Authors: Stuart Woods
Two agents and a German shepherd awaited on the front porch, and the group, wearing rubber boots and swathed in waterproof clothing that concealed the agents’ guns, started down the driveway. They could now see that the property was surrounded by deer fencing, and they let themselves out through a pedestrian gate next to the main gate, which was blocked by a black SUV, resting on the deer grate that barred the animals from entry.
Holly and Viv started down the road, which was somewhat sheltered by forest on either side. Holly looked to her left and saw an agent wading. Apparently, there was a swamp on that side of the road. They passed a couple of houses that appear unoccupied and continued down the road. They had climbed a little hill and reached the top, when Viv spotted the blood.
“Everybody stop,” she said, holding up both hands.
“What is it, Mrs. Bacchetti?” an agent asked.
“Blood on two trees, there and there,” she said, pointing. There was probably a lot more of it, but the rain must have washed some away. A dog began to bark somewhere in the woods.
The agent spoke into his fist, and there was a return radio call, then a shout. “Down here!” he called.
“Ladies, please remain where you are,” the detail leader said, producing a small machine gun and racking the slide. He went on talking to his fist.
An agent appeared out of the gloom from the direction of the shout, carrying something in one hand.
“What on earth is that?” Holly asked.
“It’s the head of a young buck deer,” the agent replied. “Appears to be a four-pointer.” He raised a hand to his other agent. “Just leave it there. We don’t need to see any more.”
The agent tossed it back into the woods, out of sight, then joined them on the road. “Somebody shot the deer and butchered it back about forty yards that way. Looks like somebody needed meat.”
“How much of it did they take?”
“Only the haunches,” the man replied.
“Could you tell what it was shot by?”
“The neck was torn up, so I reckon a military round, from an assault weapon. A hunting rifle round would have been a lot neater.”
“Did you hear anything?”
“Nope, but the carcass wasn’t frozen, and it was pretty cold last night, so they must have taken it early this morning. The rain and wind were noisy, so we might not have heard a single shot.”
“Did they leave any tracks?”
“I saw half a footprint. It’s a Vibram sole, so it could have been a hiking boot, but it’s too wet back there for tracking. The dog couldn’t make anything of it.”
“Away from the road.”
“There’s another road out there, called Broad Cove Road.” The detail leader began talking into his fist again. Finally, he addressed Holly and Viv. “I’m sorry, ladies, but we’re going to have to return to the house. Shortly, there’ll be a lot of people searching these woods, and we don’t want somebody to mistake us for the deer hunters.” He beckoned, then they started back toward the house.
Dino and Stone were half asleep in their chairs, books in their laps, when Holly and Viv walked into the bedroom, stripped of their waterproof clothing and boots.
“That was a short walk,” Stone said.
Holly explained their experience.
“Well, they didn’t come this way,” Dino said, “or they’d have run into an agent or two, maybe even you.”
“So,” Viv said, “what do we do now?”
“Find a book,” Dino said.
“We’ll go down to the study,” Holly said, “and leave you two alone.” They went back downstairs.
The study was at the opposite end of the house from the kitchen and contained a corner computer station, a sofa, a pair of wing chairs, and a large fireplace. There was a turret at the other end of the room, with a circular staircase, and under that a coffee table and an Eames lounge chair next to the windows.
Holly went to a bookcase, and her eye immediately fell on a title:
1942, The Year That Tried Men’s Souls
, by Winston Groom. She took it and settled into the Eames chair.
Immediately, a head leaned out from the turret on the upper floor. “Ma’am,” he said, “I’m afraid that’s an insecure location. You’re too easily seen from outside.”
“Right,” Holly said, and moved further inside to a wing chair and turned on a floor lamp next to it.
Viv was already settled on the sofa. “Would you like a fire?” she asked.
The fireplace was already laid with hardwood. Viv found a gas valve and a box of long matches, and immediately had a blaze going.
“Much better,” Holly said.
Later, Bill Wright knocked on the doorjamb and came into the room. “Lunch in half an hour,” he said.
“Any result from your search party?” Holly asked.
“They found some truck tracks on a neighboring road to the south where they could have loaded their kill and driven away,” he said. “No telling where they went from there.”
“Thanks, Bill. Stone and Dino are upstairs. You might let them know when it’s lunchtime.”
Bill went away, and Holly and Viv settled back with their books.
Colonel Wade Sykes, U.S. Army (Ret.), sat at his desk in a book-lined, walnut-paneled study of a comfortable stone house near McLean, Virginia, working on an op-ed piece for the
which came close to being a paper version of Fox News, except that there was no unslanted news reporting printed in this newspaper. He wrote for them and other publications under the pseudonym Watchman. The cell phone in his shirt pocket hummed.
“Are you encrypted?”
“Always, on this line.”
“Would you care for some fresh venison?”
“Good God, don’t tell me you’ve been hunting!”
“Quite by accident. We were walking the area, looking
for the house, when a buck popped up, and Harold got him from the hip. Pure instinct.”
“I hope it didn’t wake anybody up.”
“Nobody to hear it, and at that hour the wind was howling.”
“Are there no people out there?”
“Apparently, it’s nearly all snowbirds,” Rudy said. “Last night there were lights in only one house, some distance away. We saw a car drive away very early, as if it had a long commute.”
“You’re sure they’re not on that road?”
“We drove all the way to the point and found nothing but three or four houses, boarded up for the winter. It’s a dead end, so we couldn’t have missed anybody coming or going.”
“As long as you’re certain they’re not there.”
“There’s been nothing on TV or in the papers—not even the Maine papers—about the incident on Islesboro.”
“Then they must be keeping it quiet.”
“I expect so.”
“You know, our next stop could be to go right back to Islesboro. Last place they’d look for us.”
“They’ve got a caretaker and his wife listed for the property, and you didn’t shoot them. Also, there’s the busybody storekeeper who runs the jungle telegraph on the island. There’s also a guy named Rawls, ex-Agency, who practically shoots at anybody he sees. Did you check the local airports?”
“Both Rockland and Bar Harbor are dead quiet; not worth stationing a man at either of them.”
“Then you might as well make a move.”
“All right. What are your orders?”
“Come back to base, and we’ll regroup.”
“Right. Shall I bring the venison?”
“We’ll be there by nightfall.” Rudy hung up, and Sykes went back to his piece, which put a little meat on the bones of a conspiracy theory he’d dreamed up.
By mid-morning the skies had cleared on Mount Desert Island, and Stone got a call from Faith.
“Hi, there. Where are you?”
“We just landed at Bar Harbor, and the airplane is being towed to the hangar now.”
“Make yourself at home in the apartment in the hangar,” Stone said. “I’ll let you know when we have a plan.”
“You know where to find groceries?”
“Then don’t starve.” Stone hung up and turned to Bill Wright. They were in a little sitting room off the kitchen. “Zelda has moved offshore, and the airplane is now at Bar Harbor, ready to do our bidding.”
Holly came in with a cup of tea and sat down. “This is a lovely spot, but at this time of the year, depression creeps in.”
“Would you prefer a sunnier, warmer spot?”
“Yes, please. What’s on offer?”
“Well, there’s L.A.”
“Too many reporters,” Bill said.
“I have a house at the Arrington Hotel, which is quite secluded.”
“You’ve got a house on Key West, too,” Holly said.
“Fewer people to deal with,” Bill said, “and we’ve got the naval air base, so getting in and out unnoticed wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Holly,” Stone said. “How much longer are you planning to remain invisible?”
“Well, I guess it can’t go on forever,” she said. “Where’s your nice, big yacht?”
“In a shed built to hold it, about fifty miles from here.”
“So it’s Key West, then?” Bill asked.
“How long a flight?”
“Four hours, give or take,” Stone said.
“I’ll buy into that, if we can take off, say, an hour after dark,” Bill said.
“Done,” Stone replied. “I’ll alert the housekeeper and the cook.”
“I’ll need their names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers—and those of anyone else who is likely to come into the house.”
“There’s a caretaker, too. I’ll get you all that.”
“Then what time shall we leave the house?”
“As soon as it’s dark. There’s a big moon tonight, so we might be able to get back to the main road without headlights,” Stone said.
“I like the sound of that.”
“In fact, when the moon’s up, we might be able to taxi and take off without lights. The GPS will keep us on the center lines from hangar to takeoff.”
“You’re thinking the way I think, Stone. All okay with you, ma’am?”
“With you two around I don’t have to think at all,” she said.
Stone consulted the map Bill had given him. “Bill, exactly where are we on this map?”
Bill started a finger at Somesville and ran it along their route, then tapped on a spot.
“This is Broad Cove Cottage, right?”
“But it’s not on Broad Cove Road?”
“Nope. The name is a reference to the cove. Broad Cove Road is half a mile farther south.”
“And where was the butchered deer found?”
“Right about here,” Bill said, pointing to a spot. “Wait, I think I see your point. It was found about here, close to Broad Cove Road.”
“Right. Perhaps these people were given the name of the house and assumed that Broad Cove Cottage was on Broad Cove Road?”
“It’s a good thing they’re not geniuses,” Holly said.
As the moon rose, Stone entered the gate code at the Bar Harbor Airport, and the three-car motorcade drove through. The hangar doors were open, and the tow was
pulling the Gulfstream onto the ramp. When the tow had departed they got out of the SUVs and the agents began loading luggage, while the passengers, plus Bill and Claire, boarded and made themselves comfortable.
Stone went forward to the cockpit. “Is it bright enough to taxi and take off without lights?” he asked Faith, who was in the left seat, running checklists.
She looked out the windows. “Sure,” she said.
“Don’t file ahead of time,” he said. “Do it after takeoff, with Boston Center, instead of Bangor Approach.”
“I guess they won’t arrest me for that,” she said.
“I’ll see that they don’t,” Bill said. “We’re plugged into those guys.”
“Just grand,” Stone said. “When you’re ready.”
Stone stood behind the cockpit seats; he knew the airport better than Faith. “Cross the FBO ramp, then turn left, then right. That will put us parallel to runway
. The windsock favors twenty-two.”
“Got it,” she said, taxiing along beside the runway, until the taxiway came to an end with a left turn to the runway entrance.
“Announce your presence and intention,” Stone said, “but don’t use our tail number.”
Faith ran her pre-takeoff checklist, looked right and left to be sure there were no approaching aircraft, then pressed the push-to-talk button. “Aircraft entering runway 22 for takeoff. Anybody in the pattern?” She released the button and listened. No answer.
“Aircraft taking off on twenty-two,” she said, then taxied onto the runway, checked her flap settings, put on the brakes, and pushed the throttle slowly forward, holding the aircraft
in place. When the gauges showed full power, she released the brakes and began her takeoff run. She watched the screen before her, which displayed a synthetic image of the runway; it showed her on the center line. Ahead and to her left, a nearly full moon was rising, illuminating the landscape remarkably well.
“Rotate,” the copilot said, and Faith pulled back on the sidestick. The aircraft left the ground and began to climb rapidly.
“Okay,” Stone said, “you can light up now.”
The copilot flipped switches and the exterior and interior lights came on. Faith turned on the autopilot.
“Call Boston Center at ten thousand feet, then we’re on our way.” Stone walked back and joined the others. The president-elect of the United States was serving drinks, and his was on the table before him. “You do good work,” he said to Holly. “We may keep you on here.”
The airplane made a turn to the right, and Stone looked forward at Faith. She gave him a thumbs-up.
“We’re on course for Naval Air Station Key West,” Stone said.
“Expect a warm reception,” Bill Wright said. “We’ve had a word with them, and they’ll have vehicles waiting to take you to your destination. Faith has probably already been cleared direct to Key West.”
“Nothing like having the way paved for you,” Stone said, taking his seat and picking up his drink.
“Stone,” Holly said, “do you really believe these people missed us because they took the wrong road?”
“Makes sense,” Stone replied. “If they’d taken the right road, they would have found a suspicious black SUV blocking the driveway at the dead end, and that would have been a tipoff, wouldn’t it?”
“I suppose it would,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being in your Key West house again.”
“It’s not bulletproof, but the place was built on the outside of the lot, around two courtyards, so there are no views of the streets or the neighbors, nor any for them of us.”
Bill Wright held up an iPad with an aerial image on it. “Is this the place?”
Stone studied the image. “That’s it. Google Earth?”
“Well, at least it’s a still image. Nobody can watch us having a drink around the pool. It’s also a few years old. I bought new pool furniture recently, and the old furniture is in this satshot.”
“Good to know.”
“By the way, Bill, I don’t know what your plans are for housing for your people, but one of my cars is in my hangar at Key West Airport, so you could put cots in the empty garage. Its rear entrance is off the laundry room, and there’s a full bath in there that they can use.”
“I’ll take a look. One team will be housed on the naval base, anyway. They’re already there.”
Holly and Viv warmed up roast chicken in the galley’s oven, then served it with rice and vegetables, while Stone retrieved
a couple of bottles of good California cabernet from the wine cooler and poured them. The airplane leveled off at their assigned altitude and cruised on south through the darkness.
Looking out one of the big windows, they could see towns and villages lit up, and eventually cities, as they sped down the Eastern Seaboard at 490 knots. They picked up an offshore airway, after crossing Long Island, and got a look at the coastal cities from well out at sea.
Three hours and a half after takeoff, they set down on runway 9 at Naval Air Station Key West, on Boca Chica Field. Stone noticed a fire truck and other emergency vehicles parked near the end of the runway.
“Is that equipment for us?” Stone asked Bill.
“We’re carrying precious cargo,” Bill replied. “They’ll follow us to our parking spot. When we’re off the airplane they’ll put it in one of the big hangars to prevent viewing by those who entertain themselves with satellite images, whoever they may be.”
In little more than twenty minutes they were inside Stone’s house, while the van carrying their luggage disgorged its contents.
“Bill,” Stone said, “we’re going to put you or Claire and whoever else you want, in the upstairs guest bedroom. It’s the biggest.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll manage. We’ve got cots in the van, if we need them.”
“You’ll have to park the van around the corner after it’s unloaded. The street is too narrow to accommodate it, and so is my garage.”
“We’ve already found a ladder in your garage, and we’re stationing a sharpshooter on the roof.”
“Good idea,” Stone said. He checked on Dino and Viv, then went to the little freestanding cottage that housed the master suite. Holly was already in bed, half asleep.
“Want some company?” Stone asked, tossing his clothes into the hamper.
“Sure, as long as he doesn’t expect any action tonight. I’m bushed.”
And so, he found, was he. They were soon sound asleep.