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THE EVOLUTION OF TERROR
A hard-living reporter long past his Pulitzer Prize-winning prime, Chuck Vallone is about to meet a renowned geneticist who needs to clear his conscience. But when Vallone arrives at their rendezvous, he finds the D.C. hotel swarming with government agents. The scientist's room is now a grisly slaughterhouse splattered with blood--but no sign of a body.
Vallone knows he has the story of the century, especially when he receives a mysterious package filled with a computer disk and strange samples of DNA. Now he's determined to uncover the truth. But it's no brave new world Vallone will be exploring; rather, a deadly depraved one ruled by preeminent scientists. And this powerful cadre intends to make Vallone both eyewitness and executor of their final ferocious plan . . .
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Jack L. Chalker was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on December 17, 1944. While still in high school, he began writing for the amateur science-fiction press, and in 1960 he launched the Hugo-nominated amateur magazine Mirage. A year later he founded Mirage Press, which grew into a major specialty publisher of nonfiction and reference books on science fiction and fantasy.
His first novel, A Jungle of Stars, was published in 1976, and he became a full-time novelist two years later with the major popular success of Midnight at the Well of Souls. Chalker is an active conservationist and enjoys traveling, consumer electronics, and computers. He is also a noted speaker on science fiction and fantasy at numerous colleges and universities. He is a passionate lover of steamboats, in particular ferryboats, and has ridden more than three hundred ferries in the United States and elsewhere.
When the matter of the flying werewolf first surfaced in Washington, D.C., I never once thought of the dinosaurs.
It was midautumn, a time I hate worse than any other in the year. Yeah, I know there are folks who rhapsodize over the colorful leaves and lots of people crowd the rural highways and parks to see these bursts of color, but, let's face it, autumn is the season of dying, of death, of the end of hope. It's when those leaves change color that they die, and then they fall in big heaps that somebody has to deal with or they clog drainage and begin to rot. Autumn is when the days grow progressively shorter and the nights take over, when the cold blasts of the north come down and drive happy people inside. Death and decay, that's autumn. Even winter is better; everything's already dead, snow sometimes covers up the evidence, and the days grow longer, giving promise every morning that something better is coming.
The question, after this day, would be whether or not what was coming truly was better, or just ... different.
It was a gloomy, gray day in Washington, and the light, cold rain that went through you to the bone had slacked off just a bit, allowing me to turn off the wipers for once and get rid of the dancing dead leaves that had wedged under the wiper and caused nothing but a massive smear. I was headed up Connecticut Avenue to the Wardman, to meet somebody I'd never heard of before that morning, in hopes that his claim on my voice mail that he had the "story of the century" was even a slight bit true. Everybody always had the story of the century, but it was a long century and most of it hadn't happened yet.
Even the old nation's capital had seen better days. Oh, it kind of looked okay, but if you stared close you could see the occasional gap in buildings where there shouldn't be gaps, and the peeling paint on the signs. You'd notice that
all those formerly quaint little shops lining the avenue were now imported junk shops run by people who'd come here from someplace far away in hopes of realizing the American Dream and were discovering that a 7-Eleven was the same the world around.
We old-timers and natives still thought of the Wardman as the old Sheraton Park, a weird hotel built by a madman of geometry driven nuts with government regulations, but it had long ago passed into the hands of other chains. The old hotel used to sit between the National Zoo and Rock Creek Park, built right into the side of a hill; you could enter on the bottom level, go up seven floors, walk down a corridor, and find yourself in the basement of a different but related seven-story hotel. You still did that, but some genius had figured
out how to disguise that fact when they redid the hotel back in the late seventies and it wasn't as obvious anymore. Even so, I never felt that I was going where the button on the elevator said I was going in that building until the doors actually opened. There was always this weird, crazy feeling that I'd step out on another planet or a parallel world or something. It was often said that half the people you passed in the halls were old guests trapped there for decades, still trying to find the way out.
Development had long ago moved downtown and the Wardman and its twin, the Shoreham, were now kind of isolated out in the middle of nowhere. Nobody went into Rock Creek Park after dark these days, and the zoo wasn't great company after closing.
As I turned to go toward the upper parking lot I saw all the flashing red and blue lights, and I had this sinking feeling even though there was no reason for me to think that it had anything to do with me. Well, hell, maybe it was a better story than the one I was there to get, I thought. Might as well see what's what.
The cop had been there a little while; he looked wet and miserable and in a very rotten mood. I put the window down and he bent down a bit to examine me. "Sir, are you a guest in the hotel?"
"No," I responded. "I'm here for a business appointment with a guest, though."
"Sorry, sir. The main entrance and lobby are blocked off and probably will be for a few more hours. If you turn around, though, and go to the lower level, you can enter through there and there's access from the convention level to the main hotel elevators."
I nodded wearily. "What's the problem?"
"Nothing that need concern you, sir."
I reached down and stuck the press card on the dash, then tried to get my wallet out from where the seat belt secured my pocket. "After many years, son, I find that whenever a cop says that to me it's exactly something I should be concerned with."
He looked at the card and my press pass. "Baltimore Sun, huh? A little far from Baltimore, aren't you?"
"Forty minutes up I-Ninety-five," I told him, careful not to say how fast I really took it. "I'm with the Washington bureau anyway, though. Times Mirror syndicate. L.A. Times, Sun, lots of others. Do I get a parking spot now?"
"You couldn't get in there with a tank," the cop responded. "But it should be good enough to get you into the lobby. The rest of them have set up there."
"The rest of who?"
"You know--Channel Seven, Channel Four, Channel Nine, Channel Five ..."
"Mere TV, no depth. What about the Post?"
"Not yet, although there's a half dozen from the Times in there and even the National Enquirer. The way this one's going, I wouldn't be surprised to see Oprah and Geraldo."
That was a lot of media, even without the Post, which so far had probably decided it was a local story unworthy of the nation's paper. You always could find out more about the president of Albania than the D.C. City Council by reading the Post. "Somebody dead?" I asked him.
"Yes, sir. You'll have to move along now, find a place to park it, and come in like I said. I have to keep this street clear."
Good luck, I thought, noting that they still allowed parking along here and you could barely move in the best of times.
Going forward rather than turning around, though, I saw that there was a whole side of the street just beyond the hotel that was clear. Sure, it was labeled "No Parking," but that was what a press pass was for, wasn't it?
Actually, the last time I'd thought that I'd been towed the boss made me pay the pickup. Still, I wasn't about to play round and round under these conditions, and if they'd blocked off the parking up here, there wasn't a chance in hell that you could find anything below either in the lower entrance or over at the Shoreham. I picked up my recorder and my cell phone and was off to work.
The first thing I noticed as I walked to the upper entrance was the lack of any ambulances. You usually had several, even for one stiff, at this stage of the game. I did spot the medical examiner's car, but that was strictly for carrying around his or her equipment and evidence bags detached from the corpse. It sure wasn't a hearse, of which there wasn't one, either.
The cop hadn't acted like they'd taken the body away, so was I just on the wrong side of the hotel or was there something odd here?
No, I couldn't be on the wrong side; the cop had directed me to the other side. Okay, so there was something odd, and that made it all the more interesting. Dr. Samuel Wasserman would have to wait.
They were having a bad time of it in the vast lobby, particularly with a hotel that, even in the off season, had several hundred guests, maybe more, and was nearing the evening hour when people were either returning to the hotel or going out
to dinner. They'd managed to seal off the area and elevator to the right while keeping traffic elsewhere okay, but clearly guests were being encouraged to walk a bit and go down to the grand entrance far below. I couldn't help but notice that they had used hotel ropes and stanchions rather than police tape for this, which made the whole thing look like a janitorial decision.
The TV people had all their little setups going. Whatever happened had been quite nice to them, allowing at least brief stand-ups during the last part of the evening news. I didn't spot anybody on the print side who looked familiar--local crime stories weren't my normal beat--but I got near where Jan Carleton was about to give her last stand-up before they went to national news over on Nine and that would at least give me a summary as a starting point.
"Police have not yet released the name of the dead man, although he is said to be a biologist with the National Institutes of Health, in town for the American Association for the Advancement of Science convention and symposiums that start this weekend at the convention center. At the moment, all the police will say is that the death was extremely violent and that there are no suspects. We hope to have more details on this brutal slaying at eleven. Back to you, Gordon."
The moment the little earpiece told her she was off and the red light on the camera died she was looking around, frowning. "Anybody seen Jennene? Has she gotten the name and details yet?"
The new age of pseudojournalism, I thought, not for the first time. The poor little anonymous producers go and dig out the facts and get the stories for them, then they write them up in real big letters using words even an ex-beauty queen like Jan could understand, or at least read, and then the photogenic "reporter" would be the mouthpiece of the producer for maybe twenty times the producer's salary.
"They ain't lettin' nobody up there yet, Jan," Harry Lapisky shouted over to her. Harry was one of the few good guys still doing general reporting for TV; he sometimes even dug out his own stories, but he really loved that camera.
"Yeah, well, they're either gonna give us something ...
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