Alla inlägg den 7 maj 2011

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 7 maj 2011 03:48

Sophie stood up reluctantly and walked slowly from the room. Miranda followed her upstairs to a messy bedroom decorated with posters of boys with peculiar haircuts and ludicrously baggy jeans. "We'll be at Steepfall for five days, so you need ten pairs of knickers, for a start." "I haven't got ten." Miranda did not believe her, but she said, "Then we'll take what you've got, and you can do laundry." Sophie stood in the middle of the room, a mutinous expression on her pretty face. "Come on," Miranda said. "I'm not going to be your maid. Get some knickers out." She stared at the girl. Sophie was not able to stare her out. She dropped her eyes, turned away, and opened the top drawer of a chest. It was full of underwear. "Pack five bras," Miranda said. Sophie began taking items out. Crisis over, Miranda thought. She opened the door of a closet. "You'll need a couple of frocks for the evenings." She took out a red dress with spaghetti straps, much too sexy for a fourteen-year-old. "This is nice," she lied. Sophie thawed a little. "It's new." "We should wrap it so that it doesn't crease. Where do you keep tissue paper?" "In the kitchen drawer, I think." "I'll fetch it. You find a couple of clean pairs of jeans." Miranda went downstairs, feeling that she was beginning to establish the right balance of friendliness and authority with Sophie. Ned and Tom were in the living room, watching TV. Miranda entered the kitchen and called out: "Ned, do you know where tissue paper is kept?" "I'm sorry, I don't." "Stupid question," Miranda muttered, and she began opening drawers. She eventually found some at the back of a cupboard of sewing materials. She had to kneel on the tiled floor to pull the packet from under a box of ribbons. It was an effort to reach into the cupboard, and she felt herself flush. This is ridiculous, she thought. I'm only thirty-five, I should be able to bend without effort. I must lose ten pounds. No roast potatoes with the Christmas turkey. As she took the packet of tissue paper from the cupboard, she heard the back door of the house open, then a woman's footsteps. She looked up to see Jennifer. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Jennifer said. She was a small woman, but managed to look formidable, with her high forehead and arched nose. She was smartly dressed in a tailored coat and high-heeled boots. Miranda got to her feet, panting slightly. To her mortification, she felt perspiration break out on her throat. "I was looking for tissue paper." "I can see that. I want to know why you're in my house at all." Ned appeared in the doorway. "Hello, Jenny, I didn't hear you come in." "Obviously I didn't give you time to sound the alarm," she said sarcastically. "Sorry," he said, "but I asked Miranda to come in and—" "Well, don't!" Jennifer interrupted. "I don't want your women here." She made it sound as if Ned had a harem. In fact he had dated only two women since Jennifer. The first he had seen only once, and the second was Miranda. But it seemed childishly quarrelsome to point that out. Instead, Miranda said, "I was just trying to help Sophie." "I'll take care of Sophie. Please leave my house." Ned said, "I'm sorry if we startled you, Jenny, but—" "Don't bother to apologize, just get her out of here." Miranda blushed hotly. No one had ever been so rude to her. "I'd better leave," she said. "That's right," Jennifer said. Ned said, "I'll bring Sophie out as soon as I can." Miranda was as angry with Ned as with Jennifer, though for the moment she was not sure why. She turned toward the hall. "You can use the back door," Jennifer said. To her shame, Miranda hesitated. She looked at Jennifer and saw on her face the hint of a smirk. That gave Miranda an ounce of courage. "I don't think so," she said quietly. She went to the front door. "Tom, come with me," she called. "Just a minute," he shouted back. She stepped into the living room. Tom was watching TV. She grabbed his wrist, hauled him to his feet, and dragged him out of the house. "That hurts!" he protested. She slammed the front door. "Next time, come when I call." She felt like crying as she got into the car. Now she had to sit waiting, like a servant, while Ned was in the house with his ex-wife. Had Jennifer actually planned this whole drama as a way of humiliating Miranda? It was possible. Ned had been hopeless. She knew now why she was so cross with him. He had let Jennifer insult her without a word of protest. He just kept apologizing. And for what? If Jennifer had packed a case for her daughter, or even got the girl to do it herself, Miranda would not have had to enter the house. And then, worst of all, Miranda had taken out her anger on her son. She should have shouted at Jennifer, not Tom. She looked at him in the driving mirror. "Tommy, I'm sorry I hurt your wrist," she said. "It's okay," he said without looking up from his Game Boy. "I'm sorry I didn't come when you called." "All forgiven, then," she said. A tear rolled down her cheek, and she quickly wiped it away.

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NED could not drive, so Miranda took the wheel of the Toyota Previa. Her son, Tom, sat behind with his Game Boy. The back row of seats had been folded away to make room for a stack of presents wrapped in red-and-gold paper and tied with green ribbon. As they pulled away from the Georgian terrace off the Great Western Road where Miranda had her flat, a light snowfall began. There was a blizzard over the sea to the north, but the weather forecasters said it was going to bypass Scotland. She felt content, driving with the two men in her life, heading for Christmas with her family at her father's house. She was reminded of driving back from university for the holidays, looking forward to home cooking, clean bathrooms, ironed sheets, and that feeling of being loved and cared for. She headed first for the suburb where Ned's ex-wife lived. They were to pick up his daughter, Sophie, before driving to Steepfall. Tom's toy played a descending melody, probably indicating that he had crashed his spaceship or been beheaded by a gladiator. He sighed and said, "I saw an advertisement in a car magazine for these really cool screens that go in the back of the headrests, so the people in the backseat can watch movies and stuff." "A must-have accessory," said Ned with a smile. "Sounds expensive," said Miranda. "They don't cost that much," Tom said. Miranda looked at him in the driving mirror. "Well, how much?" "I don't know, just, but they didn't look expensive, d'you know what I mean?" "Why don't you find out the price, and we'll see if we can afford one." "Okay, great! And if it's too dear for you, I'll ask Grandpa." Miranda smiled. Catch Grandpa in the right mood and he would give you anything. Miranda had always hoped Tom would be the one to inherit his grandfather's scientific genius. The jury was still out. His schoolwork was excellent, but not astonishingly so. However, she was not sure what, exactly, her father's talent was. Of course he was a brilliant microbiologist, but he had something more. It was partly the imagination to see the direction in which progress lay, and partly the leadership to inspire a team of scientists to pull together. How could you tell whether an eleven-year-old had that kind of ability? Meanwhile, nothing captured Tom's imagination half as much as a new computer game. She turned on the radio. A choir was singing a Christmas carol. Ned said, "If I hear Away in a Manger' one more time, I may have to commit suicide by impaling myself on a Christmas tree." Miranda changed the station and got John Lennon singing "War Is Over." Ned groaned and said, "Do you realize that Radio Hell plays Christmas music all the year round? It's a well-known fact." Miranda laughed. After a minute she found a classical station that was playing a piano trio. "How's this?" "Haydn—perfect." Ned was curmudgeonly about popular culture. It was part of his egghead act, like not knowing how to drive. Miranda did not mind: she, too, disliked pop music, soap operas, and cheap reproductions of famous paintings. But she liked carols. She was fond of Ned's idiosyncrasies, but her conversation with Olga in the coffee bar nagged at her. Was Ned weak? She sometimes wished he were more assertive. Her husband, Jasper, had been too much so. But she sometimes hankered after the kind of sex she had had with Jasper. He had been selfish in bed, taking her roughly, thinking only of his own pleasure—and Miranda, to her shame, had felt liberated, and enjoyed it. The thrill had worn off, eventually, when she got fed up with his being selfish and inconsiderate about everything else. All the same, she wished Ned could be like that just sometimes. Her thoughts turned to Kit. She was desperately disappointed that he had canceled. She had worked so hard to persuade him to join the family for Christmas. At first he had refused, then he had relented, so she could hardly be surprised that he had changed his mind again. All the same, it was a painful blow, for she badly wanted them all to be together, as they had been most Christmases before Mamma died. The rift between Daddy and Kit scared her. Coming so soon after Mamma's death, it made the family seem dangerously fragile. And if the family was vulnerable, what could she be sure of? She turned into a street of old stone-built workers' cottages and pulled up outside a larger house that might have been occupied by an overseer. Ned had lived here with Jennifer until they split up two years ago. Before that they had modernized the place at great expense, and the payments still burdened Ned. Every time Miranda drove past this street, she felt angry about the amount of money Ned was paying Jennifer. Miranda engaged the hand brake, but left the engine running. She and Tom stayed in the car while Ned walked up the path to the house. Miranda never went inside. Although Ned had left the marital home before he met Miranda, Jennifer was as hostile as if Miranda had been responsible for the breakup. She avoided meeting her, spoke curtly to her on the phone, and—according to the indiscreet Sophie—referred to her as "that fat tart" when speaking to her women friends. Jennifer herself was as thin as a bird, with a nose like a beak. The door was opened by Sophie, a fourteen-year-old in jeans and a skimpy sweater. Ned kissed her and went inside. The car radio played one of Dvorak's Hungarian dances. In the backseat, Tom's Game Boy beeped irregularly. Snow blew around the car in flurries. Miranda turned the heater higher. Ned came out of the house, looking annoyed. He came to Miranda's window. "Jennifer's out," he said. "Sophie hasn't even begun to get ready. Will you come in and help her pack?" "Oh, Ned, I don't think I should," Miranda said unhappily. She felt uncomfortable about going inside when Jennifer was not there. Ned looked panicked. "To tell you the truth, I'm not sure what a girl needs." Miranda could believe that. Ned found it a challenge to pack a case for himself. He had never done it while he was with Jennifer. When he and Miranda were about to take their first holiday together—a trip to the museums of Florence—she had refused, on principle, to do it for him, and he had been forced to learn. However, on subsequent trips—a weekend in London, four days in Vienna—she had checked his luggage, and each time found that he had forgotten something important. To pack for someone else was beyond him. She sighed and killed the engine. "Tom, you'll have to come, too." The house was attractively decorated, Miranda thought as she stepped into the hall. Jennifer had a good eye. She had combined plain rustic furniture with colorful fabrics in the way an overseer's house-proud wife might have done a hundred years ago. There were Christmas cards on the mantelpiece, but no tree. It seemed strange to think that Ned had lived here. He had come home every evening to this house, just as now he came home to Miranda's flat. He had listened to the news on the radio, sat down to dinner, read Russian novels, brushed his teeth automatically, and gone unthinkingly to bed to hold a different woman in his arms. Sophie was in the living room, lying on a couch in front of the television. She had a pierced navel with a cheap jewel in it. Miranda smelled cigarette smoke. Ned said, "Now, Sophie, Miranda's going to help you get ready, okay, poppet?" There was a pleading note in his voice that made Miranda wince. "I'm watching a film," Sophie said sulkily. Miranda knew that Sophie would respond to firmness, not supplication. She picked up the remote control and turned the television off. "Show me your bedroom, please, Sophie," she said briskly. Sophie looked rebellious.

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 7 maj 2011 03:45

MIRANDA OXENFORD ordered a cappuccino Viennoise, with a pyramid of whipped cream on top. At the last moment she asked for a piece of carrot cake as well. She stuffed her change into the pocket of her skirt and carried her breakfast to the table where her thin sister Olga was seated with a double espresso and a cigarette. The place was bedecked with paper chains, and a Christmas tree twinkled over the panini toaster, but someone with a nice sense of irony had put the Beach Boys on the music system, and they were singing "Surfin' USA." Miranda often ran into Olga first thing in the morning at this coffee bar in Sauchiehall Street, in the center of Glasgow. They worked nearby: Miranda was managing director of a recruitment agency specializing in IT personnel, and Olga was an advocate. They both liked to take five minutes to gather their thoughts before going into their offices. They did not look like sisters, Miranda thought, catching a glimpse of her reflection in a mirror. She was short, with curly blond hair, and her figure was, well, cuddly. Olga was tall like Daddy, but she had the same black eyebrows as their late mother, who had been Italian by birth and was always called Mamma Marta. Olga was dressed for work in a dark gray suit and sharply pointed shoes. She could have played the part of Cruella De Vil. She probably terrified juries. Miranda took off her coat and scarf. She wore a pleated skirt and a sweater embroidered with small flowers. She dressed to charm, not to intimidate. As she sat down, Olga said, "You're working on Christmas Eve?" "Just for an hour," Miranda replied. "To make sure nothing's left undone over the holiday." "Same here." "Have you heard the news? A technician at the Kremlin died of a virus." "Oh, God, that's going to blight our Christmas." Olga could seem heartless, but she was not really so, Miranda thought. "It was on the radio. I haven't spoken to Daddy yet, but it seems the poor boy became fond of a lab hamster and took it home." "What did he do, have sex with it?" "It probably bit him. He lived alone, so nobody called for help. At least that means he probably didn't pass the virus to anyone else. All the same, it's awful for Daddy. He won't show it, but he's sure to feel responsible." "He should have gone in for a less hazardous branch of science— something like atomic weapons research." Miranda smiled. She was especially pleased to see Olga today. She was glad of the chance of a quiet word. The whole family was about to gather at Steepfall, their father's house, for Christmas. She was bringing her fiance, Ned Hanley, and she wanted to make sure Olga would be nice to him. But she approached the subject in a roundabout way. "I hope this doesn't spoil the holiday. I've been looking forward to it so much. You know Kit's coming?" "I'm deeply sensible of the honor our little brother is doing us." "He wasn't going to come, but I talked him round." "Daddy will be pleased." Olga spoke with a touch of sarcasm. "He will, actually," Miranda said reproachfully. "You know it broke his heart to fire Kit." "I know I've never seen him so angry. I thought he would kill someone." "Then he cried." "I didn't see that." "Nor did I. Lori told me." Lori was Stanley's housekeeper. "But now he wants to forgive and forget." Olga stubbed her cigarette. "I know. Daddy's magnanimity is boundless. Does Kit have a job yet?" "No." "Can't you find him something? It's your field, and he's good." "Things are quiet—and people know he was sacked by his father." "Has he stopped gambling?" "He must have. He promised Daddy he would. And he's got no money." "Daddy paid his debts, didn't he?" "I don't think we're supposed to know." "Come on, Mandy." Olga was using Miranda's childhood name. "How much?" "You should ask Daddy—or Kit." "Was it ten thousand pounds?" Miranda looked away. "More than that? Twenty?" Miranda whispered, "Fifty." "Good God! That little bastard pissed away fifty grand of our inheritance? Wait till I see him." "Anyway, enough of Kit. You're going to get to know Ned much better this Christmas. I want you to treat him as one of the family." "Ned should be one of the family by now. When are you getting married? You're too old for a long engagement. You've both been married before—it's not as if you have to save up for your trousseau." This was not the response Miranda was hoping for. She wanted Olga to feel warm toward Ned. "Oh, you know what Ned's like," she said defensively. "He's lost in his own world." Ned was editor of The Glasgow Review of Books, a respected cultural-political journal, but he was not practical. "I don't know how you stand it. I can't abide vacillation." The conversation was not going the way Miranda wanted. "Believe me, it's a blessed relief after Jasper." Miranda's first husband had been a bully and a tyrant. Ned was the opposite, and that was one of the reasons she loved him. "Ned will never be organized enough to boss me around— half the time he can't remember what day it is." "Still, you managed perfectly well without a man for five years." "I did, and I was proud of myself, especially when the economy turned down and they stopped paying me those big bonuses."

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She ran the footage forward, stopping again as Michael moved away from the rabbit rack. "How many rabbits in the top right-hand cage?" "Two, damn it." Stanley looked perplexed. "I thought your theory was that Michael took a rabbit out of the lab. You've shown him bringing one in!" "A substitute. Otherwise the scientists would have noticed one was missing." "Then what's his motivation? In order to save one rabbit, he has to condemn another to death!" "Insofar as he was rational at all, I imagine he felt there was something special about the rabbit he saved." "For God's sake, one rabbit is the same as another." "Not to Michael, I suspect." Stanley nodded. "You're right. Who knows how his mind was working at this point." Toni ran the video footage forward. "He did his chores as usual, checking the food and water in the cages, making sure the animals were still alive, ticking off his tasks on a checklist. Monica came in, but she went to a side laboratory to work on her tissue cultures, so she could not see him. He went next door, to the larger lab, to take care of the macaque monkeys. Then he came back. Now watch." Michael disconnected his air hose, as was normal when moving from one room to another within the lab—the suit contained three or four minutes' worth of fresh air, and when it began to run out the faceplate would fog, warning the wearer. He stepped into a small room containing the vault, a locked refrigerator used for storing live samples of viruses. Being the most secure location in the entire building, it also held all stocks of the priceless antiviral drug. He tapped a combination of digits on its keypad. A security camera inside the refrigerator showed him selecting two doses of the drug, already measured and loaded into disposable syringes. "The small dose for the rabbit and the large one, presumably, for himself," Toni said. "Like you, he expected the drug to work against Madoba-2. He planned to cure the rabbit and immunize himself." "The guards could have seen him taking the drug from the vault." "But they wouldn't find that suspicious. He's authorized to handle these materials." "They might have noticed that he didn't write anything in the log." "They might have, but remember that one guard is watching thirty-seven screens, and he's not trained in laboratory practice." Stanley grunted. Toni said, "Michael must have figured that the discrepancy wouldn't be noticed until the annual audit, and even then it would be put down to clerical error. He didn't know I was planning a spot check." On the television screen, Michael closed the vault and returned to the rabbit lab, reconnecting his air hose. "He's finished his chores," Toni explained. "Now he returns to the rabbit racks." Once again, Michael's back concealed what he was doing from the camera. "Here's where he takes his favorite rabbit out of its cage. I think he slips it into its own miniature suit, probably made from parts of an old worn-out one." Michael turned his left side to the camera. As he walked to the exit, he seemed to have something under his right arm, but it was hard to tell. Leaving BSL4, everyone had to pass through a chemical shower that decontaminated the suit, then take a regular shower before dressing. "The suit would have protected the rabbit in the chemical shower," Toni said. "My guess is that he then dumped the rabbit suit in the incinerator. The water shower would not have harmed the animal. In the dressing room he put the rabbit in the duffel bag. As he exited the building, the guards saw him carrying the same bag he came in with, and suspected nothing." Stanley sat back in his seat. "Well, I'm damned," he said. "I would have sworn it was impossible." "He took the rabbit home. I think it may have bitten him when he injected it with the drug. He injected himself and thought he was safe. But he was wrong." Stanley looked sad. "Poor boy," he said. "Poor, foolish boy." "Now you know everything I know," Toni said. She watched him, waiting for the verdict. Was this phase of her life over? Would she be out of work for Christmas? He gave her a level look. "There's one obvious security precaution we could have taken that would have prevented this." "I know," she said. "A bag search for everyone entering and leaving BSL4." "Exactly." "I've instituted it from this morning." "Thereby closing the stable door after the horse has bolted." "I'm sorry," she said. He wanted her to quit, she felt sure. "You pay me to stop this kind of thing happening. I've failed. I expect you'd like me to tender my resignation." He looked irritated. "If I want to fire you, you'll know soon enough." She stared at him. Had she been reprieved? His expression softened. "All right, you're a conscientious person and you feel guilty, even though neither you nor anyone else could have anticipated what happened." "I could have instituted the bag check." "I probably would have vetoed it, on the grounds that it would upset staff." "Oh." "So I'll tell you this once. Since you came, our security has been tighter than ever before. You're damn good, and I aim to keep you. So, please, no more self-pity." She suddenly felt weak with relief. "Thank you," she said. "Now, we've got a busy day ahead—let's get on with it." He went out. She closed her eyes in relief. She had been forgiven. Thank you, she thought.

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 7 maj 2011 03:40

KIT OXENFORD woke early, feeling eager and anxious at the same time. It was a strange sensation. Today he was going to rob Oxenford Medical. The idea filled him with excitement. It would be the greatest prank ever. It would be written up in books with titles like The Perfect Crime. Even better, it would be revenge on his father. The company would be destroyed, and Stanley Oxenford would be ruined financially. The fact that the old man would never know who had done this to him somehow made it better. It would be a secret gratification that Kit could hug to himself for the rest of his life. But he was anxious, too. This was unusual. By nature, he was not a worrier. Whatever trouble he was in, he could generally talk his way out. He rarely planned anything. He had planned today. Perhaps that was his problem. He lay in bed with his eyes closed, thinking of the obstacles he had to overcome. First, there was the physical security around the Kremlin: the double row of fencing, the razor wire, the lights, the intruder alarms. Those alarms were protected by tamper switches, shock sensors, and end-of-line circuitry that would detect a short circuit. The alarms were directly connected to regional police headquarters at Inverburn via a phone line that was continuously checked by the system to verify that it was operational. None of that would protect the place against Kit and his collaborators. Then there were the guards, watching important areas on closed-circuit television cameras, patrolling the premises hourly. Their TV monitors were fitted with high-security biased switches that would detect equipment substitution, for example if the feed from a camera were replaced by a signal from a videotape player. Kit had thought of a way around that. Finally there was the elaborate scheme of access control: the plastic credit-card passes, each bearing a photo of the authorized user plus details of the user's fingerprint embedded in a chip. Defeating this system would be complicated, but Kit knew how to do it. His degree was in computer science, and he had been top of his class, but he had an even more important advantage. He had designed the software that controlled the entire security setup at the Kremlin. It was his baby. He had done a terrific job for his ungrateful father, and the system was virtually impenetrable to an outsider, but Kit knew its secrets. At around midnight tonight, he would walk into the holy of holies, the BSL4 laboratory, the most secure location in Scotland. With him would be his client, a quietly menacing Londoner called Nigel Buchanan, and two collaborators. Once there, Kit would open the refrigerated vault with a simple four-digit code. Then Nigel would steal samples of Stanley Oxenford's precious new antiviral drug. They would not keep the samples long. Nigel had a strict deadline. He had to hand over the samples by ten o'clock tomorrow morning, Christmas Day. Kit did not know the reason for the deadline. He did not know who the customer was, either, but he could guess. It had to be one of the pharmaceutical multinationals. Having a sample to analyze would save years of research. The company would be able to make its own version of the drug, instead of paying Oxenford millions in licensing fees. It was dishonest, of course, but men found excuses for dishonesty when the stakes were high. Kit could picture the company's distinguished chairman, with his silver hair and pin-striped suit, saying hypocritically, "Can you assure me categorically that no employee of our organization broke any laws in obtaining this sample?"

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She resolved to be calm, friendly, and businesslike. He got out of the car and came toward her. She said, "Please don't cross the line—I'll come out." She realized right away she had made an error of tact. He was the police officer and she was the civilian—he would feel that he should be giving orders to her, not the other way around. The frown that crossed his face showed her that he had felt the slight. Trying to be more friendly, she said, "How are you, Frank?" "What's going on here?" "A technician from the lab appears to have caught a virus. We've just taken him away in an isolation ambulance. Now we're decontaminating his house. Where's Jim Kincaid?" "He's on holiday." "Where?" Toni hoped Jim might be reached and brought back for this emergency. "Portugal. He and his wife have a wee time-share." A pity, Toni thought. Kincaid knew about biohazards, but Frank did not. Reading her mind, Frank said, "Don't worry." He had in his hand a photocopied document an inch thick. "I've got the protocol here." It was the plan Toni had agreed on with Kincaid. Frank had obviously been reading it while waiting. "My first duty is to secure the area." He looked around. Toni had already secured the area, but she said nothing. Frank needed to assert himself. He called out to the two uniformed officers in the patrol car. "You two! Move that car to the entrance of the driveway, and don't let anyone by without asking me." "Good idea," Toni said, though in truth it made no difference to anything. Nothing, I promise you. But everything in the house has to be decontaminated, either with disinfectant or by high-pressure steam. Both processes destroy papers and might well damage a computer." "I'm going to get this protocol changed. I wonder whether the chief constable knows what Kincaid has let you get away with." Toni felt weary. It was the middle of the night, she had a major crisis to deal with, and she was being forced to pussyfoot around the feelings of a resentful former lover. "Oh, Frank, for God's sake—you might be right, but this is what we've got, so could we try to forget the past and work as a team?" "Your idea of teamwork is everyone doing what you say." She laughed. "Fair enough. What do you think should be our next move?" "I'll inform the health board. They're the lead agency, according to the protocol. Once they've tracked down their designated biohazard consultant, he'll want to convene a meeting here first thing in the morning. Meanwhile, we should start contacting everyone who might have seen Michael Ross. I'll get a couple of detectives phoning every number in that address book. I suggest you question every employee at the Kremlin. It would be useful to have that done by the time we meet with the health board." "All right." Toni hesitated. She had something she had to ask Frank. His best friend was Carl Osborne, a local television reporter who valued sensation more than accuracy. If Carl got hold of this story, he would start a riot. She knew that the way to get something from Frank was to be matter-of-fact, not appearing either assertive or needy. "There's a paragraph in the protocol I've got to mention," she began. "It says that no statements should be made to the press without first being discussed by the main interested parties, including the police, the health board, and the company." "No problem." "The reason I mention it is that this doesn't need to become a major public scare. The chances are that no one is in danger." "Good." "We don't want to hold anything back, but the publicity should be calm and measured. No one needs to panic." Frank grinned. "You're frightened of tabloid stories about killer hamsters roaming the highlands." "You owe me, Frank. I hope you remember." His face darkened. "I owe you?" She lowered her voice, although there was no one nearby. "You remember Farmer Johnny Kirk." Kirk had been a big-time cocaine importer. Born in the rough Glasgow neighborhood of Garscube Road, he had never seen a farm in his life, but got the nickname from the oversize green rubber boots he wore to ease the pain of the corns on his feet. Frank had put together a case against Farmer Johnny. During the trial, by accident, Toni had come across evidence that would have helped the defense. She had told Frank, but Frank had not informed the court. lohnny was as guilty as sin, and Frank had got a conviction—but if the truth ever came out, Frank's career would be over. Now Frank said angrily, "Are you threatening to bring that up again if I don't do what you want?" "No, just reminding you of a time when you needed me to keep quiet about something, and I did." His attitude changed again. He had been frightened, for a moment, but now he was his old arrogant self. "We all bend the rules from time to time. That's life." "Yes. And I'm asking you not to leak this story to your friend Carl Osborne, or anyone else in the media." Frank grinned. "Why, Toni," he said in a tone of mock indignation, "1 never do things like that."

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 7 maj 2011 03:37

TWO tired men looked at Antonia Gallo with resentment and hostility in their eyes. They wanted to go home, but she would not let them. And they knew she was right, which made it worse. All three were in the personnel department of Oxenford Medical. Antonia, always called Toni, was facilities director, and her main responsibility was security. Oxenford was a small pharmaceuticals outfit— a boutique company, in stock market jargon—that did research on viruses that could kill. Security was deadly serious. Toni had organized a spot check of supplies, and had found that two doses of an experimental drug were missing. That was bad enough: the drug, an antiviral agent, was top secret, its formula priceless. It might have been stolen for sale to a rival company. But another, more frightening possibility had brought the look of grim anxiety to Toni's freckled face and drawn dark circles under her green eyes. A thief might have stolen the drug for personal use. And there was only one reason for that: someone had become infected by one of the lethal viruses used in Oxenford's laboratories. The labs were located in a vast nineteenth-century house built as a Scottish holiday home for a Victorian millionaire. It was nicknamed the Kremlin, because of the double row of fencing, the razor wire, the uniformed guards, and the state-of-the-art electronic security. But it looked more like a church, with pointed arches and a tower and rows of gargoyles along the roof. The personnel office had been one of the grander bedrooms. It still had Gothic windows and linenfold paneling, but now there were filing cabinets instead of wardrobes, and desks with computers and phones where once there had been dressing tables crowded with crystal bottles and silver-backed brushes. Toni and the two men were working the phones, calling everyone who had a pass to the top-security laboratory. There were four biosafety levels. At the highest, BSL4, the scientists worked in space suits, handling viruses for which there was no vaccine or antidote. Because it was the most secure location in the building, samples of the experimental drug were stored there. Not everyone was allowed into BSL4. Biohazard training was compulsory, even for the maintenance men who went in to service air filters and repair autoclaves. Toni herself had undergone the training, so that she could enter the lab to check on security. Only twenty-seven of the company's staff of eighty had access. However, many had already departed for the Christmas vacation, and Monday had turned into Tuesday while the three people responsible doggedly tracked them down. Toni got through to a resort in Barbados called Le Club Beach and, after much insistence, persuaded the assistant manager to go looking for a young laboratory technician called Jenny Crawford. As Toni waited, she glanced at her reflection in the window. She was holding up well, considering the late hour. Her chocolate-brown chalk-stripe suit still looked businesslike, her thick hair was tidy, her face did not betray fatigue. Her father had been Spanish, but she had her Scottish mother's pale skin and red-blond hair. She was tall and looked fit. Not bad, she thought, for thirty-eight years old. "It must be the middle of the night back there!" Jenny said when at last she came to the phone. "We've discovered a discrepancy in the BSL4 log," Toni explained. Jenny was a little drunk. "That's happened before," she said carelessly. "But no one's ever made, like, a great big drama over it." "That's because I wasn't working here," Toni said crisply. "When was the last time you entered BSL4?" "Tuesday, I think. Won't the computer tell you that?" It would, but Toni wanted to know whether Jenny's story would match the computer record. "And when was the last time you accessed the vault?" The vault was a locked refrigerator within BSL4. Jenny's tone was becoming surly. "I really don't remember, but it will be on video." The touch-pad combination lock on the vault activated a security camera that rolled the entire time the door was open. "Do you recall the last time you used Madoba-2?" This was the virus the scientists were working on right now. Jenny was shocked. "Bloody hell, is that what's gone missing?" "No, it's not. All the same—" "I don't think I've ever handled an actual virus. I mostly work in the tissue-culture lab." That agreed with the information Toni had. "Have you noticed any of your colleagues behaving in a way that was strange, or out of character, in the last few weeks?" "This is like the sodding Gestapo," Jenny said. "Be that as it may, have you—" "No, I have not." "Just one more question. Is your temperature normal?" "Fuck me, are you saying I might have Madoba-2?" "Have you got a cold or fever?" "No!" "Then you're all right. You left the country eleven days ago—by now you would have flu-like symptoms if anything were wrong. Thank you, ]enny. It's probably just an error in the log, but we have to make sure." "Well, you've spoiled my night." Jenny hung up. "Shame," Toni said to the dead phone. She cradled the receiver and said, "Jenny Crawford checks out. A cow, but straight."

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There’s something going to get loose tonight, D’Amour,” Cha’Chat said. The blood that was pooling around it had begun to thicken and grow milky, like melted wax. “Something wilder that me.” “Name it,” said Harry. The demon grinned. “Who knows?” it said. “It’s a strange season, isn’t it? Long nights. Clear skies. Things get born on nights like this, don’t you find?” “Where?” said Harry, pressing the gun to Cha’Chat’s nose. “You’re a bully, D’Amour,” it said reprovingly. “You know that?” “Tell me...” The thing’s eyes grew darker; its face seemed to blur. “South of here, I’d say...” it replied. “A hotel...” The tone of its voice was changing subtly; the features losing their solidity. Harry’s trigger finger itched to give the damned thing a wound that would keep it from a mirror for life, but it was still talking, and he couldn’t afford to interrupt its flow. “...on Forty-fourth,” it said. “Between Sixth...Sixth and Broadway.” The voice was indisputably feminine now. “Blue blinds,” it murmured. “I can see blue blinds...” As it spoke the last vestiges of its true features fled, and suddenly it was Norma who was bleeding on the sidewalk at Harry’s feet. “You wouldn’t shoot an old lady, would you?” she piped up. The trick lasted seconds only, but Harry’s hesitation was all that Cha’Chat needed to fold itself between one plane and the next, and flit. He’d lost the creature, for the second time in a month. And to add discomfort to distress, it had begun to snow. The small hotel that Cha’Chat had described had seen better years; even the light that burned in the lobby seemed to tremble on the brink of expiring. There was nobody at the desk. Harry was about to start up the stairs when a young man whose pate was shaved as bald as an egg, but for a single kiss curl that was oiled to his scalp, stepped out of the gloom and took hold of his arm. “There’s nobody here,” he informed Harry. In better days Harry might have cracked the egg open with his bare fists, and enjoyed doing so. Tonight he guessed he would come off the worse. So he simply said, “Well, I’ll find another hotel then, eh?” Kiss Curl seemed placated; the grip relaxed. In the next instant Harry’s hand found his gun, and the gun found Kiss Curl’s chin. An expression of bewilderment crossed the boy’s face as he fell back against the wall, spitting blood. As Harry started up the stairs, he heard the youth yell, “Darrieux!” from below. Neither the shout nor the sound of the struggle had roused any response from the rooms. The place was empty. It had been elected, Harry began to comprehend, for some purpose other than hostelry. As he started along the landing a woman’s cry, begun but never finished, came to meet him. He stopped dead. Kiss Curl was coming up the stairs behind him two or three at a time; ahead, someone was dying. This couldn’t end well, Harry suspected. Then the door at the end of the corridor opened, and suspicion became plain fact. A man in a gray suit was standing on the threshold, skinning off a pair of bloodied surgical gloves. Harry knew him vaguely; indeed had begun to sense a terrible pattern in all of this from the moment he’d heard Kiss Curl call his employer’s name. This was Darrieux Marchetti; also called the Cankerist; one of the whispered order of theological assassins whose directives came from Rome, or Hell, or both. “D’Amour,” he said. Harry had to fight the urge to be flattered that he had been remembered. “What happened here?” he demanded to know, taking a step toward the open door. “Private business,” the Cankerist insisted. “Please, no closer.” Candles burned in the little room, and by their generous light, Harry could see the bodies laid out on the bare bed. The woman from the house on Ridge Street, and her child. Both had been dispatched with Roman efficiency. “She protested,” said Marchetti, not overly concerned that Harry was viewing the results of his handiwork. “All I needed was the child.” “What was it?” Harry demanded. “A demon?” Marchetti shrugged. “We’ll never know,” he said. “But at this time of year there’s usually something that tries to get in under the wire. We like to be safe rather than sorry. Besides, there are those-I number myself amongst them-that believe there is such a thing as a surfeit of Messiahs-“ “Messiahs?” said Harry. He looked again at the tiny body. “There was power there, I suspect,” said Marchetti. “But it could have gone either way. Be thankful, D’Amour. Your world isn’t ready for revelation.” He looked past Harry to the youth, who was at the top of the stairs. “Patrice. Be an angel, will you, bring the car over? I’m late for Mass.” He threw the gloves back onto the bed. “You’re not above the law,” said Harry. “Oh please,” the Cankerist protested. “let’s have no nonsense. It’s too late at night.” Harry felt a sharp pain at the base of his skull, and a trace of heat where blood was running. “Patrice thinks you should go home, D’Amour. And so do I.” The knife point was pressed a little deeper. “Yes?” said Marchetti. “Yes,” said Harry. “He was here,” said Norma, when Harry called back at the house. “Who?” “Eddie Axel; of Axel’s Superette. He came through, clear as daylight.” “Dead?” “Of course dead. He killed himself in his cell. Asked me if I’d seen his soul.” “And what did you say?” “I’m a telephonist, Harry; I just make the connections. I don’t pretend to understand the metaphysics.” She picked up the bottle of brandy Harry had set on the table beside her chair. “How sweet of you,” she said. “Sit down. Drink.” “Another time, Norma. When I’m not so tired.” He went to the door. “By the way, “ he said. “You were right. There was something on Ridge Street...” “Where is it now?” “Gone...home.” “And Cha’Chat?” “Still out there somewhere. In a foul temper...” “Manhattan’s seen worse, Harry.” It was little consolation, but Harry muttered his agreement as he closed the door. The snow was coming on more heavily all the time. He stood on the step and watched the way the flakes spiraled in the lamplight. No two, he had read somewhere, were ever alike. When such variety was available to the humble snowflake, could he be surprised that events had such unpredictable faces? Each moment was its own master, he mused, as he put his head between the blizzard’s teeth, and he would have to take whatever comfort he could find in the knowledge that between this chilly hour and dawn there were innumerable such moments-blind maybe, and wild and hungry-but all at least eager to be born.


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