It was only three days later that I walked into the study to hear a soft electronic whine in the background.
For me it had been a lonely three days. I hadn't realized before how accustomed I was to Lee's and little Johnnie's continued presence. Oh, they'd go out from time to time, go do things sometimes without me, but I always knew they'd be back soon. Now the place was empty except for me and the cleaning people who came in for half a day twice a week.
I hadn't been enjoying the solitude, and now this. I was pretty sure I knew, but I spoke the question anyway.
"What's with the noise, Spook?"
"Beginning early this morning this house is being continuously monitored by very sensitive microphones capable of detecting all sounds within," he told me. "The noise I have produced emulates poorly insulated electrical activity but also serves to smother all speech within this room."
I nodded; damn, that was quick. Estrada wasn't letting grass grow under his feet.
"He's here, then?" I asked. "Do you know where?"
"On the opposite side of this street is a house that has been available for rent. Two weeks ago it was rented by a person named Joseph Smith. Last night at approximately two-thirty-seven a.m. four men arrived in a car and entered the house. They remain there now."
"Show me." I walked around the desk to look at the laptop screen. All I could see was a car pulling up and four people getting out. But I expected Spook could see more.
"Is one of them Estrada?" I asked.
"Can you pick anything up?" Two could play at long-range miking; one of the precautions I'd taken was to get one and set it up on a swivel; Spook could focus it where he wanted.
"Yes, although it may be of interest that they also have a unit to interfere with such devices. It is less sophisticated than what I am employing, it is obvious as to its purpose and with enhancement I can separate voices from the masking attempt."
"What have they been saying?"
"Their presence here is preliminary, they are told merely to learn as much as they may of your schedule and doings and to await Estrada. They do not know when he will arrive, they believe it may not be for some days."
That didn't suit my plans very well, though I supposed it made sense; why would Estrada want to bore himself with routine surveillance that could as well be delegated? But...
Spook voiced what I was thinking. "Jack, it is possible that there may be only small time from when Estrada comes to when they will act against you. I consider it advisable that you inform Richard now of the possibility that Estrada may be in this place at some time in the near future so that he may make ready for rapid action when Estrada is at last here."
"OK, makes sense," I said. Even cop-type bureaucrats are still bureaucrats; it takes a little while to run things up and down the chain of command even when emergency raids are involved. I made the call.
"Richard, I have information that the terrorist named Carlos Estrada may soon be arriving at—" I gave him the address. "He is not, I repeat not, there at this time. But I think he's coming, and when he does he may be there only a short time. I'd suggest that you be ready to move when you hear from me."
I clicked off before he could answer. I knew perfectly well that all he'd do was entreat me again to "come in" to his loving arms. And I still wasn't about to entrust our safety, mine and Lee's and Johnnie's, to that uncertain shelter. We'd done pretty well so far with our own wits, well, ours and Spook's, and that seemed to be the way to keep going.
Estrada's advance team seemed to be pretty professional. Three of them were apparently Italian, or at least that's the language they spoke inside the house, but the fourth was either a recruited local or simply fluent in not only English but southern American English. Presumably it was he, the "Joe Smith" who'd rented the house, who was the one venturing out every day while the other three stayed indoors.