Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon

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Jack Be Nimble Book 3: th e C r yst a l F a l c o n by B e n E n g l i sh

Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon Ben English This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living, dead, undead, or wandering the streets of San Francisco, would be pretty amazing, now, wouldn’t it? Copyright © 2011 by Ben English All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical without the express written permission of the author. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author. Cover art modified, original photo property of Victoria Moran Flynn. Crystal falcon, recovered near WWII-era shipwreck in sovereign Philippine waters. Published in the United States of America. English, Ben E. (Ben Emery), 1971 Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon / Ben English -1st ed. 1. Novelists—Fiction. 2. Crime—Fiction. I-Title. ISBN-13: 978-1466422322 ISBN-10:1466422327 ebook ISBN: 978-1-4660-0738-3

Visit the author’s website: www.BenEnglishAuthor.com

T h e Jac k B e n i mb l e Se r i e s

Ga r g oy l e T yro T h e C rys ta l Fa l c o n A L io n ab o ut t o r oa r (coming Chr i stmas 2011)


This one’s for Ryan Amber English my daughter who shines and shines and shines.



Contents Foreword 9 Five Ghouls and a Specter


Cayo Verad


Creative Anachronism


Hit ‘em Where They Ain’t


Second Story Work


Playing the Long Game


Microcapsule 73 Trajectory and Resonance


Coldest Winter of His Life


Little Black Dress


Legend 140 The Epicure


Combinations 152 Reception 159 Limits 177 Short Skirt, Long Jacket


A Cupful of Ink, the Revel, an End of Us, and Mercedes’ Idea 197 Burner 201 Send 203 When the Wheel Comes Round Again


Outflanked 218 No Epiphany Required


End Notes


Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon


Written on a playbill for a production of Cyrano de Bergerac, in an elegant hand Havana, Cuba An hour before sunrise


here is no evil worse than what men can do, but there are things in this world darker than the deep, sweet night.

My name is Peter Dalton, and I’ve known Jack since he was very

young. We even resemble each other a bit, though he keeps me around for the other ways in which I am most useful to the team. I have an affinity for the dark and hidden places of the earth, and I’m good at discovering secrets. Forgive me for being less than forthcoming, but after all, this is not my story, it is Jack’s. The events of the past few days have already been described in the books Gargoyle and Tyro. If you read them, you already have an idea of the gravity of the situation. What appeared at first to be a sensational kidnapping of someone close to Jack has quickly unraveled into a conspiracy far worse. Alex Raines, the leader of an international technology firm, is making full use of all his resources to introduce grand chaos into the world, and I fear that is just the start. I fear that Raines is not insane. Jack and the team chased the agents of Raines across the globe, from Europe to the New World. In San Francisco, I was able to meet two of 9

Ben English the killers sent by Raines against a scientist who knew too many secrets. They did not leave my city. I found Jack, alone, in Southern California. There is a woman there, Mercedes Adams, who possesses a few secrets of her own, and a history with Jack—the events of Gargoyle and Tyro describe this. If you are not familiar with these volumes, you should read them before attempting to navigate this tale. At the moment, we are gathering information and clues as quickly as possible—much of the team is in Cuba, attempting to shore up security measures for the celebration marking the start of the international Goodwill Games, while Jack and Alonzo are following instinct, chasing down a lead. Why was Mercedes Adams targeted for assassination, and what is the connection between her and Alex Raines? And why does Jack’s heartbeat quicken whenever thoughts of her cross his mind? Are you ready? It’s getting darker. Pray you may see straight through the fog and cloud rack.


Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon

Jack Be Nimble Book three: The Crystal Falcon

The dance of battle is always played to the same

impatient rhythm.

What begins in a surge of violent motion is always reduced

to the perfectly still.

- Sun Tzu

“Come a day there won’t be room for naughty men like us to slip

about at all. This job goes south, there well may not be another. So here is us, on the raggedy edge. Don’t push me, and I won’t push you. Dong le ma*?”

- Captain Malcolm Reynolds

*Mandarin (loosely): “You get me? / Are we clear here?” 11

Ben English


Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon

Five Ghouls and a Specter

Havana, Cuba 5 AM


he day he discovered what happened to the children, FBI Special Agent Ian Whitaker woke up with heartburn. He’d always

been an early riser, enjoyed the hunter’s ability to set his internal clock for a certain time and just plain wake up when he decided, with no need for an alarm. The problem lay in the island food. All this sweet coffee, in particular, was killing him. He decided to skip breakfast, or at least put it off as long as Nicole would let him. He showered, dressed, and was out the door and on the street before the sun lit the sky. Taxis still plied the streets; Ian had the driver drop him off a few blocks from San Francisco Park. After going through the usual gyrations to make sure he wasn’t followed, he entered and found Pete waiting patiently, hands folded, practically reclining on a stone bench under the shadows of an old, massive banyan tree. In the soft light he looked more like Jack than ever. “You know,” Pete said, “Castro met with his first Soviet handler here, back in ’53.” “That a fact?” “They used to play chess right over there.” He indicated a low stone table. Ian liked Pete; he was a no-nonsense guy. Never talked much about 13

Ben English himself, but always had something interesting to say. Even did a decent imitation of Jack’s easygoing carelessness, which was just fine with Ian. He also took the time to cultivate solid, deep connections to the Cuban crime scene. “I hear the old town was a sight to see back then.” Pete smiled.

“Disneyland for grown-ups.

American business

really took off after the war, and the money just wouldn’t stop. Neon everywhere, rummed-up tourists everywhere—a P.I. could really make a living if he knew how to market his camera to suspicious housewives back in the U.S. And the mob was into everything. Lansky ran it all— you would have loved it.” Ian had heard the stories. “An instructor I had at Quantico, one of the old hands. He was with the Bureau down here before Castro took over. Said the old boys’ club ran an airplane courier every night to a bank in Miami with suitcase after suitcase of casino profits.” “If Batista hadn’t been such an idiot, the mob could have held on to things. This place was bigger than Vegas. Or so I hear.” “What about now?” Pete nodded; they were getting to the reason for the meeting. “Weak. Espinosa is mindful of Cuba’s past, and he doesn’t want to repeat Batista’s mistakes. No more pure-greed laissez-faire economics. He sees everything in terms of an economic equation, see? Capitalism is managed carefully; lots of incentives for small- and medium-sized business. He hasn’t allowed unions or foreign ownership of any of the businesses the mob usually favors. They’ve got one or two casinos going up out past Verdado, but that’s it.” The mob angle was a dead end. That left the cartel. “What’s your feel for the narcotics situation?” “The drug lab out near Santiago? Supposed to be supplying the country, exporting to Miami and points north.” Pete shrugged. “It 14

Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon makes sense that Lopez would want to process it here and cut it before it gets to the mainland, but nothing I’ve found points to one huge processing station in Cuba. If they’re starting and finishing the process here, there’s got to be some product leaking out onto the local market. I mean, it looks like a lab, smells like a lab, sounds like a lab, but where’s the product?” He hesitated. “The drugs on the street in Havana aren’t flowing out of Santiago, for one thing. DEA says they’re coming into Cuba from Mexico, just like they always have.” “The locals are hot to move on it. Want to invite CNN to watch them take down the lab.” “I get it,” said Pete. “Solid PR win for the new president, boot the evil cartel out of the islands right before the world shows up for the Goodwill Games. I feel safer already.” Ian couldn’t ignore the feeling they were exploring another blind alley. “You think the intel is wrong?” “It’s the trail of evidence that’s wrong,” said Pete. He thought a moment. “What else is out near Santiago?” Ian used his phone to check the database back at the crow’s nest.



Semiconductor testing.


Pharmaceuticals. Hershey’s is starting up again out there.” “Did you say, ‘PicoMorph?’” said Pete. “There might be a connection here.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “I found something interesting on the five organ donors who went after Jack and Al in the market.” “Oh?” Ian was due to assist Irene later that morning in the morgue. He wasn’t looking forward to it. Hadn’t cut in years. “Local hitters, but with specialized labor skills. They entered the city on the same date, stayed in the same boarding house, and got their fake IDs from the same shop downtown. Their fake IDs all led back to recently deceased persons. These were operators, not planners.” 15

Ben English “So they were being run by someone else. Five ghouls and a specter, maybe a spook.” He turned that over in his head, wondering which of the foreign intelligence agencies they’d pissed off. “Wait, you said they were specialized laborers?” “Right, hired months ago to work on the new conference center. One of them was a glazier, the others were electricians, carpenters, that kind of thing. “Get this: Behind the fake IDs, they’re all from the same hometown, an island not far to the south called Cayo Verad.” “And?” “The title of ownership to Cayo Verad is held in trust by PicoMorph Pharmaceuticals.” Ian wasn’t sure he’d heard that correctly. “Jack emailed me the shell maze breakdown before he and Al flew out. Through his shell companies, Raines runs operations on many properties in the Caribbean. It’s a trick, but he even owns a few of the freehold islands outright.” Pete paused. There was something else. “At the last census, there were over three hundred people living on Cayo Verad. No one’s heard from any of them in months. Something was wrong with their children, and then nothing. It’s like they all just vanished.”


Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon

Cayo Verad


sing his FBI credentials, Ian rented a decent boat and

set out for Cayo Verad about an hour after sunrise. Not knowing

what to expect, he took along a shotgun, a satellite phone, and several maps of the area. He also took along Irene Archer’s evidence-gathering kit—Irene just happened to be attached to it as well. Major Griffin was just leaving her duty shift in the crow’s nest, and worked up a quick package of mission-critical intelligence about Cayo Verad. Everyone else was involved in preparations leading up to the raid on the drug lab, and she was at loose ends. Ian fully expected the three of them to return hours before the raid. He took his guns nonetheless. The sun quickly ascended into the clouds, and by the time they were well underway the sky and water were nearly the same shade of dull gray. “What did he mean, the children all just vanished?” asked Irene. She looked relieved to be out of the lab. Ian was at the wheel. “Actually, he said everyone had apparently vanished.” “I verified it this morning,” said the major—everyone was calling her Allison now; she was fast becoming part of the team.


interisland mail coming out of Cayo Verad dwindled to nothing a few months ago. All other regular communications abruptly stopped from the island several weeks ago, according to government reports.” Irene frowned, so Allison explained further. “Reports were made by relatives 17

Ben English living on several neighboring islands. There was also a note about some kind of medical problem affecting the children on Cayo Verad that one of the relatives related third-hand to the local Cuban authorities, but no action was taken.” “No one visited the island to verify the reports?” asked Ian. “There’s nothing like a local coast guard here,” she replied. “The Cuban government relies heavily on the big corporate presence to maintain the infrastructure, keep the peace, that kind of thing.” “I’ve read about this,” Irene said. “Companies like PicoMorph have intensive research programs all through the Caribbean, Central America, the Amazon River Basin—you get the idea. They investigate local cures, looking at all the historically medicinal benefits of local plants and folklore. They’ve been publishing papers on their discoveries at forensics conferences for years.” Ian nodded. “So in return for permission to perform research on the local flora and fauna, the big corporations give back. They play enormous roles in the lives of the little local populations. Big brother cleans up after storms, provides jobs, medical aid, education.” “By all official accounts,” said Allison, “PicoMorph Pharmaceuticals is a benevolent landlord.” ‘“By all official accounts’?” “Well, don’t you think it’s interesting that no one is asking any official questions about where the people of Cayo Verad went off to?” She had a point. Ian used an old paper sea chart for navigation. The island wasn’t registering for some reason with either the onboard GPS or the GPS built into his phone. They couldn’t even find it on Google Earth. Strange, because the island itself was fairly large for the Caribbean. Rather than being a low atoll-based island, Cayo Verad was a volcanic island, and 18

Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon had what might almost be called a mountain in the middle of its two or three square kilometers. It had fresh water, but no unusual natural resources and no useable natural harbor—Ian could see why such a place was off the beaten path. There was no real reason for the outside world to notice such a place. As they approached, the first thing they noticed was the wide pier. The heavy-duty concrete construction extended nearly a quarter mile from the beach, set high to accommodate the deep draft of a full-sized cargo ship. It had been badly battered by the weather; they couldn’t guess its age. “Why would a fishing village need such a large pier?” Allison wondered. Ian had a thought. “Major—Allison, how is your Spanish?” “I thought it was acceptable until a few days ago.” He knew what she meant. Vacations in Mexico and several dates with a Spanish major in college hadn’t prepared Ian for whatever passed for Havana streetspeak. He hoped the locals of Cayo Verad had a good sense of humor, or an addiction to untranslated American television. The boat had a shallow draft, and they came right up onto the beach at the base of the village. The buildings were a curious mix of clapboard and prefabricated, sectioned pieces. There was no smoke from cooking fires, and this would have struck Ian as odd except for another curiosity: each of the houses was wired for full utilities. “Where’s the electricity come from?” Allison pointed at the topographical map. “I’d guess geothermal. There’s a station of some kind further up near the mountain.” Irene was the first off the boat, her evidence kit in hand. She looked back at the others, and didn’t say a word. They all felt it. Ian gave the satellite map a final look, and joined her. Aside from 19

Ben English the houses and shacks near the water’s edge, there were three large constructions at the very center of the community. The air was clear and clean, even cool nearest the water. A silence hung over the small village, an air of long-abandonment. There wasn’t anything alive here, not even a damn cat. “No fishing nets,” remarked Irene. She was right. No nets, and none of the equipment needed to mend and maintain them. Aside from a few small outbuildings, no recognizable places to store fishing boats and supplies, either. A clothesline hung limply between two homes. Here and there a branch lay in the street; leaves and other detritus littered their path. All the buildings were in good repair, but it was obvious that no one had cleaned up after the past few storms. Everything was painted the same beige. The front doors were shut. All the curtains drawn. At the base of the little road leading to the pier, a child-sized bicycle lay encased in mud, trapped like a fossil in soil runoff from the last rainstorm. Under the grime, it was a new model. No one needed to suggest they stick together.

Ian was most

interested in getting to the research station, which he assumed was one of the large buildings visible on the map. Curiosity, however, led them to one of the small homes. The door had been padlocked from the outside. A quick glance at the other houses confirmed that they all wore identical security devices. Allison made as if to shoot off one of the locks, but instead kicked at the edge of the door near the handle. Rotting wood underneath the new paint gave immediately. The faint odor of rotting vegetables assailed them. Inside the house, they found a bit more tech than they expected. There was a microwave oven in the kitchen and a respectable-size 20

Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon flatscreen TV in the center room, along with a personal computer. The two children’s rooms both held docking stations for laptops, along with docks for digital music players. The home was small, but they could tell it had been expanded over time. Irene immediately put her finger on an interesting detail. “The children’s rooms were added as they were born.” Both the building material and the furnishings in the small rooms were much newer and of higher quality than the rest of the house. A brief line of pictures, sealed against the moisture in wooden frames, showed a young family. The parents looked barely out of their teens, and had four children in rapid succession. The oldest child was perhaps eight, Ian decided. Allison checked the refrigerator, and wrinkled her nose. It had been fully stocked before the electricity was cut. Pressure from the expanding rot inside had forced the door open. “How long, do you suppose?” she asked. Irene responded immediately. “Not longer than six weeks, by the look of things. What gets me is the lack of vermin. I haven’t seen a single mousetrap, but why wouldn’t they have been at the food?” The brands of food were all American. The whole place should have reminded Ian of the practice houses set up at Quantico, “homes” erected so the agents-in-training could practice hostage rescue situations and other exercises, but it didn’t. The homes on Cayo Verad were real, had that lived-in feeling, and he wondered, not for the first time, if they shouldn’t have come with an entire Hazardous Materials team. He eyed a coffee cup, noting the dried, dark line just inside the rim. A matching discoloration decorated the table at the base of the cup. Someone had taken a sip and set the cup down quickly, perhaps in surprise, sloshing a bit of the coffee onto the table. Ian didn’t touch anything. Using their phones, they all took multiple pictures of the interior of the house. On his way out, Ian wedged the 21

Ben English door shut as best he could. Somehow it didn’t seem right to leave the home open and vulnerable. The two largest buildings, next to the clapboard church, bore signs of recent work. The concrete had been blasted, cleaned, patched, and painted. A heavy rainstorm, common in the islands, had done its work on the paint before it had completely dried. Ian couldn’t make out the insignia or markings that had been on the walls, but they had been enormous. Everyone in the village would have seen it whenever they came to school or church. He filed that thought away for later analysis. The locks on the research building were much larger and of better quality than the padlocks on the houses below. Ian loaded a breeching round into his shotgun, and found he rather enjoyed blowing that particular door open. They expected a lab, maybe a containment area for cataloging species of vegetation, and a greenhouse. What they found was more like a hospital. One room contained fifty modern beds, completely stripped of linen and equipment. There were three other rooms that could only be full operating theaters. In one large chamber, bolts set into the floor showed where a number of heavy machines had rested. “What could have been this big?” Ian asked. “An MRI machine?” offered Allison. The center room contained several marble-topped tables, each with built-in fixtures for gas, electricity, and wired ‘net access. “There’s a server room around here somewhere,” Irene said. She and Ian found the server closet, also empty, in a carpeted room labeled Admin. A square indent of dust-free carpet showed Ian where the physical filing cabinet had been. The desks and cubicles in the room were intact. Irene looked for prints, but was not optimistic. Ian carefully examined each desk, and was rewarded for his efforts. Whoever had cleaned out the office had been in a hurry; a single sheet of paper was folded and crushed against the back of a drawer. 22

Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon Irene took it delicately in a gloved hand. It struck Ian again how perfectly silent the village was. He realized he hadn’t even seen a single bird since landing on the island. Wasn’t this supposed to be a jungle? “Double luck,” said Irene. “Managed to lift two distinct fingerprints and three partials from the page.” “Good work.” Ian wasn’t a superstitious man. His wife was considerably more religious, but had never pushed her beliefs on him. To be honest, Ian had always enjoyed a simple, nodding relationship with the Almighty; more of a sense of himself and Another, both smiling at the same joke. Still. Ian felt a deep, insistent need to get out of that building. It was almost a physical pressure (he wondered if the barometer was falling), and he found himself looking for the exits. Hospitals in and of themselves were bad enough; even worse was the idea of spending one second longer than necessary in a hospital that had run out of patients. Ian left Irene to pack up her medical supplies and found the street. He met Allison as she emerged from the next building. “It was a school,” she reported. “Everything is stripped out, but there was considerable tech here. All the students’ desks included docking stations for laptops, like the ones we found in the home.” “Does this place strike you as being more than a little tech-heavy?” he asked. Irene was right behind him. “I was expecting something a bit more Third World,” she said. That left the church. A simple, single-story clapboard building, it was a lighter shade of white than the other buildings. The paint was layered oddly, and wasn’t all the same tone of white. Ian supposed it had 23

Ben English been painted in stages by the local population, rather than a corporate labor force. No cross stood at the apex of its steeple. They found the first signs of violence at the entrance. The two double doors were gone, the hinges twisted and black, brittle due to some tremendous heat. “Alright, both of you stay back,” said Irene. “Let me get a close look at that door.” Ian shifted his grip on his weapon and caught Allison checking the load in her MP5. The major had broken out in a light sweat that caused her hair to paste against her forehead and neck. She watched the forest line suspiciously. Not happy to be here either, thought Ian. It was then he noticed the wild animal tracks. The island obviously had its share of wild boar, and a big specimen had come through recently. Probably a sow, Ian thought, looking closely at the indentations in the dried mud. By their depth and angle he judged the she-boar at between two-fifty and three hundred pounds. The animal had come to the bottom step of the church, rooted around the base of the stairs (there were score marks where her tusks brushed the wood), but had not gone in. Reflecting on what he knew of island boar, Ian realized there was something missing. He walked the breadth of the street, eyes on the ground, but found no other tracks or spoor. “What are you on about then?” asked Allison. Another sign of stress; her accent was a shade thicker. “No piglets,” he responded. “Given the time of year, there would have been a litter of hundred-pounders following their mother around.” Irene called to them from the doorway, and they mounted the stairs, weapons ready. It was a typical Roman Catholic meetinghouse, built by simple people but with great care. The floor plan lay in the traditional 24

Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon crucifix pattern, with the alter facing east. The wooden benches had been lifted out and propped against the tall windows on either side of the chapel, blocking the light except from the highest portion of the glass. Angled, colored beams of radiance bore down into the darkness from those high windows, but did little to dispel the gloom at ground level. The entrance was blackened oddly. “It looks almost like a shaped charge,” said Ian, examining the scorched doorway. The surrounding area was unburnt, which ruled out a freak fire or a grenade. The floor was concrete. “Well, whoever barricaded themselves in here was sure convinced that something was after them.” She pointed a gloved finger at the heavy workmen’s tools. Boards from a smaller side room—probably a confessional—had been torn out and double-layered against the entire span of the front door; now only their ends were visible where they were still nailed against the doorjamb. “I’ll check the other end of the chapel,” said Allison. “There’s usually another entrance there, for the vicar.” Irene was gathering bits of the wood from the doorframe into evidence bags. “I’ll need to test these back at the lab,” she said, “but I’ll tell you right off the bat that whatever blew these doors came from the inside of the building. See these angled scorch marks? The device was right next to the door, in fact.” She took swab samples from the floor, the walls, and the outer stoop, then let Ian step in for a closer look. “So let’s say I’m trying to keep something out,” he began, “I’m standing just inside the doorway. I’ve nailed two sets of boards against the door with my big five-penny nails; nothing’s getting in here without taking the whole of the front of the church with it.” He waited for her to agree. “If I’m desperate—” 25

Ben English “—If you’re flat-out panicked—” she saw the marks on the floor, and could see where he was going with the explanation. “I’m panicked, so I’m going to stand right here and plant both hands against the door, maybe even lean against it with my whole upper body.” He mimed doing so, and they both looked at the scorch marks on the doorframe. They began at eye level and ran to the floor. The doorjamb directly over Ian’s head was burnt. He took a step back and looked directly down. Etched in black against the cool concrete floor were the unmistakable outlines of human feet. The sunlight through the open door showed them clearly. While the area around both feet was smooth and almost reflective, the burned section was pitted and crumbled under Irene’s knife. She worked a sample loose and stowed it away, not meeting Ian’s eyes. The silence outside was broken by a rogue wind, a lone gust. It rattled the glass and loose boards of each house as it caromed down the street, tossing leaves and twists of grass. Ian looked up as it passed the front of the church, half expecting to see something physical in the bluster. It coiled the dust briefly in the air of the narthex, then leaped on to the next building. Ian found himself looking at that section of the wall on the opposite building, where the cement had been reworked and painted over. He still couldn’t make out the symbol that had once rested there, looking into the church. He and Irene walked through the nave toward the altar. More workmen’s tools lay scattered about. It seemed nothing had been spared in the barricade efforts; every pew and kneeling bar had been taken up and nailed to the side walls over the windows. The crucifix over the altar was gone, only the outline remained. Likewise, no statues of saints looked down on them from the two man-sized recesses in the apse. 26

Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon Ian almost didn’t see Allison in her black tactical gear, kneeling on the floor in the sanctuary at the front of the chapel. Rather than receiving Eucharist, she was closely examining the contents of a smallish wooden box. There were more than two dozen of the rectangular containers on the floor of the sanctuary, each arranged neatly in line with each other, each open. No, not boxes. With a short, sad cry, Irene dropped her evidence case and bent over the nearest tiny coffin. On some level, Ian’s mind refused to believe what his eyes told him. Utterly refused. He forced himself to breath evenly and count each coffin, twice to make sure. There were thirty. Not all of them were the same size, but they were all unquestionably coffins. “Where are the bodies?” Irene demanded. They were empty, and Ian realized that what he’d taken for a tiny body inside each was a burnt, darkened outline, a silhouette of the form that had once occupied the space. Most of the wood was unburned and still light-colored. Only that portion which would be in contact with a body was blackened by heat. Ian’s fingers tightened convulsively on his weapon, and he fought the urge to withdraw from the building, the urge to carry the fight against whoever had done this thing. The coffins were lidless and empty, but they hadn’t been. Ian removed his glasses and cleaned them. Allison straightened and slowly pushed herself to her feet. It was impossible in the dim light for Ian to clearly see her face, but her voice was thick. “I found something in the sacristy,” she said. “I passed by this lot a few minutes ago, never gave them a second look. Didn’t occur to me. “But whoever laid these out hid one of the little . . . hid a coffin in the sacristy, just under the sink.” She pointed, not looking. “There’s a body inside, I’m pretty sure. Didn’t open it, but the smell—” 27

Ben English “I’ll help you get it,” said Irene, steadily. Of course, for an autopsy. “Just give me a moment here.” Her hands were steady as she used a small, sterile spatula to swab out the inside of one of the boxes. Her face betrayed her emotion, but she pushed through it to get the job done. Ian found it hard to think of her as a civilian. “Can the two of you wait for me a moment?” he asked. “I’ll give you a hand, but there’s something I need to check out first.” Allison didn’t look particularly eager to remain in the church, but she was unwilling to leave the other woman alone while she collected evidence. She began taking photos with her phone. Ian left the building. The air outside didn’t feel any better. The sun was fully up and so was the humidity. The freak wind earlier was probably a sign of a new weather front coming in, and that probably meant a storm. Best to get back to Cuba before it hit. He had no desire to hole up on Cayo Verad during a hurricane. Wasn’t this part of the Bermuda Triangle? Felt more and more like. But. Whoever cleaned up the village had missed something. The person or parties responsible for taking the little, burnt bodies out of the coffins had missed one, apparently. Ian looked hard at the wall opposite the church. Thought a moment. Turned on his heel and marched back to the little house they’d entered earlier. Walking through the little house still felt eerie and odd, more so now that he was alone, but Ian ignored that. The line of family photographs was right where they’d left it. Ian trained his flashlight on the photos, examining nearly all of them before he found what he was looking for. At the baptismal celebrations of each child, pictures had been taken outside the church. In each shot, a section of a distinct corporate logo appeared on the wall that had been more recently blasted clean and patched over. Another photo showed the school, which bore the entire mark, in 28

Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon all its burnished-steel glory, next to the main entrance. Once again Ian found himself gripped with the urge to flee from the island, not away from anything but toward something; to carry the fight forward. The two photos revealed the now-familiar logo of the Raines Corporation, etched in steel into the concrete walls that overlooked the village. No one could have gone a day without seeing the stylized hunting bird and its keeper. They would have seen it every time they walked to school or church. Ian took the photographs from the wall. Once again, he wedged the front door shut as best he could. The faces in the pictures were happy, smiling, cared for. He was willing to bet that none of them had died of advanced age.


Ben English

Jack Be Nimble Book Three: The crystal falcon By Ben English

Excerpted from Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon, by Ben English. Copywrite Š 2011 by Ben English. Excerpted by permission of the author. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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