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Lucas Davenport

Rules of Prey
Shadow Prey
Eyes of Prey
Silent Prey
Winter Prey
Night Prey
Mind Prey
Sudden Prey
Secret Prey
Certain Prey
Easy Prey
Chosen Prey
Mortal Prey
Naked Prey
Hidden Prey
Broken Prey
Invisible Prey
Phantom Prey
Wicked Prey
Storm Prey
Buried Prey
Stolen Prey
Silken Prey
Field of Prey
Gathering Prey
Extreme Prey
Golden Prey
Twisted Prey
Neon Prey
Masked Prey
Ocean Prey
Righteous Prey
Judgement Prey
Toxic Prey

Toxic Prey · Preview Chapters

Toxic Prey, US hardcover

Eleven Months Earlier...

A dinged-up, dust-covered ten-year-old Subaru Outback bumped along a fire road that ran downhill from the Sangre De Christo Mountains, through an old patch of controlled burn that had renewed itself with shoulder-high aspen saplings, and then back into dense stands of dark green piñon.
Lionel Scott was lost in northern New Mexico, as he had intended, but after four nights of meditation and his personal version of prayer, he could use a shower and a salad.
Now, he focused on missing the larger stones. He didn't always succeed, both hands tight on the steering wheel, glasses bouncing on his sunburned nose; every once in a while, he had to stop, get out, and move a fallen log or clump of brush. The battered wagon was reasonably tough, took the knocks with good grace, and they eventually debouched onto a gravel road.
Scott was of middle height, short of six feet, and thin, almost gaunt, with lines of muscle cut in his arms and neck. His salt-and pepper hair fell to the middle of his ears, and one lock constantly fell over his left eye. His nose was long and straight, his eyes blue-gray, his skin fair, but roughened with outdoor wear.
So: left or right? Scott looked both ways, and then at the gas gauge. He had a quarter tank, and decided to take the downhill route away from the mountains, where he would be more likely to find a gas station. The gravel was noisier than the dirt road, but smoother, aside from the occasional washed-out dip. Taos, he thought, was probably off to the north, but he wasn't entirely sure of that — he had no GPS, or a signal on his cell phone.
The landscape was dry, and warm, but not hot. Maybe upper-seventies Fahrenheit, he thought, getting warmer as he dropped down the hills; bright sun, puffy white fair-weather clouds. A flock of crows was working the mountainside. Scott could never quite make out what they were doing, but they were working hard at it, whatever it was, ink spots against the blue sky. He drove with the windows down, breathing in the scents of piñion, juniper aspen, the silver-green chamisa, and his own dried sweat.
Scott didn't know precisely where he was, but did know he was headed west, unless the sun had changed its position in the solar system. He was more or less driving into it, given the wiggles in the road, and at this time of year, it should be setting generally to the northwest. As it would be in two hours.
He thought, "A motel would be welcome .. a martini with three olives?"
The gravel track took him up a hillside, then down again, then up even higher, with a dirt cut bank to his left and a drop-off to his right, then back down a long, steep pitch. He rounded a turn and found, to his surprise, an intersection with a real gravel road and two more fire roads.
The side of the gravel road was edged with a ramshackle brown trailer, now up on blocks, that long ago had been converted into a convenience store. No sign of a gas pump; a pickup was parked in front, another around at the back. A neon-red Budweiser beer sign glowed from one window.
Scott could use something cold: a beer, a Coke, even water. He pulled in next to the pickup, a Tacoma older than his Subaru, climbed out, stretched, and walked over to the front door. A sign above the door had two words in large hand-painted letters: "More, Store."
Above the large letters was a hand-painted script in much smaller letters which said, "Everything Costs..." and beneath the "More, Store," an additional script in small letters which said, "Because I have to Drive to Sam's Club to Get It."
Almost made him smile.
A lot of things in the American West almost made him smile, especially the essential emptiness. If the entire world were as empty as America between the Mississippi and the Coastal Ranges, there'd be no global warming, no melting glaciers. Earlier in the spring, he'd made a pilgrimage to the Lightning Field art installation in southwest New Mexico. The field consisted of hundreds of steel poles sticking up from a level plain, apparently designed to attract lightning strikes from passing thunderstorms. He found that only vaguely interesting, but he was gob-smacked by the night.
There was no light but that from the stars. No moon, no artificial light sources within dozens of miles, and dry, crystal-clear skies. He spent hours staring at the Milky Way as it turned overhead, the stars dozens and hundreds and thousands of light years distant, but right there in his face... think of all the life out there, thriving, finding a place under different suns. And think about Gaia's death spiral, the end of life on Earth.

The convenience store:
As he stepped toward it, a bulky Hispanic man in a battered straw cowboy hat walked out, carrying an open bottle of Corona, nodded, and said, "Hey," and Scott said, "How are you?"
The man slowed and smiled and said, "You English?"
Scott: "Yes, I am."
"Don't hear that accent around here, much," the man said, "You're a long way from home, buddy."
"America's my home now," Scott said.
"Hope you like it. It's a nice place, mostly," the man said, and he went on to his truck. Scott pulled the screen door open and stepped inside. A radio was playing an old Lynyrd Skynyrd tune, "Sweet Home Alabama," and dust motes floated in sunlight coming through a west-facing window.
The old trailer had been hollowed out into three separate sections: to his right, a counter, a tired-looking Indian woman behind it, and a rack of cigarettes. To his left, the main body of the store, perhaps fifteen feet long, featuring racks of snack food, warm beer and soft drinks. A formerly white, now yellowed, refrigerator stood in one corner and had the words "Cold Drinks" written on the front with a Sharpie. Further back, a closed door had "Private — No Restrooms" written on it. The place smelled of beef jerky, over-ripe bananas and nicotine.
The woman behind the counter took a cigarette from the corner of her mouth and asked, "How y'doin'?"
"I'm doing well enough," Scott said, though he also might have chosen among a variety of approved Americanisms he'd picked up in the past year: "Okay," or "Doin' good," or "Just fine." But none of those were how he felt. He was doing well enough, but no better. "Would you have cold beer? Or a soft drink?"
"In the 'frig," the woman said, poking her cigarette toward the refrigerator. As Scott walked back to it, she asked, "You English?"
"Yes." He walked back, opened the refrigerator door, found a mixture of Miller Lite, Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper and a few tall bottles of Mexican Coke. As an Englishman, Scott thought Miller Lite tasted like beer that had been recycled through somebody's kidneys. He took a bottle of Mexican Coke, for the sugar load, closed the refrigerator door and returned to the counter.
"What're you doing way the hell back here?" the woman asked around her cigarette. And, "Four dollars."
"Driving around," Scott said. He pushed a five-dollar bill across the counter.
"On vacation?" she asked.
"I work down at Los Alamos," he said.
One eyebrow went up, a physical ability which Scott recognized as a scientific mystery, as yet unsolved. She said, "On them A-bombs?"
"No. Actually, I'm a doctor."
That seemed to stop her. She gazed at him, then asked, "Like a medical doctor?"
She put the five in a cash drawer and handed him a one. She said, "My boy is sick. I don't know... maybe something he ate. Maybe we should go to the doctor, but, you know... insurance. We don't have it."
Scott sighed but didn't show it. Instead, he asked, "What are his symptoms?"
She shrugged. "He's got a tummy ache. He's got a fever..."
Not good. Scott: "If you'd like me to take a look..."
"I'd love that," the woman said. "He's in back."
Scott popped the Mexican Coke's bottle cap on a counter-mounted bottle opener, took a swallow, and followed her past racks of snack food to the door in the back. She pushed through to a small living space, a bathroom and two tiny separate rooms on either side of a living/dining/TV area. One of the side doors was open, and she gestured to it. A young boy was lying awake on narrow single bed; he wore a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt and was bare-foot. His face, in the dim light, appeared to be on fire.
Scott said, "Hi, I'm Lionel. I'm a doctor. I understand you're sick."
The boy, who appeared to be nine or ten, said, "Hurt."
Scott reached out and put his fingers on the boy's forehead: too hot, way too hot.
"Where does it hurt?"
The boy touched his belly, lower right, near the waistband of his shorts. Scott used the fingers of his right hand to press softly the place where the boy had touched himself. The kid lurched up and blurted a long "Aaaahhhh. Awwww..."
Scott was used to the pain of children. He turned to the woman and asked, "He's had some nausea? Has he thrown up?"
"A little," she said. "That's why I thought maybe it was something he ate."
Scott shook his head. "I don't believe that's it. Your boy has appendicitis and it's somewhat advanced. We need to take him to a hospital. Right away. Do you know where the closest one is?"
"Taos," she said. She was frightened. "But no insurance, we always been healthy... I don't know if they'll take us."
"They'll take you. They have to," Scott said.
The woman said her pickup rode rough, so Scott suggested they drop the front passenger seat of his Subaru, and that the woman lead the way to the Taos hospital in her truck. Scott picked up the boy, who groaned and squirmed against him. His dark eyes were pools of pain, but he didn't cry.
The trip down through the mountains and then up the High Road to Taos took forty-five minutes. Twenty minutes out, Scott checked his cell phone and found that he had a bar and honked his horn until the woman pulled over. Scott stopped behind her, and as she hurried back to the Subaru, he explained what he was doing: "Calling the hospital."
When he had a nurse at Holy Cross on the line, he identified himself as a visiting physician, that he had a ten-year-old boy suffering from acute appendicitis, an emergency intervention was needed, and that they were on the way. He asked that a surgeon be notified.
Twenty-five minutes later, they delivered the kid to the emergency room and waited as he was wheeled away; a while later, a surgeon appeared and introduced himself and confirmed what Scott had suspected. To the woman, the surgeon said, "We have to operate on your son. We need to get his appendix out. The operation is fairly routine but if the appendix is burst, there could be some follow-on problems..."
She gave her permission for the work. The woman clung close to Scott as she asked, "He isn't going to die?"
"He should be fine," the surgeon said. "If we'd waited any longer, it could have been tricky. But, I think we caught it."
They talked about that, then the surgeon turned to Scott. "You're British?"
"Where'd you go to med school?"
The surgeon nodded: "Heard of it," and he went away to scrub up. Almost made Scott smile again: "Heard of it."
Then the paperwork and the question about insurance. The woman in charge of payments explained that there were some costs that could be reduced, that the woman might qualify for other aid, and Scott grew exasperated and said, "Listen. Get whatever Mrs..." He didn't know her name and he looked at her and she said, "Bernal..."
Scott said, "Learn what Mrs. Bernal can afford to pay, and what assistance she can get, and then put the rest on my Amex card. Do you take Amex?"
The payment lady said, "Absolutely. We take everything but chickens and goats."

Scott pried himself away from the hospital and Mrs. Bernal a half-hour later, when everyone was satisfied that he was willing to pay the bill for the boy's operation; and he could no longer tolerate Mrs. Bernal's appreciation. He climbed into his Subaru without telling anyone where he was going, or how to reach him, found a Days Inn, and got a room for the night.
He hadn't slept well in his tent and he didn't sleep well in the motel, despite a two martini dinner. He wondered, in the middle of the night, why he'd worked to save the boy, and a fragment of his Oxford undergraduate education popped into his mind, courtesy of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
Stalin said, Scott recalled, "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of a million is a statistic."
And that was it, wasn't it?
The death of the boy would have been a tragedy. The death of a million, or five billion, would be a...
Number. And a necessity.

Chapter One

Washington D.C.
Letty Davenport's apartment complex had a swimming pool filled with discouraging numbers of square-shouldered men with white sidewall haircuts — even on the black guys, unless they were called black sidewalls; who knew?
They all had big bright wolf teeth, gym muscle and questionable sexual ethics; and their female counterparts were much the same, the major differences lying in how much butt-cheek was exposed, which, in one case, was like watching the moon come up over the Potomic, when the young woman climbed out of the pool.
They were soldiers, mostly, attached to the Pentagon, just a couple miles away.
Five o'clock on an August afternoon, too hot to be inside, where the barely adjustable air conditioning blew cold damp air on everything; so Letty dozed in the webbing of her recliner, a copy of The Quarterly Journal of Economics covering her face. Beneath that, pressing against her nose, was a paperback version of J.D. Robb's Celebrity in Death, which Letty estimated was the fortieth of the in Death novels she'd read.
While not as prestigious as the Journal, the Robb novel was distinctly more intelligent and certainly better written; but, a girl has to maintain her intellectual status with the D.C. deep state, so the Journal went on top.
Some passing dude she couldn't see made a comment about legs, which she suspected was directed at her, but she ignored him, and was still ignoring him when the phone on her stomach vibrated. She groped for it, and without looking at the screen, pressed the answer tab and said, "Yeah?"
Her boss said, "This is your boss. I'm putting you on speaker." Other people were listening in; a modicum of respect was required.
"Yes sir?"
"Can you get out to Dulles in the next three hours and forty-one minutes?"
"Uh, sure. Where am I going?"
"London. Well, Oxford. A guy will meet you at Dulles' United gate with a packet including the job, your tickets and a hotel reservation. The return ticket's open, probably won't take you more than a day or two."
"How will he know who I am?"
"He'll have seen a photograph."
"Can you tell me more than that?" Letty asked.
"Not really. You know, the phone problem." He meant that that phone call wasn't secure, so whatever the problem was, security was an issue.
"How about dress? Standard business casual?"
"That will do. You can't take your usual equipment." He meant, gun. "I'm told by one of the gentlemen here that Oxford has some nice places to run, so you might take running gear."
"Thank you," Letty said.
"Three hours and thirty-nine minutes, now, according to my infallible Apple Watch," said Senator Christopher Colles (R-Florida), who was actually, if not technically, Letty's boss. He hung up.

Letty technically worked for the Department of Homeland Security, but in practice worked for Colles, who was chairman of the Senate's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. He claimed to have the DHS secretary's nuts in a vise, possibly because of the secretary's governmental affairs. However that worked, when Colles spoke, the DHS listened.
Letty didn't exactly have what preppers called a bug-out bag, but she had something close: selected clothes in her closet hung in dry-cleaning bags, waiting to be packed, and a man's large dopp kit containing the cosmetic and medical necessaries, ready to go. She added her running gear, passport, and the Robb novel.
She traveled with a forty-liter Black Hole duffel from Patagonia and had learned to roll her dressier clothes into tube shapes, still wrapped in the dry-cleaner plastic, so they'd be fresh-looking and unwrinkled when she got to her destination. Frequent travel does teach you things, mostly about packing.
Forty-five minutes after Colles' call, she was out the door to a waiting cab; twenty-five minutes after that, they rolled up to Dulles, and five minutes after that, she ambled through security with her DHS credentials and passport and made her way to the United gate. A young man, but older than she was, with a spray of acne across his forehead and an annoyed look on the rest of his face, walked up to her and asked, "Davenport?"
He handed her a manila envelope, thick with the paper inside, said, "Don't lose it," and walked away. Far too important to be sent with an envelope to meet a woman younger than he was, and it showed in his body language. Nothing to be done about that.
Letty found a seat, opened the package, extracted a thin business envelope with her air tickets. She put that in the front pocket of the duffel bag and moved on to a much thicker report on a Dr. Lionel Scott, a British subject now somewhere in the United States; exactly where, nobody knew.
Under the binder clip that held the report together was a folded piece of note paper with the names, addresses and phone numbers of three of Scott's friends in Oxford. She was to inquire as to what they might know about his whereabouts and activities, and whether any of them were in touch with him. A final instruction from Colles was scrawled at the bottom of the sheet: "Wring them dry."
Letty checked her watch: she had time before the flight, so she settled down to read.

Lionel Scott was a doctor, first of all, a graduate of the Oxford medical school. After graduation, he'd done two foundation years, somewhat the equivalent of American medical residencies, then three more years studying viral and bacterial diseases in humans. Later, he'd joined Médecins Sans Frontières — Doctors Without Borders — and had spent nine more years working in Bangladesh and Myanmar in Asia, and Uganda, Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa.
He'd left Médecins Sans Frontières for health reasons, had returned to England where he spent a year at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, then moved again, this time to the United States where he'd worked at for a year at Fort Detrick in Maryland, at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). Although still technically employed at USAMRIID, he was temporarily working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and had been for almost a year.
He had gone missing from there.
The mention of both USAMRIID and Los Alamos rang alarm bells with Letty, and she thought, "Oh-oh."
She checked the time again and took the iPad out of her duffel, read about the Fort Detrick installation and about Los Alamos. Detrick was known as the primary research facility into diseases that might be weaponized by an enemy, which was why it was run by the Department of Defense. That job made sense; Scott was an infectious disease specialist with a lot of time in the field. She couldn't pin down why he would be at Los Alamos, which was known for creating the plutonium pits from which thermonuclear weapons were manufactured.
She read further into Scott's biography: he'd been treated for what was called nervous exhaustion after his last assignment at Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, a refugee camp with nearly a million occupants. He'd also been treated for a recurrence of malaria that he'd originally contracted in Africa, and tuberculosis.
A note from a Médecins executive credited "... Dr. Scott with saving quite literally thousands of lives though his work with TB patients."
Altogether, Letty thought, an admirable human being. Now, just past forty, and apparently recovering from his various health problems, he'd vanished. Since he'd had extensive contacts with scientists developing atomic weapons, and other scientists doing what was called "gain of function" research on viruses — a euphemism for "making more deadly" — a number of high-ranking functionaries further up the bureaucratic ladder than Letty had also said, "Uh-oh."

Her flight was called, and after waiting for what seemed like eight or ten priority boarding groups, she worked her way halfway down the plane and took her aisle seat next to an overweight man in the middle seat, who'd already seized both armrests — not because he was a jerk, but because the seats were too small.
Unlike the man in the window seat, who was already squirming, she was small enough to survive the flight. Letty, at twenty-five, was dancer slender, perhaps because she did YouTube dancer workouts, along with weight work and a daily run. As she was settling in, pushing her carry-on under the seat in front of her, the window-seat man, who wore a clerical collar, leaned around the man in the center and said, "I wonder if we'd all be more comfortable..."
After some negotiation, they shuffled.
Letty, in making her application for sainthood, took the middle seat, with the obese man moved to Letty's aisle seat. With the big man leaning a bit into the aisle, they all had arm rests; when the plane was in the air, the priest on the window took out a laptop, typed a few words, turned the screen toward Letty and nudged her.
She looked: Thanks. You saved my life.
She took the laptop, typed, Say a prayer for me.
He smiled, took it back and typed, I certainly will.
During the seven-and-a-half-hour flight to London, Letty read through the rest of Scott's biography, finished Celebrity in Death, and got five hours of sleep. Forty minutes before landing, she lined up for the over-used lavatory to pee, wash her face, brush her teeth, jab a travel-sized anti-perspirant in her armpits, run a comb through her hair, and generally get her shit together.
Letty walked off the plane a half-hour after the wheels touched down — the fat man gave her a confident smile and asked if she were staying in London, and she said, "Nope."
She skipped a tram that was jammed to capacity and walked what seemed like a mile through a lower-level tunnel to baggage claim; since she hadn't checked any baggage, she breezed through the "Nothing to Declare" gate, heading for the LHR train station.
As she walked through, a man called, "Letty Davenport!"
The man looked, Letty thought, London stylish: summer-weight dark-wool suit, silk tie, shoes that appeared to be spit-shined and probably made in Italy. He was handsome, in a weather-beaten way. Tall, thin, with almost-blond hair worn a bit long and mussed, and with the muscles of an iron-man enthusiast. He was early thirties, she thought. No wedding ring. Why had she noticed that so quickly? She had a boyfriend, didn't she? A duffle sat by the man's feet, much like Letty's, but of oiled canvas, rather than plastic.
She stopped, and he stepped up to her, awkwardly pushing his duffel along with one foot, and showed her an ID card: "Alec Hawkins, MI5. I'll be traveling with you to Oxford. To clear the way, should the way need clearing."
"Didn't say anything about that in my instructions," Letty said.
He nodded: "That's why we're called the Secret Service. Nobody tells anyone anything."
"I thought it was MI6 that was called the Secret Service," Letty said.
"I suppose that's possible. Does anybody really know which is which?"
That made her smile. "You have a car?"
"God, no. Takes forever and no place to park," Hawkins said. "We'll be on the train; two trains, actually. Give me your bag and follow on."
She gave him the bag and followed on, to the express train to London's Paddington Station. "How'd you know it was me coming through the gate?"
"I was notified that you'd gone through passport control and United informed us that you had no checked baggage, so I knew you'd be through quickly. And we have many, many photographs of you, including several with blood on your face. That's really quite charming, for such a looker."
She let that pass. "Are you armed?"
He frowned. "No, of course not. What would I do with a gun?"?
"Shoot a terrorist?
"There are other people assigned to do that," Hawkins said. "I suppose I could kick one; or perhaps I could fashion a makeshift knife with my identity card and slash them with the edge. It's quite sharp."
"Kill them with a rolled-up magazine?"
"Nooo... that's beyond my skill set, I'm afraid. Perhaps I could show them a copy of the Daily Mail and embarrass them to death."
They arrived on the sparsely populated train platform, with no train in sight. Hawkins said one would be along shortly. Letty asked, "Is this escort service some kind of punishment for something you've done? Or..."
"No, no, I volunteered. Get out of the office, visit the old haunts at Oxford. Went to college there, actually. Balliol, modern history. Quite an interesting place. Hotel on expenses, of course."
"So it's like a vacation."
"Mmm... yes. Especially if we can stretch our stay to two nights. I wouldn't think we'd get much done today, especially with you jetlagged."
"I feel fine," Letty said.
He looked down at her. "Especially with you jetlagged."
"Ah. Girlfriend or boyfriend?"
"I leave it to you to guess," he said, flashing a smile.
And she thought, "Hmm," but didn't vocalize it, and she didn't think it was a boyfriend.

The trip to London's Paddington Station took twenty-one minutes; Paddington itself was a chaotic human anthill, but Hawkins guided them through, bought two first-class tickets to Oxford — "On expenses, of course, you were too jetlagged to travel with the hoi-palloi."
"Naturally. Are you always this cheap?"
"Not cheap. I prefer to think of myself as savvy," Hawkins said. "Also, should there be any old Balliol acquaintances about, I'd prefer that they see me in first class, or getting off first class."
"I'm looking for an English phrase that you would understand," Letty said. "You're being very charming; are you chatting me up?"
"A bit. And making a Washington acquaintance for when I take up my assignment there. If today's chatting-up is unsuccessful, perhaps you have girlfriends."
"When will you go to Washington?"
"If nobody fucks things up, which is usually a vain hope, next January."
An approaching train was announced with, first, a wind-like sound, a distant tornado, then a nearly cataclysmic rattling, which ended with a train parked in front of them. Hawkins had positioned them so they'd be next to the first class cars when the train stopped, and they got on board.

The trip to Oxford was quick, an hour long, with one stop at Reading, pronounced Redding. The land around them was a brilliant emerald green, farm fields and woods, with water here and there, not unlike Iowa, with some large differences. The farm fields, as an example, were like jigsaw pieces, rather than rectangles. Beef cattle and hogs seemed to be absent, though there were sheep here and there; no tree stands for deer hunters.
Letty and Hawkins exchanged a few personal notes: he'd been divorced, three years earlier, but had survived financially: his ex-wife was a partner in her father's London real estate firm, and well-off, so spousal support had been unnecessary.
"After University, I spent four years in the Army, then moved to MI5. In the Army, I was gone quite a bit with one thing or another, Afghanistan mostly, which helped keep the marriage together. When I was at home, we weren't nearly so happy."
Letty told him that she did, in fact, have a boyfriend, but that they were on "hiatus," and had been for four months, and the longer the hiatus continued, the less likely they were to get back together. "I like him well enough, but we've discovered that both of us are going to do what we're going to do, despite what the other one thinks. So, that's difficult."
Hawkins also told her that he'd read her MI5 biography. "I have to say, having read your history and seen the photos, you very much take after your father. The dark hair, the blue eyes; the resemblance is striking."
"I'm adopted," Letty said.
"Yes, I know. Still."

And they talked about the assignment. The three persons on her list were all at home — none were traveling, and MI5 had made sure that all three were available for interviews.
"Two are quite straight-forward," Hawkins said. "One of Scott's tutors in biochemistry, Ann Sloam, became quite close to him; a fellow medical student, another close friend, Donald Carr, later took up a position with John Radcliffe Hospital and remains there. We will meet him today at lunch, in a café at the Ashmolean Museum; the hospital itself is a couple of miles from there. The third, Madga Rice, is apparently an on-and-off lover who may have had some... mmm... effect on Scott's personal philosophy. She has a shop in Oxford."
"Very efficient," Letty said. "Maybe we can talk to all three of them today."
"I doubt it, given the fact that you're jetlagged," Hawkins said. "I thought we'd stop first at the hotel, which is expecting us. We have an early check-in. Then we'll walk to the Ashmolean."

Chapter Two

Hawkins carried their bags through the warm muggy crowds of Oxford to the General Elphinstone Inn, a red-brick and thatch building that lost part of its charm when Hawkins told her the thatch was synthetic PVC. They had rooms on the second floor, which was also the top floor, up a wide wooden stairway; each room had a bronze door knocker shaped like a rearing horse, whose hooves would hammer on a bronze plate.
Letty dropped her bag at the end of the double bed, used the bathroom, rinsed off her face. She looked tired, she decided, peering into a mirror. Eyes tighter than they usually seemed, nape-of neck hair a little stickier than it should be.
The shower looked inviting. She'd taken Hawkins's phone number and called him: "How much time do I have?"
"Half an hour?"
"Call me when it's time..."
The shower was fine: water hot and heavy, then, for one minute, cold and bracing. She got dressed again, brushed her teeth, lay on the bed, which was board-like, propped by the lumpy pillows, looked at the notes she had on Dr. Donald Carr. Like Lionel Scott he was in his early forties, but was a surgeon, rather than a disease specialist. He'd written well-received papers on burn care, published in in the journal Lancet.
Okay. She'd be dealing with smart people, which wasn't always the case, or even usually.
Hawkins called her at one o'clock: "Meet you downstairs in five minutes. It's not a long walk, and we won't have to run. Which reminds me: I was told that one of the... conferees... in Washington suggested that you might want to bring running clothes with you. Did you do that?"
"Yes, but I'm too jetlagged to run today."
"Of course. I was thinking in the morning."

The streets of Oxford were jammed with people, most noticeably busloads of pre-teen school students. Small shops lined the walks near the Inn, replaced by larger, heavier buildings as they approached the Ashmolean, an imposing pillared structure of a whitish/tan stone. Once there, Hawkins told her they were still early and led her quickly through a treasure box of confusing rooms filled with archaeological bits and pieces from the countries England had once ransacked. They got caught up in a case of middle eastern relics until Hawkins checked his watch and told Letty that they were now running late.
"I'm sure he'll forgive us. Carr and his wife go on archaeological expeditions to the Middle East and Egypt. I'm sure he understands the attraction of these things. May have dipped into the Mayan ruins out your way, once or twice," Hawkins told her, tapping the glass on a display case.
Carr was waiting for them in the roof-top café. He was sitting at the far end from the stairway, vacant tables around him, with a glass of iced tea and a plate of baked falafel. All around them, the slate-colored roofs of Oxford.
Hawkins recognized Carr from his files — Letty from Google Images — and Carr got to his feet as they walked up. He was a tall man, balding, pale-faced with large hands; he was wearing a blue suit and a white dress shirt, without a tie.
As he shook hands with Hawkins, he said, "I hope this is not unhappy news about Lionel. I've had too much of that over the years."
"How so?" Letty asked, as she took a chair.
"Oh, you know... the malaria, the TB," Carr said. "He once suffered a rash of boils under his arms and between his thighs, probably from bacteria exacerbated by sweat and chafing from his clothing, and possibly from the chemicals in Third World laundry detergent. He was quite interested in the phenomenon, but I don't think he ever got to the bottom of it."
"Sounds awful," Letty said.
Carr nodded. "Knowing Lionel made you believe in the ten plagues of the Bible. He broke both arms in a car rollover, but that was years ago. I know he was shot at in Africa."
"An amazing career," Letty said.
"Indeed. What has happened now..." He looked at Hawkins, "... that would interest a famous American investigator and an MI5 agent?"
"I'm famous?" Letty asked.
"I looked you up on the Internet," Carr said. He pushed the plate of falafel her way, and she took one. "So... after the bridge in Texas, and a top-secret fuss in California, I'd say yes, you're famous, at least in some quarters. Why the interest in Lionel?"
"He disappeared," Letty said, chewing.
"Oh no. I hope foul play isn't involved."
"We don't know what's involved at this point," Letty said. "We'd just like to find him."
"Might have gone walkabout, eh?"
"I don't have all the details, but as I understand it, his home seemed more abandoned, than prepared for a trip," Letty said. "There was nothing left in the refrigerator, the garbage had been taken out — the empty can was still sitting in the street — not much left in the way of clothing or personal care stuff. Like he left deliberately, but didn't notify anyone at his job that he was leaving. One day he was there, and the next day, gone. Not kidnapped, gone."
"Oh, dear. That doesn't sound like Lionel," Carr said. "With his experience in the Third World, he was always meticulous in telling people where he was going, and how long he'd be gone. Even when he was visiting here and was going down to London for the day."
"When did you last hear from him?" Hawkins asked.
"Mmm... two months ago? Something like that. Routine email, catching up." A waiter appeared, and they ordered burgers and iced tea. When the waiter went away, Carr looked back at Letty. "He was at your Los Alamos laboratory, working on an artificial intelligence program as applied to medical statistics. He was quite adept at maths. Always was. He was interested in using mathematics as a way to get at intractable diseases."
"Like how?" Letty asked.
"I'm a surgeon, not an expert on pathogens. Chatting with him — my wife and I had a small 'welcome home' party for him when he came back from Bangladesh, before he went to the States — he was discouraged by the prospect of individual vaccines given to children to prevent diseases like malaria. He said children were being produced faster than the vaccines could keep up. And that was true for a range of diseases..."
Letty: "What was his solution to that?"
"He didn't have one," Carr said. "That's why he went to America. When we were chatting at the party, he wondered, speculatively, what would happen if we could engineer a communicable virus that 'ate' malaria parasites but didn't harm humans — or a communicable virus that would kill mosquitoes but not humans. If that was even possible; and if it would be possible to spread such a thing worldwide. A virus that would starve if it had no parasites to feed on, or mosquitoes, so in a way, would be self-eliminating after doing its job."
"Sound like it would be worthwhile and would explain why he was both at Detrick and then at Los Alamos," Hawkins said.
Carr leaned over the table, his nose pointed at Letty: "Here's the thing. When Lionel returned from Bangladesh, he was rather severely depressed. My wife has had depressive episodes, so I recognize the symptoms. Lionel's mind wouldn't stop working but was caught up in cycles that he couldn't repress. I believe he consulted with somebody in America about medication."
Letty: "Depression... that could lead to self-harm."
Carr nodded: "If he has really vanished, that would be my thought. My fear. A man intent on harming himself wouldn't be too worried about who knew he was gone. And a polite man — Lionel is polite — would clean out the refrigerator, so no other poor soul would have to clean up the mess."
"But he took his clothes," Hawkins said.
Carr leaned back: "Yes. That's difficult to explain, if he was intent on self-harm. A person intent on suicide might not be fully rational about anything... take some clothes in case you don't do it."
They talked for a while longer, ate burgers, and Carr agreed to forward to both Letty and Hawkins the emails he'd received from Scott. "It's a dreadful violation of privacy, though the emails don't contain anything especially private, especially personal that you don't already know."
"We appreciate that, and will treat them as confidential," Letty said.

Carr had to return to the hospital, and Hawkins said they should check on the second person on their list, Magda Rice, who had a shop within walking distance and was also expecting them.
"Interesting that all the people we want to interview live here in Oxford," Letty said, as they wound their way through the crowded streets.
"Most of Scott's adult life in England was here, his social life," Hawkins said. "He came from York, which is up north. His mother died while he was in medical school. I believe he is estranged from his father, but I don't know why. His parents were divorced; perhaps he took his mother's side."
A cyclist clipped close to Letty's shoulder, Hawkins saw him coming and caught her arm and pulled her closer; the cyclist got by and Letty said "Thanks," and Hawkins kept a hand on her perhaps longer than was necessary; not that it felt uncomfortable.
Rice's shop was an easy amble from the Ashmolean, a tiny closet-sized space on Cornmarket Street that smelled of a nostril-tingling incense. Not exactly a head shop, it was over in that direction, with tarot cards, astrology books, crystals, a shelf of natural herbal supplements. A beaded curtain separated the front and back rooms.
Rice was a short cheery woman with curly red hair, a complexion that was pink and nearly transparent, with an upturned nose and large, curious blue eyes. After introductions, she took them behind the bead curtain to a table with four chairs, and said, "I'll have to run out if customers come in... would you like iced tea?"
They would, and she poured it from a glass pitcher that she took from a refrigerator that had a poster advertising an "ayahuasca retreat" in Peru.
"Did you do that?" Hawkins asked, nodding at the poster.
"Yep. I had the contents of my stomach coming out from both ends, and the experience was distinctly disappointing. Low-rent LSD, is what it was," she said. "I do like the poster — the jungle, the birds, and so on. I get a better high from the poster than I did from the shit they fed us."
Letty told her about Scott's disappearance, and she said, "God, I hope he's all right. When he was last here, he worried me. He tends to have dark views of humanity, but he was darker than ever when he got back from Bangladesh."
"If he was planning to hurt himself, would you expect him to give you some sort of signal?" Letty asked. "Some kind of summing-up, a reflection on whatever your relationship was?"
She thought about that, and then said, "I hadn't considered that, but now that you bring it up... yes. Definitely. We were long-term lovers, you know."
"I'd wondered," Hawkins said. "The people who sent us to you seemed to hint at that."
"Oh, yes, it was quite sexual," Rice said. "Though, I have to say, that except with me, I don't think Lionel was especially sexual. But with me, he was like a teen-ager getting his first lay. Better for me than anything I get from my husband."
Letty: "You're married?"
"Yes, but I don't let him live with me," Rice said. "Rather a rough man — not violent, you know, but he's a builder. Rough edge to his tongue, as well as his hands. All about keeping his building crews in line. That's not for me, not all the time. Lionel was a welcome change."
"Do you have any clue why Lionel would voluntarily disappear?" Hawkins asked. He told her about the condition of Scott's house.
She looked down into her lap as she shook her head: "No. There was that darkness. But... Wait."
She stood up, stepped through the beaded curtain, and returned with a small wooden box. She touched a light switch, and the room went dim, with the only light filtering through the bead curtain. Rice sat down and opened the box. Inside was a deck of oversized cards, wrapped in a piece of heavy silk.
"Let me ask the cards," she said.
Letty glanced at Hawkins, who winked at her. Rice was busy shuffling the cards, which had an intricate gray-and-white design on their backs. She began flipping the cards over and arranging them on the table, twenty cards in all, in a five-sided figure. The cards were done in shades of black, white and gray, and the faces showed crows of all sizes, threatening in some cases, portentous or witnessing in others.
When Rice was done with the arrangement, she peered at them, then said, "Well, he's definitely alive, but..I've never seen a spread like this one. It's absolutely calamitous. Look at the key cards..."
Her hand flashed across the spread of cards, touching five of them. "Three cards of the major arcana on just five points — the Tower, the Devil, the Hanged Man. That's astonishing, both for the simple fact that there are so many of them, and they are so threatening. And two minor arcana cards, the Ten of Swords and the Ten of Wands. All five key cards suggest something terrible will happen... or is happening already. The Tower brings destruction, the Devil brings evil, or bondage to evil ideas and deeds. The Hanged Man suggests depression in some readings..."
The ten of swords cards showed a dying man lying face up on the ground with crows picking at his entrails; the ten of wands showed a strange stork-like man or animal with a huge crow on its back. "The ten of swords means the end of the line; the ten of wands is a person suffering under an intolerable burden. Because of the question I asked, that person is Lionel," Rice said.
She had suddenly gone stoned-faced, her formerly transparent and pink features congealing into something witchlike. Letty felt an involuntary chill run up her spine, and when she looked at Hawkins, he was staring at the cards and no longer winking.
Then Rice sighed and pulled the cards together in a pile, and with a practiced turn of her hands, stacked them and wrapped them in the silk cloth. Looking between Letty and Hawkins, she said, "Lionel is alive. That's the best news."
That was all they got from her, other than some reminisces about her history with Scott that pointed in no particular direction.
After the tarot reading, back out on the street, Hawkins said, "Well, that scared the shit out of me. Complete bollocks of course, but she did it well."
"The smartest man I know — a computer wizard and a semi-famous painter — does the tarot. He says he uses them as a gaming device, to suggest ways of thinking out of the box. But my dad, who is not superstitious about anything, says that the guy's cards sometimes tell the future."
"More bollocks," Hawkins said, and he walked a few steps ahead of her. "She's just a ginger witch."
Letty smiled at his back. He'd told the truth about one thing: the reading had unnerved him. She said to his back, "You're really a great big pussy."
Over his shoulder: "Quiet, you."

Chapter Three

Letty trailed Hawkins for a block or two, amused; he was really quite attractive, she decided. He eventually turned and said, "Snit over. Let's get a glass of tea somewhere."
"I'm tea-d out," Letty said. "How about coffee?"
The found a near-empty café down a narrow alley, got tea and coffee, and what Hawkins called biscuits, but turned out to be cookies. When they were seated, Hawkins said, "My parents are high churchy and, mmm, somewhat conservative and superstitious. Some of it stuck with me. I don't like walking past cemeteries in the dark. There may be no such thing as ghosts, but why take the chance?"
"I'll admit that tarot reading was the tiniest bit creepy," Letty said.
"The tiniest bit," Hawkins confirmed. "Now, I've told you about my superstitions, so tell me something about yourself that you don't like other people talking about. Or knowing about."
Letty pursed her lips and looked out toward the street, then said, "My natural mother was a terrible alcoholic. Drinking would have killed her, if she hadn't been murdered first. Anyway, working in D.C., I'd go out for drinks with girlfriends, after work. One drink. A year ago, it was getting to be three drinks. One night last winter, with a special friend, we were really rolling along and it got to be six drinks and I was drunk on my butt; but it felt too good. Like anything was possible. You get stupid ideas and think you can pull them off."
"A few steps over the line, then," Hawkins ventured.
"Exactly. I now will have two drinks in one night, and no more. Never. For the rest of my life. I'm afraid there might be something genetic in the whole alcohol thing. I believe I have the discipline to pull off the two-drinks limit."
"I believe you," Hawkins said. "It's a pity in a way. I was planning to pour alcohol into you tonight and attempt to take advantage."
"Not gonna happen," Letty said.
"The drinks, or taking advantage?" Hawkins asked.
"Let me think about that," Letty said, shrugging. "Right now, I want to finish the coffee and take a nap. The travel is starting to get to me."
Hawkins looked at his watch and said, "Why don't you go take your nap, and I'll book a table somewhere close-by for... 7:30?"
"That should work."

Letty didn't get much of a nap, because when her head hit the pillow, her body clock was telling her that it was eleven o'clock in the morning, and she'd had a cup of ill-considered coffee. At 5:30 she finally went away, to be jolted awake when Hawkins called: "Time," he said.
"Ten minutes."
She jumped in the shower for one minute, re-dressed, brushed her teeth, thought about it, and put her toothbrush and a travel-sized tube of toothpaste in her purse. Hawkins was waiting at the desk, and they went out on the street, which was cool, with a soft dampness in the air.
The café was small, no more than a dozen tables scattered across one stoned-floored room and a patio, with dark wood walls. It smelled of something Letty thought might be a meat-and-vegetable stew, or pie. Somewhere close by, somebody was listening to Miley Cyrus's "Flowers."
They sat outside and watched passersby and talked about nothing until the food came, and Hawkins told her about studying at Oxford and his job, she told him about Stanford and working for Senator Colles and the Department of Homeland Security, and about the shootout at the Pershing bridge.
"When I killed the guys in the pickup, I was covered with baby blood and snot and poop and I'd handed one dead baby up through that bus... I confess I felt nothing for those guys. I shot them to pieces. Good riddance."
"Blood and snot and baby poop... everything you need for a lifelong nightmare."
"How about you in Afghanistan?"
"I spent most of my time on an American military base, looking at surveillance photos, trying to make sense of reports coming in from the field. I'd look for a nexus of Taliban activity and try to predict where the nexus would next show up, so a hunter-killer formation would be anticipating them."
"How did that work out?"
"I was rather good at it. I'd spend hours looking at maps and combat histories and what I thought of as... pressures on the Taliban. Affinities. Like high- and low-pressure systems in the weather. As much mass psychology as anything else, I suppose."
They both had a glass of wine with the meal, and after they'd finished, by common consent stopped at a hole-in-the-wall bar for Letty's last drink of the day, a margarita.
"Tired?" Hawkins asked.
"Actually, I'm wide awake. It's about four o'clock in the afternoon in Washington."
"So what will we do for the rest of the evening?"
Looked at him, then closed one eye, considered — he looked so hopeful — finished her drink and said, "Heck with it. Your room or mine?"

Hawkins had been married right after graduation, at 22, and had remained married for six years, and so had a level of sexual experience — excellence? — gained from a three-times-a-week routine, at least when he was at home. Letty hadn't encountered that with her sexual history of three young bachelors. Hawkins was, as she'd suspected, a horndog.
At two in the morning, she sat up in bed, stretched, and said, "That was nice. I better be going."
"What? No, no, no. In my experience, an early morning fuck is just the thing before a run. Gets the blood circulating," Hawkins said. "You brought running clothes, yes? So, that's settled."
She eased down beside him and said, "You talked me into it."
Hawkins went to sleep six minutes later. He didn't snore but did make some heavy breathing sounds and occasionally muttered a word or two. When she was sure he was asleep, Letty got up and retrieved her bikini briefs and pulled them on, then got back into bed. The underpants made her feel a little more secure.
She'd never before done a one-night stand, despite a number of invitations, and even though this was apparently going to be a two-night stand, she was... uneasy. About what she was doing, and about what Hawkins thought and felt about her.
She knew, for sure, that she liked him a lot. Way too early to think she was falling in love, but he was smart, handsome, funny, and sexy, which overall was nice combination. Yet, the sense of unease persisted. Was this really her, basically naked in a bed next to a totally and undeniably naked man she hardly knew?
Well... yes.
With that decided, she went to sleep, and the next morning, fully cooperated not in one, but two early morning fucks, one before and one after a three-mile run along riverside tracks that Hawkins knew by heart.
"Our interview with Ann Sloam is after her tutorials this afternoon," Hawkins told her, as he snuggled up against her. "I cleverly scheduled it later in the day so you'd have to stay another night. I plan to show you the virtues of the Reverse Cowgirl Laydown... unless you're already familiar with it."
"I don't believe so, though I can sorta imagine it," Letty said.
"It's better than you can imagine," he said. He got up, still talking, bouncing naked around the room. As far as she could tell, he had virtually no body shyness, which was a good thing.

They had a late, slow, comfortable breakfast, and spent the morning visiting Hawkins's old haunts. They spent more time at the Ashmolean, examining the archaeological exhibits, and poked their heads into the Bodleian library, which was nothing short of intimidating. Letty pronounced it too aristo for study, though it was nice to look at.

Then it was time for the final interview.
Ann Sloam was two days short of seventy-five, according to Letty's briefing packet. She lived in a narrow three-story stone townhouse on a back street not far from the heart of Oxford. "This is unexpected," Hawkins said, looking down the line of well-kept homes. "Tutors are generally... mmm... not fairly paid. Not well paid, for what they do. This house is beyond the means of an average tutor. I would expect that in this location, it could go for well in excess of a half-million pounds."
"An estimate left over from the first wife?"
"Yes, I would have to admit that's true. She could talk real estate twenty-four hours a day. And often did. We'd be in bed and I was working as hard as I could and she'd moan, 'We can take care of the cat odor.'"
So, did he think about his ex-wife a lot? But wait: wasn't she the one who'd mentioned a first wife?

Ann Sloam had curly steel-gray hair and stooped shoulders, but a bright smile, a youthful step. She opened her door, looked at Letty and said, "I imagine you're the young lady from the United States."
"Yes, I am," Letty said. "I appreciate your talking to us."
"I'm happy to. I'm very worried about Lionel," she said, as she stepped back from the doorway. Letty and Hawkins looked into a comfortable sitting room with a large television hung from one wall. She pointed Letty and Hawkins at two overstuffed chairs, while she sat on a sofa. "Lionel is suffering," she said.
Letty: "I understand that he contracted several diseases in his work..."
Sloam waved that away. "He has handled those — though not without serious physical discomfort. The suffering I was referring to, though, is psychological. He is in a bad way."
"Tell me," Letty said.
Sloam sighed, and looked at the ceiling, gathering her thoughts. "You know that I was his instructor in biochemistry. He did two years in biochemistry before he began his medical studies. Even as he was doing that, he continued with me, as a tutor."
"So you knew him well..."
"Quite well. He was a bright young man, perhaps a bit short of what I'd call brilliant, but certainly bright enough." She put an index finger over her lips and tip of her nose, as though to hush herself up, then took the finger away and asked, "What do you know about the Gaia hypothesis?"
Letty shook her head: "Almost nothing. I studied economics. I mean, I've heard of it."
"So let me start with a bit of background on Lionel..."
Scott had grown up with a devoutly religious parents — their divorce notwithstanding —and for years had gone to church services most days of the week, Sloam said. Scott carried that background to Oxford, where for his first two years at university, he continued to attend religious services on a regular basis.
"He lost his religious faith along the way, during his medical studies," Sloam said. "There were too many tensions, he told me, and he resolved those in favor of science. Still, he needed some kind of faith. Something to live for, some bigger purpose."
The one that tempted him was the Gaia Hypothesis, Sloam said, the belief that the earth itself was a living organism that had grown and protected life itself for billions of years. He rejected the idea at first, because it seemed contrary to the general acceptance of Darwinism — that life is a competition between organisms, and the fittest survive. The Gaia Hypothesis suggests the contrary, that while competition does occur, the overall thrust of life is cooperative, when you look at it from a long enough perspective, and a large enough time frame.
"All right," Letty said. "But he rejected that?"
"He did at first, as I said, but over the years, his views began to change, especially as he became more and more involved in the struggle to defeat disease in the Third World," Sloam said. She plucked at a knit on the sofa, then scratched at it, thinking. "What he thought he saw was that there had once been a kind of balance... a cruel balance, but perhaps a necessary one... that used disease to limit the human population. With his work, he saw that balance being destroyed. He came to the belief that when nobody died early, when procreation was allowed to run wild, that we would inevitably reach a state where sheer population would destroy Gaia."
Letty said, "A lot of people... think that is already happening."
Sloam nodded. "Global warming. Humans can defeat it in some ways — something as simple as air conditioning could make a hot world tolerable for many people, especially the rich. Temperatures in the Middle East and even in the southern parts of the U.S. now rise to levels that would be intolerable without it."
Letty agreed. "I've seen a study that says if the power grid in Phoenix, Arizona, failed during a mid-summer heat wave, more than 800,000 people would need emergency assistance and perhaps seventeen thousand would die. We already have rolling blackouts in some parts of the Southwest during heat waves. So... things are becoming fraught."
"Yes, indeed they are. Perhaps we could control the indoors, but how do you air condition the outdoors?" Sloam asked. "How do you air condition forests and farmland and oceans? Can't do it. We can air condition ourselves until our arses freeze, but we can't get along without food."
"So Dr. Scott is doing what? Looking for a cure?"
"I don't know exactly what he is doing," Sloam said. "I know that he spent a lot of time working with children, so many children, in central Africa and Bangladesh. I know that he began to study advanced maths, statistics. He told me once, a few years ago, that we might have to go to an enforced one-child policy, like China tried, to drive the population down."
"Put all women on the pill?"
"Well that would be one way, perhaps... although, culturally, in many places, children are the guarantee of elder care, and the more children you have, the more guarantee you have," Sloam said. "I know he researched the possibility of government programs that would pay women not to have children, but that, it seems, would be a dead-end. To get payments high enough to be effective, we'd have to spend not trillions of dollars, but hundreds of trillions of dollars. Won't happen."
"So he was looking for other solutions?"
Sloam stared at Letty for several long beats, then she said, "I have this... dreadful..."
A long silence, still staring, until Letty asked, "What?"
"The very last time I saw Lionel, he said that he was going to the States to study more biology, and to study numbers. He told me that if you examined Gaia as a scientist, one thing that became apparent was that humans are analogous to a virus on the body of the earth. You need to find a cure for the virus. If you could knock the virus down — not eliminate it, but just knock it down, as has been done with AIDS and Covid — Gaia would survive."
"You mean..."
"I don't know exactly what he meant," Sloam said. Again, she seemed to be groping for words. "But after Covid... you see, Covid went everywhere. We really couldn't stop it. It killed millions of people, but we have billions of people, so overall, no change. But suppose it had killed billions of people? Suppose it killed five billion people? More than half the power generation is unneeded. Half the cars are gone. Half the houses don't need heat in winter. Global warming stops, is even reversed. Gaia is saved."
Letty blurted: "Oh Jesus Christ!"

There was more about the Gaia hypothesis, but as soon as they'd left Sloam, Letty looked up at Hawkins and said, "We both need to phone home."
"Yes. Back to the inn, my girl. Can you still reach your senator?"
"I can. I have to."
"I'll write something tonight, and hand it in tomorrow after I put you on your plane. I expect it will be taken to the director general himself. This may be far-fetched... but what do I know?"
"You think you can get right to the director?"
"I'm, mmm, somewhat fair-haired," Hawkins said. "I'll at least be listened to."

In her room at the Inn, Letty called Colles' office, and after some delay, was switched through to him.
"Did you locate him?" No names to be mentioned.
"No, but I had a Tarot reading that said he's still alive..."
"You're joking."
"I'm not. That came from a hippie ex-lover who has stashed her husband somewhere off the premises. But — we have the phone problem," Letty said. "I don't want to get into detail about an interview from this afternoon. We need to meet at your office as soon as I get back. If there aren't any delays, I can be there by four o'clock tomorrow afternoon. And Chris... call my father. He needs to be at the meeting. He has a friend in the Marshals Service named Rae Givens, she should be there as well, and their boss at the Marshals Service, his name is Russell Forte." She paused, and then said, "Here's some double-talk for you, because of the phone problem. The relevant person's supervisors at the two facilities where he worked in the U.S. need to be there, too. Get them on airplanes. And anyone else who needs to know. Billy Greet, for sure."
Greet was an upper-level executive with the Department of Homeland Security, and had worked with Letty on other investigations.
"Why your father?" Colles asked. "And this Givens person?"
"Because of what they do." They hunted.
"Ah. This doesn't have anything to do with the Tarot?"
"No. This is much more serious," Letty said. "Much more serious than what happened in Texas two years ago, or California last year. Way more important."
"Don't tell me that," Colles said.
"I'm telling you that."
"Four o'clock tomorrow. I'll clear the decks and get everyone here. I hope you're right about the seriousness of this thing, and we don't look like idiots and have to apologize and send everyone home."
"No. You hope I'm not right about this," Letty said. "Because if I am... well — the phone problem."

Hawkins and Letty spent most of the night talking about the Gaia concept, looking up and making notes on Scott's publications and academic credentials. They still they made time for the Reverse Cowgirl Laydown, along with a few other biological experiments. Hawkins delivered Letty to LHR at ten o'clock the next morning for the noon flight, pressed her against a pillar for a last kiss and said, "God. I hope this isn't the last kiss. In the catastrophic sense of the word."
"Could we be making too much out of what we've heard?" Letty asked.
"Pray that we have," Hawkins said. He took several backward steps, holding her eyes, then turned and disappeared into the crowd, a tall lanky man in a hurry.