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Authors: Ernest Dempsey

The Last Chamber

BOOK: The Last Chamber
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THE LAST CHAMBER

 

ERNEST DEMPSEY

 

DEDICATION

 

To the English teachers who asked me if I was still writing, years
after I’d even seen them. Penny Kennedy (Ms. Kilgore), Sam James, Jodi Ruf, and
Debbie Higgens, thanks for kicking my butt. I wouldn’t have kept writing
without you.

Prologue

Moscow

1944

 

The tension in the room could have been cut with a spoon. Stale
cigarette smoke hung thick in the musty air.

“Where was this picture taken?” A barrel-chested, middle-aged officer
demanded in a gruff voice. The man’s head was rimmed with graying brown hair,
his portly face red from stress and vodka.

The young Soviet pilot looked up at him from a chair at a small wooden
table. The pilot was in his low to mid-twenties. His skin was still smooth and
healthy. He sported the short haircut of the military, piercing blue eyes, and
a strong jaw line with a little dimple in the center of his chin. Sincere
confusion filled his face.

“I don’t know, Sir,” he said in mumbled Russian. He was clearly afraid
of the higher ranking officer.

“How can you not know?” the large man raged, pounding his fist on the
table. The action caused the pilot to jump in his seat.

“We have taken thousands of pictures, comrade,” he explained. “It is
our job to bring them back for analysis. It is nearly impossible for us to
remember the exact location of every photograph.” His lips trembled as he
finished the sentence.

Two other men stood in opposite corners of the room, watching the
exchange silently. They both wore black suits and ties. One was a slender man
with a black flat top. The other one was blonde with the same haircut. A stout
physique and broad shoulders made him seem slightly more imposing that his
partner.

“I’m sorry, comrade,” the young man continued. “I do not know what
else to tell you. We were flying over the area at the Turkish and Armenian
border. That picture had to be taken somewhere in the mountains nearby. But
where, exactly, I cannot be sure.”
 

A bead of sweat rolled down the high forehead of the Russian officer.
His eyes narrowed above fleshy cheeks. When he spoke, his voice was low but
intense. “Our analysts have searched through seven hundred pictures of this
area. We sent more planes to the region you speak of and took more photographs.
Yet, when they returned, none of them produced an image of this location.” He
slammed the thick piece of photo paper down on the table.

The pilot looked down at it, desperately trying to remember where it
had been taken. The image portrayed two ridgelines on opposing mountains. In
between them was a narrow valley. The span, though, was oddly shaped, unlike
anything he’d ever seen. It appeared as though a long, rectangular box had been
placed there centuries before, and the valley itself had eroded around it,
taking on the same shape.

“It was somewhere near the town of Ararat in Armenia. That is all I
know,” the pilot said finally.

The officer looked over at the two agents standing near the door. The
blonde one nodded his head once and blinked slowly.

“Well, comrade. We have scoured that particular area and found
nothing. Ten different planes have photographed the region you describe, and
none have brought back this image. So, you are either lying, or this image is
distorted.”

“I’m sorry, Sir,” the pilot spoke up. “But what is so important about
this region? Why are we taking so many photographs there?”

The officer’s face flushed red. Before he could speak, though, the
blonde man in the suit stepped forward and raised a hand. “Allow me, Comrade.”
His tone was even and deep.

The roiling officer moved off to the side as the agent took his place
in front of the terrified pilot. He reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out
a pack of cigarettes, offering one to the trembling young man, who accepted.
After lighting the cigarette for him, the agent put the pack back in his pocket
and let out a deep sigh.

After a few seconds, he finally spoke again. “We have reason to
believe that somewhere in the area of this photograph, there is a large weapons
cache. Our concern is that there could be something there that would present an
imminent threat to Mother Russian. We must neutralize that threat as soon as
possible.”

The pilot took a hesitant drag off the cigarette and released a slow
puff of smoke out of his mouth. “Is the threat nuclear?”

A quick raise of the eyebrows and a cock of the head told the young
man it might be. “We are not certain,” the agent replied. “But we cannot take
any chances. That region needs to be pacified immediately, but we also have to
know what we are dealing with.”

The young man nodded, understanding. “Sir, I think I might be able to
find the area again where that picture was taken. If you would allow, I could
do another fly over and see.” His voice sounded hopeful.

“Are you certain?”

“I do not know exactly where it is, but I believe I can find it if you
just give me the chance. I only want to help Mother Russia.” His mid-ranged
voice sounded desperate.

“Good. That is all I needed to know,” the blonde man smiled and
stepped aside.

A second later, a muffled pop interrupted the silence. The other agent
held a pistol at arm’s length behind the head of the man in the chair. A thin
trail of smoke drifted up from the sound suppressor’s barrel. The young pilot
slumped forward onto the blood-splatter table with a thud.

“It is a shame we had to kill him,” the officer commented. “He was one
of our better reconnaissance pilots.” His gravelly voice held a hint of regret.

“We cannot be too careful with these sorts of things, Comrade,” the
blonde agent commented. The man with the gun looked over at them casually. “Too
many people with information create too many leaks. Wouldn’t you agree?”

The hefty commander looked down at the floor then back up into the icy
blue eyes. “Yes, you are correct. And we must take every precaution to protect
the best interests of our country.”

“Exactly,” the blonde said with an emphatic point of the finger. “Now,
I wonder who else knows about this photograph.”

“Only three other people have seen it. We have a small group assigned
to the analysis of the pictures that come from that region of the world,” the
officer shrugged.

“Would their names be in that file over there?” he pointed to a stool
near the door and a manila folder that rested on top.

The man in the uniform nodded. “Yes. They should be listed inside.”

“Good,” the blonde agent patted him on the shoulder. “And of course,
you know about the photograph as well.”

Fear crept onto the man’s chubby face. “Now wait a minute,” he scowled
and raised a finger. “I am a high ranking officer in the Soviet military. You
do not have the right to accuse me of anything, no matter what your KGB bosses
say.”

“We aren’t accusing you of anything, Comrade,” the blonde retorted.
“We are only fixing leaks.”

Another pop echoed off the block walls again. The officer wavered for
a moment before collapsing to the floor. The look of shock still filled his
lifeless eyes. A small hole on his sweaty forehead leaked a thin trickle of
blood.

The agent with the gun shoved it back inside his jacket. “I’ll have
the cleaning team come in here right away.”

The blonde nodded. “Have them put in one of the military jeeps and set
it on fire. Accidents happen all the time, after all.”

“What about the three analysts?”

“They shouldn’t be any problem. Once they’re out of the way, we will
be the only ones that know about the picture. We have to make sure it stays
that way.” The blonde agent walked over to the table and picked up the
photograph. He gazed at it for a moment, absorbing the image with a kind of
wonder. “This must not fall into the wrong hands. If the United States or Great
Britain were to get their hands on it, we would be doomed.”

“Are you certain we will find what we are looking for?” The
dark-haired man grabbed the file near the door.

“Certain?” the blonde raised an eyebrow. “Nothing is certain in this
life, Comrade. Let’s just say it puts us one step ahead of the others.”

“So you believe the other countries are looking for the same thing?”
The man’s flat forehead wrinkled slightly.

“I believe that if the stories are true, whoever uncovers this secret
first will be able to rule the world.”

 
Chapter 1

Cairo, Egypt

 

The first thing Sean Wyatt noticed when he regained consciousness was
the intense ringing in his right ear. He couldn’t remember what happened, but
his eyes were closed. The dark haze began to give way to blurry light as he
slowly opened them. The high-pitched whine in his ear was accompanied by a
throbbing in the back of his head, like a jackhammer pounding the concrete. The
warmth of the street against his face and body came next, followed by little
points of stinging pain on various spots of his body.
 
The rest of his senses began to return one by one.
 
His nostrils filled with the smell of
smoke, a distinct odor of burning rubber and petroleum.
 
The blonde hair on his head was matted
down with dirt and a little blood. He blinked his eyes and the chaos around him
started to come into focus.

Sean was lying on the ground in the middle of a city street, though
for a moment he couldn’t remember which one.
 
People were scattered everywhere, panicking in every
direction.
 
He squinted hard at the
light and tried to push himself off the ground. His head spun and he had to
stop momentarily.

Thirty feet away, a woman dressed in black was screaming something in
Arabic, tears streaming down her face into the lower part of her burka.
 
She seemed to be frantically saying
something, maybe calling for help, but Sean couldn’t make out the words.

Slowly, he pushed himself up into a sitting position while the chaos
around him continued to spin out of control.
 
He noticed several places where his khaki pants had burn
holes, a few of them stained with blood.
 
His white button-up shirt was dirty, and torn in multiple places. It,
too, had several blood spots.

Across the street, only a few dozen feet away, he saw the source of
the smoke and his memory started to piece the events together. He and Adriana
Villa were meeting Tommy outside the hotel.
 
They were going to investigate something at the Museum of
Antiquities. There’d been an explosion. Then everything had gone black.

He was hit by a terrible thought.
 
Adriana.
 
It was
quickly followed by concern for his friend, Tommy Schultz.
 
He began to scan the area of
devastation.
 
Black smoke swirled
around, blown by the desert winds that rolled through the city.
 
There were people everywhere, running
in every possible direction.
 

Sean felt the chill of fear creep inside of his mind as he struggled
to regain his balance.
 
His head
still spun as he braced himself on the post of a streetlight nearby.
 
Suddenly, someone grabbed him from
behind.
 
He started to react
defensively, but stopped himself when he realized the person was trying to
help.

It was Adriana.

“We have to get out of here,” she said as she hooked his arm over her
shoulders, supporting his weight.
 

“Where’s Tommy?” he asked, not wanting to leave his friend
behind.
 

The whining sirens of emergency vehicles were drawing closer.
 
Adriana urged him to move.
 
“Sean, we have to go.” Her Spanish
accent was thicker than usual. He’d noticed it got that way when she was very
serious about something.

Sean’s icy gray eyes peered through the mayhem.
 
Then he saw something across the
street, about fifty feet away, laying in a huddled mass on the ground.
 

It was Tommy.
 

He let go of Adriana and staggered through the onslaught of rushing
people. She followed close behind, as they made their way across the crowded
road.
 
He had to push and pull a
few of the crazed citizens out of his way until he finally reached his
friend.
 

Tommy’s gray cotton pants were torn and tattered with singed holes and
spots of blood all over. His white shirt was in similar condition.
 
A small gash on the side of his head
was bleeding, slightly.
 
Sean knelt
down next to the wounded man and checked his pulse and breathing.
 
Sean let out a sigh of relief. He was
still alive.
 

“We have to get him out of here,” Sean looked back to Adriana,
hovering over the two.
 

She nodded sharply then reached down and hefted up Schultz, swinging
one arm over her shoulders, with Sean doing from the other side.
 
Tommy’s head hung down to his chest,
unconscious from the blast.
 
Sean
and Adriana carried him quickly down the street, away from the scene, dragging
his feet as they moved.
 
They
ducked around a corner just before the Cairo police arrived at the anarchic
area.

“We need to get him to a hospital,” Sean said.
 

The two laid Tommy down on the ground, leaning his torso up against a
building.
 
More sirens could be heard
in the distance.
 

“I’ll take him,” Adriana volunteered.
 
“Whoever did this may not know who I am.
 
But they are definitely going to be
looking for you.”
 
The Spaniard’s
conviction was sincere.
 
But he
knew they’d be looking for her too.

Sean shook his head and paused to take a breath.
 
“I can’t let you do that.
 
You know they will be looking for you
too.”
 
He looked down at his
friend.
 
“We need to get him out of
the country, somewhere he will be safe.”

Adriana looked puzzled.
 
“How?”

He removed the black phone from his pocket and checked the touch
screen.
 
He was relieved to find it
wasn’t cracked.
 
After a few
seconds, the phone was ringing on the other end.
 

“Sean?” A familiar woman’s voice answered on the other line.
 

“Emily, I need your help,” he cut to the chase.
 
“Do you have anyone in Cairo right
now?
 
I need an evac two minutes
ago.”

There was silence on the other end for a moment before she spoke up
again.
 
“Sean, what happened?
 
Are you okay?”

“Emily, do you or don’t you.
 
There was a bombing outside our hotel in Cairo. Tommy is
unconscious.
 
Someone tried to kill
us, Em. We need to get Tommy out of here now, somewhere safe.”

“Give me one second, Sean,” she answered.
 
The other line was silent for nearly a minute before she
came back on.
 
“I have someone in
the area.
 
I’m tracking your exact
location.”
 

Another twenty seconds went by while he waited.
 
Two more police cars passed by, but
their progress was slowed by the throngs of people running through the street.

“I’ll have someone there in less than three minutes, Sean,” Emily’s
voice came back on, stealing his thoughts away from the police and back to his
current objective.
 

“Thanks, Em.
 
He’ll need a
flight out of the country.”
 
He
looked down at his friend again.
 
Tommy still wasn’t moving, but his chest was heaving up and down.
 
That was a good sign.

“Do you need one of our planes?” she asked.

Sean shook his head.
 
“No,
he can take the IAA jet.
 
You’ll
have to scramble the pilot. He should be nearby. What’s the closest city to
Cairo where we have friendlies?” he asked.

On the other end, Sean imagined Emily Starks typing furiously on her
computer, somewhere in Atlanta.
 
She’d always been good at directing.
 
In the field, she’d been an effective agent, and a good
partner, but her true calling was administration.
 
When she’d been made director of Axis, her true talents
blossomed. In recent months, she’d pushed for Axis headquarters to be moved
from its tight little space in Washington, D.C. to a more upscale area of
Atlanta, Georgia.
 

“I have an asset in Athens right now.
 
That close enough?
 
Flight time is about an hour from Cairo.”

“That will have to do,” Sean answered.
 
“Have your person notified when our plane will be landing,
and have them take Tommy to the hospital immediately.”

“Are you sure you shouldn’t just take him to get treatment there?”

“Not an option,” he replied determinedly.
 
“I think he’s going to be fine. Probably has a concussion,
but he’ll live.
 
Though, we still
need to get him looked at and kept safe. Whoever did this won’t just take one
shot.”

“Understood. I’ll have a medic waiting at the hangar for you in
Cairo,” she answered.
 

“Thanks again, Em.”
 

Sean hung up his phone just as a black SUV pulled up next to them on
the sidewalk.
 
The tinted window in
the front rolled down and revealed a twenty-something, dark skinned man.
 
He appeared to be of Arab descent.
 
His black hair and eyebrows framed
deep, java eyes.

“Sean Wyatt?” he asked in an English accent.
 

“That’s me.”

“Emily said you needed a ride.
 
Hop in,” the man ordered.

Sean opened the back door to the vehicle and Adriana helped him lift
Tommy into the back seat.
 
Sean got
in the rear with him as Adriana slid into the front.
 
The moment the doors slammed shut, the driver took off.

He weaved his way through the flood of pedestrians and vehicles,
honking the horn in an attempt to get them to disperse faster.
 
After a few quick turns, they were out
of the madness and onto a less crowded street, heading towards the
airport.
 

“My name is Jolian,” the driver introduced himself as he steered the
vehicle through the city.
 

“We appreciate your help,” Sean replied.
 
Then he looked down at his friend.
 
Tommy groaned slightly, something Sean took as a good sign.

“What happened back there?” Jolian asked.

Sean shook his head.
 
“I
don’t know.
 
It’s all still really
hazy to me.” He’d been fighting his own problems the last ten minutes.

“We were meeting at the museum to investigate some ancient writings,”
Adriana answered.
 
“We thought they
might lead to the location of an artifact we’re searching for.”
 
She was clearly in the best shape of
the three who’d been rocked by the blast.
 
“I was standing inside the building when it happened.
 
The car sitting outside exploded.
 
Tommy was closest to it.”
 
Her face was grim as she looked out the
windows, watching the buildings whiz by.
 

“Someone knew we were going to be there, at that exact moment,” Sean
stated.
 
He tried to contain his
anger at the thought.
 

“Emily said you are going to the airport,” Jolian interrupted.
 
“Where will you go?” he asked.

Adriana looked back at Sean. “We need to get Tommy out of here.
 
If someone knew that we were meeting at
the museum, they can find us again.
 
He won’t be safe in a hospital here.
 
The plane will fly him to the nearest city where Axis has
people on the ground.
 
They can
keep him safe there.”

“You’re not going with him?” the driver wondered.
 
He turned the wheel sharply, and the
airport came into view in the distance ahead.

Sean shook his head.
 
“No.
 
We’re staying
here.”
 
His face was full of
resolve.
 
“And we’re going to
finish this.”

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