“Good. You and Demartin take the main staircase. I’ll go up by the servants’ route.”
“How about two of my guys go with you as cover,” said Kapiri. It was a statement, not a question, but Danny didn’t object. They had no time for power struggles, not now.
A gunshot rang out.
The three men looked at one another, then ran for the stairs.
“HOW COULD YOU?”
“How could I?” The man in black clutched at the wound on the back of his head. He still felt dizzy, as if he might black out at any moment. “He left me for dead, Sofia, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Sofia Basta’s eyes filled with tears.
“He was protecting me! My God, Frankie. You didn’t have to kill him.”
Frankie Mancini frowned. It was unfortunate that he’d been forced to shoot Daley. The man was, after all, Andrew Jakes’s son. Technically that made him one of the children. One of the victims Frankie had devoted his life to avenging. It was even more unfortunate that the silencer on his gun had failed. A member of the household staff could come in at any moment. The police might already be on their way. They didn’t have much time.
“Bolt the door,” he barked. But Sofia just stood there, watching Matt’s blood ooze into the rug. “For God’s sake, Sofia,” Frankie said defensively. “I tried to get him to leave Mumbai. I did my best. He shouldn’t have been here.”
“He came here for me. Because he loved me,” Sofia sobbed. “He loved me and I loved him!”
“Loved you?” Frankie Mancini scoffed cruelly. “My dear girl. He didn’t even know who you were. He loved Lisa Baring. And who was she? Nobody, that’s who, a character who I invented, a figment of my imagination. If Matt Daley loved anyone, it was me, not you. Now bolt the damn door.”
Sofia Basta did as she was asked. She saw the madness blazing in Frankie’s eyes. Poor, poor Matt! Why did he come for me? Why didn’t he run, break free while he had the chance?
“He didn’t deserve to die, Frankie.”
“Be quiet!” Mancini shrieked, waving his pistol menacingly in the air. “I decide who lives and who dies! I have the power! You are my wife. You will do as I command you, or on my life, Sofia, your sister will be next. Do you understand?”
Sofia nodded. She understood. Fear and obedience were all she understood. All she had ever known. For a few short, blissful months of her life, as Lisa Baring, in Bali with Matt Daley, she had been shown a glimpse of another way, another life. But it was not to be.
“POLICE!” Danny McGuire’s voice rang out like a siren. Pounding footsteps could be heard behind him on the stairs. A second salvation.
Mancini’s eyes widened in panic. He handed Sofia the knife. “Do it.”
“Do what? Oh no. Frankie, no.”
Her eyes followed his gaze to the bed. In all the drama with Matt, she’d momentarily forgotten that David Ishag was even in the room, but now she could see him stirring, the effects of the drug she’d fed him earlier beginning to wear off.
“This is the end, angel. Our last kill. The sacrifice that will win your sister’s life.”
“POLICE!” Fists pounded on the door.
“It’s only right that it should be yours. Do it.”
“Frankie, I can’t.”
“Do it!” Mancini was screaming, howling like a mad dog. “Cut his throat or I’ll shoot you both. DO IT!”
Images flashed through Sofia’s mind one by one.
Reading “The Book” with Frankie back at the orphanage. How beautiful he was then, and how gentle. “You’re a princess, Sofia. The others are just jealous.”
Andrew Jakes, their first kill, with blood spurting from his neck like thick red water from a fountain.
Piers Henley, funny, cerebral Piers, who’d fought back until they shot him in the head, splattering his brilliant brain all over the bedroom walls.
Didier Anjou, pleading for his life as the blade sank into his flesh again and again and again.
Miles Baring, collapsing instantly as the knife pierced his heart.
Matt Daley, the one true innocent of all of them. Matt who had loved her, who had given her hope. Matt who lay dead and cold at her feet.
She thought of the living. Her sister, her flesh and blood, out there somewhere. David Ishag, stirring groggily back to life on the bed.
“SLIT HIS THROAT!” Frankie’s voice, excited, aroused as it always was by blood and death and vengeance.
“POLICE!” Sledgehammers pounded against the door, splintering the wood.
“I can’t,” Sofia said calmly, closing her mind to the clamor and roar as she let the knife drop at her feet. “Shoot if you want to, Frankie. But I can’t do it. Not anymore.”
At long last the door gave way. Armed men swarmed into the room.
“Police! Put your hands in the air!”
David Ishag opened his eyes just in time to see Danny McGuire, gun drawn, panting in the doorway.
“You sure took your bloody time,” he murmured weakly.
Then somebody fired a single shot.
And it was all over.
ONE YEAR LATER…
LOS ANGELES COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE Federico Muñoz was no stranger to front-page homicide cases. Two years ago in this very courtroom, room 306 on the third floor of the Beverly Hills Courthouse, a jury had found a much-loved movie actress guilty of killing her violent lover after years of abuse. Judge Muñoz sent the actress to death row, to the outrage of her fans, family and many in the national news media. Not long afterward, the judge received the first of the death threats that would be made against him periodically for the rest of his life.
He was delighted.
Death threats were what enabled Judge Federico Muñoz to demand a permanent security detail to escort him to and from work. Arriving every day at the imposing white-pillared courthouse at 9355 Burton Way, surrounded by a phalanx of armed guards, made Judge Muñoz feel inordinately important, as did the ongoing media interest in his life. Publicly, of course, he denounced this interest as prurient and mean-spirited, taking particular umbrage at the L.A. Times’s dubbing of him as “Judge Dread.” Privately, however, he loved every minute of it. Judge Federico Muñoz was already famous in Los Angeles. Now, thanks to the Azrael trial, he was becoming famous around the world.
The trial that had been going on now for two weeks—it had taken the prosecution that long to present their case, so huge was the mountain of evidence at their disposal—could not have been more sensational. Four wealthy men brutally murdered in identically staged and plotted circumstances around the globe. The accused, a married couple in their forties, both blessed with movie-star good looks, caught in the act of attempting to murder a fifth. All the elderly victims had been lured into marriage by the female defendant, known to the media as “the Angel of Death.” And yet this woman had herself submitted to violent, sexually sadistic assaults during each murder, administered by the male defendant. Willingly, if the prosecution was to be believed.
Neither party denied the murders, but each claimed coercion, identifying the other as the ringleader. Throw in the soap-opera-perfect twist of a “Robin Hood” motive—all the victims’ millions had been donated to children’s charities—and the tabloids could not have asked for more.
But they got more. They got a female defendant who had successfully assumed a new identity each time she tempted a fresh victim into her marriage bed, and had apparently undergone multiple surgeries to alter her appearance over the course of the past decade or so, but who remained drop-dead gorgeous. Sitting passively through the prosecution’s evidence, only occasionally tearing up when photographs of her husbands’ tortured bodies or her own injuries were shown to the jury, the woman seated at one end of the table in courtroom 306 looked as pristine and unsullied as a newborn baby, and as radiant as any angel. The press couldn’t get enough of her.
On the opposite side of the dock sat her codefendant, Frances Mancini. The pair had met when both were orphaned at a New York City children’s home during their teens. Mancini lacked his wife’s radiance, the aura of serenity and goodness that seemed to emanate from her person like light, despite the terrible crimes she’d confessed to committing. Nonetheless he was a compellingly attractive man, with his dark hair, strong jaw and regal, smolderingly arrogant features. Mancini had been shot while resisting arrest in India, and still had difficulty standing up and sitting down, wincing with discomfort each time he moved. When he was at rest, however, Mancini’s thin lips were curled into a permanent knowing smile, as if the whole spectacle of the U.S. justice system had been contrived solely for his amusement. Neither he nor his wife had fought their extradition to the United States despite the fact that in France or England, where they could equally well have been tried, there was no death penalty. Here in California, both defendants were on trial for their lives, in front of a hostile jury and the toughest judge in the L.A. County Superior Court system. Yet Frankie Mancini seemed to view today’s proceedings as little more than a piece of theater, a melodrama if not a boulevard farce, to which the fates had generously decided to allocate him a front-row seat.