A Deadly Web

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by Kay Hooper



  “Seethes and sizzles. A fast-paced, atmospheric tale that vibrates with tension, passion, and mystery. Readers will devour it.”

  —Jayne Ann Krentz

  “Kay Hooper . . . provide[s] a welcome chill on a hot summer’s day.”

  —Orlando Sentinel

  “A stirring and evocative thriller.”

  —Palo Alto Daily News

  “Filled with page-turning suspense.”

  —The Sunday Oklahoman

  “A well-told, scary story.”

  —Toronto Sun

  “It passed the ‘stay up late to finish it in one night’ test.”

  —The Denver Post

  “Harrowing good fun . . . [Readers] will shiver and shudder.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Fans will be captivated—at every turn . . . [Hooper’s] creative blend of the paranormal and suspense are truly distinctive.”

  —Suspense Magazine

  “You won’t want to turn the lights out after reading this book!”

  —RT Book Reviews

  “Hooper’s unerring story sense and ability to keep the pages flying can’t be denied.”

  —Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

  “Enjoyable . . . thought-provoking entertainment.”

  —Calgary Herald

  “A full-force, page-turning, suspense-driven read . . . It had this reader anxiously gripping the pages.”

  —The Mystery Reader







  The First Prophet

  A Deadly Web


  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) LLC

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

  USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China


  A Penguin Random House Company


  A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author

  Copyright © 2015 by Kay Hooper.

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  JOVE® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

  The “J” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

  For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-58980-9


  Jove premium edition / April 2015

  Cover design by Rita Frangie.

  Cover photo © Romany WG / Trevillion Images.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


























  The Bishop Files


  March 12

  To Whom It May Concern:

  My understanding of the situation involving psychics has increased substantially since my last report, even though I still do not have proof that would stand up in court. As I last reported, I know psychics are being taken, vanishing without witnesses, while others at least appear to have died in accidents that left bodies all but destroyed. I suspect, but cannot prove, that at least some of those “victims” were in fact also abducted rather than murdered, the bodies left behind “identified” by falsified dental records and planted DNA.

  “Bodies,” of course, implying that other innocent people are being deliberately murdered only to provide cover for what are true abductions. I suspect but cannot prove that these bodies are most often likely transients, people expected by local law enforcement to move on or disappear, with no family to know or care what happens to them, no one to file missing-person reports. However, I also believe at least some bodies of supposed psychics were not transients; there have been too many “convenient” and unsolved deaths along the way for me to believe anything else.

  That alone would most certainly be cause for grave concern, above and beyond the disappearance of psychics. An enemy ruthless enough to murder innocents for no other reason than to have a convenient body is an enemy who will stop at nothing. An enemy who has far too great an access to medical and investigative documents and files—and quite likely has allies or confidential informants inside law enforcement, possibly even inside government.

  Aside from that elusive information, what both interests and troubles me is the fact that at least some psychics are simply abducted, vanishing without warning and without a trace. My only explanation for that is a growing understanding that until they are abducted, the psychics who merely disappear live very quiet and normal lives, attracting no attention to themselves, perhaps unwittingly making themselves targets simply because their disappearances raise few if any alarms. When they disappear, it seems to be or is reported by law enforcement to be a local family tragedy: runaway teenagers, unhappy wives, men overwhelmed by family responsibilities. Perhaps inexplicable but attracting little if any attention even from a news-hungry media when so much of seemingly greater importance is happening all over the globe.

  Still, though I have learned more, the ultimate answer eludes me. I know some psychics are aware of a faceless enemy, that they fear being taken or killed, but I also know they seldom trust and never trust lightly, which makes it all the more difficult to even locate them, far less protect them effectively. I know that throughout my years-long search for psychics suited for law enforcement work, I have met and spoken to some who have since vanished without a trace.

  I know there is some kind of organization or group of people fighting to help and protect psychics. They are nearly as secretive as their enemy, and with good cause. I have learned more about that group, and have managed not only to make contact with at least one “cell” of their organization, but even, I believe, to at least begin to win their trust. I do have some resources they lack, and long experience in locating and contacting psychics. I have value to them.

  How much remains to be seen.

  In this report, I offer the circumstances and results of my cont
act and interaction with the group, and of the events taking place at the time, events that for our purposes began in January of this year.

  Respectfully submitted,

  Noah Bishop, Unit Chief

  Special Crimes Unit, FBI


  The roses will be beautiful this year . . .

  . . . and he said to me, he said it was all my fault . . .

  That poor child always has bruises, and I know, I just know what’s really going on in that house, but should I get involved?

  No vacation this year. Lucky we don’t have to sell the house . . .

  Should I call the cops again when I hear her scream? They didn’t do a thing last time, didn’t even go inside the house . . .

  The carpet in the bedroom really should be replaced.

  How will I feel when she turns up dead or disappears?

  They’re coming.

  How was I supposed to know he hated pets? What I get for letting friends fix me up, dammit.

  Jesus, why don’t people know how to drive . . .

  . . . you know how your mother is, and what am I supposed to do?

  You put up with her, it’s just for two lousy weeks.

  Yes, but—

  The concert will be fun, you know that.

  No, my mom won’t let me go—

  They’re coming.

  The club sandwich looks good. Maybe I’ll have the club sandwich.

  The lawyer said I had a case. I can’t just stand by and pretend the bastards aren’t walking all over me.

  They should serve wine with lunch. I don’t have to drive, after all.

  I’m so afraid he’ll hit me again. I have the gun. But do I have the nerve to use it? I’m so afraid . . . if I miss he’ll kill me.

  They’re coming.

  She’s cheating on me, goddammit. I know she is.

  I don’t know why they can’t trim their side of the hedge, it looks ridiculous like this . . .

  He’ll never promote me, the son of a bitch. Millions in sales for his fucking company, and he still believes women should be fetching coffee when they aren’t barefoot and pregnant.

  Coming . . .

  If I’m very, very quiet, if I don’t make him mad, then maybe he won’t hit me again . . . Maybe I don’t need the gun. Maybe . . .

  Really gorgeous roses . . .

  If her dog shits in my yard one more time . . .

  Coming . . .

  Painting their house just shows how much mine needs it . . .

  If I’m a good girl. I try to be a good girl . . .

  There’s just no money to buy a new car, we’ll have to fix what we’ve got and live with it for a while.


  What d’you mean I can’t play baseball this season? Dad—

  He’s here.

  The blue dress, I think.

  You know . . .

  I look good in the blue dress.

  . . . he’s going to . . .

  Damned high heels . . .

  . . . kill you . . .

  Damned . . .

  . . . don’t you, Tasha?


  Her eyes snapped open, and Tasha Solomon fought to control her breathing. Fought not to betray the dagger of icy fear slicing deeper than her marrow.

  The cacophony of voices in her head was instantly muted, shut in a room in her mind, the door slammed closed against them. She could still hear them, but only distant whispers now.

  Most were her neighbors or at least from this general area, not all of them here but most nearby or passing by, their homes or jobs all around this small local café, their thoughts the ordinary ones of ordinary lives. Observations, absent thoughts, pain. Irritation, fretting, planning, worry, admiration, jealousy, envy.


  Worry about some poor little girl being abused.

  Tasha wanted to home in on that one, that worry, so she could find out which neighbor was hurting their kid. She’d damned well do something about that, and it wouldn’t involve cops. And the abused wife, who was that? Living in her secret hell, probably behind a smile of normality, thinking of the gun she had dared to buy but probably lacked the will to use. Alone. So alone.

  Tasha wanted to help her too.

  But . . . it was that other voice that kept her mental door firmly closed, at least for now. Because she couldn’t risk reaching out again, listening again, opening herself up like that again. That other voice, or maybe it was many voices, she could never tell for certain. Many voices speaking as one. That was how it felt, how it sounded in her mind.

  Many, many voices. Certain. Implacable.

  And when she tried to see them . . .


  Tasha always felt more than saw them. Shadows. Watching. Listening. Waiting. All around her, but not close enough to touch.

  Not yet, at least. But they had been getting closer, she knew that. Biding their time, but creeping nearer.

  So they could watch her, as they had watched her for a time now.

  It was difficult to focus in such a public place as the café where she sat, especially filled with a lunchtime crowd, but she closed her eyes and tried. Opened that mental door cautiously just a bit, just far enough, she hoped. Still somewhat protected, but . . . She tried to listen, see, with senses other than her ears and eyes.


  Dark, misshapen, slipping away when she tried to see them, vanishing like smoke through her fingers, the shadows were as elusive as they had been for more than a month now.

  Elusive—but always near.

  Always watching.

  Even in broad daylight, they watched her. Followed her. And she couldn’t tell from the faces around her, as she moved through her days, whether any belonged to the shadows. She didn’t want to believe that anyone or anything watching her was so near, literal shadows on the edges of her life. But she didn’t know. In a crowd, how could she tell?

  She couldn’t.

  If Tasha had been a nervous sort of woman, she’d be in a straitjacket by now. Or at least heavily medicated.

  As she would be if she had told anyone about the shadows.

  Because that was crazy, right, being haunted by shadows she could see only in her mind? That was nuts. Virtually always feeling an almost primitive sense of danger, the inner urge to run or hide—

  But not alone. Every instinct compelled her to stay visible as much as possible, to avoid dark corners or quiet places where they could . . .

  What? Kill her? Hurt her? Take her?

  Change her life forever?


  Tasha blinked, brought herself back to the here and now. She looked up at the waitress, who was displaying slightly uneasy concern.

  “Miss, are you okay?”

  Forcing a smile, Tasha said, “Yeah, fine, thanks. Meditation. When it’s crowded like this, I try to . . . go somewhere else in my mind.”

  The waitress’s young face relaxed and she even popped her gum, cheerful again. “Oh, I see. I wish I could do that. Often.” She glanced around, then smiled wryly. “Can I clear this away for you? Would you like coffee?”

  Tasha glanced down at the plate before her, at the half of the turkey sandwich still untouched, and knew she wouldn’t finish it. “Yeah, thanks. To both.”

  “Would you like a box for the rest of the sandwich and fries?”

  She wouldn’t eat it herself, Tasha knew, but there was a big dog in a fenced yard she always passed on her way home, and he always welcomed leftovers. “Please.”

  The waitress smiled brightly. “Be right back.”

  Tasha looked at the check lying on the table, grimaced, and dug in her purse for her billfold. She was taking up valuable table space with her lingering, and she could see that there were a few peop
le waiting at the front with varying degrees of patience to be seated. She pulled out cash to cover the bill, plus a generous tip. Generous enough that the waitress would be happy to allow her to sit here a bit longer and enjoy her coffee.

  Not that she would enjoy it. There wasn’t a lot she enjoyed these days, and that was something she resented.

  Something that pissed her off.

  Because as much as the weird and mysterious shadows she sensed made her afraid, they also made her angry. She’d lived her whole life with the ability to pick up the thoughts of people around her, most people, and she’d learned to deal with that, privately, without becoming some kind of public freak.

  The trick was not talking about it. At all.

  To anyone.

  She didn’t hang out a shingle and tell fortunes or claim to be some kind of mystic, bending over an outstretched palm even as she listened with that odd extra sense to the thoughts of the person across from her.

  Well . . . she had once. A charity fund-raiser, and she’d volunteered to be the “psychic.” Yards of colorful, silky material draped around herself, and fake gold bracelets jangling on her arms, and a crystal ball lit from below to look properly mysterious.

  Tasha had done that only once. It had been unexpectedly exhausting to sift through the chaos of impressions to find mental truths and mine just enough nuggets to impress her “clients” without scaring the shit out of them. And even so, she knew at least a few people had left her tent not a little spooked by her accuracy.

  She’d had to consciously dial that back, making use instead of vague “impressions” that led her to predict happy lives and prosperity and correct decisions made.

  That had been a year ago, and Tasha had no intention of doing anything like that again. Just that one innocent event had roused the uneasy suspicion of several people she knew, and it had taken all the casual amusement she’d been able to muster to convince them of what they wanted to believe anyway.

  That it had all been pretend. Not real.

  Because it couldn’t be real, of course.

  Nobody could do that sort of thing.


  The man in the black leather jacket stayed close but took care not to allow himself to be seen. There would come a time for that, a moment now and then to be briefly visible, to allow her to catch only a glimpse of him slipping out of sight.


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