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Real-life professional psychic Victoria Laurie drew from her career as a gifted clairvoyant and police psychic to create the character of Abigail Cooper. She lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, with her two spoiled dachshunds, Lilly and Toby. For information about upcoming novels and appointments for readings, visit her Web site at www.VictoriaLaurie.com.
For the record, burying a dead body is a lot more work than it looks like on TV.
Also for the record, burying a dead body while wearing a clingy cocktail dress and heels, and in the pouring rain—darn near impossible. Of course, I had help, which could be why we eventually got our dearly departed dude six feet under. (Okay, so maybe it was more like two feet under, but who’s really measuring at that point?)
“I think that’s good,” said my oh-so-gorgeous fiancé as he patted down the mud, leaves, and scrub covering our dead guy.
“Thank God,” I said, holding my hands palms up to let the rain wash some of the mud off. And that’s when I realized my engagement ring had slipped off. “Son of a beast!” I gasped. (Yes, I’m still not swearing, which, at times, proves most inconvenient.)
“What?” asked my sweetie.
Before answering him, I dropped to all fours and began to feel around frantically in the mud. “My ring! I’ve lost my ring!”
My fiancé threw aside his shovel and came to squat down next to me. “When?”
Tears welled in my eyes and my heart raced with dread. “I’m not sure,” I admitted, still scratching at the mud with my fingernails.
“Hey,” he said gently, taking my wrists in his hands to stop my frenetic search. “If it’s in the grave, we’re not going to find it now. We’ve got to get out of here.”
“But—” I began.
“No buts. Now come on. They’ll catch on that we’ve killed the head of the guard any minute now, and they’ll come looking for us. We have to put some distance between us and them.”
I was still crying, however, and I couldn’t get over losing the most precious thing I owned. “Please, Rick?” I begged, using the name easily now. “Just give me a minute to look; I promise if I don’t find it in—”
And that’s as far as I got before the woods all around us erupted in gunfire. Rick pulled me to him protectively. I stared into his deep brown eyes as he growled, “Move!”
He got no further argument from me; we surged forward and I stuck close to him as we darted through the underbrush. We ran for probably a quarter mile, and I tripped and slipped almost the entire way in my heels. The darn things had no traction, and if Rick hadn’t been practically carrying me, I’m sure I wouldn’t have made it that far that quickly.
We stopped to catch our breath and listen for signs of a chase behind us. I did my best not to quiver in fear while he scanned the area. In the distance I could hear the occasional pop of a gun, but nothing seemed close, and for that, I was grateful. I eyed my sore, muddied, blistered feet and wished that my black pumps were ruby red and I could click them together to go back home.
“You ready to move again?” Rick asked me.
“Yes,” I said.
No, I thought.
“I can see a structure about twenty yards that way,” he told me. “I think it might be a hunting lodge or a log cabin. We can make it there and hide out till they’ve finished looking for us. It’ll also give us some shelter from this rain.”
“Yippee,” I said woodenly.
Rick smiled in sympathy and took my hand. “Come on, babe. It’s not far.”
Now, you’re probably wondering what mess I’d gotten myself into this time—right? Let me take all that suspense out right now, and admit that it was a doozy!
It all began a few weeks prior to our mad dash through the forest, at a time when I was feeling . . . well . . . patriotic.
Of course, when you have three high-ranking members of the FBI, CIA, and armed forces telling you that your country needs you, it can be a powerfully convincing argument.
You see, several weeks before, there was a breach in our national security of epic proportions. Something was stolen that was so crucial to our country’s safety that it left each and every one of us vulnerable.
What was it? you ask. Well, if I told you, I’d have to kill you.
Ha, ha, ha!Kidding!I’ll divulge all; but let me at least start again at the beginning, which, for me, was on a beautiful late-April day in downtown Austin when I was called to a meeting at the FBI field office, where I was a civilian profiling consultant. That’s really just a fancy way of saying that, as a professional psychic, I assisted the FBI by pulling warm clues out of the ether on cases that had long since gone cold.
At this particular meeting was my sweetheart— Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dutch Rivers—his boss Brice Harrison, his boss FBI regional director Bill Gaston, and a lieutenant colonel with the air force, along with some steely-looking dude from the CIA.
During the course of that meeting, it became evident that something ofgreatimportance had been stolen off a military base and was then summarily smuggled out of the country. The good news was that the item had been traced to Canada. The bad news was that everyone agreed it would not be there for long.
Now, naturally our government wanted its property back, and so they’d sent two CIA agents into Canada to retrieve it. Those agents’ true identities were discovered, however, and I understand that their demise was swift and most unpleasant . . . something I’d rather not think about, actually.
Anyway, when it became evident that the task of retrieving the article in question was more formidable than first imagined, Bill Gaston thought of me.
I debated the idea of becoming a spy for about two whole minutes, something in hindsight I’m still sort of regretting, but I’d agreed, and Dutch and I had flown to Washington, D.C., the following week.
We’d been met at the airport by a lanky young agent with red hair and lots of freckles. He reminded me of Opie. “Agent Rivers and Ms. Cooper?” he asked, spotting us immediately from the faces in the crowd surrounding the luggage carousel.
Dutch extended his hand. “Agent Spencer?”
Opie shook Dutch’s hand warmly. “Yes, sir,” he said, offering me a nice smile too. “Our car is this way.”
We trailed behind Spencer, toting our luggage to a waiting black sedan. I swear, if the FBI ever wants to blend in right, they’ll need to add a few Priuses to the fleet.
Spencer loaded my bag into the trunk and we were on our way. “Are you taking us to headquarters?” Dutch inquired.
Spencer shook his head. “No, sir,” he told us. “I’ve been told to bring you to the CIA central office.”
I gulped. I grew up at the height of the cold war, so I still think of the CIA as an agency staffed with seriously scary people willing to doanythingfor the cause. But I held my nerves in check—I mean, I didn’t want to appear all fidgety and nervous on my first day of spy school; how uncool would that be?
We arrived at the CIA central office and Opie handed us off to a female agent dressed in a smart black pantsuit, a crisp white shirt, and no emotion on her face whatsoever.
She took us through security before seeing us to a large conference room, where nearly a dozen men and one woman were already seated.
The woman stood when we entered, and I noticed she was at the head of the oval table. “Good morning,” she said cordially. “Agent Rivers, Ms. Cooper, please come in and join us.”
The agent who’d shown us in backed out of the room and closed the door. I felt Dutch’s hand rest on my lower back as he guided me to the only two available seats left at the table. My mouth went dry as I took my chair, but when I saw FBI director Gaston sitting across from us and smiling warmly, I breathed a teensy bit easier.
It struck me then that the table was arranged somewhat by rank. The woman at the head of the table was obviously running the show, and she was flanked by two gentlemen whom I’d guessed were in their mid-fifties but seemed full of authority. The authority vein trickled down the table from there.
I also couldn’t help noticing many steely eyes were focused my way. I could also see a little disappointment in a few of their expressions while they assessed me head to toe. Not the first time I’d experienced that reaction, and likely not the last.
“Welcome to Washington,” the woman at the head of the table said into the silence that followed our sitting down. “I’m Christine Tanner, and I’m the CIA director of intelligence here in D.C.”
I smiled and nodded to her, and Dutch did the same. And that was it for pleasantries, because Tanner promptly got down to brass tacks by clicking a button on a handheld remote, which caused the conference room to go dark except for the projection of a slide onto a screen at the other end of the room. “Ms. Cooper, as you have cleared our security background checks, we feel it wise to educate you on the nature of the security breach we encountered a few weeks ago.”
I focused on the slide, which showed an aerial view of a large air force base. “This is a military outpost in southern Nevada. On the morning of April sixth, during a routine flight test, one of our military drones went missing.” I heard a click and a new slide showed the image of an unmanned drone aircraft like I’d seen on the news used in air strikes against enemy militant fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, although this one looked much smaller and sleeker in scale and on its top were mounted a small camera and what looked like a small rifle.
“The pilot claimed that midway through the test flight, the operating system on the drone failed, causing it to stop responding to his commands, and eventually crash somewhere out in the desert.”
So far I was following. The air force lost a little drone. Got it.
“It is not unheard of for the operating systems on these aircraft to fail, especially since this model was a prototype.”
“It’s smaller than most of your regular drones, right?” I asked.
The colonel nodded. “It’s also the latest in whisper technology. It’s powered electrically from a lithium battery, and the drone is virtually silent, which allows it to get within a hundred feet or so of its target without being seen or heard. Because of its advanced technology, this model would be very expensive to replace, and this particular drone was carrying something of great importance, so an extensive search was immediately conducted to retrieve whatever remained of the drone and its cargo.”
I looked at Dutch; he was focused on Tanner in a way that suggested there might be something more to this missing-drone story. “After combing through the area where the drone was believed to have crashed, no evidence of it could be found, which is why the military began to suspect the pilot’s story.”
A little way down from me and to the right, the lieutenant colonel who’d come with Gaston to recruit me in Austin shifted in his seat uncomfortably. Into the silence that followed Tanner’s last statement, he said, “I personally requested the pilot come in for a polygraph. But when he failed to show up, we went looking for him. We found him on the floor of his shower, shot through the head at point-blank range.”
“Suicide?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“No,” he told me.
“Any leads on who pulled the trigger?” Dutch asked.
“No again,” said the military man.
“We hope to get Ms. Cooper’s intuitive input on that later,” Director Gaston said, with a meaningful look at me.
I nodded. I’d do what I could, especially if this was a case of national security.
Tanner spoke next. “Obviously, we no longer suspect there was an operational issue with the drone. We believe the pilot was coerced or bribed into delivering our drone into enemy hands.”
I furrowed my brow. Why was one missing drone causing so much concern? I mean, when I looked back at the slide, the thing looked one step above a model airplane you could buy at any hobby shop.
Gaston seemed to read my mind, because he spoke next. “It’s more than just a missing drone,” he told me. “Agent Tanner, why don’t we allow Professor Steckworth to explain?”
Gaston’s eyes had settled on a slight man at the end of the table with salt-and-pepper hair and a nose much too big for his small square face. He cleared his throat when all eyes turned to him, and nodded to Tanner, who clicked her remote, and another slide projected onto the screen. It was a photo of a man young enough to be a college student, and somewhat unremarkable in appearance except for the fact that enveloping him on all sides was the most beautiful cloud of color I’d ever seen. “Oh, my God!” I gasped, already understanding what I was looking at.
“Do you know what you’re seeing?” Professor Steckworth asked, eyeing me keenly.
I nodded. “You’ve captured the image of his aura.” In my mind’s eye when I focused only on the young man in the photo, I too saw a cloud of color, though it wasn’t nearly as vivid or complete as what I was seeing on the screen.
Professor Steckworth smiled. “Yes, very good, Ms. Cooper. Your own abilities allow you to see auras, I take it?”
“Well . . .” I hesitated, not wanting everyone to assume my eyesight was clogged with images of color, color everywhere. “It’s less that Iseethem and more that I sense them in my mind’s eye. If I close my own eyes and focus, I can imagine, if you will, what someone’s aura looks like. And in case you’re wondering, Professor, yours is mostly deep blue with some wisps of yellow and olive green.”
Professor Steckworth appeared surprised, and he reached for a folder and pulled out a printout of himself, surrounded by a blue bubble with traces of yellow and some olive green, which he held up for everyone to see.
I sat back in my chair and grinned at each person who’d given me a doubtful look when I’d walked in. Oh, yeah . . . I’m a badass psychic, people . . . uh-huh.
“I’m quite impressed,” he said, and I relished the few knowing glances exchanged around the table before the professor motioned to Agent Tanner, and she clicked forward again . . . and again . . . and again. In every slide was the picture of another person wearing a different set of colors, varying in degrees of intensity and vibrancy. I knew why they were showing me the photos. “You’ve documented that each one is unique to the person,” I said. “Like a fingerprint.”
Professor Steckworth spoke again. “Indeed.” He then seemed to want to talk at length and looked to Tanner, who nodded. “You see, twenty years ago I had the most astonishing encounter with a woman who claimed to be a psychic. I was working on my PhD at the time, and her abilities so impressed me that I made her the focus of my thesis.
“This woman was also an artist, and for a mere pittance she would paint your portrait and include your individual aura. Of the hundreds of portraits I viewed from her hand, no two were alike, and that began my quest to see if I could prove that auras really existed.
“What I discovered was that each and every human being emits a certain electromagnetic frequency made up of individual wave patterns that is unique to that person—no two frequency patterns are alike, not even with identical twins. I then worked with the psychic to match colors to each wavelength and was able to develop digital photography software that captured the frequencies and translated them into a signature color pattern. I called the system Intuit.”
“Awesome,” I whispered, completely fascinated by the photos and the professor’s story.
The professor took a sip of water and continued. “As my research and applications turned increasingly promising, the air force learned of Intuit and became intrigued, requesting several demonstrations. They wanted to purchase my patent, but I didn’t want to sell it outright. Still, when I needed funding to continue Intuit’s development, they offered me a partnership and provided me all I needed in return for the exclusive use of the system. Even then I could see the far-reaching benefits of my research, and as a former marine, I readily agreed.
“Along the way, I made several key discoveries using the software, which could prove most useful to our national security. What my research team and I discovered was that when we scanned in a still photograph of test subjects, our software was unable to detect or produce an aura image; however, when we scanned in avideoimage, the softwarewasable to capture the aura.” The next slide showed a short clip of an infamous terrorist and it left me stunned. The United States’ public enemy number one was surrounded by a bubble of color— mostly brown, black, and dark red—and then my own intuitive radar began to put the pieces together and it filled me with dread.
“The drone was carrying Intuit,” I said softly.
In answer there was a click and the next slide revealed an aerial view of that same air base from before and on the ground were little blobs of vivid color.
“Holy shit!” Dutch hissed under his breath.
“The drone was carrying the only prototype of the technology,” said Professor Steckworth. “We dubbed the prototype Intuit Tron, and it had reached its final testing phase on the morning it disappeared, which was right before it was set to be deployed. This is the last image it recorded, in fact.”
The professor fell silent and in the room you could have heard a pin drop, but then Tanner clicked the remote again and a clip of the president’s last State of the Union address began playing. Two seconds in I saw the man I’d voted for and fully supported, surrounded by a huge bubble of brilliant sky blue, emerald green, and deep purple. In that moment I believe my heart skipped several beats and my stomach felt like it fell all the way down to my toes. There was another click and the slide moved to a clip of the British prime minister, then the French president and on and on with each allied national leader’s aura vividly portrayed.
It took me several seconds to realize I’d stopped breathing.
The lights came on then and I squinted in the brightness, while my mind raced with the possible horrible implications of having this particular technology in the wrong hands. “Now do you understand why your country so desperately needs someone with your talents, Ms. Cooper?” asked Tanner.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said gravely. “Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it.”
“Good,” she said. “Then let’s get started. . . .”
Dutch and I spent the next several hours being briefed on Intuit and its capabilities. I was somewhat relieved to hear that the original software was still with the good ol’
U.S. of A., but the drone carried the actual working portable prototype, so if it was placed into the wrong geeky hands, it was only a matter of time before one of our enemies figured out how to reverse engineer it. The implications were beyond frightening.
“Imagine that you are a terrorist,” said Professor Steckworth as if he’d been doing much of that lately. “You could easily sneak Intuit and the drone into any country, and fly it anywhere within fifty miles of your location. The battery on the drone is good for up to one hundred miles, or round-trip to your target and back. The software is programmed to look for whatever signature aura you input. If you are an enemy of Israel and you want to kill the Israeli prime minister, simply upload the PM’s aura off of any film footage and send the drone over the border.
“Your only worry is that the drone will run out of battery life before it finds your target, but we know with certainty that there are some solar panel technologies being developed right now that are quite lightweight. One of the next improvements we were about to make to the drone was mounting some of these ourselves to extend the drone’s range, and we’ve already calculated that it is possible to mount these on the top of the drone without compromising lift. As long as there are at least eight hours of sunlight available to charge the battery, your drone could run day and night. In theory, given the right climate, like, say, the Middle East, the drone could stay aloft for weeks and weeks.”
“How good is the camera system on the drone that was stolen?” Dutch asked.
“Moderately sophisticated,” Steckworth admitted. “But it doesn’t need to be more than that. Again, Intuit itself is highly sensitive to the color patterns of the auras of your target. It does not need especially good camera quality to recognize the pattern and instruct the drone to fly lower to take a closer look. The software would need to be within five hundred feet or so to make a positive match, and the drone is quite small, only three and a half feet from tip to tail. It is also nearly completely silent. Anyone with a keen eye would think it a large bird gliding on air currents, not a man-made drone.”
“Besides the obvious enemies of the U.S., who would want this technology?” I asked.
Steckworth leveled his eyes at me. “Who wouldn’t, Ms. Cooper?”
It took me a minute to get the clear meaning of that. “You’re telling me that even our allies would try to take the technology away from us?”
“Yes,” he said flatly.
I opened my mouth to protest, but Steckworth cut me off. “Possibly not all of our allies will attempt to acquire the drone, but enough of them know about it that it gravely concerns us.”
“You mean to tell me, countries like Canada, England, France, and Australia—countries that actuallylikeus—might want to take it?”
I sat there for a full minute with my mouth hanging open. I couldn’t believe it. How had our world come to this?
“So the drone gets close, makes a positive ID . . . then what?” Dutch asked next.
Steckworth shifted uncomfortably. “We had the drone equipped with a nitro-piston gas-spring air rifle, able to shoot thirteen hundred fifty fps.”
I turned to Dutch. “Huh?”
My fiancé’s face was hard and not at all happy. “It’s a nitro-gas-fueled gun able to shoot thirteen hundred fifty feet per second,” he said.
Oh yeah, that was helpful. “Huh?” I repeated.
“It shoots darts, not bullets,” he said.
I scowled. “Why didn’t you guys just saythat?” And then I thought about what Dutch had just said. “Hold on, it shoots darts?”
“Yes,” said Steckworth. “But the gun was not loaded with any toxins at the time the drone went missing.”
“Hold on,” I said, putting up my hand. “It shoots toxic darts?”
“However,” Steckworth continued, as if I hadn’t spoken, “the actual darts outfitted for the gun were stolen from my office on the day the drone went missing.”
“It shootstoxicdarts which are currently missing?” Was I the only one just realizing we had one mother of a problem on our hands?
“What’s the toxin?” Dutch asked in his usual calm style . . . which I found completely annoying.
Again Steckworth shifted uncomfortably, but he gave us the answer. “We created the trifecta of toxins: ricin, botulinum, and dieffenbachia.”
“You created thetrifectaof toxins?” I said, my voice rising in pitch. Seriously? Like, it wasn’t lethal enough with just one or two?
“I’m familiar with ricin and botulinum,” Dutch said, ignoring me again, “but what’s the third one you mentioned?”
“Dieffenbachia,” Steckworth repeated. “Highly effective. Works to swell the soft tissue and inhibit the ability to deliver an antidote for the ricin and botulinum.”
“How quickly would death follow after the dart hit?”
Dutch asked next while I just sat there with my mouth hanging open and a shudder running along my spine.
“In a strong healthy adult male of an average ninety kilograms . . .”
“Two hundred pounds,” Dutch whispered to me.
“It would take approximately eight to ten minutes, during which time the subject would be in extreme agony until the convulsions and seizures took over.”
“If one of our guys was hit with a dart, how quickly could an antidote be delivered?”
“It would need to be delivered in approximately ninety to one hundred and twenty seconds after exposure to the toxins.”
I scribbled a note and passed it to Dutch. It read,
Steckworth must kill at parties. Literally!
The corner of Dutch’s mouth quirked, but he didn’t write back. “You guys probably suspect the pilot for the toxin theft?”
“Yes,” said Steckworth. “He had the appropriate clearance to be admitted to my laboratory and the area where the toxins were stored, although his ID badge was not used to gain entrance and by coincidence the security cameras were not working on the day of the theft. We believe he may have walked into the building with someone who knew and trusted him.”
“I have a question,” I said.
Steckworth’s eyes swiveled to me. His expression was guarded. “Yes?”
“What were we going to use Intuit for?”
Steckworth blinked as if he couldn’t understand why I would ask something so obvious. “To target and kill our deadliest enemies.”
That’s what I’d thought, but it still shocked me a little to hear it out loud. “Why aren’t we trying to kill these people the old-fashioned way?” I asked next with just a hint of sarcasm. “You know, with a bunker buster or a gun or something less . . . well . . . toxic?”
“Against the enemies we’re targeting, Ms. Cooper, the method of death is crucial,” Steckworth said frankly. “Blowing our enemies into vapor only turns them into martyrs. They feel a sense of glory dying by bullet or a bomb. The dart we’ve developed is quite small with a very thin needle and is designed to drop off after impact. The target would experience only a sharp prick slightly more than a mosquito bite, and then within a minute or two they would become very, very sick indeed. As the toxins spread, the target would cry out in pain, vomit, lose control of their bowels, froth at the mouth, their faces and limbs would swell, and they’d convulse until they died. Their death would be as unromantic and inglorious a thing as can be imagined. Those around them would immediately suspect poison and treachery from within, which would further undermine the terrorist establishment. Using Intuit to pinpoint the target and kill them with a toxin serves our purposes on multiple levels.”
“Unless someone spots the dart and puts two and two together,” I pointed out.
Steckworth nodded. “Yes, but as I said, the dart is quite small, and in the desert, such things get lost in the dirt quite quickly.”
I sighed. This whole topic was turning my stomach. The things we planned to do to our enemies and the things they planned to do to us just sickened me, and at that moment, I will admit, I wanted to back out.
Dutch seemed to read my mind and he reached out and grabbed my hand. Squeezing it gently, he said, “It’s a dirty business, Abs. But someone’s got to step up and do it.”
I looked sharply at him. There was something in his eyes I didn’t like. Leaning over, I whispered, “Do you mean to say that if I decide to opt out, you’re still in?”
Those midnight blues looked deep into mine and held firm. “Yes.”
Aw, shih tzu.
Steckworth finished lecturing us on Intuit and before the next round I was allowed a short break to visit the ladies’, then returned to the conference room to find CIA director Tanner and FBI director Gaston there with Dutch and a folder.
“Do you feel up to looking at some photographs?” Agent Tanner asked.
I took my seat. “Sure,” I said. “What am I looking for?”
The director laid the folder out in front of me and opened to the first picture, of an Asian man with a very flat face and a big blue mole on his nose. Immediately I got the sense that he was one seriously bad dude.
“These are photographs of known weapons dealers with the capability to pull off the drone heist. We’d like you to look through the file and flag any that seem suspicious to you.”
I used my finger to flip quickly through the photos. “They all look suspicious,” I said, smiling at the little joke until I saw Dutch’s disapproving stare. “Sorry,” I said before taking a deep breath, closing my eyes, and switching on my radar to point it at the file.
I studied each and every photo, being very specific when I searched the ether around them for anything that might indicate one of the men had taken the drone. In the end I separated out two photos: one of a short fat man with a beard and mean-looking eyes, and another of a tall dark-haired man with brown eyes and a square jaw. The second man looked very familiar to me in a way I couldn’t quite pinpoint. I knew I’d never met him, but he reminded me of someone; I just wasn’t sure whom. “I’d look more closely at these two,” I said finally, pushing the photos forward toward Director Gaston.
He took them and turned them over to read the names on the back. “Viktor Kozahkov and Richard Des Vries,” he said.
I nodded. “The short fat dude is the one that feels the most suspicious,” I said pointing to the first photo I’d set in front of him. “But let me clarify that. I’m not sure he’s actually responsible for stealing the drone. He feels like he might be coming into this from the side.”
“From the side?” Director Tanner repeated.
“She means his relationship to the thief is tangential,” Dutch said, eyeing me to see if he got that right, and I nodded. “In other words, he didn’t steal the drone, but he probably knows who did and is in on the deal to sell it.”
“Lookit that, cowboy,” I told him, nodding in approval. “Three years together and you’re finally speaking psychic.”
“And Des Vries?” Gaston asked, holding up the other photo I’d flagged.
“Same thing but even more distant. I’d say at most he might have heard about the drone being stolen, but he didn’t actually take it. Still, he feels connected to this in a singular and significant way, but his connection feels even more sideways, yet equally significant.”
Gaston turned the photo back around and squinted at the picture thoughtfully. He then looked at Dutch and a sly smile played at his lips. “Agent Rivers,” he said. “May I see you privately for a moment?”
“Yes, Director,” Dutch said, getting up and following Gaston out.
Agent Tanner then gathered up her folder and photographs and thanked me for my input.
“There’s just one more briefing to go before we’ll turn you two loose for the night. They should be in shortly.”
She left me then and I leaned back in the chair, closing my eyes and relishing the peace and quiet. After a while I went to the door and looked out into the hallway. Dutch was nowhere in sight. I wondered what Gaston had wanted with him, and why it was taking so long. About ten minutes after that, the door opened and two men in uniform with a whole lotta brass attached to the lapels came in, carrying several files with them. Along for the ride was a guy dressed completely in black, head to toe, with slicked-back black hair, brilliant green eyes, and a thin firm mouth set in a square but fairly handsome face. He moved with the stealth of a panther, and entered the room with an air of pernicious intensity. This is the part in the story where I also admit that he personally scared the crap out of me, which was just awesome, ’cause I don’t think I’d been scared enough for one afternoon.
The men introduced themselves, starting with the brass.
The first man, who looked a whole lot like a walrus, said, “I’m Lieutenant Colonel David McAvery.” I believe I forgot his name in the very next second.
His military buddy, who walked like a penguin, said, “I’m Colonel John Hughes.”
The MIB (man in black) said, “Agent Frost. CIA.”
Think I’d be skipping him on my holiday card mailing list.
“Agent Rivers stepped away with Director Gaston,” I said.
“We’re not waiting,” Frosty the Snowman snapped, taking his seat and looking pointedly at the brass.
The two of them wasted no time getting down to business. “We believe the drone is somewhere in the Canadian province of Ontario,” Walrus said. “Due to the highly sensitive nature of Project Intuit, the drone itself was equipped with several tracking devices. These were all removed once the drone reached Canadian soil, and separately mounted onto freight trucks, each heading in different directions all across the country. It took us several days to track down the devices and conclude they were not still attached to the drone.”
“How do you know it’s in Ontario province, then?” I asked. “I mean, it could be in another country by now.”
Walrus looked at me like I’d spoken out of turn, and Agent Frostbite narrowed his eyes at me, which made me squirm.
“We’re fairly certain it’s still in Canada,” Walrus said. “Professor Steckworth received a signature ping off the software somewhere in the lower Ontario province area, and we believe Intuit is now somewhere within the Greater Toronto metropolitan area.”
I raised my eyebrows at Walrus.“Signature ping?”I asked. What was with these guys and their inability to speak plain English anyway?
“As a precautionary measure, Professor Steckworth equipped Intuit with its own locator beacon, so to speak. The device is designed to send out a small pulse every forty-eight hours, which can be detected by any passing satellite. By calculating the angle of the ping, we can approximate the area where Intuit is located.”
“Okay,” I said, understanding better. “Where in Toronto did the signal say Intuit was?”
Walrus nodded to Penguin, who opened up a folder, took out a piece of paper, and said, “The radius of the ping only narrows it to a twenty-square-mile area within the greater metropolitan area. It doesn’t give its exact location.”
Of course it didn’t.
“At this point we’re waiting on another ping, set to happen within the next two days, from the device, and if we’re lucky, it will bounce off a different satellite, which could help to narrow the search area.”
“Do you have any leads at all on where it might be stored, or who might want to buy it?” I asked.
Walrus and Penguin looked to Agent Frostbite. “Yes,” he said, without any further elaboration.
Ah, charm. Watching it in action really warms the cockles.
“Could you be a little more specific?” I asked, silently patting myself on the back for having the guts to do so.
“Helpful,” I said, with a big ol’ smile.
“We are narrowing the list,” he said crisply. “We will give you a full briefing before you leave on your assignment.”
“We?” I repeated, hoping there was someone—anyone—a little warmer than ol’ Jack Frost here who could give us the final lowdown.
“Me,” he said, looking me square in the eye like he’d really love to take me outside and personally show me the many, many ways to interrogate a terrorist. “I will be giving you a full briefing. And I will be your handler while you’re in Canada.”
Of course he would. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have none at all.