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Odds On: A Novel

Michael Crichton

  Odds On

  A Novel

  Michael Crichton writing as John Lange

  “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”



  Saturday, June Fourteenth

  Sunday, June Fifteenth

  Monday, June Sixteenth

  Tuesday, June Seventeenth

  Night, June Seventeenth

  Wednesday, June Eighteenth

  Thursday, June Nineteenth

  Friday, June Twentieth

  Afternoon, June Twentieth

  Saturday, June Twenty-First

  Afternoon, June Twenty-First

  Night, June Twenty-First

  Sunday, June Twenty-Second (12:00-1:00)

  Morning, June Twenty-Second (1:00-12:00)

  Afternoon, June Twenty-Second

  A Biography of Michael Crichton


  LE PERTHUS, FRANCE: THE dynamite, neatly bundled in “Happy Birthday” wrapping paper, lay casually on the back seat. Miguel had thrown his sport coat over it some hours before, and so, as he drew up at the end of a line of cars waiting to pass Spanish customs, he gave his package no thought. It was perfectly obvious and perfectly safe.

  He killed the engine of his Simca and lit a cigarette, feeling the midmorning heat settle around his car. It had been miserably hot the whole damned day. The drop had been scheduled for 6 a.m. in Marseilles, but as usual there was a snag, and then, when the bastard had showed up at nine, he wanted endless identification. And to top it off, he was annoyed that Miguel didn’t speak French. Miguel spoke excellent English, as well as German and Swahili—and, of course, Spanish. He had been born in Mexico, raised in Texas, trained and tempered in the American army. He had made his fortune in Europe after the war—a modest fortune, but decent enough. In the late forties and early fifties, his business had been money—still was, in Yugoslavia, Turkey and Egypt—and afterward, it had been watches and cameras. The Japanese had put a big dent in that game by taking away demand for German and Swiss stuff; the market had never been the same since. Miguel had shifted his attention to guns, but even that was breaking down as rebels got scarcer, and legitimate sources for armaments opened up. For the last six months he had sat around in Beirut doing nothing except hustle girls and smoke hash, and then finally Bryan had contacted him. Bryan was a good man, cautious and perfectly straight, but Miguel wished he had been given the whole story. He didn’t like smuggling for no reason. Bryan had said the reason was damned good, and that Miguel would just have to wait, and although Miguel had argued like hell, Bryan hadn’t budged an inch.

  So now he was waiting.

  He looked down the long line of cars to the Spanish customs officers in their green and red uniforms and funny black hats. Luckily, they weren’t checking trunks. Miguel had chosen this border crossing particularly because it was hot and crowded, and he was hoping for a perfunctory check. Usually the Spaniards were careless—unless they had been tipped off.

  Miguel had taken precautions against that. The Marseilles contact, a fat bastard stinking of garlic, had helped stow the dynamite inside the trunk of an Opel, and, without being asked, Miguel had mentioned that he was driving it into Spain. The Frenchman would assume that Miguel was taking it anywhere but Spain; he might alert the Italians or the Austrians, but it didn’t matter much. Miguel had driven east from Marseilles to Cassis, checking constantly to be sure he wasn’t followed, and then had left the Opel and started back in the Simca. He hadn’t stopped for lunch, thus insuring that he would reach the border at the hottest part of the day.

  Slowly, the line of cars inched forward.

  The car had been Bryan’s idea. It was leased to Miguel, registered in Paris, with red “TTA 75” plates, indicating he was an American tourist. His passport—his real passport—was American, so everything was on the up-and-up. That was the way Bryan liked it, always truthful whenever possible. Miguel smirked. Bryan was overcautious, unable to bluff. He wondered what the Englishman would do if he knew Miguel was crossing the border with the stuff practically in sight on the back seat.

  Not that Miguel believed in taking chances; he didn’t. He was supposed to be a tourist, and he had gone to great pains to enhance that impression. His clothes were new, sporty, and, even by his own relaxed standards of taste, rather vulgar. The car was cluttered with road maps, tourist literature, guidebooks, and loose boxes of film, the result of a week-long tour through southern France. During that week, he had been a genuine, rubbernecking, picture-snapping tourist; now, both he and his car looked authentic. The impression was unmistakable and impossible to falsify.

  The last of the cars ahead of him passed through customs. Miguel pulled up and handed his passport through the window. Without glancing at it, the inspector handed it to the man in the little glass booth, who stamped it perfunctorily. It was returned, and Miguel handed the inspector the green card, proof of registration and insurance. The inspector didn’t seem too interested.


  “No,” Miguel said.



  The inspector nodded. “Where are you going?”

  “Barcelona, then Madrid.” He was careful to pronounce the names awkwardly.

  The inspector returned the green card and waved Miguel through.

  Miguel drove slowly along the winding road, passing the rolling green hills, the occasional red-roofed farmhouses, the wheat fields. He would spend the night in Gerona, celebrate his passage with a good roaring drunk, and drive to the hotel in the morning. Bryan had said it was a fancy hotel with lots of broads. The meeting there would be a little dividend on the project, a nice change.

  LONDON, ENGLAND: Bryan Stack listened to Jane sleeping quietly beside him. She breathed regularly, with the peaceful exhaustion of a totally relaxed and satisfied woman. He pushed a strand of her dark hair from her face, and looked thoughtfully at her aristocratic nose and cheekbones, the sensual full mouth. Well, she ought to have fine features; she was Lord Averett’s only daughter. He smiled to himself. If the old man only knew.

  He slipped out of bed, groped in the dark for cigarettes, and went to the window. Through the dark drops of rain which rattled against the windowpane, he could see the blurred, dark-green patch of Hyde Park below, completely deserted. He wondered how he was going to tell her. He should have said something weeks ago, but it was always so difficult to find the words.

  “Bryan?” Her voice was sleepy.

  “Sorry,” he said. “I thought you were asleep.” He looked back at her, naked beneath the white sheet, which clearly revealed the twin mounds of her breasts and the slow curve of her full hips. She stretched lazily.

  “I was asleep,” she said. “It’s warm in this room. Why don’t you open the window?”

  “It’s raining.”

  She sighed. “Summer in England. Light me a cigarette, would you? Thanks.” Her eyes caught his in the brief glow of the cigarette lighter. “Is something wrong?”

  “Of course not.”

  She studied his face in the darkness, trying to read his features, to fathom the expression. She knew Bryan was a master of expressions; his face, handsome and excitingly cruel, was his stock in trade.

  “You’re leaving me,” she said.


  “Where is it this time?”

  “Italy,” he lied.

  “I wish you wouldn’t, darling.”

  “I know.” He wanted to add that he didn’t have any burning desire to go, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. Bryan Stack was a slightly disreputable man of action, and he always had been. He lived for tension—and his women lived
for the aura of excitement which hung about him.

  “Will it be dangerous?”

  “I can’t be sure. Probably.” Spain would be a hell of a place to pull a stunt like this, he knew. Police states were always tougher. Still, it all looked good on paper.

  “Gone long?”

  “A couple of weeks.”

  Jane sighed. She had waited for him before, many times. She had waited longer than two weeks. She would manage. She stretched again, and felt her muscles begin to tingle with the first faint hinting of desire. She ran her eyes over his naked body, sitting at the edge of the bed at her feet. She knew every inch of that body, every bulging muscle, every scar. She loved it, and she needed it. Whenever he was gone, she was restless as an alley cat, roaming the streets and bars like a common whore, occasionally taking stray men who looked as if they might be able to satisfy her. They never could, and they only increased her longing for Bryan. He was the genuine thing—a man who could hold her, excite her, drive her into such a frenzy that she no longer knew who or where she was, and then ease her gently back into the world. He did it with such strength, such confidence.

  “When do you leave?” she asked.

  He hesitated. “Tomorrow morning.”

  She nodded calmly, expecting that. He’d already arranged it. Bryan always left in a hurry, always came back to her with unexpected abruptness. That was his way.

  The tingling had increased perceptibly. She now felt her thighs growing warm, the area between her legs heated. She scratched her shoulder, wondering if it was a passing urge which would leave, and she waited. It did not leave her, but built in intensity. She raised one leg and kicked off the sheet, enjoying the way he looked down her exposed body.

  “Bryan,” she said. “I want you. Now.”

  He smiled in the darkness. “I thought you’d had enough.”

  “Have you?”

  Without answering, he lay down beside her and kissed her, biting her soft lower lip. His hands, strong and assured, ran down her neck, across her breasts, and slowly down her flat stomach. He kissed her ear, and she felt a sudden thrill which made her grind her hips into the sheet and spread her legs. Then he began to kiss her breasts, stroking them gently with his tongue until the nipples were tense and firm. She moaned softly; her body was taking on a life of its own, and she was losing the power to control it. She felt the muscles in her abdomen tighten as his hand slipped between her legs.

  She moaned as he came into her, felt her hips churning, driving, wanting him. She wondered briefly if he would come back to her, but then all thoughts were blotted out in a rising overwhelming surge of passion.

  CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS: It was very quiet in the basement of the computation laboratory. Steven Jencks listened to the muffled sound of activity in the glass-walled rooms around him. To the left, secretaries and graduate students pored over computer print-outs or arranged programs; to the right was a single room containing the card-sorter. It was in operation now, shuffling through data input cards and dropping them into a row of slots.

  The main computer, an IBM 7090, was upstairs on the ground floor. Jencks had been up there a short time before, watching as the computer ran through its programs. Though he had seen it at work a dozen times before, it never failed to amaze him; he could stare for hours as the lights winked on the control consoles, and the memory reels whirled back and forth, imparting the knowledge stored on magnetic tape.

  It was an expensive machine. Computer time cost hundreds of dollars an hour, and he had had to buy the full hour, though his actual program would require only a minute or two of machine time. The rest of the money would pay for the technicians who fed in his raw data and program cards, which the computer then transferred onto tape. The computer worked only with taped instructions and data; punch cards were too slow for it.

  Since he had access to a card-punching machine, Jencks had supplied the card file ready to run. The technicians had been surprised, and grateful. But Jencks had not spent twelve exhausting hours with the big machine which cut little rectangles into the computer cards out of any feeling of sympathy for the technicians. He had done the dull work because he wanted no one else to see it.

  His project was a specialized one, and might cause comment.

  A technician named Allerton, a young Ph.D. candidate with heavy glasses and a mop of black hair, came up as he was finishing his Coke. “Dr. Jencks?”

  “That’s right.” Jencks was not a doctor of anything, but there was no point in explaining.

  “Your output should be coming off in a few minutes.”

  They went upstairs and watched as the 7090 reeled off pages of computations, which were written with incredible speed onto broad sheets of green paper. The paper fell in folds into a wire basket on the floor.

  The output typewriter paused making a rapid click-click-click as it waited for the next program to be run through. Because computer time was so expensive, one project after another was handled by the machine with barely a pause in between.

  “Yours should be next,” Allerton said.

  As he spoke, the typewriter began again, racing across the page with blurring speed, hammering out row after row of numbers. Jencks’ eyes hurt as he tried to follow it. After about a minute, the typewriter stopped, and began its click-click-clicking once again. Allerton ripped off the continuous strip of paper, separating the print-out from the large blank sheaf above the typewriter. He picked up the thick wad of printed output and handed it to Jencks.

  “We made two copies,” he said. “Is that enough?”


  “You want your data cards?”

  “Yes, if you can find them.” He kept his voice casual, indicating no concern. In fact, he was very concerned; he wanted every trace of his project removed from the computation lab.

  “I think I know where they are,” Allerton said, and went off.

  Allerton had seen the program and had watched the out-put with some interest. He knew that Jencks had run through a simulation; he didn’t know what it was about, but he understood its general nature well enough. It was the CRIPA program, used to test the best way to combine a series of separate jobs leading to some final goal. Industry used it to build intricate things like jet planes and submarines. In fact, the CRIPA program—standing for Critical Path Analysis—was first used on the Polaris project. The idea was to find out which jobs were most likely to hold up the entire construction schedule, and to make sure those jobs were done on time, in smooth order.

  Jencks had fed some kind of data into a CRIPA program. Allerton didn’t worry about what the data specifically referred to; after all, it was just a bunch of numbers, perhaps even a hypothetical experiment, like Professor Forte’s simulation of paths for subatomic particles.

  Allerton found the cards and brought them back to Jencks in a narrow cardboard box almost three feet long. “Here you are.”

  “Thanks,” Jencks said, slipping the box under his arm. He picked up his briefcase, which now contained the computer print-out.

  “Good luck with your problem,” Allerton said, as Jencks left.

  “I may need it,” Jencks replied truthfully.

  Without hurrying, he walked outside and caught a cab to Logan Airport.

  Three hours later, he was watching a New York cabbie put his luggage in the trunk. Jencks slipped into the back seat, his briefcase at his side. “Kennedy,” he said.

  The driver sighed. “Got a time problem?”

  “No,” Jencks said. He never had a time problem. He ran his life serenely, with proper allowances, with careful planning, with consummate skill. He had been blessed with a fine memory and a quick mind, and he had used both to advantage. Steven Jencks was a professional gambler, and a very successful one. He reached into his pocket for the telegram which had arrived in New York that morning, just prior to his trip to Boston. He found the cable along with the receipt for his hotel bill and a wad of newly purchased traveler’s checks.



  It was succinct. It showed that Bryan was a man after his own heart, a man who got right to the point and didn’t play silly games.

  But what about their third man? Bryan had assured him that the man was good and could be trusted. Jencks preferred to reserve judgment until he had met him. The fellow was a smuggler, and smugglers had a tendency to play both sides of the fence (Jencks smiled at the pun) and to hop out of the heat at the first opportunity.

  The cabbie drove through the tunnel and headed east toward the Belt Parkway. Jencks returned the telegram to his pocket. He would dispose of it later; perhaps he could flush it down the toilet at the airport.

  “Goin’ abroad?” the cabbie asked.

  “Yes,” Jencks said coldly.

  The cabbie ignored his tone. “Europe?”

  “No, Africa.”

  “Africa. No kidding. Whereabouts in Africa?”


  “I don’t know where that is,” the cabbie admitted. “You a salesman or something?”

  “A white hunter,” Jencks said, thinking that it was almost true.

  The cabbie laughed. “All right, mister. A guy can tell when he’s being kidded.”

  “Sometimes,” Jencks said, “but only sometimes.”


  CANNES, FRANCE: PETER MERRITT GANSON IV walked shivering out of the water and threw himself down on a striped beach mattress on the Carlton beach. From the water, Jenny waved gaily and called to him.

  “Bitch,” he muttered under his breath. He rubbed himself briskly with a towel, watching the goosebumps form. The water was too cold. He had said so, but she had insisted, knowing that it would annoy him. Peter didn’t like ocean water to be any colder than a warm bath. That was why he preferred his parents’ home on St. Thomas to any spot on the Mediterranean. There was no getting around it, the Mediterranean was cold most of the year.

  But no colder than Jenny, he thought irritably.