To find the City of the Dead, to discover the cure.


Before the Guild did.


As he stared toward the sunrise, Gray remembered Vigor's words about Istanbul being the crossroad of Marco's journey. In fact, since its founding, the ancient city had been the crossroads of the geographic world. To the north lay the Black Sea, to the south the Mediterranean. The Bosporus Strait, a major trade route and seaway, flowed between them. But more important to history, Istanbul straddled two continents. It had one foot in Europe, the other in Asia.


The same could be said about the city's place in the gulf of time.


One foot in the present, one in the past.


Forever at a crossroads.


Not unlike himself.


As he pondered this, a cell phone chimed to the side. Vigor turned and fished his phone out of the backpack's front pocket. He studied the caller ID with a frown. "It's a D.C. area code," Vigor said.


"Must be Director Crowe," Gray warned. "Don't mention anything. Stay on as short as possible to avoid any trace. In fact, we should pull the cell's battery afterward so it's not passively tracked."


Vigor rolled his eyes at his paranoia and flipped his phone open. "Pronto," he greeted.


Vigor listened for a few moments, his brow growing more and more furrowed. "Chi "Parla?" he asked with a bit of heat. Whatever he heard seemed to shake him up. He turned and held the phone out for Gray.


"Is it Director Crowe?" he asked sotto voce.


Vigor shook his head. "You'd better take it."


Gray accepted the phone and lifted it to his ear. "Hello?"


The voice that came on the line was instantly recognizable, the Egyptian accent clear. Nasser's words drained all the heat from the air.


"I have your mother and father."


 


 


 


 


8


Patient Zero


July 6, 12:42 p.m. Aboard the Mistress of the Seas


So much for his rescue efforts . . .


Standing in the midship elevator, Monk balanced a lunch tray on an upraised palm. He carried his assault rifle over his other shoulder. From small speakers, an ABBA song played, an acoustic version. The ride from the ship's cramped kitchens to the top deck took long enough that he was humming along with the music by the time he reached his floor.


Oh, dear God...


The doors finally opened, allowing Monk to escape. He tromped down the hall toward the guards who flanked the double doors at the end. He mumbled under his breath, practicing his Malay. Jessie had stolen some dye to stain Monk's face and hands to match the other pirates, similar to the disguise of the dead man in Lisa's cabin, whose body Monk had discreetly dumped overboard.


Out of sight, out of mind.


To finish his own disguise Monk kept his head scarf over the lower half of his face, playing the role to the hilt.


When in Rome.


Over the past day and night Jessie had trained Monk in some of the more common Malay phrases, the official language of the pirates here. Unfortunately Monk hadn't learned enough to talk his way past the cordon of security established around Lisa. He and Jessie had scouted the ship and discovered that all the scientific heads and their immediate support staff had been herded to one floor, while the medical staff continued ministering to the sick throughout the ship.


Unfortunately, Lisa's background in physiology must have been discerned. She was isolated in the scientific wing, barricaded and under tight security. It seemed only the elite of the pirates, under the immediate supervision of their leader, a tattooed Maori named Rakao, manned these posts. The radio room was equally guarded. Jessie had learned that much by folding himself into the pirate's flock with his fluent use of their language.


In the interim Monk had become little more than Jessie's muscle. There was not much else he could do. Even if Monk tried a John Wayne assault on the scientific wing, how would he escape with Lisa? And go where? While still cruising at top speeds, they'd have to make a jump overboard. Not the wisest plan.


Earlier this morning Monk had studied the waters from an open deck. The Mistress of the Seas cruised deep among the Indonesian islands. They were lost in a maze of smaller atolls, a thousand jungle-frosted fingers pointing skyward. If they escaped, swam to one of those islands, they'd be easily hunted down.


That is, if they made it past the tiger sharks.


So Monk had to bide his time.


But that didn't mean he couldn't accomplish something.


Like now.


Serving lunch.


It was a good plan. He needed to open a means of communication with Lisa. To let her know she wasn't alone, but more importantly so they could coordinate whenever Monk was ready to take action. And as he could not reach Lisa directly, he needed an intermediary.


Monk reached the double door. He lifted his tray toward the pair of guards and mumbled his way through the Malay equivalent of "the lunch bell has rung."


One of them turned and pounded the butt of his rifle against the door. A moment later, a guard, who was stationed inside, opened the door. He spotted Monk and waved him into the Presidential Suite of the ship.


A butler in full tails and regalia met Monk at the entrance. He tried to take the tray from Monk, but playing up the pirate act, Monk tried a fierce Malay equivalent aaaargh, and shouldered the man roughly aside. The butler tumbled back, arms wheeling, which earned a chuckled grunt from the door guard.


Monk entered the main salon of the suite. A puff of smoke from a deck chair on the outside balcony alerted him to his target.


Ryder Blunt lounged in a ship's robe and flowered swim trunks, ankles crossed, his hair an unkempt blond mop. He was smoking a thick stogie, watching the steep islands slowly pass. Escape was so close, yet so far away. To match the ominous mood, a stack of dark clouds climbed the horizon.


As Monk joined him, the billionaire didn't even bother to glance his way. It was the habit of the rich, ever a blind eye to their wait staff. Or maybe it was merely disdain toward the pirate serving his lunch. Ryder's butler had already set up a side table.


Silver and crystal and ironed napkins.


It must be good to be king.


Monk lowered the tray to the table and whispered in the man's ear as he bent down. "Don't react," Monk said in English. "I'm Monk Kokkalis with the American envoy."


The only reaction from the billionaire was a more fierce exhalation of smoke. "Dr. Cummings's partner," he sighed back. "We thought you were dead. The pirates sent after you—"


Monk didn't have time to explain. "Yeah, about them . . . they caught a bad case of the crabs."


The butler came to the doorway of the balcony.


Ryder waved him off, speaking loudly. "That'll be all, Peter. Thank you."


Monk unloaded the tray. He lifted one of the silver covers over the hot plate and revealed two small radios beneath it. "An extra serving for you and Lisa." He covered it back up and revealed what was under the second plate. "And of course, a bit of dessert."


Two small-caliber handguns.


One for Ryder and one for Lisa.


The billionaire's eyes widened. Monk read the understanding.


"When . .. ?" Ryder asked.


"We'll coordinate with the radios. Channel eight. The pirates aren't using it." Monk and Jessie had been using that bandwidth all day, with no one the wiser. "Can you get a radio and gun to Lisa?"


"I'll do my best," he said, but followed it with a determined nod.


Monk straightened. He dared not tarry any longer or the guards would get suspicious. "Oh, and there's rice pudding under the last tray."


Monk headed back to the main salon. He heard Ryder's mumbled comment: "Bloody disgusting stuff... whoever thought to put rice in pudding?"


Monk sighed. The rich were never happier than when they had something to complain about. He reached the double doors and headed out. One of the guards asked him something in Malay.


As answer, Monk dug a finger in his nose, looking very busy and determined, grumbled nonsensically, and continued down to the elevator.


Luckily, the cage was still there and the doors opened immediately. He ducked inside just in time to hear the next ABBA melody begin.


He groaned.


The radio at his side chirped. Monk freed it and brought it to his lips. "What is it?" he said.


"Meet me in the room," Jessie said. "I'm heading down there now."


The two of them had found an empty cabin to share and made it their base of operations.


"What's up?"


"I just heard. The ship's captain expects to reach some port today. They're spiking the engines to reach it before nightfall. Word from the weather band is that a storm cell, moving through the Indonesian islands, is escalating toward typhoon status. So they have to go to port."


"Meet you down at the room," Monk said, signing off.


Hooking the radio to his belt, Monk closed his eyes. Maybe this was their first bit of luck. He calculated in his head, while reflexively mouthing the words to "Take a Chance on Me" by ABBA.


It was a pretty good song.


1:02 p.m.


Lisa stared down at her patient. The woman was dressed in a blue hospital gown, wired and tubed to all manner of monitoring equipment. A pair of orderlies waited in the other room.


Lisa had asked for a moment of privacy.


She stood beside the bed, fighting a thread of guilt.


Lisa knew the patient's statistics by heart: Caucasian female, five-foot-four, no pounds, blond hair, blue eyes, an appendectomy scar on her left side. Radiographs had revealed an old healed break to her left forearm. The Guild's biographical background check even revealed the cause of the break: from a youthful accident between a skateboard and a broken curb.


Lisa had memorized the woman's blood-test results: liver enzymes, BUN, creatinine, bile acids, cell blood counts. She knew her latest urinalysis and fecal culture results.


To one side stood an instrument tray neatly arranged with examination tools: otoscope, ophthalmoscope, stethoscope, endoscope. She had used them all this morning. On a neighboring nightstand, the previous night's EKG and EEG printouts lay accordion-folded. She had examined every inch of strip. Over the past day, she had read through all the medical history of the patient and much of the findings by the Guild's virologists and bacteriologists.

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