Authors: Greg Iles
Tags: #Suspense, #Thriller
The Footprints of God
Sleep No More
The Quiet Game
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2006 by Greg Iles
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
SCRIBNER and design are trademarks of Macmillan Library Reference USA, Inc., used under license by Simon & Schuster, the publisher of this work.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2006052208
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Mike McGraw and Ryan Buttross
True evil has a face you know and a voice you trust.
Alex Morse charged through the lobby of the new University Medical Center like a doctor to a code call, but she was no doctor. She was a hostage negotiator for the FBI. Twenty minutes earlier, Alex had deplaned from a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jackson, Mississippi, a flight prompted by her older sister's sudden collapse at a Little League baseball game. This year had been plagued by injury and death, and there was more to come—Alex could feel it.
Sighting the elevators, she checked the overhead display and saw that a car was descending. She hit the call button and started bouncing on her toes.
she thought bitterly. She'd practically just gotten out of one herself. But the chain of tragedy had started with her father. Five months ago Jim Morse had died in this very hospital, after being shot during a robbery. Two months after that, Alex's mother had been diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. She had already outlived her prognosis, but wasn't expected to survive the week. Then came Alex's accident. And now Grace—
A bell dinged softly, and the elevator opened.
A young woman wearing a white coat over street clothes leaned against the rear wall in a posture of absolute exhaustion.
Alex guessed. She'd met enough of them during the past month. The woman glanced up as Alex entered the car, then looked down. Then she looked up again. Alex had endured this double take so many times since the shooting that she no longer got angry. Just depressed.
"What floor?" asked the young woman, raising her hand to the panel and trying hard not to stare.
"Neuro ICU," said Alex, stabbing the 4 with her finger.
"I'm going down to the basement," said the intern, who looked maybe twenty-six—four years younger than Alex. "But it'll take you right up after that."
Alex nodded, then stood erect and watched the glowing numbers change above her head. After her mother's diagnosis, she'd begun commuting by plane from Washington, D.C.—where she was based then—to Mississippi to relieve Grace, who was struggling to teach full-time and also to care for their mother at night. Unlike J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, the modern Bureau tried to be understanding about family problems, but in Alex's case the deputy director had made his position clear: time off to attend a funeral was one thing, regularly commuting a thousand miles to be present for chemotherapy was another. But Alex had not listened. She'd bucked the system and learned to live without sleep. She told herself she could hack the pressure, and she did—right up until the moment she cracked. The problem was, she hadn't realized she'd cracked until she caught part of a shotgun blast in her right shoulder and face. Her vest had protected the shoulder, but her face was still an open question.
For a hostage negotiator, Alex had committed the ultimate sin, and she'd come close to paying the ultimate price. Because the shooter had fired through a plate-glass partition, what would have been a miraculous escape (being grazed by a couple of pellets that could have blown her brains out but hadn't) became a life-altering trauma. A blizzard of glass tore through her cheek, sinuses, and jaw, lacerating her skin and ripping away tissue and bone. The plastic surgeons had promised great things, but so far the results were less than stellar. They'd told her that in time the angry pink worms would whiten (they could do little to repair the "punctate" depressions in her cheek), and that laymen wouldn't even notice the damage. Alex wasn't convinced. But in the grand scheme of things, what did vanity matter? Five seconds after she was shot, someone else
paid the ultimate price for her mistake.
During the hellish days that followed the shooting, Grace had flown up to D.C. three times to be with Alex, despite being exhausted from taking care of their mother. Grace was the family martyr, a genuine candidate for sainthood. The irony was staggering: tonight it was Grace lying in an intensive care unit, fighting for her life.
And why? Certainly not karma. She'd been walking up the steps of a stadium to watch her ten-year-old son play baseball when she collapsed. Seconds after she hit the stairs, she voided her bladder and bowels. A CAT scan taken forty minutes later showed a blood clot near Grace's brain stem, the kind of clot that too often killed people. Alex had been swimming laps in Charlotte when she got word (having been transferred there as punishment duty after the shooting). Her mother was too upset to be coherent on the phone, but she'd communicated enough details to send Alex racing to the airport.
When the first leg of her flight touched down in Atlanta, Alex had used her Treo to call Grace's husband, whom she'd been unable to reach before boarding the plane. Bill Fennell explained that while the neurological damage had initially not looked too bad—some right-side paralysis, weakness, mild dysphasia—the stroke seemed to be worsening, which the doctors said was not uncommon. A neurologist had put Grace on TPA, a drug that could dissolve clots but also carried serious risks of its own. Bill Fennell was a commanding man, but his voice quavered as he related this, and he begged Alex to hurry.
When her plane landed in Jackson, Alex called Bill again. This time he sobbed as he related the events of the past hour. Though still breathing on her own, Grace had lapsed into a coma and might die before Alex could cover the fifteen miles from the airport. A panic unlike any she had known since childhood filled her chest. Though the plane had only begun its taxi to the terminal, Alex snatched her carry-on from beneath the seat and marched to the front of the 727. When a flight attendant challenged her, she flashed her FBI creds and quietly told the man to get her to the terminal ASAP. When she cleared the gate, she sprinted down the concourse and through baggage claim, then jumped the cab queue, flashed her creds again, and told the driver she'd give him $100 to drive a hundred miles an hour to the University Medical Center.
Now here she was, stepping out of the elevator on the fourth floor, sucking in astringent smells that hurled her four weeks back in time, when hot blood had poured from her face as though from a spigot. At the end of the corridor waited a huge wooden door marked NEUROLOGY ICU. She went through it like a first-time parachutist leaping from a plane, steeling herself for free fall, terrified of the words she was almost certain to hear:
I'm sorry, Alex, but you're too late.
The ICU held a dozen glass-walled cubicles built in a U-shape around the nurses' station. Several cubicles were curtained off, but through the transparent wall of the fourth from the left, Alex saw Bill Fennell talking to a woman in a white coat. At six feet four, Bill towered over her, but his handsome face was furrowed with anxiety, and the woman seemed to be comforting him. Sensing Alex's presence, he looked up and froze in midsentence. Alex moved toward the cubicle. Bill rushed to the door and hugged her to his chest. She'd always felt awkward embracing her brother-in-law, but tonight there was no way to avoid it. And no reason, really. Tonight they both needed some kind of contact, an affirmation of family unity.
"You must have taken a helicopter," he said in his resonant bass voice. "I can't believe you made it that fast."
"Is she alive?"
"She's still with us," Bill said in a strangely formal tone. "She's actually regained consciousness a couple of times. She's been asking for you."
Alex's heart lifted, but with hope came fresh tears.
The woman in the white coat walked out of the cubicle. She looked about fifty, and her face was kind but grave.
"This is Grace's neurologist," Bill said.
"I'm Meredith Andrews," said the woman. "Are you the one Grace calls KK?"
Alex couldn't stop her tears. KK was a nickname derived from her middle name, which was a family appellation: Karoli. "Yes. But please call me Alex. Alex Morse."
"Special Agent Morse," Bill said in an absurd interjection.
"Has Grace asked for me?" Alex asked, wiping her cheeks.