Angel of the Dark by Sidney Sheldon

“That’s right. I’m on leave. It’s my mum you see. She—”

“Saturday the sixteenth, in the morning, you drove a party named Smith to the airport. Do you remember?”

“Smith.” Marco frowned. “Smith, Smith, Smith.” The policeman handed him a photograph of a very attractive dark-haired woman. “Oh, her. Yeah, I remember her. And her husband. Yeah, that’s right, I drove them to the airport. Why?”

“Did you know where they were flying to?”

“You know, that’s a funny thing,” said Marco, more relaxed now that he realized it was these clients the police were after, not him. “Normally clients are chatty in the back of the car, especially the Americans. They want to talk about what a great stay they’ve had, where they’re going next, all that guff. But those two were silent as the grave. Didn’t say a word.”

Inspector Liu felt his hopes fading.

“But after I dropped them, on my way back into town, I noticed that the bloke had left his briefcase on the backseat. So of course I hightailed it back there and went racing into the terminal. The guy was so happy to see me he gave me a big hug and a two-hundred-dollar tip. They were just in time for boarding. So that’s why I remember where they were going.”

Marco smiled broadly. Inspector Liu could hardly bear the suspense.

“Mumbai, India,” the driver announced proudly. “Was that all you wanted to know?”

CLAUDE DEMARTIN WAS HAVING AN UNUSUALLY enjoyable afternoon at work. The Azrael team’s office, deep in the bowels of Interpol headquarters, had begun its life as a windowless cubicle. But thanks to Danny McGuire, it had evolved into something of a happy bachelor’s pad, complete with squishy couches, dartboard, and a minifridge stuffed full of the sort of cheap, high-calorie American food Claude was never allowed to eat at home.

Better yet, today Claude was manning the fort alone. Richard laugh-a-minute Sturi was off diddling with his statistical projections somewhere, the boss was still in the States, and the three other junior detectives were in London, attempting what Danny McGuire had hopefully described as a “charm offensive” with Scotland Yard to get them to share more information from the Piers Henley case files.

So far, after a little light updating of the database and a token call to Didier Anjou’s bank in Paris, tying up some loose ends, Claude had beaten himself three times at darts, enjoyed a satisfying session of World of Warcraft and eaten two family-size bags of Cheetos, which was probably officially a crime in certain parts of France. So when the phone rang, he answered in high spirits.

“Interpol, Azrael desk. How may I be of service?”

“Put me through to McGuire.”

Claude Demartin recognized Inspector Liu’s voice. Cheerless as ever, there was an impatience in his tone today—part excitement, part anger—that Claude hadn’t heard before.

“It’s urgent.”

“Assistant Director McGuire isn’t in the office this week, I’m afraid. He’s traveling. Can I help you? This is Officer Claude Demartin.”


“Well, perhaps I can take a message. It’s Inspector Liu, isn’t it? From Hong Kong?”

Liu was silent. He didn’t want to exchange pleasantries with this French monkey. He wanted to talk to the organ grinder. On the other hand, he did have vital information to impart.

“Did you make any progress in Australia?” Demartin pressed. “I assure you the moment we hear something from McGuire, I’ll insist that he contact you. But is there anything the team should know? Any way we can help you?”

“Tell McGuire they’re in India,” Liu said tersely. “If he wants to know more, he can pick up the damn telephone.”

The line went dead.

India. All Demartin could think of was how nicely the news fit with Richard Sturi’s theories of where Azrael would strike next. The German was cocky enough already. He’d be insufferable after this. Before he could pick up the phone to call McGuire, it rang again.

“Azrael,” Demartin said, more businesslike this time.

“Hi, Claude. It’s me.”

“Boss. Great timing. Listen, I just got a call from Liu.”

“Never mind that,” Danny McGuire said briskly. “I need you to e-mail me the clearest pictures we have of all the widows. Face shots only.”

“Sure, I can do that. But about Liu. He wants you to call him urgently. He—”

“Now, Claude. I’ll be waiting by my laptop.” Danny McGuire hung up.

What was it with these big-shot detectives? Didn’t anybody have the time to let you finish a sentence anymore?

ON THE BED IN HIS NEW York hotel room, Danny gazed at his in-box.

One minute. Five minutes. Ten. What the fuck? How long did it take to download and send a few lousy JPEGs?

When at last he heard the longed-for ping of a new message in his coded Azrael folder, Danny’s heart leaped, then sank when he saw that there were no attachments.

“Pictures to follow,” Claude Demartin wrote. “And by the way, Inspector Liu’s message was: ‘They’re in India.’ You need to call him right away.”

India! That was good news indeed. So was Demartin’s use of the word they. It meant Lisa Baring was still alive and that she was still with…who? Frankie Mancini? Danny would call Liu in a moment and get the whole story. Just as soon as Claude sent him those damn images.

Finally, after what felt like millennia but was in fact about a minute and a half, a large file landed in Danny’s in-box. The e-mail was entitled: WIDOWS.

Danny clicked it open with a trembling hand.

There they were, smiling at him across the years, their faces running along the screen from left to right in chronological order.

Angela Jakes…Lady Tracey Henley…Irina Anjou…Lisa Baring.

At first it wasn’t obvious. There were the superficial differences: hair color and length, subtle changes in makeup and some of the images, particularly the ones of Irina, were blotchy and blurred. Age had wreaked its usual black magic, etching a spiderweb of fine lines over once-smooth skin. Weight had gone up and down, making some of the faces look gaunt while others looked blooming and chipmunk-cheeked. Then there were the more fundamental things. Angela Jakes’s face was the loveliest of the four, youthful and innocent, untouched by the passage of time. Tracey Henley, the redhead, on the other hand, seemed harder and more artificial-looking. While she was still undeniably beautiful, Danny now saw that her nose was unusually narrow at the tip, almost as if she’d had some plastic surgery. Lisa Baring had the same small nose, although on her it appeared more natural. Her brow was higher, though, and smoother.

What really leaped off the screen, however, were the four women’s eyes. Laugh lines and crow’s-feet might come and go, cheekbones and mouths and noses might be surgically altered. But the eyes themselves remained the same. Deep brown, like molten chocolate. Sad. Sultry. Mesmerizing.

The first time Danny McGuire saw them he’d been untying Angela Jakes from her husband’s corpse. Slipping in and out of consciousness, Angela had opened those eyes and looked at him. Danny’s life had changed forever.

Years later, those same eyes had lured Sir Piers Henley to his death.

They had hypnotized Didier Anjou.

Enchanted Miles Baring.

Made a besotted fool out of Matt Daley.

Mocked Inspector Liu.

Each of the women’s faces was different. But the eyes gave them away.

Azrael isn’t a “he.” He’s a “she.”

They’re all the same woman.


THE MAN QUICKENED HIS PACE. THE alley was dark and smelled of spices and human shit. Saffron, cumin and excrement: the essence of India. The man laughed at his own joke, but it was a nervous laugh, only a shade or two from hysteria.

He was being followed again.

Weaving his way between the rickshaws and scurrying brown bodies, he ducked behind a baker’s stall. A narrow passage opened through a brick archway into a yard where kilns heated the flat naan bread and paratha. Curious half-naked children swarmed around him, intrigued by his foreign, white man’s face. He brushed them away, his heart pounding. The only way out of the yard was the way he came in. If his pursuer had seen him slip behind the bread stall, he would catch him for sure. Catch him and kill him. The man expected no mercy.

At first he thought his pursuers must be police, but no longer. The shadows lurking behind him were far more sinister. Wherever he went in the city, he could feel their presence, cold and threatening like a malignant ghost. His nerves were in tatters. It was getting harder to make decisions.

This time, however, he seemed to have lost them. No one had followed him into the baker’s yard. He must have given them the slip. Cautiously, he made his way back into the alley. A few blocks later he emerged onto a main road where the ubiquitous rickshaws made way for the more modern yellow cabs. Almost like New York.

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon