|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.34(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.91(d)|
|Age Range:||13 Years|
Read an Excerpt
By W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Warner BooksCopyright © 2002 W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE BUS LURCHED OVER A POTHOLE, AND AVI RAAD CLUNG TO the overhead strap with one hand as he scanned the June 6 Ha'aretz for the latest update on the curfew. Several of his Arab laboratory technicians hadn't come in for work that day. Every time a dispute boiled up between the Palestinians and Israelis, it compromised his laboratory. Couldn't the two nations get it through their blocky heads that culture, history, and passions aside, scientific experiments did not proceed on a political timetable?
Most of the paper was filled with stories about the big religious conference being held in Tel Aviv. Christians of every sect and denomination were arguing with Jews and Muslims of every faction and description over the preservation of holy sites. A plague on them all, especially that American maniac, Billy Barnes Brown, who called for a new "philosophical Crusade." Whatever that was.
Over the whining of the bus, he could hear the babble of voices, most of them in accented Hebrew. The odors of diesel exhaust, falafel, hummus, and freshly baked bread assailed his nose. He knew most of his fellow passengers by sight. The majority of them, like himself, worked at the university. Each morning and night he traveled this route to and from his office and laboratory at Tel Aviv University. The bus wound through the same packed streets with the closely parked automobiles, the whitewashed houses, and the colorfully dressed people. Each night he smelled their suppers, clutched close on their laps or dangling from their hands in paper sacks. His stomach tightened in response to piqued hunger.
The bus honked at the stubborn traffic around the intersection and slowed. Avi twisted to see through the driver's windshield. A uniformed soldier tweeted a whistle and gestured traffic through the congestion as two other soldiers warily inspected a stalled black compact. Two nervous Palestinians stood to one side, hands held high. Such things had thankfully become less common with the coming of the "peace." Though the tenacious, be they Hamas or the zealots in Mea Shaarim, would cling to their hatred to the bitter end.
Avi winced at the thought, noticing two of the hard-eyed Hasidim who stood on the sidewalk. They muttered behind their hands as they watched the soldiers search the stalled car. Their hatred might have curled around them like smoke.
Under his breath, Avi said, "You are the real enemies of mankind. Blinded by your intolerance and 'Truth.'" Reflexively, he folded his copy of Ha'aretz and fingered the scar on the side of his head. They might have marked him long ago and maimed his arm, but not so many years would pass before they learned that he and his colleagues had, in turn, irrevocably changed their futures.
He sighed as the bus inched through the intersection and onward to his stop. His feet thumped on the rubber-matted metal as he stepped down to the warm sidewalk. With his paper folded under his bad arm, he walked the half block to the entrance of his apartment building. Nodding to the doorman, he passed through the glass doors, retrieved his mail from the drop, and crossed the tiled lobby to the elevator.
Built in the 1980s, the structure was one of those glass, steel, and white concrete marvels the government had slapped up to ease overcrowding. Although the building was just two decades old, work crews constantly clattered about the twenty-two stories, patching plaster, bolting cracked concrete, and fixing water pipes. One of the peculiarities of the building's construction ensured that when the toilet was flushed, everyone on the surrounding four floors was able to share the experience as the pipes screamed and the sewage gurgled.
When the elevator lurched to an unsteady stop, Avi stepped out onto the fourteenth floor and walked down his familiar hallway. Two maintenance men were pushing a cart from the other direction. They slowed, nodded, and smiled, allowing him time to fish his key from his pocket and open his door. He ran a fingertip over the mezuzah on the frame and started into his apartment.
Two strong arms caught him from behind, shoving him forward. Before he could scream, a hand clapped over his mouth, and he was bulldozed across the room and driven face first into the thick couch that buttressed his wall. In panic, he thrashed, trying to break free. Twisting his head to the side, he bellowed in fear, but the thick cushions muffled his shout.
"Now, now," a male voice told him from just behind his ear. "Don't make this more difficult than it has to be." English! American English!
"Who are you?" Avi cried against the cushions. "What do you want?"
"Divine justice," the voice hissed. An instant later, a balled fist slammed into Avi's right kidney. As he arched and gasped, a length of duct tape was slapped over his mouth. Pain made him wince; Avi tried to battle back. The soft cushions hindered his movements. Another blow to the back of his head left him reeling, unable to resist as his hands and feet were bound.
He flopped to the floor, looking up in terror as one of the men, dressed in a maintenance uniform, pulled back and kicked him viciously in the side. The spear of pain doubled him, leaving him panting through his nostrils, the tape pulling and puffing on his mouth.
He had experienced such pain before, at another beating, when the zealots broke his arm, scarred his face, and left him moaning in the dirt just below his archaeological excavation.
"That's better, Professor." The man smiled grimly down at him and smacked a gloved fist into a cupped palm. He appeared to be in his late twenties, blond, blue-eyed, and much too athletic. His hair, what could be seen of it under a tightly fitting cap, looked close-cropped, almost military. The man stood about a meter seventy-five. The second intruder, shorter, in his mid-forties and perhaps a meter sixty in height, walked over to the bookshelf and pulled down a photo of Avi. In it, his face was bandaged; the Hebrew caption read, "Professor recovers in hospital from beating received at the hands of Yod party radicals."
"Should have taken the hint, Professor," the second man said. "Even if they were Pharisees, they were right. You were sinning against God. In the years since they closed down that dig of yours, you've just spiraled deeper and deeper into sin."
"Whooo muff woooo?" The tape muffled his words. "Warriors of God," the blond giant said, smiling grimly.
"Come to send you off to your judgment, you dirty Jew. God is waiting, and he has a great deal to talk to you about. But first we're going to have to ask you some questions."
That accent. American, yes, but from the southern states if Avi was any judge. Why? Why were they here? His troubles had always been with the ultraorthodox Jews, Israel's own bigoted fundamentalists.
"So," the dark-haired man said, and smashed the framed photo on the table. "You thought you were smarter than God? You and the rest? Or did you think you could be gods?"
Then, with a shiver of fear, Avi knew. His breath caught in his throat as the tall blond slid a gleaming knife from his belt. "Repent your sins, Jew! God is coming!" The blond leaned down.
Avi's scream strangled itself against the sticky tape.
The sun, rising above the treetops, cast morning light through narrow white-framed windows and onto the red-white-and-black Navajo rug that lay on the living room floor. Ceiling-high bookcases covered each wall and were filled with volumes necessary to the trade of an anthropological geneticist: anatomy, primatology, paleoanthropology, human genetics, and statistical analysis. Two large four-door file cabinets, both antiques, looked timeworn and battered, their brass fittings use-polished. An oak table, topped with a lace tablecloth, dominated the room; piles of Xeroxed journal articles had been pushed to the side to clear a space for two plates. An empty bottle of Chianti dominated the bit of virgin tablecloth; two wineglasses had been left, their rims touching intimately.
The slanting light illuminated dust motes on the still air and gleamed on the stereo as Dr. Scott Ferris leaned down, sorted through the discs, and selected Loreena McKennitt. Inserting the disc, he pressed the "play" button and as the gentle strains filled the room, stepped back through the arched doorway into the kitchen. The capresso machine hissed and buzzed as streams of French Roast dribbled into two reproduction Anasazi cups. He stared for a moment at the black-and-white designs, fondly remembering the trip to Santa Fe when they had bought them from a sidewalk vendor on the Plaza.
He rubbed the back of his neck as he looked out the kitchen window at the big cottonwood in his yard. Early June in Fort Collins was his favorite time of year in Colorado. This was the eighth: Finals were over, his grades were turned in to the department, and the university slowed into a mellow lethargy before summer session. For three months he would have nothing with which to occupy himself except the continuing research. Not only were reports coming in on the children, but Bryce Johnson had just about finished another gene sequence. With that in hand, Avi Raad could begin the laborious task of synthesizing the base pairs in his PCR machines.
People said that the tall and athletic Scott looked more like a ski bum than a professor. He walked with a slight limp, the result of a dislocated knee. The way women watched him pass had never ceased to amuse him. Amanda always preened when she was with him, stepping a little straighter, giving a slight toss to her gleaming black hair. They made a pair, Amanda and he. His blue eyes would twinkle with amusement, and her dark eyes would flash in Mediterranean jealousy. After all these years they still played that little game, though Amanda knew that he'd never consider another woman in his life. Careers and half the country might separate them, but mind, soul, and spirit, they were joined as no man and woman on earth.
This morning he wore a loosely belted terry-cloth robe with the Harvard escutcheon on the left breast as he lifted the brimming cups from the machine. He placed the coffees on the silver tray Ostienko had sent them from Russia and hummed in time to McKennitt's music as he half waltzed down the hallway to the bedroom.
Amanda lay under the twisted sheet, one bare leg and arm exposed. Her thick black hair made swirls across the pillow. He smiled at the profile she presented: something like a Greek goddess in relief. The sheet might have been sculpted of marble by Phidias himself.
"Good morning, lover," Scott said gently as he set the tray beside the bed and bent to kiss her cheek. She murmured and stirred, stretching in a most feline manner. She almost purred as he teased her with the coffee cup, wafting the aroma past her nostrils.
"What time is it?" she asked, voice sultry with sleep. "Seven-forty. Your flight doesn't leave for another five hours. That's time for coffee, breakfast, and me. And not necessarily in that order."
She cracked an eye open, giving him a suspicious glance. "What makes you think I'd want you? I hate sex first thing in the morning."
"Okay. But we don't get to see each other for another what ... two months?"
"That's a point." She took the coffee cup from his hand, cradling it as she sat up, the sheet falling to puddle in her lap. She gave him a wry if sleepy smile when his gaze fastened on her bare chest. "Don't strain your eyes that way. And drooling isn't considered flattering."
He chuckled and seated himself beside her. "I was just overcome. Males, as you know, are visually stimulated."
"And women, as you know, can be melted by a good cup of coffee and rapt male attention. The dilation of your pupils gave you away. Sex is starting to sound better." She sipped her coffee appreciatively, then added, "Assuming, that is, that you have anything left after last night. Males, as you are well aware, find performance to be a problem as they age."
He had opened his mouth in retort when the phone on the bed side stand gave off its warbling ring. Scott grunted, reaching with one hand to snag the receiver. "Hello?"
"Scott?" The accent betrayed the caller. "Pietor?" "Da! I think there is problem. Two men. They come to find me." "I don't understand." "You know Avi is dead?"
"What?" Scott felt something grow cold inside him. "Da! I learn last night. He is killed. The laboratory ... it is burned. Israelis think terrorism. Now, with two men following me, I think it is something else. I think project is compromised. Someone knows, Scott."
"Pietor, you're sure you're not being a little paranoid?"
"This is Russia. We have history. You do not. You call paranoia mental disorder; we call it selective advantage. I learned in good old days. Same reflexes are telling me this is not good. First Avi, and now two men are watching me? No, old friend. Someone is wishing to stop us. Be careful."
"I will be in touch. For time being, I use old escape route. See you soon."
"Pietor? Wait, I-" The dial tone indicated the connection had been cut.
"What was that all about?" Amanda was watching him through sloe eyes, fully awake now.
"Pietor. He said Avi's dead and two men were after him." "Avi's dead?" Amanda asked, disbelieving. "Dead how?" "I don't know." Scott frowned. "Let's see, it's a quarter to eight here; that would be three P.M. in Tel Aviv."
"It's Saturday. Avi would be at home." Her face had turned serious.
Scott dialed the international code and punched in Avi's number from memory. The familiar but foreign beeping told him that it was ringing in Avi's apartment. It rang and rang.
"Not there." He hung up and tried the lab, where to his surprise, not even the answering machine picked up. Hanging up, he rose, stepped over the wadded blankets they'd kicked off the foot of the bed, and awakened his computer. Logging on, he checked his e-mail, found several communications about the children, but nothing from Avi or Pietor. Accessing the world news, he clicked on Israel, and after two reports on the peace process and the recent religious meetings, there it was: WORLD-RENOWNED GENETICIST FEARED MURDERED. HAMAS SUSPECT.
"Son of a bitch," Scott whispered, cold fingers of dread playing along his spine. Amanda had come to read over his shoulder, strands of her black hair tickling his ear.
"I don't believe it!" She shook her head. "His body was found in his burned lab? What do they mean the fire was accelerated with thermite? That's like phosphorus or something isn't it?"
"It burns really hot." Scott's vision seemed to waver. "This can't be happening."
As the article downloaded, a photo image of a blackened and gutted building formed.
Excerpted from Raising Abel by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear Copyright © 2002 by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear . Excerpted by permission.
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