The Puppet Master by Ronald S. Barak
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
What would YOU do if they took everything you had, your family, your home, your business, your dignity, even—perhaps—your sanity?
S. Barak's latest, The Puppet Master, prequel to The Amendment Killer, and the second in the Brooks/Lotello Thriller Series, is a gripping story of a political system gone awry—and those who feel compelled to fix it. “Have you ever killed anyone? I have. I’ll do it again. If I need to.” Three prominent political leaders in Washington, D.C., murdered in as many days.
Not a plausible story premise? What about the real world villain who recently mailed a series of pipe bombs to a number of prominent political figures? Ripped from the headlines? Barak gives new meaning to the word "timely." The Puppet Master isn't ripped from the headlines; written first, it forecast the headlines that followed!
The Puppet Master begins with a bang. Literally. Three of them. Not a page wasted. Capitol Hill panics. Who will be next? Others whisper that our political leaders are only getting what they deserve. Anxious to see who will be next. And why.
Crafty D.C. homicide detective Frank Lotello is tasked to find the killer. Cliff Norman, a local businessman with ample motive, is arrested. Politicians breathe a sigh of relief. However, when Lotello discovers a disturbing White House connection, he suspects Norman may not be what he appears to be. Things may not be what they appear to be.
Norman's trial commences in the courtroom of savvy D.C. trial court judge Cyrus Brooks. An angry nation rallies behind Norman. The jury debates whether Norman's actions may be legally justified by a rampant abuse of political trust, and threatens to unravel the very fabric of our dysfunctional government.
In an unprecedented and questionable manner that may destroy their respective careers, Lotello quietly approaches Brooks and they form a secret alliance to uncover the truth in this classic whodunnit mystery. Before it's too late.
Blurring fiction and reality, The Puppet Master will have you dangling from the first page to the very last.
“One of the year’s best thrillers!” –Best Thriller Magazine
“First The Amendment Killer, now The Puppet Master, whenever Barak brings it, the result is always the same, tense, timely and terrific!” –Lee Child, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of the Jack Reacher novels
There are 117 sitting trial court judges in Washington, DC. Judge Cyrus Brooks always thought of himself as among the best of them. Lately, however, he was beginning to wonder.
It used to be if you were unhappy about something, you’d write to your congressman. If he ignored you, then you wouldn’t vote for him the next time around. You’d vote for the other guy. Maybe, you’d even campaign for the other guy.
But what if the problem you’re unhappy about is your congressman? What if you think he isn’t doing his job? What if you think he’s on the take, corrupt? And what if the other guy is just as bad? Then what?
Brooks knew you couldn’t just go out and shoot someone because you’re unhappy. Let alone shoot a bunch of other people. People you don’t even know.
Or could you?
More and more, there are those today who seem quite willing to do precisely that, to kill complete strangers just . . . because.
That was the crux of what had been troubling Brooks of late. What if one of those killers was arrested, and ended up in his courtroom? Could he assure both the people of Washington, DC and the accused alike a fair and proper trial? Could he remain impartial, and objective?
Brooks wondered if all his recent doubts meant it was time for him to step down, to retire. Pass the baton to someone else.
But he waited too long.
Chapter 1 Thursday, February 5, 7:20 p.m.
US Senator Jane Wells had also been wondering. Whether tonight might be the night.
Her last two companions had been disappointing, downright boring. In every respect. Almost as boring as her political constituents. And having to pretend she actually cared about them.
Being single again definitely had its benefits. More or less. No longer back home in dull, sedate Kansas. But things were still pretty boring. Maybe she just found it more exciting sampling the other merchandise when she was stillmarried. She hoped tonight would prove more fulfilling.
Wells glanced in the mirror opposite her desk, making sure everything was in order. Not too bad for a fifty-year-old strawberry blonde in a bottle.Well, admittedly with a little help from Dr. Nip N’ Tuck. Looks had never been her problem. Or maybe that was her problem.
Tall and curvaceous, she still managed to fill out her power suit in all the right places. Wells closed her briefcase and walked from her lavish private office out into the spacious and well-appointed reception area. She carried herself in a way that was not easy for anyone to miss.
“Night, Jimmy,” Wells said to her new legislative aide, boyishly good-looking James Ayres. She considered his sandy brown locks and piercing hazel eyes—kind of a younger, chiseled version of Robert Redford—imagining for more than just a second what a frolic in the hay with Ayres might be like. Probably a lot more virile than my somewhat more successful, but older, recent partners.Difficult not to imagine that hard body of his gliding back and forth across mine. Certainly one way to get better acquainted with the staff! She tucked that picture away in the not-so-hidden recesses of her mind for further consideration.
Wells’ mind shifted unintentionally from Ayres to her parents. How disappointed they would be if they knew her real interest—like that of most of the other members of the WSOC—was not to manage Wall Street, but to be rewarded by Wall Street for not really managing it at all. She also couldn’t help but wonder how her parents would feel if they knew about her . . . lifestyle. Actually, she didn’t really wonder at all. She knew precisely how they’d feel. She didn’t feel much better about it herself.
“Good night, Senator,” Ayres replied, bringing Wells back into the moment. He summoned the elevator for her. “Robert’s here to drive you home. He’ll pick you up again in the morning at 9:30 and get you to the WSOC hearings on schedule.” Wells nodded and stepped into the elevator.
* * *
Ayres stood there, staring at the closing elevator doors. He had followed Wells to Washington from Kansas after her election. Can’t fathom how the voters could ever have chosen someone like her over me. He shook his head in dismay, turned, and walked back into his office.
* * *
As always, good old dependable Robert Grant was right there, waiting for Wells as the elevator deposited her into the underground parking garage. “Evening, Senator. How are you tonight?”
“Okay, Robert, bit of a long day. You?”
“Fine, Senator. Thanks for asking. Let’s get you home, then.”
That was pretty much how it was with Grant every night, just a warm and fuzzy ride home, someone harmless with whom to make small talk. Wells had occasionally confided in Grant about her dates. He just listened, didn’t judge.
Riding home, Wells thought about the next day’s hearings, to consider whether possible Wall Street malfeasance had contributed to the country’s economic collapse. The hearings were not going to be fun. With increasing pressure and hostility from both the media and various public interest groups, it was becoming more and more difficult to keep up appearances without actually doing much of anything. Lately, she felt as if she—rather than Wall Street—was being placed under the microscope and scrutinized.
The job was taking a greater toll on Wells every day. What do people expect of me? Why are they so damn naïve? Life was clearly a lot easier when I was just a Midwestern farmer’s daughter looking to find myself a rich husband and settle down. Maybe that simple life would not have been so bad after all.
Wells’ mind returned to the present. She had a premonition that someone was watching her. A lump gathered in her throat. She glanced back over her shoulder and spotted a car that looked like it was watching and following her. The driver’s eyes seemed to dart nervously away. Did I put him on guard?
Wells tried to convince herself that she was just being silly, imagining that someone was actually following her. But she couldn’t help herself. Her heart was beating. Her breathing was becoming labored.
After another minute, she found herself looking back over her shoulder again. “Robert, do you see a car back there that seems to be following us?” She tried to be nonchalant, but her voice gave her away. Robert must think I’m nuts. By definition, any car behind us is following us!
Grant looked in his rearview mirror. “Don’t see anything unusual, Senator.” They drove on in silence. A few minutes later, Grant pulled his car into the rotunda outside the townhouse project where Wells lived. “Here we are, Senator. I’ll walk you to your door.”
Somewhat calmer now, Wells resisted giving into her anxiety any further. She knew Grant must be concerned about her, but she was far more worried about the awkwardness that would result if Grant saw her guest for the evening possibly already waiting at her front door. “Not necessary, Robert,” she said as she slid out of the limo. “I’m fine, thanks. See you in the morning.”
* * *
Grant watched Wells walk off through the outside lobby entrance to the townhouse project. He shrugged, and peeked at his watch. Still time to make it home before the Lakers–Wizards game comes on.
* * *
He watched Wells punch in her identification code, pass through the interior lobby security door and head off down the densely-landscaped path toward her individual townhouse unit. Seeing no one else in the lobby, he quickly wedged his foot in the security door before it fully closed behind her. He slipped quietly through the door, carefully allowing Wells to put a little distance between the two of them.
He saw Wells turn. Shit, did she spot me? She didn’t show any outward sign of seeing him, but she did reach into her briefcase, take out her keys, and increase her pace. Moments later, Wells looked back again. He could tell that this time she definitely did notice him, his face. She looked directly into his eyes, recognized him. And probably saw the gloves on his hands as well.
She seemed more surprised than alarmed. She started to speak. “What are you . . .”
He had intended to kill Wells only once she was inside her townhouse. But now she left him no choice. She might start screaming, or run off. He had to act now.
Before Wells finished her sentence, he got off two shots, muffled by the silencer attached to his gun. Wells looked confused. She reached for her chest, where the blood was already spreading. But it was too late. She was already dead.
He pocketed his weapon and grabbed Wells before she collapsed to the ground. He grasped the keys still in her hand, opened the front door of her townhouse, and got both of them inside.
He set her down in the entryway and checked her pulse. There wasn’t any. He went back outside, turning on a small flashlight he’d extracted from his pocket. He surveyed the surroundings, mentally noting every visible splatter of blood. Using the special blood remover he had found on Google, he cleaned up all of the blood he could see. The bottled cleaner seemed to do the job nicely.
He picked up Wells’ briefcase and went back inside the townhouse, setting it down on the entry table and locking the front door. He lifted her body, carried it into the bedroom, and placed it on the bed.
He removed and scattered all of her clothing around the room, donned not one but two condoms, and then proceeded to violate her defenseless corpse. His intention was to make it appear that the killer was completely deranged, that he had somehow gained entrance to Wells’ townhouse, killed her, and only then . . . raped her already-dead body. No one would suspect anyone of sound mind doing anything like that!
Twenty minutes later, after still one more thorough inspection, he was satisfied with appearances, how smoothly things had gone, in spite of his last-minute need to improvise. He allowed himself a moment to gloat over how well he had carried out this first step in his plans. Just the first step. More will follow. Soon.
He was more confident than ever. Even the racking pain in his head was receding. He quietly left the townhouse and made his way out of the complex, again reflecting on how well things had seemed to go.
* * *
And he would have been right, if not for the couple of minuscule drops of blood that remained behind at the edge of the front porch. And the one pair of eyes that peered out at him from the nearby shadows, watching him as he headed for the exit.
Described by his readers as a cross between Agatha Christie, Lee Child, and John Lescroart, bestselling author Ron Barak keeps his readers flipping the pages into the wee hours of the night. While he mostly lets his characters tell his stories, he does manage to get his licks in too.
Barak derives great satisfaction in knowing that his books not only entertain but also stimulate others to think about how things might be, how people can actually resolve real-world problems. In particular, Barak tackles the country's dysfunctional government representatives--not just back-seat driving criticism for the sake of being a back-seat driver, but truly framing practical remedies to the political abuse and corruption adversely affecting too many people's lives today. Barak's extensive legal background and insight allow him to cleverly cross-pollinate his fiction and today's sad state of political reality.
Ron and his wife, Barbie, and the four-legged members of their family reside in Pacific Palisades, California.