Ice Monkeys [Drunk Monkeys 7] (Siren Publishing Ménage Everlasting), page 6
And Silo didn’t answer. He didn’t have to.
They both knew the answer already.
“I’m going to ask you this one time,” Jerald finally said, breaking the increasingly uncomfortable silence. “I expect the truth. Did you hire someone behind my back to come in and take her? Is she dead and you’re just playing this for sympathy to try to counteract the attention Kite is getting? Because if you are, clue me in so I can plan our next steps accordingly instead of spinning my wheels and wasting time and resources on it.”
At Jerald’s tone, Silo felt the weeks of stress weighing on his shoulders threaten to buckle his spine. “No. I didn’t. If I did, do you think the stupid cunt would have posted that evidence?”
Jerald finally laughed. “Now we have the truth.” Jerald looked at him. “No more secrets,” he said. “I can’t do my job if you hamstring me. Where do you think she got the cell phone? Because I’m guessing that’s what she used to record the audio.”
“I don’t know. Police have questioned her nurses and they swear they never saw her do it and never helped her buy one.”
“You gave her cash allowances.”
“Yes. I knew it pissed her off to be treated like that.”
“Looks like your plan worked too damn well. Where’d she get the video from?”
He didn’t want to answer at first. “It was on my personal computer,” he finally admitted.
“Police searched that.”
“Not the hard drive I used. I removed the extra hard drive the first night, just in case.”
“You destroyed it?”
“Seriously? Why the hell not?”
“I have my reasons. But it’s safe.”
Jerald stopped for a light and turned to him. “Just like you thought she was safely doped into a stupor all these years, right? Just like you never thought she’d get free, right?”
“I blame Isley for that,” Silo said. “He assured me she would stay complacent and that he would adjust her medication accordingly.” It pissed Silo off that hadn’t happened.
It pissed him off even more that he’d apparently missed the signs. She’d outsmarted him.
That’s what really fucking pissed him off.
“This is what happens when you try to make plans without asking for my input first,” Jerald scolded. “So what exactly do you have on Isley that put him under your thumb?”
“What difference does it make?” Silo didn’t want the man knowing all his secrets.
“Because he is a weak point in multiple ways. Mary and the LA project, for starters. And he knows some about New York. Listen to me. Again, I’ve helped you instigate plans that have caused deaths, lots of deaths, and led to the destruction of property. I absolutely cannot let you go down, so to speak, because you are the damn ship. I will keep patching iceberg holes until we both drown, but no way in hell am I going to jail. I need to know what’s going on, and I need the truth from you if I’m going to do my damn job.”
Silo hoped he wouldn’t regret this later. “Isley confessed to me that he was molesting female patients during treatments. He’d drug them as part of a ‘hypnosis regimen’ and then have his way with them. And film them. I videotaped his admissions during a session when he was unburdening himself to me, seeking absolution for his sins. He didn’t realize he was only putting himself under my control.”
The light turned green and Jerald continued. “He has to go. He knows too much and he’s too unstable a connection.”
“But he’s valuable. We gain a lot of information from him that we can use against others.”
“It doesn’t matter. Right now, all that matters is sealing up any potential leaks. What about Henry?”
“Oh, I’ve never slipped out of character around him. He’s clueless. We’re far better off with him because he buttresses my case.”
“Okay. Isley needs to go, though. If someone finds out what he’s done, it’s game over. He’ll spill his guts about how you’ve had him keep Mary doped up all these years. And if he talks about LA, we’re toast.”
“I’ll have it—”
“No, you won’t,” Jerald said. It rankled Silo at first, until the man continued. “You’re too big a target. Especially now. The last thing we need is someone seeing dollar signs and trying to cash in and catching you in a sting operation. I’ll take care of it, and that’s all I’ll say on the subject. We will not discuss him or this again. Ever.”
Silo studied him. Now he wasn’t sure how well he knew Jerald after all. He wasn’t sure if this was a blessing…or a curse. “Thank you, son.”
Jerald glanced at him. “Don’t thank me now. Thank me once we find your wife and you’re cleared of suspicion.”
“But…” Now Silo allowed his mind to ponder the options. “If she has help—”
“She’ll tragically die in a rescue attempt by the private security team we hire to bring her home to her loving and desperately worried husband,” Jerald said. “The money, at this point, is gone. Forget about it. She’s moved it. We can’t allow her to stay alive. If she’s dead, any future ‘evidence’ that crops up, we’ll claim it’s CGI and clever editing and leave it alone so it dies off. You’ve been married forty years. You guys spiced things up in the bedroom. You already told the cops that. So who cares? We’ll keep saying the audio portion was faked. That you didn’t want to speak out too much before her death because you were trying to respect her privacy. But we have to make sure she’s dead and can’t refute our version of events.”
“Dead men tell no tales, hmm?”
“Neither do dead wives of preachers.”
On Saturday night, Dr. Julie Chu sat on the bed and stared at her laptop.
She didn’t dare hope.
She didn’t dare dream.
Combing through the data for a third time…
There wasn’t any doubt.
The team absolutely had nailed a vaccine for a less lethal strain of Kite. Just as she’d worked and hoped for, the virus was mutating. Good, that it was only fifteen months out and Kite was mutating on its own to less lethal strains.
Bad, because it meant trying to protect against the more lethal strains was proving difficult due to frequent mutations.
Absolutely doable. The team was proving it was possible. Every batch of results they uploaded to the secret server only gave her more hope. It appeared that the mutations were doing what she’d tried to engineer, for the virus to mutate and simplify its structure with future generations of itself.
If they could nail a solid vaccine against some of the more complex strains, it should help protect against the less virulent ones, which appeared to be simpler strains.
Predicting the mutations, however, was dicey. Especially since it looked like not all of the lethal strains were mutating in the same ways or at the same rates. Already, the protein stick tests were wildly unreliable due to the mutations.
She glanced over at the other bed, where Liang lay asleep. He would be ten in three weeks and likely never see his father again.
She hadn’t had the heart to tell him that yet.
Guilt ate at her. She could have brought Li, begged him to come. Put aside her hatred of him and his lying and philandering and asked him to join them.
But she hadn’t.
How could she have foreseen what would happen?
She couldn’t. She thought she was going to do good. Earn more for three years of work than she could have potentially earned in a lifetime in China.
She thought they were doing humanitarian work. She’d trusted Dr. Phe Quong, a respected colleague.
How could she have known what all of them were being dragged into?
None of that stopped her from feeling guilty that her son’s father had probably already died, from Kite or violence.
The small but clean room in Havana was only a temporary respite. She’d paid for tw
She knew her Spanish probably sounded oddly accented to them, between her native Chinese and having spent over two years as a prisoner with Dr. Maria Espinoza from Spain, speaking and refining her Spanish with her. The less Julie had to speak to the owners of the house, the better.
At least Liang knew Spanish, enough to get by and learning more every day, his young brain better able to synthesize a more accurate accent than Julie could. If they spent too much time here, he’d soon be speaking Cuban Spanish like a native. Every place they stayed, he picked up the language eerily quick, sounding far more native than she could ever hope to.
Julie returned her focus to her laptop, to the results in front of her. She knew she had to take a chance. That much was obvious. If they were that close to an answer, she would be better off being there, with them. Able to help them, maybe able to anticipate mutations they hadn’t yet.
She didn’t know where Dr. Quong’s family had been sequestered. According to the notes from him, Dr. Perkins, and Dr. McInnis, Quong’s family had been taken to a place of safety.
She wasn’t sure if she could bear to be parted from Liang again. They’d barely escaped North Korea with their lives. It’d been easy to instill in her son the fear of not telling anyone anything about them after what they’d survived. She told him bad men had kidnapped her and her friends and wanted to do bad things to them and the world. That they had to stay away from the bad men now that they’d escaped.
When she gave him a story, he stuck to it. If he didn’t know what to say, he pretended he either didn’t understand the question, or acted shy.
He never left her sight now, except for when she took a shower or one of them used the bathroom.
She’d considered trying to make contact with someone in Cuba, find someone willing to take a bribe to give her access to a lab to work in, but she knew it wasn’t worth the risk. She couldn’t protect herself or Liang if she did that.
And there would likely be someone willing to pay even more money to betray her and take her into custody.
She’d already been a prisoner of one regime. Although Cuba was now a democracy, she knew there were still deeply entrenched pockets of defiance in some of the government. People from old, old families who’d benefitted from the former ways hundreds of years ago, who still wished for a return to those backward ways.
Finally, she shut the computer down. It was after midnight and exhaustion heavily weighed upon her. As she lay her head back on the pillow and closed her eyes, she tried not to think about the internment camp, about the hectic hours and their hasty escape.
About the death and carnage they left behind.
About their failure to put a stop to this disaster before it escalated beyond their control.
About her parents, who she accepted were likely dead now, too.
About her guilt.
About her fear that she might have set events in motion that would cause her and her son’s deaths…or maybe the death of the entire human race.
* * * *
Dr. Rajesh Patel sat in the hostel’s common room, in a corner chair where no one could possibly view what was on his tablet’s screen. It was his sixth hostel in six weeks, never staying longer than a week. Fortunately for him, Berlin was full of them.
It was Sunday morning, extremely busy as people were trying to get breakfast, get checked out, the usual bustle this time of day. Everyone, including him, wore face masks.
On his tablet was displayed the latest round of data the research team had accumulated. He hadn’t broken his communication silence with any of them yet, letting them think he’d disappeared.
Well, he had disappeared, but not in the way they probably suspected. He’d been silently watching, observing.
So far, nothing he saw indicated a trap.
Poor Jean. Rajesh had tried to locate him in Paris, had been less than a day from tracking him down when he learned about the man being shot and killed while trying to surrender himself to authorities.
He felt guilty about that. Dr. Jean Reusseaux, of all of them, had taken their forced labors the hardest. The rest of them, especially the ones with family being directly threatened by the North Korean government, had been pragmatic and worked to try to disrupt the project from within.
Jean, alone, felt he was being a coward for giving in despite how they’d all tried to convince him to reframe the situation in his mind. He and Jean had left South Korea together, parting ways in Cairo. Jean had said he was going to try to reach South Africa.
Now Rajesh wished he’d asked—begged—Jean to stay with him, to stick together.
Rajesh was supposed to set up a new cloud server for them, but he hadn’t been able to before now due to his circumstances. And now he was afraid to, fearing that it might give away his location or put the others at risk.
At least four others were still alive. That much he was sure of, based on their traffic and postings on their private cloud server. Phe, Riley, Peter.
Had their circumstances been drastically different, perhaps he would have found the guts to ask her out. They’d gotten along quite well together, even given the situation. He respected her intelligence, her skills, and it didn’t hurt she was beautiful.
He hoped her son was okay.
Based on her traffic, he suspected she might be in Cuba. She was as skilled as any of them were, thanks to mandatory training by the North Koreans during their forced servitude, at hiding her electronic tracks. They weren’t nearly as skilled as some of the best black-hat hackers, for sure, but they were far better than the average hacker.
Based on what he knew of the world, and the research he’d done, despite what her signal origination appeared to be his best guess was Cuba. Probably Havana, due to their more reliable public Wi-Fi access and higher population. Easier to hide. He knew Julie spoke reasonably good Spanish.
The three scientists working together had made impressive and promising breakthroughs.
Perhaps it was time to come in from the cold.
What better way to do that than to go to Cuba?
* * * *
By that afternoon, Rajesh was queuing in a “sterile” pre-boarding holding area in the old Berlin Brandenburg Airport. There’d be a layover in Madrid, but he wouldn’t have to deplane.
He had no more family. It didn’t matter where he went in the world, everything he possessed was in the two large duffel bags he’d checked and in his carryon, which held his laptop, tablet, and a few other things.
His family had died when Kite ravaged Karachi eleven months earlier, a port city countless people had flocked to while looking for an escape from Kite. The irony was his family had been threatened by the North Korean government. The people holding the scientists hostage had current pictures and reconnaissance about Rajesh’s family and their lives.
The work he’d done had been in an attempt to keep them alive, yet he was, ultimately, responsible for their deaths.
His three sisters and brother. Their parents had died in a flu pandemic eight years earlier, so at least they had been spared the horrors of the current world and the shame of a son who basically became a mass-murderer at an extinction level.
Maybe I deserve to be tried, convicted, and executed as a war criminal.
Dead now or dead later, he could not in good conscience give up without at least trying to help stop this mess in its tracks.
Since Julie was doing an excellent job keeping herself hidden from the others, perhaps they needed to try to stay in hiding together until they could be sure there wasn’t a trap awaiting them if they joined the other three.
As he waited, he pulled out his tablet and searched for Drunk Monkeys.<
Apparently they’d now reached folk-hero status in the United States.
The other option was he could make contact with Julie and then try to make contact with the others. See if it was genuine or a trap. He could warn her off with a pre-arranged code.
Or he could talk her into coming in.
Her and Liang.
He worried about the boy most of all. He was Julie’s life, her existence, and if she lost him Rajesh knew she wouldn’t want to go on living. Frankly, they needed her. She had been the one to figure out how to make the virus mutate quickly.
Without her input, it was likely their research could be stalled by months, or years.
The world didn’t have that kind of time.
He put the tablet away and sat back, patiently waiting. By this time tomorrow he’d be in Havana.
Then he could start his search and hope that a good end to this was finally in sight.
Maybe, if he was really lucky, he might finally get a chance to tell Julie how he felt about her before the world ground to a halt and took them all with it.
At seven o’clock on Sunday morning, four-star General Joseph Arliss sat not in the Oval Office, but in the kitchen of the President’s private residence.
Without a Secret Service agent in sight.
In fact, there were only five of them seated at a table able to accommodate eight or more.
It was the morning of President Kennedy’s regular weekly televised update to the nation regarding the events since TMFU. She’d stupidly started doing her own modern televised version of the “fireside chat,” in addition to the usual brief Sunday radio messages.
He personally thought it was a dumb idea. Since she’d started doing it, and had rigorously stuck to the schedule, she couldn’t simply not do one and have no one notice.
It had taken Gen. Joseph Arliss some wrangling to work things out, starting with Marcus, Tracy’s fiancé. His first step was finding out all the dirt he could about the kid.
Marcus wasn’t as squeaky clean as the President had thought he was when he’d started dating—and then proposed to—her daughter.
TYMBER DALTON SERIES:
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