Authors: Nichole Christoff
And my heart lurched. Because in that moment, I was certain Barrett was Ikaat's American. He had to be. His sunburnt cheekbones, delicious tan, and hush-hush summer assignment suggested as much. And his mysterious appearances in Covent Garden and at Harrods confirmed it.
Fear shivered through me. But not for myself. For Barrett. No foreign government would take kindly to the things he'd done. The Brits certainly wouldn't thank him for killing a man on their own soil, even if that man were an Albanian hit man. They would want him arrested and tried. And because he'd helped their leading nuclear physicist escape to the West, Ikaat's government would want Barrett's blood.
But Barrett wasn't Ikaat's first concern. Her hand closed around mine. “I cannot go without my father. I will not go without him. How free will I be without him by my side? Surely, you understand.”
I did and I didn't. Ikaat's father had faced the very real threat of arrest and torture to educate his daughterâand to free her. I couldn't even get my father to talk to me on the telephone.
“Ikaat,” I said softly, “I have to escort you and Katie to Washington. It's what I promised my father I'd do.”
“Well,” Katie said, “you can make another promise, can't you?”
From her chair on the far side of the coffee table, she'd watched the conversation like a match at Wimbledon. Now, she spoke like more than a spectator. She spoke like more than a State Department courier, too.
She spoke like a diplomat.
“Jamie, you can promise to look for Ikaat's father tomorrow. Whether you find him or not, Ikaat can promise to leave London the day after. Right, Ikaat?”
Ikaat nodded eagerly, readily accepting the deal.
But this wasn't the best suggestion I'd ever heard.
Being a security specialist, I knew we should've been on our way to the airport at that moment. Indecision had me scowling at one woman, then the other. Katie's pretty face was set in firm resolve. Ikaat's chin wobbled as she awaited my decision.
It wasn't the emotions of either that decided me, however. It was the realization that the last time I'd seen Ikaat's father, Barrett wasn't far behind. So if I looked for Ikaat's fatherâand if I found himâI just might find Barrett as well.
Dawn came achingly earlyâand found me huddled with my sore arm and stiff knee in the mouth of a dank alley in Covent Garden. Last night's fog had congealed into fat droplets that resembled rain. Instead of falling to the ground, though, they came at me sideways to catch me full in the face. Still, despite the weather, I had a good view of the front of the bookstore where I'd last seen Ikaat's father. If he came looking for his daughterâand for their snitch visasâchances were he'd look here first.
The night before, Ikaat, Katie, and I stayed up until the wee hours. Us
Americans had pelted Ikaat with questions about the old man. I believed Ikaat had done her best to answer them. As incentive, I hadn't hesitated to remind Ikaat that Helmet Head wanted to find her father. And that it was in everyone's best interests that I find him first.
Before leaving the hotel, I hunted up Ikaat in the bedroom she'd shared with Katie. And I instructed her to remain inside Rabbit's Revengeâno matter what. She was still in the robe she'd donned the night before and I was glad to see it. It meant she wasn't planning on slipping out of the hotel the instant my back was turned. But her lovely olive skin was sallow and she'd nibbled her bottom lip raw. Worry, apparently, had kept her up all night. And I couldn't be sure what it would make her do during the day.
With that in mind, I jerked a nod at Katie, silently suggesting she leave Ikaat behind and accompany me to the suite's door. She did so. And once we were beyond earshot of our traveling companion, I said, “Don't let Ikaat out of your sight.”
“She's in danger,” Katie said.
“She could run,” I corrected. “She could've lied about not knowing where to find her father. She could've gotten cold feet about defecting. She could've gotten homesick overnight. In any case, she's got too many reasons to take off like a shot.”
“Well, that would be all right, wouldn't it? I mean, you're not going to force her to go to America if she doesn't want to. What if she wants to go back to her home country, instead?”
I placed a steadying hand on Katie's shoulder. With her golden tresses tucked behind her ears and her face scrubbed of makeup, she seemed so young this morning, regardless of the maturity she'd shown in convincing me to stay in London last night. But young or not, she had to understand what Ikaat was up against. She had to face it. And she had to realize that danger for Ikaat meant danger for her and me, too.
I answered, “As far as I'm concerned, Ikaat Oujdad can live anywhere she wants. But that human gorilla with the gun didn't agree. There'll be more guys like him, wherever he came from.”
Katie blinked her baby blues, then eyed the cast on my arm.
“Ikaat's best bet is to get to Washington,” I continued. “It's up to you and me to help her get there.”
Katie's eyebrows pinched together, but she nodded as if she agreed with me.
I turned to leave.
Katie plucked at my sleeve. “Jamie, wait. Where will you be? How long will you be gone?”
“I don't know and I don't know.”
“Well, how will we reach you if we need you?”
“You've still got your cell phone, don't you?”
Her hand delved into her robe pocket. She extracted it, clutched it to her chest like a woman who still hadn't heard from her dear sister. “Yes.”
“Call me,” I said, “if you need me.”
And with that, I set out to find Ikaat's father.
According to his daughter, Armand Oujdad had no family in London and no friends at all. He carried no credit cards and only Â£300 in his trouser pocket. In this cosmopolitan city, I knew Â£300 was chump change. He'd likely slept rough if he'd slept at all. He couldn't live on London's streets indefinitely, though.
And he wouldn't live long if Helmet Head found him before I did.
The start of my second hour of surveillance found my tan trench coat dark with the wet. My toes stung with the chill rising from the pavement. As the fog thinned, a street cleanerâone of those loud, truck-like things with brushes bristling from its bellyârumbled past me on the cobblestones, generating a roar of white noise. And my BlackBerry, on my hip, began to vibrate. Philip's number lit the caller ID.
I debated whether to ignore the call.
But against my better judgment, I answered it.
“Good morning.” Philip's tone suggested his morning had been anything but. “How's the old arm?”
“Uncomfortable, but I'll live.”
“Excellent. Then perhaps you'll join me for breakfast.”
“I can't. I'm only in Britain for a couple of days and I'm on a bit of a tight scheduleâ”
“I gathered as much when you vanished last night.”
“I'm sorry about that.” And I was.
“Well, make it up to me.”
“I really can't, Philip. I've got a full agenda today.”
“Yes. I assumed so when I saw some rather intriguing video this morning.”
My phone grew cold in my hand. I frowned at the nearest lamppost, now clearly visible in the evaporating fog, and followed its vertical line to the horizontal sweep of the eaves of the building beside me. There, in a glass bubble that put me in mind of a gypsy's crystal ball, I found the dark eye of a closed-circuit television camera.
The eye glowered at me.
I wasn't surprised to see it. In recent years, CC-TV cameras had popped up everywhere in Great Britain, and while the idea of such constant, public surveillance had gained some popularity in the U.S. in the wake of the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, the notion that Big Brother might be watching didn't always sit well with the Brits. Some had begun to call the UK the ultimate nanny state. Others openly compared the public safety program to the machinations of George Orwell's government in
. But love it or hate it, the CC-TV system had accomplished one thing. It sometimes gave law enforcement the ability to catch criminals in the act of committing their crimes andâbetter yetâto prove their guilt in court.
Consequently, after the shooting last night, I had no doubt Philip had footage of me with the Oujdads.
And of Barrett blowing Teodor Dalmatovis away.
Case in point, Philip said, “I believe you'll want to see this fascinating video, Jamie. I'll send my car for you.”
With that, he disconnected. Because he didn't need to wait around while I rattled off coordinates for my current location. Thanks to the camera mounted high above me, Philip's driver knew exactly where to find me.
Eleven minutes later, I learned that Central London's infamous morning traffic couldn't hinder Philip's shiny, black car one whit. It slid through the congested streets of the old city as if on rails. From the loneliness of the cavernous backseat, I practically pressed my nose to the tinted windowâjust to be sure we weren't actually driving on the sidewalk.
Still, landmarks like Saint Paul's Cathedral and the monument to Boadicea, the ancients' warrior queen, blurred by. Once, on a whim when we paused at a stoplight, I tugged on the hefty, chrome door handle at my elbow. It didn't yield. Neither did the button controlling the car's locks. I frowned my disapproval at the driver, but that didn't do any good. He couldn't see me through the raised privacy partition. Besides, by disabling my ability to unlock the doors, he was undoubtedly acting under orders from Philip. And Philip clearly wasn't about to let me slip away from him a second time.
After a thirty-minute drive, Philip's car deposited me on a swath of cracked asphalt in the middle of nowhere. An airliner could've landed in front of me on the vast expanse and still have room to taxi. Against the horizon, I made out a cluster of distant buildings, including 30 St. Mary Axe.
The egg-shaped high-rise of spiraling girders and glass that Brits refer to as “the Gherkin” rises from the heart of the nation's financial district. I judged it to be easily several miles from where I stood. More than a little distance separated it from me, however. A bend in the river, turgid and gray, as well as decades of economic loss meant we were worlds apart. Because while the Gherkin was deep in town, I was deep in London's East End.
Over my head, the seagulls of the Thames estuary shrieked in confirmation of my location. Or maybe they were just shrieking at Philip's car. It drove off in a huff of white exhaust, leaving me and the wheeling birds to ourselves.
I suspected, however, we wouldn't be alone for long.
To my right, a string of grimy Victorian brick warehouses stood between me and the North Sea, and while these buildings were a far cry from the hallowed halls of Westminster and Philip's haunt in the Foreign Minister's Office, I had no doubt he was loitering in one of them, smirking as I scowled in his general direction. Sure enough, the second I was within spitting distance of the nearest warehouse's iron-clad sliding door, it swept aside as smoothly as if it had been oiled yesterday. Philip himself appeared in the widening gap.
He didn't look overjoyed to see me.
“You haven't been frank with me, Jamie.” Philip's hair seemed redder than ever in the rainy gloom. And it stood out from his crown like licks of burning flame. His voice, however, was cold enough to turn the mist to ice. Especially when he added, “Do step inside.”
I did as he instructed. Under my feet, two-hundred-year-old floorboards as wide as virgin oak trees didn't so much as sigh. The place smelled of dust and bird droppings, though.
Philip moved past me and I caught a whiff of his aftershave. Bay Rum mixed with something warm. Something spicy. Something sexy. I couldn't put my finger on the scent, but irritation had me thinking his family had probably discovered the mysterious ingredient during some early seventeenth-century sea voyage to the far side of the worldâand made a second fortune cultivating the stuff on an exotic plantation.
High over my head, a flock of pigeons took exception to our presence. They flew from one rafter to another in a flutter of feathers. Not that anyone else was around to notice. Where wholesalers once poked and prodded bales of American cotton and crates of India tea, an RV long enough to satisfy any rock star's ego stood in the middle of the warehouse floor. But no one was within sight of it.
Philip blazed a beeline for the recreational vehicle, so I followed him. When he wrenched open the door and gestured for me to enter, I obediently climbed inside. A bank of video consoles ran the length of the vehicle's dim interior. Men and women in dreary suits and dull ties studied the consoles. As I entered, they didn't so much as glance at me. When Philip entered, however, every last one of them jumped to their feet and snapped to attention.
Philip bypassed them all. Drawing me in his wake, he pushed his way into a cramped compartment in the end of the RV. A paneled door snapped shut behind us, leaving us in a humming darkness punctuated by the neon glow of televisions mounted from the floor to the ceiling and wall to wall.
There, in the grainy black-and-white glory of digital video, Barrett stood on a familiar London street, the collar of his navy pea coat obscuring the familiar hollow of his cheek. His arm was extended and parallel to the sidewalk. His hand was an unbroken line from his wrist to the sight on the muzzle of a handgun. Before him, the electronic image of the Gorilla, Teodor Dalmatovis, didn't look half so big or half so scary as it had in person. A bald spot on the back of Dalmatovis's head reflected the glow of a streetlight, making him look like a harmless middle-aged man.
Philip brushed a thumb over a remote control he pulled from a pocket. The image of Barrett jerked to life. A white flash flared when he fired his weapon.
I jumped as if I were the one who'd been shot, but onscreen, Dalmatovis folded like yesterday's newspaper.
A shock wave of stereo sound blasted the little room, pumped through my body, and I watched Dalmatovis die one more time.
Philip had looped the video or one of his lackeys had done it for him.
And everywhere I turned, I saw Barrett killing the man with the bald spot again and again.
“Enough!” I shouted.
Philip froze the frame. Onscreen, Barrett's face was emotionless. Troubled by the sight and wanting not to show it, I tried to cross my arms against my chest. The cast on my wrist wouldn't cooperate. Pain spiked from my thumb to my elbow brutally enough to make me wince. But the discomfort was nothing compared to the ache of knowing Barrett was in serious trouble. And that Philip hadn't brought me here to help Barrett out of it.
“You've been traveling with bad company, Jamie.”
“Not me,” I replied, proud that my voice didn't tremble. “I've been traveling with Katie deMarco, as you well know.”
Philip ignored my insinuation that he'd been nosing through my business and stepped to a narrow workstation bristling with buttons. At the brush of his finger, Barrett's expressionless mug swelled to fill each screen. “Have you seen this man before?”
I had. In the hour before I'd boarded my plane for London, I'd seen soft lamplight deepen the chocolate pools of his eyes and his sunburnt cheeks flush with passion. At the time, I'd thought I wanted to see a lot more of him. Now, fear for him made me get defensive. But then I remembered the best defense could be a solid offense.
I hiked my chin, stared Philip in the eye. “Yesterday, you mentioned Katie by name. You knew we were staying at The Elizabethan Rose. How long have you been keeping tabs on me? And more important,
Philip shook his head as if I were a schoolgirl who hadn't done her homework. “I didn't bring you here to ask questions, Jamie. I brought you here to answer them.”
“Then how about we answer questions for each other?”
“No, how about you look at this?”