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Home > Miracle Cure

Miracle Cure
Author: Harlan Coben

PROLOGUE

FRIDAY, AUGUST 30

D R. Bruce Grey tried not to walk too fast. He slowed his pace, fighting off the temptation to sprint across the soiled floor of Kennedy Airport’s International Arrivals Building, past the customs officials, and out into the humid night air. His eyes shifted from side to side. Every few steps he would feign a soreness in his neck to give himself the opportunity to glance behind him and make sure he was not being followed.

Stop it! Bruce told himself. Stop lurking around like a poor man’s James Bond. You’re shaking like a malaria patient, for chrissake. You couldn’t look more conspicuous if you wore a sign.

He strolled past the luggage carousel, nodding politely at the little old lady who had sat next to him on the flight. The old woman had not shut her mouth during the entire trip, gabbing on about her family, her love of flying, her last trip overseas. She was sweet enough, just somebody’s grandmother, but Bruce still closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep in order to get a little peace and quiet. But, of course, sleep had not come to him. It would not come for some time yet.

But maybe she wasn’t just some sweet, little old lady, Brucie boy. Maybe she was following you . . .

He dismissed the voice with a nervous shake of the head. This whole thing was turning his brain into sewer sludge. First, he was sure that the bearded man on the plane had been following him. Then it was the big guy with the slicked-back hair and Armani suit at the telephone booth. And don’t forget the pretty blonde by the terminal exit. She had been following him too.

Now it was a little old lady.

Get a grip on yourself, Brucie. Paranoia is not what we need right now. Clear thinking, old pal—that’s what we’re looking for.

Bruce moved past the luggage carousel and over to the customs official.

“Passport, please.”

Bruce handed the man his passport.

“No luggage, sir?”

He shook his head. “Only this carry-on.”

The customs officer glanced at the passport and then at Bruce. “You look quite different from your photograph.”

Bruce tried to force a tired smile to his lips but it would not hold. The humidity was almost unbearable. His dress shirt was pasted against his skin, his tie loosened to the point of being nearly untied. Beads of perspiration dotted his forehead. “I . . . I’ve gone through a few changes.”

“A few? You’re a dark-haired man with a beard in this picture.”

“I know—”

“Now you’re a clean-shaven blond.”

“Like I said, I went through a few changes.” Luckily, you can’t tell eye color from a passport photo or you would want to know why I changed my eyes from brown to blue.

The customs official did not appear convinced. “Were you traveling on business or pleasure?”

“Pleasure.”

“You always pack this lightly?”

Bruce swallowed and managed a shrug. “I hate waiting for checked luggage.”

The customs official swung his line of vision from the passport photograph to Bruce’s face and then back again. “Would you open your bag, please?”

Bruce could barely keep his hands steady enough to set the combination. It took him three tries before it finally snapped open. “There you go.”

The customs official’s eyes narrowed into thin slits as he rummaged through the belongings. “What are these?” he asked.

Bruce closed his eyes, his breath coming in short gasps. “Some files.”

“I can see that,” the official replied. “What are they for?”

“I’m a doctor,” Bruce explained, his voice cracking. “I wanted to review some of my patients’ charts while I was away.”

“Do you always do that when you’re on vacation?”

“Not always.”

“What type of doctor are you?”

“An internist at Columbia Presbyterian,” Bruce replied, telling a half-truth. He decided to leave out the fact that he was also an expert in public health and epidemiology.

“I see,” the official replied. “I wish my doctor was that dedicated.”

Again Bruce tried to smile. Again it was a failed attempt.

“And this sealed envelope?”

Bruce felt his whole body quake. “Excuse me?”

“What is in this manila envelope?”

He willed a casual look on his face. “Oh, that’s just some medical information I’m sending to a colleague,” he managed.

The customs official’s eyes locked onto Bruce’s bloodshot ones for a few long moments. “I see,” he said, slowly putting the envelope back in the bag. When the customs official finished going through the rest of the carry-on, he signed Bruce’s customs declaration and handed him back his passport. “Give the card to the woman on your way out.”

Bruce reached for the bag. “Thank you.”

“And, Doctor?”

Bruce looked up.

“You might want to visit one of your colleagues,” the customs official said. “If you don’t mind a layman giving medical opinions, you look awful.”

“I’ll do that.”

Bruce lifted the bag and glanced behind him. The little old lady was still waiting for her luggage. The man with the beard and the pretty blonde were nowhere in sight. The big guy in the Armani suit was still talking on the phone.

Bruce moved away from the customs desk. His right hand gripped his bag with excessive vigor; his left hand rubbed his face. He handed the customs declaration to the woman and walked through the sliding glass doors into the waiting area. A sea of anxious faces greeted him. People stood on their toes, peering out from all points with each swish of the glass doors before lowering their heads in disappointment when an unfamiliar face approached the threshold.

Bruce moved steadily past the waiting friends and relatives, past the bored limousine drivers with name signs held up against their chests. He made his way to the Japan Airlines ticket counter on the right.

“Is there a mailbox near here?” he asked.

“To your right,” the woman replied. “By the Air France desk.”

“Thank you.”

He walked by a garbage can and casually dropped his torn-up boarding pass into it. He had considered himself very clever to book the flight under an assumed name—very clever, that was, until he got to the airport and was informed that you could not have an international ticket issued under a different name from the one on your passport.

Whoops.

Luckily, there had been plenty of space on the flight. Even though he had to purchase another ticket for himself, reserving one under an alias had not been such a dumb idea. Before his actual departure date, no one could have found out what flight he was booked on because his name was not in the computer. Pure genius on his part.

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