This is the fourth installment of the Hell for Pastime series that Nene Adams has graciously written for me. Please, if you ever want a personalized story, contact Nene and commission one for yourself! You won't be disappointed.
Female/Female relationships. If this is illegal in your state and/or you are under 18, DO NOT READ this story.
HELL FOR PASTIME IV: HIDDEN DEPTHS
by Nene Adams ©2005
Before the ice is in the pools –
Before the skaters go,
Or any check at nightfall
Is tarnished by the snow –
71° 34" West, 48° 38" North
Lake Squamish, New Hampshire
Rohan Tarnach hunched her shoulders under the heavy wool coat she wore against the biting cold. The cherry-colored chenille muffler wound around her throat was soft, but the black leather racing gloves that covered her hands were even softer, fitting each finger like a second skin – a gift from her lover, Trudie van Geer. She blew out a breath, and watched it turn to a misty white fog, then gripped the steering wheel more tightly. Her legs were starting to freeze despite the flannel-lined jeans, but the VW Rabbit – bought for fifty dollars at a local auction – had no heat. It also had no headlights, an appetite for oil, and a rear suspension that used to do the hula-hula sway every time the car hit a bump until Trudie – with help from mutual friends – had sledge-hammered it back to a reasonable facsimile of factory spec.
She grinned, thinking about Trudie's lithe body covered in dirty mechanics' overalls, her strawberry-blonde hair twisted into two pigtails fastened with red yarn bows, a smear of dark grease across her nose. The smell of fresh, musky-warm woman sweat was incredibly appealing; even the memory had the power to send a jolt down Rohan's spine, an electric tingle that was concentrated deep within the center of her being. She loved Trudie, even if that meant she had to put up with Trudie's job as an agent for the Buitenlandse Inlichtingen Dienst, the Dutch government's Foreign Intelligence Service.
At the moment, though, they were on vacation, and Rohan was determined to show Trudie all the delights of a New Hampshire winter. This included rolling-stock racing on Lake Squamish, where a vaguely lima-bean shaped course had been plowed into the thick layer of snow that covered the lake's ten solid inches of black ice. The other entrants were clunkers, too, as the slippery nature of the course meant that it also resembled a demolition derby, particularly around the curves. Twenty-year and older Toyota Camrys, Ford Fiestas, Dodge Omnis, VW Golfs and Rabbits were the favorites, but there was also a sprinkling of Chinese Shenlong Fukangs and Ukrainian Zaporozhets.
An ear-splitting blast from an air horn, followed by the frantic waving of a green flag, sent Rohan's foot jamming down on the accelerator before her mind consciously recognized the signals that meant the start of the race. The Rabbit took off with a jolt that rattled Rohan's teeth, and made the four-point safety harness bite unpleasantly into her chest. She had invested a couple of hundred dollars on Bridgestone Blizzak tires and – at Trudie's insistence – three times that amount of money on a professional Bell auto racing helmet. Rohan had absolutely refused a Nomex suit, arguing that the relatively low speeds forced by necessity on the race course made collision-related fires unlikely. She did carry a fire extinguisher in the car, but that was required by the Arcadia Racing Association's regulations.
Rohan down-shifted into the first turn, working the brakes and letting the car drift ever-so-slightly into the inside bank so that the tires could gain some purchase from the packed gritty snow. The Rabbit did not quite fish-tail as it rounded the turn, but a Ford Fiesta maneuvered from behind and clipped the passenger-side door with enough force to cause the Rabbit's front bumper to scrape the bank more deeply. Lumps of snow clattered against the windshield. Rohan said something uncomplimentary about the Fiesta driver's ancestry, and hit the gas when the Rabbit straightened out again. Unfortunately, a Toyota Camry that seemed to be comprised mainly of Bondo and grey primer lost control and plowed into the Rabbit. Rohan fought the wheel, and the steering turned slack as a worn-out rubber band. The brakes were unresponsive, too. A glance in the rear-view mirror showed a golden yellow trail staining the ice behind her car; the brake line had clearly ruptured.
Although Rohan took her foot off the accelerator, the ice was uneven and there was enough of a down-slope to send the Rabbit skidding off the course and towards a small fishing shanty made of corrugated sheet metal painted rusty red. Rohan's hand scrabbled at the door latch, then she remembered that the hinges were rusted stiff, and despite Trudie's efforts with WD-40, were unlikely to yield unless Rohan could get more leverage. The car slewed sideways, the movement making her stomach flip-flop and her gorge rise. Her thoughts were a confusion of chaotic fragments and unanswerable questions. Should she unfasten the safety harness and attempt the passenger-side door? Should she remain where she was and wait until the car came to a halt or try to jump? Rohan felt dizzy and sick, and only half of that feeling was due to vertigo. Her heart jack-hammered in her chest. In spite of the cold, sweat prickled all over her skin. Her mouth tasted like ashes.
It was the ominous crackle of breaking ice that sent Rohan's pulse sky-rocketing in pure unadulterated panic. Instinct made her want to get out of the car, get out of the car now! She rolled down the window, somehow unfastened the safety harness without getting entangled in the reinforced nylon straps, and managed to wriggle out even though her well-padded body had been wedged between the driver's seat and the steering wheel. She struck the ice and rolled (hopefully) away from the car, although the impact drove the breath from her lungs. Her helmet protected her head, but her mouth was full of chenille, she had fluff up her nose, and she knew that if she sneezed, it was probably going to hurt.
The VW Rabbit came to a rest about fifteen feet away, near a square metal sign tacked onto a wooden post. Rohan blinked, and the words swam into focus.
Ice Not Safe.
With a bang like gunshot, the ice shattered beneath the Rabbit. The car plunged into the water, sending a plume of spray into the air. The Rabbit bobbed a moment, floating on the surface like a rubber ducky in a bathtub. Water poured in through the open window. A loud gurgling accompanied the car's gradual sinking, down and down and down, until only the roof showed, and then it was gone, leaving nothing but ripples behind.
Rohan rolled over onto her back and stared up at the sky, winded and sore. Without any real conscious volition, she fumbled the helmet off, and picked the scarf out of her mouth. From a distance, she heard unintelligible shouts, and knew enough to remain where she was and wait for the rescue that was already on its way. She watched the sky because her neck was felt stiff, and she did not want to turn her head. There was a cloud that looked like a dragon, cruising from the north-west, about to bump schnozzles with another cloud that was shaped like Tweety-bird. This Zen-like state was unnatural; she should be in hysterics, but Rohan simply could not bring herself to care.
That ended when the ice shifted beneath her. A serpentine crack ran from the hole where the VW Rabbit had disappeared. Water seeped out, turning the snow to mush.
Oh, God… what do I do? Stay put or crawl away? Stay put or crawl away? Stay put…
She had time for one deep gasp before the ice gave way and she was plunged into the freezing, oily dark water.
The jagged brightness of sun on snow and water jabbed at her eyes, long spears of light glowing silver against the darkness that tinged her vision. This was not getting wet, Rohan thought as she thrashed without effect. This was not being cold. This was being stabbed with flaying knives, and gnawed to the bone, and left raw with every nerve exposed to the most exquisite pain imaginable. Her head went underwater. From the underside, the ice was not smooth; it was bumpy and a cool shade of robin's egg blue. Rohan clamped her mouth shut, but her teeth still ached with cold. Above her was the black oval of the hole in the blue-white ice, and below her was nothing but waiting death.
Her muscles cramped and burned. Rohan forced her legs to move, to scissor in time to the awkward thrust of her arms against the impossibly heavy water. Her face broke the surface; she inhaled, her lungs protesting, and went down again, the weight of her clothing to much to fight. This time, the water took her body in an irresistible grasp, pulling her towards the bottom. Her arms and legs were dead; she could no longer struggle. The irregular sheet of ice seemed very far away. Tiny bubbles clung to her eyelashes.
Rohan hung suspended in a silent space, a ribbon of current flowing across her face.
Something moved beneath her, an ovoid shape that was not part of the shadows at the lake bottom. Dazzling light seared her eyes as the thing turned in her direction. It turned away again, cruising along a new trajectory. Rohan watched as it coasted, and the silhouette suddenly resolved itself into an object that was as familiar to her as her own hand.
In a New Hampshire lake.
Impossible and yet, she could not deny the evidence of her failing senses. Her pulse roared in her ears, and although she strained, Rohan could not hear the typical deep whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of engine cavitation. This sub was silent… as silent as the grave.
The air left her lungs in a rush, cold water poured in, and the darkness came up and swallowed her whole.
On the one hand, Anne Bonney was glad that she was retired from the U.S. Navy. A former submarine captain, she had been involved in some controversial adventures that had done her career no good. When it became a choice between being promoted to the Admiralty – and a desk job – or retirement, Bonney had chosen the latter. Of course, having the ability to live openly with her lover, Amelia Peabody Emerson (not the nineteenth century sleuth, but a retired CIA agent) had made that decision one that she did not regret.
Bonney did not intend on staying idle. She had been offered a position in a joint university/federal/privately funded project, captaining a marine research and salvage vessel, and was giving the offer serious consideration. The position included a spouse's berth for Emerson, should she want it. The option was there. Since the Bythos was headed by a former Congress-woman who was also an out-and-proud lesbian, there would be no problem.
Or rather, there would be no problem if Emerson would make up her darn mind, and this was the situation that comprised the other, less desirable hand.
They had come to New Hampshire at Rohan's invitation, a holiday get-together of friends who had faced long odds together. Bonney was glad of a break. She had become increasingly frustrated with Emerson, and hoped that some down-time would help the dark-haired woman decide whether she wanted to accompany Bonney to the Bythos or not. Emerson had been coy for several weeks, refusing to say yea or nay, and this atypical behavior was driving Bonney crazy. A vacation was just the ticket to help her regain some much needed equilibrium, and hopefully, also aid Emerson in coming to a decision regarding their future.
So now they were standing side-by-side at Lake Squamish outside of Arcadia, New Hampshire, both of them bundled into winter gear, clutching thermoses filled with Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee spiked with Kaluha and a generous dollop of whisky, watching Rohan steer a crappy VW Rabbit around a racetrack in the company of other rust-buckets. Emerson was trying to teach Trudie van Geer to do the Arsenio Hall woof-woof-woof accompanied by broad arm gestures, much to the annoyance of the crowd around them. When Bonney shifted her attention back to Rohan's car, she saw the Rabbit veer off the course, headed straight for a patch of thin ice.
The thermos fell from her hand. Bonney was used to reacting calmly in an emergency situation; commanding a Sword-class nuclear submarine was not a job for anyone prone to hysterics. Reaching out a hand, she snagged the sleeve of Emerson's coat, pulled hard once, then released the other woman and set out at a fast walk towards the fire/rescue team standing-by in their brilliant red, closed neoprene immersion suits. As she drew closer, Bonney saw them gathering equipment – a big reel of ice-resistant rope, ice picks, a sled. Good. They did not seem too hurried, but neither were the men dawdling. It was a controlled, well-practiced response. Bonney decided to hang back and not interfere unless it was absolutely necessary, although the idea of doing nothing was anathema to both her military training and her own inclinations.
"Godverdomme!" Trudie exclaimed, making Bonney start; she had not realized the Dutch woman was right behind her. "What has happened?"
"Thin ice," one of the red-suited men said shortly.
Trudie's shocked gaze traveled to the place where Rohan now lay on the ice a few yards away from the quiescent Rabbit. It was clear to Bonney that she had not realized anything was wrong until that moment. "I'm going with you," she said, her chin tilted at a stubborn angle.
Bonney took hold of Trudie's upper arm, just in case restraint was required. "No, you're not. You aren't trained for this. They are."
Emerson chimed in, "I did some ice rescue training in Finland a few years back. If you guys need any help…"
The leader shook his head. "We're good. Just don't get in our way."
A loud sound like a gunshot shattered the air. The three women instinctively ducked, Trudie and Emerson reaching beneath their unbuttoned coats for the shoulder holsters they wore even on vacation. Cold had mottled Emerson's face red and white; it made her blue eyes seem even bluer, like the center of a fast burning flame. Bonney rapped out, "The ice is breaking!" at the same time that the VW Rabbit splashed into the newly formed hole.
About thirty seconds later, when the ice rescue team had been deployed, Rohan disappeared, too, as the rotten ice cracked further. Bonney could only bite her bottom lip and hang on to Trudie, who struggled and swore in Dutch. Recovering from her surprise, Emerson shrugged her coat back into place and grabbed Trudie's other arm to prevent the enraged woman from slugging Bonney or possibly shooting her.
It seemed to take forever until the ice rescue team started back, dragging a sled containing Rohan bundled into a hypothermia sack. Rohan's face was blue-tinged and slack; there were ice crystals in the tendrils of wet black hair that spilled over of the top of the sack. Paramedics were waiting to take charge of the patient. Trudie was still cursing, so Bonney squeezed her arm and said, "If you want to go with her, you have to behave. You have to control yourself. Understood?"
Trudie blinked, and finally nodded. Emerson had a word with the paramedics, and Trudie was allowed to ride along in the ambulance to the hospital. It was agreed that Bonney and Emerson would follow. The doors closed, the red lights flashed, and the ambulance was on its way. Bonney and Emerson trudged to their rented car.
"Do you think she'll be okay?" Emerson asked, settling into the driver's seat.
"Pneumonia is a danger, certainly," Bonney replied, "but I don't have the details of her condition."
"Didn't any of your people ever fall off the boat when Saber was doing runs up north, tiger cruising in the Bering Strait?"
Bonney shook her head, feeling an amused tolerance for Emerson's continued ignorance regarding submarine life. "It's rather difficult to fall off a sub unless you're in the sail at surface depth, and even then, you'd have to jump out or be pushed. I have had to put divers in the water to retrieve equipment and so forth, but they were in dry immersion suits and followed strict safety protocols."
Emerson's lips tightened, as did her gloved hands on the steering wheel. "If the most annoying woman in the world dies on me, I swear I'll kick her butt from here to Asia headed eastward."
Bonney knew that Emerson cared about Rohan, although the two of them got along together as well as oil and water, and Emerson would never have admitted her liking even under torture. She patted the other woman's knee. "Rohan's in good hands. I'm sure the doctors in these parts have a good deal of experience in hypothermia cases."
"How dumb is that?" Emerson burst out, swerving the rental car around a station wagon stuffed full of old furniture and mattresses, and jerking back into the right lane with a quick flick of the wheel.
Bonney paled, and grabbed hold of what her partner had termed the ‘oh crap strap.' Emerson's normal habit was to drive offensively – very offensively, as though she was negotiating Rio de Janeiro in rush-hour traffic while fueled by industrial-grade caffeine and a dose of pure testosterone mingled with PCP. At the moment, however, Emerson was worried about Rohan, and that manifested in driving like a gorilla on pure crystal meth. Bonney closed her eyes, said a silent prayer, and was grateful that she had forbidden Emerson to bring any heavy-duty weapons on this trip. She did not want to think about the consequences of the woman getting frustrated enough to start blasting slower automobiles out of her path with a grenade launcher, James Bond style.
The town of Arcadia did not have a hospital of its own, and was definitely off the beaten path. It was a place that had not succumbed to crass commercialism and strip malls, but remained a well-preserved slice of ‘Americana' at its small town best. Arcadia reminded her of Jimmy Stewart movies, of Andy Rooney and Judy Garland ‘putting on a show' with the neighborhood kids, of Grandma and apple pie and Founder's Day parades. There were white picket fences, a hardware store with a wood-burning stove, a diner boasting a genuine soda fountain, and an inn catering to a select clientele. The interstate highway circumvented Arcadia altogether, and it required some jiggery-pokery along local back-roads before Emerson found the entrance to I-93.
Then she really opened up the engine and coaxed the car to fly, regardless of traffic.
Deer Run Memorial Hospital was about fifteen miles away. Bonney could have sworn that each mile of close-call near-collisions took another year off her life. Once they were parked near the hospital's Emergency entrance, Bonney climbed out of the car feeling old and stiff. At Emerson's impatient chuff, Bonney snapped, "Give me a minute… it isn't every day that I'm privileged to ride with a Mario Andretti clone."
"Andretti was a pussy," Emerson snorted, but she waited until Bonney was beside her before she started for the entrance, her long legs eating up the short distance.
Trudie was in the waiting room, perched on an uncomfortable plastic chair scarred with cigarette burns. When she saw Emerson and Bonney, she stood up, looking white around the lips. "I don't know," the Dutch woman said, her voice cracking. "They won't…"
"I'll go terrorize the nurses," Emerson volunteered, and vanished before Bonney could utter a protest.
In an instant, Bonney found herself embraced by Trudie, who squeezed her hard around the middle and buried her face against the side of Bonney's neck. It was somewhat disconcerting; Emerson was a full head taller, and she was not used to hugging someone her own height. She patted Trudie's quivering back and made soothing, soft, wordless sounds, and ignored the warm wetness that was trickling on her skin. After several long moments, Trudie sniffled and drew away, muttering apologies.
"It's okay," Bonney said, handing the wet-faced woman a Kleenex from a box on a nearby table.
"No, it's not okay." Trudie blew her nose loudly. "Die verdomde rot auto… I should have made her buy a better one."
"If it's any consolation, I think that driving a clunker is kind of the point," Bonney replied. From the vicinity of the nurse's station, she heard the sounds of acrimonious debate rising louder. Ah, Emerson's winning charm strikes again. Aloud, she said, "I'll find out what's going on. Do you want anything? Coffee? Tea?"
Trudie gave her a watery smile. "Just Rohan to be okay."
Bonney hurriedly made her way to the Emergency Room nurse's station, where she found Emerson nose-to-nose with a spectacularly bosomed, thick-set woman with curled hennaed hair, wearing pink nurse's scrubs, who was giving Emerson the stink-eye. "I've told you," the woman said, heavy patience lacing her voice, "that the doctors are still working on Ms. Tarnach. When I have more information, I'll give it to you."
Emerson resisted the tug on her arm that was Bonney's attempt to break the confrontation. "Look, Rohan's a friend, and I just want to be sure that she's receiving an adequate level of care in what is obviously a hick-town facility that, frankly, I wouldn't trust to treat an ingrown toenail. So I suggest you snap to it and cough up some info, sweet pea, before I lose my temper and things start getting really nasty."
The nurse's stink-eye increased by a magnitude of ten. Even Bonney, veteran of Capitol Hill budget committees, JAG investigations and incensed admirals, was impressed. The woman inhaled, expanding the stupendous bosom to unbelievable proportions. Emerson's mouth snapped shut as the nurse sneered and said, "We have a zero tolerance policy for disruptive individuals. Do I need to ask Security to escort you from the premises?"
Bonney grabbed the handiest portion of Emerson's anatomy – which happened to be her elbow – and applied enough pressure to elicit a yelp from the taller woman. "We'll be in the waiting room," she said to the nurse, and quickly shuffled Emerson away. When she had gotten her partner into a relatively private corner of the Emergency Room, Bonney gave Emerson her own version of the stink-eye.
"What? What did I do?" Emerson demanded, crossing her arms over her chest.
"You aren't supposed to pull that ‘I am the Widowmaker – fear my wrath, lesser beings' crap on the ER's nursing staff," Bonney said, forcing herself not to smile or otherwise show her amusement. "Honestly, Amelia…"
Emerson raked a hand through the long, dark hair that spilled loosely over her shoulders. "Hey, what can I say?" She shrugged. "I'm worried about Rohan, too."
"I know. Right now, Trudie needs some support more than she needs you to stomp all over the place like Gojira on Tokyo, so you're going to stay with her while I try to find the hospital's Starbucks franchise." Bonney narrowed her gaze further. "Is that understood?"
"Aye-aye, ma'am," Emerson said, tossing off a mock salute. "I'll take a tall mocha valencia with extra sprinkles."
Bonney shuddered. Coffee with orange syrup and whipped cream was anathema to someone who was used to the brew being prepared the Navy way – black as midnight, thick as molasses, and robust enough to scour the enamel from one's teeth. Nevertheless, she nodded, gave Emerson a push in the direction of the waiting room, and set off into the labyrinthine depths of the hospital to locate the cafeteria and the inevitable Starbucks store that could be found everywhere these days. She had heard there were plans to include a Starbucks on the International Moonbase project… right next to McDonald's. That did not surprise her, although she had also heard that the Chinese were pushing for Kentucky Fried Chicken instead of Ronald's ubiquitous Golden Arches.
Having found the place and secured some coffee-like substances for Trudie and Amelia, and a cappuccino for herself, Bonney paid the multi-pierced and tattooed barista and made her way back to the waiting room. She found Trudie and Emerson hugging, and hung back until the moment seemed less awkward to interrupt.
A doctor in mint green scrubs entered the room. "Miss van Geer?"
Trudie tore herself out of Emerson's embrace and said, "Ja… dat ben ik. I mean, that is me."
"Okay… Ms. Tarnach's core body temperature was around ninety-one degrees… um… you're Dutch, yeah? That's around…" The doctor paused, obviously calculating. He looked tired. "Thirty-three degrees Celcius, give or take. This indicates moderate hypothermia, which was to be expected in a cold-water near-drowning. It's been estimated that she was without oxygen for less than three minutes, so I don't think brain damage is a strong possibility at this stage, but I'm going to order an MRI anyway as a precaution, and we'll do a more detailed assessment when she regains consciousness."
He paused to take a breath, and went on, "The paramedics were able to prevent cardiac arrhythmia by giving the patient warmed humidified oxygen and applying active warming methods in the field. Ms. Tarnach is continuing with warmed oxygen in the ICU, and we've administered bronchodilators to prevent airway spasm, antibiotics, and steroids to decrease lung inflammation. Her condition will be monitored closely. I don't expect complications, but I like to err on the side of caution."
"When can we see her?" Bonney asked, because Trudie had burst into tears and was clearly incapable of thinking past her understandable emotional turmoil.
"Family only – that would be Ms. van Geer, since she's listed in the National Healthcare records as Ms. Tarnach's registered domestic partner, and also holds her power-of-attorney. Unless you other ladies are her sisters or cousins…"
"Yep, that's me," Emerson interrupted. "Good old Cousin Amelia. And this is Rohan's other cousin, Anne." She pointed at Bonney.
Trudie found some more Kleenex and blew her nose. "Thank you," she said to the doctor. "Rohan will also want to see her beloved cousins, if that is not a problem."
The doctor nodded, going along with their small deception. "Just don't do anything that puts my patient's progress back, and we'll be fine. If you have further questions, I'm sure the ICU nurse can provide you with answers. Give them a half-hour to get Ms. Tarnach settled, and you can pay your first brief visit. No more than fifteen minutes and that's an order. Then I expect you, Ms. van Geer, to go home, eat a hot meal, and sleep. You're no good to your partner if you collapse from exhaustion."
"I understand. Thank you," Trudie said.
The doctor waved off Bonney and Emerson's gratitude, then left the waiting room, headed back to the ER.
Bonney recalled a prayer allegedly written by St. Patrick –
At Tara today in this fateful hour
I place all heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with it whiteness,
And Fire with all the strength it hath,
And Lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness
And the Earth with its starkness;
All these I place
By God's almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of Darkness.
She could only wish for the same protection for her friend, Rohan, and hope for the best… although she would, of course, prepare for the worst.
Emerson could not believe that the pale, still figure in the hospital bed – the woman whose face was almost as white as the sheets – was Rohan Tarnach. Granted, Rohan was annoying, exasperating, and a general all-around pain in the neck, but she had never been so quiet, or looked quite so… dead. Emerson was uneasy, and tried to reign in the urge to snap and snarl like a dog with its hackles raised. The beeping monitors, the smell of antiseptic with a faint ghost of nasty bodily fluids added into the mix, all worked on her nerves like sandpaper. She suddenly wished that she had not drunk that too-sweet Starbucks coffee confection; it gurgled in her stomach, acid backing up to sear her throat.
"I told you to avoid the macchiato," Bonney said, a touch of aspersion in her voice. Emerson ignored that in favor of the affectionate gleam in her partner's eyes that made the reprimand a lie. Bonney went on, as if she had read Emerson's mind, "Rohan's sleeping. That's all. Stand down before you blow an aneurysm, Amelia."
It had been three days since Rohan had fallen through the ice on Lake Squamish. Predictably for a near-drowning, and despite the antibiotics, she had come down with a dose of pneumonia, and had had to be intubated. The clear plastic endotracheal tube disappearing down Rohan's throat was one of the scariest things that Emerson had seen in a lifetime of scenes that would have driven the average oblivious person straight to the Prozac bottle. Nurses had removed the intubation tube that morning, accompanied by loud retching noises from Rohan that had made Emerson's gorge rise in sympathy.
She could not – would not – betray her feelings, though, so instead of initiating a sappy Hallmark moment, Emerson said, "As if," and tried to swagger without actually moving from her current position near the door.
Bonney sighed. "I've taken unarmed combat training," she said in what was supposed to be a warning tone of voice.
Unimpressed, Emerson smirked. "Oooh, foreplay!" That earned her a rap on the back of her shoulder, right where the big nerve bundle lay. "Hey! No fair!" Pain lanced down her arm to her fingertips, and the limb went numb. Bonney just looked severe, and not at all sympathetic. Emerson cursed beneath her breath as she shook some feeling back into her hand.
At the moment, life was no fun, and that was her own fault. She knew Bonney wanted an answer to her proposition, and while the thought of cruising around the world with the blonde woman was not entirely suck-worthy, there was something she had to finish first – a personal project that was also a secret. Of course, she could not tell Bonney about the secret project, and things had been getting tense between them. But she hoped that there would be a resolution soon… preferably before the relationship blew up in her face.
A nurse passing by in the corridor paused, and gave Emerson a piercing glare, interrupting her brief reverie. She did not know why nurses hated her, but the feeling was mutual. Emerson snarled silently. Hospitals and ex-CIA agents did not play well together.
Her palm itched for the smooth weight of her Sig Sauer 9mm pistol, and the extra 15-round magazine clipped to her belt. Not that she wanted to shoot up the hospital, or even Nurse Evil Eye over there, but Emerson found the look, the feel, of firearms to be comforting. The smell of gun oil gave her a feeling of contentment. She suspected that when other kids had been clutching blankies and teddies, the infant Amelia Peabody Emerson had been teething on the barrel of an unloaded Browning Hi-Power.
From her seat at the side of the bed, Trudie looked up at her. "Please, Amelia… don't antagonize the staff."
Et tu, Dutch girl? But Emerson did not speak aloud. She liked Trudie, who was almost as dangerous as she was, only with a better attitude and not quite as slinky in the hips department. "Hey, I'm cool," she said. "How's the patient?"
"Don't talk about me as if I'm not here," Rohan croaked, making Emerson wince in sympathy. Damn, the woman's voice sounded rough.
Emerson took a step forward, forcing herself to focus on Rohan rather than the safer option of peering only at the beeping, blinking machines. "Sorry. I didn't mean to be rude." She paused, then asked the question that had been burning a hole in her brain for the last three days. "When you were… you know… did you see a white light?"
Rohan's face scrunched up, and for a horrifying moment, Emerson thought she had made the woman cry. "Not a white light," Rohan said slowly. "A submarine."
Both Bonney and Trudie spoke at the same time: "What?"
"A submarine. It was in the lake. I saw it." Rohan blinked. Her voice was getting stronger, although it was still raspy. While Emerson watched, the woman gathered strength and animation. Rohan was excited. "It was there. Wow! A submarine in Lake Squamish."
"That's not possible," Bonney said. "Lake Squamish is land-locked."
A frown settled on Rohan's mouth, and Emerson tried not to think about how wrong that expression was on the woman's face. "But I saw it," Rohan repeated petulantly.
"Liefje… I believe you thought you saw a submarine," Trudie said, holding Rohan's hand and brushing her lips across the knuckles.
"Look, I'm not crazy, hon… I saw a sub. Really. An honest-to-God submarine." The heart-rate monitor began to beep more rapidly. Emerson heaved a put-upon sigh and went to break up the party before a nurse came to investigate.
"People see all kinds of things in a near-death experience," Emerson said. "Dead relatives, white lights, angels – IRS tax collectors, Barney the Purple Dinosaur and Richard Nixon, if they believe in Hell – but the point is…"
"Is there a point?" Rohan asked with exquisite sarcasm.
Emerson reminded herself that Rohan was technically ill, therefore not responsible for her actions and not eligible for a can of whoop-ass, the opening thereof. "My point is," she continued, "if you think you saw a submarine, then you probably saw something else like – I don't know – a trout or something that reminded your brain of a sub in some way. It's a proven fact that eyewitnesses don't necessarily see what they think they see. The brain doesn't like jigsaw puzzles with the pieces missing, so it will fill in missing or what it thinks is incorrect information with whatever seems logical.
"Case in point: a few years ago, there was a woman who witnessed a bank robbery," Emerson went on, warming to her theme and gratified to have a captive audience, so to speak. "A TV journalist was doing a story on crime, and had himself put into the police line-up. The woman identified him as the bank robber. She was absolutely positive, swore on a stack of Bibles he was the one. Turned out she'd seen him on an evening news-cast, and hadn't consciously remembered where she'd seen him or who he really was. So when asked to identify the robber, her brain grabbed hold of the man's familiarity and put him into the scene. Happens all the time. One reason why eyewitness testimony is no longer permitted to carry any great weight in a court of law, and can't be the sole evidence presented by the prosecution. Humans are just… well… wired weird."
"Thank you for that astonishing analysis," Rohan said. "So I'm just delusional. Great."
Bonney chimed in, "You were drowning, Rohan. You weren't thinking clearly."
"I just… this is crazy, I know. I know! But still… I swear I saw a submarine. And it was silent. There was no cavitation noise at all."
Trudie solved the problem of a stubborn Rohan by standing up, leaning over, and giving the woman a kiss that almost crossed Emerson's eyes. Bonney harrumphed loudly, spun Emerson around to give the others some privacy, and asked sotto voce out of the corner of her mouth, "Do you think she was seeing things?"
"I don't know." Emerson thought about it a second, running through everything she knew about Rohan Tarnach. Reluctantly, she was forced to conclude, "Hell, if she says she saw a submarine, then she saw something, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't a fish. But then again, are subs usually so quiet? That detail just adds another point to the delusion hypothesis."
Bonney nodded, and thrust her hands into her coat pockets. "Don't say anything to Trudie, but I'm going to call Aunt Matilda tonight and sniff around. Just in case there's something to it."
Aunt Matilda was the SECNAV – the very powerful Secretary of the Navy – and would likely be willing to provide her niece with vague hints of classified submarine projects, if such existed. Of course, it made no sense for the United States Navy to be making secret performance evaluations of a new submarine in Lake Squamish, New Hampshire. Rohan hallucinating while drowning in freezing water made a much more logical explanation… but Emerson had long ago learned that logic was not necessarily the be-all, end-all.
Bonney's gaze was focused on the middle distance, as if her thoughts were even further away. Emerson waited, fidgeting a little with impatience. At last, Bonney said, "I heard rumors when I was still commanding Saber. There was supposed to be a silent submarine in the works, some kind of pneumatic system…" Her voice trailed off.
Emerson nudged her. "So it could be true."
"Damn it! Of course not." Bonney grimaced. "Lake Squamish. Land locked. Middle of winter! And I doubt the lake is deep enough to support a three-hundred foot submarine anyway, even if it could be magically transported there."
"Yeah. You're right. It's ludicrous." Emerson paused, and felt compelled to go on, "About as ludicrous as a lost U-boat filled with Nazi treasure, or a tall ships race turning into a search for gold to keep it away from drug dealers…"
Bonney smiled. "Another point, Amelia."
"You'd better believe it. All I'm saying is, let's pretend that Rohan isn't a dumb blonde disguised as a brunette, and that maybe – just maybe – she's not as crazy as a brickhouse rat, and she really did see something when she was busy drowning."
"Aunt Matilda. I need to talk to her about second cousin Harriet's wedding anyway."
"Hey!" The aggrieved cry came from the bed. Emerson turned around to see that Rohan had stopped canoodling with Trudie and was sitting up, staring at them. "What's all the whispering about? If there's any kind of conspiracy going on, I'd better be involved!"
Trudie hushed Rohan with another kiss.
"It's Christmas stuff," Emerson said to forestall Rohan's and possibly also Trudie's suspicions. She and Bonney were on a need-to-know mission, and as far as she was concerned, nobody else needed to know just yet. "Private Christmas stuff."
Rohan broke free of the kiss and said, "If you mess up my Christmas holiday, Amelia, I'm going to tell Santa to bring you nothing but coal."
Emerson told herself – again – that invalids were considered non compos mentis and it was not fair to put them into painful submission holds or give nuclear wedgies. "Whatever you say, Ms. Tarnach," she drawled. "C'mon, Annie… let's give the lovebirds some room."
The last sight of Rohan that she had showed her the woman's face had more color in it. Ire had lent some sparkle to her dark eyes, too. Emerson was pleased. She smiled sweetly at Rohan as she followed Bonney out of the room, and was gratified when Rohan gave her a puzzled frown in return.
It was really no fun when her foeman lacked the steel to put up an adequate fight, and she was glad that at least one constant in her life was not going to change.
When Bonney and Emerson had gone, Rohan lay back and sighed. Dealing with Emerson was exhausting, but paradoxically, also energized her. Trudie was still gripping her hand, and she enjoyed the feel of those slender fingers entwined with her own. "I really saw a submarine," Rohan repeated, knowing she sounded like she was trying to convince herself that a delusion was real. The trouble was that she knew what she had seen was not a hallucination. There had been a submarine under the ice. Regardless of Emerson's little homily on eyewitness unreliability, Rohan would have bet her life, as well as Trudie's life, on the sure and certain knowledge that she had, indeed, seen a sub where no sub should have been. "I know I did. I know I saw it."
"I believe you, liefje," Trudie replied. Rohan peered suspiciously, but her partner's green eyes were wide and guileless.
Rohan wished she was in her own bed. Hospital pillows were either too soft or too hard; the mattress seemed lumpy; the room smelled funny, and the odors got really funky when Mr. Dude in the next bed (who apparently had some kind of gastro-intestinal disorder) broke noisy wind with great frequency. Rohan thanked God for the curtains surrounding her small space, but wished her health insurance ran to a private room with cable TV and a mini-bar. Not only because of the stink wafting every half-hour over the top of the curtains, but because after several days of bed rest and tubes down her throat and all the rest, Rohan was feeling frisky.
About as frisky as a woman could get after surviving a near-death experience, but still, there was some decided friskiness happening in the libido department.
She and Trudie were on the same wavelength, Rohan thought, looking at her lover's face and noting the ‘oh? oh!' in the tilt of her coppery eyebrows.
Trudie leaned in and kissed her, a wet slide of mouth-on-mouth that set up an electric wriggling tingle that shot straight down her spine and made her toes curl. Rohan heard herself whimper, and the small part of her brain not busy processing how good it felt when Trudie licked the roof of her mouth was wondering how she could sound so needy, so desperate. A cough rumbled up from her chest; Rohan tried to subdue the croupy, mucus-thick spasm but had to tear her mouth away from Trudie's before she suffocated. Coughing was grueling work. Her head ached, her stomach ached, her abdomen ached, and most of all, Rohan figured that the most unsexy thing in the world had to be watching your lover hack up a lung slug.
Finally, when she fell back against the pillows, wiping her mouth and closing her eyes in exhaustion, Rohan felt Trudie's cool hand against her brow. "Are you alright, liefje? Shall I call a nurse?"
"No," Rohan wheezed, hating how winded she sounded, like she was a four pack-a-day smoker. "I'm okay."
Trudie fetched ice cubes, a fresh pitcher of water, little boxes of apple juice and Kleenex. Without making a fuss, she got a washcloth from the bathroom and wiped Rohan down; the coolness felt wonderful on her overheated body, and dispelled the general sense of ickiness that plagued her. Finally, changed into a fresh nightgown and sipping juice through a tiny straw, Rohan thought she might just survive.
"Thank you," she said to Trudie, and meant every word.
"Oh, Rohan… you know I love you," Trudie answered. She sat in the plastic chair beside the bed and smiled incandescently. Taking in her beatific expression, it was as though taking care of Rohan was the best thing that had ever happened to her, and nothing could top that – not winning the lottery, or taking a trip to the moon, or meeting the Queen.
"I love you, too, hon," Rohan said, and sighed. Her contentment was marred by two things – Mr. Dude next door having his usual bout of gastro-intestinal distress, and the remembrance of what she had seen in the water under the ice.
Friskiness was dead, thanks to the cough from Hell, but curiosity remained.
What had she really seen in Lake Squamish?
"What are you thinking?" Trudie asked softly.
Rohan opened her eyes. "About the submarine," she answered.
Trudie stroked her cheek. "Tell me what you saw. Exactly what you saw," she said.
"It was dark," Rohan said, closing her eyes again and letting the memories come flooding into the forefront of her mind. "Not really cold… not like you might think. Hurts like a son-of-a-well, you know, like knives under your skin. The underside of the ice is a weird shade of blue. Below, it's just darkness."
"Go on," Trudie urged.
"I saw a light. And a silhouette… an oblong body, a blunted sail… wait a second." Rohan struggled to bring the amorphous image into focus. "It wasn't a full sized submarine. Anne was right. You couldn't smuggle a three-hundred foot sub into Lake Squamish. But," she concluded triumphantly, her eyes popping open, "you could bring a mini-submarine!"
Trudie frowned. "But why?"
"Because they're testing a new silent propulsion system," Rohan said, getting excited again. "It's obvious, hon. Red October aside, near-silent submarine propulsion – zero cavitation noise - is like the Holy Grail. I mean, you can only get so far avoiding hull-mounted sonar detection by diving to sonic layer depth plus a hundred meters…"
"That may be true," Trudie interrupted, "but why would the U.S. Navy be testing such a submarine in Lake Squamish?"
"I don't know. Maybe it isn't a U.S. submarine at all."
"It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a foreign power to smuggle a submarine – even a miniature submarine, like the Russian's seven-man boat – into the United States." Now it was Trudie who narrowed her eyes in thought. "Unless the project was under the aegis of the CIA, or possibly Homeland Security."
"Do you still have contacts in the Agency?"
"Yes," Trudie replied slowly. "Are you sure you want to do this, liefje?"
"What's the matter?" The problem of the submarine nagged at Rohan, and she knew that she would never know real peace until the conundrum had been solved.
"Well, if there is secret testing going on, the people sponsoring that testing might not be pleased at being investigated."
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that." Rohan considered the possibility that her stubbornness might result in upsetting folks who had access to wet work operatives and virtual cleaners, people who could make inconveniences like her disappear.
"I'm sure it will be fine as long as we remain discreet in our inquiries," Trudie said, matter-of-factly dismissing the potential danger of the situation. "Now, you must rest before lunch. If you take a nice nap, I will order a pizza for you."
Rohan perked up immediately. Her mouth watered. "From the Flatbread Company? The wood-fired organic plum tomato sauce is heavenly."
"Lekker," Trudie said, rolling the ‘r' and making a motion near her jaw with her right hand that was the Dutch equivalent of a standing ovation, food-wise. "So you go to sleep and dream nice dreams, and I'll be here when you wake."
"With pizza?" Rohan murmured. She was kind of tired. Another cough bubbled up, this one lackluster and without the force that made her feel as if the top of her skull had come unhinged. The energy that had sustained her during their speculations about the submarine had drained away, leaving her weak and sleepy.
Trudie crooned, "Yes, liefje."
Rohan fell asleep, and dreamed of submarines lurking, hidden in black water depths.
"Aunt Matilda… how are you?" Bonney asked, holding the phone receiver pressed to her ear. She gestured to Emerson to hand her a cup of freshly brewed coffee; the B&B provided coffee makers in every room, along with Hawaiian Kona beans, ground every morning and delivered along with the local newspaper.
"Well, dear, you know how it is," Matilda Belleville replied, sounding less like the Secretary of the Navy and more like a grandmother with a knitting fetish. "Your cousin Jack's boy, Peter, was accepted at the Goose Creek NNPTC. Jack sent an e-mail announcement to the family's Yahoo group. I got it on my Blackberry in the middle of a budget committee meeting. Hah! You should have seen Admiral Wallace's face. His grandson signed up for the Marines!"
"I'm glad Peter's following the family's tradition by attending the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command," Bonney said. "Who knows? He might graduate to a Sword-class officer's berth. Jack's got to be over the moon. I'll have to send Peter a present."
"Make it socks, dear," Matilda advised. "A young man can never have too many socks, especially when he's living in a dormitory."
"I'll keep that in mind."
They spent a few more minutes catching up on family gossip. At last, there was a moment's silence, then Matilda said, her voice still chirpy, "So to what do I owe the pleasure of this call, Annie? You're not generally one for the social pleasantries."
"Aunt Matilda…" Bonney chewed her bottom lip, wondering how she could phrase this fishing expedition without being too obvious. There was a faint clicking on the line that told her someone was listening; security in the SECNAV's office was top-notch. She had to be cautious. "Amelia and I are at Lake Squamish in New Hampshire."
"Yes, dear… I was aware of that."
Of course she was. As the SECNAV's niece, and a former submarine commander, Bonney imagined that her movements were fairly well scrutinized since she could become a national security risk. "Anyway, a friend of ours nearly drowned in the lake…"
"I heard that, too." Matilda paused. "Annie, dear, I really have to ask you to be careful. Very careful. People can have terrible accidents."
The woman sounded like any concerned relative, but Bonney caught a note of something else in her aunt's voice, a warning that came through loud if not necessarily clear. "I know what you mean," Bonney said cautiously. "Perhaps you have some tips for me on staying safe?"
"I've never been to Lake Squamish myself, but I heard that Dick Porter – you remember him, don't you, your Uncle Dick, though he's only an uncle by courtesy – he's a regular in those parts. Has a cabin in one of those dog-leg coves."
Bonney nodded, although she knew that her aunt would not be able to see the gesture. "I might look him up," she said, trying for casual. From the tail of her eye she could glimpse Emerson mugging, her eyebrows waggling as she tried to communicate her impatience.
"That's an idea," Matilda said. "Annie, you take care of yourself, and give Amelia a hug for me."
"Will do," Bonney said. No sooner had she returned the receiver to the telephone cradle when Emerson pounced on the bed, bouncing her up and down.
"What's the dirt?" Emerson asked.
"There's definitely something going on," Bonney replied, scooting further up on the bed so that she could lean against the headboard and straighten out her legs. "I don't have any details. Aunt Matilda's line is monitored."
"So's yours," Emerson said matter-of-factly. "For that matter, so was mine."
"Was?" Bonney raised a brow.
"Yeah, until I bought this cool gadget in Beijing that… um, never mind how it works, ‘cause I'm not geek-ified enough to care, but it keeps my phone from being monitored by some pimple-faced recruit fresh out of Stanford," Emerson said. "Enny-hoo, what other wisdom did Aunt Matilda impart?"
"Just that we ought to go and see Admiral Porter – Uncle Dick, I used to call him. He was my father's best friend. He lived next door to the house I grew up in. Aunt Matilda hinted that he was involved in whatever it is."
"Great. Where can we find Uncle Dick? And God, I do not want to know if you sat on his lap. Ever. Because that's just… ewww!" Emerson shuddered.
Bonney aimed a swat at the other woman's head. "Don't be disgusting, Amelia. As for his whereabouts… he's got a cabin on the lake somewhere. She didn't specify a location."
Emerson goggled. "Lake Squamish is nine miles long and three miles wide."
"And the county surveyor's office is in Arcadia, and it'll cost all of ten bucks to have a look at building plans," Bonney shot back.
Bonney patted the bed beside her. "Don't worry about it. I'm the brains of this outfit. You're just the pretty face."
"Gee, thanks." Emerson crawled on the bed despite the sour expression on her face. She settled on her side, her head propped on Bonney's thigh. Bonney fancied she could feel the warm puffs of the other woman's breath through her jeans.
"Tomorrow," Bonney said, running the pads of her fingers over Emerson's temple. "We'll go into town, visit the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at Fat Joe's…"
"Hooray for cholesterol," Emerson said sleepily, wrapping an arm around Bonney's leg.
"…and after that, we'll see about the county survey," Bonney finished as though she had not been interrupted.
Bonney sighed and relaxed, content just be with Amelia Peabody Emerson, whom she loved beyond reason. Tomorrow would be soon enough to worry about whatever lurked in Lake Squamish.
Tonight, serenaded by Emerson's soft snores, Bonney would sleep.
Emerson was pleasantly full of eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, pancakes with real maple syrup, home fries and a bottomless cup of coffee. Fat Joe's had proven to be the kind of diner that ought to be required by law in every town, right down to the highly teased hair of the gum-snapping waitress, the Wurlitzer jukebox, and plenty of good solid stick-to-the-ribs food. However, her digestive stupor was beginning to wear off, and she was starting to feel antsy. Sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair while Bonney futzed around with moldy old building plans was not her favorite thing in the universe.
She was about to get up and go do something – find a bureaucratic flunky to annoy, perhaps – when she spotted a familiar face.
Ducking behind a potted palm, Emerson held her breath and hoped he would not recognize her in his turn. To her relief, he completed his conversation with a guy in a Brooks Brother's knock-off, who wore a toupee that looked like a Tribble's second inbred cousin, and left the office. Emerson tried to breath normally again as she eased away from the palm. It was only the presence of civilians that had kept her from drawing a weapon and putting a dozen 135-grain Hydra-Shok man-stoppers though his torso.
Even as he exited the building, Emerson was rapidly running through all she knew about Anton Courtois, nicknamed The Specter. Born in Belgium, he was orphaned at age six when his father, a middle-manager at a munitions factory, was caught selling industrial secrets and died in the cross-fire between Chinese agents and his company's counter-strike division. Anton was put into a state-run orphanage, where he learned how to forge documents and crack Internet security protocols. When released at age fifteen, he had disappeared, only to re-emerge ten years later as a free-lance intelligence operative. He was called The Specter because, like a ghost, he passed undetected into his target's area, completed his task, and vanished. Theft was his specialty, especially black-bag work that involved breaking into secure facilities and stealing information. He was also a competent hacker and assassin.
Courtois had done work for the CIA – which is how Emerson recognized him – but over the years, he also picked up jobs for the United Kingdom's MI6, the Russian's foreign intelligence service Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, China's Guoanbu, the South African NICOC, and Germany's BND.
She wondered what the hell Anton Courtois was doing in New Hampshire.
Had she and Bonney been targeted for termination?
Emerson knew that the phone call to Aunt Matilda had been intercepted, recorded and analyzed already by Homeland Security, the Secret Service and probably the FBI, too. Could any of these agencies have acted so swiftly, cutting orders for a free-lance like Courtois and putting him on the red-eye to New Hampshire?
She decided that no government agency was that efficient. Before ordering a termination on U.S. soil involving the SECNAV's niece, there would have to be some wrangling at the highest levels, which took time. The Lake Squamish enigma was a more likely cause of Courtois' presence. Emerson's jaw tightened. There was no doubt in her mind that Courtois was in New Hampshire to protect the interests of whoever was doing whatever in the frozen lake. She really ground her teeth together when she realized that she was going to have to apologize to Rohan. The free-lance operative's presence was a big point in Rohan's favor, and constituted proof that something big was going on.
Bonney's touch almost sent her through the wall, but although her heartbeat accelerated, Emerson had enough control over her body's reactions to do no more than shudder. "What is it?" Bonney asked, shooting covert glances around the room.
Emerson sucked in a deep breath and focused on the scuffed linoleum floor, trying to calm her rat-a-tat-tat pulse. "Ever hear of a guy named Anton Courtois?"
"No. Why? Who is he?"
She explained, and when she was finished, Bonney said, "We can't leave Trudie and Rohan alone in the hospital."
Emerson was not surprised; Bonney could be counted on to think of others first in a crisis situation. All part of being a captain through-and-through, she thought. "We'll keep an eye on the dynamic duo," she said aloud, "but I don't think they're in danger… yet."
"But they may be if we start poking around," Bonney concluded. She looked thoughtful. "I've got the address of Admiral Porter's place. It's a vacation cabin on Copperhead Cove. I think we ought to pay a visit to Uncle Dick and sound him out."
"Carefully, sugar lips. Very carefully. For all we know, Uncle Dick is coordinating a coup d'etat from his wood-paneled, L.L. Bean furnished den."
"We'll be careful, I promise," Bonney said, craning her neck to plant a dry kiss on Emerson's mouth. "Sugar lips."
Emerson was going to hold her to that promise, no matter what.
Once they sorted through various conflicting directions from locals, getting to Copperhead Cove was a fairly easy operation. Retired admiral Richard Porter's ‘vacation cabin' turned out to be a multi-level wooden A-frame with a wide porch in the front, and huge rectangular windows that sparkled in the early afternoon sunlight. An American flag flapped from a pole that was angled out over the front door. Bare tree branches and heaps of snow gave the place a somewhat desolate air. Here and there, the snow had been disturbed, showing black dirt and decomposing leaves beneath the crust.
Emerson had turned off the engine when the front door opened, and a man came out onto the porch. He was thick-set and grey-haired; a solidly rounded paunch swelled out the front of his flannel shirt. "Well, if it isn't little Annie Bonney," he boomed in a ‘quarterdeck' voice that was calculated to carry. "How the hell are you, sweetheart?"
"Hello, Uncle Dick," Bonney answered, going up to the man and kissing his cheek. Emerson dawdled behind, taking in the scene as a whole. She spotted the security cameras at strategic points, and took note of the satellite dish mounted to the sloping side of the house.
"This is a surprise," Porter said, holding Bonney by the shoulders. "I didn't know you were in the neighborhood."
"We're spending Christmas with friends," Bonney said. At his swift glance at Emerson, she added, "This is Amelia Peabody Emerson… my partner."
His glance grew more keen. "As in domestic partner?" he asked, but thrust his beefy hand at Emerson in a more-or-less friendly manner. "Dick Porter. It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Emerson. Your name rings a bell… CIA?"
"Former," Emerson said, shaking his hand. "I'm retired these days."
His grey eyes, set in deeply wrinkled pouches, narrowed. "Really? Pardon me, but you seem awfully young to be retired."
There were wheels-within-wheels here; Emerson could sense the man's suspicion. "Well, you know the Agency… either you're in for life, or you get out before you burn out."
"As you say, Ms. Emerson." He turned his attention back to Bonney. "Come on in. I'll make a fresh pot of coffee."
The interior of the house was ruggedly masculine, full of plaid upholstered furniture, stuffed deer heads with glassy eyes hanging on the walls. Emerson smelled pipe tobacco, coffee and men's aftershave – a spicy fragrance that was composed of rosemary, cloves and bitter orange. He practically reeked of the stuff; she could taste it on the back of her tongue, heavy and cloying. Porter showed them to the living room, where the furniture was oversized, the sofa and chair frames made of peeled logs or lashed-together antlers. Emerson sat next to Bonney, comforted by the gun in the shoulder holster under her coat.
After Porter returned with a French press coffee-maker, and doled out cups of piping hot java in thick china mugs – no cream or sugar, but that was okay – he sat back in his moose antler chair with the blue-and-black tartan cushions, and asked, "What can I do for you, Annie?"
Bonney stared into the black depths of her coffee mug. "Maybe you heard about my friend, Rohan Tarnach. She was in the race last week on Lake Squamish. She broke through the ice and nearly drowned."
"Yes, I believe I heard something of the sort on the local television news," Porter said. "Is she all right?"
"She's fine. But she saw something under the ice."
Porter snorted. "I'm not surprised she was hallucinating. Hypothermia combined with near-drowning…"
"It wasn't a tunnel of light, Uncle Dick." Bonney drew a deep breath. Emerson tried to beam silent supporting thoughts into her partner's skull. After a pause, Bonney continued, "Rohan thinks she saw a submarine."
He's good, Emerson thought, but not good enough. Porter hesitated a fraction of a second too long before answering, "That's ridiculous," in a hearty, bluff way that might have fooled the average interrogator, but not the Widowmaker. She saw his eyes cut to the left, a muscle tic in his cheek, the slight tightening in the lines of his forehead, the twitch of his fingers – all signs of a lie in progress.
She caught Bonney's gaze with her own, and tried the silent communication thing again. This time, Bonney nodded, and Emerson was glad that the message had gotten through.
"Uncle Dick… if it involves national security, I don't want to know," Bonney said, setting the half empty mug down on a table made of a big oak stump. "But I would like the opportunity to bring my friend a little peace, if that's possible."
Porter's mug thumped down on the table with such force that coffee slopped over the sides. "Your friend was seeing things, Annie. To believe there is a submarine in Lake Squamish is absurd."
Bonney nodded. "That's what I thought, too."
He sat back, obviously relieved. "There's your explanation, then."
Emerson could not resist the urge to pipe up, "Yeah, a submarine with a silent propulsion system. As if!"
She was not prepared for the look of pure calculation that flashed across his face. Emerson controlled her own reaction, and aborted a reflexive reach for her gun. Porter knew something all right. He was hip deep in it, and wondering how much they knew, and probably considering scenarios akin to the interrogation scene in Marathon Man – scary dentist guy murmuring, ‘is the submarine safe?' while wielding painful implements on their tender flesh. Emerson sneered at the mental image, not at all fazed.
"That would indeed be something special, if it was true," Porter said, his expression now carefully blank. "More coffee?"
"Sure, thanks," Emerson said, and watched him to be sure that he did not drop a cyanide pill or a roofie into the bitter brew.
Just behind Porter's shoulder was a sliding glass door that faced north. Emerson caught a split-second glimpse of a figure silhouetted against the sunlight – trendy sunglasses, a crop of dark curls spilling over a broad forehead, manly stubble… Courtois! She bolted up from the sofa, or at least tried to leap to her feet but the sofa was deep and soft and clung to her with surprising tenacity. Emerson managed to fight off the clinging upholstery, just rolling to her knees on the floor and popping up, her Sig Sauer P-226 in her hand.
Courtois was gone.
Emerson went to the sliding glass door anyway, shouldering Porter aside. The backyard was empty except for the harsh actinic glare of sun on snow. A wheeling shadow made her duck and squint up. She identified the shadow-caster as a crow, and felt a beefy hand clasp her shoulder. It was all she could do not to drive an elbow into Dick Porter's gut.
"What's going on here?" Porter asked. He had dropped the avuncular manner, and his voice was cold. His hand, however, was warm, and his fingers dug into Emerson's shoulder as if he was trying to leave an impression on the bone.
She would not give him the satisfaction of letting him see how much his grip was hurting her. "What's Anton Courtois doing in New Hampshire?" Emerson asked.
That shocked him; she could tell by the widening of his eyes, and the clownish open-mouthed expression that might have been funny under other circumstances. "Courtois? Here? In New Hampshire?"
"You're not that good of an actor, Dick," Emerson said, re-holstering her weapon.
Bonney asked though having been already briefed by Amelia, "Who's Courtois?"
It was Porter who answered. "A freelance foreign intelligence agent. A hacker, a thief and an assassin."
"He specializes in black-bag jobs," Emerson supplied, not surprised by the lack of comprehension on Bonney's face. Spook-speak was Emerson's thing, after all. "Illegally breaking into a targeted area, avoiding security, and stealing data – files, memory sticks, CDs, hardrives – or planting surveillance equipment. It's been illegal since '72, but that doesn't stop some of the FBI hardliners. CIA does it, too, even though they're not supposed to operate within the U.S. Come to think of it, I wouldn't put it past the NSA or Homeland Security to play fast and loose with the law. Using a foreign agent for black-bag jobs allows a degree of plausible deniability. So, Dick… who's Courtois here to steal from or kill?"
He recovered quickly. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, c'mon… do we really need to go through this bullsh…?"
"Amelia!" Bonney sounded disapproving. Emerson turned her head to regard her partner. Yes, the blonde woman's mouth had drawn into a thin, prim line. That did not bode well.
"What? What did I do?" Emerson asked.
"You aren't going to interrogate Uncle Dick," Bonney said with finality. She turned to the man and patted his arm. "Now, we're going to sit back down, and you're going to tell us all about Anton Courtois."
"You don't know what you're getting into," Porter mumbled. For a moment, Emerson almost felt sorry for him. He was old and clearly tired. But then he bared his teeth at her in a snarl, his grey eyes glinting like chips of dirty ice, and she saw the dangerous beast that still lurked within his aging shell. "Retired operative, like hell."
Emerson shrugged. "Once a spook, always a spook, though Uncle Sam don't cut my paychecks anymore."
"The hell," he repeated emphatically.
"Are you in trouble?" Bonney asked. "If you are…"
"I don't need…" He scrubbed his face with the flat of his hand. "Annie, don't get involved. Please."
"I'm already involved."
"We're involved," Emerson stressed.
He hesitated for a long moment, then said, "Not here. Meet me tonight. There's a Chinese restaurant in Arcadia… the Rainbow Buddha."
"What time?" Bonney began buttoning up her Navy surplus pea coat.
Bonney gave him a hug, brushing her cheek against his. "Do you need protection?" she asked. "I can ask Aunt Matilda to assign a security detail."
"No, I'll be fine, Annie. You'd better go."
Emerson blew out a sigh. "What about Courtois?"
"You don't need to worry about Courtois. I'll handle him."
"Huh." Emerson eyeballed him, but Porter stood ramrod straight, and looked her square in the eye. Retired he might be, but he still had the military can-do thing going on. "If anything bad goes down, just holler. Here's my cell phone number." She passed him a business card, which he took and stuffed into the breast pocket of his flannel shirt.
Emerson left so that Bonney could say her good-byes, and stood on the wooden jetty that jutted out into the frozen cove. The water was iced over and fluffy with new fallen snow. Something caught her eye. She strode to the end of the jetty and squatted down. Her jeans were a bit tight, which was probably due to the way she had pigged out at breakfast, but she balanced with ease nonetheless. Her breath was a long, feathery plume in the air. She inhaled sharply, and let the air out at once when her focus adjusted and she recognized what she was looking at, poking out of the ice and shadows.
A human hand.
Emerson reached for her cell phone, reconsidered her first instinct, and trotted back to the house to find out if Uncle Dick was missing anyone important.
Rohan was really chafing at the bit. "Where are they?" she asked, trying hard not to whine but hearing the tell-tale nasal shrillness in her voice despite her intentions.
"Apparently, Anne has a relative in the area. She and Emerson have gone to pay a visit," Trudie said with more patience than Rohan would have had in similar circumstances.
"They said they'd meet us here, and they're not here." Rohan crossed her arms over her chest, and failed to resist the impulse to pout. The doctors were finally letting her out of the hospital hell-hole, and her ride had failed to materialize at the appointed time. She had a right to feel put-upon.
"I will call again, ja? Stay here. I'll be right back." Trudie pulled a cell phone out of her purse and made for the door.
"Yeah, because you can't use those things inside the hospital, and besides, they give you brain cancer," Rohan said to Trudie's retreating back. She was sitting on the edge of the raised hospital bed, swinging her legs back and forth. "I'll just sit here and pick my nose, okay? All by myself. Nothing to do. Nobody to talk to…"
A doctor entered the room; she had never seen him before, but Rohan supposed the hospital was stuffed to the gills with men in white coats who had stethoscopes looped around their necks. He was consulting a chart, but he glanced up at her, his eyes darkly brilliant beneath his thick brows. "Ms. Rohan Tarnach?"
His accent was not American, Rohan decided, but neither was it overly foreign, nor really identifiable as any particular country. If she had to pin it down, she thought he sounded vaguely French in a generic Euro-trash kind of way. "Yes," she answered. "That's me."
Bemused, she watched him pull the curtains around the bed. "Hey, I've been discharged," Rohan said. "What's the problem?"
He approached the bed, skimming the chart away so that it landed on the pillow, narrowly missing Rohan. She smiled at him as he came right up to her and put his hands around her throat. Rohan thought he was checking her glands. His grip tightened, and she drew in a breath reflexively.
"Um, Doctor… is that…" Rohan whispered through her restricted airway. Her hands came up of their own accord and fastened onto his wrists. There was a dull roaring in her ears, punctuated by the frantic bang-bang-bang of her pulse.
Suddenly, she could breathe again.
Rohan opened her eyes – she had not realized they were closed – and the first thing she saw was Trudie's face. The Dutch woman's mouth was set in a snarl; there was a savage glint in her green eyes that Rohan had never seen before, which sent a tiny chilling thrill meandering through her body. Trudie had the strange doctor in a submission hold that looked wince-worthy, and judging from the man's expression, was every bit as painful as it seemed. He wriggled out of it though, shimmying like his joints had gone to rubber.
She knew better than to interfere when Trudie and Dr. Feel-Bad started exchanging kung-fu blows, ducking and weaving and somehow managing not to knock over any of the expensive medical equipment. Rohan figured that was only a matter of time, and she hoped that nothing would go fizz or sproink and start a fire when it happened.
Dr. Feel-Bad had a bloody nose. He staggered back a step, then bobbed around Trudie and lunged for the door, bowling over an orderly with a tray of pills. The little cups and pills rattled to the floor, followed by the orderly who lay sprawled on the institutional linoleum like a giant-sized Ken doll. The fake doctor leaped over the orderly, followed by Trudie in hot pursuit. Rohan registered the fact that her partner had drawn a honking big gun; she had just enough time to shout, "No live ordnance in the hospital!" when the door swung shut.
Cursing under her breath, Rohan hopped off the bed, grabbed her overnight bag, and stormed out of the room, almost tripping over the orderly, who was still moaning and clutching his neck in a worker's comp bid that would have been funny, had it not also been utterly pathetic. She skirted around him, was nearly run over by a team of nurses steering a gurney through the corridor, and followed the cluster of blue-coated hospital security officers who were, in turn, following a trail of destruction that led through the ER and outside.
Trudie had holstered her weapon, and was flashing a badge at the security officers, who seemed disappointed that she was not a terrorist threat. Rohan reached her and asked, "What's up?" as the hospital's people slunk back into the building.
"That was Anton Courtois," Trudie said in a voice like titanium steel. "He's Belgian. A free-lance operative."
"That doesn't sound good."
Rohan blinked. Living with an intelligence agent was different, that was for sure. "O-o-o-okay… so why was he trying to kill me?" When she got no answer, Rohan tried again. "Have I pissed off any Belgians recently? Dissed their waffles? Or was this somebody's way of getting to you?"
Trudie still looked angry. "I don't know, liefje… but I'm going to find out."
A big dark blue Lincoln pimp-mobile glided into the parking lot and stopped near them. The driver's side window hummed down, revealing Emerson. "C'mon, kids," she said. "Have I got news for you."
"Ditto," Rohan said, getting into the back seat.
During the drive to Copperhead Cove, where (Emerson said) Bonney's Uncle Dick lived, and where they had found a dead body, Trudie managed to impart the information about Anton Courtois' murder attempt. In the rear view mirror, Emerson's eyes flashed at Rohan, and she asked in a deceptively lazy tone, "Are you okay?"
Rohan's throat could have felt less bruised, but she nodded anyway. "I'm cool, in a glad-I'm-not-dead kind of way." Abruptly, she started shivering. The whole scene with Dr. Feel-Bad or Courtois or whatever his name was… it caught up with her all at once, a rush of terror that loosened her bowels. She had almost died – again. Trudie put an arm around her and held her until the shaking passed. Rohan gulped and put her face right against Trudie's neck, rubbing her nose in the softly scented skin. She felt the other woman's hair sliding over her cheek, an itchy tickling sensation that grounded her until the worst was over. Catching her breath, Rohan kissed Trudie, heedless of slick tears, and accepted a handful of Kleenex passed over the seat by Emerson.
"Okay, so the dead guy at Porter's place is Kapitan Lev Rachko, retired Russian submarine commander," Emerson said, as though Rohan's little bout of hysterics had not happened. Rohan was grateful, and sat wiping her wet face and blowing her nose while Emerson went on.
"It seems there's a hush-hush project cooked up between the U.S. and Russia involving the development of a silent submarine propulsion system," Emerson said, shifting the wheel and sending the heavy Lincoln off the highway and onto a rutted back road that seriously threatened the car's suspension. "A mini-sub was built and was being tested under Lake Squamish, because Dick Porter's the head honcho, and this is his neck of the woods. Yes, Tarnach, you really did see a submarine under the ice."
Rohan dropped the crumpled, damp Kleenex on the floor of the car and turned to Trudie, beaming, her earlier upset forgotten in the glow of triumph and vindication. "See? I wasn't crazy. I knew I saw that sub!"
"And here's the rest of our wacky tale," Emerson said. "Enter Anton Courtois – hacker, assassin and spy-of-all-trades. According to Porter, while hacking the Defense Department mainframe, Courtois came across some e-mails regarding the Poseidon project. Yeah, yeah, I know, every time I hear it I can't help thinking about Shelly Winters, but those guys at the DoD aren't exactly noted for their imaginative use of mythology. Anyway, Courtois is in New Hampshire to steal Poseidon… and it seems last night he succeeded. He must've killed Rachko and sent the mini-sub off with a contract crew. It's probably half-way to South America by now. There are drug czars who'd pay plenty for a silent and well-armed protector for their smuggling fleets."
"What about the Chinese?" Trudie asked.
"What about ‘em? I doubt Courtois would deal with the Chinese, since they're the ones who killed his father. Then again, espionage makes strange bedfellows. Who knows? The point is, Porter is doing us a favor. Homeland Security would probably put everybody under ‘protective custody' – which we know is just a euphemism for interrogation and Ghu knows what else while they scramble around and try to figure out just how much their cut-rate security's been compromised, and who the brass can blame for Poseidon being FUBARed. So… he's going to hold off on alerting the authorities to the dead body of Kapitan Rachko, and we're going to get the hell out of Dodge. By the time the black-hat boys start looking for us, we'll have vanished."
Rohan was stunned. "Forever? We have to hide… but I don't want to go away!"
"Liefje, it's only for a little while," Trudie soothed.
"Until some heads roll on Capitol Hill and we get the all-clear from Uncle Dick," Emerson said, working the brake as the Lincoln shuddered around a narrow curve. Snow fell in wet splats on the windshield, and the wipers squeaked a rhythm as they worked over the glass. "Don't worry. Annie's got it figured out, and I still have some contacts I can trust. It'll take about twenty-four hours to get us new identities, new passports, bank accounts… the works. How do you feel about being called Gladys?" Emerson chuckled. "Or maybe… Brittany?" The chuckle turned into an evil-overlord bwah-ha-ha-ha.
"I don't understand," Rohan said. "Why'd Courtois try to kill me?"
Emerson said under her breath, "Same reason everybody wants to kill you."
With malice aforethought, Rohan kicked the back of the driver's seat, almost sending Emerson chest-first into the steering wheel.
"Hey! Careful there, Tarnach! The backseat doesn't have airbags, you know!"
"So answer my question. If Courtois has what he wants, why's he after me?"
Trudie looked thoughtful. "You have a point, Rohan."
"Fine, she's got a point." Emerson loosened a hand from the wheel and waved it through the air. "Look, discuss this with Annie, okay? She's the brains of the outfit."
Rohan quieted down, thinking hard. Beside her, she felt Trudie relax ever-so-slightly, and she knew that no matter what happened, things would turn out all right.
At Copperhead Cove, Bonney was waiting for them inside a wooden A-frame house that was more a hunting/fishing lodge (and testament to testosterone-induced bad taste) than a cozy domicile. There was not a feminine touch to be seen anywhere. The antlers and dead animal heads made Rohan itch for chintz fabric swatches and yards of gingham.
After hearing about the attempt on Rohan's life in the hospital, Bonney frowned. "That doesn't make any sense. If Courtois has Poseidon, why is he still in New Hampshire?" Her fingers drummed on the arm of the sofa. "Why does he want Rohan dead?"
"Don't say it!" Rohan said, pointing a finger at Emerson, who slunk over to a chair and plopped down in it.
"Who, me?" Emerson replied, arching a dark brow and looking as innocent as one of Raphael's angels.
"Pipe down, children," Bonney said in her no-nonsense commander's voice, and Rohan felt her spine trying to snap straight. "All right… Poseidon runs on a closed-circuit pneumatic system using controlled high-pressure air-flow. No bubbles, no cavitation noise… silent propulsion unless some knuckle-dragger starts pounding Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida with a monkey wrench on the sanitary tanks."
"How come it's always Iron Butterfly's drum solo that people remember?" Emerson asked. "Gene Krupa was the master of the drum solo way before those hippies started experimenting with psychedelic music."
"Sweetheart, you can bang whatever you want," Bonney said, "but that isn't relevant right now. We're trying to figure out why Anton Courtois is lurking around, trying to kill Rohan, not set up a Battle of the Bands."
"Well, that would probably be a lot more fun than sitting in Dead Deer Town," Emerson grumbled. "All those glass eyeballs are creeping me out."
"This from the woman who collects Garbage Pail Kids," Rohan said, snorting.
"Hey, Heavin' Steven is cute, in a grossly barfing way," Emerson retorted.
"Gross being the pertinent word here."
"You're just jealous ‘cause I'm going to be the nation's Number One retailer of vintage Garbage Pail Kids cards and ephemera…" Emerson bit off whatever else she was going to say, her eyes going round. "Crap. That was s'posed to be a surprise."
Rohan was fascinated by the way Bonney's face went red, then white, then mottled with color that made her eyes brilliant as emerald glass. "Do you mean to tell me that you've been trading those cards while I was worried about our future?" Bonney asked, and oh Lordy, she did not look like the happiest of campers.
Emerson gulped, thus increasing Rohan's enjoyment by a factor of ten. "Well, I wanted it to be a surprise. It's a partnership with Lt. Uxolo – you remember her from the sailing ship, right? Anyway, she was looking for an investment thing, and I thought it would be nice to have an Internet shop selling GPK collectibles, and I've finally got a line on this guy who used to be a dealer, only he's looking to retire and I can get his stock at a discount… anyhow, what I mean is… I didn't mean to be mean, Annie. I know you've been left hanging, and I'm sorry. I just wanted everything perfect before I told you about it."
Bonney was silent for several seconds. She finally said, "Will you be taking a berth on the Bythos with me or not?"
"Of course I will!" Emerson threw her hands into the air. "Why do you think I've been in negotiations for weeks? Look, Uxolo's going to handle the actual inventory, the shipping, all that real-time jazz. I'll work on my laptop doing conference calls with clients, searching for rarities, electronic bank transfers, blah blah blah. I can work from any location, including a crappy research vessel in the middle of bum-f*ck nowhere!"
Bonney stared, and the skin on the back of Rohan's neck started to prickle. "You couldn't have told me this weeks ago?"
Emerson looked abashed. Under Rohan's fascinated gaze, she actually rubbed the toe of her shoe along the floor. "Sorry," she mumbled. "I wanted it to be a surprise."
"We'll talk about this later," Bonney said, and from her tone Rohan gathered that Emerson was forgiven, but that there would be payback.
"Now back to the original question… why does Courtois want to terminate Rohan?" Emerson asked.
"I don't know, but I've got a guess," Trudie said, and all eyes turned to her.
"Where is retired Admiral Porter?" Trudie asked. "Why is he encouraging us to run?"
"Oh my God," Bonney said, stricken with sudden understanding, the kind that landed like a lightning bolt, bringing unlooked-for illumination. "He's the one who stole the submarine. Rohan was an eyewitness…"
"And we started sniffing around because, Ghu forbid, we couldn't let Tarnach think she was crazy," Emerson groaned. "No good deed goes unpunished, damn it."
Rohan looked stunned. "So your Uncle Dick took the submarine?"
"It makes sense." Trudie turned to Bonney, spreading her hands apart helplessly. "I'm sorry, but Admiral Porter is the one person who is in the best place to steal the prototype. Kapitan Rachko would have trusted him, and believe me, ex-Soviet sub captains are notoriously paranoid."
"How did Rachko die?" Rohan asked.
"Bullet to the back of the head," Emerson answered. "Very efficient."
"A man like Rachko would not turn his back on anyone he did not consider a comrade," Trudie said.
Emerson made an impatient gesture. "Let's not go off half-cocked, kids. We don't have any proof that Dick's a dick, if you know what I mean."
"Why are we leaving the United States?" Trudie asked. A shared silent communication passed between the two experts in manipulation and lies. "Didn't Porter suggest it?"
"Um… yes," Emerson said. She shot Bonney an apologetic look. "Okay, if Porter is the black-hat dude, then here's how it probably went down. He had enough juice in D.C. to get appointed head of the top-secret mumbo-jumbo submarine project. The trial run was a success, so he decides to skedaddle with Poseidon and sell it off for a nice retirement nest-egg. Oh! Here's an idea… Porter knows he'll be the first one suspected when the sub disappears, so he needs a patsy. More than one patsy, preferably, to lure the pursuit away in different directions while he makes off scott free."
Another sickening realization struck Bonney. "Rohan, where did you get the idea to come to New Hampshire?"
"We got free first-class tickets, some prize or another. The tickets were legit." Rohan took hold of Trudie's hand, their fingers entwining. "They sent four tickets, so we thought of you. I mean, you're our friends and all, and the two rooms at the B&B were included, and I've been to Arcadia before…"
"So he gets the four of us to come to New Hampshire, where he's testing Poseidon, so that when the sub disappears and we disappear with it, the authorities will be looking for us," Bonney concluded, feeling ill.
"That sneaky son-of-a-b*tch. How long do you think he's had this plan in the works? He'd have had done his homework," Emerson snarled, jumping up in order to pace the room. "Porter must've decided that a retired Navy sub commander and an ex-CIA agent would make dang good suspects when Homeland Security started an investigation into the theft. The fact that we ran like spooked bunnies would only make us look more guilty."
"Porter must be controlling Courtois, too," Trudie said.
"I saw him here, lurking in the backyard. He took off when I recognized him." Emerson whirled around and slammed a fist against the wall. Bonney squashed the urge to go over and survey the damage to her partner's hand, especially when she noted the bloodstain that marred the wooden cladding. "We're seriously screwed," Emerson said, nursing her busted knuckles.
"If Courtois kills Rohan, and the rest of us scatter, it makes Porter's scenario more convincing. A falling-out among thieves," Bonney said. "Also, Courtois' presence – his threat – makes it more convincing that we should leave rather than push a confrontation."
"Porter made it easy, didn't he?" Emerson stood up straight. "Well, I'm not going to let Uncle Dick tank my future. Do you hear me? I'm not going to be left holding the goddamned bag while he swans off to Tahiti with a few million dollars in his pocket. I am not going to end up in f*ckin' Mexico paying off the local jefe to turn a blind eye while I hide from the law! F*ck that, and f*ck him, too!"
"I do not think any f*cking will be necessary." A new voice spoke from the doorway. Bonney had seen Emerson in action before, so when her partner's figure blurred and ended up across the room, holding the muzzle of a gun against the side of the strange man's head, she was not really surprised.
"Who are you?" Bonney asked, deciding that she might as well take charge of a complicated situation that appeared to be getting more complicated by the second.
"Alexi Fedorov Karpenko," he replied, dipping two fingers carefully into his inner jacket. Emerson tightened her grip, making him wince. "I am reaching for my identification only," he said.
Trudie also had her gun out, in a two-handed grip trained on Karpenko. She had already shoved Rohan behind her, shielding the plump woman from danger.
Emerson took the wallet he offered in her free hand, and without taking her eyes off him, tossed it in Bonney's direction. She caught it and studied the I.D. A hologram winked up at her, the symbol of the FSB, the Federal'naia Sluzhba Bezopasnosti – Russia's answer to the American FBI. The FSB had taken over the duties of the KGB after that organization was disbanded in 1991. "Looks good to me," Bonney said.
"Everybody has document forgers," Trudie pointed out.
Karpenko frowned. "You do not have retinal or DNA verification equipment here, so you may have to take my identification at face value."
Emerson shook him gently. "Bubba, right now, I'm strung tight and you're not helping. What do you want and why are you here? Answer truthfully, ‘cause I'm about two seconds away from stripping the insulation off that lamp cord and finding out how immune you are to shock therapy."
"FSB has been keeping surveillance on Kapitan Rachko, with permission of Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security," Karpenko said. His cool, Nordic blue gaze caught and held Bonney's; she could read sincerity there. "I was his action officer. When he did not report in this morning, and I could not contact him, I came here."
"His body's on the ice, tucked under the jetty on the pond," Bonney said, ignoring Emerson's hiss of disapproval. "He was shot."
Karpenko nodded, seemingly at ease for a man who had a 9mm gun jammed against his temple. "This, I know. I found the body earlier. Admiral Porter… he said I should wait until the FBI came to take charge of the scene."
"Let me guess… he left to alert the go-to team." Emerson's mouth twisted into a snarl. "Annie, your uncle is one heck of a player. He's diddled the Navy out a submarine, and the FSB out of a sub commander."
"Why would he kill Rachko? Oh, Amelia, put that thing away," Bonney said. "You, too, Trudie. Mr. Karpenko, we'd like answers, if that's possible."
"How do I know that you did not kill Rachko?" he asked, as Emerson tucked her gun away.
"See? I told you, Annie. We're holding the goddamned bag!" Emerson's blue gaze blazed with ire, like flames doused with copper chloride.
"Amelia, try not to destroy all the walls, and I'd prefer your hand remained as intact as possible," Bonney said crisply, assuming her commander's mantle with ease. "We didn't kill Kapitan Rachko. In fact, none of us have ever met the gentleman alive. You may have to take my words at face value."
He nodded again, an acknowledgement that she had successfully tossed his own words back at him. "Very well. What is your official standing?"
"We don't have any. Annie and I are retired – she's U.S. Navy, I'm CIA. Trudie van Geer – the cute one – is Dutch AIVD, and the other one is just a pain in the butt." Emerson said, smirking at Rohan, who stuck out her tongue.
"You are… civilians?" Karpenko pronounced the word with horror.
"Not exactly," Bonney hastened to correct.
"We figure Porter set us up," Emerson said. "Us girls – with the exception of Tarnach over there, who's supposed to be pushing up daisies – are the patsies. We've been brought here to take the blame for the theft of Poseidon and probably Rachko's death, too. Although you being in situ when the cavalry shows up will be an interesting wrinkle."
"When I was a midshipman," Bonney said, overriding whatever other nonsense was about to come out of Emerson's mouth, "my sea daddy taught me the two most useful questions to ask in any crisis situation." She had everyone's attention, and she went on, "What do we have, and what do we need? It seems to me that what we have is a mess, and what we need is to develop a plan to deal with it."
"Brilliant deduction. Tell me, Sherlock, what was your first clue?" Emerson's sarcasm could cut to the bone. Bonney waved her off with a scowl.
"We need to find Admiral Porter and the submarine," Rohan said.
"He could be anywhere by now…" Bonney broke off. "No, he couldn't. He hasn't had time to disassemble the sub."
"Lake Squamish is land-locked and iced over. He can't escape," Emerson contributed in a much more thoughtful tone.
"So he's hiding," Rohan concluded. "He must be hiding in a cove."
Karpenko grimaced and ran a hand over his close-cropped blonde hair. "It would take too long to search nine miles of lake. And, of course, the submarine can stay underwater almost indefinitely, as long as the batteries for the air scrubbers don't run out of power."
"But if the authorities started a search using sonar, they could theoretically blanket the whole lake with a sonar net, and Porter would be trapped. Unless…" Rohan got a far-away look in her eyes.
"Unless?" Bonney prompted.
"There are underwater cave systems in Lake Squamish. My cousin and I used to go diving, but we were careful, hardly went beyond the entrance, although he used to go by himself a lot. It's very dangerous," Rohan said. "There are no permanent guide lines because the caves are unstable, and no one's supposed to be diving there anyway. The Sheriff's department had a locked grill installed a few years back, but some joker with an underwater acetylene torch keeps uninstalling it, last I heard. Anyway, there are some caves where a mini-sub could hide… like Serling's Tunnel, the Mousehole, Thunder Blue, the Devil's Superhighway…"
"If nobody's supposed to go there, how come the caves are named?" Emerson interrupted.
"Because people don't always do what they're told!" Rohan sounded impatient. "There are always macho idiots with more bravado than sense who just have to thumb their noses at the law and do whatever the heck they want. Like my cousin Pete, for example."
"Sonar wouldn't penetrate very far into a cave," Bonney said, interrupting in her turn. "The sub would have limited maneuverability in such an environment."
"The Devil's Superhighway," Rohan said with no hesitation. "From what I remember, to get there it's a pretty much a straight shot along the Yellow Brick Road. The sidewall to sidewall distance of the Devil's Superhighway exceeds a hundred feet, and the floor-to-ceiling is about thirty-two feet. Would that be enough room?"
Karpenko said, "Just enough, if the navigator is good. Poseidon is forty-four feet long. Volume is the same as the old AS-28 – three thousand, eight hundred and eighty-four cubic feet… meaning about five days of air without the scrubbers. The batteries will last approximately two days without recharging."
"So Dick can squat under the ice for a week before he has to surface. Not bad. He could conceivably avoid capture if he's clever," Emerson said.
"That means we need to get to him first." An idea occurred to her, and Bonney's mouth stretched into an evil, wicked, nasty smile. She was feeling somewhat bloodthirsty; it was hard not to when the man who had dandled her on his knee, let her eat the icing roses on his birthday cake, and saluted her at her Naval Academy graduation had turned into a traitor who was capable of betraying her and everyone she loved for the sake of Mammon. "I know just how to do it, too," she concluded.
"Do tell," Emerson drawled.
"Not yet, Amelia. First… I need to make a phone call."
As it turned out, things were not quite so simple. The phone call turned out to be a video conference call bounced off a geosynchronous communications satellite and routed through Pakistan, Nigeria and Bolivia before reaching the Bythos marine research and salvage vessel, cruising the Golfa de Papagayo off the Yucatan Peninsula.
Emerson set up the link on her laptop. She did not trust Karpenko, mainly because he had capitulated too easily in her opinion. The paranoia index at the Appendix – the nine-story Lubyanka tower that used to be an old KGB haunt, and now housed the FSB's headquarters – was even higher than at Homeland Security. By rights, Karpenko ought to have called for back-up when he discovered Rachko's body, regardless of Porter's reassurances. He was behaving in an anomalous fashion, outside of the expectations that Emerson's experience had taught her, and it was making her a little bit crazy. She could not figure out his angle, so she kept casting him long looks while her fingers danced over the keyboard.
Finally – finally! – she reached the Bythos and Ms. Lydia Cadman, former U.S. Congresswoman in charge of the multi-national project. Lydia was a svelte auburn-haired beauty who reminded Emerson of Lynda Carter, all sculpted cheekbones and vivid blue eyes. After making the connection, Emerson let Bonney take over the video conference while she went to stand near Karpenko, keeping watch on him out of the corner of her eye.
Typical Slav, she thought. Broad flat face, prominent bones like spars under pale skin that had seen more snow than sunlight, a thin and almost lipless mouth. He looks like a poster child for the old school Soviet Committee for State Security, she thought. Aryan as hell. The S.S. would've taken a shine to him, too, back in the day.
"With one phone call, I can have a dozen FSB agents here, along with Homeland Security, your FBI and also Navy security," Karpenko said, startling her. His English was very good, with only a trace of guttural accent.
"Then why aren't you?" she replied.
He shrugged, his shoulder moving beneath an indigo blue Armani jacket. "Perhaps I prefer to wait and see how events take shape before I commit myself one way or the other." When he grinned, his teeth were too white, too even to be a product of the Russian healthcare system.
"Whatever floats your boat," Emerson said, shifting slightly away from him. "Just know this… you mess with my friends, I'll put a bullet in your brain. You hurt my lover, and I'll make sure you're three days dying, and every agonizing second will feel like a week all by itself. Do you dig me, Alexi?"
"Da, da, I understand." He flapped a hand at her, but the seriousness of his expression belied the flippancy of his tone. "You shoot me like that animal, Chikatilo. One bullet to the back of the head, shot behind right ear, ending life like this." Karpenko snapped his fingers.
Emerson stuck her hand inside the heather grey hoodie that she wore, touching her fingers to the butt of the gun in her shoulder holster. "Something like that, you betcha."
Bonney finished the call. She turned around in the chair and said, "Lydia can have the remote submersible Thetis here in three days. It's an unmanned vehicle, but I think we can use it to confirm Poseidon's presence in the Devil's Superhighway before we go to Condition Red. I'm sure the Navy and everyone else would prefer not to descend en masse on Arcadia and cause a panic, not to mention a media frenzy, if it turns out not to be necessary."
"Can we afford to wait three whole days?" Rohan asked.
Emerson frowned. She had forgotten the most annoying woman in the world was still in the room with them. "Where's Uncle Dick going to go? He can't exactly carry a forty foot submarine down the highway. That'd be a tad conspicuous."
Rohan scowled back at her. "I was just asking."
"Well, I was just telling."
Bonney looked pinched around the eyes and mouth. "Girls, can we deep-six the bickering for five whole minutes? It would make a change from the usual."
Whoa! Annie sounded like she was royally peeved. It was all Rohan's fault. Emerson gave Rohan a ‘die, bitch!' glare, and the woman reciprocated with a, ‘f*ck you!' nostril flare that might have been more impressive had it come from someone who was built for speed and viciousness rather than comfort. Glimpsing the growing annoyance in Bonney's eyes, Emerson tried a sickly grin of apology. When that did not work, she heaved a sigh and went over to the seated woman, trying not to hear Karpenko's silent but nonetheless perceptible opinion (‘pussy whipped') of the scenario.
"So, I'm guessing you're having a problem with the bug that crawled up your butt and died." Emerson waited for a reaction, but Bonney stared straight ahead, a muscle in her jaw working. "Hey, babe… I'm sorry," Emerson murmured, squatting down beside the chair. Trying to be funny was not helping, she realized. "Are you okay?"
"Not really." Bonney blew out a shaky breath. "He was at my Academy graduation, Amelia. He sent me flowers on my birthday. I had barbeques at his house, for God's sake!"
"Uncle Dick, yeah. That sucks."
"It bothers me that I misjudged him so badly. I thought he was family."
"Sometimes, the people closest to us disappoint us the worst." Emerson laid a hand on Bonney's knee. "Like me. I'm sorry, babe. Really. I knew you were getting antsy about the whole Bythos thing, and I just wanted to surprise you. I didn't mean to make you worry."
"I understand that." Bonney's clear green gaze was relatively untroubled. "Yes, I was a trifle upset with you, Amelia, but that's because you kept me hanging in suspense for weeks. This thing with Uncle… I mean, Admiral Porter… it makes me question myself. I've always thought I was a pretty good judge of character."
"You were. I mean, you still are!" Emerson was not one for self-reflection, or agonizing over things that could not be changed. "Look, Annie… you got shafted. It happens. Heck, in the business I used to be in, I never trusted anyone. It's way too easy to drop your guard, to let somebody in that you think is sincere, and then get burned when it turns out they're less interested in your assets than in your assets." She tapped the side of her head. "Don't get me started on the Chinese and their specially trained seduction agents. Anyway, one of my instructors at Camp Swampy taught us that any human connection – any at all, from your girlfriend to your big fat momma – carries a serious potential for betrayal."
Bonney's eyes opened wide. "That's… that's… barbaric," she choked.
"But true. Of course, I don't think that way anymore. Don't beat yourself up too much, babe. You couldn't have predicted Porter's behavior. Face it, you don't know a whole lot about the man anyway, do you? Just that he was nice enough to show up at various points in your life and parcel out thoughtful gifts on important occasions."
"When you put it that way…" Bonney suddenly smiled and looped an arm around Emerson's neck, drawing her closer. "You're right. Uncle Dick isn't important. You are."
"Aw, shucks." Emerson felt heat and color flooding into her cheeks.
"I'm glad we had this chat,' Bonney said, right against her lips, and Emerson lost herself briefly in a kiss.
"Why don't you two get a room?" Rohan cried.
Emerson thought about the knife hidden in a quick-release sheath strapped to her forearm, and decided decapitation was too messy. "Shut your pie hole," she snapped.
Bonney warned, "Amelia…"
"Yeah, okay, whatever." Emerson decided that she did not care what Rohan, Trudie or Karpenko thought. She leaned in and kissed Bonney again.
Her instructor at Camp Swampy was full of crap, anyway.
Rohan was happy to have escaped the clutches of Bonney and Emerson. She was also happy to have eluded Trudie, who swallowed her story about visiting a cousin with surprising ease. Actually, it was not entirely a lie. Rohan did intend to visit her cousin's dive shop in Arcadia. It was closed for the winter season, but she knew that Peter always hid a spare key under the dead potted geranium that stood next to the door. His father had done the same thing back in the days when she had spent summer and Christmas vacations there. Once in the lot, she parked the rental car she had borrowed, and headed straight for the terra cotta pot. Aha! The key was there. Humming to herself, Rohan opened the door
Once inside the store, she went up and down the aisles, gathering the things she would need. Cave diving required different equipment than recreational diving. First, a mask without a snorkel; a snorkel served no purpose in a cave because it caused unnecessary drag and was an entanglement danger. Adjustable non-split toe fins with spring-heel straps; dry immersion neoprene suit with hood; double aluminum cylinders with DIN fittings, primary and secondary regulators (Scubapro Thermal Insulation Systems, guaranteed not to freeze and cause a free-flow problem), and a dual orifice isolation manifold; submersible pressure gauge (an ultra accurate, brass encased Bourdon tube calibrated in 100 psi increments); a multi-gas Trimex wrist computer that functioned as a combination digital depth gauge and bottom timer; and a wrist light powered by a 12-volt nickel metal hydride battery, plus two additional back-up lights that she stashed in the thigh pockets of the suit.
Underneath the 7mm thick Body Glove dry suit, Rohan wore a base layer of ‘Weezle skin' – lightweight, one hundred percent polyester long-sleeved shirts and trousers that would wick perspiration away from her skin, and was stretchy enough to be comfortable. Getting into the dry suit was an exercise in strength and patience, but she managed, even if by the end she was out of breath and wishing she had the time for a nice lie-down. The neoprene suit also made her feel like the world's biggest stuffed sausage. Accompanied by much huffing and puffing, Rohan managed to get the rest of the equipment into the car, and drove out to Lake Squamish, her movements stiff since her limbs bent only with difficulty.
It had been many years since she and Peter had snuck out to Nelson's Hole and gone diving together, daring each other to go further and further into the cave system. Neither of them had made it past the Keyhole when they were together (what Pete did on his own was another story), but afterwards, they had fortified themselves with illicit beer and cold meatloaf sandwiches before returning to his parents, to tell agreed-upon lies about scuba diving for abandoned bicycles and soda cans. Rohan found that she still remembered the route. Very little had changed; the little twisting track that led to Nelson's Hole was still there, and just as wrist-wrenching to navigate as it always was.
Rohan finished her preparations while standing on the snow-covered bank, surrounded by winter-dead trees. She pulled a 7mm neoprene hood over her head, then the mask and other equipment. The ice had been recently breached; there was a big hole about the size of a Buick in the surface of the lake, and the nights had not been cold enough to make it freeze over again.
She donned the fins and waddled like an overweight duck until she could jump into the hole, and let the black water carry her down.
"Tell me again where Rohan said she was going." Bonney remained calm; years of submarine command gave her plenty of experience to draw upon.
"She was going to Pete's house, her cousin Pete," Trudie said. She seemed outwardly calm, but Bonney recognized the faint trill of anxiety that colored her movements.
"Last name?" Emerson asked. When Trudie shook her head, Emerson sighed. "Darned annoying woman can't do anything normal. There's an assassin after her skin, and she takes off, doesn't answer her phone, and you let her go!"
Bonney was not going to let anyone play the blame game. "That's enough, Amelia! Accusations aren't productive."
"Yeah, yeah, if you say so." Emerson backed down anyway, and Trudie's stiff posture, reminiscent of an offended cat raising its hackles, slowly relaxed.
"I did not think…" Trudie gritted her teeth, looking more like a mother wildcat deprived of her young than a fluffy kitten with pigtails. "How would Courtois know we were here? Does he have this house under surveillance?" She swung around to pin Emerson with a glare. "If he's been spying on us.... shouldn't you be out there looking for him, Amelia? Didn't you do reconnaissance before you brought us to Copperhead Cove? "
Emerson scowled. "I did reconnaissance, damn it. And an electronics sweep, too. And I checked to be sure nobody had hacked into the cameras and the rest of the security system. The house and grounds are clean."
"Then you know he wasn't watching the house, and it's likely that Rohan hasn't been kidnapped or otherwise coerced." Bonney stood and clasped her hands behind her back, an old habit that helped her think. "What, exactly, did Rohan say to you?" she asked Trudie. "Not just about Pete, but in general conversation."
Trudie's brows scrunched together in thought. "She said that waiting three days for the submersible was too long. Rohan has not a lot of patience, you know."
"Wait…" Trudie held up a hand. "This Pete… he and Rohan used to go diving on Lake Squamish when they were younger."
Bonney felt her inner alarms going off. "Diving?"
"He runs a scuba shop in Arcadia… gloiende godverdomme! Rohan's gone to find Poseidon! She's still recovering from pneumonia and she's ice diving!" Trudie shot out of the chair as if scalded, and headed for the front door. She was intercepted by Emerson.
"Rohan took the car, remember? Do you have any idea where on this nine miles of lake she might be? No? Planning to go on foot? Then wait here, put your coat on, grab any supplies you need, and wait for me." Emerson grabbed her own coat and put it on quickly, not bothering to button it up or tie a scarf around her neck. She was half-way out of the front door before Bonney thought to ask, "Where are you going?"
"To steal the neighbor's car," Emerson replied, and the door slammed shut behind her.
In the meantime, to keep busy, Bonney tried persuading Trudie that a warm coat was preferable to an arsenal of weaponry, although the woman still insisted on arming herself to the teeth, including several guns secreted about her person, nasty looking knives strapped here and there, a flash-bang grenade and a wire garrote. Like Emerson, Trudie seemed to feel undressed without the ability to apply deadly force at a whim.
After what seemed like hours but was actually less than five minutes, Emerson returned. "Hummer, fully fueled, snow tires and ready to hit the road," she said shortly, and eyed Trudie with obvious criticism. "Going to start a war, kiddo?"
"Maybe," Trudie replied, looking defiant.
"Whatever. Just don't kill too many people, ‘cause that's way too much paperwork to deal with during the Christmas holidays," Emerson said. She turned to Bonney. "What about Karpenko?"
The FSB agent had left the A-frame house earlier in the day, and they had not seen him since. Bonney shook her head. "We can't worry about him now." She grabbed the telephone book, and checked the SCUBA listings in the yellow pages. "There's one dive shop in Arcadia, owned by Peter Braithwaite." Bonney cross-checked with the white pages. "Okay, here's his number. I'll call him on the cell while we're en route."
The stolen Hummer had a good heating system, and Emerson was – for once – trying not to drive like a maniac. Bonney called Peter Braithwaite's house, and got the man himself. He remembered where he and his cousin used to go diving, and upon learning that Rohan was in danger, offered to get up a rescue attempt.
"There's always some dumb tourist or another who thinks its cool to get lost down in Nelson's Hole," Braithwaite said. "We've got volunteer rescue divers registered with the Sheriff's office. I donate the equipment."
"How close is the nearest volunteer to Nelson's Hole?"
"About a three minute drive. Name's George Foyle. Want me to alert him?"
"Yes. We don't know for sure that Rohan's planning a dive, but I'd prefer to be cautious. Go ahead and send Mr. Foyle out to Nelson's Hole. I'll call you when we have more information."
Emerson spat out a curse in Spanish. "We've got company," she warned.
Bonney checked the rear view mirror. They were being followed by a dark sedan with tinted windows that could not have been more obviously government issue had it been covered in Day-Glo stickers that proclaimed exactly that. She wound up the conversation with Braithwaite and put her cell phone away. "Karpenko?"
"Maybe. I can't get a visual to confirm."
"What do they want?" Trudie squirmed around in the back seat and peered out of the rear window.
"Do I look like a mind reader?" Emerson gritted through her teeth. "Annie, where are we going, or am I supposed to just drive around aimlessly?"
"Do you want to lead Karpenko – or whoever's in the following car – straight to Rohan?" Bonney countered.
"Great Ghu! Does it matter at this point? Is Karpenko the bad guy? The Russians are our allies. I thought the black hat here was being worn by Dick Porter."
"Okay, you're right. I think your paranoia must be wearing off on me." Bonney reeled off the set of directions she had gotten from Braithwaite.
Emerson listened, then turned onto a side road. "That's not too far from here, which is good, because there's only so long I'm willing to wait for the pleasure of kicking Rohan's butt."
"How do you Americans say? I've got dibs," Trudie said from the back seat. She looked grim.
When they reached Nelson's Hole, they found the rental car there, and no sign of Rohan. There was also a big hole in the ice. The government car pulled up, disgorging Karpenko and another man with curly hair and designer sunglasses. Both Trudie and Emerson reacted to the newcomer, pulling out their guns and taking aim at the same time, their bodies moving in perfect synchronization. Karpenko held up his hands, as did the other man. Without hesitation, Emerson pounced. "Courtois!"
She had Anton Courtois bent over the hood of the car in an eye-blink. Trudie was there, too, pressing the muzzle of her gun against his head. Karpenko nodded to Bonney and said, "Déjà vu."
"Is he working with you?" Bonney asked, jerking her chin at Courtois.
"Yes. In a manner of speaking." At Emerson's glare, Karpenko amended, "He is working for me now. Admiral Porter has reneged on his fee. I vouch for him; he is my responsibility. We are all on the same side now."
"He tried to kill Rohan!" Trudie growled.
Courtois lay submissively on the hood of the car. "Not personal," he said. "Just business."
"And if I put a bullet through your head, it will not matter if it is personal or business, you smerige Belgische kankerlijer!"
Emerson seemed to be agreeing with Trudie; at least, she was making no move to stop the other woman from killing Courtois. Bonney was ambivalent herself; the only reason she would have for preventing Courtois' death right here, right now was the fact that the man might have some information for them on Porter's plans. She said as much to Emerson, who looked disappointed but pried Trudie off the man without too much trouble.
"Did Porter steal Poseidon?" Bonney asked.
"He did," Courtois answered, brushing the front of his coat free of melting snow.
"Why did he hire you?" was Bonney's next question.
Trudie had not put her gun away yet. She slashed it through the air, perilously close to Courtois' face. To his credit, the man did not flinch. "Rohan is in trouble!" Trudie spat. "She is down there, under the ice, and you want to interrogate the man who tried to kill her!"
"As I said, I have nothing against Ms. Tarnach. I was following orders. Her death was meant to reinforce the idea that your own government was hunting you. But I was interrupted by Ms. van Geer." He turned to Bonney, speaking to her as if she was the most reasonable person there. "I was hired by Porter as a free-lance security agent."
"The dirty jobs guy." Emerson shrugged. "Home projects almost always use foreign talent to do the necessary but unpalatable things. Plausible deniability again; these days, most agencies are more concerned with ‘cover-your-butt' than actual success. If a foreign agent gets caught with a smoking gun, Homeland Security can detain him and ship him home in secret, or make him disappear. It happens."
Karpenko nodded. "We knew of Courtois' presence in New Hampshire, and were assured by Porter that it was necessary."
"So the story about him hacking into the DoD was utter bilge-water." Bonney made it a statement rather than a question.
Trudie looked mutinous, but subsided when Emerson bent over her and murmured something in her ear. Bonney fervently did not want to know what promises or lies Emerson had made to get the Dutch woman to cooperate.
Emerson scouted around and came up with a crushed paper rectangle – the business card that she had given to Porter. It seemed to corroborate his presence there.
Suddenly, bubbles burst up from the surface of the hole, the black water gurgling. Emerson immediately abandoned her search and trained her gun on the hole; Trudie followed suit. Karpenko and Courtois hung back, although both men drew disconcertingly large guns. Smart remarks about penile compensation sprang to mind. Bonney suppressed them, as well as any hint of amusement, because a submarine was about as big a phallic symbol as one could get and still remain on Earth, so to speak.
A figure in a neoprene suit emerged from the icy waters, scrabbling at the edges of the hole with black gloved hands. Bonney started forward, but Emerson shook her head. "Not Rohan," she said, as the figure heaved itself out of the water. It was impossible for Bonney to tell if it was a man or a woman – the suit was too heavy, and the layers worn underneath turned every figure blocky – but she trusted Emerson. Karpenko and Courtois went out onto the ice, sliding a little at every other step, and hauled the man back to the bank.
It was retired Admiral Dick Porter.
He stood shivering, his breath harsh and panting.
Bonney asked him, "Where is my friend, Rohan Tarnach? Have you seen her?"
Porter's mouth tightened. His gaze was flat and unfriendly, a far cry from the ‘good uncle' that she remembered. He jerked against the men who held him by either arm, but did not manage to get free. "Where's my goddamned submarine?" he replied.
Bonney stared at him, shocked.
Being under the ice in a dry immersion suit was a lot different from almost drowning, Rohan decided, although the biting not-cold still trickled over the exposed parts of her face like razor blades, thin slices that left behind a sensation of peeled skin. The rest of her body was just plain cold, as if she was standing in front of a refrigerator. It was not comfortable, but not deadly either – not yet. Exposure to low temperatures over a prolonged period of time was just as bad as immersion without protection. Precious heat would leech from her body's core temperature, leaving her vulnerable. Rohan figured she had less than an hour in total before she was in serious trouble.
As she followed her flashlight's beam into the murky depths of Lake Squamish, Rohan wondered if maybe – just maybe – she might have been a wee bit too hasty in wanting to find the missing submarine herself.
I wish I'd brought a thermos of coffee, she thought, seeing the rounded shape of the opening of the Keyhole close by. Rohan angled her descent, each kicking stroke taking her closer to her goal. Why had she decided not to wait for the submersible to confirm her earlier sighting? Stubborn as a mule, Rohan thought, grinning around the regulator in her mouth. Emerson, Anne… even Trudie thought I was crazy, even if she didn't say it out loud. It might have been immature, even childish, but Rohan did not care. She had to prove herself, if only to wipe the condescending expression off Emerson's pretty face. To that end, she had brought an underwater digital camera tucked into the thigh pocket of her suit.
Her plan was to go in, take pictures of Poseidon, and get out. And possibly afterwards, do a funky chicken victory dance after presenting the evidence, while Emerson groveled in apology. Hah! Take that, spy chick!
There was a great deal of sediment in the water; the cold had not killed the growth of weeds that flourished at the bottom of the lake. The rocks that surrounded the black gaping mouth of the Keyhole were slimy with algae. Rohan felt slick nastiness trailing over her face as she entered the cave. She paused about a body length inside to tie the end of an ice resistant #36 line to a convenient spar; the remainder was on a spool, clipped to her belt. The cave system did not have permanent guidelines.
As an additional precaution, Rohan had brought a bag full of self-adhesive arrow-shaped stickers made of a special polymer that was filled with the same chemical solution as glow-sticks. She snapped an arrow, watched it bloom into greenish-yellow light, and pressed it against the cave wall, pointing towards the entrance. She would do this every ten yards or so. The stickers were flexible and would cling to any surface, no matter how rough.
Rohan swam through the gloom, illuminated only by the light on her wrist. The beam seemed feeble in the eternal darkness, sweeping here and there to reveal stone and sand and more stone. She by-passed the first junction, which led to Montezuma's Revenge, and found herself at a wide corridor that formed a gentle U-bend. Rohan tried to remember what Pete had described to her years ago. He and some of his buddies had mapped the system during a summer vacation, although that project had ended when their friend, Les Sheppard, had blacked-out and died, his body found bobbing against the low ceiling in Thunder Hole.
She took the right curve around the bend; it quickly straightened out and opened up into the Devil's Superhighway, an unbelievably big space where couples could have waltzed the night away had it been above ground. The sand here was white and full of fossils, darker ammonites the size of silver dollars scattered here and there. And above her Rohan saw the elongated ovoid shape of the submarine that she had first glimpsed while dying.
It was much smaller than the full-sized nuclear powered Saber, but Poseidon was also covered in a skin of black elastomeric acoustic tiles to reduce her sound signature even further. There were sonar arrays and torpedo tubes as well as bow, rudder and stern planes. There was no sail at the top of the vessel, but she spotted a periscope and what might be a retractable radio/ESM mast. The silent propulsion system was strange to her eye, although there was an additional diesel engine with a single propeller screw. Rohan swam closer, fumbling in her thigh pouch for the digital camera.
She took several pictures from various angles, using the flash because there was no way she could coordinate the camera with the flashlight attached to her wrist. Poseidon appeared to be modeled on the Navy's old Advanced SEAL Delivery System – a mini-submarine capable of delivering eight SEAL swimmers plus equipment, or rescuing disabled submarine personnel under combat situations. Rohan had seen the schematics in a Tom Clancy book. When she skimmed along the bottom of Poseison, she realized that there was a hatch here, most likely leading to a central dry hyperbaric lock in/lock out chamber and undersea ocean interface. Unfortunately, the hatch could be opened only from the submarine's control room. Rohan wished she could get inside.
As if her wish had been heard, the hatch opened.
Rohan hastily backed away, hiding behind a stern plane. A figure in black neoprene exited, and swam away from the submarine. Seizing her chance, heart pounding hard against her ribs, Rohan swam inside the chamber after unclipping her guideline spool and letting it sink to the bottom. She hoisted herself up the ladder, runnels of water pouring off her suit, and managed to get her fins and mask off inside the chamber – a small round room that was almost entirely empty except for a narrow steel bench that ran the circumference, and the hole in the center that was filled with cold black water. The inner hatch hissed opened when she pressed a green button to equalize the pressure, and Rohan entered the submarine.
It was not warm inside Poseidon; she shivered, feeling as if the freezing water had been warmer than this atmosphere that smelled unpleasantly like unwashed human body, old food, stale air and an undercurrent of ozone. She also detected a trace of men's aftershave, redolent of rosemary and bitter orange. Empty MRE packets were scattered like dead leaves. She followed the trail to the control room, not spotting another soul along the way.
The control room was small and stuffed with equipment. Here was a sonar console, integrated into the ‘Christmas tree' board of red and green lights that showed open and closed hatches; there was also a communications system, esoteric monitors that were currently blank, paired with switches and calibrated dials. Rohan also recognized the navigation system - controls for the ballast tanks, controls for the hydroplanes, depth gauges, speed gauges and everything else needed to steer the submarine in the three-dimensional world that was beneath the waves, plus a weapons control panel. The plotting table folded down from the wall; above it was mounted a NAVStar and GPS receiver. In the center was the periscope. She thought that Poseidon could be efficiently controlled by two people, mainly because she could not really see more than that squeezing into the restricted space unless they were supermodels or otherwise very, very skinny.
On a whim, Rohan went to the navigation station and sat down.
The command center lit up at once, with systems going operational one after the other. Once she had recovered from the surprise, Rohan caught her breath, then reached out and touched the steering yoke. A slow grin spread across her face. Deliberately, she got up and prowled around until she found a control marked ‘Outer Hatch – Ocean Interface – LI/LO.' She flicked the switch, and watched the red light indicator on the ‘Christmas tree' console turn green. The hatch was closed, and Poseidon was good to go.
Rohan cracked her knuckles and sat down in the navigator's chair again. She could do this. She could really do this! Better than pictures, better than any anecdote… Rohan could steer the stolen submarine out of Nelson's Hole. That would be an even bigger coup! She closed her eyes, recalling the easy route. It would be a snap. The limited space crammed with equipment meant that almost everything she needed was within arm's reach. The passive sonar console was there, but she could keep one eye on it, and one on the depth gauge, and if she had a third eye…
Okay, not a piece of cake, but doable. Definitely doable.
The sonar headphones had a stretchy cord that reached to the navigator's chair. Feeling a mixture of confidence, exhilaration and sheer terror, Rohan grabbed hold of the steering yoke, and began the three-point process of turning Poseidon around.
In your face, Amelia Peabody Emerson! Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah!
She kept grinning well after her face began to ache.
"What do you mean, your submarine is missing?" Emerson asked, feeling like the situation was completely FUBARed; the pooch had been screwed, blued and tattooed, not to mention SNAFUed. She quelled the urge to keep knuckle-punching Porter in the testicles until he spilled all his secrets like a busted piñata.
He had taken off his hood, and Bonney had allowed him to remove the tanks and equipment belt, but the neoprene suit was all he had to wear. Porter had wrapped his arms around himself in a vain attempt to preserve his body warmth. Emerson would have bet a year's pension that his teeth weren't chattering only because he was too proud to unclench his jaw. He had to answer the question, though, so he opened his mouth just enough to say, "I mean, it's gone. It's not where it's supposed to be."
"How the hell can you lose a submarine? It's not like you left your Honda parked in the mall lot along with fifteen thousand other Hondas."
Bonney touched her arm, and Emerson yielded. "Admiral, tell us what happened with Poseidon," Bonney said. When he looked stubborn, she added, "I'm sure Mr. Karpenko will be happy to demonstrate FSB interrogation techniques, and I know that Amelia would welcome an opportunity to show the CIA's preferred methods for comparison's sake."
"Darned straight," Emerson said, staring hard into his eyes and giving him the ‘I run with scissors' maniac's grin.
Porter ignored her and fastened his attention on Bonney. "Yes, I took Poseidon. You have no idea, Annie, no idea. Thirty years I gave the Navy. I was wounded twice in combat, saved dozens of lives if not hundreds. When I retired – when I should have been covered in glory – I got no respect. None!" And there followed a woeful tale about a glitch involving his pension check, and the weeks of degradation and humiliation that had occurred, wrestling with a demonically complex and indifferent bureaucracy.
"I had to crawl on my belly! I had to suck up to a pimply-faced, cappuccino drinking, Blackberry obsessed little twink whose greatest thrill was having an admiral at his mercy!" Porter was almost howling with indignation. "I had to kowtow, jump through hoops, bend over and take it, god damn them all! I tried to pull strings, but no one took me seriously."
Bonney was gaping openly, stunned. At last, she pulled herself together. "So you're telling us that you stole a top secret submarine, killed one person and attempted to kill another, not to mention engineering a set-up, because you didn't get one lousy retirement check?"
"It's the principle of the thing," Porter insisted.
"Okay, does insanity run in families? No, wait… you're not really related to this loon, thank Ghu," Emerson said to Bonney. She turned to Porter. "So what was the deal?"
"There's a man who was going to buy Poseidon… a Mexican smuggler named Pulidas. But the submarine's not there. I was hiding it inside the underwater caves. When Spring came and the ice melted, I planned to take the sub to Greyhound Cove. Some of Pulidas' men were coming to disassemble it and take it to Florida."
"Where Poseidon would be reassembled," Bonney said, "and it's just an easy hop across the Gulf of Mexico from there."
"Yes. I went out a couple of hours ago via the ocean interface – there's a cabin about a five minute walk away where I've stashed some supplies – and when I returned to the cave, the submarine was gone."
Bonney considered for a moment. "Could one person navigate Poseidon?"
"I did it."
"Rohan is on the submarine," Bonney said. This was no conjecture; that sounded like a fact, and Emerson could not deny the logic of it. Rohan was stubborn and proud; this was just the sort of crazy scheme that would appeal to someone who lacked common sense.
"I'm going to kill her," Emerson said, and Trudie spared no time in saying, "Not if I get to her first, you won't."
Porter also looked horrified. "The default setting is silent propulsion," he said. "You'll never find Poseidon with sonar. If she's taken the submarine out under the ice…"
"There aren't many places where the ice has cracked open enough to allow a submarine the size of Poseidon to surface," Bonney concluded. "If she's lost… we probably won't find her until the Spring thaw."
Trudie spat something in Dutch that sounded truly vile.
"The most annoying woman in the world strikes again," Emerson said wearily. "So what are we going to do?"
Bonney pressed her lips together; she had on her ‘determined' face, the one that Emerson imagined that Fletcher Christian had worn just before leading the mutiny on the Bounty. "We're going to put our heads together and figure out where Rohan might have gone. It's been an hour or so since she and Poseidon went missing. If she failed to bring the submarine to the surface here, where the ice has cracked and left a big enough free-space for the periscope and breathing snorkel, then what happened? Where can she be? We might be able to extrapolate a possible route if we try."
Emerson gave in to the scoff that was fighting its way out from behind her teeth. "Like Rohan Tarnach was ever predictable, except when she was unpredictable."
Porter frowned, then the expression gave way to a look of calculation that made Emerson's thumbs start pricking furiously. "I may know where she is," he said. "What kind of deal can I make?"
Karpenko's smile was a shark's – humorless and far too sharp. "No deals. Frankly, Admiral, we can afford to wait. Sooner or later, the submarine will turn up. Poseidon is not the only prototype, you know. The upgraded beta version is being tested in North Carolina."
"What about Rohan?" Trudie snarled at him.
"What about her? She is unimportant. Ah-ah-ah, Ms. van Geer, I would not do that if I were you," Karpenko said, not moving even though Trudie had her gun out, trained less than half an inch away from his eagle's beak of a nose. "Violence is not the way to resolve conflicts."
He sounded so smug that Emerson briefly considered giving him a vivid demonstration on why violence was the answer, and the question, too, as well as the screaming and begging and crying. Bastard. Instead of beating around the bush, she went straight to the point – she pulled out her Sig Sauer and shot Karpenko just above the kneecap, in the fleshy part of his thigh. The sound of the gunshot was very loud in the small clearing.
"Gott!" Trudie jumped back a foot.
Bonney grabbed Porter, who seemed as though he was about to make a break for it. He was stronger, but she was more agile; the neoprene suit was quite binding, and she put him on the ground with ease. Eyeing Karpenko, who lay groaning next to the rental car, she asked tartly, "Did you have to shoot him, Amelia?"
Emerson paid no attention to her partner. She went over to Karpenko's prone body and raised her foot over him. "Tarnach is sort of a friend. I don't leave sort-of friends to die. Last chance, Alexi. Help us out or I'm going to show you a whole new world of hurt."
Courtois had his gun out but he wavered, hesitating. Trudie calmly walked over and took it out of his hand. "Don't interrupt the negotiations," she told him. "I won't shoot you in the knee, mijnheer. I'll aim somewhat higher and towards the middle."
"No deals!" Karpenko gasped. His hand was splayed over his trouser leg; bright red blood trickled between his fingers. "You! Stop this!" he said to Bonney.
Bonney tilted her head. "I'm sorry, but I don't have that much control over Amelia's actions. She's somewhat impulsive, as you've already seen."
"You know what, maybe I'm shooting the wrong guy here. I mean, it's Porter who's really pissing in my pudding today," Emerson said conversationally, shifting her stance so that her weapon was pointed at the Admiral. "Just for poop and giggles, how's about I start at your toes and work my way up? I've still got fourteen bullets left in this clip, and I've got two extra clips under my coat, and I think there's even a couple in the glove compartment ‘cause a girl can never have too much ammo. What do you say? Want to play?"
"You're crazy!" Porter said, peering up at her.
"That's why they called me the Widowmaker." Emerson was enjoying herself. She had not had so much fun since Marrakech and certain events which would forever remain classified, because some secrets were sacrosanct even from the Freedom of Information Act.
Porter held out a hand. "All right. All right! You can try Candlepin Cove. For some reason, the water hardly freezes over there. It's something to do with currents."
"And Rohan would know about Candlepin Cove?" Bonney asked.
"How the hell should I know?" Spittle flew from Porter's mouth.
Emerson reached down and hauled him to his feet. "I've got a deal for you," she said. "When we get to Candlepin Cove, you dive under the ice and try to spot Poseidon. If you do, I'll give you a twenty-four hour head-start before I notify Homeland Security. I'll even keep Karpenko from siccing the FSB on you." She saw the hope blossoming on his face, and took great glee in squashing it – figuratively speaking. "If you run, I will hunt you down. I've got contacts all over the world, and there's enough money in my secret bank accounts to put quite a tidy bounty on your head. There's nowhere you can hide. Remember that."
Porter glanced at Bonney, obviously trying to garner some sympathy. Bonney sliced her hand through the air and said coolly, "It's bad enough you wanted to steal U.S. property because of a bureaucratic mix-up, but murder is going too far, sir. Far too far. As much as I want you to pay for what you've done in a court of law – as much as I'd like to have justice for Kapitan Rachko and any other victims of your greed - I agree with Amelia. The living take precedence over the dead. Help us find Rohan and Poseidon, and you'll have twenty-four hours to get as far away as you can. Run, and I'll add my own retirement nest-egg to Amelia's bounty on your head."
He deflated, seeming every bit as old as his years. "I agree to your terms," Porter said.
Karpenko grunted. "I have no say here?"
"None at all, comrade," Emerson said, re-holstering her weapon. She shucked off her coat and draped it over the Russian agent. Action was good; she enjoyed keeping busy, and if there was weaponry, Garbage Pail Kids or intimidation involved – all three together was a yet-unfulfilled wet dream – she was a happy camper. "Give us ten minutes before you holler for back-up, and I'd appreciate it if you'd stall telling the nice, helpful Homeland Security goons where we've gone unless they shoot you, in which case, feel free to sing like a canary."
Emerson did not know enough colloquial Russian to interpret Karpenko's comment, but she assumed it was just as filthy as it seem. "I could always shoot you again, this time in a slightly more serious place," she said, "or toss you into the lake, if you prefer."
He agreed to her terms, which made Emerson even happier. She did not trust him, but figured he was experienced enough at the game to realize when to cut his losses. If not, Emerson thought it would take time for a tactical team to be diverted to Lake Squamish, then they would have to figure out where to go. All in all, she calculated it would take at least thirty to forty minutes before they could expect the Cavalry to arrive.
She found a first-aid kit in the back of the stolen Hummer and turned it over to Courtois, who agreed to stay with the Russian.
"The check hasn't cleared," he said, squatting down next to Karpenko and applying a pressure bandage to the man's wound. At Bonney's jaundiced glance, Courtois continued, "I'm not that bad of a man, ladies. I am loyal to my employer… until the money runs out."
Trudie snarled at him, still clearly harboring a grudge, but Emerson shook her head and pulled the smaller Dutch woman away. "Let's blow this popsicle stand and go rescue Rohan," Emerson said. "You can find Courtois and kill him later."
Whistling ‘Jingle Bells' under her breath, Emerson got behind the Hummer's wheel and waited, tapping the steering wheel impatiently until Porter loaded his gear inside. She gunned the engine while Bonney, Trudie and Porter himself got settled, and finally took off, fishtailing the big SUV onto the road, the tires biting asphalt with a squeal.
Jingle all the friggin' way!
"Will you please explain to me why you felt it was necessary to shoot Karpenko?" Bonney asked once she was sure the Hummer was not about to careen off the path.
"He annoyed me." Thankfully, Emerson did not take her eyes off the road or her hands from the steering wheel. "FSB is just KGB by another name, you know? Rabid pit bulls in wolf's clothing. If I hadn't shot him, he'd have shot you or me or maybe even Trudie because we're inconvenient to his plan. Karpenko will live. The wound's a clean through-and-through, just soft tissue damage. He'll have a nice scar to show off to his mistress later, when they're relaxing in their jacuzzi in the dacha."
"That's no excuse to shoot anyone."
"Babe, as a nuclear submarine commander, can you honestly tell me that you've never heard the words ‘pre-emptive strike' before?"
Bonney was forced to concede that Emerson had a point. "Nevertheless, no more shooting unless the threat is imminent."
"Aw, mom!" Emerson whined, and grinned as she ducked her head to avoid Bonney's swat. "Okay, I promise not to riddle anyone with bullets unless they really, really deserve it. Or unless they start singing Celine Dion songs, I'm only human, Annie."
From the back seat, Trudie let out a choked sound that might have been an aborted giggle.
Candlepin Cove sported a pond that was larger than the one at Copperhead, a semi-circle fringed with tall trees that were black against the snowy backdrop. True to Porter's statement, the water here was mostly free of ice, except for a ring of slush that had melded with the snow on the banks. Bonney followed Porter down to the pond.
"Remember what I told you… if any harm comes to Rohan, I'll unleash Amelia and join her on a quest to nail your hide to the wall," Bonney said.
He nodded, slipping the diving mask over his face. "I'm sorry, Annie."
"Don't be sorry. Just bring back my friend." She watched while he waddled into the water – a stout figure in black neoprene – and disappeared beneath the surface.
Emerson came up and put an arm around her. "I'm sure she's okay."
"God go with her," Bonney murmured, and stood staring at the wind-rippled water, the cold air biting through her pea coat.
About fifteen minutes after staring her adventure, Rohan came to the realization that excitement was over-rated.
It was darn near impossible to monitor the sonar and GPS while simultaneously keeping track of the sub's progress vertically and horizontally. The fourth time Poseidon bumped into a submerged log, and Rohan's heart went sky-rocketing and felt like it had leaped into her hair, she was thoroughly annoyed with whatever team of short-sighted idiots had designed the mini-submarine.
It was only what she remembered had been said about Poseidon that kept Rohan from panicking – that the sub had an air supply of at least five days, or until the scrubber batteries ran out, but the prospect of being trapped under ten inches of ice until the Spring thaw was not very appealing. She began to realize the seriousness of her situation. Rohan had stupidly, stupidly gone away from Nelson's Hole, thinking that it would be cool to take the sub for a little spin down the lake, and now she was lost. Maybe. Or maybe not. She kept struggling on, though, because to give up at that point would be even stupider.
Rohan made some adjustments to the ballast tanks and after some trial-and-error, found a way to keep Poseidon floating in place, neutral buoyancy keeping it hovering above the lake bottom. She went to the plotting table and pulled it down, noting with relief that there was a map of Lake Squamish. Rohan was no expert in marine navigation, nor did she have any actual experience in submarine operations, but she had observed during her brief time on Saber, and she had read The Complete Idiots Guide to Submarines from cover to cover on more than one occasion.
According to her calculations – performed without the benefit of scrap paper or a calculator, darn it – Rohan reckoned she was about a mile from Candlepin Cove. There was a weird geological hiccup which kept that part of Lake Squamish from freezing over, even in the dead of winter. If she could steer Poseidon in that direction, when she reached the cove she would be able to surface, get out of the sub and go fetch help.
A thought struck her, and Rohan checked to see if she still had the digital camera. There was no way she was going to miss the look on Emerson's face.
Going back to the navigation station, Rohan activated the engine again. Gripping the yoke, she initiated a gentle five degree down bubble, winced when something clanged against the hull, and sent Poseidon in what she hoped was the direction of Candlepin Cove.
After a minute, Rohan frowned as the sound of dripping water penetrated her consciousness.
A black-gloved hand reached over her shoulder and grabbed the yoke.
Startled, Rohan sucked in a breath, letting it out in a deafening scream.
Emerson was practically vibrating with impatience. She could feel the waves jitter-bugging through muscle and bone, resonating in her teeth. "Where is he? Darn it, Annie!"
"He'll come back with the submarine, if it's there. If this isn't a wild goose chase. He only had an hour of oxygen left in his tanks, which means…" Bonney consulted the watch strapped to her wrist. "…he ought to return in the next fifteen minutes."
A red pick-up truck slewed off the road, headed towards them. Emerson drew her gun and put herself between Bonney and possible danger. She noted with approval that Trudie took the flank position, using the Hummer for cover. The truck stopped, and a man got out. He wore a heavy parka over a yellow-striped neoprene diving suit. "George Foyle," he said. "Pete Braithwaite said you ladies needed some assistance."
"That was at Nelson's Hole," Emerson said, scowling. "How'd you end up here?"
"Met some foreign fellows over there," Foyle said. He began taking equipment out of the truck. "They said to find you at the cove."
Karpenko and Courtois. "Were there other people with them?" Emerson asked.
Foyle shrugged his broad shoulders. "Saw some black vans on the road, headed that way. You mind telling me what's going on?"
"Not much," Bonney said. "We thought our friend had gone diving under the ice."
"Pete's crazy cousin. I've heard stories about her…"
Emerson had not yet put her gun away. It was interesting that Foyle had not reacted to the presence of two well-armed women. Perhaps the federal gun control laws were not enthusiastically enforced in Arcadia, New Hampshire. "Well, she didn't. She hasn't. Everything's peachy keen. Sorry for the inconvenience."
He paused. "Sure about that?"
"Yes, we're positive. Thank you for coming out, Mr. Foyle." Bonney went to help Foyle put his equipment back in the truck. "I'm sorry that you were called for no reason."
"Better to be safe than sorry," he said, sounding cheerful for a man who had been torn away from hearth and home and sent on a fool's errand.
Emerson registered the moment his expression changed from good-natured to stunned. He froze, an aluminum tank poised in his hands.
She turned and saw a submarine broaching the surface of the lake, runnels of water turning to foam on its black acoustic tiled skin. The top hatch opened, and a familiar figure appeared, waving like a beauty queen on parade. "Hi, guys!"
Trudie screamed, "Rohan!"
"Is that a submarine?" Foyle asked.
Emerson counted silently, waiting for the other shoe to drop. One… two… three…
"I want a helicopter and five million dollars," Porter cried, appearing behind Rohan and pressing a gun to her head. "You hear me? Or I'll kill her!"
Bonney called back, "Don't do this, sir. You know the official policy – no negotiating with terrorists." She reached over and grabbed one of Trudie's pigtails, effectively keeping the other woman in place when it seemed as if Trudie was about to leap into the water, swim over to the sub, and tear Dick Porter limb from limb with her bare hands.
"I am not a terrorist!" Porter yelled. "I am a disgruntled civil servant!"
Rohan squeaked with fear.
Black vans were coming down the road, a fleet of them no doubt filled with Homeland Security agents and FBI tactical take-down teams. The situation was about to get way more complicated than Emerson was willing to deal with during the Christmas holiday, and besides, she was on vacation.
So she solved the problem by taking careful aim and shooting Porter in the shoulder, making him drop his gun.
"So what do you think they'll do to Dick Porter?" Trudie asked, taking a bite of fruitcake despite the warnings that everyone had given her.
Bonney sipped her eggnog, swallowed and replied, "He'll probably avoid being tried for treason. The admiral still has some friends on the Hill." Homeland Security had not seemed that eager to announce how they had let a multi-billion dollar project get stolen by the man in charge. The fact that Poseidon was publicly outed (Foyle's son-in-law was the Chief Editor of the local paper, and he had wasted no time getting a photographer to Candlepin Cove) was icing on the cake. The story had been picked up by the national news-wires; there was no way the government could cover up the incident, so FSB and Homeland Security, along with the CIA and the NSA, had gone the (relatively) full disclosure route.
No harm, no foul, as Emerson would say.
She let her gaze roam around the room – the parlor at the B&B was decorated for Christmas with all the usual trimmings. There was a buffet table against one wall, loaded with food for the party. It seemed as though half of the town of Arcadia was there celebrating. The air was filled with the buzz of conversation, and the pleasant smell of burning wood, spices and evergreen branches. Karpenko was there, too, being charming in his own fashion. There was no sign of Anton Courtois; the free-lance operative had vanished, and Karpenko was being tight-lipped about his whereabouts.
Who knew what might happen in the future. For now, she and her friends and her lover were together, and it was Christmas.
Peace on Earth, good will to men. Even assassins like Courtois deserved some cheer, she supposed.
Bonney spotted Emerson standing in the doorway, chatting with George Foyle. The woman was heart-stoppingly beautiful, especially when she laughed, and the faint lines at the corners of her eyes deepened.
Then Bonney saw Rohan edging towards Emerson, grinning mischievously. She nudged Trudie, and pointed at the pair of dark-haired women – one tall and lean, one shorter and rounder – who represented light and love and laughter to them both. Trudie watched with her as Rohan reached Emerson and pointed up.
A ball of mistletoe decorated with red ribbons was dangling just above Emerson's head.
Emerson shook her head, and Rohan leaned in, her mouth moving, clearly trying to persuade and cajole. Suddenly, to Bonney's delight, Emerson grabbed Rohan, bent her backwards in a showy display of skill and strength, and kissed her.
Just as suddenly, Emerson dropped Rohan as if she had gone red-hot in her hands. Both women screwed up their faces in identical expressions of disgust.
"Ewwwww!" Rohan and Emerson cried, shuddering. "Gross!"
Bonney laughed until her ribs were sore.
God bless us, every one.
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