The Prodigy

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Chapter 16

The next morning, after Analia leaves for the day, Branna travels the subway to Chelsea before meeting with Ziva. She plans on going to see an art gallery owner she knows and then slip out the back door as an evasive measure. After spotting the tail yesterday, Branna had to acknowledge they are stepping up the surveillance on Analia and herself. Branna wishes she knew if it was because of some slip she or Analia made or if it was because of an uptick in attention paid to the plight of the detainees by several people now. Last night, Branna had to suppress an overwhelming desire to look at the data on her computer but she didn’t dare. She is hoping Ziva brought her computer so they can look together.

As she rides the subway, she spots the first security tail from yesterday. She hopes the owner of the gallery is there today as she goes through the front door. Luck is with her; the owner, Jeff Trembly is in the front room. Jeff had become a celebrity two decades ago for picking sensational artists as well as being a paparazzi darling on the social scene. When he wasn’t hung over, he helped Branna select inexpensive artwork that proved to be quite valuable fifteen years later. Jeff spots her as she walks towards him.

“Can I believe my eyes? A vision is walking towards me. Branna, darling, it is so lovely to see you.” Branna had forgotten how overly punctilious Jeff could be. Jeff leans in for the continental kiss on both cheeks.

“Jeff, you haven’t changed. I would say it is a vision to see you awake and functional before noon. The gallery, I have read, has had some spectacular successes over the years. How have you been?”

“Me? I am a few years older and none the wiser. Have you come back for more tutorials?”

“Just wanted to stop in and say hello. I am living up on 135th Street and most of my walls are bare.”

“Well, we are having a show this Thursday. You must come for that. It is a new artist and his work is incredible. Care for a cup of coffee now?”

“I would love some. Do you still have the back office?”

“Yes, but I renovated it. I sleep here half the time. In answer to your earlier question, I am a reformed bad boy. I don’t stay out all hours and refrain from becoming completely inebriated most days. I found it was good for business.” Branna laughs at this information.

Jeff leads her into the sitting area in the back. Jeff must have visited Versailles right before he did his renovations. The artistry in the walls is such a stunning display of opulence. Branna isn’t sure if she would ever feel comfortable living like this, but it is breathtaking. They sit down and have a quick cup of coffee and chat amiably until his assistant comes back to request his help with a demanding patron. Branna asks if she can leave through the back entrance as it is closer to the subway and Jeff leads her to the door. He drops his façade of practiced eccentricity and looks at her with concern. “Are your old problems still following you darling?

“Unfortunately, yes. The she-devil won’t let go.”

“I am so sorry. They came sniffing around me back then, but left me alone after you left. Anything you need, let me know. I have friends around the world.”

“Thanks, Jeff. I don’t want to cause you any problems. Could you order lunch and if anyone asks, say I am in the back room.”

“I would be delighted to help. I’m not afraid of her highness. Promise me you’ll come back.” Branna agrees and kisses him goodbye and lets herself out the back door.

She doesn’t recognize anyone as she quickly descends the subway stairs near 29th Street. She walks through the tunnels over to the entrance of the loop train. When she is on street level again, she runs another series of evasive maneuvers before boarding the train north to 114th Street. From there, she walks over to St. John the Divine. In a note passed on to her by Ziva when they were at the Oyster Bar, Ziva had told her about the back entrance and had given her a key. She slips in and feels a hand immediately on her arm. Branna jumps, but before she can scream someone puts a hand on her mouth. It is the district attorney, Jax. He motions for her to go in the back room.

Branna walks in and finds Ziva working on her computer. The poorly lit room looks like an old storage area. Filaments of light from the one working lamp illuminate dust particles sprinkling the air around Ziva. Branna has an automatic reflex to sneeze. Ziva has again dramatically altered her appearance. She is now wearing green eye contacts, a blonde wig and a bohemian outfit. Branna can sense her tension. It is palpable. Ziva looks at Branna and immediately Branna feels like she did fourteen years ago when their lives disintegrated around them.

“Let Jax explain.” Ziva looks ready to explode.

Jax looks directly at Branna. “I was at a police precinct a few days ago. The precincts have been advised to keep an eye out for Ziva. They are circulating a photo of her from fifteen years ago. The change in hair and eye color should protect her but they routinely run facial recognition software on random surveillance footage. She’ll be tagged eventually. We’re working on getting her a prosthetic nose which should help her evade the software.” Ziva throws daggers with her eyes at Jax for the nose comment.

Branna looks horrified. “Do you think someone followed me and saw you the other day?”

“No. It was either Damian or his new wife Malin. Jax saw the notice. The date of the notice was sent right before I first saw you and the day after you saw Damian.” Branna shakes her head in disgust.

“I had my misgivings after I saw him with Malin. Damian called me last week and asked if I saw you. I said that you never showed at our meeting and I was worried. I asked him to call me if you ever contacted him. He wants to meet with me again and I said I would get back to him.”

“Are you sure nothing else was mentioned?” Jax interjects.

Branna shakes her head no.

“You should take that meeting. Tell him you can’t find ZIva and that you are at a loss at finding your husband. I’ll have him followed. If he is working for Lucas, we can plant some misinformation with him if we need to.”

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t give anything away. I also said Analia has no idea about what happened to her father. Despite that, I have noticed that Katharine has dramatically increased the surveillance on me. I also know that they are aware of the missing memory card from Rosewood. Fortunately, they had footage of Analia the entire time she was in the lab, so she has been exonerated.”

“Well, they are suspicious of you but if they find Ziva, they will take her into custody and likely ship her off to Rosewood. We have to limit Ziva moving around the city. Ziva and I have already discussed this. We think the cover story for now will be that you and I are dating. I can communicate with Ziva but you are under too much scrutiny. Eventually, you will lead your surveillance right to Ziva. Tell Damian that you met me at the district attorney’s office when you came looking for information about Matthew. We told you we have no idea where he is and it is unlikely he will be found. After a couple of meetings, we started dating.”

Branna looks directly at Jax. “Won’t they eventually suspect you if you’re involved with me?”

“I started building my cover years ago. When they announced the plans to create the special detention center known as Rosewood, I vocally supported them. No one will suspect I am part of the underground. If anyone asks, I will say you came to me to ask about your former husband and I told you he was missing and I couldn’t locate him. We started talking, you’re confused and lonely, and we started dating. As Ziva mentioned, I have a reputation as a playboy. No one would suspect otherwise. Besides, if it becomes too complicated and I come under suspicion, I will just disappear. We have a sleeper that can assume the leadership role if necessary.”

“The plan makes me nervous. I also hate the thought of losing you, Ziva, again after all these years. Is there anyway we can see each other periodically?”

Jax answers before Ziva has a chance to. “There may be opportunities later on. For now, Ziva is going to lay low up in the Hudson Valley, near Newburgh. She is going to do surveillance of who is entering and leaving Rosewood and monitoring the creation of that tunnel. She is also going to map out alternative escape routes.”

Branna directs her next question to ZIva. “How much progress have they made on the tunnel? Do you think it will be completed in the next two months?”

Ziva gives a small shrug of her shoulders. “They are halfway finished. We always wanted to finish before the ground froze. If nothing goes wrong, I think we can finish in three months or less.”

“Did you read the small amended file on that memory chip I gave you Thursday? They intend to give the detainees memory-altering serum once they develop the vector for correcting the PPZ gene. It is all an elaborate hoax. They are using the gene therapy as a cover up. They have already done experiments on three detainees. It completely wipes a person’s memory. We need to get Matt and Brad out as soon as possible. I don’t mean to be selfish and have the other detainees get the serum. But this scares me.” Ziva goes and puts her arms around Branna.

Jax looks up seriously concerned. “I can’t believe I am hearing this. It is a serious human rights violation.”

Ziva laughs sarcastically. “Katharine Lucas doesn’t care about anyone’s rights. She is looking to protect her kingdom. The other potential fallout will be Analia. After they administer the memory altering serum, they’ll explain away the nasty side effect of memory loss by saying the recombinant gene therapy was faulty and Analia is to blame. That’s how Lucas operates.” Ziva is indignant as she says this.

“I think you’re right. Analia isn’t as worried about it as I am. She kept a backup copy of her data. She is fairly confident she could solve the vector problem but she is trying to delay the team working on it. The longer she stretches it out, the more time we’ll have to get Matthew and Brad out. However, if we had to wait until spring, it would be a disaster. She is actually trying to map the genetics of pedophilia with Josh and another geneticist. They’re hoping that their success will placate the great Katharine.”

“How much time do you think we really have?” Ziva asks.

“Just a few months. They stepped up the surveillance on me and are looking for you. When Katharine feels stressed, she becomes vicious. She may retaliate sooner if she finds even the slightest evidence that something is up.”

“Can you imagine how she will react if she finds out her own son is working against her?” Ziva murmurs.

“What are you talking about?” Jax asks both of them.

“Josh Lucas was the one who stole the memory chip from the lab at Rosewood. He is Katharine’s son. He also had a friend who is a retired officer in the New Jersey State police who ran a check on the charges and indictments of the Rosewood detainees. I warned Analia of the danger both of them could be in if the search gets tagged but she wasn’t able to warn Josh until after the fact. Josh was over last night and I suggested that his friend take a vacation for a little while.”

“Why would either of you trust the son of Katharine Lucas? It is madness.” Jax asks with annoyance.

“We don’t trust him completely, but his information has been helpful. He is also crazy about my daughter Analia. I don’t think he is faking that. I watched his face when he came over last night. However, the main reason I believe he wants to do this is because of his brother. Katharine had a second son who developed brain damage from anoxic encephalopathy. Katharine refused to accept a cognitively deficient offspring as hers and gave him up for adoption. His father intervened and arranged for the grandfather to adopt him secretly. Josh never knew he had a brother until he turned twelve. He despises his mother.”

“I see so many dysfunctional families in the district attorney’s office, but this story is really twisted.”

“Josh is worried about what Katharine would try to do to Bent if she found out that Josh is working against her. At best, she would hold him for ransom or worse. Josh has arranged for Bent and his caretaker, Francesca, to go live in a monastery in Brazil. He’s hoping that Brazil’s extradition policy and sanctuary by the church will protect them. He is sending them there relatively soon.”

Jax relaxes his stance at the news. “That’s not a bad idea sending them away. He should consider bodyguards. I still can’t get over a mother doing that to her children.”

“I will mention it to him. Analia and I have been invited to his beach house next week. I still don’t know if I will go, although the mother in me wants to. I don’t want to bring my surveillance team down there. They kept Bent hidden well for years and I don’t want to ruin that. I learned that Katharine routinely plants listening devices on Josh. He has amazing anti-spy ware gadgets, but Katharine has better resources. It is only a matter of time before Katharine finds out.”

Jax and Ziva both look incredulous and the room goes quiet for a few minutes. Jax finally speaks. “That woman should never have been a mother. Josh probably can be trusted but we have to play it safe. No names or places.”

“I know. I have never mentioned anyone’s names to even Analia. I will have to give her someone to call should anything happen to me.”

“Give her my name. We will be seeing each other regularly. If the need ever arises, just tell her to come to me if she has to.” Jax stops for a minute and looks at Ziva and she nods yes to him. “Analia also has another protector in the Lucas Institute, Dr. Wes Morehouse. Wes is a sleeper and we don’t want to use him until absolutely necessary. Do not tell your daughter about him.”

“Well I am glad the kids have someone watching out for them. So, I guess this is it. I have to run back to Chelsea. As an evasive measure, I visited Jeff’s gallery. I slipped out the back and I asked Jeff to say we were having lunch in the back room if anyone asked about me. I am actually in the market for another painting.”

“You saw Jeff Trembly? Oh, I miss him. Is he still the flamboyant life of the party?” Ziva’s eyes light up at the mention of Jeff.

“He claims he has mellowed. Jeff has done really well over the years. He invited me to an opening this Thursday. I will probably go.”

Jax perks up. “Perfect, I will be your date. I am in court tomorrow morning but late afternoon is free. Buzz me on the beeper as you enter the office and I will walk by reception and agree to see you. That way you won’t be diverted by the receptionist to another attorney. We can meet for coffee Tuesday or Wednesday and then we will go to the gallery on Thursday.”

Branna is a little taken aback and says a silent prayer of thanks that her brand new dating life is just for the sake of a cover. Ziva watches her and smiles.

“Jax. You need to take it slow with Branna. She hasn’t been on a date in over twenty years.” Jax looks at Branna appraisingly.

“Ok. I will try not to be overbearing. Branna, you are one of the most loyal human beings I have ever met. In my profession, it is refreshing.”

“Thank you. Before I leave, is there anything else we need to work on?” Brianna addresses Ziva with her question.

“Access to the security codes up at Rosewood would be nice, or even just a way to control the outdoor lighting. If you could manage a few miracles, even better.”

“That could be difficult, but I will try. I just remembered something I should have mentioned before this. Each detainee has a GPS locator planted in his forearm. It has to be taken out before they leave Rosewood.”

Ziva looks stunned. “Crap. That will increase the time needed for the escape. I am going to have to talk to the nurse we have inside Rosewood. Hopefully she can figure out where these GPS chips are implanted. She never mentioned it to us so she may not know. That could be an issue if she can’t take them out quickly.”

’I will look into a GPS signal jammer to be used on the initial escape. The only thing is, I don’t know how effective that will be. Those trackers will most definitely have to come out.” Jax looks at a text message that he just received. “I need to wrap this up.

“Do you have a place to take everyone after the escape?” Branna asks.

“We are still working on that. They will set up road blocks immediately.”

Jax chimes in. “It would be better if we can get them out that night. I am searching for a truck with disguised cargo space, basically a false bottom. I know of a few people through my cases who could get one for us. For obvious reasons, I just need someone else to make the purchase because of the conflict of interest. I can’t be seen with these people. Branna, try to set up that date with Damian the rat, and let me know tomorrow when you are meeting him. Ziva, I’ll talk to you later on the prepaid.”

After Jax exits, Branna looks at ZIva. All of a sudden, a bone-shattering chill steals over her. She suppresses a fear that she may never see Ziva again. Ziva walks over and strokes Branna’s hair. They don’t need to talk. There are moments in life when words are not needed. Brianna puts her head down on Ziva’s head and they stand for a few minutes.

“Take care of yourself, please. We have a future waiting for us.” Branna then turns and leaves through the back door.

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