Clearly I’m not back on my usual schedule yet. Sorry about being late, but here is chapter Twenty-Seven. Have I mentioned the book is also available for purchase? I think I may have. It’s available in ebook and trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes. Anyway, let’s get to it. Read (whether here or via your own copy) and enjoy.
That’s an order. 🙂
Pedro could hardly be considered a man, at least to Jo’s way of thinking. He was maybe twenty-five, with the kind of baby-face that made her doubt he had to shave more than twice a week. He had the tanned features and dark hair one would expect from the Central Americas, high cheekbones in a round face, and dull brown eyes. His jeans, complete with a multitool in a leather pouch, work boots, and simple collared shirt gave him the look of a working man, but when Jo shook hands with him, his palms were smooth like a person who spends little time at manual labor.
But for whatever reason, Malcolm deferred to him. As much as he deferred to anyone, anyway.
“The famous Captain Ishikawa,” Pedro said as he released her hand. “I’d say it’s nice to meet you, but,” he glanced at Malcolm and frowned slightly, “frankly we could all have done without that honor, I think.”
Jo scowled, but Malcolm spoke before she could fire back.
“That’s not fair, Pedro. The NSA was watching her, yes, but we knew that. They followed me back to the House from her place, not her.”
Pedro’s frown deepened a little, but then he sighed and nodded. “Of course.” He looked back at Jo, managing, if not a smile then at least less of a frown. “My apologies for my rudeness. Will you sit?”
He gestured toward the center of the room, where a leather-upholstered couch and a pair of stuffed chairs clustered around a coffee table that was inlaid with a standard-sized display and control pad. Jo nodded and selected one of the stuffed chairs. As she sunk into its comforting embrace, she surveyed the room more closely.
It was located on the second floor of the Ortega Building, then down a long corridor from the lift and around a corner to the right. As she followed Malcolm down the corridor, Jo was struck by the generic decoration of the place as well as by its emptiness. Doors to a number of offices lined the corridor, with placards announcing Chiropractors, Lawyers, Accountants, an Artist’s studio, and a Catering Service – though Jo presumed they did their actual cooking elsewhere. But no one else entered the corridor at all. It was the middle of the day; surely someone else besides them had work to do. But Jo never saw anyone.
Pedro’s office – who knew if it was his, or a shell company’s, or what, but Jo thought of it as his anyway – bore the label “McKenzie and Velaquez, Architects” on its placard.
The door had opened as they arrived, and they were greeted by a man and a woman dressed in workout clothing, as though they were going to the gym, except that they wore pistols in shoulder holsters and the woman carried a hand-held weapons scanner. Malcolm they let enter without comment, but they subjected Jo and Raúl to the weapons scanner and a pat down, even after Jo surrendered her plasma pistol.
All that to get here, to meet with this kid.
He knew how to decorate, Jo had to admit. The central area of the offices, where they sat, had hardwood floors that were covered by several rugs that hailed from Persia, unless Jo missed her guess. A few paintings of nature scenes and wildlife hung on the walls, their colors matching those of the rugs and the upholstery of the furniture perfectly.
“First thing’s first,” Pedro began.
“Yeah,” Raúl said, “Where’s my money?”
Pedro blinked. “I was going to suggest we have a doctor look at your arm, actually.”
“Oh.” Raúl flushed slightly, embarrassed.
Pedro tapped the control pad. A moment later, a man walked into the room from further back in the offices. He was tall, just over two meters, and carried himself with a professional air that was enhanced by his sport coat and tie.
“Is the patient here?” he said, then seeing Raúl, and his arm, he smirked slightly. “Of course. I’m Doctor Connors. Will you follow me please?”
Raúl nodded and stood again. He paused to look back at Pedro before following the Doctor out. “Don’t forget my money.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Ramirez. You’ll be fully paid for your trouble.”
With another nod, Raúl left the room. A few seconds later, the sound of a door shutting from the back of the offices confirmed his departure, and Pedro turned a baleful eye on Malcolm.
“What the hell, Malcolm?” he said, his tone less civil now that Raúl was out of earshot. “I can understand you bringing her into this. But him? We can’t trust him to keep his mouth shut!”
“There wasn’t much choice at the time. And then afterwards…” Malcolm spread his hands. “What did you want me to do, ditch him, injured, where the NSA would pick him up? They would never believe he wasn’t with us from the beginning, and you know what that would mean for him.”
Pedro frowned again, then looked down at the coffee table and nodded. “You are right, of course. Well,” he perked back up with a quick inhalation and directed his gaze at Jo. “We’re in quite a pickle here, Captain, because of your new friends up there.” He gestured toward the ceiling vaguely. “And your other friends in Geneva.”
“I would not call them my friends.”
Pedro smiled faintly. “No, of course you wouldn’t. Regardless, since the raid, more than half of the people in our organization have vanished; either they left town or they decided they’ve have enough, and we’ll never hear from them again. Or they’re dead or caught. Between that and losing our base and equipment, it’s been a difficult couple weeks around here.”
Jo frowned, troubled. “I had the impression your organization was larger than just this cell in Quito.”
“Oh it is,” Pedro replied. “Problem is, I don’t know how to get in touch with the others.”
Pedro looked down at the coffee table, abashed. Malcolm spoke in the intervening silence.
“There is not much communication between the branches, for obvious reasons. The branch leaders know who the other branch leaders are, but aside from that…”
What was this, amateur hour?
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jo said, exasperation making her tone sharp, biting. “You never put together a contingency plan, in case you lost one of those leaders?”
“Of course we did,” Pedro replied, flushing with what Jo hoped was embarrassment, though it could just as easily be anger. “We did not, however, plan to lose both the branch leader and her second. Now, with Becky taken and Lars dead…” He left the rest unsaid.
Jo blinked. She had not realized that Lars was the second; he looked like just a guard.
“So you’re telling me we’re screwed.”
“Not in so many words…”
“There are emergency contingencies,” Malcolm interjected, “but they take time to work. We put a message out to the other groups as soon as the raid happened. But it will take another week or so before we hear back from them; they have to revamp their security, move to their alternate safe locations…”
“Ok,” Jo said. “So we get some new terminals up, redo the presentation, and line up the press. By the time that’s ready to go, the others should be up and ready for it, in case we need support.”
The two men looked at her silently. She began to get a sinking feeling in her stomach. Like there had not been enough hits already.
Pedro cleared his throat and looked at Malcolm, almost pleadingly, Jo thought.
“The NSA took all of our data storage units in the raid, Jo,” Malcolm said softly.
“And you don’t have a backup.”
“We do. The problem is, its location is a tightly held secret….”
“And only Becky and Lars know where it is,” Jo finished. “Shit.”
The two men nodded.
Unbelievable. This really was amateur hour.
“Well, gentlemen, I wish you would have been more open about your little organization’s planning abilities earlier, before I decided to pick the side that’s doomed to failure.” Jo leaned back in the chair and pressed her fingers to the sides of her temples. She was beginning to get a headache. “What do you propose we do now?”
There was a long silence. Too long. One of those two had better say something that approximated a plan soon, or Jo was going to lose it.
“I think at this point we need to consider the Pericles issue a lost cause and…”
Jo rose from her seat in a towering fury. “Don’t even think about going there, Pedro!” She jabbed her index finger at his face, and he recoiled, his eyes widening in surprise and, she hoped, a bit of fear. “I didn’t throw away my career, my livelihood, and risk getting killed or thrown in prison over this just so you candy-asses can throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble!”
Malcolm cleared his throat, “Jo…”
She shot him her best “I’m the Captain, I’m pissed, and you better shut up and do what I say” look. His mouth shut with a satisfying click of teeth and he sunk back in his seat a little.
Jo looked back at Pedro. His wide-eyed stare had given way to an expression of chagrin. He refused to meet her eyes.
Pedro swallowed, then shook his head. “It’s not a matter of not wanting to do anything, but without…”
“Without Becky you’re impotent.”
Pedro grimaced. For a second, Jo thought he was going to contest her statement, but then he just nodded.
“Well.” Jo crossed her arms over her chest. A plan was beginning to form in her mind. It was ludicrous. Insane, even. But these were desperate times, and maybe they called for a little insanity. “In that case, we’ll just have to get Becky back.”
The look of stunned incredulity on Pedro’s face was priceless.
* * * * *
I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting a couple months to read the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.