Chapter 11

A maiden’s eyes are a club to the young man’s head, her lips a snare for his neck.

— Tilok proverb

Benoit sat at her desk in the government lab approving invoices from suppliers and coordinating the delivery of lab supplies, as well as supervising all of the clerical help. It was growing to be a substantial job and she had only been at it for eleven days, but her mind wasn’t in it.

Unlike other lab offices, hers came equipped with a couple of guards, although the real security lay in the fact that there were only two exits in the whole building and she was not allowed through either without a full escort, and she had to be in shackles.

Her phone rang. The admiral.

“I have grown to anticipate your calls,” she began. “Have you considered my suggestion that we meet for tea?”

“I am considering it. Baptiste certainly thinks it would be counterproductive.”

“Yes. Well, you will have to consider whether that is how you want to run your agency-always relying on secondhand information.”

“It seems I’m getting it firsthand over the phone.”

“You know what they say about looking into a person’s eyes.”

“I know what they say about looking into your eyes,” Larive parried.

“What do they say?”

“They say that you are bewitching.”

“That would be my ass, not my eyes. But, of course, you have never seen my ass.”

“Perhaps one day we will remedy that.”

“Not as long as you are too politic to meet me for tea.”

“What can you tell me to encourage me about the pro ject?” Larive cut to the point.

“I can tell you that if you do some hard and daring things, you will win the vector technology and Chaperone for France. I have been telling you this for some time.”

“Yes, and you want to meet with me to explain it.”

“That is right,” Benoit acknowledged.

“And you do not want to tell Baptiste.”

“That is right because he cannot approve what needs to be done. We must contact people that I can best contact. We must make deals. You will need to let me out of here in order to accomplish what you want.”

“That would be extraordinary,” Larive remarked.

“It would be temporary, only until I have earned a pardon from the French government.”

“Tell me more of what you would do.”

“With all due respect, I could think better and be much more forthcoming if we were speaking in private and I could see you and be assured that you have my interests in mind.”

“In other words you once again request a personal meeting.”

Benoit smiled.

Admiral Larive attempted to suck in his gut with mar ginal results. He was standing sideways to a full-size mirror in his office that he used to judge his suits. Unfortunately, he had quit the hard workouts and his belly sagged over his belt. Off and on throughout the morning he had imagined what it would be like to take tea with Benoit Moreau.

Five minutes before the appointed time he arrived at the hotel. That morning he had put on new boxer shorts and under shirt. Although he had wanted a haircut, there hadn’t been time. He had taken extra pains shaving and cut the hair out of his ears and he had vigorously gone after his long, dark nose hairs. Outside the door there were guards and they opened it to reveal Benoit Moreau in chains with another guard.

“You may take off the chains, for God’s sake, we’re hav ing tea.”

“Sorry, sir, but it’s regulation. We never take the chains off unless ordered, so I gather you’re giving me that order.”

“Yes, yes. Come on, man, she works in an office.”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but it is a very secure office, much more secure than this hotel room.”

They removed the chains and handed him a key, then left to take up positions in the hallway outside the room.

He and Benoit sat down at the table in the middle of the large suite near glass doors that opened onto a balcony. Green and gold draperies were pulled nearly across the doorway. On the table was a plate of French pastries, but he wasn’t sure about taking one. He knew that fat in quantity could interfere with Viagra and he didn’t want anything di minishing his potency.

Her hair was dark brown, and soft like a feather boa, her face unmarked by age. She looked younger than her thirty- eight years. If she slept with him, he told himself, she would need a very good reason. He knew as he sipped his tea that such a reason would no doubt be very bad for him. Strangely, he could not rise from the table and leave.

“I will get right to the point. There are things you should know in addition to the things I have told you on the phone.” She obviously enjoyed his undivided attention. “These are things that I have not told anyone, not even Baptiste.” She turned in her chair and he noticed that her blouse was not buttoned to the top and with the angle he could see some cleavage. “Baptiste does not have your stature. I do, how ever, like him.” She sipped her tea and his curiosity about her information was getting to him. “I miss the women’s magazines. Baptiste brings me one or two…”

“What would you like?”

“Cosmopolitan in English and Vogue, also in English. I like to practice the language.”

“It will be done.”

“I miss lingerie, you know. Do you like lingerie? I mean as opposed to just nudity. Most men, of course, enjoy a nude woman.”

“I like lingerie. Yes. But I think you toy with me.”

“Of course I do. That is why you came here. I am very good at it. Would you choose for me some elegant lingerie, a long white silken robe and buy it for me?”

“Yes. I think so.”

“I would like that. You seem a wise man and they say you are good with money.”

“Who says?”

“Friends. The same friends who say that you are going to be appointed a minister.”

“These are your friends in le Senat? ” Larive commented.

“I hardly have friends in le Senat. These are staff people of the people in le Senat.”

“I hear otherwise.”

“Well, that is flattering. You may continue to think such good thoughts of me.”

“You are an intriguing woman.”

“Men find that I am intriguing. Many women find me un acceptable. Those are usually the women whose husbands want to sleep with me.”

“And what do the husbands think?”

“They are attracted to any beautiful stranger. The more mysterious, the better. They cannot help it. I guess it is like a disease in a way.”

“You are more attractive than your explanation allows.”

“You are a very astute man. But intelligence is definitely not an antidote for what you crave. Is it?”

“No. It is nothing more than an annoyance where my loins are concerned.”

“You put it very well. You can see it happening to you, watch it unfold, but still you are drawn. And I think it is not bad at all. It is just the way you feel and sometimes a person should live in the moment.”

“My grandmother would have said that this is Satan’s lie.” He allowed himself a smile.

“My feet are cold. Would you like to rub them for me?”

“Of course.”

“Let me sit on the bed and take off my stockings.” She wore parity hose and pulled up her skirt to take them off. She wore the slimmest of underwear, a thong, and her butt was beautiful-even with the quick glimpse. The thong was tiny in front; she obviously trimmed her pubic hair. When she sat down, she let her skirt ride high, but he could no longer see her upper thighs and it frustrated him. Then he felt a slight sense of panic. He knew it was happening, but the reality of it was like a drug rushing through his body. This woman was a criminal. Although his reputation was immense he had been faithful to his wife for two years. An old almost forgot ten anxiety came over him. When she had herself situated, he knelt and began a foot rub. The irony of being on one knee did not escape him nor did the physical discomfort.

“What is it that you were going to tell me?” Larive broke the silence.

“It is more than telling you something. It is something we can do together.”

“What is that?”

“We could save the United States from a disaster and obtain Chaperone and the vector technology for France. All at once.”

“Save the United States from what?”

“What Devan Gaudet is planning. He calls it Cordyceps.” Benoit was full of information.

“What is Cordyceps?”

“I’m not sure yet. But I can imagine.” She told him the story of Cordyceps and the beetle.

“Intriguing,” the admiral said. “I’ve noticed that your plans hinge on your going to the United States.”

“Because Georges Raval understands Chaperone and I understand Georges,” she explained.

“Have you told this to Baptiste?”

“Of course. He lacks imagination, though. Would you like me to take off my skirt? It appears that you cannot see whatever it is you are trying to look at.”

“You are very beautiful.”

“Do you want the skirt off or not? You are a shy boy. I don’t know how you ever get what you want.” She stood and unzipped her skirt, letting it drop to the floor, then sat again.

He wondered about her blouse. It would be very good if she took that off as well. And the panties.

“I need to go to the United States and see Raval’s aunt in New York. This must be in person. She knows me and will send a message to Georges or tell me how to find him. I will explain that France owns Chaperone, which he knows, and I will tell him how he can make some money by helping the rightful owner. In the end, though, we must go through Gaudet.”

“Why through Gaudet?”

“I’ve been at work for a couple of days now, as you know. It’s obvious to me already that our lab does not really under stand the vector technology. We are altering brain cells, but not in the correct patterns. Our scientists don’t understand the promoter DNA sequences. The sum of it, without getting too technical, is that we do not get well-defined and predictable mood alteration from modification of cells in the limbic system. Gaudet does much better, as we have seen. All he lacks is Chaperone, which enables the subjects to live with the brain alteration. His scientists clearly understand the technology. So I will get Gaudet to sell you his lab, all the Grace Technologies papers and research, and give you leads to hiring all of his employees as part of the deal.”

“That makes some sense.” Larive was impressed by this gorgeous, conniving woman.

“Now for the second reason I need to go to the States. I need to work with Gaudet and I know he is there. I can talk with him. I believe that he trusts me sufficiently to tell me about Cordyceps. He won’t be able to resist bragging to me because we were lovers for over a year. He will believe I have come back to him.”

“It’s the right thing to do, obviously, stopping this Cordyceps. But why should we risk Chaperone when it’s the U.S.’s ass that’s on the line. Just to play devil’s advocate,” Larive proposed.

“If the U.S. markets go, Europe will go with them.”

“I suppose to some extent that is true.”

“More important, you need a relationship with the U.S. so you must be seen as cooperating. Appearance is everything. So are relationships. Of course, if for some reason we fail to stop Cordyceps, there is a fortune to be made.”

“What?” This woman continually surprised him.

She outlined Gaudet’s plan to short the market and also to invest in gold stocks and gold bullion so that money would be made when the market fell. She explained how it could be done.

“There is another thing I need to tell you.” She appeared to be on a confessing jag.

“Yes?”

“Baptiste plans to make a deal for a five-million-dollar kickback from Gaudet and to use that money to short the market himself. He will make a fortune if Cordyceps goes forward.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Well, you’d better because it is true. Did he tell you what he learned from a Turkish prisoner by the name of Alfawd?”

“I never heard of Alfawd,” Larive replied.

“Well, you should have.” Then as the admiral sat dumb founded, she told him all that Baptiste had learned about the investment group and Gaudet’s tests of the technology with Sam’s neighbors and at Northern Lights.

“Did Baptiste tell you that Figgy Meeks accidentally killed an associate of the man they call Sam and that he then, at Baptiste’s direction, made it look like Gaudet by gutting the man, as Gaudet often does?” She was relentless in her disclosures.

“This could implicate the French government. It’s a disas ter.” Larive nearly moaned.

“Yes, and apparently the autopsy showed the heart still beating when he was gutted.”

Larive groaned.

“I could fix that too with Gaudet. I could provide testimony that one of Gaudet’s men did it. A man who is now dead.”

“Why would you do this?”

“I’m getting to that. One more thing: did you know that one of your agents, a Rene, accidentally killed Michael Bowden’s girlfriend when he tried to take a gun from her? A gun that she was using to protect herself against Gaudet and his men?”

“This is true?”

“All of it. Baptiste is planning a meeting with Gaudet to make that deal. And he is going to allow Cordyceps to go forward. If you put that together with the money…” She allowed Larive to make his own deduction.

“That makes the French government an accomplice. Fucking Baptiste is out of control!”

“That’s why you should let me go to the States when Baptiste asks. You will know everything that is going on. You will then, on behalf of the French government, be seek ing to thwart the plot of a renegade agent.”

“It’s not that simple. I should turn him in and replace him.”

“Keep in mind, first and foremost, that you want the tech nology. Diplomatically, you need only a fig leaf. You need complete success and not another horrible scandal in your agency. And most important of all, you may need someone to blame. Baptiste has done this on his own, but if you replace him, then suddenly you become solely responsible for whatever happens. Or am I incorrect about that?” Benoit had built a tower of irrefutable facts.

The admiral sighed-as she knew he would. “Tell me ex actly what you will do.”

“First I will go to Gaudet. I will be present when Gaudet meets Baptiste, but Baptiste will be unaware of this. That way the French government is spying on its own and is not acting in concert with the renegade Baptiste. I will tell you exactly what goes on. Then, in New York, I will broker deals with Bowden, Raval, and Gaudet. I will ensure that Gaudet offers all of his vector technology as part of the bargain. I know about it and am the best one to judge. We will open a Swiss escrow. The formula, notes, and so on will be deposited in escrow, along with contact numbers for ex-Grace employees and their job functions, et cetera. France will deposit two hundred million; ten million will be deposited for kickbacks, leaving a net one hundred ninety million.”

“Wait, I thought you said Baptiste was getting five million, not ten million.”

“I’m coming to that. There will be a period of examina tion to authenticate the materials. If I’m able to bring Bowden into the deal, the Chaperone molecule will be part of the escrow. Finally Raval will deliver that actual, authen tic Grace record of invention for Chaperone, along with everything he knows about Chaperone. I will do everything in my power to learn the date when Cordyceps will be un leashed-how Gaudet’s going to do it and what exactly he is going to do. I will deliver that information to the French government before it happens. You will notify the Americans. That will avoid any scandal. The French did their part. If for some reason it is too late to stop Cordyceps, then you, Admiral, can invest the five million I’ll earmark for you.”

The admiral slammed his fist in his hand. “I would do no such thing. I will not take money. Do you think I am a dog like Baptiste?”

“Calm down. You can tell the Americans the details of Cordyceps once escrow with Gaudet closes and not before. If you tell them before, then the whole deal could come apart and you will not get Chaperone or the rest of the vector technology. Once the Americans know of Cordyceps, they will go crazy. Gaudet will know that you have told them. He will cancel the escrow with immediate document destruction as provided in the escrow. And then he will unleash Cordyceps anyway.”

“But we must tell the Americans.”

“And you will. After escrow.”

“I will tell them and that is all there is to it. And I cannot take this money.”

“You need to calm yourself and think this through. Your money will be in a numbered account. You will have the number. In truth, if discovered, it will be part of what Baptiste expected to get. That will be the story. He’ll get arrested for five million. The other five million will be missing. Yours. Leave it in the anonymous account if you don’t want it. You can always turn it in to the French government. Say you tricked Gaudet and it would be a feather in your cap. I am putting it there in any case, and only you and I will know. The point is, you don’t have to decide now. The key, remember, is making the deal for the French with Gaudet before telling the Americans about Cordyceps. Under stand?”

“Benoit, I have one simple question: why would you risk telling me all this?”

“I want a pardon. Don’t underestimate me, Admiral. I can do this. Not only that, I’m the only person who can do all of this. Without me, Chaperone will be lost to France for at least your lifetime, and you can take that to the bank. Without this deal another country or entity will get the func tioning vector technology first.”

“Why do you wish to involve me?”

“Because you can send me to the States. And because you are almost a minister. I need the promise of a pardon from the French government from someone who counts.”

She had shifted on the bed, revealing a firm thigh.

“Would you like me to take off this blouse?”

“You know I would.” His heart was beating hard as she teased off the blouse to reveal a sheer bra and a firm, high set of breasts with dark rose nipples. His throat constricted and he became fully erect.

“Where do you get such lingerie in prison?”

“My cousin in le Senat staff. But your staff are not com plete morons. They have to stretch the rules to let me wear it-I think that had something to do with the fact that I would be with you this afternoon.”

She leaned forward and pulled him toward her, running his hand across her upper leg.

Larive swallowed. “You say this Raval is the only hope to understanding Chaperone?”

“Yes.”

“And Bowden the only man to find the source of the Chaperone molecule.”

“Yes.”

“What does Bowden get?”

“France will have to pay him a royalty. You and I will ne gotiate it.”

“Were you Raval’s lover?”

“No. But we enjoyed each other’s company. We flirted, but it never went anywhere. I was in charge of coordinating with Malaysia from an administrative standpoint, but not the science. Boudreaux, the chief scientist, kept the Chaperone research very much compartmentalized. It was even at an other facility a few miles from the main lab. Boudreaux kept a double set of books for the employees there and they were lumped in the budget under R and D Immunological Pathogens and Disease Processes. Those books are long gone, of course. But Raval knew everything. It was essentially his project.”

“Why would Gaudet tell you his secrets, and if he did, why would you then tell me?”

“He may, he may not. We were lovers for years, as I told you. Also, I can make it part of the deal. After he launches Cordyceps, the technology no longer has much value to him. Making a deal with France first is his best choice. He’ll want that two hundred million, have no doubt. And why tell you? Isn’t it obvious? France is my whole life. I want to live here and be free. I supposed that if I obtained for France the secret of Chaperone, I could obtain a full pardon. To me, my darling, you are freedom.”

He looked at the young woman. Tactically, she was bril liant. And she might be right. She might pull it off. There would be no quick pardon, but she need not know that now. He might get her house arrest and rules, then a minimum se curity with work release in a couple of years.

“You will have a pardon,” he said, his hand still on her leg. “If you pull off the whole thing. All of it.”

“It is a deal, then? You will let me go to the U.S.?”

“Baptiste must come to me. It must be his idea that he shoves at me. That he guarantees. It cannot be my idea that I assign him.”

“I understand.”

“And he, of course, will know nothing of our talks. If there is a reason I will do this, it is because your fantastic ideas have very little downside and are the stuff of which great triumphs are made.”

Even as he heard himself speak, he felt in a fog, all of his instincts warning him away, and yet when she rose and slipped off the bra and lay on the bed, it drew him like a mouse to the cheese. Playing with her thong, she teased him as he undressed, hurrying so fast he nearly fell over, fouled in his half-removed pants. When he was nude, she removed her thong and used her hands to pleasure him while putting a condom on. Then she sat astride him. The sight of her dried his throat. She grasped him and played with him, using her body and her hands until he thought that he had reached the outer limits of desire. Then she used her tongue. She made him feel young and, yes, powerful because she chose to have him. Even as he felt himself falling into Benoit Moreau, he knew he must be a chump. Wanting a young woman this badly was a classic flaw. In a fleeting second he wondered if this bizarre breach of ethics and good sense had undone all that was good in him. And then he was in her, and she was moving on him. The sensations of her moving against him, her butt on his thighs, her flesh engulfing his, sent him into a daze. He felt her touch his shoulder and he understood that she wanted him to roll. In a flash he was on top and she pulled her legs up and put them along his flanks and she reached and clenched his balls in her hand as he was thrust ing, and he looked down in her eyes and they were gleaming and he felt as if he had conquered all.

Grady lay on the bed, procrastinating. It wasn’t until her thoughts moved to Gaudet and his attack in Rio that she got up and changed her clothes and showered, ready to start the evening. Tonight was dinner with Michael’s editor. The next day would be a larger lunch with the editor and various bigwigs from the publishing house.

It struck her that Michael Bowden was getting dressed in the next room. As she thought about him, she tried to convince herself that she was being ridiculous, that if he knew about her past he wouldn’t want her. A straight-up guy like this-with one of the few pairs of innocent blue eyes in North America-how would he ever comprehend stripping? How could she even explain it? She knew that if she ex plained it and saw his face, his eyes, the expression of bewil derment and maybe even pain, this fascination that seemed to grip her mind would depart and she could become normal again and forget about him.

Even more significant, Michael would one day return to the Amazon and she doubted she could live in a place like that. She rose and stripped off her clothes. She headed to the shower when there was a knock on the door between her room and Michael’s. Something clicked in her brain and she knew she should get dressed before she opened it. Instead, she wrapped herself in a towel, wearing only her thong panties beneath. When she got to the door, she thought about calling out to Michael and explaining that she needed a minute. Her hand rested on the knob for a full thirty sec onds. Once again there was a quiet knock.

“Michael?”

“Yes?”

“What do you need?”

“You thought I should wear a tie, but I haven’t ever tied one.”

She laughed and opened the door.

“Pardon my towel, Michael. I was going to shower.”

“I could step out while you put on something.”

“Not necessary. Here, I’ll show you how to tie a tie, for future reference.”

Then she began tying the tie. It felt exciting, standing so near him, as if she were enfolded in his energy. His new growth beard was slightly rough and she liked the look of it and she felt his imposing size, the heft of his shoulders and chest. She felt an urge to spread her hands over his shirt, to touch him. As she completed the double wrap on the tie and was sliding the end down through the loops, she stood on her toes and somehow the towel began to slip. She caught it at the same time he did. His big hands were fast. Slowly he wrapped it around her and, as he did so, his fingers grazed her and she could never recall wanting a man’s hands on her body as badly as she wanted the touch of Michael Bowden. Aware that he had seen something of her breasts, ex-stripper or not, she was embarrassed. His eyes now focused on hers and she could see the desire so strong in him that she thought it would come out in words. It was as if his whole body were full of sexual energy.

Her throat felt tight. So she cleared it, but it did nothing to break the tension.

“Michael, we shouldn’t… because…” She found her self stepping even closer to him and looking up, and she couldn’t move as his lips came down toward hers a millime ter at a time. And when his hands took her towel, she did nothing but quiver, and then his lips were on hers and his large thumbs were on her nipples, coaxing them. Suddenly she was kissing him as hard as she could and she had his face in her hands. It felt good and very natural as they kissed-like it had happened before. A large hand slid down her belly and she opened her legs, wanting him. She felt her- self moisten under the ministrations of his fingers and she groaned when he pulled her panties to half-mast.

Suddenly there was a loud knock on her door and the phone rang at the same time. It was as if she had been caught at something and it was terribly wrong. She looked in his eyes, pleading for understanding.

“I’ve got to get that.” She pushed him slowly back through the door, then closed it in a state of shock. There was a sec ond knock on the front door. “Just a minute,” she called out. Now she leaned against the inner door to talk with Michael, wanting him to understand. “God, Michael, I’m sorry. That was my fault. I am so sorry. Someone is supposed to have self-control and that’s me and I apologize for leading you on. I’ll be back.”

Then she hoisted her panties, ran to the closet and found her robe, took her laundry, ran to the door, and missed the phone call. As she guessed, the nice young man came for her laundry in reply to an earlier request. Once that was taken care of, she returned to the inner door to Michael’s room. The phone rang. It was Michael.

“No worries,” he said. “The customs are different here. I know we are supposed to eat and have romantic talk first.”

“No,” she said. “We don’t have to eat first. You have to know some things about me first and I have to know some things about you. But it’s okay. Everything is cool. I have a robe on now and I’ll tie your tie.”

She figured this was like riding a horse-if you fell off, you had to get back on quick. The longer she waited, the more awkward it would become.

When she opened the door, she was determined to act as if nothing were amiss, so she reached up to take his tie and began again. Standing close, she once again had the over powering urge to mold herself to his body, but she managed to show none of it. Nearly breathing a sigh of relief when she had completed the job, she sent him to his room, showered, then went to her closet and found herself pondering which of the few outfits would impress a man from the Amazon. Then she reminded herself that her purpose was to help protect him, not to impress him. She stared at herself in the mirror, wondering what she was about. She knew herself well and realized that a good portion of her brain was currently given over to female plotting that even she didn’t understand. Amazing, given that Gaudet probably had people in New York who would kill her to get to Michael.

She had to get him out of New York. The only complicat ing factor was the journals and Michael could come back to Ithaca for those-if and when they arrived. Fortunately, Michael had revealed a goal similar to hers. Now it was time for her to seal the deal.

She called Michael and said she might be up to twenty minutes late for dinner. Then she called her on-again, off- again boyfriend in LA, thinking she might break it off. But as they talked, she considered how abrupt this was; she was excited but uncertain; then she thought of Sam’s self-control. After a newsy chat she followed her habit and said, “I love you” to a boyfriend whom she no longer loved, then hung up.

It took Michael only a few minutes to put on a sport coat and tie. As he waited, he felt an acute sense of embarrass ment and tried hard to get his composure so that he could pretend that what just happened never happened. Like men everywhere, he needed something to distract himself while he waited for the lady. Picking up one of his science journals, he read about a newly discovered painkiller that was one thousand times more effective than morphine and de rived from one of the five hundred or so molecules that make up the deadly toxin of the cone snail. People with chronic- pain syndrome were being freed from their misery, and there were few things, other than Grady, that he could think of that were more exciting. The drug was called Ziconotide. At the moment he needed something like that, only effective in killing the sex drive, which at this point was becoming a form of pain.

Grady had encouraged him to look the part with his editor, although for him that meant his jungle clothes. He suspected that the traditional business garb was because she wanted him to blend in with the street crowd, but he didn’t argue. Eventually she emerged from her room looking like the mod els he had seen in American magazines. She wore a black knit dress with an eye-catching plunge at the neckline. It cer tainly did not hide her figure. Michael was aware that deep within their brain Homo sapiens had programmed certain body ratios that were associated with fertility. Males seemed to equate this hourglass configuration with mating behavior and, in fact, found it quite inspirational in that regard. Clearly, the dress fully retained his sense of inspiration.

Just as he was about to walk out the door, the phone rang. It was Rebecca.

“Looking forward to seeing you tonight and tomorrow,” she said.

“We are about ready to leave.”

“I wanted to mention, a man was here looking for you today. He left you a letter, said he was a fellow scientist and that it was urgent. He asked if there was any way I could get in touch with you. I think he thought you were probably still in the Amazon, although I’m not sure about that. I told him I thought I might have a rare opportunity to get you on the phone and said no more.”

“Good. My friend Grady is convincing me that we must not tell people that I am in New York. Bring the letter to din ner tonight if you have it. Did the man leave a name?”

“Yes. He did. Although he wanted assurance that I would give his name to no one but you and I assured him of that. It’s all quite mysterious.”

“Who is he?”

“Georges Raval.”

Grady took charge of the taxis. With them in the taxi were Yodo and one other. Their entourage followed in second and third taxis.

When they entered the taxi, she sat close and for a mo ment put her hand over his. The warmth of it traveled through his body.

“Won’t it be exciting when you can get started on your work?”

“I want so bad to get back to it. And to spend some time in a new place.”

“Do you know where?”

“The mountains of the Pacific Northwest, maybe. There’s an almost unspoiled block of wilderness there. Well, more than one. This one’s near the Salmon and Klamath rivers.”

“Maybe you can satisfy Sam’s concerns and get started on your work all at once,” she said, and looked at him squarely for the first time since entering the taxi. “Maybe…”

“Yes?”

“Maybe it would be good to go there soon.”

“You want me to do what Sam wants.”

“I want you to do what you want. But not to die trying.”

Her body was next to his and her thigh was touching his for its full length and he could sense that they both wanted the same thing.

Then his cell phone rang.

“I have your journals,” Dr. Lyman said.

“Oh, thank goodness. Thanks for calling. You made my evening. I’ll be right back to you. Will this number work for my return call?”

“It’ll work. Be here for half an hour.”

“Grady, I need to talk with you now, in private.”

“Sure. Driver, could you pull over for just a minute?”

They got out onto the curb and Michael drew her away from a nervous-looking Yodo.

“You have to make a choice. I’m going to be honest with you and I expect you to be honest with me.”

“Okay.”

“My journals are at Ithaca. I’m going alone, unless you want to come. Nobody else.”

“That’s crazy.”

“No, it’s not. Two of us won’t be noticed. This looks like a president’s motorcade.”

“I see. We’ll dress and act like nobodies and pull in driving an old Chevy. Sam will never go for it.”

“It’s not up to him where I’m concerned. I guess you would be different.”

“Let me ask one thing. If I go with you and we get the jour nals, can we meet the bodyguards on the way back and then lock the journals up in a vault, except for what you need?”

Michael thought about that for a moment. He sensed he needed to give her something or he would end up going alone.

“Okay. We meet the guards halfway between New York and Ithaca.”

“I’ll call Sam.”

Michael shook his head and chuckled. “Always Sam.”

A letter had come from Gaudet. After locking the door to his office, Baptiste removed it from the envelope. The mo ment he had found it in his residential mailbox, he had stud ied it, trying to determine its authenticity. He did not note this letter on any incoming-mail log nor did he make a copy for any file:

France has its interests and I have mine. Time is running out for France if you don’t want to lose the discovery of the century. Perhaps we should talk about our mutual interests.

Maybe there were times when one made a deal with the Devil. It was shocking that Benoit had communicated so easily and that Gaudet obviously believed her. There seemed to be no end to this woman’s intrigue.

It was late in the afternoon, so he locked up early and left the building. With Benoit’s instructions committed to mem ory he proceeded to a computer where he could not be traced. According to Benoit, he could send the e-mail on any day within five minutes of four o’clock in the afternoon. Walking down Boulevard Mortier and then turning onto Cros, he went for a few more blocks until he came to an Internet cafe. There were a series of work stations, at least twenty in all, and each one tied into the Internet. After paying the fee of ten Euros, he sat down and logged on to a free e-mail Web site. With little effort he opened an account under the name Sailorsea. Using that account, he drafted an e-mail to Jvaljean@wanadoo. fr. net.

It seems we have some issues. How do I know that you are Devan Gaudet? How do I know that you can help me? Why would you want to?

He sent it at precisely 4:01 p.m., then sat and watched the in box for his account. At 4:14 p.m. he received this reply:

You have the confidence of Benoit Moreau or you would not be writing me. If I am not Gaudet, I am at least someone in her confidence. Yes? So do you be lieve her or not? Only a government-size entity can af ford what the technology is worth. Because of Benoit, I am willing to work with the French. Call me at 212- 555-2729 U.S.

Baptiste went and purchased a card with one hundred minutes of long-distance talk time. He then walked his route through the Belleville church and nodded at the priest as he walked down the side of the main sanctuary. Once out of the church, and certain he wasn’t being followed, he went down a back alley and took a different route than usual to the small cafe where he had previously used the phone. Unusually concerned, he passed this phone, went down the street a block and into a video place, where he browsed around before asking his daughter’s friend, who worked there, if he might use the phone. As he hoped, he was shown to the back office, where he closed the door. He punched in the number on the card and then the pin number and then the overseas code for the United States followed by the number. He assumed he was calling a recently rented cell phone.

“This is Jean-Baptiste Sourriaux,” he said when a man answered.

“I am ‘Traveler’ and I will relay your conversation with Mr. Gaudet.” The man had no discernible accent and he spoke quickly, as if from a script.

“He doesn’t want voiceprints, I take it.”

“That is right.”

“I want a meeting.”

“We anticipated that. However, it will occur on our terms.”

“What are those terms?”

“It will take place in an airplane. You will bring your U.S. double agent. The one working with Sam. We will tell you where to go and you will board a jet and we will leave you off at a place of our choosing. Details through Benoit.”

“That will be acceptable if I can be sure of my safe re turn.”

“That will not be possible. You will have to trust in our greed and determine that we will be richer by bringing you back safely. After all, a French security officer is of no use to us.”

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