Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Extreme Makeover - Part 26 of 42

© 2008 by Henry Melton

Chapter 26: Blood
Rush hour traffic slowed their progress towards the Golden Gate Bridge. 
Luther churned away at the idea that Deena was infested with these nanobots. Intellectually, the idea was fascinating. In his gut, he was skeptical.
“Have you seen the healing happen?”
“You can see it. Here, take a look at my hand. No scar or nothing.”
“No, I mean have you watched the skin close up, before your eyes.”
Deena shivered, “I wouldn’t want to. I’m squeamish.”
He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. “I wish I could do an experiment.”
“What kind of an experiment?” Deena didn’t like the sound of his voice.
“Well, so much of this is too hard to believe. I’d really like to see it happen, right before my eyes. Then I’d believe.”
She laughed, clear and musically. “A month or so ago, our preacher talked about the people wanting a sign from Jesus. He was healing people right and left, and they couldn’t believe unless he did a specific miracle, just for them. Then they would believe, so they said.
“You’re just like them. I’m a walking miracle, but unless you can see just this one thing, you can’t believe.”
He cringed at her assessment of him, but she was right. The isotopes, the trances, the red skin when she was hot—all of those could be an elaborate scam. Listening to radio in her head, the healing, that was just hearsay.
In his heart, he didn’t believe she was capable of trying to fool him, but he had been fooled so completely by his father. I don’t trust my heart. I have to use my eyes.
“Well, are you going to pull a Jesus on me?”
Deena flushed and looked away. After a minute, she asked.
“What would this experiment be?”
“I would make a very small cut on your arm, very small, it wouldn’t hurt much at all. Then the nanobots would close up the wound and we could see what they do, and how fast.”
She winced. “I don’t like sharp things.”
“So you refuse?”
Deena crossed her arms. “I’m getting really tired of being a test subject, but okay, I’ll do it.”
Luther found the first exit and pulled off into a parking lot. He reached down under the seat.
“What are you doing?”
He pulled out a white plastic box. “First aid kit.”
Inside, among the bandages and ointments was a razor blade. She pulled away.
He explained. “It’s very sharp. A cut with a sharp blade doesn’t tear, and it doesn’t hurt as much.”
She couldn’t look away from the blade. She was frightened.
He didn’t try to rush her. “Look. I’ll do it on me first.” Carefully, he found a spot on his forearm far from any major blood vessels. With a quick slice, he made a one-inch long mark on his skin. Blood started oozing up. Hurriedly, he set the blade down and reached for an alcohol-soaked pad.
“Here, let me do that.” She took his wrist in one hand and cleaned the wound.
“How does it feel?” she asked.
“It stings a little, especially from the alcohol. Maybe a little, very little, ache.”
She applied ointment and chose a bandage strip that would match the size of the cut.
“There, you’re done.”
He flexed his arm. “Fine. No pain at all.”
The smile had come back to her face.
“Are you ready for your turn?”
“Oh, I guess. But sterilize the blade first.”
“Of course.” He unwrapped another of the alcohol pads and wiped down the razor blade.
She giggled.
“Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, sterilizing the pin before they swore their blood oath.”
He remembered the scene from the old book. “AIDS sort of put a damper on blood-brotherhood, didn’t it.”
“Things change.” She took a deep breath and held out her arm.
He gently held it and ran his finger over the skin to find the right place to make the cut. He could feel every shiver as she fought to pull her arm back.
Picking up the blade, he said, “You can close your eyes if you want.” She shook her head and stared in tight-lipped horror at the blade in his hand.
Swish. He moved the razor, but something was wrong.
Deena said, “You missed.”
“No, I didn’t.” He ran his finger over her skin at the place where the blade had stopped. There was no cut.
Cautiously, he moved the blade again, slowly. The sharp corner touched her skin, but would not go in. He pushed a little harder. It was like trying to cut a sheet of glass.
He dropped the blade and felt the spot with his index finger. Massaging the skin, he could feel a hard plate, just at the skin level. She was armored!
Otherwise, the skin was perfectly normal, soft and warm. As he probed, the hard plate shrank away, leaving no sign that there had ever been anything wrong.
Deena was looking into his eyes, trying to read what he was thinking. He held her arm, as soft and warm, as normal a girl’s arm as there ever was.
“It didn’t hurt,” she whispered.
He just held her arm, and stared at her face.
“You’re right. Your hair is growing longer.”
She blushed, and then gently removed her arm from his hand.
They followed the traffic onto the Golden Gate Bridge.
Deena looked out his window and then hers, trying to take in as much of the white stone city and the blue bay as she could.
“That’s Alcatraz Island over there,” he pointed out his window.
“I wish we had time to see the sights. Mom and I never went anywhere, at least the past few years.”
“Maybe we’ll come back some time.” He said, before he recalled his intention to part company with her once they made their ‘rescue attempt’ in Malibu.
Every mile we go is more dangerous for her. I wish I could talk her out of it.
He automatically followed the Highway 101 signs. Probably IH-5 would get him to Malibu quicker, but he didn’t want to dig out his maps, not in this traffic.
What he wanted to do was to talk about her nanobots. But she had withdrawn and didn’t seem to want to talk at all.
Did she see what I did? The tough skin didn’t seem to surprise her any.
Deena watched the city roll by slowly. After a few miles of watching the bay, she raised her head. Pointing off to the west, she said, “Go that way.”
By that time, the 101 had turned back into a limited access highway. Luther noted the IH-280 exit and moved to the correct lane.
With every evidence of anticipation all over her face, she watched the road signs. “That way.” She pointed. South on IH-280.
She’ll explain it soon enough. Or else he would start pestering her about it. San Francisco wasn’t one of the places he knew by heart. She said she hadn’t gone anywhere, but maybe she knew of a place from TV or the Internet.
He hurried to shift lanes as she directed them to Highway 1, and then 35. There was a bank of fog rolling in from the ocean. He caught a whiff of cool salt air through the vent. From sunlight to shade happened quickly.
The road quickly curved over to follow a long straight lake. It was deeply blue with high hills on both sides.
Deena pointed to a gateway in the fence. “Stop here.”
He pulled off the shoulder. She was out and through the gateway before he could ask what she meant. 
He looked around. His valuables were already in the trunk, but he put a few things out of sight and locked the doors.
An elderly man with a dog was coming out of the gate.
“What’s this place?” Luther asked.
“San Andreas Lake, and the hiking trail.”
“You mean like the fault line?”
“Yeah. The fault formed this place.”
Luther was intrigued. He had heard about the San Andreas fault all his life. So, this was it, or part of it. He was willing to take a closer look.
The sun was setting, off to the west, but there was still plenty of light. He looked down the trail.
“Deena?” She was nowhere to be seen.
She stood at the gates of the Dark Castle. Black lightning struck all around her. In her hand, she held a steel gray broadsword longer than she was tall.
The Voice cried out, and although it wasn’t for her ears to hear, or her mind to comprehend, she knew what she had to do.
The ground beneath her shivered with each step, and she knew that this was no ordinary rock which formed the foundations of the Dark Castle.
It was a sleeping dragon.
Taking the broadsword in both hands, she stabbed it deeply into the dragon’s heart.
Deena was down the water’s edge. Luther called to her, but she didn’t react.
Oh, no. She’s off in a trance again. He hurriedly followed her path.
She faced the water and raised her arms.
Luther saw it happen. For an instant, it was incomprehensible. Dark patches forming all over her skin.
Then they started dripping off of her.
No! She’s bleeding to death!
He exploded into a run and closed the gap between them.
It’s not blood. In the fading light of the day, the thick substance had looked like blood, but closer, he could see it was gray.
She swayed, and then collapsed. He rushed to grab her, fearful of touching the nanobot goo.
But the droplets ran quickly to the ground and vanished into the soil. Not a hint of their passage was left.
Deena blinked her eyes. “Luther?”
He eased her gently to the ground. Her head lolled to the side.
“Oh, Luther, I’m so tired!”
“Just take a moment. It’s okay. Just rest.”
She closed her eyes, and then opened them again with a horrified expression on her face.
“Oh Luther! The voices are gone. The radio voices in my head! I can’t hear them anymore.”
At first, he thought she was choking, but the sound coming from her throat was a wail of despair.
She reached for him, and collapsed tearfully into his arms.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Extreme Makeover - Part 25 of 42

© 2008 by Henry Melton

Chapter 25: Hair
The afternoon sun highlighted Deena’s hair. Luther tried to ignore it. She didn’t understand his feelings about the gold coins.
He was in a fight for his life. The other side had money and power, and the sleepless persistence of an organization. He was one person, and for two years the only thing that let him keep nimble and ahead of those who wanted him dead was his ability to turn gold into cash.
Money bought food and gas. Ready cash meant not having to get a job, a bank account—a routine.
Deena was just a naive kid, still wanting to play by school playground rules.
Her hair caught his attention again. Something wasn’t right.
Blushing, she asked. “What are you looking at?”
“Something’s different about your hair.”
She pulled down the sun visor, which in her family car had a mirror clipped to it. But not so on the Chevy.
Deena grabbed his center-mounted rear-view mirror, and before he could protest, twisted it around so she could see herself.
Luther twisted his head around, trying to check the traffic behind him. He moved to the right hand lane, grabbing the mirror back from her, straitening it back to where it was supposed to be.
“Don’t do that!” He looked for a place to pull over.
Deena was frantically looking for another mirror, tugging at her hair.
Finding a wide shoulder, he pulled to a stop.
“All right! What’s the problem?”
“Look! She tugged at her hair. Her brown hair was growing out blonde. Slightly less than an inch was the new color.
“Hmm,” he said. “I’ve heard of blonde’s hair growing dark at the roots, but this is the first I’ve heard it the other way around.”
Deena leaned over into his half of the seat, so she could see herself in the mirror.
“That’s because their blonde hair wasn’t their natural color. If they went too long without fresh coloring, their natural color grew back out.
“But I’m naturally brown haired. This is impossible.”
He laughed. “That’s my line.” He gently pushed her back to her side of the car. Not that having her in his lap was unpleasant, but he couldn’t drive that way.
“So, this isn’t a catastrophe? Not something worth crashing the car over?” he asked pointedly.
“Okay! I’ll leave your mirror alone. It’s just...startling.”
“But all you have to do is get some brown hair coloring and rinse it back to normal then?”
“Oh, no! I’ve wanted to be a blonde for years. I’m going with it! Let’s get to a store. I need a comb, scissors and a mirror.”
An hour later, Luther stood behind her at a picnic table in a city park. He grabbed some of her hair with the comb, following her detailed instructions. Pulling it out until the color changed, he snipped off the brown, leaving the lighter colored hair beneath.
“Let me look.”
They had two hand mirrors, so she could see behind her. “Take just a little more off here.” She fingered a tuft that was still brown tipped.
Snip. “That ought to do it. But don’t gripe about the cut. This is not my thing.”
He thought she looked a little punkish, with her head sheared so close, but she wanted all the brown gone.
His hand rested on her shoulder, marveling at how excited she was over a simple color change.
“Don’t you think I look like Bryony now?”
He didn’t see it. “Not until you lose about fifty IQ points.”
She slapped at his hand. “Bryony isn’t stupid at all. She’s very perceptive when it comes to people.”
Luther put his hands in his pocket. Deena combed at her new hairstyle.
“I’ll grant you she has great social instincts. But you—I can talk to you.”
Deena said, “It’s growing.”
They were getting closer to San Francisco, traveling the highway through hilly grasslands. The forest was long gone, except for a few protected stands deep in the ravines. The traffic was demanding more of his attention and he had to keep his eyes on the road. “What’s growing?”
“My hair. It’s longer now.”
“In just one hour? It has to be an illusion.”
“No. I thought so too, but I’ve been watching it.” She set aside the mirror.
He gave her a few, one-second examinations. It looked longer to him as well.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said. “The weirdness all started when that tree fell on me.”
“Tell me about it.”
She tried to put her mind back to that day.
“I was having a hard time keeping up with you guys.” She told about her shortness of breath and how the lightning flashed and the tree came down on her.
“I think the healing started right away after that. I had horrible bruises and bad pain in my back that first night, but they went away very quickly.”
“Okay,” he said, “then go back to the tree fall itself. Tell me every little thing about it.”
When she got to the tree sap, he stopped her.
“What tree sap? I don’t ever remember redwood tree sap. What was it like?”
“Well it came in droplets. Thick ones. I thought for sure it would stick and stain my skin and raincoat, but it seemed to melt away. I looked for signs of it later, but there were none.”
“Color? Smell?”
“No smell, that’s strange isn’t it? Redwood is so aromatic. It was gray. A thick sort of gray-goo.”
The Chevy swerved as he brought it back into his lane.
“Luther? What’s wrong?”
He found a drive-in where they could order burgers for Deena’s insatiable appetite and where he could think. These were particularly greasy. She devoured hers.
Luther stared vacantly out the windshield as he tried to remember.
“I had a theory you were psychic. Everyone from Charles Forte to Steven King tell stories about girls who manifest strange talents after an injury.”
Deena shrugged. “I could live with being psychic.”
He shook his head. “Now I think it’s something else.”
His forehead was wrinkled. “I’m trying to remember the title of the book. I read a lot of books on the road. Libraries were a comfortable place to relax out of sight.
“One of them was about nanotechnology.
“I’ve heard the word,” she said, popping a french fry into her mouth.
“It’s about building very small machines. Some of them could be so small that they could work inside living cells.”
She stopped still. “You mean, like going inside hair cells and turning off the pigmentation?”
“Right! Or locating damaged cells and repairing them. Muscles could be restructured for greater efficiency. Blood could be routed closer to the skin for greater cooling.”
Deena ate another fry. She stared off at nothing in particular. “Machines need energy. I had a lot of useless fat.”
Luther tapped the dashboard for emphasis. “And, these machines would need lots of trace elements to build more of themselves as they were needed.”
“The zinc?”
“Why not? Think Legos, only very tiny ones made of atoms instead of plastic bricks.
“A particularly sophisticated version might need one isotope over another. Working down at the atomic levels, a machine like that could easily sense which elements were which. They would have to, to manipulate them.”
Deena asked, “So, you’re saying that I’ve been invaded by an army of little machines that is changing my body?”
“I’m not saying anything. It’s too fantastic. But it’s the best theory yet. It explains so much.”
She tried to visualize it—zillions of tiny machines in her blood and throughout her cells, making changes. She shivered.
“Now in this book, there was a doomsday warning.”
She paused over the next fry. “Now you tell me!”
“Listen up, Blondie. The idea was that these machines, these ‘assemblers’ could get out of whack and start doing nothing but make more copies of themselves.
“With enough available energy and raw materials from the environment, these runaway assemblers could turn the whole planet—rock, forest, people—into gooey mass of themselves. It’s called the ‘gray goo’ problem.”
Deena put her words together carefully. “So, you think I could turn into a blob of these ‘assemblers’ and destroy the world?”
He shook his head. “No, I don’t. What’s happening to you is too controlled, too precise. If you are infected with these nano-robots, then they are taking a great deal of care to protect your health.
“But just think. That great old redwood could have been infected. When the lightning struck, the nanobots bailed out in mass and rained down on you as your ‘tree sap’? They soaked into your skin and set up housekeeping.
“They trimmed the fat, made you sensitive to trace elements, and improved your body. Perhaps they’ve even activated a telepathic sense. Maybe that’s what they use to communicate with each other.”
Deena nodded. “That’s why I kept going back to that grove in the redwoods. Old home week. They wanted to talk to their family.”
“They are also communicating with you.”
“Sure. How else did they make you sleepwalk, or how else did they know you wanted blonde hair?”
“Well, they’re not very talkative.”
“Maybe you’re just not listening.”
She sipped on her chocolate malt. “I’m not listening to you anymore. I’ve got to think about this.”
“Good enough. It’s just a theory anyway. Without a powerful microscope, we have no way of knowing for sure.” He disposed of the trash and pulled back out on the highway.
“It’s not telepathy,” she said a couple of minutes later.
“They don’t use telepathy. Telepathy is used by living things; it is not bound by time and space. The nanobots use radio.”
The car slowed as Luther let pressure off the gas pedal. “So you think it is nanobots? How do you know this? And how do you know about the telepathy?”
Deena shrugged. “I just know it. It’s like the isotopes, or the calculations. I’m certain your nanobot idea is more than just a theory.”
She shook her head. “It’s strange. Now that I know what to call them, it all makes perfect sense. It’s like listening to a foreign language. Once you get the vocabulary words, a bunch of noise becomes sentences.
“I’m infected by nanobots. How strange.”
Luther was trying to put the pieces together himself.
“Radio? You are sensitive to radio?”
“Yes, but I knew that part already. It was the telepathy bit that just popped into my head.”
Luther was having trouble driving, and coping with the new information at the same time.
“Slow down. Calculations? Radio? Start from the beginning and tell me everything.”
Deena explained the instant calculator gift. He quizzed her with a few factorials.
“1,307,674,368,000, but that’s the last one!” She looked irritated. “Don’t think you can push my buttons just for entertainment.”
“Well, you can answer fast, but without a calculator, I can’t check your answers, but let’s just assume it works. Information flows pretty efficiently between you and the nanobots. At least numbers and math concepts. I’d guess machines would have no problems with those.
“What about the radio?”
She shook her head at the memory.
“Voices in your head can be scary.”
“You can just listen to radio, directly?”
“Yes, although I’ve gotten pretty good at tuning it out. It about drove me crazy.”
A piece of the puzzle dropped into place. He snapped his finger. “So you listened in on my cell phone calls!”
“Yes, only your side, though.” Defensively, she added, “I didn’t have any choice, at first. The signals came blasting in on me.”
Luther was greatly relieved. Biological radio he could handle, but having Deena able to read his mind was too uncomfortable. He had been feeling like he had to keep his every thought under control. He was free again.
But there was something odd.
“Wait a minute! When did you ask them about the telepathy?”
She shook her head, “I didn’t really. You mentioned telepathy back at the drive-in. I thought about it then.”
“And then you got your answer a couple of minutes later. Do you know what that means?”
She shook her head.
Luther kept his eyes on the road, but in his mind, they were far away.
“If the nanobots use radio to talk to each other, then your question went off to them at the speed of light. It took them two minutes to answer. Two minutes is too close for another planet, but way too far away for any place on Earth.”
Deena absorbed the idea.
“A spaceship? You mean they really are aliens? Alien machines inside me?”
“Don’t ask me. You’re the one they talk to.”
She was quiet for a little bit. “They’re not talking. But then, they never do.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

Extreme Makeover - Part 24 of 42

© 2008 by Henry Melton

Chapter 24: Calls
Mara Brooke rushed to the door. “Yes?”
A large man in a black suit opened his wallet to show a government ID. “Thompson, FBI. This is Boyer.” The other man nodded, stone-faced. “Can we talk?”
She let them in. Her only question spilled out of her. “Is it Deena? Have you heard anything?”
“Your daughter, Ma’am?” he asked.
“Yes. She’s been gone a whole day now! That Jennings boy took her away.”
He pulled out a photo. “Do you recognize this person?”
Mara nodded. “That’s him. Younger, but that’s Luther Jennings.”
“I’m afraid not, Mrs. Brooke. This is Luke Haskell. His father, a contract worker at a Nevada military base, is suspected of removing classified documents. The FBI is attempting to locate the boy. We believe he might still have them in his possession. Any help you might give us would be greatly appreciated.”
Mara babbled on, protesting Deena’s innocence and detailing her deepest fears about the untrustworthy boy, and his deceitful aunt. With little prompting, she gave a detailed replay of her visit to Katy Ferril’s house.
“But no one can find either of them. I’m afraid it’s a kidnapping plot to steal away my Deena.”
He nodded. “Do you have a recent photo of your daughter?”
“Oh yes.” She jumped up and returned with the senior class photo proofs she had never returned. He took one and peered at the image of the timid, hunched over, fat girl. His expressionless eyes made no judgment, but he memorized the hair, eyes, and face. 
“May I keep this? I’ll return it when our investigation is done.”
Deena ate two burgers. Luther had trouble working through one of them.
He’s upset about his parents. She thought of her own mother.
He looked up from his fries. 
“I need to make a phone call. I promised to call my Mom. She’s probably worried sick about me.
“Could I use your phone?”
He shook his head. “I don’t have it. It’s back in Crescent City.”
“Oh, no. It isn’t. You’d dropped it at school. I picked it up. It’s in the car.”
He sat straight upright. “What! Oh no.”
Grabbing her arm, he pulled her outside. “Show me the phone!”
“Okay.” She jerked loose from his grip. “Don’t get so huffy!” She rummaged through the back seat. His tidy packing had become tumbled by her repeated dressing back there.
“Here it is. Good as new.” She handed it over.
He took one glance at the blank screen and then unclipped the battery. “Do you know if it was turned on?”
“No, I don’t. Why?”
He looked at the phone in one hand and its battery in the other.
His voice was tense. He explained, every word hard and clear. “Because a cell phone can be tracked, just by being turned on! Every cell tower talks to every phone in range. The system has to know which tower is closest to each phone, otherwise it wouldn’t be able to complete the call.
“Somewhere in the phone company computers, a log of all these connections is kept. Someone with a court order, or a bribe, can locate any active phone.
“I dropped this in the grass on purpose, the instant I knew I had to get out of town. I didn’t want to be tracked.”
Deena could see him holding in his anger.
“I didn’t know,” she whispered. “So they know where we are?”
He held up the battery. “If the phone was on, they can know we headed south. At least until the battery went dead. If it was turned off, then we are still safe.”
She frowned. “Can’t you just.... Oh. No, you can’t just turn it on to see if the battery is still charged. That would give them a signal, wouldn’t it?”
Luther nodded. “But it was off. They won’t know how far we’ve come.”
He tossed the phone and its battery back into the car.
Deena asked, cautiously, “I still need to call Mom. I promised. There’s a pay phone over there.”
He shook his head. “Your mother’s phone bill would have its number. A reverse-lookup would give them this exact location.
She understood the problem. “Then I can’t ever call her? I wish I hadn’t said anything, then.”
He watched her for a moment. She felt like a bug under a microscope. What could he be thinking?
His shoulders sagged. “You made a promise. There may be a way. But we’ll need to get to a bigger city to make it happen. Come on.”
The dog scratched at the door again. Katy sat up on her bed when she heard the sound of a key in the lock.
The black beast pushed the door open and rushed her, mouth open. She jumped up on her bed, but he got his teeth on her arm.
For just an instant, she felt the agony as his jaws tightened and his teeth sank deeper into her flesh. Then the dog obeyed and released her. Blood and pain oozed from her arm.
Leo Dryer patted his pet’s head and handed him a treat.
“Here.” He tossed her a towel. “Better stop that bleeding before it gets all over everything.”
Katy dabbed and wrapped the gashed arm. It burned from the laceration. She cried from the pain.
Leo pulled up a chair and sat comfortably while she worked. Ruben, the dog, sat quietly by his side.
“So, you have been helping the Haskell boy in Crescent City, have you? Mr. Benedict wouldn’t be pleased to hear of such disloyalty in one of his former employees.”
Through clenched teeth, chattering from shock, she said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, don’t play games. Thompson has called this morning. He told me all about your little visit with Mrs. Brooke and her daughter—Deena is it?
“The sooner you tell me where he is, the less likely Thompson will have to...question...your new friends.”
Boyer monitored the radio scanner while Thompson scanned the schoolyard with binoculars. He checked one blonde teenage girl after another, trying to match what he was seeing with the photo they had gotten after doing an Internet search on “Bryony Sawyer”.
Thompson’s FBI credentials were good enough to bluff an old lady, but he didn’t want to risk them going through the school’s office staff. Educators were more paranoid about risks to children these days.
He needed to get the Sawyer girl alone.
Boyer sat up straight in the car and started the engine. “Our tap is hot. A call’s coming into the Brooke phone. It’s from the 801 area code—Utah.”
Thompson put down his glasses and buckled his seatbelt. The girl would just have to wait.
Deena heard her mother’s voice through the noisy connection. “Hello?”
“Hi, Mom. It’s me. I’m fine.”
“Deena! Where are you? I’ve been worried sick.”
“I can’t tell you, Mom. I just wanted to call and tell you everything is fine.”
“You get home right this instant! If that boy....”
“Mom, I’ll be a few days. Luther has been a perfect gentleman.”
Across the table at the coffee shop, Luther was counting down seconds on his fingers.
“He can’t be trusted. People were here....”
“Mom, you raised me to be a good girl. Trust that you did a good job! Don’t worry. I love you. Bye.”
She set down the phone. Luther tapped a key on his laptop computer.
“Was that okay?”
He nodded. “Short, no details. It was fine.”
Deena sipped on her bitter coffee. “The call was real noisy, but it worked.”
“I’m surprised it worked at all. Voice-over-IP needs consistent bandwidth to keep the audio from breaking up. I’ve used these Free Internet hotspots before, and the network quality is erratic. At least you don’t have to use your credit card to get a connection.
“As long as I’ve got the setup working, I should probably try to call Katy.”
He made the connection to the anonymizing proxy in Poland. From there, he activated the VoIP software and picked up the phone he had plugged into his laptop’s adapter. He dialed the Malibu number and a computer system in Utah connected his Internet signal to the telephone network.
“Yeah?” A man’s voice answered.
Luther hung up immediately. 
Deena looked puzzled.
“She’s not at home.” He looked grim.
Deena took his hand and squeezed it. Luther came out of his dark thoughts and began packing up the laptop and the VoIP interface box.
“You’re worried about her.”
He nodded. “My brain knew she was in deep trouble, but somehow I hoped.... I felt like she had eluded Thompson and was just waiting it out.
“I guess I was wrong.”
Deena asked, “Who is this Thompson?”
“Muscle for Leo Drye, who in turn is under Angelo Benedict. Dad was part of that organization, somehow, and they killed him.”
“And now they have Katy?”
He nodded.
“What do they want? What’s so important to them?”
Luther picked up his gear and said, “Come with me.”
In the parking lot, he opened the trunk and put away his computer gear.
“Look here.” He slid one box off of another and opened the lower one a few inches.
Deena looked in. There were stacks and stacks of little plastic trays. Each contained several gold coins.
Luther gave her a good look, then closed the box and stacked the other items on top of it.
“How much?” Deena asked.
“Let’s get moving first.”
“When I first counted it, I thought two million dollars in gold was the reason Benedict’s men killed my father. Now I’m not so sure.”
They were moving slowly in city traffic. A few hours to the south was San Francisco and they were in one long chain of urban development along the highway.
“Because two million dollars is nothing to a man like Benedict. Perhaps it was his private coin collection and he was personally offended, but I don’t really buy that. There aren’t any really rare coins in there. It’s just typical bullion coins. He probably had that as a little insurance policy. It’s the only handy way to carry untraceable money around.”
“Why untraceable?”
“Gold is gold. There aren’t any serial numbers on coins like there are on paper currency, and there are gold dealers all over the world who will give you the current going price, no questions asked. For a man like Benedict, who probably has his own private plane and doesn’t have to deal with airport security guards, it would be a way to move value around freely, without banks making a record of it.”
“You could give it back to him.”
Luther shook his head. “No. Never! He killed my parents.”
“Not even to buy your own safety, or Katy’s freedom?”
Luther clenched his teeth. “No. Deena you don’t know these people. They don’t think like you do. They kill people. Why would they honor any trade deal with me? They would take the money and then ‘tidy up the loose ends’. That’s you and me.
“No deals with Benedict or any of his goons.”