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What could the Shroud of Turin, a conservative Southern senator, and an entrepreneurial researcher have in common? Politics, religion, and bioscience collide in the latest medical thriller from the master in the field.
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Dr. Robin Cook is the author of thirty previous books, most recently Nano, and is credited with popularizing the medical thriller with his wildly successful first novel, Coma. He divides his time between Boston and Florida. His most recent bestsellers include Death Benefit, Cure, and Intervention.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
6:30 P.M., Wednesday, February 20, 2002
One Year Later
It seemed to Daniel Lowell that the taxi had senselessly pulled to a stop mid-block in the center of M Street in Georgetown, Washington D.C., a busy four-lane thoroughfare. Daniel had never liked riding in taxis. It seemed the height of ridiculousness to trust one's life to a total stranger who more often than not hailed from a distant Third World country and frequently was more interested in talking on his cell phone than paying attention to driving. Sitting in the middle of M Street an the darkness with rush-hour traffic whizzing, by on both sides and the driver carrying on emotionally in an unknown language was a case in point. Daniel glanced over at Stephanie. She appeared relaxed and smiled at him in the half-light. She gripped his hand affectionately.
It was only by leaning forward that Daniel could see there was a traffic light suspended from above to facilitate a rather awkward mid-block left-hand turn. Glancing at the other side of the street, he could see a driveway leading to a nondescript, boxy brick building.
"Is this the hotel?" Daniel questioned. "If it is, it doesn't look much like a hotel."
"Let's hold our evaluation until we have a little more data," Stephanie responded in a playful tone.
The light changed and the taxi leapt forward like a racehorse out of the gate. The driver only had one hand on the steering wheel as he accelerated through the turn. Daniel steadied himself to keep from being thrown against the car door. After a big bounce over the junction of the street and the hotel's driveway, and then another sharp left-hand turn beneath the hotel's porte cochere, the driver braked hard enough to put significant tension on Daniel's seat belt. A moment later, Daniel's door was pulled open.
"Welcome to the Four Seasons," a liveried doorman said brightly. "Are you checking in?"
Leaving their luggage in the hands of the doorman, Daniel and Stephanie entered the hotel lobby and headed toward the registration desk. They passed a grouping of statuary fit for a modern art museum. The carpet was thick and luxurious. Smartly dressed people lounged in overstuffed velvet chairs.
"How did you talk me into staying here?" Daniel questioned rhetorically. "The outside might be plain, but the interior suggests this is going to be expensive."
Stephanie pulled Daniel to a halt. "Are you trying to suggest that you've forgotten our conversation yesterday?"
"We had a lot of conversations yesterday," Daniel muttered. He noticed the woman who had just walked by carrying a French poodle had a diamond engagement ring the size of a Ping-Pong ball.
"You know what I'm talking about!" Stephanie proclaimed. She reached up and turned Daniel's face toward her own. "We decided to make the best of this trip. We're staying in this hotel for two nights, and we're going to indulge ourselves and, I would hope, each other."
Catching Stephanie's witty licentiousness, Daniel smiled in spite of himself.
"Your testifying tomorrow in front of Senator Butler's Health Policy Subcommittee is not going to be a walk in the park," Stephanie continued. "That's a given. But in spite of what happens there, we're going to at least take the memory of a nice experience back to Cambridge."
"Couldn't we have had a nice experience at a slightly less extravagant hotel?"
"Not in my book," Stephanie declared. "They have a health club, a masseuse, and top-rated room service, all of which we're going to take advantage of. So start relaxing and unwinding. Besides, I'll pick up the tab."
"Sure! With the salary I've been pulling down, I should give some back to the company."
"Oh, that's a low blow!" Daniel remarked playfully, while pretending to reel from a make-believe slap.
"Look," Stephanie said, "I know the company hasn't been exactly able to pay our salaries for a while, but I'm going to see that this whole trip goes on the company charge card. If things go really badly tomorrow which they very well might, bankruptcy court can decide how much the Four Seasons will be paid for our indulgence."
Daniel's smile erupted into a full laugh. "Stephanie, you never fail to amaze me!"
"You ain't seen nothing yet," Stephanie said with a smile. "The question is: Are you going to let your hair down or what? Even in the taxi, I could tell you were wound up like a piano wire."
"That was because I was worried about whether we were going to get here in one piece, not how we were going to pay for it."
"Come on, big spender," Stephanie said, urging Daniel forward. "Let's get up to our suite."
"Suite?" Daniel questioned, as he allowed himself to be dragged toward the registration desk.
Stephanie hadn't exaggerated. Their suite overlooked a part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal with the Potomac River in the background. On the coffee table in the sitting room was a cooler chilling a bottle of champagne. Vases of freshly cut flowers graced the bureau in the bedroom and the expansive countertop in the generous-size marble bathroom.
As soon as the bellman disappeared, Stephanie put her arms around Daniel. Her dark eyes stared up into his blue orbs. A slight smile played across her full lips. "I know you are under a lot of stress about tomorrow," she began, "so how about letting me be the tour leader? We both know that Senator Butler's proposed legislation would effectively outlaw your patented and brilliant procedure. And that would mean a cancellation of the second-round financing for the company, with obviously disastrous consequences. With that said and understood, let's forget about it for tonight. Can you do that?"
"I can try," Daniel said, although he knew it would be impossible. Failure was one of his worst fears.
"That's all I ask," Stephanie said. She gave him a quick kiss before breaking away to attend to the champagne. "Here's the schedule! We have a glass of bubbly, then take refreshing showers. Following that, we have reservations at a nearby restaurant called Citronelle that I hear is fantastic. After a wonderful meal, we come back here and make mad, passionate love. What do you say?"
"I'd be crazy to offer any resistance," Daniel said, raising his hands in mock surrender.
Stephanie and Daniel had been living together for more than two years and had developed a comfortable familiarity. They had noticed each other back in the mid-eighties, when Daniel had returned to academia and Stephanie was an undergraduate chemistry major at Harvard. Neither acted on their mutual attraction, since such liaisons were specifically frowned upon by university policy. Besides, neither had had the slightest notion that their feelings were reciprocal, at least not until Stephanie had completed her Ph.D. and had joined the junior faculty, giving them an opportunity to interact on more equal footing. Even their respective areas of scientific expertise complemented each other. When Daniel left the university to found his company, it was natural that Stephanie would accompany him.
"Not bad at all," Stephanie said, after she drained her flute and put the glass down on the coffee table. "Now! Let's flip to see who gets the shower first."
"No need to flip a coin," Daniel said, placing his empty glass next to Stephanie's. "I concede. You first. While you shower, I'll shave."
"You've got a deal," Stephanie said.
Daniel didn't know if it was the champagne or Stephanie's infectious buoyancy but he felt significantly less tense, although hardly less worried, as he lathered his face and began shaving. Having had only one glass, he suspected it was Stephanie. As she had implied, the morrow might bring disaster, a fear disturbingly reminiscent of Heinrich Wortheim's prophecy the day he'd discovered Daniel was moving back to private industry. But Daniel would try not to allow such thoughts to dominate their visit, at least for that evening. He would try to follow Stephanie's lead and enjoy himself.
Looking beyond his lathered image in the mirror, Daniel could see Stephanie's blurred figure through the misted glass-enclosed shower. Her singing voice could be heard over the roar of the water. She was thirty-six but looked more like twenty-six. As he had told her on more than one occasion, she'd done very well in the genetic lottery. Her tall, curvaceous figure was slender and firm as if she worked out regularly even though she didn't, and her dark, olive skin was nearly blemish-free. A mat of thick, lustrous dark hair with matching midnight eyes completed the picture.
The shower door opened, and Stephanie stepped out. She briskly dried her hair, totally unconcerned about her nakedness. For a moment, she bent over at the waist, allowing her hair to fall free as she frenetically rubbed it with the towel. Then she stood back uptight, flipping her hair back in the process like a horse redirecting its mane. When she switched to drying her back with a provocative wiggle of her hips, her line of sight happened to catch Daniel's stare in the mirror. She stopped.
"Hey!" Stephanie exclaimed. "What are you looking at? You're supposed to be shaving." Suddenly self-conscious, she wrapped herself in her towel as if it were a strapless minidress.
Initially embarrassed about being caught as a voyeur, Daniel quickly regained his equanimity. He put down his razor and stepped over to Stephanie. He gripped her shoulders and stared into her liquid-onyx eyes. "I just couldn't help but notice how sexy and absolutely alluring you look."
Stephanie tilted her head to the side to get a view of Daniel from a slightly different perspective. "Are you all right?"
Daniel laughed. "I'm fine."
"Did you slip back to the sitting room and polish off that bottle of champagne?"
"I'm being serious."
"You haven't said anything like that for months."
"To say I've been preoccupied would be putting it mildly.
When I had the idea of founding the company, I had no idea that fund-raising was going to occupy one hundred and ten percent of my efforts. And now on top of it comes this political menace, threatening to destroy the whole operation."
"I understand," Stephanie said. "Truly I do, and I haven't taken it personally."
"Has it really been months?"
"Trust me," Stephanie said, nodding her head for emphasis.
"I apologize," Daniel said. "And to show my remorse, I'd like to make a motion to change the evening's schedule. I propose that we move up the lovemaking and put the dinner plans on hold. Do I hear a second?"
As Daniel tried to lean down to give Stephanie a playful kiss, she pushed his still-lathered face back with just the tip of her index finger on his nose. Her expression suggested she was touching something remarkably distasteful, especially as she wiped the bit of lather from her finger onto his shoulder. "Parliamentary rules are not going to maneuver this lady out of a good dinner," she remarked. "It took some effort to get those reservations, so the evening's plans hold as previously voted on and passed. Now back to shaving!" She gave him a spirited shove toward the sink, then stepped to the neighboring sink to dry her hair.
"Kidding aside," Daniel yelled over the sound of the hair dryer when he'd finished shaving. "You do look fantastic. Sometimes I wonder what you see in an old man like me." He patted his cheeks with aftershave lotion.
"Fifty-two is hardly old," Stephanie yelled back. "Particularly as active as you are. Actually, you're pretty sexy yourself."
Daniel regarded himself in the mirror. He thought he didn't look too bad, although he wasn't going to fool himself by imagining he was in any way sexy. Long ago, he'd reconciled himself to the fact that he was on the nerdy side of the equation of life, having grown up as a science prodigy since the sixth grade. Stephanie was just trying to be nice. He'd always had a thin face, so at least there was no problem with developing jowls or even wrinkles, save for some mild crow's feet at the corner of his eyes when he smiled. He'd stayed active physically, although not so much over the previous several months, due to the time constraints of fund-raising. As a faculty member at Harvard, he'd taken full advantage of the athletic facilities, using the squash and handball courts regularly, as well as the rowing opportunities on the Charles River. His only real appearance problem as he saw it was the retreating hairline at the upper corners of his forehead and the thinning area of his crown, plus the salt-and-pepper silvering of his otherwise brown hair along the sides of his head, but there wasn't much he could do about all that.
After both of them had finished primping, dressing, and donning their coats, they left the hotel armed with simple directions to the restaurant obtained from the concierge. Arm in arm, they strolled several blocks west along M Street, passing a potpourri of art galleries, bookshops, and antiques stores. The night was crisp but not too cold, with a canopy of stars visible despite the city lights.
The maître d' at the restaurant led them to a table off to the side that afforded a degree of privacy in the busy establishment. They ordered food and a bottle of wine, and settled back for a romantic dinner. By the time the entrees had been served and they both had had fun remembering their mutual attraction prior to their ever having dated, they lapsed into a contented silence. Unfortunately Daniel broke it.
"I probably shouldn't bring this up ..." Daniel began.
"Then don't," Stephanie interjected, having an immediate inclination of where Daniel was heading.
"But I should," Daniel said. "In fact, I have to, and this is a better time than later. Several days ago, you said you were going to research our tormentor, Senator Ashley Butler, with the idea of possibly giving me some help for tomorrow's hearing. I know you looked into it, but you didn't say anything. How come?"
"My recollection is that you agreed to forget about the hearing for tonight."
"I agreed to try to forget about the hearing," Daniel corrected. "I haven't been totally successful. Did you not bring up what you learned because you didn't find anything helpful or what? Help me here, and then we can put it all aside for the rest of the night."
Stephanie looked off for a few beats to organize her thoughts. "What do you want to know?"
Daniel let out a short, exasperated laugh. "You're making this more difficult than it needs to be. To be truthful, I don't know what I want to know, because I don't know enough to even ask questions."
"He's not going to be easy."
"We already had that impression."
"He's been in the senate since 1972, and his seniority gives him significant clout."
"I'd assumed as much, since he's the chairman of the subcommittee," Daniel said.
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Book Description Putnam Berkley Audio, 2003. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M039914952X