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Exo: A Novel

Exo: A Novel

Exo A Novel 6


  No transmitting bugs. No transmitting trackers.

  Davy was almost disappointed.

  He used the metal detector, paying special attention to the man’s upper chest. Nothing.

  He was not disappointed about that. The last thing he wanted to see was another exploding upper chest.

  Sweeping lower, he got a strong beep from the man’s buckle and nothing else. Davy snaked the belt out of the man’s pants, slapping away the man’s hand as he weakly tried to block Davy.

  Davy stepped away. The belt buckle was heavy stainless steel and when he fingered it, it slid out of a pocket in the belt revealing a short, double-edged knife blade.

  There was something odd about the snap on the man’s slacks. Davy twisted it and it came away. He turned it over and saw a concealed push-out, plastic handcuff key.

  He jumped away, leaving the man on the sand.

  The wallet had eighty dollars in cash, a driver’s license and credit cards for Mortimer S. Hunter from Maclean, Virginia. There was also a gym membership, a frequent-diner card from a sushi restaurant, and a worn picture of a girl, perhaps twelve. The town sounded familiar to him, but he couldn’t place it. He took pictures of the ID and other cards, then put them back in the wallet.

  * * *

  He jumped back to Wichita, to a small, airless self-storage unit next door to Samantha’s retirement village. A massive knee-high deep-cycle battery sat on the concrete floor. Welding-gauge wire ran from screw terminals to a DC-to-AC inverter. The power adaptor of a cheap netbook computer was plugged into the inverter. The netbook sat on a TV tray in front of a green plastic patio chair.

  The camera Davy had installed in Samantha’s room looked like the wall-plug transformer end of a phone charger and, in fact, was doing a good job of charging Samantha’s cell phone, but it had a tiny wide-angle lens that looked like a screw hole. It also connected to the nursing facility’s WiFi network, as did Davy’s netbook in the storage locker.

  Davy hit the shift key and the blank screen came alive, showing Samantha’s room from the vicinity of the room’s built-in vanity. Samantha was reading from her tablet, which was held above her by a gooseneck floor stand. Her arm was propped with pillows so she could change pages with just the flick of a finger. He turned up the volume on the netbook and heard the muted sound of a television from a neighboring room.

  He nodded. He didn’t think they would take her. Besides the logistics of moving a post-surgical bedridden patient, if Millie or Davy didn’t know where she was, then Samantha couldn’t be used for bait.

  The netbook was recording the camera feed in space-saving fifteen-frames-per-second video. Davy checked the remaining room on the flash drive. He could store months at this rate. The battery would last weeks.

  He switched to the web browser and searched for Maclean, Virginia, then sat back, surprised at the results. Sure, they called it Langley, but the actual address was 1000 Colonial Farm Road, Maclean, Virginia: Central Intelligence Agency.

  Davy cleared the search from the browser history, reselected the monitor window, and jumped back to the Yukon.

  * * *

  When he replaced the battery and powered it on, Mr. Mortimer Hunter’s phone asked for a key code. Davy shrugged, pulled the battery again, and put both the battery and phone in his pocket.

  It had rained recently in Singapore’s Sim Lim Square. The pavement was wet, but the sun was barely above the horizon and it hadn’t turned steamy yet. The man Davy was looking for had already opened his kiosk, the International Phone Emporium.

  “Ni hao a, Lucas?”

  Lucas was taller than Davy, unlike most of the Singapore Chinese, but he tended to hunch over, to bring his eyes level with most of his customers. “Ah, me very well, one.”

  Davy smiled. “I have this phone. I need to get the logs, the pictures, the contacts, and the texts off of it.” He handed the phone and battery to Lucas.

  “Huh. Wah lau! So crap one! Five minutes. You want on a different phone or just thumb drive?”

  “Thumb drive, please. Uh, I don’t have the security code.”

  Lucas grinned. “This one can do lah.”

  Davy nodded. “Thought so.”

  “Wait lah.”

  “Sure.”

  While Lucas did his thing at the back of the kiosk with cables and a laptop, Davy stared at the phone displays that ranged from simple cordless phones for landlines, to cell phones of every make and model, up to satellite communications systems used at sea or other places without cell service.

  Lucas came back and said, “What else you want or not?”

  “Nothing else. Hundred dollar okay?”

  “Singapore or U.S.?”

  “U.S. dollar.”

  Lucas smiled. “Very okay.”

  Davy traded the cash for the phone, battery, and thumb drive, and shook Lucas’s hand.

  * * *

  Back in the pit the “doctor” was up again, limping gingerly around the edge of the island. Davy thought his limp was less pronounced and, considering that the man hadn’t really pointed a loaded weapon at his mother-in-law, Davy was glad he hadn’t dropped him from any higher.

  He jumped down to the island, thirty feet behind the man.

  “Is it your ankle or your knee?”

  The man jerked around at Davy’s voice and dropped to one knee as his leg gave way again.

  Davy winced. He felt a little guilty but he was pretty sure the man had intended to use the Taser on Millie. Then there was the knife. He wasn’t sure what that was about.

  “Ankle,” said the man.

  “I wouldn’t have used the Taser if I’d known the gun was empty.”

  The man shrugged. “You didn’t know that until after you got it, right? So maybe I could have threatened you with it.”

  “You were thinking that far ahead?” Davy asked.

  “Well, no. Training—you don’t drop your weapon.”

  “Why’d you unload it?”

  The man shut his mouth.

  “Did they tell you to? I mean, the scenario was obvious. Threaten the mother to keep her still, then Tase my wife, hoping that would give you enough time to use the hypo. But I don’t see how having an unloaded gun fits that scenario.” Davy kicked at a small rock. “So why empty, Mortimer? Is that what they call you? Mort? Morty?”

  The man grimaced. “Hunt. They call me Hunt.”

  “So that’s your real name? Not an agency-issued alias?”

  “That’s my name.”

  Davy noticed Hunt hadn’t said that’s my real name. It reminded him of what he’d told Cent when they were living in New Prospect. Don’t think of it as a false name. Think of it as who you are now. “They must give you a lot of grief at the agency for that. Or is it something you try to live up to? And where’s your agency ID? The folded one in the blue case, name up top, photo below?”

  The man didn’t say anything.

  “You ever hear of the Daarkon Group?”

  The man’s eyebrows went up. “I … have.”

  Davy jumped within two feet of the man. “Do you work for them?”

  The man’s hands were up in a guard position instantly and he lashed forward toward Davy’s shin with his good leg, but Davy wasn’t there.

  Davy was impressed. The man’s face hadn’t flinched at all, just dropped slightly below the upraised hands. Lots of training. Years, probably. Davy resolved to keep his distance.

  From four feet behind Hunt, Davy said, “Well, do you?”

  Hunt dropped his hands back down and pivoted slowly on his buttocks until he could see Davy. “Can you believe anything I say? For what it’s worth, I don’t work for the Daarkon Group.”

  “Where did you hear about them?”

  Hunt tilted his head to one side and eyed Davy. After a moment, he said, “I read it in your file.”

  My file? “Oh, really? Is this from eighteen months ago?” That was when Davy had discovered Daarkon, following links from twenty years before. Millie had
passed the group to FBI agent Bekka Martindale after Hyacinth Pope escaped prison.

  “I shouldn’t say.”

  Shouldn’t? “You already told me there was a file. Kinda late, isn’t it?”

  “Perhaps.” Hunt sighed. “The first entry was eleven years ago. That’s when they first filed incorporation papers in California. They got put in the file because many of their directors were affiliated with Lawrence Simons.” Hunt watched Davy carefully as he said the name.

  Despite his best efforts, Davy felt his mouth go tight. “Did I react enough?” With an effort he relaxed his face. “Are you agency or not? We’re talking my old NSA file or its descendants, right? I’m actually thinking you aren’t with the Daarkon Group or, if you are, you aren’t aware of it.

  “Just tell me why you emptied the gun. Did they tell you to or was it your own idea?”

  Hunt blinked and looked embarrassed. “I didn’t like the idea of pointing my weapon at a bedridden old lady who probably couldn’t lift a weapon even if she was armed. And I needed my finger on the trigger, so your wife would believe me.”

  “Ah. And since it was a Glock, the safety projects from the trigger. You didn’t want to risk a discharge.”

  “Yes. They specifically told me not to point my gun at you or your wife.”

  “But they were okay with you pointing it at a helpless old lady?”

  Hunt looked away.

  “So it was your idea to empty the weapon.”

  “I had spare clips!”

  Davy shook his head. “What else is in my file?” Maybe I should be spending my time trying to get CIA records instead of watching that building in LA.

  Hunt pursed his lips. “There’s a lot from when you worked for the NSA and later, when you went missing. The stuff after that is peripheral, investigating known associates. That led to the Daarkon Group stuff, some surveillance of your wife’s family, of your father until his death.” Hunt licked his lips.

  Davy wondered what was in the file that Hunt wasn’t talking about.

  “Then there was a new section dating from the recapture of Hyacinth Pope in New Prospect. That was eighteen months ago.”

  “Why this attempt on Millie?”

  “Standing order, I’m told, but I wasn’t assigned until your mother-in-law’s health deteriorated and the likelihood of a contact increased.”

  Davy took a step back. “Why are you being so forthcoming?”

  “My assignment is to get you working for U.S. interests again. I didn’t come up with the snatch attempt on your wife and, in fact, deleted it from the early mission planning since it was more likely to turn you against us. But my supervisors put it back in and gave it priority one.

  “I think I have a better chance of achieving my mission goals by being open with you.”

  Forget the unarmed combat training—this guy is dangerous in lots of ways.

  Davy jumped back to the Yukon and uncapped the hypodermic. Returning to the rim above the pit, he marked Hunt’s exact posture and position, and jumped.

  “Shit, that stings!”

  Davy was already twenty feet away but he’d left the hypodermic standing upright in Hunt’s thigh, the plunger fully depressed. Hunt carefully pulled it out and stared at it, frowning.

  “What was it?” Davy asked, hoping he hadn’t poisoned the man.

  Hunt didn’t say anything.

  “You should tell me in case I have to get you to an ER. You know: allergic reactions; overdose.”

  Hunt’s head nodded or maybe it was wobbling. Reluctantly he said, “Haloperidol.” His next words were slurred. “They were gonna use loraze … ze … ze … pam but it can depress resp–ration and they—” Hunt fell back onto the sand with a thud.

  Davy didn’t think he was faking but he tapped Hunt’s injured ankle with the toe of his shoe just to be sure. There was no reaction. Hunt’s pulse and respiration were slow but regular.

  Davy carefully capped the hypodermic, then took a full-face picture of Hunt with his cell before returning to the cabin. When he came back to the pit he put Hunt’s cell phone, battery, and wallet in the man’s jacket pockets.

  He left Hunt lying on the grass in front of a six-foot-high concrete bust of Einstein in Plaza Einstein, a tiny park on the Via Agentina in Panama City, Republic of Panama.

  * * *

  When Davy returned to the cabin, Millie was leaning over the kitchen table looking at the gun, Taser, hypodermic, and handcuffs. He breathed out, his shoulders dropping.

  “S’okay?”

  Millie nodded, then gestured at the weapons. “We can’t leave her there. As soon as her physicians pull the surgical staples, we’re bringing her home.”

  They’d already discussed it. They’d fought about it.

  Davy wanted to move Samantha to a different nursing facility, under an assumed name, probably in another country. But Millie wanted her in their home.

  She’d said, “I don’t know how long I’ve got. If you knew your mother was going to die soon, wouldn’t you want to spend as much time with her as possible?”

  That was the clincher. He certainly hadn’t known how soon his mother would die when she’d been killed thirty years before. He’d have given anything for more time with her.

  “Have you talked to Cent?”

  “Not yet. Mother only just agreed. I don’t think she’s ever had a gun pointed at her before.” Millie’s mouth drew down into a tight line. “I was worried she’d have heart failure or go into respiratory distress. Instead she just suggested that you stay longer next time.”

  Despite the grim look on Millie’s face, Davy laughed, tried to stop it, then laughed some more.

  Millie’s mouth softened and one corner turned up.

  Davy said, “Well, the gun was empty, at least. He had no intention of hurting her.”

  Millie raised her eyebrows.

  Davy told her about his conversation with Mr. Hunter.

  “God. That’s got to be his real name. No one would assign that to an agent, would they? So, not them?”

  Davy shrugged. “I don’t think so. Doesn’t mean someone above him isn’t.”

  She sighed.

  Cent appeared on the living room side of the island counter. “Hey.”

  “Hey, yourself,” said Davy.

  Cent spotted the gun and hypodermic on the table. “Anything wrong?” Her gaze moved back and forth from Millie to Davy.

  Millie summoned a smile. “I told you about my mother’s new injury?”

  Cent nodded, her eyes wide. “She’s not—”

  “Oh, no. She’s okay. But I don’t know how long we’ve got. I’m bringing her home next week, to live with us.”

  “Oh. That’s good, right?” She gestured at the gun. “What’s with that?”

  “CIA tried to snatch me.”

  Cent turned to Davy. “Are they okay? Do I need to avoid the pit?”

  “They’ll … be all right.” He took out his cell phone and showed her a picture of Hunt’s face. “In case you see him.”

  Cent studied it. “Right. About Grandmother, do you want to use my room? I could move downstairs.”

  Millie smiled. “I was going to talk to you about that. Would you be comfortable sleeping in the Eyrie? We’re going to bring in some help and I was hoping to put them in the sewing room and the library.”

  Cent looked at Davy. “Uh, there’s not exactly any privacy at the Eyrie. It’s all one big room and all.”

  Davy said, “I don’t have to go there.”

  “What about all those books, Daddy? You have as many there as you have here. What if I have … company?”

  Davy grimaced. “I can move my books,” he said. “I’m going to have to clear out the library here, anyway, so I thought I’d take over part of the warehouse. We’re going to cut back on the relief work while we’re taking care of Samantha, and the supplies we haven’t used can all go into one corner.”

  Cent looked shocked. “Uh, Move the library? It’s always been
there.”

  “Not always,” Millie said, smiling at Davy. “It’s been moved before.”

  Davy rubbed at his forehead. “It was smaller back then, but yeah.” He pointed at Cent. “I’m just moving the books. You can use the shelves in the Eyrie.”

  Millie nodded. “When do you plan on starting that? I want the room completely ready by next Tuesday.”

  Davy sighed. “I’ll get right on it.”

  FIVE

  Cent: Fainted? I don’t faint

  Friday afternoon I met Tara at her apartment while her mom was still at work. “What’s the story?”

  “I told her I’m visiting Jade.”

  I raised my eyebrows.

  “I told her that the two of us went in on the price of a plane ticket,” she said. “That I’m taking the bus to Salt Lake City International. The tricky part is that Mom’s going to drive over there on Sunday to pick me up.”

  I winced. “I don’t have a jump site in Salt Lake City.”

  “Shit! What airports do you have?”

  “I avoid airports. They have lots of cameras.” The last airport I’d been to was in San Antonio, Texas. But the main problem was that here in New Prospect I was as close as I’d ever been to Salt Lake City, and that was still a couple of hundred miles away. “I’ve got nothing near there.”

  “Should we cancel?” The expression on her face told me everything I needed to know about what she wanted.

  “No. Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.” If worse came to worst, I could do my ballistic thing.

  Tara phoned Jade and confirmed she was alone in her dorm room, so I jumped Tara directly there. It was already 5:30, dark, and near freezing in Northampton, but we bundled up and ate wood-fired gorgonzola pizza at Pizzeria Paradiso. The two made a show of including me in the conversation, but they really only had eyes for each other.

  I gave up before dessert.

  “See you Sunday afternoon.”

  I walked out into chilly Northampton alone, leaving the booth to them. Not their fault, of course, but too much a reminder of Joe.

  * * *