The Moreau Factorby Jack L. Chalker
THE EVOLUTION OF TERROR
A hard-living reporter long past his Pulitzer Prize-winning prime, Chuck Vallone is about to meet a renowned geneticist who needs to clear his conscience. But when Vallone arrives at their rendezvous, he finds the D.C. hotel swarming with government agents. The scientist's room is now a grisly slaughterhouse splattered with
THE EVOLUTION OF TERROR
A hard-living reporter long past his Pulitzer Prize-winning prime, Chuck Vallone is about to meet a renowned geneticist who needs to clear his conscience. But when Vallone arrives at their rendezvous, he finds the D.C. hotel swarming with government agents. The scientist's room is now a grisly slaughterhouse splattered with bloodbut no sign of a body.
Vallone knows he has the story of the century, especially when he receives a mysterious package filled with a computer disk and strange samples of DNA. Now he's determined to uncover the truth. But it's no brave new world Vallone will be exploring; rather, a deadly depraved one ruled by preeminent scientists. And this powerful cadre intends to make Vallone both eyewitness and executor of their final ferocious plan . . .
- Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
When the matter of the flying werewolf first surfaced in Washington, D.C., I never once thought of the dinosaurs.
It was midautumn, a time I hate worse than any other in the year. Yeah, I know there are folks who rhapsodize over the colorful leaves and lots of people crowd the rural highways and parks to see these bursts of color, but, let's face it, autumn is the season of dying, of death, of the end of hope. It's when those leaves change color that they die, and then they fall in big heaps that somebody has to deal with or they clog drainage and begin to rot. Autumn is when the days grow progressively shorter and the nights take over, when the cold blasts of the north come down and drive happy people inside. Death and decay, that's autumn. Even winter is better; everything's already dead, snow sometimes covers up the evidence, and the days grow longer, giving promise every morning that something better is coming.
The question, after this day, would be whether or not what was coming truly was better, or just ... different.
It was a gloomy, gray day in Washington, and the light, cold rain that went through you to the bone had slacked off just a bit, allowing me to turn off the wipers for once and get rid of the dancing dead leaves that had wedged under the wiper and caused nothing but a massive smear. I was headed up Connecticut Avenue to the Wardman, to meet somebody I'd never heard of before that morning, in hopes that his claim on my voice mail that he had the "story of the century" was even a slight bit true. Everybody always had the story of the century, but it was a long century and most of it hadn't happened yet.
Even the old nation's capitalhad seen better days. Oh, it kind of looked okay, but if you stared close you could see the occasional gap in buildings where there shouldn't be gaps, and the peeling paint on the signs. You'd notice that
all those formerly quaint little shops lining the avenue were now imported junk shops run by people who'd come here from someplace far away in hopes of realizing the American Dream and were discovering that a 7-Eleven was the same the world around.
We old-timers and natives still thought of the Wardman as the old Sheraton Park, a weird hotel built by a madman of geometry driven nuts with government regulations, but it had long ago passed into the hands of other chains. The old hotel used to sit between the National Zoo and Rock Creek Park, built right into the side of a hill; you could enter on the bottom level, go up seven floors, walk down a corridor, and find yourself in the basement of a different but related seven-story hotel. You still did that, but some genius had figured
out how to disguise that fact when they redid the hotel back in the late seventies and it wasn't as obvious anymore. Even so, I never felt that I was going where the button on the elevator said I was going in that building until the doors actually opened. There was always this weird, crazy feeling that I'd step out on another planet or a parallel world or something. It was often said that half the people you passed in the halls were old guests trapped there for decades, still trying to find the way out.
Development had long ago moved downtown and the Wardman and its twin, the Shoreham, were now kind of isolated out in the middle of nowhere. Nobody went into Rock Creek Park after dark these days, and the zoo wasn't great company after closing.
As I turned to go toward the upper parking lot I saw all the flashing red and blue lights, and I had this sinking feeling even though there was no reason for me to think that it had anything to do with me. Well, hell, maybe it was a better story than the one I was there to get, I thought. Might as well see what's what.
The cop had been there a little while; he looked wet and miserable and in a very rotten mood. I put the window down and he bent down a bit to examine me. "Sir, are you a guest in the hotel?"
"No," I responded. "I'm here for a business appointment with a guest, though."
"Sorry, sir. The main entrance and lobby are blocked off and probably will be for a few more hours. If you turn around, though, and go to the lower level, you can enter through there and there's access from the convention level to the main hotel elevators."
I nodded wearily. "What's the problem?"
"Nothing that need concern you, sir."
I reached down and stuck the press card on the dash, then tried to get my wallet out from where the seat belt secured my pocket. "After many years, son, I find that whenever a cop says that to me it's exactly something I should be concerned with."
He looked at the card and my press pass. "Baltimore Sun, huh? A little far from Baltimore, aren't you?"
"Forty minutes up I-Ninety-five," I told him, careful not to say how fast I really took it. "I'm with the Washington bureau anyway, though. Times Mirror syndicate. L.A. Times, Sun, lots of others. Do I get a parking spot now?"
"You couldn't get in there with a tank," the cop responded. "But it should be good enough to get you into the lobby. The rest of them have set up there."
"The rest of who?"
"You know--Channel Seven, Channel Four, Channel Nine, Channel Five ..."
"Mere TV, no depth. What about the Post?"
"Not yet, although there's a half dozen from the Times in there and even the National Enquirer. The way this one's going, I wouldn't be surprised to see Oprah and Geraldo."
That was a lot of media, even without the Post, which so far had probably decided it was a local story unworthy of the nation's paper. You always could find out more about the president of Albania than the D.C. City Council by reading the Post. "Somebody dead?" I asked him.
"Yes, sir. You'll have to move along now, find a place to park it, and come in like I said. I have to keep this street clear."
Good luck, I thought, noting that they still allowed parking along here and you could barely move in the best of times.
Going forward rather than turning around, though, I saw that there was a whole side of the street just beyond the hotel that was clear. Sure, it was labeled "No Parking," but that was what a press pass was for, wasn't it?
Actually, the last time I'd thought that I'd been towed the boss made me pay the pickup. Still, I wasn't about to play round and round under these conditions, and if they'd blocked off the parking up here, there wasn't a chance in hell that you could find anything below either in the lower entrance or over at the Shoreham. I picked up my recorder and my cell phone and was off to work.
The first thing I noticed as I walked to the upper entrance was the lack of any ambulances. You usually had several, even for one stiff, at this stage of the game. I did spot the medical examiner's car, but that was strictly for carrying around his or her equipment and evidence bags detached from the corpse. It sure wasn't a hearse, of which there wasn't one, either.
The cop hadn't acted like they'd taken the body away, so was I just on the wrong side of the hotel or was there something odd here?
No, I couldn't be on the wrong side; the cop had directed me to the other side. Okay, so there was something odd, and that made it all the more interesting. Dr. Samuel Wasserman would have to wait.
They were having a bad time of it in the vast lobby, particularly with a hotel that, even in the off season, had several hundred guests, maybe more, and was nearing the evening hour when people were either returning to the hotel or going out
to dinner. They'd managed to seal off the area and elevator to the right while keeping traffic elsewhere okay, but clearly guests were being encouraged to walk a bit and go down to the grand entrance far below. I couldn't help but notice that they had used hotel ropes and stanchions rather than police tape for this, which made the whole thing look like a janitorial decision.
The TV people had all their little setups going. Whatever happened had been quite nice to them, allowing at least brief stand-ups during the last part of the evening news. I didn't spot anybody on the print side who looked familiar--local crime stories weren't my normal beat--but I got near where Jan Carleton was about to give her last stand-up before they went to national news over on Nine and that would at least give me a summary as a starting point.
"Police have not yet released the name of the dead man, although he is said to be a biologist with the National Institutes of Health, in town for the American Association for the Advancement of Science convention and symposiums that start this weekend at the convention center. At the moment, all the police will say is that the death was extremely violent and that there are no suspects. We hope to have more details on this brutal slaying at eleven. Back to you, Gordon."
The moment the little earpiece told her she was off and the red light on the camera died she was looking around, frowning. "Anybody seen Jennene? Has she gotten the name and details yet?"
The new age of pseudojournalism, I thought, not for the first time. The poor little anonymous producers go and dig out the facts and get the stories for them, then they write them up in real big letters using words even an ex-beauty queen like Jan could understand, or at least read, and then the photogenic "reporter" would be the mouthpiece of the producer for maybe twenty times the producer's salary.
"They ain't lettin' nobody up there yet, Jan," Harry Lapisky shouted over to her. Harry was one of the few good guys still doing general reporting for TV; he sometimes even dug out his own stories, but he really loved that camera.
"Yeah, well, they're either gonna give us something or we're gonna make everybody who goes in and out of there famous," she snapped back, looking anything but amused.
"Jennene! Where the fuck are you, you incompetent little bitch? We're on again in twelve minutes and I haven't even got a goddamn script yet!"
Yeah, that's right, baby. Tear the ass out of that poor little producer for not giving you the words to say.
Harry spotted me and came over. "Well! Hello, stranger! Don't usually see you out on the geek patrol anymore. The body isn't some big shot politician, is it?"
I shrugged. "Hi, Harry. No, beats me. I'm not even here for this, whatever it is. I had a meeting with a source set up, but it doesn't look like it's gonna happen, at least not today." I looked around. "So what's going on to bring out the stand-up troupe?"
"Jeez! You didn't even have your scanner on? Oh, yeah--I forgot. You don't do that kind of shit anymore. Well, the word from the initial call-in was that some guy had been torn to pieces screaming horribly the whole way, and they got a couple of witnesses squirreled away who were down the hall waitin' for the elevator and who swear that nobody went in or out of the room or up and down the hall. One of 'em used a house phone to call the hotel dick, and when they got to the door, they said, the chain was actually on. They had to break it down. Got in, and found the window open and the guy in the room in a condition that'll require blotters to get up the remains. We all got that much. Anything more I can't pass on until after my stand-up. You understand. I got to give the public some reason to keep tuning in to a guy like me when Miss October is over on Channel Seven."
I nodded, but I didn't think he had to worry much. In this town they tended to keep the old folks around. Hell, just between Channels Four and Nine the combined age of the two main anchors was a hundred and forty if it was a day. To Jan, this was just a stopover to Good Morning, America.
"Harry!" somebody called from across the lobby, and Lapisky turned and gave him a wave. "Got to go! Nice seeing you! Let me know if we can work something together sometime!"
I just gave him a smile and nodded, but I appreciated the respect. These days I'd be lucky to come up with anything dramatic; I was coasting and I knew it, but it wasn't really fun anymore. It was just that I didn't know how to do anything else.
The cops were keeping a rigid guard behind the roped-off gateway to the elevator, but I noticed that a couple of uniforms had been pulled and replaced by officers who really looked the part. They knew that the scene was going to be all over local TV in about five minutes and even if the D.C. police couldn't catch flies they always managed to look good for the cameras.
There was, however, clearly more than just the locals involved. Lots of nice dark suits around, kind of FBI Standard, and there were a couple of obvious Feds I couldn't peg just from looking at them.
Most of the bystanders were probably AAAS attendees themselves. The guy I was supposed to meet was here for it, too, but God knew where he was at this point. Well, he had my cell phone and pager numbers if he wasn't spooked by this.
I didn't know how good the absent Jennene was at digging out facts, but I figured Harry and his producer had huddled, so maybe he had something. I made my way over close to him to listen to his sixty seconds of fame for today.
"Memememe ... Youyouyouyou!" Harry sang into the mike. "That a good enough sound check for you, Tom?" He looked back down at a paper in his hand and muttered, "In case you think The X-Files and The Twilight Zone are just fairy tales, D.C. police tonight have one for the Sci Fi Channel right here at the Wardman ..."
Now that lead got my attention, and I waited for him to go on, feeling impatient. If this thing lived up to its billing I might get on this story myself after all.
They cued Harry, the lights went on, and he began, barely glancing at the paper. It was a nice contrast with Jan over there, who was waiting for her producer to finish her extra-large-print cue cards.
Harry, though, was on. "In case you think The X-Files and The Twilight Zone are just fairy tales, D.C. police tonight have one for the Sci Fi Channel right here at the Wardman. Shortly after six this evening hotel guests waiting for an elevator heard what they described as 'horrible screams' from a room down the hall. Frightened, they did not investigate but called hotel security, who reportedly had to break in the locked and chained door.
"Witnesses off the record called what they saw inside a 'charnel house,'--the body of a man variously described as 'torn to shreds' or 'splattered all over the hotel room.' Shaken police call it the most violent murder they have ever seen, but there was no one--and no thing, either--in the room, other than the victim's remains and an open window with a sheer six-story drop to a concrete patio below. People who were on the patio at the time report that they heard the screams but saw nothing. Pending positive identification of the body and notification of next of kin, the identity of the victim is not yet being released. We'll stay on the scene as developments in this bizarre case warrant. Jim?"
I couldn't hear the follow-up question that was transmitted from the studio to Harry's earpiece, but he looked serious and nodded. "Yes, there's some sort of government secrecy involved, although they can hardly hush this one up. There are representatives here from at least five agencies, including the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and one or two of those agents for places you can't find, as well as the D.C. police. In fact, it's so crowded with various cops and agents up there, I wouldn't be surprised if Smokey Bear came out of the elevator wearing a big yellow marshal's badge. Until and unless they release more on the victim, however, it is impossible to say if he was with NIH or just associated with them. He certainly wasn't local; locals don't take two-hundred-a-night hotel rooms."
Well, it was beginning to sound more and more interesting. Not that I thought I could outdo the major media crowd here; there were even some network types nosing around, or at least their producers, and they had a hell of a lot more people and money to go digging than I did, but there might be something here, some angle my old contacts might help uncover that these folks might miss.
My claim to fame was that, years ago, I got a Pulitzer. Or, at least, I got half of one, for a series now long forgotten that unmasked some pretty nasty dealings between a couple of unlamented now ex-senators, a House committee chairman, and some pretty ugly foreign government types. Much of it was what we used to call the Sieg Heil Brigade, those politicians who'd get in bed with Hitler Jr. if he said he hated commies, but some of it was also bribery and blackmail. It was big news back in the days of the cold war, but it was just about as forgotten now as the names of those dirty politicians.
Most of us old-timers thought of the cold war period as the good old days, really, when scandals meant something and weren't just who was sneaking into bed or on or under desks with who or what. The nation hadn't been the same since it no longer had a common enemy to battle. Hell, these days you run into a few crazy terrorists here and there, a bunch of shady drug types, and you just know it's a non-story until they kill a bunch of people, and then it's good for a week or two tops. When my dad grew up, way back in the Dark Ages, or the idealized fifties, they had duck-and-cover A-bomb drills. You had to know where your nearest fallout shelter was at all times, and you expected Armageddon on twenty minutes' notice. I always get a kick out of these young wimps who think it was Ozzie and Harriet and the Beaver back then. I knew from the stories, the pictures, and some of Dad's old gang who stopped by, that they grew up in the New York tenaments dodging zip-gun bullets from guys in leather jackets whose territories were marked out on concrete jungles. Dad still had scars from switchblades, but, never mind. Always made me wonder about this "power of the media" crap. Grow up in Blackboard Jungle one step from nuclear destruction and the kids say, "Gee, they didn't have any worries back in those peaceful days." I guess that's why I grew up so cynical myself. Heck, the running gag in Father Knows Best was that the dumb schmuck didn't know anything at all ...
Meet the Author
Jack L. Chalker was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on December 17, 1944. While still in high school, he began writing for the amateur science-fiction press, and in 1960 he launched the Hugo-nominated amateur magazine Mirage. A year later he founded Mirage Press, which grew into a major specialty publisher of nonfiction and reference books on science fiction and fantasy.
His first novel, A Jungle of Stars, was published in 1976, and he became a full-time novelist two years later with the major popular success of Midnight at the Well of Souls. Chalker is an active conservationist and enjoys traveling, consumer electronics, and computers. He is also a noted speaker on science fiction and fantasy at numerous colleges and universities. He is a passionate lover of steamboats, in particular ferryboats, and has ridden more than three hundred ferries in the United States and elsewhere.
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Some books are finished stories when you close the covers, this one is not. I can only hope that there will be more to this story to come.