IN MEXICO...the charred remains of a medical clinic hold a clue to an experiment that can change the world.
IN LOS ANGELES...a famous model, desperate to have a baby of her own, sends a detective to track down a legend...and a doctor missing for twenty years.
IN BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI...a little boy plays with matchs and smiles.
IN A SECRET LOCATION...the radical procedure begins, leading to a scientific miracle ...or the beginning of a nightmare.
What does the next step in high-tech reporduction hold for humankind? In a tale as real as tomorrow's headlines, a rich, successful woman takes a desperate gamble to have a child. A young lawyer discovers a fatal flaw in an unethical experiment. And a new life begins -- a life that could signal a revolution in modern medicine...or the end of us all.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|File size:||375 KB|
About the Author
National bestselling author Charles Wilson has become known for edge-of-your-seat tension and fast-paced action in his novels. His first work, Nightwatcher, a psychological thriller, was called "splendid" by John Grisham and "quite an achievement" by the Los Angeles Times. Ed Gorman, publisher of Mystery Scene magazine says, "Wilson might flat-out be the best plotter of our generation." Wilson's Direct Descendant and Extinct, novels exploring the chilling consequences of so-called scientific advances, have been optioned by Hollywood filmmakers. Other Wilson novels are Game Plan, Fertile Ground and Embryo; three suspense novels, When First We Deceive, Silent Witness and The Cassandra Prophecy; and Deep Sleep-- a psychological thriller set in a Voodoo-influenced swampy parish in South Louisiana. Charles Wilson currently lives with his wife and three children in Brandon, Mississippi, where he is at work on his next novel.
Read an Excerpt
By Charles Wilson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1999 Charles Wilson
All rights reserved.
GREATER LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Fifteen Years Later
"Bailey Williams is here, Ross."
Despite the excited tone in his secretary's voice, Ross Channing continued to search through the papers on his partner's desk. "Have you seen those summonses I gave Mac?" he asked.
"Ross," Dorothy repeated. "It's the Bailey Williams — the model. She says she wants to speak to you."
He looked back at Dorothy. Heavyset in a flowered dress, she stood in the office doorway. She had a serious expression across her face. She wasn't kidding. "I saw her just last night on the David Letterman show," she said. "She's even more beautiful in person."
Bailey Williams, he thought. Coming to a bail bond agency? For what? He buttoned his collar and pulled his tie in place as he walked across the floor toward the door. "What did she say she wanted?"
"Only that she wants to speak to you privately. She's waiting in your office."
Dorothy followed him as he stepped out into the compact reception area and walked past her desk toward his office door.
Inside the office, Bailey Williams stood at a window she had opened behind the desk. Wearing a short, plaid skirt that displayed her tight legs, with her jacket loosely gathered at a small waist, and with her full, dark hair resting gently against her shoulders, she gave off a striking appearance even from behind. As Ross came inside the small office, she took a puff from a Virginia Slims, blew a cloud of smoke through the screen, and then walked around to the front of the desk.
She held the cigarette out. "I don't see an ashtray," she said.
He took the cigarette and stubbed it down inside an empty coffee cup sitting next to the telephone on his desk.
Her gaze had fallen on the stack of books sitting on the front of the desk. She used her slim forefinger to trace their titles. "Constitutional Law. Legal Ethics. Federal Court Procedure." She turned her face toward his.
Dorothy spoke from behind them. "Mr. Channing has just taken his bar exam. We're waiting for the results now. Mr. McLaurin graduates at the end of the year."
"More lawyers, huh," Bailey mused, looking back at the books.
"Moving up in the world," Ross said, smiling. "Or down. Whatever your perspective is of attorneys."
"Would you care for a cup of coffee?" Dorothy asked.
Bailey didn't respond. She was looking at Ross's aging English bulldog. He had come out from under the desk and now stood at its far side, his stubby legs braced as if it took an effort to support his thick body, his wrinkled face looking up at the model.
"That's Cooper," Dorothy said. "Mr. Channing's dog. I'll get him out of here."
"He's fine," Bailey said.
"Would you care for the coffee?" Dorothy asked again.
"No, thank you."
Dorothy smiled politely, grinned at Ross, and closed the door behind them. Ross waited for the model to say why she had come as she stepped to the straight-back chair in front of the desk and settled into it. Now, she crossed her legs and looked up at him.
"Mr. Channing, I have heard that you have extensive connections in Mexico. Do you remember Meg Levine?"
He nodded as he started around the desk toward his chair. Meg Levine had come unannounced to the office nearly three years before, her appearance nearly as surprising as Bailey's. She had been sent by a friend who was aware he had spent part of his youth in Mexico. Meg had quite candidly told him that her big break in life had come when she parlayed a bit role in a low-budget film into a quickie marriage to the film's director several years before. The marriage's subsequent breakup had left her well fixed financially. Then she had made "the big mistake," as she called it. She had married a producer thought to be as wealthy as her first husband, but actually deeply in debt from gambling and drug addiction. He had been arrested after trying to pay off the debts by financing a delivery of cocaine into the country. Meg, at first convinced of his innocence, had put up his entire bail in cash, and he had immediately fled Los Angeles. Since then, he had been living in Mexico, with the authorities there either unable or unwilling to track him down — and Meg no longer with any doubts about his guilt. Ross recalled flying to Mexico City, joining with Manuel, a friend from his youth there, and finding the man in only three days, living with his mistress in a luxury beach home not far from Acapulco, his former "favorite" vacation spot. They had flown him back to Los Angeles on a private plane, and Ross had received the largest fee he had ever made from bringing a bail jumper back to stand trial. He remembered seeing in the newspaper where Meg had gone through a third messy divorce since then — and was rumored to be in love again.
Bailey had finished lighting another long cigarette and stuffed the pack back inside her purse. "There's a story I'm interested in," she said. "I know tracing the source of a story is not exactly what you do — but I doubt you're averse to making money."
As she paused, waiting for a response, he nodded, and she continued. "You might call it more of a tale than a story. It's been bandied about the party circuit for years; out-of-womb birth. It's been laughed about as what every young model or starlet needs — a baby delivered straight from a test tube, without time off from a career for pregnancy, no stretch marks. No man to put up with for that matter. The process was of course developed by some eccentric scientist — isn't that always the case? Supposedly his lab was in South America; he had been experimenting with tree seedlings and evidently had nothing better to do with his free time."
Despite her words being almost lighthearted, her expression was serious and she had stared directly into his eyes as she spoke. Now she took another drag off her cigarette and ran her gaze across his desk. Ross slipped the saucer from under the coffee cup and slid it toward her.
"Thank you," she said, setting the makeshift ashtray into her lap. She flicked an ash from the cigarette into the saucer. "As I told you, all I had ever heard was a scientist somewhere in South America. Then I met a model from Mexico City last week. A cute young thing, kind of, not the type who's going to make it in this business, but friendly. She was quite certain this wasn't just a tale. And the process had been experimented with — she said successfully — in Mexico some years ago. Mexico — not South America. She even said where in Mexico. I'm not so certain she's much more than a child mentally, but there was something in her sincerity. I'd like for you to check out the rumors for me and see what you can learn about this ... like if it's even conceivably possible."
As she finished speaking, she stubbed her cigarette out in the saucer and leaned forward to slide it onto the desk. Cooper, now sitting at her feet, watched her movement.
Out-of-womb birth? Ross thought. Los Angeles was the place where celebrities could discuss how they were kings and queens in a former life and be listened to with a straight face until their looks or money ran out. Yet he also knew Bailey Williams wasn't the typical brain-dead celebrity who dropped out of school to move to Hollywood and lucked into making it big with her face and body. She had been spotted by a modeling agency scout when she appeared on a talk show as one of a group of fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds already accepted to college due to their high IQs. And what did he care anyway? — here was a client wanting to find out something, and with enough money to afford a battalion of information seekers if she felt like it. "My source in Mexico charges four hundred dollars a day plus expenses. Additionally, I will require a set fee of five thousand dollars for myself."
Having never done a straight private-detective-type investigation before, he had picked his fee out of the air. It was a steep price when all he had to do was make a simple telephone call, and then sit back and wait to see if Manuel could come up with anything. But he suspected that Bailey Williams couldn't care less what it cost.
He was proven right when she said, "Agreed."
"You said she knew where this experimentation took place?" "The Sierra Madres."
They ran much the length of the country. "Nothing more specific?"
"According to the girl, experiments were conducted on Indians."
Where in Mexico weren't there Indians? Over three quarters of the population were of Indian ancestry. "I'll see what I can do." He watched the model pull her cigarettes from her purse once again and, with her gaze directed toward the pack, he took the opportunity to study her face. Unlike many of the faces in Hollywood that appeared beautiful to the camera but garishly made-up in person, she really was beautiful.
Camera, passed through his mind again. There was constant speculation about when Bailey Williams would accept a movie role. She had referred to the legend as a story. Maybe a story around which a movie could be built? About out-of womb birth?
Then Ross's partner, James McLaurin, a broad grin across his brown face, opened the door and stepped inside the office. He carried an ashtray. Where he got it Ross had no idea — probably the delivery dispatcher from the business next door in the building. He was always standing out in the hall puffing on a cigar, sending great clouds of gray smoke into the air.
McLaurin stopped beside Bailey's chair and held out the ashtray. Of a slim build and several inches shorter than Ross's slightly over six feet, and with the grin still across his face, he looked like a Boy Scout proud of a good deed. Bailey smiled politely as she took the ashtray. Then she pointedly looked back at the door and up at McLaurin again. As she continued to stare, his grin disappeared and he turned and walked toward the door. Cooper watched him go.
"That's my partner," Ross said.
"I would rather you kept this as discreet as possible," she said.
"It will only be our office — the three of us — and my source in Mexico."
Bailey placed the pack of cigarettes back in her purse without taking one and leaned forward to deposit the ashtray next to the saucer. She reached down to pat Cooper on the head, and came to her feet.
"Your office is full of surprises, Mr. Channing," she said, looking down at Cooper again and then the law books on his desk. "And now I have one for you. As I said, discretion is important to me. The tabloids pay a lot for information on anything I do. Meg said you were smart. We'll see. If within twelve months of your either verifying that such experiments took place or proving the story baseless, and I have seen nothing in the press of my being here, I will pay you a fifty-thousand-dollar bonus in addition to your fee. So you see how important discretion is to me."
She laid a small business-size card on his desk. "That's my private number. I want to be informed nightly of your progress — every night."
* * *
Moments later, as Bailey Williams, now wearing a scarf and sunglasses, stepped from the reception area at the front of the office and walked down the steps toward the exit from the building, Ross turned back to Dorothy.
"Anything from the bar in the mail?" he asked.
"They said they would mail the results next week," Dorothy reminded him.
"You know you passed the exam, Ross. As many questions as you had me read to you, I could have passed."
"She flirt with you?" McLaurin asked.
Ross smiled a little and shook his head no.
"Every talk show I ever saw her on she flirted with every man there," McLaurin added, "young, old, or ugly. She didn't do anything but give me a cold stare."
"File a discrimination suit," Dorothy said. She turned to Ross. "Now, what in the world did Miss Williams want with a bail bondsman?"
"Work for Manuel, really — information on a legend out of Mexico. It might have to do with a movie idea. But she doesn't want anybody knowing about it. If in the next twelve months it doesn't leak out from someone bragging that the Bailey Williams was here —" He looked at McLaurin.
McLaurin crossed his heart with his finger.
"— If it doesn't leak out that she was here, there's a fifty-thousand-dollar bonus in it for us, on top of a five-thousand-dollar fee I quoted her."
McLaurin's eyes widened and he quickly crossed his heart again.
"Twelve months," Dorothy mused. "That's long enough to already have a movie in production — and then with that lead it's too late for anybody else to steal the idea."
He didn't know what else to think.
* * *
In a supermarket parking area across the street, Bailey Williams entered her Mercedes and backed it from its spot. At a corner of the supermarket, a thin man dressed in jeans and a hooded pullover snapped shot after shot of the famous model through a telephoto lens. Then he pointed his camera at the sign in front of the small two-story building she had stepped from, and snapped several more quick shots.
WEST COAST INSURANCE
PACKAGE DELIVERY EXPRESS
SUNSET TRAVEL AGENCY
MCLAURIN/CHANNING — BAIL BONDS/PROCESS SERVERS
Ross leaned back in his office chair, turned it to the side and lifted his feet up onto the edge of his desk. He reached to his telephone, pushed the speaker button, and punched in Manuel Alvarez's office number in Mexico City.
He listened as the number rang, and then a young, feminine voice answered pleasantly in Spanish: "Detectives y Seguridad Alvarez."
"Ross. Gosh, you catch a woman off guard."
"How do I sound different?"
"Everybody knows it's me as soon as I say something over the telephone."
"You have a strong voice," she said.
What's a strong voice? "I'm loud?"
Estelita laughed lightly. "Sometimes. Your voice is very distinctive."
"There goes my chance of taking up a career making obscene phone calls."
"I don't know," Estelita said in a soft voice. "I could pretend I don't know who you are."
Ross smiled a little. "Maybe later."
"Am I speaking to an attorney yet?"
"Haven't received the results of the bar exam. Keep your fingers crossed."
"With your mind, you don't need that. You said you were coming back down here before the summer was over."
"It's not fall yet."
"It's your turn," she said. "I was in Los Angeles last. Wait a minute, Manuel is on the other line. I'll tell him you're holding."
Manuel must have finished his conversation immediately, because it was only a few seconds until his deep voice came across the line. "Ross."
"Hey, amigo. How would you like to make four hundred dollars a day U.S., plus expenses?"
"Who do I have to assassinate?"
"It's a wacko story, Manuel, but I don't want you to kiss it off lightly — it might eventually lead to work from a movie studio. A woman just in here says she's heard a story out of your area of the world about what she calls out-of-womb birth. Supposedly, some tree-seedling scientist somewhere in the Sierra Madres experimenting on Indians came up with the idea of test-tube babies. I mean test tube all the way until birth — he's supposed to have succeeded. I want you to see if you can find the source of the story, if there is one."
"Do I get paid if I already know it?" Manuel asked, and chuckled. "It wasn't a scientist, but a medical doctor from your country. A devil disguised as a doctor, anyway, who stole eggs from the Indian women he treated and created demons without the benefit of any of the enjoyment that comes with good old-fashioned sex. The Indian spiritual leaders rallied their people, and with the help of the good gods overpowered the evil, sending the demons back to their fiery hell. The big battle took place close to Taxco. I'll give your client credit for one thing, Ross, she's up-to-date on her legends. This supposedly took place in the last couple of decades." Manuel chuckled again. "Guess the medicine men decided they didn't want their grandfathers to have all the legends to themselves — they had to dream up recent victories to prove their worth."
"You have any idea what's really behind the story?"
"Why does there have to be something behind it other than a tale somebody told which grew bigger and bigger?"
"I want you to do some checking around anyway. You said an MD, not a scientist — that's specific. See what else specific you can find out. There has to be some basis — something that happened to start the legend."
"Like the alien crash at Roswell? That started something, didn't it? Okay, for four hundred dollars a day U.S., I'll trace the story in any direction it goes; if need be all the way back to the first little devil with balls big enough to have fathered the mother of all demons."
Manuel was still chuckling when they ended their conversation.
Excerpted from Embryo by Charles Wilson. Copyright © 1999 Charles Wilson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
With his taut tales and fast words, Charles Wilson will be around for a long time. I hope so.