Read Tracker Online

Authors: James Rollins

Tags: #Mystery, #Adventure, #Thriller

Tracker (3 page)

Lowering the phone, he watched Kane swing around and begin backtracking his way to the hotel. Satisfied, he turned to Aliza.

“I’m guessing that trio went rogue. Some faction heard about your father’s inquiry, about his possible breakthrough in discovering that lost treasure trove. And they’re trying to loot what was already looted.”

“So what do we do? Go to the police?”

“I’m not sure that’s the wisest plan, especially if you want your father back alive.”

She paled at his words, but he didn’t regret saying them. She had to know the stakes.

“Now that they’ve lost your trail, they’ll run scared.” He saw it even on that grainy footage. “The police are already investigating the disappearance of your father. Since they came after you, to use as leverage, that suggests he’s still alive at the moment. But now with the police closing in and you nowhere to be found, they’ll act rashly. I fear that if they can’t get what they want by tonight, they’ll kill your father to cover their tracks. Likewise, if he gives them what they want, the end result may be the same.”

“So there’s no hope.”

“There’s always hope. They’re scared and will be more apt to make a mistake.”

And be more dangerous,
he added silently.

“Then what do we do?”

“We find out where they took your father. That street you mentioned. Do you know where that’s located?”

“No. I don’t know the city that well.”

“I’ve got a map.”

He retrieved it and spread it on the bed.

She leaned next to him, shoulder to shoulder, her jasmine perfume distracting. “Here it is,” she said. “
Salgótarjáni
Street.”

He ran a finger along the dead-end street. “It lies near the center of Pest, and it looks like it runs adjacent to . . .” He read the name and looked at her. “Kerepesi Cemetery. Could that be the lost Jewish burial site you heard them talking about?”

“No. I don’t see how. Kerepesi is the oldest cemetery in all of Hungary.” She shifted her finger closer to the Danube. “This is the Jewish Quarter, where you’ll find most of our burial plots. It’s a good three miles away from Kerepesi Cemetery.”

“Then I’ll have to take Kane and check out that street myself.”

“It’s too dangerous.” She touched his arm. “I can’t ask you to do that.”

“You don’t have to ask. If I don’t end this, they’ll come after me, too. That guy I knocked down in the alley will know you weren’t alone. I’d rather not spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder for a rogue agent from the Hungarian NSZ.”

“Then I’m coming with you.”

“Sorry. Kane and I work alone. You’ll be safer here.”

She blocked him when he made a move toward the door. “You don’t speak the language. You don’t know what my father looks like. And you don’t know anything about the city. It’s
my
father’s life that’s in danger. I’m not going to sit idly by, hoping for the best. That didn’t work so well for my people in the past.”

She was ready to argue, but he shrugged. “You had me at
You don’t speak the language
. Let’s go.”

T
ucker shared the backseat with Aliza as the taxi swept along the arched magnificence of the Chain Bridge as it spanned the Danube. She sat in the middle, between him and Kane. The shepherd spent most of the ride with his nose pushed out the crack in the window, his tail thumping happily.

Beside him, Aliza stroked Kane’s shoulder, which probably contributed to much of the tail-thumping. At least the presence of the dog had helped calm her. The tension in her body, while still there, had softened a bit. Still, she clutched an old sweater of her father’s in her lap, her knuckles pale.

Upon exiting the hotel, they had stopped long enough to collect Kane, who had been dutifully waiting for them outside the entrance to the Hilton. They had also stopped along the way out of Buda to meet with a friend of Aliza’s father, one who was willing to sneak into the taped-off apartment and steal an article of clothing from the hamper in the closet. They needed her father’s scent. It was a risky move, but apparently no one was watching the place.

Still, Tucker kept an eye out for any tail as they left the bridge and headed into Pest, leaving Buda behind.

In another fifteen minutes, they reached the heart of this half of Budapest and skirted past the rolling park-like setting of Kerepesi Cemetery, with its massive mausoleums, acres of statuary, and hillsides of gravestones.

The taxi rolled to a stop at
Salgótarjáni
Street, on the border of the cemetery. Aliza spoke a few words of Hungarian with the driver, who’d spent most of the cab ride eyeing Kane with suspicion. Aliza paid him, handing over a couple extra bills for his trouble.

They all piled out and waited for the taxi to leave.

As it pulled away, Aliza turned to him. “What do we do now?”

“We will let Kane take point from here, but first I need to prep him.”

He pointed to a dark park bench, well hidden and shadowed by an ancient oak. The entire street ahead looked overgrown and forgotten, densely forested with beech and birch, thick with broad-leaf bushes and tangles of wild roses. A few homes dotted the way, evident from a scatter of lights glowing through the trees. The road itself was crumbled and pitted, long forgotten.

He led her to the bench, and they sat down.

Kane came trotting up to them after lifting his leg on an old stump, claiming this street for himself. Tucker scuffled his scruff and shook the hidden tactical vest, making sure nothing rattled to give the dog away. From here, they needed as much stealth as possible. He thumbed on the camera, raised the lens, and checked the dog’s earpiece.

“All suited up, buddy,” Tucker said, nuzzling close. “Ready to hunt?”

A savage swipe of his tail answered that. His dark eyes shone in the shadows.

Aliza passed Tucker the wool sweater. Kane had already taken a good whiff of her father’s scent, but it never hurt to reinforce it.

“Target,” Tucker said as Kane snuffled deep into the woolen garment. As the dog lifted his nose free again, Tucker pointed down the tree-shrouded street. “Track and find.”

The dog twisted and took off. In seconds, he vanished into the shadows as if he were never there.

Tucker stood, freeing his cell phone. He had donned his own earpiece and taped on a throat mike to communicate hands-free with the shepherd. In his ear, he heard the dog sniffing and softly panting, the sounds amplified by the sensitive microphones of the surveillance gear.

Trying one last time, Tucker turned to Aliza. “You could wait here. If we find anything—”

She looked temped but stood up. “I’m right behind you.”

He nodded and checked on the stolen FÉG PA-63 pistol tucked into the back of his belt. “Let’s see what Kane can find.”

They set off down the road. He kept them to the deeper shadows of the overgrown lane, avoiding the pools of light cast by the occasional brick houses. Not that such caution was overly necessary. He heard Kane, and with the aid of the camera, saw through the shepherd’s eyes. The dog was as much an extension of his senses as he was a partner.

As they continued, other dogs barked in the distance, perhaps scenting the arrival of Kane. While humans had on average six million olfactory receptors in their noses, hunting dogs like Kane had three hundred million, which heightened their sense of smell a thousandfold, allowing them to scent a target from two football fields away.

Tucker kept one eye on the road ahead and an ear out for any noise behind him. All the while, he monitored Kane’s progress as he crisscrossed and pursued any evidence of a scent trail through here. Tucker felt his perception widening, stretching to match that of his dog, blurring the line between them.

He became more keenly aware of Aliza: the smell of her skin, the tread of her heels, the whisper of her breath as it wheezed. He even felt the heat of her body on his back when she hovered close.

On the screen, Kane ran low across the street one more time, circling toward what appeared to be a dead end. There were no homes back here, and the forest seemed to grow thicker and taller, the trees even older. A brick archway appeared, half-buried in the woods, its façade cracked and gap-toothed. A rusted black iron gate blocked the way through that archway.

What lay beyond it?

As Kane approached, he swept the edge of the turnaround, staying hidden. A small caretaker’s house abutted the archway, evident from the dark windows to one side. When Kane reached the gate, he sniffed along the lower edge—then his body stiffened, nose out, tail back.

The pointed posture silently heralded his partner’s success.

Tucker turned and touched Aliza’s arm. “Kane found your father’s scent up ahead.”

Her eyes widened with hope. She stepped forward, ready to move faster, but he held her in check, his fingers tightening on her arm.

“Just stay behind me.” He touched his throat mike and subvocalized to Kane. “Good boy. Stand down. Hide.”

On the screen, he watched Kane break from his position, wheel away, and slip into the shadows to the right of the archway.

Tucker led Aliza forward. As they reached the end of the road, all seemed quiet. He maneuvered her under a beech tree.

“I’m going to check on the gate,” he said. “See if it’s locked. You stay hidden until I give you the all-clear.”

She nodded, one hand rising nervously to her throat.

He then took Kane’s example and edged along the periphery of the turnaround versus going straight across, sticking to the deepest shadows. The moon was bright overhead, casting too much light.

He dropped low and kept out of direct sight of the windows of the cottage that merged with the bricked archway. Without raising any alarm, he reached the gate. He saw no chain and risked reaching out to push one side of the gate, but before he could do so, a twin set of lights—headlamps—blazed from beyond the gate, spotlighting and blinding him.

A familiar gruff voice called out of the darkness; unfortunately, it was in Hungarian. So Tucker decided to ignore it. He whipped to the side, yanking out the FÉG PA-63 pistol, and fired at the headlamps.

Return fire pinged off the gate and chewed into the bricks.

One headlamp blacked out in a shattering
pop
of glass.

Then the car came jamming forward.

Crap
.

Tucker danced back out of the archway, diving to the side as the sedan came charging toward him. He shoulder-rolled clear, the gates banging open behind him as the huge black beast came blasting into the turnaround. Gunfire chased him into the forest’s edge. He ducked behind the bole of an old oak and caught his breath.

He subvocalized a command to Kane. “Stay hidden.”

He planned on doing the same.

Then that Hungarian voice yelled to him, heard above the growl of the idling engine. He risked a glance to the street. The back passenger door was ajar. He saw Aliza being dragged into the glow of the headlamp. The burst of the sedan must have caught her by surprise, the light reaching her hiding spot, exposing her.

The gruff Hungarian with the pocked face held her by the throat, a pistol at her temple. The man tried English this time. “You come now or woman dead!”

With no choice, Tucker stepped into the open, his hands high, the pistol hanging loosely from one finger.

“Toss gun!” he was ordered.

Tucker underhanded it toward the sedan. It skidded under the car.

“Come now!”

Now this should get interesting . . . which was never a good thing.

He joined Aliza, who cast him an apologetic look.

He shook his head.
Not your fault.

After his body was given a cursory search, he and Aliza were forced at gunpoint toward the archway and the gate, now broken and hanging askew. The sedan backed up behind them, pushing them all forward.

Beyond the brick span, the forest grew even denser, overgrown with ivy and thick ferns. Graves and mausoleums looked tossed about like children’s blocks. Many looked broken into, leaving gaping holes in the ground. Other markers had been toppled or leaned drunkenly against one another. Moss and lichen etched the white marble and stone. Mounds of leaf matter and broken deadfall obscured many of the rest.

Tucker glanced to Aliza.

He saw the recognition in her eyes.

The closest gravestone bore a deeply inscribed Star of David.

Here was the lost Jewish cemetery.

They were forced to the side, toward the caretaker’s cottage. A small room in back glowed feebly with light seeping past heavy drapes.

As they neared it, a door opened and allowed that blaze to sweep over them.

A stranger stood there, a tall man with a skeletal frame and thick black-rimmed glasses. His eyes swept past Tucker and focused on Aliza.

She stumbled forward, then restrained herself. “Professor Csorba . . .”

So she knew this man.

“Jó estét,
Miss Barta,” he greeted her. “I’m sorry this reunion is under such poor circumstances.”

He stepped clear of the doorway.

“Domonkos, bring our two guests inside.” The professor’s eyes finally found Tucker’s face. “I did not imagine the independent Miss Barta would hire a bodyguard. An oversight of mine, but no harm done in the end.”

The pock-faced hulk named Domonkos shoved Tucker toward the steps and through the door.

Inside, the cottage room was quaint, with a raw-hewn plank floor covered in thick but worn rugs, heavy wood beams strapped to a low ceiling, and a small hearth glowing with embers.

Tucker was forced against one wall, guarded over by Domonkos. One of the other two thugs took a post by a nearby window. The last vanished down a hall, likely to watch the street outside, ready to respond if the brief firefight drew any unwanted attention.

As he settled against the wall, Tucker smelled a familiar sourness to the air, coming from those shadowy spaces beyond this room. Somewhere back there, a body or two moldered and had begun to stink. Likely the original caretakers.

But not all of the bloodshed here was old.

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