Coded messages. Encrypted emails. Scrambled signals.
Stock in trade for CCS and especially the Paper Clip Division. The Hub of Chimera made our network possible. Made our organization efficient.
Made the White Lady vulnerable.
I had been wondering about this flashkill—how had it been possible? For the killer or killers to hit all of our operatives—almost all of our operatives—they had to have known where the agents were at various times.
WL insisted on control—a remnant from the KGB no doubt. Each operative checked in at a preordained date and time using prearranged codes and a designated medium. If they didn’t, the controller on shift at Chimera activated a locator chip using an encrypted satellite burst which reached everywhere on the globe. The operatives supposedly didn’t know where on their body the chip had been implanted. Theoretically, no one working for the White Lady could hide.
Unless you have someone who is willing to help you find the chip and remove it.
I had been AWOL for a while before the White Lady had paper-clipped me. I didn’t know how she had found me. Hadn’t asked her, either. And if I did ask she wouldn’t tell me, anyway. In reality, none of us could hide … not forever, at least.
But, in reality, her organization’s strength was also her weakness. Whoever had done this must have had access to our codes. Access to the transmission control room in the Hub.
Access to everyone.
That’s why I was standing in the very same transmission control room in the Hub, on the twentieth floor of the Chimera building, with my imitation Glock pointed at the face of the Communications Head, Hendrik Geier.
“Three things, Geier,” I said, “One: the name of the controller who activated the last implant burst. Two: the encryption and meeting code for Lilith de Zwart. Three: five minutes in a secure room with a dark sat line—encrypted and text-capable.”
Hendrik Geier did not like me. That was okay; I didn’t like him either. I was not alone in this; his disdain for anything not German oozed from every pore, every glance and every inflection. Except for the White Lady … he adored her. They went way back together, so because of that he was currently not a suspect, just a means to an end. He also wasn’t French, so he got bonus points for that.
“Is ze gun necessary, Jeremiah?”
That he knew my name-of-the-day didn’t surprise me. Assigning day-names was the purview of two people only: the White Lady and Goran Nemec, the Vice-President of Communications for Critically Clear Solutions. It was the title on his business card, but he was simply another confidante—meaning thug—from her days in the Legion. To be efficient—and the White Lady was nothing if not charmingly efficient—Nemec’s job was to inform those who needed to know the day-name of any operative within seconds of its assignment. Assuming Nemec was still alive, the Communication Head, Hendrik Geier certainly qualified in the category of need-to-know.
“You know, Hendrik, the gun gives me the illusion of power. The chimera of control, if you will … and it gives me confidence you’ll divulge the real traitor’s name to me.”
Geier shrugged. “If you must …” He pulled a pen from his shirt pocket and wrote on a piece of paper. Took a set of keys and a swipe card from a lock-box behind the desk where he was sitting. Threw all three items over the desk onto the rubber mat in front of me. Placed his hands on the desk and stared at me with cold blue eyes. “Zis man is not here, Jeremiah. He has not reported back since ze day he sent ze burst … for obvious reasons, as we now know. We thought at first he had been one of ze targets … ”
Other Chimera staffers had noticed my incursion and were milling about in the outer office with concerned looks. Perhaps they thought I was firing Geier … literally.
Interrupting Geier, I waved my free hand in their direction. “Intercom them and let everyone know you’ll handle this—not to worry.”
Stone-faced, Geier did as instructed while I warily retrieved the paper, keys and card without lowering my weapon. The workers didn’t disperse but they didn’t storm the room, either. I saw one pick up a desk phone.
“Good boy, Hendrik, now point me in the direction of the room that fits this key.”
“Down ze hall to your left … third door.” He waved vaguely with his right hand, his voice monotone as if directing me to the toilet.
I knew he would alert the White Lady the second I left the room. He would press the lock-down switch and every available security person left in the building would respond with whatever force necessary—at least until she told them to stand down. If my timing was right, by then I would have sent the messages I needed and could surrender peacefully, then carry on with my preparations once Claire gave the hands-off order.
At least I now had my first clue to the culprits.
It’s a start.
Lowering my weapon, I saluted Geier, sprinted out of his office past the alarmed but docile staffers and down the hall to the secure room. Fumbled briefly with the swipe card and keys. Entered the room and locked the door behind me. Grabbed the sat phone from the charger on the wall and punched in Lili’s encryption and meeting code. My jaw clenched hard as I waited.
A stream of numbers ran across the display screen and coalesced into GPS coordinates: N 50 50′ 20.534″ E 4 22′ 23.977″, and then the words ‘Meeting set 1400 July 16 – Europe’.
I stared at the screen display. Tiny winged insects danced the Meringue in my stomach. Of course, Lili could not know who had sent the request, only that it was from a Paper-Clip operative via the Hub, but … she was alive! Had to be, in order to receive the code and accept the meeting.
Someone who was alive had answered on the other end.
Two PM, three days away. I punched the coordinates into one of the computers on a bank of terminals along the wall. Got back maps and websites for Espace Léopold, Brussels, Belgium.
Okay, I had to hop a continent. Do-able if everything went according to plan. Made sense, too: centre of the city, train station, mall, and large open spaces, mid-day when the area should be full of people. I was fairly certain ‘Europe’ referred not to the continent but to the statue of the same name outside the Paul-Henri Spaak building, where the European parliament held their sessions.
It’s where I had first kissed Lili.
It has to be her!
Then I looked at the name Geier had written down for me. The traitor’s name. The guy who’d sent all those agents—my colleagues, my friends—to their deaths.
Bruno De Zwart.
I had maybe two minutes left to use the dark sat line. Dark in Paper-Clip lingo meant inaccessible to everyone and everything, including the Hub; it was akin to yelling while inside a black box in a rubber room encased in concrete.
How could I know if Geier truly would give me a dark line? I couldn’t, but it was the best I could manage given my situation. The White Lady had given me an assignment with no background or direction—no intelligence. I had to figure things out for myself as I went along. That part didn’t bother me much; I liked working alone. I would need help eventually and teams were at times necessary in my line of work, but complications often occurred with other people on board.
And now, Bruno.
I grimaced and punched in Geier’s desk number.
The cold clipped voice answered without inflection or salutation—“Ze line is WLPC-66X2.”—then disconnected.
I punched in the access numbers and then dialed the telephone number of a workroom in a tiny yellow cottage on East 63rd Avenue in Vancouver, British Columbia. I knew my father never answered the phone in that room, or anywhere else for that matter. He preferred to listen to messages and decide whose call he would deign to return. His quirk was fine by me in this instance. I didn’t need to talk to him directly. Didn’t want to, either. Not now.
The voice message came on. A creaky rasp: “You have reached the home of Josef and Joshanka. Leave a message, if you please.” Hearing his harsh voice with its Old World inflections, I smelled ancient paper and pipe tobacco mixed with a hint of coffee and schnapps.
I took a calming breath and spoke. “Kanal sólyom. Remember 1956. Pass to the Jack of Scissors. Wait for 1976 or next transmission. Skrptkey.”
If anyone is listening, I doubt they’d figure that out anytime soon.
I knew my father would. He had once been a professor of mathematics in Vienna and now taught Cryptography and Mathematical Theory at the University of BC.
Plus, he lived the references.
My five minutes were up. I could hear scurrying feet, bangs and thumps and shouted orders outside the door. Then the lights went out and a percussive ‘WHUMP! shuddered the room. The desk hit my forehead and then the floor came up to greet me.
My last thought, before the rest of the world tunneled into blackness, was of Lili.