Tag Archives: Conspiracy Thrillers

Preview of The Incident – Book 2 in the Sam Jameson Thriller Series

Prologue

“I died?” Special Agent Samantha Jameson’s question was barely audible above beeping hospital equipment.

“Very much.  Twice.” Brock James shook his head.  “Such a bitch move.  Did you even think about how I might feel about that?”

She smiled weakly at his mock indignation.  “It blew.  No angels or out-of-body experiences.  I want my money back.”

Brock’s reply was interrupted by the doctor’s arrival, with nurses and orderlies in tow.

“Visiting hours are over, I’m afraid.”  The gray-haired doctor was borderline obese and reeked of cigarette smoke, but was friendly enough.  “Sadly, there’s more poking and prodding in your immediate future, young lady.”

“I’m a big fan of being poked, but I prefer this strapping fellow,” Sam said, reaching a bandaged arm up to Brock’s face.

The old doctor blushed.

Brock smiled. “Spread ‘em, gorgeous.  I don’t mind an audience.”

The doctor blushed more.

An orderly unlocked the wheels on Sam’s bed.  “I’m happy to watch, but we have a date with the MRI first.”

“I’ll tag along.”  Brock helped wheel Sam out into the hallway, turning right toward radiology.

She gazed up at his unshaven face, swollen eye, and split lip.  “Nice shiner.  Looks good on you though,” she said.  He chuckled.

Suddenly Brock’s smile died, and all the color drained from his face.  “Fuck.”

“Yes, please,” Sam started to say, before Brock’s look of alarm registered.  It took a lot to rile Brock, so she was instantly concerned.  “What is it?”

“The guard is gone.”

“Fuck,” Sam agreed.  “Run!”

Sam felt Brock accelerate to a lopsided sprint, her bed jerking in time with each clump of the cast on his broken foot.

“Sir!  You can’t run with her!  No sudden mo….”  The orderly’s chest erupted in crimson as a silenced slug tore into his back, through his heart, and out between two ribs.  Gore splattered Sam’s bed sheets.

A second shot punctured her intravenous bag, and saline solution spilled everywhere.

Brock rammed Sam’s bed through the heavy hallway doors, not slowing to look behind them at the shooter.  He knew without looking who it had to be.

Sam’s exploding IV bag slicked the floor, and Brock slipped and fell as Sam’s bed sailed through the doors.  She heard the snap of another bullet flying through the space Brock had occupied fractions of a second before.  The bullet shattered a picture on the wall in front of her bed, calling to her attention the fact that the hallway made an abrupt right-hand turn five feet ahead of her.

Her bed crashed hard into the wall.

Sam felt her body rocket forward, twist in mid-air, and slam against the shattered glass of the picture.  The wall knocked all the wind out of her, which was just as well.  She would have screamed otherwise, as dozens of glass shards embedded themselves in her back.

Dazed, bleeding, and unable to inhale, she came to rest with her left leg trapped between the side rail and mattress of her bed.  Her torso dangled from the side of her bed, hospital gown up around her ears.  Her bare ass pointed toward the ceiling.  Blood rushed to her throbbing head, which had cracked against the floor.

Before she could even draw a breath, she felt a pair of strong arms clamp around her torso and hoist her up.  Two long, hard, painful tugs pulled her leg free of the bed.  Brock threw her over his shoulder and began to run.  “Hold that elevator!”  Brock’s shout was clear and strong above the screaming in the hallway behind her.  Her breath returned in gasps, but each jerk of Brock’s awkward steps made a full inhalation impossible.

As the long hallway disappeared around the corner, Sam saw the doorway burst open again.

Him.

A silenced pistol rose to point at her, but Brock clump-sprinted around the corner and into the waiting elevator too quickly to permit another shot from the attacker.

An eternity later, as if to mock Brock’s frantic mashing of the “close” button, the doors began to meander together.  Through the narrowing gap, the shooter’s snarling face came into view.  Sam felt ice cold fear pound through her veins.

The man lunged, his arm extended to catch the elevator doors.

Two of the shooter’s fingers curled around the outer door.

But it wasn’t enough.  The doors closed.  Muzak filled her ears.  And Brock’s panting.  And the sobs of the frightened nurse who had held the elevator for them.

The elevator descended two floors before Brock pulled the emergency stop lever.

“Whatever you do,” Sam gasped over the clanging emergency bell, “don’t call the fucking cops.”

 

 

One

 

Two days earlier

Sam withdrew Brock’s larger-than-average manhood from her mouth.  “Mmm, I like the way we taste,” she said.  Minutes before, he had come deep inside her after giving her the kind of orgasm that caused her ass muscles to cramp.  Hungry for more after a brief nap, she sucked him hard again, savoring their commingled juices.

When she could feel the blood pounding in his member, she knew he was ready. She turned around onto her hands and knees.

She quivered as his tongue lapped her rim.  She heard him slip on a condom, felt his head probing, felt her body yield to his thickness, felt herself shudder, reached up to pleasure herself, and moan-gasped as she felt his full length slowly work its way inside her. She was soon rocking back and forth to the rhythm of his motion, masturbating herself toward another mind-blowing orgasm as he moved in and out of her.

She came.  Her body convulsed.  His grip on her hips became vice-like, and his feral moan turned her on even more.  He rammed himself in with all of his strength, his thrusts lifting her off of her knees, his member pulsing inside her with his own pounding orgasm.  Nirvana lasted a brief eternity and left them both gasping for breath.

She felt his teeth lightly on her back, then his tongue running up her spine, then his lips on her ear, then his cock sliding out slowly.  “Woman, I can’t believe you exist,” he whispered.

“Likewise.  You were a bitch to find. And catch.”  She rolled over and smiled at him.  He kissed her long and hard.

Her phone rang.  That ringtone. They both groaned together.

She answered.  “Special Agent Jameson,” she said, even though she knew who was calling.  She listened for a second, looked at Brock, rolled her eyes, and sighed audibly.  “You’re a shitty boss, you know that?”  She knew that Ekman knew he was a shitty boss, because she had told him as much on many occasions.  But it still gave her a satisfying sense of control to lash out at the man who made it a practice to systematically destroy any semblance of normalcy in her life.  She browbeat the poor guy almost daily, but he was still smitten with her.  If Sam wasn’t the best counterintelligence agent on the DHS roster, Ekman often claimed, he didn’t know who was.  But in a cliché midlife crisis kind of way, Ekman also badly wanted to sleep with her, Sam knew, and she used that knowledge to beat him up even more mercilessly.

At the end of the day, though, Ekman was her boss, and he could make her come in to work whenever an investigation demanded her talents.

Even at eleven p.m. on a Saturday night.

“Dude.  Why doesn’t this stuff ever happen during office hours?”  Air Force Colonel Brock James had a couple of Master’s degrees and a reputation as a fantastic fighter pilot, but he often spoke like a teenage surfer.  His protest was lighthearted, but she knew he wasn’t happy about another lost weekend.

Sam dressed, feeling a dark anger descending over her mood.  Brock was a good sport about it, knew what he was signing up for, and only complained seriously when her ridiculous hours destroyed holidays and rendered Redskins and Senators tickets useless, but she knew something would eventually have to give.

Hell, she knew that she would eventually have to give.  It really was rough work, and it took its toll.  Take the current situation.  She had a hunch she would return sometime after dawn with more grisly images burned into her brain, the kind of gore and tragedy she used to drink away but now just tried to breathe through.  “Another double got rolled up,” she told Brock.  “Not pretty, apparently.”

“Being a spy sounds like an even worse job than yours,” Brock said.  “Who smoked him?  Good guys or bad guys?”

She answered his jaded, sarcastic question with her customary in-kind answer:  “Yes.”  She didn’t speak the second half of her answer any more.  They’re all the same.  Only the accents change.

She kissed him softly on the way out.  “I’m sorry baby.  I love you.”

“Be careful.  And don’t be alarmed if I have one of my bitches come over to keep me company.”

“Send pictures.”  She blew him a kiss.

_____________

There was blood everywhere.  And a note, sorry to my wife and kids, etc, which clashed sharply with the ligature marks on John Abrams’ wrists and ankles.  It was obvious to Sam that Abrams hadn’t wanted to die, hadn’t slit both of his own arms from elbow to wrist, and certainly hadn’t scrawled the suicide note, written in child-like script.  He probably also hadn’t left his front door unlocked, given that Abrams had spent over two decades in the business of espionage. “They rang the doorbell, I presume?” Sam asked, more as a conversation starter than a real question.  She already knew the answer.

“Looks that way.  Security system download will tell us in a sec,” said Detective Philip Quartermain, formerly an FBI special agent but lately a homicide investigator at DC Metro.  Sam had heard the rumors about Quartermain—kicked out of the Bureau for being gay, though his superiors disguised it as an administrative thing—but she knew Phil knew his stuff.  Phil had Dan Gable’s trust, and that was no mean feat.  Gable had been her deputy for three years, and was the only male alive, aside from Brock, whom Sam let herself trust.  Father issues, she joked when asked, not really joking.

Sam snapped a photo.  “The spy who bled himself cold?”

“Or so the evildoers would have us believe.” Quartermain’s flamboyant deadpan and unapologetic lisp surprised her.  He probably takes endless shit at the station, she thought to herself.  Cops were a lot like counterintelligence people:  ritualistically homophobic.

“You mean he wasn’t sufficiently committed to slice his own arms to the bone?  Maybe you underestimate the power of a bad day,” she said.

“It would have to be a really nasty break-up, combined with both sides of a Smiths record,” Phil said.

“Sounds like the voice of experience.”  Sam watched Phil smile.

“Thankfully not this week.  But yes, I’ve learned to stay away from The Smiths,” Phil said.  “Give me a hand?  I think he’s sitting on something.”

Sam helped Phil move the dead spy, pausing beforehand to put on a pair of latex gloves.  They shifted John Abrams’ considerable weight far enough to the right to reveal a cheap chain looped through the eyehole of a small silver key, the kind that might open a music box or young girl’s treasure chest.  “Sure enough.  Impeccable instincts, Phil.”

“Well, it’s a matter of public record that I know my way around a man’s ass,” Phil said.

Sam laughed.  “I knew I liked you.  Any ideas on the key?  Abrams doesn’t strike me as the hope chest type.”

Phil dusted both sides of the key for prints.  “Easy enough to find out the lock type, but there are probably several thousand locks that would open for this key.  It’s not exactly a unique pattern.”

“Guess that’s why we get the big bucks.”  Sam examined the nearby windows for any signs of recent entry or exit.  Nothing.

“Don’t forget the glamor,” Phil said, flat and taciturn.  “Lots of people would kill to be sitting in a pool of a stranger’s blood at midnight on a Saturday.  I know I’d hate to be at home swelling up to boy porn right now.”

“Well, at least the nightmares will help keep the experience fresh,” Sam said with a chortle.  “I’ll wander around and admire John’s interior decorating.”

She did.  Nothing to write home about.  She was pretty sure Abrams didn’t spend much time in this place.  Sex pad, maybe, but probably not for the classy girls.  The furniture was sparse, and two of the upstairs bedrooms were completely empty.  The kitchen cabinets held few dishes, and a layer of dust on the pots and pans told Sam the decedent didn’t spend his free time trying out new recipes.  At least not here.

Time for the juicy stuff.  The black light revealed plenty of biologicals on the sheets in the master suite, located just off the kitchen downstairs.  “Phil, it’s your lucky night,” she called out.  “Lots of man gravy on the bed.”

“The crowd goes wild,” she heard him say in the next room.

Then she stumbled upon something that made her catch her breath. Her own name, written on a pad of paper on the dead man’s nightstand.  And her address.  “Sweet Jesus.”

“Just call me Phil,” Quartermain quipped, walking into the bedroom.

She ignored him, dialing. The phone rang four thousand times before Brock answered, groggy and uncharitable.  “Hi baby,” she said.  “Don’t say anything.  Go downstairs and lock yourself in the vault.  Call me as soon as you get there and I’ll explain.”  She’d installed the highly secure basement room—steel door, video surveillance, weapons, rations, the whole nine—after a particularly nasty case left her with exit wounds and demons.  To Phil: “you’ll have to scrape up the dried goo yourself, I’m afraid.”

Hustling out of the room with car keys in hand, she only heard part of Phil’s reply.  She paused on the dead spy’s doorstep long enough to snap eight multi-spectral photos covering the entire area in front of the house.  They were handy for finding all sorts of hidden things.  She’d wake Dan Gable up to analyze them.

But first, she had to get the hell away from the house.  She’d been in the crosshairs before, but that didn’t mean it didn’t scare the bejeezus out of her.  My name and address on a dead spy’s nightstand.  She had no idea what it might have meant, but it struck her as decidedly unhealthyCounterespionage was always personal.  That was lesson one at spook school.

She walked to her car as calmly as she could manage, starting the engine remotely with the fob.  She heard rustling in the bushes behind her as she reached the door handle, and suddenly her heart was in her throat and a tsunami of adrenaline zinged through her veins.  She leapt into her car and slammed the door shut, crushing the lock with her fist while she threw the car into reverse to screech down the dead man’s driveway.

She was a strong girl, five-ten in flats with a wicked left hook and a ball-kick that had sent more than one thug to the ground in a heap. But she knew that she was still human, susceptible to being scared to death. All of that didn’t stop her from feeling rookie-like and embarrassed when she saw the source of the rustling in the bushes that had scared her witless just a second ago:  a uniformed policeman.

She rolled down the window.  “Sorry ma’am,” the officer said.  “Didn’t mean to give you a heart attack.”

“No worries.  I could stand to be a little more calm and collected, but that’s probably obvious to you by now.”  Then something struck her as odd.  “What were you doing in the bushes without your flashlight on?”

The policeman didn’t answer right away.  That was weird. He kept walking toward her car, smiling.  Also weird.  Movement caught her eye:  his hand moving toward his taser.

That was all the prompting she needed.  Sam mashed the accelerator and popped the clutch.  The Porsche’s engine roared as she rocketed away.  She saw the cop in her side mirror, putting the stun gun back in its holster and talking into the squawk box clipped to his shoulder.  This is fucked up, she decided.

She rounded the corner, alert for any cars giving chase.  None appeared.

Her mind raced.  Who to call first?  Brock?  He should have called from the panic room by now.  Dan Gable?  She knew she would need her deputy’s help sorting this thing out.  It was suddenly a colossal turd pie.  Oh shit! Phil Quartermain.  He was still in the victim’s house, with someone in a cop’s uniform prowling around outside!

Not wanting blood on her hands, she found Phil’s number first, then hesitated before pushing the call button.  The cop wore a DC Metro uniform.  Phil was DC Metro.  Was Metro compromised?  Was Phil really in danger, or was he in on it, whatever it was?  Was the guy in the bushes even a real cop?  

The clock was ticking, she realized, and she cursed herself for hesitating.  She called.  It rang, then voicemail. Too late?  Phil, I hope I didn’t just get you whacked!

She called Dan Gable.  His customary response to Sam’s all-too-frequent midnight awakenings:  “I hate you.”

“Likewise.  And I’ve been meaning to tell you that your halitosis could knock a buzzard off a plague wagon.  Who’s on the response team shift right now?”

“Lemme check.”  Dan’s voice was groggy, and she heard Sara’s voice in the background, admonishing her husband not to wake the baby and maybe consider getting a better fucking job or at least negotiate some decent overtime pay and don’t bother coming back to bed if that baby so much as peeps.  Poor Dan.  No wonder he spent so much time at work.

More shuffling, then her deputy’s voice again. “Ainsworth, Curry, and Meyer.”

“Great.  Larry, Curly, and Moe.  Anybody we can call who doesn’t suck?  There’s a situation.”

“Really?  I thought you woke me up at midnight to talk about your feelings.”

“You know me so well,” Sam said.  “So let’s talk about my feelings.  I feel largely indifferent but more than a little inconvenienced that John Abrams got smoked a few hours ago, and I feel confused about why a Metro guy just jumped out of the bushes and tried to tase me.  And despite my tough-girl exterior, I do feel apprehensive that my name and address were on Abrams’ nightstand.”

“Wow boss.  That is a situation.”  Dan thought for a second.  “How about Williams?  He’s just back from admin leave but I could probably send him out.”

“Yes please.  To Abrams’ house.  Say nothing about my name and address on the notepad, and keep everyone away from my home.”

“Why don’t you ever trust the good guys?”  Dan no longer sounded sleepy.

“Just because they’re on the payroll doesn’t mean they’re good guys.”  Sam knew Dan was probably rolling his eyes at her.  She’d foisted her dim view of her fellow Feds on him more than once.  She changed the subject.  “I’ve got some multi-specs for you to analyze.”

“Can it wait? Or do you want to be responsible for my divorce?”

“Sorry, but I’m on Sara’s side.  You work way too much.  But it definitely can’t wait.”

Something caught Sam’s attention.  Police lights in her rear view mirror.  “Gotta go.  There’s a police cruiser behind me.”

She hung up on Dan and immediately dialed 911.  She told the operator that she was a single female alone in her car and she didn’t feel comfortable stopping for a traffic ticket in the middle of the night.  The operator ran Sam’s location and queried the units in the vicinity.

None of the patrolmen in the area was trying to pull over a motorist at the moment, the operator said.

Sam felt her insides clench up.  That’s no cop.  She matted the accelerator and dove across three lanes to make a hard right turn.  The cop car followed, lights flashing insistently.  A voice blared at her from the bullhorn atop the police cruiser, warning her to pull over immediately.  “He’s chasing me.  Any ideas?”  She asked the 911 dispatcher.

“Don’t stop.”

“Genius.”

“I’ve already got two units on the way.  Stay calm, ma’am.”

“Great thinking.  How will I know the good cops from the bad cops?”

The operator didn’t have an answer, but suggested she drive to the police station to sort it out.  She suggested the operator commit an unnatural act with himself.  Then she realized she hadn’t told him about the taser thing.  Tasers were controlled items, available only to cops, security firms, and the military.  So she told the operator, and then apologized for suggesting self-buggery.

“I understand your concern a bit better now ma’am.  Please try not to get in an accident, don’t violate any traffic laws, but don’t stop your car.  You should see another police cruiser soon.”

Sam did.  It pulled up even with her left rear quarter panel.

Then it swerved into her car, ramming her into a spin.

It’s on.  Her driving training kicked in.  She steered into the spin, whipping the nose of her car around until it was almost pointing in the right direction down the road, then she quickly reversed the wheel to stop the rotation.  She downshifted into third gear, stood on the accelerator, and felt the twin turbo boosters kick in, pushing her back into the driver’s seat.  Not your average douchebag penis-extender sports car, is it boys?  She walked away from the two cop cars.  Or non-cop cars.  She still didn’t know which.

She passed 120 miles an hour, then 130, then saw the light change two blocks away.  Crossing traffic began to crawl through the intersection. Not stopping. 

She didn’t.  She barely missed a beat-up minivan, and swerved to avoid what would certainly have been a deadly collision with a sedan that had just turned onto the street in front of her.  Police lights still flashed behind her, but the distance was growing.

The road curved gently, and Sam accelerated to build more space.  140, then 150.  Do I hear 160?  The police lights disappeared around the bend behind her.

Sam stood on the brakes.  The anti-lock system sounded like four jackhammers, and she was thrown into her restraints by the deceleration.  She wasn’t quite slow enough to make the corner onto the quiet residential street, but she tried anyway, and ended up spending a little time on someone’s lawn before chirping her tires back onto the pavement.

She drove half a block, then twirled to a stop behind a gratuitously large pickup truck parked by the curb.  She killed the lights just before the two cop cars blazed past on the main road, engines roaring and sirens wailing.

To serve and protect.  My tax dollars at work.

Hands shaking, she caught her breath, then realized that she heard a voice coming from the vicinity of her crotch.  The 911 operator was still on the line.  She hung up with a loud flourish of profanity, and began to disassemble her phone.  It would be less than awesome to lose those two cop cars, only to have them locate her with a cell phone signal.

She reached a fingernail to remove the phone’s battery when the phone began vibrating.  Brock.  “Expecting company baby?  There’s a cop car in front of our house.”

Devolution – A Sam Jameson Conspiracy Thriller – Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Arlington, Virginia.  Thursday, 12:32 p.m. ET.

Special Agent Samantha Jameson closed her eyes and let out a low moan. Air Force Colonel Brock James’s lips and tongue slowly worked their way down her midsection, finally arriving at the spot. Her hips rose to meet him. He sucked lightly, moving his tongue in slow circles. Her back arched, and her hands gripped the sheets by her side.

His erection brushed against the soft bedding as he slowly moved his tongue inside her. He loved how wet she became for him, and he was always amazed by her gorgeous body from his vantage between her legs. A thin strip of auburn hair pointed the way up to her well-defined abs, a sparkling belly ring, and beautiful, natural breasts. The line of her neck and chin, tilted back in breathless pleasure, was exquisite. She was perfect.

She felt a powerful wave of warmth and desire. She shook ever so slightly, and her breath became short. She pushed his head away, then pulled his mouth up to meet hers. “I want you inside me.”

He reached his arm around the small of her back and pulled her hard against him. She shuddered with pleasure as she felt his length and thickness. He had a magnificent cock—long and thick, but not too much of either. Her pleasure built with each thrust, and she wrapped her legs around his back.

Her breaths became gasps, and she pressed against him as he worked his full length into her. He kissed her, and inhaled her breath as their tongues touched. He felt himself approaching the edge.

She looked into his eyes and saw that he was fighting to delay his orgasm. “Come,” she said. Her throaty, sexy voice was more than he could handle, and his grip on her back became vice-like as he thrust into her with mounting desperation and abandon.

She came first. He felt her spasms ripple down his length, and he could hold out no longer. His breath stopped, his body tensed, and he drew her head to him in a desperate embrace. He throbbed inside her.

Each wave of his orgasm sent Sam into deeper and deeper pleasure. She came harder with each pulse of his manhood, and he felt deep satisfaction with each grip and release of her body around him.

The crescendo passed, and they lay together catching their breath. He moved gently inside her as he stroked her hair and tenderly kissed her face and neck, and she ran her hands down his trim, muscular back.

“I am so glad you exist.” He bit her ear tenderly.

“Thanks for stopping by, stranger. I thought I had lost you to one of your hookers.”  Her fiery green eyes held mischief.

He smiled, a hint of crow’s feet appearing near the touch of gray at his temples. “Cinnamon wanted to join us, actually, but I told her I wanted you all to myself.”

She laughed. A stream of warm liquid sex escaped her. “Uh-oh. Now you’ve done it. I’ll have to change the sheets before my boyfriend comes home.”

“When is he due? I’ll wait for him with a blunt object.”

It was a running joke about their hectic work schedules. They playfully accused the other of a parallel life, but even though they had found each other later in life after more than a few false starts in other relationships, there had never really been anyone else. Not even close.

Brock’s cell phone buzzed, and reality descended.  “Shit.  Looks like our lunch date is officially over,” he said.  “The boss is on the war path again, that little bastard.” He dressed hastily. They shared a long, wet kiss.

“I love you madly,” he said.

“I’m really glad you do,” Sam replied. “Otherwise I’d have to stalk you, and that could get awkward.”

Devolution – A Sam Jameson Conspiracy Thriller – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Somewhere in the Adirondack Mountains.  Thursday, 10:24 a.m. ET.

The slight, athletic young man wasn’t particularly nervous, but the gravity of what lay ahead of him was never far from his mind. His training had been lengthy and thorough, and he felt confident in his abilities. Soon Chaim would prove his mettle.

He settled his cheek against his rifle, centered his attention on the target, and calmed his breathing.

He was a recent graduate of a lengthy and rigorous training syllabus. Throughout the yearlong course, he had focused on the martial aspects of his regimen, and as young men tended to be, he was quite oblivious of the more important result of his time at the training camp: he had emerged thoroughly indoctrinated.

Extremist groups and mainstream militaries have long known that the most effective indoctrination methods didn’t involve hours of dogmatic instruction or rote memorization of political or religious precepts. Instead of preaching, the most thorough indoctrination efforts merely provided skills training. When done well, the curriculum rarely, and only peripherally, addressed the ultimate purposes to which the newly acquired skills were to be employed. The ideology was taken for granted. It was counterintuitive, but remarkably effective.

Chaim had emerged from his extensive training with an embarrassment of praise and accolades from his superiors. He had been handpicked for his upcoming assignment.

He adjusted his aim for both wind and gravity, exhaled slowly, calmed his mind, and slowly added pressure to the trigger with his index finger. The rifle’s report echoed off the far Adirondack hills.

He trained his sight back on the target and discovered that he had missed the center circle by a little more than an inch. Not bad for a 420-yard shot.

He was ready.

It was time for Chaim, now just over twenty years old, to live up to his promises to God. Over the past weeks, to prepare for his upcoming duty, he had learned of many atrocities committed against peoples of faith in Southwest Asia and North Africa. He had watched hours of grisly footage, and had seen countless grief-stricken survivors laid low in their misery. Bloody mothers clutched dead infants, and husbands tore at their hair in grief at the loss of their families.

Along with a more senior member of the Faithful, he had also flown to see the gruesome aftermath of one of these attacks with his own eyes. He saw the maimed and grotesquely disfigured children struggling to function normally, and he felt the seething rage of heartbroken parents helpless to remove the pain from their young ones’ lives.

He was Jewish, born in Tel Aviv. The disfigured child he had held was Arab, born in Iraq. It didn’t matter to him. Humanity was his family, Earth his home, as God had designed.

He was angry in his bones, stricken in his soul. The atrocities were ordered by men in suits and executed by men in uniforms under a banner of justice and freedom. He had seen the footage and aftermath of many attacks, but they were all linked by a common thread. The weapons that had both cruelly ended some lives, and cruelly failed to fully end others, were all guided by components made by a single company, Langston Marlin.

This company reported to shareholders and was run by a board of directors. Its employees lived in modest homes not altogether unlike the homes their products had decimated. For the moment, this company also had a chief executive officer, John Averett.

But it would not have one for long.

The young sharpshooter was not looking forward to ending a man’s life. The suffering that death wrought was all too real to him now, and he loathed bringing this suffering upon anyone’s wife, children, and grandchildren.

If there was another way, he had pleaded, it would be so much better, so much more righteous.

His superiors had not attempted to justify their strategy. They had merely invited him to help them find a better way, if one could be found. Together, they had worked through myriad ideas, each dashed by the same limitation the weak always had when they wished to stop the tyranny of the strong.

None of the other ideas had a prayer of working.

In the end, Chaim had concluded, it was simply a matter of mathematics. If he and his comrades did nothing, the mass killings on the other side of the globe would continue. But if he did something, a thing so significant, powerful, frightening, and serious that it couldn’t be ignored, then things just might change.

There was no guarantee that his efforts, his sacrifice, the rending of his soul with the guilt of murder, would bring about any change whatsoever.

But Chaim knew with a calm, bottomless clarity that he no longer had the ability to do nothing.

He had held the blinded and legless child in his arms, and through his own tears, he had promised God with the full force and depth of himself that he would expend everything, including his last breath, if need be, to stop the barbarism.

He would sacrifice the purity of his conscience. He would descend to savagery himself and cripple his own soul. This price he was willing to pay. He was already broken, indelibly altered, by the horrible things he had seen. There was no turning back.

He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see a familiar face. “I am told that Mullah has confirmed it. It is time, my brother.”

Devolution – A Sam Jameson Conspiracy Thriller – Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The Pentagon, Crystal City, Virginia.  Thursday, 9:46 a.m. ET.

A tall, lanky man left the Pentagon’s Metro entrance and ambled across the vast parking lot, beneath the highway bridge, and across Army-Navy Drive to his office building in Crystal City.

People knew him by several different names. His wife called him Mike. His friends from a twenty-year career as a fighter pilot knew him as Buster, a tongue-in-cheek homage to an episode involving an inadvertent sonic boom and dozens of broken windows. And he was Mr. Charles to the eight hundred people in the Department of Defense’s Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Warfare program office under his charge.

But in the most important circle, he was known simply as Stalwart.

Stalwart had left the Pentagon meeting deeply satisfied. Things in the Pentagon’s Mobile Anti-Satellite Targeting System Program were a mess. Nobody seemed to have any sense of what to do next. Nobody but he, that is, and he kept his thoughts to himself.

He loved opacity. Fog was so much more useful than clarity. It allowed him to declare confident certainties to the murmuring bureaucrats who were castrated by their own timidity. Forever in search of decisiveness, an exotic bird in the fatuous forest of any large organization, the pencil pushers fell all over themselves to fall in line behind him. He was guidance and shelter.

But that was not to say he was a charlatan. Quite the opposite, really. A natural strategist, he could easily see and articulate simple connections between complex things.

He stood out enough already, but a confusing environment – and military weapons development programs were anything but straightforward – made him appear godlike next to his counterparts, whom he dubbed the self-herding sheep. Many such sheep worked for him. And he worked for a few himself. The latter provided nearly endless entertainment as they struggled to masquerade his trademark clarity and vision as their own. The former were a bovine nuisance. He delegated only those things he didn’t care about. If a task was important, he did it himself.

In this way, he manipulated the Machine. When he chose to advance a cause, major or minor, his skill and personality allowed rapid movement through layers of grinding bureaucracy. But there were many serious issues that he simply allowed the befuddled bureaucrats to bludgeon with their ineptitude. He did this because the system deserved it, and so did the system’s perpetrators. Even the sheep.

Especially the sheep.

He was a patriot in the truest sense. He had long ago taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The Constitution, he believed, represented man’s highest organizational attainment, the best mechanism yet devised to balance the benefits of collective effort with man’s innate freedom. It wasn’t perfect, but Stalwart believed it was worthy of defense.

But the Machine had manipulated and twisted that oath, slowly substituting loyalty to an insipid self-serving organization in place of loyalty to the liberties enshrined in the Constitution. He had the vision to understand the difference.

With that vision came the clear belief that the great governmental bureaucracy, the lumbering parasite of public treasure, was itself functioning at odds with the Constitution. This was a hard realization, from which there could be no retreat for a man like Mr. Mike Charles, Co-Director of the ASAT program.

His adoption of this belief was a byproduct of his insatiable curiosity, which took him to the dark corners of the institution; there, buried beneath bromides and false assumptions, he found gleaming fragments of reality. He gradually pieced these fragments together.

What he learned had demanded action.

The final piece of the puzzle had been the hardest for Stalwart to place. Something had nagged at him, a vague, inchoate perception that something significant was amiss. He had the sense that it was right in front of him, maybe even clubbing him over the head, yet he couldn’t quite place it.

He was right. It was something enormous, glaring, pervasive, and with a prominent public face. Yet it was also absolutely secret.

It started to click into place for Stalwart when he accidentally heard a sentence uttered on television by a thoroughly marginalized congressman and erstwhile presidential hopeful. The hapless politician meant well, but was relegated to crackpot status because of his predilection for publicly disagreeing with what the mainstream considered to be self-evident economic truths.

The politician felt that many of the commonly revered economic precepts most people believed weren’t in fact true, and were, instead, little more than unexamined dogma. The poor fellow just couldn’t speak in public without harping on currency inflation as an insidious and dishonest method of wealth redistribution. His time on the national stage was brief, and since his decisive defeat in the most recent primary, every picture shown of him seemed to have captured his face in a strange, cartoonish contortion. His name didn’t help:  “Arvin Duff” didn’t roll off of most tongues without a snigger.

Stalwart made it his practice to studiously ignore the politics staged for public consumption in the news media. But he was trapped in a clinic waiting room, his ears assaulted by loud, compressed audio from a cheap television tuned to the “Inside Washington” segment of the high-pitched right-wing daily news agency.

He felt his annoyance growing with each salvo of anti-left invective that invaded his senses. He wasn’t annoyed because he leaned left—he was long past picking sides in the Kabuki Theater otherwise known as American politics, and he thought there were sufficient idiots in both camps to make “None of the Above” the only viable choice. He was just irritated because he was forced to listen.

At half past one, Stalwart had asked the receptionist sardonically whether she knew what time his one o’clock appointment would begin. He had smiled at her to take the edge off his sarcasm, and she muttered an officious apology for his inconvenience. Politely, he had made it clear that they were within ten minutes of losing his appointment and his patronage. He didn’t have anywhere in particular he needed to be, but he had decided that he was finished waiting. Life was short.

His message delivered, Stalwart had been on his way back to his seat in the waiting room when Arvin Duff, the crackpot anti-inflation guy, appeared in a television interview. “In 1933, the US government banned the ownership of gold. It was punishable by ten years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine,” Duff’s nasal voice squawked.

Could that be true? The US had banned the ownership of gold? We—the United States of America—had forbidden American citizens from owning . . . gold? Assault weapons, vicious animals, and nuclear weapons he could understand. But gold?

One might expect something like that from Stalin’s Soviet Union or Mao’s China, but never in his life would Stalwart have guessed that the United States government, bastion of truth and justice, would ban the ownership of a precious metal. It seemed so . . . out of character.

His curiosity was piqued, and Stalwart had turned to his smart phone for answers. As he waited for the browser page to load, he found himself thinking that someone must have lost his mind temporarily and instituted this bit of one-off governmental quackery, only to be corrected by more clear-thinking successors. How could it be otherwise?

But he was wrong. By executive order number 6102, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had banned the ownership of gold and ordered that all bullion, coins, and gold certificates be surrendered to the US Treasury no later than May 1, 1933, for which citizens were to be compensated $20.67 per troy ounce.

Eight months later, Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act of 1934, which outlawed the ownership of gold by any US citizen anywhere in the world. This law also arbitrarily raised the price of gold to $35 per ounce, almost doubling the value of the confiscated gold that by now had accumulated in enormous quantities in the national treasury.

The government had taken all of the citizenry’s gold, and then, months later, had arbitrarily declared the gold it had confiscated to be almost twice as valuable.

In effect, Stalwart mused, the government had scooped up all the gold, then declared the dollar to be half as valuable by comparison. A chilling thought.

The law remained in effect until 1977. Forty-three years was too long for temporary insanity, Stalwart thought.

That realization just over a year ago had marked an inflection point for Stalwart. Over the following year, he had slowly gained the insight and resolve that would ultimately lead to action.

His fellow bureaucrats had a name for the kind of action he took.

Treason.

The elevator took Stalwart to the top floor of the mid-rise office building. He stepped past the secretaries and into his large office, with its incredible view of the Washington Monument, and settled in for a long afternoon of meetings.

He also prepared for some other activity, the kind that could never be put on a calendar at work.

Devolution – A Sam Jameson Conspiracy Thriller – Prologue

Prologue

Crystal City, Virginia.  Wednesday, 3:47 p.m. ET.

A gloved hand pressed hard against the priest’s mouth and nose. He felt a fast tearing sensation rip across his neck. Jets of deep crimson flew in front of his face as his own blood splattered to the floor.

His vision began to dim. He didn’t feel his knees buckle, but felt the cold tile flatten his cheek as his face slammed into the floor. Shallow, frantic breaths caused ripples in the growing pool of red.

It was over in a few seconds.

The killer watched as the priest exhaled his last breath. Via con Dios, Monsignor.

_____________

A phone rang on Capitol Hill. Senator Frank Higgs picked up the receiver.

“Curmudgeon has been retired,” said the disembodied voice on the other end of the line.

Senator Higgs was struck dumb. “What?”

Silence.

“Fucking retired? How? Who?”

“You know better than to ask. The usual time and place, please. No mistakes.”

The dial tone interrupted Higg’s reply.

_____________

Somewhere north of Las Vegas, Nevada.  Wednesday, 10:58 p.m. PT.

“Clear the line!” the laboratory safety chief bellowed with far more force than necessary. His amplified voice exploded from a dozen loudspeakers spaced out over the eight-mile expanse of the Nevada desert.

With the exception of the fifteen officials and technicians gathered in the control room with the safety officer, no one heard the announcement. The weapons test range was in one of the most desolate locations in the United States, and every person involved in the test that evening had gathered in the control room to either conduct or witness the event.

Large high-definition monitors displayed infrared, ultraviolet, and low-light versions of the same image, an automobile. Sensitive to temperature differences, the infrared images clearly showed the exhaust escaping from the tailpipe and the deep red outline of the engine, warm and idling.

Next to the sedan was a table, which looked exceptionally out of place in the middle of the desert. On the table’s surface were four television sets, arranged in a line from front to back. All four television sets were on, with images flashing in the darkness.

“Let’s zoom in on the engine compartment.” Art Levitow’s basso resonated in the small room over the hum of machinery. As the director of Senior Quantum, an unacknowledged government program that had consumed just shy of three billion dollars over the past seven years, Levitow’s was a voice that commanded respect. His deft political leadership was matched by equally impressive technical and scientific credibility. Despite the stakes, he wasn’t nervous in the least.

The same couldn’t be said for the technician operating the cameras, whose initial attempt to zoom in on the car’s engine compartment resulted in a close-up of the desert floor.

The Vice President of the United States chuckled. “Now you look like me, hunting geese.”

Secretary of Defense Bill Pomerantine grinned. “No, sir, that’s not quite true. He’s still aiming in the right county.”

Vice President Arquist’s chuckle turned into a good-natured laugh. “Bill, if you keep that up, you may be the first man in history to go from Secretary of Defense to coffee barista in a single night.”

Laughter tittered through the room as the technician slewed the cameras in the target area over the engine compartment of the late-model sedan.

“Let’s expand out just a little bit. I’d like Vice President Arquist to see the dashboard electronics as well.” The camera operator zoomed out slightly in response to Levitow’s request.

Levitow continued.  “Mr. Vice President, as you know, three years ago we made the breakthrough that enabled us to reliably and consistently demonstrate the fundamental physics, but the major technical hurdle has been to project and localize the effects. In other words, we had to figure out how to shoot the beam, and how to aim the shot. That problem has consumed the bulk of our effort, and it didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped. But we’ve figured out how to do it.”

Arquist smiled. “I was relieved when Bill told me the news, and the president insisted I go see for myself.”

“We think you’ll like what we’ve put together, sir. Keep your eye on the engine compartment, and we’ll begin the demonstration. Go ahead, Amber.”

An attractive technician moved a mouse pointer over an icon, clicked the button, and answered “OK” at the warning that popped up. The lights dimmed in the control room, and a deep, throbbing hum rose above the usual computer noise.

Ten meters to the south of the control center, in a drab two-story concrete structure surrounded by concertina wire, an electric current began to flow through large coils of copper wire. The coils were attached to a circular array of six small dish-shaped antennae, all aimed in the same direction, parallel with the desert floor. The air around the antennae crackled for a brief second, and had anyone been in the vicinity of the apparatus, they would have undoubtedly noticed the unmistakable odor of ozone in the air.

“Keep your eye on the infrared monitor,” Levitow instructed. The small crowd in the control room saw numerous bright spots appear inside the sedan’s engine compartment and dashboard. A bright flash appeared on the ultraviolet display monitor, adjacent to the infrared monitor. The flash dissipated in less than a second.

Seven miles away, the idling vehicle suddenly stopped.

“Mr. Vice President, you’ll notice that the exhaust is no longer coming out the tailpipe, and no lights are on inside the car. We’ve completely disabled the vehicle, but despite the brief infrared and ultraviolet emission, there is no fire or other noticeable physical damage.”

Arquist raised his eyebrows and let out a low whistle. “I’ll take a thousand of ’em.”

“We’re not finished yet. Alice, let’s move on to the second part of the demonstration.”

The technician’s mouse raced across several screens, and a crosshairs appeared on the main display. The cameras showed a grainy picture of the four television sets, all arranged in a row, one behind the other. All four flat screen televisions were powered on. The technician slewed the crosshairs, and they came to rest on the third television from the front.

Levitow continued his narration. “No sports addict would ever arrange his televisions this way, with three TVs hidden behind the front one, but we’ve set things up to show you just how precisely we’ve been able to refine the targeting solution. Keep your eye on the third television screen in line from the front. We’re going to pass the beams through the first two televisions without any effect whatsoever, disable the third TV, and leave the fourth one completely alone. Go ahead, Alice.”

Two clicks later, the third television began to glow and spark on the infrared camera. A brief, bright light flashed again on the ultraviolet monitor, and the visible spectrum monitor confirmed that the third TV went dark. The adjacent televisions droned on, completely unaffected by the weapon.

Arquist turned to the Secretary of Defense with a smile. “I like your new toy, Bill. When’s Christmas?”

“We think we’ll be ready for Santa’s sleigh by October of this year.”

“Good. Don’t get behind. I think you’re all probably aware that there’s a great deal riding on this program.” Vice President Arquist rose and extended his hand to Levitow. “Damn  fine work, Art. Thank you.”

_____________

Vice President Arquist motioned for Levitow to join himself and Secretary Bill Pomerantine on their long walk through the weapons-testing bunker, back to the waiting helicopter that would take the two officials and their Secret Service agents to the relative civilization of Las Vegas.

Arquist spoke over the click of heels on concrete. “As you know, Art, there is no shortage of naysayers. Now that you’ve shown me the magic, I want you to help me understand how it works. I’ve got to put my salesman hat on when I get back to DC, and I want to be able to explain just a little about what the hell this thing does.”

Levitow’s eyes sparkled. Arquist was reminded that despite his cold administrative efficiency, Senior Quantum’s director was a scientist and teacher at heart, and he felt himself responding to Levitow’s genuine enthusiasm for the minor miracles he and his team had pulled off.

“When you boil the geekery down, it’s really fairly simple,” Levitow said. “Electrons are lazy. Inside an atom, they hang out in the lowest energy state possible. It takes energy to move away from the atom’s nucleus, and like my teenager, electrons need a very good reason to expend any energy at all.”

At the tail end of the small entourage, a large, fair-skinned and blue-eyed Secret Service agent, known as Whitey in the most important circle, extended two fingers on his right hand. His fingers held a small white piece of paper. As his right arm swung forward on the next step, a tall, young, lanky scientist named Jonathan Cooper surreptitiously retrieved the piece of paper from the Secret Service agent.

Then, while his right hand scratched his nose, Cooper’s left hand deftly placed the small strip of paper into his lab coat pocket.

The exchange had been carefully planned so that Whitey’s bulk blocked the nearest security camera’s view. The next-nearest camera, at the far end of the long concrete hallway, was blocked by the mass of people, including the Vice President of the United States walking down the hallway in front of the two spies.

It was a seriously ballsy pass, one that Cooper was certain would be talked about for years to come. It had gone off without a hitch.

_____________

The small entourage wound its way through the labyrinthine network of low concrete hallways. Levitow’s voice echoed up and down the narrow corridors, as the vice president listened intently.

“The electrons’ laziness is important,” Levitow said, “because chemical and physical properties of every atom are determined to a large extent by how many electrons are in an atom’s outer layer, and how close that outer layer is to the atom’s nucleus.”

Vice President Arquist nodded. A former college professor himself, he was no dunce.

“Electrons that are a long way away from the nucleus,” Levitow continued, “escape from the atom much more easily than electrons closer to the nucleus. And escaping electrons are what make all electronic devices function.

“It turns out that when you slam an atom with a magnetic field, you can change how far away all of the electrons sit from the nucleus. With a strong enough magnetic field, you can temporarily stop a circuit or device from functioning. Or, by reversing the magnetic field, you can free up so many electrons that you fry critical connections within every semiconductor. It’s a handy trick.”

“Sounds pretty simple. What’s the catch?” Arquist was used to playing the straight man, which was also a subtle way of letting people know that he was following along closely and they should skip as much fluff as possible.

“There are two major problems. First, it takes a ton of power to make this happen. More importantly, at the beginning, we could only have these kinds of effects if we placed the target object inside a specially built magnetic field generator. That obviously doesn’t work well in a weapons application—if we can get our hands on the object, we may as well just stomp on it with our boot heel. It took us forever to figure out how to affect targets that were some distance away from the field generator.”

As the heavy concrete door opened into the hot desert night, Arquist gave a Levitow a warm smile and extended his hand. He spoke loudly, but was barely audible over the whine of the helicopter engines. “I’m interested in learning how you ended up cracking that nut. Join me for dinner out east. My chief of staff will be in touch to set things up.”

Levitow’s reply went unheard as the vice president walked quickly onto the helipad. He felt Pomerantine’s pat on the back, and watched as the rest of the group made their way to the aircraft, ducking instinctively to avoid the rotor wash.

Seconds later, the helicopter was out of sight.

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