Tipp stepped into the Ethercom room and the gunmetal gray door sealed behind him with a quiet, sibilant hiss. On a solid black dais were two chairs. Tipp sat in one and swiveled it to face the other. He spoke to the room. “Gregory Tipp. Codename: Slalom. Priority Clearance: Indigo Nine-Two. Ethercom Access PIN: 922902293.”
The Ethercom communications system activated, and the air in the opposite chair shimmered and glittered with multicolored patterns as the holographic image of John Velvet appeared. The illusion that it was actually Velvet sitting there was almost perfect. In the dim lighting, it was an effort to notice that his outline was just slightly blurry.
Tipp put a false smile on his face. Inside he was seething with anger and eaten up with curiosity as to just who had betrayed his confidence to this man. Oh, he and Velvet weren’t friends by any stretch of the imagination, but neither were they enemies. The reality of the lives they led was something that neither man deluded himself about. Tipp knew for a fact that if it ever became necessary, Velvet would kill him with no more regret than putting out a cigarette, and Tipp would do precisely the same to Velvet if he had to. But Tipp also had a feeling he knew why Velvet had demanded this Ethercom talk.
“So what can I do for you, John? I hope you can make it quick. This Odin business has us all rather busy over here.” The sarcasm was not lost on Velvet. But he ignored it and got down to business.
“I understand a bit of activity involving a man named Dillon started the whole thing. Way I hear it, he’s been leaving a trail of wrecked vehicles and dead bodies strewn all over your stomping grounds.”
“He’s been more of a damned nuisance than anything else. I’ve wasted considerable manpower and time tracking him down. He’s blocked me at every opportunity. I gave him a chance to come clean and help me out and he gave me his cheeky arse to kiss. He’s a menace, right enough.”
“A menace that’s been busy doing your job, the way I hear it.”
“My job? How do you figure?”
“I mean that any one man who dropped the hammer on Cecil Henshaw, Alistair Frayne and Aristotle Numby is more a public servant than a menace. I’m going to drink a toast now that those three world-renowned pieces of shit have finally been flushed. Look, Greg, I don’t have any more love for Dillon than you do, but he doesn’t deserve what you’re going to do to him there at Project: 65. Let me talk to him, what do you say? Dillon and I have managed to work together in the past, and I’m sure I can get him to throw in with us on this Odin thing. Put him on and let me talk to him.”
The last thing Tipp wanted to have to admit to Velvet was that Dillon had already been under intense interrogation in the White Room. He cleared his throat. “I’m doing a preliminary investigation right now. I’d like to finish it before I let him talk to you.”
Velvet didn’t like the sound of that idea at all. “You didn’t stick him in the White Room, did you, Greg?”
“Would I do that?”
“Hell, yes. Who do you think you’re talking to?”
Tipp’s voice became harsh and brittle. “I don’t want this to turn into something ugly between us, John, especially since we’re both going to have to work pretty closely until this Odin is captured or killed. So let me clarify a few facts for you: Dillon is in possession of information vital to the security of my country. Therefore, I will question him in any manner I see fit until I am satisfied.”
“You did use the White Room on him. Jesus, Greg!”
“Why are you so interested in this one mercenary? Level with me, John. Is he one of yours?”
“I want to talk to Dillon at the earliest opportunity, Greg. I mean it.”
“This conversation is over. I see no reason to explain myself any further to you. Instead of worrying about Dillon, you’d best be more concerned as to what is going to happen the next time Odin speaks. Good day, John. I’ll be in touch.”
Upon Tipp’s return to the White Room, he found Yolanda in near darkness, reviewing the information from the interrogation. Dillon was gone. Tipp whirled upon the woman. “Where is he? What have you done with him? Why was he moved without my express permission?”
Yolanda’s voice was cold and brittle as a chunk of arctic ice. “Right after you left, he slipped into some kind of coma.”
“What do you mean, some kind of coma? A coma’s a coma!”
“Not like this one. All his life signs plummeted to the barest minimum level that life can still be supported. His brainwave activity has also been reduced to its lowest. It’s as if he’s… switched himself off.”
Tipp looked at her as if she had lost her mind. “Talk sense, woman! He’s a human being, not a blasted Vulcan out of Star Trek! Humans don’t have on and off switches!”
“Then you examine him and explain to me what’s wrong with him. That’s the only way I can describe it. It’s as if there’s some subconscious mental trigger that has thrown his body into a state of deep hibernation to prevent us from getting any deeper into his memories.”
Tipp smiled in relief. Now they were moving out of the murky overcast desert plains of mysticism and into the sun-splashed green country of rationality. “A post-hypnotic suggestion. I’ve seen the like before.”
Yolanda looked doubtful. She’d seen a technique such as the one Tipp was thinking of, but she didn’t think that applied to this particular situation. But since Tipp was the chief bottle washer, she kept her thoughts to herself and merely continued to update him. “I’ve had Dillon taken to a secure room where he’ll be isolated and monitored until I examine him.”
Tipp ground his teeth in frustration. “And how long do you think that will be?”
“I can’t even begin to give you any sort of guesstimate until I’ve thoroughly examined him.”
“I’ve got John Velvet nipping at my heels, demanding to talk to Dillon, and I can’t have that until I’ve finished with him. So here’s what you’re going to do: you’re going to figure out what he’s done, and you’re going to undo it so we can get back to interrogating him. Is that clear?”
“I won’t be responsible for any psychological damage done to that man. Is that clear? And I want it on the record that this is being done against my strongest recommendations.”
“Noted. I don’t have time to pussyfoot around with this one, Dr. Merrydew. Not when the security of the world could be at stake.”
“If that’s true, and this man has what you’re looking for, tearing his mind to bits won’t help.”
Tipp shrugged. “Won’t hurt either. You go do your job while I do mine. I’ve got to talk to the girl. Maybe she’ll be able to shed some more light on this.”
“And if she doesn’t?”
“Then you’d best make sure that the White Room is ready for her.”
Once again, Kris Quinlan found herself waiting to be interrogated by a stranger. It was becoming a cruel sort of running joke. The room she had been escorted to was small and comfortable, with no windows and no knob on her side of the door. Still, there was a rolling cart with various types of club sandwiches, snacks, cookies, bite-sized cakes and the like, and a pot of fresh hot coffee and a fifth of bourbon. Even though she didn’t like bourbon, Kris felt as if she could drink the whole bottle with a whoop and a holler. And the first day of her imprisonment, she had done just that. Upon recovering from her binge, she had found that the food and drink on the rolling cart was all fresh, having been replenished while she was passed out.
She attempted to feign being asleep, reasoning that whoever was holding her might come into her room to change the food and that would give her a chance to ask some questions. However, she actually did fall asleep and when she awoke, the food was not only again changed but several pairs of gray jumpsuits and plain white slippers had been placed near her. Kris washed up as best she could in the stainless steel sink in the corner, donned the fresh clothes, and after wolfing down several sandwiches, she hit the booze again.
And so she was still waiting, with no idea of how much time had passed or where Dillon was. For that matter, she didn’t even know if he was still alive or not. She poured herself a half glass of the bourbon and sat down, aware that she was most likely being watched by hidden cameras.
She felt shaky, yet outraged. This was becoming intolerable. In a matter of a few short days her once secure and peaceful life had been completely changed. She had been closer to death more times in the past several days than most people in their entire lifespan, and it had all been caused by one strange man who possessed the most outstanding talents, two of which were upsetting homicidal, psychotic maniacs and escaping certain death while making it look easy.
The door swung open and Kris sized up the avuncular looking man who stepped into the room. His horn-rimmed glasses and quiet brown business suit lent him the air of a boy’s school headmaster or a retired university professor. He smiled, somewhat shyly to her mild surprise, and held out a hand as he crossed the room. “I think it’s about time someone explained to you exactly what’s going on. My name is Gregory Tipp.” He shook her hand warmly, placing his other hand on top of hers in a gesture of camaraderie.
“Yes, that would be nice indeed. Can you tell me where I am?”
Tipp’s eyes became sorrowful. Kris was hard pressed to tell if he was acting or not. He certainly seemed regrettable. “I’m afraid I can’t divulge that as yet, Miss Quinlan. I’m just a go-between of sorts. My superiors send me in to ask questions, not answer them, and I take your answers back to them. They’ll go over them and once they’re satisfied as to their veracity, then they instruct me as to what information I may give you in turn. Do you understand?”
“I suppose so,” Kris said slowly. It did make sense in a way. These people operated in the shadows, that much she knew. And this man Tipp seemed so shy and quiet; he couldn’t be more than a glorified errand boy. He certainly wasn’t the brutal and terrifying inquisitor she had been expecting. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all…
“What I can tell you is that you are being held in the custody of the British Secret Service, and I can only advise you that your complete co-operation will facilitate your release that much quicker.”
“Where’s Dillon? What have they done with him?”
“Why… nothing.” Tipp blinked owlishly and smiled that shy smile again. “He’s in the infirmary now where the medical staff is seeing to his wounds. The man seems to have gotten somewhat injured in that to-do at Numby Castle.”
Tipp motioned to a couch. “Please, relax yourself and let’s go over exactly what this entire affair is about, shall we? May I freshen your drink?”
Kris nodded, held out the glass, watched while Tipp dropped several ice spheres into it, and then splashed a generous tipple of bourbon over them. He handed the glass back to her, sat next to her on the couch, and leaned forward, his eyes quite mournful and sympathetic. “First off, I want to assure you that in no way can Dillon harm you. He’s being guarded at all times and this room is on another level from the one he’s on. There’s no way he could know where you are.”
Kris frowned. “I’m very much afraid you’ve gotten your story backwards, sir. Dillon’s been no threat to me, other than the fact that I happen to be with him every time some lunatic tries to kill him.”
“Our intelligence was that he had kidnapped you from Lady Thelma Sharpe’s estate, Miss Quinlan.” Tipp removed a small notebook from an inside pocket of his suit jacket and thumbed through it. He was holding it in such a way that Kris couldn’t see that the pages were all blank. Tipp pretended to read one of the pages intently. “It would appear that we’ve been mistaken about some aspects of this business. I’m sure you understand that I must get your side of things in order to present a full report to my superiors.”
“Of course.” Kris didn’t know if the warm glow filling her stomach was the bourbon or the feeling of safety this man Tipp gave her, but she was feeling better than she had in days. “May I ask a question first?”
“Certainly. I don’t promise to answer it, though.” Tipp smiled and gave her a conspiratorial wink as if to say that he found the rules of the game as childish and petty as she did.
“Lady Thelma and Mr. Whalen were at the castle when everybody was running around shooting and killing each other. Are they—”
“Lady Thelma is alive and well. She’s safe, although she’s at another facility. Whalen was shot numerous times but he’s still alive, God only knows how. The doctors tending him are already bragging about the papers they’ll write about him. But let’s get back to you and exactly how Dillon became involved in this…”
Nine levels down, Dillon lay on a bed, connected to five or six different machines that monitored his vital functions. In addition, motion sensors would alert the staff if he moved in the slightest. Dillon had no intention of moving, and he wouldn’t for another four hours. His training had been extraordinarily thorough, not just in the martial arts, but in mental disciplines as well. His subconscious mind, aware that certain mental barriers were about to be violated, had countered by placing him in a state of self-induced suspended animation, in which his body could completely rest until his energy levels were brought back up to peak performance. His conscious mind was still active and totally aware of everything that had been said in his vicinity.
Dillon was seething with fury at the intrusion on his most painful and cherished memories. What had happened to his mother was his pain… and his alone. And the only condition placed upon him by the Phoenix Council of Shamballah when he left was that he keep the secrets of the City Eternal. Shamballah’s mysteries had to be protected at all costs, and Dillon realized that whatever records were kept of his interrogation had to be found and destroyed before he could leave Project: 65. And leave he would. And if Gregory Tipp intended to hold him, Dillon would turn this entire island into a smoking crater if he had to…
Tipp put down his coffee cup and took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes. “I must say; that’s quite the story, Miss Quinlan. Full of derring-do and cliffhanging escapades, eh?”
“I realize some parts of it must sound utterly fantastic, Mr. Tipp, but I assure you that it’s the truth.”
Tipp replaced his glasses and chuckled. “My dear girl, it’s not for me to judge the truth or falsity of your story. My superiors will determine that. But it does seem as if Dillon has been doing his best to keep you safe from harm, and I suppose we must credit him for that.”
“Mr. Tipp, exactly who is Dillon? Where does he come from? Why does he do what he does?”
Tipp shrugged and refilled his coffee cup. “I first heard of Dillon maybe ten years ago. He was in Vietnam trying to help a British industrialist find his daughter, who had gone missing in those parts. Ended up finding the girl in some lost city where a band of crazed Americans believed the war was still going on. From there, his reputation spread, and my organization began to keep a file on him. There’s hardly a country he hasn’t been in at least once. He’s regarded as one the world’s twelve most dangerous men, and he’s well respected and feared. He’s wanted by half the law enforcement agencies in the world and has aided the other half. He’s got friends and enemies everywhere. He speaks more languages than Berlitz teaches. He’s extraordinarily proficient with many weapons, and his skill in the martial arts is legendary.” Tipp paused. “As for who he is and where he comes from? That’s unknown. No one has been able to find out where he was born or what his nationality is. It’s as if he didn’t exist until ten years ago. Didn’t he tell you anything about himself?”
“To be honest, we were too busy trying to stay alive.”
Tipp laughed softly, finished his coffee, and placed the cup down. He stood up and brushed his hands together briskly. “I think we’re done here for now. I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you alone for a little bit while I report. You may want to try and get some sleep. If you need anything else, just speak out loud. You’ll be heard.”
“Hidden microphones? I thought so.”
“Of course, my dear. We are spies, after all.”
Gregory Tipp found Yolanda Merrydew in her spacious, yet somewhat antiseptic and impersonal office. Yolanda had no photographs or any sort of personal items of any sort in her workspace. She was working at her computer, completing her report of Dillon’s interrogation. Tipp knocked politely on her door before entering. “Any change in Dillon’s condition?”
“None. I’ve examined him thoroughly, and if it wasn’t for the fact that our monitoring equipment says he’s still alive, I’d sign the death certificate myself. I’ve got a few ideas about how to bring him out, though, and after I’ve gotten some sleep and a decent meal, I’ll go back to work on him.”
“Excellent. I’m going to need your Ethercom again, if I may. Some representatives from different intelligence agencies are going to come here and I need to coordinate their transportation.”
“Of course. Feel free to use any of our facilities as you see fit.” Yolanda gave Tipp a smile. In reality, Tipp didn’t have to ask her for a damn thing and she knew it. But he was asking as a way of apologizing to her for his harsh words earlier.
“Maybe I’ll try to grab an hour or two of sleep myself. And please do whatever you can to bring Dillon out of that self-induced coma. According to the girl’s story, I may be wrong about his involvement in this.”
“I’ll do my best. That’s all I can do, Gregory.”
Much refreshed and relaxed after a dinner of scampi meuniere, Yolanda and one of her assistants met at Dillon’s room. Dr. Errol Wayans was a round, intense man of average height in his early fifties. His eyes were large and watery, and his mournful, jowly face put one in mind of the late Walter Matthau. He was quite interested in Dillon’s case, as he had conducted intensive research in his younger days into just this sort of thing. He related his thoughts to Yolanda in a thick, slow voice.
“I’ve seen adepts and mystics who could do the same thing this fellow appears to have done. You would have sworn they were dead as Julius Caesar, but after a few hours, they brought themselves out of it and seemed to be healthier and more alert than before.”
“So it’s some sort of trance that speeds up and assists the healing process, then?”
Wayans nodded slowly. “It would seem so. Poisons and toxins are purged from the system as well. The subject recovers with his full strength and facilities intact. It’s really quite remarkable. Where did this fellow learn to do this, I wonder?”
Yolanda shrugged to indicate she had no idea. They came to Dillon’s room and Yolanda used her security pass to unlock the door. They entered the room where the only sound was the gentle, muted chirping of the monitoring equipment. Dillon lay on the bed like a dead man. Yolanda and Wayans spent a few minutes checking the monitoring equipment. Then they turned their attention back to Dillon. Wayans lifted one of Dillon’s eyelids and flashed the beam from a small penlight into the pupil. “Check his brain wave activity again, please. I’m getting some strange dilations here.”
“Of course.” Yolanda turned her back for maybe nine seconds to check the desired instrument, and when she turned back around, a strong hand covered her mouth. She was looking into two sparkling copper eyes. Dr. Wayans lay on the floor by the bed, unconscious.
“Do us both a favor,” Dillon suggested in a deadly whisper. “Shut off all the security systems monitoring this room and listen to me very carefully…”