The Puppet Master
by Ronald S. Barak
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
What would YOU do if they took everything you had, your family, your home, your business, your dignity, even—perhaps—your sanity?
Barak’s latest, The Puppet Master, prequel to The Amendment Killer, and the second in the Brooks/Lotello Thriller Series, is a gripping story of a political system gone awry—and those who feel compelled to fix it. “Have you ever killed anyone? I have. I’ll do it again. If I need to.”Three prominent political leaders in Washington, D.C., murdered in as many days.
Not a plausible story premise? What about the real world villain who recently mailed a series of pipe bombs to a number of prominent political figures? Ripped from the headlines? Barak gives new meaning to the word “timely.” The Puppet Master isn’t ripped from the headlines; written first, it forecast the headlines that followed!
The Puppet Master begins with a bang. Literally. Three of them. Not a page wasted. Capitol Hill panics. Who will be next? Others whisper that our political leaders are only getting what they deserve. Anxious to see who will be next. And why.
Crafty D.C. homicide detective Frank Lotello is tasked to find the killer. Cliff Norman, a local businessman with ample motive, is arrested. Politicians breathe a sigh of relief. However, when Lotello discovers a disturbing White House connection, he suspects Norman may not be what he appears to be. Things may not be what they appear to be.
Norman’s trial commences in the courtroom of savvy D.C. trial court judge Cyrus Brooks. An angry nation rallies behind Norman. The jury debates whether Norman’s actions may be legally justified by a rampant abuse of political trust, and threatens to unravel the very fabric of our dysfunctional government.
In an unprecedented and questionable manner that may destroy their respective careers, Lotello quietly approaches Brooks and they form a secret alliance to uncover the truth in this classic whodunnit mystery. Before it’s too late.
Blurring fiction and reality, The Puppet Master will have you dangling from the first page to the very last.
“One of the year’s best thrillers!”
–Best Thriller Magazine
“First The Amendment Killer, now The Puppet Master, whenever Barak brings it, the result is always the same, tense, timely and terrific!”
–Lee Child, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of the Jack Reacher novels
Thursday, February 5, 7:20 p.m.
US Senator Jane Wells had also been wondering. Whether tonight might be the night.
Her last two companions had been disappointing, downright boring. In every respect. Almost as boring as her political constituents. And having to pretend she actually cared about them.
Being single again definitely had its benefits. More or less. No longer back home in dull, sedate Kansas. But things were still pretty boring. Maybe she just found it more exciting sampling the other merchandise when she was stillmarried. She hoped tonight would prove more fulfilling.
Wells glanced in the mirror opposite her desk, making sure everything was in order. Not too bad for a fifty-year-old strawberry blonde in a bottle. Well, admittedly with a little help from Dr. Nip N’ Tuck. Looks had never been her problem. Or maybe that was her problem.
Tall and curvaceous, she still managed to fill out her power suit in all the right places. Wells closed her briefcase and walked from her lavish private office out into the spacious and well-appointed reception area. She carried herself in a way that was not easy for anyone to miss.
“Night, Jimmy,” Wells said to her new legislative aide, boyishly good-looking James Ayres. She considered his sandy brown locks and piercing hazel eyes—kind of a younger, chiseled version of Robert Redford—imagining for more than just a second what a frolic in the hay with Ayres might be like. Probably a lot more virile than my somewhat more successful, but older, recent partners. Difficult not to imagine that hard body of his gliding back and forth across mine. Certainly one way to get better acquainted with the staff! She tucked that picture away in the not-so-hidden recesses of her mind for further consideration.
Wells’ mind shifted unintentionally from Ayres to her parents. How disappointed they would be if they knew her real interest—like that of most of the other members of the WSOC—was not to manage Wall Street, but to be rewarded by Wall Street for not really managing it at all. She also couldn’t help but wonder how her parents would feel if they knew about her . . . lifestyle. Actually, she didn’t really wonder at all. She knew precisely how they’d feel. She didn’t feel much better about it herself.
“Good night, Senator,” Ayres replied, bringing Wells back into the moment. He summoned the elevator for her. “Robert’s here to drive you home. He’ll pick you up again in the morning at 9:30 and get you to the WSOC hearings on schedule.” Wells nodded and stepped into the elevator.
* * *
Ayres stood there, staring at the closing elevator doors. He had followed Wells to Washington from Kansas after her election. Can’t fathom how the voters could ever have chosen someone like her over me. He shook his head in dismay, turned, and walked back into his office.
* * *
As always, good old dependable Robert Grant was right there, waiting for Wells as the elevator deposited her into the underground parking garage. “Evening, Senator. How are you tonight?”
“Okay, Robert, bit of a long day. You?”
“Fine, Senator. Thanks for asking. Let’s get you home, then.”
That was pretty much how it was with Grant every night, just a warm and fuzzy ride home, someone harmless with whom to make small talk. Wells had occasionally confided in Grant about her dates. He just listened, didn’t judge.
Riding home, Wells thought about the next day’s hearings, to consider whether possible Wall Street malfeasance had contributed to the country’s economic collapse. The hearings were not going to be fun. With increasing pressure and hostility from both the media and various public interest groups, it was becoming more and more difficult to keep up appearances without actually doing much of anything. Lately, she felt as if she—rather than Wall Street—was being placed under the microscope and scrutinized.
The job was taking a greater toll on Wells every day. What do people expect of me? Why are they so damn naïve? Life was clearly a lot easier when I was just a Midwestern farmer’s daughter looking to find myself a rich husband and settle down. Maybe that simple life would not have been so bad after all.
Wells’ mind returned to the present. She had a premonition that someone was watching her. A lump gathered in her throat. She glanced back over her shoulder and spotted a car that looked like it was watching and following her. The driver’s eyes seemed to dart nervously away. Did I put him on guard?
Wells tried to convince herself that she was just being silly, imagining that someone was actually following her. But she couldn’t help herself. Her heart was beating. Her breathing was becoming labored.
After another minute, she found herself looking back over her shoulder again. “Robert, do you see a car back there that seems to be following us?” She tried to be nonchalant, but her voice gave her away. Robert must think I’m nuts. By definition, any car behind us is following us!
Grant looked in his rearview mirror. “Don’t see anything unusual, Senator.” They drove on in silence. A few minutes later, Grant pulled his car into the rotunda outside the townhouse project where Wells lived. “Here we are, Senator. I’ll walk you to your door.”
Somewhat calmer now, Wells resisted giving into her anxiety any further. She knew Grant must be concerned about her, but she was far more worried about the awkwardness that would result if Grant saw her guest for the evening possibly already waiting at her front door. “Not necessary, Robert,” she said as she slid out of the limo. “I’m fine, thanks. See you in the morning.”
Described by his readers as a cross between Agatha Christie, Lee Child, and John Lescroart, bestselling author Ron Barak keeps his readers flipping the pages into the wee hours of the night. While he mostly lets his characters tell his stories, he does manage to get his licks in too.
Barak derives great satisfaction in knowing that his books not only entertain but also stimulate others to think about how things might be, how people can actually resolve real-world problems. In particular, Barak tackles the country’s dysfunctional government representatives–not just back-seat driving criticism for the sake of being a back-seat driver, but truly framing practical remedies to the political abuse and corruption adversely affecting too many people’s lives today. Barak’s extensive legal background and insight allow him to cleverly cross-pollinate his fiction and today’s sad state of political reality.
Ron and his wife, Barbie, and the four-legged members of their family reside in Pacific Palisades, California.
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