The Judas Strain

Page 17

As Monk followed, he struggled out of his Mango Lodge windbreaker. There was no reason to keep his tanks hidden any longer. He pulled up his scuba mask and swept his arm out to gather his air hose. He used the regulator to blow his mask clear, then secured it.

The depths turned crystalline clear.

He seated the regulator and drew his first breath.

More a sigh of relief.

Had his bit of subterfuge worked?

A moment ago, as the helicopter had dove toward him, drawn like a hawk to a mouse, Monk had eyed the gunman in the open hatchway. As the grenade launcher was pointed at him, Monk flipped the Jet Ski over at the last second, diving beneath it and into the depths. The explosion had still struck him like an anvil to the head, ears popping.

He sank toward the sea bottom. Flying Fish Cove had deepwater moorings to a depth of thirty meters. But he didn't need to go that deep.

Monk adjusted his buoyancy compensators, swelling his vest with air from his tanks. His descent slowed to a hover. He craned up and watched the bottoms of the trolling speedboats, propellers churning the water white. They circled and circled, looking for any signs of the Jet Ski's rider, ready to fire if he surfaced.

But Monk wasn't planning on surfacing, and if his ruse had worked, no one knew he had scuba gear. Monk twisted around, checked his glowing wrist compass, and headed along the bearings he had already calculated.

Toward the Mistress of the Seas.

He had always wanted to take a cruise.






Lost and Found

July 5, 1:55 a.m. Washington, D.C.

"This is as far as we dare go," Gray said.

He had spent the last seven minutes creeping and edging the Thunderbird through Glover-Archibold Park, following an old weedy service road, bushes scraping against the flanks of the convertible. The left front tire was a punctured ruin, slowing them, making steering damn near impossible.

Though most people considered Washington, D.C., to be a place of historic buildings, wide parade malls, and museums, it also featured one of the longest, interconnected series of parklands, threaded throughout the heart of the city, covering well over a thousand acres. Glover-Archibold Park marked one end, terminating at the Potomac River.

Gray had headed away from the river. It was too far and too open. Following a back alley that paralleled the park homes, he had wended north with his headlights off, discovering an old fire road that led deeper into the dense woods. He took it. He needed to stay lost, yet the Thunderbird was on its last legs.

Recognizing he could go no farther, he slowed.

They were at the bottom of a ravine. Steep wooded hills climbed on either side. Ahead, an old abandoned train trestle crossed the narrow valley. Gray edged the Thunderbird under the bridge of rusted red iron and wooden slats. He braked next to one of the cement walls holding the trestle up. The wall was scrawled with graffiti.

"Everybody out. We go on foot from here."

On the far side of the trestle, lit by stars and a sliver of moon, a wooden trail marker indicated a hiking trail. The path looked more like a tunnel, cutting into the heavily bowered forest.

All the better to hide them.

Off in the other direction, the sirens of emergency vehicles wailed. Gray spotted a flickering orange glow in the night sky. The fiery rocket blast must have started a house fire.

Closer still, the woods were dark, painted in shades of black.

Gray knew Nasser and his assassination team could be anywhere.

Behind them, ahead of them, closing in already.

Gray's heart pounded. His fears gathered tight around him—not for himself, but for his parents. He needed to get them somewhere safe, to put distance between them and the dangers circling around him. The only way to do that was to get Seichan patched up.

And he had to do that away from all eyes.

Even if he still had his scrambled cell phone, he dared not contact Sigma or Director Crowe. Lines of communication were compromised, as evidenced by the ambush at the safe house. Protocol dictated he go cold and dark. There was a leak somewhere, and until he had his parents holed up someplace safe, he wasn't going to lift his head above the weeds.

So that meant they'd have to seek an alternate means to care for Seichan. His mother had suggested one option and had already implemented her plan, making two calls on her personal cell phone. After that, Gray had her remove her cell phone's battery, lest someone use the device to track them.

"The morphine seems to have relaxed her," his mother reported from the backseat.

During a short stop, Gray's mother had shifted into the backseat with Kowalski. Seichan lay draped between them. His mother had injected Seichan with a premeasured morphine syrette, taken from some medical supplies at the safe house.

"If we're going to make it," Gray said, "we'll have to carry her from here."

"I've got her." Kowalski waved everyone out of his way.

Gray's father helped his mother exit the convertible. Once out, his father eyed the state of his car and shook his head, swearing under his breath.

Kowalski stood up, hauling Seichan in his arms. Even in the dark beneath the trestle, Gray noted the black stain on her belly wrap. The movement stirred Seichan awake. She struggled a moment in Kowalski's arms as he clambered out, startled, dazed. She cried out and struck the heel of her hand into his cheek.

"Hey . . . !" the large man exclaimed, avoiding another strike.

Seichan began to yell, an angry stream, an unintelligible mix of English and an Asian dialect.

"Quiet her down," his father said, glancing at the dark forest.

Kowalski tried to muffle her mouth, but almost got a finger bitten off. "Son of a bitch!"

Seichan's agitation grew more fierce.

His mother moved closer, searching in her large tote. "I have another dose of morphine."

Gray shook his head. "Wait." With Seichan's blood loss, he feared the respiratory depression that accompanied morphine. A second dose might kill her, and he still needed answers.

He held a palm out toward his mother. "Smelling salts." He remembered Kowalski had mentioned them as among the contents of the emergency medkit.

His mother nodded. She reached to her bag, fumbled a long second, then handed him a few capsules. Gray grabbed one and stepped to Kowalski's side.

The guard now bore a long bloody scratch down one cheek. "Christ, do something about her!"

Gray grabbed a fistful of her hair, arched her neck, and cracked the capsule under her nose. Her head wrenched, fighting, but he kept the capsule at her upper lip. The delirious cries cut off, replaced by gagging.

A hand rose to push him away.

He held tight.

"Enough . . ." Seichan coughed out, and grabbed Gray's wrist.

He was surprised at the strength in her fingers. He let his arm drop.

"Let me breathe. Set me down."

Gray nodded to Kowalski. He didn't have to be told twice. He settled Seichan to her feet but kept an arm under her shoulders. She'd overestimated her own strength. Her legs sagged. She hung in the large man's arms.

Wincing, she glanced around her. Gray read the confusion in her eyes, behind the war between pain and morphine. She quickly focused back to him.

"I. . . the obelisk . . ." she said with strained worry.

Gray was tired of hearing about the damned obelisk. "We'll have to get it later. It broke after you crashed. I left it back at the house."

His words seemed to cause her more pain than her bullet wound. But perhaps his earlier lapse was a bit of luck. Maybe Nasser had gone after the obelisk rather than pursuing them.

His mother, overhearing their conversation, stepped forward. "You're talking about that broken black pillar." She patted her large purse. "I picked it up when I went inside to get the bandages. It looked old and maybe valuable."

Eyes closing with relief, Seichan nodded to both those assessments. Her head hung in exhaustion. "Thank God."

"What's so important about it?" he asked.

"It could ... it might save the world. If we're not too late already."

Gray glanced to his mother's tote, then back to Seichan. "What the hell do you mean?"

She waved an arm weakly, fading again. "Too complicated. I need your help . . . can't. . . not alone ... we must, must get away."

Her chin dropped to her chest as she, slipped into unconsciousness again. Kowalski caught her weight on his hip.

Gray was tempted to use another capsule of smelling salts, but he feared exerting her any further. Fresh blood trickled from her bandage.

His mother seemed to make the same assessment. She nodded to the trail. "We can't be far from the hospital now."

Gray turned to the dark path on the far side of the trestle. It was the other reason he had taken the Thunderbird north through the woods, following a suggestion from his mother. On the far side of Glover-Archibold Park spread the campus of Georgetown University. The school's hospital bordered the edge of the forest. His mother had former students who labored there.

If they could reach it in secret. . .

But was the destination too obvious?

There were a thousand exits out of the park system, but Nasser knew his quarry bore a seriously injured woman and that she needed immediate medical attention.

It was a huge risk, but Gray saw no way of avoiding it.

He remembered Nasser's eyes as the bastard asked about the obelisk. Hungry, ruthless. The Egyptian had believed Gray's assertion that the obelisk had been left behind—mostly because Gray had believed it. But which was more important to the man: obtaining the obelisk or seeking revenge?

He stared around at their small group. All their lives balanced on that answer.

2:21 A.M.

A half hour later Painter stalked the length of his office, a hands-free headset fixed to his ear. "They're all dead?"

Behind him, the plasma screen displayed live feed of the fiery blaze of three homes, along with a section of the neighboring parkland. It had been a dry summer, turning forest into kindling. Fire engines and emergency personnel swarmed the cordoned-off area. Television vans were already raising satellite antennas. A police helicopter circled above, floodlight spearing down, searching.

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