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Title: Syndrome
Author: Hoover, Thomas
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                        SYNDROME

They were promised a miracle cure for the deadly diseases destroying
their lives. It seemed too good to be true, but to the desperate and
dying it was the only chance for survival. Now they're part of a
bizarre secret experiment that reverses the aging process - an
experiment gone out of control. To stop the madness, one woman must
enter a shocking nightmare world, where scientists control your body -
and your mind - and living makes you beg for death . . .

In her mid-thirties, Alexa Hampton runs her own interior design firm in
New York's Soho and has a daily run to keep fit. But now her world is
narrowing as a childhood heart mishap increasingly threatens to
lethally impact her life. Then out of nowhere her black-sheep younger
brother appears and insists she go to a clinic in New Jersey to enter
stem-cell clinical trials that are working wonders. The clinic is owned
by her brother's boss, the eccentric millionaire Winston Bartlett.

Also interested in the clinic is the medical reporter Stone Aimes,
who's hoping to penetrate Bartlett's veil of secrecy and find out
what's going on there. He has personal as well as professional reasons
for wanting to get closer to Winston Bartlett. He is also a long-ago
lover of Alexa's and still carrying something of a torch for her though
they have long been out of touch.

As Alexa investigates the clinic, their paths cross and together they
slowly uncover the horrifying truth about what can happen when stem-
cell technology is taken to its ultimate limit. A bizarre secret
experiment to reverse the aging process has gone out of control.
Winston Bartlett's young mistress, the TV personality Kristen Starr,
had an anti-aging procedure that went awry and now all her cells are
being replaced with new. The side effects are horrific. No one can stop
what is happening: she is growing younger, destined to become a child
again. Bartlett has had the same procedure and now he knows he's next.
It's only a matter of time till he too regresses to childhood, and then
. . . no one knows.

Alexa and Stone become prisoners in the clinic and then Bartlett and
his Dutch medical researcher Karl van der Vliet begin a bizarre
experiment on Alexa, hoping to produce antibodies to save Kristen, and
Bartlett. In a stunning, blazing finale, Alexa turns the tables on them
all, only to discover that she's now, suddenly unlike anyone else who
has ever lived.



BOOKS BY THOMAS HOOVER



Nonfiction

Zen Culture

The Zen Experience



Fiction

The Moghul

Caribbee

Wall Street _Samurai_

     (The _Samurai_ Strategy)

Project Daedalus

Project Cyclops

Life Blood

Syndrome



All free as e-books at

www.thomashoover.info



THOMAS HOOVER

PINNACLE BOOKS Kensington Publishing Corp.

PINNACLE BOOKS are published by Kensington Publishing Corp. 850 Third
Avenue New York, NY 10022

Copyright © 2003 by Thomas Hoover

Quote copyright © 2000 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by
permission. All rights reserved. First Pinnacle Books Printing:
November 2003     ISBN:0-7860-1314-1



Key Words

THOMAS HOOVER (Author)

SYNDROME (Novel: Medical Thriller)

Heart disease, Alzheimer's, Stem Cells, Aortic Stenosis, Medical Columns,
Aging, Fountain of Youth, Regenerative Medicine



_"The potential [of stem cells] for saving lives . . . may be
unlimited. Given the proper signal or environment, stem cells,
transplanted into human tissue, can be induced to develop into brain,
heart, skin, bone marrow cells--indeed any specialized cells. The
scientific research community believes that the transplanted stem cells
may be able to regenerate dead or dying human tissue, reversing the
progress of disease."



_Michael J. Fox

The New York Times (Op-Ed), November 1, 2000



 SYNDROME



Chapter 1



_Sunday, April 5

6:49 A.M.

_

Alexa Hampton was awakened by a sensation in her chest. The alarm
wasn't set to go off for another eleven minutes, but she knew her sleep
was finished.

Not again! She rolled over and slapped the blue pillowcase.

That little sound from her heart and the twinges of angina, that
catchall for heart discomfort, was happening more and more now, just as
Dr. Ekelman had warned her. But she wasn't going to let it stop her
from living her life to the fullest as long as she could, and right now
that meant having her morning run.

She curled her legs around, onto the floor, reached for a nitroglycerin
tab, and slipped it under her tongue. Known as a vasodilator, the nitro
lowered the workload on her heart by expanding her veins. It should get
her through the workout ....

That was when she felt a warm presence rub against her leg.

"Hi, baby." Still sucking on the tab, she reached over and tousled
Knickers' gray-and-white hair, then pushed it back from her dog's eyes.
Her Old English sheepdog, a huge hirsute off-road vehicle, turned and
licked her hand. Knickers was ready to hit the trail.

She'd been dreaming of Steve when the chest tightness came, and maybe
the emotion that stirred up had caused the angina. She still dreamed of
him often, and it was always someplace where they had been together and
loved, and they were ever on the brink of some disaster. That
frequently caused her heart to race, waking her.

This time it was the vacation they took six years ago, in the spring.
They were sailing off Norman's Cay in the Bahamas. She was raising the
jib, the salt spray in her hair, but then she looked up and realized
they were about to ram a reef.

She felt the dreams were her unconscious telling her to beware her
current precarious condition. If, as is said, at the moment of your
passing, your entire life flashes before your eyes, then the dreams
were like that, only in slow motion. It was as though she were being
prepared for something. The dreams were a premonition. She had a pretty
good idea of what.

Ally had had rheumatic fever when she was five, which went undetected
long enough to scar a valve in her heart. The formal name was
rheumatoid aortic stenosis, a rare, almost freakish condition that had
shaped her entire life. The pediatrician at Mount Sinai had told her
parents they should think twice about allowing her to engage in any
vigorous activity. Her heart's function could be deceptively normal
during childhood but when she got older . . . Well, why stress that
organ now and hasten the inevitable day when it could no longer keep up
with the rest of her body?

She had refused to listen. She'd played volleyball in grade school,
basketball in high school, and she became a disciplined runner when she
went to Columbia to study architecture. She wanted to prove that you
could make your heart stronger if you believed hard enough and wanted
to live hard enough.

Now, though, it was all catching up. She'd had a complete checkup two
weeks ago Thursday, including a stress test and

Doppler echocardiogram, and Dr. Ekelman had laid out the situation,
gazing over her half-lens glasses and pulling at her chin. The normal
twinkle in her eyes was entirely absent.

"Alexa, your condition has begun worsening. There's a clear aortic
murmur now when your pulse goes up. How long can you go on living in
denial? You really can't keep on stressing your heart the way you have
been. You can have a normal life, but it's got to be low-key. Don't
push your luck."

"Living half a life is so depressing," she'd declared, not entirely
sure she meant it. "It's almost worse than none at all."

"Ally, I'm warning you. If you start having chest sensations that don't
respond to nitro, call me immediately. I mean that. There's a new drug,
Ranolazine, that temporarily shifts your heart over to using glucose as
a fuel instead of fatty acids and provides more energy for a given
amount of oxygen. It will make the pain back off, but I only want to
start you on that as a last resort. That's the final stop before open-
heart surgery and a prosthetic aortic valve."

Day by day, the illusion of normality was getting harder and harder to
maintain. She had been playing second violin in an amateur string
quartet called the West Village Oldies, but a month ago she'd had to
drop out. She didn't have the endurance to practice enough to keep up
with the others. Blast. It was having to give up things you love that
really hurt.

Still, she was determined to keep a positive attitude. There was your
heart, and then there was heart. You had to understand the difference.

She lay back to wait for the alarm and try to compose her mind. This
Sunday morning was actually the one day of the year she most dreaded.
The anniversary.

It had been back when Steve was still alive. They were living in the
Chelsea neighborhood of New York, in a brownstone town house they were
renting. The rent was high, but they were doing all right. Steve was a
political consultant, who had helped some fledgling candidates overcome
the odds and win important elections. In between campaigns here, he
also got work in the nominal democracies in Latin America.

She was a partner in a small firm of architects who had all been at
Columbia together and decided to team up after graduation and start a
business. There were four of them--she was the only woman--and it was a
struggle at the beginning. For the first three years they had to live
off crumbs tossed their way by the big boys, subcontracts from Skidmore
and other giants. They felt like they were a high-paid version of
Manpower, Inc., doing grunt work, designing the interiors of shopping
malls in the Midwest and banks in Saudi Arabia, while their prime
contractors got to keep all the sexy, big-budget jobs that called for
creativity, like a glass-and-steel office tower in L.A.

But then interesting work finally started to trickle in, including a
plum job to convert a massive parking garage in Greenwich Village into
a luxury condominium. Through a wild coincidence (or luck) she had
personally designed the apartment she later ended up buying for
herself.

Just when everything seemed to be turning around and going her way, an
event happened that stopped her in her tracks. Five years ago on this
very day, April 5, her mother, Nina, phoned her at six-thirty in the
morning and, in a trembling voice that still haunted, announced that
her father was dead.

Arthur Wade Hampton was fifty-nine and he'd been cleaning his Browning
shotgun for an early-morning hunting trip to Long Island--so he'd
claimed the night before--and ... she was awakened by the explosion of a
discharge. A horrible accident in the kitchen of their co-op in the
West Village.

Like Hemingway. Thinking back, they both realized it was the wrong time
of year to hunt anything--but they both also knew he wanted the world to
think that. Moreover, it was precisely the kind of vital lie they'd
need to get through the pointed questions and skeptical looks that lay
ahead. It was a knowledge all the more palpable for being unspoken.
There's no time like those first moments after a tragedy to create a
special reality for yourself.

It was only in the aftermath that she managed to unravel the reason. He
owned and operated an interior-design firm in SoHo called CitiSpace,
and he had mortgaged it to the hilt. He was on the verge of bankruptcy.
(That was why Ally had not spoken to her younger brother, Grant, in the
last 4 1/2 years.)

She felt she had no choice but to try to salvage what was left of the
business and her father's reputation. She left the architectural firm
and took over CitiSpace. It turned out she was easily as good an
interior designer as she had been an architect, and before long she had
a backlog of work and was adding staff. She restructured and,
eventually paid off the firm's debt; it was now on a sound financial
footing.

These days CitiSpace specialized in architectural rehabs in the
Greenwich Village area, with as many SoHo and TriBeCa lofts as came her
way. The work was mostly residential, but lately some lucrative
commercial office jobs were beginning to walk through the door.
Anything dependent on luxury real estate can be vulnerable in dicey
times, but she'd been able to give everybody a holiday bonus for the
past couple of years. She'd even given herself one this year, in the
form of this new condo apartment, which she loved.

Another major reason she'd taken over CitiSpace was to try to provide
her mother some peace and dignity in her twilight years. But then,
irony of ironies, Nina, who was a very lively sixty-six, was diagnosed
eighteen months ago with early-onset Alzheimer's. Now her consciousness
was rapidly slipping away.

All the things that had happened over the last few years had called for
a special kind of heart. She had known Steve Jensen, a freelance
political consultant, for eight years, and they'd lived together for
three of those, before they got married. He was warm and tender and
sexy, and she'd envisioned them in rocking chairs forty years down the
road. They'd been married for only six months when he got a job to help
reelect the president of Belize. At first he was reluctant, concerned
about human rights issues, but then he decided the other candidate, the
alternative, was even worse. So he went.

How many things can be destined to go wrong in your life? Exactly seven
months after her dad died, she received a phone call from the American
Embassy in Belmopan, Belize. Steve had been flying with the
presidential candidate over a stretch of southern rain forest in a
single-engine Cessna when a sudden thunderstorm came out of the
Caribbean and the plane lost radio contact. That was the last, etc.

She rushed there, but after two weeks the "rescue" officially became a
"recovery" mission. Except there was never any recovery. After two
months she flew back alone, the loneliest plane ride of her life.

She still had his clothes in her closet, as though to keep hope alive.
When you love someone so much you think you could never live without
them--and then one day you're forced to--it resets your thinking. Her
dad's death and then Steve's . . .

She wanted to love life, but life sometimes felt like it was asking
more than she should have to give. She currently had no one special to
spend her weekends with, but she hadn't given up, nor was she pushing
it. All things in time, except time could be running out. . . .

Brrrring went the alarm and Knickers responded with a lively "Woof" She
was anxious to get going.

"Come on, baby," Ally said. "Time for a treat."

She struggled up and made her way into the kitchen and got down a box
of small rawhide chews. It would give Knickers something to occupy her
mind for the few minutes it took to get ready.

Since she lived at the west end of Barrow Street, right across the
highway from the new Hudson River Park esplanade that defined that
mighty river's New York bank, she had a perfect course for her morning
runs. She usually liked to run down to the park at the rejuvenated
Battery Park City and then back. She didn't know what the distance was
exactly, maybe three-quarters of a mile each way, maybe slightly more,
but it fit her endurance nicely. The weather was still cool enough in
the mornings that Knickers could accompany her at full trot. In the
heat of summer, however, they both had to cut back.

She'd put on blue sweats, got her Walkman prepped with a Beethoven
quintet, and was just finishing cinching her running shoes when the
phone jangled.



_Sunday, April 5

 7:18 A.M.

_

Grant Hampton listened to the ringing and felt the sweat on his palms.
For a normal person, this would be an insane time to call, but knowing
his nutbag sister, she was probably already up and about to go out for
her daily run. And this on a Sunday morning, for chrissake, when
rational people were drinking coffee or having sex or doing something
sensible like retrieving the Times from the hallway and reading the
columns in the Business section. He had left Tanya, his runway model
live-in, to get her beauty sleep and had driven downtown at this
unthinkable hour on a mission. He was chief financial officer of
Bartlett Medical Devices, Inc., which was in imminent danger of going
under and taking him with it.

Come on, Ally. Pick up the frigging phone.

He gazed out the windshield of his blue Porsche, now parked directly
across the street from Alexa's lobby, and tried to calm his pulse. He
hadn't entirely worked out the pitch, but that was okay because he
wanted to sound spontaneous. Who was it said, "Sincerity, if you can
just fake that, you've got it made?" That was what--

"Hello."

Thank God she's picked up.

"Hi, sis, remember the sound of my voice? Long time, right?"       Come
on, he thought, give me an opening here.  There was a pause that Grant
Hampton thought lasted an eternity.

       "You picked a funny time to call."

        Is that all she has to say? Four and a half frigging years she
shuts me out of her life, blaming me, and then ...

         "Well, Ally, I figured there's gotta be a statute of
limitations on being accused of something I didn't do. So I decided to
take a flier that maybe four years and change was in the ballpark."

        "Grant, do you know what time it is? This is Sunday and--"

        "Hey, this is the hour you do your Sunday run, right? If memory
serves. So I thought I might drive down and keep you company."

         He didn't want to let her know that he was already there. That
would seem presumptuous and probably tick her off even more. But by God
he had to get to her.

         Again there was a long pause. Like she was trying to collect
and marshal her anger.

        "You want to come to see me? Now? That's a heck of a--"

         "Look, there's something really important I need to talk to
you about. It's actually a big favor for you, sis. You've surely heard
of Winston Bartlett?"

         "I've also heard of Donald Trump. So?"

         "Well, he's got a clinic out in New Jersey that--"

         "Grant, I know you're a big shot in his medical conglomerate
or whatever it is, but I'm not interested in whatever you're peddling.
I'm going out to run now."

          He heard the sound of the phone clicking off, without so much
as a good-bye.

         Jesus, he thought, she really is ticked. This is going to be
harder than I thought.

        Okay, here goes Plan B.

        He started the Porsche and slowly backed to the corner of
Washington Street, where he parked again and then hunkered down, loving
the smell of the new leather seat. Ally was going to come charging out
of the front door in about two minutes, with that damned sheepdog that
Steve gave her, assuming it was still around.

Grant Hampton was three years younger than Alexa and he lived in a
different world. Whereas she'd never wanted to be anything but an
architect, he had aimed directly for NYU School of Business. After
that, he had gone to Wall Street and gotten a broker's license and
begun an extremely lucrative career as a bond trader for Goldman Sachs.
He discovered he had the nerves, as well as a gift for handling big
numbers in his head. Soon he had a duplex co-op on the twenty-sixth
floor of a new building on Third Avenue in the East Sixties. He loved
the money and the pad He also liked how easy it was to pick up models
at downtown clubs if you had your own co-op, a Porsche, and were six
feet tall with a designer wardrobe.

That was where he met Tanya, also six feet tall, a striking (natural)
redhead who did a lot of runway work for Chloe.

He thought he was making a lot of money, but Tanya, who could order a
two-hundred-dollar bottle of Dom Perignon to have something to pass the
time while the hors d'oeuvres were being whipped up at Nobu, taught him
he was just barely getting by. She was accustomed to screwing men who
had some depth to their money.

But when he tried a financial endeavor on the side, it turned into a
disaster. Time to move on. He sent around his resume and managed to get
an interview with BMD, which was looking for someone to help them hedge
their exposure in foreign currencies. The next thing he knew, he was
trading bonds for Winston Bartlett's personal account.

When Bartlett's CFO died of a heart attack at age forty-nine (while
undergoing oral sex in the backseat of a chauffeured Lincoln Town Car),
Grant Hampton got temporarily drafted to take over his
responsibilities. That was two years ago. He was aggressive enough that
there was never a search for a replacement. He had made the big time,
and he had done it before he was thirty-five.

But now it all hung in the balance. If this didn't work out,

he could end up cold-calling widows out of Dun & Bradstreet, hawking
third-rate IPOs. Tanya would be gone in a heartbeat.

_Ally, work with me for chrissake.



Sunday, April 5

7:57 A.M._



As Alexa stepped out of the lobby, the morning was glorious and clear.
Spring had arrived in a burst of pear and cherry blossoms in the garden
of St. Luke's Church, up the street, but here by the river the morning
air was still brisk enough to make her skin tingle. The sun was
lightening the east, setting a golden halo above the skyscrapers of
mid-town. Here, with the wind tasting lightly of salt, the roadways
were Sunday-morning silent and it was a magic time that always made her
feel the world was young and perfect and she was capable of anything.

This was her private thinking time--even dreaming time--and she shared it
only with Knickers, who was trotting along beside her now, full of
enthusiasm. Ally suspected that her sheepdog enjoyed their morning runs
along the river even more than she did.

As she headed south, toward Battery Park City, she pondered the weird
phone call she'd just gotten from Grant Seth Hampton. That was his full
name. She called him Grant, but her mother, Nina, always called him
Seth. Unfortunately, by whatever name, Grant Seth Hampton, an
unremitting hustler, was still her brother. She wished it were not so,
but some things couldn't be changed.

In truth, she actually thought Grant had exhibited a kind of sequential
personality over his life. When they were kids, he'd seemed rakish but
also decent. At the time, of course, she was impulsive and rebellious
herself, admiring of his spunk. Now she viewed that as his Early
Personality.

Later, when he was pushing thirty and the Wall Street pressure and the
coke moved in, he evolved into Personality

Number Two. He lost touch with reality and in the process he also lost
his inner moral compass. His character bent and then broke under the
stress, proving, she now supposed, that he was actually a weak reed
after all. Now she didn't know what his personality was.

Grant, Grant, she often lamented, how did everything manage to turn out
so bad with you?

He'd been a bond trader for Goldman, and at family gatherings he'd brag
about making three hundred thou a year. But he had a high-maintenance
lifestyle involving downtown models he was constantly trying to impress
with jewelry and expensive vacations, so that wasn't enough. He decided
to freelance on the side. He set up a Web site and, with his broker's
license, opened a retail business trading naked futures contracts on
Treasuries. He managed to get some naive clients and for a while made a
profit for them. But then the market turned against him, or maybe he
lost his rabbit's foot, and he began losing a lot of other people's
money.

A couple of his clients with heavy losses felt that he'd misrepresented
the risk, and they were getting ready to sue. They also were
threatening to file a complaint with the SEC. There was a real
possibility he could be barred from the financial industry for life.

The only thing that would put the matter to rest was if he made good
some of their losses. But Grant, who lived hand to mouth no matter what
his income, didn't have any liquidity. A reserve? That's for guys who
don't have any balls.

She pieced this story together after the fact. Somehow he'd gotten to
their father, who bailed him out mainly to save the family from
disgrace. In doing so, he had mortgaged CitiSpace right up to the
breaking point.

When she finally unraveled this poignant tale, she realized her father
believed he was going to have to declare bankruptcy and close the firm,
laying everybody off and leaving Nina a pauper. He thought the only way
to save the family from ruin was to collect on his life insurance.
Unfortunately, however, he botched the plan. Nobody believed his death
was accidental and suicide voided the 3-million-dollar policy....

Grant had always inhabited another planet from her dad but surely these
days he was able to support any lifestyle he chose. For the last two
years he'd been some kind of hotshot financial manager for the high-
stakes conglomerate owned by Winston Bartlett, or so Nina said. He
should be making big bucks. Had he managed to screw that up somehow?
Anytime he came crawling back to the family for anything, it was
because he was in some kind of trouble.

She hadn't seen him in so long she wondered if she'd even recognize
him--not that she had any plans to see him.

But what could Grant possibly want from her now? Also, why would he
pick this morning, this anniversary morning, to reappear? Didn't he
know what day this was? Or maybe he didn't actually care.

He'd been living on the East Side that fateful morning of their dad Is
death, in a doorman co-op he surely couldn't afford, and she'd taken a
cab there to tell him in person rather than do it over the phone. When
she did, her voice breaking, she could see his eyes already filtering
out any part of it that touched him. By today he'd probably purged it
out of his memory entirely....

She had reached the vast lawn that had been built on the landfill
behind Stuyvesant High, the Hudson River on one side and the huge
expanse of green on the other. It was manicured and verdant, a La
Grande Jatte expanse of grass where you could see visions of wicker
picnic baskets and bottles of Beaujolais. The space was deserted now
and smelled of new grass. Knickers had gotten ten paces ahead of her,
as though impatient that Alexa was slowing her down, but then she
paused in midstride to sniff at a bagel somebody had tossed.

"Come on, honey." Ally caught up with her, wheezing. "Time to
backtrack. My chest is getting tight again. Goodies at home."

Knickers glared at her dolefully for a moment, not buying the argument.

"Let's go." She resumed her stride back north, knowing--well, hoping--
Knickers would follow. "Home."

Her senses must have been slowing down too, because she honestly didn't
hear him when he came up behind her three minutes later....



_Sunday, April 5

8:29 A.M.

_

"Didn't think I could keep up, did you?" Grant Hampton quipped from ten
paces back. "Guess you didn't know I've started playing handball every
other morning. Half an hour, with the Man. Great for the stamina. Not
to mention brown- nosing the boss, since naturally I let him win."

She doesn't look half bad, he thought. Maybe she's getting out ahead of
that heart problem. Maybe she's actually okay and I'm screwed.

Fuck.

But why is she still so fried at me? Sure, I had a little trouble, but
everybody has ups and downs. Nina, that hardhearted bitch, wants to
blame me for Arthur's death, when it was nobody's fault but his own
that the old fart pulled the plug. Hell, I was going to pay back the
money. He just didn't believe in me. He never did.

"What are you doing here, Grant?" When she turned to look back at him,
she realized she wasn't prepared for this moment at all, but here he
was, complete with a trendy CK running outfit.

She'd only seen him a couple of times after the funeral, and he looked
like life was treating him well. The perfect tan, the lush sandy hair
with an expensive cut that covered the top of his ears like a precise
little helmet. He was a touch over six feet, with athletic shoulders, a
trim figure, and a graceful fluidity to his stride. No wonder he scores
with models. Damn. How could such a creep look that great?

"I told you, I'm trying to do you a favor." He momentarily pulled
ahead, as though to head her off, then looked back and grinned. She
thought she detected a vaguely demented quality in his gray eyes. "Hey,
I've turned my life around, Ally. Lots of good karma. I'm CFO for BMD,
and W.B. lets me handle a lot of his personal investing too."

She put on a burst of energy, trying unsuccessfully to get out ahead of
him. Even though she'd rehearsed this inevitable moment over and over
in her mind, she hadn't realized that seeing him again would be this
upsetting.

Why was he here? But now that he was, maybe she ought to momentarily
let go of the anger long enough to find out what he wanted.
Fortunately, they were almost back to Barrow Street. So this was going
to be quick; no way was she going to ask him up.

"Look," Grant declared over his shoulder, "I think it's high time to
admit I've been a shit. To you and to a lot of people." Now he slowed
enough that she pulled alongside. "For a long time there, back when I
worked for Goldman, I was an immature asshole. But at least I'm mature
enough now to admit it."

"I think the window for owning up is past." She didn't need his belated
mea culpa. Nothing was going to bring their father back, and having a
scene on this anniversary day would only demean his memory. "Sometimes
it's better just to let things rest."

"No, that's wrong, Ally, and I want to try and start making amends. For
all the money Dad helped me out with. I want to do a kindness for you,
to repay you and Mom as best I can." Now he was jogging along beside
her as smooth as a stroll, barely breathing. It was adding to her
humiliation.

"Grant, it's a little fucking late for that. Dad's gone. Money's not
going to bring him back. And I'm okay, Mom's okay--at least for money."
Well, she thought, that's true for now, but who knows what lies ahead?
"So what's a couple of million or so between siblings, anyway? Right?
It's the price of finding out who everybody is."

Just now, she told herself, the biggest "kindness " he could do would
be to disappear. Forever. She'd thought she was over the bulk of the
pain and the feelings of humiliation, but seeing him again, hearing his
voice, and looking at his eyes was bringing all of it back. She
realized she was never going to be over it.

"Ally, go ahead and say whatever you need to ... Look, I can't really
do anything about the money, at least not right this minute--though I've
got a big ship on the horizon, assuming a deal I'm working on comes
through. But right now I'm about to try to do you a favor."

"I think I can muddle through without any of your 'favors,' Grant. And
I really don't appreciate your showing up out of the blue like this,
bullying your way back into my life."

She glanced over and saw his gray eyes were hangdog. It was the soulful
look he used to melt her resolve. But not this time. She was yelling at
herself inside not to give an inch. If she let him anywhere close to
her life again, she was sure she'd only regret it.

"Well, like it or not, I am here at the moment," he said, once more
jogging a pace ahead then twisting his head back. They were at the
crossing and he could see her building from where they were. He had to
get a hook into her before she disappeared into that damned lobby. Time
for the bait. "By the way, Ally, how's your ticker doing these days?
You still have to watch out for... that heart thing?"

"Look, Grant, I've got a busy morning. I'm going up to see Mom, not
that you'd give a damn. So thank you for inquiring about my health, but
frankly what do you care?" She paused. "Tell you what. If your 'favor'
is so wonderful, I'll give you one phone call. Tonight, at home." She
had Knickers' leash on a short hold and was waiting for the light to
change. "But I've got to go now."

Shit, he thought, the hook didn't catch. "Can't be on the phone, I'm
telling you. I needed to see you. Why the hell do you think I took the
trouble to catch you before your day got started? You know I hate
getting up this early." He stepped onto the curb and stopped. "Ally,
please listen. This is something I can do for you. I won't insult you
by saying it's for old times' sake, but in a way it is. I got you a
shot at a big job. Bartlett wants to redo the ground floor of his place
on Gramercy Park. I told him about CitiSpace, and he sounded interested
and said he'd like for you to come by and meet him and help him kick
around some ideas."

She looked at him, not believing a word.

"You hacked into my life at seven o'clock Sunday morning for that. You
had to see me? Give me a break. What do you really want? And this
better be good."

Okay, he thought. Cut to the chase.

"You're correct. It's about your heart."

"What about it?"

Make it real, he told himself. This could be your only shot.

"All right, here's the unvarnished deal. What I really did for you.
About five years ago, Bartlett bankrolled a start-up bio-med firm
called the Gerex Corporation. It was the brainchild of a Dutch doctor
whose research project had just been sawed off at the knees by Stanford
University. Then Bartlett moved the entire operation to a clinic at the
BMD campus out in New Jersey called the Dorian Institute. It's all very
hush-hush, but I can tell you Gerex has a new procedure in clinical
trials that can literally work miracles. The head researcher, this
Dutch doctor, has pioneered a new treatment using a stem cell procedure
to trick an organ into regenerating itself, even a heart. It's like you
grow your own transplant."

Now she was finally listening.

"I was talking to the Dutch guy late last week," he went on, picking up
a faint positive vibe and hoping desperately he could build on it, "and
he said he's looking for someone in their thirties with a rheumatic-
heart thing--I think it's like what you have--to be part of this big
clinical trial they're wrapping up. But they have to do it immediately,
so they can put the data in their final report to the National
Institutes of Health."

"And you thought about me? That's very touching, Grant. Your idea of
doing me a favor is to let some Dutch quack experiment on me?"

"Hey, don't be so fast to turn up your nose at this." Shit, he thought,
how am I going to make any headway? "His procedure operates at the cell
level. The way they say it works is he takes cells from your bone
marrow or blood or . . . whatever and makes them 'immortal' with this
special enzyme and then injects them into organ tissue. It causes that
organ to start regenerating itself."

"That sounds completely like science fiction. Besides, I'm not--"

"Well, he's doing it. Trust me. But there're only a couple of weeks
left in the clinical trials, so everything's on a fast track now. If
you're the least bit interested, you've got to call him tomorrow. If
you don't, I'm sure he'll find somebody else by the middle of the
week."

He reached down and tried to give Knickers a pat, but she drew away.
Good for her, Ally thought. Then he looked up and his voice grew
animated. "Ally, the Dutch doctor--his name is Van de Vliet, by the way--
is the smartest man I've ever met. I'd say he's a good bet for the
Nobel Prize in Medicine this time next year. I'd put my last dime on
it. What he's doing is so incredible I shouldn't even be talking about
it. At least not till the clinical trials are finished. But I wanted to
do you this favor."

Uh-huh, she thought. What it amounted to was, he was coming to her with
another one of his hustles. Probably they needed somebody to round out
their clinical trials and she was conveniently handy. "You know, Grant,
maybe I'll just pass. I already have a cardiologist."

She found herself wondering what Dr. Ekelman would say to this radical
new treatment.

"All right, Ally, do you want to make me beg? I need you

to do this. When I described you to Dr. Van de Vliet, I could tell he
was very excited. This could change everything for you." He paused,
perhaps becoming aware of the pleading tone in his voice. "For
chrissake, give me a break. Is there someplace we can have coffee? I'm
not asking to come upstairs or anything. I just want to see if we can
be on speaking terms long enough to help each other out."

In a way she was relieved though she was secretly hurt all over again
too. He wasn't crawling back to her to beg forgiveness for destroying
lives. No, he was back and groveling because he thought she could help
him butter up his boss. How could she not feel used?

God, that was so like him. At that moment she knew there was never any
chance he'd change.

"Come on," he said again. "A lousy cup of coffee. There's that little
French bistro on Hudson Street." He tried a grin. "Hey, I'll even buy."

For a moment she thought she felt her resolve slipping. It's funny, but
after you break up a family, no matter how dysfunctional, you start
repressing the bad memories. But then something comes along to remind
you all over again.

"Grant, are you hearing yourself?" She stared at him. "You sound like
you're selling snake oil."

"Why was I afraid you'd back off? You're really doing it because you're
pissed. Okay, you've got a right. But I've brought you something I
think you ought to at least look at." He was unzipping his fanny pack
and taking out a Gerex Corporation envelope, folded in half.

Christ, he thought miserably, why is she doing this to me? I've got to
keep the door open.

"Read this and then give me a call tonight, like you promised. It'll
tell you more about him."

She hesitated before taking it. It was thick with papers and she was
planning to spend the day visiting Nina. "I think I've heard enough
already."

"Just look at his CV. Van de Vliet's. He's done a lot of

things. You've got to take him seriously." He urged it into her hand.
"Look at it and call me. Please."

She took it, and then she reached down and patted Knickers. "Come on,
baby. Let's go up."

He watched her disappear into the lobby and start shooting the breeze
with the doorman, some red-haired jerk with a ponytail who'd just come
on duty.

Damn. Maybe the best thing would be just to chloroform her and let her
wake up in the lab. W.B. needs her.



Chapter 2



_Sunday, April 5

8:20 A.M.



_"Okay, you'd better take it from here," Winston Bartlett declared to
Kenji Noda over the roar of the engine. He had lifted his feet off the
pedals and was unbuckling the cockpit seat belt. He liked having a turn
piloting his McDonnell Douglas 520N helicopter on the commutes between
his corporate headquarters in Lower Manhattan and his medical research
park in northern New Jersey, but prudence dictated a more experienced
hand on the collective during descent and landing. For that he had
Noda, formerly of the Japanese Defense Forces. A tall, wiry man of few
words, Noda was also his bodyguard, chauffeur, and curator of his
museum-quality _katana _sword collection.

With the sharp, delicious aroma of the pine forest below wafting
through the cabin, Noda quickly put aside the origami he'd been
folding, to center his mind and slid around a special opening in the
bulkhead. He strapped himself into the seat, then took the radio
headphones. The sky was the purest blue, with not another craft in the
visual perimeter. They were, after all, over a forest.

As Bartlett settled himself in the passenger compartment, he thought
about where matters stood. There was the very real prospect he had
rolled the dice one time too many. The daily blood tests at his clinic
in New Jersey were showing he was disturbingly close to using up his
nine lives.

To look at him, though, you'd never suspect. At sixty-seven he was
still trim and athletic, confident even cocky, with a full head of
steel dark hair and probing eyes that instantly appraised whatever they
caught in their gaze. He played handball at a private health club near
his Gramercy Park mansion for an hour every other morning and he
routinely defeated men half his age, including Grant Hampton. Remaining
a player in every sense of the term was the main reason he enjoyed
flying his M-D chopper, even though his license had been lapsed for
eight years. It was the perfect embodiment of his lust for life. As he
never failed to point out, his lifelong business success wasn't bad for
a City College grad with a bachelor's degree in Oriental art history.
He had gotten this far because he wanted success enough to make it
happen.

He'd started out in New York real estate, but for the last twenty years
he had concentrated on buying up small, under- priced medical-device
manufacturers with valuable patents and weak bottom lines. He
dismantled some of the companies and sold off the pieces, always for
more than he'd paid for the whole. Others he restructured with new
management, and when a profitable turnaround was in sight, he took them
public or sold them to a major player like Johnson & Johnson. The
potential winners, though, the ones with promising pipelines of medical
devices or drugs whose FDA approval was imminent, he relocated here at
the BMD campus in northern New Jersey.

But competition was fierce, and the bigger players like Merck and J&J
had limitless research capital. They could write off dead ends a lot
easier. Thus it was that five years ago, when his pipeline was drying
up, Winston Bartlett took the biggest gamble of his life. He acquired a
cash-strapped new start-up called the Gerex Corporation, whose head
scientist was at the cutting edge of stem cell research. Karl Van de
Vliet, M.D., Ph.D., had just had his funding terminated and his
laboratory at Stanford University closed after a political flap by
right-wingers.

Bartlett had moved Van de Vliet here to New Jersey and poured millions
into his stem cell efforts, bleeding BMD's working capital white and
racking up 85 million in short-term debt just to keep the rest of the
company afloat. Now, though, the gamble was paying off. This month
Gerex was winding up stage-three clinical trials for the National
Institutes of Health. These trials validated a revolutionary procedure
that changed the rules of everything known about healing the human
body. Already his CFO, Grant Hampton, was heading a negotiating team
hammering out a deal with the British biotech conglomerate Cambridge
Pharmaceuticals to sell them a 49 percent stake in Gerex. Over 650
million in cash and stock were on the table, and there were escalators,
depending on the results of the trials now under way.

The problem was, Cambridge had only seen the financial and summaries of
data from Gerex's successful clinical trials. They knew nothing about
the fiasco of the Beta procedure.

"Karl called just before we left and said she's worse this morning,"
Bartlett remarked to Noda. He was removing his aviator shades and there
was deep frustration in his eyes. "God I feel so damned responsible.
She was--"

"Having the Beta was Kristen's idea," Noda reminded him. "She wanted to
do it."

What he didn't say was on both their minds: what about Bartlett
himself? After Kristen Starr had had the Beta, and it had seemed
successful, Bartlett decided to have it too. Now his daily blood tests
here at the institute were showing that the telomerase enzyme was
starting to metastasize and replicate in his bloodstream, just as it
had in hers.

"Well," Bartlett went on, "Karl thinks he's got a new idea that might
save us. Hampton is supposed to be on the case this very morning." He
stared out the chopper's window, down at the rooftops of his empire. At
the north end of the industrial park was the main laboratory, where
stents and titanium joint replacements were tested on animals--mostly
sterile pigs, though some primate testing also was under way. The
central area had two large manufacturing facilities where the more
complex devices were made.

The buildings were all white cinder block, except for the one they were
hovering above now. It was at the far south end, a massive three-story
mansion nestled among ancient pines and reached by a long cobblestone
driveway. Though it was actually the oldest building of the group by a
hundred years, it was the latest acquisition for the complex. It
fronted a beautiful ten-acre lake, and had been a summer _palacio_ of a
nineteenth-century railroad baron. Around mid-century it was turned
into a luxury retirement home, complete with nursing services. Its
ornate appointments reminded patients of the Frick Gallery, if one
could imagine those marble halls teeming with wheelchairs and nurses.

Bartlett had bought the defunct manufacturing complex next to it
eighteen years earlier for the BMD industrial park, but it was only six
years ago that the owners of the mansion, a group of squabbling heirs,
finally relented and agreed to part with the property. It was now a
flagship holding of BMD.

He had an eye for design and he had loved remodeling the old mansion
and making it into a modern clinic and research facility. He had
renamed it the Dorian Institute and moved in Karl Van de Vliet and the
research staff of the Gerex Corporation. He also had put a landing pad
on the expansive roof, along with a stair leading down to an elevator
that could take him directly to the laboratory in the basement.

Kenji Noda settled the McDonnell Douglas onto the pad and cut the
engines. Bartlett never let himself worry about the noise. The patients
in the clinical trials were here at no charge, so they really couldn't
complain, particularly since they were now part of what was possibly
turning out to be the greatest advance in the history of medicine. If
your Alzheimer's had just been reversed at no charge, you weren't going
to complain about a little hubbub on the roof.

"I'll wait here," Noda said opening the side door. His bald pate,
reminiscent of an eighteenth-century samurai, glistened in the early
spring sun.

Bartlett nodded, knowing that his pilot did not trust physicians and
hospitals. Taking care of your body was your responsibility, Kenji Noda
frequently declared and he trained his own daily. He ate no meat and
drank gallons of green tea. When he practiced _kendo_ swordplay, he had
the reflexes of a man half his age. He never discussed why he had left
Japan, but Bartlett assumed it was for reasons best left in the dark.

Bartlett headed down the metal stairs leading to the self- service
elevator. This daily ordeal of flying out to give a blood sample and to
see Kristen was increasingly unsettling. As he inserted his magnetic
card into the elevator security box, he felt his hand shaking slightly.

So close to the eternal dream of humankind. So close. How was it going
to end?



_Sunday, April 5

8:38 A.M.

_

"Dr. Vee, I'm feeling so much better, I can't tell you." Emma Rosen
reached out and caught her physician by the collar of his lab coat,
pulling him down and brazenly bussing his cheek. She'd been longing to
do this for three weeks but hadn't mustered the nerve until now. "This
morning I climbed the stairs to the third floor, twice, up and back
without any chest pain. Oy, can you believe? It's a miracle."

Karl Van de Vliet was a couple of inches over six feet, with a trim
face and sandy hair that some older patients judged too long for a
physician. His English normally was perfect, though sometimes he made a
mistake when trying to sound too colloquial. But everyone, young and
old adored his retiring Dutch manner and those deep blue eyes that
carried some monumental sadness from the past. They also were sure he
would soon be recognized worldwide as the miracle worker he was. The
prospect of a Nobel didn't actually seem that far-fetched.

"Emma, please, I begged you to rest." He sighed and checked the dancing
electronic pens of her EKG. They were in the basement of the Dorian
Institute. Upstairs, the "suites"--nobody called them rooms--were
intended to invoke a spa more than a clinic, so most of the heavy-duty
diagnostic equipment was kept in a row of examining rooms down near the
subterranean lab. "For another week at least. Why won't you listen?
You've been a very naughty girl. I may have to tell your daughter."

He glanced at the seventy-three-year-old woman's readout one last time,
made a quick note on his handheld computer, and then laid a thin hand
across her brow for a fleeting, subjective temperature check.

She's all but fully recovered, he told himself. It's truly astonishing.

Five weeks earlier, she had come through the front door of the Dorian
Institute in a wheelchair pushed by her youngest, a bottle blonde named
Shelly. He took one look and scuttled the normal security precautions,
the frisk for cameras and recording devices. Emma's low cardiac output
had deteriorated to the point that her left leg below the knee was
swollen to almost twice its normal size, owing to renal retention of
fluid, and she was so short of breath she required oxygen. He hadn't
wanted to complicate the clinical trials by taking on another patient
at that late date, but she had been referred by a physician friend in
the city, begging. How could he turn her away?

He had removed a microscopic amount of bone marrow from her right
ankle, extracted the stem cells, applied the hormonal signal that told
them to develop into heart muscle, and then injected a thriving cell
factory into her heart. Since stem cells could be made to ignore the
body's rules to stop replicating after a certain number, they were able
to reproduce forever, constantly renewing themselves. The only other
cells with that immortal characteristic were cancer cells. In fact, it
was as though he had given Emma a new kind of cancer--one that produced
cells as healthy as those in a newborn. Today she probably could have
run up those stairs.

Although his stem cell technology was going to create a new era in
regenerative medicine, he had experienced his share of bumps in the
road. Five years earlier, Stanford University had canceled his research
project there since the work he had been doing involved the special
stem cells in unused fertility-clinic embryos. The university claimed
there had been death threats to its president. The Board of Regents had
finally decided with a sham show of remorse, to revoke his funding.
They called him in one sunny afternoon in May and pulled the plug. He
thanked them and tore up his contract. By that time he had already
demonstrated that, using the right chemical signals, stem cells could
be coaxed into becoming almost any organ. Inserted into the heart, they
became new heart muscle, replacing scars; inserted into the brain, they
became neural tissue. No way was he going to be stopped now. They
didn't know what they were losing.

What he needed was a "white knight." He did some poking around and came
up with Winston Bartlett, then floated feelers to Bartlett's people.
What if, he proposed, Bartlett acquired the Gerex Corporation for BMD
and made it a for-profit business? No more public funding (and
maddening administrative meddling). The research already completed was
so close to a payoff, after years and years of grinding lab work and
thousands of white mice, that the deal could be considered an
investment where 95 percent of the seed money had already been supplied
by taxpayers.

Winston Bartlett had liked the sound of that, and Karl Van de Vliet had
his white knight.

Once his financing was secure, he decided to begin by solving the
problem that had dogged him at Stanford. Since there would always be a
distracting public-relations problem hounding any researcher in the
United States who made use of aborted embryos, even if it was to save
lives, he was determined to find a less controversial way to trick
Mother Nature and garner "pluripotent" stem cells, the name given those
that could give rise to virtually any tissue type.

He had. After he moved his research team into the Dorian Institute just
over 4 1/2 years ago, he had perfected a way to use a human protein, an
enzyme called telomerase, to make adult stem cells do most of the
miracles once only thought possible with embryonic cells.

The phase-three clinical trials over the past seven months had proved
conclusively that the technique worked. Adult stem cells, when treated
with the telomerase enzyme to arrest the process of cell senescence,
could indeed regenerate everything from the human brain to the human
heart, from Parkinson's to acute myocardial infarction.

Twenty-three days from now, when the phase-three clinical trials were
formally scheduled to be completed, Karl Van de Vliet would have enough
data for the National Institutes of Health to confirm one of the most
important breakthroughs in the history of medicine.

Unfortunately, however, there was that other bit of data that he would
not be sharing with the NIH. The Beta.

Thinking about that, his heart heavy, he turned back to the situation
at hand.

"Emma, you're making wonderful progress," he continued on with the
banter, "but don't push yourself too hard just yet."

She laughed, sending lines across her forehead. Her voice was deep and
rich, sultry in its own way. "When you get as old as I am, honey, you
do anything you can get away with. What am I saving it for? I just
might go to Atlantic City next week and pick up a sailor."

"Well, then, I may have to have Shelly go along and keep an eye on
you," he said with one last programmed smile. Then he checked his
watch. Bartlett should be arriving any minute now. Time to get Emma
Rosen the hell out of here and back upstairs.

He turned and signaled for Ellen O'Hara, the head nurse, to start
removing the suction-cup electrodes that had been stuck on Emma for her
EKG. Ellen had been with him when he was at Stanford and her loyalty
was unquestioned. She had made sure that the Beta disaster with Kristen
hadn't become the gossip of the institute. Still, how much longer could
it be kept quiet?

Then Sandra Hanes, the lively, dark-haired woman in charge of the
second floor for this shift, walked into the examination room. She knew
nothing about Kristen.

"Perfect timing," he said. Then he drew her aside. "Keep an eye on
Emma, will you? Try and keep her in her room and quiet as much as you
can. The last blood work showed her white-cell count over twelve K/CMM.
It could mean there's some minimal rejection rearing its head. Probably
nothing to worry about, but can you just keep her away from the stairs
for godsake? I don't want her tiring herself out."

"I'll tie her to the bed if I have to," Sandra answered. The clinical
trials had required a mountain of paperwork, and her face was strained
from working long shifts, including a lot of weekends, like this one.
But he suspected she actually appreciated the overtime. She was forty-
five, divorced and putting a straight-A daughter through Rutgers.

She also was a first-rate nurse, like all the others at the institute,
and her loyalty couldn't be more secure. Still, he knew that she and
all the other staffers were bursting to tell the world about the
miracles they'd witnessed. That was why Bartlett had insisted on an
ironclad nondisclosure agreement in the contract of every employee to
be strictly enforced. (And to put teeth into the security, all
employees were body-searched for documents or cameras or tapes on the
way in and out.) To violate it would be to open yourself to a life-
altering lawsuit. During World War II the claim had been that "loose
lips sink ships." Here they would render you a pauper for life. Nobody
dared even whisper about the spectacular success of the clinical
trials.

As the examining room emptied out, he checked his watch one more time.
Winston Bartlett was due any minute now and he had nothing but bad news
for the man.

Trying to control his distress, he walked to the end of the hallway and
prepared to enter the lab. Whereas the ground floor and the two above
were for reception, common dining, and individual rooms, the basement
contained the laboratory, his private office, the examination rooms,
and an OR (never yet used, thankfully). There also was a sub-basement,
accessible only through an elevator in the lab or an alarmed set of
fire stairs. It was an intensive-care area, and it was where Kristen,
the Beta casualty, was being kept.

He zipped a magnetic card through the reader on the door and entered
the air lock. The lab was maintained under positive pressure to keep
out the slightest hint of any kind of contaminant. It was as sterile as
a silicon chip factory.

The room was dominated by a string of black slate workbenches, then
rows and rows of metal shelves with tissue- containing vials of a
highly volatile solvent cocktail he had engineered especially for this
project, along with a computer network and a huge autoclave and several
electron microscopes.

He walked in and greeted his research team. He'd managed to keep the
core group that had been closest to him at Stanford, four people who,
he believed, were among the finest medical minds in the country. They
were the renowned molecular biologist David Hopkins, Ph.D., the
strikingly beautiful and widely published endocrinologist Debra
Connolly, M.D., and two younger staffers, a couple who'd met and
married at his Stanford lab, Ed and Beth Sparks, both Ph.D.'s who'd
done their postdoc under him. They all were here now in the wilds of
northern New Jersey because they knew they were making medical history.

David was waiting, his long shaggy forelock down over his brow as
always. But his eyes told it all.

"Karl, Bartlett's blood work from yesterday just got faxed up from the
lab at Princeton. His enzyme level has increased another three point
seven percent."

"Damn." It was happening for sure. "Did you run--"

"The computer simulation? A one-standard-deviation estimate is that
he's going to go critical sometime between seventeen and nineteen
days."

"The Syndrome." Van de Vliet sighed.

"Just like Kristen."

"She faked us out. There were no side effects for weeks." Van de Vliet
shook his head sadly as he set his handheld Palm computer onto a side
table. Later he would transfer all the day's patient data into the
laboratory's server, the Hewlett- Packard they all affectionately
called the Mothership. Then he began taking off his white coat.

"Bartlett looks to be inevitable now." David exhaled in impotent
despair. The frustration and the tension were getting to everybody.
They all knew what was at stake. "It's in two and a half weeks, give or
take."

What had supposedly been a cosmetic procedure had gone horribly awry.
Van de Vliet wondered if it wasn't the ultimate vengeance of the quest
for something you shouldn't have.

"His AB blood type is so rare. If we'd just kept a sample before the
procedure, we'd have something to work with now," Van de Vliet said
sadly. "We still might be able to culture some antibodies."

He hadn't told his research team yet about the other possible option--
using somebody else as an AB blood-type incubator.

His last-ditch idea was to find a patient with a blood type of AB
positive and introduce a small quantity of the special Beta telomerase
enzyme into them. The theory was that this might induce their body to
produce compatible antibodies, which could then be extracted and
cultured in the laboratory. If a sufficient quantity could be produced
they could be injected into Bartlett and hopefully arrest the enzyme's
pattern of entering the host's bloodstream and metastasizing into the
more complex form that brought on the Syndrome. And if it did work,
then there might even be some way to adapt the procedure to Kristen.

"Karl, if Cambridge Pharmaceuticals finds out about the Beta fiasco,
how's it going to affect--"

"How do you think it's going to affect the sale? If this gets out,
there'll be no sale. To anybody. Bartlett will be ruined, and Gerex
along with him. That's everybody here, in case you're counting." He
turned and exited the lab, pushing pensively through the air lock, and
then he walked slowly toward his office, collecting his thoughts. He
was just passing the elevator when it opened.



_Sunday, April 5

8:47 A.M.

_

Winston Bartlett looked up to see Van de Vliet as he stepped off the
elevator, and the sight heartened him as always. The Dutchman was a
genius. If anyone could solve this damned mess, surely he was the one.

"First thing, Karl, how is she now?"

"I think you'd better go down and see for yourself," Van de Vliet said
slowly. "As I told you on the phone, she still comes and goes. I think
it's getting worse."

Bartlett felt a chill run through him. He had once cared for this woman
as much as he was capable of caring for anybody, and what had happened
was a damned shame. All he had intended was to give her something
special, something no man had ever given a woman before.

"Will she know who I am? She still did yesterday."

"It depends," Van de Vliet replied. "Yesterday afternoon she was fully
lucid, but then earlier this morning I got the impression she thinks
she's in a different place and time. If I had to guess, I'd say she's
regressing chronologically. I suppose that's logical, though nothing
about this makes any sense."

Bartlett was following him back through the air lock and

into the laboratory. The intensive-care area below was reachable only
by a special elevator at the rear of the lab.

All these once-cocky people, Bartlett thought, were now scared to
death. Van de Vliet and his research team might actually be criminally
liable if the right prosecutor got hold of the case. At the very least
they'd be facing an ethics fiasco.

But I'm the one who's about to be destroyed. In every sense.

It had all started when Karl Van de Vliet confided in him that there
was an adjunct procedure arising out of stem cell research that might,
might, offer the possibility of a radical new cosmetic breakthrough.
Just a possibility. He called it the Beta, since it was highly
experimental. He also wasn't sure it was reproducible. But he had
inadvertently discovered it while testing the telomerase enzyme on his
own skin over a decade ago.

At the time he was experimenting with topical treatments for pigment
abnormalities, but the particular telomerase enzyme he was working with
had had the unexpected effect of changing the texture of his skin,
softening it and removing wrinkles, a change that subsequently seemed
permanent.

The idea had lain dormant while they were preparing for the clinical
trials. But then Bartlett's _petite amie_, the cable-TV personality
Kristen Starr, had had a career crisis that she blamed on aging, and he
came up with the idea of having her undergo the skin procedure.

In a mistake with unforeseen ramifications, she had then been made an
official part of the NIH clinical trials. After she had gone for over a
month without any side effects, Bartlett had elected to undergo the
procedure himself.

Then it began in Kristen--what David had solemnly named the Syndrome.
Van de Vliet had immediately (and illegally) terminated her from the
clinical trials, removing her from the NIH database. She was now being
kept on the floor below, in the subbasement intensive-care area.

As they stepped onto the elevator to go down, Bartlett found himself
wondering how many of the staff here were aware of the real extent of
the crisis. Van de Vliet had said that only three of the nurses knew
about Kristen and the Syndrome. Fortunately, they all were trustworthy.
Two had even been with him back at Stanford. They would never talk.

But what about the rest? They'd all fawned over Kristen, starstruck by
her celebrity, and they'd spill the beans in a heartbeat if any of them
found out. The story would be everywhere from Variety to the "Page Six"
gossip column. It would certainly mean the financial ruin of Bartlett
Medical Devices. If Gerex went under, everything else went with it.

On the other hand, he thought ruefully, what does it matter? If I end
up like her, I won't even know it happened.

"W.B., the telomerase enzyme is completely out of control in her now,"
Van de Vliet continued. "First it metastasized through her skin and
into her blood. Then it began directing its own synthesis. I've tried
everything I know to arrest it, but nothing has worked. I still have a
faint hope, though. If we can make some headway on your own situation .
. ." He paused and his voice trailed off. "In the meantime, though, I
think it would definitely be wise to move her to another location.
There are too many people here. The risk is enormous. Word is bound to
get out sooner or later. You must have someplace . . ."

"Of course." Bartlett nodded. "I'd rather have her in the city and
closer to me anyway. But let me see if I can talk to her first. I need
to try to make her understand."

Though it's probably too late for that, he told himself.

They stepped off the elevator and entered a high-security area, a long
hallway illuminated only with fluorescent bulbs. Using a magnetic card
as a key, Bartlett opened the first door they came to. As always, he
was dismayed by the sight.

For a moment he just stood looking at the thirty-two- year-old woman
sitting up in a hospital bed, mutely watching a flickering TV screen
showing the Cartoon Network. He had truly cared for her, perhaps even
loved her for a time.

Then he walked over. "Kristy, honey, how're you feeling?"

She stared at him blankly. Kristen had been a vivacious blue-eyed
blonde who'd had her own showbiz gossip show on the E! channel till it
was canceled during a scheduling shake-up six months earlier. She had a
nervous breakdown, declaring to Bartlett that her show had been
canceled because she looked like a crone.

He'd told her it wasn't true, but if she was so distraught about her
appearance, then maybe there was something he could do for her. Van de
Vliet had once mentioned an experimental skin procedure. . . .

Bartlett turned back to Van de Vliet, feeling the horror sinking in.

"Karl, goddamit, we've got to reverse this."

"Let's talk outside," Van de Vliet said.

Bartlett kissed Kristen's forehead in preparation for leaving. Her
lifeless blue eyes flickered something. He thought it was a flash of
some old anger.

Who could blame her? he told himself. But back then, who knew?

He'd wanted to give her a gift like none other. Not quite the Fountain
of Youth, but maybe a cosmetic version. Her skin would begin to
constantly renew itself.

And he'd been right. The promise of having her skin rejuvenated was
just what she'd needed to get her self-confidence back.

For more than a month the miracle seemed to be working, and there were
no side effects. Her skin was becoming noticeably softer and more
supple. She was elated.

Screw NIH trials and the FDA, he then decided. It was working for
Kristen. By God he would try it himself. He wasn't getting any younger.

But no sooner had he had the procedure too than Kristen started
evidencing side effects. First it was little things, like lapses in
short-term memory. Next, as it got progressively worse, she could no
longer remember why she was at the institute. Then she couldn't recall
her name, where she lived. And now . . .

Could it be that God can't be cheated? And when it's tried, God brings
down a terrible vengeance.

When they were outside in the hallway, he said, "I have a place on Park
Avenue that's empty. At the moment. We used to spend weekends there and
I can arrange for a full-time nursing staff, all of it." He paused.
"Has anybody called here about her lately?"

"Just her mother, Katherine, who's getting pretty frantic."

"The woman is unbalanced. Certifiable. God help us if--"

"I told her to see what she could find out from Kristen's publicist."

"Good." Bartlett had told Kristen's midtown publicity agent, the nosy
Arlene of Guys and Dolls, Inc., that Kristen had gone to a private spa
in New Mexico to rethink her career and didn't want to be disturbed.
She desired complete solitude. Any communication with her would have to
be handled through his office.

He looked at Van de Vliet. "Karl, tell me how bad it is for me now."

"For you?" He hesitated. This was the question he'd been dreading. "The
telomerase numbers from yesterday's blood sample are not encouraging.
As I told you, your topical enzyme application has metastasized into
your bloodstream and started to replicate, just like it did in Kristen.
We're seeing a process known as 'engraftment.' These special cells have
learned to mimic any cell they come near. They become the tissue that
those cells comprise and begin replacing the healthy tissue with new.
In Kristen's case, we think it's now entered her brain and it seems to
be supplanting her memory tissue with blanks. The same side effect
could eventually evolve in you."

That doesn't begin to describe the real horror, Bartlett thought. It's
too impossible to imagine.

"The only thing left is to find some way to cause your body to reject
the enzyme," Van de Vliet said. "I'm optimistic that we might be able
to grow some telomerase antibodies in another patient with your blood
type, then culture enough of them to stop the Syndrome in its tracks.
It's worth a try. Frankly, I can't think of anything else. But your
blood type is AB, which is extremely rare. Also, the problem is that
we'd possibly be putting that other person at severe risk too."

"Let's go back up to the lab," Bartlett said. "That idea of yours--
Hampton thinks he's got somebody. A woman, in her late thirties." He
put his hand on Van de Vliet's shoulder. "We're going to get her on
board however we have to."



Chapter 3



_Sunday, April 5

8:49 A.M.



_Stone Aimes was staring at the e-mail on the screen of his Compaq
Armada and feeling an intense urge to put his fist through its twisted
spiral crystals. What do you do when you've come up with an idea that
could possibly save thousands of lives using simple Web-based
technology and then the piece gets spiked by your newspaper's owners at
the very last minute because it exposes some important New York
hospitals to unpleasant (but constructive) scrutiny?

What it makes you want to do is tell everybody down on the third floor
to stuff it and walk out and finish your book-- undistracted by
corporate ass-covering BS ... or, unfortunately, by a paycheck.

Around him the newsroom of the New York Sentinel, a weekly newspaper
positioned editorially somewhere between the late, lamented New York
Observer and the Village Voice, was in final Sunday countdown, with the
Monday edition about to be put to bed. The technology was state of the
art, and the room flickered with computer screens, blue pages that gave
the tan walls an eerie cast. Composition, spell-checking, everything,
was done by thinking machines, and the reporters, thirteen on this
floor, were mostly in their late twenties and early thirties and
universally underpaid.

The early morning room was bustling, though it felt to Stone like the
end of time. Nobody was paying any attention to him but that was
normal: everybody was doing their own thing. Besides, nobody else
realized he'd just had a major piece killed at the last minute. Now he
felt as though he were frozen in place: in this room, in this job, in
this life.

The book he had almost finished was going to change a lot of things. It
would be the first major explication of stem cell technology for
general readers. Stem cells were going to revolutionize everything we
knew about medicine and the research was going further than anyone
could have dreamed. The possibility of reversing organ degeneration,
even extending life, was hovering right out there, just at humankind's
fingertips. It cried out for a major book.

He had read everything that had made its way into the medical journals,
but the study that was furthest along was privately funded and now
cloaked in secrecy. It was at the Gerex Corporation, whose head
researcher was a Dutch genius named Karl Van de Vliet. The company had
been bankrolled by the medical mogul Winston Bartlett after Van de
Vliet lost his funding at Stanford.

Winston Bartlett, of all people . . . but that was another story.

Thirteen months earlier, the Gerex Corporation had trolled for
volunteers on the National Institutes of Health Web site, referring to
a pending "special study." The notice suggested the study might be
using stem cell technology in some fashion. If that study was what
Stone Aimes thought it was, it would be the first to use stem cells in
stage-three clinical trials. Nobody else was even close.

Karl Van de Vliet was the ball game. Unfortunately, however, his study
was being held in an atmosphere of military-like secrecy. Why? Even the
identities of the participants in the trials were like a state secret.
Since Winston Bartlett owned Gerex, it surely had been ordered by him.
You had to wonder what that was all about.

Whatever the reason, Stone Aimes knew that in order to finish his book
with the latest information he had to get to Van de Vliet. But Bartlett
had forbidden any interviews, and Gerex's clinic, called the Dorian
Institute, was off-limits to the public and reportedly guarded with
serious security.

But, he thought, perhaps he had just come up with an idea of how to get
around that. . . .

He stared a moment longer at the dim reflection coming back at him from
the antiglare screen, which now informed him that his cover feature had
been chopped. Truthfully, it was happening more and more; this was the
third time in eight months that a major muckraking piece had been axed.
Also, as he stared at it, the reflection told him he wasn't getting any
younger. The hairline was no longer where it had been in his college
photos--it was up about half an inch--and the blue eyes were sadder, the
lines under them deeper.

Still, the tousled brown hair was thick enough, the brow mostly
wrinkle-free, and he still had hope. He wasn't exactly young anymore,
but neither was he "getting on." The "Willy Loman" years remained
safely at bay. He was thirty-nine and divorced, with an ex-wife, Joyce,
who had departed to be a garden designer in northern California, taking
with her their daughter, Amy, on whom he doted. He had a one-bedroom,
rent-controlled apartment in the East Nineties, on the top floor of a
fashionable brownstone. He was socially unattached, as the expression
goes, but he was so compulsive about finishing the book that he spent
weekends hunched over his IBM Aptiva, nursing a six-pack of Brooklyn
Lager and writing deathless prose. The truth was he was lonely, but he
didn't allow himself to think about it.

He'd always vowed he'd amount to something by forty. And now it was as
much for Amy as for himself. She lived with his ex-wife near El
Cerrito, California, and she meant the world to him. The mortifying
part was, he was a week behind with this month's support check. And he
knew Joyce needed the money. It made him feel like a callous deadbeat
dad when the real culprit was an unlucky confluence of inescapable
bills. He'd make it up next week, but he'd sworn he would never let
this happen.

That was why he had a larger game plan. Get out of this frigging day
job and finish the book. The time for that plan to kick in was
approaching at warp speed. This last insult was surely God's not-so-
subtle way of informing him that his future was in the freelance world.
Every day out there would be a gamble, but he could write anything he
damn well pleased.

There was a parable set down by the ancient Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu
that Stone Aimes reflected on more and more these days. It was the
story of two oxen: One was a ceremonial sacrificial ox who, for the
year before he meets the axe, was feted with garlands of lotus flowers
and plied with ox goodies. The other was a wild ox who had to scrounge
in the forest for every scrap. But, the story went, on the day the ax
was to drop, what wouldn't that ceremonial ox give to change places
with that haggard struggling, underfed wild ox?

That's the one he empathized with. The one who was out there, half
starved but free.

The Sentinel was an iron rice bowl that normally never let anybody go
except for grossest incompetence or flagrant alcoholism. On the other
hand getting ahead was all about office politics, kissing the managing
editor's hindquarters, and copying him on every memo to anybody to make
sure nobody else took credit for something you thought of.

On the plus side, he knew he was a hell of a medical journalist. There
was such a gap between medical research and what most people knew, the
field cried out for a Stephen Hawking of health, a medical Carl Sagan.
The way he saw it, there was room at the top and he was ready for a
major career breakthrough. He had done premed at Columbia before
switching to journalism, and these days he read the Journal of the
American Medical Association from cover to cover, every issue, along
with skimming the many other journals now on the web.

The piece that just got cut was intended to show the world that
investigative journalism was alive and well and trying to make a
difference. He'd documented that hospital mistakes were actually the
eighth leading cause of death in the United States. The Institute of
Medicine estimated that medical errors caused between fifty and a
hundred thousand deaths a year--rivaling the number from auto accidents
or AIDS. (He'd gotten enough data to be able to quantify how many of
those deaths were in leading New York hospitals.) Yet there was no
federal law requiring hospitals to report mistakes that caused serious
injury or death to patients.

The reason seemed to be that the medical lobby--he'd named names--had
successfully turned back all attempts by Congress to pass such a law,
even though it was a formal recommendation by the Institute of
Medicine. The problem was, once you admitted you screwed up, you could
get sued.

So there was no formal accountability.

But (and here was the constructive part) if patients' medical records
were put on the Web--everything, even their medications--it could make a
big dent in the all-too-frequent hospital medication foul-ups. That
alone could cut accidental hospital deaths in half.

He'd pitched Jay Grimes, the managing editor, to let him do a five-
thousand-word piece for the Sentinel. Jay had agreed and even promised
him the front page. Jay liked him, but since all the real decisions
were made by the owners, not-so-affectionately known as the Family,
there wasn't much Jay could do to protect his people. Stone now
realized that more than ever.

The e-mail on his Compaq's screen was from Jane Tully, who handled
legal affairs for the paper. Apparently, Jay didn't have the balls to
be the hatchet man, so he'd given the job to Jane, who could throw in a
little legal mumbo jumbo for good measure. And she hadn't even had the
courtesy to pick up the phone to do the deed. Instead, she'd sent a
frigging e-mail:_ See attached. Corporate says legal implications
convey unacceptable risk. Consider an op-ed piece. That way the
liability will be all yours. Love and kisses.

_And of course, by "Corporate," she meant the Family (or, more likely,
their running-dog attorneys down on Nassau Street).

It was really too bad about Jane. She was a young-looking thirty-six
and had her own legal practice with a large law firm in midtown, but
she always dropped by before her Sunday brunch to answer any legal
questions that might be pending before the Sentinel was put to bed.
Stone knew pretty well how her mind worked. He should. Jane Tully was
his former, very former, significant other.

They d lived together for a year and a half on First Avenue in the East
Sixties. But she was type A (tailored Armani suits and always on time)
and he was a type B (elbow patches and home-cooked pasta). The
denouement had been seismic and full of acrimony and accusations.

So was she killing this major piece out of spite? he wondered. Just to
prove one last time who really had the _cojones_?

Actually, it would have been nice to think so. That would put a human
face on this gutless travesty. But the attached memo had enough legal
jargon that another reason was immediately suggesting itself. The
owners of the paper, the Family, the fucked-up twins Harry and Bosco
and their mother, Adeline, the heirs of Edward Jordan, actually were
afraid of a lawsuit. The attachment had the fingerprints of the
Family's attorneys all over it. Jane was just carrying out marching
orders.

And sure enough, there at the bottom was a second message, unsigned and
not part of the original memo. She had written clearly ITMB.

That was their old code for "I tried my best."

Well, Jane baby, who the hell knows. Maybe you did.

Damn, it wasn't supposed to be like this. He wasn't trying

to be a Carl Bernstein, for chrissake. For once, all he wanted was to
report a story exactly the way it was, and then try to help. He
ultimately wanted to fix, not fault.

He hit a button and printed out a copy of everything, then minimized
the screen, grabbed his jacket, and walked down the hall. Was this the
moment to quit? It was, except he couldn't afford to. He'd never
managed to put enough aside to take off a year and live on air and
write and still get that fifteen-hundred-dollar check out to Joyce and
Amy every first of the month.

He got to the bank of elevators and pushed the button for the third
floor and stepped on. The inspection sticker framed just above the
controls actually told the whole saga of why his cover story about
sloppy procedures in New York and national hospitals had been killed.
The building was owned by Bartlett Enterprises, the real estate holding
company of Winston Bartlett.

The Sentinel held a very favorable lease, renewable for another ten
years at only a 5 percent increase when it rolled over in seven months.
The Jordan family had gotten it in the early 1990s, when New York real
estate was still in the toilet from the stock market crash of '87, and
for once Winston Bartlett really screwed up. Now it was about a fifth
of the going price per square foot.

So naturally he was about to do everything he could to break the lease.
He was that kind of guy. The Jordan family, owners of the Sentinel,
probably figured that a big lawsuit by the AMA or somebody would
overtax their legal budget and give Bartlett a shot at their soft
underbelly. Thus no boats were to be rocked.

The elevator chimed and he stepped off on three. This floor had subdued
lighting and understated birch paneling, pale white, in the reception
area. It was as though power didn't need to trumpet itself. Everybody
knew who had it

He waved at Rhonda, the receptionist, and strode past. She glanced up,
then said, "Does she know you're coming?"

       She knew full well he was headed down to see Jane. Unlike most
organizations, which take Sunday off, this was always a big day for the
Sentinel, with all hands on deck.

"Thought I'd give her a little surprise."

"No kidding." She was reaching for the phone. "I think maybe I should--"

"Not necessary." He was charging down the hall, feeling knee-deep in
the thick beige carpet. "I've got a feeling she's expecting me."

Jane's door was open and she was on the phone. But when she saw him,
she said something abruptly and hung up. He strode through the door,
then slammed it. The decor was bold primary colors, like her take on
life. Explicit.

"Okay," he demanded, "what the hell's going on? How about the real
story?"

"Love, you know you can't hang the Family out with that kind of
liability," she declared, then got up and came around her desk and
cracked open the door half a foot. "And you're the one person here I
can't have a closed-door meeting with. It'll just get people talking
again."

"Good. Let the world hear. It's time everybody on this floor learned
what a bunch of gutless owners we have." He watched the crisp way she
moved, picture-perfect inside her deep blue business suit, complete
with a white blouse and a man's red tie. Seeing her here, hair clipped
short, glasses, in an office brimming with power, you'd never guess she
liked nothing better than to be handcuffed during sex.

"Stone, have you ever considered growing up?" She settled back into her
chair. The desk was bare except for her notebook computer, an expensive
IBM ThinkPad T25. Power all the way. "The Family's attorneys are just
trying to keep us from getting dragged into court. At least until we
can get the paper's lease on this building renewed. We're going to need
to focus on that negotiation, not be distracted by some massive libel
suit brought on by an irresponsible, mudslinging piece. You practically
accused the AMA of bribery, and you named three senators. One from New
Jersey, for chrissake. Stone, there might be a time for that, but this
is not it."

This was exactly the reason he'd expected. What it really meant was,
the Family was scared stiff of Winston Bartlett. They figured he was
going to go to court to try to break the Sentinel's lease.

"Let me ask you a question. Whatever happened to journalistic ethics
around here? Remember that Statement of Purpose they have everybody
sign before they could be hired. 'All the news, without regard'. . .
you know. We were both so damned proud to be a part of that. Now you're
helping them kill anything that's the slightest bit controversial. Is
that what we've come to?"

"Stone, what the New York Sentinel has come to is to try and stay out
of legal shit till their lease is renewed." She brushed an imaginary
lock of hair from her face, a residual gesture she once used to stall
for time when she actually did have long hair. "Just let it go, won't
you? To get the signed and notarized documentation we'd need to run
that piece-- assuming we even could--would cost a fortune in time and
resources."

Well, he told himself, there was possibly something to that, from a
legal standpoint. But this was not the moment to let sweet reason run
riot.

"Okay, look, if you or the Family, or whoever the hell, believe I'm
going to go quietly, you'd better get ready for some revisionist
thinking. If this piece gets spiked, after all the work I put into it--
and dammit, Jane, you know I can document everything I write; that's
the way I work--then I bloody well want something back from this gutless
rag. Actually, it's something I want from you."

"You're not really in a position to--"

"Hey, don't try to ream me twice in the same morning." He walked around
her desk and gazed down at the street. The Sunday-morning traffic was
light. He also noticed that there was a public phone on the corner.
Good, he'd be using it in about eight minutes. Then he took a moment to
reflect on how nice it was to actually have a window. Of any kind. "You
know the saying, the pen is mightier than the sword. I'm about to prove
that once and for all, but there's something I need I need a half
hour's face time with one of Bartlett's employees. A certain Dr. Karl
Van de Vliet. He runs a company that Bartlett bought out, called the
Gerex Corporation. Strictly for fact-checking. They've got some
important clinical trials going on at a clinic in New Jersey that I
need to hear about."

She looked at him in sincere disbelief.

"Stone, how on earth am I supposed to--"

"You talk to the Family's lawyers. They've gotta be talking to
Bartlett's attorneys by now. Make it happen."

"And why exactly--?"

"Because I have a book contract, Jane. And in the process I need to
find out everything there is to know about Winston Bartlett's biggest
undertaking ever. He has bankrolled something that could change the
face of medicine."

"You're doing a book about Bartlett?" Her astonishment continued
growing and appeared to be genuine. "Jesus, you didn't tell--"

"Hello. That's because who or what I write about on my own dime is
nobody's effing business around here."

Now he was thinking about Winston Bartlett and wondering why he'd never
told her the most important piece of information in his life. It was
how he was connected to the man. He often wondered if maybe that was
why he was doing this book on stem cells, knowing that half of it would
end up being about Bartlett's self-serving, take-no-prisoners business
career. His infinite cruelty. Was the book actually revenge?

"You know you'll have to get permission to reprint anything you've
published in the Sentinel. The paper owns the rights to--"

"Didn't you hear me?" He smiled. "It's a book. My book. There's no
editorial overlap."

"Who's the publisher?"

"They exist, trust me."

His small publisher wasn't exactly Random House, but they were letting
him do whatever he wanted.

"It didn't start out being a book about Bartlett, per se," he went on,
"but now he's becoming a central figure, because of what's going on--or
possibly not going on--at Gerex."

She was losing her famous poise.

"What . . . what are you writing?"

"The end of time. The beginning of time. I don't know which it is. You
see, the Gerex clinic in northern New Jersey has clinical trials under
way on some new medical procedure involving stem cells. At least that's
what I think. They've clamped down on the information, but I believe
Van de Vliet, who's the head researcher there, is perilously close to
one of the most important breakthroughs in medical history. I just need
to get all this confirmed from the horse's mouth."

"Is that what you want to interview him about?"

"He was available for interviews until about four months ago. I
actually had one scheduled, but it abruptly got canceled. Bang,
suddenly there's a total blackout on the project. They just shut down
their press office completely. When I call, I get transferred to his
CFO, some young prick who likes to blow me off. For starters, I'd like
to know why it's all so hush-hush."

"Stone, private medical research is always proprietary, for God's sake.
Sooner or later he undoubtedly hopes to patent whatever he's doing. A
privately held corporation doesn't have to report to anybody, least of
all some nosy reporter."

That was true, of course. But Stone Aimes knew that the only way his
book would be the blockbuster he needed to get free of the Sentinel was
to tell the real story of what Gerex was in the process of achieving.
And to be first doing it.

For which he needed access.

"Make it happen. Because, like it or not, Winston Bartlett is about to
be the subject of a major volume of investigative journalism. I've
already got a lot of what I need." That wasn't precisely the case, but
there was no need to overdo brutal honesty. "The only question is, does
he want it to be authorized or unauthorized? It's his choice."

Winston Bartlett, Stone knew all too well, was a man who liked nothing
better than to see his name in the papers. In fact, he used the free
publicity he always managed to get with his jet-setting lifestyle to
popularize his various business ventures. Like Donald Trump, he had
made himself a brand name. So what was going on here? Was he just
playing his cards close to the chest, waiting to make a dramatic big
announcement? Or was he keeping this project secret because he was
worried about some competing laboratory beating him to a patent?

Or was he hiding something? Had the clinical trials out in New Jersey
gone off the track? Was he keeping the project hush-hush because
something was going on he didn't want the public to hear about? Had
stem cell technology turned out to be an empty promise? Or had there
been some horrible side effect they didn't want reported?

"So could you just raise this with his attorneys? Because if he lets
Van de Vliet talk with me directly, he can be sure I'll get the story
right. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. It's up to him."

"Stone, I hope you have an alternative career track in the advanced
stages of planning. Because the minute the Family gets wind of this,
that you're writing some tell-all about Bartlett, they're going to
freak. Even if you're doing it on your own time, you still work here.
At least for the moment. Your name is associated in the public's mind
with the Sentinel."

He knew that, which was why this was going to be all or nothing.

"Just do me this one itsy-bitsy favor, Jane. It's the last thing I'll
ever ask of you." He was turning to walk out. "And look on the bright
side. When the Family finally sacks me for good and all, you won't have
to write me any more nasty memos telling me to be a good boy."

He walked to the elevator and took it down. The next thing he had to do
was make a phone call, and this was one that required a pay phone.

He'd thought about it and decided one possible way to encourage
Bartlett to open up was to try to bluff him, to make the man think he
knew more about the clinical trials than he actually did. There was
only one way he could think to do that.

In premed days Stone Aimes had shared a dorm room at Columbia with Dale
Coverton, who was now an M.D. and a deputy director at the National
Institutes of Health. His office was at the National Heart, Lung, and
Blood Institute.

One of the nice things about having friends who go way back is that
sometimes, over all those years, something happens that gives one or
the other a few chips to call in. Such was the case with Stone Aimes
and Dale Coverton.

Dale's oldest daughter, Samantha, a blond-haired track star and math
whiz, had--at age thirteen--developed a rare form of kidney cancer and
needed a transplant. She was given six months, tops, to live.

Stone Aimes had done a profile of her in the paper he worked for then,
the New York Globe, and he'd found a transplant donor, a young girl on
Long Island with terminal leukemia, who was able to the knowing she'd
saved another person's life. The two had met and cried together, but
Samantha was alive today because of Stone Aimes. It was a hell of a
chit to call in, and he'd sworn he never would, but now he felt he had
no choice. The truth was, Dale Coverton would have walked through fire
for him. The question was, would he also violate NIH rules?

Stone hoped he would.

He stopped at the pay phone at the corner of Park and Eighteenth
Street, an area where nine people out of ten were wearing at least one
item of clothing that was black. It also seemed that six out of ten who
passed were talking on cell phones. He took out a prepaid phone card
and punched in the access number and then the area code for Bethesda,
Maryland, followed by Dale's private, at-home number. It was, after
all, Sunday morning.

"Hey, Atlas, how's it going?" That had been Dale's nickname ever since
he lifted two kegs of beer (okay, empty) over his head one balanced on
each hand, at a Sigma frat blast their senior year. It now seemed like
an eternity: for Dale, two wives ago, and for Stone, one wife and two
live-togethers.

"Hey, Truth and Justice, over and out." It was their all- purpose old
code phrase for "I aced the quiz. I hit with the girl. I'm doing
great."

"My man, I need some truth," Stone said. "Justice may have to wait."

A big delivery truck was backing up against the sidewalk, its reverse-
gear alarm piercing and deafening. The mid-morning sun was playing
hide-and-seek with a new bank of clouds in the south.

"That thing you told me about? Is that it?" Dale's voice immediately
grew subdued. He was a balding blond guy with just enough hair left for
a comb-over. Beyond that, his pale gray eyes showed a special kind of
yearning. He wanted truth and justice to prevail.

"Don't do anything that won't let you sleep nights. But this situation
is very special. I was hoping I wouldn't have to come to you about what
we talked about last month, but I'm running out of time and ideas." He
paused, listening to the sound of silence. "I suppose it's too much to
ask."

"Well, I still haven't seen any data or preliminary reports. The NIH
monitor for those particular clinical trials is a woman called Cheryl
Gates and she's not returning anybody's phone calls. The truth is, she
doesn't have to. But another possibility is, she doesn't actually know
beans and she's too embarrassed to admit it. If somebody wants to keep
a monitor in the dark for strategic commercial reasons, it's easy
enough to do."

"Well, how about the other thing? The thing we talked about. The list?"

He sighed. "I was afraid you might come to that. That's a tough one,
Truth and Justice."

"Hey, you know I didn't want to ask. But I'm running out

of cards."

He sighed again. There was a long silence and then, "You know you're
asking me to give you highly restricted access codes to the NIH Web
site. We shouldn't even be talking about it. So officially the answer
is no. That's for the record."

"Strictly your decision." But he had his fingers crossed, even as he
was ashamed of himself for asking in the first place.

"Maybe this is God's way of letting me even up things a bit. It can't
be something easy or it doesn't really count, does it?"

"I could end up knowing more about these trials than the NIH does,"
Stone said. "Because it doesn't sound like you guys actually know much
at all."

"Let me think about it and send you an e-mail tonight. Whatever comes
up, it'll be 'scrambled eggs.'"

"Thanks, Atlas."

"Scrambled eggs" was a reference to a made-up code system they'd used
in college. A name or number was encoded by interlacing it with their
old phone number. This time the interlaced number would be an access
code for proprietary NIH data.

"I do not think I'm long for the world here at the Sentinel. We're
forming a mutual hostility society."

"I sure as hell hope you've got a new career concept ready for the day
when they give you the ax." Dale's attempt at a light tone did not
quite disguise his concern.

"Funny, but that's the second time I've received that advice in the
last half hour. I deem that unlucky."

"Stone, sometimes I think you ought to try not living your life so
close to the damned edge. Maybe you ought to start practicing a little
prudence, just to see what it feels like."

"I'm that wild ox we used to talk about I like to scrounge.

But I also like to look around for the biggest story I can find. I'm
trying to get an interview with a guy on Bartlett's staff. Maybe our
'scrambled eggs' will flush him out."

"Just take care of yourself and keep in touch."

"You too."

And they both hung up.

Was this going to do the trick? he wondered. As it happened Stone Aimes
already knew plenty about Bartlett's business affairs. He had been a
lifelong student of Bartlett the man, and as part of his research into
the Gerex Corporation he had pulled together an up-to-date profile of
Bartlett's cash-flow situation. If you connected the dots, you
discovered his financial picture was getting dicey.

Bartlett was overextended and, like Donald Trump in the early 1990s, he
needed to roll over some short-term debt and restructure it. But his
traditional lenders were backing away. He had literally bet everything
on Van de Vliet. If his research panned out, then there was a whole new
day for Bartlett Enterprises. That had to be what he was counting on to
save his chestnuts.

The funny thing was, Bartlett didn't really like to spend his time
thinking about money. One of his major preoccupations was to be in the
company of young, beautiful women, usually leggy models.

Bartlett also had an estranged wife, Eileen, who reportedly occupied
the top two floors of his mansion on Gramercy Park. Rumor had it she
was a paranoid schizophrenic who refused to separate or give him a
divorce. She hadn't been photographed for at least a decade, but there
was no reason to think she wasn't still alive and continuing to make
his life miserable.

Another tantalizing thing to know about Winston Bartlett was that he
had bankrolled a Zen monastery in upstate New York twenty years ago and
went there regularly to meditate and recharge. He had once claimed in a
Forbes interview, that the monastery was where he honed his nerves of
steel and internalized the timing of a master swordsman.

The Forbes interview was also where he claimed he had quietly amassed
the largest collection of important Japanese samurai swords and armor
outside of Japan. For the past five years he had been lobbying the
Metropolitan Museum of Art to agree to lend its dignity to an adjunct
location for his collection, and to name it after him. The Bartlett
Collection. Winston Bartlett lusted for the prestige that an
association with the Met would bring him.

At the moment some of his better pieces were housed in a special
ground-floor display in the Bartlett Building in TriBeCa. Most of the
collection, however, was in storage. He had recently bought a building
on upper Park Avenue and some people thought he was planning to turn it
into a private museum.

Well, Stone thought, if the stem cell project works out, he could soon
be rich enough to buy the Metropolitan.

He walked back to the lobby of his building and stood for a moment
looking at himself in the plate glass. Yes, the older he got, the more
the resemblance settled in. Winston Bartlett. Shit Thank goodness
nobody else had ever noticed it.



Chapter 4



_Sunday, April 5

9:00 A.M.

_

When Ally and Knickers walked into her lobby, Alan, the morning
doorman, was there, just arrived, tuning his blond acoustic guitar.

Watching over her condominium building was his day job, but writing a
musical for Off Broadway (about Billy the Kid) was his dream. He was a
tall, gaunt guy with a mane of red hair he kept tied back in a ponytail
while he was in uniform and on duty. Everybody in the building was
rooting for him to get his show mounted, and he routinely declared that
he and his partner were this close to getting backers. "We're gonna
have the next Rent, so you'd better invest now" was how he put it. Alan
had the good cheer of a perpetual optimist and he needed it, given the
odds he was up against.

Knickers immediately ran to him, her tail wagging.

"Hey, Nicky baby, you look beautiful," he effused. Then he struck a
bold E minor chord on his guitar, like a flamenco fanfare, and reached
to pat her. "Come here, sweetie."

"Hi, Alan. How's everything?" Seeing him always bucked Ally up. He
usually came on duty while she was out for her run, and she looked
forward to him as her first human contact of the day. He was younger
than she was--early thirties--but she thought him attractive in an East
Village, alternative-lifestyle sort of way. He was very proud of the
new yin and yang tattoos on his respective biceps. She admired his guts
and his willingness to stick to his dream, no matter the degradation of
his life in the meantime.

"Doing great, Ms. Hampton. Things are moving along."

"Alan, I've told you a million times to call me Ally." Anything else
made her feel like a hundred-year-old matron.

"Hey, right, I keep forgetting." Then he nodded at the manila envelope
Grant had just given her. "Pick that up on your run?"

"I was ambushed by my ex-brother. He passed it along."

"What's that mean?" he asked with a funny look. "Brothers are for
keeps."

"Unfortunately, you're right, Alan. The whole thing was long ago. And
not far away enough." She was urging a reluctant Knickers on through
the inner door. "Seeing him just now was sort of like an aftershock.
From a big earthquake in another life."

"Sounds like you need a hard hat," he said, and turned back to his
guitar, humming. And dreaming.

She took the elevator up to the top floor and let herself into her
apartment, as always feeling a tinge of satisfaction at where she
lived. Home, sweet home.

Her loft-style apartment was in an idiosyncratic building whose six-
year-old renovation had been designed by her old architectural firm,
just before she had to leave and take over CitiSpace. It was their
first big job in the city. She was the one who had designed the large
atrium in the middle and the open glass elevators that let you look out
at tall trees as you went up and down.

She loved the building, but at the time she couldn't have begun to
afford an apartment there. Later, when she could, none was available.
Then she heard through the managing agent that a German owner, after
completely gutting his space, had to return to his homeland in a hurry
and was throwing it on the market for half what he'd paid.

She'd built a bedroom at one end--walling off an area with glass bricks
that let light through--and installed a "country" kitchen at the other,
but beyond that it was hardwood floors and open space and air and
light, along with a panoramic view of the Hudson River out the north
window and a central skylight that kept her in touch with the sky and
the seasons. In much of Manhattan it was possible to go for months and
not actually walk on soil. You could completely lose the sense memory
of the feeling of earth beneath your feet. She didn't want to lose the
sky too. Since she couldn't afford a brownstone with a rear garden, the
next best thing was to have a giant skylight.

What she really dreamed of was to someday have a vacation home on the
Caribbean side of the Yucatan, where she could wake to the sounds of
the surf and play Bach partitas to the seabirds in the coconut palms.
She felt there was something spiritual in the pure sound of a stringed
instrument. It was sweetness and joy crystallized. It went with the
sound of surf. They belonged together.

She had actually researched and designed that dream house already. The
place itself would be based on the Mayan abodes of a thousand years
ago, on stilts with a bamboo floor and a palm-frond roof to provide
natural ventilation.

And since this was all a dream, she could fantasize that Steve was
alive and was there too. Maybe this was her version of the Muslim
Paradise, a land of milk and honey and infinite beauty and pleasure.
Sometimes late at night, when the world was too much with her, she
would put on headphones and a Bach CD and imagine she was on that beach
in the Yucatan, gazing up at the glorious stars.

The other thing she wanted to do someday was memorize the first violin
score of all the Beethoven late quartets. But now any intensive
playing, which was more tiring than it looked brought on chest pains
after a few minutes. Shit. She felt like she was slowly being robbed of
everything she loved. . . .

She decided to stop with the negative thoughts and get ready for the
stressful day to come. She just needed a few quiet moments to get
mentally prepared for it.

The first thing she did was give Knickers an early morning snack, then
a fresh bowl of water and a large rawhide chew to occupy her energy for
part of the day. After that, she would shower and change for the trip
uptown.

She had to dress for the rest of the day, which eventually might
include going down to the office, if she had the time and inclination,
so she decided to just throw on jeans and a sweater. She didn't pay any
attention to the envelope Grant had given her; she just tossed it onto
the burnt-tile breakfast counter.

She told herself there wasn't time to look at it now, but she also
realized she had a very serious psychological resistance to opening it.
She hadn't anticipated that just seeing him once more would make her
this tense and angry. His proposition was surely part of some kind of
scam. She'd vowed never to believe him again. It was going to take a
lot of persuading to get her to break that resolve.

Look at it later. Whenever.

She gave Knickers a good-bye pat and headed out the door.

In times gone by, she took Knickers with her, since her mother loved to
give her sinful sugar treats and fuss over her, but these days Nina's
condition was never predictable. Knickers was one confusing element too
many.

On the trip uptown she always stopped at Zabar's for some smoked fish
that she could pass off as "kippers" and some buttery scones. Nina was
born in a little place called Angmering-on-Sea, in southern England,
and she was an unreconstructed Brit. She insisted on oatmeal (the
nutty, slow- cooked kind) for breakfast on weekdays and kippers and
dark tea on weekends.

Now when Ally visited, she never knew what to expect. Some Sundays Nina
could be as spunky as Phyllis Diller, and other times she seemed to
barely recognize her. (Though she sometimes wondered if her mom just
acted that way so she'd leave sooner and let her get back to her
Spanish-language soaps. She claimed to be watching them to study
Hispanic culture, but Ally suspected the real reason was their racy
clothes and plot lines.)

And today, on the anniversary of Arthur's tragic death, would she even
remember him? Early-onset Alzheimer's could proceed at a frightening
pace.

Nina had been a notable Auntie Mame kind of figure around Greenwich
Village for decades. She smoked Woodbine cigarettes fiendishly and was
forever giving homeless people food and handouts. She had adopted the
garden at St. Luke's and worked there weeding and pruning and planting
and nurturing from late spring to early autumn. As soon as afternoon
tea was completed, she waited an only moderately decent interval before
her first scotch and soda. Room temperature. No ice.

"One should have a little something, shouldn't one?"

Arthur joined her to have a cocktail after work once in a while, but
mainly he successfully kept his mouth shut about her smoking and
drinking. Everyone knew she was destined to live to a hundred. Cancer
was surely terrified to go near her. But then the Alzheimer's struck.

One of Nina's greatest gifts was an unerring BS detector. She had been
skeptical about Grant since he was in his twenties. She deemed him a
hollow suit, full of vapid ambition. She also believed his
irresponsible behavior was a contributing factor to Arthur's death,
though she did not have the same ferocity of feeling about it that Ally
did. She had had him pegged as a no-goodnik for so long that she
already had zero expectations about his character.

In any case, Grant contributed nothing to the care of Nina and that
suited Ally just fine. As part of the post-tragedy financial
restructuring, she sold their Greenwich Village condo, which was too
big and too full of memories for Nina to continue living there. She
then found her a rent-regulated one-bedroom apartment in a wonderful
old building on Riverside Drive, and when Nina's early-onset
Alzheimer's progressed to the point where she couldn't really be relied
upon to take proper care of herself, she arranged for a very
conscientious and sprightly woman from the Dominican Republic to be her
full-time caregiver.

Maria was devoted to Nina, and Ally didn't know anyone who could have
been more nurturing. She had been there for nine months and she also
used Nina's space to baby-sit periodically for her daughter, Natalie,
who had a darling five- year-old son. What would the next stage be,
Ally wondered fearfully, and would her mother's medical insurance pay
for it, whatever it was? She didn't know the answer and she was
terrified.

Aging. It was nature's process to make way for the new, but why did the
last act have to be so cruel? Seeing her mother this way made her
sometimes think that perhaps Arthur was luckier than anyone knew. He'd
managed to miss out on having to watch the woman he loved go into a
humiliating decline.

Then she thought about her own mortality, the heart condition that
refused to get any better. Dr. Ekelman had never been more serious.
Slow down, take it easy, watch out for warning signs. She'd said
everything except start saving up for a transplant. Or maybe she was
just postponing that announcement as long as possible.

Dammit, why couldn't she do something to make her heart stronger? That
was the most frustrating part of all. The rest of her body could still
have run a mile before breakfast. She could traipse all over lower
Manhattan Saturdays, shopping for herbs in Chinatown and shoes in SoHo.
Damn. Why wouldn't her heart get with the program?

Half an hour later, a big Zabar's bag on the seat beside her, she found
a space for her Toyota right on Riverside Drive, just across from the
park. She took a final look at the sky, which was bright and blue and
cheerful, and then, bag in hand, she headed up.

Nina's building was a dark brick prewar and had no doorman, though the
super's apartment was right off the lobby, allowing him to receive
packages and generally keep an eye on comings and goings. To Ally, the
bland, inevitably tan hallways in many old West Side buildings had a
musty quality to them that always left her depressed. But her mother's
eighth-floor apartment was light and airy--after Ally had had it
remodeled and redecorated--and she couldn't have wanted a more cheerful
home. The wallpaper was a light floral pattern and the overstuffed
furniture was buried in enough pillows to please Martha Stewart. And in
the living room there was the piano her mother once played, now covered
with photos from happier times, and a stereo system with a turntable.

When she buzzed Maria came to the door with an unusually bright smile.

Great! Ally could always tell immediately from Maria's face whether her
mom was having a good day or bad day. Today, she knew immediately, was
going to be good.

"Miss Hampton, she was asking about you, wondering when you'd get
here," Maria said. "She remembered this is the day you come."

Maria was half a head shorter than Ally, and her hair was dyed a
defiant black. She had an olive complexion and her fine features made
her a handsome woman for late fifties. She always wore bold silver
jewelry that might have done more for her daughters than for her, but
Ally liked the spunky persona that went along with too many
accessories. She still had a trace of her Spanish accent even after all
the years in New York. On days when her mother was cognizant, Maria was
the perfect companion for her.

Ally handed over the Zabar's bag and walked in. "Hi, sweetie."

Nina was on the lounger, where she spent most of her waking hours. Yes,
she was definitely having a good day today. She'd done a full makeup
number.

Her face could only be described as youthful, no matter that she was
past sixty-five. She had elegant cheekbones and a mouth that was still
sensuous. And her blue eyes remained lustrous, though nowadays they
often seemed to be searching for something, or someone, no longer
there. She had a colorist come in every three weeks to keep her hair
the same brunette it had always been, and that had a way of making Ally
fantasize she hadn't aged at all. Ally also felt--hoped--she might be
looking at a spitting image of herself some decades hence. You could do
a lot worse.

The TV was on, sound turned low, and her mother was staring at the
multihued screen. Probably the tape of a Spanish-language soap she'd
somehow missed. Three cosmetic-heavy women in deeply cut blouses were
arguing, all appearing either angry or worried or both.

In times past Nina was always starting some new project, claiming that
was how she kept her mind alert. She had taught herself French and had
a very good accent, particularly for a Brit. Just before the
Alzheimer's hit, she decided to try to learn Spanish, as something to
divert her mind and keep it active. She also wanted to be able to chat
with the increasingly Hispanic workforce in restaurants and delis.

Now, though, Ally thought her mom was continuing the language study as
part of a program of denial. Nina knew her mind was being stripped from
her, but she was determined to try to wrestle it back by giving herself
mental challenges. The struggle was hopeless, of course, but her spirit
refused to admit that.

Ally bent down and kissed her clear white forehead. "Hey, how's it
going?"

"Look at those pathetic creatures," she declared, only barely
acknowledging Ally's presence. "If boobs were brains, they'd all be
Einstein. In my day women knew how to make themselves attractive.
Simplicity. Less is more."

Yep, Ally thought, this is going to be a good day. She's obviously
spent an hour on makeup. For all her complaining she probably watches
Maria's soaps at least in part to glean cosmetic tips. Who knew, maybe
she was learning Spanish too, like she claimed. Dear God, let her do
it.

Maria was looking into the Zabar's bag. "Oh, she's going to love this.
Could you come in the kitchen and help me fix a tray?"

That's strange, Ally thought. Maria thinks I'm all thumbs around food
preparation and she never wants me in the kitchen.

The apartment was old enough that the kitchen was a separate room with
an open doorway. When they stepped inside, Maria set down the bag and
turned to her.

"There was a man here yesterday. I never saw him before. He said he was
your brother. Is that true?"

Ally felt a chill go through her body.

"Your mother seemed to know him," Maria went on, "but I wasn't sure
whether she might have just been pretending. Sometimes you never know
what she gets or doesn't get. She's a good faker."

"What... what did he want?"

"Well, the first thing seemed to be that he wanted to ask your mother a
question about you. Then he started trying to talk her into going to
some clinic out in New Jersey, where they might be able to help ... her
mind."

Shit. What is he up to? Is he trying to get to me through Nina?

"You said he asked Mom a question about me? What--"

"What are you two whispering about?" came a voice from the doorway.

"All kinds of secrets." Ally glanced up and smiled. "Maria was just
telling me about a visitor you had yesterday, Mom. Do you remember if
anyone came to see you?"

"Pish. Of course I remember. Seth. But sometimes I think I'd just as
soon not." She stared at Ally, those searching blue eyes boring in. "Do
you ever see him anymore?"

Funny you should ask, she thought.

Then she wondered, why not tell the truth? She couldn't think of any
reason not to.

"As a matter of fact, Mom, Grant came by my building this very morning.
I hadn't seen him in ages. He called and said he wanted to meet me
while I was out running. I told him to bug off, but he came anyway. He
wanted me to... Let's just say he's still wheeling and dealing."

Nina looked at her for a long moment.

"He showed up here yesterday morning, darling, out of the blue. After
all those years when he didn't give a shit-- excuse my Francais. I acted
like I didn't quite know who he was, but I got every word. He's still
spending his salary on clothes. He talked a lot, saying he knew a man--a
doctor with some kind of experimental treatment--who could turn back the
clock on my ... or at least stop it. He could give me a chance to take
my mind back. And then he left his card. He wanted me to talk to you
about it and then call him back."

Grant, you bastard. You didn't say a word about any of this. What're
you trying to do?

No need for rocket science. He was using Nina as bait. This was his way
to make sure she was dragged into whatever shenanigans he was up to. If
he got Nina out to that place in New Jersey, whatever it was, it would
be like he had a hostage.

She was so angry she was gasping for air. And she felt that damned
tightness in her chest coming on.

"I told Maria to throw the card away," Nina went on, "but then I got to
wondering. What if it's true?"

"You don't really think--"

"Of course not," Nina declared, but Ally wasn't sure how much she meant
it. "Probably he just needs money. That'll come next. I'd guess he's
hoping I'll give him a 'down payment' for this 'treatment,' whatever it
is. That's surely what's going on. Trying to take advantage of a senile
old woman."

Nina didn't appear to be fooled. Or was she? Sometimes she did her
thinking out loud before coming to a conclusion.

"Seth may be barking up the wrong tree with me, Ally," she went on.
"I'm not sure I want any of his miracle cures. I've lived my life. I'm
tired." She looked away. "When you're young, you never think about what
it's like to be old. But then when you do get old you somehow can't
imagine being young again. Having to do it all over..." Her voice
trailed off.

Yes, Ally thought, you've had plenty of pain you wouldn't want to
relive.

Nina sat back down on her flowered chaise and closed her eyes. "Do you
know what day this is?"

"I was hoping you'd remember." She reached and grasped her hand. "It's
been five years today. Exactly."

"I still have nightmares about it, the horror, " Nina said, her eyes
still closed "but he did it for me, you know. He thought the insurance
was all that would save me. And then when it didn't . . . So now we've
got to hang on with all we've got. For him." She opened her eyes and
looked directly at Ally. "One day soon, maybe sooner than we think, I'm
going to be mad as a hatter. Time, Ally, time has played a cruel joke.
God the Prankster is keeping me in physical health so I can experience
every step of my own degradation." Then she glanced back at the Spanish
soap and went on. "I hope you know how to enjoy life, while you're
still full of it. Don't miss a minute."

"I'm going to try, Mom." Ally squeezed her hand again and for that
moment sensed Nina was her old self. She wasn't going to tell her about
Dr. Ekelman and the latest heart news. But if she did the response
would probably still be the same. _Just live life for all it's worth.
You never know if there's even going to be a tomorrow.

_"Would you put on some Janacek?" she said finally, aiming the remote
at the TV and clicking it off. "One of the string quartets. I've had my
fill of Hispanic tarts. I've learned a good deal of Spanish from them,
but sometimes I think understanding what they're saying just makes it
all that much cheaper."

That was when Ally realized with a burst of joy that Nina still had an
interior life that she was carefully hoarding. What else was going on
in that mind? The sense of the night closing in? Do not go gentle.
Please. Stay awhile with me.

She got up and went over to the record cabinet. Her mother still had
her collection of old 33s, today they were called vinyl, with
conductors from decades ago like Bruno Walter and Arturo Toscanini. She
found a Janacek String Quartet, No. 2, a rare mono pressing by the old
Budapest String Quartet fifty years ago, and put it on the turntable,
still loving those first crackling sounds that raise your anticipation.
She remembered how Nina would put on a record in the evening, after
dinner, with room-temperature scotch in hand, and make the family sit
and listen. She suspected that had a lot to do with her own desire to
play the violin herself someday. And then, in high school, she started
lessons. Better late than never.

Now, though, she sensed there was something Nina wanted to tell her and
this was her way of setting the stage.

After the music had played for almost three minutes, Nina listening
with eyes closed as though in a rapture as the movement clawed its way
toward an initial theme in an elusive minor mode, she turned and looked
at Ally.

"He didn't tell you he came to see me, did he? Seth?"

"I guess he forgot," Ally said. It was a lie neither of them believed.

"I've been thinking over all he was trying to say. I didn't get
everything at the time, but I guess my feeble mind was recording it.
Now it's all coming back. He was talking about Arthur and his suicide--
Ally, we both know that's what it was--and how he felt responsible and
how he was finally going to be able to make up for all the harm he'd
done to me, and to you. But he was worried you might not want to go
along with this special treatment for me." She was studying Ally, as
though searching for an answer. Maria had discreetly departed for the
kitchen. "He kept talking about this doctor he knew. At this clinic. He
swore this man could perform a miracle for me. He said I should do it,
whether you approved or not."

Ally looked at her, wondering what to say. This was getting too devious
for words.

Then Nina went on. "I'll probably not remember anything about this by
tomorrow. But I just wanted to tell you. When you get as mentally
addled as I am now, you compensate by developing your other senses, I
call it your sixth sense. And Ally, I think he's involved in something
that's evil. And he wants to draw me into it, maybe both of us." She
stopped carefully framing her words. "I sensed a kind of desperation
about him. I don't know exactly what it was."

As Ally listened the Janacek quartet swelling in the room, scratches
and all, she felt more and more like an utter dunce. She hadn't caught
any of this in Grant's come-on, but now . . . Nina was right about that
sixth sense.

But what could the real story be? Grant was more a simple con artist
than some embodiment of evil. Think the Music Man in designer threads,
not Darth Vader. Evil was surely too strong a word He was just the
consummate self-promoting hustler. The troubling part was, he was so
damned good at it.

"Mom, you're wonderful today. Why don't we all three go somewhere for
brunch now? Right now. There's a new French place just down Columbus
that needs checking out."

She had an eerie foreboding it might be their last chance.

"No, honey, you brought some smoked fish, didn't you? That's all I
want." Nina dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand. "Besides, no
one in this town knows how to brew a proper pot of tea." Then, the next
thing Ally knew, she was back to musing out loud about Grant. "I can't
stop wondering. He said this doctor he knows might work a miracle for
me. What am I supposed to think?"

Ally was trying to decide whether a glimmer of hope, even though it was
almost certainly false, might be a healthy tonic for Nina just now.

"Mom, Grant gave me some materials about that doctor. I'll read them
tonight, I promise." She was listening to the Janacek quartet soar, and
it was bucking her up. "Let me see what I can find out."

"He wants me to start in right away," Nina pressed. "I think he said
there are some studies going on at this clinic, but they're almost
over. It's free now, and unless I go soon, I can't get in the program.
He said he would take me out there Monday morning if I wanted. But if I
go with anybody, I want it to be you."

He's such a bastard, Ally thought.

She glanced at Maria, who'd been watching from the kitchen door and
listening to all that had happened. She was looking very upset and she
motioned Ally toward the doorway with her eyes.

"Let me get a glass of water, Mom." She headed for the kitchen.

"Did you hear all the things she's talking about?" she asked when they
were out of earshot.

Maria nodded. "A lot of what your mother said is true. It was very
strange. At the time she acted like she didn't understand him. Now I
realize she did. Or maybe it all just came back to her."

"What do you think is really going on?" Ally was studying her, hoping
to get at the truth. "She seems a lot better today."

Maria paused a moment. "Miss Hampton, I don't believe your mother is
going to be with us much longer. I saw my own go through much the same
thing. There's always a glimmer just before ..." She looked down and
stopped.

"You said Grant asked her something about me. What--"

"I don't think she remembers. He was asking her about your blood type.
It seemed a very strange question."

Ally couldn't think of any reason why he would be asking that.

"Maria, what was your impression of him? Overall?"

"Just that he seemed very nervous. Very uneasy." She hesitated, as
though uncertain how to continue. "He wanted something, Miss Hampton.
That much I'm sure about. But

this doctor he wants to take her to. It sounded to me like he does
things that are against the laws of nature."

"Grant wants me to go out to that clinic too."

"Whatever you do, just stay close to her," Maria said finally, picking
up the tray with its smoked fish and teapot covered with a knit cozy.
"She may not have that long."

Maria had a seer's mystical bent that sometimes troubled Ally. What if
she was right? It was moments like this when Ally truly missed having
someone special in her life.



Chapter 5



_Sunday, April 5

3:19 P.M.

_

The afternoon was waning when Ally finally headed back downtown. Days
like today she couldn't help coining away buoyed, feeling her mom was
going to be cogent forever.

In fact, Ally was more worried about herself just now. About two
o'clock she'd started feeling that sensation in her chest again, but
she hadn't wanted her mother, or Maria, to know she was using
vasodilator medication. She casually said her farewells and got down to
the car and was sitting behind the wheel before she popped a nitro tab.
She immediately felt okay again, and as she drove down Broadway,
heading for her office, she reviewed all that had happened.

After their brunch of smoked fish and onion chutney and soda bread and
a pot of double-strength Earl Grey, she'd tried to sell her mother on a
trip to the Bahamas, with Maria joining them. Soon, maybe at the
beginning of summer. She wanted Nina to spend some time thinking about
it, but she didn't want to wait too long. Was this just going to be a
distraction at the end of Nina's life? God, she didn't want to think
so. She wanted to think of it as a rebonding.

Nina had always liked to revisit the Devonshire countryside of her
childhood in midsummer--when Arthur could take time off--always for just
a week, but it was as intensively planned as a major military campaign.
Her favorite thing was to trek among the hedgerows and stone fences,
making charcoal sketches on opened-out brown bags. In the evenings they
would dine _en famille_ at a country inn. They went with local
favorites, like kidney pie. Then they would stroll the country lanes in
the moonlight as a family. No TV, and she and Grant hated everything
about the trips. Booooring.

But that was long ago and far away, when she and Grant were still kids.
Now her mom would surely want something restful. And some guaranteed
sunshine wouldn't hurt either. Already she had an idea: why not rent a
house with a private pool, say on Paradise Island where Nina could
spend a couple of hours each afternoon in the casino? She'd always
loved casinos, and never missed a chance to hit the blackjack tables if
she was anywhere near one. Her loss limit was a hundred dollars, but
she actually beat the house more often than not. The teatime scotch
hadn't impaired her card-counting skills.

Nina appeared to like the idea, so Ally had started making up a
schedule in her head. The beginning of summer would be off-season in
the Caribbean and there should be some real bargains to be had. She
made a mental note to ask Glenda, her assertive, gum-chewing travel
agent at Empress, to start trolling for a package.

What was Ally really thinking, hoping? She was fantasizing she could
heal Nina all by herself. She so desperately wanted to, she had a
premonition she could will it to happen. When she saw her mom on good
days, she always found herself believing she could somehow make all her
days good. She was sure of it, against all odds.

What she wasn't sure about was what her mother really thought about
Grant's proposal to enroll her in this clinic in New Jersey. Was this
doctor's "miracle" stem cell cure based on a real medical advance, or
was he some kind of charlatan?

The first thing to do was to find out more about this supposed medical
magician, Karl Van de Vliet. The envelope Grant gave her was still
lying there on her breakfast bar, unopened. She told herself she'd read
it the minute she got home tonight, when the day's work was over and
she could concentrate....

The Sunday office. The interior-design job she had on her mind was
behind schedule and she was feeling a lot of pressure. It was for a
Norwegian couple in their mid-thirties. He was a software programmer
working in New York's restructured Silicon Alley, and she was teaching
at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Together they pulled down over
250 thou a year and they'd decided to stop throwing away money on
obscene New York rents.

They bought an entire floor, actually three small apartments, of what
was formerly a tenement in the West Fifties, an area once known as
Hell's Kitchen but now much gentrified and renamed Clinton. They had
dreams of an open-space loft of the kind made famous in SoHo when
artists took over abandoned factory buildings and gutted the space,
taking out all the walls.

Because they had combined three apartments, they had to file their
plans with the NYC Department of Buildings and modify the building's
Certificate of Occupancy to reflect the change in the number of
dwelling units.

So far so good, but then a woman who was the local member of the
District Council got wind of the project and sent someone from her
office to look over the place. The next day, the Department of
Buildings' approval of their plans was abruptly withdrawn.

It turned out that there was an obscure law on the books concerning
Clinton, one that even the Department of Buildings was only vaguely
aware of. It said that in order to preserve the "family character" of
the neighborhood, no renovation could alter the number of rooms in a
residential building. Not the number of apartments, mind you, just the
number of rooms.

That was when they showed up at CitiSpace in despair. They wanted Ally
to help them by doing some kind of design that would satisfy the law
and also give them the open, airy feeling they had set their hopes on.
On the face of it, their two goals seemed mutually contradictory and
impossible.

He was short and shy and she was plump and sassy and Ally liked them
both a lot. Sometimes in this business she sensed she was helping
people realize their dreams and that was a very rewarding feeling. Real
estate was an emotional thing. Your home was a part of you. She always
tried to get to know people before she did any designs for them.
Sometimes design was more psychology than anything else.

But this time she had to solve a problem before she could wax creative.
If their plan for open space could be stopped by some obscure local
provision that even the Department of Buildings was fuzzy about, then
maybe there was some other obscure law in the Housing Code that could
be used to fight back. The full code had recently been put on the NYC
Web site, so she wanted to go over every page and see what she could
come up with. And she wanted to do it in the office, undisturbed with
all the architectural plans close to hand.

The office was deserted when she cruised in and clicked on the lights.
She got on the expansive NYC Web site and started poring over the
Housing Code, though she was still obsessing about Nina. What if this
doctor in New Jersey actually could do something for her?

Finish here, she told herself, and then go home and read the guy's CV.

A pot of decaf coffee later, she came across a little-known fact, which
she now vaguely remembered from her days as a practicing architect. If
you installed a fifteen-inch drop across a ceiling, that was
technically a wall in the eyes of the NYC Department of Buildings. The
space on each side became a separate "room."

As they say in the movies, bingo.

In fact, why not do a honeycomb ceiling that would actually simulate
the industrial look they were seeking, anyway? The ceiling was over
eleven feet high; there was plenty of vertical space. Nobody would know
it was just a sneaky way to get around a funny local aberration in the
Building Code.

I'm brilliant, she thought. Yes! Dad would be proud.

She made some sketches, and by that time it was after six. Time to go
home.

Knickers was waiting by the door, and she gave Ally a dirty look and
some very disapproving barks. By way of penance, Ally took her on an
extra long walk, all the way up to Fourteenth Street and back. Then she
picked up some tuna salad and steamed veggies from a new deli on West
Tenth Street.

As she settled down to eat at the breakfast bar, she felt like a single
mom, always eating and doing everything on the run--and all she had to
worry about was a friendly dog. How did real working moms do it?

It was just past nine when she poured a glass of Chardonnay and picked
up Grant's envelope and took it into the living room, pausing to put
some Chopin ballades on the CD player.

The envelope contained a bound folder that was Dr. Karl Van de Vliet's
curriculum vitae, his resume. It was in fact a minibiography that
devoted a page to each of his career turns. His life story was
presented from a god's-eye view, as though it were a novel.

Karl Van de Vliet had done his undergraduate studies at the prestigious
University of Maastricht after which he'd migrated to the United States
and taken a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from the University of Chicago,
top of the class. Following that he went to Yale as a postdoctoral
fellow, again studying genetics.

From the beginning he focused his research on the mechanisms that
govern human cell reproduction. Along the way he'd become interested in
something known as the Hayflick limit--which concerned the number of
times a cell could divide before it became senescent and ceased to
replicate. This natural life span controlled the aging process of every
organism, and it seemed to be nature's device for nipping undesirable
(i.e. mutant) cells in the bud by never letting any cell, unhealthy or
healthy, just keep on replicating indefinitely.

However, there were "immortal cells" buried within us all, so-called
stem cells that could replicate forever, unchanged. They were present
at the very beginning of life and all our differing body tissue was
created from them. Some still lingered on in our body, as though to be
available for spare parts. If one could figure out how to transfer the
characteristics of those cells to other cells, then the possibility
existed that we could regenerate damaged or aging tissue in our vital
organs. The trick was to figure out the mechanism whereby stem cells
managed to cheat time.

His research, which was accompanied by a flurry of scientific papers,
was celebrated and encouraging. After three years he was lured away
from Yale to become a faculty member at Johns Hopkins, which offered to
double his laboratory budget. He was there for six years, during which
time he met Camille Buseine, a neurosurgeon finishing her residency.

She had a doctorate from a medical institute near Paris and she was
doing research that was similar to his, so the biography said. They
married and became a team, and when he was asked by Harvard Medical to
found a department for molecular genetics, she was immediately offered
a tenured position there too. Harvard considered it a double coup.

His research was zeroing in on the telomerase protein, an enzyme many
scientists believed was responsible for suppressing the aging process
in stem cells. Could it be used to regenerate tissue?

He was well along on the task of exploring that tantalizing possibility
when tragedy struck. Camille, who had worked around the clock during
her residency at Johns Hopkins, began feeling weak at Harvard and was
diagnosed with acquired aortic stenosis. After a 2 1/2-year struggle,
she died during a severe cardiac episode.

My God, Ally thought, that's what I have.

After Camille died, he left Harvard and its time-consuming academic
obligations and went to work full-time at a research institute
affiliated with Stanford University. He even formed a paper company to
structure the work, the Gerex Corporation. But then there came a second
strike against him. He was doing research using embryonic stem cells
obtained from the discarded embryos at fertility clinics. After two
years of harassment by right-wing political groups, Stanford decided
his research was too controversial and terminated his funding.

Three months later, Karl Van de Vliet merged his company with Bartlett
Medical Devices and moved his research staff east to New Jersey, to the
Dorian Institute. That was five years past, and now his research using
stem cells was in third-stage NIH clinical trials.

The official history ended there, though with a strong hint that the
final chapter was yet to be written. Then at the back there was a
bibliography of publications that extended for eight pages, and
included a summary of the most important papers. His work on stem cells
and the telomerase enzyme appeared to be at the forefront of the field.

Oddly, however, some of his writings also were philosophical, an
argument with himself whether his work could be misused to alter the
natural limitations life imposes. One of those papers, from a
conference presentation in Copenhagen, had a summary, and in it he
pondered whether the use of stem cells to rejuvenate the body might
someday give medical science godlike powers.

The Greeks, he declared, had a myth about the punishment reserved for
those who sought to defeat our natural life span. When the goddess of
the dawn, Aurora, fell in love with the beautiful youth Tithonus and
granted him immortality, it turned out to be a curse, since he still
reached the decrepitude of age but had to suffer on forever because he
could not have the release of death.

But, Van de Vliet pondered, if we could find a way to arrest the aging
process in our body's tissue, might we escape the process of aging? If
so, was this a good thing? Or might this be a step too far that would
bring on unintended, and as yet unknown, consequences?

_Well_, Ally thought, _I wouldn't mind having Mom's mind restored. Or
my own heart, for that matter.

_All in all, Karl Van de Vliet was clearly a genius. He also was a very
complex man. But might he be a very gifted huckster as well?

The inside back cover had a group photo, showing him surrounded by
members of his research staff, all in white lab coats. There were two
men and two women and each was identified, along with a list of his or
her academic credentials. They were standing on the porch of what
appeared to be a nineteenth-century mansion, which had large Doric
columns in Greek Revival style. The lettering in the marble above their
heads read THE DORIAN INSTITUTE.

She put down the folder and went into the kitchen and poured herself
another glass of wine, finishing off the botde. Her mind was chinning,
but not because of the words on the page. It was that photograph at the
back. It was dated less than two years ago.

His Ph.D. at the University of Chicago was granted in 1962. But even if
he was a genius and got his first doctorate in his early twenties, he'd
still have to be--what? At least sixty years old by now. Probably
halfway to seventy.

_But in the photo, he looks no more than forty, well, forty-five at
most. What the heck is going on?

_She went back into the living room and picked up the brochure and
stared at it. He had sandy hair that lay like a mane above his
elongated brow. He was tall and gaunt, with high cheeks and deep,
penetrating eyes. But no matter how you gauged him, the guy hadn't aged
a day since his forty-fifth birthday, tops.

So what's going on that isn't in the package?

She checked the digital clock on the side table--the hour was pushing
ten--and decided to give Grant a call.

Three chirps, and then, "Yo. Hampton here."

My God, she thought, he even does it at home. That synthetic bravado
was left over from his trader days: _You're the luckiest person alive,
just to have reached me. How can I further make your day?_ his tone
implied.

"Grant, it's me. I think it's time for that vital chat."

It took him a split second to recover, and then, "Hey, I was beginning
to wonder what happened to you. If you were going to stand me up or
what. Not call, like you said you would."

"Long day. I was up at Mom's this morning. You knew she was going to
tell me, right? About your little surprise visit and proposal?"

"I had a hunch the topic might arise." His voice seemed to shrug
nonchalantly. "I thought you should hear it from her instead of from
me. So what do you think?"

"What do I think? I think I'm wondering what you're up to."

"I'm not 'up to' anything, Ally, except exactly what I told her.
Trouble is, I don't know whether she got it. I wanted to see how she
was doing. You know, I'm thinking maybe Dr. Vee can do something for
her. But I had to see her first. She seemed pretty distant, but that
woman there--what was her name? Marie, Maria, whatever?--said she has
lucid moments. So who knows? He might possibly help her. I think I can
arrange to get her into his clinic. Bartlett gives me a few perks. It's
the least I can do for her, so..." His voice trailed off expectantly.

"Grant, I need to talk to you about this man. I read the stuff you gave
me and I still don't know the first thing about him." She paused, about
to speak words she never thought she would. "If you want to come over,
I'll stand you a drink."

"You serious?"

"For my sins."

"I'll grab a cab. See you in fifteen."

It's begun, she thought. I'm about to let Grant screw up my life one
more time.

No. This round, don't give him the chance. Stay ahead of him.



_Sunday, April 5

10:39 P.M.

_

"I didn't know if I should have brought a bodyguard" he was saying as
he strode in the door, a Master of the Universe with a leather jacket
slung over his shoulder. He looked stylish, but then he always did. He
casually tossed the jacket onto the gray couch, then gazed around.
Thankfully, he didn't try the New York cheek kiss. "I guess this is not
supposed to seem like old times, but somehow it does. Seeing you again.
Hey, we're still blood kin, right?"

"Don't push it, Grant." She'd killed the Chopin and put on a Bach
sonata. Clear, precise thinking was required not sentimentality.
Knickers had rushed to give Grant a hello nuzzle, happier to see him
than Ally was. "Whatever this is, it is definitely not old times."

He sauntered into her kitchen, looking around--trying to act cool, but
clearly ill at ease. "You've done a nice job on this place, sis." He
was looking over the rustic counter she'd installed. "You get a deal on
the space? A bank repo or something?"

"The people who had it wanted to sell fast and I made them an offer."
Not that it was any of his damned business. Why didn't she treat the
question with the scorn it deserved?

She had an old fifth of Dewar's in the cabinet. She poured him some,
over ice, then gave herself a shot of tequila _anejo_, neat, to sip.
She loved the pure agave flavor. The more she thought about the
situation, the more she was sure she needed it.

He picked up his scotch, then walked into the living room and helped
himself to the couch. "Ally, I know why you're ticked. And I don't
blame you. I feel crummy about Dad, I really do. I guess I share some
of the blame."

He was trying to sound contrite but the reading did not quite rise to
the minimal threshold of credibility.

"You 'share'... with whom, you self-centered prick? Nobody else was
involved. He mortgaged CitiSpace to the hilt and settled those fraud
suits to keep you from losing your license. Or worse. You destroyed his
business and his life all by yourself."

He looked as contrite as she'd ever seen him.

"Look, I thought the business plan I had would work out. I really did.
I was managing discretionary accounts, but the bond market hit a
downdraft when I was long. A few of my clients didn't have the balls to
ride it out. What do you want me to say? That I feel like a complete
cretin over what happened? That a day doesn't go by that I don't hate
myself for it?" His eyes went dead and he seemed to shrivel, his body
becoming visibly smaller. "Well, I do. More than you'll ever know."

"You didn't seem all that contrite at the time."

"I was operating in a high state of denial back then. But now I want to
take a shot at growing up. I want to start trying to make up for all
that, if you'll just cut me a little slack and give me a chance."

"Grant, you're working for Bartlett Enterprises, doing whatever it is
you do. Fine. That's your job. But now you want me to become a guinea
pig when this Dutch doctor needs one in a crunch. Or maybe Mom too, for
all I know. Maybe he needs her as well. Two guinea pigs. So don't try
to make this about me and her. Let's keep it honest. It's really about
you, just like always."

"Ally, a lot of things have gone on since Dad... passed away. I've
changed, in more ways than you could ever imagine." He was all
sincerity now, his demeanor rapidly evolving to fit the current vibes
of the scene. "I'm not like I used to be. I really mean that. I've
learned ... learned that I can't always just be thinking about myself."

"So ... what changed you?" The truth was, he did seem different. In
some way she couldn't quite understand. But he was always talking about
turning over a new leaf, especially whenever he'd just gotten himself
in trouble. That part hadn't changed at all.

"Ally, Dr. Van der Vliet... I don't know how much I should tell you,
but he's a miracle worker." He paused and looked down at his scotch.
One thing about him was definitely different, she thought. There was a
lot less bravado and swagger. "The thing is, what he's doing is so
powerful. I'm not sure which worries me most--that it's not true, that
it's just some placebo effect, or that it is true. When I think about
the implications . . ." His voice trailed off again.

"Go on." She could tell he was dead serious.

"It's not something I'm sure I should talk about." He reached over and
touched her hand. "But it's working, I swear. He's doing things that
shouldn't even be possible."

Uh-huh, she thought, pulling her hand away.

"Grant, please tell me exactly what you think he could do for Mom." She
wasn't sure she should be having this conversation. "You want her to go
out to the Dorian Institute, right? Where he does his 'research.' And I
take it that's where you want me to go too."

"It's in northern Jersey, about an hour's drive from the city, maybe
not even if traffic's light. But I'd only want Mom to go if you say
it's okay. I'm not trying to do anything behind your back."

She breathed a long sigh, trying to clear her brain. Every other word
he uttered was probably part of some hustle. But what was it?

"Why don't we start at the beginning, Grant? I read his CV, and believe
me I've got a lot of questions. For starters, how did he convince
Winston Bartlett to bankroll him?" She took another sip of her tequila,
then set it down. "You're his flunky now, so you should be able to
answer that question."

"You read the materials I left?"

"Just finished them."

"Then you know he lost his federal funding at Stanford a few years
back, when he was at a critical stage of his research using stem cells.
That's when he came to the Man and persuaded him to put up the money to
help him take everything private. The only way Bartlett would play ball
was if he could buy the Gerex Corporation and get three-quarter
interest in all the patents. Van de Vliet kept the other quarter, but
now they're both hoping to sell off forty-nine percent to a big
pharmaceutical company. Not American. I can't tell you any more than
that."

"Congratulations," she said. "Sounds like your job is secure."

"Yeah, right."

That twitch of nonchalance he had when something really mattered--even
as a child he would attempt (and fail) trying not to gloat over some
personal success. It was moments like this when she realized she'd
missed seeing him and talking to him. When you cut a family member off
from you, you also cut yourself off from them. After all, he was her
closest blood kin, even though he was an unreconstructed shit. At some
level she wished she could get past the bitterness she felt toward him.
Could it be he really had changed?

He didn't like the way the scene was going. What the hell was her
problem? He looked at his scotch longingly, then got up and went to the
kitchen and got another ice cube for it.

Go easy.

How was he going to get through to her? If word of the Beta screw-up
got out, the buyout was toast and Grant Hampton along with it. But if
Ally could be brought in . . .

"Grant," she was saying, "I want to start off by asking you if you've
ever taken a really good look at that guy Karl Van de Vliet. Does he
look anything like his picture? The one that came with that CV of his."

"Sure, that's him."

"And I assume you've actually read his resume?"

"Of course." Here it comes, he thought. The thing everybody asks.

"If those dates are right, then he has to be--what?--at least sixty years
old. But in the picture he doesn't look a day over forty-five. So
what's going on?"

"Ally, you're finally getting it." He rattled the ice in his Dewar's,
then finally took a deep sip. Maybe, he thought, it would help with the
courage. "He's a truly amazing human being."

"That's not an answer, Grant. It's a generality." She exhaled in
obvious exasperation. "But I want an honest answer about one thing,
dammit. Do you actually think he could help Mom's Alzheimer's? Maybe
even reverse it? Tell me the truth. Just once."

"Ally, I can't guarantee anything. But it's worth a shot."

Now, he thought hopefully, she was sounding like she was starting to
come around. Thank God. As for whether Dr. Vee could cure the old bird
who knew? But he'd overheard the nurses talking about how he and his
research staff had had some phenomenal luck with Alzheimer's. . . .

"By the way, what happened when you talked to Mom?" he went on. "Did
she seem like she understood anything I told her?"

"Grant, she probably understood a lot more than you wanted her to. The
bad part is, she let you give her some hope. Now, what's going to
happen if she goes out there and ends up being disappointed?"

It's a real possibility, he told himself. But it's probably the only
way I'll ever get you out there, and that's what really matters.

"Ally, we'll never know unless ... You should go too."

"Look, maybe I'll talk to Van de Vliet. But it's purely information-
gathering." She was staring at him. "So why not tell me? The whole
story. Are you doing this for Mom and me, or are we just being used
like lab animals?"

"I'm not sure you're going to believe anything I say." He sipped again
at his scotch, then walked over to the skylight

and looked up. Finally he turned back. "After Dad . . . and everything,
I had trouble sleeping. I know you didn't think it got to me, but it
was like some bad force had taken over my mind, haunting me. I became
obsessed with death. I took off two months and went to Colorado,
camping. Out there, under the stars, I did a lot of thinking. Dad had
died suddenly, but maybe that was a blessing in disguise. The rest of
us, we all die a little every day. Why does time do the things to us it
does? Why do we have to grow old and repulsive?"

He drew on his scotch again, then continued.

"When I came back, I started doing research on aging. That's when Karl
Van de Vliet's name popped up on the Internet. Some paper he'd given in
Vienna years ago. It was about the physiology of aging. But then Tanya
came along and I sort of forgot about him. Then when I went to work for
Winston Bartlett, there he was. The very same guy. It was weird, but it
was as though God had delivered him."

"Is this shaggy-dog story going to end up being about why he looks so
young?"

"I'm getting there." He smiled. "I kept wondering too, and then finally
I saw an opening in his schedule and took him to dinner here in the
city, down at Chanterelle. A social thing. Eventually, after a couple
of bottles of serious wine, it came out that once upon a time he had
done an unconventional experiment. On himself. It was sort of an
accident, something about melanoma research."

"So he--"

"You asked me why he looks so young. Well, some procedure he did
apparently stopped his skin from aging. But then he changed the subject
and wouldn't talk about it anymore. So do I think he's a miracle
worker? I'd say he's walking proof of something. That you can cheat
nature."

"And?"

"There is no 'and.' That's all I know." He came back and settled onto
the couch. His scotch glass was empty and he yearned for another, but
that small voice inside was urging discretion. This was the moment that
could be make or break.

       "But to get back to you, Ally, you really should meet him. I
can't talk specifics about the actual clinical trials, but let me just
say they've been very positive. There's every reason to think he can
help you. And Mom too."

He studied her, trying to read her mind. He wondered if she could
detect the anxiety he felt lurking just beneath the surface. Was she
seeing through him, the way Nina, for all her mental debility, had
seemed to?

"Grant, has this doctor Van de Vliet gotten into some kind of medical
experiment that's turned into a Faustian bargain? Is his skin
rejuvenation a signal that this research has gone over into The
Twilight Zone'! When a sixty-something man looks forty-something,
there's got to be an unnatural act going on. What does it mean?"

"Maybe it means he's found the thing Ponce de Leon was looking for. The
Fountain of Youth or whatever."

"Then he'll probably have to pay for it some other way," she said
getting up. "Mother Nature doesn't give out freebies. Look, I've got to
give Knickers her midnight walk. That's your exit cue. I'll call him
tomorrow. I'll go that far."

"Don't blow this chance, Ally," he said setting down his empty scotch
glass and getting up. He felt hope and it bucked him up. "It could be
the biggest mistake of your life. And Mom's."

He was at the door before he turned back. It was time for the
insurance. The hedging of bets. Bartlett had authorized it.

"By the way, I almost forgot. Jesus, I'm going senile myself. W.B. told
me to tell you he'd like you to come over to his place on Gramercy Park
tomorrow morning around ten, if you can work it into your schedule."

"What for?"

"That job on his place that I told you about this morning, I guess. I
do know he's planning to renovate the ground floor. But just between
us, he's also got a massive renovation job in the wings, so maybe
that's what's really on and this is like an audition. Who knows? He
bought an old mansion on upper Park and he's planning to heavily redo
it and turn it into a museum for his incredible collection of Japanese
military stuff, swords and armor and shit. He's going to do over the
entire interior. It's part architecture and part design, so I gave him
your name. Who knows? But I was over at his place this afternoon and he
asked about you. He said he wanted to see you as soon as possible. He
even gave me one of his personal cards to give to you. Here. It has the
Gramercy Park address and his private cell phone."

"Just like that?" She looked skeptical but took the card.

"Winston Bartlett is not a man who dawdles. If he decides he wants to
do something, he just moves on it. All he asked was that you bring a
portfolio, to show him some of your work."

_Come on and do it,_ he thought as he headed out the door. _Go and see
the Man. Just fucking do it. If he can't close this frigging deal,
nobody can.

_



Chapter 6



_Sunday, April 5

11:43 P.M.

_

Winston Bartlett put the newly glazed creme brulee, still warm from his
preparation in the kitchen below stairs, on the bed tray in front of
Kristen, next to her untouched champagne flute. She used to love it and
he was trying everything he knew to jog her memory. He'd cooked her
favorite supper, eggs Florentine, with barely wilted spinach topped by
prosciutto, had taken her to bed and now there was champagne and her
favorite dessert.

But she still seemed distracted and distant. Yes, it was a good idea to
get her away from the institute, but that was merely relocating the
problem, not fixing it. If it could be fixed. In the meantime, she had
to be kept here, out of the public eye.

"Thank you," she said and gingerly took a small bite. She had been
almost lucid earlier this evening and was leaning against the antique
headboard wearing a soft blue nightgown. Her long blond hair was
tousled and down over her breasts. Her memory might now be a sometime
thing, but her libido was still going strong.

"Do you remember how much you used to like that?" he asked, trying to
make eye contact.

She nodded her head dumbly. Did she actually remember? Increasingly, he
had no idea.

He had brought her here to stay in this five-story nineteenth- century
mansion on Park Avenue. He'd purchased it a year and a half earlier for
23 million and he was intending to have it renovated and converted into
a museum. That renovation, however, had been put on hold awaiting a
decision by the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Museum. He
wanted the building to be a Park Avenue adjunct to the Met, and he also
wanted his definitive assemblage of Japanese implements of war to be
known as the Bartlett Collection.

The tax write-off would be monumental, but that was not nearly so
important as the prestige.

It was clear now that this project would not have any momentum until he
first got himself appointed to the board of the Met. Unfortunately,
money alone wasn't adequate. Major-league politics was involved.

He was working on it, with a lot of Upper East Side lunches and
targeted charity events. He was also taking his time and getting
designs and estimates for the renovation. The way things were at the
moment, he didn't have the cash to actually start construction anyway.

For the moment, the place was furnished but unoccupied except for a
security guard, a part of Bartlett's personal staff. Now, with Kristen
here, discretion was his uppermost concern.

He had sent the security guy home this evening, so he and Kristen could
have privacy. In the morning two nurses would come on duty, one to look
after her and another to cook.

Over the past year he'd brought her here most weekends. It was like
having their own Shangri-la. Best of all, unlike his official residence
on Gramercy Park, he didn't have a wife upstairs, like some mad (in
every sense of the word) aunt in the attic.

He had hoped that bringing Kristen back here might do

something for her memory. He still hoped, but he wasn't sure. In bed
tonight she had been as lithe and enthusiastic as ever. Possibly even
more so. Did she know who he was? He couldn't really tell. But he still
loved being with her. The soft skin and the voluptuous curves of her
breasts and thighs: it made him feel young again.

Since she had been out at the Dorian Institute and away from him, he
had begun to feel older and older.

Winston Bartlett was sixty-seven and--increasingly--felt it. To begin
with, his prostate was enlarging itself, in spite of all the special,
expensive medicines he used Surgery was increasingly looking like a
possibility. And his memory was nowhere near what it once was. He
wolfed down ginkgo and ginseng capsules by the handful but was finding
it harder and harder to remember people's names, particularly the new
wave of donation-hungry politicians who fawned over him.

And then there was the matter of teeth. He'd just gone through major
periodontal surgery, a sign of aging gums. How long before his ivories
would be replaced by ceramic choppers? Oh, and the heart. His
cardiologist was talking more and more about stents to alleviate the
two constricted arteries in the left ventricle. They were already down
to 40 percent. Face it, his whole damned body was falling apart.

Probably worst of all, the Johnson was far from what it used to be; not
long back, it was a daily triple threat. Soon he might be resorting to
Viagra as more than a discretionary recreational drug, something he was
still joking about less than a year ago.

The dirty secret about living this long is, after you've seen
everything you ever wanted to see, done everything you ever wanted to
do, bought everything you ever wanted to buy, you gradually lose the
only thing really worth having.

Youth.

To try to hang on to it, he had been through clinics as far- flung as
Phoenix and Lucerne. He had undergone regimens of antioxidants and
injections of human growth hormone. He'd tried testosterone and
dehydroepiandrosterone, better know as DHEA. Maybe it had made a
difference, maybe not. Sometimes he thought he had more libido and
energy, but other times he wasn't sure. Maybe it was just that he'd
begun working out even harder, playing handball an extra half hour
every other day. He did know his body was continuing to deteriorate.

Shit, the Beta had to be made to work

"I don't want to stay here alone," Kristen said, putting down her
spoon. "I want to go back to work."

"Honey, I can't be here all the time, and you're really not well enough
to go to work. There'll be someone here with you. It's just till you
get better." He studied her, the face that was so young, and felt the
full weight of the tragedy sinking in. "Do you remember what it was you
used to do?"

"I don't remember right now. I mean exactly. I used to talk to people.
I was in this room with lots of bright lights."

She didn't actually remember, he thought. Her former producer at E!,
along with everybody else (including her harridan of a mother,
Katherine), had been told she was at a private health spa in New
Mexico. It had to be kept that way.

No one must know she was here. All the phones had been removed before
the ambulance brought her. Starting at six in the morning, there would
be a nurse and a nurse/cook downstairs on a twenty-four-hour basis.
Under no conditions could she be allowed to leave, not the way her mind
was now.

"Kristy, it wasn't supposed to turn out like this. I'm so sorry. But
Karl is doing all he can. We're ... He has a new idea that he's about
to explore. He's going to..." His voice trailed off as he stared at her
unblinking eyes. "You don't remember what happened, do you?"

But how she looked. My God. The youth. How could a true miracle have
such a tragic downside?

That was when the cell phone on the stand beside him chirped. It was
the only phone in the place, and tomorrow it would be gone. No way
could she be allowed to have a phone.

The caller ID advised that it was Grant Hampton.

"Kristy, I've got a feeling this could take a while." He was reaching
for his silk robe. "I'll be downstairs on the first floor if you need
anything, okay?"

She just stared at him mutely. He shook his head sadly. There wasn't
much time left to mend her. How in God's name had it come to this?

As he moved down the spiraling grand staircase, he clicked on the
phone.

"Yeah."

"I was just at her place, W.B. I actually got in, which is more than
has happened in over four years. I think she's on board but I'm still
not entirely sure. So, just to be safe, I told her you wanted to see
her tomorrow."

"Are you saying you couldn't make this happen? With your own fucking
sister?"

"It's ... We're not exactly on the greatest of terms, Ally and me."
There was an awkward tone in his voice. "It's hard to explain. Like I
told you, I confirmed her blood type on Saturday. It's AB, like I
thought. And I played the mother angle. At the very least, I think
she's willing to drive the old bird out to the institute and meet Karl.
That's a start, at least."

"And what about her medical . . . Karl wanted to see--"

"I'm working on it. I remembered something about her. I've got a guy.
He's going to check on it tonight."

"Good" Bartlett growled. "There's no time to screw around on this."

"I've set it up for you to meet her tomorrow, the way you wanted. I
think she'll show. I told--"

"The one who really should talk to her is Karl." Bartlett sighed. "He
knows how to handle patients."

"Then he could call her tomorrow. After she's talked to you. If we all
pull together on this, W.B., I'm sure we can get her out there by day
after tomorrow, Tuesday."

Winston Bartlett looked at his watch. It had just turned

Monday, one less day to find something that would stop the Syndrome in
its tracks.

       "We'd better."

He was clicking off the phone when he heard a wail of despair from the
bedroom upstairs and the sound of a champagne flute being thrown
against a wall.

Kristen was losing it rapidly now. Was she still conscious enough to
know what was happening to her?



Chapter 7



_Monday, April 6

7:30a.m.

_

The commute from Ally's West Village place to the CitiSpace office in
SoHo was normally a twenty-minute brisk stroll, and she brought
Knickers with her a lot (the boss's prerogative) since her office was
arguably homier than her home. (Knickers loved to wander around and--she
thought--guard the computers and drafting tables.) This morning, though,
Ally had an appointment for her at Pooch Pros, the dog groomers near
her office. A wash and a trim and plenty of pampering. Betty and Misha
always fussed over her shamelessly, and she gloried in it.

But now a pounding rain had just come through, which meant no walk for
either of them. Knickers would show up looking like a bedraggled mop.
Definitely the moment to take the car.

Alexa Hampton liked to say that she wasn't really an auto person. Hers
was a four-year-old Toyota, light blue, and its modesty befitted her
needs. In New York, hopping around SoHo and the Village, it made a lot
more sense to rely on a bike or on cabs, or just plain walk. Garaging a
car in New York cost the equivalent of a studio apartment rental in
most normal places, and the bottom-line truth was, she resented the
Toyota's presence in her life. But there were moments when cabs weren't
the answer, and this was one of them. Fortunately, the parking garage
she used was just around the corner, so she and Knickers got there
before being totally soaked. Knickers loved riding in the Toyota, and
she always seemed to know what was coming the minute they turned the
corner for the garage. This morning she gave a gleeful "Woof" and
started panting, a sure indicator of joy.

As they drove the few blocks downtown, the rain was easing up but the
streets were still shiny. Ally reached into her bag and took out the
personal card of Winston Bartlett. His private residence was on
Gramercy Park. The only reason he could possibly want to meet her there
was if he did indeed have a job. She decided she would call him from
the office and confirm the appointment, assuming he still remembered
it. Then she'd get Jennifer to help her assemble a portfolio of their
work and make a color copy to leave with him.

She leaned over and rubbed Knickers' ears. Her thoughts were drifting
back to Karl Van de Vliet. At some level his stem cell technology
sounded like the ultimate snake oil. Was she about to take leave of her
common sense to go to see him, or even to consider letting him perform
some experimental procedure on her mother's mind?

On the other hand, what about him? What kind of "procedure" could Van
de Vliet have done that would stop his own skin from aging? If Grant
had merely told her that Karl Van de Vliet had finally realized the
cosmetician's dream and learned how to make human skin youthful and
supple again, she would have passed it off as just more Wall Street IPO
hyperbole. But seeing was believing, and it also seemed like there was
a lot more going on than just a change in his skin. There was something
about him, in his eyes, that felt . . . inconsistent.

She was still puzzling on that point when Knickers jumped up and
barked. They were passing a garbage truck and the guys were banging the
cans into the back.

"Shhh." She reached to quiet her. "We're almost there, baby." Then she
tugged at her leash and settled her back into the seat.

Since the rain was all but over, she decided to park the car where she
dropped Knickers off and then walk over to her office, which was only a
couple of blocks east. She found a spot right next to the awning of
Pooch Pros, and the minute Knickers was liberated from the car, she
bounded to the door dragging her leash through the puddles. Misha was
already there to meet her.

"Come on, my _kraceve_ baby, my beauty." He reached down and gave her a
big hug. Misha was a gaunt, balding, blond-haired Russian who had once
been the hero of the Soviet Olympic swim team. Now he looked like he
could stand a piroshki or two to plump him up. "You be big fluff of
cloud after we finishing."

Ally followed them in, and there was Betty. Ally figured "Betty"
assumed her made-up but totally American name was easier than whatever
she'd used in Russia, but to Ally it just felt weird Betty had dark
hair, a broad smile that wouldn't die, and approximately thirty pounds
that would have looked better on Misha. They reminded her of Jack
Sprat, et al.

"Honey, there is problem at your office. Woman name Jennifer call. Say
she try reach you at home but you leave already. And you don't answer
your cell phone."

"Shit, I turned it off. Knickers goes nuts if it rings in the car."

Jennifer was only a couple of years older than Ally, but she'd been
with the firm back when Ally's father, Arthur, ran it and she was the
mother figure of CitiSpace. She was also Ally's best friend and had
been even before Ally came back to run the firm. Ally felt like she had
known her forever. These days Jen spent a lot of effort trying to
create a social life for Ally that would include eligible men. She kept
nagging her to join some clubs, anything, just get out there.

Ally knew she was right, but she was working too hard to take time out.
She had the idea, which she wasn't naive enough to actually believe at
a rational level, that sooner or later someone who could replace Steve
would come along. Yes, she was lonely a lot, but until this last
deterioration of her heart she'd spent a lot of evenings and weekends
outside, biking and hiking around town, and she knew plenty of people
who were interesting and kind. She sometimes thought her problem was
that she liked people, all kinds of people, as long as they were kept
slightly away, at a psychic distance. Maybe it was the getting close
part that never seemed to work out.

It had actually been that way ever since Steve disappeared. She had the
premonition that if she got too close to somebody, she was destined to
lose them.

Now she stood for a second, puzzling. She'd mentioned taking Knickers
to Pooch Pros, so that's how Jen knew where she'd be, but what could
have gone wrong at 7:45 in the morning?

Jennifer wasn't usually in this early, but she was finishing a rush job
for a marble bathroom for a couple on the Upper East Side. On days when
Jennifer did get to the office first, she'd have the coffee going and
an extra bagel for Knickers, on the chance Ally might bring her, which
she often did. But to phone Betty just to tell her to hurry? That was
odd.

"Should I call now?" It seemed pointless. She was no more than ten
minutes away. What else could go wrong in ten minutes?

"She sound very hurry," Betty declared.

Ally took her cell phone out of her bag and switched it on. The office
rang only once and then Jennifer was there.

"Ally, you're not going to believe who called here ten minutes ago,
asking for you. Winston Bartlett. My God, it's like Donald Trump
called. Well, actually it was some male secretary or something. He said
he was calling to confirm your ten o'clock appointment. At an address
on Gramercy Park East. What's that about? Jesus, Ally, where are you? I
don't know what you're up to, but this could be big. He owns entire
buildings, for chrissake."

"Did you say I was coming?"

"I didn't know what to say. He left a number to call if you can't make
it. Otherwise, he'll assume you'll be there. It's only two hours from
now."

"All right, Jen, let's put together a 'folio' of our biggest jobs. Lead
with that gut rehab we did on the building down by the South Street
Seaport. And put in those two floor-through lofts we did on that
conversion in TriBeCa. The ones with the slate bathrooms and the
stainless-steel countertops in the kitchen."

"I've already started. Do you know specifically what he has in mind?"
She paused. "How did he find out about us, anyway?"

"My creepy kid brother works for him." She sighed. "It's a long story.
Be there in a couple of minutes." She clicked off the phone.

"Betty, thanks a lot. I've gotta run." She turned and gave Knickers a
last rumple of the ears. "Be good, baby. I'll pick you up by six at the
latest."

"What wrong?" Misha was concerned, twisting a white towel he was
holding. "Big problem?"

"Nothing's wrong. Actually, something probably is wrong. I just don't
know what it is yet." She headed out the door.

The design firm her father had started and she'd kept going, now with
some architecture thrown in, was on the ground floor of an old
industrial loft building whose upper floors had been converted into
rental apartments in the early 1980s. The owner was an ex-wrestler
named Oskar Jacobi, who had turned Zen master (after a fashion) and had
a studio upstairs, on the second floor. He had drifted from wrestling
into karate during his thirties and thence into the life of the mind,
or rather the life of "no-mind," in his late forties. Now he taught
meditation as well as karate and insisted they be learned in that
order. He served as his own superintendent, mopping the halls and
setting out the garbage on pickup days.

The ground floor was zoned commercial, and CitiSpace had a lease for
all of it, which meant she had tons of space. Oskar had given Ally's
dad, Arthur, a ten-year lease, which was now a fraction of the going
rate. They both knew that, and she'd more than once offered to
renegotiate or move, but he said he didn't need any more income and,
besides, he liked having her as a tenant because she reminded him of
her father. It was a generosity perfectly in keeping with his
philosophy that excess money corrupted the spirit.

She'd done the place as a sort of Spanish desert flower, with burnt-
orange tile floors and all the natural materials she could cram in. A
lot of her clients wanted the hard-edge industrial look in their lofts,
which was fine by her, but she found it too cold for a daily working
environment. The front was unassuming, with small lettering on the
window. CitiSpace was not a walk-in business. And she had no metal
gates over the windows. What's to protect?

When she marched through the door, everybody looked up from their
coffee and computers, and Jennifer led the applause. Winston Bartlett.
Had they finally made the A-list? This could be the start of something
big.



Chapter 8



_Monday, April 6

9:56 A.M.

_

Ally stepped out of the cab, holding the large leather-bound portfolio,
and checked the number on the card against the bronze plaque above the
door. Winston Bartlett lived like a nineteenth-century robber baron.
The building had five stories and was adorned with Italian marble
window lintels that glowed like mother-of-pearl.

Already she liked his sense of style. Bartlett was New Money, but this
place had the solemn dignity of Old Money. The front door was eight
feet tall and solid mahogany. The odd thing was, there were two
doorbells. One read w. BARTLETT and the other read E. BARTLETT.

That was when she remembered she had read somewhere that he had a wife
named Eileen. But why did she have a separate doorbell? Winston
Bartlett had a tabloid reputation as a womanizer. Perhaps they lived
apart. If so, there it was, for all the world to see.

She found herself examining the late Greek Revival columns on either
side of the door. They were marble and meticulously cleaned of soot,
whose ubiquitous presence in New York meant that eventually everything
not regularly scrubbed turned gray. It told her that Winston Bartlett
liked things to be immaculate and that he was a stickler when it came
to details.

She glanced up and noticed that she was being observed by a security
camera. She was reaching out to push the bell for w. BARTLETT when the
door magically opened. A tall, trim Japanese man in a crisp black suit
was standing in the doorway. But he had a muscular build that would be
more appropriate for a bodyguard than a butler.

"Hello," she said. "I have an appointment with--"

"Yes." He nodded, appearing to know exactly who she was. "He's upstairs
in the library. Please . . ."

She'd expected a grand central staircase in the Palladian design, but
instead there were elevators off to the left of the entryway. But even
without an obvious staircase, the ground floor and its fifteen-foot
ceiling were palatial in every sense of the term. The marble floors
were covered with antique, and expensive, Persian rugs, and the light
tan wallpaper was flecked with gold leaf, giving the feeling it could
have been meticulously stripped from some palazzo in Venice. The
lighting fixtures were a row of chandeliers down the middle of the vast
room, and at the back was a dining table that appeared to be large
enough to seat thirty dinner guests. The architecture was a showpiece
for the extravagant taste of some Victorian "enemy of the people."

But what really set it apart was that the walls were lined with
exquisitely severe antique swords and armor from Japan. In a way, the
room felt like the foyer of a boutique museum, an adjunct of the Asia
Society.

The Japanese man directed her to one of the elevators, and then got in
with her. She still couldn't decide whether he was a butler or a
bodyguard. He had the polished demeanor of the first, but the strapping
body and deft movements of the latter. Maybe he was both. In any case,
he looked like he would be quite at ease brandishing one of those long
samurai swords.

The elevator had dark paneling and smelled of freshness, partly fresh
wood and partly fresh lacquer. It was utterly silent as it glided up to
the third floor. When the door opened, she stepped into what appeared
to be a large den/library, except that there was a huge four-poster
antique bed at the far corner, with its drapes drawn around the side.
It was definitely something out of another place and time. Was this
Bartlett's bedroom? The space was magisterial.

In the other corner was a wide mahogany desk covered with phones and
papers and two computers. From his photos, she recognized the man
rising to greet her as Winston Bartlett. Seeing him in the flesh, she
first noticed that there was something in his eyes that in another man
might be called ruthless, but in him it merely came off as determined.
They were eyes that were accustomed to getting what they wanted--be it a
company, a building, a woman.

"Fine, Ken, and please have them hold my calls," Bartlett said nodding
to the Japanese man, who tipped his head in acknowledgment and
disappeared back into the elevator. Then he turned to her and extended
his hand. "Ms. Hampton, I appreciate your making time for me. I'm
possibly your newest fan. After Grant told me about you, I had a couple
of my people do some research. You've been responsible for some very
interesting, even elegant interiors. Grant may have told you I have a
big project down the road that you might wish to bid on. But for now,
as a way of getting to know each other, I wanted to talk to you about a
more modest undertaking."

She thanked him, attempting to take it all in. She was trying not to
admit to herself that Winston Bartlett was an attractive man, in the
way that power brings charisma. "I'd be happy to hear about what you
have in mind. I don't necessarily take every job that comes along. I
always look for challenges."

She listened to herself and wondered why she was starting off the
meeting in such a confrontational manner. Probably, she thought, it was
because she didn't want to seem intimidated. Doing high-end interior
design, you come across a lot of wealth and power, but this was a whole
new level.

"Well, I guess I'm the same way." He smiled. "A lot of the things I've
done over the years have ended up being a challenge. And a risk. But
now and then, something is worth it." He gestured toward a couch.
"Please, we have a lot to talk about."

He returned to the chair behind his desk and turned off the laptop
computer he had been using.

"I brought a portfolio," she began, "with photos. There's also a DVD
with virtual walk-throughs of some of our projects. I'm not sure what
you have in mind, but this should give you some idea of the kind of
thing we--"

"I'll look at it," he said, setting the portfolio aside unopened. "I'm
sure you live up to your reputation. Like I said, I have two jobs
pending, so first let me outline the smaller one. This building was
built just before the prior turn of the century, and it was intended to
house a small workforce of cooks and nannies and seamstresses below
stairs. The rooms were lit with town gas, and coal was used for heating
and cooking. Then in the twenties, everything was gradually switched
over to electricity and oil and natural gas. But very little effort was
made to accommodate the change aesthetically. It was just retrofitted."

"That's typically how it was done."

"And I haven't really cared until now," he went on. "But lately I've
decided I want to redo this place properly. Starting below stairs and
moving up. It's mainly the kitchen down there that concerns me now. I
want to remove all the outdated fixtures and go state of the art.
There's nothing original there anymore; just somebody's idea of a
'modernization' back in the fifties. So nothing of historic value will
be lost. I don't want a restaurant kitchen precisely, but I want a
range with enough Btu's that it could be. Granite countertops are all
the rage these days. . . ." He paused, then grinned sheepishly. "I
promise I won't start telling you how to do your job. Work up some
ideas without any interference from me, and then we'll see where we go
from there."

"Do you have any blueprints of this building? The original plans?"

He smiled, as though to say you ask good questions. "As a matter of
fact, they were filed downtown, in a little-known cranny of the
Department of Buildings and I had an expediter I know track them down."
He paused. "Ms. Hampton, there is one little matter I want to clear
with you in advance. I know that the newspapers occasionally print
things about me that might be termed unsavory. You came to meet me
here, so that tells me something about your feelings toward me. But I
have discovered that I am a somewhat controversial figure in certain
circles. I'd just like to know if you think of me as controversial."

She found this unexpected new tack in the conversation puzzling. Was he
trying to get a rise out of her?

"I barely know you, Mr. Bartlett," she said. "And, frankly, the private
life of a client is none of my business. So that question is entirely
unnecessary."

"Very well." He smiled. "Like I said, there's a much larger job now in
the planning stage. I have a building on Park Avenue in the Seventies
that I'm planning to convert into a museum. It would be a private
undertaking at first, but in the long run, who knows? The job will
require extensive alterations of the building, and I also plan to have
a museum cafe in the lower level. Anyway, there's a lot of work ahead,
and I thought this would be a good way for us to get acquainted.
Redoing the first floor here would give us both some idea of whether we
could work together on a larger project."

She listened and found herself wondering what he was really up to. This
conversation felt like he thought he needed to have plenty of bait on
the hook.

First Grant and then him, a tycoon who's a perfect stranger. Why?



_Monday April 6

10:38 A.M.



_Winston Bartlett was not finding himself entirely satisfied with the
way things were going. As he looked her over, he had a lot on his mind.
This was the woman who shared his rare blood type and could represent
his last hope. So far, she seemed smart and courageous. Given the
gravity of what he'd heard about her heart condition from Karl--which
you'd never realize by just looking at her--she had to be courageous to
continue on with her kind of spirit. But that was not necessarily all
to the good. She might not be so easy to manipulate.

Inevitably he found himself comparing her to Kristen. For starters,
Alexa Hampton seemed to have a lot more self- assurance. Kristy liked
to appear tough on camera, but she was riddled with an aspiring
actress's insecurities. Which had played a large part in the current
tragedy. But you could say she brought that on herself. Alexa Hampton
was struggling with something she had nothing to do with. And to look
at her, you'd never know it. That was spunk.

In truth, this was the kind of woman he'd often wished he'd married--
someone who shared his own gusto for life. God had dealt her a
particularly lousy hand, and yet she still had drive. She had more
courage in her little finger than that monster upstairs, Eileen. And
the fact was, she was more appealing than Kristen. But don't even think
about going there.

"Coincidentally," he said, beginning a new tack, "there's a totally
unrelated matter I wanted to discuss with you. I understand Grant has
already told you about the clinical trials currently winding up at the
Dorian Institute, which is part of one of my companies. He told me
about your heart condition and about your mother's Alzheimer's. We're
working on a new procedure that could be very relevant for both of you.
The clinical trials are scheduled to conclude in just a few days from
now, but I spoke with the lead researcher there, Dr. Van de Vliet, and
he said there's still time to get you into the program."

"Yes, Grant came to see me and brought me a brochure."

"Your brother is very concerned about you and your mother, and he
specifically asked me to inquire if you had any questions about the
procedure that I might be able to answer for you."

He was watching her carefully, all the while trying to keep his tone
casual.

"Well, I think my mother is interested. Quite frankly, she doesn't have
much to lose, though she may be in denial about that. In my own case,
I'm not so sure. I still don't know anything about Karl Van de Vliet."

She's still toying with the bait, Bartlett thought. I can't yank the
line just yet, but she's close. She's so close.

"Truly, the best thing you could do would be to talk to him," Bartlett
said getting up from his desk and walking over to the window and
pulling the curtains aside. The mid-morning light streamed in, a
momentarily blinding presence. I've got to shake this up, he told
himself. "As a matter of fact, I'd like for you to meet with Karl
before we go any further with this job. We need to get you well first.
And your mother. He's had some truly amazing successes with both
Alzheimer's and Parkinson's."

"It's just that this is all so experimental. Aren't there any side
effects? New drugs or new medical procedures always have side effects."

Well, he thought, now you've hit on it. But that part is best left to
Karl.

"If you have questions, that's all the more reason to check out the
clinic," he declared. Time to close the sale. He came back and sat down
behind the mahogany desk. "I've seen a lot of medical innovation over
the years, including a good bit in my own companies. But there's never
been anything that remotely compares to the promise of stem cell
technology. And these stage-three clinical trials have shown how many
miracles are in the realm of the doable."

"Grant said Dr. Van de Vliet wanted to include someone with my specific
condition in the--"

"Let me be frank with you." He looked across at her and smiled. "You
would be a perfect fit. But the trials are going to be over very, very
soon, so he's anxious to get started."

"Truthfully, I'm thinking about taking Mom out there," she said. "And
since we're all being so frank, let me say I'm getting the impression
that my going out to your clinic is really the reason you wanted to see
me today. It's--"

"It's the second reason," he said. "The design job is uppermost in my
mind, but I see nothing wrong with having two purposes in seeing you.
As someone once said, commerce is the mutually beneficial exchange of
worth."

Was she agreeing to see Van de Vliet? Playing the mother card may have
done the trick.

"Well, why don't we stick to tangible worth," she said. "Let me take a
look at the space downstairs. But you'll have to tell me some more
about what you have in mind."

"I propose we do it the other way around. You go down and look around,
take measurements, make sketches, whatever it is you do, and then get
back to me with some ideas. That'll be our starting point." He picked
up a walkie-talkie on his desk and punched a button. "Ken, could you
please come up. I'd like you to show Ms. Hampton the service floor." He
clicked it off without waiting for a reply. "I'm due down at the
office. When I get there, I'll have them cut a check for five thousand
dollars as a retainer and messenger it over to your shop."

Is this going to work? he wondered. Maybe I should be pushing harder. .
. .

He examined Alexa Hampton one last time as he rose to leave. Yes, she's
a rare woman. Wouldn't it be ironic if Karl actually could do something
for her heart?



_Monday, April 6

10:49 A.M.

_

As Ally watched Winston Bartlett sweep from the room, she was still
trying to take measure of the man. What troubled her was why Grant and
Bartlett were both so anxious to get her and her mother out to the
clinic. But give Bartlett his due. He could charm the birds off the
trees.

She looked around the room, wondering what the old kitchen and staff
quarters would be like. Certainly not like this. The library/bedroom
had a rich, over-the-top feeling, with a beautifully molded plaster
ceiling, a virtual bas-relief of fruits and birds and clouds all
meticulously painted. It wasn't the Sistine Chapel but had some of that
feeling. The paneling and wainscot were burnished mahogany, and the
floor was a mix of hardwoods worked into an isometric design. She
decided it was probably the most luxurious private residence she had
ever seen.

CitiSpace was mainly known for its creative handling of lofts in the
abandoned commercial buildings of SoHo and TriBeCa. These old mansions
of the nineteenth-century moguls were an entirely different world. It
was intimidating, but she was sure she could do something below stairs
that would retain the period flavor of the building while creating the
kind of semiprofessional space he said he wanted. Still, it was
different from anything else CitiSpace had ever done, so he had no way
of knowing whether or not she could pull it off. Again that question:
why on earth would he hand her this plum job?

And where was his wife? Although he liked to be photographed with blond
starlets, the tabloids always reminded you that he had a wife
someplace. The two doorbells were a tip-off that that someplace was
here. Best guess: she probably had the top floors.

My God was Madame Bartlett going to get involved in the renovation? A
lot of women with superrich husbands and too much time on their hands
come to assume that that happenstance creates in them a natural gift
for interior design. Big problem.

But whatever happened, this could be a sweetheart job. And maybe she'd
get a crack at that museum he'd talked about. That was the kind of
thing an architect-turned-interior- designer dreamed about.

She looked up to see the Japanese man--Bartlett had called him Ken--
stepping into the room. He was all business.



_Monday, April 6

11:08 A.M.



_Winston Bartlett was on the phone to Van de Vliet the moment he
stepped into his limo to head downtown.

"She said she's thinking about bringing her mother out to the
institute, Karl. I believe she's ready to do it. Before she changes her
mind, I want you to talk to her and schedule an appointment for
tomorrow morning, if you can."

"I'll put in a call to her office."

"Karl, she's not there now. Try her cell. Grant has the number. We need
to get moving on this. I've done about all I can at the moment." He was
watching the midmorning traffic that was clogging the avenue. He always
felt claustrophobic in a limo, even a stretch. The only time he felt
free was when he was in the McDonnell Douglas chopper. When he was
flying the chopper, against all the laws of civil aviation.

"Don't you think that's a little pushy, W.B.? We shouldn't seem too
anxious. Believe me, I've had a lot of experience with ambivalent
patients."

"All right. She should be back at her office sometime after lunch."

"I'll wait awhile and put in a call there." He paused. "When was the
last time you saw . . .  Beta One? The situation at Park Avenue?"

"I don't want to discuss it over a cell, Karl." This conversation was
definitely a bad idea. "She comes and goes. I think it's getting
worse."

"I'll try to get over there late this afternoon and look in on her,"
Van de Vliet said. "I want to see her every day."

"Karl, we can't give up hope. Never give up hope."

He clicked off the phone and thought about his crapshoot with God.
Kristen had wanted to play, to experiment with the Beta. But nobody
made her undergo the procedure. She should never--

His cell phone rang.

"Yeah."

"Mr. Bartlett," came a female voice with a Brooklyn accent, "it's Bernd
Allen calling."

"Put him on."

Shit, Bartlett thought, this is news I don't want to hear.

Bernd was a Brit who was in charge of day-to-day accounting for
Bartlett Medical Devices. He was forty-seven and not a risk taker and
he was always worried about something. That was his job. These days he
had plenty to be worried about

He had been running a weekly projection of the cash flow at BMD, and
the drawdown was now getting perilous.

The flagship product of Bartlett Medical Devices had been the
"balloons" used in heart angioplasty that inflate and expand clogged
arteries. They were marketed together with stents, miniature metal mesh
supports that keep coronary arteries open after angioplasty. The
problem was that in 27 percent of the cases, the stents manufactured by
BMD caused scar tissue to form, a process called restenosis, and re-
block an artery, requiring a repeat of angioplasty or even a bypass
operation. Other manufacturers' numbers were not any better. But a few
months back, out of the blue, Hemotronics, a competing company near
Boston, had introduced stents coated with drugs that prevented
scarring. BMD's piece of the $2.6 billion angioplasty market had
plummeted from 13 percent to 4 percent and was still dropping like a
stone.

Add to that, two titanium joint replacements for arthritis patients
that they'd pinned their future on--along with millions in cash--still
had at least two years of human trials left before

they could hope for FDA approval. Long story short, BMD was in a mature
product cycle with its most lucrative hospital hardware, with nothing
major in the pipeline for at least two years. They had bet the ranch on
the stem cell research at Gerex.

"W.B., I just got last week's numbers back from the green- eyeshade
chaps downstairs. As you asked, I had them refine all the assumptions.
Remember the union contract. There's going to be a three percent wage
increase for all hourly personnel at the end of the month. And we
didn't hedge our Euro exposure and now it's going against us. That's my
own bloody fault. And since we don't have any pricing flexibility in
that territory at the moment it's like a four percent haircut right off
the bottom line. Remember we ran that in a worst-case scenario a while
back. Well, chances are we're about to see it for real."

Bartlett had been watching the rate of cash burn and trying not to let
the problem be evident. The logical thing to do, start laying off
workers in the fabrication divisions, was out of the question. If you
had a make-or-break deal cooking, you couldn't afford to look like you
were on the ropes.

"Give me some parameters," Bartlett said.

"You know we've already hit our credit lines at Chase about as hard as
we dare without them calling for a review. So unless we try to
refinance some real property, say the flagship building downtown--and in
this interest-rate environment any rational lender would put a gun to
our head--we've got to ink this deal with Cambridge Pharmaceuticals in
two months max. Right now we're living on borrowed money and it's about
to be borrowed time too."

You don't know the half of it, Bartlett thought. I'm already living on
borrowed time.

What's more, if word of the Beta gets out, we can kiss the buyout
_adios_. The adverse publicity and legal problems ... Nobody's going to
buy into that kind of liability. Not Cambridge, not anybody. Bernd
doesn't know about it yet. If he did, then he'd really be worried.

"Bernd, take a deep breath. We're on schedule and we've got to make
sure we stay that way. Get hold of Grant and tell

him I want him to double-check the regulatory situation for the
Cambridge deal. I know he already has, but I want a memo from our
attorneys by noon tomorrow. If there are going to be any roadblocks
cropping up, we need to know about them now. We can't afford to be
blindsided."

He clicked off the phone and tried to think. In the confines of a
limousine, it was hard.

What's it all for?

Unknown to the world--but, unfortunately, known to his wife, Eileen--
Winston Bartlett had a natural son. And that son, now in his own
career, despised Bartlett. It was one of many sorrows he had long since
learned to bear.

All the same, he increasingly regretted that he had made such a botch
of their relationship. The man who was his natural son had done very
well for himself professionally, had plenty of drive. And in fact
Bartlett believed he himself deserved some of the credit for that. What
he had done was let the boy fend for himself, which was exactly how
Bartlett was raised. Make it with your own two hands. How else are you
supposed to develop any character?

And it had worked. The pity was, he now hated Winston Bartlett's guts.

But Bartlett had begun thinking more and more about a legacy. What if
he could make peace with that son and bring him into the business?
Right now the closest thing he had to a son was Grant Hampton, and
Hampton was a little too slick and expedient. Bartlett knew a gold-
standard hustler when he saw one.

The more he thought about it, the more he was convincing himself to
make his natural son his sole heir.

Assuming there was anything left to pass on.



_Monday, April 6

11:20 A.M.

_

"Mr. Bartlett asked me to give you this," Kenji Noda said handing her a
large manila envelope as they stepped off the

elevator. "It's a copy of the original plans. And also, there's a
blueprint for the current layout, along with measurements."

She took it, looking him over again as she did. There was something
very fluid about his motions. He could have been a dancer. There was a
softness about him, and yet you got an unmistakable sense of inner
strength. She suspected he had something to do with Bartlett's
incredible collection of Japanese _katana_. He looked like he could
have a connoisseur's eye.

She walked into the below-stairs service space and looked around. The
back part, which was the kitchen, had stone walls that had been
whitewashed. There also were two massive fireplaces, which, she
assumed, had once housed coal-burning stoves. Large grease-and-soot-
covered gas ranges were there now.

But the space was fabulous. Massive load-bearing columns went down the
center, and a partition separated the front half of the space from the
back. The front traditionally would have been the nursery and sewing
room, in short, the maids' working quarters.

She turned to the man Bartlett had called Ken.

"Does Mr. Bartlett have a cook?" she asked. "This kitchen doesn't look
used."

"No," he said. "Actually, he almost never dines here, and Mrs. Bartlett
has her meals delivered from various restaurants. Though she does go
out sometimes as well."

This was the first time she had heard any mention of Eileen Bartlett.

"She resides on the top two floors," he went on. "She has her own
dining room up there, where she takes her meals, along with an
efficiency kitchen."

So the Bartletts did live completely separate lives. That explained a
lot.

"Okay," she said, "I want to look around and get a feeling for the
space and start putting together some ideas." She was starting to focus
on the job. The ceiling was lower than upstairs, but still the space
had enormous possibilities. "Off the top, I'd probably suggest we open
this out. Remove that dividing wall and make a great room. With the
right kind of kitchen, this could be a marvelous contemporary space for
semiformal dining and entertaining." Assuming, she thought, Winston
Bartlett actually wanted a renovated space to entertain. She still had
the nagging suspicion that he just wanted her. "I'd use materials that
have a really warm tone."

Mix different materials for the different parts of the kitchen and the
room, she thought. The cabinets could be mahogany, to echo the
extensive use of that wood upstairs, and the walls around the stove
area and the fireplaces could be an earth- colored slate. And that look
could be accented with polished granite countertops in a slightly
darker hue. There would need to be a high-Btu stove, probably a big
Viking, with a slate backsplash all around. A couple of stainless-steel
Sub- Zero refrigerators and a large Bosch dishwasher could be spaced
along in the slate and granite. And if Bartlett wanted it, there could
be a place for a temperature-controlled wine cellar. High-end design.

There also would need to be a large stone island--say a Brandy Craig--
with a couple of sinks and--depending on what he wanted--maybe another
high Btu stovetop there.

She turned to Ken. "If you have something else to do . . . I just need
to walk around and live in this space a little. Then I want to make
some notes on the plans. Possibly take a few photos."

"Take your time," he said. "I'll be upstairs."

He disappeared into the elevator, with his curious catlike gait, and
was gone in an instant.

As she looked around she realized the thing that was missing was light.

Wait a minute, she thought, there must be a garden at the rear of this
building. There are windows in the front, so why aren't there any at
the back?

She turned to examine the back wall. It was, in fact, clearly of recent
origin, and there was a door at one side. She walked over to the door,
which was locked with a thumb latch, and opened it.

And sure enough, behind the building was an unkempt space the width of
the building that ran back for a good thirty or thirty-five feet. When
she stepped out into the late-morning sunshine and looked at the back
of the building, she realized there also was a row of windows facing
the garden that had been bricked shut. What a travesty.

The whole design would depend on whether those windows could be
reopened. But if Bartlett would allow it, then there were tremendous
possibilities. With all this light, you could--

"Who the hell are you?" came a raspy, oversmoked voice from behind her.
"Are you his new tart? We agreed he would never bring his whores here."

Ally turned to see a tall, willowy woman, who appeared to be in her
mid-sixties. She had shoulder-length blond hair, clearly out of a
bottle, and a layer of pancake makeup that looked as though it had been
applied by a mortician.

"Perhaps it would be helpful if I introduced myself." She squeezed past
the woman in the doorway and walked over to the counter, where she had
left her bag. She extracted a business card and presented it.

The woman squinted at it, obviously having trouble making out the
print.

"I work with the design firm CitiSpace, and I was asked by Mr. Bartlett
to give him an estimate for some renovations."  She had quickly
acquired the sense that the less said to this woman, the better.

"I'm his wife and I still don't know who the hell you are." She
squinted at Ally a moment, then glanced back at the card. "What is . .
. CitiSpace?"

"It's an interior-design firm."

"What are you, then? Some kind of decorator?" She grasped the door to
steady herself and Ally suddenly wondered if she was slightly tipsy.

"Actually, what we do is probably closer to architecture."

Ally was collecting her belongings, hoping to get out before Eileen
Bartlett decided to do something crazy.

"This is the first I've heard about all this." She turned and slammed
the rear door.

"Mind if I ask you a question?" Ally said. "Do you have any idea why
those back windows were bricked over?"

"It's for security," she said. "No one is ever down here."

That's obvious, Ally thought, which is why this job is so odd. This
space clearly isn't being used now, and the social dynamic here doesn't
bode well for a lot of cozy entertaining and dinner parties in the
foreseeable future. So why is he spending money to renovate? And in
this big hurry? And he just happened to pick me to do this as an
audition for designing an entire museum. No, this whole thing
definitely does not compute.

But of course it does. The job is a blatant bribe. To butter me up for
something.

"Look, Miss Whoever-you-are, I want you to leave. I don't appreciate
strange women walking around unescorted in my house."

"I'm going right now. Perhaps you should speak to Mr. Bartlett and
decide together what you want to do about this space."

"I'll tell you right now what I want to do. Nothing. For all I know,
he's fixing this up so he can move in some tart. We've lived here for
twenty-eight years and he's never done anything down here. So why is
that tightfisted SOB suddenly deciding to renovate?"

"That would be an excellent question to ask him."

"You're screwing him, aren't you?" she demanded, wrinkled brow furrowed
and dim eyes seething. "Like that other little whore of his. That's why
he hired you. Well, let me tell you something. I'll outlive you both."

Without another word she turned and got into the elevator.



Chapter 9



_Monday, April 6

12:18 P.M.



_"Hey, how did it go?" Jennifer asked the minute Ally came in the door.

She wasn't sure she knew the answer to that. Initially the job looked
like a lot of fun, but now she felt the interpersonal dynamics of
working in Bartlett's home were already a problem even before she
started.

Also, maybe it was just paranoia, but as she took the cab downtown from
the mansion on Gramercy Park, she got the impression that somebody was
following her in a black SUV. And the stress of that brought on a
tightness in her chest. But as she neared their office in SoHo, the
vehicle abruptly veered east. She had a nitro tab at the ready, but she
didn't have to pop it.

"There's good news and bad news. The good news is he's practically
handing us a sweetheart of a job, and dangling another--designing a
whole museum--in our face. The bad news is, I don't know why he suddenly
thinks we're so terrific. I mean, you and I know that but how did he
figure it out?"

Jennifer looked puzzled. "You mean he--"

"Oh, did I mention that his crazy wife showed up after he left and
essentially accused me of being a hooker? I suppose that comes under
the heading of bad news."

"Great. Does that mean she's going to start second-guessing whatever we
do?"

"The communication channels between Mr. Bartlett and Mrs. Bartlett
don't appear to be all that great. They live on different floors in his
place--which really is a huge old mansion on Gramercy Park, by the way--
and the job would be in his part, the lower level." She explained the
Bartletts' living arrangements. "He wants to redo the garden-level
floor. It was originally the servants' quarters. Like Upstairs,
Downstairs."

"So he's upstairs and she's way upstairs."

"And let's hope she stays there."

Ally fetched herself a cup of coffee, checked in with everybody to see
how they were doing, and then settled herself at her computer. She had
the latest program in computer-aided design (CAD) and she wanted to
program in the dimensions and layout of the space. And since she had a
copy of the blueprints, the first thing she would do would be to run
them through her flatbed scanner and incorporate them into the program.
She didn't get a chance to take any digital photos with CitiSpace's
snazzy (and expensive) new Nikon. But if the job went forward there'd
be plenty of time later.

Everybody's computers were connected to the Net via a broadband DSL
hookup and they were never turned off. Because of that, the computers
were vulnerable to being hacked so Jen had installed a firewall program
to keep out snoops.

She sat down and stared at the screen saver, which was an ever-changing
series of tropical beaches at sunset. She sipped at her coffee--this was
the one cup she allowed herself each day, always saved for the moment
when she felt she needed to be most alert--and reached to turn on the
scanner. The tightness in her chest that she had momentarily
experienced in the cab had completely disappeared and she felt
perfectly normal.

What was she going to do about her mother and the clinic in New Jersey?
Nina certainly appeared to want to go. And with the inevitability of
what lay in store for someone with early-onset Alzheimer's, taking her
out there was surely worth doing. But as for her own heart, she wasn't
so sure she thought the reward was worth the risk. But she'd decided to
hold off on a decision till she could have a firsthand look at the
institute.

She took another sip of coffee and then tapped the keyboard. When she
did that, the screen would normally bring up the "desktop."

But not this time. A file was open, and she was certain she hadn't left
it open. What's this?

"Jen, could you come here a minute? There's something funny."

The first page of the file that had been pulled up and opened was an ID
photo of herself.

"This is what was running. Has somebody been fooling around with this
computer?"

Jennifer looked puzzled when she saw it "Not that I know of."

"Then how did this get . . . ?" She just sat staring. "I didn't open
this file. Does this thing have a mind of its own?"

About eight years ago, Kate Gillis at Manhattan Properties--with whom
Ally had an occasional after-work drink-- told her she'd scanned all her
vital personal documents into her computer at home. She'd said it was
an easy way to make a safety backup.

Seemed like a good idea, so Ally had stored a copy of her birth
certificate, her driver's license, all her credit cards, her passport,
a set of medical records, even the mortgage on her apartment. She'd
even scanned in an ID photo, just for the heck of it. She also
suggested to Grant that he do the same.

Brilliant right? Well, maybe not.

The reason was, she'd routinely made an updated copy on a ZIP disk and
then copied it onto this computer here in the office. Like a second
backup.

"I had everything ready for you for your meeting with Bartlett, so
nobody here has touched your computer this morning." Jennifer furrowed
her brow. "Could somebody have picked the locks and come in last night
and done this, like a prank or something?"

"Come on. That's totally far-fetched." She was trying to imagine how
somebody could have gotten in and out and left no trace. Impossible.
"This must just be something stupid I did when I came down yesterday
after seeing Mom. I don't remember it, but I guess I was pretty tired."

"I've never seen you that tired."

Jen's right, she thought. I was on the city's Web site checking the
Department of Buildings' Housing Code, but I certainly didn't pull up
my personal data. Computers do strange things, but to open a data file
for no reason? That would require a higher intelligence.

Right?

"Jen, you're our resident computer expert. We leave these things hooked
up all the time. I know we have a firewall, but what are the chances
that somebody could defeat it somehow and hack into our computers?"

Jennifer was a software whiz and she had all the designs for all the
clients on their CAD system, which they used to create a virtual-
reality space and allow clients to "walk" through.

"Well, that's entirely possible. Our firewall software is over a year
old. Let me take a look. Maybe I can reverse-engineer what happened. If
somebody went through pulling up files, I might be able to figure it
out."

Ally relinquished her chair and stood staring as Jennifer started
checking the firewall.

It was scary to think that some stranger could know everything about
you. But on the other hand what difference could it make? She had
nothing to hide. Still, it was creepy. Her Social Security and credit
card information was in that file. Could that be--

"Shit. Ally, you're not going to believe this. Whoever did this was
damned good. We've been seriously hacked."

"How do you know?" She bent over to look.

"Our firewall software has been disabled. In fact, the actual program
was uninstalled. Jesus, that's cool. I think we'd better shut down
everybody's Internet connection right this minute, till we can get some
new software."

"That's incredible. You mean somebody--"

"Honey, hackers have gotten into Microsoft's own site. Even the
Pentagon, so I've heard. Anything is possible."

"This is not good."

"What are you thinking?" Jen was still staring at the screen and
tapping at the keyboard.

"I'm thinking what a jerk I was. I keep all my personal information in
that file, like a safety backup in case my apartment burned down or
something. Scanned it in. My passport, driver's license, credit cards,
medical records, everything."

Jennifer looked puzzled. "You can just cancel the credit cards. As for
the rest of the stuff, what could anybody possibly want with it?"

"I don't know, Jen. I don't even know if we were hacked by somebody who
wants to find out about me, or just look at our designs."

She was reflecting that when somebody goes through your files, they
want the information for a purpose. And that purpose couldn't be
positive for you, or they wouldn't have started their undertaking with
a surreptitious act.

"Well, I'm going to check around and download a new firewall program.
Right now."

"Shit, I don't need this. I've got enough on my mind already. Mom wants
to go out to a clinic in the wilds of northern New Jersey and see a
doctor there. And the whole thing makes me nervous."

"Oh Jesus, is the place called the Dorian Institute by any chance?"

"How did--?"

"I'm such a scatterbrain. I took a message for you while you were gone.
From a Dr. Van de Something. I think that's the name of the place he's
with. He wants you to call him back as soon as possible."

_Monday, April 6

11:43 A.m._



Would she call back? Karl Van de Vliet had to believe she would but
nothing in this world was sure.

On the nineteen-inch screen of his office IBM, he was scrolling the
medical file that he'd downloaded earlier that morning. How Grant
Hampton got his hands on it, he didn't know and didn't want to know.

Yes, Alexa Hampton would be perfect. She had aortic valve stenosis,
well along, the same condition that had precipitated the coronary
destruction that took Camille from him. It was the great tragedy of his
life.

He studied the charts carefully, trying to assure himself he was making
the right choice. What if the stem cell procedure on her heart didn't
work? To fail would mean he couldn't have saved Camille after all. That
was actually the main reason he'd kept putting it off. He didn't want
to know if he couldn't have rescued her.

But Alexa Hampton was the obvious candidate. Her clinical condition had
deteriorated to the point that, at some level, you might even say she
had nothing to lose by undergoing an experimental procedure.

And she was perfect in another way as well. Other than her heart
condition, which she could do nothing about, she was in excellent
physical shape. Her last blood pressure was 110 over 80 and her pulse
was 67. She clearly had been exercising, which had been both good and
bad for her heart, though on balance probably a plus. In fact, it was
indicative of a strong fighting spirit, which was often the best
prognosticator of all.

He looked up to see Dr. Debra Connolly walking in. He had just paged
her. She was an M.D. who had been his personal research assistant
during her grad school days at Stanford. Now she was a full and valued
member of the research team. Just turned thirty, she also was a
smashing blonde, five-nine, with a figure that would stop traffic, even
in her white lab smock. She held Van de Vliet in the reverence always
bestowed on a brilliant, beloved mentor.

"Hi, Deb, I wanted you to take a look at this." He indicated the
screen. She knew all about the Beta and what had happened to Kristen,
the Syndrome, but she didn't know about the plan to subject Alexa
Hampton to two procedures at once: one for her aortic valve stenosis
and another to develop antibodies to combat the looming side effects of
the Beta in Winston Bartlett.

"This is the patient I was telling you about. I wanted you to see this.
Let's pray she signs on for the trials, because she looks like she
could be perfect, in a lot of ways."

But if she doesn't call back, he told himself, what am I going to do?

"What am I looking at?" Debra asked, scrolling the page. "Is this what
I think it is?"

"It's her medical history."

"How did you get it?" She turned back. "Did she send it?"

"No, Deb, and I don't think you really want to know."

"Somehow, I think I probably should." She looked again at the screen.
"We're in this together."

"All I know is, I got an e-mail from Grant Hampton, and this was an
attachment. She must have been keeping it on a computer somewhere. I
understand he's her brother, but how he got it, I have no idea. He said
we're not supposed to let her know we have it."

"How recent--"

"This final battery of tests is less than two weeks old," he said,
pointing to the date on the corner of the page. Then he scrolled.
"Take a look at her high-speed CT scan. See that degenerative
calcification there. Now look at the same test last year." He scrolled
past a number of pages. "See." He tapped the screen, then scrolled back
to the first image. "Over the past year there's been a significant
buildup. She's made-to- order for the clinical trials."

And there was another reason he wanted her, which he was reluctant to
admit to himself. There was a photo of Alexa Hampton in her medical
files and something about her reminded him of Camille. Her eyes had a
lot of spirit. They made you want to root for her. It was nothing short
of ironic that this woman had the exact same medical condition that
took the life of Camille, who had been at his side during the early
stages of the research that now might provide a cure. But for Camille
it had come too late. It was more than ironic; it was heartbreaking.
Now, though, to save Alexa Hampton would be a kind of circular
recompense. He took a last look, then closed the file.

"Does she want to be in the clinical trials? There's not much time
left. We'd have to get her--"

"I just left a message at her office," he said revolving around in his
chair. "Grant has talked to her, and so has W.B. This very morning.
She's aware that time is of the essence. But there's no guarantee
she'll do it."

He glanced at his mute phone. If she didn't call back today, he had a
feeling that Winston Bartlett might just have her seized and brought to
the institute by force.

"I see that her blood type is AB," Debra said. "Extremely rare."

Funny she should notice, he thought. Is she going to put it together?

"That's the same as Bartlett's blood type," she continued. "Interesting
coincidence, huh?"

"Right."

"You're already fond of her, aren't you?" Deb asked finally. He
detected the usual tinge of rivalry seeping into her voice. "Without
even meeting her."

Dear God, he thought, don't start that. It's the same with

every attractive female patient under the age of fifty. I don't have
time for games now.

The truth was, Karl Van de Vliet was turned on by Debra Connolly. What
red-blooded primate wouldn't be? But she was half his age and to act on
that attraction would be to guarantee trouble. He had enough to worry
about without a lab romance. Besides, he was still thinking about
Camille. They'd had the kind of long-lasting, thick-and-thin love Debra
would never understand.

However, she did sufficiently understand the problems with the Beta
procedure and the Syndrome, so he had to flirt back. She had to be kept
on the reservation. Feign an interest but not enough for it to go
anywhere.

"Deb, she's just an ideal fit for the study, that's all. Nothing more."

The stem cell procedure for her stenosis should go forward with only
minimal risk. There was every reason to hope he could rejuvenate the
tissue in Alexa's left ventricle. It was merely an extrapolation of the
kind of heart procedure that had worked such a wonder for Emma Rosen.

The real challenge was simultaneously attempting the Beta- related
procedure. The trick was to stimulate the development of antibodies
through a moderate dosage of the special Beta enzyme, tempering it
enough that it didn't go critical and begin replicating uncontrollably,
the way it had in Kristen, and (probably) very soon in W.B. Not so low
as to be inoperative but not so high that it would go out of control.
The "Goldilocks dosage," not too much, not too little. The problem was,
he wasn't absolutely sure what that dosage was.

Should he tell Alexa Hampton the full story about what he was doing?
About the Beta? That ethical question, he had decided, he would leave
to Grant Hampton, Bartlett's hustler of a CFO. It was his sister, after
all. Presumably, he'd tell her whatever she needed to know to make an
informed decision. Let the responsibility be on his head.

The phone on his desk finally rang.



Chapter 10



_Monday, April 6

12:57 P.M.

_

Stone Aimes was floating through cyberspace, through the massive data
pages of the National Institutes of Health. Since the Gerex Corporation
had a complete clampdown on their clinical-trial results, he was
attempting an end run. By going to the source, he was hoping he could
find out whether or not Karl Van de Vliet's experiments with stem cell
technology were succeeding.

He needed that information to finish his book, and he hoped that the
remainder of the advance could be used to pay for his daughter Amy's
private school in New York, if he got it in time. He was dreaming of a
life in which she could come back to live with him at least part of the
year. Sometimes, particularly days like this--Monday was his official
day off--he couldn't avoid the fact he was incredibly lonely.

But first things first He had gone to the section that described the
many and varied clinical trials the NIH had under way. Then he used
"scrambled eggs," the entry protocol given to him by Dale Coverton, to
circumvent security on the site and get him into the second-level NIH
data files. He was hoping to find the names of patients who had gone
through the Gerex stem cell procedure and could be interviewed.

It really wasn't all that difficult, or even--he told himself--unethical
to get in this far. No big deal. Entry protocols were available to any
high-level NIH employee who had the right security grade. Now he was
poking through the reams of proprietary data that the Gerex Corporation
had submitted to initiate the clinical trials.

It was one of the more ambitious studies he'd ever seen, not in numbers
of patients necessarily but certainly in scope. They were indeed
running stage-three clinical trials of their stem cell procedure on a
variety of maladies. There was no double-blind placebo. You either were
cured or you were not.

Jesus, it was incredible. They were shooting for nothing less than the
unified field theory of medicine, aiming not just to patch some failing
element of the human body but to regenerate entire organs. Among their
stated objectives were building pancreatic islets, reconstructing the
ventricles of the heart, reconstituting the damaged livers of
individuals with advanced cirrhosis. They were also accepting patients
with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

"Christ," he said, scrolling past page after page, "how come they're
suddenly so secretive about this?"

If Van de Vliet had achieved results in just a fraction of those
trials, it would herald the beginning of a new age in medicine.

The NIH monitor for the Gerex trials was Cheryl Gates, just as Dale had
said. Her photo was featured along with the introductory description of
the trials. Nice-looking, he thought, probably late thirties, dark
hair, dark-rimmed glasses. She wasn't wearing much makeup in the photo,
probably to emphasize how serious she was. Sooner or later, he told
himself, he had to find a way to meet her. . . .

He stared at his IBM Aptiva screen a moment longer, overwhelmed at what
he was seeing, then got up and walked into the kitchen and made a
peanut butter sandwich, whole wheat. It was a rehearsal for the
possibly hard times to come. Then he retrieved a Brooklyn Lager from
the fridge. It was his day off and the sun was over the yardarm.

He lived on the fourth floor of a brownstone in Yorkville, in New
York's East Eighties. The apartment was small, but it was rent
stabilized which meant he was paying well under market value--$1,128 a
month on a place that probably could go for close to twice that on the
open market. He'd lucked into it after he and Jane split--even though
they weren't married they'd bought a condo in the West Fifties, and at
the breakup they'd switched the mortgage to her name--but the problem
now was, how was he going to pay even this piddling rent (not to
mention child support for Amy) after he got fired from the Sentinel?
That day, he sensed was fast approaching. And if it happened before the
book was finished he was just three months away from going back to
freelancing. That was how long his "nest egg" would last.

Carrying the sandwich and beer, he walked back to his "office," a
corner of the cramped living room that had an Early American desk, and
sat down at the frayed chair in front of his IBM.

So here he was, past the first level of security of the NIH site,
zeroed in on the Gerex clinical trials. Somewhere here had to be all
the data about the patients who had been, and currently were,
participating.

He moved on to the results section and opened the first page. Yes.

Then he looked more closely.

Hello, we've got a problem. The patient data he was looking at had only
code numbers for names. The categories of trials also were just
numbers. Without a key, there was no way to get a single patient name
or differentiate Alzheimer's from fallen arches. Then he saw the notice
at the top of the page: As part of the NIH policy on privacy, all
patient data are aggregated and anonymous.

Shit.

This was as far as "scrambled eggs" would take him. He needed a higher
security protocol to get into individual-case data. Dale either didn't
have it or didn't dare give it out.

Well, he thought, at least I've got information on the structure of the
clinical trials. I should print that before the system realizes it's
been hacked. He clicked on the print icon. Let the games begin.

His real objective was to try to wangle an interview with Karl Van de
Vliet, an interview that would have to be approved by Winston Bartlett.
Maybe what could be gleaned from this level of the NIH site would be
enough to bluff Bartlett into thinking he knew more than he really did.
In truth, interviewing discharged patients would have meant anecdotal
information, probably not rigorous enough for use in a definitive book.
But at the moment, that would have been a start.

He lifted the first printed page and studied it.

Stone Aimes had seen enough clinical trials over the years to know that
the data were reported according to an established schedule. Obviously,
the schedule was always adapted to fit the nature of the trials under
way, but studies that produce the kind of short-term results Gerex
hinted at in their early press releases--before they clammed up--would
probably have a tight reporting schedule, possibly even weekly.

He stared at the page for a moment, then lifted out another. He wasn't
sure just yet what it all meant, but he might be able to infer
something. He was still puzzling over the columns of numbers as the
data finished printing.

What was it telling him?

He went back and clicked on STUDY PROCEDURES. This section explained how
the reporting was structured. He still held out hope that the names of
the discharged patients in the clinical trials could be accessed
somehow. In the past, when the FDA tested drugs, it often happened that
the names of the participants were not revealed to the monitor, or to
anybody. The policy was intended to preserve the privacy of study
participants. But lately it had been under review. All that secrecy and
non-accountability had permitted some spectacular fabrication of test
data.

Surely the NIH had taken this into consideration by now and come up
with a system whereby the identities of the participants could be
checked and verified. That information had to be stored somewhere.

No such luck. It appeared the NIH had begun using a modified version of
the new FDA sunshine policy. NIH clinical trials had a "one week of
sunshine" provision, during which the suitability of test subjects
could be evaluated by a review procedure. During that time, their real
identity was in the database. But after that, the identity information
of any patient actually selected for inclusion in the clinical trials
was encoded--where thenceforth it could only be accessed through a
lengthy legal process.

Screwed again.

At this late date, the Gerex Corporation surely was not going to be
adding any new names and giving them that week of sunshine. According
to press releases at the beginning of the clinical trials, when Gerex
was a lot more communicative, at this date the entire study should be
just days away from being wrapped up.

He went back to the patient files one last time, out of frustration. As
he continued to scroll, he noticed that although the identities of
patients and crucial personal data were encrypted, the dates on which
they entered and finished the trials were all supplied.

Hmmm. It was actually more detailed than that. There were dates for
when a patient entered each stage of the procedure: Screening, Initial
Evaluation, Admitted into Program, Procedure Under Way, Procedure
Monitoring, Results Evaluation, Patient Release, Patient Follow-up.

The time between screening and patient release averaged around five
weeks, six weeks at most

Looking at the time-sequenced data, you couldn't avoid the conclusion
that the clinical trials had been a spectacular success. No doubt the
specific data would reveal whether there had been any adverse
reactions, but as clinical trials go, these seemed to have been without
major incident. He had a nose for trouble, and these looked as rigorous
as clockwork. . . .

Hold on a second. . . . _That's_ odd.

What the data structure did not have was a category for Termination.
Yet one of the patients had been listed with dates leading up to and
including Procedure Under Way, but after that the patient was noted
parenthetically as having been "terminated." That was all the
information given.

What could that mean?

He leaned back with a sigh and pulled on his Brooklyn Lager. Okay,
patients frequently got dropped from clinical trials because some
underlying condition suddenly manifested itself and made them
unsuitable trial subjects. In fact, that was preferable to keeping them
in a study when they were no longer appropriate. But the thing about
clinical trials was, there always had to be a compelling, fully
explained reason for terminating a test subject. Otherwise you could
just "terminate" non-responsive participants and skew the results. No
reason was given here.

He thought again about the "one week of sunshine," and as a long shot
checked to see if anyone had been admitted this week.

Nada, but again that was reasonable. The entire study was wrapping up.

Which meant, in short, that he had nothing to work with in terms of
people. All he had were dates and encrypted names.

What now?

He finished the beer and was preparing to go off-line when a drop-down
screen flickered NEW DATA.

He was being directed to the new applicants' "sunshine" page.

He clicked back, then stared at the screen.

A name had appeared.

He couldn't believe his luck. For some unknown reason,

they must still be adding new test subjects at this late date in the
trials.

NINA HAMPTON.

Finally he had a name. This was an incredible stroke of...

Wait. A second name was appearing now, the letters popping up one by
one as they were being typed in.

He rolled the mouse to print, and felt his hopes surge.

Then his heart skipped a beat. The second name was . . . ALEXA HAMPTON.

Jesus, could it be?

No way. Too big a coincidence. But wait, the other was Nina Hampton.
Isn't that the name of her Brit mum? That unredeemable piece of work.

Impossible.

If it was the Ally Hampton he knew, she was a woman he still thought of
every day. It went back to when they were both undergraduates. She was
taking a degree in architecture at Columbia and he had just switched
from premed to the Columbia School of Journalism.

Wasn't there a Cole Porter lyric about an affair being too hot not to
cool down? They undoubtedly were in love, but they both were too
strong-willed to cede an inch of personal turf. It was a combustible
situation.

When they decided to go their own way, it was done under the agreement
that they would make a clean break and never see each other again. Be
adult and hold your head high and look to the future. No recriminations
and no second thoughts. In respecting that agreement, he had gone out
of his way not to keep track of her. He particularly didn't want to
know if she'd gotten married had a family, any of it.

Thinking back now, he remembered that she had had some kind of heart
condition. She refused to talk about it, and now he couldn't remember
exactly what it was. But that could possibly explain her entry into the
clinical trials, though it didn't clarify why she was only being added
now, at the last minute.

If it was actually her.

And if so, how would he feel talking to her? He hoped time had mellowed
her, though he somehow doubted it. Not Ally.

What an irony. If it was the same Alexa Hampton, she could end up being
his entree into the secretive world of Winston Bartlett's Gerex
Corporation. The trouble was, he wasn't sure he actually wanted to see
her again. Even after all the years, the wounds still felt fresh.

He closed out the NIH file and opened People Search, which he often
used to look up phone numbers. He started with New York State as a
criterion. The names Alexa and Nina undoubtedly belonged to women, so
they might be listed merely by their initials. But start with Alexa and
be optimistic.

He got lucky. Three names and phone numbers popped up.

One was in Manhattan, and Ally was a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, but
he wasn't sure he was psychologically prepared to speak to her. That
number he decided to save for last, though it was by far the most
plausible.

The next Alexa Hampton lived in Syracuse, with area code 315. He was
still shook up as he dialed the number.

"Yeah, who's this?"

Sure didn't sound like Ally. But he was playing this straight. As a
reporter he always started a conversation by identifying himself, so
naturally he answered, "Stone Aimes, New York Sentinel."

"The fuck you want?" came the voice. It was female but it definitely
was not ladylike. "I don't need any newspapers."

Whoa, that definitely didn't sound like Ally. She was direct but she
didn't talk like a sailor.

"Sorry, ma'am. I have a few questions about your participation in some
clinical trials. Sorry to bother you, but I have a deadline. Shouldn't
take a minute."

"You a fucking reporter?"

"I'm doing a story on the Gerex Corporation. Are you--?"

"The what corporation? The fuck you talking about?"

"Seems like I'm calling the wrong number. I'm very sorry and I
apologize."

"Listen, if you're some kind of weirdo, I'm going to call the cops and
have this call traced."

"I said I apologize." He hung up and thought about another beer. This
was beginning to feel like the moment.

But he resisted the urge and called the next number. Come on. Be the
right one and don't be Ally.

This one had a 516 area code. That meant Long Island.

"Hello," came a rusty old voice that had to be in its seventies. It
sounded oversmoked and just hanging on. Again definitely not the Ally
he knew.

"Hello, ma'am," he said "I'm sorry to bother you, but--"

"Are you trying to sell me something, young man," the woman asked.
"It's not going to do you much good. I live on a Social Security check,
and it's all I can do to make ends meet as is. You sound nice, but--"

"No, ma'am, I'm a newspaper reporter. I'm doing a story on ... I just
wanted to follow up on your admission to the clinical trials for the
Gerex Corporation." He felt a surge of hope. It wasn't Ally, but she
did sound like a woman who might well be a candidate for medical
treatment. "Do you know what day you plan to start?"

"What on earth are you talking about?" she asked. "Young man, it's ill
manners to start asking a body silly questions, no matter how nice you
might be otherwise. I've never heard of this, whatever you called it,
corporation." Click.

She sure didn't sound like a patient. Or maybe she was too far gone to
even know if she was a patient or not. In any case, this was not a
promising lead.

Okay, he thought, go with the one you should have in the first place.

Blast. He wanted this to be the one, but he just didn't want it to be
Ally. Or maybe he did.

He took a deep breath and punched in the last number, which had a
Manhattan area code, 212. The phone at the other end rang five times
and then an answering machine came on. At this hour, she would most
likely be at work.

"Hello, this is Alexa Hampton. I'm sorry I can't come to the phone now,
but if you'll leave your name and number, I'll get back to you as soon
as possible. If you're calling about design work, the number of
CitiSpace is 212-555-8597."

He felt his heart flip, then sink. It was Ally. It was a voice he had
heard for years in his reveries--or were they the nightmares of roads
not taken?

She still might not be the new patient in the clinical trials, but at
least he knew he could reach her.

The sound of her voice. After all this time he didn't realize it would
still affect him the way it did.

So, he thought, clearing his head, she's running a design business now.
He wondered how that had happened. The last time he saw her, she was a
single-minded student of architecture. Intensely focused.

No message. Don't leave a message. It probably would freak her out.
Actually, it might freak them both out.

Assuming she was the new patient, how the hell did Ally get involved
with Winston Bartlett? It probably would have something to do with that
heart condition she didn't like to talk about.

He clicked off the phone and settled it onto the desk. Then he glanced
again at the computer screen and decided to go back to the NIH files.
The other woman, Nina, he would look up later. Ally's Brit mum must be
getting on by now, but still it was hard to imagine anything being
wrong with her; as he remembered Nina, the woman was well nigh
indestructible

When he got back to the NIH Web site and went to the "sunshine" page,
it was again blank. The two new names, Nina Hampton and Alexa Hampton,
were not there anymore. They must have been entered immediately into
the clinical trials. But why now? If Van de Vliet kept to the original
schedule, the trials would be over in a matter of days.

Maybe, he thought, this was a momentary screw-up. I just happened to be
at the right place at the right fleeting moment, when somebody,
somewhere, was entering those names. Maybe some NIH bureaucrat hit the
wrong key on a keyboard someplace in Maryland.

But it was the break he'd been waiting for.

He turned off the IBM and headed for the fridge and another Brooklyn
Lager. Ally, Ally, Ally. Can it be you? This is so weird.

Worse than that, it was painful. There was that immortal line from
Casablanca: "Of all the gin joints in all... she walks into mine."

Why you, dear God?

Coming back, he sat down, took a long hit on the icy bottle, and
reached for the phone.



Chapter 11



_Monday, April 6

1:29 P.M._



As she hung up, Ally wondered again what she was getting into. But she
did want to meet this miracle worker. The kind of thing Van de Vliet
was talking about sounded as much like science fiction as anything
she'd ever heard. Still, his voice was reassuring, even mesmerizing,
and there seemed no reason not to at least check out the Dorian
Institute firsthand. But then what? Help!

She looked at her coffee cup and wished she dared have a refill. But
that much caffeine always made her heart start to act up. And maybe she
didn't need it. The conversation with Karl Van de Vliet had energized
her and sharpened her senses quite enough.

She was still thinking about that when the phone rang again. There was
an electronic voice directory, but her own phone was the default if a
caller did not care to use it.

"CitiSpace."

"Hi, Ally. Tell me if you recognize the voice. Just please don't hang
up."

Who was it? The intonations were bouncing around somewhere in the back
of her brain, as though they were a computer file looking for a match.
The one her unconscious mind was making was being rejected by her
conscious mind. Then finally the match came through and stuck.

My God, it couldn't be. The last time she'd talked to him was   ...
what? Almost two decades ago.

The irony was, she'd been thinking about him some lately, as part of
taking stock of her life. She'd been meditating over all the roads not
taken, and he'd been the last man she'd actually loved or thought she
loved before Steve.

"What . . . How did . . . ?" She found she was at a loss for words. She
figured he'd have been the same way if she'd called him out of the
blue.

"Hey, this isn't easy for me either. But I have a pretty good reason
for breaking our vow of silence."

She was immediately flooded with mixed emotions. Stone Aimes. She
already knew he wrote for the Sentinel. Or at least she assumed the
irreverent reporter by that name who did their medical column was him.
The tone sounded so much like the way she remembered him. There was a
lot of passion and he was always editorializing against "Big Medicine."
He had plenty of raw courage, but sometimes he had too much edge. That
was one quality he had that had eventually gotten to be nerve-racking
back when they were together.

Now, in hindsight, she remembered their breakup with both anger and
regret. She was angry that, even though she tried like hell, she could
never really connect with him at the level she yearned for. He always
seemed to be holding something back, some secret he was afraid to
divulge. Truthfully, they both were grand masters at never allowing
vulnerability. In short, they were overly alike. They shared the same
flaws.

Still, after Steve was taken away, it was hard not to think of Stone
now and then. Before Steve, Stone was the only sane lover she'd ever
been close to.

But she also knew the bit about letting sleeping dogs lie. Sometimes
that was the better part of wisdom. This conversation, she finally
decided, was just going to open old wounds. Better to nip it right now.

And add to that, she didn't actually know if he was free now or not or
what

But he'd said he had a good reason for calling--what could that be?

"Stone, I read your columns in the Sentinel. So I sort of feel like
I've kept in contact. I can almost hear your voice sometimes."

"That makes me think you were cheating a little on our deal."

"Well," she heard herself say, "some of them were pretty good.
Sometimes you sounded like you knew as much as a doctor."

"Don't flatter me excessively, or I might want to start believing you."
He laughed. "But speaking of doctors, didn't you used to have some kind
of heart issue? How is that these days?"

"You really want to know?"

"Maybe it might have something to do with why I'm calling. Best I
recall, you never actually told me, even back when."

"Thank you for asking," she said. "I guess it's not much of a secret
anymore, with me popping nitro every other day. I have a scarred valve,
coronary stenosis, and it's not getting any better. I don't know what
to do about it short of going to Lourdes for a miracle."

"I see," he said. Then he fell silent. Mercifully, he didn't come up
with false bravado about revolutionary treatments and you never can
tell, blah, blah, blah. Then he said, "So is that why you've enrolled
in the clinical trials at the Dorian Institute? To be part of their
work using stem cells?"

What! "How the hell do you know about--"

"Hey, Ally, you know I can't divulge my sources. After I knew you, I
grew up to be a real reporter. That was my grand plan, remember?"

"Then this may turn out to be a very short conversation. I have nothing
to--"

"Okay, okay, let's start over." He paused and cleared his throat.
"Ahem. Are you the Alexa Hampton who was formally entered about half an
hour ago into the stage-three clinical trials for the National
Institutes of Health being held by the Gerex Corporation? Or maybe I
should play dumb and begin by asking if you've ever heard of them."

"Stone, why . . . why are you asking me this?"

It was bizarre. How could he know? And wait a minute, what did he mean
about enrolling? She hadn't enrolled in anything.

"Ally, I'm finishing a major--I hope--book about stem cell technology,
and right now the world leader is the Gerex Corporation. I think, but I
can't yet prove, that their Dorian Institute out in New Jersey is the
site of some pretty incredible stuff. I was ... fooling around on the
Internet, on the NIH Web site, looking for information about them, and--
it must have been some momentary computer glitch--someone with your name
popped up for a second. Along with a Nina Hampton. Which made me
suspect it was you."

She was incredulous. She was being entered into the clinical trials
before she had even seen the place? Somebody was pushing the pace.
Winston Bartlett or Van de Vliet had taken it for granted that she and
her mother would enter the trials. Worst of all, it took a former lover
she hadn't talked to in x-zillion years to give her this unnerving
information.

"Nina is your mom, right?" he went on. "I still remember her fondly. I
don't think she thought much of me, however. By the way, how is she?"

"She's . . . she's not doing all that great." Ally was still trying to
get her mind around what she'd just heard. "But why are you calling me,
Stone?"

"If anything I've said rings a vague bell, then could we meet someplace
and talk? I don't think it would be a great idea to do it over the
phone. That's all I really can say now."

Maybe, she thought, Stone Aimes might have uncovered a few things of
which she ought to be aware. His pieces in the Sentinel showed he was a
damned good reporter.

"I don't think what little I know about Gerex would be any help to
you." She was attempting to get her mind back together. "I actually
have a lot of questions about the stem cell procedure myself. I spoke
on the phone just now with Dr. Van de Vliet and he described their
technology to me in general terms. But maybe I should interview you.
Maybe you could explain it to me using that wonderful gift you have for
simplification in your columns."

"Ally, I don't know anything except what's in the public domain.
They're privately held, so they don't have to tell anybody zilch. I
assume you've actually been out to the Dorian Institute, which is more
than I can say."

"Never."

"But you're enrolled--"

"I'm not enrolled in anything." To say the least. "And it bothers me
that anybody thinks so. But I am thinking about taking Mom out there
tomorrow, if she still wants to go. When I talked to him on the phone,
Dr. Van de Vliet wanted me to start the procedure immediately. That's
scary, but he does seem to know what he's doing."

"I take it, then, that you're leaning toward going through with it."

She hated the way he'd just made her sound so gullible.

"The truth is, I'm more concerned for Mom. He claims he can help her
early-onset Alzheimer's, and that would mean a lot." Why was she
telling him all this stuff? She found herself wondering if he'd ever
married.

"I'm so sorry to hear that. But the chances are he can."

"What are you thinking?" she asked finally. "And why did you call me?
Really? What's going on?"

"I don't know yet. There's a lot I don't know." He seemed to hesitate.
"Ally, is there any chance whatsoever that--while you're out there--you
could get me the names of some of the

people who've been through the clinical trials? The Dorian Institute is
entirely off-limits to the press. I tried several times to schedule an
interview with Karl Van de Vliet, the guy you talked to, but no luck. I
can't get past the corporate people. My only hope is to try and find
some patients who've been treated and released who've completed the
clinical trials. But Gerex has been ruthless about keeping their
identities secret You are literally the first person I've found who has
any connection with the institute and is willing to talk about it. That
is, _if_ you're willing."

"Stone, it would be like the blind leading the blind. I don't know the
first thing about the place."

"Well, let me ask you this--when you were talking with him, did Van de
Vliet happen to mention any occasion where a subject had been
terminated from the trials?"

"It never came up. Why do you--?"

"Never mind. But when and if you go out there, you might inquire about
that." He paused. "Don't get me wrong. I'm actually Gerex's biggest
fan. I mean, considering merely what you told me, that they're claiming
to have a procedure that treats early-onset Alzheimer's. Think about
it. I'm rooting for your mom, sure, but that's a Nobel Prize in itself,
right there. We're talking major medical history in the making."

"And?"

"And I want to publish the first book about it." He paused. "Also, a
little birdie tells me that something not entirely kosher may be going
on out there. No proof, just a reporter's hunch. There's a little too
much sudden secrecy."

Ally was having a strange feeling come over her. She was actually
enjoying talking to him.

"Shit, Stone, I'm glad you called. I lost two men I loved very much
since I knew you and I'm feeling very alone at the moment. I could use
some moral support I've got a lot of people bugging me to enter those
clinical trials. Even people I'd never met before, like Winston
Bartlett, the New York big shot. He's suddenly very concerned about my
health. I have no idea what that's about. But it makes me uneasy."

There was an awkward lull, then, "Ally, all I'm asking is that you just
take the measure of the Dorian Institute when you're out there and tell
me what you think about the place. Are they performing the miracles
they announced as their objective?"

"Look, I'll help you when and if I actually can. So give me your
number, okay?"

He did.

"I can tell when I'm being blown off," he went on. "I have a very
sensitive blow-off detector. But why don't you try a test? When you're
out at the institute, ask Van de Vliet or somebody why that mystery
patient was terminated from the clinical trials. See if the question
makes them uncomfortable."

"Why does that matter so much to you?"

"If a patient is dropped for no good reason about the same time they
clamp down on information, I think it could be fishy. Beyond that, I
cannot speculate. And while you're at it, I'd love the names of some
other ex-patients. Anybody. I found a list on the NIH Web site but
they're all encoded, so it doesn't do me any good. I just want to ask
them if the procedure worked or not. It's information that's going to
be made public eventually, no matter what. Come on, Ally, don't you
want some testimonials?"

"Okay, look, I'll try to see if anybody there will give me any info."

She was realizing she was in a comfort zone when she was talking to
him. Still, so much about him remained a mystery. He had always said
his mother and father were both dead, but it was still suspiciously
hard to get him to speak about them. She'd gotten the impression that
he didn't actually remember his father. That was the part of his life
that he'd always been the most closed off about. Either that or he was
repressing some horrible memories.

"Thanks a lot, Ally." A pause, then, "Interested in getting together
sometime?"

"Let me think about it."

She put down the phone with her mind in turmoil. She realized she
hadn't asked him if he was "attached" but the next time they spoke, she
was going to try to ease it into the conversation.



Chapter 12



_Tuesday, April 7

9:50 A.M.



_Ally steered her Toyota onto the ramp leading to the George Washington
Bridge, the entryway to northern New Jersey. She was just finishing a
phone call to Jennifer. She wanted her to take a look at the notes and
blueprints for Bartlett's Gramercy Park project and scan them into
their CAD program. After all the phone calls yesterday, she'd been too
sidetracked to do it. Although Bartlett had declared he wasn't in any
hurry, he had messengered a certified check to her office Monday
afternoon. The project was a go. She wanted to get moving while
everything was fresh in her mind.

Before leaving her apartment this morning, she'd downloaded a map from
MapQuest and from it she had estimated that the drive up to the Dorian
Institute would be approximately an hour--give or take. She had begun
the trip early because her mother's mind had been lucid the previous
evening and she was hoping that interlude might last into this morning.

Unfortunately, it had not.

Nina was sitting next to her now, in full makeup but completely
unresponsive, seemingly in another world. When Ally arrived at the
Riverside Drive apartment to pick her up, Maria--now silent and uneasy
in the backseat, reading a Spanish novel--met her at the door with a
troubled look and shook her head sadly.

"Miss Hampton, I know she was all right when you were here last night,
but this morning ... she may not recognize you. She'll most likely snap
out of it and be okay later on, but right now she's just in a fog. It
was all I could do to get her ready."

When Ally walked in, Nina was sitting in her favorite chair, dressed in
her favorite black suit. Her makeup was perfect Thank you, Maria.

"Hey, sweetie, you look great."

Nina stared at her as though trying to place the face and said nothing.
She just looked confused and very, very sad.

Dear God, Ally thought, this is the first time she's completely failed
to recognize me.

It was so disheartening. Last night, when Ally had come up to discuss
whether or not she still wanted to explore Dr. Van de Vliet's
experimental treatment, Nina had been completely cognizant. Ally had
tried to explain the concept of neural tissue regeneration using stem
cells, which was difficult since she barely understood it herself.

"Mom," she had said "this might be something that could reverse some of
the damage to your... memory. At least keep it from getting worse. I
know it sounds scary but everybody says the conventional treatments for
what you have don't work very well or very long."

"Then let's go out there and talk to him, honey. Just come in the
morning and take me. By then I'll probably forget everything you've
said tonight."

How prescient, Ally thought sadly. Now Nina was just gazing blankly
ahead, silent. Does she remember anything from last night?

For that matter, what was Nina thinking now? Was she conscious of the
fact she was losing her mind? And what

about the ultimate question: do we want to live longer merely to be
alive, or do we want to stay alive in order to do things? To be or to
do? In her mother's case, she knew it was the latter. Nina had always
been full of life, ambition, and projects. Would she want to go on
living if none of those things were possible? You never know for sure
about other people, even your own mother, but Ally suspected she would
rather not live to see that day.

Now, though, was she even aware it was coming?

Ally thought back about the first signs. Nina hadn't yet turned sixty-
five when she abruptly started having trouble remembering little
things. She began forgetting where she'd put items, and she gave up on
remembering phone numbers and dates. Initially it had just seemed like
a lot of "senior moments" run together, very puzzling.

But then it got worse. She'd always loved music, and she'd always
played the piano. She loved Chopin, especially the nocturnes. By the
time she was sixty-six, however, she was having trouble remembering the
names of her favorite composers. She also completely gave up trying to
play, either from memory or with the music. When getting dressed one
day, she put on her blouse completely backwards. It was bad.

Ally had taken her to see four different specialists and they all had
concluded that Nina Hampton suffered from what was known as familial
early-onset Alzheimer's. It was caused by a mutated gene and was
extremely rare, representing only some 5 percent of all Alzheimer's
cases.

There were two major drugs currently on the market, Exelon and Reminyl,
that could relieve some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's by boosting the
action of the brain chemical acetylcholine. However, Nina had not yet
declined to the stage where doctors would prescribe those drugs. To
resort to them was an admission you were at endgame, since they usually
were effective only for a few months.

So the Dorian Institute might well be a long shot worth taking.
Frankly, what's to lose?

This morning, she knew, was going to be difficult. If Nina

wanted to stay and checked in, there would surely be a pile of
paperwork. Ally had had the foresight to acquire power of attorney for
her mother three months earlier, and she'd brought along that document
in case it might be needed. And Maria, the wonderful, ultimate
caregiver, was there to help. The real challenge, however, might well
be trying to help Nina understand what was going on and participate in
the decision. This was the moment every child dreads, when you have to
face, really face, a parent's mortality.

As the green forests of northern New Jersey began to envelop them, she
slipped a CD of Bach partitas for unaccompanied violin into the CD
player. She had loved to play them all her life, but now Dr. Ekelman
had urged her to put her violin into storage. Hearing the violin now
reminded her of the other purpose of the trip, the treatment decision
she needed to make for herself.

In that regard one of the things that kept running through her mind was
what Stone Aimes had said about the Gerex Corporation instituting a
news blackout simultaneously with a patient being mysteriously dropped
from the trials. Those concurrent facts did not need to be ominous, but
they also could use an explanation.

What was she going to do? Was Van de Vliet's stem cell procedure on her
heart really worth the risk? She honestly didn't know. Even though the
violin had temporarily been taken away from her, she had hopes she
could gradually get it back. There were other ways to try to strengthen
a dysfunctional heart.

Well, she thought, wait and hear him out.

From the George Washington Bridge she had taken 1-4, which turned into
1-208 and now the green forest held sway. It felt like she'd gone
through a time warp, from the beginning of the twenty-first century to
the end of the eighteenth. Then finally, as the second partita was
ending, the icy-cold Greenwood Lake came into view. It was associated
with those long Finger Lakes gouged out by glaciers.

Driving past remnants of the last Ice Age, she reflected on how
insignificant humans are in the scheme of things. Suddenly she thought
of Aldous Huxley's novel After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, about a
wealthy madman who'd discovered a way to prolong life by eating the
entrails of prehistoric fish. Maybe it was seeing the lake that made
her flash on that.

She was now on Greenwood Lake Road, which passed around the west side,
and there were numbers on several gated driveways as she passed along.
She suspected the place would be somewhere along the middle of the
lakeshore, and she was right.

After a few miles she came to a discreet sign announcing the Dorian
Institute, and a large iron gate that protected a paved roadway leading
into a forest of trees. That was it: just forest, no hint of a
building, though she saw signs of some kind of industrial park farther
down the road. When she drove up to the gate, she realized there was a
video camera and a two-way intercom.

When she reached out of the window and pushed the talk button, she
heard "Good morning." And then the gates parted in the middle and slid
back.

They must be expecting us, she thought, and drove through.

The road was cobblestone, or rough paving brick. It wound among the
trees for approximately half a mile and then widened.

There, framed by the lake in the background, was a magnificent three-
story building with eight Doric columns across the front in perfect
Greek Revival style. There were windows at ground level, but they were
heavily curtained.

Built of red brick, the building probably dated from the late
nineteenth century, and it looked every bit like an Ivy League
dormitory.

"Miss Hampton, I don't like the feeling I'm getting about this place,"
Maria said quietly. "It is very cold and formal from the outside, but
inside I sense a place where there is bad magic.

In the Dominican Republic, we call it Santeria. I can always tell these
things."

Ally knew and respected Maria's sixth sense. But then Maria sometimes
still acted like a freshly minted citizen just off a green card, and
she had an innate suspicion of authority- evoking buildings. Her
aversion to the Dorian Institute might be nothing more than that.

On the other hand, Ally was having a bit of the same feeling. There was
something formidable and foreboding about the place that seemed out of
keeping with its supposedly benign purpose. She felt a moment of
tightness in her chest.

There was a parking area off to the left, and she drove into the
nearest slot and turned off her engine. This was the moment she'd been
both anticipating and dreading. The clock on the dash read eleven-
fifteen; she was fifteen minutes ahead of the appointed hour.

"Okay, Mom, how do you feel?"

Nina turned and stared at her, uncertainty in her eyes. "Where are we,
Ally? I don't recognize anything."

"This is the institute I told you about last night. Can you remember
anything we talked about then?"

"This is the place you were ... Didn't you say there's a doctor here
who can do something for my... memory?"

"We're both here now to just talk to him." She turned to the backseat.
"Maria, can you get Mom's purse?"

She nodded, then reached hesitantly for the door. She was clearly
reluctant to get out.

Ally walked around and opened the door for her mother.

"Okay, Mom, time to stretch your legs."

Ally held her hand and together they headed across the oval brick
driveway. Birds were chirping around them and she could smell the scent
of the lake, borne up the hill by a fresh wind. Then, through the
trees, she saw two women walking up the trail that led down to the
lake. They were, she assumed some of the patients.

They both looked to be in their early sixties, but also athletic and
nimble. One was wearing Nikes and a pale green pantsuit. The other had
on a blue dress and a white cap and Ally realized she must be a nurse.
She'd been taking the other woman out for a stroll.

They were engrossed in conversation, but as they approached, the woman
Ally had decided was on staff looked up and smiled a greeting.

"Can I help you?"

She introduced herself and Nina and Maria. The woman smiled again but
didn't introduce herself in turn.

"We're here to see Dr. Van de Vliet," Ally went on, "about the trials.
But we're a couple of minutes early and I was wondering if we could
look around a bit first? I'm trying to understand what the institute is
really like."

"Well, dear," the woman said, "even those of us who work here aren't
allowed everywhere. You know, into the research lab in the basement.
Some places here have to be completely hygienic. Of course, for
patients who are in the recovery phase, strolling around outside is
definitely recommended, as long as they're able. But that's getting way
ahead of ourselves. First we'll have to check you in. There's a lot of
paperwork for the clinical trials." She seemed puzzled. "They're almost
over, you know. But come along and I'll let him know you're here. He's
always down in the lab at this time of the morning. It's well after his
rounds. They're so busy now."

Then she turned to the other woman. "Sophie, do you think you can find
your way back to your room? It's number two-eighteen, on the second
floor, remember?"

Sophie appeared to be pondering the question for a long moment before
she huffed "Don't be silly. I know exactly where it is."

As she strode on ahead, the nurse watched her carefully, as though
unsure what she might do next. She pushed a buzzer at the door and then
a man in a white uniform opened it and let her in. Only after Sophie
had disappeared through the doorway did the nurse turn back.

"I'm Elise Baker. Please forgive Sophie if she seems a little ...
confused. Her procedure is still under way."

"Her 'procedure'? What--"

"She was diagnosed with Parkinson's before she came here. She's
improved an enormous amount, but we're not allowed to say so."

"Why is that?"

"We're in clinical trials. No one is allowed to discuss our results.
Everyone here had to sign a secrecy agreement."

Now Maria was helping Nina up the steps. The porch, with its soaring
white Doric columns, was definitely magisterial. The front door,
however, was not wooden or decorative. It was solid steel, albeit
painted white to blend in.

Elise walked to the door, which had a video camera mounted above it,
and a split second later, it buzzed, signaling it was unlocked.

This is a lot of security, Ally thought, for a clinic doing research on
cells. Are they worried about spies getting in, or patients getting
out?

But the locked steel door was just the beginning of the security. Next
they entered a small room just inside the door with an X-ray machine to
see into purses and parcels.

"The first floor is reception and dining," Elise explained as she swept
through the metal detector. "There are rooms-- we call them suites--
upstairs for patients, and the research lab and offices are in the . .
. lower area."

"What . . . what is all this security for?" Ally asked.

"The work here is highly proprietary. No one is allowed to bring in any
kind of camera or recording equipment."

The guard dressed in white looked like a retired policeman, with
perhaps a few too many jelly doughnuts over his career. He had a beefy
red face and a hefty spare tire. But he was certainly alert to his
responsibilities, eyeing the three newcomers with scarcely disguised
suspicion.

In fact, Ally sensed a palpable paranoia in the air. Well, she told
herself, medical research is a high-stakes game. It's understandable
they would be concerned about industrial espionage.

After the security check, they went through another steel

door and entered the actual lobby. The first thing she noticed was a
grand staircase leading up to the second floor, and then to the third.
Off to the right was a modern elevator with a shiny steel door.

A number of patients were coming down the stairs and heading for a
hallway leading to the back. They were mostly women, whose ages ranged
anywhere from forty-five to well beyond seventy.

Who are these people? Ally wondered. They must have been sufferers of
various kinds of debilitating afflictions, but now they were certainly
ambulatory, if not downright sprightly. She wanted to talk to some of
them, watching them moving along chatting and smiling, but this was not
the moment.

"At eleven-thirty we have meditation in the dining hall," Elise was
saying as she led them through the lobby, "for those who care to
participate, and after that a vegetarian lunch is served at twelve-
thirty sharp." Then she glanced back. "After you see Dr. Van de Vliet--
and assuming you're admitted--there'll be an orientation and then you're
welcome to begin participating fully in our activities."

"Actually," Ally said, "if people are well enough to be in
'activities,' why can't they be outpatients?"

"These clinical trials require twenty-four-hour supervision," Elise
explained, heading for the wide desk in the center of the room. "Now,
if you would all sign in here at the desk, Ellen can take you
downstairs to the medical reception."

A dark-haired woman smiled from behind the desk, then got up and came
around. A sign-in book was there on a steel stand. Ally finally noticed
that light classical music was wafting through the room, Tchaikovsky's
Swan Lake suite.

"You must be Ms. Hampton," the woman said. "And this must be your
mother. We were told to expect you."

She nodded a farewell to Elise, who said, "It was so nice to meet you.
Good luck."

She then turned and headed for the back.

Ally signed all three of them in.

"Good," the woman said as she checked the information.

"My name is Ellen O'Hara, by the way. I'm in charge of the nursing
staff here. We're ready to go downstairs now."

Ellen O'Hara had a knowing, earnest face that fairly lit up when she
smiled. She had short brown hair streaked with gray and was pleasantly
full-figured.

When they reached the elevator, she zipped a small plastic card through
the reader on the wall and the doors slid open. As they emerged on the
lower level, Ally realized they were in the precincts of a very
sophisticated medical laboratory. Occupying most of the floor was a
glassed-in area, inside of which she could see three men and two women,
all dressed in white. She also noticed rows of steel containers that
seemed to be ovens or incubators of some kind as well as racks and
racks of vials. At the far end of the laboratory, there was a
blackboard on which one of the men was drawing something that looked
like hexagonal molecules, linking them together.

"That's Dr. Van de Vliet," Ellen said pointing. "I'll let him know
you're here. The laboratory is a special environment. The entrance
there is actually an air lock. The air inside is filtered and kept
under positive pressure."

She walked over to a communications module, buzzed then announced into
the microphone, "Dr. Vee, your eleven- thirty appointment is here."

He turned and stared in their direction, then smiled and waved. Next he
walked to a microphone near the center of the room and clicked it on.

"I'll be with you in a minute. Can you please wait in the receiving
room? And Ellen, can you start getting them ready?"

"Of course." She nodded then clicked off the microphone and turned.
"Receiving is just down at the end of the hall. Next to his office.
Please come with me."

She led them through a large wooden door, into a room with a
retractable metal table covered in white paper and several chairs. It
was a typical examination room, with a device on the wall to monitor
blood pressure, a stethoscope, and other examination paraphernalia.

"If you'll kindly take a seat," Ellen said, "I'm sure he'll be here as
soon as he can, in a few minutes at most. But while we wait, I need to
take your temperature and blood pressure, and start a chart."

"Ally, where are we?" Nina asked. Her face was becoming alarmed, and
Maria reached to comfort her. "Are we in a hospital somewhere?"

"Yes, Mom, it's actually the institute I told you about last night The
doctor here wants to see if he can do anything to... help you."

"Oh," she said, "is he the one you told me about? I thought that was
just a dream."

"No, he's real. Whether he can help you or not that part is what's
still a dream. But we're all praying."

She looked around at the pure white walls and wondered again what she
was getting into. Meeting a new specialist in the sterile white cold of
an examination room, could be frightening in itself. God, how many
times before had she done this as she trudged through HMO hell? Maria
was so unsettled she was deathly pale.

Ellen took their blood pressure and temperature, including Maria's,
even though she protested mildly, half in Spanish--a sign of how
unsettling it was to her. Ellen had only just finished putting all the
numbers on clipboard charts for each of them when Karl Van de Vliet
opened the door and strode in.



Chapter 13



_Tuesday, April 7

11:39 a.m.



_He had a high forehead and prominent cheekbones, just like in the
photo. And just as in his photo, there was a genuine dichotomy between
his face, which looked to be early forties and unwrinkled, and his gray
eyes, which were much older. That was it. That was what seemed odd. He
was different ages.

Underneath his white lab coat he was wearing a black suit and an open-
necked blue shirt. Ally noticed that his fingers were long and
delicate, like those of a concert pianist, and overall he had a kind of
ghostly presence, as though he were more spirit than man. Although he
looked exactly as he did in the photograph in the Gerex Corporation
brochure, in person there was an added dimension, a kind of raw
magnetism about him. It was more than simply a physician's bedside
manner, it was the allure of a pied piper. The first thing you wanted
to ask him was _How old are you, really?_ Maybe the next thing you'd
want to do was ask him to dinner.

What had she expected? Maybe a self-absorbed nerd researcher in
wrinkled stained lab attire, anxious to scurry back to his test tubes.
But in person Karl Van de Vliet was debonair and youthful, living proof
that his photo wasn't retouched and was recent. He had to be twenty
years older than she was, easily, but to look at him you'd guess he was
close to the same age. She was dying to ask him about that but she
couldn't think of a polite way to raise the subject.

She introduced herself. "We spoke yesterday." Then she introduced her
mother and Maria. "Mom and I talked last night about the clinical
trials, and she said she's interested. This morning, unfortunately, I'm
not sure she remembers what we discussed."

He placed a hand on Nina's shoulder and studied her face as he smiled
at her, embracing her with his eyes. "Well, we're going to see what we
can do about that aren't we, Mrs. Hampton?"

"I've got a question right up front" Ally said. "Have we already been
entered into the National Institutes of Health clinical trials?"

He seemed taken aback for a moment, caught off guard, but then he
stepped up to the question.

"As a matter of fact I did take the liberty of authorizing the
preliminary NIH paperwork for both of you. Of course it doesn't
obligate you in any way. The thing is, there's a lot of red tape, so if
you do decide to participate, the sooner we get that part started the
better. On the other hand, if you decide not to, we can just terminate
everything at this preliminary stage and you won't even be part of the
official record."

Well, Ally thought, that undoubtedly explains why Stone saw our names
on the NIH Web site. But why did Van de Vliet look so funny when I
brought it up?

He focused on Nina. "Mrs. Hampton, I'm Dr. Van de Vliet. You're a
pretty lady, and we've had some luck helping other ladies like you."

"Honey, if I had you in my bedroom, then maybe you could help me."

Oh my God, Ally thought, she's about to go ribald on us. But that's a
sign she's coming out of her funk.

But then she had another thought. Maybe Nina sensed he was older than
he looked. Like that paranormal perception that told her Grant was
involved in something evil. So far, however, that particular perception
hadn't panned out (though Grant clearly was up to something).

Maria was mortified. She blushed and made a disapproving animal noise
low in her throat and turned her face away, but Van de Vliet simply
smiled even more broadly.

"Mrs. Hampton, I don't think you should be talking that way in front of
your daughter." He gave her a wink. "What you and I do together is none
of these people's business. But I do think we should consider keeping
them informed if only a couple of hints."

Ally found herself wanting just to listen to his voice. There was an
intelligent warmth about it that reminded her of a kindly professor at
Columbia, a truly gifted architect who also could quote Keats and make
you cry. You wanted to give yourself to him. My God, she thought, how
am I going to stand up to this man?

"There're some issues you and I need to discuss," he said turning back
to Ally. "The first thing I need to do is take a look at Mrs. Hampton's
records. But whatever they say, it won't do any harm to run what we
call a 'mental state examination' for her, to establish a general
baseline of cognitive impairment as of now."

"How long will that take?"

"Actually, Ellen can start in just a few minutes," he said "Of course,
we'll need to hear about the usual danger signs everybody knows. Does
Mrs. Hampton have recent-memory loss? Does she get confused about
places and people? Does she have trouble handling money and paying her
bills?"

"The short answer is yes."

All of those things, Ally knew, had accelerated in the last six months.
It was the tragic, recognizable onset of the latter stages of
Alzheimer's. Already more than once Maria had said there were times
when she didn't think Nina recognized her. More and more she seemed to
be confused, unable some days to find her way around the apartment, and
she'd started repeating herself. She often had trouble finding the
right words, and she was increasingly paranoid and suspicious. Maria,
who had worked with other Alzheimer's patients, feared she might begin
hallucinating soon, seeing things that weren't there.

Ally turned to her. It felt obscene to talk about her when she was
sitting right there with them.

"Mom, sweetie, do you understand what Dr. Van de Vliet is asking? Do
you think you have trouble doing everyday things?"

She knew the answer but she was determined that her mother not be
treated like a potted plant.

"Ally, you know that half the time I can't remember a blessed thing.
I'm getting crazy as a bloody coot."

Then Nina turned and looked Van de Vliet in the eye.

"I don't want to lose my mind, Doctor. I don't want to see the shade
closing in. I can't do crosswords anymore. I used to do them all the
time. And all the music I used to know. It was my love and now . . .
now I can't tell Scriabin from Strauss half the time. It wasn't
supposed to happen that way. I thought my mind would go on forever."

"Mrs. Hampton, if you'll let me, what I want to do is try to work on
your recollection. I don't know how much I can help you with
crosswords, but then I've never been much good at them myself either.
Your memory of music should improve, though. There are no guarantees,
but--"

"Then I'm ready to try it, Doctor," she cut in. "You're all that stands
between me and losing the only thing I have left, my past" Next came a
burst of rationality. "Now, I hate to be a pest but could you explain
what exactly it is you're going to do. I want Ally to hear this too and
then maybe she can go over it with me later and help me understand it."

He smiled and reached over and stroked her slightly thinning hair. "I'd
be happy to try, Mrs. Hampton. It's actually pretty simple."

Then he turned to Ally. "We touched on some of this on the phone. Do
you want to hear it again?"

"Yes, I'm still trying to get it all into my simple mind."

"Well," he began, "to go back to the very beginning of my interest in
stem cells the focus of our research has been directed toward
challenging the notorious Hayflick limit. Back in the 1960s, Professor
Leonard Hayflick discovered that when tissue cells are taken from the
body and cultured in a laboratory dish, those cells grow and divide
about fifty times, give or take, and then they stop. They have reached
old age, senescence. The physical basis of the Hayflick limit is a
section of DNA known as telomere, which gets shorter each time the cell
divides. Eventually the telomeres become so short that all cell
division stops. It's like an internal clock telling them the game is
over. They've had their innings."

"And you're saying you've found a way to beat the clock, to stop the
telomeres from getting shorter?"

"All cells possess a gene known as the telomerase gene, which can
restore the telomeres to their youthful length. But in most cells the
gene is permanently repressed and inactive. It is only found in egg and
sperm cells, and in cancer cells." He gazed away for a moment as though
collecting his thoughts. Then he turned back. "However, we've found
that by isolating and inserting an active copy of the telomerase enzyme
into adult stem cells, which can be found in minute quantities
throughout the body, we can set their clock back to zero. We extract
cells, 'immortalize' them with telomerase, and then return them to the
body as a youthful infusion."

"And is that what you'd be doing for Mom?"

"There'd be a series of injections, but given what appears to be her
level of mental awareness right now, the procedure probably can be
accelerated." He patted Nina on the shoulder.

"All right," Ally said "but can you use the same procedure for
someone's heart?"

"Well, yes and no," he said. "Did you bring your medical records? I
should have a look at them before making any pronouncements."

To prepare for this moment, she'd printed off a copy of the medical
files she'd scanned into her computer.

"There're a lot of files," she said, opening her bag. "I've got copies
of my EKGs over the past eleven years. Dr. Ekelman, my cardiologist,
says my condition is getting progressively worse."

She took the folder out of her bag and handed it to him. He flipped
through the files with what seemed an absent manner, almost as though
he already knew what was in them and was just going through the
motions. Then he looked up.

"Well, your physical condition looks pretty good. You clearly exercise.
And I don't see anything here that would suggest a complication. As to
how your procedure might differ from your mother's, I guess the main
area of concern is simply the scale." He laid her files on the steel
table. "Your heart has reached the stage of aortic valve stenosis where
cardiac output no longer can keep up proportionately with vigorous
exercise. And that has put an even larger strain on an already weakened
condition. What we are about to undertake here corresponds to what
might almost be considered an aortic valve replacement, though it is
done at the cellular level. We call it regenerative medicine. Millions
of cells will be involved We'll attempt to reverse the calcification
and also to develop new blood vessels that supply the heart muscle."

"You know, this is so risky. I remember that not long ago they tried to
use fetal cell injections into the brain for treating Parkinson's
disease. And it turned out that the side effects were horrendous. Why
should I assume that this is any safer?"

He looked pained. "I assure you we don't do anything here that is
remotely like that particular, unfortunate procedure."

She stared at the ceiling trying to grasp what he'd just said. "So how
risky do you think this is?" she asked finally. "Truth time."

He looked away again and sighed. There was a long silence in which he
seemed to be pondering some extremely troubling thoughts. Finally he
turned back.

"In medicine there Is always something that can go wrong. Even the most
innocuous procedure can end up being lethal if that's what the gods
want that day." He looked at her intently and seemed to try to measure
his words. "But I wouldn't recommend we proceed if I didn't feel that
the potential benefits far outweigh the risks."

She listened wondering. Something in his voice is sounding cagey. What
is he leaving out?

"I still want to think about it"

"Of course, but we can make some preparations in the meantime," Van de
Vliet said turning back to Nina. "Mrs. Hampton, do you understand
anything of what I've said? Nothing is risk free."

"Young man, if you'd lived as long as I have, and then felt it all
slipping away, you'd be willing to take a chance with anything."

"Mrs. Hampton, Alzheimer's is one of the more promising areas of stem
cell research. We've already had successes here. I truly think we can
help you. In fact, Ellen can start your preliminaries right now, if you
like. A lot of it you may have done before. For example, there's a game
where you have to memorize the names of three unrelated objects, and
you have to count backwards from one hundred by sevens. Finally there's
a test where you copy sentences and symbols." He chuckled and there was
a warmth but also a distant sadness. "Some days I'm not sure I could
even do it all myself. In any case, it's not something you pass or
fail. But if we do enter you into the trials, you'll have to stay here
for the duration. That's absolutely essential. We'd also like a
caregiver to be here with you, as long as it's necessary."

Ally looked at Maria. "Do you think you want to stay here with Mom?"

Maria's eyes were very sad "I could stay for a day or two. But ...
maybe we should talk."

"We can arrange for someone," Van de Vliet interjected "We routinely
provide caregivers from our staff when called for. And because we're
still in clinical trials, there is no charge."

Ally watched Nina brighten and turn to Maria. "You can bring some
things from my closet when you go back. I want to start right away. I
just know he can help me. I've got a feeling and you know my feelings
are always right."

Ellen reached and took Nina's hand. "Come, dear, we have a special
office where we handle all the paperwork for admissions. We can do the
tests there."

Ally leaned over and kissed her mother. "I love you, Mom. And I love
your spirit. You taught me how to be a fighter a long time ago. And I
guess you're still teaching me."_



Tuesday, April 7

12:03 P.M.

_

Karl Van de Vliet watched the three women leave. Now he was alone with
Alexa. So far, so good, he thought. With her mother checked in, we're
partway there. Now what is it going to take to get her with the
program? I'm not sensing commitment. She's asking too damned many
questions.

It looks like we may have to go to Plan B tomorrow. Too bad.

After the door was closed, he turned back.

"Your mother is quite an inspiration," he said with a smile. "I'll need
those tests to create a baseline, but already I can tell she'll almost
certainly respond to the treatment. She fits our success profile. I'd
say the odds are heavily on her side." Then he darkened his look, for
effect. Better let her know I don't have to do this, he reasoned.

"The truth is, we already have enough data on Alzheimers that I don't
really need any further clinical trials. I know the parameters of what
the procedure can do and what it can't. But when Grant told me about
his mother's condition, I saw no reason not to work her into the
trials. We're winding down now and we have some empty beds."

"Don't think I'm not grateful," she said, "even though I may ask a lot
of questions."

She got the message, he thought. Good.

"Alexa, I'm now going to tell you something I've never told anyone
else," he went on, feeling a tinge of sadness arise in his chest. He
hadn't planned to say this, but for some reason he now wanted to.
Perhaps because it was true. "My late wife, Camille, was a brilliant
medical researcher. We worked together for many years, first at Johns
Hopkins and then at Harvard. What took her from me was a heart
condition very similar to your own. That was over a decade ago and I
vowed I would dedicate my work to her. I wanted the final clinical
trial in this program to be on a young person with advanced valvular
stenosis, but I could never find a patient who matched that profile.
But you would be perfect." He looked carefully at her. It was all so
true, which made this whole scene especially poignant.

"I'm sorry about your wife," Ally said. "I read in your--"

"You see, if I can succeed with you, it would almost seem as though I'd
had a second chance to save her life. You bear such a striking likeness
to her in several ways. You look something like her, but more
importantly I sense that you share her indomitable will."

"So I'm not just another statistic to you?" She seemed to be trying to
gauge the depth of his sincerity.

"No one here is a statistic, but you would definitely be someone
special."

"I see," she said still sounding noncommittal.

Am I getting anywhere? he wondered Just press on. You've got to make
this happen.

"All right, whatever you decide, we need to get some preliminaries out
of the way. For one thing, we must have a complete new cardiology exam.
Nothing in the file you brought presents an obvious red flag, but
still, it's essential that we have an up-to-the-minute stress test.
Toward that end I've taken the liberty of arranging for a checkup at
the New York University Faculty Practice Radiology on East Thirty-
fourth Street. Among other things, they can run a high-speed computed
tomography screening using ultrafast X rays. Also, I'd like to see a
phonocardiogram. A sonic analysis of 'murmurs' can tell us a lot about
valve abnormalities. Regardless of what you decide to do here, it's a
good idea for you to have this done regularly anyway."

"You've already scheduled tests?" Her tone of voice told him she was
mildly taken aback at the presumption.

"It's just that the NYU Faculty Practice is sometimes difficult to get
into on short notice. They can be booked for weeks in advance. But a
cardiologist I know there, Lev Amram, has agreed to make room for you
this afternoon. It's a professional courtesy. There'll be no charge.
After that, and assuming you want to proceed, you should get a good
night's rest and then come back here as early as possible tomorrow
morning. You should pack for a three-week stay, though we'll provide
you with pretty much everything you'll need here."

Just get her here.

"You know," she said, "I was actually hoping we could do this on an
outpatient basis. I know you like to have your patients here for
constant observation, but I run a business that needs me there every
day."

"Alexa," he said, putting every last ounce of authority he had into his
voice, "this is not a conventional procedure, and it's possible you
might suddenly need special care of some kind. This is an experimental
clinical trial, so we don't know what can happen. That's why I really
must insist that you be here twenty-four hours a day." He looked at her
with great tenderness. "We're talking about the possibility of
completely repairing your heart. Surely you don't expect just to drop
by now and then for that."

"All right, point taken," she said, "but--if we go forward with this--
I'll need to hire at least one temp to be at the office while I'm gone.
Somebody to at least handle the phone. That could take time."

"Surely someone there could manage to handle that," he said. She's
getting resistant again, he told himself. Don't let that happen. "And
there's also the matter of your mother. I think it would be wise for
you to be nearby during the early stages of her procedure. When her
mind starts climbing out of the abyss, it's important for a close
family member to be there to provide a visual and emotional anchor. It
truly can make all the difference. I fully expect that her functions of
attention and recall will return to those normal for a woman her age,
or quite possibly even better, but it will happen a lot quicker if
you're here to help her, to remind her of things."

"This is a lot to digest." Ally turned and sat down in a chair. "All
right, I might as well get the exam. It doesn't mean I've agreed to
anything here."

He heard the ambivalence and knew he had no choice but to do what he
was going to have to do tomorrow.

"I will proceed on the assumption that you'll be entering the program.
Truthfully, if you don't, a week from now your mother is going to be
asking you why." He smiled. "In any case, we need to have those tests
done in the city. Also some blood work here. We're affiliated with a
lab. I want to check your T-cells and certain other markers, like C-
reactive protein and homocystine. It's something you should do
regularly anyway."

"All right, then," she said finally. "But after that, let me go see how
Mom's doing. Then I'll arrange things with Maria somehow and drive back
to the city."

"By the way, before I forget, we have to complete a formal application
for your mother to admit her into the clinical trials, and we also need
a signed liability waiver. I assume you have power of attorney for her
by now. If you don't, then we may not legally be able to proceed."

"I have it."

"Then let's get started" he declared almost certain he had her.



Chapter 14



_Tuesday, April 7

11:35 A.M.



_Stone Aimes was in his cubicle, staring at the phone when it rang.

He prayed this was the call he'd been waiting for. As a gamble, a long
shot, he'd requested that Jane Tully, his former live-in lover and the
Sentinel's part-time corporate counsel, do him a small favor. After he
hacked the NIH Web site, he'd asked her to pass along just one question
concerning Gerex to Winston Bartlett's corporate attorneys: Why had a
patient been abruptly and mysteriously terminated, without explanation,
from the clinical trials now under way by the Gerex Corporation? If
that wouldn't get a rise out of Bartlett, he didn't know what would. It
was the only part of the corporation's encrypted NIH file that seemed
irregular. But would Bartlett take the bait?

He reached for the phone.

"Aimes here." Around him came the clatter of computer keys and muted
laughter from the direction of the water cooler. Everybody had watched
a Tivo of the latest Sunday night and they were still critiquing the
shows. Mondays were everybody's day off, so Tuesdays were the first
chance to catch up. The staff was also starting to rev up again for the
coming week's edition, everybody with the hope that their particular
assignment would have legs and make its author a household name. Stone,
however, felt like this was either the first day of the rest of his
life or the last day of a career built on dealing to inside straights.
This cannot go on much longer, he kept telling himself; it was an
unstable condition. His soul was already over the fence, keeping
company with that wild, free ox he liked to muse about.

"Stone," came a husky female voice, strained and yet strong. Just as
he'd hoped, it was Jane, whose office was down on the third floor. "Can
you come down? Right now."

"Did you hear back from--"

"Stone," she admonished her voice growing urgent, "just come down. Do
it now, all right?"

"Sure." He paused a moment, wondering. Why did she sound so upset? Had
his plan somehow backfired? "I'm on my way."

He glanced up at the fluorescent light over his head like a pitiless
hovering spaceship, and wondered if this was going to be the break he
had been praying for. There was a nervousness in Jane's voice that
indicated something major was afoot. Something was about to change.

He switched off his Compaq laptop and reached for his brown corduroy
jacket, which was hanging from a hook on the side of the glass-walled
cubicle. He straightened his brown knit tie as he stepped on the
elevator, and for some reason he found himself thinking of his
daughter, Amy.

He mimed a toast. Here's looking at you, kid.

She was in the fifth grade and lived with her mother, Joyce, in a small
condominium nestled in the hills near El Cerrito, where his ex-wife
grew up. Joyce was a television producer who had left him to go back
out there, where she got work as a garden designer. When he got over
the shock, he finally concluded she loved California more than she
loved him. Maybe not an unreasonable choice. But then she got custody
of Amy, based solely on the fact that his income was inadequate to send
her to private school in New York and the public schools were out of
the question. But Joyce had agreed that if he ever had the money, she
could live with him some of the time. This book, he hoped, would make
that happen.

He still didn't know why he and Joyce couldn't have made a go of it. It
had occurred to him that there was the real possibility she had fallen
in love with the idea of a dashing investigative reporter, not the
grueling reality. These days she had Amy all the time except for three
weeks in July, and he had so many things to regret he scarcely knew
where to start.

He kept a year-old photograph of Amy on his desk, in a frame far too
expensive for a snapshot of a young girl on a black horse named Zena.
But it was Zena that his $1,500 a month in child support had helped to
pay for, and he felt it somehow bonded them.

Hi, Dad, from me and Zena, went the inscription.

Why was he thinking about her now? he wondered. The answer was, because
he wanted her world to be different from the one he had known as a
child. He hadn't had a father around, and that had left him with a lot
of anger. He didn't want the same fate for her.

Amy's world, he knew, was going to be very different, no matter what he
did. To be young like her and starting out was a daunting prospect
these days. He wanted to make everything easier for her, but the only
thing he could give her now was a measly $1,500 every month and his
unshakable love.

Even so, that was more than his mother, Karen, got for child support--
from a natural father he had never actually seen in the flesh until he
was eleven. And that was a chance encounter....

So, if this book got some traction and he got some recognition, along
with some economic security, he might be able to have Amy come back and
live with him. It was something

she'd said she wanted to do, though he wasn't sure where he would keep
Zena.

But all in good time. Now everything depended on the book....

The elevator door opened and he stepped out on the third floor. The
receptionist, Rhonda, a dark-haired resident of Avenue A who usually
tried to flirt, looked at him as though he'd just been convicted of a
crime and nodded with her head toward the corridor leading to Jane's
office.

"Stone, you've really screwed up this time. You'll never guess who's in
there and after your scalp. What on earth did you do?"

"You mean--"

"This is a guy I've only seen in newspaper pictures, though, needless
to say, not in this upstanding rag." In her dismay, she unthinkingly
reached for the pack of Virginia Slims lying next to the phone,
momentarily forgetting that smoking had long-since been forbidden in
the building. "You'd better get your ass in there. Jesus, he came in
with a bunch of lawyers, but then he told them to split. 'I'm going to
handle the fucker myself.' Quote, unquote. Right here by my desk."

Stone didn't know, with absolute certainty, who she was talking about,
but surely it had to be ... My God, he thought with a thrill, maybe it
worked. Maybe I've smoked him out.

"Truth tellers have nothing to fear, Rhonda." He winked at her. "I'm
protected by the sword of the Lord. 'He is my rod and my staff. He
leadeth me beside still waters.'"

"You're crazy, you know that?" She'd remembered where she was and began
putting the cigarette back into the pack. Then she smoothed her short
black hair. "He leadeth you into the shit, handsome. That's where He
'leadeth' you. You're adorable, but you're also a sane person's
nightmare."

"Thanks," he said giving a thumbs-up as he walked past her desk. "I
appreciate your unstinting praise."

He headed on down the hall, the plush gray carpet soft against his
feet. Could this be the break? he wondered feeling his hopes cautiously
rising. Had the Big Man himself shown up? Could it be that there was
something funny going on with that patient who got dropped?

But what? He still didn't have a clue.

As he walked into the room, he felt as though time just stopped. He had
fantasized about this moment more and more as the years went by. Now
here it was. What next? He thought he had been emotionally prepared,
but now he realized he wasn't. Were they going to acknowledge the past,
or were they just going to act as though nothing existed between them?

That first chance meeting, when Stone was eleven, had been when his
mother threatened to sue Bartlett for formal child support. The threat
of publicity caused the matter to be immediately settled, as she'd
hoped it would be. Stone had been sitting in the law firm's reception
area when Bartlett walked through. Each knew who the other was, but
Bartlett just stopped and glared at him for a moment before moving cm.
Stone had sized up the man who had abandoned his mother and only barely
managed to suppress an urge to leap up and lash out at him, if only to
say, Look at me. I'm here.

He had not been in the same room with his father since, but this time
around he was definitely noticed.

Winston Bartlett looked just as he did in news photos. He was in his
late sixties, with thinning blond hair that was cut too long and shaggy
in the back. Stone's first thought was that the tightfisted old rou6
should spring for a better barber.

But it was Bartlett's eyes that really caught him. They were strong and
filled with anger, but they also contained a hint of desperation. They
were very different eyes from the haughty dismissal he remembered from
a lifetime ago.

Good, Stone thought. I've finally made you squirm, Daddy dearest.
Nothing else I've done has ever gotten the slightest notice from you.

For a moment they stood sizing up each other.

"Stone," Jane said, "this is--"

"I know," he said.

Even though they had been practically married, he had never

told her that he was the unacknowledged son of Winston Bartlett. He had
never told anyone. To him, his father had died before he was born and
that was the story he stuck to.

He naturally had a lot of complex feelings about that. He had seen his
mother struggling to give them a decent life, hoofing in the chorus
line of Broadway shows long after she should have, and a lot of his
anger remained. Now, though, Stone Aimes wanted nothing from the old
man. Except the truth.

"Miss Tully," Bartlett barked, glowering at her, "I think you'd better
leave us alone."

"Of course," Jane said with a wry look, and in a tactful instant she
had slipped past them and out, gently closing the office door behind
her.

"I don't believe it," Bartlett said turning back after he watched her
leave. "You're trying to blackmail me, you little prick. Which tells me
you're not half as smart as I thought you were."

Wait a minute! Did that mean Winston Bartlett has been following my
career? Stone felt a thrill in spite of himself.

"I never knew you thought about me, one way or the other."

He was experiencing a curious sensation. Although he was in the same
room with his father for only the second time in his life, it felt
natural. They were having one of those age-old arguments. The younger
generation had just challenged the older generation, and because of
that sparks were set to fly.

This was the kind of thing that was supposed to happen between fathers
and sons all the time. In fact, it felt good. It felt normal. More than
that, he was finally being acknowledged.

My God, he thought, I share DNA with this man and yet we have so little
in common.

Then he had a more scary thought: Maybe we have a lot in common.

"I think it's time you told me what the hell you're up to," Bartlett
declared, ignoring the jibe. "How did you--"

"I'm trying to do us both a favor, but you're not cooperating. If the
Gerex clinical trials are going half as well as I think they are, then
it seems to me you've got everything to gain by publicity. I'm trying
to write the first book that tells the Gerex story. So why the hell
won't your legal flunkies let me interview Karl Van de Vliet?"

"That's actually none of your business." Bartlett's eyes abruptly
turned cloudy. "I want you to stay the hell away from--"

"Right now I'm the best friend you've got in this world. Believe me."
Stone couldn't believe he was saying this. For how many years had he
loathed and despised this man? But now, for the first time, he actually
needed something from him. "I want to tell the real story of what Van
de Vliet has accomplished. What Gerex has accomplished. It'll be the
latest word on stem cell technology. But your office keeps giving me
the runaround."

"We have a damned good reason to keep our work proprietary just now,"
Bartlett declared. "This is like the Manhattan Project." His eyes bored
in. "The results of the clinical trials are going to cause a press
feeding frenzy, and I want to be in a position to control that when the
time comes."

This is incredible, Stone told himself. We 're talking as though we
have no history. You have a granddaughter by me whom you've never even
seen. Don't you at least care about her?

"I've got a pretty good idea of what Gerex is doing and I think it's
going to be a milestone in medical history." Stone looked at him,
trying to figure him out after all these years. For all his bluster,
Winston Bartlett seemed like a man with a lot of vulnerabilities and
insecurities. He hadn't expected it. "It so happens I'm a damned good
medical reporter and all I'm asking is to be the Boswell to Van de
Vliet's Johnson. I want to be the one to chronicle this historic
moment. There's no one who can do it better, believe me. Ill even agree
to embargo everything until I get a green light from Gerex. But I want
to start now and get it right"

"You can't ethically know any details of the work," Bartlett declared.
"So the question I'm waiting to hear answered is, how did you find out-
?"

"I can't reveal my source." Because, he told himself, I still don't
have one. All 1 have is guesswork. "But I know that Karl Van de Vliet
is running the first successful clinical trials using stem cell
procedures. And I'm going to report on it whether you want me to or
not. So are you going to help make sure my facts are accurate?"

"I'm going to help make sure there's no reporting at all till I say
so," Bartlett went on. "Anything you print will be-- by definition--
irresponsible speculation and you can expect enough legal action to--"

"The original schedule was that they'll be finished in less than a
month. I'm not going to publish anything before that I just want to
have the manuscript I've been working on ready when the Gerex story
finally can be told. It'll be the final chapter, the payoff. I'm going
to describe your clinical trials, and it would be better for all
concerned if it could be the 'authorized' version. If you force me to
publish without your cooperation, it's not going to do either one of us
as much good."

Again he wondered why Bartlett was so upset. What was it about that one
terminated patient that made him freak when he found out somebody knew?
So freaked he charged up here personally, all the way from his fancy
corporate building in TriBeCa, to breathe fire and brimstone and yell
threats?

"Do I have to get a court injunction to put a stop to this corporate
espionage?" Bartlett demanded.

"Everything I know is in the public domain somewhere." Actually, Stone
thought that's a serious out-and-out lie. Nobody knows that a patient
got mysteriously terminated from the trials. "I just want to work
together with you."

Even as he was saying it, Stone Aimes realized that it was not in the
cards, now or ever. He watched Winston Bartlett's eyes narrow.

"What kind of contract do you have with this paper?"

"Quite frankly, the terms of the contracts for employees of this paper
are confidential."

"I knew I should have kept those fucking lawyers here. It takes a shark
to deal with a shark." Then he seemed to catch himself. "So if you're
planning on writing anything about this, you'd be well advised to get
yourself an attorney, because you're sure as hell going to need one."

"Thanks, Dad." It just came out. Maybe he'd been wanting to say it all
his life.

Bartlett's look was shock for a moment, and then it turned pensive.

"You don't think I take an interest in you, but I do."

"Yeah, you've really been around through thick and thin." He felt the
old anger of abandonment welling up.

"I took care of your mother. Whatever she did was beyond my control."
The eyes were switching to chagrin. "Do you have the slightest idea
what I could do for you? I've . . . I'm not getting any younger and
I've been thinking about . . . with your medical background you could
easily have a place . . . I mean, if you've got a head for business,
then someday . . . So why do you fucking want to do this now? "

Stone listened, trying to internalize what he was hearing. Not only did
Winston Bartlett know about him, he was finally thinking about
acknowledging him. Sort of.

Or was this just a bribe to hush him up?

Either way, it was too little, too late.

"You've never given me anything and I've sure as hell never asked. I'd
just like for you to get out of my way so I can do my job."

Bartlett stalked toward the door. Then he turned back.

"You'd better think long and hard about what you're getting into. You
can ask some of the two-bit reporters I've dealt with in the past.
They're fucking roadkill."

With that pronouncement, he slammed the door and was gone.

Stone stared after him, feeling his heart pump. It wasn't the threat;
it was the mixed emotions. For a moment, in spite of his better
judgment, he'd felt like he had a father, but then Bartlett became the
enemy again.

Then the door cracked open and Jane appeared, dismay in her eyes.

"What was _that _about?"

"What was _what  _about?"

"I've gotta tell you, that man doesn't know how to keep his voice down.
What was that about helping your mother? Karen. You never talked about
her much, but I sure don't remember you ever saying anything about her
and Winston Bartlett."

"That's because I didn't. Jane, there are parts of my past life that I
try not to think about any more than I have to."

"After the fact, it's nice to know that there were parts of your life
that you didn't see fit to share with me." She sniffed.

"Maybe someday."

"It's a little late for that," she declared, hurt lingering in her
voice. "Look, Stone, I don't know what you know that's got Bartlett so
upset, but he's not the best guy in the world to piss off. He stormed
in here, fit to be tied, personally demanding to know how the hell did
you have proprietary information about the Gerex Corporation's clinical
trials. He already seemed to know who you were. Now I realize there's
more to the story, somewhere back there in time."

"And what did you tell him?"

"I was completely blindsided for which I thank you. I told him I didn't
know anything about your sources, but I wouldn't reveal them even if I
did. He's our landlord but that doesn't give him subpoena power. He
doesn't have the right to barge in here and try to intimidate the
Sentinel's staff. We're current on the rent."

Stone felt a tinge of nostalgia. Sometimes her gold-plated bitchiness
was the very thing he admired most about her.

"Well, thanks for sticking up for me. Maybe I've got him upset enough
that he'll come around eventually and decide it's better to have me
inside the tent, where I can be monitored."

She snorted at the improbability of that.

"No, Stone, as usual you're an idiot idealist and dreamer. I'll tell
you exactly what's going to happen. Bartlett is most likely on his cell
phone right now, as we speak, threatening the Family, trying to get you
fired. He's saying you're stealing proprietary information somehow and
he's going to sue the Sentinel for our last dime if we print a syllable
of anything you write about him. That's his next move, Stone. I expect
my phone to ring in approximately fourteen and a half minutes. Their
attorneys are going to tell me to tell Jay to get you under control.
That's what's going to happen. The Family does not want Winston
Bartlett pissed off. Especially by the likes of you, somebody who's
always writing muckraking articles that make them real nervous. Does
anything I've said have the ring of logic to you? Or are you living in
some never-never land where the facts don't fucking penetrate?"

Hey, he thought, that's pretty good. Jane is in DEFCON 1 mode today.

"Depends on what you look at, the doughnut or the hole. That is, the
stick approach or the carrot. I'm betting he's going to split the
difference and try a little of both. He's going to cool off and then
offer me a few crumbs as an inducement to go away."

"God, you're so naive." She laughed in derision. "Winston Bartlett is
not accustomed to having to ask anybody for anything. So the fact he
came up here this morning to try to get you to back off on whatever it
is you're doing must mean you've really got him psyched." She stared at
him. "What is it, Stone? Tell me. What do you have on him?"

"Right now I'm more interested in what he thinks I might

have. And the truth is, I don't really know. But it must be something
pretty big."

"Stone, why is it so hard to hate you? You can make a person's life
miserable and that stupid person will still root for you. God, I don't
know what it was about you." She paused a moment as though thinking.
"Maybe you're just too honest. Or just too sincere. Maybe that's what
it was."

"Don't try to butter me up. I know my weaknesses. But dammit, Jane, I'm
this close to the story of the century. And the paranoid zillionaire
who was in here just now yelling at me is trying to freeze me out"

"Well, please don't involve me in this anymore, Stone. You've just
provided me with a week's worth of unnecessary shit.  From now on, any
communicating you want to do with Gerex's attorneys is going to have to
be done by someone else. Trust me when I tell you I do not need this in
my life."

"Sweetie, wait till you see what I'm on the track of. What the Gerex
Corporation is doing at a small clinic out in New Jersey is going to
change everything we know about medicine. And it's going to blow wide
open the second they finally let the press in on what's happening at
the clinical trials they're now winding up for the NIH. When they
finally hold that big press briefing, I want to have a manuscript
already in copyediting. I want to be first."

"Then why is he so worked up over your question?" she mused. "About
somebody being dropped from the clinical trials?" She paused
"Incidentally, I can do without being called 'sweetie' by a man I'm no
longer screwing."

"Sorry about that." He winced. It did just sort of slip out in this
orgy of intimacy. "But what I think Bartlett desperately doesn't want
me to find out is the reason that patient was dropped. And he's afraid
I'm getting close. Unfortunately, I'm not, and I just took my best shot
at prying the information out of him and--you're probably right--blew
it." He was turning to leave. "But I'm, by God going to find out
somehow. Just see if you can keep me from getting fired for a little
while longer. If I'm still working for the Sentinel three months from
now, you may get honorable mention in my Pulitzer acceptance."

It was bluff talk. But he believed it with every fiber of his body.
You've gotta believe, right?

Come on, Ally, get lucky. Find out who that mystery patient was. The
way things look now, you 're the only shot I've got left.



Chapter 15



_Tuesday, April 7

8:13 P.M._



What a day! When Ally finally settled onto her couch, after giving
Knickers a long walk, she was exhausted. She leaned back and kicked off
her shoes. There had been a few moments of tightness in her chest--maybe
it was psychological, anxiety-induced--but that was gone now. She
thought about calling New Jersey to ask how Nina was doing, but she
doubted they would tell her anything.

She'd spent the latter part of the afternoon getting yet another heart
exam. After driving to northern New Jersey and back, she'd had a formal
(and exhausting) stress test for her heart at the New York University
Faculty Practice. God, she was sick of examining rooms and those blue
paper shifts you put on backwards, as though it was okay for doctors
and nurses to see your bare ass. Then she put on shorts and sneakers
and an Israeli physician stuck wired suction cups all over her chest
and put her on a treadmill for seventeen minutes, boosting her pulse to
over 150, which was as high as he dared to go. Then he called Van de
Vliet, faxed him the charts, and they reviewed the squiggly lines for
another ten minutes.  Finally she had a high-speed CT scan, whose
results were then sent directly to Karl Van de Vliet's lab computer.

The bottom line was, the damaged valve in her aortic ventricle was
deteriorating even more rapidly than her regular physician, Dr.
Ekelman, had thought, but her heart was still strong enough for the
procedure.

She wondered if she had gone this far because she was letting hope
outweigh a sober evaluation of the risks. Was this the sign of complete
desperation? Whatever she decided, tomorrow was the day, D day,
decision day.

She thought again about her mom, who had been bubbling with hope when
she looked in on her. Nina hadn't even been formally checked in, but
already she seemed transformed. It was enough for her just to entertain
the possibility that her mind could be renewed. That in itself was
sufficient to convince Ally to sign the consent agreement for Van de
Vliet to go forward with her procedure. He even offered to provide a
car service to take Maria home to the Bronx after Nina was settled and
resting.

In her own case, the special injections for her heart, she was far less
sure what she thought. The part that bothered her most was having to
give herself entirely over to a person she scarcely knew. It was the
kind of ultimate surrender that she abhorred.

While Knickers rummaged behind the couch for the remnants of her
rawhide chew toy, Ally momentarily considered calling Grant. She
couldn't think of a reason why except that he was the only coherent
immediate family she had left and this felt like a moment for pulling
together. God, she missed Steve. Sometimes she felt so alone.

Then she considered calling Stone Aimes, but she decided that would
seem pushy. The truth was, she'd enjoyed talking to him and she'd been
surprised at how comfortable she'd felt. Looking back over the elapsed
years, she couldn't remember exactly why they split up. There must have
been a good reason, but now she could only recall the good times. A
picnic in Central Park, or the time they took the Staten Island ferry
at night just to see the inspiring downtown skyline.

With those jumbled thoughts cluttering her mind, she finally got around
to remembering she hadn't checked her phone machine. She got up off the
couch and went into the bedroom.

There were three calls and at first she thought she was too exhausted
to check them.

But no, that was irresponsible. She was running a business...

"Hi, Ally, it's me." The voice was Jennifer's. "No emergency, but call
when you get in and let me know how it went, okay?"

Not tonight. There was too much to explain and she was too tired. She
went to the second message.

"Hi, it's me again. I need you to look over the Jameson design, that
Italian-marble bath. They're having trouble getting the ocher. Some
kind of strike at the quarry. What can they substitute? But remember,
it's got to be absurdly overpriced or they'll assume it's crap. If I
don't hear back from you, I'll fax you some stuff in the morning."

Okay, she thought, these rich clients love to show off. I'll get them
what they should have ordered in the first place, knowing them. Stone
from the quarry near Agra, where they got the marble for the Taj Mahal.
That ought to be ostentatious enough. It'll take an extra couple of
months, but that will impress them even more.

As she considered going to the third message, she had a feeling of
misgiving, though in truth there were several people she wouldn't mind
hearing from.

Or maybe the Dorian Institute had called about Nina. Maybe she'd
freaked. This whole thing was happening way too fast. In any case, she
didn't really want to talk to anybody right now. What she really wanted
to do was sit and think, maybe run the whole thing by Stone and get his
take{~HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS~}.

She decided to check out the third message.

"Hi, it's your intrepid reporter, just checking in to see how it went
today. It's just after eight, and I'm at home. I may not be able to
afford this place much longer, given all the excitement I've had today,
so call me while I still have an apartment and a phone."

She felt a ripple of excitement and the feeling pleased her. Maybe she
did have someone stable and rational in her corner, someone who
understood the risks and possible rewards of going forward with the
procedure.

She'd put his number in her Palm, which was in her bag, and she went
back to the living room, poured herself a glass of wine, and then
retrieved it.

She heard him pick up on the second ring.

"Hi, it's Ally. Thanks for checking on me. I'm really not in the
greatest shape at the moment."

"Oh yeah? So how'd it go?"

"Well, I met Dr. Miracle. . . ." She paused. "I don't know quite how to
handle you, Stone. Are we having some kind of reunion? The affair
redux. Are we friends all over again? Two days ago, all we had were
memories. Then I start getting phone calls from you. I still don't know
what I'm supposed to think."

"I'll tell you what I think. I think we're playing this by ear. I don't
know what you've been doing for the years that I haven't seen you. I
don't know what you know about me. So this is kind of like a blind date
with a lot of baggage."

"I agree," she said, then hesitated. Her resolve was melting. "I might
as well say this. Is it too late to come down and talk? I thought I was
tough enough to handle this on my own, but I definitely could use
psychological support."

"Give me the address. I could use a little support myself. I got
tlhreatened today, I think, by somebody who would like to crush me like
a bug. And easily could. I'll spare you the ironies, but you and I may
have more in common than you think. My interest in the Gerex
Corporation has just gotten extremely personal."

         After she hung up, she felt energized and she decided to give
Jennifer a call after all. In truth, she wanted to tell her about Stone
and to get her take on whether seeing him was a good idea. Aren't these
second-time-around things always doomed?

"Hi, Jen. I'm home and I'm making all kinds of fateful decisions."

"So what happened? Are you going to be a guinea pig for that clinic?"

"Is that what you think it amounts to?" She couldn't tell how serious
Jennifer intended to be. "I'm still debating it Mom loved the place."

"Well, good. Good for her. But you're still not sure about you?"

"I'm leaning .  . ." She paused. "Jen, somebody I used to see in
college is on his way down here right now. He's a medical reporter, but
the truth is, I don't know why I asked him."

"I guess if I were your shrink, I'd ask, 'How do you feel about that?'"

"If I knew the answer to that, I wouldn't need you to be a one-woman
support group." She bit her lip. "He's doing a book about stem cell
procedures. So in a way it's a lucky break that he appeared exactly
when he did."

"Yeah, Ally, if you ask me, it sounds like it was a lucky break in more
than one way. An old flame reappearing can be a positive sign. It's
high time something happened in your life."

You 're tighter than you know, she thought. I'm ready for this, whether
I admit it to myself or not. But is there going to be any chemistry
when we actually see each other? There used to be a lot.

The embarrassing thing was, her first thought was to wonder if he was
still terrific in bed. She remembered thinking he was very adroit back
then, but back then she didn't have much experience to compare him
with. Mainly, thinking about him now made her painfully aware she was
overdue for some closeness.



_Tuesday, April 7

10:22 PM.



_What's she going to think of me? Stone wondered as he knocked gently
on the door. She'd buzzed him up from the lobby without a word.

More to the point, he thought, what am I going to say if she wants an
opinion about whether she should undergo the procedure or not? So far,
the only evidence I have that the clinical trials are working is
circumstantial, the patients who've been through the sequence and
discharged. So how can I, in good faith, advise her one way or the
other?

But, he then concluded, I'm getting way ahead of myself. She may take
one look at me and decide she was right to dump me the first time.

Nice building, though. Housing for grown-ups, not like the one-bedroom
starter setup I've been reduced to.

He knocked--he always hated the idea of ringing a bell on an apartment
door--and a second later, it opened.

Alexa Hampton and Stone Aimes just stood awkwardly for a moment and
stared, taking each other in. Finally...

"You look... great." They both said it simultaneously, and that served
to make the moment even more awkward.

"Well," he said finally, into the silence, "you do." And he meant it.
There was, however, a lot of strain on her face, in her eyes. The mark
the years had left seemed more psychic than physical.

"You don't look so bad yourself."

"God, it seems like a lifetime ago when we went to our separate
corners," he said after another long, contemplative pause. Then he
stepped in and she closed the door. He didn't try to peck her cheek,
for which she looked relieved. "Tell me how you're doing, really."

"You really want to know? Okay, this afternoon I had a heavy-duty heart
checkup. Nobody wants to put odds on this thing, but my condition is
getting worse." She led him through to the living room.

"Then we should talk," he said looking around. "I love your loft, by
the way. You make me envy you. You should see the makeshift quarters I
live in. I'm sort of waiting for my ship to come in."

"The truth is, Stone, that I no longer know the first thing about you
or your life. And I think I'd like to."

" 'Had we but world enough, and time.'" He smiled "We'll get around to
the catching up, but I don't flatter myself that you asked me down at
this hour to reminisce about our respective pasts."

"You've already got me figured out." She made a face. "I don't know
whether I like that or not. By the way, would you care for something?
You used to like scotch, right?"

"The operative part of that statement is 'used to.' These days I try to
avoid anything harder than beer. I was starting to have an ethanol
dependency problem. I think it's a common occupational hazard for a
reporter."

"I don't keep beer around. It's fattening. How about some diet
cranberry juice?"

"Maybe I'll have that scotch after all." He laughed. "I have a feeling
it might be more suited to the occasion."

"Know what, I think I'll join you." She walked into the kitchen and
started making the drinks. "On the rocks, right?"

"Good memory."

"Stone, I asked you down because I've got to make a big decision." She
was bringing the drinks into the living room. "Tonight. You're the
closest thing I've got to a knowledgeable sounding board. You have some
idea of the risks and rewards here. So do I check into the Dorian
Institute and let them start injecting doctored-up stem cells into me
or not? Turns out that's what Van de Vliet wants to do."

"We're in worse trouble than we thought." He took a scotch. "You've at
least seen the place. I don't have a shred of actual physical evidence
that those clinical trials are producing results. I can make inferences
from what I see on the Web site, but it's nothing you can take to the
bank." He ventured a sip, then looked up. "By the way, did you get a
chance to ask about the patient who got dropped?"

"Oh shit, I forgot." She sighed. "There was so much going on, with Mom
and all the rest, that it completely slipped my--"

"Don't worry about it," he said with a sigh.

Come on, Ally, she thought, this could be really important. You've got
to get focused.

"I'll try to remember tomorrow."

"I do think it's kind of vital. But be careful not to mention my name.
I've ... I've just acquired some problems of my own with the Gerex
Corporation."

"What kind of 'problems'?"

"Let me take a rain check on answering that. Suffice to say, they're
not thrilled about the idea that I'm doing a book in which they're
prominently featured." He paused. "Look, Ally, there's a lot going on
here. Including that patient who was dropped for some reason that
nobody wants to disclose. But if you do decide to do it you couldn't
have a better physician. Karl Van de Vliet is quite possibly the
world's leading researcher in stem cell technology. On the other hand,
this is the first time there've been actual human trials. If anybody
tells you there's no risk, then they're not behaving ethically."

"Well, the way things stand now, I'm due out there at the institute at
ten A.M. tomorrow. If I want to, I can be formally entered into the
clinical trials on the spot. I've passed my qualifying exam."

"You know the trials are almost over. It's like they're taking you at
the last minute."

"That's what he said. I'm going to be the last ... whatever. My friend
Jennifer just called me a guinea pig. Van de Vliet also said I'd have
to stay out there for at least a couple of weeks, probably longer.
That's going to be a bloody drag, since things are really busy down at
CitiSpace now."

"Ally, given what I know, or don't know, I don't have an entirely good
feeling about this. It could be they're hiding something, but I don't
have a clue what it is. It's quite possibly connected to that patient
who got terminated. And when I tried to raise this with Gerex's
attorneys, no less person than Winston Bartlett himself went
ballistic."

"What are you saying? That I shouldn't do it?"

"Hey, I can't make that decision for you. But one possibility would be
to just play along for a day or two and see if you can't find out a
little more about what went wrong with the patient who was dropped."

"Stone, that's maybe a little paranoid. Couldn't a single patient have
been dropped for a whole bunch of different reasons?"

"Of course, but it's not that simple. A patient was dropped from the
Gerex clinical trials, and there was no official reason given in the
data file. It made me curious enough that I had our paper's attorney
pass along a question about it to their attorneys. That motivated
Winston Bartlett to come personally to threaten me. So why is a guy who
runs a huge conglomerate suddenly afraid of one tiny question? Is there
some problem, some reaction to the procedure that they're terrified
will come to light? Ultimately millions and millions of dollars are at
stake. I want the book I'm writing to tell the whole story, not just
the part they'll want to have told. That's why God put reporters on
earth."

"Shit, Stone, I'm glad you're here. I think I told you on the phone, I
had someone I loved very much disappear on me some years ago, and I'm
feeling very alone at the moment." She looked him over. "Okay, I'll
ask. We're adults. Are you married, divorced, attached, unattached,
seeing someone, alone and suicidal, what? I mean, where do things stand
here?"

"Where things stand is that I'm very happy that I stumbled into you
after all the years. And yeah, I've got a little history. At least I'd
like to think so. But nothing is going on at the moment." Then he told
her about Joyce, the divorce, Amy. "And what was that you said about
having somebody disappear on you?" He studied her, reaching back for
the feelings that were still buried. Seeing her was bringing it back.
"What did you mean by that? Disappear like a missing person, or
disappear as in up and split, or--"

"He was my husband, Steve, and he was a political consultant. He was in
a single-engine Cessna that went down in the rain forest in Belize and
I miss him terribly."

"I'm so sorry, Ally. Nothing that's happened to me comes close to that
tragedy."

"It gets worse. A few months before that, my dad had an accident with a
Browning shotgun that was no accident."

"Jesus. What's that line about how the troubles tread on one another's
heels. Was he depressed? I guess that's a stupid question."

"He thought he was going to lose his business. After a lifetime of
work. What do you think?"

"Ally, I'm really sorry about all that."

"Well, I suppose it could be worse. As I recall, you never knew your
dad, did you?"

When am I going to tell her the truth? he asked himself.

"Let's get off the history topic tonight, what do you say. We'll both
get ourselves depressed."

"Agreed." She sipped at her scotch. "So ... you're saying I should play
along and see if I can find out something about this discharged
patient, the mere mention of whom causes grown millionaires to become
unhinged?"

"It's what / would do," he said, finishing off his scotch and settling
the glass on a coaster on a side table. Then he got up. "I have to tell
you, Ally, you look awfully tired. I'd love to be responsible for
keeping you up all night, but I doubt that would be a humane act."

"It might remind me of a time long ago and not so far away," she said
with a faint smile. "But you're right. When I get this tired, I can
precipitate an episode."

"I'd offer to drive you out there tomorrow, but that would just get you
in trouble. They probably have orders to shoot me on sight. I'm the
number one persona non grata with the top management of the Gerex
Corporation at the moment. So I'm the last person you want to be seen
with. Right now the only way you're going to find out what they're
hiding is if nobody suspects anything. Which means you've got to show
up alone."

Maybe that's true, she thought. But you're a person I'd like to be with
tonight.

"Thanks for coming over." She walked over and pecked him on the cheek.

You 're vulnerable tonight, she told herself, wanting to ask him to
stay. Don't start making any big life decisions.



Chapter 16



_Tuesday, April 7

10:32 P.M.



_Winston Bartlett looked at the white phone on the oak end table beside
his chair and argued with himself about picking it up and calling the
Dutchman. When Van de Vliet was at his office at the institute, they
communicated by encrypted videophone. By this time, though, he was
usually home, but he still hadn't called to say what had happened with
Alexa Hampton. Now they would have to talk over an open line. Damn him.

After his explosive run-in with Stone Aimes--damn him too--Bartlett had
gone up to the Park Avenue place to check on Kristen firsthand and try
to console her. But he wasn't actually sure she recognized him; at
times she seemed to and then at other times she would just stare at him
blankly. Her mind increasingly had an in-and-out relationship with
reality, and today was an out day.

The time had come to be deeply concerned about her. She couldn't be
kept under wraps forever. He had checked her into the Dorian Institute
under an assumed name, Kirby Parker, to try to avoid any publicity. Now
that was the only

name she could remember. How had the Syndrome done that to her?

Kristen Starr, whose identity was known to several million watchers of
cable TV, could no longer remember her own name. Karl had worked with
her every day, but no medication he had tried had even minimally slowed
the Syndrome's progress.

The Beta had seemed so promising. Kristen's body had been rejuvenated--
her face was looking like she'd had perfect plastic surgery, and
there'd been no discernible side effects. It was everything they'd all
hoped for. Kristen was elated and even the normally cautious Van de
Vliet was buoyed.

Yes, the Beta was so close. Karl had to find a way to make it work.

In spite of all Winston Bartlett's entrepreneurial derring-do, he
always knew he was at the mercy of time. He was getting ever closer to
that final dance with destiny. But . . . but what if the Beta could be
made to work the way Van de Vliet theorized it might? Was there the
possibility the music would never stop?

Nursing a second Glenfiddich, he looked around the room, the third-
floor study/bedroom, finding it pleased him as always. This room of his
five-story mansion was a handmade gem from New York's turn-of-the-
century Gilded Age, with molded plasterwork ceilings and brass
doorknobs and mahogany paneling. Favorites from his superlative
Japanese sword collection lined the walls, giving him constant joy. He
wanted to live to enjoy it for another three score and ten.

The only galling thing about the place was that he had to share it with
Eileen, who had the top two floors. They had been living in marital
purgatory for the past twenty-eight years, ever since she found out
about the existence of his natural son. Because of that humiliation,
she had refused to give him the one thing he most wanted from her, his
freedom. She let it be known that as long as he flaunted a string of
mistresses in the cheap tabloid press, she was determined to stay in
his face.

He sighed and took a last sip of his scotch, then set it down and
clicked on the phone. Van de Vliet had rented a small villa half a mile
down the lakeshore, south from the institute, and he lived alone. Until
recently he'd been sleeping in the lab. There was no encrypted phone
where he lived, so this had damned well better be brief.

"Karl, it's me. How did it go today with the new Beta prospect? I
contracted her to do some work here, hoping to do my part to get her
with the program. I was expecting to hear from you by now."

"I've met with her and she had a stress test this afternoon in the
city. Other than the aortic stenosis, she seems to be in superb shape,
which is important. I'm assuming--make that hoping--that she'll come back
in the morning and formally enter the clinical trials. I'll let you
know if she does. Till that happens, I have no progress to report."

"All right, but how soon after that do you think you could get started
with the Beta matter?"

There was a pregnant pause, and then . . .

"W.B., we truly need to talk, and maybe not on this line. Just before I
left the lab, I ran another simulation on the Mothership to try to
figure out what dosage level of Beta enzyme would be safe. But it's
like trying to extrapolate backwards, and I just don't have enough
data. I'm beginning to wonder if using her to try to create telomerase
antibodies is actually such a good idea. It's just so risky. . . ." His
voice trailed off.

"Karl, everything in life is a goddam risk. I know I'm supposed to be
the beneficiary here, but if the antibody concept works out, we might
still be able to do something for... Beta One."

"I'm already doing everything I know how for her. That's a tragedy
we're all still in denial about. And now we're talking about risking
yet another woman. Yes, maybe it's the answer, but for now I don't know
what a safe dosage of enzyme should be. It has to be enough to generate
the antibodies, but not so great that . . . You know what I'm talking
about."

I sure as hell do, Bartlett thought. I'm looking at the Syndrome
myself.

"Karl, just think of what it could mean if you could get the Beta to
work the way the other procedures do. What great medical discovery
didn't have a few missteps at the beginning? This is experimental
medicine that could change the world. So, dammit, we've got to take
risks."

"Why are we having this conversation at this time of night? Over an
unsecure phone?"

"Because we don't have a lot of time," Bartlett growled.

"We've got nineteen days left on the clinical trials. That's certainly
enough time to conclude the procedure on her heart. But if we also try
to--"

"Karl," Bartlett said "it's the Beta we should be focusing on. I'm
looking at the Syndrome myself now, though I think I've got the
strength of will to handle it. My mind is a lot stronger than Kris . .
. Beta One's. But I don't want to have to find out. You've got to get
this fucking problem fixed."

"If we do use her, I can't begin to tell you how unethical this is
about to become."

Bartlett wanted to remind Van de Vliet that ethics were the least of
their problems at the moment, but that wasn't the kind of thing you
aired over an unsecure phone connection.

"Karl, just fucking do it," he said finally. "If she's not under way
with the Beta before the end of this week, ethics are not going to be
your primary concern. I may have to revisit some of our agreements.
Cross me and you forfeit a lot."

"All right" He sighed. "I know what I can do to make sure she's in."

"Good. Do it, whatever it is." He now had to warn Van de Vliet about
Stone Aimes, but how much information should he provide? He quickly
decided to keep it simple. "Oh, and as though we didn't already have
enough problems, there's something else I need to alert you about.
There's a smart-ass reporter from the New York Sentinel nosing around.
Yesterday he got to my legal department and asked about Beta One,
though he doesn't know her name yet. He somehow found out she was
terminated from the clinical trials. Please tell me you haven't been
talking to the press behind my back."

"My God, I've been waiting for this to happen." Van de Vliet sounded
like someone who had just had the wind knocked out of him. "You know,
Grant once mentioned that a reporter had been pestering him about
getting an interview with me."

"When?"

"Maybe two months ago, possibly three."

"First I've heard about it," Bartlett said. "I wish he'd told me. I
could have taken steps."

"It might be the same person. Now that I think about it, I do remember
he mentioned the Sentinel. How much do you think he knows?"

"I'm not sure. The question in my mind is, how did he find out about
her in the first place? He's supposedly doing a book about us, Karl, a
book about this project."

"Well, that's the first I've heard about that. Christ! A book!"

"I think he's just fishing at the moment. But this should be a warning.
We've got to keep security tight."

"What do you know about him? Is he good?"

Yes, Bartlett thought, he's damned good. The truth is, I'm almost proud
of him sometimes.

"He's the medical columnist for the paper. So happens, I own the
building where their editorial offices are."

"I don't have time to read newspapers."

"Well, he's good enough that we may have to handle him somehow."

"What are you trying to say?" Van de Vliet asked, though he sounded
like he already knew.

"What I'm saying is, he's a pro, and I get the strong impression he's
hungry."

"Hungry for money or for fame?"

"If I knew that, I'd know what to do next," Bartlett said. Probably
some of both, he thought, if the kid is anything like his old man.

"Then why don't we give him an interview? Meet the whole matter head-
on. I've always found it better to shape the news yourself rather than
trying to stonewall, which usually means a lot of speculation ends up
getting published and then you have to correct it after the fact. It's
also the best way to find out how much a reporter already knows."

Idiot, Bartlett thought, that's the worst possible thing we could do.
This kid would have your balls for a bow tie.

"Karl, you've just provided a perfect illustration of why I have my own
people handling the press. Some amateur like you starts talking to a
guy like that, and the next thing you know, you might as well be on
sodium pentathol. Again, his name is Stone Aimes. Remember it. And
don't ever even think about exchanging a single word with him."

"W.B., my experience is that you can only stonewall the press for so
long, if they're any good at all. Sooner or later, they're going to
find out more than you want them to. The only way to forestall that is
to parcel them carefully controlled information to work with. Trust me.
I've had a little experience with reporters too. You can't treat them
like they're complete dolts. You have to co-opt them, bring them into
your confidence, and then convince them that it's in everybody's
interest for them to help you rather than harm you. So why don't you
let me talk to this guy? We could always start off with the carrot and
then move on to the stick."

"This conversation is making me very nervous, Karl. I don't want you or
any of your people within a mile of him. I mean it, goddamit."

With which Winston Bartlett slammed down the phone.

"Shit."

What are we going to do? So far, Van de Vliet hadn't helped Kristen in
the slightest. Okay, she wanted to try the Beta, but still . . . What
happened was a tragedy.

And who are we kidding--Stone wasn't going to back off.

Seeing his natural (and only) son again after a lot of years had shaken
him up more than he had expected. At some level he wanted to feel proud
of his own flesh and blood.

But now . . . if anything got published about the Syndrome, the
financial consequences could be devastating. Stone Aimes had to be kept
at bay long enough to complete the buyout. Unfortunately, it might come
to involve force.

He smiled to think that Kenji Noda would be ready for that challenge.

But overt violence really wasn't Winston Bartlett's style. At least it
hadn't been his style up to now. But he was staring at the horrific
possibility of the Syndrome. Starting very soon, a lot of things might
have to be handled differently.



Chapter 17



_Wednesday, April 8

1O:15 A.M._



Ally was walking down the second-floor marble hallway of the Dorian
Institute, feeling a mixture of hope and dread. She'd parked her blue
Toyota in the same slot she'd done the day before, and then she'd gone
through the security check at the front entrance, which included
verifying (again) a solid ID and a check for any kind of camera or
recording equipment. Maria did not come along; she was using this as an
occasion to have some well-deserved time off with her grandchild. The
caregiver was giving herself some care.

The downstairs foyer had been empty except for security and staff, and
she'd paused just long enough to sign in and ask the receptionist at
the central desk which room Nina Hampton was in. Was her mother going
to be as enthusiastic about being here today as she'd been yesterday?
Truthfully, just to see her spirits immediately improve yesterday was a
high in itself. But who knew? Maybe she could be helped.

"I think she's . . . Let me check." She'd pulled up a computer screen.
"Right. Mrs. Hampton is in room two-thirteen, second floor." She'd
looked up and smiled. "Your mother, I assume. She's quite a card. I
hear she's doing very well. You can use the elevator over there."

"I'll take the stairs," Ally had said. They were wide and blue marble
and had a kind of splendor as they seemed to literally flow down from
the upstairs landing. "I didn't have my run this morning."

The marble hallway upstairs showed no signs of use. The place felt more
like a grandiose palace from another time than a hospital doing
cutting-edge research. There was a nurse's station at the far end of
the hall and two women were there in blue uniforms. Other than that,
however, there was nothing to suggest the Dorian Institute was a
medical facility. It could easily have been an exclusive resort hotel.
It didn't feel medical or aseptic in any way.

Stone should see this, she thought. He'd definitely be impressed.

Driving out this morning, alone, she'd been thinking about him a lot.
There was something about him that was different from what she'd
remembered over all the years. He was as serious as ever about his
work, but she suspected he might possibly be more fun now that he
seemed to have lightened up some. He used to be wound extremely tight.
In any case, she was finding herself surprisingly happy to talk to him
again, whether or not it went any further.

But was his concern about the mysterious terminated patient justified?
And what, if anything, did that have to do with her?

She was still musing about that when she heard the Spanish- language TV
going in room 213, even before she touched the doorknob. That's a good
sign, she thought.

She pushed open the door and strode in. The room was decorated in earth
tones, including a lovely brown hand-woven carpet, which had Indian
symbols in it, probably Navajo. The bed was a single, but it was faux
Early American, not a hospital bed. Again the place felt more like a
resort than a research institute.

Nina was sitting up, leaning against the headboard, and wearing blue
silk pajamas underneath a white bed coat.

"Mom, how're you feeling? You look great."

It was true. She was wearing a lull complement of makeup and her hair
looked like it'd been newly washed. Whatever else was going on, the
Dorian Institute was making sure patients looked their best. Do they
have a beautician on staff ? she wondered. Also, there was a sparkle in
her mother's eyes that she hadn't seen since before her father died.

"How does it look like I'm feeling?" Nina reached for the remote and
muted the sound from the TV

Yes, that old twinkle is definitely there.

"Gee, I have to say that you seem a lot better than you did yesterday."
It was true, thank goodness. She was having one of those supercogent
days.

She laughed deep and resonant. "Ally, you have no idea. He started in
with the injections yesterday evening, after you left. When I woke up
this morning, I could remember everything that happened yesterday. I
even remembered why I was in this strange place. Try me. Ask me
something and see if I can remember it. Go ahead. Ask me anything."

"Okay." She thought a moment. It should be something easy. "When was
Dad's birthday?"

"March twelfth." She didn't even hesitate. "You'll have to do better
than that."

"How about my birthday? You couldn't remember it last week."

Nina paused and looked disoriented for a moment. Uh-oh, Ally thought, I
pushed her too hard.

"It was October third." A smile abruptly took over her face, as though
she was experiencing a live breakthrough. "You were born at Roosevelt
Hospital, at three-forty in the afternoon."

"Mom, this is incredible." She was joyously stunned though it felt like
something resembling shock. "It's a miracle."

"Your mother's responsiveness is impressive," Karl Van de Vliet said as
he strode through the open door, startling her. "Ellen will run the
first battery of monitoring tests later this morning. Short-term memory
and the like. But from all appearances, there's been a lot of tissue
regeneration under way overnight."

"Is . . . is this permanent?" Ally asked, not wanting to let herself
get her hopes up too soon. And what is he doing?

"No one can answer that question." He looked at Nina and smiled. "But
this is not some drug regimen to trick the brain's chemistry, Mrs.
Hampton, you have my word. In Alzheimer's, tissue responsible for the
production of certain neurotransmitters dies. What we're doing here is
enabling your brain to regrow healthy, long-lived tissue to replace
what has become damaged and destroyed by an excess of the wrong . . .
Let's just say we're not trying to salvage damaged tissue. We're
actually replacing the dysfunctional tissue in the cortical and
hippocampal regions of the brain, so we're working with the body. And
you're responding wonderfully." He turned back to Ally. "I've got to
get back to the lab now. Come on down when you're ready, and we'll
finish the paperwork."

She started to say she wanted to ask him to linger a moment and answer
a few questions, but before she could, he'd disappeared into the
hallway.

"Ally, I haven't felt this alive in months," Nina bubbled on. "Dr. Vee
did a minor procedure late yesterday afternoon, using local anesthesia.
Then he did something in his laboratory and came back and gave me an
injection. Then there was another one this morning. It's supposed to
continue for a week or two. Ellen said she'll be giving me one of those
little memory tests every day to see if I'm improving, but you know, I
already know I can tell a difference. It's just been overnight, but I
swear some of the haze is already gone."

"I'm so happy for you." Ally felt a surge of joy. Already she was
thinking about some new trips they could take together.

"Come over here and sit by me," she said, patting the bed. "I was
thinking about Arthur again this morning. If Doctor Vee can do
something for your heart, it would be a miracle that would have meant
so much to him. It's just so sad he can't be here to see this."

As Ally settled next to her, Nina reached over and took her hand. "I
want to ask you something, darling. Just between us. Why do you think
Seth . . . Grant is doing this for me, for us?"

"What do you mean?" Ally was trying to read her thoughts, wondering
where the topic was headed. Nina had declared on Sunday that she
thought there was something evil about Grant. Now this.

"I hate to say it about my own son, but caring is not his first
nature."

"Mom, we see him so seldom, do you really think either one of us still
understands him?"

Nina and Grant had never been all that close. In fact, he'd always been
something of a secretive loner within the family, even though he was
very much an extrovert with his friends, of which he had many, or at
least used to. Ally had left for college just as he reached high
school, which meant she wasn't around during his impressionable teen
years. And when she came back to take over CitiSpace, he was virtually
a fugitive from the family.

"I remember plenty about him. You think I don't know my own son, Lord
help me."

"Well, Mom, I'm not really prepared to talk about him. It was so
upsetting just to see him, I couldn't really take everything in." She
smiled and touched Nina's brow, which felt warm and flush. "But I'll
tell you something I am taking in. You're really looking great. I don't
know what he's doing, but--"

"Hope, darling. It's the greatest tonic in the world even if there's no
good reason for it." She squeezed Ally's hand. "And I do so wish Arthur
could be here now. I miss him so much."

"I know, Mom. He was as much a friend to me as he was a dad" She
thought back fondly over her father's many passions and how she'd
shared a lot of them with him. One had been the nineteenth-century
Romantic poets, particularly Wordsworth and Shelley. Then he'd had his
astronomy period and they'd spent a lot of time together at the
planetarium. But he took an interest in her passions as well. When at
age eight she decided to collect coins, he went to the bank and brought
back rolls and rolls of dimes and nickels for her to go through. And
during the summertime he'd take her and Grant on the LIRR to Long
Beach, every other Sunday, all summer long.

That was why the pain, the personal loss, of his horrible death had
never fully subsided. Perhaps it never would. But the difference
between them was that he had finally lost his will to live, whereas
Ally found her own will growing all the more with every new adversity
she faced. The weaker her heart got, the more determined she was to
exercise, whatever it took, to make it strong again.

"He would be so proud of the way you pulled CitiSpace back from the
brink." She let a tear slide down her left cheek, smearing her makeup.
"And I'll tell you something else, young lady. You take after us both
when it comes to guts. My memory may be slipping, but I remember you
were always willing to take chances. And I guess that's what we're
doing here now. Both of us. We're gambling on life. In your case,
you've got a lot to lose."

Ally looked at her. Nina was having one of her moments of incredible
lucidity, but how did she know so much about what was really going on.

"Mom, did the doctor tell you what I--"

"The head nurse, Ellen, told me that you're going to undergo a
procedure for your heart. That you're going to start today." Her eyes
darkened. "She also admitted he'd never used the procedure on a
condition like yours. It's completely experimental."

"You talked to her this morning?"

"She took me downstairs, where they did my hair. She said Dr. Vee
thinks it's important for everyone here to have a positive attitude.
They ask you what you'd like and then they try to do it. Now I'm ready
for whatever comes next." She stared directly into Ally's eyes. "But
that doesn't mean I still can't be nervous about all this untried
stuff."

"Mom, don't worry about me. I'm going to get through this. If you'll be
strong for me, I promise I'll be strong for you."

She got up and walked to the window. From this vantage she could just
see the lake down through the trees. They were starting to put out
leaves, but it was still early spring and nippy here, so they mostly
had just buds. All the same, there was a sense of renewal about them,
which made her think of her own body.

"Life is so bittersweet." Nina sighed. "But you still want to go on
living, even when it's a daily struggle. Either I'm an optimist or I'm
pigheaded."

"You're just wonderful," Ally said. "That's what you are."

She glanced down at her watch. She was scheduled to meet Ellen O'Hara
downstairs at ten forty-five, to fill out the paperwork that formally
entered her into the clinical trials. If she decided to go ahead and
enroll, this would be her last day of freedom. Tomorrow she would have
to begin the intense phase of the therapy. Did she really want to do
that? She wanted to talk to Van de Vliet one last time. "Look, Mom, I'm
going to be downstairs for a while now, but I'll come back up later."

"All right. Ellen said there's a little library here somewhere, so I
may go down and look. I might even get something in Spanish, to try and
keep my mind alert." She sighed. "Oh, Ally, I so want to be the way I
was again. Pray for me."

Ally knew prayer wasn't something her mother engaged in a lot. In fact,
she'd always been a fervent agnostic. What had brought about the
change? Was it that she'd finally discovered that both her body and
mind had limits and wouldn't do what she wanted forever?

"I'll pray for us both, Mom. But we're going to be okay. I have faith."

"Good for you." She looked away. "I'll try to have it too."

Ally walked over and kissed her, then turned and headed out the door.
Where was this all going to end? She had absolutely no idea. But with
Nina's miracle change overnight, the concern she'd heard in the voice
of Stone Aimes seemed a million miles away.

As she walked down the marble stairs, she tried to take the measure of
the place. The Dorian Institute did inspire you with its look of utter
perfection. It was an appropriate setting for miracles.

When she got to the lobby, she saw Ellen stepping off the elevator,
coming up from the basement.

"All set to get going?" she asked, walking over. "Before we start any
procedures, anything at all, we've got to fill out the forms for the
NIH. Technically, what is going on here is a clinical trial, a very
detailed study in which we constantly monitor the patients and try to
measure their progress objectively. So we'll have to take some time and
establish a very thorough baseline. We began that yesterday when you
went to the clinic in New York for a stress test. Among other things,
we'll be running an EKG on you here on a daily basis."

"And all this goes into my NIH files?" Ally asked. They were getting on
the elevator to go down.

"Not the raw data. It's our job to structure our patients' files in
ways that will permit the NIH monitor, or other third parties, to
assess our results quickly."

They were getting off now, entering the starkly lit hallway that
connected the laboratory and Dr. Van de Vliet's office with the
examination rooms.

"Dr. Vee is working in the lab this morning, so we can use his office
to fill out all the forms."

Ally could see Dr. Van de Vliet and three other people, members of his
research team, all dressed in white, clustered around a blackboard,
where he was drawing some kind of flowchart. Again she was struck by
his youthful appearance. He surely did not look a day older than forty,
or forty-five tops.

This was the first time she had been in his office, and she paused to
look around. As was usual, he had a wall of framed diplomas and
certificates. From her cursory checkout, they seemed to correspond to
the educational history she remembered from his CV. It was a spacious
room, with an executive feeling, and he had an expensive fiat-screen
nineteen-inch monitor sitting on the left-hand side of his desk. Next
to it was a wooden table and chairs. A pile of NIH forms was there,
along with a green _raku _mug, filled with ballpoint pens.

"He likes to let people use his office whenever possible," Ellen
explained. "It's a lot less institutional than the conference room."

Ally settled at the table and picked up the form.

"They want a lot of personal information," Ellen went on, "but your
mother and I filled out her items yesterday and it wasn't too hard.
Needless to say, all personal information is completely confidential.
Even your name. After the first week, we only identify you with a
coding system."

As Ally was reaching for a pen, a petite blond woman with a smashing
figure strode through the door. She was wearing a lab coat, not a
nurse's uniform, but it still showed off her curves. She was carrying a
stainless-steel tray containing a hypodermic needle and three glass
vials.

"Hi," she said with a smile, "I'm Dr. Connolly. Welcome to the Dorian
Institute. We're all very excited about having you here."

"Deb, come in," Ellen said seeming slightly startled "Is there
something we forgot to--"

"No, I just need to take one hundred fifty milliliters of blood. We've
got to get started on the cultures we'll be using

ASAP."

"Hang on a second" Ally said. "I was hoping to talk this over a bit
more with Dr. Van de Vliet before I take the final leap."

"You're free to dither as much as you like," Dr. Debra

Connolly said, her smile vanishing, "but our programs are on a
schedule."

"I'd still--"

"I'll just be taking a small amount of blood. We can then get started
on the cultures while you talk." She was already swabbing Ally's arm
and feeling for a vein. "Now make a fist."

Ally hated giving blood and to distract herself she glanced around the
office, trying to construct a life story for Dr. Karl Van de Vliet.
Then she noticed a photo of him and a woman standing together on a
bridge, next to a sign that said CHARLES RIVER, which meant Boston, and
they were holding hands and smiling.

The odd thing was, the cars behind them were models at least fifteen
years old, yet he looked just the same as he did today.

Whoa. There it is again. That odd age thing. There is something very
strange about this man. She finally got up her courage to ask.

"Dr. Connolly, do you know how old Dr. Van de Vliet is? He looks so
young."

"There are some things it's not polite to ask." She was capping off the
vial and reaching for a second. Her voice had grown genuinely frosty.

"Frankly, I don't see why. He knows everything there is to know about
me. He has all my files."

"You could ask at the front desk for one of our brochures. I'm sure it
would clear up any questions you have." She attached the second vial to
the needle.

"I've seen it. I know when he went to school and all that. But still--"

"If you really want to know personal things, you might just ask him
yourself. You two seem to get along so well."

What is with her? Ally puzzled. Why is she being so hostile and
negative? And why that little jab about "getting along"? The truth was,
Debra Connolly could have been a runway model, but in a lab coat her
blondness and figure just intensified her bitchiness.

Okay, maybe the question about his age wasn't overly relevant, more a
matter of idle curiosity. But how did he do it? Every woman alive would
like to know. Maybe the story Grant had told about Van de Vliet and his
experimental skin treatment was actually true. She hadn't put much
stock in it at the time, but seeing him out here in the flesh . . ."

"There's actually something else I was curious about. Was a patient
dropped from the trials a few months back? I was wondering if you could
tell me anything about that."

"What have you heard that would make you ask such a question?" Debra
Connolly's face went blank, but her blue eyes registered alarm. "No one
here is allowed to discuss specific cases. That would be a violation of
NIH rules and highly unethical. What made you ask that question?"

Hey, why so defensive? Could it be Stone is on to something that needs
more daylight?

"I did a little research on the Gerex Corporation and . . ." Then she
had an inspired hunch. "You know, the NIH has a Web site where they
post all the clinical trials they have under way." This was actually
something she knew to be true. She had used the site to look up
information about possible clinical trials for Alzheimer's patients
that might accept her mother. But she never could find any in the New
York area that seemed to offer any hope. "So naturally, your study was
there. I like to know as much as I can about what I'm getting into."

"I've been to that Web site many times. The public part doesn't
include--"

"So, has a patient ever been terminated?" Ally cut her off, hoping to
avoid being caught in a lie. "If so, I'd really like to know why."

"No one is allowed to discuss any details of the clinical studies." She
was capping off the last vial of blood the three cylinders of red
against the steel.

"I think I'm going to have a talk with Dr. Van de Vliet before I go any
further with this program," Ally said feeling her temper and her
warning instincts both ratchet up. "I feel like I'm being stonewalled."

"You're free to think what you like." Debra Connolly had turned and was
brusquely heading for the doorway when it was blocked by another blonde
this one in her late fifties, who was standing in the threshold and
brandishing a black automatic pistol. Her eyes were wild. The security
guard from the entrance and the nurse from the front desk upstairs were
both cowering behind her.

"Where's Kristen?" she demanded. "Where's my daughter? I know she's
alive, goddam you. I've come to take her home."



Chapter 18



_Wednesday, April 8

11:03 A.M.

_

"Who are you and how did you get in here?" Debra Connolly demanded
backing away from the door and quickly settling her steel tray onto a
table. Ally got the instant impression that Deb knew exactly who she
was.

The woman's hair was an ash blond tint above dark roots and was clipped
short in a curt style. Her troubled face had stress lines, and her
heavy makeup reminded Ally of a younger Sylvia Miles or perhaps a
particularly intense real estate agent, except that real estate agents
don't charge in on you brandishing a Beretta.

"It's all been a lie," the woman declared her cigarette-fogged voice
shrill. If she recognized Debra, it wasn't apparent.

Ellen hit a button on the desk and spoke into the intercom. "Dr. Vee,
could you please come to your office immediately. It's an emergency.
There's someone here who--"

"You're damned right it's an emergency," the woman barked at her.

"Hadn't you better give me the gun?" Debra asked, holding out her hand
and stepping toward her.

The woman turned and trained the pistol on her. "Just back off, sister.
And keep out of this. I know you work for him but you're just a
flunky."

"Then could you at least keep your voice down," Debra Connolly said,
her composure hard as ice. The jab had bounced right off. Underneath
the beauty pageant exterior she was all steel and sinew. "There are
patients upstairs...."

The hapless security man who'd been trailing behind the woman had gone
over to the positive-pressure door of the laboratory and was
desperately banging on the glass and waving for Dr. Van de Vliet. A
moment later, he strode out, still wearing his white lab jacket.

"You," the woman hissed, turning to meet him. "You're the one who has
her. You and that bastard Bartlett."

"Madam, I must ask you to leave," he said warily as he came up to her.
"Immediately." He glanced down at the pistol. "Otherwise I'll have to
call the police."

Although he was giving the impression that the woman was just an
anonymous annoyance, Ally was sure she caught a glimmer of recognition,
and a patina of poorly disguised panic, in his eyes.

"I want to see Kristen, damn you. I want to know what you've done with
her. To her. You and that bastard Winston Bartlett who got her into--"

"Kristen?" He seemed puzzled. Then he appeared to remember. "There was
a patient here briefly a while back, who I believe was named--"

"Kristen Starr. That's right, you fucker. And you damned well do
remember her. And me. She's my daughter. Where is she?"

My God, Ally thought, could she mean that Kristen Starr, the one who
had an interview show on cable. The world around this institute just
keeps getting smaller.

Ally had actually done an interior-design project for Kristen

Starr back when she was first getting up to speed at CitiSpace. It was
one of her first jobs. At that time Kristen had just signed a two-year
contract with E! and she wanted to renovate her co-op in Chelsea. But
then just as the job was completed, she sold the place and moved to a
brownstone in the West Village, or so she'd said. Ally didn't know why
she had done it or where precisely she had moved to, but she got the
impression some very rich new sugar daddy was setting her up and he
wanted the privacy of a town house.

Could it be that Kristen was the mysterious missing patient Stone was
trying to locate and interview? Ally hadn't seen her on TV for a while,
so maybe she had moved on to other things.

"I really don't know where she is now," Van de Vliet said. "She became
emotionally unstable in the middle of her treatment. It's a rarity but
it has happened. She checked out. After that, I don't--"

"That's a damned lie," the woman declared. "I know it now. That's what
your receptionists have been telling everybody. It sounded a little
like her at first, but now I realize it's preposterous. She didn't just
up and run off. You're keeping her somewhere. Where is she? Where's my
only child?"

"Wherever she is, I can assure you she's most assuredly not here," Van
de Vliet intoned smoothly, even as his eyes struggled to stay calm.
"Would that she were. She wanted... a procedure done and I think we
were having some success. But then she became traumatized for some
reason best known to her and insisted on leaving. No one is forced to
complete the regimen here against their will. As best I recall, someone
said she went to a spa in New Mexico."

"I know that's what your flunkies have been telling me over the phone.
That she went to New Mexico to hide out. But now I know everybody lied
to me. For the last three years she's been sleeping with that bastard
Winston Bartlett, but now his office won't even return my phone calls.
You all think you're so smart, but I could smuggle a gun past your
guards. In my bra!" Her eyes had acquired a further kind of wildness
now as she awkwardly began opening her purse, hanging from a shoulder
strap, with her left hand while still holding the pistol in her right.
"And I got a letter from her just this morning. The postmark is New
York City. So--"

"What--" Van de Vliet's eyes began to blink rapidly.

"She's not in New Mexico now. If she ever was." The woman waved a small
tan envelope at him. There was large, loopy writing on the outside.

"Could . . . could I see that?" He started to reach for it, but she
waved the black Beretta at him and shoved the letter back into her
purse.

"No you can't. What you _can _do is tell me where the hell you're
keeping her. Now."

"Before we proceed any further, that gun really isn't necessary," Van
de Vliet said as he reached and deftly seized her wrist. He was quick,
and his quickness seemed to spook her, because just as he turned the
pistol away, it discharged.

The round went astray, ricocheting off a metal lighting fixture at the
end of the hallway and into the wall. The hapless, unarmed guard who'd
followed her downstairs yelled and dived behind a large potted corn
plant near the office door. Both Ellen O'Hara and Debra Connolly just
stared, momentarily too stunned to move.

Ally stepped toward the woman, wanting to help Van de Vliet disarm her.
She was feeling her heart race dangerously upward.

Van de Vliet was still struggling with the woman when the Beretta
discharged again. This time it was aimed downward, at the hard tile
floor, and the ricochet was not so harmless. The round bounced back and
caught the woman in the chest knocking her sideways. Van de Vliet
unsuccessfully grabbed for her as she crumpled. Ally reached for her
too, but by that time she was already on the floor. Ally pulled the hot
pistol from her fingers, then turned and handed it to Ellen.

"Here. For God's sake, do something with this." She realized she had
never actually held a real pistol before.

Blood was flowing across the floor as Van de Vliet and Debra Connolly
began tearing open the woman's blouse. The bullet appeared to have
entered her chest just below the rib cage, a jagged wound caused by the
projectile's tumble and splattered shape, and then exited a few inches
away, at her side. She had passed out.

"Get a gurney now," he yelled to Ellen. "We've got to get her into OR
one and try to do something about the bleeding."

My God, Ally marveled what desperation drove her to threaten him with a
gun when she obviously didn't know the first thing about how to use it?

The woman's open purse was lying no more than two feet from where she
had fallen. With the hallway rapidly filling as nurses from upstairs
poured off the elevator, no one was paying any attention to anything
but the prostrate woman.

Get the letter, Ally!

She gingerly moved over to where the purse was resting and peeked in.
There was a jumble of the usual things: cosmetics, a ballpoint, a
change purse, an address book, and a billfold. There also was the tan
envelope. Yes!

The scene in the hallway was increasingly chaotic. Two of the
researchers from the laboratory had come out, in their sterile whites,
with disinfectant and a roll of bandages. As they began to bind her
wound to stanch the bleeding, her eyelids fluttered and she groaned.

"She's just in shock," Van de Vliet said with relief. "Ellen, page
Michael and tell him to bring the ambulance around front. Just in case.
But I think we can handle this here."

Now two nurses were rolling a gurney off the elevator. While Van de
Vliet and the two lab researchers lifted her onto it, Ally realized
that nobody seemed to think that calling the police--about any of this--
would be a constructive step.

She pulled out the letter and examined it. The oversize script on the
front read Katherine Starr, 169 East 81st St. There was no return
address.

Katherine Starr. She was repeating the name and address, trying to
lodge them in her memory, while she was pulling the letter out of the
tan envelope.

It was in the same rotund script as the address:



_Dear Whoever You Are,

I think you 're my mother but I'm not sure. Please help me. I don't
know where I am or what my name is. But I found a bracelet with Starr
on it and I looked in the phone book. Your name sounded kind of
familiar. I think I'm . . ._

"I'd better take that," Van de Vliet said, lifting the letter out of
Ally's hands. "All her personal effects should be kept with her."

"Dr. Vee, OR one is open," Ellen was saying as she marched down the
hall toward them. "Debra has the IV and oxygen ready."

"Good," he said, glancing at her for a second. As he did, Ally reached
into Katherine Starr's purse and palmed the small black address book.

Then Van de Vliet turned back to her. "Let me see about her bleeding
and then I'll try to explain. I now remember this woman all too well.
It's all coming back like a bad dream I'd repressed. I pegged her as
schizophrenic the minute I saw her, when she came here and tried to
talk her daughter into leaving. She's paranoid and--"

"What was Kristen Starr here for?" Ally asked. "I actually did an
interior-design job for her a few years back and she never mentioned
any health issues."

"Actually nothing," he declared quickly. "She was having an early
midlife crisis. I gather she'd had some kind of television program and
her contract wasn't renewed. She'd decided it was because of her
appearance." He shrugged and gestured with empty palms, Iike,_ How
absurd but that's the way some women are. _"It turned out we had a . .
. mutual acquaintance who told her about the stem cell procedure here
at the institute. When he brought her in, I wasn't in a position to
turn her away."

"That wouldn't be Winston Bartlett, by any chance?"

He nodded. "As a matter of fact. He writes the checks, so he has a
certain amount of influence around here. As it happened, I had
experimented with a procedure some years ago involving stem cells and
the epidermis. There seemed to be a regenerative effect. And I thought
there was a reasonable chance she might respond to it. Since we had
clinical trials for other stem cell procedures already under way, it
was easy to fit her in. But I had a lot more important things going on
at the time than her cosmetic work, so I didn't pay much attention to
her. Then she abruptly left, and since then I've had so much else
happening, I just haven't thought about her."

"Was it not working? Is that why she left?"

"Some of the staff swore it was having results. The truth is, I wasn't
following her very closely. In my honest opinion, stem cell technology
shouldn't be used for cosmetic purposes. It borders on the obscene."

Whoa, Ally thought, according to Grant, you "experimented " with a
procedure for the skin on yourself. And you've got the youthful-looking
skin to prove it. Let's not have the pot calling the kettle black here.

"But if it was working, then why did she decide to stop?"

This story sounds way too pat, she thought.

"You'll have to ask someone closer to her. Maybe she didn't think it
was."

"How about Winston Bartlett. I gather he's pretty close."

"Well, she's a touchy subject with him. Good luck." Van de Vliet
hesitated and his face flushed. "But now I really have to get in there.
I'm responsible for whatever happens around here. Particularly whatever
bad that happens."

He was heading down the hall.

"One last thing. If Kristen is here in New York, then how could I
contact her?"

"I have absolutely no idea," he said over his shoulder. "If her own
mother couldn't find . . . Actually, you might check with the front
desk. All clinical trial participants are here under a confidentiality
agreement, which means that giving out any information about her would
be a liability issue, but now . . . See if they have a prior address
they can give you. After she left, it never occurred to me to pursue
her."

He was going through a door marked OR 1, but then he revolved back.
There was a darkness in his eyes she hadn't seen before. "I guess I'm
wondering why, exactly, you're so interested in this deranged girl. It
has no bearing whatsoever on your own treatment."

"It's just something I'm curious about." She stopped, her emotions in a
jumble. What is going on? "You know, I'm wondering if maybe we
shouldn't start my procedure later in the week. All this . . . guns and
shooting . . . is a bit much for me to take in." She looked at him. "I
guess I can't remember ever seeing anyone pull a pistol on their doctor
before."

"I can understand your disquiet," he said, his eyes dimming even more,
"but I'd really hoped we could get started today. I should be free in
an hour or so and we can--"

"I've given the blood sample you wanted, but I've just had the fright
of my life. I want to go up and see Mom again and then I want a day to
recharge."

Get hold of Stone, she was thinking, and then try to find Kristen.
Something feels very non-kosher here.

"Just be aware," he went on, "that this procedure can't wait forever. I
told you that we have less than three weeks left. At the end of the
month, the clinical trials will be completed and this facility could be
temporarily closed because of corporate restructuring."

What is he talking about, "corporate restructuring"? You 're pressuring
me again, she thought. I really don't like that.

"It can wait for a day."

"All right. If you must. But that's it. We have to start tomorrow.
Seriously." He came back and reached and took her hand. "This means a
lot to me, Alexa. I really want to help you. And I truly think we can."

With that, he turned and walked into the OR.

She stood watching for a moment, and when he was definitely gone, she
took the small black leather volume out of her waistband.

On a hunch she opened it to the first page and... sure enough, there it
was, penciled in down one side: Kristy 555- 1224. No last name and no
address.

The rest of the book had only a dozen entries, so few that Ally
wondered why Katherine Starr bothered carrying it. Compulsive, maybe.

She couldn't wait to get to her car and get on the phone to Stone.

Kristen Starr could well be the mystery patient he was looking for. In
any event, she was missing, freaked out, unsure who she was, and
probably in a lot of trouble.

But now they had a phone number.



Chapter 19



_Wednesday, April 8

12:32 P.M.

_

"You think you've got _what_?" Stone Aimes sounded like he'd just won
the lottery. "For the patient who was 'terminated'? My God, Ally,
you're incredible."

"Possibly. But what I know I am is very worried. For one thing, if this
is the person you're looking for, the one who got dropped from the
trials, it's somebody you've probably heard of, and for another, I've
just had a series of very disturbing experiences. . . ."

She'd called him on her cell phone the minute she cranked up her Toyota
to return to the city. She couldn't get away from the Dorian Institute
fast enough.

After leaving Karl Van de Vliet, she'd taken the elevator up to the
second floor to check in on Nina.

"What's all the excitement?" her mother had asked. "One of the nurses
just told me that a deranged woman with a gun barged into the lobby
looking for Dr. Vee. Then she shot herself."

"It's nothing, Mom. Everything is all right now." She hadn't wanted to
upset Nina, but she was convinced Karl Van de Vliet had just done some
major lying. His uneasy body language told her he knew a lot more about
Kristen Starr than he was admitting; for that matter, Debra Connolly
probably did too.

"Well, thank goodness," Nina had said. "Are you going to start the
procedure for your heart today?"

"Not yet. I want another day to think about it. But tell me how you're
doing really. I mean, are you comfortable with how everything's going
here? You can still stop if things don't feel right."

Ally half wanted to get her out of the Dorian Institute immediately.
She didn't know what either of them had stumbled into. She just knew
now that, along with the possibility of miracles, the Dorian Institute
had a lot of questions that needed straight answers. She no longer
trusted Karl Van de Vliet. She had seen his facade crack momentarily
and what lay beneath it made her very uncomfortable.

Furthermore, she thought he realized she knew he was lying. And it
seemed to make him even more desperate to keep her there.

"Ally, what a silly thing to say. Of course I want to stay." She'd
fluffed up her pillow and reached for the TV remote. "Some of the smoke
has already been blown out of my mind. I'm feeling clearer by the
minute."

There's surely got to be some "placebo effect" at work here, Ally
thought. But still, she does seem more aware.

"Okay, Mom, I'm going back into the city now. But I'll be here tomorrow
and every day to check on you. Just don't . . . don't let them do
anything to you that seems strange."

With that, she had given Nina a kiss on the forehead and taken the
marble stairs down to the first-floor reception.

It was now time to find Kristen Starr.

The nurse at the desk was a woman named May Gooden. The main floor had
returned to normal after all the excitement, with patients passing
through as they came back from the cafeteria.

Ally had decided to try a long shot and see if she could pry out any
information about Kristen from the patient files. She asked point-
blank.

"I guess Dr. Van de Vliet was not aware of the legal strictures in our
NIH agreement," May had said. "No personal information can be released
without a patient's signed authorization."

"You do remember her being here, though? Kristen Starr."

"My Lord, that's not something that goes unnoticed. She had an assumed
name but everybody knew who she was. A nice girl. Nicer than you'd
expect from seeing her on television."

"So when, exactly, did she leave? Surely you can tell me that harmless
piece of information? It was several months ago, right?"

May got a strange look in her eyes. "Who told you that?"

"I . . . I was downstairs when her mother showed up. I just got the
impression that it was--"

May glanced furtively around. "I shouldn't be telling you this, but the
truth is, I think she was still here until just a few days ago. She was
down in intensive care. No nursing staff is allowed down there, just
those medical-research people he has working for him, what some of the
nurses call the Gang of Four. But they brought her up in the elevator
and then an ambulance took her away."

"When, precisely, was--"

"I've said too much already." She glanced around again. "And I can
assure you that Kristen didn't sign an authorization to give out her
personal information." She abruptly turned frosty and officious, as
though rethinking how open she'd just been. What was she afraid of?
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some things I need to do."

Ally had nodded and thanked her and split.

Thus the search had already produced an interesting factoid. Karl Van
de Vliet was most assuredly engaged in the practice of a big lie about
Kristen. . . .

"Maybe you should start by telling me about the disturbing experience,"
Stone was saying.

As the shadows of the trees that lined the leafy driveway glided past
the Toyota's windshield she told him about Katherine Starr and Kristen
Starr. She also told him the disparate versions of Kristen's departure
as recounted by Van de Vliet and May Gooden.

"Sounds like they've got a situation," Stone declared. "They're trying
to hide somebody who's well known. But you've got a number?"

"Like I said I palmed Katherine's little black book and it's got what
could be the last known phone number for Kristen. Since she probably
left the institute in an ambulance a few days ago, I doubt if she's at
that number now, but it's someplace to start. I assume the area code is
two-one-two. There're reverse directories where you can find the
address for a phone number, right? In fact, I think there's a site on
the Web that--"

"Leave that part to me. If the number's still good I'll have it in five
minutes. Then I'll call you back and maybe you could meet me there,
assuming it's somewhere in the city. Just give me your cell number."

She did and then clicked off the handset.

My God, she thought, that's the first time I've "given my number " to a
man--not a business acquaintance--since Steve died. Okay, there were
dinners with a couple of bachelor clients that turned out to be more
than dinner. But neither relationship had lasted past a month. Both the
men, nice guys, had complained she wasn't there for them--she wasn't--and
had broken it off.

She meditated on that as she went through the iron gates (which opened
automatically) and headed down the leafy, twisting roadway leading to
the expressway.

She also found herself wondering what Stone Aimes was really like.
There was an openness now that made her feel comfortable--though maybe
that was just his deceptive reporter's manner, his calculating way of
getting below her radar. He'd definitely picked up a few social skills
over the past years. God knows he needed them.

Whatever was going on, it was good to have him around again. There was
something different about talking to him than talking to Jennifer,
though Ally wasn't quite sure what it was--and she was afraid to think
too hard about it. But whatever that difference, it was one of the
million reasons she so missed having Steve around.

Because if there ever was a time when she needed somebody to talk to .
. .

Why am I thinking all this? she chided herself. I'm trying to
psychoanalyze him and put him in a category when I don't know the first
thing about what he's actually turned into after all this time. Is all
the warmth and sincerity for real? Back in the old days he'd make nice
whenever the stakes were low, but then when he had something on the
line, he'd push as hard as he needed to get what he wanted.

Well, she reminded herself, I'm that way too. That was part of our
problem.

The phone beeped.

"Voila," Stone's voice announced. "I got an address in the West
Village. It's Two-Seventeen West Eleventh Street. The phone is unlisted
but it's billed to her name, so you were right about the number. And
get this, it hadn't been turned off. So I thought, idiot, why don't you
do the obvious and just try calling?"

"But her mother said she'd disappeared. . . ."

"Well, that's highly plausible. There's an answering machine there with
a very strange message. It doesn't give a name, but it's a woman's
voice and it's like a _cri de coeur_. She's away but she--quote--can't
say where. You should listen to it."

Greenwood Lake Road had now become Skyline Drive,

for no discernible reason, and the traffic was picking up. Ally put on
some speed and passed a truck.

"I'll do that. But we don't actually know for sure if it's the same
Kristen Starr, though it surely has to be. Did you recognize her
voice?"

"I've never watched her cable show. I just sort of know who she is. But
you'd better listen to her announcement. How could there be two
screwed-up young women named Kristen Starr in the same town, even if it
is New York?"

"I'll listen. It's got to be her, though. Give me the address." She
hesitated a moment after he did then, "Would you like to meet me there?
I think I could probably make it in an hour, or an hour and a quarter
to be safe. We could ask around see if anybody in her building or the
neighborhood has any idea what's going on with her. Maybe somebody's
seen her."

"I was supposed to head into the office, but nothing could keep me
away," he declared with enthusiasm.

A patrol car was speeding by in the opposite direction, siren blaring.
She waited for the noise to subside.

"Great. I'll try for an hour. Unless the traffic really gets crazy. You
never know what to expect at the GW Bridge, even in the middle of the
day."

She clicked off the phone, then checked the number in the front of the
black address book and punched it in.

The phone rang twice and then an answering machine started. The voice
making the announcement sounded thin, tiny, and fragile. Just hanging
on. It was the verbal equivalent of the loopy handwriting on the
letter, a transparent attempt to bolster nonexistent courage.

"Hi. I'm away for now--I can't say where--and I'm not sure when I'll be
back. But you can leave a message or whatever, in case I get a chance
to pick them up at some point. Or you don't have to. That's okay too."

What an odd thing to say, Ally thought. It's like she s trying not to
sound too needful.

But it was definitely the Kristen Starr. The slightly ditzy tone was
right there.

Next came a long series of beeps as the machine proceeded to rewind.

This is surreal, she thought. I'm about to leave a message for a person
who's God-knows-where.

While the machine beeped, she tried to rehearse what she wanted to say,
to make it as non-threatening as possible. Finally the machine stopped
rewinding.

"Kristen, hi, my name is Ally Hampton. You may remember I did an
interior-design job for you when you lived in Chelsea. CitiSpace? I
just met your mother. She got your letter." Should I tell her about the
gun accident? Ally wondered. No, she's weirded-out enough already.
"Your real name is Kristen Starr. You seemed a little confused about
that in your letter to her, which I read part of. You'd been at the
Dorian Institute in New Jersey. Listen, it's really important to me,
and to your mother, that you get in touch. I'd like to help you if I
can, because from what I saw of your letter. . . Anyway, let me give
you my cell phone number. If you pick this up, you can call me anytime,
night or day. It's--"

"How did you get this number?" a frightened voice burst through. Ally
recognized it, though it was nothing like the one she remembered from
the confident, brassy TV personality that Kristen used to be. "I just
got away and came here. And right after I got here, someone called my
machine and then hung up. Are you tracking me? Who are you?"

"I . . ." Ally was so startled she couldn't think of anything to say
immediately. "Kristen, is that you? I just saw your mother. I. . . I
got this number from her. She came out to the Dorian Institute looking
for you. She's very worried about--"

"You're lying to me. You're trying to trick me and get me back." She
was breathing heavily, as though she'd just run a set of stairs. This
is a person just barely holding it together, Ally thought. "Anyway,
Kristen is not my name. My name is Kirby. They wrote it down for me and
... I'm very confused. I found a bracelet in my suitcase that had
'Starr' on it. Maybe that's my last name. It sounds right, but I can't
remember--"

"You don't remember having a show on cable?"

 "I . . . I think I knew someone who had a TV show, but I don't think
it was me."

"Kirby . . . or whatever your . . . listen carefully. I think you were
undergoing an experimental procedure for your skin. At a place in New
Jersey called the Dorian Institute. The doctor was Karl Van de Vliet.
You were in clinical trials for the National Institutes of Health. Then
something happened and you left. Do you remember why you left? Or
when?"

"No." She stifled a sob. "I can't remember anything."

Ally took a deep breath, not liking the vibes she was getting. "Do you
want to talk about it?"

"No. I don't want to talk to you or to anybody. I got out of that place
and--"

" 'That place'?" Ally asked. She was being passed by a huge bus and she
could barely hear. "You mean the institute?"

"You know where I mean. And don't come looking for me down here either,
because I'm not going to be here." Jesus, Ally thought, what's with
her?

"Kris--Kirby, I'm not connected with anybody at the Dorian Institute.
I'm supposed to become a patient there myself. I'm just trying to find
out what happened to you when you underwent your treatment there."

"I can only remember little things." She was moaning. "There was this
man. He said I could have anything I wanted. I trusted him. And now . .
. I see faces but I can't remember who--"

"Kristen--that's your real name, by the way--can we meet? I promise you
won't be harmed. I just--"

"You don't understand do you? You don't know what's happening to me."
Her voice had begun to break. "It's the Beta. I don't know how long
it's going to be before--"

"Before what? What beta? What are you--Kristen, we've

really got to meet. I mean it. I desperately need to talk to you. Maybe
we could find another doctor, if that's what you need. Could I come
down--"

"I have no idea who you are. You could be . . . He says they're trying
to help me, but I'm not getting any better."

Ally was pulling onto the interstate, heading south. It was hard to
concentrate on driving, but at the same time she wanted to push the
speed limit. Kristen sounded like she was getting ready to disintegrate
or flee.

Then she had another thought.

"Kristen, it's okay if you don't trust me. But could you tell me more
about your . . . side effects? Are they--"

"I think that's why he moved me. To that place. But then he ..." She
was growing even more agitated and impatient. "Look, I really can't
talk anymore."

I'm losing her, Ally thought. Try to make her hang on.

"Kristen, would you please take my phone number? You sound like you
could use a friend."

"Oh Christ, I'm so scared. I don't--"

"Just take it. No harm. Then if something happens and you want to--"

"All right," she said finally. 'Tell me and I'll write it down."

Ally gave it to her, then added, "I run an interior-design firm. I
actually did some work for you once, so we've met. You can call my
office, so let me give you that number too. No way am I connected to
the institute where you were."

She said she was writing it down.

"You know," Kristen went on, "I think this is God's way of punishing me
for wanting something nobody should have." Then she began to sob again.

"How exactly--"

"I found a door that wasn't locked and I just came here. I don't know
what guided me. And when I got to this street, I knew exactly which
building it was. There was no name on my bell or anything, but I knew.
I even knew who had my emergency key. It's like I have a sense memory
of this apartment but I can't remember ever actually living here."

"Your name is Kristen Starr," Ally said again. "Try to remember that.
And will you please stay there till I can get there and talk to you?"
Then she made what she immediately realized was a fatal mistake.
"There's a reporter, a sweet guy who's doing a book about . . . a
medical procedure at the clinic where you were. And he's dying to talk
to anybody who's been part of the clinical trials there. Could he talk
to you too? It sounds like you've got quite a story to tell."

"You've got to be kidding. If they find me, I don't know what they'll
do." And the connection was severed.

"Shit, don't do this." She quickly tried the cell phone number for
Stone Aimes.

"It's me again. Listen, she's actually there. Kristen's in the
apartment on West Eleventh Street. I just got off the phone with her.
She's the one you want. But she's like a frightened rabbit. She said
she was about to leave, but if you get there soon, you might be able to
catch her."

"Damn, we're stuck in traffic at Fifty-ninth Street. There was a fender
bender on Lex. But I'll get there as soon as I can."

"Okay, maybe get your driver to try Fifth."

"Good idea."

She clicked off and stared at the road. The George Washington Bridge
was just ahead. If she broke the speed limit once she hit the West Side
Highway, and caught the lights right, she might even beat Stone there.



Chapter 20



_Wednesday, April 8

12:34 P.M.

_

"W.B., we've got a problem," Karl Van de Vliet said into the
microphone. He was in his private office, on the scrambled videophone.
"Kristen's mother showed up just before noon with a pistol, demanding
to know where she was. When I tried to take the gun away from her, she
accidentally shot herself through the side. Fortunately, it was only a
flesh wound, but it took us almost an hour to stabilize her."

"Christ! Even Kristy thinks she's crazy. Why did she--?"

"Kristen smuggled her a letter somehow. And she came looking for her."
He thought about how they shouldn't be having this conversation on any
kind of phone, even one that was supposedly scrambled. But there was no
choice. "It gets worse. I just called Eight-Eighty Park and they
checked her room and Kristen's not there. She was there when Roxanne
brought up her breakfast at nine, but nobody's seen her since. They
assumed she'd gone back to sleep. Nobody there has any idea where she
went."

"Shit. What am I paying them for? The staff is there for the sole
purpose of making sure something like this didn't happen."

"Well, W.B., that's your part of the show. I'm just trying to practice
medicine. In any case, she slipped out somehow. So the thing now is,
where did she go?"

"Well, she didn't come here. Or at least she hasn't yet. Depending on
how much she can still remember, she might have gone to her old place
down in the Village. Maybe she still has a homing instinct. That's
probably the first location we ought to check. Jesus, if she gets
recognized and starts acting crazy and then Cambridge Pharmaceuticals
finds out--"

"W.B., the bigger problem now could be her mother, Katherine. You know
her. She's unbalanced but she also still remembers how it all started.
She was actually here a couple of times. If she sees Kristen, then God
help us."

"Karl, I've got everything--and I do mean everything-- riding on this.
What happened with that Hampton woman? You've got to get started with
her. Is she on board yet or what?"

"She was here this morning, but she got temporarily spooked by the gun
and the craziness. She'll be back, though."

"When?"

"I took care of it, trust me," Van de Vliet declared. "In the meantime,
I'll try to maintain Kristen's mother under sedation as long as
possible. But we can't keep her out of touch forever. That would be
flirting with kidnapping."

"I'll send Ken over to West Eleventh Street to check out her place,"
Bartlett said. "If she's there, he'll get her."

And he signed off, the image on the computer going dark.

Van de Vliet felt a wave of apprehension. Every day it got worse. Would
any of the other patients develop the Syndrome? Or was its development
unique to the Beta?

Kristen had agreed of her own free will to undergo the Beta, and she'd
been warned that any experimental procedure involved significant risk.
She'd signed release documents absolving Gerex of any liability. But
when treatments go awry, patients tend not to recall the releases they
signed. Undoubtedly, she'd now conveniently forgotten that fact.
Assuming she still remembered anything.

Time to go back to the OR and see how Katherine was doing. If she
seemed completely stabilized and coherent, she could be moved down to
the intensive-care area in the floor below, the subbasement. That way
absolutely nobody could get to her. He clicked off the computer and
walked back to the OR.

"Karl, she's awake," David said as he walked in. He'd been monitoring
her. "It's probably okay to move her."

Thank God, Van de Vliet thought. Maybe there's some way to reason with
her rationally. He moved over and looked down. Her hair was soaked with
sweat and she looked very, very tired.

"Mrs. Starr, can you understand me? I'm Dr. Van de Vliet. I need to
talk to you about your daughter, Kristen."

"Who . . . who are you?" she mumbled, her eyes trying to focus.

"I'm Kristen's physician. She came to see me some months back. Do you
recall? About her . . . skin problem. I seem to remember you came here
with her at one point."

She stared at him mutely for a moment, then closed her eyes and nodded.

"At that time, Mrs. Starr, we discussed some radical treatment options.
Things that hadn't been tried before. Do you have any recollection of
that?"

She opened her eyes again and stared at him, trying to focus.

"You said she'd be all right," she mumbled, slurring the words. "Then
your receptionist told me she'd gone to New Mexico. But I got a letter--
"

"That story was to protect her professionally," he lied. "She was
afraid the press might find out she was here and start speculating
about her health. But now she's in the post-procedure phase of
treatment. It may be a while longer before she's able to return to the
normal life she's used to."

"She's okay, isn't she?" came a plaintive, slurred mumble. "In her
letter it sounded like she'd lost her memory or something. She didn't
sound right."

It was a question that cut him to the core.

"Mrs. Starr, I think we should focus on you right now. You've had a
traumatic episode and you've injured yourself pretty seriously. You may
have to stay here at the institute for a few days so we can take care
of you." He took her hand which felt deathly cold. "Tell me, is there
anyone we should notify of your whereabouts so they won't be alarmed?"

"There's an address book in my purse." Her eyelids flickered. "Those
are all people I'm close to. I just want to sleep. I can't think now."

Good, he thought, the sedative is finally kicking in.

"All right. You need your rest. We'll talk about this later." He turned
and picked up the purse at the foot of the bed. But when he searched
inside, he didn't see an address book.

Where was it? he wondered.

Alexa Hampton had started reading Kristen's letter, which probably was
part of the reason she got uneasy. Did she make off with the address
book? But why?

It didn't matter. She would be back.

If Debra had done what she was supposed to do.

"David have Mrs. Starr taken downstairs. I need to see Deb."

"You've got it."

Van de Vliet went down the hall and then through the heavy steel air
lock and into the laboratory.

"Deb, can I have a word with you?" He motioned for her to follow him to
the computer cubicle in the back, past the head-high racks of solvent
vials and the giant autoclave.

"Is she going to be okay?" Debra asked.

"I think so. It's in her interest that we keep her here and away from a
hospital. Gunshot wounds raise a lot of questions. I seriously doubt
that that pistol was licensed in her name, given how little she seemed
to know about its operation." He settled into a chair and began
stroking his brow. "Did you manage to take care of that matter with
Alexa Hampton?"

She nodded. "You know, she's not yet entirely with the program."

"Yes, but she will be. Putting her mother in the clinical trials was
probably crucial." He grimaced. "God, what a nightmare. A medical
experiment that got away from us has turned into guns and virtual
kidnapping and God knows what manner of felonies. If this thing gets
completely off the track, we could all go to prison. But the real
tragedy is that all the successful research we've done here will be
buried in infamy."

"It's not going to turn out that way. The results here have been so
spectacular." She was gazing at him with eyes that seemed too
worshipful. More and more, she made him self-conscious. She needed a
father, but he did not need a daughter. He still lived on the memory of
Camille.

"This has all got to be resolved soon, Deb. There's a reporter who
found out that we had to drop a patient from the program--which would be
Kristen--and W.B. thinks he's a little too close for comfort. Now
Kristen's mother shows up. It's all starting to unravel."

"Don't worry," she said, getting up. "This Hampton woman is going to be
back today. So I've got to get started on her blood."



Chapter 21



_Wednesday, April 8

2:41 P.M.

_

Ally was very fond of Kristen's West Village neighborhood, since she
herself had once had an apartment on West Eleventh Street, just west of
Seventh Avenue. The street was tree-lined and many of its nineteenth-
century town houses were home to single families, though sometimes the
ground floor, with the entry "under the stoop," i.e., beneath the
stairs, was rented out to provide a little side income. She had rented
one of those "garden apartments"--the upstairs owners were two gay
bankers--and had loved it. However, it also was entirely possible that
Kristen had the whole town house to herself--that was the kind of thing
that a lot of celebrities who lived, or even just spent time, in New
York did. There was privacy and there also was the sense of living in
an actual house instead of in some cookie-cutter apartment. Then again
she could have a downstairs neighbor.

A solitary town house seemed somewhat at odds with the extroverted
personality Kristen displayed on TV, but the privacy was probably
intended more for her sugar daddy, Winston Bartlett, than for her.

Ally had been pushing the pace ever since she got off the phone with
Stone. At Twenty-third Street she had peeled off the West Side Highway
and gone over to Seventh Avenue, where she had a straight shot
downtown. She passed St Vincent's Hospital, and the notorious six-way
intersection that caused so many accidents, and hung a right on West
Eleventh.

She was approaching the corner at Bleecker Street when a huge black
Lincoln Navigator lumbered in front of her, at an angle that cut her
off and blocked the street. Then the vehicle abruptly slammed to a
halt.

"What--!"

She hit her own brakes and managed to slide to a stop just before she
collided with the Lincoln's rear bumper. At first she thought they'd
deliberately cut her off, but then she realized the move had nothing to
do with her. A man and a woman were piling out. He was muscular and
balding, with dark hair and sunglasses, and he was dressed in black.
She had red hair streaked with white and was dressed in a nurse's
whites. They were in a major hurry.

That was when she recognized the man she'd met at Gramercy Park, the
Japanese sidekick Bartlett had called Ken.

Oh shit.

Then she realized that a thirtyish woman was running down West Eleventh
Street toward them, carrying a dark green backpack in her left hand.
They were gesturing for her to come to them and get into the vehicle,
though she didn't appear to see them yet. Halfway down the block behind
her, a man in a tan flight jacket was running, calling out.

"Kristen, wait I just want to talk--"

The running woman glanced over her shoulder at him and, at that moment
collided with Bartlett's flunky. As she recoiled from the impact the
red-haired woman seized her left arm.

"Kirby, come," the woman said. "You're not well. We'll take you back."

"No!" she yelled, and twisted free of the woman's grasp. But now the
Japanese guy had grabbed her other arm.

"It's going to be all right," he said as he caught the top of her head
and started shoving her through the open door of the Navigator. "You
shouldn't go out alone."

At that moment the man in the tan flight jacket reached the scene. It
was Stone, but he'd been moments too late.

He stretched his arm into the Lincoln and tried to take the girl's
hand. "Kristen, don't go with them. I just need to talk--"

"You don't need to do anything, pal," the man called Ken declared.
"Except get out of the way."

He chopped the side of Stone's neck with an open hand, sending him
sprawling backwards onto the pavement, flight jacket askew.

Now something odd was going on. Another girl was running down the
sidewalk. "Kristy, wait. Don't . . ."

But the redheaded woman had already gotten into the backseat of the
SUV, beside the girl, and the Japanese man was heading around the
front. Three seconds later, he was behind the wheel and peeling out.
They were gone.

Ally sat watching, stunned. But now a Chevy sedan was departing a
parking space three cars down from where she was and she quickly pulled
in.

By then Stone Aimes had picked himself up off the sidewalk and was
gazing wistfully in the direction of the vanishing Lincoln. The girl
who'd been behind him stopped and was talking to him.

Ally quickly locked the Toyota and went over.

"But why did she run?" Stone Aimes was asking. He was disheveled but
then being slugged and knocked to the sidewalk takes a toll on
anybody's poise.

"She didn't know who you were," the girl replied She looked like she
would have been more at home in the East Village than here: late
twenties, tattoo on one bicep, eyebrows pierced blue jeans, hair
needing a better day. She had serious acne scars on her cheeks. "I
think she thought you were them, whoever they were."

Ally looked Stone over and felt a surge of admiration. In spite of the
fact he just got decked, there was an athletic feeling about the way he
carried his body, as though he was ready to pounce on a news source.
Only he just didn't pounce quite fast enough this time.

She walked up and gave him a hug. For a lot of reasons.

"Hey, we can't go on meeting like this."

"My God, how humiliating." He winced.

"What in heaven's name just happened? That was Kristen, all right. But
why was she running from you?"

"I saw this woman walking very fast up the street carrying a backpack
and I just took a shot and called out 'Kristen.' She glanced back at
me, then took off like a rabbit. All I accomplished was to drive her
directly into the grasp of those goons."

"You scared her," the girl with the pierced eyebrows shouted, gazing
angrily at Stone. "Who are you? Why did you--?"

"I'm a newspaper reporter," he said. "Who are you?"

"I sublet the garden apartment from her. I met her when I was doing her
makeup at the E! channel. I mentioned I was looking for a place and she
said she liked me and wanted somebody she liked to be her subtenant.
The rent is really low. Then they canceled her show and she had a
mental meltdown and went to a spa somewhere to regroup. Or at least
that's what everybody at E! says."

"So that's definitely Kristen Starr?" Ally asked.

"I hadn't seen her in over five months, not even to pay the rent, and I
couldn't believe it was her when she rang my bell and asked if she
could borrow my copy of her key. At first I almost didn't recognize
her. She looked . . . different somehow. The odd part was, I got the
impression that she didn't recognize me either, at least for a minute
or two. When I asked her if she wanted the rent, she just looked at me
funny. A few minutes later, she brought the key back and she had a
half-open backpack stuffed with clothes and papers. She seemed nervous
and disoriented. I was going to try and help her get a cab. But then
you showed up."

"Hey, look, I had no idea I was going to freak her out like that,"
Stone said.

"What's your name?" Ally asked and then she introduced herself.

"My named is Cindy Dobbs. And you know something? Kristen didn't seem
like the same person, in a lot of ways. She looked really different. I
don't know how to explain it. But something was really, really wrong
with her. And she kept saying her name wasn't Kristen, that it's
something else--I can't remember what now. All I know is, she was
totally spooked."

"Talk about bad timing," Stone said.

"She was so paranoid she kept babbling about how 'they' knew she was
here in her apartment and were coming to get her and she had to get
away real quick. I don't know who she was talking about. Some guy used
to come by and his white stretch limo would be double-parked for a
couple of hours while he went in. But other than him, nobody ever came
here."

"Cindy, the truth is, I was talking to her this very morning on the
phone," Ally said. "I'm the one who called her. I also met her mother
today, who just got a crazy letter from her and was walking around with
a pistol because of it. I'm getting to be deeply invested in Kristen
Starr. Something bizarre seems to have happened to her and I need to
find out what it is."

Ally didn't want to confess that she felt indirectly responsible for
what had just occurred If she hadn't phoned . . . She stood thinking a
minute, then, "Did you say you had a key to her place?"

Cindy shrugged. "I've had it since I moved in. We had copies of each
other's keys. Just in case, you know." She reached into her ragged
jeans and pulled it out and stared at it. It was attached to a blue
plastic tab, GREENWICH LOCKSMITHS.

"Then could we borrow it long enough to go in and take a look around?
Maybe we could find some clue to what's going on."

"Hey, if you want the key, and you think it can help you find her, you
can just have it." She was holding it out. "I don't want to go in
there, ever. With my luck, those people would show up again and take me
away. But let me know if you find out anything, okay? I really thought
of her as a friend, even though we actually didn't know each other that
well. She didn't ever introduce me to that older guy who came around.
Probably because he was married, at least that's my guess."

"I think she knows those people who grabbed her just now," Ally said,
taking the key. "Cindy, can we exchange phone numbers?"

"Sure. I meant it about letting me know if you find out what's going on
with her. Everybody at work is going to be really bummed when they hear
about this."

Moments later, Ally and Stone were alone on the street, with Stone
still appearing dazed. Now, taking measure of him in the daylight, she
noticed a bit more of the mileage in his face and body. Still, it was
good mileage and it had left him seasoned and lean. Also, she sensed
that he really cared about things. This was more like the man she
remembered, a mensch in wolf's clothing.

"Are you sure you're okay?" she asked.

"I'm going to be fine," he said. "Jesus, I never dreamed I'd spook her
the way I did. By the way, did you get the license number of that
Lincoln? I sure as hell didn't."

"I didn't need it. That guy is Winston Bartlett's personal bodyguard.
He called him Ken. I was at Bartlett's place on Gramercy Park a couple
of days ago and I saw him there."

"You're not kidding, are you?"

"I wish." She paused. "You know, Kristen and Bartlett were being talked
about as an item back when. 'Page Six.' "

"The Sentinel would never touch it, but that was more than a rumor.
Over the years I've had occasion to take more than a passing interest
in his affairs." He grinned. "And for the past several days, he's been
taking a lot more interest in my affairs, ever since he found out about
the book."

"Incidentally," she declared, "I didn't have a chance to tell you on
the phone, but Kristen seems to have no memory of who she is. Somebody
told her that her name is Kirby, and that's what she insists on being
called. All in all, she sounded deeply screwed up." She dangled the
key. "So why don't we go up and see if we can learn anything?"

"Did it seem odd to you that, what's her name, Cindy didn't want to go
in with us," he mused as they headed up the steps.

"Well, maybe she's already seen it. God only knows what we're going to
find. Though the place she had in Chelsea was pretty well maintained.
After I redid it, it was a knockout, of course, but she'd already moved
down here by then."

The building dated from the middle of the nineteenth century and the
entryway, painted white, was a slight nod to the fashion for the Greek
Revival style that made its way into the New York town houses of that
period.

She shoved the key into the new lock, a Medico, and pushed open the
door. Stone moved past her and switched on the light.

What awaited them was a minimally furnished but elegant living room,
with a small couch and table. The downstairs "parlor floor" had been
"opened up"; a lot of walls had been taken out and a staircase was on
one side of the front room. It felt like a modern loft.

Memorabilia from E! was all over, the logo on throw pillows and two
empty mugs on the table. The main decoration, however, consisted of
publicity photos of Kristen around the walls, a smiling blonde with
flowing tresses down over her shoulders. In all of them she was wearing
heavy makeup and the photos appeared to have been airbrushed.

They were both trying to absorb what they were actually seeing. Each
photo, and there were at least sixteen, was pinned to the walls with a
steak knife, all with matching white bone handles.

"Jesus, who do you think did this?" Stone asked. "Could it be that
ditzy girl downstairs?"

"I'd say she did it herself. Supposedly the reason she went to the
Dorian Institute was because she was having some kind of personal
crisis over starting to look older. She was consumed with terminal
self-hate. That's what this has to be about."

"I've never caught her on TV," Stone said, walking over to study one of
the photos, "but from what little I saw of her on the street just now,
she sure seemed different from these head shots."

"Well, this is exactly how she looked on the tube." She told him the
alleged story of how Kristen had ended up at the Dorian Institute. Then
she gazed around the room, still having trouble taking it in. "Jesus,
this is really sick."

"Ally, I'm absolutely convinced that whatever happened or didn't
happen--keep that possibility in mind--to Kristen is connected somehow to
the reason Gerex's clinical trials have been put under ironclad
security."

"Which is why, no matter what, they've got to get her back on the
reservation." Ally thought a moment. "Van de Vliet told me she'd left
the clinic of her own accord. Which clearly was BS. Winston Bartlett
has her stashed somewhere. Probably in an apartment in one of the
buildings he owns." She looked over. "What do you think it all means?"

"How's this for a guess? Kristen is experiencing some kind of side
effect that's truly horrendous. Losing your memory is bad enough, but
there's probably something more too. I can't imagine what it is, but if
the truth about it ever gets out, their entire program of stem cell
research would be jeopardized."

"Well, I don't see much here to help us find her," she declared,
looking around. "The knives in the walls don't speak well for her grip
on sanity. Who knows? Maybe nothing's physically wrong with her. Maybe
it's just all in her crazy head. Look at this place, for goodness'
sake. Except for the knives, it looks pretty normal. Maybe she's just a
nutcase and imagining that her memory is going."

As she gazed around the room one last time, she noticed an answering
machine on the floor next to the couch. The message light on it was
blinking, and she walked over and pushed the play button. She
remembered that Stone had said he hadn't left a message, and Kristen
had picked up when she called her, short-circuiting the voice mail.

The phone machine announced in an electronic voice, "You have one
message, at two-eleven P.M."

Then an unctuous male voice came on. "Kirby, we know you're there.
You're still in treatment. You shouldn't be wandering around
unsupervised. It's a lot better, a lot safer, for you to stay with us
now. This is Ken. I'm coming with Delores to pick you up. I know you're
upset, but you shouldn't be. We're going to take care of you and help
you."

Then the phone machine clicked off.

"My God" Stone said glancing at his watch, "that's almost exactly when
I got here. That's why she thought I was with them."

"That's the guy who slugged you. I recognize his voice. Guess they
suspected she was here and that phone call was intended to flush her
out. It worked."

"And I ended up right in the middle of it. Damn."

She walked around the empty room, checking it out. Except for the head
shots stabbed to the wall, there was not a scrap of paper to be seen.

So how do we find Kristen without a clue? she wondered. Should the
kidnapping, if that's what it was, be reported to the police? But what
proof do we have that any of it actually happened? They're not going to
third-degree Winston Bartlett.

"You know," Stone said staring closely at one of the photos, "I didn't
actually get a really good look at the woman running down the street.
She glanced back at me when I called out her name, but the truth is,
I'm not a hundred percent sure this is her."

"Come on," Ally said "that had to be Kristen. The girl downstairs
recognized her. Though she did say she looked different somehow."

"You're going to think I'm crazy," he went on, still staring around at
the walls, "but it seems to me the girl on the street was a lot younger
than this one." He bit a fingernail contemplatively. "Christ, this is
some sick material."

"Stone, I'm going down to my office, to take care of some things and
think about this. Come along if you like. Maybe we've overlooked
something obvious. Something that--"

That was when the beeper on his belt went off. He looked down at the
number.

"Whoops. It's my managing editor."

"Where you work?"

"Right. Only I've got a feeling this call could be about how I used to
work there."



Chapter 22



_Wednesday, April 8

3:18 P.M.

_

Ellen O'Hara, R.N., who was in charge of the nursing staff at the
Dorian Institute and chair of the union committee for the Gerex
Corporation, looked around the room, which was a conference space just
off the laboratory in the first level of the basement. Each of the
three other nurses present reported directly to her and they had filed
in casually one by one, in order not to draw the attention of the
research staff as they passed the laboratory. They all sensed the
imminence of crisis and this was a clandestine emergency meeting.

The appearance of Katherine Starr and the shooting that transpired had
left the entire nursing staff in dismay. Of course they all remembered
Kristen Starr, the outgoing and scatterbrained TV personality, who had
arrived in the throes of a mental meltdown. Some also remembered her
mother, Katherine, who had made a nuisance of herself till she was
refused further admittance (on the orders, everyone suspected of the
owner, Winston Bartlett, who was widely reported to have a romantic
relationship with the girl).

They also suspected that something had started going terribly wrong
with Kristen's cosmetic procedure. After seeming okay, her behavior had
suddenly become erratic and she had been immediately whisked into
intensive care in the subbasement and quarantined before anybody on the
regular nursing staff could learn what the problem was. She was
attended by the research team he had brought from California, and the
information officer at the registration desk in the lobby, May Gooden,
was instructed to say she had voluntarily left the program. (Well,
maybe she had, but she hadn't left the institute.) Then less than a
week ago, she was rolled out on a gurney and loaded into the ambulance,
which was driven by Winston Bartlett's Japanese thug, and taken God
knows where.

Ellen had checked and was dismayed, though not entirely surprised, to
discover that none of this had been included in the weekly clinical-
trial reports being forwarded to the National Institutes of Health.
(Which in itself was a flagrant violation of procedural requirements.)

And now this. Kristen's own mother showed up deranged and carrying a
pistol, looking for her. How much longer would it be before the NIH, or
the police, found out that something funny had gone on?

Right now the first thing to do was to get the three senior nurses in
the room to put a lid on the rumors. They were her lieutenants; it was
their job.

Elise Baker, single and sharp and acerbic, was in charge of the second
floor; Mary Hinds, a kindly mother of two, had responsibility for the
third floor, and May Gooden, the queen of communication skills, handled
the reception and oversaw the staff responsible for the dining room.
All three were in their forties and they reported to Ellen O'Hara, who
reported to Karl Van de Vliet.

"Elise, could you please close the door."

"Sure." She was getting up. "Is this the quorum? You don't want anybody
else here?"

"We have to decide what to do about Katherine Starr," Ellen began. "In
my opinion, the absolute first thing we have to do is make sure the
story of what just happened never leaves this building."

"Well, I think Dr. Vee should call the police and have her arrested"
Elise said as she quietly shut the door. "The very idea. Barging in
here with a loaded gun."

"I don't feel safe in the lobby anymore," May Gooden declared. Her face
was lined and she had streaks of premature gray. "We're all exposed out
here in the middle of nowhere. I think Charles should have a pistol.
What good is it having a 'security guard' if you're still not secure."

"Mary, what do you think?" Ellen asked. She knew Mary would always try
to split the difference and reconcile differing opinions.

"I don't know. Maybe it was just the case of one crazy person. It's
probably not going to happen again."

Okay, Ellen thought, that's three different votes. Call the cops, beef
up security, or put our collective heads in the sand.

She worried about the others, but she was also worried about her own
situation. Her husband Harold left her eight years ago for a younger
woman, and after reclaiming her maiden name, she'd raised their two
young sons on her own. Now the oldest, Eric, was ready to start college
and she had no idea how she was going to pay for it if she lost this
job.

The Gerex Corporation paid her almost twice what she would be earning
as an R.N. at an ordinary hospital. With her current salary, she had a
shot at providing the boys with an education. Without it--if Gerex got
embroiled in some horrible scandal and was put out of business--she had
no hope whatsoever.

Even worse, she might be named as being complicit in some unethical
shenanigans, knowingly putting a patient at risk in a human trial. That
would certainly drive a stake into the heart of her nursing career.

"Elise, we'd better think long and hard about bringing in the police.
They would talk to Katherine and she'd tell them Kristen was missing
and we simply have no idea where it would end." She paused. "I'm about
to say something I shouldn't, but I guess this is the moment. You all
deserve to know an important fact. The NIH has not been told the reason
Kristen Starr was terminated from the stem cell program."

"How do you know that?" Elise asked.

"I just checked the reporting records. Call it a hunch. We all know
that, for a formal clinical trial, that's a flagrant violation of NIH
rules."

"What are you saying?" Mary asked, her voice filling with alarm.

"I'm saying we have no choice but to keep this whole matter of Kristen
and her mother under cover. If the Dorian Institute gets caught
tampering with the data from a clinical trial, it could be the end of
everybody's career. Dr. Van de Vliet's certainly, but most probably
ours as well."

"My God," Elise blurted out "Did we have to wait till some crazy person
with a gun barged in here before you got around to telling us that
clinical-trial data had been fiddled with?"

"Maybe Dr. Vee still intends to provide a full report to the NIH.
Whatever he intends, if this whole matter blows up, the less any of us
knows about what may have gone on, the better."

"Well," Elise declared, "I think they all should be confronted. The
clinical trials aren't over yet. There'll be a final report so he can
still give the NIH whatever data had been left out. We should confront
him and demand that he give a full accounting in the final report
Otherwise we all could end up being part of some conspiracy."

"Maybe we ought to think this over for a few days before we do anything
drastic," Mary said. "We don't know what he intends to do and there's
still time. If we start giving Dr. Vee ultimatums, it's just going to
upset him even more. He could have been killed taking the gun away from
her. He's got enough to worry about just now. Maybe he's going to
handle her special case some other way that we don't know about."

"My concern right now," Ellen said, "is the people who work under us. I
don't think pulling an ostrich number is going to protect anybody.
We've got to get out of denial and face up to how serious this might
get. And I'll tell you our number one priority right now. If Katherine
Starr walks out of here before the Kristen problem is cleared up and
gets the ear of someone in the media, then everybody who works here . .
. Let's just say we mustn't allow that to happen. That's why we're
having this meeting."

"Are you suggesting we should keep her . . . sedated?" Mary asked. "All
her medications have to be approved by--"

"No sedative should be listed on her chart and I'm not telling you what
to do, but use your imagination."

There was a moment of silence as the implications of the unspoken order
settled in.

"And starting immediately, we need to hold a meeting of the staff on
each floor and impress on them that the story of Katherine Starr must
never leave this building. Ever. Remind everybody that that would be a
serious violation of a staffer's original security agreement and would
subject them to legal action the likes of which they can't even begin
to imagine. And if somebody comes around asking questions about Kristen
Starr, nobody here knows anything. We can say she was here because
that's part of the record and she is no longer here. End of statement.
Beyond that, nobody knows zip."

This problem is far from over, Ellen told herself. God only knows how
it's going to end.



Chapter 23



_Wednesday, April 8

3:22 P.M.

_

As Stone Aimes stepped off the elevator on the sixth floor, his mind
was running through his options. This phone call had to be about
Winston Bartlett. He was going to step up the pressure. First there was
the hellfire meeting in Jane's office, and now he'd seen a kidnapping.
Maybe this was about that. Was Jane going to pass along a threat of
legal action if that crime got reported?

The managing editor, Jay, had left a message with the third-floor
receptionist, Rhonda, to be forwarded to Stone. Gist: he was urgently
required in the office of their corporate counsel.

What does this tell me? he wondered. That they're going to try to do
something to me that could have legal ramifications?

No, more likely it means that I'm going to be given an ultimatum, maybe
an injunction. And Jane gets to deliver it with all the legal
trimmings.

Still, he was determined to go on. "You shall know the truth, and the
truth shall make you jive." Right? Well, not necessarily. But at the
least, the truth could make a hell of a book. And with that came
financial freedom, at least for a while. . . .

The hallway felt desolate and ominous as he walked through the doorway
that opened onto the cubicles. Jane Tully was down on the third floor,
but he wanted to stop by his desk first and see if there'd been any
further communications from Winston Bartlett. Possibly there still
could be a deal in the making

The room itself was silent, no one meeting his eye. Maybe, he thought,
it's the middle of the afternoon and everybody's dozing off from a late
lunch. But when he got to his cubicle, he realized why he had suddenly
become invisible. The top of his desk was bare, and there were three
large cardboard boxes sitting on the gray carpet next to it.

"I think I get the picture," he said to the empty space.

It looked like Winston Bartlett had just provided him with a career
decision. For a moment he felt his life passing before his eyes, but
then all he could think about was the future. This was not just the end
of a wage-slave era; it was the beginning of the next phase of his
life.

He saw everyone still avoiding his eyes as he turned around and walked
back to the elevator. How much did Jane know about this? She had to
know everything, which was why Jay sent him to see her. She would have
no qualms about giving someone the ax, including a former lover.

When he stepped off the elevator on the third floor, Rhonda looked at
him as though he were a corpse.

"She's--"

"I know she's here. Don't bother buzzing her."

He strode purposefully down the hallway, realizing it was probably the
last time he'd ever walk it, and pushed open Jane's door. She was on
the phone and looked up startled putting her hand over the mouthpiece.

"What--"

"Just came to say farewell. Jay told me to come see you. I

guess he was sure you'd want to be part of this important life moment."

"Stone, for God's sake"--she turned back to the phone--"let me . . . I'll
call you tomorrow." She slammed down the receiver. "You have to know I
had nothing to do with this. Bartlett got to the Family. I think it was
one of those noblesse oblige kind of things. Old Money meets New Money
and needs to placate it. The Sentinel is only marginally a profit-
making enterprise and the last thing they need is a lot of shit from
their landlord. He wanted you gone. And since your job was a small
price for them to pay to ensure domestic tranquility, do the math.
Sorry, but that's how it had to be. For God's sake, Stone, why did you
drive him to this?"

The ironic thing was, she was managing to look vaguely contrite--tugging
at a lock of short hair. He wasn't sure how she had the brass.
Apologies from the executioner are traditionally a tough sell.

"Let me tell you something, Jane. I already know more about Winston
Bartlett than he wants. He had somebody kidnapped today before my very
eyes. I even got slugged trying to stop it. So you can tell his lawyers
to tell him he'd better back off. The people who did it were recognized
and they work for him. If he wants to play tough, I could have a
heartfelt exchange with somebody I know very well at the Sixth
Precinct, and also with the tabloids, where I know a shitload of hungry
columnists. Winston Bartlett could get real famous, real fast"

"Stone, you brought this on yourself. I tried to warn you, but you're
hell-bent on your own destruction. You're your own worst enemy." She
picked up her Blackberry and switched it off and sighed. "You never
listened to me before and I don't expect you to do it now, but take
some free advice anyway: try not to piss off important people. It is
frequently a negative career move."

"Jane, you know John Kennedy once said, 'Sometimes party loyalty asks
too much,' and I think that moment for me, is

now. From here on, I'm going to be doing what I need to do, not what
Bartlett or Jay or whoever tells me to do. I guess that includes you
too. There comes a time when I have to do what's in my heart."

She was finally focusing, looking at him strangely. "Stone, what did
you just say? Bartlett had somebody kidnapped? Today? What on earth are
you talking about?"

"Did I secure your vagrant attention? Good. Actually, it was less than
an hour ago. There's no point in going into details, but I'm pretty
sure she was the patient terminated from the clinical trials at the
Dorian Institute that I had you ask Bartlett's lawyers about. I think
there's the possibility that something really weird began happening to
her out there in New Jersey. But I didn't get a chance to talk to her
because they grabbed her and took off."

"Well, what do you think happened to her out there?"

"The only thing I've heard and that's secondhand is that she lost some
part of her memory. She's even having trouble remembering her name."

"How do you know all this?" she asked staring at him. "Were you--?"

"I . . . know somebody who talked with her this morning. Just a few
short exchanges on the phone. That's all I can tell you. They're doing
something very powerful there at the institute, but in her case it
seems to have gone horribly wrong. That's my best guess. So they
dropped her from the clinical trials and gave her a new identity and
stashed her someplace incommunicado. But she got away for a couple of
hours, somehow, and managed to go back to her old apartment. In her
case, it's a Village town house. But Bartlett nabbed her back."

"If you really believe all that, Stone, shouldn't you be worried for
your own safety?" It was clear she was finally taking him seriously.

"Bartlett got me fired. That's probably enough for now. I don't know
enough to be a threat to him. Yet."

"But what if you find out . . . whatever it is you're looking for?
Then--"

"Then I'll know if medical miracles sometimes come with a strange
price."

She was looking at him, pity entering her dark eyes. "What are you
going to do for money? The child support you send to Amy?" She
hesitated. "I'm so sorry about this, Stone. If you need a little help
for the short term, I could--"

"Don't go there. I can take cash out on a couple of credit cards. And
when I turn in the manuscript for the book, I'll get the other two-
thirds of the advance. After that, I'm hoping I might get an actual
career."

"Oh, Stone, I'm really sorry about this," she said with feeling. "Truly
I am. I. . . I guess I still enjoy seeing you. Having you around.
You're a mensch, you know that? Whatever your other failings, and God
knows they're plenty, you were always kind. You're even kind to people
who don't necessarily wish you well."

"Well, tell that to Amy if you ever get the chance. Sometimes she
thinks her dad is the meanest guy alive. Particularly when I don't
honor her every whim."

"You're a good father too." She sighed.

For Stone, this was always the moment that he wanted her back--when she
let her guard down.

"Dammit, Stone, why couldn't we make a go of it?"

"We stopped having fun, Jane. That's all that happened. I started to
bore you. Back then I didn't provide enough excitement, enough Sturm
und Drang in your life."

"You weren't dull, Stone, but sometimes you could be maddeningly smug."

"That may be about to change. Now that I'm an unemployed freelancer.
And I just ran into a blast from the past. Who knows what my life is
about to be like?" He turned to leave. "By the way, give my best to
Jay. Hopefully, he'll be the last managing editor I'll ever have to
suck up to."

"Take care, Stone." She was getting up. "You can fight

this, you know. They had me write up some kind of bullshit breach-of-
contract brief, in case you wouldn't go quietly. But it's full of
holes. I know, since I deliberately wrote it that way."

"Hey, thanks anyway. It's not worth it. I'm not going to fight to keep
a job I never liked all that much in the first place. Every time I
wanted to do some serious journalism--like that piece about using the
Internet to store everybody's medical records--Jay always found a reason
not to run it. I've only got so much dignity to lose."

He turned and strode out of the office, deciding to forego any more
farewells. Besides, he had better things to do. Get somebody from the
mailroom to carry the boxes--the shards of his erstwhile, so-called
career--to the lobby, where he could get a cab. Take the files home,
stash them, and then get going.



Chapter 24



_Wednesday, April 8

4:40 P.M.

_

"Hi," he said, walking through the door of Ally's downtown studio,
CitiSpace. Jennifer had the desk at the front and she served as a
makeshift receptionist. She looked up as he continued, "I don't have an
appointment, but I'd love to see Ally Hampton. Any chance?"

"And you're . . . ?"

Just as he started to tell her, Ally emerged from her office/cubicle in
the back and spotted him.

"Stone! What--"

"Bet you didn't think you'd see me again quite so soon."

She felt her pulse jump. No, she hadn't. She'd told him she was going
down to the office, but she'd certainly had no idea (or hope) he'd just
show up a couple of hours later.

Since she got back to the office she'd been in a struggle with her
conscience over what to do about Kristen. Was there any good to be
served by bringing in the police? At the time it had seemed pointless
and it still felt that way. The whole matter was awfully anecdotal.

Worse, she didn't really feel she should talk it over with

Jennifer, which she would have loved to do. They supported each other
in a lot of things, but this crazy story would just freak her out. Why
do that?

The more troubling thing was, she'd started feeling tired and slightly
dizzy. Now she was just hoping to stay focused long enough to last out
the day. What, she wondered was happening to her? It wasn't like a
chest-tightening spell of angina--which, thankfully, she hadn't had for
a couple of days now. No, this just felt like something was sapping her
energy. She couldn't help the suspicion that this queasy condition was
somehow related to her encounter with Dr. Van de Vliet's testy blond
colleague Debra. While she was supposedly taking that blood sample, was
she also doing something else?

"Welcome to my home away from home. You're right, I didn't expect--"

"CitiSpace," he interjected seeming to try out the word as he looked
around She noticed that Jennifer and the others automatically assumed
he was a new client of hers and were trying to look preoccupied. Jen,
however, was giving him a furtive appraisal, running the numbers. He
was a decent looker, actually kind of cute, and he seemed pleasant and
outgoing. Not a bad start. That was what she would say the moment he
was out of earshot.

"You like the name?"

"Not bad. Sort of a takeoff on Citibank?"

"My dad came up with it back before they copyrighted that name. Maybe
they stole the idea from us." She was feeling cheered by the sight of
him. Yes, it was good to have him back for a while, maybe longer. "But
come on, let me introduce you around"

Which she did. Jennifer gave her a telepathic glance that said This guy
looks like he might be worth the effort. What's the deal?

Then they went to Ally's office, a high-walled cubicle in the back with
a computer and a drafting table. She had a CAD program running.

"Sorry to just invite myself down like this," he said, "but I got off
work early. Matter of fact, I just became a freelancer. My office now
consists of three cardboard boxes in my walk-up apartment."

"What do you mean? That phone page? Did--"

"Winston Bartlett owns the building where the Sentinel's offices are.
Seems he convinced the management that it would be in their interest if
I were no longer employed there. I gather he thinks I know more than I
actually do about what's going on out at the Dorian Institute, and I
guess he thought getting me fired would slow me down. What it has done,
however, is to give me even more incentive to surpass his most paranoid
assumptions. Now I'm going to take him on full-time. I want to know
everything."

"Oh, Stone, I'm so sorry." She wasn't buying his bravado. He didn't
look like a guy who could last very long without a paycheck.

"I have to say he gave me fair warning. That meeting where he yelled at
me. This little turn of the screw is not a total shock."

"But that whole thing with Kristen . . . I'll bet that's what sent him
over the edge. I shouldn't have gotten you involved in that."

"This had nothing to do with you, believe me." He shrugged "Besides, it
gives me even more motivation to finish the book fast. And I'm also
looking forward to spending some of my newfound quality time with you
again, if you'll let me. In your favor, you've actually been inside the
Dorian Institute, which is more than I can say."

She wasn't a big believer in the magic of a second time around--that
would have to await further evidence--but having Stone back in her life
was definitely helping on the psychological-support front.

"I'm thinking," he went on, "that maybe we should go back to Kristen's
apartment and turn the place inside out. Do it right. We both let
ourselves get distracted by the little matter of our other lives."

"Stone, I'm not sure"--she lowered her voice and sat down at her desk--
"but I may be having a reaction to something one of Van de Vliet's
research assistants did to me out at the institute this morning. I
don't know. I'm just feeling sort of weak and... funny. I'm thinking
maybe I should call out there and talk to him." She took a deep breath
and seemed to be mounting her courage. "Or if he needs to see me, could
you possibly drive for me? I'm not sure I'm up to it"

"Hey, I'd love a chance to get inside that place." Then his eyes grew
uncertain. "But are you sure you want to go back, after what seems to
have happened to Kristen? You might consider waiting till we find her
and--"

"Ally, are you all right?" Jennifer was walking in, carrying a manila
folder. "You look kind of queasy. Can I make you some tea or
something?"

"Thanks but not now," she said. "I'm feeling weird, but maybe I should
call out to the institute and see what Van de Vliet says."

"Just don't agree to do anything until we talk," Stone said.

"Don't worry," she said reaching for the phone. The number for the
Dorian Institute was now newly entered on her Palm Pilot and she called
it. When the receptionist answered she gave her name and asked for Dr.
Van de Vliet. "I was there this morning and gave a blood sample to Dr.
Debra Connolly. I don't know if there's any connection, but I'm really
feeling strange right now."

"What do you mean by 'strange'?" the woman asked. "Can you describe how
you feel exactly? He's in the lab downstairs."

"That's just it I'm not sure I need to actually see him. I'd just like
to talk to him."

"He doesn't like to be disturbed. Unless it's something very
important."

"It's important enough for me to try to call him," she declared feeling
herself abruptly seething. "I'm weak and dizzy. And my stomach is not
in such great shape either."

"What did you have for lunch?"

My God, she realized she hadn't actually had any. After the disaster
with Kristen, she'd been in such turmoil that she hadn't even thought
about food.

On the other hand, she knew what food deprivation felt like. This was
something else.

"I didn't have all that much lunch, but that's not the problem. Now
will you please put me through?"

"Let me see what I can do," she said. "I'll call down and ask him. He
might be able to see you."

Ally listened as the line went blank.

That was when she remembered she had some smoked turkey in the office
fridge. Maybe a quick sandwich was called for.

While she waited, Stone was looking around the offices, taking
everything in. Carrying the phone, she walked out and followed him.
What, she wondered, was the place telling him about her? The meager
furniture was low-slung and utilitarian, with lots of beige and dark
brown. And there were several huge storage files for blueprints and
designs. There also was a comfortable easy chair and lamp near a
bookcase in the corner. On the table next to the chair were two British
mysteries and a thick, recently written history of New York City.

He walked over and picked it up. It was 760 pages long.

"This your idea of reading for relaxation?" he asked, waving it at her.
"I tried to get through it, but I only got up to the 1930s and then I
started having a bout of acute sleeping sickness every time I picked it
up."

"Hey, the history of this city is a mental hobby of mine. It's always
renewing itself." She smiled. "Think about it. When developers convert
industrial space to residential, we end up getting a lot of work."

Then she heard the phone crackle alive. It was Van de Vliet. "Alexa,
what seems to be the problem?"

She told him.

"Then I think it's important that you come back out here as soon as you
can. I can't say anything until I've seen you. This could be something
that could affect your procedure."

"But what do you think--"

"I don't diagnose over the phone. I was about to go home, but I'll wait
for you."

She listened as he clicked off.

"Shit."

"What did he say?" Stone asked.

"He said I've got to come out."

"Do you really want to do that?"

"I don't know. But what's the point of going to a doctor here? They
wouldn't know--"

"Then at least let me drive you," Stone declared. "And I'll make damned
sure they don't pull something funny."

"Ally," Jennifer said ,"you look absolutely wiped out. Before you do
anything, at least let me fix you a sandwich. I think there's some
turkey in the fridge."

"I was thinking about that." She glanced at Stone. "You want
something?"

"Sure. I'll have whatever you're having."

"Don't be so sure. Jen can tell you I take mayo and mustard both. I
know it's weird but that's the way I am."

"Then I'll give it a try. I want to get to know you all over again."

"Also, I hate to say it, but I think maybe I ought to swing by the
apartment and get some things. Just in case."

She listened to her own voice and wondered, would whatever happened to
Kristen happen to me too?

Maybe, she thought, what I really ought to take with me is a gun. Maybe
Katherine Starr had the right idea.

Jennifer finished the sandwiches and was wrapping them. "Ally, I'll go
with you to your place and pick up Knickers. She can stay with me till
you know what's going on."

"Thanks, Jen. I was hoping you'd volunteer." She knew she could have
dropped a hint and made it happen anyway, but this was nicer.

She then went around and had a few last words. It felt like a good-bye
and she didn't want it to. But it did.

Ten minutes later, while Stone waited in her double-parked car, she and
Jennifer took the elevator up to her Barrow Street apartment.

"Where did you find that man?" Jennifer asked as soon as they got on.
"He seems nice. Interesting. He's not a client, is he? And, pardon me
for noticing, no wedding ring."

"He actually found me," Ally declared, punching her floor. "It's a long
story, but he was a guy I was deeply in love with for about fifteen
minutes back around college. The old flame I told you about, remember?
Then we started getting on each other's nerves. We're both going easy
on the personal details right now, but I've got a hunch he's got nobody
else percolating. Which, incidentally, goes for me too, or hadn't you
noticed."

They stepped off the elevator and she unlocked the door to her
apartment. Knickers exploded with delight.

"Hi, baby." She reached down and ruffled the sheepdog's ears.

"I really love her," Jennifer said as she reached down to pet her too.

Knickers began a dance of joy, then ran to search for her rubber ball
behind the couch, hoping for a game of fetch with Jennifer.

"By the way, I can't tell you how I appreciate your taking her. She's
going to love being at your place awhile. I'm sure she gets bored crazy
being here all the time. I probably should get a puppy or something to
keep her company, but then she'd be jealous. And I'm not about to get a
stupid cat."

"She loves me because she knows I love her," Jennifer said. "I always
play with her when you bring her into the office. At least I think she
loves me. This may turn out to be the test."

Ally headed into the bedroom, opened a drawer, and took out some black
sweatshirts. Those and black jeans were her favorite things to wear
around the house. She slept in a T-shirt and panties, so it wasn't hard
to put together her evening ensemble. Besides, if something went wrong
with the experimental stem cell procedure, it wouldn't matter a damn
what she was wearing.

She threw the clothes into a blue gym bag and headed for the bathroom
to fetch some toiletries. By the time she got back to the living room,
Jennifer had a measuring cup and was shoveling Science Diet into a
large plastic bag.

They delivered Jen and Knickers back to the office. After she gave them
both a farewell hug, she came around and slipped into the Toyota's
driver's seat, moving Stone across.

"I'm actually feeling better now, so I'll drive as long as I can. And
by the way, I'm famished. How about that turkey sandwich?"

"Thought you'd never remember."

Five minutes later, they were headed up the West Side, with Ally at the
wheel. She checked the gas and was relieved to see that she still had
two-thirds of a tank. Stone was leaning back in the seat looking at
her.

"You know, it's easy for me to say, but trying the stem cell procedure
on your heart is probably the right thing for you to do. Still, though,
it makes me nervous. If there's a medical glitch of some kind then . .
. I mean, what the hell is going on with Kristen?"

"I'm going to confront him about that," she said "I damned well want
some answers before I just turn myself over to him."

After they crossed the George Washington Bridge, she began feeling
slightly better. Maybe, she thought, whatever it is is going to pass.
As they headed north up the tree-shrouded highway, she decided to ask
him a question that had been nagging at her mind.

"Stone, I know you hate to have these talks, but something about you
doesn't quite compute for me right now. There's a kind of unnatural
intensity about your pursuit of Winston Bartlett and his stem cell
work. And the same goes for his reaction to you. Way back when, I never
really thought I knew you, and it's still true. I mean, is this all
just about a book on stem cell technology? Or is it something more?"

The question was followed by a long moment of silence as he looked
away, into the forest, and appeared to wrestle with his thoughts.

"You're very intuitive, Ally," he said at last "Maybe I didn't
consciously set out to write about stem cells just because I knew
Bartlett's Gerex Corporation was a leader in the field. But writing
about stem cells automatically meant that I'd have to get close to him
at some point. So was it an unconscious choice? If it was, then I
wouldn't be aware of it would I?"

"But why would you want to get close to Winston Bartlett?"

"I guess that was your original question, right?"

"Pretty much."

"There are things about my past that I never told you. I could never
decide exactly how to go about it. And truthfully, right now doesn't
seem exactly the right moment either. You've got enough on your mind"

"Want to give me a hint?" What could he mean? she wondered. It was
clear that Stone Aimes and Winston Bartlett had some kind of holy war
going on between them.

"I'll tell you someday soon. But I want us both sitting down in a safe
place when I do. It's going to be hard." He looked away again. "Someday
soon I've got to tell my daughter, Amy, too. Maybe telling you would be
a practice drill."

"So what I'm learning is that I'm not crazy. This is about more than
it's about?" She sighed. "Nobody's leveling with me. With Van de Vliet
I have to worry whether he's telling me the truth every time he opens
his mouth. And now you're holding out. It's like that joke about
feeling like a mushroom. Everybody keeps me in the dark and feeds me
bullshit." She was slowing down, pulling into an open space by the
roadside. "Stone, I'm feeling a little dizzy. Maybe it's this
conversation, but I think it's time you took the wheel for a while."

"Hey, don't pass out on me now," he said, snapping into the moment.
"I'm not sure I could actually find this place without your help."

"Don't worry," she said, bringing the car to a stop. "I'm all right.
I'm just a little worried about my reflexes."

He got out and walked around, while she hoisted herself over into the
other side.

The evening commute had begun in earnest, so there was a lot more
traffic than there had been that morning. But Stone turned out to be an
aggressive driver, right on the edge, as though he were racing the
clock. She gave him directions and then closed her eyes, hoping to
rest. But all she could think about was Stone's refusal to tell her
about something that loomed very large in his life.

"Tell me if I'm bothering you and I'll shut up," he interjected after a
few minutes, "but--not to change the subject--did you actually give
anybody permission to stick a needle in you this morning? I mean, are
you sure you understood what was going on at the time?"

She shifted and opened her eyes, looking straight ahead.

"Truthfully, I assumed I was just giving a blood sample. That's what
his assistant said and I took her at her word. I hate needles and I
never actually watch when I give blood. This morning I just sort of
went along with what was happening. And nothing seemed particularly
ominous till Katherine Starr showed up and started blasting away."

"Well," he said, "do your best to get some rest and I'll try to get you
there as soon as legally possible."

She stared out the window a moment before closing her eyes again.
Around them the encroaching greenery of northern New Jersey felt like
an ancient forest where magical things could happen. Out here in the
forest, was there a magician who had the power literally to save her
life?

And what about Stone? Setting aside the troubling fact that he was
harboring some mysterious connection to Winston Bartlett--and that was
hard to set aside--she was feeling a sense of togetherness with him that
brought back a lot of positive memories. Which was bizarre, because she
knew so little about what kind of man he'd become. If people are worth
their salt, they change a lot in their late twenties and early
thirties. So what was he really like now? What did he love? What did he
hate? What were his priorities? Did he believe in the Golden Rule?

Mulling over all this, she slowly drifted away. . . .

Dusk was approaching by the time he pulled to a stop at the gated
entrance of the Dorian Institute. Along the way he'd begun getting a
sense that they were being followed by a dark-colored Lincoln Town Car,
but it could have been his imagination. And he hadn't seen it for the
past fifteen minutes, after he pulled onto the leafy lakeside drive
leading to the institute.

"Hey, we're here, Ally. Rise and shine. How're you feeling?"

There was no response when he touched her.



Chapter 25



_Wednesday, April 8

7:20 P.M.

_

"Jesus, Ally, are you all right?" He leaned over and shook her.

Finally she jumped, and then her eyelids fluttered open.

"Where . . . ?" She looked around.

"The sign says this is it. The institute."

"Oh shit, Stone, I'm feeling really strange," she said after a moment
of getting her bearings. "Everything around me seems like it's moving.
It's as though the space I'm in has an extra dimension. I don't know .
. . maybe it was totally stupid to come back out here. Maybe I should
have just gone to my doctor in the city."

"Hey, you've got a seriously deficient sense of timing. We're here now.
I've been breaking the speed limit for the last half hour."

"I know. Shit. I really don't know what to do. I don't trust anybody."

"Well, you could start by trusting me. I'm along to try to make sure
nothing bad happens." He paused. "So what do we do?"

A brass plaque on a redbrick pillar beside the gate bore a two-inch-
high inscription, THE DORIAN INSTITUTE, and just below it was an intercom.
She stared at it for a moment, then said, "There, give it a buzz. I
think there's a video camera around here somewhere. Last time I was
here, they knew I'd arrived."

He reached out and touched a black button.

"Yes," came back a quick voice. She recognized it as belonging to the
woman she'd spoken to on the phone.

"It's Alexa Hampton." She leaned over. "We talked--"

"Yes, I know, Ms. Hampton. He's been waiting for you."

A buzzer sounded and the two wrought-iron gates slid back, welcoming
them. As they drove down the tree-lined road, an elegant three-story
redbrick structure with white Doric columns across the front slowly
came into view.

"From here, it's pretty classy-looking," Stone declared, sizing it up.
"I know his big manufacturing-and-research campus is right down the
road. But still, it sure feels godforsaken and lost out here in the
middle of these pines. It's like the place is hiding from the world."

"Where better to do secret medical research," she said. "If you want to
keep everything proprietary, then the isolation gives you a big jump on
security."

She directed him to the side parking lot, where she'd left her car that
morning.

"Stone, here's what we'll tell them. You're next of kin, a cousin on my
mother's side."

"Works for me," he declared. "I'm beginning to feel part of the family
anyway." He pocketed the car keys and helped her out of the Toyota.

As they headed up the wide steps, past the white columns, Ally felt a
wave of nausea sweep through her. She reached out and took Stone's arm
and sank against him.

"I'm... I'm not feeling at all well. Please let me hold--"

No sooner had she said it than the front door opened and two nurses
appeared, their hair backlit from the glow of the reception area. She
recognized one as Ellen O'Hara.

"Here, dear, let us help you," she said as she strode toward them. She
was dressed in white and her eyes were flooded with concern. Ally
looked through the doorway to see a waiting wheelchair.

"That's fast," Stone said. "Looks like they were ready for you."

My God, she thought, did they already know what kind of shape I'd be
in? What else do they know? Surely Van de Vliet has heard by now that
I'm aware of Kristen.

Then she saw him standing behind the nurses.

"Alexa, we need to get you downstairs as soon as possible." He was
coming forward to help her settle into the wheelchair. He appeared to
take no notice of Stone Aimes.

"I'm just feeling a little dizzy."

He smiled reassuringly. "There's always a small percentage chance that
there may be side effects from the initial inoculation."

Huh?

"What 'initial inoculation'?" She bolted upright in the wheelchair. "I
was just supposed to be giving blood."

"I thought Debra explained," he said, appearing confused. "There's
always an initial . . . antibiotic dosage, just as a prophylactic." He
shook his head in self-blame. "I should have insisted you stay here,
but after that . . . incident this morning I was so disoriented I let
you talk me out of it. You may be having a reaction to the antibiotic,
but it can't be all that serious. I didn't see anything about side
effects in your file. We just have to get you horizontal for a while.
Everything's going to be all right. In fact, this might be a positive
development. With you here now, we can begin fine-tuning your procedure
immediately."

"Dr. Van de Vliet, this is my cousin Stone. He drove me here and I'd--"

"I'd really like to stay," Stone said reaching to shake Van de Vliet's
hand. "It would mean a lot to both of us. To the whole family."

"Family?" Van de Vliet declared. Ally noticed that he was

examining Stone with narrowed eyes and seemed to be debating something
with himself. "Well, we'll see." Then he turned back to her. "The first
thing is to make sure your. . . situation is stabilized. I actually
think a good night's rest might do the trick. But I need to run a quick
blood test downstairs."

She felt her dizziness coming and going, but she was determined to stay
awake and in control of what was being done to her.

"By the way, I was wondering how is Katherine Starr doing?"

His eyes grew somber. "She's a very lucky woman, considering. We've
given her some coagulants and stitched her up."

"Are you going to press charges?"

He looked at her strangely. "Do you think we should?"

"I guess it's none of my business." Of course you won't, she told
herself. The Kristen matter will not stand the ordinary light of day,
let alone a police investigation.

"Maybe it's time to let her daughter come and see her."

"I looked at that letter," he said with a matter-of-fact tone. "I
suspect it's a hoax. And a very cruel one at that."

"I don't think so. I talked to her today. The woman formerly known as
Kristen. On the phone." She stared at him. "I really think it's time I
learned more about what happened to her here at the institute. All I
could really find out was that she thinks she's experienced some pretty
dramatic memory loss."

He looked as though this information was new to him. He also looked
startled. "You spoke to her? What . . . did she say? Is she all right?"

"No, she's not all right." Don't mention the kidnapping she told
herself. Play dumb and see how he behaves. "I want to know what
happened to her when she was here."

He paused, then took a deep breath. "I told you everything I know this
morning. She was a very troubled young person. Her treatment seemed to
be going well, but she couldn't accept that. She began to believe there
was some kind of conspiracy against her. In a word, she became
completely paranoid."

Well, Ally thought, there's "paranoid" and then there are times when
somebody really is out to get you. So which was it in Kristen's case?

She glanced over at Stone, who appeared to be trying to act as though
he didn't know what on earth she was talking about. But she could see
him efficiently taking mental notes.

"When you can't remember who you are," she said turning back to Van de
Vliet, "and then someone who does know who you are gives you a new,
fake identity, I think it's enough to justify paranoia."

He was rolling the wheelchair toward the elevator but abruptly paused

"Is that what she's claiming? Good God I told you she was paranoid and
that should demonstrate it better than anything. Letting her discharge
herself and leave the program, to go off unsupervised was a truly bad
idea, but nothing short of physical restraint could have stopped her."

"And do you have any idea where she is now?" Ally asked.

"I told you . . . Look, if I knew her whereabouts, don't you think I'd
do everything I could to contact her, find out how she is?"

"Right."

She reached out and took Stone's hand as they all moved onto the
elevator. She could sense his excitement at finally being inside the
Dorian Institute, but at that moment her concentration was drifting and
she felt as though she were slowly beginning to drown in a sea of
white.

"Stone, please don't leave me. Don't let me out of your sight.
Something funny is happening and I don't know what it is."

Van de Vliet bent over. "Alexa, look at me. I want to see your eyes. I
think they may be dilating." He waved a hand across her face. "Can you
see me?"

"It's the fluorescent lights," she mumbled "There's too much glare.
Could someone please turn them down? I think that's what's wrong.
They're giving me a headache."

"Ally," Stone said, "the lights are not very bright in here. We're
going down in an elevator. There aren't any fluorescents."

Then the elevator chimed and the door opened. They were in the basement
now, where the research lab and the office and the examination rooms
were. Debra, wearing a white lab coat, was standing there silently
looking at her.

Now there really were fluorescent lights, and she turned away and tried
to shield her eyes.

"God, turn them off. It's so painful. It's like they're shining into
the back of my skull."

"She's started hallucinating," Van de Vliet whispered to Debra. "I've
got to draw blood for a test and give her an injection. We need a
gurney now. We've got to take her down to the IC. Her condition is
progressing much more rapidly than I expected."

"Ally, is this what you want?" Stone demanded. "You don't have to do
this."

Her breath was coming in rapid pulses now and she was cringing from the
light even as she struggled to rise out of the wheelchair.

"I want . . . to get . . ."

She managed to pull herself onto her feet, but then she sagged and
collapsed against Stone as he pulled her to him.

As one of the nurses grabbed the newly arrived gurney and pulled it
over, Van de Vliet and Ellen O'Hara seized her out of Stone's arms and
lifted her onto it.

"You'll have to leave now," Van de Vliet said to Stone. "I'm sorry."

"I'm not going anywhere. I promised her I'd stay by her side and, by
God, I intend to do just that."

"I'll determine what's best for her," he replied. "Please go up to the
reception area. I'll let you know how she is."

"I'm not leaving."

"Then I'll call our security and have you removed from the premises."

"Stone," Ally said her eyelids flickering, "it's okay. I want you to
tell my mother I'm here. She's in room two-thirteen, upstairs, the last
time I saw her."

"You've got it. Don't worry. I'll take care of everything."

She heard him saying that, but then she thought she heard another voice
inside her head begging him not to leave. It was the last thought she
had before the world went entirely white.



_Wednesday, April 8

7:39 P.M.



_Ellen O'Hara watched the scene with mounting dismay. She'd overheard
Dr. Van de Vliet talking to Debbie about the procedure scheduled for
Alexa Hampton. Then she'd checked the schedule that had been put into
the database. It turned out that Alexa Hampton had two procedures
scheduled.

The troubling part was, one was identical to the procedure that had
been performed on Kristen Starr several months back, or at least so it
seemed. And that had resulted in what she'd just overheard Debra call
"the Syndrome." By whatever name, it had produced some horrible side
effects. Why on earth were they now repeating that with this new
patient? Hadn't they learned anything?

Karl Van de Vliet--or whoever ordered this idiotic travesty--was about to
put the job of every person at the Dorian Institute at risk. If
whatever happened to Kristen was replicated and the word got out, it
was going to be the end for everyone who worked here.

Most troubling of all, what about Ms. Hampton, who seemed like such a
nice person? Did she agree to that experimental procedure? If she knew
what had happened to Kristen Starr, surely she wouldn't have.

Ellen O'Hara didn't know how she could stop Dr. Vee from doing what he
appeared to be planning to do. The procedure was going to be performed
in the laboratory.

The only way she could think of to stop it was to try to warn Ms.
Hampton that what they were about to do was extremely dangerous. But
how? Her chart in the database said they were going to keep her
quarantined down in the sub- basement. That was specified.

On top of all this, Kenji Noda had brought in some unidentified patient
this afternoon, wheeled in while strapped to a gurney, and they had
taken that patient to the subbasement. Noda was still down there, and
Winston Bartlett had come in and gone down also. The unholy pair. And
now they'd be holding Alexa Hampton down there too.

Was it possible to get past them and warn her?

She was determined to find a way.



Chapter 26



_Wednesday, April 8

7:40 P.M.

_

Stone was deeply troubled as he entered the elevator to return to the
lobby. He had promised Ally he'd stay by her side and now he'd let her
down. Was this the best he could do? He felt like he had to earn the
right to be back in her life, but he seemed to be making a slow start.

But he wasn't about to leave the premises until he knew she was okay.

Hoping for the best, he reminded himself that although Van de Vliet was
wound pretty tight, he clearly was more than competent. The problem
was, he'd just offered a transparent song and dance when Ally asked him
about Kristen. Now it was easy to understand why she'd said she didn't
know whether to believe a word he said. But that didn't necessarily
preclude him being a Nobel Prize-quality medical genius.

In any case, to finally be inside the Dorian Institute was a major coup
in his own quest. Up until now, Bartlett's press heavies at BMD had
turned back his every attempt to get a first-hand look at the institute
or an interview with Karl Van de Vliet. Now, at last, he'd actually
seen the man.

So . . . after he visited with Ally's mother upstairs--which ought to be
interesting, an actual patient interview--he was going to try to keep a
low profile and scout the place. Maybe he could finally talk his way
into an interview with the celebrated Van de Vliet himself, or at least
with some of his research staff. This was definitely the break he'd
been waiting for. Finally he'd have some actual reporting to put in the
book.

When he stepped off the elevator, he noticed that the uniformed
security guard looked him over suspiciously. He and Alexa had been
waved through the metal detector when they came in, owing to the
urgency of her condition. Now he felt as though the guard, a tall,
middle-aged black guy with thinning hair, was trying to frisk him with
his penetrating eyes.

Stone smiled and nodded toward him and headed for the desk in the
middle of the reception area. Around him a number of patients were
ambling through the lobby, returning from a room in the back that was
identified as DINING HALL. Some were wearing blue gowns, and most appeared
to be in their sixties and seventies. But they all were sprightly and
animated as they walked along chatting. Somehow the place felt more
like a vacation spa than a clinic. He'd like nothing better than to sit
them all down right this minute for an interview. "How has the Gerex
stem cell procedure affected your condition? Have you had any side
effects?" But to do that without official permission would undoubtedly
get him evicted on the spot.

He took a deep breath and walked over to the reception desk.

"Hi."

The woman looked up. She was the same middle-aged Hispanic nurse with
bold eye makeup who was there when they came in. "Hi. How's your friend
feeling?"

"Actually, she's my cousin, and I don't know how she's doing because
they kicked . . . sent me up here. But she gave me a mission to keep me
occupied."

"Well," the woman declared with a smile, "I'm sure she'll be fine. Dr.
Van de Vliet is a miracle worker."

"So everyone says." He smiled back. "My cousin asked me to look in on
her mother. Nina Hampton. She is, or was, in two-thirteen."

"Mrs. Hampton is your aunt?"

"Uh, yeah, right." Whoops. Get this act together. "Funny, but I always
just think of her as my cousin Ally's mother. My own weird way to look
at it, I guess. I don't really know her all that well."

Things are not getting off to a great start, he told himself. I don't
even believe me.

"Visits to patients, except by those on a pre-established list, require
a photo ID."

"Well, let's get started." He reached for his wallet and withdrew a
driver's license. He made sure his press card was well out of sight.

Keep this dumb and innocent as long as possible, he told himself.

She glanced at the driver's license, then pointed to the sign-in sheet.
"Just sign your name and print it and then also print your relationship
to the patient. I have to say this is unusual. There are regular
visiting hours and guests are normally approved in advance by Mrs.
Young, who's in charge of security. But you came in under extraordinary
circumstances, with Ms. Hampton, and you're already here, so I don't
see the harm."

He signed himself in as quickly as possible.

"Mrs. Hampton is still in room two-thirteen."

"I'll show myself up."

"Please keep it under fifteen minutes. We don't want to tire her out.
You understand."

"Thanks. I really appreciate this. My cousin Ally likes to get an
update on"--he realized he had momentarily blocked her mother's name--
"her mom as often as possible."

He headed for the elevator, trying to contain his excitement. The idea
was to keep this as below the radar as possible. Was he about to crack
the wall of secrecy that Winston Bartlett had erected around Karl Van
de Vliet and the Gerex Corporation?

Just as the elevator door was closing, he saw a figure emerge through
the security entryway. The man clicked a memory-moment from somewhere
in the far-distant past, but he couldn't place him. As best he could
tell, the guy didn't see him.

Just keep moving. Don't look back

As he stepped off the elevator onto the second floor, the pale marble
floors were lit by small bulbs along the walls. This was a place where
medical miracles were supposedly being made to happen and yet it was
lit only with a ghostly half-light. The sounds of televisions emanated
from several of the rooms.

The nurse's station at the end of the hall was empty, which added to
the sense of a surreptitious undertaking.

He walked quickly to room 213 and tapped lightly on the door. When he
heard a bold "Yes?" from inside, he opened it and entered.

He hadn't seen Nina Hampton in almost two decades, but she looked
pretty much the way he remembered her. Her hair was surely dyed now,
but her face was as square and strong as ever. She was reading a
paperback book with a tide that appeared to be Spanish. She looked up
and stared at him for a moment, adjusting her glasses.

"Hello, Stone. That is you, isn't it? You're older but you're still a
hell of a looker. How did you get in here? Is Ally here too? I haven't
seen her since this morning."

"Mrs. Hampton, don't tell me you recognize me."

"Of course I do. When you and Ally were . . . going out, I confess I
didn't hold out much hope that you'd ever amount to anything, but I've
been a fan of your columns for a long time. Though it took me a while
to put it together that that newspaper writer I liked so much was you,
the man I didn't think was ambitious enough for my daughter." She
appraised him a moment. "Does this mean you two are together again?"

Good question, he thought. And I don't have a clue about the answer.

"I wish I knew. Why don't you ask her the next time you see her?" He
smiled and walked over. "She wanted me to come up and see how you're
doing."

"Come up? Is she here now? When she came to say goodbye this morning, I
got the impression that she wanted both of us just to get out of here.
But I told her that was silly. I'm already feeling so much better."

"Really. Well, she's downstairs now and she'll be happy to hear that."
He walked over and smiled. "Mrs. Hampton, I came along with her this
time to keep an eye on her. Hope you don't mind."

"Of course not."

"And there's another reason I'm here. I want to warn you. I'm writing a
book about stem cell procedures and anything you say to me about your
treatment could well end up in it. So don't tell me anything you don't
want everybody to hear about."

"Are you really writing a book about Dr. Vee?" She beamed. "That's
wonderful! He's a saint. Everyone here says so. He deserves a special
place in heaven."

This is great, Stone thought. I've got my own Deep Throat.

"Then could I ask you what you know about what he did and how you think
you've improved."

"I don't really understand what he's doing, but I do know what is
happening to me. It's as though my mind was full of fog a lot of the
time, but now there's a wind that's blowing it away."

"And how--"

A shaft of light from the hallway pierced across the room as the door
opened. Stone turned to see the man he'd first noticed in the lobby.
The man walked past him and marched over to the bed.

"Hi, how're you feeling?"

"I'm touched." Her visage immediately hardened "It's thoughtful of you
to finally come by and favor your mother with a visit."

That's who he is, Stone finally realized. Ally's kid brother.

In his few dealings with the wiseass brat that Ally used to rant about--
what was the kid's name . . . right, Grant--he'd found him devious and
pompous. He was particularly deft at cutting ethical corners and using
other people any way he could

"Stone," Nina Hampton said gesturing toward Grant, "this is--"

"I know exactly who he is," Grant said turning around to face Stone.
"W.B. has put out an all-points alert for you, pal. You've got a hell
of a nerve weaseling your way in here. But not to worry. You won't be
here long."

"I won't have you talking that way in my presence, young man," Nina
declared "Whatever else you may be, I thought I'd raised you to have a
civil tongue in your head"

Grant replied without taking his eyes off Stone. "He lied to the front
desk, Nina. He signed in as Ally's cousin. And that twit-brain down
there let him get away with it. He got up here by using a lie. Now what
does that tell you about him?"

"It tells me he's creative. This man came with your sister. He's
helping take care of her, which is more than can be said about her own
brother."

"This creep is a newspaper reporter, Nina. He's here to spy. He's
planning to do a hatchet job on the Gerex Corporation, and Mr. Bartlett
has expressly forbidden anyone to speak to him"

"I'm not in your corporation, Son, so I guess it's all right for me
then."

"You signed a secrecy agreement with Gerex when you entered the
clinical trials. Now maybe you don't remember it, but you did" He
turned to Stone. "Nice try, amigo. Now come on, let's go."

"You know, Grant, I remember you," Stone said "Not very nice
recollections."

"And I remember you too, pal. You were that screwed-up journalism
student Ally dated for a while. Thank God she got rid of you."

"Sounds like we were awash in mutual admiration," Stone said.

"Tell you what. Are we gonna continue this touching reunion outside, or
do I have to call for security and take your trespassing ass out of
here in handcuffs? It's entirely up to you."

"Grant, I see no reason why I can't talk to him if I want," Nina
interjected "Who I talk to or what I say is nobody's business but
mine."

"You wouldn't be here if it weren't for me," Grant declared. "So I have
a little say-so too." He turned back. "Come on, pal. We're gone."

I'm screwed, Stone told himself. But what about Ally? If I get kicked
out, I'll really be leaving her completely defenseless.

"Mrs. Hampton, thank you for letting me check up on you," he said
quietly. "Alexa is downstairs. I think her procedure is starting
whether she's ready for it or not. You seem very alert, and if I were
you, I'd try to monitor her . . . progress as closely as you can."

"Don't worry," Grant said. "I'll be keeping close tabs on her. And now
let's go."

With no option short of killing him on the spot, Stone followed along,
seething. This little creep obviously works for Winston Bartlett--he
wished Ally had warned him about that. Grant was bound to have shown up
at some point.

They went down the marble staircase and Grant signaled the security
man, who leaped up and opened the front door for them. He probably got
a tongue-lashing from Grant, Stone told himself.

As they stepped onto the wide porch, dusk all around them, Grant turned
and headed toward the south end and a long wooden bench.

"Want to tell me what the hell's going on?" he said gesturing toward
the bench and then sitting down. "W.B. said you claimed to be writing a
book about this project. If that's true, then it's a seriously bad
idea. You have no idea what he's capable of if he gets pissed."

"Oh, I think I'm getting a rough idea, but I'm a little pissed too,"
Stone said, remaining standing. "For example, there's the matter of
Kristen Starr. You see, she was terminated from the clinical trials
approximately three months back. So I was wondering, when is Van de
Vliet planning to report her current condition to the NIH?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." His startled voice said
otherwise.

"Oh, I think you do. I saw her today." Then he decided to bluff. "She
had an interesting tale to tell. She--"

"Shit, you interviewed Kristy? Aw, man, don't believe anything she . .
." He hesitated. "What did she say about W.B.?"

"Tell you what, we'll play twenty questions. You tell me what you think
she said and I'll tell you if you're right or not."

"Hey," Grant declared, his eyes intense, "she wanted to do it man.
Nobody put a gun to her head or anything. She was freaking out after
she got sacked. She thought Dr. Vee could fix her skin and she couldn't
wait to try it."

"You mean--"

"The Beta. Take a look at Van de Vliet. He's a walking testimonial. No
side effects for him, so why not? The worst thing that could happen
would be nothing, right? So she figured, what did she have to lose?
Well, now we all know."

"The Beta? That's...?"

"You fucker." Grant bounded to his feet. "You don't know the first
thing about what I'm talking about do you? How the fuck did you find
out about Kristen anyway?"

"I told you I spoke to her." Well, it was almost true. He'd yelled at
her. "She's very . . . unsettled just now. But I guess you know that"

"Hey, she was always fucked-up, but W.B. liked all the energy behind
that. He looked right past the eating disorders and the coke and the
late-night clubs she went to all the time. But, man, if you think she's
spaced, try her mother. That crazy--"

"Grant, why not level with me? There's something very wrong going on
here. I'm in the business of telling the truth, and I've got a keen
nose for medical horse-pucky. So how about coming clean? If it's good,
why not, and if it's bad, it's going to come out eventually anyway.
Hasn't Winston Bartlett learned anything from all the screw-ups in
Washington? It's not the situation--it's the cover-up."

"Well, I don't know what Kristy did or didn't tell you, so we're not
going in that direction. I heard about her little trip downtown this
morning. I assume that's probably when you saw her, if in fact you
actually did. Right now she's being taken care of, for her own good."

" 'Being taken care of'? So happens I had a close encounter with a
couple of her caregivers today. They're taking care of her, all right."

"Look, she used to be W.B.'s girlfriend okay? He's still very concerned
about her. Everybody's really sorry about her situation, but nobody saw
it coming. And now he's got some problems of his own."

"You seem to be pretty heavily involved with Winston Bartlett's
personal problems."

"Yeah, well, the man's been like a father to me. And I think he feels
that way too, since he doesn't have a son of his own."

Stone let the taunt just hang in the air for a moment. He mainly just
wanted to slug the smug little bastard.

"You don't know how little you know, about him or about anything.
Someday I may take the trouble to straighten you out. But right now
you're not worth the effort. All I care about at the moment is what's
going to happen to Ally."

"Everybody cares what happens to her. A lot depends on it. Dr. Vee
thinks she's our best shot"

"What . . . what the hell are you talking about?" Stone stared at him
through the twilight. "What depends on it?"

"Guess you're not as smart as you think you are." He was up and heading
for the parking lot. "Come on, pal. Time to hit the road. I'm gonna
tuck you in. This conversation is terminated. And it never happened
anyway. I'll have them unlock the gates for you."



Chapter 27



_Wednesday, April 8

8:25 P.M.

_

Alexa watches as the prow of their forty-one-foot Morgan, two-masted,
cuts silently through a placid sea. She vaguely remembers the vessel.
It was teak and magnificent. Steve had chartered it, bare-boat, for two
weeks and taken them cruising through the Bahamas. By the end of that
time, she felt they could have sailed it around the world.

But that was six years ago, when he was still very much alive. Now the
boat feels like a magical carpet taking them someplace together,
effortlessly. The genoa, the mainsail, and the mizzen are all full and
blossoming outward even though there's no wind. She's at the helm,
holding a course toward something white on the horizon, and Steve is
with her. He's alive again and he's with her. She feels her body
suffused with joy. Then she looks at the reflection of herself in his
sunglasses and realizes she's a little girl, still a child. This is all
a dream, she realizes, a cruel dream. Then she looks again at the
horizon, the blazing white light, and senses that it represents the
future. Their destiny.

Now the sea around them, which had been placid, starts to roil. The
wheel is becoming harder to control, and the sun is starting to burn
her. In its pitiless glare she feels herself beginning to age rapidly.
She glances at Steve and she can see his skin starting to shrivel. She
senses he is dying, right there before her eyes, but her hands feel
glued to the wheel and she can't let go to try to help him.

Now the sea is growing ever more choppy and the white symbol on the
horizon has begun to bob in and out of view. Sometimes she can see the
"future" and sometimes she can't. Waves are crashing over the sides,
inundating the deck, and she feels anxious about what lies up ahead.
Will they ever get there, and if they do, will she want what she finds?
Even more important now, will Steve still be with her?

As the waves pound against them both, oddly she doesn't feel wet.
Instead, what she feels is a stab of muted pain in her upper chest,
pain she knows would be searing if she were to experience its full
impact. She looks down to see that the wheel she thought she was
holding is gone, and her chest is pierced by the steel mechanism to
which it was attached. It has gone all the way through her.

Next a huge wave comes straight over the bow and slams against her and
Steve. Her body convulses with pain and she senses that he is being
swept overboard, directly off the stern. She screams at him to hold on,
but then he is gone, lost in the dark sea.

Now the boat itself is starting to disintegrate, as both masts tip
backwards, then come crashing down. Up ahead, the white light that is
the future is growing ever more flame-like. It is part of a shoreline
she is trying to reach, but now she doesn't think she's going to get
there. Around her, the boat's lines and cleats are being swept into the
pounding sea.

In moments the boat has disappeared, but she continues on, propelled by
some force she cannot see, until she finally crashes onto the rocky
shore.

It is a chiaroscuro landscape of blacks and whites. Oddly, Stone Aimes
has appeared and is holding her hand as they make their way along the
barren seascape, where everything is hazy and trapped in fog. She
thinks she sees figures lurking in the mist around them but can't make
out who they are. Everything is static and frozen in place, like the
images of motion on the Grecian urn caught for eternity.

She reaches out to touch Stone and her hand passes right through.
That's when she realizes the white light and this rocky shoreline
represent the other side. Is this what death feels like? she wonders.
Like the white tunnel drawing you in?

But then she has another thought. Maybe she isn't dead at all. Maybe
she is in a third place, somewhere suspended between life and death.
She looks again at Stone and tells herself they're not dead, they're in
some kind of time machine. This voyage is about time.

Now time has begun to flow around her like a river. Days, weeks,
months, years, they all course by. But she knows it is a chimera.
Nothing can make time go faster or slower.

Then the bright lights are gone and she feels alone. Very alone.

But she isn't. She hears voices around her, drifting, echoing, and she
tries to understand what they are saying.

"She's stabilized. We're past the critical phase."

"Do you want to bring her up now?"

"Not yet. We still don't know how it's going to go."

There was a pause, and then a male voice.

"This was the Beta too, wasn't it, Karl?" Another pause. "Well, wasn't
it? The injections. That's the first time since . . ."

Again the voices drift off. She listens, not sure what she is hearing.
She tries to process the word "beta" but makes no headway. In computer
slang, "beta" means a program that is still being tested. Then she
remembers hearing the word just hours earlier. She had been talking to
some woman. But she can't remember who--"

"I changed the procedure this time," comes a voice. "I injected the
special Beta enzyme separately from the activated stem cells. Whatever
happens will happen at the enzyme's own pace now. And I kept the dosage
as low as I could. We'll be monitoring her telomerase levels throughout
the day. If there's no rejection, we will be past the first phase."

"Is the dosage the only difference from before?" comes the other,
accusing voice.

"At this point, David, manipulating the Beta is an art, not a science.
I'm just attempting to create antigens, the way a smallpox vaccination
does. Then we'll try to harvest them. This is not really a full-scale
Beta procedure. I don't plan to do that ever again."

There was another long silence.

"That man who was here with her. Her cousin, did he say? I saw no
family resemblance, but he seemed very upset."

"That's why I had him sent upstairs. I think he's the reporter W.B. was
so concerned about. Anyway, he's gone."

Stone. She realizes that's who they're talking about. And now he's
gone. She's on her own.

Next the voices drift away for a time, into some echo space that mutes
them. Finally, though, they come back.

"This should be adequate for another four hours. After that, you'll
need a glucose IV to keep her hydrated."

"I've already put it on her chart. By then we should have some idea of
which way this is going. I'm thinking, I'm praying, that this time is
going to be the charm. That I've learned how to modulate the enzyme."

"Is she ready for transfer to IC?"

"Anytime."

The voices start drifting away. A fuzziness is enveloping her senses,
leaving everything soft and muted.

The pain is gone from her body now, and the bright lights around her
seem to be dimming. The figures in the white haze on the perimeter are
now disappearing, one by one, as though filing out of a room. And now
she feels like she's floating, with things moving past her.

Then, finally, one lone voice is talking to her, is really talking to
her, in a private and unmistakable way. And as she drifts back into the
gulf of anesthesia, she listens to words that do not make a lot of
sense.

"The Fountain. Through all the ages, we've been looking in the wrong
place. It's within us. Together, Alexa, we have this chance."

She listens as the voice begins to drift away. Yet she feels a genuine
sense of closeness to it. She realizes she no longer has control of her
destiny. But still she wants to be where she is.

Now the sea is coming back, flowing around her, and she tries to
remember where she is and why, but all she is aware of is the sea
rising, until she is engulfed.



Chapter 28



_Thursday, April 9

8:00 A.M.

_

Stone awoke in his Yorkville apartment nursing a hangover and a lot of
regrets. He'd inhaled a triple scotch after driving Ally's Toyota back
and parking it on the street the night before. He'd needed it.
Yesterday had been a day where, in sequential order, he'd seen a woman
who'd lost her memory get kidnapped (probably); he'd been fired from
his day job; he'd finally gotten inside the Dorian Institute, only to
blow the opportunity completely. But the most important thing that
happened was, he'd rediscovered a woman he'd once been in love with and
he currently didn't have the slightest idea what was happening to her.
Thinking back over their last few moments together, when she was being
checked in by Van de Vliet and his research team and he was being
hastily sent up to the lobby, Stone suspected that Ally was about to be
subjected to something they didn't want anybody to know about.

Now he was determined to get back inside the institute and look out for
her.

As he pulled himself out of bed and shakily made his way

into the kitchen to start the coffee, he was trying to decide where to
begin. As it happened he now had all the time in the world

He didn't mind all that much losing his position at the Sentinel--come
on, that was writ across the sky--but he particularly regretted being
denied the pleasure of quitting on his own terms, complete with a
flamboyant fuck-you- very-much farewell speech to the managing editor,
Jay. He'd actually been rehearsing it for weeks.

The dream of just showing up at the Dorian Institute and walking in was
no longer even a fantasy. There was a special "not welcome" mat out for
him. Even more than the first time, he'd need a calling card.

That had to be Kristen Starr. She clearly held the key to whatever it
was Winston Bartlett and Karl Van de Vliet were trying to cover up. But
how to find her? The only real lead he had was the apartment she'd come
back to, apparently returning like a genetically programmed salmon
going back upstream but not really knowing why.

Okay, why not go back down there and look around again, only do it
thoroughly? He and Ally hadn't had time to do much more than a cursory
look-around. The specter of the knives in the walls still haunted him.

But how to get in?

Then he remembered that Ally had been given the key by Kristen's spacey
subtenant, Cindy, the one who was renting the ground-floor apartment.
Did she leave that key at her CitiSpace office or did she put it on her
key ring?

Her car keys were lying on the table by the door, where he'd tossed
them last night. He walked over and checked them out. There were
several house keys on the ring in addition to her Toyota keys. Could
she have put Kristen's key on the ring too? Or did she stash it in her
desk at CitiSpace?

Swing by the apartment and try these, he decided Maybe I'll get lucky.

As he headed for the shower, a cup of black Jamaican coffee in hand, he
thought again about the last thing Alexa's good-for-nothing brother,
Grant, had said, something about how Alexa was their "best shot."
Whatever that meant, it couldn't be good.

By nine o'clock he had showered, shaved, and was in Ally's Toyota
headed for West Eleventh Street. As he turned right on Fourteenth, he
had a fresh idea.

Kristen's phone was still working, at least as of yesterday. So did she
have speed dial, a memory bank of numbers? That could be a gold mine of
the people closest to her. But if not, there were other tricks, ways of
getting phone information. There might even be information in the phone
itself: who do you get on "redial" and who do you get with *69, the
last number that dialed in?

The last number that dialed in would probably be the Japanese guy who
left a message and then kidnapped her. But the last call out could be
interesting.

He had a nagging feeling that this wasn't the best way to be spending
his morning, but he couldn't immediately think of anything else.

West Eleventh Street was comparatively empty, so he had no trouble
securing a parking space. After he'd turned off the engine, he looked
at Ally's key set again. Well, there were four other keys on it besides
the Toyota keys. Give it a shot.

He got out and locked the car and walked up the steps. It was a perfect
spring morning, cool and crisp, and this part of the Village was quiet
and residential. He found himself envying the owners of these beautiful
nineteenth-century town houses. There was something so dignified and
secure about them.

Then he saw a man emerge from the apartment below the stoop, just a few
feet from where he was standing.

"Hi. How's Cindy?" he called down, hoping the social gesture would let
the guy know he wasn't about to do a second- story number on Kristen's
town house.

The man, who looked to be in his late twenties, was dressed in a black
suit, with long blond hair tied back in a ponytail, and carried a
shoulder bag that appeared to be serving as a briefcase. He stared at
Stone with a puzzled look.

"Who?"

"I was here yesterday and . . . a woman named Cindy, friend of
Kristen's, said she was leasing the garden apartment. I was just
wondering--"

"I'm sorry. Maybe you have the wrong address. I've had this place for
almost a year and a half now." He was moving on down the street as he
called back over his shoulder. "Good luck."

What the hell is going on?

He looked up and checked the number. Yep, it's 217. Cindy had
definitely gone into that apartment yesterday and talked convincingly
about living there and working at the E! station. She even had keys to
Kristen's place.

So who the hell was that guy? He looked back, but now he had
disappeared.

Did I just imagine that? he puzzled.

He moved up the steps to the heavy white wood door and started trying
keys.

The first one wouldn't enter the lock, nor would the second. The third
key entered but would not turn.

Okay, last chance.

He inserted the fourth and it seemed to stick. But he gave it a wiggle
and _voila_, he was in.

Thanks, Ally.

But when he stepped through the door and switched on the light, he
could only stare in disbelief. The apartment had been completely
cleared out. The white walls, which had been covered with knifed photos
of Kristen only yesterday, were now blank. Even the few pieces of
furniture were gone.

"Jesus, I don't believe this." His voice echoed off the empty marble
mantelpiece and bounced across the room.

He looked around. Since late yesterday, somebody had come in and
cleaned out the place. Thoroughly. Any hopes of finding old letters, an
address book, anything personal, were gone. He knew immediately that he
had been outsmarted. Kristen Starr, and now her friend Cindy, had
officially ceased to exist. Cindy might still be at E!, but she was
going to be terrified and subject to massive memory loss on the subject
of Kristen.

But wait a second. They left the phone. The answering machine is gone,
but maybe they didn't realize that phones can have memories and can
sometimes tell tales. That might be worth a try, but check out the
place first.

He walked into the kitchen alcove and gazed around, not entirely sure
what he was looking for. The main thing would be some phone numbers and
addresses.

He opened the refrigerator and peered in. It was still running and
contained two unopened jars of British marmalade and an empty quart jar
with traces of orange juice bordered by mold. The freezer compartment
was entirely bare.

The two kitchen cabinets above the stove had been similarly emptied. He
gave them a cursory look, then came back and followed a hallway to a
bathroom in the back.

When he opened the medicine chest above the sink and peered in, he
initially thought it was empty, with a pile of wadded-up Kleenex on the
bottom shelf. He was pulling that out when he realized that the tissue
had been wadded around an empty prescription drug vial.

Kristen Starr had prescription number 378030. It was for Libinol--
whatever that was, probably some kind of screwed-up diet pill--and it
had been filled five months ago. It had been delivered from Grove
Pharmacy on Seventh Avenue to here, 217 West Eleventh Street. The
address was pasted on a sticker on the back.

Hmmm, he thought. After she left, rather than transferring the
prescription, what if they just had subsequent refills delivered to
some other address? There's a long shot that Grove Pharmacy might have
a new address for the prescription number. Okay, it would be a very
long shot, but still . . .

Unless, of course, her new address had been the Dorian Institute. In
that case, the prescription would undoubtedly have

been discontinued once she became a patient. He reached for his cell
phone to call the drugstore.

Shit, I forgot it! Damn hangover.

He walked back into the living room and stared at Kristen's phone. If
it was still working, he could call Grove Pharmacy and--

No, idiot, that would wipe out any number stored in the redial
function. Without a cell, the best thing to do is just go over there
and check with the pharmacist in person.

He settled yoga-style onto the hardwood floor next to the phone and
stared at it. What if the line is already disconnected? Why did whoever
cleaned this place out leave it here? The phone, of all things. It's--

It rang.

He jumped a foot off the floor, and then stared at it.

A series of reasons flashed through his mind:

1)They know I'm here and they're going to warn me again to back off.

2)They know I'm here and the last incoming call here was from a number
they don't want me to know about. I pick this up and I wipe out any
chance of ever finding out what it was.

Don't answer it. This phone call is not intended to be helpful.

Not picking up the phone was the hardest thing he'd ever done, but he
was determined to be disciplined.

He counted eleven rings and then he couldn't take it anymore and
reached for the receiver.

It stopped.

"Thank God." His hand froze in midair. The timing had been a split-
second salvation.

All right, he thought, time to find out if I just totally screwed up.
Time to dial.

He got his pen and notebook poised and then lifted the black receiver.
He knew from the message on her machine yesterday that somebody had
called her just before he got there. Or maybe whoever came and cleaned
out her apartment had received a phone call while they were here.
Possibly from whoever sent them. A checkup call.

Who knew? But give it a shot. He hit the code.

A mechanical voice came on immediately: "Your last call was from area
code 212, number 555-3935. If you would like for me to connect you,
please push--"

"Go for it," he said aloud, scribbling down the number and then
following the instruction.

At that moment somebody's cell phone began to ring just outside the
front door.

"Oh shit." It was just too big a coincidence.

After two rings it stopped and he heard the voice of Winston Bartlett,
both outside the front door and in his ear.

"Yes."

He was too startled to respond, but he didn't need to, because an
instant later he also heard the sound of a key and then the front door
opened.

A shaft of daylight shot across the room as Bartlett took one look and
exploded.

"Damn, so it's true. How the hell did--"

"Hey, come on in," Stone said, trying to recover some poise and take
marginal control of the situation. "I'm here by permission. The
downstairs tenant, who you just evicted, or kidnapped too, gave me her
key."

"You don't get it, do you? I told you to keep--"

"But we have signs of progress. I know all about Kristen." Well, that
was hardly the case, but it never hurt to start off with a bluff to see
how far you could get. "That's why I'm here. The question is, when are
we going to start talking to each other? Because I'm putting together a
hell of a story."

"I don't fucking believe this." Bartlett slammed the door.

"By the way, a special thanks for getting me sacked at the Sentinel.
Now I'll have the leisure to concentrate full-time on the stem cell
book. And Gerex."

"I warned you, but you wouldn't fucking listen." He was peering around
the living room as though searching for clues to explain why nothing
was going right.

"Like I said, I talked to Kristen yesterday." Stone stood his ground.
"She's not a happy person."

"If you bring her into this . . ." Bartlett glared at him. "I can't
imagine what makes you think you can just run roughshod through my
business and my life."

"Here's how it is. You can abuse me, or you can use me. Keep in mind
I'm accustomed to working for people who buy ink by the barrel. As I
tried to explain before, if you won't let me get at the whole truth, I
may end up spreading half-truths."

Bartlett walked across the room and ran his fingers along the marble
mantelpiece above the fireplace. "You know," he said, turning back, "up
until now you've never asked me for anything. I have to say I've always
admired that, but I'm curious why."

"Maybe I thought it was your place to come to me," Stone said, puzzled
by the left turn the conversation had suddenly taken. "You know, I have
a life of my own. I have an eleven- year-old daughter you've never seen
or--apparently--care to see. I'm wondering what that says about you. Your
granddaughter's name, by the way, is--"

"I know her name. I know quite a bit about our blood ties, or lack of."

"Well, I'd bet she'd be just thrilled by that. Incidentally, she
doesn't know a goddam thing about you and I'd just as soon keep it that
way."

"I knew having this conversation was a fucking mistake. This is why I
never had it. Any real son of mine has got to have some of my
character, my stature. You're a bean counter."

"If you had any character, you wouldn't be hiding behind all this
secrecy. I try to tell the truth, as much and as often as I can. That's
my take on character."

"What we're doing at Gerex is going to change the history of the world.
We're at the brink of things mankind has only dreamed about. And I've
taken all the risks. In fact, I took the biggest risk of all
personally. There's a lot going on that you don't know a damned thing
about. We're on the edge of--"

"All the more reason you should want the whole story told," Stone
interjected. "Yes, stem cell technology is going to change everything,
but you can't just tell half the story. I want it to work, but I'm a
truth seeker. I want to find out what, if anything, can go wrong too.
You've been using people, first Kristen and now--I'm beginning to fear--
Ally, to take your risks for you. I mean, what's going on? Why did you
send somebody down to obliterate all evidence of Kristen? And now
Cindy, that girl downstairs? My God, she's somehow vanished too.
Whatever happened to Kristen to make it come to this?"

"What may or may not have gone wrong is nothing that can't be made
right. No great medical advance ever succeeded in a direct line."

"I don't need the sales pitch," Stone said. "I agree it's going to
revolutionize medicine. But you can't--"

"That's why you'll never be a son of mine. You always think small. This
is about more than mere medicine. It's about doing the one thing
mankind has never been able to do. I am this close. Nothing is going to
be allowed to destroy this chance. Not even you, my own flesh and
blood."

"Am I that?" Stone asked, feeling an unexpected satisfaction. "Your own
'flesh and blood'?"

"That is something," Bartlett said, "we are about to discover. Whether
we are made of the same thing. The best way for you to understand
what's going on here is to do what I've done. Have the Beta procedure.
Show me you've got the balls."

"The 'Beta procedure'? It might help if I knew what it is."

"Why don't I just show you," Bartlett said. "You want to be on the
inside, see everything up close? Fine. I think the time has come. You
seem determined to stick your nose into what I'm doing. You weaseled
your way into the institute, and now you show up here. So I guess it's
time you were an insider all the way."

"Good, maybe then I can start getting some answers. For example, was
changing Kristen's name part of the NIH study?" Stone turned to face
him. "Or is it your way to hide one of your mistakes?"

"Quite frankly, that's none of your goddam business."

"Well, let me tell you what is my business. Ally Hampton is a
particular friend of mine. I damned well want to know whether she's
scheduled to undergo the same procedure as Kristen. I don't know what
you and Van de Vliet did to Kristen, but if you turn Ally into a zombie
too, I'll personally--"

"I think we'll continue this discussion later." He pulled his cell
phone out of a jacket pocket, flipped it open, and punched a memory
number.

"Ken, could you and Jake please come in. We have the problem I was
afraid we had." He flipped the phone shut and turned back to Stone.
"Karl entered Ms. Hampton and her mother into the clinical trials at
the last minute, as a special favor. She's in no danger."

Now Stone saw two men come through the front door. One was the tall
Japanese man who had slugged him the day before.

Shit. I need this? Is he going to work me over again?

The other guy was dressed in white, as though he were an orderly or
nurse. Stone noticed he had a plastic syringe in his right hand.

"Ken, could you and Jake please take care of this. He'll be going with
us."

Stone examined the three of them. Well, he thought, / guess I'm going
to be back inside the Dorian Institute after all.

"Look, there's no need for excessive violence here. We could just set
some ground rules for this situation."

The Japanese man named Ken walked over and seized him around the neck,
while at the same time pulling his right arm around behind him, a
decisive hammerlock.

"You fucker," Stone choked out. "Let--" The man Bartlett had called
Jake, the one in white, shoved a needle into his arm.

"This could be the experience you've been looking for," Bartlett said.
"You've been pursuing me like a dog chasing a car. Now we're about to
see if you're man enough to handle the consequences when you've caught
it."

You're damned right I'll handle it, he tried to say. But he wasn't sure
if he actually got it said, the void was closing in so fast.



Chapter 29



_Thursday, April 9

10:33 P.M.

_

"Grant, is that you?"

Ally squinted in the semi-dark of the room, finally making out the
silhouette. He was sitting in a chair beside her bed, and his face was
troubled, reminding her of when he'd had a bad day in high school.

Am I dreaming again? she puzzled. The clock on the wall told her that
this was a late hour for whatever he was up to now.

"It's me," he said, his voice low, just above a whisper. The door
behind him, she noticed, was shut. "Welcome back to the world. They
moved you upstairs just for tonight. This is the first chance I've had
to get near you."

She was still wondering where she was, what day it was. The walls were
an icy blue, illuminated only by the silver- and-green glow of the bank
of CRT screens that now monitored her heart and her respiration. She
lifted her head off the pillow and for a moment, looked past Grant,
examining the screen of the heart monitor. It was a phonocardiogram.

She knew what to look for. Over the years she'd learned to interpret
every irregular pulse, every errant amplitude, but now the sonic
abnormalities that typically characterized her stenosis, the struggle
of her heart's scarred valve to maintain adequate coronary output, were
significantly damped.

There'd always been murmurs, abnormal heart sounds, as long as she
could remember, so what did this mean? Had the damaged valve already
begun restoring and strengthening itself? While she slept?

Or was this just more of some dream?

Why was she in this hospital anyway, hooked up to monitors? She still
couldn't remember exactly.

"What . . .?" She tried to rise up out of the bed. Again she wondered,
was Grant real or some chimera?

Then she realized she was strapped in, though the straps were held only
with black Velcro.

As she started to pull them open, she noticed she had an IV needle in
her arm, with a plastic tube that led to a bag of liquid suspended from
a hook above her head. More annoying, however, was the checkerboard of
taped-on sensors on her upper body, for the ongoing phonocardiogram.
She looked at all the tubes and connected wires and felt like a
laboratory animal in the middle of an experiment.

"Ally, you're at the Dorian Institute, remember? Dr. Van de Vliet's
stem cell clinical trials. Nina's here too."

"Oh." That rang a bell, sort of. "What . . . what day is it?"

He told her. "You've been under sedation since late yesterday, Ally.
But Dr. Vee says your test data show you're responding--"

"Mom's here, right?" Now things were starting to come back. "How's she
doing? Is she--"

"He's talking about discharging her by the end of next week, even
before the NIH clinical trials are officially over." Grant tried a
smile. "By then, he thinks the procedure will have replaced enough
tissue in her brain that she might not even need a caregiver. She's
doing crosswords again. Need I say more."

"My God." Now she remembered how on-again, off-again Nina's mind had
been when she brought her out to the institute. Had she really been
given a second chance? And so quickly? If so, it was truly astonishing.

But now she found herself staring at Grant, mesmerized. Something about
him seemed oddly off.

"Grant, what... what's going on with you?"

"I've . . ." He was hesitating. "I've been thinking about everything.
Now I really wish I hadn't done what I did."

"What are you talking about?" This kind of revisionist remorse didn't
sound like the Grant she knew.

"Have you seen Kristen? They said you know about her, were asking about
her." Then he stepped back. "Do you know about her?"

Kristen. She tried to remember. Is that the woman everybody . . . Her
mother had come to the institute with a pistol trying to find her? Then
she was kidnapped. . . .

"It's the Syndrome," Grant went on. "She wanted the Beta procedure, and
Dr. Vee finally agreed. But nobody expected anything to happen like
what eventually did. That's why W.B. went ahead and had it too."

Beta. Now she remembered that Kristen had mumbled something about that
word.

"Ally, I got you into . . . When I told W. B. that I thought you and he
had the same rare blood type, AB, he wanted to bring you into the
program."

"You mean for my heart?"

He looked away and his eyes grew pained. "Well, that's part of it.
There's another part they haven't told you about."

"What's that?"

"Antibodies. They think there's a chance you could be made to develop
them and then they could use them to help W.B. He doesn't have the
Syndrome yet, but it's probably just a matter of time."

What, she puzzled, is he talking about? What "antibodies "? What
"syndrome "? She was weak and she wasn't sure her mind was fully
functional. But after what appeared to be

the miracle of her heart, she was willing to forsake a certain amount
of momentary rationality.

Then more memory started returning. "Kristen. What about her? I saw--"

"Ally, the Syndrome started with her over four months ago. At first
they didn't fully realize how serious . . . but now it's getting worse
every day." He paused and turned away. "Look, I've been thinking. I'm
really sorry that I brought you into this. What if something goes
wrong?"

"What do you mean?"

"If you could see Kristen now, you'd understand."

"Where is she? Is she still wherever they're hiding her?"

"No." He turned back. "Kristen . . . After what happened yesterday, she
had to be brought back out here. There's a ward downstairs, on the
floor below the offices and lab, that's kind of like an intensive-care
unit. That's where you were until tonight. But you can't go back down
there on your own. Not even the nurses can go without a special
authorization, which is never given."

"But if Kristen is--"

"Ally, you 're the one I'm worried about. I thought what they were
going to do to you was safe. But last night I. . . I heard them all
talking and I think you could be in serious danger. They don't actually
know what the consequences of what they're doing will be. You need to
get out of here and at least get the real story. I don't want this on
my hands. Truthfully, there could be some deep legal shit coming out of
all this. I can think of at least three felonies. I don't want any part
of that liability, and I want you to testify that I got you out of here
if it ever comes to that."

Finally the straight story, she thought. He's afraid he's about to be
an accomplice in a criminal conspiracy. He's getting cold feet.

"Grant, do something for me. Get me unplugged. All these sensors. I
want to go see her for myself."

"Ally, forget it. To begin with, I can't unplug you. Only a

nurse can do that. And I don't want to. You've got catheters in places
I--"

"Then I'll get a nurse to come and do it. I'll say I need to go to the
bathroom. That should get me unhooked."

Annoyed she looked around. Where's the buzzer? There has to be one
somewhere. Then she spotted a set of controls attached to the bed and
sure enough, there was a red button. What else could it be?

She pushed it and a light came on above her door. Moments later, a
short blue-haired woman with the name MARION sewn into her white uniform
opened the door and came striding in, flicking on the fluorescent
overheads.

"My, my, we're looking well," she declared ignoring Grant. "I'm glad
you're finally awake. He told us to call him the minute ... They're all
saying you and your mother must have special genes. You've both been
such terrific patients. He'd been keeping you sedated but he
discontinued that medication this afternoon. He wanted you to wake up
with your mind clear."

"Well, I'd really like to get up and go to the bathroom and get
something to eat," Ally said "Mainly, I just want to get out of this
bed for a stretch before I start developing bedsores. I'm feeling
strong, for now at least. Can you unhook some of these wires and
suction cups? And I certainly don't need that IV. I'm so hungry I could
inhale a quart of ice cream in one gulp."

"Yes, of course," Marion said and began dismantling the intravenous
tubes. "We only monitor you and hydrate you when you're not conscious.
The standard procedure is to let you get up and start getting some
exercise as soon as possible. You should be careful, though, because at
this point you're not as strong as you think. Changes are taking place
in your body that require a lot of your energy. If you feel up to it,
you could walk around for a couple of minutes, but you shouldn't let
yourself get tired."

As Marion continued now removing the taped-on sensors, Ally looked up
and saw another uniformed nurse standing in the doorway. She also was
middle-aged, with prematurely gray hair, and she was holding a syringe.

"May I come in?" she asked. "At this stage he needs a blood sample
every three hours. Just twenty cc's."

Ally watched as the new nurse quickly and deftly took a small sample of
blood. Then she capped it off and turned to leave.

"I need to centrifuge this immediately."

And she was gone.

Then Marion finished removing the IV tube and catheter and all the
taped-on electrodes.

"If you want to get up and use the bathroom and walk around a little,
I'm sure it would be all right. I'll come back in a few minutes and
bring you a tray with a nice healthy bowl of broth."

The moment she was out the door, Ally turned to Grant.

"I want to see Kristen. Now."

"I thought the first thing you wanted was to go to the bathroom."

"I'll get to that. You said she was downstairs somewhere. How do I get
there?"

"It's in the security zone," he said. "You're not authorized--"

"You're a big shot around here. Winston Bartlett's right-hand flunky.
So why don't you authorize me yourself."

"Ally, you know I can't do that."

"Then take me there."

"I don't want to see Kristen anymore," he declared, biting his lip.
"She's completely lost . . . everything. I could deal with it until I
saw her this morning. It's just too much."

"Has he let her mother see her?"

"Are you kidding? Letting that psycho anywhere near her is the last
thing anybody's going to do."

"Then get me in, dammit."

"Ally, forget about it."

"Why?"

He hesitated, as though marshaling his thoughts.

"Sis," he said finally, "there're only so many risks I can take for
you, and they have to be about something that matters. Forget about
Kristen. Nothing can save her now. But I'm offering to help you get out
of here before they go any further. I can't be seen helping you, but
they've started you down a road that you don't want to go, believe me.
I got you into this, but if there's still time, I want to try to help
get you out."

She didn't know what was going on, but if Grant of all people was
freaked about what Karl Van de Vliet had in store for her, then maybe
she'd better take it seriously.

But she was through relying on him for anything.

"Okay, but I want to call somebody to come and get me."

"Are you referring to that reporter, by any chance?" he asked. "The guy
who drove you here? W.B. hates him."

"Yes." She was puzzled that he would know about Stone. "How do you--"

"Bartlett has him."

"What do you mean?"

"He's radioactive now. I actually kicked him out of here myself
yesterday. This is not a moment for press freedom. He could screw up
everything. W.B. said he's doing a book. No way is that guy going to be
allowed human contact with anybody till the sale of Gerex is in the
bank. He had a run-in with Bartlett in the city and they took him
somewhere. I don't know the location. And I don't want to know."

"Oh my God."

"He's most likely okay. It's just temporary safekeeping."

"All the more reason I'm not leaving till I see Kristen."

"There's no way you're going to get into where they're keeping her,
Ally."

"All right." There was no arguing with him when he was this freaked.
"What do you want me to do?"

He pulled a plastic card out of his jacket pocket. It was white, with
THE GEREX CORPORATION embossed on one side and a magnetic strip on the
other.

"This is a master key to this place. Because of security, you can't
just go out the front, through the lobby. But if you take the elevator
down to the first floor of the basement, where the lab is, there's a
fire exit there, in the back, that opens onto a path down to the lake.
If you'll go out that door and wait right there, I'll come around and
get you to the parking lot. I know a way that will miss their
surveillance cameras. I'm scheduled to go back to the city now and I'll
take you with me."

"But if I wanted to see Kristen?"

"You'd have to go into the laboratory and then take the elevator that's
inside there. Don't even think about it. It's way too risky."

She looked at him, trying to gauge his sincerity. Had he become a new
man, finally caring about somebody other than himself? Or had a glimpse
of whatever had happened to Kristen scared the hell out him and
awakened the specter of being part of a felonious enterprise?

"Why are you doing this?"

"To make up for a few things," he said, turning to leave.

With that, he walked out and quietly closed the door.

That remains to be seen, she told herself.

She went to the bathroom, then put on a bathrobe and headed out into
the hallway. The nurse's station was not occupied. Marion was still in
the kitchen on the first floor, presumably.

Good.

She was feeling shaky, not nearly as strong as she'd initially thought
she was, but she pressed on, taking the elevator, her first use of
Grant's Gerex master key. She bypassed the first floor and an instant
later she was stepping into the basement's laboratory area.

At the moment it appeared to be entirely deserted, though the
fluorescent lights bathed the space in a stark, pitiless light.

Down the hall was Dr. Van de Vliet's office and the examining room,
where she and her mother had gone when they were being admitted. At
this time of night, everything was closed and probably locked.

She turned and looked at the forbidding entryway to the glass-enclosed
laboratory. Through the transparent walls she could see the dim glow of
CRT screens and incubators filled with petri dishes. And there at the
back was--could her eyes be trusted?--the outline of an elevator door.
She hadn't noticed it until this minute. It seemed to be built with a
nod toward camouflage.

It could lead to Kristen, she told herself. Find out what Grant is so
freaked about. He can wait a couple of minutes.

She was starting to feel even weaker, but she pressed on. Next to the
heavy steel, high-security air lock leading into the laboratory was a
card reader and she swiped the white card through the slot.

The air lock opened silent and perfunctory. When she went through, the
door behind her automatically closed and then the hermetically sealed
door in front of her opened. She was in.

Next a bright fluorescent light clicked on, all by itself.

"Jesus!"

Maybe it was connected to a motion sensor. Or on a timer.

Then she looked around. This, she thought, is the place where the Gerex
Corporation has supposedly changed medical history. What was created in
this very room had if Grant was telling the truth, saved her mother's
sanity. And if she could believe the monitors she had looked at in her
room, her own heart condition had begun to be reversed after a lifetime
of progressive decline.

Yet something about it had been pushed too far. Somewhere in the midst
of this miracle, the Gerex Corporation had done something so obscene no
one could even talk about it.

She looked around the laboratory, wishing she could understand what she
was seeing. It smelled like solvent, acetone, with a mingling of more
pungent fumes. The black slate laboratory workbenches were spotlessly
hygienic and equipped with several large microscopes that featured
flat-panel screens. She noticed a heavy server computer at the back,
presumably networked to all the terminals in the building, and then she
remembered that Van de Vliet had once spoken of computer simulations.

Someday soon, she told herself, she was going to understand what really
was going on here, but for now she headed for the elevator.

Another zip of Grant's white card and the door opened. There was indeed
a floor below the laboratory, and she pushed the button. The Dorian
Institute was all about security, but this subbasement area was doubly
secure.

After a quick trip down, the elevator door opened onto another air lock
chamber, this an exit from the pressurized environment of the
laboratory.

Why, she wondered, had no one spotted her yet? Perhaps this part of the
clinic was such a lockdown that nurses and guards weren't necessary.

As she stepped from the air lock, she was in a hallway. She walked down
and tried the first unmarked door. It was locked, but then she saw the
slot for her card. She slipped it in and the door opened automatically.

The room she entered had a row of beds, each shrouded in a curtain. As
she walked down the center aisle, she realized that only one of the
beds was occupied.

And, yes, it was Kristen. She was lying there and when Ally slid back
the curtain, her eyes clicked open, startled.

"Hi, don't be afraid. I'm a friend." She quietly finished drawing the
curtain aside.

Now the once-breezy Kristen Starr was staring at her with angry eyes,
the false bravado of a frightened child. And she looked much younger
than she had in the head shot she'd attached to the walls of her town
house with steak knives. She said nothing for a moment; then she
mouthed, "Who are you?"

"I talked to you on the phone a couple of days ago," Ally said, not
sure herself exactly when it was, "when you went down to your place on
West Eleventh Street."

"I don't know you," she mouthed again, this time with a slight whisper.

"My name is Ally Hampton." She moved next to her so she could keep her
voice down. "I'm an interior designer. I once did an apartment for you
in Chelsea."

"I'm about to go on a journey," she whispered. "I don't remember you,
but maybe you're the one who's going with me.

There was something otherworldly and chilling about her voice.

"What journey do you--"

"We were going to go away. That's what he promised. Just us two. Well,
I'm ready. I want to go out and play. But he doesn't care anymore. He
just wants me to disappear. So that's what I'll do. Only we'll do it
together, you and me." She reached up from her bed and ran a finger
across Ally's face. "Will you take me out of here? He promised me
everything, that I could get it all back. But now I know he didn't
care. He was just using me." She stopped, then gave a cruel laugh from
the back of her throat. "But now it's going to happen to him too. I can
tell. That's why he doesn't want to see me anymore. He doesn't want to
see what's in store for him."

What has happened? Ally wondered. It sounds like some kind of bizarre
experiment gone wrong.

"Won't you come with me?" Kristen went on. "We'll go to a place nobody
has ever been to before. It'll be just us."

Her seductive eyes, at once plaintive and demanding, would have lured
anyone toward wherever she wanted to go. For a careless moment Ally
found herself wanting to follow them.

No, this is madness.

Or, Ally thought with horror, is she seeing something in me that I
can't see?

"Kristen, listen to me. Please. I think it's very possible I've just
had a stem cell procedure. For my heart. I don't know if it's like what
you had, but I want to know what happened to you."

"Don't do it," she mumbled, seeming to come back to a kind of reality.
"Just get out of here now. After . . . it starts, he gives you shots
and things, but nothing works."

Ally felt her consciousness start to wobble. She reached out and seized
the edge of the bed for support.

"Kristen, talk to me."

Her eyes went blank again, and Ally could just barely make out what she
mumbled next. In fact, all she could catch were random words, words
that only drifted through her consciousness and failed to stick or make
any sense. It was as though Kristen were in a stance and sleepwalking
among the words of some alien language.

"Young," Kristen seemed to say. "You want to be . . . to stay. Old is
so horrible. Time. You're young and then suddenly you're old and it
turns out you can't . . ."

Ally heard the words, but they didn't make any sense.

"I'm sorry, Kristen. I'm feeling a little dizzy."

"It's started," she said, abruptly coherent again and focusing in on
Ally. "That's how it began with me. At first they said everything was
okay and then it wasn't."

"What are you talking about?"

"It's happening throughout my body." She sobbed. "I've stopped having
periods and I'm getting acne. Everything is . . . changing."

The words drifted through space, and Ally felt like she was
hallucinating, in a place where time was sliding sideways. The images
were all retro, things from her past that floated through her vision in
reverse chronological order.

That was it. In her mind, time was going backwards. But was it just in
her mind? She looked again at Kristen and gasped. Finally, finally she
understood the horror of what was really happening. . . .

Oh my God.

"I got here as soon as I could after they called me," came a voice from
the doorway. She turned and saw Karl Van de Vliet, together with the
nurse Marion. "You really shouldn't be down here. I don't know who gave
you a card. But we've brought a wheelchair. You really should be
resting."

Marion rolled the chair through the door and expertly plucked the card
from the reader.

"Now, please sit down," she said. "We all just want to be on the safe
side, don't we? I'll need to give you a sedative."

Ally looked at Van de Vliet, wanting to strangle him.

"No, you're not giving me a damned sedative. I don't want to be on the
'safe side.' I want the truth. And I want it now."



Chapter 30



_Thursday, April 9

11:16 P.M.

_

"Let's go into the lab to talk," Van de Vliet said. "I'm very sorry I
wasn't here when you came out of sedation. But Marion called me at
home, as I'd told her to do, and I came in as quickly as I could. I've
got a place on the lake, just down the road, so I'm never far away."

He was rolling her through the air lock door, Marion behind them. Then
they took the elevator up. She was furious that Kristen was being left
behind like an abandoned casualty of war.

Ally also was reminding herself about her appointment with Grant to get
the hell out. But her mind was having trouble holding a lot of thoughts
at once.

He pushed her wheelchair into the section of the laboratory where a
line of computer terminals was stationed. After he'd fluffed a pillow
behind her head and turned off some of the glaring fluorescents, he
began.

"Alexa, this is a delicate time for you. We need to get you upstairs as
quickly as possible and feed you some broth and put you back to bed.
However, I want very much to give you an update on the status of your
treatment. The headline is, it's going very well. We fused some of the
telomerase enzyme with your existing stem cells and your response was
immediate. In fact, it appears the new heart tissue has reached
critical mass and has already begun replicating itself. We've learned
to expect the unexpected around here, but your response has
significantly exceeded our simulations."

He turned to Marion and asked her to go up and make sure Alexa's
bedding had been changed. "We'll be up in a second. And please make
sure that bowl of broth is ready and waiting."

After she departed through the air lock, he walked over to a lab bench
and checked the numbers that were scrolling on a CRT screen.

"All right," Ally said "talk to me. I just saw Kristen. I'm still not
sure if I believe what I think is happening, but I want the real story
and I want it now."

"That's part of what I need to discuss with you." He glanced away for a
long moment, a pained expression on his face, seeming to collect his
thoughts. Finally he turned back. "You see, the clinical trials have
demonstrated that we can use the telomerase enzyme to 'immortalize' a
patient's own stem cells and then rejuvenate their brain or liver or
even their heart. So the next question that's hanging out there in
space is obvious. What would happen if we could find a way to
generalize the enzyme and disperse it throughout someone's entire body,
not restricting it to just one organ? And not just rejuvenate--
regenerate."

This question had actually passed fleetingly through her consciousness,
though not fully articulated. It had taken the form of wondering where
the use of these "immortal" cells could eventually lead.

"The trick would be to have just enough enzyme in your bloodstream to
replace senescent cells as they are about to the, but not so much that
healthy cells are replaced." He paused searching for a metaphor. "If we
thought of the process of cell senescence as something inexorable and
steady, like a treadmill, then what we want to do is run just fast
enough to stay in one place."

"This whole thing does sound like Alice in Wonderland."

"Yes, well . . . if we could do that, then it's possible, just
possible, that one's entire body would simply begin regenerating itself
instead of aging. Not just your skin. All of you. That's the theory
behind what we've called the Beta procedure."

"But is that something you ethically ought to be doing?" she said,
feeling a sense of dismay, of playing God. "Isn't that going too far?"

"Frankly, I'm beginning to agree with you, but there are others who
ask, how far is too far? Half the medicines we now have are intended to
trick the body's responses somehow--or to meddle in some other way,
turning off stop-and- go signals at the cellular level. For example,
some birth control pills make your body think you're already pregnant.
They trick our natural mechanisms. That kind of thing is commonplace in
medicine today. But our research is poised for the next level, to
answer the question of how long we can actually live. So here's the
argument. There's no reason the human life span has to be what it is.
In some unhealthy nations the average citizen doesn't even reach sixty.
Whereas in others, like the United States and Japan, the mean is
already well past three score and ten. So what is right? What is
reasonable? A hundred? Two hundred? It's entirely possible to believe
we could live productive lives at least twice as long as we do now."

"And you think we should do this? The world would be thrown into
chaos."

"But look at the incredible cure rate we've already effected here using
the telomerase enzyme. When our clinical trials for the NIH are
announced, it will be the medical equivalent of the shot heard round
the world. Nothing we know will ever be the same again."

"That's where you should leave it. To go further is obscene."

"I fear recent events may have proved you right. Against my better
judgment, I went ahead and experimented with the Beta procedure. And
the results thus far have turned out to be disastrous."

"I guess you're referring to Kristen."

"One day I casually mentioned the Beta to Winston Bartlett and without
telling me, he brought it up with Kristen. She insisted on trying it."
His expression grew increasingly pained. "I want you to know I was
against it. I warned her that it was highly experimental, that I could
not guarantee what the side effects might be, but she begged me to do
it anyway. Then Bartlett essentially ordered me to do it."

"So what happened?"

He grimaced. "I got the dosage wrong. That's my best guess. After I
performed the Beta on Kristen, the enzyme was stable in her for over
two months and appeared to be having an effect. All signs of aging
abruptly stopped. It gave me a false sense of confidence. Also, there
were no side effects. That was when Bartlett wanted to try it too. So I
went ahead with him. But then, to my horror, she started evincing side
effects. I now believe the dosage I gave her was badly calibrated. It
was too high--by how much I think I've finally determined--and the enzyme
eventually began replicating too rapidly. It got away from me." He
paused. "What happened to Kristen, we now call the Syndrome, for lack
of a better name. And it's about to happen to Bartlett."

"But what does all this have to do with me? Why was I brought out here
with all kinds of bribes and pressure and--"

"Do you want a simple answer? Of excruciating honesty?"

"It would be helpful."

"The simple answer is, Winston Bartlett has an extremely rare blood
type. It's AB. You have the same."

"How did you know--"

"Your brother. You see, I need to try to develop antibodies to the
telomerase enzyme that won't be rejected by his immune system. I think
there's an outside chance that I could culture antibodies taken from
someone with the same blood type and use them to arrest the rampant
multiplying of telomerase enzyme about to begin in Bartlett's blood."

"I'm here because you're using me!" She couldn't believe her ears. And
Grant had set it up. No wonder he was finally feeling guilty.

"I just need to borrow your immune system for a few days. It's very
safe."

"I don't think so. I'm out of here."

"Actually, the procedure is already under way. While Debra was taking
your last blood sample, she also injected a minuscule amount of the
telomerase enzyme in active form, the proprietary version used in the
Beta, into your bloodstream. Don't worry. It's perfectly safe. The
dosage was so minute that there's no way it could have any effect on
you."

"You have got to be kidding!" My God, she thought, I could sue the hell
out of--

"Don't worry, think of it like a smallpox vaccination." He paused.
"Now, though, I have to tell you that I just learned the initial dosage
probably didn't do the trick. The amount of antibodies created was,
unfortunately, minuscule. Which means we need to go to a slightly
higher infusion. But again, don't worry. It's still safe."

"I can't believe I'm hearing this," she said finally, gasping for air
in her fury. "You didn't ask--"

"Alexa," he cut in, "right now I have something like two weeks left to
try to head off the Syndrome in Winston Bartlett. If we achieve that,
then I'm hopeful the antibodies he creates can be successfully used to
start reversing the Syndrome in Kristen. We will know how to manage the
Beta. Who knows where that could lead? But it all begins with you.
You're the clean slate we need to start."

"Before we go one step further, I want to know what, exactly, happens
with the Syndrome. I think I know, but I'd like to hear--"

"Something that's too bizarre to believe. It literally defies every
natural law we've ever known."

He couldn't bring himself to put it in words, she thought, but she knew
she'd guessed right the first time.

The Syndrome.  Kristen Starr was growing younger. That was the horrible
development and nobody could deal with it.

And they couldn't stop it.

Karl Van de Vliet had created a monstrosity.

"I am so out of here," she said struggling to rise from the wheelchair.
"If you try to keep me here, that's kidnapping. We're talking a capital
crime."

"Alexa, I understand you're upset, but you're in no condition to be
discharged. I'm very sorry." He pushed a red button on a radio device
on his belt. There was genuine agony in his eyes. "I've never in my
life coerced a patient in any way. But you have to understand that so
much is dependent on you now. There are no easy choices left."

He's lost control of the situation here now, she told herself. He's
truly terrified of Winston Bartlett. That's who's really got control of
my fate.

Moments later, the security guard from the lobby, accompanied by
Marion, came through the door of the laboratory.

"No, I'm not going to let you do this," Ally declared. "I'm not letting
you do any more medical experiments on me."

As she struggled again to get out of the wheelchair, she felt a prick
in her arm and saw the glint of a needle in the dim light.

"I'm sorry, Alexa. It should all be over in just a couple of days. And
I swear no harm will come to you."

She was feeling her consciousness swirl as Marion began rolling her
through the steel air lock.

The last thing she heard was Van de Vliet saying, "Don't worry. A week
from now, all this will seem like a dream."



Chapter 31



_Friday, April 10

7:04 A.M.

_

Stone felt his consciousness returning as the blast of an engine cut
through his sedative-induced reverie. Where was he? There were
vibrations all around him and a deafening roar that was slowly
spiraling upward in frequency and volume.

As the haze that engulfed his mind slowly began to dissipate, he
wondered if this wasn't more of the fantasy he'd been having, of flying
through some kind of multicolored space-time continuum. Or was he
waking up to something spectacularly real?

As he opened his eyes and looked around, he realized it was no dream.
He was in a cramped airline seat, strapped in with a black seat belt.
His head was gently secured to a headrest by a soft cotton scarf, but
his hands were free, lying in his lap.

Somebody had lifted him into the seat and strapped him down.

On his left was a Plexiglas window, and when he looked out, he saw the
earth beneath him begin falling away.

My God.

Then he realized he was in a white-and-gray helicopter that had just
lifted off from a rooftop helo pad. He watched spellbound quickly
coming awake, as the craft quickly began a flight path that circled
around and past the lower end of Manhattan.

Then he heard the pilot speaking curtly to an air controller somewhere
and he looked up and realized it was the same samurai bastard who'd
slugged him on the street and then aided in his kidnapping.

But that had to be yesterday, or God knows how many days ago. He was
realizing he'd just lost a chunk of his life.

And now he was being taken somewhere. In a very big hurry.

"Being up here always seems like being closer to God" came a voice from
behind him. He recognized it with a jolt. It was the man who thought he
was God.

Shakily he removed the scarf that had been holding his head and turned
around. Winston Bartlett was gazing down through his own plastic
window, seemingly talking to himself.

"What . . . what the hell is going on?" He could barely get the words
out.

"Oh," Bartlett said turning to look at him. "Good I particularly wanted
you to see this. It should help make my point."

Stone struggled to comprehend what was happening. He was with the man
he had wanted to call Father for nearly four decades, whether he could
admit that to himself or not. It could be the beginning of the kind of
bonding he had always hungered for, but he didn't want it like this.
They finally had a relationship, and it was completely antagonistic. He
had just been drugged and kidnapped by his own father, this after being
threatened and fired. Again, Daddy dearest.

So what was this evolving chapter about? Winston Bartlett, he knew,
could be ruthless, but he also was a visionary in his own way.

Then he remembered what had happened. He'd been trying to track down
Kristen.

"Where . . . where are we going?"

"We're going to the place you seem to find so interesting," Bartlett
declared over the din of the engine. "But I was hoping that we could
have a rational discourse along the way. What's been happening thus far
doesn't serve either of us. I'm hoping things have cooled down a bit
and we can call a truce."

Stone was still trying to clear his head, get the cobwebs away. It was
difficult. He'd lost consciousness in a town house in the Village, on
solid ground, and regained it here, where the earth itself seemed in
motion. And now Bartlett was trying out another bargaining style, so
even the rules appeared to be in flux.

"Look, down there." Bartlett was projecting through the din around them
and pointing toward the wide expanse of New York Harbor. "This
McDonnell Douglas is my Zendo, my monastery, and the world below is my
contemplative garden. I come up here to find peace. This is an
intersection of the great forces of nature, one of a finite number on
earth, where a mighty river returns to the salt sea from which it came.
These waters have flowed in the same cycle for millions, billions of
years, mingling, evaporating, separating again--just as life on this
planet continually replicates itself, growing and aging and dying, but
not before producing the seeds of its replacement. How can something be
at once both timeless and constantly changing? I ponder that a lot and
I always end up thinking of this river meeting the sea. Down there,
nature is a force unto itself, oblivious to good or evil, to human
desires or human laws."

Bartlett was doing a riff on some obsession of his own, Stone decided.
Or maybe it was some of the Zen philosophy that went along with
acquiring a world-class collection of samurai swords (if you believed
the published profiles).

All the same, looking down at the sprawling city and the harbor full of
ships, it was hard not to feel omnipotent and humble at the same time.
The thing Bartlett seemed to be getting at, though, was that nature
could not be told what to do. And he seemed to be on the verge of
declaring himself a part of that unbridled natural force, also powerful
enough to do whatever he pleased.

Now they were heading up the Hudson, teeming with early bird tourist
cruises and small single-masted sailboats. Bartlett paused to take in
the view with satisfaction. Finally he continued his monologue.

"I know we've had our differences, but I'm prepared to try to get past
that. I want to talk to you about something I always think of when I
fly across this river. Time. I call my obsession Time and the River.
Physicists will tell you that time should be thought of as a kind of
fourth dimension. Things are always at a certain place in three
dimensions, but when you describe the location of a subatomic particle,
for example, you also have to say when it was there. To locate it
accurately, you need four dimensions. We think of them all as rigid but
what if one of them could be made fluid? What if you could alter the
character of time?"

In spite of himself, Stone took the bait. "I don't know what this has
to do with anything. Nobody can alter the pace of time." He found
himself recalling a snippet of verse by John Donne:



_O how feeble is man's power,

That if good fortune fall,

Cannot add another hour,

Nor a lost hour recall!

_

"Strictly speaking, that's true," Bartlett said gravely, turning away
again to stare out the Plexiglas window, down into the morning space
below them. The Hudson was now a giant ribbon of blue heading north
into the mist. "But what if we could alter the clocks in our body to
make them run slower?" He smiled then pointed off to his left. "All
this below us has happened in a couple of hundred years. What will it
look like down there in another hundred years? Will we still need these
puny machines to fly, or will there be teleportation? Whatever it is,
what would you give to be around to see that? To have your own time
slow down while the world around you went on?"

Stone was looking out into space, wondering. . . not whether Winston
Bartlett was an egomaniacal madman but rather how truly mad he really
was.

Flying in the helicopter, he felt like Faust being shown the world by
Mephistopheles. Except here Satan was his own father, offering him a
teasing prospect of what it would be like to live on and on.

It would make a hell of a story. The problem was, miracles always came
with some kind of terrible price. What was the price this time?

Then he had another thought. Was that what had happened to Kristen? Was
she paying the price for some kind of hubris that pushed nature too
far? Nobody had claimed she had any kind of medical condition that
necessitated a stem cell intervention. So had she been experimenting
with some other procedure? Had Mephistopheles now called in his marker?

He wanted to ask but the vibration and the noise made his brain feel
like it was in a blender.

"Do you understand what I'm saying?" Bartlett went on. "Do you want to
be part of the most exciting development in the history of medicine?
Well, this is your chance. There is a majestic experiment under way.
But now we know it's not for the fainthearted. The question is, do you
want to live life or just write about it?"

"I think it's time I heard the whole story," Stone said finally,
forcing out the words. "What's your part in this 'experiment'?"

"I've put everything at risk, but now I'm this close to controlling the
clock. So . . . are you my son? My flesh and blood? Do you have the
balls to try it too?"

Stone suspected the question was rhetorical. He was already up to his
neck in whatever was going on. He just didn't yet know how big a part
of it he was. While he'd been sedated overnight, had they started
experiments on him?

He knew that some of the buzz about stem cells involved the fantasy
that someday they might be used to forestall the aging process.
Responsible researchers all said that they weren't trying to extend
life; they were only hoping to make a normal lifetime more livable.
Rejuvenative medicine. Winston Bartlett, however, had just taken stem
cell potential to its obvious conclusion; he was talking about doing
what others did not dare. Regenerative medicine.

"What would we give to be able to look forward to thousands of mornings
like this, ending it all only when we chose?" he declared his hands
sweeping over the dense green beneath them. "Time would become
something that merely flows endlessly through us, ever renewing. So-
called old age would cease to exist, at least for those with the
courage to take the necessary risks."

Now they were moving above the pine forests that comprised the outer
ring of the Greater New York suburbs, as below them the green wilds of
New Jersey, north of the GW Bridge, were sweeping by.

Hmmm, Stone pondered if a man somehow stopped growing older and nobody
else did, at some point he'd end up being the same "age " as his
grandchildren. That caused him to think again about Amy and wonder if
Bartlett would ever reconcile himself to her existence. . . .

A few minutes later, he looked down and saw a wide clearing in the
trees and a red-tile roof. They had arrived but from the air, the
Dorian Institute gave no clue to the momentous research going on
inside.

Bartlett said nothing as they began their descent, and in moments they
were settling onto the rooftop landing pad. The downdraft from the
rotor cleared away a few soggy leaves, which had somehow blown there,
and then the Japanese pilot cut the power and the sound died away. When
Bartlett opened the side door, the first thing Stone noticed was the
fresh, forest-scented morning air against his face.

He found himself wondering whether the roar of the engine had disturbed
the patients, but that was almost beside the point. The Dorian
Institute was not, he now realized, merely about using stem cell
technology to heal the sick. Bartlett had been letting him know that it
was also about an experiment that was much, much more profound.

In the silence that followed, Bartlett stepped onto the pad and lit a
thin, filtered cigar. (For somebody who'd just been talking about how
long it was possible to live, the act confounded credulity.) He took a
deep drag, then tossed it onto the paving and peered back through the
opening.

"Are you able to walk yet?"

"I think I can manage," Stone said. He actually wasn't sure at all. The
vibrations of the chopper had done serious damage to his sense of
equilibrium.

But he did find he could take small steps. As they moved to the
stairwell leading down to the third-floor elevator, Bartlett said, "I
know you've been here once before. You tried to sneak in. Grant saw you
and sent you packing. Well, this time you're here for real. The full
experience. We're going to start by taking you down to the lab and
checking you in."

The man, Stone suspected, was trying to hide everything that was going
on in his mind. He wanted to talk about grandiose themes, but his mind
was really somewhere else. Beneath all the braggadocio, there was the
smell of deep, abiding fear. Winston Bartlett was in some kind of major
denial.

"You know, life has been good to me," Bartlett declared as though
thinking out loud. "I've done and seen things most mortals can only
dream of. I'm sixty-seven, but I feel as though I've only just begun to
live. And that's what I intend to happen." He turned back to Stone.
"Whether I have a son to share this with remains to be seen."

A son? Stone glanced back at the man Bartlett had called

Ken, who was now shutting down the McDonnell Douglas. Maybe he was a
surrogate son for Bartlett. He was clearly a lot more than a bodyguard.
He'd been the one who nabbed Kristen and returned her to the
reservation. So what did he think of whatever was going on? Or what
about Ally's brother, Grant? He'd claimed he was the son Bartlett
longed for and had never had.

Winston Bartlett already had a surfeit of sons.

When they walked through the door and into the hallway of the third
floor, it was milling with the breakfast crowd, nurses and patients,
but no one took any special notice of Winston Bartlett, the man who had
made it all possible. Did they even know who he was? Stone wondered.

"We're going downstairs." Bartlett directed him toward the elevator.
"I'm still offering you a choice. You can be part of the biggest
medical advance in human history, or you can be just another
impediment."

Stone glanced at his watch. The hour was just shy of nine.

Where is Ally? What kind of procedure has she undergone? Is she okay?
He had to find her.

As they headed down, he felt like it was a descent into some pit of no
return. Winston Bartlett had not elaborated on what awaited down there.
It was as though he couldn't bring himself to face whatever it really
was.

What was the worst-case scenario at this point?

What he had to do was figure that out and then plan a countermove.



Chapter 32



_Friday, April 10

7:48 P.M.

_

There are sounds of doors opening and closing, with whispered words
that are like alien hisses. She senses she is in motion, on a bed that
is gliding past powerful overhead lights.

She doesn't know where she is, but that doesn't matter, because
wherever it was, she knows it surely is a dream.

All she remembers is that Karl Van de Vliet had told her he wants her
to undergo a second procedure with the telomerase enzyme, which
possibly might create sufficient antibodies to reverse . . . It's all a
jumble now in her mind.

Or had she just dreamed all that? Now her life seems a flowing river
that has no beginning and no end. Her mind is drifting, a cork bobbing
helplessly in the current.

Then her brother, Grant, drifts alongside her. At least she thinks it's
Grant. She recognizes his voice.

"Ally, can you hear me?" he seems to be asking. "Is there anything you
want to tell me? Do you still want to go through with this?"

It's the kind of dream where she can hear things around her, but when
she tries to speak, no sounds will come. Instead, she's talking inside
her head.

I'm afraid. I'm just afraid.

"I can still try to get you out, but you have to help. I waited for you
last night but you never came."

She wants to say, yes, get me out, but she can only speak in the dream.

Now the lighting changes and she feels like she is falling. No, she
realizes, she's just on an elevator.

"Talk to me, Ally," whispers the voice one last time. "I can try to
stop them, but I have to know what you want."

Then a door opens and she floats through it and out. Then comes the
clanking of a door that reminds her of the steel air lock she'd gone
through last night looking for Kristen. The smells. She's in the
laboratory.

"We can take her from here," comes a voice, drifting through her
reverie.

She fantasizes it's Karl Van de Vliet. Or maybe he really is there. In
her dream state it's hard to know. But he isn't alone.

"You said you'd make one more attempt to create the antibodies. Is . .
. "

It's Winston Bartlett. Or at least it sounds like him.

"I said I would do all I could, W.B. The first attempt . . . you know
what happened. I got almost no results, but I gave you an injection of
all I managed to garner. Today I spent the day doing simulations. We're
working closer to the edge than I thought. That's why I needed her down
at the lab tonight. I want to run some more tests and then try to make
a decision. Tonight. There's just a hell of a lot more risk than I
first thought."

The voice trails off and Ally finds herself trying to comprehend
"risk."

She hears "beta" again and it floats through her mind, but now its
meaning is unclear. It's something she'd heard but can no longer place.

"Ally," comes a ghostly voice. Surely this is a dream, and she
recognizes it as her father, Arthur. Now she can see him. He's wearing
a white cap and they're boating in Central Park. He shows up in her
dreams a lot and she feels he's the messenger of her unconscious,
telling her truths that she sometimes doesn't want to hear.

"Ally," he says, "he's going to perform the full Beta procedure on you.
He didn't tell you, but you know it's true. He thinks he's finally
calculated everything right. Can't you see? Is that what you want?"

She isn't sure what she wants. And right now she isn't entirely clear
where she fits on the scale of sleeping/waking. It is so bizarre. The
two parts of her mind, the conscious and the unconscious, are talking
to each other. Her unconscious is warning her about fears she didn't
even know she had. Or at least she hadn't admitted to yet.

Then she hears Winston Bartlett's voice again.

"Karl, we can't save Kristen now. I've finally realized that. She's
gone too far. It's just a tragedy we'll have to figure out how to live
with."

"The body is a complex chemical laboratory that sometimes gets out of
balance. There's always hope. I think--"

"Know what I fucking think?" Bartlett cuts him off. "I think I'm in
line for the Syndrome if you don't get this right."

What Ally wants to do, more than anything else, is to make sense of
what her options are. The most obvious one-- in fact, maybe the only
one--is to flow along with that infinite river she feels around her,
just to lie where she is, in this sedative-induced reverie, and let her
body be taken over by Karl Van de Vliet. Perhaps he has marvelous
things in store for her. Except she has no idea what's real and what is
imaginary.

"The simulations are giving me some idea of what went wrong with the
Beta before." The voice is Van de Vliet's. "I have one more test to
run, but if I handled this the way the simulation now suggests, I think
I could actually generate the telomerase antibodies we need and get the
Beta to finally work, avoiding the Syndrome. But to prove it would
require a full-scale experiment. I'm reluctant to do that without
Alexa's permission."

"Christ, Karl, are you getting cold feet? This is a hell of a time for
that."

"Call it a pang of rationality."

"But everything is at stake."

"I don't know what's eventually going to happen with the Syndrome, but
it's criminal to jeopardize any more lives." Van de Vliet sighs. "Look,
you had the procedure of your own free will, and you knew the risks.
Alexa Hampton didn't volunteer for the Beta. She's not a lab rat. At
the very least, we ought to get her to sign a release. The liability
is. . . In any case, I'm not doing anything till I run this last test.
Then maybe I'll have some idea exactly how much risk is involved."

"And then, by God we're going to do it. Tonight. This is it."

She feels a cold metal object insinuate itself against her chest. Time
rushes around her, sending her forward on a journey that seems
increasingly inevitable. Where it's taking her, she has no idea, but
she senses she no longer has an option of whether she wants to go or
not.

Now her dreamscape has become crowded as Grant drifts in once more. He
seems to be wearing a white lab coat like the others. He settles beside
her and takes her hand

"Ally, it's going to be okay. I'm going to be here for you."

Grant, why are you here? Do you really give a damn about me?

She wants to talk to him, but the words aren't working. Why is this
happening?

Don't let them give you more medications, she tells herself. Get your
mind back and get out of here.



Chapter 33



_Friday, April 10

8:45 P.M.

_

Ellen O'Hara had not left after the day shift ended at six P.M. Instead,
she had told Dr. Van de Vliet that she wanted to reorganize some of the
NIH paper files she kept in her office on the first floor. The truth
was, she had become convinced that the culmination of something deeply
evil was scheduled for later that night.

The evil had begun when Kristen Starr's mother arrived looking for her
and declaring that she'd been kidnapped. Then after Dr. Vee
categorically denied he knew anything about her (a blatant lie),
Kristen was brought back to the institute from wherever she'd been
moved to, and she was visibly changed. She was whisked down to the
subbasement the moment she arrived and immediately sealed off in
intensive care, but it was clear she had no idea who she was or where
she was. Something horrible had happened to her. And maybe it was
imagination, but she no longer even looked like a grown woman.

Then this morning, Bartlett and his Japanese bodyguard brought in the
young man who had accompanied Alexa

Hampton, but he wasn't put through the admissions formalities. Instead
he was taken directly downstairs.

May at the front desk said she thought he was a newspaper reporter
she'd met once when they were on a public-health panel together. That
was when Ellen realized he was Stone Aimes, that feisty medical
columnist for the New York Sentinel.

Now Stone Aimes might be able to save Alexa Hampton.

Dr. Van de Vliet and Debra had carried out a special stem- cell
procedure for her aortic stenosis, the first that they had attempted
for that particular condition. The results, as shown by her file, were
nothing short of astonishing. She'd begun responding in a matter of
hours.

She should be in a room upstairs, so why was she still down in the
subbasement?

Now Ellen O'Hara knew the reason.

She had seen in the file that they were going to perform the Beta
procedure on Alexa Hampton. When they'd performed it on Kristen Starr,
the result was a horrific side effect. And now they were going to do it
again. Tonight.

The criminality that started with Kristen Starr and Katherine Starr was
going to be compounded. She was about to become part of a criminal
conspiracy. She had to put a stop to it.

She was nervous about confronting Van de Vliet, but she didn't know
what she could say that wouldn't sound like an indictment. Still, she
was damned well determined to do it.

If nothing else, it would provide a diversion.

She put away the files and walked out into the dim hallway, then made
her way into the reception area.

"Everything all right, Grace?" she asked the nurse at the desk.

"My, you're working late," came the pleasant reply. "Quiet as a mouse
around here. I guess it'll be even quieter when the clinical trials are
finished. I mean, after the celebrating is over."

"Right." But they're not over, Ellen thought. And there may

_not  _be a celebration. "I'm going down to sublevel one. Is Dr. Vee
down there now?"

"I think he's in his office. Everybody else went out for a bite,
probably that diner down the road. I think something's scheduled for
later on. I don't know. Everybody looks kind of worried."

"Well, nobody has said anything to me." They don't need to, she
thought. I saw the file.

She swiped her card through the security slot and got onto the
elevator.

When she stepped off, the laboratory was dark and a light was showing
under Dr. Van de Vliet's office door.

Good. She swiped her card in the reader next to the laboratory air lock
and went in. Another swipe and she was on the elevator down to the
subbasement, where she was not authorized to be.

She went to the second door and slipped her card through the slot,
wondering what she would see.

The room was dark and smelled of alcohol and disinfectant. She quickly
closed the door behind her before turning on the overhead fluorescents.

Alexa Hampton was secured to the bed with restraints, and she appeared
to be sedated, though she did slowly open her eyes as the light
flickered and then stabilized. There was a wheelchair in the corner.

"Ms. Hampton, can you hear me?" she whispered, hoping not to alarm her.
"Do you remember me? I was the one who helped you when you were first
admitted."

She watched as Alexa stared at her for a moment and then quietly
nodded.

"I . . . I want to get out of here." Her eyelids fluttered and then she
closed her eyes again. "But I'm too weak. I can't move."

"You're strapped down, love. Let me help you."

She reached for the Velcro straps and then paused. Was this a decision
she wanted to make?

If I do this, it's the end of my career here. Have I lost my mind? What
will I do after this?

But if I don't try to stop them, God knows what . . . we could all end
up convicted of criminal conspiracy and in prison.

"That reporter friend of yours is here." She pulled open the straps,
then helped Alexa sit up in the bed and swing her legs around. "I'm
going to take you to him."

"It's so horrible," Ally went on. She was settling into the wheelchair
as though she expected it. Then she looked up, her eyes dazed. "Where
are you taking me? 'Reporter'? Do you mean--"

"Like I said I'm moving you into your friend's room."

She rolled her to the door, then stopped and cracked it and peeked out.

"Don't say a word dear," she whispered as she began pushing Alexa down
the hall. There was a pale flickering light under the door at the end.
"Debra and David and the others have all gone out to the diner down the
road and Dr. Vee is in his office, probably running some last-minute
computer simulations. But we need to be quiet."

The fluorescent lights seemed to swirl overhead. This all feels so
familiar, Ally thought. This is where I saw Kristen. Does Ellen know
what happened to her?

"You two have to decide what you want to do."

"Stone? You're sure he's here?"

"Yes," she said "and he's in some kind of battle of wills with Mr.
Bartlett."

When they reached the door at the end she tried it and it was locked.
She pulled out her magnetic card and zipped it through the slot.

As they went through, Ally realized the room was lit only by the glow
of a laptop computer screen.

"Stay here," Ellen said turning to leave. "I'm going to try to talk to
Dr. Vee."

As the door closed Stone finally looked up. He was wearing a sweater
and jeans and had been typing furiously on a Gerex laptop.

"Hey, how're you feeling?" He paused to glance down and save what he'd
been writing, then clicked off the computer.

"I have no idea." Something about him didn't seem quite right. It was
like he was on happy pills or something. "How about you? The last time
I saw you, I was passing out."

"I don't actually remember all that much of what happened after that. I
think I went back to the city. But I feel great now. Like I went
through a dark tunnel and came out the other side. I feel very
different. I don't know what's next, but right now I'm just happy to be
in the middle of the biggest story in the history of medical science."

What's going on with him? she wondered. He's spacey. He has to be on
some kind of drug. What have they done to him?

He closed the laptop, then reached and clicked on a light by the bed.
"Come on. Want to see something incredible? It's a marvel of medical
science, never before happened."

"What--"

"Come with me. I guarantee you've never seen anything like it."

He tossed the laptop onto the bed, then swung his feet around and
settled them onto the floor. She noticed that the room was a pale blue,
with white linoleum. There was a pair of white slippers next to the
bed.

He slipped them on and then opened the door and grabbed her wheelchair.

The hallway felt colder now, yet it was also stifling, as though
someone had drawn the air out of it.

"There's nothing we can do," Stone said.

There was a hint of madness in his voice. It was as if he were trying
to convince himself that he was still sane, and it wasn't working. He
was just barely holding it together.

Then she realized he was about to go into intensive care, where Kristen
had been.

"So Kristen's still here?"

"Oh, you'd better believe it," he said. "She is most definitely still
here."

When they got to the door, he revolved back.

"Ally, you really don't have to see this, you know. Not if you'd rather
. . . Nothing remotely like this is going to happen to you. They
assured me."

What the hell is he talking about?

"On the other hand," he went on, "maybe you should see it. Maybe
everybody in the world should see it. It's so astonishing."

He pushed open the door and rolled her in. Then he reached down and
lifted her to her feet. Standing wasn't that hard, and somehow he had
known that.

The room seemed to be captured in mist, though surely that was her
imagination. Everything must be her imagination.

Kristen was in the corner of the room, in a wheelchair, but now her
body was shriveled. No, shriveled was not the right word. In fact,
there might not be a word to describe the change. Her skin was smooth
and flawless. She didn't look like this the last time Ally saw her and
now she wondered how long ago that actually was. How many hours, or
days?

The bones were the same as always; in her cheeks the underlying
structure was sharp and severe and elegant. But there wasn't enough
flesh on them. They were reminiscent of what happens at puberty, when
the body starts changing in ways that aren't well coordinated.

That was it. Kristen had become a child--it was in her innocent eyes--
except that her body was now the flesh of a child over the bone
structure of an adult.

It scarcely seemed like the same person from the last time. She had
crossed some mystical divide. She was holding a large rag doll--where
did she get that? Ally wondered--and humming the tune of the ditty that
ended with "_Now I know my ABC's. Tell me what you think of me_."

"She can't talk," Stone was saying. "I mean, actually communicate. Or
at least she doesn't seem to want to. I've already tried. But isn't
what's happened incredible? There's never been anything like this in
history. The replacement cells are making her body newer and newer, so
she's getting younger and younger."

Ally walked over, slowly, and tried to take her hand. She was grasping
the doll and she violently pulled back.

"Hey," she said, trying to muster a matter-of-fact air, "how's it
going? Do you remember me?"

"I don't think she recognizes you," Stone said in a stage whisper. "I
wish I knew more about the biology of the brain, but I think there's
some kind of aggressive replacement of memory synapses under way. I
think it's one of those LIFO things. Last in/first out. She's
regressing chronologically, but in reverse. Maybe she's lost use of
language, the way Alzheimer's patients do. I don't know."

Ally felt herself near to tears. "Van de Vliet was going to use
antibodies from me to try to . . . something."

"That was always a long shot," he said. "But now the preliminary tests
he's just done on you indicate that the level of enzyme in you can be
controlled very accurately. He's very excited."

She turned back to him. "How do you know all this?"

"I've become part of the story, Ally. That's not supposed to happen,
but this is the only way to get it all firsthand. I have to live it.
And guess what, I now know enough to write the book I've been waiting
all my life to write. I have the punch line."

"Which is?"

"Stem cell technology goes to the very origin of life, and it may turn
out that for once Mother Nature can be fooled. Dr. Vee's venturing into
areas now where even he doesn't know what's going on. Ally, what's
happening in this room is the biggest medical story since . . . Nothing
begins to compare."

Stone had lost it. There was true madness about him now.

She walked back over to Kristen and leaned over and

kissed her. Kristen stared at her in unfocused confusion, but then she
smiled.

"I'm alone in here. Will you take me outside? I want to find my
mother."

The voice was that of a five-year-old and it sent a chill through
Alexa. The "grown-up" memory cells in her brain had been replaced by
blanks. It was "last in/first out" and thirty-plus years of life
experience were being replaced with brand-new nothingness.

The Syndrome. Time had to move in one direction or the other. The body
either went forward or in reverse. There was no equilibrium.

Then she had a further thought. Winston Bartlett was not going to let
this Beta disaster run to its natural conclusion-- a horrifying exposure
to the world. He was going to intervene. Kristen was not about to leave
this room in her current condition. Either she left cured--which seemed
wholly implausible at this point--or she departed in a manner that left
no trace.

Then yet another thought crossed her befuddled mind. She and Stone knew
about Kristen. What does that mean for us?

"Stone, we can't leave her here."

"What are you proposing we do?" he queried. "Take her to an ER
somewhere? Frankly, I don't know how you would describe her problem to
an emergency room admissions staffer."

"I'll think of something."

"By the way, Ally, so you should know, she's wearing diapers. This is
the real deal."

"And how do you figure in all this?"

"I told you. I'm going to be the James Boswell of stem cell technology.
I'm going to report on this miracle from the inside. But now, Ally, if
the Beta procedure is going to succeed you have to be the one to make
it happen."

She looked at him, still stunned by the wildness in his eyes.

And she had a feeling like her heart was being wrenched out.

"You're working with them, aren't you?" She was fuming with anger. She
no longer knew who could be trusted. He'd taken leave of his senses. Or
had his senses been taken from him? Which was it?

"I'm thinking about you. And hopefully about us. You're being offered
something you'd be a fool to turn down. That's all I have to say." He
took her hand and helped her back into the wheelchair. Then he
whispered, "Let's get out of here."

He quickly opened the door and rolled her out into the empty hall. When
he closed the door behind them, he whispered again. "Didn't you see the
surveillance camera and microphone in there? There's one in the room
where they had me locked up. They just put them in."

"To watch Kristen?"

"And me. I heard Bartlett and Van de Vliet talking. If any of this Beta
screw-up with her gets out of this building, Bartlett's conglomerate is
toast." He bent over near to her and continued whispering. "Listen, we
don't have much time. They've got your procedure scheduled for later on
tonight. I'm still somewhat of a zombie from something they gave me,
but maybe I can help get you out of here. Let me tell you what I've
found out so far. Van de Vliet gave you a low-dosage version of the
Beta procedure, in hopes he could harvest telomerase antibodies and use
them on Bartlett. But there was only a trace. He did inject those into
Bartlett, but he doesn't think it's enough to have any effect. So now
Bartlett is demanding he give you a massive dose of telomerase. Van de
Vliet is freaked about the risks, but Bartlett thinks it's his only
chance to head off having what happened to Kristen happen to him too.
However, what Bartlett doesn't know is that Van de Vliet has just
finished a new computer simulation and he thinks he's finally figured
out how to do a successful Beta procedure. For him, that's the Holy
Grail."

"How do you know all this?"

"I heard him talking to his assistant Debra. I was supposed to be
sedated. The reason he wants to perform it on you is because he now has
so much data on you, as a result of the first procedure. He thinks he's
got a real shot at redemption. Ally, if he's calculated wrong, you
could end up like Kristen."

"What about you?" she asked. "You should get out too."

"I should, but . . . Look, I've been trying to get in here for a long
time. Now I'm finally in. You could say I'm under duress, but I'm here
and this is where it's happening. If I get out alive, I have a hell of
a story."

Is he thinking clearly? she wondered. He seems to be drifting in and
out of a mental cloud. What is wrong with him?

"Stone, there's an emergency door on the first level of the basement.
If we can get up there, we might be able to escape. And while we're
doing it, you might want to seriously reconsider staying in this place.
We've both seen Kristen. What makes you think they're planning on
either of us ever living to tell that tale?"

"I'm having some trouble thinking just now." He was helping her out of
the wheelchair. "But I do know you've got to disappear. Whatever plans
they have for me remain to be seen, but I know exactly what's in store
for you. So come on and try to walk. We can't use the elevator, but
there's a fire door at the other end of the hall, which leads up to the
lab floor."

It's probably alarmed, she thought. Then what do we do?

Walking was easier than she'd expected. The strength was rapidly coming
back in her legs. But more than that, there was no sense of tightness
in her chest as she might have expected. She was always aware of traces
of stenosis, but now she felt nothing. Maybe there were miracles.

The hallway was dimly lit, and she wondered, Is a surveillance camera
tracking our every move?

"Shit," Stone announced when they reached the fire door, "it's
alarmed."

That's exactly what I was afraid of, she thought.

"Any chance they're bluffing?"

"Don't think so." He pointed. "That little red diode says it's hot."

God, she thought we've got to get out of here. "Maybe we could just
make a dash for it?"

He looked at her and shook his head. "Like you're in shape to dash? No,
what's called for is stealth."

He was pulling out his wallet. "The thing about these card readers,
some of them, like those that get you into bank ATMs, sometimes will
open for other cards. I've got four kinds of plastic. Might as well
give them a try."

"Well, just hurry." She leaned against the wall. "I'm starting to get
weak."

He slipped his Visa through and nothing happened. He immediately tried
MasterCard. Again nothing.

"Maybe I should try my all-purpose bankcard." He slipped a Chase
plastic through, but once more nothing happened.

"This isn't working, Stone." She sighed, feeling her legs weaken as she
clasped the wall. "I think we're going to have to chance the elevator."

"Don't give up yet." He took out his American Express, kissed it and
swiped it through. "One last shot."

The red diode blinked off.

"Never leave home without it," she whispered.

"We will now proceed very, very quietly." He carefully pushed open the
door, inches at a time.

The stair had metal steps and was lit by a single fluorescent bulb. As
he helped her up, Ally was wondering if there was any way to extract
her mother too. She couldn't imagine how she could do it and besides,
Nina might well refuse to go.

No, just get out and make Stone understand that no way was Winston
Bartlett going to let him go free to tell the story of Kristen. He
clearly wasn't thinking with all cylinders.

Stone Aimes was about to disappear, just like Kristen had.

The entry to the laboratory level was also alarmed, but American
Express once again saved the day. When they pushed open the door,
however, the lights were on in the office at the far end of the
hallway.

Where's that door that Grant was going to use to get me out? she
wondered. Then she saw a door marked EXIT next to Van de Vliet's office.

Shit, it's all the way at the opposite end of the hall.

"Stone, we have to get to that door before anybody sees us. I don't
know if it's alarmed or not, but that's the ball game." She reached for
his hand. "If we can get there and get out, please come with me. We can
make it to the highway. You can't stay here."

"Let's get you out. Then we'll talk."

"I'll drag you if I have to."

As they moved quietly along the wall, they could hear an argument under
way. She recognized the voices as Ellen 'Hara's and Karl Van de
Vliet's.

"I won't allow my staff to be part of this," Ellen was declaring. "I've
seen Kristen. Any form of the Beta is dangerous. If you do anything
involving that procedure again, you'll put everybody here at risk."

"Don't you think I've thought about that, agonized about it? We have
one chance to turn all this around. This is it."

"I don't want to be involved and I don't want any of my people involved
do you hear me?"

"Then keep them upstairs." He was striding out of his office, flipping
on the lights in the hallway.

"Oh shit," Ally whispered. She opened a door and pulled Stone into the
examining room, where her mother had first been admitted. Just as she
did she heard the ding of the elevator and caught a glimpse of Debra
and David Van de Vliet's senior researchers, getting off.

When she closed the door, the room should have been pitch black. But it
wasn't. A candle was burning on a counter and there was a figure at the
far end of the room.

He was sitting on the examining table, in the lotus position, his eyes
closed.

"Are you ready?" Kenji Noda asked. "I think just about everyone is here
now."

Oh my God, Ally thought. What are we going to do?

She watched helplessly as he reached over and touched a button on the
desk. A red light popped on above the door. A moment later, it opened.

"What are you doing here?" Debra asked, staring at them.

"Getting some exercise," Stone said.

Then Winston Bartlett appeared in the doorway behind her.

"How did they get up here?"

"Ally, I'm not going to let them do this to you," Stone declared,
seizing her hand. "We're going to--"

"Ken, please get him out of here," Bartlett said. 'Take him back
downstairs, anywhere."

"You shouldn't be out of your wheelchair," Debra was saying. She turned
to Ellen. "Would you get--"

"I'm not getting you anything," Ellen O'Hara declared. "I've just
submitted my resignation. Effective three minutes ago. I don't know a
thing about what's going on here and, from now on, I don't want to
know."

She got on the elevator and the door closed.

"Ken," Bartlett said, "first things first. Go after that woman. Don't
let her leave the building."

Now Debra was rolling in a wheelchair. David had appeared also, deep
disquiet in his eyes, and he helped her in.

"There's very little risk to this," he said. "Believe me."

She felt him giving her an injection in her left arm.

No, don't . . .

As the room started to spin, she reached out and grabbed Stone's arm
and pulled him down to her.

"Downstairs," she whispered. "Look around. There's--"

She didn't get to finish because Debra was whisking her out the door
and toward the laboratory. Stone had just grinned confusedly, seemingly
not paying any attention to what she was saying. Instead he ambled
toward the open stair door and disappeared.

At this point, however, no one appeared to notice or to care. They were
rolling her through the steel air lock. On the other side, Winston
Bartlett was already waiting, standing next to a gurney with straps.

No!



Chapter 34



_Friday, April 10

9:34 P.M.

_

She was still conscious as David and Debra lifted her onto the gurney.
There was no operating table in the laboratory, but this procedure did
not require one. It consisted of a series of small subcutaneous
injections along both sides of the spine, followed by a larger
injection at the base of the skull.

As the injections began, she drifted into a mind-set where she was
never entirely sure how much was real, how much was fantasy, how much
deliberate, how much accidental. She remembered that she felt her grasp
of reality slipping away, but there was no sense of pain. Instead,
images and sensations in a sequence that corresponded to the passage of
time drifted through her mind. It was couched in terms of the people
she knew.

The first image was her mother, Nina, and they were together,
struggling through a dense forest Initially, she thought they were
looking for her father's grave, but then it became clear they were
searching for some kind of magic potion that would save her mother's
life. As they clawed their way through tangled tendrils and dark
arbors, she became increasingly convinced their quest was doomed, that
she was destined to watch Nina pass into oblivion.

But then something happened. The forest opened out onto a vast meadow
bathed in sunshine. In the center was a cluster of snow-white
mushrooms, and she knew instinctively that these would bring eternal
life to anyone who ate them.

"Come," she said to Nina, "these can save you."

"Ally, I'm too old now. I don't want to be saved. There comes a moment
in your life when you've done everything you feel you needed to do.
You've had the good times and now all that's left is the slow
deterioration of what's left of your body. It robs the joy out of
living."

"No, Mom, this is different," she said plucking one of the white
mushrooms and holding it out. "This prevents you from growing any
older. You'll stay just the way you are. You can have a miracle."

       "'To never escape this vale of tears? To watch everyone you love
grow old and wither and die? Is that the 'miracle' you want me to
have?" Then she looked up at the flawless blue sky and held out her
arms as though to embrace the sun. "My mind Ally. You've given me back
my mind. Now I can live out whatever more life God will see fit to give
me and actually know who I am and where I am. That's miracle enough for
me."

As she said it, a beam of white light came directly from the sun and
enveloped her. Then the meadow around them faded away and all she could
see was Karl Van de Vliet, who was bending over her and lifting back
her eyelids.

"Alexa, I can't tell you what you're about to feel, because no one has
ever been where you're about to be. God help us, but we're on the high
wire without a net here. But any new cell configurations should
immediately form tissue that's a facsimile of what's already there.
That's what the simulations show."

She was listening to him, not sure if he was real or a dream. Then she
heard Bartlett's voice.

"Why are you talking to her, Karl? She can't hear you."

"We don't actually know whether she can or not. At some level I think
she's aware of her surroundings. In a way we should hope that she is.
If there are going to be impacts on her consciousness, I'd rather she
be alert and able to remember what it was like."

Then the voices drifted away, but she was sure she had no control over
anything. The white mushrooms. She was thinking about them again. Only
now they were above her and growing toward the sky and then she
realized she was underground, buried and looking up from her own grave.

What happened next was a journey through time--somewhere in the far-
distant future. She seemed to be watching it through a large window,
unable to interact with what was happening on the other side.

Time.

She felt a sensation at the back of her neck and the images faded away.

"This damned well better be right" came a voice. "There's not going to
be another chance."

"I did an activity simulation for a range of antibodies, just to make
sure she wouldn't automatically reject the enzyme because of the
earlier injection." The voice belonged to Karl Van de Vliet Her mind
was clearing and she recognized it "But all the results indicate that
the effect of the antibodies is essentially washed out at this
concentration of active enzyme. Have the good grace to let me try to
get this right."

She was listening and trying to understand what was going on. Her mind
had been drifting through time and space, but now she was aware that
something new was happening. The hallucinations, the conversations
around her, all were beginning to focus in, to build in intensity.

But that was not what was really happening; it was merely a mask over
something that had entered the laboratory, some kind of force.

Then her vision began to work in a strange way that felt more like a
sixth sense. She was "seeing" what was going on in the room, even
though her eyes were shut. Or perhaps they weren't. She didn't know and
she was still strapped to the gurney, so she had no way to check.

        "Kristy," Winston Bartlett said dismay in his voice, "you
shouldn't be in here. You should be resting."

"What the hell are you doing down here?" Van de Vliet demanded. The
pitch of his voice had noticeably gone up.

Who? Ally wondered. Who's he talking to?

There are definitely new people in the room.

"Come on, Ally," said a voice in her ear, urgent. This time she knew
who it was. It was Stone. "Damn them all. I'm getting you out of here.
Now."



Chapter 35



_Friday, April 10

10:07 P.M.

_

She felt the straps on the gurney loosening and then she started prying
her eyes open. She thought, hoped, it was Stone, but she couldn't see
well enough to be absolutely sure. Her mind and her vision were still
overflowing with horrifying nightmares of time gone awry. What did all
those bizarre dreams mean?

She was groggy but was coming alert. Perhaps it was the sense of
electricity in the room, but something very unscheduled was going on.

When she finally got her eyes open and focused, what greeted her was a
blinding row of white lights directly overhead that seemed to isolate
her. But there was tumult all around her in the lab, a cacophony of
alarmed voices echoing off the hard surfaces of glass and steel. She
squinted into the light as she felt Stone slip his arm around her
shoulders and raise her up.

Thank God, he's here, she thought.

"Come on," he was saying. "She's not interested in you. She just wants
Kristen out of here. This is the only way."

"Who . . . ?" She was startled by the sound of her own voice, mildly
surprised to discover she was even capable of speech.

She gazed around, trying to find her when . . . Jesus!

Katherine Starr was standing next to Kristen. She was moving in a
surreal way, gripping Kristen's hand and pulling her along.

Stone had found her. He had understood. Katherine Starr appeared to be
wearing a blue bathrobe under a gray mackintosh, but the part that got
Ally's attention was the knife she was holding, glistening like a
scalpel.

No, it _was _a scalpel, shiny and sharp as a razor.

Tough luck, guys. No pistol this time, but she still managed to come up
with a convincing substitute.

She didn't look any saner than she did the last time. Now, though, she
finally had what she'd come for. She had her daughter. Could it be that
Kristen was about to be liberated? Had the world come full circle?

"No." The voice belonged to Winston Bartlett. "I want her with me."

"You 're the prick responsible for this." Katherine whirled on him,
brandishing the scalpel.

"Mrs. Starr," Van de Vliet interjected, eyeing the sharp metal, "you
can't take Kristen away now. She's at a very delicate stage of her
procedure."

"I seem to be doing a lot of things I can't," she declared turning
back. "I'm not supposed to be out of my room, but I am. And now I'm
getting us both out of here. We're going through that air lock and onto
the elevator. So whose throat do I need to cut to do it?"

Winston Bartlett was edging away, and his eyes betrayed he was more
concerned than he wished to appear.

"Look at her," Katherine Starr continued shoving Kristen-- who was
completely disoriented her eyes blinking in confusion--in front of Van
de Vliet. "She doesn't know me; she doesn't know anything. She's acting
like a baby. What in hell have you done to her?"

"She had the procedure she wanted. At the time I warned there might be
side effects we couldn't anticipate."

"She's lost her mind. That's what you call a _side effect_?"

All this time Kristen was just standing and staring blankly into space,
but there were growing storm clouds welling in her eyes. It caused Ally
to wonder what was really going on with her. Had this troubled girl
been made permanently childlike, or was there a split personality at
work? Did she have a new mind now, or a parallel mind?

"We're still trying to stabilize her condition," Van de Vliet said in a
soothing tone. "We just need a little more time."

That was when Kristen wrenched free of her mother's grasp. Her eyes had
just gone critical, traveling into pure madness. She strode over and
seized a glass jar containing a clear solvent.

"I want them all to die," she said in a little girl's voice. "They're
going to kill me if I don't kill them first."

Now Katherine Starr had turned and was staring at her. "Kristy, honey,
put the bottle down. I'm going to take you home. I don't know what he's
done to you, but I'm not going to let you stay here anymore. You're
coming with me."

This is not going to end well, Ally thought. She began struggling to
her feet, trying to clear her mind enough for an exit strategy.

Nina was upstairs, or at least that was where she had been. Okay, the
first order of business is to get her out. Stone could probably manage
on his own . . .

Now Kristen was walking over to an electric heater positioned on a lab
workbench. She switched it on and the tungsten elements immediately
began to glow. Then, still holding the bottle, she turned back to Van
de Vliet.

"I see things that I never saw before. My mind has powers it never had
till now."

He nodded knowingly. "I always suspected that--"

"I'm able to think just like I did when I was little," she continued,
cutting him off. "Sometimes I'm there, in that

world. Then sometimes I flip back. But I can always tell when grown-ups
are lying to me. What did you do to my mind?"

"Kristen," Van de Vliet said "the brain has many functions that we
still only barely understand. With the Beta procedure, we don't really
know what activates general cell replacement or what the nature of the
replacement tissue actually is. We're just at the beginning of a
marvelous--"

"I'm seeing a future in which nothing exists," she muttered
despairingly, still holding the glass bottle of solvent. "I don't want
to be a part of it."

Van de Vliet was staring at her, his eyes flooded with alarm. "What . .
. what are you seeing, Kristen?"

"I'm seeing you dead." She glared around "All of you."

Then, with an animal scream, she whirled and flung the glass liter
bottle at the electric heater on the laboratory workbench. It crashed
into the shiny steel case with a splintering sound followed by an
explosion that sent a ball of fire and a shock wave through the room.
In an instant the entire end of the lab was engulfed in a sea of flame.

Ally sensed herself being knocked to the floor, but she also felt a
surge of adrenaline. This was endgame, the moment when everybody found
out who they were.

A hand was gripping her like a vise. It was Stone's, but the blast had
knocked him to the floor too and he was now motionless, slumped against
the side of a laboratory bench. It was like she was being held in a
death grip. Was she going to have to carry him out? She wasn't even
sure she had the strength in her legs to get herself out.

Now something even more horrible was slowly beginning to happen. The
central part of the lab had several sets of steel shelving arranged in
rows, and each supported a carefully organized arrangement of sample
vials filled with some kind of organic solvent. She saw with horror
that the first towering set of shelves, easily seven feet high, was
slowly tipping from the force of the blast. It teetered for an instant
and then fell into the set of shelves next to it with all the ponderous
majesty of a giant sequoia.

What happened next sounded like the end of the world. As the first set
of shelves crashed against the second, like a row of massive steel-and-
glass dominoes, each subsequent tower tipped and fell against the next,
and on and on.

All the while, as the tumbling racks were spewing flammable solvents
across the smoky lab space, they were ripping out electrical wiring and
sending sparks flying.

The whole danger-dynamic of the room had been turned upside down.
Katherine Starr and Debra and David now lay pinned beneath a tangled
mass of angle-iron supports that had collapsed in the wake of the
falling shelves. All three appeared to be unconscious.

Winston Bartlett was at the far end of the room. He'd been slammed
against the wall by the force of the explosion but was pulling himself
up. He seemed to be unhurt, though it was hard to see through the
billowing smoke.

Karl Van de Vliet was standing in the middle of the laboratory, his
eyes glazed, flames and smoke swirling about him.

What does this mean to him? Ally wondered. Years of research data being
obliterated in an instant.

But the horror wasn't over. The fire was depleting the hermetically
sealed room's oxygen. Ally sensed that anybody who didn't get out of
the lab in the next five minutes wasn't going to be going anywhere
standing up.

But what was happening with Kristen? She was walking through the flames
as though on a country stroll. It was like the fires of hell were all
around her and she was ambling through them unscathed. She must be
experiencing third-degree burns, Ally thought, yet there's a sense that
nothing can harm her. How could it be?

And then an astonishing possibility began to dawn on her. With the stem
cell enzymes working at full blast, was it possible her body was
immediately replacing its damaged cells? Could it be that the
telomerase enzyme didn't know the difference between a cell that had
aged and one that had been damaged by its environment?

"Jesus," Stone said, finally stirring, "what's--"

At that moment the overhead lights flickered and died and the emergency
lights clicked on, sending battery-powered beams through the smoke.

"Christ, Ally," he declared gazing around still dazed as his
consciousness seemed to be slowly returning. "We've got to get people
out of here."

There didn't appear to be a sprinkler system. Probably, she thought,
because an onslaught of water would wipe out all the computers.

Now she was thinking about the automatic air locks. How did those
steel-and-glass doors work without electricity? Did they have a battery
backup, or some kind of fail-safe mechanism, which provided a manual
override in case of a power outage?

Now Winston Bartlett was striding toward the center of the room. From
the dazed look in his eyes, it wasn't clear whether he knew where he
was or not. Kristen was walking toward him, on a collision course.

"You let this happen," she said "You wanted to ruin my life."

"Kristy, nobody made you do anything," he said choking from the smoke.
"But now we've got to--"

"It's too late," she declared lashing out with the side of her hand
against his neck. He staggered back, flailing, and seized an iron
girder.

There was a blast of voltage, a shower of sparks, and he screamed as he
crumpled sideways. Then the force of his fall broke his hand loose from
the electrical short. He lay prostrate on the smoky floor of the lab,
twitching.

My God, Ally thought, she really is determined to kill us all before
she's through.

"Kristen," Van de Vliet was saying, "please. There's still time. I'm
going to do everything I can for you."

He was gasping for air and now more vials of flammable liquid were
exploding from the heat and igniting. He turned and stumbled toward the
air lock. There were sounds of yelling on the other side.

The people outside can't get through, Ally realized. The security lock
has no override.

We 're going to die.

Van de Vliet pounded on the button controls of the air lock, but there
was no response. Smoke was billowing around him and he choked, coughing
and dropping to one knee.

Then Kristen walked up behind him. She appeared not to notice the
flames and smoke swirling around her.

"This is where you get what's coming, you bastard. I warned you you'd
better do something for me. But you never really intended to help me. I
was just an experiment. That's all I ever was. For both of you. You
fuckers." And she lashed out with a powerful fist, sending him to the
floor.

Outside there was now the wail of a siren, the sound faintly filtering
through. And the pounding on the other side of the air lock continued,
though now it had the force of authority.

At last, Ally thought, somebody finally got serious and called the fire
department.

Now Kristen had bent over the prostrate Van de Vliet and was doing
something, though Ally couldn't tell what.

"Keep your face close to the floor," Stone was yelling. "It's where the
last of the air is. Hang on. We'll be okay."

She had a premonition they were not going to be okay. They all were
going to suffocate.

All, that was, except Kristen. She seemed to possess some magic
immunity from the horrors around her. She had risen and was standing
over Van de Vliet like a statue, while everybody else was on the floor.

As Ally watched her--a serene figure in the middle of chaos and death--
she began to have an odd sensation. The burning in her lungs, from the
smoke, started to dissipate. And strength felt like it was pouring into
her limbs. The tongues of flame around her had become dancing white
figures that invited her to rise and join them.

She did, slowly, not quite knowing what she was doing. Then she walked
to the jammed air lock. She stepped over Karl Van de Vliet's collapsed
frame and placed her hands on the steel. It was already scalding, but
she only took fleeting notice of that.

While a firefighter's ax futilely pounded on the outside, she seized
the wide bar of the door and ripped it open, to the sound of wrenching
metal.

It was a superhuman effort she didn't realize she was capable of. And
it was the last thing she remembered. The space around her had become a
blazing white cloud and she didn't feel the hands of the two
firefighters who seized her as she fell through the open air lock.



Chapter 36



_Friday, June 5

8:39 P.M.

_

Days later, Alexa Hampton was still considering herself one of the
luckiest people alive. When she'd regained consciousness the next week
in Lenox Hill Hospital, hooked up to oxygen and being fed by an IV, she
noticed that the nurses were looking at her strangely and whispering to
each other. Finally she couldn't stand it anymore and asked why.

"It was what you did," a young Puerto Rican woman declared, gazing at
her in awe through her rimless glasses. "No one can believe it."

Then she explained. What they couldn't believe--as reported by the New
Jersey firefighters--was that she had single-handedly wrenched open the
steel-door air lock of the laboratory at the Dorian Institute. At the
time firefighters were on the other side vainly trying to dismantle the
door with their axes. Yet she'd just yanked it aside like paper. It was
reminiscent of those urban legends of superhuman strength in times of
crisis, like the story of a panicked woman who hoisted an overturned
Chevy van to free a pinned child. Later, though, some of the New Jersey
fire crew went back and looked again. The steel hinges had literally
been sheared off. . . .

How did she do that? More important, though, symptoms of her stenosis
had entirely disappeared and she felt better than ever in her life. The
stem cell technology pioneered by Karl Van de Vliet had indeed produced
a miracle. She even had a new kind of energy, periodically. It was
unlike anything she'd ever felt.

Other things were new as well. She'd been seeing a lot of Stone Aimes
and helping him finish his book on the Gerex Corporation's successful
clinical trials with stem cell technology. After all the publicity
following the fire at the Dorian Institute, the manuscript was
generating a lot of buzz. A paperback auction was already in the works,
with a half-million floor, and Time had abruptly taken a second look at
the "first serial" excerpt his agent had been trying to place with them
and come up with six figures. The only part Stone hadn't reported was
the ghastly side effect of the early Beta experiment, the Syndrome,
because Kristen Starr had disappeared. He had no proof and his
publisher refused to print potentially libelous speculation.

In the meantime, Winston Bartlett hadn't been seen in public since that
tragic day. The business press speculated he had become a Howard
Hughes-like recluse in his Gramercy Park mansion. Ally had tried
several times to reach him through his office to find out what he
wanted to do about the design job, and each time she was told he would
get back to her. He never did.

Maybe he was still recuperating. When the firefighters pulled him out
of the flaming wreckage, his clothes were singed from the electricity
that had coursed through his body, his heart was stopped and he
appeared to be dead. In fact, he was dead.

The paramedics immediately began intensive CPR. Moments later, his
heart was beating again. Then he declared he was well enough that he
didn't need to go to a hospital. He had his Japanese henchman, Kenji
Noda, help him to his McDonnell Douglas and he disappeared into the
night.

Oxygen had not been to his brain for . . . No one knew how long. The
paramedics said he awoke in what seemed another reality.

Was he still alive? There had been no reports otherwise, but he most
certainly had withdrawn from the world.

Karl Van de Vliet, for his part, had been hospitalized for severe
burns. He remained in the trauma unit at St. Vincent's Hospital, but
when Alexa tried to go visit him, she was told he wasn't accepting
visitors but was doing well. Katherine Starr was dead from a massive
concussion, along with the two researchers, Debra Connolly and David
Hopkins, who had been in the wrong place when the steel racks
collapsed. And Alexa never been able to find out what happened to
Kristen Starr. Officially, nobody by that name was there.

But business was business. With the clinical trials over, the pending
sale of the Gerex Corporation to Cambridge Pharmaceuticals was
proceeding on autopilot, handled by Grant Hampton, who stood to make a
bundle or so he bragged to Alexa. The Dorian Institute had been closed
and all the remaining records moved to a converted facility near
Liverpool.

After six days in Lenox Hill, Ally went home, and three days after that
she had returned to her desk at CitiSpace. Now, inevitably, she was
back to her workaholic habits and grueling hours.

Today, though, she had knocked off early, since Nina had taken a cab
down to join her for supper.

She marveled just thinking about it. Her mom taking a cab. By herself.
It truly was a miracle.

Their "light" repast had consisted of cold roast beef and room-
temperature stout, two of Nina's favorites. She had never been much for
cucumber sandwiches with the crust cut off. Afterward, she elected to
have a brandy.

"The trouble with having your mind back," she said as she settled onto
the couch, snifter in hand, "is that sometimes you remember things
you'd just as soon forget." Outside thunder boomed from an early
evening rainstorm, which had blown in from the northwest.

"Well, Mom, at least now you can pick and choose what you want to
remember and what you want to forget." She didn't really mind the
storm. Having her mother back was such a blessing.

It still felt odd, though, having her rescued from what had to be an
inevitable, ignominious fate. It was as though time had gone in
reverse. A miracle was very much in progress. . . .

She was experiencing a miracle too, though of a slightly different
sort. She felt pretty much normal, if occasionally shaky and uncertain
on her feet. But at unexpected times she would have bursts of energy
that defied reality. They were, in fact, scary, like that thing with
the steel door. Something weird would sometimes take control of her
body and she didn't really know what it was. . . .

Truthfully, she was feeling some of that tonight. She had joined her
mother with a brandy and was thinking about taking Knickers for an
early walk, downpour or not. She wanted to see the river through the
mists of a storm.

That was when the phone rang. She got up and made her way to the
kitchen and took the receiver off the wall.

"Hello." She was hoping it was Stone. He'd usually call early in the
evening to see what she was doing and ask if she wanted some company.

"Alexa, I need to see you," came a voice. The other end of the line was
noisy, as though a loud motor was running.

"Who--"

"I think you know who this is. If you would come down to the river,
right now, I will make it very much worth your while."

For some reason, maybe it was telepathy, Knickers had begun bouncing
about the kitchen, angling for a walk, even though she normally was
mortally fearful of thunder.

Now Ally did know who it was.

What was he doing calling her here at home, in a rainstorm? After all
these weeks.

Well, she thought, I have nothing left to fear from him or any of them.
Why not?

"It's raining," she said. "This had better be fast."

And she hung up the phone.

"Who was that, honey?" Nina asked. "I hope it wasn't anybody I know.
You were somewhat abrupt."

"Mom, they deserved whatever they got, and it's no big deal. But I
think I'm going to take Knickers out. She's making me nuts."

Ally couldn't focus on what had just happened. He had a lot of nerve.
On the other hand, she loved to be down by the river when it was this
way, shrouded in pastel mist.

"Honey, it's raining cats and dogs," Nina declared. "You're apt to
catch your death."

"No, Mom, it's letting up now. I'll be all right, really." She was
digging out her tan raincoat and rubber galoshes from the closet by the
door. Knickers immediately realized what was up and began a dance of
joy, barking as she raced to find her leash.

"Come on, honey," Ally said, taking the braided leather. "I want you
close to me."

The ride down in the elevator felt ominous, though Knickers failed to
share any of her apprehension as she bounced around the glass dome and
nuzzled Ally's legs. The thunder she was sometimes fearful of had
lessened, and that Ally thought had doubtless improved her courage.

The condominium no longer had a doorman. In hopes of trimming costs,
the condo board had sent out a secret ballot on the subject. By a
narrow margin the owners had voted to dispense with that particular
frill. Although she missed Alan and his early morning optimism about
his Off-Broadway hopes, she realized the economy was probably timely.
All those weeks when she hadn't been pulling her weight at CitiSpace,
the nut on that operation hadn't diminished any.

As she stepped onto Barrow Street, the late-spring air was unseasonably
brisk and the rain had blanked visibility down to almost nothing. On
other days this would had been that magical moment just after the sun
went down, when gorgeous fiery orange clouds hung over the Hudson, but
now there was a hint of brooding in the bleak rain. It fit the dark
mood she felt growing around her.

He wanted to meet her down by the river. Gripping Knickers' leash, she
checked the traffic lights, then marched across the West Side Highway.
The new esplanade along the river was awash in the rain and was
uncharacteristically empty.

That was lucky for Knickers. Off-the-leash time. Ally drew her close
and clicked open the catch that attached it to her collar. With a
"woof" of joy, she dashed off toward the vacant pier, then headed out.

"Baby, slow down," Ally yelled but it was to no avail. A second later,
her fluffy sheepdog was lost in the rain.

But she couldn't go far. The refurbished pier extended out into the
river for maybe the length of a football field and change. Beyond that,
there was at least half a mile of river before the shores of New Jersey
For all her enthusiasm, Knickers wasn't about to dive into the chilly
Hudson and swim for the horizon.

So where was he? He'd said "down by the river."

What to do now? She decided she might as well walk out after Knickers.

Now she was noticing something odd. The air was chilly; actually, raw
was a better description. A last blast of unusual arctic air had
accompanied the rain. She could feel the temperature on her face. She
had stupidly gone out with just a light shirt under the raincoat, yet
she didn't feel the slightest bit cold. It was as though her metabolism
had sped up, the way it did during a run, though she wasn't breathing
heavy or anything. It felt like one of those strange moments she'd been
having, when she felt superalive.

Now Knickers was returning, but she was slinking back as though fearful
of something, the rain running off her face.

"Come here, baby," Ally said, reaching out. "What is it?"

The darkness of the river flowed over her now, and for the first time
ever, she wished she'd brought along a flashlight . . .

That was when, out of the rain, she finally heard the sound. It was an
engine lowering from the sky, which Knickers must have already heard.
Then a helicopter, a McDonnell Douglas, materialized, lowering onto the
empty sports space on the pier.

The downdraft of the rotor threw spray against the FieldTurf and into
her eyes. But she gazed through it, unblinking, feeling an unexpected
sense of power entering her limbs. The rain should have felt cold, but
she didn't really notice.

Maybe, she thought, they had to meet. They were bonded.

As the pilot cut the power, the engine began to wind down--whoom, whoom,
whoom--until it came to a dead stop and there followed an unnatural
silence. Finally the door on the side opened and a metal step dropped
down.

After a moment's pause that seemed to last forever, he appeared, at
first a vague figure in the rain, but then he stepped down and came
toward her. He was wearing a white hat with a wide brim and a tan
raincoat that seemed more like a cloak than a coat.

"Alexa, I so appreciate your making time for me."

It was hard to tell in the rain, but he appeared to be strong, and
there was actually a kind of radiance about him, as though he carried
his own special luminosity. He seemed completely transformed. The
question was, transformed how? He looked years younger than the last
time she saw him.

"I thought we should talk. I've been meaning to call you. I wanted to
see how you're doing."

That's not it at all, she told herself. What do you really want?

"Actually, I've been wanting to thank you," Winston

Bartlett went on. "It turns out that you saved me after all. Your
telomerase antibodies finally kicked in. The initial ones Karl injected
in me. It just took a few weeks."

"And what about Kristen?" she asked.

His look saddened.

"You didn't hear?" He shook his head. "She . . . died in the fire."

That doesn't sound right, Ally thought. She looked like she was the
only one who was going to survive it.

"Oh yeah? How did that happen?"

"You might as well know. She was burned beyond recognition. The body
still hasn't been officially identified. When the firemen found her,
she had a shard of glass through her throat. They thought she must have
fallen on something, but I fear it's entirely possible she could have
done it to herself."

Was that story true, or a bald-faced lie? Ally wondered. Were they
still hiding her someplace?

But why was he here? He certainly hadn't come to discuss the kitchen
design job for his Gramercy Park mansion. That was now long ago and far
away.

"Alexa," he said moving toward her, "please don't be frightened but
there's something I have to find out."

He reached out with his left hand and seized her wrist. She only saw
the glint of the penknife in his right hand for an instant before he
slashed it across her palm.

"What!" she screamed and yanked her hand away. Knickers gave a loud
yelp and then howled mournfully.

Only then did she notice that there'd been just a momentary flash of
pain.

"It's okay," Bartlett said reaching to soothe Knickers. "Just a
superficial scratch. Now watch it. I want to know if Karl had time to
finish the procedure."

My God. She didn't have to watch. She could already feel it beginning
to heal.

"What's . . . what's going on? Is this--?"

"He had hopefully completed the Beta on you just before Kristy's mother
showed up. But did it work the way it was supposed to? We didn't know.
Until now."

"My God. I knew I was feeling--"

"You received just the right amount of telomerase injections," Bartlett
interjected, "to induce the Beta without any side effects. It was the
'Goldilocks dosage' Karl had been trying to calculate, just enough that
only aged or damaged cells are replaced, while healthy tissue is not
altered."

She now realized that was why she'd been having bouts of incredible
energy.

"We're the only ones," he went on. "Just us. You and me. We've been
given this gift, Alexa. And now we have the responsibility that goes
along with it." He glanced down at her hand. "By the way, how's that
cut doing?"

"What are you getting at?" It was definitely healing.

A wave of thunder boomed over the river, sending Knickers scurrying to
Ally's side.

"What I'm getting at is that you and I are now two very special people.
We both are living proof of what the Beta can achieve. The question is,
what are we going to do about it?"

She was still stunned.

"This is a lot to absorb. I'll have to think--"

"I've already thought about this and I believe it must be kept secret
at all cost. At least for now."

"But why? It's a miracle that--"

"That must be handled prudently. I need your cooperation with that."

She was having extreme difficulty getting her mind around what he was
talking about.

"I don't really know what's going on. I think I'd better see some
doctors. And Stone is finishing his book about . . . I've got to tell
him--"

"Those things cannot happen, Alexa." He looked out at the river for a
moment, then turned back. "A brand-new world has dawned. Finally all
things are possible." He moved closer to her, then reached out and took
her wrist again. She looked down and realized the cut on her hand was
all but healed. "For now, this has to be our secret, yours and mine.
Just us."

She thought about all that had happened in the weeks since her wayward
brother had accosted her running along this very river. It felt like an
eternity.

"I'm asking you not to talk about this," he continued. "To anyone. You
must give me your solemn word."

She felt the grip on her wrist get stronger.

"Now that we know the Beta can work," he went on, his voice piercing
through the rain, "I am forming an elite association, the Methuselah
Society. Membership buys a guarantee that you can stop aging; in fact,
you can pick the age you want to remain. Karl is sure he can do that,
assuming the Beta worked with you. And now we see it has. The first
memberships will naturally be somewhat expensive, but as time goes by,
the cost will be gradually scaled down to respond to market forces. One
may only join with a companion, but for obvious reasons all those who
undergo the Beta must be sworn to secrecy, on pain of death, since
there's bound to be a hue and cry and government intervention if word
leaks out that only individuals with significant resources can have
this miracle."

"I think that's obscene," she said.

"I suspected you might feel that way. Which is why we're having this
talk. As I've explained the Methuselah Society will be contingent on
the utmost secrecy, at least initially. So the question is, are you on
board with this?"

"The answer is, I'll do what I please." She was thinking what a
bombshell this would be to have in Stone's book. Stem cells--the
Fountain of Youth was no longer a dream.

Winston Bartlett had won his dice game with God. And now he was
planning to sweep the table. But he also was smart enough to realize he
had to cash in quickly and discreetly.

"Don't you realize how irresponsible that is?" he insisted.

"We stand on the threshold of a new era for humankind. But if we let
small-minded politicians get involved with this, they might decide to
forbid . . . Keep in mind that using stem cell technology to regenerate
organs is already controversial. Just imagine what the self-appointed
zealots would do with this. The good of humanity is less important to
them than their narrow-minded, bigoted constituencies."

That was when it finally dawned on her why he had lured her down here
by the river on a rainy night. What better place for a convenient
"accident" if it came to that.

She watched as he turned and raised a finger toward the open door of
the McDonnell Douglas.

The motor started and then another figure emerged and came down the
steps. She squinted through the rain and recognized Kenji Noda,
Bartlett's ever-present bodyguard. He was carrying a plastic bottle,
along with a small white towel.

He's going to chloroform me and then God knows what. I'm about to
disappear the same way Kristen did.

She stared at them both, wondering what to do.

"Alexa, I regret to say that you are either with me or you are a
problem I cannot afford to have," Bartlett said, and then he nodded to
Noda.

Shit.

She backed to the edge of the pier as Noda advanced on her menacingly,
dousing the cloth. He was a foot taller than she was and he weighed
over two hundred pounds.

Her first instinct was to run, but then she sensed an impulse to stand
her ground. Something told her to try to use her strength against him.
He wouldn't expect it.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that a white car had pulled
onto the pier and was cruising down the side, slowly inching their way.
It looked like a police vehicle, probably a couple of cops curious
about the presence of a helicopter on the Field Turf.

They were approximately half a minute too late to make any difference.
Kenji Noda was five feet away and they were fifty yards away. And they
probably couldn't see what was going on anyway. The rain had chosen
that moment to begin to gush, shrouding everything in sheets of water.

Knickers was nudging at her leg, as though urging her to flee. And
again she thought about running, but an instinct told her to stand her
ground. She was feeling a sensation of power growing in her limbs.

She found herself oddly calm as Kenji Noda reached her, then wrapped
his left arm around her neck and with his right hand clamped the cloth
over her nostrils. It was infused with chloroform--she knew the smell--
but she held her breath.

Then it happened. She casually reached up and took his left arm and
pulled it away from her neck.

It was so easy. There was the same feeling of strength she'd had when
she wrenched open the air lock. Yet it was something that came and
went. She had no inkling how long it would last this time.

"I don't think you should do that," she said continuing to pull his arm
around behind him. Then she twisted it to the side and there was a
sickening snap as it came out of its shoulder socket

He groaned lightly but did not speak. Instead he reached with his right
hand and pulled an automatic out of a holster at the back of his belt
dropping the chloroformed cloth in the process. While his left arm
dangled uselessly, he brought around the pistol and tried to aim it at
her torso. Her senses, though, were coming fully alive now and she
seized his wrist and pushed it away just as he fired.

The round caught her at the outer edge of her shoulder. She felt it
enter and exit, but there was no pain, merely a mild itch. Still
holding his wrist, she picked up the white cloth and buried his face in
it. She held it against his nostrils until his body twitched and went
limp.

That was when the spotlight hit them.

"Drop your weapons and show your hands," came a basso voice over a
megaphone.

Who had a weapon? she wondered. The one pistol around was lying on the
ground next to the crumpled frame of Kenji Noda.

The police must have heard the shot and assumed they were being fired
on.

She turned around to search for Winston Bartlett and saw him retreating
to the McDonnell Douglas. Running, actually.

He saw what happened, she told herself. He's afraid of me.

"Stop and identify yourself," came the police megaphone. The spotlight
was now squarely on Bartlett, who was bounding up the retractable
steps.

Without looking back, he pulled up the steps and slammed the door. The
rotor had already begun revving higher, and in moments the chopper had
begun its ascent out over the dark river.

"You have been warned to identify yourself," came the futile megaphone.
The chopper had all but disappeared into the dark and rain when she
heard a shot fired from the direction of the police car.

It must have been an accident, she told herself. There's no way--

But the smooth hum of the engine dying away in the fog abruptly changed
tone, then started to sputter. Ten seconds later, there was silence.

She was so engaged she didn't notice the stirring at her feet. A moment
thereafter, she saw the towering bulk of Kenji Noda rise up beside her.
Then she felt his grip on her wrist and realized he was dragging, and
pulling her to the edge of the pier. Then she felt a shove and a swirl
of dark air around her, followed by the splash of cold water.
Surprisingly, it didn't really feel freezing--it just felt refreshingly
brisk. With one hand she grabbed one of the square concrete pillars
that was supporting the pier. The mysterious strength she'd had from
time to time was coming back once more.

That was when she heard a vicious howl, wolf-like, that transmuted into
a growl, and the next thing she saw was a hazy form hurtle past her and
splash into the water.

Actually, it was two forms, and the darker one was flailing while the
lighter one bore down on him, her teeth on his throat.

"No!" she screamed "Don't."

As the pair drifted past her in the current, still linked she reached
out and seized Knickers' collar, yanking her back. Then she watched
helplessly as Kenji Noda disappeared into the dark. Could he swim with
one arm?

The cops were futilely searching the wide river with their searchlight,
looking for the helicopter, for anything, but there was nothing left to
see.

She quietly made for shore, even as she and Knickers were being swept
downstream by the current When they finally reached the bank, it was
somewhere around Morton Street. Oddly enough, she wasn't cold and she
wasn't tired when she drew herself up onto the rocks, Knickers at her
side. She just lay panting for a moment.

"Come here, baby," she said drawing Knickers to her. The dog was
shivering and she knew she had to get her home soon. "Thank God you
can't talk. I think something very evil just passed from the world."



Epilogue



_Thursday, June 25

10:49 P.M.

_

"You're really something," Stone declared, falling back onto the
rumpled sheets. "What's come over you lately? Don't you ever get
tired?"

"Maybe I'm just happy to be alive," Ally said, smiling as she ran a
finger down his chest. "I'm catching up on all the living I've been
missing out on."

Her heart was definitely on the mend, in several ways. She was
beginning to think she was in love. After Steve went missing, she
thought that love would never happen again, but maybe it had.

"Know what," he said, rising up, "I've really worked up an appetite.
How about you? Think I'll make an omelet. Got any eggs left in the
fridge?"

"Should be some," she said. "But I'll pass. Anything I eat after ten
goes straight to places on my body that don't need further
reinforcement."

It was so nice just to have someone to be near again. Her nervous
system was still recovering from the harrowing experience down on the
pier. In fact, she wasn't really sure

_what _actually had happened. The crashed McDonnell Douglas was
retrieved from the water the next day, but there were no bodies aboard.
Had Winston Bartlett drowned and his body been swept out to sea by the
tide? Also, there must have been a third person, a pilot. And what
about Kenji Noda, who also was missing? Did he make it to shore? In any
case, they all had disappeared. The case was closed. And since nobody
had found a will, New York State was currently the executor of his
fortune. Eileen Bartlett was sole heir. Her waiting game had paid off
superbly. The price of her Gerex shares was doubling every two weeks.
She was about to become a very rich woman indeed.

But had Winston Bartlett really gone to a watery grave? Ally somehow
doubted it. He had too much invested in life to cash in so easily.

As she watched Stone get up and swathe himself in a huge white towel
before heading for the kitchen, she found herself replaying that
harrowing scene at the pier. She kept trying to remember something
Bartlett had said about forming some kind of society. Was she
fantasizing or had he said he was going to do that and then offer the
Beta procedure to its members? What was he going to call it? Try as she
might, she couldn't remember. She had developed a mental block that her
mind was using to shield her psyche from the horror of that evening.

That night she'd first considered going to St. Vincent's Hospital
emergency room for the gunshot wound but then she'd thought it over and
decided there were too many things to explain that couldn't be
explained Instead she just went home and washed the wound and filled it
up with Neosporin. She didn't even tell Nina. The next morning, scar
tissue was already forming. Now it was completely healed and even the
scar had all but disappeared.

Had the Beta really worked? She wanted to tell Stone about that
possibility, but she wasn't sure how he would take it. And she
absolutely did not want to end up in the book.

She pulled on a terry cloth robe and slippers and padded her way into
the kitchen. She wasn't hungry, but she felt like a glass of wine. She
poked around in the wine rack in the kitchen closet and came up with a
bottle of Bordeaux. Stone was cracking large white eggs into a
stoneware bowl.

"Sure I can't make some for you?" he asked, leaning over to buss her
hair as she searched in the drawer for a corkscrew. "I'm gonna throw in
some cheddar, but I'll leave it out if that doesn't work for you."

"I just want a glass of red wine," she said, retrieving the corkscrew.
"And I need a memory jogging. What's a word that makes you think of
living a long time? I . . .  I want to look up something on the
Internet and I don't know how to start."

"What kind of word is it?" he queried. "I'm a wordsmith. Twenty
questions. Is it a noun, a verb, an adjective?"

"If I could remember that, I might be able to come up with it."

He was tossing a quarter stick of butter into the pan. "Hey, I once
learned hypnosis. Why don't you let me take you under?"

"Does that really work?"

"It's how I come up with interview stuff sometimes, from years ago. We
really do have a complicated memory system. I think everything you ever
knew is buried somewhere, maybe in a tiny little wrinkle."

She suspected he might be right. In this case the repressed info was
still there; it just had been deliberately covered over and hidden.

"So do you want to hypnotize me? You're sure you know how?"

"I'm not boasting, but I could make Methuselah remember the day he
first got out of diapers."

She stared at him. "My God, I think that's it. Methuselah. I think
that's the word I couldn't remember." She kissed him on the mouth
enthusiastically. "I've got to check something."

She popped the cork and poured herself a glass.

"Want some?"

"I'm not sure what goes with eggs at this time of night. Probably
tequila."

"Good luck. You know where to find it. There're some limes in the
fridge. Right now I'm going to fire up the Dell and do a little
search."

"Now? " His face dropped. "How about a little romantic . . . whatever?"

"Come and join me. Bring your plate. We'll go exploring in cyberspace.
It'll be a romantic voyage. I've got a hunch about something."

She walked back into the bedroom and clicked on the computer. She
sipped at her wine, deep but still fruity and delicious, as it booted
up.

"What's going on?" he asked as he wandered in. He was carrying a shot
glass of tequila and a white plate with the cheese omelette. The aroma
was seductive.

"I want to check out something. I have to be honest and confess I've
been holding out on you a little. When I saw Winston Bartlett that
night on the pier, something he said--"

"Ally, I need to do some confessing too. The time never seemed quite
right. I need to tell you something about him."

"Well, don't tell me now. I don't think I can handle anything else to
worry about tonight. Please save it."

She was logging on to AOL. Then she went to the search engine Google,
which she had found to be the best.

"I want to check out that name you came up with. It rang a bell."

She typed in Methuselah, supposedly the guy who lived for nearly a
thousand years.

There were pages and pages of references relating to that word. It
started with a five-thousand-year-old pine tree, then an article from
Modern Maturity on how to extend life, then Caltech research on a
longevity gene, then a rock band in Texas (undoubtedly very retro), a
short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and so it went.

"What, exactly, are you looking for?" he asked, holding out a folk.
"Here. Want a bite?"

She reached and tore off a fluffy corner. He did eggs perfectly.

"Thanks," she said, chewing. Now she was moving to the third page. "I
think I'm looking for an organization. And Methuselah was in the name.
At least . . . that's what I seem to remember. I'm definitely
repressing a lot."

"Well, what about that one?" he asked, pointing.

The line read, the Methuselah Society.

"That's it," she declared. "Now I remember. That's the name he used. I
swear. So it's real. I'm not crazy."

"What are you talking about?"

"It's him. That's what he said he was going to do."

She clicked on the name.

The Web page came up and it was strictly in black and white, with small
print. And there it was again, THE METHUSELAH SOCIETY. There was no
information beyond a request for a secure e-mail address.

"Looks like they want to check you out," Stone said.

"To make sure you're not connected to politics or law enforcement."

"Then why not give it a shot," Stone said. "You're on AOL. You'd have
to be a civilian."

She typed in her address and entered it. Immediately a little yellow
padlock appeared in the lower right-hand corner, indicating their
communication was secure. Then a notice materialized, a small square
flickering to life. It contained her phone number and then her name.
Next a complete financial record began to scroll down. It had been
elicited from banks, mortgage companies, credit services. There was
Value of Real Estate owned, Mortgages Outstanding, Bank Accounts,
Outstanding Obligations, Estimated Net Worth. It had all appeared in a
time span of seconds.

"Wow," Stone said. "There are no secrets left from these guys, whoever
they are. They are wired."

Then a message appeared: The minimum net worth required to be a member
is 500 Million Dollars. The fee for membership is 100 Million Dollars.
A 10-Million-Dollar retainer is required while your application is
being processed. Please be prepared to designate the ages you and your
companion wish to remain.

"My God," she said, "that's him. He's done it. Winston Bartlett is
alive and well, and selling immortality, real or not."

Then another message came up: Welcome, Alexa. Please be advised you are
already a member. But you have not yet selected a companion.



                                  *         *        *



                                Afterword



How much of the foregoing is true or even plausible?

In late 2002, medical researchers in Dusseldorf announced they had
successfully treated heart-attack victims using stem cells harvested
from the patients' own bone marrow. The stem cells were delivered to
damaged heart muscle via angioplasty catheters, a minimally invasive
procedure. Subsequent monitoring indicated that the stem cells had
reduced the damage to heart-muscle tissue and had improved their heart
function when compared to similar patients in a control group who had
declined the procedure.

It's already happening.

The miraculous stem cell cures in this story are essentially an
extrapolation of research well underway that has been the subject of
magazine covers and is possibly the most promising and, yes,
problematic field of medical research. The clocks at the Dorian
Institute ran faster than ordinary timepieces, and research areas and
cures that currently are only speculation were made real there. But
that's why it's called fiction. As with the example cited above, many
stem cell miracles conjured here may be just over the horizon.

As for Kristen and the Methuselah Society, they are a fictional
embodiment of misgivings given voice by many, including no less an
authority than Professor Leonard Hayflick, whose Hayflick limit,
defining the process of how cells grow old could be said to be the
underpinning of modern stem cell research. He is now a leading
bioethicist who is sufficiently convinced of our potential to use stem
cells to arrest the actual aging process that he has worried about its
ramifications in print. He makes no claim that such a thing is
imminent, but he doesn't dismiss its possibility either. He has far-
reaching societal concerns about this, and he also raises biological
issues such as, if you've treated your brain malady by using stem cells
to grow new neural tissue, have you altered your mind? Are you still
you?

           It's called Regenerative Medicine. Watch for it.



 BOOKS BY THOMAS HOOVER



Nonfiction

Zen Culture

The Zen Experience



Fiction

The Moghul

Caribbee

Wall Street _Samurai_

     (The _Samurai_ Strategy)

Project Daedalus

Project Cyclops

Life Blood

Syndrome



All free as e-books at

www.thomashoover.info





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