Even with the train far behind them and the Mercedes out of sight, Logan was still going flat-out. Playing it safe, Ashley supposed. But going fast or slow they couldn’t keep driving this car for much longer. Not with their shattered back window and their bullet holes. So they had to ditch the vehicle. They’d planned to abandon the Audi all along, but not the hatchback, which was a problem given that they had all the more reason to try to make a speedy exit from Chicago.
If the people who’d tracked them down to the house were Company people, they’d quickly figure out what Logan and Ashley had been up to, and if they weren’t the Company they’d also achieve that in not much more time. And that was without taking into account the Chicago P.D., certain to be looking into that whole string of incidents they’d just left behind in their wake. (Ashley pictured them coming to the house and finding the gate open, the garage door smashed, an unaccounted-for Audi in the garage, bullet holes in the walls, the wreck of the back door, a man tied to a chair sitting in a closet. It was not the kind of thing normally overlooked.)
On this side of the train track were warehouses, factories that looked for the most part silent, even derelict. But soon enough there were cars and people and lights again, cars and people and lights Logan avoided to keep the damage to their car from being noticed. While he maneuvered through the quiet side streets alongside them Ashley got out her cell, checked a map of the city subway system and found an entrance to a station just two miles away, the latest extension of its line.
They found an alley three blocks short of it, got their emergency kit and Logan’s laptop out of the hatchback, and then did another sweep to make sure they didn’t leave behind any items that could easily be connected with them. Just the keys, in the ignition, which along with the open doors would hopefully be taken as an invitation to theft, and promptly wind up in a chop shop, just as lost to the cops as if they’d filed off every serial number and scrubbed every print.
Ashley and Logan then made their way to the subway station, where they got on a train and rode it to the far end of the line. There was a hotel within walking distance of that station, The Gray, a three-story block of concrete squeezed between a run-down apartment building and a small office building, distinguished from the others principally by a neon sign with several blinking letters.
Unpromising as it looked, they continued inside and found a jowly old man looking at a magazine spread over his desktop from behind protective glass. He signed them in and gave them the keys to a room on the second floor which, just as the exterior promised, was much more Pine Lodge than Trilby. But they were off the street, and no one bothered them.
That left them plenty of time to work out their next move, to which their loss of their car, and the safe house, were not the only complications. A live, lucid Todd Mackelvore was back there, to tell the story of how Ashley drew him into a trap. She had left her own laptop behind in her room, and despite the passwords and all the protections that came with them the bad guys’ tech experts had a chance of extracting some of its secrets.
And they’d both left their luggage, the clothes and other personal items they’d carried in it, everything but what they had on their persons, and in the emergency kit, and Logan’s computer.
But those were all means to the end, which was the next step in their investigation, and which they had managed to advance somewhat in return for those losses. Mackelvore did not tell them very much himself, but he did point the way to people who might be able to tell them more. They had five names. Lawrence, Fischer, Cheung, Turner, Vieira. Their profile of Lawrence was too vague to give them much chance of identifying him, let alone tracking him down. It seemed plausible that they had the real, full names of the three staff personnel, but they were less clear on what they could actually tell them that they didn’t already know.
Vieira, on the other hand . . . they had worked out exactly who he was in short order, while his apparently senior position within the project—possibly extending to access to the very top people in the hierarchy—made him likely to have the information they really needed: who was behind Athena, and why.
“What’s the last we have on him say?” Ashley asked.
“Officially he retired last year, and it’s probably actually true in his case,” Logan said. “He’s living out in Baja California, in the Ensenada area.”
A lot of older people seemed to be doing that, going for the warm weather and a retirement even cheaper than could be had in America’s Sun Belt. First World amenities at Third World prices was the idea.
But as far as they were concerned, it was an inconvenient place for him to have done that, not just Mexico, but westernmost Mexico. The last thing Ashley wanted was another long trip, let alone one taking them all the way to the other side of the continent, and then across an international border. But it looked like that was exactly where they would be going.
Fortunately their collections of identity documents included a number of passports. And they did have the means to get a new car, which was the next morning’s task. This time it was Logan who went to buy.
He came back with a midsize Nissan, in which they went shopping for new luggage, new clothes, a new laptop for Ashley. And thus began another two full days on the road, traveling southwest across the wheat fields of Iowa and the cornfields of Nebraska and the mountains of Colorado, where they saw their first snowfall of the year. And then beyond those mountains, the southwestern desert, where they put away the winter clothing, started wearing T-shirts and shorts instead.
Over the Arizona line, in California, Ashley was surprised to see the desert turn into a landscape reminiscent of vistas she’d seen in her journeys in Spain and Italy. Still sunny and dry but rather more verdant and cooler than she had thought it would be.
An hour after that she saw a shoreline, and in the big blue beyond it her first-ever glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. According to their map they’d reached San Diego, where they crossed the border without incident and continued south along the west coast of the Baja peninsula.
As they drove this route they worked out the plan for their approach to their next target, once again changing tacks. They had spent a whole week setting up the approach to Mackelvore, created whole new false identities, rented a house—and had him just a couple of hours before their pursuers came crashing through the door with guns blazing and sent them running again. Speed seemed a better defense than careful planning.
But Ashley still meant to be as well prepared as she could when she faced Vieira, and that meant doing the requisite homework.
“Vieira wasn’t quite the nomad de Ruyter was,” Logan said when he took his turn online as Ashley took hers at the wheel. “He’s had a couple of fellowships elsewhere—Carnegie-Mellon, San Diego U. Did his share of conferences, too. In fact, that seems to be how he first came to Ensenada, back in ’08. Place isn’t just a retirement community, after all; apparently they have a big biotech industry in the area. And ‘more scientists per capita than any other city in Latin America’ according to Instapedia. But for most of his career he stuck with Kitsap University.”
“Kitsap,” Ashley said. “Where’s that?”
“Washington state. Pretty close to Seattle.”
Seattle again, Ashley thought, recalling Mackelvore’s roots in the city. That did not seem a coincidence. She also wondered if his retiring in a biotech hub wasn’t more than coincidence, too, even if she didn’t remember any references to the area in their file.
“Is he living with anyone?” Ashley asked. “Wife, children?”
“Both of his daughters are grown,” Logan said. “One’s living in Seattle, another in Vancouver. So it’s just him and his wife.”
Helen Vieira was a decade younger than her husband, and in the most recent photo Ashley had seen of her, she looked a well-preserved decade younger than that. She wondered if strangers ever mistook him for her father.
“Interesting detail,” Logan said. “He was involved in the anti-war movement in the ’60s and ’70s, the anti-nuclear protests in the ’80s.”
Logan’s words summoned hazy images out of old documentaries, people walking carrying signs with the peace symbol on them, slogans about war being bad for children and other living things. An association with groups like that was not something she expected in a scientist so heavily involved in the kind of project de Ruyter and Mackelvore had described to her.
When Logan took the wheel Ashley studied a Googolplex Terra picture of the retirement village where Vieira had settled. Sunset Terrace, located ten miles down the shore from Ensenada, just off an exit from the main highway, between that road and the beach. Looking more closely she noted that there was a ten foot drop from the patios of the westernmost houses to the beach, the closest part of which was enclosed by the community’s western wall.
The number corresponding to Vieira’s current mailing address was a modest one-story house on that side of the compound. Two bedrooms, one for the residents, another for the occasional guest, which sounded perfectly adequate for the couple’s needs.
Ashley thought about approaching from the beach, getting over the wall, making her way to the house—but that may have been unnecessary. There was, she noted, no more evidence of security than there would have been in a similar community in California. That still left a guard at the gate, but she figured that a lone, unarmed North American woman wouldn’t have much trouble bluffing her way past him.
They saw the skyline of Ensenada late Friday morning. Logan parked the car at a bus stop up the road from Sunset Terrace, while the two of them waited for the bus from the city to appear. When they spotted it approaching Ashley got out, then when it stopped, boarded the bus and rode it to Sunset Terrace’s front door. When, as she expected, the guard asked her business she said she was Dr. Anthony Vieira’s niece Maddy. (Vieira did have a niece by that name, in case anyone asked, who incidentally didn’t seem to have come down since Vieira’s retirement, minimizing the chance that she would be caught in a lie.) She added that she wanted her visit to be a surprise, and could he just let her by without calling ahead?
The guard shrugged and let her through to walk about the compound. It was a simple enough matter to find Vieira’s door. Standing in front of it she turned on the digital recorder in her purse, knocked, saw it open. Framed in the doorway was an older man, bearded, bespectacled, which gave him an owl-like appearance. Rather tan and casually dressed (a cotton shirt, shorts, waterproof moccasins), but otherwise clearly recognizable as Dr. Anthony Vieira.