Read an Excerpt
By Douglas Preston
Grand Central Publishing Copyright © 2012 Douglas Preston
All right reserved.
THE WOMAN WITH THE VIOLET EYES WALKED SLOWLY beneath the trees of Central Park, hands deep in the pockets of her trench coat. Her older brother walked beside her, his restless eyes taking in everything.
“What time is it?” she asked, yet again.
“Six o’clock precisely.”
It was a mild evening in mid-November, and the dying sun threw dappled shadows over the sweeping lawn. They crossed East Drive, passed the statue of Hans Christian Andersen, and ascended a slight rise. And then—as if possessed by the same thought—they stopped. Ahead, across the placid surface of Conservatory Water, stood the Kerbs Memorial Boathouse, toy-like, framed against the vast ramparts of the buildings lining Fifth Avenue. It was a scene from a picture postcard: the small lake reflecting the blood-orange sky, the little model yachts cutting through the still water to the appreciative cries of children. In the gap between two skyscrapers, a full moon was just appearing.
Her throat felt tight and dry, and the necklace of freshwater pearls felt constricting around her throat. “Judson,” she said, “I’m not sure I can do this.”
She felt his brotherly grip on her arm tighten reassuringly. “It’ll be okay.”
She glanced around at the tableau spread before her, heart beating fast. A violinist was sawing away on the parapet before the lake. A young couple sat on one of the boathouse benches, oblivious to everything but each other’s company. On the next bench, a short-haired man with a bodybuilder’s physique read the Wall Street Journal. Commuters and joggers passed by in small streams. In the shadow of the boathouse itself, a homeless man was settling down for the night.
And there he stood before the lake—a slender figure, motionless, dressed in a long pale coat of exquisite cut, blond-white hair burnished platinum by the dying light.
The woman drew in a sharp breath.
“Go ahead,” Judson said in a low voice. “I’ll be close by.” He released her arm.
As the woman stepped forward, her surroundings vanished, her entire attention focused on the man who watched her approach. Thousands of times she had imagined this moment, spun it out in her mind in all its many variants, always ending with the bitter thought that it could never happen; that it would remain only a dream. And yet here he was. He looked older, but not by much: his alabaster skin, his fine patrician features, his glittering eyes that held her own so intently, awakened a storm of feeling and memory and—even at this time of extreme danger—desire.
She stopped a few feet from him.
“Is it really you?” he asked, his courtly southern drawl freighted with emotion.
She tried to smile. “I’m sorry, Aloysius. So very sorry.”
He did not reply. Now, all these years later, she found herself unable to read the thoughts that lay behind those silver eyes. What was he feeling: Betrayal? Resentment? Love?
A narrow scar, freshly made, ran down one of his cheeks. She raised a fingertip, touched it lightly. Then, impulsively, she pointed over his shoulder.
“Look,” she whispered. “After all these years, we still have the moonrise.”
His glance followed hers, over the Fifth Avenue skyline. The buttery full moon rose between the stately buildings, perfectly framed against a pearlescent pink sky that graded upward into deep, cool violet. His frame shuddered. When he looked back at her, a new expression was on his face.
“Helen,” he whispered. “My God. I thought you were dead.”
Wordlessly, she slipped a hand through his arm and—without giving it conscious thought—began to walk around the lake.
“Judson says you’re going to take me away from… from all this,” she said.
“Yes. We’ll return to my apartment at the Dakota. And from there, we’ll head to—” He paused. “The less said about that, the better. Suffice to say, where we’re going, you’ll have nothing to fear.”
She tightened her grip on his arm. “Nothing to fear. You have no idea how good that sounds.”
“It’s time to recover your life.” He reached into the pocket of his jacket, drew out a gold ring set with a large star sapphire. “So let’s start at the beginning. Do you recognize this?”
She flushed as she looked at it. “I never thought I’d see it again.”
“And I never thought I’d get the chance to replace it on your finger. That is, not until Judson told me you were still alive. I knew, I knew, he was telling the truth—even when nobody else believed me.”
He reached over, caught her left forearm lightly, lifting it as if to place the ring on her finger. His eyes widened as he took in the stump of her wrist, a scar running along its upper edge.
“I see,” he said simply. “Of course.”
It was as if the careful, diplomatic dance they had been engaged in suddenly ended. “Helen,” he said, his tone now with an edge. “Why did you go along with this horrific scheme? Why did you conceal so many things from me? Why haven’t you—”
“Let’s please not talk about that,” she interrupted quickly. “There were reasons for everything. It’s a terrible story, a terrible story. I will tell it to you—all of it. But this is not the time or place. Now, please—place the ring on my finger and let’s leave.”
She raised her right hand, and he slid on the ring. As he did so, she watched his gaze move past her, to the scene beyond.
Suddenly he stiffened. For just a moment he stood there, her hand still in his. Then, with apparent calm, he turned toward the spot where her brother was standing and gestured for him to join them.
“Judson,” she heard him murmur. “Take Helen and get her away from here. Do it calmly but quickly.”
The fear that had just started to recede spiked hard in her breast. “Aloysius, what—”
But he cut her off with a brief shake of his head. “Take her to the Dakota,” he told Judson. “I’ll meet up with you there. Please go. Now.”
Judson took her hand and began walking away, almost as if he had anticipated this.
“What is it?” she asked him. No reply.
She looked over her shoulder. To her horror, she saw that Pendergast had a pistol out and was pointing it at one of the model yachtsmen. “Stand up,” he was saying. “Keep your hands where I can see them.”
“Judson—” she began again.
His only response was to quicken his stride, pulling her along.
Suddenly a shot rang out behind them. “Run!” Pendergast cried.
In an instant the tranquil scene fell into pandemonium. People scattered amid screams. Judson yanked her harder, and they broke into a run.
A stutter of automatic weapons fire cut through the air. Judson’s hand jerked away from her own, and he fell.
At first she thought he had tripped. Then she saw the blood gushing from his jacket.
“Judson!” she cried out, halting and bending over him.
He lay on his side, looking up at her, twisting in pain, his mouth trying to work. “Keep running,” he gasped. “Keep—”
Another clatter of the automatic weapon, another line of whistling death drawn through the grass as bullets thudded into the earth, and Judson was hit again, the impact flipping him over onto his back.
“No!” Helen screamed, leaping away.
The chaos swelled: screams, the crack of gunfire, the tread of fleeing people. Helen was aware of none of it. She fell to her knees, staring in horror at his open but unseeing eyes.
“Judson!” she cried. “Judson!”
A few seconds may have passed, or more—she had no way of knowing—and then she heard Pendergast calling her name. She looked up. He was running toward her, his pistol drawn, firing to one side.
“Fifth Avenue!” he cried. “Run to Fifth Avenue—!”
Another gunshot rang out, and he, too, was knocked to the ground. This second shock roused her. She leapt to her feet, her trench coat wet with her brother’s blood. Aloysius was still alive and had managed to get back on his feet, taking cover behind a bench, continuing to fire at the couple who, just moments before, had apparently been interested only in making out.
He’s covering my escape.
Wheeling around, she took off at top speed. She’d get to Fifth Avenue, lose the gunmen in the teeming crowds, then make her way to the Dakota, meet up with him there… Her panicked thoughts were interrupted by another fusillade of shots, more screaming of panicked people.
Helen ran on, hard. The avenue lay ahead, beyond the stone gates of the park. Just fifty feet to go…
“Helen!” She heard Pendergast’s distant cry. “Look out! To your left!”
She glanced left. Under the darkness of the trees, she could see two men in jogging outfits, sprinting directly for her.
She swerved away, toward a grove of sycamores off the main path. She glanced over her shoulder again. The joggers were following—and they were gaining fast.
More shots rang out. She redoubled her efforts, but the heels of her shoes kept sinking into the soft earth, slowing her down. Then she felt a terrific impact against her back and was thrown to the ground. Someone grasped the neck of her trench coat and hauled her roughly to her feet. She struggled, crying out, but the two men pinned her arms and began dragging her toward the avenue. With horror, she recognized their faces.
“Aloysius!” she cried at the top of her lungs, looking back over her shoulder. “Help! I know these people! Der Bund—the Covenant! They’ll kill me! Help me, please—!”
In the dying light, she could just make out Pendergast. He had struggled to his feet, bleeding freely from the gunshot wound, and he was limping toward her on his one good leg.
Ahead, on Fifth Avenue, a taxi idled at the curb, waiting—waiting for her and her abductors.
“Aloysius!” she screamed again in despair.
The men pushed her forward, opened the cab’s rear door, and flung her inside. Bullets ricocheted off the tempered front window of the cab.
“Los! Verschwinden wir hier!” one of the joggers shouted as they tumbled in after her. “Gib Gas!”
Helen struggled fiercely as the taxi pulled away from the curb, trying with her one good hand to claw her way to the door. She got the briefest glimpse of Pendergast, in the gloom of the park. He had fallen to his knees, still looking in her direction.
“No!” she cried as she struggled. “No!”
“Halt die Schnauze!” barked one of the men. He drew back his fist and punched her in the side of the head—and darkness came rushing over all.
+ Six Hours
A DOCTOR IN WRINKLED SCRUBS STUCK HIS HEAD INTO the waiting room of the Lenox Hill ICU. “He’s awake, if you’d like to talk to him.”
“Thank God.” Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta of the NYPD stuffed the notebook he’d been examining into his pocket and stood up. “How is he?”
“No complications.” A note of irritation crossed the physician’s face. “Although doctors always make the worst patients.”
“But he’s not—” D’Agosta began, then fell silent. He followed the doctor into the intensive care unit.
Special Agent Pendergast was sitting up in bed, attached to half a dozen monitoring machines. An IV was in one arm, and a nasal cannula was fitted to his nostrils. His bed was strewn with medical charts, and he held an X-ray in his hand. Always very pale, the skin of the FBI agent was now like porcelain. A doctor was bending over the bed, in intense conversation with his patient. Although D’Agosta could barely hear Pendergast’s replies, it was clear the two men were not exactly in agreement.
“—Completely out of the question,” the doctor was saying as D’Agosta approached the bed. “You’re still in shock from the gunshot wound and loss of blood, and the wound itself—not to mention the two bruised ribs—will require healing and ongoing medical attention.”
“Doctor,” Pendergast replied. Normally, Pendergast was the quintessence of southern gentility, but now his voice sounded like ice chips rattling on iron. “The bullet barely grazed the gastrocnemius muscle. Neither the tibia nor the fibula was touched. The wound was clean, and no operation was required.”
“But the blood loss—”
“Yes,” Pendergast interrupted. “The blood loss. How many units was I given?”
A pause. “One.”
“One unit. Due to damage to the minor tributaries of the Giacomini vein. Trivial.” He waved the X-ray like a flag. “As for the ribs, you said it yourself: bruised, not broken. The costae verae five and six, at the heads, approximately two millimeters from the vertebral column. Being true ribs, their elasticity will aid in quick recovery.”
The doctor fumed. “Dr. Pendergast, I simply cannot permit you to leave this hospital in your condition. You of all people—”
“On the contrary, Doctor: you cannot prevent it. My vitals are within acceptable norms. My injuries are minor, and I can tend to them myself.”
“I will note on your chart that you are leaving the hospital against my express orders.”
“Excellent.” Pendergast flipped the X-ray like a playing card onto the nearby table. “And now if you’ll excuse me?”
The physician took one final, exasperated look at Pendergast, then turned on his heel and left the room, followed by the doctor who had admitted D’Agosta.
Now Pendergast turned to D’Agosta as if seeing him for the first time. “Vincent.”
D’Agosta quickly approached the bedside. “Pendergast. My God. I’m so sorry—”
“Why aren’t you with Constance?”
“She’s safe. Mount Mercy redoubled their security measures. I had to…” He paused a moment to control his voice. “To check up on you.”
“Much ado about nothing, thank you.” Pendergast removed the nasal cannula, slid out the IV needle from the inside of his elbow, then detached the blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter. He pulled back the sheets and sat up. The movements were slow, almost robotic; D’Agosta could see the man was driving himself by a sheer iron will.
“I hope to hell you aren’t really planning to leave.”
Pendergast turned to look at him again, and the fire in his eyes—fierce coals in an otherwise dead face—shut D’Agosta up immediately.
“And how is Proctor?” Pendergast asked, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
“He’s fine, they say. Considering. A few broken ribs where the impact of the shot hit his bulletproof vest.”
D’Agosta shook his head.
“Bring me my clothes,” Pendergast said, nodding toward the closet.
D’Agosta hesitated, realized it was useless to protest, and brought them over.
With a wince, Pendergast stood up; swayed almost imperceptibly for a second; then steadied himself. D’Agosta handed him his clothes, and he drew the curtain.
“Do you have any idea what the hell happened back there in the park?” D’Agosta said to the curtain. “It’s all over the news, five people dead, homicide’s going crazy.”
“I have no time for explanations.”
“Sorry, but you’re not getting out of here without telling me what happened.” He took out his notebook.
“Very well. I will speak to you for the length of time it takes me to get dressed. And then I am getting out of here.”
D’Agosta shrugged. He’d take what he could get.
“It was a carefully planned—exceptionally carefully planned—abduction. They killed Judson and kidnapped my wife.”
“A shadowy group of Nazis, or Nazi descendants, called Der Bund.”
“Nazis? Jesus, why?”
“Their motives are obscure to me.”
“I need details of exactly what happened.”
Pendergast’s voice came from behind the curtain. “I went to meet Judson and Helen at the boathouse, to take Helen and hide her from this group. Helen arrived at six, as agreed. I quickly became aware that we’d been set up. One of the model yachtsmen was acting suspicious. He didn’t know the first thing about boats, and he was nervous—sweating in the chill air. I drew on him and told him to stand up. That precipitated it.”
D’Agosta took notes. “How many were involved?”
A pause. “At least seven. The yachtsman. Two lovers on a park bench—they killed Judson. A would-be homeless man, who shot Proctor. Your CS people have probably already reconstructed the sequence of the firefight. There were at least three others: two joggers, who kidnapped Helen as she was trying to escape, and the driver of the ersatz cab they forced her into.”
Pendergast emerged from behind the screen. His usually immaculate suit was a mess: the jacket was covered with grass stains, and the lower part of one trouser leg was torn and crusted with dried blood. He stared at D’Agosta as he straightened his tie. “Good-bye, Vincent.”
“Wait. How the hell did this… this Bund learn about your meeting?”
“A most excellent question.”
Pendergast grabbed a metal cane and turned to leave. D’Agosta caught him by the arm. “This is nuts, you walking out of here like this. Isn’t there something I can do to help you?”
“Yes.” Pendergast plucked the notebook and pen from D’Agosta’s hand, opened the notebook, and quickly scrawled something. “This is the license plate of the cab Helen was abducted in. I managed to get all but the final two numbers. Put all your resources into finding it. Here’s the hack number, too, but my guess is it’s meaningless.”
D’Agosta took back the notebook. “You got it.”
“Put out an APB on Helen. It might be complicated, as she’s officially dead, but do it anyway. I’ll get you a photograph—it will be fifteen years old, use forensic software to age it.”
Pendergast gave a single, brusque shake of his head. “Just find that car.” And he stepped out of the room without another word, limping down the hall, accelerating as he went.
+ Twenty-Two Hours
AS D’AGOSTA DROVE WEST AWAY FROM NEWARK, HE FELT AS if he were stepping back in time to when he’d been a beat cop at the Forty-First Precinct of the old South Bronx. The dilapidated shops, the shuttered buildings, the ravaged streets—all were a reminder of less happy days. He drove on as the view outside the windshield grew steadily grimmer. Soon he reached the heart of the blight: here—in the midst of the densest megalopolis in America—entire blocks lay empty, their buildings burnt shells or piles of rubble. He pulled over at a corner and got out, service piece where he could get to it quickly. But then he saw, amid all the decay, a single building—standing like a lonely flower in a parking lot—with lace-curtained windows, geraniums, and brightly painted shutters: a spot of hope in the urban wasteland. D’Agosta fetched a deep breath. The South Bronx had come back; this neighborhood would, too.
He crossed the sidewalk and started across a vacant lot, kicking aside bricks. Pendergast had beaten him here: he could see the agent at the far end of the lot, beside the burned-out remains of a taxi, speaking to a uniformed police officer and what looked like a small CSI team. Pendergast’s Rolls-Royce was parked at the corner, spectacularly out of place on these impoverished streets.
Pendergast gave D’Agosta a curt nod as he approached. Other than the shocking paleness, the FBI agent now looked more like his old self. In the late-afternoon light, his trademark black suit was clean and pressed, his white shirt crisp. He had traded the ungainly aluminum cane for one of ebony, topped by a handle of carved silver.
“… Found it forty-five minutes ago,” the beat cop was telling Pendergast. “I was chasing some twelve-year-olds who’d been boosting copper wire.” He shook his head. “And here was this New York taxi. The license matched the one on the APB, so I called it in.”
D’Agosta turned his attention to the taxi. It was little more than a husk: the hood was gone, the engine cannibalized, the seats missing, dashboard scorched and partially melted, steering wheel broken in two.
The head of the CSI team approached from the far side of the vehicle. “Even before the vandals got to it, this was almost useless as evidence,” he said, pulling off a pair of latex gloves. “No paperwork or documentation. It was vacuumed and wiped down, all fingerprints removed. They employed a particularly aggressive accelerant. Anything the perps didn’t take care of, the fire would have.”
“The VIN?” D’Agosta asked.
“We’ve got it. Stolen vehicle. Won’t be of much use.” The man paused. “We’ll haul it back to the warehouse for a more thorough examination, but this smells like a professional cleanup job. Organized crime.”
Pendergast took this in without replying. Although the agent remained utterly still, D’Agosta could feel a sense of desperation, of ruthless drive, radiating from him. Then, abruptly, he drew a pair of latex gloves from a coat pocket, snapped them on, and approached the vehicle. Crouching over it, wincing briefly with pain, he circled once, then twice, spidery fingers running lightly over the scorched metal, glittering eyes taking in everything. As the others watched, he peered carefully into the engine space; the passenger compartment, front and back; the trunk. Then, as he began a third revolution, he pulled some small ziplock bags, a few sample tubes, and a scalpel from his pocket. Kneeling beside the front fender, his face creasing momentarily with the effort, he used the scalpel to scrape some shavings of dried mud into one of the bags, which he then sealed and returned to his pocket. Rising, he completed the third circuit, more slowly this time. Stopping at the right rear tire, he knelt again and—using a pair of forceps—plucked several small pebbles from the treads of the tire and placed them in a second bag. This, too, quickly disappeared into his pocket.
“That’s, uh, evidence,” the cop began.
Pendergast rose and turned toward the cop. He said nothing, but the cop took a step backward under the force of the FBI agent’s stare.
“Right. Keep us in the loop on that,” the cop muttered.
Still Pendergast skewered the man with his stare. He looked at the CSI team, each in turn, and then finally at D’Agosta. There was something accusatory in his gaze, as if they were guilty of some unnamed offense. Then he turned and began walking in the direction of the Rolls, limping slightly, using the cane for support.
D’Agosta scrambled after him. “What’s next?”
Pendergast did not stop walking. “I’m going to find Helen.”
“Will you be… working officially?” D’Agosta asked.
“Do not concern yourself with my status.”
D’Agosta was taken aback by his cold tone.
“Carry on with the official homicide and kidnapping investigation. If you uncover anything of interest, let me know. But remember also: this is my fight. Not yours.”
When D’Agosta stopped, Pendergast turned, his voice softening as he laid a hand on his arm. “Your place is here, Vincent. What I have to do, I must do alone.”
D’Agosta nodded. Pendergast turned away again and opened the car door, simultaneously raising his cell phone to one ear. As the door closed, D’Agosta could hear him speaking into the phone: “Mime? Anything? Anything at all?”
+ Twenty-Six Hours
HORACE ALLERTON WAS PREPARING TO ENJOY HIS FAVORITE activity—a relaxing evening with a cup of coffee and a good scientific journal—when a knock sounded at the front door of his neat Lawrenceville bungalow.
He put down his cup and glanced at the clock with a frown. Quarter past eight: too late for a friend to be calling. He picked up the magazine, Stratigraphy Today, and opened it with a quiet sigh of contentment.
The knock came again, more insistent.
Allerton’s eyes rose from the magazine to the door. Jehovah’s Witnesses, maybe, or one of those annoying kids who went door-to-door, selling magazine subscriptions. Ignore them and they’d go away.
He had just started in on the magazine’s lead article—“Mechanical Stratigraphy Analysis of Depositional Structure,” a promising evening’s reading indeed—when he glanced up and had the shock of his life. A man in an elegant black suit, face as white as Dracula, stood in the center of his living room.
“What on earth—?” Allerton cried, leaping up.
“Special Agent Pendergast. FBI.” A shield and identification card appeared out of nowhere, shoved into his face.
“How, how did you get in? What do you want?”
“Dr. Horace Allerton, the geologist?” the agent asked. His voice was cool but with an underlying shimmer of threat.
Allerton nodded, swallowed.
Without a word, Pendergast stepped over to a chair, and now Allerton noticed the limp and the silver-headed cane. The geologist sat back guardedly in his own wing chair. “What’s this all about?”
“Dr. Allerton,” the FBI agent began as he took a seat, “I’ve come to you for help. You are known for your expertise in analyzing soil composition. And I’ve taken particular note of your knowledge of glacial deposition.”
The agent reached into his pocket, took out two sealed plastic bags. He laid them both on the coffee table, separating them.
Allerton hesitated, then bent forward to examine them. One was filled with a sample of micaceous clay mingled with soil, the other with small broken pebbles of porphyritic granite.
“I need two things. First, I would like a distribution map of the type of clay found in sample one.”
Allerton nodded slowly.
“The pebbles in sample two are the product of a gravel crusher, are they not?”
The geologist opened the bag and slid the pebbles into his hand. They were rough, sharp, the edges unworn by time, weathering, or glacial abrasion. “They are.”
“I want to know where they came from.”
Allerton glanced from one bag to the other. “Why come to me at this time of night, sneaking in like this? You should make an appointment, see me at my Princeton office.”
A faint tremor passed over the FBI agent’s sculpted face. “If this were merely an idle request, Doctor, I would not have troubled you at such a late hour. A woman’s life is at stake.”
Allerton put the bags down beside his coffee cup. “What exactly is the, uh, time frame you had in mind?”
“You are known to have a small but quite fine mineralogy laboratory in your basement.”
“You mean… you mean you want these analyzed now?” Allerton asked.
In response, Pendergast merely leaned back in his chair, as if making himself comfortable.
“But that could take hours!” Allerton protested.
Pendergast continued to fix him with a level gaze.
Allerton glanced at the clock. It was now eight thirty. He thought of his magazine, and the article he’d been looking forward to. Then he glanced again at the FBI agent in the opposite chair. There were dark smudges beneath the man’s pale gray eyes, as if he had not slept in a long time. And the look in those eyes made him most uneasy.
“Perhaps if you told me why you needed these particular analyses?”
“I will. They were recovered from a car that had evidently spent some time driving over a crushed-gravel road and a muddy driveway. I need to find that location.”
Allerton scooped up the samples and rose. “Wait here,” he said.
As an afterthought, he took his cup of coffee with him to the basement.
+ Thirty Hours
MIDNIGHT. PENDERGAST SAT IN HIS ROLLS-ROYCE OUTSIDE the house of Dr. Allerton, engine idling.
He had been fortunate: the particular type of granite outcropped in only one area that also contained a gravel pit. This pit was owned by the Reliance Sand and Gravel Company, located just outside Ramapo, New York. They ran a large gravel-crushing operation that supplied an area covering a significant portion of Rockland County. Using his laptop to visit the Reliance website, Pendergast had been able to map the approximate geographic range of Reliance’s customer base, which he duly marked on an atlas of Rockland County.
Next he turned to Allerton’s analysis of the mud. It was largely composed of an unusual type of clay, identified as a weathered micaceous halloysite, fortunately not common to the region, although—according to the geologist—somewhat more so in Quebec and northern Vermont. Allerton had given Pendergast a map of its geographic distribution, copied from an online journal.
Pendergast compared this with the distribution region he had marked for the gravel. They intersected in only one area, somewhat less than a square mile in extent, north and east of Ramapo.
Now Pendergast opened Google Earth on his laptop and located the coordinates of that square mile of overlap. Zooming in to the program’s maximum resolution, he examined the terrain. Much of it was heavily wooded, situated along the border of Harriman State Park. A suburban neighborhood took up another section, but it was a recent development and all the roads and driveways appeared neatly paved. There were some dirt roads and houses scattered elsewhere, as well as a few farms, but they showed no areas that looked graveled. Finally he spied a structure that looked promising: a large, isolated warehouse. The place had a long driveway; a small adjacent parking area that showed up in a mottled pale hue that looked very much like gravel spread over muddy ground.
Shutting off the laptop, Pendergast stowed the computer and pulled away from the curb with a screech of rubber, heading for the New Jersey Turnpike.
Ninety minutes later, he parked the Rolls off to the side of the road, half a mile past the Rockland County Solid Waste facility, on a wooded stretch just short of the warehouse. Through the denuded trees, pale in the moonlight, he could make out the building, a single light burning before its heavy corrugated-metal door. For half an hour, he kept the structure under surveillance. Nobody came or went; it appeared deserted.
Taking a penlight from the backseat, but keeping it switched off, he slipped out of the car and approached the building through the trees, moving silently. He circled it cautiously. The lone window was painted black.
Turning the flashlight on, Pendergast knelt, wincing with pain. He took the gravel sample from his pocket and, using the light, compared it with the gravel that lined the driveway. The match was perfect. He reached down and fingered a small sample of mud under the gravel, spreading it between his thumb and forefinger. Perfect as well.
Flitting across the open area around the warehouse, Pendergast pressed himself against the corrugated wall, then made his way around to the front, keeping low. Externally it was decrepit, defunct, without signage of any kind. And yet, for such a shabby building, the padlock on the lone door was expensive and new.
Pendergast hefted the padlock in one hand, let his other hand drift over it in an almost caressing gesture. It did not spring open at once, yielding only after manipulation with a tiny screwdriver and a bump key. He pulled it free of the hasp, then—weapon at the ready—opened the door just enough to peer through. Darkness and silence. He slid the door open a little farther, slipped inside, and closed it behind him.
For perhaps five minutes, he made no movement except to pan his flashlight around, examining the floor, walls, and ceiling. The warehouse was almost completely bare, with a concrete pad floor, metal walls, empty shelves along the surrounding walls. It seemed to offer no more information than the burned-out taxi had.
He made a slow circuit of the interior, pausing now and then to examine something that caught his attention; pluck a bit of something up here; take a photograph there; fill sample bags with almost invisible evidence. Despite the apparent emptiness of the warehouse, under his probing eye a story began to emerge, still little more than a ghostly palimpsest.
An hour later, Pendergast returned to the closed door of the warehouse. Kneeling, he spread out a dozen small sealed plastic envelopes, each containing a fragment of evidence: metal filings; a piece of glass; oil from a stain on the concrete, a bit of dried paint, a broken chip of plastic. His eye roved over each in turn, allowing a mental picture to form.
The warehouse had once been used as a vehicular pool. Judging by the age and condition of the oil spots on the floor, at one time it had seen fairly heavy use. More recently, however, only two vehicles had been stored. One—judging by the faint tread marks on the concrete floor, a Goodyear brand size 215/75-16—belonged to the Ford Escape that had been used as the getaway taxi. Spatters of yellow on one wall, as well as a reverse-image tracing of spray paint on a fragment of wood tossed into a far corner, indicated also that this was the spot where the Escape had been converted into a counterfeit New York City taxi—down to the paint job and fake medallion.
The other recent vehicle was harder to identify. Its tire print was broader than that of the Escape, and most probably a Michelin. It might well belong to a powerful European luxury sedan, such as an Audi A8 or a BMW 750. The faintest of paint scrapings could be seen against the inside of the warehouse door where this vehicle had recently come in contact; Pendergast carefully transferred them to another evidence bag with a set of tweezers. It was automotive paint, metallic, and of an unusual color: deep maroon.
And then, as he examined the paint, his eye noted—in the narrow channel of the sliding door—a tiny freshwater pearl.
His heart almost stopped.
After a moment, recovering, he picked it up with tweezers and stared at it. In his mind’s eye, he could visualize—roughly twenty-four hours before—the taxi returning here. It would have contained four people: the driver, two men dressed in jogging suits, and an unwilling companion—Helen. Here she was transferred to the maroon foreign car. As they prepared to leave, there was a struggle; she tried to escape, forcing open the door of the car—that accounted for the scratch of paint—and in the process of subduing her, Helen’s abductors snapped her necklace, scattering small pearls all over the passenger compartment and, no doubt, the floor of the warehouse. There would have been oaths, perhaps a punishment, and a hurried scuffle to pick up the explosion of pearls lying across the concrete.
Pendergast glanced at the tiny, lustrous bead held between the tips of the tweezers. This was the one they missed.
With Helen safely secured in the second car, the vehicles would have gone their separate ways, the counterfeit taxi to its fiery end in New Jersey, the maroon vehicle to…?
Pendergast remained, still kneeling, deep in thought, for another ten minutes. Then, rising stiffly, he exited the warehouse, padlocked it behind him, and walked noiselessly back to the waiting Rolls.
+ Thirty-Seven Hours
THOMAS PURVIEW WAS ALWAYS FASTIDIOUS ABOUT GETTING to his law office promptly at seven o’clock, but this morning someone else had been even more punctual: he found a man waiting in his outer office. He had the look of someone who had just arrived. In fact, it almost appeared as if he were about to try the door to the inner office, but of course Purview realized this was unlikely. As he walked in, the man turned, then limped toward him, one hand holding a cane, the other extended.
“Good morning,” Purview said, shaking the proffered hand.
“That remains to be seen,” the stranger replied in a southern accent. He was thin, almost gaunt, and he did not respond to Purview’s professional smile. Purview prided himself on his ability to read the trouble in a new client’s face—but this one was unreadable.
“Are you here to see me?” Purview asked. “Normally I require an appointment.”
“I have no appointment, but the matter is urgent.”
Purview stifled a knowing smile. He had never known a client who didn’t have an urgent matter.
“Please step into my office. Would you care for some coffee? Carol isn’t in yet, but it will only take me a minute to make.”
“Thank you, nothing.” The man walked into Purview’s office, looking carefully around at the walls of books, the row of filing cabinets.
“Please have a seat.” Normally, Purview enjoyed reading the Wall Street Journal between the hours of seven and eight in the morning, but he wasn’t about to turn away a prospective client—especially not in this recession.
The man took a seat in one of the several chairs in Purview’s spacious office, while the lawyer seated himself behind the desk. “How can I help you?” Purview asked.
“I’m looking for information.”
“What kind of information?”
The man seemed to recollect something. “Forgive me for not introducing myself. Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, FBI.” He reached into his coat pocket, removed his ID, and placed it on Purview’s desk.
Purview looked at the ID without touching it. “Are you here on official business, Agent Pendergast?”
“I am here on the investigation of a crime, yes.” The agent paused to once again glance around the office. “Are you familiar with the property located on Two Ninety-Nine Old County Lane, Ramapo, New York?”
Purview hesitated. “It doesn’t ring a bell. Then again, I’ve been involved in a great many real estate transactions in Nanuet and the surrounding area.”
“The property in question consists of an old warehouse, now empty and by all appearances abandoned. Your address is listed for the LLC that holds the deed to this property, and you are the attorney of record.”
“I want to know who the real owners are.”
Purview considered this for a moment. “I see,” he repeated. “And do you have a court order requiring me to produce those records for you?”
“I do not.”
Purview allowed the faintest smile of lawyerly superiority to settle over his features. “Then surely you, as a federal officer, know that I can’t possibly violate attorney-client privilege by giving you that information.”
Pendergast leaned forward in his chair. The face remained disturbingly neutral, unreadable. “Mr. Purview, you are in a position to do me a very large favor, for which you will be handsomely rewarded. Ecce signum.” Reaching into his pocket again, he withdrew a small envelope that he laid on the desk, taking back his ID at the same time.
Purview just couldn’t help himself; he thumbed open the envelope and saw that inside was a brick of hundred-dollar bills.
“Ten thousand dollars,” the agent said.
An awful lot of money for simply furnishing a name and address. Purview began to wonder what this was about: drugs, maybe, or organized crime. Or perhaps a sting? Entrapment? Whatever it was, he didn’t like it.
“I doubt if your superiors would look very kindly upon your attempt at bribery,” he said. “You can keep your money.”
Pendergast waved this away like a pesky fly. “I’m offering you a carrot.” He paused significantly, as if refraining from mentioning the other half of that equation.
Purview felt a shiver. “There’s a due process for everything, Agent, ah, Pendergast. I’ll assist you when I see a court order telling me to do so—and not before. Either way, I won’t take your money.”
For a moment, the FBI agent did not reply. Then, with the faintest of sighs—whether of regret or irritation it was impossible to say—he plucked the money off the table and returned it to the inside pocket of his black suit. “I am sorry for you, then,” he said in a low voice. “Please listen carefully. I am someone for whom time is in extremely short supply. I have no inclination, and no patience, for bandying the finer points of law. You are proving yourself an honest man: good for you. Shall we find out just how… courageous a man you are? Allow me to assure you of one thing: you will give me those records. The only question is how much mortification you’ll have to endure before doing so.”
In his entire adult life, Thomas Purview had never allowed himself to be intimidated by anyone. He had no intention of starting now. He stood from his desk. “Kindly leave, Agent Pendergast, or I shall call the police.”
But Pendergast showed no signs of standing. “The records for the warehouse in question are relatively old,” he said. “At least two dozen years old. They are not available in digital format—I’ve checked. However, so much other information is. It flies through the virtual ether, Mr. Purview—one only has to reach out and snag it. And I have a resource, a talented resource, who is exceptionally good at such snagging. He has furnished me with another address I think we should discuss. In addition to Two Ninety-Nine Old County Lane, I mean. It’s an address of particular interest.”
Purview picked up his phone and began dialing 911.
“One Twenty-Nine Park Avenue South.”
The hand paused in midair.
“You see, Mr. Purview,” Pendergast went on, “it isn’t only statements and records that are available on the Internet. Images are available, too. Security camera images, for example—if one knows how to access them.”
Pendergast reached into his suit, pulled out a notebook. “Over the last few hours, my, ah, resource has sent a worm across the backbone of the Net, using pattern-recognition software to search for images of your face. He found them in—among other places—the security cameras at that particular address.”
Purview remained very still.
“Which shows you in the company of one Felicia Lourdes, Apartment Fourteen-A. A lovely girl, young enough to be your daughter. And you do have several. Daughters, I mean. Correct?”
Purview said nothing. He slowly replaced the phone.
“The security images are of the two of you embracing passionately in the elevator. How touching. And there are quite a few of these images. It must be true love, is it not?”
“What was it Hart Crane said about love? It is ‘a burnt match skating in a urinal.’ Why do people take such risks?” Pendergast shook his head sadly. “One Twenty-Nine Park Avenue South. A very good address. I wonder how Miss Lourdes can afford it. Given her position as a paralegal, I mean.” He paused. “The person who would find this address to be of particular interest is, of course, your wife.”
“I am a desperate man, Mr. Purview. I will not hesitate to act on this immediately if you do not comply. Indeed, in that case I will be forced—in the unfortunate parlance of our times—to ‘escalate.’ ”
The word hung in the air like a bad smell.
Purview thought for a moment. “I believe I’ll step out of my office now for a fifteen-minute walk. If, during that time, somebody were to break in and rifle my files—well, I would have no knowledge of said person or said act. Especially if the files in question were left seemingly undisturbed.”
Pendergast did not move as Purview picked up his Wall Street Journal, stepped out from behind the desk, and walked toward the door. As he reached it, he turned. “By the way, just so you don’t make a hash of things, try the third cabinet, second drawer down. Fifteen minutes, Agent Pendergast.”
“Enjoy your walk, Mr. Purview.”
+ Forty Hours
FOR THE PAST FORTY HOURS, SHE HAD BEEN BLINDFOLDED and kept constantly on the move. She had been bundled into the trunk of a car, the back of a truck, and—she guessed—the hold of a boat. In all the furtive shuttling from place to place, she had grown disoriented and lost track of time. She felt cold, hungry, and thirsty, and her head still ached from the savage blow she’d received in the taxi. She had been given no food, and the only liquid offered her had been a plastic bottle of water, thrust into her hand some time back.
Now she was once again in the trunk of a car. For several hours they had been driving at high speed, apparently on a freeway. But now the car slowed; the vehicle made several turns; and the sudden roughness of the ride led her to believe they were on a dirt road or track.
Whenever she had been transferred from one makeshift prison to another, her captors had been silent. But now, with the road noise reduced, she could hear the murmur of their voices through the vehicle. They were speaking a mixture of Portuguese and German, both of which she understood perfectly, having learned them before either English or her father’s native Hungarian. The talk was faint, however, and she could make out very little beyond the tones, which seemed angry, urgent. There seemed to be four of them now.
After several minutes of rough travel, the car eased to a halt. She heard doors opening and closing, feet crunching on gravel. Then the trunk was opened and she felt chill air on her face. A hand grabbed her by the elbow, raised her to a sitting position, then pulled her out. She staggered, knees buckling; the pressure of the hand increased, raising her and steadying her. Then—without a word—she was shoved forward.
Strange how she felt nothing, no emotion, not even grief or fear. After so many years of hiding, of fear and uncertainty, her brother had appeared with the news she had long dreamed of hearing but had resigned herself would never come. For one brief day she had been afire with the hope of seeing Aloysius again, of restarting their lives, of finally living once more like a normal human being. Then in a moment it was snatched away, her brother murdered, her husband shot and perhaps dead as well.
And now she felt like an empty vessel. Better to have never hoped at all.
She heard the creak of an opening door, and she was guided over a sill and into a room. The air smelled musty and close. The hand led her across the room, apparently through a second door and into an even mustier space. A deserted old house in the country, perhaps. The hand released its grip on her arm, and she felt the pressure of a chair seat against the back of her knees. She sat down, placing her remaining hand in her lap.
“Remove it,” said a voice in German—a voice she instantly recognized. There was a fumbling at her head, and the blindfold was pulled away.
She blinked once, twice. The room was dark, but her long-blindfolded eyes needed no period of adjustment. She heard footsteps recede behind her, heard the door close. Then, licking dry lips, she raised her eyes and met the gaze of Wulf Konrad Fischer. He was older, of course, but still as powerful looking and as heavily muscled as ever. He was seated in a chair facing her, his legs apart and his hands clasped between them. He shifted slightly, and the chair groaned under his massive build. With his penetrating pale eyes, his dark tan, and his closely trimmed thatch of thick, snow-white hair, he exuded Teutonic perfection. He looked at her, a cold smile distorting his lips. It was a smile Helen remembered all too well. Her apathy and emptiness were replaced by a spike of fear.
“I never expected to receive a visit from the dead,” Fischer said in his clipped, precise German. “And yet here you are. Fräulein Esterhazy—forgive me, Frau Pendergast—who departed this earth more than twelve years ago.” He looked at her, hard eyes glinting with some combination of amusement, anger, and curiosity.
Helen said nothing.
“Natürlich, in retrospect I can see how it was done. Your twin sister—der Schwächling—was the sacrificial pawn. After all your protests, your sanctimonious outrage, I see how well you have learned from us, after all! I almost feel honored.”
Helen remained silent. The apathy was returning. She would be better off dead than living with this pain.
Fischer peered at her intently, as if to gauge the effect of his words. He took a pack of Dunhills from his pocket, plucked one from the box, lit it with a gold lighter. “You wouldn’t care to tell us where you’ve been all this time, would you? Or whether you’ve had any other accomplices in this little deception—beyond your brother, I mean? Or whether you’ve spoken to anyone about our organization?”
When there was no response, Fischer took a deep drag on the cigarette. His smile broadened. “No matter. There will be plenty of time for that—once we get you back home. I’m sure you’ll be happy to tell the doctors everything… that is, before the experiments begin.”
Helen went still. Fischer had used the word Versuchsreihe—but that word meant more to her than simply “experiments.” At the thought of what it meant—at the memory—she felt a sudden panic. She leapt to her feet and ran headlong toward the door. It was a mindless, instinctive act, born of the atavistic need for self-preservation. But even as she charged the door, it was opened, her captors standing just beyond. Helen did not slow, and the force of the impact knocked two of them back, but the others seized her and gripped her hard. It took all four to restrain her and drag her back into the room.
Fischer stood up. Taking another deep drag on the cigarette, he regarded Helen as she struggled silently, fiercely. Then he looked at his watch.
“It’s time to go,” he said. He glanced again at Helen. “I think we had better prepare the hypodermic.”
+ Forty-Four Hours
THE KNOCK CAME AT HALF PAST TWO IN THE AFTERNOON. Kurt Weber put down the bottle of sweet tea he’d been drinking, dabbed at the corners of his mouth with a silk handkerchief, turned off his computer monitor, and walked across the tiled floor to answer it. A quick look through the eyehole indicated a respectable-looking gentleman.
“Who is it?”
“I’m looking for the Freiheit Importing Company.”
Weber replaced the handkerchief in his breast pocket and opened the door. “Yes?”
The man stood in the hallway: slender, with piercing silver eyes and blond hair so pale, it was almost white.
“May I have a minute of your time?” the gentleman asked.
“Certainly.” Weber opened the door farther and motioned the man to a seat. Although the man’s suit was plain—simple black—it was of beautiful material, exquisitely tailored. Weber had always been something of a clotheshorse, and as he moved back behind his desk, he found himself unconsciously adjusting his own cuffs.
“Interesting,” the man said, glancing around, “that you conduct your business in a hotel.”
“It was not always a hotel,” Weber replied. “When it was built in 1929, it was called the Rhodes-Haverty Building. When it became a hotel, I saw no reason to bother relocating. The view of Atlanta’s historic district from here is second to none.”
He took a seat behind the desk. “How may I be of service?” The visit, of course, was almost certainly a mistake—the “importing” Weber did was for a private client only—but this wasn’t the first time people had called on him. He had always made a point of being polite with such callers, to give the impression his was a legitimate business.
The man sat down. “I have just one question. Answer it, and I’ll be on my way.”
Something in the man’s tone made Weber hesitate before replying. “And what question is that?”
“Where is Helen Pendergast?”
This is not possible, Weber thought. Aloud, he said: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You are the owner of a warehouse in downstate New York. It was from this warehouse that the operation to abduct Helen Pendergast was put into motion.”
“You aren’t making any sense. And since it appears you have no business to conduct, I’m afraid I shall have to ask you to leave, Mr….?” As he spoke, Weber very casually opened the center drawer of his desk and placed his hand inside.
“Pendergast,” the stranger said. “Aloysius Pendergast.”
Weber drew out his Beretta from the desk, but before he could aim it, the man, seemingly reading his mind, lashed out and slammed the pistol from Weber’s grasp. It went tumbling across the floor. Covering Weber with his own weapon, which had appeared from nowhere, the man retrieved the Beretta, put it in his own pocket, and returned to his chair.
“Shall we try again?” he asked in a reasonable voice.
“I have nothing to say to you,” Weber replied.
The man calling himself Pendergast hefted the weapon in his hand. “Are you truly not attached to your own life?”
Weber had been very carefully trained in interrogation techniques—both how to administer and how to resist. He had also been schooled in how one of superior blood and breeding should conduct himself before others. “I’m not afraid to die for what I believe in.”
“That makes two of us.” The man paused, considering. “And what is it, exactly, that you believe in?”
Weber merely smiled.
Pendergast glanced around the office again, his gaze finally returning to Weber. “That’s a rather nice suit you’re wearing.”
Despite the big Colt trained on him, Weber felt perfectly calm, perfectly in control. “Thank you.”
“Is that by chance a Hardy Amies, my own tailor?”
“Sadly, no. Taylor and Merton, just a few doors down Savile Row from Amies.”
“I see we share a fondness for fine clothes. I would imagine our mutual interest extends beyond just suits. Take ties, for instance.” Pendergast caressed his own. “While in the past I’ve usually favored handmade Parisian ties, like Charvet, these days I prefer Jay Kos. Such as the one I’m wearing at present. At two hundred dollars, not cheap, but in my opinion worth every penny.” He smiled at Weber. “And who makes your ties?”
If this was some novel interrogation technique, Weber thought, it was not going to work. “Brioni,” he replied.
“Brioni,” Pendergast repeated. “That’s good. Well made.”
Suddenly—again with speed that more resembled an explosion than movement—Pendergast shot up from his chair, leapt over the desk, and grabbed Weber by the throat. Dragging him backward with shocking strength, he threw up the sash of the nearest window and propelled the struggling Weber into it. In terror Weber grasped the window frames on both sides. He could hear the traffic on Peachtree Street twenty stories below, feel the updraft.
“I love the windows in these old skyscrapers,” Pendergast said. “They actually open. And you were right about the view.”
Weber clung desperately to the sides of the window, gasping with terror.
Reaching around with the butt of his gun, Pendergast smashed the fingers of Weber’s left hand, breaking bones, then pounded on his right. With a cry, Weber felt himself shoved backward into open space, his arms flailing uselessly, his legs still hooked over the windowsill. Pendergast prevented his fall by grabbing his tie, holding him out at arm’s length from the window.
Frantically Weber pressed his calves against the sill, choking and fighting to maintain a grip.
“A man should always know his wardrobe—and his wardrobe’s limitations,” Pendergast went on, his voice still light and conversational. “My Jay Kos ties, for example, are made of Italian sevenfold silk. As strong as they are beautiful.”
He gave Weber’s tie a rough jerk. Weber gasped as one leg began to slip from the sill. He scrabbled to regain his footing. He tried to speak, but the tie was choking him.
“Other manufacturers sometimes cut corners,” Pendergast went on. “You know, like single stitching, only two folds.” He gave the tie another tug. “So I want you to be sure of the quality of your tie before I ask you my question again.”
With a harsh sound, Weber’s tie began to rip. He stared at it, crying out involuntarily.
“Oh, dear,” Pendergast said, disappointed. “Brioni? I don’t think so. Perhaps you’ve been deceived by a forgery. Or you’ve been cutting corners, lying to me about your haberdashers.”
The tie was now torn halfway across its fat end. From the corner of his eye, Weber could see a crowd gathering below, pointing upward, distant shouts. He felt his head start to swim. Panic overwhelmed him.
“All right!” Weber screamed, scrabbling at Pendergast’s hand with his own broken and twisted fingers. “I’ll talk!”
“Make it quick. This cheap tie isn’t going to last much longer.”
“She’s, she’s leaving the country tonight.”
“Private plane. Fort Lauderdale. Pettermars Airport. Nine o’clock.”
With a final, brutal tug, Pendergast pulled Weber back into his office.
“Scheiße!” Weber cried as he sprawled across the floor, in a fetal position, cradling his ruined hands. “What if my tie had torn completely?”
The man’s smile simply widened. And suddenly Weber understood—this was a man as far on the edge as a person could be while remaining sane.
Pendergast withdrew a step. “If you’re telling the truth, and I recover her without incident, you don’t have to worry about seeing me again. But if you have deceived me, I’ll pay you another visit.”
In the act of turning toward the door, Pendergast stopped. He loosened his own necktie, unknotted it, threw it toward Weber. “Here’s the real thing. Remember what I said about cutting corners.” And with a final, cold smile, he slipped out of the office.
+ Forty-Five Hours
PETTERMARS AIRPORT. PENDERGAST HAD JUST UNDER SIX hours to go seven hundred miles.
A quick check of the local airports showed no feasible commercial flights and no chartered planes available on such short notice. He would have to make the trip by car.
He had flown into Atlanta and taken a cab from the airport. He would need to rent a vehicle. Locating a specialty rental agency a few blocks down Peachtree, he selected a brand-new storm-red Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. He contracted for a one-way trip to Miami, with full insurance coverage, at a staggering price.
Even though rush hour had not yet begun, the notorious Atlanta traffic was already choking the freeway interchanges. Merging onto I-75 south, Pendergast quickly pressed the accelerator to the floor, passing through a construction zone at high speed by sticking to the right-hand shoulder. As he had hoped, the ear-shattering roar of the Mercedes’s ferocious 563-horse engine attracted attention and helped clear the way for him. He blasted along the shoulder at close to a hundred miles an hour until he passed a speed trap.
A Georgia state trooper came shooting out from behind an embankment, sirens wailing and lightbar flashing. Pendergast pulled over so fast the cop almost rear-ended him. Even before the trooper could call in the license plate, Pendergast was out of the car with his shield held high, striding toward the trooper’s vehicle and motioning with his hand to lower his window.
Reaching the vehicle, Pendergast pushed his shield inside. “Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York office. I’m on an emergency mission of the highest priority.”
The trooper looked from Pendergast, to the shield, to the Mercedes, and back again. “Um, yes, sir.”
“I had to improvise the car. Listen to me carefully. I’m on my way to Pettermars Airport, outside Fort Lauderdale, by way of Interstates Seventy-Five, Ten, and Ninety-Five.”
The state trooper stared at him, struggling to keep up.
“I want you to radio ahead and authorize my rapid and unrestricted passage along this route. No stops. And no escorts—I’ll be traveling too fast. My vehicle is somewhat recognizable, so this should not be a problem. Understand?”
“Yes, sir. But our jurisdiction ends once you leave Georgia.”
“Have your commanding major call his counterpart in Florida.”
“But perhaps the FBI’s New York office—”
“As I said, this is an emergency situation. There’s no time. Just do it.”
Pendergast sprinted back to his car and laid a hundred yards of rubber getting back up to speed, leaving the state trooper sitting in a blue cloud.
By four o’clock Pendergast was past Macon, arrowing due south. Cars, road signs, scenery passed by in brief smudges of color. Suddenly, coming around a bend, he saw a line of red brake lights ahead: two semis were driving abreast, crawling up a hill, the one on the left trying to pass the one on the right by inching ahead up the rise, slowing everyone behind—a despicable act on a two-lane freeway.
Driving once again on and off the shoulder, flashing his lights, Pendergast passed the series of cars until he was directly behind the left-hand truck. It studiously ignored the blasts of his horn and the flashing of lights—if anything, it seemed to slow a little, out of spite.
The freeway curved to the right, and—as often happened—the truck in the slow lane began to drift into the shoulder. Pendergast used this opportunity to move himself back into the left-hand shoulder. As he anticipated, the trucker in front of him moved left as well, to block his passage. This was his chance. He decelerated slightly, then—switching the transmission into manual mode—he yawed abruptly right into the gap created between the two trucks, using his paddle shifters to scream from fifty miles per hour to ninety in three seconds, darting past the trucks and shooting forward onto the empty freeway ahead. He was rewarded by twin angry blasts of air horns.
He drove on without stopping, occasionally moving into the left or right shoulder to pass vehicles, honking and flashing his lights at the more recalcitrant drivers, sometimes terrifying them into changing lanes by coming up behind them at high speed and not braking until the last possible moment. By five thirty he was past Valdosta and crossing the border into Florida.
He knew that the most direct route was problematic—heading as it did through Orlando and its tangle of clogged, tourist-filled interchanges—so instead he turned east on I-10, making for the Atlantic coast. It was a less-than-satisfactory alternative, but it was nevertheless the one with the greatest probability of success. At Jacksonville, he turned south again onto I-95.
Outside Daytona Beach, he stopped for gas, flinging a hundred-dollar bill at the surprised attendant and screeching off without waiting for change.
As the evening lengthened, the traffic on the freeway began to thin, and the long-haul trucks drove faster. Pendergast dodged between them—top down, the night wind helping to keep him awake—pushing the vehicle harder. Titusville, Palm Bay, and Jupiter shot past, mere blurs of light. As he came into Boca Raton, he activated the GPS system and punched in his destination.
He had covered the distance at an average of one hundred and twenty-five miles per hour.
Pettermars Executive General Airport was located ten miles west of Coral Springs, carved out of the eastern flanks of the Everglades. As he approached it through the sprawling Fort Lauderdale suburbs, Pendergast could make out a small tower, a set of wind socks, the twinkle of runway lights.
Five minutes to nine. The airport runway came into view, beyond a ragged field of switchgrass. A single-engine, six-seater propeller plane was warming up outside the closest hangar.
Pendergast pulled in front of the FBO with a squeal of brakes, sprang from the car, and ran as fast as his limp would allow into the low, yellow-painted building.
“Where is that plane headed?” he asked the lone airport administrator behind the desk, pulling out his shield. “It’s an FBI emergency.”
The man hesitated only a moment. “They filed a flight plan to Cancun.”
Cancun. Probably a false destination. However, it indicated the plane was headed south, over the border.
“Any other flights scheduled for this evening?”
“A Lear, incoming from Biloxi in ninety minutes. Is there something I can help you with—?”
But the administrator was talking to an empty room. Pendergast had disappeared.
Exiting the FBO, Pendergast ran back to the Mercedes and slipped inside. The plane was moving toward the runway now, its engine rumbling. A security fence surrounded the hangar and the taxiway; its set of chain-link gates was closed. There was no more time: Pendergast aimed the car at the gates and stamped on the accelerator. With a roar, the vehicle shot forward, taking out the gates and sending them tumbling onto the tarmac.
The airplane was just beginning to lumber down the runway, slowly picking up speed. Pendergast drew level with it and looked into the cabin. The pilot was striking: tall and very muscular, with a deep tan and perfectly snow-white hair. The person sitting in the copilot’s seat glanced out the window at the Mercedes. It was one of the joggers who had apprehended Helen in Central Park. Recognizing Pendergast, the man quickly drew a gun and fired out the window.
Pendergast sheared away from the shot, then swerved in close to the wing, placing himself in the shooter’s blind spot. As he adjusted the car’s speed to match that of the aircraft, he briefly considered circling in front to cut it off—but that might easily lead to the plane losing control. Helen was on board. Instead he edged the car even closer to the wing, still pacing it. Opening the door, he waited, his body tense—and then launched himself from the moving car onto the right landing gear assembly. His timing was just a fraction off target and he slid down the struts, feet dragging for a moment on the tarmac; with a mighty heave he pulled himself from the humming asphalt to a more secure position, wincing from the pain of his injured leg.
The plane was rapidly accelerating, moving upwards of thirty knots, and the wind whipped at his hair and clothes. Pendergast hoisted himself up the gear assembly until he was directly beneath the wing. He leaned forward, taking his gun from its holster. He could just make out the form of the jogger in the copilot’s seat; any view of the other passengers was blocked by the wing.
The end of the runway was in sight now, with nothing but switchgrass and swamp beyond; the pilot appeared to be having trouble compensating for the extra weight and drag. Pendergast leaned forward still farther. The jogger stuck his head out the window, peering back into the darkness, looking for him. Just as the plane became airborne, Pendergast took careful aim and—extending himself almost horizontally from the landing gear—shot the man full in the face.
The man screamed as his head snapped back. His body spasmed violently, involuntarily; the door flew open and the body tumbled outward, smacking into the tarmac like a side of beef just as the plane lifted off. Then the plane was airborne, skimming over the marsh below. The wheels would come up at any moment.
Pendergast thought quickly. The plane was already thirty feet above the ground. He holstered his gun, balanced himself on the horizontal landing strut beside the wheel, pulled a fountain pen from his pocket, and stabbed into the tiny flap of the fuel sump at the bottom of the cowling. Then—just as the hum of the wheel hydraulics began—he timed himself for a leap from the landing gear. Keeping himself at the correct entry angle, he hit the marsh with a terrific splash, plunging into the water and underlying mud.
+ Fifty-Three Hours
PENDERGAST SAT ON A STEEL STANCHION AT THE END OF Pettermar Airport’s runway 29-R. The night was dark and starless, and the only illumination came from the parallel lines of runway lights that led off toward the horizon. The fall from the plane had reopened his gunshot wound. He had managed to stem the flow of blood and done his best to rinse the foul mud away. It would need closer medical attention and antibiotic treatment, but right now he had more important things to do.
Over his shoulder, several hundred feet in the air, another light slowly became visible: an approaching plane. It resolved into a set of running and warning lights. A minute later, a Learjet 60 hurtled past some twenty feet over Pendergast’s head, its reverse thrusters screaming as it prepared to land, the wake turbulence of the jet’s passing hurling up a violent cloud of dust.
Pendergast took no notice.
He had searched the body of the jogger, which had come to rest hidden in the tall grass at the end of the runway. Nothing. There had been a flurry of activity on the airfield triggered by his bashing down of the gate. The police had come, searched the area, impounded the Mercedes, and gone. They had found neither him nor the body.
Now everything had returned to normal; all was quiet. He rose and, keeping well within the darkness of the grass, circled the airstrip to an ancient pay phone at the gas station on the airfield road, which—miraculously—worked. He put in a call to D’Agosta.
“Where are you?” came the voice from New York.
“Not important. Put out an APB on a Cessna 133 single-engine plane, call letters November-eight-seven-niner-foxtrot-Charlie. It was heading into Mexico with a flight plan for Cancun, but it will be forced to land within a—” he thought a moment—“two-hundred-mile radius of Fort Lauderdale, due to a slow leak in the fuel line.”
“How do you know it has a leak?”
“Because I introduced it. A hollow plastic tube, wedged into the fuel sump. There’s nothing they can do in the cockpit to reverse it.”
“You’ve got to tell me what the hell’s going on—”
“Call me back at this number when you get a hit.”
“Wait, Pendergast, Jesus—”
Pendergast hung up. He left the lighted area of the phone booth, retreating to the darkness of a vacant lot overgrown with palmettos. He lay down on the ground—the loss of blood had made him weaker—and there he waited.
Thirty minutes later he heard the phone ring. He got up, made it to the booth, his head spinning. “Yes?”
“We got a hit on that APB. The plane landed maybe ten minutes ago at a tiny strip outside Andalusia, Alabama. Tore up the landing gear, too.”
“They must have called ahead, because a van was waiting. There was only one person on the field, a guy drinking coffee in the hangar. He saw a bunch of people bundle into the van, then they hauled ass, heading in the direction of the—” a pause—“Conecuh National Forest. Ditched the plane, left it right there on the runway.”
“Did the onlooker get the plates of the van?”
“Nah. It was dark.”
“Alert the Alabama Highway Patrol. And put out an APB at all the border crossings—they’re headed into Mexico. I’ll call you later. My cellular phone is out of commission.”
A reluctant pause. “You got it.”
“Thank you.” Pendergast hung up.
He sat perhaps another ten minutes, still motionless, in the humid darkness. Then he dialed another number.
“Yo,” came the high, breathy voice of Mime, the reclusive hacker of questionable ethics whose only contact with the outside world was Pendergast himself.
“Dunno. It’s not much. I was hoping to get more before I called you…” His high voice paused dramatically, teasingly.
“I have no time for games, Mime.”
“Right,” said Mime hastily. “I’ve been listening in on the electronic eavesdropping of our friends in Fort Meade—monitoring the monitors, you might say.” He chuckled. “And they do scrutinize domestic calls and e-mails, you know, despite protests to the contrary. I isolated a piece of cell phone chatter that I think is from this group you call Der Bund.”
“Are you sure?”
“Impossible to be one hundred percent sure, my man. The transmissions are encrypted, and all I was able to figure out was that they’re in German. Cracked a few proper nouns here and there. According to the government’s triangulation of the cell signal, it’s been moving fast across central and northwestern Florida.”
“Seventy minutes ago.”
“That must be the plane that just landed in Alabama. What else?”
“Nothing except for a brief unencrypted burst in Spanish. That burst mentioned a place: Cananea.”
“Cananea,” Pendergast whispered. “Where is that?”
“A town in Sonora, Mexico… in the middle of nowhere, thirty miles south of the border.”
“Sketch me a picture of the town.”
“My research indicates it has a population of thirty thou. It was once a huge mining center—copper—and it was the site of a bloody strike that helped launch the Mexican Revolution. Now it hosts a couple of maquiladora factories on the north side and that’s about it.”
“There’s a river that starts in Cananea and flows north over the border into Arizona. Called the San Pedro. One of the few north-flowing rivers on the continent. It’s a major route for smuggling drugs and illegals. Except that the surrounding desert is brutal. That’s where a lot of those would-be immigrants die. The border along there is apparently remote as hell, just a barbed-wire fence—but it’s got sensors and patrols up the wazoo. Plus a tethered blimp that can see a cigarette on the ground in the dark.”
Pendergast cradled the phone. It made sense. Deprived of their plane, and anticipating the APB border alerts, Helen’s captors would have had to find a clandestine way to cross the border into Mexico. The Rio San Pedro corridor south to Cananea was as good as any.
That would be his last chance to intercept them.
He left the telephone booth—staggered, his head still spinning—and found himself forced to sit down abruptly in the dirt. He was weak, he was exhausted, he was losing blood, and he had not slept or taken nourishment in more than two days. But this sudden weakness went beyond the physical. His mind, his entire being, was wounded.
He forced himself to examine his shattered psychological state. What he now felt for Helen—whether or not he still loved her—he did not know. He had believed her dead for twelve years. He had reconciled himself to that. And now she was alive. All he knew for certain was that if he had not insisted on seeing her again, if he had not bungled their assignation so badly, Helen would still be safe. He had to reverse that failure. He had to rescue her from Der Bund—not only for her preservation, but for his own. Otherwise…
He did not let himself think about the otherwise. Instead—summoning every last reserve of strength—he rose to his feet. He had to get to Cananea, one way or another.
He limped toward the parking lot of the airfield, bathed in sodium lights. A single car was parked there: an old tan Eldorado. No doubt owned by the airport administrator.
It appeared the man would be doing him another favor.
+ Eighty-Two Hours
PENDERGAST PULLED THE SMOKING, BATTERED ELDOrado into a gas station outside the tiny town of Palominas, Arizona. He had covered the twenty-two hundred miles without rest, stopping only for gas.
He got out, steadying himself by leaning on the door. It was two AM, and the immense desert sky was sprinkled with stars. There was no moon.
Excerpted from Two Graves by Douglas Preston Copyright © 2012 by Douglas Preston. Excerpted by permission.
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