It was all in jest, of course, but it was the kind of subtle boost Sandecker had always been great at providing.
“I’ll tell them, Mr. Vice President.” The tone in Rudi’s voice was noticeably more positive than it had been at first.
Sandecker hung up as the plane swung onto the runway and began to accelerate with its engines roaring. A mile and a half later, the nose came up and Air Force Two lifted off, beginning its long journey to Rome. As it climbed up, Sandecker sat back in his seat, wondering for quite a while just what Kurt and Joe had stumbled upon. He nev
er imagined that he’d find out the answer in person.
Kurt, Joe and the other survivors from Lampedusa sat in the open air on the deck of an Italian supply ship with a big red cross on its funnel. They’d been evacuated by soldiers in full chemical gear, loaded aboard military helicopters and flown east. The operation went smoothly. The most difficult part was prying Joe off the MRI scanner, but as the metallic sections of his gear were cut away, they were able to pull him free.
After decontamination showers and a battery of medical tests, they were given new clothes in the form of spare military uniforms, put out on deck and offered the best espresso Kurt could remember drinking.
After a second cup, he found he literally could not sit still.
“You’ve got that look in your eye,” Joe said.
“Something’s bugging me.”
“It’s probably the caffeine,” Joe said. “You’ve had enough to give an elephant the jitters.”
Kurt glanced down at his empty cup and then back up at Joe. “Take a look around,” he said. “Tell me what you see.”
“Nothing better to do,” Joe replied. He glanced in every direction. “Blue skies, shimmering water. People happy to be alive. Though I’m sure you’ve spotted something to be glum about.”
“Exactly,” Kurt said. “I have. We’re all out here. Every one of the survivors. Everyone except the person I’m most interested in talking to: Dr. Ambrosini.”
“I got a fair look at her when we came on board,” Joe said, stirring some sugar into the coffee. “I don’t blame you for wanting to see her again. Who wouldn’t want to play doctor with that particular doctor?”
There was no denying how attractive she was, but Kurt wanted to speak with her for other reasons. “Believe it or not, I’m more interested in her mind.”
Joe raised an eyebrow and then casually took another sip of his coffee—a move that said, Sure you are.[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
“I’m serious,” Kurt insisted. “I have some questions I want to ask her.”
“Beginning with ‘What’s your number?’” Joe guessed. “Followed shortly by ‘Your cabin or mine?’”
Kurt couldn’t help but laugh. “No,” he insisted. “She said a few things when I first arrived at the operating room that seemed odd to me. She seemed to know something about the guy who tried to kill us. Not to mention the fact that she called the incident an attack right from the beginning, right from that radio call we intercepted.”
Joe offered a more calculating look. “What are you getting at?”
Kurt shrugged as if it were obvious. “A freighter burning offshore, dark smoke drifting over the island, people falling down dead because of it: that’s a disaster. An accident. I’d even call it a catastrophe. But an attack?”
“Those are strong words,” Joe said.
“As strong as this coffee,” Kurt said.
Joe gazed out into the distance. “I think I see where you’re going with this. And while I normally like to be the voice of reason, I’ve been wondering how she knew enough to gather a bunch of people together and seal off an entire room quickly enough to avoid the fate of everyone else in the hospital. Even for a doctor, that’s an awfully fast response.”
Kurt nodded. “But it’s the kind of response someone expecting trouble might’ve already had in mind.”
“A contingency plan.”
“Or standard operating procedure.”