Ice Monkeys [Drunk Monkeys 7] (Siren Publishing Ménage Everlasting), page 11
“Mostly sheer luck. I made an educated guess based on your traffic patterns.”
“What do you want?”
“You’ve seen the data.”
“Let’s work together. I will contact the team and arrange to go meet with them. You and I will have a prearranged code and if it’s legit, you come in. If not, you run. I won’t tell them we’ve been together.”
She didn’t want to hope. Didn’t want to think that way. “How can I trust you?”
“You can’t trust me any more than I can trust you. But somehow, we need to trust each other if we’re going to stop this.”
“Have you seen any of the others yet?”
“No. I was very close to finding Jean when I learned about him dying. And I think Li Kim might be in western Europe, but I lost track of him.”
She’d seen that news about Jean Reusseaux, too. Another reason she’d gotten the hell out of Europe.
And she was exhausted. So damned tired.
Tired of doing this alone.
When was it prudent to keep running, and when was that desire to stay concealed going to backfire and allow the vaccine for Kite to slip through their fingers?
“What do you want to do?” she asked.
“Get out of the open, for starters,” he said. “Is Liang safe?”
“He’s…” Hell, if they were going to grab her, they would have done it by now. “He’s back at the room.”
He pulled a notepad out of his bag and scribbled something on it, ripped the page off, and handed it to her. An address and room number.
“That’s where I am. Go back to him, make sure he’s all right, then you can come meet me there and we can talk. I’ll wait down in the lobby for you.”
“He’s safe. I have to be back before dark.”
“What happens then?”
“You’ve seen the messages? From the team?”
“I left the number for that man, Bubba, with Liang. Instructions to call him if I didn’t return, and to do what he said.”
“Smart woman.” He let out a wistful sigh. “I have a large room, two beds. You are both welcomed to stay with me, if you want.”
“Do you think we can trust that man? Bubba?”
“I think that man is smart enough to find us if I was able to find you. I think if he’d meant us harm that he would have found us long before now and brought us in.”
“They found Quong, Perkins, and McInnis.”
“And they’re talking about mac and cheese,” Rajesh reminded her. “Before the big earthquake in LA, when they were trying to convince Riley. I saw the messages. That is someone who knows something. That isn’t a random fact Quong or McInnis would give up or even that someone would think to ask in an interrogation for information.”
“Your instinct is to trust them?”
“My instinct is to be careful.”
“You’re willing to take the risk that they’d take you into custody?”
“Absolutely, rather than risk them coming after you and Liang.” His brown gaze finally met and settled on hers.
She folded the newspaper and stood, holding her hand out to him. He looked shocked, but he finally shouldered his bag and took her hand as she led him from the plaza.
“I told the people when I checked in that I was awaiting my husband’s arrival,” she said. “It will make more sense for us to show up with you than for us to leave unexpectedly. And we might need your room just in case we have to move locations quickly.”
Praying she wasn’t screwing up, she walked back to the B-and-B with Rajesh, arm in arm as if they were a couple. When she opened the door to their room, she immediately held a finger to her lips to keep Liang quiet as she got Rajesh inside.
The boy threw himself at the man, hugging him. “I missed you, Uncle Rajesh,” he whispered.
“Missed you, too.”
She caught Liang’s hand. “You need to pretend Rajesh is your father while we’re here.”
“Are there bad men here?”
“We don’t know,” Rajesh said. “But we have to do what your mother says to keep us safe.”
Despite her best efforts, her internal meter slipped into trust. Rajesh had worked most closely with her trying to make the virus mutate. He better than the rest of the team knew that part of the research, other than herself, of course.
They would have to take a risk to try to fix what they’d caused.
It was the only way any of them had a chance.
Monday morning, Jerald went into work far earlier than usual. He’d stopped at four beers last night after getting off the phone with Hannibal, meaning he didn’t have a hangover.
But he’d wanted to be ensconced in his office before anyone had a chance to grab him and ask him, oh, what the everlovin’ fuck was last night’s presidential announcement about?
Or ask him about the new video clips that had appeared yesterday morning, or the botched interview.
Just a quick glance at the overnight donation numbers told him the chilling story. There was a drop of five percent when normally Sunday night into Monday morning should be a one- or two-digit increase over average numbers.
Jerald called the airport they used for Hannibal’s plane and got those arrangements ready, as well as a car to pick him up on the other end. He’d get some loose ends tied up there before heading to St. Louis himself. He’d already had some things shipped to his condo there at the stronghold. Moving wouldn’t be difficult.
Already he’d started shifting his thinking and revising his previous plans.
Scratch the presidency. Not that he could let Hannibal think that.
Scratch the Legacy Project and the girls. Again, Jerald had to stall Hannibal.
The two main priorities now lay in locating Mary Silo and eliminating anyone who could point a finger of blame back at Hannibal or at Jerald.
Once those two goals were accomplished, then he could take out Hannibal.
Why the hell should he run when he’d put so much time, effort, and years into this? All Hannibal did was stand up there and schmooze. It’d been his efforts, behind the scenes, all these years.
Why should he run for cover and settle for the close to twenty million dollars he had, total, when he could control a billion-dollar empire?
The church would have to work with the government on Kite. Otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone left to tithe money to the church, duh.
Kite bad, living good.
He also needed to find out who the fucker was posting the videos for Mary Silo. No way could he believe it was her working alone. She didn’t have the skills. Fake her way through being drugged? Okay, he could buy that. He could not buy, however, her suddenly becoming a hacker who’d so far stymied the efforts of Jerald’s team to locate the source of the videos.
He pulled out a new burner phone he’d paid cash for and called one of his own personal contacts who was kept on the payroll for the church as a “technical consultant.”
The guy was based out of Indianapolis and had helped them out several months earlier with finding the reporter who’d headed to Australia and keeping tabs on her. “I have a project for you. Priority. Everything else gets dropped and you focus on this.”
“For the right price.”
“One million dollars. I’ll have the transfer done when we get off here.”
“Then talk to me.”
Jerald detailed what he needed.
“Wow. Man, I can’t promise results on that. That sounds like someone who knows how to cover their tracks if the regular team can’t find her.”
“Yeah, and that much money should allow you to buy as much help as you need to get the job done, right?”
The guy sighed. “You really want to throw that kind of money into it? Not to talk myself
“Yes, I want it done. Whoever this is can’t be completely invisible. He or she’s posting the videos from somewhere. Even if you need to hack into web hosting companies to find out the info, whatever it takes.”
The man sighed. “I’ll do my best.”
Jerald ended the call. It would be money well spent.
He logged into the church’s computer network, then accessed the bank accounts and authorized the transfer of funds into the “consultant” account. From there, the guy would directly claim and transfer the money to wherever. The account was offshore and set up as another non-profit arm of the church, so there wasn’t anything the IRS could do about it.
Not that Hannibal would notice. He didn’t get involved in the minutiae of the related accounts. He cared about big-picture numbers, tithing, and his personal accounts. The only thing he’d mentioned lately was converting some offshore assets into gold and bringing them back into the country, which Jerald had done.
But there was so much more Silo didn’t even know about.
Which was how Jerald had managed to amass his own money over the years.
Now all he had to do was get Hannibal out of New Mexico and safely stashed in the St. Louis stronghold where he could keep a better eye on him. He’d already had a long talk with the head of security there.
And Jerald might have led the man to believe that Rev. Silo was taking the disappearance of his wife very hard and should be kept close watch on.
Just in case.
Not to mention, to report to Jerald immediately any…erratic behavior.
Best-case scenario—Mary Silo would just “happen” to turn up dead and Hannibal, in his grief, tragically passed away a short time later from a heart attack.
Jerald suspected it wouldn’t be that easy. It seemed, lately, that nothing ever was.
It was a little after eight o’clock in the morning when Hannibal called him. “Are you coming with me to St. Louis?”
Shades of petulant child had returned to his tone.
“Not yet. I have to talk to the detectives this morning and get some things ready before I can join you out there.”
“Has anyone said anything to you about those videos yet?”
“No, and they won’t. Again, we’re standing by our insistence that the ‘evidence’ is faked. And I don’t want you talking to anyone about them, either. Claim it’s too distressing if you have to, but keep your mouth shut.”
He recognized the pause. “You’re starting to get pushy.”
“I’m trying to keep your ass out of the fire.” He was done coddling the man. “You want me to put my resignation letter on your desk, though, I—”
“No. Of course not. I need you.”
“Then let me do my job.” Time for carrot and stick. “Look, you hired me to do my job. I’m good at it. My job is to shield you as much as possible from this kind of stuff. Focus on preaching and playing the grieving husband. You are good at being the public face. Let me work behind the scenes to straighten this out. I will fix this for you, but you have to let me do my job.”
Jerald had a thought. “Hey, I know. The agriculture project. Marianne Parnassus. Play that up. I’ll instruct the network guys to work up a package on that. How we’re using it as educational for the kids, as well as future plans to help struggling, starving locations grow their own food.”
Hannibal sighed. “Do I have to?”
Jerald fought the urge to groan. “You want to help counteract the bad press? This is the best way of doing it, short of a Kite vaccine.”
“Why can’t we do a story on our researchers?”
Dammit, the man was sounding borderline whiny now. “No, Hannibal. We don’t need heavy attention focused on us. Light and fluffy. If we’re lucky enough to come up with a vaccine first, sure. But we don’t want to toot our own horn with the Kite vaccine unless we actually have one.”
“Have a safe trip. I’ll be there once I close some things out here.”
Since he no longer had eyes in the CDC, it was impossible to tell how far ahead of or behind the church’s scientists were in a vaccine. Based on what he’d seen last night on the TV, he assumed Arliss was behind that as well.
No wonder the President had taken so long to follow through with getting rid of Arliss. She couldn’t.
Whatever pull Arliss had was far stronger and ran much deeper than a daughter’s college abortion.
Unless it was due to Barstow, perhaps threatening to let loose the tides of the press upon the administration over it.
Right now, he couldn’t deal with that. He had his own fish to fry, and it was time to start turning up the fire under Mary Silo’s helper.
* * * *
Jerald wasn’t looking forward to his next call. The detective in charge of looking for Mary Silo had been borderline confrontational in the beginning, until video footage from the rental car agency there in Albuquerque showed she was alone when she arrived to rent the car. After that he was cordial, but definitely not warm and friendly.
Especially not once the private videos and audio clips started surfacing.
Detective Cranston was at his desk.
“Hi, this is Jerald Arbeid, Rev. Silo’s assistant.”
“What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to let you know that I’m sending Rev. Silo to our St. Louis compound for now.”
“What? Why? We should have been told about this ahead of time.”
Jerald had expected this. “I know, and I apologize. I promise, any time you need him, I’ll fly him back. But between you and me, the stress is wearing heavy on him. He’s not a well man.”
“I saw the interview Sunday morning. And I want to talk to him about the new videos.”
I’m sure you do. “He’ll be happy to answer any questions you have. But as you can understand, it pains him to see someone has taken what was…personal video footage and corrupted it, sullied it.”
The police department’s own experts hadn’t been able to negate their insistence that the audio was doctored.
Fortunately, Hannibal had sprung for cheap cameras that had poor microphones.
“Are you telling me someone is deliberately trying to ruin Silo’s reputation? Why?”
“Because his church wields a lot of influence, detective. I’m afraid it’s political in nature. That’s my guess. The reverend campaigned heavily for the President in the last election. I think that someone is trying to discredit him now to try to give them an inroad into defeating the President in the re-election. Especially if she’s so close to her scientists finding a Kite vaccine. Well, what’s the next best way to hurt her? Go after her spiritual advisor, of course.”
The cop sounded weary. “Listen, right now, we have no evidence other than Mary Silo walked away under her own power and left. And now these videos are surfacing. It’s looking to me like she was sick and tired of her husband and wanted out.”
“And her doctors told you she’s not a well woman. It would be incredibly easy for anyone to manipulate her. Take advantage of her.”
“Yet we have no evidence anyone helped her leave.”
“And you have absolutely no evidence he ever raised his voice to her, much less mistreated her.” Jerald rubbed at his forehead, glad the cop couldn’t see him. “The reverend will be glad to answer any and all questions, of course. His priority is seeing that his wife is brought home safe and sound. We’ve cooperated with every aspect of the investigation, even against the advice of counsel. However, my priority is making sure the reverend is taken care of since he’s not taking very good care of himself right now. He’s distraught, and frankly his doctors feel he needs to be in a different location at this time, where he isn’t constantly reminded that his wife is missing. He has nothing to hide, I assure you.”
“I’ll keep you posted if we find out anything or I need to talk to him again.” Then the detective hung up on Jerald.
Still, Jerald smiled. He could tell they were basically washing their hands of the investigation unless credible, actionable evidence cropped up. With Kite strongly pushing toward New Mexico’s borders, they had more pressing matters on their hands.
That meant he had a better chance of finding her with his hired hands.
Frankly, Jerald wanted a whack or two at her himself for derailing their plans with her disappearance. This had totally fucked everything up even worse than it had been.
Obviously Hannibal isn’t as observant as he thought he was. Not if Mary could pull off this disappearing trick, and right out from under their noses while at the church.
That was something he’d deal with after he dealt with Mary Silo.
Bubba was drinking his fourth cup of coffee Monday afternoon when an alert hit his desktop. He frowned and pulled it up.
It was an e-mail, which had been sent from Pandora’s official CMM e-mail account.
To the best of his knowledge, she wasn’t using that account per his orders. They’d let it sit, other than for e-mails he pushed through it, to or from, to make it look like it was still active. He’d left the password unchanged on it, knowing that way back in March, when all this had started, that Hannibal Silo’s operatives working with the mole in Arliss’ command had hacked into it.
He’d left it as bait, wanting to see what happened.
Nothing else had happened with it…until now.
He opened the e-mail, which had been sent to someone at a site called holyrollingfraud.link.
Which he damn well knew was the blog posting the videos and other info given to them by Mary Silo.
We’re looking to license one or more of your videos about Reverend Hannibal Silo. What are your current requirements and exclusivity terms?
TYMBER DALTON SERIES:
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