Smith

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Changes

Jake woke up disoriented.

“It’s about time. I was beginning to worry I had overdosed you.”

“What happened?”

“A little mayhem, a little more death. You are heavier than you look, by the way. It must be all the potato chips. In my day . . .”

“Where’s Nava.”

“No, ‘thank you’. No, ‘Gee, Smith, I didn’t know you could make me fly.’”

“Stop with the emotional crap. Why do I feel so sluggish?”

“I had to put you in Happy Land, or your mind would have snapped. Just enjoy the after effects. If I hadn’t protected you, I might have to wait another 3,000 years for your replacement.”

Jake realized he was in his room at the hotel. He just put his feet on the floor when the Prime Minister and Nava entered without knocking.

“Jake, you’re awake,” Nava said. “It’s been hours.”

The Minister’s head was bandaged where he’d been pistol whipped.

Nava handed Jake a glass of water which he gulped at once.

“My entire security team is gone except for you two,” the Minister said. “I don’t understand why Colonel Sauerbrum and Administrator Kohn are missing. And why did the kidnappers take you two instead of me?”

“Sounds like someone wants you defenseless,” Jake lied.

“You’re probably right,” the Minister agreed. “I want out of this place. It’s safer for me in Israel.”

“When do we leave?” Nava asked.

“You’re both staying here. Your job is to find Sauerbrum and Kohn.”

“How are we supposed to operate?” Nava asked. “We have no legal authority here.”

“You forget the President is a friend trying to improve relations with Israel. He has ordered the FBI Director to create a special task force. You two will be my official liaisons.”

“A foot in the door to the Executive Branch of the United States. The most powerful Nation on Earth. Sometimes I even amaze myself.”

Jake closed his eyes and shook his head.

***

Jake and Nava waited almost an hour to be introduced to the Director of the FBI Task Force.

Incensed by the delay, Jake was ready to walk out when a stiff-necked Ivy League twenty-something pointed to Room 410.

“Your identities check. The Director will see you now.”

The blinds covering the door window rattled as Jake followed Nava into the office and slammed the door with too much indignation.

All they saw was the high back of a leather chair, and a name plate ‘R. Dixit’. Jake was astonished when his calculated door slam didn’t cause any reaction. Instead, after a few moments, the chair swiveled leisurely to reveal an Indian woman.

She had a painted symbol covering the middle of her forehead and extending down the bridge of her nose. It looked like a yellow tuning fork with a red streak between the tines.

Jake thought it was attractive, especially on the Director.

“I need some kind of hydraulic closer on that door, or one of these days some hotshot is going to break my blinds,” she said.

“Oh, no. The beliefs of certain sects in India are not compatible with the teachings of Solomon. I need to know more about her caste.”

“I am Ramesha Dixit, Director of whatever this investigation is supposed to be.”

Despite her calm demeanor, Nava could tell the woman wasn’t pleased.

“I apologize for the exuberance of my partner. He’s had a rough couple of days.”

“Rather young for Shin Bet isn’t he?”

“His methods get results. I had the same opinion when we first met. He grows on you.”

“The woman has a silver tongue. Another mark in the Queen plus column.”

“Keep your remarks to yourself,” Jake mumbled.

“Is he always so outspoken?”

“He talks to himself a lot. One of his many character flaws. I’m Nava Kilman, and this is Jake Goddard.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Jake said. “Sorry to stare, but I’ve never seen a symbol like yours. What does it mean?”

“My religious beliefs are none of your business.”

“You have the subtlety of a hippopotamus.”

The door opened, and a thick-set man joined them. It looked like he had to struggle to put on his suit. The size of his muscles stretched the fabric to its breaking point. He didn’t offer to shake hands.

“Inspector Maldonado, this is Nava Kilman and Jake Goddard. You will be working with them for the duration of this operation.”

“Why are we wasting our time on a simple missing persons case?”

“I like this guy. Hope his brains match his brawn.”

“Apparently, the President has different ideas about the definition of simple,” Dixit responded. “Give them access and provide any assistance they may require. Any questions?”

“Just one. Which one of you is the boss?”

“She is,” Jake said.

“What?”

***

Maldonado was efficient.

Jake’s first impression of the man was ‘fitness freak’. After watching his computer skills, Jake was convinced he was a digital maestro.

The Federal law enforcement database apparently had access to everything online. Within 5 minutes, they were perusing the New York City Coroner’s Office and found reference to a headless, white female body discovered in an alley off 81st Street.

Arriving at the Coroner’s office, Jake and Nava trailed Maldonado through a maze of corridors straight to refrigerated storage. Expecting demands for warrants and other identification, Jake was surprised when a white coated assistant coroner left them after handing Maldonado a file folder.

“Hate to say it, but this place is almost my second home,” Maldonado said as he handed out face masks.

Pulling open drawer 26, he unzipped the blue body bag. Jake and Nava recognized the remains of Sauerbrum but remained silent.

“Can you identify her?”

“It could be Colonel Sauerbrum, but I can’t be sure,” Nava said.

“Definite improvement. My compliments to whoever gave her the exploding necklace. Not old school by my standards but ingenious nonetheless.”

“We’ll know in a few moments,” Maldonado said as he rummaged through the file folder.

Taking a pic of the fingerprints card, Maldonado texted it and made a phone call.

“Yea, Peterson, compare the fingerprints I just sent you to the Sauerbrum prints we got from Shin Bet. Yes, I need them sooner than later.”

Staring at the body with a critical eye, Maldonado spotted a bulge inside what was left of the body’s tunic. Putting on nitrile gloves, he pulled the lump out and unfolded it. It was a beret.

“Interesting,” Maldonado said. “If she was killed out in the open, why wasn’t she wearing her cover?”

Another beret. Jake’s eyes narrowed.

“Is there any patch or pin on it?” Nava asked. “It could help ID her.”

“Nothing, which is strange. This doesn’t look like standard military issue. I think you could find one like it in any department store.

Muffled gun-fire came from the hallway. Only silenced automatic weapons could make such muted thumps.

Maldonado and Nava drew their Glocks and covered the door just as it was blown off its hinges. Jake was nearest the explosion, and the fireball engulfed him.

Nava blanched. She was sure Jake was injured. A flash-bang grenade slid across the floor. Whoever had pulled the pin had held it until the last second. It exploded as it neared Maldonado’s feet.

Ceiling tiles fell as their supports blew apart. Smoke was white, thick and oily. Five men in SWAT gear slid into the room, weapons at the ready.

Maldonado’s eyes were watering, and his shot missed. His head and body jerked as bullets found them. Nava’s gun was slapped away, and the laser sights of three assault rifles lit up her torso.

“Where’s the guy with the Ring?”

Nava realized the question was directed at her. She was still groggy from the effects of the grenade, but Jake was nowhere to be seen. Smoke still hung in the air, but she could make out general details. He was gone.

“Check under the door,” one of the men ordered. “Maybe we used too much explosive.”

Two men levered the heavy door off the floor. There was nothing under it.

“He ran,” someone said.

“How did he get past us?”

“The Boss is going to be pissed.”

“Bring the woman. She might be useful. If she’s not, we can dispose of her.”

Nava’s thoughts about Jake weren’t kind as she was pushed through the building. Everywhere she looked, there was the dead body of some nameless New Yorker. It was ironic Death had walked through the front door of the Coroner’s Office instead of arriving in a body bag.

She was blindfolded and thrown into the back of a van.

“Why is it always a van?”

***

When the doorway exploded, Smith surrounded him with some kind of shield.

The door glanced against the invisible barrier and bounced to the floor. The fireball and explosive concussion didn’t ruffle a hair on his head.

“I have surrounded you with the Shield of Transparency. Go to a corner of the room and remain quiet.”

Jake held up his arms. They looked normal at first glance, but after a moment, he perceived something like a coat of thick water or clear gel covering them. Ignored by the assault team as if he didn’t exist, he watched as Moldonado was killed and Nava taken prisoner.

“What kind of a ridiculous name is Shield of Transparency? It sounds so 50’s,” Jake hissed.

“The name has endured for over 3,000 years. I have never called it anything else.”

“Well, I’m not going to be embarrassed asking for the Shield of Transparency. Even the acronym is S.O.T.”

“What is an acronym?”

One of the commandos looked toward Jake as if he had heard something. No use giving away his position arguing with an interface. As quietly as he could, Jake backed into a corner. The men levered the door off the floor, found nothing and decided to take Nava.

“I am tired of being the hunted. We have the opportunity to learn who is behind these assaults.”

“What do you want to do?

“Follow the animals to their lair and discover who gives the orders. We will continue to climb the ladder until we reach the top.”

***

Jake eased after the men and jumped into the van just as its door slid shut.

One of the goons stroked Nava’s arm. She flinched, but her bindings made it impossible for her to back away.

Jake glared, and Smith solidified the shield. Jake was still invisible but couldn’t move.

“She can take care of herself. They won’t hurt her before she meets the Leader.”

One of the other men said, “Leave her alone, Larry. Once the Boss has what he needs, she’s yours.”

Smith relaxed the shield, and Jake could move again. He spent the next hour doing his best not to reveal his presence.

At last, the van drove into a warehouse. Jake followed as Nava was dragged out and shoved into one of the offices. A calendar pinned to a nearby wall proclaimed, ‘Worldwide Antiquities Research’.

“Shouldn’t be long now. Just remain calm. Your movements can be heard even if you can’t be seen.”

“Did Solomon use the Shield?” Jake whispered.

“How do you think he pulled off the ‘Wise Man’ routine? Being invisible has many advantages. It’s informative to hear conversations others think are private.”

“What’s the Swahili word for transparency?”

“Uwazi.”

Now that’s cool. From now on the Shield of Transparency is called the Uwazi Shield.

Daniel Kohn entered the room. Nava gasped, making enough noise to hide Jake’s startled reaction.

It was obvious he had received medical attention. His arm was in a sling. He slapped Nava.

Jake gritted his teeth but remained still. He needed more information.

Kohn pulled a pistol and jammed it against Nava’s shoulder.

“Tell me where Jake is.”

“I don’t know.”

The gunshot was loud. Nava screamed as the slug ripped into the wall.

Kohn put the end of the hot barrel back against Nava’s shoulder, and she flinched as its heat seared her skin.

“The next shot won’t miss. Jake wouldn’t leave you so tell me where he is. He is in great danger.”

“Can you make the Uwazi Shield cover Nava?” Jake hissed.

Smith didn’t answer. Jake repeated the question.

“Yes but only if she maintains physical contact with you. I don’t think you should share this power with anyone. Especially someone not your Queen.”

“Just make it happen,” Jake ordered as he crept toward her. “Will she be able to see me?”

“Yes. As long as you maintain contact.”

“I don’t know where Jake is. The last time I saw him was just before your goons blew open the door at the Coroner’s office. Why don’t you ask them?”

Jake grabbed Nava’s arm, and the Uwazi Shield enveloped her. Jerking her away from the pistol barrel, he covered her mouth to keep her from screaming.

***

“He can’t see us,” Jake whispered.

Nava struggled, and it took all Jake’s strength to hold her. Despite his efforts, she kicked Kohn in the shin.

“She’s still here!” Kohn shouted and shot into the wall several times. Nava stopped struggling as the gun fire neared her shielded face. Kohn was looking at her, but there was no indication he saw her.

“Don’t move,” Jake whispered.

Nava nodded, and Jake took his hand off her mouth.

“What’s happening? It’s like he can’t see me,” she hissed.

Kohn moved his arms across the space where Nava had been. He moved right, waving his arms and kicking out.

“He’ll come this way next. We need to move. Make sure to keep touching me, or the Uwazi Shield won’t protect you,” Jake whispered.

They slid down the wall as the commandos formed a semi-circle behind Kohn.

“She still has to be in this room. One of you lock the door and stay there,” Kohn ordered.

“It’s the Ring, isn’t it?” one of the men asked. The fear in his voice obvious.

“It has to be. Jake is in this room somewhere. Find him.”

The men began spreading out, waving their weapons from side to side.

“Jake,” Kohn said. “You can’t protect her forever. The Ring will choose you over her every time.”

Hearing no response, he said, “The Goetia Legion exists to protect you and assist your ascendency to World leadership. Don’t let some misguided sense of loyalty cloud your judgment.”

Jake eased up to the man guarding the door. It was an odd sensation to walk in front of someone and not be seen. Jake and Nava could see each other but were transparent to the other people in the room.

Switching his grip on Nava to his left hand, he slugged the door guard. Opening the door, he stepped back. Nava tried to run out of the room, but he held her and moved farther away from the opening.

“Follow them,” Kohn shouted. “Shoot to kill.”

“What about the Ring Bearer?”

“The Ring will protect him. The woman is useless.”

The four remaining commandos stormed out the door spraying gunfire in every direction. Jake and Nava walked over to Kohn. Nava wrenched the pistol from his hand, and Jake chopped him in the Adam’s apple. Kohn collapsed, gasping for air.

“Nice move. I’ll finish him.”

“No,” Jake said. “It’s time to find out who is behind the efforts to separate us. Extend the Uwazi Shield onto him.”

“No. The value of the Shield of Transparency, I mean the Uwazi Shield, is the fact no one knows it exists. I took a risk allowing you to use it to protect Nava. I will not divulge its existence to the enemy.”

“I thought Smith was supposed to follow your orders,” Nava said. “What’s going on?”

Jake was getting angry. Smith was acting like he had the first time they met. Remembering the horrid sensation as the Ring tried to burn itself off his finger, Jake suffered his first bout with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“DO AS I SAY!” he bellowed. The gunfire stopped, and they heard running feet heading back to the room.

“Very well, Jake, but I have warned you.”

Kohn had stopped gagging. Jake grabbed him and pulled him to his feet. Just then, the four commandos stalked into the room, weapons at the ready.

“Where did he go?”

“Check the inner office.”

“No one here.”

Jake and Nava remained silent. Smith had stiffened the Uwazi layer around Kohn. He couldn’t move or make a sound.

“To heck with this. With all the gunfire, the cops could show up any minute. Kohn’s on his own, wherever that is. Let’s go.”

The van tires screeched as they left the warehouse.

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