Authors: Douglas Preston
To Barbara Peters
The authors thank Patrick Allocco, Douglas Child, Douglas Webb, and Jon Couch for their invaluable assistance with certain details of this book.
IDEON CREW STOOD
at the window of the conference room, looking out over the former Meatpacking District of Manhattan. His gaze followed the tarred roofs of the old buildings, now hip boutiques and trendy restaurants; moved past the new High Line park thick with people; past the rotting piers; and came to rest on the broad expanse of the Hudson River. In the hazy sun of early summer, the river for a change looked like real water, the surface a mass of blue moving upstream with the incoming tide.
The Hudson reminded him of other rivers he had known, and streams and creeks, and his thoughts lingered on one stream in particular, high in the Jemez Mountains. He thought about a deep pool in it and the large cutthroat trout he was sure lurked in its dappled depths.
He couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there, out of New York City, away from that withered gnome named Glinn and his mysterious company, Effective Engineering Solutions.
“I’m going fishing,” he said.
Glinn shifted in his wheelchair and sighed. Gideon turned. The man’s crippled hand appeared from under the blanket that was shrouding his knees. It contained a brown-paper package. “Your payment.”
Gideon hesitated. “You’re paying me? After what I did?”
“The fact is, based on what you’ve told me, our payment structure has changed.” Glinn opened the package, counted out several banded bricks of hundreds, and laid them on the table in the conference room. “Here is half of the hundred thousand.”
Gideon snatched it up before Glinn could change his mind.
Then, to his surprise, Glinn handed him the other half. “And here’s the rest. Not as payment for services rendered, however. More in the way of, shall we say, an advance.”
Gideon stuffed the money into his jacket pockets. “An advance on what?”
“Before you leave town,” Glinn said, “I thought you might like to drop in on an old friend of yours.”
“Thanks, but I’ve got a date with a cutthroat trout in Chihuahueños Creek.”
“Ah, but I was so hoping you’d have time to see your friend.”
“I don’t have any friends. And if I did, I sure as hell wouldn’t be interested in ‘dropping in’ on them right now. As you so kindly pointed out, I’m living on borrowed time.”
“Reed Chalker is his name. I believe you worked with him?”
“We worked in the same Tech Area—that’s not the same as working
him. I haven’t seen the guy around Los Alamos in months.”
“Well, you’re about to see him now. The authorities are hoping you could have a little chat with him.”
“The authorities? A chat? What the hell’s this about?”
“At this moment, Chalker’s got a hostage. Four of them, actually. A family in Queens. Held at gunpoint.”
Gideon laughed. “Chalker? No way. The guy I knew was a typical Los Alamos geek, straight as an arrow, wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“He’s raving. Paranoid. Out of his mind. You’re the only person within range who knows him. The police want you to calm him down, get him to release those hostages.”
Gideon didn’t reply.
“So I’m sorry to tell you, Dr. Crew, but that cutthroat trout is going to be enjoying life just a little bit longer. And now you really do need to go. That family can’t wait.”
Gideon felt a swell of outrage at the imposition. “Find someone else.”
“No time. There are two children involved, along with their mother and father. It seems the father is Chalker’s landlord, rented him a basement apartment in their row house. Frankly, we’re very lucky you’re here.”
“I hardly knew Chalker. He stuck to me like a limpet—but only briefly, after his wife left him. Then he got religion and drifted away, much to my relief.”
“Garza will take you over. You’ll be liaising with Special Agent Stone Fordyce, FBI.”
“Liaising? Why is the FBI involved?”
“It’s standard operating procedure whenever someone with a high-level security clearance like Chalker gets into trouble, on the chance he might go, ah, out of school.” Glinn fixed his lone good eye on Gideon. “This isn’t some undercover operation like last time—just a straightforward assignment. If all goes well, you should be on your way back to New Mexico in a day or two.”
Gideon said nothing. He had eleven months of life left—or at least that’s what they had told him. But then again, the more he thought about it, the more he began to wonder, and he intended to take the first opportunity to get a second opinion. Glinn was a master manipulator, and Gideon didn’t trust either him or his people.
“If he’s as crazy as you say, he might just turn that gun on me.”
“Two kids. Eight and ten. Boy and a girl. And their parents.”
Gideon turned, expelled a long breath. “Jesus. I’m giving you one day—
one day. And I’m going to be pissed at you for a long, long time.”
Glinn bestowed a cold smile on him.
HEY ARRIVED AT
a scene of controlled chaos. The setting was a nondescript working-class street in the ironically named neighborhood of Sunnyside, Queens. The house was part of a long row of attached brick houses, facing an identical row across a street of cracked pavement. There were no trees on the block; the lawns were overgrown with weeds and brown from lack of rain. The air hummed with the roar of traffic on nearby Queens Boulevard, and a smell of car exhaust drifted in the air.
A cop showed them where to park, and they got out. The police had set up roadblocks and barricades at both ends of the street, and the place was packed with squad cars, their lightbars flashing. Garza showed ID and was waved through a barricade, which held back a seething crowd of rubberneckers, many drinking beer, a few even wearing funny hats and carrying on as if it were a block party.
New York City
, thought Gideon with a shake of his head.
The police had cleared a large area in front of the house in which Chalker had taken hostages. Two SWAT teams had been deployed, one in a forward post behind an armored rescue vehicle, the other back behind a set of concrete barricades. Gideon could see snipers peeking above several rooftops. In the middle distance, he could hear the occasional blaring of a voice over a megaphone, apparently a hostage negotiator trying to talk Chalker down.
As Garza pushed toward the front, Gideon experienced a sudden flash of déjà vu, a spasm of nausea. This was the way his father had been killed, exactly like this: with the megaphones, the SWAT teams, the snipers and barricades—shot in cold blood, surrendering, with his hands up…Gideon fought to push the memory aside.
They passed through another set of barricades to an FBI command post. An agent detached himself from the group and came over.
“Special Agent Stone Fordyce,” said Garza, introducing him. “Assistant commander of the FBI team on site. You’ll be working with him.”
Gideon eyed the man with instinctual hostility. The guy was straight out of a TV series, dressed in a blue suit, starched white shirt, and repp tie, ID hanging around his neck, tall, handsome, arrogant, self-assured, and ridiculously fit. His narrow blue eyes looked down at Gideon as if examining a lower form of life.
“So you’re the
?” asked Fordyce, his eyes lingering on Gideon, particularly on his clothes—black jeans, black Keds without laces, secondhand tuxedo shirt, thin scarf.
“I’m not the maiden aunt, if that’s what you mean,” Gideon replied.
“Here’s the deal,” the man went on, after a pause. “This friend of yours, Chalker, he’s paranoid, delusional. Classic psychotic break. He’s spouting a bunch of conspiracy ideas: that the government kidnapped him, used him for radiation experiments, and beamed rays into his head—the usual. He thinks his landlord and landlady are in on the conspiracy and he’s taken them hostage, along with their two kids.”
“What does he want?” Gideon asked.
“Incoherent. He’s armed with what we think is a 1911-style Colt .45. He’s fired it once or twice for show. Not sure if he actually knows how to use it. You got any knowledge of his prior experience with weapons?”
“I would’ve thought none,” said Gideon.
“Tell me about him.”
“Socially inept. Didn’t have a lot of friends, got burdened with a world-class dysfunctional wife who put him through the wringer. Dissatisfied with his job, talked about wanting to become a writer. Finally ended up getting religion.”
“Was he good at his job? Smart?”
“Competent but not brilliant. As for brains, he’s way more intelligent than, say, the average FBI agent.”
There was a silence as Fordyce took this in and did not react. “The brief says this guy designed nuclear weapons at Los Alamos. Right?”
“More or less.”
“You think there’s a chance he’s got explosives rigged in there?”
“He may have worked with nuclear weapons, but a firecracker would’ve freaked him out. As for explosives—I sincerely doubt it.”
Fordyce stared at him, went on. “He thinks everyone here is a government agent.”
“He’s probably right.”
“We’re hoping he’ll trust someone out of his past. You.”
Gideon could hear in the background more megaphoned words, then a distorted, screamed reply, too far away to make out. He turned toward the sound. “Is that
?” he asked in disbelief.
“Why the megaphone?”
“He won’t talk on a cell or landline, says we’re using it to beam more rays into his head. So it’s megaphone only. He shouts his replies out the door.”
Gideon turned again in the direction of the sound. “I guess I’m ready whenever you are.”
“Let me give you a crash course in hostage negotiation,” said Fordyce. “The whole idea is to create a feeling of normalcy, lower the temperature, engage the hostage taker, prolong the negotiations. Stimulate his humanity. Okay? Our number one goal is to get him to release the kids. Try to dig out something he wants and trade the kids for it. You following me so far?” He seemed doubtful Gideon was capable of basic reasoning.
Gideon nodded, keeping his face neutral.
“You have no authority to grant anything. You can’t make promises. Get that? Everything has to be checked with the commander. Anything he asks for, be sympathetic, but say you’ve got to check with the commander. This is a crucial part of the process. It slows things down. And if he wants something and the answer’s a no, you don’t get blamed. The point is to wear him out, stop the momentum.”
Gideon was surprised to find himself in general agreement with the approach.
A cop appeared with a bulletproof vest. “We’re going to suit you up,” said Fordyce. “In any case, there shouldn’t be any risk—we’re putting you behind bulletproof Plexiglas.”
They helped him strip off his shirt and put on the vest, tucking the extensions into his upper pants, then fitted him out with an invisible earpiece and remote mike. As he dressed, he could hear more megaphoned conversation in the background, interspersed with hysterical, incoherent responses.
Fordyce consulted his watch, winced. “Any new developments?” he asked the cop.
“The guy’s getting worse. The commander thinks we may need to move into the termination phase soon.”
“Damn.” Fordyce shook his head and turned back to Gideon. “Another thing: you’ll be working from a script.”
“Our psychologists have worked it up. We’ll give you each question through the earpiece. You ask it, then wait a moment after he replies to get the response from us.”
“So you really don’t need me at all. Except as a front.”
“You got it. You’re a rented body.”
“Then why the lecture on hostage communication?”