Rising in the East
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James Rollins is the New York Times bestselling author of international adventure thrillers sold in over thirty countries. His latest novel, The Doomsday Key, is now available nationwide. For more information, visit www.jamesrollins.com.
"Just the one night?"
"That's right," Nick answered and slid the cash through the slot in the wall of bulletproof glass. At least he assumed it was bulletproof.
It was that sort of place. You could pay by the hour or the night. The motel's vestibule stunk of cigarettes and mildew. The glass had a prominent gang sign carved into its thick surface, either as a threat or as proof that this fine establishment had paid-in-full for the crew's protection.
It was that sort of D.C. neighborhood.
This section of the city lay within the shadow of FedEx Field, where the Redskins play. The Come-On-Inn sat between a liquor store and an adult bookshop. The U-shaped motel surrounded a small parking lot. Red doors faced the asphalt; the flicker of television lights glowed through a few of the curtains. A couple of guests lounged by open doors, music blaring, clearly drug dealers or pimps open for business as the sun set on the neighborhood.
"Room 222," the night clerk said and passed a key attached to a red plastic fob. "Second floor. Should be quiet enough." Nick took the key. He had arrived by taxi from the Baltimore airport, changing vehicles twice en route. He had stopped first at a pawnshop in Landover, Maryland, then at an electronics store in Capital Heights before circling to the motel for the night. He had used two of the stolen credit cards for the purchases. Everything was crammed into a Nike gym bag.
With key in hand, he headed back outside and climbed the cement stairs to the second story of the motel. Rusted iron railings looked out over the parking lot. Nick had asked for an isolated room, as far from the other guests as possible. He found Room 222 at the end of one wing of the motel.
He struggled with the key and had to shove the door hard to get it to open. He flicked on the light. The room was typical motel chic: a queen bed, a nightstand, a small chest of drawers, and a bathroom at the back. Everything in the room looked bolted down. The place had certainly seen better days. Wallpaper peeled and bubbled from the walls. The rug bore signs of cigarette burns, as if patrons considered this place little better than an ashtray.
Nick had to agree with that sorry assessment.
He tossed his Nike bag on what passed for the bed and checked his watch. It was past nine o'clock. He felt wired, tense—especially for a dead man. He'd taken a short nap on the plane, knowing it would be a long night. Afterward, he had used the remaining hours of the flight to plan his return to D.C.
He unzipped his bag, pulled out three items, and placed them on the bedspread: a pay-as-you-go cell phone, a new laptop, and a carbon-black Sig Sauer P226 pistol that he had bought from the pawnshop.
He set the laptop up on the chest of drawers, plugged in a wireless adaptor, and pulled up its tiny antenna. As he waited for the computer to boot up, he crossed to the bathroom. He wrapped a fist in a towel and smashed the mirror. He watched his reflection shatter and fall away into shards. It was a grim reminder of the line he was about to cross. After this, there would be no turning back.
He didn't care.
His wife was dead. Nick held out no hope that Ashleigh could still be alive. False reports had their bodies discovered amid the rubble of the Palace Station. Someone had attempted to assassinate him afterward and almost succeeded. He had barely escaped with his life—and that was while he was free and on the run. What hope was there for Ashleigh? She was already their prisoner.
They would show no mercy.
Of that he was certain.
While flying across the country, he had grown colder and more determined, drawing an icy strength from that certainty. If Ashleigh was dead, that left only one goal: to find out who was behind all of this and put a bullet through their skull.
Nothing else mattered, not even his own life.
But to achieve that goal required a risky first step.
He returned to the bed and picked up the cell phone.
It was time for Nick Roberts to rise from the grave.
Koleson Fletcher sat in his West Wing office, resting his head in his hands. It was late. He should be heading home, but as Press Secretary, he had spent many nights on the couch in his office. And after the bombing in Vegas, it was going to be one of those nights. He was still waiting for the rewrite on a speech he was slated to give to the press corps in the morning.
When his cell phone rang, he considered ignoring it, especially after checking the Caller I.D. He didn't recognize the number. Still, it was a welcome distraction, so he flicked open the phone and brought it to his ear.
The caller immediately cut in, speaking rapidly, plainly not wanting to be interrupted. "I am going to give you an address. I need you to meet me there. Alone. I'll be there for twenty minutes. After that, I'm gone."
An address followed, and the line went dead.
Kole sat stunned at the impossibility of it. He had recognized the caller's voice.
He couldn't believe his good fortune.
He reached for his desk phone, knowing that he didn't have much time, and tapped in a number he had memorized. Once the line was picked up, he spoke just as rapidly as Nick had.
"He's alive. And I have his address."