Toxic Prey

Toxic Prey

by John Sandford
Toxic Prey

Toxic Prey

by John Sandford

Hardcover

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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

Lucas Davenport is back on the case, and a rather deadly case at that. With wide-sweeping stakes brought to life by a master of the genre and a fresh twist to keep readers guessing, this addition to the bestselling Prey series will leave fans salivating for the next.

Lucas Davenport and his daughter, Letty, team up to track down a dangerous scientist whose latest project could endanger the entire world, in this latest thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author John Sandford.

Gaia is dying.

That, at least, is what Dr. Lionel Scott believes. A renowned expert in tropical and infectious diseases, Scott has witnessed the devastating impact of illness and turmoil at critical scale. Society as it exists is untenable, and the direct link to Earth’s death spiral; population levels are out of control and people have allowed disarray and disorder to run rampant. While most are concerned about deadly disease, Scott knows that it is truly humanity itself that will destroy Gaia. It’s only by removing the threat that the planet can continue to prosper, and luckily, Scott is just the right man for the job…


When Scott then disappears without a trace, Letty Davenport is tasked with tracking down any and all leads. Scott’s connections to sensitive research into virus and pathogen spread has multiple national and international organizations on high alert, and his shockingly high clearance levels at various institutions, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory, make him the last person they’d like to go missing. As the web around Scott becomes more tangled, Letty calls in her father, Lucas, help her lead a group of specialists to find Scott as soon as possible. But as Letty and Lucas begin to uncover startling and disturbing connections between Scott and Gaia conspiracists, their worst fears are confirmed, and it quickly becomes a race to find him before the virus he created becomes the perfect weapon.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593714492
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/09/2024
Series: Lucas Davenport Series
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 21
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

About The Author
John Sandford is the pseudonym for the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Camp. He is the author of thirty-three Prey novels; two Letty Davenport novels; four Kidd novels; twelve Virgil Flowers novels; three YA novels coauthored with his wife, Michele Cook; and three other books.

Hometown:

St. Paul, Minnesota

Date of Birth:

February 23, 1944

Place of Birth:

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Education:

State University of Iowa, Iowa City: B.A., American History; M.A., Journalism

Read an Excerpt

1

Letty Davenport's apartment complex had a swimming pool filled with discouraging numbers of square-shouldered men with white sidewall haircuts-even on the black guys, unless they were called black sidewalls; who knew?

They all had big bright wolf teeth, gym muscle, and questionable sexual ethics; and their female counterparts were much the same, the major differences lying in how much butt-cheek was exposed, which, in one case, when the young woman climbed out of the pool, was like watching the moon come up over the Potomac.

They were soldiers, mostly, attached to the Pentagon, just a couple miles away.

Five o'clock on an August afternoon, too hot to be inside, where the barely adjustable air conditioning blew cold damp air on everything; so Letty dozed in the webbing of her recliner, a copy of The Quarterly Journal of Economics covering her face. Beneath that, pressing against her nose, was a paperback version of J. D. Robb's Celebrity in Death, which Letty estimated was the fortieth of the In Death novels she'd read.

While not as prestigious as the Journal, the Robb novel was distinctly more intelligent and certainly better written; but, a girl has to maintain her intellectual status with the D.C. deep state, so the Journal went on top.

Some passing dude she couldn't see made a comment about legs, which she suspected was directed at her, but she ignored him, and was still ignoring him when the phone on her stomach vibrated. She groped for it, and without looking at the screen, pressed the answer tab and said, "Yeah?"

Her boss said, "This is your boss. I'm putting you on speaker." Other people were listening in; a modicum of respect was required.

"Yes, sir?"

"Can you get out to Dulles in the next three hours and forty-one minutes?"

"Uh, sure. Where am I going?"

"London. Well, Oxford. A guy will meet you at Dulles's United gate with a packet including the job, your tickets, and a hotel reservation. The return ticket's open, probably won't take you more than a day or two."

"How will he know who I am?"

"He'll have seen a photograph."

"Can you tell me more than that?" Letty asked.

"Not really. You know, the phone problem." He meant that that phone call wasn't secure, so whatever the problem was, security was an issue.

"How about dress? Standard business casual?"

"That will do. You can't take your usual equipment." He meant, gun. "I'm told by one of the gentlemen here that Oxford has some nice places to run, so you might take running gear."

"Thank you," Letty said.

"Three hours and thirty-nine minutes, now, according to my infallible Apple Watch," said Senator Christopher Colles (R-Florida), who was actually, if not technically, Letty's boss. He hung up.


Letty technically worked for the Department of Homeland Security, but in practice worked for Colles, who was chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. He claimed to have the DHS secretary’s nuts in a vise, possibly because of the secretary’s governmental affairs. However that worked, when Colles spoke, the DHS listened.

Letty didn't exactly have what preppers called a bug-out bag, but she had something close: selected clothes in her closet hung in dry-cleaning bags, waiting to be packed, and a man's large dopp kit containing the cosmetic and medical necessaries, ready to go. She added her running gear, passport, and the Robb novel.

She traveled with a forty-liter Black Hole duffel from Patagonia and had learned to roll her dressier clothes into tube shapes, still wrapped in the dry-cleaner plastic, so they'd be fresh-looking and unwrinkled when she got to her destination. Frequent travel does teach you things, mostly about packing.

Forty-five minutes after Colles's call, she was out the door to a waiting cab; twenty-five minutes after that, they rolled up to Dulles, and five minutes after that, she ambled through security with her DHS credentials and passport and made her way to the United gate. A young man, but older than she was, with a spray of acne across his forehead and an annoyed look on the rest of his face, walked up to her and asked, "Davenport?"

"Yes."

He handed her a manila envelope, thick with the paper inside, said, "Don't lose it," and walked away. Far too important to be sent with an envelope to meet a woman younger than he was, and it showed in his body language. Nothing to be done about that.

Letty found a seat, opened the package, extracted a thin business envelope with her air tickets. She put that in the front pocket of the duffel bag and moved on to a much thicker report on a Dr. Lionel Scott, a British subject now somewhere in the United States; exactly where, nobody knew.

Under the binder clip that held the report together was a folded piece of notepaper with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of three of Scott's friends in Oxford. She was to inquire as to what they might know about his whereabouts and activities, and whether any of them were in touch with him. A final instruction from Colles was scrawled at the bottom of the sheet: "Wring them dry."

Letty checked her watch: she had time before the flight, so she settled down to read.


Lionel Scott was a doctor, first of all, a graduate of the Oxford medical school. After graduation, he’d done two foundation years, somewhat the equivalent of American medical residencies, then three more years studying viral and bacterial diseases in humans. Later, he’d joined Médecins Sans Frontières-Doctors Without Borders-and had spent nine more years working in Bangladesh and Myanmar in Asia, and Uganda, Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa.

He'd left Médecins Sans Frontières for health reasons, had returned to England, where he spent a year at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, then moved again, this time to the United States, where he'd worked at for a year at Fort Detrick in Maryland, at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). Although still technically employed at USAMRIID, he was temporarily working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and had been for almost a year.

He had gone missing from there.

The mention of both USAMRIID and Los Alamos rang alarm bells with Letty, and she thought, Uh-oh.

She checked the time again and took the iPad out of her duffel, read about the Fort Detrick installation and about Los Alamos. Detrick was known as the primary research facility into diseases that might be weaponized by an enemy, which was why it was run by the Department of Defense. That job made sense; Scott was an infectious disease specialist with a lot of time in the field. She couldn't pin down why he would be at Los Alamos, which was known for creating the plutonium pits from which thermonuclear weapons were manufactured.

She read further into Scott's biography: he'd been treated for what was called nervous exhaustion after his last assignment at Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh with its refugee camp Kutupalong, home to nearly a million occupants. He'd also been treated for a recurrence of malaria that he'd originally contracted in Africa, and tuberculosis.

A note from a Médecins executive credited ". . . Dr. Scott with saving quite literally thousands of lives though his work with TB patients."

Altogether, Letty thought, an admirable human being. Now, just past forty, and apparently recovering from his various health problems, he'd vanished. Since he'd had extensive contacts with scientists developing atomic weapons, and other scientists doing what was called "gain of function" research on viruses-a euphemism for "making more deadly"-a number of high-ranking functionaries further up the bureaucratic ladder than Letty had also said, "Uh-oh."


Her flight was called, and after waiting for what seemed like eight or ten priority boarding groups, she worked her way halfway down the plane and took her aisle seat next to an overweight man in the middle seat, who’d already seized both armrests-not because he was a jerk, but because the seats were too small.

Unlike the man in the window seat, who was already squirming, she was small enough to survive the flight. Letty, at twenty-five, was dancer slender, perhaps because she did YouTube dancer workouts, along with weight work and a daily run. As she was settling in, pushing her carry-on under the seat in front of her, the window-seat man, who wore a clerical collar, leaned around the man in the center and said, "I wonder if we'd all be more comfortable . . ."

After some negotiation, they shuffled.

Letty, in making her application for sainthood, took the middle seat, with the obese man moved to Letty's aisle seat. With the big man leaning a bit into the aisle, they all had arm rests; when the plane was in the air, the priest on the window took out a laptop, typed a few words, turned the screen toward Letty and nudged her.

She looked: "Thanks. You saved my life."

She took the laptop, typed, "Say a prayer for me."

He smiled, took it back and typed, "I certainly will."

During the seven-and-a-half-hour flight to London, Letty read through the rest of Scott's biography, finished Celebrity in Death, and got five hours of sleep. Forty minutes before landing, she lined up for the over-used lavatory to pee, wash her face, brush her teeth, jab a travel-sized anti-perspirant in her armpits, run a comb through her hair, and generally get her shit together.

Letty walked off the plane a half hour after the wheels touched down-the fat man gave her a confident smile and asked if she was staying in London, and she said, "Nope."

She skipped a tram that was jammed to capacity and walked what seemed like a mile through a lower-level tunnel to baggage claim; since she hadn't checked any baggage, she breezed through the "Nothing to Declare" gate, heading for the LHR train station.

As she walked through, a man called, "Letty Davenport!"

The man looked, Letty thought, London stylish: summer-weight dark wool suit, silk tie, shoes that appeared to be spit-shined and probably made in Italy. He was handsome, in a weather-beaten way. Tall, thin, with almost-blond hair worn a bit long and mussed, and with the muscles of an Iron Man enthusiast. He was early thirties, she thought. No wedding ring. Why had she noticed that so quickly? She had a boyfriend, didn't she? A duffel sat by the man's feet, much like Letty's, but of oiled canvas, rather than plastic.

She stopped, and he stepped up to her, awkwardly pushing his duffel along with one foot, and showed her an ID card: "Alec Hawkins, MI5. I'll be traveling with you to Oxford. To clear the way, should the way need clearing."

"Didn't say anything about that in my instructions," Letty said.

He nodded: "That's why we're called the Secret Service. Nobody tells anyone anything."

"I thought it was MI6 that was called the Secret Service," Letty said.

"I suppose that's possible. Does anybody really know which is which?"

That made her smile. "You have a car?"

"God, no. Takes forever and no place to park," Hawkins said. "We'll be on the train; two trains, actually. Give me your bag and follow on."

She gave him the bag and followed on, to the express train to London's Paddington Station. "How'd you know it was me coming through the gate?"

"I was notified that you'd gone through passport control and United informed us that you had no checked baggage, so I knew you'd be through quickly. And we have many, many photographs of you, including several with blood on your face. That's really quite charming, for such a looker."

She let that pass. "Are you armed?"

He frowned. "No, of course not. What would I do with a gun?"

"Shoot a terrorist?"

"There are other people assigned to do that," Hawkins said. "I suppose I could kick one; or perhaps I could fashion a makeshift knife with my identity card and slash them with the edge. It's quite sharp."

"Kill them with a rolled-up magazine?"

"Nooo . . . that's beyond my skill set, I'm afraid. Perhaps I could show them a copy of the Daily Mail and embarrass them to death."

They arrived on the sparsely populated train platform, with no train in sight. Hawkins said one would be along shortly. Letty asked, "Is this escort service some kind of punishment for something you've done? Or . . ."

"No, no, I volunteered. Get out of the office, visit the old haunts at Oxford. Went to college there, actually. Balliol, modern history. Quite an interesting place. Hotel on expenses, of course."

"So it's like a vacation."

"Mmm . . . yes. Especially if we can stretch our stay to two nights. I wouldn't think we'd get much done today, especially with you jet-lagged."

"I feel fine," Letty said.

He looked down at her. "Especially with you jet-lagged."

"Ah. Girlfriend or boyfriend?"

"I leave it to you to guess," he said, flashing a smile.

And she thought, Hmm, but didn't vocalize it, and she didn't think it was a boyfriend.


The trip to London’s Paddington Station took twenty-one minutes; Paddington itself was a chaotic human anthill, but Hawkins guided them through, bought two first-class tickets to Oxford-”On expenses, of course, you were too jet-lagged to travel with the hoi polloi.”

"Naturally. Are you always this cheap?"

"Not cheap. I prefer to think of myself as savvy," Hawkins said. "Also, should there be any old Balliol acquaintances about, I'd prefer that they see me in first class, or getting off first class."

"Mmm."

"What?"

"I'm looking for an English phrase that you would understand," Letty said. "You're being very charming; are you chatting me up?"

"A bit. And making a Washington acquaintance for when I take up my assignment there. If today's chatting-up is unsuccessful, perhaps you have girlfriends."

"When will you go to Washington?"

"If nobody fucks things up, which is usually a vain hope, next January."

An approaching train was announced with, first, a wind-like sound, a distant tornado, then a nearly cataclysmic rattling, which ended with a train parked in front of them. Hawkins had positioned them so they'd be next to the first-class cars when the train stopped, and they got on board.


The trip to Oxford was quick, an hour long, with one stop at Reading, pronounced Redding. The land around them was a brilliant emerald green, farm fields and woods, with water here and there, not unlike Iowa, with some large differences. The farm fields, as an example, were like jigsaw pieces, rather than rectangles. Beef cattle and hogs seemed to be absent, though there were sheep; no tree stands for deer hunters.

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