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By Philip Donlay
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2014 Philip Donlay
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At the sound of his phone, Donovan Nash was instantly awake. The caller ID told him the number was restricted and that it was 3:42 in the morning. He braced himself; nothing good ever came of a call at this hour. "Donovan Nash."
"Donovan Nash," a strained, raspy voice repeated. "I was hoping to speak to Robert Huntington."
Donovan sat up in bed. Robert Huntington was a name he hadn't used in over twenty years. A name only a handful of people knew — the man on the phone wasn't one of them. "Who is this?"
"All you need to understand is that I know who and what you are. This is your wake-up call to let you know I'm going to destroy everything that's important to you."
"Don't threaten me." Donovan threw off his covers and launched himself out of bed, adrenaline pumping. He opened the drawer to the bedside table and grabbed his gun, went to the bedroom window, and peered at the street and driveway below. He saw no vehicles outside. Everything looked normal.
"Think of it as less of a threat and more of a promise. I can also assure you it will be a slow and painful destruction. Go to YouTube and find: shark payback. I'll be in touch, Robert."
Donovan could hear the deathly silence as the call ended. I'm going to destroy everything that's important to you. The words replayed over and over in his head, and he appreciated the weight of the pistol in his hand.
He threw on pants and a sweatshirt but not before his eyes shot to the ugly scar that ran across his right thigh and the matching one on his right wrist. All products of a murderer armed with a knife. It had been seven months since he'd been attacked. The physical wounds of that night had mostly healed, but the scars were a constant reminder of what could happen if he let his guard down. With the pistol in hand, he slipped downstairs.
The house was nearly silent, only the soft hum from the refrigerator reached his ears. He thought of his wife and young daughter and for once was happy they weren't here. Seven months ago Lauren had packed up Abigail and moved to Europe to get away from him. He'd tried to spin it any number of ways, but in the end it always came back to the simple truth. Lauren didn't want to be with him — in fact she needed to be on another continent to feel comfortable. He missed his daughter terribly. They spoke often, and video-chatted nearly every day. He was thankful that his absence hadn't seemed to dampen Abigail's enthusiasm for life. He knew Lauren still loved him, but she didn't want to live with him, nor did she want to be entirely without him. They were at an impasse, and he'd reached a sort of uneasy peace with the situation.
Donovan double-checked the alarm system and then went into the study, closed the drapes, and sat down at the computer. It didn't take long to find the shark payback video. He clicked on the play icon and noted that it had already been viewed one hundred eighty-three times. He could tell at once this was an amateur video shot at night on a ship. The handheld image jumped and swayed, but the subject was unmistakable. Men wearing masks were pulling in a long line, except they were releasing the fish impaled on each hook instead of keeping them. Occasionally a dead turtle or ocean bird was hauled in and tossed onto the deck where it was closely photographed. A man dressed in black, holding a machine gun walked into view, and it was then Donovan understood. Someone had boarded a fishing vessel and stopped the fishing. The camera did a long, slow shot of the bloodstained deck, the plastic tubs filled with severed shark fins. Next, a container of fish that were still alive, gills opening and closing, straining, bodies flopping helplessly. Donovan knew this was what the industry called by-catch, fish that were cut into pieces to bait the thousands of hooks.
The homemade video panned upward and then zoomed in and focused on a lone fisherman. Shirtless, he was held so that his arms were outstretched, his ankles bound together. Moaning, and clearly terrified, he struggled in vain to get free. A single man came into the field of view and with little fanfare raised his knife and then the picture went black, but the audio recorded screams of agony. A simple web address flashed on the screen. Donovan quickly typed it into his browser and started the separate video. Without the constraints of YouTube, every horrific detail filled the screen.
Donovan watched as the fisherman's detached arms were thrown into a plastic tub with the shark fins, and still alive and screaming, he was tossed overboard. The camera followed the doomed fisherman as he tried desperately to remain afloat but slowly sank from view. Still trained on the ocean, a Zodiac flashed past the camera. Shocked, Donovan instantly backed up the image and then froze the playback. Painted on the side of the rigid inflatable boat was the unmistakable gold logo and blue letters of Eco-Watch, the scientific research organization that Donovan had founded ten years ago.
Donovan let the video play to the end, to a message in bold print that nearly forty million sharks are killed each year to feed Asia's market for shark fin soup. The view counter showed that over two thousand people had watched already. Donovan jumped back to YouTube and glanced at the early postings. The first two were riddled with poor grammar and typos; they congratulated Eco-Watch on killing the bastards. Then there were four more that labeled Eco-Watch a band of assassins and called for the arrest and immediate execution of every member of Eco-Watch responsible.
The shrill sound from the telephone on the desk startled him. It was a secure line installed by the Defense Intelligence Agency. Before she'd left, Lauren had worked part time for the DIA. She'd graduated with a Ph.D. from MIT in Earth Science and had gone to work for the government. In all the months since she'd left, that phone hadn't rung once.
"Donovan, it's William. Sorry to wake you, but we need to talk."
William VanGelder had raised him since he was fourteen years old. William had made a fortune in the oil business with Donovan's late father, and in turn had amassed a vast fortune in both money and power since then. Nearing seventy-five years of age, William showed no signs of slowing down. He was still an active member of Washington's political elite, a behind-the-scenes power broker with a long-held position within the State Department as an ambassador at large.
"You didn't wake me," Donovan replied. "Why are you calling on this phone?"
"We have a problem and we need to make some decisions."
"I just got a phone call from a nearly hysterical Beverly Stratton."
"Wait. John's wife?"
"Yes. She'd just been informed that her husband's yacht had run aground in Hawaii. All aboard had been murdered, including John."
"Oh, no." Donovan felt all the air leave his body. John Stratton had been one of William's closest friends, and by default, one of Donovan's. John and William had gone to Harvard Law together. John had built a conglomerate of companies through a successful career as a venture capitalist. Always a major supporter of environmental groups, including Eco-Watch, John's kindness and enthusiasm had a great deal to do with turning Eco-Watch into one of the premier privately funded scientific organizations in the world. Donovan owed the savvy venture capitalist a great deal. John's megayacht, christened Triton, was his passion, and he and his crew were experienced and cautious seaman. Nothing about this made any sense.
"We don't know much, but Beverly gave me a heads-up on one development. It's the reason I called on the secure line." William stopped as if collecting himself for a moment. "There's a closed-circuit camera system on his boat, you know how John loved his gadgets. The Coast Guard played back the last images stored on the hard drive and found that whoever boarded the Triton were welcomed with open arms because they arrived in an Eco-Watch Zodiac."
"Did they get a good look at them?"
"Not really. The FBI is investigating, but the security system was disabled shortly afterward."
"I got a phone call this morning too," Donovan said. "It's why I was already up. Someone, a man I didn't recognize, called and asked for Robert Huntington. He told me he knew who I was and that he was going to destroy everything that was important to me."
"Do you think it's connected to what happened to John?"
"Absolutely. Go to YouTube and search for shark payback. You'll see what I mean. After you do that, pack a bag and get to the Eco-Watch hangar. We're going to Hawaii. What island did John's ship run aground?"
"Okay, we'll fly to Lihue Airport. Do we need to swing by John Wayne Airport and pick up Beverly?"
"She told me she was making arrangements to use one of her husband's company aircraft."
"If that's the case, then she'll get there before we do." Donovan felt the adrenaline rush of starting things in motion. "I'll make all the arrangements. Let's try and be wheels up no later than zero six thirty."
"I'll see you at the hangar."
Donovan hung up, snatched his pistol, and hurried into the kitchen to make coffee, taking care to close all of the drapes and curtains in the house. Before the phone call this morning only seven people in the world knew that Robert Huntington was still alive. It was a secret that had remained hidden from the public for over twenty years, and Donovan would go to almost any length to make sure it remained that way. Failure would result in the wholesale destruction of everything he'd built. Eco-Watch might survive at this point, but it would have to go on without him. There were treasured friendships he'd forged under false pretenses that would immediately alter and more than likely end badly. It was a lie he owned, and it, in turn, owned him. Everything he held dear was dependent on the perpetuation of the lie. Exposed, he became Robert Huntington, one of the most despised men in the world. He poured a cup of coffee and speed-dialed his assistant, Peggy, on his cell phone.
"Peggy. It's Donovan. Sorry for the early hour, but there's an emergency."
"I'm awake," she said in a sleep-filled voice that didn't match her words. "What can I do?"
"John Stratton has been murdered. I need the da Vinci readied for a trip to Kauai." Donovan had named all of Eco-Watch's aircraft after famous men in the history of science. "Call Michael and Buck, I want to be wheels up by zero six thirty."
"That's awful news. I always liked John." Peggy sounded genuinely upset. "I'll make the calls and get everything moving."
"There's also a YouTube video called shark payback you need to watch. Once you do, pull the file for the public relations firm we have on retainer as well as our attorneys. This could get ugly in a hurry."
"Got it," Peggy replied, now fully awake. "I'll see you at the hangar."
He topped off his coffee, snatched the pistol, and hurried back to the study. He refreshed the shark payback web page and saw that there were now 4,317 hits. He scrolled forward until the Eco-Watch Zodiac came into view. He froze the image and stared. John was dead, which combined with the phone call, meant that whoever was after him knew a great deal about Eco-Watch and had already killed John Stratton, which meant everyone in his world was at risk. Lauren was in France with their daughter. A similar situation seven months ago had driven her off in the first place, and he had to warn her now. It was nine thirty in the morning there. He picked up his phone and dialed, and as it rang, he looked at the pistol he'd carefully laid on the desk and wondered if the day would ever come where he didn't feel the need to be armed.CHAPTER 2
Dr. Lauren McKenna recognized the number on her phone and frowned. She was on the balcony having a quiet morning tea with Stephanie VanGelder, a dear friend visiting from London. Lauren's daughter, Abigail, was at the park with the nanny and Henri, her head of security. She and Stephanie were in the process of planning their day.
Stephanie reacted to Lauren's expression. "Who's calling?"
"It's Donovan calling from a secure phone. This can't be good."
Stephanie looked at her watch and frowned. "It's four thirty in the morning there."
Lauren, too, had done the math. She braced herself and put the phone to her ear. "Hello."
"Hey, it's me," Donovan said.
"I'm here with Stephanie." Lauren didn't want to have a prolonged conversation in front of Stephanie. As the niece of William VanGelder, Stephanie had known Donovan since he was a boy. She knew the truth about all of the secrets, making her one of the few people that Lauren could confide in totally. Over the years the two women had grown into close friends, and Stephanie had supported her decision to leave Donovan. Deep down, Lauren understood Stephanie loved them both, but if she had to choose, she'd pick Donovan.
"She came in from London for a few days. Can I can call you later?"
"I'm sorry to bother you, but we might have a problem. This involves her too," Donovan said. "Some unknown person called me this morning and referred to me as Robert Huntington. He said he knew the truth and was going to destroy everything important to me. It's not a bluff, it's already started."
"What do you mean?" Lauren felt the first tingle of impending danger gnaw at her nerves.
"Do you remember John and Beverly Stratton? They're old friends of William. They live in Laguna Beach."
"I remember the Strattons. They were at our wedding." Lauren saw Stephanie nod that she knew them. "Stephanie remembers them as well. What's happened?"
"John's boat ran aground in Hawaii. He and his crew were found murdered."
"That's terrible. How is that even possible? Was his wife with him?"
"No. She's in California. Security tape showed the killers boarded John's yacht by using an Eco-Watch Zodiac. The guy that called this morning with the threat told me about a YouTube video entitled shark payback. I'll warn you, it's gruesome, and it, too, involves an Eco-Watch Zodiac."
"So you think we're in some kind of danger?"
"We have no idea who these people are, but they've already killed. I think we're all at risk, Stephanie included, and we should act accordingly."
"I already have around-the-clock security, so I think we're safe for the time being."
"I understand. But I needed to pass along the information, to be on the safe side. Please, just be alert."
"We'll be careful."
"Tell Stephanie hello and be sure and tell Abigail I called. I'll keep you posted."
Lauren severed the connection and set the phone down. She noticed that her hands were shaking and folded them in her lap.
"Start from the beginning," Stephanie demanded. "There was more to that call than John Stratton being murdered."
"Let's go inside," Lauren said, gathering up the tray and carrying it inside the luxurious apartment. Located near the center of Paris, the flat had been her refuge since she'd left Donovan. The residence was courtesy of Aaron Keller, a senior official at Mossad, Israel's equivalent to the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The security protection was payment for Lauren's unofficial help in finding and stopping a terrorist who was deemed a major threat to both Israel and the United States. The group behind the attempted attack was eliminated, but Mossad wasn't 100 percent certain that the threat to Lauren had died with those men. At times Lauren hated the presence of bodyguards, but now it seemed even more necessary than ever.
"What's happened?" Stephanie asked.
"First, we need to get to a computer and watch a video," Lauren said "Then I'll tell you everything I know."
Lauren led Stephanie to the spacious master suite where Lauren's laptop was set up on a desk. Both women huddled close as Lauren's fingers flew over her keyboard to bring up YouTube. They stood in silence as the video began. When the link to the other website was established, they both flinched at the graphic images and then watched the appearance of the Eco-Watch Zodiac. When it was over, the scientist in Lauren replayed the video while Stephanie turned away.
"That was awful, how can you watch it again?" Stephanie said.
Excerpted from Deadly Echoes by Philip Donlay. Copyright © 2014 Philip Donlay. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
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