“If I open that door,” she explained simply, “I won’t survive.”
Her certainty on that point was unshakable, so much so that even the CIA therapist had begun to think Tracy might be right. Instead of talking, Tracy had made work her therapy, immersing herself psychologically in the classified files on Althea.
After multiple briefings and hours spent poring over every thread of evidence, both electronic and physical, Tracy now knew as much about Althea as anybody in the world.
Except who she is.
Or how she knows me.
Or why she’s involved with Group 99.
Or whether she really did murder my son.
Tracy was itching to get out there and look for her. But until the Geneva bombing there had been no new leads.
Now, however, suspicious e-traffic intercepts strongly suggested that Althea was physically in Switzerland when the Cranston bombing took place. She may even have attended a meeting at a Private Bank in Zurich two days prior to the attack. The CIA were still trying to get their hands on CCTV footage from that meeting, as well as permission to interview the banker in question, although so far with no success.
“Trying to get information out of the Swiss is like trying to get a straight answer from a lawyer,” Greg Walton had complained yesterday. “Seriously, you’d think we were the enemy.”
Tracy raised an eyebrow. “Imagine that.”
Greg Walton grinned. “What happened to the trust, eh, Tracy?”
The two of them had developed a good working relationship, friendly and respectful. This was partly because Milton Buck had been too immersed in the hunt for Hunter Drexel—who at this point appeared to have disappeared off the face of the earth entirely—to show up to meetings. And partly because the only thing on earth that mattered to Tracy Whitney was finding out the truth about what happened to her son. For that she needed Greg Walton, just as much as he needed her.
“I can fly tonight if you need me to,” she told Greg now.
“I think it would be a good idea. If you’re up to it.”
“I am.” Tracy smiled.
“Good.” Greg smiled back.
In a classic white silk blouse and black cigarette pants, with her newly dark hair tied back and her skin glowing from a combination of drug-induced sleep and enforced healthy eating, Tracy looked terrific today. Poised. Beautiful. Well.
“You can pick up your ticket at the airport,” Walton told her. “Remember, you don’t officially work for us. That may give you more wriggle room with the Swiss.”
“See if you can charm them. Failing that, see what . . . alternative channels . . . you can come up with to find Althea.”
Tracy nodded. This she could do. “Alternative channels” was her specialty. At least, it had been once.
“I know you’ll be resourceful.” Greg Walton handed her a written file with the word “Classified” printed on the cover. “Some light reading for the plane. Good luck, Tracy.”
“YOU SET ME UP!”
Alexis Argyros, aka Apollo, held the phone away from his ear. Althea was screaming at him, hissing and spitting with impotent fury like a snake beneath his foot. How the tables had turned!
It felt wonderful.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he answered, when she finally fell silent. “Our Swiss brothers organized this. I had nothing to do with it. I’m too busy hunting our friend, Hunter. Or had you forgotten about him?”
“You had everything to do with it! Are you saying it’s just coincidence that this happened here, while I’m in the country?”
“Not everything revolves around you, Althea.”
A few months ago he would never have dared to speak so boldly. But now? Now he had the power.
Sensing his enjoyment, Althea fired back. “You’re sick, Apollo. Everybody knows it. You had Henry Cranston murdered because it aroused you to see him die.”
“And watching Bob Daley’s brains explode didn’t arouse you?” Apollo scoffed.
To his delight, Althea sounded shaken when she answered. “Of course not. Bob Daley was different. You know why he had to die.”
“Do I?” Apollo teased, like a cat toying with a mouse.
“There were never meant to be others!”
“Oh, but there will be others, my dear. Many, many others. One percent of the world’s population is a big number, you know. The righteous oppressed have tasted vengeance at last. And they want more!” His voice quivered with excitement. “Greedy, grasping, earth-raping bastards like Cranston deserve to die.”
Earth-raping. It was an expression that Group 99’s eco-warriors had long used to describe fracking. Althea had always found it laughable in the past, immature and melodramatic, something only a self-righteous student could have coined. There were sides to Group 99 that had always bothered her, but she’d stuck with them, for Daniel’s sake. But hearing the term from Apollo’s lips now, hijacked as a cause in which he could wrap his sadism and blood lust, chilled her to the bone.
Apollo started to laugh. “Just remember, Althea,” he sneered. “You opened the gates of hell. Not me.”
Is that what I did? she thought, once the phone went dead, gazing out across the lake to the mighty Alps in the distance. Did I open the gates of hell?
She pulled out her suitcase and hurriedly started to pack.
“SOMETHING TO DRINK, MA’AM?”
The flight attendant’s voice jolted Tracy back to the present.
“Coffee, please. Black.”
She was going to need it. The file Greg Walton had given her—his idea of “light reading”—had turned out to be a practically impenetrable analysis, not only of Henry Cranston’s business, but of the fracking industry in general. Group 99 had long been opposed to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, believing the new techniques for extracting shale gas by pumping vast amounts of pressurized water deep underground to be deeply harmful to the environment. Was this why Cranston had been murdered?
If so, it marked a departure from Group 99’s prior MO. Prior attacks aimed at the fracking industry had all been both cyber and financial in nature. And indeed, only hours before Cranston’s death, four million dollars were mysteriously siphoned out of two of his corporate accounts; accounts held at the same private bank in Zurich where Althea was believed to have had meetings. It was all suspiciously incestuous, especially as Tracy now knew that Hunter Drexel had been working on a story about the fracking business at the time of his kidnap. Drexel’s past stories had all been very much of the exposé variety, as explosively controversial as they were riveting. In his checkered journalistic career, he’d tackled such taboo topics as child abuse in the Catholic Church, police brutality and rampant corruption in the world of international humanitarian aid.
So why would Group 99 kidnap a man who was about to write the equivalent of an op-ed piece on their behalf, taking down the fracking industry?
And why would they murder Henry Cranston when they’d already gone to the trouble of carrying out a brilliant and successful economic attack?
Captain Daley’s brutal execution certainly seemed to have been a watershed moment in terms of Group 99’s willingness to embrace violence. Overnight, it seemed, they’d made the leap from activists to terrorists.
Why? Tracy wondered, as she worked her way through the material. How does killing people advance their cause?
The last third of Greg Walton’s file was devoted to a man he wanted her to meet on her return from Switzerland, an American billionaire oil and gas magnate by the name of Cameron Crewe.
Tracy had seen profiles of Crewe from time to time. There’d been something in the New York Times a few years back, and a piece in Newsweek more recently, about his extensive charity work. If fracking had an “acceptable face,” Cameron Crewe was it. Crewe Oil was well known for its ecologically sensitive drilling practices, at least versus others in the industry, and for plowing back millions of dollars in aid and grants to the communities in which they worked. Crewe Oil had built schools in China, medical centers in Africa, and affordable housing projects in Greece, Poland and a number of impoverished former soviet republics, including Bratislava. They had created jobs, planted trees and endowed hospitals around the globe. Perhaps for this reason, uniquely among the big five fracking companies, they had never been targeted by Group 99.
Cameron Crewe himself had been touched by tragedy. His only son, Marcus, had died from leukemia at fourteen—the same age as Nicholas. Crewe’s marriage had collapsed soon afterwards. Somehow these bald, sad facts served to humanize the billionaire in the public consciousness. People liked Cameron Crewe.
Ironically, Hunter Drexel had been en route to an interview with Crewe in Moscow when he was snatched off the streets by Group 99 heavies. And the links didn’t end there. Henry Cranston was also a direct competitor of Cameron Crewe’s. In fact, Tracy read now, Crewe Oil had been the under bidder on Cranston Eneregy Inc.’s latest landmark deal to begin fracking for shale gas in Poland. In the wake of Henry Cranston’s death, they now looked likely to take over that contract. There were rumors that they’d already moved in behind the scenes on the original Greek deal that Henry had been working on, before Prince Achileas’s unfortunate suicide at Sandhurst.