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McDermott / THE REVELATION CODE
New York City
Twelve Years Later
“Has everything I’ve done in my life been worth it?”
Nina Wilde sat facing Dr. Elaine Senzer, but her eyes were lowered, avoiding the psychotherapist’s gaze. Instead she fixated on small, irrelevant details—a scuff on the other woman’s shoe, indentations on the carpet where her chair had been moved—as she tried to put her fears into words. “That’s the question I’ve been asking myself recently,” she went on. “And the thing that’s worrying me is . . . is that I’m not sure it has.”
Elaine leaned forward, adjusting her glasses. “I’m curious why you’d say that. You’ve already achieved more in your life than most people—I mean, it’s fair to say that you’re the most famous archaeologist in the world. You found Atlantis, you discovered the lost city of El Dorado, a hidden Egyptian pyramid, and all those other amazing things. That’s something to be proud of, surely?”
“Is it?” Nina caught herself leaning back in her seat, as if subconsciously trying to maintain the distance between them. “Yeah, I found all those things—and I got a lot of people killed in the process. Too many people.”
“You didn’t kill them personally.”
“Some of them I did.” Even without looking directly at Elaine, she could sense the psychotherapist’s shock at the revelation. “They were trying to kill me, it was always in self-defense . . . but yeah, I’ve killed people. And you know what’s really scary? I’ve lost count of how many.”
Elaine hurriedly scribbled a note. “I see.”
Nina gave her a grim smile. “You’re not going to have me committed to Bellevue, are you?”
“No, no,” the dark-haired woman hastily assured her. “I actually think it’s good that you feel able to tell me about it at this relatively early stage. If you remember, when we started these sessions last month, it was quite a challenge for you to open up about anything at all. The very nature of post-traumatic stress causes sufferers to try to internalize it—there’s a great deal of anger, guilt—”
“Tell me about it,” Nina muttered.
“I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way,” said Elaine, with sympathy. “You have to tell me.”
“You want me to tell you about my guilt?” Nina snapped. “Okay—about four months ago, one of my friends was murdered right in front of me. And it was all my fault! Macy wouldn’t have been there if not for me . . .” Her voice faded to inaudibility.
A long silence was eventually broken by the psychotherapist. “Nina . . . are you okay?”
“If I was okay, I wouldn’t be seeing a shrink, would I?” the redhead replied, wiping her eyes. “What kind of a stupid question is that?”
Elaine shrugged off the insult with professional calm. “Tell me about Macy. I know you’re reluctant, but I really think it would help. Please,” she added, seeing her patient clench her fists. “In your own time; you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to.”
“For a hundred and fifty bucks an hour, I’m not going to sit here in silence. I could do that for free at Starbucks, and the coffee would be better.” Nina took a deep breath, then a second, before continuing. “Macy . . . she was an archaeology student when I first met her. She had a case of”—a brief smile at the memory—“hero worship.” Her expression darkened once more. “Spending time with me soon cured her of that.”
“But she was your friend,” Elaine said.
“Yes. She could be annoying—God, she could be annoying!—but yeah, she was. She was young, that was all. And she thought life was there to be enjoyed, so she went all out to enjoy it.”
“Whereas you . . . ?”
A wry shake of the head, her shoulder-length hair swinging. “I’m not exactly a party animal. Never have been. But Macy threw herself headfirst into everything. And that . . .” Her voice broke. “That got her killed.”
“She invited herself along on my last job for the International Heritage Agency. I could have said no, sent her home. But I didn’t. I don’t know why, maybe because . . . maybe because I was afraid it might be the last chance I had to spend time with her.”
Elaine flicked back through her notebook. “Your illness—you thought it was terminal at that point?”
Nina nodded. She had been under a slow death sentence, poisoned by a toxin from deep within the earth. “Yeah. There was a treatment, but I didn’t know about it then.” She kept the full truth to herself: that the “treatment” was nothing less than the legendary fountain of immortality sought by Alexander the Great. After the horrors she had been through to find it, she’d vowed to keep its location a secret, to prevent the inevitable further bloodshed if others fought to control it. “So I let Macy come with us, and . . .” She choked up.
“Are you all right?” Elaine asked. “Do you need a Kleenex or something?”
Nina rubbed away a tear. “No, no. I’m okay. It’s just, talking about it . . .”
“It’s . . .” Nina sat sharply upright, looking Elaine straight in the eye for the first time. “It’s not fair! She was so young, she was practically still a kid! And this man, this bastard, killed her like she was nothing—just to get to me. If I hadn’t gotten involved, or if I’d done what I should have done and told Macy to go home, she’d still be alive! I got her killed!”
She slumped forward, head in her hands, trying to hold in her sobs. Elaine looked on with concern. “Nina, I’m so, so sorry. But you must know deep down that’s not true. You didn’t kill your friend. Someone else did.”
Nina forced out a reply. “If it weren’t for me, she’d still be alive. The same goes for Rowan Sharpe, and Jim McCrimmon, and Ismail Assad and Hector Amoros and Chloe Lamb and—and so many others I can’t even remember all their names!” She looked up in despair. “This is what I mean, Elaine. Yes, I made all those discoveries—but this was the cost. Hundreds of people have died because of me.”
“It can’t be that many,” Elaine said, though with uncertainty.
“Trust me, I was there. My whole career, everything I’ve accomplished, has been surrounded by death and destruction. Even when I was still a kid, my parents died—were murdered—while they were hunting for Atlantis. Which is why I’ve been asking: Was it all worth it?” She looked down at her abdomen, where a small but distinct swelling revealed the presence of her unborn child. “Do I want to bring a kid into my world? What right have I got to put a baby at that kind of risk?”
“But you’re not working for the IHA anymore,” Elaine pointed out.
“Maybe, but you know what?” Nina said with another flare of anger. “Last month, a Nazi tried to kill me, right here in New York!”
The therapist’s eyes widened. “A . . . Nazi?”
“Yeah, an actual goddamn Nazi. You see? I can’t get away from this shit! I tried to, I just wanted to stay out of trouble and write my book, but it keeps finding me!”
“Your book,” said Elaine, relieved at a chance to change the subject. “How’s that going? You told me last time that you’d been having difficulty maintaining focus . . .”
Nina huffed sarcastically. “Oh, it’s going super fine, better than ever. No, I’m now almost completely blocked. My publishers are gonna be thrilled that they’ve paid over half a million dollars for three and a quarter chapters. Some people I know in Hollywood want to buy the screen rights.” Macy’s boyfriend, the film star Grant Thorn, had unsurprisingly withdrawn from the idea after the young woman’s funeral, but his business partner had since made tentative inquiries about reopening negotiations. “Right now, though, it’d make a really short movie.”
“Why are you blocked?”
“Why? Because every time I start trying to write about what I’ve discovered, it makes me think of the people who died in the process. It’s . . .” She sagged, feeling emotionally drained. “I can’t move forward.”
“In what way?”
“In every way. With my life. All I keep thinking about is whether it’s all been worth it, and I don’t know the answer, and . . . and I’m stuck. Going nowhere.”
“But you are going somewhere,” said Elaine. “You’ve made progress over just the last month—you realized you were in denial over Macy’s death, and the fact that you sought help from a therapist shows that you’re able to start moving on.”
“I might be able to start, but that doesn’t mean I have started. On that, or anything else. The book’s stalled, I can’t even do something as simple as come up with baby names . . .”
“Do you know the sex?”
“Yeah. I had an ultrasound last week, and they could tell what it was. My husband, Eddie, told them not to say anything—he wants it to be a surprise—but I sneaked back in and asked. It’s a—”
Elaine held up her hands. “No, no. I’m like your husband, I like surprises too. I didn’t know what either of my kids was going to be until they were born.”
“I guess I prefer to plan everything in advance. He’s more the make-it-up-as-you-go type.”
“So how have things been between you since you learned you were pregnant? Has he been showing any tension, or . . .”
“No, no.” Nina shook her head. “He’s been great—he’s absolutely thrilled at the prospect of having a kid, and he’s been doing everything he can to help me. No, it’s . . . it’s me.” She sighed. “I’m angry, I’m depressed, I’m confused—I’m a hundred and one negative things, and I’m taking all of them out on him.”
“Because there isn’t anyone else. Since I left the IHA, it’s just been me and him. I’ve been horrible, and I know it, but . . . but I can’t help it.”
A sympathetic nod. “Pregnancy hormones can really affect your mood. It’s often a lot harder with a first pregnancy, because you don’t know what to expect. It’s good that he’s been so supportive.”
“Maybe, but . . .” A lengthy pause as she struggled to make a terrible admission. “I can’t help thinking that he’s putting up with it for the baby rather than for me.”
“But do you really believe that, Nina? Deep down, I mean?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I believe about anything right now.” She stared back at the marks on the carpet.
The therapist made more notes before speaking again. “I don’t know your husband, but from what you’ve told me, it certainly seems that he loves you. He wants to help you, but you’re reluctant to allow it. That’s understandable—you’ve been through a traumatic experience, and you’ve put up barriers to protect yourself from further harm. The problem is that you’re not letting anyone through them, even the person who cares about you the most.”
Nina managed a sarcastic grin. “Well, duh. I didn’t need a psychiatrist to figure that out. I need one to tell me how to deal with it.”
“I can’t tell you to do anything, Nina. I can suggest, and advise, but in the end only you can come up with the answer. Although one thing I would suggest is couples therapy. If you both came in together, we could address some of these issues.”
Another mocking little smile. “Eddie seeing a shrink? I can’t imagine that ever happening. He has his own ways of dealing with things . . .”
The helicopter dived toward the Statue of Liberty. Eddie Chase gripped the controls, trying to regain height—
“Little advice, Eddie? Remember that thing I showed you called the stick? You might wanna pull it back.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Grimacing, Eddie brought the cyclic control joystick toward him. The Bell 206L LongRanger’s nose came up, and the aircraft unsteadily leveled out. “That okay?”
“You didn’t crash into Lady Liberty’s face, so yeah. But we oughta go back out over open water. I’m havin’ some bad flashbacks to when I first met you!” Harvey Zampelli took the controls, bringing the red, white, and blue helicopter around across the great expanse of New York Bay. The spires of Manhattan rolled into view as he notified air traffic control of his course.
“Well, it’s only my second lesson,” said the stocky, balding Yorkshireman once the exchange in his headphones had concluded. “And I haven’t crashed it yet, so I’m not doing too bad.”
Harvey quickly touched the cross hanging from his neck on a chunky gold chain. “Jeez, don’t say things like that! It’s bad luck.”
Eddie decided not to tell him how many plane crashes he’d been involved in. “Thanks again for letting me do this,” he said instead. “I’ve been meaning to learn to fly for ages.”
“Hey, no problem,” the black-haired pilot replied. “I mean, jeez, you saved my life! That’s gotta be worth the price of some avgas. I sure as hell hope so, anyway! Right? Right?” He laughed, then added, with a hint of insecurity: “Right?”
“Right,” Eddie told him with a grin that revealed the gap between his front teeth. “But it’s not a problem for you, is it? Doing this in the middle of the day, I mean.”
“Nah, I had an empty slot, and if there ain’t any paying customers, I gotta leave her sitting on the pad with the engine running anyway.” The LongRanger’s flight had begun from the heliport at Manhattan’s southern tip; Harvey’s aircraft was one of the many offering tourist tours around New York.
“Isn’t that expensive?”
“Not as expensive as having to do a full check every time I shut down and restart the engine. Quicker too. Besides, I’m a pilot. Any chance to fly, I’m gonna take it!” He laughed again, then surveyed the surrounding airspace. “Okay, take the controls. Remember what I told you—keep the cyclic tipped forward to maintain airspeed, but don’t push it too far or we’ll lose height. We wanna stay between a thousand and fifteen hundred feet. Got it?”
Eddie checked the altimeter, then closed his hands around the two control sticks. “Yeah.”
Harvey raised his own hands. “Okay, all yours.”
The Englishman gingerly edged the cyclic forward. He had flown as a passenger in numerous helicopters during his military career with the elite Special Air Service, and in many more since, but his only attempts to fly an aircraft himself had been when the pilot was incapacitated or dead. Which, he mused, had happened alarmingly often.
Today nobody was trying to kill him. Operating a chopper even in peaceful conditions was still tricky, however. The Bell twitched and squirmed with every shift in the wind, and the fuselage felt as if it were swinging from the rotor hub like a hanging basket. But he held it steady, making slight adjustments to balance the airspeed indicator and altimeter.
“You’re doing fine,” said Harvey. “Okay, we’re gonna follow the land.” He indicated the shores of New Jersey and Staten Island. “Use the pedals like I showed you before, real easy.”
Eddie carefully depressed one of the anti-torque pedals, adjusting the power being fed to the tail rotor. The helicopter slowly turned. “That okay?”
“Yeah, that’s great—whoa, hold on.” A new voice came through Eddie’s headphones: one of the heliport’s staff, telling Harvey that he had a phone call. “Eddie, I gotta take this. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
The Englishman gave him an okay as the call came through. “Lena, hey hey!” said Harvey, his Bronx accent becoming even more rapid-fire. “How you doin’? Great night last night, huh?”
Eddie tried not to be distracted by what very quickly became a personal conversation, concentrating on following the shoreline. The huge jetties of the New Jersey container terminal rolled by. He glanced down at them, only to realize with alarm when he looked back at the instruments that the altimeter was falling toward the thousand-foot mark. He moved the cyclic, but the descent continued. “Oh bollocks.”
“Babe, I gotta call you back,” said Harvey over the headset. “I got a slight altitude deficiency situation here.” He laughed, then ended the call. “All right, man, I got this.” He retook the controls, bringing the LongRanger back into a climb. “Sorry ’bout that. Women, huh? Gotta love ’em, but . . .” He briefly took one hand off the throttle to mime a duck quacking. “Damn, that reminds me, I gotta make another call.”
There was a cellphone connected to the cabin’s communication system by a cable; he thumbed through its contacts list. “Lana, hey, it’s Harv,” he said after connecting. Eddie was again an unwilling eavesdropper. “Yeah, sorry about last night. I had to stay late at the hangar to deal with some FAA paperwork. How ’bout I make it up to you tonight, huh? Yeah, that place on Leland. Nine o’clock? Epic. See you then. Bye, babe.”
“Lena and Lana, eh?” said Eddie.
Harvey nodded. “Yeah. I gotta be so careful not to get their names mixed up! That might cause problems.”
A sardonic smile. “You’re not kidding.”
“You ever been a juggler like that?”
Eddie shook his head. “Not me. One woman’s always been enough for me. More than enough sometimes.”
“You’ve had problems?”
“Well, my first wife wanted to kill me. And I mean she literally tried to murder me.”
Harvey made a face. “Yow!”
“Yeah. Nina . . . well, at the moment it sometimes seems like she wants to as well.”
“You want my advice? First hint of bunny-boiling, run, run, run! Life’s too short to be dealing with psychos.”
Eddie chuckled. “It’s nothing like that. It’s just . . .” He became more serious. “She’s been pretty hard to get through to lately. And when I try, she . . .”
“Bites your head off?”
“Actually, yeah. She’s a redhead; I’m used to a bit of mardiness, but this is different.”
Harvey gave him a quizzical glance. “Mardiness? I guess that’s British slang?”
“Yeah. Use it in conversation with Lana—or Lena—and she’ll think you’re all cultured and refined, just like me.”
“No offense, man, but your accent? Not even slightly Downton Abbey.” The pilot grinned, then nodded at the duplicate controls in front of Eddie. “Okay, you’re on the stick. Take us around the Narrows, then back toward the city.”
The LongRanger was now cruising parallel to the shoreline of Staten Island, the great span of the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge straddling the mouth of the bay ahead. Eddie pushed the pedal again, and the helicopter swung into a lazy turn across the water. Brooklyn spread out before them, Manhattan coming back into view beyond. “Doin’ good,” Harvey assured him before checking his watch and making another call to air traffic control. “Okay, gotta start heading back now. My next tour group’ll be waiting.”
“Damn, and I was just starting to get the hang of this,” Eddie replied. He still felt as if he were trying to balance a carton of eggs on a fingertip, but at least now he could maintain a constant height and speed.
“Stick with me and you’ll be an expert in no time. I told you I’m a licensed instructor, right?”
“Several times,” said Eddie, grinning. “How long can I stay in control?”
“Until we get to Governors Island. I’ll take over when we’re in the East River VFR corridor.”
“Something you’ll have to know about if you wanna be a proper pilot! Visual flight rules—basically, flying by eye. If you’re in a copter, you don’t need to tell ATC what you’re doing in the Hudson and East River corridors, although it’s kinda good sense to let ’em know. Although they’ll be making the East River into controlled airspace soon for some UN summit. Pain in the ass.”
“Yeah, I know what it’s like dealing with the UN,” Eddie told him with amusement.
He continued flying until the flat pear of Governors Island loomed ahead. “I got it from here,” said Harvey as he took control once more. He reported to ATC that he was returning to the heliport, then pointed to the right, up the East River. “You seen that?”
“It’s a bit hard to miss,” said Eddie. The object of their attention was a huge Airlander airship, slowly cruising down the length of the waterway. The enormous twin-lobed craft, dwarfing even the largest airliner, was a new addition to New York’s long list of tourist attractions, having arrived a month earlier to act as a mammoth advertising billboard. With the Airlander presently head-on to them, though, the commercials on its flanks were invisible. “It looks like a massive arse from the front.”
“I always thought it looked like boobs myself. Whatever turns you on, man!” Harvey snickered. “I’ll be glad when it’s gone—it’s a pain in the butt. Even in VFR you’re supposed to maintain spacing with other aircraft, but that damn thing moves so slow, you’ve gotta go wide to keep clear of it. Airships, jeez.” He shook his head. “What is this, the 1930s?”
“Oh, the humanity,” Eddie joked. He sat back to watch the skyscrapers of Manhattan’s financial district grow larger as the helicopter descended. “Thanks for the flight.”
“No trouble,” said Harvey, guiding the LongRanger toward the jetty where the helipads were located. “Like I said, anytime you want a lesson, I’ll tell you when my next free slot is. Hopefully there won’t be too many—if I’m not carrying passengers, I’m not making money!—but I owe you.”
He brought the aircraft in to land at a vacant pad. “I’ll be in touch,” Eddie told him as he removed his headphones. “Try to remember which girlfriend’s which!”
Harvey smiled and gave him a thumbs-up. A member of the heliport’s ground crew opened the cabin door, and Eddie hopped down, keeping his head low as he moved away from the chopper. Another guide waited nearby with the next passengers, who were led aboard as soon as he was clear.
The first man took him back to the terminal building. He walked through it and emerged on South Street. Heading along the waterfront, he took out his phone and found Nina’s number. “Okay, brace yourself . . . ,” he muttered as he made the call.
Behind him, unnoticed, a man who had been waiting outside the terminal followed at a discreet distance, making a call of his own.