The two-lane blacktop is a dark snake slithering through the moon-washed paleness of the Utah wastelands. In the nearly empty vastness, small clusters of lights glimmer here and there in the distance, like extraterrestrial pod craft that have descended from the mother ship on some nefarious mission.
Traveling south out of the Provo suburbs into ever greater isolation, Lee Shacket dares not take Interstate 15. He uses less-busy state highways, undivided federal highways when he must, anxious to put as much distance as possible between himself and the events at the Springville facility.
If he has committed as much evil as any man in history, he has done it with the best intentions. He believes that those intentions matter more than the consequences of his actions. How could humanity have advanced from caves to orbiting space stations if all men and women were risk averse? Some seek knowledge and rise to challenges at whatever cost, and because of them, progress is made.
Anyway, all may be well in the end. The final result of the project is not yet known, only that it’s gone wrong in mid stage. Every scientific endeavor is marked by setbacks. Ultimately, failure can be the father of success if one learns from the errors made.
Initially, however, he is treating this failure as absolute.
He is driving neither his Tesla nor his Mercedes 550SL, because eventually the authorities will be looking for him. He is tooling along in a fully loaded blood-red Dodge Demon that he purchased for $146,000 through an LLC based in the Cayman islands, to which his name can’t be linked even by the most determined investigator. The vehicle bears a Montana license plate. In the unlikely event that a connection between him and the car might be made by law enforcement, the GPS has been removed from the Dodge to prevent its location from being discovered by satellite.
One of two suitcases in the trunk contains $100,000. Another $300,000 in hundred-dollar bills can be accessed by disengaging two pressure latches on the back of the front passenger seat, revealing a secret compartment. Sewn into the lining of his supple black leather jacket, which is cut like a sport coat, are thirty-six high- quality diamonds worth half a million to any gem wholesaler.
These assets are not intended to support him for the rest of his life. They are to be used to allow him to go to ground for a few months, until the furor over the Springville fiasco subsides, make his way out of the United States, and get safely to Costa Rica by an indirect route involving five countries and three identity changes.
In Costa Rica, he owns a retreat under the name Ian Stonebridge, and he possesses a valid Swiss passport in that identity.
He is the CEO of Refine, a multibillion-dollar division of a mega-valued conglomerate. Few CEOs of multibillion-dollar companies have the foresight to imagine a corporate crisis dire enough to require the preparation of a new identity and the hiding away of sufficient capital overseas to sustain a high standard of living for decades to come. Shacket takes pride in the fact that he has been wise and prudent for a man so much younger than most other CEOs.
He is thirty-four, which isn’t all that young for a guy in his position in an economic sector where companies have been founded by technology wizards who became billionaires in their twenties. He answers to the chairman of the board of the parent company, Dorian Purcell, who was a billionaire at twenty-seven and is now thirty- eight, but Shacket himself is worth only a hundred million.
Dorian wanted the research at Springville to proceed at a breakneck pace. Shacket obliged because, were they to succeed in their primary project, stock options would make him a billionaire, too, although probably not a multibillionaire, while Dorian’s fifty- billion-dollar fortune would most likely double.
The injustice of this unequal compensation causes Shacket to grind his teeth in his sleep; he often wakes with aching jaws. A mere billionaire is a nobody among the princes of high tech. In spite of their pretensions to social equality, many of this crowd are among the most class-conscious elite bigots the world has ever known. Lee Shacket despises them almost as much as he wants to be one of them.
If he has to go into hiding for the rest of his life with only a measly hundred million to sustain himself, he will have a lot of free time in which to plot the ruination of Purcell and little or no inclination to do anything else.
From the start, Lee Shacket has understood that, should something go very wrong, he will have to take the fall. Dorian Purcell will forever remain untouchable, an icon of the high-tech revolution. Nevertheless, now that Shacket is having to pay that price, he feels deceived, tricked, bamboozled.
Driving through the early night, he is racked by anger and by self-pity and anxiety, but also by what he believes to be grief, an emotion that is new to him. Ninety-two Refine employees are in the locked-down high-security facility near Springville, prevented from communicating with the outside world, in their final hours of life.
He’s as pissed off at them as at Dorian. One of those geniuses——or several——has done something careless that sealed their fate and put him in this untenable position. Yet some are his friends, to the extent that a CEO can allow himself friends among those he must supervise, and their suffering, as it should, distresses him.
During the building of that complex, he’d taken pains to ensure that the module containing his office and those of his immediate support staff——five others——would go into airtight lockdown ninety seconds after all of the labs were hermetically sealed in a crisis. When the alarm sounded, he assured his staff that they were safe, that they should stay at their posts——and he quietly departed.
He had no choice but to lie to them. The alarm didn’t announce impending disaster, but an immediate one. They are as contaminated as the researchers in the labs. Shacket is likewise contaminated, but in mortal circumstances like these, he isn’t capable of lying to himself as easily as he lied to them.
Anyway, he’s always been clever about eluding the consequences of his mistakes. Maybe his luck will hold through one last escape.
He’ll soon be hunted, the quarry of legitimate authorities but also of Dorian’s ruthless clean-up crew. He hopes, in what he believes is a spirit of mercy and sorrow, that all employees at Springville will perish before any can bear witness against him.
Excerpted from "Devoted" by Dean Koontz with permission from the publisher, Thomas & Mercer. Copyright © 2020 by The Koontz Living Trust. All rights reserved.