Start the year of right—with a bracing, nerve-jangling debut thriller. Scott Reardon launches a new series for Mulholland today with the publication of The Prometheus Man. Tom races against the clock to get to the bottom of a secret government program, a project so clandestine he must go under deep cover to infiltrate it. What makes this project so dangerous? Read the opening chapter below to find out what’s at stake.
“You need to come in.”
The words came out so low and fast Karl wasn’t sure he’d heard them.
He rolled over in the bed. “Who is this?” Then he remembered he was on a cell phone and the line wasn’t secure. “Wait. Say again.”
“You need to come here. Right now.”
His feet were already on the floor the moment he recognized the voice. There were questions on the tip of his tongue, but the circumstances answered them before he could speak.
Did something happen at the lab?
—Of course something happened at the lab.
Are the police there?
—He wouldn’t tell you if they were.
“Fifty minutes,” he said and hung up.
He was actually only twenty minutes away, but Weaver—the voice on the phone—didn’t know just how frequently he switched hotels. Within minutes, he was out of Paris proper and heading for the lab. It was that hour of night when so much of the world was at rest that it became a sort of death. He sped across silent streets and empty highways, a world without people, until he reached the forest outside Versailles.
He pulled onto a service road. Once he reached a redundant power station, he skidded to a stop. The wind whistled across his windows and bent the trees in his headlights. He sat there for a minute, knowing he ought to call this in to Langley, ultimately deciding he wasn’t going to do that.
He drove around the power station and took the road another half mile to a warehouse whose only color came from ancient scabs of red paint.
The stars were out. Karl could see Weaver sitting on a cinder block surrounded by black leafless trees.
Weaver had always reminded Karl of Renfield, the attorney Dracula turned into his houseboy. He was short, severe-looking, and had the kind of temper that flares only when a back is turned. Weaver said nothing as Karl approached. His eyes were fixed on the horizon, though in the woods there is no horizon.
Without looking in Karl’s direction, he stood up and led the way to the lab. The entrance to it was inside the warehouse, which wasn’t actually a warehouse. And that was the idea. No road crew or stray backpacker could ever know what was here.
Inside, the lab was dark. It wasn’t supposed to be. Weaver flipped the switch to a light by the door.
And there was blood.
It was streaked over the plexiglass wall that divided the lab from the rest of the building. Where it wasn’t streaked, it was sprayed.
Karl saw a handprint in it.
“I locked them in,” Weaver said. “I had to.”
He stood waiting for the reaction, the explosion at what he had done. But Karl just turned and stared at him.
“One of them got loose,” Weaver said. “It was waiting for us.”
Karl glanced at Weaver’s jacket pockets, looking for the bulge of a weapon.
“I got out first and used the override. By the time I got back, it had dragged Dr. Feld to the door.”
“It was holding him against the glass.” Weaver closed his eyes. “I couldn’t see what it was doing to him, but he was still alive.”
Karl looked at the plexiglass. There were other partial handprints and, between them, runny smears where someone had tried over and over to wipe away the blood. Which would have been difficult, like scraping egg yolk off a plate after it’s congealed.
“It was keeping him alive on purpose.” Weaver pulled out another cigarette. “It was torturing him.”
“‘Animals don’t torture other living things.’ Your words, Dr. Weaver. And please don’t smoke in here.”
Weaver turned on him. The expression on his face was hard to look at. “You don’t get it. The code. It knew he had the code to get out.”
Then Karl understood the purpose behind the wiping. The last one alive would have tried to clear the blood off the glass, so he could see Weaver. Plead with him.
“Unlock the door,” he said.
Weaver grimaced like this was a sick joke.
“They could still be alive. Unlock the door.”
“But by now the rest of the sample could be loose too. I’m not going to—”
Karl shoved Weaver back against the wall and pressed his forearm into his neck. Weaver choked in silence, in acceptance.
“You override the override,” Karl said, “or whatever the hell it is you have to do to get that door open.”
Weaver worked on the door while Karl went into the woods. At the base of a little tree, he dug up the Sig compact he’d buried in a plastic shopping bag. When he got back, he found Weaver standing across the entrance from the lab door.
They hit the fluorescents inside, but only a few came on. The rest dangled by their wiring. The alarm system went off, but since they’d disabled the sirens long ago, the blue lights spun in silence, whipping shadows around the room. Through the strobing, Karl could see Dr. Feld. He was right by the door, right where Weaver had last seen him.
Deep gouges had been cut into his skin, splitting it wide along his legs, back, and sides. His foot, still encased in its Rockport orthopedic walking shoe, lay several feet from his body. His face wasn’t on right: something powerful had gripped it and twisted.
Feld’s assistant was stretched along the floor nearby, facedown, with one arm extended overhead. Patches of hair and scalp were missing from the back of his head. The other arm was so dislocated from its socket that the wrist rested on the back of his skull. Karl didn’t see Eric Reese, the youngest member of Project Prometheus and the only one he really knew.
With his weapon raised, Karl crept through the door. The spinning lights made it seem like in every corner of the room something was moving. He listened as hard as he ever had in his life. As he scanned the room for bodies, dead or alive, his eyes stopped on something else.
He didn’t recognize it at first—it looked so different from the way it had looked the last time he’d seen it and so different from the way it was supposed to look. Only its height was the same: four feet. The largest members of the species, Karl had been told, weighed 110 pounds. This one must have weighed twice that. Its hands had thickened, and the skin on them looked chunky, like raw hamburger microwaved gray. The musculature was all wrong. It was thick like a man’s, not lengthy like a chimpanzee’s.
The chimp was propped up against a desk with its hands in its lap, like a child being read a story. There was blood pooled under its body and a hollow space where its throat had been. Skin hung in rags under its fingernails. Though he would never admit it to anyone, though it wouldn’t go in any report, Karl knew its wounds had been self-inflicted. He knelt down and gently cupped the back of its head. Then he looked at Dr. Feld and his assistant and tried to imagine scenarios in which they bled out fast. He stayed there until Weaver came up to him.
“Contact Dr. Nast,” Karl said. “Tell him everything’s on hold.”
When he looked up, Weaver was staring at him. “I thought you knew.” He almost sounded sad.
“Dr. Nast got the go-ahead.”
“The go-ahead for what?”
“To start the next trial. They injected the first volunteer two days ago.”