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Live to the Network

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Series: Ethan Benson Thrillers #3
Release Date: November 5, 2019

  

Synopsis

Spinning toward a devastating confrontation with Peter Sampson, the mercurial anchorman of The Weekly Reporter, Ethan Benson stumbles upon a story about the tabloid murders of three runaway girls that have dominated the headlines in New York City. At first, the assignment appears to be just another lurid crime story that Ethan has no interest in pursuing, but as he launches his investigation—digging up the police reports, securing the court records, meeting with confidential sources, and staking out some of the most crime infested neighborhoods in the city, he discovers that the murders are just the tip of the iceberg, that the dead girls represent the last chapter in the despicable world of human sex trafficking, where women are degraded in the most inhumane of ways.

Peppered with car chases, gun battles, and a sadistic hit man, Ethan takes the reader on a wild ride of payoffs, corruption, and deceit as he discovers a devious link between an assistant district attorney and the head of the Chinese Tong in lower Manhattan, whose clandestine alliance compromises a law enforcement task force investigating the crimes. A thriller in the classic sense of the term, Live to the Network—like all the other Ethan Benson murder mysteries—takes the reader into the mysterious world of television news with all the infighting and backstabbing endemic to the real world of broadcasting. An unforgettable character, our hero is an award-winning producer, a husband, a father, and a raging alcoholic whose marriage is falling apart as his drinking spirals out of control.

And as Ethan is driven by his inner demons to discover the truth, he relentlessly uses his skills as a reporter and works alongside his production team of researchers, associate producers, cameramen, editors, and a private detective to hunt down the bad guys and uncover the truth. The novel is a heart pounding murder mystery with anger and violence, surprise and suspense, and a cast of unforgettable characters set in a milieu rarely explored in other works of fiction.


Praise

"Live To The Network is a first-class edition to the addictive Ethan Benson series. This story of kidnapping, murder, and modern-day slavery grips you from the first page and doesn't let go. Unflinching, meticulously plotted, and fast-paced, this novel is a thrilling view into both a frightening underworld and into the world of media and journalism. Riveting!"
– Stephanie Powell Watts, Novelist and Associate Professor of Creative Writing, Lehigh University

"Live To The Network is a disturbing portrayal of the child sex industry in New York City. Jeffrey L. Diamond, drawing on his many years as an award-winning journalist and producer, depicts with unsparing accuracy the realities facing an investigative reporter who, defying his network bosses, commits himself to helping save the young and innocent victims abducted into a brutal world by a mysterious international conspiracy that seeks his execution. Diamond's story will leave you wondering how society can ignore an issue that is one of the most troubling of our times."
Robert Brown, Novelist and former Correspondent, ABC News 20/20

"Author Jeffrey L. Diamond once again creates a plot twisting thriller for his crime fighting character, Ethan Benson—who faces his own personal struggles with marriage, fatherhood, and a bottle—to solve unspeakable murders in New York City. Benson's skills as a seasoned news producer make him a tedious investigator for the fictional television newsmagazine, The Weekly Reporter, enabling him to plod through the details to slowly reveal the mystery of the deaths all while balancing his own challenging life."
Patrick Berry, former Owner, Westfield News Group

"Harsh, thrilling, and heart pounding, Live To The Network is an addictive, dark mystery with compelling storytelling and a pace that will leave you breathless. Ethan Benson, a TV producer at The Weekly Reporter, assists the police force by taking on a forgotten case of gut wrenching, seemingly related murders of several young girls to generate more public attention. He devotes himself to shedding light on the monstrous offenses, and in turn becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Danger increases as each new clue he discovers gets him closer to solving the murders, and at the same time he is battling his own demons, causing his personal life to fall apart. For fans of Law and Order SUV and Silence of the Lambs, this is the perfect combination of heinous crimes, sly detective work, and a difficult personal journey."
Jennifer Gans Blankfein, Blogger at Book Nation by Jen

"Jeffrey L. Diamond's insider knowledge of broadcast TV news reporting animates this thriller. His unlikely hero, the alcoholic, egotistical, but brilliant Ethan Benson shows the rough talking New York City cops how it's done, as he takes down an international pedophilia ring. Diamond's familiarity with the seamier locations of the gritty city, and his ability to bring the reader inside the frantic world of TV news, makes this a gripping novel. The crime writing is particularly vivid."
Mark Newhouse, Advance Publications

"Live To The Network is one of the most tautly written, deeply suspenseful, and heart-wrenching books I have read in many years. Jeffrey L. Diamond deftly weaves together the dark and complex world of international trafficking of children and the sinister world of a ruthless and demonic mob, playing a chilling game of cat and mouse with law enforcement, and a tortured but compassionate young investigative reporter for a major TV network. Jeff's years as a brilliant investigative reporter serve him well here, as this book is achingly detailed, portraying all sides with unstinting accuracy, and his own deep empathy. It is the best and worst of humanity laid out so strongly, it is truly unforgettable."
Karen Burnes, former Correspondent, ABC News and CBS News

 


Excerpt

PROLOGUE

Pedro Juan Ignacio Rodriquez sat alone in the corner of an outdoor cafe drinking a yerba mate through a metal straw in a ceremonial red calabash gourd. The traditional Argentinean drink, infused with a layer of dried yerba leaves floating aimlessly on the surface, was bitter to the taste but loaded with caffeine that raced through every pore of his body. He took a final sip, wiped his mouth on a napkin, then leaned back comfortably in a worn wicker chair, tipping it against the outer stone wall of the cafe, the rickety legs creaking under his immense weight. The veranda was packed with tourists and wealthy, young socialites—some alone, some in small groups of twos and threes, some working the room, trying to hook up in the moonlight on this late summer evening. Rodriquez smiled, a big propitious smile, then reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the picture of the young girl. She was exotically beautiful with silky long black hair and fine, delicate features. Her sparkling hazel eyes radiated in the glow of an overhead streetlamp, her skin the soft brown color of a chestnut, her perfectly shaped teeth as white as virgin snow. He stared at the picture, sighed deeply, and carefully tucked it back into his coat pocket. Then he looked around the bar and waved for the waiter.

"Por favor, a little service, my son."

"Can I get you another mate, Padre?" the waiter said, shifting from one foot to the next. "Maybe something stronger, perhaps an aperitif? A glass of port? A brandy? Something to warm your heart before you head to the basilica? What is your pleasure, Padre?"

Rodriquez sat quietly, his face impassive, then said in a flat, stony voice, "Just my bill, por favor. It's late, and God is calling. I must go."

"Si. Si, Padre." The waiter carefully backed away from the table, head bowed in holy supplication, and slipped inside the crowded cafe.

Pedro Juan Ignacio Rodriquez was an imposing figure, one of the most powerful and well-respected clergymen in the Roman Catholic Church. A reverend deacon of the Basilica de Salta—the seat of the archdiocese in northwest Argentina—he was an enormous man, standing six feet five and weighing close to four hundred pounds with a corpulent belly, long brown hair that fell in ringlets to his shoulders, a heavy, unkempt beard, bushy eyebrows, and piercing black eyes. He was wearing the customary dress of an ordained minister—a simple gray shirt, white collar, and a lightweight blue jacket and trousers. Hanging from his neck was a large, gold crucifix bedecked in rubies and sapphires and diamonds that he brought to his lips and kissed as he waited for his check.

Rodriquez peered at his watch.

Eleven thirty.

A half hour to his meeting.

Impatient, he dropped a hundred peso note on the table, more than enough to cover his bill, and heaved his massive bulk out of the chair, before lumbering around the tightly packed tables and into the street. Salsa music wafted out of the dozen or so cafes that lined the perimeter of the Plaza 9 de Julio and through the crowds of people milling about the town square. The plaza was one of the most beautiful in all of Argentina with rows of evergreen beeches, royal palms, and stately eucalyptus trees framing a series of lush flowerbeds of yellow daisies, white lilies, and pink carnations. Sitting in the center of the plaza was a majestic statue rising twenty feet off the ground of General Juan Antonio Alvarez de Arenales, a nineteenth century freedom fighter who waged a bloody revolution that freed the native population from Spanish rule.

Rodriquez smirked at the irony.

Anticipating the task he was about to perform.

He picked up his pace, breathing heavily as he passed a half-dozen ornate granite buildings, leftover from colonial times that gave the Plaza 9 de Julio the feel of an old European city. He crisscrossed the plaza, around crowds of boisterous revelers sitting on park benches, and approached the basilica standing like a monolith on the western edge of the plaza. It was an imposing pink and yellow structure, built in a neo-baroque style, with a row of forty foot pillars and a soaring hand-carved wooden door set back beneath a large stone portico. He stopped and gazed at the two marble bell towers flanking the front of this architectural wonder then checked his watch.

Eleven forty-five.

He didn't want to be late.

Picking up his pace, he began climbing the stone steps, one at a time, his eyes never leaving the basilica—his basilica, his home, his holy house of worship. An old woman dressed in rags knelt down and bowed her head. "Padre, how are you on this blessed evening." She made the sign of the cross. "Please, holy one, say a blessing for my sweet esposo who's ravaged by cancer and confined to bed. He is dying and soon will leave this poor soul and our five small children all alone to beg for crumbs of food on the streets. Please, Padre, give absolution to my esposo before he is taken from me by our Holy Father in heaven."

"The Lord will take him into his arms, my child," he said, kissing his crucifix and placing it on her forehead.

"Go to your esposo. Comfort him. Help him pass through the gates of heaven to our savior, Jesus Christ."

"Bless you, Padre, bless you," the old woman said, tears welling in her eyes.

Rodriquez brought the crucifix to his lips again and continued up the steps, stopping over and over to comfort one destitute person after another—their eyes downcast, seeking guidance, asking for absolution. He smiled as he ministered, bringing solace to all those who needed salvation, to hear the Word of God.
As he reached the stone portico, the church bells began ringing, thundering across the plaza, announcing the Lord's day and reminding him that in just eight short hours he'd be assisting the archbishop in Sunday Mass.

Lots to do.

Not much time.

He better hurry.

Kneeling, he made the sign of the cross one last time, bowed his head in prayer, then pulled a large iron key from his pants pocket, opened the massive wooden door, and pushed into the cathedral.

There was silence.

Dead silence.

Not a sound except the creaking of the wooden door as it closed behind him.

Making his way down the center aisle of the nave, he stared up at the stained glass windows dating back almost three hundred years, depicting scenes from the new testament—Mary holding baby Jesus, the last supper, the ascension to heaven—all lit by a series of spotlights positioned to maximize their beauty and power. There were dozens of red and gold columns soaring fifty feet from floor to ceiling, flanking a magnificent hand-painted, gold leaf dome that loomed over Renaissance masterpieces of the apostles, each positioned in the center of an arched cornice. Rodriquez stared at the priceless paintings, his eyes moving from one to the next, his heart filling with the love of Jesus as he made his way past a statue of the Virgin Mary and kneeled at the base of a ten foot crucifix, where he cupped his hands and prayed. "Our Father, who art in heaven, please forgive me because I have sinned, and because I'm about to sin, once again, in the holiest of all thy places."

He closed his eyes.

Crossed himself.

And hoisted his four hundred pounds off the floor, scanning the room until his eyes locked onto a small figure sitting quietly in a pew near the edge of the sanctuary steps.

"Padre, I no understand why you keep up foolish charade," the man said in broken English with a heavy Spanish accent. "You pretend to be holy. A man close to God. Si? But you really just el criminal. No different from me. Know better than satanas."

Rodriquez's face reddened, and his body began to shake uncontrollably. "Shut up, Carlos. You have no right to judge me," he said angrily. "You work for me, remember? You do what I say." He wrung his hands in anticipation. "So where's the girl?"

"You know where she is, Padre," he said smirkingly. "Where I take all your girls."

"Is she ready?"

"Si, Padre. I punish her. Scare her real good, like you always say. No food. No water. No clean clothes. I play with her un poquito. Give her beating. But not face. Just body. She not broke, and with time, she be good as new as promised." He smiled lecherously and licked his lips. "She no problem to you, Padre. Carlos, make sure to crush her spirit on long trip from country."

"Does she speak English?"

"Speak good like you ask. Smart girl. Go to best school in village." His face suddenly hardened. "Where my money, Padre?"

The deacon stared at him silently, wondering if Carlos was telling him the truth, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of pesos. A thousand American dollars worth of pesos. He shuffled his bulk over to the small man, sweat pouring down the folds of fat under his chin, and handed him the money. "Now take it and go, out the back door, and make sure nobody sees you."

"Nobody ever see Carlos. I careful, like you say. Move as silent as feather blowing in the wind." Then he pocketed the money and disappeared through a small door hidden behind the alter.

Rodriquez breathed heavily, sucking air in and out, then glanced at the crucifix of Jesus Christ and slipped into the sacristy—a small gold-leaf room tucked next to the statue of the Virgin Mary. He stopped before an old, mahogany cabinet painted with images of angels fighting demons escaping from the gates of hell and searched until he found his vestments—a red silk robe with a gold cross embossed on the front—which he carefully slipped over his clerical clothes. Genuflecting, he kneeled before another statue of Christ, and said solemnly, his eyes lifted toward heaven, "Please, Holy Father, grace me with your presence, because I need your love and guidance and forbearance." Then he reached for a silver paten and chalice, both covered with precious stones, opened a secret door behind a second elaborately painted wooden cabinet containing other priceless religious artifacts, and entered a different world.

Grabbing a torch propped on the floor, he lit the tightly rolled hemp dipped in wax with a large wooden match then slinked through a stone passageway, down a dank staircase, across another musty passageway, before stopping at an iron door dating back to the mid-seventeenth century when the basilica was first built.

He paused momentarily.

Checked to make sure he was alone.

And quickly unlocked the door with another key.

Then he pushed into an old dungeon. It was stale and musty, smelling of urine and feces and dead rodents. Water seeped from cracks in the ceiling and cobwebs hung from overhead crossbeams. Along the far wall were a series of cells straight from the dark ages with heavy, iron bars, rusted chains, and medieval weapons of torture—cattle prods, racks, iron maidens, and thumb screws. All the cells were empty except for one. Rodriquez straightened his vestments and carefully picked his way around the garbage and down to the cell, inserted a key into an ancient lock, and peered around the dark room, waving the torch from one end to the next.

Asleep on the floor, chained to the wall, was a child covered in filth. He fumbled for the photo in his coat pocket and stared at the image. It was definitely her. No doubt about it. Carlos had snatched the right girl just as instructed. After placing the photo back in his pocket, he peered at the tiny figure. She was mostly naked, her arms and legs covered in welts and abrasions, her face caked in dirt and flecked with streams of dried tears. But she was still exquisite, angelic, even more beautiful than the photo. He rolled his tongue longingly over his lips then said in a soft, kind voice, "Wake up Maria, my child, the Lord is calling you."

The girl's eyes fluttered then opened wide, her body rigid as a statue as she climbed to her feet, covering her nakedness with her hands. "Padre, I'm really, really scared. Help me," she said, sobbing uncontrollably. "That man, he stole me from my family. Did terrible things to me. He beat me. Raped me over and over, oh, so many times." She wiped away a tear and started tugging her chains. "Please, Padre, unlock me. I wanna go home to my mama and papa."

"Hush, my child," he said gently. "You're in the house of God, and before we talk about what he plans to do with you, you must take Holy Communion and ask our Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness."

"But I need to get out of here right now, before that man comes back. Please, Padre, help me. I'm begging you," she said, wailing, more tears dripping in tiny streams down her cheeks.

"In due time, my child, in due time," Rodriquez said, his huge body looming over her. Then he reached into the pocket of his robes, pulled out the silver paten and chalice, and placed them on an old wooden table in the center of the cell, before filling the goblet with dirty water and dropping a crumb of bread on the plate.

"Stop crying, Maria, my beautiful girl," he said, his eyes ablaze, his mouth watering, his countenance threatening. "It's time to drink the blood and consume the flesh of our Holy Father. It's time to be one with Jesus."

Then he advanced on her like an erupting volcano, his lips quivering, his face contorting in a mask of evil. She recoiled in terror and scooted into the corner—dragging her chains, forgetting her nakedness, her screams echoing down the empty corridors.

He punched her.

A massive blow.

And her eyes rolled into the back of her head.

Before he mounted her.