Can you imagine a new chemical compound, a non-addictive designer drug that heightens your assertiveness, opens the door to your primal self, giving you an edge wherever you compete? Whether on the street or the football field, in a classroom or a boardroom. Wouldn't you be tempted to try it . . . just once? What happens if it releases uncontrollable rage and makes you a killer? At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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October 01, 2001
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Excerpt from All the Rage by F. Paul Wilson
All the Rage
"This is crazy," Macintosh said. "What are we doing here?"
Dr. Luc Monnet watched the unkempt younger man breathe into his grimy hands and rub them together as he paced back and forth on the wet grass. It had rained most of the day, but now the skies had cleared.
"You should have brought a jacket, Tom."
"You didn't tell me we'd be standing around in a field at goddamn three in the morning!"
A moonless sky vaulted above them. Nearby, the glowing ribbon of Route 290 lay still and largely empty; beyond it the lights of downtown Chicago lit the horizon with false dawn. Hulking masses of hotels or office buildings rose here and there across the flat land like desert buttes.
"You're the one who wanted to know the source of the molecule," Luc said.
Demanded was more like it, but that was such a loaded term. Luc wanted to keep everything on an even keel for the moment.
"I still do. But what are we doing hanging around a circus?"
"It's not a circus." Luc gestured to the loomingshadow of the large oblong tent behind them. "As the sign says, it's an 'Oddity Emporium.'"
Macintosh snorted. "Euphemism for freak show. That still doesn't explain what we're doing here."
"This is the source of the molecule."
"Ok, fine. But why are we standing outside cooling our heels? And I do mean cooling."
Luc grinned in the darkness. If Macintosh saw him, he'd probably think it a response to his feeble attempt at humor. But Luc found nothing funny about Macintosh. Nothing likable about him either. Especially his looks. They were such a mismatched pair. Luc's close-cropped, styled brown hair, trim five-nine frame, and tailor-made slacks and sweater next to Macintosh's tall, ungainly torso, his wrinkled shirt, worn jeans, shaggy hair, and wispy goatee.
Truth was, he was glad Macintosh was uncomfortable in the cold. He wished he'd freeze to death right here and now. The swine didn't have much longer to live anyway, and that would spare Luc the ordeal of having him killed.
Killed, he thought, shuddering at the concept. I'm going to cause another human being's death tonight. What would have been unthinkable two weeks ago had become something he had to do. He felt nothing for Macintosh, only a crawling anxiety to have done with it.
"And was all the subterfuge necessary?" Macintosh whined. "Separate flights, separate hotels, you picking me up on the street in the wee hours of the morning to haul me out here to the middle of nowhere. Like some bad movie."
Luc bit back a sharp retort. Didn't the damn fool ever shut up?
"Think about that, Tom," he said, keeping his voiceeven. It wouldn't do to betray his loathing for this piece of human garbage. Yet. "Just think about it."
Macintosh was blessedly quiet for a moment. Thinking, perhaps? That was something he should have done before he demanded to know the secrets of the molecule.
Macintosh--what had he been thinking when he'd hired this slovenly creature? A brilliant researcher with gaping holes in his intellect. Perfect example: if he'd possessed a lick of common sense he never would have come here.
"Yeah," Macintosh said finally. "I see what you mean. But how much longer?"
Luc lifted his wrist and pressed the illumination button on the rim of his watch. The face lit, revealing 4:11:08. That was Eastern Standard Time. He hadn't bothered resetting it.
"A few more minutes," he said.
In truth, the moment he'd been waiting for had passed. Ten minutes and fifty-four seconds after four had been the mark, but he always liked to give himself a cushion. Just in case.
Canvas rustled behind them and a deep voice said, "We're ready."
Luc turned and saw a tall figure holding back a tent flap.
"Finally!" Macintosh cried as Luc led him toward the faintly lit opening.
"Good evening, Mr. Prather," Luc said to the tall, oddly shaped man holding the flap. The owner of the show had arrived.
"Good evening, Dr. Monnet," Prather said in his deep voice that seemed to echo around him. He pronounced Luc's surname properly, but with an odd cadence.
Ozymandias Prather. An odd-looking duck--nearlysix and a half feet tall, with narrow shoulders, a barrel chest, and wide hips. His long, narrow head completed the conical layout of his body.
"This is Dr. Macintosh. I told you that he'd be coming."
"You did indeed," Prather said.
No one offered to shake hands.
The air within was thicker and warmer but only marginally brighter than the starlight outside.
"Didn't they pay their electric bill?" Macintosh muttered as they followed Prather down the midway toward a better-lit area at the far end of the tent. "And what's that stink?"
Luc clenched his teeth. "That's the source."
At the end of the midway, in a pool of wan light, sat a cage. Above the iron bars a chipped wooden sign heralded THE AMAZING SHARKMAN! in faded red letters. Two roustabouts crouched before the cage, struggling with something between them--something long and dark that ended in three taloned fingers.
"My God!" Macintosh said, stopping and gaping at the sight. "What is that?"
"That ... is the source."
He knew what was going through Macintosh's mind: Sharkman? That arm cannot belong to a man of any sort. It has to be a fake, a muscle-bound performer in a rubber suit with a clawed glove.
That was what Luc himself had thought when he'd first seen the creature that crouched behind the bars. But it had proved to be the real thing. That dark reptilian skin bled when punctured; the talons on the ends of those thick fingers were sharp and deadly.
But Luc was dismayed that tonight it took only two of Prather's roustabouts to steady the creature's arm. These identical, vaguely canine fellows looked evenodder than Prather--muscular, neckless hulks with close-cropped hair, big square teeth, tiny ears, and dark, deep-set eyes. When Luc had begun taking samples last year, five of them had had difficulty restraining the thrashing Sharkman.
He squinted past them into the shadows of the cage but could make out only a darker blot within. He didn't need to see the creature to know it was failing. At first he hadn't been sure, but now with each visit it was more and more apparent that it was fading away. Another month, perhaps--certainly no more than two--and it would be dead. The wellspring of the molecule would be gone.
And then what would he do?
The precipitous drop in cash flow would be the least of Luc's problems.