Viking bay, p.6

Viking Bay, page 6

 

Viking Bay
 



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  “I wanted to update your masters on the Lithium Op, as we’re about to move on it.”

  Callahan then basically gave a briefing on the status of the operation as if he were talking to a blank wall. Smee just stood there. He didn’t ask questions or ask for clarification. He didn’t act surprised when Callahan said how much money he wanted. He simply recorded what Callahan said.

  “That’s it,” Callahan said when he was done.

  “I’ll pass this on to Mr. Lincoln within the next two hours,” Smee said, and left the apartment.

  Lincoln, for some reason, was the primary spokesperson for Callahan’s three partners. All three people had several things in common: They were all in their late fifties or early sixties, they were extraordinarily bright and extremely ruthless, and in spite of the power they had, they were not known to the general public.

  If it ever became necessary to feed Callahan to the wolves, they wouldn’t hesitate for even an instant.

  10 | When Kay got home that evening, she was a bit tipsy from the two martinis she’d had with Eli Dolan. She was also semi in love with Eli and fully in lust with him. She wanted to go to bed with Eli Dolan. She could still see his hands as they held his drink—beautiful, strong hands with long, tapered fingers—and she could imagine them touching her in all the places she liked to be touched.

  The first thing she noticed when she opened her apartment door was the aroma coming from the kitchen. One of the many things Kay didn’t have in common with her daughter was that Jessica could cook and she couldn’t. Kay added boiling water to soup mixes, heated dishes in the microwave, and kept a list next to the phone with the number of every takeout place near their apartment. But Jessica not only liked to cook, she was good at it. She said all you had to do was follow the instructions in Betty Crocker, but Kay knew it was harder than that. Kay knew there was magic involved.

  She walked into the kitchen and saw Jessica chopping up lettuce. There was a neat pile of diced tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions, and Kalamata olives on the cutting board, and next to the cutting board, a container of crumbled feta cheese.

  Jessica was a pretty girl with a nice figure, although she wasn’t as busty as Kay had been at her age. Like Kay, she had blond hair and blue eyes, but she was only five-foot-four and it seemed unlikely that she’d get much taller. She had no interest in fashion. In the summer, she preferred T-shirts and knee-length shorts; in the winter, jeans and sweatshirts. She always rejected Kay’s offers to take her shopping and she rarely wore the things Kay bought her. Tonight she was wearing a white T-shirt with red letters that said Don’t Ask. Kay had no idea what that meant; Jessica had a weird sense of humor.

  “Hi there,” Kay said. “What’s for dinner?”

  “Minestrone soup, a Greek salad, and big chunks of fresh French bread. It’s international night at Chez Hamilton.”

  “God bless you,” Kay said.

  —

  JESSICA.

  Less than a year ago, when Kay was still employed by the DEA, she came home one day to find a sullen teenage girl sitting on her front porch. She had no idea who the kid could be, and when Kay asked who she was, the girl said, “I’m your daughter.”

  The biggest mistake Kay Hamilton ever made in her life was getting pregnant when she was fifteen. Immediately after her daughter was born—an abortion had been out of the question because of her Catholic mother—Kay gave Jessica up for adoption to a cousin she barely knew and never saw the girl again or had any contact with her. Kay had not wanted to be a mother at the age of fifteen. For that matter, she didn’t really want to be a mother at the age of thirty-one.

  That day in San Diego, when she was reintroduced to a child she’d known for all of ten minutes the day she was born, Kay learned that Jessica’s adoptive father had died of a heart attack when Jessica was only ten and that her adoptive mother, Kay’s cousin, died of breast cancer when the girl was fifteen. Jessica had no other relatives, and she wanted Kay to become her legal guardian until she turned eighteen and could gain access to the money in her adoptive parents’ will. She had been able to find Kay only because Kay’s cousin told her who her biological mother was before she died.

  It had not been a warm reunion. Jessica knew that Kay had wanted nothing to do with her after she was born—and Jessica wanted nothing to do with Kay now that she was fifteen. But Jessica was in a bind. If Kay didn’t become her guardian and take her in, Jessica would go into the foster-care system, which she insisted she wasn’t going to do. So Jessica emotionally blackmailed Kay, and Kay reluctantly became her guardian. Or, to put it another way, Kay reluctantly became her mother again. Then, a few months after Jessica moved in with her, Mexican drug czar Caesar Olivera kidnapped Jessica and Kay killed Caesar to free her daughter—after which Kay was fired by the DEA.

  Kay didn’t have a typical relationship with her daughter, or what she suspected a typical mother-daughter relationship was like. She genuinely liked the girl—there was nothing about her not to like—and they got along okay, but they had nothing in common.

  For one thing, the girl was off-the-charts bright. Kay had never thought of herself as a dummy—she’d maintained a B average in school while being socially hyperactive—but her daughter, who was more than a bit of a nerd, got straight A’s and had a big brain when it came to math and science. Kay figured the kid had about a thirty-point advantage on her when it came to their respective IQs—and this actually intimidated Kay.

  Kay was also a physical person, and when she’d been Jessica’s age she’d been into sports; Jessica couldn’t care less about sports and tended toward snobbery when it came to jocks. Jessica listened to music, read, and bounced around on the Internet when she wasn’t doing homework; Kay watched TV and did home-improvement projects and worked out. Politically, Kay considered herself a right-leaning independent; her daughter, who had been raised by a couple of liberal academics, was practically a communist.

  Jessica was now sixteen years old and very mature for her age, much more mature than Kay had been at the same age. She didn’t follow the crowd when it came to fashion or entertainment; she didn’t spend every waking moment Facebooking, tweeting, and texting her friends. Kay suspected the main reason Jessica was so grown-up was that when her adoptive mother was dying of breast cancer, Jessica, only fourteen at the time, had been her primary caregiver.

  Whatever the case, the kid was bright, motivated, and self-sufficient, and Kay had once told a friend that living with her daughter was like living with a really smart, independent cat—a cat who didn’t want anything to do with its owner. After Kay risked her life and her career to free Jessica from Caesar Olivera in Mexico, they became closer, but they were still more like good friends—or maybe sisters—than mother and daughter. Jessica called her Kay, not Mom—and that suited them both.

  And this is what had fascinated the Callahan Group’s psychiatrist: how Kay had dealt emotionally with giving up Jessica for adoption; how she felt about becoming a full-time mother; why she had risked her life and career for a child she barely knew. Kay had told the shrink that she didn’t feel guilty at all about giving Jessica up for adoption. At the time, when she was only fifteen herself, she thought that was the right thing to do. As for risking her life to save Jessica from the Olivera cartel . . . Well, that’s what a mother would do, she’d said, realizing that sounded contradictory and illogical.

  —

  “HOW WAS SCHOOL TODAY?” Kay asked as they ate dinner. The minestrone soup was marvelous, better than anything that ever came out of a can.

  “Okay,” Jessica said. “Just the usual stuff, except a guy came over from GU to give a talk on stem-cell research. That was cool.”

  Cool?

  “How was work?” Jessica asked.

  This was another thing Kay didn’t like about her job: She couldn’t talk to her daughter about it. When Jessica first moved in with her in San Diego, they didn
’t talk all that much because Jessica didn’t like or trust her. Kay would make the attempt, however, to engage her in conversation and she’d talk about DEA cases and how the legal system worked or didn’t work. After she rescued Jessica from the Olivera cartel they talked more, but it still wasn’t easy to talk to a person who thought stem-cell research was cool. Then they moved to Washington and Kay went to work for the Callahan Group and she couldn’t say anything about her job.

  She had told Jessica almost the truth: She said she worked for a private-sector company that was like a defense contractor, meaning it dealt with classified matters she couldn’t legally talk about—and Jessica said she understood, and she probably did. It most likely bothered Kay more than it did Jessica that she couldn’t talk about the job. She couldn’t even tell her about the training she was taking.

  Anna Mercer had told her: “You tell people you’re going to jump school at Fort Benning, taking diver training with SEALs at Panama Beach, learning basic breaking and entering, and how to speak Farsi. . . . Well, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that you’re being trained for covert ops.” So when Kay had to be gone for a few days, she again told Jessica a limited version of the truth: The company is sending me someplace for training, but I can’t say more.

  Because Jessica was so mature, Kay wasn’t too worried about her when she had to go out of town. She also had her friend Barb Reynolds and the lady next door, who’d raised four kids, check in on Jessica when she was gone. All Barb and her neighbor ever said to Kay was: God, I wish my kids had been like her when they were her age. Kay had no idea how Jessica would have turned out if Kay had raised her as her own child, but she was damn sure she wouldn’t have turned out so well.

  There was one issue, however, that had become a major source of tension between them: Jessica had acquired a boyfriend since they moved to D.C. She met him the first week of school and there was some sort of instantaneous nerd electromagnetic attraction. He was a tall, gangly kid with a mop of dark red hair, and Kay had to admit that he was cute. He was also a brainiac like her daughter and would probably end up being the next Steve Jobs. The problem was that Kay suspected Jessica was sleeping with him, or soon would be. She’d discovered birth-control pills in Jessica’s purse one day when she was short of cash and didn’t have time to go to an ATM. She hadn’t really been snooping.

  Kay had a hard time talking to Jessica about sex, because she didn’t want to come across as a hypocrite. Kay liked sex, and even after she got pregnant and had Jessica, she continued to have sex during her teenage years. But in spite of her own experience—or maybe because of her own experience—she didn’t want her daughter to have sex at the age of sixteen. She was terrified that Jessica might get pregnant the way she had.

  Without admitting that she’d found the birth-control pills, she’d tried a couple of times to talk to Jessica about the inadvisability of having sex at her tender age. Hoping to scare her, she even told her, truthfully, that she’d been on birth-control pills when she got pregnant so Jessica wouldn’t think that those damn pills were a hundred percent reliable. But her daughter basically blew her off when Kay broached the subject of an unwanted pregnancy; she didn’t exactly say that she wasn’t as stupid as Kay had been, but that was the implication.

  But since her daughter was so smart, Kay decided to ask her a question she probably shouldn’t ask.

  “What do you know about nuclear fusion?” Kay said.

  “Nuclear fusion? Why are you asking about that?” Jessica knew that Kay had no interest in science.

  “Oh, it sort of came up at work today. I can’t tell you exactly in what context, but I was just curious if you knew how close they are to making fusion work for providing energy.”

  “Who’s they?” Jessica asked.

  “You know, the eggheads, the scientists, the government. What I heard today is that nuclear fusion is the Holy Grail of energy, and I was just curious if anyone was actually building a power plant or something.”

  “Well, as far as I know, nobody’s close. The other thing is, I doubt this country is really working all that hard to make it viable.”

  “Why do you say that?”

  “Because there’s no compelling need at this point. We’ve got tons of natural gas—more natural gas than Saudi Arabia has oil—and it looks like most of the effort is going into extracting the gas, no matter how dangerous fracking is to the environment.”

  Aw, jeez. The last thing Kay wanted to hear was a speech from her daughter about the evils of the government and large corporations when it came to the environment.

  “And if the government is working on fusion,” Jessica said, “it’s probably looking at making a more effective fusion bomb.”

  “A fusion bomb?”

  “Yeah. Most nuke bombs use fission and they’re really dirty, meaning if you blow something up you have to live with all the side effects of radioactive contamination. But a fusion bomb . . . You could blow up Tehran today and start rebuilding the city tomorrow.”

  “Huh,” Kay said.

  “So if I had to bet,” her liberal daughter said, “if this country’s working on fusion at all, we’re more interested in a military application than producing clean energy.”

  “Is lithium used in these fusion bombs?” Kay asked.

  “Well, yeah. Lithium-6 deuteride is the fusion fuel in thermonuclear weapons.”

  Kay had no idea what lithium-6 deuteride was and she had no intention of asking. Instead she said, “How the hell do you know all this sh . . . stuff?”

  Jessica shrugged. “You know. Chemistry and physics classes. Why are you asking about lithium?”

  Kay figured she should stop talking about fusion and lithium. Not only shouldn’t she be talking about those things, she didn’t want her daughter going off on some rant about U.S. foreign policy. She got up to fetch a second helping of Jessica’s minestrone soup, trying to think of a way to switch the subject to something else, when Jessica said, “Kay, there’s something really important I need to talk to you about”—and Kay’s first thought, because it had been on her mind so much lately, was: Oh, God, please don’t tell me that little son of a bitch knocked you up?

  “What is it, honey? You know you can tell me anything.” Now nuclear fusion and the possibility that Callahan had lied to her were the last thing on her mind.

  Jessica gave her a strange look, like: Why on earth would you say something like that?

  “I had a meeting with Mr. Tanaka yesterday,” Jessica said. “You know, my guidance counselor at school. You met him.”

  Kay remembered Tanaka, a tall, good-looking guy who seemed like he might be fun.

  “Yeah, I remember him.”

  “Well, he said if I wanted to and if you agreed, I could probably skip my senior year and go to college. He graduated from Duke and has some pull with the school. In fact, he comes from a really rich family and they donate a lot to Duke; I don’t know why he’s teaching at a high school. Anyway, he said if I spent the rest of this year on a tailored curriculum, he’s about ninety percent sure they’ll admit me next year, and they’ll give me some kind of partial scholarship. He knows I want to be a doctor, and these days it takes about twelve years with pre-med, med school, internship and residency programs, and he says I’m just wasting my time in high school. He said the sooner I can get through the pre-med stuff and into medical school, the better. And he’s not doing this just for me; he’s working with four other kids who want to go into medicine or medical research. The thing is, I’d be leaving home, of course, and Duke’s pretty pricey even with a partial scholarship.”

  Kay was so relieved that Jessica wasn’t pregnant, she almost blurted out: Thank God!

  “Hey, if that’s what you want,” Kay said, “then I’m all for it. And as for the money, don’t worry about it. I’m making a decent salary and we can take out a loan if we need to. Whatever. We can
afford it, and you can’t pass up Duke. It’s one of the top schools in the country.” Actually, the only thing Kay knew about Duke was that they produced great basketball teams. “But do you think it’s the right thing to do from a social standpoint? You know, going to school with kids older than you, not having the whole, uh, high school experience.”

  “They’d be like one year older than me,” Jessica said. “It’s not like I’d be some ten-year-old savant on campus.”

  “Yeah, well, that’s true.” Plus, she was always bragging about how mature Jessica was, and now she was acting like if she skipped the senior prom she’d turn into an agoraphobic wacko.

  Kay couldn’t help it, but another thought occurred to her. If her daughter was in North Carolina, living in a dorm, Kay could go back to living by herself and she wouldn’t have to worry about explaining things to Jessica when the Callahan Group sent her someplace like Afghanistan. Or when she wanted to invite a man, like Eli Dolan, over to spend the night. God, she was a lousy mother.

  In an attempt to do the right thing, as opposed to the selfish thing, she said, “Okay. But I need to talk to Tanaka myself and make sure this really is the best thing for you.”

  “Sure,” Jessica said. “I’ll let him know and we’ll set something up. You going to be around next week?”

  “Yeah. At least I think so.” She was fairly sure she’d be in town because she’d be prepping for Ara Khan’s visit—unless they decided to do the prepping in New York, in which case she wouldn’t be in town. She’d ask Mercer about that tomorrow.

  “Would you mind taking care of the dishes?” Jessica asked.

  “Hey, of course,” Kay said. “You cooked.”

  “Thanks. Brian and I are going to a show.”

  Huh. She wondered if they were really going to a show. She wondered if that horny little bastard’s parents were out of the house and they were planning to go to his place to fool around. But instead of saying what she was thinking, she said, “What are you going to see?”

 

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M. A. LAWSON SERIES:

  • Agent Kay Hamilton
  •