Hawker arrived in the lobby dressed in black from head to toe, just as she was. “I assumed this would be something formal,” he joked.
She glanced at him for a moment and then signaled for the valet, trying not to appreciate how well he cleaned up. For certain he looked a damn sight better than he had in the sweaty hangar in Marejo.
As they drove off together Danielle thought about the meeting. A friend of a friend of someone who owes me a favor. That’s how Moore had described Medina. The thought made her smile; in all their travels, she couldn’t recall a place they’d ever been to where Moore didn’t have a friend of a friend of someone who owed him a favor.
She turned to Hawker. “How well do you know the waterfront?”
“Is that where we’re headed?”
“We’re going to see a man about a boat. Our charter, actually.”
“And you’re expecting trouble?” he said.
Hawker grew quiet for a moment. “Nineteen’s one of the big commercial docks at the west end. It’s a cargo pier, pretty wide open, but just up from there everything gets cluttered. Narrow alleys and blind corners. A lot of small buildings. The locals tie up over there, fishermen mostly, and some of the ferries. If this guy’s a local, that’s where he’d be.”
Danielle had expected as much.
It took twenty minutes to get from the hotel to the harbor, and another five to find their way to pier nineteen. But even so, they arrived on site ten minutes earlier than Danielle had promised. She pulled up against the wall of a massive warehouse that ran along the waterfront.
At this hour of the night there was little activity. A few slips down, a Liberian-flagged tanker was offloading a shipment of crude, while out in the channel, a blue-hulled cargo vessel sat idle but making steam, its decks stacked high with multi-colored containers, its crew waiting patiently for a river pilot to come aboard.
Hawker eyed the empty pier. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but couldn’t you meet this guy during normal business hours?”
“It’s all part of that low-profile thing.”
A few minutes went by with no sign of Medina.
Hawker adjusted his mirror to see behind him and then tilted his seat back a bit.
He seemed calm, relaxed enough to take a nap. She fiddled with a pen, clicking it repeatedly. Something didn’t feel right to her. “Are you armed?” she asked.
“Good of you to notice.”
He laughed softly. “You either need a smaller gun or bell-bottoms.”
She smiled in the darkness, half angry, half amused. “This guy isn’t my contact. He’s my old partner’s. I’m not sure what to make of him yet.”
Hawker nodded and the interior of the Rover grew quiet as the two of them scanned the surroundings for any sign of the contact or trouble. Several minutes later, headlights appeared in the distance, moving toward them along the wide frontage at the water’s edge.
Hawker straightened up.
The sedan slowed as it approached them, stopping under a streetlight ninety feet away. A man stepped out of the car, squinted in their direction and then waved. When they didn’t respond fast enough, he reached through the driver’s window, flashed the headlights and leaned on the horn for a couple of long blasts.
“So much for the low profile,” Hawker said.
Danielle smiled and flashed her lights. As the man walked over, she put her window down.
“Señora Laidlaw?” the man said. “I am Medina, at your service.”
Danielle introduced herself and then pointed to Hawker. “He’s our transportation specialist. He’ll be doing the inspection.”
Medina seemed unconcerned. “Isso bom,” he said. “That’s cool.” He waved his hand toward his sedan. “Ride with me. I’ll take you over.”
“Just show us the way,” Danielle said. “We’ll follow.”
Danielle assured him that she would stay close and Medina began walking back to his sedan.
“When did I become the transportation specialist?” Hawker asked.
“Just now,” she said. “You’ve been promoted. I hope you know something about boats.”
“They go in the water, right?”
She smiled and started the engine while Hawker watched Medina.
As the man climbed back into his car, Hawker scowled. “He’s not alone.”
Danielle had scanned the car earlier, but there was no way to see through the darkened windows. “Are you sure?”
“He looked into the back when he opened the door. A brief pause as he made eye contact with someone.”
The headlights of Medina’s car came on and it began to move, making a wide circle, swinging close to them and then heading back the way it had come.
“Do you think that’s a problem?” she asked.
“I don’t think it’s good. Then again, you didn’t come alone either. Maybe he’s afraid of you.”
She took her foot off the brake. “He wouldn’t be the first.”
Hawker glanced at her. “Or the last, I’ll bet.”
Danielle followed Medina through the narrow maze of streets. In a few minutes they had passed by the Puerto Flutante, the floating harbor built by the British in 1902, with its amazing system of docks and jetties that rose and fell with the level of the river. From their vantage point the docks appeared low, near the limit of their downward travel, the result of a rainy season now a month overdue.
Farther on, they reached the oldest section of the waterfront. Here the jetties were little more than a tangle of crooked, wooden fingers. The small boats crowded them from all directions, like worker bees surrounding their queen. Two, three, even four rows deep, so many boats that some could not even find space on the dock for a rope and had to tie off to other vessels. Danielle imagined the congestion in the morning, the chaos of an aquatic rush hour that she and her team would slip away in.
Medina made a right turn, away from the crowded edge and down a patchy, uneven road that led inland. A half mile later, he stopped beside a black steel gate, waiting as it slid backward along a greased metal track. When it had retracted far enough Medina drove through.
Danielle moved the Rover up to the track.
She looked around. The area was cluttered with vehicles and pieces of construction equipment. Stacks of oil drums vied with containers and other bits of junk for space. “A lot more commercial than I’d have guessed.”
Down at the waterline, a group of men worked beside a small boat, beneath the glare of two floodlights. “I guess that’s your boat,” Hawker said.
“And if we want it, we have to go inside.” She took her foot off the brake and, with two bumps, they eased across the track and the steel gate began to close behind them.
With his left arm Hawker reached out and slammed her back against her seat. His right hand came up, a heavy black pistol in his grasp, swinging toward her face. She turned away and shut her eyes. In that split second of darkness she heard an explosion and felt a flash of heat across the side of her face.
She opened her eyes to see a man falling away from the Rover, an Uzi machine pistol in his hand, a fedora hat falling to the ground behind him. Stunned and immobile, she heard Hawker shouting at her through the fog. He fired at another target and she grabbed the gearshift, threw it into reverse and stomped on the gas pedal. The wheels spun and the Rover shot backward.
“Go!” Hawker yelled, firing again.
Looking over her shoulder, Danielle aimed straight for the closed gate and continued to accelerate. With the engine roaring, she slammed it dead center. The heavy gate shuddered, bending backward at a thirty degree angle. Chunks of concrete flew out from the retaining wall and the gate’s wheels ripped clear of the tracks, but, somehow, the mangled hunk of iron held them in.
She put the transmission in drive but the engine had stalled. She threw it into neutral and twisted the key. Just as the big V-8 turned over, the windshield shattered from a hail of bullets.
As the glass rained down, she and Hawker ducked for cover. Hawker raised his arm above the dashboard and fired back, five shots sent out blindly. In the restricted cockpit of the Rover the sound was tremendous, but the incoming bullets stopped and Danielle had enough time to shift into drive and hit the gas once again.
The Rover lunged forward for thirty feet before Danielle stomped on the brake and slammed the transmission into reverse. By now Hawker had his bearings, snapping off shots into the darkness. One man went down and then another, while the other assailants dove for cover.
The Rover thundered backward, hammering the gate a second time, blasting it from its moorings and sending it flying across the road in a shower of sparks. Danielle turned the wheel and the nose of the vehicle swung to the left, pointing in the direction of safety.
She jammed it into drive and hit the gas, accelerating away as renewed gunfire poured from the gated area. Flying lead tore into the vehicle, punching holes in the sheet metal and shattering the side and rear windows, even as Medina’s car, now driven by someone else, accelerated hard in an effort to cut them off.
Hawker targeted the driver’s area of the oncoming vehicle. As his shots hit the windshield, the sedan swerved, crashing into what remained of the gate’s retaining wall. Whether the driver was dead, injured or had just turned wildly to avoid being hit, they would never know, as the Rover accelerated away and the scene passed quickly out of view.
With the throttle wide open the big vehicle gathered speed at a surprising rate, barreling down the same road they’d come up only minutes before. At the first corner, Danielle turned hard and the big SUV leaned over, threatening to tip then straightening out and roaring off down a long, unfamiliar street.
They sped through a dark canyon now, a narrow street running between the connected buildings on the left and the great slab walls of the warehouses on the right. The alley was unlit, except for pale swaths where other streets crossed it. Danielle watched the intersections ahead, expecting a car to block their way at any moment. It didn’t matter, she wasn’t stopping.
Behind them the headlights of two cars swung into the alleyway. “Here they come,” Hawker yelled, shouting to be heard above the noise pouring into the cabin where the windshield had been.
Danielle heard but didn’t reply. The same airflow that made it hard to hear was wreaking havoc on her eyes. She squinted against the wind, blinking away the tears. She spotted a marker: Ave de Setembro—the main road out of the harbor. She cranked the wheel over and the tires bit into the street, squealing and sliding. A moment later, they shot out onto the open road.
Danielle floored the accelerator again, but this time the Rover picked up only a little extra speed and then the engine started to labor. The needle touched a hundred twenty kph and then began an ominous slide backward.
“Fuel or air,” Hawker yelled.
“I’m thinking air,” she shouted. “Mainly because we’re not on fire.”
“Not yet anyway,” he said.
The Rover had begun chugging like an old steam train, gaining speed for a few seconds and then faltering further. In the mirror, Danielle saw the two cars swerve onto the road a mile behind. She coaxed more speed from the vehicle by pumping the throttle, but the cars were clearly gaining. “Any thoughts?”
“Head into town,” Hawker said. “We have to find a crowd.”
Danielle took the first turn that would bring them into the heart of the city, and three blocks later turned again.
The turns had two effects: they reduced the Rover’s speed, which made it run more smoothly, and they reduced the rate at which their pursuers were gaining, as they had to slow down for the same turns.
In another minute, they were nearing the center of town, weaving in and out of calmer traffic.
“We need to ditch this thing,” Hawker said.
Danielle looked for a spot that might offer some cover. She passed two streets and an empty lot and then swerved down a narrow alleyway populated by trash cans, Dumpsters and uneven stacks of wooden pallets. She drove halfway down the alley, turned the vehicle sideways and slammed on the brakes, bringing it to a skidding halt.
Hawker bolted out the door before they’d even fully stopped, shouting at her to follow.
She jumped from the car, making her way around the vehicle as their pursuers came barreling down the road. The noise of their engines filled the alleyway and the light from their high beams climbed the walls like a specter, but the sound of screeching tires came next as the two cars skidded to a halt. They could not fit past the Rover. They’d have to move it, back out, or follow on foot. And with the keys in Danielle’s pocket, the first choice was not really an option. She raced around the corner without looking back.
“This way,” Hawker said.
They were out on the main drag, moving along the sidewalk, mixing with the pedestrians. It was Friday night and the bars and cafés were jammed to capacity, the sidewalks teeming with the overflow. But Hawker and Danielle were dressed differently than the clubgoers in their bright, revealing outfits. After all, it was summer in Brazil. “We have to get off the street,” she said.
“I know,” Hawker replied, pressing forward, his eyes searching for something. “Keep moving. I know a place.”
Hawker pushed through the crowd with Danielle right behind him, leading her to a nightclub at the center of the district with a line of people waiting for a chance to enter. A doorman stood at the entrance, flanked by two muscular bouncers. The doorman greeted Hawker with a smile and one of the bouncers shook his hand.
In a moment, Hawker and Danielle were upstairs, seated at a private table on the club’s open-air balcony, a spot that gave them some respite from the pounding music inside and, more important, offered an excellent view of the main entrance and the crowded street below.
Danielle watched in silence for several minutes, waiting for cars filled with armed men to come flying up to the front doors. She put her hand casually to her ankle to make sure her weapon was accessible and then slid her leg under the table and out of view.
Hawker exhaled deeply and looked right at her. “You want to tell me again about this archaeological expedition?”