Crimson Shore Page 1

Author: Douglas Preston

Series: Pendergast #15

Genres: Mystery , Thriller


When the knock sounded, Constance Greene stopped playing the Flemish virginal and the library fell silent and tense. She glanced in the direction of Special Agent A. X. L. Pendergast, sitting by a dying fire, wearing thin white gloves, having gone quite still while leafing through an illuminated manuscript, a glass of Amontillado half-finished on the side table. Constance recalled the last time someone had knocked on the door of 891 Riverside Drive—the rarest of occurrences at the Pendergast mansion. The memory of that awful moment now hung in the room like a miasma.

Proctor, Pendergast’s chauffeur, bodyguard, and general factotum, appeared. “Shall I answer the door, Mr. Pendergast?”

“Please. But do not let the person in; get their name and business and report back.”

Three minutes later, Proctor returned. “It is a man named Percival Lake, and he wishes to hire you for a private investigation.”

Pendergast raised a palm, about to dismiss this out of hand. Then he paused. “Did he mention the nature of the crime?”

“He declined to go into any details.”

Pendergast seemed to fall into a reverie, his spidery fingers lightly tapping on the gilded spine of the manuscript. “Percival Lake… The name is familiar. Constance, would you be so good as to look that up on… What is that website? It was named after a large mathematical number.”


“Ah, yes. Google him for me, if you please.”

Constance raised her fingers from the age-yellowed ivory keys, moved away from the instrument, opened a small cupboard, and slid out a laptop on a retracting table. She typed for a moment.

“There’s a sculptor of that name who does monumental work in granite.”

“I thought it rang a bell.” Pendergast plucked off the gloves and laid them aside. “Show him in.”

As Proctor left, Constance turned to Pendergast with a frown. “Are our finances so sadly reduced that you must resort to moonlighting?”

“Of course not. But the man’s work—though rather old-fashioned—is stimulating. As I recall, his figures emerge from the stone much like Michelangelo’s Slave Awakening. The least I can do is give him an audience.”

Moments later Proctor returned. A striking man stood in the doorway behind him: perhaps sixty-five, with a great shock of white hair. The hair was the only thing that looked at all old about him; he was close to six and a half feet tall, with a craggy, handsome face bronzed by the sun, a trim, athletic bearing, wearing a blue blazer over a crisp white cotton shirt and tan slacks. He radiated good health and vigorous living. His hands were massive.

“Inspector Pendergast?” He came striding over with his arm extended and enveloped Pendergast’s pale hand in his own gigantic paw, giving it such a shake that it almost knocked over Pendergast’s sherry.

Inspector? Constance winced. It looked as if her guardian was going to get his stimulation.

“Pray sit down, Mr. Lake,” said Pendergast.

“Thank you!” Lake took a seat, threw one leg over the other, and leaned back.

“Can I offer you anything to drink? Sherry?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

Proctor silently poured him a small glass, placing it by his elbow. The sculptor took a sip. “Excellent stuff, thanks. And thank you for agreeing to see me.”

Pendergast inclined his head. “Before you tell me your story, I’m afraid I can’t claim the title Inspector. That would be British. I am merely a special agent of the FBI.”

“I guess I read too many murder mysteries.” The man shifted in his chair. “Let me get right to the point. I live in a little seaside town in northern Massachusetts called Exmouth. It’s a quiet place, off the tourist trail, and not well known even among the summer crowd. About thirty years ago, my wife and I bought the old lighthouse and keeper’s quarters on Walden Point, and I’ve been there ever since. It’s proven an excellent spot for my work. I’ve always been someone who appreciates fine wine—red, don’t bother with white—and the basement of the old house was a perfect place for my rather large collection, being dug into the ground with stone walls and floor, fifty-six degrees summer and winter. Anyway, a few weeks ago, I went away for a long weekend to Boston. When I returned, I found a rear window broken. Nothing had been taken in the house, but when we went to the basement, it was cleaned out. My wine cellar was gone!”

“How terrible for you.”

Constance thought she could just detect the faintest note of contemptuous amusement in Pendergast’s voice.

“Tell me, Mr. Lake, are you still married?”