Read Volcano Online

Authors: Gabby Grant

Volcano (7 page)

“And,” Mark said, following Albert’s line of vision, “we
look for a group powerful enough to infiltrate the US intelligence community
and scare it senseless.”

Albert met Mark’s eyes and Mark knew instantly they were
both thinking the same thing.

was only the first part, the precursor to
something much more explosive.


Al Fahd glowered at McFadden. “Those were
orders, Mr. Smith, and you know it.”

McFadden shrugged and clunked his pistol down on the Arab’s
desk. “The gal got feisty, Al Hakeem, what can I say?”

Al Fahd narrowed his ebony eyes into slits. “You can say
you’ve accomplished your mission, Mr. Smith. This does not bode well for future
involvement. Not well at all.”

Joe slowly shook his head,
leveled his fearless gaze on Al Fahd’s. “You wanted her dead, one way or--”

time table, Mr. Smith. Not some cocky
Al Fahd paused to
study his gritty fingernails.

“Where is the body?” he asked finally.

“Where it will never be found.”

Al Fahd sprung to his feet and leapt around the desk.
“Fool!” he said, stringing his gnarly fingers around McFadden’s throat. “I want
to see her, see her
you understand?”

McFadden brought his hands to the Arab’s
, until Al Fahd slowly, slowly released his grip.

“I can do it, Al Hakeem. But it’s going to take some

Al Fahd checked the dial on his gold watch. “You have
forty-eight hours, Mr. Smith. Forty-eight hours exactly.”

“Al Hakeem, I’m certain you know that the flight alone--”

“Not a minute more. Or
will wind up fish bait,”
Al Fahd said, loudly cracking his knuckles. “I’ll see to it with my own hands.”




Ana pushed through the gnarl of branches and kept running.
She’d been running for she-didn’t-know-how-many miles now. In and out of pine
forests, across towering
corn fields
, through the damp
heat of an unseasonable afternoon and now beneath the bitter chill of the
December moon.

It had all happened so fast, too fast to calculate. Too fast
to make any sense of as he’d thrust her through the alley’s slight opening with
bruising force.

“Run!” he’d told her, snapping something from his wrist.
“Take this and run like hell!

But instead of fleeing, Ana had remained glued there in her
narrow passage of escape, her feet anchored to the ground by some invisible
chord. A steel wool wire that sliced right through her and sent her reeling at
the thought of what was happening.

Joe had been sent here to kill her! And now he was pressing
his wristwatch into her hand and commanding her to run?

“Damn it, Ana, for the love of- Isabel...”

Her eyes flashed at the mention of her child, at the notion
Joe knew anything about her. And her heart constricted to the point she felt
the very life was being squeezed out of her.

Joe urged
again, pointing his pistol toward the sky and dislodging a second earsplitting

Ana turned and started to run as car doors popped open and
footsteps sounded on the pavement.

“Wait,” Joe said, catching up and grabbing her by the coat
collar. “Your coat!”

Ana looked at him in incomprehension, in disbelief, as he
clamped onto a coat sleeve and rudely tugged the fabric from her limb.

Ana unbuttoned her jacket and thrust the rest of it in his
direction, then turned to look at him, stopping in her tracks. He was the same
auburn-haired Joe, ruggedly handsome, but with the fear of Satan in his eyes.

“Thank you,”
she mouthed, as her vision blurred and
Joe sent her packing with
a sterling

And then he was gone and there was nothing behind her for
miles and miles- but the echoing sound of her own panicked footsteps racing
through the darkness.


Joe McFadden stared out the window as the big jet glided
toward the runway lights of Dulles International Airport. Bustling cabin noises
swirled into his recollection of the rippling Rapidan River back in Central
Virginia a couple of days earlier. Luck had been with him when he’d stumbled
across the Shifflet and Sons hog-farming slaughterhouse just at the break of
dawn. He’d told
to run, run like the wind, and Joe
had had to believe she’d taken flight. Then, there’d been work to do with her
A job with a bucket of fresh blood and entrails that
would hopefully look authentic.

After soiling the coat, Joe had carried it dripping to the
river’s edge. From all appearances, whoever had been wearing it had been
butchered senseless.

Joe had shivered in the threading sunlight as he’d raised a
hand to his head and torn a hank of auburn hair from his scalp. Wedging it
deeply in the pocket of Ana’s coat, he’d secured the button. Rushing river or
no, this telling piece of evidence was going to stay put. It was a ruse that
would buy him time.
Time and assistance, if Joe were to get
Uncle Sam’s money’s worth out of DNA analysis.

And if Neal was half the intelligence bastard Neal thought
he was, he was going to damn well figure out these two pieces of the puzzle.
Why the falsely bloodied coat and why McFadden’s hair? The faux slaughter would
clearly indicate Ana herself was still
, though
certain players would be encouraged to think otherwise. And, of course, the
hair, as it would match up with Joe’s DNA records back at CIA headquarters,
would demonstrate that Ana’d been with McFadden. That, in
would prove the link between Joe’s secret mission in the Middle East- to which
someone senior at the DOS was bound to be privy- and the men who’d abducted
Ana. With the entire DOS intelligence force behind him, Joe was certain Mark
could find a way to see the bigger picture Joe was missing from his up close
perspective. There was much more to this than Joe could make out from his
hidden post within the operation. Some sort of sinister plan had evolved
between the Arabs and the Chinese that involved national, if not
, ramifications. But with Joe about to go AWOL
from his operation- in an attempt to save his own hide and Ana’s, solving that
larger problem had become Mark’s responsibility.

Joe’s only mission now lay in tracking
down and finding a way to ensure her safety until this whole storm blew over.

Joe glanced down at his bare wrist, praying Ana’d hung onto
that watch.
hidden transmitter was Joe’s only
hope of catching up with her in the thick of the Central Virginia woods. Of
signal would equally assist the Chinese
in their pursuit of Ana, the moment they suspected she was still alive. Joe
hoped Al Fahd had bought his story, and hadn’t already alerted the Orientals to
that possibility. All Joe needed was another couple of hours. He’d rent a car
the moment they landed and drive like a bat out of hell until her found her.
For Ana, it was a matter of life or death
Joe impatiently thumped his
armrests as the plane smacked the tarmac and roared into Dulles International
Airport. And time- for Ana Kane- was running out.




Ana stepped back from the railroad tracks and pressed her
back to the concrete bolster supporting the overpass. She checked the
illuminated numbers on the watch she’d strapped to her wrist.
What was it
with men and watches?
Ana wondered, thinking back to her father and an
earlier time...

This one meant something critical. So critical that- even in
the heat of a panicked moment- Joe had foisted it upon her, and insisted she
take it and run.

Ana adjusted the elastic watchband another notch so it’d
stay in place, and considered her options.

Just above, traffic whizzed by at record speed. She’d heard
the sound of trailing cars and the heavy drone of semis from several miles
away. It had been a simple task to acclimate herself to the noise and set her
course in that direction. Where there were highways, there was bound to be
civilization. And where there was civilization, there was, she hoped, a greater
chance for survival. An opportunity to finally contact Mark and let him know
she was

Just how, precisely, Ana would finagle that last part, she
wasn’t certain. Clearly, Ana had been a target for quite some time now. All
those odd occurrences in her home over these past few weeks had not been her
imagination at all. Someone had been after her, either out to gaslight her or
put the fear of God in her until...

Until what?

None of this made sense. If abduction was the end, then why
use such contorted means? Why not just lurk in wait at her home and grab her
while she was unattended?

And Joe...

A man she hadn’t seen for over two years. Two and a half
probably, counting that time she and Mark had seen him at the Irish Pub on
Capitol Hill.

Ana shuddered
back against the icy
column as a semi whizzed by above, splattering murk and mud. No, Joe was one of
the good guys. He’d just proven that yet again. But then, what was Joe’s
connection to the Chinese men who’d nabbed her?
An undercover
But, of course, what else could it be?

Ana had been damned lucky Joe McFadden had been sent as her
assassin rather than some murderous stranger. Or did luck really have anything
to do with it?

Ana traced a thumb over the square watch face, knowing this
gadget housed more than routine mechanisms. A microchip? Something pivotal
regarding Joe’s undercover mission that Ana was meant to take back to Mark at
the DOS? Whatever the reason, Joe McFadden was not the sort of man to act
rashly without cause.

splattering truck provoked a new chill that sent her bones rattling. Two days
on the run. Ana had to find someplace to get inside. Someplace with a hot
shower and a telephone.

Ana’s belly clenched at the thought of Isabel, at the
realization of the danger her baby girl now faced. But no, Ana told herself,
remembering Mark. Mark never in a million years had been slipshod. The moment
Ana’d disappeared- as soon as he’d realized the danger- Mark would have seen to
it that the rest of their family was safe. He’d have taken extra precautions
with Isabel, perhaps even with Maria, as well.

Ana tried to think of whom to call but knew the DOS was a
bad bet. The fact
Oriental abductors had been able to snatch her right out from
under DOS security meant that something was deadly wrong with their security
system. And if that had been invaded, even telephone communications would be
unsafe- particularly those made on unsecured lines. Of course, if she placed a
call just as a warning, a quick notice to her father or Mark that she was still

Ana’s heart sunk at the realization that even the briefest
communique, if intercepted, would implicate Joe.
Joe who had
put his own life on the line to save her- twice now, counting years earlier in

Another burst of wind and Ana shoved her frigid hands into
the pockets of her nubby cardigan, knowing there must be a solution.

All she had to do was find it.

Instead, her grasp settled on the fine plastic edge of a
credit card. Thank God, she thought, pulling it from her sweater and angling it
toward the light. Perhaps she could rent a car.

But when she titled the fine slip of plastic toward the
glower of passing headlights, Ana saw it was only her library card.


She stepped out from under the bridge momentarily to study
the far end of the highway.

The sign on the billboard hung like a beacon: Rueger’s

Ana looked down at the card in her hand remembering the time
the kitchen door had accidentally swung shut on her while she was carrying in
groceries, leaving baby Isabel trapped alone inside. It had taken less than
thirty seconds, she recalled, lifting the pale beige card into the filtering
moonlight. Less than thirty seconds to shimmy the narrow plastic plane between
the knob lock and the doorframe and pop the door open wide.

Ana tucked the card back in a pocket, her confidence

Literacy was about to become a life-saving experience.




Mark and Albert Kane sat around the oval conference table
with several other people. Among them, Colonel Roberts from Computer Operations
and Bill Rush from DOS Building Security sat at attention. It had been a long
day, getting longer still on a night meant for making merry as the dawn of
Christmas Eve approached.

“We want all hands on this,” Albert said. “No stone

The faces around the room were solemn. Not a soul dared
check his watch or make mention of the impending holiday.

Nobody had to tell the people in this room that the woman
who was missing was DOS Assistant Director Albert Kane’s daughter. And, whether
or not they were individually privy to the whole story, everyone seemed to know
things had not always gone exactly swimmingly between Kane and his daughter.

“I’m ready to start hearing ideas,” Mark said, thumping his
pen against the table. “Real ideas. No more of this subtle bull crap about how
or why it couldn’t have happened. The fact is, gentlemen...” Mark paused and
smiled at Colonel Roberts. “Lady and gentlemen is that: a) someone penetrated
the information system firewall at the DIPAC, here at DOS, and likely at other
subordinate organizations around the globe; b), there is some sort of international
intelligence scare in the making; and c) someone has--”

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