Alan Ch. 28byjuliancoreto©
It was a straightforward operation, and nearly well executed, which made the death at the end of it come as a complete shock. It started out simple; it became complicated, as all things seem to do.
* * *
Alan and Karick rendezvoused with the waiting surveillance teams shortly before noon. The car bringing Jack and Anne-Marie was about an hour behind, but that didn't matter too much, as this was certainly not a daylight mission.
The Abbot and Michiko were practicing their moves in a small clearing in the nearby woods, and Peter and the rest of the paramilitaries were stripping, oiling, and checking their weapons. No more dawdling; they were moving this night.
After Jack arrived they all formed in a circle and had a mission briefing. The Abbot spoke to them about the Stone, and what precautions they should take if the encountered it, then Karick ran through the lay of the land and the blueline plans of the house, then moved on to describe once again the security, both technological and human.
They spent the rest of the afternoon in the public woods adjacent to the estate, drilling. They were to be split up into three groups. Michiko would lead Team A, Jack was in charge of Team B. Alan was on Team C with Karick, led by the Abbot. He wasn't at all insulted by the fact that he wasn't one of the leaders; as the youngest and least experienced he knew that he was a follower in this company. When they broke for dinner Michiko slipped off and made a quick reconnaissance into the grounds of the estate.
"Keep that away from us," Jack called out as she returned. Nestled in her arms was a silver sphere, about the size of a basketball.
"I think it's a decoy," she said, her pace not slowing.
"What makes you think that?" Alan asked, edging away from her.
She tossed it to him, and on reflex, with consequences forgotten, he caught it. The orb was surprisingly light. He ran his palm over the metallic surface, and his fingers quivered, though not as much as they should have if this was a true copy of a true Orb. Neil took it from him and walked it back to the van. With his expertise in metallurgy and archaeology he gave it a once over, and then tested it with the gear in the van.
"Silver plate, if you believe the equipment, jacketed over an aluminium core." he stated with a chuckle.
Jack was not as amused. "Mr. Swindon-Smythe!"
Neil gulped. He recognized the professorial tone. "Yes, Professor?"
"What conclusions can the class draw from these data?" Jack asked, gesturing to the open laptop screen.
"Well, sir, it was my understanding when I was in Thornbow's employment, that the supply of Orb silver was limited. One possibility is that the spheres on the pedestals scattered over the grounds are decoys; perhaps some are silver plated and some are pure."
"We will proceed with caution," Massimo pronounced gravely.
Since it was summer, night did not begin to fall until after eight. By nine the sky was dark enough for them to begin their assault on Bankington Hall. The three groups moved into their starting positions, from three different approaches into the estate. Alan's group was coming in from the woods that fringed the south of Thornbow's land. The woods were a public thoroughfare, making them difficult for Thornbow to have fully secured; Jack's group was coming in through the east gate, or to be more precise, over the high stone wall just north of it. Michiko's group, the first to go in, would also be using the wooded approach that Alan's group was forming in, just from a different part of it.
Alan checked the pockets of his black jumpsuit for the nth time since he had donned it an hour ago. All his gear was in place. In the rear pocket at the small of his back he felt the small handgun through the material.
Having never fired--or for that matter, touched--a firearm until a few weeks ago, he hoped he would not have to use it, or even remove it from its pocket. The bud in his ear crackled; Anne-Marie informed them that Team A had moved in. Two minutes later the Abbot's Team C, and Jack's Team B would start.
Two minutes passed, and the go signal from Michiko's team did not come. Alan wiped his sweaty palms against the fabric of his jumpsuit, and then fiddled with the black balaclava, combing his hair with his fingers, tucking all his hair under it. His foot was tapping an impatient staccato rhythm on the forest ground.
"You nervous?" Karick asked.
"A little," Alan replied.
"You should be worried a lot, so consider yourself ahead of the game," he answered grimly. Just as he was about to say more Anne-Marie came on the air.
"Teams B and C, move out," she broadcasted. Michiko and her bunch had taken the security center. It was time to go.
* * *
"You don't know who I am, do you?"
Thornbow squirmed in his seat, almost as upset by the thought of what the duct tape was doing to the upholstery of his Louis Quatorze armchair as he was by the fact that he was bound to it at the wrists and ankles. "No," he sneered at the stranger, a man he was quite sure he had never once before laid eyes upon.
"My name," said Jack, "Is Jacob Theodore Lazarus."
Alistair Thornbow belied no reaction to this bit of intelligence; Jack expected none.
"My name before it was Jacob Theodore Lazarus was Jean-Pierre Massimo."
This time Thornbow was thunderstruck. "How is that--It can't be--you're lying!"
"Brother," Jack continued acidly, "You know of what I am capable, do you not?"
Thornbow nodded, defeat evident in his face.
"Two years, brother. Two years you stalked me, haunted my steps. Because you wanted what you can never have. Decades you have desired it, for almost all that time believing it to be myth, a legend unworthy of a child's fantasy. Five years ago, in this very room--I remember it was like yesterday--you showed me the talisman. A small Mesopotamian idol of tarnished silver. Just being in the same room with your collection's latest acquisition knocked the wind from my sails. That fateful day when you began to form the slightest of notions about my nature. Suspicions. Yes, you were suspicious of me for years, but the happenstance of my dizzy spell in the presence of your new trinket ignited the evil scheme within you. And so, you came at me, and to your bitter disappointment, you had me killed. Or so you thought, at any rate. And then, and then you turned your attentions you this young man," he spat, gesturing at Alan. "You almost killed him. Twice."
"What do you want, Jack?" Thornbow snarled.
"You know exactly what I want."
"So, you mean to do murder?"
"Killing you," Massimo said, "Is the last thing I can afford."
Thornbow slumped in his chair, relieved he would be spared. "Then why? Then what?"
"Anne-Marie," Jack said into his radio microphone built into his sleeve, "Please signal the Abbot to join us in the office."
The new intruder was another stranger as far as Thornbow was concerned, though seeing that the middle-aged Englishman standing before him was his octogenarian Swiss step-brother, for all he knew this Japanese monk was in fact Churchill.
"Allow me to introduce you to the Abbot. No first name, no surname, I'm afraid. He must become nameless to head his order, a tradition, you know. As a rule, people fear what they cannot name, Alistair, and though I have found this chap to be most delightful company, it is, nevertheless, a rule you should heed.
"You have something of his," Jack concluded.
"And if I give it, you'll leave?" Thornbow asked.
"Where is it?" the Abbot asked.
"You must promise--"
"I am a man of honor, Mr. Thornbow."
Thornbow closed his eyes and sighed. He was coming to the realization that defeat was now inevitable. "I don't know where it is."
Jack scanned his mind, and was surprised to see he was telling the truth. An ingenious plan, really: Lord Thornbow had over forty people in his employ or confidence. To conceal the stone he had sent a memo to each member of his staff. They had gathered in his ballroom, the stone at the center of the long dining table. After their boss had excused himself each employee drew a lot from a basket. The "winner" was to take the stone out of the estate and secure it, with none of the others knowing who had taken it, or where it had been placed.
For Jack this was another complication. Now they had to lasso each and every one of these people, from business managers to chamber maids, footmen to private secretaries, and bring them to be interrogated.
"Is it OK if I go?" Alan asked, nausea beginning to overtake him. There was blood on his shoes, though the body of the one Thornbow had shot had been already removed.
"Where are you going?" Jack asked. The grounds and house weren't yet fully secured.
"I have to get out of here," Alan half-shouted, running out.
Jack cast a meaningful look towards the Abbot, and the Japanese man followed Alan out the door. The Abbot spoke quietly in his microphone and asked Anne-Marie to send Michiko into the office to join Jack. He reasoned that she was better equipped to deal with that situation than he was in any event.
"Alan, please, wait for me. I am an old man, and I cannot keep up with you," the Abbot projected. Though his English was improving, they found it most convenient to communicate telepathically, in a sort of bridge language. Alan thought in English, and the Abbot heard him in Japanese, and vice-versa.
Alan snorted, but slowed; he had seen the Abbot in action, and his protest of age was insincere. After witnessing the Abbot in battle, catlike and quick, slow would be the last word he would use to describe this man.
"You are upset, young man, and understandably so. It is a terrible thing to see a man die. If you had told me that the only man to die tonight would be one of our own, and this man in particular, I would not have been able to believe it. Sometimes things do not go as planned, and we have to deal with the consequences."
"He was my friend," Alan sniffled. "He saved my life, in a way. Made me understand the dangers about me, at a time when I thought I was unstoppable. He had a family--a wife and a daughter!--did you know that? I never even met them, and now I have to go to them and tell them daddy is dead! Do you fucking understand that?"
"Death, Alan, is a part of life, one which we all have to face."
"Tell that to his ten year old daughter," Alan projected angrily, his face wet with tears. "No! That's my fucking shit ass job."
"Tell them this: tell them that Mr. Karick died doing his duty."
"Duty? Goddamn you Abbot. We're not the fucking army. We came for your fucking sacred stone."
"Now, now, that's not the whole truth, Alan. Pull yourself together, young man. We are here to eliminate a common threat. Mr. Karick understood that, which is why he was a leader--the planner--of this mission, which is why he burst through that door despite our warnings. He wasn't conscribed. Not to speak ill of the dead, but this was his plan. He would be proud, as I am, that it is so far a success."
"Success? Success? Where is this stone of yours?"
"We will find it. It is only a matter of time now. I have been patient for a long time, and I beg the same of you."
"I need to leave, Abbot. I can't stay here."
"If that is your wish. Dr. Massimo, Michiko, and I will organize the search for the one entrusted with our stone."
"I'm leaving," Alan said aloud, though making no move to the door.
"As I said, go," the Abbot spoke. "None of us would dare presume to stop you."
Still, he didn't budge.
The Abbot projected: "You see, young man, you want to go, but something his holding you back. Do you want to know what that is?" He paused, allowing time for Alan to answer, but the young American just stood there, trembling. "Duty, Alan, you stay out of a sense of duty. Honor, Alan. Honor. This man in there," he said derisively, and Alan knew he was speaking of Thornbow, "He is without honor. A thief. A murderer. A small man who thinks he can get what he wants without understanding the nature of it, even to the slightest degree; but a dangerous man nonetheless. Mr. Karick understood all of this, and that is why he came here tonight. He could never have led a normal life with that detestable man unchecked. It came to a sorrowful end.
"Go, Alan, find his wife and child. Do what you can for them. Tell them that because of the efforts of Mr. Karick they are now safe. You need no more duty in this place. They need you now."
* * *
"What the hell are you doing, Alan, calling me at three in the morning?"
"I'm sorry, Kate, I just needed to hear your voice."
"Are you crying? Is everything OK?"
"Yes. No. My colleague was killed tonight. A friend of mine."
"Oh my God! What happened? Are you OK?" she cried.
"I'm OK. Just shaken up. I'll tell you when I get home."
"Come home now. I'll meet you. Things are winding down here. I just have to juggle some things and I'll meet you."
He didn't say anything, but she knew he was still on the line.
"Are you sure you're OK?"
"I'm not OK, Katie, but I will be when I see you."
He hit END, and went to find Neil
"Are you done here?" Alan asked him. They were standing in the driveway of Bankington Hall, a safe distance from the panel truck holding all of the seized orbs.
"I'll just be a minute," Neil replied, his voice cracking. Alan could see he was just as traumatized by Karick's death. He pulled down the rear door of the truck and padlocked it.
"I need to go."
"Go?" Neil asked, taken aback. "Go where?"
"Home, Neil, I need to go home."
"I can't drive a car in Britain. Would you take me? Now?"
"Sure. OK. Sure. We'll take one of the rented Opels, leave the Land Rovers for the rest of them," Neil said, his voice shaking, leading the way back to the edge of the road.
They reached the car in minutes. Alan got in on the left, and Neil behind the wheel. Neil turned the ignition and started it up, but made no move to put it in gear. After a few seconds Alan looked over and saw that he was weeping quietly.
"I feel the same way, Neil. He was an excellent friend."
"That he was. That he was," Neil said, collecting himself, as he put the car on course for London.
Alan made some calls while they were motoring down, and to his disappointment he discovered that the he wouldn't be able to get a flight out until morning. He had Neil take him to the Savoy, and when Neil made to leave, to return to Bankington Hall, Alan insisted he take the suite's other bedroom. It didn't take them long to hit the minibar.
"I'm calling Irina in the morning," Neil declared after they had toasted Tadeusz, referring to Karick's wife.
"Did you know her?" Alan asked.
"Last Christmas I couldn't come back here, and Karick couldn't go all the way to Australia. Irina and Katja flew to Montréal, and Tad insisted I come along with him."
"Karick wanted his little girl to have a European Christmas. The year before he had spent with them in Melbourne, and he had a vile time. 'Christmas in summer,' he told me, 'is a perversion!' He did some looking around, and decided that the closest he was going to get to a Prague Christmas was Quebec."
"Don't call her," Alan said. "We'll go together and tell her in person."
"I'd like that," Neil replied, a smile forming on his features for the first time in hours.
* * *
Alan had called Harriet, his lawyer Stanley Wilkins's secretary, from the plane, and she arranged a livery to pick him up from Newark and take him home. Neil had driven him to the airport before heading back to Bankington Hall. Once he was home he called his folks, who were both out, to let them know he had arrived. He didn't mention the reason he had cut his trip short. He called Kate next, catching her on the road. She was already past Mystic, and would see him in a few hours. He napped.
His mother stroking his hair awoke him. "Honey, are you alright?"
"You sounded depressed on the phone before. Are you sure?"
He smiled. "It's good to see you, mom."
"You push yourself too hard, Alan. School this summer, and a job, plus whatever you were doing at night. I worry after you."
"I'm taking one more trip, and then I'm home for the rest of the month," he sighed. "I'll help you with your rosebushes every day until I head back for school."
She laughed, delighted. "Tell me about your trip."
"Nothing much to tell, really."
"And the next one?"
"Just a couple of days. Three at the most."
"OK, you'll tell me when you'll tell me. You know I don't like to pry. Come downstairs and help me make dinner. Your dad should be home soon."
"OK, mom. Oh, Kate's joining us."
"I thought she wasn't coming back until Friday."
"She wanted to see me," Alan said.
"That's nice. She's a sweet girl. You should marry her."
"Want those grandchildren soon, do you?" he laughed, and she laughed with him.
"From your lips to God's ears, as my dad used to say."
Kate and Alan sat in the backyard after dinner. He didn't say much and she just put her arm around his neck and ran her fingers through his hair. Over the din of crickets she asked him about Karick.
"Tell me about your friend from work."
So he did, saying as much as he could without betraying the others in his cabal, Jack and the Japanese monks. He told her about all the time they had spent together the summer before, when they hopscotched around Europe looking for Jack. He told her about the wife and child he had never met, and how he had to go to them and tell them about the killing.
"Do you want me to come with?" she asked.
He thought about it for a second, trying to formulate a good reason why she shouldn't come, but his mind went blank.
"Sure," he answered, smiling at her. "That would be great."
They went back in the house and watched television with his folks for a while. At eleven his parents went upstairs to their bedroom. Alan and Kate watched the news snuggled up together. Just before the sports came on Alan's cell phone rang. It was Jack, calling from Thornbow's estate. They had managed to compile a full list of all the personnel involved in the stone-concealing scheme, and had so far interrogated nineteen of the forty-six people involved. Most of the nineteen were household staff at Bankington Hall. There were a couple of servants at the London flat, and a few people in Lord Thornbow's parliamentary office, and the remainder were spread out over the rest of Britain. Jack figured they would see them all by the next week. After the update Jack handed the phone to Neil, and they made plans for Australia. Karick had moved his family to Melbourne, to a neighborhood named St. Kilda, chosen because of its good-sized Eastern European community. Alan and Neil decided that it would be easier to meet in Melbourne. Neil would fly to Singapore and change planes, and Alan and Kate would fly west, spend a night in Hawaii, and then on to Melbourne. Neil promised to call Harriet in Stan Wilkins's office to book the flights.
"So we're set?" Kate asked, as he came back from taking the call in the kitchen. He had made no effort to keep quiet, and he assumed he had heard his end of the conversations.
"Yeah, I'll have the exact details about the trip tomorrow, probably before lunch."
"Cool," she answered with a yawn. "I'm pooped. Ready for bed?"
"Are you staying here? I thought--"
"Do you think your mom and dad would object?"
"Probably not," Alan thought aloud. Besides, if they did, he could just use his abilities to smooth things over. "But what about your folks? You just got back and they've barely seen you."
"My parents are practically living in the city this summer. Remember my mom's Aunt Victoria? With the broken hip?"
"She's a little batty," Kate explained. "The only way my mom got the latest in a long line of home care nurses not to quit was to promise to be there a lot. They tried getting her to move in with us, but she refused."