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Authors: Alice Blanchard

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Life Sentences

BOOK: Life Sentences
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Alice Blanchard
Life Sentences

"Gripping… a fast-moving shocker…
keen characterizations and fine atmospherics."

-
Pubtishers
Weekly

 

"In a word-wow
Blanchard has outdone herself with this unique and mesmerizing thriller…
An astonishing ride!… The best suspense novel of the year."

-Romantic Times
BOOKclub
Magazine "Top Pick!"

 

"A heart-tingling, heart-squeezing
mystery… filled with poignancy… eerie and deliciously scary." -JACQUELYN
MlTCHARD
, author of Twelve Times Blessed

 

"Fantastic…
Blanchard has concocted one hell of a whirlwind ride… A tension-filled thriller
that will leave readers spinning." -Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

Also by Alice
Blanchard

The
Breathtaker

Darkness Peering

The Stuntman 's
Daughter: Stories

 

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This book is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's
imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual
events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

If you purchase this book without
a cover you should be aware that this book may have been stolen property
and reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher. In
such case neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment
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Copyright © by All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic
or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval
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reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Cover design and cover art by Tom
Tafuri
Warner Books Time Warner Book Group Avenue
of the Americas

New York, NY

Visit our Web site at www.twbookmark.com

Printed in the United States of
America

Originally published in hardcover
by Warner Books First Paperback Printing: April

Once again, for Doug

Remember me when I am gone
away, Gone far away into the silent land.

Christina Rossetti

THE GHOST IN THE HALLWAY
1.

Daisy Hubbard headed down the hallway
past the equipment room with its centrifuges and spectrophotometers
and listened to the light, fast click of her own heels. The echoing stillness
inside
Berhoffer
Medical School late at night
was unlike any other stillness in the world. Over a Century old, the
Wessels
building was an enormous creaking labyrinth
of twisting corridors and submarine sounds-hissing radiators, gurgling
water pipes, the constant hum of machinery. This was Professor Marlon
Truett's
lab, the top
neurogenetics
department in the country, and Daisy was one of its rising stars. She had
worked her entire life to get here. Bund ambition had fueled her. She
wasn't afraid to admit it, her career came before everything else-a
husband and children, family obligations, her crazy sister.

Daisy could hear dissonant sounds
coming from somewhere inside the lab and paused for a moment to listen.
The cleaning crew had come and gone. According to the sign-in sheet, she
was supposed to be alone in the lab tonight. She glanced at her watch.
Half past mid-night. Her best friend, Fiona Wu, was convinced that the lab
was haunted, but Daisy didn't believe in ghosts. She wasn't a superstitious
person. Now she moved a little further down the hallway, where she could
hear it distinctly-a tinkling, musical sound. "Sugar, Sugar"
by the
Archies
. What a relief. Somebody had
left the radio on in the X-ray room, that was all. No ghosts.

Her hands trembled slightly as she
dug around in her pockets for her keys. She unlocked the door to the Mouse
Facility, switched on the lights and was hit by a familiar mixture of
animal and chemical odors. The Mouse Facility was composed of two rooms-a
larger "outer" room containing a chemotherapeutic Workstation,
an operating table and a refrigerator for specimens, and a smaller
"inner" room which housed the mice. Professor
Truett's
lab of forty graduate students,
postdocs
and technical assistants worked as a team,
their mission to isolate the specific genes that caused certain rare
inherited brain disorders, some of the rarest in the world.
Truett's
shining achievement stood right in front of
her now, the old DNA model on its rickety metal stand, a four-foot plastic
double helix resembling a spiral stair-case. He'd won a Nobel Prize
for his work, and just looking at the model strengthened Daisy's resolve
to work harder, to push beyond the boundaries and unlock the secrets of
these fatal diseases.

High above the model on a dusty
shelf were a dozen empty Champagne bottles, the celebratory Symbols of
past accomplishments. Truett had a special bottle waiting just for
her, a rare vintage:
Cuve
Williams
Duetz
. He believed in Daisy. He had the utmost faith
in her, and she didn't want to disappoint him. She wanted to be the first
person in the world to cure a neurodegenerative disorder using gene
replacement therapy.

Pocketing her keys, she went over to
the aluminum sink and started to wash up, then thought she heard a scratching
sound. She turned the water off and stood listening for a moment. All
she could hear was the radio in the distance. Shrugging it off, she grabbed
a paper towel and wiped her hands. Taped to the wall above the sink was a
list of screw-ups that had occurred in the lab so far this year, and Daisy
was relieved to see that her name wasn't on it. Fiona had dropped the
agarose
gel; Archie had forgotten to switch on the
hot lid for the PCR cycler; Carlson had tried to filter water through the
"hydrophobic" filters, talk about humiliating. To the sides
of the
screwup
sheet were colorful signs that
served as unnecessary reminders: HUMANE is THE WAY WE TREAT OUR VALUABLE
GUESTS! and MICE SAVE LIVES! Of course Daisy treated her mice humanely.
She loved her mice and gave them the kind of overweening attention that
had made her the butt of Carlson's jokes. Daisy and her precious little
babies… She
wuvs
her
meeses
to pieces…

There was a loud noise down the
hall now-a thump or a bump-and she spun around and peered into the darkness
beyond the door's Single pane of smoky glass. Scientists weren't supposed
to be afraid of the unknown, were they? She stood poised on the brink of
panic, goose bumps breaking out on her arms.

"Daisy, Daisy… give me your
answer do…"

Her body began to relax. "Truett?"

 

"I'm
halfcrazy
."

She ventured out into the hallway,
where she could hear Professor Marlon
Truett's
mellifluous voice echoing throughout the corridor. She stepped into
the X-ray room and turned off the radio, then checked the tissue culture
room. "Truett?" She followed the sound of his voice all the way
back to her workbench with its moody printer and terminally ill fax machine,
black electrical cords slithering across the floor into multiple sockets.
Three benches occupied this side of the lab, along with a shared sink.
Daisy's Workstation was wedged in between a large
uninsulated
window overlooking the parking lot and a broken autoclave. Truett stood
in his rumpled gray suit and colorless tie in front of the autoclave,
trying to lift it off its rusty platform. He was obviously drunk, just back
from a scientific Conference in New Mexico, and her heart fluttered
delicately at the sight of him.

"What do you think you're doing?"
she asked in a gently chiding tone.

"Oh, there you are." He
dropped the autoclave back on its base and spun around with the grace of
an aging Baryshnikov. "Why do we keep all this broken equipment
around, Daisy? Seriously, what's the point?"

She listened with a vexed expression.
Truett and his moods. There was a low hum in the air that never went away,
and the night pressed black and starless against the windowpanes. From
her second-story window, she could see down into the Boston cityscape
below, where the streetlamps cast icy streaks of light across the patchwork
asphalt. Earlier in the day, she'd discovered the
stitchlike
footprints of a mouse in a frail arc of snow on her windowsill. Field
mice were distant kin to the genetically pure mice they bred inside
the lab. "So how was the Conference?" she asked him.

"Oh, terrific. Have you ever
spent seventy-two hours with a bunch of mental midgets?" He waved
his hand in disgust. "They keep asking the same old boring questions,
Daisy. Everybody wants to talk about cloning, for God's sake. Nobody
wants to discuss what's never been discussed before." In his
mid-fifties, Marlon Truett had the silver hair and trademark glower of
an academic legend. Whenever he walked into a room, there was no doubt
in his mind who God was. He'd never been hand-some in the classical sense,
but now he was very distinguished-looking. He possessed both a monster
ego and the kind of power that could be incredibly seductive. Truett
could raise his students up to great intellectual heights, or else
crush their hopes with a few carefully chosen words. He could ruin careers,
but if you stood right next to him, some of the limelight might rub off on
you.

"It was so damn hot down there,"
he complained, great furrows opening on his tall forehead. He moved a
little too close, his powerful ego looming before her like a boulder
about to tip over. "The air-conditioning wasn't working, we were all
swimming in our own sweat, and Munson's giving one of his laborious speeches
on Science and God… when all of a sudden, there's this raging debate going
on about genetics and morality. And I'm the bad guy, because I want to
cure the world's most incurable diseases. I'm being vilified in my
own time, Daisy."

"I doubt that very much,"
she said.

He snatched her hand and focused
sharply on her face. "God, you're drunk, Daisy." He giggled.
"Shame on you."

Very gently, she reclaimed her
hand. "Somebody needs a cup of coffee."

"
Shh
,
keep your voice down! Mice are sleeping." "C'mon," she said
with her best schoolmistress air. TD make us a fresh pot and you can tell
me all about it." "Forget the damn coffee. Give me a kiss."
She held his gaze for a moment, then pretended this exchange hadn't happened.
"Follow me, Professor." “I’d follow you to the ends of the
earth."

"There are no ends of the
earth." She did her best to keep two paces ahead of him. Truett was
married to an-other professor at the university, but it was an open secret
that he cheated on his wife. Last year one of the department secretaries
passed around a confidential letter from a woman whom the esteemed
professor had met during one of his many scientific Conferences. The
woman had written, "I know I promised never to contact you, but I
just had to let you know that last night will be with me forever. Your ideas
are endlessly fascinating, and if we ever meet again…"

It was a startling revelation,
but then again, nothing Truett did shocked people anymore. He had the
attitude of an adolescent boy, the body of an aging College athlete,
an intimidating intellect and a southern drawl so deceptively
down-home his competitors had a tendency to underestimate him. The
odd thing was, Daisy couldn't hate him for his infidelity. She understood
that this was no ordinary mortal. Truett was bigger than life and could
get away with these things. She wondered if his wife felt the same way.

 

Now he followed her obediently
into the lunchroom, where she switched on the fluorescent lights. Recoiling
in mock horror, he said, "Oh God, let's get out of here before I lose
the will to live." The harsh light illuminated every dingy corner,
every aging appliance.

"Take a seat," she said.

He swayed in the doorway.
"Some drunk I am."

"Should I call your wife?"

He winced. "No, don't do
that."

TD make us a fresh pot."

"Don't do that, either."

She walked over to the calcified
coffee machine and dug around in the cupboards for the filters while he
took a cautious step inside.

"Daisy?"

She looked up.

"Fm afraid I've got bad
news." He sounded serious. "We have to abandon the Dahlberg
trials."

"What?" She dropped the
filters on the floor.

"Turns out a private Company
already owns the patent."

Stupefied, she bent to pick up the
filters.

"What's happened to the scientific
Community?" he said with a dramatic groan. "We used to be so generous
with our research. We used to share our
Undings
, Daisy,
but not anymore. I remember the days when science was a calling, an actual
calling. Now you can't ask for start-up funds without Consulting the patent
lawyers first."

"We still have
Stier-Zellar's
and
Rostislav
,
don't we?"

He nodded. "Thank God."

She pulled out a chair for him.
"Sit, Truett."

He sat down and cradled his chin in
his hands, then watched her with solemn curiosity. "Do you know what
I like the most about you, Daisy?" He paused before answering his
own question. "You have no life."

She felt an angry flush crawl up her
neck. "That's a rotten thing to say."

"Relax. It's what I like about
you."

She poured them both a cup of coffee,
then sat down next to him. The first time they ever met, five years ago, his
angry eyes and wild gray hair had terrified her. Now he moved her in a deep,
inexplicable way. He'd received a genius grant at the age of twenty-seven
and, as the father of rare orphan brain disorders, was the medical
school's most prominent prima donna. Daisy treated his words with the utmost
respect. Still, she didn't like being alone in the lab with him late at
night. He was complicated and demanding, and she wasn't sure where their
working relationship ended and their personal relation-ship began.

"You haven't asked me about
my trip yet," he said petulantly.

"I thought I did."

"Ah, but you didn't."

"So, Truett." She played
along. "How was your trip?"

"Dismal. Met a colleague on
the plane. Claude
Bagget
." He wrinkled his
nose. "The thief."

"What did Claude do now?"

"Published that article on viral
vector Systems. Beat me to it, the bastard." He rolled his eyes.
"He's got spies everywhere, you know."

Daisy laughed. "I doubt that
very much, Truett."

"Oh, you do, do you?" He
wagged a finger at her. "Oh, to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged
colleagues… I'm just a poor South Carolina farm boy, you know. A simple
man at heart."

"Simple," she repeated
with a skeptical nod. "Right."

"You don't believe me?"

"I've never met anyone more
complicated."

He scowled down at his cooling cup
of coffee, then reached into his jacket pocket and produced a silver
flask. He took several swallows before offering her a taste.
"Want some?"

"What is it?"

"Arsenic. Bottoms up."

"Since when do you carry around
a flask?"

"I was born with a silver
flask in my mouth." He shook it in her face. "Come on. Be a
man."

BOOK: Life Sentences
2.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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