The following is an excerpt from Cari Mora by Thomas Harris, the new novel by the author of the Dr. Hannibal Lecter novels described as “a story of evil, greed, and the consequences of dark obsession.” It is Harris’ first book since his 1975 debut Black Sunday not to feature Hannibal. Read on below. Cari Mora publishes May 21 and is available for purchase.
Cari Mora came awake in the dark and did not know why. Her waking reflex was to listen for the warning sounds of the forest. She came to herself then, and without moving her head she looked around the big bedroom. All the tiny lights were glowing – TV cable box, the thermostat, the clock – but the alarm-pad light was green instead of red.
A single beep had awakened her when someone turned off the alarm downstairs. Now the alarm light blinked as something passed a motion sensor in the foyer on the floor below.
Cari Mora pulled on some sweats and got her baseball bat from under the bed. Her phone and her knife and her bear repellent spray were in her pockets. She went out into the hall and called down the winding stairs.
“Who is it? You’d better say something now.”
Nothing for fifteen seconds. Then a voice from below said “Felix.”
Cari rolled her eyes up at the ceiling and hissed between her teeth.
She turned on the lights and went down the spiral staircase. She took the bat with her.
Felix stood at the bottom of the stairs, beneath a movie figure, the toothy space raptor from the Planet Zorn.
Felix did not look like he was drunk. He did not have a weapon in his hands. He had his hat on in the house.
Cari stopped four steps from the bottom. She did not feel his piggy eyes on her. Good, that.
“You call me before you come here in the night,” she said.
“I got a renter, last minute,” Felix said. “Movie people. They pay good. They want you to stay because you know the place, maybe cook too, I don’t know yet. I got you the job with them. You should thank me. You should give me something when they pay you big movie money.”
“What kind of movie?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care.”
“You bringing this news at five in the morning?”
“If they’re willing to pay, they get their way,” Felix said. “They want to be inside before daylight.”
“Felix, look here at me. If it’s porn you know what I say to that. I’m walking if it’s that.”
A lot of pornographic movie production was moving to Miami after the passage of Los Angeles County’s Measure B, requiring the use of condoms onscreen, stifling freedom of expression.
She’d had trouble with Felix about this before.
“It’s not dirty movies. It’s like reality something. They want two-hundred-twenty-volt hook-ups and fire extinguishers. You know where all that stuff’s at, right?” He took out of his jacket a wrinkled City of Miami Beach filming permit and told her to get him some tape.
In fifteen minutes she heard a boat close inshore on Biscayne Bay.
“Leave the dock lights off,” Felix said.
Hans-Peter Schneider is extremely clean much of the time in his public life and smells good to casual acquaintances. But when Cari shook his hand in the kitchen, she caught a whiff of brimstone off him. Like the smell of a burning village with dead inside the houses.
Hans-Peter noted her good hard palm, and smiled his wolfish smile. “Shall we speak English or Spanish?”
“As you wish.”
Monsters know when they are recognized, just as bores do. Hans-Peter was accustomed to reactions of distaste and fear as his behavior revealed him. On exquisite occasions, the reaction was an agonized pleading for a quicker death. Some people beeped to him quicker than others.
Cari just looked at Hans-Peter. She did not blink. The black pupils of her eyes had the smudge of intelligence.
Hans-Peter tried to see his reflection in her eyes but disappointingly he could not see himself. What a looker! And I don’t think she knows it.
A moment of reverie as he made up a little couplet. I cannot see my reflection in the black pools of your eyes/You will be hard to break but, broken, what a prize! He’d do it in German too, with a tune, when he had time. Use horig for “broken,” more like “enslaved.” Use the tune from “Sauerkraut and Beets.” Sing it in the shower. Maybe to her, if she happened to be recuperating, begging to be clean.
At the moment, he needed her goodwill. Show time now.
“You have worked here a long time,” he said. “Felix tells me you are a good worker, you know the house well.”
“I’ve watched the house five years on and off. I helped with some repairs.”
“Does the pool house leak?”
“No, it’s good. You can cool it if you want to. The pool house A/C is on a separate box with a circuit breaker on the garden wall.”
From the corner Hans-Peter’s man Bobby Joe was staring at Cari. Even in cultures where staring is not rude, Bobby Joe’s stare would be rude. His eyes were orange-yellow, like those of certain turtles. Hans-Peter beckoned to him.
Bobby Joe stood too close to Cari when he came.
She could read the tattoo “Balls and All!” in cursive on the side of his neck under his grown-out jail haircut. His fingers were lettered “LOVE” and “HATE.” “Manuela” was written in his palm. The end of the strap on the back of his cap stuck far out to the side owing to the smallness of his skull. A memory of something bad pierced her and was gone.
“Bobby Joe, put the heavy stuff in the pool house for now,” Hans-Peter said.
When Bobby Joe passed behind Cari, his knuckles brushed her buttocks. She touched the inverted cross of St.Peter that hung from her neck on a bead chain.
“Is the electric current and water turned on all over the house?” Hans-Peter said.
“Yes,” Cari said.
“Do you have two-hundred-twenty-volt current?”
“Yes. In the laundry and behind the kitchen stove. There’s a golf cart charger in the garage with a two-twenty outlet and two long extension cords on hooks above it. Use the red one, not the black. Somebody cut the ground prong off the black one. It’s got two twenty-amp circuit breakers beside it. In the pool house it’s all GFIs.”
“Do you have a floor plan?”
“There are architect’s drawings and an electrician’s diagram in the library, in the floor-level cabinet.”
“Is the alarm connected to a central office, or the police?”
“No, it’s manual only with a siren on the street. Four zones, doors and motions.”
“Is there food in the house?”
“No. You are eating here?”
“Yes. Some of us.”
“Until our job is finished. Some of us will sleep and eat here too.”
“There are the lunch trucks. They work construction jobs up and down the street. They’re pretty good. Better early in the week. You will hear the horn. I like Comidas Distinguidas the best, and the Salazar Brothers are good. The last film crew used them. They have ‘Hot Eats’ on the side of the truck. I have a phone number for them if you want them to cater.”
“I want you to cater,” Hans-Peter said. “You could get food and cook one good meal a day? You don’t have to serve the table, just make the food like buffet. I will pay good.”
Cari needed the money. She was fiercely fast and thorough in the kitchen, as women are who come up hard in Miami working in rich people’s house.
“I can do that. I’ll fix the meal.”
Cari had worked with construction crews; in her teens when she cooked from midnight on and served food from the lunch trucks in cutoff jeans, the carpenters swarmed and business went way up. In Cari’s experience the majority of the men in the hard physical trades are well-intentioned, courteous even. They are just hungry for everything.
But Cari could see Hans-Peter’s crew of three and she did not like the look of them. Jailbirds with jail tattoos made with match-soot ink and an electric toothbrush. They were carrying a heavy magnetic drill press and two jackhammers into the pool house along with a single movie camera.
Women working in the trades can tell you the rule of thumb with a rough crew in a secluded place – it was true in the jungle and it was true here – bigger is safer. Most of the time if there are more than two men in the crew, civilization prevails; they won’t start something with a woman unless they are drunk. This was a rougher crew than that. They stared at Cari when she led Hans-Peter to the electrical boxes mounted in the narrow corridor between the high hedge and the boundary wall of the property. She could feel them thinking “Pull a train, pull a train.”
More than their oafish stares, she was aware of Hans-Peter walking behind her.
Behind the hedge Hans faced her. Full-face and smiling, he resembled a white stoat. “Felix said he went through four housekeepers before he found you. The others were afraid of this place, all the creepy stuff. But it doesn’t frighten you? I would be interested to know why.”
Do not engage him, do not answer, her instinct told her.
Cari shrugged. “You’ll need to pay for the groceries in advance.”
“I’ll reimburse,” he said.
“I’ll need the cash up front. Seriously.”
“You are a serious person. You sound like a Colombian – so pretty the Spanish. How did you get to stay in the U.S., did you try to use ‘credible fear’? Did immigration allow you credible fear?”
“I think two hundred and fifty dollars will cover the groceries for now,” Cari said.
“Credible fear,” Hans-Peter said. He was enjoying the planes of her face, thinking how pain might affect them. “The things in the house, the horror movie props, do not scare you, Cari. And why is that? You see they are only the imaginings of mall rats to scare other mall rats, don’t you? You see that, don’t you, Cari? You know the difference. You are closer to the verities – do you know verities? Las verdades, la realidad? How did you learn the difference? Where did you see something truly fearful?”
“Good chuletas are on sale at Publix, and I should pick up some fuses,” Cari said, and left him standing under the spiderwebs behind the hedge.
“Chuletas are on sale at Publix,” Hans said to himself in Cari’s voice. He has a startling ability to mimic.
Cari took Felix aside. “Felix, I am not staying here overnight.”
“The fire insurance –“ he began.
“Then stay here yourself. Best you sleep on your back. I’ll do the meal.”
“Cari, I’m telling you – “
“And I’m telling you. If I stay something stupid will happen. You will not like what happens next and neither will they.”
Excerpted from CARI MORA by Thomas Harris. Copyright © 2019 by Thomas Harris. Reprinted with permission from Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.