Hangman's Curse (The Veritas Project Series #1)

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Overview

The first in a new format of books targeted to tweens and teens, The Veritas Project: Hangman's Curse will keep readers enthralled. Frank Peretti introduces Nate Springfield, his wife Sarah, and their twin children Elijah and Elisha, who are part of the Veritas Project team. This group travels the country aiding the FBI and other organizations in breaking drug rings and solving mysteries. In Hangman's Curse, the family goes undercover at a small town high school - where a mysterious curse has turned several of ...
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The Veritas Project: Hangman's Curse: Hangman's Curse

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Overview

The first in a new format of books targeted to tweens and teens, The Veritas Project: Hangman's Curse will keep readers enthralled. Frank Peretti introduces Nate Springfield, his wife Sarah, and their twin children Elijah and Elisha, who are part of the Veritas Project team. This group travels the country aiding the FBI and other organizations in breaking drug rings and solving mysteries. In Hangman's Curse, the family goes undercover at a small town high school - where a mysterious curse has turned several of the star football players into raving lunatics who can only be tied to their hospital beds while doctors are baffled by their symptoms. Elijah and Elisha must befriend the various cliques at school, and help their parents solve the mystery of Abel Frye (a name the sick kids mutter in their delirium).

This story could have come straight from the headlines about many schools around the country and will lead kids and young adults to an understanding of peer pressure and the pain that comes from being different. It is a riveting message on the wounded spirit that teens will never forget.

When several students at Baker High School are stricken by an alleged curse of the school's ghost, Elijah and Elisha Springfield and their parents, undercover investigators, are sent to uncover the truth behind the events.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-Elisha and Elijah and their parents are part of a hush-hush government program know as the Veritas Project, which can best be described as an evangelical Christian X-Files. Their current assignment is to infiltrate a high school where student bullies have been stricken by a mysterious form of madness. Peretti develops the plot nicely, building in a skeptical police officer, a concerned guidance counselor, and an obnoxious gym teacher who has been encouraging the bullies. Several of the students who have been picked on have formed their own version of a witch's coven and are practicing what they think is black magic to wreak vengeance on their tormenters. As Elijah and his twin penetrate deeper into the mystery, the curses begin to go dreadfully awry, and several students die. The deadly madness is traced to a type of poisonous and aggressive spider breeding within the school walls. As the school is evacuated, Elisha finds herself in the heart of the spiders' lair. While the members of the Springfield family do not keep their religious life undercover, it does not interrupt the flow of the story, nor does anyone get preachy. The twins and their parents use the latest scientific equipment and methods to attempt to find a rational solution to the increasingly dangerous events confronting them. Young teens should enjoy this fast-paced and atmospheric novel.-Elaine Fort Weischedel, Franklin Public Library, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400303366
  • Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/4/2003
  • Series: Veritas Project Series , #1
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: ABRIDGED
  • Pages: 200
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 6.12 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank Peretti

Frank Peretti, whose books have sold more than 12 million copies, is the author of Monster as well as the international bestsellers The Oath and This Present Darkness. The Oath (1995) has sold more than a million copies and was awarded the 1996 ECPA Gold Medallion Award for best fiction. Peretti lives with his wife Barbara in the Pacific Northwest. Visit his website at www.frankperetti.com.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE:

Baker High School quarterback Jim Boltz wiped his hands on his jersey, angrily this time. He'd almost fumbled the snap again, the third time in the first quarter. His hands were slick with sweat. They were shaking. He clenched them into fists.

"Y'okay, Jim?" asked the center.

"M'okay!" he snapped back.

He was looking bad; he knew it and his team knew it. He had to get it together, had to quit missing, dropping, forgetting. This was an important game, Baker against Whitman. The Baker High School stadium was filled to capacity. He took his place in the huddle, his stomach in knots.

"Okay, uh, double-wide right, tight end left, 755 fly, on one. Ready . . ."

"We just did that play," said Dave, one of the wide receivers.

Jim stared at the turf. He was thinking about breathing.

Howie suggested, "How about power-I right, play action 242 . . ."

Jim's brain finally snapped into gear. "Uh, yeah, yeah, uh, tight end down and out, on two. Ready . . ."

"Break!" they all yelled.

The huddle broke and they headed for the line of scrimmage.

Jim forgot the play. He tagged his fullback and got a reminder.

"Ready, set, red twenty-one, red twenty-one, red twenty-two, hut, HUT!"

He got the snap, faded back, looked for his receiver, saw a face in the stands . . . The face was pale. The eyes were cold and cruel, and they gazed at him unblinkingly.

Jim's hand trembled. He almost dropped the ball.

"Why's he standing there?" Coach Marquardt growled from the sidelines. Still in his midtwenties, Marquardt was all meat, no fat, and tough enough to scare any kid within range of his glare. "Boltz! Wake up and throw the ball!"

Jim threw the ball. It wobbled in a pitiful, lazy arc over the line of scrimmage and bounced far short of the receiver. The play was over, and it was sheer luck the ball wasn't picked off by a linebacker.

This time, Gordon, the center, got right in his face. "Jim, what's the problem? Hey, I'm talking to you!"

Jim was eyeing that face in the stands. "Sleazy little wimp!"

The center turned to follow Jim's gaze. "Who?"

"He's gonna pay for this."

Gordon was still looking. "Who?"

Jim turned toward the huddle. "C'mon." It was fourth down on Whitman's 24-yard line and Baker had four yards to go for a first down.

Jim took some deep breaths. It had to be exhaustion. Maybe it was the stress of playoffs coming up. With two more wins, they'd go to the state championship game on Turkey Day, the big one. That could be doing it. Maybe it was a touch of the flu, or something he ate. It could be anything.

Anything but-

Fear.

Uh-uh. No way. Not me, not here, not now, and not from that little creep in the stands. He looked at those distant black eyes and mouthed the words, I'm not afraid of you!

Ian Snyder sat hunched like a vulture in row twelve on the far end of the bleachers, dressed in black, the only color he owned. The seats all around him were vacant. After three miserable years in high school, he was used to it. He was enjoying every moment of watching Baker High's star quarterback fall apart. The searing, demonic smile never left his face. Oh, you're scared, all right. I can see it in the way you keep looking this way and keep blowing this football game. I've got you right where I want you, don't I?

"Abel Frye," he whispered, his eyes gleaming like the silver pendant that hung from his left ear. "Abel Frye."

Jim Boltz shook off the weakness, clamped his hands together to keep them steady, and called for one more pass play, a last-ditch attempt to make that first down.

The Baker Hawks went to the scrimmage line; he took the snap, faded back-

His arm faltered in midthrow.

Someone was standing in the end zone.

Abel Frye. The name reverberated like an iron bell through his brain, taking command of every thought, every intent, numbing every nerve.

Beneath the upstretched arms of the goalpost stood a gaunt, decaying figure washed pale by the floodlights, shreds of a tattered shirt moving like vapors in the breeze, the head cocked grotesquely against the right shoulder as if the neck were broken, a golden-eyed hawk perched on the left shoulder. The youth looked dead, his face a chalky white, and yet his eyes met Jim's and then his pale, gray lips parted in a hideous grin.

They knew each other. This was an appointment.

"YES!" said Ian Snyder, leaping to his feet, arms high in jubilation. Those who noticed had no idea what he was so excited about.

The hawk's wings burst open as it leaped off the bony shoulder. With head low and eyes crazed with killing, it came straight for Jim Boltz.

Every thought fled from Jim's mind. He had no awareness of the game, the football in his hand, or the opposing tacklers breaking through. The only reality for Jim Boltz was fear.

Searing, mind-conquering fear.

The hawk grew larger as it came closer, wings beating furiously, talons open.

Jim Boltz turned and ran.

Coach Marquardt came unglued and almost crossed the sideline onto the field. "What in Sam Hill is he doing? BOLTZ! TURN AROUND!"

Assistant Coach Raddison could only gawk, but he did put a hand on Marquardt's shoulder in the hope of containing his temper.

Their star quarterback was outrunning Whitman's tacklers, running faster than they'd ever seen him run, but in the wrong direction. The Baker crowd was on its feet, roaring, shrieking, waving, trying to get Boltz's attention. The Whitman crowd was on its feet as well, but hysterical, pointing, laughing, having a great time.

Jim's receivers reached the end of their patterns, turned, and then stood there, bewildered and incredulous as their quarterback shrank in the distance and both teams fell into confusion.

Coach Marquardt signaled "time out" and crossed onto the field, cursing and fuming.

Raddison grabbed his arm. "Vern, the play isn't over!"

"What play?" Marquardt jerked free. "It's happening again. Can't you see that? BOLTZ! I'm gonna put your rear in a blender! You hear me?"

Raddison saw Jim Boltz collapse and roll into the end zone, get to his feet again, collapse again. The ball tumbled free and a Whitman tackler dove on it. The referee blew his whistle and the play was over.

Raddison had seen this before. "Oh, no." He hollered, "First aid! Let's go!" and then ran after Marquardt.

"TIME OUT!" Marquardt hollered, signaling, and he got it.

A Whitman tackler trotted up to the Baker quarterback, still on the ground. "Hey, congratulations, you just got us two points!"

The quarterback was writhing on the ground, whimpering, screaming. "What dollar in the kenzo slater, make it uptown and drive it, down way!"

The tackler had extended his hand to help his opponent off the ground, but now he shied back. "Hey, you all right?"

Boltz was twitching, twisting, staring wide-eyed at nothing and plainly terrified. "Does it, does it, no, unload and white the ground! Chevy maker in the postgame!"

He threw up his arms as if fending off an attack from . . . something.

"Wow," said the tackler to a teammate, "he's, he's-"

"He's wacko, that's what he is."

"Abel Frye!" Boltz screamed, inching and clawing along the ground, eyes staring upward. "Abel Frye!"

Then he was on his feet, starting to run.

Marquardt and Raddison overtook him and brought him to the ground, holding him down, trying to contain his lashing arms and kicking feet.

"Give us a hand here!" Raddison shouted, and players from both sides came to help hold Jim down.

"Where's the doc?" Marquardt shouted, searching. Then he slapped Jim Boltz on the helmet. "Cut it out, Boltz!"

A medic came running, emergency kit in hand.

The field was filling with parents, schoolmates, fans, the curious.

"Please stay off the playing field," said the announcer over the loudspeakers. Nobody listened.

The medic took charge. There was no need to check for pulse or breathing; the poor kid had plenty of both. "Let's get him inside. Careful, now."

"Make way there!"

Marquardt was on one arm, Raddison on the other. Between them, Jim Boltz began to weaken, his voice ebbing from a scream to a whimper. As they reached the passage to the locker rooms, his head began to droop and he muttered two last words before he passed out: "Abel Frye . . ."

Marquardt cursed and looked at Raddison.

Raddison nodded grimly. "You're right. It's happening again."

As the puzzled and murmuring football crowd gravitated toward the field, Ian Snyder turned and stole quietly up the stairs to the exit, his hands in the pockets of his long black trench coat. Yeah, he thought, now Boltz will be just like the others. In all the confusion, no one gave his presence in the stands a second thought.

In Washington, D.C., far from the Capitol dome, was an old red-brick office building with office space and apartments available for rent. On the fifth floor, at the end of a narrow hall with a noisy steam radiator, was a plain little office with its title painted in small black letters on the door: The Veritas Project. Just inside that door, Consuela, the secretary, sorted through conventional mail at her desk. Seated at a computer nearby, Carrie, the assistant, scanned through e-mails from all around the country. Between their two workstations was another door, and beyond that door was the cluttered office of Mr. Morgan, the boss.

Mr. Morgan was sitting at his cluttered desk, his suit jacket draped over the back of his chair, his tie loosened, his shirt sleeves rolled up. He was reading a field report he'd just received via the Internet: "Springfield/Montague/Phase Two." What he read pleased him, and he smiled, nodding his head.

Morgan was middle-aged, bald, bespectacled, and generally unimpressive in appearance. His name and face were not widely known in this town, and his office was in an obscure, hard-to-find location. He preferred it that way. A project like Veritas could benefit from being quiet, unknown, and behind-the-scenes. He was well connected with the right people, and that was all that mattered.

His telephone bleeped and the voice of his secretary said, "Mr. Morgan, the President on line one."

He picked up the receiver, pressed the button for line one and responded, "Mr. President."

The voice on the other end was immediately recognizable. Mr. Morgan was hearing from the foremost leader of the free world. "Mr. Morgan, I understand we have trouble brewing in Baker, Washington."

"Yes, sir. I heard from the high school counselor just this morning."

"Mr. Gessner."

"Yes. So you've read my report already?"

"Every word of it. And I agree. Veritas should have a look at it. Where are the Springfields now?"

Mr. Morgan glanced at the report he'd just finished reading. "Montague, Oregon. That drug abuse prevention program."

"How long before they're finished with that?"

Mr. Morgan looked at his watch. "Well . . . it could be as soon as half an hour, if everything goes according to plan."

In a quiet old neighborhood where ancient maple trees overshadowed the street with their shady branches and pushed up the sidewalks with their roots, where the yards were small and neat except for an occasional neglected bicycle or forgotten skateboard, a late-model station wagon pulled slowly to a stop along the curb.

Inside, the driver looked warily at the gabled gray house several doors down the street. "That's it." He was a high school kid, sixteen or seventeen, thin, and nervous. Beside him sat another high schooler, a girl. Neither appeared to have slept, eaten, or bathed in days, and both were dressed in weird, pricey clothing that carried the same message as their dour expressions: Let the whole world drop dead.

In the rear seat, a young man with a grim, wary expression peered out the window and asked, "Are they ready?"

"If they aren't ready for company we won't get through the front door," said the driver. "I called 'em and they said it was all clear."

"So let's do it."

They got out of the car and crossed the street quickly, while looking up and down the street and toward the surrounding houses in case anyone might be watching.

An unkempt, slightly heavy blond woman in jeans and oversized shirt answered the front door on the third knock. She recognized the boy and girl. "Hey, Luke. How you doing, Leah?" She eyed the stranger warily. "This must be Marv."

"This is Marv," Luke confirmed. "The buyer I told you about."

She studied Marv's face, her suspicion never waning. "How long have you known him?"

"We buy from him all the time. He's okay," said Leah.

The woman flung the door open. "Well, come inside before somebody sees you."

They walked into a modest living room. The carpet was worn, with several years' worth of cigarette holes. The furniture looked old, smelled old, and nothing matched. A big cat lay curled on the couch and looked up at them for only a moment before lowering its head again in disinterest.

"Let's see your money," said the woman. "Convince me."

Marv reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of bills. "You're not dealing with a small-timer."

She was impressed at the sight of the hundred-dollar bills. "So Luke and Leah tell me." Her expression softened. "I'm Nancy. My husband Lou's down in the lab right now."

He smiled, only slightly. "So let's see your goods. We'll make this quick."

He followed her into the kitchen where she reached into a drawer and produced a plastic bag containing white powder. "One hundred grams of crank, finished up just this morning."

Now it was Marv's turn to be impressed. "You must have some kind of lab."

"We don't talk about it."

He started counting out the big bills. "I'll take it."

"You'll take half. The rest is spoken for."

"Okay, half."

"We gotta go," said Luke. "If I get caught skipping class one more time, somebody's gonna get wise."

"Go out the back way," she instructed. "Use the alley."

The two kids ducked out the back, leaving Nancy and Marv alone to close the drug deal.

"So, fifty grams," said Nancy, taking a triple-beam balance from a cupboard.

"Wow," said Marv, "nice scale." Then he noticed the "SCHOOL DISTRICT 212" label still attached to the side and chuckled.

She smiled. "I have friends in the school district."

He boasted, "So have I. I work Mannesmann High, Cleveland, Kennedy, Lincoln Junior High, even Dwight Elementary."

She raised her eyebrows. "You do get around." She placed a coffee filter on the scale and began carefully pouring out the powder, watching for the scale to tip at fifty grams. "So how come I never heard of you before?"

"I'm smart," he replied. "How come I never heard of you before?"

She stopped pouring. She had fifty grams. "I'm smart, too."

She carefully poured the powder into a bag, then waited for Marv to place the hundred-dollar bills in her hand. When he did so, she gave him the bag.

"Thanks," he said. "It'll take about a week to sell this, and then I'll-"

There was a commotion on the back porch. A door banging open. Stumbling footsteps. An angry voice.

Marv was about to bolt for the front door, but Nancy said, "It's Lou."

The back door burst open and the two high schoolers stumbled into the kitchen, shoved along at gunpoint by a big, stubbly-faced man.

"Lou!" said Nancy. "What gives?"

Lou shoved the two kids up against the counter and then growled in a roughneck, East Coast accent, "Found these two outside, snooping through the kitchen window with these!" He threw a tiny video camera and a set of earphones on the kitchen table.

Nancy looked at the gadgets, then at the kids, in horror. "We heard a rumor about some kids working undercover. It's you?"

Lou pointed the gun at Marv. " 'kay, Marv-or whoever you are-party's over. Better join your friends." He motioned with the gun toward the frightened Luke and Leah.

"What are you talking about?" said Marv, half raising his hands.

"They brought you here with 'em, and guess what? They're working for the cops. That means you're working for the cops."

Marv was totally flustered. "No, man, I don't know anything about this."

Nancy's eyes were suddenly cold and cruel. "You were good. Real good. You had us fooled!"

"But, but I'm not with them!" Marv protested.

Lou came closer, raising the gun to the level of Marv's eyes. "Oh, riiiight, like I don't know a sting operation when I see it? Open the jacket. You're probably wired."

Marv spread his jacket open. "No! No wires! No microphones, nothing! I'm clean, I tell you. I don't know these kids."

Lou was insulted. He spoke sideways to Nancy, "He says he don't know 'em!"

"I mean-"

"You drive up with 'em, you come into the house with 'em, and you don't know 'em? Eh, give me a break!"

Nancy glared at Marv in murderous rage. "So what are we going to do, Lou?"

Lou grabbed the video camera and earphones off the table, dashed them to the floor, and shattered them under his heel. He grabbed Leah by the arm as she screamed in pain, then aimed the gun at her. "How much do the cops know? How much have you told 'em?"

She didn't answer, but only squirmed in his iron grip, her face contorted with pain.

"Let her go," Luke blurted. "We haven't told them anything. We were supposed to take the recording back to the drug task force." Then he added with a tone of warning, "And if they don't hear from us within an hour they'll come looking for us."

"Elijah," the girl screamed, "don't tell them that!"

Lou nodded, a sly smile forming on his lips. "Hey, that gives us time, doesn't it Elijah? So what's your name, sweetheart?"

"Elisha." She pronounced it Eleesha. "Elisha Springfield."

"So Elijah must be your brother."

Elijah confessed, "That's right."

Lou smiled menacingly. "So it's all in the family." He waved the gun at Marv. "So who's this, your cousin?"

"You gotta believe me," Marv pleaded. "I'm not with them! I'm just here to do business!"

Lou aimed the gun in his face and pulled the hammer back. "You got two seconds to convince me."

"Jackie Morelli, over in the central district-you can call him. He knows me."

Lou shook his head. "Don't know him."

"Eddie Baylor? Runs Hogie's Tavern over on Torrance Boulevard."

Lou was unimpressed. "You gotta be making this up."

Marv was getting desperate. His voice was rising in pitch and he was talking a lot faster. "Okay, okay. Jimmy Dorning, over at-"

"Where are you getting these nobody names?"

"Just let me finish! He lives right next to Lincoln High School. He's my contact over there and we've made good money-I'm talking thousands, tens of thousands, and no rip-offs."

Lou cocked his head slightly as if he were just beginning to believe. "What about Steve Vernon? You know him?"

"I know him. I don't like him, but I know him. He's buying from Gomez and trying to get Gomez to cut me out."

Lou raised one eyebrow as if impressed. "You know Gomez?"

"Yeah, you kidding? Everybody knows Gomez."

"You work for him?"

Marv hesitated to answer. Lou brought the muzzle of the gun a little closer. "I don't ask questions twice, kid."

"Okay! Okay!" Marv finally burst out. "I work for him!"

"How long?"

"A year. Maybe two."

"How'd you meet up with him?"

"He helped me out."

"Yeah, just like all his little flunkies. So where's his lab?"

"He has an old rental on Taylor Avenue."

Lou's grip on the gun tightened. "He's at his mother's place!"

"No, no, no!" Marv raised his hands pleadingly. "He moved just last week! Go ahead, check it out! 401 Taylor Avenue!"

"So if you work for Gomez, why are you buying from us?"

"Because . . ." Marv couldn't finish.

"You're setting us up!"

"NO! NO! I just . . . I just gotta get away from Gomez, that's all." Marv began to wilt. "I can't take it anymore."

"So go home."

Marv seemed close to tears. "Don't have the bread. Gomez takes it all."

Lou eyed Marv curiously. "You mean, you do all the selling, but Gomez takes the money?"

"That's the deal. He puts me up, gives me a bed, maybe some food, and I work for him."

Nancy's voice was almost compassionate. "Dealing drugs just to stay alive. So what happens to Gomez if you get caught?"

Marv shrugged. "I dunno. Says he doesn't know me, I guess."

Lou sniffed in disgust. "Some friend."

Marv wiped a tear from his eye. "Yeah. Some friend. I'm just trying to get out on my own, that's all. I wouldn't even cut in on Gomez's turf. I'd go somewhere else. I just need something to get started, you know?"

Lou thought it over for several torturous seconds. Finally, he relaxed and raised the muzzle of the gun toward the ceiling. "Okay, Marv, okay. I guess you do know some people."

CRASH! The front door caved in and the house filled with green-jacketed, helmeted police, all leveling guns. "FREEZE! POLICE! ON THE FLOOR! ON THE FLOOR! GET DOWN! SPREAD 'EM!"

Nancy screamed, Lou dropped his gun, the kids fell to the floor and cowered. Marv ran for the back door, but Elijah Springfield hooked his feet in a leg lock and brought him down. More cops came storming in the back door, yelling, shoving, grabbing, flipping Marv over, holding him down, cuffing him. "DOWN! DOWN! DOWN! C'MON, MOVE IT!"

They slapped handcuffs on Lou and Nancy, then on Elijah and Elisha. In mere seconds, all five were facedown on the floor, subdued and guarded by the armed police now towering over them.

An officer found the fifty grams of methamphetamine in the pocket of Marv's jacket. They took him first. With a huge officer grabbing him under each arm, he sailed up from the floor and through the house before he could even get his feet under him. He went out through the front door, the sweeping blue and red lights of the police cars flashing across his dazed face, and then he was gone.

The door slammed shut.

"Don't move," a burly sergeant warned the others.

Lou and Nancy didn't move. They just waited. Elijah and Elisha remained on their bellies, looking even more dour than usual.

Outside, the doors of a police car slammed shut and the vehicle sped away, its lights making one final sweep through the living-room windows. Seconds later, a police officer poked his head in the door and said, "Suspect is en route."

Lou and Nancy, still facedown and handcuffed, smiled at each other.

Elijah sighed with relief and muttered, "All right!"

Sergeant Bill Perkins removed his helmet. "Whew! You guys okay?"

Lou moaned a bit-he was kidding. "I think I'm going to be sore tomorrow."

Officer Jim Dunlop got out his set of keys and unlocked all the handcuffs. Lou, Nancy, Elijah, and Elisha, wrists free, got to their feet.

"Good work," said Perkins. Then he called toward the pantry, "Did we get all that on tape?"

The pantry door swung open, and Officer Kyle Warner, video camera in hand, made an "okay" sign with his thumb and finger. "Great performance, guys."

Perkins spoke into his portable radio, "Okay, we have the Gomez location: 401 Taylor." He signed off and smiled. "Our friend Mr. Gomez is in for a visit, along with Morelli, Baylor, Dorning, and, uh . . ."

Officer Warner helped him out. "Steve Vernon. We needed a lead on that guy."

"And now we've got it!" Perkins extended his hand for a congratulatory shake. "Nate, Sarah, thanks a lot."

Nate and Sarah Springfield, who had been posing as "Lou" and "Nancy" for the past two months, shook his hand.

"But Nate," said Perkins, who really was from the East Coast, "the Philadelphia accent could use a little work."

"You'd know," Nate responded with a laugh, his own accent reflecting his Montana roots.

Perkins shook hands with Nate and Sarah's sixteen-year-old twins, Elijah and Elisha. "You okay?"

They were both breathing a lot easier and smiling for the first time, as if they didn't really want the whole world to drop dead after all.

"Oh, we're intact," said Elijah, gathering up the pieces of his shattered fake video camera. "I worked three days on this."

Elisha removed a black wig and shook loose her shoulder-length blond hair. "But what about Marv? What's going to happen to him?"

"We're making it look as much like a real drug bust as possible," Perkins said.

"You had me convinced," Nate said.

"Well, hopefully, word will get around that Marv's out for good, and that should keep the local gangs and drug dealers from trying to come after him. We have a family from one of the churches who is willing to take him in on a mentor program. It's a strict environment with plenty of rules, but that's why the prosecutor's willing to work with us. It works." Perkins smiled. "A strict environment with total accountability, but with the love of a family and the love of God."

"Has anyone been able to find Marv's real family?" Sarah asked.

"We'll need Marv to help us out on that one." Perkins wagged his head in dismay. "Sometimes runaways have a home to return to, and sometimes . . . well, we'll just have to see."

"It's just so hard to believe," said Nate. "How old is Marv, anyway?"

"He can't be more than fourteen," said Perkins. "Gomez finds them young, hungry, and alone."

"Well, he won't be hungry and alone anymore."

Perkins smiled. "Not if we can help it."

"So . . . ," Nate's eyes scanned the room. "Let's go, folks. We need to give this house back to the owners so they can get back to renting it. Gather up the gear-and whose cat is that?"

While Perkins and Dunlop discussed who might own the cat, the Springfields opened cupboards and drawers, removing dishes, silverware, groceries, and dishtowels they'd placed there to make the kitchen look lived in. They also removed microphones strategically hidden behind the window shades, the ceiling light fixture, and under the counter.

"Oh, by the way, Nate," said Sergeant Perkins, "Morgan called. He needs you to call him back right away."

"Thanks," Nate replied, stepping out onto the back porch and opening his cell phone. He punched in a number, the phone beeping with each entry.

A woman's voice answered after one ring. "Veritas Project."

"This is Nate Springfield."

"Ah, hello, Nate. Hang on, I'll connect you."

In only a few seconds, a man's voice came on the phone. "Nate. How'd it go?"

Nate looked toward the kitchen and the cleanup going on. "We have Marv."

"Wonderful!"

"He was the last drug slave working for Gomez, so that clears that out. And now we finally got the information we needed on Gomez and the others, so there goes the drug ring-hopefully."

"Excellent! And what do you think of their antidrug program?"

Nate smiled. "The reports we got were on the money. The police and prosecutors are joining up with the community and the churches too, and they're working the problem at a heart level. I guess they're finally starting to see that if you change the heart, the life will change with it. They've seen it work."

"Think it'll work for Marv?"

"Well . . ." Nate gave it some thought. "It worked for those other two kids Gomez owned. As for Marv, well, we've gotten to know him a while, and I think he has a good chance of turning things around. We've got a Christian family lined up to take him in. We'll just have to let God do the rest from there."

"So the Truth works."

Nate had to chuckle. "Well, yeah, if you give it a chance. The problem is, if you really want the Truth, then you have to have God along with it, and that gets a little sticky. If you can persuade the courts and communities to give God's ways a try, then yeah, the Truth works-and that's what I intend to report to the President."

"Good enough. Now get ready for another one. We just got word of something brewing in Baker, Washington. Some kids are getting sick and demented, and no one knows why. Could be drugs, could be toxic contamination, could be a disease-or it could be something nobody's even thought of. Drug Enforcement's been called, and so have Environmental Protection and the Centers for Disease Control, but they're all backlogged and it's going to take them weeks to get on it. Nate, the President wants you in Baker now. There are . . . well, let's say there are certain undercurrents at that school, certain issues that the other agencies won't be looking for. The President is counting on you to get this thing solved before these other people have a chance to muddle it all up with politics and press releases. As always, Nate, for the record . . ."

"I know," Nate had heard this disclaimer so often he had it memorized. "The President wants to know the reasons, not just the facts. The Veritas Project has nothing to do with his administration. The job is strictly unofficial, strictly up to me if I want to take it."

"You've got it." Morgan laughed.

Nate took out his pen and pad. "Go ahead."

"We were contacted by a counselor named Tom Gessner from the high school. . . ."

Shortly afterward, Nate read from his notes, sharing the potential new assignment with his family as they stood in the now-empty kitchen.

Sarah was intrigued. "There's definitely a spiritual aspect to it."

Elijah looked a little "iffy" about it. "Yeah, but I'll bet it means going to school again."

Elisha wrinkled her nose. "Another school case?"

"Ehh, so whatza matta?" Nate asked, his East Coast accent returning. "You got somethin' against school?"

"Oh, Dad, pull-eeezzz!"

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First Chapter


CHAPTER ONE:

Baker High School quarterback Jim Boltz wiped his hands on his jersey, angrily this time. He'd almost fumbled the snap again, the third time in the first quarter. His hands were slick with sweat. They were shaking. He clenched them into fists.

"Y'okay, Jim?" asked the center.

"M'okay!" he snapped back.

He was looking bad; he knew it and his team knew it. He had to get it together, had to quit missing, dropping, forgetting. This was an important game, Baker against Whitman. The Baker High School stadium was filled to capacity. He took his place in the huddle, his stomach in knots.

"Okay, uh, double-wide right, tight end left, 755 fly, on one. Ready . . ."

"We just did that play," said Dave, one of the wide receivers.

Jim stared at the turf. He was thinking about breathing.

Howie suggested, "How about power-I right, play action 242 . . ."

Jim's brain finally snapped into gear. "Uh, yeah, yeah, uh, tight end down and out, on two. Ready . . ."

"Break!" they all yelled.

The huddle broke and they headed for the line of scrimmage.

Jim forgot the play. He tagged his fullback and got a reminder.

"Ready, set, red twenty-one, red twenty-one, red twenty-two, hut, HUT!"

He got the snap, faded back, looked for his receiver, saw a face in the stands . . . The face was pale. The eyes were cold and cruel, and they gazed at him unblinkingly.

Jim's hand trembled. He almost dropped the ball.


"Why's he standing there?" Coach Marquardt growled from thesidelines. Still in his midtwenties, Marquardt was all meat, no fat, and tough enough to scare any kid within range of his glare. "Boltz! Wake up and throw the ball!"


Jim threw the ball. It wobbled in a pitiful, lazy arc over the line of scrimmage and bounced far short of the receiver. The play was over, and it was sheer luck the ball wasn't picked off by a linebacker.

This time, Gordon, the center, got right in his face. "Jim, what's the problem? Hey, I'm talking to you!"

Jim was eyeing that face in the stands. "Sleazy little wimp!"

The center turned to follow Jim's gaze. "Who?"

"He's gonna pay for this."

Gordon was still looking. "Who?"

Jim turned toward the huddle. "C'mon." It was fourth down on Whitman's 24-yard line and Baker had four yards to go for a first down.

Jim took some deep breaths. It had to be exhaustion. Maybe it was the stress of playoffs coming up. With two more wins, they'd go to the state championship game on Turkey Day, the big one. That could be doing it. Maybe it was a touch of the flu, or something he ate. It could be anything.

Anything but—

Fear.

Uh-uh. No way. Not me, not here, not now, and not from that little creep in the stands. He looked at those distant black eyes and mouthed the words, I'm not afraid of you!


Ian Snyder sat hunched like a vulture in row twelve on the far end of the bleachers, dressed in black, the only color he owned. The seats all around him were vacant. After three miserable years in high school, he was used to it. He was enjoying every moment of watching Baker High's star quarterback fall apart. The searing, demonic smile never left his face. Oh, you're scared, all right. I can see it in the way you keep looking this way and keep blowing this football game. I've got you right where I want you, don't I?

"Abel Frye," he whispered, his eyes gleaming like the silver pendant that hung from his left ear. "Abel Frye."


Jim Boltz shook off the weakness, clamped his hands together to keep them steady, and called for one more pass play, a last-ditch attempt to make that first down.

The Baker Hawks went to the scrimmage line; he took the snap, faded back—

His arm faltered in midthrow.

Someone was standing in the end zone.

Abel Frye. The name reverberated like an iron bell through his brain, taking command of every thought, every intent, numbing every nerve.

Beneath the upstretched arms of the goalpost stood a gaunt, decaying figure washed pale by the floodlights, shreds of a tattered shirt moving like vapors in the breeze, the head cocked grotesquely against the right shoulder as if the neck were broken, a golden-eyed hawk perched on the left shoulder. The youth looked dead, his face a chalky white, and yet his eyes met Jim's and then his pale, gray lips parted in a hideous grin.

They knew each other. This was an appointment.


"YES!" said Ian Snyder, leaping to his feet, arms high in jubilation. Those who noticed had no idea what he was so excited about.


The hawk's wings burst open as it leaped off the bony shoulder. With head low and eyes crazed with killing, it came straight for Jim Boltz.

Every thought fled from Jim's mind. He had no awareness of the game, the football in his hand, or the opposing tacklers breaking through. The only reality for Jim Boltz was fear.

Searing, mind-conquering fear.

The hawk grew larger as it came closer, wings beating furiously, talons open.

Jim Boltz turned and ran.


Coach Marquardt came unglued and almost crossed the sideline onto the field. "What in Sam Hill is he doing? BOLTZ! TURN AROUND!"

Assistant Coach Raddison could only gawk, but he did put a hand on Marquardt's shoulder in the hope of containing his temper.

Their star quarterback was outrunning Whitman's tacklers, running faster than they'd ever seen him run, but in the wrong direction. The Baker crowd was on its feet, roaring, shrieking, waving, trying to get Boltz's attention. The Whitman crowd was on its feet as well, but hysterical, pointing, laughing, having a great time.

Jim's receivers reached the end of their patterns, turned, and then stood there, bewildered and incredulous as their quarterback shrank in the distance and both teams fell into confusion.

Coach Marquardt signaled "time out" and crossed onto the field, cursing and fuming.

Raddison grabbed his arm. "Vern, the play isn't over!"

"What play?" Marquardt jerked free. "It's happening again. Can't you see that? BOLTZ! I'm gonna put your rear in a blender! You hear me?"

Raddison saw Jim Boltz collapse and roll into the end zone, get to his feet again, collapse again. The ball tumbled free and a Whitman tackler dove on it. The referee blew his whistle and the play was over.

Raddison had seen this before. "Oh, no." He hollered, "First aid! Let's go!" and then ran after Marquardt.

"TIME OUT!" Marquardt hollered, signaling, and he got it.


A Whitman tackler trotted up to the Baker quarterback, still on the ground. "Hey, congratulations, you just got us two points!"

The quarterback was writhing on the ground, whimpering, screaming. "What dollar in the kenzo slater, make it uptown and drive it, down way!"

The tackler had extended his hand to help his opponent off the ground, but now he shied back. "Hey, you all right?"

Boltz was twitching, twisting, staring wide-eyed at nothing and plainly terrified. "Does it, does it, no, unload and white the ground! Chevy maker in the postgame!"

He threw up his arms as if fending off an attack from . . . something.

"Wow," said the tackler to a teammate, "he's, he's—"

"He's wacko, that's what he is."

"Abel Frye!" Boltz screamed, inching and clawing along the ground, eyes staring upward. "Abel Frye!"

Then he was on his feet, starting to run.

Marquardt and Raddison overtook him and brought him to the ground, holding him down, trying to contain his lashing arms and kicking feet.

"Give us a hand here!" Raddison shouted, and players from both sides came to help hold Jim down.

"Where's the doc?" Marquardt shouted, searching. Then he slapped Jim Boltz on the helmet. "Cut it out, Boltz!"

A medic came running, emergency kit in hand.

The field was filling with parents, schoolmates, fans, the curious.

"Please stay off the playing field," said the announcer over the loudspeakers. Nobody listened.

The medic took charge. There was no need to check for pulse or breathing; the poor kid had plenty of both. "Let's get him inside. Careful, now."

"Make way there!"

Marquardt was on one arm, Raddison on the other. Between them, Jim Boltz began to weaken, his voice ebbing from a scream to a whimper. As they reached the passage to the locker rooms, his head began to droop and he muttered two last words before he passed out: "Abel Frye . . ."

Marquardt cursed and looked at Raddison.

Raddison nodded grimly. "You're right. It's happening again."


As the puzzled and murmuring football crowd gravitated toward the field, Ian Snyder turned and stole quietly up the stairs to the exit, his hands in the pockets of his long black trench coat. Yeah, he thought, now Boltz will be just like the others. In all the confusion, no one gave his presence in the stands a second thought.


In Washington, D.C., far from the Capitol dome, was an old red-brick office building with office space and apartments available for rent. On the fifth floor, at the end of a narrow hall with a noisy steam radiator, was a plain little office with its title painted in small black letters on the door: The Veritas Project. Just inside that door, Consuela, the secretary, sorted through conventional mail at her desk. Seated at a computer nearby, Carrie, the assistant, scanned through e-mails from all around the country. Between their two workstations was another door, and beyond that door was the cluttered office of Mr. Morgan, the boss.

Mr. Morgan was sitting at his cluttered desk, his suit jacket draped over the back of his chair, his tie loosened, his shirt sleeves rolled up. He was reading a field report he'd just received via the Internet: "Springfield/Montague/Phase Two." What he read pleased him, and he smiled, nodding his head.

Morgan was middle-aged, bald, bespectacled, and generally unimpressive in appearance. His name and face were not widely known in this town, and his office was in an obscure, hard-to-find location. He preferred it that way. A project like Veritas could benefit from being quiet, unknown, and behind-the-scenes. He was well connected with the right people, and that was all that mattered.

His telephone bleeped and the voice of his secretary said, "Mr. Morgan, the President on line one."

He picked up the receiver, pressed the button for line one and responded, "Mr. President."

The voice on the other end was immediately recognizable. Mr. Morgan was hearing from the foremost leader of the free world. "Mr. Morgan, I understand we have trouble brewing in Baker, Washington."

"Yes, sir. I heard from the high school counselor just this morning."

"Mr. Gessner."

"Yes. So you've read my report already?"

"Every word of it. And I agree. Veritas should have a look at it. Where are the Springfields now?"

Mr. Morgan glanced at the report he'd just finished reading. "Montague, Oregon. That drug abuse prevention program."

"How long before they're finished with that?"

Mr. Morgan looked at his watch. "Well . . . it could be as soon as half an hour, if everything goes according to plan."


In a quiet old neighborhood where ancient maple trees overshadowed the street with their shady branches and pushed up the sidewalks with their roots, where the yards were small and neat except for an occasional neglected bicycle or forgotten skateboard, a late-model station wagon pulled slowly to a stop along the curb.

Inside, the driver looked warily at the gabled gray house several doors down the street. "That's it." He was a high school kid, sixteen or seventeen, thin, and nervous. Beside him sat another high schooler, a girl. Neither appeared to have slept, eaten, or bathed in days, and both were dressed in weird, pricey clothing that carried the same message as their dour expressions: Let the whole world drop dead.

In the rear seat, a young man with a grim, wary expression peered out the window and asked, "Are they ready?"

"If they aren't ready for company we won't get through the front door," said the driver. "I called 'em and they said it was all clear."

"So let's do it."

They got out of the car and crossed the street quickly, while looking up and down the street and toward the surrounding houses in case anyone might be watching.

An unkempt, slightly heavy blond woman in jeans and oversized shirt answered the front door on the third knock. She recognized the boy and girl. "Hey, Luke. How you doing, Leah?" She eyed the stranger warily. "This must be Marv."

"This is Marv," Luke confirmed. "The buyer I told you about."

She studied Marv's face, her suspicion never waning. "How long have you known him?"

"We buy from him all the time. He's okay," said Leah.

The woman flung the door open. "Well, come inside before somebody sees you."

They walked into a modest living room. The carpet was worn, with several years' worth of cigarette holes. The furniture looked old, smelled old, and nothing matched. A big cat lay curled on the couch and looked up at them for only a moment before lowering its head again in disinterest.

"Let's see your money," said the woman. "Convince me."

Marv reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of bills. "You're not dealing with a small-timer."

She was impressed at the sight of the hundred-dollar bills. "So Luke and Leah tell me." Her expression softened. "I'm Nancy. My husband Lou's down in the lab right now."

He smiled, only slightly. "So let's see your goods. We'll make this quick."

He followed her into the kitchen where she reached into a drawer and produced a plastic bag containing white powder. "One hundred grams of crank, finished up just this morning."

Now it was Marv's turn to be impressed. "You must have some kind of lab."

"We don't talk about it."

He started counting out the big bills. "I'll take it."

"You'll take half. The rest is spoken for."

"Okay, half."

"We gotta go," said Luke. "If I get caught skipping class one more time, somebody's gonna get wise."

"Go out the back way," she instructed. "Use the alley."

The two kids ducked out the back, leaving Nancy and Marv alone to close the drug deal.

"So, fifty grams," said Nancy, taking a triple-beam balance from a cupboard.

"Wow," said Marv, "nice scale." Then he noticed the "SCHOOL DISTRICT 212" label still attached to the side and chuckled.

She smiled. "I have friends in the school district."

He boasted, "So have I. I work Mannesmann High, Cleveland, Kennedy, Lincoln Junior High, even Dwight Elementary."

She raised her eyebrows. "You do get around." She placed a coffee filter on the scale and began carefully pouring out the powder, watching for the scale to tip at fifty grams. "So how come I never heard of you before?"

"I'm smart," he replied. "How come I never heard of you before?"

She stopped pouring. She had fifty grams. "I'm smart, too."

She carefully poured the powder into a bag, then waited for Marv to place the hundred-dollar bills in her hand. When he did so, she gave him the bag.

"Thanks," he said. "It'll take about a week to sell this, and then I'll—"

There was a commotion on the back porch. A door banging open. Stumbling footsteps. An angry voice.

Marv was about to bolt for the front door, but Nancy said, "It's Lou."

The back door burst open and the two high schoolers stumbled into the kitchen, shoved along at gunpoint by a big, stubbly-faced man.

"Lou!" said Nancy. "What gives?"

Lou shoved the two kids up against the counter and then growled in a roughneck, East Coast accent, "Found these two outside, snooping through the kitchen window with these!" He threw a tiny video camera and a set of earphones on the kitchen table.

Nancy looked at the gadgets, then at the kids, in horror. "We heard a rumor about some kids working undercover. It's you?"

Lou pointed the gun at Marv. " 'kay, Marv—or whoever you are—party's over. Better join your friends." He motioned with the gun toward the frightened Luke and Leah.

"What are you talking about?" said Marv, half raising his hands.

"They brought you here with 'em, and guess what? They're working for the cops. That means you're working for the cops."

Marv was totally flustered. "No, man, I don't know anything about this."

Nancy's eyes were suddenly cold and cruel. "You were good. Real good. You had us fooled!"

"But, but I'm not with them!" Marv protested.

Lou came closer, raising the gun to the level of Marv's eyes. "Oh, riiiight, like I don't know a sting operation when I see it? Open the jacket. You're probably wired."

Marv spread his jacket open. "No! No wires! No microphones, nothing! I'm clean, I tell you. I don't know these kids."

Lou was insulted. He spoke sideways to Nancy, "He says he don't know 'em!"

"I mean—"

"You drive up with 'em, you come into the house with 'em, and you don't know 'em? Eh, give me a break!"

Nancy glared at Marv in murderous rage. "So what are we going to do, Lou?"

Lou grabbed the video camera and earphones off the table, dashed them to the floor, and shattered them under his heel. He grabbed Leah by the arm as she screamed in pain, then aimed the gun at her. "How much do the cops know? How much have you told 'em?"

She didn't answer, but only squirmed in his iron grip, her face contorted with pain.

"Let her go," Luke blurted. "We haven't told them anything. We were supposed to take the recording back to the drug task force." Then he added with a tone of warning, "And if they don't hear from us within an hour they'll come looking for us."

"Elijah," the girl screamed, "don't tell them that!"

Lou nodded, a sly smile forming on his lips. "Hey, that gives us time, doesn't it Elijah? So what's your name, sweetheart?"

"Elisha." She pronounced it Eleesha. "Elisha Springfield."

"So Elijah must be your brother."

Elijah confessed, "That's right."

Lou smiled menacingly. "So it's all in the family." He waved the gun at Marv. "So who's this, your cousin?"

"You gotta believe me," Marv pleaded. "I'm not with them! I'm just here to do business!"

Lou aimed the gun in his face and pulled the hammer back. "You got two seconds to convince me."

"Jackie Morelli, over in the central district—you can call him. He knows me."

Lou shook his head. "Don't know him."

"Eddie Baylor? Runs Hogie's Tavern over on Torrance Boulevard."

Lou was unimpressed. "You gotta be making this up."

Marv was getting desperate. His voice was rising in pitch and he was talking a lot faster. "Okay, okay. Jimmy Dorning, over at—"

"Where are you getting these nobody names?"

"Just let me finish! He lives right next to Lincoln High School. He's my contact over there and we've made good money—I'm talking thousands, tens of thousands, and no rip-offs."

Lou cocked his head slightly as if he were just beginning to believe. "What about Steve Vernon? You know him?"

"I know him. I don't like him, but I know him. He's buying from Gomez and trying to get Gomez to cut me out."

Lou raised one eyebrow as if impressed. "You know Gomez?"

"Yeah, you kidding? Everybody knows Gomez."

"You work for him?"

Marv hesitated to answer. Lou brought the muzzle of the gun a little closer. "I don't ask questions twice, kid."

"Okay! Okay!" Marv finally burst out. "I work for him!"

"How long?"

"A year. Maybe two."

"How'd you meet up with him?"

"He helped me out."

"Yeah, just like all his little flunkies. So where's his lab?"

"He has an old rental on Taylor Avenue."

Lou's grip on the gun tightened. "He's at his mother's place!"

"No, no, no!" Marv raised his hands pleadingly. "He moved just last week! Go ahead, check it out! 401 Taylor Avenue!"

"So if you work for Gomez, why are you buying from us?"

"Because . . ." Marv couldn't finish.

"You're setting us up!"

"NO! NO! I just . . . I just gotta get away from Gomez, that's all." Marv began to wilt. "I can't take it anymore."

"So go home."

Marv seemed close to tears. "Don't have the bread. Gomez takes it all."

Lou eyed Marv curiously. "You mean, you do all the selling, but Gomez takes the money?"

"That's the deal. He puts me up, gives me a bed, maybe some food, and I work for him."

Nancy's voice was almost compassionate. "Dealing drugs just to stay alive. So what happens to Gomez if you get caught?"

Marv shrugged. "I dunno. Says he doesn't know me, I guess."

Lou sniffed in disgust. "Some friend."

Marv wiped a tear from his eye. "Yeah. Some friend. I'm just trying to get out on my own, that's all. I wouldn't even cut in on Gomez's turf. I'd go somewhere else. I just need something to get started, you know?"

Lou thought it over for several torturous seconds. Finally, he relaxed and raised the muzzle of the gun toward the ceiling. "Okay, Marv, okay. I guess you do know some people."

CRASH! The front door caved in and the house filled with green-jacketed, helmeted police, all leveling guns. "FREEZE! POLICE! ON THE FLOOR! ON THE FLOOR! GET DOWN! SPREAD 'EM!"

Nancy screamed, Lou dropped his gun, the kids fell to the floor and cowered. Marv ran for the back door, but Elijah Springfield hooked his feet in a leg lock and brought him down. More cops came storming in the back door, yelling, shoving, grabbing, flipping Marv over, holding him down, cuffing him. "DOWN! DOWN! DOWN! C'MON, MOVE IT!"

They slapped handcuffs on Lou and Nancy, then on Elijah and Elisha. In mere seconds, all five were facedown on the floor, subdued and guarded by the armed police now towering over them.

An officer found the fifty grams of methamphetamine in the pocket of Marv's jacket. They took him first. With a huge officer grabbing him under each arm, he sailed up from the floor and through the house before he could even get his feet under him. He went out through the front door, the sweeping blue and red lights of the police cars flashing across his dazed face, and then he was gone.

The door slammed shut.

"Don't move," a burly sergeant warned the others.

Lou and Nancy didn't move. They just waited. Elijah and Elisha remained on their bellies, looking even more dour than usual.

Outside, the doors of a police car slammed shut and the vehicle sped away, its lights making one final sweep through the living-room windows. Seconds later, a police officer poked his head in the door and said, "Suspect is en route."

Lou and Nancy, still facedown and handcuffed, smiled at each other.

Elijah sighed with relief and muttered, "All right!"

Sergeant Bill Perkins removed his helmet. "Whew! You guys okay?"

Lou moaned a bit—he was kidding. "I think I'm going to be sore tomorrow."

Officer Jim Dunlop got out his set of keys and unlocked all the handcuffs. Lou, Nancy, Elijah, and Elisha, wrists free, got to their feet.

"Good work," said Perkins. Then he called toward the pantry, "Did we get all that on tape?"

The pantry door swung open, and Officer Kyle Warner, video camera in hand, made an "okay" sign with his thumb and finger. "Great performance, guys."

Perkins spoke into his portable radio, "Okay, we have the Gomez location: 401 Taylor." He signed off and smiled. "Our friend Mr. Gomez is in for a visit, along with Morelli, Baylor, Dorning, and, uh . . ."

Officer Warner helped him out. "Steve Vernon. We needed a lead on that guy."

"And now we've got it!" Perkins extended his hand for a congratulatory shake. "Nate, Sarah, thanks a lot."

Nate and Sarah Springfield, who had been posing as "Lou" and "Nancy" for the past two months, shook his hand.

"But Nate," said Perkins, who really was from the East Coast, "the Philadelphia accent could use a little work."

"You'd know," Nate responded with a laugh, his own accent reflecting his Montana roots.

Perkins shook hands with Nate and Sarah's sixteen-year-old twins, Elijah and Elisha. "You okay?"

They were both breathing a lot easier and smiling for the first time, as if they didn't really want the whole world to drop dead after all.

"Oh, we're intact," said Elijah, gathering up the pieces of his shattered fake video camera. "I worked three days on this."

Elisha removed a black wig and shook loose her shoulder-length blond hair. "But what about Marv? What's going to happen to him?"

"We're making it look as much like a real drug bust as possible," Perkins said.

"You had me convinced," Nate said.

"Well, hopefully, word will get around that Marv's out for good, and that should keep the local gangs and drug dealers from trying to come after him. We have a family from one of the churches who is willing to take him in on a mentor program. It's a strict environment with plenty of rules, but that's why the prosecutor's willing to work with us. It works." Perkins smiled. "A strict environment with total accountability, but with the love of a family and the love of God."

"Has anyone been able to find Marv's real family?" Sarah asked.

"We'll need Marv to help us out on that one." Perkins wagged his head in dismay. "Sometimes runaways have a home to return to, and sometimes . . . well, we'll just have to see."

"It's just so hard to believe," said Nate. "How old is Marv, anyway?"

"He can't be more than fourteen," said Perkins. "Gomez finds them young, hungry, and alone."

"Well, he won't be hungry and alone anymore."

Perkins smiled. "Not if we can help it."

"So . . . ," Nate's eyes scanned the room. "Let's go, folks. We need to give this house back to the owners so they can get back to renting it. Gather up the gear—and whose cat is that?"

While Perkins and Dunlop discussed who might own the cat, the Springfields opened cupboards and drawers, removing dishes, silverware, groceries, and dishtowels they'd placed there to make the kitchen look lived in. They also removed microphones strategically hidden behind the window shades, the ceiling light fixture, and under the counter.

"Oh, by the way, Nate," said Sergeant Perkins, "Morgan called. He needs you to call him back right away."

"Thanks," Nate replied, stepping out onto the back porch and opening his cell phone. He punched in a number, the phone beeping with each entry.

A woman's voice answered after one ring. "Veritas Project."

"This is Nate Springfield."

"Ah, hello, Nate. Hang on, I'll connect you."

In only a few seconds, a man's voice came on the phone. "Nate. How'd it go?"

Nate looked toward the kitchen and the cleanup going on. "We have Marv."

"Wonderful!"

"He was the last drug slave working for Gomez, so that clears that out. And now we finally got the information we needed on Gomez and the others, so there goes the drug ring—hopefully."

"Excellent! And what do you think of their antidrug program?"

Nate smiled. "The reports we got were on the money. The police and prosecutors are joining up with the community and the churches too, and they're working the problem at a heart level. I guess they're finally starting to see that if you change the heart, the life will change with it. They've seen it work."

"Think it'll work for Marv?"

"Well . . ." Nate gave it some thought. "It worked for those other two kids Gomez owned. As for Marv, well, we've gotten to know him a while, and I think he has a good chance of turning things around. We've got a Christian family lined up to take him in. We'll just have to let God do the rest from there."

"So the Truth works."

Nate had to chuckle. "Well, yeah, if you give it a chance. The problem is, if you really want the Truth, then you have to have God along with it, and that gets a little sticky. If you can persuade the courts and communities to give God's ways a try, then yeah, the Truth works—and that's what I intend to report to the President."

"Good enough. Now get ready for another one. We just got word of something brewing in Baker, Washington. Some kids are getting sick and demented, and no one knows why. Could be drugs, could be toxic contamination, could be a disease—or it could be something nobody's even thought of. Drug Enforcement's been called, and so have Environmental Protection and the Centers for Disease Control, but they're all backlogged and it's going to take them weeks to get on it. Nate, the President wants you in Baker now. There are . . . well, let's say there are certain undercurrents at that school, certain issues that the other agencies won't be looking for. The President is counting on you to get this thing solved before these other people have a chance to muddle it all up with politics and press releases. As always, Nate, for the record . . ."

"I know," Nate had heard this disclaimer so often he had it memorized. "The President wants to know the reasons, not just the facts. The Veritas Project has nothing to do with his administration. The job is strictly unofficial, strictly up to me if I want to take it."

"You've got it." Morgan laughed.

Nate took out his pen and pad. "Go ahead."

"We were contacted by a counselor named Tom Gessner from the high school. . . ."


Shortly afterward, Nate read from his notes, sharing the potential new assignment with his family as they stood in the now-empty kitchen.

Sarah was intrigued. "There's definitely a spiritual aspect to it."

Elijah looked a little "iffy" about it. "Yeah, but I'll bet it means going to school again."

Elisha wrinkled her nose. "Another school case?"

"Ehh, so whatza matta?" Nate asked, his East Coast accent returning. "You got somethin' against school?"

"Oh, Dad, pull-eeezzz!"

 

 

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 118 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(96)

4 Star

(13)

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(6)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 118 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2008

    shows our point of view

    Hangmans curse is the story of a high school in need of some major help. This book really shows what bullying can drive kids to do as well as brings about the point that no one should ever just blow it off. Over all it was a great CLEAN book for teens. Finally there is an author who understands what a good book can be without all the sex, drugs, and alchol put into our socioty today.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2011

    Amazing Book to Read!

    The Hangman's Curse by Frank Peretti is a story written with mystery and suspense. It is set in the 2000's in a high school in Baker, Washington. Elijah and Elisha, the main Characters, are sent with their parents by the President to find out the mystery on why these high school students are dying and what the clues they are finding stand for. There are some realationships that stay true, but some just fall apart. This is a must read book. Readers will enjoy reading this book, because it has excellent mystery and suspense at the same time. It leaves pictures in your head on what you have read and will make not wanting to put the book down. The journey it takes you through will show what bullying will drive kids to do and as well brings a point that no one should ever just blow it off. Over all this is a very inspiring and great book that anyone,even kids would love to read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2013

    "Every Life Is Just Too Precious."

    I personally love Frank Peretti's books! The Veritas Project: Hangmans curse came out in 2002 (I was a lil older two) and In 2013 I am just now reading one of Perettis greatest works? Maybe because my age.. anyway I love this book and it was so well written that it was like watching a movie in my head! I especially love the point Peretti has made "Every Life Is Just Too Precious." Another thing I really loved was the part in the book when, Elijah argued with the teacher about evolution and how its ridiculous, and was being a friend to Ian. Oh yeah I think its also really cool how Peretti made Elijah and Elisha homeschooled because, I am homeschooled too! Peretti has created a suspenseful, mystery, on the edge of your seat type book with an unexpected twist! He also surrounded it with a Biblical perspective and with a great point that everyone should truly know! Thanks for reading! Goodbye... ~DayDream17~

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2011

    A great suspension book!!

    This book was a great christian fiction horror book! I love how Peretti mixed a christian book with suspense and action! This book I will say was creepy at some parts so I would recommend this for christian teenagers who want a book with suspense and MYSTERY! I can't wait to read the next one!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2011

    Ok

    The book was okay. Some parts wer kind of borin. If u hatee spiders, dont read this book. You will get nightmares

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 15, 2011

    hi

    buy me this

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 5, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Curse? Or a secret form of revenge?

    In Baker, Washington, three football stars fall into mysterious, hallucinating comas. Rumor is they are victims of Abel Frye, a dead student¿s ghost who curses those who would pick on the less popular. Enter the Springfields, an undercover family of four who are secretly commissioned by the president to investigate strange mysteries, crimes, and unusual occurrences. They are The Veritas Project. <BR/><BR/>Elijah and Elisha, teenage twins, go undercover at the school but what they find only leads to more questions. All the victims are school bullies. Abel Frye was a high school student who hung himself in the 1930s. A stick figure hangman was etched into each victim¿s locker. Is it really his ghost casting judgment or a secretive form of revenge? And what exactly goes on in the sectioned-off old basement of the high school?<BR/><BR/>Wow! Peretti is a genius writer, as usual, crafting the most amazing and original ideas. This is the kind of mystery you can¿t put down until you read the very last word, then you spend the next week thinking over the story and everything that was in it. An amazing plot, intriguing characters¿fantastic! Bring on book two. Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2008

    A-Ma-Zing!!!

    This book is one of my favorite books!!! It was very suspenseful!! I was read it when I was visiting my dad, and decided to pick it up when I was browsing through the library. This is a must read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2008

    Wonderful Book, but it is a re-release not a new book

    I definitely recommend this book for all pre-teens and teens. Bullying MUST NOT be tolerated in our schools.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2007

    A reviewer

    My husband and I LOVE this book! We refer it to all the kids in our youth groups. It's clean, it's suspensfull, and it's so creepy!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2007

    Crazy!

    This book was fantastic! The suspense kept me wanting to keep reading this book. It had a great plot and kept me guessing the whole time about who the villan was. overall, it was wonderful!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2013

    Hangman's Curse Frank Peretti Book Summary: They could be anyon

    Hangman's Curse
    Frank Peretti

    Book Summary: They could be anyone, anywhere . . . even the person walking by you right now. The Veritas Project is their code name--but only a handful of people know teens Elijah and Elisha Springfield have been covertly commissioned by the President to investigate strange mysteries that delve into the paranormal and supernatural. Their charge is to find out not only what happened, but why--the veritas (Latin for truth) behind the seemingly impossible phenomena.
    Their new assignment: Hangman's Curse In Baker, Washington, three popular student athletes lie in an incoherent coma, with loss of muscle coordination, severe paranoia, and hallucinations. It's whispered that they're victims of Abel Frye--a curse that's haunted the school since a student died there in the 1930s. Now the curse is spreading, and students are running scared. The Veritas Project must go undercover to find the truth . . . before it's too late.

    Review: I loved this book. I picked it up at Costco and I read it from beginning to end! This was years ago and yet parts of the witty dialog and storyline still comes to my mind. I remember how I could not put it down. The characters were well written and realistic. I think Veritas Project itself was a cool concept. I found the children to be fun and smart without being a disrespectful pair. They were characters I cheered on and wanted to read more of. The parents were intelligent and part of the team with each person having their own specialty. It is the way families should be portrayed rather than the typical dumb parents, smart kids. My only criticism is that there were only two books but that is tempered by a deep respect for Mr. Peretti who had serious vertigo, I believe around the same time. Now that he is writing again I hope he will pen more of these tails. I also seldom read youth fiction but this was a smart and snappy read many age groups.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2012

    Great book, really exciting and suspensful, read it!

    Great book, really exciting and suspensful, read it!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2012

    Horrible

    I am a christian. And I like good christian fiction this book does not deserve to bear the label christian. While the book had lots of suspense and an intresting storyline christianity is downplayed. There is no moral, no teaching, just one refrence to Christ and the Bible. If this was a secular book I would reccomend it for those long trips in the car or anyone looking for a fast paced read. But for those who want CHRISTIAN fiction, I would reccomend lion of babylon or gold of kings by davis bunn.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2012

    Pink Neon Lightning Kitth Reviews

    This book was well written and has a great christian view. Suspenseful and exciting, I could barely put the book down, and I finished in two nights! I liked the fact that it was fairly long because I read fast. Keep going Frank Peretti! And lovers of great books, be sure to read this and other books by the author. (Though if you read this one, you might obtain a fear of spiders!)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 25, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Suspenseful

    Thought of the movie and found there's a book. The book is pretty good, suspenseful and got very creepy near the end, especially the big reveal of who and what's responsible for what's been happening at the high school. The writing is good and has a good pace. Recommend the book and the movie.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 1, 2011

    Fun light read

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2011

    surprisingly suspenseful

    This book is marvelous! I have to admit, I wasn't too excited about reading it because it was on my summer reading list :\ ,but after reading the first few chapters I was hooked! This book is deffinatly a must read for all ages.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2012

    Great

    One of my fav's. Working with school bulling is an increasing delemea at scool. This shows just how far someone would go to get revenge

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2008

    A AWESOME AMAZING THRILLING BOOK!!!!

    I LOVE THIS BOOK EVEN MY MOM AND AUNT LIKED IT!!!!!! ITS SUSPENSFUL AND THRILLING I COULDNT PUT IT DOWN I READ IT IN 5TH GRADE AND ALWAYS WOULD BE TOLD TO STOP READING MY BOOK AND LISTEN!!!!!!!!! FIRST READ THE BOOK THE SEE THE MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I THINK ITS A GREAT LESSON TO SEE WHAT BULLING CAN DO TO PEOPLE!~!!!!!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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