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James Rollins, Rebecca Cantrell

Blood Brothers

Summer, present day San Francisco, California

Arthur Crane woke to the smell of gardenias. Panic set in even before he opened his eyes. He lay still, frozen by fear, testing the heavy fragrance, picking out the underlying notes of frangipani and honeysuckle.

It can’t be…

Throughout his childhood, he had spent countless hours reading in the greenhouse of his family’s estate in Cheshire, England. Even now, he remembered the hard cement bench in a shaded corner, the ache in his lower back as he hunched over a novel by Dickens or Doyle. It was so easy to lose himself in the worlds within those pages, to shut out his mother’s rampages and threatening silences. Still, no matter how lost he was in a story, that scent always surrounded him.

It had been his childhood, his security, his peace of mind.

No longer.

Now it meant only one thing.

Death.

He opened his eyes and turned his nose toward that scent. It came from the empty pillow next to him. Morning sunlight slanted through his bedroom window, illuminating a white Brassocattleya orchid. It rested in an indentation in the middle of the neighboring pillow. Delicate frilled petals brushed the top of his pillowcase, and a faded purple line ran up the orchid’s lip.

His breathing grew heavier, weighted by dread. His heart thumped hard against his rib cage, reminding him of his heart attack last year, a surprise gift for his sixty-eighth birthday.

He studied the orchid. When he’d last spotted such a flower, he’d been a much younger man, barely into his twenties. It had been floating in a crimson puddle, its heavy scent interwoven with the hard iron smell of his own blood.

Why again now… after so many years?

He sat up and searched his apartment’s small bedroom. Nothing seemed disturbed. The window was sealed, his clothes were where he’d left them, even his wallet still lay on the bureau.

Steeling himself, he plucked the orchid from his pillow and held its cool form in his palm. For years he’d lived in dread of receiving such a flower again.

He fought out of the bedsheets and hurried to the window. His apartment was on the third story of an old Victorian. He picked the place because the stately structure reminded him of the gatehouse to his family’s estate, where he’d often found refuge with the gardeners and maids when the storms grew too fierce at the main house.

He searched the street below.

Empty.

Whoever had left the flower was long gone.

He took a steadying breath and gazed at the blue line of the bay on the horizon, knowing that he might not see it again. Decades ago, he had reported on a series of grisly murders, all heralded by the arrival of such an orchid. Victims found the bloom left for them in the morning, only to die that same night, their bloody bodies adorned with a second orchid.

He turned from the window, knowing the flower’s arrival was not pure happenstance. Two days ago, he had received a call from a man who claimed to have answers about a mystery that had been plaguing Arthur for decades. The caller said he was connected to a powerful underground organization, a group who called themselves the Belial. That name had come up during Arthur’s research into the past orchid murders, but he could never pin down the connection. All he knew was that the word belial came from the Hebrew Bible, loosely translated as demonic.

But did that mean the past murders were some form of a satanic ritual?

How was his brother involved?

“Christian…”

He whispered his brother’s name, hearing again his boyish laughter, picturing the flash of his green eyes, the mane of his dark hair that he always let grow overly long and carefree.

Though decades had passed, he still did not know what had happened to his brother. But the caller had said that he could reveal the truth to Arthur.

Tonight.

He glanced at the orchid still in his hand.

But will I live long enough to hear it?

As he stood there, memories overwhelmed him.

Summer, 1968 San Francisco, California

Another funeral.

Morning light from the stained-glass windows painted grotesque patterns on the faces of the young choir at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But their ethereal voices soared to heaven — clear, beautiful, and tinged with grief.

Such grace should have brought comfort, but Arthur didn’t need comfort. He wasn’t grieving. He had come as an interloper, a foreigner, a young reporter for the Times of London.

He studied the large lily-draped photo of the deceased mounted on an easel next to a carved mahogany coffin. Like most of the people in the church, he hadn’t really known the dead man, although everyone in the world knew his name: Jackie Jake, the famous British folksinger who had taken the United States by storm.

But that tempest was over.

Ten days ago, Jackie Jake had been found murdered in an alley off San Francisco’s Mission Street. Arthur’s newspaper had flown him from London to cover the death — both because he was their youngest reporter and because he was the only one who admitted to having listened to Jake’s music. But the last was a lie. He had never heard of Jackie Jake until this assignment, but the ruse got him on the plane to California.

He had come to San Francisco for another reason.

A hope, a chance… to right a terrible wrong.

As the funeral Mass continued, the crowd shuffled restlessly in the pews. The smell of their unwashed bodies rose in a cloud around them. He’d assessed them when he came in earlier, taking stock of Jake’s fans. They were mostly young women in long skirts and blousy white shirts, many with flowers in their hair. They leaned in postures of utter grief against men with the beards of ascetic hermits.

Unlike most of the crowd, Arthur had worn a black suit, polished shoes, something that befit a funeral. Despite his desire to shake the iron rule of his childhood household, he could not escape the importance of correct attire. He also wanted to present a professional demeanor for the policemen investigating Jake’s murder. Arthur sensed that their sympathies would not lie with this hippie crowd.

As the service ended and the mourners began to file out, Arthur spotted his target near the back of the nave, a figure wearing a black uniform with a badge on the front. Arthur contrived to bump against him as he exited.

“I’m very sorry, Officer,” Arthur said. “I didn’t see you standing there.”

“Not a problem.” The man had the broad American accent that Arthur associated with California from films and television programs.

Arthur glanced with a heavy sigh back into the church. “I can’t believe he’s gone…”

The police officer followed his gaze. “Were you close to the deceased?”

“Childhood friends, in fact.” Arthur held out his hand to cover his lie. “I’m Arthur Crane.”

The man shook Arthur’s hand with a too-firm grip. “Officer Miller.”

The officer kept an eye on the exiting crowd, his face pinched with distaste. A man wearing jeans and sandals swept past, leaving a strong smell of marijuana in his wake. The officer tightened his jaw, but did not

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