Burn (Page 20)

"Details," he said briefly, turning off the television and wheeling away from his computer so he could concentrate. He didn’t take notes; a paper trail could come back to bite him on the ass. He did take precautions to make certain he was never hung out to dry, but notes weren’t part of his routine.

"We’ve picked up some transmissions from the North Koreans that make us suspect they’ve established a source for some technology we’d rather they not have."

Cael didn’t ask what that technology was – not yet, anyway. At this point he didn’t need to know. If at some point he decided he did need to know, then he wouldn’t proceed without that information. "Who’s the source?"

"Frank Larkin."

Cael’s interest level shot up several degrees. Larkin was a multimillionaire who was one of the behind-the-scene powers in Washington, D.C., with a lot of friends and contacts in high places. He had jumped on the green bandwagon with so-called environmentally friendly businesses and products that were questionable at best, and were probably outright cons. Cael didn’t get emotionally involved in causes, but in his opinion it took a particularly sleazy type of bastard to take advantage of people who were trying to do something good.

"He pulls a lot of juice" was all he said, his tone neutral. Because of Larkin’s connections, anything they got on him would have to be ironclad – and even then there was no guarantee that anything would ever be done. On the other hand, in a lot of these cases no formal charges were ever brought. The "problem" was taken care of, and would look like a heart attack or a stroke, at least on paper, while the bullet hole in the back of the head would somehow escape the medical examiner’s notice.

Cael had done his share of wet work, but that was for another country, in another decade. His true specialty was surveillance, so what he was being called on to do was get the goods on Larkin, not take him out.

"Specifics," he said.

"Larkin is one of a consortium that’s expanding into luxury ship cruises. The first ship, the Silver Mist, is scheduled to go into service very shortly. Before that, however, her maiden voyage will be a special two-week charity cruise to Hawaii. The passengers will all be the super-elite, all the proceeds from the cruise will be donated to charity, and there’s a huge public relations push going on. Larkin will be the host of the cruise. We think he’ll be meeting with the North Koreans while he’s in Hawaii, but the place and time won’t be set until shortly beforehand. We need to know when and where."

Cael mulled that information over. The computer age had changed espionage; actual prototypes or products didn’t have to be stolen. Instead, the specs could be transmitted in the blink of an eye, and the receiving country or agency could proceed from there. The North Koreans were famously paranoid; a face-to-face meet, especially on foreign soil, posed far more risk to them than a simple file transmission.

"Something’s off," he said. "Why would the Koreans agree to that? Why the need for a face-to-face meet?"

"We don’t know. There may be something else going on that we haven’t unraveled yet. What we do know is enough."

Cael gave a mental shrug. In the end, it didn’t matter why the Koreans would agree to such a risky move, just that they had. "When’s the cruise?"

"Two weeks."

Not much time then. "Can you get me and my people booked? We’ll need the suite next to Larkin’s."

"How many rooms do you need?"

"Two," he replied. He and Tiffany would take one room, Ryan and Faith the other. In fact, the best arrangement would be Ryan and Faith in the suite adjoining Larkin’s. This cruise was just the type of thing they would do, so their presence wouldn’t be in any way remarkable. "And I’ll need two people embedded in the ship’s crew."


He provided them, his thoughts already moving ahead. He would also need someone on the security staff, and putting one of his people there at this late date was probably impossible. Therefore, he needed to buy someone who was already on staff. He relayed that requirement, too.

"I’ll have everything set up. Get your people ready."

They both hung up. Cael left his chair to get more coffee. He’d been awake and at the computer for more than an hour, but it was barely five o’clock in the morning, California time, too early to call any of his people and put them on alert. Instead, he took his cup out onto the porch and sat in one of the comfortable rocking chairs, stretching his long legs out to prop them on top of the porch railing. Dawn hadn’t yet rolled across the mountains to the east of him, but the birds and insects were producing an anticipatory symphony. He listened to them, enjoying the songs and solitude, the soft feel of the early-morning air on his bare chest.

His house was the only one in sight, and he liked it that way. The house itself was two-story, made of timber and rock so that it blended into its surroundings, not so big as to attract notice but large enough that he could be comfortable. The security array was more extensive than normal, but not immediately apparent. He’d installed at least half the precautions himself, so no company would have a set of schematics that could be used to breach his defenses. Maybe he had a touch of paranoia himself, but the way he looked at it, he’d rather spend some extra money than be caught with his pants down. He was in a dangerous business – not as dangerous now as what he’d done before, but in his type of work you didn’t win many friends.

Trust was the keystone in his relationships, both professional and personal. Professionally, he didn’t trust the people he worked for, but he did the people he worked with. He had a good group assembled. They didn’t work together exclusively, but more and more the others were turning down jobs that hadn’t come through him.