A man who climbs a cliff cannot stop to build a ledge.
— Tilok proverb
Sam jumped out of the laundry cart as the guards were putting away the laptop. One guard was big and the other was bigger.
“I could use that computer, if you don’t mind,” Sam said.
Their mouths looked like they belonged to sucker fish.
The mustached fellow went for his gun at the same time Sam was kicking him with a square-on strike to the jaw that broke facial bones on the corner of Sam’s boot. For a second the man swayed, unsteady; then Sam hit palm up to the nose and the man dropped, completely slack. Preferring to fight, rather than go for his gun, the second man swung on Sam and hit a glancing blow across Sam’s cheek. Sam kicked to the knee and they both grabbed for the man’s gun as he was going down. Grasping the gun atop the barrel, Sam twisted it toward the man’s thigh when it discharged the first time. A second bullet just missed the man’s genitals and again punctured the thigh.
“You better quit pulling that trigger or you’re-” Judging from the guard’s shrieking, something vital was hit by the third shot. At that point Sam got control of the gun and the man concentrated on grabbing his genitals. The first guy was shaking himself awake but was not ready to take on the 9mm semiautomatic.
Sam came prepared and put cuffs on the one who didn’t need to hold his testicles. Then he got on his cell phone.
“Ernie, they are going to spray vectors-I told you about those-over New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and Chicago. They are probably going to use dummy police choppers, but you can’t count on that as the only method of application. You have three days maximum. Next get guys over here to the St. Regis, room 2004, and take custody of suspected terrorists. Deep-six these guys for three days. Make sure nobody knows where they are or if they are alive or dead. Gaudet can’t know we have them or his computer, or he may change the plan.”
“Got it. Did you say computer?”
“Yeah. I know you’ll want a dozen G-men around Grogg when he’s playing with it.”
“You got that right.”
“The French know about Cordyceps. They think it will go in five days. It’s really going in three. Verify that they aren’t telling us. I have what I think will be proof of the electronic communications. Certain French officials want to profit personally by not informing the United States.” Sam explained again how the French officials could make a huge windfall profit even though the CIA had already been briefed.
Next he received a message that Figgy called. He asked Jill to call back. That way he could find out what the French wanted and avoid any questions about the transaction. No doubt they were calling everybody they knew to determine if anybody had any good reasons for canceling the escrow. And that was a call he didn’t want to take.
Sam picked up the computer to take it to Grogg so that they could download every byte before turning it over to the government, along with an application by Benoit Moreau for political asylum in the United States and for protection from a hostile power-the French government. Sam had the attorney, Stan Beckworth, help her with the application the night of their meeting.
Admiral Larive was shaking. Baptiste had never seen him this angry, although it was hard to think about it given the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Scientists can be wrong,” Baptiste argued. “Tell that to the prime minister and the president. The rest of the government is convinced that we were swindled. It took them only two hours past closing. The molecule’s not a match, and if that’s wrong, then the description of the technology is no doubt wrong as well.”
“I will get to Credit Suisse,” Baptiste said. “What good will that do?”
“They may be sending the two hundred million out in batches. Some of it may be left.” Baptiste got on the phone and screamed for five minutes. “What do they say?”
“They called us names in German. But they are holding fifty million, which has not been sent.”
“Excellent. You won’t have to call Gaudet. He will call you. Get agents over to Credit Suisse and threaten them with everything you can think of so they don’t release the rest of that money,” the admiral strategized. “We will make Gaudet pay.”
“We need Raval, and Moreau, and we need them fast.” “We tell Raval, we’ll hunt him down and kill him if he doesn’t come through.”
“We are the French government, Baptiste. Don’t forget that. What we can say and what we do may not be the same. Write an e-mail to Gaudet. Tell him that we have been cheated. Tell him that he’s going to pay unless he makes it right.”
“Shall I say it that explicitly?”
“He’s a criminal. Be as explicit as you like, short of threatening murder. Most won’t believe a thing he says and those who do will think he deserves it.”
“I will have all of our people attempt to locate Benoit, Raval, and Bowden.”
The admiral picked up the phone and called in his second in command.
Baptiste knew they were about to pull out all the stops. The admiral’s career was on the line.
They let Benoit out of the box. It hadn’t been long-maybe forty minutes. Green floral-print draperies of good quality and fine furniture surrounded her. It was not a hotel. Some one lived in the place and it was similar to a large Paris apartment. Instantly she knew that it would be very difficult for Sam to locate her again, unless he had somehow man aged to use a tracking device on her crate-that was doubtful. Hotels were obvious hiding places, whereas private apartments were not. One look at Gaudet, the slight leering smile, the way his eyes locked on her body, told her that he would be in no mood to be denied.
“I need to put on my special things,” she said.
“I don’t care right now.”
“You always let me get ready for you. It makes me feel good.”
“I will let you play your game one more time if you promise me you will be your old self.”
“I promise. I swear it.”
“Then you can even have a bath. I know how you like them. I will wait, but don’t be long. Be sure you get dressed after your bath.” Benoit wondered if he was capable of sex without cutting off a woman’s clothes and playing with his knife.
Benoit went in the bath, turned on the water, then went through the bedroom into a library with a doorway onto the living area. She was ten feet from Gaudet and Trotsky.
“Did you make sure they destroyed the computer?” Gaudet asked Trotsky. “I was very explicit.”
“Get the computer going. I do not like being cut off from the world. I want to make sure we are on schedule. Some of the atomizers were not working properly.”
“Buying more atomizers now would be dangerous. And keeping Benoit Moreau alive is dangerous.”
“The French may be pissed if we kill her. You never know who that woman is screwing.”
“With all respect, that is a rationalization. They wanted Chaperone. They got it.”
“I want to use both the cement trucks and the helicopters and we need some new atomizers to do both.”
“Why did you tell Benoit about the helicopters?” Trotsky was perplexed.
“If somehow she can communicate with the outside, I want them to think that half the plan is the whole plan. The cement trucks by themselves would do enough damage. More than the helicopters.”
“It is crazy to keep this woman alive, even as you think she might betray you. We must kill her.” “I thought that was my decision.” True to form, Trotsky said nothing more. Benoit was convinced she knew enough and that she had to get out. Quickly she went back to the bathroom. Within seconds Gaudet was knocking on the door to make sure she was indeed taking a bath.
Then she heard Trotsky’s angry shouting at Gaudet. The tone was completely uncharacteristic of Trotsky. Immediately she sensed that he had opened the e-mail. True to his word, Sam had not stopped the transaction because she was not safe. By now the French had probably figured out at least part of the puzzle-the part where they get ripped off for two hundred million dollars.
Sam was on a video conference in the New York office of the FBI and they were set up with Jill at Sam’s LA office. They had downloaded the laptop C-drive to LA to Big Brain over the Internet. Both the CIA technicians and the FBI technicians would be present while Grogg worked his magic. Grogg went to a government facility and connected to Big Brain online. Sam wasn’t going to have government people he didn’t know anywhere near his company. Ernie, in New York, was petting Harry as Harry sat in the middle of the conference table and took in the big screen and watched every move that Sam made. Although Ernie tried, Harry didn’t look all that happy with the attention.
“Harry is worried you’ll leave again. I don’t make a good substitute dad,” Ernie said.
“Harry doesn’t like police dogs. Maybe somehow that rubs off on you, Ernie. I don’t know.”
Assistant Deputy Director Dennis Wagner, of the CIA, was seated next to Jill. He’d been to Sam’s LA offices before and was one of the few on Sam’s approved list. Dennis cleared his throat, undoubtedly certain that such banter in the face of national security risks was out of place. An anti-terrorist task force and Homeland Security were also on the call.
“We’re here to discuss the French government, Benoit, and the threat-the so-called Cordyceps plan,” Dennis said. In true bureaucratic fashion Dennis went on to summarize what the government already knew. Although they were con fused about some important details, and didn’t have a clue as to what Benoit Moreau was up to, they seemed to have the rest of the big picture fairly well in hand. Someone had obviously made them eager about Chaperone. Sam was happy to see the government’s high level of interest.
“So far, we know that Gaudet tells Benoit that they are using police helicopters-that’s of interest to the FBI and Homeland Security,” Sam said.
“We’ve got thousands of people literally from all law enforcement agencies checking out every conceivable means of delivering a vapor spray to a populated area,” Ernie said.
“Good. Of interest to the CIA: Benoit says that France has been told that Cordyceps will be unleashed in five days, but, in fact, it will be three. I have asked Figgy Meeks, the representative for France, if he has any new information and he says no,” Sam said. “What does the SDECE say?”
“Well, of course that’s classified, but they are saying noth ing,” Dennis replied. “Simple stonewalling, if your Benoit Moreau is right.”
“She’s right about Baptiste and Larive, that’s for sure.”
“Those are serious charges she’s making,” Dennis ob served.
“She’s a serious woman. She wants asylum in the United
“Asylum from whom?”
“France. She doesn’t like the butter sauce and says it’s hell over there.”
“I thought she wanted a pardon from the French government.”
“Woman is full of surprises. Actually, she thinks that Larive and agent Baptiste are eliciting her cooperation by lying about a possible pardon. At the same time they’re stonewalling us and investing in the markets to take advantage of the coming disaster. I’d call that being accessories to attempted mass murder,” Sam pronounced.
“Let’s pray it remains ‘attempted.’ “
“Amen. Now it’s Ernie’s turn. I promised to put this right in your lap, Ernie. Are you ready? I want you to ask the pres ident of the United States if Benoit Moreau can have protective asylum, if she is a major factor in successfully stopping Cordyceps.”
“Are you mad? I’ve met him once for two seconds.”
“Maybe, but the question is uncomplicated. Will you ask?”
“You can start with the vice president. He has a lot of suck. And I suppose you can go through your boss’s boss, or whatever.”
“I don’t know the law.”
“Damn the law. The president can pardon any U.S. crime; he can refuse to extradite. We could give her asylum.”
“We’d be flying blind. We don’t know all of what she’s done.”
“It’s better than losing a few million Americans. If that happens and you don’t prevent it, when you might have, you’ll be having a reduced pension-goes with disgrace and early retirement.”
“Don’t be an asshole.”
“Dennis, now it’s your turn for some glory. Actually, the entire administration. Call Dr. Carl Fielding at Harvard Uni versity. Ask him how badly he wants Chaperone to be owned by a United States foundation, with Harvard on the board of directors?”
“I can well imagine. But it’s moot. Grace Technologies was the proper owner; now the technology belongs to France. The French are all over it.”
“You’re not listening to me. Think about it. Would I be saying it if it wasn’t possible?”
“For me, ‘possible’ means ‘legal.’ What you’re saying is contrary-“
“To everything you thought. But it’s only what you thought and it’s only what the French government thought. You ask the vice president of the United States if hypotheti cally Benoit Moreau could deliver Chaperone… and be completely legal under international law
… to a U.S. foundation and deliver us from Cordyceps; then could she have asylum and a complete pardon?”
“She can do all that?”
“I’m betting the farm on it.”
“So, this is really about the redemption of Benoit Moreau.”
“And the beatification of the careers of Dennis and Ernie. Don’t forget that.”
Benoit Moreau was losing her faith. We pac maw would not save her from an enraged Gaudet. Once the French discovered the truth, it would take Gaudet only minutes on the e-mail to find out that the French were after his ass and as sume that she was up to something. Trotsky’s suggestion that she be killed sounded appealing in comparison to what Gaudet was capable of.
This bathroom had a window that was latched with rubber- handled, L-shaped locks. Quickly she experimented-they opened enough for her to crawl out and jump, but it was twenty stories down and there were no ledges. She pressed her face to the glass and looked up for a ledge of some sort. What she saw shocked her. A rope led upward to a horizontal surface, apparently the aluminum carriage of a window cleaner’s platform.
“Is anybody up there?” she called.
“Yeah. Sam’s window washers.”
Oh, thank god, she thought. “Hurry!”
After the video conference Sam walked out the door of the FBI building and took a cab. In the cab he placed three calls. One was to the vice president’s staff to grease the skids and to get them reaching down the chain of command, even as Ernie and Dennis were crawling up. The second was to Dr. Carl Fielding. Although he was a Harvard applied mathematician whose expertise was modeling brain func tion, he was familiar with the technology in question and was Sam’s go-between with the internal medicine people interested in Chaperone. Never in Sam’s career had he so seriously risked his reputation. If this didn’t work, he would be finished with big government contracts. And the world would have even greater concerns, he reminded himself.
The third was to Jill.
“Benoit and Gaudet have now moved to a Trump condominium complex. I had probably twenty men around the St. Regis.”
“In three minutes, call Whalen for all the details. He knows more than I do.” He hung up.
Sam dialed Whalen.
“The guys were hanging just above the bathroom window like you said, about to put a mike on the window, and Benoit Moreau called to us. Then somebody grabbed her and that was that.”
“What do you mean somebody grabbed her?”
“Someone inside the apartment. We couldn’t get in touch with you, so we just took a chance and sent everybody out in the open and one team right through the front door.”
“They were gone.”
“Did you check for laundry chutes, under the floor, the walls? They gotta be there.”
“We’re checking. I’ll call and mention laundry chutes and the rest. Shall we rip up the floor and the walls?”
“Tear the place apart.”
“Who the heck is that?” Chandler, one of the guards, asked Michael on a handheld radio.
Michael was looking through the binoculars.
“Who goes sightseeing in November?”
“The way he moves, I’d say we’re looking at a she,” Michael observed.
“Yeah, she looks like a kitten in a toilet. Never seen anything so miserable in my life.”
“How long you think she’s been there?”
“Not long, maybe ten minutes.”
“We’d better send the car over.”
“It would be a dumb-ass kind of trap, but just don’t forget Mr. Gaudet.”
“How could I forget him?”
“I’ll see if I can make the satellite phone work,” Yodo spoke up. “Before you move, we need to tell Sam.”
Yodo went out the door to a small fortification, where an other man sat hidden, caressing a BAR. 30-caliber machine gun. In seconds he had Sam on the phone. Sam advised that Grady was due to arrive, but they should trust nothing and take all due security measures in bringing her across.
There were eight guards at the compound, all armed and trained. They had four outposts fortified with sandbags and rock, and each bunker contained handheld rockets, grenade launchers, and a BAR machine gun. They created a square around the cabins and they were the first line of defense. But they were not always occupied. The men moved around the perimeter and watched, keeping in mind the location of the nearest fortification. There was always one man within twenty yards of each outpost. Although the houses were used during the day, at night they were quietly abandoned for camouflage tents hidden in the dense forest against the mountain. Welcome to paradise.