Nightshine, p.5
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       Nightshine, p.5

         Part #4 of Kyndred series by Lynn Viehl
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Page 5


  A man’s limp body fell from the tower. At first Taske couldn’t make sense of it, until he saw the blood streaking the slack face. An instant later the body slammed into the walkway railing before it flipped and disappeared over the side.

  It seemed that the gunman had taken one final life—his own.

  Charlotte closed her eyes and turned her face against his chest. She didn’t speak, but her whole body shook violently.

  He stroked her back as he stared at the now-empty tower. Although the pain searing his back and side had yet to abate, he felt a sense of overwhelming relief along with a terrible pity.

  “I need to check the others,” Charlotte said as she stepped away from him, her voice still raw with emotion. “Can you give me a hand and get the gurney from my rig?”

  He wanted to do nothing more than slide to the ground and stay wherever he landed, but he nodded and limped over with her to where her partner and the other victims lay. Every step sent a new jolt of misery along his spine and tore at the edges of the wound in his side. As she pulled her tags from her jacket he hobbled past her to open the back doors of the ambulance. He had to pause for a moment to catch his breath before he unbuckled the strap holding the gurney in place. Pulling it out of the back of the rig almost caused him to fall atop it, and he braced his hands against the side rail as he fought back the pain.

  She has enough to deal with now, Taske thought, staring down at his whitened knuckles. I can wait until more help arrives.

  Years of stringent self-discipline allowed him to move through the pain until it subsided enough for him to breathe again. With some difficulty he reached down to lock in place the wheels on the extending frame.

  Charlotte appeared on the other side of the gurney. If anything, she looked even paler than before. “Sam. ”

  “Where do you—” He stopped as he saw the man behind her, and the rifle he held pointed at the back of her head. He was the same man who had been shooting from the tower. Taske was so shocked to see him he said exactly what he thought. “You threw someone else off the bridge. ”

  “Shut up. ” The man jerked his chin at the open back of the ambulance. “Inside. ”

  Before Taske could reply Charlotte said, “Do what he says. ”

  He pushed the gurney inside and used the open door to hoist himself into the back of the rig. The effort sent him to his knees, but he recovered quickly.

  Charlotte followed, turning around at once to face the gunman. “Please stop this. Leave us here; we won’t try to stop you. You can still get away. ”

  “No one escapes the master. ” The gunman’s lips parted, showing beautiful white teeth that had been filed down to sharp points in a shark’s grin. He slammed the doors shut.

  Charlotte grabbed the inside handle, jerking on it. “He’s jammed it,” she said to Taske as she spun around, scanning the interior. She went still as the door to the front cab opened and closed and the engine started. “No, he can’t—Damn it. ” She pushed past Taske and went to the sliding window, pounding on it with one fist. “Hey, listen to me. You can’t do this; those people out there are in—”

  Something hissed, and she coughed and fell back against Taske.

  He looked down at her chest, expecting to see blood and a bullet wound, not smoke pouring from a small metal canister in her lap. He held his breath and bent over, trying to grab it, but it rolled off her leg and disappeared under the gurney.

  Taske’s eyes burned as he dragged Charlotte to the back of the rig, where he heaved himself against the doors. Metal dented and groaned, but they remained locked. He slammed his shoulder into them until white fire enveloped his spine, felling him as it forced out the breath he was holding.

  Taske coughed uncontrollably, but somehow managed to hold on to Charlotte’s limp form. He dragged her close, trying to focus his bleary gaze on her still features. Even if the gunman didn’t kill them both, Samuel knew from the warm wetness he now felt seeping from his side how unlikely it was that he would ever see her face again.

  His last thought was of how utterly he had failed her. I wish I had been stronger, Charlotte. Then I might have saved both of us. . . .

  Chapter 2

  The CEO of the most powerful biotech corporation in the world looked down the length of the conference table at the faces of his department heads. None were fool enough to avoid Jonah Genaro’s gaze or show their emotions, but he could smell the fear hovering, an invisible, quivering cloud over their heads.

  “I have reviewed all the reports regarding the incidents in Denver and New York. ” He let the stack of files in his hands drop onto the table. “All they tell me is that this company has now failed three times to secure acquisitions vital to the successful development of the transerum. ”

  One of his attorneys discreetly adjusted the knot in his tie. “Mr. Genaro, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to divert unwanted attention from the media and the federal authorities. I strongly advise that we consider a fresh approach to . . . acquiring . . . these particular assets for the project. ”

  “I agree,” Eliot Kirchner, Genaro’s chief geneticist, said. “We’ve known for some time that a select group is somehow communicating with one another, and we’ve seen evidence of cooperative behavior. They could be organizing. ”

  “I disagree. The last thing these people want is for anyone to know what they are,” Don Delaporte, Genaro’s security chief, said. “They’re not going to start a members-only club. ”

  “Then how do you explain the losses here in Atlanta?” Kirchner demanded. “Bellamy had help escaping capture. So did the female shifter in New York. ”

  “We know Andrew Riordan interfered in the Bellamy case,” Delaporte said, referring to Genaro’s former technical supervisor. “We were unable to uncover any connection between him and Gerald King, who enabled the shifter to escape capture in New York. ”

  “Excuse me,” Evan Shores, the head of accounting, said.

  Delaporte ignored him. “Nor was Riordan in any way involved with Tina Segreta’s operation in Denver. You’re seeing conspiracies everywhere, Doctor. ”

  “Excuse me. ” Shores used a too-loud voice, and cringed a little as everyone turned to stare at him. “I’m sorry, but there is someone who was peripherally involved in two of the incidents. ”

  Genaro sat down. “Who is it?”

  “Uh, an antiques dealer named Samuel Taske, sir. ” The accountant sat up a little straighter. “Before he died, Gerald King appointed him executor of his estate, as well as the legal guardian of his teenage daughter. ”

  “King’s daughter was already cleared,” Kirchner snapped. “She’s too young to fit the profile. ”

  “It’s not that, sir,” Shores assured him. “Samuel Taske also flew to Denver the day after you and Ms. Segreta arrived there. ” He pulled a sheet from his file. “I have the hotel records. ”

  “What do we know about Taske?” Genaro asked.

  “We ran a standard background check on him when he assumed custody of the King girl,” Delaporte said. “He’s the son of Davis Taske, the discount-supermarket-chain mogul. As the sole heir, Samuel Taske inherited fifteen billion dollars from his family’s estate, which he has since doubled, mainly through the acquisition and sale of rare art and antiquities. He maintains a controlling interest in Taskecorp, but continues to work as an antiques dealer out of Boston. Tax records show that over the years Taske sold several works of art to King. Taske also gave the eulogy at King’s funeral and called him his ‘good friend. ’ ”

  Genaro turned to the accountant. “Why was Taske in Denver?”

  “I can’t say, sir,” Shores admitted, “but his financial records show that he travels frequently around the country. ”

  “That’s not unusual for a man who buys and sells antiques,” Delaporte said. “Taske is well-known in his business, and he’s never tried to avoid publicity. Quite the contrary; we were abl
e to access dozens of photos of him from newspapers and trade magazines. ”

  Genaro, who knew the value of hiding in plain sight, wasn’t convinced. “Can you tell me where he was when the New York operation fell apart?”

  Shores consulted his records. “He flew to New York a week before Gerald King died. ”

  “No doubt to find the daughter,” his security chief said. “She ran away from home just after King was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After the old man died, Taske was the one who found her. ”

  “And this good friend of Gerald King’s just happened to go to Denver at the exact same time we lost two of our acquisitions. ” Genaro sat down. “Mr. Delaporte, I want a complete investigation performed on Samuel Taske. Find out everything about him they don’t print in antiques magazines. Mr. Shores, I want to see a complete breakdown on his personal and business financial records. ”

  Shores nodded eagerly. “How far should I go back, sir?”

  “Birth, Mr. Shores. ” He regarded the rest of his supervisors. “The rest of you gather the peripheral data. I want to see lists of known associates, employee rosters, medical records, school transcripts, every single thing this man has done since he was removed from the womb. I expect prelim reports by close of business today. Now get out. ”

  All of his employees except one quickly left the conference room. Kirchner lingered by the door and, once the last supervisor passed him, closed it.

  Genaro didn’t glance at him. “I am not in the mood for one of your tantrums, Eliot. ”

  “Then it’s fortunate that I’m not planning to have one. ” He walked over and placed a slim jewel case on the table in front of Genaro. “I received this last night from the lab in Denver. It’s all the data they were able to recover from Segreta’s laptop. ”

  Genaro frowned. “Give it to technical for analysis. ”

  “I don’t think you’ll want them to analyze her final video phone conversation with you. ” He sat down in the chair beside him. “You had her sedate me and search me on the plane. Why?”

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