24 days left to nominate this book
Back to top

First pages

1

Boston, Massachusetts

 

 

CIA Assistant Director Zane Black spots the car one hundred yards ahead as he makes a slow left onto Milford Street: a dirty green Lincoln Town parked opposite the apartment building with fake brown leather top and antenna bent past breaking point, muffler churning out exhaust smoke.

Might as well put flashing neon signs on it, he thinks smirking.

He turns off the headlights, kills the engine and coasts pulling over. Tires brush against the curb. Looks down and clenches palms. The meandering rhythms of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no.5 playing through the Spotify app on his phone and connected to the car sound system via Bluetooth haven’t yet hinted of the climax to come.

Past peak hour, the back roads were relatively quiet except for a street-sweeper a block back and the fading taillights of a taxi having made a U-turn up ahead. Black’s wearing sneakers, blue sweat pants, an old T-shirt with a faded Grateful Dead decal on the front—the kind you can’t iron—and a black hoodie, because that’s what you wear to the gym. And that’s where he’d be if it weren’t for the phone call informing him Professor Peter Nash went for a swim in the San Francisco Bay in his car.

The pounding in his chest and dry mouth tell him it has been a while since he last killed. But it quickly comes back. Focus pulls him in. Taking a steadying breath he allows the smirk to stay as he reaches over and takes out the 9mm Beretta from the glove box—the same gun used for his first kill the year a loser who had a hard-on for Jodie Foster took a shot at Reagan. Loves the dead-weight feel of it. Looks down the barrel pointing to the ground between his feet with one eye closed. His hand steadies as he lines up the sight. Realizes he’s stopped breathing.

The expected consequences of his plan are starting to congregate and crowd around a central axis. It’s time to sweep the few stray pawns from the board to make way for his final run. The last few moves before checkmate.

Checks rearview and side mirrors, both sidewalks.

Nothing.

He slides in a magazine, screws on the silencer, switches off the safety and puts one in the chamber.

It looks like the men are arguing, but what about? Black has an idea. He’s good at reading people, their body language, subtle changes in expression and small gestures. Most people lie. The trick is to work out their motive. But he’s already worked that out.

2

The Barn (CIA data facility), Technology Square, Boston

 

 

‘Be back later,’ John Masen says walking past Travis Sparks’ cubicle and looking up at the clock in Paul Pascal’s office. ‘I'll—’

‘Hold on.’ Travis Sparks stands and leans over the partition wall. Masen stops. Sparks lowers his head and softens his voice: ‘Our agreement…the two Chinese.’

‘When I get back,’ Masen taps the top of the partition with his knuckles signaling both the commitment and his haste to leave. ‘I’ll be two, three hours tops. And thanks again for setting up the call with Jessica.’ It only felt real hearing her call him Slick. And now, knowing she’s safe at a Navy base in Japan, the last forty-eight hours feels a long time ago.

The plan is to grab a bite to eat from Emilio’s: a calzone and something sweet to drink, then to the apartment and call to arrange a time to identify De Luca’s body. Best not to ignore the three unanswered messages from the morgue on his cell phone any longer. But he wants something solid in his stomach when he’s hit with the physical reality of death.

Masen walks a few steps, stops, turns back and makes sure no one is within earshot, and says squinting with a slight twist of his head, ‘You didn’t leak any news?’

Scanning the news earlier, he’d came across a blog post feeding into larger circulated news sites that the Bradbury’s were expecting some news about their missing daughter. Nothing specific, no named sources, just a photo of both parents clutching each other under a porch light, a glint of a smile, hope. An anniversary piece with a new hashtag campaign: #bringjessicahome started by an Austin blogger. Not that it stopped commentators from speculating Jessica might be coming home soon. A story about a teenage girl kept prisoner underground for over a decade having recently escaped was one possible scenario getting traction.

Sparks shakes his head and rubs his nose.

‘You did,’ Masen says pointing. ‘You rub your nose when you're hiding something.’ Shakes his head and mumbles, ‘…Hashtag bring Jessica home.’

Masen hides the fact he thinks the leak is a good thing. The neighbors in sympathy keeping their porch lights on until her return.

‘Maybe,’ Sparks says looking down, conscious not to rub his nose. ‘It’s harder to kill in the light.’

The absence of any news about her rescue is a mixed blessing for Masen and Sparks. Keeping a lid on the incident so it doesn’t blow up in the media and create another layer of complication. It’s logical, the usual play. However, Masen knows the Company is keeping a wrap on things while they hunt down the person responsible for the fake CIA communication that sent the US Navy on a rescue mission that nearly triggered World War Three.

A large chunk of Masen’s brain is busy churning the words about what he’s going to say to Pascal when he sees him next. He’d promised Sparks he’d confront him over the allegations about being a double agent and do something to stop two PLA computer hackers from being killed.

Sparks thinks Byzantine Candor is a ruse for something else. What it could possibly be, he didn’t say. Sparks probably thinks the Company killed JFK, faked the moon landing and is hiding an alien species deep underground at Area 51. Masen doubts it’s anything other than a hunch. A flight of fancy. Either way, it would have to wait until tomorrow morning when Pascal gets back from the Security Council briefing.

Masen rakes a hand through his hair and stretches. ‘Twelve hundred retweets…want anything from Emilio’s? Pizza, sub, sandwich…’

‘Rib sub and a Coke thanks,’ Sparks says sitting down and waves his gratitude getting back to work. ‘Cheers. And John.’

Masen turns.

‘Join the cause, brother. It’s well over eighteen hundred.’

3

Securing the hoodie over his head, Black crouches along the sidewalk checking the Lincoln’s mirrors, in windows of passing houses and the shadows of doorways on both sides of the street. He imagines a kid on the second story in one the houses looking down on him, tracing his movements with a finger, pretending it’s a gun. Makes a popping sound as he takes the shot. But kids don’t look out of windows anymore, their too busy looking at iPads and smart phones.

Ahead, the silhouetted tops of two heads. Picks his target. He’ll handle Masen himself later. It will be a pleasure. Straightens with a shrug, tightens his grip. Anticipation surges through him like the spark connecting foreplay to the main event. Checks the tightness of the silencer. No need to compensate for recoil for a point blank shot.

Boosted from an alley in South Boston, the car grows larger and looks more out of place amongst slick European models parked out on the street.

The men inside are arguing. Local men, professional, connected. The same men Black spoke with earlier who now look agitated, distressed, distracted.

‘You stuffed up,’ the driver protests. The scar running down his neck looks like a sleeping lizard.

‘Don’t try dropping me in the shite over this…you heard him. Black sounded resolved if you know what I mean.’ Stabs a finger into his partner’s shoulder. ‘You wanted to see that piece of—’

But before the man finishes his sentence, Black aims, turns his head placing a free arm to protect his face from the glass and fires. There’s a flash and sound of shattering glass. One shot through the temple. In one fluid movement Black opens the door and pulls the limp body out and lets it fall to the sidewalk maintaining his aim on the driver.

‘Hands on the wheel.’ Gestures by stabbing the gun. ‘Both hands.’

Black feels warm air rushing over his top lip. His world focused to what’s a few feet in front of him.

‘…Look mister,’ the driver says. The side of his face looks like someone smashed a glass jam jar across his cheek. A hand on his gun, too late to pull it out.

Black shoots the driver’s thigh. The man grimaces. Breathing is labored. ‘Okay! Okay, on the wheel. I got it…got it.’ Rubs his face with a shoulder while gripping the wheel with both hands. Flakes of bone rake against flesh and warm blood runs down his cheek.

‘You Tony?’ Black asks.

Head bowed, the man nods.

‘Funny.’ Black inhales the pink mist tinged with the smell of stale cigarette. ‘Get out, Tony.’

Trembling, Tony twists towards the door and moves out with both hands visible. Eyes on the gun. Gulps.

‘You and I are going for a drive.’ Black jerks his head back towards his car. ‘I’m riding shotgun.’

The fire in Tony’s leg keeps him leashed. He tries placing the voice as he stands. Thinks it’s related to the new Vietnamese place on Treamont Street he visited last week where the owner shortchanged him 100 bucks. Taught him a lesson. Sliced open a bag of rice, knocked over some cans that was everything foreign, pocketed some cigarettes and punched the yellow monkey in the side of the face with knuckledusters as a reminder of why he needs protection.

Black now standing behind Tony nudges him in the back and says, ‘Well, get moving.’ And follows his stare to the body on the sidewalk. They slowly walk back to the car both men failed to spot.

Tony desperately wants to wipe the bone and blood that’s seeping into his mouth. He could shout, but he’d be dead before anyone walked out a front door or looked through a window. People are locked away in homes. Lights glowing against drawn curtains.

‘Open the door with one hand,’ Black says holding the gun with both hands anticipating a move. Tony nods slowly and deliberately, conscious one hand stays vertical as the other opens the door, thinking of a way to overpower him or to run. Biding time.

The voice comes to him.

‘We had an agreement,’ Tony protests then looks up at Masen’s apartment building. ‘We were keeping—’

‘You were suppose to be tailing Professor Peter Nash,’ Black says dismissively. ‘You followed him from university and watched his car drive off the road into the bay?’

Hears the lie in the pause.

Tony’s the point man and only spoke with Black via phone, never face-to-face. Further detail was via text on a burn phone and payment by means of cash drop-off in a bus terminal locker in Boston South Station. This is the longest conversation they’d ever had.

‘…The conditions, you know,’ Tony says trying to blot out the pain, ‘plus we never thought he would skid off the road.’

The men figured Nash’s routine of driving between Stanford University and home wouldn’t change for one day. And why would it? Nash’s routine was as predictable as the tides. But Tony itched to visit his girlfriend in Chelsea, so flew back to Boston a day early and left his partner to keep tabs on Nash in San Francisco. But between driving to the airport and driving back, a report came through over the radio scanner that a car had crashed. A body dragged out of the bay.

‘We came back straight away to keep an eye on your boy, until you wanted him gone.’

The message fails to cut through. Black sizes up Tony. Eyes have a sharp focus but the architecture of his face droops. Hair color just a shade too dark to convince anyone other than himself of his age. Reached his apex of physical and mental fortitude twenty years prior, back when Black was hitting his strides, racking up scores on the board and making a name for himself in the business. Tony wouldn’t have it over him, not then, not now.

‘It’s not professional,’ Black says.

‘I have money.’

‘Bullshit,’ Black snaps jovially, almost laughs. ‘Grumpy old men waiting in a car this time of night don’t dent the weekly wage bill.’

He’s enjoying the banter. And why not? It won’t be long until he has the data and the feel of the sun on his back, the sounds of waves and more money in the bank than he could ever hope to spend in a hundred lifetimes.

Tony lifts his shoulders and inhales deeply. ‘Nash would have been taken care of tomorrow. What’s a day?’

It’s a fair question. The hit on Nash was planned for tomorrow. But what’s happening isn’t a matter of timing.

‘Stop.’ Black moves on the road so the car doesn’t obscure his aim. ‘Take off your shirt and wipe your partner from your face.’

Tony fights for a solution not to get in, for an excuse. He knows getting in means death, but there is nothing other than to obey. Keep breathing and hope for a plan.

Black is pleased with the outfit’s work: the honey trap with Pascal and eliminating Nash’s team. Both delivered as promised. But they’d gotten lazy or careless. Unforgivable.

‘What was funny?’ Tony asks taking off his shirt and wipes the mess from his face, fills up his mouth with saliva and makes a show of spitting on the ground.

‘Thought I shot the right man,’ Black says. ‘Don’t get me wrong, I was impressed with San Francisco and I enjoyed the photos of Lane.’ Uses the opportunity when Tony’s eyes are covered by his shirt to scan the area. All is quiet, like Christmas eve and the kids are tucked up in bed. And it feels like Christmas. Tony is the box that’s played with then torn to pieces.

The shirt falls to the ground. The tip of Tony’s gun stowed in the small of his back juts out above his belt. Useless. It might as well be home, under his pillow where he always kept it when he’s sleeping, two doors down from the kids’ rooms.

Alexa and Freddy, Tony thinks. I didn’t kiss their foreheads before I left. The failure liquefies in his eyes.

Black increases pressure on the trigger just in case his reflexes have waned over the years and Tony manages to get a jump on him. But sees he has all but lost hope; slouched shoulders, relaxed arms. A leg that’s now a liability. Knuckles are pink so he’s not tensing for a fight. It’s as if all his energy is being grounded. Black can almost taste the hopelessness and fear in the back of his throat.

‘Hand on the wheel.’ Black swaps the gun to his other hand and gets in. ‘Start the car.’

The car starts first go. Tony wanted it to stall, wanted the battery to be dead or to be out of fuel to buy some time. But new cars start the first time and who runs out of petrol? The engine still warm enough to blow comforting air. Tony wears a quizzical look as classical music starts playing.

‘No lights,’ Black says. ‘Same as before.’

‘Both hands,’ Tony says.

Tchaikovsky’s symphony starts it’s long wane that finishes in glorious crescendo.

‘Where are we going?’ Tony continues. His voice weak, somber.

Pushing and twisting the gun into Tony’s side, Black puzzles why people shed their accent and talk with a similar cadence when they know they’re going to die. Conducts the music with an imaginary baton at the windscreen. Tony pulls out from the curb and Black points up ahead to end of the street.

He shoots.

‘Don’t move,’ Black says and places a gentle hand on Tony’s shoulder still conducting. ‘Kidney. Give it a second…wait,’ and adds calmly and holds still while Tony turns to him, then down at the gun. ‘Not long now.’

A cough.

Black knows there’s no need for the gun so places it in the glove box. Touches the shaft with a wet finger to make sure it isn’t going to leave a burn mark.

‘Technology. Wifi,’ Black says shaking his head turning the cell over and looking with wonder at the screen. ‘Free streamed music…makes you glad to be alive.’

Tony looks pleadingly. Dark blood of lumpy oil dribbles from his mouth. Black reaches over and clicks on the indicator and helps into the turn all the while humming to the music. A pointless question of why washes over Tony as his side erupts in pain, grips the wheel hard so he doesn’t collapse. Warmth drains from his face and eyes search for salvation, but discovers only a cold stare. A beautiful look of terror on his face.

Black doesn’t want it to end.

‘Drive me to where I need to go and I’ll end it.’

There’s no hope, no thinking. Tony nods in shock, but it isn’t him, there’s a disconnect between body and brain, then the briefest moment of clarity he is going to die.

Coughs.

Progress is slow but after several minutes the park appears, the entrance on the other side. The light pole next to the large tree where Amanda Lane told him her phone is buried under a rock becomes visible. The park and parking lot had been checked for CCTVs previously. There are a few. However, Black knows where the blind spots are.

‘Round the block,’ Black says reaching over to once more help turn. ‘You’ve done well.’ Cranes his head for other cars. ‘Mooney thinks I’m stupid.’ Twirls a finger in jest. ‘But I’m in charge of keeping time and rhythm.’ Looks to Tony who’s struggling. His head flops with increasing regularity, eyes half closed. ‘I approached him with the idea of stealing the technology and now he wants full ownership. Who cares if he has Nash. I have the data.’

As they turn into the park, the car jerks over the concrete verge and glides over loose gravel. ‘Stop,’ Black says as they approach the path. Tony’s head slumps on the horn, unconscious and barely alive. Black deflects his head and leans across his chest, opens the door and pushes him out. He thuds to the ground.

The car rolls to a stop as the music finishes.

Black is out of the car about to walk over to the tree to retrieve Lane’s phone when his cell phone rings. He answers in mock shock and sits back down with the door open, feet anchored to the ground hearing the CIA Director’s news about Nash’s unscheduled swim. Eases back into the seat. He reassures him DUST will be housed securely at the Barn despite the events that have plagued the program: Nash’s team killed; one CIA agent shot and killed at Kennedy Space Center; Pascal’s suicide—blew his brains out in front of the Director.

‘It’s getting beyond a question of security,’ the Director says. ‘Just had the Secretary of State and the Vice President threaten to pull the Company’s involvement if there’s any more unsanctioned activities.’

Black had Nash’s team eliminated to flush out any shadow team Mooney might have lined up. To force his hand. It was a calculated risk because if Mooney hadn’t, the tests would have been delayed. But it worked. The army had to bring in their own team to finish the tests which told him Mooney was planning to keep the technology for himself.

‘Mooney’s just flexing his—’

‘Mooney doesn’t interest me,’ the Director snaps. ‘Tell me about Pascal. I’m still finding bits of his fucking skull in my hair. Jesus, the President was fond of Professor Nash.’

Off to the side, Black hears Tony moan.

‘What’s that?’ the Director asks as if trying to see past an obstacle.

Black stands and walks around the car, bends down with one knee on the ground and pinches the cell between chin and shoulder and says, ‘Nothing…’ Smothers Tony’s mouth with both hands. ‘It’s not my job to hold politicians hands.’ Winces, surprised by the struggle. A hand grabs at his forehand as Black places a knee into his throat and twists pressing down with increasing force.

‘Don’t toy with me,’ the Director says. ‘I’ll duck when the can gets kicked down the line. You won’t survive…One of our own.’ More statement than question. More acquisition than statement.

‘Success takes a big broom to failures,’ Black says. ‘Pascal’s a speed hump.’ Takes his hands away once those big blues stop shining, and wipes bloody hands on Tony’s shirt. ‘Not our man. One of his own dressed up as CIA is my guess.’

Not all of it comes off.

‘The army in charge of this technology. Imagine it,’ the Director says exhaling loudly. ‘I’ll be a laughing stock.’

‘He’s got a tight collar around his neck,’ Black says. ‘The Barn holds all the data. Let me do my job.’

‘You think it was the Chinese working Pascal?’

‘Does it matter who?’ Black studies the blood on his hands. He doesn’t remember killing being so bloody. Then again, many things have only started flooding back.

‘No, I suppose it doesn’t…and this…John Masen?’

‘Better for all if he disappears,’ Black is quick to say.

The Director grunts his indifference and hangs up. Some details are best not to know, for others to handle.

A breeze brings a chill. Black stands looking up at the tree, shuffles his feet, and immediately calls General Sloan Mooney. Leans in and grabs the towel from the back seat and cleans the blood from his face and hands.

‘You snake eyes sure now how to fall off the perch early,’ Mooney says answering without a hint of concern. ‘Tell me this is just a coincidence. Pascal, now Nash.’

Pascal’s suicide was unforeseen, but a present wrapped in Black getting handed the keys to the Barn nonetheless. A loose thread had conveniently burnt itself clean. Luck favors the prepared.

Black throws the towel on the body then leans across to the glove box and gives two squirts of hand sanitizer into his palm and rubs liberally.

‘In front of the Director.’ Black’s face cracks full smile. ‘I never thought he had it in him. Though Pascal did have a flare for the dramatic. This helps us immensely.’ Black stretches his hand in front of his face watching fingers twitch with the thought of personally cleaning things up. ‘It makes the possession of the technology that much easier.’ More exhilarating than 50 arms curls and 50 squats.

‘Never had you pegged as a glass half full man,’ Mooney says. ‘In my experience it all hits the fan as soon as you think it’s all neatly tied in a bow. Right now you’re picturing yourself in Pascal’s fish-tank of an office itching for all that data zipping over the wires, imaging how you’ll spend your days as some zeros bounce back into those offshore bank accounts of yours. But I’m telling you, we ain’t there yet. We haven’t secured squat, only guaranteed increased security and interest around the technology… So the Director put you in charge?’

Right now Black wants to search Lane’s cell for photos that will prove she followed his instructions and searched Masen’s room for any evidence how he found out about Lane and whether he was behind Jessica Bradbury’s escape. It’s an unanswered question, a risk, so therefore a problem. And if nothing else, he is a manager of problems.

‘Just got off the phone,’ Black says. ‘Reassured him it will all go smoothly from now on.’ Then tethering an ever increasing anger from exploding: ‘I thought Nash was with you.’ The accusing tone not lost on Mooney.

Black knows Mooney’s squirreling away some of the chess pieces for himself, but two can play that game. Two of his men are nicely tucked away on an oriental assignment.

‘Obviously he never showed for the test,’ Mooney lies ‘Like I said, it should have been my guys keeping an eye on him, not local thugs for hire. Good thing I had a backup team ready months ago, otherwise this project might be gathering dust, just like my fishing rod.’

‘Soon you won’t have to catch your own food,’ Black says looking down at the body.

‘This isn’t about the money,’ Mooney says. ‘Was never about money. Though, it is hard to ignore all those zeros.’

Black doesn’t feel like getting into a competition of who can piss higher up the bathroom wall. What he does agree with is that with money comes power. Not that he was going to give Mooney the satisfaction of saying so. Not while they’re sizing each other up.

‘Byzantine Candor still needs to be operational for the next phase,’ Black says changing the subject.

‘You’re a ruthless bastard, Zane,’ Mooney says. ‘But I agree, we need the diversion. Masen will make a good patsy. Just don’t screw it up.’

‘Let me remind you that everything is going to plan.’ Looks down and pulses the body with his foot. ‘I will not fail. I’m in charge of the Barn. It’s a matter of days before we have everything we need. And the final test, it’s going ahead as scheduled?’

‘I’ll deliver,’ Mooney says.

‘Good. Just remember our agreement.’

‘You sound different,’ Mooney notes.

The statement throws Black.

‘Just remember who put this complicated Meccano set together,’ Mooney continues. ‘I babysat this thing long before I ever had a need for you.’

Black does feel different, a resurgence, charged, alive.

‘And you remember that without the data we don’t have a buyer.’

‘Instructions still in Chinese?’ Mooney asks.

‘Nothing’s changed.’ Bored, Black turns up the radio then pops the trunk.

‘Still the same number of pages?’ Mooney sounding like he’s two steps ahead.

Black grunts his answer wondering if Masen would be making preparations to leave work right about now. He doesn’t need Masen but can’t tell Mooney of his plans for the technology.

‘So we bring Masen in, shower him with gratitude and grease him up for the fall,’ Mooney says, his voice searching for the listener. ‘I’m sure you’ll like to oversee things.’

‘He’ll get what’s coming to him,’ Black says. ‘Pity he doesn’t have a middle name. Harvey would be ideal.’

Black hangs up, taps the cell on his chin, then calls Masen.

4

The Barn

 

 

As the elevator doors open to the parking lot, a bright golden light reflecting from the building across the lane illuminates the concrete floor. Long shadows creep all the way to the doors. Masen squints then raises a hand as a visor. The stagnant and fumed air has some kick to it which he feels as a green monster swimming in his stomach. He is resolute to go back to the apartment, his apartment—the one De Luca left him in her will. Thinks of Macy from Giorgiana’s when she asked him about what’s going to happen to the building. He said he didn’t know. Lying was easy at the time, but now is the time to face some truths. He is still coming to terms with all that happened.

He passes Pascal’s car. He must have hitched a ride to the airport with the Director. Wonders what they discussed on the way to the airport and pauses at small marbles of light reflecting off the ground up ahead. And as his view creeps past a black Prius, he spots it.

‘Argh! You kidding me!’ Grits teeth and cranes his head. A foot swivels on crumbs of glass. The passenger’s window of his car is smashed. Remnants of veined glass hang like broken teeth in the passenger door. Hands wave in disbelief looking for the person responsible. ‘In a secure building…are…you…’

Walks around the car, searching, but can’t see any other damage. Glass peppers the passenger’s seat which he carefully picks up large chunks, then combs for smaller pieces, swipes carefully towards him and let fall to the ground.

Can’t see anything’s been taken or vandalized.

Nothing.

Then remembers. The laptop. He reaches over and pulls the lever to pop the hood and fails to see a corner of a white envelope jutting out from behind the sun visor. The envelope with his name handwritten on the front from Pascal. He crawls out only to remember he put the laptop under the passenger seat. Sitting unopened and unmoved as best as he can tell, feels it pressing against his fingers. Takes a second to compose himself.

Driving up the ramp, even at this low speed the air buffers. Unexpectedly, a tall slender guard steps out from the hut with outstretched hands gesturing to slow. Walks cautiously studying towards the car. ‘Stop,’ he says. The instructions clearly audible through the gaping hole. Not having bothered to put on his seatbelt, Masen manages one foot on the ground and has the door open.

‘Damn straight I’ll stop. Look at my window.’

The man ignores the comment. ‘Please, get back in your car,’ he orders, a hand reaches towards a holstered sidearm, the other helping close the car door.

‘What’s happened?’ They’ve found out it’s me that sent the instructions.

Standing a foot from the car, the guard bends down to be eye level and looks inside the car. ‘There’s been a shooting at the airport. Lockdown protocols are in place. No one leaves or enters without authorization.’

‘Who?’ Masen asks. But the pitting in his stomach says he already knows.

‘The chatter’s saying.’

Masen mouths the name at the same time as the guard speaks it. ‘Supervisor Paul Pascal.’

‘…Right.’ Masen grabs the steering wheel with both hands. ‘Dead?’

The man nods.

The boom gates and anti-ram barriers are deployed across both lanes.

Masen looks across to the passenger seat. He hears a phone ringing. Must have dropped out of my pocket. Searching for the muffled sound he finds it wedged between the passenger’s door and seat and quickly runs his thumb over and places it to his ear.

‘John Masen.’

‘It’s Zane Black. We need to talk.’

‘Go ahead, I’m not going anywhere,’ Masen says resting an elbow on the door and averting his eyes from the building. ‘Does it have anything to do with Pascal’s death?’

‘We don’t know everything that happened,’ Black says. ‘Some of the details are sketchy, but yes, unfortunately Paul Pascal is dead. Killed himself. That much we know.’

Suicide.

He must have been a double agent. Maybe he did it out of guilt because Black had something on him and confronted him about it? Maybe there’s someone else?

Lane?

‘You accused Pascal of being a double agent,’ Masen says. ‘You asked me to get back to you if I found anything suspicious. Now he’s dead.’

Masen doesn’t know to play this. He’s still at the mercy of Black who knows about his illicit activities of playing online games at work. Black asked and he agreed to keep an eye on Pascal, to report any suspicious behavior.

‘I think the recent events prove that’s the case. He shot himself in front of the Director on the way to the airport. He might have said “I’m sorry” just before pulling the trigger,’ Black explains. ‘I need you to do something for—’

‘Who controlled him?’ Masen says wanting to stay on topic. ‘He must have been answering to someone.’

‘At this stage our knowledge is limited,’ Black says. ‘Likely his handler will go to ground. Additional protocols have been triggered with regards to data handling inside the Barn.’

‘Yes, but—’

‘There’s been another incident, Kennedy Space Center,’ Black says. ‘A shooting. This time involving a CIA agent and a four star general.’

Masen remembers Nash mentioning Kennedy. It must be connected to Nash’s program: DUST. He wants to ask if it’s General Mooney—the general that forced the navy to act and save Jessica, but decides to keep the fact that he knows the name to himself, in case it puts him and Nash in danger.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

This is Charles Hubbard's second book in the Quantum Trilogy. He is an avid reader of crime fiction. He lives with his wife, two kids, a cat, and dog.

Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
Currently I am reading Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin, but I just finished the King of Torts by John Grisham.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
Iris Rising is the second book in the Quantum Trilogy. The main story revolves around John Masen, a CIA analyst and a new technology that promises to change the balance of world power. The technology struggles to be proven as a power-struggle over who will control it ensues.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
Currently adult fiction.

Next in:
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
The Bethune Murals A Novel
A modern witch hunt with tragic consequences
Between Love and Fear
Will protecting her save him from himself?
The Marquez Enigma
Search for El Dorado ends in C21st Spain