Beware a gift of winter meat in spring.
— Tilok proverb
Sam climbed out of the Blue Hades, his rebuilt and en hanced Corvette, stretched his legs, and walked Harry across the warehouse and into a beige Ford Taurus. Harry sat on the floor of the passenger’s side, having long ago learned the drill. On the passenger’s seat lay a black leather bag that had originally belonged to Sam’s son. Sam reached inside and removed something that looked vaguely like a Halloween mask but much more sophisticated. He pulled it on, smoothed it, used makeup around the edges, and brushed up the silver gray hair on top of his plastic pate. Then he donned an old hat with a broad brim and heavy black glasses.
“How do I look?”
The dog whined.
Sam pulled out of the warehouse, checked the sky for he licopters, and drove a twisty route through the commercial area, constantly checking for tails. It had been a week since they tried to kill him at the cabin. There was evidence that Gaudet had gone to Mexico and on a long shot Sam had tried to catch him.
He picked up the phone and called Jill.
“How was Baja?”
“Big. Are we set to travel?”
“Grady’s on the research. The arrangements are made. But you gotta rest, Sam.”
“I would if I could, believe me. The way to find Gaudet is to beat him to Michael Bowden.”
“We lost Paul. You’re shaken. We all are. The only way to get your edge back is to rest, reflect, all that.”
“A mental-health discussion in the middle of a war?”
“Maybe more than one.”
“You have good instincts.”
“Is she there? I hope she did the whole procedure for tails.”
“She’s not here.”
“The show condo.”
“Why is she there?”
“That’s where she thinks you live, Sam. And she’s very proud of her sleuthing. She wants to comfort you. It’s normal after what has happened.”
Sam said nothing while he considered his options.
“Your mother and I think you should come clean. Let Anna in, for God’s sake.”
“Go get her, if you can. If she’ll go, take her out for lunch and-“
“I’ll sort it out and call you right back.”
There was a long pause, followed by a sigh that meant “yes.”
He hung up. Jill would think of something truthful to say while he decided how he wanted to handle it. Anna Wade was his girlfriend and a mega-movie star. His anonymous life and her celebrity caused them nothing but grief. He wondered if Anna could ever be happy with him. All she knew of him really was the outer layer, the tough anti-terror ist expert, the man of the shadows. Sometimes he asked himself how someone with her fame and wealth could be happy with a more or less ordinary person. A half Indian person. He had never uttered his concerns to Anna and he doubted that he would. For the moment, he shoved it out of his mind.
He’d taken the transmitter off Blue Hades several days ago and had his mechanic check for others. It would be like Gaudet to install two of them-the second one much less conspicuous. After making sure that nobody was following him, he proceeded down along the waterfront to a two-story house. This was a terrible time to have his situation with Anna come to a head. The nature of the problem was that she didn’t know where he lived but thought she did. Actually, it was slightly more complicated than that. She knew the place he lived now and then, the place he had taken her when they wanted to go to “his place.”
The house that actually contained reflections of his life, aside from his now-ruined mountain cabin, stood just across the street from the ocean. The mask he wore wouldn’t fool anyone within ten feet into thinking it was natural skin and a real beard, but then he never stopped outside the garage and he had never met his neighbors. They had taken to peering out their windows in curiosity, but that was about it. He was in the place at most two or three nights a week, a function of traveling and the fact that there was a sleep room at the office. No one but his closest family members and Jill, his ex-lover and office manager, and the occasional maintenance man that she hired had ever been inside this house.
The condo known to Anna was tastefully decorated by a professional and it took some doing to make it appear lived in, but it really contained nothing of himself. Walking through, a person could learn only about the fictitious man the deco rator had in mind. Sam felt slightly guilty that Anna had never seen his real home, though she knew his real name and had regularly been inside his offices-something few people had done. The current focal point of their relationship was his in sistence on anonymity. Whenever they went someplace to gether in pubic, which was rare, he played the contract security man, an Anna Wade bodyguard, and seldom looked much like himself. The secrecy his work required was becoming a serious irritation for Anna, but Sam didn’t have a ready solution.
At the heavy metal front door to his house Sam placed his finger on a small opaque window and his eyeball before another. It was the same security he had at the office. With a slight buzzing sound heavy bolts opened and he entered his house. When he was inside, he repeated the process to reset the alarm to the “stay” mode.
Indoors it was the usual 68 degrees Fahrenheit, cool enough to work out. He waved at Jill through the closed-circuit TV monitor in his living room, then turned it off. The place was comfortable but decidedly male. The furniture was soft leather with the exception of one embroidered rocker with a handwoven outdoor scene.
A stand with seven pipes stood on a small coffee table be tween two chairs and one cigar humidor. Once in a while he filled a pipe but usually preferred cigars.
A wooden case the size of two large refrigerators held photos, mostly of his late son, Bud. One showed Bud alive and athletic and triumphant on the face of a mountain of rock known as El Capitan in Yosemite; others were of him climbing at Castle Crags, parasailing in Mexico, and taking part in quieter activities, many with Sam. Most of Sam’s past girlfriends were there, including Suzanne, now also dead, and Jill. The shots of Jill and him were hugging-and-giggling shots that told of a different day and a different relationship. But Jill was still important to him, so he left the photos in their place, figuring that they didn’t need to go in a box until a permanent companion came along-an event that probably wasn’t too far off. The tough decision would be whether to leave them in their place the first time he brought Anna Wade here.
But there were some photos that would definitely remain. They included photos of Chet, Jill’s high-school boy, whose father was her ex and was now dead from alcoholism. Chet had suffered from a nerve disease, but aside from an impediment to running, the boy was all there. Chet was smart and an encyclopedia when it came to weapons. Sam wasn’t much interested in guns except as an occupational necessity, but he was interested in the boy.
Sam picked up the portable phone and pushed memory.
“Hey, Chet, how’s it goin’?”
“You haven’t told anybody about me, have you?”
“You ask me that every time. Of course I haven’t.”
“I’m obsessed. You wanna go shooting on Christmas break?”
“Yeah. I wanna try the Desert Eagle Fifty caliber.”
“It’s all in the grips. You said so yourself. I can do it.”
“What are we gonna do? Tie you to a refrigerator?”
“It has ports to reduce the kick.”
“My arms are an inch shorter since I shot that. You want arms an inch shorter?”
“I’ve already got short legs, might as well have arms to match.”
“Okay. But if I go shooting, you gotta promise to go fish ing.”
“Fishing? You mean it?”
“Absolutely. And we’ll invite the girl next door.”
“Oh no. That would be too embarrassing.”
“Hey, I can’t turn her down now. I already told her that your mom and I would take her fishing when I take you. Man, was she excited.”
“Are you kidding me? You never talked to her. You wouldn’t do that.”
“Well, I looked about seventy years old at the time-with a beard. I’m your new god-grandfather for this trip. That’s like a godfather, only old.”
“Can I call you Sam so I don’t forget like before?”
“You bet. Sam the god-grandfather. Absolutely.”
“How’s the homework?”
“Good. Real good.”
After a little more chit chat, Sam hung up, smiling at the boy’s zest for life.
Off the living area was a hall to the two bedrooms and a large kitchen. Sam cooked slowly and with great delibera tion. For him cooking was art and he liked to replicate things he’d seen in restaurants, but with his own twist. Cooking with a woman in this kitchen, for the first time, would be like making love on his bed.
Suzanne had been only the second woman he’d loved to the point of commitment, but they’d been together in France and the relationship had been cut short by her death. Rachel, his first and only wife, had long preceded Sam’s purchase of this house. He sat down in his leather chair and called Anna on her cell. No answer. She was no doubt in the shower at his showplace condo. Sometimes she liked long showers.
Sam knew he was crazy and that most normal people came out of their inner shell in their late teens. He told his close friends that this terrible aloofness didn’t worry him, al though lately he was beginning to feel a bit like a middle- aged woman whose biological clock was ticking. From day to day his feelings seemed to change on the subject of father hood, and if Sam had a source of conflict that wasn’t associ ated with the mess of his father’s suicide, then this was it.
Built-in cherry bookcases contained Sam’s personal book collection, weighted toward true-life exploration and adven tures of all sorts, including the classics like Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle. Sam liked reading about presidents. He didn’t want the job but had plenty of books on the sub ject. His favorite topic was Indian history and that was evident both in the books and the storage cabinets on the other wall. Along that wall, also in cherry, were numerous drawers of the sort that one would use to store large nautical charts or maps that one wished to keep unfolded and flat In Sam’s case they contained maps and parchments of historic and modern Native American villages and ceremonial sites along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Mexico and inland throughout the west ern states. It was one of the best private collections in existence.
Everywhere hung Native American memorabilia. One of Grandfather’s ceremonial headdresses hung in the corner. There was the Cherokee blessing on the wall and likewise the Tilok blessing. He had all manner of ceremonial peace pipes and pictures of famous Native American leaders, from Chief Seattle to Geronimo.
Near the coffee table lay Grandfather’s favorite moccasins. Sam’s mother, Keyatchker, aka Spring, teared up every time she saw them. Sam’s regular and favorite chair was a big leather affair with an ottoman sitting under a massive lamp whose base was made of carved oak. Grandfather had carved it on one of his pilgrimages to the caverns in the mountains. Sam cherished it because so much of his grandfather was in the wood that had been held in his hands and molded by his knife. It was an eagle with its wings spread. Sam’s Indian name was Kalok, which meant “eagle.”
Sam sat in his chair and Harry promptly jumped in his lap and settled in. On the coffee table was a baseball mitt that had belonged to his son, Bud. Some days Sam would pick it up and put his hand in it. Today he studied the old leather mitt and noticed that it needed oil. There was still an ache in him that felt like it would split him open when he thought about Bud. It had been four years. Today he would not put on the glove and feel the leather that his son had touched. It seemed unholy to mix love with the rage he felt at Gaudet. Attachments were hard because the world carried no guarantees of their permanence. Bud was gone, Grandfather was gone, and Suzanne was gone-and now Paul as well, one of his best friends.
Sam also kept memorabilia from the period before he had learned that he was a Tilok. There were pictures of him with his father in Alaska, a long-ago life that ended with Sam’s discovery at age twenty-one that he was half Tilok with a living mother he had never met. All his life he’d been told that his mother was a mestizo, a whore, a drunk, and dead.
The phone rang, the display indicating it was Jill.
“You know he loves it so much when you call.”
“What? Have you got that boy’s phone bugged?”
“He calls me all excited.”
“How are things with Anna?”
“I think you lead a charmed life. Right at the moment of truth with Anna, the CIA calls. First they say nothing all week. Now they demand we take the French as a client on the Gaudet case.”
“As in, France?”
“Yep. And you’ll never guess who the French have hired to represent their interests in this matter?”
“I suppose Figgy wants to meet immediately.”
“You’re a mind reader.”
“Tell Anna I’ll meet her at Forbes for dinner.” He wondered if the subject of his house would come up at dinner. Actually, he wondered whether the world would be the same by dinner.
Grady Wade sat at her desk with a stack of Michael Bowden’s books and a letter from his publisher. Her half-full c offee mug read: if it’s not outrageous, it’s boring. From what she’d read-and she’d now read all of Michael Bowden’s books-he seemed anything but outrageous, but far from boring. A welcome surprise for a young woman who found little in life that invigorated her.
At the end of her career as a stripper, Grady had told Sam that the major problem in dancing naked for a living had been the truth in the coffee mug inscription. In the end that had been what frightened her most. Perhaps a life of kids and family and an old oak tree in the backyard would leave her listless and drive her to constant excess. The irony, of course, was that her cure, working for Sam’s organization, was undoubtedly more outrageous than dancing naked. Actually, Grady did two things at this desk: work for Sam and study for college, and which activity received her attention depended on the demands of each.
Anna Wade, Grady’s aunt, had a profound need for Grady to become “self-actualized”-a normal person would say “succeed”-and Sam did his best to play godfather to Grady, determined that she make herself into something that she would eventually approve of. The catch there was that Sam claimed unique insight into what it was that Grady should approve. Many days she felt like a social-conditioning pro ject, but even that felt better than working in a strip club and coming down from a coke addiction. And so Grady studied, worked, slept a bit, and had little time for boys. Perhaps she had overloaded on men in her former occupation. For a time she had dated a man named Clint, who had fallen over whelmingly in love with her and wanted to marry. The free spirit in Grady just couldn’t do it. Not at age twenty-one. Now she saw Clint only on occasion; like most men, he wanted to see her more often.
To top off her complicated life, she lived with Jill, her im mediate boss.
Researching scientist/author Michael Bowden came as a blessed relief from her normal work and schoolwork. In just a couple of days Grady had made copious notes on Bowden and the Amazon jungle, and in doing so had made one promise to herself: when Sam went to the Amazon to find Michael Bowden, she would use her best moves to ensure she boarded the plane with him-Devan Gaudet notwithstanding.
Her work area was in a large room with over twenty cubi cles, each with at least an eighteen-inch computer screen, some with two or even three. Most of one wall was glass and beyond the glass was a large array of computer equipment. In addition, the complex held a large conference room, a lunch-room complete with cooking facilities, and a dorm- like sleeping room.
The place was a self-contained fortress. Indeed, all the of fice’s perimeter walls were lined with Kevlar beneath studs laid over a heavy concrete wall. The windows in the outer walls-small openings above head height-were covered over with a so-called bulletproof plastic material. The place didn’t have a true name; the people who worked there just called it “work” or “the office.”
It secretly pleased Grady that Harry often picked the corner of her cubicle as a parking spot when Sam was in the of fice. He’d returned less than an hour ago, and she’d not seen him yet.
Her phone rang. That would be Sam, ready to be briefed on Bowden.
“We have some people coming in and I want you to brief them.”
“Really? Nobody ever comes here.”
“Sometimes the CIA does. Scotland Yard does.”
There was a long silence.
“I know. It’s a secret and it’ll happen when it happens.”
The sound of cell doors slamming had become common place for Benoit Moreau. She did not live in squalor or misery, but the modern, antiseptic prison felt desolate. On her cell walls she’d hung art torn from magazines: photos of the Swiss Alps, the Pyrenees, and a picture of the Tour de France. There was also a picture of herself so that she would not forget what she was supposed to look like.
Benoit mostly lived in her mind and not in her cell. She had an exceptional ability to visualize what was not, but what might be, and consequently she never gave up. In the words of a writer of the New Testament, with which she had become familiar as a child, she knew both how to be abased and how to abound. It was a tribute to her otherwise ques tionable character that she did not allow the trampling of her personal pride to dismantle her psyche. She had thought long and hard about how she’d gotten here, and she dwelled particularly on the men she had bedded and duped along the way. Of them, she was really interested in only one, and she determined that she would find her way back to him. Life, she decided, was the sum total of many small choices and she had made many bad ones to get to this place.
Before her life with DuShane Chellis and his company, Grace Technologies, she had been a rising executive, before that a student with many honors, including being named prenier, graduating avec mention particuliere du jury, and having her examination paper published in Le Monde. A se ries of jobs in the computer industry and related medical ap plications had resulted in her rapid rise. She had acquired a reputation as a smart, aggressive young woman who could get things done. Born Bernice, she called herself Benoit, a man’s name.
On a bright full-moon night in December she met DuShane Chellis at a party. Attending the event had been an after thought, and when she arrived, there was a buzz-people were talking about the consummate executive who was building a conglomerate faster than any businessman in French history. Some called him a savage because of his corporate takeover practices, but to Benoit, on that first evening, he was a charm ing savage. At the party, the first time he saw her, he kept his eyes on her. People noticed and opened a small path so that he could make his way to her. His attention and intensity were infectious; after a few minutes all those around him were glancing at her.
Within a few days she was hired as his assistant and within months a vice president. In six months the relationship became personal.
Benoit remembered him in the early years as uncompro mising, determined, passionate, and seemingly without weak ness. He could always concentrate and was never distracted, or so it seemed. He was a large man in every way, and when he walked into a room, he seemed to fill it. He knew how to relate to the man on the street and a prime minister. He seemed to Benoit to be the perfect corporate personality.
Like others who have lost control of their ego, as Chellis’s success increased, he changed, became self-absorbed, abu sive, and paranoid. For Benoit the day came when the thought of being near his power was replaced by the thought of taking it.
That day did not start out bad. Reports from Malaysia re garding the genetic technology-vector technology it was called-were never more optimistic. A brilliant young French scientist by the name of Georges Raval had discovered some thing amazing. He had taken two macaque monkeys and traded their hearts in simultaneous heart transplant surgeries. Both monkeys accepted the new heart without rejection and with out the use of immunosuppressants. They had reprogrammed the immune systems of the two monkeys using a process familiarly known as “Chaperone.” They expected that it would work on humans as well and would allow doctors to alter a patient’s cells genetically in ways that made the expressed protein fundamentally different, and then allow the immune system to accept the altered tissue that resulted from the gene therapy-a genuine medical miracle.
She had walked into DuShane’s office with two of the staffers that helped her administer the program. He was alone but on the phone yelling at a banker. He was in fair condition for age fifty-two, and he kept his salt-and-pepper gray hair impeccably groomed, swept back with natural waves. His face was unrounded by fat, more distinguished than pleasant. With his serious, dark eyes and the flat line of his mouth, he appeared to be a man who counted his conquests, a predator.
“I can always go across town. Don’t ever forget that. And don’t you dare ask me for more fees again.” He slammed down the phone and looked at Benoit, then at her assistants.
“I have some very good news from Malaysia,” Benoit began.
“Have you received Boudreaux’s budget yet? The costs over there are out of sight.”
“I mentioned that the budget will be here day after tomor row. You agreed.”
“I ask for a simple thing and I can’t get it!”
“Well, we wanted to share with you the great news concerning the research of Georges Raval, a young scientist.”
“I already know about it. You were supposed to have those reports. I ask for things around here and people pay no attention.”
“We discussed it and you agreed…”
“Then all I get is goddamn arguments. How can you do this and call yourself an executive? And why do you bring your damn toadies in here?” He dismissed the two assistants with a wave of his hand.
“That was rude and embarrassing.”
“Don’t fucking tell me what is rude. Rude is not getting the damn reports in on time. I have to run this whole com pany myself-do it all. Nobody else gets anything done. I have to watch, watch, watch. A bunch of damn children still shitting their pants.”
“If you would not like to hear about-“
“Don’t ever bring your flunkies in here unless I ask,” he shouted.
“I am leaving “
“You are not leaving. Ever since I promoted you, you have been building a little empire. You think you’re really doing something over in Malaysia. Well, I will tell you I started that when you were still a snot-nosed intern over at a bullshit company. So, now you want to run in here and tell me the good news as if you had something to do with it.”
“We know it was your idea. I just thought it was important that-“
“Get on the couch. We’re going to do what you’re really good at.”
He slapped her hard.
“I made you,” he said. There was blood on her face. He continued to work himself into a rage. She did not deny him the sex he demanded and during the days to follow continued to offer it under less violent circumstances, and for that as much as the other bad choices, she still loathed herself.
It was that same day in the evening that she first re sponded to Devan Gaudet’s entreaties. He was the most sin ister man she had ever come across. Chellis hired him for things that he seldom talked about, but she knew that Gaudet was shrewd and ruthless. That night she went to bed with him and thus began the long plot to dethrone Chellis. Thereafter she learned that there were men even more ruthless than Chellis, and Gaudet was one of them.
Chellis had been unwise in creating trusts to hold the stock of Grace Technologies, making his wife and Benoit trustees if he became incapacitated. Benoit, Chellis’s wife, and Gaudet saw to it that he was incapacitated, using the genetic brain- altering technology developed by Grace Technologies in Ma laysia to turn him into a quivering mass. Although it certainly wasn’t the purpose for which the technology was developed, the personality transformation was astounding.
When Benoit and Gaudet got control of Grace Technologies, the world was their oyster-except for a man called Sam. Unfortunately, Benoit didn’t know that this Sam fellow hated Gaudet as much as she hated Chellis. Sam, she learned, lived in a shadow world of spies and treachery. When Sam built the case that put her in prison, Gaudet did what he always did-protected himself and killed his enemies. Apparently, Sam was the exception to the formula since Gaudet had never been able to carry out the second half of his equation.
Benoit blamed herself for her lot in life and had carefully traced the bad choices. The difficulty was that making only inherently good decisions, if indeed she could recognize them, would not get her out of this pit. To escape she would have to resort to the more troubling of her talents and then, like a caterpillar that transforms itself into a butterfly, she would use her dark side to produce the light. Her task would require more cleverness than was common even for her, more guile than she had yet displayed, and in the end more goodness.
Circumstances would soon make the transformation a possibility. The French government had shown signs of be ginning an all-out campaign to solicit her assistance. She had started the process by giving them a meaningless hint, disclosing that the key to the riddle was nicknamed Chaperone, a protein molecule with a number of anomalies. Predictably, this had sparked their imagination, and for good reason: since Louis Pasteur, the French had not been good at anything ex cept wine and women. On this point she knew she was per haps a bit jaded, but it seemed that her countrymen were possessed of a kind of brilliance that enabled them only to do stupid things faster. As the government realized that mas tering the vector technology, and particularly Chaperone, would quench its thirst for greatness, its representatives would come to her. And she would be ready.
The familiar sound of the hall door slamming preceded a set of footsteps.
“They’re coming,” said the girl from the next cell.
Benoit gathered herself and waited obediently by the cell door.
They threw the switch and the door slammed open. As she walked down the corridor, some of the inmates called out greetings; a few unleashed curses. There were three more sets of doors and two corridors before she arrived in the long hall where prisoners usually waited for the visitation room. There were tables and one could sit with visitors under the watchful eyes of the guards. But this time there were no lines, no other prisoners. Her cousin Colette worked for important people and could arrange special visits.
Colette was the chief of staff for Charles Montpellier, a well-known member of France’s Senate, le Senat. Although Colette did not approve of Benoit’s chosen course in life, she nevertheless acknowledged that Benoit had a heart that seemed to draw those who loved life and some of its ex cesses. Benoit was the rascal that people liked despite them selves. That would include a fair portion of the French legislature, where she was well known to several members.
When she entered the visitation room, Colette managed a slight smile. Benoit knew her cousin hated it here. All the ta bles were bare metal, likewise the chairs and the walls equally stark and heartlessly mechanical.
Benoit sat down across the table from her cousin and, for a moment, they just stared as if looking across a gulf. And indeed they were. Two different worlds would collide and then, after a few short minutes, separate.
“I have a plan to change my life,” Benoit began.
“Too bad the men who put you here aren’t around to help.”
“Well, they aren’t and they wouldn’t. I’ve got to do this myself.”
“Does it involve committing more crimes?”
“I am in a bottomless pit. To get out I must climb over certain people.”
“I will use the greed and the lust in others to further my own advancement, but I myself shall not be taken with greed or take any ill-gotten gain. When I reach my goal, I will have love and a law-abiding life.”
“What about before you reach this goal?”
“I cannot promise perfection in a world of flaws. I need your help, Colette. I will not endanger you. I will ask you to do things that will enable me to catch demons, but I will catch no angels because I have no angel bait.”
“You speak in metaphors. I think Americans would say bullshit. But so far you have never dragged me into your problems. You have destroyed only yourself.”
“You know that the French government, now that they have taken over Grace Technologies, must be desperate to understand the genetic research that I helped administer before they put me in here.”
“I know very little about it really, but what if that is true?”
“If I helped them get it-if I did a great service for the government, could I get a pardon? This technology is very valuable. There are the parts Gaudet has. I can get those. There are the parts even Gaudet doesn’t have, the part called Chaperone. I can get that as well.”
“We have gone over this. I think there is no way for you to get a pardon.”
“I hear the SDECE is paying me a visit.”
“That is not about a pardon. It is because they desperately want your help. It is the beginning. Maybe years from now if things go well with them, you could get something. House arrest they call it, or something like that. Don’t think about a pardon, you will only be disappointed. Many French shareholders lost a fortune when Grace Technologies went under and they are angry. And I am telling you, do not try to fool the government.”
“I will tell the SDECE the truth. From you I want to know Admiral Francois Larive’s prospects for political advancement. I want to know where his strengths lie, what position he might next hold, and who would be responsible for getting him there. I want to know the same for an agent, Jean- Baptiste Sourriaux. In the not-too-far distant future I may want you to send certain e-mails to America.”
A guard came in.
“Time to go back.”
She would wait for the Service de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre Espionnage, commonly the SDECE, and she would hope-for without hope she would die.
Grady was dressed in her gym shorts and sweatshirt and was ready to go out the door for a late-afternoon workout in lieu of a lunch break. She was taking a last look at her desk; then she looked up from her cubicle to see Sam walking toward her with a gray-haired, mustached man. Her gut tight ened. Never had she met anyone inside this building that wasn’t part of the company. And certainly she had never met visiting dignitaries while she wore her gym clothes.
Harry growled a low growl.
That was even rarer.
“Grady, I would like you to meet Figgy Meeks, officially Alexander H. Meeks. One day I will have the pleasure of telling you how Figgy got his moniker.”
“I’ll blow you to hell, Sam,” Figgy said.
“This is Harry, he kind of adopts Grady when I leave and he’s my pal and he’s smarter than most people.”
Figgy nodded at Harry, but Harry left the cube, most likely for Sam’s desk.
“Figgy here, as you can see, is a cursing, uncouth man who can’t make breakfast taste good without the f word, but he helped teach me the spy trade.”
“The private spy trade. We could never persuade Sam to be come a government man, although it wasn’t for lack of trying.”
“He was good enough to teach me and they don’t come any better than this professor emeritus of the spy business. He’s here on behalf of the French government.”
At the mere mention of the word “French,” Grogg stuck his head up from a nearby cubicle, his quarter-inch-thick glasses hiding his eyes but not his emotions. Grogg couldn’t stand the French, but his feelings were based on nothing more than a nasty divorce to a rotund and mouthy woman of French descent.
“The French are the only human subspecies actually ca pable of fitting their own nose up their own ass,” Grogg said.
“This, as you know, I’m sure, is Grogg,” Sam said. “He no longer drinks French wine and he’s given up French women altogether.” Before Grogg could say anything, Sam said, “Come on. Let’s go to the conference room.”
As they turned to leave Grady’s cubicle, they ran into Jill. “Well, well,” she said. “Figgy Meeks, the legend himself.”
He kissed her hand, continental style, and she joined the group.
On the way down the hall Figgy stopped. “That must be the infamous ‘Big Brain.’ ” He stood at a large glass-walled area with racks of computer hardware.
“Officially it’s called the Common Object Repository for the Enterprise,” Sam said. “And Grogg here-our expert on French ex-wives-helped me conceive her.”
“Bet she’s some kind of memory hog, huh?” said Figgy.
“Anything we download is in there forever,” Grogg said. “It’s amazing how much we use old stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“Oh, we have investigators trained in what to feed Big Brain.”
“From people’s garbage cans to your computer,” Figgy said.
“Yep. We’re good at collecting garbage and other things. But it’s how you query the database that really matters.”
Figgy nodded, feigning interest for Grogg’s sake.
The conference room was large enough to seat thirty around the massive table. It was a room with character, col lectors’ items in a bookcase, pictures on the wall, heavy wood moldings, quite out of sync with the high-tech cubi cles in the rest of the office. Sam had a cubicle like everyone else, just a little bigger. When he wanted complete privacy, he worked in the conference room.
On a sideboard stood a jug of coffee, juice, soft drinks, and Danish pastries stuffed with a combination of cream cheese and blueberry preserves. Sam wanted two, but duti fully he passed on the pastries and high-calorie juices, poured himself some water, and thought about whether de fined abs were really worth it. The prior day he had suffered through the sight of Grogg wolfing down a Reuben sand wich. Sam had turkey on whole wheat, mustard, but no mayo. He was still thinking about the Reuben. Somehow he sensed that Grady was watching him and the Danish to see who would win and, of course, it was imperative that he be a rock. When alone, Sam had no problem with food, but there was something about watching another man expressing his satisfaction that tested Sam’s steel.
“So, let’s start with what I’ve got to know.” Figgy sat and took a giant bite of a Danish. “Fill me in on this technology.”
Sam leaned back in his chair. “Let’s not be disingenuous, Figgy. You work for the French, and they know the score. Better than we do. So don’t ask me — tell me.”
“Actually, the French are in the dark about this technol ogy.”
“According to the French, Grace Technologies never made any successful gene-altering discoveries. So what do they have to be concerned about?” Sam pressed.
“They know it’s a gene-altering technology that can induce violence or tranquillity in people. The French want to stop Gaudet as badly as you do. News of your incident with your neighbors up north sparked their interest. They sent me.” Figgy sat back in his chair, hands down, palms out. “Sam, we go back a long way. I’m telling you what they told me. I have no reason to disbelieve them.”
Sam looked at Grady and Grogg, chuckling. “See how good Figgy is. Now he’s using old times’ sake to get what he wants.”
Figgy finished the Danish. “Do we have a deal?”
“First you tell us what the French know about our problem; men we’ll get serious about deals and the like.”
Figgy sighed. “Grace was into all kinds of research-“
“I was there, Figgy. We all know in general about the vec tor technology. We know your clients have it and are proba bly floundering around with it. They’re probably torturing monkeys as we speak.”
“France now owns all the assets of Grace Technologies, including this vector technology. Devan Gaudet also has it, which could mean disaster anywhere, anytime. What we can’t figure is why Gaudet would use this extreme vector on a couple of your neighbors in the mountains.”
“Because he’s a twisted son of a bitch,” Jill said. “He has history with Sam. Maybe it’s a thrill to kill a guy using his neighbors.”
“What kind of history?” Figgy asked Sam.
Sam tried not to think about it. There had been plenty, and it wasn’t a favorite topic. “Like a lot of high-powered criminals, you tend to run into Gaudet in more than one sewer. He’s killed people who were close to me. That isn’t the point. The point is, yes, Gaudet possesses a powerful, poorly understood, destructive technology. But he doesn’t have the whole thing, at least as I understand it.”
Figgy’s face was a blank. “Meaning?”
“It’s an immune-system issue. It doesn’t take long for the body to reject this gene-changing vector, because it literally creates foreign tissue in you. It appears that with this particular vector, when they change the DNA in your brain cells, they might as well have been transplanted from another per son. Or it may be that the body is rejecting the vector, treating it the way it would a virus. So far, Gaudet doesn’t have the immunosuppressive part of the technology that we think was used by Grace. Either that, or he isn’t using it.” Sam paused. “Tell me if this isn’t familiar to you. The French know this. If they aren’t telling you, you’re of no use to them… or us.”
“I know what Grace did with the vectors. Generally. Grace used the vectors on human and nonhuman subjects. The vector worked to alter brain cells and the subjects lived without an immune-system catastrophe. Some of these people, like Chellis, are still in the custody of the French gov ernment, so we’re sure about this. Gaudet and Benoit gave Chellis what the Grace company staff called the nervous- flier vector-an extreme form that was cooked up just for him. The opposite end of the spectrum was an extreme version of a soldier vector called raging soldier.”
“You think that’s what Gaudet used on my neighbors?”
“No doubt. Best we can tell, the original vector technol ogy, as used by Grace, included some other exotic mole cule-the French have named it Chaperone, because that is what Benoit Moreau called it. Chaperone prohibits the vector from killing its host.”
“Gaudet doesn’t seem to have the Chaperone part of the vector. If he did, he’d have an unbelievably powerful-and valuable-tool. He wouldn’t waste time coming after you and your neighbors. He’d be selling it and maybe using it, depending on whether he’d like his homicidal creations to last more than a day or two. Instead, he doped your neigh bors with the raging soldier vector and, according to your re port to the FBI, one of them died within hours from the immune reaction.”
“Don’t be sure Gaudet wouldn’t be coming after me. He probably wants me as bad as I want him. But I do believe that Chaperone isn’t being used by Gaudet and that he prob ably doesn’t have it or understand it,” Sam said. “And I don’t understand why he didn’t try a much more efficient method of killing me. Using my neighbors wasn’t the best method and that is unlike Gaudet.”
Figgy stood and grabbed a second Danish. “We’re on the same page. We suspect that the people who understood this Chaperone technology are either dead or on the run. From Gaudet.”
“And the French,” Grogg added.
“Do you think this Michael Bowden knows something about Chaperone?” Figgy asked.
“Maybe. He’s an ethnobotanist. In the Amazon he could have discovered an organic material that at least contains the basis for the Chaperone molecule.”
“What makes you think that-besides Gaudet’s interest in Bowden?”
“For a few years Bowden has sent his organic samples to Northern Lights Pharmaceuticals. They in turn had a long relationship with-“
“Grace Technologies,” Figgy said.
“Before we make any deal, you have to tell me what the French want. Is it to catch Gaudet? Or to get ahold of Chaperone? Perhaps it has occurred to them that it would revolutionize the practice of medicine and be worth a for tune.”
“Both,” Figgy said. “The technology legally belongs to France. I have to be sure that you and the U.S. government will recognize my client’s title to the Chaperone technology, if you find it”
“Talk to patent lawyers and the State Department about that. It’s not my concern. Stopping and catching Gaudet is. But to do that, I have to know everything the French know about Chaperone.” Sam hated the amused look on Figgy’s face. For some perverse reason the Danishes had never looked all that tempting until Figgy started wolfing them down with such relish.
“You said Benoit Moreau nicknamed the substance Chaperone. Come on, Figgy. Tell me everything.”
Figgy shrugged. “I’ll tell you what I know, but my client won’t like it. Essentially, Benoit Moreau is not talking, al though she has told us a few things and we have gotten other information from Northern Lights.” Figgy took a sip of coffee. “As you might suspect, Benoit knew all the scientists. One or more of the scientists obviously understood Chaperone. Benoit knows which ones, maybe even where to find them.”
Sam stood and drew a cup of coffee. “Come on, Figgy, there’s got to be more.”
“I’m getting to it. Northern Lights Pharmaceuticals sup plied Grace with a complex protein molecule. They won’t admit it, but we can now assume the material came from their client Michael Bowden. They haven’t been able to fully analyze or describe the molecule yet. This is apparently typ ical of complex proteins-it can take a very long time. Synthesizing them is a bitch, and before you can even hope to do that, you have to figure out what it looks like or you have to know the gene that produces it. To some extent, Grace Technologies seems to have lucked into the Chaperone solution. They ordered an extract from Northern Lights, ex pecting an ordinary immunosuppressant like cyclosporine. It turned out to be about one thousand times more powerful and better suited to the brain in particular. It took some work, but Grace adapted it through some sort of chemical process that nobody we know understands. Instead of just temporarily suppressing the immune system, it seemingly reprograms it entirely. Nobody who’s talking has any idea how that works.”
Sam smiled. “And Northern Lights is fresh out of the Chaperone molecule, right?”
“Grace bought it all for a tremendous amount of cash. Bowden must know where to get more. His kind would never take all of a species. Presumably, Gaudet realizes this. So now it’s an old-fashioned footrace to the Amazon. The French are willing to let you contact Bowden if you’ll sign me up for your little program.”
“It’s a free country. I can contact Bowden anytime I wish.”
“Look, Sam, the CIA owes us and they promised us we’re in. And you need Benoit Moreau.”
“Figgy, I know the French have influence on this, but I don’t know why. Maybe they saved some poor soul that the U.S. government thought needed saving. And I see who pays my bills, so I do listen with at least one ear. But it wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve said no to our beloved govern ment.”
“Do we have a deal, Sam?”
“Only for old times’ sake, Figgy. But I’ll need full cooperation and full disclosure.”
“Good.” Figgy held out his hand and Sam shook it. “Full cooperation guaranteed. I’ve gotta get on a conference call, but could I first use the latrine?”
“Sure. But to make this deal, I need to ask you one thing: when you talk to your client, ask if they’ll arrange for me to talk with Benoit.”
“You sure you want to meet the dominatrix herself?”
Sam’s expression provided his answer.
“Sure. You bet. I’ll ask,” Figgy responded.
“Okay. To get to the restroom you go out of here, past Big Brain through the door, and down the hall to the right. If you find the dorm rooms, you’ve gone too far.”
“Don’t do anything exciting until I get back.” The big man took a last look at the food spread, chose a soda, and walked out.
“You didn’t mention anything about this Georges Raval,” Jill said after Figgy was out of earshot.
Sam smiled at her, his usual way of saying there would be no discussion. “Let’s talk about Michael Bowden.” He turned to Grady. “What did you find?”
“Didn’t you want me to brief Figgy at the same time?”
Sam gave her that smile again.
“You don’t trust him, do you?” she asked.
“I trust him fine,” Sam said. “But there’s no sense in testing human nature when there’s this much at stake.”