Authors: Nick Stephenson
Gerard whipped around, bringing his own weapon to bear. The intruder feinted, stepping to the side as Gerard moved in. He grabbed the bodyguard’s arm and wrenched it backward, simultaneously aiming a kick to the knee. Gerard buckled. The German lifted his handgun and aimed in Mary’s direction.
“Down!” Leopold dived, tackling her to the floor. Sophie followed suit.
The intruder hesitated for a split second, apparently trying to choose a target. The momentary lapse in concentration gave Gerard the opportunity to free his arm. He aimed a jab to his opponents throat, causing the other to stumble as he tried to avoid contact.
Lunging from his crouching position, the bodyguard tackled the smaller man, sending them both crashing into the wall. Leopold heard a
of glass and wood as several frames splintered and fell to the floor. Gerard jabbed at the German’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him. The intruder grunted and twisted, bringing up a knee. Gerard blocked with his forearm, dropping his gun.
“Get out of here!” Gerard ordered.
The words took a second or two to hit home. Leopold’s brain kicked into action and he grabbed hold of Mary’s wrist.
“We need to go,” he said.
“You don’t need to tell me twice.” She tugged at Sophie’s arm. “Come on, I think we can make it to the door.”
“I’ll try and give Gerard a hand. Maybe buy us all some time.”
Sucking in a deep breath, Leopold let go of Mary and sprang to his feet, diving at the two men. He lowered his shoulder and went for the German’s legs, lifting the man up into the air. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mary and Sophie reach the door. He felt a dizzying pain across the top of his skull and toppled to the ground, grasping his crown in both hands. He felt something warm and wet. Was that blood? Looking up, he saw the intruder shove Gerard backward a couple of feet. The bodyguard stumbled, trying not to trip over Leopold.
Then came the shot.
Ears ringing, Leopold didn’t register the sound at first. In close quarters, the noise of a gun firing was deafening. He patted himself down, feeling his chest for any signs of an entry wound. There was nothing. He looked around and saw that Mary and Sophie had managed to get out.
Then he realized what had happened.
GERARD FELL TO his knees, blood pooling on his shirt. The German brought the gun up again, aiming for Leopold this time. Gerard grunted and lunged forward, shoving the smaller man back against the wall.
“I’ve got this,” said Gerard. “Get out. Now. Take the car and get the others away. Go!”
Leopold blinked hard, still dizzy from the pistol-whip to the head, and got to his feet. He felt a little shaky.
The German recovered, knocking Gerard back to his knees. Leopold rushed toward the door, slamming it shut behind him. Mary and Sophie were crouched a few feet down the hallway. He heard another shot and ducked, half-expecting a bullet to punch through the wood above his head.
“We need to get out of here,” he said, breathing heavily. “Follow me to the car.”
“What about Gerard?” asked Sophie.
Leopold felt a pang of remorse in his chest. He shook his head. “There’s nothing we can do. Please, we need to get out of here.” He broke into a jog.
“How the hell did that guy find us?” said Mary, following close behind.
“Is that the man from the parking lot?” asked Sophie.
“Just keep moving.”
The trio reached the stairs and Leopold grabbed the railing, taking the steps two at a time. They hit the ground floor without breaking stride and Mary reached the front door first. Her hands a blur, she slid open the chains and locks, throwing the door wide open.
The light was dazzling. Now fully risen, the sun bathed the streets in a white glow, making Leopold’s eyes sting as he jogged out into the road. The Mercedes was parked nearby, just across the street. They reached the car and Leopold fumbled under the wheel arch, locating the spare key. He opened the doors and climbed inside.
“What are you waiting for?” asked Mary, buckling up in the front passenger seat.
“How the hell did he track us here?” said Leopold. “Unless he got to the computer back at the apartment…” He pulled out Mary’s cell phone from his jacket pocket. “But that would have been impossible with the GIPN in the building.”
“Unless one of Rousseau’s men is involved?”
“There’s only one way to find out.” He dialed a number on the phone’s keypad and hung up almost immediately. He opened the car door and tossed the cell phone onto the sidewalk. “Hey, what the hell?” said Mary. “That’s a brand new phone.”
“I’ll get you another.” He started the car and turned around, heading away from the river. “Just trust me.”
He turned to face her. “It’s just a phone.”
“You just left Gerard in there to die.”
“There’s nothing we could do, Mary. He used whatever strength he had left to get us out of there. We’re alive thanks to him. I’ll make sure the person behind this gets everything they deserve.”
“And I’m supposed to just trust your judgment on that? You don’t even know what’s going on in your own company. How can I trust that you know what’s going on here?”
“Is this really the right time?” asked Sophie from the back seat. “I think I can hear police sirens. Maybe we should –”
“Stay out of this,” said Mary. “I’m serious,” she continued, turning back to Leopold.
“What are you talking about?”
“My sister called.”
“Your sister? I thought you two didn’t speak.” He turned a corner and hit the main road.
“Well, she’s taken it upon herself to stick her nose into my business. And that means sticking her nose into your business, it seems. You know anything about a chemical research division at Blake Investments?”
He looked at her. “Sure. Why?”
“The WHO are looking into it.”
Leopold didn’t reply.
“You really don’t have any clue what’s going on?”
Leopold put his foot down and changed lanes. “I get a quarterly report. What’s this got to do with anything?”
Mary sighed. “You don’t think it’s strange that someone would go out of their way to stage such an elaborate way of keeping you out of the picture? They could have just hired someone to pick you off. Why do you think that is?”
“Because maybe it’s just not enough to kill me.”
“Listen, Leopold. My sister told me she’s got someone on the inside. Someone working at your chemical research division. She said they’ve discovered something that could prove to be very dangerous in the wrong hands.”
“What else did she say?”
“She said the WHO first noticed issues after the division shut itself off from the public. They thought the researches might have discovered something they didn’t want anyone to know about.”
“When was this?”
“Three years ago.”
Leopold gripped the steering wheel a little harder.
“What is it?” asked Mary.
He turned to look at her. “Three years ago, after nearly half a decade of zero progress, I was forced to step back from the division. The EU passed new regulations making it illegal for any private organization in the research sectors to have any ties to military suppliers.”
“And Blake Investments owns a few of those, I suppose?”
“I was allowed to own shares in the company, I just wasn’t allowed to run it. Apparently, it was supposed to prevent any conflicts of interest.”
“So, I had to sever all ties with the company and hand the reins over. That included preparing a trust deed that allowed for an executor to use my shares to vote on my behalf if anything ever happened to me.”
“Let me guess – like if you were killed?”
“Or found unfit to act. Which includes –”
“Getting arrested for murder,” said Mary.
“Potentially, yes. The board only needs a reasonable excuse to trigger the transfer of my voting rights to my executor.” He slapped his palm down on the dash, making Sophie jump. “Find the motive, find the killer.” He turned to Mary. “It’s been staring me in the face all this time.”
“It’s circumstantial, at best,” she said. “We’ll need proof.”
Leopold undertook a slow-moving van ahead, eliciting a series of enraged blasts from the driver’s horn. “What about this for proof? How do you think the German managed to track us to the apartment and then to Dubois’ house?”
“Maybe there’s a leak in Rousseau’s unit,” said Mary.
“Not likely. Remember what Gerard told us? About if we needed extraction?”
“His agency can track him via his cell phone. You think it’s someone at the agency?”
“Think about the motive,” said Leopold. “What if someone intercepted Gerard’s cell signal and sent it somewhere else? It would be easy enough to do, if you knew what you were doing.”
“But how would they know which signal to trace?
“There is one way,” said Leopold. “If you already know which cell phone to look for.”
“WHAT DO YOU think he wants with us?” Rose’s voice was a whisper, barely audible over the background noise from The
’ engines. “Do you think he knows anything?”
Following their impromptu sleepover, James had suggested they grab a bite to eat from the ship’s mess hall before the breakfast rush. Before they could even grab a slice of toast, one of the stewards had shown up and ordered them to report to the Director’s office. Immediately.
“It’s probably nothing,” said James, leading the way down the long corridor. “Maybe one of the projects I’ve got you and your team working. You’ve turned out some pretty impressive results recently.” He wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince.
“I’ll take that as a compliment after last night,” she said, nudging him, any trace of concern now gone.
“Speaking of which, don’t let anybody know about us,” he said. “You know the policy.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Kinda makes it more fun though, right?”
James pulled open the door at the end of the hallway. “You’re going to be trouble, aren’t you? I can tell.”
“You ain’t seen nothing yet.” She breezed through. “Boss.”
James shook his head and followed, catching up with a few long strides. Rose increased her pace too, taunting him. He laughed, a little louder than intended, and tugged at her arm. She turned, and James pushed her up against the wall.
“Don’t tempt me,” he said.
“Now’s probably not the best time.”
“I guess not,” he pulled away.
“I’ll come visit later.” She leaned in and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Just so long as you behave yourself.”
They rounded the corner and made their way up the narrow staircase to the top deck, where a set of double doors manned by a pair of security guards blocked their path. The doors were double height, as were the guards, and one of them held up a giant palm as the two operatives approached.
“Arms out to your sides, please.” The slightly larger of the two stepped forward and patted James’ clothes, apparently checking for weapons or recording devices.
“Ma’am.” The other guard repeated the process with Rose.
Satisfied, the larger guard swiped a key card across a magnetic reader and the doors slid open. He beckoned them forward and led them through to a cavernous office while the other remained on duty outside. The doors slid closed.
“Wait here,” said the guard, disappearing into a side room.
James looked around. The Director’s office was easily the largest on the ship, with high ceilings and plate glass windows that looked out across the bow toward the horizon. In the early morning sunlight, the view was breathtaking. Aside from an expansive desk, a drinks cabinet, a few chairs, and a number of wall mounted LCD monitors, the room was empty. The soft carpet, a rich blue color, matched the hue of the ocean almost perfectly.
“This place gives me the creeps,” said Rose. “God only knows what goes on up here.”
“Relax, we’ll be out of here soon enough.”
“I hope you’re right.”