Jasper asked him to repeat what he said.
He sat back and rubbed his face with his hand as he listened to Grant’s monotone recitation.
‘How many?’ he said.
Grant told him and Jasper got up, pacing the length of the hotel room.
‘So, they weren’t there, and you found a bunker?’Jasper said.
Grant nodded. Two men had gone down the stairs and activated an alarm. They were warned to vacate the area, and when they carried on trying to access the airlock, it triggered a contained explosion which cauterised everything inside with perfect economy.
The men included. Grant had been heading over to see for himself when the ground shook and hissed as the vents gouted flame into the sky some thirty feet past the cabin.
The signal which led them there died in the same instant, which Grant related to Jasper in the same monotone.
‘Someone was there, with the case. Can you pick up a trail?’ Jasper said.
Grant looked over to his left.
‘Judging from what was left, we’re looking at a male and female here. Male occupant and female guest, if they were on foot and he knows the land, it would take some work.’ he said.
Jasper sneered and told him to get moving. He left a message with the number his employer monitored, explained the situation and ended the call in order to steel himself for the migraine headache building in his temples.
John woke her with a polite shake of her shoulder.
‘We have to go.’ he said.
Kelly blinked through the gloom. The air was sharp with cold but John squatted in front of her, still and present with her as she struggled out of the sleeping bag.
‘What’s happened?’ she said.
John gestured ahead of them.
‘Someone tripped the alarm in the theatre. Everything will be cauterised, but it means they know we’ve gone. So we have to move.’ he said.
Kelly got out of the sleeping bag, rolled it up and looked around for her rucksack. She wanted to feel the gun in her hand, a talisman against the threat of who was coming for her but instead she got everything packed away as John covered as much of their presence as he could.
‘We made a lot of ground though, right?’ she said.
John swallowed and looked up.
‘Yes, we did but I thought we would have more time. Whoever you worked for, they wanted the briefcase and -‘ he said.
Kelly remembered how everything in the theatre would be cauterised, and made the necessary cognitive leap.
‘It’s ashes now, right?’ she said.
Her stomach soured as he nodded.
‘We might have used it for leverage, you know?’ she said.
John furrowed his forehead and adjusted the straps on his rucksack.
‘There are things you can’t use as leverage.’ he said.
Kelly bristled with indignation, despite her exhaustion.
‘You decided that for us, John.’ she said.
He sucked in a breath and stared at her. His jaw was tight as he considered his words.
‘You saw the thing which leapt out of the briefcase, Kelly. Do you think someone would negotiate terms with the people who stole it for them? He said.
His tone was even but a hard, dark light glittered in his eyes as he stared at her. Kelly held his gaze, fuelled by a tenuous hope that things might have been different.
She looked down and squeezed her eyes shut.
‘No, but I’ve been raised to see if there’s an angle to everything, John, especially when it’s my ass on the line.’ she said.
He held her gaze without flinching from it. He reached out and took her hand in his.
‘I’m going to see you live through this. If it means you question my decisions, that’s fine by me. We’ll know more about what was in the briefcase when I can get access to John again, but until then, we keep moving.’ he said.
Kelly squeezed his hand, tested it’s rough, warm strength to see if he faltered but he squeezed back and she let go, assured on a level which resisted definition, of his patience and determination. He gave a slow smile and gestured behind him. She smiled back at him and they set off as the day began, slow and cautious to match their steps through the forest.
Grant opened the trunk and retrieved the oversized armoured briefcase, opening it on the ground and pulling out the quadcopter as he handed the tablet to Gregor, a former Black Sea Marine who had made the transition to the private sector with the same mechanical loyalty as he had displayed through his brutal, rapid ascent in the military. Gregor switched the tablet on as the operating system powered up.
Grant connected up the wiring, depressed the power button and tossed the quadcopter up into the air. The propellers whirred in a high, thin whine as it powered up and held itself in the air, ready for its instructions.
Gregor activated the cameras and swiped his fingers across the screen as the drone took off.
‘It’s dense coverage here, I won’t hold my breath to find anything, but it’s their money.’ Gregor said
Grant watched the drone as it flew high into the sky, a white dot against the first bloom of dawn. He looked around the cabin.
‘I’ll sent whatever we found on this guy back to Jasper, meanwhile, we follow the drone and see what happens. I guess they’re a day ahead of us, at best.’ he said.
Gregor turned and started walking. Grant shut the trunk and shouldered his rifle as he took a deep breath and followed Gregor into the woods.
The going was difficult for Kelly as John sniffed out a path which guaranteed a challenge for anyone following them on foot. The trees were dense, and there were stretches of the hike which were spent beneath thick swatches of shadow. Kelly shivered, despite the warmth of exertion and John asked if she was ok.
She raked her hair from over her eyes and grinned at him.
‘Yes, just trying to keep up.’ she said.
He nodded, satisfied with her answer as he maintained his pace.
‘I forget how I’m different when I’m alone. It’s easier to bear when you take yourself for granted.’ he said.
Kelly reached out and touched his forearm to stop him.
‘I don’t take you for granted. Quite the opposite, John, but I don’t really know you.’ she said.
He looked at where her hand rested on his forearm.
‘Judge me by my actions, not my words, Kelly. It’s safer.’ he said.
His voice had thickened. His other hand slipped over hers and wrapped around it.
‘If they are coming, I’m going to have act in ways I’m trying to get past.’he said.
Kelly smiled and squeezed his hand.
‘I’m not frightened of you, John, I just don’t know much about you.’ she said.
They carried on walking. John took a deep breath and began to talk.
The yacht was anchored off the Aegean. It ran on the whims of its owner and captain, which meant the majority of its running was diurnal, at best. He did his best thinking at night, it was said and the upper deck was left clear as per his wishes.
It was ten p.m when he emerged, dressed in a white shirt and black trousers. He lifted his nose to the air and sniffed the warm salt breeze as he looked out on the glacial ocean. The phone rang in his pocket and he took the call.
Jasper’s explanation intrigued him and he took the unusual step of ringing him back without activating the electronic countermeasures which protected his voice from analysis.
‘Jasper, this is an interesting development. Please, tell me everything you’ve found.’ he said.
Manners were everything to him. It provided a small measure of continuity to each phase of his existence, between the points where he went into isolation, a feint in the ongoing war to preserve his condition and his legacy, which were one and the same thing.
Jasper spoke and the man listened without interruption. He waited until Jasper lapsed into a nervous silence before he spoke.
‘I will discuss this with the board and see to it you’ve got the resources to deal with this matter.’ he said.
I’m just about to eat, Jasper, if you’ll excuse me.’
Jasper thanked him and ended the call. The man felt the restless pulse of his dinner as she walked onto the upper deck. She wrapped the silk robe around herself as she stared at him, watching the ocean before he turned around and extended his hand. The darkness hid the slow shift of tendons and cartilage in his jaw and throat as he walked towards her. Her beauty moved him but it was pure, ancient appetite which propelled him towards her as she took his hand.
He never did his best thinking on an empty stomach.
(OK, so I guess this is underway, and I would appreciate any comments and feedback, also I’m offering the chance to name the series, and for the best one, I will use your name as a character (fate to be determined as per authorial caveat) Please leave your suggestions below.)