Infinity's Childby Harry Stein, Laural Merlington (Read by)
In a small bio-tech lab in New Hampshire, a group of scientists are nearing a breakthrough. They have uncovered the secret to longevity--in one family's genetic code. But they are missing one crucial factor: a living tissue sample from a newborn who possesses the coveted "infinity gene." With time and money running out, the researchers will stop at nothing to get their hands on the infant whose genetic makeup is worth billions.
A few miles away, a woman has just learned she is pregnant. Sally Benedict, editor of a small-town newspaper, is thrilled--until a series of grave robberies hits close to home and turns her world upside down. When Sally uncovers a link between the grave robberies, herself, and her unborn child, she knows that there is no one she can trust--not her family doctor, not her obstetrician, not anyone in the medical profession. And, in a hair-raising climax set in an isolated rural hospital, Sally proves just how far a mother will go to protect her child, as Harry Stein's spellbinding novel races toward its stunning conclusion.
Back home again in Edwardstown, New Hampshire, after a successful stint as a big-city journalist, Sally Benedict is happily married to high-school teacher Mark, expecting her first child, and running the local weekly. When she learns that corpses have been removed from the municipal burial grounds under cover of darkness, however, she immediately fears that there's more to these desecrations than teenage vandalism. Sally's instincts are right. Two fanatic researchers who traced a longevity gene to the female line of Sally's family have been exhuming her forebears to reproduce the gene in their Manchester lab. Nor are the mad scientists unaware that Sally will soon produce a baby that could prove a vital source of tissue for their unholy project. But stonewalled by Edwardstown's venal police chief and dissuaded by R. Patrick Holt (a self-absorbed ex-colleague known for his coverage of life-span issues), the mother-to-be almost gives up on the story. Then, despite Mark's concern that she may be in the grip of pregnancy-induced hysteria, she revives the dormant inquiry after the sudden death of an aggressive young colleague and the mysterious post-operative demise of her own mother. Clueless Mark is eventually persuaded to bear a hand in the investigation, and the fiendish conspiracy comes quickly undone as Sally fights off the would-be kidnapper of her newborn in the obstetrics ward at Edwardstown General.
A bestseller bid that, for all its plausible detail on designer genes, is unevenly paced, hastily resolved, and fatally deficient in the suspense area.
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Read an Excerpt
Sally Benedict didn't know how much longer she could keep up appearances. Never much at lighthearted party chatter to begin with, playing hostess this evening for the Edwardstown Weekly's annual Halloween open house left her mouth dry and her head throbbing.
It was incredible, some kind of grotesque joke--this year there were babies everywhere. Where had they all come from? As editor of the Weekly, how could she have not known about so dramatic a rise in the local newborn population?
But, no, of course it wasn't that. Probably there had been just as many at last year's party, and the one the year before. She'd just never noticed before.
The change was in her.
Now, turning the corner on her way to the kitchen for another bottle of cider, she stopped in midstride. This one was the most achingly appealing yet. Asleep in his mother's arms, all pink cheeks and blond fuzz, he was a vision out of a Renaissance painting.
For a long moment she just stared.
"He's two months, this is his very first party," announced the mother, beaming. "His name's Charlie."
Though Sally had known the woman vaguely since high school, her name always seemed to escape her.
"I'm really lucky. I never thought it would happen, I just about gave up hope...."
Tentatively, Sally reached out and brushed his cheek with her thumb; as always, surprised at the extraordinary softness.
"What about you, Sally? Think you might still take the plunge?"
She quickly withdrew her hand. "Uhh...I can't say."
"Of course," said the mother coolly, defensive. "To each her own, I guess. Not everyone's ababy person."
Jeannie Porter, Sally realized through her pain, that was her name--and she'd never much liked her. But she resisted the impulse to answer in kind. After all, the feeling was probably shared by most in the room. Sally Benedict's driving passion was her work, that's what everyone around here thought.
And how, really, could she even blame them? Not so long ago she'd have said the same thing herself.
"Does he have a costume?" asked Sally. "I'd love to get a shot of him for the paper...."
Generating goodwill for the Weekly was, after all, the purpose of this gathering. Kids had been trooping to the makeshift photo studio in the den all evening long to be snapped for the paper's annual "Edwardstown's Kids Do Halloween!" feature.
Instantly, Jeannie was smiling again. "I tried to make him a pirate, but he wouldn't take the eye patch."
"Next year, then," offered Sally, starting to disengage. "We'll save the front page."
Distractedly greeting people as she went, she made her way through the crowded dining room to what was left of the six-foot-long super hero and sliced off a piece.
Then, pouring herself a plastic cup of red wine--her fourth--she retreated to a corner.
"You okay?" asked her husband, Mark, appearing beside her.
"I gotta get out of here."
He nodded meaningfully. "Jeannie Porter's immaculate conception, right?"
"Oh, you're lucky, you were spared the full story." He took her hand and squeezed. "Don't let it get to you, she's resented you since high school--ever since you whipped her in the finals of the four forty."
"Thanks, that helps." She gave a wistful smile. "It beats thinking of myself as bitter and petty."
In fact, he'd loved her just as long. Even back then, she was more complicated than she showed; a lithe blonde with an athlete's grace, inquisitive and full of humor, her deep brown eyes reflecting her quicksilver moods. Something of a star himself in high school--rhythm guitar in the area's best novice rock band--like everyone else he recognized Sally Benedict as a supernova, operating at a level of competency and confidence that had nothing to do with normal adolescence. Already the future she'd been plotting since elementary school seemed to be unfolding. Who else in this rural New Hampshire town had ever won Mademoiselle magazine's annual essay contest, with its prize of a summer internship in New York City? Who else had even thought to enter?
Four years ago, when she returned to town after her father's death in a car accident, it was as a big-deal reporter with The Philadelphia Inquirer; while he was still going off every day to their former alma mater, teaching science. So he was startled the first time they ran into one another by her offer to buy him dinner--and nothing short of floored by her admission that she'd had a secret crush on him also. Steeling himself for her departure three weeks later, he scarcely dared believe it when she announced her intention to stay.
"What about your job?" was the obvious question.
"My mother needs me a lot more. I hear they're looking for someone to run the Weekly." She paused, then, with such conviction, it was as if the words had never been spoken before, "This is home, this is where I'm happiest."
As literal about these things as most guys, Mark understood only much later that, on some level, her return had at least as much to do with starting a family of her own. Even now, just thirty-six, she could probably have her pick of high-profile jobs in Boston or New York. But what she wouldn't have was this rambling Victorian with its immense front yard, and relatives close at hand, and the ability to bend a work schedule around the demands of motherhood.
To Mark, an easygoing sort, the idea of kids was fine. Why not? In a vague sort of way he'd always figured it would someday happen. But not having kids would be okay too. It was this helpless in-between state that was so hard to take; the maelstrom of anxiety and doubt into which Sally had been thrown after more than a year of trying.
Now, at the party, he spotted a pair of sullen sixteen-year-olds with pierced noses and dyed pink hair lounging in a nearby corner. "Hey, guys," he called out, for Sally's benefit. "Terrific costumes."
"You know them?"
"Former students of mine." He dropped his voice. "Look at the bright side--that's what babies turn into."
She smiled weakly, appreciating the effort. "I'll take my chances."
"Look," he offered, "you really look like you can use a break. Why don't you duck out for a while? Your mom and I will handle things here." He nodded toward Sally's mother in the next room, shepherding a half dozen kids into line beneath a jack-o'-lantern pi±ata.
She hesitated, then nodded. "Just for a little while."
Slowly she made her way upstairs and into the spare room Mark had turned into a home office.
Taking a couple of Tylenol, she clicked on the TV and collapsed onto the couch. Arm flung across her face, watching through one heavily lidded eye, she flashed by the channels.
Abruptly, she sat up, and flipped back a couple of spots.
Yes, there he was--R. Paul Holland! Slightly grayer than when she had last seen him, back when they were working together in Philadelphia, but wearing precisely the same thoughtful expression he always used for public appearances.
America's greatest science reporter--a man of unsurpassed integrity and acumen. And the single most cynical person she had ever known.
The program was on the cable station CNBC. Holland and another guest flanked the host, who was speaking directly into the camera.
"...challenging the belief that aging is inevitable. Could science really make the age-old dream of eternal youth a reality? Tonight: the exciting new field of longevity research. Our guests: Dr. Jaroslav Dusek, a pioneer in such research in his native Slovakia. And prize-winning reporter R. Paul Holland of the New York Herald, who has recently written a series on..."
She noted the host's deference and, in reaction, Holland's warm smile.
Though the pounding in her head was worse than ever, the feeling that swept over her was remarkably like relief. God, to think of all the months and years she had spent among acclaimed journalists whose egos, up close and personal, never stopped needing shoring up! For all the frustrations of the life she was living, how lucky she was to have left her old one behind!
Still, she couldn't bring herself to switch it off.
Meet the Author
Harry Stein has been published widely in the US. His books include three works on nonfiction and two novels, The Magic Bullet and Hoopla. He lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
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