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Authors: Alton L. Gansky

Tarnished Image

BOOK: Tarnished Image
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T
HE
TELEVISION
SCREEN
CAME
TO
LIFE
WITH
A
BLIZZARD
OF
white and black dots, which were quickly replaced by a pure, unbroken blue. A second later an image appeared of three men sitting around a conference table in a room David did not recognize. The darkness outside the windows indicated that the event had occurred long after sunset.

The two men were strangers to David, but he knew the third one very well. David was watching himself meet with two people he had never before seen. He watched himself open the briefcase and turn it first toward the man on the right, then the man on the left. The briefcase was filled with money.

Abruptly the tape ended.

“Pretty convincing, don’t you think, Dr. O’Neal?” FBI Special Agent Hall asked.

David was devastated. His head reeled; he felt nauseous. “It’s not real,” he said weakly. “That’s not me. It didn’t happen.”

“Do you expect us not to believe our own eyes?” Hall countered. “Come on, Dr. O’Neal. Let’s put this charade to rest and save the hardworking taxpayers some money on this investigation. Confess and we can all get on with our lives.”

David sat in silence and shook his head. “I’m telling you the truth. Why won’t you believe me?”

Hall turned to Calvin. “Give him good counsel, Overstreet. He’s going to need it.”

T
ARNISHED
I
MAGE
P
UBLISHED BY
W
ATER
B
ROOK
P
RESS
2375 Telstar Drive, Suite 160
Colorado Springs, CO 80920
A division of Random House, Inc.

The characters and events in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons or events is coincidental.

Scripture quotations are from
The Holy Bible, New International Version
(NIV) ©1973, 1984 by International Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. Also cited,
The King James Version
of the Bible.

ISBN 1-57856-046-2
eBook ISBN: 978-1-60142-830-1

Copyright © 1998 by Alton L. Gansky

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Cover Design: Mark D. Ford
Cover Images: Image Source Limited | Index Stock Imagery
Tony Freeman | Index Stock Imagery
Photodisc

v3.1

To my brother, Richard.
This one is for you, Bubba.

ALSO BY ALTON L. GANSKY

Terminal Justice

Acknowledgments

Every novelist owes a debt to the people who help make a project like this possible. The lucky author will have an assertive and knowledgeable agent, a publisher who is willing to make the work a success, an experienced editor to acquire and oversee the myriad details that surround every book, a line editor who keeps the author from revealing his ignorance about the English language, and a family to provide support.

In my case, I’m fortunate to have all this and more. I wish to express my gratitude to my agent, Claudia Cross, for returning my phone calls (and for allowing me to borrow her name, which I use liberally throughout the manuscript); to Daniel P. Rich, the president and publisher of WaterBrook Press, for giving me the opportunity to share my stories; to my editor, Lisa Bergren, for her guidance and for finding something of value in what I do; to Lila Empson for her keen eye as she reviewed the manuscript; and to my family who continue to show their support in new ways.

I would also like to express my thanks to the many experts who gave of their time and knowledge to keep me on track with the technical and specialized matters that appear in this book. Any such matters correctly conveyed are in large part due to them. Any errors are exclusively mine.

Prologue

Sierra de Agua, Belize, Central America
1990

P
ERSPIRATION
DOTTED
HIS
FOREHEAD
AND
STREAKED
HIS
cheeks. Raising a tremulous hand, the young man wiped his face. He grimaced. Pain pierced every joint; every muscle protested the movement with scorching agony. His skin felt aflame, and his head throbbed percussively. A small and pathetic groan issued from his parched throat, passed split and swollen lips, and joined the guttural emanations of the other fifteen patients.

He closed his eyes for a moment and then reopened them, focusing on a large blue-green fly that rested on the white mosquito netting that surrounded his bed. The fly was motionless except for its front legs, which it furiously rubbed together like a famished man rubbing his hands before a banquet table. Unfortunately the netting that kept him safe from insects also kept out the light, sweet breeze that wafted in through the open windows spaced throughout the ward. The breeze played a lullaby on the supple leaves of nearby trees, but the young man could not sleep; he could only wait and hope the disease that incapacitated him would leave as quickly as it had come. He doubted that it would.

He was fourteen and until a week ago was strong and full of energy. He had run where others walked, and he had loved nothing more than playing soccer after school with friends. Four of those friends were on the ward with him now, and two others had already died. Soccer no longer occupied his mind, only survival.

A movement outside the netting caught his eye. A woman in a white smock stood next to his bed.

“How are you feeling?” she asked. Her American accent was sweet to his ears.

“Bad, doctor. Really bad.” His voice was weak. “Are my parents here?”

“They were, but I sent them home,” she answered without emotion. “It’s best that they not see you right now. You don’t want them to get sick too, do you?”

He shook his head slowly. Bolts of pain ripped down his back.

“You’re a good son,” the doctor said. The young man watched as she raised a large hypodermic and removed the plastic cover that protected the big-bore needle. “I need to take another blood sample.”

He didn’t want to give blood. He was tired of giving blood. He wanted to go home and to sleep in his own bed. Still, he offered no objection.

The doctor pulled back the white netting and leaned over him. The blue-green fly took flight. Deftly she plunged the needle into a vein just below the crook of his elbow. When she was done she raised up the hypodermic and studied the red fluid contents. She grinned and closed the netting. “Try to get some sleep. Maybe your parents can see you tomorrow.”

The young man smiled weakly and watched as the woman with dark hair walked away.

Closing the door behind her, the woman in the white smock secured the lock. It was the only room in the small outlying clinic capable of being locked, and she was the only one with a key. Turning, she faced a ten-by-fifteen room filled with laboratory equipment and a computer terminal. A broad table, upon which rested a large, rectangular glass box that looked like an aquarium without water, dominated the room. A small white piece of paper had been taped to the glass container. It read:
Aedes aegypti.
Carefully carrying the syringe of blood she had drawn from the teenager on the ward, she made her way to the table and gently set it down.

She felt a moment of sadness for the boy. He would be dead in two or three days. This fact bothered her some, but not unduly; she had, after all, been responsible for his disease.

She leaned forward and placed her face near the glass surface and closely studied the container’s inhabitants. A smirk spread across her face. She raised a hand and drummed her fingers on the glass. A thousand mosquitoes swarmed into frenetic flight. Her smirk erupted into laughter.

Glancing at the blood-filled syringe she said aloud, “Is anyone hungry?”

1

La Jolla Shores, California
1999

T
HE
A
UGUST
SUN
HUNG
HIGH
IN
A
DEEP
TURQUOISE
SKY
AND
poured its effulgence down on the beach. David O’Neal took in a long, deep breath through his nose. The air was perfumed with the smells of salt water, warm sand, and suntan lotion. The day was hot, and he could almost imagine a sizzling sound coming from the well-oiled bodies of sunbathers who joyfully roasted themselves in the sun’s intense light. Not David. He preferred to lie on his reclining lawn chair in the full shade of the beach umbrella he had rented from a local vendor.

The cry of gulls and terns overhead blended with the gentle sounds of rolling surf to compose a relaxing symphony that lulled him to the edge of gentle slumber—something to which he would happily surrender. This was the first real day off he had taken in sixteen months of steady, grinding, mind-shredding work. Yet despite the unrelenting pressure, high learning curve, and foreign nature of his job, he would not trade one moment of it.

Being the director of Barringston Relief, the largest relief organization in the world, was as fulfilling as it was demanding.
Since assuming the position after the death of his friend and employer A.J. Barringston, David had traveled to twenty-four countries, getting acquainted with the heroes who labored in the worst possible conditions. He had made a return trip to Africa, where he spent time in Rwanda, Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Sudan. He also toured the relief work his organization had recently established on the island nation of Madagascar. His travels took him to famine-stricken North Korea, where farmland had failed to recover from devastating floods. Several weeks were spent in South and Central America. He walked along the Appalachian Mountains and the inner-city streets of Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and New York. Everywhere he went, he saw the worst possible conditions; he also saw the brave men and women who faced those elements with passion and aplomb.

David O’Neal worked with the same tireless passion of his predecessor. The broad expanse of the world and the unrelenting need of the suffering now defined his life, which had once been expressed in church work. The enterprise of relief was now the power that energized his soul. It was his work, his dream, his service, and his worship. He thanked God for it every day.

BOOK: Tarnished Image
11.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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