Like half the escapes from restaurants she'd ever seen on TV, Anna's led through the kitchen. She followed exit signs down a short hallway, looking for a stairwell. But as she approached a blank steel door at its end, her enhanced hearing caught the steps and movements of several men approaching from the other side. The muffled clattering and heavy tread suggested an entry team of three to four men, doubtless just come up the stairs to cut off escape in that direction. She stepped back four meters and waited, listening, trying to get a fix on the group's number and relative positions. Three, not four. Single file, two meters separation. Too close, fellas. When she judged that the closest of them was about to reach for the knob, she ran towards it.
She hit the door feet-first six feet off the ground, smashing the steel panel down on the nearest man. She somersaulted over the collapsing door and put two feet into the second man's midsection as she came down. A quick spin and an elbow to the body took care of the third, and she ran down the hall to its end. The window there wasn't made to open, but it yielded to her fist, the shards tinkling to the concrete eleven stories below. Before they landed, she was moving through the window.
She briefly considered dropping to the ground, but she wasn't sure she could take the fall undamaged. Climbing down wasn't much of an option either; radio traffic indicated there were IO agents surrounding the premises, and they'd be all over her by the time she reached the pavement. Above her, she heard the whine and flutter of a helicopter, apparently circling the building. She took off her shoes and stuck the heels into the back of her dress, along with her paperback-sized purse. Then she reached around the window and placed her fingertips against the building's concrete face. Half a second of sawing back and forth with her nails raised a puff of dust and gave her a secure hold. She swung out, suspended against the vertical face by one hand, and reached up with the other to create another handhold. Once again, and her first handhold became her first toehold. She scaled the building as if she were climbing an invisible ladder. Half a minute later, she had ascended six stories and was standing on the roof.
She surveyed the rooftop and the big helicopter buzzing around it. Black, of course. Why isn't it ever as easy as it is in the movies? The chopper was circling too high and too far from the building to board with a jump; even with a running jump and her enhanced strength, the pilot would have ample time to react, and could carry it beyond her reach in mid-jump with a twitch of his stick. Its side doors were open, and a man stood securely webbed into the doorway. He carried a rifle with a scope, and was sighting on her.
She moved. Unlike in the movies, no wild shots struck the roof behind her. The helicopter moved with her, trying to give the gunner a bead on her. She caught a transmission from the chopper: "Air One to Control. Suspect is on the roof and moving, but there's nowhere to go."
She tended to agree with that assessment. The roof was flat except for a huge air-conditioner at one end, and, nearby, the little square structure enclosing the stair head. The surrounding buildings were taller, and too distant to reach anyway. As long as the helicopter stayed out of reach, she was trapped.
And she was running out of time as well. She could hear a pair of heavy boots stomping up the stairs. In the movies, there was always a pipe or something to stick in the door handle to prevent pursuers from pulling it open; this roof was clear of such junk, and the door opened outward anyway. She moved to intercept. Just before the man reached the door, he spoke. "It's me, sugar. Jump me at the door. Make it look good." Castro, the big Hispanic from Phillips' team.
The door banged open, and Castro rushed through, rifle leading. She grabbed the barrel, pulled him off balance, and planted the stock in his belly, considerably more gently than the first time. He sagged and fell to his side, and the rifle clattered to the gravel. "Fuck," he wheezed. "That your favorite trick?"
"Air one to Control. She's got a hostage, one of our guys, looks like."
She grabbed his arm and forced it behind him. "No. I'm a crotch-kicker, usually. Ernesto, what happened?"
"Nobody on our team, baby, I'd swear to it. Gord thinks we had a tail."
"Ah." She put a forearm to his throat. "I don't know how or when, but someday I'm gonna fix you dinner."
He reached back with a free hand. To the witnesses on the chopper, he might have been grappling with her as she choked him. But his fingers gently rubbed the back of her neck. "Anything but Mexican. Hate that shit."
"Noted. Wish I could kiss you." She pressed her forearm to his throat until he went limp, then propped him against the door. She quickly wedged the door with pieces of his equipment and moved, trying to keep the stair head between her and the helicopter. It circled the housing as well, trying to give its gunman a shot.
They maneuvered in this fashion for a few turns, then the pilot tired of the dance and brought his bird over the roof, still too high to risk a jump. She skittered around the air conditioner, and the chopper bounced over it, considerably closer to the top of the big structure.
Aha. She calculated as she wove between the two structures, trying to maneuver the helicopter into position. Filtering out the wind and chopper noises, she could hear more feet on their way up the stairs.
Taking cover on the side of the AC unit opposite the stair head, she heard the chopper bouncing over the structure to regain visual contact. She dropped into combat mode, sprinted back around to the stairwell, and leaped to its top. Turning like a cat in midair, she bounced off its roof to the AC unit, which brought her six meters above the roof. The helicopter was another three above and five beyond the structure, its individual rotor blades clearly visible to her accelerated senses. She ran and leaped, reaching for a skid.
The pilot was quick. He still had a fraction of a second to react, and he did. The chopper tilted away, showing its belly and taking the skid she'd been aiming for up out of her reach. But the maneuver also dropped the skid on the opposite side. She grabbed it, swung up like a stone in a sling, and entered feet-first through the other open door, planting her bare feet into the gunner's back and sending his rifle flying out his open door. A quick blow left him hanging limp in his webbing, and she was in the pilot's compartment a second later.
She snatched a pistol out of the copilot's hand and clouted him with the butt. The chopper banked as the pilot reached for his weapon. She stuck her newly-acquired Glock in his ear. "Pass it over." When he did, she tucked it under the seat. "Head west. Goose it."
She stuck the Glock back in his ear. "I can."
"You'll die too."
She studied the aircraft's controls. A whisper of data from the Alpha file passed through her, and she recognized them: collective and cyclic, engine and shaft gauges, anti-torque pedals in place of the rudder controls. Compared to a Comanche, this is a kid's scooter. "Maybe so, but that's better than letting you take me back. I've had enough electric shocks and icewater baths for a lifetime, thank you." She looked down at her soiled clothing. "Oh, bugs." She reached behind her: one of her shoes was gone. "Just once, can't you goons come after me when I'm not dressed for a date?"
The pilot's heart was racing. He pushed the cyclic forward slightly, and the bird nosed down and moved forward, gathering speed. "How did you… what did…"
A sudden suspicion dawned. "Wait. Are you guys cops? Real police officers?"
"You're under arrest," the copilot said blearily.
She pulled off his helmet and rubbed the knot above his ear – without letting go of the gun. "Oh, sweetie, how did you get mixed up with these people?"
"What did you do to the man in back?"
"He'll be okay, but he should go to a hospital soon. Why are you doing IO's dirty work?"
"We're here to help the DHS apprehend a terrorist."
She scoffed. "You'd think they'd use a different lie once in a while, just for variety."
"Orders straight from the Commissioner's office. They showed us ID. It all checked out." The pilot stared through the windshield at the mountains ahead, backlit by the glow from the sinking sun.
"Officer, they could have shown you ID from NASA or the White House or the Department of Weights and Measures if they needed to. And they can twist arms a lot higher up than the Boulder Police Commissioner." She waved her gun at the windshield. "Find a parking lot with a few cars and set down."
"What are you going to do?"
She eyed the controls again. "Well, I first thought I'd steal your helicopter. But there's an awful lot of thingies on the dash. I've got a feeling it isn't as easy as it looks in the movies." Then she reached for the microphone on the dash and yanked its cord out of the panel, apparently oblivious to the wireless one the pilot was wearing. "There. Now you'll have to fly somewhere to report in while I steal a car. I'll have a little head start, anyway." Let's hope they believe blondes are dumb.
Presently a small shopping complex appeared, fronted by acres of blacktop. "How's this?" The pilot said, sounding very accommodating.
He set it down gently, far from the nearest car, which suited her fine. "Mind the blades."
"I was about to say the same thing. Hands off the controls, both of you. Unbuckle." They complied, their faces expressionless. She herded them to the side door. "Get him out too."
"You can't fly this thing."
"No. But I don't dare let you take off."
The copilot passed the unconscious gunner to the pilot on the blacktop. "You gonna shoot us?"
"Only as a last resort. On the ground, facedown." She bound their hands with their belts, then jumped back aboard. "I fibbed, sorry. You'll get it back in one piece, okay?"
The two men watched as the chopper powered up and sprang from the ground in a military-style "hot" takeoff and headed north to disappear among the mountains. As they worked on each other's bonds, the copilot remarked, "That is about the strangest terrorist I ever heard of."
They heard sirens, faint but growing louder. "Yeah. And I got a feeling that being cops was all that saved our lives, you know? What was that about electric shocks? And what was that name she said?"
"Think we better forget we heard all that." The belt came free just as the first police car came into the lot, followed by a black Suburban.
Tuesday April 4 2006
International Operations Regional Office
"You can't blame me for being skeptical, Frank. Sleepers and moles can be very useful, but they have an unfortunate tendency to forget which side they're on." Ivana smiled down at him, which made him more uncomfortable than being strapped naked into a chair. "So we're going to go over it again. This time, with a little something to guarantee you're telling the truth."
He blinked up at her, struggling to focus. "We've already done the polygraph thing and the pentathol thing." And the sleep-deprivation thing, and the physical discomfort thing. He hadn't eaten since he'd been taken into custody, nor been given a sip of water since Monday afternoon.
"And when you were in the Expeditionary Teams, you were conditioned to beat those methods. This is something new."
The door to the tiny 'interview' room opened, and Gerry Ruche entered, pushing a cart with a microwave-sized device on it. He recognized it, and his heart sank further.
"What's wrong, Frank? You seem to have lost a little wind from your sails."
The machine was proscribed tech, a working prototype he'd reviewed, called a "truth detector" by its developers. It allowed an interrogator to ask questions requiring more than a "yes" or "no" response. In the hands of an expert, the machine was infallible. It was being touted as a tool for exhaustive interrogation that left the subject still capable of rational thought. He wet his lips. "I just hope you don't start asking me about my childhood. Or my girlfriends."
"I doubt your disaffection began that early. I'm not here to embarrass you unduly, Frank. I might kill you, but I won't pry into your love life unless the investigation leads us there." She turned to Ruche. "The fewer people present for this the better, but are you sure you can handle this?"
Ruche's face took a stubborn set. "This thing's not a polygraph. I've seen it in action. The readings are unequivocal. It doesn't take an expert to read them."
And hope flared in Colby's heart, for the first time since he'd been taken. He smothered it before the two turned to him.
Ruche's offhand attitude towards things he didn't understand might just save Colby's life.
It doesn't take an expert to read an outright lie from the results. But it takes a semanticist to frame the questions and evaluate the quality of the answers. If I can concentrate, keep my head…
Ruche placed an appliance on Colby's head resembling a compact headset, save that the "earpieces" rested on his temples. Other contacts were attached to the insides of his wrists and the base of his skull. The Security Advisor returned to the machine, flicked a switch, and studied the display in its face. "Ready."
She nodded. "No point in wasting time. Who are you working for?"
He reminded himself not to answer with simple negatives or affirmatives unless he was answering honestly; longer answers increased his chance of fooling an interrogator who didn't realize the machine didn't recognize half-truths as deceptive answers. "I'm working for IO, and only IO." John Lynch doesn't pay me; I help him out of friendship. "I'm loyal. I always have been." To my friends and the real International Operations, not to you.
She looked at Ruche. The man frowned at the display, then looked up, met her eyes, and nodded. She raised her eyebrows. "Well. Why have you been meeting with Jack then?"
He swallowed. "I thought keeping some line of communication open might prove useful." To him. "As long as he's keeping the kids under control, they're no danger. And meeting with him regularly gives me some idea of what they're up to." Not that I'd ever tell you.
"Did you know they were living in La Jolla?"
"No." San Diego area, but I never asked the address, and he didn't tell me.
"What were you doing with the little psycho?"
He carefully wove together plain truth and subterfuge. "She called the meet. I think she wanted to know what we'd discovered."
"And you were going to tell her?"
Careful. "I wanted to gain her confidence. I thought, if she trusted me, she'd tell me something." And she did. She told me all kinds of things.
"And what did she tell you?"
Carefully, he said, "That she was prepared to destroy IO, and that there were others like her. I was hoping to get her to put me in touch, learn about them."
"What do they know?"
He thought back to their first meeting. "She has access to top security files. I'm not sure how big the breach is."
"You don't seem to have learned much."
He looked up at her, meeting her eyes. "It was only our second meeting. I think she was just about to tell me something confidential about the Twelve-fives, but then something tipped her off that we were busted. For a second, I thought she was going to break my neck, before she decided I hadn't set her up."
"Witnesses said you were dancing, and that you seemed to be getting along very well," she said, riposting the remark. "Are you sure her interest is professional?"
He wet his lips. "At our first meeting, she made a personal remark that made me think she might be interested."
"And you, Frank?"
He decided it was a good time to be caught in a lie, to give them confidence in their methods. "No. I was just after information."
Ruche raised his eyebrows. Ivana glanced at him, then back at Colby. "Oh, Frank. When will you learn? This woman is poison. What could you possibly see in the little bitch?"
He swallowed to wet his throat. "I was kind of… getting off on the idea of… dating your evil twin."
She stilled. "Ah. You noticed."
"Not right away. Not until I discovered she has your prints."
Ivana fastened a raptor's gaze on him. Ruche's forehead suddenly shone with sweat. "And how did you learn that?"
So. She did tell him to suppress the information from the mall. He took a breath. So tired. "She left her prints behind at the first meeting. I ran them." He flicked a glance at Ruche, and their eyes met. A measure of understanding passed between them.
"Gerry? Is this true?"
"Reads true, Ivana."
She turned back to Colby, and Ruche visibly relaxed. "Clever, Frank, very clever. So how do you set up your meetings? How do you communicate?"
"He calls me. His phone can't be traced, I don't know why." Not that I've ever tried. It's what he tells me.
"How soon will he call again?"
"When we separated, I told her to call me in a couple of days."
She folded her arms. "If I let you take the call, how would you explain being free and able to talk?"
"I told her that I could talk my way out of it." At her raised eyebrow, he said, "What else could I say?"
"What else, indeed?" She placed her hands on his and leaned close. "I'm not entirely convinced, Frank, truth detector or no. Set up a meet. Deliver Lynch, and you'll go free. Deliver any of the others, and you can have your job back."
She was almost close enough to kiss. He caught a hint of her perfume again: not Anna's, but something similar. She glanced down into his lap, and the Mona Lisa smile returned. "Unbelievable."
She straightened and turned, standing between him and Ruche. "Get him cleaned up and fed, but keep him shackled and under guard.. When his phone rings, let him answer it – after you put the detector back on him."
Ruche hustled out to get help. When the door closed behind him, she said, "Play me false, and you'll beg me to kill you. Seriously. But if this all turns out to be a misunderstanding…" She shrugged. "An apology would be insincere. There's too much at stake to jeopardize with an excess of trust. But I promise you you'll look back on this as the biggest break of your career." She moved towards the door, and paused, giving him a pinup-girl look over her shoulder. "And who knows, you might get a bonus that can't be put in an envelope."