Blood Victory

Page 12

“Yeah, because we’re swimming in contracts and lawyers with this operation, Stephen. Come on. I allow her to start the process so she can feel a certain sense of control right before she gives up all of it for the sake of our research. How’s that?”

“So, you’re setting our drug loose in the world like a feather on the wind because of a social justice issue. Well, that’s just . . . quaint.”

At the words our drug, Noah, Zypraxon’s inventor, bows his head suddenly, which tells Cole the man almost talked back to the screen.

“There are risks to remote dosing,” Cole tries, even though he knows it’s a weak argument. “If she’s still inside the trigger window and we remote dose her by mistake, the results could be catastrophic.”

Waving his hand at the screen, Stephen says, “We’ve got trackers in her bloodstream telling us when it’s full of paradrenaline. There’s no risk of overdose unless someone on your end sits on the remote dosing button by mistake.”

“It would be quite a mistake. I can show you the picture of what happened to the animal test subjects we dosed when their bloodstreams were already full of—”

Julia says, “Gentlemen, I’d like to point out that Cole’s time does appear to be limited, which is probably why he’s being more unpleasant than usual.”


“Thank you, Julia. Allow me to add that remote dosing is physically unpleasant and accompanied by nausea and dizziness, so we reserve it as a backup plan only.”

There’s a brief silence as they all stare at him.

Stephen finally says, “She can tear the arms off serial killers and she’s going to complain about a bit of the spins?”

The comment’s innocuous enough, but Cole can feel his anger boiling. The fire under it is the fact that Stephen’s being the most difficult one here.

So far, he’s the only one to derive any personal benefit from their research. What initially looked like a seismic victory for the lab in Iceland—the ability of paradrenaline to wipe out cancer cells—took a dramatic left turn when a catastrophically more virulent strain of the same cancer appeared in the test subjects two days later, a strain that condensed the devastating months-long progression of the disease into a horrifying two hours that practically liquefied the subjects.

The development was so disappointing that both Cole and Kelley Chen, the director of the Iceland lab, took to their beds for days. As soon as The Consortium was reactivated, however, Stephen immediately saw the weapons potential in the supercharged cancer strain that had been created by exposing cancer cells to paradrenaline, and now his people were hard at work mining this by-product, which they’ve nicknamed “paradron.”

Handing over this newly created poison to Stephen was Cole’s obligation under the agreement that binds The Consortium. By collectively funding the operation at levels that won’t raise red flags on their company’s books, each member is allowed to reap those individual benefits that contribute to their specific industry.

To date, Stephen’s poison is the only significant advance Project Bluebird 2.0 has been able to make. Injecting samples of stable paradrenaline, the miracle chemical Zypraxon unleashes in Charlotte’s bloodstream, into animal subjects has yielded mixed to befuddling results, far less reliable than simply dosing the animals with Zypraxon directly and triggering them the old-fashioned way—by scaring the crap out of them. As for Charlotte, they’re no closer to determining why she is the only human test subject who hasn’t torn her own head off minutes after Zypraxon unleashes paradrenaline in her bloodstream.

If Charlotte’s body continues to yield no clues as to why the drug works so successfully in her and her alone, they’ll have to consider the terrifying scenario of testing Zypraxon on more human subjects who might die horrible, gruesome, self-inflicted deaths.

That said, the idea that Stephen might be trying to dial down the entire operation after reaping the only new benefit to date is too infuriating for Cole to contemplate in this moment.

“What can I say, Stephen?” Cole finally says. “I’m a good boss. Now if I may, I need to get to work.”

Stephen waves his hand dismissively at the screen. Philip is already pushing back from his desk, and as usual, Julia is shaking her head slightly, as if Cole’s a perpetually disappointing toddler. He knows not to expect a more respectful series of goodbyes from his business partners, so he ends the call with a swipe of his control pad.

Now he’s only got Noah to deal with.

“What are you doing here?” Cole asks.

“You flew me here.”

“What are you doing downstairs? I said only come downstairs when I need you.”

And he’d meant to tell Scott to keep Noah in his bedroom, but the call from The Consortium distracted him before he could give the order.

“Well, they’re just lovely,” Noah finally says.

“Don’t just walk in on my videoconferences.”

“Why didn’t you lock the door?”

“Because I forgot you’re a cross between a sociopath and a curious seven-year-old.”

“I do love your sharp tongue. Wish you’d used it on me in the shower.”

“Noah, instead of trying to throw me off-balance with a bad webcam routine, why don’t you just ask me what you want to know so I can explain why I’m not telling you?”

“Mattingly does all this prep work and there’s no digital footprint for any of it? That’s weird, Cole. I see truck, abduction, I think human trafficking. And if I’m your business partner, I think we’re sending Charley into the middle of a dangerous operation with only her boyfriend as a backup. You’re sure surveillance didn’t miss anything?” Noah asks.

“Absolutely sure,” Cole answers because the two words, by themselves, are the truth. They didn’t miss anything. “Want to know what else I’m sure of?”

“All ears.”

“You have one job tonight, and it’s not this. Get inside her head, stay there. Leave the rest of it to me.”

Orders like these are usually a perfect opportunity for Noah to mouth off, but something about Cole’s tone this time has chased the mirth from him. He doesn’t just look serious; he looks wary. As if the prospect of being back in Charlotte’s head after all he’s done to her frightens him.

Cole studies Noah’s expression for as long as he can, then looks away.

It’s not that he feels guilty about lying to Noah.

Or lying to The Consortium.

He just gets nervous when the number of people he has to lie to suddenly goes up unexpectedly. Even by one.

Scott Durham doesn’t knock before entering. When he sees Noah sitting at the conference table as if he belongs there, he goes rigid. Cole gives a wave of his hand to indicate all’s well, and Scott says, “She’s leaving the theater. Mattingly’s following her. Looks like she’s hooked him.”


Dallas, Texas

If she takes her time, it might look suspicious.

If she moves too quickly, he might lose her. Then she’d have to slow down again—also suspicious.

Given how easily Cyrus Mattingly was scared off by a gated apartment complex and the sudden arrival of an unexpected husband, Charlotte’s willing to bet he’d be just as wary of a target who started moving erratically. Worse, at this hour most of the mall’s stores are in the process of closing, so there’s not much for her to stop and study if she needs to let him catch up. It seems like the only people in the mall, aside from the clerks locking storefront doors and pulling down guard gates, are the other moviegoers leaving the theater. They’re walking in sparse clumps, their laughter echoing off the stone floors.

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.