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Chapter 1

Morgan Reese first noticed the little man with the shifty eyes standing near the hospital entrance. He didn't think much of it until he spotted the man's reflection in a bookstore window two blocks away. Probably a drug rep looking to hustle him, he figured. After the long day in the operating room, he couldn't stomach a sales pitch.

Quickening his pace, he crossed the street and entered University Park. Halfway along a path winding among the blue spruce, he heard footsteps behind him. He spun around.

Twenty paces behind, the little man hesitated then slowly approached. "May I speak with you, please?"

"I'm not interested," Reese snapped.

"No, no! You have it all wrong, sir. You are Doctor Reese? Doctor Morgan Reese?" The accent was Middle Eastern.

"Yes. And you are?"

Hurrying over, the man handed him a card. "I am Doctor Behzahd."

Reese looked at the card. Jabbar Behzahd, M.D. Specialist in Internal Medicine. He eyed the physician: about five-three—a foot shorter than himself, slicked-back hair, dark skin, and black eyes in constant motion. The nervous sort.

"What can I do for you?" Reese asked.

"I am most anxious to consult with you about a patient."

"You could have written or called my office instead of following me around."

Behzahd shuffled his feet. "I am afraid this is quite a delicate matter. I would rather discuss it with you away from prying ears."

His curiosity aroused, Reese pointed to a nearby bench. "Let's sit over there."

Once seated, Reese said, "Okay, tell me about this delicate matter."

"I have a cherished friend who has a growing, pulsating lump in his thigh. I think it is an aneurysm."

"Doesn't sound too delicate."

"Unfortunately, he will not go to a hospital."

"Why not?"

"It seems he has a fear of being out in public—agoraphobia, I believe."

"Tough problem."

Behzahd sighed. "You could say that. I wonder if I might persuade you to examine him at my home—he is staying with me. Your reputation as a vascular surgeon is unsurpassed."

Reese wasn't sure why, but Behzahd bothered him. Maybe it had to do with the shifty eyes or the sneaky manner. Or was it a creeping prejudice against people of Middle Eastern heritage?

He stood. "I'm sorry, but I don't make house calls."

Behzahd rose too. "In this case, you must make an exception."

"I must?"

"My friend has ample resources at his disposal. You will be paid handsomely, I assure you."

"I'm sure you can find another surgeon to see him."

"No sir. You are the only one I trust."

"In which case, do your best to get your friend to my office."

"That will not be possible."

"Pity. Have a pleasant day." Reese walked away.

Behzahd called after him. "That is your final answer?"

"Yes it is."

"A most regrettable decision."

At the next curve of the path, Reese glanced back.

Behzahd was talking on a cell phone.

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Chapter 2

The week was over before Reese realized it. He spent most of the time at Jefferson University Hospital. A spate of surgical emergencies over his regularly scheduled cases had held him there. But he didn't mind. Being single and with few interests other than exercising, his career and patients dominated his life.

Although he didn't play golf, he was obliged to spend that Saturday evening at a golf resort—a retirement party for a surgical colleague. "I'm done," the colleague had announced a month before. "Too little sleep, too much stress. There's more to life than living in a hospital."

At the gathering, Reese suffered through all the golf and ski stories—about as interesting as fish stories. By nine he was sick of all the idle chatter. He climbed into his ancient Subaru with the dented doors, and he drove home. While walking up the steps to his apartment, he noticed a van pocked with rust spots. It was parked five cars down from his. He had seen it at the hospital's indoor garage the morning before. And he had seen it again moving slowly along Campus Drive as he walked home from work.

Approaching the van, Reese checked the license plates. They were from New York State. He peered through a window. He couldn't make out anyone inside because the windows were tinted in a dark shade—much darker than most. All the doors were locked. He shrugged and walked away.

Once inside his apartment, which was all function and no frills, he endured an hour of doom and gloom on CNN, then went to bed.

Awake at five a.m., he put on his running clothes and stepped outside. The midsummer mountain air was as always crisp and clear. Located on the western outskirts of Denver and a thousand feet higher, the suburb was spared the smog of the city.

He looked for the van he had seen the night before, but it was gone. After stretching his knees and thighs on the front steps of the apartment, he eased into a run. Halfway across the park, in the dimness he saw the silhouette of a man moving in the shadows. Could be another insomniac like himself, he thought. But better stay on guard.

The man stepped under a park light. Reese could see him more clearly now. He was about five-feet nine inches of bone and sinew. His skin was dark, hair black, eyes deep-set and steady.

With an alarm in his head blaring danger, Reese slowed his pace to a stroll. "Are you lost?"

The man gave a slight bow of his head. "My name is Abdullah. Could I have the minute of your time?" He spoke with a thick Middle Eastern accent.

When they were almost face-to-face, Reese saw him thrust a gloved hand inside his black leather jacket.

With the adrenaline storm raging through him, Reese stood still, arms at the sides, feet firmly planted. "What's on your mind?"

"You are Doctor Morgan Reese?"

"I am."

"I would like you to come with me, please. My friend is having the big problem."

"Did that doctor—I can't remember his name—send you?"

"Doctor Behzahd? Yes, he did. He says you are the great surgeon."

"Call nine-one-one and have an ambulance take your ailing friend to University Hospital. If my services are needed, I'll tend to him right away."

"You will come now," Abdullah said, his tone ice cold, menacing. "I do not harm you if you come in peace."

Suddenly Abdullah's hand was no longer inside the jacket.

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Chapter 3

Reese stared at what looked like a silencer attached to the revolver. His assailant was definitely serious. If he didn't intend to fire the weapon, why did he need the silencer? Another problem: Abdullah's unflinching eyes suggested he was a professional taking stock of his victim.

In an instant Reese resolved the fight-or-flight dilemma. Flight was out of the question. So was fight.

The silencer pressed into his midsection. "May Allah have mercy on you if you do not obey me."

Seeing Abdullah's finger caressing the trigger, Reese said, "Okay. What do you want me to do?"

"You will turn round."

Reese did so.

Standing under the park light was another swarthy man holding another silenced revolver. "My name is Ghazis, Doctor."

Reese faced the new assailant. He was a couple of inches shorter than Abdullah, but otherwise could have been a twin.

Ghazis flashed a set of white teeth. "We will now go for the long ride."

"Where to?"

"The farm."

With the muzzle of the silencer pressed into his spine, Reese continued along the path. At the western corner of the park, they stopped by the rusted van with the dark windows. Abdullah opened the rear doors and pushed Reese inside. He settled opposite him with the revolver aimed at Reese's head. "We have the long drive. It will give me much pleasure if you will attempt to test me."

Reese believed him.

The engine clattered to life and the van lurched off. Reese leaned his head against the metal sidewall. Separated from the cabin by a black curtain, the van's cargo area was windowless, and the air reeked of exhaust fumes. He reflected on the situation. After a while, logic told him that his life wasn't in any immediate danger. His services as a physician were desperately needed. Until those were rendered, he would be safe. Unless he tried to escape.

And given the chance, he would.

Abdullah kicked him in the foot. "You must be clever to be the surgeon, yes?"

Repressing his anger at being kicked, Reese said, "Actually, the most important requirement is respect."

"Respect?"

"Respect for human life."

Reese wondered how long he would be held captive. In the meantime, his colleagues would take care of his post-op patients at the hospital. But if he were held longer than a few days, they would frantically look for him.

Ultimately someone would venture into his apartment. Not finding him there, that person would report him as missing. The search would begin. And after a while the media would get involved. Then his life story would be unveiled before the gossip-hungry populace.

And somehow the media would find a way of linking his disappearance to his background—a background that he had fled long ago and never revisited.

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Chapter 4

With his eyes now adjusted to the darkness, Reese could make out Abdullah's hunched outline and the glint of the revolver.

"Where are you from?" Reese asked.

"Afghanistan."

"What are you doing in America?"

"I study."

"Study what?"

"America."

"The people or the scenery?"

"All."

"What have you learned?"

"I hate America."

"So you must be anxious to get back to Afghanistan."

"When work is finished."

"What work?"

"Work of Allah."

Reese felt a sudden tingle across the back of his neck. "What did Allah tell you to do here?"

"You ask much questions."

"Answer me, and I'll keep quiet."

"You will have answer soon. All infidels will have answer."

----- [Snip] -----

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