Home > Spin (Captain Chase #2)

Spin (Captain Chase #2)
Author: Patricia Cornwell

 

 

                  1

 

BLASTING SNOW swirls in my headlights like a white tornado, the run-flats pushing through unplowed powder on Wednesday morning, December 4.

     Since driving away from NASA Langley Research Center two slow miles ago, it’s as if I’m the last person left on the planet. My hometown of Hampton, Virginia, is almost in a brownout as if we’re in the middle of a war, businesses and homes I pass empty and pitch dark. Streetlights are widely spaced smudges that illuminate nothing, and I can’t make out most traffic signs until I’m on top of them.

     The Dollar General store is off to my right, dense woods to my left, Anna’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant up ahead according to the GPS satellite map. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know where I am, visibility a car length when I’m lucky. At times I can’t tell which lane I’m in as gale-force gusts send supercans airborne and tumbling, ripping holiday lights and decorations from their moorings.

     On this stretch of North Armistead Avenue alone, a Santa on his sleigh took flight from a rooftop, crash-landing in the median strip while life-size figures from a nativity scene scraped across a church parking lot. An inflated Grinch was gone with the wind after snapping his tether, and just now an American flag still attached to its pole cartwheels by in front of my Silverado.

     Trash, leaves, branches, wreaths, all sorts of things are flying about as if I’m headed to Oz in a near whiteout. It would have made sense to stay put at work. Certainly, I know better than most the importance of sound judgment. I can cite chapter and verse about human factors that will hurt or kill you, such as being sleep deprived, preoccupied and somewhat traumatized while driving in a blizzard.

 

 

              But no way I was bunking down in the NASA firehouse or on the Air Force base after an all-nighter that included an exploding rocket, and almost losing an astronaut on a spacewalk. If that wasn’t enough, I was tackled by a posse that confused me with my identical twin sister, just to mention a few solar-flaring urgencies with more on the way.

     Assuming Neva Rong is the mastermind, we’ve seen nothing yet, the tech billionaire’s agenda universal dominance at any price or sacrifice. All to say I don’t anticipate a peaceful Christmastime, maybe nothing peaceful ever again, and what I need right now is to get away from work even if for a few hours.

     I’m desperate to take off my boots, tactical clothing and gun, to shower in my own bathroom. I intend to sit in my usual chair at the kitchen counter watching Mom whip up the latest treat. It’s time we have one of our private chats, nobody in our airspace to interfere or overhear (including Dad). I’m going to make her spill the beans (as we say in the Chase family).

     But not until I first sweep the house with one of my spectrum analyzers, going room to room, walking in circles holding up various mobile antennas like Ghostbusters. I’ll make sure there are no rogue transmissions, no surveillance devices, nothing that might indicate the invisible presence of uninvited cyber spooks.

 

          Once Mom and I are alone and relaxed in our cone of silence, she’ll come clean about my missing sister. I’ll get my answer about whether Carme had anything to do with this morning’s massive cyberattack on NASA, and if she’s guilty of other crimes including obstruction of justice and homicide. I can’t know for sure she’s a good egg or bad until I verify whose side she’s really on, and whether she’s been accessing our farm in the recent past, at times using Dad’s car.

     That’s assuming my other half hasn’t been killed or captured . . .

     “Focus! Focus! Focus . . . !” I shout, startling myself as the tires fishtail on black ice, slipping sideways, the glare of my headlights reflecting off billowing snow.

     Telling myself to pay attention, I’ve never seen this part of the world so barren as I make my way home during a federal government shutdown and a nor’easter. All nonessential federal employees have been furloughed (doesn’t include me). That on top of Governor Dixon declaring a state of emergency, evacuating coastal and other low-elevation areas, everyone ordered to stay off the roads.

     But I’m not everyone as I monitor ongoing operations and disasters in outer space and on the ground. Scanning various government apps on my phone clamped into a holder on the dash, I’m careful not to outrun what I can see. I’ve got the radio cranked up, P!nk rocking my NASA take-home pickup truck when the music abruptly stops.

 

          An incoming call rings through the speakers, a number with a 703 area code, the Central Intelligence Agency, their cybercrimes division, and adrenaline jolts me into high alert.

     “Captain Chase,” I answer hands-free.

     “Calli?” to my surprise. “It’s Dick,” and I wasn’t expecting him. “How are you doing in this weather? You holding up all right?” General Richard Melville’s familiar voice surrounds me.

     “Fortunately, it’s too cold for the snow to stick all that much. But ice and wind are a bear,” I reply, not particularly friendly or answering what he asked.

     I’m in no mood for pleasantries or his personal solicitations, which are nothing more than a deflection, if not disingenuous. What I need if I’m to go on with my life are hard cold facts, the truth for once. He’s told me virtually nothing since my sister fled from the Langley hangar rooftop where she’d been hiding inside the radome.

     She vanished almost before my very eyes some 5 hours ago, and it doesn’t appear she jumped or fell. There’s no evidence she’s dead. Her body hasn’t been found. At least Dick shared that much when we were together on the second floor of Building 2101. Cheek to jowl inside Mission Control, and he showed me the photographs on his phone . . .

     The peculiar footwear pattern in snow . . .

     The tracks leading to the rooftop’s edge . . .

     The blank white ground some 30 meters (98 feet) below . . .

 

          “Have you heard anything? Are there updates since we were together last?” I ask bluntly, having no idea who else is on the line since Dick can’t bother to tell me. “Has Carme made contact? Provable contact? Regardless of what she has or hasn’t done, do we know if she’s okay? Is she safe? And why are you calling me from a CIA number?”

     “I’m bringing you into a discussion in progress,” his deep voice inside my truck sounds typically calm and matter of fact. “And I’m sorry but I have nothing to add about your sister at this time.”

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