“There’s no logistical correlation between events,” Seth announced to his dad and Agent Burns from across the room in the penthouse suite.
“What did you find?” asked McLeary, peering over his son’s shoulder to view the crime analysis program on an external monitor.
Seth wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “A lot of sectors were destroyed but I was able to recover some of the hard drive memory.” He clicked the mouse over the program’s drop-down menu. He pointed to the screen and coughed as he moved the mouse to a graphic display of events, starting with the first robbery and several arrows linking the robbery to the murders at the Amsterdam airport.
McLeary pointed to the screen. “You’re missing half the data.”
“I said I recovered some of it, not all.”
Seth double-clicked on the first icon, initializing a series of automated events. He scrolled through a dialogue box at the bottom of the screen. “We can’t predict their next move if we don’t understand the ones before it.”
McLeary leaned closer and worked the mouse. “Adjust the temporal parameters and incident classifications.” He watched the arrows map across the screen. “These events aren’t random, they’re part of a strategic attack.” He pointed to the small U.S. map in the corner of the screen with dates, times, and events labeled at D.C. and Florida locations. “Here and here. Activities occurring at exactly the same time. A robbery in D.C. with a DEA event in Miami.”
Burns shook her head. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe it does,” Seth answered. “I took a look at the numbers you decrypted and ran the digits 315507803140 through a program I wrote to compare the sequence against standard patterns of ten-digit numbers using variable combinations until I came up with this.” He hit the ENTER key to display a grid over the Florida Keys with the number sequence superimposed as 31 55 07 / 80 31 40.
“Lat long coordinates,” said McLeary.
Seth enhanced the screen to show the exact location of the coordinates outside Key Largo. “I researched this location. There’s an abandoned undersea habitat for marine biologists. The structure was built in 1992 by the University of Miami. They shut it down when their grant ran out.”
“Are you sure?” asked McLeary.
“Positive. I checked the numbers twice. There’s nothing on record near those coordinates except sea water and the lab below.”
“Assuming we’re dealing with lat longs at all,” said Burns. “You could twist those numbers around and come up with something completely different. Or a new location altogether.”
McLeary sat in front of the laptop monitor and typed a flurry of commands on the external keyboard. He scrolled down the screen, skimming the contents of Seth’s program. “Your code’s tight. The logic is sound.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s right,” Burns continued with her dissenting opinion. “No offense, but you have to be basing this on a lot of assumptions.”
“A few,” said Seth in his own defense. “But I correlated data from the analysis I salvaged on the hard drive. People, places, events… There are undeniable patterns at work here.”
McLeary touched his palm to Seth’s cheek. “It might also explain how Abdullah stayed off the grid for so long. We’ve known for some time that Abdullah’s had ties in Miami.” His son felt exceedingly warm to the touch. The dim indoor lighting aside, Seth’s complexion looked very pale, yet blotchy. “Do you feel all right?”
“You don’t look fine.”
Burns noticed Seth’s condition. The feverish hues. The goose-bump flesh on his arms. “Where have you been recently?”
Seth looked up at the ceiling and thought. “Dad’s boat. The hospital. Your apartment.”
“That’s it. I’ve been with you the whole time.”
Agent Burns shook her head. “Did you ever leave my apartment on your own?”
“Did anyone approach you while you were there?”
“No. Just a UPS guy with a package for you.”
“What package?” McLeary and Burns asked in unison.
“A big envelope. It was empty.” Seth spoke with an apologetic tone. “I wasn’t trying to snoop. I didn’t know if there might be something on my brother.”
McLeary exchanged a knowing glance with his partner. “We need to get you to the hospital.”
“Not until we find Brian.”
Burns put her hands on her head. “Oh God…”
McLeary left the room and returned with a medical supply case. He withdrew a vial of Cyprofloxin from the padded liner and filled a small syringe. He pressed the plunger to evacuate any air bubbles and jabbed the needle in Seth’s shoulder.
“What’s that for?” Seth asked hotly. The needle burned when his dad administered the injection.
“The sooner you’re treated, the better your chances.”
McLeary withdrew the needle. “You may have been exposed to a weaponized anthrax strain. Now for once in your life, shut up and do what I tell you.”
McLeary avoided his partner’s disapproving stare and reached inside the Charger’s trunk. He hoisted an aluminum scuba tank on his broad shoulder and carried the eighty-cubic foot cylinder to the Cigarette Lightning moored along the harbor pier, where Hilario Gonsalez and his men awaited in the darkness.
“This is suicide,” Burns argued. “We don’t know how many people we’re dealing with or how heavily they’re armed. We have no ops plan and no backup.”
McLeary delivered the scuba tank to Hilario’s men on board the boat. “You wanted more action. To be in the field with seasoned agents who get the job done. Well this is it.”
“What about Kriegel?”
“What about him?”
“We should keep him in the loop.”
“And tell him what? You’re working off a hunch from a former agent and wanted felon who recently escaped from federal custody with help from someone inside the bureau who’s got bigger connections and bigger balls than Kriegel himself?” McLeary pulled his dive vest on and slid a commando knife in the sheath mounted to his breast pocket. He gave Hilario’s crew the go ahead signal. “We’ve got two hours ’til sunrise. I suggest we make the most of it.”
“To do what? Take on Abdullah mano a mano in some kind of Rambo fantasy?”
“You made your point, Agent Burns.”
“You’re not listening. We need to think this through and weigh our options.”
“My sons are not an option I have to weigh. One is missing. The other has one foot in the grave.”
“I’m just saying… A lot of lives are at stake, including yours.”
“You think this is a bad idea. I respect your opinion. Now you can either help me or go do whatever the hell it is you do when you’re not on the job.”
“Do you honestly think we’ll find Ahmed Abdullah hiding underwater in some research habitat converted to an anthrax lab?”
“I think we’ll find answers.”
“About this case or about your missing son?”
“Both.” McLeary wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Are you going to stand there all night, or help me with this gear?”
“What about them?” Burns whispered, pointing to Hilario Gonsalez and his three-man crew working quickly to stow the gear inside the offshore racer.
“Right now they’re all we’ve got.”
“You mean outside of bureau channels.”
“I made a promise to Hilario Gonsalez, and I’m a man of my word.”
“He’s a convicted felon. He sells boats to illegal drug runners.”
“And car salesmen sell cars to gangsters. One thing’s got nothing to do with the other.”
“Don’t twist my words around, McLeary.”
“What are you afraid of? That this will blow back on your sterling bureau record and impede your chances at further advancement?”
“It’s not like that.”
“Then what are you really worried about?”
“You…” Burns shied away for a moment, surprised at how easily her emotions spilled out of her in the presence of someone she cared for.
McLeary helped Hilario’s men store the gear on deck. “Don’t worry, Sweet Pea. I can take care of myself.”