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Controversial oncologist Dr. Anson Lunt dies in a suspicious plane crash just as one of his researchers develops what appears to be a cure for all forms of cancer. How far will the world's movers and shakers go to control--or destroy--the miraculous panacea?
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Jack D. Hunter (1921-2009) often based his novels on his experiences as a US counterintelligence agent in World War II. The Blue Max was made into a motion picture, and The Expendable Spy was awarded the Edgar Allan Poe Special Award from the Mystery Writers of America.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Morton tried to feel bad about the death of Anson Lunt, his old friend and benefactor, but it didn't work.
Despite an inexplicable but handy ability to forecast events and read the intentions of others, he wasn't much given to the metaphysical. His years of hardship and professional climbing had armed him with the notion that if it couldn't be seen, felt, tasted, heard, smelled, or measured, it was mainly irrelevant. He enjoyed ghost stories as much as anyone and had a live-and-let-live tolerance for the world's religionists, but his daily life was essentially consumed by the need to manage the existence he'd been given, with little thought for whatever might lie beyond. Death? Merely another abstruse law of a mysterious universe, to be dealt with and conformed to when it came into play.
But Anson Lunt had had a somewhat spookier, transcendental view of life and death. His decades as a physician and research scientist had convinced him that the human being was an extraordinary, animate computer, designed by a superior intelligence and programmed to perceive and act within certain parameters of a greater reality. He'd told Morton several times that he looked forward to dying, believing as he did that it would introduce him to a whole new level of experience.
So what was to feel bad about?
The local TV news lady, all mascara, tilelike teeth, and lacquered hairdo, wasn't so sanguine, her face and voice remaining determinedly tragic and funereal. Even so, it took no mind reader to detect her private delight over the dreadful occurrence that had made her day.
Behind her, Zieglersville Airport was a cheerless prairie, darkened by low, fast-moving clouds and a drizzle that wanted to be rain. Except for the yellow slickers worn by the gaggle of Federal air safety people--stooping, plucking, and bagging like peasants in a bean field--it was a study in gray-on-gray, a monochromatic figment of Hell.
"Dr. Anson Lunt, renowned Zieglersville cancer specialist, and pilot Bill Rooney died here this morning," the woman singsonged, "when their twin-engine turboprop plane crashed while landing after a flight from New York. Federal authorities are on the scene, searching for clues as to just what caused the accident. So far as is known, there was only one witness to the plane's final moments. He is Albert Margolis, an employee of the Rooney Air Taxi Service."
Margolis, a small, dour man with restless eyes and the air of wariness that comes with a life of folly and desperation, came on-screen.
"Tell me, sir," the woman burbled, "just what you saw here this morning."
"Ain't awful lot to tell," Margolis said, self-conscious. "I was out on the apron, catching a smoke, and Rooney's turboprop came out of the east, its lights blinking. It made a kind of downward turn and came in toward the runway from the south. Then, while it was still pretty high up, settling toward the touchdown zone, props idling, lights on bright, the nose was all of a sudden pointing straight down, and the motors started screaming. There was a kind of screwy wobbling, and the plane went in and blew all to hell out there on the south boundary. Damnedest noise I ever heard, I'll tell you. By then I got myself together and ran for the phone and dialed nine-one-one."
"So then what--"
Morton blew a little raspberry, tapped the button, and cut her off in midquestion. Aloud he said, "Way to go, Anson. You did a great job with your life, and it was a pleasure knowing you. Have a wonderful trip."
He hated himself when he got sentimental like this. He beamed down to the real world by glancing at his watch.
The call should be coming by now.
Literally from birth Morton had this ability to read people and their intentions--an intuition thing. Its first piece of work was to warn him to tighten his buns, because, sure as hell, the midwife was about to slap them good. Probably then, too, he had learned that foreknowledge is okay, but evasion is better. While insight could put him on alert, it wouldn't ease the sting when life held him by the heels and actually registered a hit. The trick was to see the hit coming and not be there when it arrived.
When he transferred to Kenwood Junior High School, for instance, he knew from the minute they first traded glances that Billy Mahler, the honor student, athlete, and pet of all teachers, would try to make his days miserable. It was nothing specific--just an inner awareness that Billy saw him to be some kind of threat.
But what to do about the hassles he knew would follow?
Morton's solution was juvenile CIA stuff. First, he paid Billy's kid sister, Nancy, one candy bar a day to report on whatever she knew of her brother's comings and goings. Next, he got a Polaroid of Freddo Toomey diddling little Janey Fenwick in the cloakroom, a coup which turned Freddo, one of Billy's schoolyard henchmen, into a pretty good overall stoolie. With information flowing in from these sources, Morton was able to second-guess Billy and deflect or neutralize his sneaky little plots, most of the time making Billy, the would-be screw-er, the screw-ee. It worked so well it became Morton's lifelong policy to backstop his sharp eyes and sensitive hunch mechanism with bribery and espionage.
He was smiling at the memories when the phone rang.
"It's Margolis, Mr. Morton."
To the Social Security and IRS people, Margolis was a retired railroader who augmented his pension by working as the night watchman at Rooney Air Taxi Service. To Morton, he was an oily, repulsive son of a bitch whose true income was in the six figure range, thanks to the blackmail he laid on reputable citizens he had secretly photographed doing disreputable things in certain Mertz Highway motels. Morton knew about his little game, and Margolis and his motel-owner collaborators knew he knew. So to buy his silence they got vocal, and together made up the most zealous squad in Morton's platoon of informants.
"You see the news? About the crash out at the airport?"
"Well, I got some computer disks left in the airport office by that nutty doctor, Lunt, before he left for New York last night."
"What do you mean--left in the office?"
"He was waiting in the office while Bill preflighted the plane. He had this locked tote bag with property of lunt biochemical laboratory stenciled on the side. He put it in Bill's wall locker. That's where passengers park things they don't want to take on a flight. I happened to be looking through the window, and I saw him put it there."
"And when you were alone you took a peek, right?"
"I like to work out with the picks. You never know when you might have to diversify, I always say."
"So what's on the disks?"
"Beats the hell out of me. Lot of scientific stuff. Numbers, signs. Like that. I understood them like I understand my exwife. Seeing as how your company is a competitor of Lunt Biotech, I thought you might want to see for yourself what's on them, so I made the copies."
"You're trying to sell them to me?"
"Well, yeah. Man's gotta live."
"Something else you've got to do. You've got to understand that it's not Bradford Chemicals Corporation's policy to buy stuff left lying around by careless competitors."
Margolis did some whining. "You're not even interested?"
"It's unlikely that Lunt could have put anything on those disks I'd want to see or should legally be allowed to see. So turn them in to their rightful owners. You might get a reward."
"Can we talk--?"
"This conversation is finished. Call me when you have something I can use."
Copyright © 2003 by Jack D. Hunter
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Book Description Blackstone Audiobooks, 2003. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0786126167