Christofferson's gripping novels of medical suspense have drawn favorable comparisons to the work of Michael Crichton and Robin Cook. Now she returns with a page-turning thriller that explores the cutting edge of medicineand murder.
It is a new crime for a new century. Biopiracy: the theft of the healing secrets of isolated, indigenous peoples. Rapacious pharmaceutical companies swoop down on remote Third World tribes, steal their folk medicine, native cures, and even human blood, then reap tremendous profits from the patents.
Dr. Jake Scully doesn't want to think that his employer, Genchrom, is exploiting anyone, let alone killing natives for the unique properties of their DNA, but when he tries to blow the whistle on the company's criminal activities, he places his own lifeand his familyin danger.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||4.22(w) x 6.71(h) x 1.17(d)|
About the Author
April Christofferson, an attorney with a background in biotechnology, lives in Seattle with her family. She holds an undergraduate degree in biology and did graduate work in veterinary medicine.
Read an Excerpt
Patent To Kill
By April Christofferson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2003 April Christofferson
All rights reserved.
As the Mexican sunlight inched its way across the floor's red tiles, Jake Skully reached for his wife, Ana. Even half-asleep, the thought of making love to Ana before they got up for work had him fully aroused.
They would have to be quiet, and quick. The boys had begun waking before the alarm.
But the cool, unruffled sheet that greeted Jake's groping hand cruelly shattered his sleep-induced amnesia.
Jake bolted upright and swung his legs over the side of the bed, sweat beading on his face. As the now familiar black dread once again encompassed him, he dropped his head into his hands and moaned like a wounded animal.
Ana was gone.
Reaching for the clock that sat on the bedside table, Jake turned the alarm off and threw back the single cotton sheet covering him. He went to the bedroom door and peered across the still darkened hallway into the room in which his two sons slept. The older of the two, Michael, lay facing Jake, his back pressed to the wall to accommodate his little brother, Antony, who had crawled in bed with him sometime after Jake tucked them both in the night before.
Reassured by the sight of his boys, Jake pushed the door shut silently, grabbed the terry cloth robe hanging on the back of it and headed for the cordless telephone on the bedside table. Slipping into the robe and knotting it loosely around his trim waist, he picked up the phone and punched in the number he'd memorized.
"Policia," a female voice answered.
"Sergeant de Santos," Jake said impatiently.
Jake paced frantically while he waited. It took almost ten minutes for a familiar voice to come on the line.
"Sargento de Santos."
"It's about time," Jake said impatiently. "This is Jake Skully. What news do you have?" The pause was short but noticeable.
"Buenos dias, Dr. Skully. No, we have no news on your wife. At least, nothing that would be news to you."
Jake stopped in his tracks.
"What do you mean?"
De Santos ignored the question.
"As I've told you many times, you will be notified the moment my investigators turn up something."
"What are your investigators doing?" Jake's grip on the phone tightened. "How can a well-known physician just disappear? Someone had to have seen something. It was the middle of the day when she left to meet her friends. Your men are bungling this. How many of them do you have on my wife's case?"
De Santos cleared his throat.
"More than I should. Your wife is not the only missing person in the city of Nogales, Doctor."
"What about those names I gave you? The list of her patients? Have you checked them out? My wife had just treated someone from the Guerrero drug cartel. He'd come in with a gunshot wound and told her not to report it."
"And did she?" de Santos asked. "Did she report it to the authorities?"
"Of course not. Ana knew better than to cross the cartel. She's treated them before. But maybe this time they decided not to take any chances." He ran his free hand through his disheveled hair as his pacing quickened. "They had something to do with her disappearance. I'm certain of it."
"Perhaps you should look a little closer to home."
Jake stopped dead in his tracks.
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Maybe your wife chose to disappear."
"Are you out of your mind?" Jake's raised voice carried across the hall, to the room in which his sons slept. "Ana would never just leave, vanish without a word. She would never deliberately put me through this. You're just making excuses for your own incompetence. I tell you, de Santos, something happened to my wife. And I'll hold you responsible if the bastards who took Ana aren't found and brought to justice."
"Dr. Skully, contrary to what you would like to think, my people have indeed been investigating your wife's disappearance." The sergeant's voice held a note of amusement.
"And what have they found?"
"You told me, Dr. Skully, that all was well between you and your wife."
"It was," Jake answered quickly.
"This is not what I hear." A new sense of dread rose in Jake, knotting his stomach into a giant fist. "My investigators tell me that you were having an affair."
Ambushed, Jake fell silent for several seconds.
"Who gave you permission to snoop into my private life?"
"Did your wife know about your lover?"
Jake did not respond.
What de Santos was implying could not be. They'd worked it out. He'd promised Ana he would end it. De Santos was just desperate to deflect the heat off his own investigators for their failure to find the culprits who'd taken Ana. Ana had not left him over the affair. He was certain of it.
"Dr. Skully, I repeat. Did your wife know about your affair?"
"Yes," Jake said hesitantly. "She did. But my affair had nothing to do with Ana's disappearance."
Memories of the days before her disappearance — the days after Ana discovered that Jake had become involved with one of the hospital nurses — slipped, uninvited, into Jake's mind. Memories of Ana, stone-faced, welcoming patients into her office. Or reading to the boys before bed, her voice void of its usual theatrics.
Of Ana turning away when Jake reached for her during the night. Even after he'd told Francesca it was over.
"You still have not explained the envelope found in the wastebasket in your bathroom."
Jake's jaw tightened.
"I told you, I know nothing about that envelope."
"But it was addressed to you. And you yourself identified the handwriting as belonging to your wife. What did you do with the letter, Doctor?"
"Stop it, will you? How many times have I told you? Ana was leaving with friends for the weekend. Maybe she started a note to me, to say good-bye."
"Then where is the note?"
"I don't know. Don't you think I'd give my right arm to have it now? To read what it said? But maybe she never even wrote it. Maybe she ran out of time."
"Yes, ran out of time ..." de Santos mimicked cruelly.
"Dammit, de Santos, you've got to stop focusing on me and that note. You're wasting precious time."
"Perhaps your wife will return to you," de Santos said lightly. "Sometimes they come back. Good-bye, Dr. Skully."
A creak from behind him suddenly caused Jake to turn. Antony stood in the half-opened door. Still, Jake did not loosen his grip on the phone.
"Don't hang up, you bastard. You can't stop looking, do you hear?"
Antony's huge dark eyes widened in horror at the sight of his father, usually the definition of cool control, screaming into the telephone.
Jake placed a palm over the phone's receiver.
"Just a minute, Tonio," he said impatiently.
He lifted the phone to his ear again.
"De Santos? Are you there?"
A dial tone.
Sergeant de Santos had hung up on him.
Jake placed the phone back on the table and crossed the floor to where Antonio stood. He wanted to hold him, to comfort him, but his shame was so great, his guilt so visibly painted across his face, that he could not bear to meet Antony's eyes.
Instead, he simply said, "Go back to bed, Antonio. Everything's fine."
"Will he find Mama?"
Slowly, Jake raised his eyes to Antony's. What he saw in them — the fear and uncertainty — stabbed at Jake's heart.
He dropped to his knees and placed his hands on Antony's narrow shoulders. Antony had always been on the chubby side, but just four days without an appetite had already taken their toll. His huge brown eyes searched Jake's for comfort.
Jake could not refuse.
"If he doesn't find her," Jake promised his son, "then I will. One way or another, we will find your mother."
Day Five. The first morning since Ana's disappearance that Jake did not call de Santos.
Rosa arrived as the boys were finishing the oatmeal and toast Jake managed to burn for them.
"I'm late," she huffed, still breathing heavily from her walk up two flights of stairs. She circled the table and planted a wet kiss on each of the boys' foreheads, jabbering all the while. "Lo siento, Se or Skully. I did not sleep all night. Next thing I know I am waking to the birds." She raised a flattened nose and sniffed the lingering smell of carbon, then eyed the oatmeal disapprovingly. "You had to fix breakfast for the boys. Lo siento. It's all my fault."
A good Catholic, Rosa loved to beat herself up for her sins.
"That's not a problem, Rosa. I'm glad you got some sleep."
She turned and trained huge almond-shaped eyes, already filling with tears, on Jake.
"Have you heard anything?" she asked hopefully.
Rosa had worked for Ana's family ever since Ana was an infant. When Ana became pregnant shortly after she and Jake completed their residencies in Tijuana and moved to Nogales to open a clinic in the heart of the city, Rosa moved in with them to take care of the next generation of Zedillo children. Jake, who was raised an only child, did not like having a live-in. He bought Rosa an apartment two floors below their spacious eighth-floor home, which enabled Rosa to be there to fix breakfast and, on the nights Jake and Ana dined out, tuck the boys into bed.
Jake shook his head.
"No, no word."
"Dios mio," Rosa sighed. Licking two fingers, she pressed them against the cowlick at the back of the thick black hair Antony had inherited from his mother.
"Is Mama coming home today?" the child asked, eyes fixed on Rosa.
"Dios mio," she repeated, wrapping her arms around him and pressing his round cheeks to her swollen bosom. Releasing Antony, she went to Michael and enveloped him.
"Mi pobre hijo," she cooed, stroking his brow.
Michael wiggled his way out of her bear hug and turned to confront Jake.
"You told Antony you'd find her."
"I'm trying, Michael."
"Not hard enough. I don't think you even want to find her."
"Miguel," Rosa scolded, "how could you say such a thing to your father?"
"He wanted her gone," Michael replied, staring blankly toward Jake. "So that he could have his affair."
Rosa's gasp filled the tiny kitchen as, with a sickening wrench, Jake realized that it hadn't just been Antony at the door yesterday morning during his conversation with de Santos. Michael must have been there, too, on the other side, listening.
"You're too young to understand, Michael," Jake said.
He reached for Michael's hand, but upon feeling Jake's touch, Michael jerked violently away.
"You're the reason Mama was so unhappy. You're the reason she ran away."
Antony began sobbing uncontrollably. Rosa, one hand pressed against her heart, clutched at the child with the other, but her own shock was so great that she could not find words to comfort him.
"That's enough, Michael," Jake said sternly. "You're upsetting everyone."
"I'm upsetting them?" Michael screamed, jumping up from the table. As he backed out of the kitchen, still glaring at Jake, he stumbled over the chair he'd upended. "You're full of shit. You know that? You're worthless. You made her leave, and now you can't even find her. Nobody can."
With Antony's wails filling his ears, Jake grabbed the keys to the clinic from the hook near the back door and stormed out of the kitchen.
Taking the steps two and three at a time, he descended eight flights of stairs, then stepped outside, into the early morning heat.
Could Michael be right? Did Ana leave because of Jake's affair? The discovery had shaken her to the core, Jake knew — at a time when, because of what had happened to Michael, she was already fighting to hold on. But even if Ana would leave Jake, he knew with absolute certainty that she would never, even in her darkest hour, leave Michael and Antony.
Still, he had to have an answer, for Michael and Antony as well as himself. The uncertainty had become too much for all of them to bear, and it was pretty clear that the police had all but given up now that they believed Ana had left because of Jake's affair.
Ignoring the blast of a horn from a yellow cab, Jake stepped off the curb and jaywalked across one of Nogales's busiest streets.
There had to be a clue to Ana's whereabouts somewhere. He'd start at the clinic. He'd given the police access to all the files, but they'd come up with nothing. It was time for Jake to take matters into his own hands.
He'd turn the clinic upside down if he had to.
He would find Guerrero's man, the one whom Ana had treated, and beat a confession out of the bastard.
Today the five-minute walk took less than three.
Approaching the clinic's front door, Jake stepped over an inert form covered by a piece of cardboard with the words Whirlpool refrigerator emblazoned across its center. Brown legs, thickly coated with coarse dark hair and ending in laceless imitation Nikes, extended from underneath the makeshift blanket.
Jake plunged a fist into his pocket, fishing for his keys. As he opened a door that read:
Ana Zedillo de Skully, M.D., emergency medicine
Jake Skully, M.D., family practice
the cardboard stirred. An arm reached out, palm turned up to reveal a pincushion of needle marks on the inside of the elbow.
"Dinero? Tienes pesos?"
Jake ignored the plea and passed through the door, flipping on the light switch. A blast of cold air greeted his arms left bare by his short-sleeved shirt. Ana always turned the air conditioner down each evening before they left. Jake had been operating in such a haze these past few days that little details like that had fallen by the wayside. He went to the thermostat, pushed the setting higher; then, remembering last night's prediction of temperatures over one hundred, he pushed it randomly back down again.
That simple act — the confusion and disorientation it represented — set something off in him. Clenching his right fist, he pulled back, then slammed it full force into the wall. Not satisfied with the hot flash of pain that shot up his forearm into his elbow, he punched the wall again, this time breaking through the plaster.
It wasn't until he stood back to stare blindly at the damage he'd done to the wall that Jake realized he was not alone.
He swirled to find himself face-to-face with two uniformed officers. Policia, Cuidad de Nogales, the patches on their brown shirtfronts read.
"Dr. Skully?" the taller, more heavyset, of the two men said.
A sick dread instantly seeped through Jake's veins.
"We'd like you to come with us."
Jake was startled to see the smaller officer, a swarthy balding man in his mid to late forties, glaring at him with undisguised hatred. He looked vaguely familiar, but in his agitated state, Jake could not even think straight, much less place him.
"Where?" he said.
"The city morgue."
Jake's world began to spin. He reached for the back of a chair, clutching at it.
"We've found your wife's body," the officer continued. He might as well have been reporting the weather, for all the emotion his voice held. "We need you to identify her."
"My God," Jake cried. "They murdered Ana?"
The shorter officer's voice was not so dispassionate. It came out in a deep snarl. "The cartel didn't kill her. You did."
Jake suddenly recognized him. One of Ana's patients. And also, he quickly concluded, the investigator who'd discovered Jake's affair.
Growling low, Jake lunged at the man, grabbing him by the collar of his uniform.
"It's your fault," Jake screamed. He shook him, literally lifting him off the ground to eye level.
He wanted to kill him, to make him suffer the same fate that Ana had suffered. But before Jake could get a blow off, the man's partner grabbed hold of Jake's shoulder and swung him around.
Forty pounds heavier than Jake and combat-trained, he wrestled Jake's arms behind his back. Jake felt as though his right arm might break in the hold, but the pain did not stop him from spewing his anger.
"You wasted valuable time investigating me and let the bastards get away. I told you, I knew all along, Ana didn't disappear of her own free will. If you'd listened, you might have found her in time."
Jake could feel the grief rising in him like a tide. His Ana, dead. Murdered by the cartel.
Fighting against the breakdown that he knew would come, he finally quieted, saying (almost to himself), "I knew Ana wouldn't leave us. She'd never leave."
"Ah, but, Doctor," the man said from behind, "you don't really believe that."
The shorter man, Ana's patient, stepped up to Jake, his nose just inches from Jake's.
"If I had my way," he said, "I'd arrest you for criminal interference with this investigation. But Sergeant de Santos, he refuses. He says you are too important a man." He said it mockingly, thrusting an accusing finger into Jake's chest. "You've put on a good show for us, Dr. Skully, but now we know what you've always known. What your wife told you in that letter you destroyed."
"What?" Jake cried, struggling to get free. "What do you know?"
"We know that because of her husband's affair, Ana de Zedillo committed suicide."
Excerpted from Patent To Kill by April Christofferson. Copyright © 2003 April Christofferson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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