Give her the
Mentally formulating a lurid curse she checked the tablet’s GPS map again. Right. Fifty meters up and to the east, and she should come out above and behind the place. The car, Willard, and that old spook who posed as his driver were parked in a pull-out, less than a mile away as the crow flies. Donatelli wasn’t a crow, and it had taken her forty minutes to get here at a brisk canter. Odds were that Willard had given birth to a whole litter of kittens by now.
Damp with sweat, the shirt stuck to her skin, chafing under the backpack. She adjusted the straps a little, wondering for the hundredth time why she’d brought it along. Deadweight. Then again, you were supposed to carry a pack when hiking, right? Nothing to do with some irrational need to hang on to a piece of vicarious reassurance.
I’ll kill you if you’re dead, Farrar!
Unlike the pack, the route was justified, despite a detour of about four klicks. This whole hike was an insanely long shot, but sauntering up the driveway would have been a worse idea. Much better to sneak round the back. The trouble with this being that, from lack of relevant experience, Donatelli hadn’t banked on Alpine topography. Which, incidentally, sucked too. No wonder Farrar liked it: uphill all the way and a twenty-four-carat pain in the butt. Right up his street.
She started walking again, picking a path between rocks and upturned roots and brambles. Thank God for the moon. Thank God for wild-ass guesses. The long shot had become shorter a while ago, when pandemonium had broken out down there. She’d heard something like an explosion, shouts and dogs bawling, and somebody had thrown the light switch. It either was the party to end all parties, or there was a problem. She didn’t know whether or not to hope that the problem was Farrar.
Minutes later she reached the edge of a cliff, crouched by a boulder, and cautiously peered down. Every window in the old villa was lit, ditto for the stables nearby—staff quarters and/or control room. A high perimeter fence. No lights there. Power outage? Dogs and five men, all of them armed, right at the foot of the cliff, watching two others clambering up the fence. What the…?
The long shot had just hit home. Among the audience she’d spotted McMahon.
I bow to your intimate knowledge of Matthew McMahon.
McMahon, looking boyish and innocent and organizing a manhunt. If that’s what it was. What the heck do you think it is, Donatelli? You don’t need Dobermans to chase squirrels. They were putting the dogs into harnesses, ready to hoist them up the cliff. He’d managed to escape. Maybe.
“Farrar, I’ll kill you if you’re dead,” she murmured.
A hand clamped over her mouth, smothering a yelp, and someone dragged her away from the edge and into the trees. “Logic isn’t really your strong suit, is it?”
It was an indistinct hiss, could have been anybody’s, but she’d already recognized him. That emotional signature was unique like a fingerprint. And it was the second time he’d got the drop on her. He must have been hovering two inches above the ground for her not to have heard him close in.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Not the tones of a happy man.
“I missed my”—his hands had dropped, and she’d whirled around to face him, which let the air out of some of his bravado—“flight.”
“Sorry. Didn’t expect company.”
“I can see that.”
Dear God, he was a faun! And she was inordinately relieved that the darkness hid as much as it did. This was neither the time nor the place.
… kindly try thinking with your head instead of your—
Too right. She could do without a repeat performance. “We gotta get out of here. They’re crawling up the wall down there.”
“I was about to bail when you traipsed in. Where’s the road?”
“The road? This way,” she croaked, pointing northwest. “I think.”
“Okay. We’ll go that way.” Which was southeast.
“Because they’ll expect me to make for the road. I can’t outrun them.”
“What about the dogs?”
“They won’t come near me. Let’s go!”
She nearly asked just what it was he’d said to the Dobermans, but thought better of it. That way was uphill, of course. No surprises there. He never looked back, hell-bent on roasting her over a small flame. The more time passed, the more Donatelli felt like she wanted to shake him. Talking seemed like a bad idea, for any number of reasons, so she concentrated on counting trees, without much success, not least because her irritation slowly turned to worry. His limp seemed far more pronounced than usual, painfully so. The gradient was punishing, and how he managed to keep going was beyond her.
About an hour later they’d climbed past the tree-line. Any faint sounds of pursuit had died away, but being out in the open still wasn’t ideal. Farrar tried to up his pace. It worked for about five steps, then his leg gave at last. She caught him before he fell, helped him sit down.
“I’m fine.” Through gritted teeth, and the underlying message was clear. He didn’t want her help; more than that, he didn’t want her to touch him.
“Sure. Just a rough day at the office, right?”
Wrong. Out here it was bright enough to see beyond the obvious. Streaked with dirt all over, he’d have looked like a nine-year-old after a mud-bath if it hadn’t been for the dark circles under his eyes and a face pinched with pain. His knee was swollen past its usual sorry state. He must have fallen. Hit it… And how’s that for wishful thinking? In the crook of Farrar’s elbow bloomed a large dark blotch, as if a vindictive nursing student had gone to town on him.
“The son of a bitch hurt you!”
“Shh.” Finally, he met her eyes, a little baffled, a little sheepish, not at all what she’d expected. “Quit being so angry. It’s a waste of energy. Or are you angry with me?”
“No. Yes… No! Not you. I’m—”
“I’ll live, O’Donatelli.” He nudged her leg and looked away again, scanned the edge of the forest. It was quiet. “I think I need a bath.”
“A bath?” A truce, maybe. Porcupine truce… Donatelli followed his gaze and saw the well a bit further up. A hollowed-out bole, fed by a clear trickle of water that spouted from a battered pipe. “It’ll be cold.”
“So what?” A grin, tentative, almost as if to check whether grinning was okay. “I’ve got half the mountain stuck to me, and it’s trying to eat me alive.”
“Fair enough.” She pulled him up and slipped an arm around his waist to support him, ridiculously happy to feel him close and recalling too late that he’d be aware of it.
His right arm looped around her shoulders. “You’re going pink, O’Donatelli.”
“I’m glad I found you. Alive. What’s your excuse?”
“Always happens when I lose my shorts.”
Laughter fizzed up her throat. “By the way, I’ve got your clothes.”
“Now she tells me,” he grumbled.
“Sorry. I forgot.”
“Yeah. Right. How the devil did you find me, anyway?”
So talking was possible after all. Soft, dewy grass under their feet, soft stillness, soft skin. Farrar’s skin. Soft contentment. “Remember that com code they gave to Wegener?”
“It belongs to the safe house. The DIA’s owned the place for years. Dates back to when we still had a base in Garmisch.”
“How did you know?”
“I didn’t. Willard did.”
His step faltered, and she felt his confusion prickle through her fingertips before she heard it. “Been playing with that Ouija board again, O’Donatelli?”
“Not exactly. Reports of his death were exaggerated.”
“And why doesn’t that surprise me?”
Rhetorical question. No answers required. She hadn’t been surprised either. Not much, anyway. Over at the well, she experimentally put a hand in the water. “Holy shit! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
“I won’t.” He eased himself into the trough, took a deep breath and lay back until he was completely under water. Two seconds later, he resurfaced with a gasp that sounded like it wanted to be a roar. “You didn’t say it was that cold!”
“I knew it!” She chuckled. “Come here.”
Hands cupped, she scooped some water over his head. A family of twigs had found a new home in his hair. She plucked them out, scooped up more water, rinsed off more dirt, rubbed it off his shoulders and back, off his arms and hands, his chest, his legs. He sat perfectly still through it all, and she’d have guessed he was slowly freezing to death if it hadn’t been for that furtive shimmer of pleasure he couldn’t conceal from her.
At last she stopped. “You’d better do that knee yourself. I don’t wanna hurt you.”
He nodded, and she crouched by the trough, watching him gingerly slosh off the worst of the grime.
“I refused to take my medicine, so Koop stepped on it.”
Donatelli sucked in a breath, and it earned her a wry look.
“No big deal. It’s not like there’s anything left to be wrecked.”
“What medicine?” she asked quietly. “Farrar?”
“Truth drug. Some DMT derivative, I think. It kicked in pretty fast. Didn’t work.”
“It didn’t work?”
“I told you I’m a freak.” Which was as much as he was going to share. “I’m cold. Gotta get out.”
Riffling through the backpack for shorts, pants, and a shirt for him, she tried not to waste energy by being angry. Whoever said the rules of the game were fair? You’re in the dirt business, Donatelli, and no amount of soap’s gonna rinse that off.
She looked up at Farrar standing by the well, tall, lithe, lopsided as ever, shoulders tapering to narrow hips and long legs, muscled like a dancer’s, all strength and no bulk. Nice ass, too. Wringing water from his hair, moonlight catching silver in the droplets. Then he sensed her scrutiny, squinted over his shoulder.
“You’re wrong, Farrar. You’re no freak. You’re a faun.”
“Mr Tumnus?” He laughed softly.
“Jerk!” It didn’t help. The mental image of Farrar in a goatee and muffler stuck, and she giggled. Trust him to have read C S Lewis.
He’d sat down on the rim of the trough, grabbed his shorts and pulled them on. “I must have spent years ferreting through wardrobes, hoping to find the one with the door.”
“Me too.” Smiling, she perched next to him, handed him a T-shirt and pants. “Ever had Turkish Delight?”
“Traumatic disappointment.” The growl came from inside the shirt. “Silicone with burned hazelnuts. I have serious reservations about letting Natie read the book. The Turkish Delight myth might scar her for life.”
“You miss her.”
“Yeah.” Fighting with the pants now, fabric sticking to damp skin, and he tried to look busy.
“Willard says she isn’t with your mother.”
“I didn’t think she was.”
Might as well ask, Donatelli. Might as well ask while you still have the nerve to do it. “Why did you agree to go with them? You knew they were lying. You knew what they—”
“Because, come morning, the chambermaid would have walked into that hotel room and given one of those tediously overdone chambermaid-in-distress screams. Cut to corpses on floor. They would have killed both of us. Don’t for a second believe—” Farrar swallowed the rest and rose.
“Nothing. None of my business,” he murmured, then pointed at the dark shape of a shed about fifty yards up the slope. “We need some cover. This’ll have to do.” With that he set off.
Nice digging technique, Donatelli! Real slick. Shouldering the backpack she trotted after him.
It was pitch dark in the shed, and her shins struck some derelict agricultural implement within seconds of entering. Once she was through griping, she heard a rustle from the back. Farrar seemed to have hit upon a mother lode of hay. She groped her way towards the sound and settled into a pile of dank, moldy stalks. Leftovers from last year, apparently, about to develop into a whole new life form.
“I need to get in touch with Willard,” she mumbled for want of anything more inspired to say, dragged the pack between her feet and excavated for the tablet.
If nothing else, it piqued Farrar’s curiosity. “Where is he?”
“In a car, parked near the turnoff to the safe house.”
Her butt itched, probably from a few stray stalks that had made their way into her underwear. Did fleas live in old hay? There were several messages, all from Willard and increasingly impatient in tone. By the last one, the old goat’s temper evidently had got the better of him.
Tell me you found Patrick, and don’t tell me you lost the goddamn tablet! I need both him and the file!
“Nice to be missed,” remarked Farrar acerbically. He must have been peering over her shoulder. “What file?”
“I don’t know—”
“Don’t lie to me. Please!”
She did a slow sweep with her right until she connected with his arm, brushed up to his face, fingertips touching his cheek. He felt tired, on edge, acutely suspicious.
“I’m not lying. I was going to say I don’t know what’s in it or why it’s so important. It’s Bluebeard’s Castle.”
“You know. You can open all doors, except this one.”
“Ah. Since when have you had it?”
“Willard sent it to me the morning… that day on the boat, when you took the pills…”
“For God’s sake, spit it out!” Ferocious hurt radiating from him like heat, then he shook off her hand. “The morning they took Natalie.”
“Yeah.” She wanted to hold him, knew he’d never allow it now. “Willard said it was the only copy. I assume that’s why he’s so antsy.”
You could practically hear the wheels clicking. Farrar made connections faster and more astutely than anyone she’d ever met, and one of these days she’d have to try and get a handle on how his mind worked. Suddenly he drew a harsh breath, almost a sob.
“You callous bastard… Open the file, Donatelli!”
“I can’t do that. He— Don’t!”
“For the love of God, tell me where that file is!” He’d snatched the tablet from her, and in the darkness she saw the glow of the screen dance like a crazed firebug. Shaking. He was shaking.
“Farrar! Talk to me! What’s in that file?”
“If I’m right, it’s the trigger. It has to be.”
“Where’s the file, O’Donatelli? Please.”
Oh, what the hell. “It’s in a hidden folder. Give me that thing!” Now he had her trembling. Her fingers fumbled with the stylus, finally managed to activate the voice decoder. “Enable subsystem partitions. Go to H drive, backslash, eighty-nine Q, forward slash, fourteen.”
It whirred a while, the humming punctuated by Farrar’s short, ragged breaths.
This is a protected folder. Please enter your password.
Inside the folder was a single file: PRF030266.wav.
“That’s my service number,” rasped Farrar. “Open it!”
“Alright! Alright… Open file.”
The tablet complied.
Something that looked like a small operating theatre. Farrar, with short, dark hair and an eternity younger, strapped to a chair. Singing. Singing badly and in a weird accent. The same two lines, again and again and again, like a machine. Or a cracked record.
Birds singing in the sycamore tree
Dream a little dream of me
His older self knocked her elbow as he crumpled, sent the computer flying. It landed in the hay, still yammering on, and she wished it’d stop, stop that freaky singing.
“Farrar?” No reaction, so she felt for his shoulders, shook him. “Patrick!”
Struggling in her grasp, bathed in sweat, hands icy, he whispered, “Let go… Let go of me… This is bad. It’s real bad, O’Donatelli…” Then his voice changed completely. “Oh man… It’s raining. It’s pissing down with rain…”
She tucked him against her, gently rubbed cold fingers. “Where, Patrick? Where is it raining?”
“USS Kandahar. Off the Albanian coast. Gonna hitch a flight and jump in.”
“Jump in where?”
“Border. Border in the Devil’s Mountains.”