A VIEW OF THE OCEAN
Rosen led them along the hall to the conference room. It was the place
he often took prospective customers and VIPs to talk, not only because it afforded a view
of the ocean and was soundproofed, but because it was where he kept part of his collection
of rare snowglobes. They sat on display in a cabinet. He prided himself on their rarity,
and he never let anyone touch them. But whenever he could, he loved to show them off.
Today, however, Rosen ignored the showcase and led the group
around the conference table to the window, where they stopped to look out over the water.
A few sea birds hovered on a breeze high above the lawn.
"We'd like you to announce the approval this weekend,"
Chapman said. "At the World Health Assembly."
Rosen was grinning like a kid. The WHO conference he and Kirby
would be attending was more a meeting of international players in the high-stakes battle
for control over HIV, the virus that caused AIDS. Many of Rosen's old friends and
colleagues from Merck, all of whom had since become competitors, would be there. Even
before news of the approval, he had been looking forward to their unveiling of
Triphylactin. Now he was really going to be able to stick it to the competition.
But Kirby was confused. They all seemed to have overlooked an
"Wait a minute," he said. "I'm missing something
here. What happened to the new testing phase?"
"It's OK, Richard," Rosen replied. "We've settled
on an arrangement which we think will be suitable for all parties involved." He
smiled at Chapman. "Very fair, I'd say."
What arrangement? Kirby wondered. Also, it struck him as odd that
Rosen had referred to the FDA and Imtech as "all parties." Didn't he mean both
"In return for your cooperation now," Chapman told
Kirby, "the Food and Drug Administration is prepared to grant approval of TPL on the
basis of preliminary testing alone. Based on the results you've supplied us, we don't see
any reason to wait. We want to help you save lives now, not six months from now.
Therefore, in return for a share of the credit in bringing this product to market, what
we're prepared to do---"
"Hold on. A share of the credit? How exactly does the FDA
gain a share of the credit by simply approving a product with a perfect safety
record?" Kirby shook his head. What were they trying to tell him?
McCormick was standing with his back to the window, leaning
against the glass. "Well," he said, folding his arms across his chest. "It
wouldn't exactly be the FDA, Richard."
Kirby did not like McCormick. For a CEO of a biotech company he
offered remarkably few suggestions about how to implement Rosen's ideas. When he did
speak, it often sounded as though he was repeating something he had heard before, usually
from Rosen. Kirby found it difficult to understand why Rosen had hired him. Yet
ironically, despite McCormick's shortcomings, Rosen behaved as though the man was integral
to every move he made. It was like a blind spot he had.
"It seems," Rosen continued, "that someone in the
White House has expressed an interest in the company."
"The White House?"
"That's right," Chapman said. "The First Lady, in
fact. Evidently she thinks very highly of the work being carried out here. And if she'd
like to see you do well, then so would we."
"I don't get it. Why would she be interested in how well we
do? I mean, Why us? There's a hundred other companies out there doing similar---"
"Like I said," Chapman cut in. "The arrangement
would be contingent upon a small share of the credit. You just happen to be coming to
market at the right time. Or will be."
Kirby was still trying to understand where Chapman was coming
from. He could see how a good word in the President's ear could benefit the Food and Drug
Administration. But what was in it for the First Lady?
"What does she get out of it?" he asked.
Chapman shrugged. "From what I gather," he said,
"Hazel Coleman thinks a close working relationship between herself and your company
could indirectly generate a lot of good publicity for her husband right now. But she
wasn't about to associate him with just anyone. She wanted the best, and you're what she
came up with."
"Imtech," Kirby said thinking aloud.
"No. You. Richard J. Kirby. The guy who developed the AIDS
Kirby gave a nervous laugh. He glanced at Rosen who affirmed
Chapman's suggestion with a nod. "You've got to be kidding me," Kirby said.
"What are you talking about?"
McCormick laughed. "He's talking about you, dummo."
"You're going to be a public hero, Dr. Kirby," Chapman
said with a smile. "A real celebrity. The First Lady knows that, and so should you.
She just wants to come along for the ride... I'm sure I don't have to spell out how
cooperating in this matter could really open doors for you. Certainly I don't think anyone
invited to dine at the White House ever regretted the opportunity."
"No arguments here," Rosen said. "What do you say,
Richard? Are you ready to be the Wonder Boy?"
Kirby was trying to take it all in. Sure, he had thought about
the possibility of fame before. But beyond having his face splashed across the national
publications and being touted as the next scientific genius, what did it really mean?
After all, who was going to want to know about the science, as opposed to where Kirby
shopped for food, or what movies he liked? Where was the entertainment value in his
research? Achieving an understanding of how a successful AIDS cure worked might
have seemed like the Superbowl of medicine to him, but as a news story in America it was
never going to beat out a good game of football. Because of that, Kirby wasn't sure how
he should feel.
And something else was bugging him. Something Chapman hadn't
"Actually," Kirby said, "I'm not clear on the
nature of this close working relationship you mentioned. The one between the
President's wife and the company? What did you mean by that, exactly?"
Rosen looked sharply at his watch.
"Marty," he said. "I think we can wrap up the
details over coffee. If I could have a moment alone with Richard, and meet you in my
office in, oh... fifteen minutes? Thomas here will look after you."
McCormick tried to show Chapman toward the door.
"I'm happy to have met you, Richard," Chapman said
reaching over to shake Kirby's hand. "Good luck in Geneva."
* * *
When they were alone, Kirby turned to Rosen.
"What's going on?"
Rosen sat down at the head of the conference table and tucked his
hands behind his head. He stared directly at Kirby. "Would you say I've treated you
well over the years? Given you free reign over the direction of your research?"
"Of course. You know you have."
In fact they were both acutely aware of it, because their early
working relationship had for many years been atypical of the way the commercial and
academic worlds normally interacted. Rosen had been the director of Merck's vaccine
division the year the company offered a summer scholarship to a promising twenty-two year
old organic chemistry student from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. By
that fall, Rosen and his new protégé had hatched a revolutionary plan to target disease
at the level of the gene. With Rosen's personal support Kirby had continued his studies at
the Institute well beyond the duration of his initial three-year fellowship. In fact, he
had generously financed Kirby's work for ten years.
"On Sunday," Rosen said, "I want you to get up
there on the podium and tell the world what you've done. Just like we planned. Only now we
sweeten the pie with news of FDA approval. However, before I introduce you, I'll be
acknowledging Hazel Coleman's contribution as the anonymous sponsor who financed your work
at Whitehead. And at the conclusion of your talk, you will also acknowledge
your thanks to her."
Kirby couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"It's a lie."
"Who's to say? It was my money, Richard. If I choose
to say it came from the First Lady, then that's my business, OK?"
Kirby didn't reply. He wanted to tell Rosen he couldn't do that.
But he knew it wasn't up to him. It had already been decided. He turned away and stared
out at the water, feeling greatly disappointed with the way things were shaping up.
"Listen," Rosen said. "I know you might not always
agree with the way I do business, but that's my concern. Not yours. Fact is, this
arrangement will work out nicely for a lot of people. You included. And it's not like
we're shortchanging anyone with this. Not a bit. We're getting a valuable product to the
consumer the fastest way we can. To be honest, considering the number of lives at stake,
I'd have thought you'd be a little more excited about the whole thing. That's what
we're supposed to be doing, right? Saving lives?"
"I just don't think lying is a good idea."
"But you'll do it."
"I'd prefer not to."
Rosen got up and put his hands either side of Kirby's shoulders.
"I knew you wouldn't let me down," he said.
* * *
Kirby left the conference room feeling robbed. It should have been a triumphant moment for
him, but it didn't feel that way. On his way to the elevator he thought about what Rosen
had told Chapman---how he expected that Imtech would eventually dominate the biomedical
industry the way Microsoft had cornered the software market in its day. In getting
Microsoft to the top, Bill Gates had demonstrated time and again the importance of using
ruthlessness and cunning in every important move he made. Considering the result of the
meeting, it struck Kirby that maybe there was a little more of the Gates persona in Daniel
Rosen than he'd so far given him credit. He wondered what else he might have missed.
By the time the elevator arrived he had decided to call Cassie
from his office. Maybe hearing her voice again would cheer him up.
"Elevator to level six," Kirby said, knowing
there was no such floor as he stepped inside.
"Floor levels are restricted from One to Five, plus Ground
and Basement," a soothing female voice told him. "Please select among these for
your destination, Dr. Kirby."
Chapman had been right. It was like something out of a
Level Two looked much like any other work space in which the practice
of biology and chemistry merged---except perhaps on the beach side, which offered a
spectacular view of the ocean.
The personnel offices were positioned around the outside of the
floor. They were fitted with extra large windows, the most highly-prized offices looking
southwest, over the Pacific. As Division Manager of Genetic Therapies, Kirby had
accordingly inherited the large and well-lit corner office with the panoramic view. It was
located at the southern-most part of the floor, three stories directly beneath Rosen's
Then there were the laboratories at the center of the floor,
separated from the offices by a square-shaped hallway. These provided the common working
space for the primary research arm of the company. If Rosen was right, some of the most
important advances for gene therapy in the twenty-first century would emerge directly from
It was 9:07 when Kirby stepped out onto Level Two. Not
surprisingly, most of the offices were empty, since the real work took place across the
hall. Only infrequently would someone be seen scurrying out of one room or another
carrying a photographic plate or a missing piece of equipment that had jumped between
Going down the hall, Kirby heard footsteps behind him. He turned
to see Karl Schiller making his way toward him. Karl was a research fellow from Konstanz
whose heavy German accent was all that marred an otherwise perfect command of the English
language. Kirby wondered if Karl or anyone else had heard the news.
"Dr. Kirby, could I speak to you for a moment?"
"Sure. I've got a couple of minutes. What's up?"
"We've lost our Taq supply."
The Taq Schiller spoke of was like a biological Xerox machine
which was used in the lab to make lots of copies of a single gene. Because the enzyme had
evolved inside a bacterium which lived in hot springs, it survived the heating cycle used
to separate the double-helical structure of a DNA gene into its two complementary strands.
Both would then be separately rebuilt by the Taq, doubling the number of genes with every
cycle. The polymerase was normally carried in plentiful supply in every laboratory
where genetic engineering was carried out.
"What do you mean by lost?" Kirby asked.
"Somebody under-stocked again," Schiller said.
Kirby gathered the "somebody" was Mitch Boehlert, the
storeman responsible for ordering supplies. Boehlert was a jovial character who was fond
of telling stories about the great figures in American science for whom he had worked over
the years. But lately his performance on the job had been slipping. Rumor had it that he'd
come into work one day smelling of liquor. But if Boehlert had a drinking problem it had
so far escaped Kirby's attention. He was seventy-two years old; more than likely his poor
performance was just old age catching up on him.
"You spoke to Mitch?" Kirby asked.
Schiller frowned. "He says he put the purchase order
in last month, and that it's the distributor's fault. But I checked with Applied
Biosystems this morning. They never received it."
"Can't they Fed-Ex us some?"
"Backlogged," Schiller fumed. "One week,
"What about another supplier?"
Schiller shook his head. "If we go anywhere else the startup
time will kill us. And I'm half way through the experiment now!" He patted his
pockets for cigarettes. But to light up he would have to leave the building---so he folded
his arms instead.
Kirby decided not to mention anything about the announcement. The
news could wait. Besides, Schiller's mind was elsewhere. "You can use Klenow,"
Kirby told him. "It's not thermostable like Taq, but it's much cheaper, so you can
use as much as you need. It's what they used before Taq was discovered."
Klenow was also a polymerase.
"You mean I have to replace it every time it goes through
the heat cycle?" Schiller's face had a look of horror on it.
"Pretend you're a pioneer, Karl."
Schiller didn't seem to know whether to thank Kirby for this new
information. But he did, turning about and going off in the direction from which he had
Kirby made a mental note to follow up on Boehlert. He would go
see him before he left. But first he wanted to phone Cassie.
* * *
The door to Kirby's office slid open as he approached. Inside, he stopped at his desk and
picked up the phone. He dialed his home number and then scanned the room while he waited.
On one of the inner walls was a large black-and-white poster of Linus Pauling, winner of
the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Pauling was shown holding up a 3-D model of the
alpha-helix, his famous guess as to the molecular structure of a well-known class of
proteins. It turned out he had guessed right. Pauling had always been Kirby's idea of the
Great Scientist. The only other thing on the wall was a map of Mexico which had been there
when he moved in.
Cassie picked up the phone.
"The FDA is going to approve us now," he told her.
"It's a long story. I'll tell you about it when I get
"Oh, Richard," she said. "That's fantastic! I'm so
proud of you!"
Kirby thought about the business with the First Lady, and how he
was expected to bend the truth in Geneva. He didn't feel so proud about his involvement in
"Ah... Yeah," he said. "It's good news." He
found it difficult to feel enthusiastic, but at the same time he didn't want to spoil it
for her by revealing the whole story. Still, trying to keep things from Cassie wasn't easy
for him. He had never had to do it before.
"What's wrong?" she said.
"It nothing... It's just that it could get pretty hectic
over there this weekend. When the press finds out, I mean... Cass? If anyone comes to the
door looking for a statement, just tell them to wait until I get back. OK? Don't tell them
"You really think they'd come here?"
"Rosen's going to get up there and say Triphylactin was a
White House-funded project."
"What?... That's not true, is it?"
"Of course not. It's a publicity scam. But I'm not sure what
I can do about it."
"How's that going to affect your presentation?"
"Hopefully it won't." Kirby told her that Rosen was
going to be doing all the talking---but he really hadn't thought it all the way through
"Whatever you do," she told him, "I'm sure it'll
be the right thing."
"I hope so..."
"Listen," she said. "Before you go. I spoke with
somebody over at the Naval Air Station."
"Next door? Already?"
Cassie said she had arranged to go there Monday to lend a hand.
"They're short of doctors," she reminded him. But Kirby still had doubts.
Besides, he pointed out, her training was in pediatrics: she wasn't a general
"You're underestimating me," she told him. "At the
very least I can translate, can't I?"
She was right, he thought. He was being too protective of her.
"Maybe I'll go over there with you."
"I'm sure Dan would be delighted with that," she said
"Believe me," he assured her. "After this weekend
he'll owe me."
After Kirby said goodbye to his wife, he remembered that he had wanted
to speak with the store man. Leaving his office, Kirby wandered down to the storeroom
where Boehlert had a desk. But Boehlert was not there.
Kirby started back for his office, but paused when he heard a
woman's voice---an unfamiliar voice---coming from a room down the hallway. She seemed to
be speaking French---cursing by the sound of it. Walking down to her room, he saw a young
woman inside perched over a computer screen. She looked up sharply at him when he stopped
outside her door. When he saw the expression on her face Kirby felt like he had been
"Sorry," he said. "I heard you from a couple of
doors down. Can I come in?"
"I'm Richard Kirby," he said stepping into her office.
"And I have a feeling that I should know you, right?" Kirby wasn't sure why he
hadn't met her before.
"You should," she said evenly. "You're my
He tried not to look surprised at her remark.
"I guess I don't come in so often these days..." she
added casually. "I've been avoiding you."
"Uh huh." Kirby didn't know what to make of her.
"My name's Catherine." The name plate on her door read:
Catherine Debreu. Research Fellow from the Pasteur Institute in France.
"Well," Kirby said. "Now that we've met, perhaps
you could come see me sometime. I'm busy till Tuesday, but---"
"Oh, right. The WHO conference thing. Congratulations."
There was no mistaking Debreu's touchiness. Kirby wondered
whether it was just a case of French sang-froid, or if maybe something else altogether was
the cause of it. Then he noticed the columns of numbers stretching across the screen of
her workstation. "What's this?"
0x000003c0 61 6e 64 20 49 20 53 54 49 4c 4c 20 66 65 65 6c
0x000003d0 20 74 68 65 20 73 61 6d 65 20 77 61 79 2e 20 52
0x000003e0 6f 73 65 6e 20 73 68 6f 75 6c 64 20 6e 65 76 65
0x000003f0 72 20 68 61 76 65 20 70 69 63 6b 65 64 20 6d 65
0x00000400 20 74 6f 20 67 6f 0a 74 6f 20 4a 75 6e 65 61 75
0x00000410 20 69 6e 20 74 68 65 20 66 69 72 73 74 20 70 6c
0x00000420 61 63 65 2e 20 49 74 20 77 61 73 20 61 20 6d 69
0x00000430 73 74 61 6b 65 2e 20 54 68 65 20 77 68 6f 6c 65
0x00000440 20 62 75 73 69 6e 65 73 73 20 6a 75 73 74 0a 67
0x00000450 69 76 65 73 20 6d 65 20 74 68 65 20 63 72 65 65
0x00000460 70 73 2e 20 46 72 61 6e 6b 6c 79 2c 20 49 27 6d
0x00000470 20 73 75 72 70 72 69 73 65 64 20 74 68 65 20 72
0x00000480 65 73 74 20 6f 66 20 79 6f 75 20 64 6f 6e 27 74
0x00000490 20 66 65 65 6c 0a 74 68 65 20 73 61 6d 65 2e 0a
0x000004a0 20 20 49 27 6d 20 74 68 72 6f 75 67 68 20 77 69
0x000004b0 74 68 20 69 74 2e 20 59 6f 75 27 72 65 20 6f 6e
0x000004c0 20 79 6f 75 72 20 6f 77 6e 20 61 73 20 66 61 72
0x000004d0 20 61 73 20 49 27 6d 20 63 6f 6e 63 65 72 6e 65
0x000004e0 64 2e 04
Segmentation fault (core dumped)
Debreu spoke with a kind of haughty vexation. "Every time I try to
link my program to the protein-folding library I get this mess. It shouldn't do
"Was it working yesterday?"
"Last time I tried was six weeks ago. Same thing. I decided
to go onto something else for a while. Like an idiot I thought it would be fixed by the
time I tried it again."
"You think it's the library?" Kirby was surprised to
hear they might have a problem with one of the software modules. Imtech paid top dollar to
use the best software available.
"I hope you're not suggesting it's my program," Debreu
Uh-oh, Kirby thought. Watch your step. This one's a prima donna.
"Hey. Don't ask me," he said. "Protein folding I
have some idea about, but when this sort of thing happens I call Ben. Have you talked to
him about it?"
Ben was Benjamin Tao, the systems administrator for the research
divisions. He had worked for Silicon Graphics before being traded to Imtech as part of a
deal Rosen made with the company to purchase fifty state-of-the-art workstations. At
Silicon Graphics he was just another programmer. At Imtech he instantly became the
computer whiz-kid amongst a bunch of biologists who generally treated computers and the
software that ran on them like black boxes. Most of the time they had no idea how it
worked. All they cared about was whether it did the job. And they trusted Tao to take care
"I don't think he likes me," Debreu said of Tao.
"Check it out anyway," Kirby told her, "and come
see me Tuesday."
He went back to his office to collect his briefcase with the
slides and notes for his talk on Sunday. As he walked the hall the meaning of the
morning's news finally hit him. Christ, he thought. We've actually done it.
* * *
Daniel Rosen was looking down through his window at Anders---the division manager was
still throwing discus on the lawn---when McCormick came back from seeing Chapman out of
the building. McCormick came over and stood beside him.
"It's a wonder that guy gets any work done around
here," McCormick said.
"That's not your concern," Rosen said. "Eugene's
McCormick wiped the back of his hand across his nose and sniffed.
Rosen glared at him. "Use a handkerchief, would ya?"
"I don't like them," McCormick said. He held out to
Rosen a narrow strip of paper which looked like a receipt. "Here. You might want to
look at this."
"What is it?"
Rosen took the slip of paper and saw that it was an ADVISE
printout. It was Chapman's.
"Take a look at the PSA value."
The paper was folded back at the bottom, concealing part of the
printout. Rosen straightened it out and read the last few lines.
PSA = 220
ABNORMALLY HIGH READING !!
SEE PHYSICIAN IMMEDIATELY.
END ADVISE END TEST
Rosen sighed. "Great," he said. "Just great. Did you let him
"No. I thought I'd better check with you first."
The last thing Rosen needed was to see the chairman of their FDA
advisory panel checking himself into the hospital for a cancer screen. They were too close
to being approved. If they lost Chapman now there was no telling how it might affect them.
"Do you think he knows?" McCormick said.
"I doubt it. If it was me and I knew, I sure as hell
wouldn't let you find out. Not at two-twenty."
What Chapman had mistaken for a mild case of arthritis was
actually advanced prostate cancer. With a prostate specific antigen level, or PSA, of 220,
and soreness in the joints of his hands, it was probably too late to do anything for him.
Anything above a PSA of four was considered something worth worrying about.
Chapman's antibody count was more than fifty times this level.
"Are you going to tell him?" McCormick asked.
Rosen crumpled the paper into a little ball and threw it in the
waste paper basket. "In a month we'll let him know there was a screw up in the test,
and that by luck we happened to catch it in a randomized check. By then TPL will be on the
"He's going to pissed as hell."
Rosen shrugged and looked out the window. "That's not our
fault," he said. "Old Marty shouldn't have missed his checkups."
The afternoon sun brought out a layer of hovering insects that hung
like black specks just beyond his reach. From the edge of the crowd he watched them
swirling overhead while he waited for his contact to show. The group nearby consisted of
foreigners, mostly American tourists. Half an hour earlier three dirty buses from Mexico
City had turned up in a cloud of dust and diesel fumes and promptly disgorged them into
the parking area for the two o'clock tour. Now they stood quietly in the center of the
Avenue of the Dead, listening like children as the tour guide explained the significance
of the ruins around them.
It was a meaningless waste of time as far as he was concerned. He
didn't give a damn about some piles of ancient stone. As for the people who had put them
there, it amused him to think of them suddenly rising from the dead and tearing down the
kiosk at the end of the Avenue before sending the crowd fleeing for their lives. That was
how he liked to picture them. As warriors. Like him.
"---record of them traveling in six-fifty A.D. to a hilltop observatory in Morelos," the
guide was saying, "to synchronize their sundials."
This remark was followed by burbled laughter from the crowd.
Someone asked the guide if he was kidding them.
"No. That's the truth. We know it because they carved a
record of the event into the base of the pyramid. The equivalent structure on this site is
just behind me. Of course, if there's any one thing that people come to Teotihuacán to
see, then this is it, the pyramid of the Sun..."
As the crowd pulled away, an under-dressed figure burst out from
behind a nearby tree, slapping madly at his thighs. He wore a loose-fitting white shirt
and a pair of orange pants cut too short---an attempt, no doubt, to make him look like one
of the visiting tourists. He came forward, waving one hand about his head to ward off the
flies which followed him out from the tree.
His name was Martinez and he was a congressional representative
of the Chamber of Deputies. Yet, he was not a prominent political figure; a pair of dark
sunglasses and a dab of white zinc cream applied liberally across his puffy cheeks more
than disguised his identity. He carried his portly frame across the stones and stopped a
few meters away to study the young man sporting a newly-grown mustache.
"I got lost," Martinez said.
"I don't like to be keep waiting," Velarde said. He
walked over to where his contact was standing and continued past him without stopping.
"Why am I here?" he demanded to know.
"It's all changed," Martinez said running after him.
"We only found out this morning. It seems she's been invited to the White
Velarde stopped. He turned around. "When?"
"When do you think? Same weekend. We need a new plan."
Velarde studied Martinez. He watched as the sweat on Martinez's
forehead pooled into a single drop and trickled down the side of his greasy face. It was
crystal clear to Velarde that this fat diputadito who had so confidently recruited him two
months earlier was now shit scared and unable to hide the fact. For that reason alone he
"If you want to reschedule it's going to cost you."
"No!" Martinez said. "No rescheduling. It's got to
be the same weekend."
Velarde stared at him in wonder. "And how am I supposed to
"To the States. You can follow her."
"You want this operation carried out on U.S. soil? Are
you out of your mind? Whose idea was that? One of your Chinese friends?"
The remark caught Martinez off guard. "What do you know
about that?" he asked hesitantly.
"What?" Velarde said. "You think I wouldn't check
you out? Two million is a lot of money, Martinez. Even for a guy like you. For a job like
this I make it my business to know where the money's coming from."
Velarde told Martinez that he had had him followed---even before
their initial meeting eight weeks ago. On three occasions---each of them on the evening
preceding his meetings with Velarde---Martinez had visited the Chinese Embassy in Mexico
City. "Frankly, as long as the money is real, I don't care who's paying for it."
"Oh, it's real," Martinez said. "Trust me. But the
job must be done next weekend. Do you understand? There can't be any delay."
For weeks Velarde had thought about Montoya and the moment of
death. But now he was no longer sure. "You're asking a great deal," he said.
"You know her itinerary? Where she'll be at every moment?"
"I'll get it."
Velarde shook his head. "It's too risky. It's not worth it.
Not for two million."
"We had a deal!" Martinez yelled under his breath.
"A million before. A million after. That was the deal!"
"My men won't do it. I'll need five million."
"Are you crazy!"
This time Martinez's words were heard by several tourists
standing about thirty meters away. They turned to stare from the other side of the Avenue.
Martinez dropped his head and looked at the ground. "Three million," he fumed.
"I'll try to get you three."
"Five," Velarde said. And with that, he turned toward
the parking lot and walked away.
LOS PINOS PRESIDENTIAL RESIDENCE
The Black Star photographer had been allocated exactly twenty
minutes to capture her image. To do so he requested that the President's bodyguards drag a
heavy gold-leafed Louis XIV chair over to the window where the light was good. But his
petition had been viewed with suspicion. It was not until the photographer's identity had
been checked and rechecked, and six of her men dispatched to the balcony to shield against
a potential sniper's bullet, that Camilla Montoya's chief of staff had acceded to the
photographer's request. The President herself showed no such concern for her safety.
"Make me look like a warrior," she told him.
That won't be difficult, he thought moving around her, snapping
Her face had the chiseled look of royalty. It was even said she
looked like Nefertiti, the Egyptian queen of fourteenth-century B.C. And that was how the cartoonists for the
Mexico City newspaper El Universal had portrayed her. As a petulant queen.
It didn't bother Montoya. She even helped them by perpetuating
the idea through the careful application of makeup, painting on high cat line eyebrows
which had since become her trademark. To contrast her inky black eyelashes and pale-brown
eyes, she added lipstick, bright red, like the color of fresh blood. Vivid, was the term
the Black Star photographer would later use to describe her to his colleagues.
"Like an exclamation mark."
* * *
Camilla Montoya was the leader of the National Action Party, and the President of Mexico.
Six years earlier her election to office had made history by removing the Institutional
Revolutionary Party from government for the first time since 1929.
At the time she had been just thirty-four years old. Even Benazir
Bhutto, she was fond of reminding the press, had not become Prime Minister of Pakistan
until she was thirty-five. "But unlike Bhutto," she had promised them, "I
will integrate Mexico's economy into the world market. Whereas she failed her country,
that will be my greatest accomplishment." She promised to pave the way for an
ambitious privatization program which would reform Mexico in the eyes of the world.
So far she had made good on her promises. But despite her rising
popularity, she had made many enemies along the way. Critics lambasted her, claiming that
she was selling off the country's assets at bargain basement prices. They worried that she
was following too closely Egypt's ill-fated attempt to privatize in the early nineties.
But Montoya's gamble paid off.
The big companies came, inspired by her willingness to embrace
drastic reform strategies. When she enlisted the aid of Merrill Lynch to help privatize
the Mexican oil industry the investment world gasped for only a moment before rushing in
to stake a claim, instantly ready to do business with "the new Mexico." In the
long run, she told herself, even the mudslingers would be forced to admit that victory had
always been hers.
Oh, she had her detractors, all right. But none of them could
match her for sheer exuberance. And the people listened to her. They did not understand
where her courage came from, but it fired them from within. She was a strong leader, and
if strength was what she was selling, they were buying it---because they believed the time
had come for Mexico to be led out of darkness.
After the picture-session ended Montoya went back to her bedroom
and checked that her assistants had correctly packed her suitcases. Then she had them
carried down to the car.
Outside she found her chief of staff in a pair of blue overalls.
Miguel Ramirez was inspecting the underside of the vehicle from a pit which had been
specially dug in the driveway. It allowed him to check that the car had not been tampered
with overnight. Ramirez insisted on doing the job himself, as he trusted no one.
The car itself looked like a regular Lincoln Navigator, which it
had been, until the customized-vehicle firm of O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt reinforced it
with light armor. The roof and the floor of the car were now fortified with seven layers
of glass-reinforced polyester impregnated with resin. This was meant to impede high-rise
snipers, and at the same time it enabled the floor to soak up grenade blasts. The
twelve-millimeter-thick windshield and the rear and side windows were made from
multilayered ballistic glass. Not even a .38 revolver at point blank range could pierce
them. And the tires were armored. You could shoot them full of holes and the occupants of
the car could still make a high-speed getaway.
At the behest of her chief of staff Montoya had agreed to shell
out $200,000 for a pair of the reinforced Navigators, after Ramirez learned that the CEO
for the cement company Cemex had foiled an armed kidnapping attempt in Monterrey by simply
locking himself inside his car. Six weeks later the pair of jungle-green Navigators had
turned up less than 300 kilograms over factory weight, and she fell in love with them. Now
she refused to travel anywhere unless one of the cars was available.
"Miguel," she shouted. "Are you finished down
Ramirez called out to the driver to move the car forward, after
which Montoya's chief of staff climbed out of the pit and peeled off his overalls, leaving
him standing there in a black suit ready to go.
On their way to the airport Montoya sat up front the way she
always did. Ramirez sat in the back going over the proposed itinerary for their trip to
Washington the following week. "They want to provide us with full transportation and
security," he told her. "From the moment we land."
Montoya removed a lighter from her pocket and lit up a thin
cigar. A second later white smoke was streaming from her mouth. "You can tell our
hosts thank-you-very-much but we shall not be needing their services. We will be providing
our own security."
"Do you think that's wise? A week isn't very long to
"Miguel, Miguel. Don't argue with me on this one. You've
kept me safe till now. I trust you. You will arrange for the car to be on hand when we
Ramirez ground his teeth. "I suppose I should be happy you
didn't insist upon hauling it to Geneva."
"Don't be silly," she said. "Nobody knows I'm
She was sure of that. Even Ramirez hadn't known about it until
two days earlier. But that was why she had proved such a difficult target for a would-be
assassin. It wasn't out of character for her to cancel appearances carefully organized
weeks in advance, just so she could take off to some place on a whim. This weekend it was
to Geneva to attend the International Forum on Epidemiology. It was to be held in
conjunction with the World Health Assembly. She was annoyed because nobody had thought to
invite her. But that wasn't going to stop her. She had to go. She had a problem to
Despite her successful efforts to jump-start the Mexican economy,
the effects had not been uniform. Mexico's health system in the rural sector remained at
Third World levels and refused to budge. With growing indignation, she had discovered that
while the world was more than willing to invest in her nation's treasures, it had
apparently decided that these did not include her people. Private city hospitals
flourished in the affluent regions while underfunded government clinics struggled to
assist forty million Mexicans who lived in poverty. Infant mortality was up; cholera and
dengue fever had skyrocketed in populations weakened by malnutrition; AIDS was on the
rise. Montoya's deputy secretary of health tried to downplay the problem, but the
opposition chairman of the Congressional Health Commission had rightly called it a public
health care disaster.
To be seen attending the meeting in Geneva could certainly do her
no harm. What it would do was provide her with a rebuttal she expected might come
in useful at the White House. Sooner or later President Coleman would get around to
blasting her for endangering the lives of her AIDS-stricken rafters. When he did, she
would look him in the eye and say, "Mr. President, when the world convened to discuss
ways to limit this dreadful disease, I heard no one questioning the sincerity of my
efforts to be a part of that. I was there, señor. Where were you?"
Montoya knew exactly what she was doing. If the conference turned
out to be the staid and hopeless fiasco that she suspected it would be, then she would
upstage those meek-eyed scientists and make so much noise that she would be heard all the
way back to Washington.
She remembered the way the Black Star photographer had
flittered about her like a frightened bird around a cat. It would be the same with the
press in Geneva, she told herself. When their lenses caught her looking back at them they
would tremble. I am not gentle, she thought. I am fearsome.
APRA HARBOR, GUAM
Eighteen time zones ahead of San Diego, it was 9 A.M. Saturday morning on the tiny western Pacific
island of Guam when Mark Greenberg drove a borrowed jeep up to the main gate of the Apra
Harbor Naval Base and flashed his ID at the civilian guard. Greenberg was a lieutenant
junior grade in the U.S. Navy. He had just come from the Guam Naval Facility, where his
programming genius had been put to use for the last two weeks by the personnel in charge
of SURTASS shore support operations.
On loan from San Diego, Greenberg had been looking forward to
going home that weekend when new orders arrived. He was informed that the USNS Impeccable
had berthed at Apra Harbor, and that when the ship headed back out of port later that
morning, he would be going with it. Carrier assignment detail. That was all he'd been
The guard at the gate dutifully checked the lieutenant's face
against the one in the laminated photo in Greenberg's wallet. He grinned, as though
grateful for the distraction. Apra Harbor had once been a port for the Navy's nuclear
missile submarines. But when the U.S. nuclear arsenal was pulled back to the mainland, the
base had assumed a more relaxed mood. Today the Marine detachments which had once roamed
the waterfront were gone. There were, however, plenty of sailors in blue shirts and jeans,
Greenberg saw. They worked the pier, ferrying fuel and supplies aboard a pair of ageing
frigates. From the gate he could make out the hull number of one of the ships. It was FFG
34, the USS Aubrey Fitch. The lieutenant gestured at the two ships as he tucked his
wallet back into his pocket. "They came in with the Impeccable?"
The guard raised the gate, glancing across to where the frigates
were secured to the pier by heavy mooring lines. "Fitch came in yesterday
afternoon. Jarrett this morning. You going out on one of 'em?"
"Not this time... Where can I leave the car?"
The guard noted the vehicle number and jotted it down.
"There's a yellow hatched area around to the left here." He pointed. "Just
leave the keys in it."
Greenberg drove the jeep around to the parking area, stopped on
the hatching, and switched off the engine. But before he could jump out he caught sight of
someone jogging toward the car.
"Lieutenant Greenberg?" It was an enlisted woman, short
blond hair, an engaging face---the girl next door type.
"Yes?" As Greenberg hopped from the jeep he grabbed his
seabag from the back seat.
The sailor saluted him. "Petty Officer Amy Ross, sir. I've
been sent to escort you to the Impeccable."
Ross. He saluted back to her and glanced at the rating
badge worn on her upper left arm---a pair of headphones in the shape of a capital omega,
with an arrow-shaped dial superimposed over them. "You're the sonarman---woman, that
I was meant to hook up with?"
"Sonarman third class. Yes, sir. Can I take your bag,
Greenberg shook his head. "No, you cannot." How would
that look, he thought, a woman carrying his bag? No, he'd carry his own bag, thanks all
the same. "And if you don't mind, we'll drop the sir. Name's Mark." It
was "Mac" to the half-dozen engineers on his design team back home at the Ocean
Surveillance Laboratory, but that wasn't where he was. Greenberg started moving toward the
end of the pier. "Any idea what this is about?"
"No, but I could have done with the shore leave," she
said, allowing a touch of irritability to show. Well, the Navy didn't expect to turn out
automatons, did it? This one was definitely human. Pretty too, he might have allowed, if
he hadn't been married. "This came for you earlier." She handed him a neatly
He opened it and read. An Indonesian gunboat on patrol near the
Natuna Islands had gone missing. The Chief of Naval Operations was considering diverting
the Eisenhower task group to the area if the boat did not turn up in the next few
days. That meant the carrier group would be diverted, because patrol boats did not
get lost. If the gunboat had suffered some kind of mechanical failure the skipper would
have radioed back to base for assistance. If no one had heard from him it was because
someone else had interfered with his boat. Sunk it, most likely.
"Can I ask if we'll be out long, sir---Mark?"
Greenberg pocketed the message. "Long enough. Seems the
Indonesian Navy's lost a patrol boat in the South China Sea. We'll be tagging along with
the Eisenhower group while it goes in and checks the area out."
"Oh." Petty Officer Ross sounded disheartened. A
round-trip journey to the South China Sea meant they would be out for at least two weeks.
Greenberg didn't say it, but he wasn't too thrilled either.
They walked in silence along the pier, dodging the sailors and
forklifts, and passing between the two gray hulks he'd seen from the gate. The USS Aubrey
Fitch and the USS Jarrett were easily distinguished as Oliver Hazard Perry
class guided missile frigates. The telltale features were the low flat after decks---the
helipads for each ship's anti-submarine warfare helicopter---and the forward missile
launcher. Greenberg had once spent three months on a Perry class ship while working as an
SQR-19 towed array sonar technician. But he preferred working back in the lab. Writing
"Ever been out on a T-AGOS before, sir?" Ross was
having difficulty breaking with the formality of rank, but Greenberg let it go.
"Once or twice. But not on one of the new ones."
The Impeccable was T-AGOS 23, the twenty-third in the
series of Ocean Surveillance Ships, but the first built specifically to carry the Navy's
new Low Frequency Active sonar array.
"You'll like it," Ross said. "Not much different
from the Victorious class, of course, but light-years up from the fishing-trawler design
they started out with. Can I ask what sort of work---"
"Tweaking the software for the TB-29 follow on. That kind of
"Ah..." Ross said falling quiet. The TB-29 was the
passive sonar "thin line" towed array which the Navy used on its newest attack
submarines. In this instance, "follow on" translated to classified, and
"that kind of thing" meant don't ask.
"I'm on the SPAWAR payroll," he volunteered. "San
Diego." Greenberg, in fact, was attached to D71, the Maritime Surveillance Division
at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, San Diego.
The lieutenant lugged his bag past the bow of the Jarrett
and continued on down to the end of the pier with Ross in tow. When they reached the
mooring for the USNS Impeccable he stopped and set the bag down by the gangway.
Sailors shuffled back and forth with supplies while he studied the ship. Although painted
Navy gray, the Impeccable was a non-combatant vessel whose operation fell to
Military Sealift Command---as was indicated by the blue and gold bands around the ship's
smoke stacks. The new T-AGOS ships were unusual in that they were built on not one,
but a pair of hulls, both of which pinched down to knife-edges at the water
surface. On top of these, joining the two hulls above the water, sat a low superstructure
which granted the Impeccable something of the appearance of a gigantic twin-bladed
ice skate. Below the waterline, Greenberg knew, each of the tapered hulls secured to
propeller shafts that looked like ship-length battery-powered torpedoes---which was
basically what they were.
Although the Impeccable was staffed by a mostly civilian
crew, its primary purpose was to conduct submarine-hunting patrols for the Navy. These
were carried out using two large arrays of hydrophones which were towed by the ship. One
array generated sonar signals to bounce off the hulls of enemy submarines, while the other
listened for the returning echoes. For the low speeds at which the towed arrays were
deployed, the twin-hulls improved ship handling and reduced the noise contamination
introduced to the hydrophones from the ship/water interface. This listening technology,
known as the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System, made the Impeccable a SURTASS
vessel. If there were any Chinese subs lurking in the shallows of the South China Sea, it
would be Greenberg's job to make sure the Eisenhower and her escorts knew about
"We're due out again within the hour," Ross told him.
"If you'll follow me, sir, we'll get you stowed away." She stepped onto the
gangway and started up to the ship.
Lieutenant Greenberg hoisted his seabag over his shoulder with
one hand and grabbed the gangway rail with the other. Two weeks, he thought with a
* * *
Ninety minutes later, Greenberg was standing fore of the bridge, as the USNS Impeccable
sliced its way through the glassy harbor entrance at a steady twelve knots. The captain of
the ship stood at the lieutenant's side. His name was Arthur Harris, and he leaned forward
against the handrails to steady the heavy binoculars in his hands. Three nautical miles
ahead of them was the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN 69. Further out were her
surface escorts---the destroyers Paul Hamilton and Fletcher, the guided
missile frigate Gary, and an underway fuel replenishment ship, the USNS Yukon.
Harris had been trying to identify the ships by visual inspection. In addition to the
escorts he could see, a Los Angeles class nuclear attack submarine---the USS Columbia---stood
sentry somewhere beneath the waves to the west of Guam.
"Anything I should know about?" Harris asked.
While the captain and his civilian crew were responsible for the
logistics of steering the Impeccable, tending to its diesel-electric propulsion
system, and seeing to the careful deployment and retrieval of the towed hydrophone arrays,
they did not always know the reason behind the orders handed them. This was
something which came down through the SPAWAR chain of command, in this case to Lieutenant
Greenberg who would be acting as chief of the sonar watch, and effective commanding
officer of T-AGOS 23. Where it concerned questions on the collection of sonar
intelligence, Captain Harris would defer to him.
"We might be looking for a sub," Greenberg told the
captain. He related the news of the Indonesian patrol boat which had gone missing. The
lieutenant had also received a second dispatch since arriving on board. "Their Navy
thinks the Chinese have a boat off Natuna, so the Indo President says he would be obliged
if we took a look-see for them."
Harris, who had known only that they were headed to the South
China Sea, lowered the eye glasses. "We're going all the way in?"
Greenberg shook his head. But he understood the captain's
concern. The Natuna Islands---there was actually more than one of them, the largest being
Besar---were located in the shallow waters of a sea shelf that ran from the Gulf of
Thailand out to Malaysia's Sarawak. Average sea depth in the area was one hundred meters,
too shallow to comfortably operate the blue water vessels of the U.S. Navy. The Eisenhower
would confine her activities to the central reaches of the South China Sea, where depths
in some places plunged to 3000 meters.
"Our job is just to show Beijing that we're interested in
what's going on down there. If we spot one of their boats on its way back to base, even
better. Makes it harder for them to deny they had a hand in the sinking of our
"Friends?" Harris said skeptically. "Since when
were we so cozy with the Republic of Indonesia?"
Greenberg shrugged his shoulders. "Customer relations, I
guess. Taipei isn't the only player in the region willing to buy F-16s from us. If
Coleman's running to form, what's the bet Jakarta isn't next in line for an order?"
This was pure speculation on Greenberg's part. Yet, if he could
not say why the convoy was being diverted, the reason for the Impeccable's
attachment to it required little in the way of guesswork. The South China Sea represented
one of the few bodies of sea water in the world still safe from the prying electronic ears
of SOSUS, the U.S. Navy's sound surveillance network of sea-based hydrophone arrays.
Designed to detect noisy Russian submarines at long-range, the western Pacific segment of
the network had been installed along the seafloor to the east of the Philippines. Since
the South China Sea lay directly to the west of the islands, it remained
acoustically shielded. It would be the Impeccable's job to establish mobile
surveillance of the area for the time that the Eisenhower and her escorts passed
through. This she would do by deploying her passive towed sonar array. If the People's
Liberation Army Navy had made the mistake of stationing one or more of their old Han class
attack subs in the area, then there was an excellent chance that the Impeccable
would detect them.
As the T-AGOS vessel departed the harbor, Greenberg wondered
about its ability to keep up with the convoy. The earlier T-AGOS ships had been capable of
sixteen knots---four knots faster than the speed they were traveling now. But the Impeccable
was a bigger boat. He asked Harris about its top speed.
"We're doing it." The captain gestured to the ships
ahead of them. "To keep up with these guys we'll be getting an assist. The Yukon's
traveling light---so she'll be able to drop us a tow line for the journey in. With a
little care we should be able to handle twenty knots. Enough to put us where you want to
go in just over six days." Harris gave him a quizzical squint. "Why? You're not
in a hurry are you, Mr. Greenberg?"
"No," the lieutenant said, bending the truth as he
thought about what waited for him back home. "...No hurry, Captain."
After a tense taxi ride from Union Station---the train had come
in on time, but rarely did one escape completely the effects of Los Angeles freeway
traffic---Kirby had arrived at LAX to find Rosen sipping scotch in the Swissair terminal
while he looked over his speech for Sunday.
Now the two of them were somewhere over the North Atlantic ocean
in complete darkness. Rosen was slumped down on his seat fast asleep, but Kirby felt wide
awake. According to his watch---still running on San Diego time---it was only 11:15 P.M. Friday night. He didn't normally fall asleep
until midnight, and being in the air only made it that much harder to relax. To distract
his mind from the unsettling thought that he was hurtling along ten kilometers above a
pitch black ocean in a long metal cylinder, he had brought along The Prophet. It
was a volume of mystical pronouncements written by the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran in
1923. It was more for luck than anything else; the book was rumored to have been in the
possession of two separate Nobel-winning biologists at the time they did their most
important work. Kirby had found a copy in a second-hand bookstore, but so far he hadn't
had the time to even glance at it.
With his view of the world based on a strict diet of scientific
training, Kirby found it easy to dismiss the more mystical side of Gibran's writings. He
trusted his own senses first and the accounts of others second. Still, some of Gibran's
passages made an impression on him. Apparently they'd had a similar effect on the previous
owner of the book, who had taken a high-lighter to almost every page. As he tried to
forget where he was, Kirby's eyes fell on one of the passages marked in orange: "It
is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding; and
to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving."
He looked inside the cover for the name of the previous owner.
But it had been scratched out. Probably some New Age mystic, Kirby thought closing the
book. He glanced across at Rosen, whose silver hair reflected the overhead lighting in the
window beside him. Kirby wondered if guys like Rosen ever took the time to read the
writings of guys like Gibran.
He wasn't sure. But it didn't seem likely.
END OF CHAPTER TWO