Welcome to Jin Novels dot com   Click to listen highlighted text! Welcome to Jin Novels dot com

Son of the Morning (Chapter 15)

KRIS DIDN'T RECOGNIZE HER. THEY HAD ARRANGED TO MEET outside a supermarket late the next afternoon, and Grace had arrived more than an hour early so she could watch for anything suspicious. She hated not feeling able to trust Kris completely, but there was too much at stake for her to take anything for granted.

She watched Kris arrive in his beloved '66 Chevelle, the engine rumbling with a muscular cough that had a couple of middle-aged men throwing envious glances his way. Poor Kris. He wanted female attention, but instead his car was attracting the male variety. At least he'd done some additional work on the Chevelle since she had last seen it; it was actually painted now, a bright fire-engine red.

He parked at the end of a lane and waited. There hadn't been any suspicious, repetitious traffic during the hour Grace had been watching, but still she waited. After fifteen more minutes had passed she slid out of the truck and crunched across the thin layer of snow that had fallen on the parking lot since she arrived, It was still snowing lightly, lacy flakes swirling and dancing in the wind, She went up to the Chevelle and tapped on the window.

Kris rolled the window down a couple of inches. "Yeah, what is it?" he asked, a little impatiently.

"Hi, Kris," she said, and his eyes widened with shock. He scrambled out of the car, slipping a little and grabbing the door to right himself. "My God," he mumbled. "My God."

"It's a wig," she said. She wore a blond one, plus a baseball cap and sunglasses. Add losing more than thirty pounds, and no one who had known her before would have recognized her.

Kris's stupefied gaze started at her booted feet, went up her tight jeans, took in the denim jacket, and ended once again on her face. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. The tip of his nose turned red. "My God," he said again. Abruptly he lunged at her and wrapped both arms around her, holding her tight and rocking her back and forth. Grace's nerves had been on edge for too long; her first instinct, barely restrained, was to kick his feet out from under him. But then he made a strangled sound, his shoulders shook, and she realized he was crying.

"Shh," she said gently, putting her own arms around him. "It's all right." It felt odd to let someone touch her, and to touch someone in return. She had gone so long without physical contact that she felt both awkward and starved, "I've been so scared," he said into her baseball cap, his voice shaking. "Not knowing if you were okay, if you had a place to stay-"

"Sometimes yes, sometimes no," she said, patting his back. "The first week was the worst. Do you think we can get in the car? I don't want to attract attention."

"What? Oh! Sure." He trudged around the car to open the passenger door for her, a courtesy that touched her. He was still thin and gangly, his glasses still slid toward the end of his nose, but in several small ways she could see the advance of maturity. His shoulders looked a tad heavier, his voice had lost some of its boyishness, even his stubble was a little thicker. Manhood would suit him a lot better than boyhood; when other men his age were fighting middle-age spread, Kris would still be lean.

He slid under the wheel and slammed the door, then turned to survey her. His eyes were still wet, but now he shook his head in wonderment. "I wouldn't have known you," he admitted in awe. "You-you're tiny."

"Thin," she corrected. "I'm as tall as I always was. Taller," she said, pointing at the inch-and-a-half heels of her boots.

"Cool," he said, eyeing them and blinking hard. He glanced at his own feet, and she thought he might soon become a boot man. There was nothing like boots to give a man attitude. Or a woman, come to that; she definitely walked with more authority when she wore the boots.

Then he looked back at her face, and she saw his lower lip wobble again. "You look tired," he blurted.

"I couldn't sleep last night." That was the unvarnished truth. She hadn't been able to close her eyes after reading that little note from Black Niall. Every time she thought of it she felt her spine prickle, and chills would roughen her skin. But after the initial shock, it wasn't the bit about 1945 that was so eerie, it was the phrase "and so came Grace to Creag Dhu." Surely he meant a state of grace, but it felt so – personal, somehow, something written specifically toher. She felt as if he were inviting her to use the formula, to step through the layers of time energy. His calculations had been very specific, for exactly six hundred seventy-five years; back to the year 1322, the year the message had been written.

Kris reached out and took her gloved hand, squeezed it. "Where have you been?"

"On the move. I haven't stayed in one place for long." "The police-"

"It isn't the police I worry about so much as Parrish's men. At least the police aren't actively hunting me, not after this length of time. Sure, they'll follow a lead, but that's about it. Parrish's men nearly caught me once."

"It's so weird," he said, shaking his head. "Do you still think it's because of those papers you had?"

"Iknow it was." She stared out the window, which was fogging up from their breathing. "I translated them. I know :; exactly why he wants them."

" Kris clenched his hands into fists, staring at her delicate profile. He wanted to take her somewhere and feed her, he wanted to tuck a blanket around her, he wanted-he wanted to punch something. She looked so frail. Yeah, that was it. Frail. Grace had always been a special person to him; he'd known her most of his life, had a crush on her since he was seventeen. She had always been so nice to him, treating him as an equal when most adults didn't. Grace was a genuinely good person, smart and kind, and her mouth, oh her mouth made him feel all hot and dizzy-headed. He'd dreamed of kissing her but never worked up the nerve. It was lousy of him, but when she had called the day before, he had thought again of kissing her, and even thought that it would be okay now because Ford was dead. But looking at her he knew it wasn't okay, might never be okay. She was quiet and sad and distant, and that mouth didn't look as if it ever smiled. He pulled himself away from his thoughts and reached into the backseat to grab a computer printout. "Here," he said, placing it on her lap. He might not ever kiss her, but he would do what he could to help her. "It's a blueprint of the building where the Foundation is headquartered."

Grace pulled off her sunglasses and put them on the dash. "Where did you get this?" she asked in surprise, flipping through the pages.

"Well, it's a fairly new building," he explained. "A copy of the plans are on file with the city planners, I guess in case of emergencies and stuff."

She gave him a sideways glance. "So you went to city hall and got a copy?"

"Not exactly. I got it out of their computers," he said " blithely.

"Without setting off any alarms, I hope." "Ah, please," he scoffed. "It was a joke." There was no point in scolding him about it; after all, she was asking him to commit a much more serious crime than computer hacking. "Getting into the Foundation's computers won't be as easy," she warned. "No, but I've already got it figured out. Your idea about the maintenance crew was great. We steal a couple of the uniforms, waltz right in. But all we need is to get into the building, we don't need to actually get into the Foundation's offices. Look," he said, pointing to the blueprint. "Here is the service elevator. We take it to the floor below, then use this access panel in the ceiling to get to the electronic panel. I tap into a line, pull up a file list, and we go from there."

"What about alarms?" "Well, it's a self-contained system, so they don't have to worry about anyone hacking in; certain files may be security-coded, but not the system itself. My job is to get the coded files."

He made it sound so easy, but she didn't expect the Foundation's files to be as vulnerable as the city's. Parrish was too smart, too wily, and he had too much to hide. "There has to be a list of the passwords for any coded files, but it could be anywhere. Parrish may keep it in his house, or there could be a safe in the offices where it would be kept. Either way, we won't be able to get it."

He shook his head, grinning. "You'd be surprised how many people keep a list of passwords in their desk. It's worth a look, anyway, once we're certain everyone has gone home."

"I have some ideas about the passwords," she said. "We'll try those first." She shuddered at the idea of going into the empty offices and finding they weren't empty after all, but that Parrish had worked late. Hearing his voice on the telephone had been bad enough; she didn't think she could bear actually seeing him. Still, if it became necessary to break into his private office, she would do it. Kris would be willing, but she wasn't willing to let him; she had already involved him enough.

"Okay," he said, practically twitching in his enthusiasm. "Let's go." "Now?" "Why not?" Why not, indeed. There was no reason to wait, not if they could manage to liberate a couple of uniforms from the maintenance service. "Do you have your laptop?" she asked.

"In the backseat."

She shrugged. "Then we might as well give it a try. We'll go in my truck."

"Why?" He looked a bit affronted at her reluctance to travel in the Chevelle.

"This car is a little noticeable," she pointed out, her tone dry. A grin broke across his face. "Yeah, it is, isn't it?" he said, giving the dash a fond pat. "Okay." He got the laptop out of the backseat and took the keys from the ignition. Grace grabbed her sunglasses. They got out and locked the doors, and they trudged across the slippery parking lot to her pickup.

They were silent as Grace drove. She tried to come up with some feasible plan for getting the maintenance uniforms, but none occurred to her. And there was still security at the building after office hours; perhaps the maintenance service had a key to the rear service door, perhaps not. After cleaning houses for six months, she knew some people without thought turned over a spare key to the cleaning service so they wouldn't be inconvenienced by having to be at home when their houses were cleaned. Grace was always amazed at their lack of caution. Still, it happened. Unless Parrish owned the entire building, the chances were fifty-fifty the maintenance crew could enter without ringing for a guard. If Parrish owned the building, no way; he wouldn't care if the crew had to wait, or that a guard had to trudge from wherever he was in the building to let them in. He wouldn't even consider their inconvenience in the security scheme.

With what she had learned in the past eight months, Grace had to admit he was right. If you had something worth protecting, you protected it, and you didn't compromise security by fretting about whether or not the maintenance crew had to wait a couple of minutes. Of course, a sophisticated system would use closed-circuit cameras to identify the crew, and the door would be opened by remote control

Cameras. She drew in her breath with a hiss. "We're going about this all wrong."

"We are?" Kris asked blankly. "What do you mean?"

"There may be security cameras at the maintenance entrance. How are we going to waltz up to the truck and search it for extra uniforms?"

He rubbed his chin, his long, skinny fingers rasping over his beard stubble as he went into his thinking mode. "Let's see. .. . okay. First thing, you let me out a block away and I'll check it out. If thereare cameras, then we have to find out if they're closed-circuit and are being monitored, or if they're just the kind that tapes so someone can watch the tape after a crime has already been committed."

"Either way, if there are cameras, that means you need a disguise too," Grace said firmly.

He looked taken with that idea, and her heart ached at his youth.

"You'll have to take off your glasses," she decided. "I'll wear them instead. And we'll beef you up by stuffing towels in your uniform."

He looked doubtful. "I won't be able to see," he objected. "And neither will you."

That made sense. One of them had to be able to navigate. She plucked her sunglasses out of her pocket and handed them to him. "Pop the lenses." She had paid fifty cents for them at a yard sale, so she didn't hesitate to ruin them.

Kris obediently popped out the plastic lenses, and gave the frames back to her. Grace slid them on, and glanced at herself in the rearview mirror. At close range it was fairly obvious there was no glass in the frames, but a security camera wouldn't detect it.

"We really should have scouted this out and maybe taken the time to buy our own maintenance uniforms," she said, shrugging. "But it might work anyway."

It worked. Kris came jogging back to the truck, his face red from both excitement and exposure to the cold. He climbed in, gasping, and his glasses immediately fogged up. He snatched them off and absently held them in front of the heat vent while he gave her a myopically triumphant smile. "There's a camera," he reported breathlessly. "But it isn't closed-circuit."

"How do you know?" "I checked it out."

"Kris!"

"No problem. It's in a corner, aimed at the maintenance door. I slipped around the side of the building and stayed out of its range. I didn't see any cable wires running from the camera into the building. And even better-" He paused, grinning at her.

"What?"she demanded impatiently when he let the pause drag out, and he laughed delightedly.

"The door is propped open!"

It was obvious Parrish and the Foundation didn't own the building, Grace thought.

"It's the kind of door that locks every time it closes," Kris explained. "I guess the maintenance crew gets tired of having to unlock it every time, so they dragged one of those rubber-backed mats over the threshold, and it keeps the door from completely closing."

Oh, the simple, elegant ingenuity of people trying to get out of a little inconvenience. With that one act, they had negated the building's security.

"We still need uniforms."

He grinned triumphantly at her. "There's a big van parked there. I checked it out. The front doors are locked, and there's a steel screen separating the cab from the back of the van, I guess so they can leave the back doors open and not have to worry about the van being stolen. Anyway, there's lots of stuff in the back, and some dirty coveralls." He slid his glasses into place. "What more do we need?"

What more, indeed?

The camera outside the service door wasn't closed circuit. The one in the hallway was.

Parrish watched as two more maintenance people entered the building. His eyebrows had lifted a fraction when the first crew had propped open the door. For now it suited his purposes to let it remain open, to give Grace an easy access should she take the bait, but as soon as he had her he would make certain the owners of the building found a new maintenance service. Of course, the Foundation's offices had far more stringent security measures, but that didn't excuse the sloppiness of the present crew.

These two latest arrivals carried tool boxes, and wore tool belts strapped over their shapeless coveralls. One was a skinny woman, wearing an unattractive baseball cap over her unattractive frizzy hair. Oversized glasses dominated her face. The man was tall, pudgy, clumsy. He wore gloves and a weird fur hat with ear flaps, and he didn't seem to know where he was going. The woman led the way as they trudged down the short hall to the service elevator.

He wasn't interested in them. He watched carefully for the little mouse he hoped would nibble at his bait. Perhaps she wouldn't come; if she had seen him do the shooting, she wouldn't want to be anywhere near him, unless of course she planned to shoot him in revenge, but he was certain Grace wasn't a woman who could kill. He could recognize the killer instinct in certain people; Conrad, for instance. Grace didn't have it.

On the other hand, she had surprised him and everyone else by being able to elude both the cops and his best men for more than eight months. She had proven herself to be unusually resourceful. If she hadn't called the Foundation, no one would have had any idea she was back inMinneapolis . Shocking mistake. But then, felons often tripped themselves up by returning to the scene of their crime, perhaps to gloat at their own cleverness.

But Grace had called the Foundation, himself specifically, and since she hadn't spoken, the only reason would have been to find out if he was in town. Now that she knew he was, what would she do? Show up at his house to talk to him? She could have talked on the phone, unless she suddenly panicked at the thought of giving away her whereabouts.

So had she seen him or not? Did she want to talk or shoot? Perverse of him, but he rather hoped it was the latter. The thought of Grace with a gun in her hand was strangely exciting. She would never get to use it, of course, but he didn't want her weepy and weak in his arms; he wanted her furious, fighting, so that his victory was all the sweeter when, as with Calla, his skill overrode her anger. His little interlude with Calla had been unusually satisfying; surely with Grace his pleasure would be even more intense.

Would she come or not? The service door was conveniently propped open, but perhaps she would try to enter during the day, when she could more easily mix with the flow of people coming and going.

He waited patiently.

"Here we are," Kris whispered excitedly as he opened the access panel in the ceiling of the Foundation's main computer room. It was quiet, dim, with only the hum of electronics breaking the silence.

It had taken them an hour to work their way into place. Nothing was ever as easy as it looked on paper. First they had had to dodge the real maintenance crew, finally climbing seventeen flights of stairs instead of using the service elevator. After locating the access panel to the overhead heating ducts, they climbed onto a high stool and managed to hoist themselves inside, putting the panel backin place so no one would know they were there. Then, using a flashlight taken from her glove box, they navigated the miles of ductwork only to find they had to go into the Foundation's offices after all. They located the computer room and listened for a while, but the room seemed empty. Carefully they removed the ceiling access panel.

Kris leaned his head and shoulders out of the opening and looked around. "There aren't any cameras," he whispered. "But there's a window in the door, so we'll need to sit where anyone passing by can't see us."

"If we happen to be climbing in or out when someone walks by, we're sunk," Grace said. It couldn't be helped, though; they had no access through any of the doors, so it had to be the ceiling.

Kris braced his arms on each side of the opening and slowly lowered himself through it until he was hanging by his fingers. The ceilings were standard eight feet, for easy heating; with his arms outstretched, he had little more than a foot to drop. He landed quietly on the tile floor, then turned for Grace to hand down the laptop. With that safely stored, he held up his arms for her as she swung down from the ceiling, catching her around the waist and carefully setting her on the floor.

He looked swiftly around, sizing up the setup. This was his milieu, and his thin face glowed with eagerness. "Sit over there, behind that desk," he said, pointing. "Let me get this hooked up and I'll join you." As he spoke he was busy removing cords and wires from a terminal, andrehooking them to his laptop. That done, he repositioned some operating manuals to block any view of their heads, which would be sticking up above the edge of the desk.

He flopped down beside her and drew his long legs up, cradling the laptop between them. He fingered a switch and the powerful little machine began to hum and make discreet little chirps as it booted up. They had been crossing their fingers on this, because Kris used the Windows 95 operating system; if the Foundation used DOS, he wouldn't be able to use his laptop. Instead he would have to sit at a monitor, and given the window in the door that would be risky. But . the Foundation used the same operating system, and the menu flashed on the screen.

"Okay, let's see the files," he murmured, rubbing his fingertip across the little mouse tucked in the middle of the keyboard and directing the cursor to the correct icon. He clicked once, and the screen filled with file names.

He scrolled down while they looked for something interesting. "Let's look at the financial statement and tax returns," she said, and he pulled up those files. They were incredibly complicated; they didn't have time to decipher everything, so he copied the files onto a floppy and returned to the list.

"Donor list," Grace directed, and he copied that file too. There was little else that looked interesting; they looked into the payroll file, and Grace gasped at what Parrish was paid. Millions. The Foundation paid himmillions every year. Just for directing the Foundation? She was certain the Foundation could find an able overseer for much less money, if that was all that was needed.

"Nothing much here," Kris said after an hour of pulling up individual files and checking their contents. "What were those ideas you had on passwords? Let's try a few of them and see what happens."

"Treasure," she directed, and he gave her a sharp glance as he obediently typed in the word and clicked on "Retrieve."

File Not Found. "Temple."

File Not Found. "Knight."

File Not Found. "Templar."

"You mean those bad-ass monks you were reading about at my house that night?" Kris asked, typing the word.

"The very same." File Not Found.

"Damn," she breathed. She was running out of likely passwords. "Guardian."

File Not Found.

"Niall… Pope… TempleTreasure . Whose bright idea was it to allow unlimited space in naming files? Let's see… he's egotistical enough to name a file after himself. Try Parrish and Sawyer."

File Not Found popped up on the screen after every entry. Kris had been silent except for asking her how to spell Niall.

"Power," she suggested.. He typed. "Nope."

"Shroud… Turin … Covenant… Ark. "

He shook his head after each entry. "Nope."

Grace rubbed the back of her neck. The Ark of the Covenant had been way out in left field anyway. She had only thought of it because of the Indiana Jones movie, where the Nazis had been trying to find theArk and conquer the world. There had been a seed of truth in the movie, because Hitler had indeed been obsessed with acquiring ancient religious artifacts.

"In the Year of Our Lord1945,the Guardian slew the German beast, and so came Grace to Creag Dhu. "

She remembered the entry, and once again chills roughened her skin. Creag Dhu couldn't be the password, because the location of the Treasure was what Parrish didn't know. "Hitler," she suggested.

Again Kris gave her a startled look, but he typed in the name.

The screen filled with words.

She sat back, stunned. It couldn't be. She hadn't even considered a connection, despite the document's warnings about the Foundation of Evil.

"My God," Kris whispered. Hastily he shoved another floppy into the disk drive and copied the file without taking time to read it. Only when the file was copied and the disk safely stored did he slowly scroll downward.

"They really think they can rule the world if they find this so-called treasure," he whispered. What they were reading was nothing less than a manifesto, a declaration of intent. "The papers you have supposedly give the location of it, right? And he's actually killed Ford and Bryant just because theyknew about the papers?" Outrage and disbelief warred in his tone.

She looked at him. Her gaze was glassy from shock. "They do," she said dazedly. "Give the location, that is."

"Holy shit," he whispered. Then his eyes widened and he looked nervously at the screen. "I guess I shouldn't say that, huh?"

A door closed in the hallway. They froze. After a split second, Kris hurriedly pulled the lid down so the computer was almost closed, to hide the glow of the screen. There was only a whisper of sound outside the door; whoever it was moved very quietly. But the footsteps moved on without pause, and after a moment came the sound of another door closing in the hallway.

"Wegotta get out of here," Kris muttered. "You got any more ideas on passwords?"

She shook her head. He swiftly exited the file, backed out of the program, and shut off the laptop. Within a minute he had reconnected the other terminal and replaced the manuals in their original position.

He crawled over to the door and poked his head up just enough to peer out the window, checking in both directions. "It's clear," he whispered, standing up and hurriedly crossing the room.

Grace dragged a chair beneath the access panel and climbed onto the seat. First she stowed the laptop and the disks in the duct, then she levered herself through the hole. Kris assisted with a boost from beneath.

She turned to reach down and grab the collar of his coveralls, half dragging him through the hole. They were both panting as they replaced the access panel and switched on the flashlight. In silence they retraced their path, both of them thinking about what they had read.

"She isn't coming tonight," Parrish told Conrad, disappointment evident in his tone. "It'smidnight ; she wouldn't expect me to work this late."

Conrad didn't reply. He watched the screen as two of the maintenance crew came down the hallway and left by the propped-open door. They appeared to be hurrying, and the woman was carrying some kind of satchel.

She was small, and had frizzy blond hair. The angle of the camera wasn't good, but something about her jawline was familiar.

A growl rumbled in his throat, and Parrish lifted questioning eyebrows. "That was her," Conrad said, already running when he hit the door.

Parrish was right behind him when he burst out the service door and ran down the short alley to the street. He looked both ways, but the sidewalks were empty. A car went by; the driver was a suited young black man, probably a junior executive who had been burning themidnight oil.

A block or so away, an engine coughed to life. Conrad ran down the sidewalk toward the sound, his shoes slipping on the snowy sidewalk. His breath fogged in the frigid air. He reached the corner in time to see a set of taillights disappear around another corner.

"Did you see her?" Parrish gasped, coming to a stop beside him. "What kind of car was it?"

"I couldn't tell," Conrad said. "But the woman was Grace St. John. She was carrying a small satchel, perhaps a computer case."

"Computer" Parrish felt his blood pressure rise. "God damn it, the bitch has been in our files!" He and Conrad hurried back to the office, shivering as the cold bit through their clothes. She wouldn't have been able to get into his password files, but it infuriated him that she had slipped past his guard, that she had been so close all that time and he hadn't known it. Damn the little bitch, how did she do it?

"Who was her friend, I wonder?" Who could she have found to help her? She wouldn't contact people who had known her before, because she couldn't be certain their first phone call wouldn't be to the police. It had to have been someone she had met afterward.

"Perhaps that is why we couldn't find her," Conrad suggested. "We have been looking for a woman alone, instead of a couple."

The idea infuriated Parrish. He ground his teeth as they walked swiftly to the computer room and he opened the door. Everything looked normal, except for a chair that was out of place.

Conrad pointed at the ceiling. Directly over the chair, a panel was slightly out of place.

"Find her," Parrish said in an almost soundless whisper. She had been there, so close; she had taunted him, coming there with another man. He didn't know yet if she had actually found anything of use in his computer system, but just the fact that she had dared invade it made him shake with rage. "Find both of them. And kill them..'

Click to listen highlighted text!