Direktlänk till inlägg 7 maj 2011

Another time

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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