The most dangerous man of this century has employed the most dangerous weapon yet. Criminal mastermind Harlan DeVane has developed—and spread—a deadly, genetically engineered “superbug” resistant to all known cures. A microscopic time bomb, it will lie dormant inside its human hosts until detonated by specific biochemical triggers.
DeVane plans to auction off the triggering elements to the highest bidder, but first he’ll use them to destroy the greatest threat to his operation: Roger Gordian, head of UpLink Technologies. As Roger falls prey to the disease, his medical and intelligence teams race to find the cause and the cure—but because in Roger’s fate lies the fate of the world.
About the Author
Date of Birth:April 12, 1947
Date of Death:October 1, 2013
Place of Birth:Baltimore, Maryland
Education:Loyola High School in Towson, Maryland, 1965; B.A. in English, Loyola College, 1969
Read an Excerpt
Table of Contents
ONE - VARIOUS LOCALES
TWO - LA PAZ, BOLIVIA
THREE - MONTEREY BAY, CALIFORNIA
FOUR - BAJA PENINSULA, MEXICO
FIVE - VARIOUS LOCALES
SIX - SAN JOSE/SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
SEVEN - VARIOUS LOCALES
EIGHT - VARIOUS LOCALES
NINE - NATION CODE NAME: CAPE GREEN
TEN - VARIOUS LOCALES
ELEVEN - SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
TWELVE - SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
THIRTEEN - CALIFORNIA/VIRGINIA
FOURTEEN - SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
FIFTEEN - VARIOUS LOCALES
SIXTEEN - VARIOUS LOCALES
SEVENTEEN - VARIOUS LOCALES
EIGHTEEN - CALIFORNIA
NINETEEN - VARIOUS LOCALES
TWENTY - VARIOUS LOCALES
TWENTY-ONE - CALIFORNIA
TWENTY-TWO - SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
TWENTY-THREE - VARIOUS LOCALES
TWENTY-FOUR - NORTHERN ONTARIO, CANADA
TWENTY-FIVE - VARIOUS LOCALES
TWENTY-SIX - VARIOUS LOCALES
THE BESTSELLING NOVELS OF TOM CLANCY
John Clark is used to doing the CIA’s dirty work. Now he’s taking on the world. . . .
—The New York Times Book Review
The most devastating terrorist act in history leaves Jack Ryan as president of the United States. . . .
“UNDOUBTEDLY CLANCY’S BEST YET.”
—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
DEBT OF HONOR
It begins with the murder of an American woman in the backstreets of Tokyo. It ends in war. . . .
“A SHOCKER CLIMAX SO PLAUSIBLE YOU’LL WONDER WHY IT HASN’T YET HAPPENED.”
THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
The smash bestseller that launched Clancy’s career—the incredible search for a Soviet defector and the nuclear submarine he commands . . .
—The Washington Post
RED STORM RISING
The ultimate scenario for World War III—the final battle for global control . . .
“THE ULTIMATE WAR GAME . . . BRILLIANT.”
CIA analyst Jack Ryan stops an assassination—and incurs the wrath of Irish terrorists. . . .
“A HIGH PITCH OF EXCITEMENT.”
—The Wall Street Journal
THE CARDINAL OF THE KREMLIN
The superpowers race for the ultimate Star Wars missile defense system. . . .
“CARDINAL EXCITES, ILLUMINATES . . . A REAL PAGE-TURNER.”
—Los Angeles Daily News
CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
The killing of three U.S. officials in Colombia ignites the American government’s explosive, and top secret, response. . . .
“A CRACKLING GOOD YARN.”
—The Washington Post
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS
The disappearance of an Israeli nuclear weapon threatens the balance of power in the Middle East—and around the world. . . .
“CLANCY AT HIS BEST . . . NOT TO BE MISSED.”
—The Dallas Morning News
The Clancy epic that fans have been waiting for. His code name is Mr. Clark. And his work for the CIA is brilliant, cold-blooded, and efficient . . . but who is he really?
—The Wall Street Journal
NOVELS BY TOM CLANCY
The Hunt for Red October
SSN: Strategies of Submarine Warfare
Submarine: A Guided Tour Inside a Nuclear Warship
Into the Storm: A Study in Command
CREATED BY TOM CLANCY
CREATED BY TOM CLANCY AND STEVE PIECZENIK
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center
Tom Clancy’s Net Force
CREATED BY TOM CLANCY AND MARTIN GREENBERG
Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: Politika
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
TOM CLANCY’S POWER PLAYS: BIO-STRIKE
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with RSE Holdings, Inc.
PRINTING HISTORY Berkley edition / November 2000
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2000 by RSE Holdings, Inc.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
eISBN : 978-1-101-00259-9
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Marc Cerasini, Larry Segriff, Denise Little, John Helfers, Robert Youdelman, Esq., Tom Mallon, Esq.; the wonderful people at Penguin Putnam Inc., including Phyllis Grann, David Shanks, and Tom Colgan; and Doug Littlejohns, Kevin Perry, the rest of the Bio-Strike team, and the other fine folks at Red Storm Entertainment and Holistic Design. As always, I would like to thank Robert Gottlieb of the William Morris Agency. But most important, it is for you, my readers, to determine how successful our collective endeavor has been.
OCTOBER 7, 2001
AMERICAN CITIES RUN BY THE CLOCK. THIS IS TRUEST of the largest and busiest, where the minute hand impels people through their routines without room for pause. The sleep-demolishing clatter of a five A.M. trash pickup, a breakneck dash to the subway, back-to-back conferences noted in a desk planner, business luncheons, happy hours, and more commuter sprints—these are distance markers on the constricted urban fast track, a daily marathon of appointments and schedules where it is only an apparent contradiction to say even the unpredictable occurs at predictable times.
It was largely because of its precise adherence to schedule, its tidal inflow and outflow of humanity, that the New York Stock Exchange was chosen to be ground zero for the northeastern seaboard of the United States, the epicenter of an explosion that would be neither heard nor felt by the thousands of souls it overtook, yet was potentially more catastrophic than a full-scale nuclear assault.
Inconspicuous as the weapon he was carrying, the man in the dark blue suit walked past the statue of George Washington in Federal Plaza to the impressive Greek Revival building on Wall Street amid a swarm of traders and clerks eager to make the opening bell. A tobacco-leather briefcase in his right hand, he climbed the broad outer stairs, passed under the stone pediment with its sculpted gods of finance and invention, and strode through the entrance onto the main trading floor. Once inside, he continued moving with the flood of conservatively dressed men and women as they pushed toward the brokerage booths, trading posts, and banks of phone and video monitors that linked the Exchange to the national and foreign market networks.
Scanning the room, he discovered an unoccupied phone stall, jostled toward it, placed his briefcase on the floor near his feet, and lifted the receiver.
His hand on the hook, he randomly keyed in a number and pretended to make a call.
He would stand there waiting until the time was right.
A few moments later, the bell rang out from the platform, and the nation’s most powerful engine of commerce jolted into high gear. The buzz of voices around him became an enthusiastic clamor, the loud outcries of stock auctioneers carrying up to the vaulted ceiling, tantalizing their bidders like bright flashes of gold and precious gems.
He felt sure that no one was paying attention to him. He was invisible in his conformity, to all eyes just another securities professional touching base with his office as the early quotes hit the board.
The silent phone cradled between his chin and shoulder, he leaned down and pushed a catch beside one of the briefcase’s combination locks. The latch did not snap open. Nor had that been his intent.
Still bent over the case, he heard a low sound issue from its side panel.
Like a venomous snake.
The device was patterned after the modified attaché cases once found by authorities in the compound of Japanese Aum Shinrikyo terrorists, the same extremist cult responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway attack that killed a dozen riders and left over 5,000 people grievously injured from exposure to sarin nerve gas. Like the Aum’s delivery system, it had been contrived from a small aerosol canister, a battery-operated handheld fan, and a nozzle running to a camouflaged vent in the shell of the briefcase. His single improvement to their original design was the lock-catch triggering mechanism, which eliminated any need to raise the lid and reduced his chances of drawing unwanted attention.
Lifting his case, the man in the dark blue suit hung up the receiver and stepped back into the crowd. Someone immediately shouldered past to take his place at the phone, scarcely noticing him. Good, he thought. In the general commotion, the expulsion of aerosol couldn’t be heard. He had only to wind his way around the room a bit, insuring the agent was spread throughout, and his job here would be finished. His targets would do the rest with their scrambling between appointments, their five o’clock cocktail gatherings, their close-packed bodies on homebound trains and buses. Mingling with coworkers, casual acquaintances, and friends, kissing their wives and hugging their children, going around and around in relentless, cyclical patterns of high-speed movement, they would very effectively do the rest.
Soon he left the Exchange and turned onto Broad Street, the canister in his briefcase emptied of its unseen contents. In his mind, he could still hear the noise from the vents: hissssss.
The memory raised the hairs at the back of his neck. He’d been guaranteed there was nothing to worry about, and the assignment had paid handsomely enough to help compensate for any lingering anxiety. Still, he was glad to be outside the building, and he welcomed even the thick, unseasonably warm air of Manhattan in fall . . . knowing he hadn’t really left anything behind. Not anything that couldn’t follow him.
If what he had released wasn’t already out there on the street, it would be.
Soon enough, it would be everywhere.
The Air Tractor AT-802 turboprop is a mainstay of the agricultural aviation industry and a common sight in the sky above central Florida, a region that accounts for almost 70 percent of the nation’s total citrus production. Aboard the plane is an 800-gallon hopper that may contain any of a wide range of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. Pumps beneath the fuselage drive the chemical from the hopper into wing-mounted booms equipped with either special nozzles, in the case of liquids, or spreaders, in the case of solids, for spraying the vast groves of orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime trees.
On this particular morning, an AT-802 launched from a grass airstrip west of Clermont for a spray run with something worlds removed from the products normally used by ag pilots. To prevent its degradation in storage and transport, the material had been lyophilized, or freeze-dried, into an ultrafine, whitish powder that resembled confectioners’ sugar to the naked eye. The particles were then embedded in tiny granular spheres composed of a biodegradable organic compound, increasing their stability and ensuring a controlled and uniform rate of release. Perfectly smooth and free-flowing, the microcapsules rolled virtually without friction and would not acquire electrostatic charges that might make them cling to objects on which they alighted, enabling secondary dissemination of the agent in breezes kicked up by weather, the wings of birds, or the tires of a Mack semi whipping down the interstate.
Its manufacturer had wanted only the best and obtained it at the cost of millions, knowing his clients would find the product irresistible, and confident of an impressive return on his investment.
The crop duster banked to the southwest now, maintaining a low altitude, flying across the wind. At his controls, its pilot could see the trees spread out beneath him, row after row seaming the fields to the extreme limit of his vision, their heavy green crowns jeweled with orange and yellow fruit that would soon be harvested, packaged, and shipped from coast to coast. On his panel were state-of-the-art GPS and GIS displays mapping the acreage to be covered in exact coordinates, displaying a stream of real-time data about outside environmental conditions, monitoring every aspect of his dispersal unit’s operation. According to the instruments, a meteorological inversion had kept a band of cool air close to the ground today, ideal weather because it would prevent the powder from drifting off target with warmer, rising air currents.
He buzzed over the groves, once, twice, and again, a vaporous swath trailing from his wings with each deliberate pass. The aerosol hung in the blue, billowed in the blue, marked the blue with wide, white, parallel stripes that gradually scattered and bled into a light, milky haze.
Then—gently, softly—it settled to earth.
A Boeing 747 wide-bodied jumbo jet can carry over 400 passengers on an international trip, seating as many as 10 abreast, far exceeding the capacity of other commercial airliners. For Steve Whitford this had been so much a mixed blessing that he found himself happily awaiting his layover as his flight taxied to a halt in Sydney.
While he had gotten the last available booking on that flight at the very last possible minute—and supposed he should have been too thankful for the seat to bemoan the absence of leg and elbow room—Steve had little doubt the plane would have burst open like an overstuffed tube of Pillsbury cookie dough had they tried squeezing even a single additional body aboard. At a spindly six feet four—with most of that beanpole height stacked from hip to shin—he was willing to admit his opinion might be a tad prejudiced, but he would have argued its worthiness, nonetheless. Higher than himself can no man think, hadn’t some famous philosopher said that once upon a time?
Good lawyer that he was, Steve never missed an opportunity to cite precedent.
“. . . like to thank those of you who are visiting Australia or going on to connecting flights for choosing our airline. For those continuing to London with us after the stop, please feel free to stretch your legs and enjoy the airport’s restaurants, shops, and other amenities. . . .”
Steve unfastened his seat belt, slid into the aisle, and took the flight attendant’s advice, stretching, massaging the small of his back with his knuckles. His achiness and complaints aside, he had to admit that there were worse things in life than rubbing up against his neighbor in the window seat.
He glanced over at her, an appealing blonde of about thirty in a sort of retro hippieish outfit consisting of a peasant blouse, hip-hugging bell-bottoms, and big, round red earrings like three-dimensional polka dots. At fortyfour, Steve could recall an era when clothes of that type hadn’t been so, well, form-fitted, as if they’d come straight out of a chic fashion designer’s showroom.
Not that she didn’t look good in them. In fact, he’d been very aware of how good she looked the moment they boarded the jet in Hong Kong, and had tried striking up a conversation with her soon after takeoff. Just chitchat, really, while he’d checked her finger for a wedding band—a quick glance verified there wasn’t one—and tried to assess whether she might be inclined to pursue a more intimate dialogue at some later point in time. He’d told her his name, that he was an attorney who had been in Asia doing some patent and licensing work for a Massachusetts-based toy manufacturer, and that he was about to take a few days’ R and R in London before returning to the grind. She, in turn, introduced herself as Melina, no surname given and none asked, her English subtly laced with an accent he couldn’t associate with any particular nationality. It was kind of exotic, that name, especially hanging there exparte, so to speak. With a whimsy peculiar to the solo traveler, he had speculated that she might be an actress or pop star.
At any rate, she’d been reserved but pleasant, responding to his comments on the weather, their runway delays, and the lousy airline food, not revealing much about herself in the process. When he thought about it, she seemed almost secretive . . . although it was likely he was coming off too many days of legal gamesmanship to be a reasonable judge.
Steve got his travel bag out of the overhead stowage compartment, figuring he’d find a restaurant, eat a halfway decent meal, then maybe slap some cologne on his face in the rest room to freshen up for the next long leg of the transcontinental haul. He’d batted around the idea of asking Melina to join him and was still undecided. Why necessarily take her reticence as a snub? It was understandable that a woman flying alone would be cautious toward some strange guy talking her up. Besides, he couldn’t see anything inappropriate in a friendly invite.
He stood looking at her from the aisle. Still in her seat, she’d reached into her purse for a pen and a paper bag with the words Gift Shop printed on it in frilly silver lettering, then slipped some postcards out of the bag. It appeared she meant to stay put during the layover . . . unless he could persuade her to do otherwise.
He took a breath and leaned toward her. “Excuse me,” he said. “I was wondering if you’d like to join me for a cup of coffee, maybe grab a quick bite. My treat.”
Her smile was polite, nothing more, nothing less. “Thank you, but I really have to fill these out.” She placed the postcards on her tray table. “It’s the kind of thing that can slip right by.”
“Why not bring the cards along? A change of scene might inspire you to write better. Or faster, anyway.”
The cool, unchanging smile was a rebuff in itself, making her clipped reply superfluous. “No, I think I’ll stay right here.”
Steve decided to do some face saving. They would be sitting together for another seven hours or so once the plane got back in the air, and he didn’t want the situation to get awkward.
He nodded toward the postcards in front of her.
“Guess you do have a fair-sized stack there.”
“Yes.” She looked at him. “You know how it is with obligations. They’re like little plagues on my mind.”
Steve stood looking back at her. Sure, whatever you say, he thought.
He told her he’d see her later, turned back into the aisle, and filed toward the exit with the other debarking passengers.
She waited, her eyes following him until he stepped off the plane. Then she rapidly got down to business.
She removed the top of her pen and dropped it onto her tray beside the postcards. The ink cartridge was metal, with a small plastic cap above the refill opening. She twisted the cap to loosen the cartridge, slipped it out of the pen, and put the bottom half of the pen beside the other items on the tray.
Little plagues, she thought. A choice of words the man who was both her employer and her lover might have appreciated, though he surely would have disapproved of her speaking them aloud.
Her thumb and forefinger tweezered around the cap, she separated it from the cylindrical cartridge with an easy pull. Careful that no one was watching, she held the cartridge away from herself, turned it upside down, and tapped it with her fingertip. A powdery white substance sprinkled out and immediately dispersed in the cabin’s cycling air. On newer commuter jets, maximumefficiency filters might have trapped a significant amount of the contaminant, but she knew the aging fleet of Boeing 747s used ventilation systems that would suck it in and recirculate it with the plane’s oxygen supply.
Entering the respiratory tracts of the aircraft’s crew and passengers, the microscopic capsules would release the dormant presences within them. Transmitted from person to person, airport to airport, and city to city, spread across nations and continents by their hosts, these unsuspected invaders would aggressively do what they had been created to do.
They would incubate. They would multiply. And they would smolder until fanned into inextinguishable wildfires, outbreaks that would burn scouring rings around the world.
Now the blonde woman checked her watch and decided it might be best to move on.
She extracted a replacement ink cartridge from her purse, loaded it into the pen, then put her stack of blank postcards back into the gift shop bag. Returning the pen and bag to her purse, she recapped the empty ink cartridge and dropped it into her sweater pocket for later disposal. When she noticed that a few specks of powder had landed on the surface of her tray table, she blew them off with a little puff of breath. They wisped away into the artificial air currents of the cabin.
She nodded, satisfied. Her business was concluded.
Folding back her tray table, she rose from her seat and slid into the aisle. The plane was empty except for a handful of passengers and one male flight attendant near the exit, and she smiled at him as she left the plane.
He smiled back, a touch admiringly.
She passed through the jetway into the terminal and glanced up at the monitors listing arrivals and departures. Her next flight was slotted for departure in just over two hours. It would be the seventh and last, and she knew better than to believe the number was coincidence. No, it was without question a demonic fancy. A conceit of the fiend to whom she had given herself willingly, needfully, body and soul.
Little plagues. Seven, and then some.
She was tired, even exhausted, from crisscrossing the globe. But she had dispensed almost her entire supply of the agent and, after the jog into Frankfurt, would be through with the remainder.
Meanwhile, she could find a place to relax for a while and possibly have something to eat. As long as she was careful to stay clear of her latest seatmate, why not?
There was a comfortable margin of time left before she had to be at the boarding gate.
Sight being its only faculty, the eye trusts what it sees. Striving always to keep us on a steady path, it will often slide past the out of place to turn toward the familiar. This makes it easily fooled.
A business-suited investor in Manhattan’s financial district. A crop duster winging over open farmland. An airline passenger filling out postcards to kill time during a layover. All are sights that fit and belong. And all may be something other than they appear, camouflage to deceive the willing eye.
In San Jose, California, a municipal street sweeper brought the aerosol payload through the target zone, dispensing it from an extra spray reservoir aboard its heavy steel frame. It whooshed along Rosita Avenue, amber cab lights strobing, circular gutter brooms whirling, wash-down nozzles deluging the pavement with water as the lab-cooked agent jetted from its second tank.
An everyday part of the urban scene, the sweeper barely scratched the surface of people’s awareness: It was a minor inconvenience, a momentary hiccup in their progress through the morning. Motorists shifted lanes to get out of its way. Pedestrians backstepped onto the curb to avoid its rotating brooms, raised their conversational pitch a notch or two as it swished past, and otherwise ignored it.
They breathed invisible clouds of aerosol and never attributed the slight tickle in the nose or scratchiness at the back of the throat to anything more harmful than stirred up sidewalk grit. They scattered the microscopic particles with their shoe bottoms, ferried them on their skin and clothing, and sent them out along countless routes of transmission with the money they exchanged for newspapers and lattes.
Their eyes seeing nothing amiss, no disruption in the orderly and ordinary course of their lives, they went on to their workplaces without an inkling that they had become carriers of a wholly new and insidious type of infection—many of them heading north on Rosita toward the high, sleek office spire that was the famed main branch headquarters of UpLink International, far and away their city’s largest corporate employer.
Hardly by chance, the street sweeper kept moving in the same direction.
When Roger Gordian’s daughter telephoned him on her way home from the courthouse, he didn’t know what to say. No matter that the proceeding’s outcome had been a foregone conclusion or that he’d had months to prepare for the news. No matter that he was used to talking to business leaders and heads of state from everywhere on earth, often under hot-button circumstances that required quick thinking and verbal agility. Julia was his daughter, and he didn’t know what to say, in part because almost everything he had said to her these past few months had proven to be exactly the wrong thing, leading to more than one inexplicable skirmish between them. Gordian had found himself having to consciously resist feeling like the parent of an adolescent again, prepared for every word he spoke to come back at him and explode in his face. That would have been thoughtless, unfair, and corrosive to their relationship. Julia was a remarkably competent thirty-three-year-old woman who’d led her own life for many years, and she deserved better than stale, fatherly programming from him . . . difficult as that sometimes was.
“It’s over, my divorce is final,” she had told him over her cellular. “The paperwork’s signed, and I should be getting copies in a couple of weeks.”
That was four long seconds ago.
His stomach clutched.
He didn’t know what to say to her.
Six seconds and counting.
His watch ticked into the silence of his office.
Gordian was not by disposition an introspective man. He saw his mind and feelings as fairly uncomplicated. He loved his wife and two daughters, and he loved his work. The work less. Though for some years it had consumed a greater share of his time than it should have, and the family had felt bumped to the sidelines. His wife, in particular. He hadn’t realized, then, how much.
At first there was so much to be done, a decade of struggle building his electronics firm up from the ground. The importance of being an earner, a provider, had been fostered in him early in life. His father had died before the term quality time was coined, but it was doubtful Thomas Gordian would have been able to grasp the concept in any event. He’d been too busy adding thick layers of callus to his fingers at the industrial machine plant where he had pulled a modest but steady wage from the day he’d turned sixteen and quit high school to help support his depression-stricken family. For the elder Gordian, bringing home a paycheck was how you expressed your love of family, and that dogged blue-collar sensibility had taken deep root in his only son, enduring long after he’d returned from Vietnam and, with the help of loan officers and a handful of farsighted investors, purchased a limping, debt-ridden San Jose outfit called Global Technologies for the giveaway price of twelve million dollars.
The rewards of his gamble far exceeded Gordian’s hopes. In less than a decade, he turned Global into a Silicon Valley giant with a slew of tremendously successful defense industry patents. One after another, the contracts started coming in, and Gordian had worked harder than ever to keep them coming. He had used the technological windfall from his development of GAPS-FREE advanced military reconnaissance and targeting equipment to propel his firm to the leading edge of civilian satellite communications, and rechristened it UpLink International.
He had earned. He had provided for his loved ones. He had made more money than he would ever need.
And so he’d gone ahead and found a new reason to keep working.
By the time his corporation went multinational—and Fortune 500—in 1990, Gordian’s thoughts had slung outward to pursue what his wife usually referred to as The Dream, based upon an idea as straightforward as his personality: Information equaled freedom. No lightning bolt of originality there, perhaps, but his real inspiration had been in how he’d set out to draw concrete results from the abstract. As head of the world’s most extensive civilian telecommunications network, he’d been in a position to bring people access to information, a currency with which he could buy better lives for untold millions, particularly where totalitarian regimes sustained themselves by doing the very opposite—choking off the gateways of communication, isolating their citizens from knowledge that might challenge their strangleholds of oppression. History had shown that radical government change nearly always followed quieter revolutions in social consciousness, and the old axiom that democracy was contagious seemed no less true for all the times it had been used as a political cheer line.
Again, Gordian’s triumphs went far beyond his expectations—but, ironically, the signals Ashley was sending from home about her own unhappiness weren’t getting through the bottleneck of humanitarian goals he’d continued to pursue. Not till she’d compelled his attention with words he would remember for the rest of his days.
“I know that everything you’ve accomplished in the world makes a huge difference to people everywhere. I know it’s your calling, something you have to do. What I don’t know is if I’m strong enough to wait until you’re done. ”
Her words, those shattering, unforgettable words, had forced him to look into a deep mirror and see things about himself that were difficult to accept. Far more importantly, they also saved his marriage.
He had been luckier than he’d even realized at the time.
“Dad, you still with me? I’m on the highway ramp and it’s pretty noisy—”
“Right here, hon.” Gordian tried to pull his thoughts together. “I’m just glad the worst of the ordeal’s behind you and that you can get on with your life.”
“Amen.” She produced a sharp laugh. “You know what happened when we were leaving court? After everything we’ve been through, all the legal sniping, all the ugliness, he asked me to have lunch with him. At this Italian place downtown we used to go to sometimes.”
Her voice dropped abruptly into silence.
Gordian waited, his hand tight around the receiver. That laugh—so harsh and humorless—had startled him. It was like hearing a thin pane of glass suddenly crack from extreme cold.
“I guess,” Julia finally said, “we were supposed to toast to our future as born again singles over wine and pasta.”
Gordian heard the creak of his office chair as he changed position. He, common noun, had once been referred to by name: Craig. Her husband of seven years. It was still unclear what had pulled them apart. The divorce petition Craig had filed cited irreconcilable differences, no elaboration. Over the months she’d been staying with her parents, Julia had occasionally talked about their long separations because of his career, about her loneliness when he was away on the job. He was a structural engineer, freelance, though most of his recent assignments had been for the big oil companies. His specialized niche was the design of fixed offshore drilling platforms, and he’d often spent many weeks on-site, overseeing construction. One month it was Alaska, the next Belize. His absences surely contributed to their problems, but Gordian suspected there had to be more. If Julia was the one feeling neglected, why was it Craig who’d wanted out? Gordian hadn’t pushed for answers, however, and Julia had offered very few on her own to either him or Ashley. She had claimed there was no infidelity, and they were trying to take her at her word. But why had she been so guarded with them? Were the reasons too painful to share? Or might Julia herself still be in the dark?
Gordian shifted in the chair again. “What did you tell him?”
“Nothing. I was too incredulous,” she said. “But wait, it gets better. While I was staring at him, really dumbstruck, he leaned over and tried to kiss me. On the lips. I turned my head soon as I realized what he was doing, or trying to do, and it landed on my cheek. I had to stop myself from wiping it off. Like a kid who gets a wet one from some ancient aunt or uncle she hardly knows.”
“And then he backed off, wished me luck, and we went our separate ways. God, it was just so awkward and squirmy.”
Gordian shook his head.
“An overture toward putting the bad feelings to rest,” he said. “Ill-advised, inappropriate, and without any grasp of how you’d be affected. But I suppose that was his intent.”
“He wanted the greyhounds as part of the settlement, Dad. If I hadn’t been the one to sign that contract at the adoption center instead of him, giving me ownership in black and white, he’d have taken Jack and Jill away from me. There’s an overture I won’t forget.”
Gordian strove to come up with a response. In the end he could only echo his own previous comments.
“It’s behind you now, Julia. You can move on. Let’s be glad for that.”
Another significant pause. Gordian heard car horns squalling at the other end of the line. He wished she hadn’t insisted on going to court alone, wished she weren’t driving unaccompanied—not being as distressed as she sounded.
“Better go, traffic’s a mess,” she said. “I’ll be home in time for dinner.”
But it was barely nine o’clock in the morning, Gordian thought.
“There are quite a few hours between now and then,” he said. “How are you planning to fill them?”
There was no answer.
He waited, wondering whether she’d heard him.
Then, her tone suddenly brittle: “Did you want a complete schedule?”
Gordian raised his eyebrows, puzzled. His fingers tightened around the receiver.
“I only meant—”
“Because I can pull over at the nearest Kinko’s and fax something over for your approval.”
Gordian made a gesture of frustration into the empty room. His stomach went from bad to worse.
“I’m a grown woman,” she interrupted. “I don’t think you need a full rundown of my comings and goings in advance.”
“Julia, hang on—”
“See you later,” she said.
The connection broke.
Blew it, Gordian scolded himself. Somehow, you blew it again.
And try as he did to see where he had gone wrong, he could not.
He simply could not.
Many stories below on Rosita Avenue, a street sweeper shot past the building as Gordian’s employees began to arrive for the commencing workday, but the clamor of its equipment would not have impinged upon his thoughts even had it reached the heavy floor-toceiling windows of his office. From where he was sitting, alone at his desk, the dead, silent telephone still clenched in his hand . . .
From where he was sitting right now, the rest of the world seemed immeasurably far away.
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA
OCTOBER 15, 2001
IN THE CENTER OF LA PAZ, ON THE MAIN THOROUGHFARE that descended from the heights to the modern business district, one could look up beyond the rows of exhausted little shacks on the canyon wall to where three of Illimani’s five snow-capped peaks took a great bite out of the Andean sky. It was a sight that none who visited the city could forget, and that even indigenous Aymara Indians, with their blood memories of the Incas as encroaching newcomers, viewed with awe and respect.
The National Police Corps vehicle and its motorcycle escort headed southeast on Avenida Villazón to its wide fork less than a mile past the Universidad Mayor San Andrés, then bore left onto Avenida Anicento Arce toward the Zona Sur. Nuzzled deep within the canyon in Calocoto and other suburban neighborhoods, sheltered from the cold sting of high-altitude winds, the city’s affluent lived behind high gates in exaggerated chalets and sprawling, tile-roofed adobe mansions constructed in deliberate imitation of Hollywood cinematic style.
Excerpted from "Bio-Strike"
Copyright © 2000 Tom Clancy.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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