The tropical sun was a flat glare on the surface of the water. The compressor on the barge throbbed tirelessly, pumping water down a thick tube to blow sand off the bottom thirty feet below; that made the sea around them turgid, greenish compared to the usual turquoise of the waters off Abaco. They were eighty miles southwest of Marsh Harbor, not far from Mores Island; that flat sandy speck of land was just visible, but nothing else marred the circle of sky and sea except the barge and its attendant boats. There was a silty undertone to the usual sea-salt smell, faint beneath the diesel stink of the exhaust.
Captain John Lowe looked at the water in disgust, then back at the woman who’d chartered his outfit, in puzzlement. Nothing here to find. Sure, there were plenty of wrecks around the Abacos, all over the Bahamas—the archipelago was famous for it. But these waters had been searched bare, long ago.
The money’s good. He’d insisted on getting it up front and in cash. There was a lot of that sort of business in the Bahamas, and a tradition of not asking too many questions. The country lived off being an offshore tax shelter even more than it did from tourism and the . . . unregistered transit trade. An old tradition: Conchy Joes like him had always been smugglers, from cocaine back through Prohibition rum boats and Civil War blockade runners, and before that wreckers and pirates.
She stood at the rail of the boat, looking over at the floats that marked where the divers were working. Crazy, and I can’t figure her. He couldn’t even decide whether she was white or not. She’d darkened up considerably since they started, to milk chocolate color, but the tan seemed to go all over—he had a good view, with the loose cotton shorts and sleeveless singlet she was wearing: The green eyes and red hair were genuine, though. Her papers said Colombian, but the accent was American—South Carolina, maybe, or Louisiana, hard to place, despite the prettylatina secretary she had hanging around. The body said American too, the fitness-freak look, like some of the richer women tourists. Not very bulgy, but every muscle precisely delineated, moving under the smooth skin like machined steel in oil.
Nice tits, though. And no bra. Maybe a hundred and forty pounds, a little more.
One of the standing bets had been whether or not she was queer. That was settled up when Jamie Simms had been seen coming out of her cabana back in Marsh Harbor at six in the morning, but the young deckhand had steadfastly refused all details. That was odd, because everyone had expected a stroke-by-stroke description, and he’d screamed at them to stop asking and then quit the job. Damned odd.
Lowe moved up to stand beside her. “How much longer?” he said.
“Until it’s found,” she replied. Her voice was soft and pleasant, rather deep, but the tone expected instant obedience.
He gritted his teeth. Sure, she was paying, but there wasn’t enough money in the world to make him swallow that much longer.
“It’s your three hundred thousand,” he said. And the meter was still running. Next week it would be four hundred thousand.
She didn’t bother to reply.
Lowe felt the bottom drop out of his gut when the diver surfaced, tearing off his mask and waving something in the air. It looked like a black lump at this distance—exactly the black of corroded silver.
“Silver,” she said. “Silver ingots and coin, gold ingots and chains, and a bronze casket full of emeralds. After your government takes its cut, probably about eight million dollars’ worth.” She smiled slightly. “Aren’t you sorry you insisted on a flat fee instead of a percentage of the take?”
Lowe pulled off his hat, knotting it in one ham fist, and took a step toward her. She’d offered him a quarter share and he’d laughed in her face, and she’d given him the same damned smile then. I’m going to knock her—
The green eyes narrowed slightly, and he stopped; stopped as if he had run into a wall of ice.
“Not even in your dreams,” she whispered.
He coughed to cover his confusion. “How? How the fuck did you know?”
She turned her head back to the divers. Two more had surfaced, and the first was dancing around the deck of the barge.
“I knew what, and where,” she said. “Then I checked to see if anyone had found it. Nobody had. Therefore it had to be here.”
She went on, still looking out over the water. “I’m doubling your fee, Captain Lowe. I’ll probably need your services again, and your nephew the pilot.”
That put a different face on things. “Happy to oblige, ma’am.”
“Just remember this,” she said. “What I say I can do, I can do. Those who get in my way will regret it. Those who help me can expect to get rich. Very rich. Wealth, and great power . . .”
She turned and smiled at him. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Captain Lowe.”
Another face altogether. He made a sweeping bow, grinning back. “Happy to oblige, ma’am.”
Crazy bitch of a woman. But crazy like a fox.
# # #
“Very satisfactory,” Gwen said.
Thomas Cairstens lifted his glass and clinked it against hers.
Woman of the hour, he thought, as he smiled at Gwen, although she’d managed to evade the Nassau press with delicate skill—giving them just enough to prevent a feeding frenzy. Lost pirate treasure stories were an overnight sensation. The foreign press had dropped it a week ago, although she’d become well known locally.
The dining room of Greycliff was emptying out, as the Friday evening moved toward midnight and the clientele made for bed or nightspot. The fans turned lazily overhead, and the air smelled of flowers from the small yard outside as well as of traffic from West Hill Street, muffled by the high whitewashed wall of limestone blocks that fronted the restaurant. The room itself smelled of good food and expensive perfumes. A bit of a guilty pleasure, but one he allowed himself after a profitable deal.
She pushed a check across the table at him. “For Greenpeace,” she said.
Tom looked down at it and raised his brows before he tucked it into his jacket pocket. A hundred thousand. Not too shabby.
“I didn’t know you were an environmentalist,” he said. She’d been all business while he handled the incorporation of IngolfTech.
“I’m anti-stupidity,” she replied coolly. She was dressed simply, in a cream-colored linen dress that brought out her café-au-lait complexion and the brilliant green eyes; an emerald dragon brooch closed the high neck.
“In a hundred years or less, this planet’s going to collapse—it might even become uninhabitable,” she went on.
He nodded grimly, turning the wineglass in his hands. “That’s why I got into Greenpeace in California,” he said.
“Why did you get out?”
He put the glass down and met her eyes. Compelling. God, that’s an attractive woman. He wasn’t normally very receptive to feminine charms, but there was the occasional exception. Gwendolyn Ingolfsson just didn’t feel like a woman, though. Or quite like anyone he’d ever met. Smart, too. How did she know about me? When she was there, you just didn’t notice anyone else.
“Because it wasn’t doing any good,” he went on. “Not Greenpeace or Earth First, or any of the others. We were putting Band-Aids on cancers at best. More often, we were just provoking backlash. Earth First couldn’t think of anything better to do than try and get poor dumb loggers fired. I’d have joined the ecoterrorists, if I thought they’d accomplish anything. Detroit can produce bulldozers a lot faster than anyone can blow them up, though.”
“So you gave up and came to the Bahamas to practice corporate law,” she said.
He nodded his head jerkily. He’d gone a little further into the fringes than that, which made the move advisable until things quieted down, but it was essentially true. His parents had helped; Dad had real pull, enough to square his work permit with the Bahamian government. It was stupid not to take advantage of family connections if you had them. There were more lawyers in Nassau than sharks in the waters offshore, but he’d done well.
“Sure. Why not dance on the deck if the Titanic’s going down?” And what a depressing subject for a dinner date.
Gwen leaned forward, fixing his eyes with hers. “Imagine a world,” she said softly, almost whispering, forcing him to lean closer to hear, “where the population of Earth is five hundred million and stable, not seven billion and rising. Where not an ounce of fossil fuel is burned. No mines, no factories, no fission reactors or coal-burning plants, no tankers full of oil. The sea and the skies and the land swarm with life, and whole continents are nature preserves.”
He jerked his head away. “That’s not funny.”
“No, it’s not funny. But it’s possible, given the right technology and the right management.”
“And we’ll never get there from here,” he said, feeling anger mount. “Look, what’s the point of this?”
She smiled and pulled a featureless black rectangle the size of a credit card out of her bag.
“Yes, this civilization is never going to do that,” she agreed, and ran a fingernail down its side.
The card opened out, and opened again, until it was the size of a hardcover book. The surface was black in a way he’d never seen before, as if it drank every photon that impacted on it and reflected nothing. A hole in the table, thinner than a sheet of paper and completely rigid. She touched the side, and the background noise faded quickly to nothing. He looked around in startlement; they were off in one corner, near the tall windows, but he could see mouths moving in talk, silverware in use. Everything was dead silent, like a video with the sound control turned off.
“What is that thing?” he said. His voice sounded slightly flat in the perfect silence, as if in a room with absorptive baffles on the walls.
“It’s the equivalent of a file-folder,” Gwen replied. “For old-fashioned types like me who don’t like to just close their eyes and downlink from the Web through their transducers for an image. Now, we were discussing the potential future of civilization.”
Tom felt sweat break out on his forehead and trickle clammily down his flanks, more than the Bahamian night could account for. He reached for his wineglass and drank. It was no easy thing, to have your ordinary life suddenly touched by strangeness.
“Go ahead,” he said softly.
“A planetary surface is a bad place for an industrial economy,” she went on. “You could have gotten out of that trap, but it’s probably too late now, and certainly will be in another generation.”
Tom shook his head. “Technofixes wouldn’t solve our problems. It’s in the nature of humanity to foul its nest. We’d have to change human nature: that’s why I gave up.”
“I’m glad you said that,” Gwen said, her smile growing broader. “You agree then, that humans aren’t fit to be in charge here?”
“What’s the alternative—a Dolphin Liberation Front?” he replied.
She tapped the black rectangle. “Look.”
He glanced down. The surface of the square . . . vanished. It wasn’t a screen; the view through it had full depth, exactly like a window. He reached out and touched it with an involuntary reflex. It was completely smooth and neutral in temperature.
“This is Haiti,” she said.
He knew Haiti; the wasted, eroded hills barren as the Sahara, the pitiful starving people, hardly a tree or an animal besides goats left west of the Dominican border.
This showed tropical rainforest, lush and untouched, the view sweeping down mountain valleys where mist hung in ragged tatters from the great trees. A spray of birds went by, feathers gaudy; he could hear their cries, faint and raucous. The view swept down to the coast. Here were people, squares of sugarcane, a hillside terraced and planted to glossy-leaved bushes he recognized as coffee. Workers with hand tools or simple machines were busy among them. The view moved closer; he could see they were brown-skinned, stocky and muscular, well-clothed. One laughed as he heaved a full basket onto a floating platform. In the middle distance a white stone building covered in purple bougainvillea stood on a hillside amid gardens. Beyond it was Port-au-Prince harbor. There was no city, no teeming antheap of ragged peasant refugees. Just a few buildings half-lost amid greenery, a stone wharf, and a schooner tied to it.
And a big skeletal structure, like a dish of impossibly rigid rope.
“That’s the orbital power receptor,” Gwen said. “Now, the Yangtze Gorges.”
The great river ran unbound through tall beautiful cliffs, no sign of the giant concrete dam the Chinese had used to tame the wild water.
“Great plains, North America—near what you’d call Fargo.”
Tall grass, stretching from horizon to horizon. And across it buffalo unnumbered, in clumps and herds of thousands each. The horned heads lifted in mild curiosity; there was a stir, and a pack of great gray lobo wolves trotted through, twenty strong.
“Bitterfield, eastern Germany.”
He knew that, too; one of the worst chemical-waste nightmares left by the old East German regime. The picture showed a stream flowing through thick poplar forest. Behind it were oaks, huge and moss-grown. He heard the chuckle of water, the cries of birds, wind in the branches. The view moved through them at walking pace, pausing at a wildcat on a tree limb, at a sounder of wild boar, in a sun-dappled meadow clearing where an aurochs raised its head in majesty. Its bellow filled his ears.
“The Aral Sea.”
Which had disappeared almost altogether, leaving salt flats poisoned with insecticide—the legacy of the old Soviet Union’s insane irrigation megaprojects.
The window into a world that wasn’t showed white-caps on blue water.
“The delta of the Syr Darya, where it empties into the Aral.” A huge marsh. Through the reeds and onto a firmer island moved striped deadliness, a Siberian tiger. Waterfowl rose from the water in honking thousands, enough to cast shadow on the great predator.
No Eiffel Tower, although Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe still stood. The air was crystal. From overhead, he could see that the medieval core remained, Notre Dame, the radial roadways laid out in Napoleon III’s time. None of the great sprawl of suburbs he knew; Versailles stood alone among its ordered gardens. Dense forest and open parkland stretched from the outskirts; occasionally a building would rise above them, usually roofed in green copper. The roadways were grassy turf. Foot traffic was pedestrians, or small machines that floated soundlessly beneath their passengers. Aircraft moved through the air above, elongated teardrop shapes and blunt wedges moving without visible support; a colorful hot-air balloon drifted among them.
“The Serengeti, looking northeast.”
A herd of hundreds of elephants, moving with slow ponderous dignity through a landscape of lion-colored grass and scattered flat-topped thorn trees.
His eyes darted about; lions, giraffe, antelope, a dozen rhino . . . Snow-topped Kilimanjaro rose like an empress in the distance. Beyond it was something new, something alien: a great pillar stretching up into the sky until it turned into a curving thread, vanishing in the blue.
“What’s that?” he asked, hearing his voice shake.
“The Kenia beanstalk—think of it as a tower or a cable reaching from Low Earth Orbit to the surface.” She touched the edge of the window. “And this is the Valles Marineris, on Mars.”
The sky was a faded blue, with a hint of pink. The view was on the edge of a reddish cliff, overlooking a vast expanse of deep-blue water five hundred feet or more below; miles distant across it the edge of another cliff showed. The waves were like none he had ever seen, taller and thinner in section than water could support. While he watched a whale breached, soaring out of the sea until only its tail was under the surface. A blue whale, and huge. It crashed back with a mountainous spray of surf. The view tilted downward, showing a city dropping in terraces from the cliff-face. The buildings were white or soft pastels, built with domes and arches and pillared colonnades, connected with roadways of colored stone or sweeping staircases. Gardens surrounded every building and lined the streets.
Just below him stood a group of people. People like Gwen. He recognized a likeness in some of them. Racial? Tall, with a slender muscularity, light-eyed, their hair shades of blond or red. Some of them wore tunics or robes; others only tight briefs. Those near-naked ones were being fitted with gossamer gliding wings on frameworks thinner than thread but steel-rigid. The helpers were of a subtly different type, shorter, trim and healthy but without the sinewy tigerish look of the first variety.
One of the figures strapping wings to her arms, he realized suddenly, was Gwen—but her skin was milk-pale, not the Indian-brown he saw across from him. She launched herself off the cliff edge, dived, then began to scull upward like one of Da Vinci’s ornithopters.
“Yes, that’s me. A few years ago on my personal world-line. My skin tone adjusts automatically to the ambient sunlight, all over,” she explained.
The flyers exploded from their perch in a rainbow of colors. Condors glided along the cliff face, among the men and women.
“One last one. Venus, north polar region.”
No greenery this time. Desert and rock, under a scourging wind. The sky was a deep greenish-blue, thick with clouds; he could see a vast pale disk in it, like a moon but too regular, touching one edge on the horizon and occupying a quarter-section arc of the heavens. In the foreground people walked, in thin pressure-suits and bubble helmets. Machines floated by, or rolled on huge wheels of spun thread; further away something enormous lifted into the sky and vanished upward with a trail of vapor and a thunder-rumble that shook the earth. There was a sense of thick, glimmering heat about the picture, almost palpable.
“The temperature in polar winter is down to about forty degrees—that’s Celsius—but the air’s still unbreathable, will be for another century. The circular object is an orbiting mirror, reflecting away sunlight. Mars was relatively easy; we just heated it up with mirrors and dumped comets and pieces of the gas-giant moons on the surface, then started the biologicals. Venus had too much atmosphere, we used tailored algae and then—never mind.”
“Turn it back to Earth,” he whispered. She did; this time to a seal colony, huge and thunderous with their barking cries. “Is it true? Is it true?”
Gwen tapped at the edge of the viewscreen. “If you can match this on Earth today, I’m the greatest liar since Thomas Jefferson,” she said coldly, and tapped again. Once more there was nothing but a thin sheet of nonreflective black.
Cairstens buried his face in his hands and wept, quietly and passionately. Their table was in a discreet corner; nobody noticed until he was done, and then Gwen signaled a waiter over.
“Vodka and orange juice,” she said. “Another brandy for me.”
The man gulped his drink in two mouthfuls. “You’re from . . . from the future? You came to save us?”
“A future. 2442 A.D., to be exact; or the four hundred forty-second year of the Final Society, we’d say. The future of a different past, with the split starting in the mid-1770s, as close as I can tell. I got here by accident; we thought we were experimenting with faster-than-light travel. Moleholes—wormholes, your people call them.”
“You’re stranded,” he said, his voice hoarse. Then he shook his head. “I never dreamed . . . I never thought human beings could be such stewards of the Earth.”
“They can’t,” Gwen replied. “I’m not human.”
His head came up. “You could have fooled me.”
“I couldn’t fool a CAT scan or DNA analysis. Post-human; genetically modified, to about a six percent divergence. Homo drakensis, to be precise. Most of it doesn’t show, but I’m as different from you as an orangutan.”
He nodded slowly. “This is—that’s why you asked me that—” With a visible effort; “You think you can bring your people here. And they’ll save the Earth.”
“Among other things. I warn you, the consequences will be fairly drastic.”
His face hardened. “As drastic as losing the ozone layer? Global warming?” He shook his head decisively. “No, it doesn’t matter how drastic.” Curiously: “How did it happen?”
“Explain to me the overall history of the world for the past six hundred years, in one paragraph or less,” Gwen said dryly.
He shrugged. “Yes, of course. But. . . how drastic? What’s it like for people, in that world of yours?”
“Peaceful, mainly. No war, no poverty, no sexism, very little crime, no illness except eventual death. Most people work on the land, or at handicrafts, or in domestic pursuits; we could do that by machine, but it’s more . . . healthy the other way. The high-tech sector nearly handles itself.”
She raised a hand. “It isn’t a democratic system. There’s a genetic elite; I’m part of that. It’s a static culture.”
“Yes, yes,” Cairstens nodded. “It’d have to be stable, to live in harmony with nature like that; it couldn’t be our sort of grasping, wasting greed-society.”
His eyes burned. “You need me to help. If this got out, every spook and spy from every government in the world would be fighting to pick your bones. They’d never allow you to contact your people.”
She nodded. “I’m going to need a large organization; and a smaller one within it, of men and women who know the truth.”
He shook his head again. “I believe it, but I can’t believe it.”
“Sleep on it. Tomorrow we’ll talk again.”
# # #
“Another brandy, and some more of that raspberry cheesecake, please,” Gwen said.
The waiter smiled and hurried off. Gwen finished the last sip of the VSOP Otard cognac, savoring the uncanny fresh-grape sweetness, the vanilla tang of Limousin oak. Relatives of hers held estates there; the product was surprisingly similar in this universe. One of the drawbacks of her enhancements was that ethanol was metabolized as rapidly as anything else; wine was pure taste, not kick, to a drakensis. Four or five brandies did produce a mild effect, though.
Amazing, she thought, running over the conversation with Tom Cairstens. And every word was the truth. Even if their response to pheromonal clues was spotty, humans could be manipulated verbally. She could tell exactly what their reaction was to every word, of course—scent aside, listening to their heartbeats and watching the pupil dilation and patterns of heat on the skin—and modify accordingly.
Cairstens was going to be invaluable; she couldn’t be everywhere, and it wasn’t good tactics to be under human observation too much.
Invaluable provided he didn’t go off the rails. It would take him a while to assimilate the data; humans were like that, their conscious and subconscious severely out of synch. How odd it must be, to know something was true and not feel belief in it! Like the way she’d felt for the half-hour after the accident, but all the time. Gwen shuddered slightly. That had been utter nightmare, the closest she’d ever come in all the long years to losing control of herself. No wonder the humans had such trouble maintaining clarity of thought and purpose.
Yes, she’d have to nurture Cairstens along carefully, building up a teacher-acolyte relationship; he had the makings of a fanatic, a True Believer. Should I take him? she wondered. So many of these feral humans were just plain ugly; it was a bit of a shock. The genetic engineers had eliminated that from the world of the Final Society long ago, along with inconvenient psychological characteristics. Cairstens was an exception, lean and hard, pleasant blue eyes, longish brown hair . . . probably an entertaining mount.
No, not for the present. Human males in this culture had odd ideas about sex and dominance. She’d wait until the parameters of the relationship were well-established, then integrate it as a reinforcement. She’d have to be careful, at that. Servus were protected against over-addiction to the stimulus of drakensis pheromones, sexual or otherwise. But wild humans were only vulnerable to a few of the more obvious stimuli, fear/dominance, lust/love, the basics—and when they were affected, didn’t have any stops.
Gwen sighed. The geneticists who’d designed her species had wanted an aggressive, energetic, territorial breed. The same hormones produced a driving libido as well; that was deep in the primate inheritance, and would have required complete rewiring to change. Normally she didn’t mind, but this wasn’t the Domination, where body servants expected to do concubine duty as a matter of course. One human wasn’t nearly enough—she didn’t want to wear Dolores out—and going too long without could produce unfortunate results, like poor Jamie Simms. Not that she’d hurt him—she had better control than that—but he’d had an alarming night. Controlling the need eventually required a counterproductive amount of energy.
What I need is an isolated retreat, she thought. A Household, or as close as this world could come to it. That would be the best base of operations. And perhaps I should reproduce.
No other drakensis around for gene-merging, of course, but she could clone herself. The technology was simple, not far above this world’s level; remove the nucleus of an ovum, replace with cell nucleus, remove the postfetal inhibitors, and stimulate to divide. A human female would do well enough for a brooder. The immune-markers were compatible; that had been built in as a failsafe way back in the early days. For that matter, she had a functional womb herself, if she cared to spend a year to bring it up from standby status.
She pursed her lips in distaste. Now there was a perverse thought.
Yes, a child was definitely a possibility. It would be comforting to have another Draka to help out, if the Project took that long.
The cheesecake arrived. “My compliments to the staff,” she said, and slipped a fifty into the waiter’s hand.
He beamed at her, and Gwen smiled back. She hadn’t had this much fun in centuries.
# # #
Henry Carmaggio sat up on the weight bench, wheezing a little and wiping his face with the sweat towel slung around his neck. Any excuse to delay moving from the bench press to the goddamned preacher curls; last year or so they’d set off a twinge in his left shoulder, the place where he’d broken it playing touch football back when he was sixteen. It hadn’t hurt since, but now . . .
The gym wasn’t very full, for a Saturday afternoon. Enough for the usual heavy smell of sweat, people pumping away at the Nautilus machines, pedaling fast to nowhere on the Life Cycles and going to the same place on foot on the StairMasters. The small windows up along the roof under the outside wall were steamed up, but the big mirrors at the far end were clear enough. They showed one middle-aged cop, a stocky thickset man with heavy shoulders and a waist only a little thicker than the best that could reasonably be expected. Heavy craggy features with a beak nose, hazel eyes, a solid frosting of gray at the temples of hair worn unfashionably short. The shorts and T-shirt he was wearing showed arms and legs corded with muscle and thick with curling black hair; a line of old white scars ran down his left leg from thigh to calf.
One good thing about working up a sweat, he thought. It takes your mind off itches you can’t scratch. Like the warehouse case. Not just being taken off it, but he hadn’t heard zip on the street, either.
Of course, a co-ed gym also reminded you of other itches. On the good side, better than two-thirds of the men here were gay, which reduced the competition. On the bad side, the women tended to be way, way above his income and education bracket. And whatever current theories said should be, that still made a great wonking difference. And face it, you expected to stay -married until you were in a wheelchair.
He rose, wincing at how his knees crackled, and ambled over to the weights section for the preacher curls. As usual, somebody had put the weight disks back on the stands any old way, meaning you had to heave them around to get the ones you needed to fit on the bar.
“Patrón,” a voice said.
He started slightly. “Jesus!” he said.
Jesus winced, probably because people had been making jokes about his name ever since the family moved from San Juan to New York when he was three.
“Got a message for you, Lieutenant,” he said.
Carmaggio’s eyebrows rose. It was Saturday, and he wasn’t working the weekend this week.
“Lady wants to talk to you. From the Feds.”
Ahhh, he thought, and suddenly the aches in his muscles and the sweat running down his barrel-shaped torso ceased to matter.
“Wants to talk about you-know-what, if you’re interested.”
“You bet your ass,” Carmaggio said softly. His teeth showed. “Bet your ass, paisano.”
# # #
“I’m Special Agent Claire Finch,” the FBI agent said, sliding into the booth.
Carmaggio sized her up as they shook hands. Finch was small—wouldn’t have gotten into law enforcement before the height requirements were removed—and extremely pretty in a businesslike way: reddish-brown hair, fox-sharp face with a hillbilly point to her chin and a very faint trace of mountain accent. Scots-Irish, probably, maybe with a trace of Cherokee: West Virginia, or East Tennessee. He’d had guys from that area in his platoon. One of them had been the best shot he’d ever met.
“Detective Lieutenant Henry Carmaggio,” he said.
There was an awkward moment of silence while the waitress brought their coffee: cappuccino; they were north of Canal Street, in an area where Italian was slowly giving way to Asian. He sipped, relishing the familiar bitterness.
“So. You wanted a meet?”
Finch nodded a little jerkily. “Highly unofficial,” she said.
Henry grinned. “Your brass doesn’t like weird shit either, hey?”
“We—Special Agent Dowding and I, my boss—got the reports on your homicides because there seemed to be a repetitive pattern, might be a serial killer. We put out a flag on it. Sure enough, we got a repetition of the MO.”
Henry felt himself tense. “Where?” he whispered.
“Through the DEA. Cali, Colombia.”
“Shit, they get twenty homicides a day there, sometimes.”
“Not this way. A couple of goons cut up—street-soldiers for one of the drug operators. Crushed like dixie cups, killed with their own knives. Then a bank executive, found in his apartment a lot like your Stephen Fischer. And a disappearance, a flight attendant named Dolores Ospina Pastrana. All associated with a woman matching the description of the one seen with Fischer. Operating under the name of Smirk.”
“That’s original,” Carmaggio grunted. “Was the bank in Colombia dirty?”
“In Cali?” Finch said.
“Point taken,” Carmaggio said.
“Outside our jurisdiction,” she went on. “And some time ago, now. But you see the implications.”
“Money. We’ve got someone who drops into a major buy, kills twenty men, and walks out with . . . call it a million plus in very dirty bills. They stop over at an apartment for a few hours. Then at another for a week, a killing at each. There may have been another—”
“What?” Finch leaned forward.
“Lowlife named JoJo Jackson, down around Times Square. Did false ID, among other things; we found him in an alley. Somebody grabbed him by the back of the neck and slammed his face into the wall, real hard. I don’t like this,” Henry went on softly. “I don’t like this at all. Because it says learning, to me. Learning about things, killing the teacher to clean up, moving on.”
“And laundering the money,” Finch said, with a tight controlled nod. “Which means that whoever it is now has a million dollars—call it half that after the cut the cleaners take—in untraceable funds.”
She cleared her throat. “It’s not a serial killer in the conventional sense. Not a drug thing under the DEA’s mandate. Not just a homicide.”
“It’s very fucking strange,” Henry said quietly. “Let’s stop beating about the bush.”
The agent hesitated, tapping her fingers on the linoleum, then came to a decision: “Our esteemed friends at you-know-where near D.C. grabbed the arm,” she said. “My guess is they’re studying the hell out of it somewhere and want the lid very firmly in place. Word’s come down from above that it’s a national security matter. Drop it, forget it, it never happened. The Company and Military Intelligence have whole sections dedicated to woo-woo stuff; TV to the contrary, the Bureau doesn’t.”
Henry tapped a finger on the table. “Who specifically?” he said. “You wouldn’t happen to know about a couple of thick-ears, one of ’em twenty-five, brown hair, blue eyes, the other—”
“Andrews and Debrowski,” Finch said. “Yes. They’re wet-work specialists, operating for a new branch Bioterrorist threats. Mostly Company people.”
“Them,” he said. “I would have thought NSA. You might be interested to know that they paid a call or a friend of mine. They weren’t real friendly themselves and they picked up something important.”
“It’s a joint operation, which is why technically they do have domestic jurisdiction. Not that that ever stopped you-know-who from doing you-know-what.”
“The Company,” Carmaggio said. “Let me tell you about the spooks. Guy I know—this happened back in seventy, I met him years later in a VA hospital, Navaho guy—was in the Special Forces, his unit was up in the Highlands, running a Hmong camp. Seems there was an encryption group, Company people, operating out of the camp. Good men, with some equipment that was high-tech back in those days. They were reading local enemy signal traffic better than Victor C.”
Finch’s eyes turned intent at the policeman’s tone. Carmaggio’s voice went low and tight. He’d never been there himself when he was in-country, but he could see it—down to the feel of the heat, the black-pajama’d Montagnards, the long lean pigs rooting among the sandbags, chickens clucking, naked brown kids.
“So they get Flint that the enemy’s going to attack the camp. Do they pass it on? No, they do not. They ask permission from Langley. And Langley decides that it’s a higher priority to keep the fact that we’re—they’re—reading the signals secret. So it goes back and forth between Langley and this pissant little firebase for days, until the guy in charge of the listening post takes out his .45 and shoots up the radio and tells the Special Forces officer running the place what’s coming down—only by then it’s real late, and four hours later two battalions of NVA hit their wire. Couple hours after that, they were calling in strikes right on top of their own position.”
He forced his fingers to relax on the thick china cup. “The Navaho guy got dusted out with an AK bullet through both knees. And that,” he said softly, “is what I think of the spooks. And they’re doing it again.
“Isn’t it a coincidence,” he went on in a lighter tone of voice, “that your people at Quantico can’t tell us any more about that skin sample we got from under Marley Man’s fingernails, or return it?”
“Yes. Remarkable coincidence. The Bureau didn’t object, and normally they wouldn’t spit on the Company if they saw ’em dying of thirst in the desert, for fear it would give them the strength to crawl to water.”
“And the spooks don’t much care about the unsolved homicides, do they?”
The FBI agent cleared her throat and spoke, in her polite, barely accented voice: “We do, Mr. Carmaggio. It may sound strange, but we feel a certain responsibility to the American public. And whatever else we have, it’s a pattern killer. I’m not ruling anything out, including mutants and space aliens, but whatever it is—it kills.”
Carmaggio nodded heavily and finished the lukewarm remnants of his cappuccino. “My gut tells me the pattern’s not going to stay down in the land of coffee and nose-candy, either.”
“We did . . . retain the DNA pattern when the other people took the skin sample,” Finch said. “Unofficially, and just in case. You know the passport setup the Canadians have nowadays?”
“Bring in $250,000 and get their equivalent of a green card? Yeah. Getting a lot of heavy traffic out of Hong Kong that way.”
“It’s also a natural setup for various sorts of crime, not to mention espionage, so we have some contacts with the RCMP,” Finch said. “My boss called in a favor and had them run a computer check on their applications. They do a DNA fingerprint—just satellite-DNA, not the deep stuff. They didn’t see anything strange, but it did match the pattern markers I sent them.”
“Ahhh.” A vast hunter’s satisfaction warmed Carmaggio’s belly.
A fax slid across the table to him. He felt his eyebrows rise at the picture. This was what had wasted Marley Man? He looked at the high-cheeked sculpted face. Looker. Maybe it was his imagination, but there was something wrong about it . . .
“Gwendolyn Ingolfsson,” he read. “Colombian citizenship . . .”
“Which you can buy retail,” Finch said.
Henry shrugged assent. With the amounts of money washing around down there, everyone was dirty and pretty well everything was for sale. The down side of that was that local ID was a trouble-flag to half the police forces on earth. Canadian papers were nearly as easy to get and not nearly as likely to arouse suspicion.
“And resident in the Bahamas,” she said. “They don’t like people asking questions there, not without very good reasons. We can’t do anything; officially that skin sample no longer exists and never did. But . . .”
Another piece of paper followed the picture. The header and signature had been blanked out when it was photocopied, but he recognized the style.
“. . . damage to cranium is congruent with beam weapon. Laser is unlikely due to explosive deformation upon penetration. An energetic particle or metallic charged-plasma beam, with the latter being the higher probability. Guide mechanism unknown. Effect indicates a power source in, the multiple-megawatt scale; the effect could not be duplicated without capacitors and other equipment weighing in the seven- to twelve-tonne range . . .”
“I’ll be goddamned,” he said. “It was a ray gun. No wonder the spooks are all over it.”
Carmaggio leaned back and hooked an ankle over his knee. “Now, Special Agent, that leaves one question. Why exactly are you coming to me about all this?”
“They’re probably thinking in terms of some foreign connection,” Finch said. “We—my boss and I—don’t think so. We don’t know what, but it doesn’t fit espionage.”
“The problem with setting up an organization to find bioterrorists . . .” Carmaggio said.
“. . . is that they will find bioterrorists. Whether they’re there or not. And my boss is convinced that if they do find”—she tapped the picture—“her, they’ll try to deal. Sure as fate, they’ll try to deal; they want that stuff that badly. The only thing we’re confident of is that there’ll be more bodies.”
They looked at each other for an instant. Somebody had walked into that warehouse and killed twenty armed men with a knife and bare hands. The picture didn’t look like someone who could do that . . . but nobody could, anyway.
“Not Rambo on his best day,” Carmaggio said, and the FBI agent nodded. “I do not understand this.” Finch nodded again.
“We don’t need to understand how, right now,” she said. “What and who will do just fine.”
“So we stay in touch,” Carmaggio said. “And we get ready; getting those papers smells like preparation for another try at the U.S. to me.”
Whatever lived behind those eyes was getting smarter.
“We can help each other with this,” Finch said. It sounded as much like a prayer as a statement.
“I certainly hope so, Ms. Finch,” he said. “Because we both need all the help we can get.”
He looked down at the picture. The rest of the data on the sheet was probably fiction, but the face was real. The eyes, green and level, with a hint of mockery in them.