The Prometheus Man

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A man with no identity… hunting a man without limits.

When a pile of bodies is found in Paris, CIA Agent Tom Blake hustles his way onto a major case: tracking a man with enhanced abilities, the test subject of a secret government program.

There’s just one problem: the man using Agent Blake’s identity is not Agent Blake. He’s Tom Reese, a man without a family or a home.

Reese is searching for his brother’s killer. He stole Agent Blake’s identity two months ago and has bluffed his way onto the team investigating his only lead. But his time as a CIA agent is accelerating toward its expiration date.

Soon the CIA will find out that Agent Blake is in two places at once. Soon the augmented man will come looking for him. And soon both will discover that Tom Reese carries a secret even he doesn’t know about.

He is the last test subject of Project Prometheus.



To my wife, Lindsay

To anyone who has a brother and to John, my brother




May 8, 2001: Researchers inject aging mice with human stem cells. Almost immediately the mice begin scoring better on the Morris water maze, a test of cognitive function.

June 20, 2006: Doctors at Johns Hopkins inject stem cells from mouse embryos into paralyzed mice. Within a week, the mice recover significant motor activity.

November 10, 2010: Scientists at the University of Colorado injure the limbs of lab mice and then inject them with stem cells. Within days, the injuries heal. There is, however, an unanticipated side effect. The treated muscles nearly double in size and strength.


Let justice be done, though the world perish.

—King Ferdinand


“You need to come in.”

The words came out so low and fast Karl wasn’t sure he’d heard them.

He rolled over in the bed. “Who is this?” Then he remembered he was on a cell phone and the line wasn’t secure. “Wait. Say again.”

“You need to come here. Right now.”

His feet were already on the floor the moment he recognized the voice. There were questions on the tip of his tongue, but the circumstances answered them before he could speak.

Did something happen at the lab?

Of course something happened at the lab.

Are the police there?

He wouldn’t tell you if they were.

“Fifty minutes,” he said and hung up.

He was actually only twenty minutes away, but Weaver—the voice on the phone—didn’t know just how frequently he switched hotels. Within minutes, he was out of Paris proper and heading for the lab. It was that hour of night when so much of the world was at rest that it became a sort of death. He sped across silent streets and empty highways, a world without people, until he reached the forest outside Versailles.

He pulled onto a service road. Once he reached a redundant power station, he skidded to a stop. The wind whistled across his windows and bent the trees in his headlights. He sat there for a minute, knowing he ought to call this in to Langley, ultimately deciding he wasn’t going to do that.

He drove around the power station and took the road another half mile to a warehouse whose only color came from ancient scabs of red paint.

The stars were out. Karl could see Weaver sitting on a cinder block surrounded by black leafless trees.

Weaver had always reminded Karl of Renfield, the attorney Dracula turned into his houseboy. He was short, severe-looking, and had the kind of temper that flares only when a back is turned. Weaver said nothing as Karl approached. His eyes were fixed on the horizon, though in the woods there is no horizon.

Without looking in Karl’s direction, he stood up and led the way to the lab. The entrance to it was inside the warehouse, which wasn’t actually a warehouse. And that was the idea. No road crew or stray backpacker could ever know what was here.

Inside, the lab was dark. It wasn’t supposed to be. Weaver flipped the switch to a light by the door.

And there was blood.

It was streaked over the plexiglass wall that divided the lab from the rest of the building. Where it wasn’t streaked, it was sprayed.

Karl saw a handprint in it.

“I locked them in,” Weaver said. “I had to.”

He stood waiting for the reaction, the explosion at what he had done. But Karl just turned and stared at him.

“One of them got loose,” Weaver said. “It was waiting for us.”

Karl glanced at Weaver’s jacket pockets, looking for the bulge of a weapon.

“I got out first and used the override. By the time I got back, it had dragged Dr. Feld to the door.”

“What override?”

“It was holding him against the glass.” Weaver closed his eyes. “I couldn’t see what it was doing to him, but he was still alive.”

Karl looked at the plexiglass. There were other partial handprints and, between them, runny smears where someone had tried over and over to wipe away the blood. Which would have been difficult, like scraping egg yolk off a plate after it’s congealed.

“It was keeping him alive on purpose.” Weaver pulled out another cigarette. “It was torturing him.”

“‘Animals don’t torture other living things.’ Your words, Dr. Weaver. And please don’t smoke in here.”

Weaver turned on him. The expression on his face was hard to look at. “You don’t get it. The code. It knew he had the code to get out.”

Then Karl understood the purpose behind the wiping. The last one alive would have tried to clear the blood off the glass, so he could see Weaver. Plead with him.

“Unlock the door,” he said.

Weaver grimaced like this was a sick joke.

“They could still be alive. Unlock the door.”

“But by now the rest of the sample could be loose too. I’m not going to—”

Karl shoved Weaver back against the wall and pressed his forearm into his neck. Weaver choked in silence, in acceptance.

“You override the override,” Karl said, “or whatever the hell it is you have to do to get that door open.”

Weaver worked on the door while Karl went into the woods. At the base of a little tree, he dug up the Sig compact he’d buried in a plastic shopping bag. When he got back, he found Weaver standing across the entrance from the lab door.

They hit the fluorescents inside, but only a few came on. The rest dangled by their wiring. The alarm system went off, but since they’d disabled the sirens long ago, the blue lights spun in silence, whipping shadows around the room. Through the strobing, Karl could see Dr. Feld. He was right by the door, right where Weaver had last seen him.

Deep gouges had been cut into his skin, splitting it wide along his legs, back, and sides. His foot, still encased in its Rockport orthopedic walking shoe, lay several feet from his body. His face wasn’t on right: something powerful had gripped it and twisted.

Feld’s assistant was stretched along the floor nearby, facedown, with one arm extended overhead. Patches of hair and scalp were missing from the back of his head. The other arm was so dislocated from its socket that the wrist rested on the back of his skull. Karl didn’t see Eric Reese, the youngest member of Project Prometheus and the only one he really knew.

With his weapon raised, Karl crept through the door. The spinning lights made it seem like in every corner of the room something was moving. He listened as hard as he ever had in his life. As he scanned the room for bodies, dead or alive, his eyes stopped on something else.

He didn’t recognize it at first—it looked so different from the way it had looked the last time he’d seen it and so different from the way it was supposed to look. Only its height was the same: four feet. The largest members of the species, Karl had been told, weighed 110 pounds. This one must have weighed twice that. Its hands had thickened, and the skin on them looked chunky, like raw hamburger microwaved gray. The musculature was all wrong. It was thick like a man’s, not lengthy like a chimpanzee’s.

The chimp was propped up against a desk with its hands in its lap, like a child being read a story. There was blood pooled under its body and a hollow space where its throat had been. Skin hung in rags under its fingernails. Though he would never admit it to anyone, though it wouldn’t go in any report, Karl knew its wounds had been self-inflicted. He knelt down and gently cupped the back of its head. Then he looked at Dr. Feld and his assistant and tried to imagine scenarios in which they bled out fast. He stayed there until Weaver came up to him.

“Contact Dr. Nast,” Karl said. “Tell him everything’s on hold.”

When he looked up, Weaver was staring at him. “I thought you knew.” He almost sounded sad.

“Knew what?”

Weaver hesitated.

“Knew what?”

“Dr. Nast got the go-ahead.”

“The go-ahead for what?”

“To start the next trial. They injected the first volunteer two days ago.”


Karl burned the lab that night. He didn’t wait for instruction. That would only provide them with an excuse to talk him out of it. And he’d already decided to strangle what they were doing in its crib. Because the people he worked for would never stop otherwise. Because, in a way, the chimp had done exactly what it was supposed to do.

Some things don’t burn right, and the lab burned like the whole world was on fire. Everything twisted in agony—the flames inflicting the damage and the structure suffering it. Blue-black smoke blotted out the moon and ruined the sky.

Karl stood deep in the woods in case anyone came. But no one ever did.


When Tom turned onto Antoine Street, he almost did something that would get him killed. He almost stopped walking.

Forty yards ahead, the man he was following had frozen again. Like the last time, Benjamin Kotesh had turned and was looking up at the rooftops—just staring. Unlike the last time, he had the look an animal gets when it hears something, feels its mortality.

Antoine Street was a narrow passage between two rows of buildings that rose up like oil tankers about to converge. It was a tight place, and the prostitutes and addicts orbiting Moulin Rouge gave it a tight feeling. No one, however, had accosted Kotesh on the way over. No one asked him for money. No one offered him a room. People can sense another person’s criminality only when it exceeds their own. And even the Albanian pimps leaning on SUVs seemed to sense that as the man in the gray suit passed, something in the area was worse than they were.

Kotesh still hadn’t moved. There were no alleys to step into, so he had no choice but to keep walking up to the one person he didn’t want to see him. But Kotesh’s eyes never came down to street level, even as he started turning around and around.

He thinks someone is following him from the rooftops.

Which was impossible—the alleys that split through the neighborhood were at least thirty feet across.

Tom didn’t look up. Didn’t do anything to draw attention. He couldn’t risk it. He was by himself, and no one knew he was here. Two hours ago he’d been in his office at the US embassy in Paris. Then he’d walked out the door to hunt down a French citizen, thereby breaking the laws of both countries.

Kotesh pulled the duffel bag he was carrying tight against his body and put his hand inside his jacket, right where a gun would be. Then he was moving again. When the neighborhood began to get expensive, Kotesh started raising a cell phone to his ear and lowering it, over and over. Whoever was supposed to be on the other end wasn’t picking up.

After four calls went unanswered, he gave up on the phone and pushed through a glass door into the marbled lobby of his building. From a shadow between the streetlights, Tom stared at the windows on the fifth floor. He had followed Kotesh here yesterday. It had taken him three years to get to yesterday.

Now he stood, waiting for the lights to go on. Five minutes passed. Yesterday it had only taken two.

In one window, light flashed. A muzzle flash could look like so many things that Tom wasn’t sure what he’d seen. But he had a couple seconds to decide whether to do something about it. Fact: Kotesh had to lead him to the other men. This wasn’t a hope or a wish or a plan. This was a need.

He did something.

If there were others in the apartment with Kotesh, he needed to know. So he crossed the street and rang Kotesh’s buzzer several times—long rings, urgent—and shouted into the intercom, “Police. Ouvrez.”

He darted back across the street and watched Kotesh’s apartment from the shadows. No one came to the windows. No lights came on.

Now he had a choice. But it was one he’d made three years ago.

There were two security cameras in the lobby, so he scanned the side of the building. His eyes stopped on the fire escape, the bottom of which hung fifteen feet off the ground, one and a half times the height of a basketball hoop.

He could make that.

He looked around to make sure no one was watching, then sprinted at the building. He ran two steps up the side of it before he was close enough to lunge for the fire escape. His fingertips caught the bottom rung. He pulled himself up and waited for his breath to slow. Then he put on thin leather gloves and climbed through the window to the stairwell.

At Kotesh’s door, he turned the knob. To his surprise—and then concern—the door smoothed inward. He stared into the spaceless murk beyond it.

He slipped inside before there was time to think about what he was doing. And as he did, his skin crawled from his ankles to the back of his skull. He waited for his eyes to adjust. One second of silence stretched into two. Two into four.

He listened into the silence, felt into the emptiness. And for a moment, nothing else about him existed: the family he once had, his odds of survival, his anger, his sadness.

From the foyer, he could see every room in the apartment was clear except the bedroom—it loomed unknown behind its closed door. He eased the door open. An orange haze emanated in from the streetlight outside.

The room had been decorated to conceal the identity of its true occupants. Along the walls hung framed photos of a newlywed couple hugging in various rain forests, beaches, and ski slopes. They did not live here.

On the floor in a loose pile were the bodies of seven men.

The blood curdling out of their nostrils and caked to their clothes was dry. They’d been dead for hours before Kotesh rushed back to join them. One man was staring in his direction, not seeming dead so much as paused, as if at any moment he would snap eyes on Tom and grin.

There were bullet holes in some of the bodies, but the rest looked like they’d been crash-tested. Limbs were bent unnaturally. Joints had succumbed to the random cruelty of momentum. Whoever had murdered a roomful of men who were themselves murderers had shot some and beaten the rest to death. And whoever it was, he must have come and gone through the roof—just like Kotesh thought.

The window facing the alley was open, and the breeze made the curtains rise and fall in little breaths. Tom stuck his head out and saw fifteen feet of brick in every direction. There was no way someone could have come and gone through this window.

Yet someone had.

He searched the pile of bodies and found Kotesh. The forces that had powered Kotesh’s face, lighting up his eyes, giving him expression, had quit. Like a vacuum cleaner that exceeded the length of its cord.

He grabbed both of Kotesh’s hands and checked them. His own hands shook a little as he did this. But there were no scars on Kotesh. This wasn’t the man he really wanted. Or at least not the one he wanted most of all.

Without Kotesh, he had nothing. Tom stared at him, unable to accept what this meant: the truth about someone decent and kind had died with a man who was neither.

Three years ago, Tom had flown to Paris to visit his brother. Eric had been working for a pharmaceutical company. The offer from the firm had been too good to refuse. What little they’d inherited from their parents was going fast, and Eric was determined to lift them out of the middle-class poverty they were shocked to find themselves in. Eric was like that. There was nothing he wouldn’t eagerly endure in the name of responsibility. And even now, as Tom remembered this about his brother, it filled him with the warming pride that makes people cry at college graduations.

The day before he flew home, he and Eric had gone out for beers. Tom remembered nothing about the rest of the night. The next morning, Eric said they’d had too much to drink, but there was something he wasn’t telling him. When Tom left for the airport, he paused outside the apartment door like he always did when he didn’t want to leave a place, and he thought he heard Eric crying. He stood there for almost a minute, telling himself: Go in. Come on. It’s your brother. What if he needs you? But he was late for his plane, and the taxi outside was honking.

Three weeks later, Eric disappeared, and all traces that he’d ever existed went with him. Six months after that, his body was found in Tangier.

That was when the changes started. Tom felt different. Then he was different. He was stronger, faster. The changes were small at first. But they grew bigger. Then they grew worse.

Now he stood over the bodies of seven men, hoping the answer to what happened to him would also be the answer to what happened to Eric. He searched the apartment and the men’s bodies. Only one had anything on his phone. He’d mapped an address: JN, 55 Rue de Verdun, Saint-Cloud.

Someone coughed.

In the silence, it was an explosion of sound. Tom lurched back, almost tripping over the leg of a table. He felt something heavy shift on top of it and turned in time to stop a lamp from toppling over.

It took him a moment to identify the new sound in the room: the wet suck of oxygen. He followed it through the darkness back to Kotesh’s body.

The little muscles around Kotesh’s trachea were straining to pull breath into his throat. All it would take was a few pounds of pressure on either side of the airway. He stared at Kotesh’s throat longer than he should have.

Gently he turned Kotesh’s head to face him. When he saw Kotesh’s eyes were still open, he slapped him lightly on the cheek.

“Ben. Ben Kotesh. Can you hear me?”

No response.

“Can you hear me?”

Kotesh moved his head.

“Ben, I’m going to help you, but you need to answer my questions.”

Kotesh’s eyes moved around the room without seeming to lock on any part of it. He couldn’t talk—probably couldn’t hear either—so Tom needed to think. The bodies could be here for four or five days before the smell reached the neighbors. Kotesh would bleed out long before then, and Tom had a week at most before the CIA figured out what he was up to.

Another option came to him.

He walked out of the apartment, and as he left the building, he pulled the fire alarm. He didn’t know the exact sequence this would set in motion, but he had an idea. Once news of what happened to Kotesh hit the wires, the CIA would launch an investigation—and he would find a way to become a part of it.

As he turned onto Avenue of Martyrs, something else dawned on him. Whoever had been in Kotesh’s apartment had followed him yesterday to find it.

In that case he didn’t have a week after all.


When Karl landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 10:00 PM, he lurched awake and looked around the cabin trying to remember where he was.

Sixteen hours earlier he’d been on Fort Irwin, in the armpit of the California desert, getting drunk and gorging on discount items from a Walgreens after-holiday candy dump. On his tiny television, there was an infomercial for something called the Juice Tiger, which featured a ferocious eighty-year-old in a tracksuit who, every time the host asked him if juicing really worked, would start doing abdominal crunches and angrily ask, “Does it work? Does this look like it’s working, Dave?” Then three enlisted guys barged into the empty barracks where he’d been kept isolated for months. They told him he had to be on a transport right now.

This is it, he thought. They’re finally taking you to jail.

But the aircraft, a cavernous C-17 Globemaster he sat in the back of all alone, had taken him to Dulles. Once there, he’d been given a Delta Air Lines ticket to the spot he was now: Paris.

A little girl in a “Juicy” T-shirt was standing in the aisle, picking her nose rhythmically and staring up at the overhead bin. When Karl popped it open, he found a gigantic stuffed rabbit with a demented, crack-cocaine expression on its face and tried to hand it to her. The girl glanced at the rabbit, glanced at him, then wiped the finger that had been in her nose up to the knuckle across his duffel bag. As he stood there wondering how exactly he felt about this, the girl’s mother took the rabbit out of his hand, giving him a look like they were in her daughter’s bedroom and she’d just caught him sneaking in the window. He told himself he ought to be used to this. He was six-four, and he had the kind of face that made people think, Axe murderer.

While he waited, dehydrated and thirsty, to get off the plane, the girl’s mother turned around, and he noticed a juice box on the little girl’s meal tray. He took it. The girl watched in quiet awe as he punched the straw in and sucked until the empty box made a slurping sound.

As she started to voice the beginnings of an objection, he pointed at her. “We’re even.”

Inside the terminal, flat-screen TVs showed gorgeous newspeople standing urgently outside a Paris apartment building, where the bodies of six men had been found in a “human pile.” Travelers huddled under the screens in groups, and strangers looked at each other and shook their heads as if to say: Why does the world have to be this way?

Past security, Karl noticed a young man stop and look at him, then approach tentatively.

“Mr. Lyons?”

Karl looked him over. “They know not to send anyone.”

The young guy smiled, shy but good-natured. “Well, you know how they can be.”

On the drive over, he kept eyeing Karl but didn’t say anything until they hit the Arc de Triomphe.

“I’m Tom Blake, by the way.”

He looked like something out of a college brochure. Not like the eunuch they always put on the cover, who if he were any more intellectually stimulated would be running naked through wheat. No, he looked like the kid on the edge of the picture, who’s just been yanked out from beneath miles of thought and who stares at the camera just a little too long and a little too hard.

Karl simply nodded, and they drove the rest of the way in silence.

With its upper floors hidden by trees, the US embassy in Paris was a fortress you couldn’t quite see. Perimeter security was two tiered. The outer tier featured two-foot-thick concrete cones that could stop anything short of a large and persistent tank. The inner tier consisted of a spiked black fence with guard stations that looked like telephone booths. The outer ring kept vehicles out. The inner ring kept people out. Tom stopped at the gates to show his ID. Thick cylinders—bollard barriers—sucked into the ground, allowing them to pass.

Inside the building, Karl was struck by how busy it was—both for 10:30 at night and for Paris. There were senior men and women making phone calls in the lobby, young people in wrinkled suits getting out of the elevator, and still others trying to get in.

That was when Marty Litvak entered through the lobby. A five-foot space of no-man’s-land formed around him.

On Sale
Sep 4, 2018
Page Count
352 pages