The young woman proved a financial savant, trebling her father’s net worth while still at the university. Kensington Wells, Incorporated, continued to grow, branching into new fields: computer technology platforms, desalination patents, television broadcasting. Still, Kara never neglected the fountainhead of all her family’s wealth: oil. In just the last year, Kensington surpassed the Halliburton Corporation for the most profitable oil contracts.
And like Kensington’s oil ventures, Safia was not left behind. Kara continued to pay for her education, including six years at Oxford, where Safia earned her doctorate in archaeology. Upon graduation, she remained under the employ of Kensington Wells, Inc. Eventually she came to oversee Kara’s pet project here at the museum, a collection of antiquity from the Arabian Peninsula, a collection first started by Reginald Kensington. And like his former corporation, this project also prospered under Kara’s mantle, growing into the single largest collection in the entire world. Two months ago, the ruling family in Saudi Arabia had attempted to buy the collection, to return it to Arabian soil, a deal rumored to be worth in the hundreds of millions.
Kara had declined. The collection meant more to her than money. It was a memorial to her father. Though his body had never been found, here was his tomb, this lone wing in the British Museum, surrounded by all the wealth and history of Arabia.
Safia stared past her friend’s shoulder to the live-feed monitor, to the smoky ruin of her hard work. She could only imagine what the loss would mean to Kara. It would be like someone desecrating her father’s grave.
“Kara,” Safia began, attempting to soften the blow that would come, to hear it from someone who shared her passion. “The gallery…it’s gone.”
“I know. Edgar already told me.” Kara’s voice lost its hesitancy. She pulled out of the embrace, as if suddenly feeling foolish. She stared around at the others gathered here. The familiar tone of command entered her demeanor. “What happened? Who did this?”
To lose the collection so soon after rejecting the Saudis’ offer had clearly piqued Kara’s suspicion, too.
Without hesitation, the tape was once again played for Lady Kensington. Safia remembered the earlier admonishment about the secrecy of what the footage revealed. No such warning was given to Kara. Wealth had its privileges.
Safia ignored the replay on the monitor. Instead she studied Kara, fearing how this might devastate her. From the corner of her eye, she caught the final flash of the explosion, and then the monitor went black. All during the viewing, Kara’s expression remained unchanged, a marble relief of concentration, Athena in deep thought.
But at the end, Kara’s eyes slowly closed. Not with shock and horror—Safia knew Kara’s moods only too well—but with profound relief. Her friend’s lips moved in a breathless whisper, a single word, caught only by her own ears.
NOVEMBER 14, 07:04 A.M. EST
P ATIENCE WAS the key to any successful hunt.
Painter Crowe stood upon his native lands, the land his father’s tribe named Mashantucket, the “much wooded land.” But where Painter waited, there were no trees, no birdsong, no whisper of wind across the cheek. Here it was the chime of slot machines, the chink of coins, the reek of tobacco smoke, and the continual recycling of lifeless air.
Foxwoods Resort and Casino was the largest gambling complex in the entire world, surpassing anything found in Las Vegas or even Monte Carlo. Located outside of the unassuming hamlet of Ledyard, Connecticut, the towering complex rose dramatically from the dense woods of the Mashantucket reservation. In addition to the gambling facility with its six thousand slot machines and hundreds of gaming tables, the resort was home to three world-class hotels. The entire facility was owned by the Pequot tribe, the “Fox People,” who had hunted these same lands for the past ten thousand years.
But at the moment, it was not a deer or a fox being hunted.
Painter’s quarry was a Chinese computer scientist, Xin Zhang.
Zhang, better known by his alias, Kaos, was a hacker and code breaker of prodigious talent, one of China’s finest. After reading his dossier, Painter had learned respect for the slim man in the Ralph Lauren suit. During the past three years, he had orchestrated a successful wave of computer espionage upon U.S. soil. His latest acquisition: plasma weapons technology out of Los Alamos.
Painter’s target finally shoved up from the pai gow table.
“Would you like to color out, Dr. Zhang?” the pit boss asked, standing over the table like a captain at the prow of his boat. At seven in the morning, there was only the lone player…and his bodyguards.
The isolation required Painter to spy upon his quarry from a safe distance. Suspicions could not be aroused. Especially not so late in the game.
Zhang shifted the pile of black chips toward the dealer, a woman with bored eyes. As the dealer stacked the winnings, Painter studied his target.
Zhang proved the stereotype of the Chinese as inscrutable. He had a poker face that gave no obvious tell, no idiosyncratic tic that denoted a good or a bad hand. He simply played his game.
Like he did now.
None would guess from the man’s appearance that he was a master criminal, wanted in fifteen countries. He dressed like a typical Western businessman: a sharply tailored suit in an understated pinstripe, a silk tie, a platinum Rolex. Still, there remained a certain austere aesthetic quality to him. His black hair was shaved around the ears and back, leaving only a crisp crown of hair on top of his head, not unlike a monk. He wore a pinched set of eyeglasses, circular lenses, faintly tinted blue, a studious countenance.
At last the dealer waved her hands over the stack of chips, showing her empty fingers and palms to the security cameras hidden in the black mirrored domes in the ceiling.
“Fifty thousand dollars even,” she finished.
The pit boss nodded. The dealer counted out the amount in thousand-dollar chips. “More good luck, sir,” the boss acknowledged.
Without even a nod, Zhang departed with his two bodyguards. He had been gambling all night. Dawn already glimmered. The CyberCrime forum would resume in another three hours. The conference covered the latest trends in identity theft, infrastructure protection, and myriad other security topics.
In two hours, a breakfast symposium put on by Hewlett Packard would commence. Zhang would make the transfer during that meeting. His American contact was still unknown. It was one of the main objectives of the ops here. Besides securing the weapons data, they sought to flush out Zhang’s stateside contact, someone tied to a shady network that traded in military secrets and technologies.
It was a mission that must not fail.
Painter followed the group. His superiors at DARPA had personally tapped him for this mission, in part for his expertise in micro-surveillance and computer engineering, but more importantly, for his ability to blend in at Foxwoods.
Though only half-blooded, Painter had inherited enough of his father’s features to pass as a Pequot Indian. It did take a few trips to a tanning salon to enrich his complexion and brown contact lenses to hide his mother’s blue eyes. But afterward, with his shoulder-length hair the color of a raven’s wing, presently tied back in a tail, he did look like his father. To finish his disguise, he wore a casino suit with the symbol of the Pequot tribe embroidered on the pocket, a tree atop a knoll framed against a clear sky. Who looked beyond a suit anyway?
From his position, Painter remained wary as he followed Zhang. His eyes never focused directly upon the group. He watched peripherally and used natural cover to the best advantage. He stalked his quarry through the neon woodlands of blinking machines and wide glades of green felt tables. He maintained his distance and varied his pace and direction.
His earpiece buzzed with Mandarin. Zhang’s voice. Picked up by the microtransceiver. Zhang was heading back to his suite.
Painter touched his throat microphone and subvocalized into the radio. “Sanchez, how are you picking up on the feed?”
“Loud and clear, Commander.”
His co-agent on this mission, Cassandra Sanchez, was holed up in the suite across the hall from Zhang’s, manning the surveillance array.
“How is the subdermal holding?” he asked her.
“He’d better access his computer soon. The bug is running low on juice.”
Painter frowned. The “bug” had been planted yesterday on Zhang during a massage. Sanchez’s Latino features were dark enough to pass for Indian. She had implanted the subdermal transceiver during a deep-tissue massage last night, the prick of penetration unfelt as she dug her thumbs in deep. She covered the tiny puncture wound with an anesthetic smear of surgical bond. By the time the massage was over, it had sealed and dried. The digital microtransceiver had a life span of only twelve hours.
“How much time left?”
“Best estimate…eighteen minutes.”
Painter focused his full attention back on his quarry’s conversation.
The man kept his voice low, meant for his bodyguards only. Painter, fluent in Mandarin, listened. He hoped Zhang would give some indication when he would retrieve the plasma weapons file. He was disappointed.
“Have the girl ready after I’ve showered,” Zhang said.
Painter tightened a fist. The “girl” was thirteen, an indentured slave from North Korea. His daughter, he had explained to those who even thought to ask. If this had been true, incest could be added to the long list of charges to which Zhang was guilty.
Following them, Painter skirted around a change booth and set off down a long bank of machines, paralleling his quarry. A jackpot rang out from a dollar slot machine. The winner, a middle-aged man in a jogging suit, smiled and looked around for someone to share his good fortune. There was only Painter.
“I won!” he cried jubilantly, eyes red-rimmed from playing all night.
Painter nodded. “More good luck, sir,” he answered, repeating the pit boss’s earlier words, and strode past the man. There were no real winners here—except the casino. The slot machines alone netted eight hundred million dollars last year. It seemed the Pequot tribe had come a long way from its 1980s sand-and-gravel business.