But the courier may not be so lucky.
Simon Leonidovich is an average-looking guy, with a disarming smile and more frequent-flyer miles than most airline pilots. He's a high-tech, international courier of "packages" that range from priceless works of art to human organs and nuclear materials. When he accepts a contract to make a pickup at a small laboratory in Sweden, it seems like another easy job until someone sets him up for a fall.
Suddenly, he's on the run, trying to protect secret data that could save the lives of millions and destroy an international corporate merger. The police want him for a murder; a psychotic hired killer wants him for the package and the pleasure of killing; and Simon just wants to survive....
With explosive action, an international conspiracy, and a hero that just won't quit, Jay MacLarty's The Courier is an edge-of-your-seat debut thriller that delivers!
Read an Excerpt
Sunday, 3 November 11:45:59 GMT +0100
Though eager to get home, Simon couldn't help being amused. For someone who spent half his time fighting his way through airports filled with nervous travelers and egocentric custom agents, he'd learned to expect delays, irritations, and the unusual. But this bordered on the bizarre: 438 passengers on the tarmac of Madrid Barajas Airport waiting to identify their luggage as it came back off the Boeing 747. Thirty minutes earlier, and two minutes prior to takeoff, Security had discovered an extra bag and was now determined to match it with a passenger a primitive, yet effective deterrent to nonsuicidal bombers. Simon chuckled to himself in the high-tech world of computers, X-ray scanners, and bomb-sniffing machines, the ultimate safety measure came down to each passenger having to step forward, stick out a finger, and point.
Under the stark glare of six high-intensity mercury flood banks, the international conglomeration of travelers instinctively migrated into groups of common language. Though Simon spoke only English and Russian fluently, he had no problem interpreting the litany of complaints that reverberated around him: everyone carping about the delay, their loss of holiday time, the meetings missed, and the inefficiency of Iberia Airlines. No one, however, had any desire to get back on the plane before the extra piece of luggage had been identified or left behind.
Simon spotted his as it came down the ramp an indistinct, scraped and scarred, gray nylon carryall without any identifying marks except for the claim sticker and a small ID tag withhis New York address. Though the bag was well constructed and expensive, any evidence of quality had been removed, so as not to attract the attention of dishonest baggage handlers. It still amazed him how many intelligent people advertised the value of their belongings by packing them in expensive bags. They might as well have attached a sign to each piece: "Open me I'm full of good stuff." He stepped forward, pointed out his bag, waited as the security officer matched the tag number to the one attached to his ticket, then moved over to join the cleared passengers, grouped together near the tail of the plane.
Off to the left, the huge terminal building glowed with light, its restaurants and shops and lounges deserted at such a late hour, but Security wasn't about to let the passengers wait inside where somebody could possibly slip away. As Simon burrowed his way into the crowd, looking for a friendly face, his satellite-linked cellular began its irritating vibration. He reached down, unclipped the tiny unit from his belt, read the familiar number that pulsated across the display, extended the aerial, and growled into the receiver, "Simon says: Leave me alone." Of course he knew it was his sister Lara, the last survivor of his immediate family, his office manager and sole employee, his counselor and confidante and conscience. "It's almost midnight. All sane people should be in bed." He worked his way toward the edge of the crowd, not wanting to disturb anyone with his conversation.
"Hello to you, too, Boris. I take great umbrage at all remarks regarding sanity. May I remind you that we come from a long, proud line of the functionally disabled. Besides, it's not even six o'clock here at the center of the universe."
"If New York is the center of the universe, God is a sadist. And don't call me Boris." It was a useless request; whenever Lara wanted to needle him, she would yank the name from their antediluvian family archives. Their mother, a Russian immigrant born Anna Pasternak, clung to the improbable belief she was somehow related to the great author Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, and in a fervor of motherland nostalgia had named her daughter Lara, after the Doctor Zhivago character, and her only son, Boris Leonidovich Pasternak Simon, a mouthful that had haunted Simon throughout his childhood and adolescence. At the age of eighteen, in his first great act of familial disobedience, he legally had it changed to Simon Leonidovich, a compromise he could live with, yet not overly offend his alcoholic father or the delusionary fantasies of his mother.
"I'm surprised you answered," Lara said, taking on her familiar businesslike tone. "What happened? Miss your flight?"
"I wish. We're sitting on the ground in Madrid while Security tries to confirm the bag count."
"You have all the fun."
"Yeah, right, I can hardly stop chuckling. What's up?"
"You were supposed to check in. I thought something might have gone wrong."
"What could go wrong? Pick up a book from the New York Public Library, deliver it to the Prado Museum in Madrid. What could be easier than that? Any idiot could do it."
"Oh, for God's sake, Simon, a Gutenberg Bible is not just a book. It's a priceless work of art."
"Of course it's a book. A novel I think."
"Don't be a smart-ass. One of these days God's going to give up on you, Simon Leonidovich. Then you'll be sorry."
"Don't worry about me and God, we have an arrangement."
"Right. I don't ask for anything, He doesn't give me anything."
"You're hopeless. You should have called me."
"Come on, Sissie, loosen up. It's Sunday, you shouldn't have to deal with this stuff when you're at home." It was an ongoing argument. Lara insisted on handling all calls, and since they did business all over the world, it meant she had to stay "connected" twenty-four hours a day. "There's no reason we can't use the answering service at night."
"We're not going to discuss this, Simon."
"I can discuss whatever I want." But he knew that nothing he said would change her mind. He paid her triple what most office managers made, and she felt obligated to justify her salary. It was an unnecessary and totally self-imposed burden. "I know it's hard, Sissie, but you might try to remember that I'm the boss."
"Uptight is what you are. You need to get laid, Simon."
He wanted to tell her the same, suspected she hadn't been to bed with a man in the four years since her husband died, but she was still his little sister it didn't matter that she was thirty-two years old and he couldn't say it. "What I need is a good night's sleep."
"Then turn down a job once in a while."
It was a useless reprimand and she knew it, he could hear it in her voice. That was one of the problems with his business: he didn't want to deal with a big office and lots of employees, so he tried to limit his client base, but the more his reputation grew, the more people sought him out. He kept bumping his fee, hoping to discourage business, but it only seemed to enhance his image as "the man who could deliver anything, anywhere."
A container of brown snakes from Australia to the CDC in Atlanta. No worries.
A crate of diamonds from Cape Town to New York. Easy.
A human heart from London to Moscow. Before it skips a beat.
Work had become both burden and mistress, something he couldn't turn his back on, and promising to do so would only be a lie to Lara, as well as himself. "Simon says: Take a night off. I'll forward the phones to my seat location as soon we're airborne."
"Love you, Boris. Don't forget."
"You too, sweetheart. Give the kids a kiss." He pressed the END button, then realized he didn't have a clue what she meant by "don't forget." Not the phones, he was sure of that. He considered a quick callback, but decided against it, confident he'd remember before he reached New York.
Copyright © 2003 by Jay MacLarty and Louise Crawford
Sunday, 3 November 11:50:59 GMT +0100
Pär Olin placed the last slide beneath the lens of his Darkfield and adjusted the focus. He felt slightly nauseated, that familiar motion sickness he got from staring into the ocular tubes of his microscope and moving slides back and forth. Without shifting positions, he methodically began to compare the number of necrotic spots with the data on his monitor. Though few in number, there was no denying the growing presence of dead and dying cells. It would take time eight or nine years but every long-term user of Mira-loss would eventually die an excruciating death, their livers dissolving into an amorphous mass of useless tissue.
He transferred the slide to his camera-equipped Brightfield, carefully adjusted the focus, and snapped the shutter, automatically storing the image on his computer. Finally done, he leaned back and closed his eyes. Instantly thirty-three million screaming faces began to play across the back of his eyelids Edvard Munch's The Scream multiplied by the face of every Mira-loss user. Night or day, there was no escape from the nightmare. If only he could open his eyes and find it was all a dream. But it wasn't. It was real, and it was his nightmare to deal with.
He glanced at his watch, surprised to see he'd worked fifteen hours without a break. Another fifteen hours of overtime for which he'd never receive so much as a single krona or a simple thank-you. Another Sunday away from his children. Not that he had much choice; not if he hoped to finish his analysis and avoid Karl Langerkvist, the director of research, who had dismissed his preliminary report as flawed, and since reading it had kept Pär busy on other projects Karl's bureaucratic way of quashing the research without issuing an order. Once a respected scientist, Karl had turned into a fat-and-happy bureaucrat with the success of Mira-loss, a man who refused to accept anything that might jeopardize his position with the company. And nothing would do that faster than Bain-Haverland being forced to pull its miracle weight-loss drug off the market.
Not that Pär had any illusions about his own career; the reward for bad news was rarely good. In fact, he couldn't remember the last good thing that happened in his life. His beautiful and bright Inga, her body and mind ravaged by cancer, dead at the age of twenty-nine; Erik and Lena, barely out of diapers, left without a mother. And now this.
At least the research was over.
Exhausted, he placed his palms on the cool surface of his workbench and levered himself to his feet. The huge lab normally a buzz of noise with compressors kicking on and off, centrifuges whining, and air-changers humming overhead like angry bees seemed ominously quiet, as if it too could sense the end of something. Pär worked his way through the maze of black counters and gunmetal stools, toward the windows and the lights of Stockholm in the distance. Now what?
But he knew.
Though she'd been dead three months, he could still hear Inga's whispered advice: You can't worry about your job when thousands will die.
No, he could never live with that.
He felt like a man trying to skate over thin ice with a thousand-pound secret on his back. He had to pass the burden to someone else before it killed him. But who?
He knew the answer to that, too.
Without the support of Karl, there was only one person he dared trust with the information: Grayson Haverland, the CEO of Bain-Haverland and the man personally responsible for bringing Mira-loss to market. The man had an impeccable reputation as both a scientist and administrator, but most important, a reputation for fairness and honesty. And that was all Pär needed, a fair hearing. His study would accomplish the rest: removing Mira-loss from the shelves.
He glanced over his shoulder, through the glass wall of Karl's office to the large side-by-side chronometers one labeled STOCKHOLM, the other LA JOLLA. As he watched, 11:59 dissolved into 00:00 and another day passed behind him, Sunday to Monday. In California the time read 15:00, where it was still Sunday afternoon. Inga's soft voice prodded his subconscious: It's time, Pär.
Yes, no time like the present to solve yesterday's problems. Or was it no time like yesterday to solve today's problems? Too tired to think through the riddle, he returned to his desk and picked up the phone before the whisper of Inga's voice faded along with his nerve.
For more than twenty minutes, dragging the phone cord behind, he paced his workstation as his call was transferred from one person to another. No one with authority seemed to work on Sunday in California, his request to speak with Grayson Haverland meeting with varying degrees of discourtesy and disbelief. Losing confidence, he removed the tiny laminated picture of Erik and Lena from the pocket of his lab coat and placed it next to the phone. He was doing it for them for all the children who would eventually lose their parents to Mira-loss. The horrifying statistics one new user every minute of the day only increased the urgency. Twenty more in the time he'd been on the phone. It made him angry and gave him the strength to resist every suggestion to "call back tomorrow" or to "speak with someone else."
Finally, after another round of frustrating holds and waits and transfers, a new voice echoed over the line. "Who's this?"
Tired and losing patience, Pär snapped back, "This I've explained. I insist to speak with Dr. Haverland."
Insist! The word annoyed Haverland nearly as much as the idiot who forwarded the call someone he would find and deal with before the day was over. "This is Grayson Haverland." He took a deep breath and softened his tone. "And who is this?"
Surprised, the man's insisting tone melted into a hesitant stammer. "Pär Olin...in Södertälje. Excuse please my interruption. We met when you last year came to Sweden."
"Oh, yes, I remember." He didn't, of course. How could he, having met over two hundred employees in two days? But that was one of his strengths, making everyone feel as if they made an impression. He decided to take a chance. "Dr. Olin, isn't it?
"Ja. I am most pleased you remember."
Haverland motioned to the other members of his foursome, indicating they should tee off, then moved off to the side so as not to bother them. "I do hope this is important, Dr. Olin. I'm down eight skins and not in the best of moods." Actually, he felt wonderful it was a beautiful day, the blue Pacific and the rolling green hills of Rancho Santa Fe a satisfying reminder of everything he'd attained in life but he didn't subscribe to that chummy camaraderie so many techno-age executives affected with their employees. He liked to keep his people on their toes and slightly off balance.
A moment of silence followed, the caller clearly not understanding the meaning of skins. "Ja, it is most important."
"Get on with it, then. We've got four holes to play and we're running out of daylight."
Another irritating silence followed before the man sputtered out, "Your pardon, please. Would this be playing golf, sir?"
"Of course I'm playing golf. What do you " He reined in his temper. "Please get on with it, Doctor."
"Very sorry, but is this a cellular instrument on which you are speaking?"
Haverland understood the inference but discounted the danger of anyone overhearing or caring about their conversation. The problem, he suspected, involved some complaint against Karl, his director of research. Anything else and Karl would have called himself. "Yes, of course I'm on cellular."
"A discussion in such a manner would not be advisable, sir."
That suited Haverland just fine; he had no desire to mediate an employee dispute on a Sunday afternoon from the fifteenth tee box of the Rancho Santa Fe Country Club. He mouthed the word sorry to the three men waiting on the tee. "Understood. Why don't you call me in the morning? At the office."
"This delay would not be advisable," Olin answered quickly, his tone suddenly emphatic.
"This has something, I assume, to do with Karl Langerkvist?"
Haverland felt the first touch of alarm, like a tuning fork at low pitch tingling the hair on the back of his neck. "Please refresh my memory, Doctor. Your department?"
That was not what Haverland wanted to hear, PNU being the in-house euphemism for Phase IV Pharmacovigilance Unit, the group responsible for tracking post-release safety problems. In the business of pharmaceuticals, there was no greater nightmare than having something go askew once a drug had been released. Though he knew better than to pursue the matter by cellular, he couldn't resist one final question. "And exactly which drug are you tracking, Doctor? Use the lab name, please." Only one answer, he decided, would keep him from finishing his round. Anything else could wait.
He felt the blood drain from his legs, and for an instant thought they might actually fold up beneath him. He turned away from the tee, afraid what his face might reveal, and struggled to speak past the acid that suddenly clogged the back of his throat. "Give me your extension, Doctor. I'll call you back in five minutes."
Though difficult, he managed to hide his concern behind a look of irritation as he turned back to his playing partners. "Sorry, guys, you'll have to finish without me."
Bill Shingleford, the president of MedTech Software, snorted. "What's the problem, Grayson, can't push enough pills during the week to keep up with your losses in golf? You have to work Sundays now?"
Everyone laughed and Haverland forced himself to join in. Though they were all worth at least fifty million, he was the only one to make Forbes's annual "List of Billionaires," and they teased him relentlessly. "A little crisis at home." He rolled his eyes, as if it were nothing of consequence. "You know how it is family first." That, of course, was not true, either. The family had never come first, but that was something he couldn't help. It just was. You couldn't build a great fortune without compromises and sacrifices, something the Now or the It or the
Whatever-the-hell-they-called-themselves Generation didn't appreciate. Especially his children, who considered him cold and aloof. He felt rotten about it, but consoled himself in the knowledge that they would someday understand. A person had to take the long view, like Rockefeller and Mellon, to build an American dynasty.
Robert Maitland, the chairman of Allen Labs, narrowed his eyes. "Don't try and shit me, Grayson."
Haverland felt another surge of acid climb into his throat. Maitland was the last person who needed to hear about a problem, not with the merger of their two companies hanging in the balance. "What do you mean?"
"You're just trying to sneak off without paying."
Relieved, Haverland affected an embarrassed expression. "You got me, Rob. I'm tapped out. You'll have to let me slide on the skins."
David Dillard, an investment banker and the fourth member of the group, stuck out his hand, palm up. "In your dreams, Doc. My wife takes enough of those damn weight-loss pills to keep that new jet of yours flying on champagne."
Haverland pulled out his money clip, peeled off eight one-hundred-dollar bills, apologized again for having to leave, and headed toward the clubhouse and a private phone. Just the thought that something might diminish the value of Mira-loss made his stomach clench, forcing a reflux of bitter acid into the back of his throat. Though a billionaire on paper, every cent he had was tied up in Bain-Haverland stock, which, as an insider, he couldn't sell without SEC approval. Any problem with Mira-loss, even a whisper, would kill the merger with Allen Labs and send the stock into a nosedive.
Despite the perpetual coolness of the lab, by the time Pär finished summarizing his study the back of his shirt was damp with nervous perspiration. His final words were met with the silent hum of long distance. "Hållo. Are you there, sir?"
Haverland's voice came snapping back over the line. "Yes, of course I'm here. Why is it, Doctor, you're the one calling with this information? Where is Karl Langerkvist?"
Pär hesitated, struggling to think of some discreet way to answer without discrediting Karl. "Uh...it's most early in the morning here, sir. He would most probably be sleeping." Dumb Dumb Dumb, he knew it the moment he spoke the words.
"Holy Mother of God, you're telling me Mira-loss is going to kill thirty-three million people and Karl Langerkvist is home snuggled in bed!"
Pär stared at the tiny picture of his children, trying to gather strength from their innocent faces. "The work is just now finished. Dr. Langerkvist has not been yet made aware of these results."
"So why is it you called me, here in the United States, before calling him?"
Pär tried to think of some way to explain, to say it without bringing into question the validity of his research. "It's for the reason that " He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Dr. Langerkvist is not so aware of my work."
"He doesn't know what you're working on? How is that possible?"
"He knew, but "
"But what? What exactly are you trying not to say, Dr. Olin?"
There was no way to avoid it. No way to soften the truth. "My preliminary report he did not so much agree with."
Pär expected an eruption, at the very least a severe reprimand for going over Karl's head, but the sound was more of relief than anger.
"So," Haverland continued, "you completed the research on your own?"
"Ja, ja. I must."
"Of course you did. Any good scientist would."
Pär wasn't sure how to respond. Was Haverland being complimentary or contemptuous? Though comfortable with English, he'd never been able to grasp the nuances of American sarcasm. He settled on a neutral response. "Ja."
"And who else is aware of your findings?"
Pär hesitated, not liking the question, but unable to think of any way around the truth. "No one."
"You understand, of course, we have to check your research? We couldn't very well pull Mira-loss off the market without verification."
"At least six times each test has been validated."
"I don't doubt your work, Doctor. But we must keep in mind the ramifications this kind of news might have."
"Ja, this I understand, but "
"We wouldn't dare make a premature announcement. The FDA would crucify us. Not to mention the SEC, our stockholders, and the thousands of people who benefit from Mira-loss."
Benefit? Pär doubted anyone would remember the benefits when their livers turned into blood pudding. "But "
"Of course we'll start the cross-verification immediately. This is too important to delay even a day. I'll organize a team tonight, and we'll start the minute we receive your data."
Though encouraged by the man's take-charge attitude, Pär didn't like the thought of being excluded from the process.
Haverland seemed to sense his hesitation. "Of course we'll need your help here in La Jolla."
California! He glanced down at the picture of Erik and Lena. What a wonderful experience it would be for them, something to take their minds off "Mamma." Only a few miles from San Diego, with its world-class zoo and beautiful beaches, and less than two hours from Disneyland. He could almost see them laughing again, their somber expressions wiped away by Mickey Mouse and Goofy. "Ja, I would be most honored."
"Excellent. I'll speak with Karl about the arrangements. When can we expect the files?"
"It would not take more than one hour."
Haverland's response was immediate. "No, this information is too sensitive for the Internet. And we'll need the slides. Better send it hot. Directly to me. Wouldn't do to have anything get lost."
Pär recognized the term hot their in-house expression for private courier, a service they used infrequently, only to transfer the most sensitive specimens back and forth between Sweden and California. Never, as far as he knew, had they used the service to transfer files. Haverland was clearly taking the matter seriously. "Ja."
"Make sure everything's encrypted and copy protected." Haverland's voice dropped slightly. "For the time being let's keep this between us."
"You will not be speaking to "
"And Karl of course."
"He will not be pleased."
"Don't worry about Karl. He obviously doesn't appreciate your brilliant work. We don't need that kind of attitude, do we?"
The overly gratuitous remark made Pär uncomfortable. There was nothing brilliant about it he had simply done his job, using good scientific principles, something he now doubted the company had done before marketing the product but that was not something he dared mention.
"And, Doctor "
"Good work. Terrible news, but good work. If this checks out, you'll be responsible for saving countless lives."
Again, Pär felt uneasy about the compliment, questioning the sincerity. "Tack själv. It is my regret to bring you this report."
"Not your fault. Don't you worry now, we'll survive. Anything else, you call me direct. On my private line."
"Ja." He copied down the number and that of WorldWide SD, the private courier service used by the company, then slumped into his chair as the line went silent. We'll survive. Was it possible? Could Bain-Haverland withstand the loss of their number-one product?
Inga's soft voice whispered through his head: You're a good man, Pär Olin.
Feeling better, he reclipped the picture of his children back onto the pocket of his lab coat and dialed the number for WorldWide SD. Maybe now he could sleep close his eyes and not see those terrible screaming faces.
But something deep inside told him otherwise.
Copyright © 2003 by Jay MacLarty and Louise Crawford
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Predictable , It wasnt bad but wasn't great , just average
If you like character, story and a fast, well paced read this is the book for you. As the story grows on you so does lead character, Simon Leonidovich. You will empathize with his problems and rejoice in his victories.
If you have been reading Dan Brown lately, as I have, it's a pleasure to welcome a new author into the same game. Like Brown's books, The Courier starts with a bang, and the suspense keeps growing right to the end. It's a smart thriller, MacLarty has done his homework. It travels all over the map (and the scenes in Madrid are totally authentic I can say after having lived there five years). The characters are terrific, and the villain is as spooky and evil as any in other thrillers. MacLarty has a great career ahead if he can keep up this kind of work. Can't recommend it too highly.
This is a great 'sit on the edge of your seat ' thriller that would make a great movie! Love the main characters who are refreshingly real! Can't wait for another MacLarty book.
This book starts fast and gets faster as it goes! There are really some memorable characters you will not forget. Through a maze of high-tech wizardry until its stunning conclusion, this is quite a journey. Big thumbs up.
I couldn't stop reading this. The cover comments didn't do justice to what lay inside! Very suspenseful and fast moving. I read the book in a day and a half and can't wait for the next book to be finished.