Read Ark Online

Authors: Charles McCarry

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Espionage

Ark (6 page)

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Gradually, I got over my insomnia by running a little farther every day and adding an hour of yoga to my routine and just not thinking about extinction after the sun went down. Nevertheless, when I turned off the lights, psychosis crouched at the foot of the bed.


Henry came back and life got busier. We began running together—his idea, like nearly everything else I now did. But Henry ran six miles, or ten kilometers, every other day, always in the park. The distance around the Central Park Reservoir is 1.5 miles, or 2.4 kilometers, which meant four complete circuits—a lot. Usually we went our separate ways at the end of the run. But one day in March—patches of dirty snow underfoot, mist on the water, breath visible—we cooled off by walking to the Ramble. We found a bench and sat down.


A bird sang, and Henry pointed a finger at a small, black-headed bit of fluff that hung upside down from a naked twig.


“Black-capped chickadee,” he said. “Wonder what he’s doing here.”


The bird fluttered away.


I began to shiver. I pulled a thick sweatshirt out of my daypack and put it on. This did little good. The sweatshirt had no hood. It captured less body heat than the amount that was escaping through my scalp.


I said, “Henry, let’s go. I’m getting a chill.”


He looked me over, nodded, and got out his cell phone. By the time we walked to the gate, the car and driver were waiting. I expected to be taken home, but instead we headed west. Traffic was light. The car, which smelled brand-new with the heater on, was toasty. Gradually I dried out and warmed up. Henry asked if I was feeling better. I replied that I was fine now. This was a lie. I just didn’t want to be alone.


I asked him about the black-capped chickadee. Why had he been so interested in it? Had it been in the wrong place, far from its usual habitat, or what?


Henry said, “Why do you ask?”


“Well, magnetism has something to do with bird migrations, no? I just wondered if the patterns might be changing as a result of what’s happening to the magnetic field.”


“Interesting thought,” Henry said, “but the bird wasn’t in the wrong place. Its range includes Central Park, but just barely, so I was a little surprised to see it, that’s all.”


At West End Drive and Seventy-ninth Street, Henry asked the driver to pull over. The driver, showing no surprise, stopped the car and got out. Leaving the driver on the sidewalk, Henry drove onto the West Side Highway and we sped north on back roads along the Hudson River. He was a fast driver. Pretty soon we were in Westchester, then beyond it. It began to snow. Henry didn’t slow down one iota as he rounded curves at eighty miles an hour. Somehow I kept from gasping and waving my arms.


Around noon Henry turned into a driveway that led to a house overlooking the Hudson. It was a showplace, pillared and porticoed. The view of the river alone was worth millions. Three other cars, all made in Germany of course, were parked in the driveway.


A fiftyish man who looked like the young Vittorio De Sica— hawk-nosed, tall and trim, with a head of curly, jet-black hair— opened the door. With a brilliant smile and a glad masculine cry he embraced Henry, then extended his hand to me.


“Amerigo Vespucci,” he said, slowly and distinctly pronouncing the first name correctly:


The foyer was cavernous. The decor seemed to have been chosen by a decorator. A faux Flanders tapestry hung on the back wall. Bland white nineteenth-century statuary stood in ranks, portraits of ancestors hung on the walls. From deeper in the house, voices floated. Amerigo led us toward them. A tall, dramatically slim woman with a Garbo face flew to Henry and kissed him three times on the cheeks before pulling him into the crowd. Others greeted him so enthusiastically I thought the party might at any moment burst into applause or “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” They were a stylish crowd. No woman in the room was wearing less than ten thousand dollars’ worth of clothing and jewelry. I was still in my sweats and sneakers. Garbo noticed. Before leaving me alone in a corner, she gave me with her own hands a glass of champagne and a triangle of toast loaded with caviar. Also something that might have been a smile. She did not tell me her name or show the faintest interest in knowing mine.


Outside the windows, snow continued to fall—big fat flakes. By three o’clock it was ankle deep. The guests brushed off their Mercedeses and BMWs and drove away. Henry and Amerigo vanished. Garbo and I were left alone in the chilly foyer.


“I’m told you and Henry and my husband have things to talk about,” she said. “So I’m going to disappear.”


She did so without further ado, drifting up the double staircase and leaving behind a smile as if it were another point of toast and caviar. What was I supposed to do now? How would I find Henry and Amerigo? I was feeling worse by the minute, coughing, sneezing, burning with fever.


Amerigo appeared. He offered his arm.


“Henry awaits,” he said, then marched me through lofty rooms to the library, where Henry was indeed waiting for us, goblet of springwater in hand.


Hanging on the wall behind the desk was a large oil portrait of a man in Cinquecento costume.


“Your seafaring ancestor?” I asked.


“My father certainly thought so,” he said. “This was his place. Would you like something to drink?”


I shook my head. To make sure I meant it, he tempted me with coffee, tea, San Pellegrino water.


“Lemonade?” he said. “Hot lemonade?”


Again I declined.


Amerigo said, “Henry tells me you’re his amanuensis in this new thing of his.”


I had never before heard the word
spoken aloud. “Nothing as fancy as that,” I said. “How do you fit in?”


“I am the mission pharmacist. I own a little drug company in Milan.”


I started to speak, failed to get a word out, cleared my throat, coughed spasmodically. My earlier symptoms were getting worse. Amerigo instantly fetched a box of Kleenex and a glass of water.


“You don’t get to go on the spaceship with that cold, young lady,” he said, wagging a finger.


He then spoke at length about the many kinds of pills and serums his company, Vespucci S.p.A., made and sold.


“The Vespucci are still making discoveries,” he said. “And going on great voyages. Our crew will be well protected.”


“Maybe the better approach would be to select a crew that doesn’t get sick,” I croaked.


Henry pounced. “What do you mean by that?”


“Select people whose DNA suggests they have little or no chance of developing a fatal condition. Once in space, and effectively in permanent quarantine, you could breed a replacement population that was even healthier than the original crew. Smarter, too. As I understand it, embryos are easier to work with than adults—fewer cells, therefore simpler procedures.”


Henry and Amerigo looked appalled.


Amerigo said to Henry, “She


Knew what?


By now I was coughing uncontrollably. I excused myself. In the lavatory mirror, I looked as awful as I felt—tangled hair, swollen nose, red eyes, chapped lips, chalky skin. No wonder Garbo had quarantined me from her other guests and fled up the stairway. I was still wearing the gizmo that measured my heart rate and blood pressure when I ran. I pressed the button. Blood pressure one sixty over ninety, heart rate ninety-two. Head stuffy, stomach sour, curiosity activated.


We talked some more—aimlessly, it seemed. The snow continued to accumulate. I felt worse by the minute. The last thing I wanted to do was sleep in this house. I asked Henry to take me home. We left immediately, tires crunching. It was dark, winter-dark. Snow swirled hypnotically in the headlights. Sunday-evening traffic was heavy, as weekenders streamed back to Manhattan. My stomach grew queasier. I figured out how the front passenger seat worked and tilted it back, meaning to sleep or at least feign sleep.


At this moment, Henry decided to abandon the taciturnity that had been the most noticeable thing about him since he returned from the Hsi-tau. He began talking about the Event and the thousands of things that remained to be done to prepare for it. The discourse went on for some time—the ship, the crew, the cargo, the itinerary, the many subcategories under each of these headings, and the uncountable details attaching to each subcategory. I pretended to listen. I never wanted to meet another Garbo or another Amerigo or another engineer.


While Henry went on about our epic to-do list, I fantasized about writing him a check for the money that remained in my checking account. Very little of the five hundred thousand dollars he had deposited had been spent. Only the week before I had received a royalty check that would keep me afloat for six months, so I could afford to return Henry’s half million and call it quits and just perish with everybody else.


In the theater of my mind I wrote the check, smelled the ink, tasted the envelope flap.


~ * ~











sick cat for a week. After that, the old boyfriend who had taken me to the depressing play and the trattoria phoned and asked me out again. We arranged to meet in a restaurant in Chelsea. I went down a couple of hours early so I could wander through the galleries by myself. In one place that displayed gargantuan paintings of galaxies, I noticed a man. He was around six feet tall, Roman nose, nice jawline, curly hair, body fat close to zero. Nothing he wore was new: a suede blazer over a black knit shirt, scarf, corduroy pants, scuffed loafers. We stood side by side, looking at the same picture.


He said, “What do you think?”


“I like it. But I don’t have a place to hang it.”


The canvas was about twenty feet long and maybe twelve feet high.


He said, “I’ve got the same problem.”


He followed me to the next picture—same galaxy, bigger painting.


He said, “Would you like to grab a drink?”


I looked at my watch. I had ten minutes to get to the restaurant, which was about fifteen minutes away.


He said in a flatter voice, “You’ve got to go.”


I nodded.


He smiled with just the right amount of regret. “Nice talking to you. I hope you find a bigger place.”




“I said I hope you find a bigger apartment,” he said. “So you can buy the picture.”


At the restaurant, another trattoria, the old boyfriend was seated at a table with another couple. The woman was a pretty, bosomy blonde, a lot younger than her husband. She wore a wedding ring and a large diamond engagement ring. She told me that my date and the husband had gone to Colgate together. They played varsity lacrosse and almost won the championship in their senior year. She was from Wisconsin. There was an empty chair at the table. Was another Colgate chum on his way?


The wife confided that she was a new wife. Her husband was wonderful in every way, but his three teenage kids came to stay with them every other weekend and on alternate Wednesday nights. They made it obvious—she described exactly how they did this— that they wished she had remained in Wisconsin, or better yet, been killed in a plane crash on her way to New York. Her eyes filled with tears. I said, “There, there.” We retired to the ladies’ room.


By the time we returned to the table, the extra chair was occupied. The newcomer was the man I had met in the art gallery half an hour before. My friend introduced him to the wife, whom he greeted with grave formality, gazing into her eyes as if forbidden by some code of chivalry to look at any other part of her wondrous person. He gave no sign that he recognized me.


His name was Adam.


“Adam is a big fan of your books,” the old boyfriend said. “When he found out I knew you he gave me no peace until I said I’d introduce him.”

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