Forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett is called to the scene of a plane inbound from London to San Francisco. A passenger is behaving erratically, offering Jo cryptic clues from a shattered past: something about a missing wife and son...a secret partnership gone horribly wrong...and, most alarming, a deadly biological agent that no one can stop.
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Later, Seth remembered cold air and red light streaking the westernsky, music in his ears, and his own hard breathing. Later, heunderstood, and the understanding stuck in his memory like a thorn.He never heard them coming.
The trail through Golden Gate Park was rutted and he was ridingwith his earphones in, tunes cranked high. His guitar was in abackpack case slung around his shoulders. Crimson sunset strobedbetween the eucalyptus trees. When he reached Kennedy Drive, hejumped the curb, crossed the road, and aimed his bike into the shortcutthrough the woods. He was a quarter mile from home.
He was late. But if he rode hard he could still beat his mom backfrom work. His breath frosted the air. The music thrashed in his ears.He barely heard Whiskey bark.
He glanced over his shoulder. The dog was at a standstill on thepath fifty yards behind him. Seth skidded to a stop. He pushed hisglasses up his nose, but the trail lay in shadow and he couldn’t seewhat Whiskey was barking at.
He whistled and waved. “Hey, doofus.”
Whiskey was a big dog, part Irish setter, part golden retriever. Partsofa cushion. And all heart, every dumb inch of him. His hackles wereup.
If Whiskey ran off, chasing him down could take forever. Thenhe’d totally be late. But Seth was fifteen—in a month, anyhow—andWhiskey was his responsibility.
He whistled again. Whiskey glanced at him. He could swear thedog looked worried.
He pulled out his earbuds. “Whiskey, come.”
The dog stayed, fur bristling. Seth heard traffic outside the parkon Fulton. He heard birds singing in the trees and a jet overhead. Heheard Whiskey growl.
Seth rode toward him. It might be a raccoon, and even in San Franciscoraccoons could have rabies.
He stopped beside the dog. “Hey, boy. Stay.”
He heard a car door close, back on Kennedy. Boots crunched onleaves and pine needles. Whiskey’s ears went back. Seth grabbed hiscollar. Tension was vibrating from the dog.
The birds weren’t singing anymore.
“Come. Heel,” Seth said, and turned around.
A man stood on the trail in the dusk, ten feet ahead. Surprise fizzedthrough Seth all the way to his hair.
The man’s shaved head ran straight down to his shoulders withoutstopping for a neck. His arms hung by his sides. He looked like a ballparkfrank that had been boiled all day.
He nodded at Whiskey. “He’s a handful. What’s his name?”
The sun was almost down. Why was the guy wearing sunglasses?
He snapped his fingers. “Here, dog.”
Seth held Whiskey’s collar. The fizzing covered his skin, and he hada bright, thumping feeling behind his eyes. What was this guy after?
The hot dog in shades tilted his head. “I said, what’s his name,Seth?”
The brightness pounded behind Seth’s eyes. The man knew whohe was.
Of course the man did. Seth was lanky and had coppery hair thatstuck up like straw and pale blue eyes that could shoot people thelook, the one his mom called the thousand-yard stare. Just my luck,she said sometimes. You look exactly like your father.
Seth gripped Whiskey’s collar. Just his luck. His bad luck. His bad,bad, oh, shit—this had to do with his dad.
What was this guy after? This guy was after him.
He took off. He jumped on the pedals and bolted like a greyhound,ninety degrees away from Oscar Mayer Man, riding like a maniac intothe woods.
“Whiskey, come,” he yelled.
There was no trail, just bumpy ground covered with brown grassand dead leaves. He gripped the handlebars and pedaled harder thanhe thought his legs could turn. His glasses bounced on his nose. Hisearphones swung down and bucked against the bike. Tunes dribbledout.
Behind him, Whiskey barked. Seth felt too scared to look back.Oscar Mayer wasn’t the only one. Whiskey had been growling atsomething on Kennedy Drive, and Seth had heard a car door slamand footsteps on the trail. His throat felt like it had an apple jammeddown it. Two guys were here to get him.
He had to warn his mom.
His cell phone was in his jeans pocket, but riding like a psycho,he couldn’t reach it. A moan rose in his throat. He fought it down.He couldn’t cry. The trees had darkened from green to black. Ahead,a hundred yards away through the branches, he glimpsed headlightspassing on Fulton Street.
He had to get home. His mom—God, what if these guys went afterher, too?
Ninety yards to Fulton. Headlights glared white through the trees.His hands were cramping on the handlebars, his legs burning. Theguitar bounced in the backpack case. The bike slammed over a rut.
Seth held it, straightened out, and kept going. There’d be people onFulton. The headlights drew closer.
Behind him, Whiskey yelped.
He looked over his shoulder. His dog was bounding after himthrough the brush. Behind the dog came Oscar Mayer.
“Whiskey, run,” Seth yelled.
His legs felt shaky but he dug in again, flying toward the street pastan old oak tree.
The second man was waiting behind it.
He shot out an arm as Seth rode past and grabbed the neck of theguitar, yanking him off the bike. Seth’s feet swung up and his armsflew wide. He crashed to the ground on top of the guitar. Heard thestrings sproing and the body crack. The breath slammed out of him.The man grabbed him. This guy was square with a gray buzz cut,like a concrete brick. He was old but covered with acne. He draggedSeth to his feet.
Seth kicked at him. “Let me go.”
It came out as a scream. Seth swung a fist and kicked for the man’sknees.
“Jesus.” The man twisted Seth’s arm behind his back.
A sharp pain wracked his elbow. The man shoved him toward thebushes.
Then, in a rush of muscle and power and furious barking, Whiskeyattacked. The dog lunged and sank his teeth into the man’s wrist. Thebrick reeled and let go of Seth.
Seth staggered, glasses crooked, through the trees toward FultonStreet. Behind him he heard crazy barking. The brick shouting. A horribleyelp from Whiskey.
Forty yards to Fulton. Whiskey’s whimper fell to a moan of pain.Seth kept running. Twenty yards. He could hear his dad: Don’t swervefor an animal. If it’s between you and a dog in the road, you need tobe the one who lives.
But this was happening because of his dad, and he had to get outof it or he and his mother were going to be in a whole huge world ofpain and fear.
Fifteen yards. He could see the street, cars, the sidewalk, the crossstreet that led off Fulton. His street—his house was a block up theroad. He squinted, trying to tell if his mom’s car was parked there.
Somebody was standing on the driveway. A woman—he saw palelegs in a skirt. Long light-brown hair.
His strength flooded back in a vivid burst. “Mom!”Whiskey wailed.
Seth faltered. Whiskey had rescued him—he couldn’t abandon thedog. He spotted a rock, picked it up, and turned around.
Oscar Mayer was barreling straight at him. Before Seth could jumpthe man hunkered low, like a linebacker, and tackled him.
Seth hit the ground so hard his glasses flew, but he kept hold of therock. He bashed it against the guy’s head.
“Let me fucking go.”
The man grabbed Seth’s hand and pinned it to the ground. Thebrick ran up, jerking Whiskey by the collar.
“Really is his old man’s kid, isn’t he?” The brick turned his arm,looking at a bloody bite. “Bastard mutt.”
Seth threw his head back. “Mom!”
Oscar Mayer grabbed his face and tried to force his mouth openand shove a handkerchief inside to gag him. The man had blood onhis forehead where the rock had hit. Seth locked his jaw. Whiskeysurged, trying to reach him. The man pinched his nose. Seth kicked,trying to get the guy’s knees, but next to the human hot dog he wasjust a stick insect. He opened his mouth to gulp a breath and got thehandkerchief jammed past his teeth.
The man grabbed Seth’s hair, leaned down, and put his lips next toSeth’s ear. “I’ll hurt you.” His voice, so close, made wet noises againstSeth’s skin. “But first I’ll hurt your dog. With a screwdriver.”
All Seth’s strength turned to water. A dark weight pressed on hischest, and tears rose uncontrollably toward his eyes.
Oscar Mayer smiled behind his shades. His gums looked pink andglistening. He turned to the brick. “Call.”
Without his glasses the twilight looked blurred and murky. Sethheard the brick on a cell phone.
Oscar Mayer wiped the back of his forearm over his brow. “Youknow what this is about?”
On the street, a black van screeched to a stop. A man hopped out andstrutted toward the woods. He was a skinny white guy, but he looked likea gangbanger. Or like one he’d seen on MTV. Blue bandanna tied aroundhis forehead, chain hanging from the pocket of his saggy jeans, shouldersrolling. He was like the Mickey Mouse Club version of a lowrider.
Oscar Mayer eyed him like he was dressed for a parade. Markinghim down as a moron. A scary one.
Then he turned his hot dog head back to Seth. “You know whereyour dad is? What he’s doing?”
Seth clamped his mouth shut.
“You got a choice. You want to get hurt, or disappear?” He scannedSeth’s face and let his wet mouth smile again. “Didn’t think so.” Helooked at the other men. “Get him up.”