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Authors: Boyd Morrison

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FORTY-SEVEN

T
hirty thousand feet above the Mediterranean, Tyler, Grant, and Stacy were huddled around the laptop so they could see Miles Benson and Aiden MacKenna on the video chat via satellite. Their Gulfstream jet would arrive in Rome in an hour. Miles and Aiden were on their own plane, heading to Washington to confirm Sherman’s and Carol’s release.

Tyler had expected to have a hard time persuading his boss to go this alone without intervention by the authorities, and he was right.

“I don’t like this plan,” Miles said. “We should have the Feds ready to nab whoever drops off your father.”

“If we do that,” Tyler said, “we’ll have to tip them off to everything, and I’m not ready to take that chance. If I thought there was any danger for you, I wouldn’t go this route.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about. I want to keep you three safe. What about the Italian national police?”

“We can’t call in the Carabinieri. As far as they know, Orr hasn’t done anything wrong in Italy.”

“Yet.”

“Four specialists from Neutralizer Security should be able to handle taking down Orr on our end,” Grant said, referring to the private security contractor Tyler had hired for the job. “I’ve worked with them before. They’re pros.”

“Then why didn’t you hire them in Greece?” Miles said.

“My fault,” Tyler said. “I didn’t expect Cavano’s men to show up at the Parthenon.”

“None of us did,” Stacy said.

“Cavano’s persistent, I’ll give her that,” Grant said.

Aiden pushed his way in for a closer look. “For four billion dollars’ worth of gold, she’d probably take on the entire Carabinieri herself.” Aiden was talking about the cube of gold that supposedly sat in the middle of the chamber.

Miles shook his head. “You see what you’re up against, Tyler? They’ll kill all of you without hesitation to get that money.”

“The strontium adds a new variable to all this,” Tyler said. “If Orr really has a dirty bomb, he’s going to use it. We have to stop him.”

“Are you sure he has it?”

“No, which is another reason we’re not going to the authorities just yet. Once we have Orr, we’ll make him tell us everything.”

“How?”

“We’ll have plenty of bargaining chips, but they’ll be useless until he’s in our hands.”

“So what’s the plan?”

“We’re going to follow his directions to meet him at the outdoor concert. Piazza del Plebiscito is a huge plaza near the Naples waterfront. It’ll be packed with partyers. Orr told us to be there at nine and wait for his call. I’m sure he’s chosen that location because it’ll provide cover for him.”

“Once we get to Rome,” Grant said, “I’ll meet with the Neutralizer team. We’ll drive down to Naples together and set up a lookout near the plaza. We’ll stay out of sight, but we’ll be in constant contact with Tyler. When he gives us the signal, we’ll move in and take Orr.”

“What if he’s got help?”

“That’s where the tracker comes in,” Tyler said. “I removed it from the geolabe. Grant’s going to have it with him. If Orr’s men try to make an early move, Grant will be ready for them.”

“And if he doesn’t deliver your father and Carol?”

Tyler’s muscles knotted at the thought. He threw a glance at Stacy, who looked just as upset as he was about that prospect.

“This is the only option,” he said. “Once we have Orr, he’ll have to bargain with us.”

He didn’t say any more, because he didn’t know how far he’d go. But, looking at Stacy and knowing how much they both wanted Sherman and Carol safely returned, he realized that he might have to go to some dark places in order to get them back in one piece.

Miles sighed. “All right. It’s your call.”

“Thanks, Miles. You be safe.”

“You don’t think I’m showing up without my own security team, do you?”

Tyler smiled. “No, I don’t suppose you would. I’ll call you when we have Orr.”

“Good luck.”

“You, too.”

The screen went blank.

“I’ll call Neutralizer and coordinate with them,” Grant said, and went to the back of the plane.

“So do you think it’ll be that easy?” Stacy said. “Don’t you think Orr has something else planned?”

“Yes, but unless we follow his rules, he’ll never show up. He’s got the leverage for now.”

“But you’ve got the geolabe. We could find the gold ourselves and then meet up with Orr. Then
we’d
have the leverage.”

“There’s not enough time. If we don’t meet his deadline, I don’t want to think what would happen. Orr doesn’t seem like the type to bluff.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Stacy said.

Tyler paused. “You don’t have to go through with this. I can make the exchange myself.”

“The hell you will. You just said we can’t change the plan. He wants me there, I’m there. I’ll do worse than chop off his ear if he doesn’t tell me where Carol is.”

Tyler couldn’t tell if she was exaggerating or being literal. Maybe she didn’t even know herself how far she’d go to get Carol to safety.

“All right,” he said. “Grant will have us in view the whole time. We’ll be fine. It ends tonight.”

“One way or the other.” Stacy took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “Orr’s not going to let them go, is he?”

“Not unless we make him. But we’re not meeting with Orr until he shows us in the next video that they’re still okay.”

Tyler checked his watch. It was noon. They’d arrive in Rome and drive down to Naples in three cars, one for him and Stacy and two for Grant and the Neutralizer team, who would keep an eye out for Orr as they drove in case he planned to ambush them early. Once they were convinced that they weren’t being observed, Grant would separate from Tyler and Stacy, taking the tracker and the Neutralizer team with him to a location where they could watch the piazza. At the same time, Tyler and Stacy would head to the concert with the geolabe.

It wasn’t a foolproof plan, but Tyler was convinced that it was the only way to prevent a major catastrophe and save Carol and his father.

FORTY-EIGHT

M
etal handcuffs rattled against Sherman’s cell door.

“All right, General,” Phillips said. “Time for your daily video.”

The cuffs dangled through the door’s portal. Sherman slowly pulled himself off the bed, ready to put his plan into motion. They’d fed him only two meals in the past two days, so he’d laid off the calisthenics and conserved his strength for this moment.

He ran a hand over his five days of stubble and grunted as if standing was an incredible effort. He hadn’t seen a mirror in days, but he figured that he looked even worse than he felt. Good. Better that Phillips think he was completely worn down.

Sherman dragged himself over to the portal and grabbed the cuffs with a sigh. The routine he was supposed to go through was familiar by now. Ankle cuffs first, then wrists. Stand back from the door until it was opened, Phillips training the Taser on him while he turned to show that the cuffs were on and secure.

But this time he was going to shake up the routine.

The pat-down had been thorough when they brought him in, but they’d let him keep his clothes, and his dress shirt gave him something that would make his escape possible. In his palm was a thin plastic stay from his collar. He had quietly bent it at night until he could break it into a piece small and stiff enough to insert into the cuffs.

The handcuffs were the type used by most law-enforcement agencies in the US. When the cuffs were closed, the audible click was the pawl engaging the gear in the ratchet, which prevented the gear from opening, locking the cuffs. But if a shim were inserted between the pawl and the gear, the ratchet wouldn’t engage, leaving the cuff free to open.

The stays in his collar were thin enough for the job. He just had to make sure Phillips didn’t realize the cuffs weren’t locked.

Sherman knelt, placed the cuffs on his ankles, and locked them. He couldn’t prop them open with a stay because they’d come undone as soon as he began to walk, exposing his plan even before it got under way.

He stood and put the cuffs on his wrists as Phillips watched. He made sure to keep the stay hidden as he put the cuff on his left hand. As he closed the cuff, he jabbed the stay into the narrow opening. After a few clicks, he felt the shim slip under the pawl. Now it would slide freely if he tried to open it.

The stay was in place, but Sherman was afraid the cuffs would fall open if he raised them. He held them against his body, backed up, and rotated to show that the ankle cuffs were in place.

Phillips unlocked the door and threw it open. He had the Taser at the ready if Sherman didn’t comply. It wasn’t armed with the cartridge that shot the leads out to twenty feet, so the shock could be applied only at close quarters.

“Let’s go,” Phillips said, bored by the tedium of this daily show.

Sherman shuffled out. The chair was in the same place. Crenshaw held the camera. No one else was there.

Phillips put the balaclava on. Sherman sat and was blindfolded as usual. The rustle of the newspaper told him when they were filming. He recited his name. Nothing new.

After a few seconds, Phillips said, “All right. That’s good enough.”

The blindfold came off.

“Get up,” Phillips said as he pulled the mask off and faced Sherman. Crenshaw was already heading back to his workbench, his iPod earbuds blasting away.

Sherman didn’t move.

Phillips sneered. “Didn’t you hear me?”

“I heard you,” Sherman said.

“Then get your ass out of the chair and back into your cell.”

“Make me.”

“Oh, so you want to ride the lightning again. Doesn’t bother me.”

Crenshaw had his back turned to them. With a wicked smile, Phillips pulled the Taser from his belt.

“At least I get to enjoy part of my day,” he said.

He walked up to Sherman and reached out to tase him in the neck. He came at Sherman slowly, his eyes glinting in anticipation of the paralyzing reaction to the shock.

Sherman quickly worked the left cuff open. When the Taser was within a foot of him, his hand shot out, grabbing Phillips’s wrist. The surprise on Phillips’s face was total, giving Sherman the moment of hesitation he needed. He twisted the Taser down, forced it against Phillips’s leg, and pressed the trigger.

Phillips’s body seized in agony, and he collapsed. Sherman leaped on top of him, sending another jolt into Phillips’s chest.

Sherman stole a look at Crenshaw, who was just turning to see what the commotion was. His opportunity to disable Crenshaw wouldn’t last long, and there were guns on the table.

Phillips’s pistol was in his waist holster. Sherman drew it, dropped the Taser, and rolled off Phillips’s torso. As he raised the gun, Crenshaw spotted him, threw the metal table over, and dove behind it. Sherman’s shots pinged off the underside.

Phillips shook off his daze faster than Sherman had expected and grabbed the Taser. He lunged toward Sherman with it, the high-voltage prongs chittering with sparks, but Sherman snapped off a shot before Phillips could reach him, and the man dropped in his tracks as the bullet blew off the back of his skull.

Sherman had to get the key. As he rifled frantically through Phillips’s pocket, he fired three more shots at the table to keep Crenshaw down. He found the key chain in Phillips’s front pocket, along with a cell phone, and unlocked one of the ankle cuffs so that he’d be mobile.

As Sherman got up to find cover, a bullet slammed into his thigh. He cried out but didn’t go down, knowing that he would be a sitting duck for Crenshaw. As rounds pinged off the concrete walls, he hobbled over to his cell door, leaving a thick trail of blood behind him.

The heavy steel door provided plenty of protection. He winced as he collapsed to the floor behind it. He was only now aware of the frenzied shouts coming from the other cells.

Sherman undid the remaining locks on the cuffs and threw them aside. Then he dialed 911.

After two rings, he heard, “911 emergency. How can I assist you?”

“My name is General Sherman Locke. I’m being held hostage by terrorists. I’ve killed one, but I’m pinned down by another.”

“Can you tell me your location?”

“No. I don’t know where I am. Zero in on the cell signal.”

“All right, sir. I’ll have the police there as soon as I can. How many assailants are there?”

“Just one more, I think.”

Sherman didn’t like being cornered like this, but he didn’t have a fallback position. He discouraged Crenshaw from circling around by firing two more shots. He was running out of ammo.

“Are those gunshots?” the operator said.

Good God.
“Yes! He’s shooting at me. That’s why I need the police. Now!”

“Are you hurt?”

“Yes. I’ve been shot in the leg. Have you got my signal?”

“We’re working on it.”

“Well, hurry up, dammit!”

After a pause, the operator said, “I’ve got you. Five two nine Business Parkway in Hagerstown.”

“What state?”

The operator didn’t skip a beat at the odd question. “Maryland. Near the intersection of I 70 and I 81. State and local police are on their way. They should be there in minutes.”

That would put him right between Pennsylvania and Virginia. I 70 was a straight shot to DC, and I 81 led to Philadelphia and the Northeast Corridor. Crenshaw could be in one of a half-dozen major cities within hours with his radiological bomb.

But that wasn’t Sherman’s biggest problem right now. He had seen the barrel next to his cell. He couldn’t tell what was inside, but wires from it led to another barrel, and then another. He could see at least four of them.

Obviously the warehouse was rigged to explode, which would destroy all evidence of Crenshaw and Orr’s operation.

And if Crenshaw escaped, he’d set them off before the police arrived.

Sherman pocketed the phone without turning it off. He had to see what Crenshaw was doing. He gritted his teeth and hopped up onto his one good leg.

He slid the door’s portal aside, but he couldn’t see Crenshaw.
Where did he go?

At that moment, the semi’s engine cranked up.

Crenshaw was making a break for it.

The external door of the warehouse was opening too slowly. Crenshaw had the truck in gear ready to go, but the door rose at a maddening rate.

He glanced out the window and saw General Locke staggering toward him, his gun pointed at the cab. Two bullets pierced the door just above his lap, smashing into the dashboard. Crenshaw returned fire.

His first two shots missed, but the third hit the general in the chest. He couldn’t tell how crippling a shot it was, but the general went down in a heap, the gun flying to the side.

The garage door was almost fully open, and Crenshaw could hear the distant wail of sirens. The general must have called the police with Phillips’s phone. No way Crenshaw was going to stick around with this mess.

The original plan, now literally shot to hell, had been to leave one of the Muslims they’d kidnapped in the wreckage of the burned-down warehouse and bring the other with them to leave at the scene of the explosion.

But Crenshaw couldn’t corral one of the Muslims and drive the truck, not without Phillips. So instead the Feds would have to think that a third bomber had gotten away in Manhattan. Same difference. They’d still pin the attack on Al Qaeda.

Crenshaw took one last look at the general, who was still motionless on the concrete floor. He put the truck into gear and roared out of the warehouse.

No cars were around to see him exit. He turned onto Business Parkway and built up speed, keeping an eye on the rearview mirror to make sure the general didn’t make a last-second escape through the open garage door, which was now closing behind him.

The aptly named road was lined with other small warehouses and industrial workshops. None of their residents had any clue that amid the distribution centers and manufacturing buildings was an operation that would change history.

Crenshaw could see two police cars approaching. As long as they didn’t notice the bullet holes in the side of the door, they’d never suspect that he was coming from their destination.

They raced by him. Crenshaw was now a half mile away, with plenty of space between him and the warehouse. He flipped open the safety on the detonator and pushed the button.

A huge orange fireball erupted behind him, followed almost immediately by the noise of a tremendous blast ripping the air. Even though he was ready for it, the size of the explosion startled him. He grinned as he realized that he’d used far more of the explosive than he needed.

The police cars skidded to a stop behind him. One of the officers got out to look at the shattered building, but they never glanced back at him.

Crenshaw turned onto Greencastle Pike, which was only a block from the interstate. Ninety seconds later, he was on I 81 heading to New York. He breathed easier when he’d gone another two miles and the only emergency vehicles he saw were three fire engines speeding in the other direction.

BOOK: Midas Code
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