To keep the kid distracted and focused elsewhere, Painter had assigned him to finish the intelligence brief on Utopia.
“Director, there’s something you should see.” He lifted an arm toward Kat’s office.
Painter followed him and closed the door. He could still smell a whiff of jasmine in the air, a ghost of its former occupant.
Jason led him to a large computer monitor. Upon it spun a 3-D rendering of the star-shaped island of Utopia. The surface of the man-made superstructure bristled with towers, clustering up each leg, rising in height from the tip to the center, like the spines of a starfish. And in the middle rose the tallest of the spires, appearing like a molten pyramid whose tip had been stretched taffy-like into the sky to the height of five hundred feet.
“Where did you get this schematic?”
“Made it myself.”
“That was fast.”
Jason shrugged. “Before all hell broke loose, you had me already doing a search into the various corporations and businesses involved with Utopia. I just pulled the architectural schematics from each building, paired them with their GPS locations on the island, and had it all rendered in 3-D. The hard part was showing the levels of completion of each phase of the various towers. I shaded the completed projects in gray. The other, ghostlier sections denote floors or phases of construction either unfinished or still in the planning stages.”
“Impressive. Can you forward this schematic to Commander Pierce’s team?”
“No problem, sir, but that’s not why I wanted to talk to you.” He waved to the screen. “This was all busywork while I waited for my data to compile on the various businesses invested or renting space in Utopia. Let me show you.”
He tapped a screen and the grayscale schematic burst forth with tiny patches of color, in every imaginable hue, filling in office floors and apartment spaces. “Each color represents a different company with vested interest in Utopia,” Jason explained. “Two hundred and sixteen in all.”
Painter gaped at the view. Gray’s team faced a daunting task to hunt through that corporate maze for Amanda.
But, apparently, Jason was not done. “You also had me search business records and financial reports to discover the true owners involved.”
Painter nodded. He had assigned Jason to strip away the shell and dummy corporations, to expose the various front and holding companies, all to discover who was truly investing time and money in Utopia.
To reveal the real peas under all those fake shells.
“That took some work,” Jason said with a proud grin and hit a keystroke. “Now watch.”
On the screen’s schematic, the various dots and splashes of colors began to change, blinking through a cascade of shades, then settling and blending together—until most of the screen glowed one uniform color, a deep crimson.
“Once the shell game settled out,” Jason said, “I discovered seventy-four-point-four percent of the island is actually owned by a single parent company.”
Painter felt the cold creep of dread in his gut. He could guess the answer. “Gant Corporate Enterprises.”
Jason glanced up at him, his eyes surprised. “How did you know? What does the president’s family—?”
Painter cut him off and leaned closer. “Rotate that schematic to get a bird’s-eye view of the island.”
Jason manipulated a toggle to swerve the view up and over the star-shaped island, to look down upon that crimson corporate tide. The kid whistled appreciatively.
“Amazing,” Jason exclaimed. “The pattern forms a perfect cross atop the island.”
“A Templar cross,” Painter mumbled, picturing the symbol he’d studied only days ago, the mark of the Guild.
Doubt evaporated inside him.
The Gants are the Guild.
And Gray’s team was sailing blindly toward their newest stronghold.
July 3, 1:20 A.M. Gulf Standard Time
Dubai City, UAE
Gray led the others down a long dock that cut through the center of a massive marina. A full moon and the blaze of Dubai’s skyline turned night to day here, while jazz music tinkled across the water from an open-air nightclub. A soft breeze blew gently off the sea, cooling the warm night and smelling of ocean salt and diesel fuel.
The tiny harbor lay at the tip of the man-made island of Palm Jumeirah. They were to meet their escort at a berth in a remote section of the marina, where fewer eyes were likely to pry.
To Gray’s left, the giant trunk of the artificial palm-shaped island stretched two kilometers to shore, sparkling in the night with hotels and residences, divided by an eight-lane motorway. He hadn’t appreciated the sheer magnitude of this archipelago until here on its shores. Each engineered palm frond was a mile long, lined by villas and mansions. And to his right, across the water from the marina, stretched the seven-mile-long breakwater crescent, turned into a playground of hotels and water parks. And two more palm projects were in development, each bigger than the next; the largest would be seven times the size of Palm Jumeirah.
Another of Gray’s party was also fixated by the enormousness of everything in Dubai.
“I guess size does matter,” Kowalski said, gaping at the mega-yacht docked at the upcoming berth. It had its own helicopter tied down at the stern, and it wasn’t even the biggest boat here. “Somebody’s compensating for something, if you know what I mean.”
Seichan strode alongside him. “We all know what you mean, Kowalski—it’s why none of us have commented on those cigars you keep sucking on.”
He took out his stogie and frowned at her. “Whatcha talking about?”
Tucker bent down and unclipped Kane from his leash. The shepherd, freed at last, trotted ahead, nose in the air, tail high. The dog had been confined to a leash while in Dubai, not the most dog-friendly city, but out here in the marina at this late hour, no one was around to complain.
His handler hung behind them, lost in his own thoughts.
Gray followed Kane down the dock. The number of empty berths grew as they neared the end, leaving the opulence and grandiosity of modern Dubai behind. Moonlight shone off the dark water ahead, no longer competing with the reflected dazzle of the city’s towers and playgrounds. A slight breeze took the edge off of the warm night. Looking out to sea, with stars twinkling and with the call to prayer echoing hauntingly from the shoreline, it was easy to get transported back to another time, to the medieval era of Ali Baba and lost desert kingdoms. Despite the excesses and extravagances of Dubai, the ancient world still glimmered through the cracks, a shimmering mirage of past glories.