The video began with a grainy shot of a big city street at night. Then there was a quick motion that she wasn’t quite able to make out, and a figure dangling from a street lamp, while a car came into view beneath it. That figure got down on the roof of the car somehow, struggled with others on the ground, and then seemed to run into traffic.
And that was it. Five seconds from beginning to end.
“They got this with a cell phone,” Ashley said aloud to herself. With a cell phone, and from street level. One of those pedestrians on that street had probably seen her coming down, thought it was cool that someone was parachuting into the street right in front of them, and decided to capture the moment. But how much of it did they capture?
“Can you run it for me in slow motion now?” Ashley asked.
“Okay.” Logan closed the window and opened another file he’d made with a video-capture program that let her see the video again frame by frame. Ashley couldn’t make out the figure’s features, at first because the video was recorded from behind her, and then when she was moving across its field of view as she shot across the street, because of the hair whipping about her head, the blur of the motion, the shadows. Looking at the image of herself she didn’t even think someone looking at it could make out the hair color of the woman running away.
An ID of her solely on the strength of that video was impossible. Logan had only made the connection between her and the woman in the clip because he knew what she had been doing that night.
Still, she knew that that bit of video couldn’t possibly help, especially if the clip went viral—and it had already picked up a couple of hundred comments. The first suggested that it was some kind of stunt, but other viewers who thought something else was going on quickly crowded them out.
“Any sign it’s getting past the Internet?” Ashley asked.
“The local TV stations haven’t picked it up yet, for what that’s worth. And there haven’t been any official statements from the police or anyone else about it.”
But the night was still young.
Ashley thought about the other video of her out there, all the security cameras in all those shops and other buildings she’d passed on the street between landing under that street lamp, and the square, and then between that square and the alley. There might have been dozens of them. Getting to them all would be a pain, but she didn’t doubt that Northrop’s people could do it. But she did hope it wouldn’t matter much, that her dash into the alley cut off any reconstruction past that point.
Of course, video wasn’t the only evidence of where she’d gone and what she’d done that night. She’d left her parachute pack dangling from that street lamp, not that it would be of much use to them. Before that she’d had to leave her glider behind on the roof of Thorn C & C’s headquarters. It probably wouldn’t tell them much, either. Just like every other piece of equipment she brought along on a job, they’d made a point of buying it in such a way as to avoid leaving a paper trail, and then eliminated every readable serial number.
Nonetheless, so much as a strand of her hair left behind on any of those items (on that backpack, or that crash helmet next to the glider) . . . to Ashley’s knowledge there was no file on her anywhere against which any DNA they collected could be matched. But that hair would mean the beginning of such a file.
And there was the car she drove to Jersey Beach, from which she took off in the glider and to which she’d planned to fly back, still sitting there with the parking meter running out. The car might just get impounded and forgotten in some municipal lot, but there was the possibility that someone had seen her take off from that desolate stretch of beach she’d so carefully picked, and connected it to what was happening. The car was bought and registered under the name of Stratford, Connecticut resident Amanda Holt. Still . . .
For all her precautions, things were becoming a lot more complicated.
“How did this all go so wrong?” Ashley asked aloud, half to herself.
“They couldn’t have ambushed you like that unless they knew you were coming,” Logan said. “The question’s how. Either we gave ourselves away somehow during the run-up to the job, or, what I think’s more likely, someone else in the know tipped them off.”
“You mean the Client, or one of their people?” Ashley asked. “But we never gave them any details about how we were going to do this.”
“No,” Logan agreed. “But they know your deadline, and they know your methods. And with that information Northrop’s people could have worked out, same as we did, that this Sunday night was a logical time for you to show.
“That they had some of the details, but not all of them, also fits with their emphasis on capturing you—and the fact that they captured you when they did. Instead of grabbing you as soon as you came into the office, or sat down at that computer, or got into Northrop’s computer, or started working on that safe, they let you open it and get the disc in your pocket before springing the trap.
“Was the disc the only thing in the safe?”
“No, there were other items,” she said. “Files . . .”
“Maybe they didn’t know exactly what in that safe you were going after. So they let you pick up the disc first, proving your intentions. They’d have that over you afterward, when they questioned you, because they were sure they’d be able to do that. Because if you’d moved just one second slower, you wouldn’t be here.”
“So the Client was setting me up?” Ashley asked. “Pushed me into this job so that they could call ahead and put me in the middle of that ambush? What would be the point? Even if they have a grudge, it’s just so roundabout.”
“Which is why I don’t think that’s what happened,” Logan said. “It seems more likely to me that the Client’s organization has been compromised by Northrop’s people. Maybe his phone or his e-mail’s being tapped, maybe his office is bugged, maybe one of his people have been bought. I don’t know which, and anyway, the means doesn’t matter so much as the possibility that Northrop’s keeping watch on the Client—just like the Client’s spying on Northrop, and hired you to help with that by breaking into his safe.”
“So what we’re looking at is . . . an ongoing war between these guys?” Ashley asked. “The Client and Northrop?”
“And you’ve been pulled into the middle of it.”
It all seemed incredible to Ashley, so incredible that she wondered for a moment if Logan wasn’t projecting the games of his past onto their present situation. Nonetheless, listening to him Ashley had the same feeling she got when she picked a lock, of tumblers falling into place.
“A war,” Ashley repeated, feeling that she was out of her depth—but that Logan was very much in his.
“A war Northrop is running personally,” Logan said. “Which is why that notorious egomaniac who thinks of his every second as being worth thousands of dollars spent his Sunday night lurking in his office with a bunch of minimum wage rent-a-cops. And then chased you all the way out to Times Square in his car.”
Logan selected a shot from the video clearly showing the car, then blew it up on the screen, focusing on the little white square above the Mercedes’ rear bumper.
Seeing it from street level, right under the light from the street lamp, Ashley was actually able to make out the string of letters and numbers.
“Oh my God,” she said, recognizing the sequence.
The video wasn’t suited to providing anyone with a useful ID of the parachutist. But it did afford an easy ID of Northrop’s personal vehicle. Northrop himself may have been completely concealed behind the car’s darkly tinted windows, but all this made it very hard for him to deny his having personally been at the scene.
“Has anybody else noticed?” Ashley asked.
“There’s been absolutely nothing in the press about what Northrop’s been up to tonight,” Logan said. “But it may be just a matter of time before someone looks it up, or some paparazzo already in the know recognizes it.
“Think about what’s got to be going through Northrop’s head now. Right here on the web we can see that someone used his personal car to pursue a woman who fell out of the sky. It’s the kind of thing that’ll make people wonder.
“If it becomes public knowledge that he was personally chasing a thief who grabbed some mystery disc out of his office . . . well, it’s very suggestive. It raises the possibility of trouble for the company, it’ll worry shareholders, and the financial world generally. That endangers his position.
“And it may be that he’s got a powerful opponent on the other side of whatever this whole issue with the disc’s about.”
“So he might choose to downplay it,” Logan said. “Calmly tell anyone who asks that there was an incident at Thorn headquarters, that his company’s security people are cooperating with the authorities, and that’s all. Wait for it all to disappear in a day or two.
“He might even squeeze the police out of it. After all, if he insisted on being right there himself with his own people when they grabbed you, how would he feel about some random cop picking you up, and the disc along with you? It’s all a matter of how he calculates the risks.”
Ashley tried to think about how Northrop would do that. So far it seemed he’d carefully prepared a trap for her, and then because of a lapse in judgment let her get her hands on the disc and get away. At which point he ran to his car and chased her all the way to Times Square.
It all suggested a man who wasn’t nearly as smart as he thought he was, who planned over-elaborately and then when things went bad acted impulsively and aggressively—a convoluted roller-coaster of a thought process.
Which seemed to begin and end with that disc, that stupid disc that had already brought her so much trouble, and threatened to bring her a great deal more.
Which made her wonder just what all that trouble was about.
Of course, trying to scratch that intellectual itch was something the Client had expressly warned her against, and Ashley knew that defying that warning would be to risk having two different sets of people out for her blood instead of one. But things had changed since that meeting at the Winchester, forcing her to consider options that hadn’t been on the table earlier.
“I think we need to know what’s on the disc,” Ashley said.