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  • Primal Fear
  • Written by William Diehl
  • Format: Paperback | ISBN: 9780345388773
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Primal Fear

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"Spine-tingling...Mr. Diehl can sustain suspense."
Martin Vail, the brilliant "bad-boy" lawyer every prosecutor and politician love to hate, is defending Aaron Stampler, a man found holding a bloody butcher's knife near a murdered archbishop. Vail is certain to lose, but Vail uses his unorthodox ways to good advantage when choosing his legal team--a tight group of men and women who must uncover the extraordinary truth behind the archbishop's slaughter. They do, in a heart-stopping climax unparalleled for the surprise it springs on the reader...



FEBRUARY 26, 1983

When Archbishop Richard Rushman, known to Catholic, Protestant and Jew alike as “the saint of Lakeview Drive” because of his great charitable works, stepped out of the shower, he had less than ten minutes to live. Death stood in the doorway.

The hot shower had relieved the bishop’s tension, and he started to hum along with the stereo playing in the bedroom. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy–possibly his favorite piece of music. The majesty of the chorus never ceased to thrill him. It was so loud he did not hear the apartment’s kitchen door open.

The kitchen door’s unlocked. Good. The room so spotless, so sterile-clean, stainless steel and tile, like the autopsy room at the hospital. The music. So fitting. Lovely. Overpowering. Volume all the way as usual, he won’t hear a thing. In the bedroom, conducting the orchestra, eyes closed, imaginary baton in hand, humming along. So fucking predictable.

The archbishop stood in the doorway of the bathroom, dabbing himself dry with the plush Turkish towel. He was a tall, handsome man, muscular and hard, with a tan line from shoulder to shoulder where his T-shirt usually ended. Dark, thick hair tumbled down over his forehead. He flexed his bicep, admiring the bulge as he dabbed under his arm. When he finished, he threw the towel on the bathroom floor and began to sway with the music as he stood naked in the middle of the room.

Chocolate for energy. Can almost feel it zooming up like an electric charge, down there, too, swelling me up, preparing the big O. That’s what he calls it, the big O. Don’t screw up, hold your hand against the big six-foot refrigerator door so it doesn’t make that little popping sound when it opens. Like that, perfect. There they are, all those little pony bottles of chocolate milk. Soldiers on the door shelf.

The intruder twisted the small bottle upside down, right side up, watching the drink turn to thick, chocolatey brown before he twisted off the top and drank it. Then instead of pressing the foot pedal on the garbage container, he lifted the cover by hand and placed the bottle silently into the plastic liner.

So neat, so clean. So fucking sterile.

The archbishop sprinkled talc into a folded washcloth and, closing his eyes, rubbed it into his body. He was lost in the music, using his voice like a bass fiddle as the brass came in. Bum bum bum bum bumbumbum buuum . . .

God, I love the way the knives feel. Light, balanced, cold. So smooth, slick, oily, like she is when she wants it, when she’s ready.

The intruder slid open the hidden tray under the cabinet where the carving knives were stored, ran his fingertips lightly across the handles, so carefully rubbed with linseed after they were washed. He stopped at the largest one, the carving knife, its broad, long, stainless blade honed until the cutting edge was almost invisible. It shimmered in the soft rays of the night light recessed under the cabinets. He removed it, ran his middle finger down the length of the blade, leaving a thread of blood on its ridge from the slice in his finger. The intruder licked off the blood.

The chorus is beginning to build. And me, tightening, tingle in my belly, pulse in my temples, the spasms. Not much time left before it’s time to explode.

He walked through the living room with the knife held down at his side. The bedroom door was open.

Sanctum sanctorum. Scarlet drapes and bedclothes, blood of the Father. White carpeting, purity of soul. Candles glowing, clean the air. Incense . . .

And the ring, lying on the night table where he always put it when he showered afterward.

There he is. All purity and light. His Eminence, His Holiness . . . His Crassness. Blessed saint of the city? Saint, where is thy halo? On the bedpost? In a drawer somewhere? Evil he stands and naked, conducting his imaginary symphony of angels, anointed with self-righteousness.

The music was building. The intruder walked to the table, took the ring and slipped it on his finger. His Excellency was rapt in the music, eyes closed, unaware. The intruder closed in, reached out with the knife and tapped the bishop on the shoulder with the flat of the blade. Startled, the bishop turned. His eyes widened in surprise. The bishop started to smile, saw the knife. Questions floated across his face.

The intruder held out the hand with the ring on it and pointed the knife toward the floor. The bishop was stunned, began to smile. The intruder jabbed the knife sharply toward the carpet and his Holiness slowly lowered to his knees. Fear replaced curiosity. The bishop slowly leaned forward to kiss the ring on the hand outstretched to him.

Got to be timed perfectly so we come together. Big death, petite death . . . Forgive me Father for I have sinned, forgive me Father for I have sinned, forgive me Father for I have . . .

“Forgive me Father!” the intruder screamed.

Archbishop Rushman looked up to see the knife slashing a minisecond before it hit. He twisted, felt the blade slash into his shoulder, cutting deeply through the muscle and tissue and slashing his shoulder bone. He screamed, a horrific mixture of terror, fright and pain, like the banshees of hell howling in despair. The knife rose again, and as it plunged toward him he tried to block it with his hand, the other hanging limp at his side. The blade pierced his palm, twisted, withdrew and slashed again, and again, and again. The bishop staggered backward, trying vainly to ward off the deadly weapon. He felt a burning under his ear as the blade sliced through throat, windpipe, jugular and esophagus, nicking bone before bursting out under his other ear, a cut so clean and powerful only the bony spine kept head and body together.

Blood showered from the horrible gash.

The knife slashed again, this time across his naked belly. Then again from hip to hip. The deadly blade whipped again and again, flashing in the light as he fell backward, sending a table and lamp halfway across the room, clutching at the wounds, feeling his hand bury into the soft mass of arteries and ruptured flesh. His head lolled, jogged to and fro like a cork in water. Pain overwhelmed him . . .

In the small park across the street from the rectory, a city mailman unleashed his dachshund, Gretchen, and watched her waddle along the row of shrubs that separated the grass from the sidewalk. He could hear the strains of classical music coming from the blinds in the bishop’s second-floor suite, and he began to hum along with the music, a melody from his past.

He stood on the walkway letting his memory drift back, sifting through time as he picked up the tune.

Suddenly a voice cried out above the music.

“Forgive me Father!”

He looked up at the window. There was a loud crash.

The light behind the blinds went askew and a moment later he heard a harrowing scream of terror, so wrought with horror that the dog feathered his ears and began to howl.

A streak of terror as real as a lightning bolt shot down his back. The hair rose on his arms. The puppy, crying, ran back to him and he swept it up in his arms as another scream just as harrowing, just as horrifying, followed, only to be cut short by muffled cry.

Silhouetted against the blinds he saw a figure moving in and out of the light, and the mailman ran into the street, waving one arm at a passing car, yelling for help.
William Diehl

About William Diehl

William Diehl - Primal Fear
William Diehl is the author of the bestselling Sharky’s Machine, Thai Horse, Hooligans, Chameleon, The Hunt (formerly titled 27), and the three Martin Vail novels: Primal Fear, Show of Evil, and Reign in Hell. He lives in Woodstock, Georgia, with his wife, Emmy Award winner Virginia Gunn.

  • Primal Fear by William Diehl
  • April 02, 1994
  • Fiction - Suspense
  • Ballantine Books
  • $7.99
  • 9780345388773

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