The crooked staircase, p.1
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       The Crooked Staircase, p.1

         Part #3 of Jane Hawk series by Dean Koontz
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The Crooked Staircase


  The Crooked Staircase is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2018 by Dean Koontz

  Excerpt from The Forbidden Door by Dean Koontz copyright © 2018 by Dean Koontz

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

  BANTAM BOOKS and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

  Title page art from an original photograph by Walter Groesel

  This book contains an excerpt of the forthcoming title The Forbidden Door by Dean Koontz. The excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming book.

  LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

  Names: Koontz, Dean R. (Dean Ray), author.

  Title: The crooked staircase : a Jane Hawk novel / Dean Koontz.

  Description: First edition. | New York : Bantam Books, [2018] | Series: Jane Hawk ; 3

  Identifiers: LCCN 2017052704 | ISBN 9780525483427 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780525483441 (ebook)

  Subjects: LCSH: Government investigators—Fiction. | Secret societies—Fiction. | Conspiracies—Fiction. | Psychological fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Suspense. | FICTION / Action & Adventure. | FICTION / Psychological. | GSAFD: Suspense fiction. | Adventure fiction. | Mystery fiction.

  Classification: LCC PS 3561.O55 C76 2018 | DDC 813/.54—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/​2017052704

  Ebook ISBN 9780525483441

  randomhousebooks.com

  Book design by Virginia Norey, adapted for ebook

  Cover design: Scott Biel

  Cover image: Claudio Marinesco

  v5.2

  ep

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Epigraph

  Part One: Nowhere Safe

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Part Two: Migraine Jane

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Part Three: Alecto Rising

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Part Four: Finding Travis

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Part Five: Lost Boys

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2
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  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Excerpt from The Forbidden Door

  Dedication

  By Dean Koontz

  About the Author

  A shattering of shop windows

  The bomb in the baby carriage

  Was wired to the radio

  These are the days of miracle and wonder…

  And don’t cry, baby, don’t cry,

  Don’t cry

  —PAUL SIMON, “The Boy in the Bubble”

  Hateful empty Masks, full of beetles and spiders, yet glaring out…from their glass eyes with a ghastly affectation of life.

  —THOMAS CARLYLE, Sartor Resartus

  1

  At seven o’clock on that night in March, during a thunderless but heavy rain pounding as loud as an orchestra of kettledrums, Sara Holdsteck finally left the offices of Paradise Real Estate, carrying her briefcase in her left hand, open purse slung over her left shoulder, right hand free for a cross-body draw of the gun in the purse. She boarded her Ford Explorer, threw back the dripping hood of her raincoat, and drove home by way of familiar suburban streets on which the foul weather had settled a strangeness, an apocalyptic gloom that matched her mood. Not for the first time in the past two years, she felt as if somewhere ahead of her, reality itself must be eroding, washing away, so that she might come to the crumbling edge of a precipice with nothing beyond but a lightless, bottomless abyss. Silver needles of rain pleated the darkness with mystery and threat. Any vehicle that followed her more than three blocks elicited her suspicion.

  The Springfield Armory Champion .45 ACP was nestled in her open purse, which stood on her briefcase, within easy reach on the passenger seat. Originally she hadn’t wanted a weapon of such a high caliber, but she had eventually realized that nothing smaller would so reliably stop an assailant. She had spent many hours on a shooting range, learning to control the recoil.

  She had once lived in a gated community with an around-the-clock security guard, in a paid-off twelve-thousand-square-foot residence with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Now she owned a house one-quarter that size, encumbered by a fat mortgage, in a neighborhood with no gate, no guard, no view. Starting with little money, by the age of forty she had built a modest fortune as a Southern California real-estate agent, broker, and canny investor—but most of it had been taken from her by the time she was forty-two.

  At forty-four, though bitter, she was nonetheless grateful that she hadn’t been rendered penniless. Having clawed her way to the top once before, she’d been left with just enough assets to start the climb again. This time she would not make the mistake that had led to her ruin; she would not marry.

  On the street where Sara lived, storm runoff overwhelmed the drains to form shallow lakes wherever the pavement swaled. Her Ford cast up wings of water in a false promise of magical flight. She slowed and swung into her driveway. Lights glowed in some windows, controlled by a smart-house program that, after nightfall and in her absence, created the illusion of occupancy and activity. She remoted the garage door and, while it rolled up on its tracks, put her open purse in her lap. She drove inside, the drumming of rain on the roof relenting as the welcome electronic shriek of the alarm system inspired a greater sense of safety than she had felt since setting out for work that morning.

  She did not switch off the engine. With the doors still locked, she kept her left foot hard on the brake, her right poised over the accelerator, and she shifted into reverse. She used the remote control again and looked from one of the SUV’s side mirrors to the other, watching the big segmented door descend. If someone tried to slip in under it, the motion detector would sense the intruder and, as a safety measure, retract the door. If that happened, the instant the roll-up cleared the roof of the Explorer, she would take her foot off the brake, stomp the accelerator, and reverse at speed into the driveway, into the street.

  With luck, she might be quick enough to run down whatever sonofabitch had come after her.

  The bottom rail of the door met the concrete with a soft thud. She was alone in the garage.

  She shifted the SUV into park, applied the emergency brake, switched off the engine, and got out. The last exhaust fumes threaded the air. The Ford shed rain on the concrete floor and ticked as the engine cooled.

  After unlocking the connecting door to the house, she stepped into the laundry room, turned to the keypad, and entered the four-number code that disarmed the security system. At once she reset the alarm to the at-home mode, which activated only the sensors at the doors and windows, leaving dormant the interior motion detectors, allowing her to move freely through the residence.

  She hung her raincoat on a wall hook, where it dripped onto the tile floor. Purse slung from her left shoulder, briefcase in her right hand, she opened the inner laundry-room door and went into the kitchen, realizing an instant too late that the air was redolent with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.

  A stranger with a pistol stood at the dinette table on which rested a mug of coffee and Sara’s copy of that morning’s Los Angeles Times with its banner headline JANE HAWK INDICTED FOR ESPIONAGE, TREASON, MURDER. The barrel of the weapon was elongated by a silencer, the muzzle as dark and deep as a wormhole connecting this universe to another.

  Sara halted, shocked not merely because her home had been violated in spite of all her precautions, but also because the intruder was a woman.

  Twentysomething, with long black hair parted mid-forehead and tucked behind her ears, with eyes as black and direct as the muzzle of the gun, with no makeup or lipstick—and no need of any—wearing wire-rimmed glasses, dressed in a black sport coat and a white shirt and black jeans, she looked severe and yet beautiful and somehow unearthly, as if Death had undergone an image makeover and at long last revealed her true gender.

  “I’m not here to hurt you,” the intruder said. “I just need some information. But first, put your purse on the counter, and don’t reach for the gun in it.”

  Although Sara suspected that it would be foolish to hope to deceive this woman, she heard herself say, “Whatever you are, I’m not like you. I’m just a real-estate agent. I don’t have a gun.”

  The stranger said, “Two years ago, you purchased a Springfield Armory Super Tuned Champion with a Novak low-mount fixed sight, polished extractor and ejector and feed ramp, and a King extended safety. You ordered it with an A1-style trigger precisely tuned to a four-pound pull, and you had the entire weapon carry-beveled, all its edges and corners rounded so that it won’t snag during a quick draw. You must have done a lot of research to come up with an order like that. And you must have spent many hours on a shooting range, learning to handle the piece, because then you applied for and received a concealed-carry permit.”

  Sara put the purse on the counter.

  “The briefcase, too,” the intruder directed. “Don’t even think of slinging it at me.”

 
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