Once again, America is under siege. A devastating terrorist attack has destroyed one of the nation's most treasured landmarks. With Mt. Rushmore now reduced to a pile of rubble, Major Josiah Key, commander of the secretive Cerberus Unit, is dispatched to hunt down the mastermind responsible: the most fanatically evil extremist the world has ever known. And he's hidden in the most isolate region of the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan.
Climbing to the fiend's remote, mysterious caves, the four-person Cerberus team encounters bloodless corpses that lead them to confront one of the greatest evils in human history: the Vetela . . . unholy creatures who inhabit the bodies of the dead and the source of all vampire legends. Their sole purpose is to guard the terrorist, and with his help, the Vetela, are finally ready to come into the light and lay waste to all humanity.
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Mount Rushmore National Memorial Superintendent Bernard Gensler would never forget the little girl's face.
Normally he'd never remember it. He had seen so many faces, every day, since taking the job to manage the Black Hills of South Dakota tourist attraction — in fact, around three million faces a year. But it was the strangest thing. As this blond girl, who he judged to be about three years old, made her way through the crowds, flanked by her mother and father, no one seemed to notice her.
Instead, if anyone looked down from the awe-inspiring sight of the presidential faces carved into the mountain above them, their eyes seemed to glance off the twelve-ounce orange juice carton she held in both hands in front of her as if she were a flower girl at a citrus wedding. They seemed to focus on that, and not see the angelic face behind it at all.
But Gensler's eyes had become sharper in the eight months since he took over the job. His gaze now almost always went to any weak link in a pattern of movement. And while there were always many children at the park, even now when the weather was getting cooler, most were in strollers or their parents' arms. This little blond child was walking steadily and serenely, the juice carton like a shield.
Gensler fought the urge to approach the trio, because he also had learned it was never wise to make suggestions to parents on how to treat their offspring. That was one of the reasons he had gotten the job in the first place. The previous superintendent had always erred on the side of overcaution, until the pile of complaint emails and letters had toppled over onto her.
Instead, he paused in his own walk to study the trio's progress. Other sightseers seemed to flow around them, like drops of oil in water. Fairly certain that there were no impending collisions for the moment, Gensler's gaze shifted back to the child's beatific face.
It truly was amazing, as if fashioned from every movie, painting, cartoon, and picture he had ever admired. It was so striking and serene that it was only after he managed to move on that he realized he had not even bothered to look at her parents' faces. At the time, he had shrugged. It wasn't as if he didn't have things to do.
He was proud of the changes he had made that allowed this child to fully enjoy the stirring, even awe-inspiring, attraction he was now responsible for — from the Memorial Grounds, Information Center, Visitor Center, Sculptor's Studio, Evening Lighting Ceremony Amphitheater, and Rushmore Plaza Civic Center to the paths, trails, restrooms, parking spaces, exhibits, and even scenic roads that all came under the aegis of the National Park Service. He may not have been serving the Marine Corps in an official capacity any longer, but he was honored to be a part of the Department of the Interior — no matter how his old "few and proud" buddies kidded him about the "step down."
Gensler continued his unofficial rounds along the Avenue of Flags Walkway, as ever enjoying the fifty-six flags that represented the fifty states, one district, three territories, and two commonwealths of the United States — arranged in alphabetical order with the As near the concession building and the Ws near the Visitor Center and Museum. And they all seemed to be waving at the beautiful, grand sculptures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln that artist Gutzon Borglum had begun in 1927, and his son Lincoln Borglum had finished in 1941.
Gensler truly enjoyed taking the long way 'round to the park café, rather than huddling in his office. To be among the people he had done this all for was his best reward. After 2001 and the World Trade Center attack, the security had tightened like disapproving lips all over the country. But here they focused on improving public buildings and viewing area safety rather than restricting access to the mountain itself.
But that wasn't as bad as the overreaction in 2009, when a group of Greenpeace protestors had managed to make it to the top of the presidential heads to drape an anti-global-warming banner there. Following that was years of limiting access and clamping down on the circulation of images of the top. National Park Service officials believed distribution of these images constituted an unjustifiable security threat.
Even then Gensler had come across the report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that read "preventing individuals seeking to climb to the top of the monument for nefarious purposes is difficult." But he had found that the real problem was the lack of funds needed to man those surveillance feeds and police the summit.
The superintendents before him had struggled to balance the visitors' freedom with park security, but they had neglected to incorporate the human factor. Upon his hiring, he almost immediately realized the key was using their limited funds to their best advantage, as well as steward training.
These forest rangers were more comfortable with trees than they were with other people and had to have an attitude adjustment to change their preconceptions about "the annoying interlopers." Once he made it clear that every visitor should be treated like a possible nature lover, and led by example, the mood slowly but steadily changed.
They all worked to make any visit so enjoyable that few seemed to notice Gensler's steps to make sure the presidential sculptures themselves were well and truly off-limits. Nobody could get up there, but he did everything in his power to make sure they didn't even think about wanting to.
Gensler breathed deeply of the fresh, crisp, autumn air. They were in the weather sweet spot where the southern Chinook winds took on cold Canada air trying to permeate the area, leaving them in a pocket of peace. As he straightened at the crest of his breath, he unavoidably glanced upward. His eyes, sharpened by years of training, narrowed. His brain, sharpened by the same training, slammed down the sudden panic that filled it.
There were three specks in his vision, where they couldn't be, moving along the crest between the stone coiffures of Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Two black specks and one blond one.
Not possible, Bernard Gensler thought. He blinked, praying they were shadows of soaring birds or clouds. But when he looked again, they were still there, and still moving — getting ever closer to the edge of the precipice.
Not possible. They couldn't get up there. There was no way they could've gotten past security.
Gensler's arms moved while his gaze didn't falter. Up came both his hands — in one his smartphone, in the other the Sunagor Super Zoom Compact Binoculars he always kept in his jacket pocket. Without looking, he thumbed the universal code on the cellphone's digital buttons, linking him with every ranger and staff member, and stuck it against his ear.
"Code green," he said quietly. "S, l, x, t and a." As he was giving the message meaning "scalp-line between Teddy Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln," he brought the most powerful compact, zoom binoculars available to his eyes as calmly as he could.
"Not possible," he heard someone gasp from the monitor room.
Not possible, Gensler heard echoed in his own mind as he thumbed the Sunagor up to its full hundred and ten times magnification. It was as he feared. Somehow, it was the little girl he had fixated on, or her twin. But even if she were a twin, the people who had flanked her before were flanking her now.
But his fear was not just because they had somehow gotten past all the security measures, but because he knew there was no conceivable way they could have gotten up there that fast — not unless they were all, somehow, twins. Another blond twin who was still holding a twin juice carton in front of her like an offering to the gods.
Above the buzzing in his head and the ambient sounds from the tourists all around him, Gensler became aware of other voices in his ear. Babbling coming from ranger stations all around the back and top of the mountain stridently maintaining that they had seen nothing and no one had passed, mingling with desperate questions and even accusations.
"R.S.," he said strongly as he watched the three figures stop at the lip of the cliff. Radio silence. It was an antiquated code, but still effective. "Move," he ordered the rangers nearest the spot. "Secure, safeguard." Those were meant for both the location and the trio.
All the while, he never took his eyes off the three specks. His breath caught in his throat as the blond girl seemed to lurch forward, but he breathed again when the man beside her suddenly gripped her shoulder. He watched as the man and woman leaned down. The girl looked up at them.
"What are they doing?" Gensler may have whispered. Are they talking? What are they talking about? "Move, move, move!" he snapped, the word becoming more urgent with each repetition.
As he did so, he started becoming aware of nearby tourist voices also becoming more urgent and strident. Others had binoculars too.
Gensler's head craned forward on his neck, desperately hoping that somehow might help. But as he did, the three atop the monument stopped talking, the girl turned back to face him, and the adults flanking her each gripped her elbows and ankles.
"No," the superintendent said, the word seemingly torn from him by talons. But his building dread prevented nothing. The two adults swung the girl back and forth as if they were aerialists about to launch their youngest member to the top of a circus tent.
"No," Gensler breathed with each swing. "No!" As two park rangers appeared at the far side of both Washington's and Lincoln's heads, the two adults hurled the little girl off the cliff. Gensler watched as she swung out in a huge, diving arc, holding the juice carton out over her head.
He didn't even stop watching when a loud explosion — it sounded like a firecracker in a metal trash can — engulfed the carton and her. Everything after that seemed to be moving in extremely slow motion. The shock wave blew off massive, ugly chunks of Roosevelt and Lincoln — noses, slabs of Lincoln's beard, Roosevelt's cheek — while scarring the chins and mouths of Jefferson and Washington. The sound of the blast and the crack of the monument took a few moments to reach the onlookers, but after that the crumbling roar was constant. The biggest pieces struck outcroppings on the faces and on the mountainside itself, shattering the stone into smaller chunks, like an obscene asteroid entering Earth's atmosphere and shedding its rocky skin. More facial curves and details were ripped away, smaller fragments that were no longer identifiable as other than what they were: ancient granite and metamorphic rock. The crack-crack-snap of each strike announced new destruction that was obscured by the dust cloud, but invoked horrible ruin that no one wanted to see — yet could not turn from. The dust set up a haze in the air that was constantly thickening and expanding, like smoke blown slowly from a monster cigar. The pasty, off-white fog was like a scrim to mute the pain of the vignette being played out behind it.
But it didn't. It couldn't. Nothing could. And the distant sounds couldn't blot the nearby screams and shrieks and guttural roars and swearing and orders to run, run, move! that everyone seemed to be shouting at everyone else.
It was the longest and yet most viciously scarring few seconds Gensler could remember having lived through.
"They threw her because she wouldn't have done as much damage if she had merely jumped," Bernard Gensler muttered.
Gensler looked up as the harried, incredulous Pennington County sheriff tried to encompass all the activity of the Mount Rushmore security office, while local police, Highway Patrol, Park Police, rangers, emergency medical personnel, and even officers from the local Air Force base struggled to proceed.
"Nothing," Gensler told the sheriff. "Just trying to collect my thoughts. Christ, I'm just trying to think thoughts."
The minutes following the attack were chaos, as tourists screamed and ran in fear of further explosions. Thankfully there were none, and there was protocol to follow, which Gensler had his staff practice monthly. But others had protocol to follow as well, and the park was locked down within the half hour — state police interviewing every visitor while those injured in the panic were tended to.
CIA and FBI agents were on their way, but Larry Michaels from the National Security Agency's Q Directorate was already on scene. When Gensler had asked how he had arrived so quickly, he admitted to being on vacation with his family.
"Yeah, you'll have to have your thoughts collected," Michaels said. "These monsters not only used a child to carry a bomb but they stained this — what did Franklin Roosevelt call it?"
"The Shrine of Democracy," Gensler reminded him. "When he officially opened it." The man must've paid some attention during his vacationing tour.
"Yeah," Michaels drawled, trying, like everyone else, to get his head around it. "The same year the Second World War started, right?"
Gensler nodded absently.
"Well ... no matter what your thoughts, you'll probably get shit-canned for this."
Gensler looked at the NSA man sharply, but his words belied his angry gaze. "I probably should get shit-canned for this," the former Marine snapped. "My watch, my fault."
"Bernie," Pamela Chinoa interrupted. She had been the one on duty at the surveillance screens when it happened. She had been the one who gasped. "We checked and rechecked the footage from every possible approach. No one got by. No one even appeared."
Gensler couldn't disagree. He had pored over the footage himself, as many times as he could once he felt certain his staff had the turmoil under control. "But still somehow they got up there," he said bitterly. "And two are still missing while two of our own are still dead."
Chinoa's mouth shut and grew tight, her eyes watering. The two rangers who had appeared at the last second were the victims, their fronts torn apart — seemingly from the explosion's shrapnel.
"How could they have gotten up there?" Gensler seethed. "Why weren't they killed by the explosion too? Worse, how could they get out again?"
"Worse?" Michaels snorted. "How is that worse?" "Because," Gensler snarled at him, "this time we were on alert."
Michaels shrugged and sniffed. "They must've slipped out in the panic."
"We were locked down," Gensler said almost to himself. "No one was getting in, yet they somehow got out. And no one saw them either way."
"We sure as hell saw what they did," Michaels said, looking at his cellphone screen. "The visitors might not be able to get to their cars yet, but even with the Wi-Fi shut down, tourists' videos of the explosion are already all over the net."
Gensler looked up abruptly. If there was enough coverage that videos could get out, any call he needed to make might go out as well. It might be picked up by any manner of surveillance device, but that didn't bother the former Marine in the slightest.
"Pam," he said, all but snapping to attention, "I'll be in my office. Let me know if anyone needs me."
"Yes, sir," she said, but he was already on his way out of the security room, his thumb dancing on his phone screen.
As he strode down the hall, surveying the activity outside, he felt a swell of pride mingling with his misery. His staff and the local authorities were working together at prime efficiency. Something terrible, inexplicably terrible, had happened, but the response was more than he could have hoped, or asked, for. He prayed that it continued.
A good sign was that the person he was calling answered on the first ring.
"Chuck," Gensler said. "You've heard?"
"I've heard," retired General Charles Leonidas Lancaster replied. Unbeknownst to Gensler, he was replying from Tashkurgan, Kashgar, Xinjiang, China. "I'm watching the video now."
"Chuck," Gensler continued with immediate confidence born of long experience. "I've checked our surveillance footage closely and I can't tell if it was the juice carton or not."
Lancaster paused a microsecond longer than normal. "Well," he said evenly, "if the explosive wasn't in the juice carton —" Gensler interrupted. "Didn't you tell me about a report you read where a soldier swore his superior officer wasn't shot, but exploded from the inside? It was in Syria, I think."
"Yemen," Lancaster corrected. "Yes, I did. And I know just the man to talk to about it."
Excerpted from "Blood Demons"
Copyright © 2018 Richard Jeffries.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This story starts with a couple setting off a bomb that destroys Mount Rushmore. We then link back to terrorists in Afghanistan. An ancient race of evil creatures called Vetela have joined up with the terrorists. So a team of super soldiers with unlimited resources have gathered to fight the ancient race that gave origins to vampires. This book reminds me of a B rated sci-fi thriller. You have a disaster that quickly falls to the side as we follow a military team fight against vampires. You don’t really have a lot of character development except for the Vetela because we needed the information to figure out what was going on. This is not a bad book, just rough. I think with a little bit of revision and smoothing out it would be a good story. If you like made for tv movies for Sci-Fi channel I think you might enjoy this story. I received a complimentary copy of this book. I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.