Read Tracker Online

Authors: James Rollins

Tags: #Mystery, #Adventure, #Thriller

Tracker (4 page)

Tied to a chair was an elderly man with a full head of gray hair. His face was bruised, one eye swollen, dried blood running in trails from both nostrils. When Tucker first stepped inside, that remaining eye had blazed with defiance—but no longer, not after the slim figure followed Tucker inside.

“Aliza!” he croaked out.

“Papa!” She rushed forward, collapsing on her knees at his side. Tears were already running down her face. She turned to the man who had greeted her. “How could you?”

“I’m afraid I have ninety-two million reasons why, my dear.”

“But you worked with my father for thirty years.”

“Yes, ten of those years under Communist rule, while your father spent that time in London, raising a family, enjoying the freedom of such a life.” The man’s voice rang with jealousy and pent-up fury. “You have no understanding of what
life
was like here, if you could call it that. I lost my Marja because they didn’t have enough antibiotics. Then my brave little Lujza, living up to her name as
warrior,
was shot during a protest. I will not see this treasure handed back to the Hungarian government, one little better than before, with many of the same players in power.
Never!

“So you will take it for yourself?” Aliza asked, not backing down from his vehemence.

“And I will use it for good, to help the oppressed, to heal the sick.”

“And what of my father?” she sobbed. “Will you heal him?”

“I will let him live. If he cooperates, if you do the same.”

Fat chance,
Tucker thought.

The same doubt shone from her face.

Csorba held out his palm. “I have contacts enough to know, Aliza, that you have obtained what your father asked. The satellite feed from the Americans.”

“Don’t do it . . .” her father forced out, though each syllable pained him.

She glanced over to her father, then looked at Tucker.

He recognized she had no choice. They’d search her, punish her, and in the end, they’d get what they wanted.

He lowered his chin, passing on his opinion—but also hiding his throat mike. They had taken his phone, his knife, but hadn’t noticed the earpiece shoved deep in his left ear or the thin sensors of the radio microphone taped over his larynx. It was sensitive enough to pick up the slightest subvocalized whisper.

As Aliza handed over the USB flash drive, stirring up excitement in the room, Tucker covered his mouth and whispered quiet commands.

K
ane hides in shadow, his heart thunders, his breathing pants quietly.

He remembers the aching blasts, the screech of tires, the spew of oily exhaust. He wanted to run to his partner, to bark and howl and bite.

But he stays in shadow because that was what he was told.

Now new purpose fills his ear.

“RETRIEVE MY GUN. HIDE UNDER CAR.”

He stares out of the darkness to the moonlit pavement, to the gun out there. He knows guns. He watched it slide under the car when his partner threw it. Then the car left. The gun stayed.

Kane shoots out of the darkness, gliding low. He scoops up the gun, smelling smoke and fire and the whisper of his partner’s sweat. He rushes back into darkness, into hiding, but he does not stop. He swerves on silent paws, diving back around. He races through the archway, drawn to the soft putter of a cooling engine, to the reek of burned oil—ready to slide beneath and wait.

But a growl comes from the left.

Shadows break out of the forest, the largest before him.

He has smelled the other dogs, along the road, upon the bushes, in the air. They marked this place as their own. He lowers the gun to the dirt. He recognizes the leader by his stiff-legged movements as he stalks forward in the slink of the shadows that share this space. This was their wild land, and they claimed it for themselves.

To help his partner, Kane must make it his own—if only for the night.

With a low growl, he leaps for the largest shadow.

T
he howl and wails of a savage dogfight echoed eerily through to the cottage. It sounded like something from a prehistoric epoch, full of blood, anger, and survival.

Tucker heard it through his earpiece, too.

Kane.

His heart clutched in fear.

Domonkos smiled, drawn by that chorus. He said something in Hungarian that made the one at the window laugh.

Csorba did not lift his face from a laptop he had pulled out of a briefcase. “Wild dogs,” he explained as he worked. “They make their home in this forgotten cemetery.”

No wonder no one had reacted to Kane’s earlier canvass of the place. To those here, he was just another shadowy cur skulking about.

“Dogs!” Csorba continued. “
That
is who you want to hand that great treasure over to, Jakob.”

Aliza’s father lifted his head enough to glare at the man. Father and daughter clutched hands together. Neither was deceived that they would survive.

“But men in power are more savage than dogs,” Csorba continued. “Give them that much gold, and it will fuel a firestorm of corruption and abuse. Many will die. It is better this way.”

Tucker had a hard time concentrating through the ongoing chorus of growls and snarling barks—then suddenly the dogfight ended, as swiftly as it started. Holding his breath, he strained to listen for the outcome of that fight, but he heard nothing.

No panted breath, no snuffle, no soft pad of paw.

The continuous and reassuring presence of his dog had gone silent. Had the camera’s audio gotten damaged or accidentally switched off during the fight?

Or was it something worse?

His heart pounded in his throat.

Kane . . .

Csorba rubbed his hands. “At last.”

The screen of his laptop filled with an old map of this cemetery, one drawn by hand, even showing the brick archway.

The professor pointed to the screen. “Jakob discovered this map amid old papers that described an interment back in 1888. How gravediggers broke into a cave beneath this cemetery. The Hungarian landscape is full of such natural cavern systems. Even here under Budapest, over two hundred caves—big and small—are found right under our capital, most formed by the natural geothermic activity of this region.”

Aliza stirred, her eyes widening. “The dying words of
Oberführer
Erhard Bock. That the stolen gold was
buried below where even the claws of the Jewish dead could reach it
. He was being literal, referring to a Jewish cemetery.
Below
a Jewish cemetery.”

“How like a Nazi to bury his looted treasure in a Jewish cemetery,” Csorba said. “Erhard Bock must have heard the stories about this small cemetery, one well away from the Jewish Quarter, and learned about the cave beneath it. After burying his treasure, he likely slew anyone who knew about it, removed all references to it, ensuring the secret would die with him if he wasn’t able to retrieve it later.”

Jakob lifted his head, speaking to his daughter. “But he never thought one of those old books would survive and make its way back to Budapest. Evil never thinks of everything.”

Those last words were directed at Csorba, but they fell on deaf ears.

“Here we go,” the professor said.

On the screen, modern satellite data began overlaying the old hand-drawn map. The ground-penetrating radar was capable of discerning pockets deep beneath the earth: hidden cellars, bunkers, caves, even entire cavern systems. Upon the screen, topographic lines revealed the contour of the cemetery’s surface, while darker splotches revealed hidden pockets below. In the upper left quadrant, an oily blotch grew distinct, underlying one of the graves marked on the map.

Csorba turned, his face glowing with excitement. “That’s it!”

His eyes turned to Domonkos. “Gather your two men, along with hammers, crowbars, and flashlights. If the treasure is here, we’ll have one night to empty it all into a truck and get it out of Budapest before anyone grows suspicious.”

The big man pointed to Tucker, speaking in Hungarian.

Csorba nodded and answered.

Tucker turned to Aliza.

She explained, looking scared. “He says you look strong. That they might need extra muscle to break open the grave.”

And likely it would become his own grave.

Csorba pointed to Aliza. “Tie her down. We will deal with them once we confirm that the treasure is here.”

Aliza’s wrists and ankles were quickly bound with plastic ties.

Once she was secure, Csorba lifted a small case, placed it on the desk, and opened it, revealing blocks of yellow-gray C-4 wired with blasting caps. He flicked a switch, and green lights lit up in a row.

Csorba turned, speaking in English, plainly for his prisoners’ benefit. “This comes courtesy of colleagues of Domonkos at the Hungarian national security service.” He lifted a wireless transmitter. “A small gift to help erase our handiwork here, while creating enough chaos to aid our escape out of Hungary.”

His gaze fixed to Tucker as he pocketed the transmitter. “And for now, I believe, it shall serve as extra insurance in case you decide to try something foolish. With the press of a button, Aliza and Jakob will make this cemetery their final resting place.”

Tucker was shoved toward the door and out into the night. After the brightness inside, the shrouded cemetery seemed infinitely darker. He searched around for Kane.

Had he made it under the sedan with the gun?

There was no way of knowing without looking. He tripped himself and went sprawling flat on his belly, raising a guffaw from Domonkos. On the ground, Tucker searched beneath the sedan’s undercarriage. It was dark, but he saw nothing there.

No sign of Kane.

A meaty hand grabbed him and hauled him up.

“There are hidden grave markers and stones littered across these fifteen acres,” Csorba warned. “It would be easy to crack your head open. So you should best watch your step.”

Tucker heard the veiled threat.

Csorba headed out, taking the lead, holding a flashlight in one hand and a handheld GPS in the other.

Tucker followed, trailed by the other men, across the overgrown cemetery. Ivy scrabbled over every surface. Corkscrewed tendrils snagged at his jacket. Broken branches snapped like brittle bones underfoot.

All around, the flashlights danced over shadows and revealed greater threats than old markers on the ground. Yawning black pits began to open around them, half hidden by foliage or stripped over by vines, revealing collapsed or ransacked old tombs.

Threat or not, Tucker decided to take Csorba’s words to heart and watched where he placed each foot.

The men chattered excitedly behind him in their native tongue, likely planning how to spend their share of $92 million. The professor moved silently, contemplatively.

Tucker used the distraction to touch his throat mike and try radioing Kane.

Can you hear me, buddy?

K
ane crouches amid the shadowy pack.

He bleeds, pants, and stares the others down.

None come forward to challenge. The one who first did slinks forward on his belly with a low whine of submission. His throat still bears the mark of Kane’s fangs, but he lives, having known to submit to an opponent who outmatched him. He still reeks of urine and defeat.

Kane allows him to come forward now. They lick muzzles, and Kane permits him to stand, to take his place in the pack.

Afterward, Kane turns. The battle has carried him far from the car, from the gun. As he stares, pondering what to do, a new command fills his ear.

“TRACK ME. BRING GUN. STAY HIDDEN.”

With this wild land now his, Kane heads back to where the fight began. He rushes silently through the woods, whispering through bushes, leaping darkness, dodging stone.

But it is not only the
land
that is his now.

Shadows ghost behind him.

He is not alone.

C
sorba called out in Hungarian, holding out his GPS.

He had stopped near a flat-topped crypt raised a foot above the ground. Its surface was mostly obscured under a thick mat of leaf detritus and mulch, as if the earth were trying to swallow the tomb up.

Tucker was handed a hammer and a crowbar. He considered how best to use them to his advantage, but now the professor had a pistol in hand, pointed his way, plainly not planning on getting his own hands dirty. Plus the man still had the wireless transmitter in his pocket. Tucker remembered the frightened look on Aliza’s face, the grief shining from her father’s.

He could not fail them.

With no choice but to cooperate, Tucker worked with the others. Using hammers, they managed to loosen the lid. Once done, they all jammed crowbars into one side and cranked together on the slab of thick marble, as if trying to pry open a stubborn manhole cover. It seemed an impossible task—then, with a grating
pop
of stone, the lid suddenly lifted. An exhalation of sulfurous air escaped, like the brimstone breath of the devil.

One of the trio made a sign of the cross on his forehead, in some superstitious warding against evil.

The others made fun of this action, but only half-heartedly.

Afterward, with some effort, they pushed and shoved and worked the lid off the base of the crypt.

Csorba came forward with his flashlight and pointed the beam down. He swore happily in Hungarian. Cheers rose from the others.

Stone stairs led from the lip of the tomb and vanished into darkness below.

They’d found the right tomb.

Orders were quickly made.

Tucker was forced to sit on the edge of another crypt, guarded at gunpoint by two of the men. Domonkos and Csorba, both with flashlights in hand, climbed down together to see what lay below, vanishing away, leaving only the glow of their lights shining eerily out of the open tomb.

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