Authors: David Dun
Tags: #Thrillers, #Medical, #Suspense, #Aircraft Accidents, #Fiction
A GENETIC EXPERIMENT GOES HORRIBLY WRONG...
During a savage snowstorm, a private jet slams into the rugged California high country. In its wake lies a litter of twisted fuselage, mangled corpses...and enough infectious toxins to wipe out most of humanity.
Two people—an expert mountaineer and a female FBI agent—find the wreckage and its hazardous contents. Now, they're the target of a dangerous enemy that will kill to keep a conspiracy concealed.
As the blizzard rages and a madman threatens genocide, trained assassins chase the pair deep into the frigid wilderness, where basic instincts take over...and where the only law is the law of survival.
"Dun's readers will delight in well-executed plot twists that draw you into the action with seamless ease. Escapist fiction of the first order."
"Well written, full of suspense..."
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
PINNACLE BOOKS are published by
Kensington Publishing Corp. 850 Third Avenue New York, NY 10022
Copyright © 2001 by David H. Dun
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the Publisher and neither the Author nor the Publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."
All Kensington Titles, Imprints, and Distributed Lines are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotions, premiums, fund-raising, educational or institutional use. Special book excerpts or customized printings can also be created to fit specific needs. For details, write or phone the office of the Kensington special sales manager: Kensington Publishing Corp., 850 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022, attn: Special Sales Department, Phone: 1-800-221-2647.
Pinnacle and the P logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.
First Printing: April 2001
Printed in the United States of America
Professional acknowledgments: To Ed Stackler, my friend, editor, and inspiration meister; to Anthony Gardner, my agent, for being a great advocate; to all the creative people at Kensington Books, Laurie Parkin for making it all happen, and Ann LaFarge for her editing and thoughtful editorial assistance throughout the process; to Michaela Hamilton for her creative editorial comments; to Dr. Michael Kinsella, PhD, of the University of Washington in Seattle, for understandable genetics; to Donna Zenor for her thoughtful comments and for slogging through a veritable blizzard of alternative drafts; to Ruth Johnson for her extensive research efforts; to Ed Murphy, Registered Professional Forester, for sharing his wealth of knowledge about forests; and to Eric Wilinski for assisting me with the basics of fiction writing.
Personal acknowledgments: To all of my friends, family and coworkers from whom I have received a large measure of encouragement and inspiration, some who helped with a few words, some who devoted themselves to many hours—even days—of thought and very helpful editorial commentary. I thank you all for your generosity and hard work.
There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distill it out.
Act IV, Scene 4
Calamities, like buzzard birds, arrive in flocks.
ier Wintripp killed the motor and let the wilderness quiet settle over him. Outside the warmth of the truck, in the gray November dawn, the mountains were dressing themselves for winter, the storm smoothing their wrinkles with the white velvet of snow. Kier knew the mountains well, knew what grew in each microclimate, when it bloomed, what you might eat, and what you would not, the resident birds and migratory visitors, the mammals, the invertebrates, the tracks of all, the habits of each, and their place in the order of things. As winter swept the mountains, sap drew back into the ground, growing things began a silent renewal, and wildlife went from fat to slim in sleep or struggle as the forest awaited the plenty of spring.
The wind-driven snow covered his windshield quickly, obscuring the white stucco medical clinic that might have been snatched from a suburb of San Francisco and set on this low-lying shoulder of Wintoon Mountain. Behind it, the wildness of the mountain's rocky pitches and forested slopes contrasted sharply with the manicured grounds around the building.
Kier was late, and he would have preferred to avoid setting foot in the Mountain Shadows facility altogether. Although he supposed it was becoming more commonplace all the time, surrogate birthing in exchange for a fee bothered him. That Tilok women were doing it regularly troubled him even more. Still, he knew his family needed him, so he stepped out of his pickup and started down the breezeway that led into the sprawling complex where his niece, Winona, was about to give birth. As Kier understood the arrangement Winona supplied only the womb.
A gravely injured old rottweiler, hit by a tractor, had made Kier late. He was able to save the animal, but at some cost to the quality of its life. Using the latest surgical techniques and stainless-steel fastenings to hold the bones in place, Kier had closed the many wounds with more dissolvable sutures than he cared to count. He had left the grateful owner, given his hands a quick scrub, and driven to the Mountain Shadows clinic as fast as conditions permitted.
The clinic was in fact a small hospital, a surgicenter and a walk-in primary care facility all rolled into one. It was touted as a charitable effort, serving three Native American tribes and the nearby community of Johnson City. It was an exceptional clinic given that there weren't 20,000 people in the whole county, and Johnson City didn't swell to a population of 3,000 except in the summer.
To either side of the entryway, a trickling stream splashed over stones meant to look river smoothed. The stone was artificial, the water pumped and chemically sterilized. A large ceramic bullfrog adorned the edge of a tiny pond. Just through the main entrance was a spacious lobby with a receptionist's desk flanked by cubbyhole offices used for filling out forms and admitting patients.
Kier walked through the lobby with a barely perceptible nod, as if he knew where he was going. Two male physicians in green scrubs turned out of another corridor and walked in front of him for a hundred feet or so. They were apparently arguing over a golf score.
The place had almost no scent, which Kier found disorienting. To the ultrasensitive nose, hospitals usually had the occasional pungent sting of alcohol, the ammoniac aroma of industrial-grade disinfectants, the genuine-article piss smell from all the urine-filled plastic bags, and the lemon-peppermint odors of chemical deodorizers used to mask the first three. Powerful electrical filters, such as those in Mountain Shadows, tended to leave only the faint scent—like that of a hot router in cherry wood. A good whiff of a dirty diaper would have been refreshing to Kier.
Without much effort, he found the maternity nurse's station. Shuffling papers and moving charts, the busy charge nurse barely noticed him at first. She wore a dark green sweater over whites, the various layers of polyester stretched tight across a belly that had seen its own births, and had been hostage to long stints of a sedentary life.
After a moment, she did a quick double take. Kier knew what she saw, and he could read in her face what she thought. With his dark eyes and jet-black hair braided down his back, Kier had the general mien of the Tilok people. The rest of him looked more European, the nose narrower and the face less round. The nurse's glance went to the turquoise stones, silver, and feathers that adorned his braided hair and cowboy hat. Cowboy boots pushed the jeans-clad man to over six feet, four inches.
"Say, you're Kier Wintripp, aren't you? The veterinary doctor?"
"Winona told us to look for you. Room Six down there. She just got back from recovery. She gave birth by cesarean just over an hour ago."
"I didn't expect it would be that fast," Kier said.
''The baby was breech and had the umbilicus wrapped around its neck. Couldn't be helped." She pointed down the corridor to the right. "They rushed her straight to surgery."
Kier followed where she had pointed. The floors were gleaming, the walls without a mark and tastefully adorned with watercolor wilderness scenes. In the hallway, Kier passed a defibrillator and brand-new stainless-steel medicine carts.
Before he entered Winona's room, he heard the commotion.
''I want to see the baby just once." It was Winona, sounding stressed.
"It's awful, just awful." His sister's voice.
As he came through the door, Kier's mother sounded only slightly calmer. "Honey, we've asked them."
His mother smiled at him, and for just a second, the exhaustion departed her body. She looked back at Winona, whose dark hair hung down around a face taut with anguish.
"What's wrong?" Kier asked.
"They won't let me even look at the baby. Not even for a second."
Kier pondered for a moment. "I'll ask them to let you see the baby," he said. "But just for a couple of minutes. Then we have to let the baby go. He's not one of us."
"I want to see him." She grasped his hands.
"We'll try," he said, seeking to comfort her. "When they bring you this baby I want you to tell yourself something, and I have to hear the words out loud."
"I want you to say: 'He's beautiful, but he belongs to someone else.' "
"I want you to swear I'll hear those words."
"I said okay. Can you stay with us?"
Kier nodded. "But I have to leave sooner than I'd like. The Donahues have an Arab mare that's due to foal. Jack's out of town, and with Claudie ill, and the storm coming in, she needs me there."
"But you'll get the baby?"
He nodded again.
Kier knew Winona needed closure following this bizarre process. He wasn't sure it would help, but after inducing a young woman to carry a baby for money the clinic could bend a little. Now, with the cesarean, Winona might never have a normal delivery. Anger flared inside him as he approached the nurse's station.
"I am sorry to trouble you. I am here to discuss my niece's request to see the baby for a minute," he said to the charge nurse.
"Your niece didn't say a minute, but the answer's the same. It's against policy." She whispered, "And you don't really want to do this to her."
"It'll only be for a few minutes."
"I'm sorry, I'd really like to help you, but it's against the rules."
"Sometimes it's better to break the rules. This might be one of those occasions."
"I know who you are and how much influence you have with the local community and the Tilok tribe, but we don't break the rules for anyone, Dr. Wintripp."
"I understand. Perhaps I could speak with the person in charge of this hospital?''
"That's the administrator, Mr. Hanson."
"I would like to see him."
"He's with a very important visitor."
"Who is that?"
"The president of the company that owns the clinic. Mr. Tillman."
"I would still like to see him."
"I'll see if the head nurse can make an appointment with the administrator some time this week."
Kier looked in the woman's eyes. "It would be a great kindness if you could tell me how to find him now so that I could work out my niece's problem."
At that moment a nurse with a clipboard hurried toward them from the surgical wing, whispering, "They're coming, they're coming."
Kier looked back at the charge nurse, who glanced nervously to the side, not meeting his gaze. The four staffers around them looked bewildered, as if they were contemplating hiding in the closet.
A small swarm of people and a flashbulb-popping photographer appeared. They surrounded a tall, physically powerful man whose narrow waist and bulky upper body were ill-concealed by his L.L. Bean outdoor wear. Kier assumed this man to be Mr. Tillman. He didn't look the doughboy executive that Kier had imagined. The man's presence, his leathery face, black wavy hair, and hooked nose, the primitive intensity of his gaze, looked anything but soft and corporate.
Kier stepped into the group's path, his sheer size slowing them to a near stop.
A short, balding man with black glasses stepped forward. "I'm Mr. Hanson. The clinic administrator. Can I help you?"
Kier appraised Hanson and the rest of the entourage, noting that Tillman watched him with interest. If Kier had to guess, he would have said that Tillman knew who he was. He addressed Mr. Hanson directly. "I'm Kier Wintripp. My niece is a surrogate mother. She just delivered. We believe it would help her to show her the baby for five minutes, then we'll give the child back."
"We can't let surrogate mothers start telling us how long they want the baby," Hanson said. "It's not their baby. They only carry it."
"A deviation from that policy might be a good thing in this case. I believe it would help my niece, and it would solve some potential problems for all of us."
"I'm sorry. We don't deviate," Hanson said. "Excuse me," Tillman interrupted, "I'd like to understand what you mean?" Tillman's voice was deep and smooth. "I mean following the policy risks disrupting our peace." "Maybe you could explain that for me." "Well, two thousand Tiloks might take a sudden interest in your clinic, and they might all happen to show up at once, making their arrival look remarkably like a demonstration. Of course, the press from miles around would come. That would generate news articles, I'm sure, about the wisdom of surrogate mothering and things of that nature."
"What exactly do you want, Mr. Wintripp?"
"Five minutes of the baby's life in the arms of the woman who gave birth to him."
"We can't give in to this," Hanson protested. Tillman gave him a sharp glance, and he quit talking. "Five minutes. Then the child goes back to the nursery, and you're out of my hospital."
"I'm out of your hospital when I'm through visiting my niece."
Tillman's jaw set hard. Kier could tell he was accustomed to having his way. "We can work something out," Tillman said, quickly regaining his composure.
''It's settled then," said the charge nurse, appearing relieved. "Come with me, please."
Kier followed, his body strangely alive with adrenaline. In moments, a woman with a surprised expression had brought the baby into Winona's room. Kier stood to the side, avoiding his mother's gaze. He knew that Winona was about to partake in one of the emptiest moments of her life. Motherhood and the hope of a shared future were supposed to be the reward for the hard work of birth. Greenbacks and five minutes with someone else's child would have to be enough for Winona.
At first, the snow fell lightly. Jessie Mayfield found herself outside a three-chair beauty shop in a town where the men still went to the barber. Visiting Johnson City was a bizarre experience and a greatly needed distraction. Trying not to think about Frank Bilotti seemed to be the antidote of choice until she figured out some way that thinking about him could be constructive.
Claudie had tried to insist that she visit a local hairdresser, but Jessie wasn't in the mood. She had picked up the groceries for Claudie and her kids, all the way down to the Pop Tarts, and had only one stop left. A prescription for Claudie's shingles waited at the pharmacy, where she could also pick up some cold medicine for Claudie's firstborn son, Bren.
The only pharmacy in Johnson City operated out of an old church. The steep-pitched slate roof, steeple, overhanging eaves, and lap siding gave the building a certain character. Something else about it made it poignant, but Jessie couldn't put her finger on it. Entering through the church's original set of double doors, Jessie saw shelves climbing all the walls, even reaching the point where the ceiling rose at an angle to form the steeple. Not short on merchandise, the place was packed with everything from portable toilets to hot water bottles.
"Can I help you?" a beautiful olive-skinned woman said. She looked part Native American, with soft, well-tended hair that dropped over her shoulders.
"Claudie Donahue has a prescription."
"You must be her sister from New York?"
"Word travels that fast?"
"Around here the trees have ears and the rocks talk."
Jessie's face broke a natural smile. It felt odd because her life was distinctly a frown.
In a corner next to the counter, a dark-haired boy was coloring. It required no imagination to suppose that his mother was tending the store. His eyelashes were long and distinctive. Designed for expansion, his blue overalls were rolled nicely at the ankles, his tiny polo shirt bore stripes that handily complemented the denim. Mom worked on this kid.