Hey gang! Sorry for taking a couple of weeks off from Flash Fiction Friday! Things got…busy. But I’m back with Chapter Six from The Unspoken Game: The Mummy Maneuver! Just to update you on the progress of The Unspoken Game series, Mummy Maneuver is DONE aside from final proofreading and formatting. The cover is mocked up, but not finalized. The Art of Deception, the first full-length novel in the series, is in another round of revisions, but the story is complete (I think!). The cover is also mocked up, but not finalized. I don’t have a solid release date, but it will be in June (for all your summer reading fun!) Now, here is Chapter Six!
The Unspoken Game: The Mummy Maneuver
“Antonia? What is it?” he asked a second time. She was frozen with her mouth hanging open and one hand in the air.
Her eyes flicked over to his but she still didn’t say anything. It was like she was processing a flood of information. He took a step toward her hoping it would make it easier for her to talk. Her eyes followed him and he saw her muscles soften.
“We’ve got this all backwards,” she whispered.
But she was frozen again, thinking and not talking. He took another step toward her and placed a hand on her arm. “Antonia, you’ve got to talk to me, I’m not a mind reader.”
She rolled her eyes and finally put her hand down. “Take off those stupid glasses so I can actually see you when you talk.”
He had half a mind to leave them on just to piss her off, but he really needed her to talk, so he took them off and spun them around to sit on the back of his head. “Better?”
She smiled smugly. “Yes.”
“Then talk,” he was already tired of the banter. Antonia was exhausting.
“Simon wasn’t kidnapped. This is Simon’s apartment.”
Donovan felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. “Come again?”
“Simon was living here. I’d bet money on it. This room is feng shuied. How many people feng shui their bedrooms?”
“I do,” Patterson quipped from behind her. “I came to see what all the fuss was about,” he added when Donovan glared at him.
“Ok,” Antonia replied. “Besides you, how many people go to the trouble of arranging their bedroom like that?”
Patterson and Antonia were like opposing magnets, one minute it looked like they were on the same page and then the next, the energy between them was moving in the opposite direction. Right then, Patterson was intentionally annoying Antonia, who looked like she wanted to punch the kid in the face.
Donovan was strangely annoyed and attracted to her all at the same time.
“Shut up Patterson,” he replied, then he turned to Antonia. “Not many, but you’ve got give me more than the way the bedroom in arranged.”
She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. He knew right then and there that she was right. She knew this was Simon’s apartment for a lot more reasons than bedroom furniture.
“The banana in the garbage can—Simon eats a banana every morning. The books on the bookshelf are all books I know he loves and the People magazine in the living room? He always had a thing for celebrity gossip. Simon lived here.” She was adamant about that fact. “You said you couldn’t find anything on McQueen, right?”
He shook his head. They were still coming up with dead ends. The driver’s license used to rent the apartment belonged to an eighty year old man who lived in a nursing home in Texas.
“Simon stole this mummy,” she said firmly.
“But why?” It made no sense and perfect sense all at the same time. Why would he stage his own abduction?
Antonia shook her head and twirled the end of her ponytail as she thought. “You said he and Seleron went way back. Way back where?”
“Prep school. They were childhood friends.” As far as he knew. That was what The Old Man told him.
“But not friends as adults?”
Donovan shook his head. He didn’t like where any of this was going.
“Do you have the paperwork Simon submitted for the grant?”
Donovan took a deep breath and waved for a tablet computer. It only took a moment to pull up the paperwork. He handed the tablet to Antonia and held his breath as she read through it. He saw it the moment she stopped. Her eyes widened just a little, her hands tightened around the black tablet, and she stopped breathing as her eyes went back and forth over the same thing over and over again.
She finally licked her lips and whispered, “You didn’t say he originally requested a sample as well.” She sat slowly on the bed. She looked pale, very pale actually. Like all the blood had just drained out of her head.
“I’m not sure I even know what that means. Is that different from the scan?”
She looked up at him with her dark brown eyes. “Very different. It also explains why the Egyptians were being so difficult. Simon didn’t just want to scan the mummy, he wanted to take a sample. The Egyptian government denied his request—numerous times—but ultimately allowed the scan provided the mummy was immediately returned afterward.”
“I’m not following any of this…” he replied. Why was a sample such a big deal?
Her shoulders slumped. “Simon is part of a genetic research collective that is cataloguing every sample of DNA they can get their hands on. In cases where they can’t get a sample, or when there is a low probability of getting a viable sample, they are scanning skeletons and mummies instead. They are attempting to create a genetic map of human history through time and across the world. They’ll be able to see how diseases were born and spread, where genetic mutations originated, and how populations interbred.”
“And so you think when he was denied a sample he just took it? Why?”
She turned off the tablet and set it beside her on the bed. “The Little One is special. She is a full-grown woman, but the size of a ten year old girl. Scans done in the nineties confirmed all this, but scanning technology wasn’t what it is today and genetic research has gone into a whole new stratosphere. The Little One is a genetic anomaly. She’s very special.”
“Special enough to steal and leave your entire career behind?”
“If I’m right, then yes,” she replied. “Several of the scientists involved in the research have been quietly hired on by a company in Switzerland that is creating its own genetic database.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” A very bad thing.
“Their goals do not seem to be research oriented. My feeling is that they are looking into much more lucrative things to do with information like that.”
She held up her hand and ticked items off on her fingers. “Genetically modified diseases, population specific attacks, diet manipulation—”
Donovan held up his hand to stop her. “I get it. Let’s assume you’re right. What do we do now? Where is Simon?”
“He’ll have had enough time to scan the mummy and remove a sample. He’ll be looking to get out of the country by now.”
Which also meant they were probably about to lose him.
Donovan went right into action putting out feelers for Simon at all the major airports, but he had a gut instinct Simon would be heading to the closest one, the one they had all just left.
So it was with a lot of frustration, leering, and scowling, that he the rest of the team threw themselves back in the Suburban and rushed back across town.
Donovan was feeling caged after an hour in the truck and he could feel time slipping between his fingers. He hated playing catch-up.
Sophie and Patterson moved directly to the International Terminal after purchasing tickets that would allow them through security. Sparks, on the other hand, was doing what he did best: working his connections. He was inside the security center in less than five minutes. The man knew everyone, or knew someone who knew someone.
Donovan stayed with Antonia as she scanned the crowds and made phone call after phone call. Her expression darkened with every minute.
He checked in with Sophie. “Anything?”
“Nope. A big fat negative here. There’s too many people. Patterson is running some sort of program telling me which flights are boarding in which order and I’m hopping around the terminal trying to catch everyone before they board. We could really use some help back here.”
He leaned closer to Antonia, her long ponytail catching his bare arm as she turned to face him. They were nose to nose. He lifted his glasses. “We’re not doing any good up here. Sophie needs our help, are you alright with that?”
She studied him for a moment, the lack of barrier between them made him feel unusually exposed. He hadn’t realized how much he relied on his glasses. “I think it’s our best shot. Yeah, let’s do it.”
She handed over her passport at the counter while he checked in with Sparks.
“We’ve got eyes on all the terminals. We’re watching for him, boss.”
They passed through security with a few funny looks, but Sparks made sure to call ahead and warn the officers they were coming through. International travelers without bags tended to get noticed.
“Talk to me Patterson.”
The kid’s familiar voice came through Donovan’s earpiece loud and clear. “I’ll rotate you, Antonia, and Sophie so we can hit as many departures as possible. Send Antonia to F7 and you can take F5.”
Donovan didn’t like how far apart those gates were, but they really didn’t have much of a choice. “Take F7. Use your comm if you need help.” He pointed his finger at her just to make a statement.
She rolled her eyes and jogged off toward the gate.
Donovan had studied Dr. Green’s photograph, paying special attention to his jaw line and lips. People could cover their eyes and ears, even disguise their noses, but jaw lines and lips were harder. He carefully scanned every person lounging in the chairs and along the columns. He took note of the cell phones and tablets plugged into the charging station. No one looked like Simon.
“I’ve got nothing again,” Sophie sighed.
Patterson replied, “Help Antonia at 7 and then cut down to 12, that gate will be boarding in fifteen minutes. I’m headed there now.”
The flight attendant came over the loudspeaker and started boarding the flight. Donovan casually checked each passenger. Tired families, happy couples, men and women on business, but no Simon. The next round of passengers was called to the gate and Donovan’s blood pressure continued to climb. He hated the waiting game.
He glanced at his watch as the flight attendant called for the last group of passengers. This could all be useless. Simon could have already come and gone, there was no telling.
“I’m heading to twelve,” Sophie said. “They just started boarding this gate, Antonia’s got it.”
Final boarding was called and the doors closed. Donovan headed toward Antonia and Gate seven. “I’m headed your way, Antonia.”
But he didn’t get a reply. She had two Ph.D.’s; surely she knew how to use the communicator. “Antonia?”
He quickened his steps back across the terminal, a sense of dread quickly building. Gate seven was boarding, but he didn’t see Antonia anywhere. His heart rate and blood pressure skyrocketed. “Sophie, where was Antonia?”
“By the column. Shit. I’m headed back your way now.”
Donovan circled the column, but Antonia wasn’t there. He didn’t see her anywhere. His eyes shot to the corners of the room. There, in a dark corner, he saw two people arguing. “Back corner, Sophie.”
“I see them,” she replied.
They silently flanked the two archaeologists. As he got closer, Donovan could hear Antonia’s angry voice. “It can’t be worth it, Simon. It can’t.”
“Look what they did to you,” he shot back. There was an obvious edge to his voice. “You can’t tell me the last six months have been easy for you.”
She shook her head and put her hands on her hips. “It’s been hell, but I’m not selling my soul—you are.”
Simon shook his head. “That is where you’re wrong, Antonia. This is a chance to actually make progress for a change. All we’ve done for the last ten years is watch our budgets shrink. We aren’t going to have careers soon. This is my chance to do the work I’ve always dreamed of doing.”
“In hiding, after stealing the work you need?”
Simon smiled. “Everything we do is stealing, Antonia.”
She took a step back which was when Donovan managed to catch her eye. “Well, good luck with that, Simon. These two want to have a word with you, I’m afraid.”
To Donovan’s surprise Simon bolted for the gate and thrust his boarding pass at the flight attendant. Was he actually trying to board the plane?
The woman looked at them all with surprise. “I’m sorry sir, but I can’t let you board until this matter is resolved.”
“I suggest you take a seat,” Donovan waved his hand at the recently vacated bank of chairs.
Simon’s shoulders sagged and he shook his head. “I didn’t hurt the Little One. I only took one sample. I left her somewhere safe and I was going to send instructions on where to find her after I landed.” He was looking right at Antonia as he spoke, but then turned to Donovan. “You have what you need. Please, just let me go. I’m sure Teddy will understand.”
Donovan tried not to laugh. No one called The Old Man “Teddy”. “I think a few things have changed since the two of you were kids. Seleron is pretty mad about the position you’ve put him in.” It was the truth, sort of.
In reality, The Old Man was sure Simon was up to something and that they’d be able to track it all down. What Seleron really wanted was a good excuse to bring the team together. None of them would have agreed to a meeting with Seleron on their own.
So while The Old Man had other motives, he was also pretty pissed off at Simon.
A minute later Sparks arrived with a team from security. They took care of the messy task of dealing with Simon, while Donovan took on the equally difficult job of bringing the team to Seleron Headquarters.
“Can’t you just drop me back at the airport?” Patterson asked. He’d given the front seat to Sparks, preferring to sprawl out in the backseat like a teenager with gadgets and cords spewing out of him like some half-robotic mutant.
“No, Seleron asked to see you all and thank you in person.” Donovan replied.
“I’ll take a direct deposit,” Patterson muttered, sinking deeper into his seat.
“You know, I just realized I know Seleron from television, but I don’t know anything about him,” Antonia was in the far back again. Donovan had kept his eye on her, and not just because he enjoyed what he was seeing. Dr. Warren was an interesting combination—she intrigued him. He knew before he walked into the bar that the archaeologist was a contradiction.
On paper she was the poster child for over achievers. Graduating college at twenty with degrees in biology and anthropology, she moved to England where she quickly became the hottest up and coming archaeologist on early civilizations. She was considered to have more promise than her own mother, who was the pre-eminent expert in the world. Antonia did her internships at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and it wasn’t long after she became a full member of their staff that things veered from the expected. There were blank spots that could only be filled in by government documents. It took digging, but he’d eventually found reports detailing her dealings in the black markets of antiquities.
Antonia’s mother publicly denounced her for working with dealers, but Donovan didn’t feel like the information in his files quite followed the story in the papers. To him, it looked a helluva a lot more like Antonia was hunting something down. Her activity had all the hallmarks of someone looking for something in particular. And he was willing to bet she was still looking for it.
For the last six months she’d been working odd jobs, most recently as a field monitor for a pipeline company. It was hard, honest work, but it was a far cry from the type of research she’d been doing in Europe. Antonia was keeping her nose clean, staying off the radar, and avoiding her tainted name at all costs, but based on the attitude he’d seen since he met her, Antonia was hardly the quiet, mild-mannered archaeologist. She was a brilliant woman on a mission, more than willing to get her hands dirty when necessary.
That was when Donovan realized no one had answered her question about Seleron. Everyone seemed to be looking blankly out the windows of the Suburban. “He’s exactly how he seems on television, Antonia. Driven, passionate, firm. Headquarters is based out of his mansion. All research and development is done in the compound that surrounds his house.”
“So we’re headed to his house?” she asked with surprise.
Sparks turned around to face her before Donovan could respond. “He works constantly. He walks into any lab or office at any time. He works in every division himself and knows almost every employee by name. He never sleeps. He’s a machine.”
“Ok…” Antonia drawled. “The Old Man is a super human control freak. Got it.”
“This should be interesting,” Sophie replied.
And hopefully painless.
Thanks for reading! My new erotic serial is out now! And check back next week for more on The Unspoken Game!