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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Howard Books (August 18, 2009)
Paul McCusker is a Peabody Award-winning writer and director who has written novels, plays, audio dramas, and musicals for children and adults. He currently has over thirty books in print. He lives in Colorado Springs, CO.
Visit the author's website.
Walt Larimore, M.D., is a noted physician, award-winning writer, and medical journalist who hosted the cable television show on Fox’s Health Network, Ask the Family Physician. He lives in Monument, Colorado.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (August 18, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The Eyam Factor
Walt Larimore, M.D.
[Refer to P4P regarding inclusion of purpose statement.]
Our purpose at Howard Books is to:
Increase faith in the hearts of growing Christians
Inspire holiness in the lives of believers
Instill hope in the hearts of struggling people everywhere
Because He’s coming again!
[Howard Fiction Logo] Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
The Eyam Factor © 2009 Paul McCusker and Walt Larimore, M.D.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Subsidiary Rights Department, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
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Edited by TK
Cover design by TK
Interior design by TK
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or publisher.
To Elizabeth, Tommy, and Ellie—for their love and patience.
To Barb— for her lifetime of love
[July 15, 1666]
REBEKAH SMYTHE LOOKED DOWN AT HER BROTHER’S LIFELESS BODY, his eyes staring vacantly toward the heaven he had hoped and prayed to inhabit. With a pale and trembling hand, she reached down and closed his eyelids.
She had done the same for her father and three of her sisters—all lying so still now in their shallow graves not far from their home; so silent after their days of suffering and anguish. She could not weep for them. Her tears were spent long ago.
She looked at the makeshift cots on which her mother and youngest sister slept fitfully. They had come down with the symptoms just two days earlier. She dared not hold out hope for their survival. In another day or two, if all went as it had for the rest of her family, they’d be gone and she’d be alone. Alone.
By the grace of God, she had resisted the illness. Yet, the outcome of her survival would be loneliness. In her darker moments, she wondered how far God’s grace could carry her.
Agnes Hull, who lived in the next cottage down, had also survived the plague and claimed that the warm bacon fat she drank was the reason. She left bottles of the wretched liquid at the doors of afflicted families, but unfortunately, it didn’t work for Rebekah’s family.
John Dicken, who worked in the local mines, was also a survivor. Believing himself to be immune, he had established himself as the village gravedigger. He would offer his services the instant he’d heard of another victim. After burying the body away from town, he would return to claim the burial fee—reportedly taking whatever he fancied. Most were too sick to stop him. Besides, what use was their money if they were dead? Few of the men were well enough to take the job from Dicken, and it wasn’t as if anyone new would arrive to challenge him. After all, the village was under a strict quarantine.
Rebekah sat on a stool, staring at the fire. The large black kettle bubbled and boiled. Using a pair of large tongs, she moved the kettle to a small table, pouring the steaming water into a pot. The tea leaves were old, but all she had. She didn’t think of pouring a cup for her mother and sister—they wouldn’t taste it anyway.
Pushing a lock of hair away from her face, she was overcome by a feeling of self-pity. How had it come to this? Who could have foreseen last September that something as unassuming as a box of cloth from London would start such an epidemic? Mr. George Viccars, a traveling tailor, certainly couldn’t have. As he opened the box—wet from a rainstorm—and laid the cloth out to dry, he could not have imagined what he was unleashing upon them all. Within a day, he developed the telltale symptoms of rose-colored spots on his skin and quickly died.
The Earl, the village’s patron, sent his personal physician from the castle to examine the tailor’s body. The doctor’s diagnosis was Black Plague. It had arrived in Eyam.
And so began a year of terror.
The village had rallied together. Catherine Mompesson, the vicar’s wife, bravely visited the sick families. Ignoring the risk to herself and her family, she had brought words of comfort and a bouquet of sweet-smelling posies, believing it would ward off the stench of disease.
As she sipped her tea, Rebekah thought about the rhyme sung by local children:
Ring a-ring o' roses,
A pocketful of posies.
We all fall down.
The rhyme went through her mind again and again—
The knock on the door startled her. Few of the villagers would be out and about at this late hour. Perhaps it was the vicar’s wife or the gravedigger.
She stood and crossed the room to the door. Her hand was poised above the latch when it occurred to her who might be calling.
Despite the still warm air of the summer night, she felt a chill go down her spine.
He came to the families to aid the sick, comfort the dying, and offer peace to the grieving. The women of the village spoke of him as an angel of light. The men called him a demon, unnerved as they were by the mysterious way in which he appeared and disappeared into thin air. Worse was his appearance. Rebekah had not seen it for herself, but the village gossips claimed that beneath his monk’s cowl, he had skin the color of deep water. Blue, they said. The monk’s skin was blue. A curse, the men said.
She could not believe that a man of God, one so merciful and compassionate, could be cursed.
She lifted the latch and opened the door.
[August 10. The Present.]
THE BLACKHAWK HELICOPTER DESCENDED toward a small flat outcropping near the top of the icy cliff. It had no markings on its matte black paint, an exterior designed to absorb radar signals.
From inside the helicopter, Army Brigadier General Sam Mosley gazed at the frozen valley below—a vast expanse of ice that stretched between two distant mountain peaks. To the untrained eye, it was a wasteland, but the general knew better. What appeared to be a series of ripples in the valley’s floor were actually roofs and camouflage for a large, underground collection of buildings. “The Bunker,” they called it; the only inhabited facility for hundreds of miles.
Icy particles sprang up like a cloud of dust as the chopper nestled onto the snowy pad. This was the emergency landing site, a mile from the regular pad much closer to the facility. The pilot cut the whisper-soft engine.
Mosley swallowed, forcing back the acidic taste in his throat. Was it fear? No, this was the taste of grim determination—the bitter and offensive bile of a tragic duty to perform.
As the ice-cloud dispersed, the general looked across the endless white and remembered the champagne celebration they’d had on the day the scheme to build this laboratory was approved. It seemed like genius—or madness—at the time. Imagine building a lab in the middle of Greenland. Yet all the risk assessments told them the site had the highest probability of safety. Only Mark Carlson, the architect of the entire plan, had expressed doubts. “We’re arrogant,” he said in private, late night meetings. Often the argument took place over day-old Chinese meals. “Eventually we’ll create something that we can’t contain; something that’s too potent. Nature always finds a way of escape. It doesn’t matter how far in the ice we dig.”
Mosley turned to the cockpit. The pilot took off his helmet. “Well?”
“Okay to disembark, General.”
Sam nodded. “Thanks, Tom. Excellent job, as always.”
“We couldn’t have hoped for a better day,” the pilot said. “The weathermen at The Hague said the conditions would be perfect.”
“Glad they got it right for once.”
Nervous chitchat, Mosley thought. He looked out at the snow and ice and frowned and sighed.
“We don’t have much time, General,” the pilot said.
“No, we don’t.”
“Would you like me to come with you?” the pilot asked.
Sam shook his head. “Better that I do this alone.” He climbed out of his seat and moved to the rear of the cabin. He dressed quickly and quietly donning a bright orange suit designed to protect him to fifty degrees below zero.
He glanced at the second suit—the name Mark Carlson was stitched onto the left breast. The thought of Mark gave him pause. Mark should be here. But that would have been too much to ask. Four years of Mark’s life had gone into making this complex a reality. He’d lost a lot in the process: a wife and a child. Some believed he was now damaged goods as a result of those losses. Sam hadn’t wanted to believe it and continually gave Mark the benefit of the doubt. And yet, he hadn’t invited Mark to this occasion. Why risk pushing him over the edge?
The general put his head cover on last, to give added protection to his face and eyes. Certain he was thoroughly protected; Sam threw open door and stepped out.
A sledgehammer of frigid air hit him. He braced himself against the side of the helicopter, then reached up to the door, but the pilot was already there, sliding it closed. The two men exchanged glances and the Mosley noticed he was wearing a compact Glock 36 pistol holstered to his belt. A precaution. Just a precaution. He bowed to the elements and pressed ahead, ankle-deep in a powdery snow that sparkled like kindergarten craft glitter.
The wind made a mournful sound as he walked toward the edge of the cliff. Sam clenched his teeth—not against the cold—but out of a brutal resolve. He stopped and surveyed the scene once more. As a soldier, he hated these moments. As a general, he knew the responsibility was his. As a physician, this action went against everything he believed—against the oath he had sworn when he finished medical school. He searched for comfort in the sad thought that the people below were already dead.
He reached into his pocket and retrieved a small black cell phone. Opening the protective cover, he carefully punched in a sequence of numbers. When he came to the last number, he hesitated and glanced back at the helicopter. He saw the pilot through a slim open crack at the Blackhawk’s door and knew the pilot had orders to shoot him if he showed any hesitation or attempted to deviate from the plan in any way. The Glock only held six rounds, but one .45 caliber bullet was all that an expert shooter needed to kill him instantly.
Sam’s gloved thumb pressed the final digit and he cursed himself. This was their plan of last resort—the one the experts and the computer models had always said couldn’t happen—wouldn’t happen. They had insisted the lab was foolproof, A breach of its safeguards and a failure to contain its virus was unimaginable. Yet the unimaginable had happened—and now Sam had to do the very thing he’d assured Mark they’d never have to do. From the corner of his eye, he saw the Blackhawk’s door open wider. He was taking too long. The pilot was probably taking aim even now.
The general moved his thumb to the Send button and turned toward the complex. Critical life-saving work had gone on in that lab. Years of effort. Its potential had been so great, yet so unfulfilled, and now there’d be nothing but terrible loss.
With a defiant gesture, he pressed the button. At first nothing happened. Then, far below, the ground heaved in the center of the complex, rising as if a fist punched the underside of the ice, growing larger and higher until the white earth burst open with an explosive roar.
Mosley stepped back. The ice—and everything that had been the bunker—blew upward, followed by a massive fireball. The concussive blast hit him; a surprisingly strong wave nearly knocked him off his feet. He fought it, balancing forward.
In less than half a minute everything was calm again. The secret lab had been incinerated—along with its entire staff and an untold amount of data about all things viral.
Sam stood frozen, his gloved hands clenched. “It had to be done,” he said to no one. Turning on his heel, he walked toward the helicopter. He could only hope that the virus had been completely destroyed.
If even one viral particle had survived, it was possible that the world would not.
THE METAL CORRUGATED ROOF CAUGHT THE BLISTERING AFRICAN HEAT and pushed it downward, past the wobbling ceiling fans, to the meeting room below. The air was heavy with humidity. Even the gathering flies moved sluggishly, lazily, as if weighted by the muggy atmosphere.
David sat on a chair in the center of the small makeshift stage at the head of the room. From here, he could see it all: the flies and the horror before him. He scanned the room. No movement. He turned his head to look out of an open window, out to the compound.
For all intents and purposes, it looked like an average African village—a dirt road down the middle and pathways lined with wooden huts, metal shacks, and a few makeshift cottages. A gray cement maintenance shed sat in the center of the compound with donated equipment and supplies to provide them with running water and, at least for a few hours a day, electricity.
Beyond that shed were the schoolhouse and the cafeteria. The workhouse, with the many sewing machines the women used to make the clothing that helped subsidize their community, sat off to the side. A few yards from there, alone and away from the rest of the structures, was David’s single-room main office. Through the trees, he could see its flat roof and the small satellite dish mounted on a corner.
David’s hands hovered above the laptop resting on his lap. A small icon on the screen told him that he had a strong signal and full access to the Internet thanks to that satellite dish—a dish that he’d fought against installing. It was yet another connection to a corrupt and depraved world—a world he had struggled so hard to escape.
Why else would he create a commune in Gabon, of all places? Certainly not to replicate his life in America. This had been a chance for him, his family, and his congregation to break free. But his no-contact rule backfired when Hank Hillier came down with malaria earlier in the year. Malaria was a common malady and easily treated, but Hank’s had gone to his brain and he developed a near-fatal case of meningitis. Only by the grace of God were they able to contact a local missionary pilot and transport him 150 miles to a specialty hospital in Lambaréné. It was a close call that left him and his congregation nervous about their isolation.
With great reluctance David agreed to install the dish and hardware. Just in time, too. Not long afterward, Sarah McFerran was stricken with appendicitis and, with a single e-mail, they got her airlifted to the pediatric hospital in Libreville.
Both Hank and Sarah lay dead in the collection of bodies before him, and now David would use the satellite dish to send out his last words—not as a cry for help, but to ask for forgiveness.
He groaned and rubbed his tired eyes, squeezing them shut. How did it come to this? How did he get from being a very trendy atheist in college, proud of his intellect, relishing his militant cynicism against any and all believers in God, to the counter-cultural pastor of a Christian commune in the middle of a vast African jungle?
No doubt, when their bodies were finally discovered, the press would pore over the details of his life in a vain attempt to answer that question.
They would simplify the complexities of his faith and conviction; gloss over the corruptions and decadence of American culture that drove him to take his family and congregation to Gabon; and caricature them all as mindless cult members, rather than the thriving and rigorous group of disciples they truly were.
He ached to think of it, and he closed his eyes as he thought of his missteps, his misguided idealism and, in the end, his business naiveté that put the community on the edge of financial ruin and sent him into the arms of The Corporation for help.
The Corporation. They had seemed like an answer to his prayers. The representatives expressed genuine interest in David’s hope and vision, and they were persuasive, offering David a ludicrous amount of money in exchange for some help and cooperation. It had appeared so simple and safe. Only his wife Rachel expressed any deep concern. Something in her heart told her it was wrong. “It doesn’t feel right,” she had warned, but couldn’t explain why.
David looked at the bodies closest to the stage. Rachel was there—along with his two young, precious daughters and his teen-age son—the front edge of a sea of corpses.
The altar sat a few feet from David. It had been hand-carved from an ancient oak tree that had fallen outside David’s first church—such a long time ago. A wooden chalice beckoned him. A scrap of bread sat on the wooden plate next to the chalice. There was just enough left for him.
David looked down at the laptop computer. He blinked. His eyes burned. He began to type. This was his final confession. A last e-mail to his father—a man who never accepted or affirmed him, much less ever indicated he loved him. What a surprise it would be. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken to his father. They were never close.
David began to type. He was determined not to write with sentimentality or melodrama. He recounted in the simplest terms his hopes and dreams with Rachel and how he believed, as a matter of faith, that their community was created to help save mankind, both spiritually and physically. Lofty goals, but attainable. Even now, David believed they could have succeeded if only he had been wiser and more discerning—if only he’d listened to Rachel—if only he hadn’t shaken hands with the Devil.
Now it was all undone. A failure of the greatest kind. A tragedy, just as Rachel had predicted. So now David concluded his e-mail by asking his father’s for forgiveness. It was the last thing he needed to do—the most important thing left to do.
A harsh squawk drew David’s attention to the back door. A vulture landed in the courtyard. Then another. They knew. They were gathering. Soon, there would be no stopping them. Soon, his compound would contain a congregation of scavengers.
David’s eyes filled with tears as he shook off the thought of what would happen to the dead bodies strewn across the meeting-room floor. What were they but empty vessels? God had secured their souls. His gaze fell again upon the men and women, boys and girls who’d put their trust in his leadership.
That morning they had each taken communion, knowing it would be their last. After praying together, they lay down, and went to sleep. David was happy they all went peacefully.
And now, it was his turn.
He finished the note to his father:
We were wrong, Dad. Now it’s cost me my dream, my family, my community, and my life.
It may be a very long time before we are found, since none of the local tribe members come to our compound unless we invite them. I am afraid there will be a cover-up if The Corporation finds us first. That is why I am writing to you. If you can do anything to prevent this evil from spreading, in the name of God, do it.
I love you, Dad. I pray that God will touch you—and you’ll accept Him—so we’ll be reunited in heaven. I’ll be waiting there for you.
Your son, David
He reread the e-mail, knowing there was so much more to say. He pressed the send button. A box popped up, confirming its passage. He leaned back and sighed.
With little energy, he turned off the computer, stood, and approached the altar. He was surprised at the sweet aroma. He looked at the flowers on the altar. I don’t remember the orchids smelling so wonderful. He inhaled the fragrance deeply, then dropped to his knees, his hands pressing against the smooth oak.
A prayer from his days as an altar boy welled up in his memory. “Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our help in time of need, we fly unto thee for succor in behalf of this thy servant . . .” He couldn’t remember the rest of this ancient prayer. So, he drank the last of the poison in the cup. God grant that, in this death, there may be true life eternal.
The poison would work quickly, so he rose and went to his family. Rachel’s arm was thrown over her face, as if she had decided not to watch what would unfold. The girls’ dead eyes stared at nothing—their expressions serene. Aaron was on the floor, his face turned away and pressed into the crook of his arm.
David kissed his wife, but couldn’t bring himself to do the same to his children. Taking his place next to her, he reached over and pulled her close, his eye-catching sight of the telltale red splotches on her arm. Then, as if he needed one last confirmation, he looked at his own arm.
Yes—they were there.
Perhaps he would be vindicated after all. Perhaps they had stopped the horror from spreading.
The numbing poison-induced sleep came over him like a soft blanket. He closed his eyes. Into Thy hands I commit my . . .
And then he heard a voice.
It came as a whisper.
He opened his eyes. His son Aaron stood over him. David attempted a smile, remembering the stories of others who’d come this way before—of the long tunnel with the bright light—of family members returning to walk “over” with their loved one, and there to greet him was his boy looking as he had not an hour ago, with his sandy blond, buzz-cut hair, and his lean face which had only just lost its boyish roundness as the passage to manhood had begun. It was a passage that David had stolen from him.
David wanted to speak, but couldn’t frame the words. He blinked, trying to clear his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Dad. I’m so sorry,” his son said.
David’s eyes widened, horrified. His son wasn’t an angel. His son was still alive.
“Dad, I’m sorry. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t!” Aaron knelt over him, his eyes wide and wet.
David’s body lay helpless. His paralyzed vocal chords could make no sound; his arms could not reach up. Not even a tear could form. Why was his son alive? Didn’t he know what would happen? He’d been inoculated with the evil along with everyone else. The deadly virus was in his system. His death, inevitable and sure, would be awful.
With a final slow exhalation David knew he had failed—once again.
Darkness circled in his open eyes, moving to the center of his vision, obscuring everything to a single pinpoint as he lost consciousness. Dear God, forgive me.
BRIGADIER GENERAL SAM MOSLEY SETTLED INTO the large leather chair behind his cherrywood desk at The Hague. He swiveled away from the mounds of paperwork awaiting his attention and leaned his head back. He scrubbed his hands over his face, and let out a long breath. He was still weary from the flight back to Holland the previous afternoon.
Damage control. When did my job become nothing but damage control?
He had debriefed his superiors at the Pentagon and the CIA by teleconference. “Mission accomplished,” he’d reported. They had commended him on a job well done. He chewed the inside of his lip and thought, Mission accomplished, yes—if the mission was to bury an unmitigated disaster beneath tons of ice. But what about the cause of the disaster? Whose mission was it to discover that? And whom would they make the scapegoat?
Not me, he decided. Sure, there’d be appearances before top-secret subcommittees to discern what had happened at the laboratory and how to keep it from happening again. And a disaster like this always had budgetary ramifications, but he wouldn’t let them lay the blame on his shoulders.
He groaned and wondered when he’d become such a heartless bureaucrat—thinking about debriefings, subcommittees, budgets, and avoiding blame when so many lives had been lost to the failed experiment.
He had known and worked with some of those scientists for over a decade. They had families who, even now, were receiving the terrible news about their loved ones. Not the full truth, of course. Only a handful of people knew that. But each employee had a detailed cover story. Their cause of death would be explained in noble and heroic terms, as if that would soothe the surviving wives, husbands, sons, and daughters. Hopefully the generous checks they would receive would buy them some comfort.
Sam tried to console himself with the knowledge that the team hadn’t died in vain. They had sacrificed their lives to save untold millions—those who might have died in the future to the fatal viruses with names few in the public sector even knew.
He squinted at a large computer screen on the opposite wall. It displayed a map of the world, with multiple colors indicating outbreaks of viruses and diseases anywhere they had been diagnosed in the past year. Some colors remained constant, others blinked to indicate a new report.
He squinted, tapping a key on the keyboard to highlight any outbreaks of Filoviridae, a family of viruses containing the dreaded Ebola and Marburg viruses. Red dots flickered in parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Each dot represented individuals who, even as he sat in the comfort of his office, were dealing with these aggressive and relentless viruses. There were far too many.
Filoviridae were a formidable and fearsome foe. He had seen its effects for himself, seen how the virus moved quickly, passing rapidly from person to person, even spreading through the air to infect those in the immediate vicinity. Unknown to most of the world, the mutations of these viruses were becoming far more dangerous. The chances of regional epidemics—even a worldwide pandemic—increased almost daily. It was only a matter of time before the big one, the Hiroshima of viral outbreaks, would hit some part of the world and begin its horrific spread. Once it began to metastasize, he doubted it could be stopped—unless his teams could find a treatment.
Sam looked away from the map and his eye caught a slip of paper by the phone. The message stated in his assistant’s immaculate handwriting that Mark Carlson had called from a medical symposium in Cairo to find out if there was a conclusion to the Greenland crisis. The message detailed where he could be found only in an emergency. His cell phone would not be working.
There’s a conclusion all right, and you won’t like it.
He held the slip of paper in his hand and dreaded how he would explain to Mark that the lab in Greenland had been compromised—and then been utterly destroyed. How was he expected to drop that into a conversation?
Standing again, he began to pace. What had gone wrong? How had the virus broken free in the lab? How had it killed so many so quickly?
Sam had considered sabotage—a betrayer in their midst. But who? The staff had been rigorously vetted at the highest levels—with extensive psychological testing. No suicide-saboteurs in that crew. More than likely a careless technician had sent the virus into the air where the other employees then picked it up, triggering the crisis.
By the time the first rosy death-mark had shown up on a technician’s chest or arms, the entire colony could have been infected. Excruciating death came quickly—so quickly, in fact, that headquarters had received only one phone call and two urgent e-mails from separate employees. Then silence.
Camera footage—sent over the security system’s satellite feed—showed the carnage. The scenes were abhorrent and repulsive. There was no choice but to incinerate the base in the hope that every mutant virus within would be destroyed.
He glanced at his watch. It was nearly time to debrief his executive team on all that had happened. His assistant came through the doorway, tapping on the door as he entered.
“Excuse me, General,” Colonel Kevin Maklin said in an apologetic tone.
“What is it, Kevin?”
“I’m sorry, but there’s an inspector from Interpol here to see you. Martin Duerr.”
“Am I scheduled to see him?”
“No. He said it’s urgent.”
“He wouldn’t tell me. He said he must speak with you personally.”
Mosley looked at his watch again. “All right. I’ll give him a few minutes.”
His assistant stepped out and a short man with a round face, round wire-framed glasses, and wild white hair came in. He wore a tan suit that on anyone else would have looked crisp and sharp. On him, it hung like bad curtains.
“General Mosley?” he inquired in a low voice that came as a rumble from somewhere deep inside of him. He had a French accent.
“If it’s about those parking fines . . .”
The man chuckled politely. “No, sir. That’s the police. Parking fines are not within our jurisdiction.” He handed Mosley his credentials: a picture I.D. and gold badge with the blue insignia of a sword and globe overlaid with the letters OIPC/ICPO—the French and English acronyms for the International Criminal Police Organization, the world’s largest international police organization. “I’m an Inspector for Interpol. I’ve been sent from our headquarters in Lyon.”
“Beautiful city. What can I do for you, Inspector Duerr?”
Duerr looked as if he wanted to sit down, but Sam didn’t offer him a seat. “Have you ever heard of the Return to Earth movement?”
Mosley thought about it. “No. Should I have?”
Duerr shrugged, then produced a notepad from his pocket. Without looking at it, he said, “The Return to Earth is an extremist group—a combination of fanatical environmentalists and animal rights activists who’ve joined forces.”
Mosley gazed at the inspector but didn’t react.
Duerr cleared his throat. “They believe that humankind has lost his right to govern the earth because of his abuse of the world and of animals. In essence, they believe that humans should be returned to the earth, as in dead and decomposing, so that the earth can return to its natural state, in harmony with the animals.”
Duerr closed the notepad. “To be blunt, General, they’re terrorists—suicide bombers for Mother Earth. They will do anything to take mankind out of the equation. Anything. They’ll target individuals, families, industrial plants, factories, polluters, pharmaceutical companies, biochemical research sites, cosmetic companies, and any other entity they deem worthy to put on their hit-list for testing on animals or hurting the earth.”
“Am I on their hit-list?” Mosley asked. “Is that why you’re here?”
“Not in the way you think. But your name did come up in one of their meetings.”
Mosley scowled. “What meeting?”
“A cell meeting in Switzerland. They have cells worldwide, a loose network that supports and encourages one another. But they maintain enough distance to keep us from effectively tracking them. The individuals often don’t know who the other members are. There might be two or more working on the same project and they won’t know it. So, when we grab one, the others disappear back into the woodwork.”
“If you can’t track them, then how do you know I was mentioned?”
“One of our agents has infiltrated a cell in Basel. This is a significant breakthrough for us, as you can imagine. We have access to some of their activities as never before. Our agent flagged your name—in connection with some top secret facility in Greenland.”
Sam felt a cold hand squeeze his heart. He pressed his lips together to keep from speaking.
The Interpol agent nodded. “Yes, I know. I do not have the clearance for you to confirm or deny the existence of any top-secret facilities, but I want you to know that they know about it—and my agent was led to believe that they were going to take some sort of action against it.”
“What sort of action?”
“We don’t know,” the inspector replied. “Their modus operandi is usually centered around destruction, sabotage, intimidation.”
“Hypothetically speaking, if we were to have any sort of facility or facilities, and of course, I’m not saying or even insinuating we do or would, why would they target us?”
“Any facility that experiments on animals is suitable for attack. Or perhaps you were doing something that posed a risk to the environment. Or you may have been working on something that would accelerate their efforts to erase mankind from the earth. Pick one.”
Pick one, or all three. Was it possible these fanatics knew what they were testing and believed they could unleash a pandemic by infiltrating and sabotaging the facility? He swallowed an unnerving feeling of fear.
“How strong are they?”
The inspector pursed his lips. “They’re, shall we say, resourceful. Not only do they seem to have endless funding, but their ability to find out what a government or company is doing and where they are doing it is astounding. They seem to have followers buried deep within the most guarded enterprises. They insulate themselves anywhere and everywhere. Some of their members are experts in various fields, working at the highest levels. Or they plant an employee with, say, an outside contractor for a security firm, the military, or a government on one or more highly secure sites. Or, perhaps an employee of a janitorial service works at a secret site. You get the idea.”
“What do you need from me?” asked Mosley.
“I want you to be aware, to warn your people in a discreet way, so as not to jeopardize our operation.” Duerr thought, then added, “I need access to you in case we need your help. And, of course, I will keep you informed as best as I can.”
Sam thought about Greenland. How different would things have turned out had he spoken to Duerr earlier? “All right, Inspector. I’ll help in any way I can.”
Duerr waited as if something else should be said, then bowed slightly. “Merci, General.”
Once the Inspector had left, Mosley called Macklin into the office.
“Get the team in here. We’ve got a problem.”
Mosley sat down in his chair, his mind working on how he could alert their research facilities about Return to Earth without alerting the terrorists.
A gentle chime sounded behind him and he swiveled the chair around to face his computer screen. An e-mail alert. He clicked on the message box.
His body stiffened when he saw the sender’s name. The message loaded and the text appeared. As he read, his hands became sweaty and his mouth dry.
It began, “Dear Dad . . .