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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2004 by Robert L. Wise.
All rights reserved.
Hachette Book Group
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New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com
The Warner Faith name and logo are registered trademarks of Warner Books.
First eBook Edition: September 2009
Thanks so much to Dr. Fred Pike and David Howlett for assistance with research and framing the issues of the final struggle. In addition, the editorial assistance of Stephen Wilburn and Rolf Zettersten is deeply appreciated, as is the work of my agent, Greg Johnson. Good friends make all the difference!
November 1, 2022
THE EERIE RUMBLING of a small boat engine echoed across the murky waters of the Long Beach Naval Shipyard harbor at three o'clock in the morning. Clouds hanging low in the sky covered the moon and killed all light. The craft followed the same route that the passenger ferry took returning from Catalina Island. Cruising in unnoticed through the San Pedro Bay breakwater, the ebony craft aimed toward the rapidly approaching sandy shore. The pitch-black night sealed off the stars and painted the entire harbor in the ominous smudges of darkness.
Hunching over the dashboard, the driver pointed toward the shoreline. "See that string of lights along the edge of the harbor?"
"Yeah," the man sitting next to him growled.
"Underneath every one of them is a surveillance camera. We want to miss getting caught in their glare. Understand?"
The burly man in the thick dark coat nodded. "Don't worry. I don't want Big Brother down here at Long Beach dock to get a shot of my mug."
The motorboat turned to the left and started easing parallel to the shoreline. "We got to watch for naval surveillance as well," the driver said. "You can bet that none of these ships are floating out here unguarded."
"You're the man. Whatever you say."
"Don't forget it," the driver snapped. "This operation has to be precise. Remember, if anyone asks your name, you tell 'em it's Abel, Abel Rabi."
"Abel, huh?" the man laughed under his breath. "Strange name for a boy from San Francisco. You want to know my real name?"
"No," the driver said. "Rabi is Arabic. Leave it at that."
He shut off the boat's engine and the craft drifted toward the shoreline with the incoming tide pushing them toward the beach. For several minutes the small boat floated silently toward a large naval tanker anchored in the harbor. Searchlights shot their huge swords of illumination out over the ocean, but none were aimed low enough to spot the black boat easing toward the tanker a few hundred yards away.
"I don't even know your name," the man in the dark coat said to the driver. "You call me Abel, but I don't have any idea who you are."
"That's correct," the driver said. "And it stays that way."
"How come you people paid me such a wad of money to do this job hauling stuff?"
"'Cause you're big and strong," the driver said. "That's it. Stop asking me questions."
The man now called Abel grumbled under his breath, but he didn't say anything more.
Staying on the backside of the enormous tanker, the driver steered his craft parallel to the large steel hull. The menacing towering side of the tanker loomed over them, completely hiding them in the threatening blackness.
"This tanker won't move," the driver said. "Watch for a rope ladder. It should be hanging around here somewhere."
The motorboat drifted on top of the gentle waves spreading out from the side of the tanker. The driver in a dark coat pushed them away from side of the tanker with a long wooden paddle. Off in the distance another wave of shore lights swept over the ocean. From the backside of the tanker, the outline of a rope ladder dangled just ahead of them.
"There it is," the driver said. "We're right on target. The ladder is hooked on the deck."
"Good. Get closer."
"We have to drift," the driver said. "Get that bundle on your back and carry it up the ladder. Hurry up. We're going to be there in a moment."
The man called Abel bounced over the seat. Sitting behind him was a large package tied to a backpack harness. He slipped his arms through the harness straps and pulled the entire apparatus toward him. "This thing is really heavy," he mumbled.
"That's why we hired you and you're so well paid." The driver pointed at the rope about to float over the bow of their boat. "Get it on, and be ready to climb."
Abel exhaled and took another deep breath. "Man, this thing is really, really heavy."
"There's the rope—grab it and get up there!"
With a quick step, the large man stepped onto the rope ladder and started crawling up the steps. Each movement was labored, but he kept moving. The motorboat floated on.
"It's a long way up," Abel shouted over his shoulder.
"Shut up," the driver whispered. "Just get up there!"
Pulling small earphones out of his pocket, the driver pushed them into his ears and turned on the amplifier in his pocket so he could hear everything happening on the rope ladder and on the deck. The boat kept drifting silently away.
Abel maintained his steady progress, climbing on up to the top. As he neared the deck, a head appeared over the edge. "Who is it?" a sailor demanded.
"Abel," the man puffed. "Abel Rabi."
"Make it quick," the sailor barked. "We don't have much time."
The driver of the motorboat listened carefully, realizing everything seemed to be on schedule. He could hear the man called Abel talking to the guard on the deck and felt confident about the drift of the conversation.
"Where we going?" Abel asked the guard.
"I've been told to take you down to the hold of the ship. We've got to move carefully. Can you carry that bag on your back down several flights of stairs?"
Abel cursed. "Easier than I carried it up that shaggy rope ladder."
"Let's go," the sailor said.
The driver of the motorboat waited a couple of minutes and then hit the starter switch. The engine sputtered for a moment and then settled into a low purr. Turning the wheel sharply to the left, he guided the boat back toward the breakwater and the passenger ferry route out of the harbor toward Catalina Island. Once he cleared the ship's perimeter by a hundred yards, he pushed the throttle to full speed, roaring away from the inner harbor area.
Reaching down beside the seat, the driver pushed a red button on a switch next to the seat. Suddenly a ball of fire exploded from the deck of the tanker, spewing fire and debris straight up in the air. For a moment the black night appeared like noon as human figures shot through the air with pieces of the smokestack. The 20,000-ton tanker shook like a child's toy and a huge wave ripped across the channel. With vibrant red and orange flames sparkling in the night air, the tanker started to sink.
The instant the motorboat's driver saw the explosion, he pointed the boat out to sea so that the oncoming wave would lift him and carry the motorboat forward. Within seconds a torrent of water picked up the boat and slung it onward. He jerked the speed control forward and the craft lunged forward out of the harbor.
"Goodbye, Abel, or whoever you are," he said to himself. "We appreciate you delivering the bomb." He chuckled. "And yourself to the bottom of the ocean."
November 1, 2002
THE MORNING NEWSPAPER crashed into the front door an hour before the bedside alarm was set to go off. Graham Peck usually didn't hear such predictable sounds, but the noise ricocheted through the house like a burglar intruding and forced his eyes open. For a minute he lay in the dark waiting for the next crash to follow, but nothing happened. The family had lived through another night without incident or assault, as he had expected. No reason not to go back to sleep, but he couldn't.
Graham kept looking up into darkness and at the strange shapes the outside trees cast, slinging their shadows across the ceiling. Another day had started much earlier than he usually expected. There would be the rigorous ride downtown on the Metro Express train that would hurl him like a guided missile across Chicago at one hundred and fifty miles an hour. He would exit at the stop nearest the Sears Tower and walk on to the mayor's offices where Frank Bridges and the rest of Bridges's staff assembled. The office noise would be as subtle as the Metro Urban train clamoring over loose tracks. Party bosses, secretaries, and political analysts would be everywhere. Media personnel always hummed along behind the scenes, waiting for some big break they could turn into a headline story featuring the mayor on the evening television newscasts. Graham would be in the center of the chaos like a spinning gear in a transmission box. The job as special political assistant to the mayor of Chicago might have pushed anyone to their limits, but Graham took his responsibilities with a personal sense of obligation. The thought of the grind left him tired, and he hadn't even got out of bed yet.
"Graham…" Jackie reached over and ran her hand down the side of his back. "What was that noise?"
"What?" Jackie leaned up on her elbows. "What did you say?"
"Newspaper? I thought you said…"
"You were asleep."
"Oh?" Jackie fell back in bed and closed her eyes. "It's too early."
"No," Graham said resolutely. "It's too late." He turned the covers back. "Extra time in the host shower might make me feel better."
"Sure," Jackie said, keeping her eyes closed. "Sure…" She sounded like she had drifted off to sleep again.
Graham got up and stumbled into their private bathroom off of the bedroom, shutting the door behind him. He could keep the sound low and stand in the hot water for fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, letting the sound of classical music soothe him. He always felt empty in the morning and something about a quiet symphony seemed to position his feet more firmly on the earth, assuring him he could keep on moving… regardless.
For a moment Graham stated in the mirror. His brown hair hung down into his eyes, but he had a pleasant round face and striking dark eyes for a forty-year-old. At six feet tall, Graham always had a handsome look even after just dragging himself out of bed. A second glance only confirmed the fact that a shower ought to do him a great deal of good.
He reached inside the shower door and hit the digital button to start the music at a low, quiet level. He touched the next electronic switch that instantly produced hot water exactly at the temperature that Graham previously set the regulator.
Haunting sounds of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata drifted across the bathroom, giving Graham Peck the closest thing to a spiritual lift that he had ever received. He needed to start the day with something, anything, a lift.
Maria Peck was already scurrying about the kitchen when Graham came downstairs. The spacious room had a chopping block in the center. In front of lace drapes purchased from Europe, a long deacon's table sat along the back window with an expansive view of the backyard. The large way floor tile added a majestic appearance to the room.
Although Graham's mother was a small woman in her early seventies, Maria always arose earlier than everyone else. She seemed to get a particular pleasure out of setting up the table for the children to sit down and eat breakfast, but they seldom spent more than a couple of minutes gobbling down whatever they were consuming for the day before rushing off to school.
Maria's childhood had been spent in Millinocket, Maine, near Baxter State Park and the Penobscot River with a cluster of lakes nearby. Her father emigrated from England as a common laborer and Maria grew up with the simplicity of a backwoods child. Life had always been basic, but she had absorbed fearlessness as well as a decided common sense from the forests. The endless buzz of the rampant busyness of her son's family left he somewhat befuddled by the hubbub of everyone rushing off each morning.
"Good morning, Mother." Graham kissed Maria on the cheek. "You look happy this morning." He picked up a glass of orange juice.
Maria beamed. "I'm happy every morning when I wake up in this home, my dear. It's wonderful to be here." She hugged Graham. "You're up rather early this morning."
"The newspaper hitting the house woke me up, but I need to get to work early today. Lots to do."
Maria nodded. "You work so hard, Graham. I worry about you."
Graham smiled for the first time that morning. "You always did fret over me."
"Everything is upside down," Maria said as she popped a slice of bread in the toaster. "Yes, I know. All them people disappearing has made everyone extremely nervous. The election is so important and all these strange events have happened lately."
"Yes," Graham said matter-of-factly.
"Shootings and robberies are everywhere these days and it's dangerous to walk out at night," Maria rambled on. "The weather has turned crazy and the world is upside down. I saw how eerie the moon looked last night. Our mayor has to worry about running the city under such demanding conditions, don't ya know."
"Hi, Grammy!" Mary sailed into the kitchen. "I've got to leave early this morning." She stopped. "Oh, hello, Dad. You up chasing last night's monsters at the crack of dawn."
"Ha, ha." Graham's voice was flat and sounded cynical.
"I thought maybe the vampires or werewolves would attack last night," Mary teased. "Can't ever tell about what could happen on Halloween Eve."
"I wouldn't laugh about such," Maria said, shaking her finger in her granddaughter's face. "I know you young'uns don't believe in much anymore, but I grew up knowing that evil is really out there."
"Come on," Mary taunted. "How could you believe in all that nonsense?"
"I know, I know, twenty, thirty years ago lots of people lost their interest in religious things, but I didn't," Maria insisted. "The Church almost faded away, but then again, your parents didn't go anyway." She abruptly shook her finger in her granddaughter's face. "I'm here to tell you, Mary Peck, that the dark side didn't disappear. It's real and you ought to be careful of what you say about these things."
Mary laughed. "Come on, Granny. You're starting to sound like one of those Wicca freaks at my school. The truth is I don't believe in any of it."
"Your grandmother is trying to tell you something for your own good," Graham said. "Pay attention to her."
"Whatever." Mary rolled her eyes.
"If nothing else, there's too many creeps walking up and down the streets these days. A few people have a lot of money and a lot of people have nothing. Makes for a bad mix. You have to watch out for thugs sulking around the city."
"Sure," Mary said indifferently. "Sleazeballs, pluguglies, gorillas, hatchet boys, whatever. I know they're out there. Don't worry, I'll stay out of their way."
"Make sure you do!" Maria shook her finger in her granddaughter's face. "We don't want any disasters in this household."
Mary smiled at her grandmother. "I promise I'll be a good girl. Honest. I'll stay of their way." She grabbed a Pop-Up Bread from the plate. "I don't need to toast this. I'll eat it on the way to school." She started walking toward the door. "See you this evening. I've got a pom-pom squad practice after school so I'll be home later tonight." She opened the back door. "Bye." In a whisk Mary was gone.
Graham stood there staring. His daughter had come and gone like a whiff of smoke. One minute she was there. Then, boom! She was gone. For a fourteen-year-old, Mary moved through the house like she owned the place. Graham wasn't sure weather he like up her presumption or not.
"She's gone," Maria said and threw up her hands. "By the time they are thirteen, children act like they own the world. I swear, Graham! Your daughter acts like she's going on twenty-five."
"She's a good girl, Mother. That's what gives me some peace of mind. Mary is popular at school—she has lots of good friends. I trust her to do the right thing. She'll be fine."
"I don't know." Maria kept shaking her head. "She can be dad-gummed belligerent, hard headed sometimes. I simply don't know."
"We named her after you. How could she be any other way?" Graham smiled impishly.
Maria kept muttering to herself, arranging and rearranging the dishes lined up on the cabinet. "I wonder how Matthew is doing this morning off at that big university. You know Northwestern is terribly large for such a young boy as he is—and a freshman at that."
"Our son is fine," Graham said. "Matt's always been a good boy."
"I know, I know," Maria said more to herself. "I simply wish they had more religion in 'em."
"What are you going to do today, Mother?"
Maria swished her cheek to one side and scratched her chin. "Well, I told Jackie I would straighten up your garage. I'm actually thinking about painting the walls out there in that no man's land. Heaven knows the place needs a real workin' over. George told me he'd help."
"That's good. George needs to put in more time around the house doing something worthwhile."
"He's only eight years old, Graham, but he'll be a real help."
"Sure. And not having that five-year-old brother hanging around will help."
Maria shook her finger at him. "Jeff is a very bright boy. He may only be five, but he's got the brains of a child twice his age. Don't ever count him out."
"Certainly." Graham slipped his suit coat on. "Jackie won't be down for a while. I'll drive my two-seater to the Metro Urban Express station. I filled it up with hydrogen night before last. She can use the gasoline car."
"Now you be careful, son. Remember all those things you told Mary."
Graham laughed. "Keep worrying about me, Mom. It helps." He kissed her on the cheek and closed the door behind him.
THE RIDE from Arlington Heights to downtown Chicago had changed since the installation of the Metro Urban Express lines. Of course, transportation in all of the big cities had altered radically in the last fifteen years since petroleum supplies had become even tighter. The train's comfortable seat and speed through the suburbs fit Graham's style. The train's breakneck speed fit him like a tailored suit. He had always been a quick moving, decisive person who could make any office hop. The employees straightened up when he came into the office. One of the reasons Graham had risen to the lofty position of assistant to the mayor had been his ability to make instant decisions that turned out to be correct.
The Metro Urban train cruised at such a high rate of speed that travel time was minimized. The inner city had turned into a place of startling contrasts. Plush stores remained as exotic as ever; but the tenement areas were frightening places to visit, much less live in. Poverty had produced children who lived like animals. Anyone could be attacked on the streets by young punks and never know what hit them.
Graham didn't worry much about those possibilities. He carried in his pocket a personal alarm button that the city provided for all their top-level employees. One punch of the button and the nearest police officers would be alerted to come with their guns drawn. At most, he would be exposed to attack for only a matter of a minute or so. Graham stuck his hand in his pants pocket to make sure the quarter-sized button was there.
Like every other city in America, Chicago had grown enormously in the last twenty years, stretching its housing areas toward Peoria and Urbana as well as Freeport and Rock Falls. If anyone wanted to avoid the urban beasts that roamed the streets at night in search of drugs, it was necessary to keep moving toward those outlying areas. Unfortunately, all of the farming land had been devoured by housing developments.
Peck leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes for a moment, trying to tune out the noise of the packed car. No matter where he and Jackie turned, multitudes of people milled around. Even the poor restaurants had long queues. Periodically Graham got tired of feeling like a piece of sand on an endless beach. There almost wasn't any place left where countless numbers of citizens didn't flow back and forth like creatures bobbing around meaninglessly in the surf.
And then he thought about all those people who had simply disappeared. Graham didn't know any of them except for a minor employee in his office, and he virtually didn't know that man. In an instant, millions had simply disappeared. Poof! Gone! And no one knew where.
The unknown was what bothered him the most. Graham's style dictated grabbing a problem by the back of the neck and shaking it until change followed. Not on this one! Researchers had not been able to turn up anyone who seemed to have any idea about what had become of that multitude. Graham had worked with millions of Chicagoans who came and went every day. The idea such a huge number could disappear without a trace simply left him speechless. The best he could do right now was to dismiss the entire idea.
Graham patted his neck and made sure his sweater was in place. No one wore a tie anymore and graham liked the change. Sweaters were infinitely more comfortable. Of course, comfort was the word these days. Everyone dressed for ease. Even the mayor appeared on television occasionally wearing blue jeans that made him look even younger. Graham didn't like Bridges's extremely casual appearance in those television shots, but the voters did and that was all that counted.
The train slowed and graham reached for the small computer case he carried with him wherever he went. In a matter of seconds he could turn on the machine, flash a holograph keyboard on any surface and type out what he wanted to remember or send to someone. The pocket computer made his job with the mayor easier to handle. He needed the help.
The campaign to reelect Frank Bridges had flip-flopped the city's regular offices from "Administrative Staff" painted on the door to "Election Campaign." Graham kept a foot in both worlds, both working for the mayor and being a major player in the hoopla to win reelection. The task was demanding.
Within minutes of leaving Arlington Heights, the train pulled into his station and Graham joined the multitudes pouring out for work in the downtown area. He pushed his way through the turnstiles and hurried up the street. When he reached the office, the scene was exactly as he had anticipated. As he worked his way through the hubbub of secretaries and assistants, silence fell over the employees. At the back he found his usually quiet office.
"Good morning, Sarah," Graham said briskly to the secretary in front of his office.
"Oh, good morning, Graham," Mrs. Cates answered. "You're looking sharp this morning."
"Bad lighting," he quipped.
"You're always funny."
"Comes with the trade."
Graham shut the door behind him and sat down at his desk. Momentary solitude surrounded him with the luxury of quietness that few enjoyed. He took a deep breath and looked out the tenth-floor office window across the city toward Lake Michigan. The changing of the trees' colors always imparted a sense of well-being. Like the lake, the scenery flashed beauty in every direction. He had to put the picture behind him. It was time to get tough. The mayor expected him to crack the whip and Graham knew how. He took a deep breath, and mentally put his armor on.
The phone rang.
"Graham, this is Frank Bridges. Can you get down to my office in one minute."
"Certainly. It will take me less than sixty seconds."
"Good. We've got a big problem. It needs your touch." Bridges hung up.
Graham stood up. Maybe more people had disappeared. The daily riot had started again.
- On Sale
- Sep 26, 2009
- Page Count
- 320 pages