“My father was a pretty smart guy,” she said. “If he had something important, something he was afraid other people might try to take away, he’d find a way to get it home safely.”
Sully chuckled and rapped his knuckles on the door frame as if for luck. “You can say that again. He did it more than once. But if Henriksen, or whoever killed Luka, thinks it’s here …”
He trailed off, thinking, then nodded to himself. “Maybe they burned his apartment to destroy records or notes he made since he got home, but if they’re still looking, they must be damn sure Luka didn’t bring whatever it is home with him. So let’s assume he did leave something here. Why would he do that? And where would he hide it?”
Drake had kept walking while they spoke, feeling the door and window frames, checking the curtains, testing the floor with his shoes. Now he paused and looked at Sully.
“He made it home alive,” Drake said, trying to infuse himself with the kind of fear and paranoia they believed Luka must have been feeling. “But if he thought he might not make it home—if he thought he might not make it out of Egypt alive …”
Sully nodded, pointing at him. “Yeah. That makes sense. Okay, so let’s say he did hide something, but like Jada says, he’s smarter than they give him credit for. Would he really hide it in this room? I’m going to say no.”
“Which puts us exactly nowhere,” Drake said. He ran a hand over his stubbled chin, confused and frustrated. Luka’s killers were way ahead of them, had so many more pieces of the puzzle. He and Sully and Jada were essentially starting from scratch, and they’d already nearly been murdered once.
Jada laughed softly.
Drake frowned and stared at her.
“What’s funny?” Sully asked.
She propped herself up in the bed, staring at the ceiling. She barely seemed to notice they were still in the room.
“Jada?” Drake said.
“This place is old. Faded glory, right?” she said. “But the ceiling fan—that’s pretty new. Quiet. You can barely hear it except for the swish of the air. No rattling or anything.”
Drake shot Sully a worried glance, then turned back to her. “And?”
Jada crawled onto her knees and then rose unsteadily to her feet on top of the bed. She bounced a little, smiling at them.
“Uncle Vic, turn off the fan.”
Sully made a beeline to the knob by the door, not stopping to ask why. It was clear Jada thought she was on to something.
“I talked to my dad the night before he came home from Egypt. I heard the—the fear in his voice, I guess. But at the time I just thought he was tired, y’ know? Wiped out. He was getting too old to be running all over the world at a moment’s notice. I told him I was worried about him, and he told me I had nothing to be afraid of, that he’d be okay as long as he didn’t dry up and blow away in a sandstorm. He didn’t like the heat.”
“Do you think he was trying to tell you something?” Drake asked.
“I didn’t notice it then, but yes, I think he was. In his way, without saying it, I think he was trying to warn me that he—that he might not make it back.”
She’d stopped bouncing, lost in the memory, her sadness painful to see. Sully moved to the edge of the bed and reached out, taking her hand. Drake said nothing, not wanting to interfere with a moment so intimate. This grief was between family members.
Jada looked down at Sully. “He kept complaining about the fan, Uncle Vic. I’d forgotten all about it, but now that we’re here—I’ve been trying to imagine I’m my dad, and I’m afraid and alone and talking to my daughter on the phone. I was watching the fan and thinking how quiet it is, and then I remembered.”
Drake looked up at the fan, its rotations slowing now that Sully had shut it off. He wanted to check it out, but this was Jada’s to do.
Tears had started to slip down her cheeks. She wiped at them, smiling sheepishly.
“What, Jada?” Sully prodded.
“He said he hated having the AC on, but the fan rattled so much, it was like having someone in the room that wouldn’t shut up. He said, ‘This damn thing’s got a lot to say.’ ”
Jada turned to Drake, excitement building in her now. “Those weren’t the exact words, but something like that. I know it’s not much, but it’s weird, right?”
Drake nodded to her. “Go ahead. Look.”
She took a deep breath, reached up, and began to run her hands over the tops of the fan blades, one at a time. On the third one, she froze, her breath catching in her throat. Drake heard the sound as she peeled off a scrap of paper that had been taped to the top of the fan blade.
“What does it say?” Sully asked.
Jada stared down at it, and a smile blossomed on her face. She handed the paper to Sully, who glanced at it and then passed it on to Drake.
On the tiny scrap of paper, inside a hastily scrawled heart, Luka Hzujak had written the number 271.
Drake glanced up at Sully. “Room 271?”
Jada laughed, drying her eyes. “They were searching the wrong room.”
They raced one another to the door.
Intimidation didn’t work on the front desk clerk a second time. Drake and Sully explained that the accommodations they had been given simply wouldn’t do and that Room 271 would be significantly preferable, but the clerk did not seem interested in cooperating. It had been one thing for Jada to claim she wanted to stay in the same room her father had been in, but the little man in the red jacket clearly thought that now the Americans were just being difficult or they were up to something. Not to mention that they hadn’t exactly endeared themselves to him by bullying him when they’d first arrived.
Money solved it all. Once again, Drake had reason to be grateful for his trip to Ecuador, though the money he had made on that job seemed to be vanishing faster than a magician’s assistant. The clerk kept a stern, suspicious look on his face all through their transaction but eventually produced a pair of key cards for 271 and handed them to Drake.
The little man patted the pocket of his red jacket, in which Drake’s money made a little crinkling noise.
“A pleasure doing business with you, sir,” the clerk said. He smiled, his yellow teeth like dark kernels of corn under his mustache.
“You’re a walking cliché, buddy,” Drake told him.
Jada grabbed him by the arm, tugging him away, in a hurry to get back upstairs. The clerk was taking a reservation as they departed, but he spared a glance at Drake and smiled, patting his pocket again. He gave Drake a thumbs-up.
“Bastard has my money,” Drake muttered as they hurried up the stairs. “I liked that money.”
“You’ll have a lot more than that when we track down this treasure,” Jada said quietly. “You can take your expenses off the top.”
Her tone held nothing bitter, but just hearing her say the words made him remember why they were there. This gig was costing him a lot of money and he did want to recoup whatever he could, but he felt like a jerk focusing on the money.
“Sorry,” he said as they reached the top of the stairs.
Jada touched his arm. “Don’t be,” she said, glancing first at Drake and then at Sully. “Thank you. Both of you. Whatever comes of this, I wouldn’t even have gotten this far without you.”
They passed a man wheeling a room service cart in the second floor corridor. At a bend in the hall there were floor-to-ceiling windows with a beautiful view of the lake. The late afternoon sun had turned golden, and a single sailboat moved slowly across the surface. The sight of it reminded Drake of the two cigarette boats he’d noticed earlier, but if the pair of silver bullets was still on the water, they must have moved to another part of the lake.
At Room 271, Sully held out a hand and Drake slipped him a key card. They glanced up and down the corridor. Luka’s killers had not known about whatever secrets he’d hidden in this room—they couldn’t have without finding the note on top of the ceiling fan—but Drake was feeling cautious, anyway.
“Pretty lucky this room wasn’t booked for tonight, right?” Sully asked, as if their good fortune had some other significance.
“Sometimes luck is just luck,” Jada said.
Drake nodded. “True. But we don’t usually have the good kind.”
Sully ran a hand over his face, smoothing his mustache, and then slipped the key card through the lock. Drake felt the weight of his gun against the small of his back but wouldn’t draw it without an immediate threat. The door clicked, and Sully opened it, nodding to Drake even as he held out a hand to indicate that Jada should remain in the hall. She looked as if she might burst with anticipation, but she crossed her arms and waited while they entered and did a quick check to be sure nobody was lying in wait.
“Okay, you can come in,” Sully said.
Jada strode into the room, letting the door swing shut behind her. As Sully started to speak again, she stiff-armed him, shoving him back onto the bed, and Drake burst out laughing.
“That’s the last time you treat me like the damsel in frickin’ distress,” she said, looking fierce despite her diminutive stature.
“That ain’t what it’s about, kid,” Sully said. “Nate and I—we’ve been in situations like this before.”
He started to rise, an apologetic look on his face, and she shoved him down again. Drake laughed, but he shut up when Jada shot him a bristling look. Then she drew her gun, and none of it was funny anymore.
“I know how to fight, Uncle Vic. And I know how to shoot. He might have been your friend, but he was my father. As far as I’m concerned, this little trip is my mission, not yours. I don’t work for you. I don’t take orders from you. Yes, I’ll defer to your experience, especially if whoever wants us dead takes another crack at us. But for the last time, don’t protect me. I’m not a goddamn liability, I’m an asset.”
Drake leaned against the bureau, trying not to smirk as he studied Sully. “I tried to tell you, but noooo—”
Sully glared at him. Drake shrugged.
Jada glanced back and forth between them. “We’re a team on this, or the two of you should just wish me luck and move on to your next bit of thievery for hire.”
Sully stared at the gun in her hand. Drake couldn’t blame him. She hadn’t pointed it at Sully—the barrel was aimed at the headboard—but any time an unholstered gun was in the room, you wanted to know what it would hit if someone pulled the trigger.
“Admit it,” Drake said. “We’re just so damn charming that you can’t bear the idea of being parted from us.”
Jada started to grin, then looked even more irritated that he had succeeded in defusing her righteous fury.
“You’re a couple of scoundrels,” she said.
“But charming scoundrels,” Drake replied.
When it was clear that Jada didn’t plan to shoot him, Drake started searching the room, whistling the Seven Dwarves’ work song from Snow White. Jada laughed and returned the small gun to the holster she wore under her flowing beige blouse.
“Is it safe to get up now?” Sully asked, hands raised as if he were under arrest.
“Shut up and get to work,” Jada said, wearing half a grin.
Sully stood, but as she moved away, he reached out and grabbed her, pulled her in close, and kissed the top of her head.
“It’s not that I don’t think you’re capable,” he said, his voice a rough whisper Drake could barely make out.
“I know,” Jada replied.
Drake thought of half a dozen wisecracks but said nothing. The mirror above the bureau was bolted to the wall, but he had run his fingers around it. Now he was searching the drawers, down on his knees so he could see if Luka had taped anything to the bottoms. It didn’t seem likely. If he really had expected Jada to be suspicious enough to come looking or send someone to investigate, he wouldn’t have hidden anything someplace that could easily be discovered by accident.
Sully checked the closet and then went into the bathroom. Drake heard him moving around, heard the scrape of the toilet tank lid being removed and replaced. Jada busily stripped the bed and then started to shove the mattress aside. Drake couldn’t check under the bureau—there was no room even to slide his fingers beneath it—but he dragged it out to look behind it.
As Sully emerged from the bathroom and he and Jada started going over the nightstands, Drake worked on the entertainment center. He had his hands behind the television when he realized the others had stopped working. He glanced over to see Jada and Sully staring up at the ceiling fan, but when Jada climbed onto the bed to search, she found nothing.
“He’d have been in a hurry,” Drake said, glancing around. “Nothing too elaborate. Somehow he snuck into this room. He’d have put whatever it is somewhere it wouldn’t be found easily or quickly, but he’d have known that nobody would be searching this room, so it might be he’d put it somewhere he could be sure it would be found eventually.”
“Not the safe,” Jada said. “I’m sure it’s left open before a new guest checks in.”
Sully narrowed his eyes, then turned to look at the air-conditioning unit beside the window. He hurried over to it and knelt down, prying the face panel off the machine. When he removed it, a small bundle fell to the floor.
“Bingo,” Sully said.
He picked it up and tugged off the thick rubber bands around it, and the bundle separated out into a small sheaf of folded pages and a shabby journal of the sort sold in any office supply store in the world. A piece of hotel stationery fluttered to the ground, and Sully snatched it up, gave it a quick, grim scan, and then handed it to Jada, who climbed down from the bed.
Her hand trembled a bit as she took it, but when she read, her voice was steady.