“I know. I heard about that too. They don’t know the cause. There are casualties, but they haven’t released any names yet. But I can’t think that it’s connected to Donovan’s death.”
“And the work at the WMD Center?”
She spread her hands. “As you just said, the mission is too important. Even if our leader is dead, we have to carry on.”
“Of course,” said Aust.
“Despite its remoteness, Zaire must have seemed a bit quaint after the violence of Syria.”
Aust shrugged. “I’ve confronted many dictators like Assad. He gets away with as much as he possibly can. He will lie, cheat, and hide.”
“So how many chemical weapons does he have in reserve?”
“Susan,” he said in a gently admonishing tone.”
“I know you like to keep things close to the vest, but no clues?” she asked sweetly.
“Not even for you, my dear. But when the report is officially released you’ll get to read every word.” He picked up his wineglass and indicated that she should do the same with hers.
They clinked glasses and drank their wine.
Aust wiped his mouth slowly with his napkin. “I must applaud you for drawing the potentially calamitous situation in Africa to my attention.”
“Well, our work at the center is all about spotting those types of scenarios and cutting them to the quick, if possible.”
“There had been rumors about it being weaponized. But I thought they were simply rumors. How did you manage to get onto it? You never said.”
“Through various channels. We have human intel all over the place. Even in remote Zaire. But we only had generalities to go by, Mal. You were the one who tracked it down.”
“We might have been a bit late to the party,” he said, his brow suddenly creased with concern.
She lowered her glass. “Late? How so?”
“It will be in my report on Zaire, but on this I can give you a bit of a preview.” He put down his wineglass and rubbed his forefinger and thumb together.
“I’ve seen you do that before. When you’re very nervous,” she added.
He ignored this and said, “I had communicated particulars to you on the target site.”
“Correct. And I sent them onward.”
“Well, when we got to the target site it appeared that someone had been there before us.”
“Unknown as yet.” He suddenly slapped his hand on the table, nearly upsetting his wine. “The thing is, Susan, I’m fairly certain we didn’t get all of it.”
“Have you made this known yet?”
“I don’t want to incite a panic based on incomplete information.”
“But why can’t you be sure one way or another?”
“There was no one at the target site. Just the cache. Where we expected it to be.”
“I’m very meticulous in my work, as you know.”
“Of course you are. You’re a legend, Mal.”
“The canisters were in an underground bunker. Ten feet down. Dirt floor, concrete block walls and ceiling.”
“And no one was there?”
“They had been.”
“How do you know?”
“We found two shell casings and traces of blood. Very faint but they were there.”
“As you said, meticulous.”
“And something else in the dirt too.”
“We retrieved six canisters, five-foot-tall cylinders. They weighed many kilos apiece.”
“But in the dirt, you see?”
“Yes?” she said expectantly.
“It was only a faint trace. But it was unmistakable.”
“What was it, Mal?”
“Three more canisters. You could just make out the indentations of the bottoms of them in the dirt.”
“But they weren’t there? Hidden somewhere else, perhaps?”
He shook his head. “We searched everywhere. There was nothing.”
“So three canisters might be missing?”
“Coupled with the shell casings and the blood, I think someone beat us to it. And we found some villagers who had seen the canisters being brought in. There were nine of them. They were sure of that.”
“But why take only some of the canisters?”
“Perhaps they hoped we wouldn’t see the evidence of the others. Or of the possible attack on those who had possessed the canisters.”
She sipped her wine. “There has always been talk of the Russians aerosolizing it.”
“That was just a rumor. An unsubstantiated one. I don’t believe that the Russians ever managed to do it.”
“But why Zaire of all places?”
“Well, that’s where the deadliest form originated. An average eighty percent fatality rate. They have science in Africa, Susan. Better than we think. And parts of that continent have become ground zero for terrorist activity. Lots of money is pouring in there, and it’s not to build schools or infrastructure. It’s to do harm in other parts of the world. Like right here.”
“Which was one reason the center was focused on it.”
“And pointed me in that direction.”
“We had just the barest of intelligence. You did the hard work tracking it down.”
“But if someone got there ahead of me? If they took those canisters for their own purposes?”
“It all sounds very ominous, Mal. How can I help?”
In answer, he reached under his chair, slid out a pistol, and leveled it at her head.
“You can tell me who you tipped off, Susan. And what they plan to do with the canisters. And you can tell me right now.”
Reynolds didn’t even flinch. “That was quite a segue, Mal. I’m not sure I’ve seen better. Or worse, depending on one’s perspective.”
“You were my point of contact at the center. You said you sent the intel on the target site onward. I’m sure you did. I just need to know to whom.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I won’t insult your intelligence, so please don’t insult mine. Donovan Carter called me the day he died. He told me he wanted to talk about something important. When I asked him what, he only mentioned one name. Yours. He knew we were friends. He knew we were working together.”
Reynolds drank some more of her wine. “And what did dear departed Donovan say about me?”
“That he had doubts as to your loyalty. That issues had been raised. That people were making inquiries and forming sound arguments about your possible treachery. That you might have even framed Robert Puller in order to place your own person at ISR.”