A hungry man will risk a bad oyster.
— Tilok proverb
“There goes our boy Figgy,” Sam said to Jill on the cell phone. Sam was sitting in an FBO at Teterboro next door to the establishment hosting the Citation X. Sam doubted that Gaudet would be on the plane despite the intercepted mes sages that called for a “meeting.” There had been what looked to be a woman in a burka and Sam’s mind was churn ing over who it might have been. Gaudet? Doubtful. Again, he would not likely be present.
The question he couldn’t answer was what they might be discussing. It had an ominous feel to it. When the plane taxied toward the runway, he engaged an entire group on a conference call. On the call were several private detectives, Grogg, and others on Sam’s staff.
“How was the picture?” Sam asked.
“Better than CNN,” Grogg said. “Great show.”
“Anybody get anything while they were sitting at the FBO?”
“Nothing. They talked about airplanes.”
“Who was under the burka?” Sam asked.
One of the private eyes spoke up. “It was a hundred feet from the Bonanza to the Citation. He or she took fifty steps to cover it. By the stride, I’d say it was a woman. He or she put out a hand when she climbed the stairs. Woman-size hand, although it was gloved. Height we guess at five feet eight inches. He or she is accustomed to airplanes because he or she didn’t hesitate for even a second as would someone unfamiliar with private jets. But he or she is not accustomed to the burka because he or she slightly misjudged the added height and just touched the header on the entryway to the jet. We got just a glimpse of the shoes as he or she climbed the steps. They were upscale and they were female-size feet. So we think it’s a she and not a he.”
“Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but that could bring it down to a few thousand since not many woman with nice shoes and a normal build are used to climbing in and out of private jets. Assuming, of course, we’re right about the jets,” Grogg said.
“Did anyone notice the fingers of her right hand?” Sam asked.
There was silence.
“Play the tape again.” Everyone watched. Sticking down out of one sleeve were the gloved fingers of a hand. They moved like cilia on a sea creature but very slowly.
“Get a signer who knows signing for the deaf.”
“That won’t take long; we have someone,” Jill said. While he waited, Sam used his cell to call people in the flight con trol center tracking the jet. It was headed for Martha’s Vineyard. Then Jill came back on.
“Got it. You won’t believe it. She signed STOGETH- ERBM and I would take that to mean ‘Sam together Benoit Moreau.’ “
“Resourceful,” Sam said. “In more ways than one. She’s out of jail and in the U.S.? What game are the French playing?”
“Figures one of the French is wired into the deal, probably illicitly,” Jill said.
Grogg added the punctuation: “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”
Sam found Michael and Grady in a booth at a tavern in Gramercy Park nearby the bed amp; breakfast, apparently having sat with their beers for some time. There were six bodyguards spread around the place and their roving eyes created an odd sensation, but it didn’t seem to interfere with busi ness. Grady had taken Anna’s tragedy hard, but she was weathering it in the presence of the strong calm that was Michael Bowden. It had been two days since the airport incident and Figgie hadn’t said a word.
“You’ve got to get out of New York,” Sam said to Michael, not in the mood for circumlocutions.
“What are you thinking?” Bowden asked.
The words didn’t contain attitude, but Sam thought the tone did. “Look what they’ve done to try to get those journals. Gaudet has almost killed you, Grady, me, and Anna. What more do you need to see?”
“I know the whys. Why I should run. Why Gaudet wants me. What I don’t know is what you’re suggesting. I want him out of my life and everyone else’s, out of commission, whatever. Dead. Right? Aren’t we more likely to catch him if I’m visible than if I’m hiding?”
“You’re right, and I don’t disagree. But think about it first. It’s not just your life we’re talking about.”
“Grady should not be with me until this is over. I know that.”
“Don’t I get a say in that?” Grady had had enough.
Sam and Michael looked at each other.
“Get used to it, Michael. Hey, you have to admit she’s not doing bad.” Sam drained his drink and leaned forward, el bows on the table. “Look, if you’re in, that’s fine with me. I have a thought as to how we might lay a trap. But you have to be sure.”
“I’m not dying to be a staked goat, but it’s better than doing nothing.”
Sam looked at Grady, who glowed with pride at her men tor’s earlier remark. Behind the glow, though, her face showed her disquiet. In her eyes he saw both the undaunted determination of a woman with a plan and a smart person afraid for her life. And Michael’s.
“All right at least let’s move you to a bed-and-breakfast over in Greenwich Village. They’ll have to find you again.”
“That’s fine,” Michael said and Grady nodded.
“First, I have a big piece of news,” Sam said. “We re ceived an e-mail today from France. We think they are relay ing messages from one Benoit Moreau.” Sam briefly explained her history with Grace Technologies and her imprisonment. “She seems to be out, and possibly in New York. Apparently she will want a meeting; an attorney ready to attend and most interesting, a fake 1998 journal copy that looks real but is entirely a forgery.”
“That is totally weird,” Grady said.
“I do not know why that request and she hasn’t said when she wants a meeting or why. It could be to work her own scam or it could be because she wants to help us. If they think they have the journal, they lay off you. I think she wants me to believe she is on our side. I should mention that the attorney is to be an expert in immigration.”
“Should I make a journal with incorrect latitudes and longitudes and with altered descriptions of the material? Mis-describe flora, fauna?”
“It couldn’t hurt. But I’m sure it would be a lot of work.”
“A whole year’s worth of actual data? Maybe. But if I got Lyman and some honest graduate students…”
By the next day, a full twelve days after his arrival in New York, Sam had set up temporary offices. Every morning that he could, he would stop by to see Anna and he called Anna’s mother or the nurse Lydia at least twice a day. Here he could work the phones and brainstorm with the investigators feeding Big Brain. It wasn’t glamorous, but unlike the LA office, he could be near Anna. He had a better chance of finding Gaudet from the computer room than he did walking the streets, because from the office he could greatly multiply his efforts using contract investigators. A new priority was learning why the French were having secret meetings with Gaudet and who had hired the grad student to steal Michael’s jour nal.
Back at the bed-and-breakfast he kissed Grady on the cheek, clasped her hand, and left her with Michael. His instincts were talking to him again. Grady and Michael were assuming he’d go back to LA. He didn’t bother to correct the impression, although there were various ways they might find him out. Since he always took calls on his cell, it wasn’t always easy to determine his whereabouts and people were very used to not knowing.
Preferring anonymity he stayed over in Greenwich Village, in the apartment of a retired FBI agent. The man was travel ing.
On the way to the office he stopped by the hospital. In mid- afternoon the hospital was getting ready for a shift change. Nurses were standing around flipping through charts and talking in low tones. Anna’s room was a good walk down a long corridor filled with people with serious problems. There was a faint antiseptic smell and somehow it didn’t help his mood. As he neared the door, the deep reserve of sadness that was always with him these days took over his mind. When he entered, he noticed that the monitor was now silent and each beat was only a line on the screen. Sitting by Anna’s bed, her mother held her hand, and it made him feel good and it made him feel guilty all at the same time. When he ap proached Anna’s mother, he noticed that her face was drawn and that deep fatigue had set in. The vigil was taking its toll.
“I will leave you alone,” she said quietly.
Nothing had ever made him feel so helpless.
Anna’s face revealed nothing and it seemed to Sam that she was very far away.
She always liked the smell of a good Cuban cigar, so in violation of all the rules he sat by her bed and smoked a few puffs. After he put out the cigar, he leaned forward and whis pered in her ear.
Sam sat in New York in front of the video-conferencing monitor, talking to Jill in LA the way old acquaintances do, snacking, drinking, and lapsing into silence between broken phrases that called up a history of late nights at the office, long lunches, walks in the park, and even pillow talk. They had each ordered in some fried yearling oysters and Sam carefully dipped the end of about every third oyster in ketchup. He called the ketchup dunking “cleansing the palate.” Jill liked the unadulterated oyster flavor and skipped the condiment. Harry sat on the conference table of the New York office watch ing every oyster that went into Sam’s mouth and got about one out of four. Jill said the dog had superior taste-he’d have none of Sam’s ketchup. One of Sam’s staff had been kind enough to bring the lonely dog with him from LA.
For a few minutes Jill listened while Sam tried to tell her how he felt about Anna lying unconscious in the hospital. For some reason it was hard for him to speak the right words, and yet he knew she understood.
“I wish I were there to hold your hand,” she said. There were a few moments of silence. Harry put his chin on his paws and looked disconsolate.
“You know the way you’re leaning back with those oysters, you’re going to spill ketchup on your shirt.”
“Have you ever noticed how some people can’t just wear their ketchup stain-even ketchup lovers like me. They have to cover it with a tie, or hold their hand on their stomach, or take the shirt off and use towels and water. In the extreme cases they have to leave the office and get a new shirt. As long as that ketchup is there, they can’t stop thinking about it. The ketchup actually rules their life.”
Jill said nothing for a moment.
“Grieving is good, Sam. It’s not like a ketchup stain, so don’t even think about comparing them.”
“I was talking about hypocritical ketchup lovers.”
“And I was talking about you.”
Sam thought about that. For him, was it Gaudet that was the ketchup stain? Or was it something inside? Was it his self-doubt? Was it that he had Indian blood? Or maybe it was his anonymous life. One thing he believed: nothing could be normal or right until he got Gaudet. Not grieving, not life. Maybe he could choose a public life after Gaudet. Maybe he would have more confidence that he was good enough for Anna. Now he didn’t know.
He thought about what his mother had said about Grandfather, about the focusing of his life force. Could a man focus his life on catching another man and have a life worth living? It was a question that he shoved out of his mind almost as fast as it came. Some things were necessary, he told himself.
“You don’t think you should tell Grady and Michael you’re really in New York.”
“It worked last time.”
“Yeah, Grady was almost strangled.”
“I’ve gotta get this man that is really not a man. He is more devil than man.”
“I guess if we’re going to stop him, we better get to work.”
“Title of the file in Gaudet’s mainframe was interesting,” Jill said. ” ‘Alpha Worm.’ Some kind of joke.”
“Not that tired. How is Figgy doing?”
“Great. If you like would-be traitors. He has a lot of contacts and he’s working them. I guess we just ignore that he seems to have had a meeting with our mortal enemy and isn’t mentioning it. He has gotten information about Grace from the French, who are suddenly discovering that they knew things they supposedly didn’t know.”
“Do you think he would betray the United States for some renegade French spooks?”
“What do you think, Sam?”
“I think we got serious trouble that I don’t understand. We can’t trust Figgy with anything we don’t want Gaudet to know until we prove otherwise. It is possible to meet with your enemy without embracing him. We can’t forget that. I would like to think that Figgy and the French are trying to trap him.”
“But you don’t believe it.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t.”
“You know I was talking to our Harvard guys. They just keep saying that this would be an unimaginable medical breakthrough if Grace had a way of altering the immune sys tem so that it would accept foreign cells. All of the diseases in which our bodies reject good cells could be cured. Growing and implanting replacement organs would be a breeze. We’d have pig farms growing human parts. Gene repair would be vastly simplified. You have to hear it for yourself. They make it sound like the Second Coming.”
“It would be worth a fortune.”
“Maybe that’s becoming bigger than whatever Gaudet is doing.”
“Bigger to whom?”
“Everybody. All the governments. Hell of a thought. What if every government out there wanted it?”
“To own the discovery.”
“Yeah. It would be an unimaginable thicket. But we better stop looking for ghosts and get Grogg in here.”
“Grogg got into Northern Lights’ computer. He found a Gaudet-related phone number in a Frank Grey’s contacts list. He is one of the two that got the vector.”
“So he was a threat to Gaudet? Maybe a falling-out?”
“Frank Grey also had the number of a man in the SDECE by the name of Jean Baptiste Sourriaux, and he is the same man that Gaudet wrote. And he was in Figgy’s computer. And, of course, Baptiste was in the jet with Figgy.”
“It’s a small world.”
“It gets smaller. Grey had a number in his directory that turns out to be the phone of Claudia Roche. But it was listed as Chaperone.”
“It would not be a great hurdle to assume that Claudia Roche is the way to Georges Raval. She lives in Manhattan and is related to Chloe Raval in France, who claims that Georges Raval is her brother’s son. Big Brain drew the correlation or we wouldn’t know any of this. Could be some thing, could be nothing. Apparently, Chaperone was the name that Frank Grey at Northern Lights used for whatever he associated with Raval.”
“It makes sense. Raval is the only ex-Grace scientist we haven’t been able to account for.”
“Fascinating. Gaudet kills Grey, and others at Northern Lights, wants Bowden, and is meeting with the French. Some body almost steals the journals and they especially want the 1998 journal. Benoit wants a forgery of the ’98 journal. Gaudet is doing something called Cordyceps; he’s probably building a computer virus; and he’s using the vector, but he doesn’t seem to have Chaperone. I’m guessing that Gaudet is going to be interested in Chaperone and in Georges Raval. The action seems centered here in New York. Now, if only Benoit Moreau would come to me.”
“You’ve done very good work,” Gaudet said to the name less short man who stood beside him on the street across from the entrance to Globe Publishing. Before answering, the man took a deep drag on his cigarette, then adjusted his hat. This business of waiting for words between puffs was an irritation, but Gaudet put up with it.
“How did you know he was alive?”
“Hard to keep a famous man’s death a secret. On the other hand, it’s easy to make him disappear and spread rumors.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“That’s my business. Find out where he’s staying.”
“Must be awful important for a Frenchman to be hanging around New York.”
“If you enjoy the feeling of the earth under your feet, you’ll quit thinking about me and keep on thinking about the assignment.”