Read an Excerpt
Portland International Airport
Safe. The word kept rolling around in Felicity Ward's head. Safe. Safe. Safe. The word seemed odd when she repeated it over and over. Like a sound with no meaning. Like the word itself, really. Safe didn't exist. It never had for her.
But her friend Lauren had used it so often lately. And it sounded as if, after being abducted by a crazy guy for money and saved by her lover, a former Navy SEALwell, it sounded like Lauren was more or less as safe as you could be in this dangerous world.
Felicity Ward, aka Alina Darin, aka Katrin Valk knew all about the world being dangerous. Her father, Nikolai Darin, a world-famous Soviet nuclear physicist, had defected to the United States before she was born. He'd defected the night he'd won the Nobel Prize for Physics and the CIA had orchestrated a fake car crash. He'd planned it under the nose of the KGB. If the KGB had suspected his defection, they'd have sent a wet team.
Ironically, her parents really had died in a car crash, only it was nineteen years later in America.
Which just went to show that though most dangers came from other human beings, there were also natural dangers such as accidents and fire and snowstorms. Like the one raging now.
The sky outside the enormous airport skylights was unnaturally dark and snow flurries swirled against the hundred-foot-high windowpanes.
She needed to get to the taxicab stand fast. Her flight from Burlingham, Vermont via Chicago and Denver had been one of the last to land. If the snowstorm continued like this the roads would close down. She didn't want to be stuck overnight in this airport, however pretty it was.
But it was hard to move fast when she was so distracted.
Felicity spent most of her timewell, all of her timeindoors in her apartment. The colors and sounds and smells of the airport nearly overwhelmed her. Shop after shop after shop of bright thingsclothes and shoes and electronics and makeup. Felicity never went to shopping malls. She ordered everything online, and this was so distracting and enticing. So much to see.
And the people! When was the last time she'd been in a space with so many people? They were fascinating. You could make up stories about them forever. That was one of the things she did for a livinginventing online and paper personas for people on the run. The crowd milling around the airport wasn't on the run but you could read their stories in their faces, in their bodies.
That man there, in the expensive rumpled suit, frowning and checking his wrist watch for the third time in a minute. Maybe he'd just gotten off a flight from Hong Kong and was waiting for his driver to take him to the meeting he was late for.
And that woman over there in a luxury store, fingering a beautiful cashmere shawl. She had a very sad look on her face. Was she expecting someone who wasn't coming?
But that girl emerging from the exit area Felicity had just come fromshe had someone waiting. Tall and lanky with a huge grin on his face and a bouquet of wilted daisies in his big hand.
She felt like a puppy that had been let out in the garden after a winter indoors. All these colors and shapes and sounds
And purses! She walked by an upscale purse shop that made her think wryly of her own beige five-year-old canvas bag. For this trip she'd just put documents and keys and lipstick and flash drives in her laptop backpack, not even bothering with her canvas bag. Why didn't she buy herself new purses? Just look at them in the window!
She stopped and all but pressed her nose against the shop window. Such pretty pastel colorshad pastels just come in or had they been in for years and she hadn't noticed? Soft leather, exquisitely fashioned details, shiny brass studs. She sidestepped and stood in front of the open door. A shop assistant in the back who'd been putting away a stack of scarves in every color of the rainbow looked up and smiled. Felicity made an I'm just looking gesture and the shop assistant nodded.
She pulled in a deep, delighted breath and smelled leather and newness and style, if style had a smell. Portland was bound to have purse shops. Oh man, she was going to hit every single one and spend some money. It wasn't as if she didn't have any. She had plenty of money, she just never spent it.
Maybe Lauren would go shopping with her. That would be
fun. Shopping with a girlfriend. Something she'd never done before. Her parents had discouraged friendships throughout her school years. At MIT her friends had mostly been men and they barely washed, let alone shopped.
So many things she'd never done. Why hadn't she done them? That was about to change, big-time.
This crazy trip to Portland was sort of a test. A test to see if she could live a normal life. Go out like other people did. Take trips, go to the movies instead of watching Netflix on her seventy-eight-inch curved screen. Go shopping in RealSpace, eat out instead of ordering in. Everyone else did, why shouldn't she?
So this was going to be her new life. Maybe. With luck.
Traveling to see friends, because when you went out you made friends. That was the way it worked, right?
Right next door to the purse shop was a cosmetics shop and heavenly smells came from it. Perfumes and lotions and lipsticks and creams. Another deep breath to pull it all in, then on to the next shop.
Shoes! Oh yes! Just look at those soft ankle boots, a fabulous shade of purple, she'd have to pull up the Pan-tone scale to discover the exact name, but it was gorgeous. Would it hurt to walk in for a few minutes? A glance out the windows told her that the weather
"Don't move," a voice said. Low, male, vicious. A hard thump on the back made her stagger. One big strong hand held her shoulder, another pushed something sharp against her side, at the edge of her laptop backpack straps. "Don't turn around, don't fucking breathe," the voice said. "You feel this?"
This was a knife, sharp-pointed. It had cut through her coat and sweater and the point was pressed against her skin. Any move she made would result in the knife slashing her side.
"Yes." Felicity tried to keep her voice even. She scanned the hall but there was no help coming. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people, hurrying this way and that and not one paying her the slightest bit of attention. What would they see, anyway? A woman with a man at her back. He could be her husband, her boyfriend, her brother. "I feel it."
"Good. Now, this is how it's going to work. We're going to take the escalators down to the street level. Then head outside. You're going to walk in a straight line the fifty meters to the escalators and be very quiet. You are not going to attract anyone's attention because by the time you have caught someone's attention, I'll have sliced you open. Do you understand me?"
He spoke English well with a slight British accent and something underneath that. An accent very similar to her mother's only better English than her mother had ever learned. Russian? Ukrainian? And he calculated in meters. Lots of people did, though, including the million and a half members of the US military plus the eight hundred thousand in the reserves. But what did she know? Linguistics weren't her forte. Computers were.
Computers had saved her life, were her life. Maybe
Another hard thump from behind to propel her forward, the man's hand painfully gripping her shoulder. Felicity started walking as slowly as she dared.
Because in here, in the bustle of the crowd, there was safety in numbers. Once they had gone down to street level and exited the airport, once he'd herded her away from the crowd, any hope of rescue would be gone. Though it was only midafternoon, the sky was dark. The weather outside would make everybody walk around in a little cocoon of self-preservation, eyes slitted against the snow, watching their feet, not noticing anyone else.
If she could make an escape it would have to be here, inside. Outside the doors of the airport, she'd be lost. Whatever this man wanted from her, he'd get. Whatever this was, it might end with her body dumped by the side of the road.
She slowed down slightly, head bowed, dejection in every line of her body. She watched people moving, some fast, some slow, and calculated trajectories. A watch-and-sunglasses kiosk with standalone revolving displays was coming up on her right hand side.
Felicity lunged and a line of fire sliced down her side. She was cut, maybe badly, but she was free of the heavy hand on her shoulder, of the knife held in the man's other hand. However badly she was hurt, she'd be in worse shape if he caught her again.
He wanted quiet, he wanted to grab her without any fuss, so he wouldn't shout out.
If he had helpif there were other men around as backupshe was in trouble. There was no way of knowing. She could only implement the crazy plan that had blossomed between the shoe store and the watch kiosk.
The line of fire, as if someone had pressed a hot piece of steel down her side, turned to pain. Hot, searing pain that made her gasp.
Passing the watch-and-sunglasses kiosk she shoved really hard at the two displays, happy they tumbled, scattering watches and sunglasses everywhere.
Felicity didn't dare look around to see where he was. All she could do was run. She took off, dragging her carry-on and realized instantly it would slow her down in the crowd. She abandoned it. She had the only thing she really needed in her backpackher specially designed laptop, worth over fifty thousand dollars and now worth her life. She barreled forward, pushing and tripping people, leaving as much confusion behind as possible.
Ten feet away was a pillar. Scrambling behind it, she looked back. It was a risk, but she had to know what the situation was like behind her and she had to know what her assailant looked like.
She'd left chaos in her wake, colorful watches and sunglasses littering the floor, several women kneeling on the floor, a couple of college-age students picking up watches with a smile, a couple of crying kids and
there he was! Medium height, dirty blond hair barely visible beneath a wide-brimmed hat, well built, well dressed, cold flat eyes. Andyeshe was holding something in his right hand that was dripping blood. Her blood. He put the knife away almost immediately.
She was dripping too. She put a hand to her side and it came away wet and red. It was a serious wound. It was fiercely painful and impeded movement. She had to do something quick. Another slash like that and she wouldn't survive this.
Well, she'd lived with danger close all her life and was built for this. A fully formed plan had consolidated in her mind and it gave her strength. Ducking and weaving, using every inch of cover available, she headed straight for the bathrooms on the other side of the huge concourse.
Something on the floor caught her eye. She looked down and froze. Bright red drops. A blood trail, a huge arrow that would lead him straight to her once order was established. Whoever this man was, he would be more than capable of following a blood trail.
A couple passed by with a baby in a stroller, both parents burdened with huge amounts of kid paraphernalia, including a blue baby blanket. Andaha!a dirty baseball cap. She grabbed the cap and the blanket, pressing the blanket to her side under the coat. She ran to the bathroom, checking to see that she didn't leave bloody footprints.
A small atrium before the doors of the women's rest-room gave her a moment's shelter. She stopped, panting, and peeked around the corner, grimacing with pain. She swayed and propped herself up using a knuckle, since her palms were slick with blood.
The man was in profile, scanning straight ahead. The god of nerds was smiling on her because a huge knot of people, most of them young like her, moved across the concourse, perpendicular to the flow of people. Her attacker moved forward as though he'd been sprung out of a cage. The knot of people was exactly the kind of crowd she'd try to hide in and like a bloodhound scenting prey, he shot across the floor, head swiveling to catch a glimpse of her.
But she was behind him now, ducking into the ladies' room, which wasthank God!empty. In the handicapped stall, she locked the door and sat cross-legged on the toilet lid, pulling out her cell phone and her laptop. She took the battery out of her cell, so she couldn't be tracked and opened her laptop. It was very special and could run for two hundred hours without recharging. A prototype, given to her by China's top hacker while he'd been a Black Hat. It turned on immediately. Her fingers flew over the keyboard. The laptop was very fast and powerful and had a lot of programs it shouldn't have. With the help of one she accessed the airport's security system and initiated a bomb alert. A siren sounded immediately.
Then she hacked into the airport loudspeaker system, overrode the regular announcements and used an app she'd designed to disguise her voice. It turned her natural soprano into a male basso profundo that sounded like God Himself.
"Attention, attention, we have just received a bomb alert. We ask all passengers and personnel to please make for the exits in an orderly fashion. You may use the stairs and the escalators but not the elevators. Attention, attention"
She put the announcement on a loop.
As if on cue, sounds of screams came from the concourse outside the toilets, the flooring shivering with the vibrations of thousands of feet running.
The laptop screen went out of focus for an instant and Felicity grabbed the stability bar for the handicapped, grateful that she'd chosen this stall. She held it, white-knuckled, until her head cleared. Almost afraid, she glanced down at her side and saw that the blanket she'd wrapped around herself was soaked with blood. Soon she was going to faint and then she'd really be prey. Her attacker wouldn't find her outside and would come back inside and check the place thoroughly. If he found her unconscious on the floor of the bathroom stall, she was done for.
One last thing to do.
Like all large airports, the Portland airport had an ambulance service on duty 24/7 in case of an airplane crash. Though the letters danced on the screen, she found the emergency service and directed the ambulances to come around to the front of the street level.
Someone would have ordered them out anyway, eventually, but she needed an ambulance now.
Hitching her laptop backpack higher up on her shoulders, she planted a bloody hand against the pristine white walls of the stall, realizing that she was leaving DNA and fingerprints. She should go into the outer room, grab some towels, soak them with water and soap, and wipe it down.
But really, she'd need bleach. And she didn't have the strength anyway. Pressing the last dry part of the baby blanket against her side, she put on the baseball cap, tucking her hair in to hide the color, and walked out into utter chaos.
Good. Chaos was good.