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FROM USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR J. ROBERT KENNEDY!
THE ASSEMBLY IS ETERNAL.
AND THEY’LL STOP AT NOTHING TO KEEP IT THAT WAY.
INCLUDING KILLING MEDDLING ARCHAEOLOGY PROFESSORS.
When Professor James Acton is contacted about a painting thought to have been lost with the sinking of the Titanic, he is inadvertently drawn into a century old conspiracy an ancient organization known as The Assembly will stop at nothing to keep secret.
It’s a race against time to discover what really happened the night the Titanic sank, and to stop a ruthless assassin determined to kill anyone exposed to the shocking truth.
A century old conspiracy, torn from survivors’ accounts, is laid bare in the most exciting James Acton thriller yet. From USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy comes the next installment of the internationally bestselling series, uniting all your favorite characters in an adventure filled with action, intrigue, romance and laughs.
Hearts will be broken, the innocent will die, but the truth will finally be revealed of what happened the night Titanic sank.
"James Acton: A little bit of Jack Bauer and Indiana Jones!"
Though this book is part of the James Acton Thrillers series, it is written as a standalone novel and can be enjoyed without having read any of the previous installments.
With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.
"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard
"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford
"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity
"One of the best writers today." — Johnny Olsen
"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer
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Find out more at www.jrobertkennedy.com.
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The Protocol Brass Monkey Broken Dove The Templar's Relic Flags of Sin The Arab Fall The Circle of Eight The Venice Code Pompeii's Ghosts Amazon Burning The Riddle Blood Relics Sins of the Titanic Saint Peter's Soldiers The Thirteenth Legion Raging Sun Wages of Sin Wrath of the Gods The Templar's Revenge
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About the Author
Also by the Author
“If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their money, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them (around the banks), will deprive the people of their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
“These circumstances convince me that the ship seen by the Californian was the Titanic and if so, according to Captain Lord, the two vessels were about five miles apart at the time of the disaster....When she first saw the rockets the Californian could have pushed through the ice to the open water without any serious risk and so have come to the assistance of the Titanic. Had she done so she might have saved many if not all of the lives that were lost.”
This story deals with one of the greatest maritime disasters in history. Over 1500 souls died that day with heroism and bravery displayed by many. Any reference to actions or deeds by the captain or crew of the RMS Titanic are purely my own invention, and should not be in any way interpreted as a historical account of what any one individual did or did not do on that fateful night. This book is entirely a work of fiction and no disrespect is intended.
This book also deals with a United States Presidential election. I have avoided all references to any characters being Republican or Democrat, and though this book is again “torn from the headlines”, any similarity to actual individuals is purely coincidental.
On April 14th, 1912, at 11:40pm, the Royal Mail Ship Titanic hit an iceberg 37 seconds after it was spotted by the lookouts. A distress call was sent, however there was only one ship in the area, the RMS Carpathia. The Unsinkable Ship snapped in half less than three hours after the initial impact, the design fundamentally flawed. The watertight bulkheads, meant to prevent water from moving from one section of the ship to the next, were not built high enough. This meant that when one section filled, it spilled over the top of the bulkhead to the next section and then the next, dooming the luxury liner.
This all so the rich could enjoy spectacular lines of sight in their unsinkable ship.
And because of the arrogance displayed in the design of the ship, the largest of its time, the belief it was unsinkable meant lifeboats were an annoyance rather than a safety feature. Too few were installed to evacuate all the passengers, as it ruined the “look” of the ship and took up too much room on the decks where the well-heeled were to stroll after their midday tea.
A decision that would ultimately doom over 1500.
The Carpathia didn’t arrive until almost two hours after the Titanic sank below the ocean surface, leaving hundreds behind in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic to die slowly of hypothermia, their cries for help heard by those lucky enough to be saved in the too few lifeboats.
After the fact, when interviewing survivors, many reported they thought another ship was in the area, close by, but were assured by authorities they were mistaken, any lights likely planets or stars, any objects likely icebergs or debris.
It wasn’t discovered until days later that the SS Californian had sat unmoving, as little as five miles away, fully capable of rescuing the passengers of the sinking liner. In fact, the lookout of the Californian had spotted the Titanic and its emergency flares, yet their captain dismissed it as a celebration, deciding not to wake their sleeping radio operator.
So it turned out those passengers were right all along.
Still others claimed there was yet another ship, they too dismissed.
But what if those survivors were right all along? After all, they were right about the Californian, and if they were right about that, then why not about this other mysterious ship they claimed never got closer as they rowed toward it?
And if they were right, and that ship was indeed there, why did it sit by while over 1500 innocent souls perished?
Outside Acton & Palmer Residence St. Paul, Maryland
“Everybody look at the bodies as if you’re shocked but not scared. That means mouths open, eyes wide as if your dentist just squeezed your boob.”
Mai Lien Trinh stared wide-eyed at the CIA agent driving the car, unsure of what she meant, her English excellent though her grasp of American humor a work in progress. She glanced over at her friend, Tommy Granger, and copied him, his mouth agape, his eyes wide, staring out the window.
And when she looked, the shock didn’t need to be faked, her imagination not doing reality justice. A body lay in the middle of the street, a large pool of blood staining the pavement, a second on a nearby lawn, killed by her boss and his wife minutes before.
Professors James Acton and Laura Palmer.
When she had heard what had happened she couldn’t believe how calm they were, as if killing people were something they did every day.
Archaeology professors killing people.
She had to remember that these two men had tried to kill the CIA agent now driving them to safety.
She seemed young. Very young. Barely older than her, perhaps not even.
How much training does it take to become a spy?
She assumed years.
The car pulled away from the scene of the crime and Mai took a look back, spotting the professors pulling out of the driveway in their own vehicle, Acton’s boss and best friend, Dean Gregory Milton and his wife Sandra, in the back seat.
Tommy gripped her hand, squeezing it tightly. She looked at him and he gave her an unconvincing smile.
It made her feel better somehow.
He’s as terrified as I am.
A police car screeched to a halt, two officers jumping out as they passed, Sherrie pressing on the gas a little harder.
They stopped at the end of the street, she assumed to allow the professors to catch up.
The turn signal clicked.
Then she caught something out of the corner of her eye and screamed.
A large SUV slammed into the driver side, the entire side of the car caving in, the impact shoving her across the back seat and into Tommy. Her head slammed against his, the impact excruciating, knocking her senseless for a moment as a cacophony of screeching tires and twisting metal attempted to overwhelm the pounding of her head.
Something else replaced everything, a rapid, popping sound, loud, strange, then everything rushed back into focus.
Tires screeched behind them and she turned to see the professors’ Jeep reversing direction as bullets tore into the windshield. She wanted to scream a warning to them, yet she knew it was useless.
They slammed into the parked police cruiser.
The passenger side doors were yanked opened and someone reached in, grabbing an unconscious Tommy and hauling him out. Mai noticed blood on the window for the first time, he obviously having hit his head hard. She pushed away from the open door in vain, an iron grip on her ankle hauling her onto the pavement. Gunfire continued as they were yanked toward the SUV, the rear door open. Tommy was shoved inside first, Mai next. On instinct, she dove for the door on the other side, but someone in the driver seat pointed a gun at her.
“Sit or die.”
She looked to see a dazed Sherrie pulled from the car and thrown on the pavement, a woman standing over her, aiming a weapon at the young CIA agent.
Two rounds fired into Sherrie’s chest.
Central Road, Southampton, United Kingdom April 10, 1912
Henry Dodge held a hand to his heart, trying to control his breathing, his chest heaving as he caught his breath. A woman, parasol in hand, eyed him, whispering to her husband. Dodge bowed slightly at her, causing the woman to hurry on, dragging her husband along, embarrassed at having been caught staring.
He stepped deeper into the alleyway, his feet bumping against a stray crate. He pulled his pocket watch, a Patek, Philippe & Co, given to him by his father on his eighteenth birthday.
Ten minutes before final boarding.
I just have to survive ten more minutes.
And this was as good a place as any to wait. He had spotted the two men sent to stop him as he finished his breakfast at his hotel. They had appeared slightly out of place, bruisers like that not common at the South Western Hotel.
And though they were impeccably dressed, they weren’t too subtle, one pointing when he had been spotted, then both clumsily hiding behind columns too narrow for their large frames.
Yet he was certain those who had sent them wouldn’t send just anybody.
If they had been given time to prepare.
And they hadn’t.
For it was only hours ago he had been delivered the documents that showed who was behind the greatest change to monetary policy the world had ever known. America was about to create the Federal Reserve System, with the blessing of the government, the ultimate goal to create a financial system that would stabilize a fractured banking system. It would be allowed to lend and print money and set monetary policy independent of the government so the nation’s finances wouldn’t be swayed so easily by the whims of public officials.
It was a laudable goal.
It effectively privatized the entire monetary system of the United States, handing the US dollar over to a private group of investors, and if the documents sent to him anonymously were genuine, and he had no reason to believe they weren’t, the very men behind the creation of what could ultimately control one of the greatest nations in the world did not have its best interests at heart.
It was a power grab of unprecedented proportions.
The minutes of a meeting between a group of men, some he had heard of, some he had not, were chilling in their content and intent. These men were powerful. Heads of some of the largest companies in the world, some involved with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, various monarchies and conglomerates that controlled massive wealth as well as political and economic power.
They were the elite, their positions handed down to them through the generations, old money and old titles, their positions absolute.
As was their power.
They called themselves the Assembly. He had never heard of them as an organization, yet if this meeting were any indication, they were an organization that had been around for a long time, with their fingers in everything imaginable. What their motivations were, he had no idea. Money? Power? Both?
With either came the other, neither mutually exclusive.
But the power and the money they would have should their plans succeed, could impact the entire world for decades, even centuries to come.
And no one knew.
And whoever had changed his life forever by sending him the transcript.
They must have been well informed. His trip today wasn’t well known, only he and a handful of business associates were aware of it, though if the Assembly were as powerful as it appeared, then he was certain they’d have access to the passenger manifests.
The envelope had been slipped under the door of his hotel room minutes before he left for breakfast, his name and the word “URGENT” scrawled on the plain envelope. He had tucked it under his arm then opened it while waiting for his food to arrive.
The handwritten warning inside had him almost tossing the papers aside, it simply too fantastic to be bothered with.
Be forewarned that they will kill to keep this information from falling into the wrong hands.
A Concerned Citizen
But he had some time so had skimmed the first page, and when he realized the subject matter, had read every word, twice, his breakfast going cold, forgotten as he realized he had to get this information into the hands of his father, a United States Senator, and one of the most vocal of those opposed to the creation of the Federal Reserve System. It was something his father had taken an incredible amount of heat over, subtle threats received suggesting if he didn’t change his vote, his re-election would be all but impossible.
It took money to run for the Senate, and though his family had plenty, their pockets weren’t deep enough to run a campaign against a serious challenger.
A horn sounded from the mighty ship signaling the final boarding call, causing Dodge to flinch. He looked about sheepishly, then inhaled, straightening his bow tie. He stepped tentatively out into the open, hundreds if not thousands of the public milling about, waving at the full decks. The dock was nearly cleared of cargo, several cranes swinging the last minute shipments aboard the massive vessel at Berth 44.
He frowned, wondering if his luggage had been sent ahead as requested, otherwise it would be a difficult trip. With two men in the lobby clearly searching for him, he had sent instructions through his waiter to have the luggage brought here and put on board as he ducked out a side entrance.
He shrugged. There was no time to do anything about it should his instructions not be followed. He patted his inside pocket, the envelope that had changed everything still reassuringly in place.
Stepping into the crowd with purpose, he hurried toward one of the two First Class gangways, fishing his ticket from his other breast pocket. As he neared the staff, their crisp navy blue uniforms looking sharp, as if never worn before today, it became clear White Star Line had spared no expense to make certain this voyage went without a hitch.
There was no lineup, not at this time, those who had spent the kind of money it took to enjoy the maiden voyage of this marvel of modern engineering in First Class a mostly punctual bunch.
A hand gripped his arm as he was about to hand over his ticket.
He spun, a lump forming in his throat as his heart nearly stopped, the bruisers from the hotel having found him.
He tried to break the grip with a jerk of his arm to no avail, the man impossibly strong.
He tapped a well of courage he didn’t realize he had.
“Unhand me, sir!” He turned toward the White Star Line staff. “Are you just going to stand there, or assist me?”
The two men stared at each other for a moment, shocked, then rushed forward. The grip loosened and he jerked his arm free, pushing past the two White Star men, stuffing his ticket into one of their hands as he rushed up the gangway. He glanced back to see the two men glaring at him before fading into the crowd, the two staff members joining him as he boarded the ship.
“Are you all right, sir?” asked the man inspecting his ticket.
Dodge nodded. “An unfortunate way to end an otherwise enjoyable stay in England.”
“Indeed.” The man handed him his boarding pass. “I trust your journey will be without incident.”
Dodge smiled. “I’m certain it will be.”
The man bowed.
“Welcome aboard the RMS Titanic.”
Charles Street, Annapolis, Maryland Present day, three months before the shooting
Steve Wainwright peered through the door and sighed at the sight. Box upon box were stacked against the far wall, every square inch of the exposed paneling covered with souvenirs and memorabilia, one entire wall devoted to what appeared to be a research project into the Titanic.
His grandfather’s obsession.
His grandfather had died just before the outset of World War II.
Single gunshot wound to the head.
Steve had never met his grandfather, and his own father had barely spoken of him, the pain and shame too great. His father loved the man, yet he was also pretty sure he had never forgiven him for what he had done.
His suicide had left them with a lot of debts, his Navy pension not enough to support the family, and his Grandma Rose had struggled to keep them fed and clothed. World War II had actually helped, the men going off to war, the jobs freed up for women like his grandmother.
It had allowed her to earn a decent living while her two boys went off to fight.
Uncle Mike never returned.
Dead in North Africa.
His dad had made it home, stayed with Grandma Rose to help her out, then when she passed a few years after the war, he had married and started a family in this very home. It had been updated over the years, probably unrecognizable to his grandparents if they were to see it today, but this one room in the basement hadn’t been touched in over sixty years.
Where do I begin?
His father had just passed. the family home willed to him, his mother having succumbed to cancer not even six months ago. He was convinced his father had died of a broken heart, the two of them inseparable for over sixty years.
It was like losing a piece of your soul.
His father had never been the same, had barely spoken, and it was clear to Steve that the man was waiting to die.
It hadn’t taken long, his father over ninety years old.
He had had a good run.
A run not worth continuing without his partner.
Steve’s chest tightened as he stepped inside the small room tucked away at one end of the basement. It had been locked for as long as he could remember, his father never setting foot inside, a padlock on the door sealing them out, the combination something he and his sister had guessed at for years as children with no success.
Today he had cut it off with bolt cutters, something he had to buy from Home Depot just for this.
Maybe I can return them?
He had asked several of his father’s neighbors if they had any and none had, apparently it a tool rarely required so seldom bought. In the movies, everyone had a set, yet he was pretty sure this was the first time he had held a pair.
And like in the movies, he felt like he was committing a crime by slicing through the metal that had kept everyone out for so long.
He drew in a deep breath through his nose, trying to get a sense of his grandfather.
Instead, he was rewarded with stale, musty air.
He stepped over to the wall and unlatched a window, pushing it open, the unused hinges screeching in protest.
“You down there?”
He turned toward his sister’s voice. “Yeah.” Footsteps echoed through the stairs over his head. “I’m in granddad’s room.”
“Aww, you said you’d wait!”
His sister Judy stepped into the room, her mouth agape. “I don’t know what I was expecting, but…”
She slowly rounded the room leaving her sentence unfinished, a finger running over every surface within reach, leaving a distinct trail in the quarter inch of dust that had managed to accumulate in the closed room.
Probably all the paper slowly disintegrating.
“What’s this?” she asked, stopping in front of the wall of Titanic clippings and maps.
He shrugged. “I dunno.”
She pointed at one of the boxes labeled ‘Dad’s things’. “That looks like Dad’s handwriting.”
Steve stepped over to the wall and nodded, the handwriting not only distinctly different from everything else in the room, but clearly his father’s chicken scratches, the man never known for his handwriting skills. Judy pulled the lid off the banker’s box revealing an assortment of papers and file folders. One stood out.
“Is that a police file?”
Judy reached inside and pulled out the blue folder, a faded Annapolis PD stamp on it. She opened the file and gasped at the same time Steve did. “It’s a report on Granddad’s suicide!” She closed her eyes and handed him the folder. “I can’t look.”
Steve took the file and dropped into the only chair in the room, the springs protesting under his weight, his grandfather probably the last to sit here. He quickly skimmed the file, mostly routine name and address info, a description of the scene and the position of the body.
He leaped from the chair, staring back at where he had been sitting.
He gestured toward the chair sitting in front of a roll-top desk. “That’s where he was when he shot himself.”
Judy’s hand darted to her mouth and she bit her index finger.
And suddenly things he had missed earlier leaped out at him. To the left of the desk, the carpet had a dark stain, something he had dismissed as coffee earlier. There were dark brown splotches sprayed across the boxes stacked to the left, several spots on the window he had pushed open.
“No wonder Dad never wanted us in here.”
Judy nodded, gripping his arm. “But why wouldn’t he clean it up?”
Steve pointed to the floor. “It’s been cleaned, just not well. I guess back in those days they left things to the families.”
“Probably Grandma was left to clean it up and she couldn’t deal with it.”
He looked about the tomb, it at once a testament to his family’s shame and its remorse. “I remember Mom saying that Dad had locked the room up shortly after the death. Grandma probably couldn’t get in here to finish the job.”
He returned his attention to the file, flipping to the next page, a piece of paper, handwritten, clipped to the file. He read it aloud for his sister to hear, her eyes once again squeezed shut.
“May God forgive me for what I did.”
“His suicide note?” she asked, stealing a quick glance.
He nodded, his eyes narrowing. “Something doesn’t sound right. What do you make of it?”
Judy shrugged. “He’s asking for forgiveness for committing suicide, obviously.”
Steve pointed at the last three words. “Then why is it ‘what I did’? Shouldn’t it be ‘what I’ve done’?”
Judy leaned in closer, reading the note. “Maybe he wasn’t thinking very clearly? He was about to kill himself.”
Steve shook his head. “This is written very neatly, signed and dated. It looks like a very deliberate note.” He pointed again at the words. “It’s as if he regretted something he had done in the past. Can you think of anything?”
Judy stared at him. “You’re asking me? You know Dad never spoke about him. I can honestly say I know absolutely nothing about Granddad except that he was in the Navy.”
“And the Captain of a ship.”
“Right.” Judy snapped her fingers. “And didn’t he resign, or retire early?”
“After World War One, I think. I remember Mom mentioning it. It was unexpected, apparently.”
Judy smiled at him. “I guess we do know a little bit.”
“‘Little’ being the key word here.”
He flipped the page and groaned, a crime scene photo showing his grandfather slumped over his desk, the gun on the floor, the note sitting to the side. On the floor sat a poster tube and another banker’s box. He moved the folder closer to his face.
April 14, 1912.
He lowered the file and looked about the room, spotting the box sitting on top of a stack near the window, the tube lying beside it. He handed the folder to his sister and retrieved the tube, popping the top off.
“What’s that?” asked Judy as he tipped it upside down and shook it, something inside sliding out.
“It was on the floor the night he shot himself.” He nodded toward the box. “And so was that. Dad must have moved them.”
Something hit his hand and he reached inside with his fingers, fishing it out. Putting the tube aside, he unrolled what turned out to be a large painting. “What the hell is this?” he muttered as he held it up for Judy to see. A naked woman holding an almost translucent scarf stood in front of a stone structure.
“Doesn’t look like something Granddad would like.”
Steve shook his head. “No. Not at all. And look at the edges. This has been cut out of its frame.”
Judy gasped. “Granddad was a thief?”
Steve’s stomach flipped at her words. He couldn’t believe it, not for a second, but he held the evidence in his hand. Then again, what he was holding could be anything. It could be some worthless painting done by some hack in a street market for a nickel.
It doesn’t look cheap.
In fact, it looked like a great deal of talent was involved.
He handed Judy the painting and lifted the box from the stack, placing it on the desk. Removing the top, he reached inside to remove the single, thick file folder, a piece of paper clipped to the cover.
“My greatest regret. May God forgive us all.”
Judy leaned in. “Open it.”
He flipped the cover back, a sheaf of papers inside dry to the touch, so much so he feared they might crumble if he were to bend them. Yet the type was still clearly legible. “Looks like a passenger manifest.”
Judy leaned in. “Of the Titanic?”
“Yeah...” His voice drifted off as he focused on the handwritten note, his heart pounding with the implications. His grandfather had been Navy, captain of a ship during the time the Titanic sailed.
And had killed himself for something he had done.
Granddad, what did you do?
He handed the file to Judy who read the handwritten note attached to the first page by a dull paperclip, her voice barely a whisper.
“We could have saved them all.”
Aboard the RMS Titanic North Atlantic Ocean April 14th, 1912
Henry Dodge folded his napkin neatly, his meal finished. And what a meal. Ten courses, beginning with oysters and ending with Waldorf Pudding, it was one of the finest dining experiences he had been privileged to partake in. The company was terrific, the well-heeled always welcoming of the son of a United States Senator. He was treated with respect, lest they feel the wrath of the elder Dodge should they want something from the government in the future.
And these people were always wanting something.
John Jacob Astor IV, by far the richest man aboard—and one of the richest in the world—rose, silencing those gathered. “Gentlemen, may I suggest cigars and brandy in the smoking room?”
A round of agreement had the men rising, assisting their wives to their feet, the two sexes to part. He had been paired with a lovely young lady tonight named Madeleine Dumont, traveling unescorted to meet her fiancé in New York, and as he was married, it had been deemed a good match, there none of the pressures of young single people to worry about.
She was ten years his junior, though their conversation had been pleasant, he finding her well-educated and well-versed in world affairs, a refreshing change from his wife who seemed to make it her mission in life to be ignorant of all things non-domestic. It had been a disappointment, to say the least. She had an education, a good one, her parents well to do, and during their lengthy courtship she had partaken in conversations covering most topics with what he had assumed was genuine interest, her insights often thought provoking.
Yet after their wedding, it was as if a switch had been flipped and all she cared about was climbing the social ladder by managing a good home, being invited to the right parties, and making certain the A-list were always at their own parties. He was certain she was determined to see him follow his father’s footsteps, she even fantasizing about it on occasion, with phrases like “when you’re a senator” and “when you take over from your father” peppering their conversations.
Unfortunately for her, he had no interest in becoming a politician. He had seen what it had done to his father, and though he was certain his father loved his job, he hated the way he was at the beck and call of those who helped finance his campaign.
He exchanged pleasantries with Mademoiselle Dumont then joined the men as they made for the lounge, standing drink orders delivered into their hands within moments, choices of cigars presented and lit.
Dodge made it a point to note what Astor drank and smoked on the first night, hoping to use it as an excuse to open a conversation with the one man who might be able to help him.
The Astor family was apparently opposed to the creation of the Federal Reserve System, and Astor, along with several other prominent men, were traveling back to the United States to stop it. If anyone might know who this Assembly was, and how to stop them, he was certain it would be Astor.
Dodge sipped his 1858 Cuvée Léonie, a ridiculously expensive cognac preferred by Astor, the viscous liquid setting his taste buds afire as the delicious fluid rolled over his tongue and down his throat. He took a long drag on his cigar, mixing the two sensations and closing his eyes for a moment.
He spotted Astor, departing one group, heading for another.
He made his move.
Deftly navigating the gathered groups of three and four, he approached Astor.
“Sir, I was wondering if I might have a moment of your time.”
Astor paused, regarding him. “I assume about the letter I sent you?”
Wainwright Residence Collette Court, Odenton, Maryland Present day, two weeks before the shooting
Steve Wainwright stared at the scanned pages on his computer screen, his sister Judy sitting beside him. He shook his head as they slowly read through his grandfather’s service record, the files sent to them after he had put in the request months ago. It had taken a call to his congressman a week ago to finally grease the wheels of an impossibly slow bureaucracy.
And now they were reading a mundane file, listing their grandfather’s personal information, assignments, and commendations. He clicked to the next page, finding a list of specific missions.
A spasm shot through his big toe and up to his knee. He winced as he pulled his foot up by the pant leg, crossing it over his knee, massaging away the pain.
“Your arthritis again?”
He nodded. “Getting old.”
Judy smiled. “Old? I just had my first great-grandchild. Now that’s old.”
“Hey, I’m older than you.”
Judy lay her head on his shoulder for a moment. “And I’ll never let you forget it.” She lifted her head. “What’s that?”
Steve’s eyes narrowed at the large blacked out block in the center of the page, one of their grandfather’s assignments redacted. “That’s odd.” He pointed to the dates of the previous and next missions. “Notice anything about those dates?”
Judy shrugged. “Should I? You know I’m not the history buff like you are.”
“The Titanic sank April fourteenth. His previous mission ended two weeks before that, and his next mission began three weeks after. Don’t you think that’s too much of a coincidence?”
Judy squeezed his forearm as she looked at him. “You don’t think Granddad had something to do with the sinking, do you?”
Steve’s stomach churned. “I don’t know what to think anymore. But I have to find out.”
Judy’s grip tightened. “But what if he did have something to do with it. Do we really want to know?”
Steve drew a quick breath as his heart slammed, not sure of the answer. If his grandfather did indeed have something to do with the sinking, it could destroy the family’s reputation for generations.
The ship sank because of an iceberg. That was accepted fact, the footage taken of the ship on the bottom of the ocean proving the firsthand accounts from the survivors, so there was no way his grandfather was responsible for sinking the ship.
Yet he was involved somehow, his guilt haunting him until it finally became too much.
“I have to know.”
“No matter the consequences?”
Steve frowned, looking at his sister. “Yes, no matter the consequences.”
Aboard the RMS Titanic North Atlantic Ocean April 14th, 1912
It was everything Henry Dodge could do to avoid an audible gasp. Astor had sent him the letter? It sort of made sense that he could be the source. He’d definitely have the connections and wanted to see the creation of the Federal Reserve stopped. And if he was the source, then he definitely knew about the Assembly, since they were mentioned in the letter.
He also knew they would kill should it become necessary.
So he had Astor to thank for putting his life at risk.
“You’re ‘A Concerned Citizen’?” he finally managed to ask.
“Yes, but now isn’t the time to speak of such things.” He looked about. “You have the letter?”
“On your person?”
“I fear to leave it anywhere else.”
“Good man. It is essential you deliver that letter to your father in Washington upon our arrival. He’ll know what to do with it.”
Dodge’s chest tightened as someone approached, Benjamin Guggenheim. Astor shook his head almost imperceptibly, the man changing direction slightly, striking up a conversation with a group on another trajectory.
“Why not deliver it yourself?” asked Dodge, his voice low, mimicking Astor’s continued enjoyment of his cigar and spirits.
“They would expect me to have it, and I fully expect they will make every attempt to intercept it before I have a chance to deliver it. Hopefully, you’ll succeed where I’m likely to fail.”
“But they know who I am.”
Astor paused in mid drink, his eyebrows shooting up. He lowered his glass. “Are you certain?”
Dodge nodded emphatically, catching himself, his earnestness out of place in such sedately civilized company. “Yes, two men came to my hotel but I evaded them. They grabbed me as I boarded but I managed to get away.”
Astor pursed his lips, shaking his head slightly. “I had my man deliver it. They must be watching me closer than I thought.” He glanced about, the man clearly nervous. “Have you noticed anyone suspicious on board?”
Dodge smiled slightly. “Sir, I’m so on edge, I’ve convinced myself that nearly everyone here is after me.” He bowed slightly toward Astor. “Present company now excluded, of course.”
Astor smiled, returning the bow. “Of course.” He pointed with his cigar toward Dodge’s pocket. “Guard that with your life. As my note stated, they will kill for it, however, once it is in your father’s hands, it will be too late. If I know him as well as I think I do, he will immediately take action, most likely reading it on the Senate floor. Once that is done, their plans will be scuttled, hopefully permanently.”
“You know my father?”
“I do have that pleasure.”
“Interesting,” murmured Dodge. This revelation meant he hadn’t been selected at random to deliver the information, but because of who he was, or rather who his father was. It made him all the more determined to succeed. “Surely they couldn’t do anything to stop you, could they? You’re too, well…” Dodge wasn’t certain how to tactfully suggest the man was too powerful and wealthy to be touched.
“Untouchable?” Astor smiled slightly. “Those behind the Assembly are so well insulated from consequences, I would suggest such considerations are of no concern to them. If I were to die, no suspicions would be cast upon any of them.”
“But the documents—”
“Would be destroyed, claimed as fake should they not be.” Astor looked at Dodge. “Which is why reaching your father is so important. He is the type of man who will recognize its importance and reveal it to the world rather than stop to check its veracity, as he will know full well that there will be no way to prove it. He will recognize that the mere contents being made public will be enough to slow down the process being driven through by the Assembly, and perhaps derail it.”
“Why not arrest them? Some of their names are in the transcript.”
“What did they do wrong in this case? Is it illegal to make a profit on the backs of others? If it were, I’d be a poor man right now. There is a difference between being legally wrong and morally wrong, and once the Federal Reserve Act is passed, nothing they do will be legally wrong.”
“So my father is the key.” Dodge frowned. A pit formed in his stomach. “Will they try to kill him?”
Astor shook his head. “I doubt it, but he’s a wise man, he’ll take precautions. And once they are stopped…” Astor’s voice trailed off as his gaze drifted over Dodge’s shoulder. “The men who pursued you, would you recognize them?”
Dodge resisted the urge to look over his shoulder to see what had caught Astor’s interest. “Absolutely.”
“There are two men at the far end who seem to be taking a particular interest in us. I will shift positions to allow you to see them.” Astor casually turned, his hand extending toward the other end of the room as if commenting on the architecture. Dodge stepped forward slightly, turning back toward Astor, his heart leaping into his throat as he spotted the two men Astor had been referring to.
“That’s them,” he hissed.
“Keep calm, young Mr. Dodge. It is curious, however. I wonder how they managed to get on board.”
“Could they have snuck on?”
“I doubt that. If I had to hazard a guess, I would think they already had tickets.”
“But how? You only delivered the papers to me a few hours before the ship set sail.”
“I would suggest that these men had always intended to board.”
“To kill me, of course.”
Congressman Bill Mahoney’s Office Monroe Street, Rockville, Maryland Present day, day of the shooting
“Thanks for doing this, Bill, it’s appreciated.”
Steve Wainwright sat across from Congressman Bill Mahoney’s large mahogany desk, the ornate, cherry stained walls and ceiling contrasting sharply with the state of the art computer equipment sitting on the man’s desk.
“No problem, Steve. I owe your son for helping me get reelected. I’m happy to make a phone call or two for the Wainwrights.” He held up a finger and hit the button to put the call on speaker.
“Congressman, sorry for the delay.”
“No problem, Jerry. Do you have what we’re looking for?”
“I’ve got Captain Wainwright’s record up on the screen. It’s just archival scans, it hasn’t been computerized, but you’re right, part of it is redacted for some reason.”
“I could see that during wartime, but this was pre-World War One.”
“I know. Let me check something. They’ve been digitizing the assignments, maybe we’ll get lucky.” The sound of fingers tapping on a keyboard came over the speaker, Steve feeling his stomach squirm with anticipation, not sure of what to expect. “Oh shit.”
“What?” asked Mahoney, leaning closer to the phone.
“I don’t know, my computer is shutting down and there’s some sort of security alert telling me to stay where I am.”
Mahoney and Steve exchanged worried glances. “What did you do?”
“Based on our conversation, I just typed in Wainwright's name and the word Titanic.” There was a pause. “Oh shit! I’m royally screwed, I shouldn’t have done this!”
“Listen, just tell them I’m the one who asked you to do the search. I’ll do everything in my power—”
There was a click then a dial tone.
Steve looked at Mahoney. “What the hell just happened?”
Mahoney shook his head, ending the call. “I don’t know, but something tells me someone doesn’t want us looking into what your grandfather did.”