Colin Forbes: Terminal

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Colin Forbes Terminal
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    Terminal
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Terminal

Colin Forbes

Swiss clinics are among the finest and most advanced medical establishments in the world. They provide a standard of care without equal. The Berne Clinic, which plays a prominent part in this novel, does not exist. All characters are creatures of the author's imagination. terminal – most concise form of an expression; fatal illness; point of connexion in electric circuit; railway or airway terminus…

The Concise Oxford Dictionary

PROLOGUE

No night should have been as cold as this one. No woman should have to endure what Hannah Stuart endured. She ran screaming down the snowbound slope – screaming when she wasn't choking and coughing her lungs out. Behind her she heard the snarling and barking of the ferocious Doberman dogs coming closer.

Wearing only a nightdress, over which she had thrown her fur coat, her feet shod in rubber-heeled sensible shoes which gripped the treacherous ground, she stumbled on towards the wire fence surrounding the place. As she ran, she tore the `thing' off her face and head, dropping it as she took in great gulps of icy air.

The night was dark but the whiteness of the snow showed her where she was going. Another few hundred yards and she would reach the fence which bordered the highway, the outside world – freedom. Now she could breathe the night air she wondered if it were even worse than the 'thing' she had discarded. With the temperature below zero it was like breathing in liquid ice.

`Oh, my God, no!' she gasped.

Something had landed just ahead of her, a shell-like projectile which quietly burst with a hissing sound. Desperately she tried to hold her breath while she ran through what billowed ahead. It was impossible. She absorbed more lungfuls of the filthy stuff and started choking again.

Behind the dogs they had released ran men in military-style uniforms, their heads and faces hideously disfigured by weird apparatus. Hannah Stuart didn't look back, didn't see them – she just knew they were coming for her.

At the point she was heading for a large wire gate bisected the fence. It was closed but she knew that under her feet lay the snow-covered road leading to that gate. It made her progress faster – such as it was. Still choking, she reached the gate, her hands clawing at the wire as she struggled to haul it open.

If only a car would come up the highway, if only the driver saw her. If only she could get this goddamned gate to open she might even survive. So many 'if s…' The panic she fought to hold in check was welling up. Frantically, she stared up and down the deserted road for sight of a pair of headlights. In the dark nothing moved. Except the dogs which were nearly on top of her and the men who, fanned out in an arc military fashion, came up behind the animals.

She gave one last choking gulp. Her hands, bleeding now as she went on clawing at the gate, lost their grip. Smears of red blood coated the ice-encrusted gate as she slipped down, and then fell the last few feet. The iron-hard ground smashed her face a savage blow.

She was dead when they reached her, eyes sightless, her complexion already showing signs of cyanosis poisoning. Two men with a stretcher took her back up the slope. The dogs were leashed. One man took out a piece of surgical gauze to remove all traces of blood from the gate, then followed his companions.

This was in Switzerland in the year 1984. On the gate a metal plate carried an engraved legend. KLINIK BERN. Wachthund! BERNE CLINIC. Guard Dog!

One

Tucson, Arizona. 10 February 1984. 75?. A sizzling tremor of heat haze. In the shimmer the harsh, jagged Tucson Mountains seemed to vibrate. Behind the wheel of her Jaguar, newly imported from England, Dr Nancy Kennedy let her frustration rip, ramming down on the accelerator.

Expertly, she corrected a rear wheel skid as she swung off Interstate Highway 10 and headed up the hairpin bends towards Gates Pass. Her passenger alongside her, Bob Newman, did not appreciate the experience. Clouds of dust from the road enveloped them and he began choking. He felt like yelling – even screaming.

`Do you have to drive your latest toy as though you're racing at Brands Hatch?' he enquired.

`Typical British understatement?' she asked.

`Typical American way of handling a new car. You're supposed to run it in,' he commented.

`That's what I'm doing…'

`What you're doing is ripping the guts out of it. Just because you're worried about your grandfather in that Swiss clinic you don't have to kill us…'

`I sometimes wonder why I got engaged to an Englishman,' Nancy snapped.

`You couldn't resist me. Christ, it's hot…'

Newman, forty years old, had thick, sandy-coloured hair, cynical blue eyes of a man who has seen too much of the seamy side of the world, a strong nose and jaw and a firm mouth with a droll, humorous expression. He knew it was 75?: he had seen the temperature register on a digital sign outside a bank as they left Tucson. He wore fawn slacks, an open- necked white shirt and his jacket with a small check design was folded in his lap. He was already sweating profusely. The dust was adhering to the sweat. It was eleven o'clock in the morning and they had just finished one row. Maybe it was time for another. He risked it.

`Nancy, if you want to check on why your grandfather was rushed off by air to that place in Switzerland you're going the wrong way. This road does not lead to the Berne Clinic…'

`Oh, shit!'

She rammed her foot on the brake and he would have gone through the windscreen but for the fact they both wore safety belts. A second earlier she had swung off the road into a lay-by. Flinging open the door, she stormed out of the car and stood with her back to him, arms folded, standing by a low wall.

He sighed. She had, of course, left the engine running. Turning off the ignition, he pocketed the keys and joined her, his jacket over one arm. He studied her out of the corner of his eye.

Twenty-nine years old, Nancy Kennedy was at her most attractive in a rage. Her smooth skin was flushed, her raven hair falling to her shoulders. He loved exploring that dense mane of hair, soothing the back of her neck, and then nothing could stop them.

Five feet eight, four inches shorter than Newman, she had legs your fingers itched to stroke and a figure which caused all men's eyes to stare when they walked into a restaurant. Angry, she tilted her head, emphasizing her superb bone structure, high cheekbones and pointed chin expressing self- will.

It constantly amazed him. He had seen her in a white coat practising her profession, supremely competent and self-controlled – but in her private life Nancy had the temper of a she-devil. Often he suspected it was the contrast which attracted him – apart from her physical assets.

`What does the famous foreign correspondent have in mind?' she enquired bitingly.

`Looking for facts – evidence – instead of flying off into the wild blue yonder…' He looked at the staggering view and corrected his description. 'The dirty grey yonder…'

Beyond the wall the road began to descend again in an even more terrifying series of twists and bends. Beyond that it looked like the mountains of Hell – a pile of gigantic cinder cones without a trace of green vegetation on the scarred rock faces.

'We were going to have a lovely day at the Desert Museum,' she pouted. 'They have a beaver lodge underground. You can go down a staircase and see the beavers nestled in the lodge…'

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