city of her
ancestors. This extraordinary record, written in secret by a royal
scribe, seems to hold the answer to her lifes work and to one of
historys great riddles: why the Maya kingdoms vanished
overnight. Suddenly it seems that our own civilization might
suffer this same fate.
With only days remaining until December 21, 2012, Stanton
and Chel must join forces before time runs out.

12.21
A NOVEL

D U ST IN THO MAS O N
e

THE DIAL PRESS


NEW YORK

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DUSTIN THOMASON

who built the most advanced pre-Columbian civilization in the New


World. They were also Chels friends.
At the pulpit, beneath five golden frames representing the phases of
Jesuss life, stood Maraka, the elderly bearded daykeeper. He waved a
censer back and forth.
Tewichim, he chanted in Quiche, the branch of the Mayan language
spoken by more than a million indgenas in Guatemala. Tewchuninaq
ubantajik qukumatz, ajyol kaslemal.
Blessed is the plumed serpent, giver of life.
Maraka turned to face eastward, then took a long drink of baalch,
the milky-white sacred combination of tree bark, cinnamon, and honey.
When he finished, he motioned to the crowd, and the church filled with
chants again, one of the many ancient traditions that the archbishop let
them practice here once or twice a week, as long as some of the indgenas
continued to attend regular Catholic Mass as well.
Chel made her way down the side of the nave, trying not to draw attention, though at least one man saw her and waved enthusiastically.
Hed asked her out half a dozen times since shed helped him with an
immigration form last month. She had lied and told him she was seeing
someone. At five-foot-two, she might not look like most women in Los
Angeles, but many here thought she was beautiful.
Beside the incense altar, Chel waited for the service to end. She looked
out at the mix of congregants, including more than two dozen white
faces. Until recently, there were only sixty members of Fraternidad. The
group met here on Tuesday mornings to honor the gods and traditions
of their ancestors in a steady stream of immigrants from all over the
Maya region, including Chels own Guatemala.
But then the apocalypse groupies had started to show up. The press
called them 2012ers, and some seemed to believe that attending Maya
ceremonies would exempt them from the end of the world, which they
believed was less than two weeks away. Many other 2012ers didnt
bother to come here at allthey just preached ideas about the end of the
Long Count calendar cycle from their own pulpits. Some argued that
the oceans would flood, earthquakes would rip open fault lines, and the

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magnetic poles would switch. Some claimed it would bring a return to a


more basic existence, banishing the excesses of technology. Still others
believed that it would usher in a fifth age of man and wipe away the
entire fourth race, all the humans who now walked the earth.
Serious Maya experts, including Chel, found the idea of an apocalypse on December 21 ridiculous. It was true that one of her ancestors
signal achievements was a complex calendar system, and 2012ers were
right when they claimed that according to the more than five-thousandyear-old Long Count, human history has consisted of four ages. But there
was no credible reason to believe that the end of the thirteenth cycle of the
Long Count would be different from any other calendar turn. Just a few
months before, archeologists had uncovered a new tomb in Xultun, Guatemala, with wall paintings that again indicated the calendar was meant to
continue long past December 21. Of course, that hadnt stopped 2012ers
from using ancient Maya wisdom to sell T-shirts and conference tickets or
from making Chels people the butt of jokes on late-night TV.
Chel?
She turned to find Maraka behind her. She hadnt even noticed that
the ceremony had ended and people were filing out of their seats.
The daykeeper put a hand on her shoulder. He was almost eighty
now, and his once-black hair had gone entirely white. Welcome, he
said. The office is ready. Of course, wed all love to see you at an actual
service again one of these weeks.
Chel shrugged. Ill try to make it to one soon, I promise. Ive just
been very busy, Daykeeper.
Maraka smiled. Of course you are, Chel. In Lakech.
I am you, and you are me.
Chel bowed her head toward him. It was a tradition that had fallen
into disuse even in Guatemala, but many of the elders still appreciated it,
and it felt like the least she could do given her own dwindling interest in
prayer.
In Lakech, she repeated quietly before begging off to the back of the
church.
Outside the priests office Chel used every week, the Larakams were

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DUSTIN THOMASON

first in line. She had heard that Vicente, the husband, was taken in by a
bottom feeder in the moneylending business who preyed on people like
them: newly arrived, unable to believe that what might be ahead could
be worse than what theyd left behind in Guatemala. Chel wondered if
his wife, Ina, who impressed her as an intelligent woman, had known
better. Ina wore a floor-length skirt and a cotton huipil with intricate zigzag patterns. She still dressed in the traditional way, and the traditional
role of wife in their culture would be to support her husband no matter
how bad his judgment.
Thank you for seeing us, she said quietly.
Vicente slowly explained that he had signed a contract at exorbitant
interest in order to rent a one-room apartment in Echo Park, and now he
had to pay out more than he earned working as a landscaper. He had the
haggard look of someone with the weight of the world on him. Ina stood
quietly by his side, but her eyes implored Chel. An unspoken message
passed between the two women, and now Chel understood what it had
cost Vicente to come to her and ask for help.
Silently, he gave Chel the papers hed signed, and as she read the fine
print she felt the familiar anger blooming inside her. Vicente and Ina
were only two in a vast sea of immigrants from Guatemala trying to
navigate this overwhelming new country, and there were many willing
to take advantage. Still, on the whole, it was the Maya way to be too
trusting. Five hundred years of oppression hadnt managed to instill
even survival-level cynicism in most of Chels people, and it cost them.
Fortunately for the Larakams, her contacts were extensive, particularly in the areas of legal aid. She wrote down the name of a lawyer and
was about to call in the next person when Ina reached into her bag and
handed Chel a plastic container.
Pepian, she said. My daughter and I made it for you.
Chels freezer was already full of the sweet-tasting chicken dish she
was always gifted by Fraternidad members, but she took it anyway. It
made her happy to think about Ina and her young daughter cooking it
together and to know that this community had a future in L.A. Chels
own mother, whod grown up in a small village in Guatemala, was prob-

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23

ably spending the morning in communion with Good Morning America


over a bowl of Special K.
Let me know what happens, Chel said as she handed Vicente back
their papers, and next time dont get involved with anyone whose face
you see on bus-stop benches. That doesnt make them famous. Not good
famous, anyway. Come to me instead.
Vicente took his wifes hand and smiled tightly as they departed.
So it went for the next hour. Chel explained a vaccination program to
a pregnant woman, weighed in on a credit-card dispute for the junior
daykeeper, and dealt with a landlord complaint against an old friend of
her mothers.
Once her last visitor left, Chel leaned back in her chair and closed her
eyes, thinking about a ceramic vase shed been working on at the Getty,
the inside of which contained some of the first physical residues of ancient tobacco ever discovered. No wonder it was proving so damn hard
for her to quit smoking. People had been doing it for millennia.
A persistent knocking pulled her back to reality.
Chel stood up, surprised by the man she saw standing in the doorway.
She hadnt seen him in over a year, and he belonged to such a different
world from the indgenas who worshipped at Fraternidad services that it
startled her to see him.
What are you doing here? she asked as Hector Gutierrez stepped
inside.
I need to talk to you.
The few times shed met him, Gutierrez had seemed reasonably well
put together. Now there were shadows under his eyes and a tired pinch
in his stare. His head was covered with sweat, and he dabbed anxiously
at it with a handkerchief. Chel had never seen him unshaven before. His
beard crept up toward the port-wine stain beneath his left temple. In his
hand, she noticed, was a black duffel bag.
How did you know I was here?
I called your office.
Chel reminded herself to make sure no one in her lab ever gave out
that information again.

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DUSTIN THOMASON

I have something you need to see, he continued.


She glanced down at the duffel bag, wary. You shouldnt be here.
I need your help. They found the old storage unit where I kept my
inventory.
Chel looked to the doorway to make sure no one was listening. They
could mean only one thing: Hed been busted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for policing illegal antiquities
smuggling.
Id already emptied the unit, Gutierrez said. But they raided it. Its
only a matter of time before they come to my house.
Chels throat tightened as she thought of the turtle-shell vessel shed
bought from him more than a year ago. And your records? Did they get
those too?
Dont worry. Youre protected for now. But theres something I need
you to keep for me, Dr. Manu. Just till its safe.
He held out the bag.
Chel looked at the door again and said, You know I cant do that.
You have vaults at the Getty. Put it there for a few days. No one will
notice.
Chel knew she should just tell him to get rid of whatever the hell it
was. She also knew that whatever was in that bag had to be of great
value or he wouldnt risk bringing it to her. Gutierrez was not a man to
be trusted, but he was a nimble purveyor of antiquities, and he knew her
weakness for the artifacts of her people.
Chel quickly ushered him out. Come with me.
A few stray worshippers glanced at them as she led him down to the
churchs lower level. They pushed through the glass doors engraved
with angels at the entrance and into the mausoleum, where niches
in the walls contained the ashes of thousands of the citys Catholics.
Chel chose one of the sitting rooms, where stone benches lined gleaming white walls engraved with names and dates, a tidy bibliography of
death.
Finally Chel sealed them inside. Show me.
From inside his bag, Gutierrez pulled a one-foot-square wooden box

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25

wrapped in a sheath of plastic. When he began to unwrap it, the room


filled with the sharp, unmistakable odor of bat guanothe smell of
something that recently came from an ancient tomb. It needs proper
preservation before it deteriorates any more, Gutierrez said as he removed the cover of the box.
At first, Chel assumed she was staring at some kind of paper packing
material, but then she leaned in and realized the paper was actually broken yellowed bark pages, floating loosely inside the box. The pages were
covered with writingwords and even entire sentences in the language
of her ancestors. The ancient Maya script used hieroglyphic-like symbols called glyphs, and here were hundreds of them inscribed on the
fragments, along with detailed pictures of gods in ornate costumes.
A codex? Chel said. Come on. Dont be absurd.
Maya codices were the written histories of her ancestors, painted by
a royal scribe working for a king. Chel had heard people use the word
rare to describe blue diamonds or Gutenberg Bibles, but this was what
rare really meant: Only four ancient Maya books had survived into
modernity. So how could Gutierrez think for a minute she would believe
he had come into possession of a new one?
There hasnt been a new codex discovered in thirty years, Chel told
him.
The man peeled off his jacket. Until now.
She stared into the small box once more. As a graduate student, Chel
had had the rare opportunity to see an original codex, so she knew exactly what it was supposed to look and feel like. Deep in a vault in Germany, armed guards had watched her as she turned the pages of the
Dresden Codex, its images and words transporting her back a thousand
years in a breathtaking flash. It was the defining experience that had
inspired her to focus her graduate studies on the language and writing
of her ancestors.
Obviously its a fake, she told him, resisting the urge to keep looking. These days, more than half of the artifacts she was offered by even
the most legitimate dealers were forged. The bat-guano smell was even
forgeable. And, for the record, when you sold me that turtle-shell vessel,

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DUSTIN THOMASON

I didnt know it was looted. You misled me with the paperwork. So dont
try to tell the police otherwise.
The truth was more complex. In her work as the curator of Maya antiquities for the Getty Museum, every item Chel purchased had to be officially documented and traced back to its origin. All of which shed done
properly for the turtle-shell vessel Gutierrez had sold her, but, unfortunately, weeks after the purchase, shed found a problem in the chain of
possession. Chel knew the risks of not revealing her discovery to the museum but couldnt bring herself to part with the incredible piece of history, so shed kept it and said nothing. To her, the larger scandal was that
her peoples whole heritage was for sale on the black market, and any
artifacts she didnt buy disappeared into the homes of collectors forever.
Please, Gutierrez said, ignoring her claim about the pottery hed
sold her. Just keep it for me for a few days.
Chel decided to settle this. She reached into her purse and pulled out
a pair of white cotton gloves and tweezers.
What are you doing? he asked.
Finding something thatll prove to you that this thing was forged.
The plastic covering was still damp from his palms, and Chel tensed
at the feeling of his sweat. Gutierrez pinched the bridge of his nose, rubbing two fingers deep into his eyes. Above the bat guano she could smell
his body odor. But when Chels fingers dipped inside the box and started
handling the chipped pages of tree bark, everything else in the room fell
away. Her first thought was that the glyphs were too old. Ancient Maya
history was divided into two periods: the classic, encompassing the
rise and efflorescence of the civilization, from around a.d. 200 to 900;
and the post-classic, spanning its decline until the arrival of the Spanish around 1500. The style and content of written Mayan language had
evolved over time as a result of external influences, and writing from
each period looked distinct.
Chel continued searching the box. There had never been so much as
a single piece of bark paper with writing discovered from the classic; all
four of the known Maya codices were from hundreds of years later. They
only knew what classic writing looked like from inscriptions at the ruins.

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But the language on these pages appeared to Chel to have been written
somewhere between the time of a.d 800 to 900, making the book an
utter impossibility: If it were real, it would be the most valuable artifact
in the history of Mesoamerican studies.
Her eyes scanned the lines, searching for a mistakea glyph improperly drawn, a picture of a god without the right headdress, a date out of
sequence. She couldnt find any. The black and red ink was correctly
faded. The blue ink held its color, just as real Maya blue did. The paper
was weathered as if it had been inside a cave for a thousand years. The
bark was brittle.
Even more impressive, the writing felt fluent. The glyph combinations made intuitive sense, as did the pictograms. The glyphs appeared to
have been written in an early version of classic Cholan, as expected in
a codex like this. But what Chel couldnt take her eyes off of were the
phonetic complements on the glyphs that helped a reader identify
their meaning. They were written in Quiche.
The known post-classic codices with their Mexican influences were
written in Yucatec and Cholan Mayan. But Chel had long imagined that
a classic book from Guatemala might well have been written with complements in the dialect her mother and father had grown up speaking.
The presence of those here represented a deep and nuanced understanding of the history and language on the part of the forger.
Chel couldnt believe the sophistication, and she suspected that many
of even her smartest colleagues would have been fooled.
Then a sequence of glyphs stopped her cold.
On one of the largest bark-paper pieces Chel had seen in the box,
three pictograms were written in sequence to form a sentence fragment:
Water, made to shoot from stone.

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DUSTIN THOMASON

Chel blinked, confused. The writer could only be describing a fountain. Yet no forger in the world could have written about a fountain, because until recently no scholar knew the classic Maya used them in their
cities. It had been less than a month since an archaeologist from Penn
State figured out that, contrary to popular belief, the Spanish hadnt introduced pressurized aqueducts to the New World; the Maya built them
centuries before Europeans arrived.
A codex like this could never have been forged in less than a month.
So it couldnt have been forged at all.
Chel looked up at Gutierrez in disbelief. Where did you get this?
You know I cant tell you that.
The obvious answer was that it had been looted from a tomb in the
Maya ruins, stolen like so much else from her ancestors graves.
Who else knows about it? Chel pressed.
Only my source, Gutierrez said. But now you understand its
value?
If she was right, there could be more information about Maya history
on these pages than in all the known ruins combined. The Dresden
Codex, the most complete of the four ancient Maya books, would fetch
ten million dollars at auctionand the pages in front of her would put
the Dresden to shame.
Are you going to sell it? she asked Gutierrez.
When the time is right.
Even if shed had the kind of money he would demand, the time
would probably never be right for Chel. She couldnt buy it legally, because it had obviously been stolen, and the work it would take to properly reconstruct and decipher a codex would make it impossible to hide
for long. If a looted codex were ever discovered in her possession, shed
lose her job and could face criminal charges.
Why should I hold it for you? Chel asked.
Gutierrez said, To give me time to figure out how to make papers so
it can be sold to an American museumI hope yours. And because if
ICE finds this now, neither of us will ever see it again.
Chel knew he was right about ICE: If they confiscated the book,

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29

theyd repatriate it to the Guatemalan government, which didnt have


the expertise or infrastructure to properly display and study a codex. The
Grolier Fragment, found in Mexico, had been rotting in a vault there
since the eighties.
Gutierrez packed the book back in its box. Chel already felt impatient
to touch it again. The bark paper was disintegrating and needed preservation. More than that, the world needed to know what these pages said,
because they testified to the history of her people. And the history of her
people was disappearing.

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and never complained about it, and then one day you just got on the
wrong plane.
Dr. Stanton?
The first thing he noticed about the tall black woman in scrubs standing behind him was how broad her shoulders were. She was in her early
thirties, with cropped hair and thick black-rimmed glasses, giving her a
kind of rugby-player-turned-hipster look.
Im Michaela Thane.
Gabriel Stanton, he said, shaking her hand.
Thane glanced up at the television. Terrible, huh?
Do they know what happened?
Theyre saying human error, she said, leading him out of the ER.
Or as we say hereCTFL. Call the fucking lawyers.
Speaking of which, I assume you called County Health? Stanton
asked her as they headed toward the elevators.
Thane repeatedly pressed an elevator button that refused to light up.
They promised to send someone.
Dont hold your breath.
She mimed taking a huge gasp of air in as they waited. Stanton
smiled. She was his type of resident.
Finally the car arrived. Thane hit the button for six. When her scrub
sleeve pulled back, Stanton saw a bald eagle with a scroll between the
birds wings tattooed on her triceps.
Youre Army? he asked her.
Five Hundred Sixty-fifth Medical Company, at your service.
Out of Fort Polk?
Yeah, Thane said. You know the battalion?
My father was Forty-sixth Engineers. We lived at Fort Polk for three
years. You served before residency?
Did ROTC for med school and they pulled me over there after internship, she said. Two tours near Kabul doing helicopter retrievals. I was
O-Three by the end.
Stanton was impressed. Airlifting soldiers from the front lines was
about the most dangerous army medical assignment there was.

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DUSTIN THOMASON

How many cases of FFI have you seen before? Thane asked. The
elevator finally started to ascend.
Seven, Stanton told her.
All of them died?
Yes. All of them. Has genetics come back yet?
Should be soon. But I did manage to find out how the patient got
here. LAPD arrested him at a Super 8 motel a few blocks away, after he
assaulted some other guests. Cops brought him here when they realized
he was sick.
After a week of insomnia, were lucky he didnt do a lot worse.
Even following the loss of a single night of sleep, deterioration of cognitive function was like a blood-alcohol level of 0.1 and could cause hallucinations, delirium, and wild mood swings. After weeks of progressively
worse insomnia, FFI drove its victims to suicidal thinking. But most of
the victims Stanton had seen simply succumbed from the devastation
insomnia wreaked on their bodies.
Dr. Thane, was it you who came up with the idea of testing the amylase levels? They had arrived on the sixth floor.
Yeah. Why?
Putting FFI on the differential diagnosis list isnt something most
residents wouldve considered.
Thane shrugged. Saw a homeless guy in the ER this morning whod
eaten eight bags of banana chips to make his potassium so high that
wed have to admit him. Spend a little more time in East L.A. Youll see
we have to consider just about everything.
Stanton noticed that every staff member smiled or nodded or waved
at Thane as they approached the nerve center of the floor. The reception
area looked as if it hadnt been updated in decades, complete with ancient computers. Nurses and interns scribbled notes in fading plastic
binders. Orderlies finished their rounds, clearing scratched trays from
patients rooms.
A security guard was posted outside room 621. He was middle-aged,
with dark skin and a crew cut, and wore a pink mask over his face.
Everything all right in there? Thane asked.

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Hes not moving too much right now, the guard said, closing his
book of crossword puzzles. Couple of short outbursts, but for the most
part pretty quiet.
This is Mariano, Thane said. Mariano, this is Dr. Stanton. Hell be
working the John Doe with us.
Marianos dark-brown eyes, the only part of his face visible above the
mask, were trained on Stanton. Hes been flailing around for most of
the past three days. Gets pretty loud in there. Hes still saying vooge vooge
vooge over and over.
Saying what? Stanton asked.
Sounds like vooge to me. Hell if I know what it means.
I typed it in on Google and got nothing that made sense in any language, Thane said.
Mariano pulled the strings of his mask firmly behind his ears. Hey,
Doc, if youre the expert, can I ask you a question about this?
Stanton glanced at Thane. Of course.
What this guy has, the guard said. Its not contagious, is it?
No, dont worry, Stanton said, following Thane into the room.
Hes got like six kids, I think, Thane whispered once they were out
of earshot. Hes always talking about how he doesnt want to pass on
anything from here. Ive never seen him without a mask.
Stanton pulled a fresh mask from a dispenser on the wall and fastened it to his face. We should be following his lead, he said, handing
another mask to Thane. Insomnia compromises the immune system, so
we have to avoid infecting John Doe with a cold or anything else he wont
be able to fight off. Everyone needs masks and gloves when they go in.
Post a sign on the door.
Stanton had seen worse patient rooms, but not in the United States.
Room 621 contained two metal beds, cracked night tables, two orange
chairs, and curtains with worn edges. Dispensers of Purell clung loosely
to the wall, and there was water damage on the ceiling. Lying in the bed
closest to the window was their John Doe: about five-foot-six, thin, with
dark skin and long black hair that draped over his shoulders. His head
was covered with tiny stickers, from which wires extended toward an

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DUSTIN THOMASON

EEG machine, measuring brain waves. The patients gown clung to him
like damp tissue paper, and he was groaning softly.
The doctors watched the patient tossing and turning. Stanton noted
John Does eye movements, the strange, staccato breathing, and the involuntary tremor in his hands. In Austria, Stanton had treated a woman
with FFI whod had to be chained to her bed because her tremor was so
bad. By that time, her children were overcome by grief and helplessness
and by the knowledge they might someday die the same way. It had been
hard to watch.
Thane bent down to flip the pillow beneath John Does head. How
long can you live without sleeping? she asked.
Twenty days max of total insomnia, Stanton said.
Even most doctors knew virtually nothing about sleep. Medical
schools spent less than one day out of four years on it, and Stanton himself had learned what he knew only through his FFI cases. Part of it was
that no one knew why humans needed sleep in the first place: Its function and importance were as mysterious as the existence of prions. Some
experts believed sleep recharged the brain, assisted in the healing of
wounds, and aided in metabolism. Some suggested it protected animals
against the dangers of night or that sleep was an energy-conservation
technique. But no one had ever been able to explain why not sleeping
killed Stantons FFI patients.
Suddenly John Does bloodshot eyes went wide. Vooge, vooge, vooge!
he moaned, more loudly than before.
At the monitor, Stanton studied the patients brain activity like a musician looking at sheet music hed played a thousand times. The four
stages of normal sleep ran in ninety-minute cycles, each with characteristic patterns, and, as expected, there was no evidence of any of them.
No stage-one or -two slow-wave sleep, no REM, nothing. The machine
confirmed what Stanton already knew from instinct and experience:
This was no meth addiction.
Vooge, vooge, vooge!
So what do you think? asked Thane.

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Stanton met her eyes. This could be the first case of FFI in U.S. history.
Though shed been proven right, Thane didnt look satisfied. Hes
going to the hundredth floor, isnt he?
Probably.
Theres nothing we can do for him?
It was the question Stanton had been asking for a decade. Before prions were discovered, scientists believed that food-borne diseases came
from bacteria, viruses, or fungi and replicated themselves with DNA or
RNA. Yet prions had neither: They were made of pure protein and they
replicated by causing other nearby proteins to mutate their shape as
well. All of which meant that none of the conventional cures for bacteria or viruses worked on prions. Not antibiotics or antivirals or anything
else.
I read about pentosan and quinacrine, Thane said. What about
those?
Quinacrine is toxic to the liver, Stanton explained. And we cant
get pentosan into the brain without doing even more damage. There
were some highly experimental treatments, he told her, but none that
were ready for human testing and none that were FDA approved.
But there were ways they could make John Doe more comfortable
before the inevitable happened. Where are the temperature controls?
Stanton asked.
Theyre all central, down in the basement, Thane said.
He scanned the wall, started pulling back curtains and moving furniture. Call down there and tell them to turn up the air-conditioning on
this floor. We need to get the temperature in this room down as low as
itll go.
Youll freeze every other patient on the floor.
Thats what blankets are for. Lets get fresh sheets and gowns for
him too. Hell keep sweating through them, so tell the nurses we need
new ones every hour.
Thane hurried out, and Stanton flipped off all the lights and shut the

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36

DUSTIN THOMASON

door. He pulled the curtain over the window, preventing any outside
light from spilling in, then picked up a towel and tossed it over the EEG
monitor, extinguishing its light.
The thalamusa tiny collection of neurons in the midsection of the
brainwas the bodys sleep shield. When it was time for sleep, it shut
off waking signals from the outside world, like noise and light. In every
FFI patient hed treated, Stanton had seen the horrific effects of destroying this part of the brain. Nothing could be shut off or even tamped
down, making victims painfully sensitive to light and sound. So while
working with Clara, his Austrian patient, Stanton learned to relieve her
distress in a small way by turning her room into a kind of cave.
He gently put a hand on John Does shoulder. Habla espaol?
Tinimit vooge. Tinimit vooge.
There would be no getting through to him without a translator, so
Stanton began his physical exam. John Does pulse was bounding, his
nervous system firing on all cylinders. His breathing was coarse through
his mouth, his bowels had ground digestion to a halt, and his tongue
was swollen. All further confirmation of FFI.
Thane reappeared, fastening a new mask over her mouth and nose.
In her gloved hand she held a printout in Stantons direction. Genetics
just came back.
Theyd extracted DNA from John Does blood and mapped out chromosome 20, where the FFI mutation always occurred. This should be
the final proof.
When Stanton scanned the results, he saw a normal DNA sequence
staring back at him. There mustve been a mistake in the lab, he said,
glancing at Thane. He could only imagine what the lab in this place
looked like and how frequently there were mix-ups. Tell them to run it
again.
Why?
He handed it back to her. Because theres no mutation here.
They ran it twice. They knew how important it was, Thane said as
she studied the results. I know the geneticist, and she doesnt screw
things up.

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Was it possible Stanton had misjudged the clinical signs? How was
there no mutation? In every case of FFI he had seen, a DNA mutation
caused prions in the thalamus to transform and then cause symptoms.
Could it be something other than FFI? asked Thane.
John Doe opened his eyes again, and Stanton caught a glimpse of the
pinprick pupils. Thered been no doubt in his mind that this was a case of
FFI. All the signs were there. Progressing faster than usual, but there.
Vooge, vooge, vooge! the man yelled again.
We have to find a way to communicate with him, Stanton said.
Weve got a team from the translator service coming in that can
identify almost every American language, Central and South, said
Thane. When we know what hes speaking, well bring in someone fluent.
Get them in here now.
Thane said, If he doesnt have the genetic mutation, he cant have
FFI, right?
Stanton glanced up at her, his mind racing with new possibilities.
Right.
So its not prion disease?
It is. But if theres no mutation, he must have gotten it another
way.
What other way?
For decades, doctors knew of a rare genetic prion affliction called
CJDCreutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Then, suddenly, dozens of people whod
all eaten from the same meat supply in Britain came down with symptoms identical to CJD, giving mad cow its proper namevariant CJD. The
only difference was that one came from a genetic mutation and the other
from contaminated meat. And that one destroyed entire economies and
food-supply standards forever. It stood to reason that something similar
was happening here with FFI.
He must have eaten tainted meat, Stanton said.
John Doe thrashed around, rattling the handrails. Stanton had so
many questions: What was the patient saying? Where had he come
from? What work did he do?

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Jesus, Thane said. You mean a new prion strain that mimics the
symptoms of FFI? How do you know its from meat?
Vooge, vooge, vooge . . .
Because its the only other way to get prion disease.
And if Stanton was rightif this new cousin of FFI was being carried through meatthey had to trace it back to wherever it came from
and figure out how it got into the food supply. Most of all, they had to
make sure there werent other people out there who were already sick.
John Doe was full-on yelling now. Vooge, vooge, vooge!
What do we do? Thane called out over him.
Stanton pulled out his phone and dialed a number in Atlanta known
to fewer than fifty people in the world. The operator picked up on the first
ring. Centers for Disease Control. This is the secure emergency line.

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Order a copy of
12.21
in hardcover or ebook

ABOUT THIS BOOK


Now a major motion picture
Six shots. Five dead. One heartland city thrown into a state of
terror. But within hours the cops have it solved: a slam-dunk
case. Except for one thing. The accused man says: You got the
wrong guy. Then he says: Get Reacher for me.
And sure enough, exmilitary investigator Jack Reacher is
coming. He knows this shootera trained military sniper who
never should have missed a shot. Reacher is certain something
is not rightand soon the slam-dunk case explodes.
Now Reacher is teamed with a beautiful young defense lawyer,
moving closer to the unseen enemy who is pulling the strings.
Reacher knows that no two opponents are created equal. This
one has come to the heartland from his own kind of hell. And
Reacher knows that the only way to take him down is to match
his ruthlessness and cunningand then beat him shot for shot.

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A REACHER NOVEL

ONE SHOT

LEE CHILD
A

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Sale of this book without a front cover may be unauthorized.


If this book is coverless, it may have been reported to the publisher
as unsold or destroyed and neither the author nor the publisher
may have received payment for it.

One Shot is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,


and incidents either are the product of the authors imagination
or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

2009 Dell Mass Market Edition


Copyright 2005 by Lee Child
Excerpt from Gone Tomorrow copyright 2009 by Lee Child
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Dell, an imprint of The Random House
Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
DELL is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.,
and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Delacorte Press,
an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group,
a division of Random House, Inc., in 2005.
ISBN 978-0-440-24607-7
Cover design: Carlos Beltran
Cover illustration: Tom Hallman
Printed in the United States of America
www.bantamdell.com
246897531

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Friday. Five oclock in the afternoon. Maybe the hardest time to move unobserved through a city. Or maybe
the easiest. Because at five oclock on a Friday nobody
pays attention to anything. Except the road ahead.
The man with the rifle drove north. Not fast, not
slow. Not drawing attention. Not standing out. He was
in a light-colored minivan that had seen better days.
He was alone behind the wheel. He was wearing a
light-colored raincoat and the kind of shapeless lightcolored beanie hat that old guys wear on the golf
course when the sun is out or the rain is falling. The
hat had a two-tone red band all around it. It was pulled
down low. The coat was buttoned up high. The man
was wearing sunglasses, even though the van had dark
windows and the sky was cloudy. And he was wearing
gloves, even though winter was three months away and
the weather wasnt cold.

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Traffic slowed to a crawl where First Street started


up a hill. Then it stopped completely where two lanes
became one because the blacktop was torn up for construction. There was construction all over town. Driving
had been a nightmare for a year. Holes in the road,
gravel trucks, concrete trucks, blacktop spreaders. The
man with the rifle lifted his hand off the wheel. Pulled
back his cuff. Checked his watch.
Eleven minutes.
Be patient.
He took his foot off the brake and crawled ahead.
Then he stopped again where the roadway narrowed
and the sidewalks widened where the downtown shopping district started. There were big stores to the left
and the right, each one set a little higher than the last,
because of the hill. The wide sidewalks gave plenty of
space for shoppers to stroll. There were cast-iron
flagpoles and cast-iron lamp posts all lined up like sentries between the people and the cars. The people had
more space than the cars. Traffic was very slow. He
checked his watch again.
Eight minutes.
Be patient.
A hundred yards later the prosperity faded a little.
The congestion eased. First Street opened out and became slightly shabby again. There were bars and dollar
stores. Then a parking garage on the left. Then yet
more construction where the parking garage was being
extended. Then, farther ahead, the street was blocked
by a low wall. Behind it was a windy pedestrian plaza
with an ornamental pool and a fountain. On the plazas
left, the old city library. On its right, a new office building. Behind it, a black glass tower. First Street turned
an abrupt right angle in front of the plazas boundary

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wall and ran away west, past untidy rear entrances and
loading docks and then on under the raised state highway.
But the man in the minivan slowed before he hit
the turn in front of the plaza and made a left and entered the parking garage. He drove straight up the
ramp. There was no barrier, because each slot had its
own parking meter. Therefore there was no cashier, no
witness, no ticket, no paper trail. The man in the minivan knew all that. He wound around the ramps to the
second level and headed for the far back corner of the
structure. Left the van idling in the aisle for a moment
and slipped out of the seat and moved an orange traffic
cone from the slot he wanted. It was the last one in the
old part of the building, right next to where the new
part was being added on.
He drove the van into the slot and shut it down.
Sat still for a moment. The garage was quiet. It was
completely full with silent cars. The slot he had protected with the traffic cone had been the last one
available. The garage was always packed. He knew
that. That was why they were extending it. They were
doubling its size. It was used by shoppers. That was
why it was quiet. Nobody in their right mind would try
to leave at five oclock. Not into the rush hour traffic.
Not with the construction delays. Either they would
get out by four or wait until six.
The man in the minivan checked his watch.
Four minutes.
Easy.
He opened the drivers door and slid out. Took a
quarter from his pocket and put it in the meter.
Twisted the handle hard and heard the coin fall and
saw the clockwork give him an hour in exchange.

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There was no other sound. Nothing in the air except


the smell of parked automobiles. Gasoline, rubber,
cold exhaust.
He stood still next to the van. On his feet he had a
pair of old desert boots. Khaki suede, single eyelets,
white crepe soles, made by Clarks of England, much
favored by Special Forces soldiers. An iconic design,
unchanged in maybe sixty years.
He glanced back at the parking meter. Fifty-nine
minutes. He wouldnt need fifty-nine minutes. He
opened the minivans sliding rear door and leaned inside and unfolded a blanket and revealed the rifle. It
was a Springfield M1A Super Match autoloader,
American walnut stock, heavy premium barrel, tenshot box magazine, chambered for the .308. It was the
exact commercial equivalent of the M-14 self-loading
sniper rifle that the American military had used during
his long-ago years in the service. It was a fine weapon.
Maybe not quite as accurate with the first cold shot as
a top-of-the-line bolt gun, but it would do. It would do
just fine. He wasnt going to be looking at extraordinary
distances. It was loaded with Lake City M852s. His
favorite custom cartridges. Special Lake City Match
brass, Federal powder, Sierra Matchking 168-grain
hollow point boat tail bullets. The load was better than
the gun, probably. A slight mismatch.
He listened to the silence and lifted the rifle off
the rear bench. Carried it away with him to where the
old part of the garage finished and the new part began.
There was a half-inch trench between the old concrete
and the new. Like a demarcation line. He guessed it
was an expansion joint. For the summer heat. He
guessed they were going to fill it with soft tar. Directly
above it there was yellow-and-black Caution Do Not

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Enter tape strung between two pillars. He dropped to


one knee and slid under it. Stood up again and walked
on into the raw new construction.
Parts of the new concrete floor were troweled
smooth and parts were rough, still waiting for a final
surface. There were wooden planks laid here and there
as walkways. There were haphazard piles of paper cement sacks, some full, some empty. There were more
open expansion joints. There were strings of bare lightbulbs, turned off. Empty wheelbarrows, crushed soda
cans, spools of cable, unexplained lengths of lumber,
piles of crushed stone, silent concrete mixers. There
was gray cement dust everywhere, as fine as talc, and
the smell of damp lime.
The man with the rifle walked on in the darkness
until he came close to the new northeast corner. Then
he stopped and put his back tight against a raw concrete pillar and stood still. Inched to his right with his
head turned until he could see where he was. He was
about eight feet from the garages new perimeter wall.
Looking due north. The wall was about waist-high. It
was unfinished. It had bolts cast into it to take lengths
of metal barrier to stop cars hitting the concrete.
There were receptacles cast into the floor to take the
new parking meter posts.
The man with the rifle inched forward and turned
a little until he felt the corner of the pillar between his
shoulder blades. He turned his head again. Now he
was looking north and east. Directly into the public
plaza. The ornamental pool was a long narrow rectangle running away from him. It was maybe eighty feet
by twenty. It was like a large tank of water, just sitting
there. Like a big aboveground lap pool. It was bounded
by four waist-high brick walls. The water lapped

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against their inner faces. His line of sight ran on an


exact diagonal from its near front corner to its far back
corner. The water looked to be about three feet deep.
The fountain splashed right in the center of the pool.
He could hear it, and he could hear slow traffic on the
street, and the shuffle of feet below him. The front
wall of the pool was about three feet behind the wall
that separated the plaza from First Street. The two low
walls ran close together and parallel for twenty feet,
east to west, with just the width of a narrow walkway
between them.
He was on the garages second floor, but the way
First Street ran uphill meant the plaza was much less
than one story below him. There was a definite downward angle, but it was shallow. On the right of the
plaza he could see the new office buildings door. It
was a shabby place. It had been built and it hadnt
been rented. He knew that. So to preserve some kind
of credibility for the new downtown, the state had
filled it with government offices. The Department of
Motor Vehicles was in there, and a joint ArmyNavy
Air ForceMarine Corps recruiting office. Maybe
Social Security was in there. Maybe the Internal
Revenue Service. The man with the rifle wasnt really
sure. And he didnt really care.
He dropped to his knees and then to his stomach.
The low crawl was a snipers principal mode of movement. In his years in the service he had low-crawled a
million miles. Knees and elbows and belly. Standard
tactical doctrine was for the sniper and his spotter to
detach from the company a thousand yards out and
crawl into position. In training he had sometimes
taken many hours to do it, to avoid the observers
binoculars. But this time he had only eight feet to

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cover. And as far as he knew there were no binoculars


on him.
He reached the base of the wall and lay flat on the
ground, pressed up tight against the raw concrete.
Then he squirmed up into a sitting position. Then he
knelt. He folded his right leg tight underneath him.
He planted his left foot flat and his left shin vertical.
He propped his left elbow on his left knee. Raised the
rifle. Rested the end of the forestock on the top of the
low concrete wall. Sawed it gently back and forth until
it felt good and solid. Supported kneeling, the training
manual called it. It was a good position. Second only
to lying prone with a bipod, in his experience. He
breathed in, breathed out. One shot, one kill. That was
the snipers credo. To succeed required control and
stillness and calm. He breathed in, breathed out. Felt
himself relax. Felt himself come home.
Ready.
Infiltration successful.
Now wait until the time is right.
He waited about seven minutes, keeping still, breathing low, clearing his mind. He looked at the library on
his left. Above it and behind it the raised highway
curled in on stilts, like it was embracing the big old
limestone building, cradling it, protecting it from
harm. Then the highway straightened a little and
passed behind the black glass tower. It was about level
with the fourth story back there. The tower itself had
the NBC peacock on a monolith near its main entrance, but the man with the rifle was sure that a small
network affiliate didnt occupy the whole building.
Probably not more than a single floor. The rest of the

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space was probably one-man law firms or CPAs or real


estate offices or insurance brokers or investment managers. Or empty.
People were coming out of the new building on
the right. People who had been getting new licenses or
turning in old plates or joining the army or hassling
with federal bureaucracy. There were a lot of people.
The government offices were closing. Five oclock on a
Friday. The people came out the doors and walked
right-to-left directly in front of him, funneling into single file as they entered the narrow space and passed
the short end of the ornamental pool between the two
low walls. Like ducks in a shooting gallery. One after
the other. A target-rich environment. The range was
about a hundred feet. Approximately. Certainly less
than thirty-five yards. Very close.
He waited.
Some of the people trailed their fingers in the
water as they walked. The walls were just the right
height for that. The man with the rifle could see bright
copper pennies on the black tile under the water. They
swam and rippled where the fountain disturbed the
surface.
He watched. He waited.
The stream of people thickened up. Now there
were so many of them coming all at once that they had
to pause and group and shuffle and wait to get into single file to pass between the two low walls. Just like the
traffic had snarled at the bottom of First Street. A bottleneck. After you. No, after you. It made the people
slow. Now they were slow ducks in a shooting gallery.
The man with the rifle breathed in, and breathed
out, and waited.
Then he stopped waiting.

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He pulled the trigger, and kept on pulling.


His first shot hit a man in the head and killed him
instantly. The gunshot was loud and there was a supersonic crack from the bullet and a puff of pink mist
from the head and the guy went straight down like a
puppet with the strings cut.
A kill with the first cold shot.
Excellent.
He worked fast, left to right. The second shot hit
the next man in the head. Same result as the first, exactly. The third shot hit a woman in the head. Same result. Three shots in maybe two seconds. Three targets
down. Absolute surprise. No reaction for a split second. Then chaos broke out. Pandemonium. Panic.
There were twelve people caught in the narrow space
between the plaza wall and the pool wall. Three were
already down. The remaining nine ran. Four ran forward and five spun away from the corpses and ran
back. Those five collided with the press of people still
moving their way. There were sudden loud screams.
There was a solid stalled mass of panicked humanity,
right in front of the man with the rifle. Range, less
than thirty-five yards. Very close.
His fourth head shot killed a man in a suit. His
fifth missed completely. The Sierra Matchking passed
close to a womans shoulder and hissed straight into
the ornamental pool and disappeared. He ignored it
and moved the Springfields muzzle a fraction, and his
sixth shot caught a guy on the bridge of his nose and
blew his head apart.
The man with the rifle stopped firing.
He ducked low behind the garage wall and
crawled backward three feet. He could smell burnt
powder and over the ringing in his ears he could hear

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women screaming and feet pounding and the crunch


of panicked fender benders on the street below. Dont
worry, little people, he thought. Its over now. Im out of
here. He lay on his stomach and swept his spent shell
cases into a pile. The bright Lake City brass shone
right there in front of him. He scooped five of them
into his gloved hands but the sixth rolled away and fell
into an unfinished expansion joint. Just dropped right
down into the tiny nine-inch-deep, half-inch-wide
trench. He heard a quiet metallic sound as it hit bottom.
Decision?
Leave it, surely.
No time.
He jammed the five cases he had in his raincoat
pocket and crawled backward on his toes and his forearms and his belly. He lay still for a moment and listened to the screaming. Then he came to his knees
and stood up. Turned around and walked back the same
way he had come, fast but in control, over the rough
concrete, along the walkway planks, through the dark
and the dust, under the yellow-and-black tape. Back to
his minivan.
The rear door was still open. He rewrapped the
warm rifle in its blanket and slid the door shut on it.
Got in the front and started the engine. Glanced
through the windshield at the parking meter. He had
forty-four minutes left on it. He backed out and
headed for the exit ramp. Drove down it and out the
unmanned exit and made a right and a left into the
tangle of streets behind the department stores. He had
passed under the raised highway before he heard the
first sirens. He breathed out. The sirens were heading
east, and he was heading west.
Good work, he thought. Covert infiltration, six

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shots fired, five targets down, successful exfiltration, as


cool as the other side of the pillow.
Then he smiled suddenly. Long-term military
records show that a modern army scores one enemy fatality for every fifteen thousand combat rounds expended by its infantry. But for its specialist snipers, the
result is better. Way better. Twelve and a half thousand
times better, as a matter of fact. A modern army scores
one enemy fatality for every one-point-two combat
rounds expended by a sniper. And one for one-pointtwo happened to be the same batting average as five
for six. Exactly the same average. Simple arithmetic.
So even after all those years a trained military sniper
had scored exactly what his old instructors would have
expected. They would have been very pleased about
that.
But his old instructors had trained snipers for the battlefield, not for urban crime. With urban crime, factors
unknown on the battlefield kick in fast. Those factors
tend to modify the definition of successful exfiltration.
In this particular case, the media reacted quickest.
Not surprisingly, since the shootings took place right
in front of the local NBC affiliates window. Two
things happened even before a dozen panicked bystanders all hit 911 on their cell phones simultaneously. First, every minicam in the NBC office starting
rolling. The cameras were grabbed up and switched on
and pointed at the windows. Second, a local news anchor called Ann Yanni started rehearsing what she
knew would be her very first network breaking-news
report. She was sick and scared and badly shaken, but
she knew an opportunity when she saw it. So she

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started drafting in her head. She knew that words set


agendas, and the words that came to her first were
sniper and senseless and slaying. The alliteration was
purely instinctive. So was the banality. But slaying was
how Ann Yanni saw it. And slaying was a great word. It
communicated the randomness, the wantonness, the
savagery, the ferocity. It was a motiveless and impersonal word. It was exactly the right word for the story.
At the same time she knew it wouldnt work for the
caption below the pictures. Massacre would be better
there. Friday Night Massacre? Rush Hour Massacre?
She ran for the door and hoped her graphics guy would
come up with something along those lines unbidden.
Also not present on the battlefield is urban law enforcement. The dozen simultaneous 911 cell phone
calls lit up the emergency switchboard like a Christmas
tree, and the local police and fire departments were
rolling within forty seconds. Everything was dispatched, all of them with lights popping and sirens
blaring. Every black-and-white, every available detective, every crime-scene technician, every fire engine,
every paramedic, every ambulance. Initially there was
complete mayhem. The 911 calls had been panicked
and incoherent. But crimes were plainly involved, and
they were clearly serious, so the Serious Crimes
Squads lead detective was given temporary command.
He was a high-quality twenty-year PD veteran who
had come all the way up from patrolman. His name
was Emerson. He was blasting through slow traffic,
dodging construction, hopelessly, desperately, with no
way of knowing what had happened. Robbery, drugs,
gang fight, terrorism, he had no hard information. None

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at all. But he was calm. Comparatively. His heart rate


was holding below a hundred and fifty. He had an
open channel with the 911 dispatcher, desperate to
hear more as he drove.
New guy on a cell phone now, the dispatcher
screamed.
Who? Emerson screamed back.
Marine Corps, from the recruiting office.
Was he a witness?
No, he was inside. But hes outside now.
Emerson clamped his teeth. He knew he wasnt
going to be first-on-scene. Not even close. He knew he
was leading from the rear. So he needed eyes. Now. A
Marine? Hell do.
OK, he said. Patch the Marine through.
There were loud clicks and electronic sounds and
then Emerson heard a new acoustic. Outdoors, distant
screaming, the splash of water. The fountain, he
thought.
Who is this? he asked.
A voice came back, calm but rushed, loud and
breathy, pressed close to a cell phone mouthpiece.
This is Kelly, it said. First Sergeant, United
States Marine Corps. Who am I speaking with?
Emerson, PD. Im in traffic, about ten minutes
out. What have we got?
Five KIA, the Marine said.
Five dead?
Affirmative.
Shit.
Injured?
None that I can see.
Five dead and no injured?
Affirmative, the Marine said again.

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Emerson said nothing. He had seen shootings in


public places. He had seen dead people. But he had
never seen only dead people. Public-place shootings
always produced injured along with the dead. Usually
in a one-to-one ratio, at least.
You sure about no injured? he said.
Thats definitive, sir, the Marine said.
Who are the DOAs?
Civilians. Four males, one female.
Shit.
Roger that, sir, the Marine said.
Where were you?
In the recruiting office.
What did you see?
Nothing.
What did you hear?
Incoming gunfire, six rounds.
Handguns?
Long gun, I think. Just one of them.
A rifle?
An autoloader, I think. It fired fast, but it wasnt
on full automatic. The KIAs are all hit in the head.
A sniper, Emerson thought. Shit. A crazy man with
an assault weapon.
Has he gone now? he said.
No further firing, sir.
He might still be there.
Its a possibility, sir. People have taken cover.
Most of them are in the library now.
Where are you?
Head-down behind the plaza wall, sir. Ive got a
few people with me.
Where was he?
Cant say for sure. Maybe in the parking garage.

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The new part. People were pointing at it. There may


have been some muzzle flash. And thats the only
major structure directly facing the KIAs.
A warren, Emerson thought. A damn rats nest.
The TV people are here, the Marine said.
Shit, Emerson thought.
Are you in uniform? he asked.
Full dress, sir. For the recruiting office.
OK, do your best to keep order until my guys get
there.
Roger that, sir.
Then the line went dead and Emerson heard his
dispatchers breathing again. TV people and a crazy
man with a rifle, he thought. Shit, shit, shit. Pressure
and scrutiny and second-guessing, like every other place
that ever had TV people and a crazy man with a rifle. He
hit the switch that gave him the all-cars radio net.
All units, listen up, he said. This was a lone nutcase with a long gun. Probably an automatic weapon.
Indiscriminate firing in a public place. Possibly from
the new part of the parking garage. So either hes still
in there, or hes already in the wind. If he left, it was either on foot or in a vehicle. So all units that are more
than ten blocks out, stop now and lock down a perimeter. Nobody enters or exits, OK? No vehicles, no
pedestrians, nobody under any circumstances. All
units that are closer than ten blocks, proceed inward
with extreme caution. But do not let him get away. Do
not miss him. This is a must-win, people. We need this
guy today, before CNN climbs all over us.
The man in the minivan thumbed the button on the
remote on the visor and the garage door rumbled

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upward. He drove inside and thumbed the button


again and the door came down after him. He shut the
engine off and sat still for a moment. Then he got out
of the van and walked through the mud room and on
into the kitchen. He patted the dog and turned on the
television.
Paramedics in full body armor went in through the
back of the library. Two of them stayed inside to check
for injuries among the sheltering crowd. Four of them
came out the front and ran crouched through the plaza
and ducked behind the wall. They crawled toward the
bodies and confirmed they were all DOA. Then they
stayed right there. Flat on the ground and immobile
next to the corpses. No unnecessary exposure until the
garage has been searched, Emerson had ordered.
Emerson double-parked two blocks from the plaza and
told a uniformed sergeant to direct the search of the
parking garage, from the top down, from the southwest
corner. The uniforms cleared the fourth level, and
then the third. Then the second. Then the first. The
old part was problematic. It was badly lit and full of
parked cars, and every car represented a potential hiding place. A guy could be inside one, or under one, or
behind one. But they didnt find anybody. They had no
real problem with the new construction. It wasnt lit at
all, but there were no parked cars in that part. The patrolmen simply came down the stairwell and swept
each level in turn with flashlight beams.
Nobody there.
The sergeant relaxed and called it in.

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Good work, Emerson said.


And it was good work. The fact that they searched
from the southwest corner outward left the northeast
corner entirely untouched. Nothing was disturbed. So
by good luck or good judgment the PD had turned in
an immaculate performance in the first phase of what
would eventually be seen as an immaculate investigation from beginning to end.
By seven oclock in the evening it was going dark and
Ann Yanni had been on the air eleven times. Three of
them network, eight of them local. Personally she was
a little disappointed with that ratio. She was sensitive
to a little skepticism coming her way from the network
editorial offices. If it bleeds, it leads was any news organizations credo, but this bleeding was way out there,
far from New York or LA. It wasnt happening in some
manicured suburb outside of Washington D.C. It had
a tinge of weirdo-from-the-heartland about it. There
was no real possibility that anyone important would
walk through this guys crosshairs. So it was not really
prime-time stuff. And in truth Ann didnt have much
to offer. None of the victims was identified yet. None
of the slain. The local PD was holding its cards close
to its chest until families had been notified individually. So she had no heartwarming background stories
to share. She wasnt sure which of the male victims
had been family men. Or churchgoers. She didnt
know if the woman had been a mother or a wife. She
didnt have much to offer in the way of visuals, either.
Just a gathering crowd held five blocks back by police
barricades, and a static long shot down the grayness of
First Street, and occasional close-ups of the parking

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garage, which was where everyone seemed to assume


the sniper had been.
By eight oclock Emerson had made a lot of progress.
His guys had taken hundreds of statements. Marine
Corps First Sergeant Kelly was still sure he had heard
six shots. Emerson was inclined to believe him.
Marines could be trusted on stuff like that, presumably. Then some other guy mentioned his cell phone
must have been open the whole time, connected to
another guys voice mail. The cellular company retrieved the recording and six gunshots were faintly audible on it. But the medical examiners had counted
only five entry wounds in the five DOAs. Therefore,
there was a bullet missing. Three other witnesses were
vague, but they all reported seeing a small plume of
water kick out of the ornamental pool.
Emerson ordered the pool to be drained.
The fire department handled it. They set up floodlights and switched off the fountain and used a pumping engine to dump the water into the city storm
drains. They figured there were maybe eighty thousand gallons of water to move, and that the job would
be complete in an hour.
Meanwhile crime-scene technicians had used drinking
straws and laser pointers to estimate the fatal trajectories. They figured the most reliable evidence would
come from the first victim. Presumably he was walking
purposefully right-to-left across the plaza when the
first shot came in. After that, it was possible the subsequent victims were twisting or turning or moving in

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other unpredictable ways. So they based their conclusions solely on the first guy. His head was a mess, but
it seemed pretty clear the bullet had traveled slightly
high-to-low and left-to-right as it passed through. One
tech stood upright on the spot and another held a
drinking straw against the side of his head at the correct angle and held it steady. Then the first guy ducked
out of the way and a third fired a laser pointer through
the straw. It put a tiny red spot on the northeast corner
of the parking garage extension, second level.
Witnesses had claimed they had seen muzzle flashes
up there. Now science had confirmed their
statements.
Emerson sent his crime-scene people into the
garage and told them they had all the time they
needed. But he told them not to come back with nothing.
Ann Yanni left the black glass tower at eight-thirty and
took a camera crew down to the barricades five blocks
away. She figured she might be able to identify some of
the victims by process of elimination. People whose
relatives hadnt come home for dinner might be gathering there, desperate for information. She shot
twenty minutes of tape. She got no specific information at all. Instead she got twenty minutes of crying
and wailing and sheer stunned incredulity. The whole
city was in pain and in shock. She started out secretly
proud that she was in the middle of everything, and
she ended up with tears in her eyes and sick to her
stomach.

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The parking garage was where the case was broken. It


was a bonanza. A treasure trove. A patrolman three
blocks away had taken a witness statement from a regular user of the garage saying that the last slot on the
second level had been blocked off with an orange traffic cone. Because of it, the witness had been forced to
leave the garage and park elsewhere. He had been
pissed about it. A guy from the city said the cone
hadnt been there officially. No way. Couldnt have
been. No reason for it. So the cone was bagged for evidence and taken away. Then the city guy said there
were discreet security cameras at the entrance and the
exit, wired to a video recorder in a maintenance closet.
The tape was extracted and taken away. Then the city
guy said the new extension was stalled for funding and
hadnt been worked on for two weeks. So anything in
there less than two weeks old wasnt anything to do
with him.
The crime-scene technicians started at the yellowand-black Caution Do Not Enter tape. The first thing
they found was a scuff of blue cotton material on the
rough concrete directly underneath it. Just a peachfuzz of barely-visible fiber. Like a guy had dropped to
one knee to squirm underneath and had left a little of
his blue jeans behind. They photographed the scuff
and then picked it up whole with an adhesive sheet of
clear plastic. Then they brought in klieg lights and angled them low across the floor. Across the two-weekold cement dust. They saw perfect footprints. Really
perfect footprints. The lead tech called Emerson on
his Motorola.
He was wearing weird shoes, he said.
What kind of weird shoes?
You ever heard of crepe? Its a kind of crude rub-

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ber. Almost raw. Very grippy. It picks everything up. If


we find this guy, were going to find crepe-soled shoes
with cement dust all over the soles. Also, were going
to find a dog in his house.
A dog?
Weve got dog hair here, picked up by the crepe
rubber earlier. And then scraped off again where the
concretes rough. And carpet fibers. Probably from his
rugs at home and in his car.
Keep going, Emerson said.
At ten to nine Emerson briefed his Chief of Police for
a press conference. He held nothing back. It was the
Chief s decision what to talk about and what to conceal.
Six shots fired and five people dead, Emerson
said. All head shots. Im betting on a trained shooter.
Probably ex-military.
Or a hunter? the Chief said.
Big difference between shooting deer and shooting people. The technique might be the same, but the
emotion isnt.
Were we right to keep this away from the FBI?
It wasnt terrorism. It was a lone nut. Weve seen
them before.
I want to be able to sound confident about bringing this one in.
I know, Emerson said.
So how confident can I sound?
So far weve got good stuff, but not great stuff.
The Chief nodded and said nothing.
At nine oclock exactly, Emerson took a call from
the pathologist. His staff had X-rayed all five heads.

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Massive tissue damage, entry and exit wounds, no


lodged bullets.
Hollow points, the pathologist said. All of them
through and through.
Emerson turned and looked at the ornamental
pool. Six bullets in there, he thought. Five throughand-throughs, and one miss. The pool was finally
empty by nine-fifteen. The fire department hoses
started sucking air. All that was left was a quarter-inch
of scummy grit, and a lot of trash. Emerson had the
lights reangled and sent twelve recruits from the
Academy over the walls, six from one end and six from
the other.
The crime-scene techs in the parking garage extension
logged forty-eight footprints going and forty-four coming back. The perp had been confident but wary on
the way in, and striding longer on the way out. In a
hurry. The footprints were size eleven. They found
fibers on the last pillar before the northeast corner.
Mercerized cotton, at a guess, from a pale-colored
raincoat, at shoulder-blade height, like the guy had
pressed his back against the raw concrete and then
slid around it for a look out into the plaza. They found
major dust disturbance on the floor between the pillar
and the perimeter wall. Plus more blue fibers and
more raincoat fibers, and tiny crumbs of crepe rubber,
pale in color and old.
He low-crawled, the lead tech said. Knees and
elbows on the way there, and knees, toes, and elbows
coming backward. We ever find his shoes, theyre
going to be all scraped up at the front.
They found where he must have sat up and then

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knelt. Directly in front of that position, they saw varnish scrapings on the lip of the wall.
He rested his gun there, the lead tech said.
Sawed it back and forth, to get it steady.
He lined himself up and aimed his gaze over the
varnish scrapings, like he was aiming a rifle. What he
saw in front of him was Emerson, pacing in front of
the empty ornamental pool, less than thirty-five yards
away.
The Academy recruits spent thirty minutes in the
empty pool and came out with a lot of miscellaneous
junk, nearly eight dollars in pennies, and six bullets.
Five of them were just misshapen blobs of lead, but
one of them looked absolutely brand new. It was a boat
tail hollow point, beautifully cast, almost certainly a
.308. Emerson called his lead crime-scene tech up in
the garage.
I need you down here, he said.
No, I need you up here, the tech replied.
Emerson got up to the second level and found all the
techs crouched in a low huddle with their flashlight
beams pointing down into a narrow crack in the concrete.
Expansion joint, the lead tech said. And look
what fell in it.
Emerson shouldered his way in and looked down
and saw the gleam of brass.
A cartridge case, he said.
The guy took the others with him. But this one
got away.

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Fingerprints? Emerson asked.


We can hope, the tech said. Not too many people wear gloves when they load their magazines.
How do we get it out of there?
The tech stood up and used his flashlight beam to
locate an electrical box on the ceiling. There was one
close by, new, with unconnected cables spooling out
like fronds. He looked on the floor directly underneath
and found a rats nest of discarded trimmings. He
chose an eighteen-inch length of ground wire. He
cleaned it and bent it into an L-shape. It was stiff and
heavy. Probably overspecified for the kind of fluorescent ceiling fixtures he guessed the garage was going
to use. Maybe that was why the project was stalled for
funding. Maybe the city was spending money in all the
wrong places.
He jiggled the wire down into the open joint and
slid it along until the end went neatly into the empty
cartridge case. Then he lifted it out very carefully, so as
not to scratch it. He dropped it straight into a plastic
evidence bag.
Meet at the station, Emerson said. In one hour.
Ill scare up a DA.
He walked away, on a route exactly parallel to the
trail of footprints. Then he stopped next to the empty
parking bay.
Empty the meter, he called. Print all the quarters.
Why? the tech called back. You think the guy
paid?
I want to cover all the bases.
Youd have to be crazy to pay for parking just before you blow five people away.
You dont blow five people away unless youre crazy.

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The tech shrugged. Empty the meter? But he


guessed it was the kind of insight detectives were paid
for, so he just dialed his cell phone and asked the city
liaison guy to come on back again.
Someone from the District Attorneys office always got
involved at this point because the responsibility for
prosecution rested squarely on the DAs shoulders. It
wasnt the PD that won or lost in court. It was the DA.
So the DAs office made its own evaluation of the evidence. Did they have a case? Was the case weak or
strong? It was like an audition. Like a trial before a
trial. This time, because of the magnitude, Emerson
was performing in front of the DA himself. The big
cheese, the actual guy who had to run for election.
And reelection.
They made it a three-man conference in
Emersons office. Emerson, and the lead crime-scene
tech, and the DA. The DA was called Rodin, which
was a contraction of a Russian name that had been a
whole lot longer before his great-grandparents came to
America. He was fifty years old, lean and fit, and very
cautious. His office had an outstanding victory percentage, but that was mostly due to the fact that he
wouldnt prosecute anything less than a total certainty.
Anything less than a total certainty, and Rodin gave up
early and blamed the cops. At least that was how it
seemed to Emerson.
I need seriously good news, Rodin said. The
whole city is freaking out.
We know exactly how it went down, Emerson
told him. We can trace it every step of the way.
You know who it was? Rodin asked.

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Not yet. Right now hes still John Doe.


So walk me through it.
Weve got monochrome security videotape of a
light-colored minivan entering the garage eleven minutes before the event. Cant see the plates for mud and
dirt, and the camera angle isnt great. But its probably
a Dodge Caravan, not new, with aftermarket tinted
windows. And were also looking through old tapes
right now because its clear he entered the garage at
some previous time and illegally blocked off a particular space with a traffic cone stolen earlier from a city
construction site.
Can we prove stolen?
OK, obtained, Emerson said.
Maybe he works for the city construction department.
Maybe.
You think the cone came from the work on First
Street?
Theres construction all over town.
First Street would be closest.
I dont really care where the cone came from.
Rodin nodded. So, he reserved himself a parking
space?
Emerson nodded in turn. Right where the new
construction starts. Therefore the cone would have
looked plausible. We have a witness who saw it in
place at least an hour before. And the cone has fingerprints on it. Lots of them. The right thumb and index
finger match prints on a quarter we took out of the
parking meter.
He paid to park?
Evidently.
Rodin paused.

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Wont stand up, he said. Defense will claim he


could have placed the cone for an innocent reason.
You know, selfish but innocent. And the quarter could
have been in the meter for days.
Emerson smiled. Cops think like cops, and lawyers
think like lawyers.
Theres more, he said. He parked, and then he
walked through the new construction. At various
points he left trace evidence behind, from his shoes
and his clothing. And hell have picked trace evidence
up, in the form of cement dust, mostly. Probably a lot
of it.
Rodin shook his head. Ties him to the scene
sometime during the last two weeks. Thats all. Not
specific enough.
Weve got a three-way lock on his weapon,
Emerson said.
That got Rodins attention.
He missed with one shot, Emerson said. It went
into the pool. And you know what? Thats exactly how
ballistics labs test-fire a gun. They fire into a long tank
of water. The water slows and stops the bullet with absolutely no damage at all. So weve got a pristine bullet
with all the lands and grooves we need to tie it to an individual rifle.
Can you find the individual rifle?
Weve got varnish scrapings from where he steadied it on the wall.
Thats good.
You bet it is. We find the rifle and well match the
varnish and the scratches. Its as good as DNA.
Are you going to find the rifle?
We found a shell case. Its got tool marks on it
from the ejector mechanism. So weve got a bullet and

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a case. Together they tie the weapon to the crime. The


scratches tie the weapon to the garage location. The
garage location ties the crime to the guy who left the trace
evidence behind.
Rodin said nothing. Emerson knew he was thinking about the trial. Technical evidence was sometimes
a hard sell. It lacked a human dimension.
The shell case has got fingerprints on it, Emerson
said. From when he loaded the magazine. Same
thumb and index finger as on the quarter in the parking meter and on the traffic cone. So we can tie the
crime to the gun, and the gun to the ammo, and the
ammo to the guy who used it. See? It all connects.
The guy, the gun, the crime. Its a total slam dunk.
The videotape shows the minivan leaving?
Ninety seconds after the first 911 call came in.
Who is he?
Well know just as soon as the fingerprint databases get back to us.
If hes in the databases.
I think he was a military shooter, Emerson said.
All military personnel are in the databases. So its just
a matter of time.
It was a matter of forty-nine minutes. A desk guy
knocked and entered. He was carrying a sheaf of
paper. The paper listed a name, an address, and a history. Plus supplementary information from all over the
system. Including a drivers license photo. Emerson
took the paper and glanced through it once. Then
again. Then he smiled. Exactly six hours after the first
shot was fired, the situation was nailed down tight. A
must-win.

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His name is James Barr, Emerson said.


Silence in the office.
Hes forty-one years old. He lives twenty minutes
from here. He served in the U.S. Army. Honorable discharge fourteen years ago. Infantry specialist, which
Im betting means a sniper. DMV says he drives a sixyear-old Dodge Caravan, beige.
He slid the papers across his desk to Rodin. Rodin
picked them up and scanned them through, once,
twice, carefully. Emerson watched his eyes. Saw him
thinking the guy, the gun, the crime. It was like watching a Vegas slot machine line up three cherries. Bing
bing bing! A total certainty.
James Barr, Rodin said, like he was savoring the
sound of the words. He separated out the DL picture
and gazed at it. James Barr, welcome to a shitload of
trouble, sir.
Amen to that, Emerson said, waiting for a compliment.
Ill get the warrants, Rodin said. Arrest, and
searches on his house and car. Judges will be lining up
to sign them.
He left and Emerson called the Chief of Police
with the good news. The Chief said he would schedule
an eight oclock press conference for the next morning.
He said he wanted Emerson there, front and center.
Emerson took that as all the compliment he was going
to get, even though he didnt much like the press.
The warrants were ready within an hour, but the arrest
took three hours to set up. First, unmarked surveillance
confirmed Barr was home. His place was an unremarkable one-story ranch. Not immaculate, not falling

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down. Old paint on the siding, fresh blacktop on the


driveway. Lights were on and a television set was playing in what was probably the living room. Barr himself
was spotted briefly, in a lighted window. He seemed to
be alone. Then he seemed to go to bed. Lights went
off and the house went quiet. So then there was a
pause. It was standard operating procedure to plan
carefully for the takedown of an armed man inside a
building. The PD SWAT team took charge. They used
zoning maps from the city offices and came up with
the usual kind of thing. Covert encirclement, overwhelming force on standby front and rear, sudden violent assault on the front and rear doors simultaneously.
Emerson was detailed to make the actual arrest, wearing full body armor and a borrowed helmet. An assistant DA would be alongside him, to monitor the
legality of the process. Nobody wanted to give a defense attorney anything to chew on later. A paramedic
team would be instantly available. Two K9 officers
would go along because of the crime-scene investigators theory about the dog in the house. Altogether
thirty-eight men were involved, and they were all tired.
Most of them had been working nineteen hours
straight. Their regular watches, plus overtime. So
there was a lot of nervous tension in the air. People figured that nobody owned just one automatic weapon. If
a guy had one, he had more. Maybe full-auto machine
guns. Maybe grenades or bombs.
But the arrest was a walk in the park. James Barr barely
even woke up. They broke down his doors at three in
the morning and found him asleep, alone in bed. He
stayed asleep with fifteen armed men in his bedroom

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aiming fifteen submachine guns and fifteen flashlight


beams at him. He stirred a little when the SWAT commander threw his blankets and pillows to the floor,
searching for concealed weapons. He had none. He
opened his eyes. Mumbled something that sounded
like What? and then went back to sleep, curling up on
the flat mattress, hugging himself against the sudden
cold. He was a large man, with white skin and black
hair that was going gray all over his body. His pajamas
were too small for him. He looked slack, and a little
older than his forty-one years.
His dog was an old mutt that woke up reluctantly
and staggered in from the kitchen. The K9 team captured it immediately and took it straight out to their
truck. Emerson took his helmet off and pushed his
way through the crowd in the tiny bedroom. Saw a
three-quarters-full pint of Jack Daniels on the night
table, next to an orange prescription bottle that was
also three-quarters full. He bent to look at it. Sleeping
pills. Legal. Recently prescribed to someone called
Rosemary Barr. The label said: Rosemary Barr. Take one
for sleeplessness.
Whos Rosemary Barr? the assistant DA asked.
Is he married?
Emerson glanced around the room. Doesnt look
like it.
Suicide attempt? the SWAT commander asked.
Emerson shook his head. Hed have swallowed
them all. Plus the whole pint of JD. So I guess Mr.
Barr had trouble getting off to sleep tonight, thats all.
After a very busy and productive day.
The air in the room was stale. It smelled of dirty
sheets and an unwashed body.
We need to be careful here, the assistant DA

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said. Hes impaired right now. His lawyer is going to


say hes not fully capable of understanding Miranda.
So we cant let him say anything. And if he does say
something, we cant listen.
Emerson called for the paramedics. Told them to
check Barr out, to make sure he wasnt faking, and to
make sure he wasnt about to die on them. They fussed
around for a few minutes, listened to his heart,
checked his pulse, read the prescription label. Then
they pronounced him reasonably fit and healthy, but
fast asleep.
Psychopath, the SWAT commander said. No
conscience at all.
Are we even sure this is the right guy? the assistant DA asked.
Emerson found a pair of dress pants folded over a
chair and checked the pockets. Came out with a small
wallet. Found the drivers license. The name was right,
and the address was right. And the photograph was
right.
This is the right guy, he said.
We cant let him say anything, the ADA said
again. We need to keep this kosher.
Im going to Mirandize him anyway, Emerson
said. Make a mental note, people.
He shook Barr by the shoulder and got halfopened eyes in response. Then he recited the Miranda
warning. The right to remain silent, the right to a
lawyer. Barr tried to focus, but didnt succeed. Then he
went back to sleep.
OK, take him in, Emerson said.
They wrapped him in a blanket and two cops
dragged him out of the house and into a car. A paramedic and the ADA rode with him. Emerson stayed in

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the house and started the search. He found the


scuffed blue jeans in the bedroom closet. The crepesoled shoes were placed neatly on the floor below
them. They were dusty. The raincoat was in the hall
closet. The beige Dodge Caravan was in the garage.
The scratched rifle was in the basement. It was one of
several resting on a rack bolted to the wall. On a bench
underneath it were five nine-millimeter handguns.
And boxes of ammunition, including a half-empty box
of Lake City M852 168-grain boat tail hollow point
.308s. Next to the boxes were glass jars with empty
cartridge cases in them. Ready for recycling, Emerson
thought. Ready for handloading. The jar nearest the
front of the bench held just five of them. Lake City
brass. The jars lid was still off, like the five latest cases
had been dumped in there recently and in a hurry.
Emerson bent down and sniffed. The air in the jar
smelled of gunpowder. Cold and old, but not very.
Emerson left James Barrs house at four in the morning,
replaced by forensic specialists who would go through
the whole place with a fine-tooth comb. He checked
with his desk sergeant and confirmed that Barr was
sleeping peacefully in a cell on his own with roundthe-clock medical supervision. Then he went home
and caught a two-hour nap before showering and
dressing for the press conference.
The press conference killed the story stone dead. A
story needs the guy to be still out there. A story needs
the guy roaming, sullen, hidden, shadowy, dangerous.
It needs fear. It needs to make everyday chores ex-

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posed and hazardous, like pumping gas or visiting the


mall or walking to church. So to hear that the guy was
found and arrested even before the start of the second
news cycle was a disaster for Ann Yanni. Immediately
she knew what the network offices were going to
think. No legs, over and done with, history. Yesterdays
news, literally. Probably wasnt much of anything anyway. Just some inbred heartland weirdo too dumb to stay
free through the night. Probably sleeps with his cousin
and drinks Colt 45. Nothing sinister there. She would
get one more network breaking news spot to recap the
crime and report the arrest, and that would be it. Back
to obscurity.
So Ann Yanni was disappointed, but she hid it
well. She asked questions and made her tone admiring. About halfway through she started putting together a new theme. A new narrative. People would
have to admit the police work had been pretty impressive. And this perp wasnt a weirdo. Not necessarily. So
a serious bad guy had been caught by an even-moreserious police department. Right out there in the
heartland. Something that had taken considerable
time on the coasts in previous famous cases. Could
she sell it? She started drafting titles in the back of her
mind. Americas Fastest? Like a play on Finest?
The Chief yielded the floor to Detective Emerson
after about ten minutes. Emerson filled in full details
on the perps identity and his history. He kept it dry.
Just the facts, maam. He outlined the investigation.
He answered questions. He didnt boast. Ann Yanni
thought that he felt the cops had been lucky. That they
had been given much more to go on than they usually
got.
Then Rodin stepped up. The DA made it sound

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like the PD had been involved in some early minor


skirmishing and that the real work was about to begin.
His office would review everything and make the necessary determinations. And yes, Ms. Yanni, because he
thought the circumstances warranted it, certainly he
would seek the death penalty for James Barr.
James Barr woke up in his cell with a chemical hangover at nine oclock Saturday morning. He was
immediately fingerprinted and re-Mirandized once,
and then twice. The right to remain silent, the right to
a lawyer. He chose to remain silent. Not many people
do. Not many people can. The urge to talk is usually
overwhelming. But James Barr beat it. He just clamped
his mouth shut and kept it that way. Plenty of people
tried to talk to him, but he didnt answer. Not once.
Not a word. Emerson was relaxed about it. Truth was,
Emerson didnt really want Barr to say anything. He
preferred to line up all the evidence, scrutinize it, test
it, polish it, and get to a point where he could anticipate a conviction without a confession. Confessions
were so vulnerable to defense accusations of coercion
or confusion that he had learned to run away from
them. They were icing on the cake. Literally the last
thing he wanted to hear, not the first. Not like on the
TV cop shows, where relentless interrogation was a
kind of performance art. So he just stayed out of the
loop and let his forensics people complete their slow,
patient work.
James Barrs sister was younger than him and unmarried and living in a rented downtown condo. Her name

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was Rosemary. Like the rest of the citys population,


she was sick and shocked and stunned. She had seen
the news Friday night. And she caught it again Saturday
morning. She heard a police detective say her brothers
name. At first she thought it was a mistake. That she
had misheard. But the guy kept on saying it. James
Barr, James Barr, James Barr. Rosemary burst into tears.
First tears of confusion, then tears of horror, then tears
of fury.
Then she forced herself to calm down, and got
busy.
She worked as a secretary in an eight-man law
firm. Like most firms in small heartland cities, hers
did a little bit of everything. And it treated its employees fairly well. The salary wasnt spectacular, but there
were intangibles to compensate. One was a full package of benefits. Another was being called a paralegal
instead of a secretary. Another was a promise that the
firm would handle legal matters for its employees and
their families free, gratis, and for nothing. Mostly that
was about wills and probate and divorce, and insurance company hassles after fender benders. It wasnt
about defending adult siblings who were wrongly accused in notorious urban sniper slayings. She knew
that. But she felt she had to give it a try. Because she
knew her brother, and she knew he couldnt be guilty.
She called the partner she worked for, at home.
He was mostly a tax guy, so he called the firms criminal litigator. The litigator called the managing partner,
who called a meeting of all the partners. They held it
over lunch at the country club. From the start, the
agenda was about how to turn down Rosemary Barrs
request in the most tactful way possible. A defense to
a crime of this nature wasnt the sort of thing they

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were equipped to handle. Or inclined to handle. There


were public relations implications. There was immediate agreement on that point. But they were a loyal
bunch, and Rosemary Barr was a good employee who
had worked many years for them. They knew she had
no money, because they did her taxes. They assumed
her brother had no money, either. But the Constitution
guaranteed competent counsel, and they didnt have a
very high opinion of public defenders. So they were
caught in a genuine ethical dilemma.
The litigator resolved it. His name was David
Chapman. He was a hardscrabble veteran who knew
Rodin over at the DAs office. He knew him pretty
well. It would have been impossible for him not to,
really. They were two of a kind, raised in the same
neighborhood and working in the same business, albeit on opposite sides. So Chapman went to the smoking room and used his cell phone to call the DA at
home. The two lawyers had a full and frank discussion. Then Chapman came back to the lunch table.
Its a slam dunk, he said. Ms. Barrs brother is
guilty all to hell and gone. Rodins case is going to read
like a textbook. Hell, its probably going to be a textbook one day. Hes got every kind of evidence there is.
Theres not a chink of daylight anywhere.
Was he leveling with you? the managing partner
asked.
Theres no bullshitting between old buddies,
Chapman said.
So?
All we would have to do is plead in mitigation. If
we can get the lethal injection reduced to life without
parole, theres a big win right there. Thats all Ms. Barr

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has a right to expect. Or her damn brother, with all due


respect.
How much involvement? the managing partner
asked.
Sentencing phase only. Because hell have to
plead guilty.
You happy to handle it?
Under the circumstances.
How many hours will it cost us?
Not many. Theres practically nothing we can do.
What grounds for mitigation?
Hes a Gulf War vet, I believe. So theres probably
chemical stuff going on. Or some kind of delayed posttraumatic thing. Maybe we could get Rodin to agree
beforehand. We could get it done over lunch.
The managing partner nodded. Turned to the tax
guy. Tell your secretary well do everything in our
power to help her brother in his hour of need.
Barr was moved from the police station lockup to the
county jail before either his sister or Chapman got a
chance to see him. His blanket and pajamas were
taken away and he was issued paper underwear, an orange jumpsuit, and a pair of rubber shower sandals.
The county jail wasnt a pleasant place to be. It
smelled bad and it was noisy. It was radically overcrowded and the social and ethnic tensions that were
kept in control on the street were left to rage
unchecked inside. Men were stacked three to a cell
and the guards were shorthanded. New guys were
called fish, and fish were left to fend for themselves.
But Barr had been in the army, so the culture
shock for him was a little less than it might have been.

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He survived as a fish for two hours, and then he was


escorted to an interview room. He was told there was a
lawyer waiting there for him. He found a table and two
chairs bolted to the floor in a windowless cubicle. In
one of the chairs was a guy he vaguely recognized from
somewhere. On the table was a pocket tape recorder.
Like a Walkman.
My name is David Chapman, the guy in the
chair said. Im a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer.
Your sister works at my firm. She asked us to help you
out.
Barr said nothing.
So here I am, Chapman said.
Barr said nothing.
Im recording this conversation, Chapman said.
Putting it on tape. I take it thats OK with you?
Barr said nothing.
I think we met once, Chapman said. Our
Christmas party one year?
Barr said nothing.
Chapman waited.
Have the charges been explained to you? he
asked.
Barr said nothing.
The charges are very serious, Chapman said.
Barr stayed quiet.
I cant help you if you wont help yourself,
Chapman said.
Barr just stared at him. Just sat still and quiet for
several long minutes. Then he leaned forward toward
the tape machine and spoke for the first time since the
previous afternoon.
He said, They got the wrong guy.

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They got the wrong guy, Barr said again.


So tell me about the right guy, Chapman said immediately. He was a good courtroom tactician. He
knew how to get a rhythm going. Question, answer,
question, answer. That was how to get a person to
open up. They fell into the rhythm, and it all came out.
But Barr just retreated back into silence.
Lets be clear about this, Chapman said.
Barr didnt answer.
Are you denying it? Chapman asked him.
Barr said nothing.
Are you?
No response.
The evidence is all there, Chapman said. Its
just about overwhelming, Im afraid. You cant play
dumb now. We need to talk about why you did it.
Thats whats going to help us here.
Barr said nothing.
You want me to help you? Chapman said. Or
not?
Barr said nothing.
Maybe it was your old wartime experience,
Chapman said. Or post-traumatic stress. Or some
kind of mental impairment. We need to focus on the
reason.
Barr said nothing.
Denying it is not smart, Chapman said. The evidence is right there.
Barr said nothing.
Denying it is not an option, Chapman said.
Get Jack Reacher for me, Barr said.
Who?

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Jack Reacher.
Whos he? A friend?
Barr said nothing.
Someone you know? Chapman said.
Barr said nothing.
Someone you used to know?
Just get him for me.
Where is he? Who is he?
Barr said nothing.
Is Jack Reacher a doctor? Chapman asked.
A doctor? Barr repeated.
Is he a doctor? Chapman asked.
But Barr didnt speak again. He just got up from
the table and walked to the cubicles door and
pounded on it until the jailer opened it up and led him
back to his overcrowded cell.
Chapman arranged to meet Rosemary Barr and the
firms investigator at his law offices. The investigator
was a retired cop shared by most of the citys law firms.
They all had him on retainer. He was a private detective, with a license. His name was Franklin. He was
nothing like a private eye in a TV show. He did all his
work at a desk, with phone books and computer databases. He didnt go out, didnt wear a gun, didnt own a
hat. But he had no equal as a fact-checker or a skip
tracer and he still had plenty of friends in the PD.
The evidence is rock solid, he said. Thats what
Im hearing. Emerson was in charge and hes pretty reliable. So is Rodin, really, but for a different reason.
Emersons a stiff and Rodin is a coward. Neither one
of them would be saying what theyre saying unless the
evidence was there.

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I just cant believe he did it, Rosemary Barr said.


Well, certainly he seems to be denying it,
Chapman said. As far as I can understand him. And
hes asking for someone called Jack Reacher. Someone
he knows or used to know. You ever heard that name?
You know who he is?
Rosemary Barr just shook her head. Chapman
wrote the name Jack Reacher on a sheet of paper and
slid it across to Franklin. My guess is he may be a psychiatrist. Mr. Barr brought the name up right after I
told him how strong the evidence is. So maybe this
Reacher guy is someone who can help us out with the
mitigation. Maybe he treated Mr. Barr in the past.
My brother never saw a psychiatrist, Rosemary
Barr said.
To your certain knowledge?
Never.
How long has he been in town?
Fourteen years. Since the army.
Were you close?
We lived in the same house.
His house?
Rosemary Barr nodded.
But you dont live there anymore.
Rosemary Barr looked away.
No, she said. I moved out.
Might your brother have seen a shrink after you
moved out?
He would have told me.
OK, what about before? In the service?
Rosemary Barr said nothing. Chapman turned
back to Franklin.
So maybe Reacher was his army doctor, he said.

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Maybe he has information about an old trauma. He


could be very helpful.
Franklin accepted the sheet of paper.
In which case Ill find him, he said.
We shouldnt be talking about mitigation anyway,
Rosemary Barr said. We should be talking about reasonable doubt. About innocence.
The evidence is very strong, Chapman said. He
used his own gun.
Franklin spent three hours failing to find Jack Reacher.
First he trawled through psychiatric associations. No
hits. Then he searched the internet for Gulf War support groups. No trace. He tried Lexis-Nexis and all the
news organizations. Nothing. Then he started back at
the beginning and accessed the National Personnel
Record Centers database. It listed all current and former military. He found Jack Reachers name in there
easily enough. Reacher had entered the service in
1984 and received an honorable discharge in 1997.
James Barr himself had signed up in 1985 and mustered out in 1991. So there was a six-year overlap. But
Reacher had been no kind of a doctor. No kind of a
psychiatrist. He had been a military cop. An officer. A
major. Maybe a high-level investigator. Barr had finished as a lowly Specialist E-4. Infantry, not military
police. So what was the point of contact between a
military police major and an infantry E-4? Something
helpful, obviously, or Barr wouldnt have mentioned
the name. But what?
At the end of three hours Franklin figured he
would never find out, because Reacher fell off the
radar after 1997. Completely and totally. There was no

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trace of him anywhere. He was still alive, according to


the Social Security Administration. He wasnt in prison,
according to the NCIC. But he had disappeared. He
had no credit rating. He wasnt listed as title holder to
any real estate, or automobiles, or boats. He had no
debts. No liens. No address. No phone number. No
warrants outstanding, no judgments entered. He wasnt
a husband. Wasnt a father. He was a ghost.
James Barr spent the same three hours in serious trouble. It started when he stepped out of his cell. He
turned right to walk down to the pay phones. The corridor was narrow. He bumped into another guy, shoulder to shoulder. Then he made a bad mistake. He took
his eyes off the floor and glanced at the other guy and
apologized.
A bad mistake, because a fish cant make eye contact with another prisoner. Not without implying disrespect. It was a prison thing. He didnt understand.
The guy he made eye contact with was a Mexican.
He had gang tattoos, but Barr didnt recognize them.
Another bad mistake. He should have put his gaze
back on the floor and moved on and hoped for the
best. But he didnt.
Instead, he said, Excuse me.
Then he raised his eyebrows and half-smiled in a
self-deprecating way, like he was saying, This is some
place, right?
Bad mistake. Familiarity, and a presumption of intimacy.
What are you looking at? the Mexican said.
At that point, James Barr understood completely.

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What are you looking at? That was pretty much a standard opener. Barrack rooms, barrooms, street corners,
dark alleys, it was not a phrase you wanted to hear.
Nothing, he said, and realized he had made the
situation much worse.
You calling me nothing?
Barr put his eyes back on the floor and moved on,
but it was way too late. He felt the Mexicans stare on
his back and gave up on the pay phone idea. The
phones were in a dead-end lobby and he didnt want to
feel trapped. So he walked a long counterclockwise
circuit and headed back to his cell. He got there OK.
Didnt look at anyone, didnt speak. He lay down on his
bunk. About two hours later, he felt OK. He guessed
he could handle a little macho bluster. And he was
bigger than the Mexican. He was bigger than two
Mexicans.
He wanted to call his sister. He wanted to know
she was OK.
He set off for the pay phones again.
He got there unmolested. It was a small space.
There were four phones on the wall, four men talking,
four lines of other men waiting behind them. Noise,
shuffling feet, crazed laughter, impatience, frustration,
sour air, the smell of sweat and dirty hair and stale
urine. Just a normal prison scene, according to James
Barrs preconceptions.
Then it wasnt a normal scene.
The men in front of him vanished. Just disappeared. They just melted out of sight. Those on the
phone hung up mid-sentence and ducked back past
him. Those waiting in line peeled away. In half a second the lobby went from being full and noisy to being
deserted and silent.

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James Barr turned around.


He saw the Mexican with the tattoos. The
Mexican had a knife in his hand and twelve friends behind him. The knife was a plastic toothbrush handle
wrapped with tape and sharpened to a point, like a
stiletto. The friends were all stocky little guys, all with
the same tattoos. They all had cropped hair with intricate patterns shaved across their skulls.
Wait, Barr said.
But the Mexicans didnt wait, and eight minutes
later Barr was in a coma. He was found sometime after
that, on the floor, beaten pulpy, with multiple stab
wounds and a cracked skull and severe subdural
bleeding. Afterward, jail talk said he had had it coming. He had disrespected the Latinos. But jail talk said
he hadnt gone quietly. There was a hint of admiration.
The Mexicans had suffered a little. But not nearly as
much as James Barr. He was medevaced to the city
hospital and sewn up and operated on to relieve pressure from a swollen brain. Then he was dumped in a
secure intensive care unit, comatose. The doctors
werent sure when he would wake up again. Maybe in
a day. Maybe in a week. Maybe in a month. Maybe
never. The doctors didnt really know, and they didnt
really care. They were all local people.
The warden at the jail called late at night and told
Emerson. Then Emerson called and told Rodin. Then
Rodin called and told Chapman. Then Chapman
called and told Franklin.
So what happens now? Franklin asked him.
Nothing, Chapman said. Its on ice. You cant try
a guy in a coma.

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What about when he wakes up?


If hes OK, then theyll go ahead, I guess.
What if he isnt?
Then they wont. Cant try a vegetable.
So what do we do now?
Nothing, Chapman said. We werent taking it
very seriously anyhow. Barrs guilty all to hell and gone,
and theres nothing much anyone can do for him.
Franklin called and told Rosemary Barr, because he
wasnt sure if anyone else would have taken the trouble. He found out that nobody else had. So he broke
the news himself. Rosemary Barr didnt have much of
an outward reaction. She just went very quiet. It was
like she was on emotional overload.
I guess I should go to the hospital, she said.
If you want, Franklin said.
Hes innocent, you know. This is so unfair.
Did you see him yesterday?
You mean, can I alibi him?
Can you?
No, Rosemary Barr said. I cant. I dont know
where he was yesterday. Or what he was doing.
Are there places he goes regularly? Movies, bars,
anything like that?
Not really.
Friends he hangs with?
Im not sure.
Girlfriends?
Not for a long time.
Other family he visits?
Theres just the two of us. Him and me.

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Franklin said nothing. There was a long, distracted


pause.
What happens now? Rosemary Barr asked.
I dont know exactly.
Did you find that person he mentioned?
Jack Reacher? No, Im afraid not. No trace.
Will you keep on looking?
Theres really nothing more I can do.
OK, Rosemary Barr said. Then well have to
manage without him.
But even as they spoke, on the phone late at night on
Saturday, Jack Reacher was on his way to them.

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Excerpted from The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. Copyright 2012 by Karen Thompson Walker.
Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced
or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

ABOUT THIS BOOK


With a voice as distinctive and original as that of The Lovely Bones,
and for the fans of the speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood, Karen
Thompson Walkers The Age of Miracles is a luminous, haunting, and
unforgettable debut novel about coming of age set against the
backdrop of an utterly altered world.
It still amazes me how little we really knew. . . . Maybe everything
that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the
slowing. Its possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.
On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and
her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the
rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights
grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown
into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting
landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday
lifethe fissures in her parents marriage, the loss of old friends, the
hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather
who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days
obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new
normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

e didnt notice right away. We couldnt feel it.


We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from
the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.
We were distracted back then by weather and war. We had no
interest in the turning of the earth. Bombs continued to explode
on the streets of distant countries. Hurricanes came and went.
Summer ended. A new school year began. The clocks ticked as
usual. Seconds beaded into minutes. Minutes grew into hours.
And there was nothing to suggest that those hours, too, werent
still pooling into days, each the same fixed length known to every
human being.
But there were those who would later claim to have recognized
the disaster before the rest of us did. These were the night workers,
the graveyard shifters, the stockers of shelves, and the loaders of
ships, the drivers of big-rig trucks, or else they were the bearers of
different burdens: the sleepless and the troubled and the sick.
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These people were accustomed to waiting out the night. Through


bloodshot eyes, a few did detect a certain persistence of darkness
on the mornings leading up to the news, but each mistook it for
the private misperception of a lonely, rattled mind.
On the sixth of October, the experts went public. This, of
course, is the day we all remember. Thered been a change, they
said, a slowing, and thats what we called it from then on: the
slowing.
We have no way of knowing if this trend will continue, said
a shy bearded scientist at a hastily arranged press conference, now
infamous. He cleared his throat and swallowed. Cameras flashed
in his eyes. Then came the moment, replayed so often afterward
that the particular cadences of that scientists speechthe dips
and the pauses and that slight midwestern slantwould be forever married to the news itself. He went on: But we suspect that
it will continue.
Our days had grown by fifty-six minutes in the night.
At the beginning, people stood on street corners and shouted
about the end of the world. Counselors came to talk to us at
school. I remember watching Mr. Valencia next door fill up his
garage with stacks of canned food and bottled water, as if preparing, it now seems to me, for a disaster much more minor.
The grocery stores were soon empty, the shelves sucked clean
like chicken bones.
The freeways clogged immediately. People heard the news, and
they wanted to move. Families piled into minivans and crossed
state lines. They scurried in every direction like small animals
caught suddenly under a light.
But, of course, there was nowhere on earth to go.

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he news broke on a Saturday.


In our house, at least, the change had gone unnoticed.
We were still asleep when the sun came up that morning, so
we sensed nothing unusual in the timing of its rise. Those last
few hours before we learned of the slowing remain preserved
in my memoryeven all these years lateras if trapped behind
glass.
My friend Hanna had slept over the night before, and wed
camped out in sleeping bags on the living room floor, where wed
slept side by side on a hundred other nights. We woke to the purring of lawn-mower motors and the barking of dogs, to the soft
squeak of a trampoline as the twins jumped next door. In an hour
wed both be dressed in blue soccer uniformshair pulled back,
sunscreen applied, cleats clicking on tile.
I had the weirdest dream last night, said Hanna. She lay on

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her stomach, her head propped up on one elbow, her long blond
hair hanging tangled behind her ears. She had a certain skinny
beauty that I wished I had, too.
You always have weird dreams, I said.
She unzipped her sleeping bag and sat up, pressed her knees to
her chest. From her slim wrist there jingled a charm bracelet
crowded with charms. Among them: one half of a small brass
heart, the other half of which belonged to me.
In the dream, I was at my house, but it wasnt my house, she
went on. I was with my mom, but she wasnt my mom. My sisters
werent my sisters.
I hardly ever remember my dreams, I said. Then I got up to
let the cats out of the garage.
My parents were spending that morning the way I remember
them spending every morning, reading the newspaper at the dining room table. I can still see them sitting there: my mother in her
green bathrobe, her hair wet, skimming quickly through the pages,
while my father sat in silence, fully dressed, reading every story in
the order it appeared, each one reflected in the thick lenses of his
glasses.
My father would save that days paper for a long time
afterwardpacked away like an heirloom, folded neatly beside the
newspaper from the day I was born. The pages of that Saturdays
paper, printed before the news was out, report a rise in the citys
real estate prices, the further erosion of several area beaches, and
plans for a new freeway overpass. That week a local surfer had been
attacked by a great white shark; border patrol agents discovered a
three-mile-long drug-running tunnel six feet beneath the U.S./
Mexico border; and the body of a young girl, long missing, was
found buried under a pile of white rocks in the wide, empty desert
out east. The times of that days sunrise and sunset appear in a

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chart on the back page, predictions that did not, of course, come
to pass.
Half an hour before we heard the news, my mother went out
for bagels.
I think the cats sensed the change before we did. They were
both Siamese, but different breeds. Chloe was sleepy and feathery
and sweet. Tony was her opposite: an old and anxious creature,
possibly mentally ill, a cat who tore out his own fur in snatches and
left it in piles around the house, tiny tumbleweeds set adrift on
the carpet.
In those last few minutes, as I ladled dry food into their
bowls, the ears of both cats began to swivel wildly toward the
front yard. Maybe they felt it somehow, a shift in the air. They
both knew the sound of my mothers Volvo pulling into the
driveway, but I wondered later if they recognized also the unusually quick spin of the wheels as she rushed to park the car, or
the panic in the sharp crack of the parking brake as she yanked it
into place.
Soon even I could detect the pitch of my mothers mood from
the stomps of her feet on the porch, the disorganized rattle of
her keys against the doorshe had heard those earliest news reports, now notorious, on the car radio between the bagel shop and
home.
Turn on the TV right now, she said. She was breathless and
sweaty. She left her keys in the teeth of the lock, where they would
dangle all day. Something God-awful is happening.

We were used to my mothers rhetoric. She talked big. She blustered. She overstated and oversold. God-awful might have meant
anything. It was a wide net of a phrase that scooped up a thousand

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possibilities, most of them benign: hot days and traffic jams, leaking pipes and long lines. Even cigarette smoke, if it wafted too
close, could be really and truly God-awful.
We were slow to react. My father, in his thinning yellow Padres
T-shirt, stayed right where he was at the table, one palm on his
coffee cup, the other resting on the back of his neck, as he finished
an article in the business section. I went ahead and opened the bag
of bagels, letting the paper crinkle beneath my fingers. Even
Hanna knew my mother well enough to go right on with what she
was doinghunting for the cream cheese on the bottom shelf of
the refrigerator.
Are you watching this? my mother said. We were not.
My mother had been an actress once. Her old commercials
mostly hair-care and kitchen productslay entombed together in
a short stack of dusty black videotapes that stood beside the television. People were always telling me how beautiful she was when
she was young, and I could still find it in the fair skin of her face
and the high structure of her cheekbones, though shed gained
weight in middle age. Now she taught one period of drama at the
high school and four periods of history. We lived ninety-five miles
from Hollywood.
She was standing on our sleeping bags, two feet from the television screen. When I think of it now, I imagine her cupping one
hand over her mouth the way she always did when she worried, but
at the time, I just felt embarrassed by the way the black waffle
soles of her running shoes were twisting Hannas sleeping bag, hers
the dainty cotton kind, pink and polka-dotted and designed not
for the hazards of campsites but exclusively for the plush carpets
of heated homes.
Did you hear me? said my mother, swinging around to look
at us. My mouth was full of bagel and cream cheese. A sesame seed

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had lodged itself between my two front teeth. Joel! she shouted
at my father. Im serious. This is hellacious.
My father looked up from the paper then, but still he kept his
index finger pressed firmly to the page to mark his place. How
could we have known that the workings of the universe had finally
made appropriate the fire of my mothers words?

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e were Californians and thus accustomed to the motions


of the earth. We understood that the ground could shift
and shudder. We kept batteries in our flashlights and gallons of
water in our closets. We accepted that fissures might appear in our
sidewalks. Swimming pools sometimes sloshed like bowls of water.
We were well practiced at crawling beneath tabletops, and we
knew to beware of flying glass. At the start of every school year,
we each packed a large ziplock bag full of non-perishables in case
The Big One stranded us at school. But we Californians were no
more prepared for this particular calamity than those who had
built their homes on more stable ground.
When we finally understood what was happening that morning, Hanna and I rushed outside to check the sky for evidence. But
the sky was just the skyan average, cloudless, blue. The sun
shone unchanged. A familiar breeze was blowing from the direction of the sea, and the air smelled the way it always did back then,
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like cut grass and honeysuckle and chlorine. The eucalyptus trees
were fluttering like sea anemones in the wind, and my mothers
jug of sun tea looked nearly dark enough to drink. In the distance
beyond our back fence, the freeway echoed and hummed. The
power lines continued to buzz. Had we tossed a soccer ball into
the air, we might not have even noticed that it fell a little faster to
the earth, that it hit the ground a little harder than before. I was
eleven years old in the suburbs. My best friend was standing beside me. I could spot not a single object out of place or amiss.

In the kitchen, my mother was already scanning the shelves for


essentials, swinging cupboards on hinges and inspecting the contents of drawers.
I just want to know where all the emergency supplies are, she
said. We dont know what might happen.
I think I should go home, said Hanna, still in purple pajamas, her arms wrapped around her tiny waist. She hadnt brushed
her hair, and hers was hair that demanded attention, having grown
uncut since second grade. All the Mormon girls I knew had long
hair. Hannas dangled near her waist and tapered at the end like a
flame. My mom is probably freaking out, too, she said.
Hannas house was full of sisters, but mine was the home of
only one child.I never liked it when she left. The rooms felt too
quiet without her.
I helped her roll up her sleeping bag. She packed her backpack.
Had I known how much time would pass before wed see each
other again, I would have said a different goodbye. But we just
waved, Hanna and I, and then my father drove her back to her
house, three streets over from ours.

***
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There was no footage to show on television, no burning buildings


or broken bridges, no twisted metal or scorched earth, no houses
sliding off slabs. No one was wounded. No one was dead. It was, at
the beginning, a quite invisible catastrophe.
I think this explains why what I felt first was not fear but a
thrill. It was a little excitinga sudden sparkle amid the ordinary,
the shimmer of the unexpected thing.
But my mother was terrified. How could this happen? she
said.
She kept clipping and reclipping her hair. It was dark and
lovely, thanks in part to a deep brown dye.
Maybe it was a meteor? I said. Wed been studying the universe in science, and Id memorized the order of the planets. I
knew the names of all the things that floated out in space. There
were comets and black holes and bands of giant rocks. Or maybe
a nuclear bomb?
Its not a nuclear bomb, said my father. I could see the muscles clenching in his jaw as he watched the television screen. He
kept his arms crossed, his feet spread wide. He would not sit down.
To a certain extent, we can adapt, a scientist on the television screen was saying. A tiny microphone had been pinned to his
collar, and a newscaster was plumbing him for the darker possibilities. But if the earths rotation continues to slowand this is just
speculationId say we can expect radical changes in the weather.
Were going to see earthquakes and tsunamis. We might see mass
plant and animal die-outs. The oceans may begin to shift toward
the poles.
Behind us, our vertical blinds rustled in the breeze, and a helicopter buzzed in the distance, the thrumming of its blades wafting into the house through the screens.
But what could possibly cause something like this? said my
mother.
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Helen, said my father, I dont know any more than you do.
We all forgot about that days soccer game. My uniform would
remain folded in its drawer all day. My shin guards would lay untouched at the bottom of my closet.
I heard later that only Michaela showed up at the field, late as
usual, her cleats in her hands, her long hair undone, her red curls
flying in and out of her mouth as she ran sock-footed up the hill to
the fieldonly to find not a single girl warming up, not one blue
jersey rippling in the wind, not one French braid flapping, not a
single parent or coach on the grass. No mothers in visors sipping
iced tea, no fathers in flip-flops pacing the sideline. No ice chests
or beach chairs or quarter-sliced oranges. The upper parking lot,
she must have noticed then, was empty of cars. Only the nets remained, billowing silently in the goals, they the only proof that the
sport of soccer had once been played on this site.
And you know how my mom is, Michaela would tell me days
later at lunch, slouching against a wall in imitation of the sexier
seventh-grade girls. She was gone by the time I got back down to
the parking lot.
Michaelas mother was the youngest mother. Even the most
glamorous of the other mothers were at least thirty-five by then,
and mine had already turned forty. Michaelas was just twentyeight, a fact that her daughter denied but we all understood to be
true. Her mother always had a different boyfriend at her side, and
her smooth skin and firm body, her high breasts and her slim
thighs, were together the source of something shameful we
only dimly perceived but which we most certainly did perceive.
Michaela was the only kid I knew who lived in an apartment, and
she had no father to speak of.
Michaelas young mother had slept right through the news.
You didnt see anything about it on television? I asked
Michaela later that week.
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We dont have cable, remember? I never even turn the


TV on.
What about the car radio?
Broken, she said.
Even on ordinary days, Michaela had a continuous need for
rides. On that first day of the slowing, while the rest of us watched
the news in our living rooms, Michaela, stranded at the soccer
field, fiddled for a while with an ancient, out-of-service pay phone,
long forgotten by its makerall the rest of us had cell phones
until finally the coach drove up to tell anyone who had shown up
that the game was canceled, or at least postponed, and he gave
Michaela a ride home.

By noon on that first day, the networks had run out of new information. Drained of every fresh fact, they went right on reporting
anyway, chewing and rechewing the same small chunks of news. It
didnt matter, we were mesmerized.
I spent that whole day sitting on the carpet only a few feet
from the television with my parents. I still remember how it felt to
live through those hours. It was almost physical: the need to know
whatever there was to know.
Periodically, my mother went around the house checking faucets one by one, inspecting the color and clarity of the water.
Nothings going to happen to the water, honey, said my father. Its not an earthquake.
He held his glasses in his hands and was wiping the lenses with
the bottom of his shirt, as if ours were a problem merely of vision.
Bare of the glasses, his eyes always looked squinty to me, and too
small.
Youre acting like this isnt a big deal, she said.

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This was a time when the disagreements between my parents


were still minor.
My father held his glasses up to the light, then carefully set
them on his face. Tell me what you want me to do, Helen, he
said. And Ill do it.
My father was a doctor. He believed in problems and solutions,
diagnosis and cure. Worry, to his mind, was a waste.
People are panicking, said my mother. What about all the
people who run the water systems and the power grid? What about
the food supply? What if they abandon their posts?
All we can do is ride this thing out, he said.
Oh, thats a good plan, she said. Thats a really excellent
plan.
I watched her hurry out to the kitchen, her bare feet slapping
the tile. I heard the click and creak of the liquor cabinet, the clinking of ice in a glass.
I bet things will turn out okay, I said, gripped by an urge to
say some cheerful thingit rose up from my throat like a cough.
I bet it will be fine.
Already the crackpots and the geniuses were streaming out of
the wilderness and appearing on talk shows, waving the scientific
papers that the established journals had declined to publish. These
lone wolves claimed to have seen the disaster coming.
My mother returned to the couch with a drink in her hand.
At the bottom of the television screen, a question blared in red
block letters. This was the question: IS THE END NEAR?
Oh, come on, said my father. Thats just pure sensationalism. What are they saying on public television? The question dissolved in the air. No one changed the channel. Then he looked
over at me and said to my mother, I dont think she should be
watching this. Julia, he said, you want to go kick the ball around?

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No, thanks, I said. I didnt want to miss a single piece of


news.
I had pulled my sweatshirt down over my knees. Tony lay beside me on the rug, his paws outstretched, his breathing wheezy.
His body was so bony, you could see the knobs in his spine. Chloe
was hiding under the couch.
Come on, said my father. Lets go kick the ball around for a
while. He dug my soccer ball out of the hall closet and pressed it
between his hands. It feels a little low, he said.
I watched him handle the pump as if it were a piece of his
medical equipment, inserting the needle into the opening with a
surgeons precision and care, then pumping methodically, like
a respirator, always waiting for the last gasp of air to pass into the
ball before forcing the next one through.
I tied my shoes reluctantly and we went outside.
We kicked back and forth in silence for a while. I could hear
the newscasters chattering inside. Their voices mingled with the
clean thud of foot against ball.
The neighboring backyards were deserted. Swing sets stood
still as ruins. The twins trampoline had ceased to squeak. I wanted
to be back inside.
That was a nice one, said my father. Good accuracy.
But he didnt know much about soccer. He kicked with the
wrong part of the foot. I hit the next one too hard, and the ball
disappeared into the honeysuckle in the corner of our yard. We
stopped kicking then.
Youre okay, right? he said.
Large birds had begun to circle the sky. These were not suburban birds. These were hawks and eagles and crows, birds whose
hefty wings spoke of the wilder landscapes that persisted east of
here. They swooped from tree to tree, their calls drowning out the
twitter of our usual backyard birds.
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I knew that animals often sensed danger where humans did


not, and that in the minutes or hours before a tsunami or a wildfire
strikes, the animals always know to flee long before the people do.
I had heard that elephants sometimes snapped their chains and
headed for higher ground. Snakes could slither for miles.
Do you think the birds know? I asked. I could feel the muscles in my neck tensing as I watched them.
My father studied their shapes but said nothing. A hawk
landed at the crown of our pine tree, flapped his wings, then took
off again, heading farther west toward the coast.
From inside, my mother called to us through the screen door,
Now theyre saying it might be affecting gravity somehow.
Well be there in a minute, said my father. He squeezed my
shoulder hard, then tilted his head up to the sky like a farmer on
the lookout for rain. I want you to think how smart humans are,
he said. Think of everything humans have ever invented. Rocket
ships, computers, artificial hearts. We solve problems, you know?
We always solve the big problems. We do.
We walked inside after that, through the French doors and
onto the tile, my father insisting that we wipe our feet on the doormat as we crossedas if remembering our rituals could ensure our
safe passageback to the living room to my mother. But I felt as
he spoke and as we walked that although the world remained intact for now, everything around me was about to come apart.

In the hours that followed, we would worry and wait. We would


guess and wonder and speculate. We would learn new words and
new ways from the scientists and officials who paraded in and out
of our living room through the television screen and the Internet.
We would stalk the sun across our sky as we never had before. My
mother drank Scotch over ice in a glass. My father paced in the
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living room. Time moved differently that Saturday. Already the


morning felt like yesterday. By the time we sat waiting for the sun
to drift down behind the hills to the west, it seemed to me that
several days had passed inside the skin of just this one, as if the day
had ballooned by much more than a single small hour.
In the late afternoon, my father climbed the stairs to my parents bedroom and then reappeared transformed in a collared shirt
and dark socks. A pair of dress shoes was swinging from two of his
fingers.
Are you going somewhere? asked my mother.
Im on at six, remember?
My father delivered babies for a living, and he specialized in
high-risk births. He was often on call, and he sometimes worked the
overnight shift at the hospital. He frequently worked weekends.
Dont go, said my mother. Not tonight.
I remember hoping she could convince him not to leave, but
he continued to tie his shoes. He liked the loops in his bows to
be exactly the same size.
Theyll understand if you dont show up, said my mother.
Its chaos out there, with the traffic and the panic and everything.
Some of my fathers patients had spent months in the hospital, trying to hold their babies in their wombs until the babies were
strong enough to survive the world.
Come on, Helen, he said. You know I cant stay.
He stood up and patted his front pocket. I heard the muted
jingle of keys.
We need you here, my mother said. She rested her head
sideways against my fathers chesthe was over a foot taller. We
really dont want you to go, right, Julia?
I wanted him to stay, too, but Id grown expert at diplomacy as
only an only child can.
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I wish he didnt have to go, I said carefully. But I guess if he


has to go.
My mother turned away from me and said to him more softly,
Please. We dont even know whats happening.
Come on, Helen, he said, smoothing her hair. Dont be so
dramatic. Nothings going to happen between now and tomorrow
morning. Im betting this whole thing will blow over.
How? she said. How could it?
He kissed her on the cheek and waved to me from the entry
hall. Then he stepped outside and shut the door. Soon we heard
his car starting up in the driveway.
My mother flopped down next to me on the couch. At least
youre not abandoning me, she said. Well have to take care of
each other.
I felt like escaping to Hannas house right then, but I knew it
would upset my mother if I left.
From outside, the voices of children floated into the living
room. Through the blinds, I could see the Kaplan family walking
down the sidewalk. Saturday was their Sabbath day, which meant
they didnt drive all day. There were six of them now: Mr. and Mrs.
Kaplan, Jacob, Beth, Aaron, and the baby in the stroller. The kids
went to the Jewish day school up north, and they dressed mostly in
black, in a way that reminded me of characters in old movies, a
flutter of long skirts and black pants. Beth Kaplan was my age, but
I didnt know her well. She kept to herself. She wore a long-sleeve
shirt and a long rectangular black skirt with stylish red patentleather shoes. I figured that footwear was her one place to shine.
As the Kaplans glided past our house, the littlest one picking dandelions from the edge of our lawn, I realized that they might not
yet know about the slowing.
I found out much later from Jacob that I was right: The
Kaplans did not discover until sundownwhen their Sabbath was
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over and their religion once again allowed them to flip light
switches and watch TVthat this world was any different from
the one theyd been born into. If you didnt hear the news, the
landscape looked unchanged. This was not true later, of course,
but for now, on this first day, the earth still seemed itself.

We lived on a cul-de-sac in a neighborhood of tract houses built in


the 1970s on quarter-acre lots with stucco exteriors and asbestos
in the ceilings and the walls. An olive tree twisted up from every
front yard unless it had been torn out and replaced with some
trendier, thirstier tree. The yards on our street were well kept but
not obsessively so. Daisies and dandelions were scattered amid the
thinning grass. Pink bougainvillea bushes clung to the sides of almost all the houses, shaking and shimmering in the wind.
In satellite maps from that era, our row of cul-de-sacs looks
neat and parallel, each with a fat bulb at the end, like ten thermometers hanging from a string. Ours was one in a web of modest
streets carved into the less expensive side of a coastal California
hill whose pricier slope faced the ocean.
Our mornings were bright back then. Our kitchens faced east.
Sun streamed through windows as coffeepots gurgled and showers
ran, as I brushed my teeth or chose an outfit for school. Our afternoons were shady and cool because each evening, the sun dropped
behind the nicer houses at the top of the hill a full hour before it
slipped into the ocean on the other side. On this day, we waited for
sunset with new suspense.
I think it moved a little, I said, squinting. I mean, its definitely going down.
All along the street, garage doors eased open on electric tracks.
Station wagons and SUVs emerged, loaded with kids and clothes
and dogs. A few neighbors stood clustered, arms crossed, on their
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lawns. Everyone was watching the sky as if waiting for a fireworks


show to begin.
Dont look directly at the sun, said my mother, who was sitting beside me on the porch. Itll ruin your eyes.
She was peeling open a package of double-A batteries shed
found in a drawer. Three flashlights lay on the cement beside her,
a mini arsenal of light. The sun remained high in the sky, but she
had grown obsessed already with the possibilities of an extra-long
night.
In the distance at the end of the street, I spotted my old friend
Gabby, sitting alone on her roof. I hadnt seen her much since her
parents had transferred her to a private school in the next town
over from ours. As usual, she was dressed in all black. Her dyed
black hair stood out against the sky.
Why did she dye it like that? said my mother.
I dont know, I said. Not visible from this distance were the
three tiers of earrings that hung from both of Gabbys ears. She
just felt like it, I guess.
A portable radio chattered and buzzed beside us. We were
gaining more minutes with every hour. Already, they were arguing
about the wheat pointIve never understood if this was a term
that had been buried for decades in the glossaries of textbooks, or
if it was coined on that day, a new answer to a new question: How
long can major crops survive without the light of the sun?
My mother switched the flashlights on and off, one by one,
testing their beams in the cup of her hand. She dumped the old
batteries out of each barrel and replaced them with new ones, as if
arranging ammunition in a set of guns.
I dont know why your father hasnt called me back, she said.
Shed brought the cordless phone out to the porch, where it
sat silent beside her. She took quick soundless sips of her drink. I
remember the sound of the ice clinking in the glass, the way the
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water dripped down the sides, leaving intersecting rings on the


cement.
Not everyone panicked. Sylvia, my piano teacher, who lived
across the street, went right on tending her garden as if nothing at
all had happened. I watched her kneeling calmly in the dirt, a pair
of shiny shears in one hand. Later, she took a slow walk around the
block, her clogs tapping the sidewalk as she went, her red hair falling from a hasty braid.
Hi, Julia, she said when she reached our yard. She smiled at
my mother but did not say her name. They were about the same
age, but Sylvia still seemed girlish somehow, and my mother did
not.
You dont seem very worried, said my mother.
Que ser, ser, said Sylvia. Her words were one long sigh.
Thats what I always say. Whatever will be, will be.
I liked Sylvia, but I knew my mother didnt. Sylvia was cool
and wispy and she smelled like lotion. Her limbs were lanky, like
the branches of eucalyptus trees, and were often encircled in
chunky turquoise jewelry, which she removed at the beginning of
each of my piano lessons in order to commune more closely with
the keys. She always played piano barefoot.
Or maybe Im just not thinking straight, Sylvia said. Im in
the middle of doing a cleanse.
Whats a cleanse? I said.
Its a fast, said Sylvia.
She bent toward me to explain, and I heard my mother slide
her flashlights behind her back. I think she was suddenly embarrassed by her fear.
No food, no alcohol, just water. For three days. Im sure your
mother has done one before.
My mother shook her head. Not me, she said. I was aware of

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my mothers drink, sweating on the pavement beside her. For a


moment nothing else was said.
Anyway, said Sylvia, beginning to walk away, dont let this
stop you from practicing, Julia. See you Wednesday.
Sylvia would spend the next few afternoons pruning roses in a
sun hat and casually pulling up weeds.
You know, its not healthy to be that skinny, said my mother
after Sylvia had gone back to her gardening. (My mother kept a
closet full of dresses one size too small, all waiting in plastic, for
the day when she lost the ten pounds shed been complaining
about for years.) You can see her bones, said my mother. And it
was true: You could.
Look, I said. The streetlights came on.
Those lights were set to a timer, designed to ignite at dusk. But
the sun continued to shine.
I imagined people on the other side of the world, in China and
in India, huddling now in the darkness, waiting, like usbut for
dawn.
He should let us know he got to work safely, at least, said my
mother. She dialed again, waited, set the phone down.
Id gone with my father to work once. Not much had happened while I was there. Pregnant women watched television and
ate snacks in bed. My father asked questions and checked charts.
Husbands milled around.
Didnt I ask him to call? she said.
She was making me nervous. I tried to keep her calm.
Hes probably just busy, I said.
In the distance, I noticed that Tom and Carlotta, the old couple who lived at the end of the street, were sitting outside, too, he
in a faded tie-dyed T-shirt and jeans, she in Birkenstocks, a long
gray braid resting on her shoulder. But they were always out there

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at this time of night, beach chairs in the driveway, margaritas and


cigarettes in their hands. Their garage door stood open behind
them, Toms model train tracks exposed like guts. Most of the
houses on our street had been remodeled by then, or fixed up, at
least, given fresh veneers like old teeth, but Tom and Carlottas
house remained untouched, and I knew from selling Girl Scout
cookies that the original burgundy shag still lined their floors.
Tom waved at me, his hand thick with a drink. I didnt know
him well, but he was always friendly to me. I waved back.
It was October, but it felt like July: The air was summer air, the
sky a summer sky, still light past seven oclock.
I hope the phones are working, said my mother. But they
must be working, right?
In the time since that night, Ive developed many of my mothers habits, the persistent churning of her mind on a single subject,
her low tolerance for uncertainty, but like her wide hips and her
high cheekbones, these were traits that would sleep dormant in
me for some years to come. That night I could not relate to her.
Just calm down, I said. Okay, Mom?
Finally, the phone did ring. My mother answered it in a rush. I
could tell she was disappointed by the voice she was hearing. She
passed the phone to me.
It wasnt my father. It was Hanna.
I stood up from the porch and walked out into the grass with
the phone to my ear, squinting at the sun.
I cant really talk, said Hanna. But I wanted to tell you that
were leaving.
I could hear the voices of Hannas sisters echoing in the background. I could picture her standing in the bedroom she shared
with them, the yellow-striped curtains her mother had sewn, the
stuffed animals crowded on her bed, the hair clips spread out
across the dresser. We had spent hours together in that room.
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Where are you going? I asked.


Utah, Hanna said. She sounded scared.
When are you coming back? I asked.
Were not, she said.
I felt a wave of panic. Wed spent so much time together that
year that teachers sometimes called us by one anothers names.
As I would later learn, thousands of Mormons gathered in Salt
Lake City after the slowing began. Hanna had told me once that
the church had pinpointed a certain square mile of land as the
exact location of Jesus next return to earth. They kept a giant
grain silo in Utah, she said, to feed the Mormons during the end
times. Im not supposed to tell you this stuff because youre not
in our church, she said. But its true.
My own familys religion was a bloodless breed of Lutheranism
we guarded no secrets, and we harbored no clear vision of the end
of the world.
Are you still there? said Hanna.
It was hard to talk. I stood in the grass, trying not to cry.
Youre moving away for good? I finally said.
I heard Hannas mother call her name in the background.
I have to go, Hanna said. Ill call you later.
She hung up.
What did she say? called my mother from the porch.
A hard lump had formed in my throat.
Nothing, I said.
Nothing? said my mother.
Tears rushed into my eyes. My mother didnt notice.
I want to know why Daddy hasnt called us, she said. Do
you think his phone is dead?
God, Mom, I said. Youre making everything worse.
She stopped talking and looked at me. Dont be a smartaleck, she snapped. And dont say God.
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A slight static crackled through the radio speakers, and my


mother adjusted the dial until it cleared. An expert from Harvard
was talking: If this keeps up, he said, this could be catastrophic
for crops of all kinds, for the whole worlds food supply.
We sat in silence for a moment.
Then from inside the house, we heard a quick thud, the wet
smack of something soft striking glass.
We both jumped.
What was that? she said.
The unimaginable had been imagined, the unbelievable believed. Now it seemed to me that dangers lurked everywhere.
Threats seemed to hide in every crack.
It didnt sound good, I said.
We hurried inside. We hadnt put anything away, and the
kitchen was a mess. My bagel from the morning lay half eaten on
a plate, exactly where Id left it nine hours earlier, the cream cheese
crusting at the edges. A container of yogurt had been overturned
by the cats, its insides licked clean. Someone had left out the milk.
I noticed that Hanna had left her soccer sweatshirt on a chair.
The source of the sound turned out to be a bird. A blue jay had
struck a high window in our kitchen, then dropped to the back
deck, its narrow neck apparently snapped, its wings spread asymmetrically around its body.
Maybe its just stunned, said my mother.
We stood at the glass.
I dont think so, I said.
The slowing, we soon came to understand, had altered gravity.
Afterward, the earth held a little more sway. Bodies in motion
were slightly less likely to remain in motion. We were all of us and
everything a little more susceptible to the pull of the ground,
and maybe it was this shift in physics that had sent that bird
straight into the flat glass of our windowpane.
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Maybe we should move it, I said.


I dont want you touching it, said my mother. Daddy will
deal with it.
And so we left the bird exactly as it lay. We kept the cats inside
for the rest of the night.
We left the kitchen as wed found it, too. Wed remodeled it
recently, and you could smell the paint in the air, but that chemical scent was mixing with the tinge of soured milk. My mother
poured a fresh drink: Two new ice cubes cracked and resettled beneath a stream of sparkling Scotch. Id never seen her drink so
much in one day.
She headed back out to the front porch. Come on, she said.
But I was tired of being with her. I went up to my room instead
and lay flat on my bed for a while.
Twenty minutes later, the sun finally did slip behind the hill,
proof at last that the earth, however slowly, continued to turn.

The wind reversed in the night and turned hard, blowing in from
the desert instead of up from the sea. It howled and shrieked. Outside, the eucalyptus trees struggled and heaved, and the glittering
stars showed that the sky was clear of cloudsthis was an empty,
stormless wind.
At some point, I heard the creaking of cabinets in the kitchen,
the soft squeak of hinges. I recognized the shuffling of my mothers slippered feet, the uncapping of a pill bottle, and a glass of
water slowly filling at the sink.
I wished my father were home. I tried to picture him at the
hospital. Maybe babies were being born into his hands right at
that moment. I wondered what it might mean to come into the
world on this of all nights.
Soon the streetlights flashed off, sucking the low glow from my
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room. This should have marked dawn, but the neighborhood remained submerged in the dark. It was a new kind of darkness for
me, a thick country black, unseen in cities and suburbs.
I left my room and crept into the hall. Through the crack beneath my parents door, I could see the sickly blue light of the
television leaking onto the hall carpet.
Youre not sleeping, either? said my mother when I opened
the door. She looked slouchy and worn in an old white nightgown.
Bouquets of fine wrinkles fanned out from her eyes.
I climbed into bed beside her. Whats all that wind? I asked.
We spoke in low tones as if someone were sleeping nearby. The
television was on mute.
Its just a Santa Ana, she said, rubbing my back with the
palm of her hand. Its Santa Ana season. Its always like this in the
fall, remember? That part, at least, is normal.
What time is it? I asked.
Seven-forty-five.
It should be morning, I said.
It is, she said. The sky remained dark. There was no hint of
dawn.
We could hear the cats, restless in the garage. I could hear a
scratching at the door and Tonys persistent, uncertain wailing. He
was nearly blind from cataracts, but I could tell that even he knew
something was wrong.
Did Daddy call? I asked.
My mother nodded. Hes going to work another shift because
not everyone showed up.
We sat for a long time in silence while the wind blew around
us. The light from the television flashed on the white walls.
When he gets home, let him rest, okay? said my mother.
Hes had a very rough night.
What happened?
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She bit her lip and kept her eyes on the television.
A woman died, she said.
Died?
Id never heard of such a thing happening under my fathers
care. To die in childbirth seemed to me a frontier womans death,
as impossible now as polio or the plague, made extinct by our ingenious monitors and machines, our clean hands and strong soaps,
our drugs and our cures and our vast stores of knowledge.
Daddy feels it never would have happened if they were working with a full staff. They were stretched too thin.
What about the baby? I asked.
I dont know, she said. There were tears in her eyes.
For some reason, it was right then and not earlier that I really
began to worry. I rolled over in my parents bed, and the scent of
my fathers earthy cologne wafted up from the sheets. I wanted
him home.
On the television screen, a reporter was standing in a desert
somewhere, the sky pinkening behind her. They were charting the
sunrise as they would a stormthe sun had reached the eastern
edge of Nevada, but there was no sign of it yet in California.
Later, I would come to think of those first days as the time
when we learned as a species that we had worried over the wrong
things: the hole in the ozone layer, the melting of the ice caps,
West Nile and swine flu and killer bees. But I guess it never is what
you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always differentunimagined, unprepared for, unknown.

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by Karen Thompson Walker

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