I Am the Traitor, page 17
“Lock me in,” I say. “Tie me up. Do whatever you need to do to feel safe.”
The mayor and the Pro look at each other, a decision passing between them.
“Give me the flash drive,” the mayor says.
I hand it over to him.
“This is going to take a while,” he says. “Make yourself comfortable. There are snacks and drinks in the bar.”
He gestures to the Pro, and they both head to the door.
The mayor says, “I’ll take a look at what’s on this drive, Zach. And I’ll think seriously about what you’ve told me. I promise you that much.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“If I believe your story, I’ll have the people who matter here in a few hours. We’ll sort this out with them in a way that will ensure our safety.”
The mayor opens the door, but he pauses before leaving and turns to me.
“I’ve missed you, Ben.”
Before I can correct him, he adds, “I know that isn’t your real name, but that’s always how I’ll think of you.”
A flood of memories from New York comes rushing back, threatening to overwhelm me.
“I’ve missed you, too, sir.”
The mayor nods once, then leaves the room. The Pro hesitates before following him out the door.
“I’m not restraining you,” he says. “But I’m damn well locking you in.”
He throws me a half salute, then he goes out and closes the door behind him. It clicks shut with a solid thud.
I’ve told my story. It’s out of my hands now.
If there’s enough information on the flash drive, it will pique the mayor’s interest and he’ll follow it wherever it leads. If he takes the next step, I can ask him to bring Howard and Tanya into the house, make sure they’re safe, and use them to back up my story.
And, finally, with the mayor’s help, I’ll find my father.
I try the door. It’s locked, just as the Pro promised.
That’s not a surprise.
A few minutes later the lights flicker, then go off. After a couple of seconds, an emergency generator kicks in and a set of alternate lights come on, bathing the room in a red glow. The main power supply to the mansion has been shut down. That means the mayor took my recommendations seriously, and he’s studying the flash drive.
I begin to pace the room. I think about Tanya and Howard outside waiting for me. It’s been over an hour since I left them. I’m trusting Tanya to keep Howard safe and, if need be, to make the decision to leave the area without me.
I drink the rest of the Coke and eat some trail mix I find on the bar. My body is depleted, and once I’ve eaten, exhaustion creeps into my bones.
I spend some time thinking about Mike in the backyard of the house earlier today, his gun trained on us. He should have finished the job and killed us, but he ran off after he saw that Tanya had turned against The Program. It was a short time later that The Program burned me in the media.
Did Mike say something to Mother that caused her to write me off?
I try to imagine what I would have done in Mike’s situation, but I can’t quite get my head around it.
My body feels heavy, the gravity of what I’ve done overtaking me.
I look down at the bar and see a decorative lighter with JG embossed on the side.
JG. Jonathan Goldberg. The mayor’s lighter.
I study it up close, wondering who might have given it to him. I remember he enjoys a secret cigarette now and again when he’s working. Samara hated that he smokes. She’d yell at him to stop, and her father would hide it from her, smoking in his study with the door locked and the windows open so he wouldn’t upset her.
I wonder what it’s like for him now that she’s gone, smoking without being bothered, without anyone around to worry about him.
Suddenly I feel very tired, and I sink into the sofa where the mayor sat earlier. The fabric smells of his cologne, a scent that is as familiar as home.
I try to get up from the sofa, but I cannot. I breathe deeply, increasing the flow of oxygen to my brain, attempting to stay awake.
It doesn’t work.
Eventually I can’t fight it anymore. My eyes close, and I drift into a deep sleep.
THE SOUND OF THE DOOR WAKES ME.
My eyes snap open, and I find the lights back on in the mansion, the power restored. Mayor Goldberg strides into the room with the Pro at his side.
“We examined the flash drive,” the Pro says. “Very compelling.”
Something is off in his tone. I sense it immediately.
“You believe me?” I ask.
I look at the mayor, but he won’t meet my eye.
“We did believe you,” the Pro says. “Enough to take the next step.”
“What’s the next step?”
“I’ve got a relationship at the NSA. A woman I went to college with. It’s a long story that my wife never tires of using against me. But with the mayor’s permission, I gave the woman a call.”
“The NSA doesn’t know anything about what I do.”
“Correct. She did not know you and, quite frankly, she found the whole story of The Program ridiculous. But I didn’t stop there. I ran your prints.”
“You got them off the thumb drive,” I say, realizing what has happened.
“You touched it. I figured why not use what we have.”
I should have given this guy more credit, but the prints won’t have helped him. My true identity has been erased for a long time.
“So you ran my prints,” I say. “And you didn’t get any hits.”
“On the contrary. Your name is Daniel Martin. You’re from New Jersey.”
“I’m not Daniel Martin.”
The mayor steps forward. “I think your name is Daniel Martin,” he says, “and I think you would know that under normal circumstances, but things might be a little confusing right now because you’re off your meds.”
“What are you talking about?” I say.
“Your parents reported you missing nine months ago, Daniel. It sounds like you guys were having problems. I’m sorry to hear it. I think you ran away and got involved with those crazies in New Hampshire. Maybe you knew what you were getting into, maybe you didn’t. It’s too late for regrets now.”
“You’ve got it wrong,” I say.
The Pro says, “Your mother told us you’d say that.”
“I turned on the iPhone,” the mayor says. “And almost immediately I got a call from a very worried woman. She said you’re being treated for bipolar disorder. Does that sound familiar?”
“I’m not bipolar.”
“But you are familiar with the condition, Daniel?”
“My name is not Daniel.”
“It’s characterized by delusions of grandeur, paranoid conspiracy theories, manic behavior followed by long depressive episodes. It made you particularly susceptible to bad people who wanted to manipulate you.”
“I know what bipolar disorder is, but I don’t suffer from it.”
“Enough,” the mayor says.
He steps in and looks me in the eyes.
“Even with all that evidence against you, even after I spoke to your mother, I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. The documents on the flash drive seemed real and they had been encrypted with some of the most sophisticated security layers I’ve seen.”
Score one for Howard.
The mayor says, “So I considered the out-of-the-box possibility that the evidence against you was falsified. Perhaps you were being framed, that an organization as powerful as you claim this one is would be capable of setting a deep-cover trap to discredit you.”
“I appreciate you believing in me, sir.”
The mayor’s face goes slack.
“And then I received this,” he says.
He takes out an iPad. He holds the tablet out to me and presses Play on a video.
I recognize the images of Central Park at night, a statue called Cleopatra’s Needle visible in the glow of a full moon.
A shiver goes down my back.
The mayor drops the tablet on the coffee table in front of me, then he backs up.
I pick it up and watch the video.
A figure stands in the plaza in Central Park. The camera pulls in for a close-up.
There is a woman lying at my feet.
Samara, the mayor’s daughter.
I know this scene because I lived it. It’s the last night I saw Samara after the firefight at Gracie Mansion. I chased her and confronted her in the park.
I’ve played the moment over and over in my head.
Now I watch it on the mayor’s iPad.
“Who sent you this file?” I ask the mayor.
“Does it matter?” he says. “I know it’s you and I know that’s Samara with you. Do you deny it?”
I look at the video.
“It’s us,” I say.
There is no sound in the video, but I can clearly see Samara is alive at my feet. She is saying something to me.
I remember her words that night. She was begging for her life.
On the screen, I watch myself remove a weaponized pen from my pocket.
I kneel down next to Samara, and I press the point into her neck.
It takes only a few moments for her to stop moving.
“You killed my daughter,” the mayor says. The cords in his neck are pulled tight with rage. “You killed my daughter, and you come to my home asking me for help.”
“Mr. Mayor, please hear me out—”
I look at the Pro. He’s drawn his weapon.
The mayor says, “Some people would say you’re sick and, because of that, you’re not responsible for your actions. But that’s not how I see it.”
The video ends, loops back to the beginning, and starts again.
I look at the style of video, the proportion of the clip.
It was shot from a camera phone.
After I completed my mission that night in Central Park, I looked up, startled to find a police officer had been watching me.
It was not a real cop. It was Mike, disguised as an NYPD officer.
Mike shot this video. And he sent it to the mayor tonight.
I think of Mike in the backyard earlier today. Before he disappeared, he told me that none of my friends had survived a mission. Except the mayor of New York.
Mike put this idea in my head.
He knew I would think of the mayor. He knew I would reach out to him for help.
He led me here, and I walked right into his trap.
The mayor says, “You may be sick, Daniel, but you are responsible. And you will be punished. So help me, God, I will see you punished for what you have done to me and my family.”
The Pro opens the doors to the den. Almost two dozen FBI agents are there. They pour into the room, weapons at the ready. More agents fill the hallway behind them.
“Stay where you are,” the lead FBI agent says.
The agents nearest me have drawn Tasers.
“Let’s do this the easy way,” the lead agent says.
The mayor says, “You have to go with these men, Daniel. If you cooperate, you won’t be harmed.”
He’s wrong about that. I will be harmed. Maybe not by these men. But by the men that come after them. Or the ones after that.
“My name is not Daniel,” I say, but the mayor is not listening to me anymore.
The agents advance.
I map the room. I can see twenty men. Four Tasers, sixteen automatic weapons. Probably countless more spread throughout the house and beyond.
The mayor is still in the room, too close to me for his own safety.
Four quick moves and I could take him hostage and use him to get out of the building.
But then I think about Howard and Tanya down the street. Even if I made it outside, I couldn’t help them, not with a high-value hostage and FBI agents surrounding me.
I’d be on the run again, now with one of the most recognizable men in the world, and with every law enforcement officer on the planet out to find me.
If I allow myself to be arrested now, these agents will take me away and the manhunt ends.
That means Howard and Tanya will get a head start. They will have a chance.
“He’s going to fight,” the lead agent says to his team.
“I’m not going to fight,” I say.
I relax my shoulders. I extend my arms in front of me, surrendering.
The agents rush in, quickly cuffing my arms and legs. They duckwalk me out to the hallway.
The mayor looks away, unwilling to meet my eye.
Four EMTs wait with an ambulance stretcher in the hall. They are surrounded by a precinct’s worth of police officers lining the halls of the mansion.
The agents uncuff and recuff me to the metal bars of the stretcher. Another opportunity for escape passes by without my acting on it.
One of the EMTs checks me over, a quick assessment.
“You’re dehydrated,” he says, “and you seem to have some injuries. Were you in an accident?”
“I’m going to start an IV to replenish your fluids.”
“No needles,” I say.
“Not an option,” he says.
I jerk my arm and feel the cuffs tight on both sides.
Automatic weapons cock all around me.
I watch helplessly as the needle slides into my vein. I trace its path up a tube to a hanging bag that reads SODIUM CHLORINE INJECTION. A standard saline drip. At least that’s what it looks like.
I yank at the cuffs again, checking for weak areas in the bars on the gurney. I don’t find any.
“You don’t want to break the needle off in your arm,” the EMT says. “I’ll have to dig it out, and it will hurt.”
I keep fighting, pulling at the cuffs and rattling the gurney.
“I’m going to give you something to relax you,” the EMT says.
Before I can object, he plunges a syringe into the tubing.
The drug works fast. My muscles unwind. I’m already lying down, but it feels like the gurney just got a lot softer beneath me. They’ve probably injected me with a high dose of lorazepam.
The stretcher starts to move through the halls of the mansion, accompanied by a massive circle of FBI agents.
After being on high alert for several days in a row, my body is exhausted. I fight to keep my eyes open, but the vibration of the wheels on the floor and the gentle rocking of the gurney are too much for me.
Suddenly we are outside. A cheer goes up from the baseball game. I crane my neck and see the crowd at the game standing, folding up their chairs, packing to go home. The game is over. I try to locate Howard and Tanya among the crowd, but I cannot find them.
Dozens of police vehicles line the road, their lights throwing eerie red shadows into the night.
I imagine Howard and Tanya watching me from across the street, powerless to do anything. They will get away and take care of each other. I’m sure of it.
Another wave of exhaustion washes over me. I snap my wrist against the cuffs, hear the sound of metal grinding against metal.
“You’re going to hurt yourself,” the EMT says.
I fight some more. The EMT sighs.
“Why do I always get the head cases?” he asks no one in particular.
I look around for the cops, hoping to explain things to them, but they are walking back to their patrol cars, leaving me in the hands of the EMTs. A motorcade is forming to lead the ambulance to the hospital.
Dark clouds start to spin above me.
“What did you give me?” I ask the EMT, because lorazepam alone should not put me out like this. The EMT doesn’t answer, instead sliding me into the back of the ambulance and closing the door with a solid thud.
A bus. That’s what EMTs call their v
A children’s song weaves its way through my head, voices singing about bus wheels turning. It’s a song I remember from long ago.
I listen to it for a while before I realize it’s my own voice I hear. I’m singing a song my father used to sing to me long ago.
“Time for beddie bye,” one of the EMTs says, and he flips off the lights in the back of the ambulance.
The song gets louder, the melody slowing until it seems to echo around me.
“Do you hear that?” I say.
My father is singing to me now, his voice gentle, lulling me to sleep.
“He’s hallucinating,” an EMT says.
Everything I’ve done, everything I’ve tried to do. None of it has mattered. I can’t help myself now, and there’s nothing I can do to help Howard and Tanya. The mission to find and save my father has failed.
I have failed.
THE BEEPING OF A HEART MONITOR PULLS ME TOWARD CONSCIOUSNESS.
I’m in a surgical suite, surrounded by doctors in scrubs and masks looking down at me.
“Another ten-cc dose,” a woman’s voice says. “He’s waking up.”
An anesthesiologist puts a mask over my face. I try to resist, but my limbs aren’t working.
A sheet is pulled from my chest. Betadine is swabbed across my shoulder in the area of my scar. A doctor leans over and probes at the scar with gloved hands.
“This looks painful,” she says.
There’s something familiar about her voice. I look at the set of eyes above the mask. Attractive eyes.
It’s Dr. Acosta, The Program doctor who examined me before my last mission.
But how could that be? What is she doing in a hospital in Saratoga Springs?
She picks up a scalpel and moves it toward my chest.
I try to fight back, wake myself from what I’m sure is a nightmare. But the anesthesia will not allow it. As the scalpel blade descends, I slip down into blackness.
I FEEL THE WARMTH OF THE SUN ON MY FACE.
I open one eye, close it quickly against the light streaming through the blinds.
I remember it was night when they took me to the hospital.
It’s daytime now. The next day? The next month?
“Is the sun bothering you?” a woman says.
ALLEN ZADOFF SERIES:
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