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Meteorite hunter Sam McFarlane has agreed to take part in a remarkable project. In this chapter, McFarlane pays a visit to Effective Engineering Solutions, a company that will be helping to guarantee the project's success. EES is a secretive and very unusual company--and its president, Eli Glinn, is perhaps an even more secretive and unusual man.


Warning: This novel contains profanity and graphic violence.


From Chapter 6

New York City, June 4, 11:45 AM


The Land Rover jounced its way down West Street, the sagging piers along the Hudson flashing by the passenger window, the sky over Jersey City a dull sepia in the noon light. McFarlane braked hard, then swerved to avoid a taxi angling across three lanes to catch a fare. It was a smooth, automatic motion. McFarlane’s mind was far away.

He was remembering the afternoon when the Zaragosa meteorite fell. He'd finished high school, had no job or plans of one, and was hiking across the Mexican desert, Carlos Castañeda in his back pocket. The sun had been low, and he’d been thinking about finding a place to pitch his bedroll. Suddenly, the landscape grew bright around him, as if the sun had emerged from heavy clouds. But the sky was already perfectly clear. And then he'd stopped dead in his tracks. On the sandy ground ahead of him, a second shadow of himself had appeared; long and ragged at first, but quickly compacting. There was a sound of singing. And then, a massive explosion. He’d fallen to the ground, thinking earthquake, or nuclear blast, or Armageddon. There was a patter of rain. Except it was not rain: it was thousands of tiny rocks, dropping around him. He picked one up; a little piece of grey stone, covered in black crust. It still held the deep cold of outer space inside, despite its fiery passage through the atmosphere, and it was covered with frost.

As he stared at the fragment from outer space, he suddenly knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

But that had been years ago. Now, he tried to think as little about those idealistic days as possible. His eye strayed to a locked briefcase on the passenger seat, which contained Nestor Masangkay’s battered journal. He tried to think as little as possible about that, too.

A light ahead turned green, and he made a turn into a narrow one-way street. This was the meat-packing district, perched at the uttermost edge of the West Village. Old loading docks yawned wide, filled with burly men manhandling carcasses in and out of trucks. Along the far side of the street, as if to take advantage of the proximity, was a crowd of restaurants with names like 'The Hog Pit' and 'Uncle Billy’s Backyard.' It was the antithesis of the chrome-and-glass Park Avenue headquarters of Lloyd Holdings, from which he had just come. Nice place for a corporate presence, McFarlane thought, if you deal in pork belly futures. He double-checked the scribbled address lying on his dashboard.

He slowed, then guided the Land Rover to a stop on the far side of an especially decrepit loading dock. Killing the engine, he stepped into the meat-fragrant humidity and looked around. Halfway down the block, a garbage truck idled, grinding busily away at its load. Even from this distance, he caught a whiff of the green juice that dribbled off its rear bumper. It was a stench unique to New York City garbage trucks; once smelt, never forgotten.

He pulled a heavy portfolio from the back of the Land Rover, then closed and locked the door. Before him rose the grimy brick facade of a fin-de-siecle building, a massive structure taking up most of the block. His eye traveled up a dozen stories, coming to rest at the words Price & Price Pork Packing Inc. The paint was almost effaced by time. Although the windows on the lower floors had been bricked over, he could see fresh glass and chrome winking on the upper stories.

The only entrance seemed to be a brace of metal loading doors. He pressed a buzzer at their side and waited. After a few seconds there came a faint click and the doors parted, moving noiselessly on oiled bearings.

He stepped into a poorly-lit corridor that ended in another set of steel doors, much newer, flanked with security keypads and a retinal scanning unit. As he approached, one of the doors opened, and a small, dark, heavily-muscled man in an MIT warm-up suit came forward, an athletic spring to his step. Tightly-curled black hair, fringed with white at the temples, covered his head. He had dark, intelligent eyes and an easygoing air that was very uncorporate.

"Dr. McFarlane?" the man asked in a friendly growl, extending a hairy hand. "I'm Manuel Garza, Construction Engineer for EES." His grip was surprisingly gentle.

"Is this your corporate headquarters?" McFarlane asked, with a wry smile.

"We prefer our anonymity."

"Well, at least you don’t have to go far for a steak."

Garza laughed gruffly. "Not if you like it rare."

McFarlane followed him through the open door. He found himself in a cavernous room, brilliantly lit with halogen lights. Acres of steel tables stood in long, neat rows. On them rested numerous tagged objects–piles of sand, rocks, melted jet engines, ragged pieces of metal. Technicians in lab coats moved around. One passed him, cradling a piece of asphalt in white-gloved hands as if it were a Ming vase.

Garza followed McFarlane’s gaze around the room, and then glanced at his watch. "We've got a few minutes. Care for a tour?"

"Why not? I always love a good junkyard."

Garza threaded his way among the tables, nodding to various technicians. He paused at an unusually long table, covered with twisted black lumps of rock. "Recognize these?"

"That’s pahoehoe. There’s a nice example of aa. Some volcanic bombs. You guys building a volcano?"

"No," said Garza. "Just blew one apart." He nodded to a scale model of a volcanic island at the far end of the table, complete with a city, canyons, forests, and mountains. He reached beneath the lip of the table and pressed a button. There was a brief whirr, a groaning noise, and the volcano began to belch lava, spilling in sinuous flows down its flanks and creeping toward the scale city. "The lava is specially-formulated methyl cellulose."

"Beats my old N-scale railroad."

"A Third World government needed our assistance. A dormant volcano had erupted on one of their islands. A lake of lava was building up in the caldera and was about to bust out and head straight for this city of 60,000. Our job was to save the city."

"Funny, I didn’t read anything in the news about this."

"It wasn’t funny at all. The government wasn't going to evacuate the city. It’s a minor offshore banking haven. Mostly drug money."

"Maybe you should have let it burn, like Sodom and Gomorrah."

"We're an engineering firm, not God. We don’t concern ourselves with the moral status of paying clients."

McFarlane laughed, feeling himself relax a little. "So how'd you stop it?"

"We blocked those two valleys, there, with landslides. Then we punched a hole in the volcano with high explosives, and blasted an overflow channel on the far side. We used a significant portion of the world's non-military supply of semtex in the process. All the lava went into the sea, creating almost a thousand acres of new real estate for our client in the process. That didn’t quite pay our fee, of course. But it helped."

Garza moved on. They passed a series of tables covered with bits of fuselage and burned electronics. "Jet crash," said Garza, "terrorist bomb." He dismissed it with a quick wave of his hand.

Reaching the far side of the room, Garza opened a small white door and led McFarlane down a series of sterile corridors. McFarlane could hear the hush of air scrubbers; the clatter of keys; a strange, regular thudding sound from far below his feet.

Then Garza opened another door and McFarlane stopped short in surprise. The space ahead of him was vast–at least six stories tall and two hundred feet deep. Around the edges of the room was a forest of high-tech equipment: banks of digital cameras, category-5 cabling, huge "green screens" for visual effects backdrops. Along one wall sat half a dozen Lincoln convertibles of early sixties vintage, long and slab-sided. Inside each car sat four carefully dressed dummies, two in the front and two in the rear.

The center of the enormous space was taken up by a model of a city intersection, complete down to working stop lights. Building facades of various heights rose on either side. A groove ran down the asphalted road, and a pulley system within it was fixed to the front bumper of yet another Lincoln, its four dummies in careful place. An undulating greensward of sculpted astroturf lined the roadway. The roadway ended in an overpass, and there stood Eli Glinn himself, bullhorn in one hand.

McFarlane stepped forward in Garza’s wake, halting at last on the pavement in the artificial shade of some plastic bushes. Something about the scene looked strangely familiar.

On the overpass, Glinn raised the bullhorn. "Thirty seconds," he called out.

"Syncing to SMPTE and digital feed," came a disembodied voice. "Sound off."

There was a flurry of responses. "Green across the board," the voice said.

"Everyone clear," said Glinn. "Power up and let's go."

Activity seemed to come from everywhere. There was a hum and the pulley system moved forward, pulling the limo along the direction of the groove. Technicians stood behind the digital cameras, recording the progress.

There was the crack of an explosion nearby, then two more in quick succession. McFarlane ducked instinctively, recognizing the sound as gunfire. Nobody else seemed alarmed, and he looked in the direction of the noise. It seemed to have come from some bushes to his right. Peering closely into the foliage, he could make out two large rifles, mounted on steel pedestals. Their stocks had been sawn off, and leads ran from the triggers.

Suddenly, he knew where he was. "Dealey Plaza," he murmured.

Garza smiled.

McFarlane stepped onto the astroturf and peered closer at the two rifles. Following the direction of their barrels, he noticed that the right rear dummy was leaning to one side, its head shattered.

Glinn approached the side of the car, inspected the dummies, then murmured to someone beside him, pointing out bullet trajectories. As he stepped away and came toward McFarlane, the technicians crowded forward, taking pictures and jotting down data.

"Welcome to my museum, Dr. McFarlane," he said, shaking his hand. "I'll thank you to step off our grassy knoll, however. That rifle still holds several live rounds." He turned toward Garza. "It’s a perfect match. We've cracked this one. No need for additional run-throughs."

"So this is the project you’re just wrapping up?" McFarlane asked.

Glinn nodded. "Some new evidence turned up recently that needed further analysis."

"And what have you found?"

Glinn gave him a cool glance. "Perhaps you'll read about it in the New York Times some day, Dr. McFarlane. But I doubt it. For now, let me just say that I have a greater respect for conspiracy theorists than I did a month ago."

"Very interesting. This must've cost a fortune. Who paid for it?"

There was a conspicuous silence.

"What does this have to do with engineering?" McFarlane finally asked.

"Everything. EES was a pioneer in the science of failure analysis, and half our work is still in that area. Understanding how things fail is the most important component in solving engineering problems."

"But this--?" McFarlane jerked his hand in the direction of the recreated plaza.

Glinn smiled elusively. "Assassination of a president is a rather major failure, don't you think? Not to mention the botched investigation that followed. Besides, our work in analyzing failures such as this helps us maintain our perfect engineering record."


"That’s right. EES has never failed. Never. It is our trademark." He gestured to Garza, and they moved back toward the doorway. "It's not enough to figure out how to do something. You must also analyze every possible path to failure. Only then can you be certain of success. That is why we have never failed. We do not sign a contract until we know we can succeed. And then we guarantee success. There are no disclaimers in our contracts."

"Is that why you haven't signed the Lloyd Museum contract yet?"

"Yes. And it's why you're here today." Glinn removed a heavy, beautifully engraved gold watch from his pocket, checked the time, and slid it back. Then he turned the handle briskly and stepped through. "Come on. The others are waiting."



THE ICE LIMIT is copyright © 2000 by Lincoln Child and Splendide Mendax, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this text, or any portion thereof, in any form.
THE ICE LIMIT is available in paperback from Grand Central Publishing,

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