Authors: Beverly Jenkins
To Alicia T. for asking what if?
Dr. Adam Gary tugged his tie free then tossed the…
Jan Kruger hated Manhattan. The traffic, noise, and the melting…
The dogs were outside resting on the grass by the…
Jan Kruger was alone in a London hotel room reading…
Max took Adam Gary’s grumbling about the noise into consideration,…
By the time Max stepped out of the shower, her…
At nine A.M. sharp the workers began arriving, and once…
After Benny’s black Explorer drove off, Max let the dogs…
They concentrated on finishing breakfast but in reality were back…
Max awoke to the sound of the dogs barking. Concerned…
The knock on Adam’s door wasn’t a familiar one. He…
The house phone began ringing at seven A.M. The global…
Hoping that putting some distance between herself and him would…
When Max heard the news about Kent, all she could…
Merging onto the interstate, Max took the Honda’s speed up…
Max stared. It made perfect sense. “Can it be modified…
Just as Max feared, the factory-lined corridor of I–75 leading…
The soldier who’d ridden in the Escalade with Adam and…
Adam got Portia on Max’s phone. He put her on…
By the fourth day of her confinement Max had recovered…
Adam had grown up in suburban Chicago, and when he…
In Singapore, Max and her dogs joined a team of…
After the warm ballroom with all its people and conversations,…
Max threw the Frisbee down the beach, and Ruby and…
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Dr. Adam Gary tugged his tie free then tossed the
length of blue silk onto the big bed of his hotel room. He was dead tired, he realized, stretching the muscles of his neck in an attempt to rid himself of some of the day’s tension. He shrugged out of his suit coat, then while opening the upper buttons of his white shirt, stepped outside onto the small wrought-iron balcony attached to his hotel room. The night air felt good, and after being cooped up for the past twelve hours attending lectures and sitting on panels, the lights of Madrid twinkling against the darkness were calming.
He’d been the hit of the three-day conference on alternative energy sources. After his presentation many of the attendees came up to offer encouragement and congratulations on his revolutionary breakthrough in fuel cell research. Currently, most of the fuel cells being developed required the inclusion of expensive metals like gold and platinum, but Adam had come up with a device
based on the cheaper and more plentiful carbon. The prototype still needed tweaking before it could be marketed, but he was confident the bugs would be worked out, and once they were, the device he’d named Black Satin would have limitless potential, whether it be heating homes or powering the engines of interstellar probes. The big oil companies weren’t going to be happy with his discovery, but that was their problem.
He turned his attention back to the lights of Madrid and wished he’d had the opportunity to see some of the sights, but he’d been so busy there hadn’t been time to do the tourist thing. Maybe he’d have a chance in the future.
Adam stretched his arms wide and felt the tiredness in his bones. All he wanted was a hot shower and a big room service dinner. Some of the other scientists he’d met had graciously invited him to join them for dinner and to explore the city’s nightlife, but he was just too whipped, so he’d declined.
Stepping back into the luxurious suite, he picked up the phone and ordered what he wanted to eat from the hotel’s restaurant menu. When he was told it would be at least an hour’s wait, he didn’t fuss. He headed to the shower instead.
He emerged a short while later feeling much better. Wearing a pair of sweats, an MIT T-shirt, and some flip-flops, he did some preliminary packing in anticipation of tomorrow morning’s flight home, then sat down with some of the articles he’d picked up at the conference. He was reading one on cold fusion when a knock sounded at the door and a Spanish-inflected voice called out, “Room service.”
Pleased, Adam opened the door and all hell broke
loose. Two men immediately forced him back into the room but Adam fought to get free. He had no idea who they were or why they were there but he wasn’t going to let them kick his ass while he found out. Lamps hit the carpeted floor, tables were turned over, and chairs toppled as the battle escalated. Adam took a few hard punches to his stomach, but instead of throwing up like he wanted to, he gave the man nearest him a vicious elbow to the nose that made him back off and cry out. The other man punched him in the jaw and sent him sprawling, but Adam came up with a lamp in his hand and doing his best Hank Aaron imitation connected with the assailant’s face. The man screamed in pain and immediately dropped to the floor.
Breathing harshly, Adam turned on the remaining intruder—the one he’d elbowed. Blood poured from the broken nose. Adam smiled ferally and held the lamp out in front of him, waving it back and forth with the slow, deadly rhythm usually reserved for switch blades. “Come on,” he taunted. “You’re so bad. Come on.”
The man’s eyes shot hate, and he pulled out a gun. “We didn’t expect you to fight, Dr. Gary.”
Adam eyed the weapon. “I’m full of surprises. Who are you? What do you want?”
“Some people are interested in your invention.”
“They ever hear of a phone?”
The man coughed and spit blood onto the carpet. “My wife will not be pleased when I come home with a broken nose.” He paused for a moment to wipe the blood on his sleeve, and that’s when Adam launched himself like a linebacker on a quarterback. The impact sent them crashing to the carpet. The gun went sailing, and Adam’s fists made sure the man didn’t get up to go after it.
In the silence that followed, Adam staggered to his feet. His knuckles were bloody and felt busted. His face had taken a beating and his stomach felt like hamburger, but he was still standing. The room was in shambles. The man who’d been taken out by the lamp lay on the floor whimpering in pain, his still unconscious accomplice nearby. Adam stepped around him to pick up the gun. His breathing labored, he scanned the trashed suite for the phone. Finding it, he dialed the front desk.
When the concierge came on the line, Adam said, “This is Dr. Gary in 532. Send the police to my room.”
Without offering any further information, he set the phone back in its cradle then dropped down onto the overturned sofa to wait.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Manhattan, New York
Jan Kruger hated Manhattan. The traffic, noise, and
the melting pot population were all symbols of a political system he found abhorrent. Given a choice, he’d rather be sitting at home on his veranda enjoying the company of his wife and watching the South Africa sunset, but instead he was stuck in New York traffic with a hired limo driver who smelled of curry.
As a member of a South African trade group, Jan had been forced to come to the U.S. more times than he’d wished, but his many visits gave him a keen sense of how America worked, and that knowledge had come in handy when a junior position in the South African embassy opened up and he was hired. Now, five years later, he held the title of Assistant to the Ambassador, a woman descended from the Zulu king Cetshwayo, whose forces had defeated Jan’s ancestors and the British army at Isandhlwana in 1879.
He hated the ambassador as well. She represented the new South Africa, a country determined to eschew its glorious past in favor of a future built upon the deluded visions of ANC terrorists like Mandela and Walter Sisulu. Jan championed the old South Africa—its eliteness, its pride, its apartheid—and he was not alone. For the past few months he and a small cadre of like-minded Afrikaners had been meeting to formulate a plan that would restore that glory in a new country they would call their own.
There’d been a setback, though. This morning he’d gotten a call from his people in Madrid. The kidnapping of Dr. Adam Gary had been botched. The two operatives sent to his hotel were in a hospital and Gary was on his way back to the States. No one had expected the scientist to put up a fight, so now Jan knew that he and the others had to come up with another way.
Traffic was still stopped. Jan glanced at the heavy gold Rolex on his wrist. If it didn’t clear soon he was going to be late for his meeting, and military men—especially the United States variety—were sticklers for punctuality, at least on the surface. In reality, in return for the money he’d promised them, the generals would wait until hell froze over if necessary. He knew how America worked.
The driver finally got the car moving again. The tie-up, caused by the collision of an airport shuttle van and a cab, had drawn the police and a crowd of curious New Yorkers. As his black limo crept by the wreckage, a grim Jan sat back against the plush seat. He had to figure out a way to get his hands on Dr. Adam Gary and that prototype, because the prototype was one of the necessary keys to their plan.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Mykal Chandler slid the file across the desk to Max Blake. She opened it and looked at the color photo. The head shot was of a good-looking, brown-skinned brother. Beard, moustache. Hair graying slightly at the temples in a distinguished sort of way. Grown and sexy, as Baby-face would say.
“Name’s Dr. Adam Gary,” Mykal explained.
“Doctor of what?” Max studied the face for a few moments longer.
“Astrophysics, for one.”
Max was impressed. “Really?”
“Supposedly, the brother’s invented something that’s going to revoulutionize everything from heating homes to space travel.”
Max stuck the pic back into the file. “What is it?”
“Some kind of device that produces its own energy.”
“I’ll bet the gas and oil companies aren’t happy about that. So what’s going on that we’re involved?” Mykal headed up a secret crime-fighting group called NIA, and Max often moonlighted as one of its operatives.
“Somebody tried to kidnap him a few days ago at a conference in Madrid.”
She glanced up.
“He thinks they were after his prototype.”
“Where is he now?”
“At a government-owned house on the western side of the state.”
“You want me to go up and evaluate the security?”
“No, I want you to
the security. He doesn’t even have a chicken on the place.”
She was confused. “If this is such big-time stuff how come there’s no security?”
“He doesn’t want any. Says having a lot of people around will interfere with the flow of his work.”
Max drawled, “You know I don’t do crazy real well, Mykal. That’s why I have two ex-husbands.”
He grinned. “He’s not crazy. ‘Eccentric’ is the word everyone is using.”
“Educated crazy, then.”
She sighed. “Okay, so how do we work this?”
“I’m sending you in as his new housekeeper. The old one quit about a month ago.”
“Husband retired and they moved to Florida.”
“Okay. I haven’t exercised my pots and pans in a while. Might be fun. Does he know I’m coming?”
“Yes, but all he knows is that the person is named Max Blake.”
“In other words, he doesn’t know I’m female.”
“Correct. I didn’t want to waste time arguing with him about it. If he throws a fit, I know you’ll handle it.”
Myk had no doubts about Max’s abilities. She was a former Marine and had cut her intelligence teeth in the rebel-infested jungles of Colombia. She was tough, efficient, and smart. Today she was wearing a pair of cowboy boots; black jeans; a black halter top with a red cami underneath; and a black Stetson. Her attire spoke to her free spirit. When the Department of Defense had called him to send an agent up to take care of Dr. Gary, Max immediately came to mind.
“You’re the best person for the job, Max,” he told her
now, “so don’t worry about Gary trying to get you replaced. Ain’t gonna happen.”
“Thanks.” Max yawned and then stretched her arms and shoulders. The plane ride to Detroit had been a long one. Sometime in the near future she’d need a real night’s sleep.
Myk asked, “Any questions?”
“Okay. Check in when you get there. If you need a map to his place, there’s one in the file.”
She stood up, showing off her five-foot-eleven-inch frame.
“Good luck, Max.”
She threw him a loose salute and strolled out.
The only person allowed to call her
was her mama, Michele. To everyone else she was simply Max. Because of her height and take-no-prisoners attitude, it was a name she wore well.
She was driving up Michigan’s west coast to rendezvous with Dr. Gary. The day was beautiful and singer Anthony Hamilton was on the in-dash CD player lyrically begging Charlene to come home. Max had been driving for almost five hours, but the May breeze flowing in through the open windows of the rented Honda SUV felt good.
She glanced up at the rearview mirror to check on the big male rottweiler lying on the backseat. “How’re you doing, Ossie?”
The black and tan Ossie slowly lifted his massive head, and the misery reflected in his eyes broke Max’s heart. “I’m sorry, baby. The GPS says we’ll be there in a few. Just hang on.”
Car travel always made him sick. Vets had prescribed everything from patches to pills but nothing seemed to help.
On the other hand, Ossie’s sister, Ruby, belted into the passenger seat next to Max, scanned the road with eager eyes. Ruby liked riding, whether by car, plane, or boat, and the longer the journey the better. Ruby’s first love, though, was the convertible Max bought last year. Anybody who didn’t believe dogs smiled had never seen Ruby riding in the T-Bird’s front seat. The first time Ruby rode in it, she refused to get out after the drive was over. In fact, the dog proved so stubborn, Max wound up letting her sleep in the convertible overnight.
Both dogs were extremely intelligent, but Ruby was the smarter. She had a way of reacting to situations Max swore bordered on human. She could roll her eyes, dismiss you with a look, and, like her brother, understood English and Portuguese, thanks to their breeder and trainer, a Brazilian friend of Max’s named Portia. Max loved both her dogs, and like the famous credit card, she never left home without them.
She punched up the GPS screen on the dash. The display showed their destination to be less than a mile away. “Almost there, Os.”
He whimpered mournfully.
“Poor baby,” she said sympathetically, and turned off the main road onto an unpaved one marked private. The bumps and lumps tossed the Honda’s occupants this way and that. Knowing all the bouncing wasn’t helping Ossie’s condition, Max did her best to avoid the deeper ruts, but it was next to impossible. For
his sake, she prayed they wouldn’t have to go much farther.
The fates were kind. Around the next bend the road dead-ended at a large rusted wrought-iron gate that looked to be about eight feet high. The address on the cylindrical mailbox matched the address she’d been given for the Gary residence. “Looks like we’re here,” she said, peering through the windshield at the gate. The fence stretched as far as she could see in both directions. Inside, she saw a forest of cloud-kissing trees. She had no idea how far away the house might be, but she set aside her curiosity for now. Cutting the engine, she opened her door and got out so she could open the hatch and tend to Ossie.
The liquid brown eyes staring up at her were as sad as a carsick child’s. “Come on, Os. Let’s get you out so you can feel better.”
Ossie slowly lifted his 110-pound frame, then gingerly moved from the SUV to the ground. Max knelt beside him and hugged him close. Gently stroking his head, she said, “Let me get Ruby and I’ll be right back.”
Once Ruby bounded out of the seat, Max leaned into the car and dug out their bowls. Filling each with bottled water from the cooler, she let the dogs drink while she pulled out her cell phone. She wanted to let Dr. Gary know that she’d arrived, but she got his voice mail instead. She left a short message and waited to see if he’d call back.
Ten minutes later she was still waiting. The dogs were done drinking, so she dumped out the remaining water, restashed the bowls, and checked out the gate.
There was a call box on the front, so she opened it and pushed the button labeled Talk.
After a few moments of silence she heard a female voice ask, “Yes?”
“I’m here to see Dr. Gary.”
“He isn’t seeing visitors today. Please call back and make an appointment.”
Surprised by the abrupt ending, Max hit the button again, but this time there was no response. “Well,” she said, not pleased. Ruby was watching her. Ossie was lying on the ground, his head on his black paws.
Undeterred by the woman’s rude attitude, Max scanned the gate for the best way in. She noticed the thick rusted chains wrapped around the base of the gate and the ancient-looking padlock anchoring them. “You think this is what passes for security around here, guys?”
Not waiting for an answer, Max walked to the back of the SUV and dug out a pair of long-handled bolt cutters. A few minutes later she was driving slowly through the open gate while Ossie and Ruby loped alongside.
The narrow road twisted, turned, and climbed. The pines lining the way were so tall that for part of the way the sunny day became shadowy as dusk. Once the trees cleared and the sun came out again, Max was treated to a view of the sparkling blue waters of Lake Michigan that was awesome. Having traveled all over the world, she’d seen her share of beautiful vistas, and this one ranked in her top ten. She studied the house as it came into view. It was a large brick structure with Tudor lines that seemed more suited to an old world city like Boston. Her briefing materials from NIA mentioned that some
of the houses along this stretch of the Lake Michigan coast were originally built during Prohibition as summer homes for Chicago’s mobsters. She wondered if this stately old mansion had been one of those. She had a thing for historic architecture, and looked forward to checking out the inside.
With that in mind, Max led her canine escorts up the wide steps and rang the bell. No response. Keeping her temper in check, she hit the bell again, leaning on it for a good fifteen seconds or so.
Moments later the door was snatched open by a short, brown-skinned young woman dressed like someone in the Junior League. She had on pearls, a gray silky blouse, a navy skirt, and black patent stiletto pumps. The pearls weren’t real, and neither was the weave, but the hostility in her eyes sure was. She snapped, “We’re not…”
The words died away as she actually looked at Max and her attire.
Max didn’t take offense. She assumed the household didn’t get a lot of callers wearing sunglasses, black Stetsons, and green snakeskin boots, so she let Ms. Junior League get a good look, then said, “I’m here to see Dr. Gary.”
The woman seemed to regain her composure, and with it, her bad attitude. “Dr. Gary doesn’t see anyone. He’s in the middle of a project.” She cast a disgusted look down at Ruby and Ossie. “And he doesn’t do dogs at all.”
Max had no idea who this weave-wearing young woman might be. The child didn’t look a day over twenty-five, and there was nothing pertaining to her in the Gary file. On one level, Max was glad to see that Gary at least had someone guarding his door, but she
hadn’t traveled all this way to be chased off by a Chihuahua in pearls. “Dr. Gary is expecting us.”
“No, he isn’t. I’m his secretary and there is nothing on his calendar. You’ll have to make an appointment. Have a good day.”
She made a move to close the door in Max’s face, but Max pushed it, and her, out of the way. “Excuse us,” she said calmly.
Outraged and wide-eyed, the woman shouted, “You can’t just bust in here!”
By now Max and the dogs were already past her. Max told the dogs, “Find the doc, would you guys?”
The dogs split up and took off.
The woman yelled angrily, “I’m calling the police!”
Max didn’t break stride. “That’s your choice, but I’d hold off on that if I were you.”
Max passed room after room. All were empty. No furniture. No drapes. Not even a lawn chair. Why no furniture was a mystery to her, but it would have to wait. She had to find Dr. Gary first.
Down in his basement office, Dr. Adam Gary was more tired than he was willing to admit. He’d spent the last few days and nights in his lab trying to come up with a way to get the prototype to generate more heat and to do it for longer periods of time. Right now, Black Satin could only produce heat for a little over an hour. He knew he was on the edge of a breakthrough—he could taste it—but no matter how many times he fiddled with the formulas or studied the models generated by his computers, the solution still eluded him. Looking at the equations on the monitor now, all he could say was, “What am I doing wrong?”