First Chapter

Prologue

It was Christmas Eve in Shadyside, a charming, historic neighborhood on the east end of Pittsburgh. The restaurants, bars, and upscale shops along the brightly decorated Ellsworth Avenue were crowded with locals and weary minded students from around the world. Unfortunately, not everyone was reveling in the holiday spirit. An obsession was looming in the dark, sinister shadows of a human mind. Blood would satisfy the hunger, but only imagined love would bring inner peace.

Just south of Ellsworth Avenue was Dahlia Crescent, a picturesque street with old world charm. George and Ann Marr lived on that street. However, since their son’s abduction and murder over ten years ago, the couple had allowed their Victorian home to become a visual blight. The house suffered from peeling, faded paint, dangling gutters and shutters, and rotted porch railings. Ugly weeds, crabgrass, and the rare mowing of the sprawling lawn gave the property the appearance of a neglected and ghostly gravesite.

A debilitating melancholia oppressed Ann’s life for one powerful reason—she took the exclusive blame for Bobby being accessible to a sexual predator. In her way of thinking, if she hadn’t made a selfish decision to work at the Shadyside Library, she would have picked him up at school each day and driven him home. As a deserved punishment for her maternal failure, she longed to put a noose over a garage rafter and slowly strangle to death in justified agony. But she didn’t follow through on that impulse. She didn’t want to evoke God’s anger and a denial into Heaven where she believed Bobby happily awaited her arrival. Her alternative to death—live her life as if on Death Row.

Everyone who knew George Marr before the loss of his son thought him to be a fortunate man. He had a handsome family, a thriving structural engineering company, excellent health, and God’s love. But, as a consequence of losing Bobby, his happy life plunged into bitter darkness. Out of duty for his wife and daughter, Cassandra, he did what was expected of him as a husband and father, but without pleasure. Last June, due to his apathy and inattentiveness, his partners offered him a generous buyout of five million dollars, which he accepted without argument. Now languishing in a home shrouded in gloom, he drank and smoked to excess. Ann and he rarely spoke. They didn’t ask for hugs or to make love. George didn’t consciously blame his wife for their son’s death, but he acted as if he did.

Tonight, as midnight approached, the Marrs were not anticipating a lovely Christmas Day. There was no colorful Christmas tree—and most definitely, Santa would not be sliding down their chimney bearing gifts. Instead, the Grim Reaper had gained entry with wicked intentions.

Ann was in her bedroom. She was not sleeping or surfing the web on her laptop to find the killer of her son so the police would reopen their investigation. Against her will, she lay outstretched on her bed. In the nude. Her wrists and ankles were firmly secured to the maple bedposts by her nylon stockings. Her writhing body glistened with cold sweat and hot blood. Her throat was raw from shrieking—mindless shrieking caused by the lit cigarette tip touching her tender flesh. The promise to stop was offered if she would just answer the questions posed. But Ann didn’t know that information. And no matter how many times she said that, she was not believed.

When the repulsive, gloating smirk came close to her ear, and the cruel lips revealed an incredulous truth, Ann was stunned. And sickened. Contrary to her kind nature, she spit into that heartless face just before she was murdered.

Unfortunately, George was no savior for his wife. An hour earlier, he had been in the den, sitting in his old leather chair, watching the nightly world news, drinking his bourbon, and smoking cigarettes. The tattered carpet silenced the soft footsteps behind him.

Unexpectedly, a cold hand grabbed his chin and snapped his head back. Before he could react to protect himself, the razor-sharp knife slashed his throat in one violent stroke, severing his carotid artery, and sending his blood across the room, drenching the ragged furniture and threadbare carpet.

Quickly drained of his strength, George had no ability to fight back. With his heart screaming for the necessities of life, a sinister smirk looked down on him. Then, spiteful lips came close to his ear and an eel-like tongue sensually licked it, while whispering a horrifying truth into his naïve mind—a truth so unimagined and despicable that it catapulted a desperate desire for retaliation. But George was too debilitated and all he could do was beg Jesus not to ignore his last wish. Send this fucking monster straight to hell!

At four in the morning, from the backyard, a flame followed the course of gasoline soaked bed sheets that had been made into a long fuse, trailing back into the house. After a minute, the flame leaped through an open window.

A raging firestorm burst out of the Marr home.

A car quietly disappeared into the night’s shadows. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Ode To Joy, resounded from the car stereo.

The waning crescent moon, glowing faintly in the night sky, was once again disheartened by human folly.

I hope I enticed you sufficiently that you now want to rush to your favorite bookseller, purchase my novel in print or in ebook format, and absorb yourself in this suspenseful thriller with ever increasing mysteries that will surely test the detective in you. Then, let me know what you think.

S. B. Redstone  

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