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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 1, 2001. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
THE SKY IS FALLING
The Angel On My Shoulder
The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.
–F. Scott Fitzgerald
CONFIDENTIAL MINUTES TO ALL OPERATION PERSONNEL: DESTROY IMMEDIATELY AFTER READING.
There were twelve men in the heavily guarded underground chamber, representing twelve far-flung countries. They were seated in comfortable chairs set in six rows, several feet apart. They listened intently as the speaker addressed them.
‘I am happy to inform you that the threat with which we have all been so deeply concerned is about to be eliminated. I need not go into details because the whole world will hear about it within the next twenty-four hours. Rest assured that nothing will stop us. The gates will remain open. We will now begin the auction. Do I have a first bid? Yes. One billion dollars. Do I have two? Two billion. Do I have three?’
She was hurrying along Pennsylvania Avenue, a block from the White House, shivering in the cold December wind, when she heard the terrifying, ear-splitting scream of air-raid sirens and then the sound of a bomber plane overhead, ready to unload its cargo of death. She stopped, frozen, engulfed in a red mist of terror.
Suddenly she was back in Sarajevo, and she could hear the shrill whistle of the bombs dropping. She closed her eyes tightly, but it was impossible to shut out the vision of what was happening all around her. The sky was ablaze, and she was deafened by the sounds of automatic-weapons fire, roaring planes, and the wump of deadly mortar shells. Nearby buildings erupted into showers of cement, bricks, and dust. Terrified people were running in every direction, trying to outrace death.
From far, far away, a man’s voice was saying, ‘Are you all right?’
Slowly, warily, she opened her eyes. She was back on Pennsylvania Avenue, in the bleak winter sunlight, listening to the fading sounds of the jet plane and the ambulance siren that had triggered her memories.
’Miss – are you all right?’
She forced herself back to the present. ‘Yes. I’m – I’m fine, thank you.’
He was staring at her. ‘Wait a minute! You’re Dana Evans. I’m a big fan of yours. I watch you on WTN every night, and I saw all your broadcasts from Yugoslavia.’ His voice was filled with enthusiasm. ‘It must have been really exciting for you, covering that war, huh?’
‘Yes.’ Dana Evans’s throat was dry. Exciting to see people blown to shreds, to see the bodies of babies thrown down wells, bits of human jetsam flowing down a river of red.
She suddenly felt sick to her stomach. ‘Excuse me.’ She turned and hurried away.
Dana Evans had returned from Yugoslavia just three months earlier. The memories were still too fresh. It seemed unreal to walk down streets in broad daylight without fear, to hear birds singing and people laughing. There had been no laughter in Sarajevo, only the sounds of exploding mortars and the anguished screams that followed.
John Donne was right, Dana thought. No man is an island. What happens to one, happens to us all, for we are all made of clay and stardust. We share the same moments of time. The universal second hand starts its unforgiving sweep toward the next minute:
In Santiago, a ten-year-old girl is being raped by her grandfather …
In New York City, two young lovers are kissing by candlelight…
In Flanders, a seventeen-year-old girl is giving birth to a crack baby …
In Chicago, a fireman risks his life to save a cat from a burning building …
In São Paulo, hundreds of fans are trampled to death at a soccer match as the stands collapse …
In Pisa, a mother cries with joy as she watches her baby take its first steps …
All this and infinitely more in the space of sixty seconds, Dana thought. And then time ticks on until it finally sends us into the same unknown eternity.
Dana Evans, at twenty-seven, was lovely looking, with a slim figure, midnight-black hair, large, intelligent gray eyes, a heart-shaped face, and a warm, contagious laugh. Dana had grown up as an army brat, the daughter of a colonel who traveled from base to base as an armament instructor, and that kind of life had given Dana a taste for adventure. She was vulnerable and at the same time fearless, and the combination was irresistible. During the year that Dana had covered the war in Yugoslavia, people all over the world were spellbound by the beautiful, young, impassioned woman broadcasting in the middle of battle, risking her life to report on the deadly events occurring around her. Now, wherever she went, she was aware of signs and whispers of recognition. Dana Evans was embarrassed by her celebrity.
Hurrying down Pennsylvania Avenue, passing the White House, Dana looked at her watch and thought, I’m going to be late for the meeting.
Washington Tribune Enterprises took up an entire block of Sixth Street NW, with four separate buildings: a newspaper printing plant, newspaper staff offices, an executive tower, and a television broadcasting complex. The Washington Tribune Network television studios occupied the sixth floor of building four. The place was always charged with energy, its cubicles humming with people at work on their computers. Wire copy from half a dozen news services constantly spewed out updated news from around the globe. The immensity of the operation never ceased to amaze and excite Dana.
It was there that Dana had met Jeff Connors. An All-Star pitcher until he injured his arm in a skiing accident, Jeff was now an on-air sports reporter for WTN and also wrote a daily column for the Washington Tribune Syndicate. He was in his thirties, tall and lean, with boyish looks and an easy, laid-back charm that attracted people to him. Jeff and Dana had fallen in love, and they had talked about marriage.
In the three months since Dana had returned from Sarajevo, events in Washington had moved swiftly. Leslie Stewart, the former owner of Washington Tribune Enterprises, had sold out and disappeared, and the corporation had been bought by an international media tycoon, Elliot Cromwell.
The morning meeting with Matt Baker and Elliot Cromwell was about to begin. When Dana arrived, she was greeted by Abbe Lasmann, Matt’s sexy redheaded assistant.
‘The fellows are waiting for you,’ Abbe said.
‘Thanks, Abbe.’ Dana walked into the corner office. ‘Matt … Elliot…’
‘You’re late,’ Matt Baker grumbled.
Baker was a short, gray-haired man in his early fifties, with a gruff, impatient manner fueled by a brilliant, restless mind. He wore rumpled suits that looked as if they had been slept in, and Dana suspected that they had been. He ran WTN, the Washington Tribune Enterprises television operation.
Elliot Cromwell was in his sixties, with a friendly, open manner and a ready smile. He was a billionaire, but there were a dozen different accounts of how he had achieved his vast fortune, some of them not flattering. In the media business, where the object was to disseminate information, Elliot Cromwell was an enigma.
He looked at Dana and said, ‘Matt tells me we’re beating the competition again. Your ratings keep going up.’
‘I’m glad to hear that, Elliot.’
‘Dana, I listen to a half-dozen newscasts every night, but yours is different from the others. I’m not exactly sure why, but I like it.’
Dana could have told Elliot Cromwell why. Other newscasters were talking at – not to – audiences of millions, announcing the news. Dana had decided to make it personal. In her mind, she would be talking one night to a lonely widow, the next night to a shut-in, lying helpless in bed, and the next to a solitary salesman somewhere far away from his home and family. Her news reports sounded private and intimate, and viewers loved them and responded to them.
‘I understand you’re going to have an exciting guest to interview tonight,’ Matt Baker said.
Dana nodded. ‘Gary Winthrop.’
Gary Winthrop was America’s Prince Charming. A member of one of the country’s most prominent families, he was young, handsome, charismatic.
‘He doesn’t like personal publicity,’ Cromwell said. ‘How did you get him to agree?’
‘We have a common hobby,’ Dana told him.
Cromwell’s brows furled. ‘Really?’
‘Yes.’ Dana smiled. ‘I like to look at Monets and van Goghs, and he likes to buy them. Seriously, I’ve interviewed him before, and we’ve become friendly. We’ll run a tape of his news conference, which we’ll cover this afternoon. My interview will be a follow-up.’
‘Wonderful.’ Cromwell beamed.
They spent the next hour talking about the new show the network was planning, Crime Line, an investigative hour that Dana was going to produce and anchor. The objective was twofold: to correct injustices that had been done and to spur interest in solving forgotten crimes.
‘There are a lot of other reality shows on the air,’ Matt warned, ’so we’ve got to be better than they are. I want us to start out with a grabber. Something that will capture the audience’s attention and –’
The intercom buzzed. Matt Baker flicked down a key. ‘I told you, no calls. Why –?’
Abbe’s voice came over the intercom. ‘I’m sorry. It’s for Miss Evans. It’s Kemal’s school calling. It sounds urgent.’
Matt Baker looked at Dana. ‘First line.’
Dana picked up the phone, her heart pounding. ‘Hello … Is Kemal all right?’ She listened a moment. ‘I see … I see … Yes, I’ll be right there.’ She replaced the receiver.
‘What’s wrong?’ Matt asked.
Dana said, ‘They’d like me to come to the school to pick Kemal up.’
Elliot Cromwell frowned. ‘That’s the boy you brought back from Sarajevo.’
‘That was quite a story.’
‘Yes,’ Dana said reluctantly.
‘Didn’t you find him living in some vacant lot?’
‘That’s right,’ Dana said.
‘He had some disease or something?’
‘No,’ she said firmly, disliking even to talk about those days. ‘Kemal lost an arm. It was blown off by a bomb.’
‘And you adopted him?’
‘Not officially yet, Elliot. I’m going to. For now, I’m his guardian.’
‘Well, go get him. We’ll discuss Crime Line later.’
When Dana arrived at the Theodore Roosevelt Middle School, she went directly to the assistant principal’s office. The assistant principal, Vera Kostoff, a harassed-looking, prematurely gray-haired woman in her fifties, was at her desk. Kemal was seated across from her. He was twelve years old, small for his age, thin and sallow, with tousled blond hair and a stubborn chin. Where his right arm should have been was an empty sleeve. His slight body seemed dwarfed by the room.
When Dana walked in, the atmosphere in the office was grim.
‘Hello, Mrs Kostoff,’ Dana said brightly. ‘Kemal.’
Kemal was staring at his shoes.
‘I understand there’s a problem?’ Dana continued.
‘Yes, there certainly is, Miss Evans.’ She handed Dana a sheet of paper.
Dana stared at it, puzzled. It read: Vodja, pizda, zbosti, fukati, nezakonski otrok, umreti, tepec. She looked up. ‘I – I don’t understand. These are Serbian words, aren’t they?’
Mrs Kostoff said tightly, ‘Indeed they are. It’s Kemal’s misfortune that I happen to be Serbian. These are words that Kemal has been using in school.’ Her face was flushed. ’Serbian truck drivers don’t talk like that, Miss Evans, and I won’t have such language coming from the mouth of this young boy. Kemal called me a pizda.’
Dana said, ‘A pi –?’
‘I realize that Kemal is new to our country, and I’ve tried to make allowances, but his – his behavior is reprehensible. He’s constantly getting into fights, and when I reprimanded him this morning, he – he insulted me. That was too much.’
Dana said tactfully, ‘I’m sure you know how difficult it must be for him, Mrs Kostoff, and –’
‘As I told you before, I’m making allowances, but he’s trying my patience.’
‘I understand.’ Dana looked over at Kemal. He was still staring down, his face sullen.
‘I do hope this will be the last incident,’ Mrs Kostoff said.
‘So do I.’ Dana rose.
‘I have Kemal’s report card for you.’ Mrs Kostoff opened a drawer, took out a card, and handed it to Dana.
‘Thank you,’ Dana said.
On the way home, Kemal was silent.
‘What am I going to do with you?’ Dana asked. ‘Why are you always getting into fights, and why do you use words like that?’
‘I didn’t know she spoke Serbian.’
When they reached Dana’s apartment, she said, ‘I’m going to have to go back to the studio, Kemal. Will you be all right here alone?’
The first time Kemal had said that to her, Dana had thought he had not understood her, but she quickly learned that it was part of the arcane idiom spoken by the young. ‘Word’ meant ‘yes.’ ‘Phat’ described members of the opposite sex: pretty hot and tempting. Everything was cool or sweet or tight or rad. If there was something they didn’t like, it sucked.
Dana took out the report card that Mrs Kostoff had given her. As she studied it, her lips tightened. History, D. English, D. Science, D. Social Studies, F. Math, A.
Looking at the card, Dana thought, Oh, Lord, what am I going to do? ‘We’ll discuss this another time, she said. ‘I’m late.’
Kemal was an enigma to Dana. When they were together, he behaved beautifully. He was loving and thoughtful and endearing. On weekends, Dana and Jeff turned Washington into a playground for him. They went to the National Zoo, with its spectacular array of wild animals, starring the exotic giant panda. They visited the National Air and Space Museum, where Kemal saw the first Wright brothers plane dangling from the ceiling, and then walked through Skylab and touched moon rocks. They went to the Kennedy Center and the Arena Stage. They introduced Kemal to pizza at Tom Tom, tacos at Mextec, and southern fried chicken at Georgia Brown’s. Kemal loved every moment of it. He adored being with Dana and Jeff.
But … when Dana had to leave to go to work, Kemal turned into another person. He became hostile and confrontational. It was impossible for Dana to hold on to a housekeeper, and sitters told horror stories about evenings with Kemal.
Jeff and Dana tried reasoning with him, but it had no effect. Maybe he needs professional help, Dana thought. She had no idea of the terrible fears that plagued Kemal.
The WTN evening news was on the air. Richard Melton, Dana’s personable co-anchor, and Jeff Connors were seated beside her.
Dana Evans was saying, ‘… and in foreign news, France and England are still locking horns over mad cow disease. Here is René Linaud reporting from Rheims.’
In the control booth, the director, Anastasia Mann, ordered, ‘Go to remote.’
A scene in the French countryside flashed on the television screens.
The studio door opened and a group of men came in and approached the anchor desk.
Everyone looked up. Tom Hawkins, the ambitious young producer of the evening news, said, ‘Dana, you know Gary Winthrop.’
In person, Gary Winthrop was even more handsome than in photographs. He was in his forties, with bright blue eyes, a warm smile, and enormous charm.
‘We meet again, Dana. Thanks for inviting me.’
‘I appreciate your coming.’
Dana looked around. Half a dozen secretaries had suddenly found urgent reasons to be in the studio. Gary Winthrop must be used to that, Dana thought, amused.
‘Your segment is coming up in a few minutes. Why don’t you sit here next to me? This is Richard Melton.‘ The two men shook hands. ‘You know Jeff Connors, don’t you?’
‘You bet I do. You should be out there pitching, Jeff, instead of talking about the game.’
‘I wish I could,’ Jeff said ruefully.
The remote from France came to an end and they switched to a commercial. Gary Winthrop sat down and watched as the commercial ended.
From the control booth, Anastasia Mann said, ‘Stand by. We’re going to tape.’ She silently counted off with her index finger. Three … two … one …’
The scene on the monitor flashed to the exterior of the Georgetown Museum of Art. A commentator was holding a microphone in his hand, braving the cold wind.
‘We’re standing in front of the Georgetown Museum of Art, where Mr Gary Winthrop is inside at a ceremony marking his fifty-million-dollar gift to the museum. Let’s go inside now.’
The scene on the screen changed to the spacious interior of the art museum. Various city officials, dignitaries, and television crews were gathered around Gary Winthrop. The museum’s director, Morgan Ormond, was handing him a large plaque.
‘Mr Winthrop, on behalf of the museum, the many visitors who come here, and its trustees, we want to thank you for this most generous contribution.’
Camera lights flashed.
Gary Winthrop said, ‘I hope this will give young American painters a better chance not only to express themselves but to have their talents recognized around the world.’
There was applause from the group.
The announcer on tape was saying, ‘This is Bill Toland at the Georgetown Museum of Art. Back to the studio. Dana?’
The camera’s red light came on.
‘Thank you. Bill. We’re fortunate enough to have Mr Gary Winthrop with us to discuss the purpose of his enormous gift.’
The camera pulled back to a wider angle, revealing Gary Winthrop in the studio.
Dana said, ‘This fifty-million-dollar donation, Mr Winthrop, will it be used to buy paintings for the museum?’
‘No. It’s for a new wing that will be dedicated to young American artists who might not otherwise have a chance to show what they can do. A portion of the fund will be used for scholarships for gifted children in inner cities. Too many youngsters grow up without knowing anything about art. They may hear about the great French impressionists, but I want them to be aware of their own heritage, with American artists like Sargent, Homer, and Remington. This money will be used to encourage young artists to fulfill their talents and for all young people to take an interest in art.’
Dana said, ‘There’s a rumor that you’re planning to run for the Senate, Mr Winthrop. Is there any truth to it?’
Gary Winthrop smiled. ‘I’m testing the waters.’
‘They’re pretty inviting. In the straw polls we’ve seen, you’re way ahead.’
Gary Winthrop nodded. ‘My family has had a long record of government service. If I can be of any use to this country, I will do whatever I am called on to do.’
‘Thank you for being with us, Mr Winthrop.’
During the commercial break, Gary Winthrop said good-bye and left the studio.
Jeff Connors, sitting next to Dana, said, ‘We need more like him in Congress.’
‘Maybe we could clone him. By the way – how is Kemal?’
Dana winced. ‘Jeff – please don’t mention Kemal and cloning in the same breath. I can’t handle it.’
‘Did the problem at school this morning work out?’
‘Yes, but that was today. Tomorrow is –’
Anastasia Mann said, ‘We’re back. Three … two … one …’
The red light flashed on. Dana looked at the Tele-PrompTer. ‘It’s time for sports now with Jeff Connors.’
Jeff looked into the camera. ‘Merlin the Magician was missing from the Washington Bullets tonight. Juwan Howard tried his magic and Gheorghe Muresan and Rasheed Wallace helped stir up the brew, but it was bitter, and they had finally to swallow it along with their pride …’
At 2:00 AM, in Gary Winthrop’s town house in the elite north-west section of Washington, two men were removing paintings from the walls of the drawing room. One man wore the mask of the Lone Ranger, the other the mask of Captain Midnite. They worked at a leisurely pace, cutting the pictures out of the frames and putting their loot into large burlap sacks.
The Lone Ranger asked, ‘What time does the patrol come by again?’
Captain Midnite replied, ‘Four AM.’
‘It’s nice of them to keep to a schedule for us, isn’t it?’
Captain Midnite removed a painting from the wall and dropped it onto the oak floor with a loud noise. The two men stopped what they were doing and listened. Silence.
The Lone Ranger said, ‘Try it again. Louder.’
Captain Midnite took down another painting and threw it heavily against the floor. ‘Now let’s see what happens.’
In his bedroom upstairs, Gary Winthrop was awakened by the noise. He sat up in bed. Had he heard a sound, or had he dreamed it? He listened a moment longer. Silence. Unsure, he rose and stepped out into the hallway and pressed the light switch. The hallway remained dark.
‘Hello. Is anyone down there?’ There was no answer. Downstairs, he walked along the corridor until he reached the door of the drawing room. He stopped and stared in disbelief at the two masked men.
‘What the hell are you doing?’
The Lone Ranger turned to him and said, ‘Hi, Gary. Sorry we woke you up. Go back to sleep.’ A Beretta with a silencer appeared in his hand. He pulled the trigger twice and watched Gary Winthrop’s chest explode into a red shower. The Lone Ranger and Captain Midnite watched him fall to the floor. Satisfied, they turned and continued to remove the paintings.
Dana Evans was awakened by the relentless ringing of the telephone. She struggled to sit up and looked at the bedside clock, bleary-eyed. It was five o’clock in the morning. She picked up the phone. ‘Hello?’
‘See how fast you can get down to the studio.’
‘I’ll fill you in when you get here.’
‘I’m on my way.’
Fifteen minutes later, hastily dressed, Dana was knocking on the door of the Whartons’ apartment, her next-door neighbors.
Dorothy Wharton opened the door, wearing a robe. She looked at Dana in alarm. ‘Dana, what’s wrong?’
‘I hate to do this to you, Dorothy, but I’ve been called to the studio on an emergency. Would you mind getting Kemal to school?’
‘Why, of course not. I’d be happy to.’
‘Thank you so much. He has to be there at seven-forty-five, and he’ll need breakfast.’
‘Don’t you worry. I’ll take care of it. You run along.’
‘Thanks,’ Dana said gratefully.
- On Sale
- Jul 1, 2001
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Grand Central Publishing