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2577 FLAMINGO BOULEVARD, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA—PRESENT DAY
As she reached for the small piece of broken block her hand lightly rubbed against the stronger hands of a man she hadn't felt the touch of in nearly a year. All thought of that long-ago Hong Kong night vanished during the daylight hours only to reappear when sleep claimed the eighty-four-year-old woman. As the small rubber boat bobbed up and down in the cold waters outside Hong Kong harbor she remembered the feel of the piece of stone block and the touch of Garrison Lee's fingers as the dream continued. In her sleep the woman wanted to cry out that she didn't want the relic, she wanted him. As always in her dream all Lee would do is smile and wink that irritating wink he always did to make her think everything was all right—she knew it wasn't. This was the same dream Alice had been having for the past six days and it always ended the same way—with the feeling of massive loss and the sharp pain of her heart breaking every time she saw Garrison in the dream.
"Hamilton, you're obviously dreaming this for a reason—now wake up!"
The voice of a man gone for a full year woke her as she lay at her small desk in her bedroom. She had fallen asleep again at her computer terminal and as she looked at the screen she saw the jumbled words in one long and continuous sentence, the result of her head lying on the keyboard.
Alice Hamilton reached out and angrily punched at the keyboard and cleared the screen of all the nonsensical words. As she yawned she looked at the clock on the wall. It was four-thirty in the morning and for the fifth straight night she had fallen asleep while in the midst of her research, and that in turn brought on the dreams of Garrison Lee and the time they spent together in China in the forties. Alice straightened in her chair, finally remembering what had prompted this dream in particular. She frantically searched the scattered papers on her usually neat desk.
"Where is it, where is it!" she asked herself, almost fearing the letter itself was part of her sleeping remembrances.
"Calm down and think," came his voice. This was a tool she used many times. Garrison always told her think and then act.
Alice stopped her searching and then squeezed her eyes closed and thought. She opened them suddenly and reached for her robe's front pocket. She took a deep breath as her fingers touched the two-page letter that had been overnighted from Rome.
"Thank you," she said as she pulled the letter from her pocket and opened it, sitting back in her chair as she did. Alice again closed her eyes realizing that she just thanked a man gone from her for what seemed an eternity. She swallowed and then caught herself and mentally shook the tears from her eyes before they fully developed and then opened the letter. She read it once more for the umpteenth time in the twenty-four hours since receiving it.
"Europa, am I still signed in?" she said aloud as she folded the letter but this time held it tightly in her hand as she forced herself to relax. Alice was finally feeling her age after many years of keeping up with the best of them.
"Yes, Mrs. Hamilton, User 0012 is still logged on," came the sexy Marilyn Monroe–voiced Cray supercomputer located at the secure center inside the Event Group complex underneath Nellis Air Force Base ten miles from her house.
"My apologies for being rude and dozing off on you," Alice said as she pulled her robe tighter around her.
"Computer center activity is light, access should be uninterrupted until 0600."
"Well, thank you anyway, Europa. Now, can you…" Alice stopped briefly to stifle a yawn, making herself realize she was getting far too old for these all-night research digs. "Excuse me, can you give me the status of security element Goliath please?"
"Security element Goliath has not reported in as of this time."
"Europa, I am expecting a package through the complex communications system and I want that e-mail package to come straight to me and is not, I repeat, is not to be entered into the incoming communications log. Is that clear?"
For the first time in many years Europa didn't answer right away. Alice thought maybe her systems were still being disrupted from the troubles a few months earlier when her mainframe was attacked from an outside source.
"Mrs. Hamilton, your request cannot be granted due to security regulations."
Alice closed her eyes knowing that she could seal the incoming e-mail off from everyone—except one man, and that was the head of Event Group security and the smartest man outside of Garrison Lee and Director Niles Compton that she had ever known—Colonel Jack Collins. As far as she could see there was no way around Jack not seeing the e-mail, especially from a source as important to Department 5656 as anyone could ever remember—Goliath, a code name for one of the security departments and Director Compton's most guarded deep operatives. The information this agent gives the Group is as important as any historical intelligence they had ever received from any one source. Goliath was deep—the deepest any security element had ever been before, and only Jack, Niles, deputy director Virginia Pollock, Captain Carl Everett, and Alice knew who it was and where he, or she, was buried.
"I understand, Europa, but no one else gets copied on the package. I hope I can handle Colonel Collins on this one security oversight."
"Incoming packet has arrived, Mrs. Hamilton."
Alice was stunned at how fast her requested data from their deep operative came as a follow-up to the first communication, which had set Alice on a course of action she had wanted to take since 1951.
"Put it through, please," she said.
The coded pictures sent by Goliath slowly started coming up on her monitor as fast as Europa could decipher them. As she scanned the screen trying to figure out what the coded pixels were starting to form, her eyes started to widen and then recognition struck and with her usual self-control lost for the moment, Alice clapped her hands together and let out a yelp. She stood and hopped once as she picked up a picture of Garrison Lee that sat upon her desk. She kissed it, knowing in real life that gesture would have caused an immediate rebuke if it had not been done in private. She looked at the pictures once more as Europa broke them down into a four-square shot and they all clearly showed the item she had for so long searched.
"You were right, damn you, you were right! This would have been something that had to have been covered up. And it was your idea to get someone inside—oh, not for this, you old goat, but I figured our agent was in place anyway so why not have him do a little private searching for me?" She kissed the picture again. "Now I've got to kiss Jack and Niles for getting our agent placed!" Alice stopped dancing and then looked at the picture of the one-eyed love of her life. "Jack and Niles are going to hang me out to dry for this one," she said sadly, and then she suddenly smiled. "But what the hell, Europa, I'm fully vested so they can't take my retirement away." This time it was Alice who winked at Lee as he grimaced back from his eight-by-ten glossy.
"Mrs. Hamilton, should I code-name and secure the file in your private program?"
"Yes, Europa, I also want you to place all files developed on the contents of Vault 22871 with this new file and secure it."
"Yes, Mrs. Hamilton. Do you wish a code name for the new combined file?" Europa asked in her sexy voice that Alice never quite noticed any longer.
"Yes, code it—Grimm."
VATICAN CITY, ROME, ITALY
The young Vatican counsel held the door open for a young woman. He nodded as she went past. Once outside he placed the black hat on his head and looked around the building. The cybercafe wasn't as crowded as it would be when the students hit just before classes started in less than an hour.
As he turned toward Vatican City a mile distant he felt the eyes on him just as he had the day before and then again this morning—both times coming to and from his office and then from his office to the cybercafe. Now he was feeling it again. His training was either kicking in or he was starting to lose it. He dipped his head as he passed another young lady on the street. As he did he used the opportunity to glance in the storefront window to his right. Beyond his own reflection of black robe and collar he saw a lone woman about fifty feet behind him. Her gaze seemed just a little too intent on him. He quickened his pace.
Crossing St. Peter's Square he felt more secure as the crowds grew thick with tourists and others seeking the comfort of the city. He no longer felt the eyes upon him as he had. As he made his way back to his office inside the Vatican archival building he stopped and leaned down to tie a shoe that needed no tying. He again looked around and his heart froze. Not twenty feet away from where he had stopped that same young woman he had seen on the street was staring right at him. He was tempted to turn and walk toward the girl just to see what reaction he would get, but his training told him to cut and run and then report, let others far above his pay grade make the decisions. He did however reach his cell phone and then he brazenly straightened and started taking pictures like he was a normal tourist. He framed the young woman in his fourth shot of the milling crowd. For good measure he took another just as her face went stern and she turned away. The young Vatican archivist smiled and turned away himself.
The man deep undercover at the Vatican, United States Army Second Lieutenant Leonard DeSilva, knew he would have to report to Colonel Collins in Nevada, because if his cover inside the Vatican was blown there was going to be hell to pay.
The young priest, who had spent the past year and a half after graduating from Notre Dame fighting for his assignment at the Vatican, knew he would have to call home for instructions—and that entailed a call to Department 5656—the Event Group.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL
Lieutenant General Addis Shamni slowly laid down the report from his agent at the Vatican and then slammed his hand down upon it. He raised that same hand to his forehead and then cursed his bad luck.
"With everything going on in the world I have to deal with this!" he said aloud as his hand left his furrowed brow and slammed into the report once more. "How in the hell did someone get a man inside the archives when the Mossad couldn't get into the damn lobby just for a research paper!"
Lieutenant Colonel Avis Ben-Nevin sat silently in his chair as he listened to the general angrily curse the file in front of him. The colonel with his meticulously trimmed pencil-thin mustache saw the fear in a man's eyes that up until now had never known the feeling. He knew this involved the Vatican, an area the lieutenant colonel had a special and vested interest in. Ben-Nevin was known as the religious factor inside the Mossad. Anything and everything that had to do with religion inside the state of Israel, Ben-Nevin had a firm grasp of it and the event happening at this moment in Italy had a firm hold on the colonel's imagination.
"Colonel, you may have to get on a plane to Rome and find out exactly what is going on here. I need someone on station that knows just what in the hell they're doing. Young Sorotzkin is one of the best but she may be out of her element where Ramesses is concerned."
"Perhaps if I could be briefed on Project Ramesses I could—"
The general looked up with an arched graying eyebrow.
"You could what, read something that could possibly get you killed by someone higher in rank than myself? Colonel, outside of this office that code name is never to be mentioned. Your father knew of it and took it to his grave." The eyes of the general bore into the younger Mossad officer. "You are to evaluate the situation with Major Sorotzkin, then report back to me. Nothing is to be done with this American spy. This may be our chance to get into the archives and find out exactly what the Holy Roman Church knows about our history."
Ben-Nevin knew he was on the trail that his father had discovered four decades earlier in Hong Kong and the trail just got a little warmer.
"You are not to bring your normal religious zeal into this mission. Get to Rome, evaluate, and report back."
"General, I know I am considered the religious laughingstock around here, but anyone who believes that our religion has nothing to do with how we are viewed, or even perceived in our world, especially our near world, well, that's a bit naive on your part. Our heritage is what makes us strong and any evidence of that heritage we can uncover will go a long way to proving we should reign in this part of the world."
General Shamni slowly stood and placed his thick arms on his desk and then leaned forward. "Reign, Colonel Ben-Nevin? We are just trying to survive here. If we can be friends with our neighbors through cooperation and mutual respect then that is our goal. Not to point to them and say, ‘See, we were right and you were wrong and God is on our side.'" This time the general smiled but the gesture was not meant to be sincere in the least. The general hated Ben-Nevin and the colonel knew it. "If there's one thing our young state has learned, Colonel, is the very real fact that God has never been on anyone's side. As a matter of fact I have come to the conclusion that if he ever was, he's cut the apron strings on us—as the Americans like to say. We are too far along to be killing people over these ancient tales."
This time Ben-Nevin smiled. "This stuff is the manna of our history, proof that we were meant to be here. If Operation Ramesses could prove the world wrong in that regard, why we could—"
"Enough!" This time the hand came down and its impact shook the desk lamp. "Colonel, you have pushed and pushed on this very closed loop matter far too long, and the funny thing is I couldn't give you the details of Ramesses even if I knew them. Our policy on the operation has been in place since the time of David Ben-Gurion. And your assertion that Ramesses can save the situation in the Middle East is highly dubious at best, especially since you know nothing of its details. From what I understand Ramesses would do, at least according to our experts, is ignite a wave of religious fundamentalism the likes of which the world has never seen. That cannot happen and will not happen as long as this administration is in place—and every administration of whatever political stripe after. Now get to Rome."
Ben-Nevin gave the general a halfhearted salute and then turned on his heel. The general didn't see the small smile lift his thin mustache.
The general looked up as his assistant popped her head inside the door.
"Get me the prime minister," was all he said as he inadvertently picked up the field report again and cursed his eyes for reading the words. He didn't acknowledge his assistant as she ducked out of the office.
"The prime minister is on line one, General."
With a minimum of motion the general snatched up the phone and hit the flashing button.
"Mr. Prime Minister, a trail to our heritage may have been discovered by unknown sources." The general paused to rub the throbbing that had just started coursing through his temples. "Sir, we have a problem—a three-thousand-year-old nightmare from the past kind of problem."
After the general's conversation with the prime minister's office was completed, exactly thirty-two minutes later the elite commando arm of the Israeli Defense Forces; the Sayeret—one of the best trained killing forces in the world—went on full combat alert.
* * *
As the colonel stepped from the general's office he looked around the deserted hallway and then stepped to the nearest door where he took out his private cell phone and punched in a preprogrammed number.
"There has been movement on Project Ramesses. I'm not sure, but the report was generated by General Shamni's wunderkind inside Vatican City." The colonel nodded at a young man as he quickly slipped by Ben-Nevin with a file report. He waited as the man disappeared. "Look, if I do this my career in Mossad is over. If I get caught that will be the least of my problems. My father had his life ended when he discovered the old antiquities in China and reported them to his superiors. I will not make the same mistake. You have your religious principles and I have mine, and my principles include enough wealth to retire somewhere that the general, the prime minister, and any other left-wing government official cannot track me down and hang me for this small betrayal. I'll get the location of Ramesses, but then I'm on my own. You can take your holy relics and I'll take what's important to me. Then we're finished … I will no longer be a citizen of this country and that is where you and your Knesset friends come in. You make sure that after I kill the Gypsy major, that Mossad soon forgets the name Ben-Nevin."
The small smile slowly made its reappearance and then Ben-Nevin closed the cell phone. The mystery his father uncovered that night long ago in Hong Kong had finally come home to roost and Colonel Avis Ben-Nevin was finally going to collect payment for lies and cover-ups by the Israeli government as far back as three thousand years. As he started to walk away to pack his bags for the last time as an Israeli agent, the colonel heard the yelling coming from the general's office.
GOLD CITY PAWN SHOP, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
The 2005 Jeep Cherokee bounced into the parking lot beside the Gold City Pawn Shop. Luckily the parking spaces for the business were near empty due to the earliness of the hour—even in Vegas people slowed down pawning their lives away at six A.M.
Alice Hamilton took a deep breath before opening her door. She looked at the package of research material piled on the passenger seat next to her: the culmination of sixty-three years' worth of research and another lifetime of bitter disagreement with men Alice Hamilton respected more than any two men in the world—Niles Compton and Garrison Lee. They both had always failed to see the direct connection she proposed between the magnificent animals she proclaimed had once lived amongst man and the changing theory of how exactly a few of the more celebrated and ancient biblical battles were really won. Her theory she knew always lacked the necessary proof so an Event mission had never been called. There just wasn't enough evidence, both Compton and the late Senator Lee had told her. Oh, she knew both Niles and Garrison wanted to believe in the animals, and she thought they did. As a matter of fact she was positive Garrison believed it as he saw the relic himself, but being the bureaucrats they were they were handcuffed about calling an Event with such a small sampling of evidence. Alice had sworn to Garrison Lee that she would continue to search for that proof and let Niles decide if it was enough.
Alice set her lips and then reached for the nine-inch-thick folder, and unlike the other red-bordered top secret folders used at the group, this folder was a standard size manila type—nothing special, and surely nothing secret—until this morning that is.
She stepped from the Cherokee and made her way to the glass-encased front door of the Gold City Pawn Shop. Before grasping the old-fashioned thumb depression plate she looked closely at it. As soon as she took hold of the handle and her right thumb went down upon the thumb plate, Europa, the Cray Corporation supercomputer, would read the minute valleys and swirls of her thumbprint. That image would be studied by no fewer than five security men inside the building at all times. Five was the minimum number of U.S. Marines, Army, Air Force, and naval security personnel needed to secure and guard Gate 2 of the most protected federal reservation in the United States—the Event Group complex, the home to Department 5656.
Alice took hold of the handle, knowing that Europa would send an automatic report to the Security Department notifying them that she was at Gate 2 and would soon be passed on to the complex itself. Alice only hoped that at six A.M. Jack Collins and Carl Everett, the two men in charge of that department, were out running or eating breakfast. She opened the door and stepped into the pawn shop.
* * *
Captain Carl Everett had showered, shaved, and dressed after his four-thirty A.M. run around the indoor track facilities on Level 18. On most mornings the captain was joined by the director of Department 5656 security, Colonel Jack Collins, but today, as well as for the past several weeks, the colonel had been missing from their morning runs. As a matter of fact, Everett had noticed that Jack Collins was MIA at most anything not directly related to his military duties at the Group, and Everett knew the reasons behind it.
The captain now stood at the door to the main security office on Level 8. He took a deep breath in anticipation of a conversation that was weeks in coming. He went in.
The staff duty officer this morning was Sergeant Gabriel Sanchez, an Air Force enlisted man now in his second year of duty at Group. He looked up from his shift paperwork just as Everett stepped inside the still quiet office.
"Tell me he's still in bed and hasn't reported yet," Everett said as he noticed the closed door to the colonel's office.
Sanchez slowly shook his head in the negative. He used his ballpoint pen to point at Jack's door.
"Never left. He's been in his office all night and Europa says he's been logged on his terminal since 2250 hours last night."
A grim and determined line formed at Everett's mouth as he moved past the several rows of desks yet to be filled by the day shift of the Security Department in less than an hour. He figured now would be the best time to confront an old friend about a serious problem, and that problem was Jack Collins himself.
"Sergeant, take ten and get some joe down in the cafeteria," Everett said as he paused at Jack's closed door.
"I don't drink coffee, Captain, I—"
The words fell short as the sergeant saw the stern look on the captain's face.
"But a donut would be nice," Sanchez finished as he stood and left the office.
Everett without hesitation knocked twice quickly and then went through the door.
"Good morning, Jack, restful night?" Carl said as he perched himself on the front edge of the colonel's desk.
Jack was studying a printout from Europa and still hadn't looked up at the U.S. Navy SEAL and a man that had, over the many years, became the colonel's closest friend.
The colonel, without looking up from his printout, replied, "Restful enough, Carl." Collins finally looked up as if he had been waiting for this conversation as much as the captain had. Jack laid a yellow highlighter next to the printout and then waited for Everett's size thirteen shoe to fall.
Jack held Everett's gaze, his face neutral, and the captain couldn't read what was behind the mask. He was relieved when Collins visibly relaxed.
"No." Jack lowered his head and folded the printout and placed it in his desk drawer and then looked at his watch.
"Jack, let me in, will you, you can't do this on your own."
"The murder of my sister by someone in government service is what I consider a personal matter, Carl. As much as I appreciate the offer, this is something that I have to do on my own. Can you understand that?" Jack's blue eyes bore in on Everett's and didn't waver.
"No, Jack, I can't. I can't justify you doing this alone. We all knew and liked Lynn. I think Sarah McIntire, Will Mendenhall, and Jason Ryan, and even this dumb swabby captain need to be a part of tracking down whoever did this to your sister. It's not just you, Jack."
Collins once more with flair looked at his watch and then back at Everett. "I appreciate the offer, but no. I have to do this and will not risk one more individual of this organization to track her killer down. Stay out of it." Once more the watch was glanced at. "We have a departmental meeting in an hour. I have work in another department so I'll need you to cover that staff meeting."
Everett watched as Collins stood, placed a hand on Everett's shoulder.
"The lives of you, Sarah, Will, or even Ryan will not be put at risk." He looked directly into Carl's eyes. "I appreciate your offer, but this has to be done without you."
Everett watched Jack leave the office without another word. As he stood from the top of Jack's desk he noticed that the colonel hadn't logged off from Europa. With little shame and far less hesitation Carl leaned over and looked at the computer monitor. As Everett saw the picture on the screen his heart leaped in his chest. Colonel Henri Farbeaux was the face staring back at him. The Event Group's most feared enemy and the world's greatest antiquities thief had been in custody as early as the month before right here at the Event Group facility. Circumstances however soon dictated that Farbeaux be set free due to personal reasons between Jack and Sarah. The entire incident was kept quiet out of respect for the couple's privacy. He saw the flashing message just under the picture of the arch-criminal. "Message received from Avignon, France, at 0235 hours this date, Farbeaux, Henri R."
Everett reached out and tapped the power button for the computer's monitor and then slowly stood and rubbed a hand over his chin. To have an open communication with a man the FBI considered the second most dangerous man in the world and speaking with him was a treasonable offense. Everett knew Farbeaux had been blamed for many despicable things in the past in his work to gather the world's greatest antiquities, but thus far he and Colonel Collins could come up with no concrete evidence that he had ever done an American citizen harm. He realized that Henri could be, and on occasion was, a cold-blooded killer, but only when the need arose and only if his life depended upon his aggressive actions. For Henri Farbeaux killing was just too expensive a commodity for his line of work. As he turned for the door Everett became more afraid than ever for Collins.
"What are you and old Henri up to, Jack?"
* * *
Alice stood at the security arch leading to the vaults on Level 63. The entire level was dedicated to artifacts that were deemed interesting on an individual basis, but they were also items that held little value to the security of the United States as a whole. This level of vaults was the junk closet of the Event Group.
"Ma'am, are you feeling all right?" asked Marine Lance Corporal Freddy Allen.
Alice stood before the security arch, holding the thick file clutched close to her breast as if it were in danger of jumping free. The lance corporal looked into the tired face of a woman that held sway over Department 5656 as a living legend, right up there with Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Ike, and Garrison Lee.
Alice didn't answer the security man's question. Instead she slowly leaned over the duty desk and placed her right hand on a glass pad. The scanner glowed green, flashed red and then green again; the color remained steady.
"Finger, palm, and pad print confirmed. Now if you'll please step to the security arch and place your left eye to the scanner." Alice did as requested.
Suddenly the archway illuminated with a soft blue light; this indicated the laser and gas security systems had been "safed" for Alice's entry into the vault level after the device correctly read her scanned and stored retinal data on file with Europa.
"Thank you," was all she said to the blue-clad Marine as she moved into the vault level.
"You're welcome, ma'am," the corporal said as she disappeared beyond the security arch. With his eyes on the slow-moving figure of Alice the security man reached for the phone. "Captain, this is Lance Corporal Allen on Level 63. I think you need to come down here. Mrs. Hamilton just checked through security and she looks … well, sir, she looks exhausted."
* * *
Second Lieutenant Sarah McIntire was just leaving the large and very well appointed mess hall, or as the civilians at group called it, the cafeteria, when she saw Jack speaking in hushed tones with the director of Department 5656, Dr. Niles Compton. She saw the stern look on the director's face and she also noticed that Jack was doing all the talking. The director shook his head from time to time and then the conversation was over. Collins briefly looked up and noticed Sarah just outside the glassed double doors of the cafeteria. He nodded his head once and then turned to leave the now crowded hallway. Sarah decided that the silent treatment from the man she loved was getting to be too much for her. With everything that had happened to the Group in the past two years she was tired of being the last to know everything, especially from a man who used to be able to tell her anything of a personal nature.
"Colonel, do you have a moment?" she asked when she caught him at the elevator tube.
"Lieutenant?" Jack said without turning to face her.
"You didn't come to see me last night at the Ark. You stood me up, Colonel Collins–again."
Jack finally turned to face Sarah. He forced a smile and knew it had been a miserable attempt.
"Short stuff, I was just swamped last night," he said, the lie easily flowing from his lips, something he had never developed a talent for over the years, even for security-oriented situations, much less those on a more personal level. "That's not true," he corrected his lie quickly. "We'll talk later, okay?" With that he attempted to smile and again failed.
The elevator hissed to a stop and the doors opened. Collins stepped back to allow the passengers off and then quickly stepped in and then the door closed on Sarah.
* * *
Sarah McIntire slowly lowered her head as others in the hallway passed by on their way to breakfast. After a moment she turned away from the closed doors of the elevator.
"McIntire!" came the call from down the curving corridor.
Sarah turned toward the voice and saw Captain Everett and the deputy director of the Event Group, Professor Virginia Pollock. The tall but beautiful assistant director looked worried as she and Carl approached. It was strange seeing Virginia out of a lab coat while on duty.
"Come with us, Lieutenant." Virginia didn't wait for Sarah as she stepped quickly into the next empty elevator. The trip to the vault area was silent as they rode the air-cushioned elevator to Level 63.
"We're losing Jack," Sarah said as she leaned her head against the polished aluminum of the elevator doors.
"I know," Carl answered as he pulled McIntire back from the doors. "He won't let any of us inside."
"His sister's murder has reacquainted Jack with his recent combat past and no one is going to stop him from finding out who the traitor was at either the CIA or FBI," Virginia Pollock said as she looked at Sarah, and then tried to give her a reassuring smile, but like Jack a few moments before it failed. The doors slid open to Level 63.
The sister of Colonel Jack Collins, Lynn Simpson, was murdered three weeks before and the only clue left behind was a memo generated from either a computer desk at Langley and the CIA, or D.C. from the J. Edgar Hoover Building and the FBI. Someone in one of those two dark agencies had lured Jack's sister to her death because she may have uncovered something at one, or even both departments, and Jack was determined to track down the killer and administer his brand of justice to the scum that ambushed his sister in Georgetown.
"We have to let him play this out for now and then we'll see if he comes back to us," Everett said and looked down at Sarah and knew that was a point she didn't really care to hear about. Carl reached out and squeezed her small shoulder. "And he will come back. Besides, I think there may be more to his shutting me out than either you, Mendenhall, or Ryan. I can't place it but he's pushing me away from him even harder than he is you or the others."
Sarah nodded. She had noticed the distant way Jack treated Carl since his sister's murder. As the three reached Vault 22871, indicated by the illuminated light blue numbers to the left of the vault, it stood open, and they entered to see Alice Hamilton on her hands and knees retrieving papers that had spilled to the tile floor. Lance Corporal Allen was assisting her.
"What's up?" Everett asked as Virginia and Sarah entered one of the smaller vaults on this level.
"I'm afraid I startled Mrs. Hamilton when I came inside the vault. She was engrossed in looking at the specimen and I must have caught her off guard."
Everett leaned over and gently helped Alice to her feet. "Come on now, the lance corporal can get those. What are you doing here this early, Alice?" Carl asked as he looked her over. The captain shot a quick look at Sarah and Virginia and then gestured by a dip of his head that he needed their help with her.
"Oh, I'm all right, just startled me is all. I wasn't expecting someone to come up behind me when I'm looking at that," she said with a nod of her head toward the specimen inside the glass enclosure.
As Everett released Alice into the more familiar arms of Alice's closest friends at the complex, he glanced at the contents of a vault he had never been in before. He saw what looked like a display of bones laid out inside a hermetically sealed Plexiglas enclosure. His eyes went from the bones to the lance corporal as he handed the captain the large file.
"She was carrying this file like she had nuclear launch codes stashed in here," the Marine said quietly.
"Thank you, Corporal, you can return to your duties."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Everett looked over at Alice, who was being helped into one of the many seats lining the interior of the vault. She was shaking and insisting to her two friends that she was fine, repeating that she had just been startled by the sudden appearance of the corporal. Carl then glanced at the file he held in his hands. He opened it, not really wanting to see anything of a private nature but he considered Alice the mother he had never had and his worry drove propriety out of his thoughts. His brow furrowed when he saw the first few pages. After reading it he shot Alice another look. Everett shook his head and then walked over to where Alice was sitting and knelt down in front of her.
"How are you doing?" Carl asked, slapping her knee lightly with the thick file.
Alice started to answer and then saw the file in Carl's hand. She reached out but Everett simply moved the file a few inches away.
"Alice, I need to know what you're doing here," he said pointedly with a glance toward the open vault door—it was empty.
"I … I need to make a presentation to Niles and the other department heads … I…" Alice's words trailed off and she looked confused and then just as quickly snapped out of it. "This is important," she finished, looking first into Carl's eyes and then Sarah's and Virginia's in turn. The sadness and determination were set deep in Alice Hamilton's face. "Can I talk to Niles?"
"Well, of course you can, why in the hell would you think he wouldn't see you?" Virginia asked, angry at the thought that Niles Compton's oldest friend in Alice would ever think that.
"Of course she can see me anytime she likes."
Everett squeezed his eyes closed. Even though it was on his orders that Niles be notified about Alice's presence in the vault area when she wasn't scheduled to come in at all for the next three weeks, he realized now it had been a huge mistake. Now there would be no way to keep the contents, or at least the pages he quickly scanned over, out of the chain of command. Niles Compton stood in the doorway. His white shirt and black tie were freshly cleaned and pressed and everyone could see that he was getting ready for the start of the day at the Event Group complex. Beneath his glasses all could see that his eyes were focused on Alice. As they looked up, Jack Collins stepped into the vault right behind Niles. He looked at Alice, Carl, Virginia, and then Sarah in that order. She could see his jaw muscles clenching and she knew something wasn't right.
Everett stood and faced Collins. He held up the file and everyone saw Alice flinch and almost start to reach for it once more.
"Colonel, I think you need to see what's—"
"Carl, we'll be placing Alice into protective custody. For the time being she will be restricted to the complex. Her house will be secured by our personnel."
"What?" Everett asked, incredulous at what he had just heard. Carl was so highly trained it was a shock for everyone watching how fast his reaction to Jack's order was. Never had he questioned a command from Collins in front of anyone.
"This is a joke, right?" Sarah asked as she stood to face Jack.
"No, Lieutenant, it's no joke. The action is on my orders." Niles Compton walked into the vault and most noticed him give the specimen enclosure a look; then his eyes moved quickly away and he walked over to Alice. He smiled down at one of his closest friends and the woman who had trained him in the art of running a federal facility unlike any in the world. Niles held out his hand and Alice nodded as if in resignation, and then allowed Niles to help her slowly to her feet. He placed an arm around her and turned her away from the other shocked occupants of the small vault.
"You're angry, Niles," Alice said. "You and Garrison have that same I'll disarm them with kindness approach."
Niles squeezed her closer to him as they walked to the vault door. "Angry? Not at all, and I know better than anyone here that I would never try to psych you into submission. Hell, Garrison knew that also." He glanced up at Jack as they slowly walked by him. Collins's look softened and at the same moment he reached out and also squeezed Alice's shoulder as they passed by.
"Jack's pretty hot too, I can tell," Alice said quietly as she stepped over the threshold of the vault and into the curving corridor.
"Not mad, Alice. He's just concerned with certain activities you've been up to lately."
As the soothing voice of Niles Compton slowly faded away in the hallway outside, Collins turned to Everett.
"Carl, get that file up to the conference room. Also get three security men dispatched to Alice's house. I want her Europa link to the complex severed. Her off-base security clearance is hereby suspended until further notice."
"What in the hell is—"
Jack held up his hand while not looking at Sarah as he cut her off. "Look, Alice and a few others may have compromised security. They also may have placed an agent in jeopardy. This is just temporary until we find out what she's up to."
The look on Sarah's face and also that of Virginia made Jack cringe.
"Short stuff, she's not under arrest, she's in protective custody."
"Yeah, a nice euphemism, Jack … I fail to see the difference."
"Damn it, Lieutenant, Alice just may have compromised the most important deep cover agent the Group has ever placed, and to tell you the truth that operative is in a rather unforgiving place to be caught and accused of being a spy."
"Jack, it's Alice Hamilton for crying out loud."
Collins lowered his head and didn't wait for Sarah to catch up as he headed for the vault door.
Copyright © 2013 by David L. Golemon