Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

~ Soren Kierkegaard

12 Days (pt. 10/12)


“Are you ready to find out the truth?” a man’s voice whispered.

Lila whirled around, binoculars held like a club in her hand.

Ian moved quickly to locate the source of the voice and after a brief struggle put the stranger into a chokehold. The man thrashed about and then went limp.

“Light,” Ian said in a low voice.

Lila fumbled in her handbag, pulling out the small LED flashlight she kept in there. Flipping it on, she shone it in Ian’s general direction.

Ian winced. “A little lower with the light, please.”

She dropped the angle of the flashlight and peered at the man being held by Ian.

“Mitchell,” she whispered. “You got here fast.”

“As did you,” Mitchell said quietly. “If you look up, you’ll see a plane approaching the airstrip over there.” He inclined his head toward the area south of the towers.

They glanced up in the darkening sky and saw a small airplane approaching. It came in quickly for a landing while they watched.

“If you’ll release me?” Mitchell addressed Ian, who still maintained his hold.

Ian stepped back, allowing him his freedom. Mitchell nodded toward the plane. “You’ll want to see this.” He motioned to the binoculars Lila clutched in her hand. Lila immediately put them up to her eyes.

In the gathering dusk, she could make out two men unloading what seemed to be a heavy box. They struggled to carry it over to a 4-wheeler that looked more like a golf cart with seating and a roof for shade. Task accomplished, one of the men returned to the plane with its engine still running and prepared to take off, while the other man drove away on a dusty track toward the towers.

Lila quickly passed the binoculars to Ian. He sized up the situation and turned to Mitchell. “Drugs? Weapons?”

“Anything can be a weapon depending on how it’s used,” Mitchell replied cagily.

“Get to the point,” Ian said.

“A drone; competition to the one that you saw recently. This one has the capability to direct a high-energy laser beam at an identified target. Before this, you needed a turret-sized mechanism to deliver the hit.”

“Is that what was used at the exhibition that killed Regelmeister?” Lila inquired.

“Yes, it had a self destruct function activated. Costly to lose the equipment, but with the bounty earned from a targeted hit and the opportunity for a public test trial of the equipment, well worth it.”

“Wouldn’t someone notice a laser beam?” Lila asked skeptically.

“Not a nearly invisible pinpoint of light.” Mitchell continued, “Drones will soon be ubiquitous in our environment. No one will question seeing a police drone or military drone overhead for surveillance in almost any city. Now, with the proven ability to target with great accuracy, there’s a lot more at stake. For instance,” he paused, “who owns the technology?”

12 Days (pt. 9/12)


Ian and Lila raced from the exhibit hall to try to catch up with Mitchell. He was nowhere to be seen.

“I’d like to know exactly what he meant by three towers,” Lila said thoughtfully as they walked slowly toward their car. As they got closer to it, she saw a white piece of paper underneath the driver side wiper blade. Leaning over, she lifted the wiper blade and pulled the paper from beneath it.

Smoothing the paper flat against the side of the car, she studied a simple hand drawn map in black ink with two lines indicating what appeared to be a road, a dividing line with CA / NV written on either side of it, and three towers off to the side of the road. There was a small compass in the right corner of the paper that indicated the towers were on the north side of the road.

Lila wore a puzzled expression as she tapped the paper a couple of times before turning to Ian. “You know where this is, don’t you?”

“Not really. I mean, I can tell that it’s close to the California-Nevada border, but aside from that…” Ian’s voice trailed off and he shrugged.

“It’s in the Mohave Desert next to the interstate. I see it every time I’m driving to Vegas,” Lila said with conviction.

“You’re sure you can find it?” Ian looked at her skeptically.

“Absolutely. You’ll know it when you see it,” she said confidently.

Clutching the map, Lila hopped in the passenger side and looked up at Ian expectantly. “Let’s go!”

Twilight was falling over the desert when less than three hours later Ian pulled onto the shoulder of northbound I-15.

Lila pointed to the other side of the freeway at the three glowing towers. “There they are,” she said triumphantly.

Ian gave a low whistle. “Nice work. Let me see the map one more time.”

She passed it over to him.

“It fits,” he agreed, and gave the map back to her.

Easing back onto the road, he continued until they reached the exit for the tiny town of Primm situated near the Nevada border. He took the exit and drove across the road to the southbound on-ramp for I-15 where he merged back onto the interstate.

As they closed in on the area near the three towers, Ian pulled as far off the road as possible.

“Lucky there isn’t more traffic,” Lila commented in a low voice.

Ian nodded, all his attention focused on the three towers. “Can you get the binoculars from under the seat?” he asked Lila quietly.

She reached under the seat and grabbed the digital camera binoculars.

Ian reached up to turn off the dome light so that they wouldn’t be illuminated as they opened the car doors. As they exited the car and began walking toward the towers, they heard a voice behind them.

12 Days (pt. 8/12)

Buildings within buildings


Lila and Ian drove over to the mid-Wilshire area where Ian managed to find street parking some distance away from the museum.

“Saved ten bucks,” he remarked with satisfaction.

“Yeah, but if we have to make a quick escape that could cost us,” Lila remarked.

They briskly walked over to museum, paid their admission, and identified the building in which they were to meet the mystery person or persons.

Lila glanced at her watch. “Fifteen minutes. Let’s get set up.”

They walked into the main exhibit area and casually moved apart as they studied the artifacts that included footage from the 1920 silent film, Der Golem [The Golem], something that captured Lila’s attention immediately. She stood entranced in front of the screen, forgetting momentarily to pay attention to those around her.

“Interesting movie,” a man’s voice interrupted her thoughts.

She swung around nearly braining the guy with her handbag.

A thin, dark haired man in his late 50s stood slightly behind her. At her startled reaction he held up his hands in a gesture to indicate that he meant no harm.

“Yes, it is,” she replied cautiously.

“I find the golem to be a physical representation of the creative process. We create something without knowing how it will change once it is released to the world.” The dark haired man smiled grimly. “Unfortunately this can have,” he paused, “unintended consequences.”

Lila smiled. “That matches perfectly with my motto: expect the unexpected.”

Mitchell inclined his head, acknowledging her riposte.

He held out his hand. “Mitchell Harvard.”

Lila decided to play along to see where this was going. “Lila.”

Ian wended his way over to where they were standing. “I haven’t had the pleasure,” he said pleasantly.

“Mitchell,” the man held out his hand to Ian, who shook it briefly.

“I take it you’re also an admirer of silent film?” Ian queried.

“I find the subject matter particularly intriguing.” Mitchell’s gesture encompassed both Ian and Lila. “Are you early film aficionados?”

Lila laughed. “I’ve attended a couple of UCLA sponsored silent film showings, but that’s the extent of my knowledge.”

“I guess you could say we’re here to learn more about it,” Ian said carefully.

“Certainly this is a fine example of German Expressionism. Also, I think the message that one’s creation often outgrows one’s ability to control it is particularly poignant.”

Ian quirked his eyebrow at Mitchell, “And yet it can be combated by a single person, as in the film. Was the golem evil or merely misunderstood?”

“Can’t it be both?” Mitchell posed the question.

Lila mused, “First the golem saves many people, but later kills someone. Does the second action negate the first?”

Mitchell smiled politely. “Perhaps we come at this from different perspectives. I find that evil may often hide behind the face of good.” He looked around the room, noting that they were currently the only ones at the exhibit.

Lila pressed him. “Do you have a specific instance in mind?”

“Suppose a group knows that someone has created a weapon with the intent to use it for an evil purpose. The group members decide that they are willing to do anything to stop that plan. What is your responsibility if you find out about this situation?” Mitchell asked tensely.

The lights went out in the room and Mitchell pulled Ian and Lila closer to him. “Mohave Desert. The three towers. 3 p.m. tomorrow. If you are the sort who would indeed do something.”

The lights came back on suddenly, and Ian and Lila blinked to clear their vision. Mitchell had disappeared.

12 Days (pt. 7/12)

“On their way…”

Stopping off at their place first, Lila determined to do some research before they left.

“It looks like LACMA is running an exhibit on the Golem legend.” Lila paused. “This makes me think about our trip to Krakow. I really loved those bread circles covered in poppy or sesame seeds. Mmm…” She fell silent with a blissful look on her face.

Ian waved his hand near her face. “Earth to Lila. Time for another trip to Europe.”

“Yes!” Lila’s eyes brightened. “Let’s go in July. Don’t you have some time off coming up?”

“Okay, back to the subject,” Ian said gently. “Golems. What do we know about ‘em?”

Lila turned determinedly back to the computer. “Let’s turn to our favorite source, Wikipedia.” She pulled up the site and read silently for a moment. “Okay, so it’s a lump of clay that is essentially magically made alive. A relative of the rabbi who originally made a golem way back in the 1500s said that when the rabbi saw the golem growing too huge, he ended up getting injured while trying to put the kibosh on it. Sounds like at first the golem was pretty useful, but after awhile it got out of control.”

“What does a golem have to do with a drone?” Ian asked quizzically

“Maybe,” Lila said slowly, “it has something to do with this larger legend about Rabbi Loew making a golem to protect the Jewish community in Prague during the late 1500s. There’s even a World War II era legend about a Nazi going up to the attic where this original golem is supposedly stored to try to stick a knife in it, but then the Nazi operative mysteriously ends up dead.”

Lila took a breath. “Wasn’t the company that produced the drone called Magen?” She quickly typed in the word and searched. “That means protector in Hebrew. The company has an office here in Los Angeles that we should probably visit.” She tapped her fingers on the table, thinking. “Todd Regelmeister, the defense guy who was killed, he could have been a threat to someone. We need to find out more about him.”

12 Days (pt. 5/12)


Lichen spread across the stone steps leading down to the rock-strewn beach.

“Gorgeous.” Lila stood for a moment admiring the view of the sun setting behind them before quickly gazing around for the next sign of where they should go.

She saw what looked like a map tied to the metal railing with string that she tugged loose.

Ian crowded in next to her to hold the map flat against the wall.

“Los Angeles?” Lila rolled her eyes. and quirked her eyebrow at Ian. “After driving all the way up here, we’re supposed to drive right back down?” She squinted and tapped at the map. “Where is this place?”

Ian leaned closer. “Looks like LACMA,” he said referring to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

TJs1Ian yawned hugely. “How about we head over to Trader Joe’s and pick up some food – I know you’re hungry – and then stop over at a motel in Seaside.”

Lila nodded. “Sounds good.”

They drove over to Trader Joe’s and picked up some wine, cheese, bread and chocolate before wending their way over to the motel.

The next morning they headed down to Los Angeles.

12 Days (pt. 4/12)

street_ViewLila and Ian walked despondently through the rest of the museum before ending their visit next to the exhibition of Google Maps with Street View.

“I wonder how many people have been caught in compromising positions by this,” Ian said gesturing at the car kitted out with a camera and computer.

Lila raised her eyebrows. “More than one, I’m sure.”

“C’mon.” Ian held out his hand to her. “Let’s walk across and get some coffee at the Starbucks across the street.”

Lila took his hand and they walked the short distance together to the coffee shop.

Fishing around in her purse for the Starbucks gift card she had received from a friend, her hand encountered a tightly folded piece of paper. Her eyes widened and she quickly handed the square of paper to Ian before completing her transaction.

The seated themselves outside on the patio at a distance from the other patrons, and Lila turned eagerly to Ian.

“Well, what does it say?”

“Nothing of interest,” Ian said deadpan and then grinned. “I waited until we could look at it together.”

“Aw, you’re such a thoughtful guy.” Lila leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek.

“I know,” Ian replied cheekily. “Anywho, here it is.” He unrolled the paper and held it down so they could both read it.

“This is just like a scavenger hunt,” Lila murmured.  The paper instructed them to drive to a public beach just north of Monterey.

“Bit of a drive,” Lila commented.

“We can make it there in about an hour,” Ian said confidently.

Grabbing their coffee and treats they walked quickly back to their car and headed south.

Ian pulled into the public beach parking lot just north of a hotel. Lila hopped out of the car to join him in walking over a log that crossed a stream and allowed them access to the beach area.

Strolling on the beach hand in hand, Lila kept glancing around trying to identify the person directing them.

A man approached them and gestured to his family who appeared to be from somewhere in South Asia. “Please could you take our photo?” He pointed to the ocean view behind them.


“Sure,” Lila agreed readily. The man showed her how to use the camera and after taking the quick photo, he thanked her, and gratefully gave her his business card, before taking back his camera and promenading away with his family members. Lila stuffed the business card in her purse.

After a few minutes of waiting around, Lila turned to Ian disappointedly. “Looks like whoever it was, isn’t going to make contact.”

They stood a minute enjoying the view before turning to make the trek back to the car.

Lila pursed her lips after settling into the passenger seat. “Where do we go next?”

Ian shrugged. “How about heading into Monterey for some sightseeing?”

“All right,” Lila said unenthusiastically. “I’m hungry. Maybe we can stop somewhere and pick up something to eat,” she said while digging into her purse for some mints to stave off the hunger for a little longer. Her hand encountered the business card the South Asian man had given her and she drew it closer to look at the small print:


Lila looked puzzled and held it out for Ian to see. His eyes brightened. “I think I know where it is.”

“Great, because I have no idea. Oh, and food,” Lila reminded him.

statue2They arrived a short time later at a lookout area. Ian parked the car and walked purposefully up to a statue depicting a boy holding a sailboat. “See?” Ian asked triumphantly.

“Very good,” Lila applauded him. “Now, where’s the next clue.” She walked carefully around the statue examining it for clues. Tucked in between the boy’s arm and sailboat was another piece of paper. Lila sighed. “I’m getting a little tired of this. And I’m ready for dinner.” Nonetheless she plucked up the paper and smoothed it on the boy’s back.


“O—kay,” Lila drew out the word. She pointed to the sun disappearing into the horizon. “At least we’re getting some good views. Sunset is coming.” They began walking toward the stairs that would take them down to the beach.

12 Days (pt. 2/12)

“Up above the world so high…”


Lila sat there for several minutes thinking about this new information. Pearson continued to purr and knead his claws on her leg.

“Ouch,” she exclaimed as his claws cut through the material in her pants to the skin underneath. Carefully dislodging the cat, she set him gently on the floor.

The time until Ian arrived home passed quickly. Lila settled into the couch to read a research article that she was co-writing with a friend of hers to boost their academic street cred. Hearing the door creak open, she set aside her laptop and petted Pearson, who had nestled in next to her leg.

“Hey,” Ian greeted her tiredly.

“Hey, yourself,” Lila replied. She hoisted herself up off the couch and followed him into the bedroom, where she sprawled on the bed to watch him change out of his work clothes and into his workout gear.

“So how did your day go?” Lila asked casually.

“It was okay,” Ian said dismissively. “Nothing special. How about yours? Did you get your paper proofread?”

“Not quite. Still working on it.” Plucking at the quilt cover, Lila inquired nonchalantly, “When did you see that drone demo last month? Was it the 23rd?”

“I think so,” he said sitting on the bed beside to lace up his running shoes. “Why?” He turned to look at her.

Lila announced bluntly, “Someone got murdered that day.”

That got Ian’s full attention. “What do you mean?” His eyes sharpened on her.

“The guy visiting from HQ, Todd Regelmeister. There was an explosion during the exhibition that apparently killed him.”

“It’s tragic,” Ian paused. “But that doesn’t mean it was murder.”

“I got this in the mail.” Lila passed over the paper that she had brought in with her.

Ian studied it carefully and handed it back to her. “Who do you think sent it?”

“I don’t know, but it seems to have something to do with that project you were working at the time.”

“You know I can’t talk about that,” Ian remonstrated.

She held up her hand in a stop gesture. “I know, I know. I’m just saying, maybe you can think of someone who may have wanted to stop that project or keep that company from moving forward with its design.”

“There are lots of people who would fit that bill,” Ian said looking pensive. “Every competitor they had would’ve killed…” His voiced trailed off. “I see what you mean. I’ll give it some thought.”

The doorbell rang at that moment and Ian rose up to answer it. The FedEx employee handed him a standard paperboard express envelope and pushed the signature pad at Ian. Before signing his name, Ian examined the address on the envelope.

He closed the door and walked back into the bedroom where he sat beside Lila. Opening the envelope quickly, he fished out a single sheet of paper and read aloud the writing on it:

San Jose. Computer History Museum. Hour of Code.

Ian looked at his watch. “That’s tomorrow.” He quickly pulled up the details on his Smartphone. “How about a trip to San Jose this weekend?”

“Sweet.” Lila perked up. “I’ll bring my article and edit on the way.”

“Looks like we’re in for a December surprise,” Ian said, smiling slightly.

Lila leaned in and kissed the corner of his mouth. “Always an adventure.”

“Pack your bag and catch a few hours of sleep before we head out,” he suggested.

Lila reached for her mobile phone, which sat on the bedside table. “I’ll call Josie,” she said referring to the cat sitter, “ since I’m figuring we’ll be gone at least through Sunday.”

Ian took Lila’s hand in his. “How about making an early anniversary weekend of it? We can stop in Monterey on the way back.”

“Nice idea.” Lila returned his smile. “Never a dull moment with you.”

Halloween Surprise (pt. 30/30)

At Home

“Fifteen minutes,” Joe said tersely into his satellite phone’s hands-free earpiece. He clicked the off button and put his full focus into driving, slewing across the snow to narrowly miss a huge clump of ice that had fallen off some vehicle’s undercarriage.

Lila dozed, her head hitting against the window with a clunk each time they drove over a bump, which was unfortunately almost all the time. At this final swerve, the side of her head thunked hard against the glass, waking her. “Ouch!” she exclaimed, rubbing her palms across her face. She yawned until her jaw cracked. “How long was I asleep?”

“An hour and half,” Ian replied and turned to look back at her critically, “You look like shit.”

“That’s just what every woman wants to hear,” Lila laughed and returned the perusal. “You’re looking pretty tired yourself. I can’t believe you and Joe haven’t fallen asleep.”

Ian rubbed his eyes. “I’m not sure if Joe has been staying awake. All that swerving makes it hard to tell. I know I’ve been drifting off,”

Joe glanced back at Lila. “Fifteen minutes out from the airport. Get ready.”

“Get ready for what?” Lila mumbled. She scrabbled around in her backpack and pulled out what appeared to be a lipstick container. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” she said shaking her head.

“So you’re gonna do what, put on lipstick?” Joe asked jokingly, glancing in the rear view mirror at the object Lila held.

“No, I’m going to stun anyone who tries to stop me from getting on that plane.”

She pulled off the case top and pressed a button. A jolt of electrical current arced across the top of the gadget.

“Sounds like a giant mosquito,” Ian commented. “Probably feels like one biting you too.”

“Shall we try it out?” Lila asked him challengingly and reached the stun gun toward him.

“Children, children,” Joe said teasingly, but with an undercurrent of tension. “Get your gear together. We’re almost there.”

Lila strapped on her backpack and Ian pulled his bag tightly across his shoulders.

Joe sped up and pulled the wheel hard left to skid into a position paralleling a small plane. Even though the plane was only a car’s width away, Lila had to squint to make out its shape in the near pitch darkness.

The three of them launched from their respective car doors, Joe taking time to nostalgically pat the car on the hood before running to catch up. They raced toward the plane, its engines already running.

A man with an AK-47 stepped around the side. “Please, don’t be in such a hurry,” he said in a thick Russian accent.

Lila grabbed Ian to keep from skidding across the snow and smacking into the man as she came to an abrupt stop. Joe almost created a domino effect by crashing into them.

“Uh, that’s our plane,” Lila said weakly.

“Not anymore,” the man “Charlie,” as she dubbed him, said villainously.

“Oh, yeah?” Lila couldn’t think of anything smart to say and looked to Ian. “Do something,” she muttered.

“What? He has a gun,” Ian replied in a low voice.

Joe pushed past the two of them and appeared to trip directly into Charlie, knocking the man’s AK-47 to the side. “Oops,” Joe said, slamming his elbow into the man’s nose, causing it to spurt blood like a faucet. Charlie dropped his rifle, clamping both hands to his nose, eyes streaming with tears. Joe took advantage of the man’s position to kick him in the head with his heavy boot. The man dropped like a rock.

Ian picked up the AK-47, removed the magazine and then ejected the already chambered round. Throwing the AK-47 as far as he could to the left, he then pitched the magazine and round off into the distance to the right.

“All right then,” Lila said, a little shocked. “Who’s going to fly the plane? I hope that wasn’t the pilot.” She gestured to the man lying on the ground and oozing blood.

“You do realize that Joe and I are pilots,” Ian said as they clambered on board the plane.

“Helicopter pilots. Even I know it’s not the same thing,” Lila said sarcastically.

Lila nearly fell headlong as her foot caught on an object on the floor. A man lay bound and gagged. “I’m assuming this is the pilot?” She asked hand braced above him.  The man nodded.

The plane was already taxiing down the runway with Ian and Joe at the controls, when Lila helped the pilot sit up and climb into one of the passenger seats where he could take a moment to regain his composure.

Joe contacted what passed for a control tower and then cut the radio as a series of shouts in Russian could be heard squawking from the headphones. “Can’t hear you!” Joe yelled before pulling off the headset.

“Whew, glad to be in the air,” he said.

“What if they did something to the plane?” Lila asked worriedly.

“Then it will be a short flight,” Ian said mildly.

“Doesn’t anything ever worry you?”

“Not really. If it’s good, it’s good. If not, we’ll deal.”


They arrived safely in Magadan, and caught their onward flights. Almost thirty-six hours later, the taxi pulled up in front of their place and Ian and Lila crawled stiffly out.

“What a journey,” Lila groaned. “I think I need a bath.”

“I think you do too,” Ian agreed.

Lila rolled her eyes, too tired to respond.

As she unlocked the door, she could hear imperious meows emanating from behind it.

“Pearson!” she called out happily, carefully opening the door to keep from squishing him behind it.


Ian and Lila stretched out on the couch, Pearson nestled in beside them purring. Lila idly petted his fur. “I’m glad that the cat sitter left us a pumpkin, that was really nice of her.”

“Very seasonal,” Ian concurred sleepily, his eyes half shut and the reflected light from the candles burning inside the pumpkin dancing across his face.

Lila turned her head to gaze at him. “Happy Halloween.”

“To you too.” He smiled.

Lila snuggled in to enjoy the glow from the pumpkin. “It’s nice to be home.”

Halloween Surprise (pt. 29/30)

Looking for the lights of home

“So what do we do?” Joe asked.

Lila shrugged. “We push it back into normal mode. I want to be gone long before this whole thing gets discovered. I mean someone’s gonna show up when there’s no boom. But I also don’t want something really bad to happen because the procedure wasn’t done right. I had a year internship at San Onofre nuclear power plant before they decommissioned it. I know that even though shutdown is automated, there are certain functions that need to be shepherded.”

Lila pointed to a section on the instrument panel. “This area shows the reactor targets: the pressure, temperatures and flow rate.” She tapped another section. “Over here is the manual override, which is basically what we did to stop the self destruct sequence.”

She shook her head. “There’s a whole series of procedures to follow and if it’s an emergency shutdown, at some point you hit this SCRAM button,” she pointed to the button in the middle. “This will shove the control rods into the reactor in four seconds.”

Clicking through the computer menu options, Lila mumbled, “Okay, where’s the ‘return to normal’ sequence in all this.” She raised her head to look over at Ian. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”

“I figure, unless I can add something good to the situation to keep quiet,” Ian said.

“Good policy, “ Lila approved. “Wait, I think… yeah, this is it.” She quickly punched in a set of instructions. “I’m just guessing on most of this, but what else is new.”

For several minutes Lila peered closely at the control panel, watching the reactor target gauge to make sure levels didn’t rise dangerously. She breathed a sigh of relief. “I think it’s done. Yay, us,” she said tiredly, the previous adrenaline rushes leaving her drained and shaky now the crisis seemed to be over.

At that moment they heard the outer door’s deadbolt turn. The three of them froze, their eyes meeting before they frantically looked around the room for a place to take cover. There was nothing, not even a table under which to hide.

“Shit,” Lila mouthed silently.

Joe motioned toward the inner door and punched his hand into his fist indicating they should take out whomever it was before that person could raise the alarm. He moved up to stand next to the side where the door opened, taking up an attack position and resting his hand on the door handle. Ian and Lila hung back, letting Joe take the lead on beating up the unfortunate individual on the other side of the door.

As soon as the door handle started to move downward, Joe yanked the door inward as hard as he could with his left hand, pulling the other person’s head into his right fist. Lila winced as the person went down with a muffled grunt. Joe dragged the body completely across the threshold. “Let’s go,” he said in a low voice.

Ian and Lila followed him out the door, nearly stumbling across the person lying prone on the floor. They rapidly exited the outer door and edged their way beneath the tarp to the other side of the RV, feeling their way carefully to their original entrance point and keeping the flashlight off to avoid giving away their position.

Lila slid down the RV’s cold metal surface to lie flat on the frozen ground, peering out from under the canvas covering. Seeing no one outside, she tugged on Ian’s pant leg to let him know it was safe to exit.

She slid out from under the tarp, followed shortly by Ian and Joe, and they took off in headlong rush to the Lada guided only by the tiny sliver of moonlight illuminating their path.

They reached the Lada in record time, piling in as soon as the doors were unlocked. Joe revved up the engine and they bumped their way down the road.

No one said anything for several minutes as they tried to catch their breath.

Lila leaned her head against the back seat and yawned hugely. “I gotta say, Joe, you give a hell of a tour.”

Joe grinned. “I do, don’t I?”

Ian tapped the door handle. “So where are we headed?”

“Back to the airport. I’ve got a charter plane on standby. Figured we might need a quick pickup.”

“Let’s just hope there’s not a welcoming committee to greet us,” Lila said grimly.