This excerpt takes place a month after Chuck knocked Sarah out and left her in an alley in Spain. Enjoy!
“Should you even be doing this?”
Chuck kept the scowl off of his face only through a mammoth effort; if he let it loose, the emotion would no doubt reflect in his voice, and Ellie would pick up on it in a finger-snap. “Probably not,” he said, attempting a cheerful tone. “But when has that ever stopped me?”
“When indeed.” The words were said with a sigh. “Dad doesn’t want you poking into this.”
“I’m already compromised.” Chuck picked up a screwdriver he’d bought the eyeglass kit at the drugstore to attain and finished attaching the final screw on Tanya’s interface. His iPhone sat next to him on the coffee table, on speakerphone. “They don’t have any of my identities, but they have my picture and they know how I’m connected to Dad.”
“Which means you should be running in the opposite direction as hard and fast as you can.”
“But you’re not going to.” Ellie sounded frustrated.
“Don’t worry. I’ve upgraded Tanya, and I’ll be careful.”
“Yeah, I’ve also heard that before.”
“Careful-er than normal, then.”
“Which is still pretty damned reckless, Chuck.”
“Super careful,” Chuck said, smiling now.
“Uh-huh. If I have to come save your ass, little brother, and break my cover here, I’m going to be displeased.”
“Wouldn’t want that.” Chuck’s smile didn’t disappear as he pulled his magnifying headband off and carefully stowed it in his kit. The hotel room was normally a middle-of-the-line economy-class suite, meant for a traveling family on a budget. It had likely never seen anything close to the array of electronics Chuck had spread over all available surfaces before, nor would it ever again. He still had his secondary Tanya unit (with a smaller screen and a different processor) laid out in pieces over the coffee table, but given that he was on a schedule and pushing it close, he’d have to reassemble that when he got to Monte Carlo the next day. “How is, ah, the cover going, anyway?”
“You’re not planning to stay there until you graduate, are you? You’ve been there awhile.”
“I’ve been careful.”
“Uh-huh,” Chuck said, deliberately teasing her with the same tone she’d used earlier.
He all but heard Ellie roll her eyes, but there was a smile present in her words. “Things are good here. I like my classes, and I’ve almost gotten used to answering to ‘Maggie.’”
“Means it’s almost time for a new identity.”
“Don’t remind me. You be beyond super-careful today, you hear me? If Mom finds out...”
“Oh, let’s not kid ourselves there. She either knows already or she’s going to within, like, a day.”
“Do you have to rile her so much?”
“And get a new hobby? I don’t think so. El, I’ve gotta go.”
“Okay. Call me when it’s over so I know if you’re safe?”
“I’ll call you when I’m clear. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Chuck hit the ‘End Call’ button on his phone without looking and immediately began slipping his back-up Tanya into a case. The call to Ellie had put him a little behind schedule, so he had only forty minutes to sanitize the hotel room and ten minutes to get his luggage to a safe point where he could come back for it if things should go pear-shaped. For himself, he hoped they wouldn’t. After the near-disaster in Spain the month before, he needed something to go right today.
He wasn’t sure if the NSA had intercepted the same distress signal he had, or if he’d quelled it in time. His father had a number of active networks running throughout the world. The distress signal had only been active for a three second-burst, not really all that much time. Through some finessing, he’d been able to triangulate it to a mile radius outside of Boston, near the water. It would take some searching, and was likely a dead end.
But if somebody knew how to access his father’s networks, Chuck was positive: they’d downloaded the Intersect Orion had worked on creating over seventeen years before.
He finished cleaning the hotel room in record time, making several trips to the unobtrusive rental car he’d picked up at Logan Airport under the name of Noel Tanner. If anybody managed to trace him to car, he had already hacked the database and made sure that Noel Tanner was a cheerful-looking African American male in his fifties.
It helped to cover one’s tracks, especially when dealing with one John Casey. Chuck had read up on Casey’s full file. “Dogged” didn’t even begin to cover it.
He grabbed some take-out on the way down to the docks, parked his car a few blocks away, and made the rest of the trek on foot. His garb for the day was entirely blue collar: jeans, a blue work-shirt, a ballcap that was as old and oil-stained as either of those. For good measure, he worked up a sweat and smudged grease across one cheek.
Yup. Just another dock worker.
And hopefully not one walking into a trap.
He didn’t see any of the telltale signs that a sting was in process, signs his mother had drilled into him from early on. Passersby gave him strange looks when he stared at them rather than hurriedly avoiding his gaze. There weren’t any flashes from the windows or people standing on the roofs, overly interesting in what was going on in the streets.
Maybe the NSA hadn’t caught onto the distress signal.
He heard the footsteps behind him, the click of heeled boots on cement, and cringed. Okay, maybe it was a trap.
“Well, howdy, Nick.”
And it definitely wasn’t an NSA trap.
Chuck didn’t stop walking, though he did slow considerably, his hand inching toward the tranq gun—which now looked like a real gun; he had some pride, after all—he kept hidden beneath the work shirt. Slowly, he turned his head and looked into the sarcastically smiling mien of the same woman that had nearly made him the laughingstock of his entire family in Spain. “Agent Walker. Fancy meeting you here.”
“Yeah, right.” And Sarah Walker yanked him into an alley.