From the Back Cover
Running away from a broken heart, easygoing American Tom Rivers travels to Switzerland to see an old friend, only to find him brutally murdered on the very first day of the visit. Having barely survived a confrontation with his friend’s killer, Tom is stranded in a strange country with two cracked ribs, and no phone or wallet. The next morning he and his friend’s sister learn of the victim’s last message—scrawled in his own blood on the back of a group photo. If they can decipher the cryptic message, referring to an ancient myth, they might uncover the biggest conspiracy of a generation. But the darker the secret, the more ruthless are those trying to protect it.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Below you can read the first 10 pages of The Secret of the Second Zeus
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February 12, 2015
Near Lausanne, Switzerland
Freelance journalist Marco Frei was only days away from uncovering a scandal that would rock the world with an ugly truth. Lives would be shattered, careers destroyed. Much worse, however, he was only minutes away from being brutally murdered.
Eyes closed, mind far away, he didn’t hear the footsteps on the stairs or see the door to his home office opening quietly. What he did notice, though, was the sting of the bullet in his right shoulder, flinging him off his chair and onto the floor, facedown. There had been no warning, no questions asked. The intruder hadn’t tried to kill Marco—not yet. It was just a warning, a way to let Marco know that he meant business.
Stepping farther inside, the stranger spoke, his accent thick, unfamiliar. “Log on to your laptop, fast.”
Still in shock, his ears ringing, Marco hadn’t understood a word.
“What do you want?”
“Computer log-on!” the intruder repeated. He leveled the gun at Marco again. “Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . .”
The second shot hit Marco in the back of his right thigh. Through the haze of the burning pain spreading up his leg, he wondered if his wife was still alive downstairs. Somehow, he doubted it.
“Computer password. Now!” This time the shooter started his countdown at three. “Three . . . two . . . one . . .”
“Wait!” Marco screamed at the last moment.
He didn’t know what the stranger wanted, but he had a good guess. It was too late to save his own life—he understood that now—but maybe if he played it right, he could gain enough time to finish his final task. Slowly he stammered out his user name and password.
“Username or password incorrect.” The stranger read out the message on the screen. “Try again. Three . . . two . . .”
“Capital letter . . . the password starts with a capital letter,” Marco forced out, his face still pressed to the floor.
The stranger typed it in again, and smiled. He’d gained access to everything on Marco’s laptop.
“Your e-mail password! Three . . . two . . .”
“Zweideutig,” Marco answered in German.
“Numeral two, D-E-U-T-I-G.”
The time it took the assassin to confirm the password and type it in had given Marco the vital seconds he needed. A minute later he closed his eyes for good, dying with the knowledge he’d done everything in his power to protect the secret that had led to his imminent death—the secret of the second Zeus.
Battling the invisible force that made his eyes squint at the unknown road ahead of him, Tom Rivers repeatedly pulled his eyelids back up. Like swimming against the tide in the ocean though, he held them open for just a moment, until the next big wave would push them down again. His hands were holding on to the steering wheel and his right foot was still pressing down the accelerator keeping the car driving at 60kmh, when his eyelids tightened under the pressure again, this time shutting all the way down.
He must have driven blind for only a second, yet long enough to feel his heart pounding fast, like a gambler who had placed his entire life on a single number in a game of roulette. Adjusting the car slightly back to the center of the lane, he stretched his upper body up straight, sighed silently, and turned his head slowly to the right, hoping that the woman he was driving home hadn’t noticed his lapse of concentration.
To his relief, Sandra had been strangely silent, staring straight ahead, her expression unreadable. Tom didn’t mind her silence. She had already made this trip to Switzerland the most uplifting two days of his year so far. At first, he’d felt lucky just to be seated opposite the most attractive flight attendant on the plane. It got even better when she engaged him in cheeky banter during the entire takeoff period. Throughout the flight her striking brown eyes had twinkled whenever she passed him, her broad smile revealing cute little dimples. They’d shared a few more jokes while the plane was landing, and eventually agreed to meet for lunch the next day.
Today, when they met again, Tom was wearing the same clothes he’d gotten off the plane in the previous day, jeans and a dark jacket. His chiseled chin was still covered with stubble; his short hair still stood up in tufts, as if he’d just gotten out of bed.
Sandra, though, was another matter entirely. Tom had been expecting to meet the cute girl who’d served him on the plane, her manner demure and her hair pinned up neatly. Instead, a confident, striking Amazon walked up to him, her dark brown hair spilling down her back in loose waves, her complexion as tawny as if she’d just returned from a summer on the Riviera. She looked exotic against the winter-pale Swiss faces all around them. Even the black leather jacket wrapped around her slender body was unexpected. If it hadn’t been for the tiny mole above her pointed chin, Tom might have found it difficult to believe she was the same woman.
“The next one to the right,” Sandra said before she guided him the last few hundred yards to her home.
“Fancy another drink before going back?” she asked after they had come to a standstill.
“Sorry, Sandra—but I really have to get back now.”
“Why this rush—have you had enough of me already?”
Tom smiled back. “I’d love to stay out all night, but I already feel bad for running off and leaving my friend on our first day together in fifteen years. I told him I’d only be out for lunch—I had no idea you had planned to show me the entire city of Lausanne. And now it’s quarter to seven, and dark outside. He must be worried by now.”
“How much longer will you be in Switzerland?”
“I’m not sure yet. Marco bought me a one-way ticket so I could stay as long as I wanted. And since he paid for the flight, it seems a bit rude to abandon him on the first day of my visit.”
“Oh, your friend bought you the ticket? How nice of him. He must be from a good family then, no?”
Tom wished he had a dollar for every time Sandra had asked him about Marco. Ever since he’d mentioned that he was in Switzerland to visit a Swiss journalist named Marco Frei, her interest in his friend had seemed inexhaustible. “I think this is the first time I’ve ever been out with a date more interested in a friend of mine who she’s never met than in me,” he teased. “Maybe we can have another drink tomorrow if my friend is still busy catching up with work?”
There was an awkward pause. Just as the comforting warmth of the winter sun had seeped out of the chilly evening, her mood seemed to have darkened. “Um . . . I’m pretty busy the next couple days,” she said. “I have some family stuff to catch up with.”
Letting herself out of the car with a brisk “Good night, Tom,” she walked straight to her apartment door without turning around or waving. No sign that she wanted to see him again.
Bewildered, Tom wondered what he’d done to trigger this sudden mood swing. Of course he had teased her a few times, but good-naturedly, and she’d more than held her own in that department. It wasn’t the idea of not seeing her again that bothered Tom so much. After all, he was in Switzerland to see Marco and to distract himself from the painful aftermath of his last relationship, not to hunt for a new partner. No, the thing that troubled Tom most was that it was Sandra who’d initiated everything—the conversation on the plane, the invitation to lunch, the tour through Lausanne. And now, for no reason he could see, she seemed to have suddenly lost interest. He’d never understand women, he thought, resigned.
Back at Marco’s house, Tom turned the key in the lock. He pushed on the door, but it didn’t budge. Had it been unlocked already? He turned the key again, puzzled, and it swung in a few feet, then bumped against something—something soft and heavy. Frozen to the spot, his heart almost stopping, Tom processed the meaning of the dark shape on the floor just past the threshold. Even with her face covered in blood, it was obvious whose body was lying there. He dropped to his knees, desperately feeling for her pulse. Seconds later his hands slipped away covered with blood. He didn’t need to be a medic to understand that he was too late, that the life of his friend’s wife had come to a gruesome end.
Please, at least let Marco be alive.
There was no sign of his friend on the ground floor. Tom ran up the stairs, stumbling, his legs rubbery with shock. “Marco? Marco!”
The door to Marco’s home office was wide open, and just inside it he lay sprawled on the floor in a pool of his own blood. Tom stooped over him, so distraught that he was aware of nothing else until he felt a cold sensation at the right side of his head: metal. A gun. Given the circumstances, there was little doubt it was loaded.
Tom still hadn’t seen the intruder’s face. Maybe if he begged for mercy, if he made some empty promises, he might still be spared . . . but a second glance at the body in front of him suggested otherwise. His eyes fixed on the puddle of blood around Marco, his shaking hands clenched into fists. Tom ground his teeth, struggling to keep his emotions under control. Not only had the intruder killed his friend, he’d made him suffer until his final breath. There was no chance in hell that mere words would persuade a killer capable of this to have mercy.
Instinct taking over, Tom flattened his hands and slowly lifted them toward his head in a gesture of capitulation. He had no intention of begging for his life, though.
With all his strength he flung his right elbow toward the gun, followed by a backward kick into the stranger’s right knee. Although it felt as if his elbow had hit a brick wall, it lifted the attacker’s forearm just high enough. The bullet passed harmlessly over Tom’s head by an inch or two and ended up in the ceiling. Maximizing the element of surprise, Tom swung around and attacked the way he knew was most devastating to any man: a savage kick between the man’s legs. The intruder howled and doubled over. Seizing the moment, Tom aimed a second kick at his right arm, hitting the silencer extension of the gun, which flew backward against the entrance door. Tom’s resistance, however, was brought to a likely end when the intruder slowly raised himself up again.
For the first time, Tom got a decent look at his now-unarmed enemy. It was not a pleasant sight. The man was tall, with long, greasy blond hair trailing down his back like the mane of a wild horse after a long run through heavy rain. His large head was pinned on a Herculean body. Tom made a mental note to check whether there had been any Yeti sightings reported in the Swiss Alps. Tom was no stranger to the gym, but if it came to a wrestling match, even his lean six-foot-three body would stand little chance. His best hope was to lure the killer deeper into the room and somehow swap positions, so that Tom came out on the other side, closer to the gun. As he stepped farther inside, he taunted his adversary, hoping he’d provoke the thug to follow him.
“Hey, Meatloaf, how are your balls?”
The killer showed no reaction.
“Hey, Chubby,” Tom continued, “you speak any English?”
Yet again the assassin chose to ignore Tom’s words, instead pulling a hefty dagger from a knife pocket on his pants while edging back toward the gun. Tom’s chances to survive had fast faded from little to none.
Fuck this, Tom thought. Taking advantage of a moment when the killer was glancing behind him at the gun on the floor, he turned, took three quick steps, and jumped headfirst through the closed window, shielding his head with his hands. He’d moved fast enough to escape the flying knife by a few inches, but his dive from the second-story window was less lucky.
The thin layer of snow did nothing to soften the impact of a rough landing on his left side. Tom had no time to rest, though, and adrenaline blanked out most of his pain as he dragged himself back to Marco’s car.
With its wheels spinning in the soft snow, Tom steered the car out of the driveway and onto the main road. Expecting to notice the outline of a rushing car in his mirrors any moment, he took one hand off the steering wheel and reached for his phone in the right pocket of his jacket. An empty pocket.
Tom gasped for air, his heart pounding fast. He fumbled in every pocket he could find. Nothing.
Tears of sweat were dropping down his forehead. He remembered placing the phone into the jacket’s right pocket when leaving the café —he was sure of it. Although he hated to involve others, Tom knew he needed help and the only other person he knew in Switzerland was the woman who had insisted to meet up on the day his friend got murdered.
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