The Black Angel (Charlie Parker Series #5)by John Connolly
Detective Charlie Parker returns in The Black Angel, the sixth thriller by acclaimed New York Times bestselling author John Connolly.
The Black Angel begins with the mysterious abduction of a young woman. Intrigued by the case, Charlie Parker's longtime friend and professional killer, Louis, begins a solo search for the girl. The ties of/i>/i>/i>… See more details below
Detective Charlie Parker returns in The Black Angel, the sixth thriller by acclaimed New York Times bestselling author John Connolly.
The Black Angel begins with the mysterious abduction of a young woman. Intrigued by the case, Charlie Parker's longtime friend and professional killer, Louis, begins a solo search for the girl. The ties of friendship inevitably draw Parker into the search, as he soon discovers that the girl's disappearance is linked to a church of bones in eastern Europe, to the slaughter at a French monastery in 1944, and to the myth of an object known as the Black Angel. But the Black Angel is not a legend. It is real. It lives. It dreams. And the mystery of its existence may contain the secret of Parker's own origins...
As with his previous novels, John Connolly masterfully intertwines mystery, emotion, violence, and the supernatural in this raw and gripping thriller. Fast-paced, spellbinding, and elegantly written, this is John Connolly at his chilling best.
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The Black AngelA Thriller
By John Connolly
Pocket StarCopyright © 2005 John Connolly
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe woman stepped carefully from the Greyhound bus, her right hand holding firmly on to the bar as she eased herself down. A relieved sigh escaped from her lips once both feet were on level ground, the relief that she always felt when a simple task was negotiated without incident. She was not old - she was barely into her fifties - but she looked, and felt, much older. She had endured a great deal, and accumulated sorrows had intensified the predations of the years. Her hair was silver-gray, and she had long since ceased making the monthly trek to the salon to have its color altered. There were horizontal lines stretching from the corner of each eye, like healed wounds, paralleled by similar lines on her forehead. She knew how she had come by them, for occasionally she caught herself wincing as if in pain while she looked in the mirror or saw herself reflected in the window of a store, and the depth of those lines increased with the transformation in her expression. It was always the same thoughts, the same memories, that caused the change, and always the same faces that she recalled: the boy, now a man; her daughter, as she once was and as she now might be; and the one who had made her little girl upon her, his face sometimes contorted, as it wasat the moment of her daughter's conception, and at other times tattered and destroyed, as it was before they closed the coffin lid upon him, erasing at last his physical presence from the world.
Nothing, she had come to realize, will age a woman faster than a troubled child. In recent years, she had become prone to the kind of accidents that bedeviled the lives of women two or three decades older than she, and took longer to recover from them than once she had. It was the little things that she had to look out for: unanticipated curbs, neglected cracks in the sidewalk, the unexpected jolting of a bus as she rose from her seat, the forgotten water spilled upon the kitchen floor. She feared these things more than she feared the young men who congregated in the parking lot of the strip mall near her home, watching for the vulnerable, for those whom they considered easy prey. She knew that she would never be one of their victims, as they were more afraid of her than they were of the police, or of their more vicious peers, for they knew of the man who waited in the shadows of her life. A small part of her hated the fact that they feared her, even as she enjoyed the protection that it brought. Her protection was hard bought, purchased, she believed, with the loss of a soul.
She prayed for him, sometimes. While the others wailed "Hallelujah" to the preacher, beating their breasts and shaking their heads, she remained silent, her chin to her chest, and pleaded softly. In the past, a long time ago, she would ask the Lord that her nephew might turn again to His radiant light and embrace the salvation that lay only in relinquishing violent ways. Now she no longer wished for miracles. Instead, as she thought about him, she begged God that, when this lost sheep at last stood before Him for the final judgment, He would be merciful and forgive him his trespasses; that He would look closely at the life he had lived and find within it those little acts of decency that might enable Him to offer succor to this sinner.
But perhaps there were some lives that could never be redeemed, and some sins so terrible that they were beyond forgiveness. The preacher said that the Lord forgives all, but only if the sinner truly acknowledges his fault and seeks another path. If this was true, then she feared that her prayers would count for nothing, and he was damned to eternity.
She showed her ticket to the man unloading the baggage from the bus. He was gruff and unfriendly to her, but he appeared to be that way to everyone. Young men and women hovered watchfully at the periphery of the light from the bus's windows, like wild animals fearful of the fire yet hungry for those who lay within the circle of its warmth. Her handbag gripped to her chest, she took her case by its handle and wheeled it toward the escalator. She watched those around her, heedful of the warnings of her neighbors back home.
Don't accept no offers of help. Don't be talking to nobody seems like he just offerin' to assist a lady with her bag, don't matter how well he dressed or how sweetly he sings....
But there were no offers of help, and she ascended without incident to the busy streets of this alien city, as foreign to her as Cairo or Rome might have been, dirty and crowded and unforgiving. She had scribbled an address on a piece of paper, along with the directions she had painstakingly transcribed over the phone from the man at the hotel, hearing the impatience in his voice as he was forced to repeat the address, the name of the hotel near incomprehensible to her when spoken in his thick immigrant accent.
She walked the streets, pulling her bag behind her. She carefully noted the numbers at the intersections, trying to take as few turns as possible, until she came to the big police building. There she waited for another hour, until at last a policeman came to talk to her. He had a thin file in front of him, but she could add nothing to what she had told him over the phone, and he could tell her only that they were doing what they could. Still, she filled out more papers, in the hope that some small detail she provided might lead them to her daughter, then left and hailed a cab on the street. She passed the piece of paper with the address of her hotel through a small hole in the Plexiglas screen. She asked the driver how much it would cost to go there, and he shrugged. He was an Asian man, and he did not look pleased to see the scribbled destination.
"Traffic. Who knows?"
He waved a hand at the slow-moving streams of cars and trucks and buses. Horns honked loudly, and drivers shouted angrily at one another. All was impatience and frustration, overshadowed by buildings that were too high, out of scale with those who were expected to live and work inside and outside them. She could not understand how anyone would choose to remain in such a place.
"Twenty, maybe," said the cabdriver.
She hoped it would be less than twenty. Twenty dollars was a lot, and she did not know how long she would have to stay here. She had booked the hotel room for three days, and had sufficient funds to cover another three days after that, as long as she ate cheaply and could master the intricacies of the subway. She had read about it, but had never seen it in reality and had no concept of its operations. She knew only that she did not like the thought of descending beneath the earth, into the darkness, but she could not afford to take cabs all the time. Buses might be better. At least they stayed above ground, slowly though they seemed to move in this city.
He might offer her money, of course, once she found him, but she would refuse any such offer, just as she had always refused it, carefully returning the checks that he sent to the only contact address that she had for him. His money was tainted, just as he was tainted, but she needed his help now: not his money, but his knowledge. Something terrible had happened to her daughter, of that she was certain, even if she could not explain how she knew.
Alice, oh Alice, why did you have to come to this place?
Her own mother had been blessed, or cursed, with the gift. She knew when someone was suffering, and could sense when harm had come to anyone who was dear to her. The dead talked to her. They told her things. Her life was filled with whispers. The gift had not been passed on, and for that the woman was grateful, but she wondered sometimes if a faint trace of it had not found its way into her, a mere spark of the great power that had dwelt in her mother. Or perhaps all mothers were cursed with the ability to sense their children's deepest sufferings, even when they were far, far from them. All that she could say for sure was that she had not known a moment's peace in recent days, and that she heard her daughter's voice calling to her when sleep fleetingly came.
She would tell that to him when she met him, in the hope that he would understand. Even if he did not, she knew that he would help, for the girl was blood to him.
And if there is one thing that he understood, it was blood.
I parked in an alleyway about fifty feet from the house, then covered the rest of the distance on foot. I could see Jackie Garner hunched behind the wall bordering the property. He wore a black wool hat, a black jacket, and black jeans. His hands were uncovered, and his breath formed phantoms in the air. Beneath his jacket I made out the word sylvia written on his T-shirt.
"New girlfriend?" I said.
Jackie pulled open his jacket so I could see the T-shirt more clearly. It read, tim' the maine-iac' sylvia, a reference to one of our local-boys-made-good, and featured a poor caricature of the great man himself. In September 2002, Tim Sylvia, all six-eight and 260 pounds of him, became the first Mainer to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, eventually going on to take the Heavyweight Championship title in Las Vegas in 2003, knocking down the undefeated champion, Ricco Rodriguez, with a right cross in the first round. "I hit him hahd," Sylvia told a postmatch interviewer, making every Down-Easter with flattened vowel sounds feel instantly proud. Unfortunately, Sylvia tested positive for anabolic steroids after his first defense, against the six-eleven Gan "The Giant" McGee, and voluntarily surrendered his belt and title. I remembered Jackie telling me once that he'd attended the fight. Some of McGee's blood had landed on his jeans, and he now saved them for special wear.
"Nice," I said.
"I got a friend who makes them. I can let you have some cheap."
"I wouldn't take them any other way. In fact, I wouldn't take them at all."
Jackie was offended. For a guy who might have passed for Tim Sylvia's out-of-condition older brother, he was pretty sensitive.
"How many are there in the house?" I asked, but his attention had already wandered onto another subject.
"Hey, we're dressed the same," he said.
"We're dressed the same. Look: you got the hat, the same jacket, the jeans. Except you got gloves and I got this T-shirt, we could be twins."
Jackie Garner was a good guy, but I thought that he might be a little crazy. Someone once told me that a shell accidentally went off close to him when he was serving with the U.S. Army in Berlin just before the Wall came down. He was unconscious for a week, and for six months after he awoke he couldn't remember anything that happened later than 1983. Even though he was mostly recovered, there were still gaps in his memory, and he occasionally confused the guys at Bull Moose Music by asking for "new" CDs that were actually fifteen years old. The army pensioned him off, and since then he had become a body for hire. He knew about guns and surveillance, and he was strong. I'd seen him put down three guys in a bar fight, but that shell had definitely rattled something loose inside Jackie Garner's head. Sometimes he was almost childlike.
"Jackie, this isn't a dance. It doesn't matter that we're dressed the same."
He shrugged and looked away. I could tell he was hurt again.
"I just thought it was funny, that's all," he said, all feigned indifference.
"Yeah, next time I'll call you first, ask you to help me pick out my wardrobe. Come on, Jackie, it's freezing. Let's get this over with."
"It's your call," he said, and it was.
I didn't usually take on bail skips. The smarter ones tended to head out of state, making for Canada or points south. Like most PIs, I had contacts at the banks and the phone companies, but I still didn't much care for the idea of tracking some lowlife over half the country in return for a percentage of his bond, waiting for him to give himself away by accessing an automated teller or using his credit card to check into a motel.
This one was different. His name was David Torrans, and he had tried to steal my car to make his getaway from an attempted robbery at a gas station on Congress. My Mustang was parked in the lot beside the station, and Torrans had wrecked the ignition in a doomed effort to get it started after someone boxed in his own Chevy. The cops caught him two blocks away as he made his getaway on foot. Torrans had a string of minor convictions, but with the help of a quick-mouthed lawyer and a drowsy judge he made bail, although the judge, to his small credit, did set bail at twenty thousand dollars to ensure Torrans made it to trial, and ordered him to report daily to police headquarters in Portland. A bondsman named Lester Peets provided the coverage for the bond, then Torrans skipped out on him. The reason for the skip was that a woman who had taken a knock on the head from Torrans during the attempted robbery had subsequently lapsed into a coma in some kind of delayed reaction to the blow she had received, and now Torrans was facing some heavy felony charges, and maybe even life in jail if the woman died. Peets was about to go in the hole for the twenty if Torrans didn't show, as well as sullying his good name and seriously irritating local law enforcement.
I took on the Torrans skip because I was aware of something about him that nobody else seemed to know: he was seeing a woman named Olivia Morales, who worked as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant in town and had a jealous ex-husband with a fuse so short he made old nitrol look stable. I had spotted her with Torrans after she finished her shift, two or three days before the robbery went down. Torrans was a "face" in the way that such men sometimes were in small cities like Portland. He had a reputation for violence, but until the robbery bust he had never actually been charged with a serious crime, more through good fortune than any great intelligence on his part. He was the kind of guy to whom other lowlifes deferred on the grounds that he had "smarts," but I had never subscribed to the theory of comparative intelligence where petty criminals were concerned, so the fact that Torrans's peers considered him a sharp operator didn't impress me much. Most criminals are kind of dumb, which is why they're criminals. If they weren't criminals, they'd be doing something else to screw up people's lives, like running elections in Florida. The fact that Torrans had tried to hold up a gas station armed with only a pool ball in a sock indicated that he wasn't about to step up to the majors just yet. I'd heard rumors that he'd developed a taste for smack and OxyContin in recent months, and nothing will scramble a man's intelligence faster than the old "hillbilly heroin."
I figured that Torrans would get in touch with his girlfriend when he found himself in trouble. Men on the run tend to turn to the women who love them, whether mothers, wives, or girlfriends. If they have money, they'll then try to put some ground between themselves and those who are looking for them. Unfortunately, the kind of people who went to Lester Peets for their bond tended to be pretty desperate, and Torrans had probably used all of his available funds just rustling up his share of the money. For the moment, Torrans would be forced to stick close to home, keeping a low profile until another option presented itself. Olivia Morales seemed like the best bet.
Jackie Garner had good local knowledge, and I brought him in to stay close to Olivia Morales while I was taking care of other business. He watched her buying her food for the week, and noticed her including a carton of Luckys in her buy, even though she didn't appear to smoke. He followed her home to her rented house in Deering, and saw two men arrive a little later in a red Dodge van. When he described them to me over the phone, I recognized one as Torrans's half brother Garry, which was how, less than forty-eight hours after David Torrans had first gone off the radar, we found ourselves hunched behind a garden wall, about to make a decision on how best to deal with him.
"We could call the cops," said Jackie, more for form's sake than anything else.
I thought of Lester Peets. He was the kind of guy who got beaten up by his imaginary friends as a child for cheating at games. If he could wheedle his way out of paying me my share of the bond, he would, which meant that I'd end up paying Jackie out of my own pocket. Calling the cops would give Lester just the excuse that he needed. Anyway, I wanted Torrans. Frankly, I didn't like him, and he'd screwed around with my car, but I was also forced to admit that I was anticipating the surge of adrenaline that taking him down would bring. I had been leading a quiet life these past few weeks. It was time for a little excitement.
Excerpted from The Black Angel by John Connolly Copyright © 2005 by John Connolly. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
John Connolly is the author of the Charlie Parker series of mystery novels, the supernatural collection Nocturnes, the Samuel Johnson Trilogy, and (with Jennifer Ridyard) the Chronicles of the Invaders series for younger readers. He lives in Dublin, Ireland. For more information, see his website at JohnConnollyBooks.com, or follow him on Twitter @JConnollyBooks.
- Dublin, Ireland
- Date of Birth:
- May 31, 1968
- Place of Birth:
- Dublin, Ireland
- B.A. in English, Trinity College Dublin, 1992; M.A. in Journalism, Dublin City University, 1993
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