BREAKTHROUGH SERIES

CATALYST

THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD HAS BEGUN...

In 1984 a doomsday vault was constructed on a remote island in the Arctic Ocean.
Its purpose was to preserve Earth’s genetic history in the event of a global catastrophe.

Now, decades later, a second vault has been uncovered.
This one resting where no one ever expected.
And the problem is…it’s not ours.

Yet even more curious than the vault itself, is what lies inside.
Seeds. Millions of seeds. Each with a genetic embryo untouched and perfectly preserved.

Waiting.

No one knows who built it. Or when.
What we have managed to figure out is that whoever it was traveled an immense distance. For the sole purpose of hiding their genetic blueprints on Earth.

But why?

Now a small group of marine biologists and navy investigators have been assigned to find out. Before anyone else does. 
But Alison Shaw and John Clay are not prepared for what they are about to uncover.

Beginning with the truth behind our own evolution.


“It's a page turner, folks.
It'll keep you on the edge of your seat”

A. J. Sparber

“Does a superb job of telling a tale that
interweaves facts and fiction and fantasy”

Linda J

“I am completely hooked on
the story lines and characters”

Aaron H.

PROLOGUE

 

With a painful wince,
Steve Caesare brushed back his shirt and slid a hand down over the handle of his gun...

The hallway he stood in was richly decorated with white marble walls and thick beige carpeting, allowing him to approach the door with very little sound.

Caesare glanced up at one of the overhead chandeliers, scanning the ceiling and walls for cameras.  Too well hidden.  His hotel uniform was bulging at the seams, barely containing his broad frame beneath.  Anyone taking a close look at a monitor would notice something wrong with his appearance.

The Tivioli Mofarrej was one of the most elegant hotels in São Paulo, and certainly the most expensive.  Used by the wealthiest clientele, the hotel emanated a raw sense of power and prestige, towering among the cityscape of Brazil’s richest city.

It had taken him two weeks.  Two weeks following the man he had now tracked to the room at the end of the hall.  Miguel Blanco was living large off the money he had stolen from Mateus Alves, his previous employer and one of the richest men in South America.  After killing his former boss, Blanco had successfully stolen nearly one hundred million Brazilian reales from Alves’ various accounts and trusts.  It was only a fraction of the old man’s wealth, but it was more than enough –– enough to become one of the very elites Blanco had spent much of his life protecting.

And it had been no easy task.  Gaining access to Alves’ accounts was one thing.  Blanco already had help with that.  The hard part was covering his tracks.  For that he needed the help of several others, compadres who were discreet and also stood to gain handsomely from the disassembling of Alves’ vast fortune.

Caesare, however, didn’t care about the money.  He was there for a very different reason.  The old man had been as corrupt as his murderer and Caesare held no sympathy for either of them.   He was there for one thing and one thing only: retribution.

He was there because if it had been up to Blanco, Caesare would have been just as dead, lying next to the old man on top of that mountain.  But Blanco didn’t know he had survived.  And after two weeks of searching, Caesare was about to pay him the mother of all surprise visits.

The absence of anyone guarding the door left Caesare a bit wary as he crept closer.  Guests staying in a presidential suite usually had a security detail.  Where was Blanco’s?  The man had previously been an officer in the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, which typically left men overconfident or completely paranoid.  But if he was paranoid, where was his detail?

Blanco was definitely in the room.  At least he had been thirty minutes ago.  They had zeroed in on the target’s cell phone signal, and pinpointed it to thirty meters from where Caesare was now standing before it was abruptly switched off. Now, ten feet from the door, he silently slid the .40 caliber Glock out from its concealed holster and laid his index finger along the side, just above the trigger guard.  He turned his head slightly, using his peripheral vision to check the hall behind him one last time.

When he reached the door, Caesare kept to the side and brought the gun around his right hip.  He raised it smoothly and leaned in closer, listening.  There was no sound at all.  No voices.  No television.  Nothing.

 Blanco hadn’t left Rio de Janeiro with anyone except the one person Caesare knew would be with him: Alves’ young and longtime personal assistant, Carolina Sosa.  She was the one person who had access to many of the old man’s accounts and other verifiable information.  She was the gateway to Alves’ riches.

Caesare withdrew a small magnetic card, a used but very valuable card. It came from the hotel, which took only a few hours to find in São Paulo.  From a person who could encode a master keycard for almost any hotel in the city. 

He held it in his left hand and twisted his wrist to peer at his watch, waiting. 

Anytime, Will.

When Caesare heard the phone finally ring inside the room, he moved quickly, inserting the card into the door’s lock and pulling it back out.  The loud click was masked by the telephone’s ring and Caesare immediately pushed the door ajar –– just enough to prevent the lock from reengaging.  In the same motion, he brought the tip of his left shoe forward to prop the door open by half an inch. 

The phone rang again, echoing through the room.  The third ring was the last, immediately plunging the room back into silence.   With another quick glance over his shoulder, Caesare pressed his ear close to the cracked door.  No footsteps.  No movement at all that he could hear.

He pushed the door in further and was met by a cool draft of air escaping past him.  The door opened further without any noise, allowing Caesare a look inside.  Down the entrance hallway, he spotted a dark polished table with chairs perfectly arranged.

He stepped inside, keeping the gun low but in front.  The pain in his ribs screamed as he twisted around to ease the door closed –– a result of the near fatal wound Blanco had given him.

The door gave a muted click shut and Caesare eased forward over the spotless marble flooring.  He stepped away from the wall and gradually edged himself around the corner.

Then he froze.

The scene before him was not what he was expecting.  The room seemed pristine except for two dining room chairs positioned in the middle.  In each chair sat a motionless figure, bound and bloodied.  Both gagged, with their heads down upon their chests.

The first was a woman, barely recognizable through the dark brunette hair dangling in front of her face.  Carolina Sosa.  The second was Miguel Blanco himself, his body slumping but held in place by the ropes around his waist.

Neither was moving.

Caesare immediately stepped back out of sight, leaving only the gun and half of his face exposed.  The scene looked fresh enough that the murderer could still be inside the suite.  After waiting a minute, he slowly eased himself back away from the wall and moved at a wedged angle, slowly peering back into the main room.  He crept forward onto soft carpet.  Caesare rounded the next doorway, staying well away from the corner, providing him maximum visibility.

It took several minutes to ensure the entire suite was clear, after which Caesare returned to the front room. He gazed at the two lifeless bodies.

Approaching the pair, he stared into Carolina’s hair-strewn face.  Beneath the dark strands, he could see her badly bruised skin.  He passed by her and stopped in front of Blanco.  The man’s face was entirely black and blue, his gag now fallen halfway off.

He stared at Blanco for a long time, finally shaking his head.  Living a life of deceit often ended abruptly, and sometimes violently.  The small rubber tourniquet hanging from the man’s arm told Caesare that whatever secrets Blanco had now belonged to someone else.  They had literally beaten and drugged it out of him.

It was too bad Caesare hadn’t gotten to him first.  At least he would have lived.  He scanned the room one last time before returning the gun smoothly to its holster. 

Caesare began to turn for the door when something suddenly caught his eye, startling him.  His gun was back out before his brain even registered what it was.

Blanco had moved.

It was slight, but it was movement.  Blanco’s eyes remained closed, but the movement was more than just residual muscle twitching.  Caesare waited with his gun lowered but gripped firmly between both hands.  Then it happened again.

With one hand, he reached up and eased the Brazilian’s head back before pulling the rest of the cloth gag out of his mouth.  The swollen eyelids struggled, but finally managed to crack themselves open.  Dark, unfocused eyes peered out.

“Blanco,” Caesare whispered.

It took time for the eyes to focus on Caesare.  When they did, the recognition came quickly.  They opened wider in disbelief.

     Caesare managed to refrain from smiling at Blanco and vindictively muttering the word “surpresa.”  Instead he rose and turned toward the phone.  He had picked up the handset when Blanco blurted something behind him.

“Não!”  A moment later he mumbled again, switching to English.  “Don’t call.”

“I’m calling for help.”

Blanco’s eyes dropped to his arm, where a small drop of blood was drying over the remains of an insertion point.  “There is…no help…for me,” he said weakly.

Caesare knelt in front of him.  “Who did it?”

“Otero,” he whispered.

Caesare knelt down next to him.  “What did he want?”

“Please.” Blanco’s voice grew fainter.  “Please…save them.”

Caesare glanced around the room.  “Save who?”

Blanco was now struggling just to make his lips move. “My family.”

 

READ ON

 

1

 

 

Admiral Langford looked up as John Clay opened the wide door to his office with Will Borger standing behind him.  The Admiral quickly waved them in as he pushed a button on his phone and dropped the handset back onto the cradle.

“Okay, Clay and Borger are here.  Go ahead, Steve.”

“Bom dia, gents,” Caesare called through the speaker.  “You’re missing some beautiful weather down here.  Sweltering and muggy.”

Clay smiled.  “Sounds lovely.”

“Yeah, unfortunately it’s not all sunshine and roses.”

“Did you find Blanco?”

“Oh, I found him all right.  But I’m afraid he’s not in the best of moods.  He’s dead.”

Clay and Borger looked at Langford with surprise.

“Dead?” Borger repeated, confused.  “But we traced that call he made right before he turned his cell off just an hour ago.”

“Yeah well, I don’t think he was the one who turned it off.  I found him in his room beaten to a pulp.  The Sosa woman was already gone and Blanco was just minutes away.  I couldn’t do anything.”

“Was he conscious?”

“Barely.  I got a little out of him, but it was brief.”

Clay noticed an echo in Caesare’s voice.  “Where are you?”

On the other end, Caesare scanned up and down the metal stairs, working quickly to get his stolen uniform off.  “I’m in a stairwell, at the hotel.”

Langford looked at the phone.  “Any idea who did it?”

“Someone named Otero.  Ring a bell with anyone?”

They all shook their heads.  “No.”

Caesare nodded on his end.  “I suspect he was someone involved with Mateus Alves.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because that’s what they were after,” replied Caesare.

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is, they weren’t after the money.  They wanted answers.”

“What kind of answers?”

“As far as I can tell, answers about Alves.  Whoever this Otero is, he was looking for something specific.  Money is easy to trace, but Blanco and his girlfriend looked like they were subjected to some serious narco-interrogation, followed by a lethal cocktail.  Either way, I’m sure Otero didn’t expect someone like me to show up before Blanco was dead.”

Langford’s brows remained furrowed as he leaned in closer to the speakerphone.  “So what did you get out of Blanco?”

“Not much,” Caesare replied.  “He was pretty far gone.  But one of his last words was clear: macaco.”

“Macaco?”

Caesare peeled off the last of the uniform.  “It’s Portuguese for monkey, Admiral.  Otero knows about Alves’ preserve in Brazil, and he knows about the monkey.”

Langford watched Clay and Borger exchange looks.  The monkey was a small capuchin discovered by a team of “researchers” who had been employed by the old man before he was murdered.  In actuality, they were all poachers, except one.  One was a genuine researcher and had stumbled upon a very special capuchin monkey almost entirely by accident –– a monkey very different from the others they had caught.

This particular one was highly intelligent and while the average lifespan of most wild capuchins was roughly twenty-five years, this one was discovered to be profoundly older.  So much older, in fact, that the billionaire Mateus Alves threw every resource he had into two goals: finding out where the monkey had come from and doing it as quietly as possible.

Langford could see the gears turning in Clay’s head.  “Clay?”

He glanced up at the Admiral before turning back to the speakerphone.  “How did this Otero know about the monkey?  Or even that Alves was searching for it?”

“Or why someone like Alves would voluntarily abandon a billion dollar empire and completely disappear from public view.”

“Otero must have known something,” Clay mused.  “But how?”

“Blanco had been talking to a lot of people,” said Caesare.  “Maybe he was trying to capitalize on what Alves had already discovered.  And maybe he finally found someone crazy enough to listen.”

Clay nodded absently.  It was certainly plausible.  Except for the crazy part.  They all knew that what Alves was after wasn’t crazy at all.  Tracing the origins of the capuchin was one thing, but what Alves really wanted was its DNA.  Some primate DNA was almost 99% identical to humans.  If a primate could live more than four times its normal life span, it wasn’t much of a stretch for that DNA to be isolated, and potentially applied to humans.

Alves was old, in his eighties, and wanted more than anything to extend his own life.  And he believed he’d finally found just the miracle to help him do it.

Clay continued thinking.  “But someone wouldn’t just murder Blanco on a whim…over the word ‘monkey.’  They’d have to have gotten more.  Maybe a lot more.  And maybe enough to justify killing Blanco on the spot, to shut him up.”

Langford rubbed his chin.  “Then we have to assume that this Otero now knows everything.”  After a deep breath, he leaned forward again.  “Let’s table that for the moment.  It seems we have an even bigger problem to deal with.  I just received a report from the salvage team near Guyana.  They have recovered fragments of the torpedo and enough of its Comp-B explosive signature for a positive identification.”  Langford paused, looking at Clay and Borger.  “The Bowditch wasn’t sunk by the Russians like we thought.  It was sunk by the Chinese.”

Clay and Borger may have been visibly surprised at the news over Blanco being dead, but now they were absolutely stunned

Two weeks before, the sinking of one of the Navy’s most modern research ships had seemed to be a completely separate event.  But it wasn’t.  It was connected to the billionaire Alves’ death in a way that none of them could have foreseen.  The U.S.S. Bowditch was investigating a Chinese warship quietly docked along the northern coast of South America, in the small country of Guyana. 

However, what they discovered next was a revelation.  The ship’s Chinese crew was making mysterious trips into the jungle under the cover of darkness.  The Chinese had made a startling discovery on the very same mountain to which Mateus Alves had traced the capuchin monkey’s origins.

Over the speaker, Caesare was the first to reply.  “Admiral, did you say the Bowditch was sunk by the Chinese?”

“That’s right.”

“But the only sub in the area was Russian.”

“The only one we were aware of.”

“Wait a minute.”  Clay suddenly looked at Langford.  “That means a Chinese sub may have been there all along.”

“It looks that way.”

“And it waited to attack the Bowditch until their warship was leaving with its cargo.”

Langford nodded.  Clay knew as well as anyone how the events unfolded.  He was onboard the Bowditch when it was struck.

“So, that’s it!” exclaimed Clay.  “That’s why the warship itself never attacked…because it couldn’t.  And that’s why their sub was there.  For protection.  They were there to make sure the warship and its cargo made it out.”

“So they gutted the thing.”

Clay nodded, as the pieces fell into place.  “They’d been bringing those crates out of the jungle for months.  But there was no way they could have fit it into just one warship.  It’s too small.  Unless they gutted the ship.  Removing everything inside gave them the storage they needed, which meant it also left the ship defenseless.  Their submarine was simply waiting, ready to clear a path for it.”

Langford watched the expression on Clay’s face.  The guy never forgot anything.  Given enough time, he could figure damn near anything out.

“Well, that was clever,” Caesare said.

Langford frowned.  “The Russians were bad enough.  But the Chinese are a whole new problem.”

Clay was thinking the same thing.  Russia’s relationship with the U.S. had reached new lows over the fiasco in the Ukraine.  And Washington’s relationship with the Chinese was also deteriorating, assisted by the Chinese coming out publicly in support of Russia’s position.  Until then, China had remained a reluctant geopolitical partner of the U.S., primarily due to many decades of economic trading history.  But in recent years China had been taking steps of their own, inching closer and closer to an adversarial position.  When news leaked out that they’d actually attacked and sunk a large United States naval ship, things were bound to escalate, and badly.

“What happens now?” asked Clay.

Langford shook his head.  “Nothing good.  What the Chinese found on that mountain was worth starting a war over.  But make no mistake, we would have done the same thing.”

Langford rubbed his eyes.  The U.S. State Department had already begun condemning Russia for the destruction of the Bowditch.  Now they would have to downplay their previous remarks and redirect their accusations at China.  Yet they could not risk the trade relationship with China.  If it collapsed, all hell would break loose, and there would be no winner on either side.  The best the Administration could manage would be to corral the issue and turn it into a more subtle and very strategic counterattack.  Langford knew the U.S. politicians were not going to rest until they had their pound of flesh, no matter what the long term ramifications were.  The unfortunate truth was that politicians started wars but relied on men like Langford to fight them.

Langford blinked and found himself staring at the phone.  The room remained silent.  He straightened in his chair.  “For the time being, I want you three to find out what you can about Otero.  Alves had his connections and I’m sure this thug does too.  And the last thing we need is the Brazilian government finding out and getting involved.”

“Yes, sir,” all three answered almost simultaneously.

Langford promptly ended the call with Caesare.  He then watched Clay and Borger open the door, stepping out of the room.

The situation was unraveling quickly.

Langford let out a quick sigh.  Soon he would have to tell the men what had happened to the Chinese warship immediately after it escaped Guyana with its precious cargo.  Something that made absolutely no sense at all.

 

 

2

 

 

Clay followed Will Borger into his darkened office, which was a generous word to describe the space where Will worked.  Located on one of the subfloors of the Pentagon building, the room was in dire need of some windows and sunlight.  And a maid.  The room was filled with racks of computer and signaling equipment which few people would recognize.  A few pieces looked to be as old as Borger himself, who would soon be pushing fifty.

Will Borger approached his desk, with a screen that was three monitors wide.  Clay closed the door behind them.

With a loud squeak from his chair, Borger sat down and reached out to pull another forward for Clay.  “Have a seat.”

“I could use the stretch.”

Borger nodded and spun back around to the monitors.  “I need to show you something.  Something I haven’t told anyone yet.”

Clay watched him open a new window on the screen and begin typing.  A moment later a map filled the center screen.  He raised his hand and briefly tapped a large hard drive resting below the same monitor.

“This is the hard drive I had on the Bowditch.  Fortunately, I had it in my backpack when we were ordered to abandon ship.”

Clay peered at Borger.  “The one with the video footage?”

“Correct.”  He motioned to the map and reached for his mouse.  It was a map of South America, with Guyana centered on the screen.  Borger then double-clicked several times, zooming in on the area around Georgetown.  “When we got back, I wanted to see what really happened to the Bowditch.  So I downloaded the video from the ARGUS satellite before and after the impact.”

Clay was leaning over his shoulder when Borger stopped zooming and let the image crystalize.  A moment later, they could both clearly see the U.S.S. Bowditch from an aerial view. 

“There she is,” he said, under his breath. 

The image was frozen, but the white wake behind the stern was clearly visible and showed the ship traveling full speed toward Georgetown’s small harbor.  It was heading directly at the Chinese warship, which was trying to leave.

Borger then zoomed back out slightly, doubling the viewing area.  Both ships were now smaller, but a barely identifiable wake could be seen several hundred yards behind the Bowditch.

A torpedo.

Borger hit a button on his keyboard and the overhead images began to play as a video.  He moved out of the way, giving Clay a clear view.  It was only moments later when the bow of the ship could be seen beginning to move.  Clay knew it was the moment Captain Krogstad had given the order to do the unthinkable.  To bring the ship around.

“Geez,” Clay muttered. 

“It’s hard to watch.”

“It is.”

Over the next few minutes, they watched in silence at the agonizingly slow turn of the ship, finally coming about just moments before the torpedo’s impact.

The Bowditch was a science vessel, which meant it had no real weapons to speak of –– certainly nothing with which to fight off a torpedo attack.  The only offensive capability lay in the Oceanhawk helicopter housed on the main deck.  In the video, they watched the rotors of the chopper gaining speed, desperately trying to lift off in time.  But the torpedo struck first.  Even in the video, the explosion against the port side of the bow was breathtaking.  Most of the forward deck was destroyed instantly.  On what deck remained, the Oceanhawk’s desperate attempt to escape came to an end.  Clay and Borger watched in eerie silence as the blast caused the helicopter to roll and slice its spinning rotors into the deck’s twisted metal.  The fragments burst into dozens of giant pieces of shrapnel just seconds before the Oceanhawk fell over the side, engulfed in an orange ball of flame. 

The rest of the video played out exactly as the two men remembered it.  They could see everyone, including themselves, huddled on the stern of the ship where Krogstad had ordered them.  If he couldn’t outrun the torpedo, his only other option would be to save as many as he could.  On the stern, survivors had the best chance of deploying the lifeboats.  The rest of the ship was sacrificed to take as much of the blow as possible.

When it was over, Borger stopped the video and leaned back.  “That’s only the second time I’ve seen it.”

Clay nodded, his eyes still on the screen.  “I can see why.”

With a deep breath, Borger turned back to him.  “There’s something else I wanted to show you.”

Clay raised his eyebrows and waited.

Borger clasped his hands in front of his protruding stomach.  “So, I’ve been picking through the rest of the satellite video.  I’m not sure if you know this, but the attack was big enough that most commercial aircraft in the area were immediately grounded, even as far away as Venezuela.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Yep.  Everything.  Down.  Kaput.”  Borger then began to grin.  It was a look John Clay had come to know well.

“You found something.”

“All aircraft were grounded,” he repeated.  “All commercial aircraft.”

Clay raised an eyebrow.  “But not…”

“But not military aircraft.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning…,” Borger replied, “military flights were not grounded.  Or should I say…the only military flight.”  He began typing again in a new window, which brought up a second map.  The second map was fixed on Georgetown.   Borger pointed to one frame, then to the other.  “This one is the international airport in Guyana.  Note the timestamp on both screens.”

“They’re both the same.”

“Exactly.  Same time, in two places.  The first picture is the Bowditch after it was struck.  The second, the Georgetown airport.”

Borger zoomed closer in on the airport and sped up the video.  Both feeds accelerated, still in sync.  After almost a minute, he froze them both.  “That’s it.  Right there.”

Clay studied the image.  An airplane could be seen taxiing onto one of the airport’s runways.

“What is that?”

Borger zoomed in closer and waited a moment for the image to sharpen again at the new resolution.  The turboprop engines were clear, jutting out beneath the craft’s high wing.  Borger zoomed in still further.

“It’s a Y-12,” Clay said, under his breath.

Borger nodded.  “Correct.  Chinese made, utility design, and able to carry upwards of twenty passengers.”

“Was it there the whole time?”

“No.  It flew in three days before the attack.  At night.”

Clay frowned.  Of course it was at night.  Nightfall seemed to be the preferred time for everything the Chinese were up to in Guyana.

Borger rolled the video again and they both watched as the plane paused briefly then accelerated down the runway and lifted into the air.  As it climbed, the aircraft banked and headed due west.

Clay straightened behind Borger and folded his arms.

“Care to guess where it’s headed?”

There was only one country to the west that was within the plane’s range.  And it was another country with whom the U.S. had a strained relationship.  “Venezuela.”

“Correct again.”  Borger continued typing on his keyboard and skipped to another location.   “But not just any airport in Venezuela.  It flew directly to El Libertador Air Force Base in Maracay and landed three hours and thirty-seven minutes later.  Upon landing, a single person exited the plane and boarded another.”  He scrolled the map and stopped on another aircraft.    One that was much bigger.

This time, Clay recognized the plane without having to enlarge the picture again.  Both its design and enormous size were unmistakable.  It was a Xian Y-20.  One of the largest aircraft in the Chinese Air Force.

“I’m guessing that’s a transport.”

“It sure is,” nodded Clay.  “But it’s still in development.  That one is a prototype they revealed a couple years ago.”

“A prototype?”

“Yes.”

Clay’s frown was deepening.  The El Libertador base in Venezuela was infamous for the coup attempt in 1992 when General Visconti seized control of the base and launched an aerial attack on the capitol city.  But it wasn’t the reputation that concerned Clay.  It was the fact that the Chinese planes had landed at a military base and not a commercial airport.  It meant the Venezuelan government was partially involved, or at the very least, aware of the activities of the Chinese.  Having the Xian Y-20 there most likely meant the Venezuelan government already knew more than they would ever admit.

“Did it fly straight back?” Clay asked.

“It did.  It refueled once in Hawaii before continuing on to Beijing.”  Borger peered at Clay.  “But why would they send a prototype all the way to South America?  That’s risky.”

“The Y-20 has the longest range of any of their transport planes.  Sending an armed aircraft would have attracted far more attention.  But they still needed something secure that could fly back almost nonstop.”

“For one person?  That’s one hell of an expensive trip.”

“Which means it was either a very important person,” he looked at Borger, still seated in front of him, “or the person was carrying something important.”

“Or both.”

Clay nodded.  “Or both.”

Together, the two continued staring at the frozen screen where a tiny figure could be seen crossing the tarmac to the larger plane.

Clay’s phone suddenly rang, snapping them out of it.  He looked at it and answered, putting the call on speakerphone.  “Where are you, Steve?”

“Outside, near Santos.  Where are you?”

“We’re in Borger’s office.”

“Good.  I hope you’re helping him clean it.”

Clay grinned while Borger pretended to look offended.

“You two alone?”

“Yes.”

On the other end, Caesare looked out at the ocean from a shaded spot beneath a large Brazilian rosewood tree.  The beach was less than two blocks away and he stood scanning the area as he spoke, looking for anyone paying too much attention to him. 

By the time Langford had ended their call, Caesare had already reached the first floor of the hotel and was off the property entirely inside of three minutes.  It wouldn’t be long before someone discovered the bodies of Blanco and Sosa, and Caesare had no intention of being nearby.

“So what did I miss?”

Clay glanced again at the monitors on Borger’s desk.  “It looks like Will may have found something.”

“Your voice doesn’t exactly sound exuberant.”

“I’ll try harder next time.”

“I bet.  I’m going to guess there’s bad news coming.”

“Maybe.  It seems someone got clearance and flew out of Georgetown just after the Bowditch was hit.  On a Chinese turbo-prop to Venezuela, and from there a transport straight back to Beijing.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I wish we were.”  Clay leaned in, peering closer at the screen.  “Just one person.  Carrying some kind of a case.”

Caesare sighed.  “That’s not good.”

“Now who’s not exuberant?”

“I say we blame Borger.”

Will Borger’s eyes opened wide with surprise, and then narrowed. 

“We were actually getting ready to blame you.”

In spite of the jokes, they all knew how serious it was.  If Borger was right, then it looked like something had been taken off that ship before it departed.  Something important enough to fly directly to Beijing, the political epicenter of China.  Clay already had a guess as to what the man was carrying.

“Any idea who the person was, Will?”

“Not yet.  But I’ll find out.”

From under the tree, Caesare nodded, absently watching an attractive woman cross the street.  “Well, I’m afraid my news isn’t much better.  There’s something I didn’t mention on the phone with Langford.”

Without moving his head, Clay exchanged a curious look with Borger.  “What’s that?”

“I got a little more out of Blanco before he took his long ride into the sunset.  He told me about Otero, and that he knows about the monkey.  But it seems he knows more than that.  Blanco managed to spit out what Otero was asking him about.  He said Acarai.  The name of the mountain.”

Clay sighed.  “Crap.”

“Yeah.  How much he knows, I’m not sure.  But it’s a lot more than just the monkey.”

“If that’s true,” Borger said, “then he’s gonna be going back up there.”

“Exactly.  And if he pokes around long enough, he may just stumble across something he’s not supposed to find.”

Without a word, Clay stepped forward and sat down in the chair next to Borger.  “That means we need to get there before he does.”  He stopped to think.  “And we’re going to need help.”

“I was thinking the same thing.”

“How would you like to make a stopover during your flight back?”

From under the giant rosewood, Caesare couldn’t help but smile.  “Are you kidding?  I love Puerto Rico.”

Next to Clay, Borger raised an eyebrow and spoke loud enough for Caesare to hear.  “You do understand we actually need DeeAnn on our side.”

“Piece of cake.”

Clay wasn’t so sure it would be that easy.  “All right then.  Borger and I will see what else we can find out on this end.  When are you leaving?”

“I’m not sure,” Caesare replied.  He wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead.  With the phone still to his ear, he turned back to face the glimmering skyscrapers of São Paulo in the distance.  “I need something first.  I need to know where Miguel Blanco’s family is.”

From his chair, Borger stared at Clay’s phone with a puzzled look.  “You want to know where Blanco’s family lives?”

“No,” he replied dryly.  “I need to know where they are right now.”

 


 

Frequently Asked Questions

 
Amazon BookBub
Author Website Design