Authors: Patricia Lewin
Tags: #Assassins, #Conspiracies, #Children - Crimes Against, #Government Investigators, #Crimes Against, #Fiction, #Suspense Fiction, #Fugitives From Justice, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #General, #Children, #New Mexico
Table of Contents
In memory of my mother,
Eileen Broeker Van Wie,
who always loved a good book and would have gotten a kick
out of showing this one off to her friends.
We all love you and miss you, Mom.
I was wrong. This book has been a voyage of discovery about the craft, about publishing, and about myself as a working author. I could not have completed the journey, or even begun, without the help and support of so many people.
Thanks to Sandra Chastain and Deborah Smith, for grabbing onto my kernel of an idea and making me run with it; Jill Jones, who worked with me (reading and rereading) through the process; Gin Ellis, Illona Haus, Karen Hawkins, Ann Howard White, Pam Mantovani, Jim Paulson, Robert Schwaninger, Donna Sterling, and Rachelle Wadsworth, who read the early draft(s).
And to those who gave of their technical expertise, answering my endless email queries and telephone calls. Sharon Reishus, for her insight into the CIA, which included telling me when I was making stuff up. Jonathon M. Sullivan, M.D., Ph.D., and Edward R. White, M.D., J.D., for reading my medical scenarios and answering my numerous questions. And Laurie Miller, R.N., for educating me on the workings of an emergency room. Tom Peace, Garrison Atkisson, and Paul Golick for their ideas on computer hacking. Berta Platas, who acted as my Spanish dictionary.
And to those who helped with my various locales: Marian May (Texas), Mimi Moore (New Mexico), and Pat McLaughlin (Chicago).
All mistakes (or literary license) are mine.
Thanks also to my husband, Jeff, for his endless patience; my daughter, Andrea, for being my biggest fan; my agent, Meg Ruley, for never giving up; and Shauna Summers, for taking my story and making it into a book.
welcomed the pain.
It rolled through him like waves of heat rippling across the desert floor. With eyes closed and head propped against the door behind him, he sat on the trailer’s flimsy aluminum steps and waited for the desolate landscape to stop spinning. Given time, the desert would succeed where his enemies had failed. It
But not, unfortunately, today.
Last night had been a mistake, an attempt to blot out the date and its memories with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. It hadn’t worked. The throbbing within his skull had become a dark angel crouched upon his shoulder, prodding and laughing, reminding him he was still alive.
The heat pressed in, and he longed for the feel of a crisp ocean breeze against his face, or the pungent scent of pines in the mountain air. Instead, beneath the tattered green-and-white awning that stretched from the tin can he called home, he felt the dry, hot hand of the New Mexico desert. If the pain had become his angel, then the desert heat had become his unwelcome lover, wrapping herself around him with tight, searing arms.
And he deserved no better. Three years ago yesterday, his five-year-old son had died. Murdered. And nothing, not the Jack Daniel’s, nor the desert could change Ethan’s role in that senseless death.
He opened his eyes and squinted at the sun. It sat hours above the western horizon, a flat white disk piercing a dusty sky. With shaky hands he lifted a cup of lukewarm coffee to his lips and forced the bitter liquid down his throat. He should eat something, too, but he couldn’t bring himself to go back inside the stifling trailer. Just the thought brought a fresh wave of nausea. He’d get something later, before heading out into the desert.
Or maybe he wouldn’t go tonight. How hard could it be, just this once? He’d stretch out on the desert floor, beneath a million pinpricks of heavenly light and sleep.
Ethan shuddered and downed more coffee.
He wasn’t fooling himself. He couldn’t escape into sleep, any more than he could hide in a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Sleep brought the faces. They haunted his dreams with painful accusations in their small, frightened eyes. Children’s eyes. They stared at him, asking their unanswerable questions, condemning him without speaking a word. No, he couldn’t stay here tonight and sleep like normal men. He’d given up that right with Nicky’s death.
As usual, he’d seek oblivion through the ritual that had ruled his nights for the past three years. From sunset until dawn he’d perform the moving meditation of tai chi. The practice promised balance where none existed and peace where none reigned.
So far he’d found neither. The intense regimen brought only fatigue, a physical exhaustion so complete he’d fall into a heavy dreamless slumber.
In the distance, a ribbon of dust rose from the direction of the road, drawing his thoughts from the nightmare of his life. He was about to have company. The approaching vehicle was still three or four miles away, but Ethan had no doubt about its destination. The poor excuse for a road led one place. Here.
The question of who would seek him out only vaguely interested him. None of the locals would come looking for him. He rarely went into town except to get supplies, and then he kept to himself. But there were hours last night he couldn’t account for, time when the Jack Daniel’s had ruled his actions.
He tried remembering what he’d done, or if he’d spoken to anyone. He’d gotten into town about nine and ordered something to eat, washing down the food with a couple or three beers. Then it had been straight Jack, and his memory blurred. The next thing he knew, he’d awakened in his own bed with the full force of the New Mexico sun beating on his face.
The dust cloud grew as the vehicle got closer.
If someone had gone to the effort of driving out here, it meant trouble. He thought of the Glock, buried under three years of pictures and regrets within an old metal box beneath his bed. In a few minutes it would be too late, but he made no move to retrieve the weapon. If the Agency had finally found him, then so be it.
He’d been dead for a long time anyway.
DR. PAUL TURNER
was a dead man.
The thought struck him with icy certainty as he watched the approaching helicopter through sheets of rain. They wouldn’t kill him right away, not while they still needed him, but it was just a matter of time. Then they’d make it look like an accident. He’d be on the mainland conducting Haven business, and his car would miss a turn and hurtle over a cliff. Or his heart would give out due to some rare and untraceable drug delivered via a hypodermic in the middle of the night. Possibly he’d be working in the lab and discover a tear in his bio-containment suit.
However they chose to end his life, no one would ask any questions or investigate the death of the once prominent Dr. Paul Turner. He’d disappeared from the scientific community nearly fifteen years ago, and as far as any of his peers knew, he’d been dead ever since.
Paul shivered and steered himself away from such morbid thoughts. He needed to concentrate on the next couple of hours and the upcoming meeting. Then, if he was smart and very careful, maybe he could come out of this alive.
Meanwhile, the rain and wind battered the aircraft as it hovered over the landing pad. The pilot fought for control, but the storm seemed determined to keep the helicopter from landing. A crash would solve his problem, Paul thought with a grim smile. Unfortunately, he had no doubt the vehicle would set down safely. The man on board, Avery Cox, wouldn’t be stopped by anything as minor as inclement weather.
For the past ten years, as director and lead scientist at the Haven, Paul had answered to Cox. The facility, located on a remote, private island at the northern edge of Puget Sound, was home to a staff of doctors, nurses, teachers, and a variety of very special children. It included dormitories, classrooms, laboratories, a hospital, and the finest equipment and scientific minds money could buy.
Except for his yearly trips to Langley to deliver his annual report, Paul had very little contact with Cox. Generally he left Paul alone to run things, while supplying everything he needed: money, equipment, and the most important thing of all, anonymity. In return, Cox expected Paul to deliver results, which he’d done, consistently and without fail since taking over the Haven Project.
Paul had done the unforgivable, committed the one act Cox wouldn’t overlook. He’d lost two of the island’s children.
If he’d been given time, a couple of days, a week at the most, he would have set things right without anyone knowing the difference. His people would have found the runaways, and things would have returned to normal. Unfortunately, it was too late for that. Someone had made a call, and it had taken Cox fewer than eight hours to arrive.
As Paul watched the helicopter descend, whipping the wet air into a frenzy, he realized anyone could have made that call. Cox had eyes and ears everywhere.
For a moment, Paul considered running.
It wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed his mind. He had more than enough money stashed in offshore banks. If he could get off the island and disappear into one of the backwater countries of Central or South America, he could live like a king for the rest of his life. Except it was a fool’s dream. There was no place to hide, nowhere on earth where the Agency couldn’t find him.
Finally the helicopter set down, and Paul hurried forward to greet the two passengers. “Mr. Cox.” Paul shifted his umbrella to shield the other man. “This is an unexpected surprise.”
Paul stammered something unintelligible, but Cox and his companion had already started toward the shelter of the Haven’s main building. Disgusted with himself, Paul scrambled to keep up.
Inside, he forced a smile and tried to regain his composure. “You know we’re always happy to show you our facility.”
“The Agency’s facility, Dr. Turner.” Cox removed his damp overcoat, shaking the moisture from its surface, and scrutinized the utilitarian lobby. “I suggest you remember that.”
Embarrassed by the reprimand, Paul caught the amusement on the second man’s face. A rush of loathing tightened his stomach, and he quickly looked away. “There’s never been any doubt of that, Mr. Cox.”
Cox arched a skeptical eyebrow and gestured to the man on his right. “You remember Morrow.”
Paul nodded. “Of course.”
Morrow wasn’t someone you forgot. He was physically intimidating—even if the reason wasn’t immediately apparent. At first glance, he appeared average enough at just under six feet, with medium brown hair and nondescript eyes. He was neither handsome nor homely, with the kind of face one might easily ignore on another man. But something about him, something in the way he held himself, like a cobra bracing for a strike, made you look twice. Then it took but a cursory second glance at those deceptively plain, brown eyes to realize that behind them lived a killer.
Despite Morrow’s deadly presence, however, it was Cox who truly frightened Paul. Cox, with his receding hairline and steel-framed glasses. Cox, who stood barely five and a half feet tall and wore expensive ill-fitting suits. Cox, who would give the final order.
“I know you’re concerned about the missing children,” Paul said. “But I assure you we’re doing everything possible to locate them.”
“It’s a little late for your assurances,” Cox said. “Now, where can we talk?”
The rebuke churned Paul’s fear, and he again resisted the urge to make a run for it. He wouldn’t get ten feet before a bullet exploded into his back. “I’ve prepared a conference room where we won’t be disturbed.”
“Then, let’s get to it.”
Paul led the way to the facility’s main conference room. When they entered, Morrow took control of the computer, while Cox moved to the counter where the kitchen staff had set up coffee and sandwiches.
As he helped himself to a cup, he asked, “Why these two particular children, Dr. Turner?”
Surprised, Paul had no answer. “I’m not sure.” The question hadn’t occurred to him, but he realized it should have. “Danny’s one of our older boys and a bit rebellious, perhaps. But—”
“What about the girl?” Cox moved to the table and took the chair at the head.
Paul considered the coffee but decided against it. He was already too jumpy. Following Cox’s lead, he sat across from Morrow, who seemed entirely focused on the computer. Paul turned back to Cox. “I don’t know why Callie went with him.”
“Did they know each other?” Cox sipped at his coffee, but his eyes never left Paul. “Were they friends?”
“All the children know each other.” Paul glanced at Morrow uneasily. He seemed totally immersed in his task, tapping at the keyboard and sending commands scrolling across the wall screen.
“But do these two understand who they are?” Cox asked, reclaiming Paul’s attention. “Or their relationship?”
“No, absolutely not.” But if they did, that would explain a lot. “That would be disastrous.”
“Then, I repeat.” Cox’s voice was patient but firm. “Why did these two particular children run?”
Paul spread his hands, palms up. “Coincidence?”
“There’s no such thing, Dr. Turner.”
Morrow’s tapping ceased as an image leapt onto the screen.
“I believe you know this woman,” Cox said, his eyes fixed on Paul.
Unsettled by the sudden shift in subject, Paul didn’t recognize her at first. Once he did, he barely suppressed his surprise. “That’s Anna Kent.”
But the woman on the screen looked nothing like the quiet woman he knew. Instead of her usual demure suits and hair carefully twisted into a neat chignon, she wore a black leather jacket and jeans that hugged long, lean legs. The camera had caught her looking over her shoulder, her straight, black hair whipping around her head. There was a wildness about her, and a hardness not unlike the man asking the question.
“She’s one of our teachers.”
“Where is she?” Cox asked.
Dazed, Paul considered lying, then caught himself. If Cox was inquiring about the whereabouts of Anna Kent, it was because he already knew she was missing. “I don’t know.”
Cox frowned, but Paul knew he’d made the right choice by telling the truth. He didn’t understand all the moves in Cox’s game, but if he caught Paul lying, it would be all over.
“Ms. Kent lives in the staff quarters here on the island,” Paul hurried to explain. “But when the children turned up missing this morning, and we assembled the entire staff, she wasn’t among them. It’s her day off, and we assumed she’d gone to the mainland.”
“And it didn’t occur to you she might have had something to do with the kids’ disappearance?” Morrow said.
“It crossed my mind,” Paul admitted, trying and failing to keep the fear from his voice. “Only I decided it was unlikely.”
Morrow laughed abruptly.
Paul glanced from Morrow to Cox and back. “Ms. Kent came highly recommended. Her credentials are impeccable, and . . .” He forced himself to look directly at Morrow. “
office placed her here.”
Morrow’s eyes chilled. “What are you suggesting, Doctor?”
Paul flinched as if struck. “I was just—”
“Enough,” Cox said. “Arguing among ourselves will accomplish nothing.” He glared at Paul, then turned back to Morrow. “Go on, tell Dr. Turner the rest.”
Morrow’s nod of acquiescence was barely visible, but he turned back to the wall screen, tapped a few more keys, and a list of vital statistics appeared next to Anna Kent’s picture. “Her real name is Anna Kelsey.”
Paul scanned the text, words leaping out at him, pricking his spine with sharp needles of terror. Words like mercenary and terrorist, espionage and kidnapping.
“As you can see,” Morrow added with a bit of amusement in his usually dull voice, “she’s no schoolteacher.”
to see beyond the tinted windows as the white late-model Ford drove into the yard and stopped, raising a cloud of sand and reflected light. In most places, the vehicle would have been nondescript. But here in the New Mexico wasteland, it stood out like a lone desert lily among the spindly creosote. If he wanted to blend in, the driver would have done better to find himself a rusted-out pickup.