Night Game – Christine Feehan

Raoul “Gator” Fontenot paused in the act of stuffing his shirt into his duffel bag when someone knocked on his door. The men in his Special Forces paranormal squad weren’t all that polite and tended to just barge right in, no matter what time, day or night. In all the time he’d known them, no one had ever actually knocked on his door and definitely not with such a timid tap. Holding a pair of faded jeans under his chin, he haphazardly attempted to fold them as he jerked open the door. Dr. Lily Whitney-Miller was the last person he expected to find. His squad, the GhostWalkers, as their psychic unit was often referred, owed Lily their lives. She’d rescued them from their laboratory cages and saved them from being murdered. Lily owned the eighty-room mansion where the men often stayed, but she never ventured into their wing. She preferred to address them together as a unit in the more formal conference rooms. “Lily! What a surprise.” He glanced over his shoulder at the disarray in his bedroom. “Did I miss a meeting?” She shook her head. She looked calm and cool. Reserved.

The usual Lily, but she held herself tight, too tight. Something was wrong. Worse, her gaze avoided his, and Lily always looked a man straight in the eye. “Gator, I need to speak to you privately.” Raoul was trained to hear the slightest nuance in a voice, and there was hesitation in Lily’s. He’d never heard it before. He looked past her, expecting to see her husband, Captain Ryland Miller. His dark brow shot up when he saw she was alone. “Where’s Rye?” Dr. Peter Whitney, Lily’s father, had talked the men, all from various branches of Special Forces, into volunteering to be psychically enhanced.

The doctor had re moved their natural filters, which had left them extremely vulnerable to the assault of the emotions, sounds, and thoughts of the world around them. It was Lily who had helped them build shields to better function in the real world when they were without their anchors. In all those months, Gator had never seen her without Ryland. He knew Lily felt guilt over the things her father had done and was uneasy in their presence, but she was as much a victim as they were—and she hadn’t volunteered. He reluctantly stepped back to allow her entry into his room. “Sorry about the mess, ma soeur.” He left the door wide open. Lily faced him in the middle of the room, her hands tightly linked. “I see you’re nearly ready to go.” “I told Grand-mere I would come as soon as possible.

” “So your friend is still missing? How awful.” “Yes, Ian’s agreed to come with me to help search. I don’t know how much use we’ll be, but we’ll do whatever we can.” “Do you honestly believe this girl isn’t a runaway? That’s what the police believe,” Lily reminded him. She’d been the one to use her contacts to get all the information for Gator. “I personally looked into every report they had on her. Joy Chiasson, twenty-two, nice-looking girl, sang in the local blues clubs. The police believe she wanted out of Louisiana and took off. Maybe with a new man.” He shook his head.

“I know this family, Lily. So does Grand-mere. I don’t believe for a moment she ran away. Two years ago another woman disappeared. Different parish, no known connection, and the police thought she’d left of her own volition as well.” “But you don’t?” “No. I think there is a connection. Their voices. They both sang. One in clubs, one in church and theater, but I think the connection is their voices.

” Lily frowned. “If you need anything, we can help from this end. Just call and anything we have is at your disposal.” She was still avoiding his eyes, and her knuckles were white from twisting her fingers so tightly. Gator waited in silence, forcing her to speak first. Whatever she had to say, he had a feeling he wasn’t going to like much. Lily cleared her throat. “While you’re there in the bayou, would you mind keeping an eye out for one of the girls my father experimented on? I’ve been running computer probabilities, and the likelihood of Iris ‘Flame’ Johnson being in that area right now is very high. This might be one of the few chances we have of locating her.” “The bayou is a big place, Lily.

I can’t imagine just running into her. Why would you think she’d turn up in my backyard?” “Well, it might not be that big, not if you’re searching the clubs for clues to Joy’s disappearance. Oddly enough, Flame sings too. She works the clubs in the cities she passes through.” “And why would she be in New Orleans?” “The burning down of the sanitarium in the bayou was well publicized, and I think it will draw her to your hometown. I think she’s looking for the other girls my father experimented on, the same as we are.” Gator took his time answering, studying her face as he did so. Mostly he replayed the sound of her voice in his head, the tiny vibrations only he could hear, the ones that told him she was nervous and giving him only pieces of information—or that she was lying. Lily had no reason to lie to him. “What makes you think she would be looking for the other girls?” There was a small silence.

Lily let her breath out slowly. “My father wrote a computer program and input what he knew of her personality and decision-making traits. The program calculated that there was an eighty- three percent chance that she would hunt for the girls. And when I fed the news article into the program it also gave an extremely high probability that she would suspect the fire had something to do with Dahlia and the Whitney Trust.” “I read several of the accounts,” he admitted. “They did report the murders, and they obviously knew it was a hit of some kind, an assassination squad, so yeah, she might come looking for more information.” “I’m sure of it.” “Which of the missing girls is Iris?” Raoul already knew the answer. Long before Dr. Whitney had experimented on the adult men, he had acquired girls from foreign orphanages and experimented on them, psychically enhancing them.

When things had begun to go wrong, he had abandoned all of them except Lily, whom he’d kept and raised as his own daughter. Iris had been a small redhead with defiant eyes and an attitude the size of Texas. The nurses had nicknamed her “Flame,” and from the moment she learned Whitney forbade the name, Iris used it to make him angry. She’d been four years old. Raoul had studied the tapes of the little girl far more than any of the others. She had a few abilities the others knew nothing about—but he did—he shared those same abilities. Even as a child she’d been smart enough—or angry enough—to hide her talents from Whitney. Her nickname was appropriate: Flame, a little matchstick that could flare up and be as destructive as hell under the right circumstances. Whitney didn’t know how very lucky he was. “Iris had deep red hair, almost the color of wine, and she has acute hearing.

She’s able to manipulate sound in extraordinary ways.” “And she’s an anchor.” That would mean she wasn’t as vulnerable as some of the other girls. She could exist in the world without a shield. Lily nodded. “I believe she is. I know it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack trying to find her, but you never know. She’d be somewhere between twenty- two and twenty-five now. My father kept meticulous records, yet he didn’t bother to record our birth dates, which makes no sense to me. I did an age simulation on the computer.

Here’s what she’d look like now.” She handed him the photograph. His heart nearly stopped beating, then accelerated wildly. Flame was beautiful. Not just striking, but truly exquisitely beautiful, unlike any woman he’d ever seen. Even in the photograph her skin looked so soft he found himself running the pad of his thumb over her face. He kept his expression relaxed, charming, unworried—the usual mask he wore. “You know, Lily, the chances of finding her are almost nil.” She nodded her head and her gaze skittered away from his. It wasn’t the real reason she’d come.

Gator waited. She shuffled her feet but didn’t speak. “Spit it out, Lily. I’ve never been much for games. Say what you came to say.” She slid past him to catch the edge of the door, peering out into the hallway before shutting it carefully. “This is confidential.” “You know we’re a unit. I don’t keep things from Kyland or my men, not if it impacts them and what we do.” “That’s just it, Gator, I don’t know if it does.

I’ve discovered a couple of things, and I’m checking them out. You have to understand these experiments have spanned more than twenty years. There are dozens of computers and hard drives, storage disks and zip drives I haven’t even gotten to yet, and that doesn’t include handwritten notes. I started with the girls because we wanted to find them, but my father’s observations are mostly on paper and old archived disks. He references nearly everything with numbers. I have to figure out what the number refers to before I can keep going in my research to see what he did. It’s very time-consuming work, and it isn’t easy.” Lily didn’t make excuses. This was so far out of character for her. Had she discovered the truth about him? He had watched the video of Iris “Flame” Johnson so many times maybe she’d become curious.

Maybe she’d seen him stop the tape and study the picture—the one that showed the walls expand and contract slightly. The one where the floor shifted minutely when Flame’s little gaze had narrowed on the doctor. She’d detested Dr. Whitney and her temper had barely been controlled. “What have you discovered, Lily?” “I think my father also did gene enhancing on the girls—as well as on some of you men.” The words left her in a little rush. This time her gaze met his squarely as if trying to read his reaction. He counted to ten in silence before he spoke. “Why would you think that?” “The referencing numbers have two letters beside them, and I couldn’t figure it out. G.

E. I went through a million possibilities until I found a small hidden cabinet in the laboratory. It was locked and coded. There were several notebooks on Iris. She was definitely genetically enhanced. G.E. Those letters were throughout the files, and I’ve seen them on several other files. Most of the files. I think the letters reference back to genetic enhancement.

” “The girls. You used the phrase the girls rather than on us. As in including yourself.” Lily shook her head. “There are no G.E. notations in my files anywhere. Believe me, I looked.” “Why do you think that would be, Lily?” He kept his voice fiat, even, ultra-calm. “He used viruses to introduce the therapy to the cells.

” Her voice faltered for the briefest of moments, but she carried on, her chin up. “I don’t think he wanted to take any chances with me, and he could use me as the control subject.” “What was in the file that I should know about?” “Flame had cancer. The symptoms presented nearly the same as leukemia. Bruising, fatigue, abnormal bleeding, bone and joint pain. All of it. He put it into remission, but…” She trailed off. “But he didn’t stop. He continued to enhance her cells.” Lily looked miserable as she nodded.

“Yes. He continued to experiment on her. One of the problems when using a virus to infect the cells is the body produces antibodies to fight it off. By the second or third round, it does no good to use that virus.” “So he made up another one.” “Several of them. He obviously wanted to perfect his technique for later use. I think all of us girls were his first tries—” “You mean his expendable rats,” Gator interrupted harshly. He curled his fingers into tight fists. “You were all expendable.

No one wanted you. And he didn’t like her, did he? She was a lot of trouble because she was so strong-willed, just as Dahlia was—Dahlia, who was raised in a sanitarium, not a home.” “That’s true, Gator, but thankfully, although Dahlia is enhanced, she has never had cancer. Nor could I find references to cancer in the files of any of the other girls he experimented on.” Lily pressed her fingertips just above her eyes. “I haven’t gone through everything in Flame’s file but the cancer returned several times and each time he adjusted the virus and continued doping her after he put the cancer in remission. She’s very enhanced.” “And you suspect I am as well.” She bit her lip, but nodded again. “Are you, Gator? Can you run faster, jump higher? None of you have ever mentioned it to me—not even Ryland.

” He avoided the question. “Are you warning us that anyone who might be enhanced is susceptible to cancer?” “I have no idea,” she said truthfully. “I believe he was working on a way to prevent the doping from stimulating the wrong cells. I think he used Flame to perfect his technique so he could make certain you and the others had fewer problems.” “Charmin’ son of bitch, wasn’t he?” Gator stuffed the jeans into the duffel bag with a short violent stabbing motion. “He used her like a damn lab rat.” “It’s worse than that, Gator. I hope to God I’m wrong. I can barely conceive of the idea that the man I knew as my father could have been such a monster, but I don’t think he wanted to cure Flame. I think he knew she’d get sick, and he figured her adopted parents would bring her back to him.

” “But they didn’t.” “Not that I can see. But the chances of the cancer recurring seem likely. Regular treatment for leukemia would help, but it wouldn’t cure her. The cancer is caused by one particular wild cell.” “And he knew that.” Lily nodded reluctantly. “Without a doubt he knew it. The first time he experimented with putting the cancer into remission, he used a virus to insert DNA that caused the cancer cells to self-destruct by producing a protein that was deadly to itself. The second time he used a method of actually forcing the cancer cells to produce a protein that identified itself to her immune system, thereby causing her immune system to attack in a concentrated force, successfully destroying the cancer.

It was brilliant really, far ahead of his time.” There was a trace of admiration in Lily’s voice she couldn’t hide from him. Fury swept through him. Ugly. Dangerous. A snarling demon triggering an aggressive response. Gator turned his back and dragged air into his lungs. He noted the way the walls expanded and contracted, the movement nearly imperceptible. “If he was so damned brilliant and successful at destroying cancer, Lily, why didn’t he report his findings to the world? Why did he secret away his data in a hidden laboratory?” “Any hospital, university, or private facilities involved in human experiments such as the Whitney Trust are required to have Institutional Review Boards to ensure the research complies with Department of Health and Human Services regulations for the protection of human subjects. And any experiment involving gene insertion must be approved in advance by an Institutional Biosafety Committee.

” He turned to lock his gaze with hers. “So bringing unwanted orphans into the country, virtually buying them and using them as human lab rats to experiment with genetic enhancement, psychic enhancement, and cancer doesn’t fall into the accepted regulations? He would have been labeled the monster he was and he would have been jailed. He tortured that child. And now she’s out there somewhere, isn’t she, Lily? She’s out there and you want her found because you and I both know she’s very, very dangerous and she’s got a hell of a mad on for the Whitney Trust, doesn’t she?” “I want her found because she needs help and she’s one of us,” Lily corrected, her chin up. When he continued to look her steadily in the eyes her gaze shifted down to her hands. “Spit it out, Lily.” “He also found a way to stimulate the growth of tumors with genetic therapy and then he caused the cancer cells to cut off their own blood supply so the tumor withered and died. That kind of research is invaluable.” “On her? Flame? He gave her cancer, deliberately? He was a son of bitch, wasn’t he, Lily? A pathetic monster who had to find some kind of kick in torturing children. How old was she when he did this to her? How long did he have her? Why didn’t you tell us all this?” “You aren’t helping me by talking this way, Gator.

This happened a long time ago. I’m finding all this out about my father. My father. A man I loved and respected. I can’t help but see his brilliance. And yes, it was monstrous to perform such experiments on children, on any human, but he did and that doesn’t change the fact that he was able to perform medical miracles. He was light-years ahead of anyone else in his field. I want her found, Gator, because she needs us. And she needs medical help. Her body is a ticking bomb and will turn on her sooner or later.

She must come back here and let me help her.” Suspicion flickered for a moment in his eyes but he quickly masked it. “She makes a hell of an experiment, doesn’t she? She must be a walking medical miracle.” “That’s not why, Gator. She needs to be where we can help her.” “Has it occurred to you that she’ll think you want her back here for more experiments? I hate to be the one to point this out to you, Lily, but you have that same love of science. You put it before morality, and you admire a monster who tortured children. If I can see that in you, so will she.” “You can say whatever you like about me, Gator. I believe we need research and yes, I admire his brilliance, even while I condemn the things he did.

I do not put it before morality, but do you have any idea how far ahead of his time he was?” “So you’ve said, more than once. Who are you trying to convince, Lily?” “DNA was first sequenced in 1977. It wasn’t until 1997 the first genome was sequenced. Don’t you see what that means? He had to have been years ahead of the game. With the things he did, we should be able to figure out better gene therapy and possibly which viruses to use as vectors without the possibility of triggering cancer in unstable cells.” “Lily…” Gator raked a hand through his hair in agitation. “You aren’t going to get me to see him as some kind of a world savior. He deliberately caused a child to get cancer, not once but repeatedly.” “You aren’t listening to me, Gator. Don’t you see how the research he did, monstrous or not, could be beneficial? It all happened years ago.

We can’t change what he did, but we can acknowledge his brilliance and use what he found out. It’s the only way to bring some good out f the horror he inflicted on us all.” He breathed deeply to calm the temper pushing so close to the surface. Lily didn’t know what he was capable doing. No one did. Not even Whitney. And he suspected Flame was just as capable of the same mass destruction as he was. “Damn him to hell, Lily, for what he did to her. For what he did to all of you. All of us.

I’ll do my best to find her, but I doubt she’ll be very cooperative. I wouldn’t be under the circumstances. I guess you’d better explain exactly what genetic enhancement and gene doping is to me. And do your best to explain in terms I can understand.” He couldn’t look at her. Didn’t dare look at her. He didn’t want to have to kill Flame Johnson. He didn’t want to have to look at her face, knowing what a monster had done to her and put a gun to her head, but he might have no choice. Lily was giving him no choice, and right at that moment, he was nearly as angry with her as he was with her father. She had no right to ask this of him.

They both knew it wasn’t going to be simple bringing Flame back into the fold. Damn both Whitneys to hell for this. “Basically, gene therapy uses genes to treat or prevent disease. A gene can be inserted into a damaged cell to repair it. At this time, researchers are testing different approaches to gene therapy. They can replace a damaged gene that causes disease with a healthy one. They can knock out a mutated gene that is malfunctioning and they can introduce a new gene into the body to fight a disease.” Gator stuffed two more shirts into his duffel bag. “In theory, gene therapy is a good thing.” “In any experiment, Gator, there’s going to be failures; it’s how scientists learn.

” “Tell that to Flame.” “I don’t have to. Do you think I don’t know what she went through? I’m the one reading her files firsthand. You’re getting the watered-down version.” For the first time, Lily looked angry, her eyes dark with temper. “I thought you’d be the best person to approach about this. You’re always calm and you think things through. Throwing stones at me isn’t going to help Flame.” “Is that what you think I’m doing? I’m hearing this for the first time. I’m struggling to understand not only what he did to Flame, but how it impacts all of our lives.

How did you react, Lily, the first time you realized what he’d done? Did you immediately think to yourself what a brilliant scientist he was, or did you wonder how it would affect you and Ryland and your kids, because it damn well made me think about it. Did you picture Flame as a child so sick and miserable she couldn’t walk, with no one to comfort her? Because I did. I’m sorry I’m not handling this to your liking, but someone needed to kill the son of a bitch.” Lily winced. “Someone did, Gator.” He rubbed his forehead and the sudden headache pounding at his temples. “I’m sorry, Lily, that was completely uncalled for. Tell me a little more about enhancement and why gene therapy is such a great thing. I swear, I’ll try to listen with an open mind.” He flashed a small grin at her.

“And try to speak English. I have to actually understand what you’re telling me.” Grateful that he was at least willing to try, Lily sent him a small smile in return. “I’ll do my best. Gene therapy expanded to include the ability to not only correct faulty genes, but also enhance normal ones. This where it gets a little complicated.” “I’m following you,” Gator said.

.

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