Feeling as if she was being watched right at that moment, Aila hurriedly put the box back together, nodded a thank you to the reading room attendant and dashed out. Back in the main halls of the library, she contemplated her next move.
She had to assume she was under surveillance now, and probably had been since ordering the Ulmanis collection. She couldn’t contact Minna and Jolene, not without putting them in danger as well. She hadn’t been in touch since their meeting, assuring them she would contact them as soon as she had a clue. But now that seemed like a bad decision.
But wait – if she was being watched, they had surely checked her hotel reservation. Which had been made by Jolene. They might not be onto Minna, but Jolene was certainly in danger.
Aila walked quickly out of the library and down towards the hotel. While she was walking, she dialed Jolene’s number.
“Jolene. It’s Aila. I’ve found something. Pack your bag. Get down to your grandmother’s. Lock yourselves in. I’ll be along when it is safe.”
“You sound as paranoid as my grandmother.”
“There’s a good reason. Do it. Now. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
Aila hung up her phone and slowed her stride, keeping pace with the student traffic, observing her surroundings. She wasn’t sure how much anyone could have found with her name. Her website only mentioned her genealogy work, since private investigation was all about discretion. Companies would rarely publish the names of their investigators. Right now, that was her only advantage.
As she turned onto a cross street, she saw a car pull out into traffic. It turned the same corner she did and pulled ahead, pulling into a parking spot a block up. If no one was paying attention – and usually people weren’t, Aila knew that people were often oblivious regarding their surroundings – they wouldn’t have noticed. But she was paying attention, and she knew that there are very few people who sit in cars, pull out into traffic, travel two blocks, and then pull over and sit in the car again.
She didn’t want to give away her advantage, so she kept walking as if nothing was going on, pausing to evaluate the different restaurants she encountered. Once she reached the position of the surveillance car, she noted the appearance of the driver from the corner of her eye, and saw the car start to edge back out into traffic.
When she saw the car start moving, she turned into the restaurant directly opposite the parking spot. She knew the car would have to keep going, because even someone oblivious would notice a car pulling back into a spot it was just vacating.
As Aila entered the restaurant she watched the car pull out into traffic and head out to presumably go around the block. As the car turn the corner, she darted out of the restaurant and into the university building next door. She knew the building had multiple exits, and called a taxi to pick her up at one of the doors on the other side of the building.
Aila walked quickly up to the second floor, and watched through a window as the surveillance car came back around the block, pulling into the same space it had vacated just minutes before. Aila watched the driver get out of the vehicle and head into the restaurant.
She dashed back down the stairs and across the building, knowing that she’d have only seconds before the driver realized she wasn’t in there. She flew out the door and into the waiting taxi, giving her hotel address. It was only a few blocks, but she was too recognizable on foot with a pursuing car.
Once she arrived at the hotel, she asked the driver to wait. Aila ran up the stairs two at a time, cleared her things out of her room and hurriedly checked out. She returned to the taxi and asked him to take her to the nearest car rental agency.
Twenty minutes later, Aila was on her way to Minna’s house, hoping that the surveillance team had not followed her or Jolene to the property. She did not see any cars in pursuit as she turned down the country roads.
Once Aila pulled into Minna’s farm, she approached the house carefully, calling out for the women.
“Minna? Jolene? It’s Aila. Please let me in.”
She heard a creaking noise from the second storey, and saw a shotgun pulling back from the window. The front door cracked open.
“Come on, get in!” Jolene called.
Aila entered the house as Minna came down the stairs, shotgun in hand.
“Now what’s going on, missy? Jolene’s in a right state, saying you called her and that she better get over here?”
“There were people watching me. They probably started watching me as soon as I started accessing the Ulmanis collection. They started following me today, but I was able to shake them long enough to get here. But we should go now. We need to get to the airport. Let’s go now, and worry about the plane tickets on the way.”
“Where are we going?” Jolene asked.
“Latvia’s our best bet right now, hopefully we’ll have a more detailed bearing by the time we get there.”
“Are you ready to go, grandma?” Jolene asked.
“Am I ready? Jo, I’ve been ready to go for seven decades! Had a passport ready the whole time. Better late than never!”
Minna produced a suitcase from the next room. “I’m leaving this gun here, but I’ve got another one packed in here. And the disks. I buried the gold in the barn, under the muck that the pigs roll around in. They’ll protect it, all right.”
Aila just shook her head and herded the women out the door. They took Aila’s rental, but Jolene drove while Aila looked for flights.
“Where should we fly out of? Lincoln might be compromised, since they know I am there.”
“Well, we can risk going back towards Lincoln and head northeast to Omaha, that’s closest. Otherwise we can go southeast to Kansas City or west to Denver, though that will be a long haul.”
“Let’s go with Denver. It’s the furthest and we don’t need to go back through Lincoln. I’ll look for flights that don’t hit major chokepoints, to try and avoid running into the people chasing us, if they decide to head there as well.”
“Go for it.”
By the time they hit Denver just before midnight, Aila had booked a roundabout trip to Riga via Dallas, New York and Helsinki, where they would rent a car, take the ferry across to Tallinn and then head down through Estonia to Latvia.
They caught a few hours of sleep in a roadside motel near the Denver airport. When checking in for their flight, Aila let Minna field the questions as to why a 100-year-old lady who had never flown before was traveling with a shotgun in her checked baggage. She said it was a matter of national security, and when the TSA agent gently informed her that the FBI and CIA did not recruit centenarians, she matter-of-factedly said “I didn’t say it was this nation, did I, sonny?”
At which point the agent decided to leave it alone and admitted her suitcase. At least the metal detectors proved that she was not carrying a pistol in her purse as well.
As soon as the plane door was closed, Aila requested the disks from Minna and placed the container surreptitiously in her purse, with the disks facing up. She hoped to get several of the ciphers solved before they left U.S. soil, just to ensure that they were going in the right direction by flying to Europe.
By the time they landed in Dallas, Aila had solved two of the five puzzles. When they disembarked in New York, she had solved all five. Minna and Jolene were eager for the solutions, but Aila shook her head, waiting until she had surveyed the area, ensuring they weren’t being watched. She did not see the surveillance car driver, but that did not mean that there weren’t others, so caution was still essential.
Aila took them to a secluded corner behind a coffee shop. She put her finger to her lips and held out the piece of paper. Minna and Jolene examined it closely.
AKMEŅI, ANCES PAGASTS
BŪDAS, BĒRZES PAGASTS
CELMIŅI, CIRGAĻU PAGASTS
DĀBOLIŅI, DIGNĀJAS PAGASTS
ESENE, EZERNIEKU PAGASTS
“Pagasts means parish.” Aila explained quietly for Jolene’s benefit. “These are five farmsteads in five parishes – alphabetical, interestingly enough – and each one is one of the five historical regions of Latvia – Kurzeme, Zemgale, Vidzeme, Selija and Latgale, in that order.”
“Which should we go to first?” Minna whispered.
“I’d say this one.” Aila pointed to Celmiņi. “This will be closest for the direction we’re coming from. Let’s sit down and I’ll find their precise locations in my maps.”
Aila folded up the list of names and slipped it into a secret pocket on her blouse. By the time they boarded the flight to Helsinki, Aila had located all five farmsteads, and planned their route from Tallinn to the Celmiņi farm in Cirgaļi parish.
Click here for Part 5.
Copyright 2013, Antra Celmins.