Covert Game:GhostWalkers #14

By: Christine Feehan

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I couldn’t have written this book without the guidance of Dr. Christopher Tong. Thank you for allowing my heroine to take on your background in education and creativity in artificial intelligence. I appreciate the time you took helping me to understand so much about that field and machine learning. Thank you Neil Benson of Pearl River Echo Tours for patiently taking me into the swamp and showing me all the cool places where you grew up. I appreciate you giving me a love and understanding of the state, the swamp and the invaluable lands as well as the people. As always, thanks to Sheila English and Kathie Firzlaff for getting me through such a terrible loss and Brian Feehan for keeping me on track. I couldn’t do this without Domini Walker and Denise Tucker. Thank you to both of you.



THE GHOSTWALKER SYMBOL DETAILS





THE GHOSTWALKER CREED

We are the GhostWalkers, we live in the shadows

The sea, the earth, and the air are our domain

No fallen comrade will be left behind

We are loyalty and honor bound

We are invisible to our enemies and we destroy them where we find them

We believe in justice and we protect our country and those unable to protect themselves

What goes unseen, unheard, and unknown are GhostWalkers

There is honor in the shadows and it is us

We move in complete silence whether in jungle or desert

We walk among our enemy unseen and unheard

Striking without sound and scatter to the winds before they have knowledge of our existence

We gather information and wait with endless patience for that perfect moment to deliver swift justice

We are both merciful and merciless

We are relentless and implacable in our resolve

We are the GhostWalkers and the night is ours

1



Zara Hightower stepped into the town car with tinted windows, sliding along the leather seat, positioning her briefcase at her feet on the floor. She gave the man who slid in beside her a small smile and looked out the window, ignoring the way her heart wanted to accelerate. It was always this moment, when she was so close to her goal, when her body wanted to betray her. She never let it. Never. She was very, very good at staying in control. Breathing. Keeping her heart rate perfect, adrenaline at bay.

The car moved forward, and her head went up alertly. “Wait. I need my interpreter. She always travels with me.”

The car kept moving. The man beside her, Heng Zhang, turned his head and gave her a small, polite smile. “Miss Hightower, you do not need an interpreter. I speak English.”

“I’m aware that you do, Mr. Zhang, but I require my own interpreter. I made that very clear to Mr. Cheng when he invited me. I was given assurances when I agreed to speak with his people. I’ve turned down his request four times, and will do so this time as well if you don’t stop this car immediately, turn it around and get her.”

She kept her voice smooth and even. She had a certain reputation to uphold. She never lost her temper. She never raised her voice. She was always polite. She cut people down sweetly, so sweetly they almost didn’t realize at first that she was telling them off. She was an expert at that as well. Seeing as how she was considered one of the world’s leading minds in the field of artificial intelligence, those around her should expect that she could hold her own with anyone, but they always took one look at her and judged on appearances. Like now. Zhang made the mistake of looking her up and down and giving her a look that said she was nothing in his eyes before turning away from her and looking out the window.

In her head, she went through the moves that would end his life and then the driver’s. She would use one hard-edged chop to the throat, hard enough to drive through the trachea. Or she could just scratch his arm accidentally. Smile and apologize. Then, when he slumped on the seat, for good measure she could follow up by taking his gun and shooting the driver in the back of the head, shooting Zhang to be certain and then taking control of the car. One, maybe two seconds was all she’d need.

Zara sat very still, appearing as she always did. She looked like a beautiful model with her long legs, oval face, flawless skin, large slate blue eyes and long red gold hair that fell down her back, thick and unusual, sheets of it falling below her waist, looks that most reporters ended up commenting on when they should be listening to what she had to say. Still, her looks enabled her to get her work done. She shouldn’t complain. It was her looks that often kept her alive.

She turned her head and looked out the window, resisting the impulse to kill Zhang for his smug, superior attitude. They probably had a camera on her. She let her mind drift, uncaring of the direction they were taking her. She knew where Cheng’s lair was. He was famous in the district, his building a fortress. The government tolerated him because he paid them well and gave them all sorts of reasons to keep him protected. Cheng bought and sold secrets and shared them often enough with the government to buy their protection.

Once at the facility, the car pulled into the underground parking garage, went through three guard stations and pulled right up to a private elevator. Zhang got out first and went around to her door. For a split second, Zara debated whether or not to have it out with them right there in the parking lot by refusing to move from the car. She knew they would force her, but she also knew they wouldn’t kill her.

Cheng needed her. He wanted the information she had. He had kept doubling the price each time she refused to come to his private facility to give her talk on the VALUE system, as she called her project, and its uses in the business world. He thought he had bought her with his more than generous offer, the one that would set her up for life if she accepted it—or get her killed.

She slid out of the car without looking left or right, and followed Zhang into the elevator. Neither spoke as they were whisked up to the middle floor where Cheng waited for her. She was stopped as she stepped off. Two guards with automatic weapons took her briefcase and pointed to a door. She stepped through it into a narrow cubicle. Immediately her entire body was scanned for listening devices, weapons and cameras, anything that might harm Cheng in any way.

Zara knew Cheng was paranoid, and deservedly so. He had his hand in every criminal activity around the globe that had to do with running guns, drugs or political secrets. He had top minds working for him developing all kinds of weapons that he sold on the black market. What he didn’t develop, he stole. She knew every paper in her briefcase would be scanned and copied before it was returned to her. She’d come prepared for just such a thing. Those papers were “encrypted.” No one could break the code because there wasn’t one. In reality, the code was nothing but sheer gibberish, but it would give Cheng’s people something to keep them busy.

She was taken from the cubicle and marched through an open floor where there were several desks leading the way to Cheng’s office. He stood in the doorway, all smiles, as if she should be pleased to meet him even though he’d broken their rules.

“Miss Hightower, how good of you to come,” he greeted.

She stopped moving a few feet from his office, forcing Zhang and the two guards to stop as well. “My interpreter?” She didn’t smile. She kept her gaze fixed on Cheng without blinking, something she’d practiced for a long time. She was very good at it.

“I’m sorry.” Cheng didn’t sound in the least remorseful. “You must understand I have many enemies. I don’t, as a rule, allow any outsider into these facilities. There are always industrial spies. We won’t need an interpreter.”

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