“Or maybe you’re grasping at straws,” Kowalski said.

Seichan stood with her arms crossed, similarly unimpressed.

Gray remembered their brief intimate moment in the bathroom. In that fleeting instance, the worries of family and mission responsibilities faded. He existed in the simple purity of touch and possibility. With his mind cleared, the nagging puzzle stuck in his head broke through the muddle of his awareness. The answer burst forth fully formed, shining with the certainty of truth.

But maybe he was the only one convinced.

Even Painter put a noncommittal spin on his revelation. “It’s something I can look into. Maybe by morning—”

“We can’t wait until morning. Amanda could be moved again or harmed. We need to take advantage of the hours of darkness left to us.”

“You’re talking about putting a lot of resources to bear on a hunch,” Painter argued. “You could burn your cover, expose the fact that you know Amanda’s still alive, all for nothing.”

“I know I’m right,” Gray said.

“How can you be so sure?” Seichan said.

Gray returned to the window. “Because of the breakwater around Utopia, the same as can be seen out the window surrounding the palm islands.”

He fogged the glass again with a hard breath and filled in the rest of his map of Utopia, drawing in a crescent breakwater around the starfish-shaped island.

“A moon and a star,” Gray said, poking at the symbols.

A gasp rose from Seichan.

Kowalski swore.

Tucker shrugged. “I don’t get it.”

Gray glanced at him, remembering the man knew nothing about the Guild. “It’s the root symbol for a shadowy organization, one that’s committed acts of terrorism around the world. The director already suspected this group might be behind Amanda’s kidnapping.”

“Now you tell me,” Kowalski grumbled. “If I’d known that, I would’ve sat this one out.”

Tucker still shook his head. “The crescent and the moon. You can find that emblem on most Arab national flags. The Emirates is an Islamic country. The design of the islands might simply be representing that Muslim symbol.”

Painter agreed. “He’s right, Gray. But you’ve convinced me enough that the island is worth investigating. I’ve ordered a team to assemble an intelligence brief on the place. I already pulled a picture off the Web, photos showing the towers under construction on the main island. Impressive. Several are already occupied by businesses, with the remainder of the spaces nailed down by corporations from around the world. From what I’m seeing, security is tight around that island.”

“That’s why I wanted to head out there tonight. Go in dark.”

“No good.” It sounded like Painter was reading from a report. “They’ve got a radar-monitoring system that circles the entire island. They’ll know you’re approaching from a mile away.”

“Then we can get as close as we can and use scuba gear to—”

“I may have a better way,” Painter said, letting out a long sigh. “There’s someone in the area I can reach out to. His name came up during the initial intelligence sweep of Dubai. A deep-sea salvage operator. He’s got a pair of submersibles, possibly something we can use to ferry your team to Utopia. He’s been doing survey and engineering work on the seabed for an underwater hotel being constructed offshore.”

“Hydropolis,” Gray said, remembering the latest addition to the Dubai waterfront.

“That’s right.”

From the sound of the director’s voice, Painter was still not too keen on involving a third party, especially this person.

“Director, if you don’t trust this guy …”

“It’s not that. He can be trusted. He’s performed many high-security clearance projects for the government, even for the military.”

“Then what’s the matter?”

Again that heavy sigh. “He’s Lisa’s ex-boyfriend.”

Kowalski turned away, mumbling under his breath, “Oh, that’s not going to be awkward.”

20

July 2, 4:34 P.M. EST

Charleston, South Carolina

“And Jack’s agreed to help?” Lisa asked.

She stood by the open balcony door on the second floor of Harbourview Inn, a historic building in the heart of downtown Charleston that overlooked the river and a waterfront park.

“He did,” Painter said. “Even agreed to keep this midnight mission a secret from the rest of the crew of the Deep Fathom. He’ll be taking the sub out personally.”

She closed the French doors, returning inside to the air-conditioned luxury. Her room was appointed with a four-poster bed and period pieces, and featured an exposed redbrick wall and working fireplace, a richness of accommodation to help bolster her cover.

She hadn’t thought about Jack Kirkland in some time. She had been fresh out of UCLA medical school, working under a National Science Foundation grant to study the physiological effects of deep-sea work on the human body. Jack had been the captain of an eighty-foot salvage ship, the Deep Fathom, manned by a team of scientists and treasure hunters. The two had a brief, fiery relationship that burned out as fast as it started. It was all physical, but not from lack of trying—lots of trying, multiple times a day. She smiled at the memory. Though almost a decade had passed, it felt like a lifetime ago.

What happened to that bikini-clad, bronze-legged girl?

A pang of melancholia swept through her.

Painter redirected her to the present, stoking the worries that had died down by the distraction of his call. “And Kat’s still not back?”

“No.” She checked her watch. It was almost five o’clock. She’d been back at the hotel for over two hours and expected Kat to join up with her shortly thereafter. They weren’t supposed to communicate with each other until reunited at the hotel, to keep their distance from each other.

“And you’ve not heard anything from her?” she asked.

“Not a word, but when you called an hour ago, I pinged her recording devices. The pen camera in the reception area is still operational, but offered no clue to her whereabouts. The other devices in her possession were never activated. And the remote hacking device you planted continues to transmit data. So far they’ve not found it, and we’ve been gathering reams of data.”

“Anything about Amanda?”

“I got the profiles you e-mailed, but we’ve hit a wall when searching for Amanda’s medical file—a firewall. I have a skilled engineer trying to sap a way under that digital barrier, but it’s delicate work to keep from raising alarm bells. Still, if Kat had been caught, I doubt our surveillance devices would still be operational. They’d sweep the place clean.”

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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