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Chapter 74: "Batman would be jealous"

A few days after having her leave approved, Hope smiled as she got out of the cab and looked at the stately manor house. She had always loved Donovan Manor.  Being here brought back so many memories, and she stopped suddenly as it hit her that a few weeks from now would be the 25th anniversary of her first marriage to Bo.

They had been staying here as part of Shane's plan to catch the Dragon.  As a thank you from the British royalty after he was caught, they had received permission to get married at a nearby church and all of their family and friends had been flown in from Salem.  It had been a magical time in their lives, and she expected they would be together forever.  For a moment, she wondered how everything had gone so wrong between them, but she just shook her head.  Now was not the time to dwell on her relationship with Bo.

She knocked on the door and was surprised that it was answered by a young man in a dark suit, not the venerable Simmons who had run the place on her previous visits.

"May I help you," he said, in a thick accent that made him nearly incomprehensible.  It took Hope a moment to figure out what he had said .

"Yes, you may," she said, brightly.  "I'm here to see John Black.  Would you tell him Hope Brady is here?"

The butler retreated and a few minutes later, she heard a familiar voice.  It did not sound happy.  "You didn't," John said, as he appeared in the entryway, his arms crossed.

"Surprise."

He groaned.  "Bo's going to kill me, you know?"

"Bo has no choice in the matter," she said, as she handed him the file folder with the information on the ISA mission and pulled her bag inside.  "I'm here to help and I'm officially on leave from the Salem PD as long as it takes to find Shane."

"No way."  John held out a hand, signaling for her to stop.  "I'm not getting you involved in this.  This is my job, and it's a solo mission right now."

Hope had expected this reaction from John.  Like his former brother, he could be a complete chauvinist and dismiss her, but she had prepared a response.  "Look, I'll make you a deal.  Take a look at the file while I have a cup of tea.  If you think it's meaningless, fine, I'll go.  But I think you're going to see exactly what I saw.  That operation screams Shane Donovan, and I'm sure his disappearance is tied to it."  She paused for effect.  "John, I don't think Shane really left the ISA, and when you think of it, that company he formed was a perfect front for the ISA.  I think -- hey, what's with you?"  John's expression had turned from exasperation to obvious surprise as he had listened to her.

He seemed to mull something over and finally looked up at the ceiling.  "Oh, damn.  I'm sure I'll regret this, but come on.  I can't have you running around on your own and shooting your mouth off  -- which is exactly what you'll do if I say no."  He turned and led her down the hall, pausing only to tell the the butler -- Hopkins was his name -- to take Hope's bag and prepare a room for her.  Then John turned to her.  "Don't say anything else until we're downstairs."

Downstairs?  That was odd.  Hope had visited Donovan Manor a few times over the years, usually to bring Shawn Douglas to visit Andrew, but she had never even realized that the house had a downstairs.  She was curious as she followed John through the sitting room.  He stopped next to the fireplace and did something that caused the wall to slide open, revealing a hidden elevator and staircase.

Hope followed John into the elevator.  He reached into his pocket, pulled out what looked like a cigarette pack, and waved it in front of panel on the wall.  The elevator immediately began to move downward.  After a few minutes, Hope began to wonder how far down.  She glanced at John.

"It's pretty deep," he said.  "Probably in case someone uses a 'bunker-buster.'  That's why I skipped the stairs."

Hope tried to take that in, but before she could, the elevator stopped and they exited into a tight, rectangular chamber that was perhaps 10 x 10.  Opposite the elevator was a metal wall.  John began punching numbers on two separate keypads.  "Don't try coming down here on your own.  Trust me, you don't want to test Shane's security."

Hope felt a chill.  This was not what she expected.  Shane had always had a communications room, but it was a little room with a computer and some radio equipment.  She was still pondering that as the wall in front of them slowly slid open.  It must have been more than a foot thick.  Hope followed John through the door and stopped as she got her first look inside.  "Oh my god."

The room was cavernous.  The ceiling was high -- at least 40 feet -- and it was long, probably even longer than the entire manor house above.  The door was in the center, so she looked first to her right.  On that side, she could see a couple of corridors and what looked like doors.

"Sleeping quarters," John said.  "And food and water supplies.  Probably enough for 40-50 people to last a year."

Hope's eyes turned back to the main room.  Opposite the elevator was a large conference table and beyond that, on the wall, was a giant flatscreen display with four smaller flatscreens beneath it.  "Must be great for football days," she joked nervously, still not believing what she was seeing.

"This way," John said and led her to the left.

As they walked, she saw a half-dozen computer stations and shelves holding several rows of old-fashioned telephones, with cords into from the wall.  Hope stopped and studied them.  Each had something written on it, and she could read a few from where she stood  -- "U.S.A."; "London"; "Berlin"; "CIA"; "MI5"; "Mossad."  Next to the phones, she saw a wall of lockers bearing labels such as "Rifles," "Body Armor," and "Grenades/C4/Semtex."

Hope turned toward John, who had stopped and was waiting patiently for her to finish looking around.  "John. . . ." she said slowly.  "What is this place?"

"What does it look like?"

"It looks like you could wage World War III from in here.  And those phones--"

"Direct lines to every major world leader and intelligence agency," he explained.  "In case cellular service is down or intercepted."

Hope began to understand.  The thought made her feel a little lightheaded and she took a moment to try to compose herself.  "Shane's not just still in the ISA, is he?"  Though framed as a question, she knew the answer already.  "He's in charge."

John nodded.  "From here, he can oversee any operation anywhere in the world, even if the house is under attack.  I figure that armory can outfit a few dozen men for defense.  He probably has a security force nearby."

Hope barely listened to anything he said after the nod.  She was trying to get a grasp on the idea that her old friend had risen to the top of one of the world's most important intelligence agencies.  "How long?  How long has he been in charge of the ISA?"

"Since a few months after 9/11," John said.

Hope did some math and shook her head.  Shane had been the ISA chief when he came to Salem during her kidnapping.

"Come on," John said and he began to walk further.  He pointed out a few more things -- the helicopter bay at the far end of the bunker, a ventilation system which somehow filtered out radiation in case of nuclear attack, and a state-of-the-art water treatment and recycling system that fueled the toilets and showers.

"So you're telling me they thought of everything," Hope said.  She tried to come up with a joke.  "Batman would be jealous of this place.  Well, maybe not.  You didn't point out the utility belt."

John rolled his eyes.  "In here."  He led her through the door to a walled-off area that served as an office, complete with a desk, a couple of chairs, a computer and another wall of flatscreens.  The decor was pretty much 'concrete bunker'; it was decidedly no frills except for a couple of photos -- Andrew, Jeannie and Eve -- on the desk.

"Not exactly the most homey of places," Hope muttered.

John took a seat behind the desk.  Hope pulled over her own chair while he began reading through the file she had carried from Salem.  She waited silently as he read.  After about 10 minutes, John's head started bobbing up and down, nodding as he read.  Ten minutes later, he finished and looked across the desk at her.

"So?  What do you think?" Hope asked.  "Did you see that stuff about a unit infiltrating the operation in Costa Blanca a year ago?"

John pursed his lips.  "It's an interesting theory," he finally said.  "It does sound like something Shane would pull off, but I don't know.  Why would the Chief of the ISA take on a field mission?"

"I don't know, but Shane may have had his reasons.  And what about the timing?  Does it fit?"

He nodded grudgingly.  "Yeah.  From what Andy said, his last contact was February last year."  John leaned forward, his elbows on the desk and ran his hands through his hair.  "Look . . . I'm not saying your theory's wrong.  I just have to check out another lead here and if it doesn't pan out -- and I think it won't -- I'll look at this Costa Blanca thing a bit more."  He let out a deep breath, obviously frustrated.  "I can't believe I've come up with nothing.  Not a damn thing."

"I'm sorry," Hope said.  She knew how John hated being unable to help people.  "But let me help.  I'm here and maybe I can come up with some ideas."

"Like what?"

"I don't know yet, but . . ."  She paused, hating that she had to resort to begging.  "Please, John.  Shane was one of the first people who had faith in me -- he really believed I could really become a cop.  And when Larry Welch kidnapped me, Shane came to help.  You just said he was the head of the ISA at the time, but he helped a local police department with a random kidnapping -- for me."  She stared at him, waiting for his response.

"Fine," he said, rather curtly.  He reached for a legal pad and slid it across the desk.  "See if you can do anything with that."

Hope picked up the pad and glanced at the top page, which was filled with combinations of words and numbers.  "What is it?"

"Password attempts for Shane's computer," John said, motioning to the display monitor on the desk.  "The first ten or so pages were Andy's attempts.  He listed everything he tried, mostly family names, birthdays, things like that.  I added some more, but nothing's worked.  Maybe you'll come up with something."

Hope nodded.   "You've got it, boss.  Whatever it takes, we'll find him.  You and me working together--"  She smiled.  "Nothing can stop us."