Cardano knew he had to hurry. The people who were on the way would be in an ugly frame of mind by the time they arrived. He needed to spirit everyone away before then, even the security guards. They were just contract employees, but he couldn’t leave them behind to be killed. He had already sent his wife and son away. He arranged their disappearance as soon as he heard about the attack at the concert. They had been living in a small house on the
island of Naxos in the Aegean Sea for the last few weeks. But he had worked very hard to make it seem that they were in . Every scrap of paper or digital information anywhere in the Border Control systems of several countries implied this, though he had been careful to make it appear that he wanted the authorities to think they were really in New Zealand . He had also stationed a female operative in an apartment in Valparaiso with a small boy “borrowed” from a local orphanage. She was under instructions to flee to Auckland Adelaide at the first sign of trouble, deposit the boy in a safe house there, and leave a trail that would dead end in Hong Kong.
It was a clever sleight of hand that might distract his enemies for a little while. They would lose interest in his family before long. But they would hound him and George as long as they lived. The security guards would not be worth pursuing. They knew nothing. As long as they were not on site when the tactical teams arrived they would be safe enough. He gave them all cash bonuses, put them on a chartered bus for
, and hoped their discretion would protect them. Las Vegas
George was a different story. He knew way too much. He knew as much as Cardano himself. There was no place he could hide him for long. He had already successfully hidden him for almost sixteen years as it was. Of course, Meacham knew he would keep George nearby. But as long as he thought the Predator program was worthless, he had no interest in either of them. They had all been safe as long as Meacham believed that. It was clear that he no longer believed it, for whatever reason. Cardano assumed that he had received intelligence about a Chinese program.
He was worried that George had not returned yet. He couldn’t leave before then, and Yuki absolutely refused to leave without him. After all these years, he had never quite fathomed the nature of their relationship. Were they secretly married? Just lovers? Friends? They seemed to have some sort of spiritual bond. Protecting Yuki was the main purpose of this evacuation. So it was deeply frustrating that he did not understand her motivations at this precise moment.
And what about the girl? He had offered to send her to
Naxos with his family the moment George told him of the incident at the concert. But George refused. “I have a plan, George. She’ll be safe. I promise you.”
“No. I have to keep her with me,” George said quietly. “It won’t be safe on
Naxos. Not if she’s with them.”
What could he be thinking? Why is she so important? He is willing to risk everything to keep her close. There is certainly something special about her. Cardano could see that she was pretty tough. She had handled the team from the concert. And exactly how had she managed that?! He remembered a birthday party when she was seven. He wanted to surprise her, hoist her above his head, tickle her mercilessly like a good uncle. Somehow she squirmed her way out of his grip, fell to the ground. All that was normal enough. She landed on her feet, thank God. But on the way down she turned her face directly towards his. He could still remember the look in her eyes, calm, collected. No sign of childish panic. She was certainly unusual. He never bought that story about her being George’s niece. But then who is she?
“George! What do you think is going to happen to her here?”
“She can handle herself,” he muttered.
“She can’t handle these people!”
“She won’t be any safer on
Naxos, and if she’s there, they’ll be in danger, too.”
“Goddammit, George! Why the hell is she so important? Just who the hell is she, really?”
“She’s my daughter, Mike. And she’s not going anywhere now. You need to make sure Yuki is safe. I’ll keep Emily with me. We’ll go our own way when the time comes, meet up with you later.”
Michael was taken aback. George had never spoken so directly to him. He had always been all deference up to now. But it was clear that he could not be moved on this point. Michael had planned to get all of them out of
Virginia, to a hideaway in northern . Now he needed a new plan, simpler perhaps, two people instead of four. But he always felt safer with George than without. New Mexico
Michael thought about this conversation as he prepared the scene for their departure. He burned a lot of papers in the furnace, the ones he wanted really destroyed. He set up a fire in the living room on the main floor for other papers that he meant to be only partially burned. Yuki packed the clothes they would need. She also tried to create the impression of a hasty departure, stray clothes tossed everywhere. She had prepared a huge meal earlier for the security guards, including snacks to take with them on the bus. But she made much more than was necessary. The kitchen was a mess, food was everywhere. The freezers were left open. A kettle of water was cooked dry on the stove. To an intruder, it would look very much as if they had all left in a great hurry. It would be reasonable to conclude that they had not been able to make careful preparations.
Yuki could not stop worrying about Emily and George. Where were they? She was pretty sure that Emily was back in the woods. No one had said anything to her, but this seemed like just the sort of weekend for one of their camping trips. She had never interfered in these trips before. But she hoped George had had enough sense to provide for Emily’s safety. She loved him dearly, but there were definitely moments when he seemed utterly obtuse. “Oh, God, please let this not be one of those times!” she prayed.
And where was he, if he wasn’t with Emily? No doubt Mr. Cardano had sent him on one of his errands. It had better have been important, if it was going to keep George away from her and Emily at a moment like this. She moved like a whirlwind through the apartment above the garage, packing and strewing. She left two packs in the driveway by the garage door and proceeded to do the same thing in her room in the main house. As she passed through the kitchen one last time, she thought about Emily and quickly made her favorite snack, rice balls, and left them on the counter where she would be sure to see them if she happened through. No one else would notice them in the general mess, just a few balls of sticky rice wrapped in seaweed and sesame seeds and a little surprise in the middle, certainly no one unacquainted with Japanese cuisine. But Emily would not fail to see them. Yuki thought better of that plan. She put the rice balls in a bag and stuffed them in Emily’s pack.
A few moments later, the family car lumbered up the drive and pulled up to the garage. It sat motionless and dark for a few moments. Yuki watched apprehensively from the kitchen door. Finally, the driver’s side door swung open and George stepped out. He looked weary, maybe even sad. She had not often seen him this way before. He took a deep breath and walked over to the front entrance of the main house where Michael was waiting. He scanned George’s face for clues. What had happened? Had he met with Burzinski? Was he receptive?
“Burzinski wasn’t there,” George announced. “Porter was waiting for me with a couple of heavies.”
“They’re in the trunk. It seemed unwise to leave them behind.”
“What’d you do with the packet?"
“I left it there, in case you’re right about Burzinski. He’ll know where to look. Porter was definitely not interested in the data. He only wanted Yuki,” George snarled.
“We’re ready to go. We’ve just been waiting for you,” Michael offered. “We haven’t seen any sign of Emily. She wasn’t with you, was she?”
“No, she’s been here the whole time. Out there,” he said, gesturing to the woods.
Michael’s mind reeled, astounded that he had left her alone in the woods at such a moment. He was also sorely disappointed that Burzinski had not come. His plan had involved interesting elements of the CIA in the truth about the Predator program. The packet contained all the important data from Dr. Kagami’s lab, along with the results of some further investigations Yuki had carried on in the intervening years. There were no breakthroughs. No wonder drug that an ambitious agent could use to catapult his career forward. But Burzinski could use what was there to fend off Meacham, keep him at bay and solidify his own position. If only he was interested. That he had been unwilling to meet George was not encouraging. Even more so that he had turned it over to Porter.
Michael knew that Porter was ready to make his own move. He would have no use for data purporting to show that the program couldn’t be salvaged. For him, only a positive result would be of interest. And that would inevitably entail taking custody of Yuki. There was no room for George, or himself, in Porter’s vision of the future. It was almost a relief that he was now in the trunk of the limo, though Michael was sure that he was not working alone. There would be others, maybe even Burzinski himself.
There was a little bit of comedy in Michael’s offer to Burzinski. Of course, there was all the data, and Yuki’s analysis of what it means. But there was also the estate itself. Michael knew that Burzinski had been looking for a facility he could use as a shadow power base, and the estate would certainly be suitable for such a purpose. What Burzinski didn’t know is that the estate was already the property of the agency. Michael had managed to obscure the agency’s own records concerning a fifty acre parcel of land at the south end of the
. And, of course, the agency had concealed the fact of its ownership in all public documents. He then added to it a much larger adjoining parcel from the National Forest unbeknownst to the Forest Service. In fact, he had amassed an immense holding at very little cost to himself, relying entirely on the inability of federal agencies to adequately control their own papers. He always knew that once he left, the forest land would revert to the Forest Service. They would merely discover some papers that had seemingly been misplaced, and then reassert their authority over this section of the forest. None of the estate buildings had been built on park land. As for the agency, it would probably never recoup the loss, or even know of it. George Washington National Forest
It was a high stakes game, playing one covert power broker against another. But Michael could see no other path through the current situation. The only way to take their attention off Yuki, and George and himself, was to get them to turn their attention on each other. And all things being equal, it was probably better for everyone if Burzinski prevailed, rather than Meacham. Best of all, however, would be if they destroyed each other.
George went back to the car to dispose of the bodies. There wasn’t much time. All he could do was start a fire in the woodshed. That would be hot enough to obscure their identities for a while. He also half hoped that Emily would see the fire and come back early. When he returned to the main house, Yuki stood in the doorway as he approached glowering at him.
“Where is she?” she demanded. George looked at his shoes and took a step a backward, as if afraid she would strike him.
“She’s out there,” he said nodding to the woods.
“What were you thinking, leaving her out there at a time like this?!”
“She’s on her way back,” he said defensively, trying to sound confident. “She’ll be here soon.”
“If anything happens to that girl...,” Yuki snarled turning back into the house.
Michael loaded Yuki’s things into the cab of an old pickup truck and motioned to George to bring her out. “There’s not much time. We gotta go now!”
Yuki was reluctant to leave without seeing Emily. George tried to reassure her that Emily was safe. Michael tried to look like he believed it too. But, in the end, Yuki did understand the necessity of leaving right away. She knew that Michael had made arrangements that could keep them all safe, and that they depended on decisive action. She got in the truck, rolled down the window, looked George in the eye and growled: “Find her. Keep her safe.” He felt the full force of her anger and frustration.
“I will,” he said.
Michael drove off with Yuki, leaving George watching after them in the driveway. He followed them as long as he could still see their tail lights. They passed through the main gate, turned right and disappeared behind the front hedge. They would head over to Route 64 and then go west through
West Virginia and , changing vehicles several times along the way. Kentucky
George went into the garage and rolled out an old dirt bike. He concealed it in the woods behind the main house. His plan was to put Emily on the back and ride out along some old logging trails through the forest, slip into the
Monongahela Forest in , switch to a car he had already stashed in Mill Creek, a little town on the edge of the park. Now he just had to find her. West Virginia
The sky was just beginning to get light. It was probably approaching five am. He was beginning to worry that he would not be able to find Emily in time. Yuki was right. He had blundered, sending her out into the woods by herself. But he hadn’t known what else to do. He couldn’t risk having her go with Michael and Yuki. That is, he was afraid to put everything that mattered to him in one car. He knew she’d be safe in the woods, no one would find her out there. If he had not been able to return from the meeting with Porter, he needed to know she’d be safe, at least for a little while. But after that, she’d be on her own. He had imagined the worst contingency and tried to prepare for that. But now that things were looking to be not quite so dire, he realized the inadequacy of his plan. If he only had more time, several hours perhaps, he could track her, maybe find her, though with every weekend spent in the woods she was getting harder to track. As it was, he wasn’t sure he had even ten minutes.
George went into the main house and set fire to the curtains in the living room. He spread gasoline from a large gas can. He hoped that if Emily saw the fire, she would know something was wrong and come back from the woods. It was a desperate move, he had no other way of getting her attention. But the fire was just not spreading fast enough.
He went back out to the driveway to keep a lookout for Emily. He scanned the tree line at the edge of the north lawn for any sign of her. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted movement in the hedges to the left of the main gate. There was no way that could be her. Meacham’s tactical team was already here!
George ducked behind the garage. If only they hadn’t seen him, he might be able to seize some slight advantage. Meacham probably sent two teams of four. They would be heavily armed, probably wearing kevlar. They wouldn’t need night vision gear. With the approach of dawn, the blazing fire in the woodshed and fire beginning to peek out of the windows of the main house, there was enough eerie light to see the entire scene pretty well. He couldn’t risk a shootout with these guys, even if had a gun. Emily might get caught in a crossfire. He knew they were focused on the main house. No diversion would get them to forget their primary mission: subdue the inhabitants, apprehend Yuki and Emily. His best chance was to induce them to enter the main house as quickly as possible.
He knocked over some garden tools, a rake, a wheelbarrow, a bucket, all to create a clatter, and ran quickly to the front door of the main house. Bullets whizzed past him on all sides. He felt one graze his side just as he burst into the house. It didn’t feel like a serious wound, but it burned like a hot poker resting just below his ribs. He tumbled into the dining room. The living room was pretty hot now. The drapes were in full blaze. Some of the upholstered furniture near the outside wall was beginning to burn. The bookcases would catch fire soon.
One team would come in through the front door. If he was lucky, they would be temporarily forced to focus on the fire in the living room. The other team would circle around to the kitchen entrance, with an eye on the garage. He needed to find a way to get the second team into the house before Emily arrived. At least then she would have a chance to size up the situation before encountering them.
Click for Ch. 6
Click for Ch. 6