Gayle Lynds
 
"Mesmerized is a scorching, action-packed read. Gayle Lynds proves the espionage thriller will continue to excite and fascinate us for a long time to come.”
— Robert Ludlum
 
“Magnificent fiction… impossible to put down... edgy and enthralling.”
— BookPage
 
“Wow! If nonstop action, international intrigue, and almost unbearable suspense are your ticket, you’re in for one helluva ride. Imagine Ken Follett, Helen MacInnes, and Robert Ludlum rolled into one, and you have Gayle Lynds.”
— Tom Savage
 
“… gripping insider views, nonstop pacing, and a cliffhanger ending… Fascinating!”
— Katherine Neville
 
 
 
   
 
Mesmerized
 
Mesmerized
 
"A hard-charging, high-concept thriller... Mesmerized will keep you just that."
— The Wall Street Journal
"Engrossing... Every twist and turn brings new surprises."
— The Los Angeles Times

The Story

Gayle Lynds delivers a modern-day spy story of passion and treachery, packed with authentic detail, politics, history, and romance. From the corridors of the FBI's Hoover building to the dangerous streets of the new Moscow, MESMERIZED will take you on the roller-coaster ride of a lifetime, climaxing in a great showdown at the home American democracy itself.

After a heart transplant saves brilliant Washington attorney Beth Convey, she inexplicably acquires new tastes and abilities, and finds herself haunted by strange dreams - or are they memories? Her search for answers leads Beth to former FBI agent turned reporter Jeff Hammond. Together they hunt down the truth and discover top-secret information that could re-ignite the Cold War.

Prologue

She was a star.

Queen of the Cosmos.

She was Beth Convey, killing machine with compassion.

She was in room 311 of Superior Court for the District of Columbia. The air was stale, stagnant in fact, but that was to be expected. Any courtroom where a high-profile trial was drawing to a close meant too many days with the doors closed, too many hours of body heat, too much anger, disgust, and sublimated violence for the air to be fresh. The overhead fluorescent lights gave off a relentless glare, and there were no windows that offered the relief of the outdoors; today was a blustery March afternoon. This third-floor room in the thirty-year-old courthouse was a ventilation-challenged, claustrophobic, wood-lined sarcophagus.

Still, the packed audience gave no indication they were unhappy with, or even noticed, the conditions. They sat silent, riveted, because hundreds of millions of dollars were riding on Beth Convey’s cross-examination in this headline-making divorce trial, and no one—particularly the press—wanted to miss a word.

Beth turned to the judge. “Permission to approach the witness, Your Honor.” She was known for her ice-cold calm, which she felt she had probably inherited. After all, she was the daughter of Jack-the-Knife Convey, Los Angeles’s top criminal defense attorney. Annoyed, she realized she was sweating.

Judge Eric Schultz was a large man with a gravelly voice and thick eyebrows. He gave her a sharp look. Beth had kept the witness on the stand all day, and there was an edge to the judge’s voice as he said, “Very well. But move your questioning along, Ms. Convey.”
“Yes, sir.”

She marched forward, her pumps soundless on the carpeting. Behind her she could feel the worried gaze of her client, Michelle Philmalee, while before her sat the object of her cross-examination: Michelle’s husband, industrialist Joel Mabbit Philmalee. A red flush showed above his starched white shirt collar, and anger flickered in his eyes.
Pretrial, his lawyers had made what they called a “sensible” settlement offer of $50 million, a fraction of the value of his privately held corporation. It was insultingly low, and Michelle had refused it. Which had forced Beth into a tactic that could easily fail: She must make Joel Philmalee’s violent temper betray him in open trial, which was why she had kept him on the stand so long.

She had thought she had left all this behind. Although she had begun practice as a family-law attorney, she now specialized in international law. With her knowledge of Russian and Eastern European politics, her ability to speak a useful amount of Russian and Polish, and her hard-nosed business sense, she had done so well negotiating and cutting red tape in former Communist countries on behalf of Michelle Philmalee that Michelle insisted Beth represent her in the divorce, too.

Inwardly, Beth sighed. She would have passed the divorce case on to one of the firm’s other lawyers except that the managing partner had weighed in on the situation with an emphatic “absolutely not.” The firm—Edwards & Bonnett—was determined to keep Michelle’s business, which meant keeping her happy. If Michelle wanted Beth, she would have her, and if Beth were a really good girl and won a healthy settlement package for Michelle, her reward would be a leap onto the fast track to partnership. No fool, Beth had gone to trial.

She stopped five feet from Joel Philmalee. A strong scent of expensive cologne wafted from him as he adjusted himself and glowered. His rage was building. She repressed a smile—and felt a rush of nausea.

She inhaled, forcing the nausea away. She made her voice flat, harsh. “Isn’t it true you gave the hotel chain to Mrs. Philmalee to manage in the beginning because you considered it a minor investment, and you thought she’d fail? Yes or no.”

He looked straight into her eyes. “I assumed—“

She tapped her foot. ”Yes or no?”

He shot a look of hatred across the courtroom to Michelle. “No!”

“Isn’t it true you tried to fire her, but she convinced you to wait for the fourth- quarter report, which confirmed the success of her expansion strategy? Yes or no.”

“I suppose you could say—“

”Yes or no?”

“Never! Is that good enough? No! Never!”

Beth knew he was lying, but she could not force him to change his testimony here. What was important was that the judge had heard her raise the questions and that she was making Joel Philmalee furious at her. To him she had become yet another pushy, insolent, aggravating female, just like his wife.

Beth had presented testimony, minutes of meetings, and financial analyses that showed Michelle had often played the deciding role in the Group’s growth. Now she hoped to add a convincer without ever saying it outright: Joel was a wife-beater. There were rumors about it, and Beth knew they were true. The problem was Michelle wanted no official confirmation that she had been the victim of domestic violence, not even for a half billion dollars in assets. The battlefields of commerce had taught her it was far better their war over a financial agreement look like a contest between two titans of industry. In business, Michelle believed, she must never look weak.

Beth agreed, and although the strategy had made her job far harder, it was their only hope. Unlike community-property states, the District of Columbia made no assumption there would be a fifty-fifty split in divorce, which was what Michelle wanted. Instead, its laws allowed judges broad discretion.

Beth fought back another wave of nausea and plunged ahead. “Mr. Philmalee, isn’t it true that your wife bought and sold, sat on boards of directors, traveled extensively to evaluate properties, and created Philmalee International completely on her own? Yes or no.”

He leaned forward. “No! She did everything under my orders. I’m Philmalee Group!”
“Please confine yourself to yes or no, Mr. Philmalee.” She could not seem to catch her breath. Her heart was racing again. Last week, her internist had diagnosed stress as the cause of her periodic breathlessness and told her she must slow down. Only thirty-two years old and already she had to ease back on her work? Nonsense. This trial was too important.

Joel Philmalee turned angrily to the judge. “Do I have to put up with this, Your Honor?”
Judge Schultz shook his head. “You were given ample opportunity to settle.”
“But my ingrate wife wants half my goddamn company!” He shot Michelle a look of scorching rage.

Michelle tightened her lips, her face grim. She was a tiny woman, compact and fashionable in a quilted Chanel suit and red-rimmed Armani eyeglasses. She gave no evidence of the turmoil and loneliness of which Beth had caught glimpses. Michelle’s isolation was something Beth understood. She and Michelle had made their work the centers of their lives. Beth had never regretted it, and from what she had observed, neither had Michelle.
Beth forged on: “The operative word for you is our, sir. Yours and Mrs. Philmalee’s. ‘Our company.’ The Group. You both worked—” She stifled a gasp. A dull pain gripped her chest, and sweat slid hot and sticky beneath her suit. No. She could not be sick now. She was so close to winning—

Joel’s hands knotted. “My wife didn’t do jack shit!”

The judge spoke up, “Mr. Philmalee, I’ve warned you about your language. Control yourself. Next time I’ll hold you in contempt.”

With an effort, Beth forced her voice to remain calm. “She did everything. Isn’t it true that without her you’d have nothing? She gave you the money to start. You took credit for her ideas—”

“Objection, Your Honor!” thundered Joel’s attorney.

“Overruled,” the judge said firmly. “Continue, Counselor.”

Beth pressed on. “She planned tactics and told you how to implement them. Take the Wheelwright transaction. Oak Tree Plaza. Philmalee Gardens—”

“No! No! No!” Joel Philmalee jumped up. The flush that had been hovering just beneath his ears spread in a red tide across his leathery cheeks.

The judge hammered his gavel.

“Even Philmalee International—” Beth persisted, herself risking being held in contempt.
At which point Joel Philmalee had had enough. “You bitch!” He leaped over the rail straight at Beth.

Beth’s heart seemed to explode in pain. It felt as if her rib cage would shatter. The pain was black and ragged and sent jolts of electricity to her brain. She tried to take a breath, to stay on her feet, to remain conscious. She had been an achiever all her life. Michelle deserved half of the Philmalee Group. Beth needed to go on fighting—
Instead, she collapsed to the carpet.

Joel Philmalee did not notice. He bolted past her toward his wife.

Her little face twisted in terror, Michelle whirled so quickly to escape that her glasses flew off. Screams and shouts erupted from the audience. Cursing, Joel grabbed Michelle from behind.

Just as his hands closed around her throat, a dozen journalists in the audience seemed to come alive. They cascaded down the aisle. Within seconds, two had pulled him off Michelle.

Courthouse security rushed into the room, and as order began to reassert itself and Joel Philmalee was handcuffed and forced through a side door, someone noticed Beth Convey was still lying where she had fallen.

“Did she get hurt?” the judge asked, alarmed. “Check her, Kaeli!”

The bailiff sprinted to the unconscious woman, dropped to his haunches, and felt for her pulse. Frantically, he adjusted his fingers. “Nothing, sir.”

As the courtroom fell into a stunned hush, he leaned lower, his cheek an inch from her mouth, waiting for a breath. He stayed there a long time.

At last, he looked up at the judge. His eyes were large with shock. “She’s dead. I’m sorry, Judge. I don’t see how, but Ms. Convey’s dead.”

PART ONE

Chapter One

A month later, on a fine, moonlit night in April, a Washington, D.C., 911 operator took a call at 10:12: A motorcycle accident had just occurred in Rock Creek Park, apparently one man injured. The caller gave directions.

Within four minutes, paramedics and the police arrived on the scene, just as a new Lexus was pulling away. The Lexus turned sharply back onto the shoulder and screeched to a stop, its rear wheels sending gravel pinging against a metal guardrail. A distinguished-looking gentleman in an expensive business suit jumped out of the driver’s seat and hurried back through the nighttime shadows to where the paramedics were bending over the fallen motorcyclist.

His face distraught, the Lexus driver’s words poured out with a slight accent: "I am thankful someone called you. Can you help my friend? I did not know what to do, and I have no cellular phone, so I thought I should drive for help. I was late, yes? I was hurrying home to meet him. Then—terrible!—I saw him and the motorcycle lying beside the road." His voice rose. "He was always riding that motorcycle. I told him and told him to wear a helmet, but he never would. He was unconscious when I found him. Is he going to be all right?" He took a deep breath. His lips trembled as he watched the paramedics lift the victim onto a gurney. He looked like a diplomat or a wealthy businessman, a fact that was not lost upon the paramedics.

The lead medic said politely, "Please move out of the way, sir. He’s got a serious head trauma, and we’ve got to get him to the hospital. You can follow us, okay? What’s his name?"

"Ogust. Mikhail Ogust," the man said eagerly. "Which hospital will you take him to? He and I have known each other many years, across many continents. You would not believe-–"

The paramedic nodded. Obviously the fellow was having a hard time dealing with his friend’s injuries. As he helped load the unconscious victim into the ambulance, he told the man the name and address of the hospital.

At the same time, a policeman who had been measuring the skid mark on the street approached. "I’d like to ask you a few questions, sir."

The gentleman turned. "Oh. Oh, yes. Of course. Certainly."

As the ambulance sped off, beacons flashing, siren wailing, the policeman wrote down the man’s name, asked him to relate what he had seen, and told him they would try to locate the Good Samaritan who had phoned in the accident. It looked as if no other vehicle had been involved.

The moment the policeman released him, the man climbed into his Lexus and drove straight to the hospital. There he discovered Mikhail Ogust had been pronounced dead on arrival. Everyone was very polite and considerate, aware Mikhail Ogust had been his dear friend.

The man bowed his head. Two tears slid down his cheeks. The nurses offered their sympathies and told him to go home, that there was nothing more he could do. He nodded, unable to speak, and trudged from the hospital.

A half hour later he arrived at his multimillion-dollar estate in Chevy Chase, set deep in thick woods and hidden from the road. Considering the enormity of the day’s events and the radical action he had been forced to take as a consequence, he should have been weary to the bone. Instead, he was exhilarated.

At the house’s side entrance, the one most convenient to the garage, he tapped his code into the security system, opened the door, and strode through the kitchen and down the hall toward his den and home office. As he passed his bedroom, he caught a glimpse of himself in the long mirror of his closet.

He stopped in the doorway and appraised what he saw: A handsome older man in a dark Saville Row suit and silk tie. He moved his wrist, and his gold cufflink and Rolex watch caught the hall light and glittered. His face seemed full and prosperous, the chin lifted as if life’s wealth were his due. His carriage was not haughty so much as positive, certain. He gave every appearance of solidity, a man of his time who would offer no surprises and could be utterly relied upon. It was the image he cultivated in this new world. The once-powerful official; now the successful businessman; the gentleman who might be a wealthy philanthropist, certainly a pillar of the community.

Satisfied, he continued down the corridor, allowing himself to grow taller, straighter, thinner, more athletic. To do this, he stripped away the inward pretenses of his current character. Like any accomplished actor, he had no need to stare into a mirror to see how this changed him as he knew exactly what he really looked like. More importantly, he understood who he was, despite the different appearances he presented to different audiences. This was a reality he allowed only those closest to him to witness. They were few, his true friends and associates, and always had been. Fewer every year. A man who did great things could not have friends.

He smiled to himself as he walked into his den, picked up the telephone, and dialed. As soon as his associate answered, he spoke in rapid Russian: "Da, it’s me. The fools believed it all. Everything’s fine. We can proceed."

###

The heart pounded against her ribs like a mighty fist. Its insistent beat drove her to swim up from the darkness. For a moment, terror shook her, and she had no idea where she was. She fought confusion, forced herself to pay attention: She could hear the whoosh and click of many machines. The air was cool, and her nose stung with the smell of antiseptic. . . .

A man’s voice penetrated her grogginess: "Ms. Convey? Wake up. You’re in the cardiac intensive care unit now. Do you know your name? Ms. Convey?"

Her words were a whisper. "Sure I do. But it’s a secret. Shhhhhh. . . . You have to tell me yours first."

The transplant surgeon chuckled. "Travis Jackson here. Remember? You came through the surgery with flying colors, Beth. You’ve got a healthy new heart. Open your eyes. What do you think about all this?"

She was aware of pain muted by morphine. She pushed away the feelings of disorientation . . . and concentrated on her chest: The cadence of her old heart—erratic and sometimes no more than a frail pulse—was gone, replaced by a beat so strong it seemed almost to thunder. Exhausted joy swept through her, and she lay motionless, smiling. She had a new heart.

She opened her eyes and let out a long stream of air, aware of how—suddenly— she could breathe easily again. "Love this heart, Travis. It’s got rhythm. I want to keep it forever."

"That’s what I like to hear." He was in his sixties. His face was lined, and he smiled down at her through rimless eyeglasses perched on the end of a slightly hooked nose. "It’s a healthy heart, a first-rate match for you. I didn’t even need to give it an electric shock to get it started. And your first biopsy shows no sign of rejection."

Her head was clearing, the grogginess abating as a sober awareness of what had happened took hold.

"How can I ever thank you enough?"

"I know it seems trite, but the answer is by living a long and healthy life. That’s what I care about, and that’s my reward." His voice was warm. "You’re young. We’ve caught this thing so fast the rest of your body hasn’t had time to deteriorate. I expect you to have a natural life span."

"I’m so sorry about my donor’s death. But I’m so very grateful, too. . . ."

"I know. Of course you are."

Her smile faded as the morphine swept her back toward unconsciousness. As her eyelids closed, the surgeon studied her, feeling the awe and triumph that kept him excited about this grueling area of medicine. A month ago, Beth Convey had been barely alive, rushed in from the courthouse by paramedics, who had used a portable defibrillator to restart her heart. Because she had no history of heart problems, her internist had been sloppy; he had wrongly diagnosed stress as the cause of her shortness of breath and racing heart, when the reality was that her ventricles were diseased and she was in end-stage heart failure, probably from a viral infection she and her internist had both brushed off the previous winter as a lingering cold.

He remembered how pale she had been when he had first examined her. Ghostly white, really. But that was not the worst of it. As the weeks passed, her skin turned a bilious yellow, her mind grew confused, and she had weakened to the point where she had trouble chewing food. All the result of a heart that could no longer pump adequate amounts of blood and oxygen.

But now, just hours after surgery, their conversation showed her mind was functioning again. And, too, there was the color of her skin, now a healthy peach. To outsiders, this was evidence of the so-called miracle of a heart transplant, while to him it was simply what happened when everything went right.

He smiled with relief, thinking that she seemed especially alive, vital, as she dozed in the hospital bed. She was tall—five-foot-ten—and slim. A beautiful woman with a straight nose, sculpted cheekbones, and a crown of golden hair who, judging by the way she had looked when she had arrived, wore little makeup and downplayed her attractiveness. The doctor found that intriguing—a woman who wanted to be judged by something other than her beauty.

###

The cardiac ICU always smelled of disinfectant. Beth had grown so accustomed to the odor over the past three days since her surgery that she hardly noticed it. She was thinking about this because the double doors had just swung open, and the odor of percolating coffee was floating in, making her salivate.

Then she flinched. A stab of fear shot through her, and she tensed. Surprised, she stared at what she told herself was simply an odd sight: Two hospital aides dressed completely in surgical green were rolling an old exercise bicycle into her state-of-the-art intensive care room. But there was something about the first aide that had startled her. Made her a little afraid. She studied him, his assured movements, the aggressive shoulders. Now she remembered him from before her surgery. His name was Dave, and he had a gentle touch. He had never been anything but kind.

Her fear made no sense. She forced herself to smile. "You’ve got to be kidding, Dave. An exercise bike? It’s for me, isn’t it?" She continued to study him, still feeling uneasy.

"Yes, ma’am. It surely is for you."

As he and the other aide locked it into place, her doctor, Travis Jackson, arrived. "Your new biopsies look good." She had convinced him to give her a report as soon as he arrived to see her. Patience was not her strong suit. "No sign of rejection or infection. Temperature, pulse, respiration are normal. Everything’s on track."

"Thank God," she breathed. She eyed the bike suspiciously. "Dave says this is for me."

"Remember the bargain: You get a new heart, but in exchange you have to take excellent care of it. Come on. The bike’s been disinfected. We’ll help you."

She was incredulous. "Now? But it’s only been three days. I mean—"

"I know. Everyone thinks it’s going to take weeks to get strong enough to begin exercising. Maybe even months. Not true. Three days is standard operating procedure for transplants that go well, and yours has gone exceedingly well. Come on. Up with you. This is the beginning of your daily workouts."

Nervously she eased her legs over the side of the bed. The second aide put sanitized tennis shoes on her feet. She stood up, tethered by hoses and tubes and strapped up with electrodes and radios that would signal if her heart faltered. She had a long surgical wound down her chest, hidden beneath her hospital gown. Sharp pains radiated from it and then dulled, assuaged by morphine.

The doctor took one arm, and Dave was suddenly at her side to take the other. Again she flinched. She was definitely acting strangely. A cold draft shot up her naked backside. She struggled to reach behind to close her gown.

She sighed. "Oh, the indignity of it all."

"Reminds you you’re alive." Dr. Jackson chuckled. "That’s not too bad a payoff."

They helped her to the bicycle. Even the simple act of walking two yards was a production, but she was surprised at how strong she felt. Once she was astride the bike, Dave headed for the door. Her gaze followed him, relieved to see him go.

"Show me what you can do," the doctor said.

She pedaled slowly, and sweat broke out on her face. "Isn’t this enough?" she panted. "You want me to bike up Mount Everest in my condition? Have you forgotten I almost died?"

"You did die. You’re doing fine." His gaze alternated between studying her and checking his wristwatch. "Okay, stop. That’s enough."

Sweating, she sat back and let her feet circle to a stop. She watched as he analyzed the effects on her heart. At last, she gave in to her nervousness and asked, "How are my readings?"

"Good. Actually, beautiful. If I were less modest, I’d congratulate myself."

"I appreciate your modesty. It becomes you."

He laughed. "My wife says something similar." His glasses caught the glare from the fluorescent lights and glinted as he wrote on his clipboard.

"I know it seems too soon to ask, but I’d like to know what I’m facing." She hesitated. It seemed to her that she had arisen from the dead like a phoenix, and it all had made her feel oddly, uncomfortably transformed. A sense of longing for her familiar past swept over her. "When can I go back to work?"

"You miss it, don’t you? Well, I don’t blame you. I’d feel the same. But first we’ve got to make sure all your medicines are regulated, and you’ve got to get on an exercise-food-sleep regimen so you can regain your strength and we can fine-tune for future problems. That way, when you go back to the office, you’ll be in great shape, and we won’t have to worry about organ rejection, infection, or any of that sort of unpleasantness." He gave her a smile of understanding. "That means you’ve got to figure on at least a year for recuperation."

She was shocked. "A year? My firm’s going to forget who I am!"

"I doubt it. From what I hear, you’re something of a hotshot."

She did not contradict him, but he obviously knew little about high-stakes Washington law firms. The city was littered with the corpses of last year’s young hotshots.

As he and the second aide helped her off the bicycle and back into bed, the doctor asked, "Is there anything you’d especially like now?"

She nodded. "A drink. Vodka. Stolichnaya." She hesitated. Where had that come from?

The doctor laughed. "Vodka’s a little much for now. Besides, I thought you were a wine drinker."

Puzzled, she added lamely, "You’re right. I guess I was just thinking we should celebrate with something stronger. I’ll have fruit juice. Mango." She no longer drank hard alcohol of any kind. The last time she’d had vodka was in law school, when she had been an aficionado of it, but as the surgeon and aide left, she could taste its white-hot fire in her mouth, as fresh as if she had just downed a shot.

Chapter Two

The night was black, and she was running, sweating, her feet pounding as she searched for an address. When she found the numbers on a wrought-iron mail box, she stopped and stared up a stone walk that led past a weeping willow tree to a long, ranch-style house and detached garage. Panting, she studied the house: The dark windows seemed like black holes, and the expensive property gave off an eerie air of abandonment.

Warily, she ran up the drive. As she approached the buildings, the garage door rose, and she heard the engine of a motorcycle roar to life. The great machine rolled out, riderless, and stopped erect, bathed in moonlight. Like a Robert Rauschenberg sculpture, it waited poised in perfect balance, inviting speculation. Its chrome gleamed. Exhaust puffed out from its tailpipe in a shimmering cloud. For perhaps thirty seconds she stared, captured by the odd sight of the powerful machine, as proud as if its favorite rider were aboard.

Then with the blink of an eye, she found herself astride it. Instinctively she grabbed the handlebars, and the motorcycle tore off down the drive. As she fought to control it, a man appeared in front of her. Standing stock-still, he stared at her, then he shouted something and ran.

The motorcycle continued its headlong rush, now directed at him. She screamed. She could not stop the bike. She could not turn it. Its motor pulsing, the big motorcycle slammed into the man’s back.

She screamed again. The impact hurled him up in a backward somersault toward the black sky. She could not tear her horrified gaze from his pain-filled face. He had a broad forehead, a snub nose, and a shock of gray hair that flew wild. Sickened, she watched him crash head-first onto the pavement.

She awoke in a pool of cold sweat, shuddering, feeling guilty. The nightmare had left her with a metallic taste in her mouth. She knew she had killed that poor man. Where had it come from, this awful dream that seemed so real?

###

She was beginning not to recognize parts of herself. The hospital aide, Dave, still made her nervous, although he had yet to say or do anything that could remotely be considered threatening to her or anyone else. But then, she found herself watching many people suspiciously now, particularly men, as if she were the sole defender of a castle under siege, or perhaps held prisoner there, awaiting torture. Her disquiet made no sense. It was irrational, and she kept reminding herself she had nothing to fear.

There were other aberrations. Although she had always been a coffee drinker, now she yearned for cups of strong black tea and drank several every day. She could not seem to eat enough fresh, sliced tomatoes, and she wanted them served with both salt and sugar. The dietician had laughed and asked where she had acquired such an unusual taste. She had no answer.

One day a nurse stopped in the doorway of her room, carrying a tall Saks Fifth Avenue shopping bag. The pewter-colored bag had the exclusive chain’s name printed in white letters on the side, familiar from a hundred shopping expeditions of her own. From her bed, she could not see what the bag contained.

"Good morning, Ms. Convey." The nurse had a cheery face with pink cheeks and bright blue eyes. Her manner was brusque but pleasant. "I have something for you." The bag was clasped in her right hand, her right shoulder lower than the other, indicating the bag’s contents were heavy.

Cold sweat drenched Beth. . . . A city street at twilight, the pavement wet and shiny from a recent rain. Ornate iron lamps cast wavering pools of light, which a woman wearing a long coat, a floppy hat, and battered tennis shoes ambled along through. She, too, carried a large, bulging shopping bag that was obviously heavy. While she blended with other pedestrians, a man hurried behind to keep her in sight. Although frightened, she never looked back. She turned nonchalantly into a busy bus station.

Before the man who followed could reach the station door, she had increased her speed and pushed into the women’s restroom. Inside a stall, she swiftly took a straight pin from her hat and flushed the toilet to cover the noise as she deflated the three balloons in the shopping bag, put there to give the appearance of bulk. As she kicked off her sneakers, she removed the only other contents from the bag—a pair of new pumps. She stepped into them and, with practiced skill, yanked off her hat and long coat and stuffed them into the bag. The city’s poor frequented this station, so she tucked the bag behind the stool, as if it were a donation for them.

Outside, she washed her hands and looked into the mirror. Without the hat, and now wearing the fashionable coat that had been hidden beneath the long overcoat, her makeup impeccable, her wig in place, she was a completely different woman. Except she was no woman at all. He had used this disguise many times.

Perfectly balanced on his pumps, he waited until the next woman left the restroom. Following, he asked her the time, and they entered the lobby of the teeming station as if they were two old friends, chatting about the weather, while covertly his gaze scanned all around.

Although not surprised, he was relieved when the killer’s gaze settled on him, dismissed him, then resumed searching for his quarry. His cover—the woman beside him—was still talking. He said a polite good-bye and walked casually to the door and out into the safety of the night. . . .

"Ms. Convey?" The nurse was staring worriedly into her eyes. "Are you all right?"

She swallowed. Blinked. "Of course. Sure, I’m fine. Just a little day-dreaming, that’s all. You said you have something in your shopping bag for me." She hesitated. "It’s not balloons, is it?"

The nurse straightened and laughed. "Balloons? No, no. What a silly idea. No, I heard you liked to read. We just had a donation of books, and I thought you might like to borrow one. We have all kinds." As she pulled out volumes to display, she said, "Western, romances, mysteries, spy thrillers. Name your poison."

Beth sighed, ran her fingers through her hair, and gave a nervous laugh. She was an idiot. A paranoid fool. "Yes, a good book to read. Give me a mystery. Just what I need. A mystery with an ending that explains everything."

###

After two weeks in intensive care, she was transferred to a sunny private room. Flowers began arriving. One very large arrangement was from a very grateful Michelle Philmalee. Every time Beth looked at it, she grinned: The judge had issued his ruling, giving Michelle far more than Beth had asked—majority control of the Philmalee Group. In the end, Joel Philmalee’s uncontrollable rage had cost him his case, just as she had hoped. He was out, and Michelle was now—despite a few glitches here and there—in charge of the entire, multibillion-dollar Philmalee Group.

It was a stunning courtroom triumph, which made Beth even more impatient to return to Edwards & Bonnett so she could collect on the managing partner’s promise of an accelerated timetable to partnership.

It was not just the money she wanted, although that was important. She had heard others make the same claim and had not believed them—after all, a guaranteed $450,000 a year base salary, plus bonuses, was hard to ignore. But in this uncertain life, where one could not trust even one’s own heart to keep beating, where one’s mind seemed no longer under control, the firm was more than ever her anchor. There on Sixteenth Street, just four blocks from the White House, she had known who she was.

She gave her clients twenty-four-hour care whenever necessary. Instead of tennis or dates with friends, she had been known to spend a rare free weekend investigating a legal question posed by one of Edwards & Bonnett’s overseas offices, for which she could not bill or receive any sort of official credit, since it was a professional courtesy. Other attorneys twisted themselves into intellectual pretzels to find reasons to avoid such requests. She, on the other hand, had enjoyed the research.

And then there were her files, which were always up to date, as if they were children whose daily routine meant security. At Edwards & Bonnett she had invested everything, including her heart-felt commitment. Which was perhaps why she had such a high success rate—she won ninety percent of her cases—and why she attracted the kind of wealthy and powerful clients who were the backbone of the firm. Considering all this, she figured it was time for payback: She had earned partnership. She wanted it. She wanted to belong.

But now she was worried. Because she would be absent a full year, Zach Housley—the managing partner—had reassigned her clients to other attorneys in the firm. It was the right thing to do, of course, since it took care of both the clients and the business.

Yet if enough of her clients decided to stay with their new lawyers, her base of power might no longer exist. As she mulled this, something inside her seemed to shift. She had always had an even, calm disposition, but now anger exploded through her. She shook with it. Sweat broke out on her forehead. She clenched her jaw and hugged herself, fighting back a sudden urge for violence.

###

It was the dark, early hours of morning, and she was carrying an old Soviet assault rifle, an AK-47. It felt comfortable in her arms, reassuring. Nearby, the sound of gunfire split the quiet night air like a long burst of thunder.

As she dove for cover, voices shouted from the shadows, and this time they were understandable. Surprised, she realized they were speaking Russian. She tamped down her fear and forced herself to listen: They were warning each other—Yuri, Mikhail, Alexei, Ivan, Anatoli—and arguing about who should make the phone call that could save them. They yelled a number over and over—703 . . . 703 . . . 703. . . . It was a Virginia area code, but she could not make out the rest of it. She pressed her palms to her ears, trying to stop the voices.

And awoke abruptly, her hands over her ears as she breathed in nervous pants. She sat upright in her hospital bed and shook her head to clear it. She began to wonder. This dream had been clear—it was about Russians speaking Russian. The names, the weapons . . . all Russian. And she was one of them. She shuddered, trying to understand whether there was some meaning she had missed.

That afternoon, Dr. Jackson arrived to discuss her home-care program. She was grateful to see him. She gazed at his reassuring, lined face with the slightly hooked nose and the glasses perched precariously on the end. And then she looked over his shoulder.

"Where’s Dave?" she asked. "I thought he was going to come with you to show me some exercise charts." Dave had been the aide with the assured movements and aggressive shoulders who had spooked her soon after surgery. Since then, she had forced away her suspicions and grown to look forward to his many small acts of kindness.

The doctor sighed. "We had to let him go. I’d forgotten about the charts. I’ll have someone else bring them."

"Let him go? He was fired? But why?"

"You liked him. Most everyone did, and that was part of the problem. I’m sorry, but you might as well know he was arrested this morning for stealing from patients."

"Arrested!" She was stunned, disbelieving. And yet . . . the truth was . . . in the beginning she had felt there was something not quite right about Dave, something treacherous. She should have listened to that inner knowing, but it had seemed so outlandish at the time.

The doctor had moved on. He was saying, "Whatever exercises you choose, make sure you build up to an hour at least five times a week. You said you used to be a marathon runner. You could take up running again."

"How about karate?" She sat back and shivered. Where had that come from?

"It’s a great workout. No problem."

"If I want, I can do something as strenuous as karate?" An idea was beginning to form in her mind.

"Sure, as long as you don’t overdo it. Plus, of course, you’ve got to keep to a strict schedule of taking your meds, eating right, and getting enough sleep. You know, the routine we’ve been discussing. If you and your heart weren’t a good match, I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about karate. But I’ve seen enough successes now that I think I can safely predict you’re one of them. For instance, another of my patients is a triathlete. His sport can be a lot more grueling than karate. Another, who’s in his sixties, is a serious jitterbugger. A third’s building a house by hand. Think of all the lifting and hammering that go into that." He crossed his arms, considering. "One of my colleagues has a patient who climbed Half Dome in Yosemite ten months after her transplant. Then she went to the tops of Mount Whitney and Mt. Fuji. Imagine climbing to those high altitudes and the demands on the heart and lungs even for someone with all her natural body parts."

She blinked slowly, thinking. "Tell me about my donor again."

He hesitated. "Your new heart came from a man. He was in his early forties. He was athletic and had a good, healthy heart. You know I can’t reveal who he was."

"Was he Russian?"

The doctor frowned. "I gave you his age and sex, and I can tell you he died in a motorcycle accident within four hours of the District. Four hours includes flight time, of course. That’s the most a heart can be kept outside a body for optimum results in transplant surgery. But I can’t tell you anything more. The transplant center has ironclad rules to protect his privacy, and yours. You signed an agreement not to try to find out his identity or to locate his family."

"I’m a lawyer, an officer of the court. Of course, I’ll honor any document I sign. But surely you can tell me whether he was Russian. In the scheme of things, that seems like a minor piece of information. After all, there are tens of thousands of Russians living here now."

Travis Jackson studied her. "What makes you ask if he was Russian?"

She paused. "This is hard to explain . . . but I’ve never thought much about Russian poetry. In fact, I don’t recall memorizing any, but phrases of it began floating through my mind this week—in Russian. I’ve never really liked Russian food, but now sometimes I crave it. For instance, I often order sliced tomatoes with sugar and salt. One of the nurses told me that’s an old Russian favorite. I’ve never drunk much black tea, but now I want it all the time. In some places in Russia, it’s more popular than coffee." She reminded him of her request for vodka and that she had even named the kind she wanted— Stolichnaya, Russia’s foremost brand. She told him about her nightmares. "In the beginning, I couldn’t understand what they were saying. But now I know they’re speaking Russian." She paused. "There’s a song that keeps coming to me. I think it’s from a Soviet movie." She sang the earthy, proletariat tune: "‘Harvest, our harvest is so good . . .‘"

"Interesting." He was looking at her oddly.

"Do you know where this quotation is from?" She closed her eyes and recited: "‘If you love, love without reason. If you threaten, don’t threaten in play.’"

"Never heard it before."

She sighed, frustrated, but said stubbornly, "I think it’s been translated from Russian."

The doctor picked up a chair and put it close to her bed. He sat, his expression severe. "I’ve heard other stories from patients who claimed to have inherited tastes, ideas, even direct memories from their donors’ hearts, but I’ve never seen a shred of scientific evidence to substantiate it."

"I’m not the only one? If there are others, then I’m not going crazy. Give me an explanation, because it makes no sense. I don’t want to believe my new heart could be changing me, telling me things. This is crazy."

"You’re not crazy. But you’re hyped up on the miracle of your survival and all the medications you’re taking. I can’t impress upon you enough how very powerful the wonder drugs are that you have to take to stop infection and organ rejection. In fact, if you were to go just two days without them, you’d probably do irreversible damage to your body. On the one hand, they’re life-giving, while on the other, they’re industrial-strength and potentially lethal. They can impact the way you feel. The taste of food. What you remember. Your dreams . . . all your sensory perceptions. Still, you must never miss a dose. Those side effects are minor compared to losing your life."

"You mean what I’ve been experiencing is in my head? That because of the drugs, I’m making this up? Because if that’s what you think, you’re wrong. You were here when I wanted vodka."

"Right. I have no problem believing everything’s happened just as you say. But that doesn’t mean you ‘inherited’ any of it from your donor. Maybe when you were a little girl you heard some adult say vodka was good for the heart. So because of your cardiac problems, that old memory percolated up from the depths of your unconscious to remind you about vodka."

She pursed her lips. "Okay. That makes sense. But I’ve also had nightmares about Russians and cravings for Russian food."

"Well, you’ve done legal work for Russians. You’ve traveled extensively in Russia, and you even learned to speak the language."

"A fair amount, yes. Polish, too."

"You probably saw the movie years ago and have simply forgotten it. The Russian words you heard could’ve triggered the memory, and the memory could’ve triggered the Russian nightmares. See? One thing leads to another." He patted her hand reassuringly. "When you finally relax, as you will, and you begin to take your new heart for granted, things will quiet down. Your body’s going to adjust, and all these unusual experiences will stop."

She heaved a sigh of relief. She was an attorney, trained to dispassion. For her, logic was almost religion. Her rational mind knew he was right. To think anything different was to turn her back on her past and everything she had worked so hard to achieve, including the person she had made herself.

"Thank you." She smiled. "If someone had said to me what I’ve said to you . . . I would’ve advised, ‘Go immediately to a therapist. You are in desperate mental-health need.’ But since I was living it, it seemed real."

"It is real. It’s just not caused by what you think." The surgeon stood up. "Take my word for it: All of this is simply a combination of your imagination, your personal history, and the meds. Stop worrying. Your new heart isn’t speaking to you. I guarantee it."

She nodded happily. He was the expert who had saved her life. She trusted him implicitly. Of course he was right.

###

Freed of the machines and tubes that had monitored her, she could at last leave her room whenever she wanted, and the world seemed new and exciting. With a sense of gratitude, she visited other patients who were waiting for transplants. They were dying, just as she had been. Their fear and pain pierced her to the marrow. She sat beside their beds and asked them about their families, their hometowns, and their dreams for the future. There was a visceral bond between the dying and the saved in a transplant hospital, and each day she extended her hand across the chasm, paying back for the generosity of her donor and his family in the only way she knew.

As she grew stronger and less vulnerable, she did not discuss her odd, post-op experiences again. Whenever one of them reappeared or a new one tried to take hold, she firmly dismissed it.

###

In May, a month following her surgery, she signed the paperwork that allowed her to return home, where care-givers would stay with her until she could live on her own again. As the nurse left with the documents, Beth turned excitedly to gaze through the window at the spring day, at the blue sky and the grassy hospital lawn with the towering trees and the bright iris beds in bloom. The sun shone down in a warm, hazy light, and it almost seemed to her the world was beckoning her back. Her old familiar world where the future was filled with important contracts and dicey negotiations, glamorous embassy parties and business trips to St. Petersburg and Gdansk, interesting people with accents and different cultural backgrounds who needed her help as they created a new Eastern Europe.

She smiled to herself. Her colleagues at the firm called her the Ice Princess for her single-minded pursuit of success, but they did not know the joy she took from the small moments: The taste of a hot breakfast torte in Cracow after an all-night conference. The sight of autumn leaves blowing down one of Old Moscow’s cobblestoned streets when just twenty-four hours earlier she had been at work in Edwards & Bonnett’s futuristic glass-and-chrome Washington headquarters. She would never forget the first sight of the scarred conference table in the old Communist meeting hall in Warsaw. It had been built for apparatchik meetings but was now the birthplace of a new private company that would revolutionize the telephone system of Poland.

Suddenly a voice interrupted her reverie. "Could you give me a few minutes, Ms. Convey?"

Beth turned to look at the open doorway, where a woman stood. She was in her late forties with swept-back auburn hair touched with gray.

"My name is Stephanie Smith," she continued. "I’m working on a study for the Walters Institute for Learning. Do you know about us?"

Beth smiled and gestured at a chair. Already her world was growing more interesting. "Sorry, but I’ve never heard of you. Please come in."

Stephanie Smith sat beside the bed and laid a leather portfolio on her lap. "You’ve had a heart transplant. How are you feeling?"

"Fine, thanks." No way was she going to discuss her aches, pains, and worries. There was no point. Life was going to be much better from now on. "Tell me about your study."

"Have you ever heard of cellular memory?"

"Never."

"I’m not surprised. Few people outside the scientific community have. And within the community, it’s controversial. I’m a psychoneuroimmunologist, meaning I’m a licensed psychologist who studies the relationship among the immune system, the brain, and our experiences in the world. The hospital has agreed to let me talk to patients on their last day, the assumption being you’d feel well enough to answer some questions about your experiences since your transplant."

Beth was taken aback. She asked cautiously, "What experiences do you mean?"

"Have you had any unusual incidents? Thoughts or tastes, perhaps?"

"I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at."

Dr. Smith’s face remained neutral. She opened her portfolio. Beth saw files.

The woman removed one, read, and looked up. "Ah, so you’re a lawyer. That explains it. A skeptical mind. Good for you."

"You have a file on me?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. I’m a scientist, also skeptical. It’s a healthy approach, particularly when a research study is involved, wouldn’t you agree?"

"Yes. Have you spoken to my surgeon, Travis Jackson, about me?"

"Would you like me to? Maybe you already know he finds no merit in what we’re studying."

"He probably thinks it’s a waste of money."

"He does. But the funding comes from outside, and it’s a legitimate scientific pursuit that other doctors support. What’s your opinion? Do you think it’s foolish?"

For a long moment Beth was tempted to speak. There was something in her that urged her to unburden herself. Still, she believed the logic of her surgeon’s explanation, and she trusted his years of transplant successes. Everything he had said made sense.

So she compromised. "Travis mentioned some patients have strange experiences after surgery, but he said they were due to the heavy medication and all the enormous life changes. What do you think?"

Dr. Smith shrugged. "That’s what we’re trying to find out. I’ll tell you a story that may help explain why our institute is investigating these questions." She paused. "Paul Pearsall, another psychoneuroimmunologist, has worked in the field for years. He wrote a book called The Heart’s Code. He describes an eight-year-old girl who received the heart of a ten-year-old. When the child started having nightmares and screaming out that she knew who’d murdered her donor, the mother took her to a psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist called the police. They discovered her donor had indeed been murdered. The child described the time, weapon, and place, and the police used her information to develop new evidence. They arrested the murderer."

Beth was silent. She felt numb. "She saw someone killed in her nightmares." It was a statement, not a question. In her mind, she saw the motorcycle again roll out of the garage. She watched herself leap on, ram the motorcycle into the man, and kill him. Inwardly she shuddered. Every time she had the nightmare, she felt as if she personally had killed that poor stranger.

Dr. Smith continued: "Yes. Gets one’s attention, doesn’t it? I suppose it could be explained away as coincidence. But science doesn’t like to be ignorant, and we’ve shamed ourselves over the centuries by taking our prejudices for facts. Five hundred years ago, the world’s best minds believed the sun and all the planets revolved around the earth. Wrong. In the eighteen-hundreds, our top medical specialists were convinced it was ‘utter nonsense’ that tiny, invisible ‘germs’ could make us sick. Wrong again. And now, of course, what used to be far-fetched science fiction has become fact with the cloning of sheep. It’s hard to look at those lambs and believe that there aren’t more ‘impossibilities’ that we’re on the verge of confirming."

Stephanie Smith cocked her head as if waiting for Beth to say something.

But Beth turned away to stare unseeing out her window. Hard logic was the foundation of her life. This woman was trying to use a spurious kind of reasoning to confuse her. There was no way the good, strong heart that had saved her could be tormenting her now. Inwardly she paused. She evaluated the situation. The truth was . . . it did not matter either way. A heart was neutral. Just an organ. There was no moral or intellectual base from which it operated.

Dr. Smith said quietly, "We like to tell ourselves we’ve come a long way from such ignorant days. But in truth, have we? If we refuse to ask questions because we think we already know the answers, what do we accomplish? What do we learn?"

Beth said nothing. She knew what she had to do. There were crackpots in every field, and some could be convincing. This woman was a crackpot. Crazy as a loon. She checked her watch. "Or another way to look at it is, why ask questions when the answers are already proved? To pursue what’s known is simply a waste of time, effort, and funding that could—and should—be put where it’s critically needed. A lot of lives would be saved if you and your colleagues would devote all your time and research money to better use, like convincing people to sign organ-donor cards."

Dr. Smith gave a knowing smile and closed her portfolio. "I see." She picked up her purse, opened it, and removed a business card. "No reason to take any more of your time." She laid the white card on the bedside table. "If you’d like to learn more about cellular memory . . . about all the exciting new scientific discoveries being made that support its existence . . . if you ever have any questions at all . . . please call."

"Thank you," Beth said politely. "Good-bye."

The woman stood and left the room without another word.

A half-hour later, Beth’s care-giver arrived to take her home. Excited, she had already packed her bags. As she stood, she noticed the business card on the table. She had a ten-second debate with herself, then shrugged. She grabbed the card and slid it into her purse. Then she went home to settle into the long, rigorous routine of rehabilitation.

 
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