Painter knew he had to come clean—about everything. He drew the general back into the side office. Once inside, with the door closed, he explained, “Captain Bryant was investigating a fertility clinic in South Carolina, the same facility where Amanda had her in vitro fertilization performed.”

But it hadn’t been just Kat conducting that investigation. Lisa had gone down there, too. Fear for her stoked brighter, but he had to stay focused.

Metcalf turned toward him. “What fertility clinic are you talking about? Who authorized—?”

Painter cut him off before he worked up a full head of steam. He needed to shock the man into listening—for all of their sakes. “Amanda may still be alive.”

As he expected, those few words knocked the man back a step.

Painter continued, not letting the general recover. He needed to present the entire picture before Metcalf started to put up mental roadblocks. Only the complete story could win this stubborn man to their cause.

Painter started at the beginning, with Amanda’s kidnapping and his belief that it was tied to the unborn child she carried. They ended in front of Kat’s office computer. Painter showed him the cross atop the island of Utopia, realizing just then that it matched the symbol on the red steel doors.

What did that mean?

Metcalf sank into the desk chair, his eyes fixed to the screen. The general was a tough man, a skilled player in the ways of power and politics—some would say even an opportunist—but that was a requirement to function in the Beltway politics of DC. Painter also knew the general to be a shrewd strategist, capable of putting logic before emotion.

He hoped that proved to be the case now.

“And all of these properties are owned by the Gant family, the president’s family?” Metcalf asked, staring at the island. “And you’ve already received confirmation that Amanda was taken there.”

“Yes.”

Behind that glaze of shock, Painter saw the gears churning through all the evidence.

Finally, Metcalf shook his head, not in disbelief, more like defeat. “Dear God … if you’re right …” He placed a palm on his forehead and stared Painter square in the eye. “Even if the Gants are the puppet masters behind the Guild, how could the president involve his own daughter with something like this?”

The general glanced to that dark monitor in the other room, obviously picturing the horror show from a moment ago.

“James Gant may not know,” Painter explained. “We don’t know which of the Gants are in that inner circle, the True Bloodline. That’s why I’ve been playing this game so cagily. I have a gut feeling that inner circle is not without internal friction or dissent.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Something sent Amanda running to the Seychelles, almost like she was tipped off. Like someone was trying to protect her.”

“Or maybe they purposefully tricked her into fleeing in secret so she could be nabbed out of the public eye.”

It was a more cynical hypothesis, one Painter hadn’t even considered, proving yet again that Metcalf was an expert chess player.

“You’ve built a case against the Gants,” Metcalf conceded, “but it’s far from solid. None of this is strong enough to confront them, especially the administration. If we tried, we’d end up tipping our hand too soon, exposing that we’re onto them. The backlash would burn us down. And that Bloodline would bury itself even deeper. There’s only one solution.”

Painter understood. “We need Amanda.”

Metcalf met his eyes, confirming this. Any hope for Sigma to rise from these ashes depended on recovering and securing the president’s daughter—and surely the Bloodline knew that, too.

A knock at the door drew both their attentions. It was Kat’s chief analyst, Jason Carter. Painter motioned him forward, but the kid only stuck his head through the door.

“Director, we’re receiving new data from Captain Bryant’s device.”

Painter stared past the young man’s head. The monitor was still black. “Is it new video … or just audio again?”

“Neither. They’re digital files.”

Painter’s eyes pinched with momentary confusion—then realized what Kat was doing: downloading information off one of the lab’s computers.

Clever, Kat … very smart.

“Start forwarding those files to me,” Painter said.

Jason nodded and ducked back out.

Metcalf waited with Painter. “I wish you hadn’t told me any of this,” he said. “I’d certainly sleep better not knowing. For that matter, why did you tell me? Why trust me? Who’s to say I’m not on the Guild’s payroll?”

It was a good question—and Painter had only one answer.

“Because you’ve been a thorn in Sigma’s side from the beginning.”

“You mean I’ve been an ass.”

Painter didn’t argue with his wording. “But you’ve also had our back, sir, when we’ve truly needed it. And besides, I can’t do this on my own. Not any longer. I need an ally, someone to hold the wolves at bay if we’re to have any chance of recovering Amanda.”

“You’ll get it—but there’s only so much I can do. After what happened in Somalia, Sigma has a big target on its back. And you know Washington … once they smell blood in the water …”

The feeding frenzy begins.

The intercom buzzed. “Director, the initial files are up on your desktop.”

“I’ll leave you to this,” Metcalf said, standing and letting Painter take his seat. “This castle’s about to be stormed, and I’m better off manning the gates and fortifying the ramparts.”

Painter knew his statement was more than a metaphor. Sigma headquarters lay in the bunkers beneath the Smithsonian Castle, within the shadow of the White House—even now, the battle lines were being drawn between them.

As Metcalf left, Painter turned his attention to the computer, to the files gained at such risk. He worried about Kat … and even more about Lisa. Still, he sensed that all the mysteries, the true pulse of the Bloodline, lay in the life or death of another woman.

Gray, you must find Amanda.

25

July 3, 2:44 A.M. Gulf Standard Time

Off the coast of Dubai

Gray held the man’s neck in the crook of his arm, the flat of his hand against the side of his head. A twist and a sharp crank on the chin shattered the guard’s cervical vertebrae. The strangled body fell limp.

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