The Judas Strain

Page 36

Demons and cannibals.

What's next? Club Med?










Hagia Sophia

July 6, 9:32 a.m. Istanbul

With the sun blazing across the rooftop restaurant, Gray listened to the threat. It sapped all warmth out of the morning.

"If you don't follow my directions precisely, I'll kill your parents."

Gray strangled Vigor's cell phone within his grip. "If anything happens to them ..."

"Something will. I promise that. I'll send you pieces. In the mail. Over months."

Gray heard the simple certainty in the man's words. He turned his back on the others, needing to concentrate, to think.

"If you attempt to contact Sigma," Nasser continued in a dispassionate voice, "I will know. You will be punished. With the blood of your mother."

Gray's throat had tightened to a strangled knot. "You bastard ... I want to know they're alive . . . unharmed."

Nasser didn't even respond. Gray heard a shuffle of the phone, muffled voices, then his mother came on the line. "Gray?" she gasped out. "I'm sorry. Your father. I needed his pills." Her words ended in a sob.

Gray's whole body trembled, teetering between fury and grief. "Doesn't matter. Are you okay? Is Dad?"

"We're . . . yes. . . Gray—"

The phone was snatched from her, and Nasser came back on the line. "I will be leaving them in the care of my colleague Annishen. I believe you met her at the safe house in D.C."

Gray pictured the Eurasian woman with the dyed crew cut and tattoos.

Asian Anni.

Nasser continued "I will be joining you in Turkey. At nineteen hundred hours. You will not move from where you are."

Gray checked his watch. A little over nine hours.

"I have men closing on your position in the Sultanahmet as we speak. Do not try to be clever. We've been tracking Monsignor Verona's phone since he left Italy."

Vigor's sudden departure from the Vatican must have triggered a red flag. Gray wanted to be angry at the monsignor for being so careless, but she knew Vigor did not operate at the same level of paranoia as he did. Few people did. And at the moment, Gray had no room for recriminations, too consumed by his own guilt.

He had left his parents alone.

"I would like to speak with Seichan now," Nasser said.

Gray waved Seichan over. She went to take the phone, but Gray kept hold of it. He motioned for her to come close so he could listen in on their conversation.

With heads together, ear to ear, Seichan spoke into the phone. "Amen," she said, using Nasser's first name, "what do you want?"

"You bitch ... for this betrayal, I'll make you suffer in ways—"

"Yes, and you'll beat my dog and kick my cat. I get it, sweetheart." Seichan sighed, her breath tickling Gray's neck. "But I'm afraid we'll have to say our good-byes here. I'll be long gone by the time you arrive."

Gray tensed and turned slightly to glance at her. She held up a silencing palm and shook her head. She wasn't going anywhere.

"My men already have you surrounded," Nasser warned. "You try to leave, and they'll put a bullet between your cold eyes."

"Whatever. As soon as this little conversation is over, I'm heading out of this damn church" Seichan glanced significantly at Gray and pointed over the rooftop wall toward Hagia Sophia.

She continued on the phone, "We weren't making any progress here at Hagia Sophia anyway. Too many damned murals. It's all yours, baby. You'll never see me again."

Gray frowned. She was plainly lying. But why?

Nasser paused, then spoke, fury thawing his icy manner. "You'll not make it ten steps! I've got all the exits to Hagia Sophia covered."

Seichan rolled her eyes at Gray, indicating her ploy.

"I'm sure you do, Amen," Seichan finished. "Ciao, baby. Kiss, kiss."

Seichan stepped back from the phone and held a finger toward Gray, warning him to be careful.

Gray played along. "What did you just tell her?" he snapped into the phone. "Seichan just grabbed her gun and took off out of the church. What the hell are you and that bitch up to?"

Seichan nodded with a tight smile.

Listening to Nasser swear sharply, Gray calculated in his head, struggling to catch up with Seichan's subterfuge, pushing back his guilt and anger. It would not serve him, or his parents.

He met Seichan's eyes. The Guild might have traced Vigor's call, but their triangulation was not perfect. That's what Seichan had tested with her claim of being at Hagia Sophia. The Guild knew they were somewhere in the old district in Istanbul, but not exactly where.

At least not yet.

Gray stared across a neighboring park toward the massive hulk of Hagia Sophia, with its giant flat dome, surrounded by four spiked minarets.

"What are you doing at Hagia Sophia?" Nasser asked.

Gray judged how much to say. He had to be convincing, and the best way to do that was with a bit of the truth. "We're looking for Marco Polo's key. Monsignor Verona decoded the script at the Vatican. It led here."

"So Seichan told you what we're seeking." Another curse. "For letting her escape, I'll have to teach you how serious we are."

Gray read the intent to harm his parents.

"Seichan is no longer important," Gray cut in sharply, protecting his parents the only way he could. "I have what you're seeking. The angelic code off the Egyptian obelisk. I still have a copy."

Nasser remained silent. Gray pictured him closing his eyes with relief. Nasser needed the angelic script, more than he needed to punish Seichan.

"Very good, Commander Pierce." The strain from a moment ago died out of his voice. "Continue cooperating in such a manner and your mother and father will live out the rest of their lives in peace and grace."

Gray knew that such a promise was as thin as the air he breathed.

"I'll meet you inside Hagia Sophia at nineteen hundred hours," Nasser said. "Search the church for Polo's key if you like. But I have snipers at all the exits."

Gray forced down a sneer.

"And, Commander Pierce, if you think to set up any trap, I'll be checking back with Annishen every hour. If I'm late by a minute, she'll start with your mother's toes."

The line clicked off.

Gray snapped Vigor's phone closed. "We have to get to Hagia Sophia. Before the Guild's men triangulate our true location."

They began quickly gathering up their material.

He turned to Seichan. "That was risky."

Seichan shrugged. "Gray, if you ever hope to survive this, certainly don't underestimate the Guild. They are powerful, with many allies. Yet, at the same time, don't overestimate them. The Guild will prey upon your fears of their omnipotence. To use that fear to weaken your morale. Just stay focused. Be cautious, but use your head."

"And if you'd been wrong?" Gray asked with a bite of anger.

Seichan tilted her head. "I wasn't."

Gray breathed heavily through his nose, trying to shed his anger. His mother and father would have suffered if she'd been wrong.

"Besides," Seichan said, "I needed a solid excuse not to be here when Nasser arrives. He'll keep you and Monsignor Verona alive. You're both useful. And with your mother and father as collateral, Nasser will believe he can ride you like a well-broken horse. But Nasser would shoot me on sight. That is, if I was lucky. So I needed an exit strategy that saved my life, yet still allowed me the freedom to maneuver on my own. If I'm going to have any chance of helping you."

Gray finally got hold of his anger. Seichan's parents weren't the ones in danger. It was easier for her to be cavalier and take risks. She had made a cold decision, acted swiftly, and the results would serve them all.


Seichan turned away and pointed. "And I'm going to need that guy."

"Who? Me?" Kowalski asked.

"Like I said, Nasser will shoot me on sight. Probably Kowalski, too."

"Why me?" The large man's face wilted. "What the hell did I ever do to him?"

"You're useless."


Seichan ignored hit outburst. "Nasser needs no other hostages, not with Mr. and Mrs. Pierce in hand. He'll see no value in keeping you around."

Gray held up a hand. "But what if Nasser already knows Kowalski is here with us?"

Seichan just stared at him, exasperated.

He slowly understood.

Don't overestimate the Guild.

Frowning, Gray struggled to rid himself of his view that the Guild was omnipotent. It threatened to cripple him from acting. Steadying himself, considering all the angles, he realized she was right.

He turned to Kowalski. "You'll go with Seichan."

"And I'll put him to good use," Seichan said, swatting the former seaman on the rear.

"At least someone thinks I'm useful," Kowalski grumbled, rubbing his backside.

With all their gear gathered up, they headed down. Seichan and Gray went last. Gray grabbed her arm as she tried to pass.

"What are you going to do?" he asked once they were alone on the rooftop. "To help us?"

"I don't know. Not yet."

She held his gaze a moment too long, then tried to turn away. She plainly wanted to tell him something more, but she hadn't quite gotten the nerve yet. It was evident in the tightness of her breathing, the slight waver to her eyes.

"What is it?" he asked softly, concerned.

His tenderness only seemed to make her want to pull away more. But she sighed. "Gray . . . I'm sorry . .." she started, looking away again. "Your parents . . ."

There was more than worry in her eyes and manner. There was also a measure of guilt. Why? Guilt implied responsibility. But Seichan's involvement of Gray's parents had been accidental. Gray had come to accept that. So where was this sudden guilt coming from?

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