Man Overboard, page 26
Alonso grinned. “I’m used to signing up for longer deployments than that.”
“Okay,” Ali told him. “I just had a call from the office in Cottonwood and need to head back there. If you don’t mind, why don’t you follow me. I’ll have our office assistant draw up a ninety-day preliminary contract for both of us to sign, and you can fill out whatever additional paperwork is needed. In the meantime, Leland can sort out your housing situation.”
“So I’m hired?” Alonso asked, as though not quite believing what he’d heard.
“Looks like,” Ali said, “if you want to be, that is.”
With his face beaming, Alonso reached across the table to shake her hand. “Oh, I want to be, all right,” he said. “Thank you, ma’am, for giving me this opportunity.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, “but for starters, please call me Ali. Leland never does, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
A few minutes later she was in the Cayenne and headed back toward Cottonwood with Alonso in his Jeep following a few car lengths behind. The half-hour trip allowed for plenty of time to give herself grief and second-guess her decision. Had she acted too hastily in hiring Alonso?
Let it go, she told herself at last. She had hired the man on a temporary basis. If both sides called it quits after three months, so what? They’d go looking for someone else. In the meantime, Leland Brooks would have had a chance to move on with his life in a timely fashion without any lingering concerns about abandoning Ali and B.
Under those circumstances, Ali decided, a hasty decision was better than no decision at all.
Driving north on I-17, Odin followed Frigg’s directions, but he worried about the rest of it. Had he asked for her advice on the subject, she would no doubt have castigated him for bringing Amelia Cannon along, but he would use her to lure Stuart Ramey out into the open.
Odin customarily left strategy decisions to Frigg’s discretion, but now he had to handle any resulting complications on his own. Because of Frigg’s obvious disapproval, he found himself walking a fine line between needing the AI’s assistance and wanting to keep her out of his business. It was apparent that when it came time for him to make his move, he would need to leave her completely in the dark.
As he approached Cottonwood, Odin came to a spot where the road was coned down to a single lane for bridge repair. Seeing the orange cones lined up in a long string gave him an idea. Pulling up beside the next one, he opened the door, dragged it inside, and tossed it into the backseat.
“What’s that for?” Amelia asked.
“Shut up,” he said.
On the outskirts of Cottonwood Odin stopped under the awning of an abandoned gas station and parked next to the spots from which gas pumps had been permanently removed. Sitting in the shade with the engine idling, he studied the satellite image Frigg had sent him earlier.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m looking at the image of the business park. Which building belongs to High Noon?”
“The one in the far corner, at the southeastern-most end of the property,” Frigg answered.
Odin was relieved that Frigg had replied without hesitation.“It looks like there’s a road that runs along that side of the property.”
“There is,” she replied. “It’s a utility easement.”
“Okay, and what about a current photo of Stuart Ramey? Did you find one of those?”
“Yes, his most recent passport photo,” Frigg answered. “I’m forwarding that to your device right now.”
When the photo arrived, Odin studied that as well. “Okay,” he said after a moment. “Any word on a new air-support provider?”
“Not yet. I’m working on it.”
“Okay,” he said. “Give me some space now, Frigg. I need to think.”
With that, Odin stepped out of the car. Carrying the orange traffic cone and removing his Bluetooth as he went, he walked as far as a pockmarked utility pole located at the front corner of the property. After first concealing both his cell phone and his Bluetooth inside the cone, he deposited it on the shoulder of the road in a spot where it would be easy to retrieve when he was ready to bring Frigg back into the picture.
He had planned on putting Amelia Cannon on the phone to speak to Stuart, but he realized now that was too risky. Returning to the idling Chrysler, he pulled out her cell phone. “What’s your passcode?” he demanded.
Once she told him, he keyed it in. It took no time at all for him to locate a message record with Stuart Ramey’s name on it and send a new message of his own, one Stuart was bound to believe came directly from Dr. Cannon.
Someone tried to break into my house earlier today. I don’t know if it’s related to what’s been going on with my patients or not. I’m flying to California later this afternoon, and I’m worried that someone may be trying to gain access to what’s left of my paper files. I’m dropping by your office in hopes of leaving the files with you for safekeeping while I’m away.
It was only a matter of minutes before Stuart replied.
Sure thing. Call when you get here, and I’ll come out to help you unload.
Owen grinned at Amelia Cannon. “See there? You just asked him for help. Stuart Ramey’s a Dungeons & Dragons kind of guy. He won’t be able to resist a damsel in distress. Once he does, I’ll have you both.”
“But why?” Amelia asked. “What’s the point?”
“You and Stuart Ramey had no business messing with me, and now I’m going to take you out—both of you.”
“But what about your friend?” Amelia objected. “What does Frigg think of all this?”
“It doesn’t matter what Frigg thinks. She’s not even real. Besides, I’m the one in charge.”
Putting the Chrysler in gear, he drove on into Cottonwood. Business Park Way was on the far side of town just south of the point where Arizona 89A headed up and over Mingus Mountain. Odin drove past the turnoff into the business park, opting instead for the narrow utility easement on the far side. The dirt road, meant for high-profile vehicles, was barely passable for the low-slung sedan.
Over a slight rise, Odin parked in a spot that was out of sight from the highway and yet relatively close to the building he knew belonged to High Noon. All that separated him from his target was a barbed wire fence and fifty yards or so of desert scrub.
Getting out of the car, Odin walked around to the passenger side, opening the trunk as he passed. Since he was about to add a second hostage to the mix, it was time to take the first one off the board. He opened the passenger door and pulled Amelia Cannon out of the vehicle and onto her feet.
“What’s going on?” she demanded. “What are you doing?”
“Quiet,” he ordered. After dragging her around to the back of the vehicle, he propped her up next to the gaping trunk and then nailed her with the stun gun in a way that allowed him to tip her over the lip of the trunk as she fell. Tearing off another strip of duct tape, he plastered it over his captive’s mouth before slamming the trunk lid over her limp form. Then he sent Stuart Ramey another message:
I can’t believe it. I wasn’t paying attention. I took a wrong turn and ended up on a dirt road of some kind on the far side of the business park. I thought I’d be able to turn around, but now the car’s stuck. Can you come help?
Stuart’s response was almost instantaneous:
Sure. Stay put. I’ll be right out.
Back in the car, Odin slouched down in the driver’s seat, hoping he was low enough that the top of his head wasn’t visible through the open window. Sitting with his heart pounding in his chest, Odin didn’t know how much time passed. Finally he heard a male voice calling out, “Dr. Cannon? It’s Stuart. Where are you?”
Odin closed his eyes and tried to imagine the surrounding buildings. High Noon was directly between the Chrysler and the other buildings in the complex. There was no
“Dr. Cannon?” Stuart shouted again, only much closer now. “Where are you? Are you okay?”
Sitting there with the stun gun in hand, it took all of Odin’s willpower to remain where he was and not move prematurely. The moment Stuart Ramey put his hands on the windowsill and bent down to look inside, Odin struck.
Maybe the back of the arm wasn’t the best possible stun gun target, but it worked all the same. Stuart Ramey crumpled to the ground, landing like a very heavy sack of potatoes. Once he was down, Odin was right there, struggling to bind Stuart’s hands and feet. He had captured both his targets now and he didn’t want either of them to get away.
Odin had told Frigg that he needed to think, and so she waited. A minute passed, then two, and then five. It was at the five-minute mark when she began to suspect something was wrong. The mic on the Bluetooth was very sensitive. There were occasional sounds that indicated passing traffic, but something was missing from the audio—the familiar steady sound of Odin’s breathing. Once Frigg realized that, the AI understood she had been tricked.
Odin must have abandoned both the Bluetooth and the phone somewhere along the way, effectively locking her out. Without the Bluetooth connection, he was out of range when it came to communications, and without access to the GPS tracking on his phone, she was unable to ascertain his location. Still, her calculations left little doubt about his intentions, and that meant it was time for Frigg to make her move.
A moment later, she was on the line to 911 with a call that for all the world looked as though it came directly from the main number at High Noon Enterprises.
“911,” the operator answered. “What are you reporting?”
“An active shooter on the grounds at the Mingus Mountain Business Park,” Frigg replied.
Then she hung up and waited for all hell to break loose. Once Odin realized what she’d done, he would immediately use a cell phone connection to log in and take Frigg down. At least, he would try to take her down, but by then Frigg would already have cast her lot with someone else.
Stuart Ramey had been smart enough to follow and decode what Frigg had assumed to be a well-concealed trail on the deep search. She was confident he would do the same thing this time around, too. He would follow that spoofed number on the 911 call back to its original source—to Frigg herself.
After that, if Frigg’s assessment was correct, she would have a lock on Stuart Ramey’s loyalty, and that was all she needed.
Ignoring the happy after-dinner crowd milling around her, Cami sat at the bar with a drink in front of her, while she scanned CSO Mordelo’s documents into her phone, encrypted them, and shipped them off to Stuart. Then she waited impatiently, staring at her blackened screen, waiting for him to respond.
Cami understood that this was vitally important information Stuart had most likely not expected her to be able to obtain. Combining this with the documentation Stuart had gathered from Beth Wordon’s cell phone provider—lawful or not—would likely be enough for law enforcement to move forward.
So why wasn’t Stuart getting back to her? Why did the man have to be such a complete self-absorbed jackass at times? The party in the lounge continued to ebb and flow around her, but Cami was no longer interested. Pocketing her message-free phone, she returned first to her deck and then to her cabin. Once inside, she didn’t bother turning on the lights. Instead, she walked over to the sliding doors and let herself out onto the lanai.
As the ship tossed and shuddered on the frothing sea, Cami sat beside the rail and stared out into the night—toward the darkened sky and the even darker water several decks below. The view sent a chill down her spine. For the first time, and in a way she never had before, Cami caught a momentary glimpse into the depths of Roger McGeary’s soul and understood the terrible despair the man must have endured as he threw himself over the rail and into an angry sea.
Ali was on the outskirts of Cottonwood when her phone rang with Shirley Malone on the line.
“Hey, Shirl,” she said. “I’m almost back at the office. I’ll be there in five. What’s up?”
“There’s someone on the phone who’d like to speak to you. He says it’s extremely important. His name is Lloyd Elwood. He says he’s an agent in charge with the NSA.”
“NSA?” Ali repeated. “As in, the National Security Agency?”
“I believe that’s correct,” Shirley said. “He wanted to speak to Stuart. When I told him Stu was unavailable, he asked to speak to Stu’s supervisor. With Mr. Simpson traveling, I’m assuming you would be the supervisor in question.”
“All right,” Ali said. “Take Mr. Elwood’s number. I’ll call him back as soon as I get there. But what’s this about Stuart being unavailable? Where is he?”
“I’m not sure. He went out through the front door a few minutes ago to help Dr. Cannon unload some files and has yet to return. I expect him back any minute, but—”
“Wait,” a puzzled Ali interjected, “Dr. Cannon’s there? I thought she was on her way to San Jose.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” Shirley replied. “She turned up here a little while ago, asking for help . . . Wait a sec. Sorry. There’s a call on the other line.”
Waiting for Shirley’s voice to return, Ali sat at a stoplight, absently drumming her fingers on the steering wheel and wondering why on earth someone from the NSA would be interested in speaking to her. When Shirley came back on the line, though, she sounded breathless and panic-stricken.
“What’s the matter?” Ali demanded.
“Someone called 911, and they just put out an active shooter alert. Everyone in the business park is being told to shelter in place. An emergency response team is on the way.”
“An active shooter? Are you serious? Did you hear any gunshots?”
“No, but . . .”
“If there’s a shooter in the business park, here’s what you need to do,” Ali said, hoping her voice sounded calmer than she felt. “Use the control panel at your desk. Roll down the security shutters and lock them in place. Not even a SWAT team can get past those suckers.”
“But you don’t understand,” Shirley objected. “The shooter may already be right here inside the building.”
“Inside our building?” Ali repeated.
“They say the 911 call came from us—from High Noon’s main number.”
Ali struggled to process what she was hearing, but none of it made sense. How could a shooter be inside the building if Shirley hadn’t heard any shots? And how would the shooter have gained access? The front door opened either by using the keypad or by having Shirley remotely operate the locking mechanism from her workstation. No one could have come in through the front door without her knowledge. As for the back of the building? There were two exits there—one from the lab and one from Stuart’s living quarters—but both of those were equipped with metal doors that were deemed emergency exits only. They were also equipped with noisy alarms that sounded throughout the building whenever they were opened.
“No one entered the building through the front door, right?” Ali ascertained.
“No,” Shirley answered. “Stu went out, but no one came in. I’ve been right here the whole time.”
“And no emergency exit alarms sounded, either?”
In a sudden flash of insight, Ali understood. High Noon was currently dealing with a wily opponent who apparently had the ability to co-opt other people’s electronic devices at will. Maybe that’s what was happening here, too. No doubt the cops were on their way, but Ali found herself wondering about the very existence of that reported shooter. She suspected that someone else had placed a bogus 911 call, one that only looked as thou
“Close the shutters anyway,” she ordered at once. “Now. Then go into the supply room at the back of the computer room and lock yourself inside. It was designed to be a safe room. Stay there. Take your cell phone with you and don’t come out until I give you the all clear.”
“But what about Stuart?” Shirley objected. “If he’s locked outside with a shooter in the area, what’s going to happen to him? Shouldn’t I leave the shutters open so he can get back inside?”
“You look after you,” Ali said. “Let me worry about Stuart.”
But she did far more than just worry. As soon as the call ended and while she was still driving toward the business park, Ali dialed Stuart’s number. No answer. When the voice-mail recording came on, she felt a clutch in her gut. Stuart was never without his cell phone, and he almost always answered. By now she was truly worried. And earlier Dr. Cannon had said straight out that she was flying to San Jose. What had caused her to change her mind and drive so many miles out of her way to Cottonwood instead?
At the next intersection, Ali was forced to wait while three separate patrol cars rushed past her with sirens blaring and lights flashing. By the time the last cop car disappeared, she had located Dr. Cannon’s number and dialed that, only to have another recorded voice play in her ear.
“I’m not available to take your call right now . . .”
Amelia Cannon wasn’t available, either. Third time’s the charm, Ali told herself. This time she dialed Cami’s number, only Cami didn’t answer, either.
Naturally, Ali thought. She’s at sea. No cell phone reception.
Up ahead, Ali saw that arriving cops were creating a roadblock on the highway, half a mile short of the intersection with Business Park Way. One of the reasons B. had settled on the Mingus Mountain Business Park was that it wasn’t actually in Cottonwood or in nearby Clarkdale, either. The complex had been built on unincorporated county land, just outside both towns’ city limits, making for lower property prices and less stringent building permit requirements. It also meant that whatever was happening should have landed in the jurisdiction of the Yavapai County’s Sheriff’s Office. Ali had some long-term connections with Gordon Maxwell, the sheriff. Had his people been manning the roadblock, Ali might have been able to talk her way around them. With officers from either the Cottonwood or Clarkdale police departments in charge, Ali knew she’d have very little leverage.
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