The black limousine carried us back into downtown, then to the north central section of Los Angeles known as Little Tokyo. Tony Nakamura had controlled most of the vice, drug dealing, and protection racket in Little Tokyo for fifteen years and was now making inroads into Little Korea and Chinatown as well. He was in the middle of a gang-war from three sides of the city and winding through the tight and narrow streets, in an armored limousine was something he and his people did as a matter of course. The limousine finally slowed in front of a non-descript three-story-tall, pagoda-styled building, trimmed in gold-leaf.
As soon as the car had come to a stop, the rear door nearest Gail and I was opened and we were ordered out. We were escorted inside by four heavily armed men, two in front and two trailing behind. I slowed after entering the front door and was immediately shoved ahead by the same man who'd ordered me out of the Interceptor, outside Elaine Ford's lab.
"This is starting to get old," I said to Gail.
"No talking," Pushy said, emphasizing the point with the gun barrel to my ribs, yet again.
"Keep jamming that thing in my ribs and I'm gonna' feed it to you," I shot back.
"You can try."
I suddenly brought my right elbow around in a sweeping arc and caught him just under his right eye. As he started down, I seized the gun in his hand and bent the fingers back until they cracked. He screamed. A moment later I had the gun cleanly in my own hand and pointed at his face. Around me, the three others had their guns trained on Gail and I.
"I told you," I said to the man, grasping his broken fingers, while kneeling on the floor in front of me.
"Chandler, put the gun down," Gail said to me.
I smiled. "Let that be a lesson to you. You don't want to piss me off!"
I flipped the pistol over and offered it to him butt first. He reached for it with his good left hand. I thumbed the magazine release and heard it clatter to the floor. The man reached for the magazine. I brought my right foot across in a sweeping kick and sent him down hard, again.
I turned to the three others with their guns trained on Gail and I. "Take me to Mr. Nakamura."
The three remaining guards formed a triangle around Gail and I, two behind and one in front. The one in front led us through a heavy door, down a long narrow corridor, then through a second door at the end of it.
"Are we in danger?" Gail asked.
"That remains to be seen."
The room we'd entered was large, with thick sisal pads on the floor. In front of us, Tony Nakamura was in the midst of fending off four men. As I watched, I marveled at the way he moved. I've seen many martial artists over the years, but Tony Nakamura was the most effortless and fluid of them all. He almost seemed to move in slow motion as he sent each man crashing to the floor.
Afterwards, each of the four stood. The four bowed and Tony returned it.
"Very good, gentlemen," Tony said. "It was a most engaging battle."
The four men walked past Gail and I and left the room.
"What did you think of my little contest just now?" Tony asked, draping a towel around his neck.
"You talking to us?" I asked.
"We are the only ones in the room."
I looked behind me. The three gunmen had gone with the fighters.
"What did you think?" Tony repeated.
"I think you were showing off, Tony. I also think you were a little slow when the last one attacked you from behind. Being slow like that on the street can get you killed."
Tony turned to face Gail and I, mopping the sweat from his un-lined face with the towel around his neck. He frowned. "I think you're right. I lost concentration for a moment."
"What was it Master Lin always told us?"
"'Anyone can fight. The man who sees without seeing, hears without hearing is the one who cannot be defeated in battle.'"
"He always told us that right before he boxed our ears for not paying attention, if I remember correctly!"
Tony smiled, then laughed out loud. "That was a long time ago!"
"And in a much different time!" I said.
He came towards us and gripped me by the shoulders. "How are you, my old friend?!"
"I've been better."
"So I have heard!" Tony said. He saw Gail, released the vise like grip from my shoulders. "And who is this lovely, young creature?"
"This is my associate, Miss Gail."
Tony bowed slightly. Meeting her eyes, he spoke words to her in a language I'd never heard before.
Gail raised her eyebrows in surprise, nodded and answered in the same language.
"Very good!" Tony smiled. "Pleased to meet you Miss Gail."
She offered her right hand. Tony took it, bent to kiss it. He stopped. "You are shael na fahr?"
"Yes," Gail answered.
I glanced at Gail's right hand. For the first time I noticed the faint outline of a tatoo on the back of her hand. The tatoo appeared to be a dragon of some sort, but was so pale against her skin I could barely see it.
"Fascinating," Tony said. He kissed her hand and spoke the strange, lilting language again.
Gail nodded. "Yes, they are."
Tony seemed lost in thought for a moment. He turned back to me. "I suppose you're wondering why I had you brought here?"
"The thought had crossed my mind a time or two, on the way over," I said.
Tony chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully. "I wish to thank you."
"'Thank me' for what?" I asked.
"You have removed a problem for me. A rather short, bad tempered, and uncouth problem."
"You're talking about Gino the Giant?"
"Precisely," Tony said.
I gazed evenly at Tony. "Don't get too comfortable, old friend. You're next on my list!"
Tony chuckled. "Still the goody-goody I see."
"There's nothing 'goody-goody' about it. I'm right and you're wrong. That's all."
"You know this man well, Chandler?" Gail asked.
"Chandler and I grew up together, Miss Gail. We took karate classes together and used to boost boxes of apples and other fruit from the Farmers Market, when we were kids and sell them on the street for extra money," Tony explained.
"Until I got caught and I got punished for it."
Gail met my eyes. "You stole?"
I nodded. "And had to work sweeping up at the market for a whole summer to pay for what I took, too. You have any idea how big that place is?"
"What we took," Tony corrected. "I was just as guilty as Chandler, but he never told anyone about me. He took all the blame himself."
"I didn't tell because I was waiting for you to do the honorable thing and turn yourself in. You didn't."
"There is no honor in getting caught, nor in the punishment afterwards," Tony said. "Besides, that was a long time ago and you can't still be holding that against me!"
"I worked my ass off because of you!" I said. "On top of that I had to deal with my father's friends knowing that his son was a petty thief! A bad, petty thief!"
Tony walked across the room, a million miles away. "Do you still practice?"
"Not as much as I should. No time."
"You were the only one who could ever take me, you know."
Tony nodded. "I only saw three of my men bring the two of you in."
"Number four was rude to my friend and I. I made him apologize."
"I told them not to hurt you."
"Apparently he was hearing without hearing."
Tony faced me. "And I, my friend, have heard things about you."
"What kind of 'things'?"
"You are wanted by the police. They say you killed men."
"Do you believe them?"
"I believe you would kill only to protect yourself or those close to you," Tony answered, glancing at Gail.
"Why am I here Tony? No more beating around the bush."
"I wish to offer you my services."
"What are you talking about?"
Tony began to pace the room. "I can always use a man like you in my organization, Chandler. You think fast and you know how to use your fists and a gun. You can also be ruthless when the situation calls for it."
"I don't want to work for you, Tony," I said, shaking my head.
"The police will find you and you will go away to prison or to the gallows for what you have done. I can protect you from the police. And from the others who are looking for you."
I smiled. "It's not my way. You and I are on different sides of the old good versus evil debate. I could no more go to work for you, than you give up the life you've been leading all these years."
Tony faced me. "Damn you and your bullheadedness! I offer you a way out and you spit in my face!"
"It isn't my way to run from a fight, Tony. Not when I've lost so much."
Tony seemed to think that over. "It is the honorable thing to do, to find those who took from you and repay them in kind, even if Master Lin would not agree."
I met him halfway across the sisal matted floor. "That's what I was attempting to do before I was so rudely interrupted. How the devil did you know where I was, anyway?"
"I have many sets of eyes in this city. When I heard of your troubles, I let it be known that I would like to see you."
"You paid off the cops."
"One particular cop who is on my payroll and has been for quite some time. You were reported as going through a checkpoint near Oxnard by this officer and were followed. When you came out of the Bainbridge Clinic, my men were waiting for you."
"You've gone to an awful lot of trouble to find me Tony, just to say thanks. What aren't you telling me?"
"These men you seek, these former federal agents..."
"Thaddeus and Henry," I furnished.
"Yes, Thaddeus and Henry," Tony seemed far away again as he spoke. "What are their lives worth, to you?"
"Tony, I really don't have time to play these little games with you. Get to the point or send me back to where I came from."
"What would it be worth to you, if I gave them to you?"
I met his even gaze with one of my own. "Name your price."
He nodded. "Very well. I want the investigators notes from the police department pertaining to my operations here in Little Tokyo."
"You don't want much!" I offered.
"It is a small thing for the ones who have caused you and Miss Martinez's family such grief."
"What makes you think I can get you those police files?"
Tony smiled. "Your ability to get what you want, compares admirably to my own. You have sources inside the department that I don't and if need be, you could have those notes inside of an hour."
"You don't actually think I would steal files from an ongoing police investigation and give them to you, do you?"
"Yes, I do."
I stared into his dark eyes for a long moment, then shook my head. "No deal!"
"Chandler..." Tony started.
"I once thought I would do whatever it took to find the ones who did this to Velma. If there is a devil, I'd sell my soul in a second flat to get at them, but I can't do what you ask. Not when what you want would quite probably end up getting other friends of mine killed."
"This is not a request Chandler," Tony warned.
"If you think the idea of death frightens me, it doesn't. If you want to kill me, go right ahead and do it. Kill me yourself Tony, because that's the only honorable way to do it, the only way I would respect you as a man!"
His eyes hardened. "I can have the girl killed too. Afterwards."
"If you truly believe I am what I say, then you know death means little to me as well, Mr. Nakamura," Gail suddenly added.
Tony's steely eyes flitted from Gail, back to me. "Damn you anyway!"
"Are we done here?" I asked.
Tony shook his head. "Just when I think I have you figured out, you surprise me again!"
"I like to keep people guessing."
"I do know where they are," Tony said.
"The price is too high," I said.
After a moment he sighed. "Is your friend expected to live?"
He turned away and stared at his feet. "The men you seek are out of the city. Do you know a place called Vasquez Rocks?"
"Yes, I've heard of it."
"The two of them are there, hiding in an old cabin three quarters of a mile from a place called the Devil's Anvil."
"And their families?"
"They were flown out late yesterday afternoon by private plane. My sources report they are now on the ground in Hong Kong, waiting for their husbands and fathers to join them."
"They are being flown out tomorrow morning."
"Who's the pilot?"
"I don't know him."
"Is he one of Governor Taylor's men?"
Tony raised an eyebrow at that. "Yes."
"Thank you, Tony."
"What are you going to do?"
"Go find them and make sure they pay for their crimes."
"They have friends in very high places," Tony offered.
He stared at me for a moment, in silence. "Even if you find them, what makes you think they'll ever stand trial for what they've done?"
"I don't know that for certain, but I have to believe they will. For my own sanity, if nothing else."
"If you need men, I can..."
"No Tony, I have to do this on my own. You and I both know that the fewer people who know of an operation, the better. There are always men who are willing to listen to a better deal."
"I do know that," he said.
I extended my right hand to him. "Thank you for telling me."
"I now consider that debt from our childhood repaid," Tony sighed, "and feel like I have just sent my oldest and dearest friend, off to his death."
"I'm not dead yet!"
"No, you're not," Tony said, taking my hand. "Be careful, my friend."
I nodded. "I hope you realize, this doesn't give you a pass for all the bad things you've done in this city. I still intend to see you behind bars, Tony!"
Tony smiled. "I would not expect otherwise from you!"
It was nearing ten o'clock in the morning when Gail and I were dropped off at the Bainbridge Clinic. Gail and I had stayed silent for much of the trip back to Oxnard, each lost to the privacy of our own thoughts. We made our way through the electronically locked front doors and took the elevator up to the fourth floor.
The door opened on the fourth floor and we stepped out. Sabina Griffith was waiting just down the corridor from the bank of elevators for us.
"Are you two okay?" she asked.
"Fine," I said. "You look worried."
"I wonder why!" Sabina said as we followed the corridor and pushed through the doors at the end of it, leading into Elaine Ford's lab. "The two of you have been gone for hours. I thought maybe the police had caught up to you or something!"
"A friend of Chandler's wanted to see us," Gail said.
"What friend?" Sabina asked.
"Tony Nakamura," I answered.
Elaine Ford looked up from the reports in front of her. "The gangster?"
"That's the one," I nodded.
"What did he want?" Sabina asked.
"Later," I said. "What do you have for us, Elaine?"
Elaine glanced my way. "I'm running some things through the bio-computer. The results should be back shortly."
"I don't like giving reports without all the information at hand. Check back with me in ten minutes or so."
"Look, you don't walk around carrying a gun without bullets in it and I don't give half-assed answers to complex questions. See me in ten minutes!"
Elaine managed a trace of a smile. "Sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you just now."
I waved it away. "Forget it."
"I don't suppose you brought food back with you, did you?"
I smiled. "In all the excitement I kinda' forgot."
Elaine shook her head. "Now you're sounding like me!"
I chuckled. "Sabina, could I talk to you for a minute."
I left Gail with Elaine and went across the lab to the windows overlooking the ocean.
"You two really okay?" Sabina asked.
"Aside from a sore elbow I'm fine."
"Forget it," I said. "I found them."
"Thaddeus and Henry?"
I nodded. "They're holed up in an old state recreational area a couple hours drive from here."
"How did you find them?" Sabina wondered.
She faced me with a puzzled expression on her face. "The local Yakuza king-pin told you where to find them? What did you have to give him in return?"
"Not as much as he wanted."
"What do you want to do?"
"Take a little road trip. You interested in coming along?"
"You need the help don't you?"
I smiled. "We have to move fast though. Their families are already out of the country and they will be too by tomorrow morning."
"Any idea how?"
"According to Tony, by private plane, paid for by our esteemed Governor Taylor."
Sabina raised her eyebrows at that. "So he is involved."
"Hip deep, if what Tony says is true."
"Can you trust this Tony?"
"He could've killed Gail and I when I turned down what he wanted in exchange for the information he gave me, but he let us walk away. I've known him for most of my life and if he says Governor Taylor is involved and Thaddeus and Henry are on their way out of the country, I believe him. You can take the information to the bank."
Sabina nodded. "We have another problem."
"What is it this time?"
"The police are looking for the car. I called Kenny to give him a head's up as to what's going on here and he said the description of the car is all over the city law enforcement net."
"I'm surprised we got away with using it for this long," I sighed. "How's he coming with those photos?"
"He wants to see us as soon as possible."
"Okay. We get done here and then slide on down to see Kenny."
Sabina faced out the window. "What are we gonna' do when we get Thaddeus and Henry?"
"We haven't gotten them yet," I shrugged.
"Chandler!" Elaine Ford called from the other side of the lab. "I have those results now."
Sabina and I hurried to join Gail and Elaine at the work station.
"Tell me," I said.
"The people who worked on this problem for Gail's people back then were quite correct. There was something more than insecticide in what those farmers sprayed on their fields, twenty some years ago."
I saw Gail bow her head and close her eyes. "What was it?" I asked.
"Have you ever heard of a binary?"
"You mean like in a number?"I asked.
"No," Elaine shook her head. "This is something entirely different. Back in the late 1950's the American government developed a nerve toxin/poison gas called a binary agent. Either part, singularly, could make you sick. Mix the two parts together though, and it was deadly."
"And that's what this thing was?"
"It appears to be so. I found the traces-very minute traces-of two chemicals in Gail's blood. One was the main ingredient of a commercially available pesticide, while the other was something else entirely. Both chemicals, after so many years, were broken down enough not to be harmful to her any longer. But--" Elaine moved the stacks of printouts on the counter-top in front of her aside and picked up a sheaf of light-blue colored paper that the bio-computer had just spit out, and unfolded the sheets, "-while I was waiting for some of the other tests to finish, I ran this analysis from a small sample of her blood. It's the toxin in it's purest form."
"You broke it down that far?" I asked.
"Of course I did. That's what I do for a living," Elaine answered.
I studied the sheets of paper in front of me. "I can't make heads or tails of this."
"What do you want to know?"
I glanced at Gail. She still had her eyes closed and appeared to be very far away.
"How difficult would it be to synthesize a new batch of this stuff ?" Sabina asked.
"Once you break down the chemical properties of the toxin, it's fairly easy to produce. Less than twenty cubic centimeters of this toxin mixed with it's binary agent would kill Gail outright and make the rest of us very sick."
"But if that's the case, wouldn't it have killed Gail originally?'" I asked.
"In it's original form, no. This toxin is an insidious little bastard in that it attached itself directly to Gail's genetic structure and has lain dormant there for twenty plus years. If the two-part toxin as it's currently presented here, were to be manufactured and suddenly turned loose upon the general population, en masse..."
"It would be bad?" Sabina asked.
"It would be a catastrophe," Elaine answered. "When the toxin was originally sprayed, Gail was immune because she wasn't one hundred percent elf. In the intervening years it's become almost a part of her. During that time, it's remained in her elfen DNA. But-and it's a rather large, nasty one-the toxin has mutated, undergone a subtle change. As it stands right now, the newer, mutated toxin would kill every elf male, female, and child in the republic. All you'd have to do is combine it with the other part of the binary and you'd have instant-or nearly instant-death."
"How would you deliver such a thing?" Sabina asked.
"Any number of ways," Elaine said. "You could put it in the water supply, put it in food, even spray it on the grass at the playground. We had an insect infestation here in the city a couple of years ago, a borer beetle that was killing oak trees. They sprayed the city with helicopters to kill the borer beetle. The insecticide they used was a derivative of the same one sprayed on the crops in Fresno twenty years ago."
"You don't think..."
Elaine shook her head. "No. The particular insecticide used was simply mixed with water and sprayed over the city. The reactions were no more serious than a few skin and lung irritations."
"You have to destroy it," Gail said, her voice so far away it was barely able to be heard inside the tomb-quiet room.
"Gail?" Sabina asked.
Gail opened her eyes. "You have to destroy what you've discovered. What you hold in your hands is the death of my people. All of my people."
"Gail, I assure you I would never do anything to harm another soul," Elaine said. "This is pure research on my part."
"That is you, Elaine," Gail said, meeting her eyes. "Others would not be so reticent to use what you've found."
I glanced at Gail. "Elaine means what she says."
"I do not doubt her words, Chandler. Because of some freak of nature, my body has created the one thing that your race can use to destroy us. Knowing it exists as a part of me, makes my life less worthy than it already is."
"What are you talking about, Gail?" Sabina asked.
"If Elaine could find the structure of this 'toxin' from so small a sample of my blood in a few hours time, there is only one thing for me to do. I must die and you must destroy every trace of me."
"Now hold on a minute!"Elaine said.
"Gail..." Sabina started.
The young dancer with the violet eyes held up her hand. "It is the only way to make sure no one uses me, to kill my race!"
"Gail, we're not..." Elaine started.
"...about to let you kill yourself!" I said, loudly enough to be heard over them. "I'm sorry, but there are always other options!!"
Elaine, Sabina, and Gail quieted and turned to look at me.
"I have no intention of allowing you to kill yourself Gail, so get that out of your head right now!" I said.
"Chandler..." Gail started.
"No!" I shook my head. "Elaine, I gather this thing is man-made."
"Yes," Elaine confirmed. "It's laboratory created."
"How difficult would it have been synthesizing the original toxin?"
"It would've taken at least several years and quite a bit of money."
"What about equipment?"
"It would have had to have been a secure lab, outfitted with isolation rooms and test facilities. Once the toxin was synthesized, they would have also needed production facilities to manufacture enough of it for a control group."
"'A control group'?" Sabina asked.
"Yes. While the toxin was being synthesized and the binary tested, they would've used individual subjects to study the various physiological effects each 'new' batch had. Once they learned what those effects were, they would've needed a larger, more diverse population to study."
"Gail's people," Sabina furnished.
"Yes. They would have been the control group," Elaine nodded.
"This is-Jesus Christ!!" I said, shaking my head again.
"You said 'individual test subjects'?" Sabina asked.
"Yes. Normally it would've been computer models and in the cases of some unregulated labs, animals. In this case it would have been..." Elaine looked away.
"...my people. Individuals from my home, " Gail finished the thought.
I rubbed my tired eyes. "All of this was twenty years ago. Why have there not been any more cases of mass death, like in Gail's people's case?"
"Who's to say there haven't been?" Sabina said. "This isn't a free society; if someone wanted something hushed up and kept out of the news, it wouldn't have been all that difficult to keep it quiet. The story of Gail's people should be proof enough of that!"
"I don't know if I'd agree with you, Sabina," Elaine said. "It could be something as simple as the controlled experiment failed."
"But all the people from my home-they're dead," Gail's voice contained a deep sadness.
"I know," Elaine said. "I think the experiment probably failed because-from what you were telling me-it took too long to kill those infected by it. They were looking for something quick and deadly and this one didn't meet the requirements."
"And you have just decoded the chemical structure of an even deadlier batch of the same stuff!" Sabina said, after a moments silence.
"Sabina!" I warned.
"She needs to destroy it, Chandler. Destroy it and forget she ever saw it," Sabina said. "Gail's correct; if this thing ever got loose, hundreds of thousands of innocent souls would die!"
I met Elaine's eyes. "Am I correct in assuming that certain biological agents had antidotes for them, some kind of inoculation or pill you could take?"
"Yes. Anthrax, smallpox, polio, several others were either cured out right or could be inoculated against."
"What about our little bugaboo here?"I indicated the printout.
"It would be difficult, but possible."
"Yeah, anyone can make poison gas. That's the easy part!" Sabina said.
"Dammit Sabina, you're not helping!" I growled.
Elaine let a little smile touch her lips. "It's okay, Chandler. Sabina is correct in what she says. The military throughout the twentieth century did the same thing. They'd come up with some new pesticide or herbicide for war-time jungle use and say it was safe. Twenty years or more later, the one's exposed to it would start to have health problems, even die from it. Their own government would lie to them, look them right in the eye and tell them there was no cause for alarm and that there was no problem. Soldiers would be inoculated against anthrax before going into battle and be debilitated by the vaccine years later, after being told it was safe to use. Sabina is right; as long as this exists, Gail and every other elf race is in danger. As long as my notes about the toxin exist, they can be found and used. If that should ever occur, we would need something to counteract the effects of what I've-found, here today."
"I did not mean to sound as though I were blaming you for any of this, Elaine," Sabina offered, after a long moment of silence. "You were only doing what we'd asked you to do. I'm sorry."
"As am I," Gail added.
Elaine shook it away. "No offense was taken. Sometimes I'm a little too inquisitive for my own good. This is a good example of one of those times."
"It's part and parcel of your job description as a molecular biologist," I told Elaine as I rested my hands on the counter top. "The next obvious question is who synthesized the original batch."
"And why," Sabina added.
"The 'why' is easy: the only reason you make something like this is to kill people. As for 'who' did it, I can only postulate a few things for you, based upon what I've seen of it's chemical composition and properties," Elaine said.
"Fire away," I nodded.
Elaine faced the three of us, gathered in a semi-circle around her. "It's sophisticated on a genetic level, so that tells me the people who created it weren't just average, garden variety drug-lab chemists. Working on any type of nerve agent or poison gas, you have to be very careful, which means that the lab the 'biological toxin' was created in would've been state of the art."
"And hidden," Sabina said.
"Not necessarily hidden, Sabina. Sometimes the best hiding place is right in plain sight," I told her.
"I think I'll have to agree with Sabina on this one Chandler," Elaine shook her head. "The lab would've had to have been isolated and more than likely, underground."
"Why underground?" I wanted to know.
"Simple-one little foul-up and you've created something that could kill you and everyone else around you. The best way to keep something quiet and make sure-in the case of an accident-that what you're working on doesn't get loose and kill all the wrong people, is complete isolation. Complete isolation in this case means an underground complex with an air scrubber system and labs and production facilities that are under total lock-down. Also, it would have had to have been-should anything untoward happen-a place that could've been closed down and sealed up with a minimum of notice."
"Wouldn't that have been hideously expensive?" Sabina asked.
"Not if the underground buildings already existed," I offered.
Elaine glanced at me. "What are you talking about?"
"Can I use your phone?"
"Certainly," Elaine nodded, a puzzled frown on her pretty face.
"I may have an answer for you in a couple of minutes," I said. I left the three of them at the table and went to the phone hanging on the wall, nearest the door. I dialed the Watt's Information Technology Centrex and asked for Kenny Baltimore.
"I've got a question for you."
"Hello and good morning to you too, boss!" Kenny chuckled.
"Sorry. Hello, and do you have a few minutes to answer a question for me?"
Kenny laughed "Sure. Ask away."
"Thanks," I said. "I remember you telling me about this underground place you were looking into acquiring once."
"Not me-a friend of mine. I hate the idea of having all that dirt over my head! Feels too much like a grave to me!"
"Okay, a friend of yours. Tell me about this place again."
"Sure. My friend is one of those end-of-the-world religious zealots. A few years back, when that asteroid passed within a million or so miles of the Earth, he and a lot of his followers started looking for a place in which to wait out the fast approaching apocalypse."
"I remember that part. You said he and thirty or forty others bought this old missile launch complex or something," I prompted, trying to cut him off before he gave me the complete War and Peace length version of the story.
"Yeah. It had once been a Pershing III nuclear missile, launch facility."
"And if I understood you correctly, there were lot's of these old nuclear missile launch sites throughout California."
"You did listen!" Kenny chuckled. "Yes, there were several hundred of them. Most American's at the time thought the United States military only had these launch sites located in the mid and upper mid-west. California had them too, along the coastal highlands, in the desert, even in the San Joaquin Valley."
"The San Joaquin Valley? That's interesting. Tell me about this place your friend bought."
"It wasn't all that special. When the military stripped out all the hardware and removed the missiles, it was basically a big, concrete hole in the ground."
"Well, if you added up all the square footage inside one of them, I guess maybe ten to twenty thousand square feet," Kenny said.
"How far underground were they?"
"Seventy, eighty feet. Something like that."
"Were there any of these launch complex's near Fresno?"
"Sure. The 1488th Air Force Bombardment Wing was located very near there."
"What did they do?"
"They were known as the 'Watchtower Wing' because if a nuclear attack came from across the ocean, from either China or Korea, the 1488th would have been the first to launch their missiles. Each of their missiles carried six Multiple-Independently-targeted-Re-entry-Vehicles. That's military speak for nuclear warheads, usually ranging from one hundred kilo-tons to ten mega-ton big boomers."
"You said they were headquartered 'very near' Fresno."
"Yes. When things started going to shit back in the 2050's, the government built a new base out to the east of Fresno and consolidated the command of all of their nuclear units on the west coast, to that base. It would still take a presidential order to launch the nuclear missiles, but just in case the east got sneak attacked by submarines off the Atlantic coast and the president was out of the loop, the new base in Fresno was given the power to act as a defacto government in said case and send an immediate and devastating reply. It almost happened too, when the old United States started falling apart. The only saving grace is that the 1488th had men in command who understood the gravity of any action they would take," Kenny explained. "Nobody wins in a nuclear war and with the missile defense system only managing to shoot down four out of every ten incoming missiles..."
"So what happened to all the bombs and missiles?"
"The bombs and warheads are stored in deep underground bunkers. Most of the missiles were destroyed when they were taken off line, though I suppose some of them are still around."
"I gather that if this place outside Fresno was the main command and control center for nuclear weapons on the west coast, then they had to have had an underground complex that would've been impervious to a nuclear blast," I said.
"To all but the most powerful ground-burst, yes. The main facility was about four to five times larger than the missile 'silo's' themselves, because if a war started, you needed a lot of men and women in a semi-safe place to answer in kind."
"Any idea what happened to that much-larger complex?"
"I guess it was abandoned like all the others were, way back when."
"Could it have been taken over by another branch of the republic government?" I asked.
"Sure. It happened all the time with old facilities like that. Mount Weather in Virginia, and the hide-out for the Congress under the hotel at White Sulphur Springs West Virginia were both given to other governmental agencies when The Cold War thawed. Hell, one of them even became a tourist trap and you could hold business conferences in it's rooms!"
"'Thanks' for what?"
"You may have just given me a major piece of the puzzle."
"Yeah. I need you to look into something for me."
"Find out if the Fresno Agricultural Control District either took over, or bought that old control complex."
"It shouldn't be that difficult to find out. Governments aren't exactly careful when it comes to leaving paper trails," Kenny said.
"Can you find out as soon as possible and call me back here?" I asked.
"Sure. What's this all about Chandler?"
"I'll tell you when I see you later on. Here's the number-wait-Elaine, is this a private line?"
Elaine Ford nodded. "Yes. It comes directly to the lab, bypassing the central switchboard."
"Great! Take this number Kenny, and get back to me right away." I read it to him and he repeated it.
"Give me about five minutes," Kenny said and hung up.
"What was that all about?" Sabina asked, joining me at the phone.
"If things pan out, I think I may have found the lab Elaine was talking about."
"The one that made the toxin?"
"Yep." I lowered my voice. "How's Gail?"
"How would you be doing in her place? I think for the longest time she thought, but didn't want to believe, that human beings were responsible for the deaths of all of those in her homeland. Now that she knows that human beings killed her family and all the others ..."
"I'm finding it a little difficult to believe, myself. It's so senseless, so stupid!"
"Like you said earlier: 'nothing human beings do, surprises me.'"
The phone rang. I picked it up.
"What did you find out?" I asked as soon as I heard Kenny's voice.
"You were right. The Fresno Agricultural Control District purchased the base from the federal government for next to nothing to store old files in. They got the entire main control complex and several smaller, ancillary bases in the deal."
"Including the one that would later become a plant research station, I'll bet."
"You got it. The very same one that Alicia Denniston stands accused of blowing up, with that group of 'radicals' Thaddeus and Henry told you about."
"Need anything else?"
"Not for now. How did you do on those satellite pictures?"
"You have to see them. My new code did the trick. I amaze myself sometimes!"
I glanced at the clock on a nearby wall. "Give us about two hours and we'll be down."
"Got it. Later boss," Kenny said and hung up again.
I turned back to the three waiting at the lab table. "Would seventy or eighty feet underground be good enough, Elaine?"
She nodded. "More than 'good enough'. What did you just find out?"
"It all goes back to something Danny Raines told me when I found him. Gail comes from a little valley near Fresno. Sabina came to me and hired me to find Alicia Denniston and it turns out the BSS and ISP are both looking for Alicia Denniston because they say she and a group of normally peaceful protestors fire-bombed the main Fresno Agricultural Control District research sub-station that's less than ten miles from where Gail's people used to live. Danny Raines' said something to me and those words have stuck in my craw ever since: he said, 'It was a research station all right, but they wasn't growing corn!'"
"The republic government made this-this-poison?" Elaine asked.
"It looks like! I don't believe in coincidence and there are way too many of them popping up in this case," I said. "Everything we've done so far, leads right back to Fresno and what happened there, twenty plus years ago."
"This is the government we're talking about Chandler," Elaine said. "Secrets are transitory, government secrets even moreso."
"Maybe it wasn't the entire government."
Sabina glanced at me. "'The Invisible Brotherhood'?"
Elaine looked puzzled. "The what?"
"'The Invisible Brotherhood' is a name assigned by the ISP to a white supremacist/humans first group inside the federal government. The ISP was looking into the extent of their activities relating to a number of things when the investigation was killed by someone very high up the chain of command," Sabina said.
"Those racist idiots are still around?" Elaine asked.
"Since the bombings of police headquarters and the criminal courts building, the intelligence reports I've seen say humans first and white supremacy are both on the rise," I offered.
"But isn't that counterintuitive if you're a member of a minority race yourself, to step on other peoples freedoms by joining something as stupid as the 'human's first' movement?" Elaine asked, plainly not liking what she'd just heard.
"Fear and ignorance can make even the most sensible person do things they'd never otherwise think of," Sabina told her. "It cost me a career and everything else I believed in."
"How would they have been able to keep this little 'project' of theirs secret for so long?" Elaine asked.
Gail answered. "If there is no one around to ask questions of, who knows a crime has been committed?"
The pain of her words stopped us all.
Sabina reached out and slipped an arm around Gail's shoulders."If it means anything to you, we now know and we won't rest until we find out who did this."
Gail nodded. "All I can say is thank you and it doesn't seem enough."
"When you tested Gail's blood, you said you detected minute traces of a commercially available pesticide along with the toxin. If this stuff was sprayed when Gail was a little girl, the amount must have been huge," I said.
"I think you misunderstood me, Chandler. There is only one way that traces of a pyrethrin based insecticide could have remained in both her blood and genetic structure for this long a period of time-the insecticide is the second part of the binary toxin I've been talking about. They made this stuff so that you could mix it with off the shelf ingredients out in the field! With the original binary being non-toxic to humans, all you had to do was take the standard precautions while loading the spray rig and you had an instant poison!"
I met her eyes. "How difficult would it be for you to erase everything you have on the bio-comp about the analysis you did on Gail's blood here this morning?"
"Not difficult at all. Why?"
"Until we get this thing sorted out, I think you had better come with us," I said.
Elaine seemed ready to argue the point for a moment, but nodded instead. "You're probably right. Tony Nakamura's people know you came here. If someone should figure out who Gail is and where she's from, it wouldn't be too far a stretch for them to guess why you brought her here. In that case, I would be a highly sought after property."
"Where are you going to take me?"
"The one place I know it would take an army to get to you in: The Watts Technology Information Centrex."
Elaine nodded a second time. "Give me ten minutes to expunge everything and to destroy the soft copies."
I stood next to Elaine and glanced across the room. Gail and Sabina walked to a soapstone sink in the back of the lab and were talking quietly. "Don't destroy everything."
"I'll run myself off a copy of the genetic sequencing reports and chemical breakdowns, then delete the rest."
"As long as nothing is recoverable here in the lab."
"Nothing will be when I get done with it," Elaine said.
"You know most of the scientists and researchers in this field. Is there anybody out there that you know who'd do something like this?"
Elaine shook her head. "No."
"Not even if someone threw all the money in the world at them?"
"I'm glad to say I don't associate myself with those kind of 'researchers'!"
"I know you don't and I didn't mean to imply otherwise. I thought maybe you might've heard something. Scuttlebutt, rumor, something like that."
Elaine glanced at me and shook her head. "Nothing. Whoever did this, had a tight lid clamped down on the entire project. That tells me that it had to be government financed."
"There is one other possibility..."
"You mean once the project was finished, the people in charge made sure there wouldn't be any witnesses?"
"Yeah, I think Gail was probably right on with her comment," I rubbed my tired eyes and yawned. "So, I gather I've put a little excitement back in your life again?"
I chuckled. "I'll need one other favor from you."
"The police have the description of my car out over the city-wide net..."
"You can use mine."
I nodded. "This may take a few days to wrap up; will you be able to get away from here for that long without anyone wondering why?"
"I was scheduled to start my vacation in a week or so anyway. I'll just leave a message for the old man and start it a little earlier than I had planned, is all."
"If I'd a known it was gonna' be this serious, I wouldn't have asked you to get involved."
"This is right up my alley Chandler and you know it. You could've asked someone else to run these tests for you, but could you trust them to keep everything secret?"
"You're right and no, I couldn't have trusted anyone else."
"Can I ask you a question?"
"How the hell could anyone have done this?"
"I don't know, but by the time this thing is over with, I damn sure will know!"
Elaine glanced at Gail. "For her?"
"For all of us," I said. "If somebody can do this to Gail's small segment of the population, what's to stop them from coming up with a similar 'biologic' that only works on people with a certain amount of melanin in their skin."
Elaine nodded. "Or people with green eyes and brown hair."
"You need some help?"
"No, I've got it."
I turned to walk away.
"No, but I will be."
After calling Motorhead Mike and letting him know where I'd left the car, we drove Elaine's down to the Watts Information Technology Centrex. Kenny Baltimore greeted us on the 40th floor.
"Sorry about being a little late," I said, as he escorted us through the door of a rather lavish apartment unit.
"I was getting a little worried. I thought maybe the police had gotten you but I checked and there was nothing on any of their comm channels."
"How hot am I right now?"
"They're leaning on folks pretty hard to try and find you," Kenny answered. "Pictures of you, Sabina, and I are all over the city-wide police net."
"Sabina and you?"
"Yeah. Rather good likenesses of the three of us too, if I do say so myself!"
I smiled. "You're liking this way too much Kenny!"
He grinned. "Now you know how I felt when you and your cop friends were always looking for me, way back when!"
I chuckled. "While I'm at it, this is Doctor Elaine Ford. Elaine, this is Kenny Baltimore."
"What's up, Doc?" Kenny said.
"Mr. Baltimore," she shook hands with him.
"Please it's Kenny, not Mr. Baltimore. The only one who ever got called Mr. Baltimore was my fa-no, no one ever called him Mr. Baltimore. They called him everything else, but never Mr. Baltimore!"
Elaine smiled. "I've heard a lot about you."
"Don't believe any of it, 'cause I was out of town at the time!"
"Sabina you know. The young woman beside her is Gail."
"Pleased to meet you."
"You are Chandler's information man?" Gail asked as soon as she had shaken hands with him.
"Among other things."
"I wish to thank you."
Kenny actually appeared to blush. "It's o-okay. What did I do?"
"This is some place," Sabina said, looking around.
"Yeah. Since we're all a little on the wanted side right now, Fez has given us this place as a base of operations until we can get things sorted out," Kenny informed her.
"If the police know of Chandler's relationship with Fez, won't they just come busting in here and take us?" Elaine asked.
"Not likely," Kenny shook his head. "The local authorities have no jurisdiction here. If the feds try anything there would be the biggest firefight this side of the Normandy Invasion. And Fez's people are better armed."
"That's a relief," Elaine sighed. "I think."
"What kind of doctor are you Miss Ford?" Kenny asked.
"Elaine. I'm a molecular biologist and geneticist by trade. I'm also an MD."
"Molecular biology and genetics?" Kenny glanced at me. "So that's what all the questions were about concerning the Fresno Research facility. What did you find out?"
"Later, Kenny. First things first: is there a refrigerator around here we can raid?"
Kenny led us into a spacious kitchen and to a fully stocked 'fridge. I handed him bread, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, and two packages of sliced ham-product.
"In the door."
I found it, passed it out. On the bottom shelf was a six bottle pack of beer. I removed one, then handed the package to Kenny. A little digging and I found a bottle of juice for Gail.
"Dig in everybody!" I said.
An hour later we'd all had enough to eat. Afterwards, Gail left us and wandered over to the large windows overlooking the city. Sabina watched her, a look of concern on her face.
"I feel a lot better," Elaine said.
"Too bad she doesn't," Sabina nodded towards Gail.
"She's had a major piece of bad news. I'm surprised she's held up for as long as she has," I said.
"What kind of bad news?" Kenny asked.
"Maybe you should speak to her, Chandler," Sabina suggested.
I nodded. "Okay. Will the two of you fill Kenny in on what we've found out?"
"Done," Sabina answered.
I left them and went to the windows. Gail had her eyes closed and was resting her right hand against the cool glass.
"It has it's own beauty, you know," Gail said, very softly as I approached.
"This city. From up here, everything looks so calm, so at peace."
"It does. I wish it was as peaceful as it looks."
She faced me. "I am 'okay' Chandler, if a little apologetic."
I managed a puzzled smile. "Why apologetic?"
"I angered you with the talk of suicide on my part. After what has happened to Velma, I had no right to do so. I did not think of anyone else's feelings, only my own. I am sorry for it."
"You and I seem to be spending a lot of time looking out of windows this day."
I chuckled. "True. All the views have been nice, though. "
"Sabina is worried about me?"
"Yes, she is."
"She is a lot like you. There is a hardness about her, but a gentle, caring nature also."
"The female of our species was very often thought to be the nurturer's and care-givers..."
"And the male?"
"The hunters and protectors."
"It is-was-similar for my people."
"I would have liked to have known them," I said, using the elfen term of respect I'd once heard, a long time ago.
Gail met my eyes. "Thank you."
"You look tired. Why don't you get some rest?"
"We are all tired. I will sleep when you and the others do so."
I smiled. "Can I ask you something?"
"You want to know how I ever ended up working for Alf Lockman."
"Yeah. You seem like a bright girl and not the kind Alf usually has working for him."
A trace of a smile touched her lips. "Working at that place allows me a modicum of freedom and the chance to make good money. Alf also protects the young women working for him and isn't as strict about forcing me to take the control drugs as other humans would have been, had I taken other work. It is easy for me to fool him into believing I've taken the correct dosage when I've, in fact, taken much less."
"Yes, but I feel much more alive since I started working there."
"It doesn't bother you dancing-naked in front of all those leering human males?"
"One of the other dancers at the club tells me that the 'dancing naked is the easy part. It's the getting up everyday and living the same old boring life before getting to work that's the hard part!' I've never understood what she meant by that. Perhaps I will, someday."
I smiled again. "You want to take a look at those satellite photographs Kenny's been working on?"
Gail nodded. "Yes, I would like to see them."
The conference room was triangularly shaped, with an oblong black-lacquered table and chairs in the center of it. The wall at the west end glowed with a chiaroscuro of chasing and fading color and it's light gave the austere room a feeling of warmth and serenity.
Kenny took a seat at the far end of the table and slipped the interface controller over his head. He adjusted it, then flipped the eyepiece down over his right eye.
"Everybody ready?" he asked.
Gail, Sabina, and Elaine Ford nodded. "Show us what you came up with, Kenny," I said.
The room darkened and the west wall seemed to come alive with a holographic image of the Earth.
The wall changed to show a high altitude shot of a forest bordered by a mid-sized range of rolling hills.
"What are we looking at?" I asked.
"Using a series of overlays and topographic maps, I identified this area as being twenty six point five miles north-northeast of downtown."
"The ACRP?" Sabina asked.
"Yes," Kenny replied. "This particular photograph shows an area of approximately ten square miles. Under present projections for the size of the ACRP, this area will be in the center and deepest part of the reservoir."
"Any idea when it was taken?"
"More than likely, the fall of the year before construction started. As you can see with this one, the land is untouched."
"How can you tell it was the fall?" Sabina asked.
"Simple Sabina-the trees. The coloring is more brown and yellow around here in the fall. Also, I did a few computations on the angle of the sun and the best 'guess' the computer could come up with was the dates September 10th through October 27th."
"Next photograph," I said.
The photo changed, but only in the most subtle of ways. Where the landscape had once been untouched, there were now twin lines crossing through it.
"That looks like a road," I said.
Kenny nodded. "Pretty fast work too, cutting five miles of road through rough territory like that in such a short period of time."
"How short?" I asked.
"The best estimate the 'frame here could come up with is five weeks."
"Somebody worked hard," Sabina mused.
"Next," I said.
Photograph number three was focused on a 'small' square of cleared land at the end of that new road.
"Interesting. How large is that cleared area in the middle of the photograph?" Elaine asked.
"It's three thousand feet long by sixty feet wide."
"The perfect size for a private aircraft runway," Sabina said.
Kenny shook his head. "I thought so too at first. Then I saw this." The photo displayed on the wall changed a fourth time. The cleared area now had dark splotches coloring it for about half it's length.
I stood up and moved towards the screen. "These the holes you were telling me about a few days ago?"
"How big are they?"
"Sixty or so feet long, maybe ten to twelve feet deep."
"Much too large for any kind of test," I said.
"Way too large," Kenny agreed.
"How can you tell so accurately, how deep they are?" Sabina asked. "The photos were taken at such a high altitude and at such an angle, they could be any size."
"You use the size of the trees or other landmarks around the area as a reference. Then you use the volume of the soil piled around the hole and the length of any shadows stretching away from the piles of soil. Those will give you an approximate size and depth of the holes and the length of shadows will give you the time of day the pictures were taken. I'd say these were taken late in the afternoon, from the length of the shadows the sun was casting," Elaine answered.
Kenny glanced at her. "That's very good, Doctor. Congratulations!"
Elaine smiled. "One of my old boyfriends in college worked as a cartographer. He was very skilled at reading aerial photographs and taught me some of the tricks."
I paced in front of the screen. "So we have this series of freshly dug holes, sixty feet long by ten to twelve feet deep. You usually dig holes to either test for or look for something, which we've already ruled out, or to..."
"...bury something," Sabina finished the sentence for me.
I faced the screen. "To bury what though?"
"What's next, Kenny?" Sabina asked.
The image changed. The piles of soil around the holes were gone and the land was smoothed out.
"What the hell happened to the holes?" I asked.
"They've been filled in," Kenny said. "Filled in and landscaped over."
"That fast?" Sabina asked.
"You can do a lot in five weeks," Kenny offered.
"There weren't any images prior to this one, showing what went into those holes?" Elaine asked.
Kenny shook his head. "I went through several thousand photographs in the Key Hole database and these are the only ones I could find of this area. The list I had to work from had a bunch of others, but they've either been erased or lost over the intervening years. One of the really nifty things about the later Key Hole satellites was the fact that you could change their orbits to concentrate on a particular area. I fed the different orbital heights and coordinates for the ACRP into the 'frame here and it gave me a list of some more photographs. None of those photographs showed what went into the holes either-they were either all taken before the holes were dug, or just after they'd been filled in."
"Dammit!" I swore.
"I did what I could," Kenny said.
Elaine sat forward in her chair. "Can you put up a split screen of the area before the holes were dug and one of after they were dug?"
"Sure," Kenny said. A moment later the images were on the screen.
Elaine studied them for a moment.
"Something Elaine?" I asked.
"I'm not sure. I swear I've seen photographs like these before, but I'm not sure when or where I saw them," Elaine shook her head. "God that bugs me when I can't think of something!"
"Me too," Sabina said.
"How about you, Gail? You ever see anything like these be..."
Gail was staring at the screen in horror. Her lips were moving but no sound came from them.
"Gail? Gail?!" Sabina moved quickly from her seat.
Across the table from Sabina, Gail stood. With terror filling her eyes she pointed at the screen and screamed. The screaming continued until Sabina reached her and Gail crumpled into her arms. A moment later, she was out cold.
I stared at the soft copies of the photographs on the table in front of me until my eyes hurt. Across the room, Kenny Baltimore slept on the couch, while Elaine and Sabina were in the bedroom with a still unconscious Gail.
"Shit Chandler, what are you missing?!" I said, rubbing my overburdened eyes. "There's something in these photos, something that nearly sent Gail off the deep end. What did she see?"
"You talking to yourself again?"
I turned to find Elaine Ford standing behind me, a bottle of beer in hand. "It helps me think."
Elaine smiled. "Want this?"
I took the offered beer. "Thanks. How's Gail doing?"
"She's sleeping soundly."
"May I sit?"
"Pull up a chair," I indicated the one nearest me.
Elaine sat. "I can give you the short understandable explanation, or the long form for doctors only one."
I waved my hand. "Nothing too complicated. I'd be too tired and aggravated to understand it right now."
"She's in emotional shock."
"Yeah, I can understand why! It's not everyday you find out you're the only one of your people left and that every bad thing you've ever imagined about human beings is true!"
Elaine nodded. "Finding that out, combined with the stress of the dreams she's been having and living with the fact that she's an empathic psi in a world full of emotionally overbearing human beings, sent her over the edge."
"How far over?"
"She's very strong, with a lot of mental discipline. I think she'll be fine, once the last vestiges of the mind control drugs are done playing hell with her."
I glanced at Elaine. "Are you sure that's wise, letting Gail come off the drugs completely? I mean, I've heard stories about telepath's developing psychoses after using them for so long, then stopping."
Elaine faced me. "I don't think that'll happen to Gail."
"Huh unh. She's been weaning herself off the drugs for months now. If she were going to develop psychotic tendencies, she would've by now. A little rest and a safe environment and I think she'll be fine."
"I think we all could use a little rest and a safe environment," I offered. "How do you know so much about elf physiology anyway?"
"Bainbridge has been working on a new psi-control drug for elfen telepath's for about a year now. When I first heard about the project, I nearly quit. Old man Bainbridge called me into his office one afternoon and we spent hours arguing and going round and round about the whole idea. I've always believed drugging someone to control who they are is wrong-that's the same old shit that burned the lights out of the eyes of generations of children in the late 20th century with various prescribed psycho-active drugs."
"So let me guess-Bainbridge put you in charge of the program."
"Yeah," Elaine nodded. "He wasn't real fond of the idea of the clinic working on the new control drug either, but the clinic needed the funding to help with some of our other, 'good' programs. I said yes because I believed I might be able to come up with something that wouldn't be as addictive and potentially fatal to it's user as some of the others are."
"I've never thought about that aspect of the psi-control drugs, before. Not until I met Gail anyway."
"Most people probably don't realize how bad the drugs are for their users. Some of the side effects are truly terrible. If they have to use them and I could do anything to make their quality of life better..."
I nodded. "Where's Sabina?"
"Asleep in the chair beside Gail. It's almost as though the two of them have bonded in some way."
I smiled. "Sabina wants to bond with her all right, but not in the way you're thinking!"
Elaine laughed. "You should probably get some sleep. You're getting punchy!"
"I should, but I'm too wound up. The answer is right here, staring me in the face and I'm missing it!"
"You know as well as I do that when you're tired, you make more mistakes. And imagine things that aren't there."
"I know. Time is so goddamn short though!"
Elaine picked up the photo nearest her and studied it with interest. "I sure wish I could think of where I've seen a picture like this before."
"Yeah, it might help..." I suddenly sat forward and began to go through the stack of photographs on the table in front of us. I found the one I was looking for. "Let me see that one again, Elaine."
She handed it to me and I lay the two side-by-side on the table. "You have something?"
"I'm not sure. I wish I had a magnifying glass."
"Be right back," Elaine hurried away and was back in less than a minute with a round, three inch magnifying glass. "Here you are."
"Thanks." I picked up the first of the two photographs. After looking at it for several minutes with the magnifying glass I frowned. "Hmm, that's strange."
"Kenny said these holes were all between ten and twelve feet deep, right?"
"He used the height of the piles of soil stacked beside the hole to come up with the volume of the section of open ground he was looking at and that gave him the size of the hole, depth, width, etcetera."
"The approximate size and depth," Elaine offered. "He could've given an exact size if the satellite people had included all the pertinent information about magnification, scale..."
"Okay, it was the approximate size," I nodded. "Why is it then, that the shadow on the first hole, doesn't look the same as it does on the others? All the holes are in a more-or-less straight line going north-to-south, but the shadows stretching away from the first one, in a west-to-east direction looks 'different'. Like some of the dirt has been pushed back inside the hole or something."
"Let me see that," Elaine said.
I handed her the two satellite photographs and magnifying glass. She looked carefully at both. "Find me an early photo, one taken right after the holes were first dug."
I went through the remaining photographs, found the first in the series and handed it to her.
Elaine went over it very slowly.
"Am I right?" I asked.
Elaine sat back in her chair, staring at the photograph in her hand. "It's not the hole Chandler. There's something there, parked on the edge of the hole."
"Parked on the edge? Are you sure?"
She smiled. "Yeah. See for yourself."
I took the magnifying glass from her and put it on the area she pointed to. Sure enough, there was a vehicle parked there on the edge of the first hole, rear end first. "It looks like a truck. A military truck."
Elaine glanced over my shoulder. "You're right."
"There's some kind of number or lettering on the back of it. What does that look like to you?"
"The first letter looks like an 'A'."
"And the number looks like what-a '7'? 'A7? There's something about A7, but...that's it!"
"A Company, 7th Battalion. The Blood Brigade."
"The Blood Brigade. What the hell is 'The Blood Brigade'?"
"During the North Hills campaign when the city was going for independence, there was a group of commandos under John Taylor led by Bruce Carrington called 'The Blood Brigade'. They were called 'The Blood Brigade because they supposedly never took any prisoners."
"Bruce Carrington. As in Chief of Police Bruce Carrington?"
"One and the same," I nodded.
"So what is it that the military is burying in the middle of a civilian water-works project, twenty miles from nowhere?"
"That's a damn good question. If you'll also notice, there are truck tracks in the mud around two of the other holes, so whatever it is they're burying, wasn't just a truck load or two."
"Not with that many holes dug," Elaine agreed.
"It's too bad we don't have higher mag photographs of the area."
"I know, but at least we have a general time frame of when they started filling in those holes. I sure would like to know what they buried there! You don't cut five miles of road for no reason. Whatever they put there, they never wanted it to be found."
Elaine turned the photograph over. "It says here the photograph was taken in late February of 2073."
"The date would jibe with what Kenny said. If I remember correctly, they started construction of the ACRP that June and it's been going on, ever since."
"And you say this is all tied to the case you're working on, for Sabina?"
"Yeah. Alicia Denniston had Sabina steal files from the ISP relating to an investigation of the so-called 'Invisible Brotherhood.' This same Alicia Denniston is wanted by the federal authorities for the bombing of an Ag research station, that just so happens to be near where Gail grew up and where something that we now know was a poison was sprayed on her people, killing them. Alicia Denniston is missing and her partner in the blackmail scam against Sabina is dead. Danny Raines followed Alicia out here from New York at the behest of Thaddeus and Henry from the BSS and it turns out that Raines was working for the ISP as well," I explained.
"That's a good question. I was gonna' ask him, but he got killed before I got the chance," I shrugged. "My thinking is he was playing both the BSS and the ISP off of each other. He knew Thaddeus and Henry were bad, knew the ISP was out to get them and decided to help the ISP nail them."
"That's honorable," Elaine said.
"Believe me, honor had nothing to do with it. Danny Raines did everything for the money, which is why both Thaddeus and Henry and the ISP were hot to get their hands on him. He double-crossed both sides, took their money and left them high and dry and looking like fools."
"So how does Governor Taylor figure into all of this?"
"I have good, reliable information that Thaddeus and Henry have been on his payroll for quite some time. Tony Nakamura also told me that the pilot who smuggled Thaddeus' and Henry's families out of the country works for Governor Taylor. Plus, both men had healthy bank accounts with far more money in them than they could ever hope to make in a public service job."
"And of course Governor Taylor was the man responsible for getting the Angeles Crest Reservoir Project rolling again, after the previous administration had failed to do so..."
"...when N-LA has more water than it will ever use, from the desalinization plants located on the coast," I finished for her.
Elaine met my eyes. "Now I'm like you: I want to know what's in those holes."
"We can find out."
"Thaddeus and Henry."
"What makes you think they'll talk?"
"They won't have to," I said. "Gail's a three or better on the Brown-McCall scale, telepathically. She can probably get what we need with little or no effort on her part."
"Do you realize what you've just said, Chandler? You want Gail to throw away all the emotional training she's gone through over the years, to throw away all the mental discipline she's lived with her entire life, so that she can pull the answers to a couple of questions from someone else's mind!"
"I won't permit it."
I frowned. "As far as I can see, the decision is hers."
"Not in the fragile state she's in. You ask her to do this, it could break her down completely. You were worried about psychosis earlier; if Gail does this in her present frame of mind, it could trigger a full blown psychotic episode, one she may never recover from!"
"It's her decision to make," I repeated.
"Listen to what you just said! You're willing to risk her life and well being for this case!"
"This case has cost me dearly, Elaine!" I exploded. "I've been abducted, shot at, blown up, and nearly killed three times! The woman I-my friend is lying in the goddamn hospital less than a day away from the doctors cutting off the machines that are keeping her alive! Yes I'm willing to risk her life, my life, every-fucking-body's life to get the bastards who did this to Velma!"
Elaine blinked and turned away. "I-I'm sorry about what happened to Velma, but this is no more right than what they did to her."
"Chandler is correct."
I turned in my seat. Gail was standing there, watching the two of us interestedly.
"What are you doing out of bed?" Elaine was rising from her chair as she asked the question.
Gail held up her hand. "Stay seated Elaine. I'm fine now."
Gail nodded. "My mind was overloaded with grief and anguish for my lost people. I have that under control again now."
"Just like that?" Elaine asked.
"Yes. Just as shael na fahr has taught me."
I glanced at Gail. "Tony said something about that earlier..."
"It's a fighting art, as disciplined as any human martial art. It's been talked about for years, but most consider it a fable, a story told around campfires late at night," Elaine interjected.
Gail glanced at her and nodded. "Yes, I am aware of those stories. Shael na fahr is far more than a fighting discipline, however. It is also a physical and mental discipline, whereby all the individual parts strive for unity as a whole."
"You keep surprising me, Gail," I said.
She smiled. "I saw no reason to inform you of this fact, until now. Elaine is correct about it being nearly a myth. Even among my people it was believed not to exist. My people were a peaceful race and this art was looked upon with derision by many of them. My own parents refused to acknowledge the fact that I was born with the mark of shael na fahr."
"So how did you learn it?" I asked.
"I was born with the gift of shael na fahr, just as I was born with blonde hair and violet eyes," Gail answered, holding up her right hand for Elaine and I to see. "This is the mark I mentioned."
I looked more closely at the dragon tattoo and frowned. The dragon wasn't a tattoo at all-it was under her skin, a part of the skin of her hand.
"When did you know you were shael na fahr?" Elaine asked.
"I always knew, but it began to strongly manifest itself to me when I was fourteen."
"The same time you began having those nightmares about 'a cold, wet darkness," I said.
Gail thought for a long moment. "Yes. The nightmares and the manifestation of shael na fahr occurred almost simultaneously."
"Interesting. The age of fourteen is also the start of puberty for most elfen races," Elaine said.
Gail nodded, then looked at me. "Do you believe these men you mentioned are involved in the death of my people?"
"I don't know for certain, Gail. If they're not, they can probably tell us who was involved."
"Then I will do whatever it takes to find them!" Gail answered.
"Gail, you really..." Elaine started.
Gail reached out and touched Elaine's cheek. "I understand your concern, but I can do this. I have to do this."
Elaine met her eyes, let out a long sigh. "If that's the case and you're going after these people, you're going to be needing a doctor. Just in case."
"This could be dangerous, Elaine. Sabina, Gail, and I can handle it."
"What about me?" Kenny Baltimore suddenly called from across the room. "If you think I'm gonna' sit here waiting, while the rest of you risk your lives on this, you've got another thing coming. I'm in this, as far as it goes."
"What about your old Pappy's 'I'd rather be a live coward than a dead hero' saying?" I asked.
Kenny grinned. "My old Pappy usually had more shit with him than a Christmas turkey and was too drunk to know what he was talking about most of the time anyway!"
I chuckled. "It's three forty now. I suggest we try to get a few hours sleep and meet at nine this evening. We'll finalize our plans then."
I stood up from the table and stretched. "Elaine, fill Kenny in on the pictures."
"Pictures? What are you gonna' be doing?" Kenny asked.
"We'll be needing a few things. See if you can get together a list of clothing sizes from everybody and I'll be back in a few minutes with my list."
I made it to the apartment door before I heard someone behind me. It was Elaine.
"I screeched at you again. I want to say..."
"It's okay. I'd a probably screeched at me too."
Elaine smiled. "I hope you realize, if we get out of this thing in one piece, you owe me dinner at the most expensive restaurant in the city!"
"If we get out of this thing in one piece, it's a date!"
Fez saw me almost immediately. After exchanging pleasantries, he asked me to take a seat.
"I wondered when you might come to see me," he said, offering me a very old and rich-tasting, Napoleon brandy.
I took a sip as he sat opposite me. "I need your help. Again."
"I thought as much," he nodded over his glass. "What do you need?"
I told him a list of weapons and other gear, then handed him the list of clothing sizes Elaine had gotten from everyone. I was silent for a long moment.
Fez took another sip of brandy and nodded. "I'll have the things you asked for delivered to your suite in an hour. Good enough?"
"Fine," I said. "I will also need everything you can get me on the Vasquez Rocks area-maps, charts, surveys and any photographs or holos of the land around it."
"I will have everything made available to you."
"Good. I'll also need one final thing-transportation to the area for five people and all their gear."
"I gather time is of the essence."
I nodded. "We have a little time, but not much. The two men we're going after are leaving the country tomorrow morning. If they find out I know where they are though, the time frame could change. Rapidly."
Fez nodded again. "One of my private helicopters will be at your disposal."
"This will tie you to us if anything goes sideways," I told him.
"True, but I can take the heat. Especially if the men you seek can dirty up Governor Taylor and you can prove it!"
"Thank you, Fez. I owe you."
"It's the least I could do, after what's happened," he answered.
I met his eyes and knew he meant every word.
I slept fitfully for an hour and a half. My thoughts were racing a million miles an hour and I found myself reliving situations in my life, that had gone bad. The face of every person that I'd killed, the face of every person that had gotten killed because of me, paid me a visit during those ninety minutes. Those faces haunted my dreams and finally drove me from bed.
I stripped out of my grungy clothes in the bathroom and stepped into the shower. The water beat the tiredness from me and I stood there letting the hot water run down my body for far longer than I'd planned. Afterwards, I found a razor in the medicine cabinet and shaved away the stubble on my face.
I smiled and it was as though a skeleton had done so. The man staring back at me in the mirror seemed a shadow of his former self. There were dark circles under his eyes and the small scar on his left cheek from a time long ago, seemed three times larger than normal. His short brown hair flew in a number of different directions and green eyes that had once been alight with mirth were cold and focused. I was looking at myself, but in a way others would see me. I wondered if I frightened people, I wondered if little children would see me on the street and run and hide under their beds to get away from this man with the emptiness in his eyes and heart.
I stared for a moment longer, then washed the remaining soap from my face. I wrapped a towel around my waist and headed back to my room. Fez had kept his word and delivered everything I'd asked for. Closing the door to the bedroom, I dressed myself in the black and blue night time fatigues I'd laid out and shin-high tactical boots. I stood. On the dresser beside the bed was a web-belt with a large caliber semi-automatic pistol on it. I strapped it around my waist, then pulled the pistol from it's holster.
The forty five was heavy and carried armor piercing rounds in it's eight shot clip. I sighed. Trying not to remember the face in the mirror, I slid the pistol back in it's holster and started for the door. I had a lot of things to do in the next few hours and maybe those things would keep that haunted face from my mind.
"May I join you?"
I looked up from the maps in front of me. Gail was standing in the doorway of the conference room with a cup in each hand, dressed in identical night-time camouflage. Her long blonde hair was tied back with a dark colored ribbon and tucked under the collar of her shirt and down her back, out of sight.
"I brought you this. Real coffee." She joined me by the table and handed one of the cups to me.
Gail glanced at the papers on the table. "It looks as though you've been busy."
I offered her a little smile. "I couldn't sleep, so-here I am. How did you know I'd be here?"
"Where else would you be?"
"True," I said with a shake of my head.
Gail walked to the other side of the table. "Everyone knows what they're getting into, Chandler."
"You reading my mind again?" I asked.
"No. Any of the others can see you're agonizing over what might happen. All of us have accepted the risks; if we had not, we would not be here."
"You sound like Velma."
Gail faced me. "She was correct. Every day of our lives is a risk and we accept them. Velma did, you do, and I and the others do now."
"Have you ever killed anyone, Gail?"
"No, I have not."
"I have," I said. "My first time I was twenty one years old. I'd only been a police officer for a few months when this guy kills a cop, a friend of mine. I chased him through this deserted old building in the city center and cornered him. We fired at each other for hours, or so it seemed. Finally, I got a bead on where he was, circled around and came up behind him. When I was right behind him I called out to him. He turned and I shot him. I shot him until my gun was empty and pulled the trigger on him for ten minutes afterwards. When my partner found me I was still pulling the trigger on my gun."
Gail cocked her head slightly to one side. "He was an evil man. He had killed many others before your friend."
"He had," I nodded. "But I was judge, jury, and executioner. I wasn't looking for justice; it was vengeance I wanted. I wanted it then and I want it now!"
"There is a saying I once heard Alf Lockman use-'you're preaching to the choir'."
I met her eyes and smiled. "Am I?"
Gail nodded in return. "Yes. My people were killed for no better reason than racial hatred and greed. The part of me that is shael na fahr cries out for that vengeance you speak of, while the part of me that remembers how things were with my people, wants justice. Those two parts of me are at war right now and I do not know which will win the battle my heart is waging."
"It looks like we're both striving for that 'whole' you were talking about earlier today," I offered.
"Yes. Hopefully we can both find it."
"Gail, the questions we get answered tonight, may just lead us to still more questions."
"And I will have those answered in time. I know what I must do with my life now. I will find the answers I seek, if it takes me to my last breath."
At nine o'clock Sabina Griffith, Elaine Ford, and Kenny Baltimore joined Gail and I in the conference room. I stood at the end of the oblong table, in front of the wall-sized projection screen, both hands resting at my sides.
As soon as everyone had taken a seat, I began.
"Before I begin, I want to re-emphasize the fact that what we're about to do here will be very dangerous. Thaddeus and Henry have already proven they're capable and resourceful. We have evidence which supports the claim that they are working for Governor Taylor and that Chief of Police Bruce Carrington's old Army unit is involved as well. Governor Taylor and Chief Carrington have not gotten as far as they have in this city by being careless. If we foul this up, we could all either end up dead, or in prison for the rest of our lives."
I let that sink in for a moment before speaking again. "With that in mind, anyone who wants out now, say the word and you're out."
"Chandler," Kenny said, "you're wasting time. Tell us your plan."
I glanced at each person in turn and saw no one wanted out. "Very well. The information packets in front of you contain topographical maps of the area Thaddeus and Henry are located in."
As those gathered around the table opened the packets, I pulled a small console out of the side of the table. I pressed the first of five buttons on the console; around us the room darkened.
"Vasquez Rocks is located in the desert, two hours drive from the city," I said. I pressed the second button. In the center of the table an image of a wedge shaped peak of sandstone, lying on it's side wavered into holographic being. "This area, known as the Devil's Anvil is where we'll find the two of them."
"Hey, I know this place," Kenny said. "Captain Kirk fought the Gorn there!"
"Captain Who fought the What?" Sabina asked.
"Captain Kirk! Doesn't anybody remember?"
"It was an old 'television' series from the Twentieth Century, Sabina," Elaine offered. "Many episodes were filmed in the Vasquez Rocks area of California."
"Oh," Sabina said, unimpressed..
"Can we move on?" I asked.
Button number three spun the wedge shaped peak on a vertical axis until we were looking at the same area from overhead. "Thaddeus and Henry are staying in a cabin, three quarters of a mile from the Devil's Anvil. The cabin is the red glowing dot in the upper right corner."
"Do we know anything about perimeter defenses?" Sabina asked.
"Not really. There may be some, but I tend to think they wouldn't be particularly sophisticated. Tony Nakamura told me the place was only a way station, someplace to stay in until their bosses could get them out of the country."
"What about weapons?"
"I'd say mostly small arms and maybe a submachine gun or two. These men were in a hurry to get out of town once they heard the heat was on them, so weapons would've probably been what they could carry on them or in their luggage. They were also on the move with their families and would have wanted things to appear as normal as possible so that would've precluded any heavy weapons. Both men have young children and would not have wanted them frightened, even if their wives and older children knew what was going on."
"Good point," Sabina said. "To the young kids, camping out in the desert would be an adventure and seeing daddy carrying big guns would be scary."
"Precisely," I nodded.
"The plan says we're going in by helicopter. If the two of these guys are half as good as we believe they are, they're gonna' hear any helicopter long before we get there," Kenny said.
"Yes, they will. That's why we're going in at high altitude. Then we circle around, set down here and walk in," I answered. Across the screen from the cabin a green star winked on and began to flash.
"That's five miles from the cabin," Kenny offered to everyone in the room.
"Yes, it's five miles," I confirmed. "Five miles right in the middle of some of the roughest, most hostile environment in the state."
"That's a pretty good hike with the gear we're going to be carrying," Elaine said. "It's a good thing we're all in pretty good shape!"
I smiled. "I promise not to slow all of you down too much!"
"To continue," I said when the four of them had quieted. "I'll be on point, with Gail behind me, then Elaine, and finally Sabina bringing up the rear in case we need covering fire."
"What about me?" Kenny asked.
"I'm going to put you where you'll be the most use to us. I want you back at the helicopter keeping an eye on us. If things get hairy, I want somebody on communications I can trust. We may have to get out of there in a hurry and I don't want any foul-ups."
"Put a little pressure on me, why don't you?"
I smiled at him. "You know you love it!"
"Here's a question that has to be answered, Chandler: how far do we take this thing?" Sabina asked.
"We want them alive and we'll do everything we can to see that they stay that way. Thaddeus and Henry have both demonstrated how ruthless they can be and that they're willing to kill whomever gets in their way. If any of us gets into a position where it comes down to them or us, I'd rather have all of you back here in one piece," I said.
There were a couple of quiet nods.
"Can I ask a question?" Elaine raised a hand.
"That's why we're here. If you have questions ask them now, because once we're on the ground we won't have time for them."
"When you said what our positionings were, I'm in the middle. Any reason why?"
"Because in a fire-fight, both Chandler and Gail would have to be killed before they got to you," Sabina answered.
"You're our most important asset, Elaine. If any of us is shot or otherwise injured, we'll need a field doctor until we can get to a hospital. With you being in the middle, we can protect you better," I explained, trying to ease her fears a little.
"In other words I'm the weakest link in the chain," she said, sounding unsure.
"Not at all," Sabina shook her head. "The middle links in any chain are the strongest ones. It's usually the end ones that break!"
Elaine managed a smile. "That's comforting, seeing as how you're the one covering my ass at the end of that chain!"
"I kinda' like the sound of that!" Sabina grinned and winked.
Elaine blushed a bright red.
"Anymore questions?" I asked.
No one said anything.
"Okay. When we arrive at the cabin, Sabina and I will take the front. Gail, you and Elaine take the back. You're both back there to make sure they don't go out a window or back door and get away. We're playing under the assumption that they don't have weapons heavier than submachine guns. If we're wrong and they do, set off sticky-foam bombs over any windows or doors and we'll regroup far enough out of range to come up with another plan of attack. Got it?"
Gail said she understood.
"What time are they supposed to be flown out, again?" Kenny asked.
"The information I have is dawn."
Kenny glanced at a chronometer built into the table top. "It's 9:15 now. If we're in the air by 9:30 we can be on the ground by 10:15. Figure a good hour to hour and a half to hike the five miles if you hump it and that puts us into midnight or half past midnight territory, at the outside. Dawn is at 6:35 tomorrow morning and I figure we want to be long gone before their rescue flight gets there. That works out to be about four and a half to five hours ground time to get to them and get them out. It's going to be tight."
"I know, but that's what we have to work with. As we get closer towards dawn, I'll need you to monitor the various comm frequencies and the helicopter's radar. If anything larger than a jackrabbit moves within seventy miles of us, I want to know about it before the dust settles."
"Got it covered, Chandler."
"Any further questions?"
No one had any. "Okay. Let's grab our gear and get to the roof!"
The helicopter was an Aerospatiale Aero-Star 440, the fastest helicopter made. Over our heads, twin five-blade rotors ripped the air, while out back dual Rolls Royce 4T80F jet turbine engines gave the sleek carbon fiber body it's 250 mile per hour forward speed. Gail and Elaine sat in one pair of comfortable seats, while Sabina and I were across the cabin from them. Kenny Baltimore rode in the tactical seat, opposite the pilot in front.
"What's our ETA, Kenny?" I called to him over the uni-comm frequency mic.
He did a quick calculation. "Twenty one minutes."
"How you handling the heights?"
He grinned and gave me a thumbs up. "Let's just say I'm glad it's too dark out to see anything!"
I chuckled. "How's everybody else?" I asked, trying to keep it loose.
"Aside from wishing I hadn't had that last cup of coffee, I'm fine," Sabina answered.
"I've never flown before. There is this interesting sensation in the pit of my stomach at the moment," she replied.
"You're not going to barf are you?" Sabina asked.
"Throw up. Become sick at the stomach."
Gail looked at Sabina and shook her head. "I don't think so. The sensation feels rather good, to tell you the honest truth!"
"How about you, Elaine?" I asked.
"I'm hoping I don't shoot myself in the foot if I have to pull my gun!"
"As long as you don't shoot me in the foot, you and I are gonna' get along great!" Sabina told her.
We laughed with her.
I turned in my seat and gazed out the plexi-glass door of the helicopter. We were long out of the city now and the land under us was dotted by the occasional house light or car moving along a highway. The night was moonless, while over head the faint band of the Milky Way could be seen, stretching across the cloudless sky. I picked out the few stars I remembered from my childhood and played connect-the-dots with them. The Big Dipper was there, along with the Little Dipper, drawing my eye to the same comfortable patterns I'd seen a thousand times in my childhood.
"I've never seen so many stars in my life," Sabina said.
I glanced at her. She was looking through one of the overhead portals and almost appeared to be awed by what she was seeing.
I nodded. "The best place in the world for looking at the stars is in the middle of the desert on a clear night."
"You sound like you've done it a few times."
"When I was a kid," I confirmed.
"Chandler, I'm picking up something interesting, off of one of the tri-d satellite relays," Kenny suddenly called to me.
"What is it?" I asked.
"See for yourself."
I rotated my seat forward, then folded the ten inch monitor screen down from the overhead console. "Send it back."
The monitor winked on. The image was that of a lavish estate, surrounded by high stone walls. The estate house was well back from a busy avenue and shaded by tall trees. In front of the main entry way, eight to ten police cars sat with their blue lights rotating. Listening, I could hear someone speaking over the image, but the volume was so low I couldn't hear what they were saying.
"Can you give me more volume?" I asked Kenny.
"I'll see what I can do," Kenny said. He worked for a moment, then the sound came flooding into my headset.
He lowered the sound. "Sorry chief."
I watched the screen. On it, the tri-d camera was going through the house until it came to a large, what looked to be, dining room. Sitting around the dining room table were a number of people, all slumped face-first into the plates in front of them. Over the video image a high pitched voice droned on in a language that was somewhat familiar to me in places and completely unrecognizable in others.
"What is she saying?" Sabina asked.
"I'm not sure. I'm only catching about every fifth or sixth word. Something about a ruthless murder in a country estate. It sounds like Chinese, but there are two or three different dialects blended together..."
"It's zhou, the new 'unofficial' dialect of Hong Kong," Elaine said. "It's a created language, blending a half dozen or so of the different Chinese languages together with English and Portuguese."
"You understand it?" I asked.
"I'll give it a shot," Elaine nodded. She listened intently for a moment. "'Police officials...were called to the house of a Mr. Wing at 7:30 to investigate neighborhood complaints of gunfire. Upon arrival, they discovered the...the bodies of two grown women and children of varying...of various ages. The women, older children, and servants...were all found in the downstairs dining room, whilst the younger...youngest children were found upstairs in their beds. All were shot multiple times with high powered weapons. The victims papers identified them as Californians, who were said to be...to be vacationing in Hong Kong. They had only just arrived and had not completely settled in to their...'"
"'Californians'? Didn't you tell us Thaddeus' and Henry's families were flown out of the country and to Hong Kong?" Sabina asked.
I nodded, staring at the screen. One of the police officers lifted the head of one of the women from the table. I recognized her as the young woman who had once worked as a dancer at The Blood Bank. Her eyes stared lifelessly into the tri-d camera for a moment, until the officer lowered her back to the table. As I watched, he wiped the blood from his hand, onto the dark green uniform he wore.
"'Neighbors...reported seeing a black Daihatsu Sonsho driving away from the house, shortly after the gunshots ended. The driver was reported as being...Caucasian in appearance and there were three other non-Chinese in the car with him. Names have not been released pending family notifications and the investigation is on going as we speak.'"
I closed my eyes. "Damn!"
"What is it?"Elaine asked.
"The people killed: you recognized them?" Sabina questioned.
"The girl the police officer moved," I nodded. "She's the oldest daughter of one of the men we're going after."
Elaine glanced at me. "They killed them all? Even the children?"
"That's the way you do it, if you don't want any witnesses left behind," Sabina answered Elaine's question.
"But how did they know-why would they..." Elaine couldn't finish the question.
"There's only one way they could've known," I offered.
"Someone in Tony Nakamura's organization is working for Governor Taylor's people and they know what we're up to," Sabina said.
"Precisely!" I said. "Thaddeus and Henry are the only ones who could possibly answer our questions concerning this whole mess. Taylor's people hit their families in Hong Kong and you can bet your ass they're coming after Thaddeus and Henry next! Sonofabitch!!"
Elaine reached up and turned off the video screen. "What are we going to do?"
I switched my headset to the pilot's frequency. "Can we get more speed out of this thing?"
"We're pushing 250 now. I may be able to get a few more knots out of her, but it'll cut into our fuel reserves."
"Do it!" I ordered.
"You understand that this will give us no margin for error on our return. The 440 is a fast, short-distance helicopter and it drinks fuel like it's going out of style at full speed," the pilot explained.
"Will we get back?" I asked.
"It'll be close."
"Okay. Do it."
"Roger that! Going to full power!"
I could feel the extra acceleration as it pushed me deeper into my seat. I thought for a moment, then reached for the phone in the console between the seats. I picked it up.
"What are you doing?" Sabina asked.
"I'm calling Tony Nakamura," I said, dialing the number. "I think he'd appreciate the heads up."
The phone rang twice and was picked up. "Chandler Harrison for Tony Nakamura."
"Chandler," Tony answered after a moment. "What can I do for you?"
"This time I have information for you," I said. "The men you and I discussed this morning-their families are dead."
"Yes. They were killed by a hit team in Hong Kong several hours ago."
"What are you saying to me, Chandler?"
"I'm saying you have a leak inside your organization, someone who's working for Taylor."
"I assure you all of my people are loyal. If there is a leak it is on your end," Tony said.
"I trust all of my people with my life. Can you say the same?"
Tony was silent for a long time. "No, I can't."
"If Governor Taylor knows you furnished me the information about Thaddeus and Henry's location, he could be coming after you next."
"Thank you for the warning and I will take the appropriate steps to close that leak," Tony Nakamura said.
"I owed you one," I answered, killing the line.
"What is it Kenny?"
"Radar is painting several moving vehicles on the ground and in the area around the cabin. Infrared is also picking up the heat signatures of gunshots. A lot of gunshots."
"How far away are we?" I asked.
"What's happening?" Elaine asked.
"It looks like someone beat us to the punch," I said. "Thaddeus and Henry are under attack!"
"Two minutes," Kenny Baltimore called.
"Everybody get ready!" I said over the uni-comm link. Across from me, Sabina Griffith pulled an MP5 from the canvas bag at her feet and flipped the safety to 'auto'. Sabina glanced up at me and the hardness I'd seen in her eyes at Gino the Giants estate was back.
"One minute," Kenny said. "I've got a more accurate picture now. There are two ground vehicles in the area and I show at least a dozen armed personnel around the cabin. I'm going out a little wider and-there are snipers in the rocks, four hundred meters west of the cabin."
I switched the radio so the pilot could hear everything we said. "You catch that?" I asked him.
"Yeah. I can come in low and fast if you want to take them out," he answered.
"Roger that," I nodded.
The helicopter went into a steep dive and I wanted to reach behind me and tuck my stomach back inside. By the time we had leveled out Sabina had Danny Raines' 'scoped FN-FAL in hand and ready for me. I took it from her.
"Twenty seconds," Kenny announced.
"I'll hit him with the floods, then you can pick him off," the pilot said.
I slid the side door open and pushed it back until it latched. The cabin was immediately flooded by noise and dust being kicked up by the rotor blades. We were over sandstone peaks, so close the landing skids nearly touched once or twice.
"He's coming up on your right Chandler, in the four o'clock position."
I moved to the door and clipped myself to one of the static line rings on the floor of the helicopter cabin.
"Light's on-NOW!" the pilot called.
The man was exactly where Kenny said he'd be. The night sun startled him and he lost focus on the target in front of him. Before he could fire or roll out of the way I let loose with a burst of .308 fire. The bullets tore through him with a brief flash of red mist and he was gone.
"Number one eliminated. Get me to number two," I called to the pilot.
The helicopter rolled right, then immediately juked left.
"Did somebody say something about being sick, earlier!" Elaine Ford said.
"On your right-six o'clock!" the pilot called. "Lights on!"
Sniper number two was moving. I fired, watched the bullets from the FN ricochet from the sandstone. He dropped the rifle, pulled a handgun and began to fire as he ran. I fired again and missed.
"Goddammit!" I swore.
The sniper was running upwards, firing over his shoulder as he did so.
"There's nowhere for him to go!" the pilot said to me. "There's nothing on the other side of this peak!"
I rested the FN on my shoulder. Concentrating, I shut out all the noise around me and followed the man on the ground. He was running an 'S' pattern and I timed it out in my mind. At the apex of one of the 'S's, I fired. The bullets caught him in mid-back and sent him into a pirouette. I fired again and he disappeared over the edge of the peak, into the darkness below.
"Take us back to the cabin!" I told the pilot.
The helicopter heeled over again and did a sharp left hand turn.
"Sabina, get in the door on the other side."
She snapped a static line into place and pushed the door open. Turning back to the FN, I ejected the nearly empty magazine and snapped a full one into it's place.
"I have two cars dead ahead, parked in a 'V' pattern, six men by each car," the pilot said.
"Take us right down the middle."
As he did so, Sabina and I opened up on our individual sides. After the pass, the pilot pulled the helicopter into a steep climb, went to full left rotate and swung us back around. We hung for a moment at the top of the arc, then dropped back down onto the men taking cover behind the cars. I was firing, Sabina was firing, and the remaining men on the ground were firing up at us.
"Son-of-a-BITCH!!!" Kenny swore in the tactical seat.
The pilot took us a little further out this time to get away from the returned gun-fire and to allow Sabina and I a chance to reload.
"How are we doing on fuel?" I called to the pilot.
"Still nominal," he answered. "Damn, I haven't had this much fun with my clothes on, in twenty years!!"
I smiled tightly. "Make one more pass, then get us on the ground."
The helicopter turned in the air and started back. The fire from the ground was more concentrated on us this time around. I focused on the ground again, let out a breath and fired. My rounds impacted the car on my side and I brought the barrel of the FN up. The bullets cut through the side of the car. There was a brief flash, then explosion. The car spun end over end from the force of the blast, came down on it's roof and exploded again.
"Good shooting!" the pilot called to me.
"Get us down! Now!" I ordered.
The pilot spun us neatly around, cutting power as the skids hit ground. As soon as we had come to rest, I unhooked myself from the static line and scrambled out of the door. I went down to one knee and slid the gun back and forth, sweeping a one hundred and eighty degree arc in front of me with automatic fire. I used my left hand and waved everyone out as I emptied my magazine.
"Get out fast and get to cover!" I yelled as Gail and Elaine ran past me.
Sabina jumped down and knelt beside me. "I'm reloaded! Get to cover!" she said, slapping the top of my left shoulder with her right hand.
I nodded and ran, dropping the empty magazine and reloading a fresh one as I did so.
"Kenny, you guys get outta' here and orbit at a safe altitude, but be ready to come running if I need you!" I radioed to the helicopter.
"Roger that," Kenny replied over the radio link.
There were a series of truck sized boulders a hundred yards from where we had touched down. I ran low and fast to them and slid the last few feet on my stomach. Sabina joined me almost immediately.
I sat up, peering around the edge of the boulder in front of me. The exploded car was burning, while the second vehicle was bullet riddled, with the two tires visible to me, blown off their rims.
"See anything?" Sabina asked.
"Nothing," I shook my head. I ducked back behind the boulder, glanced past her. "Gail, Elaine, you all right?"
"I wouldn't want to do this every night of my life but I'm okay," Elaine answered, very softly.
"Gail?" I asked.
She met my eyes. "I'm bleeding."
"What?" Sabina asked.
"Sit down, Gail and let me see," Elaine demanded. The blonde woman did as she asked. A moment later I heard cloth being torn away as I took another look at the two cars.
"Damn!" Elaine swore.
"What is it?" Sabina asked.
"It looks like a bullet fragment, but I can't really tell without better light."
"Is it serious?" Sabina asked.
"No Sabina, I will be fine," Gail answered. "The 'bullet fragment' has not appeared to have hit anything of vital importance."
"What about the bleeding?"
"I'll give her a shot of the clotting agent again and that should take care of it," Elaine said.
"Kenny, you hear me?" I asked into the radio mic.
"Loud and clear," he replied.
"Any signs of movement out here?"
"Negative. The only movement I'm picking up at the moment is from you. I am getting two heat signatures from inside the cabin, though both of them are stationary."
"Keep sweeping the area and let us know if anything changes."
I turned to Sabina. "We need to get closer to the cabin."
Sabina gazed past me, nodded. "You see those other boulders, near the cars?"
I nodded. "Cover me."
"You got it," she said.
I slid out from behind the rock I was hiding behind and ran. Two thirds of the way to the ones nearest the cabin, gunfire flashed from the darkened interior of the cabin. Sabina fired three quick bursts from the rocks behind me and I dove headlong for cover behind the boulder. I came up with the FN in my hands and trained it on the cabin.
"Chandler, you okay?" Sabina called over the radio.
"Yeah. Stay where you are for a minute!" I said. I fixed the barrel of the FN on the cabin. "Thaddeus and Henry-this is Chandler Harrison."
"I know you're alive in there so you may as well answer me!" I called out again.
"What are you doing, Chandler?" Sabina asked.
"Kenny, where are they inside the cabin?" I radioed to the helicopter.
"Number one is two meters to the right of the front door and can probably see you from the window in front of him. Number two is taking cover behind what appears to be a turned over sofa under the cabin window to your left and is not moving."
"Got it," I said. "Thaddeus, Henry, I know exactly where you are."
No answer again. I aimed for the window on the left and fired a quick burst of .308 rounds through what remained of the window sash.
"Need another demonstration?!" I yelled to the men inside the cabin.
"What do you want, Harrison?!" a voice called out to me.
"I want to talk!"
"Why should I talk to you?! You sent these fuck-heads in here after us!!"
"No, I didn't. My people and I were the ones in the helicopter, the ones who kept them from getting to you."
"Bullshit! If you didn't send them after us, who the fuck did?!"
"You didn't think Governor Taylor was just gonna' let you walk away free and clear now, did you?"
"Governor Taylor? What the hell are you talking about?"
"I know you're on Taylor's payroll. I also know you're tied to the Invisible Brotherhood and to a little project in Fresno two decades ago."
There was no reply.
"You still there?" I asked. "Maybe I should fire a few more rounds in, to get your attention again!"
"What do you want from me?"
"I don't know anything!"
"If you want to play it that way, we can. See, my friends and I have a way out of here. I'm pretty sure that your 'friends' out here got a radio message off saying they were under attack. The way I look at it, Taylor has all the men and guns in the world and can probably get another team up here in a couple of hours. Once my friends and I know they're on their way, we'll leave and you and your partner in crime can deal with them. I can do it either way and it won't bother me one goddamn bit!" I explained.
"There's only me. Thaddeus is dead."
"In that case it ought to be a relatively short fire-fight for Taylor's men!"
"What do you want to know?" Henry asked after a long moment's silence.
"Everything. Names. Dates. Who was in charge of the Fresno laboratory. What's buried in the ACRP."
"I don't know anything about the ACRP, I swear to you!" Henry said. "Our end was taking care of everybody who'd had anything to do with the lab in Fresno."
"'Taking care of'?"
"Thaddeus and I have been working for Taylor since the beginning, since he first came to power. When the Fresno thing didn't work the way it was supposed to, he hired us to make sure no one involved in the project would be able to talk about it."
"You mean you killed them?" I prodded.
"Yeah," Henry answered. "That's how we made our money. We were working for the BSS and our positions with them allowed us to find and kill most of those who were involved in the plan."
"'Most of those'?"
"There were a lot of people involved with the project. Some of them are still out there!"
"How did Alicia Denniston figure into all of this?"
"Joe Don Roberts' brother was the chief of security for the laboratory. We usually made sure there were no papers, disks, anything that would lead back to the lab after we did a job, but this time around we missed something when we iced him. Joe Don Roberts came to us about eighteen months ago with copies of lab reports detailing the whole operation. He wanted money or he'd go to the authorities with everything he had and burn us all."
"Is that why you killed him?"
"We didn't kill Roberts, we were paying him! The first we heard of him being dead was on the tri-d the morning after it had happened!"
"And the Denniston woman?"
"Roberts had a thing for her. He got drunk one night in a bar upland and blabbed about the whole thing to the Denniston woman. She used some dupe to steal a bunch of files for her from the ISP about the Invisible Brotherhood, then approached me about doing a story for some magazine. I told her to get lost, but she was rather insistent."
"Did you kill her too?"
"No, I didn't. I went to her room early, the morning we came to see you to talk to her about the story but she was already gone. Her place had been gone through by an expert. I haven't seen or heard from her since!"
"What were you gonna' talk to her about?"
"My wife had just had a baby and I was getting tired of being a hired gun for Governor Taylor. I was scared for my family, scared for myself."
"He was working for me. After Alicia Denniston had approached me about the story she wanted to do, I sent Raines back to New York to keep an eye on her. Raines followed her back out here as part of that surveillance," Henry said, "only he was working for the ISP as well, after their security had gotten breached. They hoped that by having Raines follow Alicia Denniston, they could catch up to the agent who'd stolen the files from their headquarters in Sacramento. She and the thief were lovers or so I heard."
"What about the lab that was supposedly blown up?"
"The people in charge had managed to keep a pretty tight lid on the original project until recently and were always working to get it re-established. After all these years there was finally enough funding to restart the project again. Only thing is, security somehow broke down and people found out about it this time around. The lab was bombed and most of the scientists working on phase two of the project were killed. As far as I know, Alicia Denniston and the group she was involved with had nothing to do with the bombing. That was just a ruse we used on the locals to try and find the Denniston woman."
"Who blew up Joe Don Roberts?"
"I don't know."
"They used Xentex, the same explosive the two of you used when you tried to kill Velma and I," I said.
"It had to be one of Taylor's other people who killed Roberts then, because the company building the ACRP is the only one in the city using Xentex."
"Who ordered you to kill me?"
"Darien Briggs, Governor Taylor's chief of security. He ordered the hit on you and your secretary after the surveillance being run on you showed you talking to the old man at the city archives. He felt you were getting a little too close to he and his boss, especially when that former ISP agent showed up and started snooping around."
I closed my eyes. It had been my fault.
I didn't answer.
"What is it?" I asked.
"If it means anything to you, I didn't want the job. Briggs had us over a barrel though. He said if Thaddeus and I didn't kill you, he'd ice our families."
"He didn't uphold his end of the bargain, I'm afraid."
"What are you talking about?" Henry demanded.
"We saw it on the tri-d on the way up. A team of non-Chinese hit-men shot and killed everyone in the estate owned by Mr. Wing, outside of Hong Kong."
"What?!" Henry's voice was midway between a cry of anguish and despair, a cry I remembered well. "A-all of them?"
"Shot execution style in the back of the head," I confirmed.
"I'm coming out!" Henry said. "If you need it, I'll help you in any way that you want!"
I spoke into the mic. "You get that, Kenny?"
"Every word," Kenny answered back. "I'm encoding and sending it to Fez-now!"
In front of me the cabin door opened.
"Get your hands up where we can see them!" Sabina shouted at him.
Henry raised his hands over his head and hobbled out. His left pants leg was wet with blood and he appeared to have lost most of his right ear to a bullet.
"Elaine, I need you to come up and take a look at him," I said, moving from my hiding place.
Elaine was already on her way, un-slinging the medical bag from her shoulder. "I'm on it."
Sabina was at the porch leading into the cabin, the MP5 steady on him. "Sit down and if you so much as blink, I'll waste your sorry ass!"
Henry sat down with large round eyes and nodded. "I'm not gonna do anything."
Elaine cut his pants leg away. "He's lucky! It's a clean wound, through and through. No bones broken from what I can see."
I knelt down beside her. "Gail okay?"
"We'll have to get her to a surgical ward to remove the bullet fragment from her leg but she should be fine in a few days."
"Good," I nodded. "Bandage him up good enough to transport. I'm sure Thom Pressler will..."
"Chandler, we've got incoming!" Kenny said into my headset.
I whirled around. "Where and how far?"
"Looks like a half dozen vehicles, headed this way and closing fast," he said.
"Anything in the air?"
"Not that I-wait, two choppers! Range seventy miles, airspeed 200 knots."
"Get down here! I think our little party is about to be crashed!"
"On our way!"
"You heard that Elaine. Go grab Gail."
"Gail!" Elaine said as she hurried away.
I extended a hand to Henry. "Come on, we need to get moving."
Henry hesitated for a moment, then took my hand. "Trouble?"
"I don't know who, but somebody's in a real hurry to get here."
I pulled Henry to his feet and let him lean on me. I could hear the helicopter getting closer, and feel the down-wash from the rotors. The chopper touched ground two hundred yards away, blowing dust, sand, and smoke from the burning car, in every direction.
"Come on!" I yelled to Henry over the rotor wash.
He hobbled along beside me, past the wrecked and burning car. For just a moment, I thought I saw the faintest of movements out of the corner of my eye.
"Chandler!" A voice filled the headset.
Henry jerked beside me as a bullet tore through the back of his head and came out just below his right eye.
"Goddammit!" Sabina swore.
I spun around, the forty five in my hand. Elaine Ford was standing opposite me, a nine millimeter pistol pointed towards me. I met her eyes for a moment, was about the ask her 'why' when her eyes flitted away and to a body lying face first on the ground in front of her. The man had been shot in the side of the head, above his right ear. I met Elaine's eyes again. She let the gun drop from her hand.
I slid Henry to the ground, checked for vital signs even though I knew there were none to check for.
Sabina was at Elaine's side.
"Chandler, what's going on out there? We need to move and we need to move NOW!" Kenny said into my headset.
"I need to check him, Chandler," Elaine said.
"He's as gone as this one is!" I told her.
"No! I need to check him!"
Sabina moved in beside Elaine and scooped the pistol and medical bag off of the ground. "Come on Elaine! We need to go!"
"I didn't mean to-he was aiming at Chandler and I tried to warn him but Chandler didn't hear me and-and..."
"Move your asses people. Those choppers will be here in five minutes!" Kenny emphasized over the comm unit.
"Sabina, take her! I'll get Gail!"
Sabina led Elaine away as I ran to where Gail was standing. "Can you walk okay?"
"Four minutes!" Kenny called over the comm unit.
Gail nodded. "Let me lean on you and I can make it."
She did and the two of us made for the helicopter. I boosted her in, grabbed the hand hold beside the left side hatch.
"Go! Get us the hell out of here!"
The helicopter lifted as I climbed in, spun in a tight circle, and accelerated away, over the cabin. I watched the cabin and the burning car until both were out of sight.
"They pick us up?" I asked Kenny.
"They don't appear to have. The ground vehicles and helicopters are still headed for the cabin."
"How are we doing on fuel?" I asked the pilot.
He gave me a thumbs up. "I'll cut the engines back to half power and we should just make it."
I turned to look at the three women in the cabin with me. Sabina Griffith stared at the floor in silence. Beside her, Elaine Ford sat with her eyes closed, as tired and disconsolate as I'd ever seen anyone. Gail was the only one of the four of us who seemed unfazed by any of what had happened and she'd been shot.
I sighed, sat back in my seat and closed my eyes. The trip back to the Centrex seemed to take forever.
It was raining yet again and the night had turned chilly. Sitting in the apartment with my feet on the coffee table gave me too much time to think. Being a private detective is the type of job that gives you little real satisfaction in life. Henry had answered many questions for me, but there had been a hundred more that he'd never get the chance to answer. Tactically, what had happened, had been a mistake of the highest caliber. You never ease up in a life or death situation, not until the threat is completely neutralized. I'd forgotten that rule and the man who could tell me everything I wanted to know was dead because of it.
After a moment I pushed up from the sofa and went to the bar. I found a bottle of scotch and started to pour myself one as the apartment door opened and Sabina Griffith walked in. She joined me at the bar.
"Want one?" I indicated the bottle.
"Yeah. Make it a double."
I nodded, poured the drink for her.
Sabina took the glass, snapped the drink back, set the glass down. "Again."
I refilled the glass, picked up my own. "Salute!"
We both downed the drinks.
"That's good scotch," Sabina said.
"Yeah, a helluva lot better than I can afford."
She smiled. "A helluva lot better than most people can afford!"
"Resting, not so comfortably," Sabina said. "The doctors removed two bullet fragments from the big muscle in the back of her leg, but say there should be no permanent damage. Fez's people have her under guard at Southeast General."
"Good. How are you doing?"
Sabina poured herself another scotch. "I feel pretty much like a fool right now."
"Join the group."
"How do you do it?"
"Do what?" I asked, frowning.
"Keep going. We had it Chandler, we had the answers right there in our hands and we let them get away from us! So fucking stupid!"
"I know. After all this, we still have nothing!"
"We have Henry's taped confession..."
"But no real proof, Sabina. Governor Taylor's lawyers would laugh us out of court with nothing but a tape of someone who was under physical duress implicating him in murder, blackmail, and treason. It's a great way to do business, compartmentalizing everything so that if something fucks up, it doesn't come back to get you! It's brilliant!"
"Yeah. You compartmentalize everything and then make sure that any witnesses left behind don't live long enough to ever see the inside of a courtroom!"
I nodded. "I was hoping we'd have something after tonight."
"So was I. At least I have the one answer I was looking for."
I glanced at her.
"Alicia didn't love me," she said. "She was using me to get the files that she wanted from the ISP. Once she had those, I didn't matter."
"We all get burned like that."
"Even you?" Sabina asked.
"Why do you think I never get personally involved with my clients?"
Sabina glanced at me, frowned. "Did you like her a lot?"
"I loved her so much I almost married her," I answered with a tight smile.
"Who was she?"
"Another sad story," I shook my head. "She needed help getting out of a bad relationship and came to me. Her husband was a captain in the police department, the kind of brutal, no count sonofabitch that gives all cops a bad name. She was beautiful, witty, smart, and I could never understand how or why she'd stay with a prick like him. Not until later anyway."
"Sounds like I can relate to her a little bit."
"I don't know what happened, Sabina. I'd been a private investigator for a couple of years and I guess I was lonely or something and I let her get to me. I couldn't see it, couldn't see that she was playing me. Velma did and tried to warn me but I was too hard-headed and wouldn't listen."
"So what happened?"
"I slept with her a few times and woke up one night to find her gone. As I'm lying there the phone rings and it's her. She's back home and says her husband is there, he's been drinking and has beaten her up. I get dressed, go storming over there and beat down the door. That's when I got hit. When I came to, the police were coming through the door and her husband is dead. He'd been shot with my gun. She'd even gone to the trouble of putting the gun in my hand and forcing me to pull the trigger so I'd have gun-shot residue on me."
"You're here, so you must've gotten out of it."
"Barely. A couple of times in bed, we'd talk and she would always talk about this place on the Indian Ocean in Western Australia named Port Hedland. When she killed her husband, she skipped the country and left me to hang for the crime. I was out on bail and Velma and her family fronted me the money to take the hyper-jet down to try and find her. I did, right in the place she always said she'd be, sitting on the beach and drinking cocktails with little umbrellas in them."
"So where is she now?"
"She tried to play me again. Her husband was a corrupt cop and had taken a lot of money over the years from Gino the Giant, Tony Nakamura, and others. She tried to make me believe I could stay there with her and that we could have a life together. I knew better though-if she'd killed her husband for the money, it wouldn't be that much of a stretch for her to do the same thing to me, once she'd gotten bored. I'd contacted the Australian authorities when I first arrived, wore a wireless transmitter and got her to confess to the crime. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. She was sent back here, tried and convicted of premeditated murder and executed six months later."
"You did the right thing," Sabina offered.
"I know I did, but it doesn't make things any easier. Since then, it's been all work for me. I didn't allow my guard down anymore, not even to the woman who came to work in my office everyday hoping that someday she and I might..."
"You're allowed to be human you know."
I managed a slight smile. "I know. So are you. So are we all."
"I guess that's all I've got left," Sabina shrugged.
"No. I'm beat. I think I'm gonna' go try to sleep for awhile."
"And I should see if I can find Elaine."
"You might try the roof. She said she needed to get some air and it's a great view."
The rain was coming down in sheets as I opened the door leading out onto the roof. I climbed the stairs to the raised helicopter landing platform and ducked under the tail of the Aero-Star. I crossed the brightly painted concrete with it's winking blue strobes to the other side and Elaine Ford was there, sitting on the top step, staring in silence at the fog and rain shrouded city below.
"What are you trying to do Doc, catch pneumonia?" I asked. "It must be 40 degrees out here with the wind blowing the way it is."
"Pneumonia is caused by a bacterial infection of the upper respiratory tract."
"I guess that's what I get for trying to match wits with an MD and a biologist," I smiled. "Can I sit?"
Her gaze never wavered from the city in front of her. "You don't have to baby sit me, Chandler. I'm a big girl."
"Who said anything about baby sitting? Can't I just sit here and watch the city with an old friend, in the pouring rain?! It'll be like old times!"
Elaine did smile, just a tiny bit. "Okay."
She did so and I took a seat on the top step beside her. I slipped an arm around her shoulders, was surprised when she leaned against me.
"It's pretty out here, even if you can't see much."
Elaine nodded absently.
"How you doing?" I asked.
"I'm having a rough time right now," she confessed.
"About what happened tonight?"
"About all of it, Chandler! I've listened to the recording you made at the cabin tonight a dozen times and I still can't believe someone would purposefully undertake a program to kill innocent men, women, and children. It doesn't make any sense to me! These people are supposed to be the best of the best, the ones who are supposed to make life better for all of us and they're out there making shit that selectively kills a certain segment of the population?! I've never hated my profession before, not until tonight!" Elaine exploded.
"They were stopped before they could get going---"
"This time! Who's to say that they won't actually get away with it the next time around though?! They almost did with Gail's people-maybe there's another control group out there right now and those people are wondering why they're dying and why nothing they try, will save them!"
"We know and we'll make sure they never do it again."
"How? I'm no cop or anything but I know we don't have nearly enough to nail any of these people!"
"I'm not done yet! Not by a long shot!"
Elaine looked at me. "You're only one man."
"No, not one man. A team, Elaine."
She looked away. "I don't know if I can..."
"You did a helluva job out there tonight."
"I killed a man..."
"...a man who'd just shot and killed Henry and was about to do the same thing to me!" I said to her.
"There's an oath I took, a long time ago..."
"... 'above all else, do no harm.' I know it."
"I've tried to live my every day as a doctor by that oath," Elaine said. "It seems so simple, printed in black ink on a white page."
"Black and white in a gray world. You did what you had to do and we all came back. That's half the battle won, right there."
"I was so scared."
"If it means anything to you, so was I. Sabina would probably tell you the same thing."
"Does this feeling ever go away?"
"Yeah, it goes away."
"But not for a long time I'll bet."
"You're too smart for your own good sometimes, you know that?"
Elaine nodded. "Is it just me, or is it awfully wet out here?"
I laughed. "Just notice that did you?"
I met her eyes. "Yes?"
"I'm gonna' hold you to that dinner date!"
I grinned and pulled her up with me as I stood. "I'm looking forward to it."
Elaine slipped her arms around my neck. "You want to get out of this rain?"
"Sounds like a plan," I said. Elaine leaned on me as I led her back across the helicopter pad and back inside.
I pushed the cold coffee aside. I'd tried sleeping, but sleep wouldn't come. I was running on the ragged edge of exhaustion again and the only thing that was keeping me going was black coffee and the hope of finding the physical proof I needed to tie Governor Taylor to the deaths of Joe Don Roberts, Danny Raines, and the explosions that had nearly taken my life and Velma's.
I stared at my hands for a moment, glanced up at the screen on the west wall of the conference room. I'd tuned it to one of the local early-morning city news stations, but had muted the volume. As I watched, Governor Taylor's picture replaced that of the pleasant to look at news reader.
"Volume-up twenty-five percent," I spoke to the control pickups, mounted in the wall of the room.
The volume came up in mid-sentence.
"...John Taylor is expected to announce his candidacy for president of the republic at a fund-raising function in downtown this evening. Governor Taylor's candidacy has been rumored about for over a year now and it looks like he may very well declare his intentions to be our next President. Asked for a comment, Governor Taylor's press spokesman would only say there would be news at the fund-raiser this evening and that all of his supporters would be very pleased by it.
"In other news, the search continues for Private Investigator Chandler Harrison and former Internal Security Police Agent Sabina Griffith. Both are wanted for questioning in the murders and disappearances of at least a half dozen individuals. The ISP, operating under city government authority has authorized a fifty thousand nuyen reward to anyone with information leading to the arrest of these two citizens. Both should be considered armed and dangerous and all police agencies in the Metroplex have been advised. Both could be in the company of an electronics expert and small time criminal identified as Kenny Baltimore, of no fixed address. The description of the vehicle being used by Chandler Harrison, a former LAPD officer is as follows..."
"Kill sound," I spoke. The speakers immediately went back to silent mode and I sat back in the chair with my hands behind my head. "Now, that's just great!"
"What's 'just great'?"
I turned in the chair to find Sabina Griffith standing behind me, a slightly puzzled look on her face.
"Doesn't anybody around here remember how to knock?!"
"You're in a pleasant mood this morning!" Sabina smiled. "Besides, the door was standing wide-open."
"The ISP just posted a fifty grand reward for our capture. It's not bad enough we have to dodge Governor Taylor's gunmen, now every wannabe bounty hunter in the city proper is going to be looking for us."
"It was bound to happen. That's standard ISP procedure in a case like this. If we're not in custody by tonight, they'll up it to seventy-five and keep increasing it until someone drops a dime on us. If you think things were hot before..."
I wiped my eyes again and shook my head to clear some of the cob-webs away.
"You really need to get some sleep."
"Tell me something I don't know!" I snapped. After a moment I glanced at her and offered up an apologetic smile. "Sorry. I've been listening to that damned recording of Henry's confession for the last two hours. Something's bothering me about it, but I don't know what."
"Yeah, me too. You think he was telling the truth?"
"He was scared to death, so I think he told us what he knew," I nodded. "Dammit, I wish we hadn't dropped the ball on this, Sabina! Of all the stupid goddamn mistakes we could've made..."
"I've been kicking myself all morning about it too."
"We're so close and it's making me crazy!"
Sabina smiled. "You find Elaine okay, last night?"
"On the roof like you said, sitting in the rain."
"How's she handling it?"
"She's a doctor. She usually fixes the things you and I cause, so pulling the trigger on that guy is hitting her pretty hard. Once I got her off the roof, I stayed with her for a couple of hours until she got to sleep. She's a tough lady, but still."
"I know. I could see it was bothering her."
"God, I just wish some of this stuff made sense, Sabina! I mean we've got answers, but they don't really add up to anything! There's nothing that we can use to tighten the noose around the necks of the people responsible for this, nothing that'll make them..."
"There's the lab," Sabina suggested.
"What's left of it has probably been gutted and sealed off by now. An empty concrete hole in the ground doesn't prove a thing."
"Maybe. The only problem with those tests is that to prove what happened, we'd have to go public with what Elaine found..."
"...and Gail would be in terrific danger."
"Yes, she would."
"There's the explosive used to kill Joe Don Roberts..."
"The construction company building the ACRP is the only company using Xentex in the city and I'll bet that if someone checks their stores, every bit of the shit will be accounted for."
Sabina nodded and walked to the other side of the table. "We never did get around to doing that."
"And I don't think we ever will, either! We'd never get near the place now! We'll be lucky if we can stick our heads outside this building without getting them blown off, with all the air time we're getting locally!"
"That would seem to pose a slight problem."
"I wish there-wait a second. Dammit, I'm so stupid!" I said suddenly.
"Yeah!" I nodded. "Back when the Criminal Courts Building and Parker Center were blown up, do you remember how they caught the people who did it?"
"Sure. It was through the plastique they used to set off the ANFO bombs. All manufactured explosives have a-chemical signature!"
"Precisely! When a company makes explosives, even with the best computer technology available today, each batch is just a little bit different than the batch that preceded it," I said.
"They do it to control terrorism. Any manufactured explosive being used in a terrorist incident can be traced back to the person who bought it, through a kind of fingerprint."
"Exactly! If each batch is different, then the chemical signature of the explosives stored at the ACRP ought to match, pound for pound."
"And if they don't, we know they've substituted more Xentex to replace what was used in the various bombings in the city!" Sabina grinned. "That's good!"
"Thank you! Now, all we have to do is get somebody up there to check it all," I mused.
"Unfortunately all my sources are tapped out," Sabina said.
"But mine aren't," I shook my head."What time is it?"
"7:35. Who did you have in mind?"
"Thom Pressler. He's handling the bomb blast at Velma's."
"Does the LAPD have a portable explosives analyzer?" Sabina questioned.
"No, but West Covina does and I think they'd be more than happy to loan it to Thom if it'll help close Joe Don Roberts' murder case. Hand me the phone."
Sabina stepped aside as I dialed Thom's number. The phone rang a half dozen times before it was picked up.
"Hello?" It was Talia, Thom's wife, sounding tired.
"Can you talk?"I asked into the handset.
She was suddenly wide awake. "If Kenny's gadgets are still working I can! Where are you? Are you okay? What the hell is going on Chandler, because Thom's not telling me a thing?!"
"I'll tell you everything you want to know, later. Is Thom around?"
"He's right here!" Talia replied.
"Let me talk to him for a minute."
"Thom!" I heard her explain who it was. A moment later he was on the line. "You're taking one hell of a chance calling me at home!"
"I know Thom, but this is important. I need you to see if you can get a look at the Xentex stock at the ACRP..."
"Whoa, hold on a minute," Thom said. "We did that yesterday."
"And I'll bet every ounce of the stuff was there too wasn't it?"
"How did you know?"
"Just a guess. Tell me something Thom: did you guys check every box?"
"Of course we didn't check every box! We checked the top and middle boxes of each row and weighed all the others. It would've taken us a week to open every box of the stuff and see if it was all there."
"Check them again."
"Look Thom, we know Xentex was used to blow up Joe Don Roberts' house. We also know the same goddamn explosive was used at Velma's and the only place in the city that stores or uses Xentex is the ACRP!"
"Yes we do, but all the paperwork on site accounts for every ounce of the stuff and they use so much of it in a weeks time..."
"You and I both know how easy it is to fudge paper work! You'll need to get the chemical analysis of the explosive used at Velma's and the one from Joe Don's house and compare those to the analysis run by the manufacturer."
"The results aren't even back from our lab yet!"
"Christ! How long did they say it would take?!" I asked.
"There's at least a month's back log at the moment."
"There were fifteen murders alone, in this city last night and all of those cases take precedence over a simple bombing! There are only so many hours in the day and the lab guys are working their asses off now!" Thom explained to me.
"Can you get me one of the samples?"
"Do you know what you've just asked me to do?"
"Yes, but this is very important Thom..."
I spent the next several minutes going over what I'd found out. Thom listened patiently until I'd finished.
"That's a very interesting story," he said.
"I thought you'd think so. Will you do it?"
Thom was silent for a long time.
"Dammit, do you have any idea what the department will do to me if I get caught stealing evidence from an ongoing case?"
"Stealing evidence from an 'ongoing case' they're trying to bury, Thomas."
"Now hold on a minute! I work with these people everyday and you're painting an awful lot of good cops with that same conspiracy brush of yours!"
"I know and I'm sorry, but until we get this thing figured out, I can't trust anybody in a position of authority inside the police department. Not with Governor Taylor's chief in charge."
"You're trusting me. As far as you know, I could be working for the ISP or Governor Taylor and even as we speak, I'm sending them after you."
I smiled. "I'm taking that chance, but I know you're a straight up cop. You don't take bribes, you hate the bullshit the department is buried in, and most of all, you hate what Governor Taylor's chief has done to the LAPD."
Thom sighed. "Shit, there goes my career!"
I smiled. "Good man. How soon can you get the sample?"
"If I leave here right away, probably by nine o'clock."
"Good. Are you being followed?"
"You bet. The ISP and Internal Affairs are both tailing me everywhere I go. Talia too. "
"Okay. Just make it look like you're going in to work early. Go to the lab like you're checking on something relating to one of the overnight cases and copy whatever they have about the explosion at Velma's and get that sample for me. Go back to the elevators, take it up to your floor and when you get there, let the door open. Stay in the elevator and ride it back down, then go out the rear entrance and catch a cab to the World Trade Center mag lev."
"Got it so far," Thom said.
"Take the red line 'lev to Century City, get off and take the green line north. In West Hollywood, change to the blue line and go east to Hollywood, then grab the orange line south to Watts. I'll have someone there to meet you when you arrive."
"This is gonna' take awhile..."
"I know but if they're following you, you should be able to lose them in the rush of people headed off to work."
"I'll do my best."
"If we can get this analysis done and the explosive is tied to the ACRP, we can shut them down. If we do that, maybe we can find out what they've got buried out there, before it's covered permanently by two hundred feet of water," I explained.
"All right. What if the analysis doesn't match?" Thom asked.
"It will," I said. "It has to!"
"Okay. See you in a couple of hours."
I hung up, then immediately dialed another number.
"Who are you calling now?" Sabina asked.
"Ted Louis over in San Fernando. I'm sure he'd like in on this, seeing how Gino the Giant has probably been singing his lungs out since he got busted and Ted could use a little proof to back up what he's been saying."
"Are you sure that's wise? The more people who know about something, the more likely there is to be a leak," Sabina offered, repeating my mantra from earlier.
"I know, but I trust Ted. Besides," I said, "he can get the explosives analyzer from West Covina for us."
"Good point," Sabina agreed with my reasoning.
Thom Pressler arrived at the Centrex at a little after eleven o'clock. Elaine Ford took the microscopic samples of Xentex he'd brought with him to a 'clean' lab and was working on them as Thom and I watched through a glass partition.
"I see you've got Elaine mixed up in this thing too, now."
"She has her reasons, especially after what she found for me."
Thom glanced at me. "You look beat."
"Being wanted by every police officer in the city can do that to you," I nodded, gazing through the thick glass.
"I held them off for as long as I could."
"I know Thom. I appreciate it."
"Soledad Martinez is worried about you."
"I know. She's worried I'm gonna' go off half cocked here and kill somebody."
"Are you?" Thom asked.
"I don't know yet."
"You could help your case with the ISP if you turned Thaddeus and Henry over to them..." Thom suggested.
"I would if I could, but they're both dead. Their families too."
Thom stared at me for a moment. "Dead?"
"Yeah. Their families were hit in Hong Kong. I found out where Thaddeus and Henry were hiding and went to get them. When we got there, there was already a hit team on the ground. Thaddeus was dead and Henry was shot and killed by one of the button-men while I was trying to get him out of there. I did get his confession on audio, but there's really no useable proof to back up any of what he said."
"How did they know you'd found Thaddeus and Henry?"
"One of Tony Nakamura's men."
"Yeah. Tony told me where to find them. Apparently, somebody inside Tony's organization dropped a dime to Darien Briggs..."
"Darien Briggs? Governor Taylor's Chief of Security, Darien Briggs?"
"Yep, that's him. The same bastard who ordered the hit on Velma and I."
"Man, this is turning into the case from hell!" Thom said.
I nodded. "Yeah. Everything and everyone I've talked to keeps aiming me in the same direction-Governor John Taylor. The bastard is so smart though, so insulated from what's going on around him, it's gonna' be almost impossible to tie him to any of it."
"Especially since all of his people are so loyal to him and would take the hit themselves to keep him in power."
"Did you hear the latest news?"
Thom shook his head.
"Our esteemed Governor is expected to announce that he's running for President of the Republic this evening!"
"I can't say that surprises me. He's had his sites set on that job, ever since he came to power."
Inside the laboratory I watched Elaine Ford pull a long printout from the unit in front of her and examine it carefully. After a moment she smiled, turned and gave me a thumbs up. I hit the intercom button beside the glass window.
"I gather you had enough?"
"Enough for a full profile!" Elaine enthused. "It's as individual as fingerprints or DNA."
"Did you transmit your findings yet?"
"The chief scientist at West Covina should have the results to check against his own in a few minutes."
"Good. Ted Louis should be here in a half hour or so to pick up Thom."
"Ted Louis?" Thom asked.
"I helped him nail Gino the Giant and he did say if there was ever anything he could do for me..."
"What about West Covina?"
"They have a portable explosives analyzer, but haven't been able to get a warrant to check out the stocks of Xentex at the ACRP," I said. "You have that warrant."
"But not for long. It expires at four thirty this afternoon."
"Damn, that soon?!"
"We were lucky we got the search warrant at all. The first four times we applied for it, the judge we went to said it was outside the scope of the investigation. We narrowed the scope, until he signed it, but somebody was still putting the squeeze on the judge. We wrote it the way he said, but he only made the warrant good for twenty-four hours."
"Sonofabitch! It's nearly noon now!" I told him.
"We'll get there. I just hope you're right about this or we're all gonna' end up with egg on our faces," Thom said.
"I'm right," I said. "I have to be!"
"What time is it?"
"It's exactly two minutes and thirty seconds later than the last time you asked," Sabina Griffith replied. "It's 4:04 p.m."
I was pacing from one end of the apartment to the other, wringing my hands in frustration. Outside, the weather had lowered and rain blew against the large glass windows on the north side of the apartment. I walked to one of the windows, turned and started back the direction I'd come.
"Chandler, will you please sit down? You're making me crazy with all this pacing of yours," Sabina said.
I met her eyes for a brief moment, offered an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry. I just feel so goddamned helpless sitting here and doing nothing!"
"If there's anything there, Thom will find it."
"I know." I took a seat, leaned forward until my elbows were resting on the tops of my thighs. I rubbed my eyes. "I'm beat."
"You ought to try getting a little sleep. You keep going the way you are, you're going to break."
I smiled. "You sound like Elaine!"
"She's got a point."
"I wish I could sleep. Every time I close my eyes I see Velma. I know this isn't my fault, but I still feel responsible for her. I let her down, Sabina. I should of loaded her on the goddamn train myself and sent her to her sister's place."
"From what I saw of Velma, she'd a just come right back."
I nodded. "You're right. She's every bit as stubborn as I am, damn her!"
Sabina smiled. "So, you want to tell me what happened?"
"Tell you 'what happened' when?"
"You told me when you found Elaine on the roof, sitting in the rain, you stayed with her for a couple of hours until she went to sleep. What happened during those couple of hours?"
"Nothing. We hardly spoke."
"Hardly spoke, hunh?" Sabina teased.
"She just wanted to know that she was alive and..."
Sabina chuckled. "...you helped?"
"I was there for her. That's all!"
"I'm sure you were. I actually think Elaine would be good for you, because you and she..."
The phone rang and I hurried to answer it.
"You were right, Chandler!" It was Thom Pressler. "The Xentex they had on hand in storage at the ACRP was all new stuff and didn't match the test results Elaine came up with. It also didn't match the ones run by the police lab over in West Covina. However, while I was there I had a couple of our officers go out to some of the blasting sites and pick up soil and rock samples from them. Care to guess what we found?"
"Please tell me it was match."
"It took a little doing, but the trace analysis from four different sites says those samples are a one hundred percent match! There's no doubt about it now-the Xentex used to blow up Joe Don Roberts' house and the Xentex used in your office and at Velma's house all came from the same batch, the same batch that was used one week ago to move rock on the northern edge of the Angeles Crest Reservoir Project," Thom answered.
Copyright 2000 - M.S. Costello