Read an Excerpt
By Matthew Reilly
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2003 Matthew Reilly
All rights reserved.
Sunday, 1 December, 1:27 p.m.
The sun shone brightly over Norwood Elementary School. Even though it was a Sunday, groups of schoolchildren were out playing on the school's enormous grassy playing field.
Status Check: Initialize electrification systems.
Norwood was one of the leading private elementary schools in Brooklyn Heights. An impressive academic record — and one of the biggest building funds in America — had made it one of the sought-after schools for the well-to-do. Today's fun fair was but one of its annual fundraising events.
At the bottom corner of the grassy playing area, a cluster of children had gathered. And in the middle of this cluster stood Holly Swain, nose-to-nose with Thomas Jacobs.
"He is not, Tommy."
"Is too. He's a murderer!"
The crowd of children gathered around the two combatants gasped at the word.
Holly tried to compose herself. The white lace collar of her uniform was beginning to feel very tight now and she was determined not to let it show. She shook her head sadly, raised her nose a little higher.
"You're so childish, Tommy. Such a boy."
The girls behind her chirped similar comments in support.
"How can you call me childish when you're only in the third grade?" Tommy retorted. The group assembled behind him echoed their agreement.
"Don't be so immature," Holly said. Good word, she thought.
Tommy hesitated. "Yeah, well, he's still a murderer."
"He is not."
"He killed a man, didn't he?"
"Well, yes, but ..."
"Then he's a murderer." Tommy looked around himself for support. "Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!" The group behind him joined in.
"Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!"
Holly felt her fists clench by her side, felt her collar tighten around her neck. She remembered her father. Be a lady. Got to be a lady.
She spun around, her blond ponytail flinging over her shoulders. The girls around her were shaking their heads at the taunts of the boys. Holly took a deep breath. She smiled to her friends. Got to be a lady.
Behind her, the boys' chant continued.
"Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!"
Finally, Tommy called out above the chant, "If her father's a murderer, then Holly Swain will probably grow up to be a murderer, too!"
"Yeah! Yeah, she will!" his group urged.
Holly's smile went flat.
Slowly — ever so slowly — she turned back round to face Tommy. A hush fell over the crowd.
Holly stepped closer. Tommy chuckled, glancing around at his friends. Only now his supporters were silent.
"Now I'm upset," Holly said flatly. "I think you'd better take back those things you've been saying. Would you, please?"
Tommy smirked and then leaned forward. "Nope."
"Okay, then," Holly said, smiling politely. She looked down at her uniform, straightened her skirt.
Then she hit him.
The clinic had become a battlefield.
Glass exploded everywhere as test tubes crashed against the walls. The nurses leaped clear of the melee, hurriedly moving the multi-million-dollar equipment out of the line of fire.
Dr. Stephen Swain burst out of the adjoining observation room and immediately set about calming the source of the storm — a 57-year-old, 240-pound, big-busted woman named Rosemary Pederman, a guest of New York University Hospital on account of a cerebral aneurism.
"Mrs. Pederman! Mrs. Pederman!" Swain called. "It's okay. It's okay. Just calm down," he said gently. "What seems to be the problem?"
"The problem?" Rose Pederman spat. "The problem, young man, is that I will not put my head in that ... that thing ... until someone tells me exactly what it does!"
She jerked her chin at the enormous Magnetic Resonance Imaging — or MRI — machine which occupied the center of the room.
"Come on, Mrs. Pederman," Swain said. "We've been through this before."
Rose Pederman pouted, childlike.
"The MRI will not harm you in any way —"
"Young man. How does it work?"
Swain pursed his lips tightly.
At 39, he was the youngest ever partner in Borman & White, the radiologist collective, and for a very simple reason — Swain was good. He could see things in an X-ray or CAT-scan that no one else could, and on more than one occasion, had saved lives by doing so.
This fact, however, was difficult to impress upon older patients since Swain — sandy-haired and clean-shaven, with a lean physique and sky-blue eyes — looked about ten years younger than his actual age. Except for the fresh red vertical scar that cut down across his lower lip, a feature which seemed to age him, he could have passed for a third-year resident.
"You want to know how it works?" Swain said seriously. He resisted the urge to look at his watch. He had somewhere to be. But then, Rose Pederman had gone through six radiologists already and this had to stop.
"Yes, I do," she said stubbornly.
"Okay. Mrs. Pederman, the process you are about to undertake is called Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It's not unlike a CAT-scan, in that it generates a cross-sectional scan of your skull. Only instead of using photovoltaic methods, we use controlled magnetic energy to realign the ambient electrostatic conductivity in your head in order to create a three-dimensional composite cross-section of your cranium."
"The magnet in the MRI machine affects the natural electricity in your body, Mrs. Pederman, giving us a perfect picture of the inside of your head."
"Oh, well ..." Mrs. Pederman's lethal frown instantly transformed into a beaming, maternal smile. "That's quite all right then. That was all you had to tell me, lovey."
An hour later, Swain burst through the doors of the surgeons' locker room.
"Am I too late?" he said.
Dr. James Wilson — a red-haired pediatrician who ten years previously had been the best man at Swain's wedding — was already moving quickly toward him. He hurled Swain's briefcase to him. "It's 14-13 to the Giants. If we hurry, we can catch the last two quarters at McCafferty's. Come on. We'll go through the ER."
"Thanks for waiting," Swain hurried to keep up with his friend's rapid strides.
"Hey, it's your game," Wilson said as he walked.
The Giants were playing the Redskins and Wilson knew that Swain had been waiting a long time for this game. It had something to do with Swain living in New York and his father who lived back in D.C.
"Say," Wilson said, "how's that lip healing up?"
"It's okay." Swain touched the vertical scar on his lower lip. "Still a bit tender. Got the stitches out last week."
Wilson turned as he walked, grinning. "Makes you look even uglier than you already are."
They arrived at the door to the emergency room, opened it —
— and were immediately met by the pretty face of Emma Johnson, one of the floating nurses at the hospital.
The two men stopped instantly.
"Hey, Steve, how are you?" Emma looked only at Swain.
"Gettin' there," he replied. "How about you?"
A coy cock of the head. "I'm good."
"I'm fine, too," Jim Wilson chimed in. "Not that anyone seems to care ..."
Emma said to Swain: "You wanted me to remind you about your meeting with Detective Dickson, about the ... incident. Don't forget you have to see him at five."
"Right," Swain nodded, absently stroking the cut on his lip. "No problem. I can do that after the game."
"Oh, I almost forgot," Emma added. "You got another message. Norwood Elementary called about ten minutes ago. They want to know if you can come down there right away. Holly's been fighting again."
Swain sighed. "Not again. Right away?"
Swain turned to Wilson. "Why today?"
"Why not?" Wilson said wryly.
"Is there a delayed telecast of the game later tonight?"
"I think so, yeah," Wilson said.
Swain sighed again. "I'll call you."
Stephen Swain leaned on the steering wheel of his Range Rover as he pulled it to a stop at the traffic lights. He glanced across at the passenger seat beside him. Holly was sitting with her hands in her lap and her head bowed, her feet jutting out horizontally from the seat, unable to reach the floor. They weren't swinging wildly about as they usually did.
The car was quiet.
"You okay?" Swain asked.
Swain leaned over to look at her.
"Oh, don't do that," he said gently, reaching for a tissue. "Here." He dabbed at the tears that had run down her cheeks.
Swain had arrived at the school just as Holly was leaving the vice-principal's office. Her ears were pink and she'd been crying. It was harsh, he thought, that an eight- year-old should get such a stern lecture.
"Hey," he said. "It's all right."
Holly lifted her head. Her eyes were watery and red.
She swallowed. "I'm sorry, Daddy. I tried."
"To be a lady. I really did. I really tried hard."
Swain smiled. "You did, huh?" He grabbed another tissue. "Mrs. Tickner didn't tell me what made you do it. All she said was that a teacher at the fair found you straddled on top of some boy, beating the hell out of him."
"Mrs. Tickner wouldn't listen to me. She just kept saying that it didn't matter what made me do it, only that it was wrong for a lady to fight."
The lights went green. They moved off.
"So what did happen, then?"
Holly hesitated. "Tommy Jacobs was calling you a murderer."
Swain closed his eyes momentarily. "He was, was he?"
"And you tackled him and punched him for that?"
"No, I punched him first."
"But for that. For calling me a murderer?"
Swain turned to face Holly and nodded. "Thanks," he said seriously.
Holly smiled weakly. Swain turned his eyes back to the road. "How many lines did you get?"
"One hundred times: 'I must not fight because it is not ladylike.'"
"Well, since this was partly my fault, what do you say you do fifty, and I'll do the other fifty in your handwriting."
Holly smiled. "That would be good, Daddy." Her eyes began to brighten.
"Good," Swain nodded. "Just next time, try not to fight. If you can, try to think your way out of it. You'd be surprised, you can do a lot more damage with your brains than with your fists. And you can still be a lady at the same time." Swain slowed the car and looked at his daughter. "Fighting is never the answer. Only fight when it's the last option you've got."
"Like you did, Daddy?"
"Yeah," Swain said. "Like I did."
Holly lifted her head, began to peer out the window. She didn't recognize this area.
"Where are we going?" she said.
"I've got to go to the police station."
"Daddy, are you in trouble again?"
"No, honey, I'm not in trouble."
"Can I help you!" the receptionist yelled above the din.
Swain and Holly were standing in the lobby of the 14th Precinct of the New York Police Department. There was activity everywhere. Cops hauling drug dealers away; phones ringing; people shouting. A prostitute in the corner winked sexily at Swain as he stood at the check-in desk.
"Uh, yes, my name is Stephen Swain. I'm here to see Detective Dickson. I was supposed to see him at five, but I'm a little early —"
"That's fine. He's up in his office now. You can go right up. Office 209."
Status Check: Electrification systems ready.
Swain headed for the stairwell at the rear of the bullpen. As he did so, Holly bounded to his side and grabbed his hand. Swain looked down at the blond ponytail bobbing madly up and down beside him. Wide-eyed and interested, Holly was taking in the pandemonium of the police station with the curiosity of a scientist. She certainly was resilient, that was for sure, and with her blond hair, blue eyes, button nose and sharp eyes, she was looking more and more like her mother every day ...
Stop it, Swain thought. Don't go there. Not now ...
He shook his thoughts away as they ascended the stairs.
On the second floor, they came to a door marked: 209:HOMICIDE. Swain heard a familiar voice shouting from within.
"I don't care what your problems are! I want that building locked down, okay!"
"But sir —"
"Don't give me that, John. Just listen for a moment, will you. Good. Now look at what we have here. A security guard found lying on the floor — in two pieces — and a two-bit thief sitting there next to him. Yeah, that's right, he's just sitting there when we arrive.
"And this thief, he's got blood all over his face and all down the front of his body. But it's not his blood, it's the guard's. Now I don't know what's going on. You tell me. Do you think this thief is from one of those crazy sects, who goes out, chops up a security guard, rubs the blood all over himself, and then manages to overturn a couple of ten-foot-tall bookcases?"
The voice paused for a moment, listening while the other man mumbled something.
"John, we don't know shit. And until we find out more, I'm shutting down that library. Okay?"
"Okay, Cap," the other voice relented.
"Finally," the first voice was calm again. "Now get down there, set up the tape around all entrances and exits, and put a couple of our guys inside for the night."
The door opened. Swain stepped aside as a short officer came out of the office, smiled quickly at him, and then headed down the corridor and into the stairwell.
Status Check: Electrification to commence in two hours.
Earth time: sixth hour post meridian.
Swain knocked softly on the door and peered inside the office.
The wide room was empty, save for one desk over by the window. There Swain saw a large barrel-chested man seated in a swivel chair, his back to the door. He was gazing out the window, sipping from a coffee mug, savoring, it seemed, a rare moment's silence.
Swain knocked again.
"Yeah, come in," the man didn't look up.
Swain hesitated, "Ah, Detective —"
Captain Henry Dickson swung around in his swivel chair. "Oh, I'm sorry, I was expecting someone else." He got up quickly, crossed the room and shook Swain's hand. "How are you today, Dr. Swain?"
"Gettin' there," Swain nodded. "I had some time so I thought I'd come in and get this thing out of the way, if that's all right."
Dickson led them to his desk where he reached into a drawer and pulled out a file.
"Sure, no problem," Dickson fished through the file. "It shouldn't take more than a couple minutes anyway. Just give me a moment here."
Swain and Holly waited.
"All right," Dickson said at last, holding up a sheet. "This is the statement you gave on the night of the incident. What we'd like to do is include it in the coronial report, but I just wanted to make sure we'd covered everything. Is that okay with you?"
"Good, then I'll just read it to you to make sure it's okay, and then you can sign the report and we can all be out of here."
Status Check: Officials from each system report that teleports are ready. Awaiting transmission of grid coordinates of labyrinth.
Dickson straightened himself in his chair.
"All right, then," he began to read from the statement, "at approximately 8:30 p.m. on the night of October 2, 2002, I was working in the emergency room of New York University Hospital, New York City. I had been called in to do a radiology consult on a gunshot wound to a police officer. X-rays, C-spines and a CAT-scan had been taken and I had just returned to the emergency ward with the films when five Latin American youths wearing gang colors burst in through the main doors of the emergency ward firing automatic weapons.
"Everyone in the ward dived for the floor as the wave of bullets smashed into everything in sight — computer screens, whiteboards, everything.
"The gang members fanned out immediately, shouting to each other, 'Find him and kill him!' Two of them brandished automatic rifles while the other three held pistols."
Swain listened in silence as Dickson recounted the events of that night. He remembered being told later that the wounded cop had been with the Vice Squad. Apparently, he'd been working undercover in Queens with a crack-dealing gang when his cover had been blown during a raid. He'd been winged during the shoot-out, and now the gang-bangers — incensed at his role in the bust — had come to the hospital to finish him off.
Dickson kept reading: "I was standing just outside the wounded policeman's room when the five men stormed the ER. There was noise everywhere — people were screaming, guns were booming — and I ducked behind the nearest corner.
"Then suddenly I saw one of the pistol-bearing gang members rush toward the wounded cop's room. I don't know what made me do it, but when I saw him reach the doorway to the room and see the cop inside — and smile — I leaped at him from behind, tackled him hard.
"We slammed into the doorframe together, but he elbowed me sharply in the mouth — cutting my lip — and we fell apart and then suddenly before I knew what was happening, he was swinging his pistol around toward me.
"I caught his wrist in mid-flight — held the gun clear of my body — just as one of the other gang members arrived right in front of us.
Excerpted from Contest by Matthew Reilly. Copyright © 2003 Matthew Reilly. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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