Membership in the Great Arcadia, an exclusive East Coast yacht club, is pretty much limited to the rich and powerful in 1980s business, finance, and politics. But the sexually charged murder of Greek billionaire George Minot during their annual regatta off the coast of Maine opens a door into a secret world of addictive sexuality and excess beneath the starched sheets of the East Coast establishment.
Tim Bigelow is looking forward to spending a week at sea with the magical Cassie Sears, who has suddenly appeared in his life. He’s also there to celebrate his older brother, Harry-the retiring commodore of the Great Arcadia who’s on course for a major role in the White House. That prospect slips away when Minot is murdered and details start to come out, including the alarming fact that Minot saw himself as a latter-day embodiment of the Minotaur-the half-man, half-bull creature who lurked in the Labyrinth beneath the ancient city of Knossos in one of the oldest myths in the Western canon.
From the decks of the world’s finest yachts to the beds and boardrooms of some of the most powerful people in America to an electrifying courtroom trial in a dying coastal town, The Practical Navigator steers a course through its own labyrinth . . . a whirlpool of obsessive sexuality, murder, and despair.
AN EXCERPT: THE PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR
July 1988, Broken Harbor
Harry’s death was utterly like him: orderly, decisive, and oddly considerate. He sailed to Maine without telling a soul—left a note saying he was going on a business trip but of course he wasn’t. He picked up his boat in Marion and sailed overnight to Broken Island, seven miles off the coast of Maine, near the Canadian border. It’s a big boat, over fifty feet, but it has all kinds of gadgets so it wasn’t hard for someone like Harry to do it alone. Actually, he wasn’t entirely alone. He had stopped at the New York apartment and picked up Gus, the big black Newfoundland, to keep him company on this . . . this journey, I guess.
He got there late in the afternoon, furled the sails, and set the anchor with his usual care. Then he fed the dog and had something himself, down below. Put the dishes in the sink and opened a bottle of wine, which he took up into the cockpit. A very good bottle of wine, but he only had the one glass. It was a sacrament, I imagine; he didn’t really drink.
xiv CHRIS CROWLEY
No one was there so I can’t tell, but it looks as if Harry sat there for quite a while, with Gus at his side. I see them with great clarity: there is Gus, with his huge head on Harry’s lap and Harry calmly looking around, his hands working the thick black fur around Gus’s neck and ears. Or I see them both, sit- ting up now, looking at the beach and that remarkable shore- line, the sun going down over the Cut. It is the loveliest place. Then he shuts Gus down below.
One imagines the intimate business of getting Gus down the steps. Harry stands at the bottom of the companionway, and gets his arms around him (a face full of fur, legs every which way; Gus’s great face is interested but relaxed: they’ve done this a hundred times). Then he picks him up, all hundred pounds of him, and gently sets him down on the cabin sole. Sets out some water. Harry put him below because he didn’t want him to see. Or more likely, he was afraid the dog would jump in and try to save him, as Newfies are bred to do.
Then, after he had lowered the guardrail on the starboard side, he got the Camden marine operator to call the sheriff, Bud Wilkerson, over in Hanson, and told him what he was about to do. Hung up before Bud could say anything, but wanted him to know so he’d come out and get the dog. Then he put on his commodore’s cap—an old-fashioned hat with a small, shiny visor and a narrow crown, the kind worn in the Navy in World War I. Do you remember the photos of Admiral Sims? Like that. That was one of a number of affectations at the Great Arcadia Yacht Club of New York, Boston, and Mount Desert, of which Harry had recently been commodore. That and the pips, the four raised brass-and-enamel symbols of his rank on each epaulet. Then Harry sat down on the gunwale with his back to the water. And blew his brains out.
Here’s an interesting thing. Just before he did it, he tied a float to his leg. When he shot himself, his body went over the side, as he intended. Not a drop of blood in the boat. But it
THE PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR xv
floated. So my friend Bud wouldn’t have to dive for it when he got there. Imagine thinking of that, in the closing moments of your life.
Well, Harry—my brother, Harry—had a weakness for order. More than a weakness, a passion. He was a subtle man, entirely capable of making his way in a dark and uncertain world. But his great passion was for order. That was the real business of his life: not making an astonishing fortune as a very young man or becoming a cabinet officer, but preserving order. Against the sweet, dark pull of the Labyrinth, as it spins away, under the city, under our lives.
The seeds of that passion were planted when he was a kid, in our chaotic shingle-pile house by the sea, and they were nur- tured secretly, urgently, by Harry in hostile ground. Hostile because our parents were not orderly people. Charming and loving, when at all sober, but not orderly. He shaped his character against a background of drunks making speeches, playful grown-ups falling down at croquet. Lovely manners punctuated with the occasional slap, somewhere upstairs. And screams. Real, flat-out crazy-person screams.
We were a handsome family in decline. We lived in a grand house on Peaches Point in Marblehead, which was in trust so it could not be sold. But there was lawn furniture in the living room, and the gardens running down to the water had gone to jungle. The television was on in the afternoon and there was drinking all day long.
Our mother, Sarah, was very beautiful and had great charm, great style. But she was not useful. As a mother, she
2 CHRIS CROWLEY
was not as useful as the five Newfoundland dogs that ran more or less wild around our house. And they were not useful at all, until Harry took them in hand when he was nine or ten. Housebroke them and made them mind. By the time he was fifteen, he was taking care of all of us, the dogs and me, any- way. He must have had remarkable gifts because we were all pretty well behaved and happy. He tried to take care of our mother, too. Had been trying, desperately, since he was a little boy. But that had not gone so well.
Harry finally gave it up as a bad job when he was sixteen. Suddenly lost patience, I had always supposed, and simply ran away. He told me, much later, that he talked to me about it for a long time the night he left. Explained to me why he had to go and why he couldn’t take me with him. It was obvious: he was sixteen and I was six. He promised to come back and get me when he could. Which he did.
When I was sixteen and she was forty-four, our mother died of her excesses. From having been very popular, in a raff- ish, untidy way, our parents’ lives had suddenly gone toxic, after Harry left. They became the kind of people whom one no longer saw. Solitary drinkers, alone and separate in that big house. Some people were surprised that a woman that young and attractive should drink herself to death. I was not surprised. I thought that’s exactly what she had in mind. Our father died a year later, in similar circumstances. I don’t know what he had in mind. He had been a heavy-drinking absence in our lives for a long, long time.
As a result, neither Harry nor I really knew him. So we were both astonished when, at his interment, there appeared, unannounced, an honor guard of Navy-enlisted men and an officer, in dress blues, with rifles and an American flag. He had won the Navy Cross, among other medals, during the war and the Navy never forgets that one. So, at the end of the service, the officer stepped forward and read the citation describing
THE PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR 3
what our father had done—an act of truly extraordinary brav- ery and competence. The enlisted men fired their rifles, care- fully folded the flag, and gave it to Harry and me. Then they disappeared as mysteriously as they had come. We knew our father had flown a fighter off carriers during the war, but this? What was one to make of this? I was merely surprised. Harry wept. Harry! That was astonishing.
Harry had been loaned a big sailboat the summer our mother died, and we sailed Down East for a fortnight. To Broken Harbor, actually, among other places. I felt as if I were coming home, not running away, and so it turned out. Those weeks and the months that followed were among the happiest of my life.
In the fall, he sent me away to boarding school. As if he were my father, not my brother. Visited every other weekend. Urged me to row, to write, to work hard. He was very popular with my friends, who thought him wildly romantic. He was more than romantic to me. He was a Hero and a Rescuer. I simply adored him all my life.
I was a bright kid—bright enough for those days, anyway— and Harry sent me to Harvard (where he had gone) and then Harvard Law School. Not the Business School: he saw I would make a lawyer, not a businessman. He was right about that, as so much else. I actually made the Law Review, vindicating his instinct. Once I started to practice, Harry and I were more like brothers again. I did a stint in the US Attorney’s Office, then joined a big firm. I worked like a lunatic and made partner pretty fast. We assumed, after that, that we would lead orderly lives. We would marry and have children and all that, but we would always be together. And we would never hear another grown-up scream as long as we lived.
4 CHRIS CROWLEY
Harry and I were almost unnaturally close, like in The Corsican Brothers, the Dumas novel about brothers who can feel each other’s pain, even when they’re hundreds of miles apart. But we were very different, too. He was a Hero and a Rescuer, as I say. I was not. He saw a God-created world, lit with bright colors and certainty. I . . . well, I was a lawyer. The law is not a field for absolutists. It is not a matter of finding the Way, the Truth, and the Light. It is a matter of getting from over here, someplace, to a spot over there . . . lit only by your own intelligence and your adherence to a set of rickety, man-made rules. I confess that I think it a high calling, and I believe in those rickety rules with all my heart. Because I think that’s all there is.
The practical navigator, Harry used to call me, with a blend of kidding and respect, because I was more practical and cau- tious than he. It’s from the name of a book by a Salem sea cap- tain named Nathaniel Bowditch. It was published in 1802 and instantly became the definitive work on ocean navigation. It stayed that way for the next 150 years. It was still used at the Naval Academy during World War II. Men who could navigate were said to “know their Bowditch.” I actually knew my Bowditch, which was an anachronism by the time I learned it, but I liked the idea. Liked the tie to my Salem roots and to a set of rules.
My devotion to the rules was partly a matter of personal taste, but it was also philosophical. I believe that life is mostly a game, which we make up, in the absence of Divine Guidance. If that’s right, the rules make all the difference, don’t they? No rules, no game. Once little kids start running from first base, over the pitcher’s mound to third, they’re going to lose interest pretty soon, and want to go home. Except for this: There is no God and there is no home, there is only the game. So we better not cheat.
I used to tease Harry about his worldview and especially about his God. “If your God created this relentlessly humorless world, Harry,” I once said, “I want no part of Him.”
THE PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR 5
“Humorless?” Harry perked up at that. He only half lis- tened to these rants.
“Yes, Harry. Humor is at the heart of the human condition. And your God has none! Or—if He does—it is so cruel and remote that He and I will never make each other laugh.” Pause for effect. “At least, not intentionally.”
Harry loved that line, laughed out loud. “You see Him gig- gling, do you, as He dangles us, spiders over the flame?”
“Of course. He’s a psychopath.” Harry nodded, considered it. But he still believed. At least until he popped that big black Sig Sauer in his mouth at the end. At that point, who knows?
I have that weapon on the desk beside me as I write, and I confess that a couple of times I have carefully put it in my mouth, to see what it was like. I didn’t care for it. And it did not make me think of God.
Bud called me as soon as Harry called him from Broken Harbor, and I set out for Maine at once. Not because there was any hope, just to be there. By the time I got to the little airport in Hanson, Bud was back from Broke, with a heartbroken Gus at his side, waiting by his pickup truck—with the bubble-gum light on the cab and guns in the rear window. He shook his head, unnecessarily. “He’s gone, Doc,” he said, his voice full of sorrow. We’d become close in the course of the Minot affair.
“Let’s go take a look,” I said, and we got in the truck.
There’s no coroner’s office in Hanson so a suicide would normally go to the local jail. But Bud said he couldn’t bear the idea of Harry going back in there again, so he just took him home. The way everyone was taken home, in the old days of “laying-out rooms” and “coffin corners.” When death was more familiar. Bud wasn’t a toucher, but—at the door to his house— he put his big arm around my shoulder, gave me a hug. “Awful damn sorry, Doc. Awful sad.”
6 CHRIS CROWLEY
Harry was lying faceup on Bud’s dining room table, with towels wadded around the back of his head, which was pretty bad. Gone, actually; the bullet had been a hollow point. The table was covered with towels, too, because his uniform was still soaking wet. Salt water never dries.
Harry left a note. There were two, in fact. One for his wife, Mimi, and one for me. Mine read:
My Dear Tim:
I love you very much, now as always. My
only doubts about this come from the fear that you will somehow blame yourself. Do not, I beg you. There is absolutely nothing more you could have done. You have been superb, through all of this. Through our whole life, in fact. I could not have had a better brother.
You will find that I have left most of my estate to you. Please do not give it away. Get married and have children, perhaps. Lead the best life you can, after all this. I hope you will marry Cassie. Or someone like her, if that doesn’t work.
I have more than taken care of Mimi and think she will be all right. But look after her. You need not marry her, as brothers sometimes do, but I care for her a great deal and hope you will keep track, at least until she remarries.
Would you be good enough to take Gus? He was never really Mimi’s dog and he will do better with you.
I love you so much. Harry
THE PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR 7
I had Harry cremated in his Arcadia uniform. He was no longer a member of the Great Arcadia, to say nothing of being its commodore. But that’s all right, he was entitled to that.
He was entitled not to go naked into the dark water, like the victim of a sex crime or a murder. Although he was both of those things, as well.
The undertakers didn’t like the uniform. They particu- larly didn’t like the half-inch, half-round pips on the epaulets. I think it is like metal in a microwave . . . bad for the oven. But the undertaker had his price and Harry was cremated in his uniform, pips and all. When I got the canister of ashes to pour into the sea out at Broke, there were some hard bits that rattled like stones. There are often bits of bone, I understand. But this was different. These were the pips.
My first thought had been to douse Harry’s sailboat, Silver Girl, with kerosene, put him aboard, and touch her off . . . a Viking funeral. Bud had patted me on the back and said to calm down, we weren’t doing that.
So we all went out to Broke in the Betsy B, Bud’s big lobster boat—Bud, Mimi, and I. And two friends, Frank Butler and Cassie Sears, the “Cassie” Harry referred to in the note. I asked Mimi if she wanted to do it, wanted to put him over the side. But she said, “No,” in that little Jackie Kennedy voice of hers, “I can’t.” So I took her hand in one of mine and, with the other, poured Harry into the sea. The bottom there is sandy, as I well knew, so Harry will turn to sand pretty quick.
But the pips, all melted down and looking like spent bul- lets, the pips will last a long time. The pips, man. A comic thread in this sad story. A line to make God laugh.
This poem is dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Tulsa Massacre 100 years ago. R.I.P.
UNDER THE MOON OF REFLECTIONS
The night lamp hung tight;
the yellowy vibrant glow
of suspended moon-rock
riding the night skies—
Casts no light of its own,
yet it owns the sure fire ways
of blazing sun.
Its shining is resolute,
bearing witness to and exposing
the sins of those who shed blood.
She tearfully remembers—
the dark deeds of those
are written on her eyes.
Her moonlit tears,
streaming down are wet with grief;
pondering the voices of those
crying out to her.
She knows them by name,
their escaping last sighs, and the heart wrenching cries of orphaned lost children.
Her light danced across
their little faces—but they would no longer see the faces of loved ones.
But of strangers,
they would come to know
the face of bitterness,
and the countenance of death.
The night-lamp held her breath,
taking in the harrowing
account of lives lost.
She always sees—
the nightseer, and always delivers
the hushed misdeeds of the spoken night.
Because there’s still,
an inflamed material witness
when they turn their back
on the way of the light.
Even though they may move
about in the darkness—
no one can escape the revealing eye
of the open moon.
Someone’s found a body at Pohakuloa, the army’s live-fire training area. Bearing all the marks of ancient ritual sacrifice—the murder is the grisliest of Detective Koa Kane’s career.
The bizarre case draws Koa deep into his own Hawaiian roots. As Koa probes the victim’s past, he must sort through a rich roster of suspects—grave robbers, native activists, thieves, and star gazers. Koa surmounts a host of obstacles as he pursues the murderer—an incompetent local medical examiner, hostility from haoles (Westerners) and sovereignty advocates, and myriad lies.
Did the victim stumble upon a gang of high-tech archaeological thieves? Or did he learn a secret so shocking it cost him his life and put others, too, in mortal danger? Will Hilo’s most respected native detective catch this fiend in time, or will the killer strike again—with even deadlier consequences?
Death of a Messenger by Robert McCaw
Hawai‘i County Chief Detective Koa Kāne strapped in, and the US Army UH-72A Lakota helicopter lifted off the Hilo tarmac. An anonymous 911 call to the Hawai‘i County Emergency Command Center had reported a corpse at Pōhakuloa, the Army’s remote live-fire training area, or PTA. Sergeant Basa had alerted Koa, and was now sitting next to him as the chopper headed for the Army reservation in the Humu‘ula Saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, two of the five volcanoes that form the Big Island of Hawai‘i.
The chopper turned west and climbed toward the saddle. Koa barely noticed, though. The mad dash to catch the chopper had aggravated the pinched nerve in his neck, and he sat stiffly erect to avoid further jolts of pain.
As they passed over an ambulance heading up the Saddle Road, Sergeant Basa leaned over, shouting above the roar of the engines, “That’s the county physician and the crime scene techs down there. I told them to get their butts up to Pōhakuloa.”
Koa spotted flashing lights in the distance and felt a spark of excitement. A crime scene did that to him. He counted ten vehicles: military police jeeps, EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) vehicles, a tracked ambulance, and a fire truck. As the helicopter approached, Koa saw that the vehicles were spread out along a barely visible jeep trail that meandered east of a sizable cinder cone. Yellow tape marked a path cleared by EOD personnel. Several men stood near an oval pit at the end of the tape.
As the chopper settled between two MP vehicles, a military policeman dressed in camo with a silver first lieutenant’s bar broke away from the cluster near the pit and hurried toward the chopper. Jerry Zeigler’s ferret-like face and crooked nose identified him as the commander of the military police detachment at Pōhakuloa.
“Hello, Jerry.” Koa shook hands with the twenty-five-year-old military police officer. Though they came from different backgrounds, they shared a common bond. Both had grown up dirt poor. The Kāne family had been respected in ancient times, but Koa’s father and grandfather had been virtual slaves at the Hāmākua Sugar Mill. Zeigler had been a South Dakota farm boy. Both had known hardship growing up, and both had been rescued by the US Army—Koa with the Fifth Special Forces Group and Jerry by the military police. They’d worked together a half-dozen times when the Army had pitched in on disaster relief, and bonded while helping folks after a big earthquake hit the west side of the island, wrecking hundreds of homes and schools.
Koa remained smiling even as Jerry’s vigorous handshake sent a blazing streak of pain radiating down his right arm. Without being obvious, he placed both hands behind his neck and arched his back. The pinched nerve was getting worse, just as the doctor had said it would. He dreaded the thought of spinal surgery, but it might be better than the damn pain. He wasn’t supposed to feel this old at forty-three.
Mercifully, the helicopter pilot shut down his twin engines and Koa could make himself heard. “You got a body?” he asked Jerry.
Zeigler nodded. “Stay inside the yellow tape. There are unexploded shells all over the PTA and tons of them around this area.” Zeigler led the policemen between two yellow tapes. “Got Sergeant Basa’s call about eleven thirty this morning, and we put an observer up in a chopper. My man had no trouble spotting the probable site, but it took us awhile to get here. The bomb disposal boys blew a dud on the way in,” he said, wending his way across the uneven ground.
“The 911 caller nailed it. It’s in a lava tube, mutilated and decomposed—a human male, but it’s gonna take a medic to reconstruct much more. Nobody but me has been in there, and I didn’t venture far or touch anything.” Thousands of lava tubes— underground passages where lava once flowed but then drained away—permeated the Big Island, some extending only a few feet while others ran for miles and were wide enough to hide an eighteen-wheeler. Koa, like all Hawaiians, knew his ancestors buried their dead in lava tubes, often in mass graves, but he’d never been to a murder scene inside one of these natural tunnels.
Zeigler was a good cop, and Koa listened as the MP related what he’d seen. “There are some odd boot marks on the ground outside the mouth of the tube. The ground’s been chewed up, recently too. You’re lucky it rained . . . the boot heels left clear impressions. As for the body, it’s been there for days, that’s for sure. I figure someone stumbled on it, got frightened, and fled.”
Keeping his core tight and his shoulders back to minimize the stress on his neck, Koa climbed down into the pit with an electric torch. He examined the disturbed ground and boot marks. The heels had cut deep, leaving sharp impressions, rounded on the back and flat toward the toe with horseshoe-shaped taps on the heels. Cowboy boots for a man on horseback. The man—he guessed it to be a man from the depth of the marks—wore specialty boots, likely handmade and expensive. He wondered if the boot tracks could be traced to a boot maker.
He glanced around the desolate area. Who would be out here? A hunter? Only a fool would hunt in the restricted area with all the unexploded ordnance around. And why would a hunter be down in a pit? He peered at the dark opening. Why would a hunter have ventured into this particular lava tube? Koa saw nothing unusual about it. He searched the ground for anything that might give him answers. Not much. Just the heel marks and disturbed rock.
He directed his beam of light into the lava tube. He didn’t like caves—they held too many unpleasant surprises. Carefully, he picked his way into the darkness. A putrid smell assaulted him instantly. “Oh God,” he exclaimed, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and fastening it across his nose and mouth. Then he saw the body.
Koa stepped closer and stopped short. Even as a veteran of the Special Forces in Somalia and a witness to more than a few murder scenes, he struggled to suppress his nausea. Control. Stay in control. Block emotion. Concentrate. He clenched his teeth until they hurt. His nausea receded.
It was a horrendous crime scene, and Koa sensed that catching the killer would require all of his resources. He’d have to focus his military and police training, his intense powers of observation, and his own criminal experience—as a teenager he’d killed the man who’d tormented and ultimately killed his father and gotten away with it—to find the perverted killer who left this corpse.
In the dozen years since 2003, when he’d left the Army to join the police, Koa had heard about ritual killings, but had never actually seen one. Until now. The naked body lay with its legs toward him, feet slightly separated. The trunk was bloated from putrefaction. The skin had blackened. The genitals had shrunk into the body, but the deceased was unmistakably male. The sight, the smell, and the walls squeezed in upon Koa.
The victim’s arms had been drawn out to the sides. The upper arms were swollen, but below the elbows the flesh had shriveled. Bones protruded from shredded hands and smashed fingers. Slash marks cut wide ribbons across the distended chest. The incisions must have been deep, he judged, for the swelling to open up the flesh in those straight, wide tracks. A sharp knife or, perhaps, a straight razor. Something with a real edge. It wasn’t easy to slice human flesh. The killer had been strong. Koa looked around for a knife but saw none.
The face had blackened to pulp, much of it bludgeoned beyond recognition. The lower facial bones had been shattered. Nose broken. Jaw smashed. Most of the teeth knocked out. The killer must have directed numerous blows at the victim’s mouth. Dental identification would be difficult, maybe impossible.
An empty socket leered at Koa from the left side of the dead man’s face. A gaping blackened hole surrounded by withered flesh. The hole on the left side of the skull seemed to fix upon him. Koa’s own eye, his left eye, began to hurt. He shook his head to dislodge the false pain. Mutilated hands, battered faces—he’d seen those before, but desecration of an eye was something new. The killer must have gouged out the eyeball.
But why? Why pluck out the left eye? Some savage had derived great pleasure from acting out this rite. That was Koa’s job, to stop people from acting like ancient savages.
Koa swung the light back and forth, searching for any other evidence. Trying to absorb every aspect of the scene. To miss nothing. To avoid being misled by false clues. No clothes. No shoes. Where were the victim’s clothes? The killer must have taken them.
Farther back in the cave his light revealed piles of small rock fragments. A blackened spot. Remnants of charcoal. A fire ring. A long-doused fire. It looked as though it had been there for ages.
The light fell on a peculiarly shaped dark gray or black rock next to the victim’s left leg. It was rectangular at one end, angled in the middle, and tapered to an edge at the other end, like a cutting instrument. A man-made shape, not a natural rock form. Some kind of primitive stone tool. The ancient fire and now this strange rock. Maybe this place had some historical significance. Koa made a note to call the state archaeologist.
He stooped down, keeping his back straight, and directed his beam of light to examine the object more closely. Dried blood covered part of the dark gray stone.
Blood? He examined the floor around the corpse. Blood was only in one small place, where a puddle had congealed and dried. He looked more closely. Not much blood. Odd. There should be more blood—a lot more blood—given the carnage wreaked upon the body.
Koa walked out into the sunlight. Tearing the handkerchief from his face, he sucked in the clean, dry air. Questions ricocheted in his mind. It was always like that at the beginning of an investigation, and he’d learned to let the questions accumulate unanswered. Questions opened the mind to unlikely possibilities. That and his own secret criminal history were what made him such a good investigator.
Reprinted from Death of a Messenger with the permission of Oceanview Publishing. Copyright © 2020 by Robert McCaw.
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While rummaging through the attic, high school senior, Jack Davies, is surprised to find his never-before-seen birth certificate, revealing a startling bit of information that changes his life. The story his mother told about his birth, he discovers, is revealed to be a lie, shattering long-held beliefs and the trust he had for her. Jack becomes obsessed with discovering the truth, leading him down a dangerous path. Faced with unanswered questions and confounding obstacles at every turn, Jack finds himself deeply enmeshed in an intricate world of national security and international intrigue. Relationships are tested as his every move is tracked by a group of mysterious people. Who are they? Whose side are they on? Who can he trust? And, most importantly, who will he ultimately become?
An excerpt from Primal Calling by Barry Eisenberg
Jack walked toward the student parking lot. It was late in the day for a final exam, and he didn’t encounter any acquaintances on the five-minute walk to the parking lot. The driver of the Taurus spotted Jack entering the parking lot and turned on the ignition. Jack got into his car and backed out of the spot. His mother was expecting him home before dinner. He became preoccupied with thoughts of the important phone call he was scheduled to get the following morning.
The Taurus followed the Accord, the driver carefully staying sufficiently back to avoid arousing suspicion. After exiting the college, the Accord turned right onto Rockaway Avenue, a main thoroughfare that cut through several suburban towns. Rockaway Avenue had an eclectic mix of old shops and newer, trendy stores. A health foods store sat adjacent to a shop that sold antique toys. When Jack was a boy, he had loved to watch the Lionel train set displayed in the window. The sturdiness of the train cars and the authenticity of their appearance mesmerized him, as did the fantasy of hopping on board and being whisked beyond the confines of his community.
Jack turned onto Valley Mill Turnpike, a single-lane road that ran through a stretch of woodland. Jack was about seven miles from his home. About two miles onto Valley Mill Turnpike, Jack noticed that the Taurus behind him was getting much closer. That guy is in a big-time rush, Jack thought. The Taurus, gaining ground, was now about a car length behind. Jack gently tapped the brake to slow the car, hoping the Taurus would pass.
After a few seconds, the Taurus began to pass. Jack glanced into the Taurus as it pulled alongside. He noticed three people in the car, all of whom were staring directly back at him. It struck Jack as a look of scrutiny, as though to confirm their find. The female passenger, sitting in the front passenger seat, had a piercing, frightening gaze. She waved to Jack to stop.
Jack’s mind was racing. His fear that this group would seek him out had materialized. But he knew he must try to avoid them, lest he expose Cathy to danger. He believed he had no choice but to dodge them and call her. He also knew he should not use his cell phone.
Jack hit the accelerator and his car lurched forward, pulling in front of the Taurus. The Taurus regained speed and, again, came up just behind the Accord. The driver was clearly skilled at this activity and, at once, was able to maneuver his car beside Jack’s. Another wave by the woman to slow down. Jack needed to get away. As he fixed his gaze on the road in front, the driver of the Taurus, in anticipation of Jack’s plan to try to race ahead, pulled his car in front.
Jack was now behind the Taurus. Both cars were moving at sixty miles per hour. Jack knew that a string of about ten stores, including a gas station, was just two miles up the road. Just then, the Taurus started to slow down. Suddenly, the deceleration became abrupt, and Jack couldn’t help but get too close for comfort. He slammed on his brakes. Panic!
Jack tried to steer around the Taurus, but it shifted to the left, a deliberate attempt to prevent Jack from passing. The Taurus was slowing to a complete halt, and Jack was unable to steer past it. His only choice was to put the car in reverse and try to back out of the area. Jack took a deep breath and threw the car into reverse. The Taurus, now also in reverse, followed closely. Jack desperately wanted to turn the car around, and thought he had an opening. He spun the wheel and the car veered toward the shoulder. But Jack was no match for the driver of the Taurus. Before Jack could put the car in drive, the Taurus lunged back, tires screeching, until it was positioned directly in front of Jack.
Jack slammed the gear shift into park and bolted from the car, leaving it running, and darted directly into the wooded area behind him. The lanky man from the back seat and the woman scrambled from the car in pursuit. In the meantime, the driver of the Taurus repositioned both cars to the shoulder of the road.
Jack had no choice but to use his phone now. His hands trembled as he fidgeted for it, and the uneven terrain made it impossible to maneuver through his pockets. Then he realized his phone was on the passenger seat of his car.
The man shouted to Jack to stop. The woman, not far behind, screamed, “We’re not going to hurt you.” In the face of this madness, Jack found her tone oddly believable. Fearing no possibility for escape, Jack was left with no choice but to confront them.
He wheeled around, screaming, “What do you want from me? Who are you?”
They stood about twenty feet from Jack, separated by a small clearing in the thicket of trees.
“We are not here to hurt you. We need you to come with us,” the woman repeated.
Jack succumbed to a strange, paradoxical mix of panic and curiosity. He didn’t know these people, though he had been aware they might seek him out. But he could not reveal this awareness to them. And he didn’t know if he was in danger. “What if I don’t? You can’t do this to me.” His wobbly voice managed a trace of defiance.
“Actually, we can,” the man declared. His tone was powerful and convincing. That was it. With those three words, the man’s authority — an unequivocal dominance over Jack — became deadly certain.
Jack stood there, frozen, while the pair walked toward him. He suspected he wouldn’t be hurt, but he couldn’t be positive. He was at once consumed with energy and sapped of it.
“Where are we going?” Jack asked, relinquishing himself to a fate over which he knew he had no control.
“Back to the car,” the woman replied. “You need to come with us.”
The woman led the way back to the highway. Jack followed, not wanting to provoke the man, whose presence loomed directly behind. Along the path lay rocks and tree branches. One of these might be used as a weapon, he thought. His mind raced; is there time to grab something? But other than a small tussle with a class bully in the third grade, Jack had not been especially schooled in the ways of physical confrontation. In fact, among the best of his social talents was conflict avoidance. No, he’d surely lose out in a physical struggle.
Jack pressed the pair for information. “Who are you? What do you want from me? Take my car. Take my money. Just please let me go.” As Jack’s pleas faded, so did any semblance of his resistance, and the pair offered nothing. No hint of purpose. No gesture of reassurance. The remainder of the short walk to the car occurred in silence.
As the group neared the car, the man told Jack to get into the back seat with him. The driver and the woman assumed their original positions in the front. She turned to Jack and instructed him, “You need to call your mother. Where’s your phone?”
“It’s in my car,” he responded.
The woman retrieved Jack’s phone from his car and handed it to him. Then she advised him on what to say: “Tell her that you were asked by Mr. Dwyer to help with a project at the department tonight.” Holy shit, she knew his computer instructor’s name. “If she asks what the project is, tell her the department is planning the installation of new hard drives on the school’s computer system during the summer, and you’ve been asked to help with preparation.” Jack felt a sense of terror — she knew about that too! “Tell her you’ll be home close to midnight, but she shouldn’t worry if you’re running late.”
“Is all that clear?” the man in the back asked with stinging bluntness.
The man’s stare was laser-like. “Be convincing,” he said, which sounded to Jack like a warning.
Jack hit the call button and stared at the woman as the phone rang.
The driver, who had not turned around during the entire time Jack had been in the car, kept his sights on the road ahead.
“I got her voicemail,” Jack informed the group.
“Perfect,” said the woman. “Just leave the message and tell her you’ll be home late tonight.”
Jack delivered the message as directed. The slight hesitancy in his voice was not enough to create concern for the group.
“Unfortunately, we’re unable to answer any questions right now,” she confirmed. “But I assure you our aim is not to hurt you.” Then she exited the car, walked to Jack’s car, and got into the driver’s seat. Jack watched as his car made a U-turn. The Accord drove alongside the Taurus and stopped. The window rolled down, and the woman instructed the driver of the Taurus to follow her back to the college.
The trip back to the college was made in silence. Despite her cool assertiveness, the woman’s presence eased Jack’s fear. There was a cold, menacing steeliness without her, and Jack believed there could be harsh consequences if he showed any sign of resistance.
As they arrived at the college, Jack realized he had yet to hear the driver utter a single word. Jack watched as his Accord passed by the student parking lot and headed for the visitor lot. The majority of students at New Jersey Central College commuted to school, but about a fifth of the student body was from out of town. Parents and friends who visited were directed to park in the visitor lot. Jack knew that cars could be parked there for days without being ticketed by college security. Apparently, Jack’s abductors knew this as well.
The woman parked the Accord and returned to the Taurus. Jack observed her placing his car keys into her purse, which had been on the front floor of the Taurus. The Taurus pulled out of the visitor lot, through one of the smaller gates of the college and then back onto Rockaway Avenue.
As the Taurus left the immediate area, Jack, impelled by trepidation, dared to question his captors again. His tone was pleading. “Who are you? Why are you doing this?”
“Everything will be made clear in due time,” the woman replied, icily. “Now, please, no more questions for now.”
Jack knew the car had been heading north, but he was unfamiliar with the route the driver was taking. After what felt to Jack like a distance of about seven or eight miles, the car pulled onto a small side road. It was desolate, eerily so under the circumstances. The lanes were narrow, not much wider than the car itself, and the quick succession of twists and bends in the road made it impossible to see beyond a few yards.
The car drove about five hundred feet up the road, then pulled off onto a dirt shoulder. The woman turned around and faced Jack. Jack’s fear — this terror produced by a sense of imminent doom — caused his mind to scramble, scanning everything, anything for any possibility of escape. But there was no way out, and the fear manifested in jolts to his system. He could feel his heart beating in his chest. A strange numbness gripped his hands and descended toward his wrists. The tips of his fingers tingled and were overwhelmed by a paralyzing weightiness. A stinging electricity coursed through him.
“I can’t tell you where we are going or why. And I’m not free to answer any questions right now. I need you to wear these for the remainder of the trip, though,” the woman said, handing Jack what appeared to be a pair of sunglasses with shields that wrapped around the sides.
Jack slowly extended his hand to take the glasses from the woman and asked why he should wear them. “Just put them on, please. It’s for your own protection.” Jack sensed impatience in her voice, but with a hint of sensitivity. She was a model of efficiency. There was nothing wasted about her. Her words were delivered methodically without a syllable to spare. Her hair, shoulder-length with just a hint of a wave, had fallen back neatly into place despite a run in the woods. Jack felt his heart pulsing.
Jack discovered these were not ordinary sunglasses. They blackened out all traces of light. He had no idea where they were going.
Travel resumed. Jack felt the car make several turns in quick succession. He believed this was a deliberate strategy to confuse him. Until they had stopped, he knew they were headed north, but this jarring sequence of turns was disorienting. He knew only that there was no stretch of extended highway driving.
About twenty minutes later, the car slowed, pulling onto gravel. The front passenger door opened and the woman stepped out. The two men remained in the car. The woman opened the rear passenger door where Jack was seated. He made no move. The woman reached in and placed her hand under Jack’s elbow. “Please come with me,” she demanded, her tone firm but noticeably polite.
Jack slowly extended one foot out the door and felt a gravel incline beneath his feet. With the glasses still on, Jack was escorted by the woman for about twenty yards. He heard a door in front of him open and was told to go up one step and enter a house. The wooden floor felt like the floor in his kitchen at home. Its hard texture was offset by a suppleness that muffled the sound of shoes making contact with it.
Jack was advised by the woman that he was heading to a room in the back of the house. She led him straight for a few feet and then made a turn to the left. He surmised that a kitchen was to his right from the faint hum of what sounded like a refrigerator motor. He was also aware of the presence of other people in the house, not from voices, but from the dampened creaking of the floor. Another turn, this one to the right, then up five steps. The steps were carpeted, as was the hallway they entered on this elevated floor.
A door opened in front of Jack and he was asked to enter. The woman escorted Jack about five steps into the room, then guided him toward a folding wooden chair. Once seated, Jack heard the door to the room close.
“You can remove the glasses now,” she said.
Jack squinted as his eyes adjusted to the light. The room was almost bare and small, about ten by twelve feet. In front of Jack was a small wooden table made from lacquered pine, flimsy in its construction. A plastic pitcher of water and two plain drinking glasses sat on the table. A small puddle of condensate had accumulated at the base of the pitcher. Jack was in one of four wooden-slatted folding chairs. The room had no windows and nothing on its bleak, beige walls. The light was dim, emanating from four recessed low-wattage lights in the ceiling.
“Would you like to use the restroom?” the woman asked, her tone softer than at any time earlier.
“Please help yourself to some water if you like,” she offered.
“I’m not thirsty.” Then, after a beat, “What am I doing here?”
The woman glanced quickly at the door. Her eyes were in a constant state of alert, radiating a confident vigilance. This woman has never known panic, Jack thought. She checked her watch, then fixed her gaze onto Jack. “We brought you here to meet your father.”
Reprinted from Primal Calling with the permission of Pegasus Elliott MacKenzie Publishers. Copyright © 2020 by Barry Eisenberg.
IT’S TELEVISION TUESDAY
The Crew Reviews: James Rollins – THE LAST ODYSSEY
To save the world and our future, Sigma Force must embark on a dangerous odyssey into an ancient past whose horrors are all too present in this page-turning thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author James Rollins that combines cutting-edge science, historical mystery, mythology, and pulse-pounding action.
For eons, the city of Troy—whose legendary fall was detailed in Homer’s Iliad—was believed to be myth, until archaeologists in the nineteenth century uncovered its ancient walls buried beneath the sands. If Troy was real, how much of Homer’s twin tales of gods and monsters, curses and miracles—The Iliad and The Odyssey—could also be true and awaiting discovery?
In the frozen tundra of Greenland, a group of modern-day researchers stumble on a shocking find: a medieval ship buried a half-mile below the ice. The ship’s hold contains a collection of even older artifacts—tools of war—dating back to the Bronze Age. Inside the captain’s cabin is a magnificent treasure that is as priceless as it is miraculous: a clockwork gold map imbedded with an intricate silver astrolabe. The mechanism was crafted by a group of Muslim inventors—the Banū Mūsā brothers—considered by many to be the Da Vincis of the Arab world—brilliant scientists who inspired Leonardo’s own work.
Once activated, the moving map traces the path of Odysseus’s famous ship as it sailed away from Troy. But the route detours as the map opens to reveal a fiery river leading to a hidden realm underneath the Mediterranean Sea. It is the subterranean world of Tartarus, the Greek name for Hell. In mythology, Tartarus was where the wicked were punished and the monstrous Titans of old, imprisoned.
When word of Tartarus spreads—and of the cache of miraculous weapons said to be hidden there—tensions explode in this volatile region where Turks battle Kurds, terrorists wage war, and civilians suffer untold horrors. The phantasmagoric horrors found in Homer’s tales are all too real—and could be unleashed upon the world. Whoever possesses them can use their awesome power to control the future of humanity.
Now, Sigma Force must go where humans fear to tread. To prevent a tyrant from igniting a global war, they must cross the very gates of Hell.