The view swiped away, and a room similar to hers materialized on the monitor—only its walls were a dark red. It was like looking through a window into a neighboring cell. But that room could be anywhere in the complex. The woman seated on the bed burst to her feet, rushed forward to fill the screen, placing a hand against it.
Lisa laid hers there, too, matching finger for finger. She imagined the warmth of the electronics came from the palm of her best friend.
“Lisa, are you okay?”
The connection cut, and the screen went black. The voice returned. “EVERY FAILURE OR DISOBEDIENCE ON YOUR PART WILL BE EXACTED UPON THE FLESH OF YOUR FRIEND. PROVE YOUR USEFULNESS, AND YOU BOTH CONTINUE TO LIVE.”
She swallowed hard, suddenly finding it too chilly in her thin gown. “What do you want me to do?”
The electronic door lock clicked loudly.
“GO OUT TO YOUR RIGHT. END OF THE HALL.”
The screen went dark.
Lisa hesitated a few breaths, but she knew she had no choice. Cooperation would buy extra time—time to find a way to escape, time for Painter to find them. She pictured her boyfriend’s face, the lock of snowy hair tucked behind one ear, the sharp intelligence in his eyes—and, most of all, the love shining in the night across a pillow.
That last, more than anything, gave her the strength to keep moving.
She stepped over to the door, pushed it open, and headed to the right. The hall held a dozen cells. She searched for Kat among them, but they all appeared empty, at least as far as she could tell.
“Kat,” she called out softly, walking slowly, swiveling her head.
No response, no face appeared pressed against a glass door.
Several of the rooms had their mattresses rolled up, giving the entire wing a feeling of disuse, but also a sense of expectation, like an empty boarding school waiting to be occupied for a new semester.
Maybe that came from the low murmur of voices ahead.
Reaching the end of the hall, she pushed through the far door into a small medical ward, the same one from the television. Crates and boxes filled one half of the space, some open, others spilling packing material and showing plastic-wrapped medical equipment inside.
The other half held the neonatal unit. A woman in scrubs spotted her and motioned her forward to join them, like one colleague greeting another.
Before she could step closer, a door on the other side of the ward opened, and a broad-shouldered older man entered, dressed in a somber gray suit, his white hair neatly combed, his manner genteel as he strode over to Lisa.
She had become rooted in place, recognizing him.
The man held out his hand, his Carolina drawl warm. “Thank you, Dr. Cummings, for agreeing to help my grandnephew.”
Lisa shook his hand, dumbfounded.
He was the former ambassador to Southeast Asia, now secretary of state—and brother to the president.
Robert L. Gant.
“Tell me,” James Gant demanded, staring off to the next room, where his daughter rested on the hospital bed. “Who’s behind all of this?”
Painter knew the next part of this discussion would take some delicacy. What transpired here was for the president’s ears and eyes only.
Him, and one other.
Jason Carter worked at the desk computer in the medical office, where Painter and the president had been holed up. His Secret Service agents continued to watch the hall, with one posted next to Amanda.
Jason finally nodded, ready to proceed. He had the necessary footage transferred and keyed up.
Painter faced Gant. “As you know, Mr. President, we already suspected the Guild had a hand in the kidnapping of your daughter.”
Gant’s eyes darkened. “I’ve read the intelligence briefings.”
“Exactly, but the Guild is not their true name. It’s more of an umbrella designation encompassing the group’s many cells around the world, a network of agents and operatives ensconced in various militaries, governments, research institutions, and financial circles. There are many levels within this organization, some go by other names, but recently I’ve uncovered a clue to the true leaders, the puppet masters of the Guild.”
Gant focused harder on him. “Go on.”
“This inner circle has also hidden under many names, burying themselves in countless secret societies to cover their footprints, going back centuries.”
“Centuries?” A skeptical note rang in the man’s voice.
“At least to the Middle Ages,” Painter confirmed. “Maybe even farther back into the past.”
He flicked a glance toward Jason. The young analyst was tracing the lineage of the Gant family deeper into history, but it was slow going, and that track grew fainter, worn away by time into mere rumor and suspicion.
“What about now?” Gant said, keeping his eye on the target. “What do you know about their operations today?”
“We know two things. First, we know they’re tied to your family.”
Gant choked slightly. “What?”
Painter forged on before he lost the man completely. “Second, we know the name most commonly associated with them is the Bloodline.”
Gant stirred at the mention of that word, plainly recognizing it. Painter was not surprised by his reaction. Amanda had known the name, too, but he wanted to hear what the president had to say.
“Director, I respect you. I owe you a great debt of gratitude, but you’re chasing ghosts. You’ve taken rumor and hearsay and added flesh and bone to it.”
Painter remained silent, letting Gant have his say.
The president continued, “Suspicions plague most rich families. Rumors wrapped in conspiracies entwined in maniacal plots. Take your pick. The Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, the Rothschilds. In the past, each one of them has been tied to secret societies and global machinations. And we’re no exception. Go ahead and pluck any card out of that conspiracy deck—Freemasonry, the Trilateral Commission, Skull and Bones, the Bilderberg Group—and you’ll find some story connecting them to our family.”
Gant shook his head, plainly disappointed. “That name—Bloodline—that’s our family’s personal boogeyman. Made to scare children into obeying. Stories about a family within our family. It’s not supposed to be mentioned beyond our doors. Growing up, I heard all sorts of tales, mostly spoken under bedcovers at night. Of people who mentioned that name too loudly—only to suddenly disappear.”
I’m sure they did, Painter thought. Likely killed or recruited into the fold.
“You’ve been hoodwinked, director. Sold a bill of goods if you’ve fallen into that conspiratorial trap.”
Painter felt the wind dying in the man’s sails, knowing now was the time. He nodded to Jason. “Bring up the footage I asked you to prepare.” He returned his attention to Gant. “Amanda described a symbol painted on that tent-cabin in Somalia. We found that same mark again closer to home. At the fertility clinic where she had her in vitro fertilization performed.”
Jason stepped back. On the monitor, Kat’s footage began to play. It showed her again rushing up to a set of large steel doors.
“Pause it there,” Painter said, fighting down a pang of worry for Kat and Lisa.
The video stopped and focused squarely on the center of the door. A large embossing stood out plainly: a crimson cross with genetic code wrapped within it. Earlier, Amanda had recognized it, claiming it was a symbol tied to the Bloodline.
From Gant’s flinch, he knew it, too. He leaned closer, his voice hushed. “Impossible.”
Painter motioned for Jason to continue the footage. “This is what that symbol hid.”
Painter didn’t watch the video. He didn’t need to see that again. Instead, he studied the president’s profile. The blood visibly drained from the man’s face. His lips parted in a silent gasp of horror.
Knowing he’d seen enough, Painter made a cutting motion across his own neck.
Jason ended the playback, leaving the president stunned.
It took a long minute for Gant to look away from the screen, to turn haunted eyes toward Painter. Behind that glassy numbness, Painter knew Gant pictured his own daughter.
To his credit, the man nodded, accepting the truth. As he stood, his voice hardened to a vengeful edge. “If you’re right, if members of my own family perpetrated such atrocities, committed such cruelties upon my daughter, I want them hunted down.” His anger focused on one question now. “Where do we start?”
Before Painter could answer, another person must have heard Gant’s rising anger and recognized it.
Everyone turned back to the hospital bed in the next room. The patient’s eyes were open. She searched blearily.
“Amanda …!” Gant rushed to her bedside, crashing to one knee to take her hand. “Baby girl, I’m here.”
Amanda found her father’s face. But rather than relief, a faint reflection of Gant’s fury shone there. Her fingers tightened on her father’s hand. She fought through the dregs of her sedation.
He consoled his daughter. “You’re going to be fine.”
Amanda wanted no such reassurances—only results.
“Daddy, they took William. They took my baby boy. You—” Her fingers clutched until her knuckles paled. “You get him back.”
The demand took the last of her strength. She stared into her father’s face, exacting a promise from him. With her duty passed on, her eyes rolled back. Her fingers slipped free.
The neurosurgeon stepped forward. “She still needs more rest.”
Gant ignored him and turned to Painter, still on one knee. His face was forlorn, but his eyes were determined.
“What must I do to get my grandson back?”
Painter pictured the video footage shot by Kane’s vest camera: showing a mouse’s-eye view from the bottom of a boat. He had watched it several times over the past half-day—the boat chase, the capture, the drugging of Gray Pierce—each time grateful for the man’s ingenuity and sacrifice in securing this secret footage. It offered them a slim chance to turn the tide against the enemy.