This is where I'm posting excerpts as I'm going along, so keep in mind that everything on this page is Rough Draft. --G
The Angel in the Rock
l'Histoire Secrete des Anges
"What do you mean, disappeared? Do you mean they got lost?"
"No, I mean they're gone." Vicky's voice was close to hysterical. "The convoy stopped at a trucker's rest area along I-71 around 1 o'clock, so the drivers could grab some coffee. Nichols says he sent three of the security guys in a hummer along with the semi, and when they stopped they left one of the security guys with the semi. Dad and Jon were asleep in the truck. When the other two security guys and the driver came back, the semi was gone."
"Jesus... Okay, did someone call the highway patrol?"
"Yeah. Nichols said the cops patrolled I-71 for sixty miles in both directions for the next hour, and they turned up nothing. They must have turned off somewhere. Nichols said they even got a helicopter up and looking for them, but there's nothing. The truck just vanished, Pi, and Dad... My dad..."
"Shhh, Vicky, it's going to be okay," I said, my mind reeling. "Have you called Michael yet? Or Dr. Blacknail?"
"Nichols said Blacknail's with him there at the dig, trying to raise Nautonnier on his cell phone. And I haven't called Michael yet. I just got off the phone with Nichols and you were the first one I thought of..." She drew a quick breath, and I could tell she was fighting back sobs. "Pi, I think my dad's been kidnapped! He was so excited about this whole thing that he let his guard down, and look what happened..."
"It's okay, Vicky, we'll get your dad back," I said. "Listen, can you meet me out front of the Time Out in about twenty minutes? I need to make some phone calls."
"Okay," she said. "Are you going to call to Michael?"
"That's right. I'm going to call him right now. You just take a couple deep breaths and run through the shower or something. I've got your cell phone number if I find out anything in the next twenty minutes."
"Okay. I'll see you in twenty." There was a second of hesitation. "Thank you."
Then she hung up, and I sat for a second in silent disbelief. How the hell did you find an AWOL semi truck at 3AM on a Saturday morning?
"That nut's got access to things you and I only read about," Michael said sternly from his end of the line. "You run through the shower, and I'll wake him up. By the time you and Vicky get here, I'll have him into his bunny slippers and hacking. And then we'll go pay him a visit."
"Who's this guy we're going to go see again?"
Michael smiled at Vicky as he buckled his seat belt. "There are certain stereotypes that achieve their clichéd status by being true. One of those is the stereotype of the computer hacker conspiracy nut living in a trailer with a high-speed Internet connection."
"In other words, Caliban Davies," I said from the back seat. "He's a little creepy, but he's a good guy."
"And you think he's going to be able to track down the semi?"
"If the cops aren't being any help, I think he's the best shot we have at this time of the morning. Have you had any luck raising your dad on his cell phone?"
"No, nothing. This isn't like him at all – he sleeps with his cell phone by his bed. Even if he were asleep, the phone ringing would wake him up."
"Maybe he's out of the signal area."
"Nope, no way. He's got one of those global satellite phones. He got one for me, too, so we can always stay in touch."
I looked at Michael. "Do you think we could use that phone to figure out where he is?"
"That's way out of my league, buddy. Let's go ask the geek."
"You know, it worries me when you call someone a geek." I turned to Vicky. "Vikcy, do you have any idea who'd want to kidnap your dad?"
"He's a billionaire. Who wouldn't want to kidnap a billionaire?" Vicky folded her arms across her chest. "And the dig... I mean, we kept the people who knew about the skeleton to a minimum, but a project that size is hard to keep quiet. Someone could have been watching the site, just waiting for the right moment to make their move."
"Something's not right here, though," I said. "All of Nichols' men were armed to the teeth. I saw the gun on Nichols' belt, and it was ready for quick draw. If someone had actually tried something, he or she must have really gotten the drop on the driver."
"Nichols did say that all the other guards had gone in for coffee."
"Yeah, but doesn't that seem a little weird? This is the most vulnerable stage of this whole operation, and any professional security team would have known that. They wouldn't have only left one guard with the package."
"Are you saying that Nichols was in on it?"
‘I'm saying it's a possibility," I said. "And just to add a little more weirdness to the mix, do you remember what Nautonnier said?"
"About the amount of room in the semi cab. Blacknail was going to go until your dad decided he wanted to ride along, and then he elected to stay in a hotel because there wasn't enough room in the semi. If there wasn't enough room in the cab, then where did the hijacker sit?"
Michael drummed his fingers on the wheel. "You may be onto something, Pi, but maybe the highjacker kicked Nautonnier or the driver out, or even locked them in the trailer."
"I don't think so," I said. "If he'd kicked one of them out, then they'd have found them at the rest area. And while it's possible that the hijacker had shoved one of them into the trailer, you'd think that would have taken more time than a simple coffee break would have permitted. You'd need to open the padlock, open the door, get the prisoner inside and then lock the gate back up again. Further, if he or she was going to do that for one person, just to get enough room to sit in front, it's more likely that they'd do it for all of them – and you'd think that three people being directed at gunpoint into the back of a semi truck would have caught somebody's eye."
"Unless, of course, the hijacker had one of them sit in one of the other's laps," Michael said.
Vicky frowned. "But that's one person with a gun against three others in a small place, especially against one who had guard training."
"That's assuming that the driver had guard training," Michael said.
"If he didn't, doesn't that make it even more suspicious that the guards left them alone? And there's one other thing," I said. "Nichols said that he sent along three additional guards in a hummer. So why did Blacknail stay behind? Why didn't he just ride in the hummer?"
Vicky's frown turned into a scowl. "You think Blacknail was in on it, too?"
"I think we're getting ahead of ourselves here," Michael said. "I mean, I used to know Blacknail pretty well. He's done some really shitty things, and I wouldn't trust him, but I can't believe he'd kidnap anybody."
"Even if the greatest discovery in the history of his field was involved?"
Michael didn't say anything. I looked out the window as we drove on in silence. Michael had taken us out of town on one of the old roads leading into the thick woods that surrounded Beckett. The sun still wasn't up, and the only light in these woods was from the moon, the stars and our headlights.
There's something bone-chillingly creepy about driving through the backwoods of Ohio in the dark. When I was growing up, I remember riding with my parents and seeing things on the side of the road, brief glimpses of animals that were too big to be anything natural, or bags of stuff that my parents always assured me were just garbage that somebody had dumped, but didn't it look a little too much like a body for comfort? And then, of course, there were the eyes – the shining tiny spheres glittering from the shadows as you drove by. I'd read enough Bigfoot legends to know that people had been seeing things in the woods for years, and to know that most of those people had something a hell of a lot stronger than water in their canteens on those hunting trips, but still... When you're driving down a back road through the Ohio woods at 4 AM, and there's no one out there but you and the moon and the stars, then when you see something about the size and the shape of a man, only not, it makes you just a little nervous.
I snapped a few pictures out the window. If we were going to be attacked and eaten alive by some kind of monster, then by God there was going to be some definitive evidence showing up on CNN.
"Pi, what are you doing back there?"
"Looking for Bigfoot," I said, and took another picture.
"Wrong part of the country."
"So," Vicky asked, "how far out here does this guy live?"
"Caliban likes his privacy. It's not too much further." Michael leaned forward and peered out the window. The road ahead twisted back and forth and bucked up and down over deceptively steep hills, and its corners disappeared all too suddenly behind banks of tall, spindly trees.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted movement. I spun my head around in time to see... Nothing.
I turned all the way around in my seat, and squinted out the back. There was something gleaming in the woods back there, a hint of metal sparkling just a little in the early morning moonlight.
"Hey, guys, I think there's a car back there," I said.
"I'd be surprised if there wasn't," Michael said. "There's all kinds of junk in these woods. About fifty years ago, most of this place was a junkyard."
"I'm a little surprised that you know so much about this place, Michael," Vicky said. "I mean, Pi and I grew up in Beckett and neither one of us has ever been out this way."
"I'd never have come out here either if Caliban hadn't invited me," he said. He spun the wheel as we crested another hill, and the road curved around to run between the edge of the woods and a wide expanse of empty cornfield. I stared out the window at the wide, open expanse and imagined wolves running across it in pursuit of some poor deer, or some other prey. "He owns all of this... Something like fifty acres' worth of old farmland and dumping grounds."
"If he's as reclusive as you say he is, how'd you meet him?" Vicky asked.
"I was doing some research on the folklore of the area, and Caliban's name popped up as the guy to talk to," he replied. "He's one of those old guys who likes to tell ghost stories to the local scout troops, you know? He's one of the greatest repositories of old stories I've ever met."
"And he's a computer hacker."
"Right. Well, more of a paranoiac who doesn't believe in information security." Michael eased on the brakes as we crested another hill and began a long descent down into a clearing. "Ah, here we go."
In the middle of the clearing was a single antique Gulfstream trailer, its silver exterior gleaming softly in the moonlight. A bug zapper lantern hug by the door, casting an eerie blue light that occasionally sparked and crackled as it did its job. Parked by the trailer was an immense Ford pickup truck that looked brand-new. The license plate said "UDONTNOME". As we drew to a stop, the door to the trailer banged open and a scrawny, hunched old man in a dirty set of overalls peered out. In his hands he held an ancient shotgun.
"Hold it right there! Halt! Halt or I'll shoot!"
"Easy, Caliban, easy. It's just us," Michael called out as he opened the door.
"How do I know it's just you? You could be them, made up to look like you! What's the password?"
"Ha! It could be a trick! You could have been spying on me so you know the password! What's the other password?"
Michael sighed. "'Another rutabega'."
The old man grinned from ear to ear and set down the shotgun. "Well, why didn't you say so? It's good to see you, boy, good to see you. Don't just stand there, come on in and let's find your truck." The old man disappeared back into the trailer and slammed the door.
"I suppose someone should guard the car," I said hopefully.
"The car will be fine," Vicky said. "Let's go see what this fellow can do."
The inside of Caliban's trailer was a glittering nest of blinking lights and computer screens, all crusted with a thin layer of dust and crumbs. There was a faint funk in the air, a strange combination of steamed cabbage, mulled cider and old socks.
"Michael told me about your dad," Caliban said as he sat down at his desk and began to type on his keyboard. "You came to the right place. What you need is satellite photography, tracked by latitude and longitude coordinates, with a zoom feature close enough to track cars on the freeway."
"You've got to be kidding me," I said. "This is Hollywood stuff. Even if it did exist, it'd only be available to the Fed. You wouldn't be able to get it from some cheesy..."
The web page finished loading: www.satellitephoto.net.
"You see, Miss Ravenswood, there's this whole group of folks that knows that the government is trying to track our every move, so we've patched into these satellite surveillance systems. You know, who watches the watchmen, that kind of thing. All we have to do is punch in the coordinates for when and where the truck disappeared, and we're in business."
Vicky frowned. "So how come the cops didn't do this?"
Caliban cleared his throat. "Well, uh, it's not as if this kind of thing is perfectly legal, you know."
I looked at Vicky. "You said they were headed up I-71, right?"
"Right. And they left the dig site around 10, I think. It was right before we took off." She looked at Michael and me. "We met at Rashi at 7:30, and we were probably there for an hour or so. That's 8:30, and then we went down to the dig site, and that was probably another hour. Say 9:30, 10?"
Michael looked at Caliban. "Why don't you start at the dig site downtown at 9:30? That way we can track the semi and the hummer from the point they left."
"You got it." Caliban began fiddling with the computer, and in a few seconds had pulled up an aerial shot of downtown. In the lower right corner there was a time stamp: 9:30. We gathered around him and peered at the screen.
"I don't believe this," Vicky said. "This is so cool."
"Sort of," I said, "but it opens another door into our hypotheses."
Michael looked at me. "What do you mean?"
"If our hijacker had access to this, then they wouldn't have had to stake out the dig site in person. They could have been monitoring the site, waiting for the truck to leave."
Vicky frowned. "Caliban, is this as far in as the camera can zoom?"
"Yep." The shot still encompassed a few blocks; it was good enough to track cars and the few dots that were people, but it wasn't close enough to make out the features on the people. "Like I said, it's not as cool as Hollywood would have you believe, but it should be enough to help us track your dad."
"Then it would have been impossible to see who was actually in the truck," Vicky said. "And since the dig site was covered, it would have been impossible even at a high resolution to see who had gotten into the cab."
"Which means that if this was the way the highjacker was monitoring the site, then he or she couldn't have known your dad was in the truck," Michael said.
"And therefore the target wasn't Mr. Ravenswood, but the cargo," I said.
Caliban looked at us. "So what was in this truck that someone would want that badly?"
Michael, Vicky and I looked at each other. "My dad's excavation team found some potentially valuable artifacts in the dig site," Vicky said carefully.
Caliban nodded. "So some high-tech thieves aren't out of the question."
"Who all uses these satellites, Caliban?" Michael asked.
The old man shrugged. "I couldn't say. There's this whole network of us that uses ‘em, the military of course, some academics..."
I stiffened. "Academics?"
"Well, sure. That's actually how my group got access to them – the military granted access to the big universities to help them with their research, and it didn't take long after that." He grinned. "You know how wacko some of those guys in the ivory tower can be."
"All too well," Michael said coldly. "What time are we up to on that shot, Caliban?"
"9:40. I haven't seen anything yet – let me fast forward a bit." He clicked the mouse a few times, then breathed sharply through his nose. "Here we go. Look." On screen, a small black rectangle and a smaller black square were emerging from the dig site. The clock read 9:55.
"That's them!" Vicky cried. "Quick, fast forward some more!"
Caliban leaned forward and clicked the mouse some more. On screen, the two black marks zipped off the screen, and Caliban shifted the picture to follow them. We watched as the convoy left town and headed west to I-71 heading towards Cleveland. It was easy to track them as long as they were in town and on the sparsely-populated back roads, but once they hit the highway traffic got significantly denser. In the bottom corner of the screen, the numbers flew by as the convoy made their way north. 10:30, 11:00, 11:30, 12:00, 12:30...
When the clock hit 12:45 and the convoy was just a little way south of Cleveland, Caliban pointed at the screen. "Look, there they are." The dots had made their way off the freeway and into a rest area.
Michael frowned. "Okay, here we go. They're parking... And there go the guards." Three tiny dots were moving from the humvee towards the buildings at the rest area.
"Watch the truck," I said quietly.
We stared intently at the screen. Nothing happened for a minute, then two, then three.
"How long does it take three guys to get coffee?" I wondered aloud.
"Look!" Vicky exclaimed. "The truck's moving!" Sure enough, the tiny rectangle had pulled out of the rest area and was making its way back onto the freeway. "But I didn't see anyone approach the truck, did you?"
"No," I said quietly. "Which means it was an inside job."
"Follow that truck," Michael said sternly, and Caliban began clicking the mouse again.
We watched silently as Caliban fast-forwarded the cameras some more. The truck made its way north on I-71 for only one more stop, then it got off the highway.
"That's why Nichols' guys or the cops couldn't find them on I-71," I said. "They took the back roads and surface streets."
The truck began to wend its way north again. Tracking them now was more difficult because of the trees that occasionally blocked the view of the road, but we stayed on them. Caliban accelerated the cameras again, and the truck zipped along, heading north towards Cleveland. Finally the truck jogged back on its path and rejoined the freeway just outside of...
"Hopkins," Vicky groaned. "They're going to the airport."
We watched as the semi truck headed to Hopkins International Airport's cargo transport section. The truck backed up all the way into one of the bays and disappeared. The clock read 2 AM.
"That's it," Michael said. "We've got to get hold of somebody at Hopkins. Whatever flight that cargo was on also has your dad, Nautonnier and the driver."
"Hold on a second, though," I said. "That doesn't make any sense. With all the security there at the airport, it'd be impossible for someone to get onto a plane with a gun. We know your dad was still in the cab, because we didn't see anyone get into or out of that cab at the rest area, so they couldn't have put him on a plane in a cargo box or anything like that. And he wouldn't have stayed quiet for this long if they'd just locked him in the back. Further, someone would have seen it if they'd forced him at gunpoint into the back. Those cargo areas have staff there around the clock."
"Oh my God," Vicky said. "Do you think they killed him?"
"No, I don't think so." I said. "Your father's entirely too valuable a person to just kill. Besides, if they'd found a body in the truck, I'm sure there would be more chaos going on up there. They probably drugged him, or..."
"Hey, look," Caliban said, pointing at the monitor. "The truck's moving again."
Down on the screen, the clock read 3:00 AM, and the truck was moving out. The truck pulled away from the cargo bays, then back out onto the freeway, heading east. It didn't stay on the freeway for long, however. It passed one or two exits, then got off onto the back roads again. We watched as the truck headed south, winding through several small towns and finally coming to a stop at a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, the fast forward stopped abruptly.
"What?" Vicky demanded. "Why has it stopped?"
"It's now," Caliban said softly.
I looked at the screen, then down at my watch. Both read 4:00 AM. On the screen, one dot had emerged from the driver's side of the truck, then crossed around to the passenger's side. A second later the dot reappeared, only now it was twice as thick.
"What are we looking at?" Vicky asked quietly, her face white.
"I think..." I swallowed. "I think we're looking at somebody being dragged."