Warehouse 13: A Touch of Fever Online - Greg Cox

CHAPTER

1

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA

“Okay, I’m getting a seriously bad vibe here.”

The Museum of Piracy was a cheesy waterfront tourist attraction designed to separate visitors from their hard-earned vacation dollars. It was well past closing time, however, and Pete Lattimer appeared to have the place to himself. A rugged, brown-haired ex-Marine in his midthirties, dressed casually in a dark sports jacket and slacks, he muttered to himself as he navigated quietly down a darkened corridor. The beam of his flashlight swept over the museum’s various displays and decorations. A wooden steering wheel, salvaged from an old shipwreck, was mounted on one wall, next to a tattered black flag bearing the Jolly Roger. Pieces of eight were locked away under glass. A diorama depicted swarms of miniature buccaneers boarding a scale-model replica of a Spanish galleon. Informational plaques accompanied each exhibit. The nautical clutter made the place seem like a cross between a seafood restaurant and, well, a certain overstuffed Warehouse many hundreds of miles from here. . . .

His gaze darted from display to display, his alert brown eyes searching. None of these artifacts was the one he was looking for.

So why were the hairs on the back of his neck standing up?

Pete kept his guard up. He had a sixth sense when it came to trouble, and painful experience had taught him never to ignore his instincts. Paying attention to his “vibes” had served him well as a Secret Service agent, protecting the president. It was even more important now.

He hoped Myka was being careful too. What was keeping her anyway? In theory, his partner was checking out the upper levels of the museum while he explored the ground floor, but she should have caught up with him by now. They had split up to cover more ground quickly, but maybe that had been a mistake? He was used to Myka watching his back.

He listened for any sounds or disturbances coming from upstairs, but heard only the low hum of the air-conditioning. For a second he considered checking on Myka by phone, but decided it was probably too soon to worry about her absence. Myka was a pro; she could take care of herself. Chances were, she was just being thorough. Her keen attention to detail was what had made her such a great Secret Service agent—before they were both reassigned to other duties.

One of the “perks” of those duties? Having to prowl an empty museum in the middle of the night, in search of something that might or might not be here. And that could just get them killed.

What the heck, he thought. It beats a desk job.

An old woodcut illustration, enlarged and mounted on the wall, depicted a public execution. Pete winced at the sight of captured pirates dangling from the gallows before a jeering crowd. A caption informed him that the mass hanging had taken place right here in Charleston, back around 1718. Just looking at the illustration made Pete’s neck hurt. His free hand went instinctively to his throat. He gulped.

Did they have to keep this place so dark after closing?

The grisly atmosphere was giving him the creeps. He quickened his pace, anxious to find the elusive artifact. Enough with the sightseeing. All he wanted to do now was snag it, bag it, tag it, and get out of here.

“Yeah, we should be so lucky,” he muttered.

A black velvet curtain closed off the entrance to an adjacent wing. Ornate gold-painted letters above the threshold guided visitors toward the Hall of Infamy, while a smaller sign, dangling from a chain across the doorway, apologized that the exhibit was currently closed for renovations. He approached the curtain anyway. That tingly feeling was getting stronger.

Figures, he thought. The next stop on his tour of the museum would have to be something called the Hall of Infamy. How come Artie never sends us to All-You-Can-Eat Cookies instead?

Still, duty called. Pete took a deep breath, then unhooked the chain blocking the way. Drawing back the curtain, he stepped cautiously into the hall, which turned out to be a wax museum honoring the most notorious pirates of fact and fiction. Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Black Bart, Long John Silver, Captain Hook, Jean Lafitte, and about a dozen other legendary cutthroats and marauders were posed along both sides of a long, carpeted hallway, their molded features leering at Pete as he made his way down the carpet, past the still and silent buccaneers. Glass eyes and bloodstained cutlasses reflected the glow of the flashlight. Red fiber-optic