Mania, page 1
Praise from the Masters for
“Larsen takes you into a disturbing world of intimate danger and dark passion.”
“Excellent—everything a great thriller should be.”
“Harrowing and twisted, Mania takes readers on a dark journey of bone-chilling terror. This is a white-knuckle read!”
“In Mania, Craig Larsen taps into the deepest terrors locked in our cracked minds. There is real evil here, combined with the greatest of all fears, that the evil we fear most resides in our own hearts. A fast and thrilling debut.”
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
who has been my cornerstone
and who has blazed all my trails
The murder seemed to unfold out of step with time.
It was past midnight. The air was cool, brisk. November was giving way to December, and a storm was riding into Seattle. Rain clouds had been gathering, looming low in the sky all day long. Fog lay over the waterfront like a heavy blanket, slowly stealing into the city on the back of a menacing, salt-laced breeze. Without a moon, it was a particularly dark night.
A half step behind his older brother, struggling to keep pace, Nick’s face reflected his distress. Feeling ill, he had left the raucous, fumy bar in front of Sam, crashing through the doors into the night like he was trying to escape. A few blocks on, his face was sweaty, and he felt flushed, out of breath. His ears were still ringing with music from the jazz club. Oblivious to Nick’s discomfort, Sam led the way to the car in silence, his back straight, his footsteps drumming a deliberate, rhythmic beat.
The shadows were so dense that Nick and Sam could barely see the edge of the deserted parking lot where they had left Sam’s new BMW a few hours earlier. Nick had the vague sense that they were being watched. Neither he nor Sam, though, had any idea that, just thirty feet away from them, crouching hidden beside a rusted Dumpster, a man dressed in rags was spying on them. Waiting. Hypnotized by the echoing cadence of their footsteps.
The lights at the ferry landing flickered in the fuzzy darkness, receding behind them as the two brothers crossed Alaskan Way. In front of them, across the empty lot, a public staircase leading steeply up toward Pike Place Market disappeared into a blackness as solid as a charcoal wall. Several clubs had let out, and the stillness was broken by distant shouts. Two streets down, five or six drunken college students were squeezing into a car, loudly debating whether to head back to campus or look for an after-hours venue. The tendrils of a girl’s high-pitched laughter cascaded shrilly through the night, encircling the brothers like the hair of a siren, punctuated by the metallic slam of a door. Nick hardly heard the sounds.
His fingers had found a wad of bills at the bottom of his jacket pocket. He gripped the roll, weighing it, then let it go. The paper felt grimy, dirty. Hunching against the cold, he eyed his more successful brother, aware that he must have slipped the cash into his pocket during the course of the evening. This wasn’t the first time Sam had come to his aid. Without Sam, he would have been homeless. About a decade before, after their parents died, Nick had suffered a breakdown. Sam had taken him in and helped him through college. Nick wanted to be grateful. He needed the money. He barely had enough in his checking account to make rent. Resentment was welling up inside him so strongly, though, that Nick could barely restrain himself from hurling the bundle of cash at the back of his brother’s head. Like a rock. Like a jagged, heavy chunk of stone.
Nick felt his teeth clench. Sam was striding gracefully next to him as though he hadn’t been at all affected by the vodka. His posture was rigidly upright. Nick had never really put it into words before, not until this very second. Sam was the more powerful of the two. He had grown up, whereas Nick somehow still felt like an ineffectual kid. Nick’s body stiffened. Struggling to catch his breath, he had to fight the sensation that Sam had gripped him around the neck and was squeezing his thumbs into his windpipe. The asphalt danced a bit beneath his feet.
A few steps farther, the small blur of movement in front of them that presaged the attack barely caught Nick’s attention. The darkness seemed to change shape in front of them, that was all. Sam didn’t see it. Glancing upward, trying to pull himself from his thoughts, Nick looked instinctively for the closest source of light. On the edge of the dark, empty lot, an industrial street lamp was burning overhead, its dim bulb suffocating in a swirling pool of mist.
When the shadows shifted again, Nick reached to touch his older brother lightly on the arm, stopping himself in midstep. His heart leapt. Someone was out there, no more than twenty feet in front of them. The wind picked up off Elliott Bay, slicing through Nick’s thin jacket, blowing the tail of his shirt in front of him like a mast pennant.
Sam opened his mouth to ask Nick why he had stopped. He had time only to face his brother before a blurred, ferocious shape emerged from the darkness, rushing at them with a violence that stunned both the brothers, rooting them to the ground. Nick couldn’t comprehend the speed with which they were being attacked. The whirling shape was already on top of them before it resolved itself crisply into the form of a tall, crazed man dressed in rags.
Sam was a half step in front of Nick, in the man’s path. He didn’t move. The wind was lifting his hair, but he stood as still as a statue, frozen with confusion. Nick didn’t have time to try to warn him. The man was charging them, one hand reaching toward Sam’s shoulder, the other raised above his head, brandishing a knife. Nick didn’t hesitate. He leapt in front of his brother, reaching for the man’s wrist. As he met the larger, stronger man, it felt as if the man was going to trample him.
Nick was aware of how greasy the man’s sleeve was. The rancid smell of the man’s clothing filled his nose. His unshaven chin dug sharply into his cheek. When Nick reached for his other wrist, trying to stop him, the man’s fingers sunk like nails into his ribs. Why wasn’t Sam helping? The man was grunting, trying to regain his footing, wrestling himself free. This was no scuffle. He was going to kill them. Nick clung to his wrist. “Sam, help,” he heard himself mutter. “Sam, please.” Louder. “Sam!”
He was drowning. The man was taller than he was. His arms were longer. His wrists felt as wide and powerful as two-by-fours. When the man finally found his balance, he pushed Nick off
Nick was only vaguely conscious of the violence that followed. The knife described a gleaming arc through the mist. Nick heard the sharp slice of its blade sinking into flesh. But the night had otherwise gone silent. Sam shuddered, then crumpled to the ground without a sound. Nick couldn’t breathe. He was screaming without words. Why, Sam, why? Why didn’t you protect yourself?
Nick gathered himself. His arms and his legs shook. Had he been stabbed, too? No, he wasn’t bleeding. His forehead had hit the pavement, and his ribs were stitched with pain, but he was all right. He would be next, though. The man had dispensed with Sam, and he was turning on him.
Nick slid backward on the pavement, cowering, trying to escape. The man was approaching him, raising the knife into the air.
“You and I are brothers.”
The man’s savage voice sent ice through Nick’s veins. He wanted to ask him what he meant, but he couldn’t. How are you and I brothers? Sam is my brother. Had he only imagined the man’s words?
Nick became aware of a sudden blur of movement in the darkness just beyond the man. His heart leapt when Sam rose up improbably from the ground, pulling himself heroically to his feet behind the crazed attacker. He closed on the man like a shadow. He was going to jump him.
The last image that registered with Nick was the man’s face. His skin was pocked and sallow. His nose seemed to droop over his upper lip, and it was freckled with large black pores and snaked with veins. His eyes were watery blue and bloodshot, open too wide.
Then the night went black.
When Nick opened his eyes, the blackness blanketing him didn’t make sense. His legs and feet were icy cold, and he could taste the warm, slippery, briny flavor of blood in his mouth. For a split second he imagined he was lying frozen in snow. He didn’t understand the sound of the foghorn behind him or the harsh feeling of gravel against his cheek. He had opened his eyes squinting, somehow expecting the glare of daylight.
Things pieced themselves back together gradually. He was in Seattle. He had been sitting in a jazz club for a couple of hours. His ears were still buzzing from the music. It had been loud, and he and Sam had had to shout to each other just to be heard.
Nick pushed his hands against the ground, raising himself up. He had been lying facedown, his cheek pressed against something sharp. His legs had been wide apart, almost as if he had been sleeping, looking for a comfortable position in his slumber. Where was he? He twisted onto his side, expecting to find himself in the parking lot. Where were the voices and laughter of the college students?
The air was as heavy as wet towel. He recognized the splash of water slapping against a pier and then the screech of a seagull. His body ached all over. Sharp pains shot through his ribs every time he tried to move, winding him. His cheek was throbbing. He raised his fingers to his face, understanding that he had been badly cut. A large lump had formed over his left eye.
“Sam,” he said, louder.
The gigantic shadow next to him resolved itself into the hull of a ship, rising out of the fog beside a pier fifty yards away, across a stretch of black water.
Abruptly, his ears rang with the sound of the man panting, running toward Sam and him out of the shadows. The man’s lurid face was in front of him. Nick could see his rough skin, his cracked lips. His watery blue eyes were open wide with panic, almost as if he were the more terrified, as if he were the one being attacked, not the two brothers. The man’s hands were wrapped in tattered and dirty, oily rags. The knife glinted in the weak light of the street lamp overhead. The man was going to stab Sam. He was breathing raspingly. His clothes were rustling. The sound became impossibly loud. Falling to the ground, Nick squeezed his eyes shut and raised his hands, preparing himself to be struck.
“Sam!” His voice seemed to echo in the darkness, and then the vision faded away.
The sound of a train rolling slowly over rusty rails caused Nick to open his eyes. His surroundings began to make sense to him. Where he had expected to see the flat pavement of the parking lot, he found grass on sandy soil, carefully planted bushes and trees. The huge aluminum hulls of a few aircraft were rolling eerily through the night, being ferried by train to one of the Boeing plants. He was in Elliott Bay Park. That’s where he was. More than half a mile from the lot where he and his brother had been attacked. He had been lying unconscious on the running path, in the small strip of green planted between the railway tracks and the dock where cargo ships moored to take on loads of gravel.
Fighting the pain that gripped his body, Nick raised himself to his knees, then stood all the way up. His face was bloodied and bruised. He was certain that a number of his ribs had been broken. The soles of his feet felt raw and cut, and he realized that his feet were bare. Where were his shoes? He straightened his jacket on his shoulders and looked around.
It was so dark, the fog so heavy, that he could barely see. He glanced at the black shadow of the ship moored on the pier, then began walking back toward the parking lot on Alaskan Way, becoming ever more anxious. A few steps on, he began to trot, then to run.
The swirling red lights of a police cruiser were visible from a distance, silky in the brackish mist being swept into Seattle by the approaching storm. Nick slowed down. The way the lights were shifting and dancing in the dark air, he understood that more than one cruiser had answered the call. The police had gathered in force, treating the parking lot like a crime scene. Something terrible had happened to Sam. He listened, trying to make sense of the voices squawking over police radios and the scratch of footsteps in the gravel. Confusion overwhelmed him. He wished he could recall what had happened.
Nick slid backward on the pavement as the man approached. The grit of the asphalt was sharp on his fingers. When his brother rose up behind the man, Nick’s hopes rose with him in his chest. Sam wasn’t going to let this happen. He would grab the man, wrestle the knife from his hand. When Sam took a step forward, though, he stumbled uncertainly on his feet, unable to find his balance. The man had stabbed him. The knife had already done its damage. The man turned around to face him.
“Look out, Sam!”
Sam seemed barely conscious. The man took his time. He gripped the knife, weighing it deliberately, tightening his filthy fingers around its handle. Bending his knees, he swiveled his hips and shoved the knife into Sam’s stomach. Blood splattered Nick’s face. Sam lurched forward, momentarily suspended on his toes above the man’s powerful upward thrust. His face was a study not in terror but surprise. He wasn’t afraid. He was stunned. He hardly seemed to react. Then he fell away from the knife. The sharp steel blade scintillated evilly in the dark night.
Nick scrambled to his knees, fighting to reach his brother.
Three squad cars were parked askew, the closest one with its doors wide open, as though it had screeched to a stop and the police officers had jumped out. An ambulance waited nearby. Several orange cones had been planted on the ground, yellow tape pulled around them. Despite the late hour, a few people had collected at the edge of the scene, gawking at the policemen. Nick hurried forward as he saw three men dressed in white picking up a large black body bag, heaving it onto a waiting stretcher. He stepped over the yellow police tape and fought through the gathering of policemen, unable to reconcile their relaxed attitude with the image of his brother’s body in a zipped bag.
“Let me through!”
Someone seized him from behind. Nick tried to wrestle himself free, but the man holding him was strong. His fingers dug into Nick’s biceps. Nick took in the faces of the policemen surrounding him. One of them was smiling. Another was speaking about the Seattle Seahawks, a football team. Light glinted off the brass badge pinned to an officer’s uniform. The blur in front of him resolved itself int
“Whoa there,” the policeman said. “What’s the rush, buddy?”
Several other policemen turned to look, their faces impassive. The plainclothes policeman in front of Nick—a tall, young man with a slightly pudgy face, dressed in a rumpled jacket and tie—alone appeared concerned. He held Nick by the shoulders, cataloging the cuts and bruises on his face.
“My name is Detective Adam Stolie,” he said. “Hey—don’t I know you?”
Nick shook his head. His throat was thick, and he couldn’t seem to find his voice.
“Slow down there,” the detective said. “You’re Nick Wilder, aren’t you? The photographer from the Telegraph. You’re so beaten up, I almost didn’t recognize you.” The detective glanced behind him at one of the other policemen. “Hey, Brady,” he said. “You want to come over here, give me a hand?”
A patrolman, shorter and thinner, broke free from the group of incongruously chatty policemen. Detective Stolie was studying Nick. “You want to tell me what you’re doing here?”
Nick looked over at the long black bag on the stretcher. The orderlies were strapping it down with wide blue polyester straps, latching them closed with steel buckles. His eyes filled with tears.
“That’s my brother,” he heard himself say. “That’s Sam.”
He twisted to one side, trying to free himself. Stolie released his grip and let him go, and Nick fell to his knees next to the stretcher. The orderlies stopped what they were doing and took a small step backward.