“Jacob Stone is equal parts Thomas Harris, Michael Connelly, Jo Nesbo, and Stephen King. CRUEL will leave you shaking . . . with fear, excitement, and the uncontrollable compulsion to keep on reading.”
—Lee Goldberg, #1 New York Times bestselling author of True Fiction
“17.” L.A. detective Morris Brick knows the number all too well. It was the gruesome signature the Nightmare Man left next to his victims’ bodies. Brick’s father was the first to investigate the killings. Five women were butchered before the perpetrator vanished. Seventeen years later he resurfaced—to kill again in the same depraved ways. Now another seventeen years have passed. Brick knows in his gut that it’s time for the Nightmare Man to reawaken. But even Brick can’t imagine the madman’s true agenda. Or just how terrifying the sleepless nights are going to get in the City of Angels . . .
“Rarely is an author so skilled at portraying such unremitting evil and the poignant, human side of his characters in a single tale.” —Jeffery Deaver
Downtown Los Angeles alley, 2:18 a.m.
The rat grew frantic in its efforts to escape the trap, its front claws a blur as they scratched against the wire mesh. This one was older than the juveniles already collected, and showed the scars of a lifetime spent skulking through Los Angeles alleyways and sewers. Half of one ear had been torn off, its grayish-black fur matted, and a dozen wounds scabbed over. While the rat was larger than the others, it was still emaciated enough to be able to squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter. Rats like this one were crucial for what was coming.
The newspaper stories from 2001 didn’t mention rats, and neither did the ones from 1984. That had to be because the reporters hadn’t been told about them, or really about any of the specifics. In 1984, the newspaper and TV reporters described the murders only as depraved and sickening.
A police officer must’ve given them that description, and someone with a touch of poetry in his soul named the killer the Nightmare Man. That name stuck—both in 1984 and in 2001—but it didn’t fully do the killer justice. While horrific, monstrous things were done to the victims, they were things that could only have come from the nightmares of a lunatic.
Just as some species of cicadas awaken only every seventeen years, the same was true of the Nightmare Man. October second would mark the seventeen-year anniversary of the start of the last killing spree, and new victims had already been chosen. They were both the least and most fortunate people alive. They would be dying the worst deaths imaginable, but they would have a kind of immortality, their fates forever entwined with the Nightmare Man. Because of that, they would never be forgotten.
The cage was picked up, and the rat inside backed up and got on its hind legs, its small black eyes shining with malevolence as it bared its teeth. It was an ugly thing and would do nicely for what was needed.
A homeless woman lay curled in a fetal position as she slept beside a dumpster. She stirred as the cage holding the rat was carried past her. Her red-rimmed eyes cracked open, her round, craggy face turning toward the soft padding of footsteps. In a raspy croak that sounded as if her throat had been scraped raw with sandpaper, she asked for money. Even from several feet away, the sour smell of cheap gin on her breath assaulted the senses. A decision now had to be made: whether to kill the old woman or ignore her. A moment of reflection revealed a third option—simply hand
the homeless woman a twenty-dollar bill, and that was what was done. The woman mumbled something unintelligible as she accepted the money. She turned away as she hid the bill within her layers of clothing, and then she presumably fell back to sleep.
That was how it needed to be. It wasn’t time yet for the Nightmare Man to awaken from his slumber. October second was still a full ten days away. That was when the killings would start again. Besides, snuffing out the life of this old woman wasn’t necessary. Her alcohol-addled mind wouldn’t later connect this late-night intrusion of her makeshift home with the Nightmare Man’s return.
But the Nightmare Man was coming.
And Los Angeles would soon be weeping tears of blood.
About the author:
Jacob Stone is the pseudonym for award-winning author Dave Zeltserman. Dave's crime and horror novels have been picked by NPR, the Washington Post, American Library Association, Booklist, and WBUR as best novels of the year, and his short mystery fiction has won a Shamus, Derringer and two Ellery Queen Readers Choice awards.
Dave's crime noir novel, SMALL CRIMES, has been made into a major motion picture starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Molly Parker, Gary Cole, Robert Forster, and Jacki Weaver, and will be premiering April 28th on Netflix. Several of his other books are currently in film development.
Morris Brick thriller novels written as Jacob Stone: DERANGED, CRAZED, MALICIOUS, TWISTED.
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