The Twelve Page 8

Brad? Why was she thinking about Brad? David. David was her husband, not Brad. Pope David and his popemobile. Had there been a Pope David? Probably. Lila herself was a Methodist. She wasn't the person to ask.

Well, she thought, Roscoe having wandered out of sight, enough was enough. She'd had it with being trapped in a filthy house. David could do as David liked; she saw no reason to sit out this perfectly beautiful June day, not with so much to do. Her trusty old Volvo awaited her in the driveway. Where was her purse? Her wallet? Her keys? But here they were, sitting on the little table by the front door. Just where she had left them some period of time ago.

Upstairs, she went to the bathroom-my God, the toilet was in such a state, she didn't even want to think about that-and examined her face in the mirror. Well, that was not so good. You'd think she'd been in a shipwreck-her hair a rat's nest, her eyes sunken and bleary-looking. Her skin was all washed out, like it hadn't seen the sun in weeks. She wasn't one of those women who needed an hour to primp before leaving the house, but even so. She would have liked a shower, but of course that was impossible; she settled for washing her face with water from one of the jugs on the sink, using a washcloth to scrub her skin pink. She ran a brush through her hair, applied blush to her cheeks, stroked mascara onto her lashes, and put on a bit of lipstick. She was wearing only a T-shirt and panties in the heat; she retreated to the bedroom, with its guttered candles and heaps of dirty laundry and the musty smell of unwashed sheets, and pulled one of David's long-tailed shirts from the closet. What to wear below this was a problem-nothing really fit anymore. She settled on a pair of loose jeans she could wriggle into if she didn't do the top button, and a pair of sandals.

Once more to the mirror. Not bad, Lila concluded. A definite improvement. It wasn't like she was going anyplace special, after all. Although it might be nice to stop for lunch, once her errands were done. She certainly had earned it after all this time indoors. Someplace nice, where she could eat outside. Few things were nicer than a glass of tea and a salad, sitting outdoors on a spring afternoon. Cafe des Amis-that was just the ticket. They had a marvelous patio draped with vines of fragrant flowers, and the most wonderful chef-he had visited their table once-who had trained at Cordon Bleu. Pierre? François? The man could do the most amazing thing with sauces, teasing the deepest flavors from even the simplest dishes; his coq au vin was to die for. But the desserts were what Des Amis was known for, especially the chocolate mousse. Lila had never tasted anything so heavenly in her life. She and Brad always shared one after dinner, spooning it into each other's mouths like a couple of teenagers so besotted that the world barely existed beyond the two of them. Such blissful days-courtship days, all the promises of life opening before them like the pages of a book. How they'd laughed when she'd damn near swallowed the engagement ring he'd tucked within its airy cocoa folds, and again on the night when Lila had sent Brad out into the pouring rain-anything would do, she told him, a Kit Kat or Almond Joy or a plain old Hershey's-and awakened an hour later to see him standing in the doorway of the bedroom, soaked to the bone, wearing the most hilarious smile on his face and bearing a giant Tupperware container of François's-Pierre's?-famous chocolate mousse, enough to feed an army. Which was just the kind of man Brad was. He'd gone around to the back, where a light was still burning, and pounded on the door until somebody came to receive his rain-drenched fifty-dollar bill. Which was the sweetest thing of all. My God, Lila, Brad said as she spooned a mouthful to her lips, the way you're going, this baby is going to be born half chocolate.

But there she went again. David. David Centre was her husband now. Lila really had to get a handle on that. Not that she and David had ever shared a chocolate mousse or been to Cafe des Amis or done anything remotely of the kind. The man didn't have one romantic bone in his body. How had she let a man like that talk her into marriage? As if she were merely one more item on a glorified to-do list? Become a famous doctor, check. Get Lila Kyle pregnant, check. Do the honorable thing, check. He hardly seemed to know who she was.

Down the stairs she went. Outside the sun was pouring down, filling the hall like a golden gas. By the time she reached the door, a pure excitement was coursing through her. What sweet release! After so much time cooped up, to venture out at last! She could only imagine what David would say when he found out. For God's sake, Lila, I told you it's not safe. You have to think of the baby. But it was the baby she was thinking of; the baby was the reason. That's what David didn't understand. David, who was too busy off saving the world to help with the nursery, who drove a car powered by asparagus, or pixie dust, or wholesome thoughts, or whatever it was, and who had left her here alone. Alone! And what was worse, really the worst thing of all, was that he didn't even like Peter Rabbit. How was it possible she was going to have a baby with a man who didn't like Peter Rabbit? What did that say about him? What kind of father would he be? No, it was none of David's business what she did, Lila concluded, lifting her purse and keys from the hallway table and unbolting the door. It was none of his business if she went outside, or if she painted the nursery chartreuse, or vermilion, or puce. David could go screw himself. That's what David could do.

Lila Kyle would buy the paint herself.

Chapter 8

It was not a good day in the office of the deputy director. Today, May 31-Memorial Day, not that it mattered-was an end-of-the-world kind of day.

Colorado was gone, basically. Colorado was kaput. Denver, Greeley, Fort Collins, Boulder, Grand Junction, Durango, the thousand little towns in between. The latest aerial intel looked like a war zone: cars crashed on the highways, buildings burning, bodies everywhere. During daylight hours, nothing seemed to be moving except the birds, huge spiraling swarms of them, like the word had gone out from Vulture Central Command.

Would somebody please tell him whose idea it had been to kill the entire state of Colorado?

And the virus was moving. Spreading in every direction, a twelve-fingered hand. By the time Homeland had sealed off the major interstate corridors-those dithering a**holes couldn't get themselves out of a burning house-the horse was already galloping from the barn. As of this morning, the CDC had confirmed cases in Kearney, Nebraska; Farmington, New Mexico; Sturgis, South Dakota; and Laramie, Wyoming. And those were just the ones they knew about. Nothing yet in Utah or Kansas, though that was a matter of time, maybe just hours. It was five-thirty in northern Virginia, three hours till sundown, five in the west.

They always moved at night.

The briefing with the Joint Chiefs had not gone well, though Guilder hadn't expected it to. To begin with, there was the whole "problem" of Special Weapons. The military brass had never been particularly comfortable with, or especially clear on, what DSW did, or why it existed outside any military chain of command, drawing its budget from, of all things, the Department of Agriculture. (Answer: Because nobody gave a shit about agriculture.) The military was all about hierarchies, who urinated highest on the hydrant, and as far as the brass could see, Special Weapons answered to no one, its pieces cobbled together from a dozen other agencies and private contractors. It resembled nothing so much as a game of sidewalk three-card monte, the queen always moving, not quite where you thought it would be. As for what DSW actually did, well, Guilder had heard the nicknames. "Distraction from Serious Warfare." "Department of Silly Wingnuts." "Deep-Shit Weirdness." And his personal favorite: "Discount Shoe Warehouse." (Even he had started calling it the Warehouse.)

So it was that Deputy Director Horace Guilder (were there any actual directors anymore?) had found himself sitting before the Joint Chiefs (enough stars and bars around the table to start a Girl Scout troop) to offer his official assessment of the situation in Colorado. (Sorry, we made vampires; it seemed like a good idea at the time.) A full thirty seconds of dumbfounded silence ensued, everyone waiting to see who would speak next.

Let me see if I have you right, the chairman intoned. He leaned his folded hands over the table. Guilder felt a bead of sweat drop from his armpit to slither the length of his torso. You decided to reengineer an ancient virus that would transform a dozen death row inmates into indestructible monsters who live on blood, and you didn't think to tell anybody about this?

Well, not exactly "decided." Guilder hadn't been with DSW at the outset. He'd come in at the change of administration, so much money and so many man-hours already down the rat hole that he couldn't have put the brakes on if he tried. Project NOAH was under a chain of command so obscure, even Guilder didn't know where it had originated-probably NSA, though he'd gotten the sense it might have gone even higher than that, even to the White House itself. But sitting before the Joint Chiefs, he understood that this distinction was pointless. Guilder had spent three decades working in agencies where so much was a secret that nobody was actually responsible for anything. Ideas seemed to flower of their own accord. We did what? No, we didn't. And so, off into the shredder it went. Which was exactly what was about to happen to Special Weapons; probably even to Guilder himself.

But in the meantime, there was blame to be doled out. The meeting had quickly devolved into a shouting match, Guilder taking verbal punch after verbal punch. He felt relieved when he was banished from the room, knowing that the situation was out of his hands. Henceforth, the military would deal with this the way they dealt with all problems: by shooting everything in sight.

In hindsight, Guilder might have put the situation more diplomatically. But the CDC's projections spoke for themselves. Three weeks, four at the outside, and the virus would take out Chicago, St. Louis, Salt Lake. Six weeks and they were looking at the coasts.

Vampires, for Christ's sake. What had he been thinking?

What had everyone been thinking?

And yet there was no doubt that Lear had been on to something. The great Jonas Lear-even Guilder was intimated by the man, a Harvard biochemist with an IQ of a zillion who had, for all intents and purposes, invented the field of paleovirology, retrieving and resuscitating ancient organisms for modern use. Within his professional circle it was generally assumed that Lear was a shoo-in, someday, for a Nobel Prize. Okay, maybe using death row inmates hadn't been the smartest move. They'd gotten ahead of themselves there. And certainly Lear wasn't rowing with his oars entirely in the water. But you had to admit the idea had possibilities. Such as, for instance, not dying. Ever. A matter in which Guilder had lately found himself holding a not-inconsiderable personal stake.

His only hope was the girl.

Amy NLN. The thirteenth test subject, snatched from a convent in Memphis, Tennessee, where her mother had abandoned her. Guilder hadn't felt exactly comfortable signing off on that. A kid, for the love of God. Somebody was bound to notice, and they had; by the time Wolgast had brought her in, everybody from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to the U.S. Marshals was scouring the country for her, and Richards, that lunatic, had left a trail of bodies a mile wide. The nuns at the convent, shot in their sleep. A pair of small-town cops. Six people at a coffee shop whose only mistake was coming in for breakfast at the same time as Wolgast and the girl.

But the request for the girl, which had come from Lear himself, was nothing Guilder could make himself refuse. Each of the cons had been infected with a slightly altered variant of the virus, though the effects had been the same. Illness, coma, transformation, and the next thing you knew they were hanging upside down from the ceiling, gutting a rabbit. But the Amy variant was different. It hadn't come from Fanning, the Columbia biochemist who'd been infected on Lear's misbegotten excursion to Bolivia; it had come from the group of tourists who'd started the whole thing-terminal cancer patients on a lark in the jungle with an ecotour group called Last Wish. They'd all died within a month: stroke, heart attack, aneurysm, their bodies blowing apart. But in the meantime, they'd shown remarkable improvements in their condition-one man had even grown back a full head of hair-and they'd all died cancer-free. Reading Lear's mind was a fool's errand, but he'd come to believe this variant was the answer. The trick was keeping the first test subject alive. For this he'd chosen Amy, a young, healthy girl.

And it had worked. Guilder knew it had worked. Because Amy was still alive.

Guilder's office, on the third floor of an otherwise nondescript low-rise federal office building in Fairfax County-DSW shared space with, among other entities, the Office of Technology Assessment, the Department of Homeland Security Special Energy Task Force, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and a day care-looked out on Interstate 66. Monday of Memorial Day weekend, yet there was almost no traffic. A lot of people had left the city already. Guilder imagined a lot of chits were being called in. A mother-in-law in upstate New York. A friend with a cabin in the mountains. But with all air transportation grounded, people could get only so far, and it wouldn't make much difference in the end. You couldn't hide from nature forever. Or so Horace Guilder had been told.

The girl had made it out of Colorado somehow. They'd caught her signature in southern Wyoming in the first few hours. Which meant she was in a vehicle, and not alone-somebody had to be driving. After that, she'd disappeared. The transmitter in her biomonitor was short-range, too weak for the satellites; she had to be within a few miles of a cell tower, and not some rural co-op but one connected to the federal tracking network. Which, in southern Wyoming, as long as you stayed off major highways, would be easy to avoid. She could be anywhere now. Whoever was with her was smart.

A knock at the door broke his train of thought; Guilder swiveled from the window to see Nelson, the department's chief technical officer, standing in the doorway. Christ, what now?

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