Storm Cycle

CHAPTER ONE - ARDMORE UNIVERSITY HOUSTON, TEXAS

The trees on the hill should be a perfect cover, Pelham thought.

He moved quickly up the incline from the side of the road, where he’d hidden his car. The sun was low in the sky. He didn’t have much time before the Kirby woman would be run­ning down the path toward the Science Building. For the last five days Rachel Kirby had been putting in twenty-hour work­days, taking only four hours to rest at her condo before she’d gone back to the lab to work. Today should be no dierent. She’d drive her car to the parking lot three miles from the Science Building and run the rest of the way.

Pelham knelt as he reached the trees and gazed down at the campus below. A few students were strolling on the sidewalk, and there was a girl sitting on the steps of the English Building working on her laptop.

Should he take them out? It would confuse the motivation. The police would think he was just a nutcase if he didn’t focus solely on Rachel Kirby. But it would also raise a public outcry and make the chase hotter for him.

Oh well, he’d decide later. His instincts were usually good when it came down to the final moment.

He opened his gun case.

“Wait, Rachel.” Rachel turned at the front door to see Allie coming down the stairs. “I’ve got to get back to the lab, Allie. I’m late.”

“Not too late to talk to me for a moment.” Allie closed the door and leaned on it, blocking her way. “You’ve got to stop this, Rachel. It was bad before, but now you’re being stupid. You’re working yourself to exhaustion.”

“I have a few problems to iron out. I’ll rest when I get back on level ground.”

“If you don’t have a breakdown.” Her sister smiled. “We can’t have two invalids around here. Letty would quit on us.”

“I haven’t heard Letty complaining.”

Allie’s smile faded. “No, you wouldn’t. Letty is like you. Nothing is too good for me. Even if it means that you’re both strained to the max.”

Rachel didn’t want to hear this. She had known it was com­ing. Allie had been too quiet, and Rachel had been aware of her sister watching her, but she had hoped to avoid a confrontation. “We’re not strained. I don’t need much sleep, and I’m as healthy as a horse. And Letty wouldn’t have her life any other way. She loves taking care of you.”

“I know that. She’s going to hate it when—”

“Shut up, Allie.”

“Why? I’m not afraid any longer. I’ve accepted it.” She looked her in the eye. “I want you to accept it, too, Rachel. It’s time.”

It was worse than Rachel thought it could be. “The hell it is. It’s not going to happen.”

“It’s already happening. When I go through one of these downward spirals, it gets harder to walk, and I lose control of my hands. My toothpaste went everyplace but on the brush this morning. And my eyesight is getting worse.”

“Your eyesight? When did this start?”

“Just in the last couple of weeks. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t happening, but I’ve lost a little of my peripheral vision. It scared me.” She made a face. “And then it made me mad. At any rate, it was a wake-up call.”

“You know how GLD works. Symptoms come and go. It may be years before it gets any worse.”

Allie nodded. “I know that. Next week it may correct itself, and I’ll have a good period. But I have to be ready. You have to be ready.”

Rachel closed her eyes. Dammit. Allie had been struggling with this disease since she was a child, but the past few years had been especially brutal. Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy, aka GLD or Krabbe’s Disease, was a rare disorder of the nervous sys­tem that most commonly attacked infants. They seldom lived past the age of two, but late-onset GLD patients such as Allie were all over the map in terms of symptoms and prognosis.

Allie brushed her hair away from her face. “You can’t stop it by working yourself to death for me. That’s not what I want. Do you want to know what I want?”

“It doesn’t matter whether I do or not, you’re going to tell me anyway.”

“You bet I am.” She smiled. “I’m lonely, Rachel. I want you to spend time with me instead of in that lab tilting at windmills. The battle is over. Let’s make our peace with it and enjoy.”

Every gentle word Allie was speaking was tearing her apart. “It’s not over,” she said fiercely. “I won’t let it be over.”

“You can’t work miracles, Rachel. You’ve already gone above and beyond. You started a research foundation for me, for God’s sake. Because of you, half of the computers in the free world are working on a cure for GLD.”

“The foundation is close to a breakthrough. They’ll come through. I just have to keep—” Allie was shaking her head. “Don’t you dare give up now. I won’t have it.”

“I’ll fight as long as I can. You deserve that from me. I de­serve that for myself. But I’m not going to pretend anymore. Now will you stay home and get some rest?”

Rachel shook her head. “I’m fine.”

Allie moved away from the door. “Then go on and tilt at some more windmills. But when you get tired, come home and be with me.” She started up the stairs. She was moving slowly. It was another sign of the toll the disease was exacting, Rachel thought in agony. When she was going through a down spiral, all the energy and vitality that was Allie was shaded like a lamp with the light turned low. She was two years younger than Ra­chel and when she had her full strength far more attractive. Her huge dark eyes, peaches- and-cream complexion, and sleek red-gold hair gave her drama and fascination. But today her eyes were shadowed. She seemed thinner and more fragile than she had even last week.

“I’ll try to take some time o tomorrow,” she called after her.

“That will be nice.” Allie looked back over her shoulder. “Stop frowning. It’s okay, Rachel. I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. I’ve made a good life for myself. I keep busy. I paint, I work on my cars, I do stained glass. But I love you more than anyone in the world, and I want you to be part of that life. I just had to tell you how I felt.”

“You’re wrong, Allie.”

“Maybe. Don’t work too hard tonight.” She disappeared around the turn of the stairs.

Copyright © 2009 by Johansen Publishing LLP.