On Thursday, April 2, 2020, the plane touched down at the Charles de Gaulle Airport just before noon. Smooth landing with the lightly loaded number of passengers during the pandemic. Delta Airlines is following the new social-distancing guidance and only flying the number of passengers they can safely accommodate. After gatherings my suitcase, I met Michèle, my Air Bed and Breakfast host for an apartment on the Paris Left bank.
As we walked out to the parking lot Michèle said, "As we agreed, the flat has been vacant for more than two weeks and no one has entered." "It has been stocked with everything you asked for."
I had been planning this trip to Paris in April for six months. My schedule also includes a week mid-April in Marrakesh, Morocco with my sister, Suelynn. I envision a week of wandering souks, camel rides, and trips into the countryside.
Michele was very helpful in arranging my stay and enthusiastic in welcoming me to Paris. On our way to the apartment at Rue de Grenelle Street, she played the perfect tour guide, speaking fluent English and identified all the amazing sites along the way. In our small talk we came to agree that traveling during the COVID-19 times may not be the smartest thing to do, but my odds of getting the virus are just as great in Paris as they were in California. So, what.
When we arrived, we entered the gate and walked into a large courtyard with hedges and shrubs in bloom with many flowers and smells. My apartment was the second one on the right.
Michele gave the key to me along with a large envelope. She said, "You should find everything you need in the envelope. If there is anything else, or if you have any questions, call me anytime, day or night."
The apartment is small and well organized. I unpacked my suitcase and lay on the bed for a quick nap. I woke starving about two hours later. When I was at LAX airport, I had met a young couple, Mandy and Richard who were returning to Paris. Richard owns a nearby restaurant on the left bank. Their restaurant converted to take-out and delivery due to the strict COVID-19 regulations in Paris. I called Richard and began to order dinner, but he interrupted me and said, "I know what is good and I will have our best Parisian feast at your door within the hour."
I checked the package Michèle gave me and found the combination to the safe. I opened the safe and was pleased with her choice. I am a little old-school, but I just like the feel of the standard-issue Navy M1911 Colt semi-automatic pistol. I grabbed my jacket and headed out to see the neighborhood.
When I returned from my walk, Richard and Mandy were waiting for me in the courtyard, unpacking the food, and beverages from huge paper bags onto one of the three large tables in the courtyard. I greeted them and went inside to change into clean clothes, sanitize the rest of me, and gathered some plates for the table.
Richard said, "I think you will like this dinner." "We will start with an appetizer of shredded carrots, radishes, and charcuterie, then on to Boeuf Bourguignon made from the best beef in all of France, and finishing with yogurt and truffles."
We toasted to our new friendship born during the COVID-19 days and talked about how our countries were each dealing and reeling with all the disruption and confusion.
Mandy met Richard while she was visiting Paris on a business trip when she attended the 2019 Sustainable Amazon Partnership (SAP) conference. Mandy's company founded SAP to help promote the sustainable management of the Brazilian Amazon. The goal of her company is to improve the conditions of indigenous people through harvesting, processing, and marketing of açaí fruit. The enterprise supports ten-thousand family farmers and two-million acres of Amazon rainforest. Her company distributes to the US, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, and Canada.
I asked Mandy how she could get away to visit with Richard for so long a time and she said, "You know, in these COVID-19 Days everyone is working remotely." "My home here in Paris is just a little more remote than others." "I really do work from here!" "I even have a real-time video stream showing my backyard in San Diego. I show the video on the wall behind me when I am in video conferences." she laughed.
After a great dinner and delicious wine, Richard bagged up the empty containers and I brought the dishes into the apartment, while Mandy and Richard remained outside.
Richard said, "In these times we don't enter other people's homes and keep our distance from everyone." "Part of the job and part of our new lifestyle until we get through the worst of this pandemic."
I brought out a bottle of hand-sanitizer and squirted it into their hands and disinfected the table and seats before they left. They are an interesting couple. We agreed to see each other again soon.
I awoke early on Friday but stayed in bed with my eyes half-shut and reran the previous day's events.
I had a plan and then life happened. This trip started out as a bucket-list adventure following my retirement from the UNLION, a medium-sized company that provides training support to military and law enforcement organizations all over the world. In all, I spent twenty-three years in the Navy, followed by Twenty-three years supporting military special events as a contractor. I travel all over the Pacific and Southeast Asia, along with many trips between the East and West Coast. The best part of my work was the great people I met along the way. Diesel, my team leader gave me a hard time about visiting Paris instead of letting him arrange a great adventure on a river cruise through Europe or cruising the Mediterranean and stopping at all the great ports.
He and his wife opened a cruise business as he was getting near to retirement and they both turned into travel nuts. The only things that make Diesel happier than travel talk is anything to do with the Cubs and cooking comfort food. Go Cubs!
Anyway, last week I got a call from Diesel. He said there was a Texas family who needed our help.
Diesel elaborated, "Their daughter went to Paris to pursue a Master's Degree of Science in Fine Art History." "Paris is a good place for that right, but there is a catch."
"She has a Master in Biochemistry from Stamford and spent a year working at one of those Biotech places out your way in San Diego." "In January, she decides to follow up on her undergraduate minor in Fine Art and took off to study in Paris." "Her mom has not heard from her for a couple of weeks and she wants us to nose around and see what's up."
Diesel I said, "Let me see if I have this right." "You want me to do some babysitting while I am on my bucket-list adventure in Paris." "What if instead, I promise to take your river cruise next year?"
Nice try Michael, not that easy. The pay is good and the company will comp you for your airfare and whatever else you need."
"Ok, that sounds fine." "What do we know about the mom and the daughter?
Diesel said, "Sherry moved to Dallas Texas a few years back and bought an equestrian farm where she breeds, trains, and show horses. The daughter is twenty-eight years old, single, level-headed, motivated, and confident."
When I got off the phone with Diesel, I called the number he gave me for the family and the mother answered.
Sherry was very relieved when I told her I would be traveling to Paris to find out what is going on with her daughter Savannah. She said that Savannah went to Paris in January to get ready for Post-graduate studies at the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 and was living in an Air B&B near the university.
She said Savannah surprised the rest of the family when she told them her plans to pursue a second Master's degree in Fine Art History. Her mother said Savannah appeared to be stressed and, in a hurry, to leave. She talked with Savannah on a weekly basis after she arrived in Paris and everything seemed fine. She has been unable to reach her since the 15th of March. They always talked on Sundays.
Sherry gave me all Savannah's contact information including cell phone number, AB&B address, and University administration phone number. Sherry said she called the school several times and they had no information to give her. I thanked her and said I would let her know when I had any information.
I hung up and adjusted my travel arrangements. Donna, my wife, and partner was not surprised by a sudden change of plans. That happens to me all the time. I have been planning on being away on travel to Paris for the month anyway, while she kept the ranch running. But now, I had a mission. Donna will likely become interested in helping me by doing research and backup support. And, I always need her help. Donna gives great advice using her amazing and unique insight into complex and obscure problems. Sometimes her solutions are so simple and elegant that I break out laughing at my folly and her brilliance. I am one of those people who laughs until tears come. Donna puts on a funny innocent face and just looks at me, which only makes me laugh harder until my stomach hurts.
I was ready finally to get out of bed and start the day. I showered in the tiny shower and dressed. The kitchen was well stocked and I made bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast, coupled with a large mug of coffee.
I grabbed my Samsung tablet where I keep my brains and my phone and headed out. Savannah's AB&B was only about a mile east from mine and I decided to walk there along the Seine river. In Paris during COVID-19 times, anyone outside must carry a certificate indicating their destination and reason and for being out. The Company prepared a great certificate for me that basically gives me unlimited freedom to move about and even enter museums, gardens, and monuments, with head-of-the-line privileges. How cool!
The street was narrow and lined with trees budding in the spring as I walked toward the river. I saw the Louvre on the other side. or right bank. I was walking on the left bank according to Paris geography. I turned right and walked east along the Seine for about a half-mile and then south until I reached Savannah's AB&B. It was located a couple of blocks beyond her University.
I talked with Savannah's roommate, interrupting her online class, and learned that Savannah stopped attending classes about a month ago and has only returned to the apartment a few times to get some clothes and other things. She was always in a hurry, in-and-out. She has not been back in more than two weeks. She thought Savannah probably found a lover. That did not jive with her mother's description of her as a focused level-headed and motivated woman. Though in these crazy COVID-19 times, with everyone's lives knocked off-kilter, who knows.
While we talked, I looked around the small studio apartment and noticed a brochure for the Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC). UPMC merged with the Paris-Sorbonne Combined University a couple of years ago and is supposed to be the best medicine and health university in France. I asked her roommate if the brochure belonged to Savannah and she said yes, Savannah visited UPMC when she first arrived and said that her professor and thesis advisor from Stamford was now working at UPMC. She though the professor's first name was Denise, but did not catch her last name. Savannah went to have drinks with her to catch up. It was around the time that COVID-19 was beginning to affect Italy. She laughed and said it is funny the way we are all starting to milestone time, based on this damn virus.
I thanked her for her help and gave her my card. She said when I see Savannah, tell her Marie misses her and that I am getting concerned. I told her I would pass it on and left.
Once on the street, I walked over to the Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 admissions office. The clerk at the office checked my credentials and answered my questions about Savannah's attendance. She said that Savannah had opted out of the master program after the second week and asked the admin office staff not to tell anyone that she did so.
The clerk said, "We respect and honor our student's requests, but given the current circumstances and potential that anyone could come down with the virus and need family or friends, I am telling this to you now." "I hope she is ok. I feel guilty for not giving more information to her mom when she called."
I thanked her and headed back to my apartment.
I took a more direct route from the University to my apartment which took me through the Luxembourg Gardens. Marie de' Medici, the widow of Henry IV began building the palace and the gardens in 1612. The French Senate now meets in the palace.
I had a late lunch in the garden next to the huge water basin. No little kids floating sailboats today though. I was lucky to find a food stand and get something to eat.
As I was leaving the gardens, a Police Nationale Officer checked my certificate to ensure I was authorized to be outside. Apparently, the Company did a good job of preparing the certificate because she bowed quickly and apologized for the delay.
Back at the apartment I found the phone number online and called the Sorbonne University Pierre and Marie Curie Campus Administration office and asked the office supervisor for contact information for an American professor with the first name of Denise. He told me that the university closed all the campus and research labs and that staff and students were all working remotely and studying online. He said he could not give out personal information, but that he would give Professor Rodrigo my phone number and ask her to call me. I told him that would be great, gave him my number, thanked him, and hung up.
My next call was to my sister Suelynn in California. She is not an early riser and I knew a call this early in the morning would not make her happy.
"What!", she answered.
And that is how the rest of the conversation went. Suelynn is a registered nurse. She has worked with psychiatric patients at hospitals and other facilities throughout most of her career and has shown tremendous dedication to her profession and the wellbeing of her patients. If anyone threatens the health and safety of her patients or the people she cares for, stand from under. She is like a mother mink protecting her cubs.
She has not taken a vacation in over a year and has mostly been working twelve-hour shifts. She booked a timeshare in Marrakesh over six months ago and I made the decision to join her. Since then we have been planning and coordinating the vacation. Fortunately for us, COVID-19 travel restrictions to Morocco are less restrictive than for many other countries.
I told her about the missing person case I am working and said I thought I would have it wrapped up in time to catch my flight to join her.
She said, "You better!" and clicked off.
Saturday morning was sunny and warm. I was out of the apartment with my cell phone in my pocket hoping professor Rodrigo would call. I hoped she would call last night too, but no luck.
In my planning for the trip, the first museum on my list is the Musee d' Orsay located on the left bank of the Seine not far from my apartment. I am a painter and I make sculpture when I have time to do whatever I want. I brought sketch pads with me to Paris and plan to put them to good use.
I arrived at the museum just before 8 am and there were no lines to get in. I had to cast around to find someone who could let me in. A woman greeted me and asked if she could be of assistance. I showed my papers to her.
She smiled and said, "The museum is not open, but I have nothing to do this morning and would be happy to be your escort for a quick tour."
She had a bright smile and told me that she was an art student working at the museum on the weekends helping to change out the temporary shows and catalog artwork. I mentioned that I like impressionist paintings, especially Manet and Renoir. She led me to the fifth floor, past amazing sculptures and paintings that I have seen many times in books and other media. The fifth floor was almost too much to take in. Brilliant Impressionist masterpieces everywhere.
My phone rang and I answered. My escort motioned to the Café Campana entrance only a few yards away and I went inside to talk. The café was open for staff and the occasional visitor during the COVID. I took a seat and the server asked if I would like some coffee sign and I nodded yes.
"Hello, is this Mr. Manhalt?", the person asked.
I answered, "Yes, you must be Denise Rodrigo, thank you for calling me back."
She replied, "What can I do for you, Mr. Manhalt?"
"I am in Paris on vacation and Savannah B. Holiday's mother asked me to get in touch with her. Apparently, she used to talk with her mom every Sunday, and then her calls stopped a couple of weeks ago. I am sure she has been very busy in these complicated COVID times but her mom is concerned. I was hoping you might be able to tell me how I could reach her".
"Mr. Manhalt, I do not know you and I am very protective of my students and colleagues." "You say you have been looking for her?"
"Yes, and I understand and appreciate your protecting Savannah's privacy and safety." "I will send an email to you with my identification documents and contact information for people who can verify who I am."
She said, "I would like to meet you first. This morning if possible, and then I will decide where we go from there."
I told her I was at the Orsay and we agreed to meet at 10 am here in the Orsay Café Campana. The meeting location was convenient and it allowed time for wandering the museum. Now I just needed to convince my escort with the bright smile to let Dr. Denise Rodrigo into the museum for the meeting.
After Denise talked to Mr. Manhalt, she called her father, and told him a man just called looking for Savannah and that her mother has not heard from her in weeks.
He said, "So great, we now have a stranger from the States asking questions." "Do you think he has anything to do with her disappearance?"
Denise said, "I don't know, but I am going to find out." "Maybe he has some information that will help us find her. I will meet him at the Musee d' Orsay café this morning at ten."
Denise Rodrigo MD has a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and came to Paris last year to work together with her father, Dr. Kevin J. Morrison at the Sorbonne Pierre, and Marie Curie University (UPMC). DR. Morrison is currently on travel and working at the Institute of Biophysics in Beijing, China, where research focuses on the research in protein science and brain & cognitive sciences.
On December 31 of last year, Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organization of an outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses common in humans and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. It is rare for animal coronaviruses to infect humans and then spread among humans. The first known severe coronavirus humans to human spread emerged in 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in China. A second outbreak occurred in 2012 in Saudi Arabia with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
The epicenter of this SARS-CoV-2 outbreak was Wuhan, China located on the Yangtze River, with a population of over eleven million people. Within months, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has caused a worldwide pandemic with more than a million confirmed cases, in more than two-hundred countries, resulting in over sixty-thousand documented and reported deaths.
As people around the world learn more details about the COVID threats and health risks, they have adjusted their behaviors to protect their health and their families. COVID-19 has changed daily routines, including work, family activities, recreation, social contact, and mobility. People all over the world are taking COVID-19 very seriously.
Usually, Dr. Rodrigo research and her father's work focused exclusively on COVID-19, but not today. She was worried about the safety of her colleague and friend.
She and Savannah were working at the UPMC lab yesterday and Savannah left mid-morning to go back to Denise's townhouse, where she has been staying since the beginning of March. The townhouse is only about five blocks from UPMC so she usually rides her bike to and from work.
When Denise returned home that afternoon, Savannah was not there and there were no signs that she had been there. She made multiple calls to Savannah's phone and received no answer. She left messages for her to call back.
Later, she received a call from the UPMC Administration Supervisor telling her that a tall distinguished man came to the administration office and asked about Savannah.
She forced dinner down and went to bed. By the next morning, Denise was frantic with worry. Savannah had never stayed away overnight without telling her.
The doorbell rang, startling her, and she went to the door excitedly hoping it was Savannah. She opened the door and a Police Nationale Officer was standing on the porch holding Savannah's bike next to him.
Bonjour madam, "My name is Officer Reyes with the Police National." "The registration on this bike says it belongs to a mademoiselle Savannah B. Holiday at this address." "Is that you?"
The blood drained from Denise's face and her knees started to give way. She stuttered, "Yes officer." "Will you please come in."
She asked him where he found the bike. The officer said that the bicycle was lying in some bushes at the little park just down the street. She told him that Savannah has been missing and that she was very worried, especially now that her bike turned up.
The officer was very professional and tried to put her at ease, saying not to worry. She will probably come home soon. Maybe she met a friend at the park, hid the bike, and went off for cocktails.
Denise said, "I don't see it that way at all. Savannah is not careless. I am worried that she has been abducted or worse."
"Why would you think that madam?
She said, "I read in the newspaper about women being assaulted and thrown in the back of vans, children too. I am just worried."
"Tell you what", he said, "If she has not returned home by tomorrow night, call the station and give them my name. I will take quick action."
He handed his official card to her and left.
I finished my coffee and a croissant and left the café. My escort was not in sight, so I continued around the rooms filled with oil paintings and sculptures. I always admired paintings by Renoir, especially "Dance at the Moulin de la Galette" and Manet's "Luncheon on the Grass". I felt a connection to the artists as I stood before their work. It is amazing to see the artist's colors and brush marks on canvas that they stretched on wooden frames over one-hundred years ago. Cezanne's "Poplars" and Monet's "Poppy Fields" are beautiful and vibrant examples.
I took the elevator down to the first floor and found my escort as she was opening the door for Denise. Denise dressed casually in white blouse and jeans, medium height, mid-forties, and quite attractive with dark brown hair that curled to her shoulders. Her face showed the strain of wariness at meeting a stranger, but as she offered her hand to me and we exchanged greetings she relaxed and her smile began to show.
Our escort asked if we would be able to find our way around and Denise said, "Yes, Thank you." "I have been here many times before."
Denise offered comments and information about the sculptures as we walked across the cavernous main floor of the museum toward the elevator.
She said, "The Orsay railway station and hotel were built in 1900 and then converted to a museum in 1986.
As we reached the elevator I said, "I am always blown away by how warm and lifelike marble sculptures appear. Baron Haussmann's "Carpeaux" is a great example. I told her that I have worked in marble and bronze and I really appreciate the work of the great sculptors."
As we talked, I learned that Denise is an artist too. She recently showed her jewelry at The Museum of Arts and Design's (MAD) in New York during its 2019 Annual Exhibition and Sale of Contemporary Jewelry. She joined fifty-five emerging and acclaimed international jewelry artists and designers displaying their work. Denise is a very talented and busy lady.
We took the elevator, found the café, and grabbed a table in the back so we could talk. The waiter brought coffee and a plate of Jésuite puffed pastries filled with custards, topped with meringue, toasted almonds, and powdered sugar. Delicious.
I repeated the details about how Savannah's mom asked me to find her. I did not say that I was hired to find her.
She told me that she had checked out my credentials with the contact that I gave her and that was the only reason she was here with me.
"Mr. Manhalt, I think I need your help", she started cautiously. "I do not know where Savannah is either and I am afraid that someone has done something terrible to her, or is holding her."
She told me about the afternoon before when she got home and found that Savannah was missing, and about the Police Nationale Officer who brought the bike to her door the next morning.
She said, the police will not do anything until tomorrow and who knows what may happen to Savannah by that time."
She said, "We have been working long hours daily since February and I know Savannah very well. I know she has not met any friends, gone off. Neither one of us has taken any personal time off for months."
"I met Savannah at Stamford and recognized her brilliance. I became her advisor and helped her with her Master thesis and project." "Over the past two years and we have become close friends.
"I move to Paris and began working at the Sorbonne University Pierre and Marie Curie Campus in January. Shortly after, Savannah came to Paris to study art history at New Sorbonne University Paris 3. "We got together when she arrived and I told her about the work my father and I were doing."
"She came to work with me as a colleague at PMCU in February. Since then we have stayed very busy."
I asked, "Can you tell me why you have been working so hard while the entire world is slowing down or stopping during this COVID time?"
She replied, "It is always that way at PMCU."
"Do you have any idea why she has not been in touch with her mother?"
She replied, "Just busy I guess."
Her phone rang and she took it out of her purse and answered, "This is doctor Rodrigo, may I help you?"
I watched Denise's face change while she listened for a long while. Her facial muscles tightened and fear began to show in her eyes.
She insisted, "Is Savannah ok?" "I want to speak to her now!"
After a few moments, Savannah was on the phone. As they talked, tears began to gather in Denise's eyes.
Denise asked, "Savannah, are you ok?" "What have they done?" "Where are you?"
I heard the phone connection click off abruptly.
Denise put the phone down, "Oh my god, what have they done." "Those bastards, I can't believe this."
I gave Denise a minute to collect herself. She dried her eyes, ran her fingers through her hair then sat up straight and looked at me.
"I haven't been entirely forthcoming with you Mr. Manhalt." "I apologize."
I said, "Please call me Mike." to help relax her.
"Ok, here goes." "That phone call was from a thug who grabbed Savannah." "Savannah sounded Ok, but scared and very pissed off." "The man said he wants something from me."
I waited quietly as she paused.
She said, "Mike, I need to tell you everything that has been going on and how this all began."
Denise said that she received a call from her father in late December. Her father, Dr. Kevin J. Morrison is working as a member of an international research team at the Shanghai Institute for Advanced Immunochemical Studies (SIAIS) in Shanghai, China. The team's focus is on the development of a wide-spectrum drug and vaccine that would be effective against current and emerging strains of coronaviruses, including COVID-19.
The team provides their research data to hundreds of research teams from academia, health agencies, and other medical industries worldwide to help clinicians, vaccine researchers, and other professionals better understand and defeat this new virus.
Her father, Kevin told her about an incident in Wuhan, China. He said that many people in the general population outside the Institute were hospitalized with symptoms of fever, tiredness, and dry cough. There have been many deaths.
In talking with a delivery person from Wuhan, Kevin was the first to hear that the novel CoV was infecting and spreading among technicians at the Institute in Wuhan.
In further discussions with a fellow researcher in Wuhan, he determined that the CoV was one of the new viruses that his team at SIAIS was already working.
Her father told her that it was a good thing that the project was going so well, with many of the trials in their final stages of completion. The team was going to focus on the latest CoV from Wuhan right away.
This week her father, Kevin called and said there was another problem. There have been groups of people in suits and uniforms coming around, herded by SIAIS senior administrators and the University Chancellor, asking questions about our work.
Her father recognized one of the suits, as the owner of BIPHAR Pharmaceuticals, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world in both market capitalization and sales. BIPHAR is a publicly traded company, with its major shareholders in the US and the EU.
Her father said that when we complete our research and testing, BIPHAR will grab up our products and make hundreds of billions of dollars by charging exorbitant prices.
Denise touched my arm and said, "We just couldn't stand by and let that happen." So, my father and I came up with a plan.
I motioned to the server for another round of coffee and more pastries as Denise began her story.
SIAIS upper management submitted the team's COVID research papers to a preeminent scientific journal, PLOS, for publication and peer review by other scientists worldwide. PLOS Organization publishers have very strict requirements for scientific research papers that prescribe content and format for the Title, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Discussion, and Reference Citations sections. Research papers must contain enough detail to allow other scientists to reproduce the results as described in the paper and share their results with the world community.
Her father read the published paper in the journal when it came out and saw immediately that entire paragraphs in the paper were missing from the original submission. There were illustrative figures and other small but significant changes throughout the paper. The redacted paragraphs in the Methods section described the protocols used in their processing procedure that were key to the SARS-CoV-2 antibody and medicine production. Without the details of their team's groundbreaking innovations, other scientists would be wasting their time in their attempts to replicate the results.
Kevin was angry and went upstairs to the university administration office to find the Chancellor. He found the Chancellor in his office sitting with Mr. Adelaide Cervantes, the multi-billionaire owner of BIPHAR Pharmaceuticals. They were drinking brandy and gazing out the massive windows overlooking the Beijing streets below. The Chancellor offered him a brandy and Kevin declined.
Kevin confronted the Chancellor, "What happened to the research paper my team submitted?"
Initially, the Chancellor tried to show surprise, then confusion and went on to suggest various possibilities of how any changes could have occurred.
The Chancellor proffered, "Maybe the Dean of the department made some editorial changes."
Kevin told him that he did not buy any of those excuses. The changes were not punctuation or verb tense changes. Someone intentionally changed the paper to prevent vital information from reaching other scientists and world health organizations. Information that would prevent sickness and death.
Mr. Cervantes became agitated and said, "You scientists never understand how the world works." "My experts say, your damn paper was so detailed; a teenager could make vaccines in a high school chemistry lab." "The antibodies that your team produced must be turned into medicines and then properly introduced to the world community in a controlled manner to ensure their efficacy and integrity." "BIPHAR Pharmaceuticals will do that."
Kevin turning angrier, said, "And you will make billions."
Cervantes smiled and said, "There is nothing wrong with making money."
Kevin replied, "If BIPHAR Pharmaceuticals were to become the single source for the vaccines and serums, including production and distribution, it will delay the delivery of vaccines to those who need it while your company gears up for production." "The world is in a pandemic." "Medicines must be produced on a very large scale." "The Protocols developed here need to get to open forums for action to quickly stop people from dying." "Do you want people's sickness and deaths on your conscience Mr. Cervantes?
Cervantes smiled smugly and said, "What makes you think that BIPHAR has to gear up to produce the medicines?" "I make things happen." "I purchased the entire biologic research facility from the University of Marrakech Cadi Ayyad in Marrakesh, Morocco, isolation labs and all." "My company has been transforming the facility into a state-of-the-art pharmaceutical factory.
Kevin said, "You are shortsighted and greedy as well." "Our team is still working through an issue with the anti-body production protocol. The problem was described clearly in the Methods section of our paper, which you apparently removed."
Cervantes became flustered, then went into a long coughing spasm, calmed down and wheezed, "Of course I know there is a problem, and it is your problem. You are the problem!"
The Chancellor intervened and said, "Michael, we know that your team is working around the clock to get this protocol issue resolved and we are confident you will be successful." "Now that you know how important this project is to us, can we count on you to ensure your team doesn't get bogged down and distracted with concerns about the published paper?"
Kevin responded, "My team is not doing this research for you or BIPHAR Pharmaceuticals." "I will continue to do my work, but I strongly doubt that the production of antibodies and medicines at some factory in Morocco is the best solution to the pandemic." "SIAIS needs to share our work and finding with the world in an open forum."
Cervantes took a couple of deep breaths and said, "I know you have a lot of work to do and that you are working very long hours." "So, I have brought in reinforcements."
"Marni is an BIPHAR executive at the BIPHAR-Shanghai Office." "She has lived in Shanghai for the past six years." "She has a Ph.D. in Immunology from Harvard and has focused on the coronavirus outbreak since it began in December." "She is a very smart woman." "In talking with the Chancellor, I have made arrangements for her to join your team." "She will work directly with you."
The Chancellor interjected, "Marni D. Orisa is right outside and I will invite her in."
Kevin was impressed with Marni. She had an air of self-confidence about her and an easy smile. She was a delight to meet and talk with. However, Kevin new from their first introduction that Marni's purpose was to keep him working and to ensure that he did not agitate the other team members.
Very quickly, Marni would become a trusted member of the team and very helpful in the day-to-day routine. She also would know everything that was going on, and where team members were 24/7.
As Denise continued the background information and the afternoon sun moved around to the Café Campana windows and brightened the room. Denise told me that her father called her from Beijing on 3 January and told her about the crazy changes at the Institute.
Denise said, "We decided on three goals."
"Frist, my father is going to continue the research and testing to find the solution to the antibody production protocol.
"Second, I will continue to work in the Paris lab and replicate the protocols being developed in Beijing."
"Finally, when the protocols prove successful and verified at my lab in Paris, we will release to the world every detail of the production process through an open forum."
Denise explained that setting up the lab in Paris was difficult. There was a suitable lab at Sorbonne Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC), but it was reserved for the new semester kicked off. COVID-19 changed all of that, and in early February the lab was free."
"I did not reveal to anyone my real purpose for using the lab and I had to fabricate a plausible project." "The university would not want to have COVID research done at their site." "The lab would need to be operational 24 hrs. a day and would require people to monitor and run the protocols."
I told Denise, "I can imagine there was a whirlwind of planning in January to put this all together."
Denise said, "Here is the terrible part that I have to deal with." "I needed a partner to run the lab so that we could cover two 12 hr. shifts daily." "Plus, one technician for each shift."
"Savannah was my student and close friend. I had complete trust in her judgment and ability to make the lab a success." "I called her and told her everything about the research in Beijing, my father's part in the research, Big Pharma interfering with the research and their plan to make billions by exploiting the pandemic by becoming the single-source for coronavirus COVID-19 medicines."
"I told her that my father was being held hostage at the university until his team resolved the problem with the coronavirus antibody production protocol." "Savannah listened, asked a few questions, and then said she was in. She said she could start the next day.
Denise said, "Michael, so now you know all of the backgrounds. I wouldn't blame you if you run for the hills at this point."
I replied, "I think I can help you, but I will need your trust." "What was the phone call about that you just receive?"
Denise's face darkened and tensed with anger. She said the muffled voice on the phone was difficult to hear, but she understood every word he said. The guy said he was holding Savannah and that someone was located close to my father in Beijing. If I don't do what he says, they will be hurt.
"So, what does he want you to do?" I asked.
"The thug said to gather up all of the research documents, including documents that my father sent." "Then safely package all the research samples and COVID products from the work we have been doing over the last two months." "He said to dismiss the two techs, shut down the equipment, and secure the lab."
"He also said not to tell anyone about what is going on or there would be serious consequences. Personal ones for your girlfriend and your dad." "The thug said that I have until tomorrow by 5 pm to get this all done." "He will call again to let me know where I will be picked up." "He said, I will be picked up?" "I did not know I was going anywhere." "At least I was able to talk to Savannah and she is ok"
I recommended that Denise just follow the man's directions and that I needed to do some research of my own. She agreed. We left the museum silently, each deep in our own thoughts.
I took a cab to my Company's Paris safe house at Rue des Trois Frères Avenue on the right bank near Montmartre and the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur. The driver passed the Basilica designed by Paul Abadie after Saint Sofia Basilica in Constantinople and San Marco Basilica in Venice. The construction took thirty-nine years and six more architects to finish. By 1914 the Basilica was ready for the consecration, including the bell tower that houses the Savoyarde, a 19-ton bell. The breakout of World War I delayed the consecration until 1919. During WW II, the beautiful stained-glass window was blown out by artillery shells, then quickly replaced after the war. While normally the basilica is a very popular pilgrimage destination, there were only a few people around because of the COVID-19 lock-down.
I entered the safe-house using my common access card (CAC) and turned on the lights. It was a nicely appointed apartment with a great view of the city from the combined living room and kitchen area. There was a bunk room in the back and the office area, referred to as the war room, was just off the entry hallway.
The war room came equipped with a wall of monitors, three computer interface stations each equipped with secure phones. There was a full rack of computers, router, switches, and crypto devices all connected by color-coded wires indicating the various classification levels of information they could carry. The system administration folks get upset when agents monkey with the rack equipment or any wires. I try to keep them happy.
I powered on the room and picked up the phone. Donna answered.
"Bonjour monsieur, Comment vas-tu?"
I laughed, "Bonjour l'amour de ma vie."
She continued, "I can see from the phone connection that you are back in the bat cave. What did you do this time?"
"Pretty quiet here. I couldn't help but stir up some international intrigue."
I told her everything I had learned so far and told her I thought this simple case is getting very messy. There are three people's lives directly threatened, an international pharmaceutical company, several universities, and China involved. There are so many legal authorities, including France, the EU, The US, and China that this is going to get very interesting."
Donna said," You mean that you are not just babysitting or looking for a missing woman anymore." "Now you have some real work to do?"
"Yeh, I guess so. But I did see the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur today, so that is good, right?" I added.
"Only if you went in and said a few prayers." she laughed.
She asked if I had called Jack and I told her not yet, my first call in any situation is to her.
Jacques "Jack" Triomphe and I have worked together on and off since we were in the military together, me in the Navy and he in the Marine Corps. Jack is an engineering genius by the way.
The first mission that Jack and I worked on together involved driving the limonene full of explosives into the parking garage under a communication center operated by drug lords in Panama City, Panama. The timing was critical since we had to get the people out of the building and drive the limo to the right spot under the building immediately after the building was clear.
We parked the limo across the street from the comm center, monitored the clearing process, and waited to go. We got close to time, and Jack turned the key and the engine would not start. He tried again. No go. Jack, got out and lifted the hood, while I stayed in the limo with the two-hundred pounds of dynamite all wired to blow. Time went by, and the smell of dynamite was starting to make me edgy. I got out and asked Jack what was taking so long. He bent over the car fender, with his head jammed between the engine compartment sidewall and the engine. His arms flailed and loose hoses flew around him like spaghetti.
He looked up, with grease on his face and smiling and told me, "Almost done. Get back in the limo and be ready to go."
Moments later, Jack jumped back into the driver's seat and asked if we received the green light to go. I told him, yes just now. Jack turned the ignition key and the engine started right up.
We went down the street, into the garage, found the correct spot to park, and got the hell out of there. We walked quickly away and found an alleyway and turned just as the huge ground shaking explosion occurred. Then we ran.
As we ran, I asked, "So Jack, how did you get that limo to run?"
He told me the problem was that the fuel pump stopped working.
"So, what did you do?" I asked.
"I re-routed the gas hoses from the fuel pump to the windshield washer fluid pump."
"So, we just drove a two-ton limo with 200 pounds of wired dynamite across the avenue in busy traffic and into the back of the big parking garage on a windshield wiper fluid pump?"
"You got to be shitting me?" And I laughed.
It is hard to run and laugh at the same time.
I told Donna, I planned to call Diesel and Jack and DiAnn as soon as we finished our conversation. She said, one thing to look for is the links between the Adelaide Cervantes, the multi-billionaire owner of BIPHAR Pharmaceuticals, and the thug on the phone making the demands. I told her I agreed. There was certainly room for several intermediaries in that chain.
I called Diesel my team leader at the company and gave him the entire rundown. He said he would talk to Waterman and get the approval and funding for Jack Triomphe to work with me.
I told him that we needed to give our contacts a heads-up at the French National Police and the French Minister of the Interior to let them know what we were doing on in case this all goes south and we need their help.
Diesel said, "We have good working relations with both organizations and I think I can get them to give you some breathing space until you get more information." "In the meantime, I will get the folks in the Intelligence division to find out all they can about what your Big Pharma guy is up to and find his operational link to the thug on the phone."
I said, "It is a good thing that Jack and DiAnn live in Paris." "No travel issues to deal with."
I asked Diesel how the Cubs were doing and then regretted the question as I remember the 2020 baseball season was canceled. He grumbled and I apologized for being so insensitive.
My next call was to Jack and DiAnn. They lived on the Route du Champ d'Entrainement near The Louis Vuitton Foundation about six miles west from my apartment.
Jack answered, "Michael, how the hell are you?" "We didn't know you were in town. DiAnn is here. Let me go on speaker"
DiAnn joined, "Is your lovely bride with you?"
I replied, "No, she is probably in the orchard picking avocados at about this time of day." "The avocados crop is amazing this year."
DiAnn commented, "So, she is home working while you are playing here in Paris."
"Pretty much. Just keeping her down on the ranch." I said.
DiAnn laughed, "So when did you get in town?"
"I arrived in Paris the day before yesterday but it seems like I've been here a week already." "I came here for a vacation and just before I came here, I received a call from Diesel who said he had an easy task for me." I said.
Diane said, "There are no easy tasks when Diesel is involved." and laughed.
I ask Jack and DiAnn what were they doing to keep themselves busy under the COVID-19 lockdown.
"Jack has been spending a lot of time in his workshop and I have been working on Sudoku and jigsaw puzzles. Going crazy with nothing to do." Diane replied.
Jack has a 20 by 40-foot workshop right outside his back door where he builds cars and trucks in his spare time. Right now, he is working on a 1964 convertible Mustang and he has a 67 Mercury Cougar both in various stages of restoration. Jack does amazing work.
Diane works for UNLION too. She was the principal assistant to the UNLION Director of Intelligence before she and Jack moved to Paris. Now she supports special operations, providing reach back support and direct communication management for field operators.
Jack asked, "Are you too busy to come out and see us?"
I answered, "Well, I was just thinking I need to get out of the city." "Besides, I need to tell you what's going on with the project I'm working. "I may have a solution to your boredom problem."
Jack said, "Good, I'll have the cocktails ready when you get here."
I changed my clothes and check my messages and found a message from the car rental place that said their driver would be here in just a few minutes. I went outside to wait.
The driver pulled up with a Ceramic Blue 2020 Aston Martin Vantage. She had me sign the rental agreement and then she jumped in the car that had been following her to take her back to the rental office.
I got in and set up the navigation system. My route would take me by the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louis Vuitton Foundation. At least I would get to see some of the destinations on my must-see list.
I pulled into their driveway, the gate opened, and I drove in and parked.
Jack came down the stairs from the porch with a tumbler of Bacardi and coke and place it in my hand before I closed the car door.
"Nice wheels." "Come on in," Jack said.
I followed him up the stairs into their great room and into the kitchen area. I put down my drink and hugged DiAnn. The decision to hug or not to hug in these COVID-19 times is complicated and everyone must decide how they are going to act based on the latest information available.
In January, both our families had dry coughs, tiredness, and some shortness of breath. We thought we had the flu. Recently UNLION required antibody tests for all employees to help in determining the risk factors in bring people back to work as the COVID-19 lock-down protocols eased. Jack and DiAnn, and Donna and I did well on our tests which probably means we had COVID-19 in January and developed residual antibodies.
Researchers are still looking at the relationship of antibody presence and immunity. No clear word yet on whether people with antibodies can catch the viruses again and if so, how long the antibodies will provide immunity.
So, I am not taking any chances. There are three types of people in my new COVID-19 world. First, there is the general population and I consider them all COVID carriers. I do not trust any of them. I wear a mask and keep my distance from them. Then there are people I can rely on to keep themselves clear of the general population and any COVID traces on surfaces. They use disinfectants to remove any invisible traces of the viruses on themselves and the things they touch. These are the people whom we have over to my ranch. They sanitize their hands and things they bring with them. We swim in the pool, eat dinner, and enjoy cocktails outside following the six-foot rule with minimal touching of any surfaces. The third group includes people I live with, and those I work closely with, where it is impossible to follow the social distancing guidelines. I trust them to follow COVID protocols when they go out in public and to limit their trips to essential travel. Only my daughters, their boyfriends, Jack, and DiAnn are currently included in this group.
We sat at the kitchen island and caught up on family news and activities.
DiAnn said, "I am going to start dinner. Why don't you guys go out to the shop and I will join you when I can."
Jack and I went out the back door and across the grass and into the workshop. Jack turned on the lights and the entire cavernous steel building filled with LED light. Two cars, one behind the other, next to the tool bench occupied the right half of the shop, and the other half included a fully equipped gym, including a heavy bag and speed bags. The remaining quarter was DiAnn's glass-works studio.
DiAnn makes beautiful stained-glass windows and sculptures. She specializes in making glass work using the same techniques that Clara Driscoll used from 1892-1908 when Clara led Louis Tiffany's women's department glass shop and its thirty-five women artisans. They designed and made stained glass windows and lamps for and the Glass and Decorating Company in Manhattan. Clara was a major creative force and effectively challenged the male-dominated unions of that time that disapproved of women from poor immigrant families earning union wages. Like Clara Driscoll, DiAnn raised the professional caliber and respect for women in the workforce during her years at UNLION.
Jack showed me the 64 Mustang convertible and he has done an extraordinary job in restoring it to showroom condition. He is also building up the 1967 Cougar as a muscle car, with all modern suspension and maybe a new power train if the right components become available. Jack knows everyone in the car industry and is just waiting for the best options to come around.
Jack said, "I added something I think you will like since the last time you and Donna were here", and we walked to the corner where Jack opened a cipher-locked door. He flipped on the lights and a heavy ventilation system came on automatically.
"Jack, this is amazing!" I said.
"This is a law enforcement/security certified 75-foot indoor shooting range built for two shooters with a gran trap at the end of the target line so we can fire all calibers of weapons." "UNLION paid for it and installed it last month for use by the various company personnel traveling through Paris on business."
"DiAnn and I come out here and shoot a few rounds in the evening, just to unwind."
"Just like Ozzie and Harriet, right?"
Jack unlocked the gun safe and chose a couple of automatic hand-guns from a wide selection of options and we fired at the targets for a while. DiAnn buzzed in and the red light came on. She told us dinner was ready.
Over a wonderful steak dinner, I told them all about the project and said Diesel had already approved Jack and added his name to the workorder.
Jack asked more questions and I said, "We have a lot to figure out."
DiAnn said, "I will look into the background of BIPHAR and see what I can find out." "Keep me posted and I will let you know what I get."
We all agreed that we were off on an adventure again, raised our glasses, and toasted the evening.
We woke up early in the morning to the crowing of Jack's damn roosters and met in the kitchen for breakfast burritos and strong coffee.
I said, "I hope these are chicken burritos." "I noticed it is pretty quiet outside."
He said, "I thought you loved the sound of the country." "Those roosters are an integral part of my home security system." "Much better than geese."
"The only thing that interrupts my sleep at home is the sound oranges, grapefruit, or avocados falling from the trees and maybe the occasional frog croaking from the ponds in the rose garden," I said.
I asked Jack if he wanted to drive into the city with me and he said he would take his new 2020 Ducati Diavel 1260S. Jack was born to ride motorcycles.
We said goodbye to DiAnn and when we got to the driveway, I checked out his new bike. Jack and I have ridden bikes together on many occasions. I recently downgraded from a Victory touring cruiser to a Surly Long-Haul Trucker bicycle, a long-distance cargo bike for getting out and seeing the world at a slower speed.
I drove to the AB&B apartment first and filled a suitcase with my clothes and toiletries I would need. I packed my weapons too.
Jack was already in the war room at the safe house when I got there.
I told Jack, "I am going to call Denise Rodrigo now to see how she is holding up and to see if she has heard from the thug."
Denise answered after three rings and said, "Hello Mr. Manhalt."
"Any calls from the thug?"
"No calls." "I am at the UPMH lab packing all the coronavirus samples in safe-transport containers." "This is tedious work, extremely unforgiving if I make any handling mistakes." "It is going to take a while."
"I told the two lab techs that we have to put the project on hold because of COVID-19 work restrictions become more stringent for the university." "I told them that they would continue to receive their salary during the down-time." "They were happy about that, and I think they believed my story."
"Denise, have you seen anyone around showing any interest in what you are doing?", I asked.
"No, but on my way here I saw a black Land Rover Defender that appeared to be following me." "The windows were dark, so I couldn't see the driver or anyone inside." "I was able to get a license number and I will text it to you"
"I would offer to help move the equipment and records back to your townhouse, but if you have a tail I don't want to spook him with my presence.", I said.
Denise said, "Everything will fit in my Audi Q7 and will require only one trip." "I've got it."
"I will send my partner, Jack Triomphe to check around the perimeter at the lab to see if there is anyone hanging around. He will call you if he observes anything unusual" I said.
Jack and I went over the plan for the afternoon. Jack would leave soon and go to the UPMH lab and keep an eye on things from the outside. He will be less conspicuous on his bike. When Denise finishes packing, Jack will follow her to her townhouse and then keep watch the house while she is inside waiting for the thug to call.
At this point, we have no idea where or when Denise will be picked up. We know nothing about who the thugs are working for, or where they will take her and all the coronavirus samples and documents.
Jack called DiAnn and gave her the plate number on the black Land Rover. She told him that while investigating Adelaide Cervantes she learned that his pilot has just filed a flight plan to fly the BIPHAR company jet tomorrow from Shanghai China to Marrakesh. Cervantes has made frequent trips there during the last six months to see his brother and family.
I told Jack, "It sounds like Cervantes has been personally monitoring the work at the University of Marrakech Cadi Ayyad. By now, the biologic research facility should nearly be ready to operate as a state-of-the-art pharmaceutical factory."
"I'll get DiAnn to look for more background information about the University and anything interesting behind the sale transaction." Jack replied.
It is now just a waiting game until Denise gets the call from the thug.
Shanghai Institute for Advanced Immunochemical Studies (SIAIS) ordered a complete personnel lock-down to keep the CoV research team confined within the lab and the resident student dormitory. SIAIS said the lock-down will minimize student and staff contact with the local Shanghai population. The number of cases and deaths due to COVID-19 continued to rise in the city. SIAIS also increased the lab network security posture because there is a group of rogue citizens protesting the COVID-19 lock-down in Shanghai by introducing a polymorphic virus via the internet.
All the computers in the lab and dormitory are on a local classified network that blocks access to external networks. Phones in the lab and dorms are for internal calls only. Mobil phones prohibited in the lab or dorms. There is a large matrix of cell phone lock boxes for people entering the lab to store their phones while they are inside.
These restrictions are not very unusual for research facilities, where universities, organizations, and companies need to protect their intellectual-property from theft and outside interference.
Kevin introduced Marni to his fifteen research team members.
"This is Marni D. Orisa." "Marni is from the company and she is here to help." "She is going to be our warden until we complete our project." The team laughed.
Marni began, "Listen up, there are going to be some changes around here." "I hear it is nothing but fun and games around here." "Well, let me tell you this." "Your fun meters are pegged."
Then Marni looked around the lab at each person and then smiled and said, "Well, that was exciting." "I have always wanted to start out my introduction like that." Smiles began to spread followed by relaxed laughter.
She continued, "So we are all stuck here for the duration." "The good news is that the BIPHAR is going to kept us well fed." "Mr. Cervantes has contracted a local 5-star restaurant to cater our meals here at the lab."
The team has been so busy over the last two months, food has become more of a necessary distraction. The thought of having great food delivered seemed to cheer everyone.
After the gathering ended and the team went back to work, Marni asked, "Kevin, what's up?" "I don't get the politics here."
"Cervantes is taking us all down an ugly path that is going to result in more pandemic deaths and hardship worldwide," Kevin said.
"If he has his way and makes BIPHAR the world's single-source of COVID serums and vaccines the company will never be able to meet the demand. Any delay in delivering serums and vaccines to hospitals all over the world will make BIPHAR Pharmaceuticals look shortsighted and reckless." "History will remember Cervantes as the Big Pharma billionaire greedy poster boy who caused deaths around the globe during a pandemic so that he could get richer." "Does he care about that?"
Marni said, "I have no idea what Cervantes cares about." "Let's take this discussion out of the lab so that we can talk freely." "I have a lot of questions and some new information for you."
They left the lab and went upstairs to Kevin's make-shift office in the resident student dormitory.
Marni said, "Cervantes is into some very dark activities." "Yesterday evening, I was sitting in the conference room next to the Chancellor's office." "The Chancellor wished me a good night as he left for the day." "Cervantes remained in his office and made a phone call."
"I heard him address a person on the other end of the conversation by name- James Reo." "Their discussion began with the typical social exchange about family, and college days." "Typical banter between old friends."
"Then their conversation became serious and Cervantes talked more quietly, but forcefully." "Cervantes was giving detailed instructions about how to do something involving picking up a passenger and taking her to a residence in the outskirts of Paris." "It was quiet for about a minute as I guess Cervantes was listening to James."
"Then Cervantes said more loudly and some anger," "Ok, ok, I got it you don't need my instructions on how to snatch and transport Savannah." "Just don't let any of this blowback on me." Then I heard him say, "I don't care if your guys are worried about getting infected in the lab." "You are paying them well, aren't you?" Then I heard, "Yes, I need them both, so don't hurt them." "I will need them in Marrakesh too." Then I heard, "The Holiday woman will calm down after she is back together with Denise Rodrigo." "After they finished the call, Cervantes hung up the phone and I quietly left the conference room."
As Marni related this information to Kevin, she saw his face tense and show stress when she mentioned the names Rodrigo and Holiday.
Marni continued, "When I left the conference room I went to the lab and found your personnel file and made the connection between you and your daughter Denise and her student protégée at Stamford, Savannah B. Holiday." "I don't know what is going on, but I don't like it."
Kevin asked, "Did you hear when the abduction supposed to happen?"
Marni replied, "Based on what I heard through a thin wall and a window with the privacy curtains drawn, Savannah has already been kidnapped and Denise will be kidnapped very soon if it has not already happened."
Kevin said, "How can I get a line out to call Denise?"
"I have a code that will allow your call to be passed through the security system. Call her now."
Kevin tried the home number and the lab number and they both rang with no answer.
Marni said, "Kevin, you need to know something else." "Cervantes was admitted to the University hospital a short while ago with COVID-19 symptoms." "He is in isolation and the staff was getting ready to put him on a ventilator when I left."
"Marni, if he goes on a ventilator, will you be making company decisions while he is under?" Kevin asked.
Marni answered, "I don't know, but I guess we will find out."
Officer Reyes was working on his own time, watching for any unusual activity involving the woman who said yesterday that her colleague may have been abducted. Today, he followed the woman to the university and noticed a motorcycle trailing behind her car. The woman went into the building and bike stopped at a distance, where the rider could watch the door. Reyes waited and watch, both the rider and the door for the woman to reappear.
Denise Rodrigo was inside gathering up all the coronavirus samples and experimental serums then placing them carefully into their original transport cases. She had to finish all the packing before 5 PM when the thug was going to call her with further instructions.
By noon, Denise was hungry and decided to get lunch. She grabbed her purse, left the lab, got into her car, and pulled out of the parking lot. The motorcycle followed.
Officer Reyes followed at a distance behind the bike. He waited for a clear area in the street ahead, turned the siren on to get the drivers attention, and gave his commands over the car's external announcing system, "C'est la Police Nationale. Déplacez-vous sur le côté de la rue et arrêtez, éteignez votre moteur, et mettez vos mains sur votre tête!" blasted onto the street. "This is the Police National. Move over to the side of the street and stop, turn off your engine, and put your hands over your head"
The rider complied and Reyes got out of the car and approached the suspect.
"Mettez lentement votre kickstand vers le bas, puis retirez votre casque, et descendez de la moto très lentement."
The man put the kickstand down and remove his helmet. As he got off the bike, he torqued his body around and in a flash kicked Reyes in the side of his head. Reyes went down hard to the asphalt.
In an instant, the man was on top of him with a stiletto knife pointed into Reyes' neck and said, "Who the hell are you?"
"I'm your worst nightmare!" as he pressed the barrel of a beretta into the man's ribs. "Now get the hell off me!", said Reyes.
Jack got up slowly and backed off as Reyes stood. They both stood facing each other angrily.
Reyes said, "Gun beats knife every time." "You tell me who you are and why you are following Ms. Rodrigo."
Jack said, "So you are a cop?" "Show me your badge and ID"
Reyes held up his badge and ID.
Jack said, "I am an international law enforcement contractor operating in Paris by the direction of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). I work for UNLION supporting , the Global Action to Prevent and Address Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants."
"So why are you following Ms. Rodrigo?" Reyes asked.
"We think she and her associate may be the targets of the French Mob, Milieu Corso-Marseillais, and my company UNLION has been hired to protect them." Jack added, "Your turn to talk, and please explain why you are driving around in a private vehicle." "I thought you were Mileiu." Jack smiled and said, "Sorry about the little bump on your cheek." "Do you always bruise so easily?"
"I am a Judiciary Officer of Police Nationale ." "I have dual French and US citizenship and worked my way up through the National Gendarmerie in Le Havre to the National Police here in Paris." "I investigate mostly smuggling and human trafficking case." "So, it appears we have a few things in common."
"I am driving my personal vehicle because it is my day off and I am not supposed to be interfering with your actions." Apparently, the French Ministry of the Interior informed the National Police that UNESCO authorized UNLION actions here in Paris and directed us to stay clear and give you room to operate."
Reyes added, "Nice move as you dismounted from the bike, by the way." "I think your body was parallel to the ground when you kicked me."
Jack said, "I took a modern dance class when I was in college."
Denise drove by the two of them as she returned to the lab but she did not see them.
Jack said to Reyes, "I need to give Denise a tracker tag and a new burner phone before she goes back to her townhouse." "So, you may see me going into the lab if you are going to stick around."
Reyes said, "I will go back with you so that you can tell me more about what is going on." "I'll meet you there."
Jack came out of the lab and got into Reyes' car and they talked as they surveilled the area.
Reyes said, "How can the National Police help?"
Jack said, "Manhalt and I will handle the pickup and following phase." "We will let you know where they are being held." "If we need some local help for the extraction, we will tell you." "Extractions sometimes get a little messy and the less National Police involvement and association the better for all concerned."
Reyes said, "Ok, That jives with my orders from headquarters." "Keep me in the loop as things change though, so that I can plan for contingencies and have the resources I may need."
My day in the war room was productive. DiAnn called and told me that the license plate that Denise saw on the black Land Rover that was following her belongs to a construction company that has ties to the Milieu Corso-Marseillais. She called the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and talked to a contact we both knew from a previous operation. She learned that the construction company is under surveillance as a suspect in multiple Milieu Corso-Marseillais human smuggling crimes. The owner of the construction company keeps company with James B. Reo, who is known to be a Milieu Corso-Marseillais kingpin.
Denise called me after her lunch break and said she would have everything packed up by about 3 PM. She said that she met Jack when he brought a new phone and beautiful earrings. She laughed and said thank you. I told her that I could see her location on the monitor. I thought the earrings would be perfect for the occasion.
Denise said, "Michael, I am afraid you know." "I have never been in this kind of danger with thugs like this." "I don't know if I will be able to keep it together."
I told her, "I can only imagine what it must be like for you." "I admire your courage and respect your willingness to do all of this for Savannah and your dad." "I promise you that Jack and I will be very close to you all along the way and that we will get you and Savannah away from the thug's as soon as possible."
"You will need to stay strong and understand that even if it takes us a couple of days to get you free, we will all be working every minute to get you out as quickly as possible."
"They will likely take your new cell phone. It is small and they may not find it if you hide it in your gear." "Clear any personal information from your old personal cell phone and let them take it." "If they find one phone, they may not look for another." "I doubt they will take your earrings with the GPS locator since they are pretty small and plain."
"Think of it this way, If the thugs get your both phones and the earrings it is no big deal. We will still have you covered." I said. "My company UNLION, UNESCO UNODC, the French Ministry of the Interior and the French National Police are all working together to get you out safely."
Denise replied, "I can't thank you enough." "I will hold up ok, it is just the way I am wired, but I just get stressed when I have so little control over what is going on."
"You will do fine." "Call me when you get the call from the thug." "Jack and I will be near your townhouse, Jack on a black Ducati motorcycle and me in a dark blue Aston Martin Vantage." "You may not see us, because we will keep our distance in case the thugs are watching your home"
James B. Roi heard the knock and opened the door of his office trailer at a construction site in Southern Paris near the catacombs and found Raquel L. Chulachic standing there. James invited her in and then he brought out a bottle of Tequila with glasses and offered her a shot.
Raquel said, "One shot is fine, but this is business." "I want to make sure we are all in sync about what we are doing with these American women." "After they have finished their task at the temporary lab in Versailles, are we taking them to Marrakesh to work at the new BIPHAR manufacturing facility, or are we selling them to my buyers? "I'm confused."
James smiled and said, "You are never confused, Raquel." "The plan just changed and I did not have a chance to brief you."
Roi brought her up to date. Mr. Adelaide "AC" Cervantes is in Shanghai, China. He contracted the COVID-19 virus and was placed on a ventilator today. His prognosis for coming off the ventilators is not good. In my conversation last night with AC we had some disagreement and heated words about the American women. Our original contract was to snatch the woman and take them to the temporary lab in Versailles and after they finished their work, we could do whatever we want with them. Yesterday, AC told me that after the women completed their work in Versailles, he wants us to take them to the new BIPHAR Chemical plant in Marrakesh.
Raquel interrupted, "But, I have made all the arrangements to sell them within the week." "The buyers have paid a lot of money up front based on my agreement to deliver them on time." "They are going to be very upset"
James said, "Raquel, have another shot of tequila" as he filled her glass. "Mr. Cervantes and I go way back." "We went to college together and we were best friends." "He seems to have forgotten our strong ties over the years and now he thinks he can question my professionalism and tell me what to do." "He has become disrespectful" "I am going to forget his offensive words to me, and pray that he is going to come through the COVID illness and return to good health." "I don't wish that kind of misery on anyone."
Raquel looked into Roi's eyes as she took a long swallow from the glass and said, "So where does that leave us with the Americans women?"
"It is simple," Rio said, "We are going to go through with our original contract agreement and sell them as soon as they finish their work this week." "That's it." "Does that clear up everything for you Raquel?"
"Completely!" "And that makes me very happy." "Thank you!"
Raquel went on to report that everything was all set up for the grab tonight. Two of their most experienced drivers were going to pick up the Rodrigo woman and go to the lab in Versailles. The lab is all set up in the basement of an old established two-story home in a residential area. There are already two of our guys at the lab waiting to guard the women.
The drivers will remain as perimeter watch once the women are inside. There has been very little activity in the neighborhood due to the VOVID-19 lock-down in place and no one has shown any interest in the activities with our people going in and out while they were getting the place ready.
Roi said, "Raquel, as always you have done a great job in setting this all up." "Thank you and good luck."
I received the call from Denise at a few minutes after 5 pm. Denise said the thug wants her to place everything in the trunk of her car and drive to the park by her townhouse. He said to park your car where you can find an open space, remove the lab cases and suitcase you are bringing with you, and put them on the sidewalk. Lock your car and wait.
Your friend is ok, and she will remain so if you follow these instructions to the letter. If we see anyone else around, National Police or anyone, we will drive away and you will never see Savannah or your dad again. Do you understand? Be there by 5:30 pm. Denise said she could not make it there that soon. The thug said to her, "then you better hurry" and hung up.
I made a conference call to Jack and DiAnn and told them it is happening now. I told them about the location and the time. I told Jack that I would cover the street from the West and thought he would be good on the Eastside. Our plan was to monitor the pickup and then follow the vehicle to wherever it went with Jack and I swapping the near-follow position frequently to keep the car in constant view.
Ten minutes later, Jack and I were in position. We did not see any other thugs prepositioned in the park.
I could watch Denise's position track updating on my tablet as she approached the park. Her car came into view and she parked in the first available place to park. Jack and I were located about 50 yards east and west of her position. We watched as Denise took her sample cases and a couple of suitcases out of the trunk, lock the car, and stood to wait.
A Lincoln town car drove by and continued down the street. It apparently went around the block, then returned, and pulled into an open spot in front of Denise's car. A tough-looking guy got out of the passenger side and approached Denise. They exchange words and the man placed her belongings in the trunk of the Lincoln and came back to let Denise into the car.
When he opened the door to the car and Denise saw Savannah inside. The thug grunted, get inside. At the same time, Savannah pushed open the door on the other side and yelled, "Run Denise." Savannah ran across the street and Denise followed her along a sidewalk between two houses. The thug ran after the women, while the driver remained in the car.
I ran from my car to intercept the thug. When I turned and ran between the two houses and reached the alleyway, they were gone. I ran back and forth in the alley for some distance and still saw no one.
So, I cut back to the street in time to see the thug leading both women back to the car at gunpoint. Denise got into the car, but Savannah faced and cursed the thug and would not get in. The thug punched her in the stomach and shoved her into the car.
I ran across the street, body-slammed him into the side of the car and punch him in the face. He fell and rolled onto his stomach. I turned briefly to check to see if Savannah was ok and then as I was turning back to look at the thug, I heard two gunshots.
The thug's body was stuck in that place between life and death, pointing his gun at me, with a vacant and confused look on his face. His arm fell limp and he collapsed on the street with two neat bullet holes in his face and neck.
The Limo's engine roared to life and the driver sped out into the street, Savannahs' door slamming shut from the acceleration and tires squealing.
Jack rode up next to me on his bike and said, "I will follow them until you catch up." And he sped off.
I ran back to my car and drove next to where the thug was lying in the middle of the street. I popped the trunk, and hefted his limp body inside and closed the trunk. I picked up his gun and shoved it in my jacket pocket. It is our company policy that we never leave behind any trash or litter on the streets.
I checked the tablet when I got back into the car and still had a good track on Denise. I could see Jack's track as well and he was in a good position trailing by less than a block behind the town car.
When I caught up to Jack and I had a view of the Lincoln I signaled that I was ready to take the near-follow position. Jack turned down the next street.
Over the next hour, we traded positions frequently as we headed toward what appeared to be Versailles.
The town car stopped in front of a two-story home with a low fence in the front with an entry gate between stone columns. A tall man in a Jacket was standing on the sidewalk. The driver turned and said to the two women, "Don't pull any more crap." "Get out of the car when I unlock the doors and my associate will walk you into the house"
They did. The associate and the driver both flanked them to the door. A man inside opened the door as they reach it.
"My name is Patrick and I am here to ensure you have everything in the lab that you need." "The lab is in the basement and you will be sharing the bedroom upstairs." "The rest of the house is off-limits to you." "There is a bathroom in the basement and in the bedroom." The associate will show you to your bedroom and the driver and I will bring your suitcases up to you." "Then we will bring the lab equipment down into the basement." "Is there any special handling required for moving the equipment that we should be aware of?"
Denise said, "My name is Denise Rodrigo and this is my colleague Savannah B. Holiday." "Ms. Holiday was punched in the stomach and jammed into the car." "I certainly expect better treatment here." "Is that clear?"
Patrick was impressed by Denise's show of authority under the circumstances and surprised to hear about a punching incident. He said, "There will certainly be no problems here."
Denise continued, "No special handling required of the cases." "They are vacuum-sealed for transport." "Though, I recommend that you do not open them."
The women were escorted to their bedroom. It was a large room with two queen-sized beds and an adjoining bathroom. There were unpainted pine boards nailed over the windows behind the curtains.
The associate locked the door from outside as he left.
Patrick retrieved the suitcases from the car and brought them into the living room. He was looking through them for any weapons or phones. When the associate came in, Patrick asked him if they had searched the women's purses.
The assistant said, "No."
Patrick said, "You idiot." "What if they had a gun or a knife in their purse?" "You would be dead." "Now go up and get their purses."
He went upstairs, unlocked the door, and went in closing the door behind him.
"Give me your purses," he ordered.
The associate took their purses and emptied them onto the nearest bed. He took their wallets and Denise's cell phone.
He turned to Savannah and asked, "Where is your cell phone?
She said, "You idiots took it when you abducted me in the park."
The associate said, "You have a smart mouth miss." And left the room.
Patrick took the phone and wallets from the associate and told him to bring their suitcases up to the women's room and then escort them down to the lab.
Patrick brought the lab equipment to the basement and was there when the two women arrived. The women looked around the make-shift lab and were impressed by the quality of the equipment they saw, including state-of-the-art Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
Patrick said, "As you can see, there is a computer terminal that connects you to the lab in Shanghai." "It is a dedicated data-only connection with no access to the outside world, so don't waste your time trying to reach out." "If there is anything you need, let me know and I will get it for you."
"I expect that you will finish you work in three days." "My associate or I will bring your meals to you in this lab or in your room whichever you prefer based on your work schedule." Patrick left the lab.
Denise hugged Savannah and said, "I was so worried about you." "Are you ok?" "How is your stomach?"
Savannah said, "I am fine. I wasn't raped or molested, though that little associate pervert managed to find a lot of reasons to touch and rub up against me while they kept me locked up the last two days."
Denise said, "That will not happen here." "You are going to be safe."
Denise turned on the computer and logged in while Savannah started to unpack the samples and other equipment from the traveling cases.
James B. Reo got the call from Raquel just as he was sitting down for dinner.
"Mr. Reo, this is Raquel." She said. "Both women are at the lab in Versailles but they had a problem while picking up the second woman."
She described what happened when the two women bolted from the car and ran across the street. Then, she added the details about the shoot-out in the middle of the street.
She added, "I knew that using your two nephews for this job was risky and I am sorry about the loss of your nephew Stan."
James said, "Its ok Raquel, it sounds like you were successful at getting the women to the lab and locked down, despite the setback." "My nephews were always a little too loosey-goosey on the job for my liking, but you know how it goes with family." "I will worry about dealing with Stan's body if it shows up." "You, just make sure your buyers are primed for the sale in about three days."
Raquel said she would and that everything was on track. They both hung up.
James sat thinking for a while and then dialed the number for the Chancellor in Shanghai. The Chancellor's office manager took the call and put him through to the Chancellor's office.
The Chancellor was in a meeting with Marni D. Orisa discussing Cervantes's condition.
James said, "Chancellor, my name is James B. Reo and I am a personal friend of Adelaide Cervantes." "I know that AC has COVID-19 and is sick." "Do you think he would be able to take a phone call from me?" "I am very concerned."
The Chancellor replied, "I have just received his status from Marni, who is here with me now." "Unfortunately, Mr. Cervantes has been placed on a ventilator and is heavily sedated." "His blood oxygen level very low and doctors administered a heavy and long-lasting sedation so he can heal without fighting the sensation of being unable to breathe." "The doctor said he will be on the ventilator for at least a few days"
Marni said, "Hello Mr. Reo, this is Marni." "Is there anything I can help you with Mr. Reo?" I have taken over Cervantes's duties and decision-making responsibilities here in Shanghai."
Cervantes asked me to arrange private air transpiration for two research leads traveling from Paris to Marrakesh, Morocco this week." "The last time I talked to AC, he said the two researchers were needed at a new facility to oversee some final installation details." "Are you up on any of the details about this?"
Marni said, "Work here in Shanghai is nearly done." "I know that there are two researchers working in Paris to help prove the protocols are clear enough to be understood and that the results can be reproduced independently."
"I know also about the BIPHAR pharmaceutical factory installation at the University of Marrakesh Cadi Ayyad in Marrakesh." "Unfortunately, I am unaware of any travel requirements for researchers to travel from Paris to Marrakesh." "Not much help, apologies"
James said, "Actually, you have been a big help." "From what you said, the researchers should be able to complete their work within three days." "I will proceed with the same timeline your father and I discussed." "Will you call me if the timeline changes, and let him know that I called when he is off the ventilator and on his way to recovery?"
Marni said, "I certainly will James."
James said, "Thank you and it was a pleasure talking with you again." "Goodbye, Marni."
James called Raquel and told her what he learned from Shanghai and confirmed that everything was proceeding on schedule.
Marni turned to the Chancellor as he was returning to his office and asked him, "Do you know about two researchers traveling from Paris to Marrakesh?" "It apparently was an arrangement made between Cervantes and James B. Reo."
The Chancellor said, "I know that Denise Rodrigo and Savannah B. Holiday are working in Paris at the Sorbonne UPMC campus and providing remote supporting to our researchers here in Shanghai." "I have overheard AC talking about the new pharmaceutical factory in Marrakesh and that it was nearing completion, but never heard about the researchers traveling." "Probably not a bad idea to have them in Marrakesh." "I am sure they would be a great help." "But really, I am just speculating."
Marni left the office and want to the resident's quarters to talk to Kevin.
Marni knocked and Kevin let her into his quarters. They waited for the door to close and both started to talk at the same time excitedly.
Kevin said, "You first."
Marni began from the start and told Kevin that Cervantes was on the ventilator under heavy sedation. The doctor told her that his oxygen levels were not coming up and that she should prepare for the worst.
Marni told Kevin about the phone call from James B. Reo and the weird question about the two researchers traveling to Marrakesh.
Kevin told Marni, well you better sit down, I think I have a few surprises for you that might clear up some confusion. They both sat down at the computer interface station facing each other.
As you know, my daughter Denise and her protégée Savannah were working with us in Paris. They set up a lab and they reproduced our protocols for developing coronavirus serums and medicines. They have been shadowing every step we make here.
Our research was open to the world research community, or at least we thought it was. We have been working nonstop since December when COVID-19 began making people sick and dying. As you know we have been able to produce a vaccine that will work against all the coronavirus variation. This is great news for the world and it could put a stop to the COVID-19 pandemic. We submitted our research paper and felt good that we were on the forefront in stopping the pandemic and supporting the world health organization.
Unfortunately, the important details of our methods were removed from the paper before the university sent it to the publisher. Entire paragraphs and illustrative figures were redacted.
A good portion of funding for our research came from BIPHAR in several large grants to the university. BIPHAR grant money built the entire lab. Cervantes also donated millions to the university. I am sure you saw the name "Adelaide Cervantes Research Facility" over the entrance to the lab.
The Chancellor and your father may have started out with good motives for what they do, but they have grown blind to the horrors of the pandemic. They have controlled the research and withheld information about our progress from the world because of their greed and need for power and control.
In the meeting in the Chancellor's office, just before we first met, Cervantes basically told me to shut up, sit down, and do not rock the boat. They both tried to recruit me into their scheme and I said no.
Shortly after that, the lab was locked down and isolated from COVID disease in the streets of Shanghai. Then there was the crazy story about cyber-attacks that caused the University to lock-down the networks to prevent intrusion. The Chancellor and my father are keeping us isolated as hostages until we complete the research and the Chemical factory in Marrakesh goes into production.
As you know, Cervantes wants to prevent any of the research data from getting out to the public." Kevin said to Marni. "I gather that he decided that since he could not control the research team in Paris at the Sorbonne UPMC, he would need to move the research off-campus and lock down the two researchers, Denise Rodrigo, my daughter and her assistant, Savannah B Holiday."
Kevin added, "An American called Denise looking for Savannah." "Apparently, Savannah's mother had not heard from her for a couple of weeks and asked him to find her." "Denise met with the American just after she found out that Savannah was abducted." "The guy has been helping her." "He works for a civilian law enforcement company named UNLION." "UNLION supports military and law enforcement efforts all over the world."
Marni smiled weakly, "What a mess." "Cervantes is on a ventilator and probably will never come off it." "Your daughter is being held hostage by thugs, and oh, by the way, there is a plague threatening the world." She stood up and paced the room.
Jack and I followed the town car trading positions as it headed north across the Seine and then east to a highway and went south, then west circling Paris clockwise to the west. The car entered a residential area north of Versailles and stopped in front of a white two-story home. It was after 7 pm and it was getting dark. We held back, hidden out of sight while two men escorted Denise and Savannah into the house. One man came back out and brought in their luggage and some commercial transport cases. Then the driver pulled away.
We parked and split up to walk the neighborhood to see if there were any guards or lookouts positioned around the house. We joined back up and I told Jack, "There is a soccer field adjacent to the front of the house where we can park your bike and my car." "Follow me."
I parked the car and then walked along the edge of the soccer field until I had a clear view of the house.
Jack joined me and briefed me on his recon, "I went around the back of the house." "The house has a large grassy lawn that wraps around the south and east side of the house." "The sides and back of the property are surrounded by a solid wooden six-foot fence and tall hedges." "The only lights from the house were coming from the first floor." "There is a driveway on the west side of the house." You can see the gate at the street." "There is a small parking area at the end of the driveway near what appears to be the entrance to the basement." "No lights on in the basement."
I told Jack, "I didn't see any bogies on the Northside of the house, just a couple of kids playing in their backyard." "This soccer field provides cover with a good view of the house and give us a place to park that will not draw attention as we come and go."
"I don't want to take any action until we have a better understanding of what is going on inside the house and find out how the house is being guarded." "Jack, if you take the first watch, I will go back to the car and call DiAnn to brief her on everything that has happened so far." "I am going to sleep in the car and be ready to take the second watch at 0200." "Call me on the tactical net if you have anything to report." "I will keep the phone right next to me."
Jack said, "I have the watch." "We also need to brief the National Police detective that I met and see if there has been any blowback from the shooting in the street."
I said, "I will give him a quick call." "I have not had the pleasure of meeting him and this seems like the perfect occasion for introductions." "So, you really kick him in the head?"
Jack smiled and replied, "I had no idea that he was a National Police officer." "That motorcycle dismount kick we practiced last year worked pretty good." "Codter is pretty damn tough." I didn't expect him to be conscious when I jumped on top of him and pressed my knife to his neck." "Scared the shit out of me when I felt the gun barrel in my side." "I'll text you his phone number." "Don't forget to say hello for me."
Back at my car I remembered the thug body I had stuffed in the trunk. Crap, we need to find a place to stash it until after we get the women free.
I called DiAnn. She was in her studio working on a stained-glass panel. The panel was on top of a 36 x 48 true lightbox that showed the colors of the glass during the design process.
"Michael, how are you?" "I understand my husband saved your life again today." and laughed.
I smiled and replied, "Yes he did and I had to pick up the body again." "News travels fast in Paris." "Anything in the papers?"
DiAnn replied, "Nothing." "I received some information from my contact at UNESCOs UNODC about human trafficking." "Apparently, the Milieu Corso-Marseillais has been very active in smuggling recently and UNODC believes that a Raquel L. Chulachic is working directly for James B. Reo, the Milieu kingpin." "The Milieu has very active smuggling routes into and out of Paris." "Tourism in Paris makes prostitution an attractive and lucrative crime." "Women and children from Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Asia, as well as the Caribbean and Brazil, are subjected to trafficking in persons, forced prostitution and forced labor." "Most of the human trafficking crimes relate to prostitution." "UNODC thinks these smugglers are connected to our case and they are becoming very interested."
I asked DiAnn, "What does human trafficking have in common with the abduction of our two researchers?"
"Good question." "I guess we will need to figure that out." DiAnn replied." "Take care of my Jack."
I said I would and hung up.
Next, I called Officer Codter Reyes.
Reyes answered, "Hello this is Codter."
"Officer Reyes, this is Mike Manhalt." "I work with Jacques Triomphe whom I believe you met earlier today."
Codter laughed and said, "You could say that." "Tell him he left something with me, and I hope to return it someday."
I told Reyes about the abduction, the thug that was shot, about following the town car to Versailles, and that Jack and I were outside the house trying to determine how to handle the extraction of the two women."
Reyes said, "I have been in touch with UNODC people and they think Milieu Corso-Marseillais is definitely involved in this and they want to help. They have been after the Milieu for about a year and they want to nail the Milieu kingpin, James B. Reo and Raquel Chulachic who has been running their human trafficking operation." "They made a couple of unsuccessful runs at making arrests and convictions recently." "They think that this activity might just be the one that will let them nail them."
I told Reyes that it was not clear to us why there is a human trafficking connection to our abduction. The only tie right now is that the license on the vehicle used in the abduction showed that the vehicle belonged to a company run by Milieu.
Reyes said, "I am trying to figure that out too." "By the way, what are you going to do with the body in your trunk?"
I told him, "Jack and I are going to keep the thug cool and hold onto it until we get the women out." "Then it will magically appear in some Paris back alley." "We are open to suggestions."
"That sounds like a great plan," he said. "When the time comes, I would be happy to tell you which alley is best and make sure you are not disturbed when you dump it."
I finished the conversation, "Thanks, for the support and intel." "I appreciate that the National Police is giving us room to operate." "Like the COVID-19 pandemic, we all need to do our part to get through it."
Denise and Savannah had a late dinner in the lab. When they finished the assistant came down into the basement to recover their plates and utensils. The women were focused on setting up the main lab table and did not see him come down. He came close and rubbed hand over Savannah's buttock while she was leaning over the lab bench. Savannah was completely surprised at his presence and action. She turned, with her arm swinging out and gave him a roundhouse slap in the side of his face and ear. He fell back covering the side of his face with both hands and bent down screeching curse-words and stomping his feet to help distract himself from the pain in his ear and face.
Denise moved up next to Savannah and said, "Now get the hell out of here and don't come back down here again you adolescent pervert!"
The assistant flushed at the rebuke and tried to find words, but failed. He turned away and made for the stairs, taking them two at a time.
Denise asked, "What did he do?"
Savannah replied, "He rubbed his hand on my ass." "The pig!"
Denise asked, "Where did you learn to hit like that?"
Savannah said, "I have two older brothers and they each taught me different self-defense moves."
Denise added, "I think that guys ear will be ringing for an hour or so." "Nice work!"
The assistant went into the living room and ranted to Patrick, "When do we get rid of those bitches in the basement?"
Patrick, looked up and saw the assistant's red face and said, "You idiot." "What happened to your face?"
The assistant replied, "Why?"
Patrick laughed and said, "There appears to be a handprint along the entire side of your face." "Why would you get slapped in the face?"
"I just went down to pick up their dishes from dinner." I must have startled the young one as I reached for their plates and she turned and clobbered me." "For no reason."
Patrick became angry and said, "The only reason we are here is to keep those two ladies healthy and unharmed." "They are going to bring tens of thousands of dollars or more into our business." "The buyers do not want to pay for women with bruises or other marks on their bodies." "Do you understand that?'
The assistant said, "I got it." "But I didn't do anything."
"Ok, from now on I will take care of their feeding routine." "I don't want you to mess this up." "Now go put some ice on your cheek." "It is swelling up and will likely leave a bruise, you idiot"
Jack moved around the front side of the house watching for any activity. He found a good spot where he could see the entire front of the house, including the door and the gate to the driveway. This was easy work, and he began thinking about all the occasions where he had passed time watch and waiting for something to happen when he was a sniper in the Marines. For hours at a time, all his attention focused on the view through the US Optics scope. Hours of waiting and watching for a couple of seconds of opportunity to make a lethal shot count.
"What are you doing Jack?" Codter Reyes said sternly from about five feet behind Jack.
Jack experienced that whole-body jolt of adrenalin that people get when they get surprised. He recognized the voice and kept still a second until his heart slowed down, he answered, "Excuse me, I think I just pissed my pants." "Where the hell did you come from?"
Codter laughed and said, 'I think we are even now."
Jack turned and smiled, and said, "I think so." and they both laughed.
Jack asked, "So, what is going on?"
Codter gave Jack the rundown of what he had been doing all day.
"I was in the park." "What a mess." "I saw you put a double-tap into the thug." "Great shot." "though I am not sure why you wasted that second bullet." And Codter smiled.
Jack said, "The trigger on my 9 mm Glock is just a bit sensitive."
Codter continued, "I followed you here and while I waited for everything to settle down for the night." "I called in my report to my boss and received a call from Manhalt." "He caught me up on your plans." "I didn't tell him I was only a hundred yards away while we talked." "I wanted to surprise you."
"Well, you sure as shit did that." "Do you want to take the next watch?" Jack smiled.
"Thanks for the offer, but I am going to get some sleep." "The Police Nationale intel folks brief the staff daily at 0900 and maybe they will have something we can use." "See you tomorrow," Codter said as he disappeared into the shadows.
Jack said to himself, "That was weird."
The next morning Denise and Savannah were back at work in the lab. The assistant was nowhere to be seen. Patrick escorted them to their room upstairs last night and then back down to the lab this morning. Most of the coronavirus work that started at the UPMH lab continued in this Versailles lab without any issues, despite the change of venue.
Patrick came down to the lab with their lunch and lingered while they ate. He said that tonight there will be two women arriving and they will be staying in the second bedroom on the second floor. He said they have nothing to do with the lab work. They just need a place to stay. You will hardly notice that they are here.
Patrick took our dishes and left.
Denise and Savannah just looked at each other and wondered what was going on.
Raquel woke in the early morning before sunrise feeling terrible. She took her temperature and it was 103 degrees. Oh my god, she thought. I have it. Oh my god!
She called the hospital and after she described her symptoms, the nurse said to come right in. Raquel dressed and drove to the hospital. As she drove, she found that she was finding it hard to breathe too.
She went to the initial screening area and gave her name to the orderly dressed in personal protective equipment. He said he needed to test her for the COVID-19 virus and explained the procedure.
The orderly unpacked a long swab and inserted it in her nose and pushed the swab tip into the back of her throat and then rotated the swab to collect any viral specimens. It was very uncomfortable and weird because the tissues in that area are very sensitive and never touched. The rotation of the cotton tip caused her to sneeze, and her nose started to run while the orderly finished collecting the specimen.
When the sampling was done, the orderly offered her tissue and a disinfectant wet-wipe to clean herself and gave her a new mask. He directed her to a secondary area to wait for the doctor. There was one other person ahead of her. While she waited an orderly took her temperature and blood pressure.
She waited fifteen minutes for her turn to enter the examining room.
The doctor dressed in PPE told Raquel that the hospital was going to admit her. She told Raquel that she had typical symptoms of the COVID-19 virus. She said the test will take about three hours.
She told Raquel not to be overly worried, that patients have a very wide variety of responses to the disease. The hospital has everything needed to handle any level of sickness that she may incur.
The main thing for her to do is not to stress and try not to worry about anything but relaxing and getting better.
Raquel was anything but relaxed. She had one of the largest smuggling transactions of her career scheduled two days from now. James was counting on her, and there have already been a couple of problems to deal with.
After she completed the check-in and onboarding procedures, she found herself alone in a hospital bed with a very comfortable warm blanket covering her. She was connected to a monitor and an oxygen mask to help her breathe.
They let her keep her phone after they wiped it down with disinfectant. Raquel reached for it and pressed James's number.
James answered, "Good morning Raquel."
Raquel replied, "Not so good I am afraid and I am so very, very sorry."
"What's wrong Raquel?"
"James, I am in the hospital and I have all the COVID-19 symptoms." "They tested me and it will take a couple more hours for the test results to come back." "They have started the Protocol for the disease and I am in an isolation room, on a monitor and oxygen now." She said.
"Oh, you poor thing. I cannot imagine what you are going through. What can it do?" James said.
Raquel was beside herself with worry. Her voice strained, "What about the transaction?" "It is scheduled for the day after tomorrow?" "Aren't you angry?"
"No, why should I be angry?" "I care very much about you and your health." "I am worried, that's all." "Business will take care of itself." "Just tell me what is left to do for the transaction."
Raquel, relieved, said, "The other two women are going to be brought to the house in Versailles tonight at 9 pm." "They will be held in the second bedroom upstairs." "The bedroom has its own bathroom and they will eat their meals in the same room." "The two other women will likely never even know they are there." "Patrick has all the details and I think he can handle that part."
James interrupted, "I think you have a lot more confidence in Patrick and his associate than I do." "But go ahead and finish."
"The buyers are going to arrive at the house the day after tomorrow at 9 AM to inspect the women, complete the transaction, and then transfer $200,000 into our offshore bank account." "At 10 AM, our van will take the four women to the airport and put them on a cargo plane where they will be flown to Nigeria."
James asked, "How many buyers are coming to the house?"
"Two men and a female nurse to examine the women." Raquel answered.
James replied, "And you think Patrick and his assistant will be able to handle the transaction?"
Raquel answered, "I would rather be there myself, but I am pretty sure Patrick can do it."
James said, "I like Patrick, but I can't say the same for his associate." "Regardless, a two-hundred-thousand-dollar transaction is way out of the league." "I will be there to make sure there are no glitches."
Raquel sighed and said, "That would make me feel very good. Thank you!"
James said, "You just focus on getting through the virus and come back to me in good working order." "I will be checking in on you."
"Thank you," Raquel said and then goodbye. She drifted off to sleep.
James called Patrick and told him that Raquel was in the hospital with COVID-19 and that he would be coming by to supervise the transaction. Patrick told James that everything was going fine and that they would be ready.
Next, he called the Chancellor in Shanghai to see how the coronavirus research and testing were progressing. The Chancellor said final testing was wrapping up and there were no issues. He said that Mr. Cervantes was still heavily sedated and on the ventilator. Unfortunately, he was not showing a promising response to the treatment.
The Chancellor said that Marni was doing a great job in keeping My father's research team motivated and moving forward toward the finish line.
James asked, "When will the remote lab work in Paris be finished?"
The Chancellor said, "By the end of the day tomorrow."
James said, "All that sounds good."
The Chancellor asked, "Are you all set to fly Ms. Rodrigo and Ms. Holiday to Marrakesh?
James lied, "Yes that is all arranged. Once they have finished their work, I will get them on a plane to Morocco."
They said their goodbyes and ended the conversation.
Marni and Kevin were nearly exhausted after another day in the lab getting the final procedures finished and documented. Kevin's residence room became their war room, out of sight of management and away from the usual lab chaos.
The research team has been in isolation for nearly a week. Everyone was starting to get excited about the end of their confinement and the completion of a most successful research project.
Most research projects start with the development process. Then testing begins. This project closely aligned research, development, and testing protocols in a very close spiral development of many candidate serums and vaccines.
The team divided into two groups at the start, one to do the development and the other to do the testing. The development group prepared each candidate coronavirus serum and vaccine. As each candidate sample was completed, they went immediately to the testing group. This way multiple options were being developed and tested simultaneously, which shortened the delivery time and increase the likelihood of finding a successful product. It also allowed for rapid feedback and open discussion between the testing group to the developers.
Kevin collected their results, sorted through all the successes and failures, and produced a detailed and clear narrative of the project methods and their results. Kevin was the lead author of the paper submitted to PLOS. Since then, he has been writing a second paper that explains how the issues addressed in the first paper were resolved. The second paper will also include the redacted paragraphs and figures from the first submission.
Kevin and Marni were working together with the goal of releasing the paper to the public and making it immediately available to researchers and medical leaders all over the world. With Cervantes under heavy sedation and on a ventilator, Marni was managing everything. She planned to put her new powers to exceptional use by bringing a quicker end to the COVID-19 epidemic.
Without Cervantes's involvement, the Chancellor drew back from the day-to-day operation of the lab. In fact, he never came into the lab. The only thing he continued to enforce was the isolation of the team and the lock-down orders.
Marni found a way around the security system and as soon as Kevin completed the paper, she was ready to stream it across the internet. The leak in the security system was created inadvertently when the lab at UPMH closed and the network was realigned to the Versailles lab.
Tonight, Kevin and Marni were working in the war room. They focused on their own work.
Marni called out, "I have them!" She was able to breach the security system and get simple text messages to Denise and Savannah.
MARNI: How are you doing?
DENISE: Don't know.
DENISE: Working as hostages. Finishing testing- all good.
DENISE: Very long story.
DENISE: Sav and I are being held against our will until testing is done.
DENISE: After that, we expecting to be released. No promise though.
MARNI: Who is holding you?
DENISE: Don't know. Thugs…
DENISE: Don't know. Big Pharma? Protecting the product line.
MARNI: Got it. He is still out of the picture. May not make it.
MARNI: Your father and I are going to stream our COVID results out to the world.
KEVIN: Hi Denise, once we release our team's result to the internet, pressure should be off you two.
DENISE: Hope so. Keep me informed.
KEVIN: We will. Take care. Love you!
Marni turned to Kevin and said, "We have to get this paper out soon."
Kevin said, "It will be ready for release by noon tomorrow."
Marni replied, "Good, I just finished the list of links and contacts we will send the paper too, including PLOS the nonprofit, Open Access publisher."
Late in the evening, the assistant escorted Denise and Savannah to their room. The door to the adjacent bedroom was locked with a heavy paddle lock. They could see light from under the door and heard muffled female voices.
Savannah asked, "Are those the two women Patrick was telling us about?"
The assistant said, "Yes, they are going to be sold on Thursday too."
Denise and Savannah were both dumbfounded with what he said and they let him lock them in their room without asking any more questions.
When the door shut, Savannah said, "Oh crap." "This is all beginning to make sense to me."
"These are human traffickers who have us."
Denise said, "Of course they can't let us go when we are done." "You were kidnapped, I have been abducted, and we witnessed a murder in the middle of Paris." "We have seen their faces and they don't care." "We have got to get word to Mike Manhalt and the Police National!"
Savannah replied, "Let's hope they already know." Didn't Mike tell you that he has very tight connections with the Ministry of Defense and the Police National?"
Denise answered, "Yes, but thinking back, he also mentioned UNESCO and UNESCO are very active in countering human trafficking." "We are in serious trouble."
Savannah said, "Let's blow up the lab and get out of here."
Denise replied, "I get your anger, but what about the two women across the hall?" "We have more to worry about now." "We have to trust the people on the outside to do what they said they would do and that is to get us out safely." "All of us."
Throughout the day DiAnn and I exchanged many phone calls. UNESCO, UNODC, the French Ministry of the Interior, and the French National Police were all very interested in what is likely to be a human trafficking law enforcement action. She also talked to Officer Reyes who is overseeing this investigation as it develops. If this case turns into an open Paris police action, the agencies would like to assist and to catch as many suspected criminals in the arrest as possible.
Reyes told DiAnn that the Police Nationale has been investigating a woman named Raquel L. Chulachic who has been a prime-suspect in human trafficking operations for the Milieu Corso-Marseillais. She has close ties to James B. Reo, the Milieu kingpin. Why is this interesting? This morning Raquel L. Chulachic was admitted at the Bichat-Claude Bernard Hospital with COVID-19 symptoms.
As I was taking the watch from Jack at about 9 pm, a van pulled up in front of the house, the driver got out and went to the door, and talked briefly to someone inside. The porch light went out and the driveway gate opened automatically. The driver drove the van through the gate and down the driveway. I turned to where Jack was standing and saw he was already moving quickly to the rear of the house.
I stayed at the front of the house. Jack called me on the TacNet and I put in my earbud and answered.
Jack said, "The driver and a guy in the passenger seat got out and the opened the van's rear double-doors and motioned for two women to get out of the van." "As they got out, the driver placed a pillowcase over their heads." "The women already had zip-ties binding their wrists behind them." "The men brought them up to the back door of the house," "The door swung opened as they got there and they were pushed in." The man who was in the passenger seat came out after about five minutes and got in the van and drove away."
I replied, "I saw the van leave and got the license plate number." "I will call DiAnn and give her new information." "Jack, we have never seen any lights on the second floor. "With the others occupied inside, they may not notice if you move close to the house and listen for any sounds."
Jack said, "Got it." "On my way."
I called DiAnn and told her what we saw and gave here the license number. She called back in about fifteen minutes and said that the plates belong to the same contractor company used to abduct the Rodrigo woman and her associate. Another Milieu Corso-Marseillais connection.
Jack returned and said he could not see through the second-floor window, because they were boarded up. There was some light from the basement leaking around a waterpipe to the outside faucet, and I could hear the hum of equipment through the concrete walls. I suspect that is where the lab is located and that the two women are probably working late.
The next morning Patrick escorted Denise and Savannah to the basement and when they were sitting down, he said, "The boss will be here tomorrow morning." "I expect you will have all the tests done today." "Is that right?"
Denise replied, "We will be done today." "What are your plans for breaking down the lab?"
Patrick said, "You don't have to worry about that."
Savannah asked, "What about us?" "When will you let us go?"
Patrick responded, "You and the two women upstairs will be transported and released far from this house so you can't tell the police where it is located."
Savannah asked sarcastically, "When does our ride get here?"
Patrick said, "You two just get the testing done, and don't worry about that." He went back upstairs.
Denise said to Savannah, "We need to get this information to Manhalt." "I think those two women in the room are human trafficking victims, and I think Patrick and the Boss whoever that is, are going to add us to their human shipment.
Savannah said, "We can chat with Marni and have her relay the information to Manhalt." She brought up the chat client.
DENISE: Need help!
MARNI: What can I do?
DENISE: Tests are done. We asked thug when we would be released.
DENISE: Thug said we, along with two other women, will be transported and released tomorrow morning far away from the house so we can't give its location to the police."
DENISE: The two other women were brought to the house last night and locked in the bedroom across the hall from our bedroom. From our room, we heard crying and worried conversations in a language neither of us understood. We think they are human smuggling victims, and now that we have no further value, we probably are too.
DENISE: Get word to Mike Manhalt that we are going to be transported from the house tomorrow morning.
DENISE: Thug said his boss will be here too.
DENISE: Manhalt's phone number is 1-619 722-8734
MARNI: Got it. "Will do."
Manhalt was in the conference room at Jack and DiAnn's house. In attendance were representative from UNODC, the French Ministry of the Interior, and the French National Police. Officer Reyes was running the brief and was laying out the background situation and current activities in the case. DiAnn was assisting with his brief, clarifying specific details, and answering questions.
Manhalt's phone vibrated and he left the room to take the call. Marni introduced herself and relayed all the information from Denise. He thanked her and asked how he could get back to her if he had any more questions. She explained about the lockdown at the university lab but would call him back the next chance she got.
Manhalt went back into the conference room and said, "You have got to hear this!"
"I just received a call from Ms. Marni D. Orisa at the Shanghai Institute for Advanced Immunochemical Studies in China." "She received chats from our hostages." "Tomorrow morning, the thugs are going to move our two women along with two other women who were brought to the house last night." "They believe the two women are human trafficking victims." "They heard them crying and talking in a language they didn't recognize." "The thug's boss is going to be there too."
"Now my friends, let's put together a plan to catch all these thugs in the act and get the women out safely."
Thursday morning, James B. Reo sat with Raquel's lieutenant in the back of the Citroën C6, with his regular driver and bodyguard driving. James told the lieutenant that he wanted to make this a quick visit, take care of business, and then get out. They pulled up to the front gate and Patrick came out and greeted them. James and the lieutenant went into the house and the bodyguard moved the car into the driveway and remained in the car.
The thugs all sat in the living room and discussed how the morning would proceed.
Patrick asked, "What do you want me to do here when the women are gone?"
The lieutenant said, "Just lock the door and leave." "I will have cleaners take care of everything."
Patrick replied, "What about any of the women personal belongings?"
The Lieutenant replied, "They will not be needing them." "The cleaners will take care of them too."
A Peugeot 508 stopped in front of the house.
James said, "Here we go." "Don't screw this up, guys."
Jack and I were in position to observe the house from our vantage point by the soccer field. Reyes was in the command SUV parked in the Soccer field parking lot. The SUV was equipped with all the latest surveillance and communication devices. We were all using a common TacNet for voice and military tablets for exchanging data and video.
It was a cool morning and the sun was obscured by low clouds. The Police Nationale quick response teams were in position on all sides of the house. The tech team was flying various surveillance drones. One drone is equipped with a sensor that could pernitrate walls and show people as they moved inside. Their streams were available to all the forces and at the various agency headquarters as well.
From these streams, Reyes kept everyone appraised about locations and movement via voice comms.
Reyes broadcast, "We have two humans in each of the two bedrooms on the second floor." "There are four more on the second floor, one in the kitchen and the other three in the living room." "Check out the floorplan on the tablet if you have not done that yet." "QR 2 incapacitated a thug who appeared to be monitoring traffic coming from the West." "QR 1, check to see if there is another lookout on the East approach."
"Control, this is Manhalt, there is a vehicle slowing in front of the gate."
"Roger, we have him on video.", control responded.
I could tell that Jack was getting frustrated. He does not like to sit around and watch.
I said, "Go Jack."
"Orders?" Jack looked at me.
I replied, "Just go do what you do so well." "Please keep your earbuds in, I may need you."
Jack said, "I am going to check out the back yard." "I can see from the tablet, that the car you reported pulled into the driveway and parked in the back." "One person got out of the car and the other remained in the driver's seat." "I want to see what the driver is doing."
I asked Jack, "Did you get the Blue Force Tracker tag?" "I don't want you exciting the police squads with your movements, or shot."
Jack replied, "I am all wired." Then he left.
Reyes broadcast, "There is another car pulling into the driveway." "Two people in the front and two in the backseat." "A man and a woman got out of the back." "The woman appears to be carrying a medical bag." "One other man got out on the passenger side." "The driver remained inside the car." "All three are entered the house." "The drivers remained in their cars are continually looking around and checking the perimeter." "They are ignoring each other." "Not very social sorts."
Reyes directed the tech flying the UAV to continue to track and begin reporting movements in the house via voice TacNet.
Tech 1 began reporting, "The three new persons entered through the kitchen and joined the three persons in the living room." "They are sitting down."
"Two of the persons are moving up the stairs to the hall between the bedrooms." "They are in the West bedroom moving close to the two bodies that were already in the room." "One person moved close to each of the two bodies and appeared to touch them."
"They are leaving the West bedroom and heading toward the East bedroom. "I see the same activity going on in this room." "Wait, well not exactly." "When the person walked toward the second person in that room and reached out to contact the other's body, the person's body was propelled back and fell to the floor."
"The person on the floor got up and the two persons are leaving quickly now and going back down the stairs." "They are all together again in the living room."
Control, this is east watch, "There has been a white van that was parked on the street with the driver sitting inside." "The van is starting to move toward the house and is about a block away."
This is control, "Roger, we have it on video." "Come in close to the house now and be ready to support the take-down."
Reyes broadcast, "The van is pulling into the driveway."
Jack broadcast, "Van is parked close to the steps to the door." "The driver has opened the back doors of the van." "Driver is all alone, with no one inside the van." "The drivers in the other cars are getting out and standing with their car doors open." "All the drivers are armed." "The van driver has an automatic rifle laying inside the van and a sidearm." "The other two drivers have sidearms and shotguns within reach inside the car."
Reyes broadcast, "Ok team. It is time." "Standby, Execute!"
A team of six police officers breached the front door and burst into the living room. The assistant came from the kitchen with a handgun raised, turned the corner to see all the police, and dropped the gun.
Police appeared from all sides of the backyard and ordered the drivers to put their hands up. They complied and the police approached them and apprehended them.
James B. Reo sat on his chair and just shook his head as the police handcuffed the other thugs.
Patrick kept repeating, "I am sorry boss."
Reyes monitored each of the progress reports over the TacNet and requested casualty reports. Negative casualties. He asked if there were any apparent threats remaining. Negative threats or bogies.
Manhalt broadcast, "Ok, let's get those four women out of there."
Four armed policewomen entered through the broken front door and went up the stair to both bedroom doors, cut the locks, and greeted the very happy women. They told them everything was ok now but that they needed to remain in their rooms. Gather up any important belongings and wait until the police cleared the thugs from the premises. It will be about fifteen minutes at most.
The police packed the thugs, including James B. Reo into a prisoner transport van and drove away.
The rest of the task force finished their duties and began leaving too.
Reyes turned over the command vehicle to his lieutenant and walked down to the house. I joined him on the way and Jack joined us just we enter through the broken door and saw the shattered wood on the floor.
The four women came down the stairs appearing exhausted, but very happy.
Denise came to me and said, "Thank you, Mike. This has been a real ordeal." Then she turned to Reyes and Jack and said, "Wow, the entire team, You guys are great!" "Thank you all."
The other two women followed a police officer who was talking to them in their language and explaining what was going on. They took the women outside to the SUV that was waiting to take them to a UNESCO women's facility.
Savannah asked, "So what about us?" "Where are we going?'
I answered, "How about home?"
They both answered together, "That would be nice."
Denise told Reyes, "I am sure you have some questions for me and I am anxious and willing to help put those thugs behind bars." "Will it be ok if we meet tomorrow sometime?" "Savannah and I will tell you anything you want to know." "Oh, and I will help take the lab apart and place the coronavirus vaccines and serums in their traveling cases if you like."
Reyes replied, "I would like to meet with you at your townhouse tomorrow at 10 Am if that works for you and Savannah." "We can talk about the lab then." "This entire property is a crime scene and nothing will be touched for a couple of days at least."
I told Jack and Reyes that I was going to take Denise and Savannah home, but that I would be available for any follow-up work or questions. "Just tell me when and where you want me."
Jack said, "Our place, 5 pm, DiAnn, and I will have cocktails ready." "Reyes, will you join us?"
Reyes replied, "I will be there." I could use a beer and I would like to thank DiAnn in person for everything she has done." "She is amazing."
Jack said, "Yes she is!" "I will see you later."
The ride into Paris was quiet. They were all deep in thought about everything that had happened in the last week.
When we arrived, I walked them to the door and remained in the living room until they checked all the rooms to verify there had been no intruders and that everything was fine.
I told them that there was a National Police officer outside to ensure no one bothers them. You will have to get used to having security around as the investigation proceeds.
You are very lucky to have Officer Reyes as the investigator in this case. He is a stand-up guy that you can trust. You can always reach out to me, even to give me any good news. You are both brave and I appreciate everything you have done for the world.
I went to my apartment and took a long shower and changed into some casual clothes.
I called Donna and told her that the case was wrapping up and gave her the details.
She said, "Just in time to join your sister Suelynn in Marrakesh."
I replied, "Yes, I am looking forward to the chance to relax and also the camel ride." "I will talk to you again tomorrow." "Thanks for your help on this case and for staying behind to take care of the ranch." "I owe you."
Donna said, "Yes you do mister." and she laughed.
Next, I called my sister, "Hello Suelynn, are you excited about the trip."
She responded, "Yes, more than you can imagine."
I gave her my itinerary and detailed instructions about where to meet at the airport.
She responded, "I am not too worried about it." "Have a safe trip." "Love you, Bye."
I arrived at Jack and DiAnn's place a little before 5 pm. Reyes's car was in the driveway. I walked into the back area to the pool. Jack, DiAnn and Codter were sitting at a table next to the swimming pool talking and laughing. There was a large screen display behind the outdoor bar showing the news.
DiAnn greeted me with a hug and Jack placed a tumbler of rum in my hand. On occasions like this, Jack does not bother with Coke.
DiAnn asked, "Have you seen the news this afternoon?" "It's pretty interesting."
I looked up to the screen as a scientist was explaining that very soon there could be COVID-19 vaccines available throughout the world. He went on to explain that an international research group at the university in Shanghai, China just released a paper describing the process for manufacturing the vaccines and serums. Fully tested and patent-free.
In a related story, the owner of the BIPHAR Pharmaceutical company has the COVID-19 disease and is on a ventilator. The world is watching as this BIPHAR giant battles the very disease his company has tried to stop.
BIPHAR-Shanghai spokesperson, Marni D. Orisa announced today that BIPHAR will be producing tens of thousands of vaccines at a new production site in Marrakesh. BIPHAR plans to provide any technical assistance to other manufactures in an open forum free of charges, and without patent restrictions.
This morning, the Police Nationale working with UNESCO UNODC arrested James B. Reo, a suspected Milieu Corso-Marseillais kingpin in a synchronized raid and arrest during a human trafficking crime in progress, involving two American women and two Nigerian women hostages. Caught in the raid were Mr. James B. Reo and his lieutenant, three suspected international traffickers, along with six other people. Police say there will be more arrests in the coming days.
Jack, DiAnn, and Codter all stood and cheered.
DiAnn said that Dial called earlier and said, "Great job everyone." "Now take the rest of the month off." "Have a nice dinner at the company's expense." "I called the restaurant that you told me about yesterday and talked to Richard and Mandy." "They are preparing dinner on the barbeque." They both came out from the kitchen smiling.
DiAnn said, "Mike, I have another surprise for you."
And she brought up a video call on the large screen. At first, all I could see was a beautiful white sand beach with palm trees in the background and whales sounding far off in the distance. Then the phone camera panned around to show Donna and Suelynn in bathing suits and sunhats sitting on a blanket and each holding up a Mai Tai in a toast. My dog was sunning in the sand next to them. They were both laughing.
"Hmm," I said, "Donna, I thought you were tending the ranch in San Diego?" "And Suelynn, how are you going to get from Hawaii to Marrakesh in time for us to meet at the airport?"
They laughed more and Ranger, my dog ran off chasing a mongoose.
Suelynn began, "Mike, we were worried about you and we talked a lot."
"That is what I figured." I interjected.
Suelynn continued, "As we talked about the spread of the COVID-19 and saw the increasing number of cases around the world, we saw that Hawaii had the fewest number of cases." "Donna has a condo here, so why not just come here where it is safest."
"We did not want you to worry about us." "Anyway, If you hadn't wrapped up this big Pharma and human trafficking problem, you would not have been able to be with me in Morocco." "I would have been terribly bored without you."
Jack and DiAnn were laughing so hard I could hardly hear the rest of what Suelynn said. Donna took the phone and said, "We love you, enjoy Marrakesh and the rest of your month in April." and signed off.
We all relaxed and enjoyed another beautiful evening in Paris with great friends and family.