ALL FOR SPILLED BLOOD
Fourth novel in the Tour Director Extraordinaire Series
An international youth convention, art smugglers, and terrorists trying to recruit young computer geniuses and a national art treasure.
Harriet Ruby, tour director extraordinaire, and her fiancé and favorite spy, Will Talbot, travel to Russia undercover as tour directors for the US delegation to an international youth conference. Harriet tackles her first covert assignment to investigate smuggled artwork while Will’s mission is to locate and destroy a group of terrorists recruiting young computer experts.
Their marriage plans hit a snag when Will locates a long-lost cousin with startling news about his heritage. When the artwork being smuggled has particular significance to one of the terrorist sympathizers, their missions entangle and begin to unravel, leaving Will at the mercy of terrorist kidnappers and Harriet holding the bag.
Oh, man. Get a grip, Harriet. Maybe hunger had made me delirious. Or my grim mood might be inspired by the fear that I could soon lose nearly all the things I cared about in life. Even inside the car, the cold wind seemed to chill me and set my teeth chattering.
Minute by minute, we moved into unfamiliar territory with no more famous monuments or charming European architecture to distract me. While it didn't seem we'd traveled far from the historic center, and although we were still near the Neva River, the industrial area around us appeared unkempt and ominous. Not a part of St. Petersburg the causal tourist visited.
The day grew darker the further we went, and I expected Vitaly to turn on the headlights. The crush of pedestrians had disappeared from the sidewalks, leaving them abandoned to silence and an occasional soul battling against the wind, anxious to be out of the weather.
Behind me, Charlie grunted. "So once they've got the chips, are they gonna let us walk out of there? I had the impression they didn't want us to know who they are."
I turned as much as possible in the cramped quarters. "You're catching on. They don't want you to know, but if they think you're still in the game and still need you to do something, they might let you off the hook." Liar, liar! Not going to happen. They might walk out, but they wouldn't get far.
No way did I intend to suggest these terrorists would be happy to eliminate all of us in one diabolical stroke. And whatever they had planned would look like an unfortunate accident. "After all, they're supposed to give you instructions for the next steps, so they must want you to do more to make this fire sale happen."
Vitaly raised one eyebrow a smidgen, as though he knew bullshit when he heard it. He glanced at the address again, slowed the car, and turned at the next corner. From there, I spotted an unfamiliar bridge spanning the Neva River and along it were crowds of people. In spite of our location, we were not that far from one end of the parade route.
The car crept forward for several blocks before our driver pulled to the curb a block from our destination and stopped. All conversation died an instant death, and we sat in silence, listening to the hissing and popping noises made by the cooling engine.
Gray, undistinguished four- and five-story structures, leftover relics of the Communist regime, lined both sides of the deserted street. The sidewalks made of paving stones were broken and worn, the street full of potholes. If the storm broke, they would soon overflow with rainwater.
Nervousness made my skin itch with anxiety in spite of the cold and humidity. I glanced around, imagining Russia when outsiders were segregated and not allowed to mingle. When the government paid unemployed people to stand around in threes to observe the actions of others and to report any unusual behavior.
"I don't like this place," SD finally whispered, again sounding her age.
Neither did I. "We'd better get out of the car before the whole neighborhood knows we're here. We'll have to play it by ear."
"Don't talk when we get out," Vitaly warned. "That's the building over there. David, can you lead the way from here?"
"Yeah, I think so." He opened the car door and got out.
The rest of us followed, clumped together, as clingy and silent as cobwebs. The closing doors clicked as they latched, thunder in this silence. All my unspoken fears choked together in a lump in my throat.
Sienna Dawn grasped my hand. "I'm scared."
We trailed behind David, who turned every few seconds for signals from Vitaly, who was bringing up the rear. Why did he insist on being behind everyone? The fine hairs at the base of my neck bristled with trepidation.
We followed the sidewalk to the end of the building, then turned down an alleyway, hugging one wall as we negotiated our way carefully across the rough asphalt scattered with occasional bricks and other debris. The penetrating cold of the spring storm wiggled its way inside my jacket and seemed to take up permanent residence in my body. I pulled my coat tighter around me with one hand and wished I had gloves to keep my trigger finger warm.
At the end of the alley, we came to a fence around a small open space between the buildings. At a sign from our Georgian guide, David pushed on the unlatched gate. The metal squeaked and groaned, as though unused to the abuse of being opened.
The place seemed too deserted. My free hand patted the gun in my pocket. The gate emitted a desolate clunk as Vitaly eased it shut behind him.
The fence enclosed a small public garden of sorts. A little park surrounded on four sides by old buildings which, at first, appeared to be warehouses. I'd thought we were in some old industrial area, but the park made me wonder if this could be residential.
Not a very cheery place to live, for sure. I stared up the sides of buildings to the dark holes in the façade that were windows. In this light, they seemed covered on the inside by black paper. A sliver of light appeared around one of them.
Our destination, perhaps.
SD was right—the place was scary and did little to inspire confidence.
We exited the garden through another gate that groaned the same way as the first, rounded the corner of the building, then stopped against the wall. Eerie silence enveloped us. The heavy atmosphere sucked up the shuffling of our feet. One of us drew in a deep breath, and it sounded like a windstorm.
Still taking his cues from Vitaly, David led us around and over piles of broken bricks, pipes, and construction materials strewn about. From the look of things, someone was in the process of replacing plumbing pipes. The wet ground squished around our shoes, and we slipped and slid through the mud. When we came to an open trench filled with slush, Andy took Sienna Dawn's arm and helped her over it, leaving Carla and me to leap across unassisted.
So much for age before beauty.