Read Tracker Online

Authors: James Rollins

Tags: #Mystery, #Adventure, #Thriller

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With nothing to lose, Tucker sat with his arms behind his back, feigning full cooperation. As if mumbling to himself or praying, he subvocalized into the throat mike. “Kane. Keep hidden. Bring gun.”

He held his palms open behind him and waited.

He breathed deeply to keep himself calm. He let his eyes drift closed.

C’mon, Kane . . .

One of the men yelped. He saw the man twirl pointing his pistol toward the woods. A low growl flowed from the forest, a shadow shifted to the left, twigs cracked. Other throats rumbled in the darkness, noise rising from all sides. More shadows shifted.

The two men spoke rapidly in Hungarian, their eyes huge.

It was the cemetery’s pack of wild dogs.

Then Tucker felt something cold and wet touch the fingers behind his back. He jumped, startled. He hadn’t heard a thing. He reached back there and found fur. Then something heavy was dropped into his palms.

The pistol.

“Good boy,” he whispered under his breath. “Stay.”

It seemed Kane had won over some friends.

Tucker gently placed the pistol on the tomb behind him. Using the ongoing distraction, he reached blindly back to Kane to investigate the audio glitch. He didn’t want to be cut off from his partner any longer.

Especially not now.

He needed this link more than ever.

He toggled the camera off, then on again, rebooting it, praying that was enough.

A moment later, a satisfying squelch of static in his left ear meant all was right with the world.

“All done, Kane. Go back and hide with your friends.”

All he heard as Kane retreated was the softest scrape of nail on marble. Within another minute, the forest went quiet again, the pack vanishing into the night.

The two guards shook off their fear, laughing brusquely now that the threat seemed to have backed off, sure they had intimidated the pack away.

As Tucker listened to the soft pant of Kane in his ear, he slipped the pistol into his belt and hid it under the fall of his jacket.

And not a moment too soon.

A shout rose from the open crypt. The light grew brighter. Then Domonkos’s pocked face appeared and barked new orders, smiling broadly. Tucker could almost see the sheen of gold in his eyes.

Had they actually found the stolen treasure?

Tucker was forced to his feet and made to follow Domonkos down into the crypt. He guessed they needed as many able-bodied men as possible to haul up the treasure from below. Tucker mounted the steps, trailed by the other two men.

The narrow stairs descended from walls made of brick to a tunnel chiseled out of natural stone. He lost count at a hundred steps. Conversation had died down as they descended, stifled by the weight of stone above and the dreams of riches below. Soon all Tucker heard was the men breathing around him, their echoing footfalls, and somewhere far below the drip of water.

Good.

At last, the end of the staircase appeared, lit by the glow from Csorba’s flashlight.

Reaching the cavern, Domonkos entered ahead of them, sweeping his arm to encompass the space as if welcoming them to his home. He found his voice again and chattered happily to his comrades.

Tucker took a few steps into the space, awed by the natural vault, dripping with water, feathered with thick capes of flowstone and spiked above by stalactites. Tucker wondered how many Jewish slaves
Oberführer
Erhard Bock had worked to death to tunnel into this secret cavern, how many others had died to keep its secret—and as he stared over at Csorba, he wondered how this Jewish scholar could so blithely discount his own heritage and prepare to steal gold soaked in his ancestors’ own blood.

Csorba stood next to a stack of crates, each a cubic foot in size and emblazoned with a swastika burned into the wood. He had broken one open, pulled down from the top of the pile. Hundreds of gold ingots, each the size of a stick of butter, spilled across the floor.

Csorba turned, wide-eyed.

He spoke to the others, who all cheered.

He even shared the news with Tucker.

“Erhard Bock lied,” he said, awe filling his voice. “There are not thirty-six crates here. There are over
eighty
!”

Tucker calculated in his head. That equaled over $200 million.

Not a bad haul if you don’t mind murdering some innocent cemetery caretakers, a kindly university professor, his daughter—not to mention yours truly. And who knows how many more?

He’d heard and seen enough.

He slipped out his pistol, raised it, and shot three times.

Three head shots.

Three bodies fell. The last was Domonkos, who sank with the most bewildered expression on his face.

He couldn’t bring all four back to the surface by himself.

Too risky.

But he could bring one, the man behind all of this.

Csorba stumbled into the crate and yanked his wireless detonator out of his pocket. “Another step and I’ll press it.”

To see if he’d actually do it, Tucker took that step and another. He saw the man’s thumb tremble on the button.

Then, with a wince, Csorba finally pressed it. “I . . . I warned you.”

“I didn’t hear any explosion,” Tucker said. “Did you?”

Csorba pressed it several more times.

Tucker closed the distance, plucked the useless detonator out of his grip, turned it off, and pocketed it. He waved his pistol toward the steps.

“I don’t understand . . .” the professor mumbled as he obeyed.

Tucker didn’t bother to explain. Once he got hold of the pistol from Kane, he could have shot Domonkos and his two cronies up top, but he feared that if Csorba heard gunfire he might panic and do what he just did—press the transmitter.

So Tucker had to come down here to be certain.

A quarter of the way along the steps, he had lost his wireless connection to Kane. That panting in his ear had died away again. So he was confident Csorba’s transmitter, buried four times deeper, would be equally useless—only after knowing that for sure by coming down here did he feel it safe enough to act.

They finally reached the top of the crypt.

Csorba tried to bolt for the forest.

“Kane, stop him.”

Folding out of the woods, a shadow blocked the professor’s path, growling, eyes shining in the dark. Others materialized, closing in from all sides, filling the night with a low rumble, like thunder beyond the horizon.

Csorba backpedaled in fright, tripped over a stone, and fell headlong into one of the open graves. A loud
thud
followed, accompanied by a worrisome
snap
.

Tucker hurried forward and stared into the hole. The professor lay six feet down, his neck twisted askew, unmoving. Tucker shook his head. It seemed the ghosts of this place weren’t going to let this man escape so easily.

Around him, the dark shadows faded back into the forest, vanishing upon some unspoken signal, until only the whisper of leaves in the wind remained.

Kane came slinking up, fearful he had done wrong.

Tucker knelt and brought his friend’s face close to his. “Who’s a good boy?”

Kane reached and touched a cold nose against his.

“That’s right. You are.”

H
alf an hour later, Tucker sat in the sedan with the broken headlamp, the engine idling. He had freed Aliza and her father and told them all that had happened. He was going to leave it to them to explain as best they could to the authorities, leaving his name out.

Aliza leaned her face through the open window.

“Thank you.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay? If only for another night.”

He heard the offer behind her words, but he knew how complicated things would become if he did stay. He had two hundred million reasons why it was time for him to go.

“What about a reward?” she asked.

He pictured Csorba falling into his own grave, snapping his neck.

“There’s too much blood on that gold,” he said. “But if there’s any spare change, I know of some hungry dogs that share this forest. They could use food, a warm place to lay their head at night, a family to love them.”

“I’ll make it happen,” she promised. “But aren’t those things what we all want?”

Tucker looked at the stretch of open road beyond the brick archway.

Maybe some day, but not today.

“Good-bye, Aliza.”

He revved the engine.

Kane’s tail thumped heavily on the seat next to him, his head stuck full out the window. As Tucker gunned the engine, a howl burst from his partner, an earsplitting call, singing to his own blood.

The sedan shot forward and barreled out the archway.

Behind them, the forest erupted with a chorus of yowls and wails, echoing up into the night and chasing them out into the world.

As they raced away, the wind blew brochures around the car’s interior. It seemed the prior owner had been dreaming of faraway trips, too, ways to spend that gold.

One landed against the windshield and became plastered there crookedly.

The photo depicted palm trees and sandy white beaches.

Its exotic name conjured up another time, a land of mystery and mythology.

Zanzibar.

Tucker grinned, and Kane wagged his tail.

Yeah, that’ll do.

 

 

 

 

S
o ends this adventure with Tucker and Kane—but a larger one looms ahead for the pair as they reach Zanzibar in a novel titled
Bloodline
. A fateful crossing with Commander Pierce of Sigma Force will cast them into an adventure spanning the globe, one that will reveal a frightening scientific truth about the nature of mankind:
That immortals are walking among us today.

 

Continue reading for a sneak peek at

BLOODLINE

On sale June 26, 2012

 

Notes from the Historical Record

T
hroughout history, conspiracy theories abound. It is only human nature. We are forever looking for patterns amid chaos, for signs of the invisible puppeteer manipulating the grand scheme of lives, governments, and the path of mankind. Some of these shadowy plotters are cast as villains; others as great benefactors. Some of these secret cabals are based on historical facts; others are mere fanciful fictions; and yet even more are a Gordian knot of the two, woven so inexplicably together that the line between fact and fiction becomes a tangled tapestry of false history.

And for no other organization in history has this stood truer than the infamous Knights Templar.

In the early twelfth century, the order began as a group of nine knights, who swore to protect pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy Lands. From those humble beginnings, a great order would eventually grow in both wealth and power and spread across Europe until even popes and kings feared them. Then, on October 13, 1307, the king of France and the current pope conspired to arrest and disband the order, claiming great atrocities had been committed by the knights, including heresy. In the aftermath of that purge, legends and myths blurred the true fate of the order: stories of lost treasures abounded; tales spread of knights escaping persecution to arrive on the shores of the New World; and some reports even claim that the order still exists today, in secret and under guard, protecting a power that could reshape the world.

But let’s set aside such speculations and mythologies and go back to those original
nine
knights. What many do not know is that those nine founding members were all related by blood or marriage, arising from a single family. Eight of them are recorded by name in historical documents. The ninth remains a mystery and a source of much speculation today by historians. Who was this mysterious founding member of an order that would grow in such prominence in history and legend? Why was this last knight never named as plainly as the others?

The answer to that mystery is the beginning of a great adventure.

 

Notes from the Scientific Record

O
n February 21, 2011, the cover of
Time
magazine declared:
2045, The Year Man Becomes Immortal
. At face value, that might seem a wild claim, but other scientists have made similar statements. Dr. Ronald Klatz, in his book
Advances in Anti-Age Medicine,
wrote:

Within the next fifty years or so, assuming an individual can avoid becoming the victim of major trauma or homicide, it is entirely possible that he or she will be able to live virtually forever.

We are living in an exciting time when advances in medicine, genetics, technology, and a myriad of other disciplines are opening the newest frontier for mankind:
eternity
.

How will that manifest, what form will it take? Within these pages, you’ll discover that answer. The concepts raised in this novel are based on facts, on exhaustive research, going back to studies done by Soviet scientists during the Cold War. But before you turn to that first page, I must make one correction concerning the startling statements made above. They are, in fact, far too
conservative
in their estimates.

For not only is immortality within our reach—
it is already here
.

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