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
"So what do we do now?"
Vicky reached into her purse and pulled out her cell phone. "What do you think we do? We call the cops!"
Callie paled. "No, you can't do that!"
"Callie's right," Michael said. "If we go to the police with this, then they'll want to know how we found out about it."
"And we'll have to tell them about the satellites, and the next thing you know, we're all being interrogated for hacking into a federal security system," I said.
"But that could be my dad out there," Vicky protested. "We have to do something!"
I frowned, but a strange tingle was working its way up my spine. I had grown up reading Sherlock Holmes and the Hardy Boys, and what we had here was a genuine, full-blown case. "Well," I said slowly, "the way I see it, we have two options. We can either go up there ourselves and have a look around, all Scooby-Doo style, or we can have someone call the cops with an anonymous tip."
I looked around the room, and was astonished to find them all looking at me with this strange, expectant look in their eyes. This was weird I'd never organized a canoe trip before, never mind a rescue operation. I cleared my throat and went on. "We also need to call the airport and find out what freight was checked into the system at 3 AM, what flight it was scheduled to go out on and where it's headed. Oh, and we need to check with Nichols to see if anyone's found Nautonnier yet."
Vicky flipped open her phone. "I'll call Nichols."
Callie turned back to her computer. "I know a guy who has a pay phone just outside of his apartment. I can get him to do the tip."
I blinked. So far this seemed to be working. "All right, that leaves the plane." I looked at Michael. "There can't be that many flights that are taking off out of the airport at 3 o'clock in the morning. I'm guessing they're primarily industrial freight. The trouble there is there might have been a lot of freight getting checked for those flights."
Michael scratched his chin. "If we rewind the satellite surveillance tape, could we figure out which dock they used? Do you think there's enough detail in that shot to make it out?"
"Probably not enough to read any signs, but we might be able to count the docks and ask someone up there which dock is fourth from the left."
"Doesn't that sound just a little suspicious?"
I shrugged. "Not as much as it will when we ask for the check-in history."
"Maybe we could say that we really, really wanted to make sure that our package got there safely?"
"So, what? We're sitting outside, stalking the delivery truck? That's not being concerned, that's being psychotic."
"All right, we could go up there and have Callie watch the surveillance cameras to tell us when we're at the right dock."
"Yeah, but it would take us an hour to get there," I said.
Michael shrugged. "I think we may have to assume at this point that whatever flight they were trying to catch has already come and gone."
"All right, I got hold of Nichols," Vicky cut in as she snapped her cell phone shut. "They haven't made any headway on tracking down Dad or Nautonnier."
"It's possible whoever grabbed the truck grabbed the professor first," I said.
"That doesn't make any sense," Vicky said. "Why would anyone want to kidnap an academic?"
"Maybe for the same reason that your Dad wanted to hire them," I replied. "Maybe if the kidnappers are planning to sell this thing, they need to authenticate it first."
Michael shook his head. "I don't think this is the kind of thing that sells very well, Pi. I think it's much more likely that we're dealing with some kind of a religious group."
I nodded. "Or this entire thing was a sham, and the skeleton is just a bogus prop used to lure a billionaire someplace where he could be kidnapped and held for ransom." Vicky paled, but before she could say anything Callie barked a terse goodbye into her headset and slapped it down onto her desk. "All right, the call's been made. The cops should be on their way to check out the farmhouse."
Vicky shook her head. "Guys, I just thought of something. The cops aren't going to be able to issue a search warrant on just an anonymous tip, are they?"
Michael clapped a hand to his forehead. "So we just tipped our hand. The cop's going to knock on the door and say, 'Excuse us, have you seen a billionaire and a dead angel lying about?' The second he leaves, they'll be gone."
Vicky scowled. "This is crap. I say we go up there ourselves and get Dad back. We can get Nichols and his team to go with us. They're still working on a personal contract, right? So they're under no obligation to tell the cops about the satellites."
"Maybe," I said, "but you don't know what kind of a non-disclosure agreement Nichols had with your Dad, and we still can't be sure that Nichols and his men weren't in on the kidnapping from the beginning."
"I don't know, Pi. Nichols and my Dad go way back. Look, his team has weapons, muscles and training. If we're going to do this, we're going to need their help."
I sighed. "All right, give Nichols a call and tell him we'll meet him at the dig in about fifteen minutes. But if we have to do this, we should gather all the people we know we can trust and go up together."
"Um," Callie coughed, "I'm a geek, not an urban commando. I don't think I'm going to be a lot of help."
"Actually, that's fine we're going to need someone to stay here to be our eyes in the sky and to keep checking up on that plane."
Michael nodded. "So who else do we know that will help us play capture-the-flag?"
"All right, let me get this straight. I closed the café for the day so I can help you guys stage a raid on a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, because you used a secret government satellite to track a hijacked semi truck containing a stolen fossilized angel and a kidnapped billionaire."
I winced. When he put it that way, the whole thing sounded ridiculous. "In a nutshell, yes."
Jack nodded his head and grinned. "Hey, beats standing behind the bar. So who are these guys?"
We were all standing beside the black SUVs parked outside the dig. Nichols and four of his men were standing a few feet away, discussing the situation. On the phone on the way back to the dig, we'd provided him with as much information as we could, carefully keeping Callie out of the story. He'd been very professional about the whole thing, listening carefully and not asking any uncomfortable questions. Now, he was bringing his team up to speed. In the pale early-morning light, all five of them looked like they could have been professional linebackers, but they moved with a deft speed that was incredibly graceful. I cocked an eyebrow as I watched them wrap up their discussion.
"OK, that's about the size of it," Nichols said to his men. "I shouldn't have to tell you that time is of the essence on this one, even more than usual. Any questions?"
The answering chorus of "No, sir" was so clipped that I wondered how many of these guys were ex-military. When you're looking to hire the best security and money is no object, I thought, would you hire rent-a-cops or mercenaries?
"Right." Nichols turned back to us and gave us a stern look. "From what you've told us about the situation, I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist that you stay here."
"Miss Ravenswood, the people responsible for kidnapping your father are obviously a very organized group, and well-funded. That means they're quite possibly also very well trained, and would not hesitate to seriously injure or even kill anyone that tried to get in their way."
"But this is my father we're talking about here!"
"All the more reason why you should leave this to the professionals." Nichols' tone softened, ever so slightly. "Miss Ravenswood, this is standard operating procedure. If a client's loved one has been kidnapped, the client's actions often become unpredictable, driven by emotion instead of logic. To place you in the middle of a potentially very violent situation would endanger not only yourself but my team as well."
Vicky's eyes flashed, another look I knew all too well. I swallowed before placing a hand on her shoulder. "He's right, Vicky. Maybe you should sit this one out. Michael, Jack and I can handle this."
Nichols cleared his throat. "Actually, I meant all four of you."
"Come again?" Michael said.
"As I said, this is a potentially very violent situation. My men are trained to act as a unit. We're experienced. We're professionals. And, all that aside, we don't have enough weapons for you to properly defend yourselves." He opened the door of one of the SUVs, reached into the back and pulled out a tiny radio headset identical to the ones his men were already wearing. He handed it to me. "Take this. It's set to our frequency, and will let you listen in on the operation as it's going down. Under no circumstances, unless it's an absolute emergency, are you to contact us, though. We're going to have to concentrate on what we're doing."
"And what exactly will you be doing?" Vicky's voice was very, very cold.
"We're going to go into that building, find out if your father is in there, and if he isn't, we're going to find anything we can that will lead us to him. And then we're going to get out without the kidnappers ever having known we were there. If they know they've been compromised, they could get unpredictable."
I nodded. "Fair enough. We'll let you handle this." Vicky glared fiercely at me, but I kept my eyes on Nichols. "If you need us for anything..."
"We won't," Nichols said. He turned to his men. "We've got to move fast the sun will be up in an hour. Let's go!"
As the security team climbed into a Hummer, Vicky wheeled on me. "Standard operating procedure or not, Pi, who do you think you are? This is my father whose life is on the line!"
I silently shook my head and held up a hand. Wait. Then I turned to Jack, making sure my back was to the SUVs. "Well, Jack, it looks like we won't be needing you after all," I said loudly. "Sorry you had to walk all the way here for nothing."
"Hey, no problem," he said, giving me a funny look. "I guess I'll just head on back..."
I glared at him. "You're not going anywhere without us," I hissed in a whisper, making absolutely sure my hand covered all the headset's microphone, just in case. "And neither are they. They've probably already seen what our cars look like, Jack, so we'll take yours. By the time we get to where you're parked, they'll have a large enough lead not to suspect they're being followed." I looked at Vicky. "I still don't trust those guys. Security or not, they seem almost too experienced in this kind of thing. They're like SEALs or something. Where did you say your Dad hired those guys?"
"I don't know," she said. She was looking at me funny too, but in a good way. Almost admiringly. This wasn't a look of hers I was familiar with. "Like I said, Nichols and my Dad go way back, but Dad never said where they met."
I nodded. "He is right about one thing, though. We're going to need to defend ourselves. Do we have anything that we can grab to take with us?"
"I think I can help with that," Michael said quietly.
"I don't know what bothers me more," I said as we tore down the highway twenty minutes later. "That we're about to go stage our own private Waco, or the fact that my best friend, who I thought was a flaming liberal, owns his own private arsenal."
Michael glared at me. "When you grow up more or less on your own, you learn to place a certain value on self-defense."
"What the hell are you talking about? You weigh like 250 pounds! You've got tattoos all over your arms! Nobody's going to give you any shit what do you need these for?" I looked down at the pistol in my lap. When Michael had produced it and three others like it from a large box under his bed, he had told us it was a PB-4M, a snub-nosed pistol imported from Russia. It was small, black, and surprisingly lightweight, but emotionally speaking it felt a lot heavier.
"There's intimidation, and then there's being able to defend yourself against someone who doesn't like to be intimidated," Michael said. "Some people don't like big people. They make them feel threatened, so they want to threaten back. It's not the big, brawny guy that tries to mug you that you need to be afraid of it's the scrawny little bastard with the handgun and the shaky hands."
I looked at him. I did have a boxer's muscles, but I wasn't a very intimidating figure. Michael was built more like Nichols and his men, a big fellow on a big frame. I hadn't really thought about the trouble that might sometimes cause. "Still, that's reason to pack lethal force?"
"I never said these were lethal. These pistols fire rubber bullets."
"I thought rubber bullets were illegal for anyone but cops," Vicky said quietly.
Michael looked at her sternly. "I take issue with a government that allows the possession of subautomatic weapons, but not more non-lethal solutions. That's why I very quietly imported these from Russia." He picked up his own handgun and pointed at the end of it. The gun was extremely short, ending in a flat, open four-chamber face only an inch or so past the trigger. "I'm sorry I don't have more ammo. I'm afraid I only have enough to fully load all four guns once."
"So why do you have four guns but only sixteen bullets?"
"I had more, but I used it up practicing at a friend's firing range. I meant to buy some more, but I never got around to it. I bought four guns because I was planning to give them to some friends of mine in California the next time I went to visit I never planned on arming a strike force." He reached into his pocket and produced four additional cartridges. "I do have these, though. One of the advantages of this particular model is that they also fire flash-bang bullets. These are just like those stun grenades cops use in riots big noise, bright light, no blood. There's one for each of us. If you need to distract a roomful of people, or just get attention, this is what you use." He passed them around for us to pocket.
Suddenly my cell phone rang. "Hello?"
"Pi? It's Callie. I've been watching the farmhouse. The truck's still there, and it looks like nobody's left the place... Except for the cops."
"It looks like our anonymous tip didn't rate a lot of attention. One cop showed up there about half an hour ago, and it looks like he rang the doorbell, asked whoever answered to come to their next precinct bingo night, then turned around and left."
"Damn!" The others looked at me, and I relayed what she'd told me. "All right. Any sign of Nichols and his team?"
"It looks like they're about five minutes out. Where are you guys?"
"About ten minutes behind them. I've got Vicky monitoring their radio signals and so far we haven't heard anything." I glanced at her, and she shook her head. "Just keep watching and let me know if anything changes."
"Any word on the plane?"
"Not yet. I'm a little worried about that, Pi shouldn't we have somebody actually going to the airport, before we lose the package completely?"
"I agree with you, but right now we need to focus on finding Vicky's dad." Suddenly Vicky started waving her hands and pointing to the radio headset. "Something's happening, Callie. What do you see on the monitors?"
"It looks like they're parking the Hummer along the side of the road a little ways away from the farmhouse. The building is surrounded with woods, remember, so I think they're going to try and go in through the trees."
I nodded. "Makes sense." I glanced around at Vicky and Michael, whose eyes were both searching my face, and I had a quick flash of desperation. Callie was the only one with a video feed of what was going on, and Vicky was the only one with an audio feed...
Suddenly I remembered the bag of equipment Mr. Ravenswood had given me. "Callie," I said into the phone, "Is there any way you can stream that video over the web?"
"I think so," she said. "Do you have a way to get online there in the car?"
"Maybe," I said. "Give me a second to try and hook this up. I'll call you right back." I switched off my phone and grabbed the bag.
"What's up?" Michael asked.
"It's going to be too frustrating for all of us if I'm trying to translate what Callie's seeing and Vicky needs to convey what Nichols' team is barking back and forth," I said as I unzipped the bag and hauled out the laptop. "This sucker's top-of-the-line, and I'm willing to bet that Ravenswood also bought the service package to go with it."
I opened up the laptop, and its bright screen immediately lit up the whole car. When I fired up a browser, I saw a beautiful thing: the home page of The New York Times loading very, very quickly. Ravenswood had indeed bought the latest model, complete with cellular modem and always-on service. I snatched up my phone and dialed Callie.
"I'm on," I said. "Where am I going?"
A few seconds later, the screen was filled with a choppy but recognizable aerial view of the house. "We have video!" I turned the laptop around so the others could see, and Michael clapped me on the shoulder.
"Great," Callie said. "If you've got that covered, I'm going to start working on the plane."
"Sounds like a plan. I'll call you when we know anything!" I clicked off the phone and turned to Vicky, who was riding shotgun. "Can I see the radio headset for a minute?"
She handed it to me. "It sounds like they're just about ready to move."
I turned the headset over in my hands. On the back, behind the part that clipped around your ear, was a small line-out port. Jackpot.
"Jack, this car has a tape deck, right?"
"Yeah. I've got my portable CD player and a tape adapter in the glove compartment, too. Why?"
A second later I was running the tape adapter's cable from the tape deck to the headset. I jacked in the plug, and Nichols' voice suddenly barked from the car speakers. "Dillon, go around the side and check out the truck. Roberts, stay in the bushes and cover him. Mason, Allen, you come with me." I prayed a silent thanks so far it sounded like we hadn't broadcast anything to Nichols' team. As far as they knew, we were still back in Beckett.
"Wow, cool. It's like Cops live," Jack said. "Hey, are we showing up on that screen yet?"
"No, not yet wait. There we are." A tiny blip had appeared at the edge of the screen. That was us. "Pull over here, Jack," I said, and he pulled off the side of the road. A short distance ahead we could see a black SUV parked on the side of the road, and further still we could just make out the lights of a farmhouse.
It was showtime.