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The End Game

The End Game

The End Game 19


  “Tell me.”

  “Problem was, there wasn’t much to find, which means it was small, Mike, very small.”

  “But the load was huge.”

  “Yes. We’ve got very small pieces of carbon-fiber casing, but the internal mechanism was blown to smithereens. It seems there was some sort of timer inside we haven’t seen before. Putting together what we found, I’d say the whole bomb was no bigger than a watch battery.”

  This wasn’t good. But then again, after actually being in the middle of the havoc that bomb had created, she wasn’t all that surprised. “So we’re talking some sort of advanced technology?”

  “Very advanced nanotechnology, and that word gives us all chills after Manfred Havelock and his micro-nukes.

  “It’s a very different bomb from the others COE have used—plain old Semtex. So what’s this all about? Where did COE get this marvel? And what are their plans now? That’s what the CIA better tell us.

  “Oh, yes,” Zachery continued, “we finally identified a badly burned body in the blast center—it’s your drunk barfly, Larry Reeves.”

  “I guess I’m not surprised. The man made a very poor decision.”

  “Ben’s been taking apart his financials. We’ll find the thread.”

  “Sir, there’s something else. This meeting with the CIA—they’re going to tell us about how they had an undercover agent in the group. Her name is Vanessa Grace, she’s the redheaded woman, and her uncle is her handler. He’s the one who wants to meet with us.”

  Silence, then, “Her uncle? When Carl Grace called me, needless to say, he didn’t tell me about his niece. Talk about tough—can you imagine? Well, now, this meeting with Grace at Langley, I imagine the CIA finally understands they can’t keep us in the dark any longer spouting their party line—protect state secrets, jeopardize national security, blah, blah, blah.”

  “Sir, I know her, I know Vanessa Grace, or I did. We were at Yale together, in the same undergrad psych program.”

  Zachery whistled. “Tell me about her.”

  “I remember she was smart, very steady, capable, but it’s been eight years since I saw her last. It looks like she was the female victim from the Brooklyn fire, and also we’ll find her on the videotapes from Bayway. I saw her this morning on one of the feeds before we left for Brooklyn. I didn’t recognize her then, but I knew the woman seemed familiar. Ben was running the tapes for me.”

  “No idea if she’s still alive?”

  “No, sir. But you know what this means—the CIA had an agent operating undercover on American soil. Big no-no.”

  “Indeed,” Zachery said, and she could practically hear him mentally sorting through everything.

  She said, “Is there anything new on the Hodges crime scene in Bayonne, sir?”

  “Nothing good, Mike. Ballistics are back. Our three agents were shot with a nine-millimeter. The bullet fragments were recovered, but the rifling hasn’t matched anything in our databases. All we know is the gun wasn’t used in any other crimes. There aren’t any extraneous latent fingerprints, no DNA to speak of outside our agents’ and Mr. Hodges’s. Whoever did this was clean and thorough, and we have very little to go on. The families, Mike, the notifications, some of the toughest I’ve ever had to do.” He was silent for a moment, then, “You and Drummond get down to Langley, have this meeting, find out how this is all going to work with Savich, and brief me immediately on what’s happening. There’s a chopper waiting for you at the heliport. I’ve sent an agent with your go-bags.”

  “Thank you, sir, I appreciate knowing I’ll have my toothbrush, although I don’t think those sharks at the CIA deserve a nice fresh breath.”

  “Stay in touch, Mike. And be careful. There are still too many unknowns, too many secrets. You know as well as I do there’s something a lot bigger going down. I’ll do my best to find out what’s happening from my end, too.” He hung up.

  Nicholas joined her. “Adam Pearce is a miracle worker.”

  “A miracle hacker, you mean. What’d he find for us?”

  “Maybe a trail of bread crumbs leading to the money. We need to have a talk with a Wall Street broker named Porter Wallace. Though by the look on your face I assume we have new marching orders yet again.”

  “Yes. We’re to take a helicopter to Langley. Kick some CIA butt. Think you’re up for that?”

  Nicholas looked over at Swanson. He flexed his bruised hand and smiled. “Yes, oh, yes, Agent Caine.”

  47

  QUEEN TO B4

  George Washington University Hospital

  When Carl Grace raced to the nurses’ counter, he was told there was nothing new on Vanessa. He sucked in a breath. That meant she was still alive.

  He calmed himself; he had work to do. He found an empty conference room, closed the door, and sat down. He put on his headphones and started to dissect the past four months of data Vanessa had sent him to prep for his meeting with the FBI.

  He found himself not really seeing the words, but rather remembering. It seemed like only yesterday when he’d gotten word in 1995 that his brother, Paul Grace, had been killed in Northern Ireland, leaving an orphaned daughter, Vanessa. The very next week, the aunt who was taking care of Vanessa was killed in an auto accident. Carl had immediately asked to be brought back to Langley, and adopted Vanessa. He remembered clearly when she was ten, Vanessa had found one of her father’s diaries and brought it to him, saying in an unwavering, overly adult voice, “Uncle Carl, I want to do what my dad did and what you do,” and that had been that. She’d never wavered from her goal, though Carl had done his best to tell her how fragile, how fragmented such a life could be, how it made children into orphans, as she knew firsthand. It had made no difference, Vanessa was committed. He remembered how she begged for the undercover case in Northern Ireland, where her father had died, and look where it had led.

  She could be dying now, and like then, there was nothing he could do about it. Even though Spenser had shot her, Carl had put the weapon in his hand when he’d sent that ill-timed text.

  He shook his head, refocused on Vanessa’s transcripts, trying to control the guilt. He wanted to find Matthew Spenser and COE and put a stop to them once and for all. He really wanted to put a bullet into the man’s brain himself.

  He pictured her pale slack face again and wanted to cry, but he had to hold it together; time was running out.

  He started with the most recent conversation, two weeks earlier. She’d managed a secure video feed at a café in South Lake Tahoe near where the COE stayed off the grid, hunkered down in a mountain retreat.

  I don’t have much time. We’re going to be on the move again soon. I have more photos. I’ve uploaded them to the server. Finally caught scary Darius on camera. I hope you can find out who he is because now I’m certain he came specifically to hook up with Matthew, but not to further COE’s goals. I’m thinking he might be after Matthew’s incredible invention of the tiny undetectable bombs—his special gold coins, he calls them—just like I am. It’s like Darius is weaving a spell around Matthew, encouraging him to think bigger, think about what he could do when he’s perfected the bombs, the power he would have to actually stop the terrorists who killed Matthew’s family.

  My feeling is that this man who calls himself Darius is something else entirely, something evil, something soulless. I know he has a definite purpose in mind, and whatever it is, it isn’t good for Matthew or any of us. I know this all sounds melodramatic, but he scares me deep down where monsters live.

  I’m sure now that Matthew trusts him more than he does me because he’s closed me out. Darius’s doing? Probably so. Matthew’s mood swings are more pronounced and happen often now, and that, too, is frightening, but nothing like Darius. No, nothing like Darius.

  Now, something critical: I overheard Matthew and Andy talking about the oil companies and accessing their databases, bu
t when I came in, they clammed up. Does Darius know about this as well? Is this also one of his ideas, and if so, what are they up to? You must identify Darius, as soon as possible. I’m really afraid of him. Believe me, he is dangerous, very dangerous.

  Vanessa, I’ve got the photo. Great job. I’m on it. Now accessing oil company databases, that is worrisome. I’ll start digging. See if you can’t get Matthew to open up about this, okay?

  As I said, Matthew’s closed me out. Now he only tells me what he thinks I need to know for the placement of my Semtex bombs, that’s all. All Matthew’s told me is we’re going to head to San Francisco next week.

  What’s the target?

  I’m pretty sure it will be the Rodeo San Francisco plant.

  I’ll make sure the security is aware.

  Good. Let me know when you have the ID on Darius. Uncle Carl, he scares me, he really scares me.

  And she was gone.

  • • •

  Grace had run the photos but drawn a blank. He’d run them against every known database in the U.S. arsenal. Nothing.

  It wasn’t until this morning after the meeting with the vice president, when Temp had told him about the assassination, that he knew in his heart, without a doubt, that Vanessa’s Darius had to be Zahir Damari.

  He’d let the FBI run the two photographs using their extremely sensitive facial-recognition system. Maybe they’d be able to give them one hundred percent confirmation, but he didn’t need the proof. He knew.

  If Vanessa’s instincts were right, not only had Zahir Damari been hired to steal Matthew Spenser’s new technology, he also planned to assassinate the vice president. If Hezbollah and therefore Iran managed to get their hands on the small gold-coin bombs, Carl feared for the safety of the world. Imagine having those small undetectable bombs in a world of chaos and anarchy. You’d be at the top of the food chain.

  He read several of Vanessa’s recent e-mails. She’d found out from Crazy Andy—that’s what she called him—that they’d bought some cyber-software to attack the computer systems of a company. Thanks to the FBI in New York, that particular cyber-attack had been shut down.

  He called up other videos, stared at her beloved face, so like her father’s, a beautiful face, his eyes, but she had her mother’s, Isabella’s, glorious red hair. Poor Isabella, dead at thirty-three of a brain tumor. She’d never truly known her daughter, the woman she’d become.

  Vanessa wouldn’t die, she simply couldn’t.

  “Mr. Grace?”

  He came slowly to his feet, staring at the nurse who stood in the doorway. He was more afraid than he’d ever been in his life.

  Then the nurse smiled. “She made it through surgery.”

  “Will she be all right?”

  “The surgeon will be along shortly. He’s—”

  “No, don’t put me off. Is she all right?”

  “She’s not out of the woods yet. She’s on a ventilator and they’re going to keep her in an induced coma for a little while. The damage was worse than they first thought. Like I said, the surgeon will be here shortly to explain everything.” She came to him, lightly laid her hand on his arm. “I know this is incredibly difficult, Mr. Grace, but you must keep faith. She’s still with us, and I for one will do my best to see she stays with us.”

  48

  ROOK TO A4

  Maryland

  Zahir drove toward Frederick, Maryland. He was calm and relaxed, and felt really good. Everything was coming together. He had twenty-four hours, a long day’s hike, to get into position. Having the security layout and blueprints of the target made it easier to decide where to set up his base camp. He admitted he was a bit worried about the dogs; he’d be stupid not to be, since the K9 security teams were in place as well. Their schedule was set so he should be able to avoid them. He had deer scent in his bag; he planned to bathe in it to mask his own human smell.

  He reached the entrance of the Catoctin Mountain Park at three in the afternoon. He left the car in a campground, hoisted the pack to his shoulders, and set off. There was no one around to see him, a good thing since he really didn’t want to leave a trail of dead bodies. He wanted to get in, get the job done, get himself back up through New York into Canada, and eventually find his way back to Jordan, to the warmth of his estate. The future looked very pleasant.

  The forest was quiet, only the sounds of animals scurrying about, the birds overhead occasionally squawking, but no people. It was nice to be able to think clearly. Being around so many people for so long made him crazy.

  He thought back to those months of training by the British Special Forces, and wasn’t that irony for you? But it was an American who’d paid him to kill the first time. To a young man not yet twenty, the ten thousand dollars was a vast amount of money, and that made him smile. The client had sent Zahir to Saint Petersburg to kill a man who worked in the oil business. To this day Zahir had no idea why. He’d enjoyed spending that vast amount of money, and in those days, what he’d been paid had gone a long way. Then, of course, the money ran out and he wanted more. By the fourth kill, Zahir realized he’d found his calling.

  He traveled all over the world for his clients, learning, always learning, never repeating a mistake, always silent and deadly. He was the best of the best—a chameleon unhampered by a conscience, shrewd, never giving up. He loved each challenge and discovered along the way he also enjoyed the dramatic. To kill flamboyantly, more than most of his targets deserved, probably, but it pleased something in him. And he made his hits more and more dramatic because he wanted the world to know it was he who was responsible, and to fear and praise him in hushed voices. He wanted to build his legend. When the client wanted the deaths to be undetectable, Zahir was disappointed.

  A sociopath, his father once called him, which was rich, coming from the mouth of that old hypocrite. With every kill, he supposed now he was sending the old man a message, telling him clearly that perhaps one of these days he might see his son for the last time. His father’s last time.

  He enjoyed reading speculation about himself in the newspaper, particularly the comparisons to Carlos the Jackal, that covetous madman who wasn’t in his league. He’d even done a few off-book killings, suitably complex, to keep the blood flowing through his veins, to keep his brain razor sharp, his reflexes fast and lethal.

  He liked to think of himself as a maestro of killing, always unexpected, always successful.

  Hands down, this was the biggest job he’d ever accepted. The splashiest. The one that would make his name go down in history. There were so many variables, so many unknowns, and more than any of his other jobs, this one held a high risk of failure.

  No, he wouldn’t fail. He never failed. He smiled up at the sky, careful not to draw attention to himself in case anyone was nearby. He had a better chance of living through this operation than he had of leaving any battlefield in his father’s homeland alive.

  He stopped by a small mountain brook to fill his canteen, looked up through the thick canopy of branches, and estimated the time at two in the afternoon.

  At this rate, he’d be in place by moonrise.

  Twenty-four hours—so much he’d had to accomplish, and he’d done it all, no problem. Once he’d placed the small portion of one of Matthew’s coin bombs at Bayway in the sweet spot pointed out by Reeves, he’d run unseen to the car he’d left half a mile away, driven straight to Bayonne, dealt with the four men there—three of them FBI agents—in three minutes flat, eight shots—four chest, four forehead, no time for flourishes—then headed south.

  And now he was here, tramping along the forest trails. Maybe he’d meet up with a wolf or a bear. He spent some time considering various ways to kill, then reminded himself to stay focused, to review once again each step of what was to happen.

  Tuesday

  2 p.m.–6 p.m.

  49

  QUEEN
TAKES B6

  New York Heliport

  Nicholas and Mike buckled into the MD 530 Little Bird’s hard seats, put on headsets and sunglasses. Craig Swanson was slumped across from them, eyes closed, looking the worse for wear after his couple rounds with Nicholas. Mike found it curious that Swanson seemed to harbor no ill will, maybe a token of respect, professional to professional. He’d gotten in a couple good shots—Nicholas’s jaw was a delicate shade of eggplant beneath the stubble of his beard. Mike could only imagine what they were going to look like trooping into Langley—the three of them banged up. She could hide her shiner with sunglasses, but no, she was proud of her battle wounds.

  At least they’d dropped by Katz’s Deli, grabbed thick pastrami-on-rye sandwiches, chips, and sodas, and eaten as they drove to the helipad. She’d even had time to call her folks, tell them as far as she knew, Timmy, her younger brother, was gainfully employed in an off-Broadway show, and not in jail. Always good news. Her father, of course, knew all about Bayway, knew she was up to her eyebrows in the case. His last words, always, were: “You take care of my girl or I’ll bust your chops.” As for her mother, the Gorgeous Rebecca, she’d said only that she had a new lipstick shade for Mike to try, and then she’d laughed, hiccupped, and said she’d do more than bust her chops if she let anything happen to her, she’d cut off her beautiful hair. And she’d heard her father laughing in the background.

  Charlie, their pilot, hyper with too much coffee, this his sixth run of the day, had them lifted off in the gray New York skies in no time, no muss, no bother.

  Nicholas tapped her shoulder, put up four fingers. She moved the dial on her headset to channel four and nodded. Staying off the main frequency so they could have a private conversation was a good idea.

  He punched his mike. “Tell me about Vanessa Grace.”

  Mike crossed her legs, put her heels in the empty bucket seat across from them. Swanson was staring out the window, but Mike would bet he was listening for all he was worth. She wondered how he was going to explain his absence and bruises to Melody Finder.